Proposed Madison Schools’ Strategic Plan: School Board Written Questions

Madison School Board 1.1MB PDF:

4) Curriculum Action Plan – Flexible Instruction (page 44)
Arlene Silveira Is “flexible Instruction” the latest term for differentiation or differentiated teaching/team teaching? If so, we have been doing this for a while in the district. Do we have any evaluation of how this is working?
Lucy Mathiak
Please define “flexible instruction (and in civilian terms vs. eduspeak, please).
Ed Hughes
To what extent, if at all, does the “flexible instruction” action plan contemplate less “pull out” instruction for special ed students?

Madison School District Administration’s response:

Flexible instruction is similar to other terms, such as differentiation and universal design. All of these terms mean that teachers begin with explicit standards and/or curricular goals for a unit or course. Teachers then design multiple ways to teach and multiple learning experiences for students for all core standards and/or curricular goals. Flexible instruction is best planned in teams composed of regular education, special education, and ESL teachers so that many aspects of diverse learners, including options for students abovelbelow grade level, are addressed in the original design of lessons. In classrooms with flexible instruction, various groups of students can work together, share and leam from each other even when the different groups of students might be working on slightly different types of experiences.
Although there is no explicit evaluation of how this is currently working, one of the highest priorities of teachers is the time to engage in this type of collaborative professional work.

The last paragraph states “Although there is no explicit evaluation of how this is currently working” gets to the heart of curricular issues raised by a number of board members, parents and those discussed in the recent outbound parent survey.
This document is a must read for all public school stakeholders. It provides a detailed window into School Board governance and the current state of our public school Administration.
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UPDATE: Lucy Mathiak posted her full set of questions here.

6 thoughts on “Proposed Madison Schools’ Strategic Plan: School Board Written Questions”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree, Jim — an absolute must read. Thanks for posting it.
    With regard to this first Measurable Action Step for Flexible Instruction (p. 44), please note the absence of TAG (Talented and Gifted) resource instructors in the list of staff who will collaborate.
    Please also note the second Measurable Action Step for Flexible Instruction, right below it, the one about “meeting the needs of all students in the general education classroom.”
    Taken together, these two Measurable Action Steps lay bare the Teaching and Learning Department’s values and vision. It seems clear to me that this Curriculum Action Plan was written with certain kinds of learners in mind. Which means, Ed, that the answer to your question is probably “yes,” there is an implied goal of less pull out instruction for special education (and other) kinds of students.
    The thing is, although full inclusion laudably raises expectations for all types of struggling learners, it lowers expectations for high performing and advanced students. (Getting rid of pull-outs and remedial classes and getting rid of honors and accelerated classes ARE NOT educationally equivalent actions.) Put another way, although inclusion is “best practices” for some types of students, it is not best practices for other types of students. Nevertheless, for years the District has made all kinds of curricular and other decisions based only on the needs of the former. That bias has contributed heavily to “the tension” in the District (see Critical Issue #2, p. 24). Furthermore, given the results of the “why did you leave” survey,” we can no longer deny that that bias (and the resultant erosion of intellectual rigor and loss of appropriate educational programming for high-end students) is one of the major reasons why families have left our schools.
    I wonder what we will decide to do about all of that?

  2. P.S. Thanks, Jim, for underscoring the perennial MMSD problem of “there is no explicit evaluation of how this is currently working.”
    Even more, a HUGE public “thank you” to the several BOE members who clearly put a lot of time and thought into their comments and questions. This is such an important juncture in our District’s history. Your efforts around this critical document are much appreciated by all.

  3. I thought Lucy asked for an answer in “civilian terms”?
    And once again, TAG students are not mentioned in the above list of groups and what exactly is meant by “slightly different types of experiences”?
    I sure hope school board members won’t be satisfied with that type of answer to their questions.
    What they really need to be implementing is ability grouping which real research with “explicit evaluation” has shown to benefit all students:
    Students at all achievement levels (high, medium and low) benefited from cluster grouping and other forms of instructional grouping accompanied by differentiated instruction and content. Students who were in cluster groups scored significantly higher than students who did not participate in clusters. More students were identified as high achieving during the three years that cluster grouping was used in the school. [1]
    [1] Gentry, M.L., & Owen, S.V. (1999). An investigation of the effects of total school flexible cluster grouping on identification, achievement, and classroom practices. Gifted Child Quarterly, 43, 224 – 243.

  4. Two items I’d like to comment on:
    1. A Talented and Gifted Education authority in our state recently commented that it is hard for her to figure out MMSD’s language regarding gifted ed because those that write the language here coin new terms or use standard terms to mean different things. Here it seems the terms “flexible skill grouping” or “flexible cluster grouping” or “flexible ability grouping” has been bastardized to a “flexible grouping” which they are using to mean whatever they want it to mean!
    The true meaning of flexible skill grouping is that students are grouped and receive appropriate leveled instruction according to their current skill level. With frequent assessments, they may be regrouped, but always based on their current skill level. So it may turn out that some kids are always with the same kids if they are learning at the same speed – there is no forced regrouping based on arbitrary reasons. However it is NOT tracking because the kids can move up or down depending on their skills in different units within the same subject. For example a student may be very good at geometry but need to spend more time on his fractions. Flexible skill grouping would accommodate that. Further, it is NOT tracking because it is subject specific, so if a kid is advanced in reading but not so in math, he will be in an advanced level group for reading only, and in a math group that is learning at his skill level – not too hard and not too easy for him – so he can learn most efficiently.
    2. The administration’s answer included: “Flexible instruction is best planned in teams composed of regular education, special education, and ESL teachers so that many aspects of diverse learners, including options for students abovelbelow grade level, are addressed in the original design of lessons.”
    Does this mean that gifted education is now under special ed? If so, will the District finally follow best practices for gifted students and stop breaking DPI state regulations (for gifted), in the same conscientious way that they follow special ed laws ?

  5. It does seem curious that the TAG folks were left out of the staff equation. Perhaps a Board member could see that they are added.
    I think you can easily make the argument that the truly “TAG” children should be included within the Special Ed designation, at least through 8th grade when they are subject to the InStep process (the TAG version of the IEP). It’s my understanding that the upcoming academic year will be the last in which the MMSD uses the TAG designation at the high school level.
    P.S. Gotta love the banner ads for “Once daily Concerta”!;)

  6. Parents and community members have repeatedly pointed out that the District’s vision of teams collaborating to plan flexible instruction leaves TAG staff out of the picture. This is a glaring omission that no one has bothered to fix. It reflects the Strategic Plan’s explicit focus on students who don’t meet standards.
    Gifted and Talented Education maintains that curricula based on the cumulative development of knowledge, concepts, and skill sets are appropriate for TAG if the curricula can be accelerated–i.e., not just started at an advanced level, but adjusted to an accelerated pace–and if they can be used to flesh out conceptual understandings at high levels of critical thinking.
    Effective and appropriate flexible instruction for TAG students does not equate to making the students do the regular class curriculum plus extra work, nor does it entail giving them the regular curriculum shaded with “slightly different experiences.” Rather, it means giving TAG students the chance to progress through standards and curricular goals at a pace and depth dramatically different from the regular pace and depth of instruction.
    The District’s vision of flexible instruction will not work for TAG students, since it will tie them to the pace of the rest of the class and provide any TAG group only “slightly different types of experiences.” Curricula and programming options are not appropriate if they hold students back in this way.

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