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March 28, 2006


Last Thursday, the Isthmus newspaper published an extensive article by Jason Shepard entitled “The Fate of the Schools.” While the article covered many areas of interest regarding the school district and the upcoming school board elections, we have significant concerns about the way in which the article was written. These concerns include:


• The data in the article were used inappropriately. This story compares Madison’s schools with the small, suburban, middle-class districts surrounding it. A more comparable study would have looked at other districts with similar proportions of low-income students, such as Green Bay, LaCrosse, Racine and Milwaukee. The data also was not dis-aggregated. If it had been, it would have revealed that Madison’s white, non-poor children do as well as and even surpass both Dane County and larger districts in Wisconsin. Of that group, 96% of the "non-low-income" students scored proficient or advanced.

• Additionally, MMSD has 35% of the county's 3rd graders - and 70% of the county's low-income 3rd graders. On the math scores quoted in the article, it wasn’t pointed out that while Madison “only matches” the state average, Madison’s overall poverty rate is 30 percent higher. Madison continues to score above state and national averages on the ACT exam each year, despite the fact that more low-income and non-white students are taking the exam each year. MMSD had 69% of all the National Merit Semifinalists in the county this year (with only about 40% of the students).


• The top sources of information listed in the article when talking about diminishing public support for MMSD and data on the schools come from two sources: talk radio and the SIS blog, neither of which are primary sources. Also, no grassroots parent groups or civic groups were interviewed other than SIS. And, no educational experts from curriculum and instruction at UW-Madison were interviewed, yet it is listed as the number one Graduate School of Curriculum and Instruction in the United States (U.S. News and World Report, 2006).

• We acknowledge that many families have opted-out of the district, for a variety of reasons. However, the overall trends for enrollment in and outside of Madison also reflect the growth and availability of new housing. It is very difficult to pull out whether the bulk of the enrollment choices were based on perceived educational quality of MMSD or for a larger house with more young families in the neighborhood. Just as anecdotal evidence from SIS and other sources indicate disengagement from MMSD, we could assert, with just as much authority that, based on our own experiences with people we know, families continue to move into MMSD for its breadth of instruction, diversity, and high quality teachers and staff.


• On the issue of equity, MMSD should not be blamed for segregated housing in Madison. And in fact, many of the board members have supported increased resources to schools with high poverty rates, not just Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza. The formation of a new equity task force came from Carol Carstensen. Lawrie Kobza voted against its formation.

We raise these concerns in the interest of fairness, to give our fellow SIS readers a broader understanding of the issues covered in the article.

Submitted by: Francoise Davenport, Kirsten Engel, Jerry Eykholt, Kristina Grebener, Andrew Halada, Denise Halada, Molly Immendorf, Barbara Katz, Ed Kuharski, Jane Lambert, Randy Lambert, Beth Moss, Duncan Moss, Marge Passman, Lisa Pugh, Thomas Purnell, Fred Swanson, Beth Swedeen, Terry Tuschen, Barbara Wagner, Margaret Walters, and Andrea Wipperfurth.

Posted by at March 28, 2006 8:44 AM
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