Action Alert: Tell the Madison School Board to vote NO on District Management Group and postpone the vote on the class size policy

UPDATE: The contract with District Management Group has been pulled from tonight’s board meeting agenda. Here is the official word from the MMSD administration:

“While this work is very important to serving our children in special education, we have decided to pull the item from vote tonight. Our goal would be to bring an option back at the end of January.”

In the meantime, class size is still on the agenda. Please come to the board meeting if you can!

Tell the school board to vote NO on the contract with District Management Group to develop new staffing models for special education in MMSD.

District Management Group (DMGroup) is a controversial consulting firm that has been criticized for gutting staffing and services for special education students under the guise of inclusion, and creating “cookie cutter” solutions not tailored to individual districts. MMSD wants to pay DMGroup $165,000 for two years of consulting services even though the Frederick County, Maryland school district terminated their contract with them, and parents in Minneapolis have fought their special education “reforms.”

Tell the school board to postpone the vote on the proposed Class Size Policy until January and ensure optimal class sizes for all grade levels and subjects.

The proposed class size policy is an improvement over the current policy, but it doesn’t go far enough. Concerns are described below. The school board should take more time to work out these issues. We don’t support passing this policy as currently written.

Here are talking points and background information for these two action items. There is a lot here. Please pick a few points and keep your message brief.

District Management Group (DMGroup)

  • MMSD should not enter into a contract with DMGroup because their approach is focused on reducing costs without necessarily meeting the needs of all special education students. DMGroup’s own reports state that their approach doesn’t entirely address the needs of children with severe disabilities and autism, and English Language Learners.
  • DMGroup’s approach to “inclusion” doesn’t fit our community and district’s vision for inclusive special education. Their approach is to reduce special education staffing, add special education to the work of regular classroom teachers, and exclude high-needs students from regular classrooms and schools. As demonstrated by recent and ongoing problems in some MMSD schools, adequate staffing with licensed special education teachers and SEAs is critical for the inclusion of all children with disabilities in regular classrooms.
  • MMSD has an office dedicated to special education. Our district is also privileged with having one of the top universities in the country in regard to inclusive education. We should be tapping into our local resources, rather than bringing in organizations that lack connections to our schools and community.

Background on DMGroup (District Management Council is part of this group):

Cashing In On Special Needs Kids:

Frederick County Public Schools ends contract with controversial special education consultant:

Class size policy

  • Since introducing the proposed class size policy on Dec. 11, the MMSD administration and school board members have made some important changes. These include stronger reporting requirements and capping teaching loads for core subjects at 135 pupils. Please thank the board for working toward a strong class size policy and making these important changes.
  • The board should postpone their vote on this policy until January so other important changes can be made. Because the proposed policy is not a radical departure from current practice in the district, there is no reason to rush the process.
  • The policy allows special and elective class sizes of 40 in middle and high schools, This is too big. The proposed policy should specify a smaller, “optimal” size for these classes.
  • The policy calls for most high school classes to be canceled if enrollment is under 15 students. (There are exceptions for special education courses, ELL and advanced learning offerings, and a few other courses.) Under this policy, some popular high school elective classes—including courses in women’s studies and social justice—could have been canceled before they got underway, because it took a few years for their popularity to build. Principals should have full discretion to offer electives with low enrollment.
  • The policy should state that staffing allocations will target “optimum” rather than maximum class sizes.
  • 4th and 5th grade classes at high poverty schools should have smaller optimum and maximum class sizes.
  • The 15-student minimum is too high for high-poverty elementary schools. Principals need discretion to have sections of 13 or 14 students to achieve optimal class sizes and stay within maximum class sizes.
  • The board should take extra time to ensure the definition of high-poverty schools in this policy will maximize the impact of class size reduction. Research shows that small class sizes particularly improve achievement for low-income and African American students.
  • Finally, please thank the board for investing in class size reduction and additional SEAs this school year.

Thank you! Together, we can make a difference.

Madison SCAPE (School Community Alliance for Public Education)
Madison Education Collective