Obama Questioned on Vouchers

Kelly Petty:

Minority voters have long favored the Democratic Party’s push for increased federal funding for public schools. But over the past few years, some of these voters have embraced the conservative-backed idea of private-school vouchers for low-income students.
Pro-voucher voters among racial minorities overwhelmingly support Barack Obama, but they are baffled by the Democratic nominee’s opposition to vouchers. They also say they are frustrated that Democratic leaders appear to be more concerned about keeping the peace with teachers unions — which adamantly oppose vouchers — than about finding alternatives that could advance desperately needed education reforms for minority students.
Obama’s “change” message has attracted millions of minorities, particularly African-Americans. Yet he cannot afford to lose minorities who are demanding greater school choice for their children.
In February, Obama seemed open to the idea of private-school vouchers. In an editorial board meeting with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, he was asked about his opposition to Wisconsin’s voucher program. If he saw more proof that vouchers are successful, Obama said, he would “not allow my predispositions to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn…. You do what works for the kids.”
But at the American Federation of Teachers convention this year, Obama repeated his attack against spending government money to help low-income students attend private schools. He criticized John McCain’s school-choice reform as “using public money for private-school vouchers,” and he called instead for overhauling public schools.

Moving the Los Angeles Schools to the 21st Century

Charles Kerchner, a professor at Claremont Graduate University and a specialist in educational organizations, educational policy and teacher unions, writes::

While the financial markets have reached the point of panic, a longer-running crisis has enveloped Los Angeles’ school system. For at least a decade, people have called the Los Angeles Unified School District a system in crisis. Even when it does things well, it gets little credit.
In a crisis, a special type of politics is supposed to take hold. People of all political stripes are supposed to come together to fashion a solution, the very kind of politics we are witnessing in response to the financial markets’ dysfunction. But unlike that situation, there is no sure resolution of the school’s systemic failure, and no sense of urgency. So LAUSD bumps along in a state of permanent crisis.
Getting past permanent crisis and creating a 21st century institution of public education requires only that those interested in the district’s future learn from its history. After half a decade of studying efforts to transform the district, my colleagues and I have five policy ideas that we think would move the district beyond permanent crisis.

Charles Kerchner’s website. Clusty Search on Kerchner.

Maine May Freeze School Subsidies

Mal Leary:

Schools may have to get by with the current level of $986 million in state subsidies for the next budget year, Education Commissioner Susan Gendron warned school officials this week.
She also said she cannot rule out a cut in this year’s aid.
“I don’t want to put fear into people, but we don’t know what the size of the curtailment will be,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “We are trying to mitigate the impact on general purpose aid at the local level by absorbing much of that curtailment within the agency.”
Gendron sent a memo to school superintendents late Tuesday that warned them as part of the targeted 10 percent reduction in the next two-year budget, she was submitting a proposal to Gov. John Baldacci to freeze aid at this year’s level.
That would save about $170 million, she said, considering state law mandates an increase of that amount to move the state toward its goal of providing 55 percent of general purpose aid.

The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn

Jeremy Hsu:

Key Concepts

  • Storytelling is a human universal, and common themes appear in tales throughout history and all over the the world.
  • These characteristics of stories, and our natural affinity toward them, reveal clues about our evolutionary history and the roots of emotion and empathy in the mind.
  • By studying narrative’s power to influence beliefs, researchers are discovering how we analyze information and accept new ideas.

When Brad Pitt tells Eric Bana in the 2004 film Troy that “there are no pacts between lions and men,” he is not reciting a clever line from the pen of a Hollywood screenwriter. He is speaking Achilles’ words in English as Homer wrote them in Greek more than 2,000 years ago in the Iliad. The tale of the Trojan War has captivated generations of audiences while evolving from its origins as an oral epic to written versions and, finally, to several film adaptations. The power of this story to transcend time, language and culture is clear even today, evidenced by Troy’s robust success around the world.
Popular tales do far more than entertain, however. Psychologists and neuroscientists have recently become fascinated by the human predilection for storytelling. Why does our brain seem to be wired to enjoy stories? And how do the emotional and cognitive effects of a narrative influence our beliefs and real-world decisions?

Madison’s Memorial High School Closes Early Today Amid Safety Concerns


Students at James Madison Memorial High School in Madison were let out early on Friday amid ongoing safety concerns, according to a Madison Metropolitan School District spokesman.
There was increased police presence at the school and officials postponed an early lunch on Friday, according to Ken Syke.
The students were released at 12:55 p.m. Officials said that buses will be there to pick up students.
They said that all of the schools extracurricular activities are scheduled, but there will be an extra police presence at each event.
Syke said that no incidents occurred at the school on Friday, but that officials are concerned about safety after a fight broke out at the school earlier this week. The fight apparently involving two groups of students on Thursday and seven students were ultimately arrested.

Sandy Cullen has more along with WKOW-TV and NBC-15. Madison School District statement.
Related: Gangs & School Violence Forum Audio & Video and police calls near Madison high schools 1996-2006.

School Efforts to Stem Violence Offer A Textbook Case of Limits on Speech

Dan Slater:

With the nation’s school systems roiled by campus shootings over the past decade, and on the lookout for conflict, students are being asked to check a broader array of free-speech rights at the door — raising questions about what lesson that is teaching them.
Public-school administrators are hewing to a zero-tolerance policy on expression they believe incites violence, and they are doing so with the backing of the courts. Controversial clothing has been a common casualty. Struggling with racial tensions at his high school, a principal in Maryville, Tenn., banned depictions of the Confederate flag in 2005 and was supported by a federal court. Last month, the Aurora Frontier K-8 School in Aurora, Colo., suspended an 11-year-old who refused to remove a homemade T-shirt that read, “Obama is a terrorist’s best friend.” The shirt caused “a very loud argument on the playground,” according to a statement from the school.
Since such actions stem from a concern over the safety of adolescents, even free-speech advocates acknowledge a need for some degree of deference to educators. But an argument of imminent danger is hard to make in many of these cases. Some think educators may be inadvertently teaching children that suppressing speech is the ready solution to ideological conflict.

German Embassy Promoting (& Funding) German Language Programs

German Missions to the United States:

“Education creates prospects – multilingualism opens new horizons. With our partner schools abroad we not only want to give children access to the German language and education but also to awaken an interest in and understanding for each other. Openness to cultural diversity and tolerance towards other people’s distinctiveness are not mutually exclusive. To help children grasp this even better we need, more than ever, places where they can meet, learn and be creative together. The earlier we realize that we are an international learning community, the more capable we will be of solving our shared problems. Our partner schools abroad want to contribute towards that goal.”
— Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has launched the “Schools: Partners for the Future” Initiative. Its goal is to build up a worldwide network of at least 1000 partner schools through which to awaken young people’s interest in and enthusiasm for modern-day Germany and German society. Additional funds to the tune of 45 million euro have been earmarked for the initiative in 2008. It will be coordinated by the Federal Foreign Office and implemented in cooperation with the Central Agency for Schools Abroad, the Goethe-Institut, the Educational Exchange Service of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder in the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Academic Exchange Service.

PDF Brochure and Teacher’s Abroad.
The Smith Academy of International Languages in Charlotte, NC received a $22,101 grant recently:

Ambassador Klaus Scharioth visited the Smith Academy of International Languages in Charlotte, North Carolina, to present a check for $22,101 on September 22, 2008. The school is one of the 16 new members in the US of the worldwide partner school network, which currently has around 500 partner schools.

Obama & McCain on Education

CBS Evening News:

When it comes to sports, whether it’s on the basketball court or on the ice, high school seniors Brit Schneiders and Raven Gary know what it’s like to be the best.
Both girls star on Illinois state championship teams, but when it comes to the public schools they each attend, these two aren’t even in the same league.
Raven’s high school, John Marshall, is on Chicago’s tough West Side. It’s part of the third largest school district in the country, Chicago Public Schools, where students average a meager 17 out of 36 on the ACT – the all important college entrance exam.
But the average at Marshall is only 14. The graduation rate hovers around 50 percent. Less than 8 percent of Marshall students read at grade level and fewer than 3 percent are at grade level in math.
“I’m goin’ to college,” said Raven, who is an A-student. But she and her mom Sharon Williams say it’s been a real struggle at a school that doesn’t even have enough textbooks to send home with students.
“When look at other schools … do you feel ripped off, and why do you think the country is letting that happen?” Bowers asked Raven.
“Maybe they don’t see the big picture,” she said. “We need the tools to learn.”

What Does it Mean to be an Educated Person?

New Roots to rethink old education model
Tina Nilsen-Hodges:

The State University of New York Board of Trustees approved the charter application last week for the New Roots Charter School, an innovative new high school that will be one of the first fully integrated models of education for sustainability at the secondary level in the nation. Students in my spring 2007 “Teaching Sustainability” course contributed to the development of the initial school concept paper, which provided the foundation for the charter application submitted in June.
Why this school, why here and why now? New Roots Charter School answers the call of the U.N. Decade for Education for Sustainable Development for the rethinking of education necessary to address the problems of the 21st century. Gov. David Paterson was quoted as saying, “Global warming presents each of us with a question. Do we continue with the status quo or are we ready to make significant cultural and lifestyle alterations?”
Consider our energy crisis, expanding poverty and the degradation of essential ecosystem services, and Paterson’s conclusion becomes even more urgent. “Future actions will require a fundamental change of philosophy in how we live our lives,” he said.

Green Charter Schools National Conference in Madison on November 7- 9
The Urban Environment:

HER giggling friends suddenly quiet down when Jamilka Carrasquillo, her large silver hoop earrings swinging, describes the day her class killed chickens.
“We actually had to go up to the woods to do it,” she says, perched on the back of a chair in a classroom at Common Ground High School in New Haven.
Each student who wanted one got a bird. Following a modified-kosher method (no rabbi), the students stunned the birds with an electric shock, hung them upside down and cut the jugular vein. They call the chickens “meat birds” to maintain emotional distance, but the experience can be difficult.
Jamilka cried; others, even teachers, did too. A lot emerged as vegetarians. Jamilka did not, but she says she came to understand that the pinkish slabs wrapped in plastic on the grocery shelf actually come from living animals. She pledged not to waste food.

A “Comprehensive, Research Based Approach to Literacy”

Reading Review: Step By Step Learning via a kind reader’s email:

A prominent RTI educational organization recognized for achieving positive sustainable results in schools, published the latest volume of its Reading Review this week.
This newspaper is designed for Directors of Curriculum, Teachers, Principals, and Superintendents, sharing the stories of schools’ successes, LETRS Coaching, RTI Implementation and other rewarding articles. Read the Reading Review today to discover what success is actually occurring in today’s classrooms.

Earth Science Week


AGI is pleased to announce the theme of Earth Science Week 2008: “No Child Left Inside.” Being held October 12-18, Earth Science Week 2008 will encourage young people to learn about the geosciences by getting away from the television, off the computer, and out of doors.
AGI hosts Earth Science Week in cooperation with sponsors as a service to the public and the geoscience community. Each year, local groups, educators, and interested individuals organize celebratory events. Earth Science Week offers opportunities to discover the Earth sciences and engage in responsible stewardship of the Earth. The program is supported by the U.S. Geological Survey, NASA, the National Park Service, the AAPG Foundation, and other geoscience groups.

Police: Fight At Memorial High School Leads To 7 Arrests


A fight involving two groups of students at Memorial High School has led to the arrest of seven students, Madison police said.
Madison police responded to a fight a Memorial High school around 9:11 a.m. on Thursday.
The fight involved two groups of students and during the incident, a 16-year-old girl was knocked to the floor and is believed to have lost consciousness, according to police.
Another student is accused of battering the girl when she was knocked down. The girl suffered abrasions but did not require hospitalization.
A 17-year-old girl has been arrested and tentatively charged with substantial battery and disorderly conduct.

Related: Police calls near Madison high schools: 1996-2006.

The Anti-Schoolers

Penelope Green:

ONE morning early last month, long after that frantic hour between 7 and 8 when most New York City parents were hustling their 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds out the door and into their first day of kindergarten, Benny Rendell, the 5-year-old son of Joanne Rendell, a novelist, and Brad Lewis, a New York University professor, lay sprawled asleep in his bed, enjoying what his mother described as his first day of unkindergarten.
Benny stayed asleep, as is his habit, until well past 11 a.m., while his mother, whose first book, “The Professors’ Wives’ Club,” was just published by NAL Accent, worked on her new novel. When Benny awoke, he and his mother slowly made their way to a friend’s house in Brooklyn, with Benny reading the subway stops out loud on the way, and counting out change at a vegetable stand.
They spent the afternoon in a Fort Greene backyard; while Benny played with his pals in the mud, the grown-ups looked on, and shared a cold one.

“Madison Schools Referendum Prospects Look Good”

Jason Shephard:

November’s referendum seeks to permanently increase the revenue cap for operating costs by $5 million in 2009-10, and an additional $4 million in both 2010-11 and 2011-12, for a total of $13 million. These increases would be permanent.
The projected tax hike on an average $250,000 home is $27.50 in 2009, $70.60 in 2010, and $91.50 in 2011, for a total three-year increase of $189.60.
To demonstrate fiscal discipline, Nerad has committed to making $1 million in cuts this year, including $600,000 in staff positions, even if the referendum passes. And Nerad pledges $2.5 million in additional spending cuts in the two subsequent years. The district will also transfer $2 million from its cash balance to offset the budget deficit.
Other savings will come from a new fund that allows the district to spread out capital costs over a longer period of time, remove some costs from the operating budget, and receive more state aid.
“We are committed to making reductions, finding efficiencies and being good stewards of tax dollars,” Nerad says. “We realize this is a difficult time for people. At the same time, we have an obligation to serve our children well.”
Don Severson, head of the fiscally conservative watchdog group Active Citizens for Education and a persistent referendum critic, wishes the district would have developed its new strategic plans before launching a ballot initiative.
“This money is to continue the same services that have not provided increases in student achievement” and come with no guarantees of program evaluations or instructional changes, Severson says.

Much more on the November, 2008 Madison referendum here.

ACE Update on the November 2008 Madison Referendum, Information Session Tonight

REMINDER: The MMSD district is holding its second of four “Information Sessions” regarding the referendum tonight (Thursday, October 16), 6:30 pm, Jefferson Middle School. You are urged to attend.
The Madison Metropolitan School District seeks approval of the district taxpayers to permanently exceed the revenue cap for operations money by $13 million a year. In the meantime, to establish that new tax base over the next three years, a total of $27 million in more revenue will have been raised for programs and services. The district has also projected there will continue to be a ‘gap’ or shortfall of revenue to meet expenses of approximately $4 million per year after the next three years, thereby expecting to seek approval for additional spending authority.
Whereas, the Board of Education has staked the future of the district on increased spending to maintain current programs and services for a “high quality education;”
Whereas, student performance on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams has languished at the 7, 8, and 9 deciles (in comparison with the rest of the state’s schools where 1 is the highest level and 10 is the lowest) in 4th, 8th and 10th grade reading, math, science, social studies and language arts exams for the past five years. The total percentage of MMSD students performing at either “proficient” or “advanced” levels (the two highest standards) has consistently ranged in mid 60%s to mid 70%s;
Whereas, the district Drop Out Rate of 2.7% (2006-07) was the highest since 1998-99. With the exception of two years with slight declines, the rate has risen steadily since 1999.
Whereas, the Attendance Rate for all students has remained basically steady since 1998-99 in a range from 95.2% (2005-06) to a high of 96.5% (2001-02);
Whereas, the district Truancy Rate of students habitually truant has risen again in the past three years to 6.0% in 2006-07. The truancy rate has ranged from 6.3% (1999-2000) to 4.4% in 2002-03;
Whereas, the district total PreK-12 enrollment has declined from 25,087 (2000-01) to its second lowest total of 24,540 (2008-09) since that time;
Whereas, the district annual budget has increased from approximately $183 million in 1994-1995 (the first year of revenue caps) to approximately $368 million (2008-09);
Whereas, the board explains the ‘budget gap’ between revenue and expenses as created by the difference between the state mandated Qualified Economic Offer of 3.8% minimum for salary and health benefits for professional teaching staff and the 2.2% average annual increases per student in the property tax levy. The district, however, has agreed with the teachers’ union for an average 4.24% in annual increases since 2001;
Whereas, the district annual cost per pupil is the second highest in the state at $13,280 for the school year 2007-08;
The Madison Metropolitan School District seeks approval of the district taxpayers to permanently exceed the revenue cap for operations money by $13 million a year. In the meantime, to establish that new tax base over the next three years, a total of $27 million in more revenue will have been raised for programs and services. The district has also projected there will continue to be a ‘gap’ or shortfall of revenue to meet expenses of approximately $4 million per year after the next three years, thereby expecting to seek approval for additional spending authority.
Whereas, the Board of Education has staked the future of the district on increased spending to maintain current programs and services for a “high quality education;”
Whereas, student performance on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams has languished at the 7, 8, and 9 deciles (in comparison with the rest of the state’s schools where 1 is the highest level and 10 is the lowest) in 4th, 8th and 10th grade reading, math, science, social studies and language arts exams for the past five years. The total percentage of MMSD students performing at either “proficient” or “advanced” levels (the two highest standards) has consistently ranged in mid 60%s to mid 70%s;
Whereas, the district Drop Out Rate of 2.7% (2006-07) was the highest since 1998-99. With the exception of two years with slight declines, the rate has risen steadily since 1999.
Whereas, the Attendance Rate for all students has remained basically steady since 1998-99 in a range from 95.2% (2005-06) to a high of 96.5% (2001-02);
Whereas, the district Truancy Rate of students habitually truant has risen again in the past three years to 6.0% in 2006-07. The truancy rate has ranged from 6.3% (1999-2000) to 4.4% in 2002-03;
Whereas, the district total PreK-12 enrollment has declined from 25,087 (2000-01) to its second lowest total of 24,540 (2008-09) since that time;
Whereas, the district annual budget has increased from approximately $183 million in 1994-1995 (the first year of revenue caps) to approximately $368 million (2008-09);
Whereas, the board explains the ‘budget gap’ between revenue and expenses as created by the difference between the state mandated Qualified Economic Offer of 3.8% minimum for salary and health benefits for professional teaching staff and the 2.2% average annual increases per student in the property tax levy. The district, however, has agreed with the teachers’ union for an average 4.24% in annual increases since 2001;
Whereas, the district annual cost per pupil is the second highest in the state at $13,280 for the school year 2007-08;

Continue reading ACE Update on the November 2008 Madison Referendum, Information Session Tonight

Problems Without Figures For Fourth to Eighth Grade

A Math book for “High Schools and Normal Schools by S.Y. Gillan [9.6MB PDF]:

Arithmetic can be so taught as to make the pupil familiar with thc fact that we may use a number in a problem without knowing what particular number it is. Some of the fundamentals of algebra may thus be taught along with arithmetic. But, as a rule, whenever any attempt is made to do this the work soon develops or degenerates into formal algebra, with a full quota of symbolism, generalization and formulae — matter which is not wholesome pabulum for a child’s mind and the result has been that teachers have given up the effort and have returned to the use of standardized knowledge put up in separate packages like baled hay, one bale labeled “arithmetic,” another “algebra,” etc.
Every problem in arithmetic calls for two distinct and widely different kinds of work: first, the solution, which involves a comprehension of the conditions of the problem and their relation to one another; second, the operation. First we
decide what to do; this requires reasoning. Then we do the work; this is a merely mechanical process, and the more mechanical the better. A calculating machine, too stupid to make a mistake, will do the work more accurately than a
skillful accountant. Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing do not train the power to reason, but deciding in a given set of conditions which of these operations to use and why, is the feature of arithmetic which requires reasoning.
The problems offered here will furnish material to promote thinking; and a few minutes daily used in this kind of work will greatly strengthen the pupils’ power to deal with the problems given in the textbook.
After consultation with teachers, the author decided to print the problems without regard to classification. They range all the way from very simple work suitable for beginners up to a standard adapted to the needs of eighth grade pupils. As a review in high school and normal school classes the problems may be taken in order as they come, and will be found Interesting and stimulating. For pupils in the grades, the teacher will Indicate which ones to omit; this discrimination will be a valuable exercise for the teacher.
A few “catch problems” are put in to entrap the unwary. To stumble occasionally into a pitfall makes a pupil more watchful of his steps and gives invigorating exercise in regaining his footing. The groove runner thus learns to use his wits and see the difference between a legitimate problem and an absurdity.
It is recommended that these exercises be used as sight work, the pupils having the book in hand and the teacher designating the problems to be solved without previous preparation.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 21, 1910.

Many thanks to Dick Askey for providing a copy (the!) of this book.
From the book:

To answer in good, concise English, affords an excellent drill in clear thinking and accurate expression. This one is suitable for high school, normal school and university students, some of whom will flounder in a most ludicrous fashion when they first attempt to give a clear-cut answer conforming to the demands of mathematics and good English.
224. After a certain battle the surgeon sawed off several wagon loads of legs. If you are told the number of legs in each load and the .price of a cork leg, how can you find the expense of supplying these men with artificial legs? Writeout a list of twenty other expense items incurred in the fighting of a battle.
225. The American people spend each year for war much more than for education. If you know the total amount spent for each purpose, how can you find the per capita expense for war and for schools?
227. A boy travels from Boston to Seattle in a week. Every day at noon he meets a mail train going east on which he mails a letter to his mother in Boston. If there is no delay, how frequently should she receive his letters?

Baylor Rewards Freshmen Who Retake SAT

Sara Rimer:

Baylor University in Waco, Tex., which has a goal of rising to the first tier of national college rankings, last June offered its admitted freshmen a $300 campus bookstore credit to retake the SAT, and $1,000 a year in merit scholarship aid for those who raised their scores by at least 50 points.
Of this year’s freshman class of more than 3,000, 861 students received the bookstore credit and 150 students qualified for the $1,000-a-year merit aid, said John Barry, the university’s vice president for communications and marketing.
“We’re very happy with the way it worked out,” Mr. Barry said in a telephone interview. “The lion’s share of students ended up with the $300 credit they could use in our bookstore. That’s not going to make or break the bank for anybody. But it’s sure been appreciated by our students and parents.”
The offer, which was reported last week by the university’s student newspaper, The Lariat, raised Baylor’s average SAT score for incoming freshmen to 1210, from about 1200, Mr. Barry said. That score is one of the factors in the rankings compiled by U.S. News & World Report.

Texas District Wins Prize for Schools

Sam Dillon:

The Brownsville Independent School District in Texas won what may be the nation’s most important prize for excellence in urban education on Tuesday, the same day that Texas authorities announced that the district had failed to meet achievement targets for two years under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Erica Lepping, a spokeswoman for the foundation that administers the $1 million Broad Prize for Urban Education, said the 10-member prize jury, which included two former secretaries of education, was aware that Brownsville had missed its testing targets under the federal law last year but had considered many other academic quality indicators in making its choice.
A vast majority of the nation’s largest urban districts, including three of the four runners-up for this year’s Broad prize, also failed to meet the federal law’s annual targets, Ms. Lepping said.

The College Track: Onward & Upward

Karlyn Bowman:

The plans, proclivities, and politics of college students.
Forty years ago, when the data series analyzed here began, just three in ten college freshmen had fathers who had a college education. Now, a majority do. Young college students today have higher education goals than their predecessors did a generation ago. The changes have been particularly dramatic for young women, with a fivefold increase in the number who plan to become doctors, and a threefold increase in the number who plan to get a Ph.D.

Picturing Wisconsin School Trends

Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance:

Wisconsin schools budgeted to spend $9.94 billion last year, or $11,522 per pupil. About 58% of that went to instruction. Over the past decade, increases in per pupil spending have averaged 4.0% per year. Meanwhile, statewide enrollments have dropped for five consecutive years.
T he world in which Wisconsin public schools operate today is markedly different from the one in the early 1990s. Enrollments and expenditure trends, and spending and staffing patterns, have all changed–in some cases, dramatically. But, simple pictures often tell the story.
One of the most noticeable developments over the past 20 years has been the ebb and flow of student numbers. The “baby boom echo” led to K-12 enrollments rising from 757,050 in 1990 to 874,042 in 2003. Since then, however, the student count dropped to 863,660 in 2008, the fifth consecutive year of decline.

Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Interviews


uddenly, there’s another major state race brewing for early 2009.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has been preparing for a challenge from conservatives in her bid for re-election, sparking speculation of a repeat of the past two partisan-ized races that saw conservatives take over the court majority. Emerging as a likely candidate is Jefferson County Circuit Judge Randy Koschnick.
And now conservatives and liberals are expected to battle over the state school superintendent’s job following Department of Public Instruction chief Libby Burmaster’s surprise announcement she’ll pass on a re-election bid. Though the post is officially non-partisan, Burmaster has been seen as a big ally of Dem Gov. Jim Doyle. Doyle has strong ties to Madison West High School, where Burmaster worked as principal.
Already, the potential list of competitors is up to three.
Tony Evers, Burmaster’s deputy of the past seven-plus years, immediately e-mailed supporters announcing his intention to run for the post. Van Mobley, a history professor at Concordia University in Mequon and a member of the Thiensville Village Board, is mulling a run and will make his decision in November.
And Rose Fernandez, president of president of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families, has been considering a run for DPI superintendent, according to a state campaign veteran with ties to her.
Evers, who ran unsuccessfully for the job in 2001, and Mobley gave interviews to WisPolitics this week about their visions for the job. Attempts to reach Fernandez were unsuccessful.

Input Sought for Arts and Creativity Meeting

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

Educators and community members are invited to provide examples of promising programs focusing on the arts and creativity in schools, communities, or the workplace. The information will be used to help Wisconsin infuse creativity, the arts, innovation, and entrepreneurship into education at the state and local levels in Wisconsin.
The request comes from the Wisconsin Task Force on Arts and Creativity in Education, which has worked over the past six months toward a statewide plan to strengthen arts and creativity education in the state.

Madison School district hopes to be anchor for homeless students

Pat Schneider:

That is sometimes the function — although not the intent, really, of the TEP program — which provides academic and emotional support for students whose chaotic life circumstances can set them grades behind their classmates.
The Zavala kids are among more than 280 students identified as homeless in the school district in the first six weeks of the school year. That number is a rolling count, updated throughout the school year as the district as students become homeless.
The district is on pace to exceed last year’s total, which was up sharply from the year before. The nation’s growing economic crisis is a likely culprit for at least some of the increase. One longtime TEP teacher says more homeless students are coming from established Madison families, not just those who have recently arrived to the city without housing.
As a result, homeless students are now in the attendance areas of schools all over the city — and not just those near homeless shelters and motels used to house homeless families. As a result, school officials this year are re-examining how best to use their limited resources, said Nancy Yoder, director of alternative programs. The school district now spends more than $750,000 on homeless services, but more district dollars are highly unlikely, Superintendent Dan Nerad said Thursday. District officials are preparing for a November referendum asking voters to approve increasing their spending limit by a total of $13 million over the next three years just to preserve current programs.

Is the 2008 School Referendum Just More of the Same? No!

On November 4, the Madison School Board is asking voters to vote yes on a referendum that will increase the property tax support base for Madison’s public schools by a total of $13 million after three years. For owners of a $250,000, that translates to an additional $90 in property taxes by the third year.
This is not the first school referendum in recent years. But is it just more of the same? No. The need for a referendum stems from our broken system for funding Wisconsin’s public schools, but that is where the connections end. From the earliest planning through the unanimous Board of Education vote to go to referendum, the 2008 request is a big change from what voters have seen in the past.
The referendum is about funding a community service – K12 education – that is essential to vital neighborhoods and property values, an educated workforce, and, most important, a strong start for the children and youth who hold our future in their hands.
Our proposal is one of two major elements in Superintendent Nerad’s vision of a new partnership between the Madison Metropolitan School District and its communities. The second part is commitment to a long-range planning process that will include strong community input, assessment and review of district staffing and programs, and reallocation of resources to critical areas of need.
The 2008 plan was developed with input from the community. The final proposal represents more than some people want and less than others want; all comments were taken into account by the superintendent and the board.
Additional financial steps that reduce the tax impact on homeowners:

1) Using our 2008 windfall to pay off short term debt and reduce the amount we are asking by $400,000 per year
2) enacting Fund 41 to manage on-going maintenance and protect the district from losing state aid;
3) decreasing the community service fund (Fund 80) property tax levy by $2 million for one year to offset the referendum’s property tax increases;
4) revising our financial forecasts so that the referendum asks only for what we believe we will need; and,
5) using a recurring referendum so that the district will not face the significant new gap that would occur after a fixed-term referendum.

The 2008 referendum does not fix the way that Wisconsin pays for public schools, which has not worked for Madison or other communities. The referendum does not restore programs that were among the $35 million in budget cuts made by the board in the past 5 years, nor does it include new programs. It is one step in our ongoing work to balance school needs with taxpayer means under state laws.

Wisconsin State & School Finance Climate Update

I recently had an opportunity to visit with Todd Barry, President of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance [29 minute mp3]. A summary of this timely conversation follows:
[2:25] Post Retirement Liabilities: Milwaukee Public Schools Post Retirement Health Care Liabilities: $2.2 to $2.5 billion
[3:01] Wisconsin’s $2.44 Billion structural deficit. The State debt load ($4billion to $9billion from 2000 to 2007) is now among the top 10.
[7:48] On property values and assessment changes. Two years ago, property values grew 9%, last year 6%, 3% this year with most of the recent growth coming from commercial properties.
[8:57] Wisconsin Income Growth: Per Capita personal income “The canary in the mineshaft” and how we lag the national average by 6% or more.
The population is aging. Senior population will double by 2030. School age population is stagnant.
Employment growth peaked before the nation (04/05)
Wisconsin wages per worker is about 10% less than the national average. 1969; 4% below national average, 1980’s; 10 or 11% below national average. Wisconsin wagers per worker are now 14% below national average. We’ve been on a 40 year slide.
We’ve hid this because the labor force participation of women has increased dramatically.
Wisconsin is losing corporate headquarters.
[18:18] What does this all mean for K-12 spending?
“If there is going to be growth in any state appropriation,it is going to be schools and Medicaid“. The way the Legislature and Governor have set up these two programs, they are more or less on auto-pilot. They will grab whatever money is available and crowd out most everything else. So you get this strange situation where state aid to schools has tripled in the last 25 years while funding for the UW has barely doubled. That sounds like a lot, but when you look at it on a year by year basis, that means state funding for the University of Wisconsin System has grown less than the rate of inflation on an annual average basis while school aids has outpaced it (inflation) as has Medicaid.”
Is there anything on the horizon in terms of changes in school finance sources? A discussion of shifting state school finance to the sales tax. “It’s clear that in states where state government became even more dominant (in K-12 finance) than in Wisconsin, the net result, in the long run, was a slowing of state support for schools. The legislature behaves like a school board, micromanaging and mandating. California is the poster child.
[20:52] On why the Madison School District, despite flat enrollment and revenue caps, has been able to grow revenues at an average of 5.25% over the past 20 years. Barry discussed: suburban growth around Madison, academic competition amongst Dane County high schools. He discussed Madison’s top end students (college bound kids, kids of professionals and faculty) versus the “other half that doesn’t take those (college entrance) tests” and that the “other half” is in the bottom 10 to 20% while the others are sitting up at the top on college entrance exams.
[23:17]: This is a long way of saying that Madison has made its problem worse and has put itself on a course toward flat enrollment because of social service policies, school boundary policies and so forth that have pushed people out of the city.
[23:42] “If there is a way within state law to get around revenue caps, Madison has been the poster child”. Mentions Fund 80 and frequent and successfully passing referendums along with Madison’s high spending per pupil.
People think of the Milwaukee Public Schools as a high spending District. When you really look start to dig into it, it is above average, but Madison is way out there compared to even MPS. People argue that argue that MPS is top heavy in terms of administrative costs per student, Madison actually spends more in some of those categories than Milwaukee. (See SchoolFacts, more)
[26:45] On K-12 School finance outlook: The last time we blew up the school finance system in Wisconsin was in 1994. And, it happened very quickly within a span of 2 to 3 months and it had everything to do with partisan political gotcha and it had nothing to do with education.
[28:26] “Where are the two bastians of Democratic seats in the legislature? Madison and Milwaukee. Madison is property rich and Milwaukee is relatively property poor. Somehow you have to reconcile those two within a Democratic environment and on the Republican side you have property rich suburbs and some very property poor rural districts.

Wisconsin School districts were told of investments’ risks, firm says

Amy Hetzner:

Five Wisconsin school districts suing over investments made two years ago were given “significant disclosure” of what was in those deals and represented themselves as sophisticated investors, an official with a financial institution targeted by the lawsuit said Tuesday.
“We made full disclosure of the merits and the risks associated with these transactions, and we were never guarantors in any fashion of the performance of those investments,” said David DeYoung, senior vice president and managing director of the Wisconsin public finance unit for St. Louis-based Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc.
Stifel acted as no more than a placement agent in the transactions, DeYoung said. In that capacity, the firm connected the five districts to Royal Bank of Canada, which sold them complex financial products as a way to help fund retiree benefits, and DEPFA Bank in Ireland, which lent the districts most of the money to buy the investments, he said.
“We had a very limited role in this,” DeYoung said.

Amusing, but Not Funny

Bob Herbert:

Sara Rimer of The Times wrote an article last week that gave us a startling glimpse of just how mindless and self-destructive the U.S. is becoming.
Consider the lead paragraph:
“The United States is failing to develop the math skills of both girls and boys, especially among those who could excel at the highest levels, a new study asserts, and girls who do succeed in the field are almost all immigrants or the daughters of immigrants from countries where mathematics is more highly valued.”
The idea that the U.S. won’t even properly develop the skills of young people who could perform at the highest intellectual levels is breathtaking — breathtakingly stupid, that is.
The authors of the study, published in Notices of the American Mathematical Society, concluded that American culture does not value talent in math very highly. I suppose we’re busy with other things, like text-messaging while jay-walking. The math thing is seen as something for Asians and nerds.

Related: Math Forum.

On Milwaukee’s Schools: A clearer picture of the district’s financial problems is essential, but a broader discussion of its challenges also must take place.

Milwaukee Journal – Sentinel Editorial:

Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will hire a consultant within the next week to get a clearer picture of Milwaukee Public Schools’ financial underpinnings.
Their joint announcement Saturday feels like progress. But it’s only a first step.
Yes, by all means, learn as much as possible about the district’s troubled books. But then take action to shore up those finances and focus on other looming issues — namely the question of governance.
That broader discussion is essential. It’s one that Doyle and Barrett must lead. But before that, they agree that they need to know what works financially and what doesn’t within the district. Fair enough, because if money is the problem, then an audit will help them deliver that message to the public.

Seattle School District’s Community Advisory Approach

Via a kind reader’s email [900K PDF]:

Seattle Public Schools has pockets of excellence and many outstanding principals, teachers and programs. WASL scores have improved consistently over the last five years and SAT scores surpass state and national averages. However, we cannot accept a system with a 59% graduation rate and a 22% dropout rate. We cannot accept the lack of proficiency demonstrated in core subjects, particularly in math. We cannot accept a system with uneven school quality. And we cannot accept the glaring, persistent achievement gap among student groups.
We cannot accept a system facing years of multimillion dollar structural deficits. Nor can we accept the burdensome, complex and inadequate state-funding model to which the District is subjected.
We cannot accept these conditions and results. Instead, we must view this as an opportunity for decision makers to demonstrate true leadership and respond to this call to action.
It begins with leadership, including:

  • More forceful direction from the Superintendent and greater unity and cohesion on the part of the School Board
  • Greater mission clarity and a more focused and concise strategic plan;
  • An organizational culture-shift that values creativity, fosters adaptability, demands accountability and rewards innovation, teamwork and risk-taking.

It will take resourcefulness to increase investment inacademic outcomes. This will entail a financial strategy truly driven by student achievement goals and aimed at improved outcomes for all.
It will take a resolute approach to establishing long-term fiscal viability. This must include an honest assessment of demographic realities and opportunities for improved operational and program efficiencies across the board. Business as-usual cannot continue.


Wisconsin, Mississippi Have “Easy State K-12 Exams” – NY Times

Sam Dillon:

A state-by-state analysis by The New York Times found that in the 40 states reporting on their compliance so far this year, on average, 4 in 10 schools fell short of the law’s testing targets, up from about 3 in 10 last year. Few schools missed targets in states with easy exams, like Wisconsin and Mississippi, but states with tough tests had a harder time. In Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Mexico, which have stringent exams, 60 to 70 percent of schools missed testing goals. And in South Carolina, which has what may be the nation’s most rigorous tests, 83 percent of schools missed targets.


Charter Success in LA

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

With economic issues sucking up so much political oxygen this year, K-12 education hasn’t received the attention it deserves from either Presidential candidate. The good news is that school reformers at the local level continue to push forward.
This month the Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF), a charter school network in Los Angeles, announced plans to expand the number of public charter schools in the city’s South Central section, which includes some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country. Over the next four years, the number of ICEF charters will grow to 35 from 13. Eventually, the schools will enroll one in four students in the community, including more than half of the high school students.
The demand for more educational choice in predominantly minority South Los Angeles is pronounced. The waitlist for existing ICEF schools has at times exceeded 6,000 kids. And no wonder. Like KIPP, Green Dot and other charter school networks that aren’t constrained by union rules on staffing and curriculum, ICEF has an excellent track record, particularly with black and Hispanic students. In reading and math tests, ICEF charters regularly outperform surrounding traditional public schools as well as other Los Angeles public schools.

Digging Out Roots of Cheating in High School

Maura Casey:

Surveys show that cheating in school — plagiarism, forbidden collaboration on assignments, copying homework and cheating on exams — has soared since researchers first measured the phenomenon on a broad scale at 99 colleges in the mid-1960s.
The percentage of students who copied from another student during tests grew from 26 percent in 1963 to 52 percent in 1993, and the use of crib notes during exams went from 6 percent to 27 percent, according to a study conducted by Dr. Donald McCabe of Rutgers. By the mid-1990s, only a small minority said they had never cheated, meaning that cheating had become part of the acceptable status quo.
Dr. McCabe’s later national survey of 25,000 high school students from 2001 to 2008 yielded equally depressing results: more than 90 percent said they had cheated in one way or another.
Dr. Jason Stephens of the University of Connecticut has now embarked on a three-year pilot program to reduce cheating. His premise is that honesty and integrity are not only values but habits — habits that can be encouraged in school settings, with positive benefits later in life.

Bringing Special-Needs Schools Closer to Home

Winnie Hu:

Tom Holohan, a 16-year-old with autistic symptoms, grew up paralyzed by fear and anxiety about leaving his family’s home. But for the last two years, Tom has had to commute to a Connecticut boarding school that specializes in treating his disability, returning on weekends to his home in Farmingdale, N.Y.
“There’s always this thing inside you that you want to be home,” said Tom, who attended five day schools here on Long Island and tried home schooling before his local school district sent him to the Connecticut school, Devereux Glenholme. “I mean, I got used to living there, but every day I think about what’s going on at home. It’s really difficult.”
Next year, Tom is hoping to attend Westbrook Preparatory School, a $2.5 million institution that will be New York State’s first residential school for students with high-functioning autism and that was founded after intense lobbying by parents, including Tom’s mother, Maureen Holohan, 48, who is on the school’s governing board. The new school, to serve 24 middle and high school students with average or above-average intelligence but in need of significant emotional and social support, is part of a statewide push to bring special education students back from out-of-state private schools by creating publicly financed alternatives closer to home.

Nick Saban’s Fine Print

Buzz Bissinger
It’s a couple of weeks ago and I am watching the Alabama-Clemson football game. It’s a pretty good contest, actually. The Crimson Tide is in the groove against a Top 10 team. But that’s not what truly interests me.
I am watching the fans in various states of rabidity, wondering how long it takes to wash all that school-color gunk off your body once you lacquer it on, not to mention what precisely motivates someone to apply such gunk in the first place. I am watching the cheerleaders in their somersaults and squats of perfect synchronism with those slapped-on smiles. I am just watching the crazy spectacle of it all — frenzy and bloodlust and the low rumble of moans and the high-pitch of screams. I wonder why we need any more studies showing our nation’s education system to be in the tank when all you have to do is attend a college football game.

2008 Madison Schools’ Referendum – Key Issues

1. Mortgage on future property with permanent increase: Asking taxpayers to refinance/mortgage their futures and that of the school district with a permanent increase of $13 million yearly for the operations budget. It has been stated the district needs the money to help keep current programs in place. It is expected that even after 3 years of this referendum totaling $27 million, the Board is projecting a continued revenue gap and will be back asking for even more.
2. No evaluation nor analysis of programs and services: The Board will make budget cuts affecting program and services, whether or not this referendum passes. The cuts will be made with no assessment/evaluation process or strategy for objective analyses of educational or business programs and services to determine the most effective and efficient use of money they already have as well as for the additional money they are asking with this referendum.
3. Inflated criteria for property value growth: The dollar impact on property to be taxed is projected on an inflated criteria of 4% growth in property valuation assessment; therefore, reducing the cost projection for the property tax levy. The growth for property valuation in 2007 was 3.2% and for 2008 it was 1.0%. Given the state of the economy and the housing market, the growth rate is expected to further decline in 2009. [10/13 Update: The above references to property valuation assessment growth are cited from City of Madison Assessor data. See ACE document “Watch List Report Card” [2008 Referendum Watch List 755K PDF] for State Department of Revenue citations for property valuation base and growth rate used for determination of MMSD property tax levy.]
4. No direct impact on student learning and classroom instruction: There is District acknowledgement of a serious achievement gap between low-income and minority student groups compared with others. There are no plans evident for changing how new or existing money will be spent differently in order to have an impact on improving student learning/achievement and instructional effectiveness.
5. Lack of verification of reduction in negative aid impact on taxes: District scenarios illustrating a drastic reduction in the negative impact on state aids from our property-rich district is unsubstantiated and unverified, as well as raising questions about unknown possible future unintended consequences. The illustrated reduction is from approximately 60% to 1% results by switching maintenance funds from the operations budget and 2005 referendum proceeds to a newly created “Capital Expansion Fund–Fund 41” account. [Update: 10/13: The reduction in the negative aid impact will take affect regardless of the outcome of the referendum vote. See the ACE document “Watch List Report Card” [2008 Referendum Watch List 755K PDF] for details.]

Continue reading 2008 Madison Schools’ Referendum – Key Issues

Polonius Redux

New England History Teachers Association
Newsletter Fall 1999
In Hamlet, Polonius offers his introduction to the players by describing them as: “The best players in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral or poem unlimited.”
Modern American education has been visited with an echo of this brief 1602 disquisition on what a cool combinatorial plaything the permu-tations of presentation can be in the right hands. Our version is called Multiple Intelligences, and an article in the Magazine of History lays out a simplified version of a lesson plan for teaching the Spanish-American War. It offers the basics of this new orthodoxy–methods which can cater to: Intrapersonal Intelligence, Verbal/ Linguistic Intelligence, Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence, Visual/Spatial Intelligence, Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence, Interpersonal Intelli-gence, and Mathematical Intelligence.
This is clearly the introductory form of this approach, and does not try to get into the more arcane techniques of Mathematico-Spatial-Verbal or Linguistic-Rhythmic-Kinesthetic or Interpersonal-Intrapersonal-Visual-Bodily methods of curriculum design.
The founder of this new way to develop individual learning plans for each student and all combinations of students in a class is Howard Gardner, MacArthur Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He was interviewed, not too long ago, on public radio in Boston, and when he was asked why he chose the term Multiple Intelligences, he quite candidly replied, “If I had called them Talents, no one would have paid any attention.”
To be fair to this academic psychologist looking for a new field to make a name in, it is quite likely that he has very little conception of the damage he has done in American education. Polonius was in part a figure of fun, although he does have some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines (“To thine own self be true”), but Professor Gardner cannot get off quite so easily, because his work is not recognized as comical by enough of our educators.
He has made it possible for teachers everywhere to say that whatever they feel like doing in class, from gossiping about scandal to reminiscing about Vietnam to showing travel slides, to you name it, is designed to appeal to one of the many talents (Intelligences) that students bring to school with them.

Continue reading Polonius Redux

A Taxing Question

David Moltz:

A November ballot referendum to repeal Massachusetts’ income tax has many educators scared. Though supporters of the referendum argue it would make the government more efficient and effective, detractors argue that it would put valuable public services at risk. Especially concerned are public college and university administrators, who warn that, for the state’s higher education system, the consequences of an income tax repeal would be grim.
A similar referendum failed in 2002. But to the surprise of many in the state, the measure — which would have abolished the income tax immediately — received a respectable 45 percent of the vote.
This year’s referendum would reduce the state’s income tax rate from 5.3 percent to 2.65 percent in the upcoming year and eliminate it entirely beginning in 2010. Many fear the measure will pass this time, since it is more gradual than the 2002 measure and comes before voters at a time of exceptional concern over their finances. If the measure passes, Massachusetts would join nine other states that do not tax income. Many of those states have never had an income tax and have developed, over the years, alternative sources of income. This is not the case in Massachusetts.

A Look at the Milwaukee Public Schools’ Fringe Benefit Costs

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee Public Schools retirees and part-time employees earn “considerably more generous benefit levels” than other groups, according to a major consultant’s report to the School Board.
The report, which comes as financial and political pressures on MPS are at levels that may be unprecedented, found that fringe benefits cost the school system 61.5 cents for every dollar spent on wages. That compared with 24.5 cents when figures for a dozen comparable employers and MPS were calculated all together.
The New York-based consulting firm, the Segal Co., analyzed data from MPS and 33 comparable employers, including school districts in Wisconsin and elsewhere and other government units. The results of the analysis are to be presented to the School Board’s finance committee Thursday night, but no action will be taken then.
With two supplemental pension funds for early retirees, MPS makes payments to four pension funds, with annual payments equal to 14% of its payroll, compared with an average of 9.9% for other public employers in the study.
And practices such as giving full health insurance to people who work 20 hours a week, and in some cases less, and giving people who retire at 55 almost the same health insurance as active workers are uncommon among employers, the report says.

On College Level Math in High School

Valerie Strauss:

For Gifted Few, Moving Beyond Calculus
It would be hard to find a more advanced math class in public schools than the one Robert Sachs teaches at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
That’s because it isn’t really high school math.
Complex Variables is usually taught to college juniors and seniors. It is offered at selective Thomas Jefferson in Fairfax County because students demand the challenge.
“This class is pretty difficult,” said Bobbie Pelham Webb, 17, a senior. “It is one of the first math classes that is challenging to me. Calculus was easy.”

On 21st Century Education Reports

Jay Matthews:

Another well-intentioned report on the future of American schools reached my cubicle recently: “21st Century Skills, Education and Competitiveness: A Resource and Policy Guide.” It is available on the Web at www.21stcenturyskills.org/index.php. It is full of facts and colorful illustrations, with foresight and relevance worthy of the fine organizations that funded it — the National Education Association, the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the Ford Motor Company Fund and the Tucson-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills, a leading education advocacy organization that also produced the report and sent it to me and many other people.
So why, after reading it, did I feel like tossing it into the waste basket?
Maybe this is just my problem. Maybe everyone else who obsesses about schools loves these reports. There certainly are a lot of them. I seem to get at least one a month. There must be a big demand.

The Frugal Teenager, Ready or Not

Jan Hoffman:

WHEN Wendy Postle’s two children were younger, saying “yes” gave her great joy. Yes to all those toys. The music lessons. The blowout birthday parties.
ut as her son and daughter approached adolescence, yes turned into a weary default. “Sometimes it was just easier to say, ‘O.K., whatever,’ than to have the battle of ‘no,’ ” said Mrs. Postle, a working mother who lives in Hilliard, Ohio, a middle-class suburb of Columbus.
This year her husband’s 401(k) savings are evaporating. Medical bills are nipping at the couple’s heels. Gas prices are still taking a toll. Mrs. Postle recently decided that although she and her husband had always sacrificed their own luxuries for Zach, 13, and Kaitlyn, 15, the teenagers would now have to cut back as well.
“No” could no longer be the starting gun of family fights. It would have to be an absolute.

Bringing Special-Needs Schools Closer to Home

Winnie Hu:

Tom Holohan, a 16-year-old with autistic symptoms, grew up paralyzed by fear and anxiety about leaving his family’s home. But for the last two years, Tom has had to commute to a Connecticut boarding school that specializes in treating his disability, returning on weekends to his home in Farmingdale, N.Y., about nine miles from here.
“There’s always this thing inside you that you want to be home,” said Tom, who attended five day schools on Long Island and tried home schooling before his local school district sent him to the Connecticut school, Devereux Glenholme. “I mean, I got used to living there, but every day I think about what’s going on at home. It’s really difficult.”
Next year, Tom is hoping to attend Westbrook Preparatory School, a $2.5 million institution that will be New York State’s first residential school for students with high-functioning autism and that was founded after intense lobbying by parents, including Tom’s mother, Maureen Holohan, 48, who is on the school’s governing board. The new school, serving 24 middle and high school students with average or above-average intelligence but in need of significant emotional and social support, is part of a statewide push to bring special education students back from out-of-state private schools by creating publicly financed alternatives closer to home.

Sun Prairie Acadamic Decathlon team plans road trip

Pamela Cotant:

This year the theme for the Academic Decathlon curriculum is Latin America with a focus on Mexico and two area teams plan to go right to the source to study it.
About a dozen members from each of the Wisconsin Academic Decathlon teams at the high schools in Sun Prairie and McFarland will visit Mexico City from Oct. 29 to Nov. 3.
Participants agree that the trip is about more than just a great way to gather information outside of their regular meetings.
“It’s a really good team bonding time,” said Scott LaWall, a senior at Sun Prairie High School. “During the school year, just (meeting) after school, it’s difficult to really get to know your teammates.”

Parents upset that Arlington school sex assault case wasn’t reported earlier

Chris Hawes:

A suspect was put in custody Friday but many parents of children at Coble Middle School say that’s not the issue. They’re outraged they weren’t told an assault had taken place on campus.
Parents lining up to pick up their children Friday received something else – a letter. The more they read, the more disturbed they became: A young girl reported she was sexually assaulted at school.
But two weeks passed before the children were told what was going on. The school says they had to protect the investigation.
Counselors handed out the letter in the car lane. The letter detailed the reported the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl on campus, during school.
“He had a valid reason to be on campus and chose to pull this girl into a locker room and sexually assault her,” said Lt. Blake Miller from Arlington police.
But even more disturbing to one father was the date of the crime, Sept. 26.

Interactive whiteboards bring technology to students’ fingertips

Andy Hall:

Dane County school districts with interactive whiteboards include Madison, Sun Prairie, Waunakee, Middleton-Cross Plains, Verona, Oregon, McFarland, Stoughton, Cambridge, Mount Horeb and Monona Grove.
Many students have a natural affinity for interactive whiteboards, which are a hybrid between an old-fashioned chalkboard and a computer.
Whatever can be shown on a computer can be projected onto the whiteboard, about six feet wide and four feet tall.
“It’s got that technological kind of buzz to it that really attracts them,” said Jeff Horney, learning coordinator at Cherokee on the city’s West Side. The school has four interactive whiteboards and more are on the way, thanks to help from foundation grants and the school’s Parent Teacher Organization.
And West High School has received a $91,000 grant from the California-based Tosa Foundation to replace dusty chalkboards with interactive whiteboards.
In Aegerter’s classroom, seventh-grader Clayton Zimmerman showed his classmates every step of a science experiment, tapping his finger on the screen’s images to remove a stopper from the top of a bottle and drag it off to the side.

Governor & Mayor Plan Review of Milwaukee Public Schools

Dani McClain:

Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett plan to hire a consultant to analyze Milwaukee Public Schools’ finances and operations, and the study is to be finished in time for Doyle to make recommendations to the Legislature in January.
Doyle said he expects the next steps to include changing the state funding formula, changing practices in MPS or some combination of the two.
The consultant, who will be hired in the next 10 days, will be paid by local donors and will have national experience in restructuring and strategic planning, Barrett said in a conference call Saturday.
“We have to have a very solid understanding of the financial underpinnings of this district so we can decide as a community what steps are necessary to move the district forward,” he said.
Both officials expressed support for teachers and students in MPS and a desire to know whether the district is using its funds efficiently.

Referendum Climate: Tax-cutting questions appear on ballots next month

Steve LeBlanc:

For years, Massachusetts was known derisively as “Taxachusetts.” But voters could help shed that label in November by completely eliminating the state’s income tax in a single stroke.
If approved, the ballot initiative would wipe out 40 percent of state revenues and give back to each taxpayer an average of $3,600.
The Massachusetts proposal is the most notable of several tax-cutting questions that will appear next month on ballots around the nation.
Others include a North Dakota initiative to cut individual income tax rates in half and trim corporate rates by 15 percent; an Arizona measure to mandate that any initiatives requiring spending or tax increases be approved by majority of all registered voters, not just those casting ballots; and a Maine plan to repeal new taxes on beer, wine and soda.
In Massachusetts, critics say there’s no way to chop $11 billion out of a $28 billion budget without decimating services, which could include closing schools and fire stations. Aid to cities and towns would also decline, placing enormous pressure on property taxes.

Massachusetts, is of course, home of the “Boston Tea Party“.

School chief: Strike up the band again to keep students engaged

James Vaznis:

Boston high school students may soon be marching to the beat of their own drums. Or the oompah of their own tubas. Literally.
Tucked into Superintendent Carol R. Johnson’s ambitious plan to reorganize the school system is a small but splashy proposal: revive the tradition of a high school marching band in a city bereft of one for about four decades.
“I think it would be pretty exciting,” Johnson said. “In a city where we have a lot of great historical celebrations and athletic celebrations, it would make us proud to have BPS students marching down the street. I believe there is enough talent in this city to make it happen.”
The city would have to find just a few dozen students – out of more than 18,000 high school students districtwide – suit them up and make sure they can play their instruments while marching in synchronized steps. Sounds simple enough, but prior attempts have flopped.
In the mid-1980s, the district proposed a 200-piece citywide marching band with much fanfare and later unveiled a uniform inscribed with the words “Pride of Boston.” But rehearsals were never held, and newly purchased drums, cymbals, and horns ultimately collected dust in a school closet.

Teachers Sue Over Right to Politic

Jennifer Medina:

The New York City teachers’ union filed a federal lawsuit on Friday claiming that a policy banning political pins and signs in schools violates teachers’ First Amendment rights by blocking them from political expression.
The lawsuit comes nearly two weeks after the Department of Education sent a memo to principals directing them to enforce the longstanding regulation, which requires that all school staff members show “complete neutrality” while on duty. The policy also prohibits teachers from using school property to promote a candidate.
Randi Weingarten, president of the union, the United Federation of Teachers, said that while the policy has been on the books for more than two decades, it has rarely been enforced, and that teachers have routinely worn political buttons as recently as this year’s presidential primaries.
But in the lawsuit, the union — which has endorsed Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee — states that the principal of Community School 134 in the Bronx removed an Obama poster that a teacher placed on the union bulletin board, and that a teacher at another school who wore political buttons was warned against it.

Arts Complementing the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme

Christina Shunnarah:

This past weekend my colleagues and I gave a presentation at the Performing the World conference in Manhattan, which brought together educators, artists, therapists, scholars and activists from dozens of countries who are interested in using performance and drama in a variety of ways. Our presentation was on the role of the arts and performance at our school and how it complements and expands the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IBPYP), an enriched curriculum that we have been using in our classrooms.
The IBPYP model is based on inquiry, participation in the process of learning, and exploration. It is learner-driven, not-teacher dominated. Teachers act as facilitators in the learning process and children’s questions and interests are at the center of the classroom. The program originates with the International Baccalaureate Organization, founded in 1968 and based in Geneva, Switzerland. Thousands of schools around the world have adopted IB frameworks.
For the children at our school, some of whom face difficult issues at home — poverty, isolation, domestic violence, trauma and stress, to name a few — learning that emphasizes performance, inquiry, and artistic exploration is vital. That is why on any given day at I.C.S., you will see a multitude of creative projects going on: storytelling, puppetry, drama, dance, music, movement, role-playing, book clubs, chess, painting, cooking, yoga, writing, gardening, and active inquiries all around. In the current national climate of testing, we have to make time for creative expression. It is urgent. Children need some constructive form of release.

Can the candidates fix America’s decidedly mediocre schools?

The Economist:

“OUR nation is at risk. Our once unchallenged pre-eminence in commerce, industry, science and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world.” So reported an education commission in 1983. That report was a turning point for American schools, helping spur a wave of reform. But 25 years later the state of American education is in a muddle.
In some ways its public schools have improved. America’s nine-year-olds scored 22 points higher on a national maths test in 2004 than they had in 1982. But in many areas America still languishes, as described in a recent report by Ed in ’08, an advocacy group. The percentage of 17-year-olds with basic reading skills has dropped, from 80% in 1992, when the current test was introduced, to 73% in 2005. On the international stage, American students are doodling while others scribble ahead. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has a glum statistic: in the most recent ranking of 15-year-olds’ skill in maths, America ranked 25th out of 30. Though America’s universities remain pre-eminent in the world, they have grown increasingly unaffordable. Barack Obama notes that between 2001 and 2010, 2m qualified students will not go to university because they cannot afford it.

Janet Mertz Study: Math Skills Suffer in US, Study Finds

Carolyn Johnson:

It’s been nearly four years since Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard University, made his controversial comments about the source of the gender gap in math and science careers. Still, the ripple effect continues – most recently in a study made public today on the world’s top female math competitors.
The study, to be published in next month’s Notices of the American Mathematical Society, identifies women of extraordinary math ability by sifting through the winners of the world’s most elite math competitions. It found that small nations that nurtured female mathematicians often produced more top competitors than far larger and wealthier nations.
The message: Cultural or environmental factors, not intellect, are what really limit women’s math achievements.

Sara Rimer:

The United States is failing to develop the math skills of both girls and boys, especially among those who could excel at the highest levels, a new study asserts, and girls who do succeed in the field are almost all immigrants or the daughters of immigrants from countries where mathematics is more highly valued.
The study suggests that while many girls have exceptional talent in math — the talent to become top math researchers, scientists and engineers — they are rarely identified in the United States. A major reason, according to the study, is that American culture does not highly value talent in math, and so discourages girls — and boys, for that matter — from excelling in the field. The study will be published Friday in Notices of the American Mathematical Society.
“We’re living in a culture that is telling girls you can’t do math — that’s telling everybody that only Asians and nerds do math,” said the study’s lead author, Janet E. Mertz, an oncology professor at the University of Wisconsin, whose son is a winner of what is viewed as the world’s most-demanding math competitions. “Kids in high school, where social interactions are really important, think, ‘If I’m not an Asian or a nerd, I’d better not be on the math team.’ Kids are self selecting. For social reasons they’re not even trying.”
Many studies have examined and debated gender differences and math, but most rely on the results of the SAT and other standardized tests, Dr. Mertz and many mathematicians say. But those tests were never intended to measure the dazzling creativity, insight and reasoning skills required to solve math problems at the highest levels, Dr. Mertz and others say.
Dr. Mertz asserts that the new study is the first to examine data from the most difficult math competitions for young people, including the USA and International Mathematical Olympiads for high school students, and the Putnam Mathematical Competition for college undergraduates. For winners of these competitions, the Michael Phelpses and Kobe Bryants of math, getting an 800 on the math SAT is routine. The study found that many students from the United States in these competitions are immigrants or children of immigrants from countries where education in mathematics is prized and mathematical talent is thought to be widely distributed and able to be cultivated through hard work and persistence.

Complete report 650K PDF.
Related: Math Forum.
Much more on Janet Mertz here.

Students take a step for safety in surveying their walks to school

Tony Barboza:

Garfield Elementary pupils note broken sidewalks, speeding motorists and other hazards in hopes that Santa Ana will correct them.
n the first day of class, Chris Marx asks his fifth-grade students how they get to school and what they encounter along the way.
Even though most students at Garfield Elementary in Santa Ana walk only a few blocks to class, they often trudge over broken sidewalks and through littered alleyways, rub up against graffiti-covered walls and step over rubble from construction sites. Some dodge roving dogs, homeless people or gang members.
“You ask the kids how many times they’ve heard gunshots and there are some hands raised,” Marx said.
Students at thousands of schools nationwide walked en masse to school Wednesday in events timed for International Walk to School Day, meant to encourage physical fitness and to reduce carbon emissions.

Great Kids Books About Financial Ruin

Erica Perl:

Mom, What’s a Credit Default Swap?
The first time I heard the word recession, I was 10 years old. It was 1978, and my parents, like everyone we knew, were cranky and stressed out about gas shortages and rising food prices. One of the ways I coped was by burying my nose in books and discovering kids who had it worse than I did. Like Ramona Quimby, whose dad got fired and took up residence on the couch. And Laura Ingalls, whose dad kept hitching up the wagon to drag his bonneted brood to the middle of nowhere. Many of the books I discovered during the late ’70s featured themes of economic hardship that made my circumstances seem manageable by comparison–a happy coincidence, I thought at the time. Looking back, I’m not so sure this was an accident.

Status of Girls in Wisconsin

Alverno College [PDF Report]:

The Alverno College Research Center for Women and Girls, in collaboration with the Women’s Fund of Greater Milwaukee, the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Women’s Council, is pleased to present our collaborative exploration of the status of girls (ages 10 to 19) in Wisconsin. After the Status of Women in Wisconsin reports were issued in 2002 and 2004, these organizations and others that serve girls in the State raised awareness for the need for companion research on girls as a natural next step. Since a great deal of information about Wisconsin girls is scattered in many different and often difficult-to-find places and documents, a primary goal of this project has been to centralize the information and to make it accessible, not only in print but also via the internet, to a variety of agencies, groups and institutions who have the needs and interests of Wisconsin’s girls in mind.

Duston Block has more.

Computer data breach at South Tahoe High School


A South Tahoe High School student has been arrested on suspicion of hacking into the school’s computer system, school officials said.
District administrators said they found a security breach in one of the computers last week, and the 17-year-old boy may have accessed sensitive information regarding staff and students.
The student was suspended after the discovery and arrested Wednesday after a follow-up investigation by police.
The exposure appears to be limited to the school’s internal student information system, according to a district news release.

Wisconsin Districts had some warnings about risky investments, documents show

Amy Hetzner:

Five Wisconsin school districts suing over millions of borrowed dollars they invested to help pay retiree benefits were given some warnings of the risks involved in the transactions, documents show.
At least one document appears to contradict one contention in the lawsuit filed Sept. 29.
But it remains unclear how much school officials were told about transactions they undertook in 2006 in which they poured $200 million into collateralized debt obligations, financial instruments at the center of the global economic meltdown.
The districts — Kenosha, Kimberly, Waukesha, West Allis-West Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay — allege they were misled by two financial institutions that promoted the investments: Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. Inc. of St. Louis and Royal Bank of Canada.

Out of the Ordinary: Historical Fiction for Middle Grade Readers

Michelle Barone:

Excerpt from Chapter 1: The Crime
“Woosh! Splat!’ A gooshy, white spitball whizzed past Julia’s ear. It smushed onto the blackboard and stuck. Julia watched a wet stream travel down from the wad. It left a shiny black trail on the board. There was only one person in the room who would do such a thing. Julia knew who it was.
Julia knew what would happen next. It was the same thing that happened every time Teddy Parker misbehaved.
Miss Crawford, the teacher, spun around and faced the class like a fighter squaring off against an opponent. “Who made this spitball?” she demanded.
Julia clamped her skinny legs together and froze in her seat. Her knobby knees bumped each other.
“Who made this spitball?” Miss Crawford repeated.
“It wasn’t any of the sixth graders,” said Frank O’Malley, a blond haired, Irish boy. He stood, as was the custom, to speak for his age group.
Julia knew she was expected to answer. She was the only fifth grader in the room who spoke English. The other fifth grade girl sat wide-eyed with sealed lips.
Julia wished they didn’t have to go through this ritual every time Teddy Parker acted up. Teddy’s family came to Phippsburg long before Julia’s. Teddy lived in a real house. Julia’s family lived in an old boxcar that had been taken off of the rails. There were other families from Italy, Ireland, and Greece living in the boxcar section of town.
Julia didn’t know why Teddy was a trouble maker. He was luckier than all of the other kids. Teddy’s father ran the coal mine where everyone else’s father worked.
The fourth graders didn’t do it,” said a girl popping up and down in one motion.
Julia had missed her turn to answer.
“It wasn’t any of the third graders, Miss Crawford,” said another girl.
“The second graders didn’t do it,” said Teddy’s sister, Paulina.
A small boy stood. “It wasn’t the first grade, Teacher,” he said.
There will be a punishment for this, “Miss Crawford Said.
“Whoever made this spitball will have to come to the front of the room.”
Julia watched Miss Crawford focus on Teddy. He shifted in his wooden seat at the end of the sixth grade row.
“What do you have to say, Teddy?” asked Miss Crawford.
Julia looked at Teddy sitting in his new clothes from Denver. He wore a new shirt under a new sweater, new knickers, and new knee socks. Julia guessed his underwear was new, too. Teddy’s clothes were the right size, not patched and baggy hand-me-downs like Julia’s. Most of the kids were dressed like her, in clothes that had once been worn by their parents.
Julia watched Teddy slowly rise. He stepped out to the side of his desk. Julia waited for Teddy to make his confession. It was his chance to show off every day. She knew in a moment he would proudly walk to the front of the room, stand on tip toe, and place his nose on a chalk dot Miss Crawford drew on the board. The class would watch him stand there on pointed toe while he took his punishment. Miss Crawford wouldn’t make Teddy stand at the board for a whole hour like she would any other student. Teddy was her pet. She’d call off his punishment after five or ten minutes.
It was the same every time. Nothing exciting ever happened in Phippsburg. Why couldn’t it be a little bit different this once?
Julia reached up and felt a rag curl in her hair. Mama tied the rags into her hair last night. Julia liked how the curls made a soft half circle around her plain face.
Julia closed her eyes and made one silent wish. “Please let something exciting happen today for a change.”
She opened her eyes and blinked three times for good luck.
Miss Crawford was waiting for an answer. Teddy straightened his shoulders and drew in a long, deep breath.
“Miss Crawford, I must tell the truth,” he said.
“Yes, you must,” said Miss Crawford.
All eyes were glued on Teddy Parker.
“It was…Julia!” he announced.

Madison School District 2008-2009 Enrollment

The Madison School District has published it’s “Third Friday September” 2008 enrollment counts. Total enrollment is 24,189; down slightly from 24,268 in 2007. The District’s newest school: Olson Elementary, opened with 273 students.
45% of MMSD students are classified as low income (43% in 2007; 39% in 2005).
Related: a look at enrollment changes in suburban Dane County schools.
The two schools slated to close in 2007 (but later reversed): Lapham and Marquette elementary have the following enrollments:

2008 2007 2006 2005
Lapham 229 219 231 219
Marquette 221 207 232 225

School Buses: Still Vehicles for Change
High Transportation Costs Are Forcing Kids Back To Neighborhood Schools, Limiting Diversity

Robert Thomsho:

A generation ago, the yellow school bus became a symbol of school desegregation, with thousands of the iconic vehicles ferrying minority children away from schools in their own neighborhoods to others in higher-income white areas.
Although the Supreme Court has tightly restricted such overt racial integration efforts in recent years, buses are still crucial to many magnet schools, open-enrollment programs and other school-choice strategies designed to encourage diversity and provide options for students in low-performing schools, as is required under the No Child Left Behind law.
But more and more school districts are curtailing bus service for such programs as a result of higher fuel costs and other financial pressures. That has sparked fears that the only choice for many students will be neighborhood schools attended by classmates of their own race and economic background, which has the unintended effect of re-segregating schools.
“Basically, you can’t have racial and class diversity of any sort if you don’t provide transportation,” says Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project, a research group at the University of California at Los Angeles. “This is kind of closing the last door for urgently needed opportunities for kids who are in schools that are really dysfunctional and inadequate.”

Arrested Development: Online training is the norm in other professions. Why not in K-12 education?

Michael Petrilli:

Everyone knows that the Internet is changing the way the world works, plays, and connects. Yet its most powerful applications only seem obvious after some entrepreneur has brought them to life. Of course the web is a great way to distribute books, but it took Amazon to make this clear. Of course the Internet is a smart way to distribute movies, but it took Netflix to make it happen.
So it is with adult learning. Most professionals would rather develop their skills online, on their own schedule, at their own pace, than sit in daylong, mind-numbing “workshops” that bring a lot of boredom and frustration but little intellectual stimulation. So it’s not surprising that as long ago as 2006 (eons in Internet time) the American Society for Training and Development reported that across all sectors almost 40 percent of professional development (PD) was delivered via technology (See figure 1). (Surely the numbers are even higher now.)

Do It Yourself Transcripts?

Scott Jaschik:

An admissions change announced at Rutgers University this week is being called the “honor system” for college admissions (even if it’s got too much verification to be a true honor system).
Starting with those applying this fall for admission to all three Rutgers campuses, high schools will no longer be asked to submit applicants’ transcripts. Instead, applicants will themselves enter all of their grades and high school courses in an online application form. An official transcript will eventually be reviewed for every applicant who is admitted and indicates a plan to enroll.
As New Jersey high schools learned of the change, the question everyone has been asking is: Will this lead to a new variety of grade inflation, as applicants (accidentally of course…) somehow transcribe themselves into honors students? Rutgers officials say that won’t happen because the transcript checks of accepted applicants who plan to enroll will cover every single student. If you inflate your grades, your admission offer will be revoked — period.
There is evidence that some combination of honesty and fear can in fact work to keep the self-reported transcripts accurate. The University of California, the pioneer in this type of admissions system, reports extremely low rates of transcript errors. This year, the university admitted 60,000 students to enroll as freshmen at its 9 undergraduate campuses and — as has been typical in recent years — campuses don’t have more than 5 admitted students each where there is a discrepancy between the reported grades and those verified after the admissions decisions. Applicants are required to sign a statement indicating that admissions offers may be revoked based on false information provided in the process, including high school grades.

California boarding schools? It’s not an oxymoron

Carla Rivera:

As a young woman living in Southern California, Kelly Boss never thought much about boarding schools. They were a mystery or at most a cinematic fancy embodied by Brookfield of “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” or the Welton Academy of “Dead Poets Society.”
That changed when her daughter Mackenzie learned about the Thacher School in Ojai and its horse and outdoor program. Although she would never have imagined her daughter there, the Bosses came to view it as the perfect fit.
But Kelly Boss understood the reactions of other parents who appeared aghast at the idea.
“Other mothers look at you like how can you possibly send your daughter away, and I’ve had parents say, you two don’t look like you don’t get along,” said Boss, a Santa Barbara resident.
Although boarding schools have a long tradition in Europe and the Northeast, Californians are still apt to equate them with troubled youths or disinterested parents.

Alabama’s State Budget & Education Spending Forecast looks “Grim”

The Birmingham News:

Hubbert said he expects Education Trust Fund revenues to fall short at least 5 percent, or at least $318 million, of what the Legislature budgeted for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. As bad as that sounds, it could get worse. Hubbert said if the economy continues to slide, the shortfall could top $400 million.
Trust fund revenues already are more than $200 million below what lawmakers expected. That’s mainly because tax collections for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 grew $146 million less than forecast, and Riley last year drained a $440 million reserve to avoid education spending cuts. Lawmakers had expected to have from $64 million to $109 million left in the reserve fund to spend this year. Instead, that money is gone.
The Legislature didn’t help matters by passing a $6.36 billion education budget for 2009. That amount exceeds by $102 million the average revenue forecasts of the state finance director and the Legislative Fiscal Office. Essentially, lawmakers decided that cutting almost $370 million from the $6.7 billion education budget from 2008 was hard enough, and they didn’t want to carve another $100 million-plus for 2009.

Tax base growth is certainly not a given at the moment. Related: November 2008 Madison School District referendum notes and links.

A Public Hearing on Madison’s November, 2008 Referendum


Taxpayers got a chance to ask the questions Tuesday night about the upcoming multimillion dollar Madison school referendum.
More than a dozen people turned out to Sherman Middle School for the first of four public hearings across the city.
Superintendent Dan Nerad gave a brief presentation before opening the forum up for questions.
Voters questioned everything from Fund 80 to the Capital Expansion Fund and student achievement.
Active Citizens for Education said they would like to have seen the referendum scheduled for the spring in order to give the district time to re-evaluate programs that they say are not working – programs that could be cut or changed.
“Where they’re talking about maintaining current programs and services it’s not getting good results,” said ACE’s Don Severson. “You look at the achievement gap, look at increased truancy, look an an increased drop-out rate, decreased attendance rates, more money isn’t going to get different results.”
Referendum supporters, Communities And Schools Together, know the $13 million referendum will be a tough sell, but worth it.
“I think it is going to be a hard sell,” said CAST member and first-grade teacher Troy Dassler. “We really need to get people out there who are interested still in investing in infrastructure. I can think of no greater an investment — even in the most difficult tough times that we’re facing that we wouldn’t invest in the future of Madison.”

Tamira Madsen:

School Board President Arlene Silveira was pleased with the dialogue and questions asked at the forum and said she hasn’t been overwhelmed with questions from constituents about the referendum.
“It’s been fairly quiet, and I think it’s been overshadowed by the presidential election and (downturn with) the economy,” Silveira said. “People are very interested, but it does take an explanation.
“People ask a lot of questions just because it’s different (with the tax components). Their initial reaction is: Tell me what this is again and what this means? They realize a lot of thought and work has gone into this and certainly this is something they will support or consider supporting after they go back and look at their own personal needs.”
Superintendent Dan Nerad has already formulated a plan for program and service cuts in the 2009-2010 budget if voters do not pass the referendum. Those include increasing class sizes at elementary and high schools, trimming services for at-risk students, reducing high school support staff, decreasing special education staffing, and eliminating some maintenance projects.
Nerad said outlining potential budget cuts by general categories as opposed to specific programs was the best route for the district at this juncture.

Texas Proposes to Standardize GPA Calculation

Stella Chavez:

Texas school districts say a state proposal to standardize the way they calculate high school grade point averages will “dumb down” public education and discourage students from taking rigorous courses.
Later this month, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board will consider approval of a new regulation designed to help Texas colleges and universities better assess the academic records of high school students.
Texas Higher Education Commissioner Raymund Paredes said the current system for calculating GPAs is not consistent. A 4.0 in one district, for example, could vary greatly from a 4.0 in another district.
“There’s no uniformity in the way GPA is calculated,” said Dr. Paredes. “It’s very difficult for universities to know what grade points mean.”

Related: Madison’s “standards based” report cards.

“The Bomber As School Reformer”

Sol Stern:

Calling Bill Ayers a school reformer is a bit like calling Joseph Stalin an agricultural reformer. (If you find the metaphor strained, consider that Walter Duranty, the infamous New York Times reporter covering the Soviet Union in the 1930s, did, in fact, depict Stalin as a great land reformer who created happy, productive collective farms.) For instance, at a November 2006 education forum in Caracas, Venezuela, with President Hugo Chávez at his side, Ayers proclaimed his support for “the profound educational reforms under way here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chávez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution. . . . I look forward to seeing how you continue to overcome the failings of capitalist education as you seek to create something truly new and deeply humane.” Ayers concluded his speech by declaring that “Venezuela is poised to offer the world a new model of education–a humanizing and revolutionary model whose twin missions are enlightenment and liberation,” and then, as in days of old, raised his fist and chanted: “Viva Presidente Chávez! Viva la Revolucion Bolivariana! Hasta la Victoria Siempre!”
As I have shown in previous articles in City Journal, Ayers’s school reform agenda focuses almost exclusively on the idea of teaching for “social justice” in the classroom. This has nothing to do with the social-justice ideals of the Sermon on the Mount or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Rather, Ayers and his education school comrades are explicit about the need to indoctrinate public school children with the belief that America is a racist, militarist country and that the capitalist system is inherently unfair and oppressive. As a leader of this growing “reform” movement, Ayers was recently elected vice president for curriculum of the American Education Research Association, the nation’s largest organization of ed school professors and researchers.

A Marshall Plan for Reading

Sol Stern:

In the new paper, however, they concluded that “systematic differences in school quality appear much less important in explaining the differences in test-score trajectories by race, once the data are extended through third grade; Blacks lose substantial ground relative to Whites within the same school and even in the same classrooms. That is, including school- or teacher-fixed effects [does] little to explain the divergent trajectories of Black and White students between kindergarten and third grade. . . . By the end of third grade, even after controlling for observables, the Black-White test-score gap is evident in every skill tested in reading and math except for the most basic tasks such as counting and letter recognition, which virtually all students have mastered.”
How to narrow this yawning gap? Start by thinking more concretely about the cognitive deficits of those Harlem ten-year-olds Fryer mentioned. Inner-city black children, research shows, begin school with only half the vocabulary of white middle-class children. Typically, they soon fall behind in trying to decode how the written English language blends the sounds made by letter combinations into words. “Difficulties in decoding unfamiliar words rapidly are at the core of most reading problems,” says Reid Lyon, former head of reading research at the National Institutes of Health.

Homework Anxiety in Madison

Doug Erickson:

This parental approach — providing a consistent, supportive environment — is a good way to lessen the stress that can accompany homework, said Dr. Marcia Slattery, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with UW Health.
Each year, Slattery said she and her colleagues treat hundreds of children who are anxious about school-related issues, including homework. For some, the problem is limited to homework. For others, homework exacerbates an existing anxiety disorder or indicates other problems, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or an underlying learning problem.
“There’s an inherent quality to homework that evokes a certain amount of stress, and that can be good, because it pushes us to learn,” Slattery said. “But for some children, the anxiety is so pronounced it basically freezes them.”

Burmaster Won’t Seek 3rd Term as Wisconsin Education Superintendent, Tony Evers Announces Run

Tamira Madsen:

There had been some speculation Burmaster was interested in running for governor if Gov. Jim Doyle didn’t seek re-election in 2010, but she said that type of campaign is not in her plans.
She would not elaborate on her future career endeavors except to say, “I’m an education leader and I want to continue to serve in that capacity.” She also said she will get back to working in community schools with students in a “hands-on” role.

Interviews with 2005 Candidates for the Wisconsin DPI Superintendent position can be seen here.
WisPolitics interview with Burmaster.

Milwaukee District’s financial hole makes everything harder

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Milwaukee Public Schools’ biggest problem may be financial, but the district must not lose sight of a key goal: giving students a quality education and restoring confidence in parents.
The thought of Milwaukee Public Schools going bankrupt is scary, but like some of those big financial institutions in the headlines lately, MPS also must be considered too big to fail.
The public isn’t in any mood to hear that a big part of the system’s problems are financial. But it is inescapable.
We’d support thoughtful change to the state’s funding formula that acknowledges the special needs and challenges facing urban districts such as MPS. And we encourage MPS administrators, the School Board and the teachers union to face up to the legacy costs that are weighing the district down.
But no one should support just throwing more money at MPS — not until we know for certain how well the district is using the money it has. To say that the public lacks confidence in the district’s abilities is a vast understatement.

Montgomery County School System Cannot Afford Teacher Raises

Daniel de Vise & Ann Marimow:

Montgomery County’s schools chief has told principals that the system cannot afford to fund scheduled pay raises for the coming budget year, underscoring grim economic conditions that could also have repercussions for thousands of other local government workers.
School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast has said that labor contracts will have to be renegotiated, and Board of Education President Nancy Navarro said yesterday that planned raises of 5.3 percent for teachers are probably unrealistic when the county faces a projected $250 million shortfall for fiscal 2010.
“The financial situation is such that everything is on the table,” Navarro said. “Obviously, what we have in place right now looks like it will not be viable.”
Weast’s chief of staff, Brian Edwards, confirmed the superintendent’s private warnings to school principals. “Dr. Weast is having very frank conversations with staff, with union leadership, with parent leadership that next year’s budget situation is a dire one,” he said.

Korea to Raise Spending on English Education

Kang Shin-who:

The government said Sunday it will expand the education budget to develop training programs for English teachers and recruit more native English-speaking teachers. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced Sunday that it will spend a total of 19.5 billion won ($15.9 million) next year, up 12.2 billion won from a year earlier, for English education programs at elementary and secondary schools.
Under the plan, the ministry will recruit more native English speakers as well as ethnic Koreans for the “Teach and Learn in Korea (TaLK)” program, which was introduced last April to give opportunities for students in rural areas to learn English from native English speakers.
Also, the ministry will introduce intensive English training programs for state-run universities specialized in fostering elementary school teachers across the country and distributing English teaching manuals to school teachers.

Breaking up the Milwaukee School District would foster needed change

Ted Kanavas:

It’s time. The Milwaukee Public Schools system, crumbling for years under the weight of financial non-management and academic breakdown, cannot be allowed to fail another generation of Wisconsin children. The future of our entire state is put at risk by the status quo, and the time to address this crisis is now.
The problems of the district are vast and well-documented. New money is spent on remodeling buildings that now sit vacant. Union contacts are negotiated to favor job security and benefits, pushing academic performance aside. Graduation rates hover around 50% (with many graduates needing remedial help before even thinking about a college class). School Board members fly around the country but are not seen inside of the schools.
The fact of the matter is that, over time, MPS evolved into a system to provide jobs for adults instead of one that focused on educating students. It’s poorly managed, with more than 200 principals reporting to one superintendent, creating a bureaucracy built to fail. I urge you to visit some of the schools and ask yourself: Would I allow my child to attend this school? I have, and I would not.

Cash for Test Scores: The impact of the Texas Advanced Placement Incentive Program

C. Kirabo Jackson:

Cash incentives for high school students to perform better in school are growing in popularity, but we understand very little about them. Does paying students for better Advanced Placement (AP) test scores encourage enrollment in AP classes? Does it lead to more students taking the tests and achieving passing scores? Do cash incentives lead to more students going to college?
I set out to determine the impact of a cash incentive program operating in a number of Texas high schools. The Advanced Placement Incentive Program (APIP) is a novel initiative that includes cash incentives for both teachers and students for each passing score earned on an Advanced Placement exam. The program is targeted to schools serving predominantly minority and low-income students with the aim of improving college readiness. The APIP was first implemented in 10 Dallas schools in 1996 and has been expanded to include more than 40 schools in Texas. The National Math and Science Initiative awarded grants to Arkansas, Alabama, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington to replicate the APIP and plans to expand these programs to 150 districts across 20 states.
Using data from the Texas Education Agency, I evaluated how the APIP affected education outcomes in participating schools in the years following implementation. I studied whether the program increased AP course enrollment and the share of students sitting for AP (or International Baccalaureate [IB]) examinations. Since improved AP outcomes may not necessarily reflect increased learning and could come at the expense of other academic outcomes, I also looked beyond these immediate effects to the broader set of outcomes, such as high school graduation rates, SAT and ACT performance, and the percentage of students attending college.

Fine Arts Task Force Report Available On-line

Last night, Fine Arts Task Force co-chairs Barb Schrank and Anne Katz presented the committee’s report at the regular school board meeting. It is a fine document and a reminder of how fortunate we are to have a community that is rich in arts resources and people with a clear understanding of the importance of the arts in educational programs. We all owe this group a significant debt for their diligence in putting together a comprehensive document and set of recommendations.
The report and committee minutes and meeting materials are available on-line at:
Last night the board voted to receive the report and turn it over to administration and staff for analysis and comment. Later this school year, the superintendent and board will hold input sessions to give the community a chance to weigh in on the report and on priorities. I am not sure if this will be done as part of the strategic planning process that the new superintendent has in mind or as a separate process, but I am confident that there will be opportunities to weigh in.
For now, this group deserves a big THANK YOU for their work.

Let Them be Themselves:
Seminar offers help, advice to parents raising gifted children

Doug Carroll, via a kind reader’s email:

Jim Delisle tells the story of a bright little girl who went with her parents to buy a bicycle.
After the bike had been selected, the parents presented their credit card to complete the purchase.
“Don’t you know the interest rate they charge on credit cards?” the girl said in a scolding tone. “If we wait until Christmas, Santa will bring it — and it won’t cost anything!”
The anecdote illustrates the challenges that can be involved in parenting a gifted child, who may be light-years ahead of the pack intellectually but all too typical in other respects.
A two-day seminar at Blue Harbor Resort and Conference Center, which concluded Friday, addressed issues specific to the development and education of gifted children and was attended by more than 300 schoolteachers, administrators, parents and students.

Referendum Climate: Madison Mayor Proposes 6% City Budget Spending Increase

Dean Mosiman:

Cieslewicz today will propose a $237.9 million “share the pain” operating budget that raises city taxes $53 on the average $247,974 home.
The proposed budget, a 6 percent spending increase — the largest Cieslewicz has ever offered — delivers new money for police, fire, the library and Metro Transit, but freezes or cuts spending in many areas.
“You’ll find no extreme cuts to any one agency, but many small cuts,” Cieslewicz said. “We did manage to keep long-term commitments.”
The 2.9 percent increase in taxes on the average home is among the fifth-lowest in 30 years, but overall tax collections are up 8 percent, the biggest increase since 1993.
“I was focused primarily on taxes on the average home,” Cieslewicz said. “That is what people experience.”

Much more on the 2008 Madison School District referendum here.

How NCLB Ignored the Elephant in America’s Classroom — POVERTY

Jim Trelease:

A politician after politician and CEO after CEO have pontificated for 20 years about what is wrong in American schools, all the while offering simple-minded solutions (higher expectations girded by more high-stakes testing), nearly all have ignored the great elephant in the classroom: poverty. Their behavior said, “If we pretend it isn’t there, either it will go away or cease to exist.”
Before looking at the single most intelligent approach to urban school woes (see Harlem solution below), let’s look at what most impacts the classroom from outside the classroom. It is the weight of poverty that rides the at-risk child like a six-ton elephant. Consider the observations of Pulitzer-winning reporter David K. Shipler:

About 35 million Americans live below the federal poverty line. Their opportunities are defined by forces that may look unrelated, but decades of research have mapped the web of connections. A 1987 study of 215 children attributed differences in I.Q. in part to ‘social risk factors’ like maternal anxiety and stress, which are common features of impoverished households. Research in the 1990’s demonstrated how the paint and pipes of slum housing — major sources of lead — damage the developing brains of children. Youngsters with elevated lead levels have lower I.Q.’s and attention deficits, and — according to a 1990 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine — were seven times more likely to drop out of school.
Take the case of an 8-year-old boy in Boston. He was frequently missing school because of asthma attacks, and his mother was missing work so often for doctors’ appointments that she was in danger of losing her low-wage job. It was a case typical of poor neighborhoods, where asthma runs rampant among children who live amid the mold, dust mites, roaches and other triggers of the disease.”1

The inherent suggestion in NCLB is that all of that will go away if we just expect more of our teachers and students. That is an insult to both of them and it diminishes the enormity of the problem while doing nothing to solve it.

Related: “Limit Low Income Housing“.

High School Taps Institute on Ethics

Leonel Sanchez:

East County’s largest school district has introduced a character education program that aims to reduce cheating and other bad conduct by promoting ethical behavior.
“What you allow, you encourage,” said ethics expert Michael Josephson, who is working with the Grossmont Union High School District on the Character Counts program. “It’s about helping kids form better values, make better choices.”
The Josephson Institute of Ethics plans to release in a few weeks its 2008 national survey of student attitudes and behavior.
Two years ago, the institute’s survey of more than 30,000 students showed alarming rates of cheating, lying and theft at schools across the United States.
Six out of 10 high school students said they had cheated at least once during a test during the past year.

Colorado Amendment 59: Education Funding and TABOR Rebates

Fort Collins Coloradoan:

1. Without raising taxes, Amendment 59 provides a future source of money for educating Colorado’s children. This money may be used to increase per-student funding and for preschool through 12th-grade, or P-12, education improvements, including expanding preschool and full-day kindergarten programs, reducing class size, expanding technology education and providing performance pay for teachers. Providing new sources of money to invest in P-12 education helps schools teach children the skills needed for the jobs of the future. A well-educated work force is necessary to attract new businesses, generate new jobs and keep existing jobs in Colorado.
1. Amendment 59 permanently eliminates all future TABOR rebates to Colorado taxpayers. It is effectively a tax increase that will grow the size of state government. In addition, while the TABOR rebates are supposed to be spent on education, the money could instead replace existing education spending, allowing growth in other state programs. Amendment 59 also allows the only major source of money that is spent on the state’s buildings to be transferred for spending on P-12 education at a time when the state is currently unable to keep up with building maintenance and construction needs.

Maya Angelou Public Charter School offers hope and an education to kids in trouble

James Forman:

The job of a juvenile public defender is as much social worker as lawyer. In Washington, D.C., the juvenile court still operates, at least on paper, as the founders of the system envisioned over a century ago. Judges are supposed to provide for the care and rehabilitation of the child, as well as protect the safety of the community. In practice, this means that if a lawyer can find a program in the community that meets a client’s needs, there is a decent chance that the judge will put the child there instead of locking him up (see Figure 1).
The more I learned about Eddie’s life, the more depressed I became. When he was eight, he was physically abused by his stepfather, who resented the competition for Eddie’s mother’s attention. When he was 10 he began to act out in school, picking fights with other kids and refusing to do his homework. Eventually, he was forced to repeat two grades. At age 13, he was kicked out of school and referred to an “alternative” school for troubled kids. He wandered in and out of this school–nobody really kept track of his attendance–for a few years, until he was arrested and sent to Oak Hill. And now, at maybe the lowest point in an unremittingly dismal life, Eddie was asking me to get him “a program” so that he could go home. As I struggled to respond to Eddie’s request, my depression turned to hopelessness. I knew that the city was throwing all kinds of resources into this case. There was money to pay the police who had arrested Eddie, money for the prosecutor who charged him, money for the expert witness who came to court and testified that Eddie’s fingerprints were found in the house. There was money to pay me, the public defender. And there would be money for the state–on behalf of we the people–to incarcerate Eddie in a juvenile prison, at a cost of more than $50,000 a year.

What’s in a Grade & An Update on Madison’s Standards Based Report Card Scheme

Stafford Palmieri:

The red pen. In our still largely decentralized public school system, it’s no big surprise that this old-fashioned instrument of ill repute gets starkly different treatment from district to district and state to state. Three locales, in fact, have recently reopened the question, “what’s in a grade”–and come up with very different answers. Perhaps by evaluating these recent conversations, we can imagine what standard GPAs might look like.
Fairfax County, Virginia, parents are outraged that their children must score a 94 to receive an A. Neighboring counties give As for a mere 90, they argue, and they and their kids are being unfairly penalized when competing for college admission, national merit awards, even a lower car insurance bill. Parents have taken up arms in hopes that extended pressure on the district to follow the example of nearby school systems will lead to a lower bar; Fairfax is contemplating doing so.
Fairfax’s one-county crusade against grade inflation is probably sacrificing its students on the altar of its ideals, as parents allege, and remedying that problem is not difficult. Despite cries of the old “slippery slope,” shifting the letter-number ratio to match neighboring counties will ultimately benefit Fairfax students (in the short term at least) when it comes to college admissions and the like.
Pittsburgh has tackled the other end of the grading spectrum. All failing grades (those of 50 or below) will henceforth be marked down as 50 percent credit in grade books. Long on the books but only recently enforced, this policy, the district claims, is simply giving students a better chance to “catch up” in the next quarter since quarters are averaged into semester and yearlong grades. “A failing grade is still a failing grade,” explains district spokeswoman Ebony Pugh. Seems not to matter if it’s a 14 or a 49. Round up to 50.

Locally, the Madison School District is implementing “Standards Based Report Cards” in the middle schools.
I’ve wondered what the implementation of this initiative tells parents, citizens and taxpayers, not to mention students about the new Superintendent? See his memo on the subject here. More here.
The State of Wisconsin’s standards are changing, according to this Department of Public Instruction. Peter Sobol’s post on the WKCE’s suitability for tracking student progress is illuminating:

… The WKCE is a large-scale assessment designed to provide a snapshot of how well a district or school is doing at helping all students reach proficiency on state standards, with a focus on school and district-level accountability. A large-scale, summative assessment such as the WKCE is not designed to provide diagnostic information about individual students. Those assessments are best done at the local level, where immediate results can be obtained. Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum.

Much more on report cards here.

Invisible Ink in Collective Bargaining Agreements: Why Key Issues Are Not Addressed

Emily Cohen, Kate Walsh & RiShawn Biddle [305K PDF]:

NCTQ takes a close look at the governance of the teaching profession and finds that state legislators and other state-level policymakers crafting state laws and regulation, not those bargaining at the local level, decide some of the most important rules governing the teaching profession.
As a number of big school districts around the country such as San Diego, Broward County, and Philadelphia hammer out new teacher contracts over the next few months, both sides will no doubt bring laundry lists of “must-haves” to the bargaining table. The common assumption is that the important action happens when district administrators and union representatives sit down at the bargaining table. Yet the reality is that well before anyone meets to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, many issues will have already been decided.
State legislators and other state-level policymakers crafting state laws and regulation, not those bargaining at the local level, decide some of the most important rules governing the teaching profession. Though the teacher contract still figures prominently on such issues as teacher pay and the schedule of the school day, it is by no means the monolithic authority that many presume it to be. In fact, on the most critical issues of the teaching profession, the state is the real powerhouse. State law dictates how often teachers must be evaluated, when teachers can earn tenure, the benefits they’ll receive, and even the rules for firing a teacher.
A recent example out of New York State illustrates the growing authority of the state legislature in shaping rules that were traditionally in the purview of the local school district. Last year New York City Public Schools sought to change the process for awarding teachers tenure by factoring in student data. The local teachers’ union, the United Federation of Teachers protested the district’s new policy, not through a local grievance (because the union, by state law, had no say on tenure issues), but by lobbying state legislatures to pass a bill that would effectively make the district’s action illegal.1 Guided by the heavy hand of the state teachers’ union and the UFT, the New York State Legislature blocked New York City’s tenure changes by embedding a provision in the 2008-2009 budget that made it illegal to consider a teacher’s job performance as a factor in the tenure process.2 The placement of the provision in the large, unwieldy budget virtually assured the union of a win, as few legislators or the governor would have been prepared to have the budget go down on the basis of a single provision.

SAT’s Matter if You Are in High School

Arthur McCann:

Those of us who help students and their families prepare college applications know how much more competitive the process has become in the last several years. Students are getting rejected from colleges that older and less accomplished siblings are now attending.
This is because the current crop of seniors is part of the “echo boom,” which is expected to peak with 3.3 million children of baby boomers graduating in 2009 and to remain near this level for another seven years. Many more students will be vying for spaces in college.
Teenagers are working harder than ever at challenging themselves with honors and AP courses and filling after-school hours with extracurricular activities, community service programs and SAT prep courses. But it seems like a cruel joke that coinciding with this increased competitiveness, they are required to take a longer and more rigorous Scholastic Aptitude Test.

Chicago Parents Seek More Public School Input

Chicago Tribune:

Parents of Chicago public school students living on the West Side overwhelmingly want to have more of a say on school decisions and want better communication from the district when it comes to school-restructuring efforts, according to the findings of a five-month survey released Friday.
The survey conducted by the Parents & Residents Invested in School & Education Reform (PRISE Reform), queried 504 households of students in the 6th through 12th grades in the Humboldt Park, Garfield Park and Austin neighborhoods.

Cash Incentives for Students and Teachers Boosts Performance on SAT and Advanced Placement Tests

Kirabo Jackson:

A cash incentive program that rewards both teachers and students for each passing score earned on an Advanced Placement (AP) exam has been shown to increase the percentage of high ACT and SAT scores earned by participating students, and increase the number of students enrolling in college, according to new research by Cornell University economist Kirabo Jackson published in the fall issue of Education Next. The program appears to have the biggest impact on African American and Hispanic students, boosting participation in AP courses and exams.
The Advanced Placement Incentive Program (APIP) is targeted to Texas schools serving predominantly minority and low-income students. On average, there is a 22 percent increase in the number of students scoring above 1100 on the SAT or above 24 on the ACT in schools with the APIP. The increase rises each year the program is in place so that by the third year there is roughly a 33 percent increase.
The percentage increases in students achieving higher SAT and ACT exam scores are similar among white, African American, and Hispanics students–about 5 percentage points from the third year on. However, the differences in impact relative to the prior performance of each group are sizable, notes Jackson. While there is about a 12 percent relative increase in white students scoring above 1100 on the SAT or above 24 on the ACT, there is a 50 percent relative increase for Hispanics and an 80 percent relative increase for black students.

Academic Fitness

The NACAC Testing Commission has just released its report [PDF]on the benefits of, and problems with, current standardized admission tests. The Commission says that “a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for the use of standardized tests in undergraduate admission does not reflect the realities facing our nation’s many and varied colleges and universities.”
It might be pointed out, by an outside observer, that standardized tests not only do not reflect the realities of acceptance for high school students receiving athletic scholarships, but such tests have nothing whatever to do with whether high school athletes are recruited or not and nothing to do with whether they receive college athletic scholarships or not.
Athletic scholarships are based on athletic performance in particular athletic activities, not on tests of the athletic or physical fitness of high school athletes. The cost of failure for college coaches is too high for them to think of relying on any standardized test of sports knowledge or of anything else in their efforts to recruit the best high school athletes they can.
The NACAC Testing Commission also says that standardized tests may not do a good enough job of telling whether applicants to college are academically fit. They recommend the development and use of good subject matter tests which are “more closely linked to the high school curriculum” than the SAT and ACT exams.
This suggestion begins to approach the rigor of assessment in the recruiting and selection of high school athletes, but there are still important differences. The high school athletic curriculum includes such subjects as football, basketball, soccer, baseball, etc., but college coaches do not rely on tests of athletes’ knowledge of these sports as determined by sport-specific tests. They need to know a lot about the actual performance of candidates in those sports in which they have competed.
The parallel is not perfect, because of course students who can demonstrate knowledge of history, biology, literature, math, chemistry, and so on, are clearly more likely to manage the demands of college history, biology, literature, math and chemistry courses when they get there, while athletes who know a lot about their sport may still perform poorly in it.
But college academic work does not just consist of taking courses and passing tests. In math there are problem sets. In biology, chemistry, etc., there is lab work to do. And in history courses there are history books to read and research papers to write. Such performance tasks are not yet part of the recommended tests for college admission.
It is now possible, for example, for a student who can do well on a subject matter test in history to graduate from high school without ever having read a complete history book or written a real history research paper in high school. That student may indeed do well in history courses in college, but it seems likely that they will have a steep learning curve in their mastery of the reading lists and paper requirements they will face in those courses.
New standard college admissions tests in specific academic subjects will no doubt bring more emphasis on academic knowledge for the high school students who are preparing for them, but a standard independent assessment of their research papers would surely make it more likely that they would not plan to enter college without ever having done one in high school.
The reading of complete nonfiction books is still an unknown for college admissions officers. Interviewers may ask what books students have read, but there is no actual standard expectation for the content, difficulty and number of nonfiction books high school students are expected to have read before college.
The increased emphasis on subject matter tests is surely a good step closer to the seriousness routinely seen in the assessments for college athletic scholarships, but it seems to me that some regular examination of the reading of nonfiction books and an external assessment of at least one serious research paper by high school students would help in their preparation for college, as well as in the assessment of their actual demonstrated academic fitness which, as the Commission points out, is not now provided by the SAT and ACT tests.
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

What Do College Students Know? By this professor’s calculations, math skills have plummeted

Stephen Wilson:

Professors are constantly asked if their students are better or worse today than in the past. I conducted an experiment to try to answer that question for one group of students.
For my fall 2006 course, Calculus I for the Biological and Social Sciences at Johns Hopkins University (JHU), I administered the same final exam I had used for the course in the fall of 1989. The SAT mathematics (SATM) scores of the two classes were nearly identical, and the classes contained approximately the same percentage of the Arts and Sciences freshman class.
The content of the calculus I course had not changed and, from a math standpoint, using the old exam was completely appropriate.
The average exam score for my 2006 calculus I class was significantly lower than for my 1989 class. Comparing the effects of scaling in the two years reveals the extent of the decline. In my 1989 class, 27 percent of students received As on the test and 23 percent Bs. When I graded my 2006 class on my 2006 scale, 32 percent received As and 37 percent Bs. But if I instead graded my 2006 class on the 1989 scale, only 6 percent would have received As and 21 percent Bs. If I graded the 1989 class on the 2006 scale, 52 percent would have received As and 26 percent Bs.
Why did my 2006 class perform so poorly? With the proliferation of AP calculus in high school, one might think that the good students of 2006 place out of calculus I more frequently than did their 1989 counterparts. However, in 1989, 30 percent of the Arts and Sciences freshmen either took the harder engineering calculus course or a higher level mathematics course (calculus II or III, linear algebra, or differential equations). The percentage in 2006 is only 24 percent.

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

Julie Greenberg and Kate Walsh, National Council on Teacher Quality1.5MB 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.

Gubernatorial Candidates on Education

Rita Truschel:

Lee only just emerged as an active campaigner since the Sept. 9 primary elections. He was a late and reluctant draftee in May, after former Happy Harry’s drugstore executive Alan Levin unexpectedly backed out in January. Since then, Lee’s strategy was more about freezing out Republican primary opponent Mike Protack than honing his own positions.
So here we are a month before election day, with Lee finally on the spot to explain himself. The University of Delaware’s Clayton Hall auditorium was full of hundreds of people knowledgeable and focused on education. And Lee declared he wouldn’t deviate from the Vision 2015 plan in which many of them had had a hand.
So why was there laughter?
The trouble is Lee didn’t seem to have a sense that there is serious dissent even among the framers of Vision 2015 about elements such as consolidated purchasing and changing teacher compensation. There are political fights in all corners.

Under Pressure

Matthew Futterman:

Intense, highly involved parenting can create star children like golf prodigies Josh and Zach Martin. But it can also come at a cost. What’s driving hard-driving parents?
Bowie and Julie Martin shuttled their sons for five years to a never-ending series of practices, lessons and games in a half-dozen sports before finally suggesting the boys focus on a single pursuit, golf, the game where the children showed the most promise.
Josh and Zach Martin were 6 and 8.
“I just wanted them to be great at something,” Mr. Martin explains.
So far, so good. Today, the Martin family’s single-minded pursuit has produced perhaps the two best young golfers living under the same roof anywhere. Their two-bedroom townhouse beside the 17th hole of a golf course in Pinehurst, N.C., is an exhibit space for dozens of oversized silver and crystal trophies that Josh and Zach have won, including 11 at international tournaments.

Adolescent Anxiety: The Musical

Bruce Weber:

He was never much of a student, but Jason Robert Brown was a precocious kid. Growing up in Monsey, N.Y., about an hour north of Manhattan, he became enthralled by music at age 4, was taking lessons at 5. At his first recital — age 6 — he not only outplayed his teacher’s other students, he also supplied the verbal patter of a natural entertainer.
“He just started chatting with the audience,” his mother, Deborah Brown, recalled. “I was floored. Nobody knew where it came from.”
Once, before he could write in script, he filched a checkbook from one of his parents, wrote out a check and sent it to a mail-order record club. Fortunately he didn’t get all the particulars right, and the check was returned because it was unsigned. Teachers plucked him from third grade and plopped him into the fourth, not because of straight A’s but because he wasn’t paying attention.
“He was good in everything, but if it wasn’t music, he didn’t do the work,” said Mrs. Brown, a former English teacher.

Starting Over (Again) in New Orleans

Caitlin Corrigan:

Aug. 29, 2008, marked the end of the second week of my second year teaching at Craig Elementary school, one of nearly 35 public schools that make up the Recovery School District, a state run system created in 2005 to reform New Orleans’ failing schools.
The date had a much greater significance for my students and our city, of course — it was both the three year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating landfall, and the day before Mayor C. Ray Nagin would declare a mandatory evacuation in preparation for what could be “the storm of the century,” Hurricane Gustav.
As we neared dismissal that day, my students buzzed around the wooden shelves that housed their binders of classwork.

Merit & The Washington, DC School System

NY Times Editorial:

Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington has moved at warp speed to make reforms since lawmakers gave him direct control of the city’s corrupt and dysfunctional school system a little more than a year ago. He named a hard-nosed schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, who has replaced dozens of inept principals and reined in a rapacious central bureaucracy that was infamous for wasting money and thwarting reform.
The mayor and his chancellor are now hoping to negotiate an innovative new teachers’ contract that, if ratified, could become a model for underperforming school systems throughout the country.
Like many other cities, Washington wants to relax seniority rules that make it difficult to remove underperforming teachers and to reward high performers with fewer years of service.
Ms. Rhee has proposed a new approach in which teachers could choose between two employment options. The first would continue the traditional tenure arrangement, under which teachers would be compensated based on their years of experience and educational attainment. Or teachers could choose to give up tenure protection — for the first year of the new contract — and would have to agree to an evaluation of their teaching skills. The teachers who temporarily relinquished tenure, and passed the review, would be rewarded with higher salaries and bonuses that could push their earnings to as high as $130,000 a year. At present, a teacher with a Ph.D. and 21 years of experience makes $87,500 a year. Those who received lower ratings, however, would risk being fired during a probationary year.

On Firing Teachers

Jay Matthews:

The Internet arrived late in my career. Its annoyances are far outweighed by its joys. One of the best things about the new era is that I can converse with far more readers and at much greater depth than I ever could with just a phone and a typewriter.
ne example is the energetic response to my column Monday on the second page of The Post’s Metro section. The headline summed it up well: “For Kids’ Sake, Power to Fire Teachers Crucial.”
I explained why I thought D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee was right to try to find the best possible principals, who understand great teaching because they were once great teachers themselves, and give them the power to hire and fire the people who work for them. My prime example was the success of the KIPP DC: KEY Academy, a public charter school in the District. I described how that school’s principal, Sarah Hayes, removed quickly two teachers who failed to respond to her efforts to train them, and how that saved their students from months, and perhaps years, of mediocre teaching.

DC Schools Chancellor Imposes Teacher Dismissal Policy

Bill Turque:

“The goal and responsibility and moral imperative of this administration is to make sure that each child gets an excellent education,” said Rhee, who had hinted broadly in recent weeks that she was ready to invoke what she has dubbed “Plan B.”
The blueprint includes a new teacher evaluation system based primarily on student test scores and other achievement benchmarks. She has also decided to employ rules that are on the books but seldom used, including one that allows her to deemphasize the importance of seniority in deciding which teachers would lose jobs in the event of declining enrollment or school closures. Seniority would become one of multiple factors taken into account.
Exactly how teachers will be evaluated on the basis of test scores is still under review, Rhee said. The provision allowing a 90-day review of teacher performance, however, could have a more immediate impact.

Leopold fifth-graders would go to two middle schools under district plan to reduce crowding

Click to view a map displaying Leopold and nearby schools.

Tamira Madsen:

Five days after Madison Metropolitan School District and Madison School Board officials learn if voters approved a referendum to help finance the district budget, they’re expected to vote on options to ease overcrowding at Leopold Elementary.

Wisconsin State Journal & The Madison School District:

A long-term plan for coping with Leopold Elementary’s crowded classrooms would be delayed until June, and the school’s fifth graders would be shuttled to two middle schools for two years under a proposal released today by Madison schools Superintendent Daniel Nerad.
In a report to the Madison School Board, Nerad acknowledged that residents living in the Leopold area on Madison’s South Side would prefer that a new school be built in the area.
However, he recommended the stopgap measures while delaying the long-term plan, which had been expected to be announced this fall. District officials have been studying the problem since April.
Under Nerad’s plan, Leopold’s fifth graders would attend Cherokee and Wright middle schools in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years. About three-fourths of the fifth graders would be sent to Cherokee.

Distance from Leopold Elementary to:

Much more on Leopold here.

McCain & Obama’s Art Policy Statements

Salt Lake City Tribune:

Here are the arts policy statements of John McCain and Barack Obama:
John McCain
“John McCain believes that arts education can play a vital role fostering creativity and expression. He is a strong believer in empowering local school districts to establish priorities based on the needs of local schools and school districts. Schools receiving federal funds for education must be held accountable for providing a quality education in basic subjects critical to ensuring students are prepared to compete and succeed in the global economy. Where these local priorities allow, he believes investing in arts education can play a role in nurturing the creativity of expression so vital to the health of our cultural life and providing a means of creative expression for young people.”
Barack Obama Reinvest in Arts Education: To remain competitive in the global economy, America needs to reinvigorate the kind of creativity and innovation that has made this country great. To do so, we must nourish our children’s creative skills. In addition to giving our children the science and math skills they need to compete in the new global context, we should also encourage the ability to think creatively that comes from a meaningful arts education. Unfortunately, many school districts are cutting instructional time for art and music education. Barack Obama believes that the arts should be a central part of effective teaching and learning