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Madison taking shots at achievement gap with $4.7 million | News

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Madison taking shots at achievement gap with $4.7 million
News, Schools
Madison taking shots at achievement gap with $4.7 million

Four months after a new academic achievement test showed the average black seventh-grader reading at six grade-levels below the average white seventh-grader, Metropolitan Madison School District (MMSD)  is hoping to reverse the trend with their $4.7 million attack on MMSD's achievement gap.

The plan, first unveiled by MMSD superintendent Dan Nerad in February 2012, as “Building Our Future,” originally proposed a budget of $12.4 million to address the achievement gap for the 2012/2013 school-year and proposed another $105.6 million to be spent over the next five years. In the final budget, approved in June 2012, these amounts were eventually scaled back to $4.7 million for the 2012/2013 school year, with a proposed $47 million to be spent over the next five years. 

“There’s a long history in our district of having gaps in achievement by socioeconomic status,” Joe Gothard, MMSD assistant superintendent for secondary education, said. “Our community, without a doubt, has shown their concern over it. It’s something that cannot be ignored.”

The biggest line item, upwards of $1 million, expands AVID, a four-year class that offers extra academic support and guidance, with the aim of preparing for college more students of color, low-income students, or students who are the first in their family to attend college. According to AVID's website, 46 percent of families with students in the district are low-income. The AVID course is just half of the comprehensive AVID/TOPS program, which partners with the Boys and Girls Club to provide mentoring and summer internships outside of school. The program also takes students on trips to college campuses and career sites, and brings guest speakers to the students.

Other programs that will receive more than $500,000 from this new initiative include a family engagement program, and a program to get all K-12 students reading at their grade level. 

Looking to do something about the district’s dropout rate, composed disproportionately of students of color, the district is for the first time allocating funding to Operation Fresh Start. Founded in 1970, Operation Fresh Start is a non-profit organization that has decades of experience helping students graduate high school, pass high school equivalency exams, and find jobs after training students  to construct houses for low-income home-buyers. 

In 2011, the four-year graduation rate for black students in Madison’s public schools was 50 percent, while for white students it was 84 percent, accordingto data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. A quarter of the black students were recorded as “known to be continuing,” while the remaining quarter were unknown. 

“Operation Fresh Start is truly a place to prevent students from dropping out, but more importantly to allow them to see how the skills they’re learning can be applied to a career,” Gothard said. “That is a challenge that students across the country are facing, and this is one approach that allows us to address that.” 

In addition to programs that expand learning opportunities for students, many initiatives target the teachers, defining the district’s commitment to hire and train teachers to have awareness and appreciation of diversity.

“We have incredible educators in our classrooms each and every day,” Gothard said. “We need to ensure that every time we hire someone new, it’s someone who not only has the content knowledge and pedagogy skills, but … also individuals who understand our student body and embrace this notion of education quality for all students.” 

MMSD is offering diversity training for the current staff, provided by Dr. Sharroky Hollie, executive director of theCenter for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning. The training aims to help teachers understand cultures and languages of their diverse students, and create effective lessons for students from different backgrounds. Hollie spent two days with MMSD staff in October, and will spend another day with staff in February, with the goal of reaching every staff member.

Nerad said it is too early to point to measurable change from these programs. In spring, Madison students will again face the Measures of Academic Progress tests, which provided the data for the stark achievement gap findings in August.

This story was produced by Madison Commons.

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