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December 9, 2006

Important new information about credit for non-MMSD courses issue.

"In preparation for the December 11, 2006 meeting of the BOE's Performance and Achievement Committee, Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash prepared a memo dated December 5, 2006 along with 10 "exhibit" appendices for distribution to the BOE. "Exhibit 10" is a copy of the "Guidelines for Taking Coursework Outside the District" that she wrote in October, 2006, and I previously posted on SIS. In her memo she states "All the other nine procedures described herein, except this one, are governed by law or Board Policy. This process (her new Guidelines) was created by the MMSD to expand the opportunities for students to take courses outside the MMSD without increasing the costs to the MMSD and without undermining the integrity of the diploma a student receives from the MMSD. The "Guidelines for Taking Coursework Outside the MMSD" is the process and procedure currently used when, for example, a student who wants to take outside courses, but does not have any other option available to him/her. The cost for taking courses under this procedure is the responsibility of the student/parents. The procedure requires pre-approval by the principal and if the student wants credit for taking the course, he/she will receive elective credit if the District does not offer a comparable course. If the District offers a comparable course, the student will not receive credit. The student's transcript will only include a description of the course, the institution, if any, the date the course was completed, the credit, if any, and the pass/fail grade."

As I had stated previously on SIS I believe this is a new policy. It is definitely different from the one used in the recent past at Madison West HS in several crucial respects. It has never previously been brought before the BOE for formal approval. At the November 13, 2006 meeting of the Performance and Achievement Committee, I presented Superintendent Rainwater and members of the BOE with a copy of these "Guidelines". Superintendent Rainwater responded by stating that these Guidelines only apply to "Independent Study" and do not represent a change in policy. I interpreted his comments to mean they are simply a restatement of Board Policy 3545 - Independent Study. However, Nash's December 5th memo to the BOE quoted above seems to indicate that her "Guidelines" are to be interpreted as a catchall, meant to apply not just to independent study, but to ALL course work not specifically governed by State law or existing MMSD Board Policies, i.e., her exhibits 1-9. In other words, it is to apply as well to UW courses taken outside of the YOP, WCATY courses, online courses such as Stanford's EPGY taken outside of the InSTEP Program, UW-Extension courses where the District claims to offer a comparable course (even though in a very different format), etc., i.e., a variety of different types of formal course work offered through certified, non-MMSD programs. If so, shouldn't these "Guidelines" need formal BOE approval as a new Board Policy since, as Nash states in her memo, they are not currently covered under any existing Board Policies?

Nash's "Guidelines" state that no credit will be permitted for non-MMSD courses whenever THEY deem they offer a comparable course (i.e., regardless of format) ANYWHERE in the MMSD. Even when the MMSD doesn't offer a comparable course, they will permit a maximum of TWO ELECTIVE credits, i.e., they can not be used to fulfill specific requirements for graduation. Thus, if these Guidelines are allowed to stand, no credit whatsoever will be permitted for any high school or college course the district offers that a student takes, instead, via WCATY, EPGY, UW-Extension, online, correspondence, etc., regardless of the student's ability to access the District's comparable course.

I believe these new "Guidelines" will be harmful to a wide variety of alternative learners. They shut off the one safety value students currently have whose needs are not being adequately met by their own middle and high schools. Without it, more families will leave the MMSD for alternative schooling options if they can afford to do so and more students who stay will fail to graduate. If you agree with me, please express your concern by either (i) attending Monday's BOE meeting at 5:45 pm in the Doyle Administration Building, or (ii) writing a letter or email to all BOE members, Pam Nash, and Art Rainwater."

Posted by Janet Mertz at December 9, 2006 9:30 AM
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