COVID-19 “Summer Slide” Targets Vulnerable Students

by Leilani McNeal, 15, and Leila Fletcher, 18

No question about it, a worldwide pandemic changed the 2020 school year. What’s so far unclear, according to new research, is the fallout. Many education experts say the fallout will be very bad, especially for America’s most vulnerable students.

The 2020 school year played out in new and different circumstances. COVID-19 caused school districts around the country to close buildings and pivot where possible to remote learning. And for a number of reasons this causes new concerns among parents and educators.

Academic achievement is the primary mission at Simpson Street Free Press. So, we decided to examine school closings and investigate the ramifications of online learning for students during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. [read more]

New Legal Article Explores Madison's Reading Crisis

Madison's School District Is Well-Resourced, but Has Literacy Gaps in Line with Poorer Districts

by Virginia Quach

According to a recent federal court decision, the ability to read, write, comprehend and analyze critical texts is a foundational skill that individuals must develop in order to obtain higher education, engage in political spheres, and exercise their democratic rights.

 This recent ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals essentially means that access to basic literacy is now recognized as a fundamental, constitutional right. The 6th Circuit Court also declared that the United States Constitution guarantees a “basic minimum education” and that must start with access to basic literacy.

But thousands of K-12 students in America, and incarcerated adults, remain functionally illiterate. Even in well-funded cities like Madison, Wisconsin most Black and Brown children continue to read well below grade level. Literacy experts and education researchers around the country project low reading scores will continue to cause mass incarceration and other racial disparities.  [read more]

Madison School Officials Consider Controversial Student Newspaper Policies

by Leila Fletcher, Kadjata Bah, and Leilani McNeal

Madison school officials will consider hiring an Ohio-based company known for policies that some say hinder the free speech rights of student journalists.

Two school board members and Interim Superintendent Jane Belmore met last month with representatives of Ohio-based NEOLA. NEOLA is a policy-writing firm often hired by school districts to write and implement policies for local boards and local administrators. [read more]

The Science of Reading

by Leila Fletcher, age 18

Simpson Street Free Press is invested in and applies the science of reading with our students. We have for decades.

It is true, however, that debates about reading instruction continue. Teachers and reading specialists continually discuss—and dispute—what methods of reading instruction are truly most effective, and ultimately, what method should be used in our schools. [read more]

Another Lost Decade: Madison's Reading Crisis Continues

by SSFP Editors

On the wall at Simpson Street is a feature editorial from the Wisconsin State Journal. The headline reads “Support State Reading Initiatives” and announces the launch of a bipartisan effort co-chaired by Tony Evers and Scott Walker. The editorial is dated September 12, 2012.

Local News and Numbers

Recent reports by Wisconsin State Journal, The Capital Times, Channel 3 News, Isthmus, and other news outlets paint a new, more tragic picture. Nothing has changed. Achievement gaps are worse.

Reporting on the latest round of Forward Exams, Logan Wroge of the Wisconsin State Journal points out that fewer than half of Wisconsin students are proficient or advanced in English/language arts or math, and that those numbers are going down. About 543,000 Wisconsin students in grades 3-8 took part in Forward Exams last school year. [read more]

Madison School Officials Propose Black Excellence Plan

By SSFP Editors

The term "Doom Loop" describes a vicious cycle. An attempted solution makes a situation worse by not addressing the root of the problem. In finance, this refers to the boom-bust structure that leads to economic crises. Sometimes Madison uses the same doom loops many times before learning hard lessons.

Local kids pay the price. [read more]

Make Reading Support Madison's Out-of-School Time Priority

by Helen Zhang, Sarah Useche, and Taylor Kilgore

Our community is long past due and immediate action is required. Madison kids can’t read. We will not successfully address this crisis, or the disparities that define our city, if we don’t first bridge achievement gaps. We will not bridge achievement gaps until all students can read.

Somewhat famously, Madison School Board member James Howard recently said “all the data around kids of color shows we have not gotten it right. Every one of us has a part of getting it wrong for students of color.” [read more]

Restorative Justice Alternatives Will Keep Kids in the Classroom

by Kadjata Bah, age 14; Teen Edtior: Simpson Street Free Press

The way that behavior is managed in schools can be crucial, especially in this time when “school-to-prison pipelines” are realities for many students. Schools are often quick to impose suspensions that leave students out of classrooms during school-day hours. This problem, however, does not impact all students equally. Across the country, Black students are three times as likely to be suspended than white students, according to findings of the Civil Rights Data Collection. Research shows that placing law enforcement officers in schools only adds to suspensions, expulsions, and even arrests. One way to challenge school-to-prison pipelines is to replace zero tolerance policies with Restorative Justice alternatives.

[read more]

AP Classes: Beneficial or Harmful?

by Virginia Quach, age 19

A growing debate in today’s education system concerns the idea of Advance Placement (AP) courses and whether they are actually beneficial to students or simply funding College Board, the organization that founded the AP system, at the expense of student learning.

During the time I was enrolled in my AP courses, I never saw their benefits. I was constantly stressed over content and preparing for exams. It was not until recently that I discovered the importance of those AP courses. They helped me improve my studying habits, prepare me for college-level work, and provide me with skills to be successful in multiple outlets of my life. [read more]

Mental Health Is an Ongoing Problem for Many College Students

by Brandon Alvarez, age 19

Have you ever considered the stress the average college student goes through? Or the many difficulties they face while studying for their careers and the problems these mental health issues can lead to?

Depression among college students is high with 36.4 percent reporting some kind of depression including feeling helplessness, overwhelmed, sadness, hopelessness, and powerless. A survey conducted by the Association of University and College Counseling Center directors in 2013 stated that depression is the main cause of college dropout students. If untreated, it can lead to serious problems later in life, including taking one’s own life. [read more]

Editorial: My Madison ACT Experience

by Amie Kabera, age 17

As a junior at La Follette High School, the majority of my school year was focused on preparing for the ACT college entrance exam. The ACT test plays a big role in determining college acceptance, in addition to GPA and other factors. As a student, it sometimes feels like it determines your entire future. Achieving a high score on the ACT greatly improves a student’s chance of being accepted to tougher universities or colleges. High scores can also mean scholarships and more financial aid. For me, scoring well on the ACT would allow me to branch out, leave Madison, thrive in my potential field, and to reach my ultimate goal of becoming a lawyer representing underserved people from diverse communities.

My spring semester focused largely on my three core classes—English, history, and science—and heavily on preparing for the ACT. I was also enrolled in a program called AVID (Advanced, Via, Individual, and Determination), a pre-college academic readiness program that allows students to visit colleges within Wisconsin. The AVID program also helps students develop organizational skills such as how to take Cornell notes. In college you must take notes in a clear, concise way. Eduardo Castillo is a senior at La Follete High School. He agrees that AVID has a lot to offer as a course. “It has given me a sense of direction when thinking and speaking about college readiness. AVID makes sure we as a class feel comfortable to use our resources.” [read more]