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February 17, 2007

My Life and Times With the Madison Public Schools

Up close, the author finds that politics obscure key educational issues

Marc Eisen:

Where’s the challenge?

I’m no different. I want my kids pushed, prodded, inspired, and challenged in school. Too often—in the name of equity, or progressive education, or union protectionism, or just plain cheapness—that isn’t happening in the Madison schools.

Advanced classes are being choked off, while one-size-fits-all classes (“heterogeneous groupings”) are created for more and more students. The TAG staff has been slashed nearly in half (one staffer is now assigned to six elementary schools), and even outside groups promoting educational excellence are treated coolly if not with hostility (this is the fate of the most excellent Wisconsin Center For Academically Talented Youth [WCATY]). And arts programs are demeaned and orphaned.

This is not Tom Friedman’s recipe for student success in the 21st century. Sure, many factors can be blamed for this declining state of affairs, notably the howlingly bad way in which K-12 education is financed and structured in Wisconsin. But much of the problem also derives from the district’s own efforts to deal with “the achievement gap.”

That gap is the euphemism used for the uncomfortable fact that, as a group, white students perform better academically than do black and Hispanic students. For example, 46% of Madison’s black students score below grade level on the state’s 3rd grade reading test compared to 9% of white students.

At East, the state’s 10th grade knowledge-and-concepts test show widely disparate results by race. With reading, 81% of white kids are proficient or advanced versus 43% for black students. The achievement gap is even larger in math, science, social studies, and language arts. No wonder TAG classes are disproportionately white.

Reality is that the push for heterogeneous class grouping becomes, among other things, a convenient cover for reducing the number of advanced classes that are too white and unrepresentative of the district’s minority demographics.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at February 17, 2007 6:54 AM
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