Talented Students On Hold

Kristen Stephens and Jan Riggsbee
DURHAM – In his State of the Union address last week, President Bush called on Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), saying “We must increase funds for students who struggle…and make sure these children get the special help they need.” But NCLB, as it is currently implemented, largely ignores another important group that is struggling — gifted and talented students.
Our society typically views struggling students as those who are disadvantaged by ability or demonstrated achievement level — those students not meeting proficiency levels for their respective grade.
However, gifted and talented students struggle because they sit in our classrooms and wait. They wait for rigorous curriculum. They wait for opportunities to be challenged. They wait for engaging, relevant instruction that nurtures their potential.
And, as they wait, these students lose interest in their passions, become frustrated and unmotivated from the lack of challenge their schools’ curricula provide them. As a result, they become our lost talent.

Gifted student feels Left Behind

Dave Toplikar
January 30, 2007
Lawrence ninth grader to speak up for high achievers during Capitol visit.
As No Child Left Behind policy is reviewed this year, there is one group of students some think may have been left behind — those who are high achievers.
“Most of the time I’m stuck in regular classes,” said Dravid Joseph, a ninth-grader at West Junior High. “Sometimes I’m bored with what I’m doing there.”
Partially for that reason, Dravid will join a contingent of some of Kansas’ most gifted students who will travel Wednesday to Topeka to advocate for specialized classes for more than 15,000 of their peers across the state.
Similar stories from Wisconsin and beyond:

Spring 2007 Election Update: Cross-Leone, Moss and Thomas Discuss Volunteerism

Kristian Knutsen:

Let’s skip the issues this week and probe the Madison school board candidates on their community involvement and their advice for students moving up to high school. We’ve asked them to describe their most fulfilling volunteer experiences, as well as what they would say to a graduating class of eighth graders.

Here are the responses for the candidates for Seat 3: Pam Cross-Leone, Beth Moss, and Rick Thomas.

Much more on the election here.

Denver Schools Get Bonuses for Student Population Growth

Allison Sherry:

Some of the Denver’s most popular public schools will get pots of cash this spring for attracting students from out of the district or from charter schools.
The move is designed to draw students back to Denver public schools, which have lost more than 8,000 students in the past six years.
Places like the Center for International Studies, the Denver School of the Arts, and East and Thomas Jefferson high schools will receive cash – from $20,000 to $156,000 – because they attracted “new” kids this year to their rolls, Denver Public Schools administrators said Thursday.
District leaders consider “new” students as those previously attending school out of the district or at a charter school.
Charter schools are public but are operated privately and get to keep the bulk of state per-pupil money. In Denver, that is about $6,500 per student.
For each “new” student, Denver schools will receive $1,395, but to receive the money, the school had to have a net gain of students.

School Finance: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate

School spending has always been a puzzle, both from a state and federal government perspective as well as local property taxpayers. In an effort to shed some light on the vagaries of K-12 finance, I’ve summarized below a number of local, state and federal articles and links.
The 2007 Statistical Abstract offers a great deal of information about education and many other topics. A few tidbits:

1980 1990 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
US K-12 Enrollment [.xls file] 40,878,000 41,216,000 47,203,000 47,671,000 48,183,000 48,540,000 NA
US K-12 Deflated Public K-12 Spending – Billions [.xls file] $230B 311.8B $419.7B $436.6B $454.6B $464.8B $475.5B
Avg. Per Student Spending $5,627 $7,565 $8,892 $9,159 $9,436 $9,576 NA
US Defense Spending (constant yr2000 billion dollars) [.xls file] $267.1B $382.7B $294.5B $297.2B $329.4B $365.3B $397.3B
US Health Care Spending (Billions of non-adjusted dollars) [.xls file] $255B $717B $1,359B $1,474B $1,608B $1,741B $1,878B
US Gross Domestic Product – Billions [.xls file] 5,161 7,112 9,817 9,890 10,048 10,320 10,755

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Health Literacy

Jane Brody:

Whether you left school at 16 or have a doctorate; whether your annual income is in four figures or six; whether you are black, white, Hispanic, Asian or American Indian, chances are there have been many medical encounters that left you with less than optimal understanding about how you can improve or protect your health.
National studies have found that “health literacy” is remarkably low, with more than 90 million Americans unable to adequately understand basic health information. The studies show that this obstacle “affects people of all ages, races, income and education levels,” Dr. Richard H. Carmona, the United States surgeon general, wrote in the August issue of The Journal of General Internal Medicine, which was devoted to health literacy.

Grammar Girl

Mignon Fogarty:

Mignon works hard to balance the needs of her business with the growing success of the Grammar Girl podcast. If more than a few days pass without a new Grammar Girl episode, it is almost certain that she has a deadline for a client’s project. Never fear! She will return.
Grammar Girl believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. She strives to be a friendly guide in the writing world. Her arch enemy is the evil Grammar Maven who inspires terror in the untrained and is neither friendly nor helpful.

Spring, 2007 Madison Referendum?

Susan Troller:

Is there another school referendum in Madison’s immediate future?
If it means saving small schools in the center of the city that face closings or consolidations in the path of this year’s $10.5 million budget-cutting juggernaut, some neighborhood advocates argue it would be well worthwhile.
Matt Calvert, a Lapham-Marquette elementary school parent, said he favored a referendum that would provide money to the district for the next several years so that it would not close schools, increase class sizes or cut programs in an effort to close its budget gap.

Madison School District’s Press Release on Reduced State Special Education Funding

Madison Metropolitan School District:

The state’s failure to pay for mandated special education and English Language Learner (ELL) costs reduced available resources to Madison Schools by over $11.6 million, according to information released to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).
At the district’s request, Pocan asked the LFB to calculate the reimbursement for special education and ELL expenses comparing the level of state categorical aid during the 1993-94 school year (the first year of state-imposed revenue limits) and the 2005-06 school year. School districts statewide were reimbursed for special education expenses at nearly 45% for 1993-94. The reimbursement for 2005-06 slipped to below 29%, translating to a loss of over $9.4 million in resources for Madison Schools compared to 1993-94.
For ELL students, the 1993-94 state reimbursement to districts for expenses was 33.1%. Currently, school districts are reimbursed at 11.5%, a loss of over $2.2 million in resources for Madison Schools compared to 1993-94.
For decades the state had a statutory provision requiring reimbursement for special education to be 63%, but the statute was eliminated from law in the 1999-2001 biennial budget.

The State of Wisconsin has been increasing it’s overall K-12 funding during this time, including the much discussed commitment to fund 2/3 of school district budgets. It would be interesting to see a summary of the spending changes over time, including areas that saw increases, and like this example, decreases.

Elementary String Education for Nine and Ten Year Olds: Private Funding Required

According to a meeting I had with the Superintendent, he says MMSD will require $300,000 to fund elementary string instruction and that private funding and/or grants will be needed to continue Elementary String Education in the Madison public schools. Without this funding, he is likely to again propose cutting this Madison public school tradition of nearly 40 years.
I’m exploring setting up a specific fund for string education at either the Foundation for Madison Public Schools or the Madison Community Foundation, so tax deductible contributions can be made in support of the curriculum. Madisonians United for String Education for Students (MUSEs) is a working title for a group of parents who want to keep elementary string instruction in our public schools for our young children. We welcome your ideas on next steps. Personally, we feel if this is the route we have to take, an endowment fund will be needed to ensure the course continues into the future.
I met last week with the Superintendent who said he a) supports elementary string curriculum instruction during the school day, b) would accept proposals for privately funding elementary string education. I also said the support and/or leadership of the Fine Arts Coordinator was important to such an effort, and he agreed, saying the Fine Arts Coordinator would be supportive.
Public schools surrounding Madison have strong, growing elementary string courses, because the community values the course and this is the foundation course for more advanced instrumental training/experiences in middle and high school. Plus, elementary string courses make their school districts attractive to parents deciding where to live and to send their children to school. Many parents want their children to have the experience of learning to play an instrument and to make music with other students. Private lessons can cost $2,000 or more per year – few families can afford this, especially low income families. That’s what’s special about Madison’s elementary strings program. In Madison, in previous years, Grade 4 and 5 strings taught about 500+ low-income students annually.
String instrument instruction offers a number of benefits for children – they can be sized to a small child, they are “easy” to take home to practice, all types of cultural and popular music can be played on the string instruments, and these instruments lend themselves to ensemble playing. Furthermore, learning how to play an instrument prepares you for playing a string or band instrument in middle school or for chorus, because you learn how to read music. Through the one- to two-year elementary course, children experience the joy of making music and performing through discipline and practice. Also, by offering this course Madison’s public schools stand shoulder to shoulder with what the surrounding school districts value and offer their children.
Lastly, I’m also be looking at various financial information to develop some proposals for the School Board’s consideration. I welcome your support and ideas.

Whole Language in Sheep’s clothing

Joanne Jacobs:

In a Fordham report, Whole-Language High Jinks, reading expert Louisa Moats warns that ineffective whole-language reading programs with names like “balanced literacy” are trying to grab funding intended for programs that have been proven far more effective. New York City, Denver and Salt Lake City have been misled by programs that are whole language in disguise, Moats writes. Warning signs include:

  • Use of memorization and contextual guessing, instead of direct, systematic teaching for word recognition and actual comprehension;
  • Rejection of explicit phonics, spelling, or grammar instruction;
  • Application of the whole-language principles for English language learners.

NY Governor Spitzer to Tie Increased School Funds to Performance

Maria Newman:

Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York said today that he would allocate more money to the state’s public education system in his 2008 budget proposal, but he said the increased spending would be tied to better results from schools, educators and students.
“There will be no more excuses for failure,” Mr. Spitzer said. “The debate will no longer be about money, but about performance.”
The governor, in office for less than a month, did not tip his hand today on how much the public school system will get in the budget that he will submit to the state Legislature on Wednesday. But in an address to school leaders and legislators, he said that every school district that receives at least $15 million more this year in his new budget, or 10 percent more than in the previous year, would be subject to a new “contract for excellence” that will dictate how they can spend those funds.
Schools that do not perform well, he said, would be shut down. Educators who do not meet performance goals would be dismissed. A new accountability system would monitor how schools are performing academically and whether they are making the best use of their money, he said. Also, the schools will be judged on whether their academic programming is helping students perform better.
“We should be ready to close more schools that fail — perhaps as many as 5 percent of all the schools in the state if we have to,” he said.

Spitzer’s Speech, “A Contract for Excellence” is available here.
Jonathan Mandell comments.

Stretching Truth with Numbers: The Median Isn’t the Message

Stephen Jay Gould:

My life has recently intersected, in a most personal way, two of Mark Twain’s famous quips. One I shall defer to the end of this essay. The other (sometimes attributed to Disraeli), identifies three species of mendacity, each worse than the one before – lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Consider the standard example of stretching the truth with numbers – a case quite relevant to my story. Statistics recognizes different measures of an “average,” or central tendency. The mean is our usual concept of an overall average – add up the items and divide them by the number of sharers (100 candy bars collected for five kids next Halloween will yield 20 for each in a just world). The median, a different measure of central tendency, is the half-way point. If I line up five kids by height, the median child is shorter than two and taller than the other two (who might have trouble getting their mean share of the candy). A politician in power might say with pride, “The mean income of our citizens is $15,000 per year.” The leader of the opposition might retort, “But half our citizens make less than $10,000 per year.” Both are right, but neither cites a statistic with impassive objectivity. The first invokes a mean, the second a median. (Means are higher than medians in such cases because one millionaire may outweigh hundreds of poor people in setting a mean; but he can balance only one mendicant in calculating a median).

Studies Find Benefits to Advanced Placement Courses

Jay Matthews:

In the midst of a national debate over whether Advanced Placement courses place too much pressure on U.S. high school students, a team of Texas researchers has concluded that the difficult courses and three-hour exams are worth it.
In the largest study ever of the impact of AP on college success, which looked at 222,289 students from all backgrounds attending a wide range of Texas universities, the researchers said they found “strong evidence of benefits to students who participate in both AP courses and exams in terms of higher GPAs, credit hours earned and four-year graduation rates.”
A separate University of Texas study of 24,941 students said those who used their AP credits to take more advanced courses in college had better grades in those courses than similar students who first took college introductory courses instead of AP in 10 subjects.

Madison United for Acadmic Excellence has a useful comparison of AP and other “advanced” course offerings across the four traditional Madison high schools. Much more on local AP classes here.
Wisconsin Advanced Placement Distance Learning Consortium.
Verona High School Course Prospectus, including AP.
Middleton High School Course List.
Monona Grove High School Course Catalog [320K PDF]
Sun Prairie High School Courses.
Waunakee High School Course Index.
McFarland High School Course Guide.
Edgewood High School.
Jay Matthews has more in a later article.

The Declining Quality of Mathematics Education in the US

Leland McInnes:

Mathematics education seems to be very subject to passing trends – surprisingly more so than many other subjects. The most notorious are, of course, the rise of New Math in the 60s and 70s, and the corresponding backlash against it in the late 70s and 80s. It turns out that mathematics education, at least in the US, is now subject to a new trend, and it doesn’t appear to be a good one.
To be fair the current driving trend in mathematics education is largely an extension of an existing trend in education generally. The idea is that we need to cater more to the students to better engage them in the material. There is a focus on making things fun, on discovery, on group work, and on making things “relevant to the student”. These are often noble goals, and it is something that, in the past, education schemes have often lacked. There is definitely such a thing as “too much of a good thing” with regard to these aims, and as far as I can tell that point was passed some time ago in the case of mathematics.

Teacher Excellence and the Reality of Teaching

Message from the Vice President, AERA
November 14, 2006
Christine Sleeter
California State University, Monterey Bay
christine_sleeter@csumb.edu
Being a teacher educator these days can be a strange experience. Over the past several months, I have given numerous presentations depicting teaching as intellectually challenging, complex work. Using case studies of teachers in diverse classrooms, I have argued that learning to teach well is complicated, partly because excellent teachers know how to engage their students in thinking deeply about things that matter, while embedding the teaching of skills and basic content in broader ideas and problems that have relevance to their students. Ron Berger’s descriptions of teaching and learning in An Ethic of Excellence are not only brilliant and inspiring, but helpful illustrations of what classroom teaching and learning can be.
As teacher educators, this is the kind of teaching we try to promote. Linda Darling-Hammond’s most recent book Powerful Teacher Education develops excellent portraits of the best in preservice teacher education. [Highlights Alverno College in Milwaukee – LJW]. In New Zealand, the Ministry of Education has been sponsoring an Iterative Best Evidence Syntheses program, connecting research on teaching to diverse students’ learning, and to teacher professional development. For example, professional development linked to enhanced children’s learning incorporates teachers’ knowledge and skills, provides theoretical content knowledge related to practice, involves teachers in analyzing data from their own settings, and engages them in critical reflection that stretches their thinking and challenges their assumptions most recent issue of Harvard Educational Review, Betty Achinstein and Rod Ogawa examine two cases of beginning teachers whose students were out-scoring those of their peers on state tests, but who were pushed out of their teaching positions because of their refusal to follow the script.
What is going on here? It is true that teacher education as a whole has not done nearly as well as it could in preparing teachers to teach all students well. At the same time, reducing learning to teach to learning to follow a script greatly shortchanges what teaching and learning could be. It is ironic that teaching has become exceedingly prescribed and determined at a time when the U.S. is aggressively exporting its version of democracy and personal liberty. Not only is tolerance for diverse perspectives currently the lowest it has been in my lifetime, but support for intellectual inquiry and creativity in education seems to have disappeared.
To prompt consciousness-raising, curriculum theorist Thomas Poetter wrote a novel, The Education of Sam Sanders. Set in about 2030, it tells the story of a student who rebelled against rote learning and test preparation because he wanted to read whole books of his own choosing. His rebellion awakened some teachers’ memories of a time when teaching and learning involved harnessing reading, writing, and math skills to explore interdisciplinary themes of significance to the lives of students. Books that had been banned were brought out of a locked vault. Teachers began working collaboratively to design engaging curricula. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happened.
I believe it is essential that we demand more for students. In part, this means demanding more from our own teacher education programs. Our work as teacher educators needs to be grounded in the realities of the diverse students who populate classrooms today. But rather than acquiescing to formulas and scripts, we must re-invigorate a vision of, in the words of Maria de la Luz Reyes and John Halcón, The Best for our Children.

Wisconsin School Finance: QEO, Revenue Caps and Sage

Andy Hall:

The revenue caps and QEO are transforming the operations of public schools, pushing school officials and the public into a never-ending cycle of cuts, compromises and referendums.
Most districts reduced the number of academic courses, laid off school support staff and reduced programs for students at the highest risk of failure, according to a survey of 278 superintendents during the 2004-05 school year by groups representing administrators and teachers.
Public schools, the most expensive single program in Wisconsin, account for about 40 cents of every dollar spent out of the state’s general fund.
In the old days, school boards wanting more money for school operations could simply raise taxes, and risk retribution from voters if they went too far.
Revenue caps stripped school boards of that power, requiring them instead to seek the permission of voters in ballot questions.
“We’re literally governing by referendum,” complained Nancy Hendrickson, superintendent of the Pecatonica Area School District in Blanchardville, 35 miles southwest of Madison.

Much more on the Madison School District’s $331M+ budget here and here.

Milwaukee Schools’ Enrollment Dip

Sarah Carr:

Enrollment in the main roster of Milwaukee Public Schools is expected to take its sharpest dip in years this fall, dropping by more than 3,300 students.
Less than 10 years ago, enrollment in traditional MPS schools was at about 97,000, and this September officials predict it will be only about 81,600.
The projections were released Friday night by MPS officials as part of a budget forecast for next school year. Superintendent William Andrekopoulos attributed the accelerated slide to growth in the private school voucher program, decreasing population in the city and crime and poverty rates scaring off potential newcomers.
“There are not as many families migrating to Milwaukee as in the ’90s,” he said.

Why Teacher Unions Are Good for Teachers and the Public

Diane Ravitch:

They Protect Teachers’ Rights, Support Teacher Professionalism, and Check Administrative Power.
We live in an era when leaders in business and the media demand that schools function like businesses in a free market economy, competing for students and staff. Many such voices say that such corporate-style school reform is stymied by the teacher unions, which stand in the way of leaders who want unchecked power to assign, reward, punish, or remove their employees. Some academics blame the unions when student achievement remains stagnant. If scores are low, the critics say it must be because of the teachers’ contract, not because the district has a weak curriculum or lacks resources or has mediocre leadership. If some teachers are incompetent, it must be because of the contract, not because the district has a flawed, bureaucratic hiring process or has failed to evaluate new teachers before awarding them tenure. These critics want to scrap the contract, throw away teachers’ legal protections, and bring teacher unions to their collective knees.
It is worth recalling why teachers joined unions and why unions remain important today. Take tenure, for example. The teacher unions didn’t invent tenure, despite widespread beliefs to the contrary. Tenure evolved in the 19th century as one of the few perks available to people who were paid low wages, had classes of 70 or 80 or more, and endured terrible working conditions. In late 19th century New York City, for example, there were no teacher unions, but there was already ironclad, de facto teacher tenure. Local school boards controlled the hiring of teachers, and the only way to get a job was to know someone on the local school board, preferably a relative. Once a teacher was hired, she had lifetime tenure in that school, but only in that school. In fact, she could teach in the same school until she retired—without a pension or health benefits—or died.

More on Diane Ravitch. Joanne adds notes and links to Diane’s words.

Notes on Outsourcing Public Education

Leo Casey:

Edwize has obtained a copy of the RFP [Request for Proposal] for “Partnership School Support” that the New York City Department of Education has hidden from the general public in a remote precinct of its website accessible only to private vendors with passwords. In it one finds the details of one of the central components of the latest structural reorganization Chancellor Klein want to impose on New York City public schools.
What is remarkable about the RFP is the general plan to outsource to these private ‘partnership’ entities virtually all of the educational support functions traditionally fulfilled, for better or for worse, by the DOE. Instructional program, professional development, special education: all of these and more will now be organized and supported by the Partnerships. And in contrast to the current intermediaries such as New Visions and Urban Assembly, this RFP invites ‘for profit’ EMOs [Educational Maintenance Organizations, modeled after Health Maintenance Organizations or HMOs] like Edison Schools and Victory Schools to become Partnerships.

More on the Proposed Madison Studio School


The Madison School Board discussed the proposed Madison Studio School recently. Watch the video and read these recent articles:

  • Mayoral Candidates Endorse the Studio School by Susan Troller
  • Board Wants Study of Studio School by Deborah Ziff
  • Don’t Rush Approval of Studio School by John Keckhaver
  • Chafing at Charters by Jason Shephard:

    But citizen praise was matched by district badmouthing. At every stage, district officials exaggerated the potential problems posed by the school, and at no point did they provide evidence that they had worked to resolve them.
    For example, Rainwater wants the 44-student school to have its own full-time principal and secretary, while Studio School backers want to save money by sharing Emerson’s resources.
    Rainwater’s insistence on spending more money, which could torpedo the proposal, left some shaking their heads. Kobza asked whether it would make sense to even consider other charters, as Rainwater’s rules would make them financially unviable.
    Rainwater, amazingly, conceded the point: “I agree that you would never have a charter school” given these requirements, he said.

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What’s the MTI political endorsement about?

In 2006-07 the Madison School district will spend $43.5M on health insurance for its employees, the majority of the money paying for insurance for teachers represented by Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) That is 17% of the operating budget under the revenue limits.
In June of 2007, the two-year contract between the district and MTI ends. The parties are now beginning negotiations for the 2007-09 contract.
The Sun Prairie School district and its teachers union recently saved substantial dollars on health insurance. They used the savings to improve teacher wages. The parties joined together openly and publicly to produce a statement of the employees health needs. Then they negotiated a health insurance package with a local HMO that met their needs.
The Madison School district has no choice but to look for ways to reduce future health insurance costs, while keeping a high quality of care. What we pay our teachers in the future depends on it–both in wages and in post-retirement benefits. What we can offer to our children in programs depends on it.
We have made some progress in reducing future health insurance costs for some of the union-represented employees and for our administrators. I hope that board members elected in April will continue down this path. It’s not an easy path.
MTI plays hard ball in its election endorsements. It is looking for candidates that will continue coverage by Wisconsin Physicians Services (WPS)—no matter what else is available. It is also telling the incumbents what kind of treatment to expect from executive director John Matthews if the incumbent takes his or her board role seriously enough to represent the kids’ interest at the negotiating table. For an example, see MTI’s newsletter for late January:
http://www.madisonteachers.org/Solidarity/Solidarity%2006-07/solid012207.pdf [65K PDF]

Madison’s Mendota Elementary School beats the odds

What does it take to truly create a school where no child is left behind?
That question defines what is probably the most pressing issue facing American public education, and a high-poverty school on Madison’s north side west of Warner Park seems to have figured out some of the answers.
Mendota Elementary is among a small handful of schools in Madison where the percentage of children from low-income families hovers above 70 percent. But contrary to what most research would predict, Mendota’s standardized test scores meet or beat Madison’s generally high district averages, as well as test scores from throughout the state, on the annual Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.
In fact, Mendota’s test scores even exceed those of many other local schools where the majority of students come from more affluent homes with a wealth of resources to devote to child raising, including both time and money.
From “Successful schools, successful students” by reporter Susan Troller, The Capital Times, January 26, 2007.

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Late January School Board Progress Report

The Madison Board of Education is faced with several great challenges over the next few months. One of the biggest is the announcement that Superintendent Art Rainwater will retire at the end of the June 2008. The board will be working with a consultant to assist in hiring the next superintendent. Another board challenge is the budget shortfall of $10.5 million dollars. Lack of state and federal funding, unfunded and under funded mandates, revenue limits and the qualified economic offer, all contribute to the annual budget woes. While addressing these issues the Board continues its discussion and analysis on positive student behavior in our schools. These changes will lead from a punitive approach to a preventive and restorative justice methodology. This model will increase school safety and lead to changes in the student Code of Conduct and Board policy that can be applied fairly to all students.

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High School Research Studies Database

Education Commission of the States:

This unique resource is for you:

  • If your governor or your legislator has asked you to tell him/her what the research says on education issues
  • If you don’t know whom to trust — and find it difficult to navigate potential bias and the selective use of data
  • If you don’t have time to read 25 pages and trudge through complicated explanations of methodology
  • If you need to cut through the mud right to the findings and policy implications.

The Baltimore Algebra Project

Sherrilyn Ifill:

was recently trying to list the 10 most encouraging initiatives by black people in 2006 and I thought I’d share one with you. It’s the Baltimore Algebra Project, a group of African American inner-city teens who’ve evolved from tutors to activists in an effort to force change in the failing Baltimore City School system. The Algebra Project, many of you may know, was created by the brilliant soft-spoken civil rights activist and organizer Robert Moses, who left the U.S. to live in Africa, in the 1960s. When Moses returned to the U.S., he became convinced that the abysmal performance of African American students in math and science are a major barrier to full citizenship and empowerment. He created a program designed to help African American students excel in math in science. There are Algebra Projects in several U.S. cities. The Baltimore Algebra Project began as a tutoring program, but the young people in the project – students at many of the city’s struggling schools – have become increasingly more activist over the past 3 years. Finally, frustrated at continuing inequities in the school system, the Project announced the launch of “Freedom Fall” [fascinating – more at Clusty] this past September. They marched on the headquarters of the school board, and in a stroke of courage and brilliance created an alternative school board, called the Freedom Board.

Spending & Education Commentary

Richard S. Davis, writing in the Spokesman Review:

What should the state spend on public schools?
In Olympia today, there is only one right answer: More.
And that answer has budget-busting consequences.
Gov. Chris Gregoire, the current education governor – when has the mansion not been occupied by an education governor? – has proposed increasing per student spending by 25 percent. Republicans don’t disagree, though they might spend it differently. And the governor has called her education budget, which goes a long way toward depleting a $1.9 billion surplus, just a down payment.
Not satisfied with promises, nine school districts went to court earlier this month, suing for more state money. They didn’t say how much they wanted, possibly to avoid low-balling the judge. The courts can be very generous with other people’s money.
But there are limits to how much is available. The current surplus will be spent in a few years. And when “more” means higher taxes, public support erodes quickly.
Perhaps, rather than focusing on how much we are spending, we should be asking how well existing money is being spent.

Joanne has more.

Making our schools a top priority: Investment in education will always pay off in society

Bill Baumgart:

When I was first contacted about writing a guest opinion, I thought, “What a great opportunity to share my strong feelings about public education.” Then I realized I need to be aware that everyone will not feel the same as me nor for the same reasons and I must be cautious lest I alienate them. But I was asked for my views, so I will give them.
I believe education of our youth is the most valuable thing we as adults can provide to them. Similarly it is a great responsibility we hold. For the youth it gives them the future. They, of course, must decide how to use it. Often overlooked is the value that is returned to us as providers. If we have done well, we will have real contributors to our society in our future: our doctors, nurses, community leaders, engineers, lawyers, writers, ethical politicians and journalists. And we will provide the teachers for that next generation so this responsibility can go on.
None of this comes free. There is a cost and I agree it is substantial. But if you look at it as an investment, you will find a return on your money. There is the development of the future as shown in the preceding paragraph. There is also the concrete value of your community and the property you hold. It is accepted that the quality of life and property values are directly related to the education provided in that community. We all can think of areas where we would rather not live and raise our children, but you would also find that in many of those you could afford to buy a house. There is a direct correlation between the quality of local education and property value. Why else is an evaluation of the schools always a prime part of buying a house?

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NYC Public Schools, Minus the Public

Leo Casey:

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein unveiled yet another in a permanent revolution of structural reorganizations, highlighting a program which would allow private entities to assume a prominent role in the management of New York City public schools. For months, there had been rumors swirling around the exact nature of this “Partnership” program, so much so that the New York Times had published an October article on the DOE’s plans, describing them as private management of scores of schools. When a large group of labor, community based organizations, education advocates and elected officials met earlier this month to plan opposition to these efforts, Klein announced publicly that “as long as I am the chancellor of the public school system… the city of New York public schools will remain public schools.” With that announcement, speculation shifted to what the exact nature of the RFP for the “Partneship” would be.
The RFP is now out, sort of. It is hidden deep on the DOE web site, and only registered DOE vendors, such as Edison and Urban Assembly [two entities which have publicly indicated their interest], can actually see it.

A Thought on Education

Bill:

My wife is a teacher, she teaches in Middle School. To be polite, a lot of her kids appear to be uninterested in the learning experience. Instead of wasting their time and the time of kids who actually wanted to learn, I’ve suggested that the school remodel a few classrooms to give these uninterested kids a leg up in their future careers. This special classroom would be equipped with a cash register, a cooking surface, a deep fryer, a soda fountain, and a system that offers orders for the students to fill correctly. The kids would be graded on their ability to operate the equipment, and tests would include simulated customer orders. Additional equipment would include mops and brooms, which they would use to clean up the room at the end of the class. Extra credit could be offered for asking “would you like fries with that, ma’am?” or “Biggie size, sir?”

Singapore Math is a plus for South River students

Chandra M. Hayslett:

It’s also different from American math in that fewer topics are taught in an academic year, giving the instructor the opportunity to teach the concept until it is mastered. “There’s a tendency in the United States to teach a topic, then it’s never seen or heard from again,” said Jeffery Thomas, president of SingaporeMath.com Inc., the official distributor of the math books based in Oregon City, Ore.
The American Institute for Research, one of the largest behavioral and social science research organizations in the world, says Singapore Math is better than American math because Singapore’s textbooks provide a more thorough understanding of concepts, while traditional American math books barely go beyond formulas and definitions. Before someone in Singapore can become a teacher, she must demonstrate math skills superior to her American counterparts, according to the AIR, which is based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, Singapore offers an alternative math framework for low-performing students, but at a slower pace and with greater repetition.

Madison School Board Discusses an Independent Math Curriculum Review

The Madison School Board’s 2006/2007 Goals for Superintendent Art Rainwater included the “Initiatiation and completion of a comprehensive, independent and neutral review and assessment of the District’s K-12 math curriculum”. Watch the discussion [Video] and read a memo [240K PDF] from the Superintendent regarding his plans for this goal. Much more here and here.
Barbara Lehman kindly emailed the Board’s conclusion Monday evening:

It was moved by Lawrie Kobza and seconded by Ruth Robarts to approve the revised plan for implementation of the Superintendent’s 2006-07 goal to initiate and complete a comprehensive, independent, and neutral review and assessment of the District’s K-12 math curriculum as presented at this meeting, including extension for completion of the evaluation to the 2007-08 school year. The Board of Education shall receive a report in 2006-07 with analysis of math achievement data for MMSD K-12 students, including analysis of all math sub-test scores disaggregated by student characteristics and schools in addition to reports in subsequent years. Student representative advisory vote * aye. Motion carried 6-1 with Lucy Mathiak voting no.

WI – MI College Tuition Pact in Jeopardy

Megan Twehey:

The University of Minnesota is threatening to pull out of a tuition reciprocity agreement between Minnesota and Wisconsin unless its students from Wisconsin start paying between $1,200 and $2,700 more a year.
Wisconsin has rejected the proposal, but the University of Minnesota is pushing back.
“We would like to reach agreement within the existing agreement,” said Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education at the University of Minnesota. “That’s the preferable outcome. But I don’t want to rule other things out.”

1989-2006 Math Comparison: Are Students Better Now?

math8906.jpg
W. Stephen Wilson [75K PDF]:

Professors are constantly asked if their students are better or worse today than in the past. This paper answers that question for one group of students.
For my fall 2006 Calculus I for the Biological and Social Sciences course I administered the same final exam used for the course in the fall of 1989. The SAT mathematics (SATM) scores of the two classes were nearly identical and the classes were approximately the same percentage of the Arts and Sciences freshmen. The 2006 class had significantly lower exam scores.
This is not a traditional research study in mathematics education. The value of this study is probably in the rarity of the data, which compares one generation to another.
….
Nineteen eighty-nine is, in mathematics education, indelibly tied to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ publication, Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989), which downplayed pencil and paper computations and strongly suggested that calculators play an important role in K-12 mathematics education. My 2006 students would have been about two years old at the time of this very influential publication, and it could easily have affected the mathematical education many of them received. Certainly, one possibility is that mathematics preparation is down across the country, thus limiting the pool of well prepared college applicants.

Wilson is a Professor of Mathematics at Johns Hopkins University.

Elementary Strings: Update and Community Appeal

Action and Help Needed: I am beginning to work with some parents and others in the community to raise awareness and possibly financial support for all fine arts education. If you are interested in learning more, or would like to help, let me know (schrank4@charter.net or 231-3954). I will be posting on the blog more of what we are doing, including surveys and petitions of support.
Due to the proposed budget gap for next year and the Superintendent’s preliminary discussion idea to cut up to $300,000 from elementary strings, our focus will be on this course in the short-term. Elementary strings is only one piece of Fine Arts Education, but there is no other organization that teaches so many low income children how to play an instrument for about $200 per child vs. $2,000 per child in private instruction. We would like to resolve this issue this spring, working collaboratively with the administration and the school board.
The School Board would like proposals from the community re supporting elementary strings. I have begun working with parents and others on this topic, and I welcome ideas and support from readers of this blog. In addition to various proposals for School Board consideration, which I’m being encouraged to submit, we feel there is a need to raise awareness of the importance of a strong, vibrant standards-based, academic fine arts education. For an instrumental curriculum that meets national and state standards, course instruction begins in Grade 4 and classes are held at least twice weekly during the day.
The demand for elementary strings from parents and students has been and continues to be strong; but sadly, I feel the administration (not the School Board) has been a barrier to moving forward in partnership with the community, preferring each year to cut and to whittle away the course each year rather than gather the community together to bring ideas and solutions to the table. Last November, I asked District Administration for the following basic information: number of elementary string students, number of FTEs, number of middle and high school band and string students, number of FTEs, and revenue collected. I have not received this information, which I need to work on proposals, even though I have asked for the information repeatedly. The administration may have a lot on their plate, but I was only asking for basic information needed to develop some proposals for board consideration. I thought, perhaps the administration is working on their own proposals to continue this course, but that is not the case.
Up until a few years ago, there were nearly 2,000 4th and 5th grade students taking elementary strings, 30-40% of these children were low income (600+ children). During the 1990s, as the district’s low income population increased, enrollment in elementary strings doubled from about 1,000 students in 1991 to more than 1,900 in after the year 2000.
Elementary strings has been part of the Madison schools for more than 40 years. Growing school districts around Madison offer this course, and the enrollment is growing. Grandparents and parents who live in Madison took this course when they were in elementary school. The large string festival is one of other opportunities that make our elementary schools unique. If we want to keep parents sending their children to Madison, and to keep the needed diversity in our schools, I think this course is important and unique to Madison.
I hope some of you will join me in supporting a vibrant fine arts education for our children and working on proposals for elementary strings. Thank you for reading this blog item,
Barb

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Will Increasing Class Time Help?

Jay Matthews:

My favorite at the moment is time. Are our students getting enough hours of teaching and learning to reach the achievement goals we have set? Should the school day, or the school year, be longer?
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Jay Mathews is working on a Washington Post Magazine article about great middle schools, public or private, in the District, Maryland and Virginia based on reader emails and letters. If you know of some great middle schools, send their names to Jay at mathewsj@washpost.com or 526 King St. suite 515, Alexandria, VA, 22314, and tell him in detail what makes them great.
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There is plenty in the news on this. Massachusetts has launched a $6.5 million public-private partnership to lengthen the school day in 10 schools in five districts. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, one of the cleverest of the pack of presidential candidates descending upon us, has proposed both a longer school day and a longer school year for low-performing schools in his state. Policy makers in Minnesota, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Illinois are all considering adding time for learning.

Elena Silva has more.

Parents Sound Off on Detroit School Plan

Mark Hicks:

The reorganization is part of the district’s controversial plan to shutter 47 schools this summer and five more during summer 2008 in a bid to save $19 million.
The struggling district lost nearly 12,600 students last fall after a teachers strike, and more than 50,000 have left in the last eight years. The district lists an enrollment of 116,800 students.
At Monday’s forum, representatives from the district’s consolidation team cited declining birth rates, competition from charter schools and the city’s population loss as factors.
The decreases represent a natural phenomenon, said DPS’s Jeffery Jones. “This is not unique to Detroit.”

Elmbrook Schools Set $99.3M Referendum

Lisa Sink:

Elmbrook School District officials have 10 weeks to persuade voters to make state history, after the School Board voted tonight to schedule an April 3 referendum seeking a record-setting $99.3 million to upgrade the district’s two high schools.
The board voted 6-1, with Patrick Murphy opposed, to approve the plan to substantially renovate and expand Brookfield Central and East high schools on their existing sites. They agreed to knock $500,000 off the formerly eyed $99.8 million amount, at the request of board member Steve Schwei.
His reason: “I want people to round down to $99 million (rather) than to round up to $100 million.”
Board members also agreed to add a second ballot question asking residents to allow the district to borrow another $9.5 million to add more gymnasium space to both high schools. That vote was also 6-1, but with board member Tom Gehl opposed.

State Legislative Panel Supports Increased School Spending Limits & Property Tax Authority

Andy Hall:

Madison school officials were heartened Monday by a bipartisan state study panel’s backing of a measure that would allow the School Board to raise more than an additional $2 million a year.
That would cost the owner of an average city home about $25 a year.
If approved by the Legislature, the proposal would essentially allow school boards to boost their revenue limits by up to 1 percent, which in Madison would be $2.2 million next year. Boards would need to OK such moves by a two-thirds vote, and the spending would be in effect for just one year at a time.
Madison and some other districts with relatively high levels of spending and property values have strong financial disincentives against exceeding the revenue caps. Madison taxpayers, for example, pay $1.61 for every $1 the district exceeds the revenue cap due to the school funding formula, which works to equalize the tax burden between richer and poorer districts.
But the measure that advanced Monday wouldn’t subject Madison and similar districts to that financial penalty.
An additional tax of $2.2 million would mean the owner of an average Madison home valued at $239,400 would pay about $25 more per year, said Doug Johnson, a Madison School District budget analyst. The district’s property tax levy is $209.2 million.

The Madison School Board’s Communications Committee recently released a list of spending increase authority changes they would like to see the State enact. More on the School District’s $331M+ Budget.
David Callendar has more.

Sun Prairie High School Tightens Fighting Policies

Gena Kittner:blk.

Throwing a punch on high school grounds here will get you arrested, removed from school and in some cases could land you in jail.
After two significant fights at Sun Prairie High School in December, one involving as many as six students, the city’s high school has changed the way it deals with violence at school.
The message came Jan. 4 and 5 over the school’s public address system: If a student is involved in a violent act or there is a substantiated threat of physical violence, he or she will be arrested and removed from the school by Sun Prairie police, Principal Paul Keats said.
Previously, fighting students could be cited by police, but not necessarily removed from the building, he said.

Early Start in Business Teaches Lessons

Carol Hymowitz:

Many CEOs who have scaled the corporate ladder say their early start in business gave them their best advantage. While many of their classmates socialized, they were punching time cards, earning money and learning management lessons they still use — from how to promote new ideas to organizing work efficiently and handling arduous schedules.

Who can forget the early paper routes, particularly on blustery winter mornings, or cleaning a restaurant’s grease trap…..

Learning the Three R’s – In College

Heather LeRoi:

Should he have learned about such math concepts well before getting to college? Probably.
But the reality is, he hadn’t. And remedial education classes – or developmental coursework, as many colleges prefer to call it these days – offer Lythjohan, who’s considering a career in nursing or business, that second chance.
Lythjohan is far from alone.
According to a 2004 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, 28 percent of incoming freshmen nationwide enrolled in at least one remedial reading, writing or mathematics course at postsecondary institutions in 2000. At public two-year colleges, the figure jumps to 42 percent.

Taking Middle Schoolers Out of the Middle

Elissa Gootman:

The two schools, in disparate corners of the nation’s largest school system, are part of a national effort to rethink middle school, driven by increasingly well-documented slumps in learning among early adolescents as well as middle school crime rates and stubborn high school dropout rates.
The schools share the premise that the way to reverse years of abysmal middle school performance is to get rid of middle schools entirely. But they represent opposite poles in the sharp debate over whether 11- through 13-year-olds are better off pushed toward adulthood or coddled a little longer.
Should the nurturing cocoon of elementary school be extended for another three years, shielding 11-year-olds from the abrupt transition to a new school, with new students and teachers, at one of the most volatile times in their lives?

On National Teacher Certification

Michael Alison Chandler:

Although some wonder how much the program raises student achievement, there is a growing movement toward national certification. The number of board-certified teachers has tripled in the past five years to more than 55,000 nationwide. Increasingly, school systems are seeking to raise teacher quality.
Prince George’s County School Superintendent John E. Deasy said board certification helps teachers reflect on their profession in a way that often leads to faculty-room discussions about sharing lesson ideas. “Education is one of the most isolated professions,” he said. “This is a very public process.”
Deasy said he aims to get 10 percent of the county’s teachers board-certified, up from less than 1 percent now. To accomplish this goal, Prince George’s has increased its annual stipend for board-certified teachers to $5,000 from $3,000, according to the school system. That’s on top of a $2,000 stipend from Maryland.
The states with the highest financial incentives tend to have the most board-certified teachers. In North Carolina, where teachers can receive a 12 percent pay increase each year they have a valid certificate, an estimated 13 percent of teachers are board-certified; in South Carolina, where teachers earn a $7,500 bump each year, about 11 percent are board-certified.

NYC School Governance Overhaul Would Let Teachers Rate Principals

David Herszenhorn:

Pressing the case for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s latest round of changes to the city school system, Chancellor Joel I. Klein yesterday detailed how the new powers being granted to principals would be accompanied by new evaluations of them: teachers for the first time would be able to rate their supervisors.
The mayor’s plans include giving more power and autonomy to principals, requiring teachers to undergo rigorous reviews before earning tenure, and changing the financing formula for schools. The administration is eliminating the current 10 regional superintendents and creating a wider role for private groups in supporting schools.
Allowing teachers to help evaluate principals has been a longstanding request of the teachers’ union, and Mr. Klein seemed to be going out of his way to praise teachers a day after the mayor announced that tenure after a three-year probationary period would no longer be nearly automatic. Instead teachers will be rigorously evaluated.

Shifts in School Costs Significantly Increase Racine County Property Taxes

Jennie Tunkieiecz:

But taxpayers across the western half of Racine County saw dramatic jumps in their tax bills as the result of the western county school districts taking on the full cost of special education, which had previously been paid for in the county portion of the property taxes.
The Village of Union Grove jumped from fourth to second place among cities and villages. Janice Winget, village clerk/treasurer, said she has been hearing the outrage from people coming in to pay taxes.
“The average hit was probably $500 to $600, if not more,” Winget said. “The schools tried to warn people it was going to happen, but no one had the idea it was going to have that effect on people.”

I Support the Madison Studio School

Taxpayers, parents and students, particularly those who will enter our schools over the next few decades will benefit from more local choices if the Madison Studio School can lift off, soon.
The Madison School District Administration’s recent history has been marked by a reduction in choice for parents and students and generally a monolithic approach to curriculum. Examples include the rush toward one size fits all curriculum in high schools [East High School and West High School’s English 9/10], the annual attempt to kill elementary strings and the ongoing implementation of scripted curriculum such as Connected Math, among others. This has occurred despite flat overall enrollment and growing district budgets.
The Madison Studio School initiative rises out of the successful near westside Preschool of the Arts family. Learn more by visiting their website along with these articles.
Lifting off is made more difficult by the Madison School District’s structural deficit, which further limits annual increases in the $331M+ budget.
I hope that The School Board, Administration and Studio School proponents can mutually find a way to say yes, rather than, as Scott Milfred points out, starting with the usual same service reasons to say no.
Over time, I believe the Studio School will grow and spawn additional charter initiatives, perhaps offering middle and high school students more options.
For me, this is simply a governance issue. I think movement away from the typical monolithic approach will benefit our students and community over the long haul.
A closing data point: Appleton’s public schools offer 13 charter options, compared to Madison’s two.
David Cohen makes some useful counter-points in his comments below.

Innovation in the Madison Public Schools

Scott Milfred:

The Madison School District just went through a successful school building referendum. Yet a key argument by opponents resonated with the public. The critics asked: Why not close an East Side school with falling enrollment to help pay for construction of a school on the far West Side where the number of students is increasing?
Enter a core of enthusiastic East Side parents pitching an idea they believe could fill Emerson at little cost and ease the pressure to construct yet another school elsewhere. If the parents are right, their proposal for turning Emerson into a charter school just might be the only way to save it from closing.
Charter schools are free from certain state rules and strive to innovate. The Emerson parents are proposing a “Studio School” that would emphasize the arts and technology. The charter school would start with two combined kindergarten-first grades next fall. It would feature more hands-on group projects driven by student interests. Yet core subjects such as reading, writing and arithmetic would still be incorporated throughout school activities.
Madison’s stubborn teachers union has long been suspicious of charter schools. The union has taken a defensive position that presumes the very suggestion of a charter school implies that traditional schools are somehow inadequate.
The union shouldn’t feel insecure. Our traditional Wisconsin public schools do many great things in the face of daunting challenges. Yet public education can and must get better and try new things — even if some attempts fail.

Prep School Payday

Ellen Gamerman:

Since its founding in 1970, Forsyth Country Day School in Lewisville, N.C., has built an idyllic campus and become known for sending graduates on to the Ivy League. Forsyth stands out another way, too: Its headmaster, Henry M. Battle Jr., received more than $300,000 in salary and bonuses in 2004-05, according to the school’s most recently available tax filings. That’s nearly double the national median salary for private-school chiefs — and above the pay at names like New York’s Dalton and Connecticut’s Choate Rosemary Hall.
Across the country, the job description for private-school headmasters is changing — and that is rapidly lifting their pay. With competition fierce for candidates who combine CEO-level business acumen and academic credentials, total compensation packages worth $400,000 or more are increasingly common. In some cases, candidates are getting new perks, from college-style sabbaticals to travel stipends.

Schools Turn Down the Heat on Homework

Nancy Keates:

Some of the nation’s most competitive schools are changing their homework policies, limiting the amount of work assigned by teachers or eliminating it altogether in lower grades. There also is an effort by some schools to change the type of homework being assigned and curtail highly repetitive drudge work.
The moves are largely at elite schools in affluent areas, including the lower school at Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Gunn High School in Palo Alto, Calif., Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles and Riverdale Country Day School in New York City. The effort is by no means universal, and in fact some national statistics show that the amount of homework is continuing to grow.
Still, the new policies at such schools are significant because moves by institutions of this caliber are closely watched by educators and often followed.
Seventeen-year-old Jacob Simon endorses the new approach. When he gets home from school, he usually watches sports on TV. But the senior at Gunn High School isn’t slacking off: He’s taking five Advanced Placement courses this year, including calculus and physics. What’s changed is his school’s efforts to — in the words of one of its teachers — “make the homework assignments worthy of our students’ time.” Mr. Simon says, “It’s nice to be able to relax a little.”

District Cool to Third Charter School

Danya Hooker:

A proposal to open a third charter school in Madison is too costly and lacks educational research support, the Madison School District administration said, even as it announced a projected $10.5 million shortfall in next year’s budget.
“We (the administration) believe the proposal is not complete enough and does not contain enough detail about how the school would operate this fall,” Superintendent Art Rainwater said.
Organizers for the Studio School, which would have an arts and technology focus, asked for funding for 2 full-time teachers. Nancy Donahue, lead organizer for the school, estimated first-year costs to be about $35,000 if the school shared a principal and administrative costs with a host school such as the under- capacity Emerson Elementary School.
Rainwater said the administration believes shared principals are far from ideal. He said paying for another principal and administrative staff could cost the district nearly $5 million over five years.

More on the Madison Studio School.

“Character Education”

Sarah Carr:

When her 5-year-old lost his winter hat, he somberly apologized to his mother, saying: “I know it’s my responsibility.” Without Lecus asking, her 7-year-old holds doors open for other people. And her fourth-grader has become a leader on the playground, helping other kids when they struggle or fall.
Lecus does not take all the credit. Instead, she cites a new character education program at Milwaukee’s Whittier Elementary School, where her children attend. With the nudging of a parent, Whittier has started making a more conscious effort to teach students values such as honesty and responsibility.
In doing so, Whittier joined what Michael Swartz, superintendent of the Jefferson School District, west of Waukesha, calls a “national movement.”
Motivated by a declining sense of values in a society in which people are more likely to curse and less likely to offer their seat on the bus, schools in Wisconsin and across the country are turning the teaching of character into a formal part of the curriculum.

Classroom Distinctions

Tom Moore:

IN the past year or so I have seen Matthew Perry drink 30 cartons of milk, Ted Danson explain the difference between a rook and a pawn, and Hilary Swank remind us that white teachers still can’t dance or jive talk. In other words, I have been confronted by distorted images of my own profession — teaching. Teaching the post-desegregation urban poor, to be precise.
Although my friends and family (who should all know better) continue to ask me whether my job is similar to these movies, I find it hard to recognize myself or my students in them.
So what are these films really about? And what do they teach us about teachers? Are we heroes, villains, bullies, fools? The time has come to set the class record straight.
At the beginning of Ms. Swank’s new movie, “Freedom Writers,” her character, a teacher named Erin Gruwell, walks into her Long Beach, Calif., classroom, and the camera pans across the room to show us what we are supposed to believe is a terribly shabby learning environment. Any experienced educator will have already noted that not only does she have the right key to get into the room but, unlike the seventh-grade science teacher in my current school, she has a door to put the key into. The worst thing about Ms. Gruwell’s classroom seems to be graffiti on the desks, and crooked blinds.

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Education & Intelligence Series

Charles Murray posted three articles this week on Education and Intelligence, a series that generated some conversation around the net:

  • Intelligence in the Classroom:

    Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited. It is a matter of ceilings. Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.
    We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.

  • What’s Wrong with Vocational School?

    Begin with those barely into the top half, those with average intelligence. To have an IQ of 100 means that a tough high-school course pushes you about as far as your academic talents will take you. If you are average in math ability, you may struggle with algebra and probably fail a calculus course. If you are average in verbal skills, you often misinterpret complex text and make errors in logic.
    These are not devastating shortcomings. You are smart enough to engage in any of hundreds of occupations. You can acquire more knowledge if it is presented in a format commensurate with your intellectual skills. But a genuine college education in the arts and sciences begins where your skills leave off.
    In engineering and most of the natural sciences, the demarcation between high-school material and college-level material is brutally obvious. If you cannot handle the math, you cannot pass the courses. In the humanities and social sciences, the demarcation is fuzzier. It is possible for someone with an IQ of 100 to sit in the lectures of Economics 1, read the textbook, and write answers in an examination book. But students who cannot follow complex arguments accurately are not really learning economics. They are taking away a mishmash of half-understood information and outright misunderstandings that probably leave them under the illusion that they know something they do not. (A depressing research literature documents one’s inability to recognize one’s own incompetence.) Traditionally and properly understood, a four-year college education teaches advanced analytic skills and information at a level that exceeds the intellectual capacity of most people.

  • Aztecs vs. Greeks:

    How assiduously does our federal government work to see that this precious raw material is properly developed? In 2006, the Department of Education spent about $84 billion. The only program to improve the education of the gifted got $9.6 million, one-hundredth of 1% of expenditures. In the 2007 budget, President Bush zeroed it out.
    But never mind. A large proportion of gifted children are born to parents who value their children’s talent and do their best to see that it is realized. Most gifted children without such parents are recognized by someone somewhere along the educational line and pointed toward college. No evidence indicates that the nation has many children with IQs above 120 who are not given an opportunity for higher education. The university system has also become efficient in shipping large numbers of the most talented high-school graduates to the most prestigious schools. The allocation of this human capital can be criticized–it would probably be better for the nation if more of the gifted went into the sciences and fewer into the law. But if the issue is amount of education, then the nation is doing fine with its next generation of gifted children. The problem with the education of the gifted involves not their professional training, but their training as citizens.
    We live in an age when it is unfashionable to talk about the special responsibility of being gifted, because to do so acknowledges inequality of ability, which is elitist, and inequality of responsibilities, which is also elitist. And so children who know they are smarter than the other kids tend, in a most human reaction, to think of themselves as superior to them. Because giftedness is not to be talked about, no one tells high-IQ children explicitly, forcefully and repeatedly that their intellectual talent is a gift. That they are not superior human beings, but lucky ones. That the gift brings with it obligations to be worthy of it. That among those obligations, the most important and most difficult is to aim not just at academic accomplishment, but at wisdom.

Joanne has notes [more], along with Nicholas Lehmann, who comments on Murray’s The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. Technorati search. Clusty Search on Charles Murray. Brad DeLong posts his thoughts as well.

Notes on Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater’s Reign

Marc Eisen:

I could rattle off a half-dozen reasons why it’s a good thing that Art Rainwater is resigning as Madison’s school superintendent in 18 months. But I won’t. I wish instead that he was staying on the job.
Rainwater’s lame duck status and the uncertainty over his replacement come at a particularly bad moment for the schools.
In education-loving Madison, the schools are the city’s pride and joy. But they face huge issues: the influx of educationally disadvantaged poor kids; the loss of middle-class families, who provide the ballast to keep schools on even keel; the deeply troubling “achievement gap” between white and minority students; and the onerous financial squeeze delivered by the state’s perverse system of financing K-12 education.
Rainwater knows these issues. He understands how crucial their solution is to Madison’s future. I’m sharply critical of some of his personnel and strategic decisions, but I don’t doubt his sincerity and commitment to Madison’s 24,000-student district.

A Capital Times Editorial:

Rainwater has brought stability and vision to the district. Where his predecessor had seemed weak and unfocused, Rainwater was a solid administrator who spoke directly and effectively about the system’s strengths and its promise. He established a good working relationship with the teachers union, he won the confidence of the community and he has presided over a period of needed growth and, for the most part, smart change.
This is not to say that Rainwater has been a perfect administrator. He has, at times, had testy relations with some members of the School Board, and the voters have sided with the board members who have pressed the administrator — sending clear signals in the last several elections that they want the board to assert itself and play a more definitional role with regard to the direction of the district. Even Rainwater’s critics have recognized, however, that the problem has less to do with him than with the relative weakness of the board in recent years.

Jason Shephard:

Replacing Superintendent Art Rainwater will dominate the Madison school board’s agenda in the next 18 months, a task board members rightly view with trepidation.
“For me, there is an appeal to finding a new person,” says board member Carol Carstensen. “But a lot of me just says this is going to be really, really difficult.”
Rainwater’s retirement announcement this week gives the board until June 30, 2008, to find a replacement. But he’s leaving mighty big shoes to fill.
Rainwater took over Madison schools nearly nine years ago after predecessor Cheryl Wilhoyte was run out of town. Avoiding her missteps, he won at least grudging respect from most quarters, managing tight budgets while maintaining student achievement gains. His candor, plain talk and work ethic have helped build good will with unions, politicians and the media.

Middle and Elementary School Mathfests

Ted Widerski, via email:

I would like to thank the many of you that have supported our efforts to bring together our many promising young mathematicians for a day of comaraderie and competition. Many of you have offered kind words, your help, or your $$. All are greatly appreciated!
As a result of your support, we will be holding a Middle School Mathfest on February 21st and Elementary (East & West) Mathfests on March 2nd and 12th.
We are currently planning the events, but the schedule will include a talk from a math professor, learning about a challenging math topic, and individual and team contests.
At the elementary level, the school will be asked to choose a team consisting of a total of eight 4th and 5th graders. For middle schools, the TAG department collaborated with learning coordinators to select students.
For the math competition, we’d love to have a celebrity team join us. Perhaps, TV personalities, UW athletes, the mayor, etc. If anyone would like to take on such a cause and has some connections, it would be great!
We would like to run a first-class event for these first-class students. Additional funds could be used. If any group or individual wishes to contribute, please contact Ted Widerski, TAG Resource Teacher at twiderski@madison.k12.wi.us or at 663-5221.

Mayors & Schools

The Economist:

As Mr Bloomberg campaigned for mayor in 2001, it was clear that New York’s school board was failing its 1.1m students. The board, removed from the city’s budget process, had little control over school finances. The consequences were dire. Many high schools were losing more than half their students before graduation. Mr Bloomberg promised change.
With the central school-board disbanded, the mayor got to work. He appointed as his education “chancellor” Joel Klein, a former top trust-buster at the federal Department of Justice. Together, they dissolved the city’s 32 school districts and replaced them with ten regions. They chose a uniform curriculum for reading, writing and maths. And they began to close large high schools and open small ones in their place. Mr Bloomberg set up 15 small high schools in 2002, and got money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2003 to help open 169 more.
Two years after seizing control, Messrs Bloomberg and Klein began a push to give more power to certain schools. Management scholars such as William Ouchi, of the University of California, Los Angeles, argued that decentralisation had saved American businesses; it could save schools too. In 2004, New York began opening schools where principals have more control over everything from budgets to staffing. If a principal does not meet the mayor’s targets, he can be fired. Last spring, 322 principals, a fifth of the total, joined this “empowerment” programme.

Name Madison’s New Far West Side Elementary School

Madison Metropolitan School District:

The Madison Metropolitan School District is seeking suggestions for the name of the new school in the Linden Park area. Anyone can submit a name for consideration by completing a form that’s available from the district, and submitting it by 4 p.m. on February 23rd, 2007.
“We encourage community members and organizations to submit name suggestions,” said Superintendent Art Rainwater. “A wide variety of suggestions from the community will help us as we make this decision.”
The form that needs to be submitted can be obtained from the district website at www.mmsd.org or by calling 663.1879, or stopping by Room 100 of the school administration building, 545 West Dayton Street. The form is available in Spanish, as well as English.

LA Mayor Announces his Public School Strategy

Duke Helfand & Joel Rubin:

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled a sweeping reform strategy for Los Angeles public schools Wednesday, calling for top-to-bottom changes that would include ending the practice of promoting failing students, requiring school uniforms and bringing in outsiders to help transform schools.
The education blueprint — drawing heavily from reform ideas already underway in Los Angeles and elsewhere — amounts to Villaraigosa’s fall-back position if the courts rule against his efforts to gain a measure of control over the Los Angeles Unified School District.
In releasing the “Schoolhouse” policy framework [400K PDF] at a town hall meeting Wednesday evening, and supporting candidates in the March 6 school board elections, Villaraigosa is hedging his bets: He is seeking a prominent role in the school district through a friendly board majority that could promote his vision of more decentralized schools.

Related LA Times Editorial:

MAYOR ANTONIO Villaraigosa’s blueprint for the Los Angeles schools, unveiled Wednesday evening, contains a little something for everyone. There are some fine-but-small ideas (school uniforms), some big-but-redundant ones (more schools and family centers) and a few that are simply pie-in-the-sky (better-paid teachers, smaller class sizes and longer school hours). The problem with the mayor’s “schoolhouse” plan isn’t his vision — it’s his inability to carry it out.
The feel-good plan offers no thoughts on how the mayor, who currently has no authority over the schools, would bring its proposals to fruition. It provides only vague notions about how such proposals would be paid for, and it doesn’t refer to his legal battle to win partial control of the schools.
That battle isn’t going so well, with the mayor having suffered two losses in state court. So the blueprint is a kind of fall-back plan: If he can’t beat the school district, Villaraigosa will join it. After all, he can wield his considerable charisma to influence Schools Supt. David L. Brewer, and his equally considerable political power to support a sympathetic slate of school board candidates.

Naush Boghossian has more.

More on the Milwaukee Public School Cell Phone Ban

Alan Borsuk:

Even before Milwaukee Public Schools as a whole launched a new effort to bar cell phones from schools this week, Bradley Tech High School officials were trying to do that.
“If it’s visible and it’s being used, we confiscate it,” Principal Ed Kovochich said Wednesday, the day MPS leaders, District Attorney John Chisholm and others came to the school to announce steps aimed at reducing violence, with a cell phone ban getting the most attention.
So how many students at that moment were carrying cell phones inside Bradley Tech?
Of 1,600 students in the school, Kovochich estimated, 1,500 had cell phones on them.
“But I’ll give you a buck for every one you see,” he added.
He didn’t need to pay up.

Established School Districts Losing Students

Josh Kelley:

After decades of adding classrooms and teachers, school districts in some of the Valley’s more established neighborhoods are wrestling with enrollment declines.
The loss of students, which results in le ss state funding, will lead to tighter budgets and difficult decisions for large districts in Mesa, Phoenix and Scottsdale.
In the Paradise Valley district, enrollment dropped by 373 students last year. But district officials anticipate residential development, making it tricky to determine the need for a new high school.
“Up until you hit that peak, you’re growing and people are used to, ‘Hey, we’ve got a thousand new kids,’ ” said Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials. “Those thousand kids are nice revenue generators for the district, and people get used to that.”

Barb Schrank noted the enrollment changes in public school districts around the Madison area last fall.

Will High Schools Be a Relic of the Past?

CBS Evening News:

We’re often told that problems aren’t always as big as they seem, and that a little creativity may bring a solution.
So when North Carolina’s governor confronted his big problem — one of the worst high school dropout rates in the country — his creativity kicked into overdrive, CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan reports.
“One way to get the high school dropout rate down is to do away with high school,” says Gov. Michael Easley.
Sound far-fetched? The Legislature didn’t think so.
“When I put this in the budget for the first time, I thought there’d be a big fight over it. And everybody said ‘this is a great idea, let’s do it,'” the governor says.

NYC Mayor Moves to Give Principals More Autonomy

Diane Cardwell:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg laid out ambitious new plans yesterday to overhaul the school system by giving principals more power and autonomy, requiring teachers to undergo rigorous review in order to gain tenure and revising the school financing system that has allowed more-experienced teachers to cluster in affluent areas.
The plan, which would also increase the role of private groups, represents the most dramatic changes to the system since the mayor reorganized it after gaining control of the schools in 2002. Although the mayor has chosen to spend some of the city’s current surplus on tax cuts, he said he could invest more in schools with money promised by Gov. Eliot Spitzer to equalize state education aid across New York.
The administration can undertake most of the education reforms unilaterally, without City Council or union acquiescence.

While New York City appears to de-centralize, Milwaukee is evidently moving in the opposite direction. WNYC has more.
David Herszenhorn has more:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg yesterday effectively doubled his bet that the nation’s largest school system is capable of unprecedented improvement, wagering the education of the city’s nearly 1.1 million students and his own legacy on a far-reaching decentralization plan that puts enormous pressure on principals to raise student achievement.
The mayor’s announcement, in his State of the City address, made clear that by the end of his second term he hopes to leave behind a school system irreversibly changed and virtually unrecognizable from the bureaucracy that existed before he took office.
It will have new rating systems for schools, principals and teachers, a new finance system designed to break the lock that many schools in middle-class neighborhoods have had on highly paid veteran teachers, and a sharply increased role for private groups in helping to run schools. It will also make it harder for teachers to get tenure.
But Mr. Bloomberg’s plan, while cementing his place at the forefront of urban education reform in America, also carries huge risks, raising questions about whether yet another reorganization will bring such swift and noticeable improvement in test scores and graduation rates that it can mute critics who say the administration is using constant change to mask mediocre results.

Daily Newspapers Support Wisconsin School Finance Reform

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

The need for a new state school funding system is starkly illustrated by the fix in which the Waukesha School District finds itself. Caught between rising costs, state mandates and state caps, the district faces a $3.4 million budget shortfall in the next school year. To meet the shortfall, district administrators have suggested cutting the equivalent of about 62 full-time positions in 2007-’08.
The cuts may not prove devastating to the system right now, but they do point to the fact that many school districts have pared the fat from their systems and are now starting to cut into bone. And more cutting will come as expenses, especially health care costs, continue to rise.
What’s needed is not mere tinkering, such as the proposal to eliminate the “qualified economic offer,” which has helped to suppress teacher pay. What’s needed is a new plan that rethinks how schools are financed and is able to put some kind of brake on racing health care costs.

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Aloud school bell has been ringing across Wisconsin for years now, and it’s not the end of recess.
It’s an alarm bell — one that state leaders can no longer ignore.
Wisconsin’s school financing system is an out-of-date and unfair mess. For many schools, the state essentially forces them to increase spending faster than they are allowed to raise revenue.
About the only way around the rigid formula is to ask voters for more money in referendums, which are difficult to pass, divide communities, hinder efficiencies and create financial instability. Districts also have dramatically different transportation, special education and security needs, which a new funding formula must better account for.

MySpace to Give Parents More Information

Julia Angwin:

In a bid to appease government critics, News Corp.’s popular Web site MySpace.com is planning to offer free parental notification software — a move that risks alienating its young users.
Parents who install the monitoring software on their home computers would be able to find out what name, age and location their children are using to represent themselves on MySpace. The software doesn’t enable parents to read their child’s e-mail or see the child’s profile page and children would be alerted that their information was being shared. The program would continue to send updates about changes in the child’s name, age and location, even when the child logs on from other computers.

Milwaukee’s MATC to Train Students in Advanced Manufacturing

Erica Perez:

A three-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor will allow the Milwaukee Area Technical College to recruit and train 1,600 workers in five areas of advanced manufacturing where local businesses are projected to have critical shortages.
The money also will help MATC build a more strategic career-planning system, said Duane Schultz, associate dean in the division of technology and applied sciences for MATC. The goal: to anticipate earlier what jobs will be available locally and train students in those areas.
MATC surveyed about 30 local companies, including Master Lock, General Automotive Manufacturing and Rockwell Automation. In all, they said they would have roughly 1,745 openings in the next three years for computer numeric control machinists, welders and fabricators, maintenance technicians, quality inspectors and production manufacturing technicians.
Average entry-level wages for these jobs range from $11 to $15 an hour.
“We targeted our (program) around manufacturing because it’s such a strong part of the southeast Wisconsin job base,” said John Stilp, vice president of MATC’s Mequon campus.

Hybrid Learning

Megan Twohey:

The English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee used to gather his students in a classroom twice a week. He would stand in the front lecturing for an hour and a half.
Now he limits his face-to-face instruction to once a week. His students spend the rest of class online, posting comments about assigned reading, engaging in online discussions and, in some cases, grading each other’s work.
It is part of hybrid learning, a combination of in-person and online instruction that is on the rise in colleges and universities across the country.
UWM, a pioneer of the method, has offered a smattering of hybrid courses for years. With half a million dollars from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the university plans to launch soon a variety of hybrid degrees, from a bachelor’s in criminal justice to a master’s in occupational therapy.

Milwaukee Schools to Ban Cell Phones

Alan Borsuk:

Principals throughout Milwaukee Public Schools were ordered Tuesday to crack down on students carrying cell phones and similar electronic devices inside schools.
Seeking to improve safety after a first semester marred by numerous violent incidents, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos told principals to come up with effective policies banning cell phones, with some exceptions, by Jan. 29, when the second semester starts.
He also announced that students who use cell phones to summon outsiders to a school for reasons that threaten safety will be expelled from school.
In addition, he said that Milwaukee County’s new district attorney, John Chisholm, has agreed to consider charging people involved in violence at schools with felonies. Generally, people involved in fighting have been given municipal disorderly conduct tickets, which Andrekopoulos said was too weak a punishment to be effective.

“America’s Best Classroom Teacher”

Jay Matthews:

Rafe Esquith is the most interesting and influential classroom teacher in the country, but he is not getting nearly as much glory as he deserves. He won’t SAY that, of course. Modesty is one of the big lessons taught to his fifth graders in room 56 at the Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in Los Angeles, and Esquith believes that role modeling is one of the most important things that teachers do.
But on the cover of his terrific new book, “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56,” Esquith hints at what he is feeling when he, a film addict, sees the latest movie based on some other teacher’s life. Underneath his name on the cover are these words: “An Actual Classroom Teacher.”

Denver’s School for the 21st Century

Joann Gonchar:

On a 10-acre parcel at the southern edge of the master-planned community that is emerging on the site of Denver’s former Stapleton International Airport, educators at an unusual high school are working to provide its diverse student body with a rigorous science, math, and technology focused liberal arts education.
The Denver School of Science & Technology (DSST) is not a neighborhood school, however. Few of its 400 students are Stapleton residents. DSST is a public charter school that admits students from the entire metropolitan area by lottery only. Low-income students make up at least 40 percent of each class, and at least 45 percent are girls. All are expected to attend four-year colleges, despite varying degrees of academic preparation before high school.
To house the ambitious program, officials imagined a building “where kids could feel good about coming to school and about being involved in the sciences,” says David Ethan Greenberg, DSST founder and member of its board of directors. The school’s architect, klipp, responded with a colorful building made up of a pleasing collection of different sized volumes clad in brick, stucco, and metal. The facility opened in January 2005, after DSST spent is first semester of operation in temporary quarters at a parochial school.

Education and Educational Research in an Era of Accountability: Insights and Blind Spots

I am pleased to invite you to a conference on “Education and Educational Research in an Era of Accountability: Insights and Blind Spots“, to be held on February 7-8, 2007, at the Pyle Center [map], near the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Attendance is free, and we very much hope that members of the local educational community will be able to attend. The conference is sponsored by the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A schedule detailing the presentations is attached.
The conference will examine the impact on schools of the increased accountability, rationalization, and standardization of education symbolized and accelerated by the No Child Left Behind Act. It will also look at recent shifts in educational research that are associated with these trends, out of which a new emphasis on, and a new definition of, “scientific research” have emerged.
The conference will start Wednesday evening, February 7th, with a keynote address by Professor Richard F. Elmore, who is the Gregory R. Anrig Professor of Educational Leadership at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Co-Director of the Consortium of Policy Research in Education. Professor Elmore will be introduced by Dean Julie Underwood of the UW School of Education. He is particularly interested in complex efforts at the school level to improve the quality of instruction. He seeks to understand how current state and federal accountability systems can work to support those efforts, as well as how these systems may unintentionally work at cross purposes with school and district level efforts. His recent works include School Reform from the Inside Out and the co-edited Redesigning Accountability Systems for Education.

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Reduced Math Rigor

Wilfried Schmid:

What is 256 times 98? Can you do the multiplication without using a calculator? Two thirds of Massachusetts fourth-graders could not when they were asked this question on the statewide MCAS assessment test last year.
Math education reformers have a prescription for raising the mathematical knowledge of schoolchildren. Do not teach the standard algorithms of arithmetic, such as long addition and multiplication, they say. Let the children find their own methods for adding and multiplying two-digit numbers! For larger numbers, let them use calculators! One determined reformer puts it decisively: “It’s time to acknowledge that continuing to teach these skills (i.e., pencil-and-paper computational algorithms) to our students is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive and downright dangerous.”
Mathematicians are perplexed, and the proverbial man on the street, when hearing the argument, appears to be perplexed as well: improve mathematical literacy by downgrading computational skills?
Yes, precisely, say the reformers. The old ways of teaching mathematics have failed. Too many children are scared of mathematics for life. Let’s teach them mathematical thinking, not routine skills. Understanding is the key, not computations.
Mathematicians are not convinced. By all means liven up the textbooks, make the subject engaging, include interesting problems, but don’t give up on basic skills! Conceptual understanding can and must coexist with computational facility – we do not need to choose between them!

Much more, here.

Notes on Minnesota’s K-12 State Tax Dollar Spending Plans

Laura McCallum:

A two-percent increase in the basic amount schools get for each student would cost around $300 million a year. Pawlenty told school board members he recognizes that school costs for fuel, salaries and health insurance are going up.
“I concede the reality, we have got to get you more money, we got to get you at least inflation and hopefully better, particularly when you look at all the variables. But we have a system where we are always in crisis.”
Pawlenty suggested that one factor for the constant school funding crunch is that school leaders can’t do much to control costs. The biggest expense for schools is salaries and health insurance for teachers and staff. Pawlenty says he doesn’t think teachers make too much money, but he has pushed for an alternative way of paying teachers. His Q Comp performance pay program is voluntary for districts, and 34 districts have signed up so far.
Pawlenty told school board members that while he supports early childhood education, he’s not sure the state should require every school district to offer all-day kindergarten. DFL legislative leaders have called for statewide all-day K, at a cost of $160 million a year.

Spring, 2007 Madison School Board Election Update

Some updates regarding the April 3, 2007 (and a Seat 3 primary February 20th, 2007) Spring school board elections:

Much more on the 2007 elections here.

Notes on Single Sex Schools

Vivian Roe:

No matter what side of these specific issues you fall on, one thing is undeniable: The Milwaukee Public Schools system is failing. We’ve got such horrible statistics when it comes to the dropout rate, illiteracy, proficiency in math and science, discipline in the schools, etc., that even friends from out of state know of our educational crisis.
We’ve got a nasty reputation, but it’s well-deserved.
So when I read that single-sex schools are “controversial” while teachers in essence “deserve more,” I conclude that in reality it’s exactly the opposite.
To disclose, I am a “St. Mary’s Girl” – all-girls St. Mary’s Academy class of 1987. I got an excellent education there, and I was very disappointed when the school closed in 1991.
With none of the distractions of flirting with boys, dressing up to impress boys, not wanting to be “too smart” in front of the boys, we learned. Which is all teenagers are supposed to do in school anyway.
What I remember the most is that being in a relaxed atmosphere, where the learning style and interests of girls was catered to, made each day bring with it lessons in maturity, responsibility and life discipline.
Mind you, we were hardly cloistered and had a good deal of opportunity to mingle with boys (particularly from all-boys Thomas More and Marquette University High School). And it was clear that our counterparts were experiencing the same on their side of the spectrum.

Michael Mathias adds another perspective.

Madison United for Academic Excellence Meeting on Our High Schools

Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE — www.madisonunited.org) will hold its next monthly meeting on Tuesday, January 23, at 7:00 p.m. in Room 209 of the Doyle Administration Building. The topic for the evening will be our high schools. An informal panel of students and parents from each of our four high schools will be joining us for the evening. They will provide us with an insider’s view of their school communities and update us on recent events at their schools. We also hope to have a representative from the MMSD Student Senate at the meeting.
Here is the complete list of topics that we will be discussing that evening:
1) A comparison of the four high schools, in terms of course offerings — especially in terms of high-end course offerings, especially at the 9th and 10th grade levels.
2) An update on Superintendent Rainwater’s December 4 “High Schools of the Future” presentation, including his plans for a two-year high school “study” and the freeze he has put on any further changes in our high schools while the study is going on.
3) The difference between TAG, honors, accelerated, advanced, AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) classes; the evidence regarding AP courses and tests and later success in college; and the AP audit that is going to be conducted this year.
4) An update on the current situation at each high school.
5) A report on the MMSD Student Senate’s recent discussion of embedded honors and complete heterogeneity in the high school classroom.
6) An update on the Youth Options Program and the general issue of receiving MMSD credit for non-MMSD courses.

Community Members Petition for Joe Gothard to be Named LaFollette High School Principal

Channel3000.com:

Some Madison community members are circulating a petition to put forward a candidate to be La Follette High School’s next principal.
That name is Joe Gothard, who is the former dean of students at La Follette and currently serves as principal at Akira Toki Middle School, WISC-TV reported.
Questions about who would lead the school began to swirl after former principal John Broome stepped down last month after only six months on the job. Loren Rathert, a Madison Metropolitan School District veteran has stepped in to serve as interim principal for the remainder of the school year.
Some of those behind the petition said that Gothard is “exactly what La Follette needs” and is “tough, intelligent, and personable,” WISC-TV reported.

Much more on LaFollette High School here.

More School Board Candidate Tea Leaves

Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin weighs in on Progessive Dane’s “Loyalty Oath” requirement:

PD basically demands a loyalty oath from all candidates seeking its endorsement. The absolutist position of PD in regards to candidates is one of the reasons that the present mayor, no longer needing them to establish his left credentials, is not renewing his membership.
And there have always been good progressives (yes, with a small ‘p’), comfortable with most of the Democratic Party and Progressive Dane agendas.
But all of this challenges Progressive Dane. It would seem that a political party that demands adherence to a strict platform would find meddling in the internal workings of another party morally and politically reprehensible.

Some current Madison School Board members along with several 2007 candidates have been endorsed by Progressive Dane. Brenda Konkel weighs in on the “PD spin“. Much more on the 2007 Madison School Board elections here. Progressive Dane has endorsed Beth Moss (Seat 3 candidates include Pam Cross-Leone, Moss and Rick Thomas) along with incumbent School Board President Johnny Winston, Jr. (Seat 4; Johnny’s opponent is Tom Brew).

Notes on Racine’s Boundary/Busing Decision

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

“Desegregation in Racine and throughout the nation has failed based upon the mechanism used, which is busing,” said County Supervisor Ken Lumpkin, who publishes a black community newspaper. Lumpkin’s partner in a debate held last week, board member Randy Bangs, argued that ending long bus rides would give students more time for other activities, such as studying, and may help close the achievement gap.
Mattie Booker, who taught in the district before desegregation, argued that busing students was necessary.
“I watched black and brown kids play jacks in classes because their teachers did not have what it took to teach them,” she told the crowd at the debate. Her partner in the debate, Sister Michelle Olley of the Racine Dominicans, was School Board president when the board adopted the desegregation policy in 1977. She said it worked throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

“Do you want innovative public school options in Madison?

If you do, then your support of The Studio School charter school proposal is critical. Please let the school board know. Write letters. Email them [comments@madison.k12.wi.us]. Call them. Attend the meeting on January 22nd! I have heard from a board member that if the “pressure” to vote for opening this school in the fall isn’t strong enough, board members will not vote in favor of this proposal January 29th.
The opportunity to offer this innovative educational option with the possibility of up to $450,000.00 of federal funding over the next two years will not be available to MMSD again.
For more information to find out how to help, community members are invited to join us for our planning group’s general meeting on January 17th (this Wednesday) at 6:30 PM at the Sequoya Branch of the Public Library [Map]. You can also go to our website for more information.

An LA School Finds a Singular Road to Success

Howard Blume:

Schools rise to the level of expectation we place upon them,” said James S. Lanich, coauthor of the just-released “Failing Our Future: The Holes in California’s School Accountability System and How to Fix Them.” “If we don’t have a high level of expectation, schools won’t improve.”
Hundreds of California schools are “failing” under the federal standards, but one that’s shining bright — and adding its own wrinkle to the debate over school reform — is Ralph Bunche Elementary, named for the black American diplomat who won the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize.
At this school, the primary mover has been first-time Principal Mikara Solomon Davis, who arrived in mid-2000. Some would say she’s done the near impossible.
Bunche has blown past the target score of 800 on the state’s Academic Performance Index. Its 868 compares favorably to the scores at schools in Beverly Hills and San Marino. A school would score 875 if every student scored “proficient” on standardized tests.
And that means pushing parents, who adjusted to a principal who in her first year issued more than 100 suspensions in a school of 467 students.
“There was such an issue with discipline that you couldn’t teach. Disrespect for teachers and adults was the norm,” said Solomon Davis. When parents confront her over a suspension, “I begin by saying, ‘Our goal is college for your child. We’re not here to punish,’ ” Solomon Davis said.

For Teachers, Being ‘Highly Qualified’ Is a Subjective Matter

Michael Alison Chandler:

To overhaul public education, the No Child Left Behind law required a massive expansion of student testing. But it also called for states to ensure that all teachers in core academic subjects are “highly qualified” to help students succeed — an unprecedented mandate that has delivered less than promised.
The law, which turned five years old this week, has held schools to increasingly higher standards for student achievement. For teachers, however, standards meant to guarantee that they know their subjects are often vague and open to broad interpretation.
Legal loopholes and uneven implementation by states and the U.S. Department of Education have diluted the law’s impact on the teaching workforce, some education experts say. They say that meeting the standards of quality is more about shuffling paper than achieving two vital goals: ensuring that teachers are prepared to help students succeed and reducing the teacher talent gap between rich and poor schools.

Wisconsin DPI Ordered to Write Rules Identifying Gifted Children

Amy Hetzner:

The state Department of Public Instruction must write more specific rules for how Wisconsin school districts should identify gifted and talented students, a Dane County circuit judge ordered Friday.
The ruling by judge Michael Nowakowski gave a rare court win to advocates for gifted student education. Yet the judge rejected a request that the DPI create rules detailing what programs districts have to provide to gifted students and provide a more vigorous enforcement of its standards.
Todd Palmer, the New Glarus parent and attorney who filed the suit, called the judge’s ruling “a tremendous victory for gifted students in this state.”
It comes at a time when Palmer and others argue that services for gifted children are in danger because of the twin pressures of school budget constraints and efforts to raise proficiency levels among low-performing students.
Currently, DPI’s rules on identifying students in need of gifted and talented services require only that school districts use “multiple criteria that are appropriate for the category of gifted including intelligence, achievement, leadership, creativity, product evaluations, and nominations.”

Friends of Johnny Winston, Jr. School Board Campaign -Seat 4

Dear Friends & Supporters of Education:
On Tuesday April 3rd, I am seeking to be re-elected to the fourth seat on the Madison School Board. I ran for election to the Board of Education in 2004, because I felt that public service is a wonderful opportunity to continue giving back to the community that helped educate me from childhood to adulthood. But, I’m not done … Tough times are ahead … More difficult decisions need to be made … Every student in the MMSD needs the opportunity for a quality education to be prepared for successful participation in our global economy.

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Financially Support Madison Schools’ Math Festival

Ted Widerski:

The Talented and Gifted Division of MMSD is busy organizing ‘MathFests’ for strong math students in grades 4 – 8. These events are planned to provide an opportunity for students to interact with other students across the city who share a passion for challenging mathematics. Many of these students study math either online, with a tutor, by traveling to another school, or in a class with significantly older students.
These events will be hosted by Cuna Mutual Insurance and American Family Insurance. Students will have an opportunity to learn math in several ways: a lecture by a math professor, group learning of a new concept, and individual and small group math contests. Over 300 students from 38 schools will be invited to participate.
The funding for this project is challenging as there are no significant MMSD funds available. A plea for funding in the last several weeks has resulted in gifts totaling about $1000. Those gifts will guarantee that the middle school Mathfest will be held on Wednesday, February 21st.
In order to hold the Elementary MathFests on each side of Madison would require additional donations. Gifts totaling $1600 would provide the necessary support to provide 200 students with a very special experience. If anyone or any group would like to contribute, it would be most appreciated. Please contact me: Ted Widerski, TAG Resource Teacher at: twiderski@madison.k12.wi.us
Thank you for supporting this math event.

A judge says Preston Hollow Elementary segregated white kids to please parents. The reality is deeper and maybe more troubling.

On a sunny September morning in 2005 Preston Hollow Elementary School hosted Bike to School Day. Dozens of grinning children with fair skin played and talked outside in the courtyard, relaxing happily after rides through their North Dallas neighborhood of garish mansions and stately brick homes. Parents shared tea and fruit, capturing the smiles of their kids with digital cameras. A police officer gave the group a friendly lecture on bicycle safety. Inside the classrooms surrounding the courtyard, other children watched glumly. Many of them lived in the modest apartment complexes off Central Expressway, separated from their school by busy roads and shopping centers. Those kids, nearly all them Hispanic and black, took the bus to school.
As their classmates parked their bikes and snacked on fruit and juice the other children waited in English as a second language (ESL) classes. A federal judge would later rule that many of them shouldn’t have been there. Their language skills were good enough to be in the same classes as the kids who rode their bikes to Preston Hollow.

From Dallas Observer, January 11, 2007.

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Time on the Job

WKOW-TV notes that Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater has banked quite a bit of unused sick leave time (and therefore money upon his retirement).
WKOW-TV raises some useful policy questions. However, I do think Art is to be commended for the extraordinary amount of time he spends in the community. I’ve been amazed at how frequently I see his name appear around town.
I certainly have had some disagreements with certain policies that he has pushed such as one size fits all mandatory classroom groupings, but Art is to be commended for his extensive time in the schools and community.

Notes on the QEO

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

Gov. Jim Doyle – Democrat and ally of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s chief umbrella teachers union – has tried to rescind the QEO in the past. The Republican-controlled Legislature wouldn’t hear of it. Since then, one chamber, the Senate, has shifted Democratic. And rescission of the QEO is an idea whose time may be near.
But any such step mustn’t take place in isolation. The QEO is part of an intricate financing mechanism for schools, whose most troubling cost is health care, which is rising out of control. Any abolition of the QEO must be part of a plan that rethinks how schools, including health care, are financed.

School Advertising on the Way

Anita Clark:

adison public schools will allow advertising at athletic sites for the first time under a plan that has won unanimous approval from School Board members.
In its continuing search for new sources of money, the Madison School District said Wednesday it will begin accepting advertisements in its high school gymnasiums and other athletic locations.
The district hopes to make about $200,000 over two years.
“I really think we’re on the right track here,” said board President Johnny Winston Jr., a longtime advocate of finding new revenue sources who chaired a committee that studied the issue.

Susan Troller has more.

West High School PTSO Meeting of 08-Jan-2007

The West High School PTSO met on January 8, 2007 with featured guest West teacher Heather Lott,
coordinator for the Small Learning Community grant implementation. The video below only includes Heather Lott’s presentation and questions that followed. It does not include other portions of the meeting such as Dr. Holmes report of the West Principal, nor reports from West PTSO officers.
The video QT Video of the meeting is 117MB, and 1 hour and 27 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video. The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to sections of the meeting. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download.
Lott presented an overview of the three-year Federal SLC grant (Year 1, 2003-2004; Year 2, 2004-2005; Year 3, 2005-2006), what changes were begun in the year prior and the changes and goals for the 2006-2007 school year, post-SLC grant. She emphasized that the SLC plan would take 7 years to “complete” and that the remaining 4 years would need to be funded. The 3 year federal grant paid her salary and for professional development only. Budget cuts for the 2006-2007 year and continuing fiscal problems in the district will hamper making the desired progress.
When asked how much, minimally, West would need make acceptable progress in the implementation of the SLC plan, Dr. Holmes suggested $20,000.
She also presented data showing discipline improvements and academic achievement improvements over the SLC years.
Discussions also included the topics of differentiation and heterogeneity, and general discussions from parents of incoming West students on the social aspects of the small learning communities.
Slides for Heather Lott’s presentation are in PowerPoint and PDF for your convenience.