Nurturing Student Mothers

Sarah Carr:

This winter, at Northern Star School, Parker found a place where she could finally settle in.
Over the past five years, Northern Star’s leaders have created a vibrant school unique to both Milwaukee and the country: a middle school focused on teenage mothers. Milwaukee’s Lady Pitts also works with pregnant and parenting teens, but at the high school level.
Locally and nationally, the teen birth rate continues to decline and cities are closing alternative high schools for pregnant teens, mainstreaming the young women instead. Yet in Milwaukee, Northern Star’s prominence continues to grow.

An elite education should be open to all who can benefit, not just those who can pay

The Economist:

NO exam question is as perplexing as how to organise schools to suit the huge variety of pupils they serve: rich and poor, clever and dim, early developers and late starters. Every country does it differently. Some try to spot talent early. Others winnow out the academic-minded only at 18. Some believe in parent-power. Others trust the state. Finland has state-run uniform comprehensives; Sweden, another good performer, has vouchers and lots of private schools.
The British system produces some world-class high-flyers, mainly in its private schools and the 164 selective state “grammar” schools that survived the cull in the 1960s and 1970s when the country moved to a non-selective system. But it serves neither its poor children nor its most troublesome ones well. The best state schools, especially the grammar schools, are colonised by the middle classes, and the whole system is disfigured by a long straggling tail of non-achievers.

Continue reading

Putting His Wealth to Work To Improve Urban Schools

Jay Matthews:

He and his wife, Edythe, have committed more than $250 million to school improvement projects since 1999, and they plan to spend most of the Broad Foundation’s $2.25 billion in assets on education. The Los Angeles couple, along with Bill and Melinda Gates, are widely considered the most influential public education philanthropists in the country.
Broad (rhymes with road) has provided much of the money and advice behind efforts to bring business practices — including freedom from what he considers meddlesome school boards — to New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Now he has turned his attention to the District. His conversations with D.C. officials, Broad watchers say, are likely to bring more money and expertise to efforts to overhaul the school system.

Standardizing the Standards

Ann Hulbert:

“I know you’re restless today, but I need to see you sitting at your desks. Angel, that means you, too!” In the second-grade classroom at the Washington school where I volunteer, the teacher turned to me and said with a sigh, “It’s testing week.” In fact, her class wasn’t suffering through the standardized ordeal, just tiptoeing around while others did. The “adequate yearly progress” (A.Y.P.) assessments mandated by the No Child Left Behind legislation, which was enacted in 2002 with high hopes of closing the achievement gap for minorities, don’t kick in until third grade. But when it comes to tests, N.C.L.B. is fulfilling its inclusive mission all too well: nobody — not even kids too young to be filling in the bubbles yet — escapes the atmosphere of exam-induced edginess.
The president’s signature domestic initiative, now due for its five-year reauthorization, was supposed to be a model of the hardheaded rigor it aims to instill in America’s schools. “No ‘accountability proposals’ without accountability,” a Bush education adviser declared early on. So one of the most glaring legacies of No Child Left Behind is surprising: it has made a muddle of meaningful assessment. Testing has never been more important; inadequate annual progress toward “proficiency” triggers sanctions on schools. Yet testing has never been more suspect, either. The very zeal for accountability is confusing the quest for consistent academic expectations across the country.

Detroit Mayor Advocates Charters

Kwame Kilpatrick:

Imagine what would happen if Detroit’s auto manufacturers decided to build and sell only mid-size sedans. Despite whatever media campaign they might mount to convince consumers a mid-size sedan was what they should buy, there would clearly still be buyers who would want to purchase SUVs or other types of vehicles. Worse, there would be lots of people whose needs would not be met by a mid-size sedan.
This scenario is no different from thinking that all parents will simply accept whatever school assignment Detroit Public Schools has to offer. Parents will choose what is best for their children.

On Good Writing

John Leo:

At my local recycling center, the first bin is labeled “commingled containers.” Whoever dreamed up this term could have taken the easy way out and just written “cans and bottles.” But no, the author opted for a term out of the bureaucrat’s style book. He chose the raised pinky elegance of a phrase distant from normal English. He also added poor spelling (“comingled is spelled two different ways), and pointless redundancy (the concept of “co” is already embedded in the word “mingled”). How did they pack so many writing errors into two words of modern environmental prose?
George Orwell, at the beginning of his essay, “Politics and the English Language,” made clear that he thought the language had become disheveled and decadent. That was in 1946. Intending shock, Orwell offered five examples of sub-literate prose by known writers. But these examples don’t look as ghastly to us as they did to Orwell, because language is so much worse today. If you doubt this, I offer a few examples.

Law lacks direction for gifted students

Amy Hetzner:

What the law doesn’t mandate is how students such as Adam will be educated – even though state legislators have identified programming for students with gifts and talents as one of 20 essential components of public education. The result? A mixed bag of approaches for how Wisconsin students identified as gifted are educated. Some are taught in regular classes with alternative activities to help speed them through lessons. Others are pulled out of class for about an hour a week of special instruction. Some may find a spot in a magnet program with other gifted students. And others get no special instruction at all.
These inconsistencies have led parents and others to sound alarms about the state of gifted education, invoking some of the same civil-rights arguments that spurred landmark legislation in the 1970s for students with disabilities.
They say gifted kids need special attention and programs, too.

Racine Jefferson Lighthouse School’s Gifted Programs:

Jefferson Lighthouse School has the largest pupil-teacher ratio of any public elementary school in Racine.
Parts of its building are more than 100 years old. Its technology is nearly non-existent. Its librarian works half time.
And every year, parents of about 10 times as many children as the school plans to admit in the fall line up in the hallway, hoping for a chance at enrollment.
“It’s like a lottery ticket to get in here,” said Principal Soren Gajewski.
What makes Jefferson Lighthouse desirable to so many parents living in Racine, those connected to it say, is its commitment to teaching students with intellectual gifts and the perception that it has few behavioral problems.
The school is able to meet the needs of many of the district’s gifted students, as well as siblings and others lucky enough to get in on the lottery, without added expense. In fact, given that the school has the second-lowest per-pupil costs of the Racine Unified School District, parents say such a program is a cost-effective way to ensure that gifted pupils get needed attention while the school remains open to educating non-gifted students as well.

Wisconsin DPI: Cracking Down on SAGE Class Size Waivers

Amy Hetzner:

The state Department of Public Instruction gave wide leeway last year to a school district seeking to avoid the strictures of Wisconsin’s class-size reduction program, even as the DPI rolled out its plan to clamp down on such exceptions.
The Chippewa Falls School District was allowed to hold classes with one-third more students than the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education program demanded and still receive $100,000.
But such permissiveness is coming to an end, promised state schools Deputy Superintendent Tony Evers.
Already this year, several school systems that previously received funding while exceeding SAGE’s 15-to-1 class-size requirements have had their requests denied.
Others have quietly dropped their programs after determining that they would not be able to meet the class-size standards and that DPI staff would become more involved in monitoring their programs, Evers said.

Core Classes Not Enough, Report Warns

Jay Matthews:

It’s no secret to most high school students that taking the required courses, getting good grades and receiving a diploma don’t take much work. The average U.S. high school senior donning a cap and gown this spring will have spent an hour a day on homework and at least three hours a day watching TV, playing video games and pursuing other diversions.
This is sometimes a surprise to adults, particularly state legislators and school board members who thought that by requiring a number of courses in English, math, science and social studies they had ensured that students would dig in and learn what they need to succeed in college.
Guess again, says a new study, “Rigor at Risk: Reaffirming Quality in the High School Core Curriculum [350K PDF Report],” by the Iowa City-based testing company ACT Inc. “Students today do not have a reasonable chance of becoming ready for college unless they take a number of additional higher-level” courses beyond the minimum, the report said. Even those who do, it concluded, “are not always likely to be ready for college either.”

More here.

The Culture of Testing: A look at the Assessment Industry

Jay Matthews:

Blank blue computer screens frustrated thousands of Virginia students this month during online state exams in a series of disruptions that underscored vulnerabilities in the educational testing industry. Such episodes, experts said, could prompt changes in how the nation’s schools assess student performance.
Test software malfunctions in several states, coupled with staff shortages and cutthroat competition in the industry, have fueled a growing debate over whether to cut the number of tests taken under the federal No Child Left Behind law or adjust the testing calendar.
“The system has had a lot of pressure put on it,” said Adam J. Newman, a managing vice president of the market research group Eduventures Inc. in Boston.

A Parent in Prison, a Void at Home

Kari Lydersen:

When 12-year-old Heaven Carr wakes up, her mother is not there to make her breakfast. As the school year ends, Heaven is already sad that her mother will not be around to do the back-to-school shopping come August.
Carr’s mother, Elaine, has been behind bars for five years. Her father, Shaun, who was once jailed himself, does his best to pick up the slack, even as he runs a home remodeling business during the day and a cleaning service at night. But Heaven says it’s not the same.
“There are no services for men in this position — none,” Shaun said. “You’d think that if a man decides to stay with his kids, people would embrace you and help you pull through. But it’s the opposite.”
The stakes are high for Heaven and her three siblings. Those who deal regularly with the incarcerated suggest that 50 to 70 percent of children of imprisoned parents will end up behind bars. Such children are also less likely to do well in school, a growing body of research suggests.

The Case Against Homework

Book: The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It:

Does assigning fifty math problems accomplish any more than assigning five? Is memorizing word lists the best way to increase vocabulary—especially when it takes away from reading time? And what is the real purpose behind those devilish dioramas?
The time our children spend doing homework has skyrocketed in recent years. Parents spend countless hours cajoling their kids to complete such assignments—often without considering whether or not they serve any worthwhile purpose. Even many teachers are in the dark: Only one of the hundreds the authors interviewed and surveyed had ever taken a course specifically on homework during training.
The truth, according to Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, is that there is almost no evidence that homework helps elementary school students achieve academic success and little evidence that it helps older students. Yet the nightly burden is taking a serious toll on America’s families. It robs children of the sleep, play, and exercise time they need for proper physical, emotional, and neurological development. And it is a hidden cause of the childhood obesity epidemic, creating a nation of “homework potatoes.”
In The Case Against Homework, Bennett and Kalish draw on academic research, interviews with educators, parents, and kids, and their own experience as parents and successful homework reformers to offer detailed advice to frustrated parents. You’ll find out which assignments advance learning and which are time-wasters, how to set priorities when your child comes home with an overstuffed backpack, how to talk and write to teachers and school administrators in persuasive, nonconfrontational ways, and how to rally other parents to help restore balance in your children’s lives.

Bennetts’s website. Via Cory Doctorow.

US Per Student Spending, By State

US Census Bureau:

The nation’s public school districts spent an average of $8,701 per student on elementary and secondary education in fiscal year 2005, up 5 percent from $8,287 the previous year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today.
Findings from Public Education Finances: 2005, show that New York spent $14,119 per student — the highest amount among states and state equivalents. Just behind was neighboring New Jersey at $13,800, the District of Columbia at $12,979, Vermont ($11,835) and Connecticut ($11,572). Seven of the top 10 with the highest per pupil expenditures were in the Northeast.
Utah spent the least per student ($5,257), followed by Arizona ($6,261), Idaho ($6,283), Mississippi ($6,575) and Oklahoma ($6,613). All 10 of the states with the lowest spending per student were in the West or South.
The report and associated data files contain information for all local public school systems in the country. For example, in New York City, the largest school district in the country, per pupil spending was $13,755.
In all, public school systems spent $497 billion, up from $472.3 billion the previous year. Of these expenditures, the largest portions went to instruction ($258.3 billion) and support services such as pupil transportation and school administration ($146.3 billion).

Madison spends $13,684 per student ($333,101,865 2006/2007 citizen’s budget) / 24,342 students

Chinese See Piano as Key to Children’s Success

Robert Turnbull:

Shanghai — NO one paying attention to recent musical trends in Asia can have failed to notice it: The Chinese are crazy about piano playing. Among city dwellers, there’s been nothing like this enthusiasm since the ’80s, when an embrace of the Japanese-originated Suzuki teaching method created a national army of child violinists. According to some estimates, as many as 15 million hopefuls in China — most of them young — are toiling to gain proficiency in this highly competitive skill, and the number is growing. Those unable to make it through the tough entrance exams of the country’s nine overflowing conservatories opt for one of hundreds of private piano schools sprouting all over.
The sheer availability of pianos — one company alone, Pearl River, claims to turn out 280 every day — seems also to have focused many middle-class parents’ aspirations, especially in a country that still enforces a single-child policy. For these people, the incentive to see their kids seated at a keyboard is less about artistry or copying the West than about producing offspring of demonstrable excellence.

Elite Colleges Open New Door to Low-Income Youths

Sara Rimer:

o Mr. Jack, unlike many of his classmates, food stamps are not an abstraction. His family has had to use them in emergencies. His mother raised three children as a single parent and earns $26,000 a year as a school security guard. That is just a little more than half the cost of a year’s tuition, room and board, fees and other expenses at Amherst, which for Mr. Jack’s class was close to $48,000.
So when Mr. Jack, now 22 and a senior, graduates with honors on May 27, he will not just be the first in his family to earn a college degree, but a success story in the effort by Amherst and a growing number of elite colleges to open their doors to talented low-income students.
Concerned that the barriers to elite institutions are being increasingly drawn along class lines, and wanting to maintain some role as engines of social mobility, about two dozen schools–Amherst, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Virginia, Williams and the University of North Carolina, among them–have pushed in the past few years to diversify economically.

Erin O’Connor has more.

Prime Time is Goal for Madison Speller

Gena Kittner:

Isabel Jacobson remembers every word she was dealt while on stage at the Scripps National Spelling Bee last year, including the word that ended her run in Round 7 — symminct.
This week she’ll return to the national bee in Washington, D.C., with a well-stocked arsenal of spelling bee words and an improved knowledge of foreign words.
At age 14, this is the Madison teen’s last chance to vie in the national bee, where she’ll be one of 286 champion spellers. The semifinal rounds, starting with 90 students, will be televised on Thursday afternoon on ESPN and the finals on ABC that night. She will try to better last year’s run when she tied for 14th.

2 LA School Campus Faculty discuss joining a Charter

Joel Rubin:

Signaling deep discontent and a possible spreading revolt among the city’s public school teachers, faculty at two more Los Angeles high schools met this week with a leading charter school operator to discuss alliances aimed at breaking away from the school district.
The meetings between Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools, and faculty members at Santee Education Complex in South Los Angeles and Taft High in Woodland Hills come after a majority of teachers at Locke High School took steps to convert the deeply troubled campus into a series of Green Dot schools.
Teachers at Santee and Taft said the surprise move by Locke’s teachers tapped into a well of frustration and discontent they also feel over the slow pace of reforms and lack of support from leaders of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“With what happened at Locke, we’ve entered into a new chapter. They’ve instigated reform that all these district hot shots either are unable or unwilling to make happen,” said Santee English teacher Jordan Henry, who arranged the meeting with Barr. “When you see something that looks promising … it behooves you to have a conversation about it.”

Where Education Is a Matter of Prestige

Abdul Kargbo:

In today’s debates about how best to improve student performance, little mention is made of how students’ personal views on learning may affect their academic achievement. Specifically, commentators seldom discuss students’ understanding of the utility of an education and the effects of this perception on how much they value education and how well they perform in school. Perhaps because doing so can be controversial.
Ask talk-show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, who faced criticism earlier this year when, in comparing students in South Africa to those in U.S. inner-city schools, she indicated that the American students valued education less. “I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn’t there,” Winfrey told Newsweek. “If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don’t ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school.” Winfrey quickly drew the disapproval of a Washington Post columnist, who countered that in the inner-city schools he’s visited, most students “desperately want to learn.”
As someone who attended school in both Africa and the United States, I think both Winfrey and her detractors are somewhat off the mark. It’s not enough to argue about whether or not inner-city students want to learn. Rather, we should be asking why these students don’t value education enough to want to do well at it.

Update: A reader emailed this article. by Fred Reed, author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.

Finalist for San Francisco Superintendent

Jill Tucker:

The search for a new San Francisco schools superintendent is down to one finalist — former Las Vegas schools chief Carlos Garcia, The Chronicle has learned.
In interviews Friday, four San Francisco school board members said the selection process is down to final steps such as checking references before making an offer.
The four — Mark Sanchez, Hydra Mendoza, Norman Yee and Jane Kim — gave Garcia nothing but rave reviews.
They noted that he was a principal of San Francisco’s Horace Mann Middle School from 1988 to 1991, when it had a waiting list of 2,000 children. He was also superintendent of the Fresno Unified School District from 1997 to 2000.

The Madison School Board interviewed four superintendent search consultants this week.

iRobot Create Challenge

iRobot:

Enter the iRobot Create Challenge and Earn Your Rightful Title as Creator Extroidinaire plus Win a $5,000 Cash Prize! Use the iRobot® Create™ Programmable Robot platform to develop your own innovative, useful, entertaining, fun or simply amazing robot and you could win $5,000. Visit http://www.tomshardware.com/irobot for details about the contest and entry instructions.

Saving Our Schools

Andy Moore:

The sun came up over the near east side Tuesday morning. It wasn’t supposed to. Forecasters said to expect thunderstorms. But for an hour or so, sunshine painted the upper branches of the sugar maples that line the streets within the heart of the isthmus.
For those of us in the Lapham and Marquette neighborhoods, it was hard to avoid the symbolism. Clear skies rode in on the fair winds of change at the previous night’s school board meeting. The board’s earlier decision to consolidate Lapham and Marquette schools at Lapham — and close Marquette — was reversed.
The original decision was a harsh product of the inexorable pressure of state revenue caps on the school budget. The reversal was a product of many things. Among them, a courageous, open-minded school board willing to, as board member Johnny Winston Jr. put it, “think outside the box.”

Vang Pao Elementary School Groundbreaking

Andy Hall:

A windswept field on Madison’s Far West Side became a place of reverence Wednesday for 60 Hmong residents who attended the groundbreaking ceremony of Vang Pao Elementary, a $12.9 million school whose funding was embraced by taxpayers but whose name remains controversial.
“I just want to take this as a memory,” explained Bee Vang, 47, as he held a softball-sized clod of warm, moist earth. “This will be a really great school.”
Vang said he will show his four children the dirt and tell them that school leaders spoke of giving all people, including Hmong, the opportunity to learn.

How Much More MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools) Administration Do We Have To Pay For?

Ted Kanavas:

Could someone please remind me what purpose the Milwaukee Public School system serves? Educating the children of Milwaukee? Right, right, that’s it. What is the reality of the public education system in Milwaukee? More and more money is being spent by the Milwaukee school system with results that would make a private business close its doors.
The recent elections brought new blood to the MPS Board of School Directors and new hope for families who send their kids to MPS. What was the first order of business for the new Board? Under cover of darkness, the new Board showed how they plan on solving the problems with MPS. Their solution? Increasing their own staff by 25 percent.
As you pick yourself up off the floor after reading that, let me explain what this all means. This change by the Board shows that they feel the need to set up a “shadow” administration to run MPS. More administration is the solution to this problem, according to all but two members of the Board (kudos to Board members Jeff Spence and Bruce Thompson for voting against this waste of money). More importantly, it serves as a vote of no confidence for Superintendent Bill Andrekopoulos.

Van Pao will be green school

The Van Pao Elementary School will be certified for Leadership in Energy and Envrionmental Design (LEED), according to a story from Channel3000:

In spite of the controversy over its name, Vang Pao Elementary is officially under construction.
Ground was broken at the new school site on Wednesday. School board members along with Superintendent Art Rainwater and the building designers all turned the first soil where the school will stand.
The new school will cost $12,923,000. The 86,396-square foot school will have 36 classrooms and house 690 students and 90 teachers. It’s expected to be completed by September 2008.
The green building will be LEED Silver Certified, and will include geothermal day lighting and solar electric panels. The school will be located on Madison’s far West Side off of Valley View Road west of County Highway M on Ancient Oak Lane.

Continue reading

2006 MMSD WKCE Scores: A Closer Look

Test scores from the November 2006 Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) and companion Wisconsin Alternate Assessment (WAA) were released by the state Department of Public Instruction this week. The MMSD press release on Madison students’ scores (“Despite changes and cuts, Madison students test well”) reports the following “notable achievements”:

  1. that reading scores have remained steady and math scores have gone up;
  2. that non-low income MMSD students score better than their non-low income peers statewide;
  3. that a higher percentage of MMSD African-American students perform at the highest proficiency level than do other African-American students across the state as a whole; and
  4. that a consistently higher percentage of MMSD students perform at the highest proficiency level than do students across the state as a whole.

Let’s take a closer look at the PR and the data:

Continue reading

Local high school students graduate from Information Technology Academy

On Saturday, June 2, 14 area high school students will receive Certificates of Graduation for completing an intensive information technology training program through the University of Wisconsin-Madison called the Information Technology Academy (ITA).
ITA is a four-year precollege program that provides hands-on training and access to technology for talented students of color and economically disadvantaged students attending Madison public schools. During their four-year ITA experience, the students meet biweekly during the academic year to learn Web design, animation, graphic design and other technology skills. They also participate in two-week technology training camps in the summer, hone their technical skills in short-term internships and strengthen their leadership skills through community service projects. Their learning and development is further enhanced through matches with mentors, who help guide and support students during their involvement with the program.

Continue reading

School District Abandons Both Rhyme and Reason in Language Programs

Douglas J. Buege:

As budget cuts extract another ton of flesh from Madison’s public school students, classroom teachers reel from the aftershocks. Keeping a smooth, consistent curriculum takes a lot from an educator, yet as our well-trained teachers meet tough demands, we witness a loss of both rhyme and reason at both the school and the district level. Nowhere do the wounds from budget cuts show more clearly than in foreign language education. If you think Junior should learn a second language, you might consider relocating once you learn the facts.
A child’s chance of learning the language of their choice depends heavily upon where they live within the district. In the fall of 2007, high school students at West, LaFollette, and Memorial will be able to choose from five non-English languages; kids at East get two. The German program, recently axed at East, leaves Spanish and French as the only options, stranding several students like Daniel Schott who’d devoted his time and energy to learning German. Daniel’s choice of German will carry with him through college where his opportunity to earn back credit for high school work diminishes—unless he’s willing to travel to LaFollette daily, an option that will disrupt his daily schedule beyond reason.
Imagine your child taking a novel language, say Italian, as a middle schooler. Students at Spring Harbor and Wright Middle Schools have that option. Unfortunately, the high schools to which Spring Harbor and Wright feed do not offer Italian, creating an academic dead-end for those without the resources to move to the LaFollette area. Even then, the Italian program there may disappear given the recent exodus of the Italian teacher for greener soccer pitches.

Vie the Daily Page.

Bullied girl alone no more

She finds comfort in letters from hundreds of strangers, a campaign begun by Mill Valley sisters

Ilene Lelchuk:

Sitting in her living room amid stacks of handwritten letters from all over the nation and the world, 14-year-old Olivia Gardner of Novato said she no longer feels alone.
A victim of extreme bullying that spanned two years and three schools, Olivia said she has been pulled from the depths of depression by a letter-writing campaign started by two sisters at Tamalpais High in Marin County after they read in The Chronicle in March about Olivia’s ordeal.
At least 1,000 strangers have sent her letters and e-mails of support, and there’s talk of a book deal, Web sites and letter campaigns for other children who are bullied, and the three girls have received countless interview requests.
Whether Olivia likes it or not, she helped bring attention to the widespread and tenacious problem of bullying in school hallways, on cell phones and in cyberspace.

Free speech vs. class disruption

Paul Shukovsky and Nina Akhmeteli:

Once upon a time, a student who wanted to poke fun at a teacher would have left graffiti on the blackboard. These days, it’s a video clip on YouTube.com and MySpace.com.
It was a sophomoric online video criticizing the hygiene of a teacher that was at issue in U.S. District Court on Monday, when Gregory Requa, a senior at Kentridge High School, asked a judge to order the lifting of his 40-day school suspension for his supposed involvement in producing and posting the video.
Requa’s lawyer, Jeannette Cohen, said the teen didn’t produce the video — taken in an English classroom at Kentridge. But even if he did, his suspension is a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech, she argued in court.

Can the Milwaukee Public Schools Close the Achievement Gap?

Alan Borsuk:

Three years ago, the gap between white and black high school sophomores in Milwaukee Public Schools in reading proficiency was 33 percentage points. This year, it was 35 points.
In math, the gap was 36 points three years ago and 42 this year, according to the data released Tuesday by the state Department of Public Instruction and MPS.
Two years ago, 37% of black sophomores in MPS were rated proficient or advanced in reading, based on their performance on the statewide standardized tests. This year, it was 31%. In math, the figure is 18%, down from 20% in each of the prior two years.
That means the results for 10th grade, the most advanced point in which standardized tests are given in Wisconsin, are important.
That means it matters in the big picture that at Custer High School, only 27% of 10th-graders who had been in the school for a full year were proficient or better in reading. In recent years, that figure has gone up and down a bit. What was it four years ago? 27%.
It matters that at Genesis, a small high school in the building that was formerly North Division High, only 14% of sophomores were proficient in reading and 4% in math.

Washington Delays Math, Science Graduation Requirements

Donna Gordon Blankinship:

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday delayed until 2013 a requirement that students pass the math and science portions of a high stakes exam in order to graduate from high school.
She also liberally applied her veto pen to four large sections of the bill overhauling the Washington Assessment of Student Learning exam.
Gregoire said she would have preferred to delay the math and science WASL graduation requirement only until 2012.
She eliminated the sections of the WASL-overhaul bill that would have established end-of-course exams, regional appeals, a special exemption for students learning English as a second language and the clause declaring an emergency.

Google bans essay writing adverts

Sean Coughlan:

Google is to ban adverts for essay writing services – following claims that plagiarism is threatening the integrity of university degrees.
There have been complaints from universities about students being sold customised essays on the internet.
The advert ban from the Google search engine has been “warmly welcomed” by university authorities.
But it has angered essay writing firms which say this will unfairly punish legitimate businesses.

Jefferson geography whiz puts state on map

Leah Nylen:

Need to know the capital of Estonia or the highest mountain in Tajikistan?
Just ask Bjorn Ager-Hart, a 14-year-old home-schooled student from Jefferson who represented Wisconsin on Tuesday at the National Geographic Bee. Sponsored by National Geographic, the bee brings together 55 middle school students from all the states and U.S. territories to compete for a $25,000 college scholarship.
For the past three years, Bjorn has spent hours — about five each week — poring over geography books to learn enough to make it to the national competition.
“I like geography,” Bjorn said. “You get to learn about a lot of different places in the world.”
He first learned of the contest in 2004. Since then, he has made the state championships every year, but only this year attained his goal to advance to the national contest. In sixth grade, Bjorn got two questions wrong and last year lost during the tie-breaker round. But on March 30 this year, he got a perfect score during the competition and won a trip to Washington for him and his family.

Call for Study of Access to Arts Education

Dodd, Alexander Call for Study of Access to Arts Education
Introduce Resolution in Recognition of Music Education
May 8, 2007
Today Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) sent a letter to David Walker, the Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), requesting that the GAO conduct a study on access to music and arts education in the American public school system since passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. This week, Senators Dodd and Alexander also introduced a resolution recognizing the benefits and importance of school-based music education. Senators Dodd and Alexander are members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), and are Chairman and Ranking Member of its Subcommittee on Children and Families.
“No child should be deprived of the chance to explore his or her creativity in a nurturing educational environment,” said Dodd. “Picking up a musical instrument, a paint brush, or a script can allow a child to discover a hidden talent and can serve as a much-needed positive influence in the midst of the many difficult decisions that young people face today. I am hopeful that the GAO will act quickly to deliver findings about the current condition of arts education in American public schools so that we can seek to improve it during the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.”
Added Alexander: “Music Education is important. I had some great teachers, but my piano teacher, Miss Lennis Tedford was the best. From age five until my high school senior recital, I spent thirty minutes with her each week. ‘Don’t play that monkey business,’ she would say, as she could always tell when I’d been playing too much Jerry Lee Lewis. From Miss Tedford I learned more than music. She taught me the discipline of Czerny and the metronome, the logic of Bach, the clean joy of Mozart. She encouraged me to let my emotions run with Chopin and Rachmaninoff. She made sure I was ready for the annual piano competition, and that I performed completely under control. I still thank her for the discipline and love of music she gave me each time I sit at the piano today.”
A companion resolution – introduced by Reps. Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Jon Porter (R-NV) – passed the House of Representatives on April 26 by unanimous consent.
The full text of the letter is below:

Continue reading

Moving California’s English Learner’s to English Proficiency

Joanne Jacobs [3.7MB PDF]:

Only 9.6 percent of English Learners (ELs) in California public schools were redesignated to Fluent English Proficient status during the 2005-06 school year. According to one state education department study, only one-third of those who start in kindergarten are reclassified by fifth grade. This prompted state Superintendent Jack O’Connell to instruct school districts to reexamine their reclassification policies and procedures.
Reclassification rates vary significantly from one school district to the next. School districts discussed range from Riverside’s Alvord Unified, where 1 percent of ELs were reclassified as proficient last year, to Glendale Unified, where 19.7 percent of ELs were reclassified.
Some school districts set higher bars for reclassification than others, requiring higher scores on state tests, writing or math proficiency and passing grades. However, some districts with high requirements also have high reclassification rates because of effective instruction, close monitoring of students’ progress and a higher percentage of ELs from middle-class and Asian families.

Via the Lexington Institute.

Why AP and IB Schools Soar

Jay Matthews:

By the late 1990s, California voters and the University of California regents had banned admission preferences for minorities in the UC system, and several members of the faculty at the University of California-San Diego were not happy about it. Scholars like Cecil Lytle, Bud Mehan and Peter Gourevitch thought public universities had been created to break down the old barriers of race, privilege and class and give the state’s most disadvantaged students the life-changing advantages of a higher education. What could they do?
It seemed obvious to them. If the university was not allowed to admit low-income students who could not compete academically with advantaged middle class applicants, then the only alternative was to create public schools that would give those low-income and minority students the encouragement, good teaching and extra time they needed to make them just as ready for college as students from the better neighborhoods.

P-20

David Ammons:

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday created a new education council to crack the whip on reforms in early learning, public kindergarten through 12th grade and the state’s higher education system.
Gregoire, who recently headed a two-year reform drive called Washington Learns, said she will serve as chairwoman of the new 11-member council, which will include members from across the education spectrum. She said she will also keep tabs on another study panel that is looking at education financing.
The governor said one of the key goals of the new P-20 Council will be to knock down the “silos” that seem to put preschool, K-12, community colleges and four-year schools in separate worlds. A truly effective system has to be seamless, she said.
P-20, her buzz phrase for the whole system, refers to preschool and other early learning opportunities, followed by K-12, college or trade school and, potentially, graduate school or retraining.

Hosted Lifebits

Jon Udell:

Today my digital assets are spread out all over the place. Some are on various websites that I control, and a lot more that I don’t. Others are on various local hard disks that I control, and a lot more that I don’t. It’s become really clear to me that I’d be willing to pay for the service of consolidating all this stuff, syndicating it to wherever it’s needed, and guaranteeing its availability throughout — and indeed beyond — my lifetime.
The scenario, as I’ve been painting it in conversations with friends and associates, begins at childbirth. In addition to a social security number, everyone gets a handle to a chunk of managed storage. How that’s coordinated by public- and private-sector entities is an open question, but here’s how it plays out from the individual’s point of view.

Wisconsin State Student Test Scores Released

Andy Hall:

Wisconsin students’ performances improved in math and held steady in reading, language arts, science and social studies, according to annual test data released today.
Dane County students generally matched or exceeded state averages and paralleled the state’s rising math scores, although test results in Madison slipped slightly on some measures of reading, language arts and science.
Madison educators touted the overall performance of their students, noting that the portion of students scoring proficient or advanced — the two highest of four grading levels — has grown or held steady over the past seven years on reading and math exams even as the district’s populations of students with limited English skills and low-income backgrounds have increased.
Limited English proficiency and poverty are two of the strongest predictors of poor academic performance in Madison and schools across the nation.

Alan Borsuk and Amy Hetzner:

Improved scores in math led state and local school officials to put generally positive faces on the picture painted by student test results being made public today by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
Higher percentages of students in every grade from third through eighth were rated as “proficient” or “advanced” in math in this year’s round of statewide testing than in the previous year. The 10th-grade figure remained the same.
In reading, the statewide percentage of proficient or better students was steady or slightly improved at every grade level.
“We are on the right track,” Elizabeth Burmaster, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement. “Despite increased poverty in Wisconsin, we saw gains at nearly every grade level in mathematics and rising or stable scores for reading.”
Overall, better than 4 out of 5 fourth-graders in Wisconsin were proficient or advanced in reading, and about 3 out of 4 met those standards in math. For 10th-graders, 3 out of 4 were proficient in reading, and 7 out of 10 in math.

Susan Troller:

Madison schools’ improved math scores might seem to defy some of the laws of logic or probability.
The Madison district, like its counterparts across the state, saw a generally positive trend on math scores, according to data released today regarding scores from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations that students took last November.
“Our students continue to perform well despite a number of challenges that would normally predict falling scores. We’re pleased, of course, but not surprised that has not been the case here,” Superintendent Art Rainwater noted in an interview this morning.
Rainwater said that changing demographics that include increasing numbers of children from low-income families and those who have limited proficiency in English generally go hand-in-hand with falling scores, but that has not been true in Madison, where test results in reading generally have been holding steady, or in mathematics, where almost all grade levels have improved.

Related:

Trusting, but verifying, your teenager’s use of the Internet

Jon Udell (an interesting guy who now works for Microsoft):

Parents nowadays face tough questions about whether to monitor or (try to) control their kids’ use of the Internet, and if so, how. Although my personal opinion is that trying to restrict access is a losing battle, I understand why the idea is appealing. You’d like your kids to have some maturity and some perspective under their belts before encountering some of what the Internet so readily brings to their attention. When my kids were younger, the Internet was younger too. I guess if they were still that young I’d be wishing I could create a sandbox for them, even though I don’t think you can. But they’re teenagers now, and they have their own computers. For two reasons, activating the parental controls on those computers isn’t the strategy I want to pursue.

There are indeed some passive ways to keep an eye on things.

Hilary Clinton’s Universal Preschool Proposal

Sara:

Campaigning in Florida today, Senator/Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton put forward an ambitious policy proposal to move the U.S. towards universal preschool education. This is the first major education proposal rolled out by the Clinton campaign, and it’s a good one. The plan would provide states with matching grants (starting at $5 billion federal investment and scaling up to $10 billion) to expand publicly-funded preschool programs, with a priority on low-income and English language learners, and requires state preschool programs to meet high quality standards as a condition of funding.

Yin to that Yang: Congress passes a 10.5% increase in pentagon spending (Representative Tammy Baldwin’s votes can be found here). Alan Abelson takes a look at the dollar and what it portends for the next few years:

Whatever their provenance, they’ve crafted a quite interesting analysis of what ails the dollar and why what ails it isn’t anything trivial or transient. In fact, they see nothing but mournful things ahead for the buck, including, ultimately, its fall from grace as the world’s reserve currency.
Basically, they size up the dilemma confronting our “policymakers” as whether to tighten the monetary and credit screws to bolster the dollar or to open them up even further to support asset prices. They have no doubts as to the resolution: The folks in charge will continue to do what they’ve always done — “inflate the money supply and promote more credit, thereby sustaining asset prices at the expense of the purchasing power of the dollar.”
That may seem the downward path to financial and eventually economic rack and ruin. But such a trivial consideration has never deterred Washington. You don’t have to swallow whole QB Partners’ gloomy diagnosis and prognosis for the beleaguered buck to find it valuable as well as provocative. Even though we agree there’s plenty of sliding room left for the greenback, we’re not convinced the outlook is as apocalyptic as the duo contends.
The report itself is nicely, almost elegantly, crafted, although at times it lapses into a kind of faux erudition, a tendency compounded somewhat by windy footnotes. Nonetheless, unlike so much of the tomes turned out by Wall Street, it’s very much worth reading.

HIV, AIDS Cases Rising In Dane County

Channel3000.com:

The number of HIV-AIDS cases is on the rise in Dane County, according to local health officials.
Dane County public health officials said that gay men and blacks are two segments of the population where they are seeing significant increases in HIV and AIDS cases, WISC-TV reported.
“Some people may think it’s not that big of a deal anymore,” said Cheryl Robinson, a public health program manager.
Robinson said that this idea is wrong.
In 2006, 64 new cases were reported to public health — 28 were among gay men and 13 were among blacks. The age group of 25 to 44 year olds made up 51 percent of the cases reported, according to health officials.

How to Become a Patient Parent

“Zen Habits“:

I don’t claim to be the world’s most patient parent — but it’s a goal of mine for this year, and it’s something I’m dedicated to becoming. Every parent loses his or her patience — it’s a fact of life. There are no perfect angels when it comes to moms and dads — we all get frustrated or angry and lose it from time to time.
But patience can be developed over time — it’s a habit, and like any other habit, it just takes some focus.
Here’s a list of 10 great tips and methods I’m trying out and experimenting with to help me become a more patient parent:

Energy efficient amendment failed in Wisconsin budget committee

From a story by Lindsey Huster posted on the Web page of The Daily Reporter:

Sen. Mark Miller’s motion to issue $50 million in energy efficiency revenue bonds to Wisconsin school districts failed to be adopted by the Joint Finance Committee.
The effort was one of four priorities selected by a coalition of more than 50 conservation organizations and citizens around Wisconsin.
“We will continue working with the Legislature to find funding for school districts to increase efficiency and lower energy use, which improves Wisconsin’s environment and saves schools money,” said Jennifer Giegerich, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters energy advocate.

Continue reading

Supreme Court Rules in Special Education Lawsuit

David Stout:

The Supreme Court ruled today that parents of children with disabilities need not hire lawyers if they want to sue public school districts over their children’s special-education needs.
In a case of interest to parents and educators across the country, the justices ruled in favor of a couple from the Cleveland suburb of Parma who were unhappy with the school district’s proposal to meet the special needs of their autistic son.
Jeff and Sandee Winkelman were unable to afford a lawyer to sue the Parma City School District over the program designed for the youngest of their five children, Jacob, who was 6 when the lawsuit begin about four years ago.
In general, federal law allows people to represent themselves in court. But most federal courts have barred parents of children with disabilities from appearing without a lawyer in cases filed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, which guarantees all children a “free appropriate public education.”

Law Enforcement and Crime Control in Madison — The Business Forum

Thursday, June 7, 2007
The Madison Club
11:30 a.m. – Networking
12:00 noon – Lunch & Program
Sponsor: Jennifer Krueger, Murphy Desmond, S.C.
The Madison area, we like to believe, offers many of the advantages of a larger city without the worst trials of big-city life – crime and violence among them. Recently, however, the Madison Police Department has dealt with a series of muggings downtown, melees outside local nightclubs, and increased gang activity. Is the crime rate in Madison keeping pace with the city’s development?
Noble Wray, Chief of the Madison Police Department, will join us in June to give us his assessment of the “climate of crime” in Madison.

Continue reading

2007 Challenge Index: Ranking America’s High Schools

Memorial is the only Madison High School in the top 1200 (1084), while Verona ranked 738th.
Washington Post:

The Washington Post Challenge Index measures a public high school’s effort to challenge its students. The formula is simple: Divide the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge tests a school gave by the number of seniors who graduated in June. Tests taken by all students, not just seniors, are counted. Magnet or charter schools with SAT combined verbal and math averages higher than 1300, or ACT average scores above 27, are not included, since they do not have enough average students who need a challenge.
The rating is not a measurement of the overall quality of the school but illuminates one factor that many educators consider important.

Milwaukee’s Rufus King is Ranked 259th. Marshfield High is ranked 348th. Whitefish Bay is ranked 514th, Shorewood 520th. New Berlin West 604th. Brookfield Central is 616th. Hartland Arrowhead is 706th. Nicolet is 723rd. Verona is 738th. Grafton 810th. Nathan Hale (West Allis) is 854th. Brookfield East is 865th. Greendale is 959th. Riverside University School (Milwaukee) is 959th. Madison Memorial is ranked 1084th. Salem’s Westosha Central is 1113rd. West Bend West is 1172nd while West Bend East is 1184th.
Jay Matthews:

The Challenge Index list of America’s best high schools, this year with a record 1,258 names, began as a tale of just two schools. They were Garfield High School, full of children of Hispanic immigrants in East Los Angeles, and Mamaroneck High School, a much smaller campus serving very affluent families in Westchester County, N.Y. I had written a book about Garfield, and the success of its teachers like Jaime Escalante in giving low-income students the encouragement and extra time they needed to master college-level Advanced Placement courses and tests.
I was finishing a book about Mamaroneck, and was stunned to find it was barring from AP many middle-class students who were much better prepared for those classes than the impoverished students who were welcomed into AP at Garfield. That turns out to be the rule in most U.S. schools — average students are considered not ready for, or not deserving of, AP, even though many studies show that they need the challenge and that success in AP can lead to success in college.
Nearly everyone I met in New York thought Mamaroneck was a terrific school because its parents were rich and its state scores high, even though its building was in bad shape and its policy of reserving AP only for students with top grades made no sense. Nearly everyone I met in Los Angeles thought Garfield was a terrible school because its parents were poor and its state scores low, even though it was doing much more to prepare average and below-average students for college than any other school I knew. It was like rating restaurants not by the quality of their food, but by the bank accounts of their customers.
I was covering Wall Street for The Washington Post at that time, and not liking the job much. My life was ruled by indexes¿the Dow Jones, the Standard & Poor’s. I decided to create my own index to measure something I thought was more important –which schools were giving their students the most value. This would help me show why Garfield, in a neighborhood full of auto-body shops and fast-food joints, was at least as good a school as Mamaroneck, in a town of mansions and country clubs.

Matthews participated in an online chat regarding the Challenge Index. A transcript is available here.
Related: MMSD High School Redesign Committee and West’s English 10 and Bruce King’s Report on West’s SLC (Small Learning Community) Project. Joanne Jacobs on Palo Alto High School’s non-participation.

Milwaukee Schools Add Assistant, Analyst to Board Staff

Alan Borsuk:

While the number of gym teachers and music teachers is set to drop 15% in Milwaukee Public Schools from this year to next, and the number of teachers, education assistants and secretaries is also going down, one group of MPS employees will grow 25%.
It’s the staff serving School Board members themselves.
In an action taken about 1:20 a.m. Friday, the board voted 7-2 to add a policy analyst to its staff at a cost of $101,745 for salary and fringe benefits, to be paid by a direct increase in property taxes exempt from the state-imposed lid on MPS spending next year.
Without discussion, it also approved filling a job of staff assistant serving board members that had been vacant for this entire school year. That job is budgeted for $83,000, which, with fringe benefits, will mean a cost of about $133,600. The same position was budgeted for a salary of $63,604 a year ago.
The $101,745 for a policy analyst would be equivalent to a $63,000 salary, plus fringe benefits. MPS generally spends 61.5 cents in fringe benefits for every dollar it spends in salary, an amount well above most other government bodies and far above private-sector employers generally.

16 Year Old Platteville Student Wins Top Intel Prize

Barry Adams:


Philip Streich’s science project may be difficult to comprehend.
But the awards for his work on nanotubes are clear.
Streich, a 16-year-old who is home-schooled in Belmont and takes classes at UW-Platteville, was one of three students out of 1,500 to take home top honors last week at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Albuquerque, N.M.
“This is huge. This is Stanley Cup. This is the Super Bowl of science and Philip has just done an amazing job,” said James Hamilton, a chemistry professor at UW-Platteville and Streich’s mentor. “Working with him is like working with a Ph.D in the field of chemistry and physics.”
Streich’s prizes included a $50,000 scholarship, about $20,000 in cash and savings bonds for winning other categories at the competition and a trip to China’s Adolescent Science and Technology Innovation Contest in August.

Art Awards: Young artists can apply for grants up to $10,000

Tanya Schevitz:

The National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts is accepting applicants for cash awards of up to $10,000 and an opportunity for arts enrichment programs.
The early deadline, which provides for a 30 percent discount on the $35 application fee, is June 1. The final deadline is Oct. 1. High school seniors or graduates who will be 17 or 18 years old on Dec. 1 can apply for the money.

Update on Search for New Superintendent

Arlene Silveira, School Board President, provided the following update on the Isthmus Forum:
All – here is the update on the search for the new Superintendent.
On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings the Board will interview 4 search firms/consultants. We had decided that we want to use a consultant to assist wit the search for the new Superintendent. These meetings will be open meetings. Each company will make a presentation which will be followed by questions from the Board.
On May 29 the Board will meet to review the financial proposals from each company and rate them based on our RFP. Our hope is to have a company identified by our June 4 meeting so we can approve the company and move into the selection process.
Next steps after the selection include meeting with the board, staff and community to determine a “profile” for our next Superintendent. I don’t yet know how this will be accomplished. The specifics of the process forward will be dependent on the consultant chosen to help with the effort.
Arlene Silveira

Students’ rights versus limited means: Special Needs Children and School Budgets

Susan Brink:

The public school enrollment of autistic children, whether born into privileged or impoverished circumstances, has gone from a trickle to a flood. Their legal rights are crashing up against strapped school budgets.
Under two federal laws — the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act, both passed in the 1970s and revised over the years — all special-needs children, including those with autism, are entitled to free and appropriate public school educations in the least restrictive environment. And, science shows, the sooner children with autism get treatment, the better their odds of speaking, reading, learning and eventually living independently.
A breakthrough discovery, released Feb. 18 in the online publication of the journal Nature Genetics, could mean that someday medical science might pinpoint the disorder in infancy, or even before birth. Researchers homed in on the genes behind autism, putting an early DNA test within reach.

Mission Impossible?

Ms Cornelius:

For example, in an effort to prevent drop-outs, we abandon our expectation of educational behavior and lower academic standards until they are functionally meaningless. We divorce the expectation of allegiance to academic achievement and academic behaviors from the expectation for membership in the school community, and therefore undercut the very mission of the school. Although the providing of all of those other services and experiences is no doubt noble, and certainly enjoyable, they also serve as static that destroys the message and mission of the school. Shouldn’t the education of our members at least be priority number one in public schools? If not, why not just call schools “community centers” and be done with the hypocrisy?

School Drug Testing

Shari Roan:

ONCE a year or so, Roy Tialavea is summoned from his classes at Oceanside High School to report to the athletic director’s office bathroom. He receives a urine specimen cup and heads for a stall.
The 17-year-old is unruffled. Random drug testing has been going on for two years at the school. He’s used to it. “I don’t use drugs so I don’t have to worry about getting caught,” he says.
His mother, Robyn, thinks her son steers clear of drugs and alcohol. But, she says, no parent can know for sure what a teenager is up to.
“If he doesn’t like testing, I really don’t care,” she says. “I think it’s a wonderful tool. It creates the fear that they could be tested.”
Call it the 2007 version of “just say no.”

Madison School Board Should “Learn from Fiasco”

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

After the Greek King Pyrrhus defeated the Romans in 279 B.C., he cut his celebration short.
Pyrrhus realized that the battle had been more costly to his army than it had been to the Romans. His response went something like this:
“One more such victory, and we are undone.”
Those words should be haunting the Madison School Board today.
One more fiasco like last week’s flip-flop on consolidating two elementary schools, and this board may be undone.
School Board member Johnny Winston Jr. said the board’s reversal could be a win-win.
He was wrong-wrong.

Milwaukee Approves New Transitional School

Sarah Carr:

A new Milwaukee school set to open as soon as next winter would serve children transitioning back into the public school district from correctional institutions and expulsions.
The school was one of several safety-related efforts put forward by the Milwaukee School Board as budget amendments, at a session that ended at 2:21 a.m. Friday.
The board also agreed to set aside an additional $750,000 next school year for violence prevention, conflict resolution and other safety-related efforts in Milwaukee Public Schools.

South Carolina Ok’s Virtual School Classes for Graduation Credit

Yvonne Wenger:

Home-schoolers and students attending public, private or charter schools can take online classes after Gov. Mark Sanford on Thursday signed a new law creating the South Carolina Virtual School Program.
The law, which will be administered by the state Department of Education, will allow students a chance to enroll in online courses that might not otherwise be available to them.
“It’s an incredibly important step forward because, among other things, it represents another choice in education,” said Sanford, who was joined in the Statehouse via the Internet by students at the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics in Hartsville.
Virtual schools are modeled after regular classroom courses, but students communicate with teachers online and e-mail their homework and other assignments. The law builds on a pilot program first offered last May with summer courses such as geometry and Web design available to students in 11 school districts.
The law will allow students to earn credits in Advanced Placement, remedial and specialty classes online. It will also ease scheduling conflicts, provide individualized instruction and help students meet graduation requirements.

Minnesota’s Proposed Mandatory School Employee Health Insurance Pool

Megan Boldt:

A bill that would create a mandatory statewide health insurance pool for Minnesota’s 200,000 school employees is one step closer to reality.
After a fiery, eight-hour debate, the House approved the measure on an 81-52 vote Thursday night.
Supporters say the pool will put school districts in a better position when negotiating health plans and help keep premium spikes under control. Opponents argue it would remove control from districts and cause some to experience jumps in insurance costs.
The bill made its way through the Senate in March. Now, the Democratic House and Senate need to come together to iron out differences in the proposed legislation before sending it to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. It’s unclear whether Pawlenty will sign the bill.
House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said a mandatory pool would help both rural and urban school districts that are dealing with erratic premium increases.
“The status quo is not working,” he said. “Insurance is rising and rising. And I think a pool will help with the spikes that school districts are experiencing.”

Morehouse President to Retire

Morning Edition:

Morehouse College President Walter Massey is set to speak to graduates for the final time this weekend. He’s due to retire this summer after 12 years. The all-male, historically black college has such notable alumni as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Spike Lee. Massey himself attended Morehouse, arriving when he was just 16. Massey tells Steve Inskeep that when he arrived at Morehouse as a student he wasn’t certain that he would succeed.

Helping Overbooked Kids Cut Back

Sue Shellenbarger:

When Debra Cooper’s 6-year-old daughter Taylor resisted taking a family vacation day because she was anxious about missing extracurricular activities, Ms. Cooper decided she was overscheduled and started cutting back.
But stepping off the treadmill wasn’t easy, Ms. Cooper says. When Taylor started coming home after school, there was no one in the neighborhood to play with; other kids were at practices or lessons. Other parents were skeptical, hinting Ms. Cooper was short-changing her daughter. And Taylor herself soon asked to resume some activities. Frustrated, Ms. Cooper wondered, “How do we stop and get off this mommy marathon?”
Written about and discussed for decades, the problem of overscheduled children still looms large. Many parents keep children busy believing that stimulating activities will aid their development; the pattern is most marked among 9- to 12-year-olds. But the trend has gone too far, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in January in the journal “Pediatrics”; kids need more time for free play and family togetherness. Resolving the issue can require some artful life-balancing skills.

Finding Ways to Better School African American Boys
Group Proposes Mentors, Single-Sex Classrooms

Lori Aratani:

A new report by a statewide task force that paints a grim picture of how African American male students are faring in Maryland’s public schools and universities recommends strengthening mentor programs, encouraging more black men to be teachers and providing more academic support for those who need it.
Two of the more controversial proposals are suggestions to place troubled students at black-majority high schools into single-sex classes and to encourage nonviolent offenders to be mentors to students.

In Low-Income Schools, Parents Want Teachers Who Teach: In affluent schools, other things matter

Brian Jacob & Lars Lefgren:

Recent government education policies seem to assume that academic achievement as measured by test scores is the primary objective of public education. A prime example is the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires schools to bring all of their students to “proficient” levels on math and reading tests by 2014. Many state accountability plans judge schools on the basis of these tests alone, and some states and school districts are considering tying teachers’ compensation to student test results. Yet education historically has served a variety of functions (e.g., socialization, civic training), and public support for music and art in school suggests that parents value things beyond high test scores.
Are test scores the educational outcomes that parents value most? We tackle this question by examining the types of teachers that parents request for their elementary school children. We find that, on average, parents strongly prefer teachers whom principals describe as best able to promote student satisfaction, though parents also value teacher ability to improve student academics. These aggregate effects, however, mask striking differences across schools. Parents in high-poverty schools strongly value a teacher’s ability to raise student achievement and appear indifferent to student satisfaction. In wealthier schools the results are reversed: parents most value a teacher’s ability to keep students happy.

More here and here.

Pennsylvania Voters Reject Tax Plan to Finance Schools

Jon Hurdle:

Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan to reduce property taxes in return for higher local income taxes as a way of financing school districts, officials said Wednesday.
The proposal appeared on ballots in all but 3 of the state’s 501 school districts on Tuesday after a campaign by Gov. Edward G. Rendell to cut property taxes.
Mr. Rendell, a Democrat, promoted the plan as a chance for homeowners to increase the size of property tax cuts that they will receive when an anticipated $1 billion in revenue from 14 new casinos that are being built around the state is used for school financing, starting in June 2008.
But only 4 of the 419 districts reporting by midafternoon Wednesday approved the plan, according to a Pennsylvania Department of State Web site.
Under the state’s Taxpayer Relief Act, school boards have the right — with voter approval — to impose or increase taxes on earned income or personal income — which includes items like interest and dividends — to pay for an equal reduction in property taxes.

A dangerous promise to Wisconsin’s little 8th graders

Jo Egelhoff:

The Wisconsin Covenant. Kind of a spiritual sound to it, don’t you think? Come to the mountaintop, do a couple of thou shalt not’s, hit the books, and you’re set.
It’s great stuff. So Governor Doyle travels all over creation, parts the Red Sea and declares education for all.
Normally, I would hardly notice this showmanship and posturing by the governor. But this Covenant business is upsetting. And here’s why.
First of all, this program of post-secondary education for everybody is by NO means a done deal. It’s one piece of a huge budget proposal that would once again end in deficit, despite extraordinary proposed tax and fee increases. It hasn’t hardly been discussed in Joint Finance, except long enough for the Committee to say “your plan is pretty sparse – please come back when you have more details.”
So come back they did. Last Friday, JFC co-chairs Rhoades and Decker received a letter from Secretary of Administration Morgan. Here are just some of the details.

Students Gain Only Marginally on U.S. History Test

Sam Dillon:

Federal officials reported yesterday that students in 4th, 8th and 12th grades had scored modestly higher on an American history test than five years earlier, although more than half of high school seniors still showed poor command of basic facts like the effect of the cotton gin on the slave economy or the causes of the Korean War.
Federal officials said they considered the results encouraging because at each level tested, student performance had improved since the last time the exam was administered, in 2001.
“In U.S. history there were higher scores in 2006 for all three grades,” said Mark Schneider, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the test, at a Boston news conference that the Education Department carried by Webcast.
The results were less encouraging on a national civics test, on which only fourth graders made any progress.

Why Is Income Inequality in America So Pronounced? Consider Education

Tyler Cowen:

The most commonly cited culprits for the income inequality in America — outsourcing, immigration and the gains of the super-rich — are diversions from the main issue. Instead, the problem is largely one of (a lack of) education.
The extent of outsourcing, for instance, is not yet high enough to have much effect on American wages. Even if a call center is set up in India, this helps American business expand at home. Most generally, the net flow of investment is into the United States, not away from it. It appears that more American jobs are “in-sourced” than outsourced.
Nor should we be distracted by the gains of the top 1 percent. The goal should be to elevate the poor, not knock down the tall poppies. Microsoft has created cheap software and many jobs, and its co-founder, Bill Gates, is giving away most of his fortune.

2007 – 2008 Madison Board of Education Committee Assignments

Assignments to Standing Committees for 2007-08:

Communications Beth Moss, Chair
Carol Carstensen, Member
Lawrie Kobza, Member
Community Partnerships Maya Cole, Chair
Lucy Mathiak, Member
Johnny Winston, Jr., Member
Finance & Operations Lucy Mathiak, Chair
Carol Carstensen, Member
Maya Cole, Member
Human Resources Johnny Winston, Jr. Chair
Lawrie Kobza, Member
Beth Moss, Member
Long Range Planning Carol Carstensen, Chair
Lucy Mathiak, Member
Beth Moss, Member
Performance & Achievement Lawrie Kobza, Chair
Maya Cole, Member
Johnny Winston, Jr., Member

Columbus referendums…one for Pre-K, and the other for maintenance and operations.

Paul Scharf:

The Columbus School Board held its only meeting for the month of May at the Elba Town Hall. It was held on Monday night with a special referendum election forum. The board is gearing up for June 12, when voters will go to the polls to decide on three questions.
The board will be asking voters to give their approval to the following:
n Borrowing $700,000 for maintenance needs – including $421,000 for roofs at the middle and high schools and $100,000 for safety and security. Other uses for the funds would include replacing windows and carpet and fixing up bathrooms. The money would be repaid over 10 years.
n Collecting an extra $200,000 per year for each of three years for the start-up of four-year-old kindergarten.
n Collecting an extra $300,000 per year for each of five years for technology – including equipment used by both students and staff, as well as the hiring of additional staff members.

Columbus has brought the referendums forward in a short period of time, and their district seems to have been successful in securing Pre-K support from area pre-school providers.

Districts unite for health savings

Amy Hetzner:

A new cooperative aimed at lowering the health insurance costs for non-teachers could decrease payments for participating Waukesha County school districts by up to 20% next school year.
The savings amount to as much as $400 per month for a family plan in the Hartland-Lakeside School District, where the deal already has been approved, and the Mukwonago School District, where the School Board is scheduled to vote next week on whether to join the cooperative.
Savings for five other districts still involved in the effort may not be as high.
But even the lowest expected cost drop of 8% would save the Pewaukee School District $1,600 to $2,000 per year for each family plan, said John Gahan, Pewaukee’s director of business services.
Between 200 and 250 employees would be covered by the new health insurance carrier if all seven Waukesha County school districts accept the plan from United Healthcare, Gahan said. With escalating health care costs, many of the districts involved in the new cooperative have been interested in switching insurance carriers for lower-priced alternatives to WEA Trust, the state’s dominant player in public educators’ health care plans.

Madison School Board “Kowtows to Complainers”

Susan Lampert Smith:

So kids, what did we learn from the Madison School Board’s decision Monday to reverse itself and not consolidate the half-empty Marquette and Lapham elementary schools?
We learned that no doesn’t really mean no.
We learned that, oops, maybe there is money after all.
And most importantly, we learned that whoever yells the loudest gets it.
The most telling moment at Monday’s board meeting was when the rowdy crowd of Marquette supporters was admonished to “respect the board” after hissing at Lawrie Kobza, who said she was “saddened” by arguments that the schools must stay open to appease residents with “political clout.”
“Respect us,” one man hollered back.
Respect you?
Honey, with the exception of Kobza and Arlene Silveira, who held their ground, the board rolled over for you like a puppy. Tony Soprano doesn’t get this kind of respect.

A Yin to that Yang – Capital Times:

Kindergartner Corey Jacob showed up at this week’s Madison School Board meeting with a homemade “Keep Schools Open” sign.
And he got a terrific lesson.
The board, which had voted to close Marquette Elementary School on the city’s near east side, reversed its wrongheaded decision in the face of overwhelming opposition from parents, teachers and kids like Corey.
The lesson Corey learned is perhaps the most important one that can be taught in public life: No decision is set in stone. When an official body makes the wrong decision, people can and should organize to oppose that decision. And when that happens, the members of the targeted body are duty-bound to reconsider their mistaken move.

More from Bessie Cherry:

er column was ludicrous. Comparing a school board who actually listened to its constituents’ warranted concerns to a parent who gives in to a whiny child?! Lapham Elementary, where my daughter attends kindergarten, is hardly “half empty.” In fact, the students there eat lunch in 18 minute shifts, and the school board’s own projections predict that it will become overcrowded within the next five years.
Smith failed to mention that the velocity behind the vocal backlash against the original decision to consolidate was fueled by the fact that two of the board members won their seats by proclaiming before their election that they would never vote in favor of consolidation. Instead of accusing the board of “rolling over like a puppy” and proving that “whoever yells the loudest gets it”, she should be applauding those parents for exemplifying democracy in action for their children. They organized, yes, the old-fashioned way (a way I much prefer to the prevailing point-and-click passivity of “activism” today), and involved their children by having them sign petitions, hand out flyers– they even staged an elementary school walkout.

Communicating School Threats

Brock Bergey:

25% of students at one Madison high school spend the day at home, and it wasn’t a planned skip day. The students attend Memorial High School, where an alleged threat was supposed to be carried out Wednesday. Nothing happened, but the incident has the district talking policy.
“If we don’t communicate, obviously, it raises the concern of parents,” says MMSD Superintendent Art Rainwater.
He says a new system is opening the lines of communication between administrators and parents.
“(It) allows us to call every single parent and give them a message,” says Rainwater.
A message like the one Rainwater says went out to every Memorial parent Tuesday night. It included information about a non-specific threat found at the school and indicated classes would continue Wednesday, as scheduled.

Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee Approves Growth in State Tax Redistribution for K-12 Schools

Steven Walters:

The committee also kept Doyle’s plan to raise state aid for public schools by $235.3 million over the next two years, which would allow per-pupil spending to rise by $264 next year.
The 10-6 vote of the committee killed a move by some Republicans to cap the one-year growth in per-pupil spending at $100 in each of the next two years. Democrats said that limit would further choke class offerings and force massive layoffs.
Rhoades said state aid for schools, a record $5.89 billion this year, has never gone down and would have gone up again under the GOP proposal.
The Joint Finance Committee also recommended removing some public school safety costs from spending controls imposed on school districts, citing recent incidents of violence in Milwaukee and elsewhere.
MPS would be entitled to about $1.3 million in school-safety exemptions from cost controls, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Seth Zlotocha summarizes failed budget amendments:

To provide a brief explanation of how the JFC is handling the budget, those items that were in the governor’s budget when JFC talks started require a majority vote (at least nine) to be removed while those items that are not in the governor’s budget when JFC talks started require a majority vote (again, at least nine) to be added.

WisPolitics Budget Blog.

Fair support or unfair subsidy: Private school busing faces legislative review

Jason Stein:


Public schools in Madison and Dane County could save thousands of dollars a year on the costs of transporting private school students under a draft bill in the Legislature.
The Assembly legislation would end the requirement that school districts pay certain parents multiple times for the costs of taking students to the same private school and would save school districts statewide more than $1 million a year, according to estimates.
The proposal’s author, Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, D-Milwaukee, said he got interested in the issue after receiving three reimbursement checks from Milwaukee public schools in the past for driving his three children to the same Jewish private school there.

With Simplified Code, Programming Becomes Child’s Play

Carolyn Johnson:

After school lets out on Fridays at the Jonas Clarke Middle School , two dozen boisterous students descend on the computer lab to fiddle with the computer code that powers their projects, from a “Star Wars” lightsaber duel to a flying hippo animation.
The school has been beta-testing Scratch, a new programming language being released today by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. The program, named after the technique hip-hop DJs use to mix music, gives novices the ability to create dynamic programs without wading through a manual, teaching computer programming concepts while encouraging students to play.
The goal: turn a daunting subject usually taught in college and considered the domain of geeks into an integral part of education for the grade-school set. MIT researchers hope the program will promote a broader cultural shift, giving a generation already comfortable using computers to consume content online a set of new, easy-to-use tools to change the online landscape itself.

Check out Scratch here (Mac and Windows versions).

Best Book Chapter of the Year

Jay Matthews:

I was ready to like Peter Sacks’ new book, “Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education.” He is a terrific reporter with a keen sense of weak spots in conventional wisdom about schools. And since the word “class” in the title of this column has always had a double meaning, I was eager to read the work of someone who shared my view that socioeconomic differences are at the root of our failure to help many of our brightest kids get the educations they deserve.
It turns out Sacks has written an exceptional book, with one particular chapter that blew me away. But my first quick read made me grumpy, for reasons that have more to do with my own personal flaws and biases than his good work.
I started with the Washington thing, what all we journalists working in our nation’s capital do when checking out a new book — look for our names in the index. Sadly, I wasn’t there. Well, maybe the acknowledgments? No again. The fact that Sacks and I have never met, as far as I can remember, may have something to do with that. Still, it wasn’t a good beginning for me.

Minnesota wins ‘benchmark’ game

Don Huebscher:

The issue: How we stack up against Minnesota.
Our view: The numbers aren’t in our favor, and that requires our attention.
We like to brag to our neighbors to the west that our Green Bay Packers have three Super Bowl trophies and their Minnesota Vikings have none. We also like reminding them that they’ve also lost the big game four times.
Unfortunately, in the real game of life, figures show Minnesota ranks ahead of Wisconsin in many areas much more important than who has the more talented group of hired football players, many of whom don’t live here year-round anyway.
The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance recently published its annual “Measuring Success” pamphlet. The nonpartisan group’s study compares Wisconsin to other Midwest states and the nation to measure our strengths and liabilities in a range of “benchmarks” including health, education and jobs.
Wisconsin’s brightest star is our low crime rate. At 242 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2005, Wisconsin is far below the national average of 469, and better than Minnesota’s 297. But there’s a dark cloud: Violent crime in Wisconsin jumped from 210 per 100,000 people in 2004 after seven straight years of decline.

Related: Patrick McIlheran: “Fixing school funding is more than just “more”

The Sting of the Bee

Valerie Strauss:

Spelling bees are hot.
Broadway plays host to one nearly every night with an award-winning musical about six overachieving spellers in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Hollywood has embraced them too: “Akeelah” would be nothing without her “Bee,” not to mention “Bee Season.” And the Scripps National Spelling Bee, set for May 30 and 31, is popular enough for the finals to be televised in prime time for a second year.
Still, don’t expect to find a spelling bee in Sue Ann Gleason’s first-grade classroom at Cedar Grove Elementary School in Loudoun County. She doesn’t think much of them.
“They honor the children who already know how to spell, but they do little to support those who need explicit instruction,” she said.

Clearing Up Tax Rank Confusion

Todd Berry:

No question is asked more often of WISTAX researchers by the public and press than: How does Wisconsin’s tax burden compare with other states? And no issue is more debated by partisans and interest group advocates at the State Capitol.
Two reliable tax rankings
Based on the most recent national data available (fiscal year 2004) from the most commonly used source (U.S. Census Bureau), facts show that Wisconsin state and local taxes claimed 12.2% of personal income, the sixth-highest percentage in the nation. The U.S. average was 11.0%.
An equally useful ranking results if population, rather than income, is used. State-local taxes here totalled $3,714 per capita in 2004, or 12th highest. The U.S. average was $3,447. Because Wisconsin per capita income is below the national average, tax rankings based on population are generally lower than those based on income.

40 Students Receive Rotary Club Awards

The Cap Times:

Forty Madison high school students will receive Rotary certificates and cash awards to recognize their scholastic achievements and contributions to the city at a ceremony before parents, school officials and Rotary Club members Wednesday afternoon at the Inn on the Park.
The club’s Youth Awards Committee sponsors the annual program and gives awards up to $26,800 from its associated Madison Rotary Foundation.

Microsoft Unveils Math 3.0 and Latest ACT Report: Rigor at Risk….

PRNewswire:

According to an independent survey commissioned by Microsoft Corp., 77 percent of teachers and 73 percent of parents claim math and science are the most difficult homework subjects for students, yet only 36 percent of parents feel capable to help their children. While parents and teachers struggle to find the time or knowledge to provide their kids with adequate assistance in math and science, students can grow frustrated by the lack of resources and the amount time it may take to find relevant guidance in these difficult subjects. To address these issues, Microsoft has developed a low-cost, comprehensive resource for middle school, high school and entry-level college students.
Today Microsoft releases Microsoft® Math 3.0, a new software solution designed to help students complete their math and science homework more quickly and easily while teaching important fundamental concepts. Microsoft Math 3.0 features an extensive collection of capabilities to help students tackle complicated problems in pre-algebra, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, physics and chemistry, and puts them all in one convenient place on the home PC. Similar to a hired tutor, Microsoft Math 3.0 is designed to help deepen students’ overall understanding of these subjects by invoking a full-featured graphing calculator and step-by-step instructions on how to solve difficult problems.

Related, maybe? Karen Arenson:

Only one-quarter of high school students who take a full set of college-preparatory courses — four years of English and three each of mathematics, science and social studies — are well prepared for college, according to a new study of last year’s high school graduates released today by ACT, the Iowa testing organization.
The report analyzed approximately 1.2 million students who took the ACT college admissions test and graduated from high school last June. The study predicted whether the students had a good chance of scoring C or better in introductory college courses, based on their test scores and the success rates of past test takers.
The study concluded that only 26 percent were ready for college-level work in all four core areas, while 19 percent were not adequately prepared in any of them.

ACT Report: Rigor at Risk: 350K PDF

An Update

The Studio School Charter School:
In a couple of years I hope to take another try at leading a charter school initiative. I continue to read so much educational research and literature that strongly supports The Studio School concepts. As you know, we spent some time looking into ways to create TSS as a private school but just couldn’t see how it could be affordable to everyone and be sustainable. Even as a sliding-scale-tuition cooperative, there would have to be some tuition paid and that leaves out so many children. It still looks as though a charter school is the best alternative. So maybe there will be some changes in our school district and administrators/ board members will become more actively supportive of charter schools, innovation, and the Studio School concept. Am I overly optimistic?
Programs in my home:
Currently, I’m working with some people to piece together a rather eclectic “menu” of educational programs (art, Spanish, yoga, tutoring, early childhood, etc.) in my home that is licensed for child care for ages 4 – 17. The programs being offered are philosophically aligned with the Reggio Approach – experiential, child-centered, multi-modal learning. I don’t have a final name for this yet but the concept is that of a “learning studio” that offers a variety of enriching programs that will provide children with a variety of “languages” for learning and expressing their ideas. (This summer I am offering an Art & Architecture program for 5-8 year old children on Wednesday mornings and we will be working with recycled materials.) If the “eclectic” studio concept is successful, the plan is to move the program out of my house into a public space in the next year or so. I recently met with someone involved in the Hilldale Mall redevelopment project and a location there might be a possibility down the road. And/or it could be offered through community centers or other neighborhood organizations. It’s also my hope that if I could somehow provide real life examples of the Reggio Approach to teaching and learning, people might be better able to envision the amazing positive impact it could have in an elementary school.
Community Partnerships:
I intend to continue meeting with people who are interested in new educational initiatives and who might want to work together to create programs and schools that include the arts & technology for all Madison children. So I want to keep reaching out to neighborhood groups and community members. Please let me know if you run into any folks who might be interested in talking with me about this and I will be happy to contact them. Thanks
Nancy Donahue
ndonahue@tds.net

Milwaukee Chinese School Starting In Fall

Channel3000.com:

The Milwaukee school district is opening a Chinese school this fall.
It will join at least a dozen Chinese programs in Wisconsin.
About 130 students have signed up so far to attend the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language, also part of a growing number of schools offering Chinese language classes nationwide.
It will teach four-year-old kindergarten through fifth grade the Mandarin language, symbols and culture for 30 to 45 minutes a day, along with traditional curriculum in English.
James Sayavong, who started the Milwaukee school, said that he expects nearly 200 students to enroll by fall.
So far, the school’s students are mostly from the surrounding neighborhood, which is generally black and low income. He said he wants this type of education to be available for everyone.

Russian-born sisters to become professors in US at age 19, 21

AFP:

Two Russian-born sisters are due to become assistant professors of finance in New York state later this year, even though they are only 19 and 21, university officials said Wednesday.
Angela Kniazeva and her younger sister Diana were due to take up their new positions in September at the University of Rochester, where half of their students will likely be older than them.
The pair, who already have masters degrees in international policy from Stanford University in California, were picking up their doctorates from New York University’s Stern business school on Wednesday after five years of study.
The talented twosome told the New York Post they did not consider themselves geniuses, despite their achievements.
“I don’t think this is the right word or right way of putting it,” the newspaper quoted Angela as saying. “I think we’ve been given valuable opportunities, and we found ourselves in very fortunate circumstances.”
The duo were home-schooled by their parents and earned the equivalent of their US high-school diploma at the ages of 10 and 11 before graduating college in Russia at the ages of 13 and 14. They graduated from Stanford in 2002.

More at NYU Today. Via Volokh.

California State K-12 Budget Notes

Nanette Asimov:

The proposal
The governor wants to spend $40.5 billion from the general fund for K-12 education, up slightly from his January proposal and 1.2 percent more than is being spent this fiscal year. For classroom spending, that translates to $8,681 per pupil, up from $8,569. Career-technical education gets a big boost, with $25 million for vocational counselors, $100 million for equipment, and $50 million for nursing programs.
The bottom line
Besides students aiming to study a trade, winners are growing districts. Less lucky are those like San Francisco and Oakland with declining enrollments. San Francisco, for example, would get about $12 million more than last year, up from $11.5 million in January. But it’s about $5 million less than last year because 1,000 students will leave.

Wisconsin’s per student spending averages about $9,200 – the Madison School District’s is $13,684.

Wisconsin Charter School Update

2007 Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference WEBCAST
Support for Construction Careers-Focused Charter School & Successful Evolution of RENAISSANCE School for the Arts and ODYSSEY-MAGELLAN Charter School
Links to 40+ Green Charter Schools
Green Charter Schools in Wisconsin
www.GreenCharterSchools.org
New Financing Helps Milwaukee Charter School Expand
HOWARD FULLER, President of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning, Marquette University, has been inducted into the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ Hall of Fame. Howard and TED KOLDERIE, Senior Associate, Education / Evolving, were among an inaugural group of 4 charter school pioneers inducted into the Hall of Fame
EDUCATION / EVOLVING
Project Change Charter Recovery School
Number of Small High Schools Multiplying in Milwaukee

School Board chastised for snack ‘n chat

Dan Benson:

For at least half a century, Osceola School Board meetings have been followed by a smorgasbord of snacks, desserts and soft drinks where board members can chat about the issues of the day – and, apparently, school business.
It’s a tradition that has ended after a local newspaper publisher and editor crashed the after-hours hobnob on April 11, wrote an editorial chastising the School Board and filed a complaint with the Polk County district attorney’s office.
” ‘Is there something we can help you guys with?’ ” Kyle Weaver, editor of the weekly Sun, recalls being asked when he and Sun Publisher Carter Johnson walked into the room where five School Board members, the district administrator and four principals were discussing curriculum issues about 20 minutes after the close of the regular meeting.
“I said, ‘It appears the meeting is still going on,’ and we sat down in our usual chairs,” Weaver said. “It went on just a few minutes more. It appeared they were trying to wrap it up pretty quick.”

Milwaukee Schools’ New Strategic Plan

Alan Borsuk:

Two men, who often did not work together openly in the past, stood Monday in front of a crowd that, at many times, wouldn’t have been receptive to either of them.
“From our standpoint, this is a remarkable day,” said Sam Carmen, executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, as he and schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos made a presentation to a luncheon of about 100 members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, a private group of civic leaders that has played a big role in charting Milwaukee’s course for decades.
“This is the real deal,” Carmen told the audience, describing the impact that a new strategic plan for Milwaukee Public Schools could have. The draft of the plan, created largely by the teachers union and MPS leaders, was released recently and is expected to be presented for action by the Milwaukee School Board in June. The Greater Milwaukee Committee funded the process of creating the plan.
Carmen said the plan presents “a real opportunity to change teaching and learning in Milwaukee Public Schools.”

Madison School Board Votes to Keep Marquette School Open

Andy Hall:

Two weeks after voting to close Marquette Elementary, the Madison School Board bowed to public pressure Monday evening and decided to keep the school open.
The board’s 5-2 vote was greeted by cheers and a standing ovation from about 50 parents, children and activists who campaigned to save the school at 1501 Jenifer St. on Madison’s Near East Side.

Susan Troller has more.

Consultants Overbill Racine Schools

DANI McCLAIN and CARY SPIVAK:

The consultants hired to slash costs and boost revenue for the Racine Unified School District overbilled the cash-strapped district by about $125,000, a review of district records shows.
That overpayment alone would have been more than enough to pay the annual salary of a staff budget director who would be charged with finding the same type of savings that the consulting group now wants over $1 million for, according to a Journal Sentinel review of how other school districts in the state operate.
“I would say that every business manager is very cognizant of these areas,” said Erik Kass, business manager at the Waukesha School District, when told of the savings claimed at Racine Unified by the Public Business Consulting Group.
Still, it appears the consulting firm will keep its job running the business office of Racine Unified, the fourth-largest school district in the state.

Offered healthy food by servers, school kids take the bait.

Sally Squires:

You know how hard it can be to say no.
But our tendency to accept what we’re offered may have positive value when it comes to encouraging children to choose — and eat — healthier food at school. A new report suggests that there’s a simple, low-cost approach: Just offer it to them.
That’s the conclusion of a pilot program in Guilford, Conn., where school cafeteria servers were trained to ask elementary school students, “Would you like fruit or juice with your lunch?” Ninety percent of the children said yes. What’s more, 80% then consumed the fruit or juice that they put on their trays.
Compare those numbers with students at a nearby school who also participated in the study. At lunch, the same fruit and juice was available, but it wasn’t personally offered to the kids. The difference? Just 60% of these students reached for fruit or juice on their own.
These findings “have pretty significant implications,” says the pilot program’s designer, Marlene Schwartz, director of research and school programs at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. They suggest, she says, that if the National School Lunch Program were to modify its regulations and had servers actually encourage children to eat fruits and vegetables, their consumption might increase.

Denver’s Attempt to Address Their “Enrollment Gap”

Superintendent Michael Bennet and the Denver School Board:

The Rocky Mountain News series, “Leaving to Learn [Denver Public Schools Enrollment Gap],” tells a painful and accurate story about the state of our school district. It is hard to admit, but it is abundantly clear that we will fail the vast majority of children in Denver if we try to run our schools the same old way. The evidence in Denver and from big-city school districts across the country is undeniable. Operating an urban school district in the 21st century based on a century-old configuration will result in failure for too many children. It is long past time to admit this. As a district and a community, we must gather strength and have the courage to make change, knowing that the changes we face are much, much less perilous than the status quo.
Many believe that our system is intractable and impossible to fix. They look at our high dropout rate, our low achievement rate, and decades of failed reform efforts in Denver and around this country, and conclude it cannot be done.
This answer is obviously intolerable for the 72,000 children in our school district, and for the tens of thousands of children who will receive a public education in Denver over the next decade. We must refuse to accept that this is the best we can do for the next generation, or, worse, that this is all we can expect of them.
In view of the current discussions in Denver about whether to close schools after years of declining enrollment and shifting demographics, now is the time to re-examine how our system works. No matter how compelling the arguments for school consolidation, school closures create pain and upset expectations about daily life. In the shadow of this potential dislocation, we are obligated to reconsider the way we do business to ensure that our schools and our students will succeed. In the coming months and years, we must renew and rejuvenate the educational opportunities available to all of Denver’s children.
Cities all across the country face dramatic change sooner or later. For a variety of reasons, we think Denver is in a position to create the first 21st century urban school district in the United States. Not the least of these reasons is our tremendous faith in the committed people who work for DPS and in the citizens of Denver. We must not make the easy, but terrible mistake of confusing a lack of confidence in the system with a lack of confidence in ourselves or our children.

Related; Barb Schrank’s “Where have all the Students Gone?“. Joanne Jacobs has more.

Radical Math in the NYC Department of Education

Sol Stern:

Late last month, over 400 high school math teachers and education professors gathered in Brooklyn for a three-day conference, titled “Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Math Education and Social Justice.” Prominently displayed on the official program’s first page was a passage from Paulo Freire, the Brazilian Marxist educator and icon of the teaching-for-social-justice movement: “There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to . . . bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of our world.”
The conference’s organizers left nothing to the imagination about their leftist agenda. At many of the conference’s 28 workshops, math teachers proudly demonstrated how they used classroom projects to train students in seeing social problems from a radical anticapitalist perspective. At a plenary session, Professor Marilyn Frankenstein of the University of Massachusetts’ math education department proclaimed that elementary school teachers should not use traditional math lessons, in which students calculate, say, the cost of food. Rather, the teachers should make clear that in a truly “just society,” food would “be as free as breathing the air.”
New York City’s Department of Education insists that the radical math conference was perfectly appropriate. In fact, as I recently learned, the whole affair got rolling with the assistance of the DOE, which gave a financial grant to the conference’s principal organizer, Jonathan Osler. Osler is a math teacher at El Puente Academy, a small “social-justice” high school in Brooklyn. In 2005, he and two math teachers from other schools applied for the DOE’s Zone Teacher Inquiry Grants Program. Their application proposed “the creation of a system to bring together NYC math teachers to share ideas, curriculum, resources, and experiences integrating issues of social justice into math classes.” Some of the social justice issues that math classes could explore: “Check-cashing locations ripping off poor people. H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt ripping off poor people. Foreclosure agencies ripping off poor people. Issues of joblessness, homelessness, incarceration, lack of funding for education, excessive funding for war. . . . The list goes on and on.”

Cheating and California’s High Stakes Achievement Test

Nanette Asimov, Todd Wallack:

Teachers have helped students cheat on California’s high-stakes achievement tests — or blundered badly enough to compromise their validity — in at least 123 public schools since 2004, a Chronicle review of documents shows.
Schools admitted outright cheating in about two-thirds of the cases. And while the number reporting problems represents a small fraction of the state’s 9,468 public schools, some experts think the practice of cooking the test results is more widespread.
That’s because the California Department of Education relies on schools to come forward voluntarily, and to investigate themselves when a potential problem is flagged.
“The vast majority of educators are ethical and play by the rules. (But) when identification of potential cheating hinges largely on self-reports, it is almost certainly underreported,” said Greg Cizek, who teaches testing at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is the author of “Cheating on Tests: How to Do It, Detect It, and Prevent It.”
Records show that California teachers who unfairly helped students boost scores usually did so during the test. For example:

End to school violence must start at home

Eugene Kane:

When considering violence in Milwaukee Public Schools, I find myself recalling a School Board meeting years ago where the discussion centered on rising suspension rates.
One mother demanded that School Board members explain why her 15-year-old African-American son kept getting kicked out of school for misbehaving.
“I can’t do anything with him at home,” she complained.
After the meeting, I interviewed the mother away from the microphones. That’s where she told me why she thought her son kept getting expelled.
“They afraid of him,” she said of the teachers. “He’s 15, but he’s 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 240 pounds.”
That hammered home for me the fact some “kids” at MPS aren’t really kids at all but are not yet fully developed young people with enough physical strength to intimidate the outnumbered adults.
My latest visit to a Milwaukee public school was just a few weeks ago, during which I observed a mini-meltdown in the hallway by a student who had become enraged at another student.
As he was dragged away, the boy struck a door with his fist, nearly shattering the glass.