“School Candidates Face Tough Issues”

WSJ Editorial:

Now they need to offer specific ideas for helping the district meet its many difficult challenges, such as:
The projected $6 million to $8 million gap in the 2006-2007 budget. How will the candidates keep educa tion levels high and costs low? What will be their priorities?
Shifting demographics. Many schools on the West and South sides, and some on the East Side, are crowded. Do the candidates agree with a task force’s preliminary options, including expanding Leopold and Chavez elementary schools and constructing a school on the far West Side?

More on the candidates here.

I wonder where these priorities came from?
The WSJ’s editorial is rather light on what I see as the most important issue for the Board: curriculum. The District’s curriculum strategy should drive all decisions, including budget, staffing, schedule, training and technology. It appears that I am not alone in this view as this site’s curriculum links are among the 10 most popular articles for 2005.

New York City’s Big Donors Find New Cause: Public Schools

David M. Herszenhorn writes:
In the context of the system’s regular budget of about $15 billion a year, $311 million might seem insignificant. But the tax dollars come with so many strings that the administration has viewed private money as crucial for research and development and an array of experimental programs.

“You are able to do it without saying this is money that is going to come out of the classroom,” Mr. Klein said in an interview.
So far, the mayor’s and the chancellor’s collections include more than $117 million to start new small schools; nearly $70 million to open an academy for principal training; $41 million for the nonprofit center supporting charter schools; $11.5 million to renovate libraries; $8.3 million to refurbish playgrounds; and $5.7 million to reshape troubled high schools.

New money or old, donors have been enthusiastic enough to write seven- and eight-figure checks. As a result, the school system has been the largest beneficiary in a mayoralty that has reached to the private sector, strategically and aggressively, for all sorts of support.
Donors to the schools, many of whom have been attending black-tie benefits together for years, said the mayor and the chancellor have transformed the way the school system relates to gift-givers, by improving communication and creating a sense of professionalism.
“I come from the business world; I’m used to a world where there is freedom and accountability and that never seemed to exist in the world of public education,” Mr. Reich said.
“The very notion of a dynamic entrepreneur is that they want to make something happen,” he continued, sipping from a demitasse of espresso served by an aide in chef’s whites. “They want to be part of a movement. As mayor he believes in the ideal of these public-private partnerships.”
After becoming chancellor in 2002, Mr. Klein created an Office of Strategic Partnerships and imposed on his wife’s college friend, Caroline Kennedy, to serve as its chief executive. Mr. Klein made the pitch while visiting Ms. Kennedy and her husband, Edwin A. Schlossberg, on Martha’s Vineyard.

Healthy Children, Healthy Planet

For a couple of years now, with the support of Madison Community Foundation, Sustain Dane, a local non-profit organization, has been organizing and facilitating community discussion groups. “Healthy Children, Healthy Planet” is the newest program and is just being launched.
The “Healthy Children, Healthy Planet” is a seven session program designed to create awareness, heighten motivation and support parents, families or anyone who is concerned about the lives of children, and help them understand the pressures and offer antidotes to creating healthy environments for children.


Bill Lueder’s 2005 “Cheap Shots” Awards

Bill Lueders:

Most Secretive Public Entity:
Madison Schools
This summer, the school board announced plans to meet in closed session to discuss teacher bennies, until this was deemed improper. In fall, the district suppressed a report that criticized school officials over the stun-gunning of a 14-year-old student on grounds that there was “pending litigation” — which of course means the litigants had certain access. It also cut a secret deal to buy land for a new school on the city’s southwest side, with board members refusing to delay final approval for even one week to allow for public input. What might voters do the next time the schools come seeking more money? Shhh! It’s a secret!


Two timely and useful essays:

  • Paul Graham: Good and Bad Procrastination:

    The most dangerous form of procrastination is unacknowledged type-B procrastination, because it doesn’t feel like procrastination. You’re “getting things done.” Just the wrong things.
    Any advice about procrastination that concentrates on crossing things off your to-do list is not only incomplete, but positively misleading, if it doesn’t consider the possibility that the to-do list is itself a form of type-B procrastination. In fact, possibility is too weak a word. Nearly everyone’s is. Unless you’re working on the biggest things you could be working on, you’re type-B procrastinating, no matter how much you’re getting done.

  • Richard Hamming: You and Your Research:
    1. What are the most important problems in your field?
    2. Are you working on one of them?
    3. Why not?

AP Courses Gain Ground in High Schools (DC)

Jay Matthews:

The D.C. public school system’s college-level test participation rate increased slightly in 2005, with the largest high school, Wilson, making the greatest gain, according to The Washington Post Challenge Index survey of area schools.
The participation rate for D.C. schools, calculated as the number of college-level tests per graduating senior, went from 0.776 in 2004 to 0.820 in 2005, an increase of almost 6 percent

Raising Expectations in Watts

Lance Izumi:

One place where such heroic work is taking place is the Watts Learning Center (WLC) charter school, one of the most improved charter schools in California.
From 2000 to 2005, the WLC rose from a low test-score ranking to a level near the state’s proficiency target score of 800. The K-5 charter school was able to defy low expectations and accomplish this feat with a student population nearly all African American and low income. In an example of what the President called “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” these two factors are too often considered indicators of educational failure. WLC charter school proved defied that expectation.
Gene Fisher, founder and president of WLC, says that the school’s mission is to create a culture of learning and high expectations for students, parents, faculty and staff. He points out that, “The job of our teachers includes an emphasis on a proven curriculum while also reinforcing these high expectations – a belief that students can and will succeed.”
The school uses the structured phonics-based Open Court reading program. WLC chose Open Court before the Los Angeles Unified School District adopted the same program. Open Court emphasizes continuous review and practice of already learned material. Sandra Fisher, the school’s executive director, says that it is important that the curriculum be structured because so many students lack structure in their lives.


via Joanne

Rationing Milwaukee’s Vouchers

Alan Borsuk:

A rationing plan for enrolling students in more than 120 schools in Milwaukee’s private school voucher program will be imposed for the 2006-’07 school year, the state Department of Public Instruction said Tuesday in a letter to administrators of those schools.
Key advocates for the voucher program said if the rationing is imposed, hundreds, if not thousands, of students in voucher schools would be unable to continue in or to enroll in schools in the program, and substantial damage would be done to some of the schools.

DPI Letter [pdf]

The Graduates: What Happens After Young Disabled Adults Leave School

Jeff Zaslow:

Ms. Stautz can’t walk or talk, but she misses her old school, says her mother, Janice. Every day at High Point, she socialized with classmates and got encouragement from teachers. Now, she spends mornings in bed, “watching lights and colors on TV,” says Janice. Later, her wheelchair is pushed into the living room, where she is switched into a recliner. Ms. Stautz is on a waiting list for a county day-care program, but her family doesn’t know when or if she’ll get in.
“I try to keep her stimulated, but there’s only so much I can do,” says Janice, who recently bought Holly a puppy for company.

Disintegrating District: Los Angeles

Evan George writing in LA Alternative:

But on November 15th, Jefferson saw a new kind of disruption: a march organized by the students and parents of Small Schools Alliance, to protest what they see as indifference to the inadequate learning environment at Jefferson. More than 500 marchers converged on LAUSD headquarters with a petition of 10,000 signatures calling for the district to relinquish control of Jefferson High School and transform it into six independent charter schools to be operated by Green Dot Public Schools, a local, non-profit charter school developer, created by former Democratic party activist—and Rock the Vote founder—Steve Barr.
Green Dot, which currently operates five high schools in the Los Angeles area, has vied for control of Jefferson High School for nearly a year and a half. Charter school critics—and there are many—have long decried Romer’s own association with the Charter School Movement. As reported in this paper back in February of 2003, Romer then supported a contentious bill aimed at resurrecting the controversial Belmont Learning Center as a risky charter school program.
“I think the Left, which I’m a member of, has to pull our heads out of our xxxxx and come up with some solutions, and stop defending failed systems. Especially un-democratic, centralized bureaucracies that are not effective,” says Barr in an interview with L.A. Alternative. “We have no answers for the education issue. Our answer is to give more money to a failed centralized system?”
Here is an eduprediction: One way or another, things are going to change at Jefferson, Barr has let the genie out of the bottle and it’s not going back in. And that is his endgame anyway, improving things. Those parents want fresh ground now that they know it’s out there.
Barr has this old fashioned notion that the public schools are supposed to be a way up the economic ladder a few rungs — for the kids not the adults.

via Eduwonk

Gifted Students and Equity Discussion

Eduwonk posts a variety of responses to Susan Goodkin’s OP-ED on gifted children and No Child Left Behind:

Not surprisingly, with the entire curriculum geared to ensuring that every last child reaches grade-level proficiency, there is precious little attention paid to the many children who master the standards early in the year and are ready to move on to more challenging work. What are these children supposed to do while their teachers struggle to help the lowest-performing students? Rather than acknowledging the need to provide a more advanced curriculum for high-ability children, some schools mask the problem by dishonestly grading students as below proficiency until the final report card, regardless of their actual performance.


As a matter of pure politics, how can you expect to retain public support for a school reform regime that short-changes high-achieving students, whose parents, whether rich or poor, are likely to be more politically engaged and influential than the parents of low-performing students?

Public Not Welcome at MMSD Talks about Future Health Insurance Costs

Last August, MMSD parent KJ Jakobson asked “whether the new joint district-union task force for investigating health insurance costs be a truly collaborative effort to solve a very costly problem? Or will it instead end up being a collusion to maintain the status quo?” Collaboration or collusion: What should the public expect from MMSD-MTI Task Force on Health Insurance Costs?
Her question remains an important one. If the task force of representatives of the school district and Madison Teachers , Inc. identifies future cost savings from changes in health insurance providers, the district could save million of dollars per year after 2007. Although the savings would go to higher wages for teachers during the 2005-07 collective bargaining agreement, there would be possible savings for the district budget in future years. The district now pays about $37 M per year for health insurance for its employees.
Unfortunately, the history of the task force to date suggests that Ms. Jakobson’s fears were well-grounded.


In Middle Class, Signs of Anxiety on School Efforts

The NYTimes examines middle-class unease with changes to curriculum and admission requirements to TAG programs:

“Randi Weingarten, the president of the teachers’ union, faulted the administration for using a “Robin Hood” approach. “You have to simultaneously work to help your struggling students in particular schools and keep your middle class – you have to do both these things at the same time,” she said.
“When you do one at the expense of the other, you get the rebellion and revolt you see in District 3,” she said, referring to the Upper West Side, where some parents have complained that their children were suddenly being shut out of admission to top public school programs.
Part of the sense of grievance in the middle class comes from how much energy those parents typically pour into searching for schools and then, once their children are accepted, into working to support the schools. They organize libraries. They donate toilet paper and crayons and cash. And when there’s not enough, they raise funds for more.”

“In Middle Class, Signs of Anxiety on School Efforts”

Susan Saulny:

Some of the very changes that Chancellor Joel I. Klein has made his hallmark – uniform programs in reading and math for most schools; drilling that helped produce citywide gains last spring on standardized tests; changes in rules for admission to programs for the gifted and talented, designed to make them more equitable – have caused unease among that important constituency.
Many parents say, however, that there are extremely limited public school options in the middle school years, and some chafe at how the new rules for gifted programs in the elementary schools and for certain select schools have made competition for admission stiffer.
City officials say that judging by the number of children eligible for free lunch, the class divide in the system remains stable: About 80 percent of the children are poor, with no increase in middle class flight.
Yet Emily Glickman, a consultant who advises parents in the city on winning admission for their children to private schools, said, “The last two years the interest in private schools has exploded, as I see it with people coming to me.”

Why is the MMSD Afraid to Have a General Discussion of Their Mathematics Program?

A year ago the Jefferson PTO planned to have a mathematics night, with a discussion of their math program. I was asked if I would appear and said yes. The Madison Metropolitan School District was asked and they refused to send anyone, saying that they did not want to do this school by school. but district wide. When Mary Ramberg was asked when this would be done, she said they had no plans to do this.
Here is part of the report from 1882 from the State Superintendent about textbooks. At this time changes in textbooks had to be approved by the State Superintendent. The following should be done:

  • 3d. That regard shall be had to the merits of the books, and that if the change is sought to be made in the interests of better books, the superior merits of the books proposed to be introduced shall be stated.
  • 4th. That the change shall not be against the pronounced public opinion of the locality interested.

Why is the MMSD afraid to have a general discussion of their mathematics program?

Fairfax: Rocky End to Schools’ Growth

Maria Glod:

The proposed downsizing of Glasgow — and the anger it has sparked among parents — underscores a dramatic shift in the region’s largest school district, where the rapid student growth of the past decade appears to have come to an abrupt end.
Just four years ago, school officials predicted that there would be more than 171,000 students this year and that the number would continue rising. Now they think the district, the 12th largest nationwide, will max out next school year with 164,725 students.

Pretty Good

A poem by Charles Osgood of CBS News quoted in There Are No Shortcuts, by Rafe Equith
Pretty Good
There once was a pretty good student,
Who sat in a pretty good class;
Who was taught by a pretty good teacher,
Who always let pretty good pass–
He wasn’t terrific at reading,
He wasn’t a whizbang at math;
But for him education was leading
Straight down a pretty good path.
He didn’t find school too exciting,
But he wanted to do pretty well;
And he did have some trouble with writing,
And no one had taught him to spell.
When doing arithmetic problems,
Pretty good was regarded as fine–
5 plus 5 needn’t always add up to be 10
A pretty good answer was 9.
The pretty good class that he sat in
Was part of a pretty good school;
And the student was not the exception,
On the contrary, he was the rule.
The pretty good student, in fact, was
Part of a pretty good mob;
And the first time he knew that he lacked was
When he looked for a pretty good job.
It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that life could be tough–
And he soon had a sneaking suspicion,
And he soon might not be good enough.
The pretty good town in our story
Was part of a pretty good state,
Which had pretty good aspirations,
And prayed for a pretty good fate.
There once as a pretty good nation,
Pretty proud of the greatness it had,
Which learned much to late, if you want to be great,
Pretty good is, in fact, pretty bad.

West HS students speek/speak out on English 10

Here are two stories from the December 23, 2005, issue of the West HS student newspaper, The Regent Review. I reprint them here just as they appear in print (that is, with all misspellings, grammatical errors, etc.). (Note: the faculty advisor for The Regent Review is West HS English teacher Mark Nepper. Mr. Nepper has been involved in the development of English 10. Some of you may recall that Mr. Nepper joined English Department chair Keesia Hyzer in presenting the plans for English 10 at the November 7 West PTSO meeting.)
From the front page: “A new English 10 expected for next year,” by CI, a senior at West HS and co-editor of the student newspaper:

In an attempt to bridge the minority gap and continue with the smaller learning communities, Madison West High will tentativly be changing to a core English for all sophomores.
Ed Holmes, current West High principal, says he is doing his best to continue our tradition as a “School of Excellence.” To achieve this ideal excellence, Holmes recognizes that he not only has to raise the standards of the struggling students but also continue to push accelerated students to be better each day.
The goal is to have this new English ciriculum continue to push West’s excellence. The cirriculum will incorporate the current classes of FWW, IWW, With Justice for All, Writers in their Time, and Modern Literture. Now students will read and learn writing habits at the same time so that they can incorporate the new techniques that they are learning into the papers that they write.


“Urgency is Needed to Improve our Schools”

Boston Herald Editorial:

It may sound simple, but it helps illustrate the urgent need to change the state’s approach to improving failing schools.
As it stands, the state can deem a school underperforming if students fail to meet minimum standards for two or more years.
Then it’s six months to come up with an improvement plan, another two years to make changes and only then does the state even consider intervening. Meanwhile, another generation spends its most important years in schools that aren’t getting the job done.

West Moves Ahead With English 10 Restructuring

West High School has decided to move ahead with their curriculum reduction plan. The school has posted a document explaining the changes on their website. The one concession that the school has made to parents is their decision not to require students to give up time at lunch in order to earn an honors designation. Instead, there will be an embedded honors component where students will be expected to complete more complex assignments and take more challenging exams. Support for struggling students will now occur in the classroom as well.
From the document:

The staff training necessary for full implementation of the tenth grade English program will include:
• The basics of how to differentiate in the classroom. What is really meant by differentiated instruction? How is it successfully implemented at the high school level?
• Best practice strategies for supporting struggling learners in the heterogeneous classroom.

Vouchers, Charters and Public School Accountability

Eduwonk rounds up a number of interesting comments on Milwaukee’s voucher program, including this:

Update: Concerning public accountability, one reader writes:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m not defending these voucher schools, or any schools that hide from legitimate public oversight. But I’ve spent years now working on projects that required interviews with school personnel, site visits, documentation from the central office, etc., etc. And if you think that refusing to submit to outside evaluation is specifically or even primarily a problem of private/voucher schools, you’re nuts. There’s no stonewaller like the public school stonewaller. Administrative assistants are the worst. And don’t give me all that FERPA xxxx, either; they just don’t want people snooping around.
That’s a fair enough point, it’s not just a voucher school problem (though not every public school stonewalls either).

AP Class Quality Control

Georgina Gustin:

Starting in the 2007-08 school year, any high school that offers an AP class will have to prove it meets certain College Board requirements. Teachers and administrators will have to perform annual self-audits and submit materials, including syllabi, to the College Board.

Via Education Gadfly:

Prestigious universities value the letters AP (i.e., Advanced Placement) on an applicant’s transcript, maintaining that success in AP courses is the best indicator of success in college. But students looking to score points with admissions officers have begun gaming the system. Many enroll in AP courses but never sit for the accompanying AP exam. And high schools—bowing to student pressure for more AP courses—are lowering expectations so that more students can have the coveted letters on their transcripts (see here for more on AP’s expansion).

Stay out of YOUR business!

Public education is public business, that is, your business. However, the administration thinks otherwise, and I was raked over the coals a few days back for saying, “The MMSD’s line certainly tells students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers that we don’t know bleep about education, so we should sit down, shut up, and get out of the way while the administration does what it pleases.”
I further commented, “The issue is MMSD’s ‘corporate culture,’ and how it values the opinions of administrators vs. the rest of us.”
In the draft of the minutes of Performance and Achievement Committee on November 14, 2005, we get a clear restatement of the MMSD’s organizational culture:

The reason that the board and public will not be able begin thinking through the curriculum redesign is that the superintendent invoked a new form of ‘executive privilege’ at last Monday’s meeting. When I asked for information as soon as the committee makes its recommendations, the superintendent successfully argued that no one outside of administration should have access to the recommendations until he decides which recommendations he supports. According to Rainwater, public discussion of the recommendations before he makes his choices would interfere with his discussion with the experts on his staff. Apparently protecting administrative discussion is more important than opening the curriculum-choosing process to public scrutiny and input.


School-funding update from Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES)

The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) is a statewide network of educators, school board members, parents, community leaders, and researchers. Its Wisconsin Adequacy Plan — a proposal for school-finance reform — is the result of research into the cost of educating children to meet state proficiency standards.
Washburn joins list of districts in budget distress
Wisconsin schools serve too few breakfasts
Advocates tie education to brighter economic future
More evidence behind pre-school for disadvantaged kids
Arkansas next in line to change school-funding system
School-funding reform calendar


Report of Committee to Redesign Middle School Curriculum: Top Secret for Now

An administrative report recommending changes the middle school curriculum district-wide that was due in late December is now expected some time in January. Shwaw Vang, chair of the Performance and Achievement Committee of the MMSD school board, held a second meeting on the expected report on December 19. According to minutes of the November meeting on this topic, the December meeting would be an opportunity for Board members to provide feedback or input.
Unfortunately, the Board received no new information about the likely proposal of the committee, although the recommendations will affect most areas of the middle school curriculum, including Fine Arts, Life Skills, Mathematics, Wellness, and World Languages as well as Student Support Services. Among other things, the recommendations will result in equal minutes of instruction across subject areas.


Community Invited to Suggest Budget Reductions

Residents of the Madison Metropolitan School District will be given the opportunity in 11 January sessions to make suggestions and set priorities for budget reductions necessary for the 2006-07 school year. The budget reduction exercise uses a $100 budget that reflects the proportionate share for 47 major program areas of the actual MMSD budget.
MMSD Press release, 12/22/05


“Mysteries of Testing Solved”

Jay Matthews:

Bracey has been exposing statistics abuse for years. But I have never seen him put together all that he knows as well as he has in this book. It has some of the best explanations of educational numbers manipulation I have ever read, particularly issues like SAT scores, year-to-year school comparisons and argument by graph that are most likely to deceive us innocents. The book has Bracey’s deft prose and sure touch with clarifying examples. I also appreciate the fact he trimmed much of his sharp ideological edge, loved by many of his fans, but not by me. He acknowledges several times that no combatant in the bitter education policy wars has an unquestionable grasp on the truth.

One Room Schools Holding Up in Rural America

Neenah Ellis:

One-room schools still exist in America. They are a legacy of a less mobile, more rural time in American history. Mostly serving isolated communities, the remaining schools require one teacher to educate children of varying ages at the same time in a single classroom.

Lopez to Seek 5th Term

Sandy Cullen:

Two slots on the Madison School Board will be up for grabs in spring elections in which one incumbent will face a challenger while other candidates vie for an open seat.
Board member Juan Jose Lopez announced Tuesday that he will seek a fifth three-year term. He is facing a challenge by Lucy Mathiak, a parent and organizer of the advocacy group East High United.
Parents Arlene Silvera and Maya Cole, both active PTO members at different West Side schools, have declared their candidacy for the seat being vacated by Bill Keys.

Websites: Maya Cole | Juan Jose Lopez | Lucy Mathiak | Arlene Silveira (Arlene told me her site would be up soon).

Tim Olsen on Generating Cash from the Doyle Administration Land/Building

Tim Olsen’s email to Madison Board of Education Member Ruth Robarts:

And below are the specifics you requested re calculating an estimated value for the Doyle site. You are welcome to share this email with anyone interested. And thanks for the opportunity to speak to the Board, for your comments, and for including Lucy Mathiak’s blog-article. Someone told me about her article and I’m happy to receive a copy.


Equity Task Force Members

School Board President Carol Carstensen provided the following list of recommended Task Force Members (and the elementary attendance area of their residence):

David Cohen – Gompers
Wendy Sauve – Emerson
Lisa/Luis Cuevas – Lakeview (child at Lowell)
Christa Bruhn – Schenk
Paul Kusuda – Glendale
Tamaria/Glenn Parks – Glendale
Toya Robinson – Falk
Matt Silvern – Orchard Ridge
Jackie Woodruff – Falk
Rafael Gomez – Thoreau
Thomas Mertz – Franklin/Randall
Beth Swedeen – Midvale/Lincoln

Her recommendations must still be approved by the full Board, and the names will be on the Board’s agenda for the board’s next meeting, January 4, 2006.

Wisconsin Taxes Rose 10% in 2005


  • Wisconsin Taxes Set a Record: Residents and Business give 10% more:

    Wisconsin residents and businesses paid a record $56.5 billion in state, local and federal taxes and fees this year, a 10% increase from last year and the biggest jump in more than two decades, according to a study by a non-partisan taxpayers group. = WISTAX

    • Wisconsin’s total taxes rose 1.4 percentage points in 2005 to 32.0% of personal income
    • Net local property tax levies rose 6.3% in 2005. At 4.3% of personal income, 2005 net levies were at their highest level in 10 years.

Task Forces Present Early Options

Sandy Cullen:

Those options would move between 316 and 620 students. Some students at Leopold, Chavez, Falk, Thoreau, Stephens and Huegel would go to existing schools, while some students from Crestwood, Huegel, Stephens and Chavez would attend a new school.
School Board member Lawrie Kobza questioned why an option moving fewer students, which had been presented at recent public forums, was off the table. “I had felt we were moving in the right direction when moving the least number of kids,” she said.
Facilitator Jane Belmore said bus rides for some of those students would have exceeded 45 minutes each way.
….parent Tim Olsen called on administrators to “lead from the front” instead by selling the Doyle Administration Building.
Olsen said that selling the property adjacent to the Kohl Center could bring nearly $7 million to the district, which anticipates eliminating up to $10 million from its current budget next year to comply with state revenue limits.

“Beat the Achievement Gap” Student Conference

Students, mark your calendars!
The Simpson Street Free Press will be holding a city-wide “Beat the Achievement Gap” conference on February 25 at 2:00 p.m. At this conference, students will take the following pledge: “I will be an active role model for younger students. I will work to spread a positive message of engagement at my school and in my community. I will encourage academic success among my peers.”
For more information, see “The Gap According to Black: A Feature Column by Cydny Black” and the inspiring two-page spread entitled “Education: Bridging the Achievement Gap” in the January, 2006, issue of The Simpson Street Free Press. Additional information will soon be posted at www.simpsonstreetfreepress.org

Memorial Black Student Union

A new student group at Memorial:

The Black Student Union (MBSU) was designed to encourage and develop the Black students of James Madison Memorial High School and beyond. Our purpose is to serve as a liaison between students and the administration, link students to the community, and provide a positive social and cultural atmosphere. Our goal is to build better relationship among one another and to break the typical presentations of the Black community while maintaining respect, unity, and love.

Read more on the blog of the Madison Area Family Advisory/Advocacy Coaliton (MAFAAC).

MMSD Budget Mystery #5: Mumbo Gumbo in the Kitchen

Let me first say, daring detectives, we dismissed Sam Spade that language larruping lout. So uncouth!
So let’s get back to real sleuthing on the case of Mumbo Gumbo in the Kitchen, the MMSD kitchen to be exact.
The puzzling budget portfolio presented to the Board of Education says, “The Division [Food Service] is reviewing staffing levels for the 2005-2006 school year and expects to reduce the staffing level by approximately 2%.” (page 150)
Now here’s the first of the mysteries in this mumbo gumbo. The budget figures on page 149 (the page right before page 150!) show the Food Service budget RISING from $7,152,021 to $7,398,620, an increase of $246,599 or 3.5%! Mysterious!
Don’t go away. We’re just getting started on these numbing numbers.
“Fringe FTE” increased from $1,004,621 to $1,922,782, or $918,637 or 91.5%, according to the same budget figures. Do the Food Service employees have such a bold bargaining brigade as to wring such a wonderful increase from the MMSD contract negotiators?
The same table shows that “Other Salary and Benefits” leaped from $1,219,053 to $2,180,790, an increase of 78.9%.
What would cause such a dramatic increase in salaries and fringes in light of the professed reduction in staffing level “by approximately 2%?” (The simple solution won’t stump those who paid attention to Mystery #4: Body Count or 1-2-3 FTE.)
“Other expenses” in Food Services (still on page 149) yo-yo around from $2.1 million in 2003-2004, $3.9 million in 2004-2005, and settle at $2,395,600 in 2005-2006.
This is a most curious concoction!
Can anyone tell the okra from the rice in this gurgling mumbo jumbo?

Highland’s Distance Learning Grant

Amanda Kraemer:

The Highland School District, which has about 300 kindergarten through high school students, learned early this month they are one of 79 nationwide recipients of a $300,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development grant.
School Board president Brad Laufenberg said one of the disadvantages of being a smaller school district is the inability to provide a large and varied number of courses to their students.
“The distance learning lab will enable us to provide many more of those courses to both our students and the rest of the community,” he said.

Internationalizing Our Schools

Elizabeth Burmaster:

We live in a world instantly connected via satellites, computers, and other electronic technology. Our children embrace the technology that makes those connections possible, but need the educational background through cultural and linguistic experiences that will prepare them for the global world of today and their international future.

Burmaster raises some useful points. Clearly, it is no longer sufficient to compare Madison’s curriculum and achievement with Racine, Green Bay or Kenosha. Rather, the question should include Bangalore, Helsinki, Shanghai, Taipei and Osaka, among others.

MMSD opposes charter school

An article by Joe Quick on MMSD’s Web site lists the MMSD as one of the organizations opposed to legislation that would allow the UW-Madison to support a charter school in Dane County. Quick wrote:

Two Milwaukee-area legislators have proposed allowing the UW System to operate or contract for the operation of a charter school with the approval of the Board of Regents. According to the Legislative Reference Bureau analysis, “the school must be located in Dane County and may accept any pupil who resides in Dane County. The school may accommodate up to 700 pupils in its first school year (which may be no sooner than 2007-08), and up to 1,400 pupils thereafter.”
. . . The bills are opposed by the: School Administrators Alliance, Wisconsin Association of School Boards, Wisconsin Education Association Council, Milwaukee Public Schools, Janesville and Madison Schools. As of December 15, no lobbying group or individual registered with the State Ethics Board has indicated support for the measure.

An individual does not have to register with the State Ethics Board unless they are a paid lobbyist working for a group like those listed above.

When Learning Counts: Rethinking Licenses for School Leaders

Jacob E. Adams, Jr. & Michael A. Copland [PDF]:

This report asks two fundamental questions: do the licenses that states require of school principals encompass the knowledge and skills those principals need to promote student learning? If not, what kind of policy framework would help decisionmakers, educators, and others rethink principal licenses and the school leadership they support? To find the answers, we examined licensure content for principals in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Based on that in-depth investigation, we reached the following conclusions.
Licenses don’t reflect a learning focus. No state has crafted licensing policies that reflect a coherent learning-focused school leadership agenda. On the contrary, licenses run between two extremes: a reliance on individual characteristics, such as background checks or academic degrees, that signal nothing about the purposes or practice of the principalship, and lists of knowledge and skill requirements whose scope and depth don’t clearly sum to a meaningful definition of the job. Neither approach represents a set of qualifications on which the public may rely or the profession may depend. In an era of standards and accountability, this omission stands out.
Licensing requirements are unbalanced across states and misaligned with today’s ambitions for school leaders.

Public Education Goes to School

Harvard Business School:

We asked our nine districts what their biggest barriers were in achieving excellence at scale, and they described five categories of management challenges:

  1. Implementing a district-wide strategy
  2. Achieving organizational coherence in support of the strategy
  3. Developing and managing human capital
  4. Allocating resources in alignment with the strategy
  5. Using performance data for decision making and accountability

If “homogeneous” is bad, is “heterogeneous” better?

An article from American Educator, a magazine of the American Federation of Teachers:

. . . detracking accomplished many transformations in a few short years. It transformed teaching from difficult to impossible. It transformed the ideal of equal instruction for all into practices offering less instruction for all. It transformed faster students from motivated allies to disengaged threats . And it transformed teachers from detracking enthusiasts into advocates for a return to tracking. These results pose challenges for researchers and practitioners. While tracking often has bad outcomes, detracking
is not necessarily better.
Researchers who have played a role in criticizing tracking must also consider the potential problems of detracking. Until such studies are done, high school practitioners should be cautious about proceeding to detracking reforms just because they sound appealing. There is too much at stake, and there is great risk of unanticipated negative outcomes. These teachers’ experiences indicate that good intentions and hard work are not enough to make detracking successful.

Substitue “homogeneous” for “tracked” and “heterogeneous” for “detracked,” and see whether the article has any application to West’s Curriculum Reduction Plan.

Friedman on Vouchers

Nick Gillespie:

In 1955 future Nobel Prize–winning economist Milton Friedman kick-started modern education reform with an article titled “The Role of Government in Education.” Bucking the “general trend in our times toward increasing intervention by the state” in virtually all economic and social activities, Friedman argued that universal vouchers for elementary and secondary schools would usher in an age of educational innovation and experimentation, not only widening the range of options for students and parents but increasing all sorts of positive outcomes.
“Government,” wrote Friedman, “preferably local governmental units, would give each child, through his parents, a specified sum to be used solely in paying for his general education; the parents would be free to spend this sum at a school of their own choice, provided it met certain minimum standards laid down by the appropriate governmental unit. Such schools would be conducted under a variety of auspices: by private enterprises operated for profit, nonprofit institutions established by private endowment, religious bodies, and some even by governmental units.”

Elite French Schools Block the Poor’s Path to Power

Craig Smith:

Nothing represents the stratification of French society more than the country’s rigid educational system, which has reinforced the segregation of disadvantaged second-generation immigrant youths by effectively locking them out of the corridors of power.
While French universities are open to all high school graduates, the grandes écoles – great schools – from which many of the country’s leaders emerge, weed out anyone who does not fit a finely honed mold. Of the 350,000 students graduating annually from French high schools, the top few grandes écoles accept only about 1,000, virtually all of whom come from a handful of elite preparatory schools.

Madison School Board – SPAMMED!!!

Since Thursday, “thousands and thousands” (and I mean – thousands) of e-mails have filled the e-mailboxes of Madison School Board members (and probably other members of school boards in Wisconsin). The message reads:


East High Principal Allen Harris Profile

Sandy Cullen:

You can tell something’s different at East High School this year without even going inside.
Gone is the “smoking wall,” where for generations, students gathered to hang out and smoke cigarettes before and during the school day.
“It was intimidating,” said parent Lucy Mathiak, who admits she was uncomfortable walking past the large group of students who would gather along the wall on Fourth Street. “It smelled terrible and it was really annoying,” added Mathiak’s son Andrew Stabler, 16, a junior at East.
It was also one of the first things to change this fall after Alan Harris stepped in as the school’s new principal.

Background on East High’s recent principal position turnover. More on Allen Harris, including his appearance at the recent Gangs and School Violence Forum

Illiteracy remains a problem in the U.S.

Larry Winkler called attention to the figures in the recent assessment of literacy among adult Americans, as reported in the New York Times. An article in the Capital Times brings the issue closer to home:

. . .Wisconsin has the second highest high school graduation in the country for whites, it has the worst (50th out of 50 states) for African-Americans, the Center on Wisconsin Strategy reports.
Community-based literacy councils attempt to help those with the lowest literacy skills, said Erickson, whose nonprofit statewide organization provides support, training and advocacy to its 45 member literacy councils.
“They are on the frontlines serving the adults in the very lowest levels of literacy skills without access to most of the federal and state funding,” she said.
Most, in fact, rely on volunteers to tutor adults with limited literacy skills.
In 2004, more than 1,000 adult learners were served by the Madison Area Literacy Council, 264 of whom got the skills needed to get a job, while 280 learners were able to become active in the education of their children, said Executive Director Greg Markle.
To volunteer or sign up for services, contact the council at 244-3911 or see www.madisonarealiteracy.org.

An End to the Blame Game

This is an article by Martha McCoy and Amy Malick which was published in the December 2003 journal of the National Assocation of Secondary School Principals. The Madison Partners in Special Education are very interested in using this as a tool to engage the MMSD school board, staff and various parent groups in productive dialogue. The link follows below and the entire article is an extended entry.


Winter Solstice Celebration: Thoreau Student Self Portraits

Thoreau Art Teacher Andy Mayhall:

Thoreau Elementary School was given a donation by a retired art teacher to have an artist-in-residency. We had artists submit proposals to the school, which were reviewed by the Cultural Arts Committee. Local artist, Susan Tierney, was selected to work with me, and Thoreau students to create self-portrait paintings. Susan worked with students in the classroom on and off for about a month. The students made sketches and then final drawings onto hardboard. Students could create realistic or non-realistic, some were cartoon like, self-portraits. They used colored pencil and acrylic paint to color the portraits. The finished portraits were put together to form 22 murals. The murals are on display in the hallway between the LMC (library) and classrooms on the upper floor. These murals will be a permanent display at Thoreau.

Check out the murals via these photos.

Investing in Education


In this essay we hear from Chris Coffey, an educator who has gone into teaching as a second career and who thinks it’s time for a lot of us to do more than talk about improving education. Chris Coffey is a lawyer who has returned to education and teaches in the Law Magnet Program at South Mountain High School in the Phoenix Union High School District.


Attendance Task Force Update

Please see www.madison.k12.wi.us and click on the Long Range Planning section and view the updated options on this site. Or view the report that will be given to the BOE Monday evening. The W/M Task Force will have another meeting on Dec 20th and tweeking of the options may occur but many of us feel we have reached the near end. (Of course anything can happen so don’t hold me to that.) Also, the East Task Force Report for the BOE is available on the LRP site.

And the (West HS English 10) beat goes on …”

Here is the email I wrote earlier today to Ed Holmes, Art Rainwater, Pam Nash, Mary Gulbrandsen, and the seven members of the BOE, followed by the reply I just received from Ed Holmes:
I wrote:
Hello, everyone. I wonder if one of you would please send us a status report on the plans for 10th grade English at West for next year? Many of us have written to you multiple times about this matter, but without any reply. We are trying to be patient, polite, collaborative and upbeat (despite the fact that we are feeling frustrated, ignored and stonewalled).
Specifically, would one of you please tell us:


Science, The Rebel Educator

Lynn Margulis writing in the American Scientist:

The ridiculous but effective public-relations tactics of hype and guile serve our television culture. Pressures to produce and consume generate deceptions and half-truths. On the dominant side of the cultural abyss, hard-sell tactics contradict the demands of science: honesty, rigor and logic. Scientific inquiry, on the other side of the abyss, is a search for truth—whether or not, to paraphrase the wise, recently deceased physicist David Bohm, the truth pleases us.
When he described America as a self-imagined nation of “pragmatic, pious businessmen,” Baldwin unwittingly exemplified science education. Science for schools is written, controlled and produced by publishers whose goal is to sell materials in huge quantities to avoid sales taxes. Qualified scientists and teachers are not paid for comprehensibility, accuracy or logic, but rather bribed to rapidly approve “content” that no one understands. Such beleaguered experts rush to meet publishers’ deadlines for “up-to-date” consumer products that quickly earn money. To maximize profit, books, digital media, supplies, even equipment are planned to be obsolete within the academic year.

Decrease in Literacy for College Graduates

The National Assessment of Adult Literacy, as reported by the New York Times, has declined significantly from 1992 to 2003.
In 1992, the percentage of college graduates scoring proficient in English was 40%; in 2003 the percentage had declined to 31%. Of those college graduates below proficient, 53% score intermediate, while 14% had only basic literacy. Astonishingly, 3% of college graduates had less than basic literacy in English.
Separating the data by ethnicity, Blacks increased statistically signficantly from 29% to 33%, Asian literacy increased significantly from 45% to 54%, but Hispanic literacy declined significantly from 33% to 27% in intermediate/proficient, while below basic literacy increased significantly from 35% to 44%.
The NAAL study includes sampling of 19,000 people above age 16.
Of course, non-English literacy is not the same as illiteracy, so the study should be interpreted with this distinction in mind.

New Special-Ed Testing Rules

Nick Anderson:

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings outlined new testing rules for disabled students yesterday, formalizing an initiative that has already helped more than 100 public schools in Maryland and Virginia meet the standards of the No Child Left Behind law.

Solution to MMSD Budget Mystery #4: Body Count or 1-2-3 FTE

Congratulations to Roger Price, MMSD assistant superintendent, for completing the table with the FTE (full time equivalent) positions for 2004-2005 and 2005-2006, i.e., last year compared to this year.
If you open the Excel file, you’ll see some potentially surprising figures. Unlike the reports, total FTEs for this school year compared to 2004-2005 did not decrease by the threatened 131 positions. The total fell by 90.
You can also see that some job categories actually increased. Food service staff increased by 10 FTEs. The increase seems odd when MMSD enrollment declined this year, presumably meaning the MMSD will prepare and serve fewer meals.
Unspecified “Supervisors” increased by 2.95 FTEs, while “administrators” fell by 2.0 FTEs. Does that mean “downtown” staff actually rose by .95 FTE?
School psychologists and social workers took the largest percentage hit at 12.2%.
I’ve been urging the board to use year-to-year comparisons during budget deliberations, and this table provides an excellent example of why. That is to say, no one during any budget deliberation even mentioned the increase in food service staff. The administration gave no justification; the board asked no questions.
With the comparative information in the table, which the board did not have during the budget process, some board member might have asked whether the budget should increase the number of food service workers while decreasing the number of school psychologists and social workers.
In the coming budget process, I hope that the board asks for an update of the table with a column added for the FTEs under a balanced budget for 2006-2007 . . . before they vote on a budget.

Making AP Work For Students

Jay Matthews:

The board had decided that any student who wanted to take a high school honors or college-level course could do so. The only prerequisite was a desire to work hard.
The School Board also said that anyone taking difficult Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses had to take the special AP and IB exams written and scored by independent experts and administered in May. The number of exams nearly doubled, and passing rates on those college-level tests dropped sharply. In 1998, 75 percent of students taking AP tests in the county received passing scores. In 1999, that figure was only 62 percent.

How One Suburb’s Black Students Gain

Micael Winerip:

Here in this integrated, upper-middle-class Cleveland suburb, you would think they would be boasting. African-Americans’ combined math and verbal SAT scores average 976, 110 points above the national average for black students. The number of black sixth graders scoring proficient on the state math test has nearly doubled in three years and is more than 20 percentage points above the Ohio average for blacks.
A black parent group here has sponsored many projects aimed at narrowing the gap, including a summer enrichment program started in 1997. In October, Alisa Smith opened a parent room at the high school to encourage more adult involvement. Ms. Smith, a Columbia graduate and a stay-at-home mother, and her husband, a doctor, have three children in the schools, including Andre, the MAC scholar. While she says her children have been underestimated at times because they are black, over all she is delighted with the schools.

Madison School Board looking for community members to serve on Equity Task Force

The Madison School Board is looking for persons interested in serving on an Equity Task Force. At this time we are targeting our efforts in finding citizens that live and/or have children in the LaFollette and Memorial attendance areas. Persons selected will need to be sensitive and understanding of issues of poverty, class, privilege, race, and disenfranchisement. Other attributes would include someone who has had experience working or living in a culture, community or environment that serves predominately low income or individuals in a minority group.


“Poor Basic Skills Mar Progress”


Improvements in standards in primary and secondary schools in England are being marred by poor levels of literacy and numeracy, Ofsted inspectors say.
Pupils with below average abilities in reading, writing and maths are not getting enough help, Ofsted reports.

“School Choice and the Civil Rights Establishment”

Shavar Jeffries:

According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Black parents, especially Black parents of children in urban schools, strongly support school choice. This result should be unsurprising: The futures of their children are directly, if not irrevocably, compromised by the continuing failure of urban schools. At the same time, most longstanding civil-rights organizations — like the NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) — strongly oppose school choice. The following assertions of LCCR, contained in its platform statement on educational matters, is typical:

Videoconference on youth gangs on January 11th, 2006

Please join the City of Madison, Madison Police Department, UW Police Department, Dane County Human Services, Dane County Youth Prevention Task Force, Project Hugs, NIP, Dane County Sheriffs Office and others for a nation-wide videoconference addressing strategies and community programs concerning gangs and gang violence. Following the videoconference there will be an interactive discussion about gangs in Dane County and address some strategies or programs that will assist us in dealing with our current gang issue. Light refreshments will be available.


Michigan Considers Requiring High-School Students to Take at Least One Online Course

Dan Carneville:

The Michigan State Board of Education is set to approve a new graduation requirement today that would make every high-school student in the state take at least one online course before receiving a diploma.
The new requirement would appear to be the first of its kind in the nation. Mike Flanagan, the Michigan state superintendent of public instruction, said he proposed the online-course requirement, along with other general requirements, to make sure students were prepared for college and for jobs, which are becoming more technology-focused.
“We don’t want our kids left in the global dust,” Mr. Flanagan said. “It’s an experience we need to have.”

Congratulations to LaFollette Principal Mike Meissen

Message to the School Board from Superintendent Art Rainwater:
I am pleased to announce that Mike Meissen has accepted the position of Superintendent of the Glenbard Township High School District in Illinois effective July 1, 2006. Glenbard is a high school district with 4 high schools and almost 9,000 students.
After many years of service to the children of Madison, we are all very excited that Mike can realize his dream of leading a school district.


The impossibility of English 10

Forget the philosophies about heterogeneous versus homogenous classrooms. Forget English 9. Forget Shakespeare.
English 10 just ain’t gonna’ work for struggling and advanced student, who we’re told can meet with teachers twice a week during the lunch hour.
A few quick calculations show the glaring impossibility of success for these students.

* Twenty-percent of West’s 10th graders cannot read at grade level.
* Let’s assume a perfect bell shaped curve, which would mean twenty percent can handle work beyond the regular coursework.
* Soooooo, 40% of the 10th graders should be meeting with teachers during lunch.
* West has 535 9th graders this year, meaning that next year 214 10th graders will need to meet with a teacher during the lunch hour. (535 x 40% = 214)
* If they meet with a teacher twice a week, that produces 428 contacts of some sort in the week. (214 students x twice a week = 428)
* Those 428 contacts spread over five days in the week mean that 85 10th graders need to see a teacher during the lunch hour each day.
* Let’s assume that 10 English teachers will be available, meaning that each teacher will be able to meet with 8 students during a lunch hour.
* Going further, let’s assume that in between eating and getting to the class after lunch, the schedule allows 40 minutes for students to meet with teachers.
* If each teacher meets individually with each of the 8 students during those 40 minutes, each student will have 5 minutes with a teacher.

What’s a struggling student or an honors student going to learn in 5 minutes?
Or, maybe West could create 3 or 4 more sections of English 10 to meet during those 40 minutes for those 85 students each day, leading us right back to asking whether those classes should be grouped heterogeneously or not.
In short, the planning for West’s English Curriculum Reduction Plan needs to deal with the reality of only a few minutes a day during lunch to meet the academic needs of 214 students. It needs to deal with the reality of providing academic challenge and producing academic excellence for each and every student at West. The students deserve it.
ps. See what else goes on at lunch at West by visiting the school’s page on more than 100 Lunch and Learn Activities, which run AODA Use Support Group to English Help groups five days a week.

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: A Look at the Educational Histories of the 29 West HS National Merit Semi-Finalists

Earlier this semester, 60 MMSD students — including 29 from West HS — were named 2006 National Merit Semifinalists. In a 10/12/05 press release, MMSD Superintendent Art Rainwater said, “I am proud of the many staff members who taught and guided these students all the way from elementary school, and of this district’s overall guidance and focus that has led to these successes.”
A closer examination of the facts, however, reveals that only 12 (41%) of West High School’s 29 National Merit Semifinalists attended the Madison public schools continuously from first grade on (meaning that 59% received some portion of their K-8 schooling in either private schools or non-MMSD public schools). Here’s the raw data:


“Hopes, Fears, & Reality: A Balanced Look at American Charter Schools in 2005”

Robin J. Lake and Paul T. Hill, Editors:

The report is in two parts. In the first, the National Charter School Research Project (NCSRP) provides new data that inform questions such as: Is the charter school movement growing or slowing down? Do charter schools serve more or fewer disadvantaged children than regular public schools? Are charter schools innovative? It also identifies several important questions on which state and local record keeping needs to be improved.
The second part of this report takes up issues and controversies that have characterized the discussion of charter schools in the past year. NCSRP’s goal is to provide essays that examine these controversies in a broad context and assemble evidence in as balanced and informative way as possible. The essays are unlikely to settle any of these issues definitively, but they may establish a more constructive basis for continued discussion.

Weekly Email From Board President Carol Carstensen

Parent Group Presidents:
The Qualified Economic Offer (Q.E.O.) law provides that a district which offers its teachers a combined salary and benefit package of at least 3.8% can avoid going to binding arbitration. The practical impact is that a district must offer at least 3.8%. Over the 12 years of revenue caps, the Madison district has settled at about 4.2% with MTI that means the total increase of salary and benefits (including health insurance) has been about 4.2%. This year the settlement was 3.98%.


UW Signs Onto Satellite Teaching Program

Ryan Eisner:

EDUSAT, sent into space last year, is India’s first educational satellite. It will allow American instructors to lead classes in remote classrooms, thousands of miles away, via Web cast.
“Any Indian village could set up a receiving station and receive a signal, and schools would need only a computer and a simple Web camera to view the lessons,” Sanjay Limaye, senior scientist at the UW-Madison Space Science and Engineering Center, said in a release.
The targets of the satellite are rural Indian communities, which are plagued by a lack of educational infrastructure and a lack of good teachers.

Crucial Year Can Be Precipice or Springboard

Jay Matthews:

“Ninth grade in America’s public schools has become an increasingly severe hurdle to student progress,” said Walter Haney, a Boston College education professor who has done much research on why more ninth-graders are being held back and eventually dropping out.

Wisconsin Scores “F” on State Science Standards (continued)

The Fordham Institutes State of Science Report for 2005 reviews the state of State Standards in Science and found 15 states scoring “F”, Wisconsin among them. The states whose Science Standards were deemed worthy of an “A” are California, New Mexico, Indiana, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia, and South Carolina.
Of course, standards are one thing, implementation is another. This report does not, and is not meant to directly address delivery of the content; but, it is likely to have either a positive or negative effect depending on the quality of the Standards. To quote the report:
“Academic standards are the keystone in the arch of American K-12 education in the 21st century. They make it possible for a sturdy structure to be erected, though they don’t guarantee its strength (much less its beauty). But if a state’s standards are flabby, vague, or otherwise useless, the odds of delivering a good education to that state’s children are worse than the odds of getting rich at the roulette tables of Reno.”
“Sure, one can get a solid education in science (as in other subjects) even where the state’s standards are iffy—so long as all the other stars align and one is fortunate enough to attend the right schools and benefit from terrific, knowledgeable teachers. It’s also possible, alas, to get a shoddy education even in a state with superb standards, if there’s no real delivery-and-accountability system tied to hose standards.”
The report, written by active scientists, is highly critical of the current approach to teaching science, and argues frequently against “discovery” methods, “inquiry-based” learning, and the false dichotomy between “rote-learning” and “hands-on” learning.
Interestingly, the Fordham Report is highly critical of the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) and the NRC (National Research Council) for producing very weak “national standards”, due to their enshrining of “discovery learning” pedagogy over “old-fashioned” instruction, remarking that this pedagogy essentially expects American students to learn science by reinventing the work of Newton, Einstein, Crick and Watson. “That’s both absurd and dysfunctional.”
Wisconsin’s Science Standards scored 29% — “F”. In the previoius Fordham Institute’s 2000 report, Wisconsin scored “C”. To quote the report on the current Wisconsin standards:
“The Wisconsin Model Academic Standards announce confidently that they “set clear and specific goals for teaching and learning.” That was not the judgment of our review. They are, in fact, generally vague and nonspecific, very heavy in process, and so light in science discipline content as to render them nearly useless….”
To make these matters concrete, compare the California Science Standards (a single PDF document) to the vague and disorganized Wisconsin Science Standards.
Then, review what your child(ren) has(have) learned or are learning in our schools. In spite of the Wisconsin Standards, are they learning, or have learned the curriculum as described in the California Science Standard document, or is their learning as vague and useless as the Wisconsin Science Standard?

Cheating Our Kids

Greg Toppo:

Q: So what can parents do to fight for better schools?
A: Former American Federation of Teachers president Al Shanker said the New York City union needed to “become a disaster” to be taken as seriously as a hurricane that had worked its way up the East Coast. Parents also need to be a “disaster.” No one who has power in education got it by asking nicely. Public education is about politics, politics is about power, and if parents want control over what happens to their kids, they have to go out there and steal power from someone else. I’m not suggesting that parents be out there running schools, but if they were a little more demanding, we wouldn’t be in this mess.

12/9/05 Reply to West Principal Ed Holmes re: English 10

Hi, Ed. Thanks for writing. I look forward to seeing the material you’re putting up on the website.
A couple of other questions —
I’m curious to know what Shwaw Vang has asked you for? In particular, did his request include outcome data for English 9? As you know, many of us think a thorough evaluation of English 9 is the wisest (and most responsible) first step to take in developing English 10. Wouldn’t it be a shame not to avail ourselves of the several years’ worth of data there for the picking?
Also, given that one of the concerns driving the English 10 initiative is concern that some students don’t take the higher level electives and some get through West without any bona fide literature and writing courses, did anyone think about requiring a certain number of upper level electives, literature courses, and writing courses for graduation? That seems to me the most straightforward approach to the stated problem.
I am glad to know that you are starting to see us as your partners in this process — not your adversaries — and that you are grappling with the Very Challenging Truth that West’s diverse student body does not have exactly the same learning needs throughout, thus the needs cannot be met effectively with standardized, cookie-cutter solutions.
Speaking of partnership and the diversity of solutions needed, later today I will be dropping off the 20-minute DVD on the Odyssey Project that Emily Auerbach sent me. I would appreciate getting it back by winter break. Feel free to share it with Keesia, Pam, Art and any others. It’s really powerful. When I think of some of the students who appear in the film being available to dialogue with students and teachers at West, well, I get really hopeful.
Finally, please know that no one is questioning the excellence or commitment of anyone involved in this conversation and struggle. Never have been. I truly believe that we all have the kids as our highest priority.
Have a good weekend.

“More Black Families Homeschool”

Zinie Chen Sampson:

Joyce Burges, of the Baton Rouge, La., area, says she and other black home schoolers have been likened to traitors by people who think they’ve turned their backs on the struggle to gain equal access to public education. But she feels that when schools don’t teach children to read, or fail to provide a safe place to learn, children should come first.
“You do what you have to do that your children get an excellent education,” she said. “Don’t leave it up to the system.”
(Michael) Apple, the Wisconsin professor, said improving public education for the greatest number of students depends on mass mobilization by concerned parents, but he raises a cautionary note.

A homeschooling mother of one blog National Black Home Educators Resource Association.


Below is an excerpt from the book entitled: THE HANDBOOK OF SCHOOL COUNSELING: COUNSELING THE GIFTED AND TALENTED. It has not yet been published (so you get to read it first). It is written for school counselors, who I believe are very integral to student success. The authors of this book are Corissa C. Lotta, PhD; Barbara A. Kerr, PhD; and Erica A. Kruger, MS. I have been corresponding with Dr. Lotta at the University of Wisconsin-Madison regarding the use of on-line curricula for gifted students. Enjoy.


The Next Retirement Time Bomb

Milt Freudenheim and Mary Williams Walsh:

The pressure is greatest in places like Detroit, Flint and Lansing, where school systems offered especially rich benefits during the heyday of the auto plants, aiming to keep teachers from going to work in them. Away from those cities, retiree costs may be easier to manage. In the city of Cadillac, 100 miles north of Grand Rapids, government officials said they felt no urgent need to cut benefits because they promised very little to begin with. Instead, Cadillac has started putting money aside to take care of future retirement benefits for its 85 employees, said Dale M. Walker, the city finance director.
Ohio is one of a few states to set aside significant amounts. Its public employee retirement system has been building a health care trust fund for years, so it has money today to cover at least part of its promises. With active workers contributing 4 percent of their salary, the trust fund has $12 billion. Investment income from the fund pays most current retiree health costs, said Scott Streator, health care director of the Ohio Public Employee Retirement System. “It doesn’t mean we can just rest,” he said. “It is our belief that almost every state across the country is underfunded.” He said his system plans to begin increasing the employee contributions next year.

The Madison School District’s Health insurance costs have been getting some attention recently:

  • WPS Insurance proves Costly – Jason Shepherd
  • “Important Facts, Text and Resources in Consideration of Issues Relevant to Reducing Health Care Costs in the Madison Metropolitan School District In Order to Save Direct Instruction and Other Staffing and Programs for the 2005-06 School Year” – Parent KJ Jakobson
  • MMSD/MTI Joint Insurance Committee is holding the first in a series of meetings to discuss healthcare costs at MTI’s office on January 11, 2006 @ 1:00p.m. via the BOE Calendar
  • Many more health care related blog posts are available here

Milwaukee: “Main Street of School Reform”

Alan J. Borsuk:

North Ave. is a microcosm of the wealth of things being done to help educate low-income black students and is ground zero in Milwaukee (which itself has been called ground zero in America) for school reforms of many kinds – all of them paid for with public money.
“This whole plethora of schools has inspired this community and given this community hope,” Johnson says. “All of the schools along the avenue are sending a very strong message to the community that education is the key, and there are very strong options.”
But if North Ave. illustrates how parents in Milwaukee have a wider array of choices in publicly funded education than parents elsewhere in America, it does not yet provide convincing answers of what will come from the innovations.

Map of the North Avenue Area.

The most interesting quote of the article:

(Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent William) Andrekopoulos says: “We do things differently because we have to compete. We have a consciousness of all the options in the community.”
At the Young Leaders Academy, Ronn Johnson says, “It’s very clear to the school operators that you have to offer a high quality option or your customers will leave.”
He calls the burst of new schools “a wake-up call to everyone that the power has shifted. It’s no longer in the district. . . . Parents really have the power now.”

Math, Science and Rigor

Sandy Cullen:

Gov. Jim Doyle supports the push to increase the math and science proficiency of high school students, which is primarily coming from business leaders.
They say a lack of these skills among those entering the labor pool is putting Wisconsin at risk of losing jobs because there won’t be enough qualified workers to fill positions ranging from manufacturing jobs to computer specialists, from engineers to mathematical, life and physical scientists and engineering and science technicians.
Art Rainwater, superintendent of the Madison School District, supports increasing the state requirements. Madison high schools require two years of each subject, but in recent years the district has strengthened its math requirement so that all students must now take algebra and geometry to graduate, Rainwater said.
If the state does not increase its math and science requirements, the district will likely consider raising them, he said.
But School Board President Carol Carstensen said she isn’t certain requiring more courses is the way to best prepare all students to succeed after high school.
And just increasing the requirements (emphasis added) won’t make the classes more rigorous, said Lake Mills chemistry teacher Julie Cunningham, who recently won the prestigious Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

Additional links and background on math and science curriculum.

“What’s the Return on Education?”

Anna Bernasek:

This academic year, the better part of $1 trillion will be spent on education in the United States. That’s an awful lot of spending, approaching 10 percent of the overall economy. But what exactly is the return on all of that money?
While the costs are fairly simple to calculate, the benefits of education are harder to sum up.
Much of what a nation wants from its schools has nothing to do with money. Consider the social and cultural benefits, for instance: making friends, learning social rules and norms and understanding civic roles.
But some of the most sought-after benefits from education are economic. Specialized knowledge and technical skills, for example, lead to higher incomes, greater productivity and generation of valuable ideas.

School Improvement Plan at John Muir Elementary

L. Johnson:

SIP Goal #2: Literacy-All students at John Muir will be proficient readers by the end of third grade.
Rationale: 50% of African Americans beginning fourth graders have minimal or basic reading skills as measured by the WKCE test. As a school, all students need to demonstrate proficient or advanced reading and writing skills. All classroom teachers will implement components of a Balance Literacy program. Students will have increased opportunities to read and practice their skills using a variety of ficion and non-fiction texts.

“Schools of Hope” is 10 Years Old: 3rd Grade Reading Scores


During its 10 years, the project has been making a difference to local children, WISC-TV reported.
Since then, the achievement gap has narrowed between students of color and white students who complete algebra by the 10th grade.
At Friday’s Schools of Hope Annual Meeting, the group declared their first goal of closing the gap in third grade reading scores closed. This is something that hasn’t been achieved anywhere else in the country.

Ruth Robarts posts a different perspective and notes that while there has been real progress, the gap has not in fact been closed: “For example, African American third graders scoring proficient or advance has risen from 41% in 1998 to 69% in 2004. Nonetheless, there are significant differences between the percentages of students in subgroups who score proficient or advanced and those who score basic or minimal.” Joanne Jacobs links to two Education Trust reports that describe a “culture of excellence” for high school curriculum.
UPDATE: Sandy Cullen has more on Schools of Hope

Gifts for Teachers


Diane Duffy, a teacher at Kyrene de la Mirada Elementary School in the Kyrene School District, talks about gifts for teachers during the holiday season.


“The Absolute Necessity of School Choice”

Shavar Jeffries:

In the current model, public schools have little incentive to respond meaningfully and systematically to the interests of Black parents, particularly poor Black parents, as these parents simply do not have the political capital to impact systematically the way in which public schools deliver education. A choice model, however, consistent with the most basic predicates of freedom and democracy, begins to grant poor people the opportunity to opt out of the public system if it continues miserably to fail their children. At the same time, it empowers Black parents to select educational models less contaminated by diminished conceptions of Black existential capacity — a phenomenon James Baldwin warned us about forty years ago.

Public Knowledge: Vote Database – A Fabulous Resource

Perhaps we’ll see something like this for local officials, including our own Board of Education. Very impressive use of RSS.
Ideally, the district would publish a page with votes along with items that Board members requested be placed on an agenda. This information would provide the public with easily accessible voter data and illuminate issues that were prevented from being discussed by the then current President. What is RSS?

Time for Our Own District (Fitchburg)

Kurt Gutknect writing in the Fitchburg Star:
Satellite View of Fitchurg | Madison School District Map | Oregon School District Map | Verona School District Map

You don’t have to travel very far to hear snide remarks about Fitchburg. It’s a sprawling suburb. Unchecked growth. An enclave for white folks and their McMansions.
Of course, there’s an element of truth in all of these barbs, and I frequently indulge my doubts that this appendage of Madison is a manifestation of our most noble civilizing instincts.
But I confess to getting rather fond of Fitchburg, and occasionally entertain notions that its sprawling, disjointed character is normal. The city might be evolving toward something that resembles, well, a city.
My main reservations about Fitchburg have more to do with doubts that 21st century American culture is really creating a better world for the next generation. For better or worse, Fitchburg is a product of the times. It’s unrealistic to expect us to evolve into an enclave against virulent consumerism or to stanch the flow of SUVs.
All things considered, Fitchburg does about as well as can be expected, and maybe better than many other burbs.


Report Says States Aim Low in Science (Wisconsin’s Grade = “F”)

via reader Rebecca Cole: Michael Janofsky:

The report, released Wednesday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, suggests that the focus on reading and math as required subjects for testing under the federal law, No Child Left Behind, has turned attention away from science, contributing to a failure of American children to stay competitive in science with their counterparts abroad.
The report also appears to support concerns raised by a growing number of university officials and corporate executives, who say that the failure to produce students well-prepared in science is undermining the country’s production of scientists and engineers and putting the nation’s economic future in jeopardy.

The full report is available here.

Wisconsin’s results are available in a one page PDF file:

The Wisconsin Model Academic Standards announce confidently that they “set clear and specific goals for teaching and learning.” That was not the judgment of our review. They are, in fact, generally vague and nonspecific, very heavy in process, and so light in science discipline content as to render them nearly useless at least as a response to problems for which state learning standards are supposed to be a remedy.


Options under review by task forces

Could someone post a report on the December 6 meeting of the West/Memorial task force? At the meeting the members were going to consider the following 5 Base Plans.
* A2e- New School – Pair Chavez/Falk
* A2f- New School – Move some Leopold to Chavez
* C3 – No New School – Pair Chavez/Falk- Leopold to Thoreau
* C4 – No New School – No Pair- move a grade level to another location
* C5 – No New School – No Pair – Move some Leopold to Chavez
(In all plans, students who live on Allied Drive will be assigned to Stephens and Crestwood)
The six “preliminary” options for consideration by the East task force at its meeting on December 8 are:
E-1 Move students from the West attendance area into the East attendance area schools
E-2 Move portions of the La Follette attendance area into the East attendance area
E-3 Move MSCR (Madison School Community Recreation) into the East attendance area schools
E-4 Move Alternative Education Programs in rented space into the East attendance area schools
E-5 Move Packers Townhouse area from Lindbergh to Mendota
E-6 Analyze East Attendance Area school pairings

Reply from West HS Principal Ed Holmes to request for update on English 10

Hi Laurie,
The discussion about 10th grade English and 10th grade core continues. There will be a statement and responses to questions that have been raised by parents, community, and staff online in the form of a link from the West High website early next week. I will also submit information to MMSD School Board member Shwaw Vang as per his request regarding direction of 10th grade English.
I have been working with some of the best eductors in the field to address the concerns that have been raised in order to develop the best plan possible to meet the academic needs of all students at West High. I am excited that we are having this discourse and that everyone’s perspective is being heard. This process challenges everyone to work hard to come up with the best possible plan to meet the academic needs of our students.
I expect to hear a strong voice and challenge from a community and parents that are as informed and concerned as the parents and community of West. I will continue to do my best as Instructional Leader at West to meet the needs of all students, maintain high academic standards, and preserve the reputation of West as a school of academic excellence.
This is indeed challenging and exciting work. Thank you for your continued interest, perspective, and concern.
Ed Holmes, Principal
West High School

“What Kind of School Systems Are Our Taxes Supporting”

Word travels quickly in 2005: Northwestern Adjunct Professor James Carlini:

This question becomes very critical given the fact that jobs are being outsourced to other countries by the thousands and many leaders of public schools have lost touch with what’s important. Educators better get with the program and start teaching real skills along with the ability to learn and compete.
Where is the quality control in public schools? Political correctness and slanted ideology should be replaced with political accuracy and strong, fundamental and objective learning skills. Schools should also concentrate on developing skill sets to compete globally. A focus on creativity, flexibility and adaptability – rather than rote, repetition and routine – should be the critical objective of today’s school goals for educating tomorrow’s work force

More about Carlini. There are, of course, no shortage of opinions on this matter.

Proving Success using Different School Models

American Institutes for Research:

Of the 22 reform models examined, Direct Instruction (Full Immersion Model), based in Eugene, Ore., and Success for All, located in Baltimore, Md., received a “moderately strong” rating in “Category 1: Evidence of Positive Effects on Student Achievement.”
Five models met the standards for the “moderate” rating in Category 1: Accelerated Schools PLUS, in Storrs, Conn.; America’s Choice School Design, based in Washington, D.C.; Core Knowledge, located in Charlottesville, Va.; School Renaissance in Madison, Wis.; and the School Development Project, based in New Haven, Conn. Models receiving a “moderate” rating may still show notable evidence of positive outcomes, but this evidence is not as strong as those models receiving a “moderately strong” or “very strong” rating.

The Complete report is available here [Elementary | Middle and High School] Via Joanne.

Competing for Students

Anthony Gottschlich:

Catholic and private schools in Dayton have seen a 20 percent decline in enrollment over the past five years in the face of changing demographics and intense competition from charter schools, which are tuition-free public schools run by private operators.

Our Education System isn’t Ready for a World of Competition

Norman R. Augustine:

But the U.S. educational system is failing in precisely those areas that underpin our competitiveness: science, engineering and mathematics. In a recent international test involving mathematical understanding, U.S. students finished 27th among the participating nations. In China and Japan, 59 percent and 66 percent, respectively, of undergraduates receive their degrees in science and engineering, compared with 32 percent in the United States.
I’ve recently had an opportunity to review these trends as chairman of a 20-member committee created by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine. Congress asked the committee to examine the threats to America’s future prosperity. The panel was a diverse group that included university presidents, Nobel laureates, heads of companies and former government officials. We agreed unanimously that the United States faces a serious and intensifying economic challenge from abroad — and that we appear to be on a losing path.