Smarter than the CEO

Wired’s James Surowiecki has an interesting look at authoritarian vs democratic governance cultures (he argues that collective intelligence is far more effective, than a top down structure)

Instead of looking to a single person for the right answers, companies need to recognize a simple truth: Under the right conditions, groups are smarter than the smartest person within them. We often think of groups and crowds as stupid, feckless, and dominated by the lowest common denominator. But take a look around. The crowd at a racing track does an uncannily good job of forecasting the outcome, better in fact than just about any single bettor can do.

NPR: Key to a Good Math Teacher?

NPR’s All Things Considered: Experts Say Best Instructors Spot Where Students Go Wrong:

Research shows that teachers with degrees in the subjects they teach are more successful. That’s the reason behind teacher-certification requirements in the federal No Child Left Behind education law.
But as Robert Frederick reports, not all mathematicians are successful math teachers. Most could use some help in becoming calculating sleuths. Education experts note that most advanced math programs are geared toward theoretical as opposed to practical instruction.
It’s not enough to know math, says Judith Ramaley of the National Science Foundation. Teachers “also need to understand how the minds of young people work, and how to diagnose� the kinds of tangles kids get into,” she says.

Would Shakespeare Get Into Swarthmore?

John Katzman, Andy Lutz, and Erik Olson write: How several well-known writers (and the Unabomber) would fare on the new SAT.

In the summer of 2002 the College Board announced its plans to change the SAT. The new test will (surprise, surprise) contain several higher-level algebra questions, will no longer contain analogies questions, and will�as part of a whole new section on “writing”�includ an essay question. It is scheduled to be administered for the first time in March of next year.
To illustrate how the essays on the “new” SAT will be scored, The Princeton Review has composed some typical essay questions, provided answers from several well-known authors, and applied the College Board’s grading criteria to their writing.

Barbara Schrank: Madison School Board needs more thoughtful budget process

It’s true, there isn’t any windfall to be found in next year’s Madison school budget. But small changes in the budget could have a major effect on Madison’s families and direct educational services to our children.
The following opinion piece was published in The Capital Times on Saturday, May 29, 2004.
http://www.madison.com/captimes/opinion/column/guest/75315.php

Continue reading

Music Education Important – US House of Representatives Resolution

RESOLUTION RECOGNIZING BENEFITS AND IMPORTANCE OF SCHOOL-BASED MUSIC EDUCATION PASSED BY US HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PASSES MUSIC EDUCATION RESOLUTION
On May 4, 2004 the United States House of Representatives approved a
resolution supporting music education. We encourage you to send a
letter to your congressperson thanking him or her for supporting music
in schools. It’s very easy to do, just visit www.house.gov/writerep
and enter your zip code. You will be linked right away to a form to
contact your representative. You can encourage your students and
parents to write to their representative as well.
For a complete listing of sponsors and votes on this resolution, visit http://thomas.loc.gov and enter “H Con Res 380” in the “Bill Number”
field.

Continue reading

Good Teachers + Small Class Sizes = Quality Education

Barb Williams forwarded this article by Michael Winerip, and asked me to post it (“It is, I believe, the sum of all we need in education–period, the end”):

The secret to quality public education has never been a big mystery. You need good teachers and you need small enough classes so those teachers can do their work. Period. After that, everything seems to pale, including the testing accountability programs, technology, building conditions. Even curriculum seems secondary, as our best public colleges demonstrate. We have West Point and we have Berkeley, and the question isn’t which has the correct curriculum; the question is which curriculum is the best fit for the student and teacher.
Parents get this. Joe Gipson, a black parent from Sacramento who feels that black students are too often shortchanged, told me the best thing that happened to his children’s school was the California law capping class size at 20 through third grade. You can still have incompeten

Organizing for Adequacy

Tom Beebe writes:

Wisconsin�s public school system is arguably the most important component
of our high quality of life. It has historically been part of the �village�
that raises intelligent, motivated, and successful participants in both
public and economic life.
The quality we have known for decades, however, is under siege. Unless we
act soon to change the way we fund public education, more schools will
close, school districts will begin to disappear, communities will wither,
and our children will lose sight of the future we promised them.

Continue reading

Budget Email

I sent this email to comments@madison.k12.wi.us this evening

I am writing, first to thank you for the time and effort you devote to the MMSD.
Second, I’m writing to find out why some of you voted recently to increase administrative compensation ($589K), while at the same time eliminating gym instructors AND increasing student fees?
Perhaps there is an opportunity to re-think this? I would suggest telling the administrators to find 589K from their budget to fund the comp increase. In return, the student fee increases can be rolled back and perhaps a few more gym instructors retained.
Let’s fund student curriculum & programs first, then deal with administrative costs.
Best wishes –

Links: Gym Instructor Reductions | Admin Compensation Increases

Next Steps – A Vision with a Roadmap

Believe me when I say that I never intended to spend my time over the past three years studying the MMSD budget, even though I have worked professionally with very large budgets. But I love public education, and I love the fine arts. My husband is principal bassist in the MSO and a music teacher in MMSD. My daughter is a young violinist in WYSO�s Concert Orchestra and middle school student at Velma Hamilton. I live in a city that invests heavily in its future as a center for the performing arts, and I love my city and the diversity of its neighborhoods.
So two years ago, when Superintendent Art Rainwater proposed to eliminate Grade 4 strings, one of the school district�s gateway programs, I was alarmed. I began to ask questions, and I�ve learned a lot. Over the next several months, I’ll be commenting on this website in more detail about next steps for the budget process.
With all the focus on cuts to education, more than anything else I believe what is needed now is a vision for the Madison public schools and the specific funding (public investment in schools) that would be needed for the future of Madison�s public schools over the next 3-5 years. This budget cycle Board members were unable to get to the point to seriously discuss whether to go to a referendum or not, because they do not have a roadmap to guide them. I was at these meetings and witnessed the lack of a decisionmaking framework that comes from not having a vision and roadmap.
From my personal business experience and my recent immersion in the District�s school budget process, I�ve learned there are no shortcuts to budgeting. It�s critically important to have a vision, measurable overall and specific goals and objectives for that vision and strategies to reach your vision. Madison�s School Board has some of those pieces, but I�m hoping they take the time to develop and to refine their vision for the next 3-5 years and that they engage the community in that process.
I’ve watched for three budget cycles as the School Board’s budget process in the spring revolves around managing the Superintendent’s proposed cuts to the Madison School budget. These cuts represent less than 5% of a $300+ million school budget. Yearly, the school budget is approved without any information on what departments actually will be doing with the money next year.
Madison’s schools and the School Board need to find another way to work through the yearly budget process. However, until the School Board has developed a 3-5 year vision for the schools with measurable goals and objectives by school department don’t be surprised if we end up in the same place next year – panicked parents and a chagrined community distrustful of its School Board’s decisions.
Madison needs more from its School Board members than simply threats of cut services if we don’t pass a referendum. The Board needs to understand that the support of grass roots efforts in the community will be critical to passing a future referendum.

Continue reading

Ideas to Close the Education Gap

Alan J. Borsuk writes about efforts to close the education gap between black & white students:

In Wisconsin the gap is so wide that black eighth-graders and white fourth-graders had almost identical scores in math on a national standardized test given in 2003. The gap between white and black eighth-graders was larger in Wisconsin than in any other state in both reading and math on that set of tests.

There’s been quite a bit of discussion on Bill Cosby’s recent speech at Howard University. The Washington Post’s Colbert I. King says simply: “Fix it, Brother“. Debra Dickerson also comments on her blog.

“Debacle” at East High School

Highly respected East High School biology teacher Paul de Vair, who chairs the school’s National Honor Society Selection Committee, wrote a two-and-a-half page memo to Principal Catherine Tillman on May 7.
It starts, “I am writing this letter to formally protest the debacle involving six honor students who were elected to the National Honor Society by the Selection Committee and who were denied membership on the day of the induction ceremony.”
He goes through the details of “the mess you (Tillman) created,” resigns as chair of the Selection Committee, and concludes in italics, ” Never in my 40 years in education (which includes MTI and WEAC presidencies and terms on the NEA Board of Directors) have I seen a faculty’s spirit and enthusiasm plunge so rapidly as it has in the last 2 years at East High School.”
Mr. du Vair’s memo seems to be a public document, so I assume that I’m not violating any confidences by quoting it. He copied it to President, Board of Education; Superintendent of Schools; NHS Selection Committee; East High School Administration; EHS Faculty and Staff.
Ed Blume

Look before you leap: a good rule for public budget making?

The Madison School District owes strong support to its administrators, especially our building principals. Without the hard work and long hours of our administrators, we could not serve our children as well as we do. Nonetheless, in tough financial times, the School Board must not approve wage and benefit increases for administrators until it carefully considers the impact of the increases on future budgets. On May 17, the Madison Board violated this principle of good stewardship.

Continue reading

Four votes for new budget process

Ruth Robarts offered an excellent model for rationally crafting a goal-specific budget for the MMSD, and we all surely support it. But how are we going to make it happen? The Superintendent won’t adopt it willingly, so we’re faced with requiring the Superintendent to use the process. That means getting four board members to vote for the requirement. How are we going to make that happen? We’d need some sort of campaign to get the four votes. Would we need a big public splash like a one-day conference to learn about the budget model? Could we get the job done by privately talking with board members? Again, how do we proceed to get the board to adopt the budet model proposed by Ruth?
Ed Blume

Technology & Cheating…

Nicole Sweeney updates us on several technology related cheating events in the Milwaukee area:

At Waterford Union High School, a handful of students stole the answers to their physics exam and programmed the answers into their graphing calculators.
At Racine Park High School, a student used her camera phone to send a photo of her test to a friend.
And at Walden III Middle and High School in Racine, some students tape-recorded their notes to play back on hidden ear phones during exams.

Schools Lose / Business Services Gains in 2004-2005 MMSD Budget

The recently approved budget was a winner for some and a loser for other MMSD Departments, most notably funding for schools. The 2004-2005 budget approved on May 17, 2004 is $308 million.
A. Budget Winners – Increases Over Previous Year’s Budget
Business Services 7%
General Administration 6%
Educational Services (spec. ed/bilingual) 1%
Business Services and General Administration increased $3.8 million
B. Budget Losers – Decreases Over Previous Year’s Budget
Elementary Education -1%
w/o Assist. Supt. Office -2%
Secondary Education -1%
w/o Assist. Supt. Office -2%
The Elementary and Secondary school budgets with direct teaching to students decreased $1.4 million.
When there is no money, shouldn’t all increases in spending first to to instruction – the children? Why are we seeing increases in Business Services when there are decreases in 130 teachers and new school fees? Why did the School Board approve more than $500,000 increases in salaries and wages for administrative contracts just minutes before authorizing the reduction of 130 teachers and $300,000 in new fees? Robarts, Vang, and Winston were right to vote against a budget that does not put the education of Madison’s children first. The majority of Board members (Carstensen, Clingan, Keys and Lopez) voted for these changes. Why?
Complete comparison can be downloaded: Download file
Note: The MMSD budget document notes that due to a new accounting system put into place that enters actual salaries vs. average salaries the 02-03 expenditures and 03-04 budget have crosswalk variances to the 04-05 budget. Contact the Business Services office with any specific questions.

MMSD Salary/Benefit Changes – Non-Instruction Greater Than Instruction

Salary and benefits comprise nearly 85% of the MMSD’s $308 million school budget. When you look at the approved 2004-2005 budget and compare salary and benefits to 2002-2003 expenditures for the same, you see that Instruction increased 1% while salary and benefits expenditures for Business Services increased 6% and for MSCR the increase was 18% over a two-year period.
The complete comparison is contained in the file: Download file
Note: The MMSD budget document notes that due to a new accounting system put into place that enters actual salaries vs. average salaries the 02-03 expenditures and 03-04 budget have crosswalk variances to the 04-05 budget. Contact the Business Services office with any specific questions.

School Board Balances Final Budget on the Backs of Some Kids

On Monday, May 17th, the MMSD School Board made less than $1 million in changes to Mr. Rainwater’s proposed $308 million budget for the 2004-2005 school year. These changes were made right after the Board approved more than $500,000 in salary and benefits increases to Administrators. The primary changes later made to the 2004-2005 budget were made by increasing existing fees (sport fees to $115/sport) and creating a new elementary strings fee of $50 per participant. The increase in fees for 2004-2005 totaled more than $300,000.
Robarts, Vang and Winston were right to vote against the proposed 2004-2005 school budget. Ruth Robarts’ call for an alternative budgeting approach is needed now. Reasons for her approach are outlined further in the following commentary that is also being submitted as a Letter to the Editor.

Continue reading

Email to Board of Education

I sent this mail to the Madison Board of Education regarding the current budget discussions (comments@madison.k12.wi.us):
First, thank you for all that you do. You truly have a thankless role on the MMSD BOE.
I am writing to pass along a few comments on the current board budget deliberations:
a) I urge you to apply reduced spending increases or in some cases reductions, across the budget, rather than attempt to load fees onto a few programs (Keep in mind that Madison’s 308+m budget is much richer than many other like sized communities). This strikes me as the ONLY fair approach.

Continue reading

Board Watch

Don Severson sent this email over the weekend regarding Monday’s BOE meeting (5.17.2004) :

Please join me (Don Severson) in a MMSD Board of Education watch Monday evening, May 17 at about 6:00 p.m. The agenda is copied below. The Board will start discussing amendments to the 04-05 budget proposed by Supt. Rainwater sometime by 6:00. The Board will ostensibly make decisions on $9.9 million worth cuts and changes to the budget. The rules of the Board discussion on the budget preclude public input at this meeting.
It is critical, however, that we have a strong show of community interest in
their deliberations.

Continue reading

ACE Presentation to School Board

Don Severson forwarded his presentation to the Madison School Board Thursday evening:

Inasmuch as the BOE and district administration are engaged in the leadership of an educational enterprise this is a good time to reflect on our experiences in the operation of the system and its processes. Let me suggest a �lesson plan�. This lesson plan has been prepared for the BOE and administrative leadership of the district and intended for their collaborative planning and implementation with teachers, parents, students and the community.

Continue reading

International Biotech Summit on Curriculum

M.R.C. Greenwood, provost and SVP of academic affairs for the University of California System kicked off the Summit with some comments on US Elementary School Curriculum:

The biggest problem in moving ideas from the lab to the marketplace, said Greenwood, is a massive drought of brainpower looming in the United States’ near future. As the National Science Foundation’s recently released Science & Engineering (S&E) Indicators 2004 report revealed, the number of U.S. jobs requiring science and engineering skills is growing at nearly 5 percent annually, compared with a 1 percent growth rate for the rest of the U.S. labor market. Yet there are not nearly enough qualified U.S. scientists and engineers to meet the demand. In the past the nation has relied on skilled foreign-born workers, but many are choosing to work in other countries in response to increasingly strict U.S. visa requirements and burgeoning global demand for their skills.
With Asian countries now conferring more science and engineering bachelor’s degrees and Europe more such Ph.D.’s than the United States, “our biggest national security problem is the number of students interested in science and math,” said Greenwood.

Copenhagen Consensus Project on The Learning Deficit

Harvard’s Lant Pritchett writes in a new paper for the Copenhagen Consensus Project:

There are many ways to press forward this kind of systemic reform, Mr Pritchett argues. Vouchers and a �market� for education might work well in some circumstances, but other approaches could achieve good results too in some cases: school autonomy (as granted to �charter schools� in the United States, for instance), decentralisation of control, community management, and the use of non-government providers, could all, Mr Pritchett argues, serve the goal of structural reform that he regards as necessary if the application of extra resources is to succeed.
One striking indication of how easy it is to spend money fruitlessly in education comes from the rich countries. According to one study cited by Mr Pritchett, Britain increased its real spending per pupil by 77% between 1970 and 1994; over the same period, the assessment score for learning in maths and science fell by 8%. Australia increased its real spending per pupil by 270%; its pupils� scores fell by 2%. Extra spending by itself is likely to be no more successful in the poor countries than it has been in the rich.

MMSD Elementary School Multi-age Classrooms

Roger Allen forwarded a note to me from the Mad_School_Imp Yahoo Group

On 5/11/04 the Elvejhem Elementary School held an informational meeting about its decsion to proceed with all multiage classrooms
(combined grade classrooms) for grades 2-5. There will not be any single grade classrooms for these grades.
The MMSD Lead Elementary Principal Jennifer Allen announced that multiage classrooms are the model the school district is moving to. She complemented Elvejhem for holding this meeting as many of the schools that are moving to this model will be doing so next fall without any such informational meetings.
Many parents were upset by their lack of options and the lack of consultation on the part of the district. Eleven teachers attended this meeting in addition to the shcool prinicpal and the district lead principal. The teachers presented a united front in favor of the multiage classrooms. However, there are other teachers who privately oppose this move. Twenty five parents attended the meeting.

Budget Hearing – Elementary Strings Update

At the May 13th MMSD Budget Hearing parents and community representatives spoke against the proposed elementary string fee, calling it outrageous and equivalent to cutting the program.
“We are not a good-things-come-to-those-who pay town,” said parent Maureen Rickman, adding that the proposed fee would “cut out a big chunk of the students [in the middle income range].”
This coming Monday, May 17, the Board will begin the process of voting on the budget amendments. It is expected that they will start with those amendments that involve personnel because layoff notices need to go out before the end of the school year.

Continue reading

B Sharp Not Flat

In an effort to find funding for custodians and maintenance work, a Madison Board member proposed an unprecedented $460 fee for elementary strings, which is an academic curriculum subject in the Madison School District. No other fee, not even for extracurricular sports is as high.
He noted as part of his explanation for the fee that he starts high in a negotiation so as not to bargain away his position. Other Board member recommendations for changes to the MMSD 04-05 budget tried to minimize the impact on children’s instruction and opportunity to participate in activities beneficial to their education.
If the MMSD School Board wants the City of Madison’s support, I hope they take better care than to make extreme recommendations on a targeted group of students. The following Letter to the Editor, which has been sent in to the papers but not yet published asks for fairness and responsible decisionmaking when it comes to all academic curriculum.

Continue reading

88 Years to Close Achievement Gap!

Based on a recent front-page story in Isthmus and other data provided by MMSD, here are some conclusions about closing the achievement gap at the advanced level of the third grade reading tests.
1. Eight schools increased the percentage of African American kids scoring advanced between the 1997-1998 and 2002-2003 school years.
Nine schools showed a decrease.
Seven schools showed no change.
2. Twelve schools had no African-American students in the advanced category in the 1997-98 year.
Nine had no students in advanced in 2002-2003.
Five school had none in 1997-98 and 2002-03.
3. Between the 1997-98 school year and the 2002-2003 school year, the percentage of African-American students scoring advanced rose from 8.03% to 10.08% — an increase of .4% per year.
4. At the current rate of increase, it will take almost 88 years to close the achievement gap at the advanced level! (In 2002-2003, 45% of the white students scored advanced. (45% – 10% = 35 divided by .4 = 88.)

Guru Parulkar on US Education Curriculum

From Dave Farber’s [IP] List (Farber is Distinguished Career Professor of Computer Science and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon): Guru Parulkar writes:

I read this posting with a lot of interest because I also grew up in India and have been following changes in US and in India (as an ordinary interested citizen) for the past 20 years since I came to this country. I was a bit surprised with the generalizations about both India and US suggested in the email from Slashdot.
India is a big country with a lot of diversity. The type of value system as well as exposure to science/engineering implied in the Slashdot posting (children writing essays about getting Nobel prize, children growing up aspiring to be pioneers in science and technology) apply to a small cross-section of the society. I don’t think it applies to India in general or even to the majority in India. It is definitely true that the large middle class in India puts tremendous emphasis on education. However, the reason for this emphasis has been that careers in engineering and medicine have been the only way to make descent living. Right or wrong (like it or not) at a very early age kids recognize (because parents and society drill it down) that unless they do well in academics, they wouldn’t be able to get into engineering or medicine and thus not have a descent life. And so kids get serious about education and they start to respect other kids who do well in the school. It is not the “love of science or innovation” that has been making people serious about education. It is simply the financial rewards down the road. A lot of us Indians here in US wonder if this academic pressure on kids in India is appropriate because this means kids study and study and don’t have time to learn, enjoy, and experience other stuff that matter too in life.

Continue reading

School Board Budget Amendments – Keys Proposes Elementary Strings Students Pay for Custodians and Building Maintenance

On Wednesday, May 5th, six of seven Madison School Board members turned in their budget amendments to the Superintendent’s proposed 04-05 MMSD School Budget. Along with their budget amendments, school board members handed in recommendation on how they would “fund” their recommended changes to the Superintendent’s proposed budget.

Continue reading

MMSD Administration’s Cost Analysis of Elementary Strings is Out of Tune – A Critique

If the City of Madison is to have confidence in the School Board’s decisions, a fair and equitable budget process that is clear and understandable to the public is essential.
In late April 2004, the District Administration responded to the Bill Keys’ question about the cost of the District’s elementary strings program. The following letter to the School Board is a critique of that analysis which concluded the budget and curriculum information presented to the Board on elementary strings was done in a manner inconsistent with other cost studies and was incomplete.

Continue reading

String ’em up – Strings Hits the Isthmus

In an article by Vikki Kratz in the Isthmus, published on May 7, 2004, the author wonders if the MMSD is tone deaf.
“Bill Keys, president of the Madison Board of Education, recently asked for a budget analysis of the popular 4th and 5th grade strings program. … The move by Keys was the last straw for Rick Neuenfeldt, the district’s coordinator of fine arts, who says he can no longer work in the district’s anti-arts atmosphere. ”
The analsysis that exasperated the District’s Fine Arts Coordinator was not prepared by him, but by District business professionals, unfamiliar with the academic curriculum. The analysis stated that a fee to cover the costs of the program would need to be nearly $500 per academic year.
The elementary strings program costs 1/4 what the District spends on extracurricular sports ($2 million per year) but a possible fee would be more than 5 times higher than what is currently paid for by any participant in a MMSD extracurricular sport this school year.
Examining the costs of all the District’s programs and services ought to be part of a robust budget process – targeting one program seems purposeful and biased. This approach runs the risk of losing rather than building the community’s confidence in its School Board.
The complete article and reference material is included below and can also be read at:
http://www.isthmus.com/features/docfeed/docs/document.php?intdocid=76

Continue reading

School Fees – School Board Presentation

Fees help to pay for extracurricular, special school activities that are not required by state law but that are valuable to a child�s education. Fees for extracurricular, special activities need to be developed fairly and equitably across all activities.
Introduction: Exponential increase in social service, special education, ESL expenses � unfunded mandates that hit the District�s bottom line under revenue caps � means less money is available for school activities.
The following presentation on school fees was made by Bruce Kahn and Barb Schrank before the MMSD School Board on February 16, 2004 and addressed the following questions:
Why are there school fees today?
What are the costs of Extra-Curricular activities?
How do Extra-Curricular costs compare to instructional costs?
What happens when fees don�t cover costs?
What are some suggestions for your consideration?
Inform Parents and the Community �
Fees share the costs
Fees save academics
Fees save extra-curricular activities
Recommendation: Bring the Community to the Table � To explore alternative funding options now � to develop a plan.
Summary: We cannot wait for school funding options to be worked out � our kids are at risk of losing these important activities now. We need to take meaningful action immediately � You can e-mail Madison’s School Board members at comments@madison.k12.wi.us.

Continue reading

Teachers’ Bottom Line


Denver is the first major city to approve a salary structure that rewards teachers for the progress of their students, according to this article by Diana Jean Schemo.

As a teacher of emotionally disturbed children, Jeremy Abshire sets goals for each of his students. Geronimo, 14, an American Indian who knew only the letters for “Jerry,” will read and write, and sign his true name. Shaneesa, a meek 12-year-old reading at a first-grade level, will catch up to her middle-school peers and attend regular classes in the fall.
Under a proposal approved by teachers here and to be considered by voters next year, if Mr. Abshire’s students reach the goals he sets, his salary will grow. But if his classroom becomes a mere holding tank, his salary, too, will stagnate.
“The bottom line is, do you reward teachers for just sitting here and sticking it out, or for doing something?” said Mr. Abshire, who has been teaching for four years. “The free market doesn’t handle things that way, so why should it be any different here?”
In March, Denver’s teachers became the first in a major city to approve, by a 59 percent majority, a full-scale overhaul of the salary structure to allow “pay for performance,” a controversial approach that rewards teachers for the progress of their students.
At a time when more and more superintendents are supporting moves away from the traditional salary structure for teachers, and finding their efforts stymied in an atmosphere of suspicion and financial austerity, Denver teachers’ vote is a major breakthrough.

ACE Roundtable May 11 7 to 9p.m.

7:00p.m. Commodore Room @ the Radisson Hotel (Odana & Grand Canyon)
Active Citizens for Education (ACE) is seeking grass roots input from interested parents, teachers and others regarding the current effectiveness and future direction of MMSD curriculum, instruction, programs, services, leadership and operations. ACE believes theinformation, experiences and suggestions from those people who are living and working on a day-to-day basis with the school system are in the best position to assist indeveloping direction and strategies for future change and development. Ace is sensitive to the concerns people have for exposure of their concerns and ideas to others andpledges to honor the confidentiality of those sensitivities. ACE needs help in formulating processes that can have an impact on the school system for improved effectiveness and performance.
More Information 82K PDF

Circulation of West High School Calculus Exams in 2001

Lee Sensenbrenner:

As a sophomore at Madison West High School, Danny Cullenward tookCalculus 1, a yearlong advanced math class that put the only B on theotherwise straight-A student’s transcript.
The same happened with Sam Friedman, the former captain of West’s mathteam. Friedman, who is now at the University of Chicago, got two B’s incalculus at West but went on, as a high school student, to get an A inadvanced calculus at the University of Wisconsin.Chris Moore, who is a junior at West and is already ranked among the top 30high school math students in the United States, also had trouble in his highschool course. He got a B when he took calculus as a freshman.
UW Professor Janet Mertz knows of all these cases, and cited them in aletter to administrators. She argued, as other parents have for more than ayear, that something is not right with the way calculus students at West aretested.
It’s unfair, she wrote, and it’s hurting students’ chances to get intoelite colleges such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for whichMertz interviews student applicants.

Fuzzy Math at West High: A Capital Times Editorial:

For more than a year, a group of West High parents have beencomplaining about the way calculus students at West are tested. This week theywent public — voicing their concerns before the Madison School Board.The first complaint came from Joan Knoebel and Michael Cullenward, M.D., onbehalf of their son, now a senior at West. They decried the fact that KeithKnowles, West’s calculus teacher, reuses old tests or parts of old tests thatare available to some — but not all — students.
According to the formal complaint, “students have obtained copies fromolder siblings, prior students, through study groups, private tutors, or by awell-defined grapevine.” The school itself does not keep the tests on file.
School district administrators contend that Knowles did nothing wrong andthat there’s no evidence to conclude that having access to old tests washelpful to students.

Doug Erickson:

George Kelly, English chairman at East High School, said teachers share thesame interests as committee members — to ensure that students have access tothe tests they’ve taken and to make the playing field level for all students.But he said a districtwide policy would be cumbersome.
“There’s a larger issue here,” Kelly said. “How much micromanaging does theboard want to do in instruction and evaluation?”
West parent Joan Knoebel said Tuesday that the district continues to avoidthe real issue that her family raised, which is that a particular teacher atWest is not following the test return policy already in place at that school.Although she would like to see districtwide guidelines, she has neversuggested that the problem is widespread.
“(The district) is attacking this globally, when what you really have isone teacher who, in my opinion, is acting unethically,” she said. “They’reusing an elephant gun to shoot a starling.”

Joan Knoebel:

Common sense tells us that students with an advance copy of a test have asignificant advantage over their classmates. Assessment is meaningless underthese circumstances.This is the basis of our complaint. And this isn’t just about one teacherat West. The decisions in this case emanate throughout the Madison SchoolDistrict.
What’s the teacher’s job? To teach the principles of calculus and to fairlyevaluate whether his students learned the math. He undoubtedly knows the math,as some former students enthusiastically attest. However, because old examswere not available to all, the only thing his tests reliably measured is whoma student knows, not what a student knows.
And — this point is critical — he also couldn’t tell whether the tests heconstructed, or copied, were “good” tests. A good test is one a well-preparedstudent can complete successfully during class time. Think of it this way.Assume there were no old tests to study — all students were on a levelplaying field. The teacher gives a test. No one finishes or gets a high score.Did no one understand the material? Possibly, but many of these hardworkingstudents come to class prepared. The better explanation is that there was aproblem with the test itself; for example, it was too long or too complex tofinish within the time limit.
This mirrors the experience of students who didn’t study the old tests.Unfortunately, they were sitting alongside classmates who’d seen an advancecopy and could thus easily finish within the class period.
Ten years ago, West High enacted a test return policy. Why? Because thiscalculus teacher, among others, wouldn’t give the tests back. The policy was acompromise to give families a chance to review tests, but only underconditions that gave teachers control against copies being handed down.
This calculus teacher had a choice: offer in-school review, as is done atMemorial High, or let the tests go home under tight restrictions, including awritten promise not to copy or use them for cheating. After this policy washammered out, he elected to return his tests unconditionally yet continued tore-use his tests. The district says that was his prerogative.
What was the administration’s job here? To conduct a fair formal complaintprocess and to ensure that assessment is non-discriminatory. The “outsideinvestigator” the district appointed is a lawyer who together with her firmroutinely does other legal work for the district. Had we known of thisconflict, we wouldn’t have wasted our time. In reality, the administration andits investigator endeavored mostly to find support for the foregone conclusionthat a teacher can run his class as he wishes.
We greatly appreciate our children’s teachers, but with all due respect,autonomy does not trump the duty of this teacher, the administration and theboard to provide all students with a fair and reliable testing scheme.
The only remedy the district offers is to let students repeat the course,either at West or at UW-Madison at their own expense — $1,000 — andsubstitute the new grade. This isn’t a genuine remedy. It punishes studentsfor a problem they didn’t create. Furthermore, it is only truly available tothose who can afford UW-Madison tuition and the time.
What was the School Board’s job? To tackle public policy — in this case,non-discriminatory assessment. With one brave exception, the board ducked, andchose to protect the teacher, the administration and the union — everyoneexcept the students.
The solution is easy. If teachers are going to re-use tests or questions,safeguard them using the test return policy or make an exam file available toall. Otherwise, write genuinely fresh tests each time.
After 14 months of investigation and a 100-plus page record, it’s worsethan when we started. Now the district says that this teacher, any teacher,can re-use tests and give them back without restriction, and that it isperfectly acceptable for some but not all students to have copies to preparefrom.
For six months, we sought to resolve this matter privately and informally,without public fanfare. Confronting the dirty little secret of the calculusclass didn’t sully West’s remarkable national reputation, but openly paperingit over surely does. Simply put, this teacher didn’t do his job. Theadministration and six board members didn’t do theirs, either. “Putting kidsfirst” needs to be more than just a campaign slogan. –>
In the Madison West High calculus class, tests are the only way astudent is evaluated — not by quizzes, homework or classroom participation,just tests. The teacher admits he duplicates or tweaks old tests. He knew somebut not all students had copies, yet he wouldn’t provide samples or an examfile.
Common sense tells us that students with an advance copy of a test have asignificant advantage over their classmates. Assessment is meaningless underthese circumstances.This is the basis of our complaint. And this isn’t just about one teacherat West. The decisions in this case emanate throughout the Madison SchoolDistrict.
What’s the teacher’s job? To teach the principles of calculus and to fairlyevaluate whether his students learned the math. He undoubtedly knows the math,as some former students enthusiastically attest. However, because old examswere not available to all, the only thing his tests reliably measured is whoma student knows, not what a student knows.
And — this point is critical — he also couldn’t tell whether the tests heconstructed, or copied, were “good” tests. A good test is one a well-preparedstudent can complete successfully during class time. Think of it this way.Assume there were no old tests to study — all students were on a levelplaying field. The teacher gives a test. No one finishes or gets a high score.Did no one understand the material? Possibly, but many of these hardworkingstudents come to class prepared. The better explanation is that there was aproblem with the test itself; for example, it was too long or too complex tofinish within the time limit.
This mirrors the experience of students who didn’t study the old tests.Unfortunately, they were sitting alongside classmates who’d seen an advancecopy and could thus easily finish within the class period.
Ten years ago, West High enacted a test return policy. Why? Because thiscalculus teacher, among others, wouldn’t give the tests back. The policy was acompromise to give families a chance to review tests, but only underconditions that gave teachers control against copies being handed down.
This calculus teacher had a choice: offer in-school review, as is done atMemorial High, or let the tests go home under tight restrictions, including awritten promise not to copy or use them for cheating. After this policy washammered out, he elected to return his tests unconditionally yet continued tore-use his tests. The district says that was his prerogative.
What was the administration’s job here? To conduct a fair formal complaintprocess and to ensure that assessment is non-discriminatory. The “outsideinvestigator” the district appointed is a lawyer who together with her firmroutinely does other legal work for the district. Had we known of thisconflict, we wouldn’t have wasted our time. In reality, the administration andits investigator endeavored mostly to find support for the foregone conclusionthat a teacher can run his class as he wishes.
We greatly appreciate our children’s teachers, but with all due respect,autonomy does not trump the duty of this teacher, the administration and theboard to provide all students with a fair and reliable testing scheme.
The only remedy the district offers is to let students repeat the course,either at West or at UW-Madison at their own expense — $1,000 — andsubstitute the new grade. This isn’t a genuine remedy. It punishes studentsfor a problem they didn’t create. Furthermore, it is only truly available tothose who can afford UW-Madison tuition and the time.
What was the School Board’s job? To tackle public policy — in this case,non-discriminatory assessment. With one brave exception, the board ducked, andchose to protect the teacher, the administration and the union — everyoneexcept the students.
The solution is easy. If teachers are going to re-use tests or questions,safeguard them using the test return policy or make an exam file available toall. Otherwise, write genuinely fresh tests each time.
After 14 months of investigation and a 100-plus page record, it’s worsethan when we started. Now the district says that this teacher, any teacher,can re-use tests and give them back without restriction, and that it isperfectly acceptable for some but not all students to have copies to preparefrom.
For six months, we sought to resolve this matter privately and informally,without public fanfare. Confronting the dirty little secret of the calculusclass didn’t sully West’s remarkable national reputation, but openly paperingit over surely does. Simply put, this teacher didn’t do his job. Theadministration and six board members didn’t do theirs, either. “Putting kidsfirst” needs to be more than just a campaign slogan.

Lee Sensenbrenner: Former Students Defend Teacher:

After hearing West High graduates who had returned home for winterbreak defend their former calculus teacher, the Madison School Board decidedit would seek the advice of department heads before potentially changing anypolicies on math tests.
Noah Kaufman, a freshman at Dartmouth College, told the board Monday nightthat complaints against calculus teacher Keith Knowles — who parents sayrepeated exam material without providing universal access to the old tests –were “entirely unreasonable.””Had I memorized numbers and calculations from old exams, and passed themoff as my answers, I would have failed my class, without question,” Kaufmansaid.
“Mr. Knowles did not use the same questions on different tests. What he diddo was ask questions that involved similar applications of the concepts. Allof these concepts were explained thoroughly in the textbook, as well as by Mr.Knowles himself.
“A student could have access to the concepts and examples of applicationsby simply doing the homework and paying attention in class.”

Doug Erickson:

arents of a Madison West High School senior urged the School BoardMonday to make sure that teachers who recycle exams from year to year also tryto keep copies of the old tests from circulating among students.
Either that, or a sample test should be made available to all studentsequally, said Joan Knoebel.She said her son, Danny Cullenward, and other students were at adisadvantage during several semesters of advanced math, because the teacherrecycled tests even though he knew that some but not all students had accessto old copies. Danny said that when he privately asked for help, the teachertold him to find old tests but refused to supply them.
Said his mother: “Exams should be about what you know, not who you know.”
She said her son, a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist, becamesuspicious when some students breezed through the exams while he struggled tofinish on time.

Elementary Strings Rally A Success

About forty elementary string students serenaded the School Board members as they entered the McDaniels Auditorium Monday evening, May 3rd. Nearly 200 parents and children filled the auditorium to demonstrate to School Board members their support for the academic program.
If you have not written the School Board about the strings program, take a moment to compose an e-mail. Ask your children if they want to write a letter to School Board members (545 W. Dayton Street, Madison, 53703) – School Board members read these letters AND THEY DO MATTER.
MMSD School Board e-mail: comments@madison.k12.wi.us
Public Hearing on the Budget – May 13 5:00 p.m. in the McDaniels Auditorium.

Continue reading

Adolescents and Depression Presentation May 18 at Cherokee Heights Middle School

Attention: Parents and Teachers of Adolescents
Join the Cherokee PTO and Dr. Hugh Johnston, Clinical Associate Professor of Child Psychiatry, UW Medical School & Department of Educational Psychology for a Question and Answer session on Adolescence and Depression Tuesday, May 18th (formerly May 12th) 7-8:30 pm Cherokee Heights Middle School LMC 4301 Cherokee Drive
Dr. Johnston will give a brief overview of Teen depression and the antidepressant medication controversy. The remainder of the evening will be devoted to an informal question/answer discussion.
Dr. Johnston is a child psychiatrist, on the clinical faculty of the UW Psychiatry Department and co-director of the Child Psychopharmacology Information Service. In addition to his educational and research endeavors, he volunteers as the medical consultant and board president for the Rainbow Project, Inc., a non-profit mental health clinic that serves young children and families challenged by a variety of mental health issues including abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and domestic violence.
In lieu of a speaker�s fee, Dr. Johnston asks attendees to consider a donation to the Rainbow Project.

Advanced Placement

There is a tremendous disparity across the district in the availability of AP courses and thus accessibility to AP exams, and, by extension, the opportunity to earn college credit. The explanation is that there is a debate about the efficacy of the program with individual high schools reaching different conclusions. I come down on the side of the AP. Whether you agree on the merits, it’s still of concern that there is such wide variability across district high schools. Who should decide?

Continue reading

TAG Parents Group

The Madison TAG Parents Group has an extensive website www.tagparents.org that covers the direction of the district’s math curriculum, the current budget crisis, the restructuring of West High School, as well as resources and research articles on issues related to students performing well above grade level. It’s worth checking out.

Intel CEO Craig Barrett on US K-12 Math & Science Education

In a USA Today interview, Intel CEO Craig Barrett discusses outsourcing, competition and US K-12 Education: “We do not send our basketball teams to compete against the rest of the world, saying the other teams have to play slower because our folks aren’t fit enough to run as fast.”:

Q: In K-12 education, what would you like to see that you are not seeing?
A: If we could capture 1% of the hot air that has gone out on this topic and turn it into results, it would be wonderful. The results are how our kids compare to their international counterparts, particularly in math and science. The longer kids stay in the system, the worse they do compared to their international counterparts. In fourth grade, our kids are roughly comparable. By eighth grade, they are behind. By the 12th grade, they are substantially behind other industrialized nations.
Q: What are the hurdles?
A: One is very simply the teachers. I’m not criticizing teachers, per se, but 25% to 30% who teach math or science in K-12 are not educated in the math and science they teach. If you are going to be an engineering major, you are going to need 12 years of solid math. What are the odds of getting 12 consecutive good teachers in a row if 30% of them are not qualified?