Counting High School Graduates

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

A proposal to standardize the way states calculate high school graduation rates makes sense.
A report earlier this month examining America’s 50 largest school districts found that Milwaukee Public Schools had a graduation rate of only 46.1%. The report by America’s Promise Alliance, an advocacy group, reported that Detroit was at the bottom of that list with a graduation rate of 24.9%.
Wait a minute, MPS officials countered. Our graduation rate is 66%.
Who’s right?
Both probably are. That’s the problem U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings hopes to solve by changing some of the rules under the No Child Left Behind Act, which Congress is considering reauthorizing.
Under the proposal, states would be required to use a uniform method of calculating high school graduation rates by the 2012-’13 school year. As it stands now, comparing graduation rates is difficult. Under the proposal, only students who complete school on time with a regular degree can be counted as graduates. Students who take longer than four years or who earn an alternative diploma, such as a GED certificate, would not be counted.

Standardized Formula For Graduation Rates May Soon Pair With Tests

Maria Glod:

A Bush administration proposal to require that all states use the same formula to calculate high school graduation rates is winning applause from education experts who say it will shed light on the nation’s dropout problem.
The proposed regulation is among several the administration introduced last week. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said she is using regulatory power to tweak the No Child Left Behind law because efforts in Congress to overhaul it have stalled.
The 2002 law requires schools and states to report graduation rates, but states have been criticized for understating the number of students who don’t receive a diploma. Under the administration’s plan, most students would be expected to graduate on time after four years of high school.
Former West Virginia governor Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a group seeking to improve high schools, said a uniform formula would give parents, educators and policymakers a better picture of student performance.

Dane County Boasts 18 National Merit Scholars

National Merit Scholarship Corporation:

The National Merit® Scholarship Program is an academic competition for recognition and scholarships that began in 1955. High school students enter the National Merit Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®)–a test which serves as an initial screen of approximately 1.4 million entrants each year–and by meeting published program entry/participation requirements.
Student Entry Requirements
To participate in the National Merit® Scholarship Program, a student must:

  1. take the PSAT/NMSQT® in the specified year of the high school program and no later than the third year in grades 9 through 12, regardless of grade classification or educational pattern;
  2. be enrolled full time as a high school student, progressing normally toward graduation or completion of high school, and planning to enroll full time in college no later than the fall following completion of high school; and
  3. be a citizen of the United States; or be a U.S. lawful permanent resident (or have applied for permanent residence, the application for which has not been denied) and intend to become a U.S. citizen at the earliest opportunity allowed by law.

Press Release PDF:

This year’s competition for National Merit Scholarships began in October 2006 when more than 1.4 million juniors in over 21,000 high schools took the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®), which served as an initial screen of program entrants. Last fall, the highest-scoring participants in each state, representing less than one percent of the state’s seniors, were named Semifinalists on a state representational basis.
Only the 16,000 Semifinalists had an opportunity to continue in the competition. Approximately 15,000 Semifinalists met the very high academic standards and other requirements to advance to the Finalist level of the competition. By the conclusion of the 2008 program, about 8,200 Finalists will earn the “Merit Scholar” title and receive a total of more than $36 million in college scholarships. NMSC, a not-for-profit corporation that operates without government assistance, was founded in 1955 specifically to conduct the annual National Merit Scholarship Program. The majority of scholarships offered each year are underwritten by approximately 500 independent corporate and college sponsors that share NMSC’s goals of honoring scholastically talented youth and enhancing their educational opportunities.
CAUTION: Any attempt to compare high schools on the basis of numbers of Merit Scholarship winners will lead to erroneous and unsound conclusions. The National Merit Scholarship Program honors individual students who show exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies. The program does not measure the quality or effectiveness of education within a school, system, or state.

The Capital Times:

Local scholarship winners are:
Seth B. Mulhall, Deerfield High School, Deerfield; Meredith L. Kremer, DeForest Area High School, DeForest; Aaron L. Owen, DeForest Area High School, DeForest.
Joseph K. Carlsmith, West High School, Madison; Sara C. Crocker, West High School, Madison; Erika A. Egner, James Madison Memorial High School, Madison; Reuben F. Henriques, West High School, Madison; Kelsey E. Johnson, Memorial High School, Madison.
Lucas Manuelli, West High School, Madison; Daniel T. Neuser, East High School, Madison; Richard K. Pang, West High School, Madison; Eleanor Shoshany Anderson, La Follette High School, Madison; Alexandro E. Trevino, Memorial High School, Madison.
Benjamin H. Witkovsky, West High School, Madison; Eleanor M. Wroblewski, West High School, Madison; Mary Q. Zhang, West High School, Madison.
Aubrey E. Lauersdorf, Monona Grove High School, Monona; Michael Bethencourt, home school, Mount Horeb.

Congratulations to the students and their families.

Seattle’s Special Education Reform

Emily Heffter:

As a task force begins this spring to revamp Seattle Public Schools’ approach to special education, it’s likely many classrooms around the district will begin to look more like Eckstein’s. The details haven’t been worked out, but in general, the district will try to deliver services to the students instead of bringing the students to the services.
A consultant recommended Seattle try to include more students in general-education classes and educate more special-education students at their neighborhood schools.
As the diagnosis of disabilities becomes more refined, school districts nationwide are faced with students whose needs are more complicated. At the same time, districts face federal requirements to meet individual students’ educational needs in the least restrictive environment possible.
Balancing those two realities can be difficult, said Doug Gill, the director of special education for the Washington state Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction.
“What I see is districts serving kids, sometimes with more complex needs, and as you see kids served with more complex needs, you need, really, a more specialized environment,” he said.

Seattle Special Education Review – Full Document (PDF). Seattle Special Education PTSA.

Single Sex Education

Alan Borsuk & Amy Hetzner:

Reduce it to a yes or no answer – was it a good idea for you to be in a class that was all girls this year? Who says yes?
Twenty-six hands shoot into the air. A 27th joins with hesitation.
And that is every student present in this eighth-grade classroom at the Milwaukee Education Center, known as MEC, a Milwaukee Public Schools middle school in an old Schlitz Brewery building north of downtown.
Note the word public in the previous sentence.
Single-sex education has long been part of the private school scene in Milwaukee and nationwide. But single-sex classes in public schools are relatively new.
Still few in number, they are on the rise in much of the country, spurred by parent interest and rulings from the U.S. Department of Education in 2006 that, with limitations, gave the practice a green light. As of November, 366 public schools in the United States offered some or all of their classes separated by gender, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.
The idea is controversial. Research is nowhere near a consensus on the results, and many people, including experts, have strong opinions on issues such as whether boys and girls learn in different ways and to what degree children behave differently without members of the other gender present.

The Vacuum Called High School

Re “Clueless in America,” by Bob Herbert (column, April 22):

I don’t dispute Mr. Herbert’s claim that American high school students are not getting a good education, but I question the evidence he is using to prove it. His examples are factual (knowing who Hitler was or when the Civil War was fought).
Students today can Google that kind of information in seconds. What is more important is that they can’t do what I’m doing right now: they can’t identify claims and evidence and evaluate them. Those skills are what constitute “critical thinking” and what our students need to learn in order to succeed in college and beyond.
High schools need to focus on critical-thinking skills, not facts. Nancy Rehm
Biglerville, Pa., April 22, 2008
The writer is a teacher of gifted high school students.
To the Editor:
Bob Herbert correctly points to the dismal state of education in this country today. However, the irony of Bill Gates’s complaining that American students don’t measure up to the rest of the world is too rich to pass up.
It is precisely because of Bill Gates and his ilk that students are told by the educational reformers that they don’t have to “know” anything — they can just look it up on the Web. Instead, they say, let students focus on feel-good exercises that foster “deep learning” and other chimerical and trendy educational goals.
Is it any wonder that our students don’t know the history of their own country, much less that of the rest of the world? A global society, indeed.
Gary Kappel
Bethany, W. Va., April 22, 2008
The writer is a history professor at Bethany College.

Survey of South LA Students

Mitchell Landsberg:

A survey of 6,008 South Los Angeles high school students shows that many are frightened by violence in school, deeply dissatisfied with their choices of college preparatory classes, and — perhaps most striking — exhibit symptoms of clinical depression.
“A lot of students are depressed because of the conditions in their school,” said Anna Exiga, a junior at Jordan High School who was one of the organizers of the survey. “They see that their school is failing them, their teachers are failing them, there’s racial tension and gang violence, and also many feel that their schools are not schools — their schools look more like prisons.”
The survey, released late Thursday, was conducted in seven South L.A. public schools by a community youth organization, South Central Youth Empowered Thru Action (SCYEA), with technical guidance from the psychology department at Loyola Marymount University. It suggested that many students in some of the city’s poorest, most violent neighborhoods believe their schools set the bar for success too low — and then shove students beneath it.
In fact, the student organizers said they don’t like to use the word “dropout” to describe their many peers who leave school. They prefer “pushout,” because they believe the school system is pushing students to fail.

Coalition Releases State Of Black Madison Report


New group the State of Black Madison Coalition said it is out to “change the plight of African Americans in the community,” and members warned if that doesn’t happen, Madison could see the major problems that plague Beloit and Milwaukee.
The new coalition of African American focused groups, armed with a new report called “The State of Black Madison 2008: Before the Tipping Point,” issued a call to action Tuesday to the entire Madison community.
It said Madison is on the precipice of change and if problems of disparity between whites and blacks are not addressed, the city might, as the one coalition member put it, “plunge into intractable problems that plague most major urban cities.”
The reports details the state of African Americans in Madison, saying if trends from 1990-2005 continue, it will take 265 years for the income gap between blacks and the rest of the Dane County community to disappear.
“A city should be measured by how close the weakest link is to the strongest link. My friends, in Madison we are football fields apart,” said Scott Gray, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison


African-American city leaders say the black community is in trouble and hope a new report called the State of Black Madison will be a catalyst for change.
The summary report, Before the Tipping Point, was released today by the State of Black Madison Coalition. They based their findings on information from the Center on Wisconsin Strategy and other recent research. Among the discoveries: racial disparity is most prevalent in the areas of criminal justice, education, health care and housing. 37-percent of African Americans in Dane County live in poverty today, as compared to just 11-percent of the community as a whole. And if trends that turned up between 1990-2005 continue, it will take 265 years for the income gap between blacks and the rest of the county to disappear.

Complete report (pdf).

Nearness Learning: The Death of Distance

The Economist:

“Nearness learning” is a more appropriate term for what the Open University’s business school offers, according to its dean in an interview for Which MBA, published by the Economist Intelligence Unit
When the Open University (OU) was founded in 1969, it represented one of the most important educational innovations of the 20th century, not just in Britain, but across the world.
Established by Britain’s then prime minister, Harold Wilson, it is considered by many to be the first university to offer genuinely high-quality degrees through distance learning. It was originally to be called the “University of Air”, because most of its lectures took the form of late-night broadcasts on the BBC. Indeed, for many Britons of a certain age the Open University will be a formative memory. Long before Britain had transformed itself into a 24-hour society, most will remember the sinking feeling of finding out that, come midnight, the only thing on their television was a hirsute OU professor, dryly working his way through the laws of thermodynamics.

Something to consider with respect to the clash between District and Student interests.

Rainwater (Nerad) Adds 2 to Madison Staff

The Capital Times:

Superintendent Art Rainwater will add a longtime Madison-area educator and a staff member new to the district to his Madison Metropolitan School District staff, pending approval at next week’s School Board meeting.
Ann Yehle will assume the post of executive director of educational services and Erik Kass will take over as assistant superintendent for business services. If these major positions are approved by the Board, Yehle and Kass are expected to be named to the jobs May 5 and will begin their jobs July 1.
Yehle, who currently works as an administrator in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s Division of Reading and Student Achievement, was the principal at Sherman Middle School for six years.

Clusty Search: Ann Yehle / Erik Kass

A Sociologist Says Students Aren’t So Web-Wise After All

Catherine Rampell:

Eszter Hargittai, an assistant professor in Northwestern University’s sociology department, has discovered that students aren’t nearly as Web-savvy as they, or their elders, assume.
Ms. Hargittai studies the technological fluency of college freshmen. She found that they lack a basic understanding of such terms as BCC (blind copy on e-mail), podcasting, and phishing. This spring she will start a national poster-and-video contest to promote Web-related skills.
Q. Why do people think young people are so Web-wise?
A. I think the assumption is that if it was available from a young age for them, then they can use it better. Also, the people who tend to comment about technology use tend to be either academics or journalists or techies, and these three groups tend to understand some of these new developments better than the average person. Ask your average 18-year-old: Does he know what RSS means? And he won’t.
Q. What demographic groups are less Web-savvy?
A. Women, students of Hispanic origin, African-American students, and students whose parents have lower levels of education, which is a proxy for socioeconomic status.

Edweek Chat: The Use of International Data to Improve US Schools

4/30/2008 @ 2:30p.m. CST:

Join us for a live Web chat about the impact of A Nation at Risk and the potential for using international comparison data to improve academic standards and student achievement in U.S. schools.
Twenty-five years ago, a federal commission issued the landmark report that declared a “rising tide of mediocrity” in U.S. education posed a threat to America’s prosperity and status in the world. Today, many policymakers and members of the business and education communities are sounding the same alarm bells.
Some experts are recommending that the United States put more stock in measuring itself against other countries, including having individual states benchmark their progress against those countries to get a clear and true picture of the status of American education. Would that help improve education in America? What can the United States do to improve education and continue to compete globally? Are the problems with the U.S. education system, compared with those of other industrialized countries’, overblown? Join us for this discussion.
About the guests:
• Dane Linn, is the director of the education division of the National Governors Association, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization that has taken an active role in examining how states might align their academic standards and practices to those of top-performing nations
• Iris C. Rotberg, is the co-director of the Center for Curriculum, Standards, and Technology at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.
Submit questions in advance.

Related: Fordham Foundation – Wisconsin DPI’s Academic Standards = D-. The Madison School District is implementing “value added assessment” based on the DPI standards.
Watch the Madison School Board’s most recent discussion of “Value Added Assessment“.

Milwaukee’s High School Violence Free Zones

Dani McClain:

he first step is for youth advisers assigned to any school – there are 53 district-wide charged with being mentors and disciplinarians – to seek out and build relationships with the 10% of the student body that’s most consistently causing trouble.
“The number one thing is follow-through,” Robinson said. “These students feel like, ‘Everybody has let me down.’ ”
Being accessible is important, as is giving that student time to trust the youth adviser with whatever might be going on at home – no money for food, the weight of responsibility for younger siblings, abuse or any number of problems related to or augmented by poverty.
According to 2005 U.S. Census data, a third of school-age children in Milwaukee lived with a family in poverty.

More on Milwaukee’s suspension rates here.

One boy proves power of language

Dan Rodricks:

Three years ago, when he and his mother arrived in Baltimore, Giovanni Ramirez-Cruz did not speak a word of English. On Friday, he received a trophy at his school, the Mother Seton Academy in Fells Point, for giving the best speech among the eighth-grade boys there – and he had plenty of competition for the top honor.
There was Avery Burrell, for instance, who gave an impassioned performance as a middle-school weightlifter determined to achieve greatness without the use of steroids. The theme of the eighth-grade speeches, a spring tradition at the school, was “The power of one word,” and Avery’s word was “strength.”
He portrayed a young man tempted to take a performance-enhancing drug, and he mentioned famous athletes – Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens – who’ve been accused of doing that. Ultimately, the boy Avery portrayed decides not to take the pill. Real strength, Avery said, means you are a person of character. “Real strength comes from within,” he said, and the students, parents and staff in the cramped third-floor assembly room broke into excited applause for Avery’s admirable declarations.

Critics Cost Muslim Educator Her Dream School

Andrea Elliott:

Debbie Almontaser dreamed of starting a public school like no other in New York City. Children of Arab descent would join students of other ethnicities, learning Arabic together. By graduation, they would be fluent in the language and groomed for the country’s elite colleges. They would be ready, in Ms. Almontaser’s words, to become “ambassadors of peace and hope.”
Things have not gone according to plan. Only one-fifth of the 60 students at the Khalil Gibran International Academy are Arab-American. Since the school opened in Brooklyn last fall, children have been suspended for carrying weapons, repeatedly gotten into fights and taunted an Arabic teacher by calling her a “terrorist,” staff members and students said in interviews.
The academy’s troubles reach well beyond its cramped corridors in Boerum Hill. The school’s creation provoked a controversy so incendiary that Ms. Almontaser stepped down as the founding principal just weeks before classes began last September. Ms. Almontaser, a teacher by training and an activist who had carefully built ties with Christians and Jews, said she was forced to resign by the mayor’s office following a campaign that pitted her against a chorus of critics who claimed she had a militant Islamic agenda.

A Nation at a Loss

Edward Fiske:

TOMORROW is the 25th anniversary of “A Nation at Risk,” a remarkable document that became a milestone in the history of American education — albeit in ways that its creators neither planned, anticipated or even wanted.
In August 1981, Education Secretary T. H. Bell created a National Commission on Excellence in Education to examine, in the report’s words, “the widespread public perception that something is seriously remiss in our educational system.” Secretary Bell’s expectation, he later said, was that the report would paint a rosy picture of American education and correct all those widespread negative perceptions.
Instead, on April 26, 1983, the commission released a sweeping 65-page indictment of the quality of teaching and learning in American primary and secondary schools couched in a style of apocalyptic rhetoric rarely found in blue-ribbon commission reports.
“The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and as a people,” it warned. “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

Madison School Board Discusses Discipline, Safety, Cell Phones and Code of Conduct

Watch the discussion via this video


The Madison School Board met on Monday night to discuss a new positive behavior support plan as well as a new code of conduct for students who attend Madison public schools.
The code of conduct has been under review for months by a committee who made recommendations to the board in a special meeting on Monday.
The meeting is especially timely after the highly publicized recordings of students fighting at Toki Middle School came to light last week.
Committee members will recommend making a few major revisions or additions to the code, including specifically banning voice or image recording.
Board members discussed safety, discipline and cell phones, which were all topics of importance that applied to the Toki situation, reported WISC-TV.
Madison’s new student code of conduct targets cell phones. Secret or hidden recordings are a serious offense that could get a student suspended or expelled.
“Cell phones and video cameras are being used in very wrong ways, to take pictures of tests, to film fighting, to record kids in the locker room, that’s just not acceptable,” said school board president Arlene Silviera. “I think we have to be very specific in the use of these types of devices — what can and what cannot be done.”

Tamira Madsen:

In an effort to give principals and administrators a chance to exercise discretion to expel a student who brings a weapon besides a gun to school, Madison school district officials are considering alterations to the language in the student codes of conduct.
Recommended revisions were discussed at Monday night’s School Board meeting.
The current rule for a first offense states that a student who has a weapon on school grounds besides a firearm, pellet gun or BB gun and isn’t carrying the weapon with an “intent to cause harm to another” will receive a five-day suspension. After a second offense, a student could face an expulsion recommendation.
The rule revision would give principals and administrators the option to expel the student for a first-time offense.
Dan Mallin, who works in legal services with the Madison Metropolitan School District and is a member of the committee drafting changes to the codes of conduct, said the rule change is meant to take into account a variety of circumstances.

Teen journalist wins award

Jason Dean:

For the first time in the 35-year history of the School Bell Award, a student journalist will accept an award in the Public Media Category.
The award is given to one Wisconsin reporter, broadcaster or school journalism teacher for excellent coverage of critical education issues. The Wisconsin Education Association Council presents the School Bell Award in two categories: public media and school media.
La Follette High School junior Deidre Green’s “Bridging the Achievement Gap” column was nominated by her teacher, Sarah Schnuelle. Green has reported for the Simpson Street Free Press for four years, focusing on health and education stories.

Madison’s Two New School Board Members

Andy Hall:

Marj Passman is so excited she ‘s having trouble sleeping.
Ed Hughes is sleeping just fine — so far, he adds with a chuckle.
Monday evening, Passman and Hughes will be sworn in as members of the Madison School Board. It will mark the first time either has held public office.
Their path to the board was easier than expected — both ran unopposed — and their arrival comes at an unusually quiet moment in Madison ‘s public school system. Thanks to a one-time windfall from special city of Madison taxing districts, the schools are averting budget cuts for the first time in 14 years.
But Passman, 66, a retired teacher, and Hughes, 55, a lawyer, know that by summer ‘s end the board will be deep into discussions about asking voters to approve millions of dollars in extra taxes to avoid budget cuts for coming years.
They ‘ve been doing their homework to join the board — an act that will become official with a ceremony at the board ‘s 5 p.m. meeting at the district ‘s headquarters, 545 W. Dayton St.
Passman and Hughes fill the seats held by retiring board members Carol Carstensen, the board ‘s senior member who gained detailed knowledge of issues while serving since 1990, and Lawrie Kobza, who developed a reputation for carefully scrutinizing the district ‘s operations during her single three-year term.

Related Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Few jobs are as difficult and thankless as serving on a local school board.
Just ask Lawrie Kobza and Carol Carstensen.
The two Madison School Board members chose not to seek re-election this spring after years of honorable and energetic service.
Their replacements — Ed Hughes and Marj Passman — were sworn in Monday evening.
The fact that no one in Madison, a city steeped in political activism, chose to challenge Hughes or Passman for the two open board seats suggests increasing wariness toward the rigors of the task.
The job comes with token pay, a slew of long meetings, frequent controversy and angry calls at home. On top of that, the state has put public schools into a vise of mandates and caps that virtually require unpopular board decisions.

2008 MMSD Joe Thomas Community Service Awards

On April 14, the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education honored eight students with the Joe Thomas Community Service Award. The award was initiated in 1995 to honor the memory of a highly respected minority services coordinator at West High School.
The award recognizes high school seniors who have made a measurable impact through community service, demonstrate commitment to high academic standards and go above and beyond expectations.
The 2008 Joe Thomas Community Service Award winners are: Marcus Thomas Chavous, Tony Freiberg, Allison Freid, Amadou Fofana, Tiffany Jones, Dorothea McDonald, Namratta Sehgal and Darnell Small.
Read more at at The Capital City Hues.
Congratulations to each of these outstanding young people!

L.A. Unified may rethink offers to charter schools

Howard Blume:

Seeking to calm a backlash at traditional Los Angeles schools, a top district official promised this week to reconsider offers of classroom space on those campuses to charter schools.
The idea of privately operated charter schools sharing space with regular schools was met with fury at many affected campuses, including Taft High in Woodland Hills and Crenshaw High in South Los Angeles. Teachers and parents have complained that their own reforms and programs would be harmed.
Charter operators aren’t too happy either: Many still await offers, while others are considering whether proposed deals are affordable or adequate.
Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines stepped into the fray with unscheduled remarks at a “town hall” this week before a standing-room-only audience of more than 800 in Taft’s auditorium.
“I want to review each issue,” Cortines said. “We had to pause, take a breath and look at . . . what we must do for charter schools but also how it affects . . . the regular school.”
Under state law as well as a recent settlement of litigation, the Los Angeles Unified School District must share facilities “fairly” with charter schools. Charters are independently run public schools that operate with less state regulation in exchange for boosting student achievement.

A Revival at Milwaukee’s Thomas More High School

Kathleen Gallagher:

Enrollment is up 40% this year, the $360,000 budget deficit has been erased, and St. Thomas More High School has for the first time passed the $1 million annual fund-raising mark.
Some say the devil’s in the details, but these figures were inspired by quite the opposite – the school’s longtime campus minister, Robert Pauly.
Since becoming St. Thomas More’s president two years ago, Pauly says he’s turning the Catholic school around by focusing on God and technology.
Pauly added the “Saint” to what was previously just “Thomas More” high school, continued adding engineering classes and in September launched a wireless laptop program that has students jettisoning books and backpacks for laptops.
The school’s new tagline: “Inspired by Christ, driven by innovation.”
“We’re preparing their hearts and souls and minds and bodies for what the world needs,” Pauly said.
St. Thomas More’s enrollment is up to 430 this year from 392 last year, and Pauly is projecting 455 students for next year.

What to Do With Gifted Students?

Jay Matthews:

I received a letter a few weeks ago from a mother in Prince William County, home to one of the Washington area’s big suburban school systems. It starkly captured the parental frustration at the heart of the national debate over what to do with very gifted students. I ran her letter, with a short response, in my weekly Post column, “Extra Credit,” in which I answer reader mail. That column produced so many letters that I decided to lay out the debate in this column, using the limitless space of the Internet. I have not been very sympathetic with parents of gifted kids. Some of the reaction below echoes things I have said. But I find it difficult to justify forcing Nancy Klimavicz’s son to spend valuable time on busywork. If anyone has any good way out of this impasse, e-mail me at
Dear Extra Credit:
I’ve started this letter many times over the past several months. After my gifted son received rejections from Virginia Tech, James Madison University and William and Mary, I figured it’s time to warn other parents. If you have a very bright student, home-school him.
My son was reading a college-level book in third grade when the gifted education specialist recommended just that. Academically, we figured he’d learn and grow regardless of the environment, but his weakness was social interaction with his peers. We believed childhood should include high school sports teams and clubs, and we remembered being influenced by one or two teachers who were passionate about their subjects. We decided to leave him in public school.

Oakland Police Probe First Grader’s Skull Fracture

Nanette Asimov:

Oakland police have opened an investigation into the case of a first-grade boy whose skull was fractured Monday when, he said, an older student slammed him against a tree as he waited for a ride from his daycare provider.
Police investigators will visit Piedmont Avenue Elementary School today to question school officials and any students who might have seen what happened.
Seven-year-old Zachary Cataldo spent two nights in the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital before returning home on Wednesday.
“After our investigation, the district attorney could very well decide to prosecute and file charges,” said Officer Roland Holmgren, spokesman for the Oakland police.
Vince Matthews, state administrator for the Oakland Unified School District, and other district officials did not return calls from The Chronicle on Thursday. Nor did Principal Angela Haick of Piedmont Avenue Elementary, where the incident took place.
But expressions of concern for Zachary – and outrage at what his father said was the school’s lax response to repeated bullying incidents – poured in from across the country after the story appeared in The Chronicle on Thursday.

Much more here and here.

More on Saying Goodbye to Madison West High School’s Writing Lab

Susan Troller:

A venerable and valued West High School academic institution has been cut from next year’s schedule, and this time the immediate blame lies with dwindling enrollment projections for Madison high schools and middle schools, not the perennial budget cuts caused by state-imposed revenue caps.
The Writing Lab, a 30-year tradition at West which provides students with one-on-one help for writing papers and college essays, will be cut next year, Principal Ed Holmes confirmed.
John Howe, chair of West’s English department, said the Writing Lab gets about 900 visits a year from students seeking help for everything from developing early ideas or themes to preparing final drafts.
Students get help, he said, with English papers, but also with writing assignments from virtually every other class that has a written component.
“Every year, we have students who have graduated that come back to West, telling us how well they were prepared for college writing assignments because of the Writing Lab,” Howe said.

Much more on the demise of West’s writing lab here.

Wisconsin Heights among districts looking at consolidation

Andy Hall:

Wisconsin Heights, a cash-hungry school district on the western edge of Dane County, is among a growing number of area school systems considering consolidation to deal with financial pressures.
Kay Butcher, a Wisconsin Heights School Board member who backed two referendums rejected by voters this year and last year, said it’s important to start discussions with other districts.
“I brought up the issue of consolidation because I feel if we can’t pass a referendum, we have to find an alternative,” said Butcher, who raised the issue at an April 14 board meeting.
“I wouldn’t say that there’s anybody out there that’s gung-ho about the idea, but we have to talk about what are we going to do.”
The board is scheduled to continue that discussion tonight as part of a wide-ranging look at options for the district, which faces a budget shortfall estimated at $500,000 to more than $700,000 in the 2008-09 school year and larger deficits in later years.

An interesting “District” oriented perspective. The real question: what’s best for the students?

Schools reclassify students, pass test under federal law

Laurel Rosenhall & Phillip Reese:

Will C. Wood Middle School faced a vexing situation when last year’s test results came out in August. Most students had met the mark set by No Child Left Behind. But African American students’ math scores fell far short of it, bringing the school into failing status in the eyes of the federal law.
One hundred students were categorized as black when they took the test last spring. But if the school had fewer than 100 students in that group, their low scores wouldn’t count. So Principal Jim Wong reviewed the files of all the students classified as African American on the test, he said, and found that four of them had indicated no race or mixed race on their enrollment paperwork. Wong sent his staff to talk to the four families to ask permission to put the kids in a different racial group.
“You get a kid that’s half black, half white. What are you going to put him down as?” Wong said. “If one kid makes the difference and I can go white, that gets me out of trouble.”
Over the past two years, 80 California schools got “out of trouble” with No Child Left Behind after changing the way they classify their students, a Bee analysis has found. The changes nudged their status from failing to passing under the federal law.
The state allows school officials to comb through test results every August, changing students’ demographic information to correct mistakes that can happen, for example, when clerks register new students or when districts swap student files.

Meet Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University

I had the great pleasure of spending a couple of days on the Brown University campus last week. Among other things, I learned about the enormous respect and affection Brown students have for their President, Ruth Simmons. Then yesterday, someone sent me this link with the memo “Another Reason to Go to Brown.” (Current high school seniors have until May 1 to decide where they will go next year.) Another reason to go to Brown? Perhaps. But I’d rather call this inspiring video snippet “another reason to dream big and believe in yourself.”

Ruth Simmons — America’s Best Leaders 2007

Obama on Teacher Merit Pay

Mike Antonucci:

I think that on issues of education, I have been very clear about the fact, and sometimes I have gotten in trouble with the teachers union on this, that we should be experimenting with charter schools. We should be experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers. That –
WALLACE: You mean merit pay?
OBAMA: Well, merit pay, the way it has been designed I think that is based on just single standardized test I think is a big mistake, because the way we measure performance may be skewed by whether or not the kids are coming in the school already three years or four years behind.
But I think that having assessment tools and then saying, you know what, teachers who are on career paths to become better teachers, developing themselves professionally, that we should pay excellence more. I think that’s a good idea. So –

Elite Korean Schools, Forging Ivy League Skills

Sam Dillon:

It is 10:30 p.m. and students at the elite Daewon prep school here are cramming in a study hall that ends a 15-hour school day. A window is propped open so the evening chill can keep them awake. One teenager studies standing upright at his desk to keep from dozing.
Kim Hyun-kyung, who has accumulated nearly perfect scores on her SATs, is multitasking to prepare for physics, chemistry and history exams.
“I can’t let myself waste even a second,” said Ms. Kim, who dreams of attending Harvard, Yale or another brand-name American college. And she has a good shot. This spring, as in previous years, all but a few of the 133 graduates from Daewon Foreign Language High School who applied to selective American universities won admission.
It is a success rate that American parents may well envy, especially now, as many students are swallowing rejection from favorite universities at the close of an insanely selective college application season.
“Going to U.S. universities has become like a huge fad in Korean society, and the Ivy League names — Harvard, Yale, Princeton — have really struck a nerve,” said Victoria Kim, who attended Daewon and graduated from Harvard last June.
Daewon has one major Korean rival, the Minjok Leadership Academy, three hours’ drive east of Seoul, which also has a spectacular record of admission to Ivy League colleges.
How do they do it? Their formula is relatively simple. They take South Korea’s top-scoring middle school students, put those who aspire to an American university in English-language classes, taught by Korean and highly paid American and other foreign teachers, emphasize composition and other skills key to success on the SATs and college admissions essays, and — especially this — urge them on to unceasing study.

“In Education, Parents Deserve to Have a Choice”

Jim Wooten:

The nagging question since Republicans took full control under the Gold Dome is this: What difference does it make?
In many areas, the difference is hard to see. Not so with education. Bit by bit, Georgia is catching up with other states in giving parents control over the education our children receive.
That is one of the major differences that surfaces repeatedly in legislative debate about education, about health care and, in general, about the role of government in our lives. It’s become especially noticeable in the past year. Democrats and Republicans are beginning to divide philosophically here, as they do nationally.
The debate generally breaks down as to whether we as citizens are responsible enough to choose what’s best for us — or whether wiser, better-informed and more compassionate bureaucrats should exercise that authority.
It’s the transcendent conflict of our time, made all the more urgent by the fact that the national tax base is shrinking while lifestyle choices grow dependence. In 2004, according to the Washington-based Tax Foundation, 42.5 million Americans filed returns and had zero tax liability, up from 32 million four years earlier. Non-payers have increased 160 percent since 1985, the foundation reports. Meanwhile, out-of-wedlock births make government a second parent.

Fairfax County Schools to Review Grading Practices

Michael Alison Chandler:

Fairfax County school officials have agreed to review their grading policies in response to parents’ concerns that relatively stringent standards mean their children are losing out on scholarships and college admissions.
More than 2,800 parents and students signed an online petition urging the school system to adopt a 10-point grading scale and give extra weight for honors, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes. The current system requires a score of 94 or higher for an A, and gives no extra credit to honors courses. AP courses are given half a point.
Many competing school systems, including Montgomery County, give A’s for lower scores and graduate students with similar backgrounds but higher GPA’s, the parents contend. Their concerns come as competition for admission to big-name colleges is at a high and tuition more expensive than ever.
Louise Epstein, president of the Fairfax County Association for the Gifted, said the current policies are unfair. “They cost families money and reduce good opportunities for students just because they go to Fairfax schools,” she said.

Dane County Transition School Fights for Survival

Andy Hall:

To try to save his high school, student John Kiefler took an unusual approach this month that revealed both his commitment to the school and his level of desperation.
He contacted Oprah.
“Now I know that because I am a student that had problems in a normal school that if this place closes down that I will have problems getting a diploma,” wrote John, a junior who rides a van 45 minutes north from Milton to Dane County Transition School in Madison.
“I hope you can help us.”
After 15 years of educating students with fragile futures, Transition School itself faces a test of survival.
The publicly funded alternative school is in danger of closing as early as this summer.
“Our school system was set up for a factory model that has not changed in 100 years and it’s growing more and more distant from what we need,” said Deedra Atkinson, United Way of Dane County senior vice president of community building and an Oregon School Board member. Her daughter, Audra, is a graduate of Transition School.
Alternative education programs are part of United Way’s countywide strategy to curb dropout rates, which according to the state Department of Public Instruction ranged from 1 percent in Belleville to 15 percent in Madison during the 2006-07 school year.

“The Factory Model” of Education via Frederick Taylor’s “Scientific Management”. A teacher friend lamented some time ago that we’re still stuck in this model, making sure that our students are in and out of school around the milking and field work schedule….
Dane County Transition School Website.

“Acting Black” — A Factor in Achievement Gap?

From The Madison Times
by Nisa Islam Muhammad – Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
(NNPA) — For too many Black students going to high school means fitting a stereotype of what it means to be “Black” developed by images in music, movies and media. It means “acting Black” to fit in a peer group or in response to social pressures.
According to researchers, “acting Black” is contributing to the education and achievement gap between Black and White students. They also believe it is one reason why Black students are underrepresented in gifted programs.
“If you are a Black student and are doing well in school you are accused of “acting White.” Black students performance then begins to suffer,” study author Donna Ford, professor of special education and Betts chair of education and human development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, told The Final Call.
“Part of the achievement gap, particularly for gifted Black students, is due to the poor images these students have of themselves as learners. Our research shows that prevention and intervention programs that focus on improving students’ achievement ethic and self-image are essential to closing the achievement gap.”
The research, one of the first to examine the concept of “acting Black,” was published in the March 2008 issue of Urban Education.


“Facebook Taunts”

Daniel de Vise:

Twice this month, students at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda have used their fists to settle disputes that arose on Facebook.
So Alan Goodwin, the principal, took the unusual step of asking parents to monitor their children’s postings on the social networking site. He did this in a posting to the school’s e-mail list, which is a forum as addictive to some Whitman parents as Facebook has become to their children.
“I am becoming increasingly frustrated by negative incidents at school that arise from students harassing other students on Facebook,” Goodwin wrote April 18.
Teens are conducting an increasing share of their social lives electronically, via text-messaging, e-mail and social networking sites such as Facebook. Threats, harassment and bullying all have followed them online. Although such behavior is not new, research suggests that it is expanding rapidly, and educators and lawmakers seem resolved to pay closer attention to the words students exchange online while off campus

I find it remarkable that many are so cavalier about exposing their social networks, detailed activities and …… anything else on sites that mine all of this data for economic purposes. The recent discussion on “Technology & Madison Schools” is worth considering with respect to the issues our children need to understand today, and tomorrow.

Free Internet Book Search Tool


The Internet is full of free books. But who has time to search for them? Let Voluminous bring the books to you. It finds, downloads and organises a vast library. Buy now, and access hundreds of years of classic literature. Take the free trial and see what’s on offer.

AP Drops Four Courses, Three over Demographics

Scott Cech:

Officials overseeing the Advanced Placement program have announced that they intend to drop AP classes and exams in four subject areas, in a pullback expected to affect about 12,500 students and 2,500 teachers worldwide.
Following the end of the 2008-09 academic year, there will be no AP courses or exams in Italian, Latin literature, French literature, and computer science AB, said officials at the College Board, the New York City-based nonprofit organization that owns the AP brand.
The College Board has in past years withdrawn one undersubscribed AP course at a time, but has never taken so many courses off its table of offerings in the half-century since the program started as a way for students to take college-level courses and potentially earn college credit while still in high school.
Trevor Packer, the College Board vice president who oversees the AP program, said the decision was made at a trustee meeting on March 27, and that AP teachers in the affected subjects were notified by e-mail April 3. “Of course, it’s sad for them,” he said of the teachers.
Mr. Packer said the decision was made principally because of demographic considerations.
Only a tiny fraction of the members of underrepresented minority groups who take AP exams take the tests in one of those four affected subject areas, he said.
The College Board has made it a priority to reach such students, including those who are African- American and Hispanic.
“For us, [the question is], are we able to achieve our mission of reaching a broader range of students?” Mr. Packer said.
He added that no additional AP courses would be cut for at least the next five years.


Studies: SAT Writing Portion a Good Predictor of Freshman Grades

Janet Kornblum:

The controversial new writing portion of the SAT is actually a better predictor of grades for freshmen college students than the older, more-established, critical reading and mathematics portions, according to preliminary results of two new studies.
The College Board, which administers the SAT, studied test scores from 150,000 freshmen entering 110 colleges in 2006 and then looked at their GPAs at the end of their freshmen year, says Wayne Camara, vice president of research.
“Our study suggests that the writing test is the best single predictor” of freshman grades, he says. The study won’t be finalized until summer, he says.
The University of California drew a similar conclusion from an analysis of its incoming 2006 freshmen and their GPAs, says Sam Agronow, coordinator of admissions research and evaluation at the University of California’s office of the president.

Report: More Governors Prioritizing Pre-K


Pre-K Now today released Leadership Matters: Governors’ Pre-K Proposals Fiscal Year 2007, a comprehensive analysis of governors’ leadership and budgetary commitments to expanding access to pre-kindergarten. If legislatures across the country approve these proposals, for the third straight year more children than ever before will have access to pre-k. Every governor who proposed pre-k increases last year received state legislative approval for increased funds. “Two years ago just 11of the nation’s governors had pre-k on their policy and budgetary agendas,” said Libby Doggett, Ph.D., executive director of Pre-K Now. “Our report shows that number has more than doubled with proposals by 24 governors to increase funding for pre-k. We expect these commitments to guide state legislatures and improve our schools. High-quality pre-k is critical to helping states meet the standards and mandates of No Child Left Behind and is the first step to improving K-12 education.”
Gubernatorial increases to pre-k were bolstered for 2007 by favorable state revenue forecasts. Twenty-two states are likely to enjoy increased income in fiscal year 2007 while 26 others anticipate fiscal stability. Governors who once felt hamstrung by budget shortfalls are emerging with plans to improve educational opportunities in their states by advancing pre-k.

Now It’s Colleges’ Turn to Say ‘Pick Me!’

Valerie Strauss:

The University of Maryland at College Park is making sure that nearly every single student admitted this fall — more than 10,000 of them — gets a personal telephone call from a current student extolling the virtues of becoming a Terrapin.
The student government president at Marymount University in Arlington County is sending a T-shirt to every admitted student.
At Binghamton University in New York, current international students are writing letters to every admitted international student — in their native language — to make sure they know where to get food that suits their diets or how to solve other problems they may encounter.

“School Pressures Push Families into Country Houses”

Deborah Kolben:

When Alexa Kent and her husband had their fourth child, the Upper West Siders sat down and calculated that they were on their way to spending $1.5 million on schools before their children even got to college.
“Enough already,” Ms. Kent said. They decided to pull their children out of private school and take up residence full-time at their six-bedroom country house in Connecticut, 90 minutes outside of Manhattan. By enrolling their children in the local public school, they saved an estimated $150,000 a year in pre-tax dollars. At a time when the private grade school admission process is more difficult than ever in the city — there is a one in 18 chance of getting in, according to some estimates — and the tuition for grade school often tops that of a college, more families are opting to sell their New York City apartments and move into their country houses.
“I see this happening all the time,” the founder of Manhattan Private School Advisors, Amanda Uhry, said.

Study Suggests Math Teachers Scrap Balls and Slices; “The Researchers Did Something Rare in Education Research”

Kenneth Chang:

One train leaves Station A at 6 p.m. traveling at 40 miles per hour toward Station B. A second train leaves Station B at 7 p.m. traveling on parallel tracks at 50 m.p.h. toward Station A. The stations are 400 miles apart. When do the trains pass each other?
Entranced, perhaps, by those infamous hypothetical trains, many educators in recent years have incorporated more and more examples from the real world to teach abstract concepts. The idea is that making math more relevant makes it easier to learn.
That idea may be wrong, if researchers at Ohio State University are correct. An experiment by the researchers suggests that it might be better to let the apples, oranges and locomotives stay in the real world and, in the classroom, to focus on abstract equations, in this case 40 (t + 1) = 400 – 50t, where t is the travel time in hours of the second train. (The answer is below.)
“The motivation behind this research was to examine a very widespread belief about the teaching of mathematics, namely that teaching students multiple concrete examples will benefit learning,” said Jennifer A. Kaminski, a research scientist at the Center for Cognitive Science at Ohio State. “It was really just that, a belief.”
Dr. Kaminski and her colleagues Vladimir M. Sloutsky and Andrew F. Heckler did something relatively rare in education research: they performed a randomized, controlled experiment. Their results appear in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

The Advantage of Abstract Examples in Learning Math by Jennifer A. Kaminski, Vladimir M. Sloutsky, Andrew F. Heckler.
I wonder what has become of the Madison School District’s Math Task Force?
Math Forum audio, video, notes and links.

Writing, Technology & Teens

Amanda Lenhart:

Teens write a lot, but they do not think of their emails, instant and text messages as writing. This disconnect matters because teens believe good writing is an essential skill for success and that more writing instruction at school would help them.

Related links: AP and Tamar Lewin.

California Considers New Free Speech Protections in Schools

Daniel Wood:

Eleven-year teaching veteran Teri Hu was adviser to The Voice, the student newspaper of Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif., when school administrators told her not to let it publish a story critical of school policies on teaching assistants. Two months after she refused, Ms. Hu became “former” adviser to The Voice.
Janet Ewell, a tenured teacher in Garden Grove, was enjoying the praise in her 2002 school evaluation until she came to the part about her performance as advisor to journalism students. “[The principal] let me know he didn’t like three student editorials, one about school bathrooms, one about the cafeteria and one about teachers who are not available to help students,” recalls Ms. Ewell. “Then he told me I wouldn’t be advising them the next fall.”
Scenarios like those above occurring in schools across California have prompted the state to take the national lead again in protecting free speech rights on campuses. Two years ago, the state was the first to pass a bill preventing college administrators from censoring student newspapers.
Now, legislation is moving forward to protect both high school and college faculty advisers from being punished by administrators for students’ articles or editorials.

2008 AP Annual Conference

July 16-20, 2008; Seattle:

The two days of the main conference will be filled with sessions for every AP course and every Pre-AP® area.
These sessions will provide curriculum information, helpful resources, and best practices for AP teachers, both new and experienced middle school teachers, as well as for AP Coordinators, school counselors, and administrators.
Each session will last 75 minutes, and participants will be eligible for Continuing Education Units (CEUs) from the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET). To learn how these units will be awarded, see IACET CEUs.

Milwaukee School Board Approves Large Busing Cut, Shift Funds to Classroom

Alan Borsuk:

A unanimous Milwaukee School Board agreed Thursday night “to reduce massive busing” in Milwaukee Public Schools, but to soften a proposed timetable for achieving ambitious cuts.
But while all nine members generally agreed on the goal of getting more kids off buses and into improved neighborhood schools, what will actually result will not be clear for perhaps several years.
The board action, in effect, fired the starting gun on a process that will require balancing the desire of thousands of parents to send their children to schools somewhere other than their neighborhood with the desire to see more money spent in classrooms and less on buses.
Board member Michael Bonds, who proposed the resolution, said, “This is an opportunity for us to put millions of dollars back into the classroom, to provide our students with a quality, comprehensive education.”

A bold, green move. More here.
MPS Parentnet:

Last night MPS board members moved to reduce voluntary busing, for a potential savings of millions of dollars. In our recent meeting with Directors Spence and Thompson, busing has been identified as a source of tremendous savings. Despite the Neighborhood Schools Initiative, students are still being bused all over city to schools that are not citywide.
All members seem to support the idea of reducing busing, but several are concerned about options for parents who use the bus as child care. It’s important for the district to keep in mind that its main mission is to educate children, first and foremost. It can’t be in the position of sacrificing the academic goals of the district in order to provide services for parents that it can no longer afford.

Verona students suspended for drinking, drugs on school trip

Heather LaRoi:

Nineteen Verona High School students are facing the music after partying on a school-sponsored trip to Costa Rica.
School officials have suspended the students after learning the students drank alcohol and some smoked marijuana during the trip earlier this month.
“It was a bit of a sordid affair,” Principal Kelly Meyers said. “The preponderance of the trip was an outstanding and valuable learning experience, but it was tainted severely by a few nights of really, really poor choices. Now we’re embarrassed, all of us.”
Thirty-three students were on the 10-day trip that included hikes in rainforests and meeting villagers. The group belonged to a school club called the Land Rovers, which goes on regular outings. They paid for the trip out of their own pockets.
Most of the offenses took place in the students’ hotel rooms on the final night of the trip, Meyers said. After word got out about the misdeeds, the school launched an investigation into what Meyers called “a very unfortunate occurrence.”
The group had six adult chaperones, including five employees of the high school, which should be “quite ample,” Meyers said. That the chaperones apparently didn’t know what was going on means some changes in how trips are overseen in the future may be made, she said.

School garden programs hope to change kids’ relationship with food

Dina Maccabee:

One warm winter day at Ruus Elementary in south Hayward, Chef Tiffany sweeps a roomful of second-graders into their only cooking class of the year. Before long, they’re shouting out the names of body parts that benefit from fresh veggies: “Eyes!” “Teeth!” “Heart!” And even if Swiss chard elicits a wary silence, the kids already know spinach from bok choy, and Chef Tiffany, known to adults as Tiffany Chenoweth, smoothly transitions from her talking points about leafy greens into the hands-on section of the class (after delivering a squirt of antibacterial gel onto the palms of each child). Meanwhile, out past the bustling blacktop, garden instructor Rachel Harris walks an ethnically diverse group of third graders through the concept of soil enrichment.

Waukesha Superintendent Search Survey

School District of Waukesha:

As you are aware, the Waukesha Board of Education has initiated its search for a new superintendent. To provide counsel to us in this important process, we have retained the services of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, Ltd. (HYA), a search firm that specializes in assisting boards with the identification and selection of superintendents. Click here to connect to HYA’s website.
A very important early step in this process is to identify the characteristics we will be seeking in our new superintendent. We would appreciate your assistance with this task and invite you to attend a community forum meeting with a representative from Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, Ltd. on Monday, May 5, 2008 at 6:30 p.m. This meeting will be held in the Media Center at Central Middle School, 400 N. Grand Avenue, Waukesha 53186.

Madison’s Sennett Middle School Discipline Climate & Security Cameras


But her enthusiasm for the cameras pales in comparison to a new district-wide middle school program started this year called Positive Behavior Intervention Support, or PBIS.
“This is very good for kids — very, very good,” Lodholz said.
The PBIS program uses positive behavior support coaches like Sennett’s Jennifer Tomlinson. She works with students, teachers and staff to teach positive behavior skills to students.
Often the behavior is rewarded and promoted by the students themselves, through handmade posters or activities aimed at showcasing such behaviors, WISC-TV reported.
Officials said the key is to actually instruct kids how to behave correctly, be it through mediation sessions, classroom instruction or other innovative approaches.
“We need to teach kids how to be accountable for their actions and that’s what we’re doing through this system,” Tomlinson said.
Lodholz said the program helps offer instruction to students on how they should be behave. She said the PBIS program builds upon other Sennett school strategies and that it all seems to be working.
Last year incidents of misconduct at Sennett totaled 1,706, and 1,169 suspensions were handed out.
But in the 2007-08 school year to date, with the cameras and new program, Sennett’s seen more than 730 fewer misconduct incidents — at 973 — and only 94 suspensions.

A Look at Sacramento’s High School “Redesign” Initiative

Linking Education and Economic Development and the Sacramento City Unified School District [488K PDF]:

Over the past five years, the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) in partnership with LEED—Linking Education and Economic Development, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has implemented a system-wide redesign of the District’s high schools. With the assistance of community members, teachers principals, and especially parents and students, we have worked to create new models for high school learning in the 21st Century. To share the results of this effort, including accomplishments, lessons learned, and ongoing challenges, partners came together to create the “Report to the Community on the Education for the 21st Century (e21) High School Redesign Initiative: 2002-2007 and Beyond”. This Executive Summary captures some of the key elements of this Report

Complete report [1.9MB]
LEED Website.
Bruce King’s evaluation of Madison West High School’s Small Learning Community (SLC) implementation.
Examining the data from Madison’s SLC grants.

Toki Middle School Security/Safety Update


This school year some parents, teachers and staff have complained about increasing safety and violence issues at Toki, including bad behavior at the school.
Last March, after a packed PTO meeting, school district officials added another security guard and a “dean of students” to help keep the peace. A positive behavior curriculum program was initiated as well.
“We certainly have a greater comfort level with where the school is headed at this point,” Yudice said.
However, some said that a couple of recent fights at the school posted on show the problems haven’t gotten any better.
PTO President Betsy Reck said teachers have told her things have not improved, despite the extra efforts the last month or so. She said many believe more needs to be done.
“It’s a typical, almost daily, occurrence, the fights at Toki,” Reck said. “It’s a very sad sort of affairs over there right now that they cannot get that under control.”
Last week, police were called to the school for two fights, which apparently were caught on video by students and posted recently on They have since been removed from the site.

More here and here.
Andy Hall & Karen Rivedal review local school policies on video capture and internet access.

Florida Revamps State Test Standards

Linda Kleindienst:

student angst, the Legislature is about to approve a major revamp of Florida’s public-school testing program — from what students are expected to know to when they take the exam.
Rallies and motivational speakers meant to boost FCAT scores would be banned during class time. For the first time, middle-school students would be tested on their social-science knowledge. And schools could not buy new textbooks that mention the FCAT.
While the House and Senate differ on some details, it appears almost sure that the testing, now done each February, will be pushed later in the school year. That will give teachers more time to cover material that could be on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, given in grades 3 through 11.
Pending House and Senate bills would schedule the writing exam on March 1, with testing on other subjects delayed until April 15 at the earliest. On Friday, the House approved its bill 110-0.

School Test Scores Rise as More Low Scoring Students Drop Out

Margaret Downing:

A few years ago, I signed on as a volunteer tutor at my local elementary. I was matched with a student — I’ll call him Eddie — who was failing miserably at both the math and English portions of the TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills), a statewide minimal skills test that was the precursor to today’s TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills).
I took him on in math, it being the worst of all his subjects, and began a series of one-on-one weekly meetings. It soon became apparent that while Eddie’s multiplication and division skills were very shaky, his ability to subtract once we got into double digits was no better. Asked to compute 25 minus 17, Eddie’s eyes darted around the room looking for an escape hatch. There were too many numbers to count on his fingers.
Word problems only ramped up the agony.

Adolescence & Purpose

Jane Clayson:

William Damon is one of the world’s leading scholars on adolescence and human development. And when he looks around the world, he sees a growing problem.
It’s not just that young adults don’t know what they want to be when they grow up. It’s not simply that they won’t leave home. No, it’s that and more: A growing trend of rudderlessness or purposeselessness.
But don’t just throw your hands up and despair for America’s youth, Damon says. Answer the wake-up call.
This hour, On Point: It’s time to give the children a purpose.


25 Years After a Nation At Risk: Annual US Education Spending has Grown from $16B to 72B

Greg Toppo:

Twenty-five years ago this week, Americans awoke to a forceful little report that, depending on your point of view, either ruined public education or saved it.
On April 26, 1983, in a White House ceremony, Ronald Reagan took possession of “A Nation at Risk.” The product of nearly two years’ work by a blue-ribbon commission, it found poor academic performance at nearly every level and warned that the education system was “being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity.”
It kick-started decades of tough talk about public schools and reforms that culminated in 2002’s No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration law that pushes schools to improve students’ basic skills or face ever-tougher sanctions.
Twenty-five years later, the sole teacher on the 1983 panel says the tough talk was just what the doctor ordered.
“In order to move a nation to make changes, you have to find some very incisive language,” Jay Sommer says. Now 81 and teaching Hebrew at a suburban synagogue, Sommer was a high school language teacher in New Rochelle, N.Y., when tapped to help produce the report.

Paul Orfalea offers some related thoughts here.

Schools & Property Values

Richard Green:

ne of my good GW friends, knowing that my daughters had just finished navigating the college admissions process, lent me her copy of Acceptance, a novel about crazed parents and their slightly less crazed children going through the college application process in a fictitious Maryland county that just happens to contain the National Institutes for Health. The novel is quite funny, and one passage stood out:

Her public school might as well have been a private school, and in a way, it was. There was no tuition, per se, but irrational real estate prices served to filter out most of the rabble and ;end it a somewhat exclusive air, or so she’d heard her mother say.

This paragraph summarizes why I support school choice. Affluent people have school choice–they can pay for private school, or they can move to places with excellent public schools (whose excellence is capitalized into land prices). Meanwhile, kids of poor families are stuck in dysfunctional school districts with no place to go. Just spending money on these schools doesn’t seem to solve the problem–

Some HOPE Scholarship recipients need remedial help in college

Jennifer Burk:

Despite earning B averages in high school, at least one in 10 HOPE Scholarship recipients receives some type of remedial help during the first year of college.
Put simply, some college freshmen who seemed to excel in high school still need help in basic math and English.
Twelve percent of college freshmen who have the HOPE Scholarship, awarded to Georgia students who graduate from high school with at least a B average, received learning support in fall 2006, according to the University System of Georgia.
The reasons why run the gamut, with blame placed at the state level all the way down to the student.
“It’s hard for me to say the causes of that,” said Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education.
But part of the reason for the state’s continuing overhaul of the public schools’ kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum is to get students out of remediation and make them more prepared for college work, he said.
“The curriculum“>curriculum before was way too broad and way too vague,” Tofig said.

“The Schools Aren’t Teaching Our Kids What They Need to Know”

Bob Herbert:

Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it’s widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900.
“We have one of the highest dropout rates in the industrialized world,” said Allan Golston, the president of U.S. programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In a discussion over lunch recently he described the situation as “actually pretty scary, alarming.”
Roughly a third of all American high school students drop out. Another third graduate but are not prepared for the next stage of life — either productive work or some form of post-secondary education.
When two-thirds of all teenagers old enough to graduate from high school are incapable of mastering college-level work, the nation is doing something awfully wrong.
Mr. Golston noted that the performance of American students, when compared with their peers in other countries, tends to grow increasingly dismal as they move through the higher grades:

Common Core of Data.

Proposal to Cut Milwaukee School Busing by 70%!

Alan Borsuk:

A Milwaukee School Board committee voted unanimously Tuesday night “to reduce massive busing” within Milwaukee Public Schools, a step that could lead to major changes in the way the system functions and the options parents and students are given in selecting schools.
The board’s finance committee said it wanted $20 million cut from the amount spent on busing by the 2009-’10 school year, more than two-thirds of the amount spent to bus students who do not fit into special categories or have special needs.
If implemented as envisioned by the main sponsor, board member Michael Bonds, the $20 million savings would be spent on a list of efforts to improve and build up faltering schools, primarily on the north side.
More broadly, it would be the strongest step toward cutting busing in Milwaukee since court ordered school desegregation began in 1976. At one time, more than 70% of all students in the city were bused to school; currently, more than 50% of students are bused, and MPS spends more than $55 million on busing.
The African American Education Council, an organization founded by state Rep. Polly Williams (D-Milwaukee), has been pushing for a year for a large cut in busing in the city and was behind its inclusion as a goal in a strategic plan MPS adopted last year. Members of the organization were key advocates for Bonds’

A bold, fascinating and energy friendly move.

Student Fights At Toki Middle School Posted Online

Disturbing video showing girls engaged in vicious fights on the Toki Middle School grounds popped up on the popular Web site YouTube.
The video, which was posted on April 19, featured a fight between girls outside the school and one from inside the building.
Madison police confirmed that they responded to fights at Toki on Thursday, April 17 and one on Friday, April 18, but can’t say whether the fights were the same ones posted online.
“School staff are very aware not only of the videos, but of the things that happened,” said Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater. “The students have been identified and are being dealt with through the discipline system in the ways that are appropriate for what the incident was.”
That discipline could include suspension. Rainwater said the incidents are so new the discipline process is still ongoing.
The incidents come one month after extra security was added to the school in the form of an additional security guard and a dean of students to deal specifically with problematic students.
The additional safety measure came at the request of Toki parents who felt the school was unsafe with escalating violence all year.

More from Kathleen Masterson.

Gifted or not, challenge students to reach higher

Des Moines Register
Nicholas Colangelo is director of the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, Iowa City, established in 1988 at the University of Iowa. His hands-on experience includes teaching middle-school social studies in New York and serving as an elementary-school counselor in Vermont in the 1970s. Four years ago, he co-authored with colleagues the report “A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students.”
Q. The alarm has been sounded that U.S. students are not prepared for the growing global competition they face. But is that true of this country’s brightest students? Are our most gifted students being challenged with sufficient rigor?
A. When it comes to matching top students to top students, we are probably pretty close. But what concerns me is that the top students in the United States do not necessarily get the challenge they need across the board. It really is about ZIP code. We have taken for granted that our top students are getting what they need. If we gave our top students more opportunities to take Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate and other [accelerated opportunities], they would reveal they are capable of doing much more than we think.
Q. Has the federal No Child Left Behind law affected the ability of schools to challenge all students to excel?
A. As far as I’m concerned, the No Child Left Behind law has done nothing on behalf of high-ability students. Essentially, No Child Left Behind has focused on kids below a standard, ignoring kids above that standard. You should have no law that makes a portion of the students invisible. They are all our kids, and they all deserve our attention and energy.

Adult Workers Have a Lot to Learn Online

Michael Schrage:

Children are fantastic little learning machines. They are hardwired to play with ideas and absorb knowledge. Adults, alas, are not. That is why the challenge of adult education and lifelong learning is more difficult – and ultimately more important – than childhood education. Societies that are serious about raising their standard of living should focus on enhancing the productivity of parents rather than boosting teenage test scores.
The economic rationale is clear. Ageing populations of Europe, China and North America increasingly enjoy long and healthy lives. Yet as they grow older, wealth creation depends on the ability to acquire and convert information, skills and technologies into new value. In this environment, hard-won expertise, rather like expensive capital equipment, often depreciates with astonishing speed. The cruel “human capital” jibe, that many workers do not have 20 years’ experience but one year’s experience 20 times over, has assumed new poignancy.
The premise that quality education during life’s first two decades matters more than for decades four and five has become literally counterproductive. Demographic realities and dynamic economies have made “ageing adults” today’s most underappreciated – and underappreciating – capital asset class.
Improving returns on that asset requires neither great sums of money nor greater flights of imagination. The key is to rethink and reorganise how busy but anxious adults can benefit from education and training opportunities. Technology makes meeting that challenge far more affordable, entrepreneurial and compelling. Adult education is a market ripe for rapid global transformation.

Continuing our technology & education discussions. Related posts: on technology spending in Milwaukee and Lauren Rosen Yaezel on Technology in the Madison Schools.
Brittanica on Adult Education.

New Report From KIPP Charters

Jay Matthews:

Educators argue often whether their work should be judged by test scores. There are thoughtful people on both sides of the debate. We journalists tend to focus on exam results because so many of our readers say that is what they want, and such information is relatively easy to get from regular public schools.
Private schools, unfortunately, rarely provide such information, and data from public charter schools have also been difficult to obtain. Charters are public schools; their students, unlike private school students, take the same state tests regular public school students do. But they are not part of the public school systems that have staffs assigned to gather and release test score results, so their data sometimes emerge in a haphazard way, or not at all.
Thank goodness, then, for those few charter school groups that focus intently on test data and make that data readily available to the public. Those school networks include Achievement First, Aspire, Green Dot, Edison, IDEA, Noble Street, Uncommon Schools, YES and a few others designed to give children from low-income families the extra time, encouragement and great teaching they need.

Columbus, Stoughton Granted Startup Funds for 4-Year-Old Kindergarten; Background on Madison’s inaction

Quinn Craugh:

School districts in Stoughton, Columbus, Deerfield, Sauk Prairie and Janesville were among 32 statewide named Monday to receive Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction grants to start kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds.
But it may not be enough for at least one area district.
Getting 4-year-olds enrolled in kindergarten is a key step to raising student achievement levels and graduation rates, particularly among children from low-income families, national research has shown, DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper said.
School districts’ efforts to launch 4K programs have been hampered because it takes three years to get full funding for the program under the state’s school-finance system, according to DPI.
That’s what these grants are supposed to address with $3 million announced for 4K programs to start this fall.
Columbus, one of the school districts that qualified for the grant, would get an estimated $62,814 to enroll 87 children this fall.

Related: Marc Eisen on Missed Opportunity for 4K and High School Redesign.

The good news is that the feds refused to fund the school district’s proposal to revamp the high schools. The plan was wrongheaded in many respects, including its seeming intent to eliminate advanced classes that are overwhelmingly white and mix kids of distressingly varied achievement levels in the same classrooms.
This is a recipe for encouraging more middle-class flight to the suburbs. And, more to the point, addressing the achievement gap in high school is way too late. Turning around a hormone-surging teenager after eight years of educational frustration and failure is painfully hard.
We need to save these kids when they’re still kids. We need to pull them up to grade level well before they hit the wasteland of middle school. That’s why kindergarten for 4-year-olds is a community imperative.
As it happens, state school Supt. Elizabeth Burmaster issued a report last week announcing that 283 of Wisconsin’s 426 school districts now offer 4K. Enrollment has doubled since 2001, to almost 28,000 4-year-olds statewide.
Burmaster nailed it when she cited research showing that quality early-childhood programs prepare children “to successfully transition into school by bridging the effects of poverty, allowing children from economically disadvantaged families to gain an equal footing with their peers.”

Madison Teachers Inc.’s John Matthews on 4 Year Old Kindergarten:

For many years, recognizing the value to both children and the community, Madison Teachers Inc. has endorsed 4-year-old kindergarten being universally accessible to all.
This forward-thinking educational opportunity will provide all children with an opportunity to develop the skills they need to be better prepared to proceed with their education, with the benefit of 4- year-old kindergarten. They will be more successful, not only in school, but in life.
Four-year-old kindergarten is just one more way in which Madison schools will be on the cutting edge, offering the best educational opportunities to children. In a city that values education as we do, there is no question that people understand the value it provides.
Because of the increasing financial pressures placed upon the Madison School District, resulting from state- imposed revenue limits, many educational services and programs have been cut to the bone.
During the 2001-02 budget cycle, the axe unfortunately fell on the district’s 4-year-old kindergarten program. The School Board was forced to eliminate the remaining $380,000 funding then available to those families opting to enroll their children in the program.

Jason Shephard on John Matthews:

This includes its opposition to collaborative 4-year-old kindergarten, virtual classes and charter schools, all of which might improve the chances of low achievers and help retain a crucial cadre of students from higher-income families. Virtual classes would allow the district to expand its offerings beyond its traditional curriculum, helping everyone from teen parents to those seeking high-level math and science courses. But the union has fought the district’s attempts to offer classes that are not led by MTI teachers.
As for charter schools, MTI has long opposed them and lobbied behind the scenes last year to kill the Studio School, an arts and technology charter that the school board rejected by a 4-3 vote. (Many have also speculated that Winston’s last minute flip-flop was partly to appease the union.)
“There have become these huge blind spots in a system where the superintendent doesn’t raise certain issues because it will upset the union,” Robarts says. “Everyone ends up being subject to the one big political player in the system, and that’s the teachers union.”
MTI’s opposition was a major factor in Rainwater’s decision to kill a 4-year-old kindergarten proposal in 2003, a city official told Isthmus last year (See “How can we help poor students achieve more?” 3/22/07).
Matthews’ major problem with a collaborative proposal is that district money would support daycare workers who are not MTI members. “The basic union concept gets shot,” he says. “And if you shoot it there, where else are you going to shoot it?”
At times, Matthews can appear downright callous. He says he has no problem with the district opening up its own 4K program, which would cost more and require significant physical space that the district doesn’t have. It would also devastate the city’s accredited non-profit daycare providers by siphoning off older kids whose enrollment offsets costs associated with infants and toddlers.
“Not my problem,” Matthews retorts.

It will be interesting to see where incoming Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad takes this issue.

Dan Nerad on Green Bay’s Hispanic Population Growth

Elizabeth Ries:

By the year 2017, the institute projects, 17 percent of Brown County’s population will be Hispanic. In Green Bay public schools, that projection is already a reality.
“We are just about there right now,” Superintendent Dan Nerad said.
The data show immigrants consume more in state and local services than they pay into the system through state and local taxes, but the report adds that immigrants contribute to economic growth by opening businesses and spending money here, and says it’s unlikely the influx of immigrants had any negative impact on job opportunities for long-time residents.
The most expensive public service is K through 12 education, but school officials see that service as an investment.
“It’s all part of the changing demographic in our country,” Nerad said.
Nerad said it’s his responsibility to educate all children in Green Bay, although he acknowledges a changing demographic isn’t always easy to handle.

The Economic Impact of Immigration on Green Bay by David Dodenhoff.

Indiana Governor Proposes Paying for Part of College Costs

Vic Ryckaert:

Gov. Mitch Daniels wants the state to help bankroll the first two years of college for Hoosier families struggling to pay tuition.
The governor doesn’t know how the state will pay for the plan, which he said would provide $6,000, the equivalent of two years of tuition at Ivy Tech Community College.
Families earning up to the state’s median income of $54,000 a year would be eligible.
“The careers of tomorrow will require training beyond that which is available in high schools today,” Daniels said, noting college tuition has risen 21/2 times faster than Hoosier incomes.
“We must elevate quickly the number of our young people who pursue education beyond high school.

“Things Can’t Go Back”

Peg Tyre:

It can’t be easy for U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. She’s passionate about all things to do with school. “This is my life’s work, my calling,” she says. Yet, here she is, in the final year of the Bush administration, and instead of continuing the grand work of remaking America’s schools, she’s stamping out brush fires in college-lending caused by the credit crunch and rattling the cages of fat cats in higher education. She doesn’t like to say it out loud, but despite her very best efforts, things haven’t worked out like she (or her boss) had planned.
At lunch this week with NEWSWEEK, she was determined to look forward, not back. She’s had a great ride. She came to Washington, first as senior domestic policy adviser in 2001, with a popular Republican president who promptly wrested education away from the Democrats, the ones who had traditionally dominated the issue. Back then, President Bush spoke loud and often about the raw deal poor and minority kids were getting in public school. Instead of a bleeding heart, he showed a kind of flinty compassion for the poor by condemning what he famously called the “soft bigotry of low expectations” that plagued our inner cities. He coupled that with an inspired can-do attitude about making real, lasting change that disarmed even his fiercest opponents.

The New Math of College Financing

Anne Marie Chaker:

For a lot of students and parents, college costs are about to get much more confusing.
In recent months, some of the wealthiest and most prestigious schools in the country have made their financial aid more generous. Many have replaced loans with grants — money that doesn’t have to be repaid. Some are waiving tuition entirely for families below a certain income threshold. Others are capping costs at a certain percentage of family income.
So far, only a relative handful of colleges are taking these steps — about 50 out of the nation’s more than 2,500 four-year colleges. But some experts think at least some of these programs will spread further as schools compete for top students.
It’s easy to be baffled about what this all means, for now and for the future. Do these offers come with hidden catches? Will you still need to borrow some money to cover tuition? Are there even better deals coming down the road?

Seminar tries to clear up confusion about inclusion

Paul Sloth:

Julie Maurer hopes to see a day when parents of children with special needs, parents like her, don’t have to advocate for their children in public school
Maurer hopes the system changes and schools accept children, like her daughter, Jenny, as easily as children who will never carry a label like “learning disabled” or “emotionally disabled.”
Maurer’s daughter, now 20, attends the University of Wisconsin-Parkside after graduating from Racine Unified.
A small group of parents, educators and disability advocates spent a few hours Saturday at the United Way of Racine County, 2000 Domanik Drive, with University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee education professor Elise Frattura, clearing up the confusion of including special education students in regular education classrooms.
Those years, from elementary school through high school, were marked by Maurer’s struggles to get her daughter into regular classrooms instead of being isolated from the rest of the children her age.
A preschool teacher encouraged Maurer to read the federal special education law, so as to understand what she should expect her daughter to receive in school.

In Favor of Classroom White Boards

Terri Pederson:

Technology has grown by leaps and bounds everywhere — including in the classroom. Interactive white boards and other parts of a 21st century classroom have been added to three classrooms in Beaver Dam Unified School District.
“It’s pretty crazy,” BDHS student Mitch Drunasky said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s the biggest talk in the classrooms.”
“I love the board,” Beaver Dam High School student Lauren Bailey said. “It is really convenient. You don’t even have to erase things.”
BDUSD technology coordinator Aaron Vanden Heuvel said the district has been working with Heartland Business Systems in Appleton to receive a grant to use the 21st century package classrooms in the district.

More on Technology Education

Brian Back:

“If we don’t teach this to them,” Joan Fecteau, an MPS instructional technology leader, told me, “then we are doing as much of a disservice as not teaching them to read or write.”
But you can’t teach driving by sitting at a desk. You have to get behind the wheel. Let’s give kids hands-on experience under teacher supervision.
Fecteau not only teaches students but teachers as well. “Some teachers don’t know enough about the Internet to understand how to avoid viruses and tracking devices. For example, clicking on a pop-up window can lead to malicious spyware or unintended Web pages being displayed.”
It is apparent to parents that most kids are far beyond their teachers’ and parents’ understanding. The one institution that has the mission to teach is not keeping up. We need to give schools the nod and the resources to do it – which is code for funding. Oh, no, did I say that?

Lauren Rosen Yeazel’s recent words generated some interesting discussion on technology and schools.
In my view, technology, per se, is not the core issue. Critical thinking and knowledge come first, then tools. Tools we purchase today will be long obsolete by the time our children graduate (maybe this argues for some technology presence in high school). Ideally, our schools should have fast fiber and wireless (open) networks, and as Momanonymous noted, perhaps teacher compensation might include a laptop/mobile device allowance.
I am generally against teaching kids powerpoint, particularly before they’ve mastered the art of writing a paper.

On Toronto’s Homework Reform

Frank Bruni:

On April 16th 2008, Toronto Canada became one of the first jurisdictions in North America to pass a substantive homework reform policy.
The policy reduces the homework burden on middle school and high school students and all but eliminates homework in the elementary grades. In addition, homework will no longer be allowed during vacations.
The new policy mandates that teacher’s co-ordinate their efforts and that the homework that is sent home is “clearly articulated and carefully planned” and “require no additional teaching outside the classroom”.
This policy is a major breakthrough for those of us who have been advocating for homework reform.
When I started to write this it was intended to be a “how to” guide for anyone who wanted to replicate what we have achieved in Toronto. But when I read it it seemed preachy.
I guess what I really want to communicate is, just start. Every situation is different, every school board is different, and every community is different, but just start somewhere.

Best & Worst College Savings Plans

Kathleen Pender on Morningstar’s list:

Morningstar released its annual list of the five best and five worst 529 college savings plans on Wednesday. Past favorites Utah Educational Savings and Nebraska College Savings dropped out of the top five, not because they got worse, but because other plans got better.
As usual, California’s ScholarShare 529 plan made neither list.
“It’s in the middle. It’s neither here nor there,” says Morningstar analyst Marta Norton. “It has some of the weaknesses we are bothered by in 529 land, along with some of the things you want to see.”
Named after a section of the Internal Revenue Code, 529 plans are state-sponsored programs that provide federal tax benefits for college savings. You can set them up for your kids, grandkids, other loved ones or yourself. There are no income limits, and most plans let you contribute large six-figure sums.
You get no federal tax deduction for money you put into the plan, but the money grows tax-free and remains tax-free when you take it out, as long as it’s used for qualified higher education expenses at almost any public or private college in the country. States also exempt earnings and qualified withdrawals from state income taxes.

Morningstar’s report.

Trapped in the Middle – Income Stagnates

Justin Lahart & Kelley Evans:

Are you better off than you were eight years ago? For a growing number of middle-class Americans, the answer is “No.”
Here and elsewhere, middle-class earnings aren’t keeping up with the cost of living. Rising gasoline and food prices, health bills, child-care and education costs are leaving less to set aside for retirement. With the housing market in turmoil, even the asset many had come to count on — the value of their homes — is threatened.It isn’t just a reflection of the current economic slowdown and rise in commodity prices: Middle-class incomes have been stagnant for several years. The well-heeled keep doing better, with the wealthiest 1% of U.S. families garnering the largest share of income since 1929.
“This is a squeezing-down cycle, and people are trying to hang on,” says Randy Riggs, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in this city in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. “Five years ago, I had these visions of what the church could do and hoped to raise funds to do so. I can’t be a dreamer at the moment.” Mr. Riggs says he recently tabled a project to renovate the church’s chapel because he sensed he couldn’t raise enough money.

More food for thought with respect to taxes and school spending.

Green Bay School Board Assesses Superintendent Wish List

Kelly McBride:

The next superintendent of the Green Bay School District should be an experienced, community-minded leader focused on student achievement and knowledgeable of changing district demographics, according to the search firm charged with finding him or her.
Those were just a few of the key themes that emerged as the result of two full days of interviews and written feedback submitted by about 275 district stakeholders earlier this month.
The School Board on Saturday assessed the results of that feedback in the form of a leadership profile submitted by search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the group charged with finding current superintendent Daniel Nerad’s replacement.
Nerad, who started as superintendent in 2001, will become the next leader of the Madison School District July 1. The search firm will use the profile to narrow a pool of perhaps 25 applicants to a field of five semifinalists.

Notes, links and video on incoming Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad.

The Divorce Generation Grows Up

David Jefferson:

Ignorant of the picket fences around our tract homes, divorce was a constant intruder in the San Fernando Valley of my youth. Although I grew up a few blocks from the “Brady Bunch” house, the similarity between that TV family’s tract-rancher and the ones where my friends and I lived pretty much ended at the front door. In the real Valley of the 1970s, families weren’t coming together. They were coming apart. We were the “Divorce Generation,” latchkey kids raised with after-school specials about broken families and “Kramer vs. Kramer,” the 1979 best-picture winner that left kids worrying that their parents would be the next to divorce. Our parents couldn’t seem to make marriage stick, and neither could our pop icons: Sonny and Cher, Farrah Fawcett and Lee Majors, the saccharine Swedes from Abba, all splitsville.
The change had begun in the ’60s as the myth of the nuclear family exploded, and my generation was caught in the fallout. The women’s rights movement had opened workplace doors to our mothers—more than half of all American women were employed in the late ’70s, compared with just 38 percent in 1960—and that, in turn, made divorce a viable option for many wives who would have stayed in lousy marriages for economic reasons. Then in 1969, the year I entered kindergarten, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed California’s “no fault” divorce law, allowing couples to unilaterally end a marriage by simply declaring “irreconcilable differences.”

Encyclopedia Britannica on divorce.

On California’s School Budget

Seema Mehta:

South Orange County families are being urged to donate $400 per student to save the jobs of 266 teachers in the Capistrano Unified School District.
Parents at Long Beach’s Longfellow Elementary are among countless statewide who are launching fundraising foundations.
Bay Area parents launched a campaign featuring children standing in trash cans; the theme is “Public Education Is Too Valuable to Waste.”
A free public school education is guaranteed by the state Constitution to every California child. But as districts grapple with proposed state funding cuts that could cause the layoffs of thousands of teachers and inflate class sizes, parents are being asked to dig deeper into their pocketbooks to help.
“Public education is free, but an excellent public education is not free at this point,” said Janet Berry, president of the Davis Schools Foundation, which recently launched the Dollar-a-Day campaign, urging citizens of the city near Sacramento to donate $365 per child, grandchild or student acquaintance.
But “we never really imagined the magnitude of the problem, the budget cuts, would be this great.”

Teachers Argue Fixation on Tests Hurts Kids

Dani McClain:

There’s more to Milwaukee Public Schools than state test scores and dropout rates, but the realities of life in the classroom rarely bubble up to top district officials.
This was the message of about 100 MPS educators who met last week to discuss what they called the deteriorating conditions of teaching and learning and to brainstorm solutions.
The meeting was sponsored by the Educators’ Network for Social Justice, a local advocacy group, and the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association.
Teachers face daily pressures to teach for various tests and accommodate cuts in arts and library budgets, many participants said.
“Stop talking about this being a data-driven district, and start talking about it being a child-centered district,” said Amy Gutowski, a third-grade teacher at Thoreau Elementary School.

Popping the Prom Question

Daniel de Vise:

efore Tim Shaeffer dared ask Corinne Welker to the prom, he first inquired delicately as to how she was likely to respond. She told him, “It kind of depends on how you ask me.”
So Shaeffer, 17, and a classmate took a roll of red duct tape to the Bay Ridge community marina and taped his question — “Prom?” — to the sail of the family’s 30-foot boat. Then, in a triumph of coordination and timing, he arranged to have his parents motor past the sea wall and unfurl the sail as he and Welker sat in a parked car, admiring the Bay Ridge view.
He got the answer he wanted.
“I took it seriously and went all-out,” said Shaeffer, a senior at Annapolis High School. “For one thing, I really like her. And . . . I wanted it to be so none of her girlfriends could one-up her. It’s getting to where pretty much everybody is going to big lengths to ask people to prom.”

An Elementary Lesson in Classical Music

Nelson Hernandez:

If music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, as the English dramatist William Congreve wrote about three centuries ago, yesterday it did something even more remarkable: It quieted a concert hall packed with 2,500 fourth-graders.
The young students, vibrating with energy, were from Prince George’s County. For the first time, the county has sent all of its fourth-graders to a series of concerts at the Kennedy Center this week in a partnership with the National Symphony Orchestra.
All meaning 8,000.
Before the concert began, the students were making music of their own. After leaving scores of school buses waiting outside in the parking lot, the students marveled at the center’s flag-draped Hall of Nations. One group of seven singing girls from Port Towns Elementary School in Bladensburg, holding hands in a circle, played a clapping game in time with a ditty about “The Simpsons.”

California Parents Await Ruling on Homeschooling

Ashley Surdin:

Parents of an estimated 166,000 children in California are eagerly awaiting a state appellate court ruling on whether they have a constitutional right to home-school their children without a teaching credential.
That question sprouted unexpectedly on Feb. 28, when a panel of three judges ruled that parents or tutors of children who are home-schooled must be certified by the state, basing their ruling on a rarely enforced state education law. Few parents knew the law existed.
The court’s ruling — since suspended pending a June rehearing — threatens to send back to the classroom those children who now spend their days studying math, Spanish or the Bible in the comfort of their living rooms.
Reaction to the ruling quickly spread through the state, home to the nation’s largest number of home-schoolers, and across the country.

Encyclopedia Brittannica on Home Schooling.

Suburban DC Schools Reject Metal Detectors

Daniel de Vise:

In spring 1991, after a teenage girl stabbed a classmate in the cafeteria of an Anacostia school, the D.C. Board of Education voted to install metal detectors at the front entrances of 10 middle and high schools.
No other school system in the region has embraced the technology, even as metal detectors have multiplied in courthouses, museums and other public buildings across the region over the past two decades.
Many school officials view metal detectors as costly, impractical and fallible. To suburban parents, they conjure up images of armed camps. Even at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, where three loaded guns were found in a locker last week, consensus is building against them.
“I don’t want my son to come to school through metal detectors. That’s prison,” said Alex Colina, speaking to several hundred other parents at a community meeting Monday night.

Paying for College Without the Home Equity Option

M.P. Dunleavey:

The colleges have given their answers. They have sent acceptance letters to high school seniors and their parents along with notifications of how much, if any, financial aid they are offering.
Now, those parents and students have until May 1 to address what may be the toughest questions: Should they choose the most affordable school? Or should they pick the one with more prestige, even if it’s a financial stretch, even if it means going deep into debt?
While the questions are not new, they are particularly difficult to answer in this economically tumultuous year. Traditional and even nontraditional sources of college financing are suddenly in question. Dozens of companies that once provided billions of dollars in student loans have left the market. Other banks are tightening their standards, making student loans harder to get.
On top of which, the continued turmoil in real estate has meant that home equity — a source of security for many families and a fallback for college funds for some of them — is not as easy, or in some cases impossible, to tap.

For high school students, it’s the ultimate field trip — real-life lessons learned by volunteering abroad.

Cindy Loose:

When Bethesda high school student Jenna Kusek first saw where she’d be living for three weeks in Tanzania, she thought, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
This hole in the ground is the toilet? A trickle of cold water from an elevated hose is the shower?
But Kusek soon gained a new perspective. The white stucco house she shared with other teen volunteers last summer was a mansion by local standards, and better than the concrete-block house they would spend their days building for a local teacher. A cold shower, she realized, was a luxury unavailable to the village kids. A year after the trip, tears come to her eyes when she talks about how guilty she began feeling about having access to any kind of shower.
“Compared to how people lived in the village, our housing was too good to be true,” says Kusek, 18, a senior at Walt Whitman High School. “I knew before I went to Africa that I was blessed, but I had no idea how lucky I was. I can’t believe now the things we once took for granted.”

Putney Student Travel.

“Children Should be Treated Like Refugees”

John Moritz:

A child protection expert says the children — and the children of those children — who are now in state custody should be cared for in the same way as refugees from Southeast Asia who migrated to the United States after the fall of Saigon.
Families from South Vietnam and Cambodia were kept intact, a social safety net was set up around them and they gradually assimilated into mainstream culture, said Richard Wexler, who leads the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.
“One thing that we as a society know how to do is provide for refugees, and that’s exactly what we are dealing with here,” Wexler said Wednesday from his office in Alexandria, Va. “These children live in a very isolated world of their own and they have no idea of the world they suddenly find themselves in.”
Wexler, who has criticized Texas’ policies regarding the placement of children in foster homes in recent years, urged state officials to do their best to keep families together as long as they are out of reach of anyone who might abuse them.

Sadly, kids’ struggle with writing goes on

In light of West High School Principal Ed Holmes’s budgetary decision to shut down the Writing Lab after almost 40 years in existence, I share this recent column from Barbara Wallraff, who writes the column Word Court.
America’s eighth-graders and high school seniors got their writing “report cards” the other day — the results for the writing part of the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress were announced. Just a third of eighth-grade students and a quarter of high school seniors are “proficient” in writing. Oh, dear! And yet federal authorities consider this encouraging news — that’s how bad the situation is.
Granted, the average scores are a few points higher than they were when the test was given in 2002. And the improvement is almost across the board, at least among the eighth-graders. Students in every ethnic group except American Indians are doing better, and the gap white and black eighth-graders is narrowing. Also granted, better is better — and mountains of behavior modification research demonstrate that praising successes is a more effective way to bring about change than criticizing failures.
But still, isn’t cheering because a third of the kids are doing well like congratulating ourselves that we made it a third of the way to the finish line in a race? Or that we managed to pay a third of our bills? Speaking of thirds, a 2003 survey by the College Board concluded that a third of employees at America’s blue-chip corporations are pretty bad at writing and need remedial training. And speaking of writing, can everybody see the handwriting on the wall? The message is terribly disheartening. Writing isn’t just a skill that people tend to need to earn a good living — it’s one of our basic means of communication.
The question is what to do about the two-thirds or three-quarters of our young people who are less than proficient. Keeping on doing whatever we’ve been doing isn’t suddenly going to start yielding different results. Admittedly, the sorry state of America’s writing skills is a vast, long-term problem to which experts have devoted whole careers. So who am I to propose a solution?
Writing is different from other skills. In math, you either get the concept or you don’t. In history, you either know who did what when or you don’t. But writing isn’t right or wrong, just better or worse. Learning to write is something each of us does individually, in our own way — which makes me suspect that sweeping initiatives, no matter how brilliant and well-funded (hah!), aren’t what’s needed.
May I suggest, instead, that anybody who has the time , energy and interest in young people encourage them, one at a time, to write — and read? (Reading skills and writing skills go hand in hand.) Ask kids to write you emails. Lend them a favorite book , and tell them what the book has meant to you. Ask them about what they’ve been reading.
If you’re a parent, you’re probably doing this for your own kids, and you probably know the statistics about what a huge advantage it gives kids if their parents take an interest in their education. If you’re only, or also, a concerned citizen — well, there are plenty of kids who aren’t lucky enough to be growing up in your family. Wouldn’t it make you proud to help a few of them?
For more:

Black-White Gap Widens for High Achievers

Debra Viadero:

New research into what is commonly called the black-white “achievement gap” suggests that the students who lose the most ground academically in U.S. public schools may be the brightest African-American children.
As black students move through elementary and middle school, these studies show, the test-score gaps that separate them from their better-performing white counterparts grow fastest among the most able students and the most slowly for those who start out with below-average academic skills.
“We care about achievement gaps because of their implications for labor-market and socioeconomic-status issues down the line,” said Lindsay C. Page, a Harvard University researcher, commenting on the studies. “It’s disconcerting if the gap is growing particularly high among high-achieving black and white students.”
Disconcerting, but not surprising, said researchers who have studied achievement gaps. Studies have long shown, for instance, that African-American students are underrepresented among the top scorers on standardized tests, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Fewer studies, though, have traced the growth of those gaps among high and low achievers.
The reasons why achievement gaps are wider at the upper end of the achievement scale are still unclear. But some experts believe the patterns have something to do with the fact that African-American children tend to be taught in predominantly black schools, where test scores are lower on average, teachers are less experienced, and high-achieving peers are harder to find.

Thanks to Jenny Root for emailing this article.

Grading Racine’s Three Superintendent Finalists

Pete Selkowe:

Grading Racine Unified’s three superintendent finalists began Monday, after a busy day of meetings with school stakeholders: students, teachers, principals, administrators and business leaders among them. The day concluded with a public forum at the Golden Rondelle, at which about 200 citizens got to hear brief statements from the candidates and their answers to submitted questions.
Everyone was well-behaved (although Bill Krummel, picketing outside, carried a sign charging the “pillars” of Unified with complicity to a murder), and all the candidates received polite applause, but when it was over there was a clear consensus.
Here’s how I’d grade the three, based mostly on their appearance Monday night:
Dr. Craig Bangtson: F (because that’s the lowest grade I’m allowed to give)
Dr. Barbara Moore Pulliam: B
Dr. Carlinda Purcell: A
One school board member put them in the same order after the presentation, with Purcell clearly the front-runner. When I teased a Unified principal that Bangtson would be her new boss, she said, “Don’t even joke about it.”

Unready in MA

Many Mass. graduates unprepared in college
Thousands need remedial classes, are dropout risks
By Peter Schworm
Boston Globe Staff / April 16, 2008
Thousands of Massachusetts public high school graduates arrive at college unprepared for even the most basic math and English classes, forcing them to take remedial courses that discourage many from staying in school, according to a statewide study released yesterday.
The problem is particularly acute in urban districts and vocational schools, according to the first-of-its kind study. At three high schools in Boston and two in Worcester, at least 70 percent of students were forced to take at least one remedial class because they scored poorly on a college placement test.
The study raises concern that the state’s public schools are not doing enough to prepare all of their students for college, despite years of overhauls and large infusions of money.
The findings are also worrisome because students who take remedial courses, which do not count toward a degree, are far more likely to drop out of college, often without the skills needed to land a good job. That has broad implications for the state’s workforce, economy, and social mobility.
The report, conducted jointly by the state Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education, found that the problem crossed socioeconomic lines. One third of high school graduates in suburban Hanover took remedial classes, as did 27 percent of graduates in Lynnfield and Needham.


Kids with dyslexia are left behind

Ruben Navarrette:

How’s this for a brainteaser?
President Bush’s top domestic policy achievement is an education reform law that demands no child be left behind by emphasizing early reading. Yet public school students with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia — disabilities that make it difficult to learn to read — are still being left behind.
I first came to the subject about seven years ago, when I met my future wife — a language therapist who helps children with dyslexia. My first lesson was humility. Reading had come easily for me, and so I was impatient with classmates who struggled to read.
Yet over the years, I’ve had the chance to interact with elementary school students who have dyslexia, and I’ve always come away impressed. It takes courage to get up in the morning and go to school even though you know you’re going to struggle. Yet you go. And tomorrow, you’ll go again.

It’s Time to Study the Value of College


College education costs continue to soar at the same time studies show college graduates getting paid less. Commentator David Frum says Americans should re-examine the real value of a college degree in today’s economy.
TESS VIGELAND: Today, yet another student loan provider announced it will suspend lending at several schools. The credit crunch, and a drop in federal subsidies, are prompting more and more student lenders to put out “Not Open for Business” signs, and all this comes right at the time when high school seniors are making decisions about which acceptance letters to say yes to.

Detroit Schools Coping with a Surge of Homeless Children

Karen Bouffard:

Cherish Brisbane loved Gompers Elementary School, where she was friends with girls named Tyler, Casey and Amanda. Now she’s trying to find friends at Owen Academy, her new school near the homeless shelter in Highland Park that she now calls home.
“I miss my school, and that was a good house. Plus I miss my dog, Precious. We had to give her away to somebody,” said Cherish, a pretty girl with her hair pulled into a puff on top of her head. “The hardest part was I lost all my best friends.”
The 8-year-old is one of a growing number of homeless children attending schools throughout Metro Detroit, where the number of children known to have no fixed address has shot up by more than 70 percent in the last three years. Cherish has lived in two shelters since her family was evicted from their Detroit home in November.