It’s the right time for Madison School Board to review student discipline code

In The Capital Times, reporter Susan Troller tells the stories of students and teachers who recently experienced violence at Madison schools or school-related activities. The story underscores how important it is for the Madison School Board to take a hard look at violent misconduct at all levels. The board must consider whether the current discipline system needs change–both to improve safety for students and staff and to ensure that interventions are prompt, consistent, unbiased and effective.
The MMSD administration has made some presentations on its ideas during the fall of 2006. Before the board considers changes, I hope that the board will hear more about the facts, particularly the facts about violent incidents. No changes will help unless they are carefully calibrated to the facts.
Facing Violence at School:Social events canceled as girls caught in hostilityFacing Violence at School

Madison Superintendent Rainwater Tells MTI about Resignation Plans Before He Tells the School Board?

In a guest editorial in The Capital Times on January 10, 2007, MTI leader John Matthews explains that Madison school superintendent Art Rainwater unveiled his plan to resign at the end of 2007-08 to the teachers union leader long before he told the Madison Board of Education in an executive session on Monday, January 8, 2007.

“When Madison Superintendent of Schools Art Rainwater announced on Monday that he will retire in June of 2008, the news did not catch me by surprise for two reasons.
First, he proclaimed when he was appointed superintendent in 1999 that he would serve for 10 years, the duration of his contract. He said then that he and his wife, a teacher in Verona, planned to retire in 2008.
Secondly, he told me at our regular weekly meeting during the week of Dec. 18 that he would advise the School Board of his resignation when school resumed in January.

Continue reading Madison Superintendent Rainwater Tells MTI about Resignation Plans Before He Tells the School Board?

Notes and Links on the Madison K-12 Climate and Superintendent Hires Since 1992

Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater’s recent public announcement that he plans to retire in 2008 presents an opportunity to look back at previous searches as well as the K-12 climate during those events. Fortunately, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, we can quickly lookup information from the recent past.
The Madison School District’s two most recent Superintendent hires were Cheryl Wilhoyte [Clusty] and Art Rainwater [Clusty]. Art came to Madison from Kansas City, a district which, under court order, dramatically increased spending by “throwing money at their schools”, according to Paul Ciotti:

In 1985 a federal district judge took partial control over the troubled Kansas City, Missouri, School District (KCMSD) on the grounds that it was an unconstitutionally segregated district with dilapidated facilities and students who performed poorly. In an effort to bring the district into compliance with his liberal interpretation of federal law, the judge ordered the state and district to spend nearly $2 billion over the next 12 years to build new schools, integrate classrooms, and bring student test scores up to national norms.
It didn’t work. When the judge, in March 1997, finally agreed to let the state stop making desegregation payments to the district after 1999, there was little to show for all the money spent. Although the students enjoyed perhaps the best school facilities in the country, the percentage of black students in the largely black district had continued to increase, black students’ achievement hadn’t improved at all, and the black-white achievement gap was unchanged.(1)
The situation in Kansas City was both a major embarrassment and an ideological setback for supporters of increased funding for public schools. From the beginning, the designers of the district’s desegregation and education plan openly touted it as a controlled experiment that, once and for all, would test two radically different philosophies of education. For decades critics of public schools had been saying, “You can’t solve educational problems by throwing money at them.” Educators and advocates of public schools, on the other hand, had always responded by saying, “No one’s ever tried.”

Cheryl Wilhoyte was hired, with the support of the two local dailies (Wisconsin State Journal, 9/30/1992: Search No Further & Cap Times Editorial, 9/21/1992: Wilhoyte Fits Madison) by a school board 4-3 vote. The District’s budget in 1992-1993 was $180,400,000 with local property taxes generating $151,200,00 of that amount. 14 years later, despite the 1993 imposition of state imposed annual school spending increase limits (“Revenue Caps“), the 2006 budget is $331,000,000. Dehli’s article mentions that the 1992-1993 School Board approved a 12.9% school property tax increase for that budget. An August, 1996 Capital Times editorial expressed puzzlement over terms of Cheryl Wilhoyte’s contract extension.
Art, the only applicant, was promoted from Acting Superintendent to Superintendent in January, 1999. Chris Murphy’s January, 1999 article includes this:

Since Wilhoyte’s departure, Rainwater has emerged as a popular interim successor. Late last year, School Board members received a set of surveys revealing broad support for a local superintendent as opposed to one hired from outside the district. More than 100 of the 661 respondents recommended hiring Rainwater.

Art was hired on a 7-0 vote but his contract was not as popular – approved on a 5-2 vote (Carol Carstensen, Calvin Williams, Deb Lawson, Joanne Elder and Juan Jose Lopez voted for it while Ray Allen and Ruth Robarts voted no). The contract was and is controversial, as Ruth Robarts wrote in September, 2004.
A February, 2004 Doug Erickson summary of Madison School Board member views of Art Rainwater’s tenure to date.
Quickly reading through a few of these articles, I found that the more things change, the more they stay the same:

Fascinating. Perhaps someone will conduct a much more detailed review of the record, which would be rather useful over the next year or two.

For The Record: Wisconsin School Finance Adequacy Initiative

Channel 3’s For the Record recently interviewed Allen Odden (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Tim Schell (Waunakee School District) and Jennifer Thayer (Monroe School District) regarding their participation in the Wisconsin School Finance Adequacy Initiative. 77MB mp4 video file (suitable for video ipods and other devices).
Neil Heinen’s conversation with Allen, Jennifer and Tim includes some interesting comments on funding and education quality.

A Call for an Honest State Budget

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Wisconsin’s state government ended the past fiscal year with a giant deficit of $2.15 billion, according to the accounting methods used by most businesses.
But the state’s books show a cozy balance of $49.2 million.
The discrepancy results from years of Wisconsin governors and legislators manipulating the accounting process to hide irresponsible budget decisions.
Those accounting tricks must stop. Wisconsin should begin to hold itself to the more business-like accounting methods used by Wall Street and by 16 other states the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, known as GAAP.

Wisconsin’s fiscal situation makes it unlikely that there will be substantial changes in state funding for K-12 schools, particularly for rich districts like Madison that spend 23% ($333,000,000 for 24,576 students) more per student than the state average. Current state law penalizes districts that increase local school spending (property taxes) via referendum via reduced state aids. This means that for every $1.00 of new local spending above state revenue growth caps, Madison taxpayers must pay $1.61.
The 2/20/2007 and 04/03/2007 school board election presents an interesting contrast between candidates who believe that the best interests of our children are served by advocating for larger state spending beyond the typical 3.5%+ annual increases in the District’s budget and those who view the likelihood of substantial state changes for rich districts, like Madison as remote and therefore advocate more efficient management of the extraordinary resources we currently have. Health care costs present a useful example of this issue: Inaction [What a Sham(e)] vs discussion and some changes (in this example, 85% of the health care cost savings went to salaries).]

Desegregation, neighborhood schools face off as Racine Redraws School Boundaries

Dani McClain:

More than 100 Racine residents gathered Tuesday to hear panelists debate the merits of desegregation vs. neighborhood schools.
The forum, sponsored by the Racine Taxpayers Association, comes as the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates on school desegregation battles in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, and as the Racine Unified School District decides how to redraw its own district boundaries for next year.
“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 called Insider News.
Mattie Booker, who taught in the Racine Unified School District in the days before desegregation, argued that transporting students is necessary to achieve equityThe forum, sponsored by the Racine Taxpayers Association, comes as the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates on school desegregation battles in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, and as the Racine Unified School District decides how to redraw its own district boundaries for next year.
“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 called Insider News.
Mattie Booker, who taught in the Racine Unified School District in the days before desegregation, argued that transporting students is necessary to achieve equity

Art Rainwater on Principals

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater:

Over 20 years ago Dr. Ron Edmonds, a Harvard researcher, first reported the critical role that a school principal’s instructional leadership plays in creating successful learning opportunities for all students. That fundamental proposition has borne the test of further research and time and is now included in almost all school reform measures.
While there is general acceptance of the critical nature of instructional leadership by the school principal, the demanding nature of that role for a lone individual who bears that responsibility is not often described. The principal of a school, whether a large urban high school or a small rural elementary school, shares the responsibility for the future of every student in his/her building.

School Choice: How Low Income Parents Search for the Right School

Paul Teske, Jody Fitzpatrick, and Gabriel Kaplan [1.1MB PDF Report]:

Starting with the economist Milton Friedman, supporters of school choice have assumed that competition would lead to better schools, and that parents could do a better job of assigning children to schools than could school administrators. The debate on the first assumption is raging. The second assumption has received little attention, except from those who assert that middle-class families can make good choices but impoverished families can’t.
Barriers to parent choice can all be overcome, but it will take planning, organization, and some modest public spending.
Our new research paints a very different picture of how low-income and minority families in big cities choose schools when they get the chance. Like middle-class parents who have always had choices, low-income parents don’t look for alternatives if their children are happy and successful in school. But once they start thinking about school options, low-income families want information about schools and think hard about the choices they have. Poor parents seek to escape problems evident in their children’s current school, and have definite ideas about the differences between one child and another (our studious boy, our distractible girl) that lead them to search for an appropriate match between child and school.
But our results also identify barriers that must be overcome before low-income parents can become the types of savvy consumers that can make school choice work well for them.

Center on Reinventing Public Education
Alan Borsuk has more:

The researchers based their findings on surveys conducted about a year ago with 300 parents in Milwaukee, 300 in Washington, D.C., and 200 in Denver. Milwaukee and Washington are on the cutting edge of school choice in the United States, each with wide arrays of options for parents, including numerous charter schools and private schools that take part in publicly funded voucher programs for low-income families.
“This report’s general finding is that low-income urban parents report feeling more well informed than was anticipated,” the researchers said in the report, being released today. “They are extremely satisfied with their choices, and most do not believe that they lacked any important information when they made their choice.”
The optimistic conclusions about school choice – in the broadest sense of the term – do not include an assessment of whether parents were actually making good choices in terms of schools where academic achievement is strong or where their children specifically would thrive.

Advocating Single Sex Schools

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

The School Board should proceed down this path, but cautiously. As officials of the Milwaukee Public Schools have noted, private schools have long offered single-sex education. Parents who send their children to public schools deserve that choice, too. But officials should be prepared to abandon this experiment if it is shown to hurt girls, as gender separation did in the past.
The proposal is to open an all-boys school and an all-girls school in September, though that target date may not be met. There should not be a rush to do so. Getting the schools right is more important than getting them open quickly. MPS has yet to specify what grade levels the schools would encompass.
The initial impetus for proposals to separate school kids by sex was to help girls, who lagged behind boys in math and science. The theory was that girls were too reticent around boys and that the sexes had different styles of learning. In an all-female setting, girls wouldn’t be afraid to show how smart they were, and the material could be presented in a feminine style. Also, such a setting would permit girls to take leadership roles they would be too bashful to assume in a co-ed milieu.

More Demand for Mandarin Classes

Sarah Carr:

In Milwaukee, the School of Languages added Chinese as a partial immersion program this school year. The Marshall Montessori International Baccalaureate High School is starting to build a Mandarin program. When the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Languages opens in the fall, students as young as 4 will have at least a half-hour of Chinese-language instruction daily.
The trend is as strong in urban public schools as it is in wealthier suburban and private ones, according to experts. The University School of Milwaukee in River Hills, one of the most elite and expensive private schools in the area, will offer Chinese next school year as part of a new global studies program at the school. Ten University School teachers will travel to China in summer in preparation. “I think we see China as the next emerging power, and there’s an intense interest both among our students and our parents,” said Roseann Lyons, the head of the upper school.
This year, the College Board unveiled its first Advanced Placement exam in Mandarin; AP exams are often considered in college admissions, and good scores can provide students with college credit. The College Board surveyed schools about their interest in the exam before its release, and the Chinese exam caught the interest of 10 times more schools than a new topic normally would, said Michael Levine, a vice president of the Asia Society, a non-profit organization that works to educate Americans about Asian cultures.

At 10 a.m., is it lunch or brunch?

Edward Kenney:

Senior Jernai Turner dug into a plateful of hearty beef macaroni for lunch last week in the Brandywine High School cafeteria.
Not a bad lunch. But for Turner and her fellow diners, bacon and eggs might have been more appropriate: Lunchtime at the school starts at 10:30 a.m.
The early start time is common at schools in Delaware and elsewhere, as scheduling large numbers of students into a cafeteria with limited seating dictates spreading the lunch shifts out.
But, Jernai said, “Sometimes, you don’t have the appetite, and you don’t eat. It is too early. I think lunch should start around 11:30.”
It could be much worse: Lunch is served beginning at 8:20 a.m. at Central High School in Philadelphia and at 9:05 a.m. at Bayside High School in Virginia Beach, Va.

Madison Superintendent To Retire In 18 Months

From Channel 3000:

MADISON, Wis. — Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Art Rainwater announced on Monday night that he will retire next year.
Rainwater informed the district’s Board of Education at their Monday meeting. His retirement will be effective the end of next school year, which will be June 30, 2008, according to a district press release.
“I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the board and the Madison community,” said Rainwater in the news release. “This is a great school district and a great community that has always put the welfare of our children first. I am honored to contribute to this effort.”
Rainwater said that he gave the board 18 months notice so they would have sufficient time to conduct a search for the next superintendent.
Rainwater has been the district’s superintendent since February 1999.

View from the MMSD Student Senate

At its November 21, 2006, meeting, the MMSD Student Senate discussed many issues of interest to this blog community (e.g., completely heterogeneous high school classes, embedded honors options, etc.). Here is the relevant section from the minutes for that meeting:
Comments and Concerns:

  • regular classes don’t have a high enough level of discussion
  • students who would normally be in higher level courses would dominate heterogeneous class discussions
  • bring students up rather than down
  • honors classes help students who want to excel to do so
  • array of advanced and regular classes in every subject
  • honors and AP classes are dominated by a certain type of students (concerning ethnicity, socio-economic status, neighborhood, family, etc.)
  • honors within regular classes — response to whether or not regular students are an integral part of the class:
      not isolating
      discussion level is still high
      homework is the same (higher expectation for essays; two textbooks)
      teachers don’t cater to one type of student in discussions
  • there’s a risk of losing highly-motivated students to private schools
  • being in a classroom with students of similar skill levels is beneficial
  • teachers teach very differently to honors/advanced/AP students than they do to regular students
  • least experienced teachers are given to students who need the most experienced teachers (new teachers get lowest level classes)
  • sometimes split classes will be divided so that the honors students will be doing work in the front of the classroom while the regular students are doing lab work in the back
  • the problem is with the average classes
  • won’t help anything to cut TAG classes
  • mental divide among students in classes where honors and regular students are in the same classroom
  • more behavioral problems in regular classes (possibly more behavioral problems) à cycle teachers through so that one teacher isn’t stuck with the same type of student for an extended time
  • college is a factor to consider
  • Main problems to bring to BOE:

    • higher standards for all students *
    • division within classes creates too many boundaries *
    • not bad to keep advanced classes in some disciplines *
    • voluntary peer education *
    • colleges consider accelerated course loads (factor to consider) *

    *Group majority

    Continue reading View from the MMSD Student Senate

    Mayors and Public Schools

    There’s been a great deal of activity vis a vis Mayoral control and influence over local public schools:

    Locally, Mayor Dave has been, as far as I can tell, very quiet vis a vis substantive public school issues, other than periodically meeting with MTI’s John Matthews. I’m unaware of any similar parental meetings on what is a critical issue for any community: raising our next generation with the tools necessary to contribute productively to our society (and I might add, support a growing economic/tax base). Madison has long strongly supported it’s public schools with above average taxes and spending.
    Former Madison Mayor (and parent) Paul Soglin weighs in on this topic:

    For over thirty years I said, “There is nothing a mayor can do that has the impact on a city that is as great as the public school system.”
    The mayor needs to be a partner, a protector, an advocate for the public school system. Any mayor who lets a week go by without having some contact, involvement or support with public education is not doing the job.

    Perhaps the April, 2007 Mayor’s race will include some conversations about our $333,000,000; 24,576 student K-12 system.

    Wisconsin Governor Doyle Again Focuses on Teacher Pay

    Steven Walters:

    In what could be the biggest fight yet over repealing the controversial law limiting the pay raises of Wisconsin’s teachers, Gov. Jim Doyle and Democrats who run the state Senate once again are taking aim at it.
    The so-called qualified economic offer law was passed in 1993 to control property taxes on homes.
    It says that teachers unions and school boards at a collective bargaining impasse cannot request binding arbitration, if the unions have been offered wage and fringe benefit raises that total 3.8% a year. If increased fringe benefits costs eat up the 3.8%, school boards don’t have to offer teachers any pay raise.
    Stoking the Capitol fire is the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, which says the entire school-aid formula is so broken it must be reinvented this year – a change the union says should include abolishing the qualified economic offer law.
    Backing up Republicans such as Rhoades is Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business group and one of the most powerful Capitol lobbying groups.
    “Any effort to repeal QEO is a non-starter with the business community because it’s going to lead to pressure to raise property taxes,” said Jim Pugh, the business group’s spokesman. “Wisconsin has the seventh-highest taxes in the nation.”
    But the largest teachers union, an equally powerful Capitol force, says the school-aid formula is so broken a new one must be passed this year – a huge task that legislators might not have the time, will or cash to approve.
    Wisconsin Education Association Council President Stan Johnson said the formula fails the poorest one-third of all public school students – the ones who need the most help.
    Since 1993, Johnson says, the pay-raise limit has caused average salaries for Wisconsin’s teachers to fall to 24th nationally overall and to 30th nationally for starting teachers.
    The law has meant that property taxes have been controlled “on our backs” for the past 13 years, Johnson said.
    It “has been their property tax relief program,” Johnson said of Capitol officials.
    Although the council spent $1.9 million to help re-elect Doyle, Johnson said he did not know whether the Democratic governor will include a complete new school-aid formula in his state budget proposal.

    Related Links:

    Milwaukee Pushes Single Sex Schools

    Alan Borsuk:

    In documents made available in advance of a School Board committee meeting Tuesday, MPS administrators said, “MPS strongly believes that parents should be given the opportunity to choose single-sex schools for their children if they believe that these schools will help their children.”
    Specific schools are not spelled out in the resolution to be considered Tuesday – in fact, it doesn’t pinpoint whether the focus should be on high schools, middle schools or even elementary grades.
    But the MPS administration, led by Superintendent William Andrekopoulos, recommended giving the idea a green light and allowing administrators to seek proposals for two single-sex schools, with the goal of opening them for the coming school year. That plan is expected to be recommended by the board’s Innovation and School Reform Committee on Tuesday and be approved by the full board Jan. 25.

    Debating the Education of Young Adolescents

    Kate Zernike:

    First, educators created junior high schools, believing preteens needed to be treated like adults. But those students weren’t ready to be treated as high school students, either. So reformers created the concept of middle schools, which were supposed to be a warm bath to ease the transition. Now, an increasing number of schools across the country, including in Baltimore and Philadelphia, are shifting the middle grades back to elementary school.
    But some research suggests that may not be the solution, either. So the age-old issues persist, with some variation from decade to decade: surging hormones make students irritable and sleepy. They struggle to relate to their peers and gain independence from their parents. To hear some parents tell it, one day their babies are innocent elementary schoolers in overalls, the next they’re dressing like Paris Hilton and simulating sex on the middle-school dance floor. How do you solve a problem like adolescence? Is there anything schools can do?
    The move toward middle schools, after the push for junior high that started in the late 19th century, was supposed to create environments that were more serious than the story-hour life of elementary schools, though less impersonal and confidence-zapping than the controlled chaos of high schools.

    Education Sector Study: Cutting Provisions In Union Contracts Could Free Funds

    Jay Matthews:

    U.S. public schools could have as much as $77 billion more a year to improve teaching if they reduced spending on seniority pay increases, teacher’s aides, class size limits and other measures often found in teacher union contracts, a new study contends.
    he provisions include salary increases based on years of experience or educational credentials; professional development days; sick and personal days; class size limits; use of teacher’s aides; and generous health and retirement benefits.
    Teachers union officials sharply disputed the report’s findings. School administrators and school board representatives said that although they would like more flexibility in the use of funds, there was little evidence that cutting such provisions would raise achievement.

    250K PDF Report.

    Education Sector Press Release by Marguerite Roza

    State and federal accountability systems are putting immense pressure on public schools to improve the performance of low-achieving students. To respond, schools must be able to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, strengthen curricula, and take other steps to provide struggling students with the help they need.
    But such efforts are expensive and, as the nation faces the cost of caring for an aging population and other challenges in the years ahead, it is unlikely that education will receive a great deal of new funding. Education leaders, as a result, will increasingly have to scrutinize their existing budgets to find ways to fund their reform initiatives. One potentially valuable source of funds for reform are common provisions in teacher contracts that obligate schools to spend large amounts of money on programs that lack a clear link to student achievement.

    Andrew Rotherham has more:

    New ES report by school finance guru Marguerite Roza makes the uncomfortable but important point that there is a lot of money in education now that could be repurposed to greater effect within education. WaPo here. Similar to the point made by the recent Skills Commission report. To some this could appear as picking on teachers, and it will be framed that way, but the simple fact is that education is, by it’s nature, pretty labor intensive, and most of the $500 billion spent annually is tied up in labor costs. Consequently, pace our good friend Willie Sutton, that’s one place policymakers are going to have to look for funds. In other words, we need to get serious about financing education, but also about refinancing it as well. And, we have to take on what is a four letter word in many education circles, productivity.

    Mike Antonucci:

    Education Sector has released an exceptional report by Marguerite Roza that quantifies the costs of various standard provisions in collective bargaining agreements that have little or no connection to improved student achievement or even efficient distribution of resources. Items like automatic raises for experience, university credits, and paid professional development end up totaling almost 19 percent of all education spending, without any indication that they are giving us what we’re after: better schools.
    Roza suggests more flexibility is needed:

    West High School Small Learning Community Presentation 1/8/2007 @ 7:00p.m.

    Madison West Small Learning Community Coordinator Heather Lott is giving a presentation at Monday evening’s PTSO meeting: “SLC Post-Grant Update and Discussion”. Location: Madison West High School LMC [Map] West’s implementation of Small Learning Communities has been controversial due to the move toward a one size fits all curriculum (English 9 and English 10).
    Background Links:

    Loading Clusty Cloud …

    Parents with children potentially on their way to West High School should check out this Monday evening event.

    Fame Junkies

    Jake Halpern
    Recently profiled on ABC’s 20/20, the soon-to-be published book Fame Junkies highlights anecdotes and research on the attitudes of American kids (and adults) regarding fame.

    Fame Junkies chronicles journalist Jake Halpern’s journey through the underbelly of Hollywood and into the heart of the question that bedevils us all: Why are Americans so obsessed with fame and celebrities?
    We live in a country where more people watch the ultimate competition for celebrityhood – American Idol – than watch the nightly news on the three major networks combined. So what are the implications of this phenomenon? In his new book, Fame Junkies, Halpern explores the impact that celebrity-obsession is having on three separate niches of Americans: aspiring celebrities, entourage insiders, and diehard fans.
    Halpern begins his journey by moving into a gated community inhabited almost entirely by aspiring child actors. During his stay, he interviews dozens of kids and teenagers, who seem to have an almost religious conviction that fame is a cure-all for life’s problems. What’s truly impressive is that these anecdotes are then supported with hard evidence. As part of the extensive research that he did for this book, Halpern teamed up with several statisticians and orchestrated a survey involving three separate school systems and over 650 teenagers. Many of his findings were deeply troubling. For example – when given the option of “pressing a magic button” and becoming stronger, smarter, famous, or more beautiful – boys in the survey chose fame almost as often as they chose intelligence, and girls chose it more often. Among today’s teenagers, says Halpern, fame appears to be the greatest good.
    In second part of his book, Halpern becomes an honorary member of the Association for Celebrity Personal Assistants (ACPA) where he spends a great deal of time with Annie Brentwell who has slavishly devoted every iota of her personal and professional life to celebrities like Oliver Stone, Sharon Stone, and (most recently) Dennis Hopper. In her spare time, when she is not serving Hopper, Brentwell teaches at a school that the ACPA runs to teach aspiring assistants; and, of course, Halpern tags along. This section of Fame Junkies also investigates a fascinating vein of psychological research on what type of people are most likely to “bask in reflected glory” or BIRG. For example, college students with low self-esteem are far more likely to embrace their school’s football team when it wins and dissociating themselves from that same team when it loses. Halpern goes on to consider how BIRG research applies to Hollywood.

    Why You Should Learn Algebra

    David Eggenschwiler:

    EVERY YEAR, as many California high school seniors struggle with basic algebra, which is required for graduation, Times readers complain, “Who needs it? How many students will ever use it?” Well, I use it every day; I’m using it now, even though I haven’t worked an algebraic equation since my son was in the seventh grade several years ago.
    Mathematics and science are unnatural practices. As physics professor Alan Cromer has brutally and elegantly written, “the human mind wasn’t designed to study physics,” and of course mathematics is the language of physics. “Design” here does not indicate an intelligent designer, which would suggest a creator with a math phobia. Rather it indicates evolutionary processes by which the human brain and mind have come to be what they are.
    During the approximately 2 million years that it took for our Homo forebears to progress from habilis to sapiens, they had little use for mathematical reasoning abilities. Their sapientia seems to have been more suited in a good Darwinian sense to the immediate demands of their survival, such as eating, mating and avoiding premature death. Whether for good or ill, as time may tell, our situations have changed much in the last few thousand years, and so have demands on our poor, lagging minds. I don’t mean only the obvious and oft-repeated claim that technical jobs require greater skills. That is clear enough in auto mechanics and computer programming. I mean the need to think abstractly, systematically and rationally in various ways.

    Local School Budget Tea Leaves

    The Madison School Board Communication Committee’s upcoming meeting includes an interesting 2007-2009 legislative agenda for state education finance changes that would increase District annual spending (current budget is $333,000,000) at a higher than normal rate (typically in the 3.8% range):

    4. 2007-09 Legislative Agenda
    a. Work to create a school finance system that defines that resources are necessary to provide students with a “sound basic education.” Using Wisconsin’s Academic Standards (which is the standard of achievement set by the Legislature), coupled with proven research that lays out what is necessary to achieve those standards, will more clearly define what programs and services are required for students to attain success.
    b. Support thorough legislative review of Wisconsin’s tax system; examining all taxing.
    c. Provide revenue limit relief to school districts for uncontrollable costs (utilities, transportation). [ed: This shifts the risk to local property taxpayers, which has its pros and cons. The definition of “uncontrollable” would be interesting to read.]
    d. Allow a local board of education to exceed the revenue limits by up to 2% of the district’s total budget without having to go to referendum. [ed: $6,660,000 above the typical 3.8% annual spending growth: $333,000,000 2006/2007 budget + 3.8% (12,654,000) + 2% (6,660,000) = $19,314,000 increase, or 5.8%]
    e. Allow school districts to exceed the revenue limits for security-related expenses by up to $100 per pupil enrolled in the district. [ed: about $2,400,000]
    f. Modify the school aid formula so negative tertiary school district (Madison) taxpayers aren’t penalized when the district borrows. (Madison Schools’ taxpayers have to pay $1.61 for every dollar borrowed.) [ed: This will cost other districts money]
    g. Improve Medicaid reimbursement from state to school districts (current law allows the state to “skim” 40% of the federal Medicaid reimbursement dollars for school-based services).
    h. Support state aid reimbursement for 4-year old kindergarten programs, similar to the reimbursement for 4-year old kindergarten in Milwaukee choice and charter schools.
    i. Support increasing state aid for public school transportation costs.
    j. Support allowing a declining enrollment school district to use the highest enrollment in a 5-year period for purposes of calculating its revenue limit. [ed: I wonder if the MMSD perceives itself as a growing or declining district, given the attendance projections used to support new schools over the past several years? Perhaps this item is the answer? The current state funding scheme rewards growing districts. Barb Schrank noted the enrollment changes in surrounding districts last fall.]
    k. Support additional resources for mandated special education and English as a Second Language programs, currently reimbursed at 28% and 12%, respectively (when revenue limits began, the reimbursement was 45% and 33% respectively).
    l. Maintain current law for disbursement of resources from the Common School Fund for public school libraries.
    m. Support increase in per meal reimbursement for school breakfast programs.

    There are some good ideas here, including a thorough review of Wisconsin’s tax system. Many of these items, if enabled by the state, would result in higher property taxes (Wisconsin is #1 in property taxes as a percentage of the home’s value) for those living in the Madison School District. Any of these changes would likely help address the District’s $5.9M structural deficit.
    I trust that there are some additional budget scenarios in play rather than simply hoping the state will change school finance to help the Madison School District (unlikely, given several recent conversations with state political players). Madison already spends 23% more per student than the state average.

    • A 5 Year Approach to the Madison School District’s Budget Challenges; or what is the best quality of education that can be purchased for our district for $280 million a year?
    • 2007/2008 Madison School District Budget Outlook: Half Empty or Half Full?
    • Budget notes and links
    • Sarah Kidd’s historical charts on District staffing, attendance and spending.
    • Italian Minister of Economy & Finance Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa:

      I now come to the last and conclusive theme of my argument. Controlling expenditure always has to balance technical arguments and constraints, with the legitimate and competing claims (often drawing on very different ideological Weltanschauungen) on the resources managed, directly and indirectly, through the political processes. Balancing the two elements is a difficult exercise, as I experience on a daily basis.
      Political economists have blamed the difficulty on the fact that the time-horizon of a typical political cycle is shorter than the one relevant on average for the society as a whole, in turn leading the legislature to attribute a smaller weight to the long-run implications of public expenditure policies than it would be socially desirable. Empirical evidence shows that discretionary public expenditure tends to rise before the elections irrespective of the political orientation of the incumbent government, and also in spite of the weak evidence of a relation between the size of pre-election spending and the election outcomes. The politicians’ short horizons and the long lag between reforms and their beneficial effects gives rise to a pervasive tension in expenditure control.
      For Faust, the lure of Mephistopheles’ services is greatly enhanced by the fact that the price – albeit a terrible one – is to be paid later. For politicians, the lure of the support obtained through public expenditure is similarly enhanced by the fact that public debt will be paid (o reneged) by next generations, often well after the end of one’s political career. As to myself, having inherited a public debt larger than GDP, and having committed myself and my government to comply with sound fiscal principles, I scarcely can afford even to contemplate the possibility of accepting Mephistopheles’ services.

    Tea Leaves.
    Update: I recently learned that the MMSD’s Joe Quick wrote this list, which was not voted on by the Madison School Board.

    More Notes on Milwaukee’s Plans to Re-Centralize School Governance

    Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

    Looking for the path to effective education, leaders of the Milwaukee Public Schools have long slogged through the wilderness of school reform only to end up where they started. All used to be centralized at MPS. Then decentralization became the watchword. Now centralization is again in.
    This lunging between two opposite approaches is in a way understandable. Getting big-city school systems to work is no easy task, to judge from the rarity of the accomplishment. Superintendent William Andrekopoulos is right in being dissatisfied with the slow pace of improvement and in searching for ways to step it up. And recentralization does carry the force of logic for decentralized schools that have failed to improve.
    Still, as onetime MPS chief Howard Fuller reminded us when we reached him in New Orleans, where he is consulting, neither centralization nor decentralization is a magic bullet. The key ingredient for great schools are “people committed to do whatever it takes to educate our children.”
    n doing so, MPS must minimize the red tape, which has clogged school operations. Another trick the system must manage is to refrain from hurting the schools that have thrived under decentralization, an example of which is Hamlin Garland Elementary School on Milwaukee’s south side. Borsuk highlighted the school in another article this week.

    Madison appears to be rather centralized, with a push for standardized curriculum, generally lead by downtown Teaching and Learning staff. I often wonder how practical this actually is, given 24,000+ students and thousands of teachers and staff. Perhaps, in 2007 and going forward, the best solution is to support easy to access internet based knowledge tools for teachers where they can quickly review a variety of curriculum (including those not blessed by the central administration) with notes and links from others. This could likely be done inexpensively, given the wide variety of knowledge management tools available today.

    Spellings Says No Child Left Behind Act on Track

    Amit Paley:

    “We’ve made more progress in the last five years than the previous 28 years,” Spellings said. “Can the law be improved? Should we build on what we’ve done and all of that sort of thing? You bet. But I don’t hear people saying: ‘You know what? We really don’t need to have education for all students.’ ”
    Her remarks come as various groups begin to weigh in on the law and what they believe works and what does not. The No Child Left Behind law is scheduled to be reauthorized by Congress, but it is uncertain when lawmakers will act.
    The Forum on Educational Accountability — a coalition that includes education, religious, civil rights and disability rights groups — said yesterday that the law overemphasizes standardized tests and arbitrary academic targets. The coalition also criticized penalties the law imposes on schools that fail to meet standards.
    “We don’t have to throw out the whole law and make a big political battle,” said Reginald M Felton, a senior lobbyist for the National School Boards Association, a member of the coalition. “But we need to change from the punitive, ‘gotcha!’ kind of approach to actual support for progress.”

    Rotherham has more on NCLB.

    Teacher Rules, Roles & Rights National Collective Bargaining Searchable Database

    National Council on Teacher Quality:

    the portal is the first of its kind-empowering anyone to analyze and compare the day-to-day operations of teachers and schools in a single district or all fifty. You can choose to download the full text of a teacher contract, just the salary schedule, and even the school calendar. Or perhaps you just have a single question and don’t want to wade through lengthy documents. Most likely the answer in our database, easily retrieved in three quick steps using our report generator. The database provides answers to over 300 questions, ranging from salary and benefits to how a teacher gets evaluated–with more getting added all the time.
    The more this site gets used, the more powerful it will become. We invite users to contribute knowledge and ideas to our data collection, helping us keep the site current, accurate and fair. Consider this site the central depository for teacher policies. To ensure the accuracy of this database, we will be vetting all user feedback before posting any changes.

    The 158 page collective bargaining agreement (7/1/2005 to 6/30/2007) between Madison Teachers, Inc. and the Madison Metropolitan School District is available here [540K pdf]. Additional links and documents can be found here.
    Mike Antonuccia has more.

    Education for all is just a bad dream

    Jo Egelhoff:

    Wisconsin is failing minority and low-income students. Plain and simple. Of the 10 issue areas featured in the Post-Crescent’s end-of-year “Editorial Agenda Update,” at least six are critically reliant on our schools performing – performing much better than they do now – and performing better and better around the state, not just here in our cozy, cuddly Fox Cities backyard.
    Think about it. Success in these six important “Issue” areas – labeled by the Post-Crescent as Economic Development, Fiscal Responsibility, Education (of course), Government Accountability, Working Poor, and Citizenship have at their core a well-performing education system.
    Then think about this. According to The Fordham Report 2006: How Well Are States Educating Our Neediest Children?, Wisconsin is doing a dreadful job in closing the achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots. The difference in achievement scores between Wisconsin white and African-American students is in the dead-last position – tied with Minnesota.

    Notes on the Use of Student Digital Id Cards

    Bruce Schneier:

    However, Green MSP Patrick Harvie said the suggestion was troubling.
    “We should be preparing young people for the reality of defending their privacy and civil liberties against ever-more intrusive government systems,” he argued.
    “We’ve heard proposals for airport-style scanners and random drug testing in schools, fingerprinting is already in place in some schools. There’s a risk of creating environments which feel more like penal institutions than places of learning.
    “These ID cards will do absolutely nothing to address the causes of bullying. Instead they will teach the next generation that an ID card culture is ‘normal’, and that they should have to prove their entitlement to services.”

    A Surprising Secret to a Long Life: Stay in School

    Gina Kolata:

    James Smith, a health economist at the RAND Corporation, has heard a variety of hypotheses about what it takes to live a long life — money, lack of stress, a loving family, lots of friends. But he has been a skeptic.
    Yes, he says, it is clear that on average some groups in every society live longer than others. The rich live longer than the poor, whites live longer than blacks in the United States. Longevity, in general, is not evenly distributed in the population. But what, he asks, is cause and what is effect? And how can they be disentangled?
    He is venturing, of course, into one of the prevailing mysteries of aging, the persistent differences seen in the life spans of large groups. In every country, there is an average life span for the nation as a whole and there are average life spans for different subsets, based on race, geography, education and even churchgoing.
    But the questions for researchers like Dr. Smith are why? And what really matters?

    Trying to Find Solutions in Chaotic Middle Schools

    Elissa Gootman:

    Driven by newly documented slumps in learning, by crime rates and by high dropout rates in high school, educators across New York and the nation are struggling to rethink middle school and how best to teach adolescents at a transitional juncture of self-discovery and hormonal change.
    The difficulty of educating this age group is felt even in many wealthy suburban school districts. But it is particularly intense in cities, where the problems that are compounded in middle school are more acute to begin with and where the search for solutions is most urgent.
    In Los Angeles, the new superintendent, David L. Brewer III, has vowed to transform middle schools as a top priority, and low-performing schools are experimenting with intensive counseling.
    In Philadelphia and Baltimore, school systems are trying to make the middle school problem literally disappear, by folding grades six through eight into K-8 schools. In one Columbia, S.C., school district, all five middle schools have begun offering some form of single-sex classes, on the theory that they promote self-esteem and reduce distractions.

    School envy a 2-way street for China, U.S.

    Sarah Carr:

    China’s schools have struck fear in the West with their relentless focus on subjects such as physics and math – areas where American students have struggled compared with other nations.
    However, visits to dozens of schools in China and hundreds in the United States reveal that both countries love to hate their own schools, and live in awe of others’ strengths. While Americans revere the Chinese mastery of basic subjects such as math and geography, the Chinese extol the American emphasis on creativity and nurturing individual talent.
    In the prosperous seaside region of Zhejiang, the situation’s changing, though, as entrepreneurs inject some of the country’s relatively new capitalist fervor into the schools. The result is a panoply of schools that comes close to resembling Milwaukee’s education scene in its diversity – hardly what one would expect to find in a Communist state.
    Students attend fancy private schools focused on such non-academic subjects as kung fu martial arts. A fledgling school voucher program aims to give families more choices as well as strengthen alternative and private schools. Educators describe a shift toward more local control and creativity in teaching. And parents like Xu are closely examining their new options.

    Schools Seek and Find Gifted Students

    Daniel de Vise:

    Not every student at Bannockburn is above average. But 70 percent of the third-grade class has been identified as gifted, based on tests and other academic indicators. The school serves one of the largest concentrations in the region of students capable of working beyond their assigned grade, sometimes well beyond.
    “We’re constantly trying to find things to pique their interest,” said Peterson, whose students have lately practiced dividing numbers into 32nds in their heads.
    The bumper crop of gifted children at Bannockburn is a result not of some exclusive magnet program but of Montgomery County’s aggressive policy on identifying academic talent. The county screens every second-grader for extraordinary ability. In most other school systems, it’s left to parents or teachers to initiate the process. Also, Montgomery’s criteria for “giftedness” are unusually broad, covering not just intelligence data but also classroom performance and the impressions of teachers and parents.
    That approach drives up the numbers — 40 percent of Montgomery’s 139,000 students carry the label — and creates a gifted majority at schools such as Bannockburn, which serves an affluent, highly educated neighborhood.

    Montessori Goes Mainstream

    Jay Matthews:

    The American Montessori Society, based in New York, reported 7 percent membership growth in just the past year, and many of the schools are getting ready to celebrate the centennial of the Montessori beachhead.
    Once considered a maverick experiment that appealed only to middle-class white families in the States, Montessori schools have become popular with some black professionals and are getting results in low-income public schools with the kind of children on which Montessori first tested her ideas.
    The stubborn Italian physician and her contemporary, U.S. philosopher and psychologist John Dewey — who believed that learning should be active — are considered perhaps the most influential progressive thinkers in the modern history of education.

    Madison has at least two Montessori schools, here and here.

    School Board head faces challenger

    Susan Troller reports in the Cap Times:

    When Tom Brew takes on incumbent School Board President Johnny Winston Jr. in the spring election for Seat 4, he, like Winston, will bring a lifetime of experience with Madison schools to the race.
    Brew’s own children attended Huegel and Orchard Ridge schools and graduated in the late ’80s to mid-90s. A lifelong Madisonian, he attended the former Longfellow Elementary and Central High schools.
    “I felt I had some different viewpoints to offer from Johnny’s,” Brew said this morning. “Basically, I think Johnny has had a go-along-to-get-along attitude.”

    Continue reading School Board head faces challenger

    Milwaukee Schools Criticized for Decentralized Approach

    Alan Borsuk:

    The picture that the team painted was not pretty. Clearly favoring a strong central administration, the team said decentralization in MPS had “gone too far.”
    “Decentralization has rendered the central office instructional unit (in MPS) irrelevant to the process of raising student achievement,” the report says. The team said some schools were using a hodgepodge of materials to teach students, and no one was leading these schools to be more effective. From the School Board to the classroom, there was not a clear vision of what it takes to succeed.
    ut the report particularly is critical of the attitude among the 70-plus people the team interviewed, from top MPS leaders to teachers and parents.
    “MPS has seen only small, incremental gains in student achievement over the last several years,” it says. “More problematic, however, is that many people in the district see these marginal improvements as acceptable. . . . A sense of urgency to raise student achievement is not apparent throughout the organization. The board, administration and staff appear fairly complacent.”
    The report adds, “Interviews with MPS staff indicated that most were proud of the gains that the district had made, even though scores reflected minimal progress.”

    A Direct Challenge

    Direct Instruction is just curriculum that uses direct, systematic, and explicit instruction. Any one of the direct instruction curricula would improve academic performance if it were used in the MMSD.
    This comes from an Education Week article in 1999:

    When an independent research group evaluated the research backing up 24 popular school reform models this year, it found two surprises.
    The first surprise was that only three programs could point to strong evidence that they were effective in improving student achievement. The second surprise was that Direct Instruction, a program long scorned by many educators and academics for its lock-step structure, was one of them.
    Direct Instruction grew out of studies on the teaching of beginning reading that Siegfried Engelmann began at the University of Illinois in the 1960s. Thirty years later, only 150 schools across the country use on a schoolwide basis the program he developed. By comparison, Success for All, another reform model with high marks for its solid research base, is used in more than 1,100 schools.
    Thousands more schools, however, use Direct Instruction’s commercially produced materials–usually in remedial classrooms, special education resource rooms, or special programs for disadvantaged students.
    “We were sort of like the plague for regular education,” says Mr. Engelmann, now 67 and a professor at the University of Oregon. “Regular education would have nothing to do with us. It wasn’t until the last few years that we started to break the mold.”