An Email to Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad on Credit for non MMSD Courses

Dear Superintendent Nerad:
I was rather surprised to learn today from the Wisconsin State Journal that:
“The district and the union also have quarreled over the role of MTI members in online learning for seven years. Under the new agreement, ANY (my emphasis) instruction of district students will be supervised by Madison teachers. The deal doesn’t change existing practice but confirms that that practice will continue.”
You are quite new to the MMSD. I am EXTREMELY disappointed that you would “cave in” to MTI regarding a long-standing quarrel it has had with the MMSD without first taking the time to get input from ALL affected parties, i.e., students and their parents as well as teachers who might not agree with Matthews on this issue. Does this agreement deal only with online learning or ALL non-MMSD courses (e.g., correspondence ones done by mail; UW and MATC courses not taken via the YOP)? Given we have been waiting 7 years to resolve this issue, there was clearly no urgent need for you to do so this rapidly and so soon after coming on board. The reality is that it is an outright LIE that the deal you just struck with MTI is not a change from the practice that existed 7 years ago when MTI first demanded a change in unofficial policy. I have copies of student transcripts that can unequivocally PROVE that some MMSD students used to be able to receive high school credit for courses they took elsewhere even when the MMSD offered a comparable course. These courses include high school biology and history courses taken via UW-Extension, high school chemistry taken via Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, and mathematics, computer science, and history courses taken at UW-Madison outside of the YOP. One of these transcripts shows credit for a course taken as recently as fall, 2005; without this particular 1/2 course credit, this student would have been lacking a course in modern US history, a requirement for a high school diploma from the State of Wisconsin.
The MMSD BOE was well aware that they had never written and approved a clear policy regarding this matter, leaving each school in the district deciding for themselves whether or not to approve for credit non-MMSD courses. They were well aware that Madison West HAD been giving many students credit in the past for non-MMSD courses. The fact is that the BOE voted in January, 2007 to “freeze” policy at whatever each school had been doing until such time as they approved an official policy. Rainwater then chose to ignore this official vote of the BOE, telling the guidance departments to stop giving students credit for such courses regardless of whether they had in the past. The fact is that the BOE was in the process of working to create a uniform policy regarding non-MMSD courses last spring. As an employee of the BOE, you should not have signed an agreement with MTI until AFTER the BOE had determined official MMSD policy on this topic. By doing so, you pre-empted the process.
There exist dozens of students per year in the MMSD whose academic needs are not adequately met to the courses currently offered by MTI teachers, including through the District’s online offerings. These include students with a wide variety of disabilities, medical problems, and other types of special needs as well as academically gifted ones. By taking appropriate online and correspondence courses and non-MMSD courses they can physically access within Madison, these students can work at their own pace or in their own way or at an accessible location that enables them to succeed. “Success for all” must include these students as well. Your deal with MTI will result in dozens of students per year dropping out of school, failing to graduate, or transferring to other schools or school districts that are more willing to better meet their “special” individual needs.
Your rush to resolve this issue sends a VERY bad message to many families in the MMSD. We were hoping you might be different from Rainwater. Unfortunately, it says to them that you don’t really care what they think. It says to them that the demands of Matthews take primarily over the needs of their children. Does the MMSD exist for Matthews or for the children of this District? As you yourself said, the MMSD is at a “tipping point”, with there currently being almost 50% “free and reduced lunch” students. Families were waiting and hoping that you might be different. As they learn that you are not based upon your actions, the exodus of middle class families from the MMSD’s public schools will only accelerate. It will be on your watch as superintendent that the MMSD irreversibly turns into yet another troubled inner city school district. I urge you to take the time to learn more about the MMSD, including getting input from all interested parties, before you act in the future.
VERY disappointingly yours,
Janet Mertz
parent of 2 Madison West graduates
Tamira Madsen has more:

“Tuesday’s agreement also will implement a measure that requires a licensed teacher from the bargaining unit supervise virtual/online classes within the district. The district and union have bickered on-and-off for nearly seven years over the virtual/online education issue. Matthews said the district was violating the collective bargaining contract with development of its virtual school learning program that offered online courses taught by teachers who are not members of MTI.
In the agreement announced Tuesday, there were no program changes made to the current virtual/online curriculum, but requirements outlined in the agreement assure that classes are supervised by district teachers.
During the 2007-08 school year, there were 10 district students and 40 students from across the state who took MMSD online courses.
Though Nerad has been on the job for less than three months, Matthews said he is pleased with his initial dealings and working relationship with the new superintendent.
“This is that foundation we need,” Matthews said. “There was a lot of trust level that was built up here and a lot of learning of each other’s personalities, style and philosophy. All those things are important.
“It’s going to be good for the entire school district if we’re able to do this kind of thing, and we’re already talking about what’s next.”

Seventh grader, far ahead of her class, punished for taking too many courses

Jay Matthews: In a compelling piece for the Washington City Paper, D.C. high school teacher Rob Barnett has confessed his anguish at passing students who haven’t mastered the content of his math courses and described his radical solution. It’s called mastery learning. Barnett recorded all of his lessons, put them online and let each student … Continue reading Seventh grader, far ahead of her class, punished for taking too many courses

Online Education Cast as “Disruptive Innovation”

Andrew Trotter:

Technology-based forces of “disruptive innovation” are gathering around public education and will overhaul the way K-12 students learn—with potentially dramatic consequences for established public schools, according to an upcoming book that draws parallels to disruptions in other industries.
Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns predicts that the growth in computer-based delivery of education will accelerate swiftly until, by 2019, half of all high school classes will be taught over the Internet.
Clayton M. Christensen, the book’s lead author and a business professor at Harvard University, is well respected in the business world for his best-sellers The Innovator’s Dilemma, published in 1997, and The Innovator’s Solution, published in 2003.
Those books analyze why leading companies in various industries—computers, electronics, retail, and others—were knocked off by upstarts that were better able to take advantage of innovations based on new technology and changing conditions.
School organizations are similarly vulnerable, Mr. Christensen contends.
“The schools as they are now structured cannot do it,” he said in an interview, referring to adapting successfully to coming computer-based innovations. “Even the best managers in the world, if they were heads of departments in schools and the administrators of schools, could not do it.”
Under Mr. Christensen’s analytical model, the tables typically turn in an industry even when the dominant companies are well aware of a disruptive innovation and try to use it to transform themselves

There’s no doubt that a revolution is underway in education. LIke other industries, it is doubtful that many of the current players will make the turn, which is likely why issues such as credit for non MMSD courses is evidently such a problem. Two related articles by Cringely provide useful background.
More:

Like the leaders in other industries, the education establishment has crammed down technology onto its existing architecture, which is dominated by the “monolithic” processes of textbook creation and adoption, teaching practices and training, and standardized assessment—which, despite some efforts at individualization, by and large treat students the same, the book says.
But new providers are stepping forward to serve students that mainline education does not serve, or serve well, the authors write. Those students, which the book describes as K-12 education’s version of “nonconsumers,” include those lacking access to Advanced Placement courses, needing alternatives to standard classroom instruction, homebound or home-schooled students, those needing to make up course credits to graduate—and even prekindergarten children.
By addressing those groups, providers such as charter schools, companies catering to home schoolers, private tutoring companies, and online-curriculum companies have developed their methods and tapped networks of students, parents, and teachers for ideas.
Those providers will gradually improve their tools to offer instruction that is more student-centered, in part by breaking courses into modules that can be recombined specifically for each student, the authors predict.
Such providers’ approaches, the authors argue, will also become more affordable, and they will start attracting more and more students from regular schools.