Madison’s thriving private schools buck national trend

Matthew DeFour:

Private school enrollment has steadily declined across Wisconsin over the past 15 years, but that’s not the case in Madison and Dane County.
St. Ambrose Academy, a West Side Catholic middle and high school, has been rapidly expanding and is discussing the addition of an elementary school. EAGLE School is planning a $3 million expansion at its Fitchburg campus with the goal of increasing its student body by a third. And High Point Christian School on Madison’s Far West Side is full, so some students board a bus there and travel across town to its sister campus on the Far East Side.
“The Madison metropolitan area is definitely bucking the national trend,” said Michael Lancaster, superintendent of Madison Catholic Schools. “I wouldn’t say we’re growing at any kind of geometric or exponential rate. But we’re very solid in the Madison area.”
The vitality of local private schools could help explain the muted level of interest in Madison for the publicly funded voucher expansion proposed in Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget. Vouchers also face intense opposition from Dane County political and public school leaders.
Voucher expansion
Walker has proposed expanding the state’s voucher program from Milwaukee and Racine to school districts with more than 4,000 students and at least two schools with low ratings on the state’s new school report card. Based on the first report cards released last fall, students in Madison and eight other districts would qualify for vouchers.
On March 4, the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools held the first public voucher meeting in Madison at St. James Catholic School on the Near West Side. Fewer than 10 parents and private school administrators attended.
A similar meeting last week in Beloit, a smaller city with far fewer private schools, drew about 40 people, WCRIS executive director Matt Kussow said.

The largest challenge to Madison’s $392,000,000 public schools is not the threat of vouchers. Rather, it is the District’s long time disastrous reading results that undermine its prospects and reputation.
Suburban district growth and open enrollment leavers are also worth contemplation and action.

What Does Your MTI Contract Do for You? Health Insurance

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter, via a kind Jeannie Bettner email (PDF):

Since the late 1960’s, MTI members have had the benefit of the best health insurance available. Stressing the importance of having quality health insurance in providing economic security, members have made known that health insurance is their #1 priority via their responses to the Union’s Bargaining Survey. And, the Union not only was able to bargain specific benefits, such as acupuncture and extended mental health coverage, as demanded by MTI members, but due to a 1983 MTI victory in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, MTI was able to have an equal voice in which insurance company would provide the plan. This is important because varied insurance companies have different interpretations of the same insurance provisions.
Unfortunately, the District Administration took advantage of the increased leverage in negotiations enabled by Governor Walker’s Act 10, and forced concessions in health insurance and other Contract provisions, in exchange for agreeing to Collective Bargaining Agreements for MTI’s five bargaining units through June 2014.
Members who elected Physicians Plus health insurance under the revisions made by the District, will now lose that coverage June 30, 2013. For coverage effective July 1, options available are via Dean Health Plan, Group Health Cooperative and Unity. Each offers an HMO and a Point of Service Plan. The Point of Service enables greater coverage options, but at a higher premium.
Note: The three current carriers enabling a special open enrollment/annual choice to add or change coverage to members of ALL five MTI bargaining units until April 26, 2013. Changes in coverage will be effective July 1, 2013. The deadline for application to change coverage must be received in Human Resources by 5:00 p.m., April 26, 2013. The District has scheduled two health insurance information sessions for those with questions to seek answers from the above-referenced plans.
Health Insurance Information Sessions:
April 8 – La Follette Room C17 – 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. April 9 – Memorial Neighborhood Center – 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.

The Freedom To Teach

The Economist:

WITH Republican control of state government now firmly consolidated, Mississippi is poised for wholesale education reform. In his state-of-the-state address in January, Governor Phil Bryant proposed a robust, if rather familiar, basket of reforms: expansion of the state’s current (and highly restrictive) charter-school laws, merit pay for teachers, and higher standards for teacher training. More controversially, Mr Bryant proposed allowing students to enroll in schools outside of the district in which they live (so-called open enrollment), as well as privately-funded scholarships for students to attend private schools. With the exception of these last, the proposals have been enthusiastically embraced by the state legislature.
The question is whether they will work. Some charter schools have proven successful and the much-touted KIPP programme has produced marked improvement in test scores for low-income children. The worst fears of sceptics (that charter schools would siphon better teachers and better prepared students away from traditional public schools; that the result would intensify economic and ethnic segregation) have not been realised. But taken as a whole, school choice has failed to produce across-the-board improvements in student learning.

Dewhurst, Patrick Discuss Plans for School Reform

Morgan Smith:

Speaking in a Catholic school classroom in Austin, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick gave the first details of what they promised would be a wide-ranging set of proposals for public education policy during the upcoming legislative session.
Patrick, a Houston Republican who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said he would carry legislation that would increase the options for public school students through lifting the state’s cap on charter schools, fostering open enrollment within and across school districts, and creating a private school scholarship fund through offering a state business tax savings credit to corporations. When asked for further information about how such a scholarship program would operate, Patrick said the plan was still in its formative stages, and earlier, Dewhurst indicated that it may begin through a smaller-scale pilot program.

“We are not interested in the development of new charter schools”

Larry Winkler kindly emailed the chart pictured above.

Where have all the Students gone?

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin:

We are not interested in the development of new charter schools. Recent presentations of charter school programs indicate that most of them do not perform to the level of Madison public schools. I have come to three conclusions about charter schools. First, the national evidence is clear overall, charter schools do not perform as well as traditional public schools. Second where charter schools have shown improvement, generally they have not reached the level of success of Madison schools. Third, if our objective is to improve overall educational performance, we should try proven methods that elevate the entire district not just the students in charter schools. The performance of non-charter students in cities like Milwaukee and Chicago is dismal.
In addition, it seems inappropriate to use resources to develop charter schools when we have not explored system-wide programming that focuses on improving attendance, the longer school day, greater parental involvement and combating hunger and trauma.
We must get a better understanding of the meaning of ‘achievement gap.’ A school in another system may have made gains in ‘closing’ the achievement gap, but that does not mean its students are performing better than Madison students. In addition, there is mounting evidence that a significant portion of the ‘achievement gap’ is the result of students transferring to Madison from poorly performing districts. If that is the case, we should be developing immersion programs designed for their needs rather than mimicking charter school programs that are more expensive, produce inadequate results, and fail to recognize the needs of all students.
It should be noted that not only do the charter schools have questionable results but they leave the rest of the district in shambles. Chicago and Milwaukee are two systems that invested heavily in charter schools and are systems where overall performance is unacceptable.

Related links:

I am unaware of Madison School District achievement data comparing transfer student performance. I will email the Madison School Board and see what might be discovered.
Pat Schnieder:

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has some pretty strong ideas about how to improve academic achievement by Madison school children. Charter schools are not among them.
In fact, Madison’s ongoing debate over whether a charter school is the key to boosting academic achievement among students of color in the Madison Metropolitan School District is distracting the community from making progress, Soglin told me.
He attended part of a conference last week sponsored by the Urban League of Greater Madison that he says overstated the successes elsewhere of charter schools, like the Urban League’s controversial proposed Madison Preparatory Academy that was rejected by the Madison School Board a year ago.
“A number of people I talked with about it over the weekend said the same thing: This debate over charter schools is taking us away from any real improvement,” Soglin said.
Can a new committee that Soglin created — bringing together representatives from the school district, city and county — be one way to make real progress?

The City of Madison’s Education Committee, via a kind reader’s email. Members include: Arlene Silveira, Astra Iheukemere, Carousel Andrea S. Bayrd, Erik Kass, Jenni Dye, Matthew Phair, Maya Cole and Shiva Bidar-Sielaff.

McFarland-based online charter school growing fast

Matthew DeFour:

Business is booming at Wisconsin Virtual Academy after two of the state’s biggest virtual schools split from the country’s largest online K-12 education service provider.
The online charter school based in the McFarland School District, which next year will be the only virtual school in Wisconsin run by Virginia-based K12 Inc., saw a 50 percent increase in open enrollment applications this year, up from 2,402 to 3,586.
The increase comes as McFarland Superintendent Scott Brown prepares to report to his school board next month about whether WIVA is meeting performance benchmarks in the five-year charter contract that runs through mid-2014.
In an interview last week, Brown said WIVA’s state test scores are not meeting the contractual benchmarks, though he said the report isn’t finalized. He added the district may need more time to track how students improve over multiple years.

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


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.
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:

Administration Memo on the Madison Superintendent Search

Dylan Pauly, Legal Services:

Dr. Nerad recently announced his retirement effective June 30, 2013. Consequently, over the next few months this Board will be required to begin its search for the next District leader. While some members of the Board were Board members during the search that brought Dr. Nerad to Madison, many were not. A number of members have asked me to provide some background information so that they may familiarize themselves with the process that was used in 2007. Consequently, I have gathered the following documents for your review:
1. Request for Proposals: Consultation Services for Superintendent Search, Proposal 3113, dated March 19, 2007;
2. Minutes from Board meetings on February 26,2007, and March 12,2007, reflecting Board input and feedback regarding draft versions ofthe RFP;
3. Contract with Hazard, Young and Attea;
4. A copy of the Notice of Vacancy that was published in Education Week;
5. Minutes from a Board meeting on August 27, 2007, which contains the general timeline used to complete the search process; and,
6. Superintendent Search- Leadership Profile Development Session Schedule, which reflects how community engagement was handled during the previous search.
It is also my understanding that the Board may wish to create an ad hoc committee to handle various procedural tasks related to the search process. In line with Board Policy 1041, I believe it is appropriate to take official action in open session to create the new ad hoc. I recommend the following motion:

Dave Zweiful shares his thoughts on Dan Nerad’s retirement.
Related: Notes and links on Madison Superintendent hires since 1992.

Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater’s recent public announcement that he plans to retire in 2008 presents an opportunity to look back at previous searches as well as the K-12 climate during those events. Fortunately, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, we can quickly lookup information from the recent past.

The Madison School District’s two most recent Superintendent hires were Cheryl Wilhoyte [Clusty] and Art Rainwater [Clusty]. Art came to Madison from Kansas City, a district which, under court order, dramatically increased spending by “throwing money at their schools”, according to Paul Ciotti:

2008 Madison Superintendent candidate public appearances:

The Madison Superintendent position’s success is subject to a number of factors, including: the 182 page Madison Teachers, Inc. contract, which may become the District’s handbook (Seniority notes and links)…, state and federal laws, hiring practices, teacher content knowledge, the School Board, lobbying and community economic conditions (tax increase environment) among others.

Superintendent Nerad’s reign has certainly been far more open about critical issues such as reading, math and open enrollment than his predecessor (some board members have certainly been active with respect to improvement and accountability). The strings program has also not been under an annual assault, lately. That said, changing anything in a large organization, not to mention a school district spending nearly $15,000 per student is difficult, as Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman pointed out in 2009.

Would things improve if a new Superintendent enters the scene? Well, in this case, it is useful to take a look at the District’s recent history. In my view, diffused governance in the form of more independent charter schools and perhaps a series of smaller Districts, possibly organized around the high schools might make a difference. I also think the District must focus on just a few things, namely reading/writing, math and science. Change is coming to our agrarian era school model (or, perhaps the Frederick Taylor manufacturing model is more appropriate). Ideally, Madison, given its unparalleled tax and intellectual base should lead the way.

Perhaps we might even see the local Teachers union authorize charters as they are doing in Minneapolis.

Madison School Board rates Superintendent Nerad barely ‘proficient’;

Matthew DeFour:

If Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad’s job performance were judged like a student taking the state achievement test, he would score barely proficient, according to the Madison School Board’s most recent evaluation.
The evaluation, completed last month and released to the State Journal under the state’s Open Records Law, reveals the School Board’s divided view of Nerad’s performance.
School Board President James Howard said he expects the board to vote later this month on whether to extend Nerad’s contract beyond June 2013. The decision has been delayed as Nerad’s achievement gap plan is reviewed by the public, Howard said.
Soon after that plan was proposed last month, Howard said he would support extending Nerad’s contract. Now, Howard says he is uncertain how he’ll vote.
“It’s probably a toss-up,” he said. “There’s a lot of issues on the table in Madison. It’s time to resolve them. All this kicking-the-can-down-the-road stuff has to stop.”
Nerad said he has always welcomed feedback on how he can improve as a leader.

Related: Notes and links on Madison Superintendent hires since 1992.

Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater’s recent public announcement that he plans to retire in 2008 presents an opportunity to look back at previous searches as well as the K-12 climate during those events. Fortunately, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, we can quickly lookup information from the recent past.
The Madison School District’s two most recent Superintendent hires were Cheryl Wilhoyte [Clusty] and Art Rainwater [Clusty]. Art came to Madison from Kansas City, a district which, under court order, dramatically increased spending by “throwing money at their schools”, according to Paul Ciotti:

2008 Madison Superintendent candidate public appearances:

The Madison Superintendent position’s success is subject to a number of factors, including: the 182 page Madison Teachers, Inc. contract, which may become the District’s handbook (Seniority notes and links)…, state and federal laws, hiring practices, teacher content knowledge, the School Board, lobbying and community economic conditions (tax increase environment) among others.
Superintendent Nerad’s reign has certainly been far more open about critical issues such as reading, math and open enrollment than his predecessor (some board members have certainly been active with respect to improvement and accountability). The strings program has also not been under an annual assault, lately. That said, changing anything in a large organization, not to mention a school district spending nearly $15,000 per student is difficult, as Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman pointed out in 2009.
Would things improve if a new Superintendent enters the scene? Well, in this case, it is useful to take a look at the District’s recent history. In my view, diffused governance in the form of more independent charter schools and perhaps a series of smaller Districts, possibly organized around the high schools might make a difference. I also think the District must focus on just a few things, namely reading/writing, math and science. Change is coming to our agrarian era school model (or, perhaps the Frederick Taylor manufacturing model is more appropriate). Ideally, Madison, given its unparalleled tax and intellectual base should lead the way.
Perhaps we might even see the local Teachers union authorize charters as they are doing in Minneapolis.

Learning from California: Improving Efficiency of Classroom Time and Instruction

Center on Reinventing Public Education via a Deb Britt email:

John Danner, CEO and Founder of Rocketship Education, presented the Rocketship charter elementary school model and argued that hybrid schools are better for both students and teachers. Rocketship Education currently operates two open enrollment schools and serves a primarily low-income student population. The organization, which aims to have clusters in 50 cities over the next 15 years, works to eliminate the achievement gap by ensuring its low-income students are proficient and college-bound when they graduate from elementary school.
Shantanu Sinha, President and COO of the Khan Academy, described how their online academy began when the founder created math instruction videos to tutor his cousins. In just seven months, the Khan Academy has grown to serve over 2 million unique users per month with close to 60 million lessons delivered. With a mission “to deliver a world-class education to anyone anywhere,” the Academy is utilized mainly by students at home as a supplement to their regular school instruction. Increasingly, though, Khan lessons are used in public schools to provide self-paced exercises and assessments to students, so as to avoid gaps in learning.
Presentations and ensuing discussion with local leaders pointed to two core components of innovative education that Washington State can learn from: efficient use of teacher time and skill as well as individualized instruction. Each builds on the lessons which Joel Rose, founder of School of One, emphasized at the launch of the Washington Education Innovation Forum.

The Process for Discussing Madison School District High School Alignment

Superintendent Dan Nerad:

This is to provide clarity, transparency and direction in improving our high school curriculum and instruction, with ongoing communication.
(As presented to the MMSD Board of Education on January 6, 2011)
The following guiding principles were discussed:

Lots of related links:

‘Embedded honors’ program has issues

Mary Bridget Lee:

The controversy at West High School continues about the Madison School District’s new talented and gifted program. Students, parents and teachers decry the plan, pointing to the likelihood of a “tracking” system and increasingly segregated classes.
While I am in agreement with them here, I must differ when they mistakenly point to the current “embedded honors” system as a preferable method for dealing with TAG students.
The idea itself should immediately raise red flags. Teaching two classes at the same time is impossible to do well, if at all. Forcing teachers to create twice the amount of curriculum and attempt to teach both within a single context is unrealistic and stressful for the educators.
The system creates problems for students as well. There is very little regulation in the execution of these “embedded honors” classes, creating widely varying experiences among students. By trying to teach to two different levels within one classroom, “embedded honors” divides teachers’ attention and ultimately impairs the educational experiences of both groups of students.
While the concerns raised about Superintendent Dan Nerad’s plan are legitimate, “embedded honors” as a solution is not.

Lots of related links:

A rebellion at Madison West High School over new curriculum

Lynn Welch

When Paul Radspinner’s 15-year-old son Mitchell wanted to participate in a student sit-in last October outside West High School, he called his dad to ask permission.
“He said he was going to protest, and wanted to make sure I had no problem with it. I thought, ‘It’s not the ’60s anymore,'” recalls Radspinner. The students, he learned, were upset about planned curriculum changes, which they fear will eliminate elective class choices, a big part of the West culture.
“It was a real issue at the school,” notes Radspinner. “The kids found out about it, but the parents didn’t.”
This lack of communication is a main reason Radspinner and 60 other parents recently formed a group called West Cares. Calling itself the “silent majority,” the group this month opposed the new English and social studies honors classes the district is adding next fall at West, as well as Memorial. (East and La Follette High Schools already offer these classes for freshmen and sophomores.)
The parents fear separating smarter kids from others at the ninth-grade level will deepen the achievement gap by pushing some college-bound students into advanced-level coursework sooner. They also believe it will eviscerate West’s culture, where all freshmen and sophomores learn main subjects in core classes together regardless of achievement level.
“It’s a big cultural paradigm shift,” says parent Jan O’Neil. “That’s what we’re struggling with in the West community.”

Lots of related links:

Unlike Madison, Evanston is cutting honors classes

Chris Rickert:

Twenty-three years ago I walked the halls of Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill., with a diverse mix of white-, black- and brown-skinned fellow students.
Then I would walk into an honors class and be confronted with a near-blanket of white.
Not much has changed at my alma mater, and as a result the school district has been embroiled in a contentious curriculum debate that touches on race, academics and the meaning of public education itself.
Sound familiar?
Evanston and Madison are both affluent, well-educated and liberal. And both have high schools where racial achievement gaps are the norm. Their school districts differ, though, in their approach to that gap today: Evanston is cutting honors classes; Madison is adding them.
Unlike Madison, Evanston has long had a sizable minority population and began desegregating its elementary and middle schools in the 1960s — with some positive academic results.
Seniors at ETHS, the city’s only public high school, last year had an average ACT score of 23.5, or 2.5 points higher than the national average. This in one of only five states that requires its students to take the test and in a high school whose student population, about 2,900, is 43 percent white, 32 percent black and 17 percent Latino.

Lots of related links:

More here.

Response to Madison West High Parents’ Open Letter

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

As to the first point, I wish people were a bit less concerned about what will inconvenience or irritate our teachers and a bit more concerned about what’s best for our students. I think it is absolutely correct that the alignment plan will reduce the autonomy of teachers. Classes will have to be designed and taught against an overriding structure of curricular standards that will need to be addressed. I think that is a good thing.
We’d all like the freedom and autonomy to be able to define our own job responsibilities so that we could spend our time exclusively on the parts of our jobs that we particularly like and are good at, but that is certainly not the way that effective organizations work. I believe that teachers need to be held accountable for covering a specific, consistent, coherent and rigorous curriculum, because that is what’s best for their students. I don’t see how holding teachers to curriculum standards should inhibit their skills, creativity or engagement in the classroom.
The second point concerns 9th and 10th grade accelerated class options and the accusation that this will result in “segregation.” This line of argument has consistently bothered me.
We don’t hear much from African-American parents who are upset about the possibility of accelerated classes because, as the open letter puts it, they will result in “more segregation.” On the contrary, we on the Board have heard a number of times from middle class African-American parents who are dissatisfied, sometimes to the point of pulling their kids from our schools, because their kids regularly experience situations where well-meaning teachers and staff assume that because the kids are African-American, they’ll need special help or won’t be able to keep up with advanced class work. I think that frustration with this essentially patronizing attitude has contributed to community support for the Madison Prep proposal. It seems to me that the open letter suggests the same attitude.

It will be interesting to see how the course options play out. I suspect this will be a marathon, as it has been since the grant driven small learning community initiative and the launch of English 10 some years ago.
I very much appreciate Ed’s comments, including this “a bit more concerned about what’s best for our students”.
Lots of related links:

More here.

Madison Schools will press ahead with High School honors classes despite protests

Matthew DeFour:

Despite lingering concerns from some parents, students and teachers, the Madison School District will introduce 9th and 10th grade honors classes next fall at West High School — changes that prompted a student protest last fall.
Superintendent Dan Nerad said he discussed with staff over the weekend the possibility of not introducing the honors classes after school board members and parents raised questions at a meeting Thursday night.
Nerad said the decision comes down to following the district’s talented-and-gifted plan, which called for offering honors classes at all high schools starting in this current school year.
“This has already been put off a year,” Nerad said in an interview Monday. “We have an obligation to move forward with what’s been identified in the TAG plan.”
On Friday, 18 West parents sent a letter to the district asking that the honors classes be delayed.

Lots of related links:

More here.

An Update on Madison’s High School Reforms

TJ Mertz:

The issues are the failure of the MMSD Administration to follow basic practices of open inclusive governance and the implementation of segregative policies.
Below (and here) [70K PDF] is an open letter drafted and signed by 18 West High parents on Friday 1/7/2010. Understanding the letter requires some background and context. The background — along with the latest news and some final thoughts -follows.

Lots of related links:

More here.

More on Madison’s Response to DPI Complaint

Great Madison

In its response to the Department of Public Instruction’s request for information on its talented and gifted services, the Madison School District points out that the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) has recently updated its standards for TAG programming. Now, the District argues, the NAGC standards “actually serve as validation of the District’s current practices,” including West High School’s claim that it meets the needs of talented and gifted students through differentiation within regular classrooms. We disagree.
The NAGC issued its revised standards in September, around the same time West High School area parents filed a complaint against the Madison School District for allowing West High to deny appropriate programming to academically gifted students. West has refused for years to provide alternatives to its regular core curriculum for 9th and 10th graders who demonstrate high performance capabilities in language arts and social studies.
The District writes:

Lots of related links:

Madison School District Responds to DPI

Great Madison Schools

On November 29, 2010, the Madison School District responded to a request for information from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) about Madison’s services for talented and gifted students.
The DPI initiated an audit of Madison’s talented and gifted programming after West High School area parents filed a complaint on September 20, 2010, arguing that West refuses to provide appropriate programs for ninth and tenth grade students gifted in language arts and social studies. West requires all freshmen and sophomores to take regular core English and history courses, regardless of learning level.
(All three of Madison’s other comprehensive high schools-East, LaFollette, and Memorial-provide advanced sections of core subjects before 11th grade. East and LaFollette offer advanced and/or honors sections starting in ninth grade, while Memorial offers English 10 honors and AP World History for tenth graders.)
As part of a Small Learning Community Initiative phased in over the past decade, West implemented a one-size-for-all English and social studies program to stop different groups of students from following different courses of study. Some groups had typically self-selected into rigorous, advanced levels while others seemed stuck in more basic or remedial levels. Administrators wanted to improve the quality of classroom experience and instruction for “all students” by mixing wide ranges of ability together in heterogeneous classrooms.

All Together Now? Educating high and low achievers in the same classroom

Michael Petrilli, via a kind reader’s email:

The greatest challenge facing America’s schools today isn’t the budget crisis, or standardized testing, or “teacher quality.” It’s the enormous variation in the academic level of students coming into any given classroom. How we as a country handle this challenge says a lot about our values and priorities, for good and ill. Unfortunately, the issue has become enmeshed in polarizing arguments about race, class, excellence, and equity. What’s needed instead is some honest, frank discussion about the trade-offs associated with any possible solution.
U.S. students are all over the map in terms of achievement (see Figure 1). By the 4th grade, public-school children who score among the top 10 percent of students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are reading at least six grade levels above those in the bottom 10 percent. For a teacher with both types of students in her classroom, that means trying to challenge kids ready for middle-school work while at the same time helping others to decode. Even differences between students at the 25th and at the 75th percentiles are huge–at least three grade levels. So if you’re a teacher, how the heck do you deal with that?

Lots of related links:

The Six Major Components of the MMSD High School Plan

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

In an earlier post, I provided my understanding of the background of the protest at West High about the proposal for changes in the District’s high school curriculum. I explained how the proposal was an outgrowth of the work that has gone on at the high schools for the last few years under the auspices of a federal grant, known as the REaL grant (for Relationships, Engagement and Learning).
That proposal, which will affect all four of the District’s comprehensive high schools and is now known as the High School Career and College Readiness Plan, has since evolved somewhat, partially in response to the feedback that has been received and partially as a consequence of thinking the proposals through a bit more.
Here is where things currently stand.
The high school proposal should start a conversation that could last for a few years regarding a long-term, systematic review of our curriculum and the way it is delivered to serve the interests of all learners. What’s currently on the table is more limited in scope, though it is intended to serve as the foundation for later work.
The principal problem the proposal is meant to address is that we currently don’t have any district-defined academic standards at the high school level. There is no established set of expectations for what skills students should be learning in each subject area each year. Since we don’t have any basic expectations, we also don’t have any specific and consistent goals for accelerated learning. A corollary of this is that we really don’t have many ways to hold a teacher accountable for the level of learning that goes on in his or her classroom. Also, we lack a system of assessments that would let us know how our students are progressing through high school.

Lots of related links:

Segregating the smart from the not-as-smart helps nobody

Chris Rickert

I’ve never been accused of having any talent worth nurturing in an Advanced Placement class, although I’m sure there are some who would say I have a gift for irritating people. (Unfortunately, they don’t give out Rhodes Scholarships for that.)
So feel free to take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt, or a healthy dose of sour grapes on my part, but I question the utility of the way we challenge the young brainiacs among us.
Diving deeply into physics or fine arts might make for good rocket scientists and concert pianists, but it would also seem inevitably to exclude a certain less intense, yet broader range of experiences and the people they include.
My new Facebook friends and perhaps the most courteous political insurgents ever, Madison West seniors Joaquin Selva and Jacob Fiksel, admitted to something along those lines when I ran into them Wednesday at the school district’s Community Conversation on Education.

Lots of related links:

Madison grapples with how to serve ‘Talented and Gifted’

Gayle Worland, via a kind reader’s email:

Three times a week, Van Hise Elementary fifth-grader Eve Sidikman and two fellow students from her school board a bus bound for GEMS, the Madison school district’s “Growing Elementary Math Students” program for students whose math abilities are so high they aren’t challenged in a standard classroom.
Eve’s bus also makes the rounds to Randall and Thoreau before pulling up to the curb at Shorewood Elementary, where Eve and her GEMS classmates have a two-hour math session taught by a member of the district’s Talented and Gifted staff.
“She teaches it in a creative and fun way,” Eve, who was placed in GEMS after her mother sought out and paid for a national test that proved Eve was capable of acing eighth-grade math, said of her teacher. “I think she’s preparing us for our middle school years well.”
The Madison School district is grappling with how best to serve students deemed “Talented and Gifted,” or TAG in district shorthand — partly to stem a talent drain through open enrollment, partly to satisfy a vocal group of dissatisfied parents, and partly to find more Eves who don’t necessarily have a family with the financial means, determination and know-how to capitalize on their student’s untapped talents.
District critics say change is happening too slowly — something Superintendent Dan Nerad admits — and programs like GEMS are few and far between. Advocates also acknowledge, however, there is skepticism of gifted services among both the public and educators at a time when so many students fail to meet even minimal standards.

Lots of related links:

Watch, listen or read an interview with UW-Madison Education Professor Adam Gamoran. Gamoran was interviewed in Gayle Worland’s article.

Madison Schools delay changes to High School curriculum after backlash

Matthew DeFour

But for West High School teachers and students the “dual pathways” label sounded like the tracking model the school abandoned 15 years ago that created a lot of “low-level, non-rigorous classes with a lot of segregation by socio-economic status, which is pretty much racially,” science department chairman Steve Pike said.
“If they had this document beforehand” Pike said of the document unveiled Friday, “it would have at least shown that there’s a lot of questions and a lot of work that needed to be done.”
West teachers aren’t the only ones with concerns.
Peggy Ellerkamp, a librarian at LaFollette High School, said teachers there wonder how students in regular classes will be able to move into advanced classes, especially if regular courses become “more like a one-room schoolhouse” with embedded honors, regular, special education and English language learner students.
“I have a lot of questions about a lot of the details,” Ellerkamp said. “I’m very pleased that there’s more time for this to be worked through.”
Jessica Hotz, a social studies teacher at East High School, is concerned that gearing classes to the Advanced Placement test could result in a “dumbing down of the curriculum.” One proposed change in social studies would cram U.S. history into one year instead of the two years that East offers now, Hotz said.

Many links:

Madison School District: High School Career and College Readiness Plan

via a kind reader’s email:

We have received a significant volume of questions and feedback regarding the plan for High School College and Career Readiness. We are in the process of reviewing and reflecting upon questions and feedback submitted to date. We are using this information to revise our original timeline. We will provide additional information as we move forward.
We will have an electronic format for gathering additional feedback in the near future.
High School Career And College Readiness Plan is a comprehensive plan outlining curricular reform for MMSD comprehensive high schools and a district-wide process that will end in significant curriculum reform. The rationale for developing this plan is based on five points:

  1. Need for greater consistency across our comprehensive high schools.
  2. Need to align our work to the ACT career and college readiness standards and common core standards.
  3. Need to address our achievement gaps and to do so with a focus on rigor and acceleration of instruction.
  4. Need to address loss of students through open enrollment.
  5. Need to respond to issues regarding unequal access to accelerated courses in grades 9 and 10.

The plan is based on the following theory of action:

Lots of related links:

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:

School Board member Marj Passmon on the Proposed Madison High School Changes

via email:

It was the intention of the Administration to first introduce the plan to HS staff and administrators and get some input from them. If you read the Plan then you know that it never discusses anything relating to current electives or student options and, I, personally, would never vote for any plan that does.
Although I admire the students for their leadership and support of their school, both they and their teachers seem to have leaped to certain conclusions. I am not saying that this is a perfect plan and yes, there are elements that may need to be worked on but to immediately jump on it without asking any questions or presenting suggestions for improvement does not speak well of those who helped to spread rumors.
It is now up to MMSD Administrators to explain to the staff and students what this Plan is actually about and, perhaps then, the West Staff can have a more objective discussion with their classes.
Marjorie Passman
Madison Board of Education

Lots of related links:

Notes and Links on the Madison West High School Student Sit-in

Gayle Worland:

Sitting cross-legged on the ground or perched high on stone sculptures outside the school, about a quarter of West High’s 2,086 students staged a silent 37-minute sit-in Friday morning outside their building to protest a district proposal to revamp curriculum at the city’s high schools.
The plan, unveiled to Madison School District teachers and parents this week, would offer students in each high school the chance to pick from advanced or regular classes in the core subjects of math, science, English and social studies. Students in the regular classes could also do additional work for honors credit.
Designed to help the district comply with new national academic standards, the proposal comes in the wake of a complaint filed against the district by parents in the West attendance area arguing the district fails to offer adequate programs for “talented and gifted” ninth and 10th grade students at West. The complaint has prompted an audit by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Susan Troller:

Okay, everyone, remember to breathe, and don’t forget to read.
A draft copy of possible high school curriculum changes got what could be gently characterized as a turbulent response from staff and students at West High School. Within hours of the release of a proposal that would offer more advanced placement options in core level courses at local high schools, there was a furious reaction from staff and students at West, with rumors flying, petitions signed and social media organizing for a protest. All in all, the coordination and passion was pretty amazing and would have done a well-financed political campaign proud.
Wednesday and Thursday there was talk of a protest walk-out at West that generated interest from over 600 students. By Friday morning, the march had morphed into a silent sitdown on the school steps with what looked like 200 to 300 students at about 10:50 a.m. when I attended. There were also adult supporters on the street, a media presence and quite a few police cars, although the demonstration was quiet and respectful. (Somehow, I don’t think the students I saw walking towards the Regent Market or sitting, smoking, on a stone wall several blocks from school, were part of the protest).

TJ Mertz has more as does Lucy Mathiak.
Lots of related links:

Madison West Students To Protest Proposed School Changes, via a kind reader’s email:

Lots of related links:

The Mess with Madison West (Updated)

TJ Mertz, via email:

[Update: I just got emailed this letter as West parent. Crisis communication is happening. Not much new here, but some clarity}

The first steps with the “High School Curricular Reform, Dual Pathways to Post-Secondary Success” are a mess, a big mess of the administration’s own making.

Before I delve into the mess and the proposal, I think it is important to say that despite huge and inexcusable problems with the process, many unanswered questions and some real things of concern; there are some good things in the proposal. One part near the heart of the plan in particular is something I’ve been pushing for years: open access to advanced classes and programs with supports. In the language of the proposal:

Pathways open to all students. Students are originally identified by Advanced Placement requirements and other suggested guidelines such as EXPLORE /PLAN scores, GPA, past MS/HS performance and MS/HS Recommendation. however, all students would be able to enroll. Students not meeting suggested guidelines but wanting to enroll would receive additional supports (tutoring, skill development classes, AVID, etc.) to ensure success. (emphasis added and I would like to see it added in the implementation).

Right now there are great and at times irrational barriers in place. These need to go. I hope this does not get lost as the mess is cleaned up.

This is in four sections: The Mess; What Next?; The Plan: Unanswered Questions and Causes for Concern; and Final Thought.

Lots of related links:

Uproar at West High over Madison School District’s Curricular Reform Proposal

Lorie Raihala:

There’s been a great deal of misinformation and angry speculation flying around West High regarding the District’s High School Curricular Reform proposal.
On Tuesday, District administrators unveiled their plan for high school curricular reform at meeting with nearly 200 educators from all four high schools. Several parents attended the subsequent TAG Advisory Committee meeting, during which they also revealed an overview of the plan to this group.
I attended the TAG Advisory meeting. As I understand it, this plan involves increasing the number of accelerated and AP courses and expanding access to these options.
When teachers at West got news of this plan, many were enraged at not being included in its development. Further, many concluded that the District plans to replace West’s electives with AP courses. They’ve expressed their concerns to students in their classes, and kids are riled up. Students plan to stage a walk-out on Friday, during which they will walk down to the Doyle Building and deliver a petition to Superintendent Nerad protesting the proposed reforms.

Lots of related links:

$12 an Hour for Teachers, $1.7 Million a Year for the Teachers’ Boss: Your Property Tax Dollars at Work in McFarland

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes

We received the Open Enrollment numbers for this year and they provide much grist for thought. My first reaction is prompted by the fact that 158 MMSD students have open enrolled in the McFarland School District. Since we have to send about $6,800 per student to districts that receive our open enrollers, this means that we’ll be cutting a (perhaps figurative) check in excess of $1,000,000 to the McFarland School District.
Since last year, McFarland has operated a virtual school. This year, according to Gayle Worland’s article in last Sunday’s State Journal, the virtual school has enrolled 813 students, and a grand total of 5 of them live in McFarland.
Actually, it is overly generous to say that McFarland “operates” the virtual school, known as Wisconsin Virtual Academy. More accurately, McFarland has contracted with a publicly-traded corporation, K12, Inc., to operate the charter school, through another organization called Four Lakes Education.

Madison school district to consider alternatives to traditional public schools

Gayle Worland, via a kind reader’s email:

The Madison School District will explore creating more charter schools, magnet schools, and schools-within-schools — in part to help keep middle-class families in the district.
Superintendent Dan Nerad said Tuesday he plans to appoint a committee next month to study alternatives to the traditional public school.
The group will include district staff as well as members from the community and will work on the project for about a year, Nerad said Tuesday in a meeting with the State Journal editorial board.
“I don’t know what they’ll come back with, but it’s something that I think is certainly worth investigating, and worth discussion,” School Board member Arlene Silveira said of the committee. “It’s kind of exciting — there’s so many ways to deliver education now.”


220K Draft copy of the Madison School District’s “High School Curricular Reform”.
Promising. We’ll see how it plays out.

Complaint Filed Against Madison Schools, 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.”


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

Madison School Board Wants To Challenge Gifted Kids

Channel3000, via a kind reader:

Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education members are trying to fight a perception that the school district doesn’t pay enough attention to the city’s brightest students.
School Board member Marj Passman told WTDY Radio that the perception of ignoring gifted students needs, along with the changing demographics of the district, have resulted in a tripling of the number of students transferring out of the district in the past five years.
Passman said despite budget cuts, the board will still strive to launch new partnerships and initiatives this year to push students further, and retain more of them.

Related: Madison School District Talented & Gifted Plan, English 10 and the recent Madison School Board discussion and vote on outbound open enrollment.
A reader mentioned that the Madison School Board meets this evening, but that Talented and Gifted is not on the agenda.
Finally, two Madison School Board seats will be on the April, 2011 spring ballot. They are currently occupied by Ed Hughes and Marj Passman.

New Jersey’s Interdistrict School Choice Program

New Jersey Left Behind:

Give a round of applause to the Assembly for passing A-355, which makes the pilot Interdistrict School Choice program permanent. What’s not to like? Kids in failing schools can cross district lines to attend a more successful school (see NJ Left Behind previous coverage here and here). And those more successful schools, according to a report from Rutgers, are almost unanimous in their support of the Program and their reports of its positive fiscal and educational impact.

Related: Outbound open enrollment in the Madison School District.

“They have the power, but I don’t think anyone has looked at this. So [once again], I’m the angry black man.” interviews Kaleem Caire about the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy, via a kind reader:

In Caire’s mind, kids can’t wait. Consider the data he cites from the ACT District Profile Report for the Madison Metropolitan School District’s 2010 graduating class:

Of students taking the ACT, average test scores differed significantly between African Americans and white students:

English Math Reading Science Composite
African Americans 16.3 18.0 17.1 18.4 17.6
Caucasian/White 25.1 25.6 25.8 24.8 25.4

The percent of students meeting ACT College Readiness Benchmark Scores, broken out by ethnicity, for the 2010 graduating class seems more alarming:

Total Tested English (18) Math (22) Reading (21) Science (24)
All Students 1,122 81% 68% 71% 51%
African Americans 76 38% 24% 25% 9%
Caucasian/White 733 90% 77% 79% 60%
Hispanic 71 59% 39% 45% 18%
Asian/Pacific Isl. 119 67% 65% 61% 45%

Numbers like these fuel Caire’s fire, and his vision for The Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men. “I’m amazed that [the primarily white leadership in the city] hasn’t looked at this data and said, ‘wow!’ They have the power, but I don’t think anyone has looked at this. So [once again], I’m the angry black man.”

Caire understands the challenges that lie ahead. By November, he needs to formally propose the idea to the School Board, after which he will seek a planning grant from the Department of Public Instruction. He anticipates other hurdles along the way. Among them, a misconstrued conception. “Madison believes it’s creative, but the reality is, it’s not innovative.” Will the community accept this idea, or sit back and wait, he wonders.
Second: The resources to do it. “We can survive largely on what the school system can give us [once we’re up and running], but there’s seed money you need to get to that point.”
Third: The teacher’s union response. “No one knows what that will be,” Caire said. “The school board and district are so influenced by the teacher’s union, which represents teachers. We represent kids. To me, it’s not, ‘teachers at all costs,’ it’s ‘kids first.’ We’ll see where our philosophies line up.” He added that the Urban League and those behind the Charter School idea are not at all opposed to the teacher’s union, but the Prep School’s design includes, for example, a school day longer than the teacher’s contract allows. “This isn’t about compensation,” he said of the contract, “it’s about commitment. We don’t want red tape caught up in this, and we want to guarantee long-term success.”

Related: “They’re all rich, white kids and they’ll do just fine” — NOT! and outbound open enrollment.

As the Madison school year starts, a pair of predicaments

Paul Fanlund, via a kind reader:

In fact, the changing face of Madison’s school population comes up consistently in other interviews with public officials.
Police Chief Noble Wray commented recently that gang influences touch even some elementary schools, and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz expressed serious concern last week that the young families essential to the health and vitality of Madison are too often choosing to live outside the city based on perceptions of the city’s schools.
Nerad says he saw the mayor’s remarks, and agrees the challenge is real. While numbers for this fall will not be available for weeks, the number of students who live in Madison but leave the district for some alternative through “open enrollment” will likely continue to grow.
“For every one child that comes in there are two or three going out,” Nerad says, a pattern he says he sees in other urban districts. “That is the challenge of quality urban districts touched geographically by quality suburban districts.”
The number of “leavers” grew from 90 students as recently as 2000-01 to 613 last year, though the increase might be at least partly attributed to a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that greatly curtailed the ability of school districts to use race when deciding where students will go to school. In February 2008, the Madison School Board ended its long-standing practice of denying open enrollment requests if they would create a racial imbalance.
Two key reasons parents cited in a survey last year for moving children were the desire for better opportunities for gifted students and concerns about bullying and school safety. School Board member Lucy Mathiak told me last week that board members continue to hear those two concerns most often.
Nerad hears them too, and he says that while some Madison schools serve gifted students effectively, there needs to be more consistency across the district. On safety, he points to a recent district policy on bullying as evidence of focus on the problem, including emphasis on what he calls the “bystander” issue, in which witnesses need to report bullying in a way that has not happened often enough.
For all the vexing issues, though, Nerad says much is good about city schools and that perceptions are important. “Let’s be careful not to stereotype the urban school district,” he says. “There is a lot at stake here.”

Related: the growth in outbound open enrollment from the Madison School District and ongoing budget issues, including a 10% hike in property taxes this year and questions over 2005 maintenance referendum spending.
The significant property tax hike and ongoing budget issues may be fodder for the upcoming April, 2011 school board election, where seats currently occupied by Ed Hughes and Marj Passman will be on the ballot.
Superintendent Nerad’s statement on “ensuring that we have a stable middle class” is an important factor when considering K-12 tax and spending initiatives, particularly in the current “Great Recession” where housing values are flat or declining and the property tax appetite is increasing (The Tax Foundation, via TaxProf:

The Case-Shiller index, a popular measure of residential home values, shows a drop of almost 16% in home values across the country between 2007 and 2008. As property values fell, one might expect property tax collections to have fallen commensurately, but in most cases they did not.
Data on state and local taxes from the U.S. Census Bureau show that most states’ property owners paid more in FY 2008 (July 1, 2007, through June 30, 2008) than they had the year before (see Table 1). Nationwide, property tax collections increased by more than 4%. In only four states were FY 2008’s collections lower than in FY 2007: Michigan, South Carolina, Texas and Vermont. And in three states–Florida, Indiana and New Mexico–property tax collections rose more than 10%.

It will be interesting to see what the Madison school District’s final 2010-2011 budget looks like. Spending and receipts generally increase throughout the year. This year, in particular, with additional borrowed federal tax dollars on the way, the District will have funds to grow spending, address the property tax increase or perhaps as is now increasingly common, spend more on adult to adult professional development.
Madison’s K-12 environment is ripe for change. Perhaps the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy charter school will ignite the community.

“Are you a PC or a Mac?”: an interview with Principal David Elliott on the tech focus of Seattle’s Queen Anne Elementary

Mary Cropp:

Among piles of paperwork and shelves crowded with books on edu-topics, David Elliott’s office at Coe Elementary is crammed with pictures of baseball teams he has coached, crayoned drawings, and letters with childish handwriting careening all over the page. There’s a lot of stuff that he is going to need to haul out of here at the end of June when he moves to become principal at Queen Anne Elementary.
Elliott concedes that a recent shift in focus at this soon-to-open school, coupled with a lack of publicity, has a lot of parents scratching their heads about whether or not to enroll their child in this so called “Option School.” And time is running out — the Open Enrollment period will come to a close on March 31st. To that end, Elliott sat down with me earlier this week (full disclosure: my kids go to Coe Elementary) to discuss this new venture he is heading up. Elliot’s answers to my questions are in italics.

At first Seattle Public Schools said that Queen Anne Elementary was going to be a Montessori school. Now it is going to have a “technology” focus. How did that change come about?

Madison School District’s 2009-2010 Citizen’s Budget Released ($421,333,692 Gross Expenditures, $370,287,471 Net); an Increase of $2,917,912 from the preliminary $418,415,780 2009-2010 Budget

Superintendent Dan Nerad 75K PDF:

Attached to this memorandum you will find the final version of the 2009-10 Citizen’s Budget. The Citizen’s Budget is intended to present financial information to the community in a format that is more easily understood. The first report groups expenditures into categories outlined as follows:

  • In-School Operations
  • Curriculum & Teacher Development & Support
  • Facilities, Other Than Debt Service
  • Transportation
  • Food Service
  • Business Services
  • Human Resources
  • General Administration
  • Debt Service
  • District-Wide
  • MSCR

The second report associates revenue sources with the specific expenditure area they are meant to support. In those areas where revenues are dedicated for a specific purpose(ie. Food Services) the actual amount is represented. In many areas of the budget, revenues had to be prorated to expenditures based on the percentage that each specific expenditure bears of the total expenditure budget. It is also important to explain that property tax funds made up the difference between expenditures and all other sources of revenues. The revenues were broken out into categories as follows:

  • Local Non-Tax Revenue
  • Equalized & Categorical State Aid
  • Direct Federal Aid
  • Direct State Aid
  • Property Taxes

Both reports combined represent the 2009-10 Citizen’s Budget.


I’m glad to see this useful document finally available for the 2009-2010 school year. Thanks to the Madison School Board members who pushed for its release.

Parent Feedback on the Madison School District’s “Branding” Expenditures

via a kind reader’s email: Parent Diane Harrington:

Dear Board Members, Dr. Nerad, and Madison Alders,
My 11-year-old and I visited John Muir Elementary for basketball practice one recent evening. Their gym has banners noting that for several years they’ve been named a “School of Excellence.”
Ben’s school, Orchard Ridge Elementary, had just been dubbed a “School of Promise.”
Which school would YOU rather go to?
But Ben didn’t need a marketing effort to tell him which school was which; he knows some John Muir kids. Ben, too, would like to go to a school where kids are expected to learn and to behave instead of just encouraged to.
Just like those banners, the very idea of your upcoming, $86,000 “branding” effort isn’t fooling anyone.
You don’t need to improve your image. You need to improve your schools.
Stop condescending to children, to parents and to the public. Skip the silly labels and the PR plans.
Instead, just do your #^%* job. (If you need help filling in that blank, head to ORE or Toki. Plenty of kids – some as young as kindergarten – use several colorful words in the hallways, classrooms, lunchroom and playground without even a second look, much less disciplinary action, from a teacher or principal.)
Create an environment that strives for excellence, not mediocrity. Guide children to go above and beyond, rather than considering your job done once they’ve met the minimum requirements.
Until then, it’s all too obvious that any effort to “cultivate relationships with community partners” is just what you’re branding it: marketing. It’s just about as meaningless as that “promise” label on ORE or the “honor roll” that my 13-year-old and half the Toki seventh graders are on.
P.S. At my neighborhood association’s annual Winter Social earlier tonight, one parent of a soon-to-be-elementary-age child begged me to tell him there was some way to get a voucher so he could avoid sending his daughter to ORE. His family can’t afford private school. Another parent told me her soon-to-be-elementary-age kids definitely (whew!) were going to St. Maria Goretti instead of ORE. A friend – even though her son was finishing up at ORE this year – pulled her daughter out after kindergarten (yes, to send her to Goretti), because the atmosphere at ORE is just too destructive and her child wasn’t learning anything. These people aren’t going to be fooled by a branding effort. And you’re only fooling yourselves (and wasting taxpayer money) if you think otherwise.

Parent Lorie Raihala:

Regarding the Madison School District’s $86,000 “branding campaign,” recent polls have surveyed the many families who have left the district for private schools, virtual academies, home schooling or open enrollment in other districts.
Public schools are tuition free and close to home, so why have these parents chosen more expensive, less convenient options? The survey results are clear: because Madison schools have disregarded their children’s learning needs.
Top issues mentioned include a lack of challenging academics and out-of-control behavior problems. Families are leaving because of real experience in the schools, not “bad press” or “street corner stories.”
How will the district brand that?
Lorie Raihala Madison

An Evaluation: Virtual Charter Schools

Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau:

Virtual charter schools are publicly funded nonsectarian schools that are exempt from many regulations that apply to traditional public schools and that offer the majority of their classes online. They began operating in Wisconsin during the 2002-03 school year. Pupils typically attend from their homes and communicate with teachers using e-mail, by telephone, or in online discussions. During the 2007-08 school year, 15 virtual charter schools enrolled 2,951 pupils. Most were high schools.
A Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruling in December 2007 prevented the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) from providing state aid payments to a virtual charter school through the open enrollment program, which allows pupils to attend public schools outside of their school districts of residence. 2007 Wisconsin Act 222, which was enacted to address concerns raised in the lawsuit, also required us to address a number of topics related to virtual charter schools. Therefore, we evaluated:

  • enrollment trends, including the potential effects of a limit on open enrollment in virtual charter schools that was enacted in 2007 Wisconsin Act 222;
  • virtual charter school operations, including attendance requirements, opportunities for social development and interaction, and the provision of special education and related services;
  • funding and expenditures, including the fiscal effects of open enrollment on “sending” and “receiving” districts;
  • teaching in virtual charter schools, including teacher licensing and pupil-teacher interaction; and
  • academic achievement, including test scores and other measures, as well as pupils’, parents’, and teachers’ satisfaction with virtual charter schools.

Madison School District 2010-2011 Budget: Comments in a Vacuum?

TJ Mertz comments on Monday evening’s Madison School Board 2010-2011 budget discussion (video – the budget discussion begins about 170 minutes into the meeting). The discussion largely covered potential property tax increases. However and unfortunately, I’ve not seen a document that includes total revenue projections for 2010-2011.
The District’s Administration’s last public total 2009-2010 revenue disclosure ($418,415,780) was in October 2009.
Property tax revenue is one part of the MMSD’s budget picture. State and Federal redistributed tax dollars are another big part. The now dead “citizens budget” was a useful effort to provide more transparency to the public. I hope that the Board pushes for a complete picture before any further substantive budget discussions. Finally, the Administration promised program reviews as part of the “Strategic Planning Process” and the recent referendum (“breathing room”). The documents released to date do not include any substantive program review budget items.
Ed Hughes (about 190 minutes): “it is worth noting that evening if we taxed to the max and I don’t think we’ll do that, the total expenditures for the school District will be less than we were projecting during the referendum“. The documents published, as far as I can tell, on the school board’s website do not reflect 2010-2011 total spending.
Links to Madison School District spending since 2007 (the referendum Ed mentioned was in 2008)

It would be great to see a year over year spending comparison from the District, including future projections.
Further, the recent “State of the District” document [566K PDF] includes only the “instructional” portion of the District’s budget. There are no references to the $418,415,780 total budget number provided in the October 26, 2009 “Budget Amendment and Tax Levy Adoption document [1.1MB PDF]. Given the organization’s mission and the fact that it is a taxpayer supported and governed entity, the document should include a simple “citizen’s budget” financial summary. The budget numbers remind me of current Madison School Board member Ed Hughes’ very useful 2005 quote:

This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

In my view, while some things within our local public schools have become a bit more transparent (open enrollment, fine arts, math, TAG), others, unfortunately, like the budget, have become much less. This is not good.
Ed, Lucy and Arlene thankfully mentioned that the Board needs to have the full picture before proceeding.

Green Bay Schools Advertise to Stem Losses

Matt Smith:

The Green Bay Area Public School District is losing students to open enrollment by a three-to-one ratio. Now, during a pivotal few weeks, it’s launching a major multi-media campaign.
Statewide, applications for open enrollment begin Monday and run through the first part of February.
For school districts everywhere, it’s a critical time to keep — and gain — students.
The Green Bay district is wasting no time in getting its message out. From the classroom to your TV screen, it’s an all-out multi-media blitz to highlight the district during a very vulnerable few weeks.
Beginning Monday, a TV ad hits the airwaves advertising what the Green Bay school district says it can offer current and potential students.

Current Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad formerly served in the same position in Green Bay. Much more on open enrollment here.

A Few Comments on Monday’s State of the Madison School District Presentation

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad will present the “State of the Madison School District 2010” tomorrow night @ 5:30p.m. CST.
The timing and content are interesting, from my perspective because:

  • The nearby Verona School District just approved a Mandarin immersion charter school on a 4-3 vote. (Watch the discussion here). Madison lags in such expanded “adult to student” learning opportunities. Madison seems to be expanding “adult to adult” spending on “coaches” and “professional development”. I’d rather see an emphasis on hiring great teachers and eliminating the administrative overhead associated with growing “adult to adult” expenditures.
  • I read with interest Alec Russell’s recent lunch with FW de Klerk. de Klerk opened the door to South Africa’s governance revolution by freeing Nelson Mandela in 1990:

    History is moving rather fast in South Africa. In June the country hosts football’s World Cup, as if in ultimate endorsement of its post-apartheid progress. Yet on February 2 1990, when the recently inaugurated state President de Klerk stood up to deliver the annual opening address to the white-dominated parliament, such a prospect was unthinkable. The townships were in ferment; many apartheid laws were still on the books; and expectations of the balding, supposedly cautious Afrikaner were low.
    How wrong conventional wisdom was. De Klerk’s address drew a line under 350 years of white rule in Africa, a narrative that began in the 17th century with the arrival of the first settlers in the Cape. Yet only a handful of senior party members knew of his intentions.

    I sense that the Madison School Board and the Community are ready for new, substantive adult to student initiatives, while eliminating those that simply consume cash in the District’s $418,415,780 2009-2010 budget ($17,222 per student).

  • The “State of the District” document [566K PDF] includes only the “instructional” portion of the District’s budget. There are no references to the $418,415,780 total budget number provided in the October 26, 2009 “Budget Amendment and Tax Levy Adoption document [1.1MB PDF]. Given the organization’s mission and the fact that it is a taxpayer supported and governed entity, the document should include a simple “citizen’s budget” financial summary. The budget numbers remind me of current Madison School Board member Ed Hughes’ very useful 2005 quote:

    This points up one of the frustrating aspects of trying to follow school issues in Madison: the recurring feeling that a quoted speaker – and it can be someone from the administration, or MTI, or the occasional school board member – believes that the audience for an assertion is composed entirely of idiots.

    In my view, while some things within our local public schools have become a bit more transparent (open enrollment, fine arts, math, TAG), others, unfortunately, like the budget, have become much less. This is not good.

  • A new financial reality. I don’t see significant new funds for K-12 given the exploding federal deficit, state spending and debt issues and Madison’s property tax climate. Ideally, the District will operate like many organizations, families and individuals and try to most effectively use the resources it has. The recent Reading Recovery report is informative.

I think Dan Nerad sits on a wonderful opportunity. The community is incredibly supportive of our schools, spending far more per student than most school Districts (quite a bit more than his former Green Bay home) and providing a large base of volunteers. Madison enjoys access to an academic powerhouse: the University of Wisconsin and proximity to MATC and Edgewood College. Yet, District has long been quite insular (see Janet Mertz’s never ending efforts to address this issue), taking a “we know best approach” to many topics via close ties to the UW-Madison School of Education and its own curriculum creation business, the Department of Teaching and Learning.
In summary, I’m hoping for a “de Klerk” moment Monday evening. What are the odds?

2010 Madison School Board Election Notes and Links

A number of folks have asked why, like 2009, there are two uncontested seats in this spring’s Madison School Board election. Incumbents Maya Cole and Beth Moss are running unopposed while the open seat, vacated by the retiring Johnny Winston, Jr. is now contested: Tom Farley (TJ Mertz and Robert Godfrey have posted on Farley’s travails, along with Isthmus) after some nomination signature issues and an internal fracas over the School District lawyer’s role in the race, faces James Howard [website].
I think we’ve seen a drop on the ongoing, very small amount of school board activism because:

Finally, with respect to the Howard / Farley contest, I look forward to the race. I had the opportunity to get to know James Howard during the District’s 2009 strategic planning meetings. I support his candidacy.

Milwaukee School Choice Shapes Educational Landscape

Alan Borsuk:

Time for a status report on all the different ways Milwaukee children can use public money to pay for their kindergarten through 12th grade education:

  • Private school voucher program enrollment: Up almost 5% from a year ago, just as it has been up every year for more than a decade.
  • City kids going to suburban public schools using the state’s “open enrollment” law: Up almost 11%, just as it has been up every year for about a decade.
  • Enrollment in charter schools given permission to operate by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee or Milwaukee’s City Hall: Up more than 19% and up substantially from a few years ago.
  • Enrollment of minority students from the city into suburban schools using the state’s voluntary racial desegregation law, known as Chapter 220: Up almost 5%, although the long-term trend has been downward.
  • Enrollment in what you can think of as the conventional Milwaukee Public Schools system: Down, but by less than 1%, which is better than other recent years. Mainstream MPS enrollment has been slipping every year and went under 80,000 a year ago for the first time in many years.

With all the controversy in recent months around whether to overhaul the way MPS is run, the half dozen other routes that Milwaukee children have for getting publicly funded education have been almost entirely out of the spotlight. But Milwaukee remains a place where the term “school choice” shapes the educational landscape in hugely important ways.
How important?

Judge dismisses lawsuit against Madison School District over student transfer policy

Ed Treleven:

A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a class-action lawsuit against the Madison School District over a student transfer policy the district has since re-written.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote in a 36-page decision that the district was following state law – a law that was later determined to be unconstitutional – when it implemented its policy for assuring that open enrollment transfers did not create racial imbalances at schools.
Crabb wrote that a municipality like the school district cannot be held liable under federal law for trying to implement a state mandate when it has no other policy choices. State or federal law is responsible for any wrongdoing, she wrote.
Madison attorney Michael Fox, who is representing the class, which he estimated to be 200 to 300 people, said the decision will be appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The law in this area is unsettled, he said, and federal judicial circuits around the U.S. disagree on it.
In this case, a white East High School student, identified in court documents as “N.N.,” applied for transfer to either Waunakee or Monona Grove in 2007. The district denied her application because it said her departure from East would have caused the school’s minority student percentage to increase.

Boulder Valley open-enrollment process goes online

Vanessa Miller:

Open enrollment has become part of the educational path that many families in the Boulder Valley School District follow, and this year officials have made some changes to the application process to make it both easier and greener.
For the first time, parents can file a request for their child to attend a Boulder Valley school outside their neighborhood on the district’s Web site, eliminating the need for applicants to pick up a paper form and drive it to the Boulder Valley Education Center. The online application will mirror the hard-copy version, allowing parents to choose their top choices and explain their reasoning.
“It will be more convenient, faster and it will mean that a person will not need to drop it by the education center,” said district assessment director Jonathan Dings. “We think this will save paper and gas, in an effort to be as green as we can in this process.”
Parents still will have the option of filling out a paper application and dropping it off, if that works best for them, Dings said. But, he said, the district is “hopeful that we will have a great deal of participation” in the inaugural online program.
“We know that if the product works well, a whole lot more people will try it,” he said.
Open enrollment is a statewide option that allows families to send their kids to schools outside their neighborhoods. The option plays a substantial role in how Boulder Valley students are placed, Dings said.

Related: Wisconsin part-time and full-time open enrollment.

Virtual charter school enrollment 1,615 students under cap, Wisconsin says

Amy Hetzner:

The number of students who used open enrollment to attend the state’s virtual charter schools this fall fell well short of the cap set last year by the state Legislature, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
In the end, only 3,635 students enrolled in virtual charter schools for the 2009-’10 by using the state’s public school choice system, the DPI says. That’s 3,000 fewer than initially applied and 1,615 under the cap enacted as part of a legislation in response to a court ruling that threatened the schools’ existence.

Community colleges: credit where it is due

Robert Preer:

As classes changed one recent weekday morning at Massasoit Community College in Brockton, the line of cars leaving the campus stretched more than a mile back from the lights on Route 27.
As other students arrived, campus parking lots overflowed and classrooms filled to capacity. Almost two years into a national recession, this low-tuition, two-year state institution is a very busy place.
“I looked into other schools, but for classes I can take anywhere, Massasoit is a lot more affordable,” Chelsea Gardner, 22, said as she waited between classes at the student union. A Long Island native who took a few years off after high school, Gardner commutes daily from Boston to the campus on Brockton’s east side.
The scene is also crowded at Massasoit’s other campus, in Canton, as well as at Quincy College’s three sites in Quincy Center, North Quincy, and Plymouth.
Across Massachusetts, students are flocking to two-year public colleges, which have become refuges in the recession. The schools have open enrollment for most programs, and tuitions markedly cheaper than four-year private or public institutions. Students who earn an associate’s degree at a two-year college can usually transfer the credits to four-year schools.

An Interesting Presentation (Race, Income) on Madison’s Public Schools to the City’s Housing Diversity Committee

Former Madison Alder Brenda Konkel summarized the meeting:

The Madison School District shared their data with the group and they decided when their next two meetings would be. Compton made some interesting/borderline comments and they have an interesting discussion about race and how housing patterns affect the schools. There was a powerpoint presentation with lots of information, without a handout, so I tried to capture it the best I could.
The meeting was moved from the Mayor’s office to Room 260 across the street. The meeting started 5 minutes late with Brian Munson, Marj Passman, Mark Clear, Judy Compton, Dave Porterfield, Brian Solomon and Marsha Rummel were the quorum. Judy Olson absent, but joined them later. City staff of Bill Clingan, Mark Olinger, Ray Harmon and Helen Dietzler. Kurt Keifer from the School District was here to present. (Bill Clingan is a former Madison School Board member. He was defeated a few years ago by Lawrie Kobza.

A few interesting notes:

Clear asks if this reflects white flight, or if this just reflects the communities changing demographics. He wants to know how much is in and out migration. Kiefer says they look more at private and parochial school attendance as portion of Dane County and MMSD. Our enrollment hasn’t changed as a percentage. There has been an increased activity in open enrollment – and those numbers have gone up from 200 to 400 kids in the last 8 – 10 years. He says the bigger factor is that they manage their enrollment to their capacities in the private and parochial schools. Even with virtual schools, not much changes. The bigger factor is the housing transition in Metropolitan area. Prime development is happening in other districts
Kiefer says smaller learning communities is what they are striving for in high schools. Kiefer says the smaller learning initiative – there is a correlation in decrease in drop out rate with the program. Compton asks about minority and Caucasian level in free lunch. She would like to see that.
Kiefer says that Midvale population is not going up despite the fact that they have the highest proportion of single detached units in Midvale – they are small houses and affordable, but also highest proportion of kids going to private and parochial schools. He says it was because of access because to parochial schools are located there. Kiefer says they think the area is changing, that the Hilldale area has been an attractor for families as well as Sequoya Commons. Family and school friendly areas and he tells the city to “Keep doing that”. He is hopeful that Hill Farms changes will be good as well.

Fascinating. I wonder how all of this, particularly the high school “small learning community initiatives” fit with the District’s strategic plan and recently passed Talented and Gifted initiative?

A Partial Look (School Climate) at the Outbound Madison School District Parent Survey

Samara Kalk Derby:

Madison school district parents dissatisfied with local schools got a boost after a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision which trumped state law and made it easier for students living in the district to attend schools in other districts, a practice known as open enrollment.
The case was brought by Seattle parents who challenged the use of race in assigning students to schools, arguing it violated the Constitution’s right of equal protection. The ruling was celebrated by those who favor color-blind policies, but criticized by civil rights groups as a further erosion of Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 case that outlawed school segregation.
Last year it became easier in Madison, and in school districts across the country, for white students to transfer even if it meant increasing the district’s racial imbalance.
After a flood of local students left the district last year, Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad decided to investigate why.
“We had an interest in knowing ideas from people that had made the decision for open enrollment,” Nerad says. “We are attempting to learn from those experiences to see if there are some things as a school district that we can constructively do to address those concerns.”
To that end, the district surveyed households of district residents who left Madison schools and transferred to another district for the 2008-09 school year to find out why the families left. The majority of parents who took their kids out of the Madison school district last year under open enrollment said they did so for what the district classifies as “environmental reasons”: violence, gangs, drugs and negative peer pressure. Other reasons were all over the map. Many cited crowded classrooms and curriculum that wasn’t challenging enough.
Only a few responses pointed directly to white flight.

The Private/Parochial, Open Enrollment Leave, Open Enrollment Enter, Home Based Parent Survey, including School Board discussion, can be found here. David Blask comments.

Madison School Board Talented & Gifted (TAG) Plan Discussion & Approval

There were several public appearances [4.1MB mp3 audio] Monday evening related to the Madison School District’s Talented & Gifted plan. TJ Mertz, Kris Gomez-Schmidt, Janet Mertz (not related) and Shari Galitzer spoke during the public appearance segment of the meeting. Their comments begin at 3:13 into this mp3 audio file.
The School Board and Administration’s discussion can be heard via this 6MB mp3 audio file. The previous week’s discussion can be heard here. Madison United for Academic Excellence posted a number of useful links on this initiative here.
Finally, the recent Private/Parochial, Open Enrollment Leave, Open Enrollment Enter, Home Based Parent Surveys provides a useful background for the interested reader.

Hard-Hit Schools Try Public-Relations Push

Stephanie Simon:

Public schools in the U.S. have added professional marketing to their back-to-school shopping lists.
Financially struggling urban districts are trying to win back students fleeing to charter schools, private schools and suburban districts that offer open enrollment. Administrators say they are working hard to improve academics — but it can’t hurt to burnish their image as well.
A bus in Washington, D.C., carries an ad for the city’s public schools, which have seen enrollment plunge from nearly 150,000 students in 1970 to less than 50,000 last year. The district spent $100,000 this spring on a campaign that also included radio spots in an effort to win back students who have left public schools. The ads include quotes from students who say they are glad they stayed in public school.
So they are recording radio ads, filming TV infomercials and buying address lists for direct-mail campaigns. Other efforts, by both districts and individual schools, call for catering Mexican dinners for potential students, making sales pitches at churches and hiring branding experts to redesign logos.
“Schools are really getting that they can’t just expect students to show up any more,” said Lisa Relou, who directs marketing efforts for the Denver Public Schools. “They have to go out and recruit.”
Administrators working on the public-relations push say the potential returns are high. State funding for public schools is based on attendance, so each new student brings more money, typically $5,000 to $8,000 per head. In addition, schools with small enrollments are at constant risk of being shuttered in this recession, and full classrooms help.
Some districts also hope a better image will entice more local business sponsorship and persuade voters to support school levies and bond issues

Substance, such as a rigorous curriculum, strong school leadership, extensive education options (languages, arts, science and math, among others) will always be better than simple pr/marketing/advertising efforts. General Motors tried re-brand their business repeatedly over the past few decades.

Proposed Madison School District Talented & Gifted Plan

Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad’s memo [100K PDF] on the Proposed Talented & Gifted Plan [1.2MB PDF]:

Wisconsin Administrative Rule 8.01 (2)(t)2 states that each school district shall establish a plan and designate a person to coordinate the gifted and talented program. The previous Talented and Gifted (TAG) Plan approved by the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Board was in 1991. 2008-09 highlighted several independent yet related events which served to underscore both the urgency of and District-wide benefit for an updated Plan. Among the events that converged to result in the need to update the Talented and Gifted Plan were:

  • Superintendent Dr. Daniel Nerad was hired in July 2008. Dr. Nerad recognized the need for addressing the issues related to Talented and Gifted programming;
  • The last TAG Plan (1991) approved by the District was found by the DPI to be out of compliance;
  • An increase in open enrollment leaving the District spurred conversation regarding strategies to attract and retain students;
  • Families leaving the District were surveyed to gather information regarding their reasons for leaving MMSD. A desire for improved Talented and Gifted programming was one of several emerging themes; and
  • A new Strategic Plan was developed through extensive community involvement. The Strategic Plan clearly demands a rigorous and challenging education for all students.

Process In response to the events described above, the Superintendent charged the Teaching & Learning TAG Division to develop a process to create an updated Plan. The TAG Division met on a regular basis to define major areas for improvement in alignment with the National Association for Gifted Children standards. A Talented and Gifted Advisory Committee comprised of 30 members was convened in early spring. This group met five times between February and June to provide input and critique the evolving draft. The Superintendent and TAG Coordinator hosted a community input session on March 26. Senior Management, Instructional Council and Principals reviewed drafts and provided input. In order to ensure a timely and high quality Plan, a subcommittee of the Talented and Gifted Advisory Committee was invited to continue to work with TAG staff to complete the Plan during June and July.
There have been significant challenges in the process leading to the development of the enclosed plan. These challenges include communication, changes in leadership and an evolving level of District and community trust in MMSD’s commitment to providing high quality education for all stUdents. Overcoming these challenges is an on-going process, one captured in the language of the plan with respect to continual improvement. Although there are aspects of current MMSD talented and gifted programming that are sound and valued, the need for overall structural improvements and re-vitalization is recognized byal!.
In addition to the TAG Division staff, we sincerely appreciate the members of the TAG Advisory Committee for their extraordinary gift of time and dedication toward creating this plan. Special recognition goes to TAG Advisory Subcommittee members Kerry Berns, Bettine Lipman, Laurie Frost, Chris Gomez Schmidt and Carole Trone for their continuing support and input through the final draft of this plan.
MMSD Strategic Planning The enclosed TAG Plan aligns, supports and strengthens important aspects of the Strategic Plan. In particular, the TAG Plan undergirds District-wide efforts to: enhance assessments to guide appropriate levels of instruction; accelerate learning for all students; embed differentiation as core practice in all classrooms; and map and develop a comprehensive and articulated curriculum K-12 in order to increase curricular rigor for all students.
Executive Plan Summary Based upon the framework set forth by the National Association for Gifted and Children standards and areas identified by MMSD for improvement, eight key goal areas addressed in this Plan are:

Federal Tax Receipts Decline 18%, Dane County (WI) Tax Delinquencies Grow

Stephen Ohlemacher:

The recession is starving the government of tax revenue, just as the president and Congress are piling a major expansion of health care and other programs on the nation’s plate and struggling to find money to pay the tab.
The numbers could hardly be more stark: Tax receipts are on pace to drop 18 percent this year, the biggest single-year decline since the Great Depression, while the federal deficit balloons to a record $1.8 trillion.
Other figures in an Associated Press analysis underscore the recession’s impact: Individual income tax receipts are down 22 percent from a year ago. Corporate income taxes are down 57 percent. Social Security tax receipts could drop for only the second time since 1940, and Medicare taxes are on pace to drop for only the third time ever.
The last time the government’s revenues were this bleak, the year was 1932 in the midst of the Depression.
“Our tax system is already inadequate to support the promises our government has made,” said Eugene Steuerle, a former Treasury Department official in the Reagan administration who is now vice president of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. recently spoke with Dane County Treasurer Dave Worzala on the growing property tax delinquencies:

While there aren’t any figures for this year, property tax delinquencies have been on a steep climb the last few years, WISC-TV reported.
Delinquencies increased 11 percent in 2006, 34 percent in 2007 and 45 percent in 2008, where there is now more than $16 million in unpaid taxes in the county.
“It affects us in that we have to be sure that we have enough resources to cover county operations throughout the year even though those funds aren’t here. And we do that, we are able to do that, but 40 percent increases over time become unsustainable,” said Dane County Treasurer David Worzala.
“I can see that there are probably some people that either lost their jobs or were laid off, they’re going to have a harder time paying their taxes,” said Ken Baldinus, who was paying his taxes Thursday. “But I’m retired, so we budget as we go.”
Big portions of those bills must go to school districts and the state. Worzala said the county is concerned about the rise in delinquencies because if the jumps continue the county could run into a cash flow issue in paying bills.

Resolution of the Madison School DistrictMadison Teachers, Inc. contract and the District’s $12M budget deficit will be a challenge in light of the declining tax base. Having said that, local schools have seen annual revenue increases for decades, largely through redistributed state and to a degree federal tax dollars (not as much as some would like) despite flat enrollment. That growth has stopped with the decline in State tax receipts and expenditures. Madison School District revenues are also affected by the growth in outbound open enrollment (ie, every student that leaves costs the organization money, conversely, programs that might attract students would, potentially, generate more revenues).

Wisconsin K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: State Redistributions to Madison Smaller Than Expected

Mark Pitsch:

Barely a week after the Legislature approved a budget that local and state officials said would slash state aid to Madison schools by no more than 10 percent, new estimates show the cuts will actually top 15 percent.
Word of the $9.2 million cut in general state school aids next year came as a rude shock to lawmakers and district officials. That’s because cuts approved by the Legislature’s budget committee were estimated to be 13.1 percent, but the final budget was believed to limit the cuts to 10 percent.
Dave Schmiedicke, Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget director, said several factors affected the new school funding calculation, including the number of students expected to enroll this fall, the district’s relatively larger increase in spending per student compared with other Wisconsin districts and the district’s high property values.

Related: Open Enrollment.

Madison’s Population Grew 22,491 from 2000 to 2008, School Enrollment Flat

Bill Glauber:

Madison continued its remarkable population surge with a 10.7% increase from 2000 to 2008, top among Wisconsin cities with a population of 50,000 or more. The capital also led Wisconsin in numerical growth, adding 22,491 people, for a total population of 231,916.
“Madison remains a very desirable place to live, and positive growth rates like this reflect that high quality of life,” Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said in a statement.
The new estimates are intriguing, both locally and nationally, because they detail America’s population at the cusp of the financial meltdown and in the midst of a housing bust. They’re also the last estimates to be released before the 2010 census is taken.
“Big cities are resilient,” said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “They’ve been able to survive in a very difficult economy. These cities have diverse economies that can hold their own in these troubled times.”


Madison’s enrollment was 24,758 during the 1999-2000 school year and 24,189 during the 2008-2009 academic year. More here and here.
Given Madison’s academic orientation (UW-Madison, MATC, Edgewood College, not to mention a number of nearby institutions), our students (every one of them) should have access to world class academics.

SIS Interview: University of Wisconsin Education Professor Adam Gamoran

Dr. Adam Gamoran (Dr. Gamoran’s website; Clusty search) has been involved with a variety Madison School District issues, including controversial mandatory academic grouping changes (English 10, among others).
I had an opportunity to briefly visit with Dr. Gamoran during the District’s Strategic Planning Process. He kindly agreed to spend some time recently discussing these and other issues (22K PDF discussion topics, one of which – outbound open enrollment growth – he was unfamiliar with).
Click here to download the 298MB .m4v (iTunes, iPhone, iPod) video file, or a 18MB audio file. A transcript is available here.

Students surging out of Madison School District

Gayle Worland Wisconsin State Journal More than 600 students living in the Madison School District have applied to leave their hometown schools through open enrollment next fall — more than any previous year. While district officials say it’s likely only about half will actually leave, the district wants to know why so many want to … Continue reading Students surging out of Madison School District

‘Object’ of my affection
My father’s StB file reveals as much about the secret police as it does about him

Sarah Borufka:

Those who don’t know their past are bound to repeat it,” reads the billboard in the entry hall of the Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes. When I first came here, it was for an interview with two institute researchers who co-authored the book Victims of the Occupation about the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion.
After the interview, I asked one of the researchers, Milan Bárta, to find my parents’ old communist secret police (StB) file. I wanted to see if there were any pictures of their wedding Jan. 13, 1979, just days before they emigrated to West Germany. My family has no pictures of that day, but my father had always joked that the StB had taken some.
A month later, I was invited to the institute to take a look at my parents’ documents.

Note: Email Newsletter visitors: This article was incorrectly link to a headline on outbound open enrollment from the Madison School Districts.

It’s Not OK To Treat People Special Based on Race, But it is OK based on the “Neighborhood”

Legal Pad (Cal Law) via a kind reader’s email:

That’s the gist we got out of the First District’s ruling today, in a constitutional challenge to Berkeley’s way-complicated system for assigning students to different elementary schools, and to different programs in high school. The upshot: The appeals court unanimously said Berkeley’s system is A-OK, despite Prop 209, because it doesn’t consider a student’s own race at all. Instead, all students in a neighborhood are treated the same — and the way the neighborhood is treated is based on a bunch of things, like average income level, average education level, and the neighborhood’s overall racial composition. The court’s opinion calls things like this “affirmative policies” fostering social diversity. That term doesn’t sound familiar at all.

The Opinion 49K PDF
Perhaps this is what new Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad had in mind:

Still, Nerad has clearly taken notice. Given the new numbers, he plans to ask state lawmakers to allow Madison to deny future requests based on family income levels, rather than race, to prevent disparities from further growing between Madison and its suburbs.

2009/2010 Madison Open Enrollment information. Much more on Wisconsin Open Enrollment here.

Madison School Superintendent Dan Nerad on Poverty and Enrollment: “For every one student that comes into the MMSD, three leave it”

Kristin Czubkowski, via Jackie Woodruff:

All of the speakers were good, but I will admit I really enjoyed listening to Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Dan Nerad talk on the issue of poverty in our schools.

“Oftentimes, the statement is used as follows: Our children are our future. In reality, we are theirs.”

Nerad made one more point I found interesting, which was his explanation for why for every one student that comes into the MMSD, two to three students leave it. While MMSD has been well-recognized for having great schools and students, many of the schools have high concentrations of poverty (17 of 32 elementary schools have more than 50 percent of students on free or reduced lunch programs), which Nerad said can lead to perception issues about how MMSD uses its resources.

“From my perspective, it’s a huge issue that we must face as a community — for every one child coming in, two to three come out right now. I worry that a lot of it is based on this increasing poverty density that we have in our school district … Oftentimes that’s based on a perception of quality, and it’s based on a perception based on that oftentimes that we have more kids in need, that we have more kids with more resource needs, and oftentimes people feel that their own children’s needs may not be met in that equation.”

Recent open enrollment data.

Against Virtual Schools: K12 should not take tax money from local schools

Tim Schilke:

The Wisconsin Virtual Academy, sponsored by the Northern Ozaukee School District, just completed its busiest time of year. As Wisconsin progressed through the open school enrollment period for the 2009-2010 school year, the WIVA bombarded homes around the state with mailings, advertising itself as an online alternative to local schools. School administrators traveled to dozens of locations around the state, offering introductory sessions designed to entice students away from brick and mortar schools, in favor of clicking, scrolling and remotely conferencing through virtual classes.
Wisconsin’s open enrollment provides more than $6,000 per student in transfer fees to the recipient school district, on behalf of students whose parents choose to send them to public schools outside of their local community. Open enrollment in general carries many benefits for students, providing alternatives in heavily populated areas like Milwaukee, where many different school districts of varying quality and program offerings exist in close proximity. But the WIVA, operated by the McFarland School District, has no geographical association with the majority of its students.
School districts in southern Ozaukee County require between $11,000 and $13,000 in tax revenue per student, collected from federal, state, and property taxes, and other sources. The Wisconsin Virtual Academy receives only the 2008-2009 state transfer payments of $6,322 per student. Unlike traditional schools, the state payment fully funds the virtual program, and coincidentally still provides ample profit for the virtual program’s curriculum and software vendors. But any such comparison between a virtual school and a more traditional brick and mortar facility is probably not comparing apples to apples, considering teacher-to-student ratios and well-rounded learning experiences.
The WIVA is operated in partnership with a company called K12, Inc., which even hosts the WIVA’s promotional Web site on behalf of the school district. K12 is a publicly-traded, for-profit company based in Virginia, and for the record, the company has no shortage of profit. For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2008, K12 reported net income of $18 million, on revenues of $226 million, primarily collected from states like Wisconsin, which make tax dollars available to virtual schools.

Judy Kujoth: Dual-language middle school needs flexibility of a charter

Judy Kujoth, via a kind reader’s email:

In the spring of 2010, nearly 50 children will comprise the first graduating class of the Nuestro Mundo Community School on Madison’s East Side.
I am the proud parent of a daughter who will be among them.
My husband and I have spent the past five years marveling as she has acquired a second language, conquered challenging curricula and embraced friends from a variety of races and ethnicities. We eagerly anticipate the years to come as her love for languages and diversity continue to blossom.
But like many other parents, we are very worried about what the next stage of her academic journey will look like.
Nuestro Mundo is a charter school that has applied innovative teaching practices within a dual-language immersion framework. It is in its fifth year of offering elementary school students a dual-immersion curriculum in Spanish and English.
Kindergartners enter Nuestro Mundo as either native Spanish or native English speakers. By fifth grade, the goal is for all students to be proficient in both languages and at least on par, academically, with their peers at other schools. The skills they have cultivated need to continue being nurtured.

Unfortunately, charter schools and the Madison School District have mostly been “oil & water”. A few years ago, a group of parents & citizens tried to start an arts oriented charter – The Studio School. Read more here.
Every organization has its challenges and charters are certainly not perfect. However, it is more likely that Madison will see K-12 innovation with a diffused governance model, than if we continue the current very top down approach and move toward one size fits all curriculum. It will be interesting to see what the recent open enrollment numbers look like for Madison. Finally, a Chicago teacher on “magnet schools“.

Madison School District Departing Parent Surveys

Via a kind reader’s email. Three surveys for families that have left the Madison School District for the following destinations [PDF]:

Related Links:

The Madison School District’s tax and spending authority is based on its enrollment.

Madison School District Survey for Parents Who Have Left

via a kind reader’s email:

Superintendent Dan Nerad is conducting a survey of families who left the MMSD and invites your participation.
If you opted to not enroll your child/children in their MMSD school — if they attend private school, you home school or you moved out of the District — or you are strongly considering the same and you are willing to participate in this survey, please let Superintendent Nerad know. Send your contact information to his assistant, Ann Wilson ( or 608 663-1607).

Related: Wisconsin Open Enrollment begins February 2, 2009.

Waukesha schools expand online academy to grades 6-8

Erin Richards:

To keep up with competition among virtual schools in the state, the Waukesha School District’s virtual charter high school has received the green light to expand its computer-based learning environment to middle school students next year.
The Waukesha School Board approved a proposal last week to add grades six, seven and eight in the 2009-’10 academic year to “>iQ Academy Wisconsin, perpetuating a trend in virtual-school growth that’s happening elsewhere around the country.
The 5-year-old iQ Academy is one of 18 virtual schools in Wisconsin that residents can attend for free through open enrollment.
Susan Patrick, president of the International Association of K-12 Online Learning, said virtual high schools around the country are expanding rapidly to include middle-school opportunities.
“We’re seeing a lot of growth on both sides: Elementary programs that started as K-5 or K-6 are expanding to middle-school programs, and at the high-school level, we’re seeing them reaching back to the middle-school grades,” Patrick said.
Virtual high schools that expand to middle schools often do so because they want to make sure students are competent in the academic content for core courses at the high school level, Patrick said.
Typically, virtual schools exist in one of two forms. Thirty-four states, including Wisconsin, have part-time virtual schools that serve as supplemental programs for students behind on credits or to offer students a class they can’t get in their public school. Students may spend a portion of their normal, supervised school day logging into an online course.

“Educating children is not the same as directly funding school systems”

Brian Gottlob @ the Buckeye Institute, via a kind reader’s email 1.1MB PDF:

A child-centered school finance policy that supports the choices of parents can create higher-quality schools and more equality in the educational opportunities available to children. The only way to ensure that all children have the same educational opportunities and equal resources to obtain them and at the same time create powerful incentives to improve school performance, is to adopt a student-centered school funding system.
Public schools are nominally “free,” but pricing, which implicitly occurs through housing markets, fundamentally limits access to better schools and consigns less wealthy families to less desirable schools. The subsequent separation of students along class lines also means that the non-financial inputs critical to good schools, such as peer and family influences, can be even more unevenly distributed than financial resources. The unequal distribution of opportunity remains even when state aid is targeted at the “neediest” schools. state money that simply equalizes financial resources will have limited effects on the root causes of education inequities.
This report outlines an alternative approach that seeks to overcome the limits of past attempts to equalize opportunities. It investigates the combined policies of open enrollment (in public, charter, and private schools) with financial support that follows the child. such a system will make the differences in local resources for education funding largely irrelevant. We limit our report to the mechanics and implementation issues of such a system, but to highlight how key policy choices would affect its implementation and costs. The report and demonstrate its fiscal impacts. our purpose is not to argue for particular policies within such a systeis an introduction to and not the final word on a fundamental shift in school finance policy in Ohio. As such, it will invite many questions and concerns that will deserve further research.
The report:

  • highlights the need for a reform of ohio’s school finance system.
  • Documents ohio’s level of financial support and compares it to other states.
  • Discusses the role of property taxes in funding schools.
  • outlines the basic structure of a child-centered school finance system.
  • Presents a basic weighted system of per-pupil financial support and creates a matrix of students in ohio schools to estimate the expenditures required to fund each child under a child-centered finance system.
  • Presents a model to calculate the expenditures required to fund a child-centered system at different levels of per-pupil financial support and under various policy choices.
  • Analyzes the implications for property taxes within communities under different policy choices within a child-centered funding system.
  • Estimates how much money businesses and individuals would contribute towards the education of deserving, needy students after the introduction of a tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations.

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.

20,000 Milwaukee Students Now Use Vouchers

Alan Borsuk:

The number of Milwaukee children attending private schools using publicly funded vouchers has crossed 20,000 for the first time, according to data released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
At the same time, the number of students in the main roster of Milwaukee Public Schools elementary, middle and high schools has fallen below 80,000 for the first time in well over a decade and declined for at least the 10th year in a row.
Amid a host of other factors shaping the school landscape in Milwaukee, those two trends point to some of the key stresses and looming issues for both MPS, which remains one of the nation’s larger school systems, and the voucher program, the largest, oldest and arguably most significant urban school voucher program in the United States.
For MPS, declining enrollment means greater financial pressure, a need to close school buildings and a continual search for ways to attract students and raise overall levels of achievement.
For the voucher program, the increase means the state-imposed cap on its size is coming into view, and issues related to the property-tax impact of the funding program are becoming more urgent. In addition, with Democrats having gained control of the state Legislature, efforts to impose more regulations on schools with voucher students are likely to become much more serious.
Nationwide, the momentum behind support for voucher programs such as the one in Milwaukee has been limited, and most likely has lost further steam with the election of Sen. Barack Obama to be president. Although Obama favors charter schools – generally, independent publicly funded schools that have more public accountability than private schools – he has not favored vouchers, and the Congress, controlled firmly by Democrats, is not going to support such plans either.

Somewhat related: A Madison School District enrollment analysis discloses an increase in outbound open enrollment.

Madison School District Enrollment Data Analysis

The Madison Metropolitan School District [724K PDF]:

The following document explores enrollment trends based on four different factors: intemal transfers, private school enrollments, inter-district Open Enrollment, and home based enrollments. The most current data is provided in each case. Not all data are from the current school year. Certain data are based on DPI reports and there are lags in the dates upon which reports are published.
Most internal transfers within the MMSD are a function of two factors: programs not offered at each home school (e.g., ESL centers) and students moving between attendance areas and wishing to remain in the school they had been attending prior to the move. Notable schools in regard to transfers include Shorewood Elementary which has both a very high transfer in rate and a very low transfer out rate, Marquette which has a high transfer in rate, and Emerson which has a high transfer out rate.
Based on data reported to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), private school enrollments within the MMSD attendance area have held fairly steady for the past several years, with a slight increase in the most recent two years. The District’s percentage of private school enrollment is roughly average among two separate benchmark cohort groups: the largest Wisconsin school districts and the Dane County school districts. Using data supplied annually to the MMSD by ten area private schools it appears that for the past three year period private school elementary enrollment is declining slightly, middle school enrollment is constant, and high school enrollment has been variable. Stephens, Midvale, Leopold, and Crestwood Elementary Schools, and Cherokee and Whitehorse Middle Schools have experienced declines in private school enrollment during this period. Hawthorne and Emerson Elementary Schools, Toki and (to a lesser extent) Sherman Middle Schools, and West and Memorial High Schools have experienced increases in private school enrollments. The East attendance area has very limited private school enrollment.
Home based education has remained very steady over the past six years based on data reported to the DPI. There is no discernible trend either upward or downward. Roughly 420 to 450 students residing within the MMSD area are reported as participating in home based instruction during this period. Like private school enrollment, the MMSD’s percentage of home based enrollment is roughly average among two separate benchmark cohort groups: the largest Wisconsin school districts and the Dane County school districts.
Open Enrollment, which allows for parents to apply to enroll their Children in districts other than their home district, is by far the largest contributor to enrollment shifts relative to this list of factors. In 2008-09, there are now over 450 students leaving the MMSD to attend other districts compared with just under 170 students entering the MMSD. Transition grades appear to be critical decision points for parents. Certain schools are particularly affected by Open Enrollment decisions and these tend to be schools near locations within close proximity to surrounding school districts. Virtual school options do not appear to be increasing in popularity relative to physical school altematives.

The Hidden Costs of Education Reform

Anneliese Dickman:

Here at the Forum we have long bemoaned the lack of data with which to measure the success of Milwaukee’s various education reform efforts. From the 32-year-old Chapter 220 integration program to the 10-year-old open enrollment program (not to mention the 18-year-old private school choice program), our policymakers have become expert at funding reform programs long-term without measuring their effectiveness at improving student achievement.
It turns out we’re not alone. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district’s pre-K Bright Beginnings program, which later became a model for a similar statewide program, was passed with the promise of better middle and high school outcomes. However, the inaugural class of Bright Beginnings preschoolers is now part of the high school freshman class and the district cannot say whether they are doing better than their peers who did not attend preschool.

The Changing Look of the Milwaukee Public Schools

David Arbanas posts a useful graphic:

The Milwaukee public schools released their $1.2billion budget proposal yesterday. Alan Borsuk has more on the budget.:

Enrollment in the schools you first think of when you think of Milwaukee Public Schools is expected to shrink another 4.7% by September, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said Monday as he released a $1.2 billion budget proposal for the coming school year.
That means the number of students in the main roster of MPS schools – elementary, middle and high schools staffed by teachers employed by MPS – will be 20% smaller than it was 10 years earlier and will be below 80,000 for the first time in decades. Half of that decline of more than 19,000 students will have come between fall 2005 and fall 2008, if the forecast is correct.
At the same time, participation in the private school voucher program may exceed 20,000 next year, MPS officials projected. That compares to about 6,000 students 10 years ago.
But the voucher growth is not the only aspect of the changing face of Milwaukee education. MPS officials forecast that the number of students living in the city who will use the state’s open enrollment law to attend suburban public schools will be 4,196 in the coming school year. A decade ago it was zero.

Milwaukee’s budget includes a school by school breakdown, which is rather useful.

Study but don’t cap online schools

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

An audit to help gauge how virtual schools are performing in Wisconsin is reasonable.
But slapping a cap on how many children can enroll in online schools is unnecessary and potentially harmful.
Gov. Jim Doyle ‘s last-minute demand for a cap threatens to ruin a solid bipartisan deal to keep these interesting schools going.
The governor should drop his veto threat, and the Legislature should give Doyle and the teachers union the audit they want.
That way, a dozen virtual schools in Wisconsin serving 3,500 students can stay open and expand if more parents choose to enroll their children.
Key state lawmakers recently put together compromise legislation to keep virtual schools going after a court ruling threatened to shut them down. A court ruled in December that the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, based in suburban Milwaukee, violates state laws controlling teacher certification, charter schools and open enrollment.

Wisconsin “Senate Says Whoa on School Innovation”

Patrick McIlheran:

The best explanation – I mean the funniest – as to why the state Senate put a poison-pill enrollment cap on virtual schools was from state Sen. Russ Decker, the Weston Democrat who helped do it.
The fault lies with the schools, he says. Just too many parents were opting for them. In growth, “some of those virtual schools are pushing the envelope.”
Leave aside that pushing the envelope – inventing a new way to deliver a good education – is the point. On its face, the sentiment that the schools were growing faster than legally proper is nonsense.
Parents choose virtual schools, in which students are taught at home via daily online lessons, by the same law that allows any parent to send her child to any other public school. This open enrollment law has no upper limit and is now used by 23,000 students statewide. As for virtual schools, which account for 3,300 of those, the law did not limit their growth either until two months ago when a lawsuit by the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s dominant teachers union, hit the jackpot. Decker’s envelope exists solely in his head.
So the Senate, on party lines with the exception of one honorable Democrat, installed one – dictating that for two years, virtual schools can grow no larger. They can inch up to 4,500 students by 2014, but senators also set auditors to studying the program. All this was needed, says Decker, because Gov. Jim Doyle wouldn’t agree to let the schools stay open otherwise.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

There is still time to save Wisconsin’s virtual schools, but the clock is ticking after a state Senate vote this week that unwisely capped enrollment and blew up a bipartisan compromise.
In a letter to legislators on the eve of the vote, Gov. Jim Doyle called for a cap on enrollment and recommended a study to determine how well virtual schools were serving students and what their fiscal impact was on existing public schools and property taxes.
The request for a study is sensible enough, but the cap is a solution looking for a problem. And now, despite exceptions for siblings of existing students and for students who signed up during the current open enrollment period, some children may be denied the opportunity to learn in an environment that is best suited to their needs.
Legislation was needed after a state Court of Appeals ruled in December that the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, operated by the Northern Ozaukee School District, was not eligible for state aid. That ruling threatened the existence of all 12 online schools in the state, which serve more than 3,000 students.
The compromise plan was a good one that balanced the need to legalize virtual schools while imposing new standards on them. It had the support of the state Department of Public Instruction.
The Senate vote sends the measure back to the Assembly, where Rep. Brett Davis (R-Oregon) said Thursday he would draft new legislation that includes a financial audit but not a cap. He also planned to send a letter to Doyle inviting the governor or his staff to a hearing on Monday to explain why a cap is necessary.

Much more on Wisconsin’s Virtual Schools here.

Virtual schools lobby to survive

Amy Hetzner:

Following a December appeals court decision that questioned the legality of about a dozen virtual schools in the state, officials with those schools worked hard to convince their students’ families they would remain open until summer.
Now, amid the three-week application period for participation in the state’s open enrollment program, they are trying to convince both current and prospective families that they will be around for at least another year. And they are doing so through a blitz of online open houses, information sessions and advertising hitting all corners of Wisconsin.
“Some of them (parents) are real concerned and some of them don’t seem concerned at all,” said Kurt Bergland, principal of Wisconsin Virtual Academy, a virtual charter school run by the Northern Ozaukee School District. “I guess the proof will be in the pudding when someone actually puts us down on their open enrollment application.”
WIVA is under perhaps more pressure than other virtual charter schools in the state, as the target of a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Education Association Council charging it operated in violation of state laws regarding teacher licensure, charter schools and open enrollment. A three-judge panel of the District 2 Court of Appeals in Waukesha issued a decision with statewide implications that sided with WEAC, the state’s largest teachers union.

In Support of Wisconsin Virtual Schools

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

The future of the state’s 12 virtual schools was unclear after the state Court of Appeals ruled in December that they were not entitled to state aid. This bipartisan bill, which is moving through both houses of the Legislature, would impose new standards and ensure that funding continues.
But with Wisconsin schools knee-deep in the open enrollment process and legislative time at a premium, Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston) and Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) must make this bill a priority.
And the state teachers union, which brought the lawsuit that led to the Court of Appeals decision, should resist the impulse to try to force changes to the legislation or derail it.
The bill has not been scheduled for action yet, but the legislators who negotiated the compromise – state Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine), Rep. Brett Davis (R-Oregon) and Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) – want the measure to be considered as soon as possible.
Among the bill’s provisions: Virtual schools must have the same number of hours of instruction per year as traditional classrooms; must use only certified, licensed teachers to develop lesson plans and to grade assignments; and must make all records available under the state open records law. In addition, the state Department of Public Instruction, which backs the bill, could operate an online academy to advise districts that want to start their own online schools.

Race out as reason to deny Madison school transfers

Susan Troller:

Madison School Board members voted Monday night to halt the practice of using race as a reason to deny transfers by white students to other school districts for the current open enrollment period, which began Monday and continues through Feb. 22. [About open enrollment: Part and Full Time]
The decision was made by unanimous vote during the board’s regular meeting, following a closed-door session with district superintendent Art Rainwater and the district’s legal staff.
Last year, the portion of the district’s open enrollment policy focusing on achieving racial balance in district schools affected about 120 students whose requests for transfer were denied, Rainwater said in a short interview following the meeting.
He said he had no idea how many students might be affected during the current enrollment period.
He also said that the Madison district has been closely following state statute regarding open enrollment, although it is the only district in the state to have denied transfers based on race.
“We take the laws of the state of Wisconsin very seriously,” Rainwater said. “I guess I’d question why in the past the other districts weren’t following the law as it’s written.”

Background: Madison Schools’ Using race to deny white student transfers to be topic for the School Board by Andy Hall

Madison Schools’ Using race to deny white student transfers to be topic for the School Board

Andy Hall:

As families’ application deadline looms, many are wondering whether the Madison School District will halt its practice of using race as the reason for denying some white students’ requests to transfer to other districts.
The answer could begin to emerge as early as Monday, the first day for Wisconsin families
to request open-enrollment transfers for the coming school year.
Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater and the district’s legal counsel will confer Monday night with the School Board. It’s possible that after the closed-door discussion, the board will take a vote in open session to stop blocking open-enrollment requests on the basis of race, School Board President Arlene Silveira said.
“This is a serious decision for our school district, ” Rainwater said.
“It is our responsibility to take a very careful look at legal issues facing our school district. ”
Last year, Madison was the only of the state’s 426 school districts to deny transfer requests because of race, rejecting 126 white students’ applications to enroll in other districts, including online schools. Many of the affected students live within the district but weren’t enrolled in public schools because they were being home-schooled or attended private schools.

Related articles:

Wisconsin Virtual school decision goes statewide

Amy Hetzner:

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals has given supporters of the state’s virtual charter schools another reason to hope the Legislature is able to alter state law to save online education.
Yesterday, the publication committee for the appeals court approved publishing a decision by a three-judge appellate panel from Waukesha issued last December. The move means that decision – which found that a virtual school operated by the Northern Ozaukee School District violated several statutes – now applies statewide.
The state Department of Public Instruction has said that it would not distribute aid through open enrollment if the opinion were published. That could mean that school districts like Waukesha and Appleton, which like Northern Ozaukee operate virtual schools with large numbers of open-enrollees, lose out on millions of dollars of state aid.

Much more on Wisconsin’s virtual schools controversy here.

Cram to Pass Online School Bill

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The Legislature may actually complete an important assignment quickly and on time, earning high marks from voters.
Yes, we are talking about the Wisconsin Legislature, the same group of truants who logged one of the longest and latest budget stalemates in state history last year.
Maybe the Capitol gang is finally learning the importance of punctuality and cooperation.
Let ‘s hope so.
Key lawmakers announced a compromise bill Thursday that will keep open a dozen online schools in Wisconsin. The proposal also seeks to improve the quality of learning delivered via computer to educate more than 3,000 students in their homes.
The state Court of Appeals had put the future of virtual education in jeopardy last month. The District 2 Court in Waukesha ruled that the Wisconsin Virtual Academy, based in suburban Milwaukee, violates state laws controlling teacher certification, charter schools and open enrollment.

Online school offers fine, flexible education

Lisa McClure:

Our public education system should be designed to meet the needs of all students. For the last few years, online schools have provided an important public school option for many of Wisconsin’s families, proving to be a perfect fit for a wide range of students requiring the freedom and flexibility to set their own pace and learn on their own time.
Unfortunately, the recent state Court of Appeals decision regarding the Wisconsin Virtual Academy has created some ambiguity. This has directly affected WiVA, and some have suggested it has broader implications for all virtual education. However, we don’t believe the ruling affects iQ Academy Wisconsin, an online high school that is part of the Waukesha School District, and other schools that operate like us.
Unlike WiVA, iQ Academy relies solely on state-certified public school teachers to provide formal instruction. Our teachers are employed by and largely located inside the Waukesha School District. We are confident that iQ Academy complies with all relevant state laws.
Nevertheless, as a strong advocate of online education options, I urge our government officials to clarify any ambiguity and set virtual education on a firm footing.
If there is a positive from this ruling, it is the additional attention focused on online education. Many who may not have been aware of the high quality of education being provided online are taking a closer look. We welcome that.

WEAC wins hands down. What else is new?

Jo Egelhoff:

Unbelievable nerve. One Wisconsin Now, one of many mouthpieces for the state teachers union is badmouthing Assembly Education Committee Chair Rep. Brett Davis. Davis authored legislation that would make minor modifications to state statutes, allowing virtual schools to operate without question (and without continuous challenge in the courts by WEAC).
So One Wisconsin Now wants to discredit Rep. Davis by citing 2 contributions – totaling all of $500 – from officers of the company that operates the Wisconsin Virtual Academy.
So Rep. Brett Davis can be bought off for $500. That’s ridiculous on its face. The sophomoric effort by One Wisconsin Now to question Davis’ integrity – and apparently thereby question the validity of his legislation is whining in the school yard.
$142,525. Now that’s serious money.
A FoxPolitics piece last week summarized WEAC’s repeated challenges – and current court victory over Wisconsin’s public virtual schools. The issue is competing bills – corrective legislation introduced by Rep. Davis, mentioned above, and a bill introduced by Sen. John Lehman that would slash funding for online schools by 50% and would disallow open enrollment from outside a school district.
So just how badly does WEAC want to shut down virtual schools? For his 2006 Senate race, WEAC made independent expenditures favoring Senator Lehman in the amount of $142,525. Wow. That’s huge.

Hundreds of Wisconsin students ask lawmakers to save virtual schools.
Additional Commentary here and here.

Kids in the lab: Getting high-schoolers hooked on science

Kate Tillery-Danzer:

While this might be typical work for a graduate student in the life sciences, Ballard is a senior at Madison West High School who is still shy of his 18th birthday. His work with the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Eukaryotic Structural Genomics is part of the Youth Apprenticeship Program (YAP), an innovative project that gives exceptional high-school students an opportunity to get exposure and experience in their desired careers.
Created in 1991, the program is run by Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development, with collaboration from universities, schools and businesses. Statewide, more than 10,000 students have participated in 22 different program areas. This year, Ballard is one of nine Dane County students enrolled in YAP’s biotechnology focus, which offers a taste of working science that they can’t get in high school.
“Working in the research lab is amazing,” says Ballard, who plans to pursue both an M.D. and Ph.D. after college. “It’s meaningful. There is a point (to it). In high school, you do your labs and it’s not contributing to human knowledge in any way.”


UW-Madison: Saturday Enrichment 2008

UW Madison School of Education Outreach:

The Saturday Enrichment Program provides a student-centered environment to explore a wide range of interests and new academic areas to empower 5th-8th graders to ask and learn about career options, interests, and choices. Students utilize state-of-the-art campus resources and interact with UW-Madison faculty, staff and community professionals in this pre-college program sponsored by the School of Education. This program has open enrollment with course registrations on a first come, first served basis.

Wisconsin Attorney General Says Race Can’t Stop Student Transfers from Madison

Andy Hall:

The future of the state’s voluntary school integration program in Madison was thrown into doubt Thursday by a formal opinion from Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen declaring it unconstitutional to use race to block students’ attempts to transfer to other school districts.
The 11-page opinion, issued in response to a Sept. 17 request by Deputy State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, isn’t legally binding. However, courts consider interpretations offered by attorneys general, and the opinions can carry weight among lawmakers, too.
Madison is the only one of the state’s 426 public school districts that invokes race to deny some students’ requests to transfer to other districts under the state’s open enrollment program, the Wisconsin State Journal reported on Sept. 9.
In response to Van Hollen’s opinion, Madison schools Superintendent Art Rainwater said he and the district’s legal staff will review the document and confer with DPI officials before commenting.
“As we always have, we have every intention of obeying the law,” Rainwater said.
Figures compiled by the State Journal showed the Madison School District cited concerns over increasing its “racial imbalance” in rejecting 140 transfer requests involving 126 students for this school year. There are more applications than students because some filed more than one request.
All of the students involved in those rejected transfer requests were white.
The number of race-based rejections represents a 71 percent increase over the previous year, according to data supplied by the district. The number of rejections has nearly tripled since the 2004-05 school year.

This is an interesting paradox, a District that takes great pride in some area rankings while at the same time being resistant to such movements. Transfers can go both ways, of course. Redistributed state tax dollar transfers and local property tax & spending authority dollars are tied to enrollment.
Todd Richmond has more along with Alan Borsuk:

According to DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper, Madison is the only district in the state that could be directly affected. The Madison district has refused to allow students, almost all of them white, to enroll in other districts because of racial balance issues. This year, about 125 students were kept from transferring, Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater said.
Milwaukee Public Schools followed a similar practice in the late 1990s but changed policies about eight years ago, allowing students to attend suburban schools under the state’s open enrollment law regardless of the impact on school integration in Milwaukee.

Unleash Online Schools

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The state Court of Appeals just handed the Legislature an important assignment:
Update state laws governing public education to take advantage of the opportunities presented by online learning in virtual schools.
Lawmakers should dig into the homework, starting now.
Virtual schools, which deliver coursework via computer to educate students in their homes, have great potential as a cost-effective alternative to standard schools.
But last week the District 2 Court of Appeals in Waukesha put the future of virtual education in Wisconsin in doubt.
The court ruled that the Wisconsin Virtual Academy based in suburban Milwaukee violates state laws controlling teacher certification, charter schools and open enrollment.
The three-judge panel also put the academy in a financial bind by ordering the state to stop paying for students who attend the academy when those students are not residents of the local school district.

Parents are the Problem (WEAC & Wisconsin DPI Sue to Kill the Wisconsin Virtual Academy)

Rose Fernandez, via a reader’s email:

On Tuesday of this week, in a Waukesha courtroom, the state governmental agency responsible for our public schools and a labor union came before the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and pleaded with the judges to keep parents out of public schools. Yes, that’s right. The state and the teachers union are at war with parents and I’m mad as heck about it. (Madder than heck, actually, but trying to keep this blog family friendly).
According to the Department of Public Instruction and the state teachers’ union, parents are the problem. And these bureaucracies know just how to fix it. They want to keep parents, and indeed anyone without a teaching license, out of Wisconsin public schools.
Of course WEAC, the state teachers’ union, likes that idea. Licenses mean dues. Dues mean power.
DPI likes it because ……..well, could it be just because WEAC does?
The lawsuit before the Court of Appeals was filed by WEAC in 2004 in an effort to close a charter school that uses an on-line individualized curriculum allowing students from all over the state to study from home under the supervision of state certified faculty. The school is the Wisconsin Virtual Academy (WIVA). The Northern Ozaukee School District took the bold step of opening this new kind of school in the fall of 2003 after DPI approved their charter. Hundreds of families around the state enrolled their children under open enrollment that first year and mine was one of them. WIVA has grown every year since and this year has more than 800 students.
In January of 2004, WEAC filed their lawsuit against the school and DPI who authorized its existence. Later that year in a stunning reversal DPI switched sides and moved to close its own public school. DPI alleges that parents are too involved in their own children’s education.
That’s right. They argue parents are too involved.
I’ve always thought parental involvement in a child’s education was a good thing. What do I know? I don’t have a teacher’s license.

This issue was discussed extensively by Gregg Underheim during the most recent Wisconsin DPI Superintendent race (April, 2005). Audio / Video here.
Much more on the Wisconsin Virtual Academy. Also check out

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.

Waukesha Virtual School Generates a Cash Surplus

Amy Hetzner: The School District’s virtual high school has delivered its first financial surplus to the school system more than a year after it faced an uncertain future amid budgetary losses. The district received about $65,000 more than it spent on the 3-year-old school, called iQ Academies at Wisconsin, for 2006-’07 in the first year … Continue reading Waukesha Virtual School Generates a Cash Surplus

Some interesting insight into another district’s budgeting process, knowledge, and challenges.

Shane Samuels: There are those who like to work with numbers, and then there are those who figure school budgets. They’re not necessarily the same person. School finance consists of a labyrinth of property values, student enrollment totals, federal aid, and state aid. Only two people in Chetek claim to understand the funding formula from … Continue reading Some interesting insight into another district’s budgeting process, knowledge, and challenges.

School Board Vote on the Studio School Tonight

In the context of the Madison School District’s financial challenges, it’s easy to understand why creating a new program may seem unthinkable. Yet creativity can prove a strong ally in times of adversity. Take the prospect of the latest charter school idea to come before the Madison School Board, and consider these points: As a … Continue reading School Board Vote on the Studio School Tonight

Standards, Accountability, and School Reform

This is very long, and the link may require a password so I’ve posted the entire article on the continued page. TJM Standards, Accountability, and School Reform by Linda Darling-Hammond — 2004 The standards-based reform movement has led to increased emphasis on tests, coupled with rewards and sanctions, as the basis for “accountability” systems. … Continue reading Standards, Accountability, and School Reform

From the Wall Street Journal‘s Opinion Journal CROSS COUNTRY Black Flight The exodus to charter schools. BY KATHERINE KERSTEN MINNEAPOLIS–Something momentous is happening here in the home of prairie populism: black flight. African-American families from the poorest neighborhoods are rapidly abandoning the district public schools, going to charter schools, and taking advantage of open enrollment … Continue reading

“Black Flight: Minneapolis Exodus to Charter Schools”

Katherine Kersten: Something momentous is happening here in the home of prairie populism: black flight. African-American families from the poorest neighborhoods are rapidly abandoning the district public schools, going to charter schools, and taking advantage of open enrollment at suburban public schools. Today, just around half of students who live in the city attend its … Continue reading “Black Flight: Minneapolis Exodus to Charter Schools”