11 thoughts on “Mitch Henck, Lucy Mathiak & John Roach on the Madison School District’s 5-2 No Vote on Madison Prep”

  1. The African-American student drop-out rate and scores haven’t fallen off the cliff just in the last year. This is a problem of long-standing duration.
    So does anyone else find it curious why all these conservatives are running around with their hair on fire like this is the most important problem facing our city today? Where were they ten years ago, heck, twenty years ago?
    Fact is, MMSD has tried all manner of approaches. I have yet to see anyone tell me whether Wright MS has been a success or failure in addressing these problems: there it is, a brand new facility, charter school, in fact, minority-student dominated, on the southside, accessible to its students’ families, visited by President Obama, and yet, noone is asking how are those kids do when they hit high school? And if their graduation rate and test scores are not improving, why not? And how would Mr Caire’s proposal change that outcome? The major reason for bringing up Wright, though, is to counter the argument MMSD has been utterly indifferent to these students’ needs which is horsepucky.
    I read Mr Caire placing blame all over the place but not where the root cause lies—in the homes and neighborhoods these failing kids hail from. Why is it we think the schools can override those basic problems—over 70% of African American kids are born to single-moms and generally young single moms whose educational status is lucky to be high school completion. Add poverty to the mix and you have a desperate problem schools, at least ones that aren’t boarding schools, can’t possibly repair even with an unlimited budget, something we know can’t happen. Frankly, what Madison Prep seems to be offering is a controlled environment for most of the year. Keep them from home and the neighborhood, offer them alternatives to that. In my day, that would have been deemed horribly paternalistic, like the old Native American boarding schools.
    Simply throwing money at a problem doesn’t fix it, nor do all the good intentions. And a solution proposed by a person of color isn’t inherently the right solution. Particularly when I see who is lined up behind that person—conservative groups with an agenda to destroy the teachers union, one of the last organized forces on the left, well, I have to wonder what’s really going on here.
    From my cynical perspective, Mr Caire and the children he advocates for are being used to accomplish a much different agenda.
    So to those who genuinely want to help what is only a small percentage of the kids MMSD is tasked with educating, I say: drum up the money, open the school as a private school. But, like I used to tell my mother-in-law, the private school teacher and administrator, when you cherry pick your students, don’t brag to me about their test results—all it tells me is exposure to your curriculum didn’t harm them.
    One last thing—assume for the sake of argument Mr Caire’s model works (a mighty big assumption given what we know about other similar schools), what would be the extension of this to the rest of the kids in MMSD? Twelve-hour school days, no summers off, uniforms, mandatory parental involvement? Or would it just be the remainder of the low-income kids who we’d give that to, leaving the rest in regular classrooms with the special needs kids not allowed into Mr Caire’s schoolhouse, who, by the way, are disproportionately African-American kids.

  2. Thank you for mentioning Wright MS. You are right that we need to look at it closely and evaluate honestly whether it has succeeded or failed to prepare its students — the exact same poor and minority students that Madison Prep claims it wants to serve — for success in high school. I think Wright MS has been a huge failure. No, I think Wright MS has been a huge lost opportunity.
    Rather than putting all of the energy into hostile retaliation and a rigid fixation on Madison Prep as the one and only solution worth working on, I would ask Mr Caire and his collaborators to please work with the District to implement some of the key features of the Madison Prep proposal in our already existent middle schools. A good place to start might be parental involvement because the evidence is so clear: Parental involvement in a child’s education has a powerful impact on that child’s performance and achievement. So Mr. Caire, please show us how to increase parental involvement in our poor and minority communities. We need your help with that. And one of the first things those parents could work on together could be getting the Wright staff to raise classroom expectations for their students.
    I am not saying we should abandon our hopes and plans for a school. I’m saying we should show our kids that we know how to move forward from hurt and disappointment without becoming angry and destructive.

  3. With respect to Wright, it has certainly evolved differently than the original intent of “Madison Middle School 2000”, backed by Promega…
    How, if it all, does the curriculum (Connected Math, Balanced Literacy), leadership, teacher composition, school day/year length and climate differ from Madison’s other middle schools?
    Madison Prep proposed longer school days, an IB curriculum and of course a different teacher and governance model.

  4. The main differences between Wright and most of the other MMSD middle schools are a high poverty rate, a high minority rate, and lower expectations of students and families. Also its small size and small classes. (Interestingly, at least the last time I checked, the special ed rate wasn’t too different.) That’s why I’d like to see some of the Madison Prep components implemented there asap. At least as a start. At least while we keep working on the Madison Prep idea. Wright students likely account for a huge percentage of the struggling, failing and non-graduating students at West. Put the other way, it is likely that a huge percentage of the Wright students who go on to West do not graduate. Like I said earlier, imo, Wright Middle School has been a huge lost opportunity! Why can’t we work with Mr. Caire, the Urban League and others to turn that around?
    We need to keep this focused on what students need, not adult egos and politics.

  5. Joan, if you are referring to me when you ask “where all of these conservatives were” ten years ago I was saying exactly the same things but as a parent engaged with my son’s school. I was speaking up at school board meetings and begging for a more just and equitable and enlightened approach to education. You may not know that, because you knew me as someone who was advocating for TAG education at the same time.
    The treatment of students of color and their achievement in MMSD schools was a critical issue then. It was a critical issue two generations ago. It was a critical issue for DECADES for many of the speakers who were at the December 19 meeting.
    Can’t speak to why very public commentary was off the radar for so many in Madison. There was no shortage of people, Barbara Golden and MAFAC come to mind, who were advocating for African American students and being ignored or dismissed as “angry black women/men” for their efforts.
    Guess the trash talk de jour is now “conservative.” Which is a hoot, because that would make the Democratic Part and the Greens conservative magnets because that is where I cast my votes.
    As for Wright, it is a school that makes student progress in the short time that it has our students. It also typically has a waiting list.
    I’m not sure that I understand the line of argument that asserts that creating Madison Prep would create a segregated school or wouldn’t serve ALL students who need the programming, while insisting that one or two MMSD programs or schools can fill a need that should be met in every school.

  6. BTW, please understand that gratuitous speculation about the “homes and neighborhoods” where “those people” hail from, would be MY home and MY neighborhood. And the homes and neighborhoods of many faculty, professionals – African American and other races – who are raising African American children.
    That was one of the most interesting phenomena for me — black kids raised by educated, white, upper middle class to affluent, parents were dismissed as from “those homes” and “those neighborhoods” just as quickly as black kids from any other background. I loved the looks on teacher and staff faces when they realized that my son wasn’t from the ghetto, that I wasn’t a crack head, and his father lived at home (vs. in lockup).
    But what do I know? I just lived it for over 12 years.

  7. Lucy, My comments were not directed at you personally. You have better access to MMSD’s demographic data than I but the vast majority of African-American students are also children of poverty.
    More important, in our experience dating back to 1983, MMSD has long tried to address what is now referred to as the achievement gap/dropout crisis. Wright was one example I gave (and we were around at its inception at Hoyt, knew kids in the first class) but the “school within a school” concept and the homogenization of curriculum at West is also related.
    That the achievement gap still exists doesn’t mean the district has done nothing. Perhaps there is more it can do (and what is pragmatically possible with the budget you know better than I). I question whether this proposal is that fix, other than for the select few who won’t have to be in inclusionary classrooms like the rest of their agemates.
    Diversity was celebrated when our kids were in MMSD. It propelled the creation of the Franklin-Randall/ Lincoln-Midvale pairings. Not so much anymore?
    I participated in a number of SIP meetings over the years. The schools our kids attended put the highest priority on kids in the lowest stanine, indeed one year all five goals were directed at those students, who were for the most part kids of color. Not all, to be sure, but disproportionately so.
    The hiring of minority faculty and administrators has also long been a district goal and not without some success, especially among the principals. Show me the pool of applicants and show me how MMSD has failed to seek out those candidates because I don’t believe it is for lack of trying those hires haven’t happened.
    The segregation by race and gender might be what bothers me most about this proposal, that and the fact there are no data to support it. Frankly, I’m surprised you’d find that okay, Lucy. It isn’t just about test scores, after all, it’s about learning to live with one another. The TAG families have long been castigated for seeking other options because those usually come with the tradeoff of less diversity—racially, economically, culturally. But now it’s okay?
    Given the conservative groups supporting charter schools nationally, whose goals just happen to coincide with diminishing or destroying teachers unions, one of the last political forces on the left, yeah, I’m suspicious. It’s being manipulated politically, Lucy. It’s not name calling. There is another agenda at play, was my point.
    All that said, and sorry it had to be done hastily, thank you for your years of service.

  8. Lucy Mathiak said: “As for Wright, it is a school that makes student progress in the short time that it has our students.”
    Wright is an established charter school that has most of its students for three years, but that nevertheless does not adequately prepare them for genuine success in high school.
    Madison Prep claimed it was going to take those same students and — in only one year — prepare them for success in an IB environment.
    The Madison Prep proposal was delusional.
    Wright is a lost opportunity.
    Why aren’t we asking more from Wright?
    If Wright was doing all that it could and should be doing, the need for Madison Prep would be that much less.

  9. For years, the failure to hire for diversity has been explained as due to a lack of applicants. The data produced for the December 5 Hiring and Diversity meeting suggests that recruiting is a problem in SOME categories. In others, we are recruiting people and either finding reasons to remove them from the applicant pool (“Screened:) or referring them for interviews but not hiring. That is a systemic deficit in our hiring practices. I have asked the reasons why people are declared ineligible as job applicants, and the district has yet to produce that data
    I have asked for the number of white applicants (strangely enough, not included in the data produced), and that has not been produced either.
    All of this matters, I believe, because we had 55 African Americans apply for entry level custodian positions. Of the 55, 1 was hired; we hired 30 people in that category. Howw do we expect to do better with teachers and principals when we cannot hire the candidates that we are attracting candidates to a job level that does not require a degree or certification, or even vast experience?
    As for teachers and principals, people of color are applying for those positions, but the applications seem to stall out at “application complete.” In my experience, building a diverse workforce requires actually doing something with applications and then making an effort to hire a diverse staff.
    There was a job fair in Milwaukee where we could have recruited even more candidates of color. We didn’t participate.
    The point is, there has to be a sincere, skilled, good faith effort to recruit for diversity. What we are getting is excuses that don’t hold up well when the data is produced.
    As for Wright, it isn’t either or. The debate around Madison Prep has been carried out within a false dichotomy that makes it seem as if Madison Prep is bad because it cannot serve all MMSD students of color OR it is bad because we already serve students of color. In fact, the problem of academic achievement for MMSD students of color requires a strong Wright middle school AND a strong Madison Prep AND a strong and faithfully implemented AVID program AND much more.
    The problems are huge, and need a LOT of attention. Madison Prep is simply, fundamentally, a community response promoted by deeply engaged parents, to provide opportunities that do not currently exist and that engaged parents have been asking for over 40 years. It is an opportunity to implement a model that works in other places rather than doing more of what is producing the disastrous failed results we are seeing.

  10. Lucy, I agree that it is not “either/or.” My point in posting here is to get an honest and substantive (i.e., data-based) conversation going about Wright Middle School and what it has or has not accomplished during the decade-plus of its existence, especially given all of its advantages — small school, small classes, minority administrator, largely a neighborhood school, etc.
    In fact, for years, three of the four secondary schools in the West attendance area have been headed by African American administrators. One even headed up Wright for several years and then went over to head up West, meaning that for several years, he was working with students and families already known to him. What was the impact of all those years of minority administrators … on minority hires within their building? on minority achievement in their building?
    And another interesting question: What efforts has the Urban League been involved with in the West attendance area in the past decade and how have those efforts fared?
    Finally, did anyone else notice that Madison Prep received a lot of the same criticisms that honors classes and all that other TAG stuff has received? Aside from the fact that the TAG community long ago requested an IB school (or so I have heard), there was that short-sighted, horribly misguided, ultimately destructive position (note well, Ms. Cole and Ms. Moss) of “We can’t let SOME students (black, white, purple, whatever) have their needs appropriately met with rigorous classes (honors, IB) if the classes aren’t a good educational fit for ALL students.” Sounds like some white middle class parents don’t want their kids left behind with “those” students … and some white middle class teachers don’t want to have to really teach them. Solution: don’t let any kids (black, white, purple, whatever) get ahead … and call it equity.

  11. Should have added:
    What was the impact of all those years of minority administrators … on minority parent/family involvement?
    Also, let’s not forget that Wright was a brand new school building with state-of-the-art technology, because that was its original charter. (More recently, the charter got watered down to something more touchy-feely, less academic.)
    I just want to know what percentage of students who have been “prepared” for high school at Wright have gone on to succeed at West? And how does that compare to similar groups of students who went to Cherokee and Hamilton?
    Of the students who are CURRENTLY at West, how are the ones who went to Wright doing? And again, how does that compare to how similar students from Cherokee and Hamilton are doing?
    How can we — including the people in Doyle, on the BOE, and at the Urban League — not want answers to those questions?
    Lucy, maybe you could get the data?

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