PEOPLE Program: The Debate continues

(With apologies to readers – it is not possible to respond using the comments feature on the blog.)
Response to Lucy’s Post on PEOPLE program
JOAN: Tempting though it is to rebut your arguments tit for tat I am not sure it will necessarily be productive.
RESPONSE: I would be interested in a “tit for tat” response to my comments on the reasons why the PEOPLE program is needed.
JOAN: Let’s back up and look at the assumptions underlying this program. The first is that minority students are not getting adequate preparation in their home schools. You assert that this is true in the well-staffed, well-funded Madison school district because of institutional racism. You believe your visual review of a school proves your point. That’s not particularily strong evidence.
RESPONSE: I think you need to go back and read what I wrote. I said,

“All of the above examples are conditions that I have witnessed first hand or, in one or two cases, have heard of from other parents – including parents of white students. When the above conditions disappear and/or white students experience these same conditions, we can talk about equity.”

Nowhere did I say or imply that my comments were “based on a visual review of a school.” It is true that there is no systematic, methodologically defensible, study of how students of color and their parents fare in Madison’s schools. I would welcome a well-crafted study of this nature.

I suspect that our opinions are informed by different experiences and information sources. I can’t speak to your knowledge base because I know nothing of it. I can share that I base my comments on:

— twelve years of direct daily experience with MMSD as the parent of an African American student
— the experiences shared over fourteen years by parents of African American students and other students of color; today, those students range in age from seven to their early thirties
— what I have learned over the past seven years from current and former students of color who I spend time with at school, at extracurricular events, in my home, and at social events
— information and commentary by students of color currently enrolled at UW-Madison and who graduated from Madison schools (contrary to what you would have us believe, by the way, these students are campus leaders with very solid academic and community credentials – including participation in the Honors Program)
— the issues raised by parents of students of color who, with me, participated in monthly meetings with the former principal at East
— affirming responses from parents of white students when I’ve talked about disparities in Madison education in the past year
— information and commentary shared by current and former school principals and staff and by members of the community who work with students of color in the K-12 system
— issues raised by current students – white and students of color – at public forums devoted to student achievement, to educational equity, and to disproportionate minority confinement
— questions and comments from parents at the MAFAAC sponsored school board candidate forums in 2004 and 2005
— questions and concerns raised at MAFAAC meetings over several years
— feedback from parents and community members when I visited neighborhood centers with Valencia Douglas and others this past spring
— concerns and experiences expressed by colleagues on campus, who face serious choices about where their children will attend school

Again, I know that this is not a scientifically verifiable knowledge base, but it is a pretty broad set of contacts and experiences.
JOAN: This isn’t about ability but preparation and motivation.
RESPONSE: I agree about preparation – if students are consigned to connected math rather than algebra, they aren’t going to have the same preparation, for example. That is a very different issue from motivation, which often is present – and in combination with intelligence – but is overlooked in the selection process.
The student most quoted in the article sounds pretty motivated, by the way:

“Raymond McCurty-Smith was a high school freshman in Milwaukee when he first heard about UW-Madison’s PEOPLE program from a teacher in his honors English class.
He said he understood immediately what it could mean to him and his family — what a great deal he could get with a full-tuition scholarship if he finished the program and kept up his grades. The program helps disadvantaged and minority youth prepare for college and, preferably, enroll at UW-Madison as freshmen.
“It was funny because I was already thinking of going to UW-Madison, and that decided it,” said McCurty-Smith, 17, who will start his senior year of high school this fall. “It was just such a good opportunity.”
But last week, as he finished the program’s third and final summer session on campus and looked forward to enrolling at UW-Madison in a year, McCurty-Smith counseled against anyone doing it just for the payoffs — the scholarship and the $1,000 check that he and the other participants will receive in lieu of wages they could have earned working a regular job this summer.
“It’s a really good program if you are determined to come to UW-Madison and you’re determined to work,” he said, adding that not everyone in the program had such noble motives, in his opinion. “The goofers in class are easy to pick out, just here for the money.”

JOAN: West is tough on all kids, just for the record.
RESPONSE: West certainly prides itself on its academic rigor. I also would submit that each of the four high schools has curriculum that is demanding and challenging whether that curriculum is represented as AP or TAG designations or is the product of a teacher who demands peak performance in “regular” classes.
The issue from where I sit is who has access to that curriculum and how? When the access process produces upper level courses that are almost exclusively white, or white with a smattering of Asian American students, it should encourage us to ask whether the representation is about ability or about perception and/or process.
JOAN: (And for the commenter below who mentioned that a kid with a 3.6 from West might not be in the top 10%, you’re exactly right–one B in four years and you’re out of the top 5%, two B’s and you’re out of the top 10%, historically anyway.)
RESPONSE: As for the grades/GPAs, I believe that they are currently viewed as less indicative of future success than one might imagine. The factors working against a strict GPA value include: grade inflation due to parental pressure, variance in curriculum from one school or district to the next, the level/challenge of courses taken, academically gifted kids who get poor grades because they are not engaged due to boredom and frustration.
On another note: most college faculty would give their eye teeth for a 2.5 student who asks challenging questions and brings engagement and fresh perspective to a class, over a room of 3.9-4.0 students who are good at meeting the technical requirements to get high grades but are burnt out and/or unwilling to take risks for fear of jeopardizing their grades. This is not to dismiss students who are high academic achievers, but rather to reflect what some higher education studies – and individual faculty – are reporting.
JOAN: As I said in my first post, I had first-hand experience tutoring minority students from Milwaukee. They clearly needed the kind of advance preparation this program offers.
RESPONSE: As I recall, that was several years ago and does not involve the current crop of newly-admitted students. I would encourage you to take another look at the students who are coming from Milwaukee’s schools today. For example the reconfiguration of Rufus King has created a highly competitive school [ ] ranked fifth in the US, first in Wisconsin.
JOAN: Thus, I am not opposed to a summer program, but I have serious questions about bending the admission rules.
RESPONSE: Perhaps you misread the article. It is far from a summer program only:

“..the program, which so far has produced 117 UW-Madison undergraduates, including 41 students who will be freshmen this fall. To get the scholarship, those freshmen also must complete an eight-week summer program of classes for credit designed to further prepare them for college.
An additional 952 students are involved in some earlier stage of the program, which can include after-school classes on study skills and tutoring in reading, writing, math, science and foreign languages.
Summer sessions, all on campus, include academic classes, field trips, campus orientations, cultural activities and, for the oldest students, internships in local companies and organizations. Enrollment in these summer sessions has jumped from 139 pre-college students to more than 800.”


“In 2000, a slate of middle-school offerings was added in Madison — program officials say they don’t have the money to expand it elsewhere — and this fall an elementary-school program will start on Madison’s northeast side around Northport Drive and Packers Avenue. That new offering, known as PEOPLE Prep, is designed to prepare children as early as second grade for the middle-school program.
The entire PEOPLE program now includes 500 high school students, 497 middle schoolers and 55 in grades two through six, plus the 117 undergraduates. A few hundred faculty members and staff from across campus help teach it, and the program provides professional development for high school teachers from the Milwaukee area during summer training sessions.”

JOAN: Moreover, it is beyond me how someone could successfully attend and graduate from UW with such low admission scores.
RESPONSE: The article never said that PEOPLE students are guaranteed admission.

“… not every (PEOPLE) graduate who applies gets in, said Carlos Reyes, an admissions officer. This fall, for example, about 80 program finishers applied for admission, but only about 50 were accepted; of those, 41 enrolled and will be freshmen this fall.
Students in PEOPLE must maintain at least a 2.75 grade-point average in high school and meet UW-Madison’s entrance requirements, officials said. Reasons that some program finishers aren’t accepted include the same things that keep out regular applicants, Reyes said, such as slacking off senior year, getting bad grades or not taking rigorous enough classes.”

JOAN: I am also here to tell you that my children did not for the most part feel supported in MMSD. Welcome to the club, in other words.
RESPONSE: Like I said in my earlier post, the issues are way beyond whether someone “feels supported.” It’s a separate club which has pretty exclusive membership. When they start to experience what students of color experience in our schools, and I hope that never happens, I will say “welcome to the club.” Until then, their experiences are as different as the separate floors at West.
JOAN: However, they did have the advantage of an intact, financially secure family, college-educated parents and alot of opportunities low-income kids miss out on. So let me repeat that I’m not opposed to offering college prep classes to kids who need it. But I still think they need to meet the same standards at the end of the day. Otherwise, we may as well gift them with a college diploma, skip the four/five year investment of time and energy, and just strip away the facade that this is supposed to be about advanced education.
RESPONSE: I’m struggling with the assumption that all students or color, or students in the PEOPLE program, are from “broken” families without post-high school educations. The program includes students from a very broad range of backgrounds who, for whatever, reason, are in need of the critical mass and academic training that they are not experiencing in their schools.
Beyond that, you may want to re-read the original article. I draw very different meaning from its tone and content, and find that your presentation distorts both the content and wording of the original article and the intent/function of the PEOPLE program. This is an insult to the students and staff who are putting the time and effort into meeting the requirements to successfully graduate from PEOPLE, and it is a real insult to the students who do indeed meet the requirements for admission to UW-Madison.