Governance Changes in the Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

A surge of action and proposed action, a president who wants his hands on a lot of things and bad blood between board members – the heat is growing at Milwaukee School Board meetings, and it is creating an environment in which Superintendent William Andrekopoulos is facing the stiffest political challenges of his five years in office.
The election in April of Michael Bonds to replace Ken Johnson on the board, followed by the election of Peter Blewett as the board’s president, have put into power two people with strong feelings about doing things differently from the way Andrekopoulos wants.
And they are acting on those feelings.
A central role for the board president is to name members of the committees that do most of the board’s work. The president usually gives his allies the dominant positions but doesn’t put himself in many roles.
Blewett has done much more than that – he named himself chairman of two committees, one that handles the budget and strategic direction of Milwaukee Public Schools and one that handles questions of policy and rules, and he named himself as a member of two other major committees, handling finance and safety. He also named Bonds to head the Finance Committee, an unusual step, given that Bonds was brand new.
Blewett and Bonds, who have formed a generally close relationship, have also been submitting a relative flood of proposals for the board to take up. Since May 1, the two have submitted 34 resolutions between them, with nine others coming from the other seven members of the board.
Some seek major changes in MPS practices or to reopen issues previously decided by the board. Included would be reopening Juneau High School, reuniting Washington High School into one operation (it has been broken into three), restoring ninth-grade athletics and building up arts programs in schools.
The total of 43 resolutions is more than board members submitted in the entire year in six of the eight previous years. Seventeen resolutions were introduced at a board meeting last week, 14 of them written or co-written by Blewett or Bonds.
Although this might seem like a bureaucratic matter, it is a key element of efforts by Blewett and Bonds to shake up the central administration of MPS. They are challenging Andrekopoulos openly in ways not seen in prior years, when a firm majority of board members supported Andrekopoulos.
He and Bonds have been critical of Andrekopoulos and the previous board for not doing enough to listen to people in the city as a whole and for not providing enough information to the board.
Blewett said his main agenda item as president is “to engage the community.” Just holding public hearings or meetings around the community is not enough, he said, referring to a round of community meetings last fall on a new strategic plan for MPS as “spectacular wastes of time and money.” He said people who work in schools, parents and the community in general need meaningful involvement.
“I really want to make sure that we’re investigating every opportunity to engage the public and provide our students with quality learning experiences that get beyond reading and math,” he said.
Bonds said, “I have a very aggressive agenda to change the direction of the School District.”
He was strongly critical of policies such as the redesigning of high schools led by Andrekopoulos in recent years, including the creation of numerous small high schools.
“Given the resources we (MPS) have, we should be providing a better product,” he said. “I feel the administration has led us down a failed path.”

There are similar issues at play in Madison. The local school board’s composition has significantly changed over the past few years – much for the better. Time will tell, whether that governance change translates into a necessary new direction for our $339M+, 24, 342 student Madison School District. Alan Borsuk is a Madison West High Grad.

Elementary School Foreign Language Courses: Then and Now

The recent news that Oregon (WI) is considering the addition of foreign language courses to their elementary schools caused me to wonder what, if anything has happened in this important area within the MMSD? Pamela Cotant’s 5/22/1990 article contains this snippet:

Foreign languages: At the regular school board meeting Monday, the board voted unanimously in favor of seven recommendations made by an ad-hoc foreign language evaluation committee. The recommendations include hiring a half-time foreign language coordinator, consideration of an elementary school pilot program, and evaluation of offering a five-year sequence of the same languages in middle and high schools.

The 1990-1991 MMSD budget was $149.2M. (2007-2008 budget is $339M+).
Celeste Roberts adds some useful comments on the importance of elementary foreign language offerings here.

Recent Change in Per Pupil Public Elementary and Secondary School Current Expenditures Per State: 1986 to 2005 (Constant 2005 Dollars)

18K PDF. Wisconsin’s K-12 funding has increased, in “real dollars” 45.3% from 1986 to 2005 (25th). Interestingly, from a tax perspective, Wisconsin ranks 17th in public elementary and secondary school revenue per $1,000 personal income in 2004 [20K PDF]. Via Morgan Quitno Press: State Trends.
MQ also publishes an annual “Smartest State” award. Wisconsin ranked 8th in 2006/2007.

U of Chicago Requires 4 PowerPoint Slides with Application

Justin Pope:

At business meetings the world over, PowerPoint-style presentations are often met with yawns and glazed eyes.
But at one of the world’s top business schools, such slide shows are now an entrance requirement. In a first, the University of Chicago will begin requiring prospective students to submit four pages of PowerPoint-like slides with their applications this fall.
The new requirement is partly an acknowledgment that Microsoft Corp.’s PowerPoint, along with similar but lesser-known programs, have become a ubiquitous tool in the business world. But Chicago says so-called “slideware,” if used correctly, also can let students show off a creative side that might not reveal itself in test scores, recommendations and even essays.
By adding PowerPoint to its application, Chicago thinks it might attract more students who have the kind of cleverness that can really pay off in business, and fewer of the technocrat types who sometimes give the program a bad name.
“We wanted to have a freeform space for students to be able to say what they think is important, not always having the school run that dialogue,” said Rose Martinelli, associate dean for student recruitment and admissions. “To me this is just four pieces of blank paper. You do what you want. It can be a presentation. It can be poetry. It can be anything.”

A dark day. Much more on PowerPoint and Education, here. The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, by Edward Tufte.

CUNY Plans to Raise Its Admissions Standards: “the math cutoff would be raised first because that was where the students were “so woefully unprepared””

Karen Arenson:

The City University of New York is beginning a drive to raise admissions requirements at its senior colleges, its first broad revision since its trustees voted to bar students needing remedial instruction from its bachelor’s degree programs nine years ago.
In 2008, freshmen will have to show math SAT scores 20 to 30 points higher than they do now to enter the university’s top-tier colleges — Baruch, Brooklyn, City, Hunter and Queens — and its six other senior colleges.
Students now can also qualify for the bachelor’s degree programs with satisfactory scores on the math Regents examination or on placement tests; required cutoffs for those tests will also be raised.
Open admissions policies at the community colleges will be unaffected.
“We are very serious in taking a group of our institutions and placing them in the top segment of universities and colleges,” said Matthew Goldstein, the university chancellor, who described the plan in an interview. “That is the kind of profile we want for our students.”
Dr. Goldstein said that the English requirements for the senior colleges would be raised as well, but that the math cutoff would be raised first because that was where the students were “so woefully unprepared.”

Speaking of Math, I’m told that the MMSD’s Math Task Force did not obtain the required NSF Grant. [PDF Overview, audio / video introduction] and Retiring Superintendent Art Rainwater’s response to the School Board’s first 2006-2007 Performance Goal:

1. Initiate and complete a comprehensive, independent and neutral review and assessment of the District’s K-12 math curriculum. The review and assessment shall be undertaken by a task force whose members are appointed by the Superintendent and approved by the BOE. Members of the task force shall have math and math education expertise and represent a variety of perspectives regarding math education.

Improving education must be the top priority

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

What’s needed is a regional response, which should include more involvement of businesses outside Milwaukee County in MPS and other school districts’ programs, more collaborative efforts such as the Kern Family Foundation and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Lead the Way program and a debate on what fundamental changes need to be made at MPS and other troubled districts, including whether to change their governing structure. Such a debate should be considered for other local governments, the idea being to make them more manageable, more accountable and more in control of their own affairs and budgets.
Businessman Sheldon Lubar of the Greater Milwaukee Committee put his finger on the problem early in the discussion: “You cannot reach the levels that I think all of you want to see us reach if you have a dropout rate of 50% of your high school students.”
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said one of his biggest surprises after taking office was the need to improve work force development. “If there’s one issue where I would love to take this community and shake it by the shoulders, it is how important education is in this world economy now,” he said.
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker talked about breaking up MPS into several districts; Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas argued for the need to reduce health care costs, the single biggest driver of government and school district costs; state Rep. Jason Fields (D-Milwaukee) talked about the politics of changing the educational system.
“This issue has been occurring for the last 20 years, but nothing’s been done about it,” Fields said. “If I sit at this table and we all agree that we need to do something, when we leave this room not a damn thing will change, and those black kids, kids in my neighborhood and my community, will still be in the same position.”
That needs to change for the sake of giving those kids a reasonable chance at a better life but also for the sake of southeastern Wisconsin’s ability to compete in the global marketplace.

Parents still seek the elusive ‘right’ school

Howard Blume & Carla Rivera:

When it comes to looking out for her children and grandchildren, Patricia Britt, a no-nonsense hospital nursing director, is nobody’s fool. Yet here she is, in late July, beside herself because she hasn’t yet settled on a school for her 8-year-old grandson Corey to attend in the fall.
Britt and her son, who are raising Corey together, gradually became dissatisfied with the private school that’s putting a $400-a-month strain on the family budget. But they have concerns about the quality of the public schools close to their Hyde Park home. And schools that they do like, such as the View Park Preparatory charter school run by Inner City Education, have a discouragingly long waiting list.
“My son has been looking,” Britt said. “He’s getting kind of frustrated. It’s almost to the 99th hour of making the decision.”
No one knows exactly how many students are still without a school, but indicators show that the annual last-ditch scramble for a seat at a school of choice is in high gear:

Madison Parents Seek Court Order to Open Enroll into Monona Grove School District

Andy Hall:

Madison resident Allison Cizek, 5, is about to enter kindergarten, but a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that restricts the use of race in assigning children to schools may influence which school district she attends.
Allison ‘s parents, Jeff and Jennifer Cizek, filed a petition in Dane County Circuit Court on Thursday seeking an immediate court order that would allow her to attend Taylor Prairie School in the Monona Grove School District this fall.
“I wouldn ‘t be spending money on this if it wasn ‘t important to me, ” Jeff Cizek said Friday evening.
“The color of a person ‘s skin doesn ‘t matter. They should all be treated the same. ”
The family ‘s attempts to transfer Allison from Madison to Monona Grove have been rejected by Madison School District officials who ruled that because she is white, her departure would increase racial imbalance in her Madison school.
Allison ‘s family lives on Madison ‘s Southwest Side in the 2800 block of Muir Field Road. The home is in the Madison School District ‘s Huegel Elementary attendance area.
But her mother teaches in the Monona Grove School District, and last year Allison attended a pre-kindergarten program in that district east of Madison.

“The Peyton Manning of Charter Schools”

David Skinner:

And now his successor, Bart Peterson, a Democrat, has laid down a bold challenge to the city’s troubled public school system: improve or see your students migrate to the city’s growing roster of impressive charter schools authorized by the mayor himself.
This is no idle threat. In the 2006–07 academic year, the mayor oversaw 16 charter schools serving 3,870 students. Peterson is currently the only mayor in the nation running a charter school authorizer out of his office and has proven himself willing to be judged by the results. The charter school office issues an annual report on its schools that, in its candor and analytical sophistication, rivals just about any report out there. But what makes the mayor’s experiment far more interesting than, say, improvements in the city’s bus service, is that his charter schools are achieving results—in some cases, great results—with seriously disadvantaged kids. The Indianapolis experience shows that government, when ably led, can adapt and usher in its own set of reforms.
The story also shows that charter schools are much more than a right-wing hobbyhorse—that Democrats, too, are capable of using them to buck the system. Peterson himself says, “I’m not interested in striking ideological notes,” but he has certainly struck a chord with education thinkers like Andy Rotherham, former education adviser to President Clinton and co-founder of Education Sector in Washington, D.C. Rotherham says Peterson’s example proves that school choice is perfectly compatible with the philosophy of the left. Such a philosophy, however, must be a “liberalism of people,” devoted above all to the interests of students and families, not a “liberalism of institutions,” devoted to preserving the bureaucracy and the unions.

Family Guide to public schools in Indianapolis.
via Democrats for Education Reform.


National Council on Teacher Quality:

A letter to the editor in today’s Wall Street Journal brings more attention to the low academic performance of the average teacher with more meaningful data than just how well (or poorly) aspiring teachers perform on the SAT. On the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) which many teachers take before entering a Master’s program, we find the best evidence to date of substandard performance for the nation’s educators.
While the letter cited older data, more recent data from the ETS site tells a sorrowful tale. With the notable exception of secondary school teachers, the large majority of teachers score at the bottom. Out of the 50 intended graduate majors ETS collected data on, seven of the lowest scoring 10 majors on the list are education fields. Only one field–social work–scored lower.
The most popular choice of graduate degrees for teachers with aspirations for school or district leadership is a degree in education administration. The average GRE score was 948, comparing poorly with the national average score of 1058 for all fields of study.

Tom Shuford:

“When public officials want to reduce crime,” says Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association, “they listen to police officers. When they want to control flooding, they talk to engineers. . . .” (Letters, July 16). Implication: Want to improve education? Talk to the teachers union. A laughable proposition. Digest these data: Applicants for graduate study in education administration — tested between July 1, 2001, and June 30, 2004 — had a combined mean total GRE (Graduate Record Examination) score of 950 (Verbal, 427; Math, 523). That is sixth from the bottom of 51 fields of graduate study tabulated by the Educational Testing Service.
The mean total GRE score across all fields was 1066. Which applicants had still lower total GRE scores than applicants in education administration? Social work, 896; early childhood, 913; student counseling, 928; home economics, 933; special education, 934 —
education fields all. Other fields with mean GRE scores on the far left side of the GRE bell curve? Seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th from the left tip of the curve, respectively: public administration (“practices and roles of public bureaucracies”), 965; other education, 968; elementary education, 970; education evaluation and research, 985; other social science, 993. Note the pattern: Eighty-plus percent on the far-left-side-of-the-GRE-bell-curve are headed for — or, more likely, already employed by — public education systems. Ninety-plus percent are headed for some form of government employment. This GRE snapshot of the capabilities of the people who run government schooling monopolies is not unrelievedly bleak: There is one education “outlier,” secondary education, that has a mean score of 1063, in the middle of the bell curve distribution.
Tom Shuford
Lenoir, N.C.

Parents, kids chew on recipe for school success

Pat Schneider:

When the school bell rings this fall, high school freshmen will enter a period when they are most at risk of drifting away from school and the hopes and dreams of their families, statistics on local students show.
That’s why United Way of Dane County joined with the Madison Metropolitan School District on Tuesday in hosting a forum of parents and students to strategize on better ways to help students succeed.
Some 25 parents — and a half-dozen incoming ninth-graders — talked about their hopes for high school. The forum, held at James Wright Middle School, was part of the work of United Way’s Delegation on Disconnected and Violent Youth, which seeks to improve community support for young people and their families so students stay interested in and attending school, and away from drugs and crime.
“Disconnected” youth are not committed to school or work, underachieve and are alienated from adults, said Corey Chambas, co-chairman of the United Way delegation and CEO of First Business Financial Services. “They are really on the wrong path,” he said. United Way estimates there are 3,000 “disconnected” youth in Dane County.

English, Math Time Up in ‘No Child’ Era: 44% of Schools Polled Reduce Other Topics

Jay Matthews:

In the five years since a federal law mandated an expansion of reading and math tests, 44 percent of school districts nationwide have made deep cutbacks in social studies, science, art and music lessons in elementary grades and have even slashed lunchtime, a new survey has found.
The most detailed look at the rapidly changing American school day, in a report released today, found that most districts sharply increased time spent on reading and math.
The report by the District-based Center on Education Policy, which focuses on a representative sample of 349 school districts, found recess and physical education the only parts of the elementary school day holding relatively steady since enactment of the No Child Left Behind measure in 2002.
The survey provides grist for critics who say the federal testing mandate has led educators to a radical restructuring of the public school curriculum in a quest to teach to new state tests. But backers of the law, which is up for renewal this year, say that without mastery of reading and math, students will be hampered in other areas.

Full Report: 772K PDF

Bloomberg on the K-12 Status Quo

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, speaking to the Urban League:

“Next year is the 25th Anniversary of the publication of ‘A Nation at Risk,’ the landmark study that showed how American students were falling behind students in other nations – and the consequences we would face if it continued. Well, it did continue – and it got worse. Much worse. Today, our schools are further behind than they were 25 years ago –even though we’ve doubled education spending over the last several decades. If you did that with your 401(K) or your pension fund, you’d work for the rest of your life and die broke!
“In many cities, including New York, the money was squandered by politicians and special interests who protected their own jobs first, and worried about classroom learning second. A generation of students paid a terrible price, and let’s face facts: No group of children paid more than African-Americans.
“Today, black and Latino 12th graders – who should be reading college catalogs – are reading at the same level as white 8th graders. And a shockingly high percentage of black and Latino 4th graders – who should be reading Harry Potter – cannot even read a simple children’s book. This is not only not acceptable – it’s shameful. Whitney Young Jr. must be turning over in his grave!
“Here we are in the greatest country on earth – home of the best universities in the world. Is this really the best we can do? No way. We’re better than that. But let me tell you something. Let me tell you exactly who’s at fault: Us. That’s right. We are the ones to blame. And here’s why: Politicians have pandered to us by selling us on the idea that all we need is more money and smaller classes – and we’ve bought it. They’ve given us cheap platitudes and slogans instead of real solutions – and we’ve bought it. Whoever’s in power, they’ve pointed fingers at the other party when nothing improves – and we have bought it!

Middle-schoolers get a glimpse of higher learning at UW-Waukesha

Amy Hetzner:

UW-Waukesha has held individual courses and camps before, aimed at drawing younger students to its campus and feeding their imagination over the summer break. This year, however, was the first time it organized a full week of classes for students 11 to 14 to learn from the same instructors who teach young adults at the two-year campus.
It’s been an eye-opening experience for the instructors teaching the academy courses in science subjects from chemistry and ecology to astronomy and meteorology.
“The middle school is just wonderful to teach because the kids are in that part of their childhoods in which they become very, very curious about the world and are very easy to talk to about many different issues,” said Bob Birmingham, a UW-Waukesha archaeology lecturer and one of the teachers for the academy. “They ask a lot of questions. It seems to be an age where they’re putting a lot of things together.”

How Schools Get It Right

Experienced teachers, supplemental programs are two key elements to helping students thrive
Liz Bowie
Baltimore Sun
July 22, 2007
Tucked amid a block of rowhouses around the corner from Camden Yards is an elementary school with a statistical profile that often spells academic trouble: 76 percent of the students are poor, and 95 percent are minorities.
But George Washington Elementary has more academic whizzes than most of the schools in Howard, Anne Arundel, Carroll and Baltimore counties.
These students don’t just pass the Maryland School Assessment – they ace it. About 46.2 percent of George Washington students are scoring at the advanced level, representing nearly half of the school’s 94 percent pass rate.
An analysis by The Sun of 2007 MSA scores shows that most schools with a large percentage of high achievers on the test are in the suburban counties, often neighborhoods of middle- and upper-middle-class families. But a few schools in poorer neighborhoods, such as George Washington, have beaten the odds.
Statewide, Howard County had the highest percentage of students with advanced scores, and Montgomery and Worcester counties weren’t far behind.
Of the top five elementary schools, two are in Montgomery County, two in Anne Arundel and one in Baltimore County.
Whether they are in wealthy or poor neighborhoods, schools with lots of high-scoring students share certain characteristics. They have experienced teachers who stay for years, and they offer extracurricular activities after school. Sometimes, they have many students in gifted-and-talented classes working with advanced material.

Tests Shouldn’t Be Last Word on State of Writing

Katherine Kersten:

Minnesotans got what seemed like great news on the education front last month. The state Department of Education announced that in 2007, 92 percent of Minnesota 10th-graders and 91 percent of ninth-graders passed a writing test needed to graduate from high school.
Cause for celebration? I must confess to skepticism.
These through-the-roof passage rates don’t square with complaints about recent graduates’ writing skills that I’ve heard from friends who teach college or hire for businesses.
Young people’s shortcomings often range, I’m told, from limited vocabularies to difficulty writing clear, serviceable prose.
Nor do the high passing rates square with other test results. In the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress test of eighth-graders, 62 percent of Minnesota eighth-graders tested at basic or below in reading. A basic score denotes only “partial mastery” of the skills necessary for proficient performance.
In order to write well, you have to read well. The low NAEP reading scores suggest that Minnesota’s writing test must be easy.
Plenty of evidence
Evidence of weak writing skills is plentiful. Last fall, for example, nearly 50 percent of students entering Normandale Community College in Bloomington were required to take a remedial, or “developmental,” writing course, according to college spokesman Geoffrey Jones. Such courses merely get students ready for college-level work.
Minnesota isn’t alone in its writing deficit. Today, many kids from across the country — graduates of suburban and private high schools as well as inner-city schools — struggle to craft a logical argument, analyze ideas or otherwise convey their thoughts on paper.

Madison School District Small Learning Community Grant Application

136 Page 2.6MB PDF:

Madison Metropolitan School District: A Tale of Two Cities-Interrupted
Smaller Learning Communities Program CFDA #84.215L [Clusty Search]
Wisconsin. Home of contented cows, cheese curds, and the highest incarceration rate for African American males in the country. The juxtaposition of one against the other, the bucolic against the inexplicable, causes those of us who live here and work with Wisconsin youth to want desperately to change this embarrassment. Madison, Wisconsin. Capital city. Ranked number one place in America to live by Money (1997) magazine. Home to Presidential scholars, twenty times the average number of National Merit finalists, perfect ACT and SAT scores. Home also to glaring rates of racial and socio-economic disproportionality in special education identification, suspension and expulsion rates, graduation rates, and enrollment in rigorous courses. This disparity holds true across all four of Madison’s large, comprehensive high schools and is increasing over time.
Madison’s Chief of Police has grimly characterized the educational experience for many low income students of color as a “pipeline to prison” in Wisconsin. He alludes to Madison’s dramatically changing demographics as a “tale of two cities.” The purpose of the proposed project is to re-title that unfolding story and change it to a “tale of two cities-interrupted” (TC-I). We are optimistic in altering the plot based upon our success educating a large portion of our students and our ability to solve problems through thoughtful innovation and purposeful action. Our intent is to provide the best possible educational experience for all of our students.

Much more on Small Learning Communities here [RSS SIS SLC Feed]. Bruce King’s evaluation of Madison West’s SLC Implementation. Thanks to Elizabeth Contrucci who forwarded this document (via Pam Nash). MMSD website.
This document is a fascinating look into the “soul” of the current MMSD Administration ($339M+ annual budget) along with their perceptions of our community. It’s important to note that the current “high school redesign” committee (Note Celeste Roberts’ comments in this link) is rather insular from a community participation perspective, not to mention those who actually “pay the bills” via property taxes and redistributed sales, income and user fees at the state and federal level.

Advocating Teacher Merit Pay

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Wisconsin should reward hard-working, innovative teachers such as William Farnsworth with merit pay.
Farnsworth, a science teacher at Waunakee Intermediate School, received the 2006 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. He was the only Wisconsin teacher among the 93 teachers honored.
Performance-based pay serves as an incentive for better work, makes salaries competitive and reflects the complexity of many teaching jobs. It’s time has come in Wisconsin.

A Smart Parent Criticizes AP

Jay Matthews:

Last week Pomona College president David Oxtoby tried to educate me in this column about what he sees as the flaws of the Advanced Placement program, the college-level courses and tests given in high school of which I am American journalism’s biggest supporter. This column will look at AP from the perspective of a well-informed parent in Anne Arundel County, Md., who thinks the program has fallen prey to the worst aspects of the movement to make public schools accountable through regular testing.
I was pretty aggressive with Oxtoby, since I know him well and figure he is used to being disrespected by self-important reporters. In the discussion below, I am much more polite to Anne E. Levin Garrison, since she is under no obligation to talk to me and has a very personal perspective that even a know-it-all like me has to respect. Part of this column’s role as asource of information on AP, International Baccalaureate and other efforts to improve our high schools is my insistence that it be the most important forum for criticism of AP and IB. So I am thankful to both Oxtoby and Garrison for helping me fulfill that obligation and hope other critics will email me when they have something to say.

The Centralization of K-12 Education

Arnold Kling:

“We have been inexorably centralizing control over the schools in this country for 150 years. We’ve gone from one-room schoolhouses overseen directly by the parents of the children who attended them to sprawling bureaucracies that consume half of the operating budgets of their respective states. We’ve gone from 127,000 school districts in 1932 to fewer than 15,000 today — despite a massive increase in the number of students.”
Andrew J. Coulson

Schools Beat Back Demands for Special Ed Services

Daniel Golden:

Paul McGlone, an iron worker, and his wife, Tricia, became worried in 2006 that their autistic son knew fewer letters in kindergarten than he had in preschool.
When the East Islip school district refused their request for at-home tutoring by an autism specialist, they exercised their right under federal special-education law to an administrative hearing. There, a hearing officer ordered East Islip to pay for seven hours a week of home therapy. The McGlones hired a tutor, and their son “started to click again,” his mother says.
Then the district appealed the decision to Paul F. Kelly, the New York state review officer for special-education cases. He denied any reimbursement for home services. “The child’s progress was consistent with his abilities,” Mr. Kelly found in February. The family canceled the tutoring.
The McGlone case is part of a pattern that has many parents and advocates for the disabled in an uproar. They say administrative reviews in many parts of the U.S. overwhelmingly back school districts in disputes over paying for special-education services. State education departments, which have an interest in keeping down special-education costs, typically train or hire the hearing officers. Also, recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and changes to federal law have made it harder for parents to win cases.

Germantown Wants to Leave Milwaukee’s MATC Tax District

Tom Kertscher & Erica Perez:

A proposal to remove Germantown from the Milwaukee Area Technical College District is a step into largely uncharted territory, but it is attracting interest from other communities that want to cut property taxes.
Meanwhile, MATC is waiting to see whether it could lose millions of dollars to the Moraine Park Technical College District, should Germantown succeed in moving to the lower taxing district.
Gaining approval from the state technical college board for such a move probably would be difficult, given that it would take money away from the Milwaukee district, said Germantown Village Trustee Al Vanderheiden.

Politics, Indoctrination and Education

Michael Levy:

Two stories recently caught my eye, one in the Washington Post that discussed the publication of a new Russian teaching manual, written ”in-part by Kremlin political consultants,” that is very nationalist in outlook and a BBC report that a new Israeli textbook to be used in Israeli-Arab schools provides a more nuanced and balanced view of Israel’s creation in 1948, acknowledging that some Arabs consider it a “catastrophe” and that some Palestinians were expelled and lands confiscated following statehood. (These are but two examples of controversies that regularly arise over history textbooks; for example, Japanese textbooks and their portrayal of that country’s imperial history have always been a lightning rod throughout Asia.)

“The first ingredient in education reform is to tell parents the truth.”

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools:

OK, so the Lieberman/Landrieu/Coleman bill is technically second out of the gate, but [this one] really gets the NCLB reauthorization debate started. Making its debut at a Senate-side shindig featuring Chancellors Klein (NY) and Rhee (DC), the Lieberman-led proposal lays done some important markers, to wit:

  • Lets schools move away from input-driven “Highly Qualified Teachers” rules and toward a new standard based on effectiveness in the classroom
  • Permits growth measures in Adequate Yearly Progress, and fund the technologies needed to move rapidly toward measuring student-level longitudinal gains
  • Morphs NAEP’s governing body into a new commission that would write voluntary standards – – and make states tell parents about the gap between their own state assessments and prevailing national norms

More sunshine is better. Props to Madison Magazine for taking a closer look at our local schools.

Rating Our High Schools

Mary Erpanbach:

Art Rainwater didn’t want us to do this.
“I cannot imagine anything more destructive to how hard people in this community are trying to work together,” the city’s school superintendent said when we called to ask him the best way to compare Dane County’s high schools.
And yet.
It’s lost on no one, least of all Rainwater, that education is increasingly a game of numbers, that numerals have practically replaced consonants in our national dialogue on schools.
Take the feds, who are at this moment gathering mountains of data on schools to satisfy the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Add the state, which harvests a bumper crop of test scores and school statistics each year. And throw in the institutions themselves; while they understandably don’t like statistics because numbers can never tell the whole story, high schools still, for example, condense the whole story of every senior into one make-or-break number: the class rank. (And don’t let any school tell you it doesn’t–whether by actual number or by some version of a “grade-distribution” grid, high school guidance counselors routinely document for colleges where a given student ranks scholastically in relation to his or her peers.)
For numbers you need– and can actually use–we turned to experts: parents, counselors, principals, consultants. Does academic achievement matter when it comes to ranking schools? Absolutely, say college admissions advisors and parents. So we included each school’s average score on the state Knowledge and Concepts Exam and on the national ACT test. How about a school’s overall learning environment? Some of the ways to measure that, say the consultants, are to look at graduation rates, student-to-teacher ratios, and the number of courses and advanced-placement courses offered by each school. How about measuring a climate that’s more cultural than academic? Take extracurriculars into account, advise experts. Schools that offer a healthy number of sports programs and academic and social clubs accomplish two things at once: They give students good chances to participate and they enrich the overall fabric of the school.

Rating Our High Schools.


David Koeppel:

SARAH JONES’S first real sense of what it might be like to be a marine biologist came during summers at Seacamp San Diego, a camp for middle-school and high-school students. It was there that her curiosity about the field evolved into an academic and career choice.
Ms. Jones, 25, is about to begin a Ph.D. program in biological oceanography at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne. She wants to become a marine biology professor and to conduct research into seahorse conservation and preservation.
The type of camp that inspired Ms. Jones as a teenager is gaining popularity, and is part of a larger trend toward environmental and science camps. About 50 camps, most of them near the ocean, now specialize in marine biology studies, according to the American Camp Association. That is an increase of about 25 percent since 1998.

Walking to school goes by wayside

Mike Stobbe:

Fewer than half of American children who live close to school regularly walk or bike to classes, according to a new study that highlights a dramatic shift toward car commuting.
Children in the South did the least amount of walking or cycling, partly because of safety concerns, experts say.
The issue is considered important because it is linked to escalating rates of childhood obesity. And many schools have been cutting back on recess and physical education, said Sarah Martin, the study’s lead author.

California’s students get into college, but not always out

Justin Pope:

For most of history, higher education has been reserved for a tiny elite.
For a glimpse of a future where college is open to all, visit California — the place that now comes closest to that ideal.
California’s community college system is the country’s largest, with 109 campuses, 4,600 buildings and a staggering 2.5 million students. It’s also cheap. While it’s no longer free, anyone can take a class, and at about $500 per term full-time, the price is a fraction of any other state’s.
There is no such thing as a typical student. There are high achievers and low ones, taking courses from accounting to welding. There are young and old, degree-seekers and hobbyists — all commingled on some of the most diverse campuses in the country, if not the world.
Many students, for one reason or another, simply missed the onramp to college the first time around — people like 31-year-old Bobbie Burns, juggling work and childcare and gradually collecting credits at San Diego City College in hopes of transferring to a media program at a nearby university.

College Essay Contest

NY Times Magazine:

“College as America used to understand it is coming to an end.”
In the turbulent late ’60s and early ’70s, college campuses played a major role in the culture and politics of the era. Today, according to author and historian Rick Perlstein, colleges have lost their central place in the broader society and in the lives of undergraduates.
We invite all college students to read “What’s the Matter with College,” Perlstein’s full article on the subject, and submit an essay of no more than 1,200 words in response.
Is the college experience less critical to the nation than it was a generation ago? We invite you to join the debate.

New Manuals Push A Putin’s-Eye View In Russian Schools

Peter Finn:

With two new manuals for high school history and social studies teachers, written in part by Kremlin political consultants, Russian authorities are attempting to imbue classroom debate with a nationalist outlook.
The history guide contains a laudatory review of President Vladimir Putin’s years in power. “We see that practically every significant deed is connected with the name and activity of President V.V. Putin,” declares its last chapter. The social studies guide is marked by intense hostility to the United States.
Both books reflect the themes dominating official political discourse here: that Putin restored Russian strength and built what the Kremlin calls a “sovereign democracy” despite American efforts to isolate the country.
The principal author of the history manual — “The Newest History of Russia, 1945-2006” — is Alexander Fillipov, deputy head of the National Laboratory of Foreign Policy, a research institute affiliated with the Kremlin.

Helping students become ‘responsible citizens’?

Vin Suprynowicz:

John Taylor Gatto, honored on several occasions as New York City and New York state teacher of the year, has made it the second part of his life’s work to determine why our government schools are so ineffective — why he always had to fight the bureaucracy above him in order to empower his young charges (many of them minority kids, given to him as “punishment” because the administrators thought them “hopeless”) to spread their wings and learn.
What Gatto discovered is enough to cause a massive paradigm shift for anyone who reads his books, whether you start with the slim “Dumbing Us Down” or his weightier master work, “The Underground History of American Education.”
America’s schools aren’t failing, Gatto discovered. They’re doing precisely what they were re-designed to do between the 1850s and the early 1900s, when America embarked on our current imperial/mercantilist adventure — that is, to churn out little soldiers and factory workers with mindless obedience drilled in and with the higher critical faculties burned out of them through the process of feeding them learning in small unrelated bits like pre-digested gruel, till they neither know how nor feel any inclination to discern higher patterns, which might lead them to challenge the “party line.”
Who dreamed up such a system?
Thus, if we want to see what our “reverse-engineered” copy of the German school system has in mind for us, it might pay to simply take a look at what’s happening with government-run schooling … in Germany.

On Early Childhood Education

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial Board:

Kindergarten for 3-year-olds has been a smash hit at Bruce Guadalupe Community School on Milwaukee’s near south side, where, bucking what is supposed to be their fate, low-income students perform at a high academic level.
Jill Matusin, who teaches 5-year-olds at the charter school, swears by 3K.
“The difference – it was amazing,” she says of two sisters in her classroom in successive years – one who started in 5K and the other in 3K. The sister with the head start was far more advanced in numbers, colors, language and social skills.
The results so impressed Bruce Guadalupe that it is set to open four more 3K classrooms this fall – setting a splendid example for the state, which must boost preschool education, particularly for needy children. This strategy would narrow, if not close, the gaps in academic achievement between the poor and the middle class, whites and blacks, Anglos and Latinos.
Decades of study have led educators to this consensus: When aimed at kids from lower-income families, quality early childhood education boosts academic attainment, high school graduation rates, college attendance and future wages, and it reduces truancy, crime and teenage pregnancies.

Harvesting Kids

Andrew Gumbel:

When I told some actor friends about my experience, they immediately labeled it a scam. So did officials from the Association of Talent Agents, and from the Screen Actors Guild. What surprised me was how sophisticated the scam was – the company had my children (and, I would imagine, many parents) eating out of its hand before it asked for the money. What I didn’t yet realize, though, was how the scam worked – and how the entire industry essentially relies on shysters and con artists to provide a steady flow of child labor.
Here’s how the system operates. Aly Hartman referred a few times to Parent Guide’s “Burbank office,” but what she was really talking about was a child-actor management company called Kids! Background Talent, which is indeed in the business of finding children work on television and in the movies. Kids! Background Talent charges no upfront fees, other than a refundable $30 registration designed mainly to maintain a modicum of seriousness among its would-be clients.

Lancaster parents blast 4-day school week plan

Kathy Goolsby & Karen Ayres:

Nearly 1,000 parents and students packed into Lancaster High School’s auditorium Thursday night to hear district officials pitch a plan for a four-day school week that drew fiery criticism from the crowd.
Many parents at the emotion-charged meeting said the proposal – which would take effect this fall and is being presented as a one-year pilot program – would allow unsupervised students to get into trouble while home alone Fridays and would force parents to spend hundreds of dollars on child care for young children.

150 Years of Milwaukee Marquette High School

Alan Borsuk:

They don’t have that at Marquette University High School anymore.
“I may have been in the last class where you were required to take Latin,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who graduated in 1972. “There was something about the Gallic Wars the second year, that’s about all I remember.”
Some things do change at Marquette High. But look at all the things that haven’t changed over the past 150 years – it’s still in the heart of the city, still all-boys, still Jesuit, still producing a generous portion of the political, judicial, corporate and civic leaders of the city.
The school will celebrate its 150th birthday Saturday; its roots go back nearly to the founding of Milwaukee.
(Latin, by the way, is still offered as an elective, and 103 students are scheduled to take it this fall. Also, not everyone disliked Latin. Milwaukee historian and author John Gurda, a 1965 graduate, said he treasures his four years of Latin and two years of Greek, and they still strengthen his perspective on language and its roots.)

The Students Behind NCLB’s ‘Disabilities’ Designation

Erin Dillon:

It’s not hard to find news reports about the federal No Child Left Behind Act claiming that the law is requiring teachers to give standardized tests to severely disabled students.1 These stories frequently portray all special education students as having the same severe disabilities and bolster calls for changes to NCLB’s accountability provisions for special education students. But the majority of special education students are not severely handicapped. With special services and accommodations, they are able to perform at grade level.
As part of its accountability requirements, NCLB calls for schools to separate test-score data by student subgroup—categories of students that include major racial groups, low-income students, English language learners, and students with disabilities. This prevents schools, school districts, or states from letting high overall student achievement hide low achievement among certain groups of students. NCLB defines the students-with-disabilities subgroup as all students served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As Chart 1 shows, this is a broad definition and includes students with a wide range of disabilities.

History lessons ‘are becoming a thing of the past’

Graeme Paton:

HISTORY is becoming an endangered subject as growing numbers of children drop the subject at 14, according to Ofsted, the education watchdog.
Less than a third of pupils study GCSE history, meaning few learn about important historical themes when they are “mature enough” to do so.
In a critical report published today, inspectors said pupils were being driven away because of overloaded timetables and lessons that were often dumbed down.
Ofsted insisted the curriculum focused on a “relatively small number of issues” with pupils failing to make connections between different periods or answering the “big questions” thrown up by the past.
The report also said the Government’s drive to promote so-called “Britishness” was being undermined by lessons that focus too strongly on England while shunning Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

College Board Tries to Police Use of ‘Advanced Placement’ Label

Tamar Lewin:

When Bruce Poch, the dean of admissions at Pomona College, sees a high school transcript listing courses in AP Philosophy or AP Middle Eastern History, he knows something is wrong. There is no such thing. Neither subject is among the 37 in the College Board’s Advanced Placement program.
“Schools just slap AP on courses to tag them as high-level, even when there’s no Advanced Placement exam in the subject,” Mr. Poch said. “It was getting to be like Kleenex or Xerox.”
But now, for the first time, the College Board is creating a list of classes each school is authorized to call AP and reviewing the syllabuses for those classes. The list, expected in November, is both an effort to protect the College Board brand and an attempt to ensure that Advanced Placement classes cover what college freshmen learn, so colleges can safely award credit to students who do well on AP exams.
“We’ve heard of schools that offered AP Botany, AP Astronomy, AP Ceramics, and one Wyoming school with AP Military History,” said Trevor Packer, director of the board’s Advanced Placement program. “We don’t have those subjects. One of the reasons colleges called for the audit was that they wanted to know better what it means when they see an AP on a transcript.”

New learners must spend 4 hours a day on English

Pat Kossan:

All kids still learning English will have to spend at least four of their five or six class hours in new courses in English grammar, phonetics, conversation, reading and writing.
It’s a big change in the way the state’s K-12 schools will teach English to about 135,000 kids, whose primary language is most often Spanish, but also Navajo, Somali and dozens of others. Many of those kids now get about an hour of English a day.
“More time on task. That’s a tried-and-true educational standard,” said economist Alan Maguire, who headed a task force that created the state’s new language-learning requirements. “If you want to learn how to play the piano, what do they tell you to do? They tell you to practice.”
The new model is based on a law passed last summer.

Learning, Growth and Socialization: A paper presented to the Association of Teacher Educators Summer Conference, Milwaukee: July 29, 2007

UW-Milwaukee Professor Emeritus Martin Haberman (and create of MMTEP):

I recently examined the four most widely used texts sold to faculty in schools of education to teach “learning” to future teachers. The courses these texts are used in are well known to teacher educators. They carry titles such as “Principles of Learning for Teachers,” or “Introduction to Educational Psychology,” or “Learning in Classrooms.” There is no accredited teacher preparation program in the country that does not require at least one such course. There is no state department of education that does not require such courses before they will accredit a college or university as having an approved program of teacher education. No other academic discipline has any where near such total control and influence over the “knowledge” required of future teachers.
As I scanned these texts I asked myself a simple question. If I were a classroom teacher how would the learning theories being presented in these texts help me to deal with the following subgroups in a class of 25 to 35 students:
1.4-6 students feign helplessness regardless of how much the assignments are watered down and never complete assignments.
2.6-8 students need for attention prevents them from staying on task and interferes with the work of others.
3.1-2 students see themselves as having been hurt by teachers and seek revenge regardless of the task or assignment at hand.
4.3-4 students challenge the teacher for control of the classroom
5.6-8 students come to school everyday and function as observers rather than participants. They devote most of their time to observing the interactions ( i.e. the cold or hot war) between the teacher and each of the four student groups cited above.
Ultimately, this group comprises the majority of school dropouts; these are students with very low achievement who declare they quit school because it was”boring.”
6.4-6 officially labeled special needs students with IEP’s.
It is important to understand that the causes of feigned helplessness, the need for constant attention, assurance, control, revenge, or to observe rather than participate cannot be fully explained by psychological constructs.At least a dozen academic disciplines provide valid theoretic and research based constructs that explain these student behaviors. Thinking of classes in real schools comprised of these six subgroups I found little in the texts that explain either why students take on these roles or what a teacher could do to best teach students assuming these roles. But worst of all, I found no connection anywhere in the four texts between the endless lists of recommended behaviors given to prospective teachers and any theory of learning. In a desperate attempt to convince myself that surely these texts on “learning” would have some relevance to the real world I looked up the terms “classroom management” and “discipline” in their glossaries. Each of these volumes consisted of over 300 pages. In each case I found less that two pages of do’s and don’ts dealing with discipline and no connection of these recipes to any theory of learning.The volumes themselves are endless lists of things teachers should do without any connections whatever between their endless admonitions to any psychological theory. The reason for this is simple. The interminable advocacies are not based on or derived from any psychological theory… none.

Martin Haberman Clusty Search.

“A primer on “Madison Math” – when is a ‘cut’ really a cut?”

Rep. Karl Van Roy:

Calling an increase in spending or funding a ‘cut,’ just because it isn’t as much as someone proposed, is a textbook example of “Madison Math.” In the coming weeks, you’ll be hearing a lot about the Assembly version of the budget and a good portion of the criticism will be false claims that our version cuts our most important programs. For example, you’ll hear that the Assembly budget cuts funding for the UW system and K-12 education. Both of these claims are patently false. In fact, the Assembly version of the budget increases spending on K-12 education by $464,404,400 ($16 million more than Governor Doyle proposed). And the UW system receives a $62.3 million increase above their funding level in the last budget, but yet you will hear cries of ‘cuts’ to the UW system simply because they were offered more in the Governor’s and Senate’s versions of the budget.

K-12 spending increases annually. The debate is always over the amount (and sometimes the source such as the redistribution of income, sales or property taxes) of the increase. The current state of Wisconsin Budget is $54,268,817,100. Senate Democrats proposed a new budget of $66,106,668,800 while Assembly Republicans proposed spending $56,336,765,800 in the next budget cycle. TJ Mertz has more on the proposed state budget here and here.

“The “White Privilege” Fetish Of Seattle’s Public Schools”

Matt Rosenberg:

On its Web site, the Seattle Public Schools Office of Equity and Race Relations details what it expects of the students from four Seattle high schools who are being sent to the eighth annual White Privilege Conference April 18-21 in Colorado Springs. The SPS white privilege conference “expectations” document states that for student attendees, ensuing goals should include: “educate youth and people who work with youth about issues of privilege;” and, “support and develop youth leadership for social and economic justice.” White privilege, as I discuss in a Seattle Times op-ed today, is about the pernicious cult of individualism and self-determination.

Best And Worst School Districts For The Buck

Via a reader email: Christina Settimi:

More spending doesn’t necessarily buy you better schools. With property taxes rising across the country, we took a look at per-pupil spending in public schools and weighed it against student performance–college entrance exam scores (SAT or ACT, depending on which is more common in the state), exam participation rates and graduation rates.
Winners in this rating system are counties whose schools deliver high performance at low cost. The losers spend a lot of money and have little to show for it.
Marin County, Calif., provides the best bang for the buck. In 2004 Marin spent an average of $9,356 ($6,579 adjusted for the cost of living relative to other metro areas in the U.S.) per pupil, among the lowest education expenditures in the country. But in return Marin delivered results above the national average: 96.8% of its seniors graduated, and 60.4% of them took the SAT college entrance exam and scored a mean 1133 (out of 1600). The others in the top five are Collin, Texas; Hamilton, Ind.; Norfolk, Mass.; and Montgomery, Md.
In Pictures: Best And Worst School Districts For The Buck
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Alexandria City, Va., which sits just six miles outside of our nation’s capital, spent $13,730 ($11,404 adjusted) per pupil, but its high schools registered only a 73% graduation rate, with 65.0% of the seniors participating in the SAT for a mean score of 963. According to John Porter, assistant superintendent, Administrative Services and Public Relations for the Alexandria City Public Schools, their graduation rate is reflective of a large number of foreign-born students who may take longer than the traditional four years to graduate. He also noted that their performance measures are rising, along with their expenditures. Per-pupil spending in Alexandria City is now over $18,000. Others on the bottom of the list include Glynn, Ga.; Washington, D.C.; Ulster, N.Y.; and Beaufort, S.C.
Using research provided by the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group based in Washington, D.C., Forbes began with a list of the 775 counties in the country with populations greater than 65,000 that had the highest average property taxes. From this list we isolated the 97 counties where more than 50% of per-pupil spending contributions comes from property taxes. ( Click Here For Full Rankings)
Since it costs more to educate a student in New York than Alabama, we adjusted expenditures for each metropolitan area based on’s national cost of living average. We then chose to compare spending to the only performance measures that can be used to compare students equally across the country. With a nod toward recognizing the importance of education, performance was weighted twice against cost. Performance and cost numbers are county averages; individual school districts within a county can vary greatly.

Dane County ranked 63rd (Other Wisconsin Districts in the Top 97 include: Ozaukee – 16, -43 and Walworth – 91).
Daniel de Vise:

Education scholars and school system officials greeted the study as a flawed answer to a fascinating question: Which school districts deliver the best results for the tax dollars citizens invest?
“The value of this kind of analysis is to remind us that simply pouring more [money] into existing school systems is no formula for producing higher achievement out the other end,” Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, said in an e-mail.
But Finn derided this analysis as “just plain dumb” for failing to consider other factors, such as wealth and parent education, that affect test scores and graduation prospects.
The Forbes study takes the unusual approach of rating school systems from a stockbroker’s perspective — or, more specifically, the perspective of a stockbroker raising a family in the D.C. suburbs. Rather than simply rank them by SAT participation or outcome or graduation rate, it considers all three measures and a fourth, dollars spent.
The endeavor is skewed toward affluent and suburban schools, educators said, because of the focus on local property taxes; wealthier jurisdictions tend to pay a greater share of education costs from their own tax coffers. The top three systems in the resulting ranking are all suburban: Marin County, just north of San Francisco; Collin County, near Dallas; and Hamilton County, outside Indianapolis.

The Rush to Take More AP Courses Hurts Students, High Schools, and Colleges

David Oxtoby:

An entering student at Pomona College last fall submitted the results of 14 Advanced Placement tests, all but one with the top score of 5. In all, 20 members of the entering class each reported the results of 10 or more such exams. Obviously, these are highly talented students who will benefit from the broad range of advanced courses that Pomona offers. But it is far from clear that this proliferation of AP courses — along with the accompanying pressures — truly makes for the best high-school education, or, for that matter, prepares students to get the most out of their college years.
When I was a high-school student in the 1960s, students in good schools might have taken several AP courses, all during their senior year. Now, however, in order to accumulate 10 or more AP exams, it is necessary to begin far earlier. At some high schools, a 10th-grade chemistry course (the first chemistry course a student takes) is now designated as “advanced placement” so that introductory as well as college-level material can be compressed into a single year of work. In a few subjects, AP courses are now available as early as ninth grade. Can a ninth grader truly be said to be doing “college level” work in European history?

Jay Matthews:

David Oxtoby is one of the most interesting men in American higher education today. He first strikes you as another brilliant but nerdy scientist, which is how he got started, with a doctorate in chemistry from Berkeley and a splendid record as a professor and researcher. But he also had people skills and became president of Pomona College just as my daughter was arriving in 2003 for the start of her freshman year.
I think he is a terrific person and teacher, which is why I was so upset when I saw he had written a piece for the April 27 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “The Rush to Take More AP Courses Hurts Students, High Schools and Colleges.”
I think he is wrong, and wrong in a way that reveals the frustrating refusal of some of our best colleges to see what great benefits AP and other college courses are bringing to the vast majority of high schools that rarely, if ever, send students to extremely selective colleges like Pomona.

Learn to read Thai, get an education

Amy Kazmin:

In the dilapidated former canteen of Thailand’s Wat Si Sutharam School, about 20 Burmese children – aged five to 15 – sit on benches, carefully copying the first letter of the Thai alphabet in lined notebooks. Among them is 10-year-old Sai Htaw, a boy from Burma’s ethnic Mon minority, whose mother, San Aye, a worker in the coastal province of Samut Sakorn’s vast seafood-processing factory, hovers nearby.
Sai Htaw has a Thai name (Amporn) and speaks Thai with ease. But he neither reads nor writes it. During what should have been the early years of his education he was barred from Thai schools because he lacked a birth certificate, something issued only to Thai citizens.
Now, toiling in the spartan classroom, supervised by volunteer teachers from a labour rights group, Sai Htaw is on the front line of what is likely to be an arduous struggle: the push to secure formal education for the often Thai-born children of migrant workers from Burma.
With a recent decision by Bangkok to open schools to all, Sai Htaw and his classmates have been promised places in schools alongside Thai children – once they grasp the basics of reading and writing Thai. Ms San Aye is elated: “I want him to study as much as he can.”

Abolish the SAT

Charles Murray:

The SAT got him into Harvard from a small Iowa town. But now, CHARLES MURRAY wants to abolish the test. It’s unnecessary and, worse, a negative force in American life.
For most high school students who want to attend an elite college, the SAT is more than a test. It is one of life’s landmarks. Waiting for the scores—one for verbal, one for math, and now one for writing, with a possible 800 on each—is painfully suspenseful. The exact scores are commonly remembered forever after.
So it has been for half a century. But events of recent years have challenged the SAT’s position. In 2001, Richard Atkinson, president of the University of California, proposed dropping the SAT as a requirement for admission. More and more prestigious small colleges, such as Middlebury and Bennington, are making the SAT optional. The charge that the SAT is slanted in favor of privileged children—“a wealth test,” as Harvard law professor Lani Guinier calls it—has been ubiquitous. I have watched the attacks on the SAT with dismay. Back in 1961, the test helped get me into Harvard from a small Iowa town by giving me a way to show that I could compete with applicants from Exeter and Andover. Ever since, I have seen the SAT as the friend of the little guy, just as James Bryant Conant, president of Harvard, said it would be when he urged the SAT upon the nation in the 1940s.

Texas District Makes Gains With Special Education

Christina Samuels:

When leaders of the North East Independent district realized some students weren’t succeeding, they rolled up their sleeves and went to work. The results were dramatic.
The North East Independent School District, serving part of the city of San Antonio, cherishes its image as a diverse system of high-achieving students bound for college. But two years ago, the 61,000-student district received a jolt when 10 of its 61 schools failed to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. At each, the performance of students with disabilities tipped the scale downward. Four were considered “academically unacceptable” under state standards, a rating that was successfully appealed but still a blow.
Superintendent Richard A. Middleton, who has led the district for 17 years, said the results were demoralizing: “When we have a school that for the large part is very successful, if a smaller cell of student scores creates a low ranking, there’s an air of disbelief and confusion.”
The plan required both a practical and a philosophical change for district professionals. Principals, in partnership with district-level data-coaching teams, dug deeper into student achievement data than they ever had before. All students, particularly those with disabilities, had to be taught the most rigorous classwork teachers believed they could master. Administrators were asked to internalize a belief that all students could learn—no excuses.
Not every school leader was immediately on board. Linda Skrla, an associate professor at Texas A&M University, in College Station, and a graduate school classmate of Ms. Thomas’, gave a presentation to district administrators the summer after the 2005-06 test administration. Along with James J. Scheurich, Ms. Skrla wrote a book called Leadership for Equity and Excellence, contending that unconscious biases can lead administrators to have low expectations for students. The authors urge administrators to confront those biases and institute reforms.

Bubble Kids Benefit

David J. Hoff
A new study out of Chicago suggests that low-achieving and high-achieving students haven’t benefited from No Child Left Behind.
When comparing changes in Chicago students’ test scores pre- and post-NCLB, researchers Derek Neal and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach found a “strikingly consistent pattern” in the test scores of students with lowest-achievement test scores. They scored “the same or lower” under NCLB’s accountability system than they did in the 1990s under the Chicago’s accountability measures.
When looking at gifted students, the researchers found “mixed evidence of gains” in the NCLB era.
Kids in the middle–the ones closest to proficiency–performed better under NCLB than they did before.
This study lends credence to common critiques of that law encourages teachers to focus on the so-called bubble kids–the ones that are close to reaching proficiency.

High School of the Arts gets creative to erase debt

Sarah Carr:

Prospects are looking brighter for the coming school year at cash-strapped Milwaukee High School of the Arts. But long term, the school’s fate will provide a case study for some of the major challenges facing public education today:

  • Can a financially struggling public school find major private donors?
  • Can a school with a distinct – and sometimes, more costly – specialty, such as the arts, preserve that focus at a time of slimmed-down budgets?
  • And if help comes, will it be from the arts community, business leaders, alumni and parents, or from established funding channels? Where does a public school in need of extra money turn first?

Under a new plan, the high school will likely borrow money from a pool of funds from other city schools with budget surpluses. The move will probably allow the school to restore a few teaching positions in the fall. The plan has brought a fresh sense of optimism to the school community. But the High School of the Arts’ situation also underscores the obstacles in store as public schools, in unprecedented numbers, try to dive into the world of private fund raising.

Test for Success, Not Failure, in Education

Richard Rusczyk:

A wide-ranging study of pedagogy could bring about revolutionary advances in education, much as similar studies have brought about changes in medicine, as Gawande documents. Instead, nearly all efforts go into producing yet more new methods.
I run a small business producing educational materials, so I know well why: No one makes money testing existing procedures (outside of the politically-connected testers, of course, but innovators need not apply), nor by making incremental changes over a generation, even if those incremental changes amount to tremendous benefit to students.

Detroit Superintendent No Fan of Charters

Jennifer Mrozowski:

New Detroit Public Schools superintendent Connie Calloway said Thursday that she does not support charter schools, and she intends to present ideas that will help draw students back to the struggling school system.
“Charter schools mean suicide for public schools,” said Calloway during her first board meeting, causing the crowd at Kettering High School to erupt in applause.
Calloway said Detroit Public Schools must get to the root of the persistent enrollment loss plaguing the 116,000-student district.
She identified two immediate reasons: ongoing disputes the district faces and the desire of parents to have safe, clean and orderly schools.
“We have to think about the presence that we put forth to the media, to the state department, to the rest of the United States as a Detroit Public Schools community,” she said. “What is it that we are doing that causes us to drive families away?”

Joanne has more.

Students Swim In Knowledge of Aqua Biology Class

Susan Troller
The Capital Times
You can’t blame them for screaming, even if it does scare the fish.
The high school students in Paul du Vair’s aqua biology summer school course have learned to be extraordinarily game as they explore and record scientific data about Lake Mendota and its Six Mile Creek tributary. But there are a few things that make even these field-tested young ecologists shriek or howl out loud.
Like when they emerge from Lake Mendota or Six Mile Creek with blood-sucking leeches firmly attached to their legs. Or when they are hauling nets through waist-deep, murky water and big dark shapes bump against them. Or when they are wading along and suddenly step deep into a hidden, muck-filled hole.
The 20-odd students who are part of du Vair’s three-week summer enrichment biology class are not faint of heart, and they don’t complain much. Like generations before them, they are taking part in a Madison institution, the only summer school enrichment course that has survived mostly unchanged from the 1960s.

Paul du Vair is the legendary TAG Biology teacher at Madison East High School.

The “Small School Hype”

Diane Ravitch:

I like small schools, but I also like middle-size schools. About ten years ago, Valerie Lee of the University of Michigan did a study in which she asked what was the ideal size for a high school, and she concluded that the ideal school was small enough for kids to be known by the teachers, but large enough to mount a reasonable curriculum. The best size for a high school, she decided, based on a review of student progress in schools of different sizes, is 600-900 students. You may think this is too large, but it sure beats schools of 2,000-3,000. I think we can all agree that the mega-schools that were created in the past forty years or so are hard, difficult environments for adolescents, where they can easily get lost in the crowd. Anonymity is not good for kids or for adults, either.
Anyway, American education seems to be engaged in yet another statistical sham, this time involving small high schools. Everyone wants Gates money, so almost every big-city school district is breaking up big schools into small schools. To make sure that they look good and get good press (the same thing), the leadership of some districts stack the deck by screening out the lowest performing kids—the special education students, the limited-English speakers, and kids with low test scores.

Much more on Madison’s Dance with “Small Learning Communities” here, including outgoing Superintendent Art Rainwater’s presentation on the proposed “High School Redesign”.

Six Myths About the Financial Impact of Charter Schools

Matthew Arkin and Bryan Hassel [2.33MB PDF]:

School districts across the country are having financial problems, and charter schools are increasingly getting blamed. Charters are accused of taking money from “the public schools,” although they are public schools themselves. Charters are even taking the blame for rising taxes. These assertions certainly paint a clear picture of some district administrators’ feelings about charter schools – but they don’t tell the full story.
In fact, high-quality public charter schools have positive financial impacts for communities that more than offset the obvious and immediate revenue losses to districts. Accurately measuring the financial impact of charters requires looking at not only the revenue shifts for the school district but also these benefits to the broader community.

“Fuzzy Math” War in Seattle

Rachel Tuinsta:

Educators and parents say it’s a debate between conceptual vs. computational math.
It’s a battle centered around curriculum, teaching materials and textbooks with the question on everyone’s mind: What is the best way for students to learn math?
The debate has spurred Eastside parents to sign petitions and lobby district officials for changes; some even have decided to run for school board.
What most students are learning in Eastside classrooms and across the nation is known as “conceptual” math, sometimes called new math, or what Killeen and other parents call “fuzzy” math.
In elementary grades, it focuses more on the “why,” not just the “how.” Students are asked to explain what the numbers mean, not just what the correct answer is. They are shown different ways to do the same problem and are encouraged to find their own methods.
But some parents say this method is shortchanging children, leaving them without a solid foundation in basic math concepts.

Too Many California Students Not Ready for College

Pamela Burdman and Marshall S. Smith

California’s vibrant economy is in jeopardy because we aren’t producing enough educated workers to meet the state’s future needs, according to a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California. The authors see only one solution: improving college attendance and graduation rates of Californians.
High-profile attempts by top universities to serve more low-income and minority students are important, but they won’t solve this problem. Only a limited number of students can attend these schools. Substantially increasing graduation rates will require lifting achievement levels for students who are not admitted to public universities.
If approved by lawmakers, a $33 million investment tucked inside the state budget represents a rare attempt to work toward that goal. The funds would ensure continuation of an audacious initiative that is shining a spotlight on a problem that has historically seemed intractable: the large number of students who don’t succeed in college because they don’t complete remedial English or math.
This effort represents the best chance in years to reverse that trend. It is being coordinated by instructors at the state’s community colleges, and no one is better positioned to tackle the problem. But the plan will not work without the serious engagement of colleges and sustained state support.

Progress is slow under Bush’s 2001 education reform, but No Child Left Behind is worth improving

Ronald Brownsein:

THE COMPLAINTS are reaching a crescendo as Congress moves closer to reauthorizing No Child Left Behind, the education reform law that President Bush passed with rare bipartisan support in 2001. Conservatives are wailing about federal intrusion. Teachers unions and some leading Democrats moan that the law relies too much on testing as the measure of student progress. And some parents echo each of those indictments.
There’s no doubt the law has minted enemies. But Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonpartisan group that advocates for low-income children, has it right when she says the law wasn’t designed “to make people happy.” It was passed because too many students in too many places were not learning enough. It wouldn’t be doing its job if it left in place the practices that produced those unacceptable results. Grumbling, in education as in everything else, is the inevitable price of change.
And the evidence is that change is generating some progress. The Center for Education Policy, an independent research organization, recently found that the share of students demonstrating proficiency in reading and (especially) math is up in most states since the law’s passage. In most places, achievement gaps between white and minority students are narrowing. The problem, on both fronts, is that improvement is coming too slowly. The overall gains remain relatively modest. And the gaps between white and minority students, though narrowed, remain dauntingly wide in many places.
Those numbers — not the whining from teachers, the right or, yes, even parents — ought to be the beacon as Bush and Congress reconsider the law. Washington shouldn’t try to silence the complainers but to sharpen the law’s focus on helping the schools and students most in need. In some cases, such an emphasis may even mute the discontent.

Breaking Away

Dana Spiotta:

MY parents were not hippies. We were a deeply conventional, middle-class American family, but my clean-cut mother and father tried to embrace, in a haphazard and innocent way, the values of the counterculture — at least enough to send me, their moody 14-year-old daughter, alone on a four-week bike trip through Greece.
My parents always approached my sister and me with an open-mindedness that was part idealism and part indulgence. So even when we were tiny, they let us stay up with the adults. We drifted off to sleep on various laps amid the murmur of late-night conversation. We attended an experimental school that, in sixth grade, gave us the option of studying math or doing book reports. (To this day, I don’t really understand fractions.) We were the only ones in our suburban neighborhood who ate brown bread and made yogurt.
My housewife mother was never without makeup and high heels, but she wanted to be sure I was raised with the hard-won feminist insistence on limitless possibility. So we listened to Marlo Thomas’s record “Free to Be You and Me,” her effort to instill women’s lib in the coming generation.
Later, we sang along to Carole King and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” My sister and I would perform the entire rock opera during car rides on our summer vacations.
Those vacations consisted exclusively of visits to our relatives, often at a rented house at the Jersey Shore. There I would tag along after my older sister and my older cousins as they discussed boyfriends and rock ’n’ roll. They wore gauze blouses and tousled Stevie Nicks perms.
And then my cousins became teenagers and they began to go on bike trips, with others their own age, to exotic places like France or the Netherlands. And whichever cousin went off would come back transformed: fit, tan, smoking clove cigarettes, carrying tooled-leather items and wearing a seen-it-all continental daze that never appeared in suburbia.

About Dana Spiotta

Text Messages Sent on Phone of Driver Before Wreck


Text messages were sent back and forth on the cell phone of a 17-year-old driver moments before her sport-utility vehicle slammed head-on into a truck, killing her and four other recent high school graduates on June 28, the police said today.
A text message was sent from the phone of the S.U.V. driver, Bailey E. Goodman, at 10:05:02 p.m., according to Sheriff Philip C. Povero of Ontario County, adding that a friend here sent a text message to Ms. Goodman’s phone asking, “What are you doing?”
“The message was received on the cell phone at 10:06:29,” Sheriff Povero said.
A call reporting the accident to the authorities from a passenger in a car the S.U.V. had passed just before the crash was made at 10:07, according to The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
“The records indicate her phone was in use,” he said. “We will never be able to clearly state that she was the one doing the text messaging.”

Schools Diversity Based on Income Segregates Some

Jonathan Glater & Alan Finder:

When San Francisco started trying to promote socioeconomic diversity in its public schools, officials hoped racial diversity would result as well.
It has not worked out that way.
Abraham Lincoln High School, for example, with its stellar reputation and Advanced Placement courses, has drawn a mix of rich and poor students. More than 50 percent of those students are of Chinese descent.
“If you look at diversity based on race, the school hasn’t been as integrated,” Lincoln’s principal, Ronald J. K. Pang, said. “If you don’t look at race, the school has become much more diverse.”
San Francisco began considering factors like family income, instead of race, in school assignments when it modified a court-ordered desegregation plan in response to a lawsuit. But school officials have found that the 55,000-student city school district, with Chinese the dominant ethnic group followed by Hispanics, blacks and whites, is resegregrating.
The number of schools where students of a single racial or ethnic group make up 60 percent or more of the population in at least one grade is increasing sharply. In 2005-06, about 50 schools were segregated using that standard as measured by a court-appointed monitor. That was up from 30 schools in the 2001-02 school year, the year before the change, according to court filings.

“The Old Curriculum is Dead, Long Live the New Curriculum”

Mike Baker:

Is it a radical and experimental shift – a real break with the traditional subject-driven timetable – as the curriculum experts argue?
Or is it just a gentle nudge on the tiller, cutting away a certain amount of “waste and duplication” in order to find a little more space for teachers to focus on the basics, as the government wants us to think?
I believe it is the former and that the government has either been hoodwinked by its advisers or, more likely, is too nervous of being accused of going all soft and trendy to be really honest about the radical nature of this change.

New Minnesota School Safety Center Established

Minnesota Department of Education:

Governor Tim Pawlenty today announced the establishment of the Minnesota School Safety Center, which will develop a framework for all-hazard safety planning for schools and will coordinate activities of federal, state and local partners.
The School Safety Center will be housed at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and will work in partnership with other state agencies. Retiring Brooklyn Park Chief of Police Wade Setter has been named to lead the Center.
“Bringing together all of the partners involved in school safety – law enforcement, schools, emergency response and victim service providers and others – will help us keep Minnesota students safe at school,” Governor Pawlenty said.
“This cooperation will go a long way toward ensuring the safety of our children,” said Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion. “Wade’s experience as a law enforcement officer, a mentor to young people and his proven leadership in forming partnerships make him the ideal individual to launch this effort.”

via MPR.

Backlash against antidepressants is fueling new interest in alternative treatments

Nancy Keates:

From lobotomies with ice picks to early antidepressants that caused brain hemorrhaging, Americans have a complicated and ever-changing approach to treating mental illness. Now, spurred by the growing disenchantment with antidepressants, an increasing number of people are seeking treatment for depression, anxiety and eating disorders from naturopaths, acupuncturists and even chiropractors. At the same time, more traditional psychiatrists are incorporating massage and meditation in their practices.
The treatments go beyond needles and spinal manipulation. They include Emotional Freedom Techniques — tapping on the body’s “energy meridians” as the patient thinks about upsetting incidents — and craniosacral therapy, which involves a gentle rocking of the head, neck, spine and pelvis. In cranial electrotherapy stimulation, a AA-battery-powered device sends mild electrical currents to the brain. (The procedure has its roots in ancient Greek medicine, when electric eels were used.) Clinicians are also prescribing supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, or amino acids like L-theanine, found in green tea.
Sarah Spring had been in therapy with a psychiatrist and on the antidepressant Wellbutrin for four years to work through a childhood trauma, but felt she wasn’t making any progress. So she went to a naturopath — a practitioner trained in holistic therapy and alternative treatments like herbal medicine and nutrition. (They attend a four-year naturopathic school — a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite — but only 15 states license naturopaths.) After two sessions of Emotional Freedom Techniques, the tapping treatment that is meant to clear emotions and restore balance, Ms. Spring says she doesn’t get the same shortness of breath and accelerated heart rate she used to. “It’s remarkable,” says the Portland, Ore., marketing manager, who just started to decrease her dose of Wellbutrin.

Fundraising: Hope for Education


The winner of the Samsung and Microsoft Hope for Education Essay Contest will receive up to $200,000 in Samsung electronics and Microsoft educational software for his/her school. Entrants must provide an original, sincere, no more than 100-word essay answering the following question: “What is the single most significant benefit that technology can provide in the classroom?” Entrants must be legal residents of the 50 U.S. states or the District of Columbia, and minors must obtain parent/guardian’s consent. Entry deadline: July 22, 2007.

Via a reader.

“A Loss of Innocence: Young brothers’ lives are example of the lure of gangs”

Donovan Slack:

Seven-year-old Brajon Brown is clearly a child. He hasn’t committed a crime, though he talks about it. His 12-year-old brother, Malcolm also is not in a gang – at least not one police recognize. He runs with a “crew” of friends formed when Malcolm was 9. Boston police call them “wannabes” and say they usually don’t show up on police radar until they are teenagers and committed to gangs known for more serious crimes. Some experts say Boston neglects such gangs, allowing momentum to build for a coming crime wave that would dwarf the record violence of the mid-1990s. Malcolm, who says the young males in the crew protect their territory by beating up challengers, faces charges in the beating and robbery of a boy earlier this year. “When you look into the eyes of a kid like that, in three or four years, you know he could take a life, no problem,” a former prosecutor and community activist says. He estimates that dozens of gangs like Malcolm’s – semi-organized groups of middle and elementary school-age youth who mimic the actions of older gangs – operate in Boston. Last year, 49 of 102 city-run youth programs allowed only participants 13 or older. And of 180 young people who received city counseling and intervention services, only 49 children were preteens. Stressing the diversion of preteens from lives of crime, Boston’s mayor launched an effort this year to enroll every child between 8 and 14 in a summer program. Teams of city workers knocked on more than 1,700 doors in attempts to reach families who need help. An official says 233 households signed up for services, but he doesn’t know how many were for preteens. Brajon, meanwhile, already walks the streets as if he owns them, slapping pay phones off the hook as he passes and knocking items from first-floor window ledges.

Utah wins $4.6M for school data tracking

Nicole Stricker:

Utah schools have won $4.6 million from the U.S. Department of Education to improve student data tracking, the Utah State Office of Education announced Wednesday.
The money will fund design and implementation of a better transcript transfer system. The proposed system will allow student records to follow them across districts, grade levels and even into college, the State Education Office said.
The current system requires transcripts to be mailed when a student transfers to a new school or applies to college. Because districts choose their own student-tracking software, transferred records often must be manually transcribed for the new system, said John Brandt, the State Education Office’s information technology director. But the proposed system would allow schools to send or request automatic electronic copies of those records.
“Because this is a federal grant, the improvements won’t come at the expense of classroom funding,” Judy Park, associate superintendent for data, assessment and accountability, said in a prepared statement.
Twelve other states also won grants based on the merit of their proposals, their need for the project and available funds. Grants went to Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

“No Child Left Behind Needs Fixing”

Robert Reich and Kai Ryssdal:

Worried about American competitiveness? Worry about our schools.
The No Child Left Behind Act was supposed to fix our broken system of K-12 education by setting higher standards and requiring lots of tests. But the system’s still broken.
Of course, some testing is necessary to measure whether students are learning. But the No Child Left Behind Act has overdone it, turning our nation’s classrooms into test-taking factories where the curriculum is how to take tests rather than how to think.
The one thing we do know about successful classrooms is they require talented and dedicated teachers. And that’s the other problem with the Act. It hasn’t included enough money to pay salaries needed to attract the best and brightest into K-12 teaching — especially into classrooms populated mainly by poor and working-class kids.

10 Ways to Test Facts

Gregory McNamee:

We live in a sea of information, as Britannica’s Web 2.0 Forum has made plain. Sometimes that sea is full of algal blooms. Sometimes there’s raw sewage floating on it. Sometimes that sea is so choppy that it’s dangerous to enter. In a time of educational crisis, when reading and analysis are fading skills, teaching students how to recognize the condition of the waters seems an ever more difficult task. Yet, for all the doomsaying of some observers, including some of my fellow conferees here, I prefer to be optimistic, to think that with a little coaching we all have in us the makings of champion freestyle surfers on that great ocean of data, knowing just where to look for tasty waves and a cool buzz, to quote the immortal Jeff Spicoli, and knowing too just where the riptides are.

Parent Training Opportunity with Corwin Kronenberg

The District will be holding a parent training session with Corwin Kronenberg on Wednesday, August 22, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn on Deming Way. Mr. Kronenberg’s focus will be “A Parent’s Approach to Above-the-Line-Behavior for Students.” Teachers will be doing an all-day training with Mr. Kronenberg on August 20 that will focus on creating a common understanding of behavioral expectations in the classroom.
Each MMSD principal was asked to work with their parent organization to send a representative team of five parents to the event. It is not clear if this happened at each school or if the program has reached capacity.
If you did not hear about this event before the school year ended and are interested in going, contact either your principal or the appropriate Assistant Superintendent — for elementary parents, that would be Sue Abplanalp (, 663-1639); for middle and high school parents, Pam Nash (, 663-1635).
Read more about the MMSD’s adoption of Kronenberg’s system —

Board of Education Activity in 2006-07

A few weeks ago, the Madison BOE received a summary of what the board and its committees had done in its meetings during the past year. I am posting the entire document as an extended entry as community information. It provides a lot more detail, a good overview, and a glimpse at the pieces that didn’t make it into the print and broadcast media.

Continue reading Board of Education Activity in 2006-07

2007 Streetball and Block Party on Saturday August 11th

Via an email from Johnny:

The 2007 Johnny Winston, Jr. Streetball and Block Party will be held on Saturday August 11th from 12 noon to 7:00 p.m. at Penn Park (South Madison). Activities include an adult men’s basketball tournament, youth drill team competition, music, entertainment, free bingo sponsored by Dejope gaming, youth and family activities, information booths, food vendors and more. Proceeds from this event will be donated to non-for-profit organizations. For more information please contact (608) 347-9715 or

Virginia Governor Supports “Universal” Pre-Kindergarden

Tyler Whitley and Linday Kastner:

Despite slowing revenues, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said yesterday that he still plans to offer a universal, but not mandatory, pre-kindergarten program in Virginia without raising taxes.
Kaine said the program for 4-year-olds will have to be phased in. He has estimated the program, one of his main proposals when he ran for governor in 2005, will cost about $300 million a year.
He spoke to reporters after putting in a plug for the program at a meeting of the Virginia School Boards Association at the Richmond Marriott Hotel.
His remarks came the same day as the release of a new study that says while publicly funded preschool is a wise investment for Virginia it could cost more than Kaine predicts.

Rural Teachers Trained to Pass Along Math and Science Knowledge to Peers

Seean Cavanagh:

Taking a job as a mathematics or science teacher in rural Kentucky or Tennessee is an appealing career choice for educators who grew up in those communities. It’s stable work, which means a lot in farming and mining towns where jobs are scarce. It pays well, in an area where the cost of living is cheap. And it allows some young educators to work in the same schools where their parents and grandparents once taught.
But persuading math and science teachers from big cities and suburbs to move to isolated communities lacking in cultural amenities is a much tougher sell.
“We’re small,” said Kristal Harne, an elementary school math and science teacher from Liberty, Ky., population 1,897. “We don’t even have a Wal-Mart.”

How Hard Can It Be to Teach? The Challenges Go Well Beyond the Classroom

David Herszenhorn:

Working with children looks easy. It is not.
In four and a half years on the city schools beat, I have often repeated this anecdote to principals. And typically they chuckle, grateful for the recognition that many people, including the mayor, may underestimate how difficult it is to work in schools on a daily basis, and not just because of the intellectual challenges of teaching.
School professionals are called upon not only to educate children, but also to nurture curiosity and civic values, and even to teach the most basic manners. Once, while waiting to have lunch with my mother, now retired after more than 30 years as a teacher in a city elementary school, I stood in her school’s main entrance and watched a teacher walk by with her class, shouting: “Fingers out of your nose! Fingers out of your nose!”
Not only do professional educators have to know how to deal with children, they have to be clever about soothing an even wackier bunch: parents.

Potter Has Limited Effect on Reading Habits

Motoko Rich:

Of all the magical powers wielded by Harry Potter, perhaps none has cast a stronger spell than his supposed ability to transform the reading habits of young people. In what has become near mythology about the wildly popular series by J. K. Rowling, many parents, teachers, librarians and booksellers have credited it with inspiring a generation of kids to read for pleasure in a world dominated by instant messaging and music downloads.
And so it has, for many children. But in keeping with the intricately plotted novels themselves, the truth about Harry Potter and reading is not quite so straightforward a success story. Indeed, as the series draws to a much-lamented close, federal statistics show that the percentage of youngsters who read for fun continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly the same rate as before Harry Potter came along.

Teen Site has X-Rated Link

Brad Stone:

Parents and child safety experts concerned about the online activities of teenagers have been particularly nervous about a Web site called Stickam, which allows its 600,000 registered users, age 14 and older, to participate in unfiltered live video chats using their Web cameras.
But those Internet safety advocates might be even more anxious if they knew of Stickam’s close ties to a large online pornography business.
On its Web site and in press reports, Stickam says that it is owned by Advanced Video Communications, or AVC, a three-year-old Los Angeles company that sells video conferencing and e-commerce services to businesses in Japan and other Asian countries.
But according to Alex Becker, a former vice president at Stickam, and internal company documents, Advanced Video Communications is managed and owned by Wataru Takahashi, a Japanese businessman who also owns and operates DTI Services, a vast network of Web sites offering live sex shows over Web cameras. Mr. Becker alleges that Stickam shares office space, employees and computer systems with the pornographic Web sites.

Transferring Up: In Support of Cross-District Transfers

Jonathan Kozol:

Congress has an opportunity to take advantage of the opening created by Justice Kennedy later this year when it reauthorizes the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The law gives children the right to transfer from a low-performing school to a high-performing school if the low-performing school has failed to demonstrate adequate improvement two years after being warned of its shortcomings.
Unfortunately, the transfer provision has until now been a bust. Less than 3 percent of eligible children have been able to transfer, in part because of the scarcity of space in high-performing schools within most urban districts. Although the law does not prohibit transfers between urban and suburban schools, it offers no inducements to the states to make this possible.
Democrats in the Senate should therefore introduce an amendment to authorize and make easier cross-district transfers — not on a specifically race-conscious basis, but solely to fulfill the professed intention of the law.

“New” words in Webster’s 2007 Edition


Just two years after a majority of visitors to Merriam-Webster OnLine declared it to be their “Favorite Word (Not in the Dictionary),” the adjective “ginormous” (now officially defined as “extremely large: humongous”), has won a legitimate place in the 2007 copyright update of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition.
Merriam-Webster updates its best-selling Collegiate® Dictionary every year with a number of new words, senses, and variants. This year, the word “ginormous” was one of approximately 100 neologisms to make the cut, while many others will stay “closely watched” by our editors for possible inclusion in future revisions. (This, of course, begs the question: so just exactly how does a word get into the Merriam-Webster dictionary?)

Wisconsin Assembly’s Proposed State Budget

Patrick Marley and Steven Walters:

The Republican-run Assembly passed a budget late Tuesday that avoids tax increases by funding education, the University of Wisconsin System and local governments with much less than what Democratic legislators insist is needed to protect programs for two years.
The $56.3 billion Assembly budget, passed on a 51-44 vote, diverges from the version passed June 26 by the Democrat-led Senate in almost every area of spending.
Next, eight legislative leaders – four Republicans and four Democrats – will meet as a conference committee to negotiate a compromise two-year budget. Those talks could stretch into the fall or beyond, since Senate Democrats voted to spend $9.8 billion more than Assembly Republicans.
K-12 state spending growth: Provide $150 million in new school aid, $85 million less than what Democrats want. Current annual school aid is $4.7 billion.

LA School Board Approves Governance Reform Package

Howard Blume:

The city’s new school board majority Tuesday pushed through its first wave of reform measures — and fast.
As a result, the Los Angeles Unified School District has new initiatives aimed at measuring student performance, paying employees on time, decreasing the dropout rate, helping English learners, building smaller schools, recruiting new employees, training principals and increasing parent involvement.
For new board President Monica Garcia and her three allies — who are backed by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — the meeting was nothing less than change on the march.

An “Honest Look at Charter Schools”

Jay Matthews:

Charter School City, otherwise known as Washington, D.C., has 25 percent of its public school students attending those independently run, taxpayer-supported schools. That is more than any other American city except New Orleans and Dayton, Ohio. Given their unique political location, the D.C. charters have gotten the most publicity, including surveys showing that the D.C. charter parents are very satisfied.
But exactly how satisfied are they? How does that satisfaction compare to parental feelings about the regular public schools? Do those good feelings about charter schools change over time? Those important questions are among the many charter school issues that are relentlessly examined in one of the deepest and most even-handed examinations of charter schools I have ever read–“Charter Schools: Hope or Hype?” by Jack Buckley and Mark Schneider. It is difficult to find a book or study of charter schools these days that does not take sides in the raging argument over whether charter schools are the salvation or the scourge of our nation’s schools. But Buckley and Schneider have pulled it off. Their book looks just at D.C. charters but is a useful indicator of what is going on with charters nationwide.

School Districts Seek to Fund a Lawsuit over Funding

Chet Brokaw:

South Dakota school districts and a coalition they formed are seeking a court order that would establish their legal right to fund a lawsuit that challenges the state’s school financing system.
The request was prompted by Attorney General Larry Long’s argument that the South Dakota Coalition of Schools and approximately 70 school districts have no legal standing to challenge the state’s system of funding education.
A judge should be able to rule on the legal issue quickly because no facts are in dispute, Long said Monday. The question of whether the districts and the coalition can support the school funding lawsuit involves only an interpretation of the law, he said.
“They’ve done what they’ve done, and the law is the law,” Long said.

Why does Congress hate the one part of No Child Left Behind that works?

Charlotte Allen:

In a classroom at Ginter Park Elementary School, a century-old brick schoolhouse on a dreary, zoned-commercial truck route that bisects a largely African-American neighborhood in Richmond, a third-grade teacher, Laverne Johnson, is doing something that flies in the face of more than three decades of the most advanced pedagogical principles taught at America’s top-rated education schools. Seated on a chair in a corner of her classroom surrounded by a dozen youngsters sitting cross-legged on the floor at her feet, Johnson is teaching reading–as just plain reading. Two and a half hours every morning, systematically going over such basics as phonics, vocabulary words, and a crucial skill known as “phonemic awareness” that entails recognizing the separate sound components of individual words–that the word “happy,” for example, contains five letters but only four sounds, or phonemes.
Phonemic awareness is an important prelude to phonics: learning which phonemes are represented in written English by which graphemes, or combinations of letters. According to the principles Johnson is following, it is the mix of phonemic awareness and phonics that enables children (and adults learning how to read for the first time) to sound out, syllable by syllable, unfamiliar-looking words they might encounter on a page and then link those words to meaning. In the world of forward-thinking educational pedagogy, phonemic awareness is deemed useless, phonics of only intermittent value, and the sounding out of words deadening to a child’s potential interest in books.

Joanne has more.

“School Choice Increases School Segregation”

Erin Zagursky:

Choice is generally thought to be a good thing. But with any choice comes consequence–intentional or otherwise.
When it comes to choosing where our children go to school, researchers have found as educational choices increase, our public schools become more racially segregated.
Salvatore Saporito and Deenesh Sohoni, faculty in William and Mary’s sociology department, wanted to see if the racial mix and poverty rates of students in public schools matches those of the neighborhoods the schools serve. For instance, if census data identifies the population of the area served by a certain elementary school as 48 percent white, 37 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic, then shouldn’t the school’s enrollment reflect that mix?
It should, but research by Saporito and Sohoni indicates that it often doesn’t, at least in many of the nation’s largest school districts. So what’s going on? It’s important to know; so important that their research is part of evidence presented in two current U.S. Supreme Court cases.
Their research draws a connection between school choice and segregation, but hasn’t yet tackled the “whys.” Are some parents more financially able to exercise school choice than their neighbors? Are there racial motives? And what motivates parents to keep their children in neighborhood schools, because staying in the local schools is also a choice–or is it?
Saporito and Sohoni’s next step is to investigate those thousands and thousands of individual family decisions that drive the trend–the individual tiles that make up the mosaic their research already has revealed. The size and scope of their work so far will make that next step a daunting task, but their mastery of mapping technology will make it a little easier.

Appleton’s Charter Schools have Developed A “Wow Factor”

Kathy Walsh Nufer:

Appleton’s Board of Education hopes to maintain momentum — or what one member calls the “wow factor” — the school district has built in attracting outsiders, especially in an increasingly competitive landscape.
In tight budget times, the district’s financial health and survival depends on it.
John Mielke said the school cannot rest on its laurels.
“I think the charter schools have developed a ‘wow factor,'” Mielke said at the annual school board retreat recently. “We are a leader in the charter school movement and I think people look at what we’ve done with charters and think: ‘Other things must be interesting in that district.’ Our challenge is what’s the next ‘wow factor.’ You can’t exist on just the wow factor of charter schools. What’s the next step up?”
During the June 25-26 retreat, he and other board members learned that while many larger Wisconsin districts are losing students, Appleton, the sixth largest in the state, is an “aberration,” owed in large part to the draw of its charter schools to outsiders.
Last school year 879 students, or 6 percent of the district’s total enrollment of 15,228, open enrolled to Appleton from outside the district. A total of 617, or 70 percent who came into the district attended charter schools.
Charter schools are public schools that are allowed to waive state regulations to deliver their programs. Appleton offered 13 charter schools last school year, offering families choices for students interested in everything from the environment and fine arts to engineering and such approaches as Montessori, Core Knowledge and online virtual education.
By contrast, 160 students open enrolled out of the district.

Waukesha School Property Tax Levy Might Rise up to 8%

Amy Hetzner:

The School District’s property tax levy could rise more than 8% for the second consecutive year, despite staff layoffs that have increased class sizes and will leave elementary schools without librarians and counselors in the fall.
District officials cautioned that their estimates, released Monday at a meeting of the School Board’s Finance and Facilities Committee, are a best guess based on history and conservative mathematics. Nevertheless, the board is to be asked to vote on them as part of a preliminary budget next month.
Student enrollment could affect how much revenue the district can raise. In addition, the state Legislature has yet to approve its budget for the next two years, which could have a great impact on property taxes, depending on how much it allocates in state aid.

The Boy on the Bus

Joel Achenbach:

Every morning when I was in fifth grade, I walked a mile down the road to Stephen Foster Elementary, my neighborhood school. Then I got on a yellow school bus and rode across town. The Supreme Court had issued a desegregation order. It was 1970. Men had landed on the moon twice. Now white kids and black kids would go to the same schools.
The court order roiled Gainesville, Fla., and the rest of Alachua County. Private academies sprouted overnight to accommodate white families that bailed on the public schools. But most white folks hoped for the best, and their kids headed to what many of them had always considered the wrong side of the tracks.
The Supreme Court has recently revisited school integration, declaring, to gasps from many liberals and academics, that the government can’t use race as a criterion for assigning students to schools. But 37 years ago, the government not only took race into account, it also assembled a fleet of buses and began hauling white kids and black kids back and forth across town like so much cargo.
It was, in retrospect, an ambitious social experiment. It was also clumsy, and at some level outrageous, reducing all of us to a single characteristic of white or black.

Using a Robot to Teach Human Social Skills

Emmet Cole:

Children with autism are often described as robotic: They are emotionless. They engage in obsessive, repetitive behavior and have trouble communicating and socializing.
Now, a humanoid robot designed to teach autistic children social skills has begun testing in British schools.
Known as KASPAR (Kinesics and Synchronisation in Personal Assistant Robotics), the $4.33 million bot smiles, simulates surprise and sadness, gesticulates and, the researchers hope, will encourage social interaction amongst autistic children.
Developed as part of the pan-European IROMEC (Interactive Robotic Social Mediators as Companions ) project, KASPAR has two “eyes” fitted with video cameras and a mouth that can open and smile.
Children with autism have difficulty understanding and interpreting people’s facial expressions and body language, says Dr. Ben Robins, a senior research fellow at the University of Hertfordshire’s Adaptive Systems Research Group, who leads the multi-national team behind KASPAR.

Public computer surfaces are reservoirs for methicillin-resistant staphylococci

Issmat I Kassem, Von Sigler and Malak A Esseili:

The role of computer keyboards used by students of a metropolitan university as reservoirs of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci was determined. Putative methicillin (oxacillin)-resistant staphylococci isolates were identified from keyboard swabs following a combination of biochemical and genetic analyses. Of 24 keyboards surveyed, 17 were contaminated with staphylococci that grew in the presence of oxacillin (2 mg l-1). Methicillin (oxacillin)-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), -S. epidermidis (MRSE) and -S. hominis (MRSH) were present on two, five and two keyboards, respectively, while all three staphylococci co-contaminated one keyboard. Furthermore, these were found to be part of a greater community of oxacillin-resistant bacteria. Combined with the broad user base common to public computers, the presence of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci on keyboard surfaces might impact the transmission and prevalence of pathogens throughout the community.

Education Leadership Policy Toolkit

Education Commission for the States, via MetLife:

The Toolkit is the product of a two-year effort by ECS, underwritten by the MetLife Foundation, to enlarge awareness and understanding of the policies, practices and processes that serve to strengthen leadership for reform and improvement in schools and districts.
Policymakers and educators across the nation can tap the lessons learned in eight critical areas – ranging from decisionmaking processes to resource allocation to instruction, professional development and accountability – in three outstanding school systems: Boston Public Schools, Memphis City School District and National City (California) School District.
The Toolkit is organized around what the ECS study team found to be the defining features of the improvement efforts under way in Boston, National City and Memphis. Foremost among them is a clearly expressed, widely shared acceptance of responsibility for the educational success of all children.
This commitment is reflected in – and reinforced by – purposeful efforts to enhance collaboration, communication and leadership capacity within and across schools, and to forge stronger connections with families, community organizations, higher education institutions and other partners; a versatile infrastructure of support for teachers and principals; consistent, continuous evaluation of student performance, instructional practices and program implementation; and creative, strategic use of resources – not just money but also time, space and talent.

Madison Police Chief on Gangs in Schools

Madison Parent:

Madison Police Department Chief Noble Wray spoke on downtown safety at the monthly meeting of Downtown Madison, Inc. on June 28, 2007, and also briefly addressed the topic of gang activity in Madison schools during the program, as reported in The Capital Times (via the MadCrime101 blog, a welcome and valuable new resource focusing on concerns and issues relating to crime in Madison).
Chief Wray acknowledged the growing problem of gangs in Madison and their presence in Madison schools, and spoke of the need to quantify the extent of the problem and its trends, rather than reacting based on anecdotal “information”. I couldn’t agree more. The MPD can make much progress toward this goal by fuller and consistent disclosure to the public of incidents and statistics on gang activity (whether through its police district newsletters or its public information office news releases). But to quantify the gang problem in schools, the MPD will need to rely on data from the MMSD, since much can happen in a school which is relevant to quantifying the gang problem but isn’t brought to the attention of the MPD. Can the gang problem in Madison schools be accurately and reliably quantified and assessed for those schools that don’t have ERO’s (Education Resource Officers)? Of if the policies on when calls for service are to be made to MPD vary from school to school? Or when the MMSD relies on suspension and expulsion rates, instead of actual incidents of disruptive and violent behavior, to gauge school safety (all the while moving toward a policy of discouraging suspensions and expulsions)?

Gangs & School Violence Forum Audio / Video. More here [RSS].

When Discipline Starts a Fight: Pressured to Handle Disabled Children, A School Tries Restraints

Robert Tomsho:

When Eva Loeffler walked into her daughter Isabel’s classroom at Waukee Elementary School on Dec. 15, 2004, she says a male guidance counselor was trying to contain the shrieking 8-year-old by wrapping his arms around hers in a restraint hold.
Isabel, suffering from autism and other disabilities, had a history of aggressive behavior, but Mrs. Loeffler had never seen her so agitated. Her eyes were glazed and her face was red. “She was like a wild animal,” says Mrs. Loeffler, who, at the time, felt sorry for the counselor who had to deal with her daughter in such a state.
That sympathy waned as Mrs. Loeffler and her husband learned all the measures the school district used on Isabel. These included restraint holds by three adults at once and hours in a seclusion room that teachers called “Isabel’s office.” There the girl sometimes wet herself and pulled out her hair, according to documents filed in a 2006 administrative-law case the Loefflers brought against the school district.
In March, the presiding administrative-law judge ruled that the district had violated federal law by educating Isabel in overly restrictive settings and failing to adequately monitor its methods. The district has appealed. Its lawyer, Ronald Peeler, says it used “established educational principles” in addressing Isabel’s problems, and made adjustments when its discipline wasn’t working. “We are not dealing with an exact science here,” says Mr. Peeler.


There are many important variables to consider in evaluating the causes for academic failure or success in the high school classroom. The training of the teacher, the quality of the curriculum, school safety, availability of books, etc., etc., are extensively studied, and all these have a part to play.
But I would argue that the most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work, including classroom work. Why do so many of our high school students do so little academic work? Because they can get away with it.
A close study of the academic demands on students in the vast majority of our high school classrooms would disclose, I feel certain, that one of the principal reasons for their boredom is that they really have nothing to do but sit still and wait for the bell.
In most classrooms the chances of a student being called on are slight, and of being called on twice are almost nonexistent. If a student is called on and has not done the reading or other class preparation, most probably the teacher will just call on someone else. There are no real consequences for being unprepared, and as a result many, if not most, students are unprepared, and that also contributes to their boredom.

Continue reading ABSENT FROM CLASS

Schools fuel tax increases

Amy Rinard:

Driven by rising school taxes, overall property tax collections in southeastern Wisconsin rose 4.6% this year, compared with a 2.4% increase the year before, a new Public Policy Forum study shows.
Most taxpayers were insulated from having to pay more because rising property values allowed government to spread the burden across an expanded tax base, the study says, but a local official warns that the trend in overall tax collections is bound to eventually push up tax bills as property values cool down.
“There’s no question in my mind that the inflationary factor is not going to be that high,” said Norm Cummings, director of administration for Waukesha County. “We’ll start to see it slow down; it’s not going to be like the ’90s.”
That will cause homeowners to watch local property tax levy increases more closely than they have in many years, Cummings predicted.

The slowdown in assessment increases (decreases?) will change the “we’re keeping the mill rate flat” sales pitch.

2007 International Mathematical Olympiad – Hanoi


The organizing board said around 600 contestants from 100 countries and territories will take part in the IMO.
The organisation of the IMO aims to encourage students to study mathematics and create favourable conditions for countries to exchange information on the curriculum in schools.

48th International Mathematical Olympiad website. International Math Olympiad Website. US Site. MATC’s math club.
Photo taken at the Hanoi Temple of Literature.

Prep School Mired in Cheating Claims

Nanette Asimov:

University Preparatory Charter High School in East Oakland bills itself as a high-end academy where students attract recruiters from the nation’s top universities.
Photos of young scholars in caps and gowns grace its Web site above the names of colleges that accepted them — Oberlin, Dartmouth, Pomona, Whitman.
But that bright image belies a grim truth: Someone at this inner-city public school, also known as Uprep, is cheating.
The state Department of Education has just concluded for the second year in a row that one or more adults interfered with state-required testing at the school. This spring, state investigators seized copies of 2005 tests being illegally used to prepare students for the 2007 exams.
State rules require that test booklets be turned in at the conclusion of testing each year because many exam questions remain the same. At Uprep, someone photocopied the 2005 test books and kept them.
“That’s a fairly significant security breach,” said Deb Sigman, testing director for the state Department of Education. “California statute specifically prohibits any preparation that is specific to this test.”
Last year, investigators found that someone changed hundreds of test answers from wrong to right before they were sent to the state.
In a rare move clamping down on a charter school’s autonomy, the state is ordering the Oakland school district to take over Uprep’s testing, Sigman said.

Duking it out over teacher pension

Scott Elliott:

The DDN’s editorial board weighed in Saturday on the war of words between the Fordham Institute (the research arm of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation) and the State Teachers Retirement System over the health of the state’s teacher pension program.
Fordham, a frequent critic of the public education status quo, fired the first shot last month in a report that sounded alarms, saying the pension program was in serious danger.
What was unusual was the tough talk in reply from the state agency. STRS ripped Fordham’s study and the researchers methods, aruging that the pension program is solid.