Milwaukee Seeks to Close Charter Schools

Erin Richards:

In what might be the largest number of school closing proposals presented at once, Milwaukee Public Schools officials announced plans Friday to end contracts with six charter schools in the district, including almost all the fledgling small high schools within the North Division complex.
MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said he supported a proposal from School Board Director Michael Bonds, who wants to return North to its original incarnation – a large, comprehensive city high school at 1011 W. Center St.
While Bonds cited the desire from alumni to return North to a large-scale institution, Andrekopoulos said a review of the small schools in the complex revealed failures in test scores and poor student progress.
“We can do better for our kids; the status quo is not acceptable,” Andrekopoulos said, though he stopped short of calling the small-schools-within-a-big-school experiment a failure.
“We’ve created successful small schools,” he said. “But we’re willing to stand up (and change) something not working.”
The high schools in North that could lose their charter contracts include the Truth Institute for Leadership and Service with 171 students, the Genesis School of Business Technology/Trade, Health and Human Services with 233 students, and Metropolitan High School, with 250 students.
The proposal will be discussed at two meetings next week.

Stimulus can’t solve schools’ shortfalls

Mark Pitsch:

The federal economic stimulus law will deliver about $398 million to Wisconsin’s schools over the next two years, but officials say it won’t solve their budget problems and homeowners should still expect property tax increases.
Moreover, it’s still unclear how districts will be able to use the money, when it will arrive and what impact it will have on students.
“It is pretty significant,” said Erica Pickett, director of business services for the Stoughton School District, of the stimulus money. “But what we don’t have are the strings — what we can and can’t spend it on.”
Also unclear is how most of the money will be divided among school districts.
The U.S. Department of Education last week unveiled preliminary district-by-district allocations for the program in the stimulus law that provides money to help disadvantaged students, a total of $139 million for Wisconsin.
Madison schools, for example, would receive $5.7 million over the next two years for the program, known as Title I and designed to assist disadvantaged students in reading and math.
That’s in addition to the $5.4 million the district is getting in the current year under the program. In Portage, schools will get $175,987 over two years in new Title I money under the stimulus law. That compares with the $268,497 it is receiving this year.

School Districts should not spend the money in ways that increase ongoing operating costs…. Much more on the splurge/stimulus here.

Student Beaten in Toki Middle School Bathroom

WKOW-TV via a kind reader’s email:

Parents of students at a Madison middle school worry about safety after a child was beat up in one the school’s bathroom.
The incident happened last week Thursday.
According to a letter sent home to parents Monday, a group of students followed a male student into the boy’s bathroom where another student assaulted him.
The group blocked entrance to the bathroom.
Surveillance cameras show the beating along with a group of witnesses cheering on the violence.
Toki [Map] Principal Nicole Schaefer says the school sent the letter to alert parents that the proper actions were taken and assure them the school is safe.
Schaefer would not tell 27 News if any students were suspended or if the victim is back in school.

Toki Middle School Restorative Justice Plan [82K PDF]:

Judicious discipline is a three pillared process set on a solid educational foundation. The first pillar is prevention through education and positive behavior supports; the second pillar is equity through fair and consistent consequences, and the third pillar is restoration through empathy, forgiveness and conflict resolution. The educational foundation that these pillars stand on is curriculum, instruction and assessment practices that are engaging, rigorous, culturally responsive, and individualized. In summary, kids who are engaged in learning are less likely to engage in misconduct.
The backbone of our discipline policy is that all staff and students must be treated with dignity and respect, including those who harm others. We want everyone to know that misconduct is never acceptable, but always fixable. We will be warm but strict, and follow through with clear, fair and consistent consequences, but also encourage students to repair the harm they caused, earn forgiveness, and restore their reputations.
When a student engages in misconduct, we must care for two interests:

  1. The student who misbehaves – We teach the student how to repair the harm, earn forgiveness, and restore his or her reputation
  2. All other students – We protect their health, safety, property, and opportunity to learn in an environment free from distractions

Therefore, when a student engages in misconduct, he or she has two options:

  1. Fix the harm (ex: Apology, Mediation, Repair or Replace, Community service, Extended learning)
  2. Accept a consequence (ex: Lunch detention, After school detention, In school suspension, Out of school suspension, Suspension alternatives)

The consequences for misconduct will vary, depending on how the behavior harms the health, safety, property and learning opportunities of other students. Although choosing to “fix the harm” may reduce or replace consequences for less harmful misconduct, behaviors that significantly or severely harm others will result in mandatory suspension days, up to a recommendation for expulsion.

40 students ( 2008/2009 student population is 538) open enrolled out of Toki Middle school for the 2009/2010 term according to this Madison School District document. Much more on Toki here.

Three students under investigation after device was ignited outside of Whitehorse Middle School

Gena Kittner:

Three students are being investigated after a “homemade explosive device” was ignited around 1 p.m. outside of Whitehorse Middle School on Madison’s East Side.
Police responded after “a 12-year old was caught throwing an improvised explosive device (IED) against the school building,” according to a Madison Police Department news release. “A 13-year old student had made the ball-looking device out of some caps, coins, aluminum foil, and black electrical tape,” the release said.
The 13-year old had given other “balls” to a second 12-year-old student who put the device in his locker, the release said.
The Dane County Sheriff’s Department Bomb Squad rendered that device safe. The school was not evacuated, but the hallway around the locker was kept clear, police said.
“There was no damage, there were no injuries,” said Ken Syke, spokesman for the Madison School District. “There’s no indication of an intent to do harm. There’s no indication that this small explosive device would go off on its own.”

Supporting Cell Phones in Schools

Mark Geary:

Bill Gates has been quoted as saying (before iPhone) “The computer of the future will be the cellphone”. The implications for educators is profound, and should have us re-thinking are attitudes and acceptance of cell phones in the school. I am not blind to the fact that there are sometimes problems associated with the cellphone in the schools, but we should address those by addressing the behavior, not the object. We don’t take away a pencil the student is tapping, we address the tapping behavior.
As an administrator for highly at-risk students in a Cincinnati charter high school, I found it much easier to have students use Google SMS to look up words and definitions when they were struggling with reading than using a book. Very few of these students would be caught carrying books home, but they would use their cell phone to help complete assignments.
As we look at HOW cellphones may be implemented today, we also look at Adobe and their role. Captivate lets us easily create microcontent with quizzes, saved in Flash. Flash itself let’s students see, create and engage with interactive simulations and games that can have a profound effect on learning. Many Web 2.0 sites are built in Flash, and extend the capabilities of the cellphone beyond what we would have thought possible a few years ago.

Parents Sue Trustees Over Prep School’s Shutdown

Geraldine Fabrikant:

When the students of the Conserve School in Wisconsin poured into the auditorium on a blustery morning early this year, they had no inkling of what would follow.
Stefan Anderson, the headmaster, told them that the trustees were essentially shutting down the prep school because of the dismal economic climate. Its four-year program would be converted to a single semester of study focused on nature and the environment.
“We thought we would hear they were cutting financial aid,” recalled Erty Seidel, a senior on the wooded campus, which is filled with wildlife and sprawls across 1,200 acres in Land O’ Lakes.
Greta Dohl, a student from Iron River, Mich., in her third year at the school, broke down and cried. “I was absolutely heartbroken,” she said of the closing.
Now students and parents are banding together and challenging the action, contending the school’s underlying financial condition does not look so dire. In fact, the school’s endowment would be the envy of many a prep school. With $181 million and 143 students, it has the equivalent of more than $1 million a student.
In a lawsuit filed in State Circuit Court in Wisconsin, the parents argue that the trustees are acting in their own interests — as officials of a separate, profit-making steel company — and want them removed from oversight of the school.

Hacking Education

Fred WIlson:

Last fall I wrote a post on this blog titled Hacking Education. In it, I outlined my thoughts on why the education system (broadly speaking) is failing our society and why hacking it seems like both an important and profitable endeavor.
Our firm, Union Square Ventures, has been digging deeply into the intersection of the web and the education business in search of disruptive bets we can make on this hacking education theme.
My partner Albert led an effort over the past few months to assemble a group of leading thinkers, educators, and entrepreneurs and today we got them all together and talked about hacking education for six hours.
The event has just ended and my head is buzzing with so many thoughts.
We will post the entire transcript of the event once the stenograpger gets it to us. That usually takes about a week. In the meantime you can see about ten or twenty pages of tweets that were generated both at the event and on the web by people who were following the conversation and joining in.
But here’s a quick summary of my big takeaways:
1) The student (and his/her parents) is increasingly going to take control of his/her education including choice of schools, teachers, classes, and even curriculum. That’s what the web does. It transfers control from institutions to individuals and its going to do that to education too.

The Economist recently published a piece on Frederick Taylor “The Father of Scientific Management”, whose work had a significant effect on our current education system.

20 Ways AP is Bad — Not!

Jay Matthews:

Bruce G. Hammond, a well-regarded educator and former Advanced Placement teacher, is at it again. His organization, Excellence Without AP, has changed its name to the Independent Curriculum Group (ICG). Hammond, based in Charlottesville, is the executive director. The group’s new Web site is
I have written before about what I consider his short-sighted opposition to AP, the nation’s largest program of college-level courses and tests for high school students. I thought the group’s name change was a good sign. I hoped that Hammond had revised a point of view that alienated many AP teachers. I thought he was going to emphasize henceforth his best and most positive point, that good teachers should be able to challenge their students in any way that works best for them, AP or not.
But the announcement of the name change did not go in that direction. Instead, Hammond unveiled a document titled “Twenty of the most fundamental reasons to rethink AP.”
I have shared the document with AP teachers I know. They had the same reaction I did: The list betrays an insufferably elitist view of American education. This is not entirely surprising since almost all of the 70-or-so institutions listed on the ICG Web site are small, private schools that cater to affluent families, such as Beaver Country Day in Massachusetts, Putney in Vermont, Fieldston in New York and Crossroads in California. The public schools that I write about most frequently, those that use AP and International Baccalaureate courses and tests to challenge average and below-average students, many of them from low-income minority families, appear to be unfamiliar to the Independent Curriculum Group.

Dane County High School AP Course Offering Comparison.

Killers of Writing

“Even before students learn to write personal essays.” !!!
[student writers will now become “Citizen Composers,” Yancey says.]
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Eschool News
NCTE defines writing for the 21st century
New report offers guidance on how to update writing curriculum to include blogs, wikis, and other forms of communication
By Meris Stansbury, Associate Editor:

Digital technologies have made writers of everyone.
The prevalence of blogs, wikis, and social-networking web sites has changed the way students learn to write, according to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)–and schools must adapt in turn by developing new modes of writing, designing new curricula to support these models, and creating plans for teaching these curricula.
It’s time for us to join the future and support all forms of 21st-century literacies, [both] inside…and outside school,” said Kathleen Blake Yancey, a professor of English at Florida State University, past NCTE president, and author of a new report titled “Writing in the 21st Century.”
Just as the invention of the personal computer transformed writing, Yancey said, digital technologies–and especially Web 2.0 tools–have created writers of everyone, meaning that even before students learn to write personal essays, they’re often writing online in many different forms.
“This is self-sponsored writing,” Yancey explained. “It’s on bulletin boards and in chat rooms, in eMails and in text messages, and on blogs responding to news reports and, indeed, reporting the news themselves…This is a writing that belongs to the writer, not to an institution.”

Continue reading Killers of Writing

Madison School Board: Legislative Session and Fine Arts Task Force

Legislative Informational Community Session: We are holding a special Board meeting to focus on legislative issues on Wednesday April 1 at 6:00pm at Wright Middle School. At this session we will provide updates on school funding and state budget issues that affect the MMSD. We will discuss and share strategies on how the community can get involved in advocating for our schools.
Fine Arts Task Force (FATF) Informational Community Sessions: The focus of each session will be a presentation of the findings and recommendations of the FATF followed by an opportunity for discussion. The Executive Summary and complete FATF report can be found at Tuesday, March 10, 6:00-8:00pm, Memorial High School. Thursday, March 12, 6:00-8:00pm, La Follette High School LMC.

Throwing billions at schools won’t fix them

Pedro Noguera:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama’s stimulus package, could serve as a historic investment in our children’s future, an initiative that could very well change the course of our nation.
It is an opportunity that cannot be squandered.
However, there is good reason for concern that the funds made available for education under the act will not result in the change we need.
Over the past eight years, educational progress in the United States has been modest at best. According to a national study by the Gates Foundation (“The Silent Epidemic,” 2006), dropout rates in many of our nation’s largest cities are 50 percent or higher.
Similarly, large numbers of students lack proficiency in reading and math in many school districts across the country, and many who graduate and go on to college are largely unprepared for the rigors of college-level course work.
Seven years after the adoption of the No Child Left Behind law, it is clear we are still leaving many children behind.
Tinkering with existing policy is unlikely to produce different results. The Obama administration needs a bold new strategy for reforming our public education system if it hopes that our schools are going to play a more significant role in moving the nation forward. However, so far, and certainly it is still is early in the term of this administration, no new vision or strategy for reforming the nation’s schools has been articulated.
There is justifiable reason to be concerned that by calling for funds from the stimulus package to be spent quickly on “shovel-ready” projects in order to produce the jobs that are so desperately needed, the administration will not have the time to develop a thoughtful strategy that can guide the reform of the nation’s public schools.

Pedro Noguera is a professor at New York University and director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education. He is editor of “Unfinished Business: Closing the Achievement Gap in Our Nation’s Schools” and author of “The Trouble With Black Boys: And Other Reflections on Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education.”

Reid Hoffman Tells Charlie Rose: “Every Individual Is Now An Entrepreneur.”

Leena Rao:

Reid Hoffman is an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. He worked at Paypal, founded LinkedIn, and invested in dozens more. Last night, he appeared on Charlie Rose (full interview embedded above, full transcript below), where he talks about the rise of social networking in general, and LinkedIn’s success in particular (it is adding one million professionals every 17 days and is emerging as a “low cost provider of really good hiring services”).
Yesterday, Hoffman wrote a post for us with some concrete suggestions for a Stimulus 2.0 plan led by startups. He hit some of the same themes on Charlie Rose. The best part of the hour-long interview, however is towards the end where Hoffman discusses the role that entrepreneurship can play in getting America out of its rut. Some excerpts:

US Education Secretary Duncan Advocates for the Stimulus

Bill Turque & Maria Glod:

To help struggling schools, the federal government will use stimulus funding to encourage states to expand school days, reward good teachers, fire bad ones and measure how students perform compared with peers in India and China, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said yesterday.
History has shown that money alone does not drive school improvement, Duncan said, pointing to the District of Columbia, where public school students consistently score near the bottom on national reading and math tests even though the school system spends more per pupil than its suburban counterparts do.
“D.C. has had more money than God for a long time, but the outcomes are still disastrous,” Duncan said in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters. He said the unprecedented influx of cash, which will begin to flow in the next 30 to 45 days, would target states, local school systems and nonprofit organizations willing to adopt policies that have been proven to work.
“The challenge isn’t an intellectual one, it’s one of political courage,” said Duncan, who developed a reputation for a willingness to experiment and disrupt the status quo in seven years as chief executive of Chicago schools.

Grading system change debated: Will city’s method make difference?

Joe Smydo:

David Chard, dean of the Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, says there’s little difference between most grading scales.
“It’s like Celsius and Fahrenheit. It’s exactly the same thing,” he said.
Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the advocacy group FairTest, said a debate over grading scales often reveals the “tyranny of false precision.”
“These numbers were not handed down by God on a stone tablet,” he said.
To Robert Marzano, a Denver-based education researcher, the typical grading scale is an incomplete measure of student achievement. He recommends bar graphs measuring student achievement on various course topics.
As officials in the Pittsburgh Public Schools prepare to drop a controversial grading scale for a 5-point scale they’re calling fairer and more accurate, Dr. Chard, Dr. Marzano and Mr. Schaeffer cautioned that no version is perfect.
All require some degree of teacher subjectivity, and all require careful, thoughtful application, Dr. Chard said.
Mr. Schaeffer said grading scale controversies generate “much more heat than light,” yet Dallas and Fairfax, Va., also are in the midst of them now.
Dr. Marzano said as many as 3,000 schools or districts have made some of the improvements he favors, such as expanded report cards with bar graphs breaking down student achievement at the topic level while still giving overall course averages and letter grades. He said the bar graphs can correspond to five-point scales measuring achievement in the topic areas.

The Madison School District’s move toward “Standards Based” report cards has not been without some controversy.

Californian and Texan universities struggle with admissions policies

The Economist:

CALIFORNIA and Texas are both large states that are home to a growing population of minorities. They also share another trait. In a blow to the policy of affirmative action, public universities in the two states were forbidden, a decade ago, from using race as a factor in college admission decisions–by a federal court, in Texas’s case, and by state law in California’s.
Texas stalled, guaranteeing admission at the state university of his or her choice to any student graduating in the top 10% of their high-school class. This helped students from predominantly minority high schools who excelled relative to their peers. The University of California (UC), on the other hand, altered its admissions standards in 2002 to require a “comprehensive” review of applications. Under that system, students win points not just for academic criteria such as grades and test scores, but also for overcoming “life challenges”. Affirmative action by the back door, some critics say.
Both policies have had modest success in maintaining diversity. But now policymakers in both states are about to shake the kaleidoscope again. William Powers, the president of the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, has sounded an alarm. The number of students in the top tenth of fast-growing Texas’s high-school classes will have climbed from some 20,000 in 1998 to over 30,000 by 2015. Last year more than 80% of Texas freshmen at UT Austin came from this group. By 2013 it will be 100%.

The 2008 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?

Tom Loveless:

The watchword of this year’s Brown Center Report is caution–caution in linking state tests to international assessments–“benchmarking” is the term–caution in proceeding with a policy of “algebra for all eighth graders,” caution in gleaning policy lessons from the recent progress made by urban schools. State and local budget woes will restrain policymakers from adopting costly education reforms, but even so, the three studies contained herein are a reminder that restraint must be exercised in matters other than budgets in governing education well. All too often, policy decisions are based on wishful thinking rather than cautious analysis. As education evolves as a discipline, the careful analysis of high-quality data will provide the foundation for meaningful education reform.
The report consists of three sections, each discussing a separate study. The first section looks at international testing. Powerful groups, led by the National Governors Association, are urging the states to benchmark their state achievement tests to an international assessment, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). After comparing PISA to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the other major international assessment in which the United States participates, the Brown Center analysis examines findings from a chapter of the 2006 PISA report that addresses student engagement. The chapter presents data on students’ attitudes, values, and beliefs toward science.

Warning to UK schools over admissions code breaches

The Guardian:

The new chief adjudicator for schools, Ian Craig,has warned schools that are breaking rules by selecting pupils covertly that they will be found out.
Craig, who takes up the post responsible for policing admissions in April, told the Guardian: “If they [schools] are still breaking the code they will be found out quite quickly… we will be sampling schools and reporting to the secretary of state.”
Research published today by researchers at the London School of Economics suggested that a minority of schools – mostly faith schools – are still breaking the two-year-old code of admissions which forbids the interviewing of applicants or discriminatory questions about parents’ marital status or occupations.
Craig said: “I can guarantee the system is fairer now than in the past. The secretary of state is emphasising the fact that he will do his best to make sure it’s fairer. Whether it’s 100% fair or not – I’m sure it isn’t. But it’s up to the legislators to improve it and make it fairer and we will monitor the system.”

How Science Teachers Enact the Curriculum

Sadhana Puntambekar

Scientific knowledge seems to grow at an exponential rate. The sheer amount of data and knowledge and understanding of the world and of the universe keeps growing. That’s obvious. But less obvious is the fact that approaches to science education also change over time.
Of course science education still involves teaching students about the current scientific knowledge base. But another part of science education receiving attention is teacher-facilitated inquiry–that is, helping students learn how to ask a scientific question, how to pursue that question through a series of activities, and how to make activities and data sources cohere.
When science teachers adopt innovative curricula, it’s important that they structure students’ activities as a unit, rather than as a set of linear, discrete events. That’s because students learn with deeper understanding when the teacher has woven the concepts and activities into a coherent whole. Recent research by UW-Madison education professor Sadhana Puntambekar has helped to pinpoint how that’s done, and how science teachers effectively facilitate classroom discussion.
Coherent presentation of activities in a science unit is especially critical when students use a variety of information resources–for example, books, CD-ROMs, and hypertext systems–along with their hands-on activities. Students need teacher help, or scaffolding, as they work to make sense of all the available information.

An Update on Washington DC’s Teacher Compensation Plan

Bill Turque:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has said a financial consultant’s report shows that her plan to pay teachers as much as $135,000 a year in salaries and bonuses can be sustained with District dollars after a promised five-year, $100 million contribution by private foundations is spent.
The District’s long-term ability to pay for such an unprecedented compensation package is one of several important questions surrounding Rhee’s proposal. Leaders of the Washington Teachers’ Union have expressed concern about the risks of signing a contract with the District based in part on private funding, given the troubled economic climate.
“What we want is funding that is sustainable,” said WTU President George Parker.
Appearing recently on WAMU’s “Kojo Nnamdi Show,” Rhee said an outside consultant, whom she did not identify, had vetted her compensation proposal.

Parents wonder whether Madison’s school lunches are healthy for kids

Mary Ellen Gabriel:

The “hot lunch” line snakes out the door of the multipurpose room at Franklin Elementary School. Kids dressed in snow boots and parkas file past a table where a staff member is handing out plastic-wrapped containers of hot dogs and fries, canned peaches and a cookie. Forget trays or plates. The kids clutch the packages in both hands and, after a student helper plunks a carton of milk on top, hug the whole load to their chests, trying not to drop mittens and hats. They scurry into the gym and squeeze into a spot at one of the crowded lunch tables, where the “cold lunch” kids are chowing down with a 10-minute head start. Twelve minutes left before the bell rings. Better eat fast.
Is the Madison Metropolitan School District’s school lunch program unhealthy for kids?
It depends who you ask. On one side is a well-trained food service department that manages to feed 19,000 kids under a bevy of guidelines on a slim budget. On the other is a growing number of parents and community advocates armed with research about the shortcomings of mass-produced food and race-to-the-finish mealtimes.
“We’re perpetuating a fast-food mentality,” said Pat Mulvey, a personal chef and the parent of a second-grader and a kindergartner at Franklin. “We can do better.”
Mulvey has joined a small group of parents at south side Franklin and affiliated Randall Elementary calling for changes to the school lunch program. Among their concerns: a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, high fat and salt content in items perceived as “processed” or “junk food,” little nutritional information on the Web site, too much plastic, too much waste and too little time to eat.
This isn’t the first time parents in the district have raised concerns about school lunch. For the past decade, parents, educators and healthy food advocates in the Madison area have asked the School Board, principals and the district’s food service to serve more fresh foods and make lunch longer than 25 minutes.

This issue has come up a number of times over the years.

Teenagers With Souls of Poets Face Off

Liz Robbins:

It was a rainy Friday evening in Chelsea, and nobody wanted to go home, preferring instead to spit poems from the depths of their tortured teenage souls.
The finals of the New York Knicks Poetry Slam Program were in four days, and a handful of high school poets from around New York City had gathered at the headquarters of Urban Word, a literary arts organization for young people, to cheer Tia-Moné Llopiz as she cried out again in eloquent anguish over her mother’s death.
They needed to hear Cynthia Keteku, known as Ceez, come to grips with her girlfriend’s dumping her for a boy.
And they could not help but hear Elton Ferdinand III — even through the walls of the director’s office — crescendo to a state of raging guilt over his mute uncle in Guyana, a man misunderstood.
In their search for identity and their quest to be understood, the teenagers mold metaphors from their jagged-edge experiences and bend rhymes to their own rhythm.
“Ladies and gents, this is more than a silly teen’s heartbreak,” intoned Lauren Anderson, 16, who attends the Beacon School.

School placement loopholes remain

Gary Eason:

Government guidance that parents should know the results of school entry tests before finalising applications for places is still being flouted.
Research shows more schools in England are using selection tests, and parents already find the system too complex.
The government says its admissions code – which admissions authorities must abide by – is now fairer than ever.
The loophole is that it contains clauses to which admissions authorities “should” adhere – not “must”.
On selection tests, the admissions code says: “Grammar schools and other schools, or their admission authorities, which are permitted to use selection by ability or aptitude, should ensure that parents are informed of the outcome of entry tests before they make their applications for other schools.”

Re-thinking our education system a necessity

Matthew Jarzen:

Privatizing education is the best way to ensure quality
With Gov. Jim Gibbons’ proposed budget cuts to Nevada’s education system being debated within the chambers of the state legislature, everyone is cowering in the corner wondering whether or not we will have a recognizable education system in the future.
Managing and cutting the budget for useless and wasteful programs is what might determine our future. Does a UNLV coach deserve to get paid millions of dollars? Does President David B. Ashley really need a $15,000 desk with matching $3600 leather chairs? Most people don’t care enough to notice this wasteful spending or assume that these benefits are predetermined in contracts. But, when we catch corporate CEOs and other executives flying in private jets or building huge corporate offices, we criticize them openly.
Outrageously expensive desks aside, raising taxes is not the solution. Some suggest raising the room tax because the burden falls on tourists. This mentality is careless because I can’t imagine a tourist who would spend a night in a hotel room with artificially inflated prices due to higher room taxes. As we have seen recently, they are more likely to take their business elsewhere.
More than enough tax money already goes to an already failing public school system. This past election, voters passed yet another room tax to further support the failing public education system in the state.

Charters Offer More Choices in Harlem, but Stir Concern for Public Schools

Javier Hernandez:

The high-achieving sixth graders huddled near the gym bleachers to mull their options: African drumming at the Future Leaders Institute, debate team at Democracy Prep or piano at New Heights Academy.
The sixth graders, seven of them, said they were bored with the intellectual pace at Middle School 322 in Washington Heights, so their teachers brought them to the Harlem Education Fair on Saturday to hunt for a new school for the fall.
“I need to be challenged more,” said Shirley Reyes, 11, who was checking out the mix of public charter schools and private schools making their pitches. “These schools give you a better opportunity, they give you better test grades.”
The bustle inside the gym at City College of New York at 138th Street in Harlem — organizers said the fair drew about 5,000 people — reflected just how significantly Harlem’s educational landscape has changed over the past decade.
Charter schools, which are publicly financed but have latitude in how they operate, are now a major force in the community, with 24 of them serving 6,000 children (across the city, there are about 24,000 students enrolled in 78 charter schools). The neighborhood includes about 70 traditional public schools, 14 Catholic schools and 16 other private schools.

Public Colleges Get a Surge of Applicants

Lisa Foderaro:

Admissions officers at the State University of New York college campus here are suddenly afraid of getting what they have always wished for: legions of top high-school seniors saying “yes” to their fat envelopes.
Lisa Jones, right, and Kimberly Strano assess applications at SUNY New Paltz.
Students are already tripled up in many dorm rooms after an unexpectedly large freshman class entered last fall. And despite looming budget cuts from the state, which more tuition-paying students could help offset, officials say they are determined not to diminish the quality of student life by expanding enrollment at their liberal-arts college beyond the current 6,000 undergraduates.
At SUNY New Paltz, as at many other well-regarded public institutions this spring, admissions calculations carefully measured over many years are being set aside as an unraveling economy is making less expensive state colleges more appealing.
The application deadline is not until April 1, but officials here conservatively predict 15,500 students competing for 1,100 spots, a 12 percent jump over last year.
Similar surges are occurring at public colleges and universities across the country, education experts say.

Community College Transfer and Articulation Policies: Looking Beneath the Surface

Betheny Gross & Dan Goldhaber:

As the demand for higher education has grown, so has the role of community colleges in providing post-secondary education to students. The development of curriculum articulation and school transfer policies is one policy movement that demonstrates the extent to which state policymakers view community colleges as creating greater and broader access for students. Recent research suggests that the presence of a state articulation and transfer policy does not increase the transfer rate of community college students to four-year institutions. However, all such policies are not the same – so we must account for more than just the presence of these policies when assessing their impact, and account for the mechanisms through which they encourage or facilitate student transfers.
We attempt to address this gap in this paper by exploring the relative importance of specific policy components (such as common course numbering or common general education requirements) on post-secondary outcomes, and how such policies differently impact students with different aspirations or economic and ethnic backgrounds. In addition, we explore how the potential impacts of these policies compare with some institution-level policies such as support for tenured faculty, expenditures for student services, or expenditures for instruction. In the end, we find only small effects – concentrated amongst Hispanic students – that state transfer and articulation policies are related to the transfer of students between sectors. In terms of general effects across students, institutional factors regarding faculty tenure at community colleges seem to be more correlated to the propensity of students to transfer between community colleges and four-year institutions.

More on DC Vouchers: “Will Obama Stand Up for These Kids?”

William McGurn:

Dick Durbin has a nasty surprise for two of Sasha and Malia Obama’s new schoolmates. And it puts the president in an awkward position.
The children are Sarah and James Parker. Like the Obama girls, Sarah and James attend the Sidwell Friends School in our nation’s capital. Unlike the Obama girls, they could not afford the school without the $7,500 voucher they receive from the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. Unfortunately, a spending bill the Senate takes up this week includes a poison pill that would kill this program — and with it perhaps the Parker children’s hopes for a Sidwell diploma.
Sarah and James Parker attend Sidwell Friends School with the president’s daughters, thanks to a voucher program Sen. Dick Durbin wants to end.
Known as the “Durbin language” after the Illinois Democrat who came up with it last year, the provision mandates that the scholarship program ends after the next school year unless Congress reauthorizes it and the District of Columbia approves. The beauty of this language is that it allows opponents to kill the program simply by doing nothing. Just the sort of sneaky maneuver that’s so handy when you don’t want inner-city moms and dads to catch on that you are cutting one of their lifelines.
Deborah Parker says such a move would be devastating for her kids. “I once took Sarah to Roosevelt High School to see its metal detectors and security guards,” she says. “I wanted to scare her into appreciation for what she has at Sidwell.” It’s not just safety, either. According to the latest test scores, fewer than half of Roosevelt’s students are proficient in reading or math.
That’s the reality that the Parkers and 1,700 other low-income students face if Sen. Durbin and his allies get their way. And it points to perhaps the most odious of double standards in American life today: the way some of our loudest champions of public education vote to keep other people’s children — mostly inner-city blacks and Latinos — trapped in schools where they’d never let their own kids set foot.

Rapid Thinking Makes People Happy

Siri Carpenter:

Lousy day? Don’t try to think happy thoughts–just think fast. A new study shows that accelerated thinking can improve your mood. In six experiments, researchers at Princeton and Harvard universities made research participants think quickly by having them generate as many problem-solving ideas (even bad ones) as possible in 10 minutes, read a series of ideas on a computer screen at a brisk pace or watch an I Love Lucy video clip on fast-forward. Other participants performed similar tasks at a relaxed speed.
Results suggested that thinking fast made participants feel more elated, creative and, to a lesser degree, energetic and powerful. Activities that promote fast thinking, then, such as whip­ping through an easy crossword puzzle or brain-storming quickly about an idea, can boost energy and mood, says psychologist Emily Pronin, the study’s lead author.
Pronin notes that rapid-fire thinking can sometimes have negative consequences. For people with bipolar disorder, thoughts can race so quickly that the manic feeling becomes aversive. And based on their own and others’ research, Pronin and a colleague propose in another recent article that although fast and varied thinking causes elation, fast but repetitive thoughts can instead trigger anxiety. (They further suggest that slow, varied thinking leads to the kind of calm, peaceful happiness associated with mindfulness meditation, whereas slow, repetitive thinking tends to sap energy and spur depressive thoughts.)

Schools Crunch Calculus on Stimulus

Anne Marie Chaker:

Schools struggling with some of their worst budget crises in generations are taking stock of President Obama’s stimulus package — hoping the money will restore funding for things like textbooks, teacher salaries and tuition.
The $100 billion in funding dedicated to education touches programs for almost every age group, from early-childhood programs to financial aid for college students. While the money, part of the $787 billion stimulus package, may not result in a full turnaround, districts say, it will help stop some of the bleeding.
Michael Klein
“It’s going to mean a softer landing for us,” says Jack O’Connell, state superintendent of public instruction in California. That state is facing an $11.6 billion cutback in public-education funding, affecting the remainder of this school year as well as next. In some cases, Mr. O’Connell says, “instead of a superintendent having to decide between textbooks or a math teacher, we’ll be able to do both. Or, it will mean a longer bus ride for kids, instead of eliminating transportation.”
When addressing education in the stimulus package, the president last week told a joint session of Congress, “We have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children’s progress.”

NYC Board of Education Human Resources

Ira Glass:

The true story of little-known rooms in the New York City Board of Education building. Teachers are told to report there instead of their classrooms. No reason is usually given. When they arrive, they find they’ve been put on some kind of probationary status, and they must report every day until the matter is cleared up. They call it the Rubber Room. Average length of stay? Months, sometimes years. Plus other stories of the uneasy interaction between humans and their institutions.
The Rubber Room story was produced by Joe Richman and the good people at Radio Diaries.
Note: we’re doing the Rubber Room story with some filmmakers who are making a feature-length documentary about the Rubber Room. Learn more here.

On Public vs. Private School

Jan Hoffman:

An annual rite is well under way, as families around the country receive their private-school renewal contracts or acceptance letters. In conventional years, grumbling over tuition aside, their outgoing mail would include signed forms and a registration fee.
This year’s hand-wringing over tuition might be dismissed as the latest hardship for the patrician class, which, like everyone else, can simply educate its young in the public system. But of the more than three million families with at least one child in private school, according to the 2005 census, almost two million of them have a household income of less than $100,000. According to a Department of Education survey, in 2003-4, the median annual tuition of nonsectarian schools was $8,200; for Catholic schools, $3,000.
So for every family that pays $30,000 and up to attend elite schools in Manhattan, thousands more will pay tuitions closer to $2,700 — next year’s cost for St. Agnes Catholic School in Roeland Park, Kan.
To many parents who step outside the public system, an independent or parochial school is not a luxury but a near necessity, the school itself a marker of educational values, religious identity, social standing or class aspirations. Whether tuition payments to the country’s 29,000 private schools are made easily or with sacrifice, many parents see the writing of those checks as a bedrock definition of doing the best by their children.

Low Income Student Advance Placement (AP) Wisconsin Incentive Grant

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

Wisconsin has won a $2.2 million grant to expand Advanced Placement to low-income students.
Wisconsin’s $2.2 million federal Advanced Placement Incentive Program grant will target 46 eligible middle and high schools, benefitting about 26,600 students.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s “Blended Learning Innovations: Building a Pipeline for Equity and Access” grant from the U.S. Department of Education will support a multipronged approach for students from eligible middle and high schools throughout the state. Poverty rates in participating districts range from 40 percent to 83 percent. Statewide, 35 percent of students are economically disadvantaged based on family income levels that qualify them for free or reduced-price school meals.
In the recent Advanced Placement Report to the Nation, Wisconsin had the Midwest’s highest participation rate (24.2 percent) for 2008 graduates taking one or more Advanced Placement exams while in high school. Of the 15,677 graduates who took Advanced Placement exams, 973 students, or just 6.3 percent, received a fee waiver because they were from economically disadvantaged families.
State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster noted that the grant employs strategies that engage students at various times in their educational planning and preparation. “We want to increase our support for students so they are ready for the academic challenges of Advanced Placement coursework,” she said. “Staff development and business, community, and family partnerships are major components of our effort.”
The three-year grant targets 19 high schools and 27 middle schools located in three cooperative educational service agencies (CESAs) and the Madison Metropolitan School District. CESA 7 is headquartered in Green Bay, CESA 9 is headquartered in Tomahawk, and CESA 11 is headquartered in Turtle Lake. The CESAs will coordinate activities associated with the grant.

Related: Dane County AP Course Offering Comparison.

Winterhouse Writing Awards

The Winterhouse Awards for Design Writing & Criticism seek to increase the understanding and appreciation of design, both within the profession and throughout American life. A program of AIGA, these annual awards have been founded by Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel of the Winterhouse Institute to recognize excellence in writing about design and encourage the development of young voices in design writing, commentary and criticism.
The 2009 awards will be open for entries beginning March 2.
Read about the members of the 2009 jury.
Writing Award of $10,000
Open to writers, critics, scholars, historians, journalists and designers and given for a body of work.
Education Award of $1,000
Open to students (high school, undergraduate or graduate) whose use of writing, in the interest of making visual work or scholarship or cultural observation, demonstrates extraordinary originality and promise.
This awards program is part of a larger AIGA initiative to stimulate new levels of design awareness and critical thinking about design.

A Fascinating Look at K-12 Tax & Spending Politics: WEAC and Wisconsin’s latest Budget

Christian Schneider:

The mood was sour at the WEAC offices in August of 2001. Republican Governor Scott McCallum had signed a budget that only increased school funding by $472 million over the biennium. These new funds, approved by McCallum while the Governor was wrestling with a budget deficit, represented increases of 3.1% and 4.2% in school aids over the 2001-03 biennium.
In a press release following the bill signing, the teachers’ union sneered at McCallum’s paltry effort, calling it a “status quo” budget. At no point in the release did they mention the half a billion in new funds they received – instead, they excoriated McCallum for vetoing a .78% increase in the property tax caps and for vetoing relaxation of the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO) law, which caps teacher salaries. They derided the Republican governor for not increasing aid enough for special education, saying the “lack” of special education funds meant “school districts will be forced to pit special education against other programs, resulting in decisions that hurt all students.” To the extent they mention the increased aids at all, they dismiss them as merely “part of a continuing effort” to hold down property taxes.
Nearly eight years later, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle stood at the podium in front of the Legislature, which was now controlled fully by members of his own party. Faced with a budget deficit of $5.9 billion (much of it his own doing) Doyle announced his intention to increase school aids by $426 million over the biennium. Even public school children in Wisconsin will recognize this as $46 million less than the increase authorized by McCallum in 2001.
Doyle’s budget also included a funding shell game that imperiled school aids in the future. Doyle cut over $500 million in general funds out of school aids and plugged in an equal amount in federal “stimulus” funds to cover the aids – federal funds which may very well not be available in the next budget. On top of that, he funds virtually the entire school aid increase with one-time federal money. When 2011 rolls around, school aids could be over $1 billion in the hole and fighting tooth and nail with other state programs for funding.
Undoubtedly, the small funding increase, coupled with the risky way funds are shifted around to patch up holes, would cause the thoughtful folks at WEAC to have some serious concerns regarding Doyle’s budget.
Surprise! The day after his budget address, WEAC wasted no time in praising the proposed Doyle school funding plan, gushing that it “stays true to Wisconsin’s priorities and values.”

Schneider correctly points out the risks of using stimulus/splurge funds to plug budget holes. Wisconsin K-12 spending has grown significantly over the years, while UW System state tax dollars have been flat.

The riddle of education: Why is it the last priority?

Alexandra Marshall:

ALTHOUGH it wasn’t favored to win, and it didn’t, “The Class” was film critics’ “should win” pick for best foreign-language film. Because this deeply engaging movie addresses the subject of teaching underserved public school students, it points to the obvious larger question of why education itself so often should win, but doesn’t.
In the compromised version of the economic stimulus package, it was reported by the Los Angeles Times, education spending was “one of the main sticking points” in securing the necessary votes. While protecting funds for other needs such as healthcare, housing, transportation, green energy, infrastructure, the auto industry, and even banking, why cut education? Why are teaching and learning so routinely deemed expendable when everyone agrees they shouldn’t be?
In a bracingly effective way, “The Class” confronts this riddle with the vivid example of a middle school French teacher in an immigrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Paris. François Bégaudeau is this teacher as well as the author of “Entre les Murs,” the acclaimed novel/memoir on which the film is closely based. Onscreen, he and his actual students make the hectic “ordinaire tragi-comique” of the book three-dimensional. And under the sly direction of Laurent Cantet, their fragmented classroom interactions yield a film celebrated as “seamless” by actor Sean Penn, who headed the jury awarding it the Cannes Festival’s Palme d’Or for best picture.

Alexandra Marshall, a guest columnist, is the author of “The Court of Common Pleas” and four other novels.

The ABCs of federal tax breaks for college education expenses

Kathy Kristof:

You can save as much as $2,500 per student, but how much you claim depends on your income, the student’s educational status and how and when you paid the bill.
If you’re paying for a college education, you may need an advanced degree to figure out how to claim federal tax breaks for those expenses.
Congress in recent years has approved myriad special credits, deductions and other tax breaks for people paying tuition bills and related costs, and new breaks and twists were added in the recent stimulus bill.
The tax breaks can be generous, saving you as much as $2,500 per student. But how much you can claim depends on your income, the student’s educational status and how and when you paid the bill.
“We call it complexification,” said Jackie Perlman, an analyst at H&R Block’s Tax Institute in Kansas City, Mo. “We hear people saying that they would like the tax law simplified, but simplifying means eliminating tax breaks. It’s really simple when there’s nothing to claim.”
There’s no worry of anything simple when it comes to college costs. Among the education-related breaks for 2008 are two tax credits, two deductions and at least two significant “income exclusions.” And for 2009 there’s a new and improved tax credit.
Tax credits provide a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the tax you owe. Deductions reduce the income that’s subject to tax. Income exclusions, like deductions, reduce the amount of income that’s subject to tax.

Leader Selection: Disturbing Evidence That Looks Trump Performance

Bob Sutton:

Who would you choose to sail your boat? Who would you vote for? Who do you want for your boss?
The little test above is from a study summarized in the always wonderful BPS Digest, my vote for the best place in the world to find translations of academic research. It is from a forthcoming study in Science. As BPS reports:
John Antonakis and Olaf Dalgas presented photos of pairs of competing candidates in the 2002 French parliamentary elections to hundreds of Swiss undergrads, who had no idea who the politicians were. The students were asked to indicate which candidate in each pair was the most competent, and for about 70 per cent of the pairs, the candidate rated as looking most competent was the candidate who had actually won the election. The startling implication is that the real-life voters must also have based their choice of candidate on looks, at least in part.”
Then, the researchers asked kids and adults the “who would you choose as the captain” question and “For the pair of candidates shown above, 77 per cent children who rated this pair, and 67 per cent of adults, chose Laurent Henart, on the right (the real-life winning candidate), rather than Jean-Jacques Denis on the left.”

Retiree health debt can’t be ignored

The Orange County Register:

State legislators no sooner congratulated themselves for solving California’s $42 billion budget deficit than state Controller John Chiang insensitively reminded them they are continually adding to an even larger debt for retiree health and dental benefits.
The $42 billion deficit supposedly was wiped away by last week’s narrowly approved $12.5 billion in new taxes, $14.9 billion in spending cuts and $11 billion in new borrowing in adopted budgets for 2008-09 and 2009-10. We’re skeptical considering the state’s typically rosy revenue projections, the continual economic decline that is likely to reduce revenue even more and voters’ unlikely approval of borrowing schemes on the May 19 ballot to bridge the budget gap.
However that pans out, the state already owes another $48.2 billion in unpaid costs for retiree health and dental benefits. This year, 392,000 state employees and retirees whose health coverage is provided by the California Public Employees’ Retirement System cost the state $3.7 billion. The health benefits are separate from CalPERS’ retirement fund, and are financed from employer and member payments.
In effect the state has paid the bare minimum to cover its annual costs, as an overspending consumer might squeak by making the minimum monthly credit card payment. But the debt mounts.

(un)classes: P2P Learning

Ever wish you had the option to get up off the couch and spend the afternoon learning to rock climb, cook, or maybe juggle? Well, we have and that’s why we came up with (un)classes. (Un)classes are to continuing education what BarCamps are to conferences — a lightweight, low-pressure, and most of all fun way to explore topics that interest you without having to make a big up-front commitment. is a site to connect people who want to learn about a topic with those in their area who want to teach it. It’s basically a marketplace for matching interest with passion. The actual (un)classes can be whatever you want them to be. People in your area suggest things they want to learn, others join, and someone volunteers to teach. It’s that simple.
(Un)classes are what we call casual learning, fun people exploring mutual interests in a stress-free (and non-competitive) social setting. And the community is in charge: wanna learn something no one is teaching, create a class and recruit a teacher; have a hobby you love and want to share, offer to teach it and assemble some students.
(Un)classes are all about intellectual curiosity and the joy of learning. They’re for people who want to explore the world around them, try out new hobbies, and get out of their boxes one (un)class at a time. If that sounds like you, then you’re exactly the type of person we want to form the core of the (un)class community.

Jane Pettit might see good – and bad – at Bradley Tech High School

Alan Borsuk:

Dear Mrs. Pettit,
Ald. Bob Donovan wrote recently that Bradley Tech High School, the school you made happen with a $20 million gift, is “a disgrace that is likely causing Jane Pettit to turn over in her grave.”
Fran Croak, who, unlike Donovan, knew you well as your lawyer and close adviser, is confident you’re resting comfortably, because there are a lot of good things going on at the school, which is named after your father and your uncle. Unlike Donovan, he spends time in the building and is a member of the commission of community leaders that oversees what’s going on.
I thought I’d fill you in on things I saw and heard when I spent a few hours at Tech the other day, as well as in other visits over the years, in case that’s helpful in making up your own mind whether to be pleased or horrified.
The community at large appears to be on the horrified side – at least if you listen to the radio talk shows and some similar chatter. But the folks at the school, both adults and kids, are convinced Bradley Tech is pretty much your typical school, except better than some others. They feel like the kid who incurs the teacher’s wrath even though everyone else did worse things – except in this case, it’s the wrath of the TV helicopters circling overhead after a fight in the school.
Of course, high schools these days – even in the suburbs (did you hear about the New Berlin Eisenhower mess?) – aren’t like they were when you were a student.
There are good aspects to that. A lot of kids, at Bradley Tech and elsewhere, are doing more sophisticated work than you did in high school, not only because of the changes in technology, but because expectations are so different. College wasn’t a must in your day the way it is in the eyes of many kids now, including some at Bradley Tech.

Future Investors Club

via a reader email:

Do you want to grow up one day and become rich? If your answer is yes, then you have come to the right place. Future Investor Clubs of America (FICA) is a national financial intelligence training program for kids and teens ages 8-19. Our primary goal is to provide our student members with the skills to earn, save and invest their money. All training and information is designed to help you reach your goals. How do we do it? The first thing you need to know about FICA’s training programs is that our face to face and our online training sessions are presented in a Creative, Fun and Interactive way that keeps students wanting to learn more! As a member you will have an opportunity to attend our fun, exciting, informative Field Trips, Summer Camps and Young Investors Workshops. In addition to face-to-face training programs we will help you design your American Dream Plan and keep track of your goals and objectives using our Young Investors Club Network online training system. Need to earn some fast cash? Use our 99 Ways to Earn Extra Cash training system to find moneymaking ideas.
If it’s ok with you, we would like to help you have a little fun along the way. Once we have taken care of business its FUN CITY we know how to have a good time by visiting entertainment centers like GameWorks, Six Flags, Universal Studios, Dave & Busters! That’s not all during our training sessions you will have a chance to win prizes of Cash, Savings Bonds, Video Games, Electronics, Trips and more! New friends are on the way. Get ready to meet some awesome, ambitious, fun loving kids and teens just like you! All our member students are committed to learning to become successful and having fun along the way. You will build life long friendships. In addition we have designed informative field trips to local business and financial districts. If you like to travel, join FICA students on trips to the New York Stock Exchange, Chicago Board of Trade, Orlando, Florida and Tokyo, Japan! If this all sounds like fun to you then talk to your parents and complete the contact us form and we will get back to you with a registration package.
See You Soon!

MPS to allow advertising in schools, with restrictions

Alan Borsuk:

You’re now welcome to put up advertising inside Milwaukee public schools – provided you can meet more than 15 restrictions on what the ads say and where they’re placed.
An end to the ban on advertising inside schools was sought by MPS athletic commissioner Bill Molbeck and others who are hoping that ads in places such as gyms and athletic fields will generate money for financially stressed athletic programs.
After extended discussions at three meetings in recent weeks, the School Board approved the policy last week without discussion.
Athletic directors and coaches at several high schools told School Board members that they are having a hard time obtaining uniforms, practice equipment and other necessities because they are short of money. They said many of the teams they play, including teams from some suburban schools, are able to do things that they can’t because they get money from advertising.
Board members, particularly Jennifer Morales, added provisions to the original proposal from school administrators to make sure advertising they thought was inappropriate remained out of bounds.
Under the new policy, businesses or organizations will be allowed to advertise as long as ads meet requirements such as:

There is a conspiracy to deny children the vital lesson of failure

Chris Woodhead, via a kind reader:

Parents, teachers and ministers are all engaged in a deception over our exam system says the former chief inspector of schools
Sitting at the back of the classroom, I cringed. A pupil had given an answer that betrayed his complete misunderstanding of the question. His teacher beamed. “Well done, Johnny,” she said, “that is fantastic.”
Why, I asked her afterwards, had she not corrected his mistake? She looked at me as if I were mad. “If I’d told him that he’d got it wrong he would have been humiliated in front of the rest of the class. It would have been a dreadful blow to his self-esteem.” With a frosty glare she left the room.
Have you looked at your children’s exercise books recently? The odds are that the teacher’s comments will all be in green ink. Red ink these days is thought to be threatening and confrontational. Green is calm and reassuring and encouraging. If you read the comments, you will probably find that they are pretty reassuring and encouraging, too. The work may not be very good, but the teacher appears to have found it inspirational.
One of my Sunday Times readers wrote in recently to ask why her son’s headmaster was so reluctant to tell parents whether children had passed or failed internal school examinations. His line was that school tests were meant to diagnose weaknesses rather than to give a clear view of a pupil’s grasp of the subject. He wanted to help his pupils do better and he was worried that honesty might demotivate pupils who were not achieving very much. Did I, she asked, think this was a very sensible idea? I replied that I did not.

How To Be A Genius

Forbes – Scott Berkun
Have you got what it takes to be seen as a genius? Do you really want to?
Geniuses don’t exist in the present. Think of the people you’ve met: Would you call any of them a genius in the Mozart, Einstein, Shakespeare sense of the word? Even the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grants don’t call their winners geniuses.
We throw the g-word around where it’s safe: in reference to dead people. Since there’s no one alive who witnessed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart pee in his kindergarten pants or saw young Pablo Picasso eating crayons, we can call them geniuses in safety, as their humanity has been stripped from our memory.
Even if you believe geniuses exist, there’s little consensus on what being a genius means. Some experts say genius is the capacity for greatness. Others believe it’s that you’ve accomplished great things.
Forget this pointless debate. Chasing definitions never provides what we want: a better understanding of how to appreciate, and possibly become, interesting creative people.
Be obsessed with work
Show me a genius and I’ll show you a workaholic. Van Gogh produced 2,000 works of art between 1880 and 1890 (or 1,100 paintings and 900 sketches). That’s four works of art a week for a decade. He didn’t even get started until age 25.
Da Vinci’s journals represent one clear fact: Work was the center of his life. He had neither a spouse nor children. Picasso was a machine, churning out 12,000 works of art. He said, “Give me a museum and I’ll fill it” and made good on that boast. Shakespeare wrote more than 40 plays, plus dozens of sonnets, poems and, of course, grocery lists.
These are people who sacrificed many ordinary pleasures for their work.
The list of lazy geniuses is short. There are burnouts, suicides and unproductive years in retreat–but none could be called slackers.
Have emotional or other serious problems
For all their brilliance, most geniuses did not live well-adjusted lives. Picasso, Van Gogh, Edison, Einstein and Nietzsche (and most major modern philosophers) were often miserable. Many never married or married often, abandoned children and fought depression.
Newton and Tesla spent years in isolation by choice and had enough personality disorders to warrant cabinets full of pharmaceuticals today. Michelangelo and da Vinci quit jobs and fled cities to escape debts.
Kafka and Proust were both hypochondriacs, spending years in bed or in hospitals for medical conditions, some of which were psychological. Voltaire, Thoreau and Socrates all lived in exile or poverty, and these conditions contributed to the works they’re famous for.
Happily positive emotions can work as fuel, too. John Coltrane, C.S. Lewis and Einstein had deeply held, and mostly positive, spiritual beliefs that fueled their work.
But the real lesson is that all emotions, positive or negative, provide fuel for work and geniuses are better at converting their emotions into work than more ordinary people.
Don’t strive for fame in your own lifetime
Most people we now consider geniuses received little publicity in their lifetimes compared with the accolades heaped on them after their deaths. Kafka and Van Gogh died young, poor and with little fame.
Desiring fame in the present may spoil the talents you have. This explains why many young stars have one amazing work but never rise to the same brilliance later: They’ve lost their own opinions. Perhaps it’s best to ignore opinions except from a trusted few and concentrate on the problems you wish to solve.
To focus on learning and creating seems wise. Leave it to the world after you’re gone to decide if you were a genius or not. As long as you’re free to create in ways that satisfy your passions and a handful of fans, you’re doing better than most, including many of the people we call geniuses.


National Council on Teacher Quality:

Kenya appears to be a fave location among educational researchers of late. A relatively stable country where teacher salaries are low (primary teachers make the equivalent of about $3,500 annually) must be the draw. To study the effects of ability tracking in schools, three U.S. researchers provided the funding to 121 Kenyan schools so that they could double the number of their first grade teachers, enabling class sizes of 45 students instead of 90.
Half of the students were assigned to the new first grade classes based on their ability, a practice pejoratively referred to in the U.S. as ‘tracking’, and the other half were randomly assigned, regardless of their ability. Researchers found that students in the schools with tracking scored higher–though just a little–on a post-test than their peers in nontracked schools. More important was the fact that the improved performance was consistent across the board at all levels, for low-, medium- and high-scoring students.
Given the inordinate differences between class sizes, the results are likely not generalizable to the U.S., but still of interest.

Complete 750K PDF Report.

Naughty Teenagers

The Economist:

There is the usual and predictable outrage in the British papers and on the radio today about the latest figures for teenage pregnancy–which has become a bit more common at the last count, and which, despite the government’s best and lavish efforts, remains much more prevalent in Britain than in most of continental Europe (though less so than in America). The idea of wildly libidinous adolescents feeds usefully into a general tabloid narrative of rampant teenage delinquency, parental fecklessness and a country that is going to the dogs.
So here’s an inconvenient fact for the moral declinists: teenage pregnancy and births to teenage mothers were very much more common fifty years ago, before the invention of the pill and the legalisation of abortion, than they are today. Teenagers are rutting no more now than they ever have. What has changed is that teen pregnancies used frequently to result in shotgun marriages, and so the eventual infants were less of a burden on the state than those born to unwed mothers are today. In other words, the deterioration is fiscal rather than moral.

High school teams make it as complicated as they can for Rube Goldberg contest

Stanley Miller:

They built them out of pulleys and levers and ramps and marbles.
Small plastic toys flew, water flowed, dominoes dropped, mousetraps snapped, and, when all was said and done, an incandescent light bulb was switched off and energy-efficient light-emitting diodes were turned on.
That, after all, was the goal of the regional Rube Goldberg Machine Contest on Friday at Discovery World, where more than a dozen high school teams showed off their contraptions, which were designed to complete the simple task of turning off one light and activating another in at least 20 steps.
The team from Pius XI High School did it in 48 steps, culminating in a light bulb representing the sun setting over a tabletop football stadium and banks of LEDs in the scoreboard blazing to life.
Of course, the crowd went wild.
“We run everything, and all of the work is done outside of school,” said Patrick Kessenich, a Pius junior and co-captain of the 14-student team. “It’s fun to be independent, and it’s just great to get together with friends and do something fun.”

“21st Century Skills”

Andrew Rotherham:

Seems that in the last 96 hours the zeitgeist about “21st Century Skills” has shifted from lively debate and healthy skepticism to a brawl…was it the debate the other day?

For instance, Panic attacks here, while Mike Petrilli unloads the f-bomb here, and The Boston Globe says:

…the burden should be on 21st-century skills proponents to prove that their methods offer a better way to prepare students for college and the workplace. So far, they haven’t done that. And while they say 21st-century skills will only complement the state’s current efforts, it’s not clear that the approach can be implemented without de-emphasizing academic content.

Teachers and parents across the state just don’t know enough about 21st-century skills. The unnerving part is that the proponents don’t seem to know much more.

Much more on “21st Century Skills” here, from the Boston Globe and Education Next

To Keep Students, Colleges Cut Anything but Aid

Kate Zernike:

With the economy forcing budget cuts and layoffs in higher education, colleges and universities might be expected to be cutting financial aid. But no.
Students considering a wide range of private schools, as well as those who are already enrolled, can expect to get more aid this year, not less.
The increases highlight the hand-to-mouth existence of many of the nation’s smaller and less well-known institutions. With only tiny endowments, they need full enrollment to survive, and they are anxious to prevent top students from going elsewhere.
Falling even a few students short of expectations can mean laying off faculty members, eliminating courses or shelving planned expansions.
“The last thing colleges and universities are going to cut this year is financial aid,” said Kathy Kurz, an enrollment consultant to colleges. “Most of them recognize that their discount rates are going to go up, but they’d rather have a discounted person in the seat than no one in the seat.”

West High School presents Stephen Sondheim’s “Into the Woods”

An ambivalent Cinderella? A blood-thirsty Little Red Riding Hood? Prince Charming with a roving eye? A Witch… who raps? They’re all among the cockeyed characters in James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s fractured fairy tale “Into the Woods.” When the Baker and his Wife learn they’re cursed with childlessness, they embark on a quest for the special objects required to break the spell ­ swindling, lying and stealing from Cinderella, Little Red, Rapunzel, and Jack (of beanstalk fame). One of Sondheim’s most popular works, this timeless yet relevant piece is a rare modern classic.
Performance and ticket information:
March 6, 7, 13 and 14 • 7:30 pm • West High Auditorium
Tickets are $8 for students and $10 for adults
Buy your tickets online now at
Please join the West HS community in a celebration of the arts in our schools. This year’s cast is exceptionally talented and a Sondheim musical is always a treat. “Into the Woods” is a production not to be missed!
Note: “Into the Woods” is not appropriate theater fare for elementary school and younger, less mature middle school children; however, do not worry if you’re child’s class is going to the school performance on March 10. They are only doing the first act for that performance and the first act is delightfully appropriate for young audiences.

Congress in the Classroom 7/27/2009 to 7/30/2009: Pelkin, IL

The Dirksen Center, via a Cindy Koepel email:

What is Congress in the Classroom®?
Congress in the Classroom® is a national, award-winning education program now in its 17th year. Developed and sponsored by The Dirksen Congressional Center, the workshop is dedicated to the exchange of ideas and information on teaching about Congress. The Center will join with the new Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service in conducting the workshop.
Who Should Attend?
Congress in the Classroom® is designed for high school or middle school teachers who teach U.S. history, government, civics, political science, or social studies. Forty teachers will be selected to take part in the program.
What Will I Learn?
Although the workshop will feature a variety of sessions, the 2009 program will focus on two themes: (1) developments in the 111th Congress, and (2) new resources for teaching about Congress.
Throughout the program, you will work with subject matter experts as well as colleagues from across the nation. This combination of firsthand knowledge and peer-to-peer interaction will give you new ideas, materials, and a professionally enriching experience.
“Until now so much of what I did in my class on Congress was straight theory–this is what the Constitution says,” noted one of our teachers. “Now I can use these activities and illustrations to help get my students involved in the class and at the very least their community but hopefully in the federal government. This workshop has given me a way to help them see how relevant my class is and what they can do to help make changes in society.”
In sum, the workshop consists of two types of sessions: those that focus on recent research and scholarship about Congress (and don’t always have an immediate application in the classroom) and those geared to specific ways to teach students about the federal legislature.

Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools

Roberto Agodini, Barbara Harris, Sally Atkins-Burnett, Sheila Heaviside, Timothy Novak, Robert Murphy and Audrey Pendleton [693K PDF]:

Many U.S. children start school with weak math skills and there are differences between students from different socioeconomic backgrounds–those from poor families lag behind those from affluent ones (Rathburn and West 2004). These differences also grow over time, resulting in substantial differences in math achievement by the time students reach the fourth grade (Lee, Gregg, and Dion 2007).
The federal Title I program provides financial assistance to schools with a high number or percentage of poor children to help all students meet state academic standards. Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), Title I schools must make adequate yearly progress (AYP) in bringing their students to state-specific targets for proficiency in math and reading. The goal of this provision is to ensure that all students are proficient in math and reading by 2014.
The purpose of this large-scale, national study is to determine whether some early elementary school math curricula are more effective than others at improving student math achievement, thereby providing educators with information that may be useful for making AYP. A small number of curricula dominate elementary math instruction (seven math curricula make up 91 percent of the curricula used by K-2 educators), and the curricula are based on different theories for developing student math skills (Education Market Research 2008). NCLB emphasizes the importance of adopting scientifically-based educational practices; however, there is little rigorous research evidence to support one theory or curriculum over another. This study will help to fill that knowledge gap. The study is sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) in the U.S. Department of Education and is being conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. (MPR) and its subcontractor SRI International (SRI).
This report presents results from the first cohort of 39 schools participating in the evaluation, with the goal of answering the following research question: What are the relative effects of different early elementary math curricula on student math achievement in disadvantaged schools? The report also examines whether curriculum effects differ for student subgroups in different instructional settings.
Curricula Included in the Study. A competitive process was used to select four curricula for the evaluation that represent many of the diverse approaches used to teach elementary school math in the United States:

The process for selecting the curricula began with the study team inviting developers and publishers of early elementary school math curricula to submit a proposal to include their curricula in the evaluation. A panel of outside experts in math and math instruction then reviewed the submissions and recommended to IES curricula suitable for the study. The goal of the review process was to identify widely used curricula that draw on different instructional approaches and that hold promise for improving student math achievement.


National Council on Teacher Quality:

We’ve grown so accustomed to Massachusetts’ trailblazer stature in education that perhaps we were a little blasé over its decision to participate in the TIMSS, international assessments of 4th and 8th grade mathematics performance. Nor were we all that surprised to learn that the state’s students performed relatively well compared to students from other nations.
Less blasé are we about Minnesota, which for years has demonstrated little more than smug satisfaction over its high standing among American states, but which decided to finally prove its mettle by competing against the world and doing fairly well (as is illustrated here).

Rendering Knowledge

Dave Snowden:

I may have finally broken a writing block. Aside from two book chapters in the last couple of months I more or less completed a paper length opinion piece for a report ARK are producing on KM in the Legal Profession. The title includes one of those words which has multiple and different meanings namely render which is allowing me to play games between the poetic meaning and that of rendering something down to fat. As a part of that paper I updated my original three rules of knowledge management to seven principles which I share below.
Knowledge can only be volunteered it cannot be conscripted. You can’t make someone share their knowledge, because you can never measure if they have. You can measure information transfer or process compliance, but you can’t determine if a senior partner has truly passed on all their experience or knowledge of a case.
We only know what we know when we need to know it. Human knowledge is deeply contextual and requires stimulus for recall. Unlike computers we do not have a list-all function. Small verbal or nonverbal clues can provide those ah-ha moments when a memory or series of memories are suddenly recalled, in context to enable us to act. When we sleep on things we are engaged in a complex organic form of knowledge recall and creation; in contrast a computer would need to be rebooted.

There’s financial help for college students — if you can decipher the application forms

Deborah Ziff:

There could soon be more money than ever to help students go to college, but figuring out how to get it is the trick.
Both the proposed state and federal budgets included significant investments in financial aid, beefing up grant and loan programs and creating new ones.
The concern among some officials is that the federal application form for aid — a labyrinthine 109 questions — intimidates prospective college students and their families from applying to college.
“I think it’s overwhelming,” said Cari Schuepbach, a parent from McFarland who attended a recent session at Edgewood College designed to help families fill out the application. “It’s my first time and you think, ‘Oh god, I don’t know what I’m doing.’ ”

Money for Wisconsin Covenant promised but not yet delivered

Jason Stein:

In introducing his budget last week, Gov. Jim Doyle said he had “identified” $25 million for a state program aimed at ensuring a college education for students who stay straight and study hard.
But what the Democratic governor’s budget proposal doesn’t do is either spend that money or set it aside for the Wisconsin Covenant program.
Instead, the money in the phantom appropriation for the college guarantee program would be returned, unspent, to the state’s main account at the end of the two-year budget in June 2011.
Why do that?
Doyle budget director Dave Schmiedicke said the line item is intended to serve as a placeholder until the fall of 2011, when the first of thousands of Wisconsin Covenant scholars will be entering college.
Over the past two years, 35,000 students in two grades have signed the Covenant, which guarantees a place in a Wisconsin college and adequate financial aid to any eighth-grader who keeps a pledge to do well in school and keep out of trouble. Department of Administration spokeswoman Linda Barth said that the state will start deciding how many students are eligible after they finish filling out their federal student financial aid forms in January 2011.