Madison School District Small Learning Community Grant Application

136 Page 2.6MB PDF:

Madison Metropolitan School District: A Tale of Two Cities-Interrupted
Smaller Learning Communities Program CFDA #84.215L [Clusty Search]
Wisconsin. Home of contented cows, cheese curds, and the highest incarceration rate for African American males in the country. The juxtaposition of one against the other, the bucolic against the inexplicable, causes those of us who live here and work with Wisconsin youth to want desperately to change this embarrassment. Madison, Wisconsin. Capital city. Ranked number one place in America to live by Money (1997) magazine. Home to Presidential scholars, twenty times the average number of National Merit finalists, perfect ACT and SAT scores. Home also to glaring rates of racial and socio-economic disproportionality in special education identification, suspension and expulsion rates, graduation rates, and enrollment in rigorous courses. This disparity holds true across all four of Madison’s large, comprehensive high schools and is increasing over time.
Madison’s Chief of Police has grimly characterized the educational experience for many low income students of color as a “pipeline to prison” in Wisconsin. He alludes to Madison’s dramatically changing demographics as a “tale of two cities.” The purpose of the proposed project is to re-title that unfolding story and change it to a “tale of two cities-interrupted” (TC-I). We are optimistic in altering the plot based upon our success educating a large portion of our students and our ability to solve problems through thoughtful innovation and purposeful action. Our intent is to provide the best possible educational experience for all of our students.

Much more on Small Learning Communities here [RSS SIS SLC Feed]. Bruce King’s evaluation of Madison West’s SLC Implementation. Thanks to Elizabeth Contrucci who forwarded this document (via Pam Nash). MMSD website.
This document is a fascinating look into the “soul” of the current MMSD Administration ($339M+ annual budget) along with their perceptions of our community. It’s important to note that the current “high school redesign” committee (Note Celeste Roberts’ comments in this link) is rather insular from a community participation perspective, not to mention those who actually “pay the bills” via property taxes and redistributed sales, income and user fees at the state and federal level.

19 thoughts on “Madison School District Small Learning Community Grant Application”

  1. Thanks for posting this important document, Jim. I agree, people should absolutely look at Celeste’s comment, as you suggest. As I read the grant proposal, I will be looking to see if any of the comments made at either the West HS focus group meeting on June 14 or the District-wide meeting about the grant on June 11 found their way into the proposal in any way, shape or form.

  2. Where to begin. The logic, or lack of it, is mindboggling. Once again we see MMSD confusing correlation with causality.
    Someone please explain how dismantling Madison’s high schools will better serve all its students.
    And while you’re at it, please explain how this will help students who are already not prepared to succeed in high school for reasons having much more to do with poverty and societal racism than their experience in K-8. For instance, we have Wright Middle School, established with the full knowledge that it would end up with the majority of students being students of color, the nod and wink to that being a more relevant, meaningful middle school experience for students MMSD believes it hasn’t done so well with. How well are those students doing when they get to West? If the data are there that the Wright middle schoolers are in fact doing as well as their peers from Hamilton and Cherokee, then let’s do more. If not, let’s ask whether that experiment was a good idea. Certainly we might want to evaluate this before overhauling what has worked well for the vast majority of high school students in this district.
    Until then, I’m not buying the Hogwarts model. It’s one more example of bad ed school tinkering and good intentions run amok, impacting the lives of children who are having their once in a lifetime public school experience. I suppose if you truly believe you aren’t harming those who have otherwise benefited from the current program it wouldn’t be so outrageous. Color me dubious.

  3. The universally praised teaching of Paul Du Vair runs completely counter to the ‘authentic learning’ concept. I want more Mr. Du Vairs in our schools!

  4. Ever heard of Harry Potter, SD?
    And while we’re talking about literature, friends, have you noticed the title of the grant application? “A Tale of Two Cities — Interrupted.” Point #1, the “two cities” Charles Dickens wrote about were Paris and London, not the rich and the poor. Point #2, the “girl, interrupted” was Susanna Kaysen, who wrote about her experiences with “mental illness” and incarceration at McLean Hospital in a book by that name. Winona Ryder played her in the movie version. Angelina Jolie won an Oscar for her supporting role, one of her earliest film credits.
    So much for literary allusions — especially mixed ones — in grant application titles.
    Find out more:,_Interrupted

  5. My question asked for specifics about the model. Your reply did not answer the question.

  6. I’ll leave the details to the author of the comment, so that she can make the specific points she’d like. I thought your comment made it sound like you hadn’t ever heard of Hogwarts, which is why I thought the Wikipedia link might be a helpful start.

  7. I should have thought much harder about my Hogwarts model reference. Thank you for encouraging my reconsideration, SD.
    The only real parallel is the division of a school into four groups, houses at Hogwarts, four SLCs at, say, West. However, at Hogwarts, there is a sorting hat to select the appropriate house, although we know (SPOILER ALERT as Harry whispers to his newly matriculating son), the student’s wishes can drive that decision. Whereas at West, students are randomly assigned to SLCs based on the first initial of their last name. Moreover, at Hogwarts, students take classes all together, not in houses, but in grade level. The SLC model envisions students taking classes with their SLCmates. So gifted kids, small in number to begin with, will be further isolated from their ability peers. Hogwarts also only takes wizards and witches, a charter or magnet school if you will. It does not include us mere Muggles, in other words, another significant difference.
    Consider the SLC model, four little red schoolhouses tucked into these big high schools, not groupings of students based on ability, interest, or avocation, but random assignments. What is the goal again? How will this help ALL students exactly?
    Here’s my prediction, without benefit of magic– we’ll see artificially constructed “communities” resulting in heterogeneity of curriculum and peers, unless there is an accidental glut of talent or need in one part of the alphabet, or if, as I suspect, parents and students figure out how to finagle the system to get into what will surely evolve to be the more attractive SLCs.
    So, as I said, color me dubious that we’ll see greater cohesion or success than before for the students who are driving the administration to these changes. And the students who have otherwise flourished under the current system? I leave that to their families to ponder. My own are graduated, thankfully.

  8. Does anyone have the name and address of the person to whom the district submitted this proposal?
    I want to submit a letter in opposition to funding the proposal.

  9. Ed,
    You might want to take a look at the final report on the West HS SLC initiative. The full report — as well as an executive summary — were posted on the West website a while ago, interestingly, without any announcement or fanfare whatsoever at either the District or the school level. Here is the link to the appropriate West website page:
    When looking over the the results, it is important to bear in mind that the years of the grant were the 2003-2004, 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 school years. As best I recall (and others should certainly feel free to correct me here), in the first year of the grant, students were divided into the four SLC’s for administrative purposes and that was all. Then in the second year (our oldest son’s freshman year), freshmen were assigned to English 9, Social Studies 9, Biology and math classes within their SLC to the extent possible.
    “To the extent possible” is an important point. Although there is only one flavor of 9th grade English at West and one flavor of 9th grade social studies, not all West freshmen take science and they take a wide range of math courses. That makes it much harder to make class assignments by SLC in those two content areas. It’s not clear to me how hard they try … or how well they succeed. And THAT’S important because the driving belief in all of this is that the positive impact of the SLC restructuring will be mediated largely by having West 9th and 10th graders take the bulk of their classes with other students in their SLC, in order to make the school feel smaller. And yet, they have been unable to tell us what percentage of 9th and 10th graders actually have that experience; that is, we have asked and they do not know what percentage of West freshmen and sophomores have 1 versus 2 versus 3 versus 4 academic courses within their SLC. That means they don’t really know how much of the SLC “treatment,” if you will, West students are actually getting. (For what it’s worth, our son had one class within his SLC during his freshman year and no classes within his SLC during his sophomore year.)
    Be that as it may, in the third year of the grant, West went to a single, longer lunch period and instituted the freshman advisory program. Finally, this past year — the first post-grant year — we saw the implementation of both English 10 (supposedly taken within one’s SLC) and Social Studies 10 (also supposedly taken within one’s SLC). I am honestly not sure if they make any attempt to assign 10th graders to science and math classes within their SLC, simply because there are so many options for 10th graders in those two areas. My guess is that they do, again, “to the extent possible.”
    The reason why these details are important to know is that sometimes claims have been made about the positive impact of the SLC restructuring and core courses based on data from students who did not experience very much of the SLC “treatment” at all. So for example, the recently-graduated Class of 2007 experienced NO IMPACT on their academic careers as a result of the SLC initiative, only the administrative and single lunch effects.
    By the way, since we’re talking results, I’ll remind SIS readers that the overriding reason why English 10 was implemented at West was the concern that some groups of students were doing poorly in English and that some groups of students were choosing less challenging English electives in their upper class years. Well, the first class of English 10 students has completed the course and we have asked what the early returns look like. Specifically, we have asked what electives this past year’s 10th graders have chosen for next year and whether or not the performance and achievement of the rising 11th graders looks any better than that of West’s pre-English 10 students. If they know, they’re not telling.

  10. To clarify an earlier comment — The reason why I suggested to Ed that he read the final report on the West SLC initiative (as well as any final report with data he can find on the Memorial SLC restructuring) is that I think the current grant proposal absolutely must take into account the details, successes and failures of what are essentially the District’s two pilot projects. Especially in this age of shrinking research dollars and the high demand for results, good pilot outcome data can be one of the strongest arguments for funding a proposal.
    To answer Laura’s question, yes, I have read the grant. It is a very easy read — only 32 pages of narrative, plus 104 pages of appendices — charts, tables, power point presentations, letters of support from various individuals and organizations, and so forth. As readers know, I got distracted for a bit (O.K., got a hair up my you-know-what about) the silly title, which for me is so like that of a really bad high school English paper.
    I’m over that now, though, and what I am most taken by (in addition to all of the vague and empty education-speak … and the failure to treat Memorial and West appropriately as two pilot projects) is that three of our four high schools (East, LaFollette and Memorial) have been identified as schools “in need of improvement” because of their failure to make adequate “annual yearly progress” (AYP) in reading for two consecutive years. Our fourth high school (West) is halfway toward the same label, having failed to make “annual yearly progress” in reading this past year. It appears that exactly the same pattern holds for student performance in math. (The first pages of the grant make for a truly heartbreaking read. So many of our kids are lost and failing.)
    Here are the relevant data — 2006 WKCE scores (from our rising juniors, tested last fall). The numbers indicate the percentage of students who scored at either the Advanced or the Proficient level. Bear in mind that for Reading, the AYP benchmark is 67.5%, while for Math, the AYP benchmark is 47.5%, so those are the target numbers we are aiming for in every cell.
    “Down” key: B = Black, H = Hispanic, L-I = Low-Income, W = White, N-L-I = Non-Low-Income.
    “Across” key: E = East, L = LaFollette, M = Memorial, W = West.
    E L M W
    B 37 42 29 54
    H 36 39 26 40
    L-I 37 44 25 35
    W 80 73 85 91
    N-L-I 81 74 80 92
    E L M W
    B 33 33 38 51
    H 44 37 35 43
    L-I 38 39 35 47
    W 84 71 86 92
    N-L-I 85 71 84 93
    One of the things that is so striking and so worrisome for me about this data is that Memorial was restructured into small learning communities a full seven years ago, in 2000, (West’s restructuring didn’t start until the fall of 2003 and has been implemented piecemeal since then) and yet Memorial is the worst performing of the four high schools! Despite that fact, we are essentially proposing to export the Memorial model across the rest of the District (coincidentally, under the leadership of the former Memorial principal who oversaw the implementation of Memorial’s “neighborhoods” — Pam Nash)! That makes no sense to me and reminds me of West’s decision to expand the failing strategy of English 9 into the sophomore year. What are they thinking? “Do more of the thing that hasn’t worked,” apparently. As always, they write loftily about the strong research base for the proposal; but then they completely ignore our own more-than-relevant empirical results.
    One of the features/intentions I tried to get a handle on as I read the grant is the extent to which the four high schools will be alike versus different. It is crystal clear that each school will be divided into four smaller learning communities and have some sort of special program for freshman. Beyond that, things seem less clear. (I know I said earlier that the grant is an easy read. In many ways, it is. But it’s also hard to grasp what they’re really saying and what they really intending to do — because of all the jargon and lofty generalities.)
    On the one hand, there is a paragraph in the grant proposal on “course scope and sequence across sites” that describes (in non-specific language) a procedure for increasing the coherency of course sequencing within each academic content area at each school, but that is also aimed at increasing the consistency of said coursework across schools (for “students who change schools during or between a school year”). Frankly, I’m not sure exactly what that means.
    At the same time, there are school-specific descriptions that are different from one another, and mention of “universal” versus “site-specific” initiatives.
    At the same time, there is talk of the “relevance of a common curriculum” and the hope that “common professional development and activities will move teaching staff from the limits of school-specific knowledge … .”
    I guess at this point I’d say that if you want to find evidence that our four high schools will retain their separate identities, you can. But if you are looking for strong hints that there may be hopes and plans for greater cross-school consistency to be achieved over time, well, you can find that, too.
    A final note — because I know you all expect this of me, at this point. I’d like to make sure you know that the TAG staff were completely shut out of the grant-writing process, even though they have been engaged in their own study of how to increase the participation of students of color and poverty in advanced learning opportunities this past year or two.

  11. I want to highlight a point that Laurie made in her last post: By and large, the grant proposal does not acknowledge, address or present the results of the SLC implementations that have taken place at West and Memorial. That data should be examined and presented as evidence that the high school restructuring is going to produce the desired outcomes, because the restructuring at those two schools are the model for what the MMSD wants to do across the district.
    Unfortunately, what little data we can glean from this proposal suggests that the SLC initiative has failed in at least one major area, and most likely in other areas, as well. I’m referring to school climate and students’ connections to their school and school staff. The SLC model is supposed to increase students’ connection/involvement in their school. This is important because research has linked this factor to success in school. We would thus expect students at Memorial and West, schools where the SLC model has been in effect for 7 and 4 years, respectively, to have greater numbers of students reporting that they feel as if they belong to their school community. The data that the District presents from Spring of 2007 finds no difference amongst the 4 high schools. At East and La Follette, 52% and 51% of students agree with the statement that “I am an important part of my school community,” while 49% and 53% of Memorial and West students agreed. Based on this data, one would conclude that the implementation of SLCs has not produced the the desired change. I realize, of course, that this is cross sectional data and it would be much more informative if we could examine the data over time, i.e., longitudinally. While I don’t have access to any earlier climate data from the other three high schools, West did provide data in their 2003 SLC grant application (see That proposal reports that only 52% of West’s students in 2001/02 reported feeling attached to their school. It doesn’t look like much has changed since then. If restructuring hasn’t had any impact on West’s students’ feelings of connection to their school, I am at a loss to explain why the District thinks their proposed changes are going to make any difference in this area now.

  12. Thanks Laurie for your comments on the grant application. I tried to read the proposal but found it dramatic so I went to the budget spreadsheets on pages 35 – 45. I tried to keep in mind that any grant money the district receives is a good thing and that some of the differences between schools is a result of working with principals and staff at each. Here is what I discerned:
    · East and Lafollette each would receive $250,000 less than Memorial and West over the 5-year grant period. Maybe this is because they are smaller.
    · East would receive the least( $716,000) and West the most ($962,000) for personnel costs:
    o East High would receive no money for: collaborative training, coaching, team planning, or department meetings. The other 3 would receive between $10,000 and $17,000 per year.
    o West would receive money for residence hall teacher, restorative justice planner, reading/math basic skills teacher and class size reduction. Lafollette would receive some money for class size reduction. Memorial would receive some money for peer mentoring.
    · Memorial would receive $132,000 for travel, $60,000 of which would be for student late travel. The rest would be for travel to conferences for staff. Proposed travel costs for the other schools range from $11,000 (East) to $43,000 (West) over the 5-year grant period.
    · East would receive $150,000 ($30,000/year) for AVID.
    I didn’t know what AVID was so I googled it:
    What AVID is…
    · AVID is an acronym that stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination.
    · AVID is an in-school academic support program for grades 4-12 that prepares students for college eligibility and success.
    · AVID places academically average students in advanced classes.
    · AVID levels the playing field for minority, rural, low-income and other students without a college-going tradition in their families.
    · AVID is for all students, but it targets those in the academic middle.
    · AVID is implemented schoolwide and districtwide.
    What AVID isn’t…
    · AVID isn’t a remedial program.
    · AVID isn’t a free ride.
    · AVID isn’t a niche program.
    · AVID isn’t a college outreach program.
    This left me confused because AVID is for grades 4 – 12. Are there plans to implement this in the elementary and middle schools that feed into East? Is $30,000/year enough to do that?
    Another question I have is this: Is implementation of Small Learning Communities going to happen if MMSD doesn’t get the grant?

  13. To Laura’s last question: Is implementation of Small Learning Communities going to happen if MMSD doesn’t get the grant?
    I’d say that the answer is a definite yes. That’s what the superintendent wants, so that’s what the high school redesign group will recommend. The SLC model will continue to unfold in the high schools.

  14. I’ve been reading the grant. I am a bit confused about a couple of points.
    First, the line item for Bruce King pays him $60,000 to evaluate the project in each of the 5 years, for a total of $300,000. But the description says $1000/day @15 days, which sounds like $15,000 per year. Is he doing 15 days four times a year? Can anyone help me here?
    Also, the grant refers to the intent to restructure study halls from silent study to staffed tutor centers. But I can’t find anything in the budget which funds the tutors. Does anyone know where the money for this will come from?
    I thought the plan to examine and restructure course content based on ‘cultural relevance’ in all major subjects, including math and science, um, interesting.
    Much of the main body of the grant seems to consist of listing and describing all sorts of programs already in place or planned, which won’t be funded by the grant, but will support students of minority races (Is that how one rephrases ‘minority students’ in ‘child first’ lingo? I don’t know anything about this.) in parallel with the SLC initiative. Above the Line, READ 180, Project Lead The Way, high school redesign and many many others.
    What does everyone think ‘common curriculum with high expectations’ means?

  15. Hello Celeste,
    Bruce King will spend 15 days evaluating each high school (4×15=60). Thanks for pointing out the plan to examine and restructure course content base on ‘cultural relevance.’ I missed that comment and find it disturbing.
    Does anyone know anything about AVID? It’s the program that will be implemented at East.

  16. It is a very good intent but I think that it will take them a long time to succeed. A need for changes hasn’t come up unexpectedly; it is based on traditions and cultural level of the local society. Of course, it is right to start changing the society by educating the youth but they should be prepared to lots of difficulties and long time effect.
    Lucy Harris
    School Teacher

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