Madison School District’s Strategic Planning Process, An Update

I was honored to be part of the Madison School District’sStrategic Planning Process” this weekend. More than 60 community members, students, parents, board members and district employees participated.
The process, which included meetings Thursday (1/29/2009) from 8 to 6 Friday (1/30/2009) from 8 to 5 and Saturday (1/31/2009) from 8 to 12, thus far, resulted in the following words:
MMSD Mission Statement (1/30/2009):

Our mission is to cultivate the potential in every student to thrive as a global citizen by inspiring a love of learning and civic engagement, by challenging and supporting every student to achieve academic excellence, and by embracing the full richness and diversity of our community.

Draft Strategic Priorities
1. Student:
We will eliminate the achievement gap by ensuring that all students reach their highest potential. To do this, we will prepare every student for kindergarten, create meaningful student-adult relationships, and provide student-centered programs and supports that lead to prepared graduates. (see also student outcomes)
2. Resource/Capacity:
We will rigorously evaluate programs, services and personnel through a collaborative, data-driven process to prioritize and allocate resources effectively and equitably, and vigorously pursue the resources necessary to achieve our mission.
3. Staff
We will implement a formal system to support and inspire continuous development of effective teaching and leadership skills of all staff who serve to engage our diverse student body while furthering development of programs that target the recruitment and retent ion of staff members who reflect the cultural composition of our student body.
4. Curriculum
We will revolutionize the educational model to engage and support all students in a comprehensive participatory educational experience defined by rigorous, culturally relevant and accelerated learning opportunities where authentic assessment is paired with flexible instruction.

5. Organization/Systems:

We will proudly leverage our rich diversity as our greatest strength and provide a learning environment in which all our children experience what we want for each of our children. We will:

  • Provide a safe, welcoming learn ing environment
  • Coordinate and cooperate across the district
  • Build and sustain meaningful partnerships throughout our community
  • Invite and incorporate (require) inclusive decision-making
  • Remain accountable to all stakeholders
  • Engage community in dialogue around diversity confront fears and misunderstandings

New way urged for gauging schools
Lawmakers: Measure using college-readiness

Pat Kossan; The Arizona Republic 7:25 am | 55°:

Half of Maricopa County’s high-school graduates who enter Arizona universities or colleges must take a remedial math class. And just under a quarter must take a remedial English class.
The new findings are helping legislators push for a change in how Arizona decides if its high schools are excelling or failing, a move that would topple AIMS test scores as the main measurement.
Two key House leaders are proposing a pilot program that could lead to making the percentage of students who graduate “college-ready” the prime indicator of how well a high school performs.
Rating schools by AIMS scores sets the bar too low because the state’s standardized student tests are based on 10th-grade skills, said Reps. Rich Crandall, a Mesa Republican, and David Lujan, a Phoenix Democrat.
Some educators fear that the new approach would put too much emphasis on college-bound students and not enough on marginal students who need extra help or students who don’t want to attend college.
The findings come from an Arizona Community Foundation study released this week that aimed to measure how well high schools prepared their college-bound students.
The College Readiness Report calculated how many 2006 high-school graduates could directly enter freshman-level English and algebra classes and how many had to take remedial classes first.


Why Easy Grading Is Good for Your Career

Jay Matthews:

New Jersey high school teacher Peter Hibbard flunked 55 percent of the students in his regular biology class the year before he retired. There were no failures in his honors classes, he said, but many of his regular students refused to do the work. They did not show up for tests and did not take makeups. They did not turn in lab reports. Homework was often ignored.
“Still, the principal told me that the failure rate was unacceptable, and I needed to fix it,” Hibbard said. “The pressure to give grades instead of actually teaching increased. A colleague told me that he had no problem. If students showed up, they got a C. If they did some work, they got a B. If they did fair or better on tests, they got an A. No one ever complained, and his paycheck was the same. He was teacher of the year, and a finalist for a principal’s job.”
I often get helpful letters from teachers. They are fine people who assume I am educable, despite evidence to the contrary. Sometimes, as in Hibbard’s case, teachers are so candid and wise I am compelled to quote them, and see if readers share their view of reality.
Here is what Hibbard told me:

Well-Connected Parents Take On School Boards

Michael Alison Chandler:

For a new generation of well-wired activists in the Washington region, it’s not enough to speak at Parent-Teacher Association or late-night school board meetings. They are going head-to-head with superintendents through e-mail blitzes, social networking Web sites, online petitions, partnerships with business and student groups, and research that mines a mountain of electronic data on school performance.
In recent weeks, parent-led campaigns helped bring down a long-established grading policy in Fairfax County and scale back the unpopular practice of charging fees for courses in Montgomery County. They have also stoked debates over math education in Frederick and Prince William counties.


Duncan: Incentive Grants May Be Used to Reward Rigor

Alyson Klein:

Arne Duncan, the brand-new Secretary of Education, said today that he would consider using $15 billion in proposed federal incentive grants to reward states for setting more “rigorous” standards. The money would be available to him under a broad $819 billion stimulus package that passed the House, with no GOP support, last night.
“There’s a series of things we’re looking for,” in allocating those funds, Duncan told me, in the first of a round of one-on-one interviews he gave to reporters. He indicated that the Department would want states that receive the funds to have a comprehensive data system, strong assessments, and rigorous standards. “With this fund, we really have a chance to drive dramatic changes, to take to scale what works, invest in what works.”
Given his emphasis on standards, I asked him whether he might use the fund to push for national or more uniform, rigorous standards. He left the door open for that. “Sure, absolutely,” he told me (though without committing himself.) “Lots of folks are already thinking this way. We want to reward rigor and challenge the status quo.”
I asked him about some of the reform-oriented programs in the stimulus package. He wasn’t specific about which items the administration had pushed for until I brought up the $200 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund in one version of the bill, which doles out grants to districts for alternative pay programs, the $25 million for charter school facilities, and the $250 million state data systems.

Building hope for financial literacy

Sean Rush:

Rarely in our history have two more critical and incredible moments collided – the Inauguration of Barack Obama and the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression. We feel the excitement of change no matter what our party affiliation may be, and yet our enthusiasm is tempered by what we know lies ahead.
In Sept. of 2008, our financial illiteracy as a nation dramatically revealed itself and the unraveling continues today. The propensity of many to spend beyond their means and make unwise financial decisions demonstrates that many of us don’t even know the basics of budgeting or handling debt.
But we have an opportunity to turn this crisis into the ultimate learning experience. Our new leaders, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, fresh from Chicago Public Schools, can help make sure future generations don’t repeat our mistakes.

Wauwatosa’s Trade Charter School

Lori Weiss via a kind reader’s email:

Wauwatosa School District officials have found a home for the trade charter school that will be opening for the 2009-10 school year.
For the first year, the School of the Trades will be housed in the basement of the Fisher Building, 12121 W. North Ave.
Superintendent Phil Ertl said the district is looking at the location for one year as it evaluates the viability and efficiency of the building.
It was determined that the Fisher Building would be the best place to house the district’s second trade charter school because it doesn’t need major renovations.
“It’s all there right now,” Jason Zurawik, West associate principal who has been working with the trade charter school committee, told the School Board on Jan. 26.

Middle School Report Cards Continues

Several parents from Jefferson Middle School have been meeting with Dr. Nerad and administrators to discuss the evolution of the standards based report cards in Middle School.
After much research on my part, it is clear standard based report cards are the “new” thing and a result of NCLB. It is easily adaptable at the elementary school, but very FEW school districts have implemented these changes in the middle school and in the high school it is almost nonexistent due to the difficulty adapting them for college entrance. It seems the goal of standard based report cards from the NCLB legistation is to make sure teachers teach the standards. It is kind of backwards that way but many teachers feel it makes sure they cover all the required standards.
Our local concerns and response from district include:

  1. Infinite Campus, which was up and running last year is no longer functioning for middle school students.
    Their response: Yes there are problems and we have provided training but the staff have not taking us up on the paid training made available.
    My response: If you are going to implement a change, since when is it optional to learn a new system the district is implementing. My daughter has no grades, assignments, or anything on IC accept the final grade. When asked if this will be mandatory in the future I was told we have no idea and we can’t promise that it will be. It is clear after two meetings and several discussion with Lisa Wachtel that IC will not accommodate standards based grading. Basically elementary students will never be up. She projected 5 years and the middle school while up it is not easy to use the grade book for a program designed for 100% grading. I am only left to believe 2/3 of MMSD students will not benefit from a potentially good way for parents to stay informed about their students progress, grades, test, assignments, etc…..

  2. While some areas are better (Language Arts, Spanish, PE) evaluation includes written, oral,as well as comprehension for the languages, and for PE it includes evaluation for knowledge, skill, and effort.
    In Math my child made a 4 on Content 1, 2 on Content 2, 1 on Content 3, and a 3 on Content 4. She received a cummulitative grade of D. When I add 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 and divide by 4 it equals 2.5 which is not a D. After much research I found out each area is weighted different which is not explained on the report card. I also asked and it required much investigation to find out what each content area (1,2,3,4) was evaluating. She clearly understands one of them and has poor understanding in the one weighed higher but I had no idea what they were as they were only labelled by a number.
    Administration response: Math is a problem we are working on.

I accept with many reservations that we are doing standards based reporting for middle school students. I am angry that the district picked Infinite Campus at about the same time they were discussing going to Standards Based Report cards and did not realize 2/3 of the students will not benefit from IC. I am also upset that a pilot of the middle school report card was not conducted with staff, parents and student input. At Jefferson the staff feel under trained, overwhelmed and as though this was pushed down their throats. It says to me the staff were not consulted. When the staff person that was in charge of training the rest of the staff at Jefferson is not even using the I.C. it says a lot about the implementation of the middle school reporting. As far as standards based report cards moving to high school for MMSD, this would be very difficult. Not just due to college entrance but because MMSD high schools do not have standards to base the report cards upon.

Do You Want An Internship? It’ll Cost You

Sue Shellenbarger:

Faced with a dismal market for college summer internships, a growing number of anxious parents are pitching in to help — by buying their kids a foot in the door.
Some are paying for-profit companies to place their college students in internships that are mostly unpaid. Others are hiring marketing consultants to create direct-mail campaigns promoting their children’s workplace potential. Still other parents are buying internships outright in online charity auctions.
Even as the economy slows, internship-placement programs are seeing demand rise by 15% to 25% over a year ago. Critics of the programs say they deepen the divide between the haves and have-nots by giving students from more affluent families an advantage. But parents say the fees are a small price for giving their children a toehold in a treacherous job market. And operators of the programs claim they actually broaden access to internships by opening them to students who lack personal or political connections to big employers.
The whole idea of paying cash so your kid can work is sometimes jarring at first to parents accustomed to finding jobs the old-fashioned way — by pounding the pavement. Susan and Raymond Sommer of tiny St. Libory, Ill., were dismayed when their daughter Megan, then a junior at a Kentucky university, asked them to spend $8,000 so she could get an unpaid sports-marketing internship last summer in New York City. Paying to work “was something people don’t do around here,” says Ms. Sommer, a retired concrete-company office worker; her husband, a retired electrical superintendent, objected that if “you work for a company, you should be getting paid.”

Loudon School Board Freezes Teacher Pay

Michael Birnbaum:

The School Board in Loudoun County, where the recession might be having a greater effect on teachers’ wallets than in any other Washington area jurisdiction, late last night approved a budget of $747. million that would freeze teacher salaries.
The spending plan, which passed by an 8 to 1 vote, would omit cost-of-living and seniority raises to save $31. million. It would be the second straight year that Loudoun teachers have gone without a cost-of-living increase. The other type of raise, for rising seniority, is also known as a step increase. The no vote came from John Stevens (Potomac).
Last week, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III proposed forgoing the step increase, a move he said would align Loudoun schools with others in the state. Some of the savings would preserve jobs that had been in jeopardy.
“We’ve been weighing this against the positions that were disappearing in order to keep the step alive,” Hatrick said before the board meeting in Ashburn. “We’re cognizant that there’s a lot of economic strife out there.”

Private Schools Feel the Pinch Amid Recession

Mary Pilon:

Trinity Episcopal School survived Hurricane Ike last fall. But then another storm hit — the economy.
The Galveston, Texas, school, where tuition is between $5,000 and $8,000 a year, has seen its enrollment drop 12%, says David Dearman, the head of the school. Many parents of its students were among the 3,000 workers laid off by the area’s largest employer, the University of Texas Medical Branch. At the end of 2008, the school’s endowment was $800,000, down about 20% from July.
The school has ramped up donation efforts through its Web site, and held car washes and bake sales. It stopped using substitute teachers — other staff members now step in when a teacher is out sick. “Our school will survive, but it will take years to recover,” Mr. Dearman says.
Trinity Episcopal School is one of many kindergarten-through-12th-grade private schools caught in the middle of an economic tempest: anemic endowments, dwindling donations, financially strapped parents slashing tuition from the family budget, and an exodus to suburbs with more appealing public schools where costs are lower.
“The discourse has shifting from sustainability to survivability,” says Myra McGovern, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Independent Schools.

Obama Should Acknowledge His Catholic School Roots

William McGurn:

Of the many parallels between Barack Obama and John F. Kennedy, one has eluded all coverage: Both attended Catholic school as children. In fact, while JFK may have been the Irish Catholic from Boston, he spent less time at the Canterbury School in Connecticut than did young Barry (as he was then called) at St. Francis of Assisi in Indonesia.
At a time when America’s 6,165 Catholic elementary and 1,213 secondary schools are celebrating Catholic Schools Week, President Obama’s first-hand experience here opens the door to a provocative opportunity. In his inaugural address, the president rightly scored a U.S. school system that “fail[s] too many” of our young people. How refreshing it would be if he followed up by giving voice to a corollary truth: For tens of thousands of inner-city families, the local parochial school is often the only lifeline of hope.
“When an inner-city public school does what most Catholic schools do every day, it makes the headlines,” says Patrick J. McCloskey, author of a new book called “The Street Stops Here,” about the year he spent at Rice High — an Irish Christian Brothers school in Harlem. “President Obama has a chance to rise above the ideological divide simply by giving credit where credit is due, by focusing on results, and the reason for those results.”

Ohio Governor Strickland’s K-12 Finance Proposal

Seth Roy & Kent Mallett:

At least one local school administrator is encouraged by Gov. Ted Strickland’s education plan unveiled during Wednesday’s State of the State address.
The plan includes the elimination of phantom revenue and a new conversion-levy option that would allow tax revenue to grow with inflation, Newark City Schools Superintendent Keith Richards said.
“House Bill 920 has been one of my pet peeves since I’ve become an administrator,” he said of the 1976 bill that freezes levy revenues at the amount of money they’re originally passed for. “I believe conversion is the way schools should be funded.”
The other funding portion Strickland addressed — the phantom revenue — means that the state will fund districts at the 20-mill floor, instead of funding them as if they were taxing at 23 mills.
Those funding ideas, however, didn’t hold weight with state Rep. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, who said the solution was nowhere to be found.
“There was no new formula, no significant change. I’m flabbergasted and really underwhelmed,” he said.

Reporting the Stimulus/Splurge: Notes on Education Spending

Ryan Chittum:

‘ve lost count of how many trillions of bailout money have been laid out (fortunately for all of us, Bloomberg keeps track: $8.5 trillion and counting). Layoffs are being announced in the tens of thousands in a single day. The housing market continues to collapse, as does the banking industry. We have a new administration, which has created a huge appetite for any shred of news from the White House. Those two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still drone on. The news industry is collapsing. And Oklahoma is 20-1 in basketball (Beg pardon on this last one.)
But today, the heavy guns are out for the approaching-trillion-dollar stimulus package Obama is pushing through Congress. And it’s an impressive performance.
First, The New York Times has a double-barreled effort with its lead stories on page one today, one about the unprecedented education spending in the bill and the other on the massive health-care expenditures it contains.
The Times is excellent on both counts. On education, it reports that fully $150 billion of the stimulus package is allocated for learnin’. It puts the numbers in great context:
…a vast two-year investment that would more than double the Department of Education’s current budget…
…would amount to the largest increase in federal aid since Washington began to spend significantly on education after World War II…
…New York would be among the biggest beneficiaries, at $760 per student, while New Jersey and Connecticut would fall near the bottom, with $427 and $409 per student, respectively. The District of Columbia would get the most per student, $1,289, according to the foundation’s analysis…
And it clearly explains the potential ramifications of implementing such an enormous plan:
Critics and supporters alike said that by its sheer scope, the measure could profoundly change the federal government’s role in education, which has traditionally been the responsibility of state and local government…
The bill would, for the first time, involve the federal government in a significant fashion in the building and renovation of schools, which has been the responsibility of states and districts…

Much more on the stimulus/splurge here.

4 Year Old Kindergarten Again Discussed in Madison

Tamira Madsen:

But there is controversy with 4K, and not just because of the cost. In other districts that have started programs, operators of private centers that stand to lose tuition dollars have emerged as opponents.
That’s unlikely to be true for Renee Zaman, director of Orchard Ridge Nursery School on Madison’s west side, who said last week that her center would be in a good position to participate with a 4K program because they already teach 84 4-year-olds and because all of their early childhood teachers are state certified.
But Zaman also said she hopes that the district doesn’t push a 4K program through too quickly. She is particularly worried that the curriculum might focus too heavily on academics.
One sticking point in past 4K discussions in Madison was concern from the teachers union, Madison Teachers Inc., that preschool teachers at off-site programming centers might not be employees of the school district.
But Nerad and MTI Executive Director John Matthews have had many discussions about 4K over the past several months, and Matthews said as long as no district teachers are displaced, he is in favor of the program.

Related: Marc Eisen on “Missed Opportunities for 4K and High School Redesign”.

The Obama Splurge / Stimulus: “A 40 Year Wish List”

Via a kind reader’s email: The Wall Street Journal:

“Never let a serious crisis go to waste. What I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you couldn’t do before.”
So said White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel in November, and Democrats in Congress are certainly taking his advice to heart.
And don’t forget education, which would get $66 billion more. That’s more than the entire Education Department spent a mere 10 years ago and is on top of the doubling under President Bush. Some $6 billion of this will subsidize university building projects. If you think the intention here is to help kids learn, the House declares on page 257 that “No recipient . . . shall use such funds to provide financial assistance to students to attend private elementary or secondary schools.” Horrors: Some money might go to nonunion teachers.”

Jeffrey Sachs:

The US debate over the fiscal stimulus is remarkable in its neglect of the medium term – that is, the budgetary challenges over a period of five to 10 years. Neither the White House nor Congress has offered the public a scenario of how the proposed mega-deficits will affect the budget and government programmes beyond the next 12 to 24 months. Without a sound medium-term fiscal framework, the stimulus package can easily do more harm than good, since the prospect of trillion-dollar-plus deficits as far as the eye can see will weigh heavily on the confidence of consumers and businesses, and thereby undermine even the short-term benefits of the stimulus package.
We are told that we have to rush without thinking lest the entire economy collapse. This is belied by recent events. The spring 2008 stimulus package of $100bn (€76bn, £71bn) in tax rebates was rushed into effect in a similar way and we now know it had little stimulus effect. The rebates were largely saved or used to pay down credit card debt, rather than spent. The $700bn troubled asset relief programme bail-out was also rushed into effect and its results have been notoriously poor.
The Tarp has not revived the banks or their lending, but it has supported a massive transfer of taxpayer wealth to the management and owners of well-connected financial institutions. Some of those transfers – as in the case of Merrill Lynch using its government-financed sale to Bank of America to enable $4bn in bonuses last month – are beyond egregious. Yet the US is now inured to corruption and in such a rush that even billions of dollars of public funds shovelled into Merrill’s private pockets in broad daylight barely merited a day’s news cycle.

More from Victor Davis Hanson and Greg Mankiw on the Congressional Budget Office:

So only 8 percent of this spending occurs in budget year 2009, and only 41 percent occurs in first two years. Note that spending on transfer payments and tax relief occurs much faster than this: click through to the above link for details.

Mario Rizzo quotes Keynes:

“Organized public works, at home and abroad, may be the right cure for a chronic tendency to a deficiency of effective demand. But they are not capable of sufficiently rapid organisation (and above all cannot be reversed or undone at a later date), to be the most serviceable instrument for the prevention of the trade cycle.”

Finally, a look at the origins of the Madison School District’s $18M slice of the splurge. Long time Wisconsin Congressman David Obey is chair of the House Appropriations Committee, a position that gives him a prime seat for earmarks.
Finally, Nanette Asimove notes the proposed borrowing and printing money for California.

World Chess Queen is a Model Player

Evan Benn:

The best women’s chess player in the world flipped a dirty diaper into the trash as she pondered her next move after a dominating year.
“I want to open a chess academy online, keep training, doing the podcast,” says south Floridian Alexandra Kosteniuk. “But right now, my priority is being a mother.”
Kosteniuk, 24, won the Women’s World Chess Championship in her homeland, Russia, in September. After several months of travelling the globe, Kosteniuk, her husband, Diego Garces, and their 20-month-old daughter Francesca are home.
About 3,000 people subscribe to her podcast at, and about 10,000 others log on each month to her website, where they can see photos of Kosteniuk in bikinis and buy her instructional DVDs. “It’s the most popular chess site out there,” says her husband, 49, who is also her webmaster and publicist.

Obama Stimulus/Splurge K-12 Reform Initiatives Gone?

Mike Petrelli:

I’m writing about the Democrats’ intra-party squabbles on schools, the kind that exploded during the campaign and grew more vociferous in the election’s aftermath but quieted down somewhat with President Obama’s appointment of (consensus candidate) Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. Well, they’ve returned. Word is that Senate Democrats have stripped virtually all of the reform-friendly provisions out of the House stimulus bill (a bill that was not terribly reform-friendly to begin with ). The Teacher Incentive Fund (which supports merit pay programs): gone. Charter school facilities dollars: gone. Money for data infrastructure projects: gone. Language ensuring that charter schools have equitable access to the money: gone. The teachers unions firmly in control of the Democratic Party: back with a vengeance.

Related: Carl Hulse talks with the Splurge’s author: 40 year congressional veteran David Obey (D-Wisconsin):

Indeed, it was Mr. Obey, the third-most-senior member of the House, who, in large measure, shaped the bill, in concert with other House Democratic leaders. And though Mr. Obama has embraced the bill, not a single House Republican has lent it support. The president himself is scheduled to visit Capitol Hill on Tuesday to try to address Republican concerns that Mr. Obey and others are using the legislation to push vast amounts of money into health care and other favored initiatives.
Mr. Obey’s impatience, temper and occasionally cutting tone are well known. Even as he outlined the economic plan before Mr. Obama’s inauguration, he flippantly referred to the new president as “the crown prince.” The remark was evidence that Mr. Obey, like other veteran chairmen involved in writing the stimulus package, might not be entirely deferential to the new president until he proved he could exert his influence.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California placed Mr. Obey in charge of producing the economic measure and shares his view that the spending for health, nutrition and unemployment programs is justified and a quicker way than tax breaks to pump money into the economy. Ms. Pelosi is very loyal to the chairman, who was a top ally in her 2001 race for Democratic whip.
Putting the economic bill together turned out to be challenging. Mr. Obey and a contingent of Democratic staff members worked over the holidays, meeting with other lawmakers. They were in talks with Rahm Emanuel, who was soon to be the White House chief of staff, and Rob Nabors, a former staff director of the Appropriations Committee who had left to join the Obama team as a budget official.

More here:

For some House Democrats, the problem is less a matter of balancing the short and long term than a shortage of focus and will on the part of the administration. Their disappointment centers on the relatively small amount devoted to long-lasting infrastructure investments in favor of spending on a long list of government programs. While each serves a purpose, the critics say, they add up to less than the sum of their parts, and fall far short of the transformative New Deal-like vision many of them had entertained.
The bill to be voted on today includes $30 billion for roads and bridges, $9 billion for public transit and $1 billion for inter-city rail — less than 5 percent of the package’s total spending. Administration officials have said they did not push for more infrastructure spending because of concerns about how many projects are “shovel ready” — a view that House members say is held most strongly by Lawrence H. Summers, Obama’s chief economic adviser.

Gates Advocates Charter School Growth

Bill Gates 2009 Letter:

These successes and failures have underscored the need to aim high and embrace change in America’s schools. Our goal as a nation should be to ensure that 80 percent of our students graduate from high school fully ready to attend college by 2025. This goal will probably be more difficult to achieve than anything else the foundation works on, because change comes so slowly and is so hard to measure. Unlike scientists developing a vaccine, it is hard to test with scientific certainty what works in schools. If one school’s students do better than another school’s, how do you determine the exact cause? But the difficulty of the problem does not make it any less important to solve. And as the successes show, some schools are making real progress.
Based on what the foundation has learned so far, we have refined our strategy. We will continue to invest in replicating the school models that worked the best. Almost all of these schools are charter schools. Many states have limits on charter schools, including giving them less funding than other schools. Educational innovation and overall improvement will go a lot faster if the charter school limits and funding rules are changed.
One of the key things these schools have done is help their teachers be more effective in the classroom. It is amazing how big a difference a great teacher makes versus an ineffective one. Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.
Whenever I talk to teachers, it is clear that they want to be great, but they need better tools so they can measure their progress and keep improving. So our new strategy focuses on learning why some teachers are so much more effective than others and how best practices can be spread throughout the education system so that the average quality goes up. We will work with some of the best teachers to put their lectures online as a model for other teachers and as a resource for students.

California Plans to Reduce Education Spending

Jordan Rau & Evan Halper:

Although lawmakers continue to argue over how to resolve the state’s fiscal crisis, they already have endorsed $6 billion in spending cuts that provide a painful preview of what is likely to be in store for Californians.
The proposed cuts would mean that money for the state’s university systems would decrease. Transportation and schools would take a hit. Funds for regional centers that help treat developmental disabilities in babies and toddlers would decline. Cash to help the elderly, blind and disabled keep up with rising food costs would be slashed.
None of these cuts has been enacted. But the fact that they were included in the fiscal plan that Democrats passed last month — and have been separately backed by Republicans — ensures that they will be at the top of the list when lawmakers finally decide how to bridge a budget gap projected to exceed $40 billion within a year and a half.

School Spotlight: McFarland School Forest becomes classroom outside the classroom

Pamela Cotant:

Indian Mound Middle School students are spending study halls in an outdoor classroom right next to their school.
Two groups of sixth-graders trek weekly through the McFarland School Forest adjacent to their school during their study hall period. They participate in various activities such as the recent scavenger hunt to look for and photograph things like deer tracks and evidence of animals eating.
“It’s just a good way to get outdoors (and) shed off the extra energy we have,” said sixth-grader Dayne Mickelson. “We just have one recess.”
The field trips are part of an effort to have students spend more time in the immense natural resource in the school’s backyard.
“I would love to take every child in this school out in the woods as much as possible,” said Janet Moore, community outreach/school forest coordinator in the McFarland School District. “It is good to kind of get an ongoing relationship with the place.”

Obama Stimulus/Splurge: School money will be hard to cut later

Libby Quaid & Justin Pope:

Democrats want to use the big spending package designed to jump-start the staggering economy to send billions to long-term programs to help poor and disabled school children.
President Barack Obama’s recovery plan amounts to the biggest increase ever in federal money for schools. Many Republicans say it is not a short-term boost but an immense expansion that will be impossible to roll back.
“What will happen two years from now when the Democrat spending spree comes to an end?” asked California Rep. Buck McKeon, top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.
“It’ll never go away,” said Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “You’re talking about a permanent increase at a time when we are in the worst financial shape we’ve ever been in.”
The measure making its way through Congress would achieve a long-sought goal of Obama and other Democrats. For the first time, it would fully fund No Child Left Behind, former President George W. Bush’s education program. Democrats complain Bush never provided enough money for the kindergarten-through-12th grade program.
Not a coincidence, critics said.

Related: Democrats dispute the Congressional Budget Office’s report on the stimulus/splurge.

Minnesota’s Shared School Services Proposal

Joe Kimball, via a kind reader’s email:

Some details emerged today from the proposal by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and several lawmakers for what they call a bipartisan effort to require Minnesota school districts and charter schools to combine efforts to reduce costs.
Under their Minnesota K-12 Shared Service proposal, school districts and charter schools will be able to pool their purchasing power for information technology, food services, supplies and equipment, operations, transportation and other goods and services. All Minnesota public school districts and charter schools will be required to participate in shared services.
The proposal calls for the Minnesota Department of Education to create and maintain a list of preferred vendors for various shared services. Once the list was compiled, the ed department would create contracts with the preferred vendors on behalf of the state and work with school administrators, educators and other stakeholders on a two-year shared-services plan to best realize cost savings.

Discussion here:

he bill would require (note the “require” part) all public K-12 and charter schools to purchase services in the following areas from a list of approved vendors: all school materials, supplies, tools, and equipment for school facilities operations and maintenance; technology equipment and communication services; food services; and transportation services. MDE would be responsible for approving the vendors and maintaining the list. The bill would be effective July 1, 2009. A consultant would be hired for the first two years to help the department implement the program. The consultant would be paid on a percentage of realized savings not to exceed 5%. The consultant’s fee would be paid from the savings realized by individual school districts, so each district would have to calculate how much their participation in the shared services program had saved them. MDE would reduce their state funding by a certain amount to recover the funds to pay the consultant. Each district’s savings would be required to be allocated to “classroom education.”
The senators quickly moved to the heart of the matter, and Sen. Bonoff introduced a Mr. Dahl from Deloitte, the accounting firm. Apparently Deloitte had done some work on shared services in schools in Pennsylvania. He shared a PowerPoint with the committee describing the benefits and anticipated savings. He estimated a potential savings for MN schools of $1M/week. The questions starting coming right after he was done.
Sen. Hann (R-Eden Prairie) wondered how the new bureaucracy would not consume all of the potential savings. Dahl recognized the work of the OET and existing service coops and said that their work would be made more effective.
Sen. Hann asked if it was possible that some schools in the state would see an increase in their costs because they had already negotiated very favorable contracts. Dahl said possible, but not likely.
Sen. Hann asked what constitutes “classroom use” for the allocation of savings. Sen. Bonoff said that the intent of the legislation is to be “loose” with the classroom use restriction.
Sen. Saltzman (DFL-Woodbury) asked if the bill would have curriculum implications for textbooks, etc. Bonoff said no.

Dubuque’s School Referendum

Telegraph Herald:

When voters on Feb. 3 decide on the Dubuque Community School District’s tax proposal, the decision comes down to one thing: trust.

Do they trust school officials when they say this is a revenue-neutral proposition?

Basically, the school district is cash-strapped in one account and adequately funded in another — but money from those funds cannot be commingled.

So, the proposal is that voters double the Instructional Support Levy and the school board promises to reduce the Cash Reserve Levy an equivalent amount. That way, taxpayers will pay the same but the district has the authority to spend dollars where they are most needed.

Voters should support the change.

However, taxing issues are never that simple. Taxpayers might vote against the Instructional Support Levy if they don’t trust the school district to keep its word. It’s a matter of trust. During this past decade, especially, the Dubuque Community School District has worked hard to earn and retain citizens’ trust.

In School for the First Time, Teenage Immigrants Struggle

Jennifer Medina:

Fanta Konneh is the first girl in her family to go to school. Not the first to go to college, or to graduate from high school. Fanta, 18, who grew up in Guinea after her family fled Liberia, became the first to walk into a classroom of any kind last year.
“Just the boys go to school, so I always knew I was left out,” said Fanta, a student at Ellis Preparatory Academy in the South Bronx. “But here, I am trying. I can say many things I did not know before. I can learn things more.”
New York City classrooms have long been filled with children from all over the world, and the education challenges they bring with them. But hidden among the nearly 150,000 students across the city still struggling to learn English are an estimated 15,100 who, like Fanta, have had little or no formal schooling and are often illiterate in their native languages.
More than half of these arrive as older teenagers and land in the city’s high schools, where they must learn how to learn even as their peers prepare for state subject exams required for a diploma.

Schools debate: Is cursive writing worth teaching?

Megan Downs:

Are the flowing curves and fancy loops of cursive writing disappearing from elementary school classrooms?
Some fear classic penmanship has been left behind as preparation for state assessment tests dominates class time. Others blame the rise of the Internet, combined with a push to ensure that children are technologically literate, for rendering delicate handwriting an art of yesteryear.
“With all the other subjects we must teach, we just don’t have the time to spend a lot of effort on cursive,” said Carl Brown, principal of Manatee Elementary in Viera, Fla.
That’s a big change from years past. Brown recalled that he had to attend a summertime handwriting camp in Brevard County, Fla., about 25 years ago because of his illegible scrawl.

Success, Learned and Taught

Joyce Roche CEO of Girls, Inc.:

I WAS born in Iberville, La. My mom moved to New Orleans after my dad died in an accident. I have seven sisters and three brothers; all but one brother are still living. At the time we moved, I was the baby of the family. My mom had two other children after she remarried.
When I was growing up, segregation was real. When we rode the bus, there was something we called the screen. African-Americans, or Negroes as we were called then, were expected to sit behind a piece of wood. Since where we lived had movie theaters and grocery stores, it was only when we traveled to Canal Street to department stores that segregation was most noticeable.
One of my older sisters moved in with my Aunt Rose, my mother’s sister, who was married but had no children of her own. Soon I lived there almost permanently, too. She made sure I was doing well in everything at school. As a black female, I expected to be a nurse, a teacher or a social worker. I had an English teacher in high school who made me feel like an A student, even though I was a strong B student. She became the person I could see myself being.

Girls Inc website.

Professor wants ‘risk literacy’ on the curriculum

Mark Henderson:

Pupils in every secondary school should be taught the statistical skills they need to make sensible life decisions, one of Britain’s leading mathematicians says.
A basic grasp of statistics and probability — “risk literacy” – is critical to making choices about health, money and even education, yet it is largely ignored by the national curriculum, according to the UK’s only Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk.
David Spiegelhalter, of the University of Cambridge, told The Times that as the internet transformed access to information, it was becoming more important than ever to teach people how best to interpret data.
Familiarity with statistical thinking and the principles of risk could help people to make sense of claims about health hazards and the merits of new drugs, to invest money more wisely, and to choose their children’s schools.

Give All You Can: My New “Spread the Wealth” Grading Policy

Mike S. Adams, 26 January 2009:

Good afternoon students! I’m writing you this email to announce that I’m making some changes in the grading policies I announced two weeks ago when I sent an email with an attached course syllabus. As you know, we now have a new president and I thought it would be nice to align our class policies with some of the policies he will be implementing over the next four years. These will be changes you can believe in and, I hope, changes that will inspire hope, which is our most important American value.
Previously, I announced that I would use a ten-point grading scale, which means that 90% of 100 is an “A,” 80% is a “B,” 70% is a “C,” and 60% is enough for a passing grade of “D.” I also announced that I will refrain from using a “plus/minus” system – even though the faculty handbook gives me that option.
The new policy I am announcing today is that those who score above 90 on the first exam will have points deducted and given to students at the bottom of the grade distribution. For example, if a student gets a 99, I will then deduct nine points and give them to the person with the lowest grade. If a person scores 95 I will then deduct five points and give them to the person with the second lowest grade. If someone scores 93 I will then deduct three points and give them to the next lowest person. And so on.
My point, rather obviously, is that any points above 90 are really not needed since you have an “A” regardless of whether you score 90 or 99. Nor am I convinced that you need to “save” those points for a rainy day. Those who are failing, however, need the points–not unlike the failing banks and automakers that need money to avoid the danger of bankruptcy.
After our second examination, I intend to take a more complex approach to the practice of grade redistribution. I will not be looking at your second test scores but, instead, at the average of your first two test scores. In the process, I may well decide to start taking some points from students in the “B” range. For example, if someone has an average of 85 after two tests I may take a few points and give them away to someone who is failing or who is in danger of failing. I think this is fair because the person with an 85 average is probably unlikely to climb up to an “A” or fall down to a “C.” I may be wrong in some individual cases but, of course, my principal concern is not the individual.


Wisconsin school open enrollment starts February 2, 2009


Wisconsin parents who want to send their children to a school outside the district in which they live can start applying Feb. 2.
The open enrollment period for next school year ends three weeks later on Feb. 20.
The program has grown in popularity since it started in the fall of 1998. Only about 2,400 students participated that school year. But last year, nearly 26,000 did.
Parents interested in enrolling their children are encouraged to do so online at the Department of Public Instruction’s Web site. Parents will be notified April 10 about whether their request has been approved or denied.

Informational Community Sessions on the Madison Fine Arts Task Force

Tuesday March 10, 2009 6 to 8p.m.
Memorial High School – Wisconsin Neighborhood Center [Map]
Thursday March 12, 2009 6 to 8p.m.
LaFollette High School in the LMC [Map]
The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) will be sharing the recommendations of the Fine Arts Task Force. We are cordially inviting you to attend one or both of these sessions.
The focus of each session will be a presentation of the findings and recommendations of the Fine Arts Task Force followed by an opportunity for discussion. The Executive Summary and complete Fine Arts Task Force Report can be found at
We are looking forward to sharing this information with you and hearing your thoughts about the research and recommendations provided by the Fine Arts Task Force.
Feedback from sessions and the recommendations from the Fine Arts Task Force will assist in improving the MMSD K-12 Fine Arts program and opportunities for our students,
If you have any questions or comments, please contact Julie Palkowski at
Lisa Wachtel
Executive Director of Teaching and Learning
Julie Palkowski
Coordinator of Fine Arts
Please share this information with others that may be interested in attending these sessions and/or sharing their comments.

DC Discipline Code Under Review As Suspensions Lose Impact

Bill Turque:

Senior class president Christopher Jolly says suspensions are so common at Anacostia High School — where eight students were injured, including three who were stabbed, in a melee two months ago — that they have become meaningless as a form of discipline.
“The fact that everyone knows someone who has been suspended before often causes kids not to respect the suspension process,” Jolly said at a community forum this month on D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s proposal to revise the District’s student behavior code.
Rhee’s changes would move the system in a direction that makes sense to Jolly: away from out-of-school suspension as the disciplinary method of choice and toward counseling, peer influence and more options for keeping suspended students in school.
Officials said reliable data on suspensions are hard to come by because recordkeeping has been slipshod. But the available numbers suggest a dramatic surge. According to District figures, suspensions grew 72 percent between the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years, from 1,303 to 2,245. That represents 4.5 percent of total enrollment. Numbers through November, the latest available for the current academic year, show suspensions running slightly behind last year.

Challenging Assumptions About Online Predators

Mike Musgrove:

Are your kids safe online? A recent report about this sensitive subject is stirring up controversy.
The study, released by Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, finds that it’s far more likely that children will be bullied by their peers than approached by an adult predator online.
The 278-page document cites studies showing that sexual solicitation of minors by adults via the Web appears to be on the decline. “The image presented by the media of an older male deceiving and preying on a young child does not paint an accurate picture,” reads one of document’s conclusions. “The risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline.”
In other words, children are about as savvy online as they are offline, said Ernie Allen, president of the Alexandria-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which contributed to the report.
“The vast majority of kids in this country have heard the messages about the risks online and are basically dealing with them as a nuisance, as a fact of life, and aren’t particularly vulnerable,” he said. “This report should not be read as saying there are not adults out there doing this.”

Fairfax County to Ease Grading Policy

Michael Alison Chandler:

he Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously late last night to abandon a strict grading policy it has long upheld as a hallmark of high standards, after a year of intense pressure from parents who have argued that the policy hurts students’ chances for college admission or scholarships.
The School Board decided to move toward a more commonly used grading scale that parents have championed. The board also approved a plan to add extra points to the grade-point averages of students who take college level or honors classes.
Two board members, Kaye Kory (Mason) and Martina A. Hone (At Large), were absent for the 10 to 0 vote.
At issue is what it means to earn an A or to pass. Currently, Fairfax students must score 94 percent to earn an A and 64 percent to pass. In most school systems, including those in Montgomery and Arlington counties, 90 percent is an A and 60 percent is a passing grade. Many school systems also add points to the GPAs of students who take more challenging classes.

Gates on Small Learning Communities (SLC): “small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way”

Nicholas Kristof:

In the letter, Mr. Gates goes out of his way to acknowledge setbacks. For example, the Gates Foundation made a major push for smaller high schools in the United States, often helping to pay for the creation of small schools within larger buildings.
“Many of the small schools that we invested in did not improve students’ achievement in any significant way,” he acknowledges. Small schools succeeded when the principal was able to change teachers, curriculum and culture, but smaller size by itself proved disappointing. “In most cases,” he says, “we fell short.”
Mr. Gates comes across as a strong education reformer, focusing on supporting charter schools and improving teacher quality. He suggested that when he has nailed down the evidence more firmly, he will wade into the education debates.
“It is amazing how big a difference a great teacher makes versus an ineffective one,” Mr. Gates writes in his letter. “Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.”

I could not agree more. Rather than add coaches and layers of support staff, I’d prefer simply hiring the best teachers (and paying them) and getting out of the way. Of course, this means that not all teachers (like the population) are perfect, or above average!
Much more on Small Learning Communities here.
On Toledo’s SLC initiative.

Proposed House “Stimulus” / Splurge Bill: Nearly $18M for the Madison School District, borrowed from our Grandkids

Click for a larger version of this very simple illustration

Mark Pitsch:

The House version of a federal economic stimulus bill would deliver more than $4.3 billion to Wisconsin over the next two years, under details of the bill released Friday.
That figure includes nearly $18 million for Madison schools and millions more for other local districts.
“I’m very pleased by this. We know this is a difficult time, but at the same time there are needs that our children have that can’t go unmet,” said Dan Nerad, Madison schools superintendent. “I’m very hopeful. I’m very optimistic and we’ll see what comes.”
Under bill descriptions released by Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, and an analysis of Medicaid by a Washington, D.C. think tank, the House version would also provide:

$1.2 billion to help the state fill its $5.4 billion budget hole, with at least 61 percent being spent on schools and colleges.


  • Wistax:

    Total taxes collected from Wisconsin averaged $12,281 per person in 2007-08. The $69.4 billion in annual collections was up 3.4%. Relative to personal income, however, taxes were down slightly, from 34.9% in 2007 to 34.2% in 2008.

  • United States Government outstanding debt ($32,795 per citizen).
  • US Population
  • Major foreign holders of US Treasuries.
  • The Congressional Research Service produced the school funding information.
  • “Be Nice to the Countries That Lend You Money”. An interview with Gao Xiqing, a man who oversees many of China’s US holdings, by James Fallows (more from Fallows). Related:
    • The economic crisis hits China – Video.
    • US Senate Finance Committee Q & A with Tim Geithner 284K PDF, David Kotok comments:

      One telling example is found in the following quote that has already created international consternation. Geithner twice answered questions about currency and China. In so doing he has placed the Obama administration squarely in the middle of the tension between the United States and the largest international buyer and holder of US debt: China. This happened as the same Obama administration is unveiling a package that will add to the TARP financing needs and the cyclical deficit financing needs and cause the United States to borrow about $2 trillion this year. Two trillion dollars of newly issued Treasury debt – and this is how the question was answered. Not once but twice.
      Geithner (on page 81 and again on page 95) answered: “President Obama – backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists – believes that China is manipulating its currency. President Obama has pledged as President to use aggressively all the diplomatic avenues open to him to seek change in China’s currency practices.”
      “Manipulation?” “Aggressively?” This is strong language. Geithner did not do this on his own authority. These are prepared answers. He is citing the new President, not once but twice.
      China’s response was fast and direct. China’s commerce ministry said in Beijing that China “has never used so-called currency manipulation to gain benefits in its international trade. Directing unsubstantiated criticism at China on the exchange-rate issue will only help US protectionism and will not help towards a real solution to the issue.”
      Are we seeing the world’s largest and third largest economies calling each other names in the middle of a global economic and financial meltdown?

      And, the $150,000,000 inauguration party.

  • Peter Peterson Foundation:

    To increase public awareness of the nature and urgency of key economic challenges threatening America’s future and accelerate action on them. To meet these challenges successfully, we work to bring Americans together to find sensible, sustainable solutions that transcend age, party lines and ideological divides in order to achieve real results.

  • Related with respect to printing money: Zimbabwe’s central banker defends policies:

    Your critics blame your monetary policies for Zimbabwe’s economic problems. I’ve been condemned by traditional economists who said that printing money is responsible for inflation. Out of the necessity to exist, to ensure my people survive, I had to find myself printing money. I found myself doing extraordinary things that aren’t in the textbooks. Then the IMF asked the U.S. to please print money. I began to see the whole world now in a mode of practicing what they have been saying I should not. I decided that God had been on my side and had come to vindicate me.

  • Clusty Search: Lobbyist

It will be interesting to see how this money, assuming it is authorized and borrowed, is spent. Will it be spent in a way that grows the District’s operating costs and therefore increases the local property tax burden once the stimulus/splurge is exhausted?
If we must borrow these funds from our grandchildren, then I would like to see it spent in a way that has long term benefits. Superintendent Nerad spoke of children whose needs are going unmet; well, those kids will be paying for these borrowed funds.
Finally, it appears that someone is spreading the love, as it were. The Congressional Research Service (whose work is not publicly available) wrote a report on stimulus/splurge funding for all US school districts. Have a look at all of the Google News references. Defense programs are known for spreading jobs around key congressional districts as a means of self preservation.

Wisconsin Governor Doyle Plans to Keep K-12 Funding Flat in the 2009-2011 Budget

Amy Hetzner:

“Not getting cut is the new increase in this budget,” Doyle said in a speech at the State Education Convention in the Milwaukee Hilton Hotel.
The annual event is sponsored by the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators and the Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials.
In his speech, Doyle called education his No. 1 priority. But, he said, with increasing unemployment and a looming budget deficit, it would be a challenge to even maintain funding.
“We cannot allow our children to be the ones who pay the cost for this recession,” Doyle said. “The decisions we make today have consequences that last decades and decades to come.”
Doyle did not give details of his budget plans.
If the state keeps its revenue cap system for schools, a level that increases each year to reflect inflation, the effect of flat state funding could mean massive property tax increases by local school boards, which may turn to that source of money instead.


Chicago Public League to ban cheering at basketball games

Ethel Fenig:

ell that didn’t take long; the glow from the inauguration of the first African-American president is rapidly dimming. In President Barack Hussein Obama’s (D) Chicago, the school system, recently under the superintendency of new Education Secretary Arne Duncan,
issued the following directives for high school sports competitions.
The Public League is taking drastic measures to curb a rash of violence that has erupted at its basketball games in the last week.

Marquette sorority sisters pledge to log off Facebook

Erica Perez:

Marquette sorority members have to deactivate their Facebook pages until Bid Day this Sunday, part of a growing number of sororities hoping to avoid decisions – about where to pledge and who to allow in – being made based on preconceptions and stereotypes.
Instead, they’re reverting to old-fashioned, face-to-face contact.
“It’s not about the purse you carry, the shoes you wear or what your parents do . . . it’s about being yourself,” Profita said. “We want to know you for you.”
These days, for most college students, getting-to-know-you is incomplete without requisite Facebook research. Who are your friends? How many do you have? What do your photos say about you?
But despite their reliance on the social networking site, sorority members say they still think real contact is the best way to decide who your true friends are.

Update on the Harlem Children’s Zone

Bear Market for Charities
Mike Spector
Wall Street Journal

NEW YORK — Geoffrey Canada has spent decades building a strategy for saving poor children from crime-ridden streets and crumbling public schools.
His “Harlem Children’s Zone” now serves thousands of kids, some of whom are showing impressive test scores. He has attracted the attention of the new White House because of his charity’s model: Instead of tackling problems here and there, the program envelops an entire neighborhood, with services ranging from parenting classes to health clinics to charter schools.
But Wall Street’s meltdown and money manager Bernard Madoff’s alleged financial fraud threaten the donor base that bankrolls Mr. Canada’s work. Facing declining revenues, he’s had to lay off staff and cancel plans to expand. He says he doesn’t yet “have a Plan B” for replacing his Wall Street support, which had reached upwards of $15 million annually.
Mr. Canada’s difficulties show how dependent nonprofits can become on certain steady donors, and how their plans can be derailed when those revenues dry up. It underscores the challenges facing nonprofits, which grew and proliferated amid the bull-market earlier this decade.
Today, the U.S. boasts more than one million nonprofits, up from about 774,000 ten years ago. Their biggest donations come from corporations, foundations and the ultra-wealthy. Many have been hit hard by the deepening recession. A drop in charitable contributions could shutter as many as 100,000 nonprofits over the next year, says Paul Light, a professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.
Mr. Canada, a 57-year-old social worker, calls his strategy the “conveyor belt,” because it aims to give children an intensive experience in a succession of programs until they graduate from college. Children in pre-kindergarten are taught foreign languages, for instance. From there, children enter Mr. Canada’s charter schools with longer school days and a calendar lasting until the first week of August.
The approach is starting to deliver results. Last year, nearly all the third-graders in Mr. Canada’s charter schools scored at or above grade-level in math, better than recent citywide averages. Eighth-graders outperformed the average New York student in math, according to New York state data.
“The math thing is just so far above anything I’ve ever seen,” says Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist who heads a new education lab. “The real hard work is to figure out why it’s working and whether that kind of thing can be exported so we can help more kids.”
President Barack Obama’s advisers met with Mr. Canada recently to learn more about his approach. Mr. Obama said during the campaign that he wants to create “promise neighborhoods” modeled on Mr. Canada’s charity in 20 cities across the U.S. Today, that initiative remains part of the White House’s publicized agenda.

Read more …

Breaks my heart to post this.

Is educational success, key to global competition, a matter of time, money or choice?

Investors Business Daily:

The argument over what to do about America’s struggling schools is still raging. Programs such as No Child Left Behind have achieved some success by introducing a measure of accountability into the process. But American students continue to get clobbered on international tests by other countries whose school systems spend less money per student and have larger average class sizes.
Facing budget realities in a down economy, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently proposed shortening the school year by five days to contribute $1.1 billion in savings toward the state’s $42 billion budget shortfall.
State school superintendent Jack O’Donnell vehemently disagreed, saying a longer school year was needed to prepare students for “the competitive global economy.”
The operative word here is “competitive.” Success in the marketplace depends on being able to produce the best product at the lowest cost. Competition in the business world produces a better product at less cost. Why shouldn’t it be so in education? Well, it is.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 70% of the countries that outperformed the U.S. in combined math and science literacy among 15-year-olds had more schools competing for students. Countries ranging from Japan to Latvia all had more education options than American students.

Fascinating: The Hidden Flaws in China and India Schools

Jay Matthews:

Memphis high-tech entrepreneur Bob Compton, producer of the stirring documentary “Two Million Minutes,” has been suggesting, in his genial way, that I am a head-in-the-sand ignoramus. This is because I panned his film as alarmist nonsense for suggesting, based on profiles of a grand total of six teenagers, that the Indian and Chinese education systems were superior to what we have here in the much-beleaguered United States. When we debated the issue on CNBC, Bob told me I should get on a plane and see for myself instead of relying on my memories of living in Asia in the 1970s and 1980s and my reading of recent work by other reporters.
Sadly, even in the days when The Washington Post was flush with cash, there was no money to send the education columnist abroad. But I am happy to report I don’t have to go because an upcoming book from education scholar James Tooley goes much deeper into the Chinese and Indian school systems than Bob or I ever have, and takes my side. Tooley shows that India and China, despite their economic successes, have public education systems that are, in many ways, a sham.
Tooley’s book, “The Beautiful Tree,” reveals him to be the kind of traveler who often strays off the main roads, driving official escorts crazy. He covers not only China and India, but also Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. He wants to discover how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves, and surprises himself repeatedly.

State urged to fund Covenant

Erica Perez:

A new report from a higher education research center says Gov. Jim Doyle’s Wisconsin Covenant program needs to fund the initiative with state money for financial aid if it truly wants to boost enrollment of low-income students.
The program currently guarantees a spot in college for students who maintain good grades and take the right classes in high school, but it doesn’t promise automatic funding.
The privately funded Wisconsin Covenant endowment and Fund for Wisconsin Scholars will use their combined $215 million to offer scholarships that complement the covenant pledge, but that’s not likely enough to cover all the Covenant Scholars’ full need.
“First and foremost, we’d like to see some money, some public money, put toward this goal because up to this point there hasn’t been any sort of state-managed funds,” said Beth Stransky, who co-authored the report by the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.
The policy brief, issued this week, does not suggest a specific amount for the state to invest. The push comes at a time when Wisconsin faces a two-year, $5.4 billion deficit that is certain to mean cuts for the UW System.
Doyle said he was committed to funding higher education and providing scholarships and financial aid to students who are eligible and do the work, but he wouldn’t give a firm commitment to a dollar figure, or to an increase in Covenant funding for scholarships.

A Look at the New US Secretary of Education

Teachers College @ Columbia University:

TC faculty member Jeffrey Henig was a guest on The Brian Lehrer Sho (WNYC) on January 15, where he discussed what we can expect from Arne Duncan as U.S. Secretary of Education.
Henig noted that as superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan has kept the pressure on for reform inside the classroom, but has managed to do it without antagonizing teachers unions.

Oregon Supreme Court rejects school funding case

Portland Business Journal:

he Oregon Supreme Court has largely rejected a suit demanding the Legislature substantially increase K-12 school funding.
In a ruling today, the state Supreme Court largely affirmed a lower court ruling in Pendleton School District v. State of Oregon, a much-watched suit brought on behalf of 18 school districts and seven students. The suit alleged the state is in violation of a 2000 voter-approved ballot measure that requires the Legislature to fund schools at “a level sufficient to meet certain quality educational goals established by law.”
The suit sought an injunction to direct the Legislature to appropriate the “necessary” funds.
Writing for the court, Chief Justice Paul DeMuniz agreed the Legislature has failed to fully fund public schools. However, he said the court concluded that Oregon voters did not intend for the courts to enforce funding requirements when they passed Ballot Measure 1 in 2000, a constitutional amendment that became Article VIII, section 8, of the state Constitution.

Studies Examine Major Influences on Freshmen’s Academic Success

Three new studies of college freshmen suggest that even the most promising among them can run into academic difficulties as a long-term consequence of experiences like attending a violence-plagued high school or being raised by parents who never went to college.
And two of the studies call into question a large body of research on the educational benefits of racial and ethnic diversity on campuses, concluding that most first-year students do not reap any gains that can be measured objectively.
Taken together, the reports not only challenge many of the assumptions colleges make in admitting and educating freshmen, but could also influence discussions of how to improve the nation’s high schools to promote college preparation.
In one of the studies, Mark E. Engberg, an assistant professor of higher education at Loyola University Chicago, and Gregory C. Wolniak, a research scientist at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, looked at how high-school experiences influenced the academic success of students at several highly selective colleges.
Using data on 2,500 students from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen, the two researchers found that freshmen who entered college with comparable academic records and family backgrounds had levels of success that depended on their high-school environments. Those from schools with high levels of violence tended to have lower grades. Having attended a well-maintained and well-equipped school seemed to offer many freshmen advantages over their peers.
A study published in the University of Arkansas’s Education Working Paper Archive also considered high-school quality in analyzing the records of 2,800 students at an unnamed midsize, moderately selective public university.
Serge Herzog, the study’s author and director of institutional analysis at the University of Nevada at Reno, found that, even after controlling for differences in background and academic preparation, low-income freshmen tended to post lower grades if their high schools had high levels of violence or disorder. The same was true if the schools had enrollments that were heavily black or Hispanic, or had a high percentage of students with limited proficiency in English.
Mr. Herzog found little evidence of a link between the number of courses students took from part-time instructors and the likelihood of their dropping out. That finding runs counter to other recent research on adjuncts.
And, in a finding that contradicts much available research on racial and ethnic diversity in higher education, Mr. Herzog found no evidence that being exposed to diversity in their classrooms, or taking classes intended to promote appreciation of diversity, fostered students’ cognitive growth. He did, however, find that black, Hispanic, and American Indian students appeared to benefit, in terms of college completion, from frequent exposure to members of their own racial or ethnic group.
In the third study, two doctoral students in higher education at the University of Iowa, Ryan D. Padgett and Megan P. Johnson, examined data on about 3,100 students from 19 colleges, collected in the Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education. The Iowa researchers found that the educational benefits of taking part in various programs promoting diversity were “minimal and inconsistent.”
The researchers also concluded that students who were the first in their families to attend college did not necessarily benefit from educational practices shown to help students whose parents did attend college. For example, while students on the whole appeared to benefit from interactions with faculty members, first-generation students who experienced the most contact with faculty members generally had the worst educational outcomes. The findings, the researchers concluded, suggest that those students “have not been conditioned to the positive benefits of interacting with instructors.”
Section: Students
Volume 55, Issue 14, Page A21
Copyright © 2008 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

Fixing our schools in a weak economy


KAI RYSSDAL: Like so many presidents before him, President Obama has talked a lot about the importance of education. He’s talked about the need for arts in schools. The need for teacher training. Good ideas, but ones that cost money — money that we’re in short supply of these days.
Harvard researcher Susan Eaton’s most recent book is called “The Children in Room E4: American Education on Trial.” We got her on the line to talk about education, the Obama administration, and the economy. Welcome to the program.
SUSAN EATON: Hi, great to be here.
RYSSDAL: You, in the course of writing your book, spent a lot of time in and out of public school classrooms in the United States. What’s your take on the biggest problems that are out there?
EATON: Well, I think that the biggest problem is the fact that huge shares of our children in the United States — disproportionately, children of color; Latino and African American children — are simply not connected to mainstream opportunities. And our schools are really . . . have not, at least in the last eight years or so — and probably even more than that — been trying to connect them to those opportunities.
RYSSDAL: But it does, in a lot of measure, come down to money. Doesn’t it?

What’s It All About, Alfie?

In many books, more articles, and perhaps 200 appearances a year, Alfie Kohn does what he can to spare United States students the evils of competition. While he can’t do much about athletic competition, or economic competition or the unfairness of love and war, he tries hard and successfully to persuade educators that making academic distinctions among students hurts them.
A story is told of an unpopular officer at the U.S Naval Academy who knew he was disliked (his nickname was “The Wedge” as “the simplest tool known to man”) and he was always on the lookout for ways to assert his dominance. Once he berated a formation of midshipman for being unsatisfactory by pointing out that while their toes were all lined up, their heels were as much as two or three inches out of line! The officer candidate in charge of the formation replied that he recognized the problem, and would try to see that all midshipmen in future could be issued the same size shoes!
Of course, Mr. Kohn would not, I believe, argue that having different size feet should be corrected to prevent some students from feeling inferior, but he does object to anything in school which might reveal that some are brighter and some more diligent than others. It is not clear how he thinks students can be prevented from noticing this for themselves, but he is insistent that testing and other forms of academic competition should not be allowed to reveal such differences.
Some people feel that in law, for instance, competition among arguments makes arriving at the facts of a case more likely. Competition among the producers of goods and services are thought by some to make improvements in quality and reduction in price more likely. It is even claimed that some works of art and literature are better than others, although serious efforts have of course been made to make such judgments less common.


When the Label Is ‘Gifted,’ The Debate Is Heated

Daniel de Vise:

A Dec. 16 article in The Washington Post reported that the Montgomery County school system might end the longtime practice of labeling students as gifted or not in the second grade.
The article ignited a fire within the local gifted-and-talented community. More than 300 people posted comments on, and 9,957 voted in an informal online poll on the merits of scrapping the gifted label. The latest tally was 54 percent in favor of keeping it, 41 percent saying dumping it would be a good idea.
The school system went to the unusual length of responding publicly to the article, clarifying that although the idea was under study, no decision had been made. Gifted policy is ultimately decided by the school board, whose members expect to take up the future of the label sometime this year.
The reaction illustrated the level of community interest in accelerated instruction and underscored the friction between advocates for the gifted and school system officials on a more basic question: Are the needs of advanced students being met?

ACLU to sue Minneapolis charter school that caters to Muslims

Randy Furst & Sarah Lemagie:

The Minnesota ACLU has filed suit against TIZA, a charter school in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine, claiming it is promoting the Muslim religion.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed suit Wednesday against a publicly funded charter school alleging that it is promoting the Muslim religion and is leasing school space from a religious organization without following state law.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis against Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, known as TIZA, and the Minnesota Department of Education, which the ACLU says is at fault for failing to uncover and stop the alleged transgressions. The suit names the department and Alice Seagren, the state education commissioner, as co-defendants.

$3.77 million grant from Gates Foundation to help fund Dallas ISD academic database

Tawnell Hobbs:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will announce a nearly $3.8 million grant today to help fund a mega-database that provides Dallas school educators instant access to student information – from preschool to graduation.
The Dallas Independent School District began testing the database last year. It allows educators to access “real time” student academic information and helps them watch for learning patterns. The system also holds other district-related data, such as student and teacher absences.
The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation got the data system off the ground last year with a $5 million donation to the Dallas Education Foundation, a nonprofit group created in 2006 to raise money to benefit DISD.
Today’s grant of $3.77 million will be distributed over three years to DISD to help build onto the current system. The donation is among more than $22 million in grants that the Gates Foundation is announcing today for research and data systems for schools and a number of education organizations.
The Gates Foundation has invested $4 billion in improving schools and providing scholarships to students since 2000, according to foundation officials.

More on the “Last Professor”

Mark Liberman on “The Last Professor“:

Determined inutility is one thing — Prof. Fish is free to choose that path if he wants to — but determined ignorance of history is something else again.
It’s odd for a scholar to throw around phrases like “today’s educational landscape” as if contemporary economic and cultural forces were laying siege to institutions that were founded and managed as ivory towers committed to impractical scholarship. But the truth is that American higher education has always explicitly aimed to mix practical training with pure intellectual and moral formation, and to pursue research with practical consequences as well as understanding abstracted from applications.
Stanley Fish himself was an undergraduate at my own institution, the University of Pennsylvania, which was founded by Benjamin Franklin on this educational premise (“Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania”, 1749):

November, 2008 Madison School Board Priorities

63 page 444K PDF:

This year marks the ninth year of public reporting on the Board of Education Priorities for reading and mathematics achievement and school attendance. The data present a clear picture of District progress on each of the priorities. The document also reflects the deep commitment of the Madison Metropolitan School District to assuring that all students have the knowledge and skills needed for academic achievement and a successful life.
1. All students complete 3rd grade able to read at grade level or beyond.

  • Beginning in the fall of 2005-06, the federal No Child Left Behind Act required all states to test all students in reading from grades 3-8 and once in high school. This test replaced the former Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test. MMSD now reports on three years of data for students in grade 4.
  • District wide 74% of students scored proficient or advanced in reading on the 2007-08 WKCE, which is a 2% decline.
  • Hispanic and Other Asian students posted increases in percent of proficient or higher reading levels between 2007 and 2008.

2. All students complete Algebra by the end of 9th grade and Geometry by the end of 10th grade.

  • The largest relative gain in Algebra between the previous year measure, 2007-08, and this school year was among African American students.
  • Students living in low income households who successfully completed Algebra by grade 10 at the beginning of 2008-09 increased since the previous year.
  • The rate for Geometry completions for females continues to be slighter higher than their male counterparts.

3. All students, regardless of racial, ethnic, socioeconomic or linguistic subgroup, attend school at a 94 percent attendance rate at each grade level. The attendance rate of elementary students as a group continues to be above the 94% goal. All ethnic subgroups, except for African American (92.5% rate for 2007-08, 93.0% rate for 2006-07 and 93.1% for the previous two years) continue to meet the 94% attendance goal.
This report includes information about district initiatives that support students’ goal attainment. In the context of the MMSD Educational Framework, the initiatives described for the literacy and the mathematics priorities focus primarily within the LEARNING component and those described for the attendance priority focus primarily within the ENGAGEMENT component. It is important to note that underlying the success of any efforts that focus on LEARNING or ENGAGEMENT is the significance of RELATIONSHIPS.

Using the recession to clobber charter schools

Chester Finn:

Around the country, school districts are urging officials to crack down on charter school growth–and on existing charter schools–because, they assert, there isn’t enough money in strapped state budgets to pay for this sector–and of course the districts must come first.
I’m seeing this in Ohio, in Utah and in Massachusetts and do not doubt that it’s happening all over the place.
But of course it’s completely cockeyed. If every public-school pupil in America attended a charter school, the total taxpayer cost would be 20-30% LESS than it is today. That’s because charters are underfunded (compared with district schools) and thus represent an extraordinary bargain–even if their overall academic performance isn’t much different from that of district schools. Think of it as the same amount of learning at three-quarters of the price.

It’s Not That Kids Need Preschool — but It Can Help

Sue Shellenbarger:

Brickbats are flying over President Obama’s plan to expand government-funded preschool. Advocates argue all children need access to preschool; opponents cite studies pointing only to benefits for disadvantaged kids. The debate leaves parents wondering how much — if any — preschool their children really need.
Weighing the decision last year, Peter Canale, father of three small children, got caught in the crossfire. Co-workers and family members warned him, “you’d be crazy not to send your kid to some kind of preschool,” he says. But the Yonkers, N.Y., financial-services manager, who never attended preschool himself and whose wife stays home with their children, was skeptical; “I thought pre-K was a fad,” he says.
Actually, all kinds of kids reap some academic benefits from preschool, a growing body of research shows. Among 22 scholarly studies I reviewed, the five that encompass children from middle- and high-income families show preschool grads enter kindergarten with better pre-reading and math skills than those in other kinds of care or at home with their parents. To be sure, the benefits for mainstream kids are smaller than for children from poor or disadvantaged homes, but they’re still significant.

Milwaukee Schools Chief plans to leave in June 2010

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee School Superintendent William Andrekopoulos and the School Board agreed Tuesday night to extend his contract to June 30, 2010 – at which point he expects to end his lengthy run in the job.
After a closed session that took less than 90 minutes, the board voted 8-0 to give Andrekopoulos the additional 15 months he asked for. His current contract expires March 23.
Andrekopoulos will be 62 at the end of the 2009-’10 school year and will be finishing eight years as superintendent, one of the longest runs currently among urban school chiefs in the country. He succeeded Spence Korté as superintendent in August 2002.
The board and Andrekopoulos agreed that the contract extension will include provisions that would pave the way for him to help with the transition to a new superintendent. That could include having him stay on in some capacity for a limited time beyond July 1, 2010.

Brave New Dorms

George Leef:

Political indoctrination in the guise of “Residence Life” programs took a pounding during a National Association of Scholars debate.
In last week’s Clarion Call, I wrote about the debate over academic freedom at the recent National Association of Scholars conference in Washington, D.C. But equally important was the contentious final session, devoted to the agenda of the “Residence Life” movement.
That movement is a nationwide initiative that has managers of student dorms teaching a leftist political catechism to students under their control in an effort to radicalize them.
The discussion focused on the infamous ResLife program at the University of Delaware. It took some interesting turns, including opposition to the programs from AAUP president Cary Nelson. He is a man of the left, but nevertheless doesn’t want to see curriculum and instruction handed over to people who aren’t even remotely scholars.
First to speak was Adam Kissel of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). He explained the objectives of the Residence Life movement generally and concentrated on the University of Delaware, where the program was first seen in all its authoritarian splendor: prying questions, indoctrination sessions, and special “treatment” for students who were either uncooperative or, worse, had the temerity to disagree. Kissel made it clear that the ResLife agenda consists of clumsy, authoritarian indoctrination of students meant to color their thinking toward leftist bromides about the environment, capitalism, institutional racism and so forth.


Public High Schools & The Concord Review

Thomas Oberst:

It was a great pleasure to speak with you at the National Association of Scholars meeting in Washington. Thank you for sending me information about The Concord Review.
The Concord Review represents an opportunity for high school students to challenge themselves in both History and Expository Writing Skills. It would appear that many of the leading private and selective public schools take advantage of the opportunity to publish in The Concord Review. I am surprised more schools are not taking advantage of the opportunity that The Concord Review is providing, particularly given the state of writing and history in high schools.
I have noticed over the past 10 years that a number of the better public schools in the more financially advantaged suburban towns around Boston have been extending their reach of academic experiences and academic engagements outside of the standard High School Curriculum. I attribute this, in part, to the number of suburban parents that have some children in elite private schools and others in local elite public schools and have brought to the public schools many of the tactics and practices of the private schools.
The Concord Review is an opportunity for high school students to publish and should be more aggressively pursued by the public schools whose students lack writing skills. I am certainly going to make my local high school and its headmaster aware of The Concord Review.
Best Regards,
Tom Oberst

Thomas P. Oberst
Strategic Technology
27 Snow Street
Sherborn, Massachusetts 01770

Obama’s blueprint for education


Anyone viewing President Obama’s education plans from a UK perspective will be reminded of Labour’s ambitions in 1997.
The incoming US president wants to offer more support for early years children, promote innovation in schools and shut down those that are failing.
There will be a drive to widen access to higher education – with more student funding and awareness-raising.
Obama’s education secretary is Chicago school chief, Arne Duncan.
Under the banner of “Zero to five”, the new administration is promising extra support for early years – arguing that for every dollar invested, there will be a return to society worth $7 to $10.
After-school clubs

Schmiedicke: State could get $2.5 billion in Federal Tax Dollars for education, MA programs

Andy Szal:

State budget director Dave Schmiedicke estimated that Wisconsin could be in line to receive $2.5 billion in federal stimulus money for education and medical assistance programs.
Schmiedicke also said that estimates show the state could receive $575 million for transportation and infrastructure projects.
Schmiedicke made the remarks at a Wisconsin Credit Union League meeting at the Monona Terrace this morning. He was joined at the forum by Rep. Mark Pocan, the co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, and Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
The estimates given by Schmiedicke were based on the $87 billion allocated for the Medicaid program and $79 billion for education in the proposal from the House of Representatives last week. Schmiedicke’s estimate is based on population and income figures, and he said the state will likely receive about 1.7 percent of the funding for those programs.

Much more on the stimulus/splurge here.

Word Cloud Analysis of Obama’s Inaugural Speech Compared to Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Lincoln’s

Marshall Kirkpatrick:

Barack Obama was just sworn in as President of the US and though he stumbled in repeating his oath, the speech that followed was delivered flawlessly and was widely praised around the web. (Several readers have told us that it wasn’t Obama that stumbled, it was Justice Roberts.) There were quite a few concepts discussed that we suspect haven’t been a part of past inaugural speeches. What words were used most often? We ran the full text of the speech through tag cloud generator for one view of the event, and just for the sake of historical context we ran George W. Bush’s second inaugural speech through as well. Update: After one reader suggested it, we’ve also added word clouds from Bill Clinton’s second inaugural speech and Reagan’s first below. Second update: By reader request, we’ve added Lincoln’s first and second inaugural speeches as well.
The most common words in the Obama and Bush speeches were dramatically different.

Home educators angry at review


“Home education”, where children study at home rather than at school, is to face a review in England.
“There are concerns that some children are not receiving the education they need,” said Children’s Minister Baroness Delyth Morgan.
The government says there are no plans to remove the right to educate children at home.
But home educators’ charity, Education Otherwise, said it was “infuriated” by the proposed investigation.
There is no legal obligation for children to be sent to school – but parents have to provide a suitable education.

The Last Professor

Stanley Fish:

In previous columns and in a recent book I have argued that higher education, properly understood, is distinguished by the absence of a direct and designed relationship between its activities and measurable effects in the world.
This is a very old idea that has received periodic re-formulations. Here is a statement by the philosopher Michael Oakeshott that may stand as a representative example: “There is an important difference between learning which is concerned with the degree of understanding necessary to practice a skill, and learning which is expressly focused upon an enterprise of understanding and explaining.”
Understanding and explaining what? The answer is understanding and explaining anything as long as the exercise is not performed with the purpose of intervening in the social and political crises of the moment, as long, that is, as the activity is not regarded as instrumental – valued for its contribution to something more important than itself.
This view of higher education as an enterprise characterized by a determined inutility has often been challenged, and the debates between its proponents and those who argue for a more engaged university experience are lively and apparently perennial. The question such debates avoid is whether the Oakeshottian ideal (celebrated before him by Aristotle, Kant and Max Weber (German sociologist), among others) can really flourish in today’s educational landscape. It may be fun to argue its merits (as I have done), but that argument may be merely academic – in the pejorative sense of the word – if it has no support in the real world from which it rhetorically distances itself. In today’s climate, does it have a chance?

Sorting Children Into ‘Cannots’ and ‘Cans’ Is Just Racism in Disguise

Jay Matthews:

Tomorrow marks a turning point in the history of our schools as well as our country. Note how the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whom we honor today, had to confront the cold, hard, in-your-face prejudice of a legally segregated system, while the next president, Barack Obama, speaks of a softer negligence, illuminated by the frequently heard phrase, “These kids can’t learn.”
These days, those of us interested in schools — parents, students, educators, researchers, journalists — are not sure if we believe in teaching or sorting. Is it best to strain ourselves and our children trying to raise everyone to a higher academic level, or does it make more sense to prepare each child for a life in which he or she will be comfortable? The people I admire in our schools want to be teachers. Sorting, they say, is a new form of the old racism but subtler and in some ways harder to resist.
It took me a long time to understand this. My parents were socially conservative but politically and religiously liberal, and they raised me in the United Church of Christ, the same denomination that Obama and his family joined in Chicago. There were few black people in our pews in San Mateo, Calif., however. My public high school had only two black students, my private college not many more. The first African Americans I got to know well were in my Army basic training company. They teased me, the only college graduate in the barracks, about my utter lack of street smarts. They had not done well in school, but they were shrewd, energetic and learned quickly, once subjected to the Army’s refusal to tolerate inattention. Many went to college when they finished their service.

DC Area School Budget Changes

Washington Post:

In the Washington area, with some of the best public schools in the country, finding money has rarely seemed a problem for superintendents eager to improve education. Until now. As one school system after another prepares spending plans for the next academic year, officials are facing tough choices as the recession chokes off tax revenue. Scenarios range from difficult to grim to worse. In many places, school improvement is on ice. The goal, instead, is preservation. What follows is a snapshot of the budget cycle for major local school systems, ranked in size by fall 2008 enrollment.
(169,000 students)
Superintendent Jack D. Dale proposed a $2.2 billion budget Jan. 8 that would raise average class size and omit cost-of-living raises. Public hearing planned Wednesday and school board action Feb. 5. Current spending: $2.2 billion.
Superintendent Jerry D. Weast proposed a $2.1 billion budget Dec. 11 that would eliminate cost-of-living raises for employees. Public hearing planned Wednesday and school board action Feb. 9. Current spending: $2.1 billion.

Superintendent warns against ‘inappropriate comments’

Eric Schwartzberg and Marie Rossiter:

Mason school officials said they are taking a proactive educational approach in advance of next week’s planned Inauguration Day activities.
“Inappropriate comments that may make other students, staff or families feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in school or on the bus will not be tolerated,” Superintendent Kevin Bright said in an e-mail sent to parents Monday, Jan. 12.
The district, he said, expects students and staff to show respect for President-elect Obama and the incoming administration, as well as President Bush and the outgoing administration, and recognize that “while the election is a competitive process, our nation’s greatness is displayed when all sides come together for a united country.”
Jeff Schlaeger, Mason High School’s psychologist, said “inappropriate comments” occurred around election week when doctored pictures of Obama appeared at the school, including “derogatory caricatures” of him dressed like a terrorist and signs that read “Obama ’08/Biden ’09.”

Students soar in poor Atlanta neighborhood

Dorie Turner:

The seventh-grade students are playing a round-robin trivia game, excitedly naming the countries on a blank map showing on their classroom’s overhead projector. Burkina Faso. Cote d’Ivoire.
Faster and faster, the teacher goes around the room until it’s just Justyn and another boy.
The tallest mountain in Africa? Mount Kilimanjaro. The tallest mountain range in South America? The Andes.
And then it’s over. Justyn doesn’t win the game but he’s still smiling, showing off the deep dimples in his cheeks. His 25 classmates erupt into cheers, applauding both students.
This is how it works at the extraordinary Ron Clark Academy, a private middle school tucked among boarded-up houses and graffiti-peppered walls in Lakewood, one of Atlanta’s poorest neighborhoods.

The Obama Education Splurge/Stimulus: More Testing

Greg Toppo:

The USA’s public schools stand to be the biggest winners in Congress’ $825 billion economic stimulus plan unveiled last week. Schools are scheduled to receive nearly $142 billion over the next two years — more than health care, energy or infrastructure projects — and the stimulus could bring school advocates closer than ever to a long-sought dream: full funding of the No Child Left Behind law and other huge federal programs.
But tucked into the text of the proposal’s 328 pages are a few surprises: If they want the money — and they certainly do — schools must spend at least a portion of it on a few of education advocates’ long-sought dreams. In particular, they must develop:

  • High-quality educational tests.
  • Ways to recruit and retain top teachers in hard-to-staff schools.
  • Longitudinal data systems that let schools track long-term progress.


The Wisconsin test: WKCE has been criticized for its low standards. More on the WKCE here.

Pakistan vows to keep schools open despite threats: minister


Pakistan will keep schools open in the troubled northwestern Swat valley despite a ban on girls issued by the local Taliban, a minister pledged Sunday.
It follows a threat last month by a local Taliban commander to kill any girls attending classes after January 15, and to blow up schools where they are enrolled.
Officials said last week that, as a result of the threat, about 400 private schools were unlikely to open their doors after the winter holidays, depriving tens of thousands of students of an education.
But Pakistan’s information minister Sherry Rehman vowed to keep open all girls schools in Swat and North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
“From March 1, all closed schools in Swat and NWFP will be reopened after the winter break,” Rehman told reporters in the southern city of Karachi.

Michigan school enrollment nosedives, They get creative to draw kids, cash

Lori Higgins:

ust days into his tenure as superintendent in the River Rouge School District, Carlos Lopez started going door to door in a bid to boost enrollment.
He had to get a handle on an enrollment nosedive that today leaves the district with fewer than half as many students as it had 10 years ago. It even exceeded the oft-reported hemorrhaging of Detroit Public Schools, which is down 42%.
An analysis of a decade’s worth of enrollment data found it’s becoming an increasingly common tale in metro Detroit schools.
In Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, the growth that spurred multimillion-dollar construction projects a few years ago is quickly fading, with those districts losing a total of 66,030 students in the last five years. This school year alone, almost 50 districts in metro Detroit lost students.
That 5-year, 10% enrollment drop in metro Detroit comes at an enormous financial cost — as much as $129 million in lost state aid in the last school year, based on unaudited enrollment data. The downward trend has forced districts to close buildings, increase class sizes, eliminate programs and lay off staff.

“The power of education to transform lives”

The Baltimore Sun:

Many Americans of my generation and older, of all races, who grew up in the 1950s and ’60s or before, never could have imagined someone looking like Barack Obama, or me, becoming president of the United States.
During the campaign, I was struck by the optimism and hope of my UMBC students about our country’s future. Many of them, like America’s younger generation in general, have had different experiences – and therefore different perspectives – from those of us who are older.
On Election Night, students shared with me their sense of enthusiasm about voting for the first time, and I thought about America in 1960, when John Kennedy became president. At that time, he challenged us in his inaugural address to commit to public service and the “struggle against … poverty, disease, and war.”
Almost a half-century later, as President-elect Obama takes office, a new period dawns, and no doubt he, too, will emphasize our common values and purpose as we continue addressing these same challenges.

An Education Bailout? It Won’t Improve Schools

Greg Forster:

It looks like the trillion-dollar “stimulus” (read: pork) bill is going to include a hefty dose of spending on schools. Of course, we don’t know yet what the proposed bill will contain, and the proposal will undergo a lot of revision when it goes through the congressional sausage grinder. But from the leaks and preliminary reports, respectable observers are estimating that as much as $70 billion or even $100 billion may ultimately end up going to K-12 schools. For comparison, after the radical expansion of federal education spending that came with No Child Left Behind, the feds now spend about $40 billion per year on K-12 education.
Politically, it’s a shrewd move. They don’t really care what they’re building, as long as they’re building something, so as long as they’re building a bunch of roads and bridges and community centers they may as well build some schools, too. The teachers’ unions have successfully spread the myth that schools desperately need more facilities spending, even though facilities spending per student almost doubled from 1990 to 2005 (after inflation). So “New School to Be Built” is always a crowd-pleasing headline.

SAT Prep: Isaac Says No to Outside Help

Stephen Kreider Yoder & Isaac Yoder:

A couple days after I signed up for the SAT last year, I began to panic. Getting a good score was key to getting into a good college, I thought, yet I hadn’t even begun studying. Many of my schoolmates who had gotten good scores had regularly used pricey tutors, and my older brother used a tutor a couple of times to prepare for the ACT. So it seemed natural for me to do the same. And mandatory for me to get the score I needed.
I walked upstairs to where my dad was working and asked him how much he’d be willing to pay for an SAT class or tutor.
“I’ll pay as much as you think it’s worth,” he told me.
I went downstairs and looked over the information I had on the tutor I had picked out. I thought about it for a while and decided it just wasn’t worth it. The next day I checked out a book of SAT practice tests from my school at no cost and got to work.
I ended up doing great on it. I’m convinced that the SAT book I borrowed did just as much for me as any tutor would have. Sure, I had to motivate myself to practice — which wouldn’t be necessary with a regular tutor — but I don’t think I lost anything else by not paying for help.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the benefits of a tutor. There have been plenty of times when I’ve fallen behind in class and getting a tutor would have helped me catch up. And having a regular tutor would have kept me more organized with things like searching for a college. A friend hired a counselor to help her narrow her list of potential colleges and to pick the perfect essay for her applications.

Waukesha schools expand online academy to grades 6-8

Erin Richards:

To keep up with competition among virtual schools in the state, the Waukesha School District’s virtual charter high school has received the green light to expand its computer-based learning environment to middle school students next year.
The Waukesha School Board approved a proposal last week to add grades six, seven and eight in the 2009-’10 academic year to “>iQ Academy Wisconsin, perpetuating a trend in virtual-school growth that’s happening elsewhere around the country.
The 5-year-old iQ Academy is one of 18 virtual schools in Wisconsin that residents can attend for free through open enrollment.
Susan Patrick, president of the International Association of K-12 Online Learning, said virtual high schools around the country are expanding rapidly to include middle-school opportunities.
“We’re seeing a lot of growth on both sides: Elementary programs that started as K-5 or K-6 are expanding to middle-school programs, and at the high-school level, we’re seeing them reaching back to the middle-school grades,” Patrick said.
Virtual high schools that expand to middle schools often do so because they want to make sure students are competent in the academic content for core courses at the high school level, Patrick said.
Typically, virtual schools exist in one of two forms. Thirty-four states, including Wisconsin, have part-time virtual schools that serve as supplemental programs for students behind on credits or to offer students a class they can’t get in their public school. Students may spend a portion of their normal, supervised school day logging into an online course.

Equal Time: Parents want more choices in education

Eric Johnson:

Poor test scores. High dropout rates. Enormous schools. Large class sizes. These are the words that come to Milena Skollar’s mind when you ask the transplant about sending her children to school in Georgia.
“It’s not fun to be 50th in the nation in SAT scores — plus the size of the schools is very disturbing,” the mother of three said. “I believe in public education. I just wish the schools were better for my children.”
Eric Johnson is a Republican state senator from Savannah. Skollar, a New Jersey native, is also a school social worker employed by a metro Atlanta school system. She is among the 68 percent of Georgia voters in a recent poll who support offering parents the option to transfer their children to a private school with a voucher.
As we commence another session of the General Assembly, it’s time to start thinking about parents such as Skollar and stop offering a one-size-fits-all education model to Georgia students. It’s time to offer a school voucher program for parents who want it for their children who need it.
Because both of her daughters excel in the classroom, Skollar believes her Fulton County public schools cannot challenge them enough as they get older and that a private school with smaller classes may be more appropriate. She would like more options.

Indiana Education Report Card

The Indianapolis Star:

Stan Jones, who announced this week that he’ll step down in April after 14 years as Indiana’s commissioner of higher education, is right when he says that the state has made major improvements in recent years in its educational system.
But he’s also correct in noting that “we still have a long way to go.”
One area of vital growth, and a major part of Jones’ legacy, has been the creation of a community college system, a key step toward building a work force ready to handle the challenges of the 21st century economy.
Jones on Friday said the state’s community college network, launched a decade ago, is starting to show deeper maturity and higher quality. The rapid growth in enrollment at Ivy Tech Community College also indicates that students who in the past would have missed out on an education beyond high school are now pursuing degrees.
One measure of success: Two decades ago, Indiana ranked 34th in the nation in the percentage of high school seniors who went on to college. It’s now 10th.
Yet, as Jones points out, college graduation rates are abysmal.

Manna from Heaven (Washington “Splurge”)

Doug Lederman:

As colleges and students around the country struggle with the effects of the worldwide economic downturn, help appears to be on the way from the nation’s capital. And plenty of it, to judge from a draft of a massive, $825 billion stimulus package released by Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives Thursday.
Calculating exactly how much of the proposed money — $550 billion in new spending and $275 billion in tax breaks over two years — could (if enacted) flow to postsecondary institutions, and to students and potential students, is difficult because many of the proposals in the package lack detail. It would also be premature for anyone in higher education (or any other potential recipients of stimulus funds) to start spending it, since (1) budget hawks in Congress and elsewhere blanched at the size and scope of the package, (2) this is just the House’s version, with the Senate reportedly drafting its own, and (3) multiple steps remain in the process.
Still, none of those factors are likely to dampen interest in what’s in the legislation, and a rough estimate by Inside Higher Ed suggests that tens of billions of dollars could flow to colleges and their students, in the following broad categories:

States Weigh Cuts to Merit Scholarships

Robert Tomsho:

As they grapple with crippling budget shortfalls, states are weighing whether to cut back on merit-aid scholarship programs that benefit hundreds of thousands of college students every year.
Since the early 1990s, more than 15 states have launched broad-based programs that offer students scholarships and tuition breaks based solely on grades, class rank and test scores. Supporters say such programs boost college-enrollment rates and help persuade high achievers to remain in their home states. Critics maintain that the programs siphon aid money away from students with financial need in favor of some who probably could have afforded college without the help.
The National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs, an organization of agencies responsible for state financial-aid programs, says merit grants accounted for $2.08 billion, or 28%, of all state-sponsored grants awarded in its latest tally, covering the 2006-2007 academic year. That’s up from $458.9 million in 1996-1997, when merit-aid accounted for about 15% of all state grants.
But the economic crisis has raised fears that such growth may be unsustainable, as tax revenue plunges and legislatures make drastic cuts to other state programs. And the pinch comes just as layoffs and investment losses affecting millions of families are likely to boost demand for financial aid based on need.

For Catholic Schools, Crisis and Catharsis

Paul Vitello & Winnie Hu:

It is a familiar drill in nearly all of the nation’s Roman Catholic school systems: a new alarm every few years over falling enrollment; church leaders huddling over what to do; parents rallying to save their schools. And then the bad news.
When the Diocese of Brooklyn last week proposed closing 14 more elementary schools, it was not the deepest but only the latest of a thousand cuts suffered, one tearful closing announcement at a time, as enrollment in the nation’s Catholic schools has steadily dropped by more than half from its peak of five million 40 years ago.
But recently, after years of what frustrated parents describe as inertia in the church hierarchy, a sense of urgency seems to be gripping many Catholics who suddenly see in the shrinking enrollment a once unimaginable prospect: a country without Catholic schools.
From the ranks of national church leaders to the faithful in the pews, there are dozens of local efforts to forge a new future for parochial education by rescuing the remaining schools or, if need be, reinventing them. The efforts are all being driven, in one way or another, by a question in a University of Notre Dame task force report in 2006: “Will it be said of our generation that we presided over the demise” of Catholic schools?

Student Loans: College on Credit

The Economist:

WITH unemployment rising, house sales falling and retirement accounts shrivelling, college students are not at the top of most people’s worry lists. But they face a miserable set of financial circumstances. Tuition costs and other fees are soaring: up 439% since the early 1980s, says a recent report from the National Centre for Public Policy and Higher Education. Family incomes have not begun to keep pace. This year’s average bill from a private college is about $25,000, according to the College Board, a body that, as well as managing standardised tests such as the SAT, also studies financial aid for students. Public universities are far more affordable, with an average price tag of $6,500 for in-state tuition. But that is still a big chunk of the budget for a poor or middle-class family. And living expenses quickly run up the tab, even if a student makes do with a grotty apartment and lives on noodles.
The unsurprising result is that more students are borrowing to finance their education. According to the College Board, student debt has ballooned from $41 billion ten years ago (in 2007 dollars) to $87 billion today. Nearly two-thirds of those who graduate from a four-year programme, public or private, are in debt. Last year a borrower’s average burden, according to the Project on Student Debt, was slightly more than $20,000.

How to Become a More Effective Learner

Kendra Van Wagner:

I’m always interested in finding new ways to learn better and faster. As a graduate student who is also a full-time science writer, the amount of time I have to spend learning new things is limited. It’s important to get the most educational value out of my time as possible. However, retention, recall and transfer are also critical. I need to be able to accurately remember the information I learn, recall it at a later time and utilize it effectively in a wide variety of situations.
1. Memory Improvement Basics
I’ve written before about some of the best ways to improve memory. Basic tips such as improving focus, avoiding cram sessions and structuring your study time are a good place to start, but there are even more lessons from psychology that can dramatically improve your learning efficiency.

Making Room for Miss Manners Is a Parenting Basic

Perri Klass:

For years, I took care of a very rude child. When he was 3, I called him rambunctious — and I talked to his mother about “setting limits.” At 4, I called him “demanding.” At 5, he was still screaming at his mother if she didn’t do what he wanted, he still swatted me whenever I tried to examine him, and his mother asked me worriedly if I thought he was ready for kindergarten.
I could go on (he didn’t have an easy time in school), but it would sound like a Victorian tale: The Rude Boy. I never used the word “rude” or even “manners” when I spoke to his mother. I don’t describe my patients as rude or polite in the medical record. But I do pass judgment, and so does every pediatrician I know.
It’s always popular — and easy — to bewail the deterioration of manners; there is an often quoted (and often disputed) story about Socrates’ complaining that the young Athenians have “bad manners, contempt for authority.” Sure, certain social rubrics have broken down or blurred, and sure, electronic communication seems to have given adults as well as children new ways to be rude. But the age-old parental job remains.
And that job is to start with a being who has no thought for the feelings of others, no code of behavior beyond its own needs and comforts — and, guided by love and duty, to do your best to transform that being into what your grandmother (or Socrates) might call a mensch. To use a term that has fallen out of favor, your assignment is to “civilize” the object of your affections.

Misguided Colleges Skewer Score Choice

Jaty Matthews:

I’m so old I took the SAT only once.
That was the way we did it back in the middle of the last century. My score had room for improvement. So did my friends’ scores. But we would have been stunned if any of us tried again. We were regarded as nerds already. Taking the SAT twice would have ended any chance of a girl ever talking to us.
Times, as you know, have changed. The hot topic this year is not whether to try the exam twice, but whether you should be able to hide the worst of the two or three tests it is assumed nearly everyone will take.
The right to obliterate the results of a bad testing day is called Score Choice by the College Board, owner of the SAT test. Some say it is a marketing device to respond to the SAT’s rival, the ACT, which has had such a policy for years. The first group eligible under the new rules will be members of the high school class of 2010 participating in this March’s test administration. If they don’t like their scores on that or any subsequent testing day, they may tell the College Board not to send them to any colleges.

Fairfax County School Board Leans Toward New Grading Scale

Michael Alison Chandler:

A groundswell of parents have urged the school system, which requires a 94 for an A and a 64 to pass, to adopt the more broadly used practice of giving an A for 90 or better and setting 60 as the passing score. They also have argued that Fairfax should add extra points to the grade-point averages of those who take honors courses or college-level classes. They maintain that the current policy puts students at a disadvantage when they apply to colleges and for scholarships.
On Jan. 2, Dale recommended changing how the school system calculates GPAs but not the grading scale.
In a work session yesterday, board members listed advantages of changing the scale and advantages of keeping it. The list of reasons offered for change was twice as long. For example, members said a change would align Fairfax with other school systems and lessen parents’ confusion. But an advantage to keeping the scale, some said, would be that students would work harder for better grades.
Some parents applauded yesterday’s development.

Union Seeks List of Targeted Teachers

Bill Turque:

The Washington Teachers’ Union says the District is improperly withholding the names of instructors who have been given 90 school days to improve their performance or face dismissal.
Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said the disclosure would be counterproductive, but the union said she is obligated by contract to share the information. The issue is likely to be discussed at today’s D.C. Council hearing on school personnel practices.
The 90-day plans are part of Rhee’s attempt to remove “a significant share” of the 4,000-member teacher corps, which she regards as “not up to the demanding task of educating our youth effectively,” according to the long-range action document she presented in October.

Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies

nternet Safety Technical Task Force to the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking of State Attorneys General of the United States:

The Internet Safety Technical Task Force was created in February 2008 in accordance with the Joint Statement on Key Principles of Social Networking Safety announced in January 2008 by the Attorneys General Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking and MySpace. The scope of the Task Force’s inquiry was to consider those technologies that industry and end users – including parents – can use to help keep minors safer on the Internet.

A few words for Obama on closing the ‘achievement gap’

Greg Toppo:

As a candidate, President-elect Barack Obama promised to reduce the “pervasive achievement gap” that for decades has separated many white, middle-class students from their poor, often minority, peers. As president, he’ll have an opportunity to keep his promise. But what should he do first? Four big education thinkers offer their advice:
YOUR VOICE: How do you think Obama should close the minority ‘gap’?
Amy Wilkins, vice president of The Education Trust, a non-profit advocacy group for low-income and minority students:
The American education system consistently shortchanges the students with the greatest need on almost everything that matters when it comes to academic success. You need to discard the policies that cheat these students.
This is especially important when it comes to quality teaching. Nothing is more important to high achievement than strong teachers. But the very children who most need our best teachers are least likely to get them. Through personal leadership, the use of federal authority and strategic funding, the president can help change thi

Evidence that dumbing down is not inevitable

The Economist:

FOR a quarter of a century, surveys of reading habits by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a federally-funded body, have been favourite material for anyone who thinks America is dumbing down. Susan Jacoby, author of “The Age of American Unreason“, for example, cites the 2007 NEA report that “the proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004.”
So it is a surprise that this bellwether seems to have taken a turn for the better. This week the NEA reported that, for the first time since 1982 when its survey began, the number of adults who said they had read a novel, short story, poem or play in the past 12 months had gone up, rising from 47% of the population in 2002 to over 50% in 2008.*
The increase, modest as it is, has thrown educationalists into a tizzy. “It’s just a blip,” one professor told the New York Times. It is certainly a snapshot. But it is not statistically insignificant. As the NEA’s research director, Sunil Iyengar, points out, almost every demographic and ethnic group seems to be reading more.

Persistence: TIMSS Questionnaire

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers
New York: Little, Brown, 2008, pp. 247-249:

Every four years, an international group of educators administers a comprehensive mathematics and science test to elementary and junior high students around the world. It’s the TIMSS (the same test you read about earlier, in the discussion of fourth graders born near the beginning of a school cutoff date and those born near the end of the date), and the point of the TIMSS is to compare the educational achievement of one country with another’s.
When students sit down to take the TIMSS exam, they also have to fill out a questionnaire. It asks them all kinds of things, such as what their parents’ level of education is, and what their views about math are, and what their friends are like. It’s not a trivial exercise. It’s about 120 questions long. In fact, it’s so tedious and demanding that many students leave as many as ten or twenty questions blank.
Now, here’s the interesting part. As it turns out, the average number of items answered on that questionnaire varies from country to country. It is possible, in fact, to rank all the participating countries according to how many items their students answer on the questionnaire. Now, what do you think happens if you compare the questionnaire rankings with the math ranking on the TIMSS? They are exactly the same. In other words, countries whose students are willing to concentrate and sit still long enough and focus on answering every single question in an endless questionnaire are the same countries whose students do the best job of solving math problems.
The person who discovered this fact is an educational researcher at the University of Pennsylvania named Erling Boe, and he stumbled across it by accident. “It came out of the blue,” he says. Boe hasn’t even been able to publish his findings in a scientific journal, because, he says, it’s just a bit too weird. Remember, he’s not saying that the ability to finish the questionnaire and the ability to excel on the math test are related. He’s saying that they are the same: If you compare the two rankings, they are identical.
Think about this another way. Imagine that every year, there was a Math Olympics in some fabulous city in the world. And every country in the world sent its own team of one thousand eighth graders. Boe’s point is that we could predict precisely the order in which every country would finish in the Math Olympics without asking a single math question. All we would have to do is give them some task measuring how hard they were willing to work. In fact, we wouldn’t even have to give them a task. We should be able to predict which countries are best at math simply by looking at which national cultures place the highest emphasis on effort and hard work.
So, which places are at the top of both lists? The answer shouldn’t surprise you: Singapore, South Korea, China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, and Japan. What those five have in common, of course, is that they are all cultures shaped by the tradition of wet-rice agriculture and meaningful work. They are the kinds of places where, for hundreds of years, penniless peasants, slaving away in the rice paddies three thousand hours a year, said things to one another like “No man who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.” *
* note: There is actually a significant scientific literature measuring Asian “persistence.” In a typical study, Priscilla Blinco gave large groups of Japanese and American first graders a very difficult puzzle and measured how long they worked at it before they gave up. The American children lasted, on average, 9.47 minutes The Japanese children lasted 13.93 minutes, roughly 40 percent longer.

On 4K in Madison

Tamira Madsen:

Abplanalp, who has been working on the 4-K project for the seven years since joining the district as lead elementary principal, said there isn’t a timetable in place as to when the program would start.
But she wouldn’t count out the 2009-10 school year if three main issues can be ironed out.
“Could we get things in place by the fall? We think we could if we got the go-ahead,” Abplanalp said Thursday afternoon. “If not, it’s because we have issues to work out contractually with MTI (the teacher’s union). … We also have to work out community site issues, negotiating (contract) issues and financial issues.”

Madison’s Leopold Elementary could add dual-language program in fall

Tamira Madsen:

Madison Metropolitan School District officials will unveil plans to offer a dual-language program at Leopold Elementary beginning next fall.
The new curriculum for the south side school would include education in English and Spanish, and discussion of the plan is anticipated at a Madison School Board meeting on Feb. 2.
Three sections of kindergarten classes with approximately 48 children will become part of the program, which will progress one grade level each school year until the program’s initial students finish fifth grade. The school will join east side’s Nuestro Mundo as the second public school in the Madison Metropolitan School District to offer a dual-language program. Nuestro Mundo, a charter school, has been in operation for five years.
Eight of Leopold’s 44 classrooms are bilingual, and the school is a perfect fit for the immersion program, according to Assistant Superintendent Sue Abplanalp.
“We know the benefits of dual-immersion programming,” Abplanalp said. “This is a perfect place to begin such a program because we know could get the enrollment that we need to make it a viable program for the future.
“We want native speaking Spanish children as well as non-native Spanish children, and that’s the population that is at that building,” she said.

Trends in College Spending: Where Does the Money Come From? Where Does It Go?

The Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability [3MB PDF Report]

Our country’s system of higher education — long extolled as the best in the world — is showing serious fault lines that threaten capacity to meet future needs for an educated citizenry. There are many causes for concern, but chief among them is a system of finance that will be hard to sustain in the current economic environment.
To be sure, higher education has gone through hard times before. But looking at the economic and political horizon in January of 2009, only the rosiest of optimists can believe that what lies ahead is going to be similar to what we have seen before. The shock waves from the international upheaval in credit markets are just now beginning to be felt — in greater demand for student aid, tightening loan availability, dips in endowment assets and earnings, rising costs of debt payments, and deep state budget cuts. Families are going to find it harder to find the resources to pay for the almost-automatic increases in student tuitions that have been the fuel for higher education in the past decade. Even with increases in tuition, most institutions will still face deficits that require deep spending cuts.

Individual state data (Wisconsin).
Jack Stripling:

Most college students are carrying a greater share of the cost of their education, even as institutions spend less on teaching them, according to a report released today.
The report, published by the Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity, and Accountability, gives a potentially troubling picture of spending and revenue trends in higher education. Spanning from 2002 to 2006, the report indicates that tuition hikes have resulted in little if any new spending on classroom instruction at public research universities.
“The public’s got it exactly right,” said Jane Wellman, head of the Delta Project. “They are jacking up tuition, and they’re not re-investing it in quality.”
There’s plenty of blame to go around, however, for this predicament. With state support waning for public colleges, rising tuition dollars are merely being used to make up for lost revenue — not for hiring more faculty or taking other steps that would arguably improve classroom instruction, the report asserts. On the other hand, the Delta Project suggests that colleges haven’t made the hard choices required for adapting to lower subsidies, as evidenced by relatively small changes in spending levels.

Boston grads falter in public colleges, Are more likely to get degrees at private university

James Vaznis:

The local public colleges that enroll the most Boston high school graduates have had a dismal record seeing them through to a degree, with many posting graduation rates of less than 25 percent, according to a study that reviewed the collegiate careers of the city’s class of 2000.
Only 20.7 percent of the 150 students from the class who attended the University of Massachusetts at Boston – the most popular four-year public college for Boston high school students – graduated by the spring of 2007. By contrast, the most popular private school, Northeastern University, has handed degrees to 82.5 percent of the 80 Boston students from that class who enrolled there by the fall of 2001.
The rates at other popular public colleges were even worse. Bunker Hill Community College graduated 14.2 percent of its 155 Boston students, while Roxbury Community College had a graduation rate of 5.9 percent for its 101 Boston enrollees, according to new data released by the Boston Private Industry Council at the Globe’s request. The council is a group of city business leaders who work on education policy issues.

More here.

Democrats Push for Stimulus Package to Include Education Spending

Amanda Ruggeri:

As Barack Obama’s roughly $800 billion stimulus package comes together on Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers are pushing to include provisions for education, from college tuition tax credits to block grants for state and local education budgets.
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As Congress firms up the package’s outlines, spurred on by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s deadline of Presidents Day, the bill seems likely to include a “handful” of measures for education, says New York Sen. Charles Schumer. Meanwhile, recent plans to provide more than $160 billion to state and local governments seem certain to use education as a primary venue for the funding.
Specific components will include infrastructural spending on building and renovating schools, Schumer says. Another likely provision in the bill will be expanding college tuition tax credits, a cause Schumer has been promoting.
“Every time the economy prevents one young man or young woman from going to college because they can’t afford it even though they deserve to get in, it hurts them, it hurts their families, and it hurts America,” he says. “We all know that while college is priced like a luxury, it has become a necessity.”

Much more, here.

Teacher Union Contracts and High School Reform

Mitch Price:

Are teachers unions and collective bargaining agreements barriers to high school reform and redesign efforts in Washington, California, and Ohio? The short answer: sometimes, but not as often as many educators seem to think.
On one hand, collective bargaining agreements (CBAs)–long, complex, and unwieldy documents which can be difficult for an overworked principal to navigate–are often perceived as obstacles by many principals and other educators, and to a certain extent this perception becomes reality. And, while these perceptions can limit school-level flexibility and autonomy, there are also restrictive provisions within CBAs that do so as well.
On the other hand, CBAs tend to have waiver provisions. In many cases, districts and teachers unions can also negotiate side agreements on individual issues (e.g., memoranda of understanding, or MOUs) to provide desired flexibility. And, in perhaps our most significant finding, many of the CBA provisions that we analyzed were more flexible than educators and reform advocates often suggest.
Finally, many CBA provisions that we studied were simply ambiguous. This ambiguity could potentially allow for greater latitude for an aggressive principal who is looking for greater flexibility and willing to push the envelope, while serving to limit a more cautious or timid principal who looks to the CBA for explicit authority or permission first before acting.

Arts & the Economy Report

Mariel Wozniak, via email: The National Governor’s Association 4.5MB PDF Report:

Today, the National Governors Association (NGA) has released Arts & the Economy: Using Arts and Culture to Stimulate State Economic Development. This comprehensive report is a product of the long-standing partnership between the NEA and NGA, with extensive research support from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). At this moment, the report is enjoying front page status on the NGA website at . It’s not often that governors receive information from the NGA that gives such high priority to the arts as a policy solution to the issues they are facing. Arts & the Economy arrives on the desks of governors at what is obviously a critical decision-making period for all states. We’re confident you will find it is a valuable resource to share with your governor, legislators, constituents and advocates as you move through the budget process for FY 10.

This page discusses the importance of the arts and culture to states, and lists all the arts reports and issue briefs the NGA has produced with the NEA, with NASAA’s assistance.
Here is a quotation I placed in one of the meeting rooms in the Ruth Bachhuber-Doyle Adm. Building during my tenure at MMSD. It ought to be in every school:

“Our greatest scientists are generally skilled in non-verbal thinking yet we usually discourage science students from studying artistic subjects. Unless we reverse this trend, they will continue to be cut off from thought processes that lead to creative breakthroughs.”
Dr. Robert Root-Bernstein, Professor of Physiology at Michigan State University, formerly scientist with the Salk Institute.