Parents turn to etiquette pros to counter habits of a casual era

Sarah Schweitzer:

The candles were lighted, rows of silverware arrayed. Linen napkins sat in pert triangles on china plates. A four-course dinner was to be served for 20 at an elegant restaurant in Duxbury.
But first, a few talking points for the guests: No slurping the clam chowder. Avoid “yuck” when referring to disdained courses. And, please, cut chicken fingers into bite-size pieces that can be transferred from fork to mouth – a directive that one 7-year-old paraphrased for his tablemates as “Stab the chicken! Stab the chicken!”
“Etiquette is a forgotten form,” Colin O’Keeffe of Duxbury, a 45-year-old real estate developer, said as he huddled with other parents in a corner and watched his daughters, ages 7 and 9, as they fought the urge to lick ketchup from their fingers. “This is nice to see.”
Across the region, parents are flocking to sign up younger and younger children for etiquette classes that they say are needed to reinforce the finer points of dining and courtesy that they may struggle to instill at home.

Arts Education Gravely Ignored

Suchita Shah:

Imagine a program that produced a fourfold increase in the number of students recognized for academic achievement. What if that initiative also resulted in three times as many students elected to leadership positions at their schools? And imagine that these children would be four times as likely to be in math or science fairs, and also to perform community service. On top of all that, they would also be three times as likely to win an award for exceptional school attendance.
If public school administrators and government officials knew of such a program, I would demand that it be implemented in our schools and that we invest in it immediately. Guess what? We already know of such a program that does achieve all those benefits: It’s called the arts.
According to Americans for the Arts, children deeply involved in arts programs receive the aforementioned benefits, and then some. Yet, paradoxically, schools are cutting arts programs — ranging from band to theater to painting — because of funding limitations.


Back in the day [1980], Articulation was the name given to the process to ensure that elementary students were not surprised by the demands of seventh grade, and middle school students were not surprised by the demands of ninth grade (or tenth grade).
Educators had meetings in which they discussed articulation – not better diction for all, but a better fit between different levels of schooling – and it was always a problem. Each level wanted control over what it taught and when, and what academic standards would be enforced, and there was a lamentable inclination by high school educators to look down a bit on middle school educators and for middle school educators to look down a bit on elementary school educators.
While I am sure that this never happens now, in the new Millennium, there is another articulation problem which I believe gets far less attention than students deserve. It has been reported recently that nationally about 30% of our high school students in general drop out of high school and that the percentage rises to a shocking 50% for black and Hispanic students.
But what about the 70% (or 50%) who do graduate and get the diploma certifying that they have met the requirements of an American high school education? In Massachusetts, of those who pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System [MCAS] tests and get their diplomas, 37% are now found to be “not ready for college work,” according to a report last month in The Boston Globe.
In an article on on student writing in Texas, Donna Garner quoted a parent who said about the writing her daughter is doing for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills [TAKS] tests: “She basically just writes about her feelings on anything of her choice and often is encouraged to just make things up as long as it is flowery and emotional. This is apparently what they look for on TAKS.” And Donna Garner observed: “It is no wonder that college professors think our Texas high-school graduates are not ready for college. The brutal fact is that they are not ready.”

Continue reading ARTICULATION

“Mayor’s Failure to Consult Schools is a Bad Sign”

Lucy Mathiak:

I read with interest the Thursday editorial on “The mayor and the schools.” As a member of the School Board, I agree that a closer working relationship and collaboration between the city and the Madison Metropolitan School District would be a positive thing. Certainly there are critical issues in planning, housing development patterns, transportation, zoning, and other matters that have a critical impact on our district in both the short and the long term.
For example, the “best planning practices” of infill have had a great deal to do with enrollment declines in isthmus schools by replacing family housing with condos. Decisions by the traffic engineering officials — such as roundabouts at $1.2 million each — have an impact on our budget. When the city annexes land on the periphery, it affects how and where we must provide schools; we do not have a right to refuse to also annex the students that go with the land.
Without a voice in decisions and processes, we are effectively at the mercy of the city on key issues that affect how we use the scarce resources that we have under state finance.

More on the Mayor’s proposal here.

Private Education: Is it Worth It?

The Economist:

FEE-PAYING schools have long played a giant part in public life in Britain, though they teach only 7% of its children. The few state-educated prime ministers (such as the current one) went to academically selective schools, now rare; a third of all MPs, more than half the appointed peers in the House of Lords, a similar proportion of the country’s best-known journalists and 70% of its leading barristers were educated privately. There is no sign that the elevator from independent schools to professional prominence is slowing: nearly half of the undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge were privately schooled too.
Many ambitious parents would like to set their children off on this gilded path. But there is a problem: the soaring cost. Fees at private day schools have more than doubled in the past 20 years, in real terms; those at boarding schools have risen even faster (see chart). Since 2000 fees have risen by at least 6% every year, according to Horwath Clark Whitehill, a consultancy—double retail-price inflation and half as much again as the growth in wages. If this continues, a four-year-old embarking on a career in private day schools this autumn will have cost his parents around £170,000 ($335,000) in today’s money by the time he completes secondary school. So even though more Britons than ever before describe themselves as comfortably off, the share of children being educated privately is barely higher than it was two decades ago.

More Cal State Students Need Remedial Classes

Sherry Saavedra:

Cal State schools are a long way from their goal of seeing 90 percent of entering freshmen ready for college-level work.
Instead, 37 percent of freshmen entered a California State University campus last fall needing remedial math, while 46 percent were unprepared for college-level English, according to new data.
Locally, a quarter of freshmen at San Diego State University started school needing remedial math; 48 percent at Cal State San Marcos needed it. About one-third of SDSU freshmen were not proficient in English, compared with more than half at Cal State San Marcos.
The CSU system pours millions of dollars into outreach efforts aimed at making high schoolers more prepared for college, and it often bails them out with remedial classes when they’re not. But the past seven years have produced only modest improvements in math among Cal State’s 23 campuses, and there have been no changes in English.
Since last year, the math proficiency rate improved by less than half a percentage point, but the English rate slid by triple that amount.
Students are often sent to remedial courses when they don’t demonstrate proficiency on a CSU place

‘Parenting Inc.’ Explores High Price of Parenting

Talk of the Nation:

From ergonomic strollers, to sleep consultants, to professional potty training, child rearing has become a very big business. Author Pamela Paul discusses her new book, Parenting, Inc. and the aggressive marketing aimed at new moms and dads.
“Sometimes, spending a lot on children isn’t just unnecessary; it’s counterproductive,” Paul writes. “Every parent I know is struggling to figure out how to afford a family without succumbing to the spiral of consumption that characterizes modern parenthood.”
Paul says she was determined not to fill her house with baby junk. Then she had her baby.

It’s harder to get into some of Rhode Island’s charter schools than it is to get into the Ivy League.

Jennifer Jordan:

This spring marks the fourth in a row that Sara and Christopher Nerone will cross their fingers and apply to the Compass School, hoping that their daughter Sophie, 9, will finally be accepted to the free, public charter school in South Kingstown.
The Nerones will also try — for the third year — to get their younger daughter, Phoebe, 6, into the small, environmentally focused school, which emphasizes student projects rather than traditional textbook learning.
Chances are slim. It’s tougher to get into the Compass School than Harvard, which has a 9-percent acceptance rate. For the last couple of years, Compass has received about 200 applicants for 10 available spots, after giving 10 spaces to siblings of current students. The majority are kindergarten spots, plus a few last-minute openings each year in grades 1 through 8.
This year, 234 families have applied. That means more than 200 families will be disappointed when the Compass School holds its annual lottery this Wednesday.
Competition for Rhode Island’s charter schools is fierce. Nine of the state’s 11 charter schools are so popular, they conduct lotteries each spring to fill the few dozen places each has available. Hundreds of students languish on wait lists with little hope of ever getting in.

Concessions Program Helps Put Young People Back in the Game

Sopan Joshi:

Working the Mayorga Coffee stall 129 at Nationals Park, Charnika Burts has energy and a plan.
“I want to train to be a computer technician,” she said. “I love computers.”
Two years ago, Burts dropped out of Anacostia High School in her senior year, quit playing basketball and stopped thinking about a future. Soon she was drifting from one minimum-wage job to another.
“Every day I ask myself why I dropped out, and I still can’t figure it out,” she said. “Don’t nobody get a decent job without a school diploma.”
The ballpark coffee stall might be her ticket to getting back on track.
She is one of 25 D.C. teenagers recruited for a youth development program run by Juma Ventures, a San Francisco-based nonprofit group that helps people from ages 16 to 20 work stadium concession stands, most of them on the West Coast. The idea is to help them work their way toward higher education

High-schoolers find new interest in FFA

Ruben Navarrette:

Most of the high-school teens selling at today’s livestock auction at the Maricopa County Fair are members of the National FFA Organization. But it doesn’t mean they’re all future farmers.
Sarah Carter, a senior at Dobson High School in Mesa and president of her school’s FFA club, hopes to use profits from selling a goat she raised to help pay for college. She plans to be a veterinarian.
Students who take part in FFA are a holdover from an era when Future Farmers of America clubs were a bigger part of life in schools around the nation. However, fewer clubs today raise livestock. Instead, the group has evolved to focus more on biotechnology and other areas of science.

How to Lay Off a Teacher of the Year

Scott Lewis:

When the new grandiose Lincoln High opened to students this year, it attracted too many students. It also attracted a young teacher from Chula Vista, Guillermo Gomez.
I met Gomez at the teacher’s lounge during lunch at Lincoln High recently. Gomez and his colleagues were planning marches and various ways to get their students to express their displeasure with proposed school budget cuts around the state — cuts that, if fully implemented as proposed, would mean 913 school teachers would be laid off districtwide.
Gomez would be one of them. A year and a half ago, dressed in black formal wear and smiling, the young teacher accepted one of the four awards given each year to the “teachers of the year” in the county. He had been a teacher for 10 years at Vista Square Elementary School in Chula Vista.
Despite his success, the opportunity to teach at Lincoln High School’s new School of Social Justice intrigued him, and Gomez moved not only into a classroom with older kids but into a new school district — San Diego Unified. He says he took a $10,000 pay cut for the chance to teach at Lincoln.

Creative Nonfiction

There is a new genre of teenage writing in town: Creative Nonfiction. It allows high school students (mostly girls) to complete writing assignments and participate in “essay contests” by writing about their hopes, experiences, doubts, relationships, worries, victimization (if any), and parents, as well as more existential questions such as “How do I look?” and “What should I wear to school?”
This kind of writing is celebrated by Teen Voices, where teen girls can publish their thoughts about their hopes, experiences, doubts, relationships, worries, victimization (if any), and parents, etc. and by contests such as the one sponsored by Imagine, the magazine of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.
College admissions officers also ask applicants to write about themselves, rather than, for example, asking to see their best extended research paper from high school. The outcome is that many of our public high school graduates encounter college term paper assignments which ask them to learn and write about something other than themselves, and thanks to the kudzu of Creative Nonfiction, this they are unprepared to do.
How teen autobiography came to be a substitute for nonfiction reading and academic writing is a long story, but clearly many now feel that a pumped-up diary entry is worthy of prizes in high school “essay contests,” and may be required in college application materials.
Of course teen girls should write about anything they want in their diaries, that is what diaries are for, after all, but it is a crime and a shame to try to confine their academic writing experiences in such a small, and poorly-gilded, cage of expectations.

Continue reading Creative Nonfiction

The Changing Look of the Milwaukee Public Schools

David Arbanas posts a useful graphic:

The Milwaukee public schools released their $1.2billion budget proposal yesterday. Alan Borsuk has more on the budget.:

Enrollment in the schools you first think of when you think of Milwaukee Public Schools is expected to shrink another 4.7% by September, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said Monday as he released a $1.2 billion budget proposal for the coming school year.
That means the number of students in the main roster of MPS schools – elementary, middle and high schools staffed by teachers employed by MPS – will be 20% smaller than it was 10 years earlier and will be below 80,000 for the first time in decades. Half of that decline of more than 19,000 students will have come between fall 2005 and fall 2008, if the forecast is correct.
At the same time, participation in the private school voucher program may exceed 20,000 next year, MPS officials projected. That compares to about 6,000 students 10 years ago.
But the voucher growth is not the only aspect of the changing face of Milwaukee education. MPS officials forecast that the number of students living in the city who will use the state’s open enrollment law to attend suburban public schools will be 4,196 in the coming school year. A decade ago it was zero.

Milwaukee’s budget includes a school by school breakdown, which is rather useful.

Iowa Lawsuit: State is Failing to Educate Students

Megan Hawkins & Jennifer Jacobs:

The families allege that state officials have allowed the quality of Iowa’s education system to significantly slip, so much so that high school graduates are inadequately prepared for college or the workplace.
“The quiet, ugly truth is that Iowa’s educational system is but a shadow of its glorious past, and our leaders are whistling by its graveyard,” the lawsuit says.
Pomerantz said that over the past 30 years he has lobbied for Iowa’s education system to change. It hasn’t, so Pomerantz said he had no choice but to back the lawsuit that asks the state to adopt measures such as creating a statewide, mandatory curriculum to ensure equal opportunities for all students.
A national expert said similar court cases have taken up to 10 years to resolve, and in most cases the courts are broad in their directives and reluctant to dictate to legislatures or schools specific steps to take. Other states have faced education equity lawsuits that mostly challenge whether schools have adequate resources. The Iowa lawsuit appears to be unique because it challenges programming available to students.

Schools Ease Transition to High School

Dani McClain:

The transition to high school made Kayla Owens nervous.
Entering high school, I was getting ready for another step in my life: harder work, a different mind-set, different people.
She had been one of the older students at Hartford University School, a kindergarten through eighth-grade program on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, and didn’t know what to expect at the all-girls Catholic school where she was headed.
“I was getting ready for another step in my life: harder work, a different mind-set, different people,” said Owens, now a junior at St. Joan Antida High School.
This fall, the high school will launch a new program aimed at helping its first-year students – who come from dozens of feeder schools around the city – identify with their new school and get on the college prep path. The yearlong program will assign a team of teachers to work with ninth-graders on study skills and will try to get their parents involved from day one.
Many of the school’s first-year students need early academic intervention, said Elizabeth Stengel, St. Joan Antida’s admissions officer.

School Choice: The Bad Good News

David Kirkpatrick:

In the ongoing debate over school choice in its various dimensions such as vouchers, tuition tax credits, charter schools, a stepping back to obtain a broader overview seems to be virtually nonexistent, or at least it is rare to find such an observation. The fact of the matter is that school choice is already a reality for the overwhelming majority of students and their parents.
The largest such category consists of those choosing the public school they attend. A few years ago a survey of public school parents as to why they live where they do found a majority, about 53%, said it was so the children could attend school in the district, or even to live in the attendance area of the specific school being used. Fifty-three percent of about 50,000,000 public school students is twenty-six million.
As an aside this leads to a few pertinent considerations as well. Opponents of school choice, especially of the use of vouchers, regularly base that opposition on the view that this would permit wholesale flight from the public schools. This, of course, is actually not just a weak defense of their position but strengthens the pro-voucher view because it is saying that students, or at least huge numbers of them, are being forced to attend public schools against their will and, in the words of former National Education Association (NEA) President Keith Geiger, they can’t be allowed to “escape.”
Moreover it shows a lack of awareness of the public opinion poll and its implication that 26 million students are not going to go anywhere, vouchers or no, since they are already where they and/or their parents want to be. And there are perhaps at least a few million more who are happy where they are but didn’t show up in the poll because they aren’t where they are because they specifically moved there for that purpose but coincidentally already lived where they find the schools to be satisfactory. However, that number, whatever it may be, will not be included here because its actual size is unknown.

Racine’s 3 Superintendent Finalists Were all Bought Out of their Contracts

Pete Selkowe:

Let’s put this in perspective:
When Tom Hicks, Racine Unified School District superintendent, was eased out last fall, he took with him about $200,000 in salary and benefits just for going away. The district paid the final year of his contract without Hicks having to work for it.
That’s chicken feed compared to the payout received in 2006 by one of RUSD’s three superintendent finalists when she was forced to resign. She got $279,000 — a year’s salary of more than $155,000, another $56,000 for benefits earned but not taken, and an extra $68,000. Plus, the board agreed to buy her $327,000 home.

Competition Improves Results in Many Areas, What About Schools?

Letters to the Wall Street Journal Editor regarding School Choice: Now More Than Ever:

We, of course, have school choice in America as long as those who choose a non-public school pay their own way.
The failure of some public schools to achieve academic excellence should not be used as an argument in favor of vouchers. The real issue is whether or not our present system of financing education affords all students freedom of choice in selecting a school — public or private. Truly, the present system does not provide this freedom of choice.
Bob Meldrum
Harper Woods, Mich.
Mr. Riley presents a good argument illustrating the benefits of school choice replete with the results of studies on charter schools and the like. He doesn’t need to limit the illustration to schools and school choice programs. The simple facts are that public schools in the U.S. are a state-run monopoly and that a free market will outperform a monopoly every time.
Do you really need a study to see freedom’s superior ability to deliver goods and services that are actually needed and wanted? If so, there was a big study in the last century. It was called the Soviet Union. This century continues with several smaller studies — Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea and Argentina, to name a few.

German Tots Learn to Answer Call of Nature

Mike Esterl:

Each weekday, come rain or shine, a group of children, ages 3 to 6, walk into a forest outside Frankfurt to sing songs, build fires and roll in the mud. To relax, they kick back in a giant “sofa” made of tree stumps and twigs.
The birthplace of kindergarten is returning to its roots. While schools and parents elsewhere push young children to read, write and surf the Internet earlier in order to prepare for an increasingly cutthroat global economy, some little Germans are taking a less traveled path — deep into the woods.
Germany has about 700 Waldkindergärten, or “forest kindergartens,” in which children spend their days outdoors year-round. Blackboards surrender to the Black Forest. Erasers give way to pine cones. Hall passes aren’t required, but bug repellent is a good idea.

Texas Student Writing

She basically just writes about her feelings on anything of her choice and often is encouraged to just make things up as long as it is flowery and emotional. This is apparently what they look for on TAKS.”

“It is no wonder that college professors think our Texas high-school graduates are not ready for college. The brutal fact is that they are not ready.”

“An Expose of the TAKS Tests” (excerpts)
[TAKS: Texas Assessment of Knowledge/Skills
ELA: English/Language Arts]
by Donna Garner
Education Policy Commentator
10 April 2008
….Please note that each scorer spends approximately three minutes to read, decipher, and score each student’s handwritten essay. (Having been an English teacher for over 33 years, I have often spent over three minutes just trying to decipher a student’s poor handwriting.) Imagine spending three minutes to score an entire two-page essay that counts for 22 % of the total score and determines whether a student is allowed to take dual-credit courses. A student cannot take dual-credit classes unless he/she makes a “3” or a “4” on the ELA TAKS essay…
The scorers spend only about three minutes scanning the essays and do not grade students down for incorrect grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization unless the errors interfere significantly with the communication of ideas. Students are allowed to use an English language dictionary and a thesaurus throughout the composition portion of the test, and they can spend as much time on the essay as they so choose…

Continue reading Texas Student Writing

Milwaukee City Leaders See Role in Schools

Larry Sandler:

A new term could bring a new emphasis on education to City Hall, as elected officials push for a stronger voice on an issue they say is vital to Milwaukee’s future.
Otherwise, many of the issues will be familiar when a new term starts Tuesday for Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council.
Such perennial themes as economic development, public safety, transportation, taxes and state aid will continue to dominate the agenda over the next four years, Barrett and leading aldermen said in separate interviews.
On April 1, voters re-elected Barrett and 13 of 15 aldermen by comfortable margins. New to the council will be Aldermen-elect Milele Coggs, who defeated the jailed Ald. Michael McGee, and Nik Kovac, replacing Ald. Mike D’Amato, who did not seek re-election. Both the new and returning officials will be sworn in Tuesday.

Madison’s Mayor appears to be paying more attention to our public schools, as well.

Dumbing Down, Then and Now

John Leo:

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina , Kansas , USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina , KS , and reprinted by the Salina Journal.
8th Grade Final Exam:
Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of ‘lie’, ‘play’, and ‘run.’
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 – 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.
Arithmetic (Time, 65 minutes)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?

Character Counts, But Not by Race

Mona Charen:

The public schools, perhaps more than any other institution in American life, are afflicted with “sounds good” syndrome. Let’s teach kids about the dangers of smoking. Sounds good. Let’s improve math scores with a new curriculum called “whole math.” Sounds good. Let’s reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases by teaching sex ed. Sounds good. Let’s have cooperative learning where kids help one another. And so on.
The Fairfax County, Va., schools (where my children attend) recently joined a nationwide “sounds good” trend by introducing a character education curriculum. Students were exhorted to demonstrate a number of ethical traits like (I quote from my son’s elementary school’s website) “compassion, respect, responsibility, honesty.” It would be easy to mock the program — each trait, for example, is linked to a shape (respect is a triangle, honesty is a star). The intention to help mold character is a laudable one. But this program, like so much else about the public schools in the “sounds good” era, has foundered.
The curriculum made news recently when a report ordered by the school board evaluated student conduct for “sound moral character and ethical judgment” and then grouped the results by race. Oh, dear. It seems that among third graders, 95 percent of white students received a grade of “good” or better, whereas only 86 percent of Hispanic kids did that well and only 80 percent of black and special education students were so rated.
Martina A. “Tina” Hone, an African-American member of the school board, told the Washington Post that the decision to aggregate the evaluations by race was “potentially damaging and hurtful.”

Indianapolis Schools: 1 Licensed Teacher Not Teaching per 53 Students

Andy Gammill:

When the superintendent brought in auditors to look at the Indianapolis Public Schools bus operation in December, the department couldn’t say how many routes it runs each day. Auditors had to guess.
When the school district tried to dismiss 14 administrators this year, it missed a deadline to notify the employees and now must pay their full salaries for another year.
Although the district struggles to hire teachers and is chronically short-staffed, it has 10,000 job applications that have never been reviewed.
That confusion and lack of oversight represent what may be the biggest challenge to the state’s largest school district as it continues efforts to reform.
Over the past three years, Superintendent Eugene White has tackled classroom shortcomings such as weak teaching and poor discipline. Now he has started to remake the crippling bureaucracy behind practices that are often inefficient, sometimes illegal and occasionally dangerous to children.
Others before him have tried, only to be defeated by a culture steeped in an attitude of “this, too, shall pass.”
“I’ve heard it ever since 1971 that I’ve been in IPS: ‘Just wait it out,’ ” said Jane Ajabu, the district’s personnel director. “Unfortunately, the people in the district have adopted the attitude of: ‘It’s mediocre, it’s ineffective, that’s just how it is.’ ”
Large urban school districts are notoriously inefficient, and at least one measure suggests IPS may be worse than other Indiana districts. Its bureaucracy has an unusually high proportion of licensed educators working outside classrooms.
For every 53 students, IPS has one licensed educator working in a nonteaching job. Across the state, only Gary Public Schools has as high a ratio of administrators to students. Other Marion County districts have 86 to 156 students per licensed educator in a job outside the classroom.

Inside the Middle Class: Bad Times Hit the Good Life

Pew Research Center:

This report on the attitudes and lives of the American middle class combines results of a new Pew Research Center national public opinion survey with the center’s analysis of relevant economic and demographic trend data from the Census Bureau. Among its key findings:
Fewer Americans now than at any time in the past half century believe they’re moving forward in life.
Americans feel stuck in their tracks. A majority of survey respondents say that in the past five years, they either haven’t moved forward in life (25%) or have fallen backwards (31%). This is the most downbeat short-term assessment of personal progress in nearly half a century of polling by the Pew Research Center and the Gallup organization.
When asked to measure their progress over a longer time frame, Americans are more upbeat. Nearly two-thirds say they have a higher standard of living than their parents had when their parents were their age.

Related: Latest local school budget and referendum discussion.

Running L8 But CU Soon. Luv, Mom

Cecilia Kang:

OMG. Dat u mom?
Yes, it is. Parents are horning in on their teenagers’ lives through text messaging. Sending shorthand cellphone messages used to be the province of the younger set — under the dinner table, in the car, at all hours of the night.
Now, parents are responding with their own quick dispatches — “RU there,” “Running L8” — and becoming the fastest-growing demographic in text messaging, which is one of the biggest areas of the mobile-phone industry

10 Facts About US K-12 Education

US Department of Education:

The U.S. Constitution leaves the responsibility for public K-12 education with the states.
The responsibility for K-12 education rests with the states under the Constitution. There is also a compelling national interest in the quality of the nation’s public schools. Therefore, the federal government, through the legislative process, provides assistance to the states and schools in an effort to supplement, not supplant, state support. The primary source of federal K-12 support began in 1965 with the enactment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Math report recommends teachers focus on basic skills

Lisa Schencker:

The report’s key recommendations include, for grades PreK-8, spending more time teaching fewer concepts and focusing more on basic skills critical to learning algebra such as whole numbers, fractions and aspects of geometry and measurement. “It has a lot of implications for math instruction not just in Utah but throughout the country,” said Brenda Hales, Utah state associate superintendent.
This week, a month after the national panel released its findings, 10,000 math teachers from across the country and several panel members gathered in Salt Lake City and discussed the panel’s recommendations as part of the annual math teachers’ conference.
Some educators said they might not be able slow down and teach fewer topics more in-depth as the report recommends because states and the federal government require them to teach and test on a certain number of topics each year under No Child Left Behind.

Looking Back, Looking Forward: A Chat with Melania Alvarez

While working on another project, I came across the transcript of an interview I did with Melania Alvarez in early 2004. Melania was an MMSD parent and an assessment analyst at the UW-Madison prior to leaving the area shortly after the election (Melania lost to Johnny Winston, Jr in April, 2004Winston’s transcript).
I found the transcript interesting. The topics discussed in 2004 certainly apply today, from curriculum to school discipline/violence and the budget.

“Free Range Kids”

Lenore Skenazy:

I left my 9-year-old at Bloomingdale’s (the original one) a couple weeks ago. Last seen, he was in first floor handbags as I sashayed out the door.
Bye-bye! Have fun!
And he did. He came home on the subway and bus by himself.
RELATED: Listen to Ms. Skenazy on WNYC.
Was I worried? Yes, a tinge. But it didn’t strike me as that daring, either. Isn’t New York as safe now as it was in 1963? It’s not like we’re living in downtown Baghdad.

Monona Grove Hires a New Superintendent

Karyn Saeman:

Craig Gerlach will be the next superintendent of the Monona Grove School District.
Gerlach’s selection was announced Wednesday night at a School Board meeting in Cottage Grove.
Speaking briefly after sitting through more than an hour of contentious debate over the proposed sharing of a principal at two elementary schools, Gerlach joked, “this has been a learning experience. If I want to make an exit, I should do it right now.”
The father of two said he was attracted to Monona Grove because of its reputation.
“You have a lot of great things going for your school district,” Gerlach said. “You’ve got a rich history of educational success.”
“I know you have issues,” he continued, but “they’re not issues that are uncommon to other school districts in the state.”
“I don’t have all the answers,” Gerlach admitted, but said he looked forward to moving the district ahead. “It’s exciting to be here,” he said.

Lacking Credits, Some Students Learn a Shortcut

Elissa Gootman:

Dennis Bunyan showed up for his first-semester senior English class at Wadleigh Secondary School in Harlem so rarely that, as he put it, “I basically didn’t attend.”
But despite his sustained absence, Mr. Bunyan got the credit he needed to graduate last June by completing just three essay assignments, which he said took about 10 hours.
“I’m grateful for it, but it also just seems kind of, you know, outrageous,” Mr. Bunyan said. “There’s no way three essays can possibly cover a semester of work.”
Mr. Bunyan was able to graduate through what is known as credit recovery — letting those who lack credits make them up by means other than retaking a class or attending traditional summer school. Although his principal said the makeup assignments were as rigorous as regular course work, Mr. Bunyan’s English teacher, Charan Morris, was so troubled that she boycotted the graduation ceremony, writing in an e-mail message to students that she believed some were “being pushed through the system regardless of whether they have done the work to earn their diploma.”

Project GRAD

Currently, only 70 percent of all students in public high schools graduate and this number drops to just 53 percent of students from low income families. By the end of fourth grade, low income students, by various measures, are already two years behind other students. By the time these students reach 8th grade, they are three grade levels behind in reading and math. If they reach 12th grade, low-income and minority student achievement levels are about four years behind those of other young people. Low graduation rates are evidence that, in the earlier grades, schools are not meeting the fundamental achievement needs of low-income students.
The bottom line should be alarming for all Americans. A very high proportion of our students are leaving public schools unprepared to gain access to our country’s economic, social and political opportunities. As we strive to become a nation in which no child is left behind, all U.S. public school students deserve the opportunity to graduate from high school and college.

Getting into UCLA.

Poole council spies on family over school claim

Telegraph UK
A council has used powers intended for anti-terrorism surveillance to spy on a family who were wrongly accused of lying on a school application form.
For two weeks the middle-class family was followed by council officials who wanted to establish whether they had given a false address within the catchment area of an oversubscribed school to secure a place for their three-year-old.
The “spies” made copious notes on the movements of the mother and her three children, who they referred to as “targets” as they were trailed on school runs. The snoopers even watched the family home at night to establish where they were sleeping.
In fact, the 39-year-old mother – who described the snooping as “a grotesque invasion of privacy” – had held lengthy discussions with the council, which assured her that her school application was totally in order.
Poole borough council disclosed that it had legitimately used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to spy on the family.
This has led to fears that parents all over the country could be monitored by councils cracking down on those who bend the rules to get their children into a good school.
The Act was pushed through by the Government in 2000 to allow police and other security agencies to carry out surveillance on serious organised crime and terrorists. It has since been taken up by councils to catch those carrying out any “criminal activity”.
The mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I’m incensed that legislation designed to combat terrorism can be turned on a three-year-old. It was very creepy when we found out that people had been watching us and making notes.

“The time for school change is now: We should get serious about minority achievement”

Steve Braunginn:

Now that Madison School Supt. Art Rainwater is on his way to retirement, it’s time to reexamine programs, staffing and curricula throughout the district.
Let’s face it, again. African American and Latino academic achievement pales in comparison to that of white and Asian American students, though some segments of the Southeast Asian community struggle as well.
Daniel Nerad, the new superintendent, should dust off all the research that the district has gathered over the past 40 years, look at the recent studies pointing to excellence in education and put together a new approach to ending the achievement gap.
Things are already cooking at the Ruth Doyle Administration Building. Restructuring the high schools is in the works. Pam Nash, former Memorial High School principal and now assistant superintendent for secondary schools, is taking on this enormous task. Based on her work at Memorial, she’s the right person for the task.
Nash acknowledges the concerns and complaints of African American parents, educators and community leaders. It’s time to raise those achievement scores and graduation rates. She’s fully aware of a solid approach that didn’t fare well with Rainwater, so she’s left to figure out what else can be done.
First, let’s acknowledge the good news.

Clusty Search: Steve Braunginn.

Milwaukee Schools Join National Testing (NAEP)

Alan Borsuk:

“The Nation’s Report Card” is going to start giving grades for Milwaukee Public Schools.
Milwaukee was named Thursday as one of seven urban school districts that will join the testing program of the National Assessment of Education Progress. NAEP is the closest thing to a nationwide testing program at levels below college admission tests. The government-funded organization that runs NAEP has trade-marked the “Nation’s Report Card” label for the program.
NAEP results released last week showed that Wisconsin eighth-graders were doing a bit better than the nation in writing skills, but that among African-Americans students, Wisconsin had the lowest scores in the United States and the second-widest gap between white and black kids in the nation.
There were no results for Milwaukee specifically in that round of testing, or in earlier tests that showed huge gaps in Wisconsin between white and black students in reading and math.

Wall of silence broken at state’s Muslim public school

Katherine Kersten:

Recently, I wrote about Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), a K-8 charter school in Inver Grove Heights. Charter schools are public schools and by law must not endorse or promote religion.
Evidence suggests, however, that TIZA is an Islamic school, funded by Minnesota taxpayers.
TIZA has many characteristics that suggest a religious school. It shares the headquarters building of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, whose mission is “establishing Islam in Minnesota.” The building also houses a mosque. TIZA’s executive director, Asad Zaman, is a Muslim imam, or religious leader, and its sponsor is an organization called Islamic Relief.

“Ill Prepared Students Flood Iowa Community Colleges”

Lisa Rossi:

Nearly one-third of freshmen at Iowa’s community colleges took at least one remedial course last fall, but an even larger percentage of the freshmen needed additional high-school-level instruction in one or more subject areas, a Des Moines Register survey has found.
The trend has educators frustrated and concerned.
While community colleges have long accepted that part of their role is to be a bridge between high schools and four-year colleges and universities, some community college advocates are becoming exasperated with the number of ill-prepared students arriving from high schools.
“I just think it’s unfortunate that such a large percentage of students who arrive at our door are in need of additional remediation to come up to the college level,” said M.J. Dolan, executive director of the Iowa Association of Community College Trustees.
The Register’s survey of the community colleges found that 31.5 percent of incoming freshmen last fall took one or more remedial courses to improve their understanding of certain academic subjects.

My Daughters Are Fine, but I’ll Never Be the Same

Harriet Brown:

For a parent, there is no sorrow deeper or more encompassing than the loss of a child. But there is another that approaches it, and that, paradoxically, is grief averted — the grief of the narrow escape when a child comes close to death but survives.
No matter what the cause — illness or accident, cataclysm or slow decline — a child’s close call reverberates through the rest of a parent’s life. Those of us who have experienced it are marked forever by our child’s brush with the unimaginable.
Within the span of 18 months, both my daughters contracted illnesses that might have killed them. My younger daughter, then 8, developed Kawasaki disease, a childhood illness that could fatally damage the heart. She spent five days in the hospital and months convalescing at home.
Four years later, she still gets every virus that comes around; a rough patch in the middle of one cheek flares up when she is tired or upset. But her heart is fine and so, as far as we know, is her prognosis.

Pride in public schools fuels positive involvement

Joe Fitzgerald:

According to her job description, West Roxbury’s Kathleen Colby is the YMCA’s liaison to the classrooms of this city, charged with assuring parents that Boston public schools offer “good and valid options” for their children.
That, of course, challenges a widely held assumption that public education in this city is a wasteland.
“I’ve heard that, too,” she said. “Absolutely. And the people who make that assumption are absolutely wrong. There are fabulous things happening in this city that no one knows about because no one writes about them.”
When the Y created the job five years ago, Colby was such an obvious candidate that she began receiving calls and e-mails from friends and teachers, urging her to apply.
“It’s not a job as much as it’s a passion,” she explained. “I’ve been talking about our schools for years because of what my own kids have experienced. We’ve received so much that I just can’t help wanting to give something back.”

Colby’s son is a student at Boston’s Latin School. BLS is part of the Boston public schools but “admits students on a competitive basis“.

Technology in the Madison Schools

I am the parent of 2 children, one in first grade and the other soon to enter Kindergarten. I recently registered my child for Kindergarten where I was handed a very helpful folder with lots of great information in it. It had pictures of children learning in various contexts and text touting the wonderful education Madison children receive. The curious thing is that in the center of the folder is a picture of children using computers that are most likely more than 10 years old. Across the picture in large print it says “Welcome to Madison’s Award Winning Schools!” Opposite the picture is a paragraph stating that there is a 4 to 1 computer ratio and that computers are integral to the K-12 instructional program. While I don’t doubt all this to be true, just how old is that computer that is “integral” to my child’s instructional program? Is my child getting the experiences that meet today’s standards for knowledge in this area? While this is just a picture, it caused me to look around my daughter’s school and to talk to a few teachers. What I learned was appalling.
Many teachers do their grades at home, not because of time, but because their classroom computer is so old and slow that it freezes on them or times out during an upload and they lose all of their data. I was stunned and confused. We as parents have been hearing about this new system that will allow us better access to seeing how our kids are doing in school and yet the teachers can’t even enter data from their classrooms. Should we not be embarrassed as a district? Can we really claim truth in the text filled folds of the aforementioned folder?

Continue reading Technology in the Madison Schools

NY Legislators Balk at Tying Teacher Tenure to Student Tests

Danny Hakim & Jeremy Peters:

In the latest rebuke to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s agenda, state lawmakers have decided to bar student test scores from being considered when teacher tenure determinations are made.
Legislators said the move was the final detail negotiated as part of the budget, which they expect to complete on Wednesday. It was a setback to efforts by the mayor and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer to hold teachers accountable by using student performance data, and a boon for the teachers’ unions, which hold enormous influence over the political process in the capital.
The new language being prepared for the state law says that for the next two years student scores will not be considered in decisions on teachers’ tenure; in the meantime, a commission is to be created to study the issue.
The move was denounced Tuesday night by the Bloomberg administration.

Schools ignored abuse warnings for 2 decades

John Iwasaki:

Seattle Public Schools will pay $3 million for failing to act on dozens of warnings that a popular teacher was molesting some of his fifth-grade students, a pattern that lasted two decades.
The most abused girl will receive $2.5 million, which her attorney said will be the largest reported settlement paid by a school district in Washington to a single victim in a sex-abuse case.
Under the settlement, approved Monday in King County Superior Court, the district acknowledged negligence in failing to protect two girls from Laurence “Shayne” Hill, 58, who has admitted to molesting at least seven girls while teaching at Broadview-Thomson Elementary in North Seattle.
The girls’ lawyers said the district protected Hill even though at least 15 teachers and staff members made at least 30 reports to administrators that he was grabbing girls’ buttocks and having them sit on his lap, sometimes in darkened classrooms, since the mid-1980s.

Related by Doug Erickson & Andy Hall: Former Waunakee educational assistant wasn’t reported by the Madison Schools.

University opens up with more free course options

The Standard:

ARTS AND HISTORY, business and management, education, social sciences, languages and information technology will be covered in 10 more units of courseware that have been added to the Open University of Hong Kongs suite of free courseware on the web.
New units include The Development of the Chinese Communist Party (1927-1937), which introduces the establishment of the party and explains Mao Zedongs rise to power.
Apart from the learning materials such as text, maps and charts, an audio clip of a lecture is also included to help people better understand the course and the influence of the Long March. References and recommended book lists are also given as supplements.
Those seeking additional business knowledge can choose Management and Developments in Management Thinking and The Mathematics of Finance.

Wisconsin Virtual school bill a bright spot

Patrick Marley & Steven Walters:

The new law guarantees the online schools can open this fall. Their future was in doubt after an appeals court ruled in December that one school – the Wisconsin Virtual Academy run by the Northern Ozaukee School District – did not qualify for state aid of $5,845 per student.
The measure was a workable compromise that allows the schools to continue while the effect of the virtual school system on students and taxpayers is studied, Doyle spokeswoman Jessica Erickson said in a statement.
Rose Fernandez, president of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families, said in a statement her group would fight to remove the cap but hailed the new law for keeping the schools open.
“This was grassroots democracy at its finest; a blow to powerful special interests; and, most important, a win for Wisconsin’s children,” she said in her statement.

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

One bright spot as the Legislature adjourned its regular business for the year was a compromise allowing virtual schools to stay open.
Gov. Jim Doyle signed Senate Bill 396 into law Monday, capping an unfortunate roller-coaster ride for the parents and their 3,400 children who attend about a dozen online schools across Wisconsin.
The bill modernizes out-of-date state laws that failed to anticipate the advent of certain students learning from home over the Internet.
The bill also improves accountability and instruction for online schools.
Only certified teachers will be allowed to develop lesson plans and grade assignments. Teachers must be trained to effectively teach online and respond quickly to student and parent inquiries.

Much more on virtual schools here.

Toronto School Board Considers Scaling Back Homework

Sara Bennett:

After three months of reviewing research on homework and meeting with parents, principals, and teachers, the Toronto, Canada, School District Board is now taking a very close look at a new proposed homework policy. The proposal focuses on quality, not quantity, suggests that homework in the early grades be limited to reading, talks at length about the value of family time, and recommends that all homework assignments be differentiated.
The draft proposal, although not perfect, is one of the very best I’ve seen short of those recommending abolition of homework and is definitely worth reading. If you’re trying to change homework policy in your community, there is very good language that you might want to adopt. Read it here [PDF].

Today’s college students have tuned out the world, and it’s partly our fault

Ted Gup:

I teach a seminar called “Secrecy: Forbidden Knowledge.” I recently asked my class of 16 freshmen and sophomores, many of whom had graduated in the top 10 percent of their high-school classes and had dazzling SAT scores, how many had heard the word “rendition.”
Not one hand went up.
This is after four years of the word appearing on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers, on network and cable news, and online. This is after years of highly publicized lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and international controversy and condemnation. This is after the release of a Hollywood film of that title, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, and Reese Witherspoon.
I was dumbstruck. Finally one hand went up, and the student sheepishly asked if rendition had anything to do with a version of a movie or a play.

Madison Busing to Continue for Most Madison Catholic Schools


he MMSD finance and operations committee of the school board on Tuesday voted to approve a plan to continue bus services for Madison’s Catholic schools. MMSD provides bus transportation under state law.
Under the plan, two schools, Queen of Peace and St. Maria Goretti, will adjust their schedules so they can share a bus. The kindergarten noon bus at St. Dennis will be discontinued, as will bus service to Edgewood. The eliminations would affect a handful of families and they will receive vouchers from MMSD to cover the cost of private transportation.
The school schedule adjustments and two route cancellations will save the public schools about $140,000 a year, according to MMSD officials.

The Madison School District eliminated private school busing last spring – a decision that was undone via an adminstrative snafu.

In India, Dreams Unfold in English

Rama Lakshmi:

Life has never been better for Pankaj Srivastava, a tall, soft-voiced insurance manager. He surpassed his business targets and has been promoted twice. His company sends him to conferences all over India and is rewarding him with a three-day vacation in Dubai.
But the faster he rises, the more anxious he gets.
“I am in the big league now. But everybody at this level speaks English, and I don’t,” Srivastava said in a mix of Hindi and broken English. “I stay in hotels where even the waiters speak English. At the conferences, I stay quiet because I don’t want them to laugh at my English.”
So for the past week, he has been attending a conversational English class at an establishment here called Uma’s English Academy.

Nebraska’s Legislature Approves Statewide Testing

Jeffrey Robb:

Giving up Nebraska’s unique way of measuring academic accountability for uniform statewide tests would have a different impact depending on which school district your child attends.
Take the neighboring Millard and Papillion-La Vista school districts, for example.
In Millard, the district’s system includes tests taken at the end of a grade level, similar to the type of tests that the Legislature gave final approval Monday. If new statewide reading, math and science tests are added, the district would consider dropping one of its current tests for every new statewide test put in place, Superintendent Keith Lutz said.
“It shouldn’t be overly burdensome,” he said.
But Jef Johnston, Papillion-La Vista’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, said the statewide tests would mean an additional layer of testing for his district.
Papillion-La Vista’s current tests are given throughout a course, similar to unit tests. Johnston said that type of testing would continue because it matches up best with the district’s curriculum and better measures what students are learning.
“We’ll have to continue testing what we teach,” he said.
Johnston said time will be taken away from instruction for the statewide tests.
Both sides of Nebraska’s testing debate have tried to portray their opponents as burdening the state’s classrooms with tests.

“Worst Rank” Doesn’t belong to Kids Alone

Eugene Kane:

It was a bold headline, befitting the seriousness of the problem: “State black 8th-graders rank worst In nation in writing.”
And it was pretty damning stuff when you consider we’re talking about 14-year-old kids here.
The Journal Sentinel’s front-page headline last Friday pointed an accusing finger squarely at young African-American students in Wisconsin who apparently can’t keep up with their contemporaries. The worst writing students in the nation, that’s what national data found when it came to Wisconsin’s black students, including the distinction of having the lowest average scores and worst gap between black and white students anywhere.
These depressing results were taken from a national study often referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card,” which means this is one test we flunked badly. There’s always plenty of blame to go around when things get this dismal. I’m talking teachers, principals, politicians, business leaders, and of course, the parents of all those low-achieving students. But don’t worry about blaming the kids.
They already got theirs in that screaming headline.

2007 NAEP Writing Report. Alan Borsuk’s article.

School’s New Rule for Pupils in Trouble: No Fun

Winnie Hu:

Like a bouncer at a nightclub, Melissa Gladwell was parked at the main entrance of Cheektowaga Central Middle School on Friday night, with a list of 150 names highlighted in yellow marker, the names of students barred from the after-hours games, crafts and ice cream because of poor grades or bad attitudes.
“You’re ineligible,” Ms. Gladwell, a sixth-grade teacher, told one boy, who turned around without protest. “That happens. I think they think we’re going to forget.”
In a far-reaching experiment with disciplinary measures reminiscent of old-style Catholic schools or military academies, the Cheektowaga district this year began essentially grounding middle school students whose grade in any class falls below 65, or who show what educators describe as a lack of effort.
Such students — more than a quarter of the 580 at the school as of last week — are excluded from all aspects of extracurricular life, including athletic contests, academic clubs, dances and plays, unless they demonstrate improvement on weekly progress reports filled out by their teachers.

Milwaukee Special Education Lawsuit Settled

Dani McClain:

According to that statement, the settlement includes the appointment of an outside authority, paid by DPI, to monitor MPS’s compliance with state and federal special education law and establish standards for MPS.
The agreement will also create a parent trainer position that will be based at Wisconsin Family Assistance Center for Education, Training & Support. This person will support MPS parents and DPI will pay his or her salary.
MPS did not enter into the agreement, and issued a statment today calling DPI’s decision “a disappointment” because of the tax increase district officials say will result for local taxpayers.
According to the district’s statement, the MPS School Board sent a letter to the state Attorney General last month asking that negotiations continue.

Do Your Homework, Then Visit the Principal

Mary Ellen Slayter:

For families with children, the quality of local schools is often a key factor in deciding which house to buy.
Buyers trying to determine if the schools in a neighborhood will meet their needs can find plenty of data on the Internet about standardized tests, but they shouldn’t neglect the value of visits to the schools and old-fashioned word of mouth, real estate agents and education experts say.
If you’re working with an agent, don’t expect him to judge the schools for you.
“When my clients begin to ask questions about the quality of the school system, I try to be careful with labeling schools as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ that could be construed as code words to discourage certain groups of people from buying a home in a particular neighborhood, which is a violation of the Fair Housing Act,” said Thomas Minetree, a real estate agent in Weichert’s Gainesville office.

Madison Mayor Proposes Expansion of Low Income Housing Throughout Dane County in an Effort to Reduce the MMSD’s Low Income Population

Dean Mosiman:

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is proposing a regional approach to affordable housing to help ease high concentrations of poor students in Madison schools.
Cieslewicz is proposing to merge the city and Dane County public housing authorities into a single entity that would take a more regional view.
The authorities handle federal vouchers that offset rent payments, public housing and support first-time buyers.
Cieslewicz also wants to make communities outside Madison eligible for money from the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which now stands at $4 million.
Over time, the proposals might spread low-income housing more evenly through the region, which would help all schools, Cieslewicz said.

Madison Demographics: 82.2% white (Dane County = 87.5%) with 15% of the population living below poverty (2000 census; Dane County = 9.4%). 43% of the Madison School District’s students were classified as “low income” for the 2007-2008 school year.

Florida’s Virtual School

Curtis Krueger:

At one of Florida’s largest public schools, students take classes in English literature, Spanish and calculus. They join clubs, enter science fairs and talk one on one with their teachers.
But no one complains about mystery meat from the school cafeteria, no one ever gets asked to — or snubbed at — a school dance, and there is no football team to cheer for.
A decade after its founding, the Florida Virtual School has become a quiet force in the state’s education system. It’s an Internet-based school that offers free, accredited classes for middle school and high school students in Florida. More than 54,000 students took courses last year, and it’s growing.
“They are the largest state-led virtual school program based in the United States,” said Susan Patrick, president of the North American Council for Online Learning. “I think that they have one of the most innovative education solutions for how we can better serve students.”
Janice Barnard, whose 17-year-old daughter is taking Virtual School classes in a program affiliated with Tampa’s Blake High School, says, “It’s not for everyone. You must have a self-motivated child, somebody who wants to learn, who wants to achieve.”

Related: Moore’s Law, Culture, School Change and Madison’s “Virtual Campus”. Much more on virtual schools.

5 districts may need taxpayers’ help to avoid default if investment schemes sour

Amy Hetzner & Avrum Lank:

Five Wisconsin public school districts have made an investment gamble that could force taxpayers to finance multimillion-dollar bailouts.
The districts – Kenosha, Kimberly Area, Waukesha, West Allis-West Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay – have piled up debt in deals to help fund health insurance and other non-pension benefits for retirees. But as global financial markets have seized up, the districts have been told the value of their investments has fallen so much that they might need to come up with a combined $53 million to avoid default.
Kenosha might need almost $8 million in additional collateral or risk default on $28.7 million.

Mequon-Thiensville School District’s Declining Enrollment & Budget

Lawrence Sussman:

By this September, the number of teachers who work for the Mequon-Thiensville School District is expected to have shrunk 17% since January 2001, Superintendent Robert Slotterback said last week.
The district, like many others in Wisconsin, is functioning with fewer teachers and dealing with smaller student enrollments, rising costs and an electorate that in referendums in 2006 and 2002 told the district that it could not spend significantly more money.
Slotterback maintains, though, the district has not reduced its course offerings or lowered its standards.
“We have not really had to eliminate student options,” he said. “Your class size may have gotten bigger, but I am not aware of any class option that we have eliminated. We have not purposely shrunk the options for kids up to this point.”

Favorite Education Blogs of 2008

Jay Matthews:

Early last year, as an experiment, I published a list of what I and commentator Walt Gardner considered our favorite education blogs. Neither Gardner nor I had much experience with this most modern form of expression. We are WAY older than the Web surfing generation. But the list proved popular with readers, and I promised in that column to make this an annual event.
My promise was actually more specific: “Next year, through bribery or trickery, I hope to persuade Ken Bernstein, teacher and blogger par excellence, to select his favorite blogs and then let me dump on his choices, or something like that.” As I learned long ago, begging works even better than bribery or trickery, and Bernstein succumbed. Below are his choices, with some comments from me, and a few of my favorites.
They are in no particular order of quality or interest. Choosing blogs is a personal matter. Tastes differ widely and often are not in sync with personal views on how schools should be improved. I agree with all of Bernstein’s choices, even though we disagree on many of the big issues.
Bernstein is a splendid classroom teacher and a fine writer, with a gift for making astute connections between ill-considered policies and what actually happens to kids in school. He is a social studies teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George’s County and has been certified by the prestigious National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. He is also a book reviewer and peer reviewer for professional publications and ran panels on education at YearlyKos conventions. He blogs on education, among other topics, at too many sites to list. He describes his choices here as a few blogs he thinks “are worthwhile to visit.”

Madison School Board Says No to City Infrastructure Costs for a Potential New East Side School Development

There was an interesting discussion that unfortunately received no publicity during the March 24, 2008 school board meeting regarding proposed Sprecher Road [map] seven figure infrastructure costs (this spending would, perhaps have begun the process of constructing a new east side school). The Board voted 3-3 (Yes: Carstensen, Moss and Silveira; No: Cole, Kobza and Mathiak with Winston absent), which resulted in a no on these costs. Watch the video here. It would seem ill advised to begin borrowing money for a new school given the ongoing budget challenges. Last spring’s downtown school closing unpleasantness is another factor to consider with respect to potential new edge schools.

Madison School District Administration’s Proposed 2008-2009 Budget Published

The observation of school district budgeting is fascinating. Numbers are big (9 or more digits) and the politics significant. Many factors affect such expenditures including local property taxes, state and federal redistributed tax dollars, enrollment, grants, referendums, new programs, politics and periodically local priorities. The Madison School District Administration released it’s proposed 2008-2009 $367,806,712 budget Friday, April 4, 2008 (Allocations were sent to the schools on March 5, 2008 prior to the budget’s public release Friday).
There will be a number of versions between this proposal and a final budget later this year (MMSD 2008-2009 Budget timeline).
I’ve summarized budget and enrollment information from 1995 through 2008-2009 below:

Continue reading Madison School District Administration’s Proposed 2008-2009 Budget Published

Eighth Grade Vocabulary List: 1978

Well worth reading [1.2MB PDF]:

rivulet: A small stream or brook. The ancient rivulet was conducted according to customs that were centuries old. The children enjoyed wading in the rivulet. The manuscript needed only minor rivulets before publication. A pleasant rivulet trickled through the fields.
firth: A narrow inlet or arm of the sea. (A firth may refer to any narrow arm of the sea or more particular to the opening of a river into the sea. Because the coast of Scotland is dotted with so many firths, the word has come to be associated with that country.) The soldier explored the firths that cut into the coastline. The young child was severely reprimanded for having committed the firth. After swimming across the firth, he was completely exhausted. The coast was cut with many narrow firths, which were ideal hideouts for smugglers.

Related: Dick Askey: Content Knowledge Examinations for Teachers Past and Present and NAEP writing scores – 2007 along with an article by Alan Borsuk. A Touch of Greatness:

You won’t find ten-year old children reciting Shakespeare soliloquies, acting out the Cuban Missile Crisis or performing Sophocles plays in most American classrooms today. But Albert Cullum’s elementary school students did all this and more. Combining interviews with Cullum and his former students with stunning archival footage filmed by director Robert Downey, Sr., A TOUCH OF GREATNESS documents the extraordinary work of this maverick public school teacher who embraced creativity, motivation and self-esteem in the classroom through the use of poetry, drama and imaginative play.
Regarded by academics as one of the most influential educators of the 1960s and ‘70s, Cullum championed what is, by today’s standards, an unorthodox educational philosophy: the belief that the only way teachers can be successful with children is to speak directly to their hearts and to their instinctive and largely ignored capacity to quickly understand and identify with the great personalities, ideas and emotions found in classical literature. To that end, Cullum regularly taught his elementary school children literary masterpieces, exposed them to great works of art and engaged them in the events of world history. Without leaving the classroom, his students visited King Tut’s tomb, attended joint sessions of the U.S. Congress, operated on “bleeding” nouns in his “grammar hospital,” and clamored to play the timeless roles of Julius Caesar, Lady Macbeth and Hamlet.
When Cullum was an elementary school teacher in the New York City suburbs during the 1960s, his friend Robert Downey helped film several student plays and classroom events. In A TOUCH OF GREATNESS, these lush black and white films, with original music created by Tom O’Horgan, capture the work of this radical teacher and his students’ love of learning.

School Choice, Now More Than Ever

Jason Riley:

This week’s revelation that 17 of the nation’s 50 largest cities have high school graduation rates below 50% surely saddened many. But it surprised few people attuned to the state of U.S. public education. Proponents of education choice have long believed that dropout rates fall when families can pick the schools best suited for their children.
So news that Sol Stern, a veteran advocate of school choice, is having second thoughts about the ability of market forces to improve education outcomes is noteworthy. Mr. Stern explains his change of heart in the current issue of the indispensable City Journal, a quarterly magazine published by the Manhattan Institute. And his revised views on the school choice movement warrant a response.
Inside of two decades, charter school enrollment in the U.S. has climbed to 1.1 million from zero. Two tiny voucher programs in Maine and Vermont blossomed into 21 programs in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Tuition tax credits, once puny and rare, are now sizeable and commonplace. The idea that teacher pay should be based on performance, not just seniority, is gaining ground. Not bad for a small band of education reformers facing skepticism from the liberal media and outright hostility from well-funded, politically connected heavies like the National Education Association.

Related: Alan Borsuk: Wisconsin Black 8th-Graders Rank Worst in Nation in Writing and 2007 Nation’s Report Card: Writing.

NAEP Writing Scores & Texas Reading/Writing Curriculum

Donna Garner:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its 2007 eighth-grade writing scores today. These scores have particular significance to Texas because we are engaged in an intense battle over the rewrite of the English / Language Arts / Reading standards.
One side, the Coalition made up of eleven organizations with ties to NCTE and other national organizations, has joined up with the bilingual organizations to impede progress toward changing the way our state teaches students how to read, write, and speak English.
By looking at the NAEP writing results below, it is obvious that Texas needs to change the status quo. Anyone can see that the way English is being taught right now is simply not working.
Those of us who want change are strongly advocating that students need to be taught explicit grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization so that they will have a strong foundation upon which to build good writing skills.
In the new ELAR standards, our side wants to have a separate strand for oral and written conventions so that these skills will be emphasized among our Texas students.


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

That’s how much a bold initiative aims to cut births to teen mothers in Milwaukee — necessary to break the cycle of poverty to which teen pregnancy contributes.
It is no small thing to set a goal – if you’re committed to meet it.
That’s why Milwaukee should be impressed with one particularly significant goal set this week – decreasing births to teen mothers here by 46% by 2015.
This is setting the bar high. More important, it’s clear from both the people involved and the approach that the intent is genuine.
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker, co-chair of a United Way committee that will oversee the effort, announced the “metric” on Wednesday at the Women’s Initiative Luncheon at the Italian Community Center. Betsy Brenner, president and publisher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is the other co-chair.

CTM: Esperanza Rising

Children’s Theatre of Madison:

Middle school students are a notoriously tough audience.
But at a recent theater arts workshop at Wright Middle School in Madison, students shed their inhibitions as they stomped their feet, practiced the breathing exercises of actors and helped make mariachi music.
In the process, they began to appreciate the effort, energy and excitement of producing a play like “Esperanza Rising,” a Children’s Theatre of Madison production that will begin on April 4 and continue weekend performances through April 20.
Members of the Esperanza cast, the director, musicians and others associated with the production ran theater arts workshops at Hawthorne Elementary and Cherokee Middle School in Madison last week as well as at Wright Middle School.
When Jane Schroeder, outreach educator for CTM, asked students in Erika Meyer’s music class whether they had read the book “Esperanza Rising” by Pam Munoz Ryan, Jennifer Neblett, a sixth-grader at Wright, eagerly raised her hand.

2008 Bolz Young Artist Competition

Madison Symphony Orchestra:

Congratulations to the 2008 Winners! Pianist Hong-En Chen and violinist Leah Latorraca took top honors in the competition held Wed night in Overture Hall. Each received a $1,000 scholarship. Violinist Chauntee Ross and pianist Naomi Latorraca were awarded Honorable Mentions and each received a $500 scholarship. All four finalists performed with John DeMain and the MSO at the Spring Young People’s Concert.

Wisconsin Black 8th-Graders Rank Worst in Nation in Writing

Alan Borsuk:

The classic three R’s of education – reading, writing and arithmetic – became the three R’s of educational alarm for Wisconsin with the release Thursday of nationwide data on eighth-graders’ writing ability.
While Wisconsin students on the whole did better than the national average and better than in 1998, the last time the same tests were given here, Wisconsin’s African-American students had the lowest average score in the nation, and the gap between black and white scores in Wisconsin was the second worst in the United States.
The writing scores lined up with results released in September from national testing that showed the average reading scores of fourth- and eighth-grade black students in Wisconsin were the lowest in the U.S. The gaps between black students and white students in Wisconsin in reading were the largest in the nation, and the situation for math scores was nearly as grim.
The overall message appears clearly to be that something is seriously off course in the education of African-American children in the state, decidedly more so than in other states. Gaps between whites and Hispanics and between kids from lower-income homes and those from higher-income homes are serious but not nearly the size of the racial gaps.

More here:

“Once again, we see Wisconsin at the bottom of the pack when it comes to the performance of African American students. In fact, Wisconsin was one of just three states that lost ground for its African American students between 1998 and 2007. When you compare Wiscosnin to a state like Arkansas, in 1998, Wisconsin was doing much better for its black students than Arkansas. But Wisconsin has since lost a lot of ground, whereas Arkansas gained a lot of ground, and now you see African American students in Arkansas are doing better than African American students in Wisconsin. We know that Arkansas, for example, has been working diligently for the last 10 years to raise expectations for both teachers and students in terms of the kind of content they are supposed to master, and they’ve also had an explicit focus on insuring that there is coordination across the curriculum so that students are writing not just in a prescribed writing block, but they’re writring in their science courses and in their mathematics couses and in their history courses. You’re seeing the pay off here. Wisconsin would be very well advised to look at the practices of states that have frankly passed it by.

“The Future of Education Probably Lies with Digital Games”


It’s easy for old farts like me to assume everybody will learn the way we did, but that’s unlikely simply because the underlying assumptions are changing. When I was a kid human labor was cheap and technology was expensive. Today technology is cheap and getting cheaper, while human labor is expensive and becoming more so. Yet our model of education technology is still so defined by that remembered Apple IIe in the corner of the classroom that is it difficult for many to imagine truly pervasive educational technology.
This is in large part because there is no way that Apple IIe or any PC is going to somehow expand to replace books and teachers and classrooms. For education, the personal computer is probably a dead end. It’s not that we won’t continue to have and use PCs in schools, but the market and intellectual momentum clearly lie elsewhere.
So forget about personal computers: the future of education probably lies with digital games.
I say “digital games” rather than “video games” or “PC games,” or “handheld games,” because the platform doesn’t matter as much as the application. Whether it is a PC or Mac, xBox or PS3, PSP or Nintendo DS, gaming has done an excellent job of proving that the application is more important than the platform on which it runs.
Stories came out this week from the NPD Group announcing that 72 percent of Americans play PC or video games with 58 percent of those played online. Those numbers — which apparently don’t include kids, by the way — are HUGE and explain all by themselves much of what is happening to traditional mass media like TV, magazines and newspapers.
We’re spending so much time playing games that we don’t have as much time for those older pursuits. Only drive-time radio thrives and that’s just because we don’t have a practical model for playing games while driving.
Digital games are a bigger business than Hollywood movies, than book publishing, than television, than music.
My vision for future digital education has a key difference from traditional 20th century education. A fundamental aspect of education has always been that it comes to abrupt and quite specific endpoints associated with various cultural rites of passage. We graduate. There is a first day of school and a last day of school. At some highly specific and anticipated moment we disconnect from the education mother ship and go off on our own, often never to return.
Well to make room in school for someone else, of course.
In my future model the “school” is only a PC/game machine/mobile phone/headset thingee that clues me in about everything around me and helps me learn what I need to know. Why would I ever give that up?

Fixing Education Policy

Via a kind reader’s email: Jim Ryan:

Identifying what needs to be fixed in the field of education is easy: the No Child Left Behind Act, currently up for reauthorization but stalled in Congress pending the next election. The elaborate law requires schools to test the bejeezus out of elementary- and middle-school students in reading and math, to test them again in high school, and to sprinkle in a few science tests along the way. Schools posting consistently poor test scores are supposed to be punished so that they’ll clean up their acts and allow NCLB’s ultimate goal to be achieved in 2014. The act imagines that essentially all students across the country will be “proficient” in that year, meaning that they’ll all pass the battery of standardized tests required by the NCLB. Hence the act’s catchy title.
NCLB was enacted in 2001 with huge bipartisan support, though many Democrats in Congress have since disclaimed if not denounced it, presumably having had some time to read it. The act is at once the Bush administration’s signature piece of education legislation, its most significant domestic policy initiative, and the most intrusive federal education law in our nation’s history. The federal government provides less than 10 percent of all education funding, yet NCLB drives education policy in every school district in the country. In short, it’s a big deal. It’s also in need of repair. No one—conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican—doubts that.

For Little Children, Grown-Up Labels As Sexual Harassers

Brigid Schulte:

In his seven years, Randy Castro has been an aspiring soccer player, an accomplished Lego architect and a Royal Ranger at his Pentecostal church. He also, according to his elementary school record, sexually harassed a first-grade classmate.
During recess at his Woodbridge school one day in November, when he was 6, he said, he smacked the classmate’s bottom. The girl told the teacher. The teacher took Randy to the principal, who told him such behavior was inappropriate. School officials wrote an incident report calling it “Sexual Touching Against Student, Offensive,” which will remain on his student record permanently.
Then, as Randy sat in the principal’s office, they called the police.
“I thought they were going to take me to prison,” Randy said recently. “I was scared.”

Long Beach school district is a finalist for Broad Prize

Seema Mehta:

The Long Beach Unified School District was again named a finalist Wednesday for the prestigious Broad Prize, which honors academic excellence and strong performance by minority and poor students in urban districts across the nation.
“It’s a huge honor,” said Christopher J. Steinhauser, superintendent of the nearly 91,000-student district. “We pride ourselves on a path of continual improvement, and to be recognized by the [Eli and Edythe Broad] foundation as one of the top five school systems in America every time we’ve been eligible is a huge honor for teachers, students and parents.”
In 2003, Long Beach Unified won the prize, which includes $500,000 in college scholarships. The district — the third-largest in California — has been a top-five finalist every year it has been eligible since the inception of the prize, an honor that comes with $125,000 in scholarships. Districts that win the prize are then ineligible for three years.
The four other finalists this year are districts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Miami, as well as the Aldine Independent School District near Houston and the Brownsville Independent School District on the Texas-Mexico border. The winner will be announced Oct. 14 in New York City.

Statistics refute rhetoric on school spending

Dan Walters:

California’s perennial debate over how much it is and should be spending on its largest-in-the-nation public school system has escalated sharply this year as the state faces a whopping budget deficit and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes – whether seriously or not is uncertain – to take a big bite out of the schools’ money to close it.
The educational establishment and its allies in the Democratic leadership of the Legislature are howling about the governor’s proposal that school spending be whacked by $4.8 billion from what the constitution otherwise would require it to be through the 2008-09 fiscal year.
The Democrats have vowed to block any budget that makes a substantial reduction in state school aid and the California Teachers Association and other school groups have resumed their high-decibel complaint that California’s per-pupil spending is already near the bottom of the states.
Republicans and other critics, meanwhile, complain that California is wasting much of its school money on bloated administration and ineffective, faddish educational nostrums. They cite the state’s near-bottom rankings in national educational achievement test scores.
In the midst of this Sturm und Drang, the Census Bureau on Tuesday issued an extremely detailed accounting of what states (and the District of Columbia) are spending on their schools. It undercuts the mantras being chanted by both of the Capitol’s warring political factions.

Down the Tube: the Sad Stats on Happiness, Money & TV

Jonathan Clements:

Put down the remote and back slowly away from the television.
Despite the sharp rise in our standard of living in recent decades, Americans today are little or no happier than earlier generations. Why not?
A new study suggests one possibility: Maybe we need to be smarter about how we spend our time. And, no, that doesn’t mean watching more TV.
Feeling unpleasant. You can think of your happiness as having three components. First, there’s your basic disposition — whether you are, by nature, a happy person or not. Clearly, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about this.
Second, there are your life’s circumstances, such as your age, health, marital status and income. Often, this stuff isn’t nearly as important as folks imagine. If your income doubled, you would initially be delighted. But research suggests you would quickly get used to all that extra money

Class Size Reduction “Not a Silver Bullet,” New Research Review Finds; Poor and Minority Students Benefit Most Quality Teaching, Political Climate, Are Key Determinants of Success

Teachers College @ Columbia University:

Ask the average parent or teacher what change they’d most like to see in their school, and there’s a good chance the answer will be “smaller classes.”
Now a new review of major research on the subject finds that reduced class size is far from a universal panacea, and may have no bearing at all on student achievement unless enacted under the right political, economic and academic conditions. Those include quality teaching, targeting of schools and children likeliest to benefit, and avoidance of perverse incentives that can spawn unintended negative consequences.
“Class size reduction is not a silver bullet,” writes Douglas Ready, Assistant Professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, in his paper, Policy, Politics and Implications for Equity. “Establishing appropriate class size is a balancing act between children’s development needs and contemporary fiscal realities. The matter assumes even greater complexity when we consider the relationship between class size and educational equity.”
Ready’s review of the literature does show that poor and minority students are likelier to benefit from class size reduction efforts than white students and students from wealthier families.

Bad News U: Colleges Reject Record Numbers

Anjali Athavaley:

The college-admissions season set records this year — both in the number of students who applied, as well as the number of students who were rejected.
Harvard University has a record applicant pool of 27,462 and an admissions rate of 7.1%, meaning that 1,948 students were accepted — the lowest number in the school’s history and a drop from last year’s 8.9%. Yale University received 22,813 applications and accepted only 8.2%, down from 9.6% last year. And at Princeton University, of the 21,369 applications, 9.3% were accepted, down from 9.5% last year.
State schools, too, are reporting a tough admissions season, with acceptance rates down at the University of Texas and the University of North Carolina, among others.
On the positive side for some students this season, schools are having a hard time predicting their all-important “yields” — the percentage of students admitted who will actually attend. And high-school counselors are hoping that ambiguity will result in more acceptances for students who are on waiting lists — a strategy schools use to reach enrollment targets.

Introduction to a standards-based educational system #3

Madison School District Teaching & Learning Department:

The Madison School District is making the full transition to a standards-based educational system. Here is the third in a series of articles about a standards-based system, with this one focusing on instruction.
Introduction to a standards-based system… instruction
The Wisconsin Model Academic Standards (WMAS) articulate what students should know and be able to do in each curricular area. Madison Metropolitan School District staff elaborated upon these state standards to frame district curriculum and instruction.
Curriculum is the planned educational experiences taught in each subject area at each grade level. This issue focuses on instruction, which is the action or practice of teaching the curriculum.
Instruction is standards-based when the knowledge and skills that are the primary focus of the lesson support students’ continual progress toward meeting the standards.
This article shares an example from language arts to show how instruction in the MMSD is standards-based.

Much more on the proposed report card changes here.

Does Computing Add Up in the Classroom? On The “Mediocre Level of American Students’ Math Achievement

Steve Lohr:

Computing is essentially math on steroids. So, at first glance, it would seem no surprise that the recent report by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel would include computer-based instruction among its recommendations to address the “mediocre level” of math achievement by American students.
But the champions of computing in the classroom have hailed the math panel report as an encouraging win for their side. It suggests, they say, that computing should be seen as a valuable tool in mainstream education, like math and science, in kindergarten through high school curriculums.
“There is a real battle going on to determine the role that computing is going to play in K-12 education,” observed Robert B. Schnabel, a computer scientist at Indiana University, who is chairman of the Association for Computing Machinery’s education policy committee. “Is it going to be integrated into math and science curriculums or is it going to be more like shop?”

Reality Check

James Fallows, writing from China:

This is the kind of scene I wish I could convey to people who worry about China as the all-conquering juggernaut that has coped with every internal challenge and is sitting around thinking about how to take over the world.
My wife and I spent the afternoon at a public “High Tech Middle School” in Ningxia autonomous region, in western China bordering Inner Mongolia. The students could not have been more charming or open-spirited. Here’s how a few of the girls looked:

New Madison School Chief Meets & Greets

Susan Troller:

Dan Nerad is already beginning to reach out to the community, three months before he formally steps into his new role as Madison’s next superintendent of schools.
In The Capital Times’ offices on Wednesday, School Board President Arlene Silveira introduced Nerad to staff members, noting that last week was spring break in Green Bay, where he is currently the superintendent of schools.
“Dan spent his vacation in the Doyle Building,” Silveira said, referring to the site of the Madison school district’s central administration.
Nerad was in Madison Wednesday, speaking to media editorial boards and joining current Superintendent Art Rainwater to address a lunch meeting of the Madison Downtown Rotary club.
“My role will be to add value to what is already an excellent school district,” Nerad told the Rotarians. He added that he is committed to the goal of continuous improvement.
“You have to focus on the next steps,” he said.
During his visit to The Capital Times, Nerad described innovations in Green Bay during his tenure. They include specialty focus areas in each of the district’s four high schools and a plan for 4-year-old kindergarten slated to begin during the 2008-2009 school year.

Watch a brief video of Dan Nerad’s remarks at Saturday’s Memorial / West Strings Festival.

An Unlikely Obsession: School Auctions

Winnue Hu:

PATTY FURNER circled the chandelier-lit catering hall, trolling for bargains as she passed by row after row of gorgeously wrapped gift baskets at an auction this month to benefit the Hillside Elementary School in Livingston, N.J.
Ms. Furner, in her worn white sneakers, walked by cliques of well-heeled Livingston parents without bothering with small talk. She glanced right over a sketch of a new playground to be financed with auction proceeds, since her two daughters do not go to school there.
Instead, Ms. Furner, 44, a stay-at-home mother from nearby Union Township, had only one thing in mind: sizing up the 230-plus gift baskets to decide how to spread around her baby-sitting earnings. “It’s an addiction,” she said. “It’s the excitement of trying to win that prize you want.”

2007 “Nation’s Report Card – Writing” Now Available

National Center for Education Statistics:

This report presents the results of the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) writing assessment. It was administered to a nationally representative sample of more than 165,000 eighth- and twelfth-graders from public and private schools. In addition to national results, the report includes state and urban district results for grade 8 public school students. Forty-five states, the Department of Defense schools, and 10 urban districts voluntarily participated. To measure their writing skills, the assessment engaged students in narrative, informative, and persuasive writing tasks. NAEP presents the writing results as scale scores and achievement-level percentages. Results are also reported for student performance by various demographic characteristics such as race/ethnicity, gender, and eligibility for the National School Lunch Program. The 2007 national results are compared with results from the 2002 and 1998 assessments. At grades 8 and 12, average writing scores and the percentages of students performing at or above Basic were higher than in both previous assessments. The White — Black score gap narrowed at grade 8 compared to 1998 and 2002 but showed no significant change at grade 12. The gender score gap showed no significant change at grade 8 compared with previous assessments but narrowed at grade 12 since 2002. Eighth-graders eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch scored lower on average than students who were not eligible. Compared with 2002, average writing scores for eighth-graders increased in 19 states and the Department of Defense schools, and scores decreased in one state. Compared with 1998, scores increased in 28 states and the Department of Defense Schools, and no states showed a decrease. Scores for most urban districts at grade 8 were comparable to or higher than scores for large central cities but were below the national average. Trend results are available for 4 of the 10 urban districts.

36% of Wisconsin 8th grade students scored proficient and advanced, tied for 9th best. Complete Report: 3.9MB PDF File.
Sam Dillon:

About one-third of America’s eighth-grade students, and about one in four high school seniors, are proficient writers, according to results of a nationwide test released on Thursday.
The test, administered last year, showed that there were modest increases in the writing skills of low-performing students since the last time a similar exam was given, in 2002. But the skills of high-performing eighth and 12th graders remained flat or declined.
Girls far outperformed boys in the test, with 41 percent of eighth-grade girls scoring at or above the proficient level, compared with 20 percent of eighth-grade boys.
New Jersey and Connecticut were the two top-performing states, with more than half their students scoring at or above the proficient level (56 percent in New Jersey, 53 percent in Connecticut). Those two and seventeen other states ranked above New York, where 31 percent of students wrote at the proficient level.

Joanne offers notes and links.

Elmbrook passes state’s largest school referendum

Andy Szal:

The largest school district referendum on the ballot was approved but most other large school spending measures failed when submitted to voters in the spring election.
A total of 30 referendums totaling more than $165 million were approved Tuesday. Thirty-one failed, representing nearly $285 million.
The Elmbrook school district gained $62.2 million to renovate and expand Brookfield Central and East high schools. A referendum last year for $108.8 million failed in the suburban Milwaukee district.
Of the 12 districts with referendums exceeding $10 million, only measures in Racine and La Crosse passed. Racine passed a $16.5 million referendum, while La Crosse passed a $20.9 million referendum. Voters in La Crosse also rejected a second referendum for $35 million to construct a new elementary school.

Wisconsin DPI Referenda site. More from George Hesselberg.

If You Text in Class, This Prof Will Leave

Scott Jaschik:

Some professors threaten to confiscate students’ cell phones if they go off during class. Laurence Thomas has his own approach to classroom distractions. If the philosopher at Syracuse University catches a student sending text messages or reading a newspaper in class, he’ll end the class on the spot and walk out. It doesn’t matter if there is but one texter in a large lecture of hundreds of students. If you text, he will leave.
Last week, when a student in a large lecture — in the front row no less — sent a text message, Thomas followed through on his threat (as he had done just a few days earlier). And he then sent the university’s chancellor, his dean, and all of the students an e-mail message explaining his actions and his frustration at the “brazen” disrespect he had received in class. In the e-mail, he noted that the student who sent the text message is Cuban, and that last year, two Latino students had started to play tic-tac-toe during his class.
While Thomas noted that white students are also rude, he expressed frustration that — especially as a minority scholar himself — he would be treated in this way. “One might have thought that for all the talk about racism and the good of social equality, non-white students would be particularly committed to respecting a black professor,” Thomas wrote.
Thomas followed up with a second e-mail, noting that at least one parent of a student had complained about two classes being called off. “Everyone has to understand that respect is a two-way street. I respect you, as I endeavor to do and you respect me. My experience has been that confronting students directly and asking them to stop has virtually no effect. I walk out to underscore the importance of what this means to me,” he wrote.

Texas School Borrows Honor Code from BYU

Steve Inskeep:

Students at the University of Texas at San Antonio were determined to uphold standards at their school. They wrote an honor code that discouraged both cheating and plagiarizing. But they weren’t going to waste a lot of time writing the darn thing themselves. The wording of a draft of the honor code appears to match the honor code at Brigham Young University. The student in charge of the project says the lack of a proper citation was just an oversight.


Head teachers want to drop National Curriculum in UK schools

Julie Henry:

The attack on the National Curriculum, which has dictated school timetables for 20 years, could spell the end of separate classes in history, geography, literature, languages, art and music.
Instead, schools would be allowed to decide how they teach big themes such as global warming, conflict and healthy living.
The present list of subjects would be reduced to little more than English, mathematics and computing. The National Association of Head Teachers, responding to a select committee inquiry into whether the National Curriculum is “fit for purpose”, said its structure of 14 compulsory subjects should be replaced by a “minimum framework” that would be “skills and competence-based, rather than prescriptive and knowledge-based”.
Growing calls for flexibility, coupled with a series of curriculum reviews ordered by ministers, represent a serious threat to the future of the traditional timetable.

Computer Erases Students Grades


A computer malfunction wiped out a month’s worth of grades at three high schools and one middle school, giving struggling students a second chance but dismaying others.
The Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. announced on its Web site that the malfunction occurred during spring break.
Students at Harrison High had mixed reactions, depending on how the second semester was going for them, senior Ibrahim Dughaish said Monday.
“Some are really upset because they worked hard for five weeks,” but others saw it as a reprieve, he said.

Spellings: Graduation Rates Should Be Uniform, Disaggregated

David Hoff:

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings says she will soon propose rules that would require all states to use the same formula to calculate high schools’ graduation rates. She said she would require schools to disaggregate data by socioeconomic status, race, and other categories—just as schools are required to do for test scores under NCLB.
She announced the plan in a speech she delivered at an event kicking off a series of summits on drop outs sponsored by America’s Promise Alliance. But she left many questions unanswered.

Wisconsin Heights Plots Cost Cutting Strategy After Failed Referendum


t said that he believes Tuesday’s school referendum failed because it had “no light at the end of the tunnel”.
Terry Zander was one of three school board members opposed to holding the referendum and said that he voted against it. He doesn’t, however, rule out the possibility of another referendum being held later, perhaps next spring, WISC-TV reported.
District voters saw their total property tax bills rise 16 percent last year when adding together school and all other property taxes. They narrowly defeated Tuesday’s plan, which sought to exceed state revenue caps and increase spending by a total $800,000 to cover budget deficits during the next two years.
The measure was defeated by a mere 53 votes, but Zander said that the “people have spoken” and the amount of votes shouldn’t matter.
He said that he doesn’t believe people change a budget deficit situation overnight. He said that past cuts are still being implemented and that voters want the board to work together to find a long-term solution to the situation. When that is done, Zander said that if a deficit remains, he could see holding another referendum.
This is the second referendum in two years that has failed to get approved, WISC-TV reported.

The Grinding Battle with Circumstance: Charter Schools and the Potential of School-Based Collective Bargaining

Jonathan Gyurko [196K PDF]:

Despite its teacher union origins as a vehicle for teacher-led, bottom-up innovation and early bi-partisan support, the charter movement was adopted by political conservatives as a vehicle for market-oriented education reforms. In the process, teacher unions largely repudiated an idea they helped launch. Yet recently, a flurry of discussion has emerged regarding an evolving and potentially productive relationship between charter schools and teacher unions. These discussions were precipitated by the recent actions of a few notable policy entrepreneurs whose work may suggest political and policy alternatives that could advance and sustain the policies embedded in the charter model.
This paper chronicles the political history of the charter school movement in the United States, starting with ideas promulgated by the late American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker and continuing through the embrace of charter schools by political conservatives. Through a review of available research, the paper assesses the current state of the charter school movement, including an assessment of charter school achievement data and a critique of the charter school policy framework, with particular emphasis on charter school financing, philanthropic support, and access to human capital. The paper also describes the recent and politically counter-intuitive work by the United Federation of Teachers, New York City’s teachers union, in founding two charter schools.
With the broad history and state of the charter school movement established, this paper analyzes recent events through the agenda setting frameworks developed by Baumgartner and Jones (1993) and Kingdon (1984). Specifically, the paper argues that the charter school movement may be approaching an instance of “punctuated equilibrium” due to the charter school movement’s changing “policy image” and the loss of “monopolistic control” over the charter school agenda by a small interest group. The paper concludes that school-based collective bargaining may be a “new institutional structure” that could have transformative and productive consequences for the charter school movement.

Wisconsin Per Student Spending Drops in National Rankings from 11th to 17th, Remains Above Average

Alan Borsuk:

For better or worse – and you could get heated arguments about it – Wisconsin appears to be well on its way to becoming a middle-of-the-pack state when it comes to the amount of money put into grade school and high school education.
Wisconsin collected the 17th highest amount per student in taxes to pay for education in 2005-’06, the U.S. Census Bureau said in a report released Tuesday. And the gap between Wisconsin and the national average was less than $400.
A decade earlier, the state ranked 11th, and education revenue per student was almost $800 more than the average.
Those indicators mesh with other data, such as reports on teacher salaries nationwide, that indicate spending on education in Wisconsin remains above national averages but is moving down.
The heated debate about what that all means would come from people such as Republicans in the state Legislature who have argued for years that taxes are too high and education spending should be brought into line with other states, and school district officials and teachers organizations that claim services and staff are being cut because of spending caps that have been in place for almost 15 years.

Related by Pete Selkowe:

This gloomy Monday brings another of those reports about Wisconsin’s economy guaranteed to add to your malaise. (Like last week’s report on the county’s slow real estate value growth, Property values, the have’s and the have not’s.)
Today’s report — Measuring Success: Benchmarks for a Competitive Wisconsin — grades the state (alas, no curve, no Gentleman’s C) by comparing us to other states. Sit down before you read further, because the news isn’t good.
— For example: Wisconsin’s per capita income is $34,476, compared to the national average of $36,629, a difference of 5.9% (and the largest gap since 1991). The comparison is worse when our incomes are matched against folks in Illinois ($38,297) and Minnesota ($38,751).
— Not only do our jobs not pay as much, but we’re not growing very many more of them. In 2006, the number of Wisconsin jobs increased 0.7%, down from a growth rte of 1.1% in 2004 and 1.2% in 2005. Wisconsin trails the national average of 1.8% job growth.
— How about the growth in private businesses? The number of new private businesses in Wisconsin dropped 0.4% in 2006, while the number of businesses nationally grew 2.5%. All of Wisconsin’s neighbors had increases in 2006.
The study is released annually by Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. (CWI), a nonpartisan consortium of state agriculture, business, education and labor leaders. Measuring Success grades Wisconsin on 33 areas of interstate competitiveness; compared to our performance in past years, 17 benchmarks changed this year: eight improvements and nine declines.

K-12 Tax & Spending climate summary. Channel3000 has more.

Admission Impossible

Keith Gessen:

At the end of our freshman year at Harvard, my roommates and I, having done so well so far in the lottery of life, did badly in the housing lottery. We were sent to live in the Quad, a group of dorms half a mile northwest of the main campus. This was in the mid-’90s, before global warming, so on cold winter days, while our classmates rolled out of bed and into lecture with a steaming hot coffee and a warm apple fritter, we trudged through snow and wind to sit there for an hour in our wet socks. On the other hand, cut off from civilization, we had a lot of time to think. We thought about modernity, the Renaissance, etc.; we played a lot of Ping-Pong; and we considered our lives, thus far, and what Harvard meant to them. One of my friends formulated an idea. “We’ve done the hardest thing,” he said, meaning getting into Harvard. He came to be fond of this statement, and in lulls in dining hall conversation he’d return to it. “We’re 19 years old and we’ve done the hardest thing there is to do,” he’d say, and then we’d sit there, looking stupidly at one another.
In the years since, as I learned from Joie Jager-Hyman’s FAT ENVELOPE FRENZY: One Year, Five Promising Students, and the Pursuit of the Ivy League Prize (Harper, paper, $14.95), it’s only gotten harder. A former Dartmouth admissions officer, Jager-Hyman follows five high school high-achievers trying to get into Harvard.
And it is scary.
Before reading “Fat Envelope Frenzy,” I was convinced that our nation’s youth spent all their time uploading party photos to the Internet. I still think that. Yet it appears that a division of labor has been effected. Reading about Felix, who at 14 spent the summer assisting doctors at a rural orphanage in his parents’ native China; and Nabil, a top “mathlete” already familiar with the work of his potential future professors; and Lisa, a national champion rhythmic gymnast who tells Jager-Hyman that gymnastics “is like my anti-drug — not that I’d be doing drugs,” I kept thinking of poor John Stuart Mill, the original early applicant, whose father home-schooled him from the age of 3, teaching him Greek and Latin and the theories of Jeremy Bentham, but not how to feel. At the age of 20, Mill suffered a breakdown; already one of the most brilliant polemicists in England, he couldn’t say anymore what the point of it was. As he later wrote, “The whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down.”

Informative, Not Scripted

American Educator 350K PDF:

To some readers, “clear, specific content” may sound like a euphemism for “script.” But Core Knowledge demonstrates that standards could—and should—be heavy on content and light on pedagogy. By clarifying what to teach, but letting teachers decide how to teach, Core Knowledge supports good instruction.
Instead of writing a typical standards document, Core Knowledge developed a bare-bones “sequence” of content for grades K-8. It then developed a detailed teacher handbook for each grade that provides key information—like vocabulary, background knowledge, and connections to other subjects. Teachers can use the sequence to quickly see what is taught in the grades above and below theirs, and the handbook to guide their lesson planning and teaching. Here, we show the full fourth-grade language arts sequence, which includes speeches by Patrick Henry and Sojourner Truth, and the speeches section of the fourth-grade teacher handbook (p. 34-37).
The handbooks have some teaching suggestions, but they do not mandate any particular way of teaching, and they don’t offer anything that even resembles a script. But don’t just take it from us, read what two teachers have to say about it. We asked Kethkeo Vichaiyarath and Xia Lee to discuss how they have used the handbook as they developed lessons on the speeches. Both have nine years’ experience and currently teach fourth grade at Phalen Lake Elementary in St. Paul, Minn. Nearly 70 percent of the students are English language learners and roughly 90 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Core Knowledge provides Kethkeo and Xia the rich content their students need. —Editors

Stein Scholars Get Help with College Costs

Felicia Thomas-Lynn:

f all goes well, Deja Daniel’s dream of earning a degree won’t be obscured by the nightmare of mounting college-loan debt that often dogs new graduates for many years.
At age 17, the high school senior is getting in on the ground level of a multifaceted program that allows her to earn money for college, and apply for scholarships and financial aid, while academically preparing her for the rigors of college-level work.
“I was already looking at college, but the program has made it easier for me,” said Daniel, one of the first Stein Scholars, named in honor of late philanthropist Marty Stein.
Stein left a portion of his estate to be used for the scholarship program, administered through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.
“We aren’t just interested in getting kids to college, but we want to see them graduate from college,” said Naryan Leazer, director of the program for juniors and seniors.

New Microphones Are Bringing Crystal-Clear Changes

Jay Mathews
The little black devices, the shape and size of small cellphones, have begun to appear in hundreds of Washington area classrooms. Hanging from the necks of elementary school teachers in Alexandria and kindergarten and first-grade teachers in Prince George’s County, they might herald the most significant change in classroom technology since the computer, some predict.
They are infrared microphones, designed to raise the volume and clarity of teachers’ voices above the distracting buzz of competing noises — the hum of fluorescent lights, the rattle of air conditioning, the whispers of children and the reverberations of those sounds bouncing off concrete walls and uncarpeted floors.
“It makes it so much easier for the children but also for the teachers,” said Lucretia Jackson, principal of Alexandria’s Maury Elementary School, one of the first in the area to use the audio enhancement systems for all classrooms. All Alexandria elementary school teachers now have them. “They are no longer suffering from laryngitis,” Jackson said. “They don’t have to project their voices as much as they needed to do in the past.”

Mom Called and Said, “Slow Down”

Christopher Lawton:

Stephanie Wade, a Peck, Kan., mother of six, didn’t make her children wear seat belts in the car when they were younger. So years later, it was difficult to persuade her 16-year-old daughter Kelsie to wear one when she got her driver’s license in November.
To police her child, Ms. Wade in January had a video camera installed in plain view in Kelsie’s car. The camera, made by DriveCam Inc., records both the inside of a car and the view outside through the windshield. Whenever the vehicle makes a sudden move, the camera wirelessly transmits a digital recording to DriveCam’s central-monitoring station, where it’s analyzed and emailed to her parents within 24 hours. DriveCam also sends a weekly report rating the teen’s driving and safety skills.
Using DriveCam’s service, Ms. Wade saw that her daughter wasn’t wearing her seat belt. “We started saying, ‘Kelsie, you have to be buckled and anybody in the car has to be buckled,’ ” says Ms. Wade, 43. Kelsie complied — a move that later may have saved her life.
DriveCam’s $900-a-year camera and one-year monitoring contract were paid for by the Wades’ car-insurance company — an incentive increasingly offered by insurers to attract younger drivers. But it’s also one of several new tools that help parents keep track of teenage drivers.

How to Disagree: An Attempt at a “Disagreement Hierarchy”

Paul Graham:

The web is turning writing into a conversation. Twenty years ago, writers wrote and readers read. The web lets readers respond, and increasingly they do—in comment threads, on forums, and in their own blog posts.
Many who respond to something disagree with it. That’s to be expected. Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing. And when you agree there’s less to say. You could expand on something the author said, but he has probably already explored the most interesting implications. When you disagree you’re entering territory he may not have explored.
The result is there’s a lot more disagreeing going on, especially measured by the word. That doesn’t mean people are getting angrier. The structural change in the way we communicate is enough to account for it. But though it’s not anger that’s driving the increase in disagreement, there’s a danger that the increase in disagreement will make people angrier. Particularly online, where it’s easy to say things you’d never say face to face.
If we’re all going to be disagreeing more, we should be careful to do it well. What does it mean to disagree well? Most readers can tell the difference between mere name-calling and a carefully reasoned refutation, but I think it would help to put names on the intermediate stages. So here’s an attempt at a disagreement hierarchy: