Friday, October 15, 2010

High School Reform

Although I will be posting on other aspects of the high school reform debate, I want to share an e-mail from administration to teachers that has been posted elsewhere on the internet.  Two aspects of the message are striking and require some thought on my part, particularly since I only recently saw the e-mail:

1) The tone seems to contradict the messages delivered in the administration's reorganization plan and elsewhere re. a new emphasis on decision-making processes that include significant input from front-line (e.g. work with students) staff.

2) Nowhere does the message discuss approval by the Board of Education, yet a significant curricular change cannot be implemented (at least openly) without discussion and approval by the board. While some may have forgotten that the board is a legally elected governance body, I fear that I am just that pain in the neck board member who sees that truth as fundamental to the governance process.

So, with those two observations, this is what teachers received in their e-mails:

October 12, 2010
Dear High School Staff:

We are writing to you today to ask you to take a moment to read about something that we think is of vital importance to the district, to meeting the needs of all of our students, and to closing the achievement gap swiftly and surely.

When we embarked on our journey with the Smaller Learning Communities (SLC) grant we knew that we do a great job with many students and we struggle with many others. The achievement gap remains in stark contrast to all of the things that we do so well.

We are saying that now is the time to think anew and differently about these issues. It is crucial that we come to grips with the fact that this gap means so much more than a yearly data comparison. What the continuing gap means, unless directly addressed, is that we will remain party to raising a segment of our population who will not have the skills to pursue adult lives that are self determined.

We currently have an opportunity to effect change that we cannot squander. The $5.2 million dollars given to MMSD through the SLC grant by the U.S. Department of Education has opened the doors to a real discussion about today’s students and tomorrow’s needs. We have taken full advantage of the last two years to talk, learn how to collaborate, and have dipped our toes in the waters of change.
But, we should no longer be lulled by our past successes. We should be made restless and uneasy by our graduation rates, our disproportionate suspension and expulsion rates, and by our state’s first place status nationally in incarceration rates of African American males.

So we are writing to you to inform you that we will undertake a systemic shift in the way we address learning opportunities at the secondary level. (emphasis added) We are asking you to digest a plan that responds to both the accelerated students and those who struggle. We ask that you suspend cynicism of past endeavors that forecast, in your mind, failure, and our tendency to remain static.

We sincerely suggest that this could be everyone’s finest hour.

We have long believed, and still do, that Madison has the capacity needed to eliminate the achievement gap and serve our accelerated students well. We will be sharing details of this idea with you soon, but we wanted to foreshadow that there is a true urgency attached to this conversation.

Your past work as teacher leaders, as innovation team members, and as critical consumers of professional development, will hold you in good stead as we ask you to move into this discussion.

There will be plenty of room for your voice as we move forward, but the parameters will be clear. Educational research clearly shows that true change needs to be systemic and implemented with fidelity. Research also shows that defining student outcomes is the science of teaching. The art of teaching still rests with you, the individual

Dan Nerad Pam Nash
Superintendent Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools

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