See a Good Idea. See it Run Into Trouble

Paul Beston:

In 1991, a New York State teacher of the year, John Taylor Gatto, wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in which he announced his departure from public school teaching after 30 years. He was no longer willing to “hurt kids” in a broken system where political pressure snuffed out worthy efforts for change. By now, he wrote, “even reformers can’t imagine school much different.”
Indeed, the first priority of education reformers is often not success but the preservation of methods with which they are already comfortable. As Harold Henderson writes in “Let’s Kill Dick and Jane,” the American educational establishment possesses “an uncanny ability to transform golden ideas for change — from left, right, or center — into a leaden sludge.” Mr. Henderson, a longtime staff writer for the Chicago Reader, describes the fate of one textbook company — Illinois-based Open Court — as it tried to bring its share of golden ideas to a resistant school system.
The book’s title refers to the basal readers that were once a mainstay in American schools: Dick and Jane, created by advocates of the “Look-Say” theory of reading instruction in which children were taught to memorize the appearance of words at the expense of phonetic understanding. The theory has since been discredited, at least in part by the publication in 1955 of Rudolf Flesch’s best-selling “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” which urged a return to phonics instruction.
Blouke Carus and his wife, Marianne, Americans with strong German roots and a familiarity with the exacting standards of the German gymnasium, read Flesch’s book and formed Open Court in 1962. Together with a small band of dedicated educational theorists and consultants, they created innovative materials with the goal of educating the American masses as rigorously as the elites of Europe. Providing both a history of this remarkable company and a withering portrait of the education culture, Mr. Henderson’s book is more compelling than any lay reader could reasonably expect.

Order “Let’s Kill Dick and Jane: How the Open Court Publishing Company Fought the Culture of American Education. More on Paul Beston. Brett posted a few words on the article.

Creating a positive place for students

By Superintendent Art Rainwater
The three tragic school shootings that occurred this fall made us aware of the unique place that school occupies in our minds. Each of us felt the trauma that accompanied the violation of that place that we hold special.
School is the one common experience we all have. School is a place for friendships to grow and to learn the skills needed for adulthood. It is a place where we should feel safe, both physically and emotionally.
As tragic and traumatic as school shootings are, they are rare. It is important that we prepare to prevent violence in any form, and react immediately and strongly when it does occur. However, the real safety issue in schools is much more common and insidious. The often unspoken and hidden safety issue that must be addressed is emotional safety.
Children are much more likely to be emotionally damaged than they are to be physically harmed. Bullying and harassment in all of its forms carry lasting affects.
It is easy to reminisce about the good old days and say “there has always been a bully on the playground”. Because there has always been harassment doesn’t make it right, then or now. We know more today about children and the effects that everyday interactions with peers and adults have on their adult persona, both positive and negative.
It is clear that we need to teach students how to respect differences and accept people for the value that each of them contributes. It is less obvious, but more important, that schools ensure that our adult interactions and institutional systems promote these same ideals.
Historically, school has been a place where rules and punishments were the norm for dealing with misbehavior. Most of us hold that as the expectation and the standard. It shouldn’t be. We have an obligation to our future adults to assure that we teach, using every skill that we have, what good behavior looks and feels like. Instruction in behavior should be an on-going part of our educational mission.
The one thing that is a given is that most children will test the limits of the boundaries we set. That is a necessary part of growing up. The key to creating a positive place for students to learn is how we react to those tests.
Rather than a punitive response only, we must help the student accomplish three things:

  • Gain an understanding of what he/she did and who was affected and how he/she might have handled the situation differently,
  • Provide restitution to those harmed by his/her actions,
  • Return to good standing in his/her community with a new set of behavior skills.

If we, along with children’s families, can accomplish these three things, students will grow into adulthood
with the interpersonal and social skills to function effectively as productive and contributing citizens.
After all, that is one of the most important goals of public education, and where we fail in that mission we fail not just the student but all of us.

Memorial High School Taser Incident Notes

From a reader:

Address 201 South Gammon Road (Memorial High School)
Arrested person/suspect 1. Jacquelyn L. Lightfoot, 37-year-old female of Madison (Charges –Disorderly Conduct 947.01, Resisting/Obstructing A Police Officer 946.41)
2. 14-year-old female (10th grade Memorial HS Student) of Madison
(Charges – Disorderly Conduct 947.01, Resisting/Obstructing A Police Officer 946.41)
3. 15-year-old female (9th grade Memorial HS Student) of Madison (Charges – Disorderly Conduct 947.01, Resisting/Obstructing A Police Officer 946.41)
Victim/Injuries Jacquelyn L. Lightfoot was evaluated at local hospital for treatment related to injuries sustained prior to this incident.
Details On 11/08/06 at approximately 11:29am, Educational Resource Officer (ERO) requested emergency backup at Memorial High School reference a belligerent parent that was out of control.
Upon arrival, it was determined that a 17-year-old male subject, who was not a student of the school, had been taken into custody by the ERO and was being cited/released on a municipal violation of possessing tobacco products.
Jacquelyn L. Lightfoot (parent of the 17-year-old male) was made aware of the arrest scenario and responded to Memorial High School. Lightfoot made her way to the office of the ERO and began to verbally attack the officer for the police action he was involved in concerning the 17-year-old male.
Lightfoot continually escalated her actions towards the officer and was told many times to calm down and cease her physical approach; as she demanded her son be released from custody immediately. The ERO was then surrounded by Lightfoot and her two daughters in a confined area, and deeming Lightfoot the greatest threat, a Taser was utilized by the ERO to deescalate this threat to a manageable level.
It should be noted that the officer verbalized and used a physical separation technique before using the Taser as his last resort.
Jacquelyn L. Lightfoot and her two daughters were all arrested on charges of Disorderly Conduct and Resisting/Obstructing A Police Officer. The situation that occurred was an isolated event that did not place the school in any harm at any time. School officials were quick to act in this scenario, and it was resolved quickly after police arrived on scene.
It is understandable that parents would be concerned about the welfare of their children, but school officials and police would expect that parents would be appropriate in utilizing the correct mode of conflict resolution. This is a case that all involved parties did not envision, but concerns by any interested person must be dealt with in an appropriate manner if the educational environment is to remain conducive to that of learning.

WKOW-TV interviews Lightfoot.

LA Community College District to be Powered by the Sun

From Solar Energy International:

The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), the nation’s largest community college district, plans to produce enough of its own electricity to take its nine campuses “off the grid.” The LACCD believes that it is the first community college district in the nation to plan to generate all its own electricity. The initial plan is to install enough PV to produce one megawatt of electricity at each of its nine colleges.
The one megawatt per campus program is part of the LACCD’s Energy Strategy Plan which includes: plans for a renewable energy Central Plant; performance conservation efficiency contracts; and a sustainability curriculum for its nine Los Angeles-area colleges.

Read the LA district’s press release.
Hopefully the MMSD school building approved by voters in the November referendum will include solar and other green building features.

A Discussion of AP/IB High School Classes

Jay Matthews:

I am collecting the Challenge Index data now. The early returns indicate our local schools will set a record for the number of AP and IB tests being given. In fact, there appears to be no other region in the country that has as high a level of participation in college-level courses and tests.
That, I think, is a good thing. The Washington area is going to look good on most educational measures because it has some of the highest levels of parental income and education. All the research shows that students who come from affluent families with parents who went to college do better in school than students without those factors. But most of our school districts have done something most other U.S. districts have not done. Our districts have opened these challenging courses to all students, not just to those with affluent, well-educated parents. And they have prepared many students from disadvantaged homes so well that they are passing these college-level tests and not only earning college credit but also getting a useful sense of how to handle the heavy reading lists and long final exams that make college, for many students, such a difficult adjustment.
Two large studies in California and Texas have shown that good grades on the three-hour AP tests correlate with higher graduation rates in college. I have interviewed hundreds of AP and IB teachers and students over the past 20 years. They almost all say that the courses and tests are the best academic experiences their high schools have to offer, and they recommend that more high schools use them.

Education Action at the Federal Level

Andrew Rotherham:

But that’s down the road…in terms of this new Congress, George Miller taking over the education committee in the House will probably surface a misunderstood dynamic around national education politics. Namely, while a lot of people think that the No Child Left Behind debate is Republican v. Democrat, in fact it’s really intra-party. Miller is a stronger accountability hawk than President Bush’s Administration is. He’s for teaching to standards in that debate…Senator Kennedy (who seems likely to again chair the education committee in the Senate) has moved to a pro-accountability position over the past decade (and his key staffer on education is a former civil rights attorney so she gets these issues from that lens which is the Ed Trust, CCCR, etc…lens).

11/7/2006 School Referendum Passes

Susan Troller:

It was a very good night for the Madison schools Tuesday.
By the time all the votes were counted, 69 percent of district voters said yes to three referendums that totaled $23 million in projects: building a new elementary school at Linden Park, shifting the cost of an addition at Leopold from the operating budget to borrowed cash and refinancing existing debt at a more favorable rate.

Streaming to Virtual Schools

The Doyle Report:

State virtual schools are among the fastest growing programs in K–12 public education. Twenty-eight states now have virtual school programs that enroll students statewide, up from four such programs in 1997. Last year, some 139,000 students enrolled in at least one course through a state virtual school. Two of the oldest and largest state on-line programs, in Utah and Florida, have both expanded by more than 50 percent over the past five years. If trends continue—if states continue to create virtual schools and recently created programs grow at even half the rate of the programs in Florida and Utah—we can expect a half-million students to enroll in state virtual schools in just a few years.

Seven Ways Politicians Are Dumb About Schools

Jay Matthews:

It is election day — a good day, I think, to thank God for our freedoms and for finally relieving us of the pain of listening to all those annoying campaign commercials.
I watch and listen to them anyway, even the worst of them. I am a political news junkie and always find them interesting, if exasperating. But as an education reporter, it bothers me that the politicians and campaign consultants who do these commercials promote the same myths about schools, election after election after election. Their messages distort our thinking about education and make it harder to raise student achievement.
We have yet to elect any president, senator or member of Congress who has had a marked positive (or negative) impact on student achievement. Candidates for those offices will say they plan to rescue the education system because their polls say voters think this is important, but their promises are meaningless. Governors, as well as school board members, do have the power to make schools better, but very few have ever done so. Usually the best work is done by aggressive teachers and principals who know what they want and work very hard to get it, without ever asking anyone to vote for them.

Going Green Saves Schools $100,000 a Year


A new national report finds that building “green” would save an average school $100,000 each year – enough to hire two new additional full-time teachers.
The report breaks new ground by demonstrating that green schools – schools designed to be energy efficient, healthy and environmentally friendly — are extremely cost-effective. Total financial benefits from green schools outweigh the costs 20 to 1. With over $35 billion dollars projected to be spent in 2007 on K-12 construction, the conclusions of this report have far-reaching implications for future school design.

Continue reading Going Green Saves Schools $100,000 a Year

Youth Options Program – DPI Information and Link

There’s been discussion on this website about taking UW classes and the WI Youth Options Program – who pays and who gets credit, what are the District’s policies. Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has a website with a brochure and frequently asked questions on this program – The website also includes the state law on this topic.
The Youth Options program allows all public high school juniors and seniors who meet certain requirements to take postsecondary courses at a Wisconsin technical college or institution of higher education. An institution of higher education (IHE) includes UW System institutions, tribally controlled colleges and private, nonprofit institutions. Youth Options Program Brochure
On Monday, November 13th at 6:15 p.m., McDaniels Auditorium, the Board of Education’s Performance and Achievement Committee’s second topic for discussion isCredits for courses outside the MMSD.

Continue reading Youth Options Program – DPI Information and Link

I Didn’t Know … Reading First Grant Audit

In the post “Audit Faults Wisconsin’s Reading First Grant Process” the author, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, in Education Week wrote, “There is also no explanation of the decision by officials in the Madison school district to give back its $2 million grant shortly after it was approved. Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater decided to drop out of the program after federal consultants told district officials they would have to abandon their existing literacy initiative and adopt a commercially published core reading program, he wrote in a detailed memo to the school board. (“States Report Reading First Yielding Gains,” June 8, 2005.)”
I thought MMSD, per the Superintendent, did not continue the process rather than turned down an approved $2 million grant, because he felt the District was being pressured into a curriculum that did not support what was currently underway in the District, and the Superintendent felt the District’s curricula was better for Madison’s kids.
Does anyone remember the process? Was the School Board involved?
I’m sick to my stomach about the Dept. of Education’s administration of the Reading First grant dollars. Does anyone know if children’s reading achievement has improved due to Reading First?

Notes on “Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy”

Brett posts his thoughts on the book”Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy:

As with his last book, Mathews offers a great deal of evidence as to the roots and the current state of the issues preventing community engagement. It’s a challenge that’s been more than a century in the making: when the idea of professional specialization took hold at the end of the 19th century, the public passed the reins of our schools to a new class of education administrators, and that trend grew over time into the chasm we see today between the two groups. As a result, we have owners who aren’t getting the results they want from schools, but don’t feel qualified to direct change, and we have experts who resent being second-guessed by people who aren’t qualified to make decisions. (For more, see my notes on his last book here.)
He also paints an exciting picture of what education could look like if communities were welcomed and fully involved. He sees the potential for the community itself as an educational institution, allowing for reinforcement and application of academic content in a real-world environment made up of encouraging and active citizens. And just as importantly, he sees the public as the proper authorities to set educational mandates –the outcomes we wish to reach by educating our kids.
First, most community action happens at a local level and, for the most part, the important education decisions are no longer made locally. Decisions on what to teach, what to test, and often even what materials can be used are made at the state level, and school districts don’t have the authority to overrule them. Further, there’s actually very little discretionary funding available locally to drive change: I’ve heard from school board members who say that they can influence no more than 10% of the district’s budget, and I’ve heard from numerous sources that principles typically have control over less than $50,000 each year (and that’s in school budgets that run into the millions each year).

Audit Faults Wisconsin’s Reading First Grant Process

Wisconsin education officials failed to ensure that schools and districts that received federal Reading First grants adhered to the program’s strict guidelines, a failing that, if not rectified, could cost the state nearly $6 million of its $45 million allocation, a federal report concludes.
The audit by the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general, dated Oct. 20, found that nine of the state’s 26 grant recipients had not received the required approval of a review panel and may not have met all the requirements for receiving the money.
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Education Week, November 1, 2006

Continue reading Audit Faults Wisconsin’s Reading First Grant Process

A Few More 11/7/2006 Referendum Links

  • Support Smart Management: Wisconsin State Journal Editorial Board:

    Taxpayers in the Madison School District should demand that the School Board be smarter about managing the district’s money and resources.
    On Tuesday’s ballot is a school referendum containing three smart proposals.
    That’s why the referendum deserves voters’ support.
    More important than the referendum, however, is what happens next. The School Board is confronting difficult choices, including how to respond to rapid growth in areas where there are no schools while in other parts of the city, schools have excess space.
    A pivotal question in upcoming months will be: Does the board have the courage to close a school? While the rapidly growing Far West Side merits a new school, other parts of Madison are experiencing declining student populations.
    Taxpayers can’t afford to build schools where the children are while maintaining schools where the children aren’t.
    At least one school should eventually be closed and sold, with boundary changes to distribute children to other schools.

  • Another Referendum: WKOW-TV:

    This referendum is different from the last – it has one question, with three parts. In 2005, just one issue of a three-part question passed. Voters passed a plan for building renovations, but they said voted down a second school on the Leopold Elementary site, and to exceeding the revenue cap
    Monday night, spokesperson Ken Syke pointed out that since at 1993 no MMSD referendum has fully failed-at least one issue has always passed.

  • Don Severson & Vicki McKenna discuss the referendum question and a District email to MSCR users [mp3 audio]

Many more links here.

“Vouchers for the Gifted”

Joanne Jacobs:

Levi Clancy’s special needs can’t be met by his local public schools, so his mother enrolled him a school where he’s able to learn. But the district won’t pay the cost, because the 14-year-old boy (aka Levi Meir Levi) is a junior premed at UCLA. The mother’s suit for special ed compensation for the “profoundly gifted” — in this case college tuition — was heard by the California First District Court of Appeals in Sacramento two weeks ago. The suit asks for vouchers for gifted students whose needs can’t be met in the normal K-12 schools. The state says it has no “constitutional duty” to offer a free education beyond the high school level, even to students who are required by law to attend school.
The New York Sun tells the story of a progressive superintendent who eliminated classes for gifted and talented students in her New York City region, driving out middle-class families and radically reducing the number of students who qualify for specialty high schools. In the name of equity, smart kids are denied the chance to learn at their own level.

Janet Mertz has been following the Madison School District Administration’s curriculum reduction (without Board discussion/approval) initiatives.

Frederick W. Taylor, Scientific Management and Standardized Testing

Cynthia Crossen writing in “Deja vu” on Taylor, whose ideas continue to this day in the education world (among others):

“You have been quarreling because there have been no proper standards for a day’s work,” Mr. Taylor chided bosses. “You do not know what a proper day’s work is. We make a bluff at it and the other side makes a guess at it, and then we fight.”
The second part of Mr. Taylor’s system was a task-bonus wage plan. Each worker was given a daily production target. If he made it, he got a high price per piece. If he failed, he received a much lower rate. At one machine shop, for example, Mr. Taylor set a rate of 35 cents apiece if the machinist finished 10 pieces a day, 25 cents if he finished nine or fewer.
Skeptical manufacturers wondered whether better productivity would be more than offset by higher wages. Mr. Taylor’s answer: If his time study had been carried out correctly, it would be very difficult for a worker to beat the target.

Much more on Taylor here.

DPI has grants for after-school academic enrichment

The Department of Public Instruction has announced the availability of grant funding through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, funded under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Funds may be used to build or expand after school programs that provide academic enrichment in reading and math, as well as other youth development and recreation activities during the hours when school is not in session. For centers new to DPI funding, grants awarded through the competition will provide an average of $100,000 per center, per year, for a period of five years, assuming adequate funds continue to be appropriated by Congress.
DPI will give priority to applications which address higher levels of economic disadvantage than the minimum requirement, and program services to be provided in a school, or with students primarily attending schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress or are identified for improvement. Workshops and other resources will be available to assist applicants in preparing proposals. See the complete story at for further information on eligibility, program requirements, priorities, and additional resources on best practices may be found on the DPI website.

Big Brother working in Food Services?

A plan to fingerprint elementary school students when they buy lunch has some parents worrying that Big Brother has come to the cafeteria.
The Hope Elementary School District has notified parents that, beginning this month, students at Monte Vista, Vieja Valley and Hope elementary schools will press an index finger to a scanner before buying cafeteria food.
The scan will call up the student’s name and student ID, teacher’s name and how much the student owes, since some receive government assistance for food. 3 California schools to fingerprint students

Tougher reading program means low city grades

Joe Smydo:

Parents of some Pittsburgh elementary school students will find an unwelcome surprise — unusually low marks in reading — when their children bring home report cards Nov. 17.
Because the Pittsburgh Public Schools this fall introduced a standardized grading system and what it described as a more rigorous reading program, some students have seen their performance slip on classroom tests.
That will translate into lower grades on report cards than parents are accustomed to seeing, said Susan Sauer, curriculum supervisor for elementary reading, and Barbara Rudiak, executive director for 18 district elementary schools. Some parents already have noticed a drop in their children’s test scores.
“This has created a certain amount of controversy with principals, parents and teachers,” said Dr. Rudiak, who is project manager for the “Treasures” reading program, purchased from Macmillan/McGraw-Hill for about 13,250 students in kindergarten through grade five. The program is also used in elementary classrooms at the district’s K-8 schools and accelerated learning academies.

Poor Management Compels “No” Vote

After being decisively defeated in two spending referendums last year, the administration and a majority of the Madison School Board haven’t learned that the voters are sick and tired of runaway spending and poor management.
In a demonstration of true arrogance, after being told in May 2005 that flat enrollment did not justify a new school in the Leopold School area of Arbor Hills, in June this year, the administration began construction of a major addition to Leopold School.
In so doing they put forth no plan to pay for the addition while gambiling on voters reversing themselves in a new referendum.
Madison spends significantly more per student than other Wisconsin districts. Over the past 10 years, while student enrollment has declined, full-time equivalent staff has increased by more than 600. At the same time, operating budgets have increased 58 percent, the cost per pupil is up 59, and there are 325 more non-teaching staff and administrators.
Clearly, the administration does not seem to be able to prudently manage district finances.

Continue reading Poor Management Compels “No” Vote


On November 7th, voters will be asked to approve a referendum allowing the Madison Metropolitan School District to build a new school and exceed its revenue cap. After very careful consideration, the Board of Education unanimously decided to ask the question. I fully support this referendum and urge you to vote yes.
Our community is committed to our children and our public schools. We want our children to be well-educated and prepared for the future. We engage in passionate discussions over how best to educate our students, and how to ensure that the community’s investment in education is sound. We are not satisfied with the status quo, and we are continually looking for our schools to do better. The Board of Education shares this commitment. We take very seriously our responsibility to gather information, ask questions, and initiate actions to accomplish these goals.
We need to build a new elementary school on the far west side of Madison because there is simply not be enough room in our schools to accommodate the dramatic growth there. Projections, confirmed by student count information, are that elementary schools in the Memorial attendance in total will exceed capacity by 2007 and will be at 111% of capacity by 2010. Linden Park, a fast growing residential area about three miles from the nearest elementary school, is an excellent location for that school. It will service a large attendance area where many students will be able to walk to school, helping to control bussing costs.


“How to Manage Urban School Districts”

Stacey Childress, Richard Elmore and Allen Grossman writing in the Harvard Business Review:

One of the biggest management challenges anywhere is how to improve student performance in America’s urban public schools. There has been no shortage of proposed solutions: Find great principals and give them power; create competitive markets with charters, vouchers, and choice; establish small schools to ensure that students receive sufficient attention—the list goes on. While these approaches have had a dramatic impact on individual schools, they have failed to produce a single high-performing urban school system.
Despite these initiatives and a doubling in annual public spending on education over the past 30 years, to approximately $450 billion in 2005, no one has figured out how to achieve excellence on a broad scale—at every school in a district. One reason is that educators, researchers, and policy makers often see the district office—the organization headed by the superintendent that oversees and supports all the schools in the district—as part of the problem and not as a crucial part of the solution. This is a mistake.
School-based solutions, while important, aren’t enough. If they were, and low-performing schools could heal themselves, urban systems today would be chock-full of highly functioning schools. Achieving excellence on a broad scale requires a districtwide strategy for improving instruction in the classroom and an organization that can implement it. Only the district office can create such a plan, identify and spread best practices, develop leadership capabilities at all levels, build information systems to monitor student improvement, and hold people accountable for results. One of the main reasons reform efforts haven’t scored any districtwide successes is they have neither helped the district office play this role nor created a viable substitute.
To serve in this capacity, district offices will have to transform themselves. Business leaders, who care about their communities and know that their companies need well-educated workers in order to be competitive, have a big stake in assisting with this transformation. They have been extremely generous with money and counsel for urban districts, only to be frustrated by the results. As some corporate executives are beginning to realize, urban school systems are vastly more complex than businesses, yet the knowledge about how to manage them is amazingly sparse.

Clusty Links: Stacey Childress | Richard Elmore | Allen Grossman

11/7/2006 Referendum: “Vote No To Stop Sprawl”

Dan Sebald:

The Nov. 7 school referendum is about more than the question of whether Madison needs a new elementary school. It’s about the placement of the proposed site and its associated inefficient land use.
I see a “yes” vote as a vote for the same poor growth model of civic design that has been going on for the past 10 years in Dane County, where sprawling developments are constructed for quick revenue and services like the new elementary school come as an afterthought.
Why did the city and county not plan for an eventual site that doesn’t slowly encroach on environmentally sensitive areas like Shoveler’s Sink and its nearby prairies? One not so dependent on the automobile? One that doesn’t consume even more farmland?

Continue reading 11/7/2006 Referendum: “Vote No To Stop Sprawl”

“You Might Help a Teen Avoid Dumb Behavior by Nurturing Intuition”

Sharon Begley:

As adolescents and young adults head into another weekend of (for many) driving too fast, drinking too much, smoking and doing their all to perpetuate the species, at least we know why they engage in self-destructive risk-taking. Adolescents feel invulnerable (“Me, get hurt? No way.”) and drastically underestimate risks (“Come on, what are the chances of getting pregnant the first time — 100 to 1?”).
Except that they don’t.
For 40 years both popular and scholarly wisdom have held that the reason adolescents court risk is twofold: They believe danger bounces off them and they low-ball the chances that it will bring harmful consequences. They have weighed the risk (low), taken stock of their resilience or skill or smarts (excellent) and made the “rational” decision to drag-race down Main Street while inebriated. This explanation implies that when teens do stupid things, it is for rational reasons.
There is a problem with this explanation. “Adolescents don’t tend to underestimate the probability of major risks, nor [do they generally have] feelings of invulnerability,” argues Keith Stanovich of the University of Toronto in the new issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

More on “More Madison Building Referendums on the Way?”

Susan Troller’s article on Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater’s comments regarding the “eventual need for five new elementary schools” sparked a few comments here, as well as several reader emails, one of which included the March June, 2006 School Board minutes:

It appears that the ‘plan’ was referred to Long Range Planning for additional articulation. The minutes at least put the discussion in context. Note also that Ruth voted against bundling the 3 questions into 1.

Mosquito RingTones

On a humorous note from Mulitmedia and Internet
Cell phones may be ringing in your classroom—and you may not be able to hear them.
A new cell phone ringtone that may only be heard by the young has been created from a high-pitched sound originally developed to keep groups of young people from congregating in public places.
The “ultrasonic youth deterrent for shops and homes” was developed in the U.K. by Compound Security Systems in an effort to “disperse gangs of youngsters hanging around the streets,” without affecting older generations. Nimble technologists decided the sound would make a perfect ringtone in situations where the young wouldn’t want older folks to know that phones were ringing—places like classrooms, for example.
Bootleg versions of the sound as ringtone were becoming so popular that Compound Security Systems developed Mosquitotone, the official Mosquito ringtone. In the U.S., Mosquitotone is available at, currently only for mp3-compatible phones. Additional formats are expected soon.

States Should Change Policies to Expand Online Learning, Report

The Doyle Report:

States should expand precollegiate online learning by allowing teachers to teach across state lines and removing student seat-time requirements, according to a report that tracks the fast growth of state virtual-learning programs. More states could add online programs if policies meant for traditional schools could be amended to take into account the “anytime, anywhere” aspects of online learning, say the authors of “Keeping Pace,” slated for release this week at the Virtual School Symposium in Plano, Texas. The symposium is an annual conference sponsored by the Vienna, Va.-based North American Council for Online Learning, or NACOL, a nonprofit advocacy and research organization.

Severson / McKenna on Negative Aid, Local Media Coverage of Schools and the Referendum

There were some interesting items in today’s conversation between Don Severson and Vicki Mckenna [13.7MB mp3 audio file]:

  • A caller (29 minutes): “Why does the rest of the media have such complacency with the Schools?” Don noted the lack of negative aids discussion in Monday’s “very long” Wisconsin State Journal article. The caller raised a good question.
  • $10.95 of the 29.21 annual average property tax payment for the referendum is “negative aid”, ie money local property taxpayers must pay over and above the referendum cost due to the MMSD’s spending above state revenue caps. In other words, the more the MMSD spends above the revenue caps, the more state aid it loses and therefore local property taxes have to make up the difference. Some states refer to this as a “Robin Hood” Act.

More on the referendum here.

Candidate training for women

Fact: Women make up 51% of the US population, but only 14% of the US Congress. Fair representation is the way to fair policies; we’re not there yet, and we can do better.
Studies show that women win just as frequently as men. Conclusion: more women need to run for office. Studies also show that women need to be asked to run for office three times before they will do it. Conclusion: consider yourself asked, and tell your girl friends to run.
Emerge Wisconsin is a groups that recruits and trains women to run for office. Their training program is 1 weekend/month for seven months, and is the most comprehensive candidate training program that I know of. The deadline for applying for the program is November 15th, and I’m hoping that you (if you are female) will consider applying, or pass this on to women who you think should run for office.
Emerge’s website:
The application can be downloaded and viewed at:
Melissa Malott, Attorney
Water Program Director
Clean Wisconsin
122 State St., Suite 200
Madison, WI 53703
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More Madison Building Referendums on the Way?

Susan Troller:

On Tuesday, voters will make a decision on a $23.5 million school referendum that would include giving the green light to an elementary school on Madison’s far west side, but school district officials see it as just the first of several in the near future.
Based on current residential growth patterns, as many as five new elementary schools may eventually be needed to accommodate new generations of children in and around Madison, according to Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Art Rainwater.

Interesting timing.

Should Scarsdale Drop AP?

Jay Matthews:

But at Scarsdale High, my son was told he could not get into the course unless he did well on an entrance test given to every prospective AP U.S. history student. He passed the test, got into the course and did well, as I expected. That was not my problem. What bothered me was the assumption, deeply imbedded in that school and that community, that AP courses should not be used as great learning experiences for all students headed for college, as they were at Garfield, but instead should be used as rewards for good grades and test scores. At Scarsdale High, only the students with the highest entrance test scores, or highest grade-point averages and strongest teacher recommendations, were considered worthy of admission to an AP course. Not surprisingly, this approach reflected the Ivy League college admission system that is such an obsession in Scarsdale and places like it.
I have always been grateful to Scarsdale High’s educators for exposing me to this dysfunctional view of AP because I soon learned that they were not the exception, but the rule. Most U.S. schools, then and now, felt as Scarsdale did that AP should be used as a sorting exercise, not a teaching tool. Eventually, in reaction to what I learned at Scardale, I created the Challenge Index, a way of rating high schools by AP and IB test participation. The index is used by Newsweek for its “America’s Best High Schools” list. Many Scarsdale people don’t like it because it penalizes them for restricting AP admittance. They think the school deserves to be much higher than number 176 on that list.

Jacob Stockinger: A ‘yes’ vote for schools ensures a better future

This is one of the best things I read recently on support for public education.
Jacob Stockinger: A ‘yes’ vote for schools ensures a better future
By Jacob Stockinger
There is a lot I don’t know about my parents. But I do know this: They would never have voted no on a school referendum.
They grew up in the Depression, then worked and fought their ways through World War II.
They saw how the GI Bill revolutionized American society and ushered in the postwar economic boom. They knew the value of education.
If the schools said they needed something – more staff, another building, more books – then they got it.
I am absolutely sure my parents and their generation thought there was no better way to spend money than on schools. Schools meant jobs, of course – better jobs and better-paying jobs. But schools also meant better-educated children, smart children. And schools were the great equalizer that meant upward social mobility and held a community together. Schools guaranteed a future: Good schools, good future. Bad schools, bad future.
Schools were the linchpin, the axis of American society. That’s the same reason why they would never have questioned a teacher’s judgment over one of their own children’s complaints. Teachers were always right because they were the teachers.
And the reason I can still remember the name of the local superintendent of schools – Dr. Bruce Hulbert – was because my parents spoke of him with awe and respect as a man who was not looking to steal from their checking account but instead to help their children.
It’s probably the same reason I can recall so many of my teachers’ names – Mrs. Cuneo, in whose second-grade class I took part in the Salk polio vaccine trials, and Mr. Firestone, my sixth-grade teacher who made me memorize the multiplication tables and then sing in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.” And so on right though high school and undergraduate school and graduate school.
I find myself thinking of my parents now, wondering what they would do in the current atmosphere of criticism and even hostility directed at the schools.
They were middle-class, not wealthy, so when they paid taxes, it was not always happily but it was always with gratitude. They believed that paying taxes was a patriotic duty, the price you paid for living in a privileged, free and – in those days – increasingly egalitarian society.
Taxes were the cement that held us together, the concrete expression of the social contract. Taxes, they felt, were a form of insurance that guaranteed life would get better for everyone, especially for their own children.
But they knew value, and they knew that no dollar buys more value than a dollar you spend on educating a child.
Of course, times have changed.
Things are more expensive. And we have forgotten what life was really like – for the poor, for the elderly, for ethnic minorities, for the disabled – when we had the small government and low taxes that today’s Republicans have bamboozled people into thinking were the good old days. My parents, and their parents, knew better.
But whatever fixes we need now, we should not deprive the children.
Yes, I see room for changes.
•We need to shift the burden of funding from the property tax. I think the income tax is more appropriate, along with a sales tax. And what would be wrong with just a plain old education tax?
•We need to correct the feeling that the public has been lied to. School spending keeps going up and up, but we keep seeing reports that American students have become less competitive internationally. Is someone crying wolf?
Let me suggest that a lot of the confusion has to do with bookkeeping. I would like to see the health costs for special education come from the state Department of Health and Family Services budget. I would like to see how much money goes for actual curriculum and instruction. Call it truth in spending.
Mind you, I am not suggesting that special education is wrong or too expensive. It is important for us to provide it. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^But we should have a better idea of just how much everything costs and whether some areas benefit because others are shortchanged.
•We need to stop lobbying groups like the Wisconsin Millionaires Club – I’m sorry, I mean Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce – from luring money away from other social programs for socialized business disguised as free market capitalism.
•We need to become prouder of paying taxes because they are, despite some instances of waste or mismanagement, generally very good deals. If you want Mississippi taxes, are you really ready for Mississippi schools and Mississippi health care and Mississippi arts?
•We need to make Washington pay its fair share of education costs. If we can fight wars as a nation, we can educate children as a nation.
So for the sake of myself, my parents and the children, I will vote yes on the Nov. 7 referendum for Madison’s schools. I urge you to do the same.
Jacob Stockinger is the culture desk editor of The Capital Times. E-mail:
Published: November 1, 2006

“The Woody Hayes of 8th Grade Science”

Elizabeth Holmes:

Richard Bender is holed up in his classroom nearly every day with 21 young assistants. They are building self-propelled vehicles and bottle rockets, and boning up on genetics and aquatic ecology. He swears outsiders to secrecy, as if this were “Cold War technology development,” he says.
He and his students are preparing — after school, at night and on weekends — for the Science Olympiad, an annual spring academic competition among 14,500 schools nationwide. Under Mr. Bender, an eighth-grade science teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School here, the team has won 15 state titles, seven consecutive top-four national rankings and two national titles.
The Indiana General Assembly passed a resolution praising Mr. Bender “for his dedication to increase student interest and academic achievement in science.” Some compare his winning record to that of legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes. Says Gerard Putz, the Olympiad’s president and co-founder: “He’s one of those magical coaches.”
But is the magic fading? Last season, the team’s winning streak snapped when it came in 10th, and Mr. Bender’s kids are feeling the heat. Says 13-year-old Jessie Bunchek: “It just kind of blew everybody away.”

Milwaukee Truancy Solution Discussions

Erin Richards:

The success story that Alliance for Attendance members will hear about comes from Racine, which cut its truancy rate from 21.7% to 9% in two years.
The proposal comes from Ald. Tony Zielinski, who wants to change the way citations are issued to truant students. Currently, students have to be caught “red-handed” by police to receive a truancy ticket.
MPS’ habitual truancy rate, which was more than 50% in 2001-’02, hasn’t dropped below 45% in the intervening years. That translates to about 40,000 MPS students each year who had five or more unexcused absences during a semester, said Dan Wiltrout, a consultant for compulsory attendance from the state Department of Public Instruction.
“That’s a big job,” Wiltrout said.

The Role of District Leadership in Radical Reform: Philadelphia 2001-2006

Elizabeth Useem, Jolly Bruce Christman and William Lowe Boyd [PDF]:

Recognizing the repeated failure of many conventional approaches to improving urban districts, reformers have turned to increasingly radical ideas. Since 2001, the School District of Philadelphia has served as a prime example and living laboratory for radical reform of a large urban school system. Because of a unique state takeover that sought both comprehensive district-wide reform and, simultaneously, privatization in the management of a large number of schools, educators and policy analysts nationwide are closely watching each stage of this reform. When the controversial state takeover began—in the midst of acrimonious relations between the school district and the state government and strong mayoral and grass roots opposition—the complexity and contradictions of this combination of features led many observers to fear a “train wreck.” Indeed, the title of a previous paper we wrote conveys the difficult circumstances and challenges: “A tall order for Philadelphia’s new approach to school governance: Heal the political rifts, close the budget gap, and improve the schools” (Boyd & Christman, 2003).

Grading a School’s Grades

Alan Finder:

Mr. Hartranft, a nuclear engineer who had been forced to retire early because of Parkinson’s disease, came up with what he thinks is a rigorous mathematical model to compare the school’s demanding grading system with more lenient grading in other schools. The model, he and some local school administrators say, is a bold new way to think about grades.
“I’m giving you a G.P.S. navigation system, as opposed to scraps of maps,” Mr. Hartranft said. “If all you have are scraps of maps, which is all that admissions offices get in the existing protocol, then this gives you an overall orientation.”
Mr. Hartranft created an analytical method he calls the g.p.a. plot; it uses national data on grade-point averages and SAT scores to compare national grading norms with those at the local high school. The purpose, he said, is to reduce the variability and subjectivity of grades — and to make it absolutely clear to college admissions offices that a B or B-plus at Simsbury may be the equivalent of an A at most high schools.
Simsbury has included his statistical comparison in its admissions submissions for the last four years. In the suburb just to the north, Granby Memorial High School is using the g.p.a. plot for the first time this fall.
Here in Simsbury, administrators and parents appear satisfied with the results of the model, even though it is unclear whether it has helped increase the number of Simsbury students admitted to elite colleges. Neil Sullivan, the high school’s principal, said the proportion of students admitted by the most selective universities had increased somewhat over the last four years, after dipping slightly when the number of A’s dropped sharply between 1998 and 2001. But the number of A’s given out by Simsbury teachers has also increased in recent years.
He took the scores of 1.5 million students and graphed them against the students’ grade-point averages, as reported by the students on their SAT exams. In a given year, for instance, the analysis might show that on average nationally, students with an A average had a combined SAT score of 1,150, under the old two-part aptitude test. Then he would perform the same comparison for students at Simsbury, where, on average, a student with an A average might have a combined score of 1,220.

Details at