Ted Widerski

The Board received the following sad news today. I am sorry to inform you that Ted Widerski, an Instructional Resource Teacher-Secondary in the Talented and Gifted area, passed away unexpectedly this past weekend.
I apologize for the informal way of notifying all of you of Ted’s passing but I know many of you have worked with Ted and I wanted to make sure you were aware of this sad news. My understanding is that there will be an obituary in the paper on Tuesday.
Arlene Silveira

$2.6 million drives unique Boys & Girls Club, MMSD partnership
New joint program aims to double minority/low-income student college enrollment

Via the Madison School District [Press Release | AVID – TOPS Fact Sheet]:

The Boys & Girls Club (BGC) and Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) announced today a new joint initiative that intends to double the number of minority and low-income students who plan to pursue four-year college and technical college degrees upon high school graduation. The launch of the initiative is made possible through private commitments of $2.6 million to the Boys & Girls Club covering 50% of the first five years of the programs cost.
“We are so excited to partner with the Madison Metropolitan School District on this groundbreaking initiative, said Mary Burke, President of the Board of Directors for the Boys & Girls Club. “combining the school district’s AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program with the Boys & Girls Club Teens Of Promise program (TOPs) we will make a difference, not only in the lives of the students involved in the program but also in the community at large. The health of our community is closely tied to having an educated, skilled workforce. This initiative is designed to do just that.”
The AVID program is a rigorous in-school elective that students take throughout high school to their improve study skills, grades, time management, reading and writing skills to better prepare them for college. The TOPs program offers summer job internships, mentors, scholarships, field trips, career exploration and financial support for tutoring. Students commit to staying on the college track, maintaining a 2.5 GPA, taking courses that will prepare them for college and having a good attendance record.

Kevin Murphy:

Impressed with the success of the 28 East High students enrolled in the program last year, the Boys and Girls Club of Madison has committed to raising $2.6 million, half the funding needed to increase enrollment to 100 students districtwide this fall and to add 100 each year until an 800-student cap is reached.
“This will fund college preparation for students not currently getting that opportunity,” said Boys and Girls Club board President Mary Burke.
Developed in California and based partly on a similar Milwaukee program, AVID is aimed at students from low-income households who want to develop the motivation to succeed in school. It is a daily elective students take throughout high school to improve their study skills, grades and time management.

Karen Rivedal:

Madison School District leaders on Monday announced a partnership with Boys and Girls Club of Dane County aimed at doubling the number of minority and low-income students who will be ready to enter college after high school.
District officials stressed that the new offering was not a remedial program or a free ride but instead was geared to help motivated students with average grades who have the desire to attend college but lack the practical skills and knowledge to get there and be successful.
And to do that really well, it was vital to involve the community, Pam Nash, assistant superintendent for the district ‘s four high schools, said at a news conference at East High School.

A Look at the Dropout Issue

Jay Matthews:

Some of the most troubling questions about schools, such as what causes dropouts, have few clear answers because there is so little research. And the reason that data is lacking, at least in part, is that educators who would otherwise demand it are too busy with more even pressing issues, such as improving teaching and raising low student achievement.
The few schools that have made significant progress in teaching and learning, however, are beginning to look more closely at the dropout issue because they cannot be content when so many students miss out on what they have to offer. Note, for instance, a report just released by the KIPP Foundation (available at www.kipp.org) on the number of students who have left that well-regarded public charter school network.

Lucy Mathiak discussed a late 1990’s analysis of Madison’s dropouts here.

New Schools for Poor?

Nancy Mitchell:

Some prominent Denver foundations are working on a plan that could create new schools for thousands of poor children in Colorado in the next few years.
The loose-knit group, called the New Schools Collaborative, includes the Piton Foundation, the Donnell-Kay Foundation and the Daniels Fund, names known for their work in urban education.
The idea is to pool money and knowledge to help jump-start the creation or replication of schools that have proved successful with students from low-income families.
That includes expanding homegrown models such as West Denver Preparatory Charter School on South Federal Boulevard, which Head of School Chris Gibbons wants to grow from a single school to three by 2015.

Milwaukee Public Schools Lag in Special Education Funds

Amy Hetzner:

When it comes to state funding for some of the students who cost the most to educate, Wisconsin’s largest school system has been a big loser.
Over the past few years, as the state has ratcheted up its support for schools struggling with the costs of high-need special education students, the amount collected by Milwaukee Public Schools has barely budged.
Of the $5.4 million pool distributed this year, MPS took in just $40,182, according to an announcement by the state Department of Public Instruction. That puts MPS in the same range as Brown Deer, Manitowoc, and Montello, and the Milwaukee district received less than a third of the $131,390 that went to Middleton.
The Madison Metropolitan School District, the state’s second largest school district, got more than $1.4 million, and $439,673 was given to the Racine Unified School District.

National Debt Makes US Vulnerable: Fiscal Wake-Up Tour in Milwaukee Today

John Schmid:

Tax rates could double. Spending on education, research, health and even Social Security could be squeezed tighter than ever. And foreign governments could use powerful financial leverage, rather than military force, to impose their economic and political agendas on the United States.
All because the U.S. national debt – which is being financed on a daily basis by the governments of China and a host of oil-exporting states, among others – has made this country far more vulnerable than its elected leaders let on, says David Walker, who recently finished a 10-year stint as U.S. comptroller general and head of the Government Accountability Office.
The nation’s former auditor-in-chief will outline this crisis scenario today in Milwaukee, when he and an entourage of like-minded Washington policy analysts make their latest stop on Walker’s Fiscal Wake-Up Tour.
Foreign governments and investors now hold fully half of the United States’ total outstanding debt, making Washington susceptible to a new form of geopolitical conflict that Walker calls “financial warfare.”


In Philadelphia, Privatized Schools Suffer a Setback

Keith Richburg:

Six years ago, the Philadelphia School District embarked on what was considered the country’s boldest education privatization experiment, putting 38 schools under private management to see if the free market could educate children more efficiently than the government.
If it worked, the plan seemed likely to become a model for other struggling urban school districts, such as Washington’s, suffering from a lack of funding, decaying buildings and abysmal student test scores.
This month, the experiment suffered a severe setback, as the state commission overseeing Philadelphia’s schools voted to take back control of six of the privatized schools, while warning 20 others that they had a year to show progress or they, too, would revert to district control.
Students at Philadelphia’s schools have made improvements overall, the commission said. But the private-run schools are not doing any better than the schools remaining under public control.

Teacher puts fitness lesson in 50-state trip

Paul Smith:

Haugen teaches eighth-grade science in Denver, and he is on a unique summer project. To raise awareness of childhood obesity and encourage Americans to get outdoors, he’s attempting to climb the highest point in each of the 50 states in 50 days.
Haugen is joined on the trip by avid climbers Lindsay Danner from Denver and Zach Price from Seattle, and Jordan Mallan, an independent film producer from Los Angeles who is preparing a documentary on the trip. The group is traveling to all sites in the lower 48 in a midsize SUV with a trailer.
The effort may set a record, now held by Ben Jones of Lynnwood, Wash., who reached the top of all 50 in 50 days, 7 hours and 5 minutes.
Haugen’s 50-50 challenge started June 9 when he reached the top of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley in Alaska. As he reaches down to tag the benchmark on Timm’s Hill Saturday at 1 p.m., he notches his 30th peak in 19 days.


Are Video Games the New Textbooks?

Julia Hoppock:

Immune Attack” is still in its final stage of development and is not on shelves yet, but can be downloaded for free at their website. The game has already been evaluated in 14 high schools across the country with nearly a thousand more educators registered to evaluate it in the next phase of development. The reaction among teachers who have used the game has been positive.
Woodbridge, Va., high school AP biology teacher Netia Elam says the video game brought the concepts of immunology to life for her students.
“[With text books] they might read something, drag vocabulary words onto paper, or use their math, but they’re not really integrated into it,” Elam said. “Because they are playing video games, they were really engrossed in what they were doing. They took on more of an interest and more of an initiative to pay attention.”

Economic Growth Provides Money for Education

The Billings Gazette asked Governor Brian Schweitzer (D-Montana) the following questions:

The Gazette invited Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat who is seeking re-election, and state Sen. Roy Brown of Billings, the GOP gubernatorial nominee, to address these education-funding questions:
A few weeks ago, the Billings school board cut $2.2 million out of its K-8 budget after a proposed $817,000 levy failed. Some education proponents say those developments are the result of the state failing to meet its constitutional mandate to fund a basic system of quality education.
Do you think the state education-funding system is fulfilling its mandate?
How have you as governor or state legislator worked to fulfill the education-funding mandate while balancing the state budget?
What changes – if any – do you propose that the 2009 Legislature make in how Montana funds its K-12 schools?

Schweitzer is correct to emphasize economic growth (or, put another way, expansion of the tax base rather than tax rates). A growing tax base is essential, as Schweitzer points out.

LA Schools Chief Wants Principals to Have More Authority

Howard Blume:

L. A. schools Supt. David L. Brewer said this week he would “kick some ass” to improve schools if the school board would give him political cover, which would include standing up to employee unions who might resist reforms.
The comment came at a public but hard-to-reach meeting Thursday on the 24th floor of school district headquarters. The meeting’s topic was the governance of the school district, and the discussion gravitated toward giving school principals real power over their budget — along with demanding real accountability for results.
The room happened to be weighted with administrators — even a representative from the League of Women Voters was a retired principal. There was broad agreement on a need to decentralize the district.
UCLA Professor William Ouchi offered the New York City schools as an example of progress through focusing on principals. These unchained administrators have used their new authority to reduce the number of students each teacher must handle per day, he said, because that tactic raises student achievement.

The Madison School District attempted, unsuccessfully, to give principals more staffing flexibility during the most recent round of teacher union negotiations.

New Madison School Superintendent To Collect Retirement Pay

Kelly McBride:

Outgoing Green Bay Superintendent Daniel Nerad will receive more than $150,000 in retirement pay during the next five years, even as he starts his new job as head of the Madison School District.
The money is part of the district’s emeritus program, a benefit formula that provides money — but not insurance — for certain departing administrators.
“It’s in the (administrator) benefit package,” said John Wilson, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, “and it is based upon your age and years of service with the district.”
Administrators must be at least 55 years old, and their age plus years of service must equal at least 70, to qualify for the benefit. Nerad, 56, has been with the district in various capacities for 33 years, including the last seven as superintendent.


Outgoing Green Bay Superintendent Daniel Nerad will receive more than $150,000 in retirement pay even as he starts another job that pays nearly $200,000 per year.
Nerad will become the superintendent of the Madison School District starting Tuesday.
Green Bay district spokesman John Wilson said the retirement pay is part of the district’s benefit package for certain administrators.

Audio, Video and Links on Dan Nerad.

Why does society need to ‘have a grip’ on education of my children?

Shena Deuchars:

Society does not “have a grip” on whether or not I feed or clothe my children. Why does it need to : “have a grip” on their education? The law leaves the primary responsibility for education with parents and provides for measures to be taken against parents who do not educate their children, just as it does for parents who neglect their children. What more is required?

Another Look at Home Schooling

San Francisco Chronicle Editorial:

A California appeals court is showing good sense – and a feel for public sentiment – by reconsidering a sweeping ruling that undercuts the thriving home school movement.
This state needs more educational options, not fewer, and an appeals court ruling in February definitely worked against this goal. In that decision, the court went too far by declaring that parents of 166,000 home-schooled students needed teaching credentials.
The ruling hinged on a rule that children attend full-time schools or be taught by an credentialed instructor, but state authorities had usually left oversight on home-schooling parents to local school districts. This pliant arrangement has allowed home schooling to flourish alongside conventional classrooms, charters, private and parochial schools.
The rehearing is anything but a rehash. The outcry over the February decision drummed up a list of allies who virtually spilled out of the courtroom door this week. Lawyers for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Attorney General Jerry Brown and state schools superintendent Jack O’Connell all chimed in on behalf of home schools. The main, no-surprise opponent is the California Teachers Association, which wants the court to stick to the letter of the law and require credentials. It’s a demand that could doom home schools and further alienate committed parents who find schools a bad fit for their children.

Grand jury: School district should change how students are assigned to S.F. schools

Heather Knight:

The San Francisco Unified School District should dump its “confusing, time-consuming, alienating” system of assigning students to schools and instead allow them to go to ones in their neighborhoods, the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury said in a report released Thursday.
The grand jury focused on the way kindergarten students were assigned to schools in the 2007-08 school year. The district’s system, dubbed “the diversity index,” is used for students of all ages entering new schools.
Under the current system, families submit their top seven school choices and a number of socioeconomic indicators, but not race. The vast majority of families get one of their seven choices, but families who can’t get their child into a school in their neighborhood have complained it’s unfair. Studies have shown schools are becoming increasingly resegregated.
The grand jury blasted the system for being expensive to run, driving families away from the district and not doing much to diversify schools.

Schools Need the Best and the Brightest

Letters to the Editor – the Toronto Star:

The dilemma confronting trustees of the Toronto school board and likely Jim Spyropoulos himself underscores a destructive flaw basic to the compensation structure of public education. Every time individuals excel as teachers or principals, they are promoted up and away from the site of their excellence.
Surely the education system can figure out a way to compensate talent generously and keep it where it is most needed. Many fields of professional endeavour – sports, theatre, science – manage to pay their stars considerably more than they pay their managers.
Clearly Spyropoulos can’t be blamed for pursuing a path that is the most advantageous to career growth and compensation. But that’s too bad. He is needed in school, as were many other talented people over the years who have been pulled from meaningful daily contact at schools and stuck somewhere away from the action.

Wisconsin Governor Doyle Tells State Agencies to Cut Budgets


Gov. Jim Doyle is telling most state agencies not to expect any increase in funding over the next two years.
Doyle is also telling state officials to prepare plans for a 10 percent cut. He gave the same order to agencies two years ago.
The governor’s instructions come in a letter that outlines what to expect in the next two-year budget plan he will submit to the Legislature in February.

Something to ponder as the Madison School Administration and Board consider a fall referendum.

Harris/Solberg vs. MMSD: 25 years later, Landmark Madison desegregation case revisited,

A. David Dahmer:

Twenty five years ago this week, there was a landmark decision where the people of Madison stood up for themselves and fought against the creation and maintenance of segregation resulting directly from school boundary changes.
t was an attempt to abandon the central city and the south side in favor of newer, developing peripheral areas. The process would have done serious damage to Madison’s Black population.
But two people wouldn’t let it happen.
Sandy Solberg, on behalf of two neighborhood centers in Central and South Madison, and Richard Harris, who then was an administrator at Madison Area Technical College and a member of the district’s Lincoln-Franklin Task Force, were instrumental in fighting a fight that eventually found that the Madison School Board’s 1979 decision to close schools and redraw attendance boundaries discriminated against minority students and violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Education is Massachusetts Governor Patrick’s Test

Adrian Walker:

Thomas Birmingham’s phone has been ringing a lot this week, in the wake of Governor Deval Patrick’s plan to overhaul public education.
The former state Senate president was one of the last people to take on the task of reforming education in Massachusetts, in 1993. It was a valiant effort, but ultimately not enough.
“I don’t think anybody thought in ’93 that a bright day had dawned and that we would move on because all our education problems had been solved,” Birmingham said yesterday.
The overriding issue then was the wild disparity between different communities in spending on education. But that emphasis proved simplistic.
The achievement gap was not nearly as well understood as it is now. “I think perhaps the disadvantages that poverty imposes were beyond what we might have accomplished, that it is a harder problem than we realized,” he said. “We smuggle a host of issues into schools that are not educational.”

Related: Fearing for Massachusett’s School Reform and Mike Antonucci on Patrick’s plan for a statewide teacher agreement.

More “Algebra” for Chicago Public Schools Eighth Graders

Alexander Russo:

What do you think about the CPS effort to bring more algebra into middle schools?
From Catalyst: “The June board meeting included a brief presentation on student achievement from the Office of Instructional Design and Assessment. A recap of statistics showed that while 40 percent of 8th-graders across the country take algebra, only 8 percent of CPS 8th-graders do.
“With this in mind, Chief Officer Xavier Botana noted how the district is revamping algebra instruction: 8th-grade algebra will now be called “High School Algebra in the Middle Grades,” a name change that Botana said will help parents and others understand that students are tackling high-school-level material.

A commenter nails the issue:

The exit exams have to be real. They can’t be given credit for high school algebra, then show up in high school unprepared to take second year algebra.
Of course, they would only be prepared to take algebra in 8th grade if they have had rigorous math instruction before that. I believe these suburban schools with 40% of 8th graders taking algebra also have pre-algebra programs for kids in the 7th grade.
I’m all for offering rigorous classes; but there has to be some support to help kids get there.


  • Madison West High School Math Teachers letter to Isthmus:

    Moreover, parents of future West High students should take notice: As you read this, our department is under pressure from the administration and the math coordinator’s office to phase out our “accelerated” course offerings beginning next year. Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

  • Math Forum audio / video and links

It will be interesting to see the results of the Madison Math Task Force’s work.

No Common Denominator: The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America’s Education Schools, June 2008

National Council on Teacher Quality (3MB PDF):

American students’ chronically poor performance in mathematics on international tests may begin in the earliest grades, handicapped by the weak knowledge of mathematics of their own elementary teachers. NCTQ looks at the quality of preparation provided by a representative sampling of institutions in nearly every state. We also provide a test developed by leading mathematicians which assesses for the knowledge that elementary teachers should acquire during their preparation. Imagine the implications of an elementary teaching force being able to pass this test.

Brian Maffly:

Most of the nation’s undergraduate education programs do not adequately prepare elementary teachers to teach mathematics, according to a study released Thursday by an education-reform advocacy group. Utah State University is among the 83 percent of surveyed programs that didn’t meet what the National Council on Teacher Quality calls an emerging “consensus” on what elementary teachers must learn before joining professional ranks.
“There’s a long-standing belief in our country that elementary teachers don’t really need to get much math. The only thing you need to teach second-grade math is to learn third-grade math,” said Kate Walsh, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based group. “We haven’t put much attention to fact the elementary teachers are the first math teachers kids get. Their foundational skills have long-term ramifications whether that child will be able to do middle and high school math.”
The NCTQ’s findings are similar to a reading report the group released two years ago, claiming that 85 percent of undergraduate elementary education programs fail to adequately prepare students to teach reading.

Joanne has more. It will be interesting to see of the Madison Math Task Force addresses the question of teacher content knowledge. Related:

Study: Many teens get alcohol from adults

Hope Yen:

Many of the nation’s estimated 10.8 million underage drinkers are turning to their parents or other adults for free alcohol.
A government survey of teens from 2002 to 2006 said slightly more than half had engaged in underage drinking.
Asked about the source of alcohol, 40 percent they got it from an adult for free over the past month, the survey said. Of those, about one in four said they got it from an unrelated adult, one in 16 got it from a parent or guardian and one in 12 got it from another adult family member.
Roughly 4 percent reported taking the alcohol from their own home.
“In far too many instances parents directly enable their children’s underage drinking — in essence encouraging them to risk their health and well-being,” said acting Surgeon General Steven K. Galson. “Proper parental guidance alone may not be the complete solution to this devastating public health problem — but it is a critical part.”


Doctors in Madison said this problem is real and they’ve seen some young teens come in with alcohol poisoning.
Physicians fear drinking at a young age can lead not only to lower performance in school and stressed relationships with family members but can also lead to more serious problems later in life, WISC-TV reported.

Waukesha School District works to retool investment fund

Amy Hetzner:

A multimillion-dollar investment earned the Waukesha School District about $83,000 less for the last three months than it has been accruing in debt payments for loans used to finance the deal, according to information released by the district this week.
The district’s $65 million investment in complex financial instruments earned it about $135,136 for the fiscal quarter that ends this month.
But that amount is offset by payments the district makes on a semiannual basis for $15.67 million borrowed in 2006. Those district payments – on debt fixed at a 5.58% interest rate – average about $218,000 per quarter.
For the last quarter, none of the district’s investments returned income at a higher rate than 3.55%, according to data provided by district Controller Jason Demerath.
It was the first quarterly loss for the investment, and the district ended up $192,500 in the black for the financial year that ends this month, figures for the district show.

Much more on the Waukesha School District here.

Middle school critical to students’ success in high school

Russell Rumberger:

More than 100,000 California students quit high school each year, but the path toward dropping out begins long before high school. Three new studies from the California Dropout Research Project reveal how and why academic success in middle school is critical to graduating from high school.
The studies, based on data from four of California’s largest school districts, found that both middle school grades and test scores predicted whether students graduated from high school. The strongest predictor was whether students passed all their core academic subjects in math, English, history and science.
In the Los Angeles Unified School District, only 40 percent of students who failed two or more academic classes in middle school graduated within four years of entering ninth grade. In Fresno, Long Beach and San Francisco only a third of the students who failed two or more courses in seventh grade graduated on time.

Universal preschool students perform better

Greg Toppo:

An ambitious public pre-kindergarten program in Oklahoma boosts kids’ skills dramatically, a long-awaited study finds, for the first time offering across-the-board evidence that universal preschool, open to all children, benefits both low-income and middle-class kids.
The large-scale study, by researchers from Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute and Center for Research on Children in the United States, looked at the skills of about 3,500 incoming kindergartners in Tulsa, where state-funded pre-kindergarten has been in place for 18 years — and offered universally for nearly a decade.
The researchers found that as the kids entered kindergarten those enrolled in the state program had better reading, math and writing skills than kids who were either not enrolled in preschool or who spent time in the federally funded Head Start program.
Previous research has shown that high-quality preschool pays off in better skills, especially for low-income kids. But until today’s findings, even the biggest studies stopped short of making the case that universal programs, with children from all backgrounds, benefit virtually all of them.

National Institute for Early Education Research.

Open Records & Fingerprinting Teachers in Texas


The Austin school district did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Austin was the first district to implement a new law requiring all certified teachers and substitutes to be fingerprinted by Sept. 1, 2011. Other school employees, such as janitors and cafeteria workers, will be required to complete the process at the time of their hire.
The prints are scanned by the Department of Public Safety and sent to the FBI for a national criminal history database check. School employees who don’t comply risk losing their teaching certification.
The newspaper requested documents showing a school-by-school breakdown of crimes revealed in the background checks and the outcomes of those cases. The newspaper has reported that it did not ask for names or other identifying information.
The district argued that releasing the requested information would violate employees’ privacy rights and is not in the public interest.

Q&A with the US Education Secretary: Challenge Assumptions about Time and Teachers

Des Moines Register:

Education has long been a passion of U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, stretching back to the 1980s, when she worked in the Texas Legislature. While serving as chief domestic policy adviser to President George W. Bush, she was an architect of the 2001 federal No Child Left Behind Act. Its goal is for all children to become proficient in math and reading by 2014.
In 2005, the same year she became education secretary, Spellings convened the Commission on the Future of Higher Education to look at how to improve post-secondary institutions. Spellings is the first mother of school-age children to serve as education secretary, and only the second woman to be appointed to the post. In her final few months on the job, much of her time has been devoted to shoring up support for the No Child Left Behind law.
Q. Does the United States need to create world-class schools in every community, and, if so, why?
A. Absolutely, emphatically, yes. And why? Because we pride ourselves on being the center of innovation and creativity, and that has brought us the Internet and other technologies, but we are at risk of losing that. Our country has gotten more diverse [in terms of poverty and children learning to speak English as a second language], so some of the work is more challenging. More education is necessary for everybody. We have to pick up the pace. No Child Left Behind is about that.

Multi-million dollar gifts to help college prospects for MMSD students

via a Joe Quick email:

The announcement of a unique public/private partnership will be made at this event. The multi-million dollar gifts will provide college opportunities for high school students from low-income families, and from families who have never had a college graduate.
The local partnership will provide opportunities for students at all of the district’s high schools and includes the prospects for college scholarship assistance. The funding will support two successful student achievement programs to provide high school students with a more comprehensive set of skills necessary for post secondary education success.
When: Monday, June 30 at 1:30 p.m.
Where: In the East High School Career Center, Room 224 (enter door closest to E. Washington Ave., on the 4th Street side of the school and follow signs).
Who: Gift providers, teacher and students who will potentially benefit with post secondary opportunities. All of the above will be available for interviews following the announcement.
For More Information Contact:
Joe Quick, 608 663-1902
Madison Metropolitan School District
Public Information Office
545 W. Dayton St.
Madison, WI 53703

Monday also happens to be retiring Superintendent Art Rainwater’s last day.

Massachusetts Governor Patrick unveils sweeping plan for education reform

Tania deLuzuriaga:

any of the governor’s proposals, such as those aimed at closing achievement gaps, better preparing teachers, and reducing the number of school districts in the state, have been unveiled over the past two days. Patrick has talked a lot this week about his ideas for pre-kindergarten to Grade 12.
However, the report issued this morning provides fresh details and outlines a few initiatives that had yet to be unveiled.
For example, the plan contains a host of recommendations for higher education. They include: closing the pay gap between faculty at Massachusetts colleges and universities and those at peer institutions in other states; increasing needs-based financial aid in the 2010 budget; guaranteeing that credits will be transferrable between the state’s public higher-education institutions; and supporting legislation that would allow undocumented children to pay in-state rates at public colleges and universities.

Related: Fearing for Massachusetts School Reform.

The Madison School District Seeks Proposals for Community Service Activities


Community service nonprofits can soon apply for funding to carry out projects that serve school-age children or their parents in the Madison School District.
The school district is requesting the proposals because a portion of the MMSD budget is designated by Wisconsin statute to be used for community activities which support the well-being of district students and/or their parents. The amount of available funding is $290,000.
This is the first time that this funding has been opened up to all eligible organizations.

What the Dating Rules You Set For Your Kids Say About You

Sue Shellenbarger:

Researchers have known for a while that closeness to parents is linked to less risky sexual behavior by teenagers.
Now, they’re turning their microscopes on the dating rules parents set, with some surprising results: The limits you place on your teenager’s dating may say more about your own love life than your teen’s needs. Also, parents’ satisfaction with their own life roles shapes the kind of rules they set.
Parents who are involved in stable romantic relationships with spouses or partners tend more than other parents to set rules limiting teen dating behavior, such as curfews, minimum ages for dating, limits on places teens can go and explicit rules against sexual activity, says a new study of 169 parents and 102 teens by Stephanie Madsen, an associate professor of psychology at Maryland’s McDaniel College. While the reason isn’t clear, the author suggests these parents may hold more conservative beliefs in general; many of the rules involved sexuality.

Errors found in Michigan school progress reports

Tim Martin:

A new audit says Michigan’s annual school progress reports from 2004-05 and 2005-06 contained some errors that might have artificially improved some schools’ results.
The Office of the Auditor General report [1.6MB PDF] released Wednesday dealt with the Michigan Department of Education’s school report cards and adequate yearly progress reports based on federal No Child Left Behind rules.
The problem stemmed in part from inaccuracies and inconsistencies in computer programming logic used to calculate the scores. But there were other problems cited in the audit, including insufficient monitoring of data supplied by school districts — some of which may contain inflated favorable self-reporting and missing information.

Oregon Students May Choose Their Graduation Exam

Julia Silverman:

The plan makes Oregon one of several states moving past the “one-size-fits-all” high-stakes testing that became commonplace in many U.S. high schools in the 1990s. In Pennsylvania, the Board of Education is considering a three-pronged approach similar to Oregon’s plan, while in Maryland, students who can’t pass the state tests could be allowed to do a senior project instead.
But some say such choices allow some students _ and states _ to take the easy way out.
Daria Hall, assistant director for K-12 policy at Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for poor and minority children, points to New Jersey, where up to 80 percent of students at high schools in poor cities like Newark and Camden receive alternative diplomas after not passing the state tests. The number falls to about 3 percent in wealthy areas like Princeton, N.J., she said.

Parenting, Inc: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting

Emily Bazelon reviews Pamela Paul’s new book. “How We Are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers — and What It Means for Our Children.”

Parenting books tend to fall into two categories. There are the advice books that play on readers’ anxieties, urging parents to scale ever greater heights on behalf of their kids. (Try harder! Move faster! Buy more!) And then there are the anti-advice books that promise to deflect all of this anxiety-mongering by helping parents ward off the latest sales pitch.
Pamela Paul and Carl Honoré seek to fit into this second category. And yet their books are as anxious about staving off anxiety as any advice book is about stoking it. The effect is a bit like being told to calm down by someone whose neck veins are bulging.
Paul’s focus is on the money that parents spend, and her premise is pretty unassailable: It’s hard not to buy things for your kid, especially if you can afford it. Paul calls this “the anxiety of underspending.” Baring her own wallet, she writes, “No matter what I do, someone else seems to be doing enviably more or improbably less, and either way, their child and family seem all the better for it.”

Baltimore County Should Invest in Online Education

The Baltimore Sun:

In an increasingly wired (and wireless) world, an online presence is becoming indispensable for institutions ranging from businesses to nonprofits to government agencies. Grasping this new reality, Baltimore County education officials last year wisely launched a pilot online education program that served 106 students – almost all of them previously home-schooled.
This initiative deserves to be made permanent. The county executive’s office disagrees and denied a $2 million request for online education in the 2008-2009 school budget, blaming poor economic conditions. That reasoning is understandable but shortsighted.
Unless the school board can find the funding in its current budget to keep the program, it stands to lose state dollars when some – perhaps most – of those 106 students return to home-schooling in the fall. Worse, it would also lose the opportunity to become a pioneer in an area that will doubtless play a major role in the future of education.

In Defense of Home Schooling

Gale Holland:

Feb. 28 ruling by the 2nd District Court of Appeal barred parents from home schooling their children unless they have teaching credentials. Supporters of home schooling say the decision, if upheld, would make California the most restrictive of the 50 states on the issue and turn thousands of parents into outlaws.
Monday’s rehearing in the case drew at least 45 lawyers representing the California attorney general, the governor, the state Department of Education and several religious-liberty legal foundations, as well as home-school father Mark Landstrom of Northridge.
His son Glenn, 21, who accompanied him, is now a student at Patrick Henry College in Virginia, a small evangelical Christian school.
“It helped me feel really prepared for college,” Glenn Landstrom said of his home-based education in an interview outside the courtroom. He dismissed the assertion that home schoolers are intolerant of those of diverse backgrounds as “kind of a strange rumor.”

Kids making a difference: Sport for Africa CAR WASH June 28th at Middleton Cycle

Bulleh Bablitch via email:

Project Liberia inspires students to give
Middleton/Madison, Wis. — With the Summer in full bloom, it would be easy for any area high school student to spend his or her time sleeping away their summer and hanging out with their friends. But for one group of students at Middleton High School, there is no time like the present to start a new project, aimed at helping those in need halfway around the world.
For the past six weeks, this group of students have been collecting used sports equipment for children in the country of Liberia, all in the name of helping the youth of this nation, which is recovering from a 15-year civil war, learn how to see each other as teammates rather than enemies. Now that they have collected the items, it is time to raise the money needed to ship the items to Liberia.

Middleton Cycle.


Public Milwaukee Boarding School by 2011?

Dani McClain:

A coalition of prominent Milwaukeeans working to establish an urban boarding school for at-risk youth today announced its intention to raise between $30 million and $40 million in private funds to support opening a school in three years.
The Wisconsin Coalition for a Public Boarding School also plans to attempt to persuade legislators to allocate state funding for the college-prep program, the initiative’s leaders said today at a media event at the Charles Allis Art Museum.
The school would open in 2011 with 80 sixth-grade students and with an initial state contribution of around $2 million. If the coalition can persuade the Legislature to back the initiative, the school would reach full public funding by 2017 with an annual state contribution of around $10 million, said Jeanette Mitchell, community adviser to the Washington, D.C.-based SEED Foundation.

More from the Milwaukee Business Journal.

Reaching Students via Podcast

Felicia Fonseca:

It’s called podcasting, and is increasingly popular in education, with many colleges and universities offering free online lectures. A podcast is an audio or video file that automatically downloads to subscribers over the Internet, and is often listened to or watched on a mobile media player such as an iPod or Zune.
For Fort Sumner Spanish teacher Sandra Wertheim’s class, the boost from the little device made it much easier to deal with weekly vocabulary words: Her voice rang through the ears of students who got the lesson through the Zune.

California: Education Data Tells a Sorry Story

Dan Walters:

“Most incoming (community college) students are not ready for college-level work,” the report says. “In addition, relatively few of these students reach proficiency during their time (in community college).”
That’s interesting, but it also raises this question: Since virtually all of those community college students graduated from high school, what is that telling us about the level of K-12 instruction?
One presumes, perhaps naively, that if someone possesses a California high school diploma, thus signifying 12 years of education costing taxpayers around $130,000, that someone must possess basic reading, writing and computational skills.
Remember, we’re not talking about the roughly one-third of California’s teenagers who don’t graduate from high school; with few exceptions we’re talking about graduates who have enough gumption to attend community college, and yet, this report says most don’t have the appropriate basic skills for college-level studies. By the way, that also doesn’t count the large numbers of high school graduates – well over a third – who require remedial instruction after being accepted into the California State University system.

K-12 Finance Climate: Challenges Charts from Ross Perot

Ross Perot is at it again, this time with online charts that illustrate our nation’s fiscal challenges. David M. Walker, Comptroller fo the Currency from 1998-2008:

Ross Perot is the father of fiscal charts. PerotCharts.com will help Americans understand the serious fiscal challenges facing our nation. These new electronic charts will also serve to hold elected officials accountable while accelerating needed actions to help ensure that our collective future will be better than our past.

A few charts worth checking out: Spending Trends (above), education funding sources, taxes as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product and the growing national debt.

K-12 Tax & Spending climate
Related by Richard Daughty:

And this doesn’t even mention the cancerous growth in the size of government, which grew by borrowing a big chunk of all the money that the Fed created, and taxing the profits everybody else made with what was left, and the government used it to create incomes for more and more people, until the federal government now supports half of the population, all of whom unfortunately need more money because of the higher prices.
Now, total government taxation consumes half of all incomes, all of which goes around and around until my head is spinning and I wonder how it is possible that any country with as many schools, colleges and universities as we have can be so freakishly, perversely, brain-dead as to believe that such idiocy was even freaking possible?

To Avoid Student Turnover, Flint Parents Get Rent Help

Erik Eckholm:

Because he has moved so often, 9-year-old Richard Kennedy has already attended four different schools in Flint. In his mother’s latest rental house the other day, he described how it felt to enter an unfamiliar classroom.

In New York, board of education officials said that while they did not have data on trends in student mobility, it had been a prime reason behind efforts to standardize curriculums, so students switching schools would not find their math classes, for example, far out of sync.
High turnover can undermine a multiyear improvement plan. “It becomes a different school, because the core of the students you’re educating has changed,” Dr. Kerbow said.
Even the students who do not switch schools suffer, because teachers must spend more time reviewing materials for newcomers and tend to introduce less material, Dr. Kerbow said, citing what his research had found in Chicago. “The learning trajectory over time is flattened,” he added.

Seems like a useful idea, rather than trying to standardize curriculum across the board. Locally, Mayor Dave recently proposed using suburban housing assistance to reduce urban low income concentration.

156 Wisconsin Schools Fail to Meet No Child Left Behind Standards


The number of Wisconsin schools that didn’t meet standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act and could face sanctions increased from 95 to 156 this year, including the entire Madison Metropolitan School District.
Of the 156 schools on the list released Tuesday by the state Department of Public Instruction, 82 were in the Milwaukee Public School district. Seven of the schools on the list were charter schools.
Besides individual schools on the list, four entire districts made the list for not meeting the standards. That lists includes the school districts of Beloit, Madison, Milwaukee and Racine.

Bill Novak (Interestingly, this Capital Times article originally had many comments, which are now gone):

Superintendent Art Rainwater told The Capital Times the list is “ludicrous,” the district doesn’t pay attention to it, and the district will do what’s best for the students and not gear curriculum to meet the criteria set by the federal government.
“As we’ve said from the day this law was passed, it is only a matter of time before every school in America is on the list,” Rainwater said. “It’s a law that impossible to meet, because eventually if every single student in a school isn’t successful, you are on the list.”

No Child Left Behind allows states to set their own standards. The Fordham Institute has given Wisconsin’s academic standards a “D” in recent years. Neal McCluskey has more on states setting their own standards:

NCLB’s biggest problem is that it’s designed to help Washington politicians appear all things to all people. To look tough on bad schools, it requires states to establish standards and tests in reading, math and science, and it requires all schools to make annual progress toward 100% reading and math proficiency by 2014. To preserve local control, however, it allows states to set their own standards, “adequate yearly progress” goals, and definitions of proficiency. As a result, states have set low standards, enabling politicians to declare victory amid rising test scores without taking any truly substantive action.
NCLB’s perverse effects are illustrated by Michigan, which dropped its relatively demanding standards when it had over 1,500 schools on NCLB’s first “needs improvement” list. The July 2002 transformation of then-state superintendent Tom Watkins captures NCLB’s power. Early that month, when discussing the effects of state budget cuts on Michigan schools, Mr. Watkins declared that cuts or no cuts, “We don’t lower standards in this state!” A few weeks later, thanks to NCLB, Michigan cut drastically the percentage of students who needed to hit proficiency on state tests for a school to make adequate yearly progress. “Michigan stretches to do what’s right with our children,” Mr. Watkins said, “but we’re not going to shoot ourselves in the foot.”

Andy Hall:

Madison’s Leopold and Lincoln elementary schools were among the list of schools failing to attain the standards, marking the first time that a Madison elementary school made the list.
Three Madison middle schools — Sherman, Cherokee and Toki — also joined the list, which continued to include the district’s four major high schools: East, West, La Follette and Memorial. Madison’s Black Hawk Middle School, which was on the list last year, made enough academic progress to be removed from it.

Some Milwaukee Area School Districts Running Low on Cash

Amy Hetzner:

The issue of how much money to have in case of emergency became enough of a concern that the Milwaukee Public Schools’ Board of Governance included it as a topic for a study of the district’s financial stability. The contract for that study was awarded to Robert W. Baird & Co. last week.
“One of my concerns is MPS fiscal stability, and I was concerned about the lack of reserves,” said board member Michael Bonds, chairman of the finance and personnel committee for the district.
But there’s a problem with Bonds’ desire to build up the district’s reserves, which now stand at about $83 million or nearly 8% of the annual operating budget.
State aid is awarded based on prior year spending. That means low property-value districts such as Milwaukee will have to rely more on local property taxes for revenue if they save more and spend less.
Even so, saving money was important enough to the Racine Unified School District that its voters passed a referendum in 2000 to add $1 million a year to its cash reserves, which now stand at $18.5 million.

Education in Mexico: Testing the Teachers

The Economist:

The main problem lies not with salaries for teaching, which are competitive with other jobs in Mexico, but with the quality of teachers. The government has been trying to solve the problem since 1992, when it introduced annual bonuses linked to teachers’ participation in training courses and their scores on tests. This system is far from perfect. A study last year by the Rand Corporation, an American think-tank, found that the tests given to teachers required “only low level cognitive responses”, while the criteria for evaluation were fuzzy and subject to manipulation.
The new agreement between Mr Calderón and Ms Gordillo has two aims. First, there is a promise to improve the fabric of the 27,000 schools—around one in eight—that are in poor repair (though no new money was allocated to this as part of the agreement). Second, it seeks to break the hold of the union over teachers’ careers. Under the agreement, teachers would be hired and promoted according to how they fare in a set of tests devised and marked by a new independent body.

The Nation’s Most Elite Public High Schools

Jay Matthews:

I am ranking them by one of the most common, and to me most annoying, measures of high school worth–average total reading and math SAT scores. Those test results are most closely tied to the income of the families that raise these fine students. There is something of that relationship at these schools too. But once you get this many bright students together, SAT becomes largely irrelevant, since they have all gone far beyond the 10th-grade reading comprehension and math puzzles that make up those exams. Notice, for instance, the surprises. Some very well-known elite schools have much lower average SATs than some others. Some selective high schools with terrific reputations, like Lowell in San Francisco, do not have high enough SAT averages to make the Public Elites list and so remain on the main list. It shows how little significance SAT numbers have.
I am still amazed that there are high schools whose average scores would be high enough to get any student who got that score, with a little luck, into the Ivy League. Our rule is if a non-traditional school’s average is 1300, or 29 or above on the ACT, it goes on the Public Elites list. We picked 1300 and 29 because those scores are just above the highest average scores of any regular enrollment public school in the country.

The list:

  1. Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (SAT 1495)
  2. University Laboratory High School, Urbana, Ill. (SAT 1409)
  3. Stuyvesant High School, New York (SAT 1405)
  4. High Technology High, Lincroft, NJ (SAT 1395)
  5. Hunter College High School, New York (SAT 1395)
  6. Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, Oklahoma City (SAT 1383)
  7. Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Aurora, Ill. (SAT 1373)
  8. South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, Hartsville, S.C. (SAT 1362)
  9. North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, Durham, N.C. (SAT 1356)
  10. Bergen County Academies, Hackensack, N.J. (SAT 1355)
  11. Whitney High School, Cerritos, Calif. (SAT 1343)
  12. Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies, Richmond, Va. (SAT:1340)
  13. Jefferson County International Baccalaureate, Irondale, Ala. (SAT 1315)
  14. Union County Magnet High School, Scotch Plains, N.J. (SAT 1314)
  15. International Community School, Kirkland, Wash. (SAT 1309)
  16. University High School, Tucson, Ariz. (SAT 1304)
  17. Bronx High School of Science, New York (SAT 1301)

Does State Education Funding Shortchange Our Children?

Marietta Nelson:

Schools receive local property tax money through levies and federal money, but the majority of funding comes from the state.
The current public education funding system emerged from a 1977 state Supreme Court decision in which Seattle schools sued the state over inadequate funding. The ruling held that the state must fund equally across districts a “basic education” program that went beyond reading, writing and math. Subsequent court rulings over the years have expanded the formula, resulting in an extremely complex system.
It’s been called antiquated, outdated, ossified. Even Byzantine.
“Our system is pretty equitable now in that everyone gets ripped off,” Hyde said. “Just think, do you live now like you lived 30 years ago?”
The formula begins with all schools receiving a basic education allocation per student. The allocation varies from district to district based on teacher experience and education levels, teacher-student ratios, allocations for administrators and classified staff and several other factors.

The article includes a number of interesting comments.

SAT will let students pick which scores to show colleges

Seema Mehta & Larry Gordon:

High school students seeking to put the best shine on their college applications will soon be able to choose which of their SAT scores to share with admissions officers and which to hide, the College Board said Friday.
The new policy, starting with the class of 2010, will allow students to take the widely used college entrance exam multiple times without admissions officers seeing their less-than-stellar efforts. Now, colleges receive scores of all the times a student attempted the dreaded test, whether the results were spectacular, mediocre or worse.
“Students were telling us the ability to have more control over their scores would make the test experience more comfortable and less stressful,” said Laurence Bunin, senior vice president of the SAT. “. . . We can do that without in any way diminishing the value and integrity of the SAT.”

LA Tries to Put the “Wow” in School Lunches

Mary MacVean:

Mark Baida was pleased with his latest taste test: lots of empty little black trays, sometimes stacked three deep in front of his guinea pigs, a group of Garfield High School students.
But the pressure is on the new executive chef of the Los Angeles Unified School District: Demands are growing from parent groups, the school board and students for food that is delicious, healthful, served quickly — and really, really inexpensive. In the last few years, the school board has banned soda and set standards for salt and fat, among other things. Now the aim is to make it more appealing too.

And the Band Honked On: A Professional Musician Teaches 6th Graders

Daniel Wakin:

It was early in the school year. A young professional French horn player named Alana Vegter, a thoroughbred musician trained by elite teachers, took a handful of trumpet and trombone players into an equipment supply room. Speaking in the flat tones of the Chicago suburb where she grew up, Ms. Vegter tried to coax notes out of each player. A tall sixth-grade trumpeter named Kenny Ocean, his pants sagging around his hips, played too high, then too low. A smile spread across his face when he hit it right.
“You see, every time you do it, it gets easier,” Ms. Vegter said. On her cue they all bleated together. “I’m starting to hear everybody making nice, healthy sounds,” she said, half in praise, half in hope.
So began Ms. Vegter’s year in Ditmas Junior High School, Intermediate School 62, in the Kensington section of Brooklyn. It was a year that would teach her the satisfaction of tiny victories in a place where homelessness means that some kids cannot take their instruments home to practice, where chronic asthma forces some to switch from wind instruments to percussion, where the roar of a lunchroom leaves a newcomer stunned.
Ms. Vegter, 25, was there as part of a well-financed experiment by some of the nation’s most powerful musical institutions. The experiment is called, clumsily, the Academy — a Program of Carnegie Hall, the Juilliard School and the Weill Music Institute (the institute being an arm of Carnegie).
In its second season, which ended this month, the academy extended fellowships to 34 graduates of leading music schools to receive high-level coaching and lessons in a two-year program. They play concerts on Carnegie’s stages and participate in master classes. Part of the deal is a commitment to teach one and a half days a week at a New York public school, which pays the academy $13,200 for the service.

Clusty Search: Lemont High School Band.

Return of the Math Wars

Debra Saunders:

1997 saw the height of the Math Wars in California.
On the one side stood educrats, who advocated mushy math – or new-new math. They sought to de-emphasize math skills, such as multiplication and solving numeric equations, in favor of pushing students to write about math and how they might solve a problem. Their unofficial motto was: There is no right answer. (Even to 2 +2.)
They were clever. They knew how to make it seem as if they were pushing for more rigor, as they dumbed down curricula. For example, they said they wanted to teach children algebra starting in kindergarten, which seemed rigorous, but they had expanded the definition of algebra to the point that it was meaningless.
On the other side were reformers, who wanted the board to push through rigorous and specific standards that raised the bar for all California kids. Miraculously, they succeeded, and they took pride in the state Board of Education’s vote for academic standards that called for all eighth-graders to learn Algebra I.

Math Forum Audio, Video and links.

IB or Not IB

Cynthia Lardner:

Over the last several years, the references to “IB” schools seem to be just about everywhere. IB, or International Baccalaureate, Schools are schools certified by the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO). President George W. Bush cited IB programs as a model for boosting student achievement in science and math. The U.S. Department of Education started a pilot program to bring IB programs to low-income students. The Michigan Department of Education, in its 2006 recommendations to the State Board of Education for College Credit Earning Opportunities, recommends that Advanced Placement (AP) or IB courses be made available to every student in every high school in Michigan. University admissions offices are working to determine their scoring or ranking for students matriculating with an IB diploma. Oakland University is spearheading an IBO teacher certification program. This article will look at the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, explain its roots, mission, programming, and try to assess whether an IB program is a good fit for gifted students.

Atlanta School board hopefuls take aim at superintendent

John Hollis:

John W. Thompson wasn’t in attendance at Sunday evening’s candidate forum sponsored by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV.
But the new Clayton County schools corrective superintendent was very much the topic of conversation before the approximately 150 people gathered at Clayton State University.
More specifically, it was his $285,000 salary and flexible contract that excludes him from having to answer to the school board as the county fights to save its accreditation.
“That would have to be reconsidered,” said District 5 candidate Phyllis Moore, “because that’s not the way we’re supposed to be operating.”
Moore was hardly alone. Other candidates also expressed problems with Thompson, who was hired in April to prevent Clayton from becoming the nation’s first school system in nearly 40 years to have its accreditation withdrawn.

Ruth Robarts: “Who Runs the Madison Schools?”

Does 8th-Grade Pomp Fit the Circumstance?

Jane Hoffman:

Andre Cowling, who just finished his first year as principal of Harvard Elementary, one of the poorest-performing schools in Chicago, said the South Side’s eighth-grade celebrations are like “Easter Sunday on steroids.”
In a speech last Sunday at a Chicago church, Barack Obama took on the pomp and purpose of these ceremonies. “Now hold on a second — this is just eighth grade,” he said. “So, let’s not go over the top. Let’s not have a huge party. Let’s just give them a handshake.” He continued: “You’re supposed to graduate from eighth grade.”
Mr. Obama was wading into a simmering debate about eighth-grade ceremonies and their attendant hoopla. Do they inspire at-risk students to remain in high school and beyond? Or do they imply finality?
While some educators are grateful that notice is still being paid to academic achievement, others deride the festivities as overpraising what should be routine accomplishment. Some principals, school superintendents and legislators are trying to scale back the grandeur. But stepping between parents and ever-escalating celebrations of their children’s achievements can be dicey, at best.

Parents seek safety report cards

Erica Perez:

The unsolved murder of a college student in Madison, a string of robberies near Marquette University and a recent spike in assaults at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have some parents packing summer orientation sessions at local colleges, anxious about students’ safety.
Colleges, in turn, are trying to ease those fears while helping parents take an active role.
In a new twist, UWM parents can now sign up for emergency text alerts on their cell phones, a service that previously has been available only for students, faculty and staff. With only about a fifth of UWM students registered for the S.A.F.E. alerts, administrators are making a harder push this summer to get new freshmen to hand over their cell phone numbers and sign up. Once registered, they would be notified via text message or e-mail in the event of a campus emergency.
UW-Madison administrators are making a similar push to register freshmen for new cell-phone alerts at orientation, although their service is not yet available to parents.
For the hundreds of parents gathered in UWM’s Zelazo Center this week, a few assurances from a campus police officer produced some visible signs of relief.

Growth in Minnesota Charter School Enrollment

Norman Draper:

At a time when overall Minnesota school enrollment is declining, enrollment in charter schools in the state soared by a record number last year, according to a study released Thursday.
The study, conducted by the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, found that the number of students attending charter schools rose by 4,337 during the 2007-08 school year. That marks the biggest enrollment increase since 1991-92, when the charter school option was first made available to Minnesota students and parents.
Total enrollment for charter schools stands at 28,206. That’s almost three times the enrollment in the 2001-02 school year. The total public school enrollment last year in Minnesota was 796,757, a number that has been declining for several years.

Yellow Buses Put Schools in the Red

Anne Marie Chaker:

“I’ve never seen anything escalate this quick,” says Hank Hurd, the Durham district’s chief operating officer. “There’s no way for a school district to absorb those kinds of increases.”
The 2007-08 school year has come to a close, but as superintendents across the country finalize their budgets for the fall, many are projecting major spikes in a number of areas — cafeteria food and heating oil, for example. Perhaps the greatest bump is for diesel, which fuels the yellow buses that bring kids to school in the first place.
Some 475,000 school buses transport 25 million children — more than half of the country’s schoolchildren — each day, and cover 4.3 billion miles a year, says the American School Bus Council, a Washington, D.C.-based group that lobbies on behalf of the school-bus industry. And the cost of fueling all these vehicles has a direct impact beyond the bus.
Bowling Green has cut back a teaching position and ordered fewer new textbooks. Pennsylvania’s Palisades School District will start charging kids extra when they go on field trips. The Bellevue district in Nebraska will skip a planned roofing job and defer replacing some old-but-still-functional boilers.

Education system 8-track in an iPOD world, Jeb Bush says

Ron Matus:

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush rallied the troops Thursday, telling a supportive crowd that their often-unpopular visions of reform are the best path to modernizing schools.
“The world is much more interconnected, much more technologically advanced and it is much more interdependent,” Bush told a packed ballroom at a Disney resort. “And yet our education system is an eight-track system living in an iPod world.”
The duo delivered brief, keynote addresses at a summit organized by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which Bush formed last year.
Among the 400 guests expected to attend over two days were dozens of policy wonks who believe more school choice and testing can help deliver a higher quality education to more students.
Spellings mounted a vigorous defense of No Child Left Behind.

Investment interest exceeds Waukesha & West Allis schools’ profits

Amy Hetzner & Avrum Lank:

Two area school districts are paying more in interest than they are receiving this quarter in a complex investment program they undertook two years ago to help pay retirement benefits, a Journal Sentinel analysis found.
The investment plans implemented in the Waukesha and West Allis-Milwaukee districts are the same as a program that an outside analyst said was causing a loss for the Kenosha Unified district in the current quarter.
For part of their investments in the complicated programs, all three districts borrowed money at fixed rates that now exceed what they receive in income. In addition, because the value of the investments has fallen substantially over the last year, the interest rate on debt issued by district-run trusts has increased enough to cut into profits they had expected to make.
As a result, Waukesha and West Allis-West Milwaukee could be obligated to pay out thousands of dollars more in interest than they are receiving from the investments for the quarter ending this month.

The article notes that Erik Kass, Waukesha’s executive Director of Business Services will soon become assistant superintendent of business services in Madison. A significant decline (from $48M in 2000 to $24M in 2006; annual budgets were $252M and $333M) in the Madison School District’s “Equity Fund” balance (the difference between assets and liabilities) has been an issue in recent board races and meetings.
It will be interesting to see how both the past experiences of Erik Kass and incoming Superintendent Dan Nerad frame their approach to local governance and community interaction.

Massachusett’s School Overhaul Plan: Let 16 Year Olds Graduate


The school overhaul plan being unveiled next week by Gov. Deval Patrick includes a proposal to allow high school students as young as 16 to take an international evaluation test that would allow them to graduate, The Associated Press learned today.
A report from the year-old Readiness Project will also include recommendations to make credits universally transferrable through the state college, community college and university system. It also features a so-called dual-enrollment program that would allow high school students to receive credit for classes taken on college campuses, a senior administration official familiar with the report said.
Overall, the goal is to personalize education rather than continuing to rely on the more formulaic approach in which all students march in annual progression from elementary school through high school and undergraduate education — all between the ages of 6 and 22.

Related: Fearing for Massachusetts School Reform.

Gifted Programs in the City Are Less Diverse

Elissa Gootman and Robert Gebeloff
When New York City set a uniform threshold for admission to public school gifted programs last fall, it was a crucial step in a prolonged effort to equalize access to programs that critics complained were dominated by white middle-class children whose parents knew how to navigate the system.
The move was controversial, with experts warning that standardized tests given to young children were heavily influenced by their upbringing and preschool education, and therefore biased toward the affluent.
Now, an analysis by The New York Times shows that under the new policy, children from the city’s poorest districts were offered a smaller percentage than last year of the entry-grade gifted slots in elementary schools. Children in the city’s wealthiest districts captured a greater share of the slots.
The disparity is so stark that some gifted programs opened by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in an effort to increase opportunities in poor and predominantly minority districts will not fill new classes next year. In three districts, there were too few qualifiers to fill a single class.

High School Hackers Load Spyware To Change Grades

Mark Selfe:

Omar Khan and Tanvir Singh, both 18-years old, face more than just a trip down to the Principal’s office as they are both charged for breaking into and then hacking Tesoro High School computers in Orange County California.
According to prosecutors, the two individuals used stolen passwords and usernames to hack into school computers to change their grades from D’s and C’s to A’s and B+’s. Khan was also accused of stealing tests before they had been given and for loading spyware which would enable him access servers remotley to change the grades of 12 other students.

Nerad leaves (Green Bay) with look back, some sadness

Kelly McBride:

Outgoing Green Bay School District Superintendent Daniel Nerad always will have new-job jitters.
The butterflies were there on his first day as a Green Bay School District employee 33 years ago, and he predicts they’ll be there when he starts his new role as head of the Madison School District July 1.
Nerad can only hope there’s less property damage this time around.
“My parents gave me a new briefcase when I was employed here,” he recalled Tuesday. “I had this old beat-up car that the driver’s side door sometimes would unlock and sometimes didn’t unlock. … So I put the briefcase down on the side of the car and I went on the passenger’s side and went in. Started the car, backed up — smashed my new briefcase.
“So just as there were first-day jitters then, there will be first-day jitters (in Madison).”
There’s also been sadness around Nerad leaving, as he admits and as was evident at the conclusion of his last Green Bay School Board meeting Monday night.

Much more on incoming Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad here.

Unthinkable Futures

Kevin Kelly & Brian Eno:

While hunting in my archives for something else I dug up this exercise in scenarios. It was a small game Brian Eno and I played to loosen up our expectations of what might happen in the near future. We were both struck at how improbable current events would be to anyone in the past, and how incapable we are at expecting the improbable in the future.
This list of unthinkable futures — probabilities we tend to dismiss without thinking — was published 15 years ago in the Summer, 1993 issue of Whole Earth Review. Our intent was less to correctly predict the future (thus the silliness) and more to predict how unpredictable the actual future would be.
* American education works. Revived by vouchers, a longer school year, private schools and for-profit schools, the majority of Americans (though not the most disadvantaged) get the best education in the world.

No Child Left Behind may be a drag on the gifted

By Anya Sostek, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

The school accountability movement is leaving the nation’s most gifted students behind, according to a report released yesterday by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
The report, “High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB,” uses scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress to compare changes in the top 10 percent and the bottom 10 percent of students since the introduction of No Child Left Behind.
The good news is that NCLB seems to be making progress toward its goal of closing the “achievement gap,” states the report: In fourth-grade reading, for example, NAEP scores for the bottom tenth increased 16 points from 2000 to 2007, compared to 3 points for the top tenth.
But what does the narrowing of that gap mean for students scoring at the top of the spectrum?
“The progress of our top students has been modest at best,” said the report, noting that the focus of NCLB on bringing students to the “proficient” level might result in the neglect of gifted students who are already proficient.
“People can look at this data and say, ‘This is great news,’ and maybe that’s what our national education policy should be,” said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president at the Fordham Institute. “But you see that the performance of the high-achieving students is languid, and the question is whether languid is going to cut it in a global economy.”

A Robin Hood Effect: Does the focus on students who are furthest behind come at the expense of top students?

Ann Duffett, Steve Farkas, Tom Loveless: High Achieving Students in the era of NCLB.

This publication reports the results of the first two (of five) studies of a multifaceted research investigation of the state of high-achieving students in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) era.
Part I: An Analysis of NAEP Data, authored by Brookings Institution scholar Tom Loveless, examines achievement trends for high-achieving students (defined, like low-achieving students, by their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP) since the early 1990s and, in more detail, since 2000.
Part II: Results from a National Teacher Survey, authored by Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett of Farkas Duffett Research Group, reports on teachers’ own views of how schools are serving high-achieving pupils in the NCLB era.

Locally, these issues have manifested themselves with a controversial move toward one size fits all curriculum: English 10 and mandatory academic grouping, High School Redesign and a letter from the West High School Math teachers to Isthmus. Dane County AP Class offering comparison.
Report Sees Cost in Some Academic Gains by Sam Dillon:

And about three-quarters of the teachers surveyed said they agreed with this statement: “Too often, the brightest students are bored and under-challenged in school — we’re not giving them a sufficient chance to thrive”.

Download the complete 7.3MB report here.
Thanks to a reader for emailing the report.

Madison’s Math Task Force Meets Today and Tomorrow

Madison School District:

  1. Welcome
  2. Approval of Minutes dated June 6, 2008
  3. Review of Drafts of Findings and Recommendations for Final Task Force Report
  1. Consensus findings
  2. Findings that require further discussion
  3. Consensus recommendations
  4. Recommendations that require further discussion
  1. Further Discussion of Findings Requiring Revised or Additional Language as Needed
  2. Further Discussion of Recommendations requiring Revised or Additional Language as Needed
  3. Other Findings or Recommendations Proposed for Inclusion in the Final Report
  4. Other Issues regarding Final Report Draft


  1. Review of Revised Report Documents
    1. Revised findings
    2. Revised recommendations
    3. Discussion
  2. Review and Discussion of Other Chapters of Final Report
  3. Additional Comments and Concerns relate to the Final Report
  4. Acceptance of Findings, Recommendations and Sub-reports and Final Report
  5. Next Steps in Process of Submitting to the MMSD Board
  6. Acknowledgments
  7. Adjournment

Much more on the Math Task Force here.
March 7, 2008 Madison Math Task Force Minutes.

Gaithersburg School Tailors Teaching To Help Students Cope With Asperger

Daniel de Vise:

The first day of kindergarten found Alex Barth in the principal’s office. The teacher had asked students to draw self-portraits. Alex had wanted to draw his in red crayon. There was no red crayon. Alex had melted down.
Alex was a capable child with superior intelligence — and no end of eccentricities. He would flee noisy school assemblies. He couldn’t bear the smell of the cafeteria. By the end of first grade, his mother was spending much of the day at Alex’s side.
Robyne Barth soon learned her son had Asperger syndrome, a developmental disorder on the autism spectrum. Children with the disorder, known in shorthand as Asperger’s, might have strong academic gifts but deficiencies in such social skills as carrying on a conversation and playing with others at recess.

Members of Congress Are 3-4 Times More Likely to Send Their Children To Private Schools

Mark Perry:

A 2007 Heritage Foundation survey found that the percentage of Members of the 110th Congress who practice pri vate school choice is disproportionate to the general populace, since only 11.5% of American stu dents attend private schools. Also of note, Mem bers of the Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who represent populations that have fared poorly academically in public schools and that stand to benefit the most from educational options, showed particularly high rates of practicing school choice.

MasterCard to Donate $200,000 for St. Louis Math Education

Matt Allen:

MasterCard Worldwide is donating nearly $200,000 in grants this year as part of its St. Louis corporate giving program, Project Math, which helps advance math education in the St. Louis area.
Among those who are currently receiving funding from MasterCard as part of Project Math are the Wentzville School District, The Magic House, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri and the Missouri Colleges Fund. Junior Achievement of Mississippi Valley Inc. received a $50,000 grant in March enabling the organization to reach more than a dozen St. Louis area schools.

Maths review: toddlers should learn through number play

Laura Clout & Lucy Cockcroft:

Pre-school children should spend time cooking with their parents and playing with numbers to help improve their maths skills, a Government review has recommended.
The report by Sir Peter Williams, Chancellor of Leicester University, also advised that every primary school should have a specialist maths teacher and called for more mental arithmetic in class.
He called for urgent action to change England’s “can’t do attitude” to the subject, and said that every child should have mastered the basics of the subject by the age of seven.
To help achieve this children should be playing with shapes, time, capacity and numbers to foster their “natural instincts” from a young age

Dan Nerad Assumes the Madison Superintendent Position July 1, 2008

Tamira Madsen:

Hailed as a hard worker by district peers and teachers, in person, Nerad is a quiet and astute listener who weighs opinions, questions and ideas in a thoughtful manner.
It’s the quiet that marks the greatest contrast with outgoing Superintendent Art Rainwater, a former football coach with a commanding physical presence. Rainwater’s assertive, booming voice resonates in the Doyle Administration Building’s auditorium with or without a microphone.
Asked what the biggest difference is between Rainwater and Nerad, School Board President Arlene Silveira said it “will be Dan being out in the community and being more communicative. I think he will be more available and more accessible to the community as a whole. … I think people should feel very comfortable and confident that stepping in, he will be able to start making decisions and leading us from day one. I think that’s a big deal and very positive for us.”

Notes, Links, Audio and Video of Dan Nerad. Nerad’s public appearance.

New York Majority Supports Statewide Tax Cap Plan

James T. Madore & Melissa Mansfield:

The hurdles to adoption of property tax relief were on display here yesterday as the Senate touted a plan that was immediately dismissed by the Assembly, while Gov. David A. Paterson stood by his controversial tax cap.
The contradictory moves occurred hours after the Siena Research Institute released a poll showing 74 percent of voters back Paterson’s bill that would cap increases in school property taxes at 4 percent a year. On Long Island and in other New York City suburbs, support for the tax cap was even higher: 76 percent.
Still, the Senate’s Republican majority argued it has a better plan: to allow school districts to eliminate the residential property tax as a funding source over five years and replace the lost revenue with greater state aid. The GOP bill also would permit districts to cap their tax levies through successful petitioning by residents.

School pretends students have been killed to teach dangers of drink-driving

Megan Levy:

A police officer in uniform walked into 20 classrooms at El Camino High School in California and announced that several students had been killed in car wrecks over the weekend.
The hoax was intended to teach the dangers of drink-driving.
But the scare tactic backfired when some students, who were not told that it was a stunt for two hours, became hysterical and wept uncontrollably.
Their grief turned to fury when they learned they had been duped.
Some students made posters declaring: “Death is real. Don’t play with our emotions”, while a number of parents also complained to the education department.

A 24-hour boarding school can be part of the answer to helping inner city youth help the state by becoming high school and college graduates.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

Her learning marked her as different in her neighborhood and her home. And that was the conundrum she presented to the benefactor driving her home for summer break from the last day of school on Thursday.
Her family lives in one of the roughest housing projects in Washington, D.C. But for the past three years, the 15-year-old ninth-grader has been attending the SEED School in that city, which meant she lived at the school five days a week, except in the summer. It is a boarding school of the type that a core group of influential Milwaukeeans wants to establish here — providing remedial and college-prep, wraparound services that cocoon students from tough family and neighborhood circumstances so that they may better acquire the academic and life skills to succeed.
This girl represents one of the reasons Milwaukee and state leaders should get behind this proposal, contributing to a capital campaign that must raise $30 million to $60 million in private money and injecting a commitment in the governor’s upcoming budget for direct state funding in 2011.
“Ms. Poole, I’m concerned,” the girl said, as Lesley Poole, the schools director of student life, tells it on the day it happened. “I think I’m getting smarter and know more than anyone in my house, and that’s unfair to my mom. I know more words than she does. . . . I can out talk her.”

Three Wisconsin students best in Braille

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

Students from Kenosha, Green Bay, and Madison are among the top Braille users in the United States and Canada, winning a competition held earlier this spring at the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Janesville, as a part of the international Braille Challenge.
The three Wisconsin winners are eligible to attend the finals of the international Braille Challenge, which will be held in Los Angeles on June 27th.
The winners, Baylee Alger of Green Bay, Zachary Morris of Kenosha, and Amelia King of Madison, competed in reading comprehension, proofreading, spelling, dictation, and charts and graphs events as part of the challenge. Alger and Morris won top honors in the apprentice category for students in the first and second grades. Both attend their local school districts and receive Braille instruction from teachers of the blind: Alger from Kathleen Ford and Morris from Harry Ostrov. King has placed as a finalist twice before and won the competition in 2004. She currently attends the Wisconsin School for the Visually Handicapped in Janesville and has been a student at Madison Memorial High School.

Summing up a school

Houston Chronicle:

Houston Independent School District officials probably reckoned they made a thrifty choice when they planned to close William Wharton Elementary (latest news). Because many Wharton students come from neighborhoods outside its zone, administrators must have assumed that shuttering the school, consolidating its student body with that of a bigger facility, and perhaps selling the pricey Montrose real estate was a winning formula.
They failed to do their homework. A small army of Montrose residents organized to save the school. The residents have spoken out at public hearings, met with Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra and launched a tidy new Web site called www.friendsofwharton.org. In the process, the coalition revealed the central role a healthy school plays for its community. Wharton, the Montrose activists argue, is not only an academic success story. It is a catalyst for political participation, as neighbors return there year after year to vote. With cozy, mini-Alamo style architecture, it’s one of a handful of HISD elementary schools considered architecturally significant. And it hosts an Urban Harvest community garden, a neighborhood playground and a baseball field, which cost the Neartown Little League more than $400,000.
HISD, of course, is not the park service. Much as neighbors like Wharton, administrators could argue, the district must pass only one exam in deciding its fate: whether it benefits Houston students. Yet Wharton, it turns out, educates well. Uniquely well.

Wisconsin Moving Toward New Academic Standards

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

Wisconsin took an important step Wednesday toward new academic standards which will provide the rigor and relevance students need to succeed in the 21st century.
During the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) Best Practices Forum (Institute.21) in Madison, State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster received final recommendations for revising and then implementing Model Academic Standards in English language arts and mathematics.
The recommendations represent the work of leadership and design teams made up of educators, legislators, parents, and business representatives.

Wisconsin’s standards have been criticized by the Fordham Foundation. The Madison School District is planning to use “Value Added Assessment” based on the state standards.

Raising Minority Graduation Rates in College

Jay Matthews:

The Catholic University and Trinity Washington University are well-regarded institutions located next to each other in a verdant section of northeast Washington. Yet there is a huge gap between them in the relative graduation rates of their black and white students.
Trinity, with an enrollment of about 1,600 mostly female undergraduates, graduated 51 percent of its black students entering in 2000 within six years, higher than the national black graduation rate of about 40 percent and almost identical to Trinity’s white graduation rate, 53 percent. Catholic, with an enrollment of about 6,200, has a six-year graduation rate of 25 percent for black students and 72 percent for white students who entered in 2000, one of the largest discrepancies in the country in this vital statistic.
Kevin Carey, a noted graduation rate researcher, merely reveals this interesting divergence in the data about the two schools. He does not explain it. But his startling new report, “Graduation Rate Watch: Making Minority Student Success a Priority,” which can be found online at http://www.educationsector.org/research/research_show.htm?doc_id=678433, identifies the most likely sources of such differences and provides more hopeful data about raising the graduation rates of low-income and minority students than I have seen gathered in one place.

Education: As the twig is bent …

Jerry Large:

Wouldn’t it be great if there were a single solution to our most vexing problems?
We could add productive workers, cut crime, reduce teen pregnancies and save money, too. Well, just click your heels, because we already have that power; we just have to recognize it and act on it.
The magic lies in early education: all the emotional, physical, social and cognitive learning kids do between birth and 5.
But when people talk about the power of education, it’s usually only K-12 education they’re thinking about, which may be why we just keep talking.
Last week a group of educators and social activists declared education a civil-rights issue.
The head of the school systems in New York City and Washington, D.C., were among the people who formed a new group to advocate for shaking up public education to eliminate achievement gaps based on race and income.
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels wrote in The Seattle Times last week about urban areas as the foundation of U.S. prosperity and said the quality of education kids get affects our ability to address other problems cities face.

School Choice is Change you Can Believe In

William McGurn:

Barack and Michelle Obama send their children to an upscale private school. When asked about it during last year’s YouTube debate, Sen. Obama responded that it was “the best option” for his children.
Several hundred low-income parents in our nation’s capital have also sent their children to private and parochial schools, with the help of a federal program that provides Opportunity Scholarships. Like Mr. and Mrs. Obama, most of these parents are African-American. And like Mr. and Mrs. Obama, they too believe the schools they’ve chosen represent the “best option” for their children.
Now these parents have a question for Mr. Obama. Is Mr. Change-You-Can-Believe-In going to let his fellow Democrats take away the one change that is working for them?

Chris Christoff on Obama’s Flint Education speech:

Barack Obama’s plans to invest more taxpayer dollars on early education, college tuition tax credits and incentives for prospective teachers resonated with those attending his speech Monday at Kettering University in Flint.

Teacher salaries: Performance-based, incentive system for educators


Lawmakers and education leaders agree on at least one thing: It’s time to rethink the way Utah pays teachers.
The question is, will they agree on how to do it?
Utah leaders are working to join a nationwide trend toward paying teachers based on performance in the classroom. The idea is to both ease the teacher shortage and improve instruction. It would be a huge change from the current system in which teachers are paid based on years of experience and educational backgrounds.
It’s a change that could affect instructional quality in Utah – for good or bad, depending on how it’s done.
“By providing incentives we can get teachers to focus like a laser on student achievement,” said Rep. Brad Last, R-St. George, who serves in both of the groups working on a new pay system.
On the other hand, he said, “if we try to ram something down their throats they don’t want, it will backfire.”

A Health Care Cost Win for the Madison School District & A Pay Raise for Madison Teacher’s Clerical Unit

Sandy Cullen:

Nearly 200 employees of the Madison School District who currently have health insurance provided by Wisconsin Physicians Service will lose that option, saving the district at least $1.6 million next year.
But the real savings in eliminating what has long been the most expensive health insurance option for district employees will come in “cost avoidance” in the future, said Bob Nadler, director of human resources for the district.
“It’s a big deal for us – it really is,” Nadler said.
“It certainly will be a benefit to both our employees and the taxpayers,” said Superintendent Art Rainwater, adding that the savings were applied to salary increases for the employees affected.
The change, which will take effect Aug. 1, is the result of an arbitrator’s ruling that allows the district to eliminate WPS coverage as an option for members of the clerical unit of Madison Teachers Inc., and instead offer a choice of coverage by Group Health Cooperative, Dean Care or Physicians Plus at no cost to employees. Those employees previously had a choice between only WPS or GHC.
Currently, the district pays $1,878.44 a month for each employee who chooses WPS family coverage and $716.25 for single coverage.
For Dean Care, the next highest in cost, the district will pay $1,257.68 per employee a month for family coverage and $478.21 for single coverage.
This year, WPS raised its costs more than 11 percent while other providers raised their costs by 5 percent to 9 percent, Nadler said.


The tradeoff between WPS’s large annual cost increases, salaries and staff layoffs will certainly be a much discussed topic in the next round of local teacher union negotiations.

Art, music give students skills to succeed in tomorrow’s world

Ray Binghamand Lisa Gonzales Schoennauer:

Budget cuts. Teacher layoffs. In this time of budget crisis, can our public schools really afford to continue funding arts and music education?
The appropriate question is: Can California schools afford not to?
The Dana Arts and Cognition Consortium recently identified a direct correlation between arts experiences and both academic achievement and personal development. The research shows that students who are exposed to the arts demonstrate increased overall academic success beyond just test scores, are connected to the world outside of school, and have more self-confidence.
What’s more, the report found that training in the arts leads to higher levels of reading acquisition, motivation, extended attention spans, information recall in long-term memory, and understanding of geometric representation. For example, specific pathways in the brain can be identified and improved during performing and visual arts instruction.
Not convinced by the academic research? Then look at the economics.

Green Bay Chooses Greg Maass As Their New Superintendent

Kelly McBride:

District officials announced the decision Sunday afternoon after a marathon 7-hour closed session board meeting Saturday.
Maass, the superintendent of the Fond du Lac School District, will assume the district’s top post later this summer pending a School Board site visit, background check and successful contract negotiations.
He’s set to replace Superintendent Daniel Nerad, who will begin his tenure as the head of the Madison School District July 1.

Germans eye kindergarten for next engineers

Richard Milne:

Germany’s shortage of engineers has become so acute that some of its leading companies are turning to nursery schools to guarantee future supplies.
Industrial giants such as Siemens and Bosch are among hundreds of companies giving materials and money to kindergartens to try to interest children as young as three in technology and science.
Many European countries from Switzerland to Spain suffer shortages of graduates. But the problem is especially acute in Germany, renowned as a land of engineering. German companies have 95,000 vacancies for engineers and only about 40,000 are trained, according to the engineers’ association.
“It is a new development in that we have seen we need to start very early with children. Starting at school is not good enough – we need to help them to understand as early as possible how things work,” said Maria Schumm-Tschauder, head of Siemens’ Generation21 education programme.

Milwaukee Suburbs’ schools becoming lands of many tongues

Amy Hetzner:

Students raised speaking languages other than English have been a steadily growing part of Wisconsin’s population, but few were prepared for this finding when the state adopted a new test for identifying such children a few years ago:
The school districts of Racine and St. Francis surged ahead of Milwaukee Public Schools, each with a higher percentage of their students labeled English language learners, in the 2005-’06 school year.
That trend continued in the 2006-’07 school year, with the Waukesha School District exhibiting a higher proportion of students with limited English proficiency than MPS, according to data from the state Department of Public Instruction. The Kenosha Unified School District registered a higher percentage of such students as well, and the Franklin School District wasn’t too far behind.

Madison Math Task Force Minutes

March 7, 2008 Meeting [rtf / pdf]. Well worth reading for those interested in the use of Connected Math and Core Plus, among others, in our schools.
A few interesting items:

  • Mitchell Nathan proposed a change to the name of the Work Group to more authentically describe its intent. There was consensus to accept the change in designation for the Work Group from “Curriculum Review and Research Findings” to “Learning from Curricula.”
  • “Addresses the misconception that there is one curriculum. There are a number of curricula at play, with the exception of the narrowing down at the middle school level, but teachers are also drawing from supplementary materials. There are a range of pathways for math experiences. The work plan would give an overview by level of program of what exists. “
  • “Could say that variety is good for children to have places to plug into. Could expand on the normative idea of purchasing commercial curricula vs. richer, in-house materials. Standards tell the teachers what needs to be taught. Published materials often are missing some aspect of the standards. District tries to define core resources; guides that help people with classroom organization.” Fascinating, given the move toward one size fits all in high school, such as English 9 and 10.
  • “Want to include a summary of the NRC report that came out in favor of Connected Math but was not conclusive—cannot control for teacher effects, positive effects of all curricula, etc. “
  • “Would like to give some portrayal of the opportunities for accelerated performance — want to document informal ways things are made available for differentiation. “
  • “Include elementary math targeted at middle school, e.g., Math Masters. There is information out there to address the Math Masters program and its effect on student achievement.”
  • “Data are available to conclude that there is equity in terms of resources”
  • “District will have trend data, including the period when Connected Math was implemented, and control for changes in demographics and see if there was a change. No way to link students who took the WKCE with a particular curriculum experience (ed: some years ago, I recall a teacher asked Administration at a PTO meeting whether they would track students who took Singapore Math at the Elementary level: “No”). That kind of data table has to be built, including controls and something to match teacher quality. May recommend that not worth looking at WKCE scores of CM (Connected Math) student or a case study is worth doing. “
  • The Parent Survey will be mailed to the homes of 1500 parents of students across all grades currently enrolled in MMSD math classes. The Teacher Survey will be conducted via the district’s web site using the Infinite Campus System.
  • MMSD Math Task Force website

Math Forum audio / video and links.

The Fate of The Sentence: Is the Writing On the Wall?

Linton Weeks:

The demise of orderly writing: signs everywhere.
One recent report, young Americans don’t write well.
In a survey, Internet language — abbreviated wds, 🙂 and txt msging — seeping into academic writing.
But above all, what really scares a lot of scholars: the impending death of the English sentence.
Librarian of Congress James Billington, for one. “I see creeping inarticulateness,” he says, and the demise of the basic component of human communication: the sentence.
This assault on the lowly — and mighty — sentence, he says, is symptomatic of a disease potentially fatal to civilization. If the sentence croaks, so will critical thought. The chronicling of history. Storytelling itself.
He has a point. The sentence itself is a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Something happens in a sentence. Without subjects, there are no heroes or villains. Without verbs, there is no action. Without objects, nothing is moved, changed, destroyed or created.
Plus, simple sentences clarify complex situations. (“Jesus wept.”)


Stop Cheering on Charter Schools

Matthew Taylor (the south area chairman for United Teachers Los Angeles, has taught English in Los Angeles schools for 23 years.) :

It’s apparent from The Times editorial, “Hope for Locke High,” and two previous articles why this newspaper deserves its poor reputation among local educators and informed community members when it comes to public education. A runaway bureaucracy, top-down authoritarian school administrations and a decided lack of collaboration are the real issues. It’s too bad that they remain hidden behind The Times’ blame-the-bad-teacher cries and charter-school cheerleading.
Can we at least talk about the real problem, the state budget, for a moment? Because California is one of the largest economies in the world, it’s a crime that the state ranks among the lowest in per-pupil spending and has such large teacher-student ratios. It would make sense to give a much greater financial priority to public education. What we don’t spend on now, we will have to spend much more on later. Incarceration, healthcare and welfare already cost our society too much.
Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines (who really should be called the superintendent in light of the vacant leadership of David L. Brewer) was clear and correct in taking responsibility for the latest outburst of violence at Locke High School. The Los Angeles Unified School District has “abdicated [its] responsibility” for too many years at a host of schools in inner-city Los Angeles. Years of inexperienced or despotic administrators have helped drive excellent, experienced teachers away. A lack of true collaboration with teachers and parents, turning a blind eye to the collective bargaining agreement and ignoring student-centered reforms lowered morale. When teachers aren’t valued, they try to find places where they are.

Related: Fearing for Massachusetts School Reform.

The Birmingham Board of Education refuses even to ask if other law firms might charge less than it pays now for legal services.

The Birmingham News:

Thinking about running for the Birmingham Board of Education next year? (And we’re hoping a lot of people are.)
School board members offered up a nicely gift-wrapped campaign issue for opponents to run with.
Amazingly, the school board rejected a document last week requesting bids on legal services. Instead, the board will stay with the two, expensive, outside law firms it has used for a dozen years: Waldrep, Stewart and Kendrick; and Thomas, Means, Gillis and Seay.
Even with all the financial troubles the city school system is having, this wasn’t even a close vote. By 6-2, the board turned back a document that would request – only request, mind you – proposals from other law firms.
Just asking for other proposals shouldn’t be difficult for the school board – if it truly has the best interests of city taxpayers and the school system’s future in mind.
The legal fees the system pays are out of line with anything reasonable, especially when you look at what other school systems pay for legal services. Last year, Birmingham paid $108 per student in legal fees, by far the highest in the state. Second-place Anniston spent just under $57 per student.
Wonder if steep legal fees are an unfortunate characteristic of the metropolitan area? Not if one considers Jefferson County’s legal spending. During the same period the Birmingham school board was forking over $3 million-plus in fees and lawsuit settlements, the Jefferson County system, with thousands more students, was paying about one-sixth that amount.

100 Black Men of America:
African American History Bowl Challenge Finals

Teams from 100 Black Men of Charlotte and 100 Black Men of Madison faced each other in Friday evening’s Junior Division finals [Photo (Charlotte Left, Madison Right)]. Madison (Cherokee Heights Middle School) prevailed.
100 Black Men of Jackson (MS) faced 100 Black Men of Chicago in the Senior Division Finals [Photo (Jackson Left, Chicago Right)]. Chicago won.
Madison’s team: Marshaun Hall, Maria Lee and Carrie Zellmer. The team was coached by Cherokee Middle School’s Learning Coordinator Jeff Horney. Enis Ragland, founding President of the Madison chapter and Ken Black, current President of the 100 Black Men of Madison accompanied the team (a team from Madison Memorial High School competed in the Senior Division).
Finally, this photo of the Madison team notifying friends and loved ones that they advanced to the finals provides a useful look at the zeitgeist of a 14 year old, circa 2008.
March, 2008 Madison African American History Challenge Bowl.
100 Black Men of America.

Dane County, WI Schools Consider MAP Assessement Tests After Frustration with State WKCE Exams
Waunakee Urges that the State Dump the WKCE

Andy Hall takes a look at a useful topic:

From Wisconsin Heights on the west to Marshall on the east, 10 Dane County school districts and the private Eagle School in Fitchburg are among more than 170 Wisconsin public and private school systems purchasing tests from Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit group based in the state of Oregon.
The aim of those tests, known as Measures of Academic Progress, and others purchased from other vendors, is to give educators, students and parents more information about students ‘ strengths and weaknesses. Officials at these districts say the cost, about $12 per student per year for MAP tests, is a good investment.
The tests ‘ popularity also reflects widespread frustration over the state ‘s $10 million testing program, the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination.
Critics say that WKCE, which is used to hold schools accountable under the federal No Child Left Behind law, fails to provide adequate data to help improve the teaching methods and curriculum used in the classrooms.
They complain that because the tests are administered just once a year, and it takes nearly six months to receive the results, the information arrives in May — too late to be of use to teachers during the school year.
The testing controversy is “a healthy debate, ” said Tony Evers, deputy state superintendent of public instruction, whose agency contends that there ‘s room for both WKCE and MAP.
“It ‘s a test that we feel is much more relevant to assisting students and helping them with their skills development, ” said Mike Hensgen, director of curriculum and instruction for the Waunakee School District, who acknowledges he ‘s a radical in his dislike of WKCE.
“To me, the WKCE is not rigorous enough. When a kid sees he ‘s proficient, ‘ he thinks he ‘s fine. ”
Hensgen contends that the WKCE, which is based on the state ‘s academic content for each grade level, does a poor job of depicting what elite students, and students performing at the bottom level, really know.
The Waunakee School Board, in a letter being distributed this month, is urging state legislators and education officials to find ways to dump WKCE in favor of MAP and tests from ACT and other vendors.

The Madison School District and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research are using the WKCE as a benchmark for “Value Added Assessment”.

“Charter Schools Shouldn’t Promote Islam”

Katherine Kersten:

At what point does a publicly funded charter school with strong Islamic ties cross the line and inappropriately promote religion?
That’s a question now facing us in Minnesota. For the past five years, the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy Britannica, in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., has operated in close connection with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. The school accepts public funds, and thus the broader constitutional requirements placed on all public schools. Nonetheless, in many ways it behaves like a religious school.
The school is named for the Muslim general who conquered Spain in the eighth century. It shares a building with a mosque and the headquarters of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. The cafeteria serves Halal food. Arabic is a required subject. There is a break for midday prayers.
On Fridays, many students join with Muslim teachers and attend religious services in the school’s gym. There are voluntary Islamic Studies classes held “after” school, but before the buses leave to take the school’s 400 students home. Most of the students are the children of low-income Muslim immigrants.

Obama & School Reform

David Brooks:

The question of the week is: Which camp is Barack Obama in?
His advisers run the gamut, and the answer depends in part on what month it is. Back in October 2005, Obama gave a phenomenal education speech in which he seemed to ally with the reformers. Then, as the campaign heated up, he shifted over to pure union orthodoxy, ripping into accountability and testing in a speech in New Hampshire in a way that essentially gutted the reformist case. Then, on May 28 in Colorado, he delivered another major education speech in which he shifted back in a more ambiguous direction.
In that Colorado speech, he opened with a compelling indictment of America’s school systems. Then he argued that the single most important factor in shaping student achievement is the quality of the teachers. This seemed to direct him in the reformist camp’s direction, which has made them happy.
But when you look at the actual proposals Obama offers, he’s doesn’t really address the core issues. He’s for the vast panoply of pre-K and after-school programs that most of us are for. But the crucial issues are: What do you do with teachers and administrators who are failing? How rigorously do you enforce accountability? Obama doesn’t engage the thorny, substantive matters that separate the two camps.
He proposes dozens of programs to build on top of the current system, but it’s not clear that he would challenge it. He’s all carrot, no stick. He’s politically astute — giving everybody the impression he’s on their side — but substantively vague. Change just isn’t that easy.
Obama endorses many good ideas and is more specific than the McCain campaign, which hasn’t even reported for duty on education. But his education remarks give the impression of a candidate who wants to be for big change without actually incurring the political costs inherent in that enterprise.

Letters in response to Brooks’ column.

“Why is the education lobby so afraid of giving parents more choice?”

Letters to the Seattle Times:

I agree with virtually everything Web Hutchins wrote questioning the value of the test-based WASL, Advanced Placement and the very real value of small class sizes [“Test-based education is shortchanging students,” Times, guest commentary, June 11]. He does leave out a few things, however.
I’ve always thought that the education lobby has resisted teacher-competency evaluation to the point that testing students with the WASL has become the alternative to testing and evaluating teachers. What does education certification really mean? It certainly doesn’t mean competence in the classroom. Why is the education lobby so afraid of giving parents more choice in the selection of schools and teachers? I don’t think it’s about classroom size.

D.C. Leaders Chart Progress, Academic Goals

V. Dion Haynes:

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and education officials marked the first anniversary of his takeover of the city’s beleaguered public schools yesterday by listing a series of improvements, mainly in business functions and school facilities, and outlined their goal of improving student achievement in the second year.
School system officials acknowledge that the efforts, while serving as a foundation for better instruction, probably will show little immediate effect on performance, as rated on test scores due later this summer.
A five-page, mostly single-spaced handout detailed 46 initiatives. They include a new textbook distribution system, refurbished high school athletic fields, spruced-up buildings, more art and music teachers and digitized personnel files that eliminated 4.6 million documents in disarray.