Starting over in Chicago’s Poor Schools

Sam Dillon writes in the NY Times:

But there was an alternative – the city could shut them down on its own and create small, new, privately managed schools to replace them. And that, Mr. Martin wrote, would bring a crucial advantage: the new schools could operate outside the Chicago Teachers Union contract.
It seemed a fire-breathing proposal, since in its entire history Chicago had closed just three schools for academic failure, and the union is a powerful force in the school system here, the nation’s third largest. But Mr. Duncan was already convinced of the need for direct intervention in many failing schools, and the business group’s proposal helped shape a sweeping new plan, which Mayor Richard M. Daley announced in June. By 2010, the city will replace 60 failing schools with 100 new ones, and in the process turn one in 10 of its schools over to private managers, mostly operating without unions. It is one of the nation’s most radical school restructuring plans.
“It’s time to start over with the schools that are nonperforming,” Mr. Daley said in an interview July 19. “We need to shake up the system.”
The schools slated for closing include 40 elementary schools and 20 high schools. In all of them, most students perform far below grade level.

Barb Williams on The Harlem Project

Barb Williams forwarded a recent letter to the NY Times Magazine regarding the June 20, 2004 article: “It Takes a Hood” on The Harlem Project:

Of the many efforts aimed at interrupting the effects of poverty on kids’ lives, none has left me more hopeful than Paul Tough’s piece on The Harlem Project. Geoffrey Canada, to my mind, has got it right. His focus on poor black kids’ success in school, his goal to reach those least likely to succeed, and his preference for programs that emphasize accountablility are not new. But combine that with his plans for a charter school with longer days, a longer school year and a demanding curriculum (despite rifling the feathers of the teachers’ union) while having in place a network of support had me, a sometimes sad cynic, rooting him on. Maybe one day kids like Janiqua Utley will be guaranteed the kind education Canada envisions, rather than land on a waiting list. And perhaps Canada has identified what needs to be in place in order for children to imagine their own possibilities–unconstrained by their circumstances–and the means to realize them. We ought to pay very close attention. I salute Canada.

School Tax Relief Plan “all but dead”?


Amy Hetzner notes the interesting paradox to the current situation:

Residents in more than half of Wisconsin school districts could have ended up paying more under an all-but-dead idea to raise sales taxes to provide $1.44 billion in property tax relief, a new study says.
Milwaukee residents, in particular, could have paid $1 more in sales taxes for every 77 cents their property taxes were reduced if the plan had been in effect in 2003, claims a Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance report released Friday. In all, the study found 223 school districts containing 56% of the state’s public school enrollment would pay more in sales taxes than they would save in property taxes.
The study found that taxpayers in the Madison Metropolitan School District could get $1.20 in property tax relief for every new sales tax dollar.
“What this tells me is that when I see districts like Madison and Middleton in our area and Menomonee Falls or Wauwatosa in the Milwaukee area with positive returns of $1.20 per $1 sales tax or $1.30 or $1.40, that suggest a pattern going on,” Berry said.

School Technology Monoculture?

The Madison School District has more or less standardized many computers on Microsoft’s Windows operating system software. This approach, pitched as “sensible” because “that’s what most people use” ignores the explosive growth of other technology platforms such as:

The MMSD technology approach also ignores the fact that much will change by the time today’s K-12 students enter the workforce. At the end of the day, the network (the internet, essentially built on unix) is truly the computer.
Finally, one of the arguments for a windows monoculture is price. Advocates argue that windows pc’s are cheaper (generally ignorning the cost of virus, worm and other TCO (total cost of ownership) issues such as ongoing security patches, software compatibility issues and network support). Some of the cheapest pc’s around are linux based “LindowsOS PC’s, starting at $278.00.

School Finance Strangeness

Amy Hetzner summarizes the absurd aspects of the current state school finance schemes:

For example: If a school district with a maximum levy of $1 million one year decides to levy only $900,000, that district annually would collect $25,000 less from then on. Districts that voluntarily restrict their levies one year will not be able to catch up unless they ask voters to approve a tax increase in a referendum.
Hartford High School plans to levy taxes as high as it can for the coming school year but will be able to carry over only $118,000 of the unused levy from the previous year, Tortomasi estimated.

Latino Parents Decry Bilingual Programs

Samuel Freedman writes:

ON a sultry night in late June, when the school term was nearly over, two dozen parents gathered in a church basement in Brooklyn to talk about what a waste the year had been. Immigrants from Mexico and the Dominican Republic, raising their children in the battered neighborhood of Bushwick, they were the people bilingual education supposedly serves. Instead, one after the other, they condemned a system that consigned their children to a linguistic ghetto, cut off from the United States of integration and upward mobility.
These parents were not gadflies and chronic complainers. Patient and quiet, the women clad in faded shifts, the men shod in oil-stained work boots, they exuded the aura of people reluctant to challenge authority, perhaps because they ascribed wisdom to people with titles, or perhaps because they feared retribution.

The Importance of Phonics

Relevant to the sucess of students at Marquette Elementary School, U.W. Psychologist Mark Seidenberg has a new paper in Psychological Review that shows that phonics is critical for skilled reading. Seidenberg’s research “suggests that teaching young children the relationships between spellings and sounds – or phonics – not only makes learning to read easier, but also allows the flourishing of other skills that lead to faster, better reading.” “If you have a teaching method that discourages learning the connections among spelling, sound and meaning, you make the task of learning to read much harder for the child,” says Seidenberg. “You also leave out an important component of what ultimately makes us skilled readers.” You can read a press release here.

Social Promotion & Summer School

The WSJ Editorial page, in a wide ranging piece, discussed social promotion and the utility of summer school:

That’s because the get-tough approach – flunking students – isn’t realistic: Repeating a grade does more harm than good. Such students are much more likely to cause behavior problems, skip school and eventually drop out.
And simply advancing students to the next level – called “social promotion” – with no extra help only ensures the children will fall behind even faster the next year. Wisconsin law now prohibits social promotion out of fourth and eighth grades.
With both social promotion and grade retention discredited as phony strategies that harm, not help, student achievement, summer school starts to look like a good investme

3rd Grade Reading Scores Released

Wisconsin DPI just released statewide third grade reading test results:

  • DPI Superintendant Elizabeth Burmaster’s comments: (6 page pdf)
  • Sarah Carr: Still, at the state level, educators need to work on closing a persistent achievement gap between students of different races and socioeconomic classes, said Joe Donovan, state Department of Public Instruction spokesman. This year, 64% of African-American and 65% of Hispanic students scored in the top two categories, compared with 90% of white students.
    Lindsey added that too many MPS schools – 18 to be exact – have fewer than half of the students reading at proficient or advanced levels.

  • Lee Sensenbrenner: Marquette, a school for third- through fifth-grade students, partners with Lapham Elementary, which teaches phonics-based reading to its kindergarten through second-grade students.
  • Lee Sensenbrenner writes:
    Notable within the district were the two elementary schools that led the county for the percentage of students reading at the advanced level:
    Shorewood Hills, drawing from affluent homes and graduate student housing on the near west side, topped the list with 70.1 percent of its students at the top level.
    Second was Marquette Elementary, a near east side school where more than 28 percent of the students come from low-income homes. There, 65.7 tested at the advanced level, while another 28.6 read at the proficient level.
    This approach, coupled with an individual remedial reading program called Direct Instruction, is somewhat different from the curriculum in other Madison elementary schools.

Property-Tax Rise Triggers

Ray Smith’s article on the growing property tax backlash is one of many excellent examples of why Ruth Robart’s ongoing efforts to create a more strategic & transparent Madison Schools budget process is vital. The district’s plans for 2005 referendums simply increases the urgency for a well thought out process – rather than throwing hot button fee issues against the wall and determing what sticks. Read the entire article:

Continue reading

High Schools Nationwide Paring Down

Caroline Hendrie writes in the June 16 edition of Education Week
As a strategy for reforming secondary education in America, small schools have gotten big.
Prodded by an outpouring of philanthropic and federal largess, school districts and even some states are downsizing public high schools to combat high dropout rates and low levels of student achievement, especially in big- city school systems. For longtime proponents of small schools, the upswell in support for their ideas is making for heady times.
Despite the concept�s unprecedented popularity, however, evidence is mounting that “scaling up” scaled-down schooling is extraordinarily complex. A sometimes confusing array of approaches is unfolding under the banner of small high schools, contributing to concerns that much of the flurry of activity may be destined for disappointing results.

Continue reading

For the Children: Biometric ID’s

Via Kuro5hin:
Thanks to the kind generosity of the civic-minded folks at Ingersoll-Rand, teachers at Boca Raton’s Don Estridge High Tech Middle School will no longer have to take attendance. Side benefit: malleable, young students will become conditioned and eager to submit their body parts for biometric identification in the future.
Obligatory stomach-churning quote:

“It’s for the teachers’ protection as well as the kids … my kids are telling everyone about it. They think it’s so high-tech, so FBI, so cool.”

In case you experience any cognitive dissonance with the sentiment above, just keep repeating the following handy mantra to yourself: “it’s for our protection, it’s for our protection, it’s for our protection…”
BTW – Don Estridge headed up the skunk works in Boca Raton that led to the 1981 IBM PC. (Estridge died in the 1985 Delta L-1011 crash at DFW airport).

Charter school meeting – July 7, Madison

“Charter Schools: A New Vision of Public Education in Wisconsin.”
Date: July 7, 2004 (Wednesday morning)
Time: 9:00 am to 11:30 am
Site: Madison – Concourse Hotel (Capital Ballroom A – 2nd Floor)
Concourse Hotel
Purpose: Discuss the significance of the evolving charter schools sector as an institutional innovation within Wisconsin’s public education system. You and your colleagues are invited to participate in the discussion, sponsored by the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association, along with:
JOHN WITTE — John Witte bio
John is a UW-Madison Professor of Political Science & Public Affairs. He directs a major study of charter schools in Wisconsin — LaFollette Insitute
JOE GRABA — Joe Graba bio
Joe is a Senior Policy Fellow at Education/Evolving in Saint Paul. His
career in public education spans forty years and an impressive array of leadership positions including teacher, union leader, state legislator and higher education administrator.
COMMENTERS – Moderated by Jonathan Gramling
JONATHAN GRAMLING, Editor, The Madison Times
TONY EVERS, TALC, Milwaukee
MAI SEE THAO, Student, Madison
CHARITY ELESON, Executive Director, Council on Children & Families
BARBARA GOLDEN, Madison Area Family Advisory/Advocacy Council
DANERYS RIOS & DONTE HOLIFIELD, Students, Milwaukee
JUAN JOSE LOPEZ, Member, Madison Board of Education
DOUG & DEE THOMAS, Gates-EdVisions Project & MN New Country School
TOM SCULLEN, Superintendent, Appleton Area School District
REGISTRATION: This invitational meeting is FREE. Please register in advance by sending your name and contact info to:
Senn Brown, Secretary, Wisconsin Charter Schools Association
PO Box 628243, Middleton, WI 53562
Email: sennb@charter.net Tel: 608-238-7491
Barbara G.
608.836.0616
Madison Area Family Advisory/Advocacy Council
MAFAAC~Closing the achievement gap through information, advocacy & support
mafaac@aol.com
Join MAFAAC and be part of the solution

School Finance/Reform Articles

Amy Hetzner writes that school finance reform is necessary, but no one agrees on the formula. Hetzner points out the strange nature of this issue: spending, in many cases has gone up significantly despite “spending controls”. Excellent article. Steven Walters writes a followup today on the proposed sales tax boost.
The State Journal has posted four more editorial pieces on schools: