NeuronFarm

www.neuronfarm.com:

D-Readers is a breakthrough in reading comprehension instruction for grades 3-8.
3D-Readers trains students in research-based metacognitive strategies by combining interactive visuals, automated text scoring, and immediate feedback in a Web-based product.

Private sector internet learning tools.

Capital Times Story on Muriel Simms

Muriel Simms was my 6th grade teacher at Lincoln Middle School. She is a longtime educator in Madison teaching elementary and middle school plus she was a central office administrator and principal for the Madison School District. She currently teaches at Edgewood College. She has now started a greeting card company. She is also a board member of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute.
http://www.madison.com/tct/features/stories/index.php?ntid=74375

Are Administrators Golden?

Next year’s projected operating budget shortfall is $8 million – projected expenses will exceed revenues by that amount. For 13 years the growth in expenses have exceeded what the district received and was allowed to receive from the a) state and federal government revenues and b) allowed growth in revenues from property taxes. Further, the state and federal governments do not pay for their promised share of expenses for mandates that local school districts are to provide special education and ELL, to name a few areas. The financing of public education is broken in WI and neither the Republicans nor Democrats are taking this issue on and working through toward viable solutions. One step we can all take is to write your legislators – local, state and federal. Tell our state legislators to stop twiddling their thumbs on financing of public schools, because the problem is “too tough for them to ‘figure out.'”
At the same time, drastic financial times will continue to stress Madison’s public schools and our School Board and administrative staff will have no choice but to think in different ways PLUS go to referendum. I’m a solid supporter of school referendums – I have voted yes each time. However, I feel the School Board needs to take a different, more proactive approach to how the School Board thinks about and addresses a number of issues, including administrative contracts. Not doing so, will only compound the difficulties and stresses of our current fiscal situation.
Lawrie Kobza pointed out last night that 2-year rolling administrative contracts may be important for some groups of administrators and that the School Board should consider that issue. Otherwise, if the annual pattern continues, extensions will occur in February before the School Board looks at the budget and makes their decisions about staffing. Even though the Superintendent has indicated what positions he proposes to eliminate for next year, when the School Board has additional information later in the budget year, they may want to make different decisions based upon various tradeoffs they believe are important for the entire district.
What might the School Board consider doing? Develop criteria to use to identify/rank your most “valuable” administrative positions (perhaps this already exists) and those positions where the district might be losing its competitive edge. Identify what the “at risk” issues are – wages, financial, gender/racial mix, location, student population mix. Or, start with prioritizing rolling two-year contracts for one of the more “important,” basic administrative groups – principals. Provide the School Board with options re administrative contracts. School board members please ask for options for this group of contracts.
Ms. Kobza commented that making an extension of contracts in February for this group of staff could make these positions appear to be golden, untouchable. Leaving as is might not be well received in Madison by a large number of people, including the thousands of MMSD staff who are not administrators on rolling two-year contracts nor a Superintendent with a rolling contract (without a horizon, I think). The board might be told MMSD won’t be able to attract talented administrators. I feel the School Board needs to publicly discuss the issues and risks to its entire talent pool.

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Cole: New schools should be green

Maya Cole posted an interesting idea on her Web site:

Energy efficiency stands out as one island of excellence in the MMSD. The Wisconsin Focus on Energy program features the Madison school district in one of its case studies on energy-efficient schools.
I’d like to take the MMSD’s excellent energy-efficiency commitment one step further by directing the district to construct any new school or other building with environmentally sensitive practices, including natural lighting, energy efficiency, water conservation, recycled products, and other green building practices.

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Eye Scans: High Tech Hall Pass?

Greg Toppo:

The brushed aluminum box on the brick wall glows purple, a rim of light around an unblinking HAL-like eye.
You peek in and stare for a second, and the steel doors click open. A soothing female voice says: “Identification is completed.”
Welcome to Park Avenue Elementary School.
Freehold Borough School District installed the iris-scanning devices in its three schools last month. It and a district down the road in New Egypt are the first U.S. school systems to study what happens when adults are asked to eye-scan to get in the door each day.

Universal Preschool Discussion – California

Joanne Jacobs rounds up commentary, including those from Cal education and public policy professor Bruce Fuller:

Universal preschool would cost Californians $23 billion over the next 10 years, if Rob Reiner’s Proposition 82 passes. But it won’t close the learning gap for poor kids, warns Bruce Fuller, a Berkeley education and public policy professor. Currently, 64 percent of four-year-olds go to preschool; Reiner’s plan would boost that only to 70 percent. Instead of directing public money at needy families, most of the dollars would go to provide free preschool to middle-class and wealthy parents. Any gains by poor children are likely to be lost when they enter substandard schools.
We are learning empirically that gains experienced by poor children who attend preschool fade by third grade unless youngsters enter quality elementary schools, according to new studies by UC-Santa Barbara and University of Wisconsin economists.
Fuller also questions the requirement that all preschool teachers earn a bachelor’s degree. This would disqualify two-thirds of current preschool teachers.
. . . two decades of research show that children benefit when their teachers have a two-year degree and focused training in child development. After that, more years in college are spent on general education requirements, exerting no additional effects. Only the cost rises dramatically.

“The Incumbent Protection Act”

John Stossel:

Citizens can petition to put an initiative on the ballot, which the public can then vote to pass. Some citizens, thinking they were already paying plenty, organized a movement to repeal the tax increase. Two local radio hosts, Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson, spent lots of time on the air explaining why they think the gas tax is a bad idea.
The nerve!
In response to this challenge to their authority, a group of politicians turned to campaign-finance laws to silence Wilbur and Carlson. The theory is this: Radio airtime is valuable. So if a radio host expresses strong political views, that’s a contribution, just as if a caterer were providing free food to the campaign’s volunteers. Washington law limits contributions in the final three weeks of a political campaign to $5,000, so Wilbur and Carlson must shut up. Or at least the anti-tax group must count the minutes they talked about it on the air, assign some price to that and report that under campaign finance limits. Or something — Mike Vaska, the lawyer acting as prosecutor, has suggested that if Wilbur and Carlson distanced themselves enough from the other people on their side, they’d be allowed to speak freely on the radio. Ironically, Vaska just happens to be a member of a big private law firm that stands to make big money off a higher gas tax — maybe millions in legal fees — $25,000 per bond backed by the tax. For some reason, Washington legislators seem to think that’s OK. No one’s telling him to shut up.

I’m actually in favor of a realistic look at energy taxes, however, I think this article raises some useful points. I think we’re seeing a small (so small) uptick in local interest in elections. I hope that continues.

More from the Journal-Sentinel editorial board.

NCLB Area Comments

Kurt Gutknecht and Bill Livick pen an interesting article, published recently in the Fitchburg Star:

Several teachers at area schools did not return calls asking for their opinion on the act. Administrators were less reluctant to weigh in.
The principal of a Madison middle school, who did not want to be identified, gave a qualified endorsement to the act for focusing on essential skills and for including all students.
“They’re reasonable standards. A student can’t solve problems if she can’t read well,” the principal said.
Madison schools have a good foundation in addressing the needs of all students, which predated the act, according to the principal. Of greater concern was the act’s requirement that specialists teach every content area, which could force many qualified teachers from the profession. Although it’s not unreasonable to focus on formal teaching standards, “it seems ludicrous” because “many of our most effective teachers are generalists,” said the principal, particularly when there’s no funding for training.
The requirements of the act have “terrified” some teachers, who fear being labeled as ineffective and are concerned about teaching in a school that’s labeled as having failed, according to the principal.

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As AP Expands, Studies Disagree on Its Value

Jay Matthews:

Now, a series of competing, sometimes contradictory studies have begun to look at the effectiveness of AP and IB in meeting their central purpose — preparing students such as Palma for college. Some parents and students are questioning whether the college-level courses are placing too much strain on children and supplanting useful honors courses. And the College Board, which sponsors the AP program, has begun to ask schools to examine the content of their AP courses to make sure they meet the program’s standards.
Palma is taking AP psychology but decided on the regular history course, calling the AP class “beyond my capabilities.” Choices such as hers are part of a debate over AP that shows no signs of abating as the program undergoes growing pains.

Singapore Math Program Used In Madison

Justin Ware:

“And that’s what’s so exciting about the program for the kids,” said Luke Felker, Madison Country Day School, “is that through some solid work at the beginning, they begin to realize that they can do a lot of this in their heads.”
Felker says the program also focuses more on depth, than it does covering a variety of math lessons, making it easier for the kids to retain what they learn.
Retired UW professor Richard Askey says the Singapore program is highly successful, but it isn’t the only way to properly teach math.
“It’s possible to do it in other ways,” said Askey. “Japanese elementary schools are not exactly the same as the Singapore, and they’re done carefully.”
Askey says US schools haven’t been teaching math ‘carefully.’

Silveira is a great resource for schools

A letter to the editor
Dear Editor: Arlene Silveira is a great resource to this entire district. I’m looking for a School Board decision-maker and solution-provider. Arlene is a facilitator willing and able to bring discussions and concerns to the table.
When boundary changes were released last year, she let me know this issue reaches beyond the West and Memorial attendance areas. She told me where to find information on other district schools. To understand, I visited Hawthorne and Lakeview (East attendance area). Arlene attended Hawthorne’s meeting, sitting next to me, listening to each speaker’s concerns.
After researching a district map of the referendum results from 2005, I believe it’s time to evaluate how we engage our entire district all attendance areas and all Madison citizens. The West attendance area has been affected by overcrowding at Leopold for more than five years. I believe the lack of responsiveness caused even the Fitchburg community to be torn, producing a split vote.
Maybe, like the rest of us, they are frustrated with the legislative process for getting a new school and for funding our programs. MMSD has yet to be a leader with the state Legislature in considering options for new ideas and formulas. I’d like to see us start talking about budget constraints and possible solutions. Arlene Silveira has recommended it’s time.
Marisue Horton
MMSD parent
Verona
Published: February 27, 2006
The Capital Times

Madison and Wisconsin Math Data, 8th Grade

At a meeting on February 22 (audio / video), representatives of the Madison Metropolitan School District presented some data [820K pdf | html (click the slide to advance to the next screen)] which they claimed showed that their middle school math series, Connected Mathematics Project, was responsible for some dramatic gains in student learning. There was data on the percent of students passing algebra by the end of ninth grade and data from the state eighth grade math test for eight years. Let us look at the test data in a bit more detail.

All that was presented was data from MMSD and there was a very sharp rise in the percent of students scoring at the advanced and proficient level in the last three years. To see if something was responsible for this other than an actual rise in scores consider not only the the Madison data but the corresponding data for the State of Wisconsin.

The numbers will be the percent of students who scored advanced or proficient by the criteria used that year. The numbers for Madison are slightly different than those presented since the total number of students who took the test was used to find the percent in the MMSD presented data, and what is given here is the percent of all students who reached these two levels. Since this is a comparative study, either way could have been used. I think it is unlikely that those not tested would have had the same overall results that those tested had, which is why I did not figure out the State results using this modification. When we get to scores by racial groups, the data presented by MMSD did not use the correction they did with all students ( All 8th grade students in both cases)

MMSD Wisconsin
Oct 97 40 30
Feb 99 45 42
Feb 00 47 42
Feb 01 44 39
Feb 02 48 44
Nov 02 72 73
Nov 03 60 65
Nov 04 71 72

This is not a picture of a program which is remarkably successful. We went from a district which was above the State average to one with scores at best at the State average. The State Test was changed from a nationally normed test to one written just for Wisconsin, and the different levels were set without a national norm. That is what caused the dramatic rise from February 2002 to November 2002. It was not that all of the Middle Schools were now using Connected Mathematics Project, which was the reason given at the meeting for these increases.

It is worth looking at a breakdown by racial groups to see if there is something going on there. The formats will be the same as above.

Hispanics
MMSD Wisconsin
Oct 97 19 11
Feb 99 25 17
Feb 00 29 18
Feb 01 21 15
Feb 02 25 17
Nov 02 48 46
Nov 03 37 38
Nov 04 50 49
Black (Not of Hispanic Origin)
MMSD Wisconsin
Oct 97 8 5
Feb 99 10 7
Feb 00 11 7
Feb 01 8 6
Feb 02 13 7
Nov 02 44 30
Nov 03 29 24
Nov 04 39 29
Asian
MMSD Wisconsin
Oct 97 25 22
Feb 99 36 31
Feb 00 35 33
Feb 01 36 29
Feb 02 41 31
Nov 02 65 68
Nov 03 55 53
Nov 04 73 77
White
MMSD Wisconsin
Oct 97 54 35
Feb 99 59 48
Feb 00 60 47
Feb 01 58 48
Feb 02 62 51
Nov 02 86 81
Nov 03 78 73
Nov 04 88 81

I see nothing in the demography by race which supports the claim that Connected Mathematics Project has been responsible for remarkable gains. I do see a lack of knowledge in how to read, understand and present data which should concern everyone in Madison who cares about public education. The School Board is owed an explanation for this misleading presentation. I wonder about the presentations to the School Board. Have they been as misleading as those given at this public meeting?

Richard Askey

Closing the Gap Forum

Samara Kalk Derby:

Kambwa, who served as emcee for the Closing the Gap conference, gave the younger students five guidelines for bridging the achievement gap:

  • Ask younger students how they’re doing in school.
  • Recommend a good book to a peer or younger student.
  • Help younger students with their homework. Quiz them on their knowledge of academic subjects. Let them know you are there for questions.
  • Raise your hand in class, or sit in front while you’re in class. Set a positive example for your peers.
  • Adopt a new attitude. Don’t be afraid to say what you’re about: “I think it’s cool to get good grades. I plan to go to college.”

In Wisconsin, the gap is greatest between white and Hispanic students when comparing high school graduation rates. White students graduate at a rate of 90 percent, compared to only 63 percent for Hispanic students. For Asian students it’s 89 percent, Native Americans 73 percent and black students 72 percent.
Charles Peterson, 17, another Free Press editor, called the achievement gap “huge” and said it is only getting wider.
As a young black male, Peterson has done well at La Follette despite expectations to the contrary.
“I get a lot of negative attention from all colors for doing well in school and for not fitting stereotypes,” he said.

Basic Instincts

naep_state.gif
Chester Finn, Jr. and Diane Ravitch:

U.S. students lag behind their peers in other modern nations — and the gap widens dramatically as their grade levels rise. Our high school pupils (and graduates) are miles from where they need to be to assure them and our country a secure future in the highly competitive global economy. Hence, any serious effort at education reform hinges on our setting world-class standards, then candidly tracking performance in relation to those standards. Even when gains are slender and results disappointing, we need the plain truth. Which is why recent attempts by federal and state governments to sugarcoat the performance of students is so alarming.

NAEP vs. State test scores was discussed during the recent math forum.

More MMSD Administrators in 2004-2005 than in 1998-1999?

Early 2005, School Board members received a spreadsheet that summarized administrative contracts from 1998-1999 through plans for 2005-2006. That spreadsheet showed 147 administrative contracts in the 1998-1999 school year and 149.65 administrative contracts planned for 2005-2006. In 2003-2004 the total administrative contract budget for wages and benefits was approximately $15.1 million ($100,000 average wage and benefit per administrative contract). This information differs from the information posted in a recent blog by Board President Carol Carstensen (15 central administrators vs. 10.8), and both these sets of numbers differ from what is reported to DPI.
I feel the School Board needs to consider definitions:

a) how are administrative personnel defined – activity, contract, b) how does the board want information about personnel who perform administrative tasks summarized and presented to them, c) what is the number of personnel doing various administrative tasks, d) how has this number and cost (wages and benefits) changed over time – over 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, e) how are these positions funded?

A bigger picture question, though, seems to me to be: what will happen to MMSD’s administrative functions if 5%, 10%, 20% are cut? The public in the $100 budget process zeroed in on cutting administration, which was no surprise to MMSD’s administration. However, telling us that “x” number of positions have been cut and will be cut does not give the type of information the public can use to understand what the loss is to the District’s ability to function and to support educational services. Further, recent board discussions were over a February deadline date to give extension of administrative contracts where MMSD administrators felt this was a firm date. If the date can be flexible, don’t Board members want to keep the flexibility? If the board does not do this, aren’t they giving the appearance to the Madison community that the School Board values administrators more than teachers? I don’t feel they do.
Clearly, an organization needs administrative functions to operate appropriately. I don’t think that’s the issue in anyone’s mind. It’s not for me anyway. I simply would like Madison’s School Board to have the flexibility to make the decisions the board feels are in the best interest of the school district when the time comes to make budget cuts.
The State of WI’s inability to address financing public education has put many school districts in the position of having to beg for funding via referendums and sadly for our children, this is not changing anytime soon. In the meantime, numbers need to be clear, consistent and understandable as do the risks and tradeoffs. I’d suggest starting with agreed upon definitions.

Lost in Numbers

Ms. Cornelius (an anonymous AP History high school teacher):

All of my grades are based on percentages. I’m not one of these teachers who wants to convert someone’s scores in my head, so I just weight grades differently. But all grades are based on 100 possible points. I can tell at a glance how a student is doing this way.
But this habit often makes it interesting when students are trying to figure out their grades on quizzes. I usually have a rather simple number of questions in terms of being able to calculate grades easily: 5, 10, 12, 20, 25, or 33 items. As I watched several of my AP students struggle with figuring out their grades, I had to suppress a groan of frustration. It was a 20 item quiz– therefore each question would be worth 5 points, right? Young Frederick wanted to pull out his calculator to figure out what his score would be if he missed 7.
“No calculator. You can do this,” I urged.
He couldn’t begin to figure out how to determine his grade without a calculator. He is 16 years old and taking pre-calculus and other college-track classes (I never took a course beyond algebra 2, much to my chagrin). He doesn’t immediately know that 7×5=35, and then subtract 35 from 100, nor can he figure out that 13×5=65. As a matter of fact, he stumbled over the 100-35 part and insisted the answer was 75.
It is obvious that his only problem is NOT that he didn’t do his reading for my AP US history class carefully enough last night. His problem begins with a basic innumeracy. Of course, many would say that he is a victim of a larger educational trend which I pray to God is finally being placed on the pyre of idiotic educational theories: that rote memorization is bad, bad, baddety bad bad.

President to School Board: New ideas are OK, sometimes…

Carol Carstensen, President of the Madison School Board, announced in a recent letter to The Capital Times that new ideas are OK with her, so long as they are not illegal, in violation of contracts, can save money and are capable of implementation. School Board ideas must be feasible
The Madison district will spend $37M on health insurance for its employees this year. That’s about 10% of the operating budget. The district also foresees an $8M gap between its expenses and revenues for 2006-07.
Looking for ways to provide high quality health insurance for the teachers at lower costs would seem like a good idea in these circumstances. The district had even set the stage for this new idea by forming a task force with the teachers union to explore options for different coverage.
However, Ms. Carstensen had zero interest in this new idea. Not one Board meeting on the topic, not one instruction to the district’s representatives. She skipped the two meetings of the task force. When the union announced that the talks were over, she had no comment.
Illegal? In violation of contracts? Not a good way to save money? Impossible to implement? Which of the four tests did the health insurance task force fail?

Math Forum Audio / Video and Links

Video and audio from Wednesday’s Math Forum are now available [watch the 80 minute video] [mp3 audio file 1, file 2]. This rare event included the following participants:

The conversation, including audience questions was lively.

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Schools consider Afrocentric curriculum

This is not meant as a suggestion that MMSD should take this approach but I do think that we should be aware of what similar districts are considering and doing.
See also: http://www.evanstonroundtable.com/roundtable022206/schools.html
TJM
Schools consider Afrocentric curriculum
Evanston-Skokie district’s proposal targets achievement gap between blacks and whites
By Lolly Bowean, Tribune staff reporter. Freelance writer Brian Cox contributed to this report
Published February 15, 2006
Hoping to better capture the attention of African-Americans and close the achievement gap between black and white students, a group of parents and educators is pushing for adoption of an African-centered curriculum in Evanston/Skokie School District 65.

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Carol Carstensen on “No New Ideas”

Carol Carstensen:

A letter to the editor

Dear Editor: As soon as I saw my words quoted in boldface in the Feb. 21 Capital Times article about the school budget, I knew that someone would make the comments in the following day's Sound Off about the need for new School Board members.

I think new ideas and fresh perspectives are invaluable. However, there are a few qualifications: The ideas must not violate any laws or contractual agreements, they should actually save money, and they must be ones we can implement.

I can come up with a new idea of how to save money on transportation: outfit the buses with pedals for every seat and have the students provide some of the energy needed to move the bus, both reducing use of gasoline and providing kids with exercise. However, the plan is not very feasible, at least in the short term. I can also buy lottery tickets, but that approach is not very reliable.

A few additional facts:

The school district has been under revenue caps, and reducing expenditures, for the last 13 years.

• The city and county were faced with significant problems as they kept their budget increases to around 4 percent.

• The school district's budget increase was 2.5 percent (and the school district's tax levy actually decreased by $2 million).

One final qualification: Claiming the problem doesn't exist isn't a new idea.

Carol Carstensen
president
Madison School Board



Published: February 24, 2006

Taxes; Fed: Stagnant Net Worth for Typical Family

This site, along with many others includes discussion on public school finance. Public education money is currently generated from local property taxes, fees and redistributed state and federal funds (via income, energy and other taxes. Barry Ritholtz points to a recent Fed report [pdf] which quantifies that the average US family is not making much economic progress:

“After growing rapidly during the boom of the 1990s, the net worth of the typical American family rose only 1.5% after inflation between 2001 and 2004, the Federal Reserve said in an update of a survey it does once every three years.
The Fed said the net worth of the median American family — the one smack in the statistical middle — was $93,100 in 2004. Net worth, the difference between a family’s assets and liabilities, rose a robust 10.3% between 1998 and 2001 and 17.4% in the three-year interval before that.
A booming housing market boosted the typical American family’s wealth between 2001 and 2004, but stagnant stock prices and rising debt offset many of those gains.”

WISTAX notes that Wisconsin taxes set a record in 2005, with residential and business taxes up 10% over 2004 (meanwhile, the State continues to deal with a structural deficit). Clearly, we as a community need to have a discussion about our public spending priorities and allocate funds accordingly.

“Less May be More with Math Curriculum”


Jamaal Abdul-Alim:

The books are distributed by an Oregon-based company known as SingaporeMath.com, which counts a private school in Madison as the first of its growing number of clients.
The biggest difference between math instruction in Singapore – a city-state with a population of about 4.4 million – and the United States is a simple premise: Less is more.
Students in Singapore are introduced to roughly half the number of new math topics a year as students in the United States are. Experts and policy analysts say Singapore’s emphasis on depth over breadth is a formula for success.
The thicker the textbooks and the greater the volume of math topics introduced a year, the less likely American students and teachers are to achieve similar results, says Alan Ginsburg, director of the policy and program studies service at the U.S. Department of Education.

More on the Connected Math / Singapore Math textbook photos.

Madison Country Day School was the first US school to purchase Singapore Math textbooks, in 1997, according to this article.

15 Administrators Downtown Cut Since 2000 – 4 More Next Year

To provide some additional information to the budget discussions. Since 2000-01 the Board has eliminated 15 administrator positions from downtown, as follows:
3 FTE (Assistant Superintendent, Title 1 Coordinator and Staff Development) were combined into one – Coordinator of Government Programs
Registrar
2 FTE
Community Relations
Contract Compliance
5 FTE in Business Services
(4 in IT and the Risk Management Coordinator)
Drivers Ed/Environmental Ed Coordinator
Physical Ed/Athletics Coordinator
Social Studies/Foreign Language Coordinator
Math Coordinator

Proposed Administrator cuts for 2006-07:
1 FTE in Business Services
1 FTE in Educational Services
1 FTE in Teaching & Learning (Reading Recovery Coordinator)
1 FTE in Human Resources (Payroll Manager)

What’s not to like about funding new community programs?

On March 6, the Madison Board of Education will vote on Johnny Winston Jr.’s proposal for the district to spend approximately $200,000 this year on four community programs. Great Opportunity Needs Your Support
Sounds good. These are all good programs run by good people with good ideas and goals.
The question before the board, however, is not whether we like the programs or think that they would use our funds for good purposes. The question is whether the district should commit these dollars from this budget to these community programs at this time.
I think that the answer is no.
Fiscal policy problem: “These dollars” are the dollars remaining in the Reserve for Contingencies in our budget for “community programs and services” budget, aka Fund 80. Three months remain in our fiscal year. It is good fiscal policy to have money in reserve for emergencies. If an organization must spend its reserve, it is good fiscal policy to use the funds for one-time costs, rather than to create new programs that will need funds again the next year. It is bad fiscal policy to spend all of the Reserve for Contingencies on new programs. We will have no capacity to deal with emergencies in the remainder of the fiscal year if we make this commitment. The same programs will add $208,000 to next year’s budget for Fund 80 (the basic allotment to each program plus 4.1% for increases in their costs).

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Carol Carstensen’s Weekly Update

Carol Carstensen:

Parent Group Presidents:
BUDGET FACTOID:
The Community Service Fund (known for its state accounting code, Fund 80) is not under the revenue cap; these services are funded by a combination of fees and a separate portion of the tax levy. Madison School Community Recreation (MSCR) represents more than 80% of these expenditures. Some of the MSCR programs are: adult exercise programs, youth swimming classes, summer day camp, adult sports leagues, and after school programming at the elementary and middle schools.
FEBRUARY 20th MEETINGS:
5 p.m. Special Board Meeting, executive session – expulsions
6 p.m. Finance and Operations Committee (Johnny Winston, Jr., chair):
5-year budget forecast shows that the district will need to make cuts of $8 million for next year, and by 2010-11 the 5 years of cuts will total $38 million. One caveat this is based on the assumption that current laws continue.
The Committee heard proposals from community agencies for after school activities that would be funded from unallocated money in the Community Service fund (Fund 80). The 4 community agencies are: WiCATY (WI Center for Academically Talented Youth), GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), Kajsiab House, and the Youth Empowerment Academy. The Committee supported having these proposals go to the entire Board for funding.
7 p.m. Partnerships Committee (Lawrie Kobza, chair)
The Committee considered a policy governing gifts/donations to support activities during and/or after school; the policy will cover gifts of $10,000 or more and directs the Superintendent to review the impact of such a gift on the district to make a determination whether the district should accept it. This policy was approved by the Committee and will be on the Board’s agenda on March 6.
Future Meetings:
February 27:
5:00 p.m. Legislative Committee (Ruth Robarts, chair) legislation that would increase the number of administrators who could be designated “at-will” employees; requirements for school district reports; requiring developers to pay fees to support the building of new schools; newly proposed TABOR amendment.
5:45 p.m. Special Board Meeting: the Board will respond to the Swan Creek petition our original agreement with the Oregon School District requires both districts to reject any such petition; discussion of the East Area Task Force recommendations; the Task Force will have a chance to talk with the Board; discussion about future uses of the Doyle Building; administrator contracts.
March 6:
5 p.m. Performance & Achievement Committee (Shwaw Vang, chair) report on 2005 summer school and proposals for the 2006 summer school.
6 p.m. Special Board Meeting: report from the administration on possible land acquisition in Fitchburg and a look at long term use of space added to Leopold.
7:15 p.m. Regular Board Meeting
N.B. I spent most of Tuesday, Feb. 21 at the Capitol with Joe Quick (the district’s legislative liaison) lobbying our Dane County legislators to oppose the latest TABOR proposal. (Since the authors of TABOR seem only concerned about taxpayers, I have started referring to our students as “pre-taxpayers.”)
Carol
Carol Carstensen, President
Madison School Board
“Until lions have their own historians, the hunters will always be glorified.” – African Proverb

What a Sham(e)

Jason Shephard, writing in this week’s Isthmus:

Last week, Madison Teachers Inc. announced it would not reopen contract negotiations following a hollow attempt to study health insurance alternatives.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but anyone who suggests the Joint Committee on Health Insurance Issues conducted a fair or comprehensive review needs to get checked out by a doctor.
The task force’s inaction is a victory for John Matthews, MTI’s executive director and board member Wisconsin Physicians Service.
Losers include open government, school officials, taxpayers and young teachers in need of a raise.
From its start, the task force, comprised of three members each from MTI and the district, seemed to dodge not only its mission but scrutiny.
Hoping to meet secretly until Isthmus raised legal questions, the committee convened twice for a total of four hours – one hour each for insurance companies to pitch proposals.
No discussion to compare proposals. No discussion about potential cost savings. No discussion about problems with WPS, such as the high number of complaints filed by its subscribers.
Case closed. Never did the task force conduct a “study” and issue a “report” of its “findings,” as required by last year’s contract settlement.
Conspiracy theorists point to the power of Matthews – both in getting the district to play dead and in squelching any questions about conflicts of interest based on, as reported last week, his $13,000 income from WPS.
While the school board is often accused of dodging tough issues, this tops the list. A change in insurance could have resulted in higher pay for teachers and, some argue, could save the district millions in the long run.

Background links and articles here. Link to current school board members. Governance is another significant issue in the April 4, 2006 Madison School Board election.

Making One Size Fit All: Rainwater seeks board input as schools cut ability-based classes

Jason Shephard, writing in this week’s Isthmus:

Kerry Berns, a resource teacher for talented and gifted students in Madison schools, is worried about the push to group students of all abilities in the same classrooms.
“I hope we can slow down, make a comprehensive plan, [and] start training all teachers in a systematic way” in the teaching methods known as “differentiation,” Berns told the Madison school board earlier this month. These are critical, she says, if students of mixed abilities are expected to learn in “heterogeneous” classrooms.
“Some teachers come about it very naturally,” Berns noted. “For some teachers, it’s a very long haul.”
Following the backlash over West High School replacing more than a dozen electives with a single core curriculum for tenth grade English, a school board committee has met twice to hear about the district’s efforts to expand heterogeneous classes.
The school board’s role in the matter is unclear, even to its members. Bill Keys told colleagues it’s “wholly inappropriate” for them to be “choosing or investigating curriculum issues.”
Superintendent Art Rainwater told board members that as “more and more” departments make changes to eliminate “dead-end” classes through increased use of heterogeneous classes, his staff needs guidance in form of “a policy decision” from the board. If the board doesn’t change course, such efforts, Rainwater said, will likely be a “major direction” of the district’s future.

Links and articles on Madison West High School’s English 10, one class for all program. Dr. Helen has a related post: ” I’m Not Really Talented and Gifted, I Just Play One for the PC Crowd”

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Aligning High School Policies with the Demands of College Work

Cecilia Le:

Of every 100 high school freshmen in Delaware, 21 will graduate from college on time.
Sixty-four will graduate from high school in four years, 38 will enter college immediately after high school and just 30 are still enrolled by their sophomore year. [Wisconsin: 79 graduate from high school on time, 47 immediately enter college, 34 are still enrolled sophomore year and 25 graduate from college on time [pdf report])
The numbers are similarly sobering nationwide, where just 18 out of 100 high school freshmen graduate from college on time — within three years for an associate degree or six years for a bachelor’s degree.

View Wisconsin’s results via the achieve.org website.

WestEd: Bilingual vs. English Immersion in California

WestEd:

How should English learners be taught? What can state and local education leaders do to better support these students’ academic progress? Conclusions from a five-year evaluation have been released by a team of researchers from AIR and WestEd. The report, based on the study of 1.5 million California English learner and 3.5 million English-fluent and native-English speaking students, includes detailed findings and policy implications for education in California and nationwide. In 1998, California voters passed Proposition 227, mandating that California English learners be taught overwhelmingly in English through immersion programs not normally expected to exceed one year; bilingual instruction was to be permitted only through the granting of a special waiver. Has this been a good thing for students? The California legislature commissioned AIR and WestEd to conduct an exhaustive evaluation and provide some answers. Key findings include the following:

Via Jenny D, where there are some useful comments.

Lending a Brain

Inside Higher Ed:

With scientific expertise sweeping the globe, the next generation of American scientists and engineers are going to face unprecedented competition, and college is too late to begin preparing them for it, according to the National Science Board.
The board released its “Science and Engineering Indicators, 2006″[pdf] report Thursday. The report, which focused on elementary and secondary education, cast a foreboding tone. According to the report, while the scores of American students on national math assessments have risen slightly in recent years, the same cannot be said for science. According to the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics Science Study , fourth and eighth graders in the United States performed better in math and science than the international average of industrial nations, but improvement since 1995 was modest for eighth graders, and fourth graders took a slight step backward.
Even a fourth grade student who is getting his or her first exposure to science might already be left in the starting blocks, according to Jo Ann Vasquez, a National Science Board member and the lead author of the report. “[Kids] have to get science by third grade,” she said, “or that wonderment disappears.”

Eating for Credit

Alice Waters:

IT’S shocking that because of the rise in Type 2 diabetes experts say that the children we’re raising now will probably die younger than their parents — the result of a disease that is largely preventable by diet and exercise. But in public schools these days, children all too often are neither learning to eat well nor to exercise.
Fifty years ago, we had a preview of today’s obesity crisis: a presidential council told us that America’s children weren’t fit — and we did something about it, at great expense. We built gymnasiums and tracks and playgrounds. We hired and trained teachers. We made physical education part of the curriculum from kindergarten through high school. Students were graded on their performance.

Schoolyard Cred: What Little Boys Were Made of Before Lawsuits

Ned Crabb:

Two weeks ago, a six-year-old boy was suspended from first grade for three days for “sexual harassment” because he allegedly put “two fingers inside [a] girl’s waistband while she sat on the floor in front of him,” according to an AP story.
Sexual harassment at age six. Growing up kind of fast these days, aren’t they?
“He doesn’t know those things,” the boy’s mother told the local press. “He’s only six years old.” The woman said she “screamed” about the suspension.
Yeah, well, I’d scream too. The whole thing is stupid–children poking at one another and then being punished for it in terms of adult concepts, described with adult words.

I remember a fellow male first grade classmate walking up and kissing a female classmate many, many (!) years ago.

” I’m Not Really Talented and Gifted, I Just Play One for the PC Crowd”

Dr. Helen:

Wouldn’t the proper way to answer the question of why Blacks and Hispanics are lagging behind Whites and Asians be to conduct research on the factors that may be causing the discrepancies and remedy those rather than setting up a phony group of gifted students whose only gift may be that they have a teacher who holds self-esteem and looking diverse in higher regard than children actually learning anything?
With such unscientific inquiry, it is no wonder more and more parents are homeschooling or turning to private schools to educate their children. I foresee that the more schools substitute “diversity” for education, the more parents will take flight from the public schools.

The link includes several interesting comments.

How Safe is Your High School? Madison West

Channel3000:

The police data on the school shows a mixed record. In the past three and a half years, Madison West ranks first among the other city schools in bomb threats, property damage and fights.
However, it also has the fewest number of drug incidents and weapons violations.
Overall, West High School has the lowest crime rate.
School principal Ed Holmes, who is in his second year, said that he wants it even lower.
He said that it’s one reason that he’s completely reshaped the school day with a revolutionary overhaul of the lunch schedule.

School Boards Thinking Differently

Madison School Board Seat 1 Candidate Maya Cole:

In a report published by the Educational Research Service titled, Thinking Differently: Recommendations for 21st Century School Board/Superintendent Leadership, Governance, and Teamwork for High Student Achievement, recommended that school districts can effectively raise student achievement with strong leadership and teamwork from the school board and superintendent.

The study was supported by a Ford Foundation grant to the New England School Development Council.

The authors point to a new way of thinking:

Strong, collaborative leadership by local school boards and school superintendents is a key cornerstone of the foundation for high student achievement. That leadership is essential to forming a community vision for children, crafting long-range goals and plans for raising the achievement of every child, improving the professional development and status of teachers and other staff, and ensuring that the guidance, support, and resources needed for success are available.

If this country is serious about improving student achievement and maximizing the development of all of its children, then local educational leadership teams – superintendents and school board members – must work cooperatively and collaboratively to mobilize their communities to get the job done!

How does a board lead? With vision, structure, accountability, advocacy, and unity – to be used as criteria for continuous development and self-evaluation of a team’s leadership and governance.

Maya’s opponent in the April 4 election is Arlene Silveira.

Leopold’s Black History Night

Leopold teacher Troy Dassler emails:

QT Video

Once again we had an incredible turnout at Leopold event. We had a Black History night of celebration. The gym was packed with children, parents, friends and staff members of the Leopold Community. Academic achievement awards were presented to students for their hard work and dedication. Johnny Winston Jr. was the special guest of honor. He also received an award. The Outstanding School Board Member Award (see picture)

I am starting to think that the overcrowding, the years of out-posting, the Ridgewood Apartment fires, a failed referendum, music and art on-a-cart, the classrooms carved out of the lunchroom, the corner of our library turned into a computer classroom, the various classrooms separated by bookcase walls in the hallways, the budget cuts, the various redistricting of our students, and the endless board meetings have made us a stronger community. During the last referendum our mantra was that our “diversity makes us stronger.” I think it may need to change for the next referendum, “Adversity made us stronger.”

“In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity we know our friends.”

John Churton Collins

Safety in Madison High Schools – Memorial

Channel3000:

News 3 examined the data from Madison Memorial High School on Wednesday night. The school outpaces the three other city schools combined.
So far this year, Memorial has 68 arrests while West High School has 11, East High School has 18, and Robert M. LaFolette has 15.
At the current rate, Memorial would end the school year with an 88 percent increase in crime. West would be up 29 percent, but East and LaFollette would each see a 54 percent decrease
Memorial is a school at a real crossroads, and one frequently in the news because of reports of violence.
Video

WKOW-TV notes a recent pellet gun shooting at the school.
UPDATE: Lisa Schuetz reports that a 17 year old girl was charged in this shooting.

Message from Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts

Dear Friend:
On Wednesday March 1, at 10:00 am in the Assembly Parlor in the State Capitol, I will be joined by a group of Legislators representing districts around the state to unveil a Joint Resolution that directs the Legislature to create a new school financing system that provides each child with an equal opportunity for a sound basic education. Under the resolution, the school financing system must find a way to provide an adequate education to all pupils in the state regardless of their circumstances or regional differences. If you support our efforts, I hope that you can attend the press conference to show your support.
Attached is a copy of the resolution.
Download file

WISTAX on State Budget Spending & Structural Deficit

WISTAX:

A Medicaid shortfall, recently estimated at $76.7 million, is also a problem. “Reporting a Medicaid Trust Fund deficit separate from the general-fund budget and then claiming the general fund is in balance is akin to a shell game,” WISTAX President Todd A. Berry noted. Medicaid is a joint state-federal program that provides health care to low-income individuals and families.
If any of these items were properly addressed in the budget enacted last summer, the WISTAX report concludes, the general fund would have a deficit. WISTAX is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to public-policy research and citizen education.
Another feature of the 2005-07 budget that gave WISTAX researchers pause was the transfer of monies from special-purpose funds to the general fund. Although the most publicized is a $430 million transfer—accomplished by executive veto—from the transportation fund to the general fund in order to pay increased school aids, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau identified a total of $647.9 million being “used for purposes other than those for which the fund was generally established.”

• The state is slated to spend, from all sources (excluding bond proceeds), $52.7 billion over the next two years, of which $26.1 billion (49.5%) is from general purpose revenues (GPR)—mainly state taxes deposited in the general fund. Federal revenues account for another 25.6%.

• Individual income taxes alone account for 51.7% of general fund revenues. Combined with corporate income and sales taxes, the "big three" represent 92.1% of GPR revenues.

• Education dominates GPR spending during 2005-07, accounting for 50.4% of the total. Human services is second at 28.2%.

• In terms of who benefits from the GPR budget, various local governments and school districts lead the list, the beneficiaries of 56.7% of biennial expenditures. Aids to various individuals and organizations is a distant second at 19.7%. Shares devoted to running state government (16.3%) and the University of Wisconsin (7.3%) trail. School aids and tax credits alone represent 43.3% of the GPR total.

Great Opportunity Needs Your Support

We have a great opportunity! On Monday March 6th, the Madison School Board will be considering four proposals for funding that have an opportunity to have a positive impact on the student achievement in our school district. These programs are community based after school and summer programming that can supplement students’ academic achievement in the Madison Metropolitan School District. These programs are not subject to the state imposed revenue limits. They are Kajsiab House and Freedom Inc., Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network-South Central Wisconsin (GLSEN), Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY) , and The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, Inc. (CHHI) . I am asking for your support to help fund these programs.

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Full Funding Of Schools An Empty Promise

Wisconsin State Journal :: OPINION :: A6
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
KRISTINE LAMONT
We all say we want great public schools.
Yet we continue to fight amongst ourselves for an ever diminishing pot of money for our public schools.
We blame board members, parents, students, teachers, retired individuals, businesses, administrators, homeowners, renters and everyone — except those who have put us in this position.
About 13 years ago, our state senators and representatives made a promise to Wisconsin citizens. A law controlling school revenue was passed. It allowed school districts to increase revenue by a small percentage — less than inflation and certainly less than heating, gas and health care costs have increased.
The only way around this mandate was to have school districts ask and beg for money year after year in the form of referendums, which pit children against taxpayers.
School districts, large and small, took up this mandate and spent the first few years cutting the services that did the least harm to students. Those years are long gone.
Very quickly schools were forced and continue to cut and cut. Schools are now cutting the programs that make Wisconsin schools great — gifted classes, remedial classes and smaller class sizes.
Revenue controls were supposed to be temporary while our state leaders worked on an equitable way to fund schools. No one can argue the fact that if you give schools less money than inflation, you are expecting schools to get rid of programs. What has been going on for the last 13 years?
I have been keeping my promises. Have they? Bills have been introduced to remedy this travesty, but nothing has changed. Schools keep cutting. Our children receive a smaller piece of the pie while living in one of the richest countries in the world.
Thirteen years is a long time to put off work that was promised. The children graduating from high school this year started as kindergarteners 13 years ago. We have our third governor, a new president, men and women have gone to war, died, and come home. What has been done?
I have seen a lot in the news about trying to change the hunting age for children, or how to help families pay for college, but nothing to remedy public schools.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with the hunting age, properly funding our schools should be at the top of our priority list.
We all realize that our public schools are the founding blocks of our democracy. All of us benefit, whether we attended public schools, or our doctor did, or the person helping us at the store. A democracy needs superior public education. Just look at democratic countries without this.
Could it be that the promise our state leaders made was never intended to be kept? Maybe we don’t want “all” children to have good schools. Maybe we’re worried our good schools will help minority and low-income children achieve. Maybe we want rural or inner city or suburban or all public schools to close.
My taxes have been paying the salaries of our state leaders. We have waited too long for an equitable plan to fund school. I wait with voter pen in hand.
\ Lamont is the mother of a Madison middle school student.

Arlene Silviera’s post-referendum comments

Arlene Silveira and other Leopold referendum supporters addressed the MMSD Board of Education a few days after the failed referendum. I posted my reactions on June 6, 2005:

Leopold school supporters packed room 103 of the Doyle Building to speak at a meeting of the Long Range Planning Committee on Monday evening, June 6.
Arlene Silveira led off with a bitter attack on Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza, accusing them of causing the defeat of the referendum to build a second school on the Leopold school site.
Beth Zurbachen followed with an equally nasty attack.
Nearly two dozen more Leopold supporters continued the assault for almost two hours.
Ironically, Lawrie Kobza, at Carol Carstensen’s suggestion, kept their hopes alive. Carol offered the idea of forming a task force. Since she isn’t a formal member of the committee, she could not make a motion. Instead Lawrie made, Juan Lopez seconded, and the committee approved a motion to form a task force to explore attendance issues on the West side.
If Carol hadn’t made the suggestion and Lawrie had not made the motion, the committee would have adjourned with absolutely no movement on solving the overcrowding problem at Leopold, and probably no possibility of considering the issue until late in the summer.
Carol deserves praise for recognizing the need to restart an examination of the overcrowding on the West side.
Lawrie also deserves praise for not behaving vindictively against the Leopold supporters who blasted her. Instead she was more than willing to move toward an inclusive process that might just give the Leopold supporters and all West side children an option to overcrowding.


You can watch Arlene’s presentation here
For comments on my original post go here.

“Enough Money for Good Teachers”

Joanne Jacobs rounds up recent articles about teacher compensation:

The “qualified teacher” shortage is a myth, writes Michael Podgursky in the spring Education Next. Most public schools have enough money to recruit and retain competent teachers — if they could raise pay for teachers with high-demand skills, such as physics and chemistry, without having to pay more for every teacher.

Podgursky compared teacher pay in low-poverty public schools with non-religious private schools. Private school teachers averaged 80 percent of the pay of public teachers with affluent students.

Paul Peterson observes that teacher pay systems reward the “credentialed careerist,” not necessarily the most talented teachers.

Another article looks at When Principals Rate Teachers, finding principals are good at judging effectiveness.

Great Expectations critiques the cost-effectiveness of national board certification of teachers, suggesting a better system would look at the value added by exceptional teachers.

Middle School Design Team: Final Report to the Superintendent

The Madison schools middle school curriculum design team’s final report is now available [1.7MB pdf]. Topics addressed include:

  • Math
  • Music
  • Art
  • World Languages
  • Health/Family and Consumer Education
  • Information and Technology Literacy
  • Student Services

The report closed with a discussion of the Future Areas for Discussion:

The Design Team had a very specific charge. As the team met, it quickly became apparent that additional areas that pertain to middle level education are ripe for discussion. The final recommendation from the team includes a wish to continue this discussion over time. The areas that are of interest include:

  • K-8 model
  • Scheduling around part-time staff. Sharing staff.
  • Distance Learning, i.e. district on-line course offerings
  • Mental health and severe behavioral issues
  • Alternative educational settings
  • Bus safety
  • Regular articulation meetings between middle and high school staff in all content areas
  • Regular articulation meetings between middle and high schools among student
  • services staff to increase communication and develop a set of agreed upon
  • expectations and practices regarding 8th to 9th transition.
  • Advisories
  • Safety issues, i.e. bullying, climate
  • City-wide projects and competitions
  • Revisit the juxtaposition of the MMSD Educational Framework, the Equity Framework, the MMSD Middle School Common Expectations, and the current middle school models used in MMSD.

Watchdog of Testing Industry Faces Economic Extinction

Michael Winerip:

But for all FairTest’s impact, its days may be numbered. Never before has standardized testing so dominated American public education, thanks to the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind Law. Every child from grade 3 to high school must now take state tests. And the Bush administration is considering extending those tests to colleges.
“With N.C.L.B., a lot of people feel the debate is over,” said Monty Neill, director of FairTest, officially the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. “The attitude seems to be, ‘Testing is so pervasive, what’s the point?’ ” Support from foundations has virtually dried up and individual donations have not made up the difference. “Our board has seriously discussed whether to fold the operation,” Mr. Neill said

Eduwonk has much more.

Police Calls Down In Most Categories At LaFollette High School

Channel3000:

News 3 examined the data from Robert M. LaFolette High School on Tuesday night. The school is the smallest of the four schools included in this series, boasting more than 1,700 students.
During a typical afternoon at LaFollette High School, principal Mike Meissen walks the halls.
If it’s going on at LaFollette, Meissen knows about it. He uses a new technology that all four Madison principals have this year — a palm pilot. Meissen can access a list of LaFollette’s 1,748 students along with their pictures and class schedules. They tell him where they should be at all times.
Assistant Principal Mikki Smith is in her first year as one of his top assistants and she said that he has a reputation for maintaining order at the school.
“Mike is known for running a pretty tight ship,” Smith said. “He has high expectations for students and he makes that known.”

video

A Formula for Failure in L.A. Schools

This is from a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. I was alerted to it by the Daily Howler blog http://www.dailyhowler.com/. I mention this because that site has had some great education coverage lately and will soon be launching an all-education companion blog.
http://www.latimes.com/news/education/la-me-dropout30jan30,0,3211437.story?coll=la-news-learning
THE VANISHING CLASS
A Formula for Failure in L.A. Schools
Because they can’t pass algebra, thousands of students are denied diplomas. Many try again and again — but still get Fs.
By Duke Helfand
Times Staff Writer
January 30, 2006
Each morning, when Gabriela Ocampo looked up at the chalkboard in her ninth-grade algebra class, her spirits sank.
There she saw a mysterious language of polynomials and slope intercepts that looked about as familiar as hieroglyphics.
She knew she would face another day of confusion, another day of pretending to follow along. She could hardly do long division, let alone solve for x.
“I felt like, ‘Oh, my God, what am I going to do?’ ” she recalled.
Gabriela failed that first semester of freshman algebra. She failed again and again — six times in six semesters. And because students in Los Angeles Unified schools must pass algebra to graduate, her hopes for a diploma grew dimmer with each F.
Midway through 12th grade, Gabriela gathered her textbooks, dropped them at the campus book room and, without telling a soul, vanished from Birmingham High School.
Her story might be just a footnote to the Class of 2005 except that hundreds of her classmates, along with thousands of others across the district, also failed algebra.
Of all the obstacles to graduation, algebra was the most daunting.
The course that traditionally distinguished the college-bound from others has denied vast numbers of students a high school diploma.
“It triggers dropouts more than any single subject,” said Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer. “I think it is a cumulative failure of our ability to teach math adequately in the public school system.”

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School board candidates Silveira and Cole face off in April

By Susan Troller
Although Madison School Board candidate Arlene Silveira’s 48 percent showing in Tuesday’s primary has established her as the front runner in the race for a Madison School Board seat, an opponent’s supporter says a primary win does not assure a general election victory, especially when the turnout is very low.
School Board member Ruth Robarts is a supporter of Maya Cole, who trailed Silveira in Tuesday’s primary with 35 percent of the vote. Robarts noted when she ran for the School Board in 1997, she finished a distant second in the primary with just 22 percent of the vote. Robarts picked up about 11,000 votes following the primary and won the general election.
“What was established (in Tuesday’s primary) is that there are now two viable candidates, each with an opportunity to pick up a significant number of votes in the general election,” Robarts said.
Silveira and Cole both have strong credentials as volunteers in the community. They held off 27-year-old doctoral student Michael J. Kelly to advance to the general election to compete for the School Board seat being vacated by incumbent Bill Keys. Under 5 percent of the district’s voters turned out for Tuesday’s election.
“Given that this was the only race, I thought the turnout was actually fairly good,” said Silveira. “And I was very happy for support across the whole district. I heard, again and again, that the needs of children are the issue.”
Silveira, who is single and has a middle school age daughter, has been an active school volunteer for nine years. A member of the West/Memorial area boundary task force, she supports that group’s recommendation to build an addition at Leopold Elementary and a new far west side elementary school to address issues of overcrowding and growth. Silveira is a marketing director for Promega Corporation.
Cole is a stay-at-home mother of three elementary school age boys, and has been an activist in opposition to concealed carry legislation.
“Obviously, I hope that there’s a bigger turnout in the general election,” Cole said today. “I’m looking forward to working really hard over the next 40 days and to getting people fired up about this School Board race.”
The former editor of a medical journal, Cole is the community/communication chair of the Franklin/Randall PTO. She takes a cautious approach toward building, and has called for what she calls a more transparent budget.
Kelly, who moved to Madison from Boston last summer and is pursuing his doctorate in medieval history at the University of Wisconsin, was a surprise late entrant into the race, which prompted the citywide primary. Given his low-key campaign, which included just a handful of appearances at forums and candidate debates, he said he was happy with his showing. And he clearly liked the process, saying he intends to continue to be involved in Madison politics.
“I have learned a lot from this campaign and look forward to taking that knowledge and experience, along with my active and progressive vision for Madison and my strong voter base, with me into future campaigns,” he said.
SCHOOL BOARD RESULTS
• Arlene Silveira: 3,191
• Maya Cole: 2,338
• Michael J. Kelly: 996
E-mail: stroller@madison.com
Published: February 22, 2006

A Power Point You Will Actually WANT To See

http://www.blackshirtbands.org/budget.asp
Description from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
MONDAY, Feb. 20, 2006, 2:33 p.m.
Banding together: Waukesha students support music programs
Waukesha South High School band boosters have set to music their reasons for why band and orchestra should be saved from anticipated cuts in the next school year.
You can check out their multimedia presentation here. A sample: “Don’t let the community that gave us Les Paul end up with Less Music.”
The Waukesha School Board is considering $3 million worth of program and service cuts to balance its 2006-’07 budget. Among the cutbacks being contemplated is the elimination of three full-time music teachers, which would push back the start of elementary orchestra and band instruction by one year.
The board has a work session scheduled for Feb. 28. A final vote on program cuts is slated for the board’s March 8 meeting.
-By Amy Hetzner

Life Without Algebra

Joanne Jacobs rounds up a number of links:

Mathphobe Richard Cohen advises a girl who’s flunked algebra six times that the subject is useless in later life since “most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator,” while “no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note — or reason even a little bit.”

Gabriela, sooner or later someone’s going to tell you that algebra teaches reasoning. This is a lie propagated by, among others, algebra teachers. Writing is the highest form of reasoning. This is a fact. Algebra is not. The proof of this, Gabriela, is all the people in my high school who were whizzes at math but did not know a thing about history and could not write a readable English sentence. I can cite Shelly, whose last name will not be mentioned, who aced algebra but when called to the board in geography class, located the Sahara Desert right where the Gobi usually is. She was off by a whole continent.

if that’s the kind of reasoning taught by writing, I’ll take algebra.

Take Home Test: Week 5

Isthmus:

6618 voters in the Madison Metropolitan School District have spoken: school board candidates Maya Cole and Arlene Silveira will move on the April 4 general election. Cole received 2338 votes (or 35.32%), Silveira received 3191 votes (or 48.21%), while third place candidate received 996 votes (or 15.04%).

With that, week five of the Take Home Test is condensed to four candidates: yesterday’s winners in the Seat One race, along with Seat Two candidates Juan Jose Lopez and Lucy Mathiak.

This week’s questions:

Extra credit question: ” Role playing exercise: Convince a family moving to the Madison metro area that Madison schools will provide as good as or better educational opportunities than they would receive in a suburban school district.”

“Moving Beyond Islands of Excellence”

Madison School Board Seat 1 Candidate Maya Cole:

The Madison Metropolitan School District is, in my opinion, at a tipping point. We need to adopt a new way of looking at education. Our community is growing and is beginning to look more and more like an urban school district. Debate in the public forum is healthy when it comes to addressing issues of equity and education.
The Learning First Alliance, a partnership of leading education organizations was founded in 1997, is looking at this type of leadership model in school districts. The goals of the Alliance are to: ensure that high academic expectations are held for all students; ensure a safe and supportive place of learning for all students; and, to engage parents and other community members in helping students achieve high academic expectations.

Cole’s opponent in the April 4, 2006 election is parent Arlene Silveira

Florida & Iowa: Pay for Performance Teacher Bonus Proposals

Donna Winchester & Ron Matus:

The Board of Education is expected today to approve a proposal that would give some teachers a bonus equal to 5 percent of their salary. The extra pay would be based solely on their ability to show student learning gains on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
But the biggest impediment could be lack of teacher support. Unlike Denver officials, who worked closely with the teacher’s union, Florida education officials didn’t consult with the state teachers union until after they had a draft of their plan.
When performance pay is “forced on teachers, you have a war,” said Allan Odden, professor of educational administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “And if you’re having a war, it’s unlikely to be an incentive to improving student learning.”

Jonathan Roos:

A commission would be created to design the new compensation program, which would likely include the measurement of student improvement over a year’s time as a yardstick of how well a teacher is performing.
Democrats reacted cautiously to the Senate Republicans’ merit pay initiative.
“I think the responsible course of action would be for us to first come to agreement on what such a program would entail,” said Vilsack.

Go with Your Gut

Harriet Brown:

LAST week’s reports that low-fat diets may not reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer have left Americans more confused than ever about what to eat. I’d like to make a radical suggestion: instead of wringing our hands over fat grams and calories, let’s resolve to enjoy whatever food we eat.
Because, as it turns out, when you eat something you like, your body makes more efficient use of its nutrients. Which means that choking down a plateful of steamed cauliflower (if you hate steamed cauliflower) is not likely to do you as much good as you think.
In the 1970’s, researchers fed two groups of women, one Swedish and one Thai, a spicy Thai meal. The Thai women — who presumably liked the meal more than the Swedish women did — absorbed almost 50 percent more iron from it than the Swedish women. When the meal was served as a mushy paste, the Thai women absorbed 70 percent less iron than they had before — from the same food.
The researchers concluded that food that’s unfamiliar (Thai food to Swedish women) or unappetizing (mush rather than solid food) winds up being less nutritious than food that looks, smells and tastes good to you. The explanation can be found in the digestive process itself, in the relationship between the “second brain” — the gut — and the brain in your head.

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Secrets of Graduating from College

Jay Matthews:

The first Toolbox provided the most powerful argument by far for getting more high school students into challenging courses, my favorite reporting topic. Using data from a study of 8,700 young Americans, it showed that students whose high schools had given them an intense academic experience — such as a heavy load of English courses or advanced math or Advanced Placement — were more likely to graduate from college. It has been frequently cited by high school principals, college admissions directors and anyone else who cared about giving more choices in life to more students, particularly those from low-income and minority families.
The new Toolbox is 193 pages [pdf] of dense statistics, obscure footnotes and a number of insightful and surprising assessments of the intricacies of getting a college degree in America. It confirms the lessons of the old Toolbox using a study of 8,900 students who were in 12th grade in 1992, 10 years after the first group. But it goes much further, prying open the American higher education system and revealing the choices that are most likely to get the least promising students a bachelor’s degree.

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Knowledge of Elders Stream Into Area Classrooms

Maria Glod:

“You don’t learn if you don’t listen,” Gundersen said, quieting the pair just a little.
“We have to respect each other,” Erin acknowledged, nodding his head.
Gundersen, a 30-year veteran of the State Department who comes to Birney one afternoon each week to talk with Erin about history or homework or life, is among a growing cadre of older adults and retirees who volunteer regularly in schools across the country, helping children learn to read, practice multiplication tables and learn geography.

To: Professor@University.edu Subject: Why It’s All About Me

Jonathan D. Glater:

One student skipped class and then sent the professor an e-mail message asking for copies of her teaching notes. Another did not like her grade, and wrote a petulant message to the professor. Another explained that she was late for a Monday class because she was recovering from drinking too much at a wild weekend party.
Jennifer Schultens, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of California, Davis, received this e-mail message last September from a student in her calculus course: “Should I buy a binder or a subject notebook? Since I’m a freshman, I’m not sure how to shop for school supplies. Would you let me know your recommendations? Thank you!”

Madison Schools 5 Year Budget Forecast

QT Video The Madison School District’s Finance and Operations Committee reviewed a 5 year financial forecast, starting with this year’s $320M+ budget, prepared by the Administration Monday evening. Video and mp3 audio.
Local media comments:

Susan Troller:

Roger Price, business services director for the district, cautioned that projections beyond the next two years are simply a forecast, and a budget tool. “I’m very confident about the figures for 2007 and fairly confident for the following year. After that, it’s more speculative,” he said.
Costs to run the school district rise about 4 percent per year, while state-mandated revenue caps limit what a district can spend from the combination of property taxes and state aid to 2.6 percent. Every year, the district must find a way to close the gap to balance the budget.
Under the revenue cap formula, districts that are growing in size benefit while districts that are losing enrollment must subtract the cost of educating their students from their budgets. Total student enrollment has been declining throughout Wisconsin. Madison has seen a loss of students over the last decade, while suburban Dane County has seen rapid growth.

WKOW-TV has more. Background links and articles on the budget are available here.

The importance of diversity and race relations training

This clip is one more reason for the importance of diversity and race relations training in this district and every other in the country. This sad commentary is another reason for the position of Special Assistant to the Superintendent for Parent and Community Relations. In addition to that position, the MMSD needs to be committed to the Minority Recruiter position. Lastly, (and please listen closely at toward the end of the clip) yet another reason for students of color to be involved in Advanced Placement courses. I received this from my wife, who received it through colleagues. It is shameful…do not enjoy but educate yourself.

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MMSD Wins EPA Clean Bus Grant

Great Lakes Environmental News:

The EPA has just awarded 37 grants totaling $7.5 million as part of the Clean School Bus USA program, which is intended to reduce kid’s exposure to diesel exhaust. The program encourages policies and practices to eliminate unnecessary school bus idling, to install emission control systems on newer buses and to replace older buses with cleaner diesel or compressed natural gas powered buses. Grant recipients are contributing an additional $13 million in matching funds and in-kind services. The grants will help fund the cleanup of more than 500 tons of annual diesel emissions from 4000 school buses nationwide.

Via the Daily Page.

Minutes from Board Meeting to Create the Equity Task Force

Thanks for the link to the minutes of the October 31 meeting in the other thread. I found the document fascinating, and am posting it here (with the portion of the meeting devoted to expungement deleted for length reasons) for those who are following the equity task force. The discussion leading up to the charge is particularly interesting. The “continue reading” link will take you to the full minutes.

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Prevailing Wisdom on Autism Questioned

From University Communications, UW-Madison

Experts question prevalent stereotypes about autism

February 20, 2006
by Paroma Basu
As theories about autism spread like wildfire in the media and the general public, a panel of autism experts will reflect on the validity of four widely held – and potentially inaccurate – assumptions about the developmental disability.
Drawing on the latest in autism research, a psychologist, an epidemiologist, a psychiatrist and a physician will critically assess widespread stereotypes about autism during a symposium entitled “Science of Autism,” at the 2006 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
“With the surge in both scientists and society turning their attention toward autism, there comes responsibility,” says Morton Gernsbacher, a Vilas Research Professor of psychology at UW-Madison and the symposium’s chair and organizer. “It behooves us as scientists to distinguish uninformed stereotypes from scientific reality and to move beyond myths and misconceptions.”

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UW: Future Artists Showcase

University of Wisconsin:

The arts are not only a means of personal expression. Ideas also regularly travel the compelling highways that the arts of all kinds provide.
Case in point: The ideas embedded in the works that apprentice artists — students — are exploring and articulating in “The Chancellor Presents the Performing Artists of the Future: A World Class Evening of Music, Drama and Dance,” Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Overture Center.

Quite a deal at $15.00.

“Let’s Teach to the Test”

Jay Matthews:

Let’s start by trying to clarify what I consider the most deceptive phrase in education today: “teaching to the test.”
Teaching to the test, you may have heard, is bad, very bad. I got 59.2 million hits when I did a Google search for the phrase, and most of what I read was unfriendly. Teaching to the test made children sick, one article said. Others said it rendered test scores meaningless or had a dumbing effect on instruction. All of that confused me, since in 23 years of visiting classrooms I have yet to see any teacher preparing kids for exams in ways that were not careful, sensible and likely to produce more learning.

Would You Take the Bird in the Hand, or a 75% Chance at the Two in the Bush?

Virginia Postrel:

Would you rather have $1,000 for sure or a 90 percent chance of $5,000? A guaranteed $1,000 or a 75 percent chance of $4,000?
In economic theory, questions like these have no right or wrong answers. Even if a gamble is mathematically more valuable — a 75 percent chance of $4,000 has an expected value of $3,000, for instance — someone may still prefer a sure thing.
People have different tastes for risk, just as they have different tastes for ice cream or paint colors. The same is true for waiting: Would you rather have $400 now or $100 every year for 10 years? How about $3,400 this month or $3,800 next month? Different people will answer differently.

Portage School Referendum

WKOW-TV:

Pulfus cites the speedy payoff of the high school as one example of a way the District has worked to keep costs down for taxpayers. He also says the district attracts 140 students each year from surrounding districts under the school choice program, showing they have quality programs and education.
“If parents didn’t believe we had a good school here, they wouldn’t be coming here.” Pulsfus says. School districts get paid, in part, by the number of students enrolled.
Unlike districts facing increasing or declineing enrollm,ent problems, the nmber of student sin the Portage District remains about the same, with a projected decrease of 44 students in seven years. (From 2465 students in 2003-04 to 2419 students 2009-10.

Building the Prototypical School: Measuring What Works, and What Doesn’t

Tom Still:

The report notes that Wisconsin’s education system needs to “double or triple current performance so that in the short term, 60 percent of students achieve at or above proficiency, and in the longer term 90 percent of students achieve at that level.”
Wisconsin suffers from what might be described as the “Lake Wobegone Syndrome.” Like the residents of Garrison Keillor’s mythical Minnesota burg, we believe our kids are all above average. Judged by some national standards, they are; judged by international standards; it’s not true at the K-12 level. Only after post-secondary education do American students begin to climb up the global proficiency scale.
If you’re looking for an ambitious mission statement, consider this pledge from the bipartisan Wisconsin School Finance Adequacy Initiative: “We will not simply propose adding new dollars on top of current dollars, but propose a complete new reuse of all dollars – first those currently in the (K-12 public school) system, and then any additional dollars if that is the finding of the adequacy analysis.”
In other words, this blue-ribbon panel won’t be satisfied with recommending more of the same when it comes to public education in Wisconsin, unless “more of the same” is producing tangible dividends for students, their communities and the overall economy.
Now halfway through its study of Wisconsin public schools, the 26-member task force led by UW-Madison Professor Allen Odden is trying to live up to its promise to scrutinize current spending levels and to adjust them up, down – or even out – based on empirical evidence of what works and what does not.

Links: via Google Allen Odden: Clusty | Google
Wisconsin School Adequacy Finance Initiative website.

Editorial on Tuesday’s Primary Election

The Capital Times:

Kelly has not made a credible case for his nomination. Both Silveira and Cole have.
We’ve been impressed with Cole’s ability to mix her deep and thoughtful analysis of education issues with a sense of humor that has been sorely lacking on the board. While she’s obviously a very smart and very engaged parent, Cole also has a very quick wit.
Silveira, meanwhile, brings her own impressive record of leadership in local school organizations and her savvy as a scientist who now works as a marketing director for Promega Corporation. She is intimately familiar with the complexities of school boundaries from her work on the West/Memorial boundary task force.
Cole and Silveira both have the capacity to engage this community in a spirited and respectful debate over the direction of Madison’s schools.

Links and candidate information available here.

Kids, Schools & Cities, Part II

Paul Soglin:

In parting, let me share with you the findings of a Northwestern University professor, James Rosenbaum.* He studied poorly performing high school students, virtually all Black, from the Chicago Public Schools who moved into areas served by suburban schools. His findings were that most of these failing students in Chicago were getting C’s in the suburbs. A tougher school district and improved grades!
The main point of his paper was to challenge the commonly accepted conclusion that once a student was doing poorly academically, there was not much hope for turn around after the 6th or 7th grade. His findings completely contradicted that conclusion.

Carol Carstensen’s Weekly Message

Carol Carstensen:

Parent Group Presidents:
BUDGET FACTOID:
MTI has just informed the district that it will not agree to reopen negotiations to consider changes to health insurance. If the union had agreed to reopen negotiations on this point, the agreement was that any savings that resulted from a change in health insurance options would be used to increase salaries for staff.
FEBRUARY 13th MEETINGS:
5 p.m. Special Board Meeting Members of the Memorial/West Task Force spoke with the Board about their recommendations and how they arrived at them. They emphasized that they did not reach their recommendation (to build a new school and add on to Leopold) easily or quickly. It was only exhausting all other approaches that they came to agreement that the only truly long range solution involved building.
The Board then discussed the Memorial/West Task Force recommendation to build a new school on the far west side and to build an addition onto Leopold (known as the build-build approach). The Board decided not to put the issue on the April ballot but to provide more time for discussion and to look at the options if the community doesn’t support the build recommendation. The Board directed the administration to come back with information about the possibility of finding land in Fitchburg to build on and also to show how an addition to Leopold is necessary and would improve the current building.
FUTURE MEETINGS:
February 20:
5 p.m. Special Board Meeting, executive session – expulsions
6 p.m. Finance and Operations Committee (Johnny Winston, Jr., chair) 5-year budget forecast; proposals from community agencies for after school activities funded through the Community Service fund (Fund 80).
7 p.m. Partnerships Committee (Lawrie Kobza, chair) continued discussion about a policy governing gifts/funds to support activities during and/or after school.
February 27:
5:00 p.m. Legislative Committee (Ruth Robarts, chair) legislation that would increase the number of administrators who could be designated “at-will” employees; requirements for school district reports; requiring developers to pay fees to support the building of new schools; newly proposed TABOR-like amendment.
6 p.m. Special Board Meeting: discussion of the East Area Task Force recommendations; the Task Force will have a chance to talk with the Board at the start of the meeting; the Board will respond to the Swan Creek petition; discussion about future uses of the Doyle Building; administrator contracts.
Stay warm,
Carol
Carol Carstensen, President
Madison School Board
“Until lions have their own historians, the hunters will always be glorified.” – African Proverb

Teach Math Procedures as a First Step to Conceptual Understanding

Stanford’s Keith Devlin, via Joanne Jacobs:

. . . professional mathematicians, scientists and engineers, want the schools — the pipeline that keeps those professions supplied with new personnel — to ensure student mastery of numerical, algebraic and computational skills. “We don’t want to spend our time having to reteach the incoming students how to add fractions!” is a common refrain heard in university science and engineering departments.
Basic skills are not all they want, but they don’t want them left out or de-emphasized.
Ranged against them (again, broadly speaking) is the mathematics education community, which argues that a focus on procedural skills is misplaced, and that the primary aim of school mathematics education should be to produce conceptual understanding. “If students understand the concepts, they can pick up any skills they need easily enough, as and when they need them.”
As a professional mathematician, I often have to learn a new part of my subject. Every time I have to go through the same process: Start by learning the rules, then practice using the rules, and keep practicing until understanding develops. Practically every professional mathematician, scientist, or engineer I have spoken to has said more or less the same. Understanding follows experience.

Math Forum: Wednesday 2.22.2006 7:00p.m.

There’s been no shortage of discusion regarding math curriculum. Rafael Gomez’s latest event, this Wednesday’s Math Forum should prove quite interesting. The event will be at the Doyle Administration Building (McDaniels Auditorium) [Map] from 7:00 to 8:00p.m. Participants include:

The general format follows:

  1. Each Speaker presents their passion and views about math as subject matter in the school setting
    • views will be decoded into a scope and sequence of curr. in the middle school
    • views about the math program at MMSD
  2. Discussion: Questions relative to a scope and sequence as well as developmental stages of a middle school student
  3. Audience Questions

The Forum’s goal is to provide an informative event for parents and other interested parties.

Madison Schools Board of Education Election Site Update

I’ve added several items to the Spring, 2006 Madison School Board election page:

  • Arlene Silveira’s response to the Northside Planning Council’s Questions;
  • Letters supporting candidates:
    • Progressive Dane’s Nick Berigan: Silveira’s actions prove she belongs on School Board (Duplicate post with more comments from Joan Knoebel, Jerry Eykholt and Marisue Horton)
    • Madison School Board Member Ruth Robarts: Cole has kids’ best interest at heart
    • Parent Jim Zellmer: Cole is the best choice for Madison’s future generations.

Parent Marisue Horton posted words for Arlene in the comments below.

A Larger Conversation about Quality Inclusive Education

These are thoughts authored by community member and MMSD parent, Beth Swedeen:
The issue of children being adequately served by special education services is a challenge playing out across the country. Certainly, as someone who works with families of children with disabilities and as a parent of a child with disabilities myself, I know the anguish and frustration of watching a child flounder when needs are not adequately met. I also know families who use public school choice and even move so their child receives adequate services. This is not a Madison-specific problem.
Single solutions, such as eliminating cross-categorical staffing or segregating children into ability-grouped learning situations, is simplistic and can lead to unintended consequences, such as lower expectations in those segregated settings, or rigid one-size fits all instruction by “learning disability” or “cognitive disability” teachers.
In its most heart-breaking forms, category-specific programming in smaller districts leads to children being pulled out of their home school and bussed 15 miles or more away to the “cognitive disability” or “emotional disability” program in a neighboring town. I am working with 2 families who are facing that right now. The fact that their child, who has made friends and connections at school, is being ripped away from the community because he or she has Down symdrome or cerebral palsy is truly tragic. Less than 15 years ago, Madison grouped students in this way, and children did not attend their neighborhood school, not based on parent choice, but based on their disability labels.
Madison Partners for Inclusive Education is working closely with MMSD and with the community as a whole to help support students, their families, and educational staff in improving outcomes for students with special needs.
MMSD has some real positives going for it:

  • More than 97 percent of special needs students are either being served in their home school or in a school of the parent’s choice.
  • The vast majority of students with disabilities at all ages are spending the majority of their day in regular education classrooms (I believe the highest rate of any urban school district in the country.)
  • Leadership at the administrative and at most building levels is committed to inclusive practices.
  • Ties to the University of Wisconsin and evidence-based best practices are strong.
  • Commitment to adequate training and continuing education is present.

Madison Partners has also identified several key areas in which they want to continue to partner with the district to further strengthen the quality of services:

  • Input into hiring at key leadership levels (building principals).
  • Continued partnerships with resources in the community and with families to elevate services and get much-needed supports to classroom teachers, special educators, and related staff.
  • Continued emphasis on total team teaching (using all resources present, including reg/special ed, speech, OT/PT therapists, classroom aides, and related staff to meet every need in classrooms. This also means sharing resources: for instance, reading specialists in schools working with special educators on specific strategies to meet student reading goals.)
  • Continued resources for in-service and pre-service training on effective differentiation.
  • Direct training for families and students on how students can take part in and play leadership roles in developing their own Individual Education Plans (IEPs).
  • More leadership opportunities in schools for students with disabilities.
  • Working with MMSD and community to strengthen state funding for schools.

We know that no single person, no matter how gifted, can meet diverse needs of 15-20 students in any given classroom. Instead of separating children out, though, we endorse strategies than engage the entire school team in the success of each student. Together, we believe we can elevate outcomes, not just for students with disabilities, but for all students in our district.

7.96M Spending vs. Revenue Gap Projected for the Madison School District (2006 – 2007 Budget)

Sandy Cullen:

Madison School District administrators are projecting a $7.96 million gap between what it would cost to continue the same services next year and what it will be able to raise under state revenue limits.
A gap of $6 million to $10 million had been projected.

[ed: 2005-2006 budget is $321M+]
There are many factors that affect the district’s budget including enrollment (flat or slightly declining – every time a student leaves, the district loses spending authority), state and federal redistributions, state spending caps (district spending, which increases annually is limited by enrollment and a % growth), health care costs and program choices among many others. Details here.

The Poetry Foundation

www.poetryfoundation.org:

Through the new Web site, the Poetry Foundation seeks to celebrate and share the best classical and contemporary poetry with a broad and diverse audience, from the devoted poetry reader to the casual one. At the core of the new site is an extensive archive of poetry, including poetry and essays from back issues of Poetry magazine (now in its 94th year of continuous publication). At launch the archive will include more than 3,000 poems by over 300 poets. All of the site’s content, including the poetry archive, is accessible free of charge.

The FruitGal

Sam Whiting:

nstead of getting employees to eat junk food on breaks at work, the company buys them fruit. They put that in the break room and the employees snack on that instead of junk and they feel good and they work hard and they don’t call in sick.
On cost
It’s about $60 for a 40-serving box of seasonal fruit that’s guaranteed to please. If it’s not of the quality you want, we’ll replace it. There’s no contract.

“Extra Special Education at Public Expense”

Nanette Asimov:

At Woodside High in San Mateo County, college-prep classes awaited a 15-year-old boy with learning disabilities and anxiety.
He would blend in with other college-bound students, but also receive daily help from a special education expert. He would get a laptop computer, extra time for tests — and an advocate to smooth any ripples with teachers. If an anxiety attack came on, he could step out of class.
But Woodside High wasn’t what his parents had in mind.
Instead, they enrolled him in a $30,000-a-year prep school in Maine — then sent the bill to their local public school district.

Strategies to Raise SAT Scores

Ian Shapira:

School officials said they are weighing several options, including encouraging more non-honors or non-AP students to enroll in Algebra II by sophomore year instead of participating in an easier, two-year Algebra I course; financing the PSAT for sophomores and perhaps freshmen; and, on a more basic level, adding more testing sites within the county so that students can take the exam in a comfortable setting without having to commute long distances.

“We Must Show Every Child The Light”

Reaction to Joel Rubin and Nancy Cleeland’s “The Vanishing Class“:

So Much Damage
Perhaps these fiascos could be avoided if public officials first tested proposed policy changes on a small scale (instead of blindly applying them to tens of millions of students with no insight on the potential impact). At this point, so much damage has been done to so many people, I’m uncertain how the situation can be rectified (except perhaps to save future generations of students).
— MARC
Learning … Is Work
Get rid of calculators … [and get rid of the] false belief that learning should be fun! Learning, the repeated cycles of drill and mastery, is WORK!
— KATHRYN
Squeaky Wheel
Parents need to be more involved, and this involvement has to originate from the schools. With the large numbers of students whose parents do not speak English, the schools must do a better job of bringing these parents into the school community and getting them involved in their child’s education. Many a night I sat frustrated and nearly on the verge of tears because I couldn’t help my son. My son was lucky, though, I was the proverbial squeaky wheel that ensured he was not passed over, but most students aren’t that lucky.
— PAUL ROBINSON
Individual Attention
As a member of a school board in Ventura County (not the rich part), I can say that I think there are two reasons that LAUSD is failing its students. First, the system is simply too large. How can a school of 4,000 do everything well? Our kids need individual attention, and I just don’t see how any massive organization like LAUSD can succeed. Second, I believe that because politics are involved in such an intimate way in these large districts, the kids get left in the dust. The unions are fighting for ever more of the financial pie (most districts spend 85% to 90% of their total [budget] on personnel and benefits); the administration is beholden to the myriad rules and regulations coming at them from both the state and federal level; and less and less control is at the local level. The politicians don’t want to pay for raises for employees or lower student-staff ratios, so the existing dollars must be stretched. That means more students per class, more students per counselor, more students per custodian, maintenance person, etc. And we wonder why the kids feel like no one cares about them?
— JOHN G.

These links include many more words and are well worth reading.

New Schools Venture Fund

New Schools Venture Fund:

NewSchools Venture Fund™ is a venture philanthropy firm working to transform public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children – especially those underserved – have the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century.

James Flanigan has more:

Recipients of the fund’s investments are not whiz kids eager to become the next Bill Gates. Mainly, they are public school teachers with a passion to improve the ways poor children are taught. The companies they form are nonprofit charter school management organizations, capable of running publicly financed elementary and secondary schools that are freed from some rules and regulations in exchange for producing educational results better than those of the large urban school district. Almost all their students are eligible for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches.
Financing from New Schools and charitable foundations helps them to build or buy school properties and to get elementary, middle and high schools up and running. But their operations are expected to quickly become self-sustaining on the stipends paid from local, state and federal taxes for educating each student.

Maya Cole is best for School Board

Jim Zellmer:

Dear Editor: The election of Maya Cole to the Madison School Board is the best choice for Madison’s future generations.
Our public schools face a number of challenges, including flat or declining enrollment (despite a growing metropolitan area), providing our children with a world-class curriculum and significantly improving taxpayer confidence in the budget process so that referendums pass.
Maya’s advocacy for much stronger school district interactions with the city and local community groups, of which Madison has many, is a smart approach to increasing parent and public support (and therefore enrollment and resources) for the school district. The district has, under some current board members, declined community opportunities, such as Fitchburg biotech powerhouse Promega’s offer of free land for a school in the mid-1990s. That land became Eagle School.
Maya has extensively discussed improving the district’s curriculum by working closely with local world-class resources, such as the University of Wisconsin and adjacent higher education institutions. Maya’s words stand in stark contrast to the district’s current efforts to reduce curriculum choices and quality for our next generation.
Maya notes that many school districts provide taxpayers with a detailed school-by-school budget and a long-term forecast. Transparency and long-term budget information are critical to taxpayer support for future referendums.
I’m supporting Maya Cole, a Madison parent of three young children who attend our public schools, for Seat 1, and I hope you do as well.
Jim Zellmer
Madison
Published: February 17, 2006

Advanced Classes Open Doors for Minorities

School district works to boost participation
By Kelly McBride
The path toward post-secondary education formed naturally for 18-year-old Wekeana Lassiter.
Her mom always emphasized the importance of learning. An older sister attends college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. And Lassiter is a studious Green Bay Preble High School senior with aspirations of becoming an architect.
If college was a given, the Advanced Placement courses that are preparing her for it — as well as allowing her to earn college credit — made just as much sense for Lassiter, who will attend UWM in the fall.
“Originally, why I took AP classes was to get credit,” said Lassiter, who is enrolled in AP physics and AP calculus. “Now that I’m in them, they’re really difficult, (but) it’s awesome. You get kind of a feel about how college classes are going to be.”
But the doors that have opened for Lassiter, who is black, have in many cases stayed closed for some of her peers, say officials in the Green Bay School District.
Minority participation in AP courses continues to lag behind that of their white counterparts, with a lower percentage of minority students, by about 15 percentage points, taking AP courses than that of whites during 2004-05, data show.
But the figures are improving, and district officials say new initiatives can help alter the disparity.

Cole has kids’ best interest at heart

Ruth Robarts:

Dear Editor: Maya Cole gets my vote in Tuesday’s School Board primary because she believes that we can do better by our children, she’s actively looking for new solutions to old problems, and she’s committed to bringing parents and the community into policy-making.
She’s a mom on a mission to reform how the Madison schools do business at a time when we need change. Maya understands, for example, the important role that the community should play in evaluating the effectiveness of our curriculum.
We need her kind of leadership to keep all kinds of families in the public schools and serve all kids as well as we possibly can.
Ruth Robarts
member
Madison Board of Education

Want to know whether the Madison schools get a good health insurance deal for teachers? Forget it.

Most of the $37M that the Madison school district will spend this year for employee health insurance goes to the cost for covering our teachers and their families. That’s about 10% of the total annual budget.
I support high quality health insurance for all of our employees. As a school board member, I also have a duty to ensure that all district dollars are spent wisely. I should know whether the district gets the best coverage that it can for teachers at the best cost that it can find. I cannot make good decisions regarding future contract negotiations or future operating budget referendums without this kind of information.
In nine years of service on the Madison school board, I have learned little in executive sessions on negotiations that would help me answer the basic question: are we getting a good deal on health insurance for teachers? When the district and Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI) agreed to form a joint task force that would publicly consider health insurance options, I hoped that open competition among providers would help me understand how the current commitments to Wisconsin Physicians Services and Group Health Cooperative compare to other options. I had hoped that the public would also learn something about how effectively the district negotiates over the cost of health insurance.
Forget it. The district and the union held two meetings on this topic and invited two insurance companies, in addition to the current providers, to make proposals. The union took an internal poll and decided to end the discussions. Teachers bar shift in health coverage
Business as usual continues. No direction from the board regarding the task force is one of many reasons that the public and the school board are no better informed as the result of creating the task force.

Teachers bar shift in health coverage

Madison’s teachers union said Friday it will not agree to reopen its contract with the School District to renegotiate health-care benefits, dashing hopes the district could find cheaper coverage.
A joint committee of district and union representatives has been studying rising health- care costs, but both sides had to agree to reopen the 2005-07 contract to take any action. Either way, officials say taxpayers would not have seen savings, at least not in the short term.
John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., said a strong majority of union members like the coverage they have and don’t want to jeopardize it, even though any savings would have gone to higher salaries.
“Members of MTI have elected to have a higher quality insurance rather than higher wages, and that’s their choice,” he said.
By Doug Erickson, Wisconsin State Journal, February 18, 2006
derickson@madison.com

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