Personalized Pathways (PP) is a program being implemented in MMSD high schools (see the PP website for details). Here I list specific unresolved questions and concerns that have been raised by parents, teachers, staff, students, and community members. I have interacted with many officials in an attempt to get these questions answered, and I thank the administration for being responsive both in person and over email. Unfortunately, the responses I have received are not sufficiently concrete and/or detailed (some examples are given below), and so critical aspects of the PP program remain unclear.
This website is an effort to organize and make available the information from conversations among those interested in the PP program. I hope that it will lead to clear answers to the questions and concerns detailed below. I will keep working to get answers. In the meantime, if you have answers to the questions listed, or other relevant comments, please email me and I will post them. Thank you!
About the author: My husband, two children (ages 9 and 11), and dog live in the West High neighborhood. You may reach me at c.kendziorski [at] gmail.com.
Background: Personalized pathways was announced early in 2016, supported by a $400,000 grant awarded to the Foundation for Madison Public Schools by the Joyce Foundation (see the WKOW announcement). There was very little input from parents and teachers on the program; and many have expressed major concerns, some of which are detailed below (additional related concerns are detailed in this letter). As noted in the announcement, on the PP FAQ page, and interviews, the program is being put in place to close the achievement gap and, specifically, to improve graduation rates. Clearly, this is a problem that must be addressed. However, it is not clear that a program designed to improve graduation rates is ideal, or even suitable, for the majority of students in MMSD. In spite of this, the current plan is to have the PP program go “wall-to-wall” by the 2019-2020 school year (every ninth grade student entering in 2019-2020 would be enrolled in a pathway; every student would be in a pathway by 2022-2023).
Specific questions are organized by topic areas.
Breadth and depth of courses offered. Clearly, resources are limited. With teacher resources devoted to teaching PP courses, will the variety of science and other electives currently available continue to be offered?
Q1: Once the PP program is implemented wall-to-wall, will students continue to have access to the science courses that are currently available?
A1: The PP FAQ page states a response to a similar question: “Will high schools still have the rich elective options they currently have?” Response: “Absolutely. Access to electives is an important part of our high school experience and will not change as part of Personalized Pathways. Students will still have choice in taking courses outside of the pathway and in engaging in the rich selection of electives.”
This response seems to be at odds with the pathways that have been proposed to date. Specifically, the curriculum for the first PP greatly reduces the options for science courses available to students in grades 11 and 12. As I am in the West district, I will focus on that plan, although similar comments could be made about other plans. From page 46 of the West High Curriculum guide, a West High student currently has many science classes to choose from in grades 11 and 12 (earth science, general chemistry, general physics, biology2, biotechnology, math physics, general physics, advance biology, AP environmental science, AP chemistry, AP physics 2). In the curriculum for the first personalized pathway (Health Equity for Social Justice), students in grades 11 and 12 have the following options for science: medical terminology, Project lead the way (PLTW) human body systems, biotech career seminar, nursing assistant, PLTW medical interventions, biotech applications, anatomy and physiology (1.0), and AP biology. If a student in this pathway must take these pathway classes, there will not be enough time in the day to take the traditional science classes that are currently available at West.
Q2: Will the science courses that are currently offered at West remain offered in spite of limited resources and what may be reduced enrollment due to the addition of PP courses?
A2: Not yet available.
Q3: Assuming these courses will still be offered, will a student be able to opt out of PP PLTW courses but still receive credit for other science courses such as earth science, chemistry, physics, and so on? There is not enough time in the day to allocate other science courses to electives.
A3: Ed Hughes, MMSD Board member, has noted " I expect we'll make some changes to the design of the program to accommodate this. It shouldn't be the case that a student enrolling in the health sciences pathway is somehow precluded from taking AP science courses." We are waiting to see if other board members and the MMSD administration agree with this assessment, and if changes will be made to accommodate this.
Q4: Once the PP program is implemented wall-to-wall, will students have access to the art, music, and language options that are currently available?
A4: It seems that the answer is “no”. In the curriculum for the first personalized pathway (Health Equity for Social Justice), a student must choose Art (theatre, music, or visual art) OR a world language. And most universities require at least two years of a foreign language for admittance.
Implementation and evaluation of experiential learning opportunities. The first pathway involves field trips, guest speakers, mentors, case studies, mock interviews, and internships. It is not clear who will oversee and evaluate these activities, and how they will be assessed on an ongoing basis.
Q5: Will you please provide examples of the types of activities that students will engage in during the first pathway, with the names of mentors, guest speakers, and internship opportunities included.
A5: Not yet available.
Q6: Who will oversee the implementation and evaluation of these activities?
A6: Not yet available.
Q7: How will mentors be vetted and evaluated?
A7: Not yet available.
Q8: How will case studies and/or internships be structured and evaluated in such a way that ensures meaningful learning?
A8: Not yet available.
Evaluation of the PP program and its effect on all students. As noted in the background section of this website, the PP program is being put in place to close the achievement gap and, specifically, to improve graduation rates. Clearly, this is a problem that must be addressed. However, it is not clear that a program designed to improve graduation rates is ideal, or even suitable, for the majority of students in MMSD.
Q9: In addition to graduate rates, what criteria will be used to evaluate the PP program?
A9: Not yet available. Ed Hughes, MMSD board member, has noted "We will certainly be very interested in reviewing how the pathways are working before deciding on expanding the program beyond the first two pathways. I don't know what specific metrics we'll use, but it will certainly go beyond graduation rates."
Q10: How often will evaluations take place, and how will the results be made available to the teachers, parents, and students?
A10: Not yet available.