Madison Schools for Whites Equivalent to Singapore, Finland (!); Troller Bids Adieu

Susan Troller, Via email:

Madison schools aren’t failing, by any stretch of the imagination, for many students.
In fact, if you’re a white, middle-class family sending your children to public school here, your kids are likely getting an education that’s on a par with Singapore or Finland — among the best in the world.
However, if you’re black or Latino and poor, it’s an unquestionable fact that Madison schools don’t as good a job helping you with your grade-point average, high school graduation, college readiness or test scores. By all these measures, the district’s achievement gap between white and minority students is awful.
These facts have informed the stern (and legitimate) criticisms leveled by Urban League President Kaleem Caire and Madison Prep backers.
But they doesn’t take into account some recent glimmers of hope that shouldn’t be discounted or overlooked. Programs like AVID/TOPS support first-generation college-bound students in Madison public schools and are showing some successes. Four-year-old kindergarten is likely to even the playing field for the district’s youngest students, giving them a leg up as they enter school. And, the data surrounding increasing numbers of kids of color participating in Advanced Placement classes is encouraging.
Stepping back from the local district and looking at education through a broader lens, it’s easy to see that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have aimed to legislate, bribe and punish their way toward an unrealistic Lake Wobegon world where all the students are above average.

Remarkable. Are there some excellent teachers in Madison? Certainly. Does Madison’s Administration seek best in the world results? A look at the math task force, seemingly on hold for years, is informative. The long one size fits all battle and the talented and gifted complaint are worth contemplating.
Could Madison be the best? Certainly. The infrastructure is present, from current spending of $14,963/student to the nearby UW-Madison, Madison College and Edgewood College backed by a supportive community.
Ideally, Madison (and Wisconsin) should have the courage to participate in global examinations (Florida Students Take Global Examinations, Wisconsin’s Don’t). Taxpayers and parents would then know if Troller’s assertions are fact based.

5 thoughts on “Madison Schools for Whites Equivalent to Singapore, Finland (!); Troller Bids Adieu”

  1. Certainly the past decade’s massive influx of students in poverty plays into this equation somehow. They are more expensive and more intensive to educate, they disproportionately tap resources, and their goals tend to be different that most (but not all) of the white middle class students. But look at AVID/TOPS- these programs have empirical evidence that they work for minority students. Madison Prep is a wing and a prayer, while AVID/TOPS is real. Plus, no one talks about the white middle class kids who struggle, or the poor white kids who struggle, because we have this fantasy that all minorities are somehow poor. You wait and see. Madison Prep will be populated by middle class, upwardly mobile minority families who are NOT part of the achievement gap…while the real problem just festers and grows.

  2. Demographics have changed for a variety of reasons, including outbound open enrollment (students leaving the Madison School District for other Districts, including virtual schools)
    and, growth in suburban schools:
    Some have advocated for increased rigor and opportunity as a means to attract students into the District. Madison Prep, if realized, would be Madison Public Schools’ first International Baccalaureate school.

  3. I think it’s inaccurate to paint the growth of impoverished students in the MMSD as a function of outbound open enrollment, just as it would be inaccurate to do the same with students who opt for private/parochial schools. IB schools are not a panacea, and there has been considerable debate as to their efficacy as well. In the case of Madison Prep, having an IB curriculum is almost a joke: The students they claim they wish to serve are going to struggle in an IB environment. The students they actually end up serving, after those unable to keep up are sent back to the MMSD mainstream, still have a lower chance of survival in an IB environment. How many potential Madison Prep students could survive at Madison Country Day?

  4. Thank you for raising this issue. It’s one that has largely been absent from the conversation about Madison Prep. The notion that the IB program can work for any and all kinds of students is romantic, misguided and, ultimately, destructive. The urban schools that offer IB use an admissions process that includes grades and standardized test scores. They also have strict, clear performance-based retention policies. Although I believe it’s well past time for the MMSD to offer IB somewhere in the district — and that the group of students enrolled should reflect the racial and socioeconomic diversity of the district — I also believe the curriculum must be offered in a thoughtful, realistic manner.

  5. Ongoing suburban District and outbound open enrollment student growth is certainly a material issue for Madison, regardless of your views on curricular issues. Each student leaving, or choosing to attend a nearby public or virtual school represents lost tax & spending authority. Madison will spend $14,963 per student this year. Private school kids increase that lost tax/spending authority.
    A great teacher friend decries the lack of high expectations. A very successful movie put it: “the tyranny of low expectations”. What is keeping any student from at least having the opportunity to try an IB (or similar) curriculum? Why would we put roadblocks in front of them?
    I don’t know if IB is perfect for all or not, but a steady diet of connected math and “one size fits all” programs has been in place (at least from an administrative intent perspective) for some time….
    More choices are essential. Large organizations often have a very difficult time changing.
    Wisconsin Districts now have an opportunity, via the recent union contract changes to create a very different climate, one that “could” attract teachers unhappy with the “math police” and one size fits all governance model. I suspect that 70 to 80% of the Districts will not change much, while 20 to 30% will create something quite different (doesn’t mean it will be better: some will, some won’t). One of those may be nearby.
    Madison Prep, and perhaps others, could offer such an opportunity.

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