It’s Time for Madison Park To Get Some Respect
by Gary Kaplan
The Boston Globe Magazine’s recent article on vocational education (School of Work, 10/2/16) came down like a ton of raw concrete on Boston’s Madison Park Technical Vocational High School. One commentator blamed Madison Park for “vocational education’s tarnished reputation in Massachusetts” while another recommended scrapping the school altogether and “start[ing] over again.” There are legitimate reasons to be frustrated with Madison Park; but there are better options than the dumpster.
School ratings are based on MCAS scores. In 2015, Madison Park’s failure rate on the 10th grade math MCAS was 43%, one of the highest in the state, where overall failure was 3%. (Boston’s district rate was 15%.) This contributed to the state’s decision to lower the school’s rating to Level 4, which means “among the lowest achieving and least improving schools.” Many observers felt that the school had run out of options. But it hadn’t.
Executive Director Kevin McCaskill and Headmaster Shawn Shackelford made the strategic decision to bring in JFYNetWorks, a non-profit operator of blended learning instructional programs with a long history of raising student achievement. (Blended learning combines online instructional content with active teacher involvement in the process of instruction.) Online assessment and standards-aligned instruction were supported by close monitoring of student progress by vigilant teachers. When the 2016 MCAS results came in a few weeks ago, the math failure rate was shaved by 16 percentage points, a stunning improvement, and the combined Proficient and Advanced rate was up 7 points. (The state had no gain and the BPS district lost one point.) A four-year MCAS slide had been reversed.
Student performance on the MCAS is driven by mastery of the state curriculum standards. If instruction is not properly aligned to the standards, students will not be prepared for the MCAS (much less college or career). But getting instruction aligned need not require dismantling the school. At Madison Park, a carefully calibrated targeted innovation produced substantial improvement in the fundamental school function of instruction which was reflected in the resulting achievement measurements. There is still a long way to go, but a sustained focus on constructive targeted innovation in the classroom can keep the upward trend rising. Before we trash any underperforming school, we should first apply some constructive innovation. It’s already working at Madison Park.
Gary Kaplan is the executive director of JFYNetWorks.