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Madison Metropolitan School District

Equity Projects and Programs

Referenda 2020 would allow Madison’s public schools to continue and grow strategic equity projects aimed at disrupting societal and historical inequities and narrowing disparities based on race and socioeconomic status.

Research indicates that providing full-day 4-year-old kindergarten will increase academic gains to narrow opportunity gaps for our most vulnerable student populations.

Our Early College STEM Academy, a partnership with Madison College, focuses on diversifying the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

Our student literacy data tell us we have great variance in student reading proficiency with persistent gaps among our district’s low-income, English Learners, Special Education and African American/Black student populations compared to their same-age peers. We intend to support students in making strides in literacy by bringing them a new historically accurate, inclusive and culturally relevant, phonics-based reading curriculum for the 2021-2022 school year.Through our behavioral health in schools program, now at 13 of our schools with a plan to expand to 16 more this fall, clinical therapists provide comprehensive, integrated, culturally competent, trauma-informed mental health services in schools to children and families who otherwise likely wouldn’t receive it.

Equity in Literacy Instruction: New Literacy Content for all K–5 MMSD Classrooms

kids in a library

When students see their own lives and experiences reflected in the reading and writing materials in their classrooms, they become more engaged in learning. Over the years, our educators have thought deeply and critically about how to best identify and meet the literacy needs of diverse students – one of the most complex aspects of teaching and learning.

We’ve seen that our students participate more in active listening and written and artistic response when they can relate to the curriculum and are consistently exposed to a wide variety of content that is historically accurate, inclusive and culturally relevant. In addition, we value providing access to a structured phonics approach and opportunities for students to build knowledge through high-quality text to prepare them for success in middle and high school.

Kids reading

Our student literacy data tell us we have great variance in student reading proficiency with persistent gaps in our district’s English Learners, African American/Black students, students receiving Special Education and students from low-income families. We intend to change this with the goal of bringing our students a revived reading curriculum starting in the 2021-2022 school year. The Department of Curriculum & Instruction is currently leading the process of adopting new K-5 materials. Additional funds are required to adopt a high-quality program. MMSD was awarded a $40,000 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Quality Materials grant in 2019 in order to collaborate with multiple community and staff stakeholders and to explore and develop a vision for K-5 programming and a localized criterion used to research materials. It is our responsibility to provide and nurture an equitable culture of literacy in all of our MMSD classrooms through voice, choice and intentionality.

Find specific details on our literacy adoption journey here or in this recent podcast featuring a conversation with Department of Public Instruction staff on equitable instructional practices important for the future of MMSD.

Early College STEM Academy: Expanding STEM to Underrepresented Students

Students holding an MATC sign

Students of color are particularly underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. To increase STEM learning opportunities for our high school students and expand access to STEM-related college coursework, we’ve made a commitment to our students by partnering with Madison College to bring the Early College STEM Academy (ECSA) to MMSD students.

ECSA offers high school junior and senior students who meet academic and attendance requirements and express interest in STEM-related education or careers the opportunity to take STEM courses at Madison College. In addition to satisfying their high school graduation requirements, the students enrolled in ECSA either earn a significant number of transfer credits at no cost to them or their families, or satisfy the requirements of a Madison College Associate Degree program. The classes also help prepare students for entry into a four-year institution.

Cohort Success Rate

The first 26 participating students made incredible strides during ECSA’s inaugural 2018-2019 school year. Among the ECSA students, the average GPA was 3.5 out of 4.0, with 19 students qualifying for the Dean’s List and/or the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society in fall 2018. Our students completed, on average, 9.19 high school credits. One hundred percent (100%) of students earned 30+ college credits by the end of fall 2019 term and 81% are on track to earn 48+ college credits. Twenty-six students (100%) persisted from first to second semester and completed the spring 2019 semester. Twenty-five of 26 students are persisting from spring 2019 to fall 2019. These are incredible outcomes for the future of these students and the future of ECSA.

With a focus on students of color, first-generation college students and students who come from low-income households, the Early College Stem Academy promotes postsecondary success and uplifts the talents and brilliance of these underrepresented communities through early college access.

Full-Day 4K

MMSD currently offers partial-day 4K at 26 elementary schools and 27 Early Care and Education (ECE) sites. Enrollment is from March-Sept each school year.

There is a great deal of research that suggests that early learning opportunities for young children can impact their developmental trajectory throughout their life, as well as have a positive impact on families, communities and society. Research also indicates that providing full day 4K programming will increase academic gains to close achievement gaps for our most vulnerable student populations.

“For every dollar spent on early education you can get up to a 7 dollar return on your investment. This describes how individual productivity can be fostered by investments in young children, particularly children in poverty or other adverse circumstances.” (Heckman and Masterov, October 2004.)

“Many families need full-day programs for their 4-year-olds to accommodate parent work schedules, the evidence that full-day preschool education can meet child care needs and benefit children’s learning should be of high interest to parents and policymakers. Indeed, some children, particularly those in low-income working families, will miss out on high quality preschool education altogether if only a half-day public program is available.” (Robin, Frede, Barnett, May 2006)

Results from the Madison Education Partnership research (MEP research) indicate that:

  • Milwaukee Public School 4K students who attend full-day 4K obtained significantly higher growth scores on the Pre-K PALs literacy screener than MMSD 4K students
  • 4K students who are far behind at entry to preschool can develop vocabulary, math, and literacy skills that approach national norms if provided with extended-duration preschool that maintains reasonable quality standards
  • The added hours of preschool education were substantially effective at closing the achievement gap between these urban children and their more advantaged peers
  • Extended-day preschool of good quality had dramatic and lasting effects on children’s learning across a broad range of knowledge and skills
a smiling student in the library

Benefits of Full-Day 4K:

  • Greater access to play-based programming at community schools for economically disadvantaged families and families of color

  • Greater access to programming for working families (both parents working full-time jobs, shift work, etc.)

  • Increase core academic skill development including vocabulary, literacy, and math skills

  • Increase social and emotional skill development

  • Proactive in planning for future when the Department of Public Instruction potentially fully funds full-day 4K

  • Eliminate issues with current half-day program structures including the challenge for families to find child care for the other half of half-day programs

  • Eliminate transportation costs for mid-day routes (approximately $700,000 annually spent in costs for mid-day routes)

  • Eliminate additional transition for students from school to childcare

  • All students/siblings from elementary in one family unit can attend one school

  • Increase overall 4K enrollment numbers

Behavioral Health in Schools

Behavioral Health in Schools (BHS) is a program intended to improve student availability for learning by providing specialized mental health services in schools during the school day. Students in the target population (students who have significant mental health concerns that are interfering with learning and engagement, and who experience barriers to accessing support in the community) at the participating schools will be referred to these services. Clinicians provide direct therapy to students in addition to consultation and professional development with school staff.

BHS is part of MMSD’s mental health strategy and continuum of supports BHS is based on a partnership between MMSD, Catholic Charities, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, and UW-Madison. Through this partnership, mental health agencies provide access to mental health services within our 13 participating schools. Target populations for services include students who have significant mental health concerns that are interfering with learning and engagement, and barriers to accessing supports in our community. BHS serves 15-20 students per 0.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) clinician per school.


  • Number of schools in the 2019-20 school year = 13

  • Planned number of schools in 2020-21 after expansion = 16

  • Student served YTD = 216 students

  • % of students receiving Mental Health services for first time = 64%

  • % of students with Badgercare/Medicaid insurance = 81%

  • Sessions delivered (YTD) = 2,416

BHS implementation is dependent upon a braided funding model. Our ultimate program goal is for our BHS clinicians to spend 75% of the time in direct, reimbursable services. The rest of their time is spent providing care management and consulting with teachers and student services staff. The services will be provided by licensed mental health therapists provided by our two mental health agency partners: Catholic Charities and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. The mental health agencies directly bill the student’s insurance company. Contribution for non-reimbursable services, to pay for consultation and professional development, come from a variety of other funding sources, through a braided funding model, including the MMSD Board of Education, Student Services, a grant from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health’s Partnership Program , and other community partners.

The cost at each of the schools for a .5 clinician is $50,000/year which includes salary and administrative overhead. 50% or $25,000 is to come from agency billing for services through insurance companies. The other $25,000 (for non-reimbursable services) will be paid by MMSD from braided funding.

While we have not finalized an agreed upon end goal for BHS, we know there is a great need for further expansion. For the 2020-21, we will expand to an additional three schools for a total of 16 schools (11 elementary and 5 middle). The current MMSD budget of this program is $400,000 given the cost of $25,000 per school. A conservation vs. comprehensive approach to expansion are described here:

BHS Budget Landscape

It is important to note, as noted in this slide, that the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health’s Partnership Program grant that has been funding BHS is ending. We are expecting a $225k funding gap next year in order to continue operating in the planned 16 schools.

Source: MMSD BHS Core Team Meeting - April 2020


These are just some examples of our important, innovative equity work. Others include: