Notes from Monday’s Madison School Board Meeting

Two interesting notes, among many, I’m sure from Monday evening’s Madison School Board meeting:

  • Johnny Winston, Jr. introduced a motion for the Administration to look at acquiring land in Fitchburg for a new school. This motion passed 5-1, with Bill Keys voting no (and Juan Jose Lopez absent).
  • Ruth Robarts advocated curriculum changes as a means to attract more families to certain schools. She mentioned the use of Singapore Math (Note that some Madison residents are paying a chunk of money to send their children to Madison Country Day School, which uses Singapore Math).

Speaking of Math, Rafael Gomez is organizing a middle school math forum on February 22, 2006, from 7 to 8:00p.m.
Local news commentary:

  • Channel3000:

    The Madison Metropolitan School Board met for hours Monday discussing overcrowding options for the looming referendum

  • WKOW-TV:

    After nearly five hours of discussion, the Madison School Board decided to put off asking tax payers for a new school in April and says voters may have to head to the polls this fall instead.

  • Susan Troller:

    That potential option was added to the mix regarding how the Madison School District could deal with growth and overcrowding on the west side following a special School Board meeting Monday night.
    Board Vice President Johnny Winston, Jr. led a motion to ask district administrators to explore land sites and options for a possible new school in the rapidly developing areas south of the Beltline in Fitchburg, including land currently in the Verona and Oregon school districts.
    Board member Lawrie Kobza supported Winston’s motion and said she may be willing to support a new elementary school in the south Fitchburg area as part of a long-range plan for the district. Kobza does not support an addition at Leopold, saying the school already has more than 650 students, which the district has deemed its maximum acceptable capacity.

  • Sandy Cullen:

    The Madison School Board voted Monday to direct district administrators to investigate purchasing land for a future school in south Fitchburg as a long-term solution to crowding at Leopold Elementary School, while board members continue to explore a more immediate solution to the problem.

17 thoughts on “Notes from Monday’s Madison School Board Meeting”

  1. I am fairly certain that the Marshall School District uses Singapore Math as well. I believe this has been the case for four or five years.

  2. That is interesting. I was at the meeting last night for a couple of hours, but left before Ruth brought up this topic. Does anyone know how the rest of the Board reacted?
    I have to say, I was happy with the math instruction that my kids got in elementary school at Mendota. They use Everyday Math, but do supplement with other material as well, including Singapore Math. And when my daughter was in 5th grade (she’s now a sophomore) they did have a tag teacher come in and do something I think was called ‘Jetstream’ math. Both of my kids were excellent math students coming out of elementary school.
    Middle school is another story. It seems like much of what is in 6th & 7th grade Connected Math is a repeat of 4th & 5th grade Everyday Math. My daughter was fortunate to have a 6th grade teacher who recommended her for an “In-step” to 7th grade math during the first semester of 6th grade, so she was able to move ahead. My son must not have scored high enough on the 5th grade math assessment (I never did see the results) to qualify for a similar move. He was basically bored silly in math for two years in middle school and expressed his dislike of Connected Math on numerous occasions. He’s now in 8th grade and in algebra and much happier and enjoying math again.
    I’ve tried to talk to Linda McQuillen a couple of times about the problems, or perceived problems, with Connected Math and was summarily dismissed. I’ve also asked Kurt Kiefer about doing an evaluation of Connected Math, but he said it has never been requested and the program was implemented in such a disorganized way (my words, not his) that there isn’t a good control group for comparison.
    I find this topic rather frustrating. I know lots of parents who have been unhappy with the math curriculum, primarily in middle school, for one reason or another, but the district refuses to listen to concerns or do anything about it. They don’t seem to care that, at minimum, they have a major PR problem with math. And, unfortunately, people are leaving the district over this.

  3. Congratulations to the board! A delay in going to a referendum makes good sense, giving the board and public time to digest the task force reports and pull together additonal ideas — like Singapore math or Direct Instruction in reading — that the task forces were not allowed to consider.

  4. Did anyone attend the meeting? I am very curious to the other members reaction. I was at another board meeting (neighborhood) and was unable to attend.
    Yea Ruth, you go!

  5. Ruth and Lawrie — Would one or both of you please ask Kurt Kiefer for District-wide data (broken down by middle school, if possible; by high school, if that’s all that’s feasible) for algebra and geometry performance over the past, say, five years? What we need is not simply the percentage of kids who have taken these courses and passed versus failed. (That’s what’s usually reported, I believe.) As was recently pointed out to me by someone very much “in the know,” failure rates do not include the students who receive D’s. But students who receive D’s haven’t mastered the material and aren’t performing at grade level. Thus they get counted as a District success, even though the District has clearly failed them.
    We also need a clear description of what each high school has been doing in recent years to support the “algebra in 9th grade, geometry in 10th grade mandate” –and an accounting of the enormous amount of resources that the District and each high school have put into complying with the mandate (a laudable one, I might add). We need to know if those resources have been well spent … and whether or not they have helped us achieve our goal.
    However messy the course of implementation may have been across the District’s middle schools, we absolutely must have a good, long look at the outcome data for Connected Math. So please ask Kurt for those data. We can use “the way it was before” as our comparison group.

  6. My thoughts and prayers are with Juan and the Lopez family as they attend services for their mother and celebrate her life.
    Considering the decisions (or lack thereof) last night…Were school board candidates present? Have they been gathering a wide range of input from task force members, all school board members, and community families inside / outside the beltline? I hope they have been open to input from a variety of sources and attending the meetings. I didn’t see all of them last night.
    Personally, I don’t think we have time to waste bringing new members up to speed.

  7. WOW! WOW! WOW!
    $10,200 (elementary) up to $11,200 (high school)
    Considering the cost of tuition at MCD and the demographics of the student population, I guess one could say the average $9,700 MMSD cost/ student isn’t so bad?
    Hey…what is the cost of these curriculum changes given our financial woes?

  8. Dear MariSue,
    Please remember that this is a blog, not a political campaign attack forum. There are many ways to access information other than sitting in the Doyle building.
    Those of us who had other obligations last night were able to watch the meeting on TV, and catch the portions that we missed thanks to the wonder of video tape.
    There are many ways to get input, including conversations with parents and people who live in areas affected by the proposed changes, posts to this blog, the packets stuffed with material that arrive from the district, local media and on-line forums, in addition to physically sitting in the Doyle building.
    For the record, I speak only for myself as a candidate. I am not lacking in input from either the East or the West/Memorial task forces.

  9. Focus. I’m not so sure these discussions are wise steps right now. I think there is merit to looking at curriculum and Fitchburg land more closely – but it is a pretty muddy way to help resolve an _urgent_ space crisis. The reason I think it is urgent is that the timeline for that space to be open is 2-3 years out. We’ll have more severe overcrowding next year.
    I appreciate the interest to pursue new land in the southern end of Fitchburg, but is also provides a significant delay, adds expense, and compromises planning on the far west side.
    I think the community can act responsibly if the board wouldn’t pass a referendum as a “hot potato”. We can move forward confidently with a honorable request for money for new space in growth areas. We can do this with a split vote from the board and we can do this with voices of dissent in our midst. However, let’s have some confidence for the sake of young students within our district.
    The key issues at hand are that learning is being compromised daily at our overcrowded schools and we need to start now to prevent a larger problem in 3-5 years on the far west side.

  10. To Lucy Mathiak,
    What do you mean that this is not “a political campaign attack forum.” It is a place where expressions of free speech can be aired. You man not agree with Mari’s post, but attacking her post as a political attack is, at best, disingenuous. It actually IS important for candidates to the school board to regularly attend the MMSD school board meetings, specifically one that involves a referendum. To pretend that passively watching the meeting on cable t.v. can equate to taking the time and effort to be a part of the important decisions facing our school district is not something that I look for in a school board candidate.
    Many times the current school board members have been “called out” on not fulfilling their school board duties. The same standard should be held for people who desire to be a part of the MMSD school board. Mari’s response to the lack of participation of candidates to the MMSD is not only justified, but required in an open discussion on the qualifications of the people who wish to hold the public confidence.
    I challenge all of you to search the MMSD board meeting minutes to see which candidates have participated most. I, for one, will not vote for a school board member who needs training wheels to get caught up and need a “primer on school budgets.” Madison and its children need more than this in a candidate.

  11. Just because someone sits in the audience doesn’t mean they are a good candidate. I don’t think that anyone takes attendance on who is in the audience. I wouldn’t use that as the reason I would vote for someone. Yes, I agree that it is important that candidates know what is going on in the district. Does that mean we need to get rid of all board members who don’t have kids in the schools? One could say that they don’t really know what is going on. On the other hand they may not have a good view of what is happening across the district. Should we have not elected former teachers or administrators because they don’t know what is happening in my child’s class? Come on. We all have many different ways of knowing what is going on in the district along with what is going on in the schools. Does this mean that we should expect board members to show up to every event they are invited to? Shouldn’t they have a life? I have been to a lot of functions where there is the same board members who show up. I also have been to events where some show up literally for 5 minutes and then leave. There is no appology on why they have to leave. Every board member is not involved in every task force. Let’s get real. Maybe we should state that if you don’t have kids currently in the MMSD schools, then you can’t vote. That is the attitude I am getting.
    I plan on voting for those who have similar views that I do, on what is important to me and my family. This is how most people vote. If it is most important to you that someone shows up, rather than what they get involved in or how they vote while on the board, so it be. Let’s stop being so picky.

  12. I welcome such a search, and also welcome a search that goes back over the past 17 years. While you’re at it, go back and check the footage from committee meetings, when they were held. They don’t list observers, but you will indeed see my face among the crowd.
    Please do check last year’s Long Range Planning committee including EVERY one of its hearings. Since I was a citizen member, I do appear on the attendance roster.
    Not only have I been at board meetings, I have frequently spoken during the public appearances on issues that affect our children and our schools.
    Feel free to attack me all you want, but please get your facts straight. One meeting is not an entire school year or even part of a year. It is one meeting.
    One suspects that you know that your facts are not accurage since you don’t have the courage to post under your own name, which I have done from day one on this blog.

  13. I think my post got a bit twisted on what I meant to highlight:
    Due to the lack of any decision on Monday night, the school board candidate race has become, (for those concerned about overcrowding and growth) a high priority.
    Those candidates voted upon in April will be the ones making the decision to MOVE FORWARD with any plans for new buildings!
    I do feel there are many means for communication but I’m frustrated by the lack of SOLUTION!!!
    The problem has been avoided and is snowballing to include even larger building concerns. It’s also frustrating as a task force member that the plans have yet to really be discussed not to mention the time wasted:
    20 members consistently present for meetings on the task force, lets say on average 100 hours each (that’s only 20 hours each month) = 2000 hours down the drain!
    Asked for community input, got it… but I guess it wasn’t what anyone was hoping to receive.

  14. Wow! But back to the math question. There was mention of middle school Connected Math being particularly weak. My understanding is that the first edition of those books that are being used are being replaced in many of the schools with a newly published edition that includes some more parent-friendly parts. However that is being done through fundraising in each school, meaning that access will be uneven through the district. The price we have gotten is $30,000 for the whole school! The parent involvement is my biggest problem with CMP–why do we support parent involvement and then use a curriculum for a very important subject that basically shuts the parents out?

  15. The problems with CMP go far beyond failing to reach parents. One big problem is that the edifice of mathematics is so huge. Think of how long it took mathematicians to discover all of it. When one tries to use the discovery paradigm as the sole model for math lessons, all of the time available is spent in discovery process of basic concepts. There isn’t time for more than a cursory look at any topic. There isn’t any work on hard problems related to basic concepts. There isn’t time to master computational aspects of basic concepts. Everyone learns 1/2 + 1/4, but no one learns how to find the least common denominator of 1/14 and 1/35. The people who promote a constructivist approach to math set up a false dichotomy between traditional math which teaches one to memorize formulas and tables of computations, and discovery math which teaches one to really understand how math works. I actually had a TAG resource teacher say this to me very patronizingly. “We don’t teach math anymore the way that YOU learned it. Now children really understand math when they learn it.” Excuse me, but traditional math was never like that. Tradtional math presents concepts AND teaches understanding of concepts. One learns formulas AND why they work. One also does large numbers of progressively more difficult computations to become skilled at them. The problem with traditional math is that large numbers of students don’t understand the concepts as presented and try to get by with memorizing and manipulating formulas which they don’t understand. They also don’t master the computational aspects and try to make up for this deficit by using calculators inappropriately. When I was TAing calculus in grad school, a typical scenario would be the student who never understood the algebra lesson about what a logarithm is and tried to memorize the associated list of formulas to get by. Now here we are in logs again. The student doesn’t understand the algebra of logs, misplacing minus signs willy-nilly, so is destined to fail at calculus. In addition he doesn’t really have a good handle on the multiplication tables, so every example has to be presented sooo slowly for him to follow. Why does this happen? Well it may be that some kids don’t have enough mathematical talent/interest to master the material, but I don’t believe it. In countries like Singapore and my husband’s native country of Finland, everyone learns this math and learns it pretty well. I don’t believe the gene pool is so radically different there. I think it has to do with expectations and foundations. If you live in a culture where everyone knows math and expects everyone else to know it, people will learn it. Math is built like a brick wall, bottom up. You have to learn the foundations properly and well to get along well further on. At each step, mastery requires doing lots of problems until they are like second nature. Learning some fuzzy understanding of the basic concept doesn’t cut it here. You have to do lots of problems. You have to work hard. You can’t do trigonometry if basic calculation is slow and difficult. It’s no different than athletic training. You don’t go out and run a marathon without practice and sweat. The problem needs to be fixed at the elementary level and also in our society with its dysfunctional attitude toward math. I think the people who promote curricula like CMP see this as a way to reach the kids with low math skills. These kids can at least get some kind of tenuous connection to math this way. But it is absolutely hopeless as a preparation for rigorous college-prep math. Of course the way to cure that is, guess what, put discovery math into the college-prep courses since with CMP as a background the kids will never be able to master real math. At West the Algebra text has been replaced with Discovery Algebra, and soon, I believe, Geometry will follow. Check it out at Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this math is the way to go for the non-mathematical kids. But then they should have an alternative curriculum for kids who really like math and expect to need it in their careers. This CMP stuff(along with Everyday Math) just makes kids who like math scream in agony. It’s torture. If you have a kid who’s managing fine in CMP, it’s likely the teacher is heavily supplementing with outside resources. But of course they can’t let the brightest kids go. It would be (gasp!) tracking, and in any case the lesson structure requires that the bright kids be there to facilitate success in the group and help others along. I recommend you save your $30,000. Do not invest more money in this curriculum. It’s just throwing good money after bad.
    I know that the people who create and implement these curricula have good intentions. They want the kids to learn. I know they don’t intend to pull the schools down. There’s some kind of mass delusion that has infected the education researchers, and we have to deal with the consequences.
    Full disclosure. We are a family of math nerds. My husband is a math prof at UW and I have a master’s degree in math. I run a math olympiad group at my children’s elementary school and assist in the classroom whenever the teachers can use my assistance. We do Singapore Math at home to fill in the gaps in school instruction and do math for fun at the dinner table. I just made the painful decision to move my soon-to-be-middle-schooler daughter to private school next year, in part (but only a small part) to avoid CMP.

  16. Celeste,
    Great post! I hope folks take the time to read all of it. You are absolutely correct that students need to have a foundation upon which to build their understanding of math (or science, or English…). All of these “new” discovery learning approaches don’t seem to understand that basic fact and that is why US students are falling behind the rest of the world.

  17. It’s a long report (192 pages in its entirety), but some of you might be interested in AIR’s “What the United States Can Learn from Singapore’s World-Class Mathematics System” at
    Note the use of system as opposed to curriculum.
    It addresses curriculum, textbooks, teacher preparation, education systems, status of Singapore pilots in the United States, and different levels of policy recommendations. It also compares the Singapore text with a traditional US text and a non-traditional US text.

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