High School Redesign Notes

As Arlene has reached out to the community for suggestions about the Redesign of the high schools, let me share a couple of thoughts:

  1. It’s too late. The students that are behind in 5th grade rarely catch up. The 2/3 combinations are by far the worst academic combination for elementary students, yet we continue this practice to save money, and to save SAGE. I understand the pull out combination system is a great way to deal with cost and transient students….but does it really help? Can’t we negotiate with the Union to allow 4 year kindergarten? This is really annoying that we have to bow to the Union for the sacrifice of the lower income students.
  2. The middle school years has a great resource of teachers. My children have had teachers that felt students are undergoing hormonal warfare and felt they should teach less so as not to upset the students. As I quote a teacher my child had in a “Charlie Brown teachers voice”, “Less is more and as long as they learn a couple of concepts during the year I feel I have done my job”. This fortunately is not the normal approach my children have received. Most of the Jr. High teachers have been focused on preparing the students for Memorial. I wonder if this is the model for most of the Jr. High Schools throughout the district?
  3. The district currently has the highest number of National Merit Scholar graduates in the state, I would assume we send hundred of students to college each year and those that are from higher income families do well. I wonder if the problem is less racial gap and not more economic gap. Please follow the link to the following Newsweek article released by the North Carolina Democratic Party….http://ncdp.org/node/1081. This is an article about how North Carolina kept their struggling students, drop out prone students and low income students engaged in high school by offering them an option to attend a local community college (MATC) and receive not only their HS diploma upon graduation but also an associate degree in an area of interest so that staying in school had meaning….and graduating means getting a real job. Currently all we can offer students that graduate from high school is they will have a diploma and they can essentially get the same jobs in this area with or without that diploma….with an associates degree they can make more than their teachers in computer repair, Xerox repair, IT, health associate degrees and others. Please think about raising the standards and the options for the struggling students, not lowering the standards for the top tier students. This IDEA and a proven method could benefit the entire community and raise the standard of living for lower income families. Please read this article.

5 thoughts on “High School Redesign Notes”

  1. I can understand how by high school it may seem too late – like throwing a hail mary pass in a football game. But, based upon what other states are doing, it is not. School leaders and teachers are key, but so is the School Board. Our children deserve and Madison needs a School Board that does not pursue the status quo because they have a vested interest in making that decision, choosing instead to blame other entities.
    We have an increasing number of children of poverty in our schools – we must and we can do better for them and all our children. I firmly believe the changes in membership on the School Board in the past two years are showing a positive difference for our kids’ public schools and that increased public confidence in the School Board was reflected in the school referendum that passed.
    But, it took until this year for the School Board to even agree to take up high school redesign as a board discussion, because the former board majority saw curriculum as an administration issue and would not (could not) distinguish curriculum policy (board responsibility) vs. curriculum development (administration responsibility). Also, it took until this year for a board majority to move forward to develop a people’s budget, to take up the issue of rolling administrative contracts, to evaluate the Superintendent and set specific measurable goals for him to meet tied to School Board priorities, to more carefully scrutinize expenditures and to ask for and to expect more public accountability and explanation on curriculum and financial issues.

  2. There isn’t an option for high school being “too late.” The district has to educate whatever kids show up each fall and, with a fairly mobile population of students, there are likely to be many kids coming into high school in Madison who haven’t had the benefit of a strong education prior to arriving. We need to have a high school system that can assess students quickly and accurately and provide the academic programming to ensure that all students make progress, no matter where they’re starting from.
    On the 2/3 combination……I disagree that it is “by far the worst academic combination”….the success of a multi-age classroom is largely dependent on the desire of the teacher to teach one. The 2/3 combinations at the elementary school that my kids went to work really well. Just about any multi-age class can be successful if supported by the right teacher….I was in 1st-3rd and 4th-6th grade multi-age classes myself as a kid in Appleton and was very well served in that configuration. A teacher who doesn’t like multi-age classes and is forced to teach one because of numbers obviously isn’t going to be as successful.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with Jill J that the district has to educate the kids who show up each fall – have in place a system that can assess students quickly and accurately and provide academic programming that helps kids start from where they are. I believe most of Madison’s talented teachers do their best – how are they supported in their efforts with increasing children in poverty in our schools and an increasingly mobile school population?
    Question: How do current assessments work not only in high school but in grades K-8 and what are we learning? How is the aggregated information used in policy discussions? When (does) the district tracks cohorts (same child over time) what do we know about how the system is working for the child (all children), if any, might be needed to the current approaches? Where does curriculum fit in here?
    I believe that a strong school board that keeps these issues before the public and works through them with the public is to be commended and will strengthen our public schools ability to continue to deliver quality education to Madison’s changing and diverse population children. Thank you to the current School Board for taking up this topic and other curriculum and educational policy and practical issues.

  4. SAGE is a fantastic program and has resulted in a lot of academic success at the highest poverty level elementary schools on the northside. As Jill points out, there will always be new students entering the MMSD who did not have the benefit of programs like SAGE and will, therefore, be behind their peers academically. Save SAGE? I didn’t know we wanted to dump SAGE.
    4 yr old kindergarten? Heck yes, that would be a great equalizer. How about both!

  5. There will always be new kids coming into the district, and our public schools need to be open to assess these children and, as Jill said, provide programming for them so they can make progress.
    We also need to stay on top of those children who have been in the public schools for awhile and are not making progress and continue to provide all children with appropriate programming so they can make progress. I say this for children at all levels of academic learning.
    Our district has the data on students – when they entered school, assessment information, etc., – that can be used to have discussions about instructional and education policy for all our students – new and continuing students.
    I’m greatful the current school majority is taking up high school redesign, an independent look at our math curriculum, classes outside MMSD, etc.

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