Carol Carstensen’s Weekly Update

Of the MTI-represented employees in the district, more than 50% take their health insurance with Group Health (the lowest cost of any of the HMO’s).
February 6th MEETINGS :
5 p.m. Finance & Operations Committee (Johnny Winston Jr., chair):
Report on the $100 Budget exercise in January 173 people participated in the exercise; their responses indicated that their highest priorities were: Academic Achievement and Specialized Services (special education, English as a Second Language).
Doug Pearson, in charge of buildings and grounds for the district, gave a presentation explaining that a combination of factors (drought in the Midwest, Hurricane Katrina and increased oil prices) have resulted in a huge increase in construction costs. As an example, when the district built Chavez (2000-01), construction costs were estimated at $85/sq.ft. today the estimate to build a new school is estimated to cost $162/sq.ft. These increases also affect all of the district’s maintenance projects.
6 p.m. Performance & Achievement Committee (Shwaw Vang, chair)
The Committee heard presentations about the elimination of tracking in the West High Biology course (begun in 1997) and in East High Algebra/Trig (started in 2004). In both cases the changes were the result of discussions by the teachers at the school and supported by staff from downtown. Likewise, both reported that they felt that they were serving all students more effectively and that their classes were more representative of the entire student enrollment. The Committee will continue looking at this topic.

7:15 p.m Regular Board Meeting:
Mostly routine business; the Board did approve hiring an architectural firm to plan for work on the East High patio roof.
February 13 (televised, McDaniels Auditorium)
5 p.m. Special Board Meeting discussion about the recommendations from the Memorial/West Task Force (the East Area Task Force recommendations will be discussed on February 27).
The Board will meet first with the entire Task Force to give them a chance to explain their work and their recommendations. Next there will be Public Appearances. After that there will be a discussion of information about the Doyle Building – possibilities for sale/leasing/remodeling to house alternative programs and costs of moving current staff elsewhere.
The Board will then discuss the Memorial/West Task Force recommendation to build a new school on the far west side and to build an addition onto Leopold. The Board will also have before it the wording for referendum questions. If the Board wants to put the building proposals on the April ballot it must act no later than February 17 (Friday of next week).
February 20:
5:30 p.m. Finance and Operations Committee (Johnny Winston, Jr., chair) 5-year budget forecast; proposals from community agencies for after school activities.
6:30 p.m. Partnerships Committee (Lawrie Kobza, chair) continued discussion about a policy governing gifts/funds to support activities during and/or after school.
February 27:
5:00 p.m. Legislative Committee (Ruth Robarts, chair) legislation that would increase the number of administrators who could be designated “at-will” employees; requirements for school district reports; requiring developers to pay fees to support the building of new schools.
5:45 p.m. Special Board Meeting: discussion of the East Area Task Force recommendations; the Task Force will have a chance to talk with the Board at the start of the meeting.
Carol Carstensen, President
Madison School Board
“Until lions have their own historians, the hunters will always be glorified.” – African Proverb

4 thoughts on “Carol Carstensen’s Weekly Update”

  1. An important comment about the Performance and Achievement Commmittee meeting on February 6 —
    West HS Science Chair Mike Lipp argued that the regular biology classes and the accelerated biology class are similar educational experiences and prepare students equally — including West’s high ability students. The evidence he presented to support his argument was the roughly equal numbers of regular and accelerated biology students with 4.0 GPA’s and National Merit Semi-Finalist status.
    There is a fundamental flaw in Mr. Lipp’s reasoning that is important for everyone to understand and appreciate. It is the fact that many, many more students take regular biology than take accelerated biology — something like 450 versus 25. That means, for example, 15/450 (3.3%) of the regular biology students were National Merit Semi-Finalists versus 15/25 (60%) of the accelerated biology students. If the raw numbers of each type of biology student achieving a 4.0 GPA are also the same — say, 25 of each — then, once again, that would suggest a significantly different base rate (25/450 = 5.5% versus 25/25 = 100%). THAT is the proper way to think about the question of whether or not the two biology classes are the same, equally rigorous, and preparing students (especially high ability students) in the same way.
    As the conversation about whether and how much ability grouping continues (and I’d like to make it crystal clear that offering appropriate classes for the highest performing students IN NO WAY suggests that any other group of students should be ability grouped — we have not looked at that literature; we can only tell you that other students do not suffer — and may well benefit — when high performing students are allowed to learn together in their own class), I’d like to encourage the BOE members to do two thing: 1) spend some time sitting in the different biology classes in order to see what goes on and what the educational experiences are like for different kinds of students, and 2) talk to the students who have taken each biology class, in particular, talk to the accelerated biology students and talk to the regular biology students who wanted to be in accelerated biology but didn’t get in. Both of these efforts would provide unique and valuable data.

  2. If you look at Sandy Cullen’s summary of the $100 budget process for the State Journal, you will notice that she summarizes the results a little differently from the way Carol does. Sandy wrote:
    “Providing safe and secure schools ranked highest among participants’ individual priorities, followed by academic achievement, minority achievement and specialized services, such as alternative programs and talented and gifted programs.”
    Not quite the same thing as “special education, English as a Second Language.” It is interesting that Carol and Sandy heard such different things from the same report.

  3. Excellent posts, Jeff and Laurie.
    I find West’s analysis of National Merit semi-finalists/participation in Acc Bio spurious. The entry test is there to limit enrollment to 25, not as an independent assessment of ability or motivation to sort those for an accelerated class. In other words, if there were more sections of Acc Bio, more kids would take it. I’m willing to bet that more of the Nat Merit kids would end up in those accelerated sections.
    One of my children made the cut-off, the other didn’t. The child that didn’t was then and is actually the much stronger biology student, by abililty and interest.
    I have a grad degree in zoology and TA’d intro zoo, so I feel qualified to discuss this. What was better about the acc bio course was the peer group. My son made his best friends from that section; they remained close throughout high school. They loved working together–science was fun and the work creative. My daughter, who was forced into reg bio, saw a much more routinized delivery of info and assessment; her working groups consisted of students of quite varied ability and motivation levels, including kids who spoke little or no English. She was often very frustrated, and there was little or no joy in her experience.
    Here’s my take: In keeping with its overall one-size-fits-all philosophy, West would like to axe Acc Bio. Thus, they argue no difference in outcome for high performers, as measured only by Nat Merit status. This confuses correlation with causation, a common problem with district arguments. Moreover, it ignores the very real difference in the quality of experience for high learners.

  4. You are partially right, Jeff. My list was not completely accurate. Actually a “positive learning environment” was the highest priority. I was trying to combine the areas people tried to avoid cutting with the stated priorities. The areas that were least likely to be cut were: textbooks and related materials; ESL teachers and administration; and special education transportation. The area which had the highest number of proposals to cut was “Curriculum Research and Staff Development” – which is where the TAG programs are.

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