The Liberal Arts in School and College

Stanley N. Katz:

The debates that dominate the discussion of the transition from high school to college today assume that the sole function of high school is to prepare graduates to succeed in college courses. If we look at secondary education from the point of view of the liberal arts, however, we can discover a fundamentally different concept of its purpose — and of the capabilities of adolescents. A liberal-arts focus shows how different American assumptions are from those of the other industrialized nations with whom we compete globally today.
Let me start with two points. First, liberal education (by which I mean an engagement with the major aspects of human knowledge and values) is not a throwaway, a bauble for rich kids in select institutions who are going to get good jobs no matter what they study. Liberal education is, or should be, at the core of training our youth to serve themselves, their country, and the world. Second, liberal education is a process laden with content that stretches over an extended period of schooling — at the very least from the third year of high school through the second year of college — and arguably over the entire eight years for those who attend the two institutions.
The question I want to raise is whether we, in the United States, assume that the majority of students aren’t ready to take on a challenging liberal-arts curriculum until they get to college. Have we implicitly taken for granted that adolescents are not capable of tackling the liberal arts? And must we assume, as I think we do, that college students need to get through studying them as quickly as possible, in order to go on to more-professional studies?

Jobs: Special Assistant to the Superintendent for Parent / Community Response

Madison Metropolitan School District:

Provide consultation and direction to schools in their efforts to develop and administer programs which result in achievement of all students. Provide consultation to schools in their efforts to integrate authentic multicultural education in all subject areas. Work with schools to promote teaching strategies that facilitate achievement of students from diverse backgrounds. Provide consultation to the Teaching and Learning Department to ensure the District is offering a comprehensive multicultural education. Provide consultation to staff on the selection, evaluation and use of multicultural resources.

MMSD jobs on the web, including summer school positions.

New Jersey School Administrator Compensation Discussion

Richard Lezin Jones:

Local school boards in New Jersey, driven by stiff competition for top-flight administrators, have given them “questionable and excessive” compensation packages that cost taxpayers millions of dollars and are often hidden from public view, according to the results of a review by state officials released Monday.
The review, by the State Commission of Investigation, examined the payrolls of dozens of school districts and found that boards of education around the state have lavished officials with cars, computers, cellphones, improper pension increases and donations to tax-deferred annuities. Superintendents and other top administrators received, on average, extra compensation that was valued at slightly more than $70,000 over their base salaries, the state found.

The New $4.5 Billion Federal School Funding Program Nobody Knows

Kevin Carey:

But lost in this debate is one of the biggest and largely untold stories of NCLB: Since the law’s passage, Congress has changed the way it distributes the Title I funds that support NCLB, targeting an additional $4.5 billion to the states with strong school funding policies and the school districts with the highest concentrations of low-income children. Congress and the President deserve credit for the shift.
The change has attracted scant attention because it involves the law’s complex funding formulas. Title I uses not one but four different formulas to distribute money to schools—Basic, Concentration, Targeted, and Incentive. Before passage of NCLB, Congress used only the Basic and Concentration formulas. Those formulas spread Title I monies too widely, resulting in districts with relatively few poor children receiving significant funding and high-poverty schools receiving too little. But as the chart below shows, since Congress passed NCLB in 2001 it has increased Title I funding significantly and distributed all of the additional monies through the Targeted and Incentive formulas—helping the nation’s highest-poverty school districts and rewarding states that make the greatest effort to fund education and distribute funding fairly to local districts.

What’s an AYP Rating? And Why it Matters


Most everyone in the political and policy world was fixated on all the “what does it mean” questions about Sunday’s NYT Mag story on Mark Warner. But there was also some chattering about the Outlook spread on No Child Left Behind in the Wash. Post. It was well done including reactions from DC-area principals, an NCLB primer by Jay Mathews, and a map of DC-area schools (pdf) not making “adequate yearly progress” or AYP.

But despite the primer, readers might have been left wondering about these adequate yearly progress targets. That’s understandable, it’s confusing, and they’re not the result of a single calculation. Instead, it’s a multi-step process with opportunities to increase or decrease the level of difficulty at each one. It goes something like this:

First, the state chooses a test to use. This can be a pre-existing test used elsewhere, a custom-designed one based on the state’s standards, or a combination of the two. Obviously, the degree of difficulty is a big issue here.

Second, the state decides what the cut score on the test will be for a student to be “proficient” as well as “basic”, “advanced”, and any other delineations of performance the state wants to have. In other words, how many questions does a student need to answer correctly? For No Child Left Behind the most important category is proficient because that is what the law’s “adequate yearly progress” ratings are based on. There are several methods for determining cut scores. What’s most important to remember about them is that they all rely on professional judgment. There is no revealed source of truth about what a fifth-grader or a high school student needs to know and be able to do. At the risk of oversimplifying too much, the three most common methods are based on using expert judgment from a panel of experts to come up with cut scores, comparing and contrasting how various groups of test takers do on the test, and scaling the questions from easy to hard and determining various delineations for performance along the scale. Again, plenty of chances to increase or reduce the level of difficulty in this process.

But, while newspapers commonly report the percentage of students passing a test, they rarely report on what the cut scores are and when and how they are set. The composition of the professionals involved also matters a lot. Is it just K-12 teachers, or outside experts for instance representatives of higher education, too? Lack of attention to this process is unfortunate because there is plenty of opportunity for mischief and a state with a difficult test and a high cut score, say 40 out of 50, is going to have different results than a state with an easier test or a low cut scores. But, cut scores of half to 2/3 of the questions correct in order to be “proficient” are not at all uncommon. All this is public information or can be obtained through a FOIA. And it’s all extremely relevant to all this.

Dick Askey commented on test scores vis a vis local, state and national results here.

High school may be added to UNC system

School of science, math would be 17th campus

The General Assembly will be asked to approve adding a 17th campus to North Carolina’s public-university system, and this time it’s a high school.
Trustees at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics voted unanimously Friday to integrate with the University of North Carolina system. The UNC board of governors also must approve the reorganization.
The School of Science and Mathematics, a 25-year-old residential high school in Durham, has been under the UNC system umbrella for years. But the UNC board of governors has had no direct supervision of the high school’s trustees.

Marketing Tools Aid Schools

Elizabeth Redden:

The increased popularity of “school choice” and charter schools has another — often overlooked — consequence: an increased emphasis on school marketing.
“Schools find themselves in a different environment today,” said Dr. Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change in Minnesota.
“It used to be pretty cut and dried who goes to what school.
“As we’ve evolved in the last decade toward more public school choice through the charter school movement, more and more families want to learn about their options.”
Delaware is one of the nation’s leaders in school choice, according to a 2005 report released by the nonprofit Rodel Foundation of Delaware.

Improving math ed — Bush right about that, But where are the teachers coming from?

Jonathan David Farley:

In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush stressed the importance of improving math education. He proposed to “train 70,000 high school teachers to lead advanced placement courses in math and science, bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms, and give early help to students who struggle with math.”
But where will these teachers come from? And will the training of teachers be sufficient to increase the number of students choosing math and science careers? And why does all this matter?
Because mathematics is the foundation of the natural sciences. It is no coincidence that Isaac Newton, the man who formulated the law of gravitational attraction that revolutionized our understanding of the universe, was also the man who popularized the calculus. And the natural sciences, however pure, are what give us airplanes, cable TV and the Internet.
In the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment, a test that measures math literacy, American 15-year-olds performed worse than their peers in 23 countries, as well as those in Hong Kong. It’s not hard to see why. According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 40 percent of the nation’s middle school math teachers do not have the equivalent of an undergraduate minor in math. The average starting salary of a teacher is only $30,000, whereas the average starting salary for a recent college graduate in computer science or engineering is $50,000.

Jonathan Farley is a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, and a CISAC science fellow.

Virtual Public Schools a Great Option

Rose Fernandez:

I am the mother of 4 children who are excelling with Internet-based learning though a public school in Wisconsin. I am also the President of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families.
Together with our fellow parents, families and friends, we strive to educate policy makers and others on why we chose a virtual public school for our children; how those schools work; about the close, working relationship we have with our teachers and administrators; and much, much more.
Our Coalition strongly support AB 1060, a bill authored by Representative Brett Davis and Senator Luther Olsen, which has passed both houses of the Legislature and is awaiting the Governor’s signature. While public schools do not require additional legislation in order to continue to operate, we appreciate the Legislature reaffirming its intent to keep virtual public education as an option before the parents of Wisconsin.

Some schools, including Sherman, will get fresh fruit & vegetables

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster issued the following press release:

Students will crunch on carrots or cauliflower, or whip up a fruit smoothie while learning the importance of eating fresh produce in 25 schools throughout the state, thanks to a federal grant that brings Wisconsin into the successful U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.
“This grant allows us to offer more fresh produce to all students as a supplement to the school breakfast and school lunch programs,” said State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster. “Many schools will offer the fresh fruits and vegetables at times during the day when children would otherwise be hungry, or might need an energy boost to improve their attention in the classroom. We know that hungry children can’t learn, so this program supports our efforts to boost achievement for all students and close the achievement gap.”

Continue reading Some schools, including Sherman, will get fresh fruit & vegetables

Tom Beebe Discusses Wisconsin’s Public School Finance System

20 Minute Video | MP3 Audio

Tom Beebe of the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future (IWF) gave a talk Friday afternoon at Edgewood College as part of their school finance class. In this talk he reviews how Wisconsin’s basic school finance structure works, and how the revenue gaps has affected school funding throughout the state. He also provides some suggestions on how and where the funds can be found to correct the situation.

There will be a longer clip posted later this week.

O’Keefe Student Wins Badger Spelling Bee

Barry Adams:

When Isabel Jacobson exited last year’s state spelling bee in the fourth round, the tearful O’Keeffe Middle School student predicted she would be back for another shot at the title.
Her prophecy was right on – and then some.
The three-time Madison All-City Spelling Bee champ outdueled the La Crosse area’s three-time winner, Spring Raine Decker, in a six-minute, four-word showdown to win the 58th annual Badger Spelling Bee.
Isabel, 13, correctly spelled “picaresque” to win an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., to represent Wisconsin in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 31 and June 1.
“It feels really good,” said Isabel, who leaped from the Monona Grove High School stage to get hugs from her family when she won. “I think one of my mistakes last year was that I really geared up for the city bee and didn’t study enough for state.”

Kansas Study on School Performance & Spending

Jim Sullinger:

The way Kansas schools spend their public money may be just as important as how much they get, according to a study released Thursday.
Initiated last year by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the study by the Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services is thought to be the first to analyze and compare student performance and the way schools allocate budget dollars. It was funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
The study identified 17 districts that were using their dollars most effectively in achieving high levels of student performance on assessment tests.
The surprise for lawmakers was how much these 17 spent compared with less-successful districts.
“They spent less than the state average and less than districts that didn’t perform as well,” said Jason Kingston, chief analyst on the Standard & Poor’s project.
Based on the analysis, the study concluded that it would be too costly for the state to spend its way to proficiency.

The complete report can be found here [240K PDF file]. A summary is available here.

How the Masses will Innovate

Frank Moss, head of MIT’s Media Lab via a Q & A with Business Week:

You talk about education and the bottom-up effect that millions more people will play in societal advances. How do you see this unfolding?
We will undergo another revolution when we give 100 million kids a smart cell phone or a low-cost laptop, and bootstrap the way they learn outside of school. We think of games as a way to kill time, but in the future I think it will be a major vehicle for learning.
Creative expression (is another area). No longer will just a few write or create music. We will see 100 million people creating the content and art shared among them. Easy-to-use programs allow kids to compose everything form ringtones to full-fledged operas. It will change the meaning of creative art in our society.
We are already seeing early signs of it in blogs. The source of creative content is coming from the world. That revolution will go well outside of the written word to all forms of visual and performing arts.

Program Teaches Kids About Cyber Security

William Kates:

The program teaches students about data protection, computer network protocols and vulnerabilities, security, firewalls and forensics, data hiding, and infrastructure and wireless security.
Most importantly, officials said, teachers discuss ethical and legal considerations in cyber security.
“It’s a great course. It’s a littler harder than I expected,” said Catherine Gudaitis, a junior interested in theater. “But I know in the world I’m going to live in, this will be necessary information, even common knowledge.”

“Mathiak, Cole would bring Fresh Perspective”

Ed Hughes, writing in the Capital Times:

The most important qualifications for a School Board member today are a willingness and ability to grapple with the budget challenges our schools confront under the state’s ill-advised school funding laws.
School Board members will have to think boldly and creatively about how best to preserve the quality of education our students deserve under the limits the law sets. While committed to excellence, they should also be independent and tight-fisted enough to win the confidence of taxpayers.
Unfortunately, our current School Board majority has been a disappointment on budgetary issues. As the results of the last referendums show, the current board has been unable to earn the trust of the voters.

Continue reading “Mathiak, Cole would bring Fresh Perspective”

“Support for Candidates that Care about the Majority”

David Wandel emails:

I am glad that your group, as limited and as narrow as it is, has a forum. It is a shame that your beliefs about the “majority” of the current School Board are so militant and out of focus.
One of those School Board members is Juan Jose Lopez. Here is someone that has devoted 12 years to improving the life of the children of Madison. Without delving into the depth and detail to pose only the minute narrow issues that you seek to blow out of proportion I would like to suggest that instead of postulating on what is needed you need to do something positive. Help elect the candidates that will help solve the problems instead of making current situations worse.
Change your focus of vehemence toward those at the state level that set the budget for our school system. In doing so you will address the real issues.
Mr. Lopez has apparently offended your sensibilities by representing the greatest number of children in the most appropriate way instead of focusing on the narrow group of students you seem to represent – only your own children.
In my case, I have 5 children. They range from a 15 year old fresh-person at West to a 31 year old lawyer in the Chicago area. Never, in all the years that I have represented my children in numerous school systems have I seen such an angry group. You seem like professionals. Act like them.
I personally find that our school system is the best I have come across so far. Perfect, no. Better than others – yes. Likely to help my children succeed – definitely.
Well, I’m done. On April 4 I will vote. For the candidates that care about the majority. Candidates that represent youth in the most appropriate fashion. Candidates that are interested in finding solutions not complaining and hiding in a Blog. Not your candidates but candidates for the people of Madison, not the special interests. Juan and Arlene. Real people that will fight for all our children. Put away your swords and get with it.

Given the Freedom, Tireless Reporters

Michael Winerip:

In a recent issue, Chelsea had a front page article on the growing bureaucratic demands taking up teachers’ time. The article quoted six teachers criticizing new policies being imposed by the Blair High principal and by Montgomery County officials. All six teachers were quoted on the record, with their names, a journalistic feat many grown-up reporters would have trouble matching.
“Chelsea’s relentless,” said Maureen Freeman, a journalism teacher who is adviser to the paper. “She’s relentless in a good way. It’s a positive relentlessness. For two weeks, everywhere I went, there was Chelsea interviewing some teacher in the back of a classroom.”

Maya Cole endorses healthy Homegrown Lunches

The following commitment by Maya Cole seems particularly important to post given the lively discussion on healthy food:

I enthusiastically endorse the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch Food Policy Recommendations, and I will work to win adoption of the recommendations if I have the opportunity to serve on the Board of Education of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD).
Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch is a grassroots program whose goal is to enhance the Madison public schools’ existing meal programs by introducing fresh, nutritious, local and sustainably grown food to children, beginning in the city’s elementary schools. The program, like similar “farm-to-school” programs around the country, will provide an opportunity for children to reconnect with their natural world and will help establish a stable market for local farmers and processors.

Continue reading Maya Cole endorses healthy Homegrown Lunches

California Math Standards

California Department of Education (pdf):

A high-quality mathematics program is essential for all students and provides every student with the opportunity to choose among the full range of future career paths. Mathematics, when taught well, is a subject of beauty and elegance, exciting in its logic and coherence. It trains the mind to be analytic—providing the foundation for intelligent and precise thinking.
To compete successfully in the worldwide economy, today’s students must have a high degree of comprehension in mathematics. For too long schools have suffered from the notion that success in mathematics is the province of a talented few. Instead, a new expectation is needed: all students will attain California’s mathematics academic content standards, and many will be inspired to achieve far beyond the minimum standards.
The content standards identify what all students in California public schools should know and be able to do in mathematics at each grade level. The standards emphasize computational and procedural skills, conceptual understanding, and problem solving. The standards are organized by grade level and are presented in five strands up to grade seven: number sense, algebra and functions, measurement and geometry; statistics, data analysis, and probability; and mathematical reasoning. The mathematics studied in grades eight through twelve falls naturally under the discipline headings of algebra, geometry, etc.

Additional standards and frameworks are posted here.

It’s INSTEP Season

Are you concerned that your MMSD K-12 student is not being adequately challenged in one or more academic content areas? Perhaps s/he needs an INSTEP.
An INSTEP is an “Individualized Student Education Plan.” It’s like an IEP (“Individual Education Plan”), except that it’s for high performing students. (IEP’s are for students with special education needs.) For any given student, an INSTEP can be done in a single curricular area or in multiple curricular areas. Now is a good time to request an INSTEP because it will insure that no time will be lost in meeting your child’s educational needs next year.
It’s been said that the INSTEP is one of the District’s best kept secrets. Find out all there is to know at
To request an INSTEP — or to simply explore the possibility that your child may need one — all you have to do is contact the appropriate District TAG (“Talented and Gifted”) staff:
Rosy Bayuk — — 663-5230
(Emerson, Franklin, Leopold, Lincoln, Mendota, Midvale)
Kerry Berns — — 663-5230
(Elvehjem, Gompers, Hawthorne, Kennedy, Lakeview, Lindbergh)
Leah Creswell — — 663-5221
(Allis, Lowell, Nuestro Mundo, Orchard Ridge, Randall, Thoreau)
Rebecca Finnerud — — 442-2152
(Glendale, Lapham, Marquette, Sandberg, Schenk)
Bettine Lipman — — 442-2153
(Chavez, Crestwood, Falk, Huegel, Muir, Stephens, Van Hise)
Ted Widerski — — 663-5221
(all middle schools and all high schools)
Welda Simousek — — 663-5245
(District TAG Coordinator)
The TAG staff are an invaluable resource for the entire District. They are the only educational professionals in the District who are trained and experienced in both the appropriate assessment of advanced learners and in curriculum differentiation (theory and practice). They also know a lot about the social and emotional needs of academically talented children.
Uncomfortable with the word “gifted”? No need to be. No need to even use it. Just think of a performance distribution (one for each academic content area) and ask yourself if your child is in the top 15-20% of the distribution (the top 16% is one or more standard deviations above the mean). Ask yourself if they are advanced by two or more grade levels? Finally, ask yourself if you think your child is truly being challenged at school. Don’t forget to ask your child a few questions — Are they learning new material? Does the pace of learning feel about right for them? Are they regularly bored in class because they already know the material, it goes too slowly or there’s too much repetition? Etc.

Charter School Evidence from California

RAND Corporation [pdf file]:

This “Occasional Paper” from the RAND Corporation assesses the state of charter schools in California. The results show that test scores for California’s charter school students are keeping pace with comparable students in traditional district schools. Researchers found that the state’s charter schools have achieved comparable test score results with fewer public resources and have emphasized non-core subjects more than have traditional schools. In addition, they found evidence that charter schools have not created “white enclaves” or “skimmed” high-performing students from traditional district schools as some opponents had feared. RAND’s findings, coupled with the fact that charter schools typically use less public resources, leads them to the conclusion that “charter schooling is a reform initiative worth continuing in California.”

Keep Focus on Math and Science

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The United States is falling behind China and India in producing scientists and mathematicians, raising serious questions about America’s economic future.
While the national scene is troubling, Wisconsin enjoys some bright spots.
State students consistently score above the national average on the ACT college admissions test, especially in math and science. An increasing number 69 percent of 2005 graduates took the test.
To compete in the global knowledge-based economy, Wisconsin must continue its commitment to math and science education and encourage more students to take related courses.

There’s been a great deal of discussion on these issues here.

Kalamazoo, Mich., Pegs Revitalization Plan on Tuition Plan

Neal E. Boudette:

Last year, Greg DeHaan and his partner built 189 homes in the leafy, middle-class suburbs ringing this downtrodden industrial city, but not one in Kalamazoo itself. “There was no demand,” says Mr. DeHaan, whose company, Allen Edwin Homes, is one of the largest home builders in Michigan.
By early December, however, a market had suddenly materialized, prompting the developer to pay $7 million for three separate tracts of land. Out-of-state investors began scouring the area for opportunities, too.
Mr. DeHaan and others in town trace this new interest in Kalamazoo to an unusual, anonymously funded plan. Beginning this June, college tuition will be free for any student who enters the Kalamazoo school system by the ninth grade — regardless of income or need. The program, unveiled in November by the city’s superintendent of schools and underwritten by a group of local philanthropists, is to run for at least 13 years.
Called the “Kalamazoo Promise,” the tuition plan requires only that students live in Kalamazoo or neighboring Oshtemo township, graduate from public high school and attend a public university or community college in Michigan. Students who go from kindergarten through the 12th grade get a full ride. The program will cover 65% of tuition costs for those who spend at least their four high-school years in the city’s schools, with the percentage of aid rising for those who spend more years in the system.

Interesting relationship between education, economic development and a community.

April 2004 West High School Math Teacher Letter

Susan Lochen, Madison West High School (co-signed by other West math teachers: Janice Cis, Keith Knowles, Carol Michalski, Jackie Hubbard, Daniel Boyland, Artie L. Orlik, Stephen Lang, Stephen Land, Tim Goldsworthy):

Moreover, parents of future West High students should take notice: As you read this, our department is under pressure from the administration and the math coordinator’s office to phase out our “accelerated” course offerings beginning next year. Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.
It seems the administration and our school board have re-defined “success” as merely producing “fewer failures.” Astonishingly, excellence in student achievement is visited by some school district administrators with apathy at best, and with contempt at worst. But, while raising low achievers is a laudable goal, it is woefully short-sighted and, ironically, racist in the most insidious way. Somehow, limiting opportunities for excellence has become the definition of providing equity! Could there be a greater insult to the minority community?

I’d forgotten (unfortunately) about this letter. School Board Seat 1 candidate Maya’s post below included a link to these words. The current school board majority has not addressed these critical questions….

“You can learn and I’m not going to let you not learn.”

Madison School Board Seat 1 Candidate Maya Cole:

From his book, Innumeracy, Mathematical Illiteracy And Its Consequences, John Allen Paulos defines innumeracy as, “…an inability to deal comfortably with the fundamental notions of number and chance, [it] plagues far too many otherwise knowledgeable citizens.”
Paulos goes on to state that, “[i]n an increasingly complex world full of senseless coincidence, what’s required in many situations in not more facts—we’re inundated already—but a better command of known facts, and for this a course in probability is invaluable…Probability, like logic, is not just for mathematicians anymore. It permeates our lives.”
Finally, Paulos concludes, “I’m distressed by a society which depends so completely on mathematics and science and yet seems so indifferent to the innumeracy and illiteracy of so many of its citizens; with a military that spends more than one quarter of a trillion dollars each year on ever smarter weapons for ever more poorly educated soldiers; and with the media which invariably become obsessed with this hostage on an airliner, or that baby who has fallen into a well, and seems insufficiently passionate when it comes to addressing problems such as urban crime, environmental deterioration, or poverty.”
So where do we start?
Math curriculum.
That’s right, we start with math. The complicated and controversial topic of many school districts; but one that I hope, can be dicussed at every school board forum in the next few weeks.
A very lively discussion of the math curriculum in the Madison Metropolitan School District ensued recently at a forum held with University math professors, the school of Education, the general public and the MMSD administration. (You can watch the video below.)

Misleading School Budget Debate Led by Current Board Majority

In his blog titled Misleading School Budget Debate, Mr. Soglin says:
“…it is incumbent upon us to figure out where the additional revenue should come from and if we are going to cut, the consequences of those cuts.”[emphasis added]
I feel it is most definitely incumbent upon us to figure this out in order to keep Madison’s excellent public schools strong, and I feel that is NOT what the current school board majority has been doing. We do need to know, among other things:

  • a) what education the community we live in expects and values,
  • b) what that education will cost for all our children,
  • c) what revenue can we expect,
  • d) what options (referendum, other) do we need to pursue to meet the needs of our community’s schools, and
  • e) what are the consequences of cuts and alternatives to cuts.

These important discussions need to take place throughout the year in an organized, cohesive manner that engages the Board and the community. There needs to be multiple local and statewide strategies for funding – increased sales tax might be one, what are others? We have gone far too long without needed vision, guidance and important discussions from the Madison School Board majority.
Something’s not right when more time appears to be spent in board meetings discussing pets in the classroom than framing and discussing issues affecting our wonderful school district’s future viability.

Learning from Leaders

Susan Troller:

Female students at East High School learned in one morning how to be happy in love, what their rights and responsibilities are as young voters, and where to find a skilled, independent job that pays $30 to $50 an hour plus benefits.
The presentations were part of a new event at East called “Week of the Young Woman,” which began Monday and continues through Friday, featuring more than 50 female community leaders who are talking about topics that range from date violence to finance and economics, nontraditional jobs and women’s health issues. It was scheduled in early March as part of the recognition of Women’s History Month; the talks are open only to East High students.

French Math Teacher Covers Structure Of Derivatives; Banks Clamor for ‘Quants’

Carrick Mollenkamp and Charles Fleming:

As a result, banks are hiring an increasing number of recruits who understand derivatives. Inside banks, they are known as “quantitative analysts,” or “quants” for short. They are able to marry stochastic calculus — the study of the impact of random variation over time — with the realities of financial trading.
Derivatives are financial contracts, often exotic, whose values are derived from the performance of an underlying asset to which they are linked. Companies use them to help mitigate risk. For example, a company that stands to lose money on fixed-rate loans if rates rise can mitigate that risk by buying derivatives that increase in value as rates rise. Increasingly, investors are also using derivatives to make big bets on, say, the direction that interest rates will move. That carries the possibility of large returns, but also the possibility of large losses.
The 75 or so students who take Ms. El Karoui’s “Probability and Finance” course each year are avidly sought by recruiters. Three years ago, Joanna Cohen, a specialist in quant recruitment at Huxley Associates in London traveled to Paris to meet Ms. El Karoui to ensure her search firm was in the loop when students hit the job market. Today, Ms. Cohen says she carefully checks résumés with Ms. El Karoui’s name to make sure applicants aren’t overstating their interaction with the professor.

California’s Proposed $50/Parcel Tax

Friends of

Put your hand on your wallet! Check out this North County Times article. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and EdVoice are working to get a measure on the ballot called the “Classroom Learning and Accountability Act”. This measure would add a $50/parcel tax on every piece of property in California. The only parcels exempted would be those owned by the disabled or senior citizens.

The measure would create about a pot of over $500M for a variety of uses. The money would allocated as follows:

  • $225M for additional class size reduction
  • $100M for textbook purchases
  • $100M for school safety
  • $90M for school modernization
  • $20M for the CALPADS student longitudinal data system

I’m quite surprised that liberals like O’Connell would even support this regressive tax which would have a greater impact on low-income homeowners who would pay a larger portion of their income than wealthy homeowners. That seems to go against their usual “tax the wealthy” strategy. I guess he feels that $50 is such as small amount that even the low-income families would be OK with paying it. Of course, the real problem is that this $50 wouldn’t be the end of it. In the article, it even says that O’Connell plans to add another $50 every 4 years, so this tax would just keep increasing. Also, if this tactic works, rest assured that other special interests will be running to the ballot with their own $50 parcel tax measures.

It’s Elementary

Vincent P. O’Hern:

or the past few years, at least, part of our mission at Isthmus has been to cover education in Madison. Sometimes it’s a cover story, other times it’s an ongoing monitoring of the process. This week, for instance, we print excerpts from “Take-Home Test,” a feature that appears on The Daily Page, consisting of questions posed to school board candidates prior to next month’s election.
But most of our coverage has focused on the institutional operation of the school system, including the political games adults sometimes play. If you really want to know the state of public education, you have to go beyond the system and inside the school’s four walls to experience how students and staff bring Madison education to life. I had the opportunity to do just that this week under the aegis of Principal for a Day, a program of the private Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools.

New Glarus 4th Grader Wins Art Prize

Ellen Williams-Masson:

Fourth grader Jonathan Mattmann may live in a hushed world but his artistic interpretation shouts from the page in the drawing that has won him top honors in a statewide art competition for people with disabilities.
Jonathan comes from a family in which sign language is a way of life and lip reading is second nature. His father, Eric, has been deaf since early childhood and Jonathan, his sister Heather, and his mother Melisa have varying degrees of hearing loss.
Jonathan’s drawing titled “Summer Day on the Farm” was one of five winners selected from more than 100 entries in the VSA arts of Wisconsin’s 2006 Children’s Call for Art. The winning pieces are displayed in a traveling art show for five years before being retired and sold.

“For Once, Blame the Student”

Patrick Welsh:

Failure in the classroom is often tied to lack of funding, poor teachers or other ills. Here’s a thought: Maybe it’s the failed work ethic of todays kids. That’s what I’m seeing in my school. Until reformers see this reality, little will change.
Last month, as I averaged the second-quarter grades for my senior English classes at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., the same familiar pattern leapt out at me.
Kids who had emigrated from foreign countries – such as Shewit Giovanni from Ethiopia, Farah Ali from Guyana and Edgar Awumey from Ghana – often aced every test, while many of their U.S.-born classmates from upper-class homes with highly educated parents had a string of C’s and D’s.
As one would expect, the middle-class American kids usually had higher SAT verbal scores than did their immigrant classmates, many of whom had only been speaking English for a few years.
What many of the American kids I taught did not have was the motivation, self-discipline or work ethic of the foreign-born kids.

A wealthy school district asks: How much is too much?

Teacher contract up for vote this week.
Jessica T. Lee:

n Hanover, where public school teachers are already the highest paid in the state, voters this week will decide whether a proposed teachers’ contract is too generous, as some residents contend, or appropriate for the affluent school district.
People on both sides of the issue ask that voters compare the school district’s $59,236 average teacher salary to the salaries of others.
Opponents of the contract, which includes the majority of the school district’s finance committee, point out that the pay is 35 percent higher than the state average of $43,941. The finance committee has long noted a “premium” that residents pay for education, and is asking for evidence students are receiving an education proportional to that premium.
Teachers point to a different comparison: $70,877, the median household income in Hanover and Norwich, Vt., is 20 percent higher than last year’s average teacher salary. Teachers said they are asking for salaries comparable to those in the schools’ community.
“People can point to our salaries, and make claims or ask, ‘Is it really worth it?'” said Pamala Miller, president of the Hanover Education Association, the teachers’ union. “I would ask the parents in the community that question, and I guess we’ll get the answer with the vote.”
The debate comes as the Concord School Board and the local teachers’ union are struggling to reach their own three-year contract; both salaries and health insurance are n disput

Schools to share what works through charter dissemination grants

State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster has announced $1.3 million in dissemination grants to 12 charter schools in nine school districts. The grants are part of the state’s $52 million, three-year federal funding to create 100 new charter schools in Wisconsin. Four of the grants renew previous dissemination projects; eight are for new projects, some of which include partnerships with existing schools to improve student achievement.

“Charter school practices keep getting better each year of the program,” said State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster in announcing $1.3 million in dissemination grants to 12 charter schools in nine school districts. . . .

Continue reading Schools to share what works through charter dissemination grants

Ogden & Nussbaum: Cole is best pick to serve on Madison School Board

Genie Ogden and Mitch Nussbaum:

Dear Editor: We feel that Maya Cole would be an excellent addition to the School Board. She is progressive, and we feel she would represent our children’s interests better than anyone else.
She was running the “Opt-Out” campaign. This campaign helps parents opt their children out of the requirement from the “No Child Left Behind” law that makes a student’s personal records available to the military.

Continue reading Ogden & Nussbaum: Cole is best pick to serve on Madison School Board

Madison Schools’ Board of Education Candidate Take Home Test: Week 7


There’s no doubt that Isthmus has the juice in this campaign. The traditional daily newspapers haven’t covered any substantive issues in this race. I’d like to see some links/words that contrast my opinion on their lack of “beef” (Have they attended any forums?). Focusing on personalities is a simple, self made “pass” that avoids issues critical to our children:

  • World Class Curriculum; ineffective curriculum choices can place a lifelong tax on our children. Ironic, from a community that includes the University of Wisconsin.
  • Leadership that can pass referenda (will the current approach and personalities be successful?)
  • Transparency with respect to the District’s growing $321M+ budget. Again, will the current approach pass the necessary referenda?

Isthmus’s work represents the best of local journalism. Rather amazing, given the resources they have vs the enormous dailies. Interestingly, the Fitchburg Star has posted some useful articles as well.
The Memorandum to Local Media represented one attempt to at least look at the issues rather than simply compare and contrast personalities.

Principal for a Day – Understanding Schools

Neil Heinen:

When all is said and done, there may be no more important relationship in our system of public education than a principal and their school. The impact a principal has on students, teachers, staff, parents and learning is undeniable. And the good ones make their schools good.
Madison has many good ones. And understanding the role principals play is an important function of the “Principal for a Day” program, now in its third year as part of the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools. The nearly 60 business and civic leaders who participated in this year’s event have a better understanding of both the role principals play and the current state of our schools.
Which leads us to Adopt-a-School. With the support of CUNA Mutual, businesses can now form a relationship with an individual school to help sustain and extend the excellence of our schools.

Professor Goodgrade

Louise Churchill:

This fall I gave my students grades for the first time. Of course, my students have received grades from me before, but I was always of the philosophy that those grades should be the ones they had earned.
This semester, that changed. I began giving A’s like gifts. Why? I need to get tenure.
At my midtenure review, I performed excellently in all areas but one — the computerized scores calculated from student evaluations of my teaching. Despite my solid scholarship, a wide range of academic service, great rapport with colleagues, and, most significantly, many strong written testimonials from students praising my teaching, I was warned that my computer scores needed to rise significantly in order for me to be sure of tenure at my small college.
On the written evaluations, students attest that my high standards, impressive expertise, and challenging assignments mean that they learn a great deal in my class. Many students express gratitude for that.

UW-Madison to offer 32 languages in summer 2006 offerings

Ronnie Hess:

UW-Madison, a national leader in language education, will offer 32 languages this summer in a variety of for-credit courses. The languages will be taught through full immersion programs, special summer institutes and regular course offerings.
The languages include Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, English as a Second Language, Filipino, French, German, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Javanese, Khmer, Lao, Latin, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Norwegian, Persian, Sanskrit, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

Standards, Accountability, and School Reform

This is very long, and the link may require a password so I’ve posted the entire article on the continued page.
Standards, Accountability, and School Reform
by Linda Darling-Hammond — 2004
The standards-based reform movement has led to increased emphasis on tests, coupled with rewards and sanctions, as the basis for “accountability” systems. These strategies have often had unintended consequences that undermine access to education for low-achieving students rather than enhancing it. This article argues that testing is information for an accountability system; it is not the system itself. More successful outcomes have been secured in states and districts, described here, that have focused on broader notions of accountability, including investments in teacher knowledge and skill, organization of schools to support teacher and student learning, and systems of assessment that drive curriculum reform and teaching improvements.

Continue reading Standards, Accountability, and School Reform

“Students Need to Prepare Earlier”

Beverly Creamer:

Leaders of Hawai’i’s P-20 Initiative say students and families need to start thinking about getting through high school and beyond as early as the middle- school years to avoid pitfalls in the education system.
Also troubling is the amount of remediation needed by students enrolled in Hawai’i’s community colleges. According to the P-20 Initiative’s new strategic plan, 89 percent of students in Hawai’i’s two-year colleges require remediation in math, and 68 percent require remediation in English.
That’s especially troubling to national Education Trust advocate Kati Haycock.
“Having to take one brush-up course is not a big deal,” Haycock said. “But students who have to take two or three end up never completing anything in college, so it’s something you want to fix.”

Related: Hawai’i Public Schools “Leak Students”.

A 5 Year Approach to the Madison School District’s Budget Challenges; or what is the best quality of education that can be purchased for our district for $280 million a year?

Two weeks ago, Roger Price presented a 5-year forecast for the district, which included a projection that there would be a $38 million budget gap, by 2011, if the district proceeded with it’s present operations.  He emphasized the presumption that this was before changes are implemented to address the gap.  He also emphasized his discomfort with the accuracy of any forecast beyond one year.
As a consultant who has done economic modeling and forecasting for almost 20 years, I can certainly understand this discomfort.  However, I note that the district website contains a list of budget cuts enacted by the board since 1993, a list which includes over $32 million in cuts over the last 5 years.  With prices only increasing over time, and with the special concerns raised over health care and energy costs, the initial $38 million deficit projection does not seem unreasonable.  My preference would be to round it to $40 million, and to recognize that it may require six years (give or take) to achieve that gap.  But the forecast makes clear that we are talking about a very large amount, and that there is a structural budget gap.  By structural, I mean that anticipated revenue increases are expected to consistently fail to keep up with expenses, and that over time ever-more drastic cuts will be required to remain in budgetary balance.
How might the district address this ominous gap?  I think there are two basic approaches that can be taken.  One is to endeavor to cut approximately $8 million each year, to address each budget year on its own, and to effectively ignore the looming structural gap.  This approach implies keeping the same district structure as today, and essentially tearing away different pieces of it each year.  Of course, this approach continues to be more and more painful each year, as the easy cuts are long completed and now only more critical programs and services remain for the knife.
I would like to respectfully recommend a second approach.  That rather than look at the budget picture one year at a time, that you instead look at where the budget will be (approximately) five years from now.  In effect, that you determine how to cut $40 million from the budget, not $8 million.  Last month, numerous efforts were made to find $3.77 in cuts from a $100 budget.  Few were able to find that amount.  I am suggesting a group be formed to find the equivalent of $15 in cuts, and by the way, they will have five years over which to implement those cuts.  You may laugh at the prospect, but that is exactly the situation this district is facing – it indeed must find $15 or more in cuts over the next five years.
How to find $40 million?  By asking a very different question, one which has nothing to do, and everything to do, with that amount.  By asking, what is the best quality of education that can be purchased for our district for $280 million a year.  Start with a completely clean slate.  Identify your primary goals and values and priorities.  Determine how best to achieve those goals to the highest possible level, given a budget that happens to be $40 million smaller than today’s.  Consider everything – school-based budgeting, class sizes, after-school sports, everything.
When it’s all done, this group will have likely shaped an educational structure for this district that is quite different than the one you use today.  The second task of this group, therefore, would be to determine how to implement the necessary changes.  Perhaps one school is run under the new model in the first year, then additional schools, or perhaps all other schools, would be so run the following year.
I have no idea what this new structure, what this new district, will look like.  But I am sure of this:  I will be much more likely to prefer my two kids attend a district that is the outcome of a process such as this which is well-thought out and planned, than I will a district that has continued to endure the annual relentless torturing of it’s current structure.

I read these words during the public appearances segment of last night’s School Board meeting.

More on Schools Avoid Class Ranking, Vexing Collegs

Tyler Cowen comments on this recent article:

Let us say your kid is smart but has a small chance of making it into a top school. At Yana’s high school (Woodson, in Fairfax) I’ve seen folders of students with 4.0 and 1600 SAT scores who did not get into Harvard or Yale. Getting into those places has elements of a crapshoot. You are gambling, with the odds against you, and a payoff varying only at some threshold level of success (i.e., getting in is what matters; if your kid doesn’t get in, it doesn’t matter how close he came.) Those are the classical conditions where the gambler prefers to take more risk. On the upside, your chance of getting in goes up and on the downside, the longer left-hand tail doesn’t hurt you.

More-healthful school menus fatten districts’ food bills

Ofelia Madrid:

chool lunch has definitely changed from the days of mystery meat slapped onto a tray.
Some students now have their choice of chicken Caesar wraps, chocolate covered bananas and fruit and yogurt parfaits.
Schools across the Valley are making the switch to more-healthful foods on the lunch menu in anticipation of a state law banning junk food and a federal wellness mandate requiring more-healthful lunches starting July 1.
School district nutrition directors must figure out how to meet the nutrition guidelines and offer more-healthful foods, which are more expensive. Students, who are noticing and liking some of the new foods, could be asked to pay more than the average $2 for lunch.
“They’re . . . giving us healthier sides,” said Scottsdale student Jessica Charchedi. “Now we get fruit instead of fruit rollups,”
Food broker David Glutz remembers getting into the school-lunch business 20 years ago.
“The school wanted to spend 40 cents an entree. That hasn’t changed,” said Glutz, who works with most Valley school districts.

Michigan’s House Increases High School Graduation Requirements

Judy Putnam:

Gov. Jennifer Granholm last year called for the more rigorous courses in an effort to make Michigan’s workers more competitive. The state now requires only a half-credit civics course, with other requirements set by the local districts.
Rep. David Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, voted for the graduation requirements even though he was leading an effort to delete Algebra II from them. A vote to drop Algebra II wasn’t taken, but Hildenbrand said he will try when the legislation comes back from the Senate.
“I’m all for rigor, and I think Algebra II is right for most kids, but not every kid,” he said after the vote. “I think it’s important that we have that local flexibility.”

School Potlucks To Be Exempt From Restaurant Rules

You laugh, but the zeal to protect ourselves from our food has gotten the better of many well-intentioned people, and was challenging the ability of school groups to host potlucks. The original of this release is on-line at:


By unanimous vote the Wisconsin State Senate has concurred in Assembly Bill454, the “Potluck Liberation Bill”. The bill, authored by State Representative Barbara Gronemus, will exempt potluck events from the public health regulation of restaurants. The bill previously passed the State Assembly by a vote of 95-0.
According to Gronemus, “Assembly Bill 454 was introduced to correct a “state of confusion” between our law books and our state administrative codes on the subject of potlucks by creating an exception to the definition of “restaurant” for a potluck event in Wisconsin and defines the term “potluck event” events that meet the following criteria:
(1) attendees provide food and beverages to be shared and consumed at the event,
(2) no compensation is provided to any person who conducts or assists in providing the event or who provides food and beverages, and no compensation is paid by any person for consumption of food or beverages, and
(3) the event is sponsored is a church; religious, fraternal, youth, or patriotic organization of service club; civic organization; parent-teacher organization; senior citizen center or organization; or adult day care center.
In final comments on Senate passage of Assembly Bill 454, Gronemus stated, “To quote a major newspaper in our state, “Potlucks are as much a Wisconsin tradition as Packers tailgate parties and Friday Fish fries and are an old-old way for communities to come ogether, share food and trade hot dish recipes” and I am proud to have authored Assembly Bill 454 to being some common sense back to the area of potlucks and keep them alive and well as a means of social interaction between people and their recipes and their communities, and I am hopeful that Governor Doyle will sign it into law”.
In addition, Gronemus renewed her intent to sponsor a State Capitol Potluck in celebration of her efforts to protect and liberate them from over zealous government regulations.

Great cities have great school districts

Art Rainwater:

The health of cities, towns and villages is interdependent with their school districts. Great cities have great school districts. For 167 years the residents of the Madison Metropolitan School District have enjoyed that reality. I am honored and proud to work here. All of our citizens have every reason to feel that pride in what they have created and supported – a great place for kids to grow and learn.

Further discussion of ability grouping postponed

The continued public discussion of “some” versus “no” ability grouping originally scheduled for tonight’s Performance and Achievement Committee meeting has been postponed. Instead, according the the District website, the agenda for tonight consists of a 2005 Summer School report and 2006 budget recommendations.
In response to a suggestion that the discussion has been postponed because U.W. Sociology Professor Adam Gamoran’s January 30 presentation to the Performance and Achievement Committee had not provided the “green light” on heterogeneous grouping that the BOE had hoped for, BOE President Carol Carstensen wrote, “I am not putting off the discussion on heterogeneous classes because of any information, pro or con, from any of the presentations so far. I have always said that this should be a complete discussion – and that the Board should not rush into any decisions. I am hoping that we can continue these discussions in May and early June.” Ms. Carstensen also reminded us that Shwaw Vang is chair of the Performance and Achievement Committee.

Continue reading Further discussion of ability grouping postponed

Vermont Principal: “Have More Babies”

Pam Belluck:

Poultney, a town of 3,600 bordering New York, is just one example of a situation that increasingly alarms many in Vermont. This state of beautiful mountains and popular ski resorts, once a magnet for back-to-the-landers, is losing young people at a precipitous clip.
Vermont, with a population of about 620,000, now has the lowest birth rate among states. Three-quarters of its public schools have lost children since 2000.
Vermont also has the highest rate of students attending college out of their home state — 57 percent, up from 36 percent 20 years ago. Many do not move back. The total number of 20- to 34-year-olds in Vermont has shrunk by 19 percent since 1990.

Most of my UW-Madison friends have long since left Wisconsin. We’re providing some help to states like California and Colorado.

23 WI Schools Schedule April, 2006 Referenda

Amy Hetzner:

Even though previous years have seen more school districts hold referendums – 42 in April 2001 – never before have so many scheduled referendums asked for an increase in operating revenue, according to information from the state Department of Public Instruction. The DPI has monitored referendum results since 1990, and has recorded whether the referendums involve issuing bonds or exceeding the revenue caps since 1999.
Among those seeking to boost their revenue this year are the Northern Ozaukee and Richfield school districts.
“The revenue cap has been in effect since ’93,” Northern Ozaukee Superintendent William Harbron said. “It’s done what it’s supposed to do. And people right now do not have enough revenue to operate their districts.”
The rise in referendums to exceed revenue caps could be a result of declining student enrollments throughout the state, said Dale Knapp, research director of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
According to a recent report by the taxpayers alliance, 239 of the state’s 426 school districts had fewer students in the 2004-’05 school year than they had the year before, and 51 of those districts had their enrollment decline for five consecutive years. Revenue caps tie schools’ operating income to their enrollment for the last three years.
“There’s an increase in the number of districts where the revenue cap is really starting to squeeze district finances,” Knapp said. “Their transportation, their heat, their building costs, their administrative costs, etc., those continue to go up. But because of the way enrollment plays into the revenue formula, their revenue is either stagnant or declining.”

More on The “Silent Epidemic”

Colin summarizes conversation on the Gates Foundation’s recent report on dropouts:

The study, titled The Silent Epidemic (pdf doc), funded by the Gates Foundation and conducted by Civic Enterprises, was compiled from information gathered from interviews with recent dropouts. John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises says, “the problem is solvable.” In part, it’s solvable because it’s not necessarily a case that dropouts are intellectually incapable of keeping up with classes. 90 percent of the dropouts interviewed for the study reported they were passing in all of their classes. So, what are the forces causing kids to close their eyes to the fact of getting placed behind the power curve by virtue of dropping out.

2.27.2006 Board Meeting Video Clips

Video clips of Monday’s Madison School Board Meeting are now available:

  • Discussion about the potential sale or other use of the school district’s Doyle Administration building (adjacent to the Kohl Center) (44MB)
  • Legislative Committee: Discuss the legal requirements, if any for certain district administrator contracts. (41MB)
  • East Attendance Area Task Force Report (207MB)

Posted a video of the recent Health Care Task Force Meeting (120MB)

The Road to the Digital School — Education Speakers coming to Wisconsin

Technology Leadership Institute:

Join leading edge school districts as we explore what it means to teach and learn in a 21st century instructional environment. Today, the pressure to improve achievement levels is greater than ever before. Recent research has shown that when students have greater access to technology-based learning, the greater their engagement and achievement. That is the reward of the digital school. Achievement improves faster when digital natives and digital immigrants – students and teachers – are mutually comfortable with technology and mutually engaged. This event is designed to help you rethink the digital school. Rethink what an innovative educational environment can be. And rethink how it can benefit your students.
Guest Speakers

This Brookfield event is sponsored by Apple Computer.

Primary Progress, Secondary Challeng: A State-By-State Look At Student Achievement Patterns

The Education Trust [full report: 480K pdf]:

The analysis also raises questions about the rigor of state tests and standards, putting a spotlight on the huge disparities in student performance on state tests and on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) [an issue raised recently by UW Math Professor Dick Askey]. Just 29 percent of the nation’s eighth-graders demonstrate proficiency in reading and math on federal NAEP assessments. But most states report much higher proficiency rates on their own tests. The report provides a 50-state look at student performance on both tests.
Among the report’s key findings:

  • Overall achievement gains were most consistent in the elementary grades, where math achievement increased in 29 of 32 states examined, and reading achievement increased in 27 of 31 states. Math achievement declined in one state, reading achievement in three.
  • In middle school math, 29 states improved overall achievement while one lost ground and one saw no change. The picture in middle school reading, however, is less positive. Overall reading achievement increased in only 20 of 31 states examined, while achievement declined in six states and did not change in five others.
  • High school math results increased in 20 of 23 states and decreased in only two. High school reading results increased in 17 of 24 states and decreased in five.

While important, overall trends do not tell the whole story. To ensure that all students meet grade-level standards, schools must increase achievement for all students while accelerating gains for poor and minority children who are often the furthest behind. Many states are meeting this goal in the elementary grades, but the results in middle and high school are disturbing.

Via Joanne.

The Power of No Excuses

Ruben Navarrette, Jr.:

YOU HAVE to hand it to critics of “No Child Left Behind.” In trying to preserve the status quo, they’re wrong. But at least they’re persistent. In fact, they’re persistently wrong.
Made up of teachers, administrators, school board members and anyone who turns a blind eye to the mediocrity of public schools, the critics are relentless in their attempts to discredit the education reform law.
They’ll get another chance to blast away over the next several months as a bipartisan commission holds public hearings across the country to get an earful on what works with the law, and what doesn’t. The commission will send recommendations to Congress, which is expected to renew the law in 2007.
It’s easy to see why those who prefer the status quo detest “No Child Left Behind.” Under the law, children in every racial and demographic group in every public school must improve their scores on standardized tests in math and science. No excuses. Schools that fall short of that goal can be shut down, and their students can transfer to another public school.
The critics hate requirements like that for one reason — because good tests not only tell you if kids are learning, but also if teachers and administrators are holding up their end. If the truth comes out, disgruntled parents might go from demanding accountability from schools to demanding it from the individuals who work in them.

Citizens offer advice on long-range school planning

Bill Livick:

The two-hour meeting was organized by Vandewalle & Associates and the UW Applied Population Lab. The organizations are doing research to determine potential future school sites and predict space needs. Their findings will be part of a long-range facilities and enrollment report. District officials believe the report will help guide decisions about where and when to build new schools, and will ultimately save taxpayers millions of dollars.
About 40 residents, as well as School Board members and district administrators, met at Country View Elementary School on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The goal was to better understand residents? values and priorities regarding schools and the district?s future.

Parent Involvement – from NCLB to easing the work of teachers

Madison School Board Seat 1 Candidate Maya Cole:

Did you know that the No Child Left Behind legislation requires school districts that receive Title 1 funds to involve parents with their children’s schooling?
One goal I have for the school board is to encourage and model increased parental participation in the schools. We need to focus on building consensus on the board, with the parents and in the community.
I am hoping as a school board member to visit a different school every week for the academic year. I think it would also be helpful to volunteer in that same school for an hour during the visit as well.
As parents, many of us recognize the need to augment or encourage creative and social learning for our children outside of the classroom. What better way to share this with other kids than by involving parents?…..
We need more effective communication between the district and the community. We need to be open to new ideas, voices and perspectives of education in our community.

Maya’s opponent in the April 4, 2006 election is Arlene Silveira. Learn more about the candidates here.

Elementary school students build cardboard cities

Amanda Becker:

After months of constructing miniature cardboard buildings and houses, more than 800 students from 10 Dane County elementary schools brought their box cities to Monona Terrace Friday.
The young architects and carpenters-in-training also brought their yellow hard hats with them, and spread their cities, like urban picnics, on green tarps representing the land, applying duct tape for roads and blue construction paper as water.
Each school created its own model city. A typical display filled the space of about three dinner tables.
The models showed whatever the children thought belonged in a city: people, cars, hospitals, police and fire departments and even schools.

UW Madison Hosts Summer Opportunities Fair

University of Wisconsin News:

How can middle- and high-school students get a leg up on preparing for college? In many cases, summer recreation, academic and athletic programs play a valuable role.
The Youth Opportunity Fair, designed to promote summer youth activities, will be held from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturday, March 4, at the Villager Mall, 2300 S. Park St.
Parents and students will find exhibitors from many of the skill-building programs – academic, recreational and athletic – offered by post-secondary educational institutions in Dane County for this summer.

More on Local/State vs. National Tests

Michele Besso & Cecilia Le:

The study raised questions about the rigor of state tests and standards because of the large disparity in student performance between state and federal standardized tests. While most states report high proficiency rates on their own tests, just 29 percent of the nation’s eighth-graders did well in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal test.
In Delaware, 85 percent of fourth-graders scored as proficient or above in reading in the Delaware Student Testing Program, but only 34 percent of the same group scored proficient or above on the federal test. In math, those numbers are 77 percent on the state test versus
36 percent on the federal test.
“They set proficiency on the NAEP pretty darn high,” Woodruff said. “I feel our [minimum] score for meeting the standard is reasonable, but we need to get our students beyond proficient. This business of ‘meeting the standard is enough’ is not OK.”

Dick Askey made a similar point regarding local test results here.

What about heterogenous classes with high-track curriculum?

It’s clear from educational research that “tracking” high school students into low to high-level courses based on their prior academic achievement denies opportunities to low income students and many students of color. De-tracking is clearly in order for school districts seeking to offer equal educational opportunity to all students.
However, de-tracking can be done in many ways. The MMSD administration’s plan for tenth grade English courses at West High School follows one model: eliminate high level courses, require all students to take the same course and depend on teachers to “differentiate” instruction so that students of all ability levels and interest are challenged and gain academically.
A diverse suburban district in New York has narrowed the achievement gap in math by offering its high-track curriculum to all students. Rather than offer a mid-range materials with special opportunities for very capable students to accelerate to all students, the district has offered the same high-level courses to all students. Students having difficulty with the course material also attend special support classes and receive afterschool help four days a week. Closing the Achievement Gap by Detracking?
The resulting gains in student achievement are worth our consideration.
from Phi Delta Kappan, April 2005

Local Property Tax Comparisons: the Swan Creek Discussion

Marisue Horton notes that Madison, Oregon and Fitchburg have different property tax mill rates. The mill rate applied to a property’s assessed value determines the amount of tax due.
Mill rates are one element to the story. However and unfortunately, these comparisons are difficult because each community reassesses property on a different timeframe. Madison reassesses annually while surrounding communities are often on a different schedule (every 3 or 5 years in some cases). There may be differences as well with respect to the assessed vs. market value ratio (a subject that creates no shortage of discussion).

Community Service Fund 80 — Can We Talk?

For full copies of this paper, including charts and citations, go to (html version):

A few weeks ago, Madison school board member Johnny Winston Jr. circulated a message that urged readers to support community organizations that had submitted grant proposals for funding under the district’s Community Service Fund (Fund 80). His message began:

“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.” (emphasis added)

After describing the programs that he proposes to fund, Mr. Winston portrays the issue as whether one is for or against community programs that enhance student achievement. At a minimum, he frames the issue to suggest that one cannot support school-community partnerships and question the district’s Community Service Fund (Fund 80), when he writes:

Please be aware that the school board and district are under attack from people who believe that programs such as these are “driving up their taxes.” This is simply not true! Community services funding is included in this year’s community services budget, but hasn’t been allocated.” (emphasis added)

Contrary to Mr. Winston’s assertions, it is very possible to support the intent of the proposed grants and still have serious reservations about Fund 80 and its uses. Indeed, the grants and services that he describes make up only a small portion of the annual expenditures from this source. Whether or not the proposals are approved is less important than the much-needed public discussion of how the Madison school district is using its Fund 80 resources and whether taxpayers agree that those uses are worth the increase in their property taxes. With projected growth from $5.4 million 2001-2002 to over $16 million in 2011, most of it from property taxes, it is our elected representatives’ responsibility to engage the community in discussion to approve or reject the board’s uses of this fund.
(For the full document, please go to one of the links listed at the beginning of this post.)

Leveling the Playing Field: Creating Funding Equity Through Student-Based Budgeting

When the Cincinnati Public Schools devised a reform strategy for improving student performance, it became clear that the district’s traditional budgeting system was inadequate. The authors trace the district’s process of moving to a system of student-based budgeting: funding children rather than staff members and weighting the funding according to schools’ and students’ needs.
By Karen Hawley Miles, Kathleen Ware, and Marguerite Roza, from Phi Delta Kappan magazine, October 2003.

Continue reading Leveling the Playing Field: Creating Funding Equity Through Student-Based Budgeting

WGN Program on School Reform & “Lets Put Parents Back in Charge”

Milton Rosenberg is a retired social psychologist from the Univ. of Chicago. He has a radio show on WGN, 720 on AM. Next Tuesday, March 7, the topic is “School Reform”. The two guests, Joseph L. Bast and Herbert Walberg, have written a new book: “Let’s Put Parents Back in Charge: A Guide for School Reformers“. The show starts at 9 PM and ends at 11.

Madison Seeks Room to Grow

Dean Mosiman:

After decades of gobbling land like a ravenous Pac-Man, Madison is facing the reality of running out of real estate.
To share the region’s new jobs, housing and businesses, the city must push outward, which brings tension and conflict with neighbors.
Now, the city is negotiating with those neighbors on its final borders, which will decide who controls rules for private, undeveloped lands and who reaps tax money to pay for police, garbage collection, plowing streets and other services.
It will also dictate how and where growth happens.

WI School Funding Update

Funding reform resolution introduced — your chance to act
Funding system continues to erode quality education
School-funding reform calendar
The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) is a statewide network of educators, school board members, parents, community leaders, and researchers. Its Wisconsin Adequacy Plan — a proposal for school-finance reform — is the result of research into the cost of educating children to meet state proficiency standards.
Funding reform resolution introduced — your chance to act
School-funding reform is finally in front of the Wisconsin Legislature. Where it goes now is up to you.
Wednesday, March 1, a press conference was held in the Assembly Parlor in the Capital ( to introduce a joint resolution ( calling for a new funding system by July of 2007. The call for reform is based on a set of core principles that include adequate resources to prepare all children for high school graduation, additional resources for children and communities with special circumstances, and a reduced level of local property taxes.

Continue reading WI School Funding Update



Public schools are public. Consequently, it seems a reasonable principle that unless privacy is at issue, the processes by which major decisions about them are made should be public, too. But too often this isn’t the case. Teacher collective bargaining negotiations are a primary example. They’re usually conducted behind closed doors and with some noteworthy exceptions it is generally difficult to find the contracts themselves despite the enormous influence they have. But, Rick Costa, the president of the Salem Education Association in Oregon is setting a good standard for how it should be done (via Intercepts). More transparency in bargaining is a key recommendation of Collective Bargaining in Education: Negotiating Change In Today’s Schools

Home-schooling grows quickly in United States

Alan Eisner:

Nobody is quite sure exactly how many American children are being taught at home. The National Center for Education Statistics, in a 2003 survey, put the number that year at 1.1 million. The Home School Legal Defense Association, which represents some 80,000 member families, says the figure now is quite a bit higher — between 1.7 and 2.1 million.
But there is no disagreement about the explosive growth of the movement — 29 percent from 1999 to 2003 according to the NCES study, or 7 to 15 percent a year according to HSLDA.
This growth has spawned an estimated $750 million a year market supplying parents with teaching aids and lesson plans to fit every religious and political philosophy. Home-schooled children regularly show up in the finals of national spelling competitions, generating publicity for the movement.

Most US high school dropouts regretful: study

Patricia Wilson (Reuters):

Most students who drop out of high school in the United States admit they made a mistake by quitting and some say they might have stayed if classes were more challenging, according to a report released on Thursday.
Researchers said they were surprised to find that a majority of the 467 dropouts they interviewed were not what most people would consider underachieving troublemakers and losers.
One-third said they were failing in school, but more than six out of 10 were maintaining C averages or better when they quit. Almost half said they were bored or that the classwork seemed irrelevant.
“The teacher just stood in front of the room and just talked and didn’t really like involve you,” a young female respondent from Baltimore said.

Source: Gates Foundation Report. Morning Edition has more (audio).

Senate, Assembly Democrats: Call for Timetable on School Funding Reform

Sen. Breske
Rep. Pope- Roberts
Rep. Toles
Rep. Lehman
Rep. Sherman
Assembly and Senate Democrats Want New Funding Formula by June of 2007
MADISON – A group of Democratic lawmakers unveiled a timeline for reworking the Wisconsin school funding formula at a Capitol news conference today. The school financing system has long been criticized for inequities that treat rural school districts unfairly. In addition a state Supreme Court ruling, Vincent v. Voight, has also directed the legislature to equalize the funding formula.

Continue reading Senate, Assembly Democrats: Call for Timetable on School Funding Reform

From the Wall Street Journal‘s Opinion Journal
Black Flight
The exodus to charter schools.

MINNEAPOLIS–Something momentous is happening here in the home of prairie populism: black flight. African-American families from the poorest neighborhoods are rapidly abandoning the district public schools, going to charter schools, and taking advantage of open enrollment at suburban public schools.
Today, just around half of students who live in the city attend its district public schools. As a result, Minneapolis schools are losing both raw numbers of students and “market share.” In 1999-2000, district enrollment was about 48,000; this year, it’s about 38,600. Enrollment projections predict only 33,400 in 2008. A decline in the number of families moving into the district accounts for part of the loss, as does the relocation of some minority families to inner-ring suburbs. Nevertheless, enrollments are relatively stable in the leafy, well-to-do enclave of southwest Minneapolis and the city’s white ethnic northeast. But in 2003-04, black enrollment was down 7.8%, or 1,565 students. In 2004-05, black enrollment dropped another 6%.

Continue reading

The Gap According to Black

Bridging the Achievement Gap: Positive Peer Pressure – Just the Push Students Need to Succeed
Cydny Black:
The decisions we make, especially as adolescents, are influenced by the people who surround us, and by how we feel about ourselves. I’ve found that the encouragement of my friends and family, and the examples they set, have a lot to do with my academic success. My friends challenge themselves and encourage me to do the same. This concept is known as peer pressure—a term that often has a negative connotation. In many situations, however, peer pressure can be positive and powerful. Positive peer pressure can give students the push they need to succeed.
It occurs to me that friends who value academic success help give us the support we need to do well. Not only does it help to have friends who push us to do better in school, but these friends also help us to feel better about ourselves.
In school, I notice that many students who are not making the leap over this gap are students who are surrounded by negative reinforcements. These students often lack friends who value education. Negative friends don’t challenge themselves by taking difficult classes, or holding Thursday night study sessions. Negative friends don’t work with you to prepare for final exams.
So what can we do? For all the students reading this who are succeeding in school, my advice is to step out and lend a helping hand to those who are not as successful. Be a supportive classmate, and more importantly, be a good role model. Promote the idea that getting good grades does not mean you’re acting “white” or “selling out” and it definitely does not mean you’re nerdy.

What First Amendment?

Paul Soglin makes a great point:

We went wrong in the 1970’s. That was when the core curriculum in America’s public schools changed and the the classical civics classes were dropped. I had no problem with expanding the curriculum, particularly given the absence of ‘real’ history. I had and still have a problem that most pubic schools do not have at least one required course at both the elementary and the high school level on American institutions, civics, or history that covers among other things, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Then maybe half, instead of ten percent, of all Americans would know their freedoms.

My high school government teacher (a Vietnam Vet) drilled these rights and words into our brains (drilled).

“Black Flight: Minneapolis Exodus to Charter Schools”

Katherine Kersten:

Something momentous is happening here in the home of prairie populism: black flight. African-American families from the poorest neighborhoods are rapidly abandoning the district public schools, going to charter schools, and taking advantage of open enrollment at suburban public schools. Today, just around half of students who live in the city attend its district public schools.
Black parents have good reasons to look elsewhere. Last year, only 28% of black eighth-graders in the Minneapolis public schools passed the state’s basic skills math test; 47% passed the reading test. The black graduation rate hovers around 50%, and the district’s racial achievement gap remains distressingly wide. Louis King, a black leader who served on the Minneapolis School Board from 1996 to 2000, puts it bluntly: “Today, I can’t recommend in good conscience that an African-American family send their children to the Minneapolis public schools. The facts are irrefutable: These schools are not preparing our children to compete in the world.” Mr. King’s advice? “The best way to get attention is not to protest, but to shop somewhere else.”
They can do so because of the state’s longstanding commitment to school choice. In 1990 Minnesota allowed students to cross district boundaries to enroll in any district with open seats. Two years later in St. Paul, the country’s first charter school opened its doors. (Charter schools are started by parents, teachers or community groups. They operate free from burdensome regulations, but are publicly funded and accountable.) Today, this tradition of choice is providing a ticket out for kids in the gritty, mostly black neighborhoods of north and south- central Minneapolis.

Study: Reading Key to College Success

Ben Feller:

One major factor separates high school graduates who are ready for college from those who aren’t, a new study shows: how well students handle complex reading.
Trouble is, most states don’t even have reading standards for high school grades, and not a single state defines the kind of complexity that high school reading should have.
“If you’re not asking for it, you’re not going to get it,” said Cynthia Schmeiser, senior vice president for research and development at ACT, the nonprofit company that did the study.
In a complex text, organization may be elaborate, messages may be implicit, interactions among ideas or characters may be subtle, and the vocabulary is demanding and intricate.
The ACT isolated reading complexity as a critical factor by analyzing the results of the 1.2 million high school seniors in 2005 who took the well known ACT college entrance test.
Based on that test, only 51 percent of students showed they were ready to handle the reading requirements of a typical first-year college course. The literacy of today’s high school graduates has become an enormous concern for colleges and employers.
What differentiates students who are ready for college from the rest, the research shows, is an ability to comprehend sophisticated texts that may have several layers of meaning.

ACT Report: Reading Between the Lines.

Leadership Greater Madison Day: Child Equity and Attainment

Brennan Nardi:

We also had the opportunity to interact with Jefferson students. We ate lunch with the eighth graders and poked our heads into afternoon classes. Four area educators then weighed in on what matters most in helping kids achieve. Jefferson principal John Burmaster told us that during middle school, “the best thing you can do is sit down with a kid and show that kid that you like them. It always goes back to relationships.”

[3.5MB PDF, Page 12]

Do the Math

Joanne Jacobs:

Columnist Richard Cohen isn’t the first to advise young people not to bother about learning math. In 2003, WOAI in San Antonio asked a selection of adults — a radio DJ, a school board president, a councilman and a former judge — to take Texas’ new TAKS test, a graduation requirement. The school board president got an A in English and a B in math. Everyone else flunked the math. DJ Jamie Martin tells students not to worry.
“Kids did you hear me? You don’t need to learn math like me. You can still be successful and do bad on math.”
Despite the grammatical error, she scored a B in English.
More than half of San Antonio’s 11th graders failed on their first try.
Educators say they saw the same kind of failure rates and complaints when they introduced the TAAS test. By the time it was retired, those teachers say, the TAAS test was considered too easy.
Adults who’ve been away from the classroom for years are bound to be rusty on their “vertices and vortexes,” not to mention “the little numbers.” If they needed to pass the test to get ahead, they’d study and learn. San Antonio students can do that too. They’re more likely to be successful if they can do the math. Not everybody can grow up to work in the innumerate media.

Madison Schools’ Board of Education Candidate Take Home Test: Week 6


  1. Three-quarters of Madison homeowners don’t have kids in school, and almost half ($2,087) of the average Madison homeowner’s property tax bill ($4,633) this year goes to fund the Madison schools. What do you say to taxpayers who feel they’re paying too much?
  2. Extra Credit: If you could change two ways in which state law affects individual school districts, what would they be?
  3. More Extra Credit: How many lottery tickets have you purchased over the last year?

West High Event to Focus on Fast Food Companies’ Responsibility

Given all of the interest on the District’s proposed food policy, the following event might be of interest to SIS readers in the West attendance area:
To what extent should fast food companies be held responsible for their customer’s health? West High School Students for an Informed Response (SIR) invite you to hear opposing viewpoints, debate, discuss, and learn about this question at SIR’s Family and Community Town Supper this Thursday evening, March 2, at 7:00 p.m. We’ll host David Schwartz of the UW Law School and Pete Hanson of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, and they will discuss obesity lawsuits, nutrition, and other related matters. The audience will get a chance to join in the discussion and ask questions. We’ll provide a dinner: a choice between pizza or bagels, along with drinks, salad, chips, and a dessert of some kind.
This should be a very informative and interesting event and hopefully some of you or others you know may be interested. For those with students interested, we are selling tickets through Thursday afternoon before and after school in the Ash Street entrance for $5.00. If you are interested in coming but don’t have a means of purchasing tickets at West, feel free to email me ( and let me know that you are interested; you may pay at the door. However, we do need a count beforehand of how many people are coming for calculating the amounts of food.
Thanks for your interest!
Reuben Henriques
Students for an Informed Response

Victoria Department of Education’s Wireless Network: 10,000 access points

Rodney Gedda:

If securely deploying 10,000 wireless access points across 1700 locations in five months to create what is said to be the world’s largest enterprise Wi-Fi network sounds like a challenge, Victoria’s Department of Education (DET) took it all in its stride – with the help of a little penguin.
With 540,000 students, 42,000 teachers, more than 200,000 computers, and 40,000 notebooks spread across the 1700 sites, the department last year allocated $6.5 million to implement a wireless network aimed at easing connectivity, but at first its technology options were limited.
During a presentation at this year’s wireless summit in Sydney today, the department’s head of ICT security, Loris Meadows spoke of how the Wireless Networks in Schools (WINS) project required a custom proxy and security services appliance dubbed “EduPass” to be engineered due to the WAN’s complexity.

Proposals seeking money from MMSD Fund 80

Assistant Superintendent Roger Price provided the following electronic copies of the proposals the Board of Education will for funding on March 6:

Kajsiab House and Freedom Inc.
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network-South Central Wisconsin (GLSEN)
Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY)
The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, Inc. (CHHI)

Johnny Winston, Jr. explains the process for soliciting these proposals in a post on the blog, while Ruth Robarts raises some concerns.

Senators Pass Bill Regulating Indoor Air Quality In Schools


he Wisconsin Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that would monitor indoor air quality at schools around the state.
The measure, Senate bill 235, was championed by Jeanne and Dick Black, of Darlington, after their 9-year-old daughter Jade became ill from what they said that poor air quality at her school.
They said that Jade was diagnosed with severe mold-induced asthma and suffered headaches, migraines, blurred vision, rashes on her face, stomach aches and nausea while attending Darlington Elementary and Middle School. The symptoms subsided when she transferred to another school under doctor’s orders.
According to the Wisconsin Education Association Council, 80 schools in the state have air quality problems. They include Chavez and Midvale Elementary in Madison, Edgerton High School, Marshall Elementary School, Webb Middle School in Reedsburg, and Black Earth Elementary in the Wisconsin Heights District. Other districts cited without a specific school listed include Adams-Friendship, Boscobel, Columbus, Cuba City, Monticello, Palmyra-Eagle, Poynette, Rio and Wisconsin Dells, WISC-TV reported.