Advocating Small Learning Communities

Karen Vieth:

Create Small Learning Environments
With 1 out of 4 black students chronically absent in MMSD and increasing alarm over the achievement gap, it is obvious that teachers must employ culturally relevant teaching practices. These practices begin with getting to know your students and their families – a practice that necessitates smaller learning environments. According to UW professor, Alice Uldvari-Solner, “Teachers who uphold the dynamics of culturally relevant pedagogy are practicing inclusive education as they impart influential messages that each child brings value to the classroom and that each child is powerful in directing his or her own achievement.” (Creating an Inclusive School, pg. 100)
Unfortunately, as our students grow, the learning environments become larger and less-personalized. A primary teacher spending most of the day in a SAGE school in a classroom of 14 can get to know his students quite well. Contrast that to a high school teacher teaching five sections of 30+ kids. Individualizing the education process is seemingly impossible. Students need to feel a sense of worth and belonging. Reestablishing smaller learning communities that focus on relationships and team-work will create safety nets for students feeling lost in the crowd.

Notes and links on small learning communities, here.

Was the $5 Billion Worth It? A decade into his record-breaking education philanthropy, Bill Gates talks teachers, charters–and regrets, Mea Culpa on Small Learning Communities; Does More Money Matter?

Jason Riley:

One of the foundation’s main initial interests was schools with fewer students. In 2004 it announced that it would spend $100 million to open 20 small high schools in San Diego, Denver, New York City and elsewhere. Such schools, says Mr. Gates, were designed to–and did–promote less acting up in the classroom, better attendance and closer interaction with adults.
“But the overall impact of the intervention, particularly the measure we care most about–whether you go to college–it didn’t move the needle much,” he says. “Maybe 10% more kids, but it wasn’t dramatic. . . . We didn’t see a path to having a big impact, so we did a mea culpa on that.” Still, he adds, “we think small schools were a better deal for the kids who went to them.”
The reality is that the Gates Foundation met the same resistance that other sizeable philanthropic efforts have encountered while trying to transform dysfunctional urban school systems run by powerful labor unions and a top-down government monopoly provider.
In the 1970s, the Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller foundations, among others, pushed education “equity” lawsuits in California, New Jersey, Texas and elsewhere that led to enormous increases in state expenditures for low-income students. In 1993, the publishing mogul Walter Annenberg, hoping to “startle” educators and policy makers into action, gave a record $500 million to nine large city school systems. Such efforts made headlines but not much of a difference in closing the achievement gap.
Asked to critique these endeavors, Mr. Gates demurs: “I applaud people for coming into this space, but unfortunately it hasn’t led to significant improvements.” He also warns against overestimating the potential power of philanthropy. “It’s worth remembering that $600 billion a year is spent by various government entities on education, and all the philanthropy that’s ever been spent on this space is not going to add up to $10 billion. So it’s truly a rounding error.”

Much more on Small Learning Communities, here.

More on the Madison School District High School’s Use of Small Learning Communities & A Bit of Deja Vu – A Bruce King Brief Evaluation

Pam Nash 4.5MB PDF:

Introduction and Overview
1. Background and Overview Daniel A. Nerad, Superintendent of Schools
Prior to the fall of 2008, MMSD high schools functioned as four separate autonomous high schools, with minimal focus on working collaboratively across the district to address student educational needs.
In 2008 MMSD received a Federal Smaller Learning Communities for $5.3 million dollars over a five year period. The purpose of that grant is to support the large changes necessary to:

  • Increase student achievement for all students.
  • Increase and improve student to student relationships and student to adult relationships.
  • Improve post-secondary outcomes for all students.

District administration, along with school leadership and school staff, have examined the research that shows that fundamental change in education can only be accomplished by creating the opportunity for teachers to talk with one another regarding their instructional practice. The central theme and approach for REaL has been to improve and enhance instructional practice through collaboration in order to increase stndent achievement. Special attention has been paid to ensure the work is done in a cross – district, interdepartmental and collaborative manner. Central to the work, are district and school based discussions focused on what skills and knowledge students need to know and be able to do, in order to be prepared for post-secondary education and work. Systemized discussions regarding curriculum aligll1nent, course offerings, assessment systems, behavioral expectations and 21 st century skills are occurring across all four high schools and at the district level.
Collaborative professional development has been established to ensure that the work capitalizes on the expertise of current staff, furthers best practices that are already occurring within the MMSD high school classrooms, and enhances the skills of individuals at all levels from administration to classroom teachers needed. Our work to date has laid the foundation for further and more in-depth work to occur.
While we are at the formative stages of our work, evidence shows that success is occurring at the school level. Feedback from principals indicates that district meetings, school buildings and classrooms are feeling more collaborative and positive, there is increased participation by teachers in school based decisions, and school climate has improved as evidenced by a significant reduction in behavior referrals.
This report provides a summary of the REaL Grant since fall of2008 and includes:
1. Work completed across all four high schools.
2. School specific work completed.
3. District work completed.
4. REaL evaluation
5. Future implications
In addition the following attachments are included:
1. Individual REaL School Action Plans for 09-10
2. REaL District Action for 09-10
3. ACT EP AS Overview and Implementation Plan
4. AVID Overview
5. Templates used for curriculum and course alignment
6. Individual Learning Plan summary and implementation plan
7. National Student Clearninghouse StudentTracker System
8. Student Action Research example questions
2. Presenters

  • Pam Nash, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools
  • Darwin Hernandez, East High School AVID Student
  • Jaquise Gardner, La Follette High School AVID Student
  • Mary Kelley, East High School
  • Joe Gothard, La Follette High School
  • Bruce Dahmen, Memorial High School
  • Ed Holmes, West High School
  • Melody Marpohl, West High School ESL Teacher

3. Action requested of the BOE
The report is an update, providing information on progress of MMSD High Schools and district initiatives in meeting grant goals and outlines future directions for MMSD High schools and district initiatives based on work completed to date.

MMSD has contracted with an outside evaluator, Bruce King, UW-Madison. Below are the initial observations submitted by Mr. King:
The REaL evaluation will ultimately report on the extent of progress toward the three main grant goals. Yearly work focuses on major REaL activities at or across the high schools through both qualitative and quantitative methods and provides schools and the district with formative evaluation and feedback. During the first two years ofthe project, the evaluation is also collecting baseline data to inform summative reports in later years of the grant. We can make several observations about implementation ofthe grant goals across the district.
These include:
Observation 1: Professional development experiences have been goal oriented and focused. On a recent survey of the staff at the four high schools, 80% of responding teachers reported that their professional development experiences in 2009-10 were closely connected to the schools’ improvement plans. In addition, the focus of these efforts is similar to the kinds of experiences that have led to changes in student achievement at other highly successful schools (e.g., Universal Design, instructional leadership, and literacy across the curriculum).
Observation 2: Teacher collaboration is a focal point for REaL grant professional development. However, teachers don’t have enough time to meet together, and Professional Collaboration Time (PCT) will be an important structure to help sustain professional development over time.
Observation 3: School and district facilitators have increased their capacity to lead collaborative, site-based professional development. In order for teachers to collaborate better, skills in facilitation and group processes should continue to be enhanced.
Observation 4: Implementing EP AS is a positive step for increasing post-secondary access and creating a common assessment program for all students.
Observation 5: There has been improved attention to and focus on key initiatives. Over two- thirds ofteachers completing the survey believed that the focus of their current initiatives addresses the needs of students in their classroom. At the same time, a persisting dilemma is prioritizing and doing a few things well rather than implementing too many initiatives at once.
Observation 6: One of the important focus areas is building capacity for instructional leadership, work carried out in conjunction with the Wallace project’s UW Educational Leadership faculty. Progress on this front has varied across the four schools.
Observation 7: District offices are working together more collaboratively than in the past, both with each other and the high schools, in support of the grant goals.
Is it likely that the four high schools will be significantly different in four more years?
Given the focus on cultivating teacher leadership that has guided the grant from the outset, the likelihood is strong that staff will embrace the work energetically as their capacity increases. At the same time, the ultimate success ofthe grant will depend on whether teachers, administrators, anddistrict personnel continue to focus on improving instruction and assessment practices to deliver a rigorous core curriculum for all and on nurturing truly smaller environments where students are known well.

Related:

Rethinking “Small Learning Communities”: A review of the small-schools structure at North Eugene High nears

Anne Williams:

Four years after North Eugene High School set out to reinvent itself, the Eugene School Board wants to take stock. [Eugene School Board Goals, Superintendent’s Proposed Goals.]
Within the next month or two, the district — at the board’s behest — will hire an individual or team of educational researchers to try to gauge how well North Eugene’s “small schools” structure is serving students.
“It’s kind of consistent with board goals; we try to have measurable results,” board Chairman Craig Smith said. “We decided that, since the first class has come through, it’s time to see where we are in terms of progress.”
Showing gains — lower dropout rates, improved student achievement, better attendance and greater college readiness — has been difficult at many schools that have taken North Eugene’s path.
Championed and chiefly bankrolled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the small schools movement aimed to lift student achievement by creating highly personalized schools where all students were known and held to high standards and teachers worked closely together.
But after investing a goodly share of $2 billion into the creation of hundreds of small schools across the country, the Gates Foundation has shifted direction in its high school reform strategy, focusing less on structure and more on effective teaching and curriculum.
“The structural and design changes in schools we focused on in our earlier work simply did not yield those gains,” Vicki Phillips, the foundation’s education director, told Congress last May.
A growing number of grant recipients have dissolved their small schools and are going back to a traditional model, sometimes with some small-school elements intact. Most cite disappointing results or burdensome operating costs, or both. Those schools include Portland’s Madison High School and Mountlake Terrace High School in the Seattle suburbs, a flagship of the initiative that staff members from North visited during the planning phase.

Related:

Gates on Small Learning Communities (SLC): “small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way”

Nicholas Kristof:

In the letter, Mr. Gates goes out of his way to acknowledge setbacks. For example, the Gates Foundation made a major push for smaller high schools in the United States, often helping to pay for the creation of small schools within larger buildings.
“Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way,” he acknowledges. Small schools succeeded when the principal was able to change teachers, curriculum and culture, but smaller size by itself proved disappointing. “In most cases,” he says, “we fell short.”
Mr. Gates comes across as a strong education reformer, focusing on supporting charter schools and improving teacher quality. He suggested that when he has nailed down the evidence more firmly, he will wade into the education debates.
“It is amazing how big a difference a great teacher makes versus an ineffective one,” Mr. Gates writes in his letter. “Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.”

I could not agree more. Rather than add coaches and layers of support staff, I’d prefer simply hiring the best teachers (and paying them) and getting out of the way. Of course, this means that not all teachers (like the population) are perfect, or above average!
Much more on Small Learning Communities here.
On Toledo’s SLC initiative.

A look at Madison Memorial’s Small Learning Communities

Andy Hall:

In 2000, Memorial became the first Madison school to land one of the U.S. Department of Education grants. It was awarded $438,000 to create its neighborhood social structure. West High School became the second, winning a $500,000 grant in 2002 and reorganizing its ninth and 10th grades around core courses.
In August, district officials were thrilled to learn the district was awarded $5.5 million over five years for its four major high schools — Memorial, West, La Follette and East — to build stronger connections among students and faculty by creating so-called “small learning communities” that divide each high school population into smaller populations.
Officials cite research showing that schools with 500 to 900 students tend to be the most effective, and recent findings suggest that students at schools with small learning communities are more likely to complete ninth grade, less likely to become involved in violence and more likely to attend college after graduation. However, the latest federal study failed to find a clear link between small learning communities and higher academic achievement.
Each Madison high school will develop its own plan for how to spend the grant money. Their common goals: Make school feel like a smaller, friendlier place where all students feel included. Shrink the racial achievement gap, raise graduation rates, expand the courses available and improve planning for further education and careers.
The high schools, with enrollments ranging from 1,600 to 2,000 students, are being redesigned as their overall scores on state 10th grade reading and math tests are worrisome, having declined slightly the past two years.

Study of Small High Schools (Small Learning Communities or SLC) Yields Little on Achievement

David Hoff:

High schools receiving $80 million in annual federal funding to support “smaller learning communities” can document that they are taking steps to establish learning environments more intimate than found in the typical comprehensive high school.
But, according to a federal study, such smaller schools can’t answer the most significant question: Is student achievement improving in the smaller settings?
The evaluation of the 8-year-old program found that schools participating in it show signs of success. In the schools, the proportion of students being promoted from 9th to 10th grade increases, participation in extracurricular activities rises, and the rate of violent incidents declines.
But the evaluation found “no significant trends” in achievement on state tests or college-entrance exams, says the report, which was prepared by a private contractor and released by the U.S. Department of Education last week.

Related:

A Look at LA’s Small Learning Communities

Jason Song:

Like many large districts throughout the nation, L.A. Unified has been trying to increase the number of smaller learning communities, hoping that personalized instruction would boost student achievement and offer an alternative to charter schools, including the five Green Dot campuses near Jefferson.
The academy, one of four Los Angeles Unified campuses that opened almost two years ago, is partially funded through the New Tech Foundation, a Napa, Calif.-based nonprofit that supports 35 schools throughout the country. Two of the others, Arleta High School of Science, Math and Related Technologies and the Los Angeles High School for Global Studies, have increased their test scores dramatically. However, at Jordan New Tech High School, the API score was 25 points lower than that on the regular Jordan High campus.
Unlike charters, which are publicly funded but are not regulated by L.A. Unified, New Tech schools are run by district administrators. “We’re under a lot of pressure: pressure from parents, pressure from the public, to find results that work,” said Monica Garcia, president of the Los Angeles Board of Education, adding that New Tech “clearly works.”

Edwize on the Poor Track Record of Small Learning Communities

Maisie adds notes and links to the recent Business Week interview with Bill and Melinda Gates on their Small Learning Community High School initiative (now underway at Madison’s West High chool – leading to mandatory grouping initiatives like English 10): Business Week has a cover story this week about Bill and Melinda Gates’ small schools […]

The Gates Effect: High School Small Learning Communities

Wendy Zellner: More to the point, others wonder: Is the Gates Foundation making the right calls? The early results of its high school reinvention efforts–with many foundation-backed schools now in their fourth year of existence–are mixed at best. Outside researchers hired by Gates have found “positive cultures” at the new and redesigned schools but raise […]

Gates Foundation & LA’s Small Learning Communities

Naush Boghossian: But the grant, the foundation’s first sizable sum to the Los Angeles Unified School District, falls far short of investments the foundation has made across the country to smaller districts – a disparity some officials blame on the LAUSD’s lack of a comprehensive plan. And critics said Wednesday that, despite years of discussions […]

Is High School Meaningful?

Tawnell Hobbs: Chicago Public School students who want to graduate will have to show proof that they have a plan after high school—such as providing an offer letter for a job or acceptance into college or military service, under a plan expected to be approved next month. The initiative, pitched by former U.S. Education Secretary […]

Madison School District’s advanced learner program is still a work in progress

Amber Walker: Though the Madison Metropolitan School District revised its advanced learner program in recent years, some schools are still struggling to provide tailored classroom instruction for qualified students. The district defines advanced learners as students who demonstrate, or have the potential to demonstrate, high performance in one or more areas. MMSD contracted with the […]

Deja Vu: Madison School District Agreement with the US ED Office of Civil Rights

Last October, Madison Superintendent Jen Cheatham signed a resolution agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights regarding OCR’s compliance review of access to advanced coursework by Hispanic and African-American students in the District. The resolution agreement was presented at the December 5, 2016 Instruction Workgroup meeting (agenda item 6.1): http://www.boarddocs.com/wi/mmsd/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=AFL2QH731563 The […]

A High Schooler’s View On The Education System

Zach Cmiel After reading Nathan Bashaw and Hank Green’s articles on the school system, I was inspired to write my own version. (Nathan’s and Hank’s) I’m a junior in high school and I love entrepreneurship and business. I’ve made 14+ apps on the iOS App Store and have explored design and marketing through an e-commerce […]

The Gates Foundation And Governance Change

Joanne Jacobs: I’m not sure this is quite the mea culpa the Times thinks it is. Gates certainly isn’t abandoning the Common Core. The foundation will focus on providing high-quality Core-aligned learning materials and helping teachers choose from what’s available. “If the knock on the hidebound education system is that it doesn’t change fast enough […]

Madison Adds Another Program: Community Schools

Doug Erickson: Madison has so many organizations that want to do good for the community and that offer programming; the problem is that the coordination is really hard,” Sloan said. “That will be the real benefit of this: coordination that’s focused and centralized.” Mendota Principal Carlettra Stanford said the school currently does not offer programming […]

The public debate over academic selection at 11 has once again ignited. Professor Chris Husbands wonders why, when all the evidence argues against this approach to education.

UK Secretary of Education: It is a persistent undercurrent in English educational debate, but it is peculiarly English: should academic selection at the age of 11 be restored? Boris Johnson, perhaps in response to perceived UKIP pressure, has declared himself in favour of more grammar schools, and Teresa May, more cautiously, has welcomed plans for […]

K-12 Grants & Outcome Responsibilty

Larry Cuban When foundation grants fail to achieve the objectives officials sought, philanthropists turn their backs, shrug, and walk away. They have no responsibility to districts, individual schools, teachers, students and parents for hopes raised and dashed. Donors are beyond the reach of being fired or voted out of office. Yet as anyone knows from […]

The Plot Against Public Education How millionaires and billionaires are ruining our schools.

Bob Herbert: Bill Gates had an idea. He was passionate about it, absolutely sure he had a winner. His idea? America’s high schools were too big. When a multibillionaire gets an idea, just about everybody leans in to listen. And when that idea has to do with matters of important public policy and the billionaire […]

Splitting classes by ability undermines efforts to help disadvantaged children, finds research into English primaries

Richards Adams: Splitting pupils as young as six into classes based on ability – known as streaming – makes the brightest children brighter but does little to help the rest to catch up, according to new research into schools in England. The analysis of the progress made by 2,500 six and seven-year-olds in state primary […]

“More Rigor is Needed” – Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham; Possible?

Pat Schneider: Middle schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District have become caring environments for students, but aren’t rigorous enough to prepare them for high school academic work, says Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. “We know there are quite a few things that highly effective schools do that we have not been doing in both our middle […]

Madison’s High School “Coursework Review”

Average GPA in Core Subjects in 8th and 9th Grades and Percentage of Students Receiving a D or F in a Core Course in 9th Grade, by Feeder School, 2010 – 2013: Madison School District 1.3MB PDF Presentation: In focus groups, several teachers noted what they perceived to be a lack of adequate preparation their […]

Madison Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham proposes $31 million, five-year technology plan

Molly Beck:

All students in the Madison School District would have their own tablets or notebook computers by the 2018-19 school year under a five-year, $31 million plan proposed by Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham.
If approved, the plan would increase the district’s current
$1.5 million annual technology budget to $4.2 million in the 2014-15 school year to start upgrading the district’s network infrastructure, upgrade or equip classrooms and libraries with new technology or computers, and provide notebook computers to all district teachers and administrators. Elementary teachers also would get tablet computers under the plan.
Costs to upgrade are projected to increase each of the five years of the plan for a total of $31 million spent in that time. Afterward, the annual budget for technology would be about $7 million per year going forward.
…..
Madison School Board members, who formally received the plan at their meeting Monday, were mostly optimistic about the plan. Board member T.J. Mertz questioned whether the program needed to be as extensive as it’s proposed given what he said were other unmet needs in the district and given research that he called “universally disappointing” surrounding such initiatives.
Mertz said in an interview after Monday’s board meeting that he agrees with the majority of the investments in technology under the plan, “but then there’s a third or a quarter where I think it’s going overboard.”
As an example, Mertz said he questions whether every kindergarten student needs their own tablet computer.

Prior to spending any additional taxpayer funds on new initiatives, I suggest that the District consider (and address) the status of past expensive initiatives, including:
Infinite Campus: is it fully implemented? If not, why? Why continue to spend money on it?
Standards based report cards“.
Connected Math.
Small Learning Communities.
And of course, job number one, the District’s long term disastrous reading scores.
Madison already spends double the national average per student ($15k). Thinning out initiatives and refocusing current spending on reading would seem to be far more pressing than more hardware.

“It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.”

Valerie Strauss:

That’s what Bill Gates said on Sept. 21 (see video below) about the billions of dollars his foundation has plowed into education reform during a nearly hour-long interview he gave at Harvard University. He repeated the “we don’t know if it will work” refrain about his reform efforts a few days later during a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative.
Hmmm. Teachers around the country are saddled every single year with teacher evaluation systems that his foundation has funded, based on no record of success and highly questionable “research.” And now Gates says he won’t know if the reforms he is funding will work for another decade. But teachers can lose their jobs now because of reforms he is funding.
In the past he sounded pretty sure of what he was doing. In this 2011 oped in The Washington Post, he wrote:

Related: Small Learning Communities.

Do We Still Segregate Students? Schools around the nation are ‘detracking’ classes, putting kids of all achievement levels in the same room. Does that sabotage higher achievers?

Julie Halpert:

WHEN ERIC WITHERSPOON became superintendent of Evanston Township High School (www site) near Chicago in 2006, he walked into a math class where all the students were black. “A young man leaned over to me and said, ‘This is the dummy class.'”
The kids at Evanston who took honors classes were primarily white; those in the less demanding classes were minority–a pattern repeated, still, almost 60 years after integration, across the nation. All of the Evanston kids had been tracked into their classes based on how they’d performed on a test they took in eighth grade.
Last September, for the first time, most incoming freshmen, ranging from those reading at grade level to those reading far above it, were sitting together in rigorous humanities classes. When I visited, students of all abilities and backgrounds met in small groups to discuss one of the required readings, which include A Raisin in the Sun and The Odyssey. This September, most freshmen will sit side-by-side in biology classes.
Mindy Wallis, the mother of a sophomore at Evanston Township High, agrees. She opposed the decision to detrack, and spearheaded a petition that advocated waiting for the results of a three-year evaluation before making changes that so substantively affected the freshman class. Angela Allyn, whose 14-year-old son just took a freshman humanities class, says her son was hungry to read more than two-thirds of The Odyssey, which was all the class required. He was encouraged by his teachers to read the entire book, but Allyn says the teachers didn’t help him navigate difficult portions during class, so she had to work with him into the late hours of the night. Her son was teased by classmates, she says, for “showing off and using big words,” something she believes wouldn’t have occurred if he’d been grouped with a similar cohort. Detracking, she contends, focuses “on bringing the bottom up–and there’s an assumption that our bright children will take care of themselves.” She acknowledges that because she’s seen as having “white privilege,” despite the fact that she put herself through school and even occasionally had to use soup kitchens to get by, she’s perceived as racist by merely making such a comment.

Adam Gamoran
, director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, also believes that race is part of the debate: “People who support tracking are more interested in productivity and less concerned about inequality, and people who are critics tend to focus on inequality and don’t spend too much time thinking about productivity.” Gamoran argues that schools that want to keep ability-grouping need to do a better job with the students in the lowest tracks, but he also believes that the most capable students may not always be sufficiently challenged in mixed-ability classes. “There’s no single solution,” he says. “The point is to try to address the limitations of whatever approach is selected.”

Links:

Paul Vallas visits Madison; Enrollment Growth: Suburban Districts vs. Madison 1995-2012





Related:

Paul Vallas will be speaking at Madison LaFollette high school on Saturday, May 26, 2012 at 1:00p.m. More information, here.
Much more on Paul Vallas, here.
Directions.
Per Student Spending:
I don’t believe spending is the issue. Madison spends $14,858.40/student (2011-2012 budget)
Middleton’s 2011-2012 budget: $87,676,611 for 6,421 students = $13,654.67/student, about 8% less than Madison.
Waunakee spends $12,953.81/student about 13% less than Madison.
A few useful links over the past decade:

New Study Gives Small Schools Initiative a Thumbs Up

Mary Ann Giordano

The small schools initiative that has been the hallmark of the Bloomberg administration’s schools policy seems to be working, a new study has found.
Winnie Hu reports in The New York Times on Thursday that the study found that students who attend public high schools that have about 100 students in each grade were more likely to graduate.
The continuing study is described as “one of the largest and most comprehensive reviews of the impact of small schools on learning.” Its $3.5 million cost is covered by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the study is conducted by MDRC, a nonprofit education research group based in Manhattan.
The study found that students at small high schools were more likely to earn a diploma than students who attend larger schools, The Times reports.

Related: Small Learning Communities

Proposed Madison Prep Academy needs to show proof of effectiveness of single-gender education to get grant

Matthew DeFour:

The state Department of Public Instruction is requiring backers of the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy to provide scientific research supporting the effectiveness of single-gender education to receive additional funding.
The hurdle comes as university researchers are raising questions about whether such evidence exists. In an article published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers also say single-gender education increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.
Efforts to justify single-gender education as innovative school reform “is deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence,” according to the article by eight university professors associated with the American Council for CoEducational Schooling, including UW-Madison psychology professor Janet Hyde.
The Urban League of Greater Madison originally proposed Madison Prep as an all-male charter school geared toward low-income minorities. But after a state planning grant was held up because of legal questions related to single-gender education, the Urban League announced it would open the school next year with single-gender classrooms in the same building.

I find this ironic, given the many other programs attempted within our public schools, such as English 10, small learning communities, connected math and a number of reading programs.
Related: Co-Ed Schooling Group Study Assails Merits of Single-Sex Education and from Susan Troller:

A newly published article by child development experts and neuroscientists blasting the trend toward single-sex education as “pseudoscience” won’t help the cause of the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy.
Neither will the continued opposition of the South Central Federation of Labor, which reiterated its opposition to the Urban League-sponsored proposal this week because teachers at the school would not be represented by a union. The Madison Metropolitan School District has a collective bargaining agreement with Madison Teachers Inc. that runs through June of 2013, and Madison Prep’s plan envisions working conditions for its staff — a longer school day and a longer school year, for example — that differ substantially from the contract the district has with its employees.
With a public hearing on the charter school scheduled for Monday, Oct. 3, the debate surrounding Madison Prep is heating up on many fronts. The Madison School Board must take a final vote giving the charter school a go or no-go decision in November.
Kaleem Caire, CEO of the Urban League and a passionate proponent for the separate boys and girls academies aimed at helping boost minority youth academic performance, says he is unimpressed by an article published in the prestigious journal, Science, on Sept. 23, that says there is “no empirical evidence” supporting academic improvement through single-sex education.

Are other DPI funded initiatives held to the same “standard”?
The timing of these events is certainly interesting.
14mb mp3 audio. WORT-FM conducted an interview this evening with Janet Shibley Hyde, one of the authors. Unrelated, but interesting, Hyde’s interview further debunked the “learning styles” rhetoric we hear from time to time.
UPDATE: The Paper in Question: The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling:

In attempting to improve schools, it is critical to remember that not all reforms lead to meaningful gains for students. We argue that one change in particular–sex-segregated education–is deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence. There is no well-designed research showing that single-sex (SS) education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.

Julie Underwood: Starving Public Schools; a look at School Spending

UW-Madison School of Education Dean Julie Underwood, via a kind reader’s email:

Public schools,” ALEC wrote in its 1985 Education Source Book, “meet all of the needs of all of the people without pleasing anyone.” A better system, the organization argued, would “foster educational freedom and quality” through various forms of privatization: vouchers, tax incentives for sending children to private schools and unregulated private charter schools. Today ALEC calls this “choice”– and vouchers “scholarships”–but it amounts to an ideological mission to defund and redesign public schools.
The first large-scale voucher program, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, was enacted in 1990 following the rubric ALEC provided in 1985. It was championed by then-Governor Tommy Thompson, an early ALEC member, who once said he “loved” ALEC meetings, “because I always found new ideas, and then I’d take them back to Wisconsin, disguise them a little bit, and declare [they were] mine.”
ALEC’s most ambitious and strategic push toward privatizing education came in 2007, through a publication called School Choice and State Constitutions, which proposed a list of programs tailored to each state.

Related:

Wisconsin Public School Advocates to Rally at the Capitol, Saturday July 30, 3:00 PM

99K PDF, via a TJ Mertz email:

As hundreds of thousands of public school supporters gather in Washington DC the weekend of July 28 to 30, 2011, Wisconsin advocates will hold a rally in support of the Save Our Schools agenda at 3:00 PM on Saturday July 30, near the State St. entrance to the Capitol.
“Public schools are under attack. There is a need for national, state, and local action in support of our schools. Wisconsin has been ground zero in this; the Save Our Schools demands from the Guiding Principles provide a great framework to build our state movement and work to expand opportunities to learn” said education activist Thomas J. Mertz.
The Save Our Schools demands are:

  • Equitable funding for all public school communities
  • An end to high stakes testing used for the purpose of student, teacher, and school evaluation
  • Teacher, family and community leadership in forming public education policies
  • Curriculum developed for and by local school communities

Doing more with less doesn’t work. “The time to act is now. While phony debates revolve around debt ceilings, students and teachers across the country are shortchanged. We need real reform, starting with finally fixing the school funding formula, and putting families and communities first. What child and what teacher don’t deserve an excellent school?” said rally organizer Todd Price, former Green Party Candidate for Department of Public Instruction and Professor of Teacher Education National Louis University.
The event will feature speeches from educators, students, parents and officials, as well as opportunities for school advocates from throughout Wisconsin to connect and organize around issues of importance in their communities.

For more information, visit: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch.org/ and http://saveourschoolswisconsin.wordpress.com/
Related:

Whose school is it anyway? Under proposal, taxpayers could pay for experimental charter schools

Susan Troller

Kaleem Caire has spent much of the last year making a passionate, personal and controversial pitch for a publicly funded male-only charter school called Madison Preparatory that would operate independently of the Madison Metropolitan School District. It aims to serve primarily minority boys in grades six through 12 and their families.
Caire, a Madison native and the president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, has mustered a great deal of community support by highlighting the struggles of and grim statistics surrounding black and Hispanic young boys and men in Dane County, and through telling his own powerful story of underachievement in Madison’s public schools.
“I learned about racism and lower expectations for minority kids when I arrived the first day at Cherokee Middle School, and all the black boys and a few other minorities sat at tables in the back. I was assigned to remedial math, and even when I showed the teacher I already knew how to do those worksheets, that’s where I was stuck,” Caire says.
With its emphasis on discipline, family involvement, preppy-looking uniforms and a non-negotiable stance on being a union-free school, Caire’s proposal for the boys-only middle and high school has won hundreds of enthusiastic supporters, including a number of prominent conservatives who, surprisingly, don’t seem particularly troubled by the school’s price tag.

Some might argue that certain programs within “traditional” public schools are experimental, such as Connected Math and Small Learning Communities among others.

$500,000 Earmark for the Madison School District via Senator Herb Kohl

US Senate 700K .XLS file:

The end-of-the-year Omnibus Appropriations bill includes approximately $8.3 billion and 6,714 earmarks.
Click here for a working database of all the earmarks included in the Omnibus Appropriations bill. It’s important to note that the database only refers to disclosed earmarks, not the billions in undisclosed earmarks.

The Madison School District $500,000 earmark is in row 4380 of the .xls file. The description: Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison, WI, for educational programming and Elementary & Secondary Education (includes FIE) via the US Department of Education. Senator Kohl also supports a $20,000,000 Teach for America earmark (row 5497).
I wonder what the $500,000 earmark, if it is realized, will be used for and how it ended up in the $1,100,000,000,000 spending bill?
Clusty search: earmark.
Update: Senator Kohl’s office provided this link and description:

Recipient: Madison Metropolitan School District
Location: Madison
Amount Requested: $500,000
The AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) [SIS Links] program supports high school students who complete a college preparatory path and enroll in college. The program uses “small learning communities” and a rigorous curriculum to prepare students for college. The program places particular priority on serving students in the “academic middle,” who are capable of success in college with some additional supports. AVID currently serves 240 students and will use this federal funding to expand access to the program to 800 students in all four Madison Metropolitan School District high schools.

The Backstory on the Madison West High Protest

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

IV. The Rollout of the Plan: The Plotlines Converge
I first heard indirectly about this new high school plan in the works sometime around the start of the school year in September. While the work on the development of the plan continued, the District’s responses to the various sides interested in the issue of accelerated classes for 9th and 10th grade students at West was pretty much put on hold.
This was frustrating for everyone. The West parents decided they had waited long enough for a definitive response from the District and filed a complaint with DPI, charging that the lack of 9th and 10th grade accelerated classes at West violated state educational standards. I imagine the teachers at West most interested in this issue were frustrated as well. An additional complication was that West’s Small Learning Communities grant coordinator, Heather Lott, moved from West to an administrative position in the Doyle building, which couldn’t have helped communication with the West teachers.
The administration finally decided they had developed the Dual Pathways plan sufficiently that they could share it publicly. (Individual School Board members were provided an opportunity to meet individually with Dan Nerad and Pam Nash for a preview of the plan before it was publicly announced, and most of us took advantage of the opportunity.) Last Wednesday, October 13, the administration presented the plan at a meeting of high school department chairs, and described it later in the day at a meeting of the TAG Advisory Committee. On the administration side, the sense was that those meetings went pretty well.
Then came Thursday, and the issue blew up at West. I don’t know how it happened, but some number of teachers were very upset about what they heard about the plan, and somehow or another they started telling students about how awful it was. I would like to learn of a reason why I shouldn’t think that this was appallingly unprofessional behavior on the part of whatever West teachers took it upon themselves to stir up their students on the basis of erroneous and inflammatory information, but I haven’t found such a reason yet.

Lots of related links:

Complaint Filed Against Madison Schools

greatmadisonschools.org, via a kind reader’s email:

News Release, Complaint attached

Fifty Madison School District parents filed a formal complaint on September 20, 2010, with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (“DPI”) against the Madison School District for violating State statutes for gifted education. The complaint targets Madison West High School‘s refusal to provide appropriate programs for students identified as academically gifted.

State statutes mandate that “each school board shall provide access to an appropriate program for pupils identified as gifted and talented.” The DPI stipulates that this programming must be systematic and continuous, from kindergarten through grade 12. Madison schools have been out of compliance with these standards since 1990, the last time the DPI formally audited the District’s gifted educational services.

“Despair over the lack of TAG services has driven Madison families out of the district,” said Lorie Raihala, a parent in the group. “Hundreds have left through open enrollment, and many have cited the desire for better opportunities for gifted students as the reason for moving their children.”

Recognizing this concern, Superintendent Dan Nerad has stated that “while some Madison schools serve gifted students effectively, there needs to be more consistency across the district.”

“At the secondary level, the inconsistencies are glaring,” said Raihala. “There are broad disparities among Madison’s public high schools with regard to the number of honors, advanced/accelerated, and AP courses each one offers. Also, each school imposes different requirements and restrictions on students seeking advanced courses. Surprisingly, Madison’s much touted West High School offers the fewest advanced course options for ninth and tenth graders. While the other schools offer various levels of English, science, and social science, Madison West requires all students to follow a standardized program of academic courses, regardless of their ability. This means that students with SAT/ACT scores already exceeding those of most West seniors (obtained via participation in the Northwestern University Midwest Area Talent Search program) must sit through the same courses as students working at basic and emerging proficiency levels.”

Related:

Gayle Worland:Parents file complaint over ‘talented and gifted’ school programming.

Are Honors Classes Racist?

High Expectations For All Students is the Way to Beat the Achievement Gaps

Simpson Street Free Press
editorial
Chantal Van Ginkel, age 18
Historically, Madison West High School has not had a spotless regard regarding race relations. Before and during the 1990’s, the school was accused by some of segregation. Most white students had their lockers on the second floor, while most minority students used lockers on the ground floor.
To the school’s credit, changes in policies have greatly improved a once hostile environment. Some of these changes include getting rid of remedial classes, and implementing SLC’s or Small Learning Communities.
A more recent change, however, has sparked controversy and heated debate. Madison West High School plans to largely eliminate honors classes. This is part of an attempt to provide equal opportunity for all students by homogenizing their classroom experience.
At one time, this might have been a good step toward desegregation of West’s student body. It is not a good idea now.
To some extent, enrollment in honors courses of all Madison high schools is racially segregated. Affluent students and white students take advanced courses much more frequently than other students.
But in my opinion, the lack of more rigorous courses is a problem. It is a problem for all students at West. Many parents, students and some faculty share this sentiment.
Recently, a petition signed by over a hundred West attendance area parents requested that 9th and 10th grade honors classes be reinstated. When Superintendent Nerad took steps to make this, some members of the West High teaching staff spoke up. They asserted that honors classes are racist. The project to reinstate advanced course offerings for West’s freshmen and sophomores was then abandoned.
Honors classes, in and of themselves, are not inherently racist. Rather, the expectation that only certain students will take these classes is the problem. The fact that too many minority students end up in remedial courses is racist, but eliminating rigorous courses is not the answer.
As writers for this newspaper have said many times, the real racism is the cancer of low expectations. High expectations for all of our students is how we will beat the achievement gaps in local schools. Low expectations will only make our problem worse.

Note: Madison West High School has not had honors classes in 9th and 10th grade for several years. (The only exception to that is the historically lone section of Accelerated Biology, which some West teachers have repeatedly tried to get rid of.) Not only that, but Madison West High School is the only Madison high school that does not have any honors/advanced/accelerated classes in English and Social Studies in 9th and 10th grade. All West 9th and 10th grade students are expected to take regular English 9 and 10 and regular Social Studies 9 and 10, in completely heterogeneous (by ability) classes.
Note: The petition mentioned by the author — the one requesting honors classes in English and Social Studies in 9th and 10th grade — has now been signed by almost 200 current, past and future West community members.

4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong

Sam Dillon

A decade ago, Brockton High School was a case study in failure. Teachers and administrators often voiced the unofficial school motto in hallway chitchat: students have a right to fail if they want. And many of them did — only a quarter of the students passed statewide exams. One in three dropped out.
Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.
Their efforts paid off quickly. In 2001 testing, more students passed the state tests after failing the year before than at any other school in Massachusetts. The gains continued. This year and last, Brockton outperformed 90 percent of Massachusetts high schools. And its turnaround is getting new attention in a report, “How High Schools Become Exemplary,” published last month by Ronald F. Ferguson, an economist at Harvard who researches the minority achievement gap.

Related: Small Learning Communities and English 10.

A Look at the Small Learning Community Experiment

Alex Tabarrok:

Did Bill Gates waste a billion dollars because he failed to understand the formula for the standard deviation of the mean? Howard Wainer makes the case in the entertaining Picturing the Uncertain World (first chapter with the Gates story free here). The Gates Foundation certainly spent a lot of money, along with many others, pushing for smaller schools and a lot of the push came because people jumped to the wrong conclusion when they discovered that the smallest schools were consistently among the best performing schools.
…….
States like North Carolina which reward schools for big performance gains without correcting for size end up rewarding small schools for random reasons. Worst yet, the focus on small schools may actually be counter-productive because large schools do have important advantages such as being able to offer more advanced classes and better facilities.
Schools2 All of this was laid out in 2002 in a wonderful paper I teach my students every year, Thomas Kane and Douglas Staiger’s The Promise and Pitfalls of Using Imprecise School Accountability Measures.
In recent years Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have acknowledged that their earlier emphasis on small schools was misplaced. Perhaps not coincidentally the Foundation recently hired Thomas Kane to be deputy director of its education programs.

Related: Small Learning Communities and English 10.

Schools Within Schools

Chad Sensing:

Mike Ritzius works with students at the Integrated Studies Program, a project-based pilot program inside the Camden County Technical School, in New Jersey. Students work to master state content with the help of teacher-advisors and project-management applications, primarily Project Foundry.
Chad: Would you please describe your school for us?
Mike: The Integrated Studies Program (ISP) is a pilot at Camden County Technical School (CCTS). The school as a whole is a county-wide technical school, serving 32 sending districts with the largest being the city of Camden, NJ. The majority of the students come from challenging socio-economic situations, making the entire school eligible for Title 1 funds. Students choose to come to CCTS to pursue a trade but recently, the district has been adding more professionally minded career areas. As a whole, the district delivers content through very traditional means.
The ISP approach is 180 degrees different from the rest of the school. The program was piloted in the 2009-2010 school year with five advisors and 100 students, now down to 87. The attrition rate for the rest of the district is 27% due mostly to the high mobility of the student body and the rigorous demands of CCTS as a whole when compared to the larger sending districts.

Related: Small Learning Communities.

Bill Gates’ School Crusade The Microsoft founder’s foundation is betting billions that a business approach can work wonders in the classroom

Daniel Golden:

It’s been two years since Bill Gates left his day-to-day role at Microsoft (MSFT) to concentrate on supervising the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation–and his new enterprise is booming. Headquartered in a converted check-processing center in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood, the 10-year-old foundation plans to move into a 900,000-square-foot campus and visitors’ center near the city’s Space Needle next spring. The Gates Foundation opened a London office this year; it also has offices in Washington, Delhi, and Beijing, and 830 employees around the world, up from about 500 in 2008. With assets of $33.9 billion as of Dec. 31, 2009, and America’s two richest people–Gates and Warren Buffett–as trustees, the foundation plans to spend $3 billion in the next five to seven years on education. If there’s such a thing as a charity behemoth, the Gates Foundation is it.
While its efforts in global health are widely applauded, its record in America’s schools has been more controversial. Starting in 2000, the Gates Foundation spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its first big project, trying to revitalize U.S. high schools by making them smaller, only to discover that student body size has little effect on achievement.

Related: Small Learning Communities and English 10.

Small High Schools still in flux

Kristen Graham:

For a time in the mid-2000s, small schools were booming. They were supposed to transform the large, failing American high school, to engage students and boost their achievement to ready them for college.
But the results have been mixed, national and local research shows. Students at small high schools were more likely to graduate, have positive relationships with their teachers, and feel safer. Still, they did no better on standardized tests than did their peers at big schools.
In Philadelphia, where 26 of the 32 small high schools have been opened or made smaller in the last seven years, some schools have thrived. Their presence has transformed the high school mix.
Among the district’s current 63 high schools, the 32 small schools enroll roughly a quarter of the 48,000 total enrollment. The rest attend large neighborhood high schools.

High School of the Future and Science Leadership Academy, four-year-old Phila. high schools just graduated their first classes. Their experiences differ greatly..
Related: Small Learning Communities and English 10.

Memphis Gates Foundation Grant: Students learning that school is cool

Jane Roberts:

The idea that only a few people in a room are smart and the rest have a lot to prove is on trial this week in camp designed to change hearts and minds and eventually the culture of Memphis City Schools.
It all comes down to some simple brain theory, which 15 middle schoolers are soaking up at Douglass Elementary and five other city schools.
“Smart is not just something you are but something you get,” says Barbara Logan, director of School Services and Training at the Efficacy Institute in Waltham, Mass.
With $1.1 million this year from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to Memphis City Schools, Efficacy plans to train several hundred “student envoys” responsible for preaching the gospel of discipline and self-esteem, and delivering the message that smart isn’t by chance.

Related: Small Learning Communities.

Change and Race to the Top

Robert Godfrey:

Which brings us to this next item, one with twist and turns not completely understandable at this point, but certainly not held up by people like myself as a model of how to “get the job properly done” — to use Herbert’s words.
Diane Ravitch, an intellectual on education policy, difficult to pigeonhole politically (appointed to public office by both G.H.W. Bush and Clinton), but best described as an independent, co-writes a blog with Deborah Meier that some of our readers may be familiar with called “Bridging Differences.” This past week she highlighted a possibly disturbing development in the Race to the Top competition program of the Department of Education, that dangles $4.3 billion to the states with a possible $1.3 billion to follow. Ravitch’s critique suggests that this competition is not run by pragmatists, but rather by ideologues who are led by the Bill Gates Foundation.

If this election had been held five years ago, the department would be insisting on small schools, but because Gates has already tried and discarded that approach, the department is promoting the new Gates remedies: charter schools, privatization, and evaluating teachers by student test scores.

Two of the top lieutenants of the Gates Foundation were placed in charge of the competition by Secretary Arne Duncan. Both have backgrounds as leaders in organisations dedicated to creating privately managed schools that operate with public money.

None of this is terribly surprising (See the Sunlight Foundation’s excellent work on the Obama Administration’s insider dealings with PhRMA). Jeff Henriques did a lot of work looking at the Madison School District’s foray into Small Learning Communities.
Is it possible to change the current K-12 bureacracy from within? Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman spoke about the “adult employment” focus of the K-12 world:

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

I suspect that Duncan and many others are trying to significantly change the adult to student process, rather than simply pumping more money into the current K-12 monopoly structures.
They are to be commended for this.
Will there be waste, fraud and abuse? Certainly. Will there be waste fraud and abuse if the funds are spent on traditional K-12 District organizations? Of course. John Stossel notes that when one puts together the numbers, Washington, DC’s schools spend $26,000 per student, while they provide $7,500 to the voucher schools…..
We’re better off with diffused governance across the board. Milwaukee despite its many travails, is developing a rich K-12 environment.
The Verona school board narrowly approved a new Mandarin immersion charter school on a 4-3 vote recently These citizen initiatives offer some hope for new opportunities for our children. I hope we see more of this.
Finally, all of this presents an interesting contrast to what appears to be the Madison School District Administration’s ongoing “same service” governance approach.

10/26/2009 =, < or > 4/6/2010 in Madison?

How will tonight’s property tax increase vote play out on April 6, 2010? Three Madison School Board seats will be on the ballot that day. The seats are currently occupied by:

Beth Moss Johnny Winston Maya Cole
Terms 1 2 1
Regular Board Meetings > 2007 election 28 28 28
Absent 4 (14%) 3 (10.7%) 3 (10.7%)
Interviews: 2007 Video 2004 Video (Election info) 2007 Video

I emailed Beth, Johnny and Maya recently to see if they plan to seek re-election in the April 6, 2010 election. I will publish any responses received.
What issues might be on voters minds in five months?:

2008-2009 Madison West High School ReaLGrant Initiave update

57K PDF, via a kind reader’s email:

The School Improvement Committee has spent this year investigating academic support models in other schools to begin to develop an effective model for West High School. The committee visited Memorial High School, Evanston High School, Wheeling High School, and New Trier High School, in IL. Some of the common themes that were discovered, especially in the Illinois schools, were as follows:

  • Many schools have an identified academic team who intervene with struggling students. These teams of support people have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. The students are regularly monitored, they develop both short and long term goals and the students develop meaningful relationships with an adult in the building. The academic support team has regular communication with teaching staff and makes recommendations for student support.
  • There are mandatory study tables in each academic content areas where students are directed to go if they are receiving a D or F in any given course.
  • Students who are skill deficient are identified in 8th grade and are provided with a summer program designed to prepare them for high school, enhanced English and Math instruction in 9th grade, and creative scheduling that allows for students to catch up to grade level.
  • Some schools have a family liaison person who is able to make meaningful connections in the community and with parents. After school homework centers are thriving.
  • Social privileges are used as incentives for students to keep their grades up.

Recommendations from the SIP Committee

  • Design more creative use of academic support allocation to better meet the needs of struggling students.
  • Create an intervention team with specific role definition for each team member.
  • Design and implement an after school homework center that will be available for all students, not just those struggling academically.
  • Design and implement student centers and tables that meet specific academic and time needs (after school, lunch, etc.)
  • Identify a key staff person to serve in a specialized family liaison role.
  • Develop a clear intervention scaffold that is easy for staff to interpret and use.
  • Design and implement enhanced Math and English interventions for skill deficient students.

Related topics:

New CEO: Gates Foundation learns from experiments

Donna Gordon Blankinship:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spent billions of dollars exploring the idea that smaller high schools might result in higher graduation rates and better test scores. Instead, it found that the key to better education is not necessarily smaller schools but more effective teachers.
Some people might cringe while recounting how much money the foundation spent figuring this out. But the foundation’s new CEO, Jeff Raikes, smiles and uses it as an example to explain that the charity has the money to try things that might fail.
“Almost by definition, good philanthropy means we’re going to have to do some risky things, some speculative things to try and see what works and what doesn’t,” Raikes said Wednesday during an interview with The Associated Press.
The foundation’s new “learner-in-chief” has spent the nine months since he was named CEO studying the operation, traveling around the world and figuring out how to balance the pressures of the economic downturn with the growing needs of people in developing nations.
The former Microsoft Corp. executive, who turns 51 on Friday, joined the foundation as its second CEO after Patty Stonesifer, another former Microsoft executive, announced her retirement and his friends Bill and Melinda Gates talked Raikes out of retiring.

Related: English 10 and Small Learning Communities.

Madison Math Task Force Public Session Wednesday Evening 1/14/2009

The public is invited to attend the Cherokee Middle School PTO’s meeting this Wednesday, January 14, 2009. The Madison School District will present it’s recent Math Task Force findings at 7:00p.m. in the Library.
Cherokee Middle School
4301 Cherokee Dr
Madison, WI 53711
(608) 204-1240

Notes, audio and links from a recent meeting can be found here.
A few notes from Wednesday evening’s meeting:

  • A participant asked why the report focused on Middle Schools. The impetus behind the effort was the ongoing controversy over the Madison School District’s use of Connected Math.
  • Madison’s math coordinator, Brian Sniff, mentioned that the District sought a “neutral group, people not very vocal one end or the other”. Terry Millar, while not officially part of the task force, has been very involved in the District’s use of reform math programs (Connected Math) for a number of years and was present at the meeting. The 2003, $200,000 SCALE (System-Wide Change for All Learners and Educators” (Award # EHR-0227016 (Clusty Search), CFDA # 47.076 (Clusty Search)), from the National Science Foundation) agreement between the UW School of Education (Wisconsin Center for Education Research) names Terry as the principal investigator [340K PDF]. The SCALE project has continued each year, since 2003. Interestingly, the 2008 SCALE agreement ([315K PDF] page 6) references the controversial “standards based report cards” as a deliverable by June, 2008, small learning communities (page 3) and “Science Standards Based Differentiated Assessments for Connected Math” (page 6). The document also references a budget increase to $812,336. (additional SCALE agreements, subsequent to 2003: two, three, four)
  • Task force member Dr. Mitchell Nathan is Director of AWAKEN [1.1MB PDF]:

    Agreement for Releasing Data and Conducting Research for
    AWAKEN Project in Madison Metropolitan School District
    The Aligning Educational Experiences with Ways of Knowing Engineering (AWAKEN) Project (NSF giant #EEC-0648267 (Clusty search)) aims to contribute to the long-term goal of fostering a larger, more diverse and more able pool of engineers in the United States. We propose to do so by looking at engineering education as a system or continuous developmental experience from secondary education through professional practice….
    In collaboration with the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), AWAKEN researchers from the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research (WCER) will study and report on science, mathematics, and Career and Technical Education (specifically Project Lead The Way) curricula in the district.

  • Task force member David Griffeath, a UW-Madison math professor provided $6,000 worth of consulting services to the District.
  • Former Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater is now working in the UW-Madison School of Education. He appointed (and the board approved) the members of the Math Task Force.

Madison School Board Vice President Lucy Mathiak recently said that the “conversation about math is far from over”. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
I am particularly interested in what the ties between the UW-Madison School of Education and the Madison School District mean for the upcoming “Strategic Planning Process” [49K PDF]. The presence of the term “standards based report cards” and “small learning communities” within one of the SCALE agreements makes me wonder who is actually driving the District. In other words, are the grants driving decision making?
Finally, it is worth reviewing the audio, notes and links from the 2005 Math Forum, including UW-Madison math professor emeritus Dick Askey’s look at the School District’s data.
Related: The Politics of K-12 Math and Academic Rigor.

Dane County High School AP Course Offering Comparison

The College Board recently updated their AP Course Audit data. Dane County offerings are noted below, including changes from 2007-2008:

  • Abundant Life Christian School: 3 Courses in 2007/2008 and 3 in 2008/2009
  • Cambridge High School: 1 Course in 2007/2008 and 0 in 2008/2009
  • De Forest High School: 8 Courses in 2007/2008 and 8 in 2008/2009
  • Madison East High School: 12 Courses in 2007/2008 and 12 in 2008/2009
  • Madison Edgewood High School: 11 Courses in 2007/2008 and 10 in 2008/2009 (11 are on offer this year. There’s been a paperwork delay for the 11th course, AP Biology due to a new teacher)
  • Madison LaFollette High School: 12 Courses in 2007/2008 and 6 in 2008/2009
  • Madison Memorial High School: 18 Courses in 2007/2008 and 17 in 2008/2009
  • Madison West High School: 6 Courses in 2007/2008 and 0 in 2008/2009 (I’m told that West has 6, but the College Board has a paperwork problem)
  • Marshall High School: 5 Courses in 2007/2008 and 5 in 2008/2009
  • McFarland High School: 6 Courses in 2007/2008 and 6 in 2008/2009
  • Middleton-Cross Plains High School: 8 Courses in 2007/2008 and 8 in 2008/2009
  • Monona Grove High School: 9 Courses in 2007/2008 and 8 in 2008/2009
  • Mt. Horeb High School: 5 Courses in 2007/2008 and 5 in 2008/2009
  • Oregon High School: 9 Courses in 2007/2008 and 9 in 2008/2009
  • Sauk Prairie High School: 10 Courses in 2007/2008 and 10 in 2008/2009
  • Stoughton High School: 7 Courses in 2007/2008 and 10 in 2008/2009
  • Sun Prairie High School: 15 Courses in 2007/2008 and 17 in 2008/2009
  • Verona High School: 10 Courses in 2007/2008 and 11 in 2008/2009
  • Waunakee High School: 6 Courses in 2007/2008 and 6 in 2008/2009
  • Wisconsin Heights High School: 6 Courses in 2007/2008 and 6 in 2008/2009

Related: Dual Enrollment, Small Learning Communities and Part and Full Time Wisconsin Open Enrollment.

Bill and Melinda Gates go back to school
Their crusade to fix schools earned a “needs improvement,” so they have a new plan. The most surprising beneficiaries? Community colleges.

Claudio Wallis & Spencer Fellow:

ince 2000 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested $2 billion in public education, plus another $2 billion in scholarships. Most of it went into efforts to improve high schools that serve poor and minority students – mainly breaking up big, urban high schools and creating smaller, friendlier, and in theory more scholastically sound academies. (All told, the Gates Foundation gave money to 2,602 schools in 40 school districts.) Overall, it hasn’t worked. [Much more on Small Learning Communities]
“We had a high hope that just by changing the structure, we’d do something dramatic,” Gates concedes. “But it’s nowhere near enough.”
The results were a disappointing setback. So Gates and his $35 billion foundation went back to school on the issue. They spent more than a year analyzing what went wrong (and in some cases what went right). They hired new leaders for their education effort, while Gates turned his attention to philanthropy full-time after stepping away from his operating role at Microsoft last summer.
In mid-November, when Gates and his wife, Melinda, were finally ready to unveil their fresh direction, they delivered the news at a private forum at the Sheraton Seattle for America’s education elite, including New York City schools chief Joel Klein, his Washington, D.C., counterpart, Michelle Rhee, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, and top advisors to President-elect Obama.
The upshot is that Education 2.0 is bolder and more aggressive in its goals, and it involves even more intensive investment – $3 billion over the next five years. This time the focus isn’t on the structure of public high schools but on what’s inside the classrooms: the quality of the teaching and the relevance of the curriculum. It steers smack into some of the biggest controversies in American education – tying teacher tenure and salaries to performance, and setting national standards for what is taught and tested.
And it looks beyond high school. “Our goal, with your help, is to double the number of low-income students who earn post-secondary degrees or credentials that let them earn a living wage,” declared Melinda French Gates at the Seattle gathering.

Bill Gates: “breaking large high schools into smaller units, on its own guaranteed no overall success”

Via a kind reader’s email:

Excerpt: “A main strategy of the schools, breaking large high schools into smaller units, on its own guaranteed no overall success, Gates said.
He said the New York City small schools were an example of successes in raising high school graduation rates — but a disappointment in that their graduates were no likelier than any city student to be prepared to go onto college.
Gates said the small number of successful schools did well not because they were structured as small schools, but because they enacted many different innovations: improved teaching quality, a longer school day, innovative instructional tools, a focus on tracking student achievement data.”

The implementation of “Small Learning Communities” in Madison has not been without controversy.

DCPAC Dan Nerad Meeting Summary

A video tape of the entire presentation and discussion with Dr. Nerad may be viewed by visiting this internet link: http://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2008/09/ madison_superin_10.php

Dan Nerad opened his remarks by stating his commitment to efforts for always continuing change and improvement with the engagement of the community. He outlined four areas of focus on where we are going from here.

  1. Funding: must balance district needs and taxpayer needs. He mentioned the referendum to help keep current programs in place and it will not include “new” things.
  2. Strategic Plan: this initiative will formally begin in January 2009 and will involve a large community group process to develop as an ongoing activity.
  3. Meet people: going throughout the community to meet people on their own terms. He will carefully listen. He also has ideas.
  4. Teaching and learning mission: there are notable achievement gaps we need to face head-on. The “achievement gap” is serious. The broader mission not only includes workforce development but also helping students learn to be better people. We have a “tale of two school districts” – numbers of high achievers (including National Merit Scholars), but not doing well with a lot of other students. Low income and minority students are furtherest away from standards that must be met. Need to be more transparent with the journey to fix this problem and where we are not good. Must have the help of the community. The focus must be to improve learning for ALL kids, it is a “both/and” proposition with a need to reframe the issue to help all kids move forward from where they are. Must use best practices in contemporary assessment, curriculum, pedagogy and instructional methods.

Dr. Nerad discussed five areas about which he sees a need for community-wide conversations for how to meet needs in the district.

  1. Early learning opportunities: for pre-kindergarten children. A total community commitment is needed to prevent the ‘achievement gap’ from widening.
  2. High schools: How do we want high schools to be? Need to be more responsive. The curriculum needs to be more career oriented. Need to break down the ‘silos’ between high school, tech schools and colleges. Need to help students move through the opportunities differently. The Small Learning Communities Grant recently awarded to the district for high schools and with the help of the community will aid the processes for changes in the high schools.
  3. School safety: there must be an on-going commitment for changes. Nerad cited three areas for change:

    a. A stronger curriculum helping people relate with other people, their differences and conflicts.

    b. A response system to safety. Schools must be the safest of sanctuaries for living, learning and development.

    c.Must make better use of research-based technology that makes sense.

  4. Math curriculum and instruction: Cited the recent Math Task Force Report

    a. Good news: several recommendations for curriculum, instruction and policies for change.

    b. Bad news: our students take less math than other urban schools in the state; there are notable differences in the achievement gap.

  5. Fine Arts: Cited recent Fine Arts Task Force Report. Fine arts curriculum and activities in the schools, once a strength, has been whittled away due to budget constraints. We must deal with the ‘hands of the clock’ going forward and develop a closer integration of the schools and community in this area.

Educators focus attention on ninth-graders’ transition to high school

Seema Mehta:

Because the first year of high school is considered crucial to a student’s success, more campuses are sheltering freshmen in small learning communities or sometimes on separate campuses.
As Jessica McClain, 14, stood in line to get her student ID picture taken on her first official day as a Muir High School student, she was a churning mix of anticipation and anxiety.
“The campus is huge,” a wide-eyed McClain said as she looked at hundreds of freshmen lined up in the school’s cavernous gymnasium. “I am excited, but I’m nervous. New school. Bigger school. Bigger people.”
But for McClain, freshman year will be a more intimate experience than for earlier generations. Ninth grade is crucial to a student’s eventual academic success, so secondary schools across the nation, including Pasadena’s Muir High, are increasingly sheltering their freshmen in small learning communities or sometimes on separate campuses.
“We really wanted to make sure our freshmen have a strong, solid foundation and are able to bond with the school,” said Edwin Diaz, superintendent of the Pasadena Unified School District. “If they don’t connect well in ninth grade, they tend to disappear in 10th. A high percentage drop out.”

Madison High School “Redesign”: $5.5M Small Learning Community Grant for Teacher Training and Literacy Coordinators

Andy Hall:

A $5.5 million federal grant will boost efforts to shrink the racial achievement gap, raise graduation rates and expand the courses available in the Madison School District’s four major high schools, officials announced Monday.
The five-year U.S. Department of Education grant will help the district build stronger connections to students by creating so-called “small learning communities” that divide each high school population into smaller populations.
Many of those structural changes already have been implemented at two high schools — Memorial and West — and similar redesigns are planned for East and La Follette high schools.
Under that plan, East’s student body will be randomly assigned to four learning communities. La Follette will launch “freshman academies” — smaller class sizes for freshmen in core academic areas, plus advisers and mentors to help them feel connected to the school.

Tamira Madsen:

“The grant centers on things that already are important to the school district: the goals of increasing academic success for all students, strengthening student-student and student-adult relationships and improving post-secondary outlooks,” Nerad said.
Expected plans at Madison East include randomly placing students in one of four learning neighborhoods, while faculty and administrators at La Follette will create “academies” with smaller classes to improve learning for freshmen in core courses. Additional advisors will also be assigned to aid students in academies at La Follette.

Related:

The interesting question in all of this is: does the money drive strategy or is it the other way around? In addition, what is the budget impact after 5 years? A friend mentioned several years ago, during the proposed East High School curriculum change controversy, that these initiatives fail to address the real issue: lack of elementary and middle school preparation.
Finally, will this additional $1.1m in annual funds for 5 years reduce the projected budget “gap” that may drive a fall referendum?

Saving Young Men With Career Academies

Jay Matthews:

By usual measures of student progress, America’s high school career academies have been a failure. One of the longest and most scientific education studies ever conducted concluded they did not improve test scores or graduation rates or college success for urban youth. People like me, obsessed with raising student achievement, saw those numbers and said: Well, too bad. Let’s try something else.
And yet, because the career academy research by the New York-based MDRC (formerly known as the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp.) was so detailed and professional, we have just learned that the academies accomplished something perhaps even better than higher passing rates on reading exams. They produced young men who got better-paying jobs, were more likely to live independently with children and a spouse or partner and were more likely to be married and have custody of their children.
This is a remarkable finding. It has the power not only to revitalize vocational education but to shift the emphasis of school assessment toward long-range effects on students’ lives, not just on how well they did in school and college.

MDRC:

Established more than 30 years ago, Career Academies have become a widely used high school reform initiative that aims to keep students engaged in school and prepare them for successful transitions to postsecondary education and employment. Typically serving between 150 and 200 students from grades 9 or 10 through grade 12, Career Academies are organized as small learning communities, combine academic and technical curricula around a career theme, and establish partnerships with local employers to provide work-based learning opportunities. There are estimated to be more than 2,500 Career Academies operating around the country.
Since 1993, MDRC has been conducting a uniquely rigorous evaluation of the Career Academy approach that uses a random assignment research design in a diverse group of nine high schools across the United States. Located in medium- and large-sized school districts, the schools confront many of the educational challenges found in low-income urban settings. The participating Career Academies were able to implement and sustain the core features of the approach, and they served a cross-section of the student populations in their host schools. This report describes how Career Academies influenced students’ labor market prospects and postsecondary educational attainment in the eight years following their expected graduation. The results are based on the experiences of more than 1,400 young people, approximately 85 percent of whom are Hispanic or African-American.

Raikes to Take the Gates Foundation’s Reigns

AP:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says Microsoft Corp. executive Jeff Raikes will be its next CEO.
The world’s largest charitable foundation has been looking for a new leader since chief executive Patty Stonesifer announced in February that she would be stepping down.
Raikes has been the top executive in Microsoft’s business software division, responsible for such things as the Office software suite, Microsoft’s server software and applications that help businesses track customers and business processes.

Clusty Search: Jeff Raikes.
The Gates Foundation initially supported the Small Learning Community High School approach. Clusty on Small Learning Communities.
The Economist:

CONGRATULATIONS, Jeff Raikes, on your great new job as chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And good luck: you will certainly need it.
Unlike most other foundation CEO jobs, this is unlikely to be a comfortable pre-retirement sinecure. The Gates Foundation is by far the biggest charitable organisation in the world, and growing quickly. Next year, it is expected give away at least $3 billion, up from barely $1 billion a couple of years ago. Some insiders expect that number to rise as high as $6 billion in the near future.

Dropout Solutions That Work

Jay Matthews:

am starting this column with a chart, something journalists are never supposed to do. I found it on page 179 of a new book with one of those titles, “The Price We Pay: Economic and Social Consequences of Inadequate Education,” that scholars consider necessary but discourages readers. I beg you to stay with me, because this particular chart is surprising and important (I have changed the formatslightly to make it easier to absorb).
Table 9-1. Interventions that Demonstrably Raise the High School Graduation Rate
(Intervention — Extra high school graduates if intervention is given to 100 students)
1. Perry Preschool Program (1.8 years of a center-based program for 2.5 hours per weekday, child-teacher ratio of 5:1; home visits; group meetings of parents.) 19 extra graduates.
2. First Things First (Comprehensive school reform based on small learning communities with dedicated teachers, family advocates and instructional improvement efforts.) 16 extra graduates.

Amazon Link. Clusty Search.

Dane County, WI AP High School Course Comparison

A quick summary of Dane County, WI High School 2007-2008 AP Course Offerings (source – AP Course Audit):

  • Abundant Life Christian School (3 Courses)
  • Cambridge (1)
  • DeForest (7)
  • Madison Country Day (International Baccalaureate – IB. However, Madison Country Day is not listed on the approved IB World website.)
  • Madison East (11)
  • Madison Edgewood (11)
  • Madison LaFollette (10)
  • Madison Memorial (17)
  • Madison West (5+1 2nd Year Calculus which “prepares students for the AP BC exam”)
  • Marshall (5)
  • McFarland (6)
  • Middleton – Cross Plains (7)
  • Monona Grove (7)
  • Mount Horeb (5)
  • Oregon (9)
  • Sauk Prairie (10)
  • Stoughton (6)
  • Sun Prairie (13)
  • Verona (10)
  • Waunakee (6)
  • Wisconsin Heights (6)

Links and course details are available here.
Related: Dual Enrollment, Small Learning Communities and Part and Full Time Wisconsin Open Enrollment.
Via a kind reader’s email.

Seven Warnings and One Mistake in High School Reform

Jay Matthews:

I receive many reports on how to improve our schools. This is an occupational hazard. Reading them is often confusing, depressing, disorienting and maddening. But there is no help for it. The academic papers, commission recommendations and task force action plans are usually written by some of the smartest experts in the country. They have stuff I need to know, so I plow through them.
It is best that I be vague, however, about what the margins of these reports look like after I have finished with them. I have just gone through, for instance, a paper by two leading experts, W. Norton Grubb of the University of California, Berkeley, and Jeannie Oakes of the University of California, Los Angeles. I looked forward to reading their report, “‘Restoring Value’ to the High School Diploma: The Rhetoric and Practice of Higher Standards. 432K PDF” It was published by the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University. They focus on the push for rigor in high schools and argue that the discussion spends too much time on narrow definitions of rigor, based on test scores and demanding courses, and ignores other conceptions, such as more sophisticated levels of understanding and the ability to apply learning in unfamiliar settings.
The authors write well and know their stuff. Nonetheless, here are some of the words I wrote on the margins: “stupid,” “so what?” “no! no!” “recipe for disaster,” “booo!” “who cares?” and a few others I may not quote on a family Web site.
Ordinarily, I would use this column to flay Grubb and Oakes for disagreeing with me on how to fix high schools, my favorite topic. But I am writing this on a lovely Saturday, with the leaves turning and the birds happily washing themselves in the little puddles left by my garden-watering wife. Why don’t I, just this once, write about this report’s good points? They include at least seven astute warnings about sloppy thinking in the high school reform debate. Here they are, plus one mistake in their thinking that I could not resist trashing.

Related:

Ed Hughes and Marj Passman on Madison’s Small Learning Community Climate and Grant Application

I sent an email to Ed and Marj, both of whom have announced their plans to run for Madison School Board next spring, asking the following:

I’m writing to see what your thoughts are on the mmsd’s high school “reform” initiative, particularly in light of two things:

  1. The decision to re-apply for the US Dept of Education Grant next month
  2. The lack of any public (any?) evaluation of the results at West and Memorial in light of their stated SLC goals?

In other words, how do you feel about accountability? 🙂

They replied:
Marj Passman:

I am generally supportive of small learning communities and the decision to reapply for a Federal grant. Our high schools continue to provide a rich education for most students — especially the college bound – but there is a significant and maybe growing number of students who are not being engaged. They need our attention. The best evidence is that well implemented small learning communities show promise as part of the solution to increasing the engagement and achievement of those who are not being well served, do no harm and may help others also. My experience as a teacher backs up the research because I found that the caring relationships between staff and students so crucial to reaching those students falling between the cracks on any level of achievement are more likely to develop in smaller settings. Some form of small learning communities are almost a given as part of any reform of our high schools and if we can get financial help from the Federal government with this part of the work, I’m all for it.
I think it is important not to overestimate either the problems or the promise of the proposed solutions. The first step in things like this is to ask what is good that we want to preserve. Our best graduates are competitive with any students anywhere. The majority of our graduates are well prepared for their next academic or vocational endeavors. We need to keep doing the good things we do well. If done successfully, SLCs offer as much for the top achieving students as for any group – individual attention, focus on working with others of their ability, close connection to staff, and consistent evaluation.
You also asked about “accountability” and the evaluations of the existing SLCs. Both evaluations are generally positive, show some progress in important areas and point to places where improvements still need to be made. Neither contains any alarming information that would suggest the SLCs should be abandoned. The data from these limited studies should be looked at with similar research elsewhere that supports SLC as part of the solution to persistent (and in Madison) growing issues.
Like many I applauded when all the Board members asked for a public process for the High Schools of the Future project and like many I have been woefully disappointed with what I’ve seen so far. Because of this and the coming changes in district leadership I’d like to see the redesign time line extended (the final report is due in April) to allow for more input from both the public and the new superintendent.
Thanks for this opportunity
Marjorie Passman
http://marjpassmanforschoolboard.com

Ed Hughes:

From what I know, I am not opposed to MMSD re-applying for the U.S. Dept. of Education grant next month. From my review of the grant application, it did not seem to lock the high schools into new and significant changes. Perhaps that is a weakness of the application. But if the federal government is willing to provide funds to our high schools to do what they are likely to do anyway, I’m all for it.
Like you, I am troubled with the apparent lack of evaluation of results at West and Memorial attributable to their small learning communities initiatives. This may seem inconsistent with my view on applying for the grant, but I do not think we should proceed further down an SLC path without having a better sense of whether in fact it is working at the two schools that have tried it. It seems to me that this should be a major focus of the high school redesign study, but who knows what is going on with that. I asked recently and was told that the study kind of went dormant for awhile after the grant application was submitted.
My own thoughts about high school are pointing in what may be the opposite direction – bigger learning communities rather than smaller. I am concerned about our high schools being able to provide a sufficiently rich range of courses to prepare our students for post-high school life and to retain our students whose families have educational options. The challenges the schools face in this regard were underscored last spring when East eliminated German classes, and now offers only Spanish and French as world language options.
It seems to me that one way to approach this issue is to move toward thinking of the four comprehensive high schools as separate campuses of a single, unified, city-wide high school in some respects. We need to do a lot more to install sufficient teleconferencing equipment to allow the four schools to be linked – so that a teacher in a classroom at Memorial, say, can be seen on a screen in classrooms in the other three schools. In fact, views of all four linked classrooms should simultaneously be seen on the screen. With this kind of linkage, we could take advantage of economies of scale and have enough student interest to justify offering classes in a rich selection of languages to students in all four high schools. I’m sure there are other types of classes where linked classrooms would also make sense.
This kind of approach raises issues. For example, LaFollette’s four block system would be incompatible with this approach. There would also be a question of whether there would need to be a teacher or educational assistant in every classroom, even if the students in the classroom are receiving instruction over the teleconferencing system from another teacher in another school. I would hope that these are the kinds of issues the high school re-design group would be wrestling with. Perhaps they are, or will, but at this point there seems to be no way to know.
There are some off-the-top-of-my-head thoughts prompted by your question and by Maya Cole’s post about the high school re-design study. Feel free to do what you want with this response.

Related Links:

Thanks to Ed and Marj for taking the time to share their thoughts on this important matter.

Involving the Community (in High School Reform)

I will periodically provide updates for the community so that you can read what the Board of Education (BOE) is working on during the year. I also do so when I have particular interest in, or concerns regarding, decisions made on behalf of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD).
One area that I believe is of utmost importance and may be on the mind of the public is high school reform.
I am particularly interested in answering two questions as they relate to this issue.
First, what are the problem(s) we are trying to address as a district in our high schools?
Second, how does the current high school framework align with the skills and knowledge required by colleges and employers and in the overall reform movement of standards and accountability?
To address this issue as a board member, I look for specific timelines, benchmarks and periodic updates.
I think it would well serve the community and the entire board to know exactly where we are in the process. Originally, high school reform in MMSD was presented to the community in a BOE Special Meeting and referred to as a “blank slate.”
Recently, the district submitted an application for a Small Learning Communities (SLC) federal grant. It was not awarded. It was at this time that I had requested that the BOE review the process of high school reform in MMSD at a BOE Special Meeting. I have also raised concerns that the administration has decided to apply for the grant again. The board has been told that we have a good chance that we will get the grant on the second round. I have again requested that the board meet as soon as possible.
However, as a board member of seven – there must be four BOE members willing to submit such a request to put this topic on the agenda. So far, I am the only member requesting this motion.
I raise this issue because of my firmly held belief that my role as a BOE member is to represent the community and provide, to the best of my ability, an accessible, open process when major decisions are made on behalf of the community.
It appears that as of today, the grant will be resubmitted before the only scheduled BOE meeting on high school reform on the 19th of November.
A little history. The high school reform process should be transparent and accessible to the entire community. I am trying to get a handle on this process myself. Here is a look at what has transpired so far:

District SLC Grant – Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 1

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) recently submitted a five year, $5 million grant proposal to the US Department of Education (DOE) to support the creation of Small Learning Communities (SLCs) in all four high schools (See here for post re. grant application). While the grant proposal makes mention of the two smaller SLC grants […]

Madison School District Small Learning Community Grant Application

136 Page 2.6MB PDF:

Madison Metropolitan School District: A Tale of Two Cities-Interrupted
Smaller Learning Communities Program CFDA #84.215L [Clusty Search]
NEED FOR THE PROJECT
Wisconsin. Home of contented cows, cheese curds, and the highest incarceration rate for African American males in the country. The juxtaposition of one against the other, the bucolic against the inexplicable, causes those of us who live here and work with Wisconsin youth to want desperately to change this embarrassment. Madison, Wisconsin. Capital city. Ranked number one place in America to live by Money (1997) magazine. Home to Presidential scholars, twenty times the average number of National Merit finalists, perfect ACT and SAT scores. Home also to glaring rates of racial and socio-economic disproportionality in special education identification, suspension and expulsion rates, graduation rates, and enrollment in rigorous courses. This disparity holds true across all four of Madison’s large, comprehensive high schools and is increasing over time.
Madison’s Chief of Police has grimly characterized the educational experience for many low income students of color as a “pipeline to prison” in Wisconsin. He alludes to Madison’s dramatically changing demographics as a “tale of two cities.” The purpose of the proposed project is to re-title that unfolding story and change it to a “tale of two cities-interrupted” (TC-I). We are optimistic in altering the plot based upon our success educating a large portion of our students and our ability to solve problems through thoughtful innovation and purposeful action. Our intent is to provide the best possible educational experience for all of our students.

Much more on Small Learning Communities here [RSS SIS SLC Feed]. Bruce King’s evaluation of Madison West’s SLC Implementation. Thanks to Elizabeth Contrucci who forwarded this document (via Pam Nash). MMSD website.
This document is a fascinating look into the “soul” of the current MMSD Administration ($339M+ annual budget) along with their perceptions of our community. It’s important to note that the current “high school redesign” committee (Note Celeste Roberts’ comments in this link) is rather insular from a community participation perspective, not to mention those who actually “pay the bills” via property taxes and redistributed sales, income and user fees at the state and federal level.

West High School PTSO Meeting of 08-Jan-2007

The West High School PTSO met on January 8, 2007 with featured guest West teacher Heather Lott, coordinator for the Small Learning Community grant implementation. The video below only includes Heather Lott’s presentation and questions that followed. It does not include other portions of the meeting such as Dr. Holmes report of the West Principal, […]

West High School Small Learning Community Presentation 1/8/2007 @ 7:00p.m.

Madison West Small Learning Community Coordinator Heather Lott is giving a presentation at Monday evening’s PTSO meeting: “SLC Post-Grant Update and Discussion”. Location: Madison West High School LMC [Map] West’s implementation of Small Learning Communities has been controversial due to the move toward a one size fits all curriculum (English 9 and English 10). Background […]

More Than English 10: Let’s REALLY Talk About Our High Schools

First, I want to say BRAVO, RUTH, for putting it all together and bringing it on home to us. Thanks, too, to the BOE members who overrode BOE President Johnny Winston Jr’s decision to table this important discussion. Finally, deepest thanks to all of the East parents, students and teachers who are speaking out … […]

Assist students who enter high school with poor academic skills

A report from an organization called MDRC strikes a responsive chord because the report stresses the need to “assist students who enter high school with poor academic skills” instead of dumping them in English 10 and to improve instructional content and practice: [The report] offers research-based lessons from across these evaluations about five major challenges […]

“They’re all rich, white kids and they’ll do just fine” — NOT!

Two of the most popular — and most insidious — myths about academically gifted kids is that “they’re all rich, white kids” and that, no matter what they experience in school, “they’ll do just fine.” Even in our own district, however, the hard data do not support those assertions.
When the District analyzed dropout data for the five-year period between 1995 and 1999, they identified four student profiles. Of interest for the present purpose is the group identified as high achieving. Here are the data from the MMSD Research and Evaluation Report from May, 2000:
Group 1: High Achiever, Short Tenure, Behaved
This group comprises 27% of all dropouts during this five-year period.
Characteristics of this group:

  • Grade 5 math scores – 84.2 percentile
  • Male – 55%
  • Low income – 53%
  • Minority – 42%
  • African American – 31%
  • Hispanic – 6%
  • Asian – 5%

Evaluation of the SLC Project at West High School

Here is the full text of SLC Evaluator Bruce King’s recent report on the plan to implement a common English 10 course at West HS. Evaluation of the SLC Project at West High School The 10th Grade English Course M.Bruce King, Project Evaluator 608-263-4769, mbking1@wisc.edu 2 November 2005 The development and implementation of the common […]

High Schools Nationwide Paring Down

“Whenever you have a reform that has been successful in some places and then it�s scaled up quickly, with a lot of people who only understand it superficially, there�s a lot of danger that some people will do it poorly and that the idea will go down in flames,” said Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University who is an expert in small-school design.