The Cost of an “Adequate” Education

Eric A. Hanushek:

The nation is watching to see what happens with New York City school finance. After a dozen years in the courts, the case of Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. New York is now back at the Court of Appeals for a final judgment about the added appropriations that the legislature must send to the city. This judgment is, however, unlikely to be the final statement. If the legislature must come up with an incredible sum of money close to the more than $5 billion currently on the table, it may well balk, precipitating a true constitutional crisis.
New York’s school-finance case may be the most visible in the nation, but it is certainly not unique. Almost half of the states today have an “adequacy” case in their courts. Only five states have never faced a school-finance case during the past three decades. New York, however, is on center stage this week. Because of the size of the judgment, the New York decision could send shock waves through state legislatures across the country.
Earlier this year New York’s intermediate court called for an added appropriation of $4.7 to $5.6 billion per year to go to New York City schools. The state, with Attorney General Eliot Spitzer helming the defense, appealed this decision. Final oral arguments will be given tomorrow, marking at least a culmination in the legal battle, though likely not the last word in the fight.
New Yorkers tend to view this case with righteous indignation: The legislature simply failed to provide the city schools with adequate resources. After all, they argue, the trial court, after listening to seven months of testimony, found this to be a clear violation of the state constitution and slapped a precise dollar value on what it saw to be the magnitude of that violation.
Unfortunately, in determining the cost of an “adequate” education, the court relied heavily on the questionable analysis of consultants hired by the plaintiffs. Their analysis, labeled a “professional judgment model,” was advertised as a scientific determination of the amount of spending necessary to secure an “adequate” education for every New York City student. Yet, this analysis violates virtually every principle of science and, as a result, has produced a politically saleable but scientifically unsupportable answer to the problem.

Background on the “Campaign for Fiscal Equity”.
Mr. Hanushek is a member of the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education and editor of “Courting Failure” (Education Next Books, 2006).

School System offers Teachers Special Inducement

Michael Alison Chandler:

Despite those limitations, school officials came up with a new tool this year to entice more teachers to Loudoun.
With help from the county’s chamber of commerce, a school employee approached dozens of area businesses, banks and apartment complexes about offering discounts of some kind for county educators.
The result is the Loudoun Incentives for New Employees program. Think of it as a coupon book for teachers.
School officials say they hope that with the extra financial assistance — a break on closing costs for a new home, for example, or a $100 deposit in a new checking account — more teachers will choose to live in Loudoun, closer to the football games and after-school activities that are part of school life. Loudoun is now the home address of 63 percent of the county’s teachers.

Why More Class-Size Reduction is a Bad Idea

Lance T. Izumi & Rachel L. Chaney:

There’s no more popular education program among politicians and teachers than reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. No other program, however, has spent more tax dollars for less result. Now lawmakers are pushing a bill that would fund class-size reduction (CSR) for additional grades.
SB 1133 would spend nearly $3 billion over seven years to decrease class size in fourth through eighth grade down to 25 students. California’s current CSR law has spent around $16 billion over the last 10 years reducing class size to 20 students per K-3 classroom. The ultimate goal of the program, says the state Department of Education, is to “increase student achievement, particularly in reading and mathematics.” Under this criterion, CSR comes up short.
A state-sponsored consortium of top research organizations analyzed the program and found no association between the total number of years a student had been in reduced size classes and differences in academic achievement. Further, there’s no evidence that CSR helps at upper grade levels. Stanford education professor Michael Kirst says that research has focused on elementary grades, not middle-school levels, as SB 1133 would do. Also, that research has examined reducing class sizes to 20 students or fewer, not to 25 students as the bill would require. Says Kirst, “This is really a dark continent in terms of any research.”
In spite of this lack of evidence, some top state education officials believe that SB 1133’s minor provisions aimed at improving teacher quality in low-performing schools make the bill worthwhile. Unfortunately, teacher-quality problems in California plunge to a much deeper level. Consider the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) given to prospective teachers in California.
The CBEST was designed, “to test basic reading, mathematics, and writing skills found to be important for the job of an educator,” according to the official CBEST website. While teachers should be proficient in these areas, the CBEST sets such low standards that it proves nothing.
One Bay Area teacher who took the test in 2003 described the experience as “a joke” and said: “Compared with other standardized tests like the SAT and GRE, the CBEST is laughable. The math section tests maybe for a fourth-grade skill level, and the verbal sections are hardly better.”

Joanne posts a sample question from the CBEST test:

Which of the following is the most appropriate unit for expressing the weight of a pencil?

Fabulous Inside the Cell Animation


Beth Marchant:

The Inner Life of a Cell, an eight-minute animation created in NewTek LightWave 3D and Adobe After Effects for Harvard biology students, won’t draw the kind of box office crowds that more ferocious˜and furrier˜digital creations did last Christmas. But it will share a place along side them in SIGGRAPH’s Electronic Theatre show, which will run for three days during the 33rd annual exhibition and conference in Boston next month. Created by XVIVO, a scientific animation company near Hartford, CT, the animation illustrates unseen molecular mechanisms and the ones they trigger, specifically how white blood cells sense and respond to their surroundings and external stimuli.

Via Wayne.

Letters Regarding “Demoting AP Classes”

Letters to the editor regarding “Demoting AP Classes“:

To the Editor:
Re “Demoting Advanced Placement,” by Joe Berger (On Education column, Oct. 4):
As a college history professor, I see the demotion of Advanced Placement courses as a step toward (not away from) the “frenzied” race toward college and the dumbing down of American education.
In my classes, students who have taken A.P. history are consistently better prepared for intensive college-level work. They know how to read maps and analyze primary sources. They understand that “huffing and puffing through chronological parades of facts and documents” is indeed necessary for any serious understanding of “The Grapes of Wrath,” Montesquieu or Freud.
They understand that history is about change over time, and that yes, the most lively discussion of Reconstruction should give way to study of women’s suffrage, and to the connections between the two topics.
Eliminating rigorous survey courses at the high school level means that colleges have to do remedial work with even the most “elite” students.
Atina Grossmann
New York, Oct. 4, 2006
The writer is a professor of history at Cooper Union.

Continue reading Letters Regarding “Demoting AP Classes”

School Improvement Rubrics

School Improvements, desired by all of us, need financial resources, but primarily, the need is for a quality strategic and measureable plans and goals. Ed Blume has posted a few such rubrics from Victoria Bernhardt. He has not received much input on these worthy rubrics. See.
That was certainly my experience also, as I posted a full Excel spreadsheet of Bernhardt’s rubrics on this site back in August 21, 2005.
I will continue with three more school improvement rubrics from Bernhardt: Continuous Improvement, Information and Analysis, and Student Achievement.
Bernhardt’s rubrics allows one to subjectively rate each of these measures on Approach, Implementation and Outcome on a scale of 1 to 5.
The above three rubrics add to this important list. These rubrics are based on measuring individual schools, and so those with more intimate knowledge of a particular school will be better able to evaluate these rubrics, but using these rubrics to evaluate the District would also be useful. I think finding such raters, at the school level, will be nigh impossible because what I perceive to be the very closed nature of the school administration at MMSD as a whole.
To start the exercise, look at Continuous Improvement.
Level ONE

Approach: Neither goals nor strategies exist for the evaluation and continuous improvement of the school organization or for elements of the school organization.
Implementation: With no overall plan for evaluation and continuous improvement, strategies are changed by individual teachers and administrators only when something sparks the need to improve. Reactive decisions and activities are a daily mode of operation.
Outcome: Individuals struggle with system failure. Finger pointing and blaming others for failure occurs. The effectiveness of strategies is not known. Mistakes are repeated.

Level TWO:

Approach: The approach to continuous improvement and evaluation is problems solving. If there are no problems, or if solutions can be made quickly, there is no need for improvement or analyses. Changes in part of the system are not coordinated with all other parts.
Implementation: Isolated changes are made in some areas of the school organization in response to problem incidents. Changes are not preceded by comprehensive analyses, such as an understanding of the root causes of problems. The effectiveness of the elements of the school organization, or changes made to the elements, is not known.
Outcome: Problems are solved only temporarily and few positive changes results. Additionally, unintended and undesirable consequences often appear in other parts of the system. Many aspects of the school are incongruent, keeping the school from reaching its vision.

Level THREE:

Approach: Some elements of the school organization are evaluated for effectiveness. Some elements are improved on the basis of the evaluation findings.
Implementation: Elements of the school organization are improved on the basis of comprehensive analyses of root causes of problems, client perceptions, and operational effectiveness of processes.
Outcome: Evidence of effective improvement strategies is observable. Positive changes are made and maintained due to comprehensive analyses and evaluation.

Level Four:

Approach: All elements of the school’s operations are evaluated for improvement and to ensure congruence of the elements with respect to the confirmation of students’ learning experience.
Implementation: Continuous improvement analyses of student achievement and instructional strategies are rigorously reinforced within each classroom and across learning levels to develop a comprehensive learning continuum for students and to prevent student failure.
Outcome: Teachers become astute at assessing and in predicting the impact of their instructional strategies on individual student achievement. Sustainable improvements in student achievement are evident at all grade levels, due to continuous improvement.

Level FIVE:

Approach: All aspects of the school organization are rigorously evaluated and improved on a continuous basis. Students, and the maintenance of a comprehensive learning continuum for students, become the focus of all aspects of the school improvement process.
Implementation: Comprehensive continuous improvement becomes the way of doing business at the school. Teachers continuously improve the appropriateness and effectiveness of instructional strategies based on student feedback and performance. All aspects of the school organization are improved to support teachers’ efforts.
Outcome: The school becomes a congruent and effective learning organization. Only instruction and assessment strategies that produce quality student achievement are used. A true continuum of learning results for all students.

Now, on this one measure called Continuous Improvement, how would you rate the Board of Education, MMSD, and one or more individual schools that you are familiar with?

Narrowing the Field

Elite athletes now dominate many high school teams. As other sports opportunities shrink, average kids lose out.
Shari Roan:

THE long, sweaty summer practices are over. The pep rallies have begun. Fall sports are underway around the nation.
Cory Harkey, 16, is part of the action. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior at Chino Hills High School is symbolic of the elite athlete who has come to dominate interscholastic high school sports. He practices to the point of exhaustion almost daily and plays on private club teams to maintain his star status in several sports. He dreams of a college scholarship in basketball or football, and college scouts undoubtedly will scrutinize his potential during the coming year.
Sara Nael, 17, is not part of any team. A senior at the same school, she won’t go near a volleyball game this fall, having failed to make the team as a freshman. She considered trying out for something else but eventually concluded that playing in high school sports “doesn’t look fun.”
The two students represent what is both positive — and distressing — about the state of youth sports today. High school athletes are fitter, more skilled and better trained than ever before. But these top-notch athletes, say many health and fitness experts, have become the singular focus of the youth sports system — while teenagers of average or low ability no longer warrant attention.

Drumroll Starts for a Yes Vote

Susan Troller:

With Election Day just a month off, the discussion over Madison’s $23.5 million dollar school referendum has been remarkably quiet.
But that changes today and referendum supporters say they are optimistic that this time voters will give a thumbs-up to district building projects.
A grassroots citizen group will start today to assemble and distribute yard signs supporting the referendum. In the next two weeks, the school district will hold four informational sessions at Sennett, Cherokee, Sherman and Jefferson middle schools.
At issue is the three-part question that school district voters will be asked to approve or reject Nov. 7.

Much more, here.

A Profile of the UW’s William Reese

Susan Troller:

When publications like the New York Times want an expert to comment on the big issues facing public schools like testing or immigration, it’s a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor they’re likely to call.
Relatively unknown in his adopted hometown, history and educational policy studies professor William Reese is able offer a long view on these kinds of perennial hot-button issues that resonate across the country, and provoke local debate, too.
In one recent New York Times story about schools cutting back on other subjects to concentrate on math and reading so their students will perform better on nationally mandated testing, Reese explained that President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act has leveraged one of the most abrupt instructional shifts in education history.
But when asked to apply his knowledge to how our Madison schools work, and how the public responds to them, he shrugs off the questions, saying he is only an outside observer. He and his wife, Carol, do not have children; he says any knowledge he has about local school affairs comes only from living in the city and having friends who are teachers in the Madison Metropolitan School District.
“I suspect Madison can be seen as a microcosm of what is going on throughout the rest of the country,” Reese said in a recent interview in his book-lined Bascom Hill office. “There are many extraordinarily well educated people here, and they have very high expectations of what kind of education their children are receiving.”

Reese’s website.

Study says no video games on school nights

Eric Bangeman:

s parents of two children, the older of which is in the first grade, one of the decisions we’ve had to make is how much screen time—TV and computer—the kids get. A new study appearing in the October 2006 issue of Pediatrics suggests that any amount of video gaming and TV is too much, if it happens on a school night.
The results come from a survey of 4,500 midle-school students in New Hampshire and Vermont. Researchers asked the students to rate their own performance in school on a scale ranging from “below average” to “excellent,” instead of looking directly at their grades or other metrics of academic performance. The study also took different parenting styles into account, but did not look at specific household rules covering homework, gaming, and watching TV.

Lessons from Charter Schools

Chester Finn, Jr:

Charter schools have taught us much. Since Minnesota enacted America’s first charter law in 1991, 39 states have followed suit and eager school reformers have created some 4,000 of these independent public schools. About 3,600 are still operating today, enrolling approximately a million kids, 2 percent of all U.S. elementary and secondary pupils. More than a dozen cities–including Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee–now have charter sectors that serve at least one in every six children. These numbers rise annually–and would balloon if the market were able to operate freely, unconstrained by legislative compromises, funding and facilities shortfalls, and local pushback from the school establishment and its political allies.
The first lesson is that the demand for alternative school options for children is intense–and plenty of people and organizations are eager to meet it wherever policy and politics allow them to. In Dayton, Ohio, today, more than a quarter of all kids attend charter schools; in New Orleans (a special case, to be sure) it’s seven out of ten children. Many schools across the nation have waiting lists.
Lesson Two: Though critics warned that charters would “cream” the best-parented, ablest, and most fortunate youngsters, actual enrollments are dominated by poor and minority kids, ex-dropouts, and others with huge education deficits unmet by regular school systems–most often the urban school systems whose residents most urgently need decent alternatives.

A Seattle Summit to Raise Black Achievement Standards and Close Gaps

Seattle Alliance of Black Educators:

To help African American students experience success in school districts and meet the challenges of the state graduation requirements, Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators in partnership with Seattle Public Schools, Pearson Scott Foreman, National Urban Publishing Companies, and other community organizations will host an Educational Summit on October 13 & 14, 2006 at Mercer Middle School in Seattle.
Many African American students have been left behind in the public education system in the state of Washington, and a transformed education system is needed that honors all students in a holistic manner—accounting for their various worldviews, languages, learning styles, cultural heritages, and multiple intelligences. Therefore, it is critical that our parents and communities must partner with schools, churches and other service providers to maximize resources and to improve student learning outcomes.

Seattle School District Does the Math on Surplus Properties

Kathy Mulady:

Preschoolers walk in wiggly, giggly lines through the wide halls of the old Crown Hill Elementary School. They clamber on playground equipment, building up appetites for lunch being prepared in the kitchen.
The Seattle School District closed the doors more than 25 years ago, but these days it has found new life.
As the Small Faces Childhood Development Center, about 180 youngsters duck through the doors during the week for preschool, before- and after-school care and summer programs. There’s ballet and a children’s flamenco class. Community meetings are held in the newly painted classrooms. Basketballs bounce in the gymnasium.
But as the district proposes closing as many as 10 more buildings next year, it also is considering what to do with about two dozen surplus properties it owns, including seven former schools now leased to day care and community-center operators at a discounted rate of $37,000 to more than $60,000 a year.

If I were superintendent

If I were the superintendent of the MMSD, I’d set the following as my highest management priorities:
1. Move the MMSD administration out of Stage 1 and toward Stage 5 on leadership and partnerships;
2. Focus on the MMSD’s core mission: education. That might mean finding other agencies to provide MSCR functions and summer food programs, for example;
3. Design and implement a budget system that allows for assessment and control of operational and curriculum expenditures by the board;
4. Innovate for achievement, beginning by initiating pilot projects staring with curriculum and charter schools and partnerships with other educational institutions to give MMSD students a wider range of academic choices.
Hopefully, others will post thoughts on what their priorities might be as superintendent.

Better Luck this Time?

Jason Shephard:

On Nov. 7, residents in the Madison Metropolitan School District will vote on a referendum that includes building a new school on the far west side. The total package would hike taxes on an average home by about $29.
Although a similar referendum was defeated in May 2005, this year’s ballot initiative may be the best solution to the growth and school-boundary issues that have dogged the district for more than five years.
Already, several Madison schools, notably Leopold elementary, are severely overcrowded. And city planners expect west-side growth to add 13,000 new dwelling units, twice as many as in the city of Middleton, over the next two decades.
“The referendum is not only about the space issue. It’s sort of about how this community supports the school district,” he says. “The district needs to know from a planning perspective whether the community will help the district meet its bottom line.”
There’s no question that boundary and growth issues have consumed Madison school officials, at the expense of issues regarding achievement, accountability and curriculum. November’s referendum gives citizens the chance to move forward the agenda.

Interesting comments from Carol regarding substantive changes in the Madison School Board’s discussions. Much more on the 11/7/2006 referendum here.
Shephard’s last paragraph succinctly sums up my views on the November question.

For Afghan Girls, Learning Goes on in the Shadows

UW Grad Thomas Barnett:

For Afghan Girls, Learning Goes On, In the Shadows: Home classes proliferate as insurgents attack schools,” schools,” by Pamela Constable, Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 2-8 October 2006, p. 17. 17.

It all starts with educating young girls, the one great predictor of development.
Naturally, in Afghanistan, it is the great consistent target of the Taliban, who have “targeted dozens of schools in the past year, especially those teaching girls.”
The resurrection of schooling, especially that for girls, was heralded as the great advance in post-Taliban Afghanistan. From nowhere, five million kids were in school. Now that tide is receding in areas threatened by the Taliban and across much of the rest of the country–just too dangerous:

Bush: No Child Left Behind Closing Achievement Gap

Theola Labbe:

President Bush said today that the No Child Left Behind education requirements he signed into law four years ago have helped to close the achievement gap and he proposed several changes to the law aimed at assisting teachers and giving parents more school choice.
Speaking at Friendship-Woodridge Elementary and Middle School in Northeast Washington, Bush said that the federal law has been successful because the annual testing in reading and math hold schools accountable for how they teach and what students learn. The law, which is scheduled to be reauthorized next year, requires all students, including special education and learning disabled populations, to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

The Beginnings of Teach for America

Gillian Gillers:

Kopp didn’t listen. Traveling around the county that summer, she met with potential funders, nonprofit leaders, and school system officials. After securing a seed grant from Exxon Mobil and office space from Morgan Stanley, Kopp hired nearly 20 recent college graduates to help run the program and recruit teachers. By the spring of 1990, the team had selected 500 college seniors and convinced six school districts to hire them. Then Texas billionaire Ross Perot offered Kopp a challenge grant of $500,000, which she had to match three to one. The grant gave Teach For America credibility, and other donors soon emerged with the remaining $1.5 million. The organization trained and placed its first corps class by the fall of 1990.
Today, Teach For America has grown into a hugely successful non-profit organization. This fall, they won a “Social Capitalist Award” sponsored by Fast Company magazine and the Monitor Group. The annual award honors 25 non-profits that use creativity and business smarts to solve social problems.

How the Torrent of Anti-Americanism Affects Teenagers

Jeff Zaslow:

Knowing that America is hated in many corners of the world, some of our best high-school students have a few requests.
Their school curricula require them to study the French Revolution, which began in 1789. Why, they ask, aren’t they also learning about the Iranian Revolution of 1979?
They’re taught foreign languages — lots of verbs and nouns — but not enough about the cultures where these languages flourish. Why, they ask, are they not given more insight into the politics and religions of those countries?
I learned of these and other concerns last week, when I interviewed about 70 students taking advanced-placement government and international-affairs courses at two suburban Detroit schools. These juniors and seniors — they were the 11- and 12-year-olds of Sept. 11, 2001 — had a good sense of the issues threatening the nation they will inherit. Aware that many of their contemporaries overseas are being taught to hate the U.S., they wonder what confrontations lie ahead when their generation reaches adulthood.

Containing MMSD’s employee health insurance costs: what’s next?

In June of 2006, the Madison School Board identified containment of employee health insurance costs as a major goal for its Human Resources Committee for 2006-07. On September 25, the HR committee began to study current health insurance costs, projections of future increases in these costs and the implications of failing to slow the expected increases. At the September meeting, Bob Butler, an experienced negotiator and consultant from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, presented the facts. 9/25/2006 Health Insurance Presentation
When the HR committee meets again on October 30, I will ask the committee to follow up on key recommendations in the Butler presentation. I will propose two things: a public education campaign and a public process for exploring alternatives. The public education campaign would explain in detail why it is in the best interests of the employees and the district to contain health insurance costs. The public process for exploring alternatives would involve inviting representatives of our employees to engage in a joint and public exploration of changes in plan designs, insurance providers, wellness programs and other options.

Deal is a Lesson in Education Politics

Bob Sipchen:

Six weeks ago, Deshawn Hill and I walked into Pacific Dining Car and caught a glimpse of democracy in action: A.J. Duffy and Robin Kramer having a late evening chat.
Duffy’s the charmingly cocky boss of Southern California’s biggest teachers union. Kramer is the mayor’s charmingly clever chief of staff. I’ll remind you who Hill is later. For now, let’s stick to the boss and the chief.
Kramer tells me the meeting was a coincidental bump-into-each-other thing. But seeing those two together at the city’s power-broker steak palace resonated with a hunch I’d been harboring: All those months of teachers union squawking about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plans to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District were mainly for show.
Because he’s a teacher, though, his motives conflict.
Like you, I think good teachers are heroes who deserve more money and respect and smaller classes and more control over what they teach. I understand why many people have a hard time accepting that their kids’ teachers’ interests don’t always overlap with students’ interests. In protecting a teacher’s interests, a union often adds to the bureaucratic bloat.
Since I began reporting this column in January (and in the 17 years I’ve followed my children through L.A. Unified schools) the most righteously frustrated people I’ve met have tended to lash out at two villains: the district bureaucracy and the union to whom so many board members and bureaucrats are beholden.
Even many teachers say privately that they’re disgusted that unions erect barricades against merit pay, charter schools and administrators’ ability to move experienced teachers to the schools at which they’re most needed. Hear enough stories about just how hard it is to fire an utterly incompetent teacher, and you begin to wonder why the public tolerates unelected union power brokers in their children’s lives at all.

Mike Antonucci has much more, including notes from Racine here.

NYC Considers Plan to Let Outsiders Run Schools

David M. Herszenhorn:

In what would be the biggest change yet to the way New York City’s school system is administered, officials are considering plans to hire private groups at taxpayer expense to manage scores of public schools.
The money paid to the private groups would replace millions of dollars in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which supported dozens of these groups in opening more than 180 small schools in the city since 2003.
The four-year grants, typically worth $100,000 a year per school, will run out for more than 50 schools in June.
The move would further Chancellor Joel I. Klein’s earlier efforts to tear apart the traditional bureaucracy of the nation’s largest school system, giving principals greater autonomy and increasing the role of the private sector. It could put private entities like the College Board, the Urban Assembly and Expeditionary Learning-Outward Bound on contract to manage networks of schools as soon as the 2007-8 school year.

Demoting Advanced Placement

Joe Berger:

This town’s public high school, well known for turning out some of the nation’s finest college prospects, is contemplating a step that would seem to betray its competitive reputation: eliminating Advanced Placement courses.
Scarsdale High School is a place where 70 percent of the 1,500 students take an A.P. course, and many take five and six to impress college admissions officers with their willingness to challenge themselves. But like a few private schools, Scarsdale is concluding that the A.P. pile-on is helping turn the teenage years into a rat race where learning becomes a calculated means to an end rather than a chance for in-depth investigation, imagination, even some fun to go along with all that amassing of knowledge.
“People nationwide are recognizing what an inhuman obstacle course college admission is, and a big element of that is A.P.,” said Bruce Hammond, director of college counseling at Sandia Preparatory School in Albuquerque, which dropped A.P. courses a few years ago.

11/7/2006 Referendum Notes & Links

We’re closing in on the 11/7/2006 election, including the Madison School District’s Referendum. Kristian Knutsen notes that a petition was circulated at Tuesday evening’s Madison City Council meeting regarding the referendum. Johnny Winston, Jr. posted a few words on the referendum over at the daily page forum.
This will be an interesting election. Nancy and I support the referendum question (and hope that we see progress on some curriculum issues such as math and West’s one size fits all English 10, among others). However, as Phil M points out, there are a number of good questions that taxpayers will ask as they prepare to vote. I previously outlined what might be on voter’s minds this November.

A Recipe to Fix School Funding

Andy Hall
Wisconsin State Journal
October 4, 2006
On a moonlit autumn evening, talk turned Tuesday to a “perfect storm” that might actually help Wisconsin fix its school-funding mess.
“Everything is coming together in an election year,” Thomas Beebe, outreach specialist for the nonprofit Institute for Wisconsin’s Future, told 17 Madison School District parents and activists who gathered at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center to discuss why Wisconsin schools always seem to be running out of money, and what to do about it.
The Institute for Wisconsin’s Future helped establish the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, a coalition of 122 organizations and school districts, including Madison’s, focusing on school-finance reform.
Beebe, a former official at the state Department of Public Instruction, who served on the Fort Atkinson School Board, said prospects are brighter now than any time in the past decade because increasing numbers of the state’s 425 public school districts are reporting serious financial problems because of state revenue limits imposed since 1993.
In addition, Beebe said, a state task force headed by UW-Madison researcher Allan Odden soon will recommend major changes in how Wisconsin pays for its schools, and a bipartisan Wisconsin Legislative Council panel is exploring school financing for the first time in a decade.
A top goal, Beebe said, would be to radically shift Wisconsin’s philosophy. The education budget would be based on what’s needed to adequately educate all children, including those with special needs, rather than forcing schools to make do with whatever amount of money is available through a formula.
But to make the storm happen, Beebe said, the public will need to push political candidates and public officials into taking stands – including support of controversial proposals to boost school funding by raising the sales tax, eliminating some sales tax exemptions, raising corporate income taxes, and other means.
“I think Tom is exactly right,” Barbara Arnold, a former Madison School Board president who two years ago served on a governor-appointed task force on education reform, said after the session sponsored by the East Attendance Area PTO Coalition.
Matt Calvert, a parent of a Lapham Elementary first- grader and a Marquette Elementary third-grader, said he’s pleased with the schools and their teachers, but he’s troubled by discussions of reducing a music program and increasing class sizes.
“It’s getting to the point now that it’s pinching,” Calvert said.
Madison School Board member Carol Carstensen agreed that prospects for reform are brightening, but she also warned that big changes will require sacrifice.
“There’s no real solution without additional funds,” she said.

Comment on Early Repairs in Foundation for Reading

The post by Ruth Robarts includes the following:

The panel also will recommend some shifts in teaching techniques, said a panel member, Dr. Susan Landry of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. These include having at-risk children spend more time in small groups that address their specific weaknesses; emphasizing skills like blending sounds (C + AT = CAT), which have been found to be good performance predictors; and training parents to reinforce school lessons.

To be able to blend C+AT, a student must first have a command of phonemic awareness, i.e., the ability to hear three sounds. To be able to read (and therefore blend) C+AT, the student must have a command of sound-symbol correspondence, i.e., the child must know what sounds the letters make when pronoucing C, A, and T.
This is true of absolutely every child, regardless of their so-called learning style.
Effective reading programs (like direct instruction curricula) make absolutley and systematically certain that students possess phonemic awareness and sound-symbol correspondence.
Less effective reading programs (like Reading Recovery and balanced literacy) leave the student to discover or construct phonemic awareness and sound symbol correspondence hapazardly on their own.
Unfortunately, children who struggle to read do not easily (and sometimes never) make these discoveries on their own. Even those who learn to read easily benefit from instruction that builds mastery of phonemic awareness and sound-symbol correspondence.

Early Repairs in Foundation for Reading

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Children with severe reading problems usually struggle for years before getting the help they need. But a growing number of neurologists and educators say that with the latest diagnostic tests, children at high risk for these problems can be identified in preschool and treated before they ever begin to read.
The newer tests, available in computerized versions, measure a child’s fluency with the skills that are the foundation of reading: the ability to recognize differences between sounds, the knowledge of letters and the accumulation of basic vocabulary and language skills. The National Early Literacy Panel, a committee of experts convened by a consortium of federal agencies, has found that these tests, when given to 3- and 4-year-olds, predict later reading problems as effectively as they do when they are given to kindergartners and first graders, said the panel’s chairman, Dr. Timothy Shanahan of the University of Illinois in Chicago. The committee plans to recommend increased preschool screening when it publishes its findings later this year.
The panel also will recommend some shifts in teaching techniques, said a panel member, Dr. Susan Landry of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. These include having at-risk children spend more time in small groups that address their specific weaknesses; emphasizing skills like blending sounds (C + AT = CAT), which have been found to be good performance predictors; and training parents to reinforce school lessons.
The point is to identify and attack the problems early, when they are easiest to correct.
“Once a child falls behind, it’s very difficult to catch up,” said Dr. Angela Fawcett of the University of Sheffield in England.
Article from New York Times by By JOHN O’NEIL, published: October 4, 2006

Continue reading Early Repairs in Foundation for Reading

“Anyone Being Educated on the Upcoming Referendum?”

The Daily Page Forum, where Stuart Levitan announced that Art Rainwater and Johnny Winston, Jr. will be on Madison City Cable Channel 12 October 11 from 7 to 8:00p.m.:

It’s not a debate on the referendum, it’s a report on the state of the school system. The referendum will be one of the topics. So, no, not planning on inviting any referendum opponents. But they are welcome, nay, encouraged, to call.

I asked what “Might be on voter’s minds” a few months ago as they consider the 11/7/2006 referendum. Inevitably, voters will take their views on our $332M+ 24,490 student school district with them to the ballot “box”. These views, I think, are generally positive but for math , report cards and some of the other issues I mentioned in August.

More on Stuart Levitan.

Art Rainwater’s Memo on School Violence

Madison School District Superintendent Art Rainwater:

By now, I’m sure you know that last Friday a 15 year old boy entered Weston School in Cazenovia (Sauk County) and allegedly shot and killed the principal. This incident has stirred in all of us the uneasy realization that this can happen anywhere, at anytime. We mourn the loss of the principal and empathize with the staff, students, families and community members of that school district. We also feel tremendous responsibility for our own students and staff. Last week, our entire staff spent a day talking about the crucial nature that relationships play in our schools. While the primary focus was on issues of race and equity, we also know that we were talking about any student who doesn’t feel connected to the school and valued by an adult. Last Friday after we heard about what happened at Weston High School, we sent to our staff the following reminders:

Notes & Links:

  • Channel3000
  • Clusty News | Google News | Microsoft Live | Yahoo News
  • Rafael Gomez organized a Gangs & School Violence Forum last September [Audio / video / Notes], attended by all Madison High School Principals and local law enforcement representatives. East High grad Luis Yudice also participated. Yudice is the Madison School District’s coordinator of safety and security.
  • Many more links
  • Johnny Winston, Jr.:

    Message from Johnny Winston, Jr., President of the Madison Board of Education
    On behalf of the Madison Board of Education, we send our heartfelt condolences to the Klang family, Weston School district and Cazenovia community.
    In response to this tragedy as well as recent incidents in Green Bay and Colorado, Superintendent Art Rainwater has sent a message to all employees of the Madison Metropolitan School District outlining strategies and effective communication tools between students and adults. He wrote, “The most effective tool we have for preventing violent behaviors at school is building and maintaining a climate of trusting relationships and communication between and among students and adults.” He has also indicated that the Madison Police will increase their presence at our schools for the next week.
    We know that the Madison community joins our school board in support of the Klang family, Weston School district and Cazenovia community. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult period.

Continue reading Art Rainwater’s Memo on School Violence

Ten Ways to Get A’s in College

Jay Matthews:

Getting A’s was not high on my to-do list. To this day I don’t believe getting good grades in college is as important as getting good grades in high school. High school, for most people these days, is about getting ready for college. You cannot do that if you do not apply yourself to your studies. College, on the other hand, is about getting ready for life. Unless you have your heart set on med school or law school or some other form of grad-school trauma, your extracurricular activities in college are often more important than your courses.
But getting A’s is better than getting B’s, B’s are better than C’s, and so on. For those who want to get the best grades they can in the time they have allotted for study, a new book, “Professors’ Guide to Getting Good Grades in College,” provides wonderfully useful and easily digestible wisdom.

At the Head of Some Classes, Desks Dismissed

Jay Matthews:

“I just never figured out how on earth to teach sitting down,” said Dorman, 58, a veteran teacher at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington County. She calls herself “a walker and a stalker.” She carries what she needs in her pockets and keeps students in what she considers a useful state of alertness because they are never quite sure where she is going to be.
Here and there, a small but growing number of teachers is following Dorman’s example, educators say, abandoning the traditional classroom power center. To them, a desk is really a ball and chain, distancing them from students.

Wisconsin Association of School Boards Governor’s Q&A

Too busy to continue the farewell and the urge to share information remains. This is from the October School News a publication of the WASB. Linked here.

SN: Gov. Doyle, in the 2005-07 state budget, you provided more than $700 million for K-12 schools and restored two-thirds funding in the second year of the biennium. Will school funding again be your priority in the 2007-09 state budget? Will you propose restoring the state’s two-thirds funding commitment?
Doyle: Education is my top priority.
As governor, I have consistently
fought to ensure that our schools have the resources they need to maintain the high quality of instruction and services that Wisconsin
parents and taxpayers expect.
While I have fought to increase resources to make Wisconsin’s high-quality schools even better, I have also been helping to protect our schools from repeated Republican attacks to cut school funding. In the 2003-05 biennial budget, I vetoed Republican efforts to cut $400 million from our schools, and, again, in the 2005-07 budget, I vetoed Republican efforts to cut $330 million. These cuts would have put thousands of teachers out of work, forced the elimination of arts and foreign language classes, increased class sizes and put our children’s education at risk. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards released a study that showed the Republican budget proposal could have meant the elimination of more than 4,700 teacher positions.
Just as it was in this past budget, school funding will continue to be a top priority of mine in the 2007-09 biennial budget. As part of this commitment,
I will again propose funding two-thirds of the cost of local schools in the 2007-09 biennial budget.
SN: Rep. Green, at the State Education
Convention in January, you stated that you are opposed to the restoration of the state’s two-thirds funding commitment for schools.
At what level should the state fund public K-12 schools?

Green: I believe that a strong education
system is critical to the future of our state. Without a solid educational
foundation, we are disadvantaging
our students as compared to students from neighboring states.
While education will always be my top spending priority, given our current fiscal climate, I think it would be irresponsible for me as a candidate to be our state’s chief executive to say I would arbitrarily commit to a $500 million spending increase. I believe our state needs to commit to K-12 education an amount that begins to meet the mutual goals established for our K-12 public schools by the citizens of Wisconsin, the governor’s office and the state Legislature. For some years that may, in fact, be two-thirds funding, but in others, it may be more or it may be less. In either case, I will increase funding for education — it is just a matter of how much.
I cannot, in good conscience, make a promise I am not 100 percent certain I could keep. Jim Doyle promised as a candidate in 2002 to fund two-thirds. However, less than two months after being in office, he broke that promise.
If there is one thing I know about our state it is that there is no shortage of good ideas. My door would always be open to you to make certain we are meeting the needs of our students.

Two at Memorial get national kudos …

From The Capital Times (Weekend of September 30 – October 1, 2006):
Two Madison Memorial students are among 1600 African American high school seniors being honored for their academic excellence by the National Achievement Scholarship Program.
Michael McKenzie and Jarrell Skinner-Roy are designated semifinalists in the 43rd annual awards competition, which makes them eligible to compete for about 800 scholarship awards worth a total of about $2.5 million.
The National Achievement program is conducted by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation and was initiated in 1964 to honor academically promising black youths.
Congratulations, Michael and Jarell!

“I Teach to the Test”

Matthew Matera:

Like most K-12 teachers in America, I work in a world of standardized tests these days. I analyze state standards and study breakdowns of my students’ test performance. I think about the expectations of the state as I plan lessons, and I spend time explicitly teaching test-taking strategies.
So, yes, I admit it. I teach to the test.
The more important question then becomes, is that a problem?
I don’t think it is, but the issue is hardly uncontroversial.
Michael Winerip, the former New York Times education columnist, registered a typical complaint recently about the No Child Left Behind Act: “Because teachers’ judgment and standards are supposedly not reliable, the law substitutes a battery of state tests that are supposed to tell the real truth about children’s academic progress.” Jonathan Kozol, a best-selling writer, sent a mass e-mail earlier this year calling on educators “to resist the testing mania.”

Remaking the New Orleans School System

Larry Abramson:

Today, there are only about one-third as many students attending the New Orleans public school system as there were before Hurricane Katrina. The system is recovering from the storm, and from a state takeover to address years of failing test scores. As a result, it has been completely remade, and is now being run by a patchwork of charter school organizers, and state and local administrators.

Study: Weekday TV viewing harms class performance

Carla Johnson:

Parents now have science to back them up when they say, “Turn off the TV. It’s a school night.”
Middle school students who watch TV or play video games during the week do worse in school, a new study finds, but weekend viewing and gaming does not affect school performance much.
“On weekdays, the more they watched, the worse they did,” said study co-author Dr. Iman Sharif of Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx. “They could watch a lot on weekends, and it didn’t seem to correlate with doing worse in school.”
Children whose parents allowed them to watch R-rated movies also did worse in class, and for boys, that effect was especially strong. The findings are based on a survey of 4,500 students in 15 New Hampshire and Vermont middle schools. The study appears in the October issue of Pediatrics.

Looking Behind Bad Decisions

Q & A with Max Bazerman:

Why is it that the U.S. federal government allows local communities to give tax dollars to wealthy sports team owners rather than to create better benefits for citizens? Why are organ-donor programs constrained to the point where thousands of Americans die needlessly each year? Why did the South African government take a stand against an effective AIDS treatment drug?
The inability of government to make wise tradeoffs—give up small losses for much larger gain—has been investigated by HBS professor Max Bazerman and his research colleagues for years. Much of this work used economic science and political science to explain drivers behind the crafting of public policy. Now Bazerman and coauthors Jonathan Baron and Katherine Shonk are looking into the psychology of decision making to provide a fuller explanation. Their paper, “Enlarging the Societal Pie through Wise Legislation: A Psychological Perspective,” has been accepted for publication in Perspectives on Psychological Science later this year.
What they found was that psychological science does indeed help explain how governmental decision making is influenced by such forces as parochialism, nationalism, and dysfunctional competition, while also providing tools that foster rational decision making.

One in Ten

Richard Edelman:

“Did you know that one in ten teenage girls in Washington, D.C. are HIV-positive? Did you know that one in twenty adults in the District of Columbia have AIDS? It is an outrage. Those are Third World types of incidence rates and it is happening in our nation’s capital. All of the attention being given to the AIDS epidemic overseas is long overdue but what about the crisis we have at home?”
I probed her [Sheila Johnson] for an explanation. She suggested three main factors:

  1. A Macho Male Culture and Lack of Female Ego — Young girls feel obliged to have sexual relations with their partners. Girls lack the confidence to say no or to insist on the use of a condom.
  2. A Cycle of Despair — The poor economic prospects, the large number of single parent families, the prevalence of drugs and tottering school system give little hope even to an ambitious child. Some young girls want to bear a child as a sign of being “grown-up.”
  3. Lack of Information –The basics of sex education do not seem to be getting through to the target audience.

I asked Ms. Johnson what could be done to ameliorate the situation. Here were a few of her thoughts:

Reality Check 2006: How Principals and Superintendents See Public Education Today

Jean Johnson, Ana Maria Arumi and Amber Ott [350K PDF]:

It’s probably natural for leaders of organizations to be upbeat about their institutions, and the nation’s school children might not be well-served by superintendents and principals who see public schools as places of disappointment, failure and ineptitude. Even so, the positive, almost buoyant outlook of school leaders nationwide captured in this fourth installment of Reality Check 2006 may come as something of a surprise to reformers and critics, including regulators enforcing No Child Left Behind. In many respects, local school leaders seem to operate on a very different wavelength from many of those aiming to reform public schools. The two groups have different assumptions about how much change today’s public schools really need. Even when they see the same problems, they often seem to strive for different solutions.
To most public school superintendents – and principals to a lesser extent – local schools are already in pretty good shape. In fact, more than half of the nation’s superintendents consider local schools to be “excellent.” Most superintendents (77 percent) and principals (79 percent) say low academic standards are not a serious problem where they work. Superintendents are substantially less likely than classroom teachers to believe that too many students get passed through the system without learning. While 62 percent of teachers say this is a “very” or “somewhat serious” problem in local schools, just 27 percent of superintendents say the same.

Some highlights:

  • 93% of superintendents, and 80% of principals, think public schools offer a better education than in the past, and most (86% and 82%) think the material is harder.
  • Despite the call from the business community for a great focus on science/math, 59% of superintendents and 66% say that the statement “kids are not taught enough science and math” is not a serious problem in their schools.
  • 77% of superintendents and 79% of principals say that the statement “academic standards are too low, and kids are not expected to learn enough” is not a serious problem in their schools.
  • 51% of superintendents say that local schools are excellent; 43% say they are good.
  • Only 27% of superintendents, compared with 62% of teachers, say it’s a serious problem that too many students get passed through the system without learning.
  • 76% of superintendents and 59% of principals, compared with 33% of high school teachers, say that students graduating from middle school have the reading, writing, and math skills needed to succeed in high school.

Via Brett.

Kindergarten Prep: When Parents Keep Kids Home an Extra Year

Janine DeFao:

When other kids their age started kindergarten last month, 5-year-old Caitlin and Jackson Pilisuk just waited on the sidelines.
The Oakland twins were eligible, but their parents and preschool teachers decided they weren’t ready “emotionally to deal with the rigors of kindergarten,” said their mother, Philippa Barron. So the twins will stay in preschool and start kindergarten at age 6.
Evan Swihart, on the other hand, is happily plugging away in his Walnut Creek kindergarten class at age 4.
“After a few days, we got the sense that he’s in the right spot after a whole year of worrying and fretting about it,” said his mother, Christine.

The Education Issue

Michael Grunwald:

To some extent, the controversy over Reading First reflects an older controversy over reading, pitting “phonics” advocates such as Doherty against “whole language” practitioners such as Johnson.
The administration believes in phonics, which emphasizes repetitive drills that teach children to sound out words. Johnson and other phonics skeptics try to teach the meaning and context of words as well. Reading First money has been steered toward states and local districts that go the phonics route, largely because the Reading First panels that oversaw state applications were stacked with department officials and other phonics fans. “Stack the panel?” Doherty joked in one e-mail. “I have never *heard* of such a thing . . . .” When Reid Lyon, who designed Reading First, complained that a whole-language proponent had received an invitation to participate on an evaluation panel, a top department official replied: “We can’t un-invite her. Just make sure she is on a panel with one of our barracuda types.”
Doherty bragged to Lyon about pressuring Maine, Mississippi and New Jersey to reverse decisions to allow whole-language programs in their schools: “This is for your FYI, as I think this program-bashing is best done off or under the major radar screens.” Massachusetts and North Dakota were also told to drop whole-language programs such as Rigby Literacy, and districts that didn’t do so lost funding. “Ha, ha–Rigby as a CORE program?” Doherty wrote in one internal e-mail. “When pigs fly!”
Said Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators: “It’s been obvious all along that the administration knew exactly what it wanted.”
But it wasn’t just about phonics.
Success for All is the phonics program with the strongest record of scientifically proved results, backed by 31 studies rated “conclusive” by the American Institutes for Research. And it has been shut out of Reading First. The nonprofit Success for All Foundation has shed 60 percent of its staff since Reading First began; the program had been growing rapidly, but now 300 schools have dropped it. Betsy Ammons, a principal in North Carolina, watched Success for All improve reading scores at her school, but state officials made her switch to traditional textbooks to qualify for the new grants.

No Child Left Behind Votes: Congress 381 Ayes, 41 Noes 12 NV (Tammy Baldwin voted Aye) | Senate 87 Yea, 10 Nay, 3 Not voting (Feingold Nay, Kohl Yea)

GOP likes (and will keep) school spending caps

Some people believe that the Wisconsin Legislature just doesn’t understand how revenue caps affect Wisconsin schools.
I’m sorry to say, legislators know very well how caps control spending and they’re happy about it.
“In GOP Plays Politics With Property Taxes,” The Capital Times’ Matt Pommer wrote in December 2004:

Republicans sought to recapture the anti-tax banner by imposing tougher spending limits on school districts than the current revenue controls. The unionized teachers had supported Doyle, and toughening the already-in-place spending limits seemed like a nifty political move. Doyle vetoed the tougher spending limits.

Continue reading GOP likes (and will keep) school spending caps

Boulder’s $296.8M Maintenance Referendum

Amy Bounds:

Supporters of Boulder Valley’s measure say the hefty price tag is the result of cuts to the district’s maintenance budget, along with an average building age of 43 years. The combination, they say, has led to schools that are in bad shape.
“We have a lot of old buildings,” school board member Ken Roberge said. “We’ve put our money into the classrooms. We’ve made the trade-off. At some point, you have to do renovation.”
But opponents are skeptical.
Fred Gluck, a school volunteer whose children went through Boulder Valley schools, said he’s campaigning against the measure because he no longer trusts the district to keep its promises.
“I support the schools, the teachers and the kids, but I do not support the district administration,” he said. “It’s a lack of accountability, lack of clear oversight and a lot of money.”
The last Boulder Valley bond issue totaled $63.7 million and was approved in 1998. Voters also approved an $89 million bond issue in 1994 and a $45 million bond issue in 1989.
In the past few years, voters also have said “yes” to a $15 million-a-year tax increase to boost the district’s operating revenue and a transportation tax increase that frees up money for new computers.

Boulder Valley School District links & information.

‘Special education’ label covers wide variety of students

Karen Rivedal:

Madison educators said people must be careful not to label all special education students as violent just because the suspect in Friday’s shooting of a rural Wisconsin principal was in special education classes
Special education is broadly defined, they noted. It can be any kind of mental or physical disability that affects a student’s learning, from mild to severe, including speech and language problems, autism and emotional disturbances.
“Just because a child is a behavioral problem doesn’t mean that child is going to commit this kind of incident at all,” said Art Rainwater, superintendent of the Madison School District.
“There are thousands of children throughout the U.S. who have behavioral problems who don’t resort to violence.”