Not to Worry: Neal Gleason Responds to Marc Eisen’s “Brave New World”

Neal Gleason in a letter to the Isthmus Editor:

I have long admired Marc Eisen’s thoughtful prose. But his recent struggle to come to grips with a mutli-ethnic world vvers from xenophobia to hysteria (“Brave New World”, 6/23/06). His “unsettling” contact with “stylish” Chinese and “turbaned Sikhs” at a summer program for gifted children precipitated first worry (are my kids prepared to compete?), And then a villain (incompetent public schools).
Although he proclaims himself “a fan” of Madison public schools, he launches a fusillade of complaints: doubting that academic excellence is high on the list of school district pirorities and lamentin tis “dubious maht and reading pedagogy.” The accuracy of these concerns is hard to assess, because he offers no evidence.
His main target is heterogeneous (mixed-ability) classes. He speculates that Madison schools, having failed to improve the skills of black and Hispanic kids, are now jeopardizing the education of academically promising kids (read: his kids) for the sake of politically correct equality. The edict from school district headquarters: “Embrace heterogeneous classrooms. Reject tracking of brighter kids. Suppress dissent in the ranks.” Whew, that is one serious rant for a fan of public schools.

Eisen correctly observes that “being multilingual” will be a powerful advantage in the business world; familiarity and ease with other cultures will be a plus.” Mare than 20 years ago, my kids began to taste this new world in the diverse classrooms of Midvale-Lincoln Elementary, and continued on through West High with its 50-plus nationalitities and a mix of heterogeneous and advanced classes.
They did just fine in college and grad school, emerged bi-and tri-lingual with well worn passorts, and started interesting careers at high tech internationl companies. How will Eisen’s kids acquire modern cultural skills if they are cloistered in honors classes, sheltered from daily contact with kids of varied ability?
Neal Gleason


27 thoughts on “Not to Worry: Neal Gleason Responds to Marc Eisen’s “Brave New World””

  1. Neil,
    Congratulations on your children’s happy career outcomes. Your successful children attended West with a curriculum that looks very different than the current program, however.
    I read Marc Eisen to say that today’s children will live in a world where there will be much overlap between and among cultures, including cultures that place special emphasis on intellectual rigor and training. So what I took away from his piece is that “dumbing down” the curriculum under the guise of heterogeneous grouping as a way of addressing an achievement gap attributable to poverty and racism does no one any favors.
    You can continue to cheerlead the district based on your children’s experience in the golden age (please look at the data on how MMSD’s demographics have changed in the last 20 years), or you can attend to people who have children right now in the schools who are directly experiencing social engineering for which there are no long-term hard data to show benefits anyone. Indeed, when the trend throughout the country is toward more challenging, accelerated instruction, it’s highly appropriate for a supporter of the public school system like Marc Eisen to ask what Madison is doing going the opposite direction, back to the concept of one-size-fits-all. Perhaps if enough families with bright and talented students bolt, the disparity in ability won’t be so great in the classrooms. Then the kind of differentiation we’ll be asking of our teachers, especially at the high school level, won’t be impossible, just improbable.

  2. A swing and a miss, Neal, when you wrote, “How will Eisen’s kids acquire modern cultural skills if they are cloistered in honors classes, sheltered from daily contact with kids of varied ability?”
    You might have hit the sweet spot if you’d asked how students in honors classes can get along in the workplace without contact with kids of varied RACES and CULTURES. (Never mind that kids of different races and cultures can learn about each other at lunch time, in gym class, and other places around the school.)
    If you’d asked that question, you might have homered, because you might have connected with the real issue: the MMSD does not bring students of varied races and ethnicities to academic levels where they too can join honors classes.
    Here are the percentages of 10th graders in proficient and advanced reading levels in November 2005 in the MMSD:
    65% Asian/Pacific Islander
    42% Black (not of Hispanic origin)
    54% Hispanic
    86% White (Not of Hispanic Origin)
    And the MMSD will offer nothing — NOTHING — new this year to help non-reading 10th graders, other than possibly giving West’s non-reading sophomores a few minutes of help during the lunch hour.
    I’ve posed the following question to you and others before: Do you think the academic performance of students of color (and their absence in honors classes) arise because 1) students of color aren’t smart enough 2) because the MMSD doesn’t do enough to teach them, or 3) what the MMSD does is ineffective?
    While you compose your answer, I offer one logical solution for Marc and the MMSD, based on your reasoning. Place non-readers in honors literature and students who can’t add and subtract in calculus. Then you’ll have classes of students with varied abilities, as well as varied races and ethnic backgrounds.
    Ed Blume

  3. Maybe I’ve missed it, but do we have any data on the racial and socioeconomic makeup of the current honors classes at the 4 high schools?

  4. This is a very intriguing discussion. I would like to add my thoughts as a parent of three gifted elementary school-age children. I look forward to their high school years because at least they will have the opportunity to take honors classes and be challenged. I have spent the entire past year that we have lived in Madison working with teachers to implement a more challenging curriculum for each of my sons. I have made some progress, but am still far from where we had hoped to be at this point.
    The discussion seems to always center around academically gifted students at the high school level – when is Madison going to catch up with the rest of the country (particularly its neighbors, Iowa and Illinois) as far as public school gifted programs for elementary and middle-school students? Are these kids just supposed to accept boredom so that the teachers don’t have to teach to yet another level in their classroom?

  5. David,
    West HS does not have honors classes (so no problem there, eh?)! Well, at least not nearly as many as do the other three high schools, especially not at the freshman and sophomore levels, where East has TAG classes, Memorial has honors and TAG classes (and underclassmen are allowed into AP classes), and LaFollette has advanced and honors classes (and underclassmen are allowed into AP classes).
    In response to your specific query, though, not that I am aware of. I believe the evidence is all anecdotal. I’m curious, do you question the reality of the severe underrepresentation of poor and minority students in advanced and accelerated high school classes (whatever local name they may go by)? I say let’s ask the District to gather those data in the coming school year, so that we have hard numbers.
    The data we do have indicate clearly that over one-quarter of our MMSD high school dropouts have a history of high academic performance, which is consistent with national data showing that 20-25% of high school dropouts are gifted students.
    We also have data that clearly indicate that poor and minority students are overrepresented in that group of formerly-high-performing dropouts.
    The data are from the second half of the 1990’s. We have asked to have more recent dropout data analyzed in the same way. We have been told there are no plans to do those analyses.
    We have also heard that Kurt Kiefer — Director of MMSD Research and Evaluation — got a helluva lot of flak for sharing that data back in the winter of 2001. (Wow, we’ve been at this for a long time!)
    I realize this isn’t exactly what you asked. It just seemed relevant. (Plus, I don’t want these data to be forgotten.)
    Here is the link to those data (taken straight from an MMSD Research and Evaluation report), complete with (non-MMSD) explication:
    FYI, almost no District officals have shown concern about these data since they were published in May, 2000. Hell, almost none of them have even responded to repeated emails over the years that included these data! (What’s that you said recently, in another post, about the responsiveness of the Administration?) These are the District’s own data! And the District claims to be data-driven. Hah!
    There is also evidence out there that indicates poor and minority gifted students suffer the most when honors and other “high end” classes are discontinued. If you’d like, I can hunt down those studies again.

  6. The reason I asked about the racial and socioeconomic makeup of the honors classes was based on some things we discussed in an Equity Policy Task Force meeting. We were quizzing the high schoolers on our task force (3 seniors, now graduated, plus a junior) about their personal experiences in the district. Students often have a much better grasp of a specific situation than parents do- and the students told us that their honors/tag/advanced level coursework was not lilly white and/or upperclass, by any means….which led to my wondering about the makeup, broken down by school.

  7. Hi, Peggy. I’d like to extend a personal apology to you for my own focus on the MMSD high schools (especially West HS, which is falling farther and farther behind the other three MMSD high schools, in terms of its offerings for high performing, academically talented students). My sons will be entering eighth and eleventh grades, at Hamilton MS and West HS, respectively. It is pretty amazing how quickly one loses touch with what’s going on at a school, after one’s own child has “moved on.” Elementary school parents of gifted kids from both sides of town used to be more vocal, both on this blog and the MUAE (Madison United for Academic Excellence — formerly Madison TAG Parents) list serve. I fear many have just given up, disgusted and demoralized by the ever-shrinking support for their children. Probably everyone’s just holding on, essentially doing a lot of home schooling on the side, and waiting for those TAG and honors and AP classes they assume their children will get to take in high school. They should beware. We did that … and now ninth and tenth grade at West have been turned into two more years of middle school.
    Our experience has been this —
    At our first elementary school, the principal (and most of the teachers), believed so strongly that “every child is talented and gifted” (if the principal had said that one more time, I swear, my husband would be in prison right now, doing time for first-degree murder), it was pointless to try to do very much. I’ll never forget a parents meeting I organized back in those days, where the principal was incredibly rude and unprofessional and repeatedly tried to shut me down. (I was trying to share information about the Wisconsin statutes for gifted education, as well as information about Insteps, still one of the best kept secrets in the District.) The best thing that came out of that experience was that parents started to see me as very well-informed — and the principal as something else entirely. Not surprisingly, that principal got away with spending her few TAG dollars on god-only-knows-what; the TAG person at the school was told she didn’t have to do anything TAG-related for the additional salary, they were just filling out her position with the added .2 or .3 (note: this is not rumor — the school staff person in question actually told me this); and the downtown TAG staff simply gave up on this school, because of the principal.
    At our next elementary school, we had a wonderful TAG resource person (Rosy Bayuk — for those of you who haven’t heard, Rosy will be a classroom teacher at Emerson in the coming year). We also encountered three or four teachers who actually cared about whether or not their highest ability/performing students were experiencing challenge and learning anything new. Why, our oldest son’s third grade teacher actually requested an Instep for him on her own! Nevertheless, I’d still say the experiences of gifted kids at this elementary school are highly teacher-dependent, with inconsistent, unreliable support from the school administrator (and probably less support from the current principal than the previous one, the result of her thoroughgoing progressive politics and belief in social justice education). During most of our sons’ elementary school years, my chief focus was actually not TAG issues; I was very involved in a wide range of diversity and community building activies through our PTO. My home schooling friends would tell you that we also did a lot of home schooling, to supplement our sons’ classroom experiences.
    At some point, when our oldest son was in middle school and our youngest was in upper elementary school, my husband and I realized that we were feeling intolerably demoralized over all of the energy we were putting into our schools, only to have our own children’s needs go unmet, even poo-poo’ed entirely. We had also started to hear about changes being threatened at West. That’s when we started to focus our energies on TAG issues, and when I offered to keep a District-wide email list of interested and concerned parents, to do the organizing, educating and advocacy that the District TAG staff are prohibited from doing. That email list has grown into a list serve and website.
    I find it’s really hard to keep track of what’s going on at schools other than the ones your own children attend. At the high school level, at least I can get copies of the course catalogs each year. I wish parents of elementary and middle school students would speak out more, share their experiences, stories, information, ideas. When I think about the political potential of a well-developed network of families of academically talented students of all colors, ethnicities and SES levels from across the District working together for a common purpose, well, I get pretty excited … and feel I just may have the energy to do this for another year.

  8. Laurie,
    Thank you for your response. For once I don’t feel like the oddball squeaky wheel, which is what I feel like whenever I walk into my kids’ school for yet another meeting with one of the teachers. We are fortunate because we have a principal that is on board with, and supportive of, TAG. We are starting the In-Step process in the Fall, the kids are going to be tested (for the third time in three different states) during the first couple weeks of school. It’s my hope that with high test scores in hand, we will no longer get poo-poo’d and blown off when we request a more challenging curriculum.
    Our TAG resource person for our elementary, Kerry Burns, has also done a good job of advocating, but when the classroom teacher is not on board, you’re up a creek. Unfortunately, she informed me that they are shaking up staff for the coming school year, and we will probably have a new resource person. Great, someone new to break in, we’ll probably be starting all over again. Despite this, you can count on me to work together for the common purpose of our kids academic future.

  9. A quick reply, in order…
    Ms. Knoebel: I do not agree that West’s curriculum or performance is substantially changed from my children’s years there (1992-2004). If West’s “golden age” has passed, why are ACT scores and National Merit Semi-Finalists constant or higher over the past decade? Your unceasing accusation that West is “dumbing down” is simply at odds with the data.
    Mr. Blume: West Principal Ed Holmes has focused very aggressively on raising the academic performance of kids in the bottom 15-20% of the class. He has eliminated dead-end math and English courses, steered kids into mainstream courses, organized additional academic support and worked to make a personal connection with them. Mr. Holmes, unlike his predecessors, has not acquiesced to segregating kids with poor skills. Sadly, he has encountered resistance from parents who object to heterogeneous classes. Fortunately, he is wildly popular among his students.
    Ms. Frost: You apparently prefer the title “honors” over actual course content. West offers fewer “honors” and AP classes because 50-60 percent of its students are academically “advanced.” As a result, West’s regular college prep classes tend to be advanced without that label. If you value “honors” and AP classes, I would suggest any of the other Madison high schools of which you speak so highly, provided you don’t mind lower ACT scores and fewer National Merit Semi-Finalists.
    I credit MMSD for a job well done with my 3 kids. Unlike Ms. Knoebel, I do not fear MMSD’s changing demographics; my kids have socialized with the “new” kids since childhood and picked up a few languages along the way. Unlike Mr. Eisen, I do not fear competition with Asian immigrants; instead, I prefer to eat supper with them. And finally, I do not obsess about my children. I have grown to treasure my empty bedrooms and enjoy freeloading on my children in far-flung locales.

  10. Mr Gleason,
    You continue to not so subtly hint at racism for those advocating academic rigor. I don’t make the mistake of conflating the two, ability and race, nor do others who post here, notably Laurie Frost.
    In other words, I don’t make the mistake of confounding “cultural diversity” with “heterogeneous groupings” because I don’t think one race or culture has a lock on ability. While I understand that race and poverty are linked closely in this district, this does not mean that ability is also linked. While I admit that some minority students may need remediation, starting school behind their peers, I would hope that by high school this would be mended. However, if by that time students aren’t reading at grade level, I’d argue that blending classrooms on the untested theory that this will improve their performance is nonsense. As well, it can only result in a dumbing down of the experience for those who are ready and eager for more challenge, unless you’ve figured out a way to escape the limits of the time/space continuum.
    Given that your last child graduated MMSD in 2004, I must repeat that your experience is not what is happening any longer at West.
    Just out of curiosity, are you one of those Lincoln/Midvale families who took advantage of the Lincoln open classroom?

  11. Mr. Gleason,
    You are simply out of touch with what is going on at West High School right now. Period.
    I invite you to come over some time and talk with (i.e., listen to) my rising 11th grade son and some of his friends. Ask them about their classroom experiences. Ask them what they think of Mr. Holmes (specifically, if they feel at all understood or cared about by him). Ask them about their peer tutoring experiences. (For that matter, ask Ms. Julie Jones about the peer tutoring program she oversees at West. Ask her specifically about the “no show” problem. I believe I have mentioned previously that an older friend of mine — whose three children also attended West during its glory days — has started tutoring GED students (after years and years of being a math tutor at West) because he got fed up with the situation and felt it was no longer a good use of his volunteer time.)
    As for the number of National Merit Semi-Finalists, ACT scores, etc., that has more to do with who the kids are, how they’re being raised, and the private schools so many of them went to before they came to West. West still has the luxury of having a huge proportion of U.W. faculty brats, whose parents live an intellectual life and can’t help but create a certain atmosphere in their homes, complete with the values and expectations of scholarship. Many of these people are devoted to the neighborhood and want to live close to the campus and hospitals. Don’t kid yourself into thinking the scores are the result of what the students are experiencing at West.
    That said, there are some wonderful teachers at West — teachers who really care about challenging even the most academically talented students. It has been a breath of fresh air to get to know them. Many of them are deeply troubled by the curriculum changes going on in their school, but are afraid to speak out.
    There are also some incredible academically-oriented after-school clubs at West, like Rocket Club and Mock Trial. The kids who participate in those activities learn a lot in the doing of them. But they shouldn’t have to depend on their extra-curricular activities for their intellectual stimulation and learning!
    Thank you for your appreciative words. Kerry Berns is a gem! You’ve been lucky! I do hope you don’t lose her at your school. Sadly, two of the District TAG staff people will be in new positions this fall, Rosy Bayuk and Becky Finnerud. I haven’t yet heard anything about who’s been hired to replace them.

  12. Neal,
    Since you avoided my question once again, I can only assume that you don’t want to answer. But let’s try one more time:
    Do you think the academic performance of students of color (and their absence in honors classes) arise because 1) students of color aren’t smart enough 2) because the MMSD doesn’t do enough to teach them, or 3) what the MMSD does is ineffective?

  13. A couple of observations on this thread:
    1. Mixed-ability groupings are not “untested.” The National Association of School Psychologists has a position paper taking a stand supporting mixed ability grouping that refers to the research showing the benefits and officially calling for the end of tracked classes. Anyone can also do a quick lit search on the Council for Exceptional Children (which represents the interests of both talented and gifted, as well as exceptional education needs) and the Education Trust, which has done significant research into reforming urban education with a special focus on poor/minority students.
    2. As Mr. Gleason points out, there is no quantifiable data anywhere that points to lower outcomes for students at West or any Madison high school as the result of school reform efforts. Interestingly in the past 10 years, ACT scores for the district have actually increased while increasing percentages of MMSD students take the test.
    3. No data has been produced to show a cause-and-effect between the drop out rates of MMSD’s high achievers and any relationship to the curriculum. Any number of factors contribute to drop-out rates nationwide, including family stresses; lack of personal relationships at school; etc.

  14. Beth,
    The position paper you cite uses a very clear definition of tracking, one that we have NEVER supported; that is, permanent grouping based on assessment. We want our schools — especially our high schools — to offer a full range of classes that vary in rigor; to offer enough of those classes to accommodate the level of interest and need in the student body; and to let students SELF-SELECT into those classes, based on their own level of interest and motivation. We also want a variety of outreach and support efforts to be made — K-12 — with the aim of increasing the diversity of the kids choosing to take the more rigorous classes.
    Beth, I have a question for you as pointed and important as Ed’s is for Neil: What are you afraid will happen to your child/children if my sons are allowed to be in classes where they actually learn something, and at a pace that feels right for them? Please, for a moment, stop being prescriptive about my sons’ quasi-educational and social needs and have the courage to answer that one, if you will.

  15. Ms. Knoebel: I apologize if my opposition to academic segregation (and the sense of superiority that justifies it) has been at all subtle.
    Ms. Frost: You make a fascinating argument. You allege that West is “dumbing down.” I respond that the available external measures of student performance, ACT scores and National Merit Semi-finalists, have been constant or rising for the past decade. You reply that a “huge proportion” of West students are “faculty brats” who, by virtue of their birth, are destined to be successful. Your conclusion: the decline of West’s curriculum cannot be measured by declining student performance. You’ve got me…a line of argument that is inherently unprovable. But then the denigration of West has never depended on evidence.
    Mr. Blume: I don’t think that any of your 3 choices explains the lagging performance of MMSD’s students of color. This issue is more complex than the simple either/or approach that you prefer. Since I lack both credentials and experience on this subject, I prefer not to broadcast my idle opinions.
    West’s detractors label me “out of touch” with today’s West. Raising 3 kids, the last of whom graduated in 2004, has left me with only fond memories of West’s “golden age.” Despite my immersion in a cloud of nostalgia, I have spent the past decade, for 3-5 hours per week and countless weekends, teaching chess to very sharp West High students. So engaged are they in their studies that I must routinely admonish them not to let academics interfere with their chess. One chess player typifies the high performing West student. He is a 2006 grad, attended the very heterogeneous Midvale-Lincoln Elementary pair and neither of his parents is on the UW faculty. Despite an interest and talent for chess (he rarely missed the 2¾ hour, twice per week club), he was seldom able to play in weekend tournaments due to the demands of a very challenging academic schedule. He finished with a 4.0 (I think) and an SAT of 2380. West students grumble about many things, but boredom is not one of them.

  16. Ignoring the above vitriol, I would like to respond to David Cohen about the data on who takes upper level classes. The information is, in general anecdotal. In fact, there is no systematic report of any kind on MMSD’s academically advanced opportunities that I can think of, but I could be wrong.
    The anecdotal information comes from students and parents – caucasian AND parents of color – who report that the composition of classes tends to be weighted toward the white population. I note that we MUST get beyond using “my experience” or “my child’s experience” to dismiss the legitimate concerns of people who post here.
    In case you want to know a tiny part of the anecdotal information, I can give you some examples from East attendance area schools that I have shared with you in writing and in conversation in the past:
    — walking into Marquette some 12 years ago, when my son was in 4th grade, to see a bulletin board on “Wonder World.” Wonder World was the TAG program of the time, and all of the pictures save one were of white children, in a school that was 40% children of color at that time. Those children would be the feeders who would have been at East c. the class of 2004.
    — numerous reports of West’s segregated floors, with the advanced classes on one floor, and that floor being predominantly white. You’ve heard me talk about this, and it shouldn’t be a surprise.
    — numerous descriptions from parents of students of color re. difficulty in getting students past the guidance counselors and into advanced opportunities at the middle and high school level.
    I’m glad that the students selected for your equity committee feel that the classes are desegregated, but that isn’t the report that many of us are getting from our children, from teachers and school staff, or from parents. Rather than debating whether its true or not, the district needs to compile data that shows, one way or the other, what the opportunities are and who has entry. I contend that a review that is geared toward opening doors rather than eliminating opportunities, will make a significant difference how many students are taking advantage of advanced opportunities and the composition of those classes.

  17. Lucy,
    Could you kindly ask the administration to prepare a report on the demographics of students in advanced classes?

  18. Lucy: If you can get these figures, I’m certain the Equity Task Force would like to know the details, and it’s something that should be discussed when the Board members meet with the task force in the fall. There’s no doubt that some of the specific examples you cite are symptomatic of a larger MMSD culture, which is why a strong Equity Policy is necessary. Obviously, a policy is only half the battle. Enforcing said policy and educating the staff and administration about the community’s passion for equity is the tough part.
    Our definition of Equity is as follows:
    Equity assures ACCESS to opportunities for each MMSD student, resulting in educational excellence and social responsibility.

  19. I will see what I can do. David, if you could also ask, or co-ask, as a member of the Equity Committee, that would help. I do think it would help to see what the numbers show (or don’t).

  20. “… a review that is geared toward opening doors, rather than eliminating opportunities, will make a significant difference in how many students are taking advantage of advanced opportunities and the composition of those classes.”
    Hear, hear!
    Thank you, Lucy.
    Neil — Your youngest child’s senior year was the first year in a three-year grant that has just ended. Thus, that child of yours was not affected by the most recent and dramatic changes at West, beyond maybe being nominally assigned to an SLC (for no purposes beyond the assignment, as I understand it). Certainly, by that point — the final year of your third and last child at West, there was no reason for your family to be paying attention to the changes being made at the 9th and 10th grade levels — which is where the impact of the curriculum changes has been the greatest. Even the recent threats to West’s single section of Accelerated Biology (which accommodates about one-third of the students accommodated by LaFollette’s and East’s comparable courses) would likely not have been on your family’s radar because your child would have been so far beyond their freshman year. My experience has been fairly consistent on this point, that once a family is past a certain point in the experience curve, they all but lose awareness of institutional details that no longer apply to them. You may be exception to other rules, Neil, but I guess I doubt that you’re an exception to this one. By senior year — especially of a last child — most parents are fully attending only to post-high school plans (which is completely understandable).
    If you understand the foregoing paragraph and the time line involved in the SLC grant (and associated curriculum changes — e.g., do you understand that English 10 will be implemented for the first time in the coming academic year? ditto for the single 10th grade social studies curriculum), then you will understand why I don’t think recent ACT scores, SAT scores and number of National Merit Semi-Finalists are helpful indicators of the impact of the recent curriculum changes at West. The reason is quite simple: we don’t yet have those data on the students who have been most affected by the curriculum changes (the rising juniors and especially the rising sophomores). As well, I think most people are largely concerned about what the future impact of the changes will be, in terms of the numbers of families who may move to other parts of the District (assuming the other three high schools don’t follow in West’s footsteps, which I predict they will — unless there is a District-wide effort to prevent it), move to other school districts entirely, go private, or home school. As future West families of academically talented students see what is happening there, I predict that — unless there are changes that better accommodate the learning needs of the high performing 9th and 10th graders — those families will decide to not send their children to West. I guess only time will tell, but I’d rather the District not take that chance.

  21. I would add that, at least last year, a significant number of the National Merit semifinalists had been in private school for some or all of the K-8 years. Why does that matter? Because the K-8 curriculum is tangibly different – at least at Eagle. It is easy to excel at the high school level when you had intensive coverage of high school content from 4th grade on. (Actually, the Spanish curriculum was based on books used at UW-Madison) Unless the high school offers significantly advanced coursework – college level, not extra homework or unpaid teaching duties cloaked as ‘enrichment’ – the students got their content and skill outside of the public school system.
    They also have taken and excelled at the SAT or ACT – not PSAT – as early as 4th grade.
    I also should note that you cannot ‘make’ kids perform at higher levels if they do not have the ability or are not ready. All the money in the world cannot produce the results that many of these kids are showing at very young ages. The kids that I am talking about are tangibly, and demonstrably, different than their classmates. They just don’t get services for their difference.

  22. Mr Gleason,
    So advocating for academic rigor, especially for talented and gifted students, is racist, is it–I appreciate your candor.
    I’d still like an answer to whether your children went to the Lincoln open classroom.
    Formal education for many doesn’t end at graduation. The point of public schooling is to ready our students for life after MMSD–for some parents, that includes a concern whether their children are adequately prepared for university and careers thereafter, experiences that require a solid academic foundation as well as a thirst for learning. What you read from some here is a genuine concern that as the academic trend worldwide is toward greater challenge and rigor, West especially is going in reverse. Moreover, those students sitting lethargically in these understimulating classes get turned off to learning, may even drop out.
    When a family looks at what’s happening in the district, it is only fair for them to ask whether their children will be well-served by wholesale changes for which there are no RELEVANT long-term studies. While the question is moot for your family, it is very much alive for others who realize there are no do-overs if this turns out to be a mistake.

  23. For some adults, the glass is half full while for other the glass is half empty. Fact is everyone has different experiences and perspective and data interpretation can be done to suit any agenda.
    In a “Brave New World”, parents will be better examples to our children by accepting different points of view, different experiences, different perspectives, and different opinions. As adults we should be more reflective of our comments and discussions to provide solutions rather than personal attacks & zingers.
    Too bad. It’s terribly sad, when I think about what could be accomplished.

  24. Mari,
    I really don’t think the glass-half-full versus glass-half-empty analogy applies here.
    I’ll remind you that West’s English 10 — which will be implemented for the first time this fall — is modeled after West’s English 9. Like English 9, English 10 consists of a single curriculum, delivered in completely heterogeneous (by ability) classes. English 9 has been in place at West for many years. By the West administration’s own admission (i.e., the famous SLC report of November, 2005), there is no evidence that English 9 has had a helpful effect on minority student achievement in language arts. Parents repeatedly asked that English 9 be thoroughly evaluated and fixed, as necessary — and that other strategies for improving minority student achievement in English be considered (for example, requiring a specific number of advanced English courses for graduation in order to address the under-enrollment rate for some groups of students in those same advanced classes) before the model was extended into 10th grade. We believed then — and continue to believe now — that that would be the empirically sound, professionally responsible way to proceed … especially in a District that claims its educational practices are data-driven.
    Half full? Half empty? No, half baked!

  25. The Madison West chess player with a 4.0 GPA, 2380 SAT about whom Neil wrote was also a National Merit Finalist, tri-lingual, member of West’s 1st-place Varsity Math Team, member of West’s Rocket Club, etc., etc. He was unable to attend most weekend-long chess tournaments (i.e., Friday evening through Sunday night) because he was extremely busy with LOTS of extracurricular activities, not just studying for his academically rigorous, 12th-grade West courses that included AP Calculus, AP computer programming, AP French, and honors English. While his parents are not faculty members, they both have Ph.D.s. His sister is currently a medical student. Thus, this West student grew up in a very academically enriched home environment. This student, one of West’s very, very top graduates last year, was admitted to MIT. MIT’s undergraduate student body is both academically outstanding AND ethnically/culturally quite diverse, with ~35-40% whites, 30-35% Asians, 20-25% underrepresented minorities, and 8% foreign students. This Madison West student just so happens to be an African-American male as well! Thus, it is possible to have academic excellence along with ethnic/cultural diversity.

  26. The half full/half empty perspective does not work in evaluating education, because the kids in the half-empty part don’t learn.
    In education, the glass should always be FULL, unless a 50% success/failure rate is all that’s expected, which is sadly true too often in the MMSD.

  27. The fault of MMSD is not to test all students for potential. This is done for students who are tested to see if they have special needs but it is not done for gifted children or for those who should have the label but fail to receive it for one reason or another.
    Neither our society nor MMSD, have one definition for giftedness. We all have different views of what giftedness is and how to meet needs of these children. We all know of someone who has been given the title of “gifted” (or should have) and we all can use examples of what we think would best meet that specific person’s needs.Special advocates get in an uproar (as they should) when a teachers generalize all special ed students need a behavior modification chart. As with special ed., there is no one way to meets all kids needs. As a society, when a label is placed on child, that their is one way to handle all children in that category.
    Memphis TN explains giftedness vs brightness at Some examples they state is: a bright student needs 6-8 repetition for mastery, where a gifted child needs 1-2 repetition for mastery.(In MMSD, a student will often sit and wait for the class to master the info.) A bright student is in the top group, the gifted child is beyond the top group. The bright student learns with ease, where the gifted student already knows. A bright student enjoys school, a gifted student enjoys learning.
    A bright student will do well in regular classes and may have to work a little but will be successful in advanced/honor courses. Even in honor/advanced classes, gifted children may have to work a little, but the material will still be easy for them. Take for instance AP Calculus. Kids will take a year to finish this course in high school, where in college they take a semester. So, academically, truly gifted kids, should take the college level if they where looking at a more appropriate academic course. The advantage of an honors style course in any subject, is that this may be the first time that a child may realize they are not so odd, and that their are others who love doing math games in the car, or use Shakespeare quotes to each other.
    Sometimes kids start reading or doing math at an early age, only to level off a few years later with the rest of the classmates. Adults will label these kids as “gifted”, and then when the child does level off, they will feel that grade level work is fine for all “gifted” children because it worked for some. Others may have started slow (say in reading) but once they caught on, they have soared. Possibly it was just maturity issue, possibly it was a environmental issue (no books around the house, etc.). Because this child wasn’t labeled early, he/she may never receive that “gifted” label, even though they are capable of reading (and comprehending) college level journals in 6th grade. Without knowing the true potential of a child, we need to be careful on using labels because once given a label, we expect them to carry it for the rest of their schooling.
    As a society, we put much more emphasis on going to college and doing well on the ACT/SAT tests. People have stated that scores have increased as well as the number of students taking the tests. One needs to realize, most if not all, of these students don’t take these tests once, nor without preparation. First, most colleges now require the tests, and secondly, there are a number of courses that students can take both in person and on line to study for these tests. I don’t think one can assume just because a number of kids do well on SAT/ACT tests that the day to day courses are in general higher achieving courses.
    What does the district do for those middle schoolers who score near perfect (or even perfect) scores without preparation on the ACT/SAT tests? These are the kids who need those honor courses. The ones who prepared, possibly took the tests more than once, those are the kids who yes, would do fine without the honor courses. The middle school students who scores near perfect, are often stuggling feeling that they don’t fit in society because other kids don’t understand their jokes, they are constantly having to explain vocabulary that they use correctly, or wanting to share a theory that they have just came up with, with someone who understands.
    What is successful for one child, may not be successful for all children. I wish people would realize, a child who is label gifted could have been incorrectly labeled, slightly gifted, highly gifted, or even out there gifted. One course or one program isn’t going to work for all these kids.
    I am confused with hetrogeneous classes. Take a typical 15 year old. Our society says that this child should do 10th grade work (or 9th grade if the family red shirted him in kindergarten). That means gym, english, science etc. All 15 year olds should experience that same thing. That is fine unless you have a 15 year old with a mental capacity of a 3-5 year old. This child is learning his letters, sounds, maybe recognizing a few words. So, we don’t expect this child to be placed in the same english course as the average 15 year old discussing Shakespeare, or whatever else they are working on. Yet, when there is a 5 year old with a mental capacity of a 15 year old, it is assumed parents are pushing this child, or that they should be placed with other 5 year olds because they need to learn to share and converse with 5 year olds. This child may have the intellect to study Shakespeare, yet emotionally/socially they are not ready for some of the adult humor that he writes about. Even 5th grade material where discussion the Revolutionary War, Holocaust, or puberty issues are not appropriate either. But the child may want to share info about a famous (to adults) american, a science project he is working on, or discuss the phytoplankton that fish eat when studying food chains. There are a number of these children in our district who come home crying because they aren’t learning in school. Families are forced to teach the child at home because the child just loves to learn which again either puts them more at a bigger disadvantage. If the family doesn’t work with the child, they can feel that no one understands them, and become very depressed. They may never work to their potential. They may never be able to handle challenging situations because things always was easy for them. The scenerio is endess.
    But in general, you can’t assume what works for one child who at one time was labeled gifted, will work for anyone who may be labled gifted, maybe the child was incorrectly labeled, different type of gifted. Hetrogeneous works for most, but not all students.

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