Boosting Schools’ Value Without Spending a Dime

Jay Matthews:

As happens in every recession, Washington area school systems are cutting back. It’s depressing. Here’s an antidote: Harness the creativity of educators, parents and students to improve our schools without more spending. Some teachers I trust helped me come up with these seven ideas.
1. Replace elementary school homework with free reading. Throw away the expensive take-home textbooks, the boring worksheets and the fiendish make-a-log-cabin-out-of-Tootsie-Rolls projects. One of the clearest (and most ignored) findings of educational research is that elementary students who do lots of homework don’t learn more than students who do none. Eliminating traditional homework for this age group will save paper, reduce textbook losses and sweeten home life. Students should be asked instead to read something, maybe with their parents — at least 10 minutes a night for first-graders, 20 minutes for second-graders and so on. Teachers can ask a few kids each day what they learned from their reading to discourage shirkers.
2. Unleash charter schools. I know, I know. Many good people find this suggestion as welcome as a call from a collection agency. They think charter schools, public schools that make their own rules, are draining money from school systems, but the opposite seems to be true. In most states, charters receive fewer tax dollars per child than regular public schools. Yet they often attract creative principals and teachers who do more with less. School finance experts don’t all agree, but I am convinced that charters are a bargain. So let’s have more. That won’t save money in the District, one of the few places that pay as much for charters as regular schools, but Maryland and Virginia would find more charters a boon if they dropped their suburban, aren’t-we-great notions and listened to what imaginative educators in a few little charter schools could teach them.
3. Have teachers call or e-mail parents — once a day would be fine — with praise for their children. Some great classroom teachers make a habit of contacting parents when kids do something well. Jason Kamras, 2005 national teacher of the year and now a leading D.C. schools executive, used to punch up the parent’s number on his cellphone while standing next to a student’s desk. It doesn’t take long. It doesn’t cost much. But it nurtures bonds among teachers, students and parents that can lead to wonderful things.

Early Launch for Language

Valerie Strauss:

Can kids learn anything if they are exposed to a subject for only half an hour a week, with no homework?
When it comes to learning another language, educators say yes.
“The kids getting it for 30 minutes won’t become fluent, but that’s not the point of those programs,” said Julie Sugarman, research associate at the nonprofit Center for Applied Linguistics in the District. “It’s to give them exposure to the language. Just because kids aren’t able to do calculus in sixth grade doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach math in elementary school.”
Foreign language instruction is considered more important than ever as the nation’s demographics and national security issues change and the world’s economies become intertwined.

Education philanthropist missing


Sir Peter Lampl, the multimillionaire chairman of the Sutton Trust charitable foundation, went missing from his Wimbledon home on Sunday morning.
Sir Peter’s disappearance is described by police as being “entirely out of character” for the 61-year-old.
Police in Merton said Sir Peter was last seen wearing a blue sweater and blue casual trousers.
Anyone with information of his whereabouts is asked to contact police.

Math teacher awaits verdict in fraud trial

Alica Lozano:

Sipping a cup of coffee in the Los Angeles courthouse where he is on trial for fraud, math teacher Matthias Vheru said all he wanted to do was write the best algebra book possible to help his students and those of his colleagues.
“I spent my life trying to help underachieving kids,” said Vheru, wearing a tie with a mathematical equation that read: 2 teach is 2 touch life 4 ever. “I’m just trying to make the language of math easy to understand.”
Prosecutors, however, say Vheru is a crafty entrepreneur who illegally reaped nearly $1 million by conning the Los Angeles Unified School District into ordering 45,000 copies of his textbook without revealing his financial interest in the transaction.
A federal court jury is deliberating whether Vheru, a 20-year L.A. Unified veteran, is guilty of crimes that could send him to prison for up to 10 years.
According to prosecutors, Vheru, 53, saw a chance to make some extra cash by defrauding L.A. Unified in 2004 while he served as interim director of mathematics.
“He’s not charged with being a bad teacher,” Assistant U.S. Atty. Paul Rochmes told jurors in his closing arguments last week. “This is a case about deception.”
Prosecutors allege that Vheru misappropriated $3.7 million of the district’s money to purchase his books. He did so, they allege, by circumventing L.A. Unified’s guidelines and using federal funds earmarked to assist non-English-speaking students. Prosecution experts testified that although Vheru’s book is appropriate for English speakers, it could be difficult to understand for those without a strong command of the language.

In Web Age, Library Job Gets Update

Motoko Rich:

A group of fifth graders huddled around laptop computers in the school library overseen by Ms. Rosalia and scanned, a Web site that, unbeknownst to the children, was intentionally peppered with false facts.
Ms. Rosalia, the school librarian at Public School 225, a combined elementary and middle school in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, urged caution. “Don’t answer your questions with the first piece of information that you find,” she warned.
Most of the students ignored her, as she knew they would. But Nozimakon Omonullaeva, 11, noticed something odd on a page about Christopher Columbus.
“It says the Indians enjoyed the cellphones and computers brought by Columbus!” Nozimakon exclaimed, pointing at the screen. “That’s wrong.”
It was an essential discovery in a lesson about the reliability — or lack thereof — of information on the Internet, one of many Ms. Rosalia teaches in her role as a new kind of school librarian.

Facebook’s Users Ask Who Owns Information

Brian Stelter:

Reacting to an online swell of suspicion about changes to Facebook’s terms of service, the company’s chief executive moved to reassure users on Monday that the users, not the Web site, “own and control their information.”
The online exchanges reflected the uneasy and evolving balance between sharing information and retaining control over that information on the Internet. The subject arose when a consumer advocate’s blog shined an unflattering light onto the pages of legal language that many users accept without reading when they use a Web site.
The pages, called terms of service, generally outline appropriate conduct and grant a license to companies to store users’ data. Unknown to many users, the terms frequently give broad power to Web site operators.
This month, when Facebook updated its terms, it deleted a provision that said users could remove their content at any time, at which time the license would expire. Further, it added new language that said Facebook would retain users’ content and licenses after an account was terminated.

For Education, Stimulus Means Dollars and Risk

Sam Dillon:

The $100 billion in emergency aid for public schools and colleges in the economic stimulus bill could transform Arne Duncan into an exceptional figure in the history of federal education policy: a secretary of education loaded with money and the power to spend large chunks of it as he sees fit.
Upon meeting department employees last month, Arne Duncan, the new education secretary, asked them to call him by his first name. “My name is Arne,” he said. “It’s not Mr. Secretary.”
But the money also poses challenges and risks for Mr. Duncan, the 44-year-old former Chicago schools chief who now heads the Department of Education.
Mr. Duncan must develop procedures on the fly for disbursing a budget that has, overnight, more than doubled, and communicate the rules quickly to all 50 states and the nation’s 14,000 school districts. And he faces thousands of tricky decisions about how much money to give to whom and for what.
“It’ll be wonderful fun for a time for his team — it’ll be like Christmas,” said Chester Finn, a former Department of Education official who has watched education secretaries or commissioners come and go here since the mid-1960s. “But the thing about discretionary spending is that it makes more people angry than it makes happy.”

Doing the retro thing: writing on paper

Tobias Buckell:

Wednesday, while having a car starter installed, I realized I’d left my laptop at home and would be without that particular tool for several hours.
Taking my own advice about using the tools I had around me, I swung by the local Waldenbooks looking for pen and some blank pages (having failed at a card store to find either, or at least, pens that weren’t purple ink and writing pads that weren’t scented and had frilling on the edges). The determination was not to miss my day’s writing just because of a lack of a laptop.
It worked out well, as the store manager there got excited when I signed the Halo novels in stock and asked why I hadn’t done a signing. Well, I’d asked twice over the last couple years and been told ‘no.’ But now they’re ordering a bunch of my stock and would like to do a signing, so I gave them my contact info and then purchased a nice pen and a medium sized moleskine.
I sat near a local Panera with some soup and a mango smoothie and wrote the opening pages of the ocean steampunk proposal, and without any distractions it came along fairly nicely. Last night I added some more, and I think the chapter will get wrapped up tonight.
My main fear with paper is the losing of it, of course, so I need to get these moved over to digital soon. But it was nice to get the words out and frame the first chapter for this piece. It’s been something I was struggling with how to start.

Tobias Buckell Clusty search.

Textual Misconduct What to do about teens and their dumb naked photos of themselves.

Dahlia Lithwick:

Say you’re a middle school principal who has just confiscated a cell phone from a 14-year-old boy, only to discover it contains a nude photo of his 13-year-old girlfriend. Do you: a) call the boy’s parents in despair, b) call the girl’s parents in despair, or c) call the police? More and more, the answer is d) all of the above. Which could result in criminal charges for both of your students and their eventual designation as sex offenders.
Sexting is the clever new name for the act of sending, receiving, or forwarding naked photos via your cell phone. I wasn’t fully persuaded that America was facing a sexting epidemic, as opposed to a journalists-writing-about-sexting epidemic, until I saw a new survey done by the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The survey has one teen in five reporting he has have sent or posted naked photos of himself. Whether all this reflects a new child porn epidemic or just a new iteration of the old shortsighted teen narcissism epidemic remains unclear.
Last month, three girls (ages 14 or 15) in Greensburg, Pa., were charged with disseminating child pornography for sexting their boyfriends. The boys who received the images were charged with possession. A teenager in Indiana faces felony obscenity charges for sending a picture of his genitals to female classmates. A 15-year-old girl in Ohio and a 14-year-old girl in Michigan were charged with felonies for sending along nude images of themselves to classmates. Some of these teens have pleaded guilty to lesser charges; others have not. If convicted, these young people may have to register as sex offenders, in some cases for a decade or two. Similar charges have been filed in cases in Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin.

How Harvard Gets its Best and Brightest

William Symonds:

Sure, students work hard to get into this elite college. But so does the admissions committee, assures Dean Bill Fitzsimmons
In the U.S., few competitions are more cutthroat than the college admissions game. And every year it grows more intense as an ever-larger pool of high school seniors apply for one of the coveted spots at the nation’s top colleges, thus ensuring that even more will have their hopes dashed. Meanwhile, the elite colleges have been stepping up their efforts to woo the best and brightest students–the prized pupils who will help increase the prestige of their campuses.
You might assume that Harvard College–blessed with higher ed’s greatest brand name, and an endowment second to none–could afford to remain relatively aloof from this battle. But in reality, “There is no place that works harder than we do,” says William R. “Bill” Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s veteran dean of admissions.
THREE-PART PLAN. Certainly Harvard’s results are the envy of higher education. For the class of 2010, which will start in September, Harvard received a near-record 23,000 applications. Of these, it accepted a mere 2,100–or just 9%–ranking it as the nation’s most selective college. Even more impressive, some 80% of the chosen ultimately decided to attend Harvard–a yield rate that is easily the highest among colleges and universities. By contrast, a handful of other elites–including Yale and Stanford–have yield rates around 70%. But even such well-known schools as Williams, Duke, and Dartmouth have yields of 50% or less.

Jeb Bush on School Choice

Fred Barnes:

What comes through when Mr. Bush is asked about education is how radical his views are. He would toss out the traditional K-to-12 scheme in favor of a credit system, like colleges have.
“It’s not based on seat time,” he says. “It’s whether you accomplished the task. Now we’re like GM in its heyday of mass production. We don’t have a flourishing education system that’s customized. There’s a whole world out there that didn’t exist 10 years ago, which is online learning. We have the ability today to customize learning so we don’t cast young people aside.”
This is where Sweden comes in. “The idea that somehow Sweden would be the land of innovation, where private involvement in what was considered a government activity, is quite shocking to us Americans,” Mr. Bush says. “But they’re way ahead of us. They have a totally voucherized system. The kids come from Baghdad, Somalia — this is in the tougher part of Stockholm — and they’re learning three languages by the time they finish. . . . there’s no reason we can’t have that except we’re stuck in the old way.”

Johns Hopkins University announces cost-cutting actions

Stephen Kiehl:

The Johns Hopkins University, the state’s largest private employer, said yesterday that it will freeze hiring and salaries, eliminate overtime and lay off some workers in response to a revenue shortfall estimated at $100 million by the summer of 2011.
Top Hopkins administrators will also take a 5 percent salary cut, with the savings going into financial aid as the university tries to protect its students from the recession that is taking a steep toll in higher education. The carnage in the financial markets has reduced Hopkins’ endowment by 20 percent. It now stands at $2.4 billion.
The cost-cutting measures will have a ripple effect on the region’s economy, affecting not just Hopkins employees but vendors and others who rely on the university to make a living. In total, the Johns Hopkins Institutions employ 38,200. The cuts affect only the university, which employs about 20,000.
“This is unambiguously bad news,” said Richard Clinch, an economist at the University of Baltimore who studies local economies. “It will impact everybody from low-wage workers in support jobs to high-wage workers who spend their money in the city going out to dinner.”

Wisconsin Boy’s Essay Lands Dad With Child-Abuse Charge


A 9-year-old Dane County boy wrote about being shot with a BB gun, and now his father is charged with child abuse.
The boy had written an essay about the “painful afternoon my Dad shot me with a BB gun.”
The elementary-school teacher turned the essay over to authorities.
Prosecutors charged 36-year-old David J. Peschl on Friday with one felony count of child abuse.

Our Greatest National Shame

Nicholas Kristof

So maybe I was wrong. I used to consider health care our greatest national shame, considering that we spend twice as much on medical care as many European nations, yet American children are twice as likely to die before the age of 5 as Czech children — and American women are 11 times as likely to die in childbirth as Irish women.
Yet I’m coming to think that our No. 1 priority actually must be education. That makes the new fiscal stimulus package a landmark, for it takes a few wobbly steps toward reform and allocates more than $100 billion toward education.
That’s a hefty sum — by comparison, the Education Department’s entire discretionary budget for the year was $59 billion — and it will save America’s schools from the catastrophe that they were facing. A University of Washington study had calculated that the recession would lead to cuts of 574,000 school jobs without a stimulus.
“We dodged a bullet the size of a freight train,” notes Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust, an advocacy group in Washington.
So for those who oppose education spending in the stimulus, a question: Do you really believe that slashing half a million teaching jobs would be fine for the economy, for our children and for our future?

2009 Wisconsin Department of Instruction (DPI) Superintendent Candidates: Primary Election Tuesday 2/17/2009

Five candidates are on the statewide primary ballot this Tuesday, February 17, 2009. One of them will replace outgoing Superintendent Libby Burmaster. The candidates are

Wisconsin voter information, including polling locations can be found here. Much more on the Wisconsin DPI here. Wisconsin’s curricular standards have been criticized for their lack of rigor.

Mayoral control of schools not a cure-all, report says

Alan Borsuk:

Turning over control of a school system to a mayor is no cure-all for problems, and it is “messy, difficult work” to make such changes, according to an analysis of other cities being released today by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.
The report and a forum set for Monday night to discuss it amount to firing the starting gun on a crucial debate over whether the mayor or some new body should take over Milwaukee Public Schools, or whether the MPS School Board should be revamped.
Mayor Tom Barrett is signaling that he is more serious than at any point since he was elected in 2004 about the possibility of putting the school system under his control.
“It’s time we do have a conversation about what’s best for the children of this community,” he said.
Barrett did not give a direct answer on whether he wants control of MPS but said, “We have to have significant change in the fiscal management of the district if it’s going to survive.”
He said he did not want to take over MPS in the absence of other steps to deal with problems that threaten the school system. They include an estimated $2.4 billion in commitments to pay benefits to current and future retirees. Progress on such issues almost surely would take broad, innovative agreements between city, state and union leadership.

Complete Report (PDF):

To what extent has governance reform in large, urban public school districts resulted in better student performance, greater accountability, and more educational innovation? When a school district is governed by a mayor, do the district’s fortunes improve?
The answers to these questions, unfortunately, are not clear cut. Large urban districts that have experienced governance reform have often seen several iterations of reform over the course of several years and mixed results. Still, despite the complexity of their reform efforts over the past decade, comparable school districts have much to teach policymakers and educators in Milwaukee. The Public Policy Forum researched several comparable districts and came up with these key findings:

College is Too Hard

For the last twenty years of so, I and others have argued, without much success, that our high schools should assign students complete nonfiction books and serious academic research papers at least once in their high school careers, so that if they decide to go on to college, they will be partly prepared for the reading lists of nonfiction books and the term paper assignments they would find there.
I now realize that I have been going about this all the wrong way. Instead of publishing 846 exemplary history research papers by high school students from 36 countries since 1987, in an effort to inspire high school students and their teachers to give more attention to real history books and research papers, I should have lobbied for a change in the academic requirements at the college level instead!
If colleges could simply extend many of their current efforts to eliminate books by dead white males, and to have students write more about themselves in expository writing courses, and could gradually guide students away from the requirements for reading nonfiction books and writing term papers, then the pressure to raise academic standards for reading and writing in our high schools could be further relaxed, relieving our students of all that pressure to become well educated.
Many colleges are leading the way in this endeavor, abandoning courses in United States history, and reducing the number of assigned books, many of which are even older than the students themselves. It is felt that movies by Oliver Stone and creative fiction about vampires may be more relevant to today’s 21st Century students than musty old plays by Shakespeare, which were not even written in today’s English, and long difficult history books written about events that probably happened before our students were even born!
Courses about the oppression of women, which inform students that all American presidents so far have been men, and courses which analyze the various Dracula movies, are much easier for many students to relate to, if they have never read a single nonfiction book or written one history research paper in their high school years.

Continue reading College is Too Hard

Error on test spotted by Kan. student 1 year later


A high school student’s keen eye has caught a state test error that managed to slip past teachers, test coordinators and other students for almost a year.
Geoffrey Stanford, 17, discovered during a Kansas writing test last week that an essay question concerning greenhouse gases incorrectly used the word “omission” for the word “emission,” prompting the Wichita East High School junior to point out the error.
“I thought, `Surely they’re not talking about leaving out carbon dioxide altogether.’ It just didn’t make sense,” Stanford said. “It had to be a mistake.”
The state Department of Education has e-mailed a corrected version of the essay question to test coordinators around the state, but the incident already has caused a lot of red faces at the department, which used a committee of more than 30 state teachers to develop the test almost two years ago.

Top 10 Sites Parents Don’t Want Kids To See

Dan Frommer:

What Web sites do parents, schools, and small businesses censor the most on their networks? Porn? Time wasters? Shopping? Social networks? All of the above!
These are currently the ten most-blocked Web sites on home, school, and small business networks, via OpenDNS’s domain filtering tool.

10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know

Nick O’Neill:

Everyday I receive an email from somebody about how their account was hacked, how a friend tagged them in the photo and they want a way to avoid it, as well as a number of other complications related to their privacy on Facebook. Over the weekend one individual contacted me to let me know that he would be removing me as a friend from Facebook because he was “going to make a shift with my Facebook use – going to just mostly family stuff.”
Perhaps he was tired of receiving my status updates or perhaps he didn’t want me to view photos from his personal life. Whatever the reason for ending our Facebook friendship, I figured that many people would benefit from a thorough overview on how to protect your privacy on Facebook. Below is a step by step process for protecting your privacy.

Purgolders help Madison area schoolgirls improve dribbling and performance skills

Cassie Holman:

These are members of the recently formed MAISL Ball Handling Squad, called the Purgolders: first- through sixth-grade players from 15 schools and 13 basketball teams. The squad helps the girls improve their dribbling skills while experiencing the thrill of performing in front of a crowd.
MAISL stands for Madison Area Independent Sports League and has girls from 13 Madison-area Christian schools. Galuska, David Hackworthy and Luann Tribus coach the girls.
When Tribus’ daughter, Kendall, 11, asked to join her brothers, Avery and Clayton, on the Little Badgers boys ball-handling team, Tribus gently broke the news.
“You can’t honey, I’m sorry,” she told her daughter. “You’re a girl.”
Kendall was denied a tryout for the boys team.

Stimulus Includes $5 Billion Flexible Fund for Education Innovation

Maria Glod:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan would have $5 billion under the stimulus bill to back new approaches to improve schools, a fund that could prod states to raise standards and reward top teachers as the Obama administration presides over a massive infusion of federal education aid.
The Race to the Top Fund, as Duncan calls it, is part of about $100 billion the bill would channel to public schools, universities and early childhood education programs nationwide, helping stave off teacher layoffs, keep class sizes in check and jump-start efforts to revamp aging schools.
But the windfall also could mark the beginning of a deeper transformation of schools seven years after the No Child Left Behind law mandated an expansion of testing and new systems for school accountability.

Court Rules Autism Not Caused by Childhood Vaccines

Shankar Vedantam:

Thousands of parents who claimed that childhood vaccines had caused their children to develop autism are wrong and not entitled to federal compensation, a special court ruled today in three decisions with far-reaching implications for a bitterly fought medical controversy.
The long-awaited decision on three test cases is a severe blow to a grass-roots movement that has argued — predominantly through books, magazines and the Internet — that children’s shots have been responsible for the surge in autism diagnoses in the United States in recent decades. The vast majority of the scientific establishment, backed by federal health agencies, has strenuously argued there is no link between vaccines and autism, and warned that scaring parents away from vaccinating their youngsters places children at risk for a host of serious childhood diseases.

More Loudoun Schools Using ‘Flex Periods’

Ian Shapira:

They sound like workout sessions at a gym, but “flex periods” are fast becoming a scheduling strategy among Northern Virginia high schools that want to offer students remediation or enrichment during the school day rather than before or after classes.
High schools in Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William counties have been inserting these chunks of time — from 40 to 90 minutes, depending on the school — for several years, often to reduce after-school tutoring costs but also to raise achievement in the era of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The program varies among schools, but the premise is similar: Between regular courses, students are assigned to a flex classroom to review material or work independently. Flex time can also be used for attending schoolwide events. And if a student needs help from a teacher in another part of the building, he or she can get a pass and visit the teacher during flex time.
Students at Stonewall Jackson High School near Manassas are in the second year of a flex program. Reactions have been mixed: Some students interviewed said the periods help them catch up on homework or review tough lessons with teachers, but others said the time is often exploited by students prone to goofing off or leaving school property. Schools are trying to crack down on the latter.

Charter School’s Deadline to Recognize Union Passes

Jennifer Medina:

A move to create a union at one of the city’s leading charter schools may turn into a protracted battle, as the deadline passed on Thursday for the school, KIPP AMP in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to voluntarily recognize the union.
The United Federation of Teachers, which is seeking to represent the teachers, must now file for recognition with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, which will most likely give the school’s administration several days to respond.
David Levin — a founder of the national network that operates the schools, the Knowledge Is Power Program, and the superintendent of its four New York City schools (another will open this summer) — said that the administration would “respect and follow the state process,” but did not specify what, if any, challenges it would raise with the labor board.
“For the past 15 years, it has been the ability of everyone to work together, and to do that with flexibility has been the key to our success,” Mr. Levin said in an interview on Thursday. “We were created as an alternative to the public schools, and we need to be committed to and maintain our work and focus on results.”

More Math: “Why Wall Street Can’t Count”

Click on the chart for a larger version.


Take a look at this chart that someone sent to me a couple days ago. I’m making it big so you can see as much detail as possible. Have a look and then come back, okay?
Pretty scary, eh? It’s a chart showing the deterioration of major bank market caps since 2007. Prepared by someone at JP Morgan based on data from Bloomberg, this chart flashed across Wall Street and the financial world a few days ago, filling thousands of e-mail in boxes. Putting a face on the current banking crisis it really brought home to many people on Wall Street the critical position the financial industry finds itself in.
Too bad the chart is wrong.
It’s a simple error, really. The bubbles are two-dimensional so they imply that the way to see change is by comparing AREAS of the bubbles. But if you look at the numbers themselves you can see that’s not the case.

Battle of Boston: Charter vs. Pilot Schools

Jay Matthews:

In the national charter school debate, Boston has special significance. The city has unleashed imaginative teachers to run both independent charter schools and semi-independent “pilot” schools, with much of the rest of the country waiting to see which does best.
Teachers unions and charter opponents have put unusual emphasis on this contest. Boston pilot schools were designed to show that schools with collectively bargained pay scales and seniority protections could do just as well as charters, whose teachers are usually non-union.
Charters, independently operated schools with public funding, were not designed to be anti-union. American Federation of Teachers founding president Al Shanker originated the charter idea. But many conservatives who think unions stand in the way of raising student achievement have embraced the charter school cause, thus politicizing the debate. Their side just won the first round in Boston, and they are not likely to let charter opponents forget it.
A study by scholars from Harvard, MIT, Michigan and Duke, sponsored by the Boston Foundation, shows the Boston charters are doing significantly better than pilots in raising student achievement. This includes results from randomized studies designed to reduce the possibility that charters might benefit from having more motivated students and parents. The study is called “Informing the Debate: Comparing Boston’s Charter, Pilot and Traditional Schools.”
People who see charters as a ruinous drain on regular public schools, and a threat to job security and salary protections for teachers, are not going to accept this verdict. The data come from just one city, with many qualifications. For instance, the randomized results apply only to charters so popular they have more applicants than they can accept. Less popular charters were not included in that part of the study; they could have reduced the charters’ measured gains if their data had counted.

Milwaukee Public School District’s “Spending High, But Results Low”

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee Public Schools spends significantly more per student than comparable systems around the United States, but, by one measure, has some of the weakest academic results, according to a new analysis by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
In line with other research in recent years, the private, nonprofit research organization based in Madison found that the cost of benefits in MPS was especially high – higher than any of the other 15 districts analyzed.
The practices in MPS of paying large amounts for health care for retirees and for supplemental pensions to encourage early retirement, as well as the high price MPS pays for health coverage for everyone in its system, were listed as factors in the high costs of running the system.
The analysis by the Madison-based private, nonprofit organization, which is also known as WISTAX, found:
• MPS spent $8,702 per student in 2005-’06 in compensation for employees, third highest among the 16 districts examined. Only Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis were higher.
• Total spending in MPS was $11,277 per student in 2005-’06, also the third highest in the study. The amount spent on instructional costs, $6,825, was the highest among the 16 districts, while the amount spent on central administration costs was the third highest.
• Spending on benefits was $3,195 per student, more than $500 above the second highest school system. Only four of the other districts spent more than $2,000 per student for benefits, including retirement costs and health costs. The MPS benefit costs were 90% above the median of the other 15 districts.
“According to figures from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, MPS health insurance premiums were more than 50% above the average private sector rate in Wisconsin and about 15% higher than the average Wisconsin school district,” the report said.

Schools See Flex Time As Valuable Exercise

Ian Shapira:

They sound like workout sessions at a gym, but “flex periods” are fast becoming a scheduling strategy among Northern Virginia high schools that want to offer students remediation or enrichment during the school day rather than before or after classes.
High schools in Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties have been inserting these chunks of time — from 40 to 90 minutes, depending on the school — for several years, often to reduce after-school tutoring costs but also to raise achievement in the era of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The program varies among schools, but the premise is similar: Between regular courses, students are assigned to a flex classroom to review material or work independently. Flex time can also be used for attending schoolwide events. And if a student needs help from a teacher in another part of the building, he or she can get a pass and visit the teacher during flex time.

L.A. Unified healthcare contract to preserve free lifetime benefits

Jason Song & Howard Blume:

A new three-year agreement on healthcare announced Wednesday by the Los Angeles Unified School District will preserve a generous benefits package for about 250,000 employees and their families while also limiting district costs.
But the tentative deal also increases the district’s ongoing budget deficit and could lead to higher medical expenses for employees if healthcare costs continue to rise sharply.
The agreement maintains free lifetime benefits for district employees (there is no monthly payment to the district). But the pact sets benchmarks for when new workers become eligible.
Settling the healthcare issue — the teachers union’s top priority in negotiations — could diminish the immediate possibility of a strike. Just one day earlier, United Teachers Los Angeles leaders had scheduled a strike authorization vote over protracted contract talks.

On Waunakee’s World Language Program


Parents in Waunakee say they’re concerned about a newer teaching technique that’s combining Spanish and Social Studies into one class.
The elementary school children are learning Social Studies entirely in Spanish — and parents said their children are struggling to learn the lessons.
Parents like Jean Magnes said children are missing out on important Social Studies topics because they simply don’t understand it in Spanish.
“I noticed something was wrong,” Magnes said. “All I knew was that she kept coming home and saying she didn’t like Spanish.”
Other parents said their children feel like they’re failing. Parents are gathering support and forming a grassroots effort to change the teaching style.

Students Then and Now

J. Edward Ketz:

Compared with the students in the 1970s, today’s accounting students are uneducated and unfit for a college education.
I have been teaching full time for over thirty years. If you toss in my apprenticeship teaching as a graduate student, I have taught for almost thirty-five years. During that span of time, one sees many, many students, and it amazes me how different they have been over time, and the inequality continues to grow. Compared with the students in the 1970s, today’s students are uneducated and unfit for a college education.
Before proceeding, let me enunciate two premises. First, I do not think there is any significant difference between the two groups in terms of native, raw intelligence. Instead, the distinction between yesterday’s and today’s students when they first set foot on college campuses rests in their educational backgrounds, analytical thinking, quantitative skills, reading abilities, willingness to work, and their attitudes concerning the educational process. In short, they differ in terms of their readiness for college. Second, I am focusing on the average student who majors in accounting. Both groups arise from a distribution of students. The lower tail of yesteryear’s population had some weak students, and the upper tail of the present-day population has some very strong students; however, when one focuses on the means of these two distributions, he or she finds a huge gap.
To begin, today’s average accounting major cannot perform what used to be Algebra I and II in high school. Students cannot solve simultaneous equations. Students have difficulty with present value computations, not to mention formula derivations. Students even have difficulty employing the high-low method to derive a cost function, something that merely requires one to estimate a straight line from two points.
I would like to discuss in class the partial derivative of a present value formula to ascertain the impact of changes in interest rates, but that has become a fruitless enterprise. Even if students had a course in calculus, the exams probably had multiple choice questions so students guessed their way through the course, they don’t remember what they learned, and whatever they learned was mechanical and superficial.


In Defence of Penmanship

Kitty Burns Florey:

Of course you know that today is National Handwriting Day, in honour of John Hancock’s birthday. But our days of mastering penmanship seem long behind us. Kitty Burns Florey ruminates on this lost art
Did you get one? Nor did I. I stayed home and watched the inauguration on a screen. But a million inauguration invitations were sent out. There was a time when each of these would have been addressed, floridly, by hand, but needless to say these hordes of envelopes were done by machine.
And so is everything. With the exception of the odd thank-you note or letter from Aunt Gertrude in Florida, we seldom see anything handwritten in our mailboxes. I suspect there are actually people alive today who have never received a letter written with a pen on paper and mailed in an envelope with a stamp.

We continue to fail our Chicago Public School kids

Lou Ransom:

There is a school of thought-one that Mayor Richard Daley subscribes to-that says that if you are a good manager, you can manage anything.
That is the announced basis for Daley choosing Ron Huberman to head up the Chicago Public Schools, replacing Arne Duncan, who is now serving President Barack Obama as the Secretary of Education.
I have no doubt that Huberman, 37, who formerly was in charge of the Chicago Transit Authority, is intelligent. I have no doubt that Daley is a huge booster.
I have serious doubts, however, about Huberman’s fitness to lead the Chicago Public Schools.
The mayor pats himself on the back for choosing Arne Duncan, and before him, Paul Vallas. He says that the schools were in horrible shape in 1995 when the law was changed to allow him to take control of the school district. He said that “educators” were in charge of the district then, and it was an abysmal failure.

Super-secret superintendent contracts

Ericka Mellon:

I had a couple of interesting run-ins Tuesday when I was trying to get copies of some superintendents’ contracts in light of HISD Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra’s sweet deal. When I called Dallas ISD’s press office and identified myself as a reporter, two different people asked why I wanted a copy of Superintendent Michael Hinojosa’s contract. I told them — because I wanted to see how Saavedra’s deal compared — but, for the record, under the Texas Public Information Act, a superintendent’s contract (or any public document) is public, no matter why the requester is asking.
It’s also illegal for a governmental entity to ask a person why they want a particular document (see Section 552.222). Props, though, to Dallas for sending me a link to the contract with an hour or two. And speaking of links, why don’t all districts post copies of their superintendents’ contracts in an easy-to-find spot on their Web sites? Anyone?

Rhee Says Economy Forces D.C. to Cut Wage Proposal

Bill Turque:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said yesterday that the deteriorating economy will force the District to cut the wage proposal in its contract offer to the Washington Teachers’ Union. At the same time, Rhee spoke in upbeat and conciliatory terms about negotiations with the union, now in their 15th month.
The financial package Rhee offered in July called for a minimum increase of 28 percent over five years, depending on which salary “tier” teachers selected. But with the District expected to collect at least $456 million less in tax revenue during the 2010 fiscal year, she said the situation has changed. Rhee said she would soon submit a revised final offer.
“Obviously, we’re in a much different situation financially,” Rhee said at a mid-morning news conference, called to highlight improved rates of graduation, attendance and service to special education students.
The chancellor said the financial downturn has not weakened what she has described as commitments from private foundations to fund an unprecedented five-year program of “reform stipends” and performance bonuses for teachers. An information packet given to the union this summer said senior teachers could make as much as $135,000 annually in salary and bonuses. Rhee has declined to name the organizations but has mentioned four to private audiences: Gates, Broad, Dell and Robertson.

College student information is in public domain

Erica Perez:

Unless University of Wisconsin students specifically restrict access to their directory information, businesses such as credit card companies and lenders can get a list of every student’s name, address, phone number and more from the university for a nominal fee.
Some parents of Wisconsin college students questioned how student information was released after they received official-looking letters in recent weeks urging them to pay $49 to apply for financial aid.
The letters included student names and where they attended school, leading some parents to believe the fee was required by the university, but the mailings were from College Financial Advisory, a business that charges money for information available free online.
Faye A. Ara, executive vice president of operations for the San Diego-based company, said the names were purchased from private vendors, none of which Ara would name.
UW-Madison did not provide the names to the company, said Registrar Joanne Berg. After some UW-Madison parents called the university to ask about the letters, the school made clear it does not endorse the business and posted a warning online.

Oconomowoc students to take act overseas to Fringe Fest

Laurel Walker:

As plots go, this theater production has some twists that are still turning.
Tom Klubertanz had been a hotshot drama teacher at Wauwatosa West – even named Wisconsin Teacher of the Year in 2000 – when he was invited to seek a place in the prestigious Fringe festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, this summer.
By the time the invitation arrived, he’d moved on to Oconomowoc High School, succeeding Vic Passante, who retired in 2007 after 33 years leading the program. Klubertanz applied anyway and learned last spring that he’d been accepted.
It was some honor, with only 42 American schools accepted among the 1,600 applicants invited to apply. Now he’s taking 30 Oconomowoc High School drama students with him in August, but they’ve got work ahead.
They’re madly working to raise funds to help pay the hefty $5,500 per student cost. They’re also furiously working to write and perfect an original work that they will perform five times in Edinburgh.
The Fringe, for the uninitiated, is billed as the largest performing arts festival in the world, where hundreds of groups from around the world perform theater, dance, music and similar arts. It coincides with other events featuring classical dance and music, films, gallery art, books and piper and drummer performances, all under the umbrella The Edinburgh Festival.

Education Still the Pathway to Freedom

Courtland Milloy:

In recognition of Black History Month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has presented a flattering economic sketch of black people in the United States. In this drawing by the numbers, we are seen as a relatively young and hearty workforce — 17 million black people strong — poised to weather the difficult economic times ahead.
Nearly two-thirds of us are 45 and younger, according to the bureau. And more than one in four are employed in education and health service fields — where some of the fastest growing occupations are expected to be found through 2016.
The portrait, based on 2008 data, is relentlessly upbeat, without even a hint that 2.2 million black people were unemployed last year. It is as though they had been airbrushed from the picture altogether.
Yet, if you really want to cut black unemployment, who better to look at than those of us who have jobs? What you’ll see is a strong correlation between work and education. Hard to tell that when the numbers crunchers start whittling away at school programs in a recession.

Anti-truancy drive removed French

Sean Coughlan:

The scrapping of compulsory modern languages in England’s secondary schools was a consequence of truancy crackdowns, the BBC has learnt.
Former education secretary Estelle Morris, who took the decision in 2002, says the aim was a flexible curriculum for teenagers brought back into school.
Compulsory languages for these returned truants did not seem “appropriate”.
The number of pupils taking French GCSE has dropped 30% since it ceased to be compulsory for the over-14s in 2004.
The weakness of language learning in England has been a recurrent concern – with repeated warnings that the country lags behind international competitors.

KIPP’s Union

Andrew Rotherham:

There has been a lot of commentary about this NYT story about the unionization drive at the KIPP school in New York. Two quick points, which are both obviously open to debate.
First, I don’t know exactly what is or is not happening at the school. But, isn’t this one possible counter-hypothesis to the assertions in the story: This school is populated with a lot of people — on all sides of the issue of whether or not to unionize — who care deeply about kids, care deeply about the school and its mission, and are going through this process for the first time? In other words, there is an assumption that this is Wal-Mart or some other entity with a track record of and skill set for fighting union drives when in fact it may just be a case of people fumbling through a new and complicated situation.

Loudoun County School Budget Freezes Salaries

Michael Birnbaum:

The proposal would fully fund the Loudoun County School Board’s $747 million budget, which also freezes salaries, increases staff health-care costs and imposes new fees on students and cuts $12 million from this year’s level of local funding costs. Overall education funding is approved by the supervisors, but line-item spending power is in the hands of the School Board.
Bowers’s presentation also included proposals for local funding cuts of up to 15 percent, something supervisors asked to see so that they could better understand the consequences of the budget crunch. If they opt for the most extensive cuts, 404 jobs would be slashed and many public programs would be cut back or eliminated.

In Favor of (Much Needed) Education Funds

Lynne Varner:

The House version of the stimulus plan also includes a one-time allotment for building maintenance. This state pays little more than half the costs of maintaining schools. No surprise then that most school districts have maintenance backlogs that are frightening and potentially dangerous. The $200 million in one-time money our state would receive would help whittle the backlog. The Senate’s version? Nada.
Fortunately, lawmakers in both houses grasp the need to spend more in special education. Washington state is in line for $120 million in new annual spending courtesy of the economic stimulus. For Seattle and many other school districts, the money would put more special-education services in all schools and end the segregating of kids with special needs in just a few schools. The money would also pay for training teachers to work with children with learning disabilities.
There will be new federal money for technology and to pay for educating homeless children. Pell grants will be increased and the underfunded No Child Left Behind federal law will get a much-needed infusion.

Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer Advocates Math & Science Teacher Accreditation

Steve Ballmer’s speech to a recent Democrat party retreat at Kings Mill Resort in Williamsburg, VA.:

This means investment in education is critical, and I’m really encouraged by the very heavy emphasis on education that’s in the stimulus package.
We really need to transform math and science education in America. We need to improve teacher training, teacher quality.
I was talking earlier in the day with some folks about just how many of our math and science teachers don’t have the correct training and accreditation, and that stands in the way of us really breaking through.
For those who are already in the workforce, we need programs that provide ongoing education and training, so they can be successful in this knowledge-based economy. For those who are unemployed, we need new technical skills training to give those people a start back up the economic ladder. And we are going to need lifelong learning programs to keep people fresh, as innovation and technology continues to power the economy.
The second thing we need-and I’ll tell the Speaker this was written even before our meeting this morning-we need greater government investment in our nation’s science and technology infrastructure.
I came in, flew in red eye, was a little groggy this morning when I got here. I sat down with the speaker at 8:00 AM, and she woke me right up. She said there are four things I want you to make sure you understand are a priority: science, science, science, and science. I was awake by the end of the fourth science for sure, and I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly.

Survey for Secondary Teachers of Government & Social Studies

Cindy Koeppel @ The Dirksen Center, via email:

The Dirksen Congressional Center of Pekin, Il — — has partnered with Federal Network, Inc. of Washington, DC — — to develop a website geared to secondary teachers of Government and Social Studies. Our initial idea is this: the teacher in the classroom, when teaching concepts and terms relevant to the legislative branch, will be able to show sample footage from the House and Senate organized in a glossary format. If, for example, you are teaching about a filibuster, you will be able to click on “filibuster” and see digitized video of senators filibustering.
We are very excited by the prospects for this cutting-edge offering. In order to make this conceptual product a success, we seek your feedback and commentary. The product is for teachers, so we appreciate your thoughtful input. The survey will take less than five minutes to complete.
Thank you for participating. Your feedback is important.
Cindy Koeppel
The Dirksen Congressional Center
2815 Broadway
Pekin, IL 61554

Some schools are finding rehabilitation for playground bullies can save otherwise decent students from lives of despair

Lau Kit-wai:

Ah Ho’s story is more common than many realise. Lee Tak-wai, an outreach worker with the Hong Kong Playground Association, says bullying has become a pervasive problem in schools.
“In the past, things were black and white: we had the bad youngsters and the good ones. But the line has become blurred and problematic behaviour is more common among teenagers,” Lee says. “Bullying has spread like an epidemic.”
A survey of 1,552 lower secondary students last year found that aggressive physical action – including shoving and kicking – had increased by 31 per cent compared with a similar study in 2001. Conducted jointly by the Playground Association and City University, the survey found that threatening behaviour such as taking others’ belongings and forcing victims to pay for snacks had risen by 42 per cent.
Educators and social workers view most bullies as products of circumstance. “School bullies are usually low achievers,” Lee says. “They often don’t receive sufficient attention from their parents and their relationships with teachers are strained. Since they can’t get a sense of achievement in school, they resort to improper behaviour to draw people’s attention and build their self-image. It’s a vicious cycle.”

US Education Secretary Duncan’s Speech to the American Council on Education

Arne Duncan:

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago working and living with young children of color.
These kids were threatened every day. They lacked role models to protect them and guide them to a safe place where learning was valued and rewarded.
Barack and Michelle Obama can be those role models on a national scale–and that’s just one reason I am hopeful.
I am also hopeful because the leadership in Congress is so committed to education. They are very passionate about the issue–and they recognize its importance to our future.
I am hopeful because of the incredible progress in school districts, colleges and universities all across the country–developing new learning models–new educational approaches–and bringing new energy and ideas to the field of education.
From Teach for America to the KIPP charter schools to instructional innovations at colleges and universities, we have proven strategies ready to go to scale.

Projections of State Budget Deficits on K-12 Public Education Spending and Job Loss

Marguerite Roza:

Nearly all state budgets are in the red, suggesting looming cuts and possible job loss in K-12 education. New estimates of shortfalls in state revenues and K-12 staffing data enable early projections of the magnitude of both the impact on K-12 public education spending and corresponding job loss. These projections can help policymakers at all levels understand the size and scope of the problem as they work to craft next steps.
Assuming the absence of intervention via increased taxes or federal stimulus spending, this analysis projects an 18.5 percent drop in state funds for K-12 education from 2009 budgeted figures to FY 2011, creating an 8.7 percent drop in total public education spending over the same period. The implication is that states will spend a total of $54 billion less on public K-12 education during the 2009 and 2010 calendar years than if spending had been held at budgeted FY 2009 levels. That number jumps to $80 billion for state spending on K-16 education, if higher education spending projections are included.

Federal Tax Dollar Bailout Funds Sought for Five Wisconsin School Districts

Amy Hetzner:

First came the banks, then came the car manufacturers, now federal assistance is being sought for five Wisconsin school districts that made bad investments.
At the urging of the Kenosha Education Association, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Russ Feingold have forwarded to the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Bank a request that the government buy $200 million worth of “troubled assets” purchased by the districts in 2006.
KEA Executive Director Joseph Kiriaki said he hoped that the same Troubled Asset Relief Program that has spent billions of dollars buying the toxic debt and stock of financial institutions can help local schools, as well.
“It’s one public entity to another,” Kiriaki said.
In his letter to Wisconsin lawmakers, Kiriaki notes that the school districts purchased the same type of investment, known as collateralized debt obligations, that the Federal Reserve Bank of New York took off the books of American International Group last year.

Fascinating that they are referencing the AIG bailout. Much more on the stimulus/splurge here and the Treasury Department’s latest plan here.
The Washington Post posted a useful graphic on the stimulus package.

Student Fights Record of ‘Cyberbullying’

Carmen Gentile:

Katherine Evans said she was frustrated with her English teacher for ignoring her pleas for help with assignments and a brusque reproach when she missed class to attend a school blood drive.
So Ms. Evans, who was then a high school senior and honor student, logged onto the networking site Facebook and wrote a rant against the teacher, Sarah Phelps.
“To those select students who have had the displeasure of having Ms. Sarah Phelps, or simply knowing her and her insane antics: Here is the place to express your feelings of hatred,” she wrote.
Her posting drew a handful of responses, some of which were in support of the teacher and critical of Ms. Evans. “Whatever your reasons for hating her are, they’re probably very immature,” a former student of Ms. Phelps wrote in her defense.
A few days later, Ms. Evans removed the post from her Facebook page and went about the business of preparing for graduation and studying journalism in the fall.
But two months after her online venting, Ms. Evans was called into the principal’s office and was told she was being suspended for “cyberbullying,” a blemish on her record that she said she feared could keep her from getting into graduate schools or landing her dream job.

Santa Ana seeks to ease high school graduation requirements

Tony Barboza:

While high schools across the state are toughening their graduation requirements to prepare students for college, one of the state’s largest school districts is planning to make it easier for students to graduate.
In a proposal that would cut out health, college and career planning, world geography and earth science as required courses, the Santa Ana Unified School District is seeking to reduce the number of credits necessary to graduate.
Santa Ana’s graduation requirement — 240 credits — is among the state’s highest benchmarks. And like several other school districts, Santa Ana’s move to lower the credit requirement to 220 may be an admission that it had pushed too hard, especially in a district where administrators struggle with keeping students in school.
“It will have a positive effect on dropout rates,” Deputy Supt. Cathie Olsky said of the proposal. “It puts graduation in reach.”

A Useful Comparison of the House / Senate Splurge/Stimulus Bills

Josh Tauberer @

One of the concrete benefits of open government data is that third parties can use the data to do something useful that no one in government has the mandate, resources, or insight to do. If you think what I am about to tell you below is cool, and helpful, then you are a supporter of open government data.
On my site GovTrack, you can now find comparisons of the text of H.R. 1, the stimulus bill, at different stages in its legislative life — including the House version (as passed) and the current Senate version (amendment 570).
The main page on GovTrack for HR 1 is:
Here’s a direct link to the comparison:
Comparisons are possible between any two versions of the bill posted by GPO. Comparisons are available for any bill.
If you find this useful, please take a moment to consider that something like this is possible only when Congress takes data openness seriously. When GPO went online and THOMAS was created in the early 90s, they chose good data formats and access policies (mostly). But the work on open government data didn’t end 15 years ago. As “what’s hot” shifts to video and Twitter, the choices made today are going to impact whether or not these sources of data empower us in the future, whether or not we miss exciting opportunities such as having tools like the one above.
(Thanks to John Wonderlich and Peggy Garvin for some side discussion about this before my post. GovTrack wasn’t initially picking up the latest Senate versions because GPO seems to have gone out of its way to accommodate posting the latest versions before they were passed by the Senate, which is great, but caught GovTrack by surprise.)
Josh Tauberer

Busing or Extra Money for High Poverty Schools?

T. Keung Hui via a kind reader’s email:

North Carolina’s two largest school systems have taken vastly different approaches to two thorny issues — student reassignment and educating low-income students with hefty academic deficiencies.
Wake County, the state’s largest district, has used buses instead of greenbacks to address the academic needs of low-income students.
To meet the demands of growth and support a diversity policy aimed at reducing the number of high-poverty schools, Wake’s system moves thousands of students each year to different schools, sometimes sending kids on bus rides of more than 20 miles.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the second-largest district in North Carolina, has shifted to a system of largely neighborhood schools, resulting in a stratified mix of affluent schools in the suburbs and high-poverty schools near downtown Charlotte.
Instead of busing kids to balance out the level of low-income students at each school, the district pours millions of dollars into these high-poverty schools each year to boost the performance of academically disadvantaged students.

February 1994: Now They Call it 21st Century Skills

Charles J. Sykes:

Dumbing Down Our Kids–What’s Really Wrong With Outcome Based Education
Charles J. Sykes, Wisconsin Interest, reprinted in Network News & Views 2/94, pp. 9-18
Joan Wittig is not an expert, nor is she an activist. She just didn’t understand why her children weren’t learning to write, spell, or read very well. She didn’t understand why they kept coming home with sloppy papers filled with spelling mistakes and bad grammar and why teachers never corrected them or demanded better work. Nor could she fathom why her child’s fourth-grade teacher would write, “I love your story, especially the spelling,” on a story jammed with misspelled words. (It began: “Once a pona time I visited a tropical rian forist.”)
While Wittig did not have a degree in education, she did have some college-level credits in education and a “background of training others to perform accurately and competently in my numerous job positions, beginning in my high school years.” That experience was enough for her to sense something was wrong. She was not easily brushed off by assurances that her children were being taught “whole language skills.” For two years, she agonized before transferring her children from New Berlin’s public schools to private schools.
After only a semester at the private schools, her children were writing and reading at a markedly higher level. Their papers were neatly written, grammatical, and their spelling was systematically corrected.
Earlier this year, she decided to take her story to her local school board.

Continue reading February 1994: Now They Call it 21st Century Skills

Madison School District Seeks Community Volunteers for Strategic Planning Teams

Pat Schneider:

The Madison School District is inviting members of the community to join them in putting into action five priorities for the future identified in a major planning bash last month.
The “strategic priorities” were developed by a planning committee — 60 strong — that met for a marathon 22 hours over several days in January. See a school district article about the process here.
The process was open and inclusive with more than token representation by people of color, committee member Annette Miller on Monday told members of Communities United, a Madison coalition committed to promoting social justice. “I didn’t feel like I was the African-American representing the whole African-American community,” Miller said.
The process may have been close to the ground, but the priorities developed by the committee smack of “educationalese” (and writing by committee) in the draft report released Monday to Communities United.
As roughly translated into plain English, they are: eliminate the achievement gap between students of color and white students; evaluate programs and personnel, then prioritize and allocate resources equitably; recruit and retain staff members who reflect the cultural composition of the student body; “revolutionize” Madison education with rigorous, culturally relevant and accelerated learning opportunities; provide a safe, welcoming learning environment for all children by building ties to the community, confronting fears about diversity, and being accountable to all.

That is Personal

When English teachers ask students to write personal journals and then turn them in for the teacher to read, the teachers have a chance to learn about the students’ hopes, wishes, dreams, fantasies, family life, anxieties, ambitions, fears, and so on.
There are several problems with this practice. The first is, of course, that none of this information is any of the teachers’ business. It is personal. The second problem is that asking students to spend time thinking about and writing about themselves for schoolwork is essentially anti-academic.
Teachers and students have real academic tasks. Teachers of literature should bring students to an understanding and appreciation of great writing that is not about the students themselves. Teachers of history have an obligation to introduce their students to historical events and persons well beyond the lives and experiences of the students. Math, science, foreign languages and other disciplines have little interest in the personal lives of the students. Teachers of those subjects have academic material they want students to learn as soon as they can.
However, in the English departments, there seems to be an irresistible attraction to probing the personal lives of the students. For some, the excuse is relevance. It seems hard to get students interested in anything besides themselves, they complain, so why not have students write, if they write about anything, about their own lives. This is seen as reaching out to where the students are, when what they should be doing is encouraging students to reach outside themselves to the grand and wide worlds of knowledge to be found in academic tasks and pursuits.
For some teachers, the excuse is perhaps curiosity. It can be amusing and diverting to read what students reveal about their personal lives, and some teachers may tell themselves that they will be better teachers if they can invade students’ privacy in this way, and perhaps tailor their instruction and counsel to each student’s personal fears and concerns. But this is not their job, nor is it a job for which they have been trained, educational psychology classes notwithstanding.

Continue reading That is Personal

Dual language immersion program to be offered at Leopold

The Capital Times:

Children entering Leopold Elementary School next year will have a chance to participate in a dual language immersion program which is designed to have the students proficient in both English and Spanish by the fifth grade.
Madison Metropolitan School District officials said the program will be offered for the first time in the 2009-2010 school year and parents will have an option of choosing either a standard English-only kindergarten program or enrolling students in the dual language program.
While the program is open to all families living in the Leopold Elementary attendance area, school officials said if there is greater demand than openings, a lottery system will be used to determine which students get into the new program.
The school system said it is anticipated that when the program is fully implemented in six years, the dual language program at Leopold will be used in 16 of the school’s 44 classrooms.
And informational meeting about the program will be held at the school, at 2602 Post Road, at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 24, in the school’s cafeteria.

Singapore Math Bill Approved in Utah

Lisa Schencker:

Some lawmakers want Utah to follow the lead of a tiny Asian country when it comes to teaching math.
A senate committee Friday morning approved a bill, SB 159, that would allow districts and charter schools to apply for grants to use the Singapore method to teach math. Singapore is one of the highest scoring countries on international math tests.
In Singapore, math students are encouraged to think visually and develop mental strategies to solve problems. They’re discouraged from using paper to compute math problems.
“We seek to create a school system that will produce a significant percentage of the scientists and engineers needed by our country,” said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who is sponsoring the bill.
SB 159 would offer competitive grants to districts that come up with plans for teaching Singapore math in kindergarten through sixth grade and some secondary school classes. The bill would also require districts to train teachers in Singapore math and offer grants to colleges and other groups to train mathematicians to be teachers.
“I believe this will raise the math abilities of everyone in the state,” said Aaron Bertram, chairman of the University of Utah mathematics department.

Test Scores Provide Valuable Measure Of Success in D.C.

Jay Matthews:

Brian Betts, a new principal in one of the District’s most troubled neighborhoods, excitedly displayed his school’s latest reading test results. Tall green bars on the graphs meant that in some classes a majority of students were proficient. This was big news for Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson, an amalgam of two campuses where failure had been the norm.
Betts’s reaction to the quarterly results came in a rush of teachers’ names, explosive interjections and expansive adjectives: “Anita Walls! Boom, boom, boom! Unbelievable! Brian Diamond! Boom, boom, boom! Fantastic!”
He had not felt so giddy the week before, when his unit tests — written by his teachers — showed that students were still struggling in the mid-to-low-C range. Most of Shaw’s faculty members are new to the school, and many are new to teaching. That makes the school a crucial experiment for D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. She has put extra resources into it and given Betts, 41, extraordinary power to make his own rules, with the help of two teaching stars he recruited from Montgomery County. But in mid-January he was worried.

A Critique of “21st Century Skills”

The recent Madison School Board Strategic Planning Process included materials from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on “21st Century Skills“.
Sandra Stotsky offers a critique.

Wagner’s book is engaging and sometimes points to real defects in American schools. Yet it fails to use research objectively to ascertain what is truly happening in America’s 90,000 public schools. Moreover, like all too many education “reformers” Wagner is simply hostile to academic content. Wagner does not seem to care if students can read and write grammatically, do math or know something about science and history – real subjects that schools can teach and policy-makers can measure.
Unfortunately, Wagner dismisses measurable academic content while embracing buzzwords like “adaptability” and “curiosity,” which no one could possibly be against, but also which no one could possibly measure. Do we really care if our students are curious and adaptable if they cannot read and write their own names?

The Structure of Everything

Marc Kaufman:

Did you know that 365 — the number of days in a year — is equal to 10 times 10, plus 11 times 11, plus 12 times 12?
Or that the sum of any successive odd numbers always equals a square number — as in 1 + 3 = 4 (2 squared), while 1 + 3 + 5 = 9 (3 squared), and 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 = 16 (4 squared)?
Those are just the start of a remarkable number of magical patterns, coincidences and constants in mathematics. No wonder philosophers and mathematicians have been arguing for centuries over whether math is a system that humans invented or a cosmic — possibly divine — order that we simply discovered. That’s the fundamental question Mario Livio probes in his engrossing book Is God a Mathematician?
Livio, an astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, explains the invention-vs.-discovery debate largely through the work and personalities of great figures in math history, from Pythagoras and Plato to Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. At times, Livio’s theorems, proofs and conundrums may be challenging for readers who struggled through algebra, but he makes most of this material not only comprehensible but downright intriguing. Often, he gives a relatively complex explanation of a mathematical problem or insight, then follows it with a “simply put” distillation.
An extended section on knot theory is, well, pretty knotty. But it ultimately sheds light on the workings of the DNA double helix, and Livio illustrates the theory with a concrete example: Two teams taking different approaches to the notoriously difficult problem of how many knots could be formed with a specific number of crossings — in this case, 16 or fewer — came up with the same answer: 1,701,936.

Madison Edgewood High School Wins English Award

National Council of Teachers of English:

The National Council of Teachers of English awarded the “highest award” for literary excellence to a magazine from Edgewood High School.
The Wayfarer has earned the highest rating in three of the last four years. According to Edgewood Public Information Associate Kate Ripple, the school is the only one in Wisconsin to receive this honor this year, and only one of 50 schools nationally.
Diane Mertens, head of the Edgewood English Department, has led students for the magazine’s entire 23 years of production.

Reforming schools starts with audits

School district audits need to be independent

Dennis Willard:

In one of his more significant, although slightly flawed, education reform initiatives, Gov. Ted Strickland wants school districts to undergo annual financial and operational performance audits.
”Just as we provide an academic report card for our schools, we will provide parents, public officials and taxpayers an annual fiscal and operational report card for every school district. That means that when we send districts funding to help students who need additional attention and instruction, we will now be able to track our dollars to see that they directly reach those students,” Strickland said in his third State of the State address.
This is a great idea on a number of levels.
Parents and homeowners would be able to determine whether their district is making the grade on spending. For years, the Ohio Department of Education has issued academic report cards for districts.
Yes, at times, woeful news in the audits would make it more difficult for superintendents and school board members to ask voters to pass levies.
On the other hand, fiscal and operational performance audits would help districts identify and correct spending problems.

On School Consolidation

The Daily Item:

It is troubling that Gov. Ed Rendell’s budget-related proposal to reduce the number of school districts from 500 to fewer than 100 came as a surprise to educators.
Local administrators described it as a “bolt from the blue,” and one local superintendent said he was “shocked and awed” by the scope of the proposal, for which the governor, apparently with little or no comment from educators, is now seeking taxpayer funding for a commission to study and plan the consolidations.
Interviewed this week, several local school district administrators questioned whether school consolidations would actually save money and raised concerns about how the changes would affect educational programs and family involvement in the schools. Some of those same questions were addressed in a 2001 study by the Center for Policy Research, Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
Researchers at Syracuse studied the impacts of consolidation in rural school districts in New York state from 1985 to 1997 and found operating cost savings of around 20 percent in the consolidation of two 300-pupil school districts, savings of 7 to 9 percent in the consolidation of two 900-pupil school districts and “little, if any, impact on the costs of two 1,500-pupil districts.”

The once and future e-book: on reading in the digital age

John Siracusa:

I was pitched headfirst into the world of e-books in 2002 when I took a job with Palm Digital Media. The company, originally called Peanut Press, was founded in 1998 with a simple plan: publish books in electronic form. As it turns out, that simple plan leads directly into a technological, economic, and political hornet’s nest. But thanks to some good initial decisions (more on those later), little Peanut Press did pretty well for itself in those first few years, eventually having a legitimate claim to its self-declared title of “the world’s largest e-book store.”
Unfortunately, despite starting the company near the peak of the original dot-com bubble, the founders of Peanut Press lost control of the company very early on. In retrospect, this signaled an important truth that persists to this day: people don’t get e-books.
A succession of increasingly disengaged and (later) incompetent owners effectively killed Peanut Press, first flattening its growth curve, then abandoning all of the original employees by moving the company several hundred miles away. In January of 2008, what remained of the once-proud e-book store (now called was scraped up off the floor and acquired by a competitor,
Unlike previous owners, Fictionwise has some actual knowledge of and interest in e-books. But though the “world’s largest e-book store” appellation still adorns the website, larger fish have long since entered the pond.
And so, a sad end for the eReader that I knew (née Palm Digital Media, née Peanut Press). But this story is not just about them, or me. Notice that I used the present tense earlier: “people don’t get e-books.” This is as true today as it was ten years ago. Venture capitalists didn’t get it then, nor did the series of owners that killed Peanut Press, nor do many of the players in the e-book market today. And then there are the consumers, their own notions about e-books left to solidify in the absence of any clear vision from the industry.

China’s high school reform proposal triggers debate


Tens of thousands of Chinese have joined a debate on whether students should be separated into science and liberal arts classes in high school, a practice that allows them to stay competitive in college entrance exam by choosing preferred subjects.
The debate came after the Ministry of Education began to solicit opinions from the public on Friday on whether it was necessary and feasible to abolish the classification system, which have been adopted for decades.
In a survey launched by, a Chinese portal, more than 260,000 people cast their votes as of Saturday with 54 percent of those polled voted for the abolishment and 40 percent against.
More than 87,000 netizens have made also their voice heard as of 10 a.m. Sunday morning in the website’s forum.
A netizen from Chengdu, capital of southwest Sichuan Province, who identified himself as a high school math teacher, said “students should study both arts and science so they could have comprehensive development and become more flexible in using their knowledge.”
“Sciences can activate the mind, while arts could strengthen their learning capability,” he added.

Will Clem has more.

How US Students Stack Up

Is America Falling off the Flat Earth?:

Nearly 60 percent of the patents filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in the field of information technology now originate in Asia.
• The U.S. ranks 17th among nations in high-school graduation rate and 14th in college graduation rate.
• In China, virtually all high school students study calculus; in the U.S., 13 percent of high school students study calculus.
• For every American elementary and secondary school student studying Chinese, there are 10,000 students in China studying English.
• The average American youth annually spends 66 percent more time watching television than in school.

Time for that ‘sextortion’ talk with your teen

Jim Stingl:

As a parent, I thought I knew a few things about teenagers. And as a male, I figured I understood how guys think.
After hearing last week about the New Berlin Facebook sextortionist, I’m not so sure.
It made me wonder:
Did Anthony Stancl, the 18-year-old defendant, just one day dream up this scheme he’s charged with and decide to prey on his classmates at Eisenhower High and risk going to prison? Was sex by blackmail really his best hookup option?
Could he have dreamed that 31 guys, tricked into believing he was a female classmate on Facebook, would send along a naked photo or video of themselves? How many said no is not clear, but 31 thought, yeah, where’s my camera?
Do guys now have a good reason to believe that a girl at school truly wants naked pictures of them? And that she’ll send one of herself back to them? And that it’s perfectly safe to swap pics on the Internet where nothing ever falls into the wrong hands?
Isn’t everyone who approaches you online potentially someone other than who they say they are? Kids are adults. Boys are girls. Girls are cops.
Isn’t the Internet both the most fantastic and most monstrous invention in our lifetime?

Madison Math Task Force Report Public Session: February 11, 2009 @ Cherokee Middle School

The Cherokee PTO [Map] is hosting a discussion of the Madison School District’s Math Task Force Report this Wednesday evening, February 11, 2009 in the Library.
Much more on the Math Task Force report here.

Waunakee parents in ‘an uproar’ over teaching social studies in Spanish

Gena Kittner:

Being taught about famous people and events in Wisconsin history in Spanish is not how some Waunakee parents want their fourth-graders learning social studies at school.
“We as parents have been in such an uproar over this,” said Keith Wilke about the district’s elementary language program in which students learn Spanish by having the language integrated into social studies lessons for 30 minutes three days a week in first through fourth grades. “They’re force-fed Spanish.”
This is the third year for the program, which has added one grade a year since 2006 and is designed to continue until fifth grade.
“A fair amount of (social studies instruction) has been in Spanish,” said Wilke, who has a daughter in fourth grade. “The kids are to the point where they don’t understand it.”

Is it ‘merit pay’ if nearly all teachers get it?

Emily Johns:

A state program meant to give only effective Minnesota teachers merit pay raises instead appears to be rewarding nearly all the teachers participating in it with more money.
The program, called “Q Comp,” is one of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s top initiatives to improve schools, and many educators say it is strengthening teacher evaluations and training. But others are questioning whether Q Comp has just become a cash handout.
In 22 school districts whose Q Comp practices were examined by the Star Tribune, more than 99 percent of teachers in the program received merit raises during the most recent school year.
Only 27 of the roughly 4,200 teachers eligible did not get a pay raise.
The state gave schools $64 million to spend on Q Comp, which stands for quality compensation, during the 2007-08 school year. Pawlenty is now proposing to increase spending on the program by $41 million next year. But some lawmakers are questioning that step.
“Why should we expand it statewide when there is no evidence that it’s improving anything?” asked Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan.
“Let’s quit the charade, let’s give every district another $300 per pupil, and quit bluffing.”
Pawlenty’s spokesman Brian McClung defended the program Friday as “a move towards greater emphasis on student achievement and the measures that lead to [it].” He added, “Ideally Q Comp would demand more, but we had to compromise with a Legislature that was uncomfortable going further.”
Test data suggest that, so far, students in school districts in at least their third year of Q Comp have not shown more improvement in reading and math than students in schools not participating in the program.
The Minnesota Department of Education asserts that it is too early in the program’s life to make substantive comparisons about how Q Comp is affecting student achievement. In a statement Friday, Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said the department has faith in the program.
“We believe that Q Comp will lead to higher levels of student achievement, students who are college-and-work ready upon graduation, and a larger supply of qualified workers for our state’s employers,” she said.
School superintendents, meanwhile, say the money involved–up to $260 per pupil this year–has been a major draw in an era of budget cuts.

Continue reading Is it ‘merit pay’ if nearly all teachers get it?

Smaller school districts looking to consolidation

Gena Kittner:

Three area school districts in need of building renovation or expansion are taking very tentative steps toward consolidation — a touchy topic for residents worried about losing a community’s identity.
The Belleville, Monticello and New Glarus school districts, located in Dane and Green counties, are asking the state Department of Public Instruction for $10,000 to study the idea of combining their programs and student populations.
“I think it’s just a case of having a nice discussion and getting solid, objective information,” said Randy Freese, superintendent for the Belleville School District.
Facing continued tight budgets, districts around the state will be looking at options to save money, and “investigating consolidation is definitely one of those options,” said Patrick Gasper, DPI spokesman. “I think we’ll see more people looking into it.”
Using money approved as part of the 2007-09 state budget, the DPI has funded grants for at least eight other district groups, including Pecatonica and Argyle in Lafayette and Iowa counties.

Daley Says Charter Schools Keep the System Honest

Collin Levy interviews Chicago Mayor Richard Daley:

Mayor Daley also sees an important role for charter schools. “You can’t have a monopoly and think a monopoly works. Slowly it dissolves. And I think that charter schools are good to compete with public schools.” Nobody says there’s something wrong with public universities facing competition from private ones. “I think the more competition we have, the better off we are in Chicago.”
But the mayor won’t support vouchers. “School choice is hard. You’re going back to arguing,” he says, trailing off without making clear whether he means the politics. But he does think it’s notable that, while federal money and Pell grants can be used to finance an education at a private college, federal money can’t be used to help students get a private education at the K-12 level.
Ron Huberman, Mr. Daley’s former chief of staff and head of the Chicago Transit Authority, is anything but an education bureaucrat, and that’s just what the mayor wants in the man he named to replace Mr. Duncan as chief of Chicago schools. Too often in the past, before the mayor took over, the city would bring in schools chiefs who seemed to be riding an education lazy-susan from school to school. “We’d give them big bonuses to come here and then when we’d fire them they’d go to other school systems.”

Reduced Prices Affect School Spending Authority

Jason Stein:

Schools would also be affected, since the per pupil limits on how much money schools can raise through property taxes and state aid are also linked to changes in consumer prices. Currently schools are limited to a statewide average of about $9,835 dollars per pupil, Schmiedicke said.
Normally schools’ roughly $270 annual increase in the per pupil limits would go up to reflect the rise in consumer prices. Because of deflation, that $270 increase may stay as it is or be slightly smaller, Schmiedicke said.

Senate Version of the “Splurge / Stimulus”

US Senate HR1 736 Page 1.3MB PDF. Much more on the splurge here. The word education is mentioned 259 times, while school is mentioned 90 times.
Meanwhile, it appears improved PR is on offer by the new Administration:

To improve the bailout’s poor public image, the administration is considering renaming the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program and making it independent of the Treasury. It is also going to announce new terms and conditions for companies that receive or have already taken government aid — in addition to the new executive-compensation limits announced this week — including a demand that they report how the money is being spent.

Related: Cicero & Plato on how republics die.

On Milwaukee’s Education Splurge: “Money for Unneeded Schools”

Wall Street Journal:

To understand the problem with the stimulus bill, it helps to focus on specific parts. Take the $142 billion for schools, which is nearly double the total outlays of the Department of Education in 2007. Now consider that much of this cash would go to public-school systems that don’t even need the money for its earmarked purposes.
The Milwaukee Public School system, for example, would receive $88.6 million over two years for new construction projects under the House version of the stimulus — even though the district currently has 15 vacant school buildings and declining enrollment. Between 1990 and 2008, inflation-adjusted MPS spending rose by 35%, per-pupil spending increased by 36% and state aid grew by 58%. Over the same period, enrollment fell by a percentage point and is projected to continue falling, leaving the system with enough excess capacity for some 22,000 students.
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“In general, MPS facilities have been described by school officials as being in good to better-than-good condition,” reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The kind of situations that create urgent needs for renovation or new construction in some cities have not been on the priority list for MPS officials in recent years.”

Much more on the splurge here.

Did Rap, Crack or TV Kill Reading?

Jay Matthews:

People my age are prone to what I call geezerisms, such as: What’s the matter with kids these days? Why aren’t schools good like they used to be? Where can I get a really thick milkshake? Stuff like that.
You don’t often run into these outbreaks of cranky nostalgia in educational research, but one has surfaced recently. Several prominent scholars have suggested that teenage reading for pleasure, and verbal test scores, plummeted after 1988 because of the rise of rap and hip-hop music and an increase in television watching.
Changes in youthful cultural tastes and habits always push us senior citizens into rants about declining values, so I wondered whether the researchers — many of them in my age group — were giving into one of those recurring bromides that the new music is terrible and will turn our society into a garbage dump.
I couldn’t sustain that argument because the scholars involved (including Ronald Ferguson, David Grissmer and Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom) are brilliant people whose work always meets the highest standards of professional inquiry. I was trying to decide how to sort this out when University of California at Los Angeles sociologist Meredith Phillips, one of my favorite writers on student achievement, came to the rescue with an intriguing take in a chapter of a new book, “Steady Gains and Stalled Progress: Inequality and the Black-White Test Score Gap,” edited by Katherine Magnuson of the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Jane Waldfogel of Columbia University and published by the Russell Sage Foundation.

A Boost in Online Money Courses

Alina Dizik:

ince September’s financial meltdown, community colleges and universities offering free personal-finance courses online have seen a sharp increase in enrollment.
Many people are turning to the more than 180 business courses offered through the OpenCourseWare Consortium — a group of about 250 universities world-wide, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of California-Irvine. These courses aren’t exactly classes, but they offer free access to online syllabi and study materials, along with lecture notes and exams.
An MIT initiative called OpenCourseWare offers business courses online.
One course, “Fundamentals of Financial Planning,” has seen a 27% increase in traffic since September, according to the school. With 48,000 viewers, it has become the most popular of the University of California-Irvine’s OpenCourseWare offerings, the school says. Class takers are given worksheets and assessments to help them negotiate topics like college planning and retirement savings, says Gary Matkin, dean of continuing education. “It’s a cross between a reference and a learning experience,” says Mr. Matkin. As more people are affected by the downturn, he expects the number of course takers to grow.

5th Annual AP Report to the Nation

1MB PDF The College Board:

Educators across the United States continue to enable a wider and ethnically diverse proportion of students to achieve success in AP®. Significant inequities remain, however, which can result in traditionally underserved students not receiving the sort of AP opportunities that can best prepare them for college success. The 5th Annual AP Report to the Nation uses a combination of state, national and AP Program data to provide each U.S. state with the context it can use to celebrate its successes, understand its unique challenges, and set meaningful, data-driven goals to prepare more students for success in college.

Many links here.
Wisconsin ranked 14th in the percentage of seniors scoring 3+ on an AP exam.
Related: Dane County AP Course offering comparison.
Daniel de Vise has more.
Three California schools recognized for role in boosting Latino performance on AP tests by Carla Rivera:

Three public schools in California led the nation in helping Latino students outperform their counterparts in other states on Advanced Placement exams in Spanish language, Spanish literature and world history, according to a report released Wednesday by the College Board.
Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach was cited as the public school with the largest number of Latino students from the class of 2008 earning a 3 or better in AP world history. Exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, and many colleges and universities give students course credit for scores of 3 or higher. Advanced Placement courses offer college-level material in a variety of subjects.
Latino students at Fontana High School outpaced their peers on the AP Spanish-language exam, and San Ysidro High School in San Diego had the most Latino students who succeeded on the AP Spanish literature exam.

The “tension” between increased academic opportunities for all students as exemplified in this report versus curriculum reduction for all, in an effort by some to address the achievement gap was much discussed during last week’s Madison School District Strategic Planning Process meetings. Background here, here, here, here and here.

New Berlin teen accused of using Facebook for sexual blackmail

Jacqui Seibel and Mark Johnson:

A former New Berlin Eisenhower student was accused Wednesday of a pattern of manipulation and deception using the social networking site Facebook to coerce male schoolmates into sexual encounters.
Anthony R. Stancl, 18, posing as a female on Facebook, persuaded at least 31 boys to send him naked pictures of themselves and then blackmailed some of the boys into performing sex acts under the threat that the pictures would be released to the rest of the high school, according a criminal complaint.
All 31 boys attend New Berlin Eisenhower Middle/High School, said Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel.
The sexual assaults occurred in a bathroom at the high school, the school parking lot, a New Berlin Public Library restroom, Valley View Park, Malone Park, Minooka Park and at some of the victims’ homes.
At least seven boys, 15 to 17, were forced into performing sex acts, Schimel said. The incidents occurred from spring 2008 until the time of Stancl’s arrest in November. Stancl had 300 photos and movie clips on his computer of boys from the school, ages 13 to 19, Schimel said.

The Great College Hoax

Kathy Kristof:

Higher education can be a financial disaster. Especially with the return on degrees down and student loan sharks on the prowl.
As steadily as ivy creeps up the walls of its well-groomed campuses, the education industrial complex has cultivated the image of college as a sure-fire path to a life of social and economic privilege.
Joel Kellum says he’s living proof that the claim is a lie. A 40-year-old Los Angeles resident, Kellum did everything he was supposed to do to get ahead in life. He worked hard as a high schooler, got into the University of Virginia and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history.
Accepted into the California Western School of Law, a private San Diego institution, Kellum couldn’t swing the $36,000 in annual tuition with financial aid and part-time work. So he did what friends and professors said was the smart move and took out $60,000 in student loans.
Kellum’s law school sweetheart, Jennifer Coultas, did much the same. By the time they graduated in 1995, the couple was $194,000 in debt. They eventually married and each landed a six-figure job. Yet even with Kellum moonlighting, they had to scrounge to come up with $145,000 in loan payments. With interest accruing at up to 12% a year, that whittled away only $21,000 in principal. Their remaining bill: $173,000 and counting.


Christian Schneider:

How did the state budget end up in shambles? Governor Doyle and supportive legislators lay the budgetary imbalance at the feet of the poor economy. State Senator Bob Jauch went so far as to call the budget shortfall “a natural disaster,” saying it was a “Katrina-style collapse.”
Yet despite these declarations that the budget shortfall is outside the control of Wisconsin’s elected officials, several questionable budget practices allow Wisconsin to continually spend more than it takes in. First, the state has been filling budget holes in the general fund by pouring in one-time revenues from segregated state accounts, paid for with various user fees. According to state government’s own financial records, from fiscal years 2001 through 2008, a total of $2.373 billion of these one time, non-routine, revenues was used to help the general fund show positive ending balances. Much of this came from the transportation fund, which was then made whole by issuing debt to backfill the hole left by the transfer.
With regard to the spending side of the ledger, the state can appear to spend less from the general fund by “offloading” spending to accounts funded with user fees. For instance, in the 2003-05 budget, $100 million was shifted out of the transportation fund and into the school aids equalization formula ($40 million in 2004 and $60 million in 2005). By replacing $100 million of spending previously paid from general purpose revenue with segregated transportation funds, the Governor and Legislature sought to create the appearance that general fund spending was being held in check.

High school hoops coach told to stop hypnotizing team


A high school basketball coach has been told he can’t hypnotize his players anymore because it sends the wrong message to other schools and could get the students hooked on hypnosis.
The St. John High School boys team — the same team that won state two years ago and finished second last year — was just 7-6 through last week when coach Clint Kinnamon decided to bring in a hypnotist.
He chose Carl Feril, a Church of Christ minister who also is a clinical family and marriage therapist.

Technology not the panacea for education

Todd Oppenheimer:

Now that Arne Duncan, President Obama’s new education secretary, has presented the administration’s $150 billion plan for reviving our education system, it’s time to start separating Obama’s smart ideas for schools from his dumb ones. The first folly Duncan could dispense with – at an enormous cost saving – would be Obama’s desire to outfit the nation’s classrooms with new computers. His big push for this idea occurred in December, when he said, “Every child should have the chance to get online,” Obama said, “and they’ll get that chance when I’m president – because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world.”
Educators have been trying to improve schools with every technology we’ve ever invented, beginning with Thomas Edison’s promise, in 1912, to create “100 percent efficiency” in the classroom through the medium of “the motion picture.” Since personal computers and the Internet first arrived in classrooms, in the early 1990s, schools have spent approximately $100 billion on technology. Throughout this campaign, educators and the technology industry have been searching madly for solid evidence of whether the computers were boosting achievement. So little has been found that this data has become education’s WMD.

The Global Achievement Muddle

Sandra Stotsky:

Wagner promotes seven “21st century” skills that he claims are not taught in our schools. These “survival” skills are also being promoted by advocacy groups like the National Educational Association.
Wagner’s list seems plausible. Who can argue against teaching students “agility and adaptability” or how to “ask good questions?” Yet these “skills” are largely unsupported by actual scientific research. Wagner presents nothing to justify his list except glib language and a virtually endless string of anecdotes about his conversations with high-tech CEOs.
Even where Wagner does use research, it’s not clear that we can trust what he reports as fact. On page 92, to discredit attempts to increase the number of high school students studying algebra and advanced mathematics courses, he refers to a “study” of MIT graduates that he claims found only a few mentioning anything “more than arithmetic, statistics and probability” as useful to their work. Curious, I checked out the “study” using the URL provided in an end note for Chapter 3. It consisted of 17, yes 17, MIT graduates, and, according to my count, 11 of the 17 explicitly mentioned linear algebra, trig, proofs and/ or calculus, or other advanced mathematics courses as vital to their work – exactly the opposite of what Wagner reports! Perhaps exposure to higher mathematics is not the worst problem facing American students!

Seniority-Based Layoffs Will Exacerbate Job Loss in Public Education

Marguerite Roza:

K-12 school districts that lay off personnel according to seniority cause disproportionate damage to their programs and students than if layoffs were determined on a seniority-neutral basis.
School districts face severe budget challenges with state funding at risk in this perilous economy. In this four-page analysis of K-12 district layoff issues, Marguerite Roza, a senior scholar at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, calculates that if a district is required to use layoffs to cut its budget by 10 percent and cuts the most junior employees, it will need to axe 14.3 percent of its workforce (including teachers) to meet the 10 percent budget reduction.
On the other hand, if that district followed a seniority-neutral layoff policy–say by a standard of employee effectiveness–only 10 percent of the workforce would lose their jobs.
Nationwide, if all districts followed a seniority-neutral layoff policy to save 10 percent, 612,256 jobs would be lost compared with 874,623 lost under a seniority-based policy.

Face of space Tyson laments Americans’ scientific illiteracy

PJ Slinger:

Neil deGrasse Tyson is one in a million.
He said so himself.
“There are six-and-half billion people on this planet, and there are 6,500 astrophysicists, so that makes each of us (astrophysicists) one in a million,” Tyson said Monday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater as part of the UW’s Distinguished Lecture Series.
It’s too bad there aren’t a lot more like Tyson, who kept the packed house enthralled with his charisma, knowledge and off-the-cuff humor for more than two hours.
Tyson is the 21st century face of space, a mantle previously held by the late, great Carl Sagan. Tyson is director of the Hayden Planetarium and the host of PBS’ “NOVA ScienceNOW” program, aimed at educating a new generation of Americans in science.
And that is no small task.
Tyson pointed out numerous examples of scientific illiteracy in the U.S., including a general lack of understanding and a belief in silly superstitions.
On the screen behind him he showed a photo of the inside of an elevator in a tall building, and how there was no button for the 13th floor.
“We are supposedly a technologically advanced country, and yet people are afraid of the number 13?” he said.

UW’s Delta Teaching Program

Kiera Wiatrak:

In its first five years on campus, Delta has made a profound impact on UW-Madison’s teaching and learning culture. A fall 2008 review found that more than 400 faculty and instructional staff enhanced their teaching practices in some way as a direct result of Delta workshops.
As Delta grows, it continues to receive recognition for its efforts. On Monday, Feb. 9, Delta will be presented with the National Consortium for Continuous Improvement in Higher Education’s Award for Leveraging Excellence.
Delta members are encouraged to take Delta courses and small-group-facilitated programs, attend roundtable dinners and seminars, and participate in the Delta internship program to learn how to implement Delta’s three pillars — teaching-as-research, learning community and learning-through-diversity — into the classroom.

Wisconsin Governor Stumps for Mandatory Autism Insurance Coverage


Gov. Jim Doyle is stumping for a bill that would require insurance companies to cover autism.
Most insurance companies don’t cover autism because it is classified as an emotional disorder rather than a neurological condition.
A host of lawmakers and Drew Goldsmith, a 12-year-old autistic boy from Middleton, backed Doyle at a press conference in his office Tuesday.
Doyle is proposing strengthening current legislation to include minimum coverage levels of $60,000 for intensive treatment and $30,000 for post-intensive services. He said it would cut the waiting list to join a state-run program for autism services by a third.
Lawmakers on Tuesday said they hope to win support for the bill in the Legislature.

The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years On

Stephen Downes:

In the summer of 1998, over two frantic weeks in July, I wrote an essay titled The Future of Online Learning. (Downes, 1998) At the time, I was working as a distance education and new media design specialist at Assiniboine Community College, and I wrote the essay to defend the work I was doing at the time. “We want a plan,” said my managers, and so I outlined the future as I thought it would – and should – unfold.
In the ten years that have followed, this vision of the future has proven to be remarkably robust. I have found, on rereading and reworking the essay, that though there may have been some movement in the margins, the overall thrust of the paper was essentially correct. This gives me confidence in my understanding of those forces and trends that are moving education today.
In this essay I offer a renewal of those predictions. I look at each of the points I addressed in 1998, and with the benefit of ten year’s experience, recast and rewrite each prediction. This essay is not an attempt to vindicate the previous paper – time has done that – but to carry on in the same spirit, and to push that vision ten years deeper into the future.

Madison School District Departing Parent Surveys

Via a kind reader’s email. Three surveys for families that have left the Madison School District for the following destinations [PDF]:

Related Links:

The Madison School District’s tax and spending authority is based on its enrollment.

Google and Nasa back ‘singularity’ school for when technology overtakes humans

Caroline Gammell:

The Singularity University will be based at the space programme’s Ames campus in Silicon Valley, USA.
Its chancellor will be the controversial futurist Ray Kurzweil, whose 2005 book The Singularity is Near inspired the name of the school.
He believes that the rapid rise of technology will enable machines in the near future to use artificial intelligence to make themselves cleverer than humans.
Critics of singularity believe such sophisticated technology could end up being a threat to man.
But Mr Kurzweil said it was important to realise the potential of technological development: “The law of accelerating returns means technology eventually will be a million more times powerful than it is today and cause profound transformation.”
Singularity University will accept 30 graduate students in its first intake this summer, increasing to 120 next year.
Despite its name, the college is not an accredited university but will offer nine-week courses exploring ways to ensure technology improves mankind’s plight instead of harming it.

UWM online psych students outperform those in lecture hall class

Erica Perez:

Most sections of Psychology 101 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee fit the popular image of a college class: Hundreds of students pack into a lecture hall twice a week and attend regular discussion sections.
With four 100-point exams making up most of the grade, it is the kind of course an academically weak student might struggle to pass.
But as the university faces pressure to improve success rates for underprepared college students, one professor’s markedly different approach to the introductory psychology course is turning heads.
Professor Diane Reddy has replaced the traditional lecture format with an online version of Psych 101. Students learn at their own pace but also have to obtain mastery, demonstrated by passing a quiz on each unit, before they can move on to the next.
Along the way, students get help from teaching assistants who monitor their online activity, identifying weak spots and providing advice – even if the students don’t seek it.
Initial evidence says it works: In a study of 5,000 students over two years, U-Pace students performed 12% better on the same cumulative test than students who took traditional Psych 101 with the same textbook and course content, even though U-Pace students had lower average grades than those in the conventional course.
The online model, the study found, was particularly successful for disadvantaged or underprepared students – low-income students, racial and ethnic minorities, and those with low grades or ACT scores. And students in general do better in the class, too, earning a higher percentage of As and Bs than students earn in traditional Psych 101.