Thursday, October 14, 2010

West - Two Issues in a Perfect Storm

The parent complaint to DPI over MMSD's failure to comply with WI laws on Talented and Gifted education have combined with administration's recent proposal to create more consistency across the four major high schools, to create a perfect storm of controversy at Madison West. Within the past 24 hours, allegations that the proposal eliminates all electives have spawned a number of calls and e-mails to the Board of Education, a FB page (Walk-out Against MMSD School Reform) promoting a student walk out on Friday, and a YouTube video created to protest the elimination of electives.

As a board member, I have a somewhat different take largely because I know that allegations that the proposal to standardize core high school curriculum is not a product of the DPI complaint. Anyone who has watched MMSD operate, would probably agree that nothing is put together that quickly (the complaint is less than a month old), especially when it involves a proposal. 

I also just received the proposal a day or so ago. In full disclosure, I did not take advantage of the briefings conducted for board members who met with the superintendent and assistant superintendent individually or in pairs. I'm a certifiable pain in the neck and thought that any presentations should be made to the board as a whole in an open board or committee meeting, but that is just my issue.) I am just beginning to read and think through what is being proposed, so have no firm opinion yet.

This is what I have said to people who have written. Perhaps it will be of interest to you, too:

Thank you for taking the time to write. I hope that what I am about to say is helpful to your understanding of the proposal and the process as I understand them at this time.

First, the proposed curricular changes are not related to the DPI complaint re. failure to comply with state law on TAG programming.

Earlier this week, I received a copy of a proposal (attached) to establish more consistency in curriculum offerings across the four major high schools. At this time it is only a proposal. It is my understanding that administration would like the board to approve the proposal in November. At this time, board members are asking questions about the document, and specific details regarding what implementation would mean. I have not yet asked my questions, but expect to do so in the next week.

Earlier today, administration indicated that the proposal does not, or is not intended to, alter, standardize, or eliminate electives in any of the high schools.

As I read the proposal, I will be looking closely at that issue. I am the mother of East graduates with very different academic strengths and experiences. Both sons took excellent electives - at times the same classes taught by the same teachers. Both had wonderful experiences and learned a lot. Many of these electives were developed by specific teachers, and taught with particular expertise by those teachers. My personal belief is that our high schools would lose a great deal were those classes to be eliminated.

Again, it is my understanding that electives are to continue and that other parts of the curriculum are the focus of any changes. As I prepare for board decision-making on high school curriculum, I will continue to look at this issue.