Open letter about Math Coordinator position at MMSD

OPEN LETTER:
Dear Members of the School Board, dear Superintendent Rainwater,
We are writing to strongly urge that the new Coordinator of Mathematics have the depth of knowledge of mathematics that we believe is essential for the position. While we are obviously concerned about the preparation of students entering the University, our concerns are much broader than that. The new Coordinator must have a high level of understanding of both mathematical content and pedagogy to independently navigate through the controversies that surround the established standards and published curricula. These “navigational skills” are essential if we are to achieve a program for the Madison school system that meets the needs and aspirations of all the students in the system.

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Budget process better this year

This year’s budget process showed some improvement over previous years, including:

– The “tabs” with questions from board members and responses from the administration;
– Board members’ amendments in writing prior to consideration;
– A hearing after the board members submitted their amendments;
– A more deliberate process, which did not feel as rushed as previous years;
– More information posted on the MMSD’s site;
– Board members asking questions and expecting meaingful answers.

I look forward to more improvements next year, including:

– Beginning next year’s budget process tomorrow, literally;
– Clear comparisons between previous year spending and proposed spending;
– Comparisons by school for previous year spending and proposed year;
– Comparisons by major program areas for previous year and proposed;
– Proposed program changes by school;
– Proposed staffing changes by school;
– Showing program and school funding by source (fed, state, local, grant, for instance).

And most important of all, the administration, board, and community need to formulate a shared vision for Madison schools and use the budget to advance the vision.
This year’s budget deliberations lack any sense of direction. One board member brings up a subject and it’s largely considered in isolation. The next board member brings up a different subject and it gets considered in isolation. All budget items should be considered in how they advance or hinder achievement of a vision.
But the board first needs to take on the difficult challenge of leading the community in defining the vision.

Equity Fund: Amount and Use is a School Board Responsibility

Tim Schell in his comments on the District’s Equity Fund referenced a DPI web page on Fund Balance Practices. I went to this web page and found the information on Fund Balance Practices (Equity Fund) useful and easy to understand. I hope our Board members and others who follow district budget issues take a moment to read this information.
While the Equity Fund is not a “pot of money” for annual district expenditures, this is a substantial financial fund and needs to be part of the School Board’s discussions during the annual budget process and discussions about long-term financial planning. Closer board monitoring of and board direction to the administration re the amount and uses of this fund is the board’s responsibility, and the public deserves to know and understand how the School Board is using this Fund during the annual budget process, in the School Board’s monitoring of revenues and expenditures and in the context of the district’s long-term financial planning.
At a recent board meeting, when the question came up about the Equity Fund – what is it and how is it used. The administration’s answer was to balance the books – which is indeed one role for this fund. This raised a series of questions when board members heard more about account overruns, unnexpected expenditures (rise in utility costs), which caused cash to be drawn from this Fund to balance other Funds. For example, the Equity Fund was used to balance the deficit in the Food Service fund at the end of a fiscal year. (Accounting practices for balance sheet require this.) I was perplexed that the School Board did not have a clear understanding of how this significantd fund is used and what their role/responsibility in managing this fund is.
The School Board is responsible for determining the Fund Balance they want to work with. From DPIs web page:

As part of the budget process, the board must determine fund balance amounts to be:

  • retained for working cash needs, recognizing that the working cash fund also serves as district’s contingency or “rainy day” fund.
  • used to fund expenditures of the next fiscal period, recognizing that if used for recurring expenditures, future budget decisions will revolve around finding resources to continue funding these expenditures.

I have not seen the School Board take up this discussion during the budget process. In fact, the board has had a separate contingency fund of less than $1 million separate from the Equity Fund. Why? And why does the school board not discuss fund overruns before they are “balanced out” using the equity fund?
The Equity Fund balance influences what interest rate district gets for short-term borrowing, bond ratings, etc. Therefore, I would like the School Board to ask the administration what their current practices are for this fund using examples from the past several years. What is the overall Fund balance target? How is this achieved and maintained?
In general, I would like to see the School Board have a clearer understanding of the Equity Fund and more closely monitor accounts within fund areas before the end of the fiscal year. For example, on a regular basis the School Board could ask for updated forecasts of expenditures and revenues for different accounts such as food services, contractors, utilities, transportation, etc.
As a starting point, I would like to see the School Board ask for a summary of changes in the Equity Fund for the past five to ten years by the various categories in this fund – reserved (committed for identified purposes), unreserved – designated (school board has identified tentative uses – working cash purposes), unreserved – undesignated fund balance (not identified). Note: It should be noted that opinions of the Wisconsin Attorney General have stated that Wisconsin governments cannot accumulate fund balances without having a specified purpose for such balances.
I’m sure the School Board, as part of various approval processes, approves the Equity Fund, but how this is done and when might merit a review tomorrow as part of the budget discussions. Also, I would like to see more discussion a) about what and how much is included in “unreserved-designated” and b) closer monitoring of budget expenditures so that the board is determining what is being used out of the equity fund to cover contingencies – and board members know this well in advance of June 30th each year.

Continue Elementary Strings – 550 Low-Income Children Deserve the Opportunity to Proudly Play Their Instruments

On Wednesday, May 31st, the MMSD School Board will consider amendments to the 2006-2007 school budget proposed by the Superintedent. In his proposal, the Superintendent proposed cutting Grade 4 strings this year and Grade 5 strings the end of next year. One amendment to be discussed on Wednesday would have Grade 4 strings 1x per week (45 minutes) and Grade 5 2x per week (45 minutes each class).
Students who will be affected the most are our low-income children. There is no other place in Dane County that can teach so many low-income children. This year about 550 low-income students took elementary strings. Fewer opportunities at this age will lead to fewer low-income/minority students in our middle and high school orchestras and band – this is a direction we do not want to move in as our student body becomes more diverse.
Like it or not, people moving into the area with children check out what schools offer – our suburban school districts have elementary string programs that are growing in many towns.
I’ve advocated for a community committee for fine arts education to develop a long-term plan for this academic area. I hope this comes to pass, but first I hope the School Board favorably considers this amendment and follows Lawrie Kobza’s idea – hold off spending on “things” because people cannot be added back in as easily as things can be added back into the budget.
I’ve written a letter to the school board that follows:

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LA’s Superintendent Selection Process

Bob Sipchen:

By the end of this column I will have selected the next superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Because I believe that the children, parents, teachers and citizens of Los Angeles are entitled to transparency in such deliberations, I invite you to join me as I work my way toward a decision.
Let’s start in a classroom at North Hollywood High School, where, in a scene reminiscent of “Blackboard Jungle,” 28 young toughs have school board President Marlene Canter backed up against a projector screen.
These aren’t physical toughs. They’re intellectual toughs. But if I were Canter, I’d take the sneering, tattooed kind any day.

Well-Intentioned Food Police May Create Havoc With Children’s Diets

Harriet Brown:

Earlier this year, our small Midwestern school district joined the food wars, proposing a new policy that would discourage all food in classrooms, ban nuts and sugary foods and do away with vending machines.
So much for peanut butter sandwiches, snacks for kindergartners and birthday cupcakes.
Like the policies put in place by school systems around the country, this one was driven by anxiety — about food quantity, quality and safety — and by the ever-increasing pressure for children to look a certain way and to weigh a certain amount.
Unlike the earlier “mommy wars” or the “war on drugs,” which centered around simpler black-and-white divides, the 21st-century food wars are fuzzier, though the feelings run just as deep.

A Parent’s Note to the Madison School Board on Strings

Ann O’ Brien:

Every year when I attend my children’s strings concerts, I am so amazed by the broad and diverse participation of students in strings. How moving to see so many students playing instruments often stereotyped as only for the rich who can afford lessons. The cacophony of sounds coming from the 100’s of students at the city-wide concerts inspires the kids, the parents and the community that all is well in the world; that integration, opportunity, and artistic expression are not just paid lip service, but are working in our schools. I appreciate your work to keep strings available to all students.

We Can’t Leave Dropouts Behind

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Nxt month hundreds of 17- and 18-year- olds in the Madison area will graduate from high school, bound for college. Hundreds more will graduate with plans to enter training programs, join the military or go directly to the world of work.
Those graduates will represent a piece of the American dream.
But what about the teenagers left out of that dream?
An estimated 3,500 young people of high school age in metropolitan Madison area are not in school.

Can’t Complete High School? Go Along to College

Karen Arenson:

It is a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland idea. If you do not finish high school, head straight for college.
But many colleges — public and private, two-year and four-year — will accept students who have not graduated from high school or earned equivalency degrees.
And in an era of stubbornly elevated high school dropout rates, the chance to enter college through the back door is attracting growing interest among students without high school diplomas.

Accountability for Poverty

Milwaukee Journal – Sentinel Editorial:

As a matter of editorial policy, we don’t accept poverty as an excuse for poor school performance. We expect that rather than wishing they had a different class of students, schools take students wherever they are and develop their talents so that they can cope and thrive in later life. At the same time, we recognize that poverty poses stiff challenges for educators.

Week of May 30th – School Board Update by President Johnny Winston, Jr.

Via a Johnny Winston, Jr. email:

Currently, the Madison School Board is deliberating over the 2006-07 budget. Board members submitted budget amendments to the Administration last week. The strings program, library pages, funding for community groups, student fees, school programs and class sizes are among the items identified by board members to change in the budget. For a list of budget amendments and Administrative responses please go to: http://mmsd.org/budget/mmsd/0607/budget.htm.
We invite the public to comment on the budget amendments at our public hearing on Tuesday May 30th at 5 p.m. at the Doyle Building or in writing to the board at comments@madison.k12.wi.us. The board will finalize the budget on Wednesday May 31st. Both of these meetings will be televised on MMSD television on cable channel 10 at 5 p.m.

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Science ability drops in U.S. high schools

Sam Dillon:

The first science test administered in five years across the United States shows that achievement among high school seniors has declined across the past decade, even as scores in science rose among fourth-graders and held steady among eighth-graders, the U.S. Department of Education has reported.
The falling average science test scores among high school students, announced Wednesday, appeared certain to increase anxiety about American academic competitiveness and to add new urgency to calls from President George W. Bush, governors and philanthropists like Bill Gates for an overhaul of American high schools.
The drop in science proficiency appeared to reflect a broader trend in which some academic gains made in elementary grades and middle school have been seen to fade during the high school years. The science results come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a comprehensive examination administered in early 2005 by the Department of Education to more than 300,000 students in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and on U.S. military bases around the world.

Common Ground In Math Wars

“Finding Common Ground in the U.S. Math Wars”, Science Magazine, May 19, 2006 describes the 18-month effort initiated by Richard Schaar, mathematician and former president of Texas Instruments, to bridge the gap between professional mathematicians, and math educators. Leaving many issues still to be addressed, the following is their initial statements:


Fundamental Premises
All students must have a solid grounding in mathematics to function effectively in today’s world. The need to improve the learning of traditionally underserved groups of students is widely recognized; efforts to do so must continue. Students in the top quartile are underserved in different ways; attention to improving the quality of their learning opportunities is equally important. Expectations for all groups of students must be raised. By the time they leave high school, a majority of students should have studied calculus.

  • Basic skills with numbers continue to be vitally important for a variety of everyday uses. They also provide crucial foundation for the higher-level mathematics essential for success in the workplace which must now also be part of a basic education. Although there may have been a time when being to able to perform extensive paper-and-pencil computations mechanically was sufficient to function in the workplace, this is no longer true. Consequently, today’s students need proficiency with computational procedures. Proficiency, as we use the term, includes both computational fluency and understanding of the underlying mathematical ideas and principles.
  • Mathematics requires careful reasoning about precisely defined objects and concepts. Mathematics is communicated by means of a powerful language whose vocabulary must be learned. The ability to reason about and justify mathematical statements is fundamental, as is the ability to use terms and notation with appropriate degrees of precision. By precision, we mean the use of terms and symbols, consistent with mathematical definitions, in ways appropriate for students at particular grade levels. We do not mean formality for formality’s sake.
  • Students must be able to formulate and solve problems. Mathematical problem solving includes being able to (a) develop a clear understanding of the problem that is being posed; (b) translate the problem from everyday language into a precise mathematical question; (c) choose and use appropriate methods to answer the question; (d) interpret and evaluate the solution in terms of the original problem, and (e) understand that not all questions admit mathematical solutions and recognize problems that cannot be solved mathematically.

For further elaboration, see Common Ground


Last month, NCTM (National Coucil of Teachers of Mathematics) endorsed a short list of skills, by grade, that every grade and middle school student must master. These “Curriculum Focal Points” are an attempt to correct the “mile-wide, inch-deep” curricula in most schools, which leave most student incapable and ill-prepared for further work in mathematics, science and engineering disciplines. The Focal Points document has not be published at this time.


But, to place these “improvements” into perspective, no one expects these initiative to make improvements by themselves. Further, UC-Berkeley Math Prof Hung-Hsi Wu says “Better mathematics education won’t take place in the next 10 years, I think it will take 30 years.”

Twenty Years Ago: The Read Aloud Handbook

Joanne Levy-Prewitt:

“The Read Aloud Handbook” by Jim Trelease was a guide to literature for children. As I recall, the second half of the book was a collection of book and story titles appropriate for different ages, but it was the first half that really influenced my parenting philosophy.
Simply put, Trelease wanted parents to ban television and read aloud to their young children, until, and even after, they could read on their own. First published in 1982, many children who were the beneficiaries of Trelease’s ideas are now college age and beyond.
It would be interesting to conduct a study to determine whether the children Trelease hoped to influence have become active readers as adults. My guess is that many of them stopped reading for pleasure when they started middle school and were assigned specific books.

Push for changes in school financing

A letter to the editor
Dear Editor: I appreciated Susan Troller’s recent article where she examined the impact of eroding budgets on schools and classrooms throughout Madison. Unfortunately, this situation is not unique to Madison schools.
The repeated cutting of school budgets is strongly affecting classrooms, teachers and students in scores of school districts throughout Wisconsin. I feel confident that Madison schools, and many other school districts, are years past cutting the “frills” from their budgets school boards and administrators are now forced to make cuts that truly affect the quality of education that our children are receiving.
These current cuts, and inevitable future cuts, are a direct result of statewide school finance restrictions that have been placed on local communities by our state Legislature since the mid-1990s. School funding is extremely complicated, and I won’t begin to try to explain it here. What I will do, however, is invite readers to educate themselves on this very important issue. A good place to begin is the Web site of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, www.excellentschools.org.
After we better educate ourselves, we need to have conversations with our neighbors, our friends, our school personnel and our policy makers. School financing, as it currently exists, is not going to change unless we help to make it change. And if our current school financing system does not change, then our schools will cease to be the national leaders that they still are today. And the ones who truly will lose out are our children.
I encourage readers to learn about school financing and to engage in positive dialogue with others so that we can quickly find creative solutions.
Barbara Katz
Madison
Published: May 26, 2006
The Capital Times

“The Principals Vanish”

Interesting timing, in light of Bill’s post on the MMSD’s plan to rotate a number of Elementary school principals; NY Times Editorial:

The education reforms that are under way across the United States fall mainly on the shoulders of school principals, whose jobs are growing more difficult — and more crucial — every day. They must train and inspire new teachers, manage budgets, schedule classes, interact with often troubled families, and keep clean, orderly buildings — all while raising standards and improving student performance, as is now required by federal law. This walk-on-water job requires sound training and a good support system. But it also requires experience, especially in challenging school systems like New York City’s, which is on the verge of giving principals even more responsibility.

Connected Math in Olympia, WA

Education Wonks:

After a number of parents and teachers objected, the school board of Olympia, Washington, has ignored an administrative recommendation to adopt a constructivist math program for their middle schoolers:

Connected Math and the Madison School District was discussed at a recent math forum (audio / video).
UW Emeritus Math Professor Dick Askey wrote a followup article on test scores and the local math curriculum.
The MMSD is currently looking for a “Coordinator of Mathematics“.
Clusty Connected Math Search.

Links and Notes on Parent Involvement and Student Education

J.D. Fisher:

Here’s a brief list of the research (you can find it here) about parent involvement related to student achievement. Enjoy.
Ann Shaver and Richard Walls (1998) looked at the impact of school-based parent workshops on the achievement of 335 Title I students in nine schools in a West Virginia district . . . . The researchers found that students with more highly involved parents were more likely to gain in both reading and math than children with less involved parents. This finding held across all income and education levels.

Discussion, Notes and Links on Milwaukee’s Voucher Program

There’s been an increase in discussion recently regarding Milwaukee’s Voucher Program largely around Amanda Poulson’s recent article in the Christian Science Monitor:

Hers is the sort of story Milwaukee’s school-choice advocates cite when touting the oldest and largest voucher program in the country. Now it’s expanding, but 16 years after it began, the policy is still controversial and has shown few documented benefits.
Proponents say it gives options to low-income kids who might otherwise be stuck in failing schools, and that the competition for students is good for all Milwaukee’s schools, both public and private. Critics, meanwhile, cite the money the program drains from public schools and the highly uneven quality of the private ones, which aren’t held to the same standards.

To the School Board: Why transfer 6 principals?

I sent the following message to the School Board yesterday, in reaction to MMSD’s announcement that 6 elementary principals will be moved to different schools this summer in a series of transfers.
I realize that it’s easy to talk tough from the sidelines, but I think that this is a significant personnel decision that will affect a lot of teachers, kids, and communities. If the School Board hasn’t received a thorough explanation of its rationale, I think they should request one.
A few people have suggested that I post my message to the Board here, so here it is.
—————————————–
To the MMSD Board of Education:
I don’t think I understand why Elizabeth Fritz was transferred from Crestwood. It appears that Art Rainwater has decided to remove an effective leader from a healthy school–one whose health she has helped to develop. His letter did not make the reason clear, except to suggest that he thinks it is good to move principals from one school to another every so often. Is this really his view, or the view of the School Board? It doesn’t make sense to me.
Perhaps there are good reasons for these principal moves that I’m not aware of. But from the outside they give a worrisome impression–that the Superintendent might be “protecting his own” at the expense of the students he is serving. From the outside, and with incomplete information, it looks as though Mr. Rainwater might be doing the easier thing instead of the better thing–shuttling some unsuccessful principals to different schools instead of firing them. This would at least be a plausible motivation. Rotation for the sake of rotation does not seem to be.
I think the role of principal is the most important role in a school district, and that a principal has more impact on a school’s climate than any other person. Good ones are not so easy to come by, and I don’t think they should be transferred out unless there’s a good reason. I hope the School Board will question Mr. Rainwater closely on his reasons. If it appears he’s trying to protect weak principals, or if he can’t do better than to say that it’s good to rotate principals every so often, I hope the School Board will consider overturning his decision.
Thank you for your consideration.
Bill Herman

The District’s Equity Fund Explained

There were some earlier postings and questions about the Equity Fund that I believe need to be answered.  First equity in this case is similar to the equity you have in your house as you pay down your mortgage.
The Equity Fund is a consequence of the fact that, by state law, the district operates on a fiscal year budget (July 1-June 30) but the taxes are collected on a calendar year basis.  So the 2006-07 year is paid for partially from last year’s tax levy and partially from the 2007 taxes that will be collected in January 2007.
Furthermore, about 75% of total taxes come in by January 31 – the rest come in by July 31.  So when the district closes its books at the end of the fiscal year (June 30th) it has some tax funds set aside to pay for the July-Jan portion of the year and bookkeepers and accountants require a label/category for all funds – this is the Equity Fund.  It is the funds that (with the additional July collections) are intended to cover the expenses of the district for the July-Jan months.

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Notes on SAT Scores

David S. Kahn:

Colleges across the country are reporting a drop in SAT scores this year. I’ve been tutoring students in New York City for the SAT since 1989, and I have watched the numbers rise and fall. This year, though, the scores of my best students dropped about 50 points total in the math and verbal portions of the test (each on a scale of 200 to 800). Colleges and parents are wondering: Is there something wrong with the new test? Or are our children not being taught what they should know?
Before 1994, the verbal section of the SAT was about 65% vocabulary (55 out of 85 questions) and 35% reading comprehension. Then the Educational Testing Service shortened and reworked the test, devoting half of the 78 questions to each area. Last year ETS changed the test again, and now it is heavily skewed toward reading: 49 of the 68 items require students to read, synthesize and answer questions.
In such a way, ETS has increased the penalty for not reading throughout one’s school years. Studying vocabulary lists before the test–a long-favored shortcut to lifting scores–just won’t cut it anymore. Students who read widely and often throughout their elementary and high-school years develop the kinds of reading skills measured by the new SAT. Students who avoid reading don’t–and can’t develop them in a cram course.

Unlikely Allies (“against” NCLB)

Let the Dialogue Begin
Bridging Differences A Dialogue Between Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch
May 24, 2006
By Deborah Meier & Diane Ravitch
In the course of the last 30 years, the two of us have been at odds on any number of issues – on our judgments about progressive education, on the relative importance of curriculum content (what students are taught) vs. habits of mind (how students come to know what they are taught), and most recently in our views of the risks involved in nationalizing aspects of education policy.
Meeting recently to prepare for a debate on the federal No Child Left Behind Act, however, we found ourselves agreeing about the mess that has been generated by local and state testing. Both of us agreed that the public needs far better information about both inputs and outcomes, without which the public is woefully uninformed and too easily manipulated. As we discussed what the next policy steps should be, Diane preferred a national response, and Deborah preferred a local one.
As we talked further, we were surprised to discover that we shared a similar reaction to many of the things that are happening in education today, especially in our nation’s urban school districts. Recent trends and events seem to be confirming our mutual fears and jeopardizing our common hopes about what schooling might accomplish for the nation’s children. We might, we agreed, be getting the worst of both our perspectives.
Unlike Deborah, Diane has long supported an explicit, prescribed curriculum, one that would consume about half the school day, on which national examinations would be based. Diane believes in the value of a common, knowledge-based curriculum, such as the Core Knowledge curriculum, that ensures that all children study history, literature, mathematics, science, art, music, and foreign language; such a curriculum, she thinks, would support rather than undermine teachers’ work. Deborah, while strongly agreeing on the need for a broad liberal arts curriculum, doubts that anyone can ensure what children will really understand and usefully make sense of, even through the best imposed curriculum, especially if it is designed by people who are far from the actual school communities and classrooms.
Yet both of us are appalled by the relentless “test prep” activities that have displaced good instruction in far too many urban classrooms, and that narrow the curriculum to nothing but math and reading. We are furthermore distressed by unwarranted claims from many cities and states about “historic gains” that are based on dumbed-down tests, even occasionally on downright dishonest scoring by purposeful exclusion of low-scoring students.What unites us above all is our conviction that low-income children who live in urban centers are getting the worst of both of our approaches.

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Polite Agreement or Something We Can Use?

Barry Garelick:

Education Secretary Spellings recently announced the formation of a presidentially appointed panel that was formed to address math teaching. According to the charter of this panel, one of its purposes is “to foster greater knowledge of and improved performance in mathematics among American students.” The panel is charged with producing a report in two years, which must contain recommendations pertaining to how math instruction can be improved in the U.S. In particular, the report must address the skills necessary for students to acquire competence in algebra and to prepare them for higher levels of mathematics.
The workings of the panel are not the type of thing that makes the front page of newspapers, the top story on TV news, or what is talked about in the local cafes. To hear about this you need to drop in to the blogs (like Edspresso), or the various list serves on the internet devoted to math education. There you will notice some discomfort among those who think that the way math is currently taught and the present crop of math texts being used in the U.S. is just fine. They have openly expressed dismay at the inclusion on the panel of people who have been vocal critics of reform math, stating “This panel is filled with hacks, toadies and stooges. Can you say ‘show trial’, children? Have you ever seen the old reels of the Communist Party Congresses in Moscow?” Allegations of pre-conceived conclusions then follow.

Baraboo Board Member Stirs Controversy

Board member stirs controversy
Baraboo News Republic
Thursday May 25, 2006
By Christina Beam
BARABOO – New Baraboo School Board member Kevin Bartol
(kbartol@baraboo.k12.wi.us) stirred up some controversy at his second meeting Monday night when he suggested district policy be amended so that only teachable students be enrolled in Baraboo’s public schools.
“There are some people in this country that cannot be educated,” Bartol said to the board. “They may have their eyes open, but there’s no one awake upstairs.”
His comments Monday came as part of the board’s review of district
policies, including one for “Programs for Students with Disabilities.” The first sentence of that policy reads that the board “shall provide a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment for students with disabilities who reside within the district.”
Bartol proposed the board add a modifier before the word student, such as “educable,” so that if a child who “can’t be taught” wants to enter or stay in a Baraboo public school the district is not required to serve him or her.
“Every child can be taught,” said Director of Special Ed Gwynne Peterson said, who added the district is under federal obligation -as well as moral and ethical – to teach every student.
“I don’t think that’s true,” Bartol said. “What if you teach them for two or three years and they haven’t learned anything?”
High School Principal Machell Schwarz responded, “Then we work with them and try everything we possibly can.” Bartol requested the board look into the legalities of modifying the disability policy.
By Tuesday word of the exchange had spread around the district, District Administrator Lance Alwin said, and he had received feedback from community members troubled by Bartol’s comments.
“Any family that has a child with special needs would be very disconcerted to know we were thinking about defining the type of child we intend to work with,” Alwin said. “All children shall be served. Until I’m told differently, I have no intention of beginning to socially exclude any child that shows up at our doorstep.”
In an interview Wednesday Bartol did not back down from his statements but said he was misunderstood by administrators and other board members who took offense to his comments.
“To my knowledge, all the students that are attending the Baraboo School District fall into the category of being able to be educated,” he said. “But it is feasible and it has occurred in other school districts where students that because of some type of brain damage were not be able to be educated and yet they were allowed to go to school.”
In a statement from Wisconsin Association of School Boards Wednesday,
attorney Nancy Dorman advised the district state and federal laws entitle all children to an education, and the district’s obligation to provide it cannot be waived through local policy.
It’s possible those state and federal laws implied that “students” were children capable of being educated, Bartol said. He said ideally the district would have a team of experts determine if children with severe cognitive disabilities were making progress in the public school setting. If after a year or two they hadn’t improved, he said, they could go elsewhere.
“Public school systems are not a baby-sitting service or a nurse care
service for children such as those,” he said. “They’re a place to educate students.”
Peterson, who also investigates discrimination and harassment complaints in the district, said she was outraged by Bartol’s “discriminatory and prejudicial” remarks.
“It’s frightening to me that someone in a position making decisions on the education of the students in our community believes these kinds of things,” she said.
Education for severely cognitively disabled students is adapted and
individualized to the children’s needs, Peterson said, but it still
qualifies as education. Special ed teachers may work with a student to
learn to hold his head up, she said, freeing the student to be more
independent and spend his energies learning new tasks and concepts.
“We have had very young students with developmental disabilities who you might look at and just by appearance decide this student can’t learn,” she said. “I’ve seen those kids, and I’ve seen how far they do come.”
The district’s policy for students with disabilities borrows heavily from state and federal legislation, such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which defines disabilities and schools’ obligations to serve students.
Bartol said the whole issue is probably moot if the board is unable to make any policy changes. “I’m not going to be upset about it one way or another,” he said, “and hopefully no one else gets upset about it one way or another.”
Bartol was elected to the board after a recount of the April 4 election had him winning by a three-vote margin over write-in candidate Doug Mering. Bartol, who was on the same ticket as a five-year, $7.5-million referendum, ran on an anti-referendum platform.

Lighting and Daylighting in School Buildings, Workshop, June 23

With the MMSD considering an addition to Leopold Elementary and a new west side high school, the fabulous Renewable Energy and Sustainable Living Fair in Custer, Wisconsin (just 7 miles east of Stevens Point) offers a relevant presentation titled Lighting and Daylighting in School Buildings. The Fair program describes the presentation:

Learn to evaluate the light needed for the activity at hand. Plus, gain some tips on daylighting — using a bit of the most abundant, accessible and predictable renewable resource available to us.

The presentation will be offered on Friday, June 23, at 12:00 noon. The presenter Bob Drevlow works with the Focus on Energy Schools Program.
Daylighting saves electricity without adding cost to a school, as demonstrated by Clackamas High School in Clackamas, Oregon.

MMSD will begin new “discipline” program next year

One of those cryptic messages in the current MMSD budget document says:

One of the major challenges for the 2006-07 school year is implementing a change in the philosophy and approach to creating positive student behavior. We are moving from a punitive system of student behavior management to a distict wide positive approach to changing student behavior thorugh education, dialogue and resotrative justice.

In plain language, the district will implement a variation of a program created by Corwin Kronenberg. The program won’t be the complete version of Kronenberg’s plan because he and the district had a falling out, similar to the parting of ways between the MMSD and Glen Singleton with his “courageous conversations” on race.
Kronenberg doesn’t seem to have a Web site that lays out his behavioral management plan, but it’s posted below as it appears on the Web site of the Sheboygan school district.

Continue reading

Musical principals – official announcement

For immediate release
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
Six elementary principals to lead different schools for 2006-07
Six elementary school principals will lead different schools next year in a series of transfers within the Madison School District. All six principals have been at their current schools for at least five years.
The list of new assignments, by principal, with current school and length of service:
Craig Campbell to Elvehjem from Kennedy (10 yrs.)
Lisa Kvistad to Lowell from Elvehjem (5 yrs.)
Bev Cann to Kennedy from Lowell (5 yrs.)
Linda Allen to Chavez from Thoreau (5 yrs.)
Howard Fried to Crestwood from Chavez (6 yrs.)
Liz Fritz to Thoreau from Crestwood (6 yrs.)
In making these assignment changes, Superintendent Art Rainwater said, “All of these principals have been at their schools for several years, and I believe these changes are good for the district, the principals, the staff and the students.”
Parents at each of the schools were notified yesterday. The changes will take place over the summer in time for the Tuesday, September 5 start of the new school year. Each of the principals will assist his or her successor in the transition to make it more effective and efficient.
COMMENTS OR QUESTIONS? PLEASE CONTACT:
Madison Metropolitan School District
Public Information Office
545 W. Dayton St.
Madison, WI 53703
608-663-1879

School Board to restore school programs, but . . .

Sandy Cullen:

Madison School Board members have come up with their lists of programs to put back into next year’s budget.
But in order to get those items back, four of the board’s seven members have to agree not only on what to add, but how to fund it.
Madison School Board President Johnny Winston Jr. wants to restore the district’s elementary strings program for fifth- graders to twice a week, keep fourth- and fifth-grade classes at Lincoln Elementary School limited to 20 students and fund programs to improve the attendance of Hmong students and to make schools safer by reducing bullying.
School Board member Ruth Robarts wants to keep the strings program for fourth graders as well as fifth-graders, nix increases in student textbook fees and restore the positions of library pages who assist school librarians, which were cut from the $332 million budget district administrators have proposed for next year.

What Education Schools Aren’t Teaching About Reading–and What Elementary Teachers Aren’t Learning

National Council on Teacher Quality:

In this groundbreaking report, NCTQ studied a large representative sampling of ed schools to find out what future elementary teachers are–and are not–learning about reading instruction. The report, the most comprehensive of its kind, determined that education schools are ignoring the principles of good reading instruction that would prepare prospective teachers how to better teach reading. View the Executive Summary or Full Report, or order multiple copies of the Executive Summary free of charge.

NCTQ website.

Next Forum: Immigration and Education

Rafael Gomez’s next Forum is on Immigration and Education. The event will be held Wednesday, May 24, 2006 at 7:00p.m. in the McDaniels’ Auditorium (Doyle Administration Building – 545 West Dayton St. 53703) [Map]
Participants include: Victor Arellano (Attorney), Alfonso (DPI), Alam Diaz (U W Student) and Joe Nigh (Counselor at East).

MMSD: “Madison Students Top Peers in WKCE Tests”

Madison Metropolitan School District:

Madison students tested on the 2005-06 Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) surpassed their state peers in the “advanced” category — the highest category — at all grade levels and in both reading and math, district officials said today. More than 12,000 of the district’s 24,490 students took the tests.
This level of achievement is significant because the number of students tested doubled, due to first time testing in grades 3, 5, 6, and 7 (in addition to 4, 8 and 10 grades). For example, 38% of the district’s 10th graders taking the math test scored in the advanced category, compared with 25% statewide. Madison third graders taking the math test topped their state peers in the advanced category by 44% to 32%.
Madison students across the seven tested grades average five percentage points higher in the advanced score range than their statewide peers in the reading tests, and are over eight percentage points higher in the math test.
“Madison’s high-fliers really fly high,” said Superintendent Art Rainwater. “While we continue to work hard to narrow the minority student achievement gap, it’s important to note that high achieving students prosper and excel in our community’s schools.”

Much more on the WKCE test, and recent changes to it here.

State Test Scores Adjusted to Match Last Year

Sandy Cullen:

A new statewide assessment used to test the knowledge of Wisconsin students forced a lowering of the curve, a Madison school official said.
The results showed little change in the percentages of students scoring at proficient and advanced levels.
But that’s because this year’s Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations- Criterion Referenced Tests proved harder for students than last year’s assessment, said Kurt Kiefer, director of research and evaluation for the Madison School District, prompting adjustments to the statewide cut-off scores for determining minimal, basic, proficient and advanced levels that were in line with last year’s percentages, Kiefer said.
“The intent was not to make a harder test,” Kiefer said, adding that the test was particularly more difficult at the eighth- and 10th-grade levels. “It had nothing to do with how smart the kids were.”
While scores can differ from district to district, Kiefer said, increases in students testing proficient and advanced are not as profound as districts might have hoped.

Kevin Carey recently wrote how states inflate their progress under NCLB:

But Wisconsin’s remarkable district success rate is mostly a function of the way it has used its flexibility under NCLB to manipulate the statistical underpinnings of the AYP formula.

I’m glad Sandy is taking a look at this.
UW Emeritus Math Professor Dick Askey mentioned changes in state testing during a recent Math Curriculum Forum:

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

Alan Borsuk has more:

This year’s results also underscore a vexing question: Why does the percentage of students who are proficient or advanced drop from eighth to 10th grades? The decline was true almost across the board, including across ethnic groups, except in language arts. In reading statewide, the percentage of students who were advanced and proficient held close to steady from third through eighth grade and then dropped 10 points, from 84% to 74% for 10th grade. The decline was even steeper for black and Hispanic students – in each case, 17-point drops from eighth to 10th grade.
Overall, lower test scores at 10th grade are part of a broader picture of concern about how students are doing in high school that has put that level of education on the front burner nationwide, whether it is special programming from Oprah Winfrey or efforts by the National Governors Association, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or others.
But assistant state schools superintendent Margaret Planner said one factor in the 10th-grade drop simply might be that many students at that level do not take the tests very seriously. Their own standing is not affected by how they do, although the status of their school could be affected seriously. She referred to the tests as “low stakes” for students and “high stakes” for schools under the federal education law.

Planner was most recently principal at Madison’s Thoreau Elementary School.
Madison Metrpolitan School District’s press release.

Hang it Up

Jesse Scaccia:

YOU’RE a teacher in the New York City public school system. It’s September, and you’re lecturing the class on the structure of an essay. Your students need to know this information to pass your class and the Regents exam, and you, of course, hope that one day your talented students will dazzle and amaze English professors all over the country.
You turn your back to write the definition of “thesis” on the chalk board. It takes about 15 seconds. You turn around to the class expecting to see 25 students scribbling the concept in their notebook. Instead, you see a group of students who have sprung appendages of technology.
Jose has grown an earphone. Maria’s thumbs have sprouted a two-way. Man Keung, recently arrived from China, is texting away on a cellphone connected to his wrist. And Christina appears to be playing Mine Sweeper on a Pocket PC on her lap.

Dropout Data Raise Questions on 2 Fronts

Jay Matthews:

A collision of those two views by prominent scholars was inevitable, and in the past several weeks it has hit the education policy world in an explosion of articles, e-mails and public debates, some quite heated. Experts disagree over who is right, and some say the truth may be somewhere in between. But the argument has aggravated a widespread feeling that information on how many children are disappearing from public schools is not nearly as accurate as it should be.

2006 / 2007 MMSD Food Service Budget Discussion

28 minute video excerpt of this evening’s discussion of the MMSD’s food service budget (the food service budget is evidently supposed to break even, but the operating budget has apparently been subsidizing it by several hundred thousand dollars annually).

This sort of excellent citizen oversite is essential to any publicly financed organization, particularly one that plans to spend $332M in taxpayer funds next year and hopes to pass referenda in the near future.
Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin made a similar case today when he discussed our fair city’s water problems:

It’s funny how progressives forget their history and the reason for doing things. The idea is to have a citizen board, not a board with public employees. That is part of the checks and balances. In fact the progressive left in Madison went though considerable time over the years gradually removing city staff from committees so they would not dominate and squelch the citizens who are more likely to be ‘whistleblowers.’

In the water example, a citizen spent years chasing this issue, finally getting the attention of the traditional media and the politicians.
A number of board members have been asking many questions (the video clip will give you a nice overview of who is asking the questions and what the responses are). You can check the action out here (Each “Tab” is a question to the Administration, with their response”). For example, we learn in tab 11 2 Page PDF that the district spent a net (after 200K in gate receipts and 450K in student fees) $1,433,603 on athletics in 2005/2006 and plans to spend a net $1,803,286 in 2006/2007, a 25% increase. The overall budget will grow by more than 3%.
This is quite a change from past years, and provides some hope for the future.

Lapham Students Run to Build Library for African Orphans

In an effort to build community, enhance self-esteem and inspire the
spirit of giving among its students, Lapham Elementary School has
organized a very special service-learning project. The “Lapham to
Lubasi Run-a-thon”, held Wednesday May 10th, was led by one of the
school’s second grade classes to raise awareness of poverty in Africa
and to collect books to build a library for the Lubasi Children’s
Home, an orphanage in Livingstone, Zambia.
Lubasi is a community-supported home for over sixty Zambian children
ranging in age from 5 to 15 years. As part of their Africa curriculum
this spring, a class of Lapham second graders made a connection with
this special home, and has been writing back and forth to learn more
about life in Africa. And learning about some of the challenges of
growing up in a poor country made the students eager to help.
Inspired by teacher Catherine McCollister’s passion for running and
fitness, they selected the run-a-thon as their way to support their
new friends, and they enlisted the entire school to help.
The event was a great success. The students had a collective goal of
832 laps around the field. With each lap representing 10 miles, this
goal would symbolically take the runners the 8,320 miles from Lapham
School all the way to the Lubasi Home for Children. Nearly 250
students ran the course in three waves. Parents and teachers cheered
the students on and everyone celebrated together as laps accumulated.
An old school bell was rung at every one hundred laps reached. By the
time the third wave had finished, the students had run over 1,200
laps.
The students also surpassed their goal for book donations. With a
goal of collecting at least 200 books, their efforts have raised over
450 beautiful new books so far, as well as several hundred dollars to
cover shipping and help Lubasi with library construction costs.
Next week Lapham students will write letters to their friends in
Zambia, and pack up their gift to send the 8,320 miles to Lubasi.
For more information, please contact:
Katherine Davey, (608) 770-9066 or katherine_davey@yahoo.com

MADreads

Kristian Knutsen:

Looking for a different book to read every day? If so, the Madison Public Library can be of assistance. Early this month, the library started publishing live a new blog named MADreads. It features a short book review nearly every day, starting with “contemporary urban fantasy,” how-to guides and historical fiction, before moving on to everything in between and beyond.

UF study: ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you’ class tool may aid math students

University of Florida:

It’s a feeling nearly everyone remembers experiencing at least once: sitting in class unprepared, silently praying the teacher won’t call your name.
For those students, the days of quiet safety may be numbered.
A new University of Florida study suggests that when teachers use a hand-held computer that randomly chooses whom to call on, even the quiet student in the back won’t be missed.
And that may not be a bad thing. It turns out students actually do better in class when they know their number could come up at any time.

“Controversy Aside, State Embraces Charter Schools”

Sandy Cullen:

School used to be a struggle for seventh-grader Justin Fobes, who said he was getting “straight F’s” before enrolling at the River Crossing Environmental Charter School in Portage last fall.
“I just couldn’t sit still,” said Justin, 13.
At River Crossing, Justin is now getting A’s and B’s. And he no longer has trouble sitting still, Justin said, adding, “They actually tire you out.”
Every Friday, the middle school’s 18 students literally have a field day – doing everything from a controlled prairie burn to restoring wetlands. Such hands-on approaches to learning are fueling the rapid increase in public charter schools in Wisconsin and other states as teachers, parents and others seek to help students not succeeding in regular classrooms.

Homework Help, From a World Away

Amit Paley:

In an hour-long session that cost just $18, the Indian tutor, who said his name was Mike, spent an hour walking Del Monte through such esoteric concepts as confidence intervals and alpha divisions, Del Monte recalled. He got an A on the final exam. “Mike helped me unscramble everything in my mind,” the 20-year-old said.
Thousands of U.S. students such as Del Monte are increasingly relying on overseas tutors to boost their grades and SAT scores. The tutors, who communicate with students over the Internet, are inexpensive and available around the clock, making education the newest industry to be outsourced to other countries.

Wisconsin’s “Broad interpretation of how NCLB progress can be “met” through the WKCE”

A reader involved in these issues forwarded this article by Kevin Carey: Hot Air: How States Inflate Their Educational Progress Under NCLB [Full Report: 180K PDF]

Critics on both the Left and the Right have charged that the No Child Left Behind Act tramples states’ rights by imposing a federally mandated, one-size-fits-all accountability system on the nation’s diverse states and schools.
In truth, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) gives states wide discretion to define what students must learn, how that knowledge should be tested, and what test scores constitute “proficiency”—the key elements of any educational accountability system. States also set standards for high school graduation rates, teacher qualifications, school safety and many other aspects of school performance. As a result, states are largely free to define the terms of their own educational success.
The Pangloss Index ranks Wisconsin as the most optimistic state in the nation. Wisconsin scores well on some educational measures, like the SAT, but lags behind in others, such as achievement gaps for minority students. But according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the state is a modern-day educational utopia where a large majority of students meet academic standards, high school graduation rates are high, every school is safe and nearly all teachers are highly qualified. School districts around the nation are struggling to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the primary standard of school and district success under NCLB. Yet 99.8 percent of Wisconsin districts—425 out of 426—made AYP in 2004–05.
How is that possible? As Table 2 shows, some states have identified the large majority of districts as not making AYP. The answer lies with the way Wisconsin has chosen to define the AYP standard.
NCLB requires states to base AYP designations on the percentage of students who score at the “proficient” level on state tests in reading and math. That percentage is compared to a target percentage, which must be met by both the student body as a whole and by “subgroups” of students, such as students from specific racial and ethnic populations. Districts that fail to make AYP for multiple consecutive years become subject to increasingly serious consequences and interventions.
Wisconsin has a relatively homogenous racial makeup and many small school districts, resulting in fewer subgroups in each district that could potentially miss the proficiency targets. But Wisconsin’s remarkable district success rate is mostly a function of the way it has used its flexibility under NCLB to manipulate the statistical underpinnings of the AYP formula.

Bold added. Also via eduwonk.
Kevin Carey comments on a Indiana newspaper’s editorial coverage of this issue:

Then comes the final pox-on-both-their-houses flourish, “what does any of it, really….” Maybe there are people out there who really don’t think that reporting accurate public information about the success of the school system has anything to do with the success of the school system. I just didn’t expect to find newspapers among their number.

National Education Standards?

Kevin Kosar:

Over the past six months, the need for national education standards has been talked up. The idea, in short, is that the U.S. should have brief written statements of the skills and knowledge children should attain at each grade level for each subject area. The federal government would either encourage or require states to base their schools’ curricula on these standards. Education colleges, in turn, would train would-be teachers in the standards.

Learning Communities in Kansas City

Jean Merl:

So when a new principal arrived at the imposing red brick campus in a tough, high-poverty neighborhood, this is how she greeted him:
“Hi, I’m Patty Kamper, and this is my last year here.”
That was in 1996, but Kamper is still there, teaching art at a transformed Wyandotte. Today the halls are orderly, and students work industriously in small “communities” with the same teachers throughout their high school years. Attendance, achievement test scores and the graduation rate have climbed steadily.
Kamper and most city leaders credit a school reform program called First Things First.

Kansas City Schools went through a substantial court ordered spending increase during the 1990’s.

“Lawmakers must give parents school choice”

Christine Maddox Ellerbee:

I am committed to my home here in Camden. But that commitment is seriously being tested by the state of Camden’s public schools.
As a parent, I have done all I can do. Many of us find ourselves in the same boat. We have agitated for change, made phone calls and visited anyone who would listen. We have formed organizations, started scholarship funds, even taken to the streets. All this in an attempt to get those with position and influence to do something to improve the public school product and public school experience of our children.
We have been patient even as our schools floundered in academic rankings, failing to graduate our children and terrified us daily with horrific conditions no one should have to endure. We have begged for access to alternatives to these schools so our children will at least feel safe. But no matter what we do, we are unable to change the fundamental politics that hold our children as prisoners in a failing system.

The Baby Sitters’ Guide

Channel3000:

Baby sitters may be more prepared than ever for caring for kids these days, but how much is that preparation worth?
A survey of more than 500 parents found the pay for baby sitters ranged from $1.25 an hour to $16 an hour.
“I will hear in the range from $1 an hour to $10 an hour,” said baby sitting instructor Joyce Muxfeld. “I often have at least one person in the class who said they receive about $10 an hour.”
On June 1, the state’s minimum wage will change. Minors will make $5.90 an hour, but baby sitters earn a lot more than that.

AJC: Superintendent’s Compensation & Public Knowledge

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Editorial:

Should metro-area school superintendents earn more than the governor?
More to the point, if they do earn more, shouldn’t taxpayers at least be aware of it?
When it comes to the paychecks of school chiefs, what local taxpayers see isn’t always what superintendents get. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution analysis found clauses deep in the contracts of 14 metro superintendents that gave the school officals an average of $33,900 in nonsalary pay last year. A notable and laudable exception is the city of Gainesville, which posts Superintendent Steven Ballowe’s evaluation scores each year on its Web site.

UK National Union of Teachers: “School Inclusion Can Be Abuse”

BBC:

Children with special needs are far more likely to be excluded
Including children with special educational needs in mainstream classrooms can be “a form of abuse”, a professor of education has said. John MacBeath of Cambridge University was commenting on a report he co-wrote for the National Union of Teachers.
NUT general secretary Steve Sinnott called for an audit of provision around England as a step towards addressing “major areas of policy failure”.
But ministers said children were taught successfully in a range of settings.
Schools Minister Andrew Adonis said: “We put the needs of the child first.”
The Cambridge report, The Costs of Inclusion, said teachers and teaching assistants were often going “beyond the call of duty” to help children with special educational needs (SEN).

National Union of Teacher’s press release.

The complete report is evidently not online. However, Gregor Sutherland mentioned that the report is available for £7. His email: gs280 at cam.ac.uk

Job: MMSD Coordinator of Mathematics

Madison Metropolitan School District:

Lead K-12 mathematics programming; develop and promote documents defining the mathematics program and expectations; organize and promote professional development opportunities; seek and implement research-based best practices in mathematics education; serve on various district and Teaching & Learning committees and task forces; create, recommend and administer budget for mathematics curriculum coordination; coordinate Evaluation of Learning Materials in mathematics; serve as District liaison with state, private, professional, city, and local mathematics groups and organizations; seek and develop relationships with institutions of higher education to coordinate inservice and preservice mathematics education; collaborate with other District departments to ensure all students have the opportunity to learn standards-based mathematics; develop and promote standards-based assessment tools and practices; analyze District mathematics student achievement data and use the data to inform action plans; supervise and evaluate instructional resource teacher staff and program assistant; author grant applications; coordinate mathematics grants; support District Improvement Plans, decisions and initiatives; demonstrate evidence of cultural competence.

Additional MMSD jobs can be found here.

Mother Hopes to Educate School Board on Special Needs Students

Channel3000:

When it comes to educating children, parents play a crucial role outside of school. But Rose Helms, whose child, Michael, has autism, wants to take her influence inside the classroom.
This is why there was a special guest in Michael Helms’ special education class on Wednesday. The guest was Art Phillips, an Evansville school board member and a police officer.
“My interest is to learn about what the needs are, and if our district and our employees are meeting those needs to help the children out,” said Phillips. “That’s the biggest thing that I want to find out.”

Shameful reading scores for MMSD sophomores

According to the data on DPI’s Web site, the combined percentages for minimum and basic categories (these are below grade level) for MMSD’s 10th graders on the WKCE reading test in November 2004 were:

All students – 26%
African American – 53%
Asian – 29%
Hispanic – 51%
White – 15%

The real shame lies, not in the scores, but in the MMSD’s lack of any systematic program to raise these students’ reading abilities before graduation.
A few schools may offer Read 180, a remedial curriculum praised by staff in the MMSD and other districts.
Pam Nash illustrated the MMSD’s weak commitment to Read 180 in a response to my question on how much money the current budget includes for Read 180. Pam wrote:

The district has not included any specific budget for 2006-07 that would be utilized for READ 180. Individual building principals may utilize existing supply/formula and staffing allocations to provide READ 180 strategies within existing curriculum offerings. Read 180 will be offered at all four high schools and Brearly Street Alternatives. (emphasis added)

Given that implementation of Read 180 costs about $40,000 per school, according to district figures, Read 180 won’t be expanded to schools currently without it.
From the WKCE scores, probably 20% to 26% of MMSD graduates cannot read their diploma, let alone read well enough to continue their education or land a job that pays a living wage. (The percentage might be lower than 20% since many non-readers may drop out before graduation.)
Additionally, the superintendent and some board members like to brag that the MMSD closed the achievement gap because children of color are no longer over represented in the minimum category on the third grade reading test. Obviously, that’s a pitiful claim when more than half of Madison’s African American 10th graders can’t read at grade level.

Let them Eat Kale

The Economist:

Plans to improve school meals are causing havoc
JUST over a year ago, Jamie Oliver, a camera-friendly chef, called for a revolution in school kitchens. In a television series, he chronicled the decline in school lunches and showed that junk food-addicted children could be taught to tuck into what he calls “pukka nosh”. It proved a traumatic experience for the young gourmands, some of whom demonstrated for the return of chips and burgers. Mr Oliver’s antics have also tweaked the government, upset some dinner ladies and shaken the catering market.
“Jamie’s School Dinners” galvanised parents, who demanded that schools ditch grotesque inventions such as the Turkey Twizzler and adopt wholesome fare such as shepherd’s pie and lentil soup. Worried about a looming general election, the government hastily responded to Mr Oliver’s demands. Ruth Kelly, who was then the education secretary, promised to ban junk food in schools and asked a panel of experts to suggest nutritional guidelines.

Continue reading

Colleges Chase as Cheats Shift to Higher Tech

Jonathan Glater:

At the University of California at Los Angeles, a student loaded his class notes into a handheld e-mail device and tried to read them during an exam; a classmate turned him in. At the journalism school at San Jose State University, students were caught using spell check on their laptops when part of the exam was designed to test their ability to spell.

Technology in Education

In the wake of the annual EdWeek Technology Counts issue, there has been some discussion surrounding the idea that technology is education is harmful. I attribute this to a few factors, including to overstated claims for educational technology in the past, concerns about very specific uses of technology in education like calculators, and the comfort some of us take in the instructional environments we experienced. This rejection of technology is unfortunate, however. Effectively utilized technology has an important role to play in increasing the effectiveness of our schools.
The focus on technology as an end in and of itself is very misplaced in K-12. Instead, districts should focus on providing an adequate level of infrastructure for staff and students and then using technology where it can improve student and staff productivity, allow for a more personalized learning experience, and provide an interactive learning experience.

Continue reading

Schools in seven Wisconsin metro areas rated highly

Seven metropolitan areas of Wisconsin are in the top 25 metros for public schools in the country, according to a survey ranking U.S. school districts with 3,300 students or more. The survey was conducted by Expansion Management Magazine, a monthly business publication for executives of companies that are actively looking to expand or relocate facilities within the next three years. The seven metropolitan areas of Wisconsin—Sheboygan (5), Eau Claire (7), Madison (8), Wausau (11), Appleton(16), Oshkosh-Neenah (20), and Fond du Lac (24)—appeared in a list of the 25 Top Metros for Public Schools. Schools in these areas, plus Green Bay and La Crosse, were named to the magazine’s 5-Star Public Schools Metros list.
“I am extremely proud of Wisconsin teachers and students for their dedication to quality teaching and learning, and their hard work shows in this survey of the best metropolitan school systems in the nation,” said State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster. “Our students, overall, consistently score among the very best in the nation on the major college entrance exams and high school graduation rates. This affirmation of the quality of Wisconsin schools from an independent, unbiased study, underscores our students’ dedication to excellence in learning and academic achievement, and the support they
receive from their teachers, families, and communities.
“Public education in Wisconsin is moving forward, supported by our early learning and classsize reduction programs. This recognition tells us that we are on the right track and must continue to invest in education, pre-kindergarten through university. Our sustained efforts as students, educators,parents, community volunteers, and citizens will ensure that our students graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in postsecondary education, the workplace, and as citizens of our 21st century global society,” she said.
The magazine rated the metro area schools as a way of providing a basis for executives to compare the type of work force they are likely to encounter in various communities around the country. Using the data from its 15th annual Education Quotient ratings, which compared 2,800 secondary school districts throughout the country, Expansion Management grouped school districts into Metropolitan
Statistical Areas (MPAs). Public schools in those 362 MPAs were compared according to a variety of categories, including college admission test scores, graduation rates, beginning and average teacher
salaries, per pupil expenditures, and student-teacher ratio.
Bill King, chief editor of Expansion Management Magazine, speaking to the importance of quality schools to business success, said, “Today’s workers, most of whom are high school graduates, must possess skills far beyond those needed just a generation ago. Clearly, the quality of the public schools is a pretty good indicator of the type of manufacturing work force a company is likely to encounter in a
particular community.”
NOTE: A list of the Best Overall U.S. Metros for Public Schools with 3,300 students or more, according to Expansion Management magazine, follows.
Top Metros for Public Schools
1. State College, Pa.
2. Ithaca, N.Y.
3. Lawrence, Kan.
4. Iowa City, Iowa
5. Sheboygan, Wis.
6. Charlottesville, Va.
7. Eau Claire, Wis.
8. Madison, Wis.
9. Columbia, Mo.
10. Harrisonburg, Va.
11. Wausau, Wis.
12. Ames, Iowa
13. Missoula, Mont.
14. Grand Forks, N.D.-Minn.
15. Billings, Mont.
16. Appleton, Wis.
17. Bloomington, Ind.
18. Flagstaff, Ariz.
19 Glens Falls, N.Y.
20. Oshkosh-Neenah, Wis.
21. Blacksburg-Christianburg-Radford, Va.
22. Jonesboro, Ark.
23. Burlington-South Burlington, Vt.
24. Fond du Lac, Wis.
25. Ocean City, N.J
For further information, contact Joseph Donovan, Communications Officer, DPI, 608.266.3559

Little Things and Big Things

I had a very nice day today chaperoning the Randall Safety Patrol at the Wisconsin Dells. First, Susan Smith and Phil Watters who have worked with the Safety Patrol all year deserve much thanks. The AAA, who sponsor the Safety Patrol and made the trip possible also deserve praise.
But mostly it was the students who made it such a good day. They were great; polite, well behaved, interesting and fun. There were many other Safety Patrol groups from around the state there and I can say without reservation that none were better behaved and none seemed to enjoy themselves as much as our group. What a great combination. It is easy to lose track of some of the little things like this that are part of our school system, but we shouldn’t. They made me both happy and proud.
I’d like to keep this upbeat, but am compelled to close on a down note. Susan Smith is the School Nurse at Franklin and Randall. Next year, due to financial considerations she will also serve a third school and almost assuredly will not be able to continue as a Safety Patrol mentor. This may seem like a small loss for the district as a whole, but after today it seems like a big one to me.
TJM

California’s Charter School Performance

EdSource:

This second annual analysis of charter school performance in California compared how well charter schools did versus noncharters, as measured by the percentage of schools that met their 2005 Academic Performance Index (API) growth targets. The 20-page report also looks at charter school performance by grade level (elementary, middle, and high schools) and by charter type—start-ups versus conversions; classroom-based versus nonclassroom-based. Moreover, using data from a spring 2005 EdSource survey, it compares the performance of charters by the amount of student instructional time and degree of school autonomy.

Acting White

by ROLAND G. FRYER

“Go into any inner-city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”

—Barack Obama, Keynote Address, Democratic National Convention, 2004
Acting white was once a label used by scholars, writing in obscure journals, to characterize academically inclined, but allegedly snobbish, minority students who were shunned by their peers.
Now that it has entered the national consciousness—perhaps even its conscience—the term has become a slippery, contentious phrase that is used to refer to a variety of unsavory social practices and attitudes and whose meaning is open to many interpretations, especially as to who is the perpetrator, who the victim.
I cannot, in the research presented here, disentangle all the elements in the dispute, but I can sort out some of its thicker threads. I can also be precise about what I mean by acting white: a set of social interactions in which minority adolescents who get good grades in school enjoy less social popularity than white students who do well academically.

The Model Students

From the New York Times a discussion of how Asian families value education and how those family values result in successful students.
The Model Students
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Why are Asian-Americans so good at school? Or, to put it another way, why is Xuan-Trang Ho so perfect?
Trang came to the United States in 1994 as an 11-year-old Vietnamese girl who spoke no English. Her parents, neither having more than a high school education, settled in Nebraska and found jobs as manual laborers.
The youngest of eight children, Trang learned English well enough that when she graduated from high school, she was valedictorian. Now she is a senior at Nebraska Wesleyan with a 3.99 average, a member of the USA Today All-USA College Academic Team and a new Rhodes Scholar.
Increasingly in America, stellar academic achievement has an Asian face. In 2005, Asian-Americans averaged a combined math-verbal SAT of 1091, compared with 1068 for whites, 982 for American Indians, 922 for Hispanics and 864 for blacks. Forty-four percent of Asian-American students take calculus in high school, compared with 28 percent of all students.

Continue reading

Assist students who enter high school with poor academic skills

A report from an organization called MDRC strikes a responsive chord because the report stresses the need to “assist students who enter high school with poor academic skills” instead of dumping them in English 10 and to improve instructional content and practice:

[The report] offers research-based lessons from across these evaluations about five major challenges associated with low-performing high schools: (1) creating a personalized and orderly learning environment, (2) assisting students who enter high school with poor academic skills, (3) improving instructional content and practice, (4) preparing students for the world beyond high school, and (5) stimulating change in overstressed high schools.
The overall message of this synthesis is that structural changes to improve personalization and instructional improvement are the twin pillars of high school reform. Small learning communities and faculty advisory systems can increase students’ feelings of connectedness to their teachers. Especially in interaction with one another, extended class periods, special catch-up courses, high-quality curricula, training on these curricula, and efforts to create professional learning communities can improve student achievement. School-employer partnerships that involve career awareness activities and work internships can help students attain higher earnings after high school. Furthermore, students who enter ninth grade facing substantial academic deficits can make good progress if initiatives single them out for special support. These supports include caring teachers and special courses designed to help entering ninth-graders acquire the content knowledge and learning skills that they missed out on in earlier grades.

MMSD 2006-2007: Budget is not Final

Allocations were sent to schools in early April 2006 for staffing for the 2006-2007 school year. This represents about 80%+ of the district’s budget. These are NOT final allocations. (For example, the School Board HAS NOT made a decision to cut Grade 4 strings for next year – that is the Superintendent’s proposal.)
The school board HAS NOT approved the budget for next year. What has been implemented is based upon the Superintendent’s recommendations to the School Board, but will not be final until the School Board approves budget, currently scheduled to take place on May 31st.
There will be another public budget hearing, Tuesday, May 30th at the Doyle building, 545 W. Dayton St. I’m not yet sure of the starting time.

A Look at School Textbooks

Alex Johnson:

President Bush’s No Child Left Behind initiative put almost every imaginable part of the U.S. education system under a microscope, establishing national standards for teacher training, student testing and basic funding. But glaring in its omission from the program is any significant examination of that most basic of classroom tools, the textbook.
As younger, inexperienced teachers are thrown into classrooms to meet new federal standards, as much as 90 percent of the burden of instruction rests on textbooks, said Frank Wang, a former textbook publisher who left the field to teach mathematics at the University of Oklahoma.
And yet, few if any textbooks are ever subjected to independent field testing of whether they actually help students learn.
“This is where people miss the boat. They don’t realize how important the textbooks are,” Wang said. “We talk about vouchers and more teachers, but education is about the books. That’s where the content is.”

Can Computers Help Schools?

Jay Matthews:

But I can’t help it. My focus has always been on what is going on in the classroom, rather than the principal’s office or the school board meeting room or the exhibition floors of all those education conferences that look like software fairs. In the classes I visit, plenty of students are working on computers. I am happy they are mastering the essential tools of modern life. But I wish there were more evidence that those hours tapping keyboards are making them better at reading, writing and math.
I used to get considerable pleasure from debunking school computer miracle stories. One of my proudest moments in the 1990s was a story about a New Jersey middle school hailed by President Clinton for its sharp increase in achievement scores after computers were installed. I visited the school, talked to the teachers, checked the arrival date of the new technology and discovered that the test scores had gone up before the computers got there. The real heroes were a very energetic principal, a great faculty and an innovative curriculum.

Tipping the Scales

WKOW-TV:

One in five Wisconsin children are overweight or obese. That number jumps to 1 in 4 when you look at Wisconsin’s high schools. Perhaps more disturbing, almost half of those overweight kids here in Wisconsin, are at risk for developing Type II Diabetes or Coronary Artery Disease.

Ex University President to Lead US Math Panel

Diane Jean Schemo:

The Bush administration has named a former president of the University of Texas at Austin to lead a national panel to weigh in on the math wars playing out across the country. The politically fraught battle pits a more free-form approach to teaching math against the traditional method that emphasizes rules and formulas to solve number problems.
In traditional math, children learn multiplication tables and specific techniques for calculating 25 x 25, for example. In so-called constructivist math, the process by which students explore the question can be more important than getting the right answer, and the early use of calculators is welcomed.
According to a 2005 study by ACT, the college entrance exam organization, only 40 percent of high school seniors were ready to take the most basic college-level algebra course.

More on the National Math Panel.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Martha Stark:

I believe in the power of numbers. I don’t know when my belief in numbers began. Perhaps when I was a child. My high school dropout, bookkeeper dad came home each week to tell us that he had played the numbers — my neighborhood’s equivalent of lotto but lots more complex.
Dad would convert every thought and dream to a number with help from his trusty dream book. You had a dream about mice? Consult the book. “That’s a 12, 17 or 21. What was the mouse doing — climbing out of a garbage can? Well climbing is a 21, 34, or 42 and garbage is a 17, 39, or 32. So, let’s play 12 and 21 (the reverse of each other), 17 (it appeared twice), and 34, the year your mom was born.”

Counting the Cash for K-12

DeHavilland Blog:

Excellent report here on education spending titled “Counting the Cash for K-12: The Facts About Per-Pupil Spending in Colorado [pdf],” published by the Independence Institute. While the report is focused on education spending in Colorado, they use national data in several instances for comparative purposes, and the information they provide is relevant to people across the country with an interest in K12 spending.
Their primary conclusion is that we should look less at how much we spend per student and more at how we’re spending, since school budgets and per-pupil spending do not correlate with achievement. What’s more, people can manipulate or reframe spending figures to make them look better or worse depending on their purposes – a trick that can confuse the entire discussion.

Speak Up For Fine Arts Education’s Future

I have been an outspoken advocate for elementary strings the past several years, because this course is a highly valued, high demand academic course that is part of the K-12 MMSD music curriculum but has been repeatedly put on the cut list without any meaningful curriculum planning taking place from year to year. However, I also strongly believe there has been a lack of long-term planning in all fine arts education since cuts began about 1999. Perhaps other academic areas have needed the administration’s attention, such as reading and math. That’s understandable, but the School Board missed yearly opportunities to put in place other structures to plan for the future of fine arts education in Madison – community committee is an example of one option they might have considered pursuing.
I was encouraged two weeks ago when the Performance and Achievement and Partnership Committee chairs indicated an interest in working on not only the cuts to elementary strings, but also other aspects of fine arts education. I hope a community-led fine arts education committee is formed from these two Board committees that will undertake long-term, strategic planning for fine arts education in Madison. I would like to see such planning include music, visual arts, dance, theater, etc. – all facets of the arts that bring joy and enrichment to the citizens in our community, growth to our city’s economy now and in the future and play an important academic role in the excellent education our children receive.
Again, School Board members can be emailed at: comments@madison.k12.wi.us

Community groups can apply for MMSD funding

The school board agenda for tonight’s meeting (May 15) shows that the board will discuss funding for the following groups:

– The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network
– The Center for Academically Talented Youth
– The Kajsiab House Project
– The Youth Empowerment Academy.

Johnny Winston, Jr. previously chose these groups and convinced the board to fund them without inviting all community groups to apply through a request for proposals, which could be used to solicit programs to further specific MMSD goals. (Funds for the Youth Empowerment Academcy were previosly provided through a grant to The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, Inc.)
Board member Ruth Robarts raised concerns about this funding approach the first time around, and her concerns remain valid.
Since Johnny Winston, Jr. and the board continue to fund community groups, it would be wise for any and all community groups to apply for funding from the MMSD. I suppose that proposals could be sent to Johnny Winston, Jr. or Supintendent Rainwater.

Speak Up For Strings – Thanks for Emailing the School Board: Keep The Emails Coming

MMSD’s School Board meets tonight to discuss the 2006-2007 school budget. There are no public appearances on tonight’s agenda, but the Madison community can continue to email the School Board in support of elementary strings at: comments@madison.k12.wi.us. Thank you to the parents and community who have attended the public hearing and who have sent emails to the School Board in support of elementary strings for Madison’s 9- and 10-year old students.
Cutting elementary strings will hurt low-income children! Keep the emails coming in support of about 550 low-income children who signed up for elementary strings – no other organization in Madison or Dane County offers an academic year long class that teaches this many children how to play an instrument. Madison School Board: Let’s work together to enhance this learning experience for our children; not tear it down and not tear it down before hearing from and working with the community.
I support restoring elementary strings to 2x per week, and I support forming a community task force on elementary strings and fine arts education to build fine arts education in Madison, not continue to tear it down. I reject late spring reports from the District administration that are clearly biased against this course and have not engaged teachers, music professionals, the community in the preceding 4 years! It’s not a administrative staffing issue, but it is poor, poor planning. We’ve had revenue caps since the early 1990s, and the Superintendent has been cutting fine arts since 1999 with no long-term plan in place, no community task force formed.
Call for an end to unfair cuts to elementary strings – cut 50% last year. No other high demand, highly valued course has been targeted in any year let alone year in and year out for cuts for 5 springs!
The state needs to take action on school financing; Madison needs the MMSD School Board to take action on elementary strings and fine arts educationl. Work with the community – please start now!

End Near for Reading Recovery in MMSD?

The reduction of over $680,000 of ESEA Title 1 entitlement grant dollars challenges the district to change the way students and teachers are supported under Title 1. The current direct service model of student support cannot be supported in the long run with current funding. The administration will use the first semester of next year to develop a new model. (Page 252, Department & Division Detailed Budgets)

The MMSD uses Title 1 money to fund Reading Recovery. Does the statement above mean the end of Reading Recovery in the district?

MSRI Workshop on Equity in Math Education

This is to briefly summarize from my point of view what went on at the MSRI workshop on equity in math education last week. (Vicki was also there and may wish to give her side of the story so you get a more complete picture. It was a very broad workshop, 13 hours a day for 3 days. The web site is down right now, but you can view a cached version here.)
The charge of the workshop was to brainstorm solutions to the underrepresentation of (racial and ethnic) minorities in mathematics and mathematics courses which frequently serve as gatekeepers to other areas.
The participants were thus rather heterogeneous, policy-makers, mathematics educators, mathematicians and teachers, including several groups of young people from various projects who serve as mentors and tutors in mathematics.
The talks and presentations were thus rather mixed, from talks by a law professor about constitutional issues on education to examples of math games played by young tutors and an actual 9th grade math class right with 22 students from a nearby high school right in front of all participants.
There were also some chilling descriptions of the abominable conditions at some schools serving mostly black and native American students.
The usual disagreements between research mathematicians and math educators were not brought to the surface much, but were brought up in many personal conversations during breaks and meals. However, there was general agreement that the underrepresentation of minorities is a serious national problem, and that more resources and better teachers are crucial to its solution.
However, no firm solutions or consensus emerged.
The two things I took away from the workshop are:

  1. the need for more math content by math teachers, mainly at the elementary and middle school teachers, and
  2. a small but important comment by a representative from the American Indian Science and Engineering Society: Asked about cultural sensitivity in math classes for her students, she answered that even though there are some issues around this, but in the end, her students need to learn “main-stream” mathematics in order to succeed, not take watered down courses; and the earlier this starts, the more beneficial it will be to her students.

States Struggle to Computerize School Records

Sam Dillon:

Nearly all states are building high-tech student data systems to collect, categorize and crunch the endless gigabytes of attendance logs, test scores and other information collected in public schools — and the projects in some states seem to have gone haywire.
In North Carolina, a statewide school computer system known as NC WISE is years behind schedule, and estimated costs have risen to $250 million. Teachers have nicknamed it NC Stupid. California has spent $60 million on a system, and officials estimated that the state would spend an additional $60 million in coming years to help school districts connect to it.

Wisconsin’s status on student longitudinal data can be found here.

National Center for Educational Accountability.

More Funding for Adult Literacy Education

Andy Hall:

America is heading for an explosion in the number of immigrant children who grow up unable to read, write or fit into society, a national literacy expert says.
Robert Wedgeworth, president of ProLiteracy Worldwide, a nonprofit agency based in Syracuse, N.Y., plans to tell an audience in Madison today that the nation must sharply increase support for adult education programs.

Stoughton Middle Schoolers are Finalists in a National Science & Technology Contest

Amanda Becker:

For the fourth straight year, a team of Stoughton middle schoolers will compete this month in the finals of a national science and technology contest, cementing the district’s reputation as a hotbed for young inventors.
The honor extends the dynasty developing at River Bluff Middle School, where students won a gold medal at the national competition last year for inventing a fire alarm to wake children that combined water jets and a voice alarm inside a stuffed animal.

Christopher Columbus Award website.

The Model Students

Nicholas Kristof:

Why are Asian-Americans so good at school? Or, to put it another way, why is Xuan-Trang Ho so perfect?
Trang came to the United States in 1994 as an 11-year-old Vietnamese girl who spoke no English. Her parents, neither having more than a high school education, settled in Nebraska and found jobs as manual laborers.
The youngest of eight children, Trang learned English well enough that when she graduated from high school, she was valedictorian. Now she is a senior at Nebraska Wesleyan with a 3.99 average, a member of the USA Today All-USA College Academic Team and a new Rhodes Scholar.

Continue reading

Mathcounts National Championship

Tara Bahrampour:

It wasn’t quite a Miss America pageant, but it had a gusto of its own. To the beat of rock music, more than 200 middle schoolers in T-shirts adorned with pi symbols or jokes about binary numbers jogged into a Crystal City hotel conference hall yesterday, waving and holding up signs identifying their home states.
The 57 teams — from every state, plus the District, the U.S. territories and military or State Department schools around the world — had spent the day vying for the MathCounts national championship, and they were about to find out which four-member team had won.

Madison area middle schools that participated included Hamilton (Madison), Jefferson (Madison), Eagle (Fitchburg), Badger Ridge (Verona) and Madison Country Day School (Waunakee). Mathcounts website.

French Universities & US K-12

Alex Tabarrok:

The United State’s has one of the most admired university systems in the world and one of the most deplored k-12 systems. Could the difference have something to do with the fact that universities operate in a competitive market with lots of private suppliers while k-12 is dominated by monopolistic, government provided schools?
What would our university system look like if it operated like the k-12 system?
Look to France for the answer. The riots of 1968 forced the government to offer a virtually free university education to any student who passes an exam but as a result the universities are woefully underfunded especially for the masses. Amazingly, with just a few exceptions for the elites, students are required to attend the universities closest to their high schools. Sound familiar?

The Deification of Mathematics

The Economist:

Google constantly leaves numerical puns and riddles for those who care to look in the right places. When it filed the regulatory documents for its stockmarket listing in 2004, it said that it planned to raise $2,718,281,828, which is $e billion to the nearest dollar. A year later, it filed again to sell another batch of shares—precisely 14,159,265, which represents the first eight digits after the decimal in the number pi (3.14159265).
The mathematics comes from the founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. The Russian-born Mr Brin is the son of a professor of statistics and probability and a mother who works at NASA; Mr Page is the son of two computer-science teachers. The breakthrough that made their search engine so popular was the realisation that the chaos of the internet had an implicit mathematical order. By counting, weighting and calculating the link structures between web pages, Messrs Page and Brin were able to return search results more relevant than those of any other search engine.

Local Property Tax Assessment Challenges Are Way Up This Year

Lee Sensenbrenner:

Prices seemed to be falling as he was buying, he said, and he paid less for his condominium than ones that were sold a month or two earlier. He paid $259,000, including a parking stall, and his fight against City Hall is to have it assessed at $221,000 rather than $241,000, plus $18,000 for the parking stall, which is now treated as a separate property.
He said others in the building have nicer views and are higher up, but have lower assessments for the same floor space. In particular, he points to Ald. Mike Verveer’s condo two floors above him, which faces the lake instead of the courtyard, and is assessed at $231,000. Like those of all units in the building, its assessed value did not increase from 2005 to 2006.
“Obviously,” Taylor wrote in a letter submitted to the Assessor’s Office, “my second-floor unit’s value should be far less than a fourth-floor unit with a lake view.”

A close look at assessments raises many more questions. Some municipalities, such as Fitchburg reassess properties every 3 to 5 (or longer) years rather than annually as Madison does. Learn more via Access Dane (I do find it odd that some publicly financed data requires a “subscription” – we have the opportunity to pay twice).
Sensenbrenner’s article provides more grist for the consideration of a fall referendum.

Seattle School Board Puts off Decision on Math Textbooks

Jessica Blanchard:

New math textbooks for Seattle middle- and high-school students are on hold.
Concerned that it may cost too much and not produce results, School Board members have delayed a decision to allow more time to study the issue.
At stake is whether the district adopts a single style of teaching math that focuses more on understanding concepts than honing computation skills — a prospect that has sparked debate among parents, teachers and administrators.

An Impasse on Civic Science

Brett:

Many experts outside of Harvard advocate teaching the practical side of science to nonscientists so that they will be able to make sense of it in their everyday lives. Yet few scientists appreciate the civic importance of making science understandable for all students, said Jon Miller, a professor of political science at Northwestern University.
“General education courses need to be, for scientists, your last chance to speak to someone before they are elected senator,” he said.

No States Meet Teacher Quality Goal

Ben Feller:

Not a single state will have a highly qualified teacher in every core class this school year as promised by President Bush’s education law. Nine states along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico face penalties.
The Education Department on Friday ordered every state to explain how it will have 100 percent of its core teachers qualified – belatedly – in the 2006-07 school year.

Increasing minority population reflected in preschool, kindergarten

Sandy Cullen:

Forty-five percent of children in the United States under the age of 5 are minorities, according to Census Bureau numbers released Wednesday.
“In Madison, those numbers are higher,” said Karen Dischler, intergenerational program coordinator for RSVP of Dane County and co-director of the United Way’s Preschools of Hope project. This year, just under 50 percent of kindergarten students in the Madison School District are minorities.
The growing number of minority students is largely the result of higher birth rates among minorities coupled with a rise in immigration.

Renewable energy grants for schools & nonprofits

We Energies has posted on its website a Request for Proposals (RFP) to identify and to competitively select the best customer-sited renewable energy projects to receive customer project incentives under the We Energies “Renewable Energy Development” program:

We Energies will provide financial incentives ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 to selected customer-owned renewable energy projects that are interconnected to the We Energies distribution system and meet the eligibility criteria of ownership by a not-for-profit organization, not-for-profit educational/academic institution, unit of government, or special district or authority defined as government under Wisconsin law. In addition, all proposed projects need to include a strong and clearly-identified outreach and educational component that will be used to inform and educate members of the general public about renewable energy in a ongoing and continuous manner. In all cases, incentive recipients must be existing We Energies retail electric customers in Wisconsin.
Incentives shall not exceed 50% of total installed project cost less any federal or state government incentive or credit and less any Focus on Energy funding. Proposed solar photovoltaic and wind energy system projects must have a site assessment completed (preferably though the Wisconsin Focus on Energy Site Assessment Program, or equivalent). The assessment shall provide an estimate of the energy output of the project once operational. In addition, all installations must be completed by a Focus on Energy designated Full Service Installer.
There may be up to five rounds of incentive applications and evaluations. Deadline for first round of applicants is May 31, 2006.

A Judge Stands Up for Ignorance

Debra Saunders:

I wish I were shocked at a last-minute judicial fiat that runs roughshod over a much-needed school reform — much as, in a different age, a French aristocrat’s coach might ram over peasants unfortunate enough to stand in the way. In this brave new world, if anyone tries to improve schools — and you can’t improve schools without raising standards — no matter how weak those standards are, some court likely will step in to quash the reform lest it hurt someone.
As if ignorance doesn’t hurt children.

Math or Technology: Take Your Pick

Sarah Natividad:

Recently Utah schools have been given an F for technology use in the classroom (or lack thereof). This is one area I hope Utah continues to fail in. Technology has been touted as a fabulous tool for teaching math and other subjects, but it’s not. Technology teaches technology; you still have to learn math separately if you want to know math too.

I agree. The basics come first – technology, which changes frequently and may not always be appropriate (see Powerpoint, and here.)

Denver Schools Seek Non-Traditional Instructors

Karen Rouse:

In a move some say could shake up traditional teacher-hiring practices, the Douglas County School District on Wednesday asked the state to let it create its own licensing program to more quickly bring nontraditional teachers into the classroom.
The district – which is already eyeing a pipe-fitter, Naval officer and instructors from China as potential teachers – said current state licensing regulations cut some of the most talented workers out of the teaching pool.
“It’s saying, ‘Here is somebody in the community who has real-world experience, but we can’t hire them because they’re not licensed,”‘ said Kristine Sherman, vice president of Douglas County’s school board.

Scores on New SAT Expected to Decline

Jay Matthews:

College Board officials say they are expecting as much as a five-point average decline in math and verbal scores on the new SAT, leading many high school counselors to conclude that the longer test is wearing out test takers and hurting their performance.
At least 15 colleges and universities have reported even greater drops in the average scores on the nation’s leading college entrance exam among applicants for this fall’s freshman class. On the nine campuses of the University of California, the largest user of the SAT, average scores declined by 15 points, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported a 12-point drop. Final national figures are not expected until August.

“Asbestos Removal – Who Knew?”

WKOW-TV:

Madison’s Sandburg Elementary School is in the midst of an asbestos clean-up…but no one notified the parents. A parent with children at the school contacted 27 News after discovering the project.
We spoke with to Madison district officials about the asbestos removal guidelines they follow. They say it’s not standard procedure to notify parents, nor are they required by law to notify them. Doug Pearson, director of Madison’s district building services, says the project does not pose a health concern.