Madison School District Responds to Civil Rights Investigation

[Para leer la versión en español de éste artículo, puedes visitar éste enlace]

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.”

The Office for Civil Rights issued a letter on December 29, 2016, describing the results of their investigation. The letter was sent to Madison Schools Superintendent, Jennifer Cheatham. The letter references previous Madison District actions to scale back its use of prerequisites for advanced high school courses, implementing instead a system of “recommended skills and experiences.”

According to the letter, MMSD “proposed to voluntarily resolve the investigation” by agreeing to implement new efforts to increase access to advanced learning opportunities for Hispanic and African American students.

These efforts are detailed in a Resolution Agreement, which Superintendent Cheatham signed on October 21, 2016. The agreement also requires the district to remove barriers to enrollment in AP courses by African American and Hispanic students, and complete a review of its advanced coursework and programming options.

The district’s ongoing plans to address access to advanced learning include “aligning the curriculum among all four high schools; closing the achievement gap; and remedying what the district admits was unequal access for students to advanced courses.”

The Resolution Agreement requires the district to take various actions to implement the plan and to submit reports to the Office for Civil Rights.

Dawn Matthias is a member of the team that conducted the compliance review for the Office for Civil Rights. In a recent interview with Simpson Street Free Press Matthias said the case, including the district’s efforts to improve access to advanced learning opportunities, is still under review.

Jim Bradshaw of the Office for Civil Rights’ Washington D.C. office confirmed in an email that “the process is ongoing.”

Greg Jones, president of the NAACP says it is important to know “what the district has done to comply with their agreement with Office for Civil Rights.”

“Given the urgency of education outcomes in Dane County, the local NAACP branch will monitor the agreement as it relates to our mission. The NAACP thinks it is very important to keep the public informed,” Jones said.

Chris Gomez Schmidt a local education advocate with the Madison Partnership for Advanced Learning, agrees with Jones.

“The Office for Civil Rights resolution and the work being done to meet these requirements should be part of the community conversation and our work on closing achievement gaps. More can be done to make this a transparent process."

"The importance of this Civil Rights resolution process cannot be emphasized enough,” Gomez-Schmidt says. “This work cannot continue to fly under the radar if Madison is truly interested in closing achievement gaps,”

An Advanced Learning Advisory Committee required to comply with the Resolution Agreement has met several times but questions remain about what is being accomplished. Only five parents attended the committee’s most recent meeting on May 23, 2018.

MMSD has not posted minutes from any Advanced Learning committee meetings, and "district efforts in this regard have not been sufficient," says Gomez Schmidt. "Few people know about this resolution, its requirements and the work MMSD is doing in this area."

As a black parent of two Madison school kids, I appreciate this information. Why is this the first time I'm hearing about this? – Marlon AndrewsMadison (2018-07-28 12:03)
As a recent high school graduate, I understand why these kinds of issues are so important. – Daphane CastroMadison College (2018-07-28 12:34)
Thank you for your reporting on this issue, and especially for including a link to the December 29, 2016 Resolution Letter from the Office for Civil Rights. The data in the December 2016 Resolution Letter are essential for understanding the magnitude of the disparities in access to these important educational opportunities, and will provide a useful baseline for measuring the impact of the efforts to address these disparities. – Chan StromanMadison (2018-07-29 07:02)
I wasn't aware of this situation...nice work on the article. This deserves more attention. – paulmadison (2018-07-29 12:31)
As an African American male who took advanced placement classes in high school, I do, in fact remember racial disparities in class, i.e. A.P. Literature and Composition. This is a very important issue and I appreciate you bringing it to light. – Daniel YanceyMadison, WI (2018-07-29 19:39)
The achievement gap is something that has been plaguing our schools for far too long; it is important and urgent to resolve. Although the achievement gap is not the happiest of news, I am glad to see people from the Madison community writing about it. This topic should be one of the main focuses within our community; we must become informed and share it with others. – Jennafer KowalefskiMadison (2018-07-30 01:03)
This is a well written article. I don't have kids so I had no idea, had no idea "liberal" Madison would allow such a thing to happen. Thank you for writing and choosing to publish. – RyanMadison (2018-07-30 06:25)
One of the issues this article exposes is a foundational belief reflected in our school practices that children's achievement is immutable. Advanced Learning practice is premised on a notion of "finding" a "talent" that is then nurtured, while special education is premised on "diagnosing" a so-called "disability." Schools are often operated as a team of talent scouts and deficit scouts.That is wrongheaded on its face. And, worse, this premise is susceptible to bias. A better idea is to believe that we can create talent. Teaching matters! We solve learning struggles and promote achievement. What we need to do is turn the microscope around and stop the labeling machine that categorizes children based on some presumed intrinsic qualities. We need, instead, to be using data to assess our teaching and whether our programming is effective in developing all potential into performance. We need to believe that teaching can change the trajectory of any child in our schools. Good teaching is a game changer. In Advanced Learning and in special education there is too much belief that children come to school with specific assets or deficits that education just discovers. All children have assets and deficits and teaching works to create achievement. Also, we need to make being a high achiever a noble thing that is socially acceptable. Our social culture often does not reward high achievement and children are influenced by that. We need highly engaging and socially rewarding programming that causes students to show their growing abilities and shine. It is much easier to find talent when and where it shines. – Annette TalisMadison (2018-07-30 06:30)
I wasn't aware of this particular situation, but I am not surprised. As an African American female who attempted to take an AP class in the Madison School District, I found that I did not receive the support for teachers/staff that I expected. I was also the only person of color in the class. This ultimately resulted in me dropping the course. MMSD often does a lot of talking but lack in action so I am interested to see how this plays out. – CierraMadison (2018-07-30 08:13)
I wasn't aware of this particular situation, but I am not surprised. As an African American female who attempted to take an AP class in the Madison School District, I found that I did not receive the support for teachers/staff that I expected. I was also the only person of color in the class. This ultimately resulted in me dropping the course. MMSD often does a lot of talking but lack in action so I am interested to see how this plays out. – CierraMadison (2018-07-30 08:13)
Funny. Madison Prep was supposed to help solve this problem. Another opportunity to solve racial inequality passed-up by white progressive Madison. I don't have much faith in our progressive white establishment. They are too concerned with protecting their own power and institutions. Isn't that right TJ Mertz? – Jeff TischauserMadison, Wi (2018-07-30 09:23)
I was not aware of this investigation or situation, but I am not surprised to hear this. There are huge disparities in the number of people of color not taking AP classes let alone Honors classes in high school. I’m very curious to see how this all plays out in the end and hopefully it works out for the better. – AavantéMadison (2018-07-30 19:10)
I am happily surprised to see Madison finally addressing its racial discrepancies and working with NAACP to ensure these issues are properly addressed. Additionally, I think an important focus should be in hiring minority teachers. Great article – MaddieMilwaukee (2018-07-30 19:48)
Great article! This is a great piece to shed light on an issue many people living in Madison do not know about. With Wisconsin having one of the largest achievement gaps in the nation, it is very important for MMSD to eliminate barriers for all students to succeed. I hope to see many changes in the future. – AdamaMadison (2018-07-30 22:33)
It's concerning that this wasn't communicated well to the Madison community before now. Thank you SSFP for an informative and eye-opening article on an important issue! – Ryan FrandaMadison (2018-07-31 17:44)
Thank you for raising awareness and keeping this issue at the forefront! – HelenMadison (2018-08-02 18:28)
There should be more awareness about this issue in the Madison area, thank you for reporting on it. – LeilaMadison (2018-08-23 18:06)
There should be more awareness about this issue in the Madison area, thank you for reporting on it. – LeilaMadison (2018-08-23 18:06)
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