SSFP Special Reports

“Let the people have the truth and the freedom to discuss it and all will go well.” -- William T. Evjue

Madison School District Responds to Civil Rights Investigation

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The United States Education Department Office for Civil Rights investigated the Madison School District starting in 2014 and began conducting a compliance review in 2016. The Education Department found “statistically significant racial disparities in advanced placement enrollment at every District high school and such disparities were pronounced in the areas of math and science.”

At issue is Madison School District compliance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI, specifically, “whether the District discriminates against African-American and/or Hispanic students with respect to access, referral, identification, and selection for the District's Advanced Learner services.”

The Civil Rights Office also looked for discrimination in “access to foundational courses that are essential to prepare students to take rigorous courses and to provide them with the skills necessary for success in college and career.” [Read Complete Article: Click Here]

Are Rising MMSD Grad Rates
Something to Celebrate?

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Investigative reporting by National Public Radio and journalists from The Washington Post (among others) revealed school districts on the East Coast and elsewhere using questionable tactics to raise high school graduation rates.

NPR reporters based their graduation rate investigations on the core subject areas used by the U.S. Department of Education to determine college readiness. The NPR report says districts often used similar strategies—either “good, bad or ambiguous”—to raise graduation rates; “stepping in early to keep kids on track, lowering the bar by offering alternatives and easier routes when students falter, and gaming the system by moving likely dropouts off the books, transferring them or misclassifying them.”

Some of these same strategies help Madison increase its high school graduation rates. [Read Complete Article: Click Here]

Madison’s ACT
College Readiness Gap

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High school graduation rates are on the rise. Since 2001, graduation rates have increased in school districts across the country, and the U.S. Department of Education estimates the current national high school graduation rate at 84 percent.

But, in recent years, scandals in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Maryland and elsewhere cause education experts to question the wisdom of using graduation rates as an academic measurement tool.

According to district data, the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) saw significant jumps in four-year graduation rates in spring 2017. Madison’s overall graduation rate rose five points, and the rate for African American students jumped an eyebrow-raising 15 points in one year. Those rates, however, were not accompanied by corresponding increases in student achievement as measured by ACT college readiness benchmarks in core subjects like math and reading. [Read Complete Article: Click Here]

New Johns Hopkins Report Examines
High School Graduation

A new report by the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University confirms that young people who do not graduate high school are less likely to be employed and that, without some training beyond high school, securing a stable, well-paying job is unlikely.

Like many Madison experts, this new report recommends stepping in early to ensure younger students are on track for higher grades, high school graduation, and post-secondary education.

“At each step along the continuum, we can identify students who are falling behind,” the report says.

“From the start, Black and Hispanic children and those growing up in poverty are more likely than their peers to be off track and those gaps remain well into adulthood.” [Read Complete Article: Click Here]

Beloved Journalist Amber Walker Heads to Grad School

Journalist and former teacher Amber C. Walker is leaving her position at The Capital Times to earn her Masters of Arts Degree in Digital Journalism at New York University.

Amber Walker worked for The Capital Times beginning in 2016. Her focus was the education beat and she published several long-form, investigative pieces on local education issues. Walker previously worked at Epic Systems before deciding to pursue journalism full-time.

Walker is a first-generation college student from the south side of Chicago. She attended Oberlin College in Ohio before becoming a K-12 English teacher in Florida. Even though Walker is no longer in the classroom, her ongoing passion for education is prevalent in her work. [Read Complete Article: Click Here]

City of Madison Initiative Demonstrates Lack of Transparency

Local watchdogs and litigators say a City of Madison initiative and its multiple committees should provide the public with greater transparency.

In a unanimous 2017 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that committees created by local governmental bodies in Wisconsin are themselves governmental bodies subject to the state's open meetings law.

Wisconsin open meetings law states: “All meetings of all state and local governmental bodies shall be publicly held in places reasonably accessible to members of the public and shall be open to all citizens at all times unless otherwise expressly provided by law.” [Read Complete Article: Click Here]

Gerrymandering Is Manipulating Our Democracy

Ever since the redistricting maps of 2011, gerrymandering in Wisconsin has been in the political spotlight. Redistricting―redrawing voting district boundaries―is a regular occurrence in the United States. It’s intended to adjust political maps based on population and allow for fair elections. Unfortunately, it has been manipulated to further political agendas in an act called “gerrymandering.” Since the majority party draws the lines, redistricting is often used to suppress opposition and keep a certain party in power. However, an increasing number of voters and politicians are calling for reform of the redistricting process to create fairer voting districts.

Gerrymandering is nothing new to America, or even Wisconsin. The earliest example occurred in 1812 when Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts signed a redistricting law that favored his party. The voting districts under his law were extremely unfair and very strangely drawn; the districts were made so that the opposing party would be clustered into a few districts, thus minimizing the impact of the votes they received. Gerry’s party was spread out, giving them an advantage. This incident is where the term “gerrymandering” comes from; it’s a mix of Governor Gerry’s name and the bizarre shapes of the voting districts he created, which resembled salamanders. [Read Complete Article: Click Here]

Could AI Solve Our
Fake News Problem?

Fake news runs rampant on the internet. Generating most of this fake content, bots prey on users scrolling for the next story worth retweeting or otherwise sharing. Fake news reaches an audience 35 percent greater than truthful stories do, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Luckily, many scientists and scholars are working to defeat internet bots and help users detect false stories.

Only in early development, artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the game for journalists and the dissemination of news. AI can detect false stories by scanning their use of statistics and syntax. Recently, Facebook—one of biggest platforms responsible for the spread of fake news—announced its new partnership with The Associated Press to identify false information and prevent it from reaching users. Google also announced plans for a “misinformation detector” browser extension that would immediately notify users upon detection of a suspect link. [Read Complete Article: Click Here]

Watch for a Deep Dive Investigation by Simpson Street Free Press reporter and editor Enjoyiana Nururdin: College Readiness: The Pros and Cons of Standardized Tests

Madison College “Scholars of Promise”
Program Expands

Thanks to the new “Scholars of Promise” program, 150 students at Madison Area Technical College have access to new opportunities. Created by Madison College along with University of Wisconsin-Madison, qualifying students who complete their associate degree will be admitted to UW-Madison, free of cost, to continue pursuing their education.

President of Madison College Dr. Jack Daniels and UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank finalized the groundbreaking decision.[Read Complete Article: Click Here]

Movie Review:

All the President's Men, Examining the Role of Journalism in Democracy

The role of journalism in society has changed drastically throughout the last couple decades. One event that contributed to this change is the Watergate scandal. The film All the President's Men focuses on the Watergate scandal, which brought down the presidency of Richard M. Nixon.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, were the two journalists investigating the Watergate Scandal for The Washington Post. This all began when Bob Woodward covered what seemed to be a minor break-in at the Democratic Party National headquarters. Later it was revealed that the break-in at the Watergate office complex was only one small part of a much larger network of intelligence, one which conducted behind the scene activities and transactions. Many of the activities were illegal. [Read Complete Article: Click Here]

MMSD Response To Open Records Requests Called “Ugly”

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Open records watchdogs and clean government advocates call responses by Madison school officials to open records inquires “ugly.”

A recent report distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and published in the Wisconsin State Journal says the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) would not fulfill a request for information about public records without payment. Responding to a specific request, filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), the Madison district required a payment of more than $1,000 to provide the requested information. [Read Complete Article: Click Here]

"Our history will be what we make it. If we go on as we are, then history will take its revenge and retribution will not limp in catching up with us. Just once in a while let us exalt the importance of ideas and information." -- Edward R. Murrow