Many thanks to Jason Shepard for his ongoing excellent coverage of educational issues, most recently his profile of West High School English teacher Keesia Hyzer ('Differentiate This!' 2/9/07). A few reactions:
Keesia Hyzer is a phenomenal teacher. (My son has had her for two different courses, so I know whereof I speak.) In fact, West High School is filled with phenomenal teachers. But not all high school teachers are as devoted and masterful as Ms. Hyzer.
Let's not jump the gun. Madison may ' or may not ' be moving in the direction of 'increasing the number of 'heterogeneous' classes.' The district has only just begun its two-year high school study. The issue of grouping practices will surely be an important focus. Let's hope data and research guide the conversation.
As the superintendent says, 'once you have two students, you have heterogeneity.' Thus the issue is not 'heterogeneous' versus 'homogeneous' classes. The real issue is how much heterogeneity is optimal ' for students and for teachers.
Training in differentiation requires lots of time, money and professional development. A single in-service or workshop is not adequate. If adequate training is not possible ' whether because of union contract rules or limited funding ' then initiatives that depend on differentiation in order to be successful should not be implemented.
The problem at West was that some students were 'self-selecting into the less rigorous [English] courses and thus could graduate without a solid grounding in writing and literature.' One wonders why a more targeted solution was not tried first ' like requiring a certain number of the more rigorous literature and writing courses for graduation.
Implementation of the embedded honors option in English 10 has been extremely uneven. Some teachers dissuaded students from signing up for it, while others do not require anything different from their honors students. The MMSD Student Senate is on record as being against embedded honors options because of the divisions they create within the classroom.
Thanks again, Jason; and thanks, Isthmus. Keep up the good work!
We want to assure the public that the East Isthmus Neighborhoods Planning Council (EINPC) is committed to the important work of strengthening Madison's east-side neighborhood associations and underrepresented communities (Madison.gov, 2/23/07).
EINPC recently recognized that its financial and programmatic undertakings have gone beyond its current capabilities. As such, EINPC decided to scale back its staffing and budget expenses in order to continue the council's focus on community organizing. The council decided to retain one paid staff person to keep our current projects moving forward and to undertake new ones.
In light of these new constraints, the EINPC board of directors decided to cease being the fiscal agent for the Stoughton Road Redesign Study. While we wholeheartedly support the study, the board determined that it would be best for EINPC to focus on our core work and the existing financial situation.
Our community should not lose sight of EINPC's current projects. For instance, on March 17 we will hold an East Side City Council Candidates' Forum at the Salvation Army just off East Washington Avenue at 3030 Darbo Dr. We should also not forget our largest commitment over the past year ' community organizing in the Darbo-Worthington Park Neighborhood Association.
Ben Winter, EINPC Co-chair, Mark Bergum,EINPC Co-chair, Aaron Blacks, EINPC treasurer eastisthmus.org
The former executive director of the East Isthmus Neighborhoods Planning Council, Lilly Irvin-Vitela, said that one reason for her resignation was that the council spent too much time on internal discussions and not enough on community outreach. I say: 'Amen to that, sister!'
Until your article about Ms. Irvin-Vitela's resignation, I had never heard of the EINPC ' and I live on the east isthmus.
A real stretch
I share Charles Sykes' exasperation over no-talent contestants on American Idol ('Idol Minds, True Facts,' 2/2/07), but would add this: Those kids' self-deception is bred not only by the dishonest appraisal of parents and schools, but also by the hands-off-if-it-doesn't-hurt-anybody attitude held generally throughout society.
For an example, Mr. Sykes need look no further than his March 10 column of last year. His no-contest validation therein given to the 'basic rights' argument for gay marriage ' of gays not wanting to destroy marriage, but simply wanting in on it ' begs the question perennially asked on playgrounds by 6-year-olds: 'Who's your real mama?'
If biologically opposite sexual attraction is so readily declared by adults to be not essential to marriage, is it such a stretch for a 14-year-old to see talent as not essential to artistic performance?
If your answer is yes, it is a stretch, and so is my analogy, then I beg to differ. The American Idol disasters ' seen in the context of adult-generated trends and fashions of all kinds ' are the fruits by which we are known.
Ruth Conniff provides readers with a look into the twilight zone of progressive politics, where things are what they're not. Credit card companies, she says, are like the Mafia because both target people who make them the most money ('Have They Got a Deal for You!' 1/26/07). Is it a mere detail that the former uses violence and death threats, while the latter offers a product for sale that a buyer can freely accept or reject?
Even more astounding is that she then calls for the force of law to limit these voluntary transactions under threat of punishment, much like the Mafia did.
PD's socialist utopia
I applaud David Blaska's column 'Night of the Living Dead' (1/19/07), in which he chronicles the Progressive Dane coup in the local Democratic Party, and I also applaud Isthmus for expressing a different political viewpoint rather than just being the PD party's mouthpiece.
To get elected, a person with PD ties or PD sympathies, such as Matt Veldran in my county board district or Gary Poulson in District 20, must either outright lie or at least tapdance around their PD ties.
My beef with Progressive Dane is that it represents an agenda, not the people. No matter how many people object to PD's anti-business agenda (and it definitely is a war on small business), Progressive Dane presses forward. What PD would ultimately like to do is ban all free enterprise and set up a socialist utopia.
Thank God for David Blaska for exposing the PD coup.
That isn't freedom
I had to laugh at James Kmet's letter (3/2/07), when he explained to us all (with our heads up our posteriors) that our forefathers gave us the right to worship Christ in whatever denomination we choose. Kmet is exactly the problem with religion in the public sphere. We're not all Christians. Some don't worship any god(s) whatsoever. Kmet fails to even include those possibilities in his version of freedom. His freedom means free to be just like him.