The Uneven Playing Field

Michael Sokolove:

BY THE TIME JANELLE PIERSON SPRINTED ONTO THE FIELD for the start of the Florida high-school soccer playoffs in January, she had competed in hundreds of games since joining her first team at 5. She played soccer year-round — often for two teams at a time when the seasons of her school and club teams overlapped. Like many American children deeply involved in sports, Janelle, a high-school senior, had traveled like a professional athlete since her early teens, routinely flying to out-of-state tournaments. She had given up other sports long ago, quitting basketball and tennis by age 10. There was no time for any of that, and as she put it: “Even if you wanted to keep playing other sports, people would question you. They’d be, like, ‘Why do you want to do that?’ ”
Janelle was one of the best players on a very good high-school team, the Lady Raiders of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. A midfielder and a 2007 first-team, all-Broward-County selection, she had both a sophistication and a fury to her game — she could adroitly put a pass right on the foot of a teammate to set up a goal, and a moment later risk a bone-jarring collision by leaping into the air to head a contested ball.
That she was playing at all on this day, though, was a testament not to her talent but rather to her high threshold for pain, fierce independence and formidable powers of persuasion. Janelle returned to action a little more than five months after having an operation to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, or A.C.L., in her right knee. And just 20 months before that, she suffered the same injury to her other knee.

Sacramento Area Superintendent Search

Kim Minugh:

Wanted: A good manager, effective communicator and academic visionary to take over a school district reeling from millions of dollars in budget cuts, declining enrollment and the ongoing pressure of raising student achievement.
Make that two.
Two of the region’s largest school districts are looking for new leaders to navigate them through these tough times. On Wednesday, San Juan Unified Superintendent Steven Enoch confirmed that he will leave at the end of June for a position in the East Bay.
Two months ago, Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Maggie Mejia said she will leave the district when her five-year contract expires, also at the end of June.
Officials in both districts – and outside observers – say finding replacements in the current climate could be a tall order.

Media Education Coverage: An Oxymoron?

Lucy Mathiak’s recent comments regarding the lack of substantive local media education coverage inspired a Mitch Henck discussion (actually rant) [15MB mp3 audio file]. Henck notes that the fault lies with us, the (mostly non) voting public. Apathy certainly reigns. A useful example is Monday’s School Board’s 56 minute $367,806,712 2008/2009 budget discussion. The brief chat included these topics:

  • Retiring Superintendent Art Rainwater’s view on the District’s structural deficit and the decline in it’s equity (Assets – Liabilities = Equity; Britannica on the The Balance Sheet) from $48,000,000 in the year 2000 to $24,000,000 in 2006 (it is now about 8% of the budget or $20M). (See Lawrie Kobza’s discussion of this issue in November, 2006. Lawrie spent a great deal of time digging into and disclosing the structural deficits.) Art also mentioned the resulting downgrade in the District’s bond rating (results in somewhat higher interest rates).
  • Marj asked an interesting question about the K-1 combination and staff scheduling vis a vis the present Teacher Union Contract.
  • Lucy asked about specials scheduling (about 17 minutes).
  • Maya asked about the combined K-1 Art classes (“Class and a half” art and music) and whether we are losing instructional minutes. She advocated for being “open and honest with the public” about this change. Art responded (23 minutes) vociferously about the reduction in services, the necessity for the community to vote yes on operating referendums, ACT scores and National Merit Scholars.
  • Beth mentioned (about 30 minutes) that “the district has done amazing things with less resources”. She also discussed teacher tools, curriculum and information sharing.
  • Ed Hughes (about 37 minutes) asked about the Madison Family Literacy initiative at Leopold and Northport. Lucy inquired about Fund 80 support for this project.
  • Maya later inquired (45 minutes) about a possible increase in Wisconsin DPI’s common school fund for libraries and left over Title 1 funds supporting future staff costs rather than professional development.
  • Beth (about 48 minutes) advocated accelerated computer deployments to the schools. Lucy followed up and asked about the District’s installation schedule. Johnny followed up on this matter with a question regarding the most recent maintenance referendum which included $500,000 annually for technology.
  • Lucy discussed (52 minutes) contingency funds for energy costs as well as providing some discretion for incoming superintendent Dan Nerad.

Rick Berg notes that some homes are selling below assessed value, which will affect the local tax base (property taxes for schools) and potential referendums:

But the marketplace will ultimately expose any gaps between assessment and true market value. And that could force local governments to choose between reducing spending (not likely) and hiking the mill rate (more likely) to make up for the decreasing value of real estate.
Pity the poor homeowners who see the value of their home fall 10%, 20% or even 30% with no corresponding savings in their property tax bill, or, worse yet, their tax bill goes up! Therein lie the seeds of a genuine taxpayer revolt. Brace yourselves. It’s gonna be a rough ride.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue noted recently that Wisconsin state tax collections are up 2.3% year to date [136K PDF]. Redistributed state tax dollars represented 17.2% of the District’s revenues in 2005 (via the Citizen’s Budget).
Daniel de Vise dives into Montgomery County, Maryland’s school budget:

The budget for Montgomery County’s public schools has doubled in 10 years, a massive investment in smaller classes, better-paid teachers and specialized programs to serve growing ranks of low-income and immigrant children.
That era might be coming to an end. The County Council will adopt an education budget this month that provides the smallest year-to-year increase in a decade for public schools. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has recommended trimming $51 million from the $2.11 billion spending plan submitted by the Board of Education.
County leaders say the budget can no longer keep up with the spending pace of Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, who has overseen a billion-dollar expansion since his arrival in 1999. Weast has reduced elementary class sizes, expanded preschool and kindergarten programs and invested heavily in the high-poverty area of the county known around his office as the Red Zone.
“Laudable goals, objectives, nobody’s going to argue with that,” Leggett said in a recent interview at his Rockville office. “But is it affordable?”
It’s a question being asked of every department in a county whose overall budget has swelled from $2.1 billion in fiscal 1998 to $4.3 billion this year, a growth rate Leggett terms “unacceptable.”

Montgomery County enrolls 137,745 students and spent $2,100,000,000 this year ($15,245/student). Madison’s spending has grown about 50% from 1998 ($245,131,022) to 2008 ($367,806,712) while enrollment has declined slightly from 25,132 to 24,268 ($13,997/student).
I’ve not seen any local media coverage of the District’s budget this week.
Thanks to a reader for sending this in.

Teacher Content Knowledge Exams: Connecticut’s Reading Requirement

Arielle Levin Becker:

Aspiring early childhood and elementary school teachers will have to prove they know how to teach reading on a test the State Board of Education has added to Connecticut’s teacher certification requirements. The change, which was made Wednesday, comes amid worries about stagnating or declining student reading scores statewide and concerns that not all state teachers know the mechanics of teaching reading.
“This sends a message to teacher preparation institutions that they need to make sure they have a focus on the art and science of teaching reading,” state Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said.
Introducing a test on teaching reading was among the recommendations offered by educators at a reading summit the state education department held last fall. Legislators also have pushed for adding a test on reading instruction to certification requirements.

Related by Jason Kottke regarding Malcolm Gladwell’s forthcoming book:

A more material example is teachers. Gladwell says that while we evaluate teachers on the basis of high standardized test scores and whether they have degrees and credentialed training, that makes little difference in how well people actually teach.

Red ties and boys’ pride: Sowing the seeds of good schools in the Midwest

The Economist:

EVERY weekday, 300 boys gather in a gym on Chicago’s South Side. They are all black. More than 80% are poor. Over the past few weeks Chicago has seen a surge in gang violence. But here boys stand in straight lines. Each wears a blazer and a red tie. And in unison they begin to shout their creed: “We believe. We are the young men of Urban Prep. We are college-bound.”
Urban Prep Charter Academy opened in 2006, part of an effort to bring 100 new schools to Chicago’s bleakest areas by 2010. Richard Daley, the city’s mayor, announced Renaissance 2010 (“Ren 10”) in 2004; Chicago’s business leaders created the Renaissance Schools Fund (RSF) to help support it. Backers of this ambitious scheme hope it will spur competition across the school district. On May 6th RSF held a conference to discuss the “new market of public education”.
At the core of Ren 10 is the desire to welcome “education entrepreneurs”, as RSF calls them. Ren 10 lets them start schools and run them mostly as they choose (for example, with longer days and, in some cases, their own salary structure); it also sets the standards they must meet. Schools receive money on a per pupil basis, and may raise private funds as well.

Schools of Hope teachers recognized for narrowing racial achievement gap among Madison students

Sandy Cullen:

Madison teachers who participate in the Schools of Hope tutoring program were recognized Tuesday for their role in narrowing the racial achievement gap among students over the last 10 years.
“That’s what school districts around the country are trying to do, and Madison is accomplishing it,” First Lady Jessica Doyle told more than 50 elementary school teachers treated to the first outdoor reception of the season at the governor’s residence overlooking Lake Mendota on National Teacher Appreciation Day.
“Because of you and that extra energy you put in,” Doyle said, “more students can succeed and this whole community can be living with hope.”

Bill allowing Rockford schools to share data gets 1st OK

Aaron Chambers:

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey has said for months that state law should be changed to require the Rockford School District to share names and personal information about students suspected of being truants.
The latest plan spearheaded by the mayor and introduced in the General Assembly on Tuesday does not compel the School District to disclose students’ information. Instead, the proposed law says the School District “may” do so.
Even if the proposal becomes law, the School District still must decide whether to provide the information in the format and within the time frame Morrissey prefers.
“I don’t think any board members would have supported legislation that compels us to share that, no matter what the situation is,” said Nancy Kalchbrenner, president of the Rockford School Board. “The collaboration and our constant communication and working together is what’s important. And this is a tool to allow us to share information.”

Accelerated Math in Maryland Middle Schools

Daniel de Vise:

The most noticeable change is a dramatic increase in students taking accelerated math classes in the middle years, an initiative that seems to have spread to every school system in the region. Educators view math acceleration as a gateway to advanced study in high school and, in turn, to college. Higher-level math classes have helped middle schools cultivate a community of students similar to those in honors and Advanced Placement high school classes.
At Samuel Ogle Middle School in Bowie, the number of students taking Algebra I, a high-school-level course, has doubled from 60 to 120 in the past two years.

Barry Garelick references Montgomery County’s experiment with Singapore Math. About Singapore Math. More here.

Failings of One Brooklyn High School May Threaten a Neighbor’s Success

Samuel Freedman:

Set just a few subway stops apart in blue-collar Brooklyn, drawing from a similar pool of new immigrants and American-born blacks, two high schools spent the past decade careering toward opposite destinies. The question now is whether the failure of one will destroy the success of the other.
Since the late 1990s, Lafayette High School in the Bath Beach neighborhood graduated fewer than half its students, posted dismal scores on standardized tests and, in the view of federal civil rights officials, “deliberately ignored” a series of bias attacks against Chinese-American students, including a valedictorian.
The principal appointed in 2005 to improve the school shut down its program for gifted students and, in front of the assembled faculty, likened Lafayette to a Nazi death camp. Finally, at the end of 2006, the Department of Education announced that it would close Lafayette and transform it into five mini-schools.

National Science Bowl for High School Students

US Department of Energy:

The National Science Bowl® is a highly visible educational event and academic competition among teams of high school students who attend science seminars and compete in a verbal forum to solve technical problems and answer questions in all branches of science and math. The regional and national events encourage student involvement in math and science activities, improve awareness of career options in science and technology, and provide an avenue of enrichment and reward for academic science achievement.

Teacher Opposed to Standardized Tests Reconsiders

Weekend Edition:

As part of Weekend Edition Sunday’s monthlong education series, we hear from teacher Chela Delgado. She once hated standardized tests and didn’t want to make her students take them, but then she started listening to some of the children’s parents. Her commentary reveals how families in under-resourced schools are pursuing what they see as best for their kids.


Six Books a Week: Harlem parents are voting for charter schools with their feet

The Economist:

THOSE who had won whooped with joy and punched their fists. The disappointed shed tears. Some 5,000 people attended April 17th’s Harlem Success Academy Charter School lottery, the largest ever held for charter schools in the history of New York state. About 3,600 applied for 600 available places, and 900 applied for the 11 open slots in the second grade.
The desperation of these parents is hardly surprising. In one Harlem school district, not one public elementary school has more than 55% of its pupils reading at the level expected for their grade. And 75% of 14-year-olds are unable to read at their grade level. So Harlem parents are beginning to leave the public school system in crowds.

The Future of Reading

Ezra Klein:

The title of a 2004 report by the National Endowment for the Arts was “Reading at Risk.” The follow-up, released in November 2007, upped the ante. “To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence,” placed the consumption of Moby Dick up there with questions of poverty and health care. Weighty stuff. Around the same time, Newsweek published a cover story entitled “The Future of Reading”—I assumed the gist was along the lines of, “Nobody will be doing any, and the Russians will win.” I was wrong. In an almost uniquely American take on the subject, Newsweek decided to peer past the decline in reading and instead enthuse about the creation of new, expensive technologies that would help us read—namely, Amazon’s Kindle. The newsmag’s decision made a sort of perverse sense. After all, books may be in sharp decline, but compared to, say, 1992, reading on computer screens is way, way up. If you could put books on a computer screen, and maybe connect that to the Internet, you might really have something.

Bucky’s Little Helper

Todd Finkelmeyer:

With final exams coming up, Renee figures she could fetch about $20 per capsule for Adderall, a prescription amphetamine widely known across campus as a “study drug.” But she sells her surplus only to close friends, generally charging $5 per pill, which helps her cover her monthly refill costs of $25.
The UW-Madison senior first tried Adderall, which is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), during finals week of her freshman spring semester three years ago.
“I hadn’t slept in about two days and I had back-to-back finals coming up and, you know, you procrastinate a little and all of a sudden you’re like, ‘How am I going to get through this?'” says Renee, one of three Adderall users interviewed for this story who asked that her last name not be used due to fear of prosecution. “And a friend was like, ‘Here, take this, it’s just Adderall.'”

Priya Venkatesan Interview


Review correspondent Tyler Brace conducted the following two interviews with Prof. Priya Venkatesan after news broke here on Saturday afternoon that she was threatening to sue seven students from her Writing 5 classes. Prof. Venkatesan—now of Northwestern University—is currently still planning to sue the College. —A.S.
DR: Thanks for that. Why do you think a pretty significant amount of your students did complain about you? Why do you think that is?
PV: I think that sometimes when you have some students and some instructors they mix like oil and water. That could just be the explanation. It happens all the time, Tyler. Sometimes when a person goes into a corporation, they mix like oil and water. Sometimes when a person goes into a fellowship at a research institution like the one that I’m at now, the supervisor and the fellow mix like oil and water. It just happens a lot.

Joseph Rago:

Often it seems as though American higher education exists only to provide gag material for the outside world. The latest spectacle is an Ivy League professor threatening to sue her students because, she claims, their “anti-intellectualism” violated her civil rights.
Priya Venkatesan taught English at Dartmouth College. She maintains that some of her students were so unreceptive of “French narrative theory” that it amounted to a hostile working environment. She is also readying lawsuits against her superiors, who she says papered over the harassment, as well as a confessional exposé, which she promises will “name names.”
The trauma was so intense that in March Ms. Venkatesan quit Dartmouth and decamped for Northwestern. She declined to comment for this piece, pointing instead to the multiple interviews she conducted with the campus press.

Writer of the Week: I Would Go Out of my Way to Step on That Crunchy-Looking Leaf

“Featured Writer of Week:

Yael’s defining quality as a writer is her rich imaginary aesthetic. She received a 2008 gold regional key from the Scholastic’s Art & Writing Awards for her latest piece. Please celebrate Yael’s accomplishment by reading:

Yael Weisenfeld:

When I first heard the question I thought it was rather ridiculous. “Would you go out of your way to step on a crunchy-looking leaf?” It seemed so… strange. Really, who but a child would? Of course I replied in the negative and received a look from the man in return that was somewhere midway between pity and disappointment. I don’t see what made me deserve that response; how does he know that I’m just not a leaf-crunching kind of person? Maybe the sound of leaf-crunching is my pet peeve. It isn’t, but that’s not the point. Apparently I can’t possibly enjoy life without stepping on crunchy leaves. I suppose I wouldn’t know, but that man doesn’t seem too experienced in life-enjoyment either, as he always acts as though he’s got a stick up his a*#.

Changes at New Orleans Schools Bring Gains in Test Scores

Adam Nossiter:

A broad education overhaul under way here has produced improvement in test scores, results released Tuesday showed, though many students are still struggling.
The number of fourth graders who passed a state promotional exam increased by 12 percentage points over the previous year, and eighth graders improved by four percentage points.
School officials also noted significant increases in the numbers of students with passing scores in the test’s various components — English, math, science, social studies and reading.
Nonetheless, more than half the students who took the test in those grades did not pass, and 60 percent of high school students got an unsatisfactory ranking in standardized English and math tests, a figure three to four times higher than the percentage throughout Louisiana.

Why Milwaukee’s Busing Won’t End

Bruce Murphy:

As I’ve noted in the past, the headlines and placement of stories can heavily influence how readers perceive the news. A classic case was a story that ran in the Journal Sentinel two weeks ago, headlined “MPS board slashes busing.”
The Milwaukee Public Schools board did no such thing. The board simply set a goal to cut busing without spelling out how it would be accomplished – sort of like announcing a budget cut without specifying any spending to be reduced. As reporter Alan Borsuk noted in his second graph, “what will actually result will not be clear for perhaps several years.” Borsuk, never shy about caveats, also noted that most busing is required by state law (for special education students, students attending private schools, minority students traveling to suburban schools under Chapter 220, etc.) and cannot be changed by the school board.

Tutor faces exam leak probe

Carol Chung & Jeffrey Tam:

The Independent Commission Against Corruption is investigating tutorial center Popular Modern Education and top tutor K Oten over alleged buying of Hong Kong Certificate of Education examination papers.
The Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority said yesterday the case has been “forwarded to the law enforcement agency.”
The center and the tutor were accused of texting messages on the HKCEE English-language examination during a 45-minute break.
The messages allegedly contained an “immediate analysis” helpful to answering questions.
Oten, 32, yesterday denied cheating and bribing invigilators to acquire the papers, saying it is a “deliberate defamation.”
The tutorial center also denied providing the service to students. It said it will look into the matter and that it has terminated Oten’s services.
The matter came to light when some students claimed the tutor had unlawfully obtained the papers and used them for commercial gain.

Exploring KIPP

Roy Romer:

Part of the reason KIPP charters have seen success is because of their rigorous standards and extended learning day. These are both concepts that the campaign has been advocating since its beginning — we believe that charter schools, when coupled with high standards, effective teachers, and time and support for learning, hold bold promise for academic excellence.

Be Quiet and Rejoin the Herd

Ed Wallace:

The easiest way to demonstrate that our education system is designed to create order instead of embracing creative chaos is the morning traffic jam. Let’s take the people traveling on Interstate 35 E into Dallas: Every morning they’ll find that starting somewhere in Oak Cliff the traffic will come to a virtual standstill, until the last 3 or 4 miles into Dallas often turns into a 20- to 30-minute drive. And every morning you will find thousands upon thousands of drivers wasting gas, fuming in their cars that something needs to be done about congestion. Yet there is an easy answer: All they have to do to zip into Dallas quickly is take the South Marseilles exit, go 1.5 blocks north and turn right on E. Jefferson Boulevard. It’s that simple.
Crossing the Jefferson Street Viaduct with the 30 other drivers who have made that same quick critical decision to improve their morning commute, you can look south and see, extending for miles, a traffic jam that avoiding took you only two quick turns and cut 15 minutes off your commute. So why do thousands of intelligent people each and every day go through the same frustrating and wasteful ritual, when an easy and satisfying answer to the problem has always been there? That’s how we were taught.
Stuck in your car, waiting impatiently in traffic is exactly like being in sixth grade when your class filed into the cafeteria; you were told to stand there quietly without complaining, no matter how hungry you were. It’s this ingrained habit of non-critical thinking and unquestioning acceptance that makes morning traffic jams worse than they need to be. It makes ideology — obedience to a concept, as opposed to reasoning through a solvable problem — the basis for our daily decisions.

Related: Frederick Taylor. Britannica on Taylor.

Educating the Community on Gangs in Madison

Rose Johnson-Brown:

Many times people hide their heads in the sand when there is an accusation of behavior in Madison that might put the community at risk. “Not in my neighborhood” seems to be the response from many citizens in denial when the community is tainted with the reality of the growth of gang activity in Madison.
On this note, a group of University of Wisconsin-Madison social work students wanted to raise awareness in Madison of the prevalent increase in gang activity in Dane County communities. As a group project, they have researched the existence of gangs, their history, their trends and movement that could put children at risk.
On April 23 at Leopold Elementary School, Erin Wearing, Corrina Flannery, Amanda Galaviz, Teresa Rhiel, and Yer Lee, students of Professor Sandy Magana’s Advanced Macro Practice Social Work class, coordinated a community outreach event and informational session. It was presented for parents and educators in the Madison and surrounding communities by the Dane County Youth Gang Prevention Task Force.
Madison Police Detective George Chavez and Officer Lester Moore, along with Frank Rodriquez of the DARK Progam shed some light on the growing activity surrounding gang involvement in this area.

Gangs & School Violence Forum audio and video.

The Growing Wave of Teenage Self-Injury

Jane Brody:

“I feel relieved and less anxious after I cut. The emotional pain slowly slips away into the physical pain.”
“It’s a way to have control over my body because I can’t control anything else in my life.”
“It expresses emotional pain or feelings that I’m unable to put into words.”
“I usually feel like I have a black hole in the pit of my stomach. At least if I feel pain it’s better than nothing.”
These are some of the reasons young people have given for why they deliberately and repeatedly injure their own bodies, a disturbing and hard-to-treat phenomenon that experts say is increasing among adolescents, college students and young adults.
Experts urge parents, teachers, friends and doctors to be more alert to signs of this behavior and not accept without question often spurious explanations for injuries, like “I cut myself on the countertop,” “I fell down the stairs” or “My cat scratched me.”

Muggles in America

Fired, Accused of Wizardry
PASCO COUNTY, Fla. — A Florida substitute teacher says his job disappeared after doing a magic trick in front of his students.
Substitute teacher Jim Piculas made a toothpick disappear, then reappear in front of a classroom at Rushe Middle School in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. The Pasco County School District says there were several other performance issues, but none compared to his “wizardry.”
“I get a call the middle of the day from head of supervisor of substitute teachers. He says, ‘Jim, we have a huge issue. You can’t take any more assignments. You need to come in right away.’ I said, ‘Well, Pat, can you explain this to me?’ ‘You’ve been accused of wizardry,'” Piculas explained.
The assistant superintendent with the district said Piculas had other issues, like not following lesson plans and allowing students to play on unapproved computers.
Piculas said he’s concerned the incident may prevent him from getting future jobs.
My take? Muggles — got to love’m! J.K. Rowlands has said the term “muggles” is derived from the English word “mug” which means a person easily fooled.

Madison La Follette Principal Joe Gothard helped turn around his alma mater

Tamira Madsen:

John Broome lasted just four months as principal of La Follette High School.
Under pressure due to escalating fighting at the 1,710-student east side school and hearing far-reaching complaints from parents and staff over his management style, Broome resigned in December 2006. Veteran district administrator Loren Rathert came out of retirement to finish the school year as interim principal.
So when Joe Gothard took over as principal last September, it was no secret that he was entering a difficult situation.
“Actually it was really bad,” says Jamison Vacek, a member of a Lancer senior class that has had four principals in four years. “There were fights almost every day at the school when we had those other principals.”
But ask students, staff and observers about La Follette now, and there seems a consensus that Gothard has helped put the school on the right path.

Much more on La Follette here.

Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Vision of Islam

Sabrina Tavernise:

Praying in Pakistan has not been easy for Mesut Kacmaz, a Muslim teacher from Turkey.
He tried the mosque near his house, but it had Israeli and Danish flags painted on the floor for people to step on. The mosque near where he works warned him never to return wearing a tie. Pakistanis everywhere assume he is not Muslim because he has no beard.
“Kill, fight, shoot,” Mr. Kacmaz said. “This is a misinterpretation of Islam.”
But that view is common in Pakistan, a frontier land for the future of Islam, where schools, nourished by Saudi and American money dating back to the 1980s, have spread Islamic radicalism through the poorest parts of society. With a literacy rate of just 50 percent and a public school system near collapse, the country is particularly vulnerable.
Mr. Kacmaz (pronounced KATCH-maz) is part of a group of Turkish educators who have come to this battleground with an entirely different vision of Islam. Theirs is moderate and flexible, comfortably coexisting with the West while remaining distinct from it. Like Muslim Peace Corps volunteers, they promote this approach in schools, which are now established in more than 80 countries, Muslim and Christian.

Fatal Accidents Erode Perk of Off-Campus Lunches

Winnie Hu:

The students used to overflow the wooden booths and green tables at Don Jono’s Pizzeria, racing through pepperoni slices and large sodas before driving the quarter-mile back to Smithtown High School West in time for their next class.
But now the pizzas pile up behind the counter. Pete Crescimanno, a compact man with a neat black mustache who co-owns the place, estimates that he has lost more than $500 a week in sales since the school district ended its longstanding policy of allowing seniors to go off-campus for lunch. One recent morning, Mr. Crescimanno and an assistant pounded and tossed dough in a nearly empty storefront, with only the radio to break the silence.
“It’s not the same, and you miss that because you used to prepare for the kids and now you don’t see them,” he said. “Of course, you miss the business, but you also miss the fact that they’re not here anymore.”

Vouchers & Achievement

Jeb Bush:

Unfortunately, in a recent editorial regarding the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, the St. Petersburg Times employs worn-out diversionary tactics to obfuscate the issues and conceal its true position — the paper’s editorial board despises the concept of providing school choice options to low-income students. Let’s end the theatrics and address the real questions going before the Florida people on November’s ballot. This debate is on keeping the promise of a quality education for all of Florida’s students.
Florida students are no longer just competing with students in Georgia, California, New York and Texas for coveted high-wage jobs. They are competing with their peers around the world. Countries like China, Sweden and Singapore are focusing on tomorrow’s economy and placing a premium on education and innovation to ensure they can keep pace with their rivals. For decades, America set that pace, and now we are falling behind.
We need all schools — here and in the 49 other states — to get better for our country’s future. The only way to improve student performance is through continual and perpetual reform of education. Florida needs a 21st century education system for a 21st century world, and school choice can be an important catalyst to make this vision a reality.

DC Chancellor Rhee Moves to Dismiss up to 30 Principals

Bill Turque & V. Dion Haynes:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, continuing a series of aggressive personnel moves, has started notifying principals — possibly as many as 30 — that they will not be reappointed for the 2008-09 academic year, officials said yesterday.
Turnover among principals, who work under one-year appointments, typically occurs near the end of the school term. About 15 to 20 are usually dismissed, according to the Council of School Officers, which represents principals.
This year’s changes are the subject of heightened interest, however, because Rhee is required to overhaul 27 city schools that have failed to make adequate progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Ten high schools, including Anacostia, Eastern and Wilson, 11 middle schools and six elementary schools are subject to sweeping changes in management and curriculum under the measure.
A form letter over Rhee’s signature went out to the principals identified for firing yesterday afternoon. It was to be followed by a series of one-on-one meetings between the principals and instructional superintendents, their immediate supervisors, said Rhee’s spokeswoman, Mafara Hobson.

“Commencement Advice You’re Unlikely to Hear Elsewhere”

PJ O’Rourke:

Well, here you are at your college graduation. And I know what you’re thinking: “Gimme the sheepskin and get me outta here!” But not so fast. First you have to listen to a commencement speech.
Don’t moan. I’m not going to “pass the wisdom of one generation down to the next.” I’m a member of the 1960s generation. We didn’t have any wisdom.
We were the moron generation. We were the generation that believed we could stop the Vietnam War by growing our hair long and dressing like circus clowns. We believed drugs would change everything — which they did, for John Belushi. We believed in free love. Yes, the love was free, but we paid a high price for the sex.
My generation spoiled everything for you. It has always been the special prerogative of young people to look and act weird and shock grown-ups. But my generation exhausted the Earth’s resources of the weird. Weird clothes — we wore them. Weird beards — we grew them. Weird words and phrases — we said them. So, when it came your turn to be original and look and act weird, all you had left was to tattoo your faces and pierce your tongues. Ouch. That must have hurt. I apologize.
So now, it’s my job to give you advice. But I’m thinking: You’re finishing 16 years of education, and you’ve heard all the conventional good advice you can stand. So, let me offer some relief:

50 State Charter School Law Comparison (Wisconsin Ranks “B”)

The Center for Education Reform (1.1MB PDF):

In their recent report analyzing the politics of charter school laws, Christiana Stoddard and Sean P. Corcoran of Education Nextrelied upon The Center for Education Reform’s (CER) Charter School Law Rankings and Profiles to study the success of the charter school movement.
As they recognized, the strength of a law could impact the way in which healthy charter schools grow and how they serve students. Having laws with certain components is critical.
CER welcomes this scrutiny and the dozens of other research reports, which utilize its rankings as a guide for assessing policy. We also recognize that not all researchers find the work we have done for ten years on law strength compelling. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder find our data and conclusions a bit hard to swallow. They argue that what CER considers strong components of a law – flexibility, autonomy, equitable funding – are actually weaknesses. Despite their claims that the weakest are actually the strongest, the data do not lie. States with strong laws by our standards (and those shared almost universally by the research community whether friend or foe) create strong schools.
Put another way, strong laws matter.

I Know What You Did Last Math Class

Jan Hoffman:

ON school days at 2 p.m., Nicole Dobbins walks into her home office in Alpharetta, Ga., logs on to ParentConnect, and reads updated reports on her three children. Then she rushes up the block to meet the fourth and sixth graders’ buses.
But in the thump and tumble of backpacks and the gobbling of snacks, Mrs. Dobbins refrains from the traditional after-school interrogation: Did you cut math class? What did you get on your language arts test?
Thanks to ParentConnect, she already knows the answers. And her children know she knows. So she cuts to the chase: “Tell me about this grade,” she will say.
When her ninth grader gets home at 6 p.m., there may well be ParentConnect printouts on his bedroom desk with poor grades highlighted in yellow by his mother. She will expect an explanation. He will be braced for a punishment.
“He knows I’m going to look at ParentConnect every day and we will address it,” Mrs. Dobbins said.

What Do Children Read? Harry Potter’s Not No. 1

Jay Matthews:

Children have welcomed the Harry Potter books in recent years like free ice cream in the cafeteria, but the largest survey ever of youthful reading in the United States will reveal today that none of J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally popular books has been able to dislodge the works of longtime favorites Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton and Harper Lee as the most read.
Books by the five well-known U.S. authors, plus lesser-known Laura Numeroff, Katherine Paterson and Gary Paulsen, drew the most readers at every grade level in a study of 78.5 million books read by more than 3 million children who logged on to the Renaissance Learning Web site to take quizzes on books they read last year. Many works from Rowling’s Potter series turned up in the top 20, but other authors also ranked high and are likely to get more attention as a result.
“I find it reassuring . . . that students are still reading the classics I read as a child,” said Roy Truby, a senior vice president for Wisconsin-based Renaissance Learning. But Truby said he would have preferred to see more meaty and varied fare, such as “historical novels and biographical works so integral to understanding our past and contemporary books that help us understand our world.”
Michelle F. Bayuk, marketing director for the New York-based Children’s Book Council, agreed. “What’s missing from the list are all the wonderful nonfiction, informational, humorous and novelty books as well as graphic novels that kids read and enjoy both inside and outside the classroom.”

Toki Middle School’s Justice Club Asks for Community Help


Some Toki Middle School students are shining a positive light on the school, despite recent negative incidents.
On Monday night, several Toki students spoke before the Madison School Board.
“We’re there, we care and want positive things to be noticed about Toki too,” explained one student.
“Toki Middle School is a unique learning environment with a lot of vibrant successful students that are a reflection of the teachers,” said another student.
The students were part of the school’s Social Justice Club.
“People at Toki make mistakes and learn from their mistakes just like everyone else in the world,” said one student.
Those mistakes were the two separate school fights that were videotaped with a camera phone and posted on
District officials said the students involved were disciplined.
“Toki is a wonderful school,” said Superintendent Art Rainwater. “It’s filled with wonderful kids and wonderful teachers and somehow in the rush to the press and the rush to complain we lose sight of that.

Tamira Madsen has more.

Exploravision Competition: For Four Waldorf Fourth-Graders, The Future Is Now

Jenna Johnson:

The four Malcolm Elementary School fourth-graders have their sales pitch polished, just in case the Federal Emergency Management Agency is interested.
Forget trailers and temporary shelters in sporting arenas. The next time a natural disaster strikes, these video-game-playing, Harry-Potter-reading preteens want the government to hand out backpacks that expand into four-room houses.
“It’s called THE Shelter,” said C.J. Atkinson, 9. “The T stands for temporary. H is housing. E is emergency.”
The team designed the shelter-providing gadget for the national ExploraVision competition, which challenges students to dream up technology that will help humanity in the future. The Charles County team’s idea was one of 24 chosen as regional winners, beating more than 4,500 other entries. The program is sponsored by the National Science Teachers Association and Toshiba.
“They want us to take technology from the future and make it real,” said Timothy “Timmy” Olsen, 9.

18 Area Students Receive Meriter Scholarships

The Capital Times:

The winners, eight of whom have a parent who works at Meriter, will be recognized at an awards luncheon on Friday.
They are Kylie Severson, Columbus; Kristen VanderMolen, DeForest; Amadou Fofana, Junfeng Hou and Dolma Namgyal, Madison East; Marissa Wacker and Sabena Khan, Madison Edgewood; Carolyn Sleeth, Madison Memorial; Jamie Klump and Jennifer Werner, Middleton; Mathew Becker, Aubrey Lauersdorf, Brittany Sellers and Chie Yang, Monona Grove; Leah Smith, Portage; Emily Welch, Verona; Laura Purdy, Waunakee; and Megan Wood, Madison West.

Making Teacher Hiring Less Comfortable

Jay Matthews:

For those who still think helping children learn is everybody’s top priority in our schools, let me cite a disturbing dispute over where to send several hundred teachers at 23 D.C. schools that are about to be closed for inadequate enrollment.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee wants the principals of her remaining schools to decide which of those excess teachers they will hire, within the limits of a contract that guarantees them jobs somewhere in the system. Urban schools don’t work if all adults in each building don’t agree on what must be done to make them work. There is no chance of that shared vision if each principal is not allowed to pick the players on his or her team.
Unfortunately, many kind and well-intentioned teachers and parents in the District and other cities have a different view. Their first priority is not so much that children learn, but that they feel secure and comfortable. They want those excess teachers to accompany the students they know at their current school to whichever school the children are transferred to. That way, they say, the kids will have an easier and more comfortable transition.
Some members of the Washington Teachers’ Union, which is in the midst of a leadership fight, also say they fear Rhee is resisting this more genial approach because she wants to get rid of any teachers who can’t find principals who want them.

Online Education Cast as “Disruptive Innovation”

Andrew Trotter:

Technology-based forces of “disruptive innovation” are gathering around public education and will overhaul the way K-12 students learn—with potentially dramatic consequences for established public schools, according to an upcoming book that draws parallels to disruptions in other industries.
Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns predicts that the growth in computer-based delivery of education will accelerate swiftly until, by 2019, half of all high school classes will be taught over the Internet.
Clayton M. Christensen, the book’s lead author and a business professor at Harvard University, is well respected in the business world for his best-sellers The Innovator’s Dilemma, published in 1997, and The Innovator’s Solution, published in 2003.
Those books analyze why leading companies in various industries—computers, electronics, retail, and others—were knocked off by upstarts that were better able to take advantage of innovations based on new technology and changing conditions.
School organizations are similarly vulnerable, Mr. Christensen contends.
“The schools as they are now structured cannot do it,” he said in an interview, referring to adapting successfully to coming computer-based innovations. “Even the best managers in the world, if they were heads of departments in schools and the administrators of schools, could not do it.”
Under Mr. Christensen’s analytical model, the tables typically turn in an industry even when the dominant companies are well aware of a disruptive innovation and try to use it to transform themselves

There’s no doubt that a revolution is underway in education. LIke other industries, it is doubtful that many of the current players will make the turn, which is likely why issues such as credit for non MMSD courses is evidently such a problem. Two related articles by Cringely provide useful background.

Like the leaders in other industries, the education establishment has crammed down technology onto its existing architecture, which is dominated by the “monolithic” processes of textbook creation and adoption, teaching practices and training, and standardized assessment—which, despite some efforts at individualization, by and large treat students the same, the book says.
But new providers are stepping forward to serve students that mainline education does not serve, or serve well, the authors write. Those students, which the book describes as K-12 education’s version of “nonconsumers,” include those lacking access to Advanced Placement courses, needing alternatives to standard classroom instruction, homebound or home-schooled students, those needing to make up course credits to graduate—and even prekindergarten children.
By addressing those groups, providers such as charter schools, companies catering to home schoolers, private tutoring companies, and online-curriculum companies have developed their methods and tapped networks of students, parents, and teachers for ideas.
Those providers will gradually improve their tools to offer instruction that is more student-centered, in part by breaking courses into modules that can be recombined specifically for each student, the authors predict.
Such providers’ approaches, the authors argue, will also become more affordable, and they will start attracting more and more students from regular schools.

Empty Nest Cure: Texas Mother Finds Meaning as a Mentor

Sue Shellenbarger:

After children leave home, many parents with empty nests must search hard for new pursuits to give their lives meaning. After Pat Rosenberg’s two daughters left for college, Ms. Rosenberg, 61, a longtime volunteer in the Houston public schools, found new purpose in mentoring a student — a poor teenager who, by his own account, was drifting toward a life of crime in his tough inner-city neighborhood.
In his unusual relationship with Ms. Rosenberg and other adult mentors, Tristan Love, now 18, says he found the strength to turn his life around, becoming a sought-after public speaker committed to attending college and pursuing a career in law. Ms. Rosenberg tells the story:
The Challenge: “We moved to Houston in 1986 for my husband David’s career, before our two daughters entered school. I got deeply involved in the schools right away and stayed involved as our daughters’ grew up. I was a room mother and headed the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) in both middle school and high school. When they were at school, I was often at school, too.
“After our second daughter left for college 2-1/2 years ago, our house became incredibly quiet. It was a real period of adjustment. All of a sudden, this person who has been sitting at your dinner table with you, and going out and coming home late, and keeping you worried all the time, is gone.

Milwaukee Lawyer Created School as a Pathway to College

Dani McClain:

At 27, Deanna Singh is determined to change the dismal statistic that only 5% of African-American adults in Milwaukee have a four-year college degree.
So determined that she has launched her own charter school, where her inaugural sixth-grade students already identify their class by the year they will graduate from college.
She aims to build a culture that refuses to accept what she witnessed years ago as a volunteer in Washington, D.C., schools – 11th- and 12th-graders who could barely read or write.
Both students and staff at her Milwaukee Renaissance Academy, 2212 N. 12th St., follow the succinct dictum of a mural in the school’s stairwell: “No excuses!”
High expectations propelled Singh from her father’s north side gas station – where she spent much of the first five years of her life – through Elmbrook Schools and on to the top-notch East Coast universities where she received her college and law degrees.

Firing Back on “When Policy Trumps Results”

TJ Mertz:

Marc Eisen of the Isthmus has checked in again on the Madison Schools with a column titled “When Policy Trumps Results.” This time the target of his ill informed scribblings is the equity work of the district, particularly the Equity Task Force, of which I was a member. It is a hatchet job.
Mr. Eisen gets his facts wrong, misreads or misrepresents task force documents and at no point engages with the content of the task force’s work. We offered the Board ideas for policies and practices that we thought would help produce and assess results. You would never know that reading Mr. Eisen’s column. Despite the title, all he seems to care about is style.
In return, I’m going to wield the axe. I’m going to go paragraph by paragraph to highlight the low level of knowledge and effort Eisen displays and the ultimate emptiness of his critique, hitting some other things along the way (quotes from Mr. Eisen in italics). Mr. Eisen’s column probably does not deserve this much attention. However the power of the press is such that often when uncorrected, “the legend becomes fact.” I believe equity work in our school district is too important to allow that to happen. Let’s get started.

Comments on “When Policy Trumps Results”.

Making the Grade:
International testing that is used to predict the grim future of US science and technology is being vastly misinterpreted

Obviously, the US population 301,139,947 is much, much larger than the countries included on this graph. Japan: 127,433,494, United Kingdom: 60,776,238 and Germany: 82,400,996.
Via a kind reader’s email: Hal Salzman & Lindsay Lowell:

The future educational path for the United States should come from looking within the country rather than lionizing faraway test-score champions. Our analysis3 of the data suggests two fundamental problems that require different approaches. First, pedagogies must address science literacy for the large numbers of low-performing students. Second, education policy for our highest-performing students needs to meet actual labour-market demand.
In the United States, a decade’s worth of international test rankings based on slender measures of academic achievement in science and maths have been stretched far beyond their usefulness. Perhaps policy-makers feel it is better to motivate policy by pointing to high-scoring Czechs with fear, instead of noting our high-scoring Minnesotans as examples to emulate. But looking within the United States may be the best way to learn about effective education. As the PISA authors emphasize in their report, 90% of the variance in the scores is within countries rather than between countries. Therefore, most of what one can learn about high performance is due to the variation in factors within the nation’s borders. It would seem far more effective to transfer best practices across city and state lines than over oceans.

PISA website.
Clusty search: Hal Salzman and Lindsay Lowell.

Pearson in talks to Acquire Chinese schools

Roger Blitz:

Pearson, publisher of the Financial Times, is in advanced talks about acquiring a chain of private schools in Shanghai, the first time it would own an education institution anywhere in the world.
Although the size of the deal for LEC is low – its 15 schools made revenues of less than $10m – it offers a way of entering the heavily regulated Chinese education market.
LEC schools provides after-school education for children aged five to 12 whose parents pay for them to learn English. Pearson has made forays into China through and Penguin. At its annual meeting last month, it announced board appointments aimed at growing its education business outside the US.
The LEC deal, which has been in the works for at least a year, would run counter to competitors in the education market who have been abandoning or selling up their international operations to private equity and focusing on the US.
Pearson insiders say the shift in education is moving towards technology platforms and software in education rather than printed textbooks, and the LEC schools offer among other benefits a way of showcasing products such as interactive boards.


Same-sex classes tried in Janesville

Melanie Conklin:

At Marshall Middle School in Janesville, Mike Tollefsrud ‘s sixth-grade science class sits in straight rows reviewing for an upcoming test. “Do electrons have a positive charge? ” he asks. Hands quickly shoot up. Tollefsrud then tells them to do the first 10 questions on the review paper in front of them. Another student asks, “Can we do all of them tonight if we want to? ”
“Of course,” he replies as students quietly begin scribbling.
In a classroom next door, Mike Morgan ‘s students are reviewing for the same test on atoms. They are divided into two teams, desks facing their opponents. Some kids spin the white erase boards they use to write answers to Morgan ‘s barrage of questions. A student from each team comes up front, squaring off to see who gets the answer right first, so they can roll dice to earn points for their team. Correct answers are greeted with whopping cheers and high-fives. “In your face! ” hollers a kid at the other side of the room after a teammate scores big points.

2008 Presidential Scholar Semi-Finalists

Presidential Scholars Program:

WI – Appleton – Theresa S. Ryckman, Appleton West High School
WI – Germantown – Travis J. Serebin, Germantown High School
WI – Madison – Reuben F. Henriques, West High School
WI – Madison – Brian W. Ji, James Madison Memorial High School
WI – Madison – Laurel A. Ohm, West High School
WI – Menomonee Falls – Evan E. Mast, Menomonee Falls High School
WI – Menomonee Falls – Angela M. Zeng, Hamilton High School
WI – Racine – Adam J. Barron, Jerome I. Case Sr High School
WI – River Falls – [ * ] Kacey R. Hauk, St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists
WI – River Hills – Lisa R. Koenig, University School of Milwaukee
WI – Saukville – Spencer D. Stroebel, Cedarburg Senior High School
WI – Waukesha – [ * ] Adam G. Blodgett, Interlochen Arts Academy

National list.
National list2008 Scholars.

2008-2009 Madison School Board Budget Discussion

Monday evening’s (5/5/2008) meeting agenda (PDF) includes a discussion of the proposed $367,806,712 budget. It will be interesting to see what type of changes to retiring Superintendent Art Rainwater’s last budget are discussed. Perhaps, a place to start would be the report card initiative from the District’s curriculum creation department (Teaching & Learning). Watch a presentation on the proposed “Standards Based” report cards. Contact the Madison School Board here

Milwaukee Schools Examine Cincinnati’s Graduation Rate

Dani McClain:

Seeking strategies to lower suspensions and raise the graduation rate, Milwaukee Public Schools officials will travel to Cincinnati this week to check out a district that’s drawn national attention as a model of urban school reform.
Cincinnati Public Schools has reported that between 2000 and 2007, it raised its graduation rate from 51% to 79% and eliminated the gap in graduation rates between African-American and white students.
Along the way, the district in southwest Ohio, which has about half the students of MPS, changed the way schools handle student discipline problems, referring misbehaving students to in-school suspensions rather than sending them home.
This specific change caught MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos’ eye.
“We suspend a lot of kids,” Andrekopoulos said. “What we need to do now is to leverage more time on-task for children in the classroom.”
Last school year, nearly half of MPS ninth-graders were suspended at least once, and a quarter of MPS students were suspended. African-American boys in special education faced the sanction at the highest rate.

Cincinnati Schools Graduation Rate: Clusty / Google / Yahoo

Is Urban Violence a Virus?

Alex Kotlowitz:

THE STUBBORN CORE of violence in American cities is troubling and perplexing. Even as homicide rates have declined across the country — in some places, like New York, by a remarkable amount — gunplay continues to plague economically struggling minority communities. For 25 years, murder has been the leading cause of death among African-American men between the ages of 15 and 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has analyzed data up to 2005. And the past few years have seen an uptick in homicides in many cities. Since 2004, for instance, they are up 19 percent in Philadelphia and Milwaukee, 29 percent in Houston and 54 percent in Oakland. Just two weekends ago in Chicago, with the first warm weather, 36 people were shot, 7 of them fatally. The Chicago Sun-Times called it the “weekend of rage.” Many killings are attributed to gang conflicts and are confined to particular neighborhoods. In Chicago, where on average five people were shot each day last year, 83 percent of the assaults were concentrated in half the police districts. So for people living outside those neighborhoods, the frequent outbursts of unrestrained anger have been easy to ignore. But each shooting, each murder, leaves a devastating legacy, and a growing school of thought suggests that there’s little we can do about the entrenched urban poverty if the relentless pattern of street violence isn’t somehow broken.
The traditional response has been more focused policing and longer prison sentences, but law enforcement does little to disrupt a street code that allows, if not encourages, the settling of squabbles with deadly force. Zale Hoddenbach, who works for an organization called CeaseFire, is part of an unusual effort to apply the principles of public health to the brutality of the streets. CeaseFire tries to deal with these quarrels on the front end. Hoddenbach’s job is to suss out smoldering disputes and to intervene before matters get out of hand. His job title is violence interrupter, a term that while not artful seems bluntly self-explanatory. Newspaper accounts usually refer to the organization as a gang-intervention program, and Hoddenbach and most of his colleagues are indeed former gang leaders. But CeaseFire doesn’t necessarily aim to get people out of gangs — nor interrupt the drug trade. It’s almost blindly focused on one thing: preventing shootings.

Waukesha West loses national title by hairbreadth

Scott Williams:

By the narrowest of margins, Waukesha West High School [Clusty Search] missed out Saturday on its second national championship in the United States Academic Decathlon.
The Waukesha school finished behind a California competitor by just 23 points, which amounted to one question out of hundreds asked during the academic competition.
“That’s just the way it goes,” said Randy Brown, a member of the Waukesha team.
Out of a possible 60,000 points, Waukesha West students scored 53,096, which is higher than the score that won the school its first championship in 2002.
But this time, Moorpark High School [Clusty Search] of Moorpark, Calif., was a little better, winning the title with a score of 53,119.
The razor-thin margin made the second-place finish all the more disheartening for Waukesha students.
Duane Stein, coach of the squad, said several competitors became emotional when they realized how narrowly they had missed the championship.
“My kids are kind of stunned right now,” Stein said.
“I’m just so proud of these kids,” he added. “They worked very, very hard.”

From High School to the Future

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab:

With loads of financial support from both CPS (Arnie Duncan) and the Gates Foundation (among others) CCSR and the school system built a tracking system that allows them to follow kids out of high school and into college & work, to see how they do– and even more importantly, to figure out how to help them do better.
It’s so unusual for a school district, especially one as large as Chicago’s (130+ high schools!) to have the data capacity to do this. The vast majority of high schools in the U.S. rely on a student exit questionnaire administered in the spring of senior year, which asks kids “What are your plans for the fall” (choices include 4 yr college, 2yr college, work, etc) and their responses are used as a proxy for the real destination. In other words, the college-going rate for a high school or district is based on a student’s self-report in May of senior year. This is a highly inaccurate measure, as several different data sources have proven– plenty of kids who say they are going to college do not (or do not go to the kind of school they said they were going to, even if they were admitted and accepted) because they realize they cannot afford it, or get side-tracked during the summer, and many who say they aren’t going, do decide to show up at a community college. Clearly districts need a much more reliable source of information if they are to learn about their high school graduates, and use that information to inform and change their educational practices.


Americans Vastly Underestimate Spending on Schools and Teacher Salaries, Survey Finds

William G. Howell & Martin R. West:

Do Americans have an accurate grasp of how much is currently being spent on public education? Not according to a recent analysis of national survey results by University of Chicago’s William Howell and Brown University’s Martin R. West published in the summer issue of Education Next. The average respondent surveyed in 2007 thought per pupil spending in their district was just $4,231 dollars, even though the actual average spending per pupil among districts was $10,377 in 2005 (the most recent year for which data are available).
Howell and West also found Americans think that teachers earn far less than is actually the case. On average, the public underestimated average teacher salaries in their own state by $14,370. The average estimate among survey respondents was $33,054, while average teacher salary nationally in 2005 was actually $47,602.
Almost 96 percent of the public underestimate either per-pupil spending in their districts or teacher salaries in their states.
Howell and West also looked at whether some citizens are better informed about education spending than others. In general, they found that the responses of men were closer to the truth than those of women, and that parents of school-aged children gave more accurate responses about teacher salaries. Homeowners also appeared to be much more responsive than other Americans to higher spending levels in their districts. In districts spending more than $10,000 per pupil, for example, the responses of homeowners were closer to actual spending levels than those of individuals who rented or lived with other families. Homeowners appeared better informed about teacher salaries too, offering responses that were $7,502 higher than non-homeowners’ responses.

Complete Report – PDF.

L.A.’s Cathedral Chapel is a power in the Catholic Academic Decathlon

Carla Rivera:

When the state Catholic Schools Junior High Academic Decathlon begins today in Chula Vista, a small mid-city school will be representing the Los Angeles Archdiocese for the third time, having beaten more than 100 other parochial schools to get there.
Cathedral Chapel School represented the archdiocese in the state competition in 2002 and 2005, winning the state title in 2002 and earning a reputation as the tough little school that nobody had heard of.
Though the Catholic competition may not have the name recognition of its public high school counterpart, the members of Cathedral’s Academic Decathlon team are about the biggest guns on campus and the pride of the neighborhood.
At a pep rally this week, the elementary school’s 285 students whooped and hollered for two hours in a frenzied buildup to the team’s departure.
The Cathedral decathletes, mostly the sons and daughters of working-class immigrants, are more than just academic heroes. Scores of families are attracted to the school because they view the decathlon team’s success as a reflection of the campus’ overall academic excellence.
As other parochial schools face severe financial strains and even closure because of declining enrollment, Cathedral is financially stable and its enrollment has increased.

In Praise of Milwaukee’s High School Anti-Violence Program

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

An anti-violence program at six Milwaukee high schools continues to show progress, and that is good news for Milwaukee Public Schools and especially for students in those schools.
Suspensions and both violent and nonviolent incidents continue to decline since Violence-Free Zones were implemented at South Division, Marshall, Bay View, Custer, North Division and Washington high schools, according to organizers for the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a Washington, D.C.-based group that is working with MPS. If the program continues to show progress, MPS should consider expanding it beyond those schools.

5 Milwaukee Schools Envision Arts Campus

Alan Borsuk:

In a sign that the climate around arts offerings in Milwaukee Public Schools has taken a definite turn for the better, leaders of five arts specialty schools said Thursday that they are banding together to create a kindergarten through 12th grade “arts campus” aimed at strengthening their programs.
For now, the campus is a matter of the schools cooperating and coordinating actively, but the goal is to create a physical campus that could include moving the Milwaukee High School of the Arts from 2300 W. Highland Ave. to the area around N. 8th and W. Walnut streets, near where Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts and Elm Creative Arts School are located.
That would mean students could go to arts specialty programs from start to finish of their K-12 years in the same area, which is within walking distance of the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, a nonprofit organization offering programs and facilities to students from throughout the metropolitan area.

“Madison Schools Committed to Equity and Excellence”

Madison School District:

is the title of a three page feature in the current edition of Teachers of Color magazine. The lead article, written by Lisa Black – Special Asst. to the Supt. for Race & Equity, profiles the multi-faceted MMSD Race and Equity initiative that began six years ago.
Black writes, “Beginning with the development of an educational framework, innovative and progressive professional development, and local and national partnerships, the MMSD has experienced significant gains in closing the achievement gap.”
Sidebar articles are written by Supt. Art Rainwater, La Follette HS Principal Joe Gothard, Sennett MS Asst. Principal Deborah Ptak and Media Production Manager Marcia Standiford.

Personal Education Plan (PEP) at West High supports students in their schoolwork and goals for their future

Len Mormino:

As guidance counselors it’s a struggle when we hear our students say, “I came to see you about planning for next year, but you were booked up for the entire week. So I put my name down for next week, but can you remind me about it when you see me?”
Solid theories about how to work with a disengaged student or a high achieving student do not take into account that we have very little time to devote to students in this regard. Research suggests different ways to help high school students navigate traditional academic coursework but none of the research accounts for the distorted ratios we have of student to staff.
Thanks to a grant from the Aristos Program and the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools, at West we’ve developed the online Personal Education Plan (PEP). The heart of PEP is it collects and stores information students enter into it on the subjects we discuss with them throughout their four years in high school. Even more valuable, the information is accessible to the student, parent, teacher, counselor, or principal, to help support that student in their schoolwork and goals for their future.
For example, an 11th grade male student expresses boredom with classes and is not engaging in school activities. With PEP, I access his profile and note that in 10th grade he expressed interest in an “artistic/humanities path.”

Latest Author Letter……

Mr. William Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776
Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,
I am happy to tell you that I was admitted early action to Yale and will be going there this fall. I also want to thank you again for including my [10,453-word] paper on the Philippine War in the Winter 2007 issue of The Concord Review. I was honored to have my work included among so many impressive pieces.
Writing my essay gave me a chance to learn something not only about a specific historical event, but also about the nature of scholarship. Throughout high school I have been an inquisitive and capable history student, but my papers did little more than synthesize the views of other historians. When I decided to submit a paper to you for consideration, I started from one I had written for my tenth-grade American history class. As I edited the essay, I became motivated to steep myself in primary materials—from soldiers’ accounts to congressional testimony to newspaper articles, many of them conflicting—in an attempt to piece together some sort of orderly narrative from these fragmented and contradictory stories. I then turned to secondary sources, considering the views of different historians, assessing their sources, and always trying to draw my own conclusions.
This process of revision was challenging and exciting. I enjoyed reading the stories and first-person narratives. But I also learned to think more critically, and to draw parallels between past events and the present. In the words of H.G. Wells, “History is a race between education and catastrophe.” Perhaps through careful study of the past, we can glean insight as to how to approach the future.
Even if the Review had not accepted my paper for publication, doing this research and writing would still remain one of the most intellectually rewarding experiences of my high school years. I am deeply honored that you chose to publish it and I thank you again.
Benjamin Loffredo
Fieldston School
Bronx, New York

Art Without Craft

On the website, I learn that:

“When Michelangelo turned 13-years-old he shocked and enraged his father when told that he had agreed to apprentice in the workshop of the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. After about one year of learning the art of fresco, Michelangelo went on to study at the sculpture school in the Medici gardens and shortly thereafter was invited into the household of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the Magnificent…During the years he spent in the Garden of San Marco, Michelangelo began to study human anatomy. In exchange for permission to study corpses (which was strictly forbidden by The Church), the prior of the church of Santo Spirito, Niccolò Bichiellini, received a wooden Crucifix from Michelangelo (detail of Christ’s face). But his contact with the dead bodies caused problems with his health, obliging him to interrupt his activities periodically.
“Michelangelo produced at least two relief sculptures by the time he was 16 years old, the Battle of the Centaurs and the Madonna of the Stairs (both 1489-1492), which show that he had achieved a personal style at a precocious age…”…(and later) “Michelangelo also did the marble Pietà (1498-1500), still in its original place in Saint Peter’s Basilica. One of the most famous works of art, the Pietà was probably finished before Michelangelo was 25 years old.”

My apologies for quoting at such length from a biography, but I have seen his Pietà in Rome on several occasions, and it seems clear to me that it took a gifted young man, with great acquired skill in the craft of shaping marble with hammer and chisel, perhaps two years to achieve this masterwork.

Continue reading Art Without Craft

When Policy Trumps Results

Marc Eisen makes sense:

Much to its credit, the Madison school board has mostly ignored the March 2007 recommendations of the district’s Equity Task Force. This earnest but unhelpful committee delved into the abstractions of what distinguishes “equity” from “equality,” how the board might commit to equity and what esoteric guidelines could measure that commitment.
This point needs to be emphasized. Madisonians aren’t afraid to tax themselves. They just want good services in return and know that their money isn’t being wasted.
But I can’t for the life of me see them rallying around a pompous and abstruse equity policy, especially one that reads like it was formulated by the UW Department of Leftwing Social Engineering. (Example: “Equity will come about when we raise a generation of children tolerant of differences and engaged in their democracy to stop the processes leading to inequity.”)
The school board, after a suitable 14-month delay, should politely shelve the task force’s recommendations when it finally gets around to voting on them in May.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron provides a timely read after Marc’s article.

Introduction to a standards-based system . . . assessment

Madison School District Department of Teaching & Learning:

The Wisconsin Model Academic Standards (WMAS) articulate what students should know and be able to do in each curricular area. Community leaders and staff in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) elaborated upon these state standards to frame district curriculum and instruction.
Curriculum can be thought of as the planned educational experiences taught in each subject area at each grade level. Standards-based instruction focuses on teaching the knowledge and skills which support students’ continual progress toward meeting the standards.
This article focuses on assessment, the process of using multiple strategies to measure student learning.
The remainder of this article will use mathematics as an example of a content area to demonstrate the use of standards-based assessment. MMSD teachers assess the content standards (i.e., number and algebra) as well as the process standards (i.e., communication, problem solving, and reasoning).
Research indicates that in addition to quizzes and tests, a variety of daily assessment tools (i.e., questioning, observations, discussions, and presentations) are needed to create a more thorough picture of what a student understands.

Parents turn to states for autism help

Jeff Sell:

Jeff Sell, a Texas trial lawyer with four children, recently became a lobbyist for the Maryland-based Autism Society of America, a job that has him crisscrossing the country to persuade state lawmakers to make life easier for people who have the little-understood developmental disability.
He shut down his law firm, which had pursued legal cases linking autism with vaccines. But rather than move to Maryland, Sell is staying in Texas, so his twin 13-year-old sons can continue to receive state-financed treatment for their autism. If he moves, Sell said, his sons would be on a years-long waiting list for therapy that costs as much as $60,000 a year.
“I live in Texas, basically, because it’s economically feasible for me to survive in Texas,” Sell said.
One of the toughest problems facing autism patients, their families and policymakers is paying for treatment. Families are increasingly relying on states to help them cope with the financial, medical and educational needs.
Governors and lawmakers have tried to ease those costs with two different approaches: by requiring private insurers to pick up the tab for more services or by creating new or expanding existing public health programs, such as Medicaid, to cover autism treatment.

America’s Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor’s Degree

Marty Nemko:

Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: “I wasn’t a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I’d be the first one in my family to do it. But it’s been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go.”
I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!
Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it’s not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you’re likely to meet workers who spent years and their family’s life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout.

Obama Urges Parents to Be More Responsible

Nick Timiraos:

At a stop in Hickory, N.C., after promising to spend $18 billion on education, Sen. Obama said: “This money is not going to make a difference if parents don’t parent.”
He has folded the line into his stump speech across North Carolina and a TV advertisement in the state, where one-third of the Democratic electorate is African-American, ahead of Tuesday’s primary.
The ad, called “Turn It Off,” shows Sen. Obama in a classroom promising to improve education. “But the truth is, government can’t do it all,” he says. “As parents, we need to turn off the TV, read to our kids.”
The personal-responsibility line typically brings the loudest applause from African-American audiences. Sen. Obama first delivered it in an unscripted moment before a mostly black audience in Beaumont, Texas, in February.

Indeed, money is not the key issue, Obama is right about parent’s key role.

Rebuilding New Orleans Schools

Adam Nossiter:

Citizen-run boards have suddenly been thrust into managing individual schools all over the city. Neophyte teachers barely out of college instruct students sometimes older than they are. A wide range of teaching styles has been employed, from the rotelike call-and-response methods of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Foundation school to more traditional textbook-based approaches. For the first time, parents are being asked to choose schools for their children (though in many cases the parents are absent, and the student is being raised by relatives).
Success will be a tall order in a school district where 85 percent of some 32,000 students are a year and a half to two years below their grade level. In a typical district, the figure would be around 15 percent, said Paul G. Vallas, the new superintendent here.
Worse, a third of the students here are some four years below grade level, a challenge that Mr. Vallas, a veteran of the Chicago and Philadelphia schools, calls “extreme.”
Yet nearly a year into the job, Mr. Vallas professes to be unfazed. With no politics in his way — he answers neither to the neutered parish school board nor to the mayor, but to the state — he is far freer to plan grand schemes than in the much larger cities where he made his mark.

Study: Reading First Fails to Boost Reading Skills

Maria Glod:

Children who participate in the $1-billion-a-year reading initiative at the heart of the No Child Left Behind law have not become better readers than their peers, according to a study released today by the Education Department’s research arm.
The report from the Institute of Education Sciences found that students in schools that use Reading First, which provides grants to improve grade-school reading instruction, scored no better on reading comprehension tests than peers in schools that don’t participate. The conclusion is likely to reignite the longstanding “reading wars,” because critics argue the program places too much emphasis on explicit phonics instruction and doesn’t do enough to foster understanding.
Reading First, aimed at improving reading skills among students from low-income families, has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and financial conflicts of interest. But the Bush administration has strenuously backed the effort, saying it helps disadvantaged children learn to read. About 1.5 million children in about 5,200 schools nationwide, including more than 140 schools in Maryland, Virginia and the District, participate in Reading First.
The congressionally mandated study, completed by an independent contractor, focused on tens of thousands of first-, second- and third-grade students in 248 schools in 13 states. The children were tested, and researchers observed teachers in 1,400 classrooms.

Many links, notes and a bit of (local) history on Reading First here.
The complete report can be found here:

Created under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, the Reading First program provides assistance to states and districts in using research-based reading programs and instructional materials for students in kindergarten through third grade and in introducing related professional development and assessments. The program’s purpose is to ensure that increased proportions of students read at or above grade level, have mastery of the essential components of early reading, and that all students can read at or above grade level by the end of grade 3. The law requires that an independent, rigorous evaluation of the program be conducted to determine if the program influences teaching practices, mastery of early reading components, and student reading comprehension. This interim report presents the impacts of Reading First on classroom reading instruction and student reading comprehension during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years.
The evaluation found that Reading First did have positive, statistically significant impacts on the total class time spent on the five essential components of reading instruction promoted by the program. The study also found that, on average across the 18 study sites, Reading First did not have statistically significant impacts on student reading comprehension test scores in grades 1-3. A final report on the impacts from 2004-2007 (three school years with Reading First funding) and on the relationships between changes in instructional practice and student reading comprehension is expected in late 2008.

Three New Madison Principals

The Capital Times:

Deborah Ptak, an assistant principal for the past five years at Sennett Middle School, has been selected to take over as principal at Whitehorse Middle School. She replaces Anne Nolan, who is retiring after a nine-year tenure.
Ptak is one of three people expected to receive a new position as principal within the Madison Metropolitan School District when the School Board holds its meeting Monday.
In addition, Javier Bolivar was named principal at Nuestro Mundo Community School, and Sarah Galanter will shed her interim principal title at Stephens Elementary School and assume the principal position

This announcement, along with a number of other recent items have not appeared on the MMSD’s press release page.

The Spending Side of the Higher Education Equation

Scott Jaschik:

Across sectors of higher education, only a minority of spending by colleges supports direct instructional costs, according to a report being released today as part of an effort to reframe the debate over college costs.
“The Growing Imbalance: Recent Trends in U.S. Postsecondary Education Finance,” is the result of an unusual attempt to change the way colleges and policy makers analyze higher education. The report — issued for the first time today and now to be an annual project — examines not only revenues, but how colleges actually spend their money.
After years in which people have read about tuition going up, and about state support covering smaller shares of public higher education budgets, the idea is to focus on what results from these and other trends. Some of the findings challenge conventional wisdom — such as the widely quoted belief that the top expense for higher education is the personnel costs associated with professors and other employees.
The report was produced by the Delta Cost Project, part of the Lumina Foundation for Education’s Making Opportunity Affordable program. The overarching thesis of the work is that higher education will do a better job of serving students if everyone is aware of where the money goes — not just how much college costs. By examining the different spending patterns at different types of institutions, the report notes growing gaps among sectors and among items receiving financial support. For example, spending per student at private research universities is almost twice that of public research universities.

Financial Literacy

The Economist:

“EVERYBODY wants it. Nobody understands it. Money is the great taboo. People just won’t talk about it. And that is what leads you to subprime. Take the greed and the financial misrepresentation out of it, and the root of this crisis is massive levels of financial illiteracy.”
For years John Bryant has been telling anyone who will listen about the problems caused by widespread ignorance of finance. In 1992, in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots, he founded Operation HOPE, a non-profit organisation, to give poor people in the worst-hit parts of the city “a hand-up, not a handout” through a mixture of financial education, advice and basic banking. Among other things, Operation HOPE offers mortgage advice to homebuyers and runs “Banking on Our Future”, a national personal-finance course of five hour-long sessions that has already been taken by hundreds of thousands of young people, most of them high-school students.
The council is not short of expertise. It is chaired by Charles Schwab, eponymous boss of a broking firm. Its other members include the head of Junior Achievement, which has been teaching children about money since 1919, and a co-author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, a self-help bestseller. Already, it has approved a new curriculum for middle-school students, “MoneyMath: Lessons for Life“. (Lesson one: the secret to becoming a millionaire. Answer: save, save, save.) It is starting a pilot programme to work out how to connect the “unbanked” to financial institutions. And it is supporting what, echoing the Peace Corps, is called the Financial Literacy Corps: a group of people with knowledge of finance who will volunteer to advise those in financial difficulties.

Yet another math curriculum. One of the things I noticed when paging through the large Connected Math (CMP) textbooks a few years ago was the consumer oriented nature of the content (as opposed to a creative approach).

Black Kids on Milwaukee Buses May Slip into School Lore

Eugene Kane:

It could be the end of an era.
Black children and yellow school buses long have been inextricably linked in the history of education in America. It started with the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that allowed for school desegregation in cities like Milwaukee. That led to widespread busing movements that allowed black students to attend classes outside their neighborhoods at predominantly white schools.
A decision by the Milwaukee School Board last week to drastically reduce the amount of busing in the district will alter a fundamental relationship that has existed in this city for generations of students.
But what the Milwaukee School Board did was not a statement about the racial makeup of the city’s public schools, many of which are predominantly African-American. School Board member Michael Bonds, the architect of the plan, says busing isn’t about desegregation anymore.
“When the district is 88% minority, it’s not about race,” Bonds told me. “It’s about the fact we’ve spent $57 million on a failed policy.”

Related by Alan Borsuk: Busing Change Won’t Be Easy. Madison Mayor Dave’s proposed low income housing expansion throughout Dane County may require more busing.

Why Generation Y is broke

Emma Johnson:

What makes Sophia Wallace a typical member of her generation?
The 28-year-old New York resident has a master’s degree from a prestigious university, a successful career in photography, stamps in her passport from around the globe and, until recently, personal finances that were out of control. “Oh my God, I overspent!”
When Wallace graduated with a student-loan debt of $60,000, she found herself overwhelmed to the point of financial paralysis. She tore through a $5,000 loan from her dad as bills stacked up. She had no idea where her money was going — despite making what she defines as a good salary. The sense of powerlessness crippled her.
When friends recommended she hire an accountant, Wallace packed a FedEx box with bills, receipts and mail and sent it off.

Some Parents Put Off Kindergarten Another Year

Angela Bettis:

“Redshirting” is a common term in sports. It’s the practice of having the youngest players on a team sit out their first year in order to gain another year of eligibility when they’re older and most likely stronger.
The University of Wisconsin Badgers count basketball star Mike Wilkinson and football standouts Tyler Donovan and P.J. Hill among their recent redshirts.
Now, the term is being applied to children whose parents hold them out and enter them into kindergarten at age 6, rather than age 5.
Studies have found the practice happens more often for boys with birthdays in June, July and August. The practice means the youngest children in a class will then become the oldest in the class the following year, WISC-TV reported.
“They’ll look at the kindergarten entrance age and say, ‘My child is not ready yet. I’ll wait a year and then have them go to kindergarten the following year,'” said UW professor Beth Graue.