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Madison Schools Spurn Federal Funds Say Teaching Would Suffer

Congratulations, Madison!

A federal grant that funded a reading program at five Madison elementary school is expiring because administrators say it is too proscriptive [sic], locking teachers into methods they say are less effective than their own.

That decision, announced to School Board members in a memo Friday by Superintendent Art Rainwater, affects Hawthorne, Glendale, Orchard Ridge, Midvale and Lincoln elementary schools.

It will mean that the district will annually accept, on average, about $100,000 less in federal Reading First funds for each of these schools for the next two to four years, according to Assistant Superintendent Jane Belmore.

But Belmore said that continuing to take part in the program would mean incrementally ceding control over how reading is taught in Madison's schools. So far, she said, the grant money has not demanded a substantial departure from the methods already in place; next year would be different.

In his memo, Rainwater stresses the successes the district claims in its efforts to improve students' reading. For example, more than 80 percent of third-graders scored proficient or above in the state's last round of standardized reading tests.

He said the district's current approach "is resulting in continual growth in numbers of proficient and advanced readers and is resulting in a continued narrowing of the achievement gap."

At least one board member, though, is concerned that turning down federal money may draw criticism as the district prepares for one or more referendums this spring, and board members should have been brought into the decision rather than told about it after the fact.

"It's a decision that the board should have made, and we should make it with better information than this," board member Ruth Robarts said, referring to Rainwater's eight-page memo.

Dense with educational jargon, the memo, written directly to board members, contained passages such as this: "During September, MMSD created the CLIP Scope and Sequence, CLIP Teacher Planning Guide and CLIP Implementation Monitoring System in response to the concerns noted from Dr. Howe. We felt that these expansions added value to the program."

Board member Carol Carstensen said Friday she "got about halfway through" the memo.

Carstensen, though, said the district is wise to be skeptical of some federal grants, which may unnecessarily restrict teaching methods while funneling money to private education companies with political ties.

Belmore said that during the last year, the Reading First grants were used to buy materials and pay for staff development. If the district continued with the program, it would pay for further testing and assessment, as well as "coaches" to direct reading instruction.

"We really don't think it's in the best interest of our kids," Belmore said. "We're closing the achievement gap and we're becoming more and more strategic in how we are teaching our children. That's what we want to continue."


— Lee Sensenbrenner
The Capital Times


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