Students surging out of Madison School District

Gayle Worland
Wisconsin State Journal

More than 600 students living in the Madison School District have applied to leave their hometown schools through open enrollment next fall — more than any previous year.
While district officials say it’s likely only about half will actually leave, the district wants to know why so many want to go.
The net number of students who left the Madison district through open enrollment jumped from 156 in 2007-08 to 288 this school year.
One explanation for the jump, district officials say, is that since 2008, the district no longer considers the effect of open enrollment on its racial balance. The district suspended that practice in February 2008, eight months after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling cast doubt on the enforceability of a state law the district cited in denying transfer requests.
Still, Madison superintendent Dan Nerad said the increasing numbers are a concern.
“There’s all kinds of reasons that people make this choice,” he said, “but it’s not a dissimilar pattern than you’ll find in other quality urban districts surrounded by quality suburban districts.”

4 thoughts on “Students surging out of Madison School District”

  1. I’m glad the administration is addressing this, rather than ignoring it like they used to. That said, the MMSD is an urban school district. Every urban school district faces this issue in some form. Where I grew up, strong parochial private schools drained the public schools of students whose families could afford the tuition (or who qualified, academically, for scholarships). In Madison, we have suburbs that, effectively, do the same thing. Is the education better in Verona, Waunakee, Middleton, Oregon, etc.? Who knows. Some would argue that the environment is better, while others would argue that it isn’t. I think it depends on the kids, the family, their tolerance level for everything from diversity to rigor, and a host of other factors.
    But, in the end, it’s good that the MMSD is taking this seriously, just as all the other districts should look and see why students are leaving their classrooms.

  2. “But, in the end, it’s good that the MMSD is taking this seriously.”
    I prefer to be more circumspect. What I mean is, we won’t really know how seriously the District is taking these numbers until we see a) how thoroughly they investigate and evaluate the situation (for example, what kinds of questions they ask the leavers and how they interpret and report the resultant data) and b) what they do in response to what they learn (for example, what will be written into the new Strategic Plan to address the issues that are making families leave?).
    I am certainly hopeful; but I guess I’m not comfortable assuming anything.

  3. A well-thought-out survey (and accompanying strategic plan approach) wouldn’t just look issues surrounding “leavers.” It would also look at why parents are leaving other districts to come to MMSD. Yes, there are more leavers than arrivers in MMSD, but presumably there are valid reasons for each. Nerad has struck me as already having some interesting thoughts on this issue, e.g., emphasizing or creating unique or niche programs in schools on the “fringes” of MMSD’s boundaries, where it is most convenient for parents (particularly parents of elementary children) to open enroll into nearby schools. Nuestro Mundo is actually a pretty good example of this.

  4. Excellent point about a well thought-out survey, Phil.
    I think we have all been (understandably) focused on the “leavers” because of the HUGE increase in applications this year. Applications to transfer out of the MMSD went from 435 last year to 643 this year. In very stark contrast, applications to come in went from 157 to 160.
    That’s only one reason why I think the Strategic Plan should prioritize holding on to the students who live in Madison over increasing the number who transfer in from other districts. I guess I believe we have a greater responsibility to families and students who live here.

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