SSFP Special Reports

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

New Legal Article Explores Madison's Reading Crisis

Madison's School District Is Well-Resourced, but Has Gaps in Line with Poorer Districts

According to a recent federal court decision, the ability to read, write, comprehend and analyze critical texts is a foundational skill that individuals must develop in order to obtain higher education, engage in political spheres, and exercise their democratic rights.

This recent ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals essentially means that access to basic literacy is now recognized as a fundamental, constitutional right. The 6th Circuit Court also declared that the United States Constitution guarantees a “basic minimum education” and that must start with access to basic literacy.

But thousands of K-12 students in America, and incarcerated adults, remain functionally illiterate. Even in well-funded cities like Madison, Wisconsin most Black and Brown children continue to read well below grade level. Literacy experts and education researchers around the country project low reading scores will continue to cause mass incarceration and other racial disparities.

[Read Complete Article: Click Here]

Advancements in the Science of Reading Outpace Public School Curriculum

Simpson Street Free Press is invested in and applies the science of reading with our students. We have for decades.

It is true, however, that debates about reading instruction continue. Teachers and reading specialists continually discuss—and dispute—what methods of reading instruction are truly most effective, and ultimately, what method should be used in our schools.

Today, in our country, reading levels continue to decrease; only two-thirds of fourth graders can read at grade level, which leads to high school seniors still unable to meet proficiency. The numbers in Wisconsin are among the worst in the country. And reading results in Madison are at crisis level.

Many experts believe this is a result of the instructional methods that teachers nationwide are instructed in and taught to use. These instructional methods, called the “three-cueing” system, teach students compensation strategies that struggling readers come to depend on after falling behind without having learned to read. All students in three-cueing classrooms are being taught this way, and as reading researcher David Kilpatrick has noted, “[t]he three-cueing system is the way poor readers read.” [read more]

Madison School Officials Consider Controversial Student Newspaper Policies

Madison school officials will consider hiring an Ohio-based company known for policies that some say hinder the free speech rights of student journalists.

Two school board members and Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore met last month with representatives of Ohio-based NEOLA. NEOLA is a policy-writing firm often hired by school districts to write and implement policies for local boards and local administrators.

NEOLA policies were scrutinized recently in Wisconsin during a controversial case in Oshkosh. In that case a student reporter was prevented from publishing a story about abrupt staff changes at Oshkosh North High School.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that Brock Doemel, a senior at Oshkosh North, eventually filed open records requests to learn more about an absent school staff member and to learn more about why the student-written story was removed from the school’s newspaper. [read more]

Another Lost Decade: Madison's Reading Crisis Continues

On the wall at Simpson Street is a feature editorial from the Wisconsin State Journal . The headline reads “Support State Reading Initiatives” and announces the launch of a bipartisan effort co-chaired by Tony Evers and Scott Walker. The editorial is dated September 12, 2012.

Local News and Numbers

Recent reports by Wisconsin State Journal , The Capital Times , Channel 3 News, Isthmus , and other news outlets paint a new, more tragic picture. Nothing has changed. Achievement gaps are worse.

Reporting on the latest round of Forward Exams, Logan Wroge of the Wisconsin State Journal points out that fewer than half of Wisconsin students are proficient or advanced in English/language arts or math, and that those numbers are going down. About 543,000 Wisconsin students in grades 3-8 took part in Forward Exams last school year.

Forward Exam results, as in previous years, show Madison students trailing state-wide averages. [Read Complete Article: Click Here]

How Enbridge Avoided Local Insurance Regulations

Canadian pipeline company Enbridge will move forward with operating an oil pumping station in Waterloo, Wisconsin—without special insurance—after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of the company in a 4-1 decision, with two justices abstaining.

Enbridge’s Line 61 cuts through the northeastern corner of Dane County. The pipeline brings 400,000 barrels of heavy crude oil from the Alberta, Canada Tar Sands region through Wisconsin every day. Enbridge needed additional pumping stations to reach their goal of tripling the number of barrels per day (bpd). Enbridge Energy, the company that operates the pipeline, hopes to reach a staggering 1.2 million bpd.

[Read Complete Article: Click Here]

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.” [Read Complete Article: Click Here]

Are Rising MMSD Grad Rates
Something to Celebrate?

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

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”

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

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