Madison Schools Make Effort to Close the Achievement Gap

Sandy Cullen:

Working in conjunction with the Schools of Hope project led by the United Way of Dane County, the district has made progress in third-grade reading scores at the lowest achievement levels. But racial and income gaps persist among third-graders reading at proficient and advanced levels.
Other initiatives are taking place in the middle and high schools. There, the district has eliminated “dead-end classes” that have less rigorous expectations to eliminate the chance that students will be put on a path of lower achievement because they are perceived as not being able to succeed in higher-level classes.
In the past, high school students were able to take classes such as general or consumer math. Now, all students are required to take algebra and geometry – or two credits of integrated mathematics, combining algebra, statistics and probability, geometry and trigonometry – in order to graduate.
One of the district’s more controversial efforts has been a move toward “heterogeneous” classes that include students of all achievement levels, eliminating classes that group students of similar achievement levels together.
Advocates of heterogeneous classes say students who are achieving at lower levels benefit from being in classes with their higher-achieving peers. But others say the needs of higher-achieving students aren’t met in such classes.
And in addition to what schools are already doing, Superintendent Art Rainwater said he would like to put learning coaches for math and reading in each of the district’s elementary schools to improve teachers’ ability to teach all students effectively.

The first part of Cullen’s series is here.

One thought on “Madison Schools Make Effort to Close the Achievement Gap”

  1. I sympathize with Timo’s remarks. The research has shown for years that high ability kids do not perform as well in blended classrooms, although their classmates may benefit from their presence. Of course, no one discusses the emotional toll this can take on a gifted student, the frustration of waiting, and waiting, and waiting, to learn while the teacher deals with students who are not as emotionally or academically equipped to proceed.
    That said, it’s time to ask: What is the purpose of public education? What’s the goal?
    Several years ago, I was struck by the confounding of correlation and causation when the district started requiring all students to complete algebra and geometry. The stated reason was that students who went on to college had taken these courses and that by requiring this, more students would go on to college and ultimately make more money over their lifetimes. Can you spot the flaw in this logic? (Quite aside from the dilution of the math curriculum that resulted, eg, the post on Discover Geometry.)
    So what is the goal? For all MMSD students to go to a four-year college? To what end? Is there something shameful about learning a trade at our excellent technical school? (Yes, I understand that carpenters need to understand basic geometry and algebra, but not to the level of understanding Euclidean theorems that a civil engineer needs to know.)
    I agree that it’s wrong to consign minority students to the less rigorus courses, to assume they are not capable of more challenging work. But that begs the question, don’t you think?
    Public education should be turning out students who can read, write, think critically, understand their history and civic responsibility, and respect one another. It should be preparing students to pursue wherever their talents and interests take them.
    But if our educators say, implicitly or explicitly, that there is a group of students who will be “fine” because they already have so much more than others, well, more and more of those families will be voting with their feet.

Comments are closed.