Racine School Referendum

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

It might be time for residents of the Racine Unified School District to send their school officials a message that they aren’t happy with the progress the district has not been making in recent years and the constant requests the district has been making for more money from taxpayers. They can do this by voting “no” on Tuesday’s one-year, $6.45 million spending referendum.
There is no doubt that Racine school officials and teachers have a tough job. Running any urban school district is tough. Doing so in Wisconsin with its spending caps and high health care costs is that much tougher. But that doesn’t mean that districts can keep going back to already burdened taxpayers for more money every time they run into problems. Sometimes, they need to make tough choices that could include dropping programs and closing schools if that’s what’s necessary.

Schools Trying All-Boy Classes

Katherine Goodloe:

When Matt Nord, 11, wrote a letter asking to stay in an all-boys program at his public middle school, he listed all the most important reasons: Girls talk a lot, they can get in the way on group projects, and he gets nervous helping out girls.
The sixth-grader doesn’t worry about those things for two classes each day, though, because he’s part of an all-boys program at Germantown’s Kennedy Middle School.

Private Tutors & Homeschooling

Susan Saulny:

In what is an elite tweak on home schooling — and a throwback to the gilded days of education by governess or tutor — growing numbers of families are choosing the ultimate in private school: hiring teachers to educate their children in their own homes.
Unlike the more familiar home-schoolers of recent years, these families are not trying to get more religion into their children’s lives, or escape what some consider the tyranny of the government’s hand in schools. In fact, many say they have no argument with ordinary education — it just does not fit their lifestyles.

Crimes & Misdemeanors: High school security chief Wally Baranyk says most of the wrongdoing in suburban high schools goes on in the shadows. So how dark does it get?

Michael Leahy:

While much of the rule-breaking at Oakton occurs out of sight from faculty and staff members, insubordination at D.C. schools is more often on public display. “I think our biggest problem here is lack of respect by kids for teachers and adults and for other kids,” says Michael Ilwain, a school resource officer at Eastern High School in Northeast Washington. “It leads to disrespect and bad behavior in classrooms, and it leads to fights, too. Almost all our problems start from there . . . But I also think that, in these times, we have some of the same things to face as other schools.”
Those things include the spectacularly dire. At Oakton, as at any other 21st-century high school, Baranyk must ponder scenarios that once would have been unthinkable. He has had to devise meticulous plans for how Oakton staff members and students would respond in an emergency or a catastrophic event, including a terrorist’s biological or chemical strike, or the spread of a potentially lethal virus. “Security at a school means something different now than 20 years ago . . .” he says. “You can try preparing for problems, but it’s hard to know what they all will look like . . . I guess you’re trying to imagine the unimaginable.”

Rafel Gomez hosted a forum last fall on Gangs & School violence. Audio and video here.

Public school students take up a tougher course

Tracy Jan:

But the experience — eight-hour school days, tiny classes with demanding teachers, and Saturday sessions — was more trying than any of them expected. The students, who delayed high school a year to attend Beacon, have emerged with a sense of how satisfying a tough school can be, but also of how unchallenging their public school experiences had been.
“In the beginning, I felt like it was way too much work times two,” said Dennishia Bell, 14, a former honor roll student at the Umana Barnes Middle School in East Boston. “I didn’t realize that I wasn’t really being challenged in school until I came to Beacon Academy. If I stuck to the Boston Public Schools, I almost feel like they were cheating me out of my education.”
A group of educators and entrepreneurs, including former prep school teachers and administrators, established Beacon last summer because of the concern that too few bright, motivated urban public school students could pass the entrance exams and meet the academic standards required for competitive prep schools and the city’s exam schools, said Marsha Feinberg, one of the founders. The goal was to prepare students for the academic rigors, as well as the social environment, of prep schools, often filled with children of the rich and famous.

We Have a Few Reservations

The Economist:

FOR all the glories of its ancient civilisation, India has “a despicable history of inequity”. So says Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a leading political scientist and, until this week, a member of the National Knowledge Commission, appointed by India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to advise his government. The phrase featured in Mr Mehta’s eloquent letter of resignation, protesting at the government’s determination to “reserve” 27% of the places in its colleges for the Other Backward Classes (OBCs)—lower castes, but not the very lowest, who already benefit. This policy, complained Mr Mehta in the letter, would ensure that India remained “entrapped in the caste paradigm.”

Continue reading We Have a Few Reservations

“The Next Niche: School Bus Ads”

Caroline Mayer:

BusRadio, a start-up company in Massachusetts, wants to pipe into school buses around the country a private radio network that plays music, public-service announcements, contests and, of course, ads, aimed at kids as they travel to and from school.
As BusRadio’s Web site ( http://www.busradio.net/ ) explains: “Every morning and every afternoon on their way to and from school, kids across the country will be listening to the dynamic programming of BusRadio providing advertiser’s [sic] with a unique and effective way to reach the highly sought after teen and tween market.”


All students can learn from each other if given a chance

A letter to the editor
Dear Editor: I want to respond to the story about the Baraboo School Board member who talked about the uselessness of trying to teach students with “nothing upstairs.”
I taught a class called Interpersonal Communications, often in conjunction with the speech classes I taught at Madison West High. The course helped students learn effective communication skills to build and maintain interpersonal relationships in their world. The class was made up of 10th- through 12th-graders, so many didn’t know each other.
One semester on the first day, I divided the students, as I often did, in small groups, to learn something about each other. One group had a boy who was a “special ed” student. He started to draw wide circles and ramble a bit to himself. The other students drew back with looks at each other, and everyone was very uncomfortable.
I had not been told the student had various disabilities, but that day I went to the chair of the department and told him to find a way to keep “Robert” out of class the next day. Then I asked him to come to my class and tell the students just what Robert’s disabilities were and what the goals for him were. Those goals included Robert being able to find the right bus to take him home, and maybe, someday, to have and keep a simple job. The students listened and learned.
The next day, Robert was back in class, and I asked the students to again meet in groups. Robert’s group said, “Come on, Robert, you’re with us!” From then on, all the students helped him, made friends with him, and all of us saw the joy in his face as he felt part of the class and advanced his communication skills as well.
The lesson for this might be, it is not what you have, it’s what others find in you and themselves. I have a lot of stories like this – and it’s how my young students made my teaching such a gift to each other and to me.
Mary Moen
Published: June 2, 2006
The Capital Times

More on “How States (WI is #1) Inflate Their Progress Under No Child Left Behind”

Alan Borsuk takes a look at and speaks with DPI’s Tony Evers on Kevin Carey’s report, emailed to this site on 5/20/2006 by a reader involved in these issues:

In an interview, Carey said he agrees that Wisconsin generally is a high-performing state in educating students, “but I do not believe its performance is as good as it says it is.” He said the way school officials have dealt with the federal law shows “a clear pattern where Wisconsin consistently refuses to challenge itself.”
He compared Wisconsin with Massachusetts, which he said also has high performing students. That state was ranked 39th in the “Pangloss Index,” because it has taken a much tougher line on such things as defining “highly qualified” teachers to require demonstrated knowledge in the subject area being taught. Wisconsin has generally defined such teachers by whether they have state licenses.
In a separate analysis, two researchers connected to an education magazine called Education Next analyzed the differences between the percentage of students in each state listed as proficient or better in reading and math on the state’s own tests and the percentage in the same categories in the nationwide testing program called the National Assessment of Education Progress. In many states, there is a wide disparity between the two, leading some to argue that states are setting proficiency standards too low.
The two researchers, Paul E. Peterson and Frederick M. Hess, both generally described as conservatives, then gave each state a grade based on how big a difference there was between the state scores and the national scores. The two gave Wisconsin a grade of C-, based on 2005 results. That was better than the D they gave the state for results in 2003.

Sandy Cullen wrote recently ” 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”

Do School Systems Aggravate Differences in Natural Ability?

Sharon Begley:

Some kids do bloom late, intellectually. Others start out fine but then, inexplicably, fall behind. But according to new studies, for the most part people’s mental abilities relative to others change very little from childhood through adulthood. Relative intelligence seems as resistant to change as relative nose sizes.
One of the more striking findings comes from the longest follow-up study ever conducted in this field. On June 1, 1932, Scotland had all children born in 1921 and attending school — 87,498 11-year-olds — take a 75-question test on analogies, reading, arithmetic and the like. The goal was to determine the distribution of intellectual ability. In 1998, scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen tracked down 101 of those students, then 77 years old, and administered the same test.
The correlation between scores 66 years apart was a striking .73. (A correlation of 1 would mean no change in rankings; a correlation of .73 is very high.) There is “remarkable stability in individual differences in human intelligence” from childhood to old age, the scientists concluded in a 2000 paper.

Kobza, Mathiak, Robarts and Vang Vote Yes to Support Elementary Strings: Carstensen, Silveira and Winston Vote No And Support Cutting Elementary Strings

Thank you to students, parents and community members who wrote to and spoke before the School Board in support of elementary strings. It may seem, at times, that your letters or statements fall on deaf ears, but that is not the case. Each and every letter and each and every statement of support is critical to communicating to the School Board how much the community values this course. There are Board members who listen and understand what you’re saying.
Last night MMSD School Board members Lawrie Kobza, Lucy Mathiak, Ruth Robarts and Shwaw Vang voted to restore Grade 5 elementary strings classes to twice weekly. Also, these same four Board members voted in favor of a pilot elementary string course at one or more schools that would provide 4th and 5th grade students with the option to select either General Music or Elementary Strings as their music class. My thanks for their votes of support for elementary strings and a strong music education and opportunities for all our children.
Johnny Winston Jr. (Board President), Carol Carstensen and Arlene Silveira voted against this option, electing to support cutting elementary strings. These three board members did not support elementary strings and supported the Superintendent’s proposal, which would cut Grade 4 elementary strings next year and would have cut Grade 5 elementary strings the following year, eliminating elementary strings for about 543 low-income children, 1610 elementary children in all, within two years.
The elementary string program, even with an additional class in Grade 5 was cut in Grade 4 and the budget was reduced about 13% on top of a 50% cut the previously year. (In comparison, the budget for extracurricular sports increased 25%.)
The board majority who voted for 2 classes per week in Grade 5 and a pilot want to learn more about what option(s), instructionally, administratively, and financially would work best in the future, so elementary string instruction remains part of music education. I appreciate their efforts.
Elementary strings is less than 0.09% of the District’s $330+ million budget, taught 1610 (543 low income) Grade 4 and Grade 5 children this year, is a heterogenous, diverse course.

Superintendent Rainwater’s Reply Regarding the Math Coordinator Position

Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Art Rainwater replied via email to our “Open letter about Math Coordinator position at MMSD“:

On Wed, 31 May 2006, Art Rainwater wrote:
Dear Steffen and others;
Thank you for sharing your concens.
The District has always employed outstanding curriuclum leaders in our Teaching and Learning Department. Mary Ramberg has been a leader in Teaching and Learning as have Lisa Wachtel in Science and Mary Watson Peterrson in Literacy and Language Arts.
Please rest assured that I. even more than you, am committed to employing the best possible math corrdinator. The minimum requirements posted are exactly what they say. They are minimum requirements and failure to meet the requirements eliminates the person from consideration immedately without even a further paper screen. Our district has a hiring process that has served us vrey well over the years and this is only the first part of that process.
The breadth and depth of knowledge of mathematics is obviously one of two key components in determining who will be the final pick for this position. However, equally important in the decision is the breadth and depth of pedogogical knowledge. Both of these will be given equal weight and I will not employ anyone who does not have both.
Art Rainwater

My reply:

Dear Art,
Thanks for your prompt reply.
What caused all of us to write/sign this letter is that the posted job ad does precisely NOT require what we consider two MINIMUM requirements for this position, namely (and I repeat):

  1. subject knowledge equivalent to a strong bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and
  2. teaching experience at the highest level in the high school curriculum.

I do hope that the school board and the district administration will RESTRICT its search to ONLY candidates meeting these two MINIMUM requirements.
Thanks for your attention!

State Tightening SAGE class size compliance

State tightening class-size initiative
Schools receiving funding must get formal waiver to exceed 15-1 ratio

By AMY HETZNER, Milwaukee Journal- Sentinel
Posted: May 31, 2006
In an effort to get a better handle on state money schools use to reduce class sizes, the state Department of Public Instruction plans to tighten its control over schools that seek to escape from standards set by a state class-size reduction program.
The state agency has imposed a new requirement that schools seek formal waivers before exceeding a 15-to-1 student-teacher ratio guideline set by the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education program.
DPI Deputy Superintendent Tony Evers acknowledged that requiring schools to get a waiver could end some practices the DPI had not known were in effect. Yet the requirement isn’t designed to limit flexibility schools have had, he said.

Continue reading State Tightening SAGE class size compliance

O’Keefe’s Isabel Jacobson Moves on to National Spelling Bee’s 4th Round

Daniel O’Reilly:

adison seventh-grader Isabel Jacobson proved that her bite was louder than her bark on Wednesday at the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, correctly spelling affenpinscher – a breed of small dogs of European origin – on her way to advancing to the fourth round.
The bee stopped for the day in the middle of the fourth round, with Jacobson yet to spell and 46 spellers still standing.
Competition resumes this morning at 11 CDT and will be aired live on ESPN. The final rounds will be aired tonight live on ABC from 7 to 9 CDT.

National Spelling Bee website