The End of Literacy

Bill McCoy:

In a comment on my post Does Reading Really Matter?, bowerbird challenged me to name names on who’s arguing the position that “the end of literacy is nigh, and that’s OK”.

Well William Crossman for one is practically exuberant about post-literacy:

By 2020, electronically-developed countries will be well on their way to becoming oral cultures… Reading, writing, spelling, alphabets, pictographic written languages, written grammar rules, and all other written notational systems will be rapidly exiting the scene

Press release: MMSD Information sessions about Nov. 7 referendum

The Madison School District will hold four referendum information sessions in advance of the November 7 referendum. The public is invited to attend any of these sessions.
Thurs. October 12 6:30 PM Sennett School 502 Pflaum Rd. 53716 Lecture lab
Tues. October 17 6:30 PM Cherokee School 4301 Cherokee Dr. 53711 LMC
Wed. October 18 6:30 PM Sherman School 1610 Ruskin St. 53704 Cafeteria
Wed. October 25 6:30 PM Jefferson School 101 S. Gammon Rd. 53717 Lecture hall


More Clout Sought for Social Studies Curriculum

Ian Shapira:

This week, the Virginia Consortium of Social Studies Specialists and College Educators launched a campaign here to get its educational niche a more prominent place in the law as Congress begins to consider revisions in the coming year. The group aims to include social studies test scores in federal formulas used to rate schools.
As the law now stands, the group said Tuesday, subjects such as history, government and geography sometimes get short shrift while schools increase time spent on reading and math.

Kudos To Harris For Taking School Back

Jenni Gile:

As a former East High School student who lived through four years of closed campus for lunch, and a parent of current East High students — one a freshman, the other a junior — I applaud East High Principal Alan Harris.
I think next year he should be brazen and close campus for lunch for all students, unless they are involved in an off-site program. Ease the hectic lunch schedule of the upperclassmen and set an example for the rest of the city.
Talk about taking back the school! This principal is the best one we have seen since Milt McPike. We are cheering for him in our home.

Wanted: Strong Crop of School Candidates

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Madison was treated to two lively and competitive races for School Board last spring.
Voters deserve more of the same next spring.
But that will require another strong group of candidates to step forward.
At least one seat on the board will be open because board member Ruth Robarts is retiring after a decade of service. Board president Johnny Winston Jr. has announced he’ll seek re-election. Member Shwaw Vang has not yet said if he’ll seek another term.

Montessori students outperform traditionally taught students academically and socially

Erin Richards:

A study of Milwaukee schoolchildren published today in the journal Science underscores what proponents of Montessori education have believed for decades: that Montessori students might be better prepared academically and socially than students in traditional classrooms.
Among the findings: 5-year-old Montessori students had better reading, math and social skills than 5-year-old non-Montessori children, and 12-year-old Montessori students wrote essays that were more creative and sophisticated than those by 12-year-old non-Montessori students. The study tested two groups of Milwaukee Public Schools students: those who by luck of a lottery got into Craig Montessori on the city’s northwest side, and those who didn’t.
It reaffirms the benefits of a system started by Maria Montessori 100 years ago, local administrators said, while also boosting the reputation of a city that has increasingly made public school Montessori options available to a poor, urban population.

9/25/2006 Health Insurance Presentation

On September 25, the Human Resources Committee of the Madison School Board heard a presentation from Robert Butler, a negotiations consultant from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, about the ever-increasing costs for employee health insurance for school districts. Mr. Butler also recommended steps for the district to take in the future. The committee meets again on Monday, October 30. Board members on the committee are Lawrie Kobza and Shwaw Vang. I am the chair.
Butler’s presentation [269K PDF].

MMSD Referendum Info

The attached document is copied from Vicki McKenna’s web site. Her comments are accurate from the conversations she and I have had and information she has reviewed. There still is a lot more critical information, questions and concerns about the referendum that needs exploration, analysis and ‘airing.’
Here is what I think is some significant additional data:
The District continues to refuse to tell the public (taxpayers) about the TRUE costs of the referendum. The District is only telling us to consider a $23.1 million referendum without telling us the FULL tax burden that includes the approximate 60% (Sixty) additional cost to taxpayers to satisfy the State Equalization (negative aids) obligation. That $23.1 million actually becomes an estimated $37.67 million. The three parts to the referendum question break out as follows:

  1. Linden Park Elementary: Basic of $17.7 million, plus 60% or $10.6 million equals $28.3 million total actual tax burden
  2. Leopold Elementary School Addition: Basic of $2.76 million, plus 60% or $1.65 million equals $4.41 million total actual tax burden
  3. Debt Refinance: Basic of $3.1 million, plus 60% or $1.86 million equals $4.96 million total actual tax burden

Items 2 and 3 are, in effect (back door approach), a referendum to raise the revenue cap by releasing over $800,000 per year from debt obligations in the operations budget to spend in whatever ways the Board of Education chooses. The Board has done no planning as to if, let alone how, this money will be spent on priorities for classroom, instruction and programs and services toward directly affecting student achievement.
I encourage you to share your insights, questions and suggestions.
An Active Citizens for Education (ACE) meeting is scheduled for Thursday, October 5, 7:00 pm, Oakwood Village West. More details to follow. McKenna’s website.

MMSD at Stage 1 in partnerships

As with leadership, Stage 1 on the five-stage chart best describes the MMSD’s partnership development:

Approach in Stage 1
There is no system for input from parents, business, or community.
Status quo is desired for managing the school.
Implementation in Stage 1
Barriers are erected to close out involvement of outsiders. Outsiders are managed for least impact on status quo.
Outcome in Stage 1
There is little or no involvement of parents, business, or community at large. School is a closed, isolated system.

I can see some members of the board nudging the district toward more involvement of parents, but the creep is slow, slow, slow.
The description of implementation clearly describes the administration and the thinking of some board members in my mind. The description explains to me why the superintendent unilaterally returned the two-million-dollar Reading First grant. The recent revelations of bureaucratic impropriety are just after-the-fact rationalizations.
I encourage others to comment on this chart and the previous one. If various school advocates can come to some agreement (or at least understanding of each others’ points of view) on these charts, we might be able to begin some productive dialog that would move the MMSD closer toward Stage 5.


This is the third in a series of farewell posts to the SIS blog. I still don’t know how long this will take; I don’t have a schedule but I don’t think too much longer. There are still things I want to say before I leave this forum. “The Long Goodbye?” I hope not, but a bit longer. I also want to note that as part of weaning myself from SIS, I’ve decided not to “do comments.” Some of that decision is a selfish desire to pursue my own agenda and some of it is a recognition that “doing comments,” pulls me in exactly the direction I’ve been complaining about. I only mention this because I want to applaud Ed Blume’s recent effort to be constructive, education4U’s and Larry Winkler’s comments on my previous post in this series and thank Barb S. for her kind words. Some of the things I want to say are very general about how I think about education and activism; some are specific to my experiences in Madison and with SIS. Most are a combination. This one is a combination that turns out to be timely (I intended to write this before the event that gives it timeliness – an event I had no direct part in).
This post is about the referendum campaign, CAST (Communities and Schools Together) and what others have called “the CAST leaders,” (I have never heard anyone associated with CAST call himself or herself or anyone else a leader. I prefer to think them as those who are working the hardest). There has been an attempt to make the referendum campaign at least partially about the people working with CAST. If that is gong to be the case I think it is important to relate what I know about those people and that organization.
It is serendipitous that the word CAST fits so well with what I want to write about, which is the how CAST came together and how it functions. I don’t know the entire story and the fact that I don’t know is part of the story. It is significant that there is very little formal organization or structure and much improvisation; that things get done because varied and talented and committed people find the time and means to get them done. We’ve been doing this without being given orders or deadlines or anything but encouragement. So I don’t know all about how CAST came together (and in fact to know all that, I think I’d have to query every person who proudly calls himself or herself a member of CAST because every person has their individual story and reasons for wanting to help get the referendum passed). Enough with the protestations of ignorance, there are some things that I do know and these are part of the story too.
Carol Carstensen was designated (officially? unofficially?) by the Board of Education to coordinate the campaign. In some manner and in some way and to some (from what I can tell, limited) fashion Carol recruited people to fit certain slots, like a casting director casts a play or movie. I don’t know what these slots were, but I would guess that geographic diversity and earned respect from varied portions of the MMSD community were part of the criteria and skills and strengths may also have been considered. That is one meaning of cast.
Cast also describes casting a line or a net to see what you catch. That’s how most of the people working for the referendum came together. It was more of a wide net than a line. Calls for help on list serves, word of mouth, letters to supporters of past referendums, more word of mouth…were all parts of it that I know of. When you cast a wide net, you can end up with many different types of fish.
CAST has many different types of fish, many different types of educational activists. Really, we share only three things: (1) A desire to see the referendum pass; (2) a willingness to work to make that desire a reality and (3) respect for one another. There are people who I am working closely with who I have in the past had public disagreements with. There are people who I am working closely with who have made public statements that show they have a greater concern than I do about “Bright Flight.” There are people making great contributions and I don’t know anything about them but their names and their contributions. There are probably people who have views that are very, very different from mine. There is no party line but to get the referendum passed. That’s one reason why it is so laughable that anyone would try to make a big deal about the fact that no CAST member “called” me on what I wrote about the Wright PSO meeting (and note that the person making that accusation was on the CAST list, read the message and only attempted to “call” me on it in a different and more public forum where he was confident that his distortions would get a more friendly reception). What was really going on was I was sharing something that was important to me with a diverse group who I knew would (with one exception) treat my thoughts with respect. I didn’t post those thoughts on SIS because I knew they wouldn’t be treated with respect. I don’t give a damn now, so before I leave I’m going to say a lot more about that meeting. The other people on the list (with one exception) understood that: TJ on the soapbox again, sometimes worth heeding, sometimes wrong, sometimes tiresome, but not to be twisted or ridiculed. Respect. It wasn’t a policy statement or an attempt to convince anyone of anything. Maybe at some level I wanted to prompt people to think about contrasting attitudes on support for public education, but mostly I wanted to share my moving experience of hearing from other supporters with those who are working to build support (again, with one exception). So a wide net was cast and the catch is good and varied. That’s what coalitions are. We work together to achieve those goals we share in common.
The final usages of cast I want to bring in are biblical. “Cast your bread on the waters; for you shall find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11). Most interpretations of this injunction concern faith and charity and doing good works. Having faith to follow a practice that appears to make no sense (historically seed was cast from river boats at high tide as a way of planting, so there was method to the madness). And charity and good works, in that if give of yourself based on faith, your faith will be returned, your good works will yield returns, you will find the bread. I have the sense that the people working with CAST are working based on a faith that building that school, renovating the other, refinancing those debts will all be returned to the community with a multitude of small and large benefits. Given the current atmosphere, I need to point out that this isn’t a blind and irrational faith, there is good evidence to back it up (look at the CAST web site). But in another sense it is irrational for many of us. My children will not attend the new school or Leopold; the odds of the money saved directly benefiting my children are very small. Still I have faith that doing what is right — right for the children who will attend the new school, right for those whose schools will avoid some overcrowding because of the new school, right for those at Leopold who will finally get some relief from overcrowding, right for those who may gain a teacher or a smaller class and will not lose some services because of the refinancing, right for the MMSD community of five or ten or fifteen years from now who without these measures will be forced to build a new school or new schools in crisis situations (because that land is there and homes will be built and children will need schools) — will yield indirect returns for me and those I care about. It will make Madison a better place. I can’t see any way that failing to pass this referendum will make Madison a better place.
My faith has been shaken lately. Not my faith that passing the referendum is the right thing to do. It is my faith in myself, in my understanding of how the world works and in my belief that the vast, vast majority of people on this planet are people of good will. These faiths have been shaken by doubts that whatever benefits may come from my advocacy; the road that I have taken my advocacy on in response to recent events may be causing harm to an individual in ways that I did not anticipate and do not desire. These faiths have also been shaken by momentary doubts about how much and how far I can trust someone who I like very much but don’t know very well. The first set of doubts I am struggling with. I quickly decided to dismiss the second set, but I am ashamed that they even rose in my mind. I am sorry to be so cryptic, and only am sharing this because it has brought home to me how important trust and honesty are. Living life with the assumption of distrust is not a good way to be. Working to improve our children’s schools and futures based on distrust is not a good way to get things done.
The last use of cast I’m going to say anything about is “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” (John 8:7). (If you got this far aren’t you glad I decided not to drag in anything about casting from a mold, or a cast for a broken bone. I am.) I’ve cast some stones in my day that I am not proud of and I’m not without sin, so I’m not claiming personal purity. I’ve certainly had some stones cast my way lately. I’ll pick a fight and almost never back down, but I would never initiate the kind of dirty tactics I’ve seen directed my way and at CAST. As I am sure anyone who was on the CAST list can attest, there has never been any discussion or contemplation of using dirty tactics. (Really, the best opposition research that came from this failed Nixonian misadventure was a statement from me completely divorced from the referendum that had to be misinterpreted in order to even try to do anything with.) I’m not saying CAST is without sin, but we aren’t casting stones either. There may be referendum supporters casting stones, but they are not part of any campaign I am involved with.
CAST is a coalition of dedicated people who believe that passing the referendum is the right thing to do. No more, no less. In regard to how the electorate votes on the referendum, most of this shouldn’t matter at all. I’ve asked repeatedly that those of us who devote time to educational activism help others decide how to vote based on the merits of the proposals on the ballot. This plea has been met with resistance from those who oppose the referendum and those who have not taken public stances. Who supports or opposes the referendum and how they express their support or opposition isn’t on the ballot. This shouldn’t be about me or anyone else. Unfortunately Jim Zellmer and others are correct that at least some voters will be thinking of things other than the merits of the ballot measures as they cast their votes. If one of those things is the revealed character of activists on each side, then I can’t help but feel good about the prospects for passage.
Vote Yes for Schools!
To be continued.

U.S. homework outsourced as “e-tutoring” grows

Jason Szep
BOSTON (Reuters) – Private tutors are a luxury many American families cannot afford, costing anywhere between $25 to $100 an hour. But California mother Denise Robison found one online for $2.50 an hour — in India.
“It’s made the biggest difference. My daughter is literally at the top of every single one of her classes and she has never done that before,” said Robison, a single mother from Modesto.
Her 13-year-old daughter, Taylor, is one of 1,100 Americans enrolled in Bangalore-based TutorVista, which launched U.S. services last November with a staff of 150 “e-tutors” mostly in India with a fee of $100 a month for unlimited hours.
Taylor took two-hour sessions each day for five days a week in math and English — a cost that tallies to $2.50 an hour, a fraction of the $40 an hour charged by U.S.-based online tutors such as market leader that draw on North American teachers, or the usual $100 an hour for face-to-face sessions.
“I like to tell people I did private tutoring every day for the cost of a fast-food meal or a Starbucks’ coffee,” Robison said. “We did our own form of summer school all summer.”
The outsourcing trend that fueled a boom in Asian call centers staffed by educated, low-paid workers manning phones around the clock for U.S. banks and other industries is moving fast into an area at the heart of U.S. culture: education.

Schools Of Hope – Tutors Needed

[Not part of the “farewell series,” much more important]
There are a number of factors that have contributed to the historic closing of the achievement gap in Madison schools including small class sizes and talented and well trained teachers. But there’s no disputing the United Way of Dane County-led Schools of Hope project and the hundreds of tutors it has mobilized have played a crucial role. So crucial that a significant decrease in tutors would put the hard won gains at risk. We believe this community won’t let that happen.
United Way, and Schools of Hope partners RSVP and the Urban League are conducting training for tutors right now. Tutors need no prior experience or training, just the interest to devote a little time to helping en elementary school child with reading or a middle school child with algebra. 104 volunteers registered this week. But at least another hundred are needed. The next training is Tuesday October 3 from 4:00 to 6:00 at the Memorial Union. Schools of Hope is a community success. It works because of you. It’s that important. Help if you can.

Meet the New Principal

Jason Shepherd:

Good principals must satisfy interest groups and carry out the goals of policymakers. They must master the bureaucracy, feed their teachers’ energy, inspire students and families. They must blend nimbleness with strategic planning, instant pragmatism with sustained idealism.
“The quality of a principal is the single most important factor in a school’s success,” says Superintendent Art Rainwater.
Talk about pressure.
Patrick Delmore, the former principal at O’Keeffe Middle School, knows how hard it can be.
“You might intellectually know the many facets of the job,” he says. “But even if you work pretty efficiently, you find out quickly how important it is to work those extra hours.”

Dissecting the Dollars: MMSD Referendum Nears


The five-minute video, available on MMSD’s Web site, explains why there is a referendum, and how a yes-vote impacts taxpayers’ wallets. Board member Carol Carstensen said it’s intended to be shown at various meetings. “In parent groups, neighborhood groups, service organizations, anyone who wants to find out the facts about the referendum question,” she said.
Since tax dollars produced it, Carstensen said the video is simply factual, not promotional. In places, she said the numbers are quite exact. For instance, Carstensen said when it shows the impact on the average home, the dollar amounts include an extra 60-percent the district has pay to help fund poor school districts in the state. “That includes the negative aid, the way in which the state finances work,” she said.
Watching the district’s finances, and the video closely, will be Don Severson. He heads the group Active Citizens for Education, which doesn’t take a position on the referendum, but seeks to clarify information for voters. Severson will questions other dollar amounts, like the lump sum $23 million being advertised on the district’s Web site. “What they aren’t saying is the other extra 60-percent which amounts then to $37 million,” he said.
Severson said he’ll spend the next six weeks dissecting similar numbers in this video. “Trying to make sure it’s as complete as possible and as accurate as possible.” He said voters should still watch out for the district’s official enrollement numbers for the year, which were taken last Friday. Severson said voters will need that information, since two of the three parts of the question concern overcrowding.

Much more here.

Kindergarten Prep: The Academic Push — How Early is Too Early?

Ilene Lelchuk:

When Dylan and Matthew Goode bounded into the Score Educational Center in Alameda, Dylan, 6, asked for a turn with the ladybug-shaped computer mouse. And Matthew, 4, wanted to know when he could shoot hoops, the reward for finishing each hourlong lesson.
Once in front of computer screens with headphones on, they slumped in their chairs, swung their legs and talked back at animated math and phonics sessions.
The academic push now starts before kindergarten. Parents worried about the rigors of elementary school enroll their tots in tutoring programs and academic preschools or sit them in front of videos that promise to teach children as young as 15 months their ABC basics in a few short weeks.


Joanne Jacobs:

AB 2975 would have labeled California students “proficient” if they were on track to pass the state’s graduation exam, which requires partial mastery of 7th and 8th grade math and 9th and 10th grade English by the end of 12th grade. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto message was succinct.

Redefining the level of academic achievement necessary to designate students as ‘proficient’ does not make the students proficient.”

Not unless the word means “no more than four years below grade level.”

There’s been some local discussion regarding the redefinition of success here and here.

Seattle’s School “Choice” & Transportation Costs

Jessica Blanchard:

The district’s current “open choice” enrollment policy allows students to attend virtually any public school in the city. Students who live near their school are expected to get there on their own, while free busing is provided for all other middle and high school students, and for elementary school students who attend a school within the large geographic “cluster” in which they live.
It’s a popular plan with many parents, but it’s more complex than those of neighboring districts, and more expensive: The district annually spends an average of $560.86 per student, far more than other large districts in the state. About half the district’s roughly $25 million annual student transportation cost is paid by the state; local property-tax money covers most of the rest.
With Seattle schools facing a multimillion-dollar structural deficit, officials have said they can’t afford to maintain the status quo for much longer. By scaling back the system and offering parents fewer choices of where to send their child to school, the district could see major financial savings — as much as a couple of million dollars a year.

Extending the Class Day

Ledyard King:

Demands for more tests and more academic rigor are spurring schools to consider something that makes most students shudder: more time in class.
Massachusetts is paying for longer days at 10 schools this year. Minnesota is considering whether to add five weeks to the school calendar. A smattering of schools nationwide, including schools in Iowa, North Carolina and California, already have increased the time some students spend in class.
The argument that students should spend more time in school isn’t new.
“A Nation at Risk,” the landmark 1983 report dissecting America’s education challenges, recommended that schools run seven hours (up from about six today) and 200 to 220 days (up from a current average of 180) to accommodate more rigorous instruction. KIPP charter schools, started in 1994, rely on longer days and Saturday school to teach students.
But the argument is gaining support as increased math and English testing required by the federal No Child Left Behind law has forced schools to focus on the basics at the expense of the arts, physical education and recess.

Hospital, Schools Develop Curriculum

Michael Alison Chandler:

Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III announced a partnership this week between the school system and Inova Loudoun Hospital to develop courses that will give more high school students hands-on training in medical professions.
The Claude Moore Charitable Foundation has given the venture a push with a $150,000 donation, which was presented to the partners before Hatrick’s “State of Education” address at a Chamber of Commerce meeting Tuesday morning.
The training programs could offer a solution to staffing shortages at hospitals and become a national model, said J. Hamilton Lambert, executive director of the Fairfax County-based foundation.

“Robarts Served a Valuable Role”

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The taxpayers of Madison owe Ruth Robarts a big thank you.
Robarts has served on the Madison School Board for a decade, asking pesky questions about how tax dollars are spent and how Madison children are educated.
What she lacked in tact she made up for in candor and an unflinching commitment to changing a school system that, while strong, is too often thin-skinned and resistant to scrutiny.

Perhaps a bit early for the eulogy, but well said. Much more on Ruth here and here

2 Bushes on No Child Left Behind

Sam Dillon:

Over the years since, Governor Bush has mostly held his tongue about the president’s very different law, even as detractors of all stripes have attacked it.
But in recent weeks — perhaps seeking to cement his legacy as a school-policy expert as he prepares to leave office — Governor Bush has been speaking out about the federal law, mixing dollops of praise with measured criticisms — and taking an occasional potshot. He has been caustic, for instance, about the requirement that 100 percent of the nation’s students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.
“I mean perfection is not going to happen,” Mr. Bush said Sept. 12 at a news conference in Orlando, arguing that achievement targets are important but that unrealistic ones discourage educators. “We’re all imperfect under God’s watchful eye, and it’s impossible to achieve it.”

Top-flight colleges fail civics, study says

Tanya Schevitz:

Seniors at UC Berkeley, the nation’s premier public university, got an F in their basic knowledge of American history, government and politics in a new national survey, and students at Stanford University didn’t do much better, getting a D.
Out of 50 schools surveyed, Cal ranked 49th and Stanford 31st in how well they are increasing student knowledge about American history and civics between the freshman and senior years. And they’re not alone among major universities in being fitted for a civics dunce cap.
Other poor performers in the study were Yale, Duke, Brown and Cornell universities. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was the tail-ender behind Cal, ranking 50th. The No. 1 ranking went to unpretentious Rhodes College in Memphis.

Full report can be found at

My high school government teacher, a Vietnam vet, drilled (drilled!) our government’s structure, mechanics and history into my brain.

Public Schools Open Their Doors To Autism

Kathleen Carroll:

The growing number of children identified as autistic — and the steep cost of educating them — is fueling a boom in public school programs.
In Bergenfield, a dozen preschool students are attending the inaugural class of the TriValley Academy, a collaborative effort with New Milford and Dumont. Districts including Leonia and West Paterson also opened new autism classrooms this month.
Existing programs are growing quickly. Hawthorne, Paterson and Teaneck have added classes. A two-year-old program for teenagers run by the Bergen County Special Services School District grew 50 percent this fall.
Public awareness of the disorder is at an all-time high, and more children are being classified as autistic under special-education rules. Plus, the state’s stellar reputation for autism programs has attracted families from all over the country, creating demand for more services.

Madison Kindergarten Student Walks Away From School


A five year old kindergarten student at Lowell Elementary School failed to board his school bus at dismissal and was discovered by the staff of a nearby youth center.
“I don’t feel comfortable that children don’t get on their transportation, ” Atwood Youth Center staff member Kristin Bartell told 27 News.
Bartell told 27 News a staff member discovered the boy had joined children from the Center’s after school program as those children were escorted from the school to the center.
“The child indicated he didn’t want to jump the bus and he didn’t want to go home,” Bartell said.
The distance between the school and the center includes a busy, commercial stretch of Atwood Avenue with steady traffic.

Talking passed each other

I can make sense out of the tensions between different factions of MMSD advocates by placing their various positions at the different ends of the attached chart on school leadership. (Replace “principal” with “superintendent” and “school” with “district” when reading the chart.)
At stage 1 on the chart,

the Approach is:
[Superintendent] as decision maker. Decisions are reactive to state,
district, and federal mandates;
the Implementation is:
[Superintendent] makes all decisions, with little or no input from teachers, the community, or students. Leadership inspects for mistakes;
the Outcome is:
Decisions lack focus and consistency. There is little staff buy-in. Students and parents do no feel they are being heard. Decision-making process is clear and known.

I feel (and perhaps many other posters do to) that Stage 1 closely describes the MMSD.


Punished by CAST?

The pro-referendum group Communities and School Together (CAST) deleted my membership in its list serve, and changed the membership process to require membership approval by a moderator.
I guess that some members of the community are welcome and others aren’t. We’ll see whether CAST lets me rejoin. Probably not.
Should CAST members be banned from

Pouring Water

When I’m doing the very best I can
You’re pouring water
On a drowning man
You’re pouring water
On a drowning man

“Pouring Water on Drowning Man”
Dani McCormick & Drew Baker
Download file”>Listen to James Carr’s version
This is the second of a series of farewell posts to this blog. My original intent had been to wait till the final posts to directly address the reasons contributing to my decision to leave this forum. I’m still going to post those, but Barb Lewis’ comment on the first in this series is such a perfect example of one of the contributing factors that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interrupt my plan and explore the pervasive poison culture that has come to dominate here and to a lesser extent MMSD (and maybe educational) politics and advocacy in general. For those who need it spelled out, I’m drowning in disgust with this culture and Barb Lewis’ comment is the titular water.
Barb Lewis wrote:
Once again the position of most TAG advocates is misunderstood. What many of us would like to see are programs which actually try to identify and serve ALL talented and gifted kids, not just those who have the good luck to be born to parents who are well-educated themselves and have the financial resources to help them be challenged outside of school if necessary. It is precisely the children you mention, who have no books or even homes, who are being most underserved now by MMSD’s almost nonexistent TAG programs. They are the ones who would benefit most from being nurtured and encouraged at an early age, so that they might actually make it to Calculus.
I am sick and tired of people telling me (or anyone else) what I (or anyone else) understood or misunderstood, believe or think. This is especially true in cases like this when the words I wrote and presumably are in front of them give no support their assertions and in fact support an interpretation to the contrary. If something isn’t clear, ask for a clarification. I do, often.
Inevitably this happens when someone (in this case me) posts something that doesn’t 100% agree with the commentator’s views. Go back and read what I wrote. I did not say a word about TAG parents concern for children in poverty. Everything I wrote about TAG advocates was to praise them. I did imply (and believe) that if your educational priorities center on children in poverty, then TAG programming should not be the primary way to address their needs. If you believe differently I would guess you are woefully and perhaps willfully ignorant of the circumstances of children in poverty and the educational research about addressing these circumstances (please note, this is a guess, if the guess is wrong, please correct me and explain why you believe differently. That is a discussion I’d welcome). What Barb Lewis posted was a subtle straw man attack. She did not engage what I wrote (I would welcome a discussion of that line dividing desires from needs), she put words in my mouth and used them to attack me.
The irony here is that in fact I agree with Barbra Lewis that part of the answer is reaching out to include children in poverty and other underrepresented groups in TAG and other advanced programs. It is one reason why I support “some TAG programming.” It is why I wrote about the need to “create opportunities for children who have no books in their homes or no homes at all.”
More importantly, I have (as I have noted on this site) advocated for this in my work on the MMSD Equity Task Force. I drafted the original language of the following material from the Task Force Interim Report (the final language is a collaborative effort):
(Under Guiding Principles)
The district will eliminate gaps in access and achievement by recognizing and addressing historic and contemporary inequalities in society.
(Under Implementation Strategies)
Open access to advanced programs, actively recruit students from historically underserved populations and provide support for all students to be successful.
I make no claim to any special or original authorship of the definition of Equity offered by the Task Force, but I think it also speaks to these issues:
Equity assures full access to opportunities for each MMSD student,
resulting in educational excellence and social responsibility.

What is so sad and awful about this is that instead of seeing the potential and seizing the opportunity to build a coalition to work toward achieving the goals we share, there is an inclination to see the worst in those who don’t share all your goals or strategies and (unfortunately) attack them.

And Now For Something Completely Different…

Thought we could all use a yuck…
NEW YORK — A public school teacher was arrested today at John F. Kennedy
International Airport as he attempted to board a flight while in
possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule and a
calculator. At a morning press conference, Attorney General Alberto
Gonzales said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-gebra
Mr. Gonzales did not identify the man, who has been charged by the FBI
with carrying weapons of math instruction.
“Al-gebra is a problem for us,” Gonzales said. “They desire solutions by
means and extremes, and ! sometimes go off on tangents in search of absolute
“They use secret code names like ‘x’ and ‘y’ and refer to themselves as
‘unknowns’, but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of
the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country.”
As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, ‘There are 3 sides to
every triangle’.”
When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, “If God had
wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given
us more fingers and toes.”

Students Aren’t Interchangeable

Patrick Welsh (A high school english teacher):

One of the biggest concerns of parents for the new school year is this: What kind of kids are in my child’s classroom? The answer to this question is particularly difficult for parents of average students, the most forgotten group today.
All parents want their children to be with the nice kids, the bright and well-behaved types who will pull classes up, rather than with kids who will drag them down. In big, economically and ethnically diverse high schools such as mine, T.C. Williams in Alexandria, Va., where there is enormous variation in academic abilities, average kids run the risk of ending up in one of two tracks: in classes full of students with weak skills and lousy attitudes or in so-called advanced courses where they find themselves in over their heads.
A major part of the problem is the anti-tracking movement, which began in the mid-1980s. Since then, tracking has become to education what abortion and gay marriage are to politics — an incendiary topic with fanatics on both sides. So-called progressive teachers and administrators, whose mantra is “every child can learn,” want to do away with tracking.
Good teachers, and fancy sounding course labels such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate, are supposed to raise the level of all students no matter how varied their skills or abilities. In truth, social engineering — mixing of races and ethnic groups in classes — is what many administrators really prize, while giving lip service to academic rigor.
On the other end of the tracking wars are fanatical parents — usually white, in my experience — who think their kids are geniuses, who must be protected from less talented kids and who are entitled to every advantage and resource the school system has to offer.

Joanne has more.

Reading First Curriculum Review

Reading First, subject to a scathing economic/lobbying audit recently was also just reviewed in this report from the Center for Education Policy [Kathleen Kennedy Manzo] [Full Report 176K PDF]:

“Participating schools and districts have made many changes in reading curriculum, instruction, assessment, and scheduling,” the report by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy says. “Many districts have expanded Reading First instructional programs and assessment systems to non-Reading First schools.”
Titled “Keeping Watch on Reading First,” the Sept. 20 report by the research and advocacy group is based on a 2005 survey of all 50 states and a nationally representative sample of some 300 school districts in the federal Title I program, as well as case studies of 38 of those districts and selected schools.
Some 1,700 districts and more than 5,600 schools receive grants under Reading First, which was authorized by the No Child Left Behind Act.
While hard data, such as test-score comparisons, are still not available, the survey results show that “with scientifically based research, strict requirements [for following research findings], and substantial funding, you can bring about results,” said CEP President Jack Jennings.

Rotherham has more.

So Many Grading Scales, What’s an Admissions Director to Do?

Valerie Strauss:

Admissions director Richard Martinez faces a mishmash of grading systems every time he sits down to review freshman applications at Ohio’s College of Wooster.
He sees transcripts with grade-point averages based on a scale where an A is worth 4 points and others where an A is 4.3 points or 7 — or more — depending on the supposed difficulty of a course. One high school has five grading scales.
“We have found that it is incredibly difficult to find out what a GPA really means,” said Martinez, a former high school teacher. “That’s one reason that we travel to high schools to learn the differences in what an A means at each. We have to know.”

What Role Colleges Play in Career Success Stirs Debate

Carol Hymowitz:

ven some educators who have headed small schools concede the Ivies, with their large endowments, have an edge. Dr. William Hamm, president of the Foundation for Independent Higher Education in Washington, D.C., and former president of Waldorf College in Iowa, writes, “If a student asked me whether to enroll at Wisconsin, Waldorf or Harvard, I’d tell him or her they’d be foolish to pass up the opportunity for Harvard.”
But Scott Albert, a New Jersey educational consultant, says that after 20 years as an educator, he has “long believed that the college admission process is one of the great lies perpetuated by educators. It dangles a motivational worm in front of young people as a way to get them to work harder, but not necessarily learn more.” In the end, he says, “it breeds fear and rejection into a majority of young people while offering a false sense of security to the few who are accepted.”
David Curran believes in another key to success altogether. “In my own experience with several Fortune 500 companies,” he writes, “I have found the best leaders (versus managers) are individuals who have had to deal with some form of adversity (no money, single parent situations, etc.) and have developed mechanisms to transform those challenges into opportunities — regardless of what school they attended.”


I would like to address the issue of how the $276,000 from the Leopold refinancing would be handled in the 06-07 school year if the referendum is passed.
The money for the debt service related to the Leopold construction is currently in the Business Services Budget for the District. If the referendum passes, the Board has committed to moving that $276,000 to the District’s contingency fund. Questions have been raised about the wisdom of moving the money to the contingency fund. I believe that is a wise move.
The Board has three options for the funds if the referendum is passed. It can either leave that money in the Business Services budget, it can decide to spend that money in another way, or it can decide to move the money to the contingency fund and potentially use it to soften the budget cuts that will be required for the 2007-08 budget period.
I believe the best course is to put the money in the contingency fund and use it to soften the budget cuts needed for 2007-08 if possible. I don’t believe it is wise to put something back into the 2006-07 budget now – after it was already cut – especially if it is likely that it would need to be cut again in 2007-08.
Putting money in the contingency fund does give the Board discretion on how to spend or not spend the money. Therefore, if 5 out of the 7 Board members believe that the contingency fund is needed in 2006-07 for some unexpected or unbudgeted item, the money could be used for that item. However, and I believe most importantly, the Board could decide not to spend that money at all and use it to address the cuts needed in the 2007-08 budget. If the Board instead determines now to spend that money in 2006-07, that money would not be available to cushion the blow in 2007-08.

Flowers for the Easter Altar

This is the first of a series of farewell posts to this blog. The reasons behind that decision will be detailed in other posts. There are some things I want to say first. I don’t know how many posts or how long this will take. This one is a story about my mother.
In 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, my parents were involved in an effort to get food, clothes and shelter to those people on the west side of Chicago who lost everything in the destruction that followed. My parents’ activism was rooted in the Catholic Social Action tradition. We attended a suburban parish where their work both found much support and inspired obscene phone calls, filled with racist language, letters and other personal attacks (the callers on occasion directed their hate at me and my brother if we happened to answer the phone – so I learned about being attacked by idiots early on).
As you may remember, Dr. King was killed shortly before Easter. My parent’s desire to help those in need was one with their faith, their understanding of what it meant to be a Catholic. So the natural thing for them to do was to ask permission to collect money to help the relief effort outside of Church after Mass. The Monsignor refused, with the explanation that they were already scheduled to collect money for flowers to place on the altar Easter morning. My mother argued (correctly) that Christ’s mission was better served by helping people in need than by decorating the altar of a suburban church. The Monsignor wouldn’t budge. Neither would my mother. The meeting ended in an impasse.
Sunday morning, my mother was on the corner collecting money for those in need. My brother and I were with her. We saw people give generously and express support and we saw people sneer and mutter ugly things as they passed. The Monsignor sent a young Priest to remove her. She refused. She had learned the lessons of non-violent direct action. She stayed till the end. My mom taught me a lot and gave me much to be proud of.
My educational priorities have been the topic of discussion here lately. This story helps me explain them. I look around our district and see the equivalent of those who lost everything in the riots of 1968. I want to help them get what they need. I also look around this district and see people working to get what I consider to be the educational equivalent of flowers for the Easter altar. I like flowers on the Easter altar; I wish MMSD could afford to give every student everything they desire. I respect (most of) these people for their willingness to work for what they believe in, for what they think is best for the schools. They might be surprised to learn (even though I’ve said this on this blog before) that I strongly believe MMSD should offer some advanced programming, some AP classes, some talented and gifted programming, some arts education… These are all things that I classify as needs. I also distinguish needs from desires. I don’t put my efforts in these areas (yet) because there are already very able advocates and because I don’t believe that in MMSD we have reached that hard to define line that divides needs from desires. I can’t define that line, but I will say that there is a difference in the long term good or harm produced by funding or cutting programs that do their best to educate and create opportunities for children who have no books in their homes or no homes at all and programs that offer a second year of calculus for high achieving high school students. If the first year of calculus is on the cutting block, you may find me fighting alongside the TAG advocates.
Stay tuned for more.

Home sales collapse means what for MMSD?

Existing home sales fall for fifth straight month, reports MSNBC.
Though the article reports that Midwest sales have not been hit as hard as other regions, what are the trends for homes in the MMSD?
If home sales slow, does the MMSD need a new West side school at this point in time?
It’s easy to predict a contraction of outlying areas in coming years as high fuel prices (gasoline, heating oil, natural gas) pull people closer to central cities. This possibility also could reduce growth on the fringes of the MMSD — both east and west.

“They’re All Federal Educators Now”

Interesting words from the Cato Institute:

For decades, conservatives stood against big-government intrusions into American education. They defended local control of schooling, championed parental choice, and pushed to abolish the federal Department of Education. But then, tragedy struck: Republicans took power in Washington, and conservatives suddenly learned to love big government. Indeed, some are now so enamored of it that they are proposing what was once unthinkable: having the federal government set curricular standards for every …

Panel Calls for College Database

Morning Edition:

A commission assembled by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings finds that college is too expensive. The panel says students and parents would benefit from a common database that explains what different schools offer.

One day, I hope that a similar searchable database is available for parents seeking K-12 information locally.

Madison School Board HR Committee: Health Care Costs Discussion

Ruth Robarts, Chair of the Madison School Board’s HR Committee held a meeting last night to discuss health care costs.

Watch the proceedings, or listen [mp3 audio]

Robert Butler’s article is well worth reading “How Can This Continue: Negotating Health Insurance Changes

Parent KJ Jakobson’s remarks, notes and links related to health care costs followed the May, 2005 referenda where two out of three initiatives lost. Local voters will determine the fate of one referendum question this November 7, 2006 (in three parts). Much more on health care here.

Pro-referendum leader doesn’t care about parents of TAG students

From the list serve of the pro-referendum group, Communities and Schools Together (CAST):

We have at least three people willing to translate into Spanish (anyone for Hmong?). I think that the “newsletter blurb” and the FAQ are musts. Do we want anything else? I’ll get these started with the volunteers on Wednesday or Thursday.
At the Wright PSO meeting one of the things that really got me was a father who talked at length about “so little money for the children.” I thought about how many of these families have made such great sacrifices for their children’s futures, leaving their homes, coming to strange country, struggling with language… that to them it is a no brainer to spend a bit more for the schools. We hear about “Bright Flight,” but when it comes down to it I care a lot more about giving these immigrants what they came for than I do about catering to those who threaten to move out or go to private schools. I think I share their values more and know I want what they have to offer for our shared future.
Sorry for getting on the soapbox, but it was very moving to hear how simple the referendum question appeared to them. Like anyone else they wanted the figures and the details, but when they heard them there was no question where they stood. Hell, it seems simple to me too. (emphasis added)

It’s a sad comment from a leader of a group which supposedly advocates for quality education for all kids. (No one on the CAST listserve called him on his statement. Does his thinking represent all of the leadership?)
I won’t invade the writer’s privacy by revealing his name; however, if he has any courage in his convictions, he’ll post his thinking behind his comment.
I’m voting NO on the referendum.

No Teacher Left Behind

Opinion Journal:

Schools of education have gotten bad grades before. Yet there are some truly shocking statistics about teacher training in this week’s report from the Education Schools Project. According to “Educating School Teachers,” three-quarters of the country’s 1,206 university-level schools of education don’t have the capacity to produce excellent teachers. More than half of teachers are educated in programs with the lowest admission standards (often accepting 100% of applicants) and with “the least accomplished professors.” When school principals were asked to rate the skills and preparedness of new teachers, only 40% on average thought education schools were doing even a moderately good job.
The Education Schools Project was begun in 2001, with foundation funding, to analyze how America trains its educators and to offer constructive criticism. Its report card this week is significant for two reasons. First, it is based on four years of broad and methodical research, including surveys of school principals and of the deans, faculty members and graduates of education schools. In addition, researchers studied programs and practices at 28 institutions. No matter how many establishment feathers get ruffled by the results of these inquiries, miffed educators can’t easily brush off the basic findings: There are glaring flaws and gaps in our teacher-training system.
The report’s most stunning revelation–to outsiders at least–is that nobody knows what makes a good teacher today. Mr. Levine compares the training universe to “Dodge City.” There is an “unruly” mix of approaches, chiefly because there is no consensus on how long teachers should study, for instance, or whether they should concentrate on teaching theory or mastering subject matter. Wide variations in curricula, and fads–like the one that produced the now-discredited “fuzzy math”–make things worse. Compare such chaos with the training for professions such as law or medicine, where, Mr. Levine reminds us, nobody is unleashed on the public without meeting a universally acknowledged requisite body of knowledge and set of skills.

Notes & Links on Reading First

Andrew Rotherham:

Title I Monitor is all over it here. Quick reax: First, this is going to walk on the message the Secretary was hoping to get out next week in her big speech. Second, harder to argue that Jack Jennings is in the tank for Democrats now, here is his recent evaluation praising Reading First! Finally, politically, this could set the issue of good reading instruction back a good bit, and that’s seriously a real shame.

Joanne has more. Local notes & links.

The Ballad of Big Mike

Michael Lewis:

When he did this, Mitchell opened the book for him. She didn’t care much about football, but she fairly quickly became attached to Michael. There was just something about him that made you want to help him. He tried so hard and for so little return. “One night it wasn’t going so well, and I got frustrated,” Mitchell says, “and he said to me, ‘Miss Sue, you have to remember I’ve only been going to school for two years.”’
His senior year he made all A’s and B’s. It nearly killed him, but he did it. The Briarcrest academic marathon, in which Michael started out a distant last and had instantly fallen farther behind, came to a surprising end: in a class of 157 students, he finished 154th. He had caught up to and passed three of his classmates. When Sean saw the final report card, he turned to Michael with a straight face and said, “You didn’t lose; you just ran out of time.”

From Lewis’s new book: The Blind Side.
Jason Kottke has more.

Baraboo Referendum Loss (2nd Round) Notes

Christina Beam:

Supporters of a five-year, $7.5 million school referendum — who appeared to have made no headway in their campaign since the same referendum question failed six months ago — were devastated by Tuesday night’s defeat.
When the same referendum was on the ballot April 4, voters rejected it by 64 votes, or 1 percent. Last week, with only 11 fewer voters weighing in, the measure failed by about 2 percent, or 135 votes.
“Obviously, we need to be doing something different than what we are because we’re not connecting with people we need to connect with,” School Board President Kevin Vodak said.


The Madison School District has a three part (one question) referendum on this November’s ballot (11/7).

Hands-on Science Brings Deforest Teacher Kudos

Ellen Williams-Masson:

The mock forensics exercise is one of many hands-on approaches that fifth-grade science teacher Anne Tredinnick uses to illustrate the scientific method and share a love of science with her pupils.
Tredinnick has been named the Middle School Teacher of the Year by the Department of Public Instruction and is under consideration to be Wisconsin’s representative in the National Teacher of the Year program.
A state selection committee picks four educators from a pool of 86 Herb Kohl Education Foundation teacher fellows for the Teacher of the Year awards, choosing representatives from elementary school, middle school, high school and special services. The other three teachers selected are Terry Kaldhusdal of Oconomowoc for the elementary level, Carl Hader of Grafton for the high school level, and Rebecca Marine of Menomonie for special services.

Hope after Katrina: New Orleans Public Schools

Kathryn Newmark & Veronique De Rugy:

According to the plan’s “educational network model,” the school system would include a mix of charter, contract, and system-run schools, organized in small “networks” of similar schools. The Algiers Charter School Association, for example, could be one network within the larger school system.
All schools will have considerable autonomy—including control over staffing, the authority to set their own budgets, and the freedom to offer extended school days or longer school years—but will be held accountable for results, and funds will follow students as they choose the schools that best meet their needs. A network manager will provide support and accountability for each network of schools. A “lean” district office will focus on policymaking instead of top-down operational decisions, including a small “strategy group” that will set learning standards and ensure the equitable allocation of resources, but will not mandate teaching methods or control school spending. The other major component of the district organization will be a new central support-services office that will provide optional assistance to help schools obtain services such as food preparation and transportation. One superintendent will direct the network managers, strategy group, and services office and report to the school board, whose role will be oversight, not execution.
The plan explicitly rejects an all-charter-school system, but preserves many of the advantages of such a system, such as flexibility and decentralization. The plan also provides enough structure and support to help school leaders be successful without impinging on their autonomy. In fact, it seems that, within this framework, even the system-run schools will be indistinguishable from charter schools.

Joanne has more.

Schoolmates Made Fun Of Boys Charged in Plot

Kari Lydersen:

Shawn R. Sturtz and William C. Cornell were inseparable, according to friends and acquaintances at Green Bay East High School. They ate lunch together, played with Yu-Gi-Oh game cards during class and played video games after school.
They shared some other things: At 300 pounds each, the two 17-year-old boys felt the verbal barbs and bullying of classmates, and, according to police, each had a fascination with the 1999 attack at Columbine High School near Denver.
Authorities here say that over the past two years, the pair plotted in secret to carry out their own version of the Columbine attack. They stockpiled guns and ammunition and mixed homemade explosives and napalm in Cornell’s large, yellow Victorian house in a leafy neighborhood a few blocks from the high school.
Last week, Sturtz proposed carrying out the plan, which involved shooting guns and setting off explosives in the school while blocking the exits with burning napalm, according to John P. Zakowski, Brown County district attorney.

More here.

Schools fight cheaters who use tech tools

Sharon Noguchi:

The Advanced Placement government assignment over the summer was to read and analyze political commentator Chris Matthews’ book “Hardball.” So four friends at American High School in Fremont did what they say everyone else was doing: divvied up the 13 questions about the book and exchanged answers via e-mail. They each altered the text slightly, then handed in their individual papers.
The students call it collaboration. The teachers call it cheating.
As technology makes it easier than ever to cheat, educators are combating the intractable problem on at least three fronts: setting clear standards, using technology to fight back, and talking with students and parents about ethics and pressure.
Many students use e-mail to share work and program iPods and cell phones to cheat in class in new ways. On the flip side, schools can hire services that use computers to scan essays for plagiarism; one leading service claims its business is doubling every year.
Throughout the South Bay and across the Peninsula, schools are banning electronic devices and stiffening penalties. Turning around attitudes is more challenging.

Maria Glod posts a related article: “Students Rebel Against Database Designed to Thwart Plagiarists”.

Robarts Confirms She Won’t Seek Re-Election

Andy Hall (who’s been busy this week):

Madison School Board member Ruth Robarts confirmed Friday that she won’t seek re-election, ending her sometimes-stormy tenure that over the past decade earned her praise for being a watchdog but also the label of “public enemy No. 1.”
“It is primarily for personal reasons. A decade is a long time to meet every single Monday night,” Robarts said.
Also, she said, governments benefit from the energy of newcomers.

Ruth announced her intention to not seek re-election in Jason Shephard’s spring 2006 article: “The Fate of the Schools“. Ruth has done a tremendous service for the community via her strong, independent voice on the Board. She will be missed. Ruth was instrumental in getting this site rolling.
Johnny Winston, Jr. confirmed that “he’ll be in their swinging” next April. Check out these video interviews of Ruth, Johnny and others in the April, 2004 election.

6 city students get perfect ACT score

Andy Hall:

They began by seeking balance, and wound up finding perfection.
An unprecedented six Madison School District students attained a perfect score on recent ACT college entrance exams, district officials said Friday.
Just 11 Wisconsin students received a score of 36, the top possible mark, out of 45,500 tested in April and June.
During that period, 178 of 837,000 students nationwide received a perfect composite score in the assessment of English, mathematics, reading and science skills.
“I want to start by saying, ‘Wow!’ ” Pam Nash, the assistant superintendent overseeing Madison’s middle and high schools, told the students, their parents and educators Friday at a celebration at West High School.

More on the ACT scores here and here.
The Badger Herald has more:

Though Nash argued the quality of Madison’s public high schools contributed to the scores, she added natural talent, intelligence and hard work from the six students was also crucial to their success.
“Reading is important, and Madison emphasizes that,” Nash said. “But the kids themselves … chose the academic route.”
But Poppe, a Madison West senior surprised with the outcome of the test, attributes his perfect score to a healthy breakfast and a little practice.
“I did one of the practice tests and made sure to get a good breakfast,” he said. “I think a lot of the classes I took earlier in high school helped, but I think some people are more comfortable in a testing environment.”

Freshman Closed Campus: Praise & Scorn at East

Andy Hall:

Chiengkham Thao says it’s working.
Anna Toman and Moises Diaz think it’s got problems.
They and the 420 or so members of their Madison East High School freshman class find themselves part of a grand experiment — the first Madison high school in at least a dozen years to close its campus.
The school’s 1,400 older students still are allowed to lounge outside during their 30-minute lunch break.
Better yet, they’re able to jump into cars for a dash from 2222 E. Washington Ave. to Burger King, McDonald’s or Taco Bell.
But for East’s freshmen, there’s one choice for lunch — the cafeteria — as school officials attempt to reduce the school’s truancy rate.

Accountant pays district for Audit Error

Mike Johnson & Kay Nolan:

By the time Virchow Krause & Co.’s accounting error was discovered, the mistake had been repeated and the deficit had ballooned to $2.7 million in fall 2004, prompting a downgrading of the district’s bond rating and budget freezes, district officials said.
The firm discovered the error during a 2004 audit and reported it to the district. After about 1 1/2 years of negotiations, Virchow Krause agreed to pay the district $275,000 and to forgive $15,476 owed to the firm by the district. The School Board approved the settlement agreement late Tuesday.

Audit Finds Education Department Missteps

Ben Feller:

A scorching internal review of the Bush administration’s billion-dollar-a-year reading program says the Education Department ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wanted.
The government audit is unsparing in its view that the Reading First program has been beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use.
Reading First aims to help young children read through scientifically proven programs, and the department considers it a jewel of No Child Left Behind, Bush’s education law. Just this week, a separate review found the effort is helping schools raise achievement.

This audit confirms that Reading First is yet another example of rampant cronyism within President Bush’s administration. MMSD was wise to stand up to federal blackmail by refusing to abandon its successful elementary reading program.
US Education Secretary Margaret Spelling’s statement. The complete Inspector General report [2.9MB PDF].

“MBA Students Likely to Cheat”

Sharda Prashad:

Who says cheaters never prosper?
MBA students in Canada and the United States are more likely to cheat than students in other disciplines because they believe it is how the business world operates — and because they believe their peers cheat, according to a new study.
The study found that 56 per cent of graduate business students admitted to cheating in the last year, compared with 47 per cent of non-business students. More than 5,000 MBA students from 11 graduate business schools in Canada and 21 schools in the U.S. took part.
Jim Fisher, vice-dean of MBA programs at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said he wasn’t surprised by the results, since MBA students are highly competitive and have a high need for achievement. “There is a propensity for those types of behaviour.”

Wingra School Receives Anonymous Donation up to $5M

Susan Troller:

Anonymous donors have pledged up to $5 million to a private school group to purchase and preserve Dudgeon School on Monroe Street.
The plan initially gives $1 million to Wingra School to purchase and begin renovations on the building it has rented for 34 years. The building is owned by the city of Madison, and its sale price is $750,000.
Up to $4 million more would be available as part of a matching contribution program spanning 10 years, and is designed to help preserve and upgrade the building for its continued use as an education center in the neighborhood.
The gift comes with a set of conditions that must be fulfilled to help preserve the building’s historic presence and personality. Those conditions include keeping the former public school as a neighborhood polling place and ensuring that the grounds in front of and behind the building remain open to the public as a neighborhood athletic field and playground.

More from Dean Mosiman, Channel3000 and NBC15.

DPI’s Burmaster Proposes Teacher Bonuses

Alan Borsuk:

State schools Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster proposed Thursday that Wisconsin provide $5,000 annual bonuses to highly qualified teachers to teach in high-needs schools such as most of those in the Milwaukee Public Schools.
Burmaster also said the next state budget should include $1.6 million for pilot projects in Milwaukee schools that want to extend the school year beyond the conventional 180 days a year; $1 million in grants for arts programs in MPS schools; and significant property tax relief for city of Milwaukee residents through changes in how the voucher school program is funded.
In unveiling her proposals for the two-year state budget that will take effect July 1, Burmaster said Wisconsin should stick to funding two-thirds of the cost of general operation of schools throughout the state, a step that would require an additional $588 million over the two-year period. The state is providing about $5.9 billion in local school aid this year; continuing at the two-thirds level would present a major challenge to an already-stressed budget

Major Changes Needed to Boost K-8 Science Achievement

The National Academies:

Improving science education in kindergarten through eighth grade will require major changes in how science is taught in America’s classrooms, as well as shifts in commonly held views of what young children know and how they learn, says a new report from the National Research Council. After decades of education reform efforts that have produced only modest gains in science performance, the need for change is clear. And the issue takes on even greater significance with the looming mandate of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which says that states must measure students’ annual progress in science beginning in 2007.
Being proficient in science means that students must both understand scientific ideas and demonstrate a firm grasp of scientific practices. The report emphasizes that doing science entails much more than reciting facts or being able to design experiments. In addition, the next generation of science standards and curricula at the national and state levels should be centered on a few core ideas and should expand on them each year, at increasing levels of complexity, across grades K-8. Today’s standards are still too broad, resulting in superficial coverage of science that fails to link concepts or develop them over successive grades, the report says. Teachers also need more opportunities to learn how to teach science as an integrated whole — and to diverse student populations.

Alberta’s Booming Schools

The Economist:

Many educators acknowledge that over the past 30 years Alberta has quietly built the finest public education system in Canada. The curriculum has been revised, stressing core subjects (English, science, mathematics), school facilities and the training of teachers have been improved, clear achievement goals have been set and a rigorous province-wide testing programme for grades three (aged 7-8), six (10-11), nine (13-14) and twelve (16-17) has been established to ensure they are met.
It is all paying off. Alberta’s students regularly outshine those from other Canadian provinces: in 2004 national tests, Alberta’s 13- and 16-year-olds ranked first in mathematics and science, and third in writing. And in international tests they rank alongside the best in the world: in the OECD’s 2003 PISA study, the province’s 15-year-olds scored among the top four of 40 countries in mathematics, reading and science (see table).

Madison School District Policy Change Regarding Credit for Non-MMSD Courses

I emailed this message to the Madison School Board:

A policy change has recently been implemented in the MMSD regarding whether students can receive high school credit for courses offered by the MMSD that they take elsewhere (e.g.’s, via correspondence through UW-Extension, Stanford’s EPGY, and Northwestern’s Letterlinks programs, attendance at UW or MATC, summer programs offered through the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth and Northwestern’s Center for Talent Development).
Prior to this fall, students could receive high school credit for non-MMSD courses as long as they obtained prior written approval that the courses they planned to take were deemed worthy of high school credit. I have recently learned that this is no longer true. Rather, the only non-MMSD courses that can currently be approved for high school credit are ones in which a comparable course is not offered ANYWHERE in the District.
Why the change in policy?


Notes & Links on MTI – WEAC Relations

A reader involved in these issues sent this link [strong language warning] [Mike Antonucci’s website]:

WEAC felt MTI had overstepped its authority and, in an effort to punish MTI, unilaterally terminated the 1978 affiliation agreement. MTI claimed WEAC could not take such action, and sought arbitration. WEAC resisted, and MTI sued WEAC to compel arbitration. After losing in county court, MTI won its point in state and federal appeals courts.
From July 18-20, 2006 – more than five years after the SCEA incident – attorneys for MTI and WEAC crossed swords in front of arbitrator Peter Feuille of the University of Illinois. EIA has obtained a copy of the transcript, and the proceedings not only provided a detailed and enlightening look at the history and internal politics of WEAC, but supplied yet more evidence that the bonds of unionism are sometimes composed of dollar bills, and little else.

MTI’s website | WEAC. Alan Borsuk has more.

Yale University to post courses on Web for free


Yale University said on Wednesday it will offer digital videos of some courses on the Internet for free, along with transcripts in several languages, in an effort to make the elite private school more accessible.
While Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others already offer course material online without charge, Yale is the first to focus on free video lectures, the New Haven, Connecticut-based school said.
The 18-month pilot project will provide videos, syllabi and transcripts for seven courses beginning in the 2007 academic year. They include “Introduction to the Old Testament,” “Fundamentals of Physics” and “Introduction to Political Philosophy.”

Issue Data On School Incidents, Report Says

Lori Aratani & Ernesto Londono:

In a 77-page report [5.2MB PDF]commissioned by the Montgomery County Council, the Office of Legislative Oversight examined the school system’s method for tracking fights, bomb threats and other serious incidents. It found that although the district has tracked the incidents since 1973, the figures are not released publicly and the information is not detailed enough to allow school officials to identify trends or even the number of times a student has been in trouble.
The report also said that by November, the school system, police department and state’s attorney’s office should develop guidelines for what types of incidents school officials must report to authorities.
Police officers and prosecutors are seeking the guidelines because they believe principals sometimes deal with criminal activity internally. But negotiations over the guidelines have been contentious, and reaching an agreement has been difficult, said council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), chairman of the council’s public safety committee.

Markets in everything: unhealthy school dinners

New Economist:

he parents claim they are taking action because pupils are turning up their noses at what they describe as “overpriced, low-fat rubbish”.
Four of them are using a supermarket trolley to make daily runs with fish and chips, pies, burgers, sandwiches and fizzy drinks from local takeaways.
Staff at Rawmarsh Comprehensive School, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, have called in environmental health and education officials. They are looking into whether the women are allowed to sell food without an operating licence and whether they are covered by food hygiene regulations.

Benefit Performance for GSA for Safe Schools

Mark your calendars!
Stage Q is having a benefit performance of Carolyn Gage’s play “Ugly Ducklings” for GSA for Safe Schools. Under the direction of Jan Levine Thal, the benefit performance will be held on Friday, September 29th, at 8:00 p.m. at the Bartell Theater (113 E Mifflin Street). Call 608-661-9696, ext. 3, for tickets. Cost is $15.
“Ugly Ducklings” picks up where “Tea and Sympathy” and “The Children’s Hour” left off. Set in a girls’ summer camp, the play explores the dynamics of homophobia in a same-sex environment. A gothic thriller, “Ugly Ducklings” examines the unhealthy turns that relationships between girls can take when they are not allowed their natural expression. The so-called “Ophelia Syndrome” comes alive as the cabin of younger girls, their self-esteem still reinforced by the primacy of their relationships, comes into contact with the older girls who have begun to turn against themselves and each other in their attempts to conform to the pressures of compulsory heterosexuality. Angie, a middle-class college student, is falling in love with another counselor at the camp, Rene, who is a working-class “out” lesbian. Against this backdrop of intense homophobia, the young women struggle with their feelings for each other and the problems of defining themselves in a society that insists they be invisible. The camp legend about a monster in the lake parallels the adult phobias about lesbianism, and, confronted with an attempted child suicide, campers and counselors are compelled to face their worst fears in the microcosmic world of the summer camp.
Pre-theater event: Cafe Montmartre (127 E. Mifflin) between 6:30 and 7:45. Light snacks will be offered. You may also purchase dinner.

Research: School diversity may ease racial prejudice

A small study and I confess I haven’t looked at the study itself, but a reminder that some important aspects of education aren’t measured by standardized tests.
Research: School diversity may ease racial prejudice
More bias seen in kids in mostly white setting
By Shankar Vedantam
The Washington Post
Published September 19, 2006
White children in 1st and 4th grades who live in areas and attend schools with little ethnic diversity are more likely to blame a black child than a white child when presented with ambiguous information involving potential misbehavior, according to a study released last week that explores the origins of bias.
Researchers showed 138 white children attending a rural Middle Atlantic school a number of pictures and then asked them what they thought was happening.
One set of pictures, for example, showed a child sitting on the ground with a pained expression, while another child stood behind a swing–suggesting that the child on the ground might have been pushed. Another interpretation would be that the child on the ground had fallen off.
In every case, the pictures showed children of different races. In some, a white child stood behind the swing and a black child was on the ground. In other pictures, a black child was the potential perpetrator, and the white child the potential victim.
While 71 percent of the 7- and 10-year-old children said the pictures showed evidence of wrongdoing when the child behind the swing was black, only 60 percent guessed that the white child had pushed the black child when the roles were reversed, University of Maryland researchers Heidi McGlothlin and Melanie Killen reported last week in the journal Child Development.
The paper noted that white children at a more diverse school had not shown such a bias in a previous experiment, suggesting that greater social contact among children of different ethnicities may prevent or reduce bias among youngsters.
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Artists Working in Education

Molly Snyder Edler:

Artists Working in Education (AWE) presents “A Celebration of Children’s Art,” a collection of work created this summer by kids who participated in AWE’s Truck Studio Program.
“A Celebration of Children’s Art” hangs in the Milwaukee City Hall Rotunda, Sept. 19 through Oct. 6. There is an opening reception on Tuesday, Sept. 19 from 5 to 7 p.m. at City Hall, 200 E. Wells St.
The exhibit features paintings, collages, plaster casts and fiber arts pieces made by four to 14-year-olds who were instructed by professional artists, art teachers and college-level art students through the Truck Studio Program.
“All of the work is created by children in Milwaukee’s most challenged neighborhoods,” says Sally Salkowski Witte, AWE executive director. “To me, it’s entirely appropriate that their artwork is positioned, at least for a short time, where those who have a great deal of power to make a difference will pass by every day.”

Artists Working in Education website.

Five truths I’ve learned from five weeks of teaching

Elliot H (a 4th grade teacher in Phoenix):

Since I finally have a moment to pause and reflect, I thought I would use one of my infrequent posts to put down some of the things I’ve discovered thus far. In no particular order…
1. The achievement gap is very, very real. Most of my fourth graders don’t know the meaning of simple words like “show” and “pair.” Most can’t do their 2s times-tables. Most read at least a grade level behind. Most have writing skills that could charitably be called atrocious. It’s a miracle that so many of them can find Arizona on a map, because they certainly can’t find anything else (but, to be fair, 7th graders were placing “Europe” in Oregon and “Greenland” in Montana).
Then there’s the one non-special ed. nine-year-old who I last week taught to read the word “the.”
It’s not that they can’t do it. My kids are a bright, energetic, inquistive bunch. Nor is it that they have no prior knowledge — it’s just floating around in shards, unconnected to anything meaningful. I have to ask this question, though: If thirty students have gone through 4 years of many different schools and understand so little, isn’t that a sign that something has gone horribly wrong?

“In Many Classrooms, Honors in Name Only”

Jay Matthews:

During a visit in March to an honors sophomore English class in an impoverished area of Connecticut, Robyn R. Jackson heard the teacher declare proudly that her students were reading difficult texts. But Jackson noticed that their only review of those books was a set of work sheets that required little thought or analysis.
Jackson, an educational consultant and former Gaithersburg High School English teacher, sought an explanation from a school district official. He sighed and told her, “We have a lot of work to do to help teachers understand what true rigor is.”
In an American education system full of plans for better high schools, more and more courses have impressive labels, such as “honors,” “advanced,” “college prep” and “Advanced Placement.” But many researchers and educators say the teaching often does not match the title.

Brett has more:

One of the biggest misperceptions among the public is that NCLB sets high academic standards for students and schools, and punishes those who do not meet them. In reality, NCLB does not set any standards, nor does it specify which tests are used to measure student outcomes against those standards. Rather, it only tells the states that they must set their own academic standards, and that they must select the tests used to measure student achievement. (See here for a good overview of the law.)

“Like Lambs to the Slaughter…”

Zachary Norris:

Like the teacher on the show, I was greeted by a dysfunctional buzzer upon arrival at my school. A fitting symbol of the system’s disarray, they were desperately in need of teachers and couldn’t let me in once I got there. Many of my peers in the program were “surplussed,” bouncing around from school to school until the district administrators decided where our services could be put to best use. Upon arrival at my school, I was placed in a classroom that had not been cleaned by the previous year’s teacher, who I later learned was a first-year teacher that had quit in February. It is common in Baltimore for rookie teachers to quit during the school year. In fact, in my first year in Baltimore, only two out of the six first-years who started the year at my school actually finished. The result of this trend was a staff crunch, and my classroom role swelled at times to above forty students (ranging in age form 3rd to 6th grade, with up to 16 IEP students). It is criminal.
Speaking of criminal, how much of the City’s budget is spent on pointless professional development programs like the one shown on The Wire’s season premiere? Educational consultants with six-figure salaries rattle off clever acronyms like IALAC (I Am Loved And Competent) in steamy August auditoriums and cafeterias. I mean really, how many teachers actually use that stuff? I know I never did. As the frustration of the teachers builds to a crescendo, the professional development meeting devolves into a gripe session about the student population and the hopelessness of their situation. This in itself is destructive, perpetuating negative stereotypes of students and lending to the apathy of teachers. So in the end, the good intentions of administrative policies turn into a completely destructive activity. Welcome to education in Baltimore.

Matthew Yglesias adds:

But what would it mean — what could it mean — to close the achievement gap between high- and low-SES students in American schools? For a whole variety of reasons, this just doesn’t seem like it’s going to be possible. At the outer limit, more prosperous parents are always going to be able to re-open the gap by investing even more resources in their kids’ education. An education and child development arms race to the top might not be a bad thing, but it wouldn’t close any socioeconomic gaps. To do that, you actually need to tackle inequality itself. In the context of a reasonably egalitarian society, a well-functioning school system shouldn’t exhibit massive achievement gaps, but in the context of a wildly inegalitarian one there’s no way the school system can singlehandedly set everything back to zero.

Math Organization Attempts to Bring Focus to Subject

Sean Cavanagh:

More than 15 years after its publication of influential national standards in mathematics, a leading professional organization has unveiled new, more focused guidelines that describe the crucial skills and content students should master in that subject in elementary and middle school.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics last week released “Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten Through Grade 8 Mathematics,” a document that supporters hope will encourage the polyglot factions of state and local school officials, textbook publishers, and teachers to set clearer, more common goals for math learning.
While the report is being published by the NCTM, it was reviewed by numerous math experts from across the country, some of whom have strongly disagreed with the organization’s past positions on essential skills. The new document reflects an attempt to overcome those conflicts and focus on a number of crucial, agreed-upon concepts.
“I would hope that this has a large impact, because I believe it gets it right,” said R. James Milgram, a Stanford University mathematics professor and a critic of the math organization’s previously issued national standards. He was one of 14 individuals who provided an outside, formal review of the document. “I would like to hope that this represents a new era of cooperation,” he added. “I hope that what this represents is an end to the math wars.”

Much more here and here.

Equity Policy Discussions

Susan Troller:

Deciding which schools should get how many staff members and other resources is a hot topic, and Madison School Board members are tussling over it now.
A majority of board members asked on Monday night to continue the discussion at next week’s meeting, despite board President Johnny Winston Jr.’s reluctance to put the issue on the Sept. 25 agenda.
Winston said the equity issue, which has to do with the fair allocation of resources to students and schools, was too broad to be hurried into discussion. He also said it has the potential to be very divisive. When equity formulas are put in place, some schools gain and some schools lose resources, based on the unique needs of their students.
“It’s a very complex issue,” Winston said.
He is concerned that the board could make hasty changes in how the district’s existing policy is applied, creating “ramifications we don’t fully understand,” he said in an interview today. The district and its financial situation were very different more than a decade ago when the current equity policy was put in place, he said.

Discussion audio and video are available here.

Third Friday Counts

The official Download fileThird Friday Counts were distributed to the Board of Education last night (and shared with the Advocates for Madison Public School list serve this morning). Contrary to dire predictions and assessments (see here: and here), the district is growing. This will mean some increased funding under the current formula and that is good news.
However, the reassignments of the first weeks reveal how the continued tight budget situation limits flexibility in ways that disrupt schools, teachers, families and children.
I believe that this growth is further evidence that passage of the referendum is necessary; that the time to act is now at the beginning of the projected upswing in enrollments.

Miracle Math

Typical of many math textbooks in the U.S., this one is thick, multicolored,and full of games,puzzles,and activities,to help teachers pass the time, but rarely challenge students. Singapore Math’s textbook is thin, and contains only mathematics — no games. Students are given briefexplanations, then confronted with problems which become more complex as the unit progresses.


Barry Garelick [232K PDF]:

It was another body blow to education. In December of 2004, media outlets across the country were abuzz with news ofthe just-released results of the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tests. Once again despite highly publicized efforts to reform American math education (some might say because of the reform efforts) over the past two decades, the United States did little better than average (see Figure 1). Headquartered at the International Study Center at Boston College and taken by tens of thousands of students in more than three dozen countries, TIMSS has become a respected standard of international academic achievement. And in three consecutive TIMSS test rounds (in 1995, 1999,and 2003), 4th- and 8th-grade students in the former British trading colony of Singapore beat all contenders, including math powerhouses Japan and Taiwan. United States 8th graders did not even make the top ten in the 2003 round; they ranked 16th. Worse, scores for American students were, as one Department of Education study put it,”among the lowest of all industrialized countries.”

Civic Involvement Tied to Education

Amy Goldstein:

High school dropouts are significantly less likely than better-educated Americans to vote, trust government, do volunteer work, or go to church, according to a new report that reveals a widening gap in “civic health” between the nation’s upper and lower classes.
The report, a portrait of civic life in the United States, finds that Americans’ disengagement from their communities during the past few decades has been particularly dramatic among adults who have the least education. Among people who lack a high school diploma, the percentage who have voted plummeted from 1976 to 2004 to 31 percent — half the 62 percent of college graduates who voted in 2004.
The class divide is the most striking finding of the report, prepared by leading social scientists and released yesterday by the National Conference on Citizenship, a nonprofit organization created by Congress. “High school dropouts are . . . nearly voiceless in a system that fails them,” said John Bridgeland, a former domestic policy adviser to President Bush who is chief executive officer of Civic Enterprises and leads the conference’s advisory board.

Full Report: [630K PDF]

Teaching Math, Singapore Style

NY Times Editorial:

The countries that outperform the United States in math and science education have some things in common. They set national priorities for what public school children should learn and when. They also spend a lot of energy ensuring that every school has a high-quality curriculum that is harnessed to clearly articulated national goals. This country, by contrast, has a wildly uneven system of standards and tests that varies from place to place. We are also notoriously susceptible to educational fads.
One of the most infamous fads took root in the late 1980’s, when many schools moved away from traditional mathematics instruction, which required drills and problem solving. The new system, sometimes derided as “fuzzy math,’’ allowed children to wander through problems in a random way without ever learning basic multiplication or division. As a result, mastery of high-level math and science was unlikely. The new math curriculum was a mile wide and an inch deep, as the saying goes, touching on dozens of topics each year.

Much more, here.

“Teacher Education Is Out of Step with Realities of Classrooms”

Arthur Levine:

most education schools are engaged in a “pursuit of irrelevance,” with curriculums in disarray and faculty disconnected from classrooms and colleagues. These schools have “not kept pace with changing demographics, technology, global competition, and pressures to raise student achievement,” the study says.
A majority of teacher education alumni (61 percent) reported that schools of education did not prepare graduates well to cope with the realities of today’s classrooms, according to a national survey conducted for the study. School principals also gave teacher education programs low grades, with fewer than one-third of those surveyed reporting that schools of education prepare teachers very well or moderately well to address the needs of students with disabilities (30 percent), a diverse cultural background (28 percent) or limited English proficiency (16 percent).

Full Report. Joanne has more.

MIT dean takes aim at admissions anxiety

Justin Pope
AP Education Writer
Though just teenagers, the applicants to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are a scarily accomplished lot. They have started businesses and published academic research. One built a working nuclear reactor in his garage. In their high schools, they have led every extracurricular club and mastered the SAT.
But surprisingly few have done what Marilee Jones, the woman who actually decides which one in seven MIT applicants gets in, thinks 18-year-olds ought to be doing.
Not many sleep eight hours a night, or eat three meals a day. Few spend time each day just staring into space.
And Jones is blunt about the consequences.
The quest for perfection “is making our children sick,” the MIT dean of admissions told a recent gathering of college admissions professionals in Boston. She means it literally, snapping off statistics on the increase in ulcers, anxiety disorders and control disorders such as cutting and anorexia.
“Kids aren’t supposed to be finished,” she said. “They’re partial. They’re raw. That’s why we’re in the business.”
For years, high school teachers and counselors have been complaining about the emotional and physical toll of the competition for slots in selective colleges. SAT prep classes and an arms race of extracurricular resume-building, they say, are draining the fun out of life for their students.

UW System Campus Admission Advice

Megan Twohey:

Tuesday’s meeting also included campus-specific admissions advice:

  • Madison: For the second year, applicants must take and submit the writing portion of the ACT. Postponed applicants – those who are neither admitted nor denied admission in the initial review process – should submit the supplemental application. The university expects to use its waiting list more often because it is finding it increasingly difficult to predict whether accepted students will enroll.
  • Eau Claire: Space is tight in the nursing program, so students should make sure to apply on time. Decisions aren’t made on a case-by-case basis. Students in the nursing program must meet or exceed the minimum requirements, including having taken high school chemistry and biology.

Local Students in the Admissions Pressure Cooker

Wisconsin State Journal
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Madison West High School senior Eliza Zimmerer is a teaching assistant in a bio- technology class.
She mentors younger students and leads freshmen through orientation. She’s involved in student government. Captain of the varsity tennis team. Honor roll. French honor society.
Her resume goes on and on, but she still wonders if it’s enough to get her into some of her preferred schools. And she’s not alone.
“It’s really apparent here, as it is in almost any high school,” said Becky Bebber-Wells, a guidance counselor at West. “Now, more and more kids are trying to apply to these select colleges. They feel if they don’t get in, that’s the end.
“They’re taking a full load of courses, doing a sport or two, they might be working a part- time job,” she said. “And of course, homework. They’re also going to bed really late and getting up really early.”
Bebber-Wells recalls a recent day in her office when a sophomore came in crying because she couldn’t get into one class for a “perfect schedule.”
“She about had a nervous breakdown,” she said.
The agonizing and hand- wringing over getting into a top-tier college isn’t just something that happens with students aiming for the Ivy League.
Zimmerer, who’s looking at Rice University, Carleton College, UW-Madison and a handful of other schools, said she chooses her activities based on what she values, rather than what will look good on a college resume. But she admits the nonstop schedule is demanding.
“It’s pretty exhausting,” she said. “The classes I’m taking really require a lot of work. On top of that pressure, not only do I have to write an essay for English class, I also have to write a personal statement for Madison.”
To ease the waiting-game grief, UW-Madison uses a rolling admissions process, letting students know whether they’ve been accepted within four to six weeks of application rather than waiting until April•1.
“Who do you think has a better senior year, someone applying to Harvard or Wisconsin?” UW-Madison Dean of Admissions Robert Seltzer asked rhetorically.
On a recent evening at Memorial High School, parents of seniors sat in the auditorium to learn about what their children need to do to prepare for college.
“It’s so different these days,” Tina Moses, whose daughter Lisa is a senior, said after the session. Both she and her husband went to UW-Madison, one of the schools Lisa is considering.
“It’s much more competitive. I never questioned I’d be accepted at Madison,” she said. “Now you’re lucky if you get in.”
Moses said she looks at the personal-statement section on college applications and thinks, “You know they are saying the exact same thing as everyone else.”
She recalled seeing a newspaper article about a high- school-age girl who spent her summer break volunteering in Africa.
“I feel like, oh God, does my child have to go to Africa to stand out?”
Copyright © 2006 Wisconsin State Journal

November 7, 2006 Referendum & Election Page Update

I’ve updated the election page with information and links regarding the November 7, 2006 selection.
Links include the Madison School District’s information page, boundary changes and the open government complaint documents (and District Attorney Brian Blanchard’s recent response) related to the School Board’s closed meetings over the Linden Park land purchase. A motion to make the deal public (before the final Board vote) failed on a 3-3 vote – Shwaw Vang was absent (Shwaw’s seat is up for election in April, 2007). Supporting open government were Carol Carstensen, Lawrie Kobza and Ruth Robarts (Ruth’s seat is up for election in April, 2007. She is not seeking re-election).
Supporting a closed approach (and prevailing) were Bill Keys (did not seek re-election, replaced by Arlene Silveira who defeated Maya Cole by 70 out of 33,000+ votes in one of the closest local elections in years – having said that, Arlene, in the words of a friend “has been a good addition to the board”), Juan Jose Lopez (defeated by Lucy Mathiak) and Johnny Winston, Jr. (Johnny’s seat is up in April, 2007. I assume he’s running, but if Mayor Dave seeks the County Executive seat, perhaps Johnny will give that position a run and face former School Board member Ray Allen?). Art Rainwater is correct when he said that education is inherently political.

Opting Out of Private School

Nancy Keates:

It’s the lurking fear of every private-school parent: The kid next door is getting just as good an education at the public school — free of charge.
Ben and Courtney Nields of Norwalk, Conn., agonized over the issue last year when they moved their daughter Annie from the New Canaan Country School, set on a 72-acre campus, to a public school for first grade. The move was primarily economic — they have twins entering kindergarten this year and faced tuition bills of $22,500 per child.
“It was like taking your child out of the Garden of Eden,” says Mrs. Nields. But Annie thrived at the school. Her confidence grew and the teacher, say the Nieldses, was phenomenal.
Across the country, some schools and education professionals report a growing movement from private to public. Among the possible reasons: Private-school tuition has grown sharply, while some colleges are boosting the number of students they take from public schools. New studies have suggested that public-school students often tested as well or better than their private school peers. And increasingly, public schools are enriching their programs by holding the same kinds of fund-raisers often associated with private schools, such as auctions and capital campaigns.
“But lately there’s strong anecdotal evidence of frequent movement from private schools to public schools. There are more choices for parents now.”
Some public schools are actively recruiting private-school students. At Torrey Pines Elementary in La Jolla, Calif., Principal Jim Solo began holding monthly tours and meetings for private-school families four years ago. Many students had left for private or charter schools. While he says it was not a main motivator, having students return to the school increased state funding, as the district is paid on a per-pupil basis.

Locally, I’ve seen movement both ways. A number of parents have left over curriculum and climate issues while others have jumped back in because the public schools offer services or curriculum not available in the private school world. Homeschooling is another growing factor.

Private School Parents Control Board

Destroying Public Schools
New York Times
September 16, 2006
At Odds Over Schools
[This] school district has been changing, house by house, as Orthodox Jewish families have flocked here over the last two decades, gradually at first and then in growing numbers.
While not yet a majority, the Orthodox have nonetheless emerged as the dominant force in a clash of cultures. And the front line in this battle is Lawrence’s once highly regarded public school system.
In each of the last four years, Orthodox voters mobilized to defeat the school budget — one of the longest losing streaks on Long Island. Then in July, they took charge of the school board, though few of the Orthodox send their children to public schools. Out of seven seats, the new majority consists of four Orthodox members and one ally.
[M]any of this district’s Orthodox residents object to paying school taxes that average about $6,000 per home for a system they do not use. Their leaders also complain that more public money should be channeled to the Orthodox day schools, which by law are limited to tax-financed busing, books and special education services.
“We feel invaded,” said an Atlantic Beach delicatessen customer, a self-described non-Orthodox Jew and activist parent who declined to give her name. “We don’t mind them being here, but taking over and shutting down the school system is not the right thing.” (Atlantic Beach is part of the Lawrence school district.)
Experts who track expanding Orthodox neighborhoods around the nation say the conflict in Lawrence has far-reaching implications.
“Other communities are watching Lawrence very closely, for fear they may be next,” said Prof. William B. Helmreich, the director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College. Orthodox adherents “are cohesive, they marshal forces and vote as a bloc,” he said. “It could happen anywhere.”
It has already happened in Rockland County, where Orthodox residents control the East Ramapo school board. Similar strains have arisen over the schools and other services in Lakewood, N.J., home to a large Orthodox population.
“It’s ominous,” said Steven Sanders, a former New York City assemblyman who was chairman of the State Assembly’s Education Committee. “This is not going to be an isolated situation. This is a worrisome trend. The common thread is not religion. The common thread is people who don’t feel invested in educating other people’s children. What do you do when a community is significantly comprised of individuals who don’t have a stake in public schools when they’re already spending for private schools? It’s a fracturing of the social compact.”

“Promoting the End of Social Promotion”

Jay Greene and Marcus Winters:

Should the grade-level a student is in be based entirely on how old he is or at least partially on how skilled he is? This is the fundamental question underlying the debate over social promotion — the practice of moving students to the next grade regardless of whether they have acquired the minimal skills covered in the previous grade. Advocates of social promotion suggest that it is best to group students by age rather than by skill. Students who are held back a grade are separated from their age-peers and, the argument goes, this social disruption harms them academically. Opponents of social promotion favor requiring students to demonstrate minimal skills on a standardized test before they receive automatic promotion to the next grade.
Until now the bulk of the research favored social promotion. Most studies found that students who were retained tended to fare less well academically than demographically similar students who were promoted. The problem with this previous research is that it was never entirely clear whether retained students did worse because they were retained or because whatever caused them to be retained led to worse outcomes. This is especially a problem because these previous studies examined retention based on educator discretion. If teachers decide that one student should be retained while another demographically similar student should be promoted, they probably know something about those students that suggests that the promoted student has better prospects than the retained student. When researchers match students on recorded demographic factors they cannot observe or control statistically for what a teacher saw that led that teacher to promote one student while retaining the other.

The complete report is available here.

Technology: “It Can Do More Harm Than Good”

Ryan Boots:

I’ve been something of a cheerleader on the use of new media in the classroom, principally in the form of digital textbooks.  But similar to what we’ve already seen with the calculator, such technology has the potential to inflict damage in the classroom.

Exhibit A: Right Wing Prof flipped his lid a couple of days ago over a math lesson titled "Making Money from Lemons" (produced by Microsoft no less–oh, the irony).  Just one problem: the lesson didn’t actually involve any, you know, math.  Just a bunch of mouse clicks that an orangutan could be trained to perform. 

Exhibit B: Educomputer vendor Steve Hargadon did an interview with author Larry Cuban on his 2001 book "Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom".  I highly recommend all of Hargadon’s post, but I find this paragraph particularly important:

Studio School Update

Susan Troller:

The backers of the Studio School were given permission by the Madison school board last year to pursue the planning grant.
Donahue said the proposed Studio School will focus on providing a school-wide, arts rich curriculum for elementary school students. It would be chartered with the Madison school district in a way similar to the district’s very successful dual immersion Spanish language school, Nuestro Mundo Inc., or its other charter school, Wright Middle School. Both schools focus on issues of multi-culturalism and integrating social action into the curriculum.

More on the Studio School.

North Carolina & Math Standards

Todd Silberman:

Despite North Carolina students’ steady improvement in reading and math, their performance on state end-of-grade tests has been far better than on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In fact, North Carolina stands out because of the wide gap between results on the state and national tests.
In 2005, about 84 percent of North Carolina eighth-graders earned proficient or better scores on state math tests; 32 percent were proficient or advanced on the national math test. Only West Virginia showed a sharper difference.
“When you see the huge disparity that you do between proficiency levels [on state and national tests], at least part of it is about rigor,” said Ross Weiner, policy director for the Education Trust, a Washington group that advocates for poor and minority students. “North Carolina has a bigger difference than most other states. That raises questions about expectations and whether North Carolina’s standards are high enough to demonstrate that students are learning what they need to know.”

More on “how states inflate their progress under No Child Left Behind“.

The End of Cupcake Days

Eric Zorn:

There were some two dozen of us in the 4th grade classroom at parent orientation night this week, and not one of us looked the least bit disappointed when the teacher, Mrs. Rand, announced “absolutely no cupcakes this year!”
She’d done the math. Naturally. And she figured that if every child had a little birthday party — where a parent brings in treats, drinks, maybe goodie bags — she’d lose roughly 10 hours of total classroom instruction time over the course of the year.
Parents have done the math too. The one responsible for buying the treats (usually the mother and usually cupcakes) and making sure they get to school at the right time and that kids with dietary restrictions are provided with edible options also loses an hour or so.

The Midwest Academic Talent Search

Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) is hosting an informational session about the Midwest Academic Talent Search (MATS) program run by the Center for Talent Development (CTD) at Northwestern University.
The MATS provides an opportunity for academically advanced students in grades three through nine to take an out-of-grade-level standardized test. Students in grades three through six may take the Explore test (essentially an ACT designed for eighth graders); students in grades six through eight may take the SAT test; and students in grades six through nine may take the ACT test. For students who routinely hit the ceiling of their district and state level tests, an out-of-grade-level test may be the only way to truly know what they know. Test results may be used for advocacy purposes, as well as to access a wide array of advanced educational experiences across the country.
Our guest speaker for the evening will be Carole Nobiensky, longtime staff member and Director of Programs at the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY).
Please join us on Wednesday, September 27, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Room 209 of the Doyle Administration Building, 545 West Dayton Street.

All Kindergartners Need to Know….

Kate Grossman:

The state laid out Tuesday what it wants every kindergarten student to know, an exhaustive list that includes everything from writing letters and identifying shapes to understanding that hurting others is wrong and the value of a sense of humor.
Illinois has had broad learning goals for all students since 1997 but until now hadn’t specified what that meant for kindergarten students. Specific goals for clusters of other grades and preschoolers already have been established.
The 172 new “benchmarks,” or skills, cover language arts, math, science, social science, physical development and health, fine arts, foreign language and social/emotional developme

As Homework Grows, So Do Arguments Against It

Valerie Strauss
The nation’s best-known researcher on homework has taken a new look at the subject, and here is what Duke University professor Harris Cooper has to say:
Elementary school students get no academic benefit from homework — except reading and some basic skills practice — and yet schools require more than ever.
High school students studying until dawn probably are wasting their time because there is no academic benefit after two hours a night; for middle-schoolers, 1 1/2 hours.
And what’s perhaps more important, he said, is that most teachers get little or no training on how to create homework assignments that advance learning.
The controversy over homework that has raged for more than a century in U.S. education is reheating with new research by educators and authors about homework’s purpose and design.
No one has gone as far as the American Child Health Association did in the 1930s, when it pinned homework and child labor as leading killers of children who contracted tuberculosis and heart disease. But the arguments seem to get louder with each new school year: There is too much homework or too little; assignments are too boring or overreaching; parents are too involved or negligent.

Math Wars Earthquake

Tamar Lewin:

In a major shift from its influential recommendations 17 years ago, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics yesterday issued a report urging that math teaching in kindergarten through eighth grade focus on a few basic skills.
If the report, “Curriculum Focal Points,” has anywhere near the impact of the council’s 1989 report, it could signal a profound change in the teaching of math in American schools. It could also help end the math curriculum struggles that for the last two decades have set progressive educators and their liberal supporters against conservatives and many mathematicians.
At a time when most states call for dozens of math topics to be addressed in each grade, the new report sets forth just three basic skills for each level. In fourth grade, for example, the report recommends that the curriculum should center on the “quick recall” of multiplication and division, the area of two-dimensional shapes and an understanding of decimals. It stopped short of a call for memorization of basic math facts.
The 1989 report is widely seen as an important factor nudging the nation away from rote learning and toward a constructivist approach playing down memorization in favor of having children find their own approaches to problems, and write about their reasoning.
“It was incredibly influential,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a Department of Education official in the Reagan administration. “More than half the states explicitly acknowledged it in devising their own standards. This report is a major turnaround.”

Lewin’s article references a 2005 document: “10 myths of NCTM (Fuzzy) Math“.
NCTM source materials and related links here.

Enrollment projection errors create school turmoil

Susan Troller:

But because the projected enrollment numbers don’t match the actual numbers of students at Stephens this year, one grades 2-3 classroom is being dropped, with students assigned to other classrooms and Bazan’s job at Stephens eliminated.
The same scenario is playing out at five other elementary schools where teachers and sections are being eliminated due to smaller than expected student populations, district spokesman Ken Syke said. Meanwhile, nine elementary schools are over projected enrollments and will be adding sections to address bursting-at-the-seams populations.
The district will add 10 classes at these schools to add capacity. Four teachers will be hired, in addition to shifting teachers from the under-enrolled schools.
Schools where classes are being eliminated include Crestwood, Falk, Kennedy, Randall, Schenk and Stephens. Schools that are adding teachers include Glendale, Hawthorne, Lake View, Mendota, Marquette, Muir, Sandburg, Thoreau and Leopold. Two teachers will be added at Leopold, which had a particularly large increase in students.

The Not-So-Public Part of the Public Schools: Lack of Accountability

Samuel Freedman:

WHEN Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel I. Klein gained unprecedented power over the vast archipelago of public education in New York more than four years ago, they were the beneficiaries of three beliefs widely held in the city.
The first was that the system of decentralized control, ended after 35 years by the State Legislature in June 2002, had been a misadventure of bureaucratic inefficiency, academic inconsistency and persistent corruption.
The second was that the education program advocated by Mr. Bloomberg’s predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, with its emphasis on steering public money into vouchers for private schools, was too radical for New York.
The final factor was that Mr. Bloomberg, astride a personal fortune, and Mr. Klein, an anti-trust lawyer in the Clinton administration, were so independent and incorruptible they could be trusted to run a system with more than a million students and a budget well into the billions with few, if any, of the traditional forms of government or community oversight.

90 Area Students Named National Merit Scholar Semifinalists

The Capital Times:

Sixty-seven students at six Madison high schools have been named semifinalists in the 52nd annual National Merit Scholarship Program, announced today. It is one of the most prestigious academic competitions for high school students nationwide. In addition, 23 students from the surrounding area have also been named semifinalists.