Education Chief Urges Mayoral Control Of Schools


Education Secretary Arne Duncan says big city mayors should take control of their school systems.

Duncan said Tuesday that there’s too much turnover among superintendents in cities where the mayor is not in charge of the schools. He says strong leadership is needed to carry out reform in big cities, where children are struggling the most.

Currently, mayors control the public schools in only a few cities while most others are run by school boards. Duncan told the U.S. Conference of Mayors that if the number doesn’t rise, he will have failed as secretary.

Fascinating: Duncan is a former Chicago Public Schools CEO. His governance point is well worth discussin.

Poverty Goes Straight to the Brain

Brandon Keim:

Growing up poor isn’t merely hard on kids. It might also be bad for their brains. A long-term study of cognitive development in lower- and middle-class students found strong links between childhood poverty, physiological stress and adult memory.
The findings support a neurobiological hypothesis for why impoverished children consistently fare worse than their middle-class counterparts in school, and eventually in life.

“Chronically elevated physiological stress is a plausible model for how poverty could get into the brain and eventually interfere with achievement,” wrote Cornell University child-development researchers Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg in a paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

For decades, education researchers have documented the disproportionately low academic performance of poor children and teenagers living in poverty. Called the achievement gap, its proposed sociological explanations are many. Compared to well-off kids, poor children tend to go to ill-equipped and ill-taught schools, have fewer educational resources at home, eat low-nutrition food, and have less access to health care.

At the same time, scientists have studied the cognitive abilities of poor children, and the neurobiological effects of stress on laboratory animals. They’ve found that, on average, socioeconomic status predicts a battery of key mental abilities, with deficits showing up in kindergarten and continuing through middle school. Scientists also found that hormones produced in response to stress literally wear down the brains of animals.

Advanced Placement Annual Conference

The College Board, via a kind reader’s email:

The AP Annual Conference is a forum for all members of the AP and Pre-AP communities, worldwide, to exchange experiences, strengthen professional ties, and gain a better sense of how they can help their students to prepare for college success.

US Library of Congress Joins iTunes

Jeff Gamet:

The U.S. Library of Congress audio archives are becoming even more accessible now that the recordings are being added to Apple’s iTunes Store. The move is part of an effort to bring some 15.3 million digital recordings to the public in an easy to access manner.

Matt Raymond, the Library of Congress director of communications, said “Our broad strategy is to ‘fish where the fish are,’ and to use the sites that give our content added value — in the case of iTunes, ubiquity, portability, etc.”

So far, there are about 39 podcasts available, and more files are on the way, according to Macworld. The Library of Congress is also adding its video library to YouTube.

“These services are a place to start learning, but our agreements are not exclusive, so other services are certainly possible in the future,” said Michelle Springer, Library Web Service Division digital initiatives project manager.

Greens in cafe – culture call for school lunc

Timothy Chui:

Schools with cafeterias can reduce food wastage and save about 2.14 million disposable lunch boxes heading for landfills every year, Greeners Action project officer Yip Chui-man said yesterday.

Roughly 380,000 primary school students take lunch everyday, according to Yip, who said over one-third of 13,000 disposable lunch boxes went straight into the garbage, a February to March survey of 212 primary schools showed.

The survey suggested most primary schools want more funding to introduce canteens in a bid to cut down on waste.

With a mere 5 percent drop in the amount of disposable lunch boxes being junked, compared to seven years ago, Yip is calling on the Education Bureau and the Environmental Protection Department to set up regulations to control lunch-time garbage.

A resounding 95 percent of primary schools want public money to outfit them with a cafeteria.

Clever boys dumb down to avoid bullying in school

Jessica Shepherd:

Clever children are saving themselves from being branded swots at school by dumbing down and deliberately falling behind, a study has shown.

Schoolchildren regarded as boffins may be attacked and shunned by their peers, according to Becky Francis, professor of education at Roehampton University, who carried out a study of academically gifted 12- and 13-year-olds in nine state secondary schools.

The study, to be published in the Sociological Review next year, shows how difficult it is for children, particularly boys, to be clever and popular. Boys risk being assaulted in some schools for being high-achievers. To conform and escape alienation, clever boys told researchers they may “try to fall behind” or “dumb down”.

One boy told researchers: “It is harder to be popular and intelligent. If the subject comes naturally … then I think it makes it easier. But if the subject doesn’t come naturally, they work hard and other people see that and then you get the name-calling.” This may in part explain boys’ perceived underachievement, Francis said.

The New Hard Times

Barry Ritholtz:

Ernest Kurnow, a 96-year-old business school professor at New York University, finished his own schooling in the middle of the Great Depression. Now his current students are faced with finding a job in the floundering world of finance after graduation.

Planting the Seeds of Life Skills

Michael Alison Chandler:

By the first week of spring, a crowd of shivering daffodils offered a lonely spray of color to a still-dormant garden outside Hollin Meadows Elementary School. But the bright blooms were not safe for long amid the prying fingers of two dozen curious fourth-graders.
Winter coats guarded the children against a chilly breeze, but their mittens came off as they pulled leaf after buttery leaf from the flower and gave names to each of its parts.
“It’s breathtaking,” said Nikos Booth, 9, as he rubbed the golden pollen from the stamen onto his finger.
Lots of elementary students learn plant anatomy by studying a diagram and labeling the parts or circling terms on a worksheet. At Hollin Meadows in Fairfax County, they get their hands dirty.

Some Happy D.C. 8th-Graders Moving Up Without Moving On

Jay Matthews:

Christian Carter’s conversation with his mother began last fall just before dinner. The eighth-grader said he didn’t like any of next year’s D.C. high school choices. The places were too scary or too disorganized, he said. He wanted to stay at Shaw Middle School, a former educational disaster area suddenly doing well. Other classmates had similar chats with their parents, their principal and eventually the chancellor of the city schools.
Now, to the astonishment of nearly every adult involved, class president Christian and his friends have become, as far as historians can determine, the first eighth-graders ever to lobby successfully for a ninth grade at their middle school so they could have an extra year to prepare for the jarring realities of urban high school.
Shelontae Carter, Christian’s mother, said he and his co-conspirators, Trevon Brown, Daamontae Brown, Ronald Bryant, Marc Jones, Davaughn Taylor and Velinzo Williams-Hines, were spoiled. They ought to grow up, she said, and adjust to ninth grade in a high school just as she did. Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee was startled to find the seven boys from Shaw in her conference room, wearing suits and ties and armed with data. She is still not quite sure how they pulled it off.

Dallas-Fort Worth school districts struggle as need for bilingual classes grows

Holly Yan:

Bilingual education is supposed to be expanding to more languages – such as Vietnamese and Arabic – but many school districts can’t find the teachers to handle the two-language classes.
“The teacher shortage that was there for Spanish now translates to other languages,” said Shannon Terry, Garland ISD’s director of English as a Second Language (ESL) and bilingual education.
Area districts are recruiting for next school year, searching for tough-to-staff areas such as math and science. But bilingual teachers are also in high demand.
The state requires any school district that has at least 20 students in a grade level who speak a language other than English to provide a bilingual program in that language.
In 2007, the State Board for Educator Certification expanded the bilingual program to include Vietnamese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Russian. But that doesn’t mean more diverse teachers are lining up for jobs.
“It’s not common knowledge,” said Terry. “The universities aren’t designing programs necessarily yet to support teachers in securing those credentials.”

The Madison School District, in response to Nuestro Mundo’s desire for a middle school charter, plans to implement dual immersion across the District.

Connecticut Special-Education Advocates Dislike Plan To Change Complaint Process

Jodie Mozdzer:

Parents and special education advocates fear that a proposal before the legislature could make it harder for special-education students to get “free, appropriate, public education” in the state.
Under a current regulation, parents who are unable to resolve a problem with their child’s special-education plan through the school district can appeal to the state Department of Education. The appeal can lead to a state-mediated hearing at which the school district must demonstrate that the education plan adheres to federal law.
But a bill proposed by the legislature’s education committee would shift that burden of proof to the party filing the complaint — which in most cases is the parents.
Supporters of the bill say it would save school districts money and shorten hearings, which can last anywhere from a week to 40 days.

Teach the Kids, and the Parents Will Follow

Jay Matthews:

Like most principals, Dave Levin believed that parental support was essential to a school’s success. So when many families pulled their kids out of his struggling South Bronx charter school after its first year, he thought he was in trouble.
Some parents called him and his teaching partner, Frank Corcoran, “crazy white boys.” The two had recruited 46 fifth-graders, barely enough to start the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) Academy, and 12 failed to return for sixth grade. Test scores were somewhat better than at other local schools, but Levin’s discipline methods weren’t working. By March of his second year he believed that he had no choice but to close the school.
That was 1997. Twelve years later, the academy, saved by a last-minute change of mind, is considered a great success and a model for the 66 KIPP schools in 19 states and the District. Together, they have produced the largest achievement gains for impoverished children ever seen in a single school network.

Rendell, Nutter fill out Pennsylvania school reform panel

Martha Woodall:

Saying it was time “for a fresh look” at the Philadelphia School District, Gov. Rendell and Mayor Nutter yesterday named two lawyers and an educator who was trained as an artist to the School Reform Commission.
With the appointments, Rendell and Nutter have remade the five-member commission – established after the 2001 state takeover of the schools – signaling a new era in leadership of the 167,000-student district.
They announced their selections at a briefing packed with politicians and educational activists at the High School of the Future in West Philadelphia.
Rendell also announced he had nominated Sandra Dungee Glenn, the former commission chairwoman, to the state Board of Education.
“Your work is not done,” Rendell told Dungee Glenn, who had been part of the district’s governance for nearly a decade and attended the briefing.
Nutter named Robert L. Archie Jr., a partner at Duane Morris L.L.P., and Johnny Irizarry, director of the Center for Hispanic Excellence at the University of Pennsylvania, to four-year terms.

Lower property values hurt schools

Greg Toppo & Jack Gillum:

Way back when times were good — last April — builders showed up one day at Forest Grove Middle School and gutted a little-used classroom off the gym.
Four months and a half-million dollars later, they had transformed the space into a bubbling mini-marine biology laboratory, with five huge, blue plastic tanks for local marine life and a refrigerated tank that replicates the cold-water ecosystem off Maine.
For the first time, teacher Kevin Stinnette said, his students could do hands-on lessons with cold-water species such as frilled anemones and Acadia hermit crabs.
Then the mortgage meltdown hit central Florida, and the crabs and anemones weren’t the only ones hit with cold water. Here as elsewhere across America, hard times have forced schools to trim budgets, freeze hiring and, in a few cases, make substantial job cuts, raising doubts about the future of a range of programs, including the new marine lab.
Already, St. Lucie schools have lost $22 million in tax revenue from lower property values, and the district is staring at a 25% budget cut in the fall. It has frozen salaries and put central office employees on a four-day workweek. Enrollment is down only slightly but if things get much worse, schools in St. Lucie may cut athletics, after-school activities and summer school to the bone — or even consider a four-day week for students.

Surrogacy makes for a perilous path to parenthood

Alan Zarembo and Kimi Yoshino :

Not even jail could keep Nanette Delp out of the surrogacy business.
In 2006, she was arrested on allegations that she stole tens of thousands of dollars from couples who had paid her to find women to carry their babies, according to court records.
While she was behind bars awaiting trial in Sacramento, she continued to sign up more couples, using a new business name and a new website, state records show. Ultimately, she was sentenced to six years in prison after pleading no contest to seven counts of grand theft.
In the surrogacy industry, there are no consumer guarantees. A website is not a professional license — in fact, there is no such thing. Even in California, widely considered the friendliest place in the world for people seeking surrogates, contracts tend to favor the broker agencies, not the clients.
Signing with an agency is frequently an act of faith, sometimes with bitter results. Often, aspiring parents must pay the entire bill — $50,000 or more — in advance. The money is nonrefundable, placing them at the mercy of the agency.
In recent days, Modesto-based SurroGenesis and Beverly Hills-based B Coming have been accused by attorneys or through lawsuits of misusing more than $2.5 million in clients’ funds — in some cases without ever helping couples choose a surrogate or conceive a child.

The Impact of Dropping the SAT

Scott Jaschik:

A new research study — based on simulations using actual student applications at competitive colleges that require the SAT or ACT for admission — has found that ending the requirement would lead to demonstrable gains in the percentages of black and Latino students, and working class or economically disadvantaged students, who are admitted.
The finding is consistent with what admissions officers have reported at many colleges that have gone SAT-optional. But the basis of this new research goes well beyond the anecdotal information reported by colleges pleased with their shifts. Scholars at Princeton University’s Office of Population Research obtained actual admissions data from seven selective colleges that require the SAT or ACT. Using the actual admissions patterns for these colleges, the scholars then ran statistical models showing the impact of either going SAT-optional or adopting what they called the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach in which a college says that it won’t look at standardized test scores.
These models suggest that any move away from the SAT or ACT in competitive colleges results in significant gains in ethnic and economic diversity. But the gains are greater for colleges that drop testing entirely, as opposed to just making it optional. (To date, only one institution — Sarah Lawrence College — has taken that step.)
In terms of other measures of academic competitiveness, the study found that going SAT optional would result in classes of students with higher grade point averages. Dropping testing entirely, on the other hand, would result in higher levels of academic achievement in the entering classes at the public institutions studied, but not the privates. The research will be formally presented next month at a conference at Wake Forest University about college admissions, but the Princeton researchers released the findings Wednesday.

Teacher Unions vs. Poor Kids

Nat Hentoff:

The “education president” remained silent when his congressional Democrats essentially killed the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) in the city where he now lives and works.

Of the 1,700 students, starting in kindergarten, in this private-school voucher program, 90 percent are black and 9 percent are Hispanic.

First the House and then the Senate inserted into the $410-billion omnibus spending bill language to eliminate the $7,500 annual scholarships for these poor children after the next school year.

A key executioner in the Senate of the OSP was Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat. I have written admiringly of Durbin’s concern for human rights abroad. But what about education rights for minority children in the nation’s capital?

Andrew J. Coulson, director of the Cato Institute (where I am a senior fellow) supplied the answer when he wrote: “Because they saw it as a threat to their political power, Democrats in Washington appear willing to extinguish the dreams of a few thousand poor kids to protect their political base.”

Bioscience, genetics, ecology revolutionizing ‘Ag Ed’ class

Erin Richards:

In Craig Kohn’s classroom at Waterford Union High School, students use traditional Punnett square diagrams to study animal genetics.

But they also use 80-pound Foster, the living, breathing class Holstein calf, and talk about his genetics and which of those traits they can predict his offspring may have generations from now.

Using Foster requires more post-lesson cleanup in the school’s agriculture education classroom, but students say Kohn’s lessons bring science alive. It is fun, real and far more engaging than memorizing facts and formulas.

The approach represents part of a revolution in agriculture education that is under way across Wisconsin and the United States.

The so-called “cows and plows” high school curriculum – animal science, plant science and mechanics – once dominated by farm kids in Carhartt jackets and Wranglers has morphed into courses that cover turf management, wildlife ecology, landscape design, biotechnology, organic farming, genetic engineering, sustainable water, biodiesel production and meat science.

The developments have exciting implications, from a wave of new student interest in agri-science to ample post-secondary career prospects.

Many school leaders are harnessing the potential of the programs. The Hartland-Lakeside School District is designing an organic farming charter school; state agriculture officials hope a similar urban agriculture school could take root in Milwaukee.

Europe and the Financial Crisis: US High School Students Take on The Euro Challenge


Is the global economy heading from recession to depression? Why did a crisis in US mortgage markets wreak havoc in economies across Europe? The Euro Challenge, an academic contest now in its fourth year, pits teams of high school students against each other as they answer economic and financial questions to showcase their knowledge of everything from ballooning government deficits to rising unemployment.
This year, 72 high school teams from nine states (Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Illinois and Pennsylvania) will compete in the Euro Challenge, which fosters a better understanding of the European and transatlantic economy and supports local learning objectives in the field of economics and finance. Regional rounds kick off on March 30 and culminate in the finals at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on April 29.

Parent projects: When homework help goes too far

Bonnie Miller Rubin & Tara Malone:

Anyone who has ever proudly carried Junior’s papier-mache heart into the science fair–only to run into the cardiologist’s kid with the medical school model–has seen what happens when the line between parental involvement and parental takeover gets crossed.
Science fair season is in full swing, but meddling by mom and dad is not limited to budding scientists. It spans childhood, from the Cub Scouts Pinewood Derby to college essays.
Parents may try to help a struggling child, allow a perfectionist streak to get the best of them or get carried away by their own interest in the topic. But one way or another, dad’s or mom’s work gets turned in, giving the student an unfair advantage.
In response, several school districts are opting for more in-class assignments, studying the meaning of grades and flat-out reminding parents not to do their child’s homework.

Students Speak Out on AP and the Challenge Index

Jay Matthews:

Advanced Placement English teacher Allison Beers asked her 11th-grade students at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George’s County to critique my annual rankings, in The Washington Post and Newsweek, of public high schools. I use the Challenge Index, a measure of participation in AP and other college-level tests. Here are excerpts of comments from several students, with some comments from me:

Grabbing Dropouts Early

Jay Matthews:

I am an optimist, maybe too much of one. I believe, for instance, that our school dropout problem in many instances takes care of itself. Often teenagers leave school because they just cannot bear sitting in class. Eventually they mature, return to school, graduate and have productive lives. Data show that of the 30 percent of students who do not graduate on time, about half have acquired high school diplomas or General Educational Development certificates (GED) by their late 20s.
Many people find my congenital sunniness on this and other issues annoying. My wife, who married me nearly 42 years ago, has always called me “the Pollyanna From Hell.” She might have a point. Optimism can lead to error. For instance, I have found a impressive new report on dropouts that suggests my laissez faire attitude toward the issue might keep many young people from being yanked back into school in ways that would do them good.

Other countries’ efforts to develop and support teachers

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

A recent study of the professional development of teachers identified four key areas in which nations with high student achievement tend to have an advantage over the United States:
Support for new teachers
•Many countries mandate mentoring or other support for beginning teachers. In New Zealand, new teachers spend 20 percent of their time being coached. In Norway, each new teacher is paired with a teacher trained as a mentor. In Switzerland, novices meet with practice groups from other schools for peer evaluation.
• The US has made progress in this area. In the early 1990s, about half of new teachers participated in support programs. A decade later, that had grown to two-thirds, and 7 out of 10 had a mentor.

Chicago Parent School Survey

Target Area DevCorp:

According to the results of a citywide survey released today, the parents of Illinois and Chicago public school students are poorly informed about the real problems and challenges faced by local students. The survey report, Parent Perceptions, Student Realities in Chicago Schools, released by the Citywide Education Organizing Campaign (the Campaign), a coalition of 13 community groups convened by Target Area DevCorp, explores ways to better engage parents in decisions regarding public education.
“It is imperative that parents play a leadership role in serious reform efforts affecting public education in Illinois,” said Rev. Patricia Watkins, Executive Director of Target Area DevCorp. “In order to perform well, parents need accurate, timely information from unbiased sources. Unfortunately, the Campaign research suggests many parents are not being given all the information they need to make informed decisions about the educational futures of their children. We must unite ourselves now and create a remedy that speaks to this important matter because the price of ignorance on this issue is too high.”

Jason Knowles has more.

Obama Dialogue with a Teacher

Michael Fletcher & Jose Antonio Vargas:

Arguably the most animated and substantial exchange was between the president and a longtime teacher from Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia who was seated a few feet behind him. The teacher asked Obama for his definition of “a charter school” and “an effective teacher.” While Obama quickly dispensed with the first part of the question, he could not get the teacher to answer when he asked whether in her 15 years on the job she has encountered colleagues who she would not want to teach her own children.
“My point is that if we’ve done everything we can to improve teacher pay and teacher performance and training and development, some people just aren’t meant to be teachers, just like some people aren’t meant to be carpenters, some people aren’t meant to be nurses. At some point, they’ve got to find a new career,” he said.

Key Milwaukee voucher advocate says more regulation, standards for program needed

Alan Borsuk:

Calling this a potentially historic moment in Milwaukee education, a key leader of the private school voucher movement called Thursday for major increases in regulation of the participating schools and for a new focus on quality across all the channels of schooling in the city.
Howard Fuller, the former Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent who is now a central figure nationally in advocating for school choice, said he wants school leaders to join with Gov. Jim Doyle, legislative leaders and others in working out new ways to assure that students of all kinds have quality teachers in quality schools.
“We can’t just keep wringing our hands about these terrible schools,” Fuller said. “We have a moral responsibility to our children to not accept that.”
He said that he believes Doyle is seeking higher quality and more accountability and transparency for the 120 private schools in Milwaukee that have more than 20,000 students attending, thanks to publicly funded vouchers. Fuller said he was in general agreement on those goals.
Doyle has presented “an opportunity to come together and do something that is truly constructive for our children,” Fuller said. “I think it is one of those historic moments that don’t come all the time.”
Fuller was reacting both to a new set of studies of the voucher program and to a dramatically different situation for voucher supporters in the state Capitol.

Why Homeschool

Janine, Derek, Henry and Grandma Cate:

Mission statement: On this blog we explore why homeschooling can be a better option for children and families than a traditional classroom setting. We’ll also explore homeschooling issues in general, educational thoughts, family issues, and some other random stuff.

‘Great Texts’ exposes high-schoolers to literature

Gwen Evans:

High school students in Wisconsin are digging into great world literature that would bewilder older and more experienced readers: “Don Quixote,” by Miguel de Cervantes, “Dante’s Inferno,” by Dante Alighieri, “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and “The Brothers Karamazov,” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. All the students need is a chance to try and the right guidance from their teachers. Both of these necessities are provided by the Center for the Humanities.
During the past five years, the center’s program Great World Texts in Wisconsin has enabled some 1,000 students to read heady and challenging tomes not found on the young adult reading list. The program is a perfect example of the Wisconsin Idea in action. It creates partnerships between UW-Madison faculty and Wisconsin high school teachers for the benefit of state students.

Design Under Constraint: How Limits Boost Creativity

Scott Dadich:

..A 16-by 10.875-inch rectangle containing precisely 174 square inches of possibility, made from two sheets of paper glued and bound together. Legendary magazine art director and Pentagram partner D. J. Stout calls the science of filling this box with artful compositions of type and images “variations on a rectangle.” That is, in any given issue of a magazine–this one, for example–subjects and stories will change, but as a designer, you’re still dealing with the same ol’ blank white box.
At Wired, our design team sees this constraint as our daily bread. On every editorial page, we use words and pictures to overcome the particular restrictions of paper and ink: We can’t animate the infographics (yet). We can’t embed video or voice-over (yet). We can’t add sound effects or music (yet). But for all that we can’t do in this static medium, we find enlightenment and wonder in its possibilities. This is a belief most designers share. In fact, the worst thing a designer can hear is an offhand “Just do whatever you want.” That’s because designers understand the power of limits. Constraint offers an unparalleled opportunity for growth and innovation.
Think of a young tree, a sapling. With water and sunshine, it can grow tall and strong. But include some careful pruning early in its development–removing low-hanging branches–and the tree will grow taller, stronger, faster. It won’t waste precious resources on growth that doesn’t serve its ultimate purpose. The same principle applies to design. Given fewer resources, you have to make better decisions.

Academic Earth Aggregates Lectures from MIT, Harvard, Yale, and Others

Adam Pash:

Web site Academic Earth is like Hulu for academic lectures, pulling free lectures from Berkeley, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale into one attractive, easy to navigate site. It’s incredible.
The site clearly takes its cues from Hulu and iTunes on its design, but it’s ten times better than either, because it’s open. The videos can be embedded anywhere or downloaded and enjoyed wherever you want to take them. It’s easy to use, has tons of great content, and it doesn’t cost a dime.

When Private Schools Take Public Dollars: What’s the Place of Accountability in School Voucher Programs?

Chester E. Finn, Jr., Christina M. Hentges, Michael J. Petrilli and Amber M. Winkler [458K PDF]:

Of all the arguments that critics of school voucher programs advance, the one that may resonate loudest with the public concerns school accountability. Opponents say it’s not fair to hold public schools to account for their results (under No Child Left Behind and similar systems) and then let private schools receive taxpayer dollars–however indirectly–with no accountability at all. We at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute don’t buy that argument entirely. Private schools participating in voucher programs, tax-credit programs, scholarship programs and such are accountable to parents via the school choice marketplace. But we don’t dismiss it, either. For both substantive and strategic reasons, we believe it’s time for school choice supporters to embrace accountability, done right.
For too long, school choice supporters have been stuck in a tired internal debate that hobbles the advance of vouchers and other worthy forms of school choice. Staunch free-marketers say “leave the schools alone and let the parents decide.” More left-leaning critics say “if they won’t play by the same rules as public schools don’t give them any assistance at all.” Yet this debate has become ever more archaic in a society preoccupied with student achievement, school performance, results based accountability, international competitiveness and institutional transparency.
It’s time for the school choice movement to wake up–and catch up to the educational demands and expectations of the 21st century. It’s paradoxical to us that even as the demands on K-12 education are escalating and important new forms of choice are emerging (not just vouchers for choice’s sake but private schooling as a decent option for kids otherwise stuck in failing public schools, means-tested scholarships for low-income families, corporate and individual tax credit and deduction programs, specialized vouchers for disabled youngsters, and more) the accountability and-transparency discussion seems mired in the 1970s.
Let’s restart the discussion. But what does “accountability, done right” looklike in practice? To find out, we sought the assistance of 20 experts in the school choice world–scholars, advocates, program administrators, private school representatives–to help us wrestle with the thorny issues that together embody the accountability question writ large. In this paper, we present their insights, opinions, and advice about how accountability for voucher programs should be structured. We then synthesize their views and offer our own take. Here’s an overview.

School-Voucher Movement Loses Ground After Democratic Gains

Robert Tomsho:

The school-voucher movement is under assault, as opponents have cut federal funding and states move to impose new restrictions on a form of school choice that has been a cornerstone of the conservative agenda for education overhaul.
Vouchers — which give students public money to pay private-school tuition — have grown since a 2002 Supreme Court decision upheld their use in religious schools. About 61,700 students use them in the current school year, up 9% from last year, according to the Alliance for School Choice, a voucher advocate.
But earlier this month, Congress voted to stop funding a voucher program for the District of Columbia. Two other prominent voucher programs — in Milwaukee and Cleveland — are facing statehouse efforts to impose rules that could prompt some private schools to stop taking voucher students.
Pressure is mounting from other corners as well. President Barack Obama has said he opposes vouchers, and the stimulus bill he signed in February bars its funds from being used to provide financial aid to students attending private schools. On Wednesday, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that two state voucher programs, benefiting foster children and disabled students, violated Arizona’s state constitution.

Do Your Kids Have Too Much Homework?

Sue Shellenbarger:

A Pennsylvania mom wrote me this week to say her son was drowning in too much homework.
As a middle-schooler at a demanding private school, this worried mom writes, her son is laden with hours of homework every night, and it seems to be getting the best of him. His grades have sunk to C-minuses from B’s; he has begun dodging assignments and has been put in detention for missed work. “I don’t remember sixth grade being this much of an ordeal, or any ordeal at all,” she writes.
John has posted on why kids hate school, and homework is a major reason. A growing number of schools, including those in several California cities and Broward County, Fla., are putting a ceiling on kids’ out-of-school workloads.
Parents remain deeply divided on whether kids get too little or too much homework, as shown by this recent report from Atlanta. Nevertheless, a growing number of school districts have embraced guidelines recommended by Duke University’s Harris Cooper: Children should be assigned roughly 10 minutes of homework times their grade level. Thus a first grader would have 10 minutes, a third grader 30, and a high-school senior a couple of hours of homework a night.

Break It to ‘Em Gently: Telling Kids About Financial Woes

Sue Shellenbarger:

As hard as it is, as much as I’d like to avoid it, it’s time to have The Talk with my kids.
I’m not talking about the birds and the bees. I’m talking about the need to cut spending — to downsize my budget to reduce debt and gird for higher-than-expected college costs. I’m finding it surprisingly hard to communicate with my children, 18 and 21, about this. Based on my email and comments on our blog,, other parents are struggling too. Some spouses are fighting about how much to tell their children about financial setbacks. Others are just not saying why Daddy or Mommy has suddenly started driving the daily car pool.
In truth, the information we’re trying so hard to hide or dress up for our kids probably doesn’t matter nearly as much to them as how they see us behaving and feeling. “In conversations with kids of any age, how you say it is more important than what you say,” says Ralph E. Cash, president of the National Association of School Psychologists.
In my own case, at least, providing well for my kids has gotten tangled up in my mind with showing my love for them. Separating the two is making The Talk harder.

Soviet Legacy Looms Large In Russian Schools

Gregory Feifer:

Teachers and principals in Russian schools say the government is providing more money for education, but discouraging critical examination of Soviet history. Meanwhile parents complain that widespread bribery for good grades is eroding standards.

It’s Not OK To Treat People Special Based on Race, But it is OK based on the “Neighborhood”

Legal Pad (Cal Law) via a kind reader’s email:

That’s the gist we got out of the First District’s ruling today, in a constitutional challenge to Berkeley’s way-complicated system for assigning students to different elementary schools, and to different programs in high school. The upshot: The appeals court unanimously said Berkeley’s system is A-OK, despite Prop 209, because it doesn’t consider a student’s own race at all. Instead, all students in a neighborhood are treated the same — and the way the neighborhood is treated is based on a bunch of things, like average income level, average education level, and the neighborhood’s overall racial composition. The court’s opinion calls things like this “affirmative policies” fostering social diversity. That term doesn’t sound familiar at all.

The Opinion 49K PDF
Perhaps this is what new Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad had in mind:

Still, Nerad has clearly taken notice. Given the new numbers, he plans to ask state lawmakers to allow Madison to deny future requests based on family income levels, rather than race, to prevent disparities from further growing between Madison and its suburbs.

2009/2010 Madison Open Enrollment information. Much more on Wisconsin Open Enrollment here.

Giving up A’s and B’s for 4’s and 3’s…..

Winnie Hu:

There is no more A for effort at Prospect Hill Elementary School.
Parents have complained that since the new grading system is based on year-end expectations, 4s are generally not available until the final marking period.
In fact, there are no more A’s at all. Instead of letter grades in English or math, schoolchildren in this well-to-do Westchester suburb now get report cards filled with numbers indicating how they are faring on dozens of specific skills like “decoding strategies” and “number sense and operations.” The lowest mark, 1, indicates a student is not meeting New York State’s academic standards, while the top grade of 4 celebrates “meeting standards with distinction.”
They are called standards-based report cards, part of a new system flourishing around the country as the latest frontier in a 20-year push to establish rigorous academic standards and require state tests on the material.
Educators praise them for setting clear expectations, but many parents who chose to live in Pelham because of its well-regarded schools find them confusing or worse. Among their complaints are that since the new grades are based on year-end expectations, 4s are generally not available until the final marking period (school officials are planning to tweak this aspect next year).
“We’re running around the school saying ‘2 is cool,’ ” said Jennifer Lapey, a parent who grew up in Pelham, “but in my world, 2 out of 4 is not so cool.”

Much more on standards based report cards here.

Goal of Preschool for All Tests Education System

Robert Tomsho:

When Mateus Bontempo started preschool at a public school in Long Branch, N.J., he rarely talked and was so shy he’d stand in the classroom doorway until a teacher came to escort him inside.
Anna Dasilva, his mother, says educators worked with Mateus on his social skills, sometimes taking him to other classrooms to meet new children. Four years later, the eight-year-old third grader plays trumpet, participates in math competitions and performs in plays. “They really helped him along,” says Mrs. Dasilva, who thinks all children should have the same preschool opportunity.
So does President Barack Obama. As one of the main goals of his education plan, he wants to spend $10 billion to encourage states to offer universal preschool and expand federal early-learning programs like Head Start. The recently passed stimulus bill includes half that spending goal, or $5 billion, for Head Start and related early-childhood efforts.
But the current economic crisis may blunt state-level efforts to broaden access to preschool. Even in better times, building a “universal” preschool system would likely be a slow and expensive proposition, given the patchwork nature of what currently exists.
And as state and federal efforts target early learning programs toward disadvantaged students, some middle-class parents feel that their children are being left out. According to a recent study by Pre-K Now, families earning more than about $40,000 a year are already ineligible for free preschool in most of the 20 states that use income to determine eligibility.

Why College Towns are Looking Smart

Kelly Evans:

ooking for a job? Try a college town.
Morgantown, W.Va., home to West Virginia University, has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the U.S. — just 3.9% — and the university itself has about 260 job openings, from nurses to professors to programmers.
“We’re hurting for people, especially to fill our computer and technical positions,” says Margaret Phillips, vice president for human relations at WVU.
Of the six metropolitan areas with unemployment below 4% as of January, three of them are considered college towns. One is Morgantown. The other two are Logan, Utah, home of Utah State University, and Ames, Iowa, home of Iowa State University. Both have just 3.8% unemployment, based on Labor Department figures that are not seasonally adjusted.
The pattern holds true for many other big college towns, such as Gainesville, Fla., Ann Arbor, Mich., Manhattan, Kan., and Boulder, Colo. In stark contrast, the unadjusted national unemployment rate is 8.5%.
While college towns have long been considered recession-resistant, their ability to avoid the depths of the financial crisis shaking the rest of the nation is noteworthy. The ones faring the best right now are not only major education centers; they also are regional health-care hubs that draw people into the city and benefit from a stable, educated, highly skilled work force.

Allonzo Trier Is in the Game

Michael Sokolove:

After school on a recent afternoon, Allonzo Trier, a sixth grader in Federal Way, outside Seattle, came home and quickly changed into his workout gear — Nike high-tops, baggy basketball shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt that hung loosely on his 5-foot-5, 110-pound frame. Inside a small gymnasium near the entrance of his apartment complex, he got right to his practice routine, one he has maintained for the last four years, seven days a week. He began by dribbling a basketball around the perimeter of the court, weaving it around his back and through his legs. After a few minutes, he took a second basketball out of a mesh bag and dribbled both balls, crisscrossing them through his legs. It looked like showboating, Harlem Globetrotters kind of stuff, but the drills, which Trier discovered on the Internet, were based on the childhood workouts of Pete Maravich and have helped nurture his exquisite control of the ball in game settings — and, by extension, his burgeoning national reputation.
One of the Web sites that tracks young basketball prospects reports that Trier plays with “style and punch” and “handles the pill” — the ball — “like a yo-yo.” He is a darling of the so-called grass-roots basketball scene and a star on the A.A.U. circuit — which stands for Amateur Athletic Union but whose practices mock traditional definitions of amateurism.

L.A. district to end high-profile dropout-prevention program

Howard Blume:

A high-profile and lauded dropout-prevention program is falling victim to budget cuts — although top Los Angeles school officials insist that they’ll provide a more effective program in its place.
The precarious Diploma Project is emblematic of the financial crisis slowly working its way across the nation’s second-largest school system as ripples of a statewide budget shortfall touch counselors, teachers and other school employees whose work directly affects children enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Nearly 9,000 employees — about 10% of the full-time workforce — received notice of a possible layoff this month as the district seeks to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from its nearly $6-billion general fund. But there’s more going on than financial pain.
Reshaping system
After taking the helm in January, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, one of the country’s most experienced educators, has attempted to reshape the school system. Cortines is seizing the moment to trim or gut some of the central bureaucracy, while also moving dollars and responsibility to schools. The superintendent wants schools to decide for themselves whether to pay for additional counselors, arts programs and librarians, among other things.
The new setup must save money, but it also should be more effective, he said.

The Education Wars

Dana Goldstein:

Like any successful negotiator, Randi Weingarten can sense when the time for compromise is nigh. On Nov. 17, after the Election Day dust had cleared, Weingarten, the president of both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and its New York City affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers, gave a major speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. In attendance were a host of education-policy luminaries, including Weingarten’s sometimes-foe Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern, National Education Association (NEA) President Dennis van Roekel, and Rep. George Miller of California.
“No issue should be off the table, provided it is good for children and fair for teachers,” Weingarten vowed, referencing debates within the Democratic coalition over charter schools and performance pay for teachers — innovations that teachers’ unions traditionally held at arm’s length.
The first openly gay president of a major American labor union, Weingarten is small — both short and slight. But she speaks in the commanding, practiced tones of a unionist. In speeches, newspaper op-eds, and public appearances, Weingarten, once known as a guns-blazing New York power broker, has been trying to carve out a conciliatory role for herself in the national debate over education policy. It is a public-relations strategy clearly crafted for the Obama era: an effort to focus on common ground instead of long-simmering differences.
Notably absent from the audience for Weingarten’s post-election speech was D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. In the summer of 2007, Rhee, a Teach For America alumna and founder of the anti-union New Teacher Project, took office and quickly implemented an agenda of school closings, teacher and principal firings, and a push toward merit pay. These actions met with their fair share of outrage from both parents and teachers and especially from the local teachers’ union. At the time of Weingarten’s speech, Rhee and the AFT-affiliated Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) were stalemated over a proposed new contract for teachers.

Keeping coaches in check

Rosanlind Rossi & Steve Tucker:

Chicago public school coaches are in for a crackdown under a proposed city policy that explicitly bans everything from pushing, pinching or paddling athletes to “displays of temper.”
The massive overhaul of the Chicago Public High Schools Athletic Association bylaws follows allegations that began emerging last fall that at least four CPS coaches had paddled or hit athletes.
The new policy creates the possibility that coaches can be banned for life for just one rule violation. Previously, such punishment followed only “knowing and repeated” rule violations.
It also mandates annual coaching training, requires that all coaches undergo criminal background checks and fingerprint analysis, and establishes a “pool” of thoroughly screened candidates from which principals must now pick their coaches.
Prohibitions against corporal punishment and even “forcing a student to stand or kneel for an inordinate time” were listed elsewhere in CPS policy, but after the paddling scandal, CPS wanted to take a clear stand against a wide variety of corporal punishment, said CPS counsel Patrick Rocks.

Strip-Search of Girl Tests Limit of School Policy

Adam Liptak:

Savana Redding still remembers the clothes she had on — black stretch pants with butterfly patches and a pink T-shirt — the day school officials here forced her to strip six years ago. She was 13 and in eighth grade.
An assistant principal, enforcing the school’s antidrug policies, suspected her of having brought prescription-strength ibuprofen pills to school. One of the pills is as strong as two Advils.
The search by two female school employees was methodical and humiliating, Ms. Redding said. After she had stripped to her underwear, “they asked me to pull out my bra and move it from side to side,” she said. “They made me open my legs and pull out my underwear.”
Ms. Redding, an honors student, had no pills. But she had a furious mother and a lawyer, and now her case has reached the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on April 21.

Public money for private schools?
Lawmaker: S.C.’s schools fail minorities; state should subsidize private school choice.

Roddie Burris:

State Sen. Robert Ford is putting a new face on the long-running fight over whether to spend public education dollars to pay for private schools.
To the dismay of his African American colleagues, the Charleston Democrat is hawking a bill that would give students a publicly paid scholarship or tuition grant to go to a private school.
So far, the push for school choice has had mostly white faces out front. But Ford, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, is making the case that the students who would benefit most from a voucher-style program in South Carolina are African Americans who attend poorly performing schools.
He dismisses those who say his program would hurt already struggling public schools, framing the argument as a choice between protecting schools or giving children the lifeline they need to succeed.
“You’re damn right I’m hurting public education, because public education is hurting our kids,” Ford said.

Wider testing to ID kids

Rhonda Bodfield
Arizona Daily Star

Even as schools across the state brace for sky-is-falling budget cuts, the Tucson Unified School District program for gifted and talented students is prepping for dramatic growth in the next school year.
The district plans to double the number of students it tests — up to 10,000 — and will send postcards to every family about testing opportunities.
As a result of state and federal requirements, it also will begin offering gifted classes for kindergartners and for juniors and seniors in high school.
Currently, parents request testing to see if their children qualify. That’s a system that can be full of pitfalls in lower-income areas where parents miss the newsletter because they may be working two jobs, for example, or where language barriers might lead to missed deadlines, let alone confusion over how to access the program.

Parents in dark about kids’ school life

Kelly Fiveash:

Becta has warned that a three-way communication breakdown between schools, parents and kids could have a harmful affect on individuals’ educational performance.
Unsurprisingly the UK government’s technology agency, which published a new report today, was keen to underline what it sees as the importance of IT in the classroom to help improve parent dialogue with their children.
Becta surveyed 1,000 school kids aged seven to 14 and 1,000 parents to find out the level of ill communication that existed between adults and children when it comes to talking about school.
It found more than a third (37 per cent) of kids had difficulty speaking to their parents about their education, while 43 per cent of parents questioned admitted they struggled to get information from their child about their school day.
According to the Oh, Nothing Much report, eight in ten parents confessed they didn’t know as much about their kids’ day at school as they would like.

The Ethics of DNA Databasing: The House Believes That People’s DNA Sequences are Their Business and Nobody Else’s

An online debate at The Economist:: Professor Arthur Caplan:

Emmanuel and Robert Hart Professor of Bioethics and Director, Centre for Bioethics, Penn University
There are, it is increasingly said, plenty of reasons why people you know and many you don’t ought to have access to your DNA or data that are derived from it. Have you ever had sexual relations outside a single, monogamous relationship? Well then, any children who resulted from your hanky-panky might legitimately want access to your DNA to establish paternity or maternity.

Craig Venter, Against:

As we progress from the first human genome to sequence hundreds, then thousands and then millions of individual genomes, the value for medicine and humanity will only come from the availability and analysis of comprehensive, public databases containing all these genome sequences along with as complete as possible phenotype descriptions of the individuals.

In Favor of Arlene Silveira for the Madison School Board

The Capital Times:

Races for the Madison School Board, once among the most intense of local electoral competitions, have been a lot quieter in recent years. The more cooperative and functional character of the board, combined with a more responsive approach to community concerns, is confirmed by the fact that many voters are unaware that there is even a contest for one of the two seats that will be filled April 7.
While Seat 2 incumbent Lucy Mathiak, a serious and engaged board member, is unopposed, School Board President Arlene Silveira faces Donald Gors for Seat 1.
We’re glad that Gors, a parent and business owner, is making the race. It is good to have the competition. But even as he launched his run, Gors admitted, “I don’t really know anything about the people on the board or where they stand.”

Watch or listen to a recent conversation with Arlene here.

College Prestige Lies

Robin Hanson:

Over the next two weeks my eldest son will be rejected by some colleges, accepted by others. And then we’ll likely have to make a hard choice, between cheap state schools and expensive prestigious ones. A colleague told me the best econ paper on this found it doesn’t matter. From its 1999 abstract:
We matched students who applied to, and were accepted by, similar colleges to try to eliminate this bias. Using the … High School Class of 1972, we find that students who attended more selective colleges earned about the same [20 years later] as students of seemingly comparable ability who attended less selective schools. Children from low-income families, however, earned more if they attended selective colleges.
A 2006 NYT article confirms this:
Higher education experts have this message … Pay less attention to prestige and more to “fit” — the marriage of interests and comfort level with factors like campus size, access to professors, instruction philosophy. … A 1999 study by Alan B. Krueger … and Stacy Dale … found that students who were admitted to both selective and moderately selective colleges earned the same no matter which they attended.

Saying “When” on DC School Vouchers

Jay Matthews:

I’m not trying to be a hypocrite. I have supported D.C. school vouchers. The program has used tax dollars well in transferring impoverished students to private schools with higher standards than D.C. public schools. But it has reached a dead end. Congress should fund the 1,713 current voucher recipients until they graduate from high school but stop new enrollments and find a more promising use of the money.
That exasperation you hear is from my friend and former boss, the brilliant Washington Post editorial writer who has been eviscerating Democrats in Congress for trying to kill D.C. vouchers. We don’t identify the authors of our unsigned editorials, but her in-your-face style is unmistakable and her arguments morally unassailable.
My problems with what is formally known as the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program are political and cultural, not moral. The program provides up to $7,500 a year for private-school tuition for poor children at an annual cost of about $12 million. Vouchers help such kids, but not enough of them. The vouchers are too at odds with the general public view of education. They don’t have much of a future.

Detroit prep school helps students get back on track

Chastity Pratt Dawsey:

The silence is striking at Barsamian Preparatory Center. And so are the violence prevention therapy sessions, where a homework assignment is to tell a caregiver, “I love you.”
Then there’s the low teacher turnover and the one bored and unarmed security guard who keeps watch over 90 teenagers who are judged to be the most violent in Detroit Public Schools.
Barsamian is one of the few places where high school students expelled for violence, drugs, aggression toward school staff or other serious actions can continue their education. Some were kicked out of other schools in the district; others are serving out expulsions from districts around the state.
The expulsions range from a few months to a year. Most of the kids are on probation in the juvenile justice system. Students leave the school after their expulsion period is over.
Students, staff and parents said Barsamian’s small setting and strict rules have worked well. Some wish the students could stay longer.

In tough times, private schools take innovative approaches to fundraising

Carla Rivera:

Most solicitations don’t begin with the words “don’t give,” but that’s the approach being used this year by the private Oakwood School in a clever, celebrity-packed appeal timed to its annual fundraising drive.
In the 3 1/2-minute video, Danny DeVito, Jason Alexander, Steve Carell and other Hollywood stars voice such sentiments as “The economy is in the toilet, so don’t give” and “You’d be stupid to give” before getting to the real point: “Unless you care about your children and their future,” and “Unless you care about families who had a hard year and need some help with tuition.”
Created by parent volunteers, the video is an example of the inventive methods private schools are using this spring to generate giving at a time when traditional benefactors may be hard-pressed themselves.
Oakwood’s “Don’t Give” campaign was a precursor to its major fundraiser, a star-studded event Saturday at The Lot in West Hollywood, featuring comedy, music and an auction. The video was meant to be an internal communication but was distributed on YouTube, said James Astman, Oakwood’s head of school.

Multiracial Pupils to Be Counted in A New Way

Michael Alison Chandler & Maria Glod:

Public schools in the Washington region and elsewhere are abandoning their check-one-box approach to gathering information about race and ethnicity in an effort to develop a more accurate portrait of classrooms transformed by immigration and interracial marriage. Next year, they will begin a separate count of students who are of more than one race.
For many families in the District, Montgomery and other local counties that have felt forced to deny a part of their children’s heritage, the new way of counting, mandated by the federal government, represents a long-awaited acknowledgment of their identity: Enrollment forms will allow students to identify as both white and American Indian, for example, or black and Asian. But changing labels will make it harder to monitor progress of groups that have trailed in school, including black and Hispanic students.

Ease the Tuition Squeeze

Penelope Wang:

You’ve been waiting for this moment for nearly 18 years: Your baby is almost ready for college. Your finances, not so much. The market’s protracted free fall means that your college fund is now worth just a fraction of what you need. Your home’s value has no doubt dropped sharply too – no help there. The only thing that keeps going up, you guessed it, is college tuition. So it’s goodbye, Dream School U., hello, Central State, right?
Wrong. While there’s no denying times are tough, you have more options to help pay for that BA than you think. From targeting the right schools to taking advantage of new financial aid rules and tax breaks, you can get the price to a manageable level. These steps will ensure your kid ends up at a great school you can really afford.
1. Use your savings strategically
The typical 529 college savings plan of a high school junior or senior has dropped 12.5% in value over the past year. And if you didn’t invest in an age-based portfolio that automatically shifted into safer investments as your child got older, your losses may be far worse. The big question before you: Should you try to hold off withdrawing money from the account to give your savings time to bounce back?

Reading Test Dummies

E.D. Hirsch
In his recent education speech, President Obama asked the states to raise their standards and develop “assessments that don’t simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test.” With the No Child Left Behind law up for reauthorization this year, the onus is now on lawmakers and educators to find a way to maintain accountability while mitigating the current tendency to reduce schooling to a joyless grind of practice exams and empty instruction in “reading strategies.”
Before we throw away bubble tests, though, we should institute a relatively simple change that would lessen the worst effects of the test-prep culture and improve education in the bargain.
These much maligned, fill-in-the-bubble reading tests are technically among the most reliable and valid tests available. The problem is that the reading passages used in these tests are random. They are not aligned with explicit grade-by-grade content standards. Children are asked to read and then answer multiple-choice questions about such topics as taking a hike in the Appalachians even though they’ve never left the sidewalks of New York, nor studied the Appalachians in school.
Teachers can’t prepare for the content of the tests and so they substitute practice exams and countless hours of instruction in comprehension strategies like “finding the main idea.” Yet despite this intensive test preparation, reading scores have paradoxically stagnated or declined in the later grades.
This is because the schools have imagined that reading is merely a “skill” that can be transferred from one passage to another, and that reading scores can be raised by having young students endlessly practice strategies on trivial stories. Tragic amounts of time have been wasted that could have been devoted to enhancing knowledge and vocabulary, which would actually raise reading comprehension scores.

Waunakee teacher creates musicals that star all the fifth-graders

Pamela Cotant:

Music teacher Kathy Bartling is on a mission.
“I want every child to have one chance to be on the stage before they leave this school district,” Bartling said.
To that end, she has written and produced 30 different musicals where every fifth-grader has a role, despite the growing student population. The first year she had 70 students to work in. This year, she found a way to include 261 students at Waunakee Intermediate School.
She has found ways for students who don’t speak English to take part.
This year some students performed as a green inch worm. The required costume was one of 17 new ones she made this year.

Service programs gain allure for students

Erica Perez:

Eric Sandow is poised to graduate with a geography degree in May, but career plans A and B – graduate school or a land-planning job – aren’t panning out.
So the 28-year-old University of Wisconsin-Parkside student is seriously considering a pursuit he’s had in the back of his mind for years: the Peace Corps.
The troubled economy and President Barack Obama’s call to service are helping create a surge of interest in the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and other service opportunities. Meanwhile, the U.S. House last week approved the largest expansion of government-sponsored service programs in years.
Both Peace Corps and AmeriCorps provide modest compensation, student loan deferment and a small scholarship at the end that members can use to pay off debt or pursue more schooling.
“With the job market being the way it is, and my situation, I could definitely do that for two years, then see what the economy’s like and in the process maybe help some people out,” said Sandow, who has contacted a Peace Corps recruiter and is mulling over an application.

CNA program a boon to Oregon High School students

Gayle Worland:

Kayla Crowley, 18, is healthy, but she’s lying in a financial institution with a thermometer in her mouth.
Two mornings a week, this basement room in the Oregon Community Bank and Trust has served as a bustling training area — not for lending money, but for lending a hand.
Crowley and 10 other students from Oregon High School are earning both high school and college credit while they prepare for a booming job category: nursing assistant. While courses such as this take place across the region, the Oregon class “has been a real community effort,” said Bill Urban, coordinator for Oregon’s School 2 Career program, which matches students with on-the-job training.
The bank donated space. Meriter loaned two hospital beds. Oregon Manor contributed two wheelchairs and a Hoyer patient lift.

Behind the Boom in AP Coursess

Lindsay Kastner:

It’s about 9 a.m. on a Friday morning and history teacher Howard Wilen is lecturing on President Theodore Roosevelt’s relationship with labor unions.
Roosevelt, Wilen told the class, helped secure better work hours for coal miners but coal prices increased as a result.
Wilen’s Advanced Placement U.S. history students have brokered a deal of sorts too, taking a tough class in high school that could earn college credit. For those who do well on the placement exam, many colleges will give credit for the AP history class, saving students money and time down the road.
Participation in AP courses has skyrocketed in recent years as many school districts have adopted open-enrollment policies, allowing any student willing to take on the work a chance to try the college-level courses.
But at Alamo Heights High School, where Wilen chairs the social studies department, admission remains restricted to top students. The district is rethinking that policy now.

Organizers looking to West High alumni to finance new entrance

Gayle Worland:

West High School students will have a grand new entrance to come through next fall. But to help finance it, organizers are looking down the street and across the country — to alumni.
Later this month, about 20,000 West High graduates will find in their mailboxes a donation plea for “The Ash Street Project,” a $400,000, front yard reconfiguration of a building that many consider a Near West Side landmark. Designed by Madison landscape architect Ken Saiki, a West High alum, the new entry will have a symmetrical, formal staircase, decorative walkway and performance area.
Referendum funds and grants will cover $250,000 to replace the school’s crumbling steps and make the new entry comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. But it’s up to West to raise another $150,000 to fund Saiki’s design, a vision approved by a community committee, said Principal Ed Holmes.
“Technically the district money is enough to take down what we have and put it back the way it is,” Holmes said. “It’s time for a renovation, kind of a starting over. The Ash Street entrance is really the symbol and the image of West High School that people have had over the generations.”

Can AFT president Randi Weingarten satisfy teachers and reformers at the same time?

Andrew Rotherham & Richard Whitmire:

Randi Weingarten, the notoriously feisty president of the second-largest national teachers’ union, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), received a hero’s welcome at the National Press Club last November. In her speech, she vowed to give ear to almost any tough-minded school reform, and, in a line that thrilled many reformers, promised that the AFT will not protect incompetent teachers: “Teachers are the first to say, ‘Let’s get incompetent teachers out of the classroom.'”
Weingarten would seem to be donning the reformist mantle of a previous AFT president, Al Shanker, a highly regarded reformer who shook up pro-union liberals by reminding everyone that tough school discipline and achievement standards were civil rights fundamentals. But an approach that worked during Shanker’s tenure is more difficult now, with the reformers and unionists pitched in a bare-knuckled fight that is not about lofty, system-changing goals as much as about the thorny specifics of state and local education policy. Caught up in a contentious situation with the Washington, D.C. school system that has challenged her reformist credentials, Weingarten’s attempt to satisfy both sides of the debate is being put to the test–the result of which could dictate the future of education reform across the country.

Joanne Jacobs has more.

Core Knowledge Foundation Blog, Take That, AIG!

Published by Robert Pondiscio on March 20, 2009 in Education News and Students:

An upstate New York high school student could teach a course in character to the bonus babies of AIG. Nicole Heise of Ithaca High School was one of The Concord Review’s six winners of The Concord Review’s Emerson Prize awards for excellence this year. But as EdWeek’s Kathleen Kennedy Manzo tells the story, she sent back her prize, a check for $800, with this note:
“As you well know, for high school-aged scholars, a forum of this caliber and the incentives it creates for academic excellence are rare. I also know that keeping The Concord Review active requires resources. So, please allow me to put my Emerson award money to the best possible use I can imagine by donating it to The Concord Review so that another young scholar can experience the thrill of seeing his or her work published.”
The Concord Review publishes research papers by high school scholars. It’s a one-of-a-kind venue for its impressive young authors. Manzo notes TCR “has won praise from renowned historians, lawmakers, and educators, yet has failed to ever draw sufficient funding…It operates on a shoestring, as Founder and Publisher Will Fitzhugh reminds me often. Fitzhugh, who has struggled for years to keep the operation afloat, challenges students to do rigorous scholarly work and to delve deeply into history. His success at inspiring great academic work is juxtaposed against his failure to get anyone with money to take notice.”
Young Ms. Heise noticed. Anyone else?

“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Why Don’t Students Like School?

Daniel Willingham, via a kind reader’s email:

trange as it may sound, the mind is not designed for thinking–it’s designed to save us from having to think. Because thinking is slow, effortful, and uncertain, we rely on memory, not thought, to guide us whenever possible. Nonetheless, we are curious and we do like to think, so long as the issue or problem at hand is neither too easy nor too hard.

Wisconsin State Budget Forum, Wed. April 1, Wright Middle School, 6 p.m.

Joe Quick:

Dear MMSD Advocate,
Every two years, state government adopts a biennial budget that funds nearly every program in state government. Gov. Jim Doyle’s budget mostly protects K-12, but many K-12 programs were cut by 1%. Due to the floundering national/state economy millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds for Wisconsin are being used to provide a one-time boost to state funding for schools over the next two years.
Short-term, there are some important items in the budget that will help MMSD; but long-term, little is being done to end the annual ritual of either going to referendum or determining what programs and services for students must be cut to balance the local budget.
In the two-year legislative cycle, April in odd years is probably the most important time to contact your legislator to advocate for school programs. Whether it’s SAGE, the K-3 class size reduction program funded by the state, or funding for students in special education — the biennial budget provides the resources.
If you want to advocate to protect school programs/services, please come to the State Budget Forum on April 1st (see attached flier [54K PDF]) to learn about the issues, receive information to help you with that advocacy and find out what is being done to bring about comprehensive school funding reform.
Please forward this information to others who might be interested. Hope to see you April 1st,
Joe Quick
Legislative Liaison/Communication Specialist
Madison Schools
608 663-1902

Andrekopoulos likes the idea of “year-round” classes for Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

Although Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos is talking up the idea of converting almost the entire public school system to a year-round schedule, a new study of MPS schools finds mixed evidence, at best, that it increases academic success.
The study, conducted by Bradley R. Carl, a University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher, finds little difference in the annual improvement between students on year-round schedules and those on the traditional September to June calendar. The study, completed in February, can be found on the MPS Web site.
Andrekopoulos enters the week still promoting the year-round idea, although it got a tepid reception last week and, in addition to Carl’s research, there is no agreement among researchers nationally that the revamped schedule improves results.
The superintendent pointed to evidence in the Carl study that students who remained in the same school for two years made bigger gains under the year-round schedule, in which they get shorter summer vacation and longer breaks during the rest of the year.
He said the results showed the importance of reducing the very high percentage of MPS students who change schools frequently – more than 30% are in a different school each September than they were in the year before, not including those who get promoted. A year-round schedule across the city would reduce mobility, Andrekopoulos suggested.

Madison School District Candidate Forum 4/4/2009

via Laurel Cavalluzzo:

WHAT: Board of Education Candidate Forum
with Arlene Silveira Lucy Mathiak Donald Gors
WHEN:  April 4, 2009 10-noon
WHERE:  Lakeview Public Library
2845 N Sherman Ave. [Map]
Madison, WI 53704
(608) 246-4547
Open to the public
Learn more about candidate’s positions on issues important to our schools and our communities.
Lakewood Gardens Neighborhood Committee
WI Charter School Assn
Nuestro Mundo, Inc.

Education’s Ground Zero: Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC

Nicholas Kristof:

The most unlikely figure in the struggle to reform America’s education system right now is Michelle Rhee.
She’s a Korean-American chancellor of schools in a city that is mostly African-American. She’s an insurgent from the school-reform movement who spent her career on the outside of the system, her nose pressed against the glass — and now she’s in charge of some of America’s most blighted schools. Less than two years into the job, she has transformed Washington into ground zero of America’s education reform movement.
Ms. Rhee, 39, who became Washington’s sixth school superintendent in 10 years, has ousted one-third of the district’s principals, shaken up the system, created untold enemies, improved test scores, and — more than almost anyone else — dared to talk openly about the need to replace ineffective teachers.
“It’s sort of a taboo topic that nobody wants to talk about,” she acknowledged in an interview in her office, not far from the Capitol. “I used to say ‘fire people.’ And they said you can’t say that. Say, ‘separate them from the district’ or something like that.”

RE: ’07 U.S. Births Break Baby Boom Record

Douglas M. Newman:

It’s irresponsible that Erick Ekholm doesn’t mention well publicized research citing teen pregnancy being tied to racy TV in his article (‘07 U.S. Births Break Baby Boom Record, Mar. 18, 2009).
In the widely published Nov. 3, 2008 Associate Press news release by Lindsy Tanner, Rand Corp. published a study in the November 2008 issue of Pediatrics, linking TV viewing habits and teen pregnancy.
Paraphrasing the AP’s press release and Anita Chandra, lead author of Rand’s study, “teens who watched the raciest shows were twice as likely to become pregnant as those who didn’t. Previous research found that watching lots of sex on TV can influence teens to have sex at earlier ages. Shows highlighting only the positive aspects of sexual behavior without the risks can lead teens to have unprotected sex.”
Perhaps 2007 birth rates just might have been influenced by racy television shows teens are viewing – with parental consent and produced by adults in the name of corporate profits I might add.
Douglas M. Newman
Guilford, Connecticut
Cell: (203) 516-1006
Word count: 148 (after the hyphen in the last sentence, the word count is 166).

Lindsay Tanner:

Groundbreaking research suggests that pregnancy rates are much higher among teens who watch a lot of TV with sexual dialogue and behavior, compared with those who have tamer viewing tastes.
“Sex in the City,” anyone? That was one of the shows used in the research.
The new study is the first to link those viewing habits with teen pregnancy, said lead author Anita Chandra, a Rand Corp. behavioral scientist. Teens who watched the raciest shows were twice as likely to become pregnant over the next three years as those who watched few such programs.
Previous research by some of the same scientists had already found that watching lots of sex on TV can influence teens to have sex at earlier ages.
Shows that only highlight the positive aspects of sexual behavior without the risks can lead teens to have unprotected sex “before they’re ready to make responsible and informed decisions,” Miss Chandra said.


The more sexual content in television and magazines that teens are exposed to, the more likely they are to have sexual intercourse at an early age, a new study says.
The University of North Carolina study, published in today’s issue of the journal Pediatrics, concludes that white adolescents who view more sexual content than their peers are 2.2 times more likely to have sexual intercourse by the time they are 14 to 16 years old.
“Some, especially those who have fewer alternative sources of sexual norms, such as parents or friends, may use the media as a kind of sexual superpeer that encourages them to be sexually active,” the study authors state.
And, as similar past studies have noted, “one of the strongest protective factors against early sexual behavior was clear parental communication about sex.”

St. Maria Goretti Student Faces Weapons Charge

Capital Newspapers:

A 14-year-old Madison teen faces weapons charges after he allegedly brought a pellet gun to St. Maria Goretti School on Thursday morning.
The student was tentatively charged with possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under the age of 18 and also was tentatively charged with burglary after admitting committing other crimes, including a residential burglary from 2007, police said. Madison police said a school staff member found a black, plastic pellet gun in the student’s backpack.
The student “claimed he did not mean to bring the weapon to school and had forgotten it was in his backpack,” said police spokesman Joel DeSpain. “But the investigating officer was also told the suspect might have threatened to shoot another student.”
St. Maria Goretti is a K-8 parochial school at 5405 Flad Ave. on the city’s West Side.

A Chat with Arlene Silveira

Click above to watch, or CTRL-click to download this mpeg4 or mp3 audio file. You’ll need Quicktime to view the video file.
Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira is up for re-election on April 7, 2009. Arlene graciously agreed to record this video conversation recently. We discussed her sense of where the Madison School District is in terms of:

  1. academics
  2. finance
  3. community support/interaction
  4. Leadership (Board and Administration)

We also discussed what she hopes to accomplish over the next three years.
Arlene’s opponent on April 7, 2009 is Donald Gors. The Wisconsin State Journal recently posted a few notes on each candidate here.
I emailed Arlene, Donald Gors and Lucy Mathiak (who is running unopposed) regarding this video conversation. I hope to meet Lucy at some point over the next few weeks. I have not heard from Donald Gors.
Arlene and Lucy were first elected in April, 2006. There are many links along with video interviews of both here.

2009 Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidate Debate Tony Evers and Rose Fernandez

Via Wisconsin Public Television. CTRL Click here to download the 382MB 60 minute event video, or this 26MB mp3 audio file.
Candidate websites: Tony Evers & Rose Fernandez
Amy Hetzner:

Rose Fernandez regularly refers to herself as an outsider in the race to become the state’s next schools chief.
The implication is that her April 7 opponent, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, is an insider who is unlikely to change what is happening with education in the state.
The outsider candidate who can change things and shake up the status quo has long been a popular thrust in political campaigns. President Barack Obama, although a U.S. senator at the time, used aspects of the tactic in his campaign last fall.
But some wonder whether it will have the same impact in what is likely to be a low-turnout election April 7.
“The advantage to the insider is being able to draw off of established, organizational support,” said Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “The outsider’s goal is to try to become visible enough that people unhappy with the status quo can voice their outsider outrage.”
From her Web site address – – to frequently tying her opponent to the state’s largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, Fernandez appears to be trying to capitalize on one of her many differences with her opponent.
“There are perils with entrenchment,” said Fernandez, a former pediatric trauma nurse and past president of the Wisconsin Coalition for Virtual School Families. “With that there comes an inability to see the problems as they really are.”
But being an outsider also has some disadvantages, which Evers is trying to play up as well.
At a recent appearance before the Public Policy Forum, Evers puzzled about Fernandez’s stance against a provision in Gov. Jim Doyle’s bill that he said was supported by voucher school proponents while she expressed support for voucher schools.

Change Pay, Change Teaching?

Amanda Paulson:

Taylor Betz will make a lot more as a high school math teacher this year than her normal salary might suggest.
There’s the $2,300 bonus she gets for working at a “hard-to-serve school,” the $2,300 for filling a “hard-to-staff position,” the $2,300 that all teachers at her school are likely to get for raising student scores on state tests, the $2,300 “beating the odds” bonus she gets for significantly raising the math scores of her own students, and a few smaller bonuses.
Given the extra money, it’s easy to see why a teacher like Ms. Betz would be an enthusiastic supporter of the “pay for performance” system that Denver has adopted. But even though such systems are proliferating, they’re still both highly controversial and little understood.
Performance pay is one of several areas getting attention right now as education reformers zero in on high-quality teaching as the key to helping students learn. The thinking goes like this: It takes good teachers to improve student achievement, and it will take better pay to lure and keep good teachers.
Not only that, advocates of these plans say, but pay should be more directly linked to how well teachers do. And one way to make that link is by looking at students’ scores on standardized tests.

Joanne has more.

Reports surface that teens are taking cow drugs for abortions

Erin Richards:

Veterinary and medical professionals in Wisconsin said Friday that they have been warned about a potentially alarming practice among the state’s rural youth: teenage girls ingesting livestock drugs to cheaply and discreetly end their unwanted pregnancies.
So far, the professionals in animal and human health and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction are treating the reports of girls inducing their own abortions with prostaglandins – drugs commonly used by cow breeders to regulate animals’ heat cycles – as rumors, because no cases have been officially confirmed by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
But Anna Anderson, the executive director of Care Net Pregnancy Center of Green County in Monroe, maintains that she has identified at least 10 girls ages 14 to 18 in a three-county area who admitted to taking some form of cow abortifacient in the past year.
Anderson said the girls told her they took it because they found it to be a cheap and easy way to end their pregnancies without their parents finding out.
At the American Veterinary Medical Association, Assistant Director Kimberly May said Friday that her organization first heard the rumor about the teenagers in mid-February from the Wisconsin Veterinary Medical Association. Since then, the American Animal Hospital Association has also posted an advisory about the issue on its Web site.
Injected properly in livestock, prostaglandins shorten a heat cycle so a female animal can be bred again, May said.

Some Rich Districts Get Richer as Aid Is Rushed to Schools

Sam Dillon:

Dale Lamborn, the superintendent of a somewhat threadbare rural school district, feels the pain of Utah’s economic crisis every day as he tinkers with his shrinking budget, struggling to avoid laying off teachers or cutting classes like welding or calculus.
Just across the border in Wyoming, a state awash in oil and gas money, James Bailey runs a wealthier district. It has a new elementary school and gives every child an Apple laptop.
But under the Obama administration’s education stimulus package, Mr. Lamborn, who needs every penny he can get, will receive hundreds of dollars less per student than will Dr. Bailey, who says he does not need the extra money.
“For us, this is just a windfall,” Dr. Bailey said.
In pouring rivers of cash into states and school districts, Washington is using a tangle of well-worn federal formulas, some of which benefit states that spend more per pupil, while others help states with large concentrations of poor students or simply channel money based on population. Combined, the formulas seem to take little account of who needs the money most.
As a result, some districts that are well off will find themselves swimming in cash, while some that are struggling may get too little to avoid cutbacks.

Teachers Alleging Attacks by Youths Find Themselves Scrutinized

Bill Turque:

Woodson Academy teacher William Pow had just finished writing on the blackboard one January afternoon, he said, when he turned to face his algebra class and saw the textbook “Mathematics in Life” hurtling toward his head.
He ducked, he said, but it caught him in the neck and shoulder. His colleagues at Woodson have not been as lucky. English teacher Randy Brown said he was hit just above the left ear by a book thrown by a student last month. He was treated for a concussion and said he has since suffered from headaches and nausea.
“They think it’s a game to hit people in the head,” said Brown, who, like Pow, has not returned to school.
They say the 260-student ninth-grade academy, housed at Ronald H. Brown Middle School in Northeast Washington while a new Woodson High is under construction, is overcrowded and dangerous. Brown and Pow count five other teachers or administrators who they said have been attacked this academic year, including one who was pelted by textbooks and another pinned to a desktop and choked. Other teachers, Brown and Pow said, are routinely subjected to verbal threats of violence.

Price Drop: Stocks, Homes, Now Triple-Word Scores

Carl Bialik:

A trio of words — one that’s slang for pizza, another defined as a body’s vital life force and a third referring to a snoring sound — have conspired to change the game of Scrabble.
“Za,” “qi” and “zzz” were added recently to the game’s official word list for its original English-language edition. Because Z’s and Q’s each have the game’s highest point value of 10, those monosyllabic words can rack up big scores for relatively little effort. So now that those high-scoring letters are more versatile, some Scrabble aficionados would like to see the rules changed — which would be the only change since Alfred Butts popularized the game in 1948.
For non Scrabble-rousers, there are analogs for the proposed re-evaluations in other leisure pursuits. Some notable mispriced assets: Vermont Avenue in Monopoly, three-point field goals in basketball and football and overtime losses in hockey. Yet traditionalists say rules should endure; it’s up to players to exploit them.
In Scrabble, players form words on a 15-by-15-space board using 100 tiles — two of them blanks that can stand in for any letter, and 98 tiles with letters and corresponding point values. Players draw seven tiles to start the game and refresh their set after each turn.

A Summary of the Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidate Event

Greg Bump:

WisPolitics: Evers, Fernandez question each other in We The People debate
By Greg Bump
Tony Evers questioned opponent Rose Fernandez’s qualifications for the state’s top education spot Friday night, while Fernandez countered by trying to portray him as a crony of Wisconsin’s largest teacher’s union.
The two, vying for the post of superintendent of Public Instruction, laid out competing visions in a We The People debate.
Evers, the deputy superintendent at DPI, touted his 34 years of experience in education while contrasting his resume with the credentials of Fernandez, who is a nurse by trade and has never worked in a public school.
Fernandez, a virtual school advocate, countered by continually trying to lay problems with the state’s educational system at the feet of Evers, who has held the No. 2 post at the agency for eight years.
Given the opportunity to question each other, Evers pointed out Fernandez represented virtual schools and has zero experience in the administration of public schools. He asked how parents with children in public schools can trust her to invest in their education rather than funneling money toward special interests.
“My own special interest is the boys and girls growing up in the state of Wisconsin,” Fernandez shot back.
Fernandez then stressed Evers’ endorsement by the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the “hundreds of thousands of dollars” the union has spent to support his campaign. She asked him to list three reforms he has supported that WEAC opposed.
Evers answered that the union was unhappy with a settlement DPI reached on allowing virtual schools — in which districts allow students to take courses on-line — to continue. He also said he has been a strong advocate of charter schools — which operate without some of the regulations of other public schools — something the union has opposed.
“I started charter schools. I know what charter schools are about,” Evers said. “I don’t need a lecture about charter schools.”
Evers also stressed his support from school boards, child advocates, parents and others.
“That’s why you have to have a broad coalition,” Evers said. “This isn’t about this overwhelming group of people driving policy at the state level. That just isn’t fact.”
Fernandez ripped DPI for not doing enough to help the struggling Milwaukee Public School system address issues like dropout rates and the achievement gap for minority students.
Evers countered that he has worked on the issue with educators in Milwaukee, but there are also socioeconomic factors that are hampering achievement.
“Laying this issue on my lap is irrational,” Evers said.
Fernandez also brought up a piece of Evers’ campaign lit that referred to voucher schools in Milwaukee as “a privatization scheme.”
“Some of the schools have been scheming, and those schools we have drummed out of the program,” Evers replied.
Evers warned that Fernandez would run DPI through the prism of the “special interest” of choice schools.
Both candidates agreed that a merit pay system for educators could have benefit, but they disagreed on the details. Fernandez indicated that she would base her merit pay system more on classroom outcomes, while Evers stressed that rewards for training were equally important.
They differed more prominently on the qualified economic offer, which Gov. Jim Doyle has proposed eliminating in his 2009-11 budget plan. Fernandez wants to retain it, saying that without the control on teacher compensation, property taxes could rise sharply.
“Children may become the enemy of the taxpayer,” she said.
Evers said he has bargained on both sides of the table, and he opposes the QEO because it hurts the state’s ability to stay competitive in teacher pay.
Evers embraced the coming federal stimulus cash, which will pump $800 million into state schools as “a historic event” that acknowledges “educators are the lever that can turn our economy around.” He said he would appoint a trustee to oversee the allocation of the funds in Milwaukee schools to ensure the money is getting to the classrooms.
In contrast, Fernandez said she looked upon the federal stimulus with caution in that it is one-time funding that won’t be there in the future
And while Evers touted the state’s ACT and SAT scores as being among the highest in the nation, Fernandez said those tests are only administered to college-bound students and aren’t indicative of the academic struggles in districts like Milwaukee.
We the People/Wisconsin is a multi-media that includes the Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio, WISC-TV, and Wood Communications Group.

Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Candidate Tony Evers Advocates Charter Schools

Tony Evers campaign, via email:

Tony Evers today pledged to continue his long commitment to Wisconsin’s charter schools, which provide innovative educational strategies. Dr. Evers has played a major educational leadership role in making Wisconsin 6th in the nation, out of all 50 states, in both the number of charter schools and the number of students enrolled in charter schools.
“We are a national leader in charter schools and I will continue my work for strong charter schools in Wisconsin,” Evers said. “As State Superintendent, I will continue to promote our charter schools and the innovative, successful learning strategies they pursue as we work to increase achievement for all students no matter where they live.”
Evers, as Deputy State Superintendent, has been directly responsible for overseeing two successful competitive federal charter school grants that brought over $90 million to Wisconsin. From these successful applications, Evers has recommended the approval of over 700 separate planning, implementation, implementation renewal, and dissemination grants to charter schools around the state since 2001.
During the past eight years, the number of charter schools in Wisconsin has risen from 92 to 221 – an increase of almost 150%. The number of students enrolled in charter schools has increased from 12,000 students in 2001 to nearly 36,000 today.
Evers has also represented the Department of Public Instruction on State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster’s Charter School Advisory Council. The council was created to provide charter school representatives, parents, and others with the opportunity to discuss issues of mutual interest and provide recommendations to the State Superintendent.

Boosting Schools Without Spending a Dime — Your Ideas

Jay Matthews:

My suggestions last month [Metro Monday column, Feb. 16] for raising achievement in budget-cutting times inspired an outpouring of reader ideas. Some were interesting, such as tougher honor rolls, more reading clubs and more speaking practice. Some were wild, such as my favorite, eliminating school buses.
A lot of people yearned, as I did, for simpler approaches that drew parents into schooling, thus strengthening family ties and improving education while saving money. Most of us admitted that few, if any, of our suggestions will be adopted, but keep in mind that hardly anyone believed the Boston Red Sox would ever win the World Series again.
I had seven ideas: replace elementary school homework with free reading; eliminate barriers to charter school growth; have teachers call parents to praise their kids; have parents e-mail educators to laud their teaching; require high school students to read at least one nonfiction book; call on every child in every class; and declare a national holiday on which everyone reads. As I expected, my charter school notion was unpopular, but President Obama has since made it a top priority anyway. Good luck with that, Mr. President. All the rest won reader support, particularly the first idea on homework. I will get to that after we review the most intriguing of your suggestions.

Wisconsin’s Budget Picture

Christian Schneider:

We’ve made the case numerous times on this blog that Governor Doyle’s proposed budget uses too much one-time money to balance the state budget. Just yesterday, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated the structural deficit for 2011-13 at $1.5 billion – and keep in mind, that’s with $3 billion in new ongoing taxes added to the rolls.
It seems that some local government officials are starting to pick up on the house of cards Doyle has built. In Madison ( of all places), a school board member has written a criticism of Doyle’s use of one-time money, understanding the peril which awaits school budgets in the future:

Study: Charter school students may be more likely to graduate, go to college

Martha Woodall:

Charter schools generally cannot take credit for boosting test scores, but there is intriguing evidence that students at charter high schools may be more likely to graduate and attend college, a national study concludes.
The Rand Corp. study, which was released Wednesday, examined charters in eight states. Rand, a nonprofit research organization in Santa Monica, Calif., also examined charters in Chicago, San Diego, Denver, Milwaukee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and Florida.
A year ago, a Rand report on charter schools in Philadelphia found that their students performed about the same as students in district-run schools.
Charter school research has become politically charged, with dueling views. Some reports have concluded that students at the nation’s 4,100 charter schools outperform their counterparts in traditional public schools. Other investigators have said charter students do no better than public school students and often do worse.
Researchers involved with the Rand report said they had used performance data of individual students over time to try to evaluate charter schools more accurately. Their work received financial support from several nonprofit foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. Bill Gates supports charter schools, and the Gates Foundation has provided millions of dollars to help successful ones expand.

Ron Zimmer, Brian Gill, Kevin Booker, Stephane Lavertu, Tim R. Sass, John Witte:

The first U.S. charter school opened in 1992, and the scale of the charter movement has since grown to 4,000 schools and more than a million students in 40 states plus the District of Columbia. With this growth has also come a contentious debate about the effects of the schools on their own students and on students in nearby traditional public schools (TPSs). In recent years, research has begun to inform this debate, but many of the key outcomes have not been adequately examined, or have been examined in only a few states. Do the conflicting conclusions of different studies reflect real differences in effects driven by variation in charter laws and policies? Or do they reflect differences in research approaches — some of which may be biased? This book examines four primary research questions: (1) What are the characteristics of students transferring to charter schools? (2) What effect do charter schools have on test-score gains for students who transfer between TPSs and charter schools? (3) What is the effect of attending a charter high school on the probability of graduating and of entering college? (4) What effect does the introduction of charter schools have on test scores of students in nearby TPSs?

Teen Births on the Rise for Second Year in a Row

Rob Stein:

The rate at which teenage girls in the United States are having babies has risen for a second year in a row, government statistics show, putting one of the nation’s most successful social and public health campaigns in jeopardy.
The birth rate among 15- to 19-year-olds rose 1.4 percent from 2006 to 2007, continuing a rise that began a year earlier when the rate jumped 3.4 percent, reversing what had been a 14-year decline. Although researchers will have to wait at least another year to see whether a clear trend emerges, the two consecutive increases signal that the long national campaign to reduce teen pregnancies might have stalled or possibly even reversed.
“We may have reached a tipping point,” said Stephanie J. Ventura of the National Center for Health Statistics, which issued the report today. “It’s hard to know where it’s going to go from here.”
Other experts said the two-year data probably represent a trend and fit with other research showing a stall in the long drop in sexual activity among teens, as well as a decrease in condom use.

Just Say No….to Smarties? Faux Smoking Has Parents Fuming

Dionne Searcey:

Summit Middle School in Frisco, Colo., is a tobacco-free campus. Students who smoke cigarettes are suspended.
But when a lunchtime crew of sixth-graders last fall started “smoking” Smarties, the tart, chalky candy discs wrapped in cellophane, lunchroom monitors and the school nurse were flummoxed.
The children didn’t light the candy. They crushed it into a fine powder in its wrapper, tore off one end, poured the powder into their mouths and blew out fine Smarties dust, mimicking a smoker’s exhale.
“It was freaky,” says Corinne McGrew, a nurse for Summit School District. “My biggest concern was that they would aspirate the wrapper or a whole Smarties and it would be a choking hazard.”
The fad at Summit Middle School died down after a few days and some harsh words from the lunchroom staff. But at other schools and across the Internet, “smoking Smarties,” as the activity has been labeled, is gaining popularity. Some children have even taken to snorting it, all to the horror of parents, teachers and the 60-year-old company that manufactures the candy.

To improve education, improve teacher training

Marc Bernstein:

Last week, President Barack Obama challenged parents, school leaders and teacher unions to raise their expectations for our children’s educational achievement, warning that we cannot maintain our global economic competitiveness otherwise. So Obama has increased the federal government’s financial commitment to education and strongly recommended both an increase in the number of charter schools and merit pay for teachers whose students show progress.
But these two initiatives are stopgaps. The real need is to improve the quality of all our teachers. And that goal starts with the colleges of education that prepare new teachers to enter the classroom.
What we need most is a total revamping of teacher-preparation programs. Until this occurs, we’ll continue to have second-rate schools no matter how much money we spend.
And now is the time to act. In addition to a president who’s identified education as a top priority, we have Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who led one of our country’s largest school districts and has a reputation for getting things done; teacher unions that support higher standards for new teachers; and, perhaps most importantly, a $5 billion pot of stimulus funds at Duncan’s disposal for educational improvement initiatives.

57 apply to operate new Milwaukee voucher schools

Alan Borsuk:

In each recent year, the number of people saying they are opening voucher schools was similar to this year’s total and the number who made it into operation was in the single digits. The schools have substantial hurdles to clear, including getting a building that meets codes and signing up students and teachers.
In addition to the 57 new applicants, just about all of the current roster of voucher schools – around 120, including a few that do not appear to be operating at the moment – have applied to remain in the program next year.
Rising ranks of students
Put it all together and DPI is forecasting the number of low-income students using the state voucher program next year will be equal to about 20,500 full-time students, up from about 19,500 this year, an increase that is line with the pattern of recent years. (The actual number of students is higher than the “full time equivalent” figure because four-year-old kindergartners are funded at a fraction of other students. The actual number in September was 20,244.)

Dallas ISD records show school held ‘cage fights’

Emily Ramshaw and Tawnell Hobbs:

The principal and other staff members at South Oak Cliff High School were supposed to be breaking up fights. Instead, they sent troubled students into a steel utility cage in an athletic locker room to battle it out with bare fists and no head protection, records show.
Documents obtained by The Dallas Morning News say the “cage fights” took place between 2003 and 2005. The records don’t say how many fights may have taken place.
Donald Moten, who was principal at South Oak Cliff High at the time, denied any wrongdoing when contacted Wednesday.
District investigators learned of the fights as part of an investigation into grade-changing for student athletes that ultimately cost the school its 2006 boys state basketball championship.
Internal district reports obtained by The News describe a culture of sanctioned violence in which school employees and even the principal relied on “the cage” to settle disputes and bring unruly students under control.

Advocating Rose Fernandez for Wisconsin DPI Superintendent

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Wisconsin voters have a clear choice in the April 7 race for state superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction.
The race features a consummate and careful insider, Tony Evers, versus a spirited and straightforward outsider, Rose Fernandez.
The State Journal endorses Fernandez.
The pediatric nurse and mother of five will be a strong advocate for change — someone who will use the mostly symbolic post of state schools superintendent as a bully pulpit to press for reforms, many of which President Barack Obama favors.
With so many high school students failing to graduate in Milwaukee, with so much at stake for Wisconsin in the changing, knowledge-based economy, Fernandez is the best candidate to invigorate DPI.
Fernandez, of Mukwonogo, drew public attention last year for her advocacy of public online charter schools. She helped push for a bipartisan legislative compromise that allowed virtual schools to continue serving thousands of students online with more accountability.

Madison Schools to Deny Open Enrollment Applications Based on Income?

Seth Jovaag, via a kind reader’s email:

In February 2008, the Madison school board – facing mounting legal pressure – overturned a policy that allowed the district to deny transfer requests based on race. Before that, white students were routinely told they couldn’t transfer. Madison was the only district in the state with such a policy, which aimed to limit racial inequalities throughout the district, said district spokesman Ken Syke.
With that policy gone, Madison saw a nearly 50 percent increase in students asking to transfer, from 435 to 643.
Madison superintendent Daniel Nerad notes that Madison’s numbers had been steadily increasing for years. But he acknowledged that the policy change likely explains some of this year’s jump.
“I think we do see some effect of that, but I’m not suggesting all of it comes from that, because frankly we don’t know,” he said.
Still, Nerad has clearly taken notice. Given the new numbers, he plans to ask state lawmakers to allow Madison to deny future requests based on family income levels, rather than race, to prevent disparities from further growing between Madison and its suburbs.
Other districts that border Madison – including Monona Grove, Middleton and McFarland – are seeing more transfer requests from Madison this year, too.
“The change Madison made … that certainly increased the application numbers,” said McFarland’s business director, Jeff Mahoney.
In addition, Verona school board member Dennis Beres said he suspects many Madison parents are trying to transfer their kids from the chronically overcrowded Aldo Leopold elementary school, which is just two miles northeast of Stoner Prairie Elementary in Fitchburg.

Fascinating. I would hope that the Madison School District would pursue students with high academic standards rather than simply try, via legislative influence and lobbying, to prevent them from leaving…. The effects of that initiative may not be positive for the City of Madison’s tax base.
Related: 2009/2010 Madison Open Enrollment applications. Much more on open enrollment here.

Students See Value in History-Writing Venue

Education Week “Curriculum Matters”
Kathleen Kennedy Manzo 17 March 2009:

It is difficult to figure why some education ventures attract impressive financial and political support, while others flounder despite their value to the field. For years, I’ve written about The Concord Review and the really amazing history research papers it publishes from high school authors/scholars.
The Review has won praise from renowned historians, lawmakers, and educators, yet has failed to ever draw sufficient funding. The range of topics is as impressive as the volume of work by high school students: In 77 issues, the 846 published papers have covered topics from Joan of Arc to women’s suffrage, from surgery during the Civil War to the history of laser technology. (The papers average more than 7,000 words, and all have been vetted for accuracy and quality. Many of the students do these research papers for the experience and knowledge they gain, not for school credit.)
But here’s the kicker: It operates on a shoestring, as Founder and Publisher Will Fitzhugh reminds me often. Fitzhugh, who has struggled for years to keep the operation afloat, challenges students to do rigorous scholarly work and to delve deeply into history. His success at inspiring great academic work is juxtaposed against his failure to get anyone with money to take notice.
Well, if the grown-ups in the world have failed to recognize and reward the Review for its 22 years of contributions, the students themselves have not.
Fitzhugh has shared many of the letters he receives from students whose work has been published in The Concord Review over the years. Yesterday, he shared with me one of the most memorable of those letters, which arrived recently at his Sudbury, Massachusetts, office.
Nicole Heise won one of the Review’s Emerson Prize awards for excellence this year. The senior at Ithaca High School in Upstate New York sent the check back, with this note:
“As you well know, for high school-aged scholars, a forum of this caliber and the incentives it creates for academic excellence are rare. I also know that keeping The Concord Review active requires resources. So, please allow me to put my Emerson award money to the best possible use I can imagine by donating it to The Concord Review so that another young scholar can experience the thrill of seeing his or her work published.”


‘Relentless Pursuit’: A Year Teaching America

Talk of the Nation:

Donna Foote followed four elite college graduates in the Teach For America program. They were assigned to one of the worst schools in one of the toughest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and Relentless Pursuit is their story.
TFA recruits are a remarkable group, and the program is an incredibly popular destination for new college grads. In 2008, roughly 10% of Georgetown, Harvard and Yale’s graduating seniors applied.

Thanks to Rick Kiley for the link.

D.C. Schools Chief Turns To Rookie Teacher Corps

Claudio Sanchez:

Michele Rhee, the District of Columbia’s public schools chancellor, has done a lot to shake up schools in the nation’s capital.
But for some, change can’t come soon enough.
So Rhee is intent on attracting young teachers who aren’t vested in the old contractual arrangements with the teachers’ union, which Rhee thinks is getting in the way of her reform efforts.
In other words, Rhee is looking for a “new breed” of teachers, mostly 20-somethings fresh out of college, who may not have majored in education but are drawn to teaching; like 22-year-old Meredith Leonard, a sixth-grade English teacher at Shaw-Garnet-Patterson Middle School.
Like many first-year teachers who’ve poured into Washington, D.C., in the past few years, Leonard is receptive to the changes that Rhee is proposing, such as merit pay and doing away with tenure.

American Adults Flunk Basic Science

Science Daily:

Are Americans flunking science? A new national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences and conducted by Harris Interactive® reveals that the U.S. public is unable to pass even a basic scientific literacy test.
Over the past few months, the American government has allocated hundreds of billions of dollars for economic bailout plans. While this spending may provide a short-term solution to the country’s economic woes, most analysts agree that the long-term solution must include a transition to a more knowledge-based economy, including a focus on science, which is now widely recognized as a major driver of innovation and industry.
Despite its importance to economic growth, environmental protection, and global health and energy issues, scientific literacy is currently low among American adults. According to the national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences:
Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

New online dictionary redefines ‘look it up’

Jina Moore:

Erin McKean doesn’t look much like a revolutionary. She speaks softly. She sews her own skirts and writes a daily blog entry about vintage patterns. She does work out of a basement, but it’s got carpeting and good lighting and roughly 1,500 books, many of whose titles involve the word “words.” Her suburban Chicago home is not exactly the picture of subversion.
This week, though, she is slated to launch what may be the biggest revolution in the printed word since, well, printed words.
Ms. McKean’s brainchild is called Wordnik, and it combines the best practices of the old-fashioned desk reference with Internet innovations. Words can be tagged like a blog entry, their pronunciation recorded and replayed like streaming radio, their related words cataloged like a list of books customers also bought at an online book depot. When the paper page gives way to the Web page, everything about the way we think of words will change, McKean says. “This project,” she predicts in a quiet voice devoid of bravado, “is going to completely revolutionize all of dictionarymaking forever.”
Granted, a dictionary is closer to a database than a mystery thriller, its authors nothing like, say, John Grisham. But to McKean, nothing has ever seemed more fascinating than collecting and organizing American words.

Madison School Superintendent Dan Nerad on Poverty and Enrollment: “For every one student that comes into the MMSD, three leave it”

Kristin Czubkowski, via Jackie Woodruff:

All of the speakers were good, but I will admit I really enjoyed listening to Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Dan Nerad talk on the issue of poverty in our schools.

“Oftentimes, the statement is used as follows: Our children are our future. In reality, we are theirs.”

Nerad made one more point I found interesting, which was his explanation for why for every one student that comes into the MMSD, two to three students leave it. While MMSD has been well-recognized for having great schools and students, many of the schools have high concentrations of poverty (17 of 32 elementary schools have more than 50 percent of students on free or reduced lunch programs), which Nerad said can lead to perception issues about how MMSD uses its resources.

“From my perspective, it’s a huge issue that we must face as a community — for every one child coming in, two to three come out right now. I worry that a lot of it is based on this increasing poverty density that we have in our school district … Oftentimes that’s based on a perception of quality, and it’s based on a perception based on that oftentimes that we have more kids in need, that we have more kids with more resource needs, and oftentimes people feel that their own children’s needs may not be met in that equation.”

Recent open enrollment data.

Advocating Mayoral Control of Schools – in Milwaukee

Bruce Murphy:

Not long ago, the idea of placing the Milwaukee Public Schools under control of the city’s mayor was getting considerable discussion. Then two things happened. The Public Policy Forum did a study of other cities, which found no clear-cut answers as to whether a governance change improved their school districts.
The Forum also convened a panel of community leaders to discuss this, and the feeling was unanimous that this would make no difference to the success of MPS. From teachers union head Dennis Oulahan to business leader Tim Sheehy, there was not “a great deal of support for a change in governance,” moderator Mike Gousha concluded.
That seems to have killed the idea. After all, if the experts agree it wouldn’t do anything, and the study is equivocal, it must be a bad idea, right?
Wrong. The idea has great merit, and nothing in the study – or the statements of experts – proves otherwise. A system in which, say, the mayor appoints the school board members, much as he appoints the Fire and Police Commission, could have many benefits, including:
More attention to the problem: School Board members are elected in low-turnout elections in which a minuscule percentage of city residents vote. Mayoral elections are high-interest affairs that would automatically elevate the issue of education, while making the city’s most important officeholder accountable for the schools. We vote for the mayor based on how he does on property taxes and crime, but not on education, which is just as important to the city’s success. Why put so little value on the schools?
A less parochial school board. The teachers union routinely gets candidates elected who readily vote for increases in salaries and benefits. The typical opponent of the union is the business community. The board has swung back and forth between these interests, as their respective candidates get elected. By contrast, the mayor is answerable to the full spectrum of voters. His choices for the board are likely to be more independent.