One Contested Seat — Madison School Board


I had been thinking about a post asking and speculating why Madison would have two consecutive school board elections without contested seats (I’m still interested in the lack of candidates, may post on it later and would love to read your thoughts in the comments); instead I get to write about the contest between Board president Arlene Silveira and newcomer Donald Gors Jr.

If you follow school politics in Madison, you already know enough to have formed an impression of Arlene Silveira (mine is complicated and contradictory, I think she is solid, caring, I share many beliefs with her but also disagree on some things in both policy and governance style…).  Gors is a mystery.

A little Internet searching sheds some light.

In 2004, in the midst of a difficult budget season, Gors testified before the MMSD finance committee. I’m not sure what to make of what he said, so I’m just going to quote the minutes:

Don Gors, parent, stated that the district should be expanding services to children and the need for flexibility in meeting the needs of society, however, things could not be done in the same way. Suggested that the district stop late buses and cab rides. He asked that they not do what constituents think but involve the teachers more and change the delivery of services and make the community accountable.

Maybe it made more sense when you heard the whole thing?

Dors and his spouse also had a letter on Mathematics education published in the State Journal in 2005.  Again, I’m going to quote the entirety:

Children are confused

My three children attend Madison public schools in grade 10 at Memorial High School, and sixth and eighth grades at Jefferson Middle School. We have seen how the introduction of numerous elementary and middle school math programs have negatively impacted our children during these past 10 years.

We have noticed that if your child is in grades four, six, eight or 10 (the years our children are tested), that during the first two months of school our children are exposed to an explosion of different math challenges that seem to be all over the map. Our children come home confused and mad, and when we look at the math they are struggling to learn, there appears to be no fundamental building block for the learning of it. My wife and I have come to the conclusion our children are exposed to the variety of math challenges because they may be on the test.

Be careful when you hear the data being thrown around by our administrators and our Wisconsin DPI. We know when our children are struggling. If our kids can’t do the basic math of addition, subtraction, division, multiplication, fractions, decimals (without a calculator) and do four-step word problem-solving by the end of grade six your child needs help!

One size never, ever fits all. When will our educators take it as their failure to teach and not our children’s failure to learn?

I like the skepticism toward the test data, and the call not blame children for their lack of progress (although all students need to be encouraged to take charge of their educations) but the rest seems, well “confused.”

The last thing I’m going to share  a letter that Dors and his spouse sent to the County Board in June of 2008 (full County Board Minutes with letter here, letter extracted here).   It is too long to reproduce, but I do want to give the flavor with a relatively long excerpt (I do suggest reading the whole thing):

Dear, All Dane County Supervisors:

What happens when times get tough …. all the issues which have been given less attention start to come to the top.

(Land Purchases, RTA, Smoking Bans, Building Jails, Lack of Accountability Methods Over Safety -Security-Basic Needs!)

Just watch as a perceived good company goes bad…what causes it to go bad? Does it happen over night or is there signs that things are going south? Maybe that’s why people say follow the money…it has been learned that is true….in all Business and Government Operations!

South..Bad…Sour…Politics before Process, maybe this is the direction that some of this Counties Supervisors are allowing Dane County to be taken…

What I mean here is when times are good more and more things are not looked at or looked after because moral is up, perceived money is coming in and money is being spent but….then all of a sudden when things slow down the money has been over spent on things that are not center to it’s core business of operation…accounting faults are found and then what …whose left with the problem?

In business the first thing that goes are employees the last thing that happens is management is dismantled and then the business is shut down.

In government the first thing that happens is a request to increase Taxes surfaces. An attempt to remove the focus from what needs to be focused on. (What Dane County spending money on?). Past and Present!

Then some will try to bring others around to what’s important (Accountability, Responsibility) then all of a sudden a spin surfaces scaring others that Services will be diminished if Taxes are not increased.
Children will begin to suffer, those who you have made dependent on Government are made the main focus when the focus really should be on You, The Administration, A Public Accounting …where has the money gone, what has the money been spent on?

You see Government never looks at itself first, how Government is spending the money, is there a value for the majority when Government makes a decision on what to spend money on?

You get further and further away from asking yourself one question: Will this expense or decision help or hurt our tax paying community?

The kicker comes about two pages later:

No new taxes until we the Public have been given a full accounting of all money spent from 2000 to 2008.” (emphasis in the original).

Looks like Arlene will be getting my vote.

Thomas J. Mertz


Filed under education, Elections, Local News

2 responses to “One Contested Seat — Madison School Board

  1. In reference to “Children are Confused” I think on one hand he is right and the other a tad confused.

    Most district tests guide instruction, whereas, the state are more normative. It gives little information about how ones children are doing, but a breadth of information how one group, state, or individual are doing compared to others. The district bean counters get really excited about the latter data, most teachers prefer the former.

    The tests he refers to tend to be taken in the fall which actually give little information about how a 4th grader is doing on 4th grade content because the year just began. If we wanted to know how Johnny has mastered 4th grade content we’d do it in June not October.

    There is a belief that some students do poorly not because of the content but because tests are a genre kids have little awareness of. In a NCLB world this argument probably has less validity. Because of this there is quite a lot of emphasis of practicing those state tests in the setting the real ones will be taken in.

    Ideally, the emphasis should be on the genre or format not the content specifically. One example in math would be input boxes where students apply a rule. So, a child may very well know how to count up or down by 2 or 3, but the input boxes on the tests may be foreign. I would also add that those practice weeks tend to go beyond the genre practice.

    I would agree with him in that students are being exposed to the content in a rush fashion because its on the test, and that it lacks pedagogical logic. The norm is two weeks of “practice” and then two weeks of “tests” and then a week for makeup.

    Overall, I think he is as confused as many about the function of these state tests. I had one parent try to argue teachers were deflating grades so they would not qualify for Doylie’s Covenant program. The parent’s argument was since his son received advanced (almost an 80 point range) that somehow a grade of B in Math was entirely unjustified. The point being many wrongly assume these normative tests assess individual ability or mastery which they do not.

    I would concur that Arlene would be the better bet.

  2. Donald Gors

    Dear Readers: I didn’t know I had created such interest with my past responses from 2004, 2005 and 2008. Thank you for your opinions and feedback.

    Are our Math Students in Madison doing well? As per the Math Task Force response regarding Geometry in Madison the Average Graduating Grade is some where around a C Minus to D. Does that speak well of our Math Programs?

    Where has the Excellence in Madison Schools Gone?

    While our children attended Crestwood Elementary School as a parent of three daughters I started to see a change in just 6 short years.

    Even though our children had many of the same Teachers while attending elementary school the process of math radically changed from learning how to subtract, multiply, divide, percents and fractions.

    My wife and I saw this change in our youngest daughter, it wasn’t just in Math but in the entire Elementary school Program at Crestwood.

    Although she has symbol and number deciphering concerns, she and other students that followed were allowed to Guess at their Math answers (No Correction was made). Spelling was all about sounding out a word and spelling how it sounds to you! Using the tool of writing and spelling stopped. The process of learning was very free form in the classrooms as well as the many daily distractions.

    There was never any correction in her Middle School years either. In 9th. Grade Alegebra they are allowed to complete a section of Math called Essentials until they have it correct it doesn’t matter how many times it takes a student to complete the Essentials portion. The student always is given a 60 and it counts 100%.

    Can you see how maybe this could cause students to believe that maybe they don’t really have to pay attention or be responsible for learning how to solve problems when they are allowed to just do it and do it until they get it right…

    How many times can you or I do something wrong and nothing will be said?

    Mr. Mertz or Nate do you have children in the school district?

    I wouldn’t be saying much if I didn’t have a daughter who must find a way to adapt to a more verbal teaching environment. Our first two daughters fit the Teaching Models Used Frequently in Madison Schools but if you have ever had a child who just doesn’t get it, needs a different method of how information is presented to them then maybe you might begin to understand what I have written.

    The majority of students in Madison are struggling compared to just 10 years ago.

    These are the children we must help. Madison students go to school and it’s up to those in the educational profession to find a way to help All children become productive adults.

    I know how hard we have had to work outside of school because school is not adapting quickly to the needs of the students it is serving.

    Don Gors

    P.S. There is a difference when people see others struggle and are dedicated to helping meet the resource needs of our students.

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