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February 4, 2006

MMSD School Board Says They Don't Do Curriculum: WI State Law Says Otherwise

The Madison School Board is directly and legally responsible for the curriculum taught in their district. The WI Administrative Code, which is law, sets forth the legal requirements for public instruction. Public Instruction, Chapter PI 8.01 (Download Admin. Code Public Instruction - School Standards)says:

2. Each school district board shall develop, adopt and implement a written school district curriculum plan which includes the following: a. A kindergarten through grade 12 sequential curriculum plan in each of the following subject areas: reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, health, computer literacy, environmental education, physical education, art and music.

Does this mean the Madison School Board is responsible for designing and creating curriculum and curriculum plans? No, of course not. I feel, however, they are responsible a) for making sure a process is in place so that academically rigorous, sequential curriculum plans are developed and evaluated regularly for meeting stated goals (and with opportunity for public comment along the way) and b) for approving curriculum plans developed under the guidance of the administration. How does the process currently this work? It's not publicly clear, perhaps, because the Madison School Board has no written curriculum board policy and no written administrative procedures (that I could find and I've asked - see below) for the development and approval of curriculum plans.

I have been told by board members the Superintendent and his staff "do curriculum," because they are the experts. What does that mean? Of course, we hope they are the experts; and, being experts in education administration, we hope and expect they use the teachers and other professionals who are experts in their field to develop curriculum plans using a well defined process that is clear and known by all. Yet, the sentiment from the board that was heard again in the their discussions of heterogenous classes is simply, "We don't do curriculum." When I first heard this type of statement from board members several years ago, I was puzzled and then I found the WI Admin. Code, which identifies the Board's responsility over approval of curriculum plans. My question for the Madison School Board is: How do and will you execute your legal responsibility? How can the School Board make this clear to the public? Written board policies and procedures that are discussed and approved by a school board are how board members spell out publicly how they will execute their legal responsibilities. I feel such policies and procedures for curriculum, which ties directly with a board's top priority of student achievement, would be illuminating and helpful for the board, public, teachers, administrators, etc.

I'd like to share my understanding of what I've learned. Curriculum plans are legally required, must be approved by the local School Board; and, as I've learned, these plans are different from standards. Basically, standards identify what we want children to learn in a particular field, at a particular time in their development; and standards are most useful when they are developed by grade. At the state level, DPI's standards are developed for grades 4, 8 and 10, and in many cases, these standards were developed with input from professionals in the field, businesses, parents, community members, other. National and professional standards in a field might guide this, but groups with broad representation refined and recommended standards used as guidelines (not law) by DPI. Locally, to help guide their board-level oversight of student's achievement, standards by grade level would seem to be more appropriate to guide both administrators and teachers.

School districts in Wisconsin are required to have locally approved K-12 sequential curriculum plans in above identified subject areas that specifies objectives, course content, course sequence, resources, specified instructional time to meet the curriculum, and a program evaluation method. MMSD's School Board did develop standards in the late 1990s, but board approved curriculum plans are a bit trickier to locate. I know sequential, K-12 curriculum plans exist per state law and are current with state and national standards exist for music and visual art education. These documents were approved by the School Board. I don't know for other areas, but I would hope and expect that each teacher has the K-12 curriculum plan for the field(s) they are teaching. As a parent, I feel I ought to be able to walk into my daughter's school and ask for a K-12 sequential curriculum plan for math, science, etc.

At a March 3, 2003 Performance and Achievement meeting, I spoke during public appearances, asking about the curriculum process. From the approved minutes: "Barbara Shrank said she has not been able to find information about the process by which changes are made to curriculum plans that have been approved by the Board of Education, and at what point professional staff members are involved. (Art Rainwater responded that curriculum change - content - is not part of the budget process and would only come into play if the budget prevented implementation. Up to this point content has not been affected by budget cuts. If the district were not able to deliver curriculum standards, it woud become a curriculum issue.)"

My questions are: the admin does what, how? What's the process, who's included (for example, admin, teachers, non-MMSD professionals, parents), etc. A School Board curriculum policy would spell out the Board's expectation, including procedures, and a written policy would make this clear for all Board members, the administration, other MMSD staff and for the public of what is expected and how it is to be done. I feel a School Board curriculum policy is lacking and I would like to see the Madison School Board take the leadership steps to develop a board level curriculum policy. Without one, anyone can say and do anything about curriculum on whatever timeline in whatever way, and that sometimes appears to be the case to the public, giving the perception of confusion. A board policy could begin to change that.

Posted by at February 4, 2006 11:33 PM
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