Wisconsin School funding getting precarious Budget removes option for districts to cap increases for teachers’ salaries, benefits

Alan Borsuk & Amy Hetzner:

The three-legged stool is now down to one leg.
Will that leave either schools or taxpayers wobbly? Will the last leg fall, too?
In any case, Wisconsin’s old order for how to fund schools is coming to an end, and what comes next remains to be decided, perhaps two years from now when the next state budget is adopted. Pressure for an overhaul is growing, even as economic realities are providing strong pressure to hold down budgets.
When Gov. Jim Doyle signed the state budget for 2009-’11 on Monday, the leg of the stool known as the qualified economic offer fell away. The QEO meant school districts had the option of capping increases in teachers’ pay and benefits to 3.8% a year.
A second leg – the state’s commitment to fund two-thirds of general operations of public schools – has been weakening over the past six years. It looks as if it now will be the state’s commitment to fund something over 60% of school costs but not the full two-thirds.
That will leave only the third leg – revenue caps – in force. There will still be limits on how much school districts can collect in state aid and property taxes combined, a rule that will keep total spending growth restricted in general, but with widely varying impacts on property tax increases.
The three-legged stool was created in the mid-1990s, when Republican Tommy Thompson was governor. The goal was to put brakes on rapidly rising property taxes by increasing state aid, while holding down increases in overall spending through revenue caps and the threat of QEOs.

The Library of Congress on iTunes U

• Historical videos from the Library’s moving-image collections such as original Edison films and a series of 1904 films from the Westinghouse Works;

  • Original videos such as author presentations from the National Book Festival, the “Books and Beyond” series, lectures from the Kluge Center, and the “Journeys and Crossings” series of discussions with curators;
  • Audio podcasts, including series such as “Music and the Brain,” slave narratives from the American Folklife Center, and interviews with noted authors from the National Book Festival; and
  • Classroom and educational materials, including 14 courses from the Catalogers’ Learning Workshop

Slick. Download iTunes here. MIT’s open courseware, among many others is also available on iTunes U.


Lera Boroditsky:

For a long time, the idea that language might shape thought was considered at best untestable and more often simply wrong. Research in my labs at Stanford University and at MIT has helped reopen this question. We have collected data around the world: from China, Greece, Chile, Indonesia, Russia, and Aboriginal Australia. What we have learned is that people who speak different languages do indeed think differently and that even flukes of grammar can profoundly affect how we see the world. Language is a uniquely human gift, central to our experience of being human. Appreciating its role in constructing our mental lives brings us one step closer to understanding the very nature of humanity.

The ‘little red schoolhouse’ of legend, whatever its flaws, made more sense than the warehouse-schools of today.

Bill Kauffman:

Tacked to my wall is a lithograph of the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. For many years, it graced my mother’s one-room schoolhouse in Lime Rock, N.Y. Antiquarian relic or enduringly relevant image? The same question may be asked of the “little red schoolhouse” itself, whose reality and legend are the subject of “Small Wonder.” Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor at New York University, sets out to tell “how — and why — the little red schoolhouse became an American icon.” Mr. Zimmerman proves a thoughtful and entertaining teacher.
First, the chromatic debunking: One-room schools were often white and seldom red. The teachers were usually young unmarried females, pace the most famous one-room schoolteacher in literature, Ichabod Crane. They swept the floor, stoked the stove, rang the hand-bell and taught their mixed-age students by rote and recitation. The schools could be a “cauldron of chaos,” in Mr. Zimmerman’s alliteration, as tyro teachers were tormented by Tom Sawyers dipping pigtails in inkwells and carving doggerel into desks.

The Evidence on Online Education

Scott Jaschik:

Online learning has definite advantages over face-to-face instruction when it comes to teaching and learning, according to a new meta-analysis released Friday by the U.S. Department of Education.
The study found that students who took all or part of their instruction online performed better, on average, than those taking the same course through face-to-face instruction. Further, those who took “blended” courses — those that combine elements of online learning and face-to-face instruction — appeared to do best of all. That finding could be significant as many colleges report that blended instruction is among the fastest-growing types of enrollment.
The Education Department examined all kinds of instruction, and found that the number of valid analyses of elementary and secondary education was too small to have much confidence in the results. But the positive results appeared consistent (and statistically significant) for all types of higher education, undergraduate and graduate, across a range of disciplines, the study said.
A meta-analysis is one that takes all of the existing studies and looks at them for patterns and conclusions that can be drawn from the accumulation of evidence.

Animal House at 30: College students find new ways to channel their inner Bluto.

EE Smith:

When Animal House first came out just over 30 years ago, it dominated the cultural landscape. College students were nostalgic for the “raunchy, pre-1960s undergraduate ideal,” says Peter Rollins, who has been studying pop-culture academically for over 30 years. Mr. Rollins, who attended Dartmouth in the 1960s, says that students back then tried to live “the fantasy” on their own campuses. Some still do, taking Bluto’s counsel to heart: “My advice to you is to start drinking heavily.”
Take Alpha Delta, the Dartmouth College fraternity that the infamous Delta house of the movie is based on. The movie, co-written by Dartmouth graduate and Alpha Delta brother Chris Miller, still inspires some of the fraternity’s traditions today.
In spring 2008, a band covering Otis Day and the Knights played on Alpha Delta’s front lawn to an audience of boozers, brawlers and, probably, future U.S. senators. This past spring, Alpha Delta organized an Animal House-themed party with the preppy brothers Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the inspiration for the sadomasochistic Omega house in the film. And on any given Friday night, it’s not just beer making the basement floor of Alpha Delta sticky. Paying tribute to the movie that made their fraternity famous, the brothers of Alpha Delta relieve themselves in plain sight along their basement wall.

The exit exam debate

Larry Aceves:

The proposal to scrap the exam has been called “controversial” because it has divided education leaders from their usual allies in the Legislature.
While Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg say it’s not fair to ask our students to risk giving up their diplomas as a result of state budget cuts, many education leaders fear dismantling a centerpiece of California’s educational accountability system that was finally implemented just three years ago after years of delay.
But the debate over the exam, a budget line item that represents less than one-third of 0.001 of a percent of the budget shortfall, distracts from the more important “test” by which the state budget should be judged: the effect it will have on our children and on California’s future. By just about any measure, the budget on the table in Sacramento now receives a failing grade.

The Bard of Berkeley A former poet laureate on haiku and the responsibilities of writers.

The Bard of Berkeley:

One benefit of being a poet — as opposed to, say, a politician or talk-show host — is that you can be the most celebrated person in your field, a virtual rock star among those who study, read and write poetry, and still remain anonymous in just about any public setting.
The thought occurs to me as I stand outside one of this city’s finer Japanese-fusion restaurants (a fancy joint called Yoshi’s) chain smoking and awaiting the arrival of Robert Hass, a poetry rock star if ever there was one.
Last year alone the 68-year-old Berkeley professor won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for his collection of poems “Time and Materials.” From 1995-97 he was America’s poet laureate, and he used the post in innovative ways to promote literacy. From 1997-2000 he wrote the popular “Poet’s Choice” column for the Washington Post, introducing readers to his favorite poets each week. His translations of Japanese haiku and the works of Czeslaw Milosz — the late, great Polish poet, winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Literature — are read the world over.

How Should We Teach English-Language Learners?

Claudio Sanchez:

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Arizona has not violated federal laws that require schools to help students who do not speak, read or write English. Despite the federal mandates, these kids often fail to do well in school. So why haven’t schools figured out the best way to teach English to non-English-speaking students?
“The research certainly has in the past shown dual language programs to be the most effective,” says Nancy Rowe.
Rowe oversees instruction for English-language learners in Nebraska. She swears that building on a child’s native language, rather than discarding it, has proven to be the best way to help kids make the transition to English — but that’s neither here nor there, because the actual programs that schools use have less to do with research than with politics and funding.

My Son’s Gamble

Lucy Ferriss:

ust past dawn one morning last August, I pulled myself from bed, bleary from ragged sleep. I headed downstairs to make coffee and settle at my computer. There, I booted up Firefox and accessed an online card room, Full Tilt Poker, from which I downloaded a program to play Texas Hold ‘Em and other games. Once the program was open, I tried to log on with the screen name my 18-year-old son, Dan, had shown me on a different site called PokerStars. Full Tilt Poker, unsurprisingly, rejected the name.
Following the plan I outlined as I lay awake in the wee hours, I opened up Dan’s college e-mail account. Weeks before, he read his e-mail via my computer and asked Firefox to save the password. I clicked “Enter.” There before me were all the e-mail messages from university officials, from his tennis coach, from teachers. Most prevalent were e-mail messages from Full Tilt Poker, addressed to a screen name I did not recognize. Grimly satisfied, I read none of these. I simply returned to Full Tilt, entered the screen name from the e-mail and clicked “Forgot my password.” I expected the program to ask me the name of my favorite rock band, at which point my foray into the role of Internet spy would cease. To my surprise, the window on the screen read, “We have sent your new password to the e-mail address on record.” I re-entered Dan’s e-mail account, fetched the new password and entered it into the Full Tilt log-in window.

Is Wisconsin state-of-the-art for K-12 science and math education?

Anneliese Dickman:

The Public Policy Forum’s latest report, released today, finds that of the 10 career clusters predicted to grow the most over the next five years, seven include occupations requiring strong backgrounds in science, math, technology, or engineering (STEM). Of the 10 specific jobs predicted to be the fastest growing in the state, eight require STEM skills or knowledge and six require a post-secondary degree.
Do Wisconsin’s state educational policies reflect this growing need for STEM-savvy and skilled workers? Are Wisconsin education officials focusing on STEM in a coherent and coordinated way? Our new report probes those issues by examining state workforce development data and reviewing state-level policies and standards that impact STEM education.
We present several policy options that could be considered to build on localized STEM initiatives and establish a greater statewide imperative to prioritize STEM activities in coordination with workforce needs. Those include:

Amy Hetzner has more.

Roberts: Supreme Court not setting school rules

Sue Lindsey:

Don’t look to the Supreme Court to set school rules, only to clarify them when officials have abdicated that responsibility, Chief Justice John Roberts said Saturday.
At a judicial conference, Roberts was asked how school administrators should interpret seemingly conflicting messages from the court in two recent decisions, including one Thursday that said Arizona officials conducted an unconstitutional strip-search of a teenage girl. In 2007, the justices sided with an Alaska high school principal, ruling that administrators could restrict student speech if it appears to advocate illegal drug use.
Roberts told the audience there was no conflict in the court’s rulings, just clarity intended to deal with narrow issues that surface from government actions.
“You can’t expect to get a whole list of regulations from the Supreme Court. That would be bad,” Roberts said. “We wouldn’t do a good job at it.”

A Formula for Changing Math Education

Someone always asks the math teacher, “Am I going to use calculus in real life?” And for most of us, says Arthur Benjamin, the answer is no. He offers a bold proposal on how to make math education relevant in the digital age.

Critical Likability

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
28 June 2009
As we approach the end of the first decade of the first century of the third millennium of the Christian Era, the corporate members of the new and influential Partnership for 21st Century Skills have begun to look beyond and behind and beneath their earlier commitment to the education of our students in critical thinking, collaborative problem solving, and global awareness.
It has become obvious to industry leaders that more fundamental than all these new student skills for success in the business world is really Critical Likability. While it may be useful for new employees to know that the world is round, and that solving problems is sometimes easier if others provide help, and that real thinking is superior to not thinking at all, these all pale in importance to whether other people like you or not.
Being a great communicator is important, and reading and writing have received some support from the 21st Century leaders, but those are not of much value if no one likes you and no one wants to hear what you have to say, whether oral or written.
Critical Likability, it must be understood, goes far beyond mere popularity in school, although they share some essential tools and characteristics. Future employees must learn, while they are in school, the basic lessons of smiling, personal hygiene (including the control of bad breath and the release of hydrogen sulfide gas), grooming, table manners, the correct handshake, and at least the basics of dressing for success.
At a more advanced level students should be taught to listen, empathize, seem to agree, laugh, hug (only where clearly appropriate), tell jokes, drink (where and when culturally appropriate), play a social sport (like golf), and generally to be likable in the most efficient and effective senses of that word.


Perfect Failure
Commencement Address to Graduating Class of the Buckley School

Paul Tudor Jones, via a kind reader’s email:

When I was asked to give the commencement address to a graduating class of 9th graders, I jumped at the chance. You see, I have four teenagers of my own and I feel like this is the point in my life when I am supposed to tell them something profound. So thank you Buckley community for giving me this opportunity. I tried this speech out on them last night and am happy to report that none of them fell asleep until I was three quarters done.
When composing this message I searched my memory for my same experience back in 1969 when I was sitting right where you are. I realized that I could hardly remember one single speaker from my junior high or high school days. Now that could be my age. I’m old enough now that some days I can’t remember how old I am. But it could also have been a sign of the times. Remember, I was part of the student rebellion, and we did not listen to anything that someone over 30 said because they were just too clueless. Or so we thought.
Anyway, as I sat there considering this speech further, I suddenly had a flashback of the one speaker who I actually did remember from youthful days. He was a Shakespearean actor who came to our school to extol the virtues of William Shakespeare. He started out by telling us that Shakespeare was not about poetry or romance or love, but instead, was all about battle, and fighting and death and war. Then he pulled out a huge sword which he began waving over the top of his head as he described various bloody conflicts that were all part and parcel of Shakespeare’s plays. Now being a 15-year old testosterone laden student at an all boys school, I thought this was pretty cool. I remember thinking, “Yea, this guy gets it. Forget about the deep meaning and messages in the words, let’s talk about who’s getting the blade.”
As you can see, I have a similar sword which I am going to stop waving over my head now, because A) I think you are permanently scarred, and B) the headmaster looks like he is about to tackle me and C) some of you, I can tell, are way too excited about this sword, and you’re scaring me a little.
I’m here with you young men today because your parents wanted me to speak to you about service–that is, serving others and giving back to the broader community for the blessings that you have received in your life. But that is a speech for a later time in your life. Don’t get me wrong, serving others is really, really important. It truly is the secret to happiness in life. I swear to God. Money won’t do it. Fame won’t do it. Nor will sex, drugs, homeruns or high achievement. But now I am getting preachy.


Note to Union: Don’t Mess With Success at This High-Achieving Charter Middle School

Jay Matthews:

Sometime last year, while negotiating a teacher contract for the KIPP Ujima Village charter middle school in Baltimore, founder Jason Botel pointed out that his students, mostly from low- income families, had earned the city’s highest public school test scores three years in a row. If the union insisted on increasing overtime pay, he said, the school could not afford the extra instruction time that was a key to its success, and student achievement would suffer.
Botel says a union official replied: “That’s not our problem.”
Such stories heat the blood of union critics. It is, they contend, a sign of how unions dumb down public education by focusing on salaries, not learning.
Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English, who was at the meeting, denied Botel’s account. But, she added, teacher salaries and working conditions are her priority as a negotiator. I think the union leader is right.

Off to private Brentwood School, thanks to the kindness of strangers

Carla Rivera:

New friendships bloom as an L.A. judge and his college professor wife decide to foot the bill for a talented boy to attend the private school, which his mom can’t afford.
When David and Jacki Horwitz read an article in The Times about Lorelei Oliver’s struggle to find a good school for her son Kamal Key, their response was immediate: Perhaps, they inquired, there was a fund to which they could contribute to help the 12-year-old, who had been admitted to a prestigious but costly private campus?
Three weeks and several phone calls and e-mails later, Kamal and his family sat in the backyard of the Horwitzes’ spacious Pacific Palisades home, laughing as if they had known each other for years. The couple’s initial offer of a modest donation for a little boy who was a complete stranger has led to the unexpected meeting of two families whose lives may now be intertwined for years.

Grad Guid 2009

Washington Post:

Transitioning from full-time student to working professional is challenging enough, but in this turbulent job market, what’s a student to do? Our experts have help

School spotlight: Evansville students go far with little

Pamela Cotant:

The High Mileage Vehicle Club, which designs and builds cars to get the best fuel mileage possible, has taken on new meaning with higher gas prices.
In addition, the club at Evansville High School is having a good run in the three years since it started.
The club’s car, which was equipped with a hydrogen booster and got nearly 170 mpg, was one of more than 20 entered in the Super High Mileage Vehicle Competition at the Dunn County Fairgrounds this spring. It took first place in mileage in the concept class and first place among all cars in the other categories as well as being the overall grand champion.
Last year, the club’s car — which had an electric motor and got 498 mpg — took second place in the individual categories and first place overall. It also earned $1,500 in scholarships, which were distributed among four members. Scholarships were not given out to contest winners this year.
While this year’s car got fewer miles per gallon, the students decided to try using a hydrogen booster, which makes fuel burn more completely, because they wanted to experiment with something different.

In Uncertain Times, Valedictorians Look Ahead

Lizette Alvarez:

“We’re that high school class that was there when Obama got elected and that’s going to be there forever,” said Christian Monsalve, who was chosen by his classmates at Regis High School, one of the city’s most prestigious Catholic schools, to give the commencement address. “Who knows what, in the next 5, 10 years, what’s going to happen. We’re going to be that class that’s going to make that history.”
Before tossing their mortarboards into the air, all graduating seniors are spoon-fed equal parts inspiration and responsibility. But for the class of 2009, laying claim to The Future can be a disquieting proposition.
Unemployment is discouragingly high. Wall Street is downsizing. Icecaps are melting. America remains at war. And politicians are still feuding — or in New York State’s case, locking one another out of rooms.
Yet, these best and brightest flip all this negativity into opportunity: to cure, to defend, to counsel, to heal, even to make a buck. “It’s not like we’ll be in recession for the rest of our lives, until we die,” noted Jenae Williams, the valedictorian at the Celia Cruz Bronx High School of Music.

“It’s sort of peaceful knowing that you’re going to work to do nothing” $65 million a year for New York City’s Rubber Room

News: Associated Press
700 NYC teachers are paid to do nothing
By KAREN MATTHEWS–3 days ago (23 June 2009)
NEW YORK (AP) — Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that’s what they want to do.
Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its “rubber rooms“–off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.
The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues –pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year.
“You just basically sit there for eight hours,” said Orlando Ramos, who spent seven months in a rubber room, officially known as a temporary reassignment center, in 2004-2005. “I saw several near-fights. ‘This is my seat.’ ‘I’ve been sitting here for six months.’ That sort of thing.”
Ramos was an assistant principal in East Harlem when he was accused of lying at a hearing on whether to suspend a student. Ramos denied the allegation but quit before his case was resolved and took a job in California.
Because the teachers collect their full salaries of $70,000 or more, the city Department of Education estimates the practice costs the taxpayers $65 million a year. The department blames union rules.
“It is extremely difficult to fire a tenured teacher because of the protections afforded to them in their contract,” spokeswoman Ann Forte said.
City officials said that they make teachers report to a rubber room instead of sending they home because the union contract requires that they be allowed to continue in their jobs in some fashion while their cases are being heard. The contract does not permit them to be given other work.
Ron Davis, a spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, said the union and the Department of Education reached an agreement last year to try to reduce the amount of time educators spend in reassignment centers, but progress has been slow.
“No one wants teachers who don’t belong in the classroom. However, we cannot neglect the teachers’ rights to due process,” Davis said. The union represents more than 228,000 employees, including nearly 90,000 teachers.
Many teachers say they are being punished because they ran afoul of a vindictive boss or because they blew the whistle when somebody fudged test scores.
“The principal wants you out, you’re gone,” said Michael Thomas, a high school math teacher who has been in a reassignment center for 14 months after accusing an assistant principal of tinkering with test results.
City education officials deny teachers are unfairly targeted but say there has been an effort under Mayor Michael Bloomberg to get incompetents out of the classroom. “There’s been a push to report anything that you see wrong,” Forte said.
Some other school systems likewise pay teachers to do nothing.


Can Charter-School Execs Help Failing Public Schools?

Gilbert Cruz:

In the late ’90s, software entrepreneur John Zitzner was pretty close to being bankrupt. Yet within six months — in one of those typical “holy crap” dotcom-era stories — Zitzner had sold his company and become “a very modest millionaire.” Fantastic. And in one of those typical “What do I do with all this money?” stories, he decided to help make the world a better place — specifically by co-founding a charter school in Cleveland. (Read TIME’s report: “How to Raise the Standard in America’s Schools.”)
That was three summers ago. Fast-forward to last Monday, when Zitzner was in the audience in Washington as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appealed to a gathering of charter-school operators to “adapt your educational model to turning around our lowest-performing schools.” For months now, Duncan has talked about closing 5,000 — or about 5% — of the nation’s lowest-performing public schools. By throwing down the gauntlet to charter schools, Duncan is challenging an industry that has become very proficient at opening up brand-new schools, but has very little experience in going into a preexisting school and turning those kids from low performers into high-quality students. But Zitzner, whose Entrepreneurship Preparatory has about 200 students in grades 6 to 8, can’t wait to dive in. In the past three years his students have gone from fairly abysmal test results to scoring in the top quartile on the Ohio standardized test, and he doesn’t see why that model can’t be replicated among other underperforming students. “Charter-school people are entrepreneurs — we like challenges, and this industry needs people who can make order out of chaos.”

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The View from Germany

Gabor Steingart via Der Spiegel:

The occupant of the White House may have changed recently. But the amount of ill-advised ideology coming from Washington has remained constant. Obama’s list of economic errors is long — and continues to grow.
The president may have changed, but the excesses of American politics have remained. Barack Obama and George W. Bush, it has become clear, are more similar than they might seem at first glance.
The crisis, Summers intoned last week at a conference of Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society in Washington, was caused by too much confidence, too much credit and too many debts. It was hard not to nod along in agreement.
But then Summers added that the way to bring about an end to the crisis was — more confidence, more credit and more debt. And the nodding stopped. Experts and non-experts alike were perplexed. Even in an interview following the presentation, Summers was unable to supply an adequate explanation for how a crisis caused by frivolous lending was going to be solved through yet more frivolity.
The Obama Administration’s Five Errors
Mistake number one: It’s not as bad as it seems. The US amassed much more debt during World War II, it is often said. That, though, is not true. According to conservative forecasts, Obama’s policies could end up being three times as expensive as US expenditures during World War II. If one calculates using today’s prices, America spent $3 trillion for the war. Obama’s budgetary calculations for the decade between 2010 and 2020 assume additional debt of $9 trillion.

Charter Schools Win a High-Profile Convert: Boston Mayor

Jon Keller:

Tom Menino, the longtime Democratic mayor of this city, is not known for rocking the boat or for eloquence. But earlier this month he stunned many in the city when he gave a powerful speech about school reform.
The speech took aim at the lack of progress in dozens of low-performing, inner-city Boston public schools, many of which have not met adequate yearly progress for five years running.
“To get the results we seek — at the speed we want — we must make transformative changes that boost achievement for students, improve quality choices for parents, and increase opportunities for teachers,” Mr. Menino said. “We need to empower our educators to quickly innovate and implement what works.” With that, Mr. Menino abandoned nearly two decades of personal opposition to nonunion charter schools, which have been bitterly resisted by Massachusetts teachers unions and their political allies. “I believe that the increased flexibility that charters provide can . . . help us close the achievement gap,” he declared.

A special report on ageing populations: Suffer the little children

The Economist:

IN GERMANY a mother who neglects her children is known as a Rabenmutter (raven’s mother). Many older Germans slap that label on women with small children who go out to work. Young women in Germany, as elsewhere, are torn. They enjoy their jobs but find it hard to combine them with having a family, for a host of practical reasons such as school hours and lack of child care as well as public disapproval. Faced with that dilemma, some give up work. Others give up having children. About a quarter of the current generation of German women in their 40s have remained childless. The country’s fertility rate (the number of children a woman can expect to have in her lifetime) is now a rock-bottom 1.3–the same as in Japan and Italy, where similar attitudes prevail (see chart 3). The chancellor, Angela Merkel, has acknowledged that her country needs to be more child-friendly.

Moderate Senate Democrats Embrace Education Reform

Washington–Ten moderate Senate Democrats today sent a letter to President Barack Obama voicing support for his key education goals and pledging to “lend our voices to the debate as proponents of education reform.”
The letter was initiated by Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), leaders of the Senate Moderate Dems Working Group, and signed by seven of their moderate colleagues.
“As legislators, we believe we must embrace promising new approaches to education policy if we are to prepare our children to fill the jobs of the future,” they wrote to President Obama. “By 2016, four out of every 10 new American jobs will require at least some advanced education or training. To retain our global economic leadership, we share your sense of urgency in moving an education reform agenda through Congress.”
Saying that “now is the time to explore new paths and reject stale thinking,” the moderate Democrats commended President Obama for his focus on teacher quality and noted a recent report by McKinsey and Company that highlights the achievement gaps that persist among various economic, regional and racial backgrounds in the United States and the gaps between American students and their peers in other industrialized nations. Based on this report, the senators noted that “had the United States closed the gap in education achievement with better-performing nations like Finland, Iceland, and Poland, our GDP could have been up to $2.3 trillion higher last year.”
The senators expressed support for new pay-for-performance teacher incentives and expansions of effective public charter schools. They also endorsed the Obama administration’s desire to extend student learning time to stay globally competitive and called for investments in state-of-the-art data systems so school systems can track student performance across grades, schools, towns and teachers.
Other signatories on the letter include Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Herb Kohl (D-WI).


Pa. mother charged with changing daughter’s grades


A high school secretary illegally changed grades in a school computer system to improve her daughter’s class standing, according to criminal charges filed Thursday.
Caroline Maria McNeal of Huntingdon is accused of using the passwords of three co-workers without their knowledge to tamper with dozens of grades and test scores between May 2006 and July 2007 at Huntingdon Area High School in central Pennsylvania, the state attorney general’s office said.
McNeal, 39, is alleged to have improved her daughter Brittany’s grades and reduced those of two classmates to enhance Brittany’s standing in the 2008 graduating class.
School officials corrected the grades before the students graduated, prosecutors said.

Editorial: Save these charters

The Providence Journal:

The Rhode Island House Finance Committee budget unveiled last week slashed $1.5 million for two new charter schools in Central Falls and Cumberland, both of which would serve minority students.
This is a tough year, and cuts must be made. But slashing these funds — a tiny part of a proposed $7.76 billion budget — makes little sense, given that freezing out charter schools would put in jeopardy federal aid under the Race to the Top Program, a $5 billion Washington initiative that rewards innovation in education. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said on Monday that Rhode Island may be putting itself at “at a huge competitive disadvantage” for the money.
Innovation in education may be why the two charters, the Mayoral Academy and the Segue Institute for Learning, were spurned. Teachers unions testified against the proposed Mayoral Academy for fear that it would threaten their economic interests, since the school would be permitted to hire and fire teachers without union red tape. A similar school in Harlem has done wonders in helping minority students achieve at a level comparable with students in excellent suburban schools.

SIS Interview: University of Wisconsin Education Professor Adam Gamoran

Dr. Adam Gamoran (Dr. Gamoran’s website; Clusty search) has been involved with a variety Madison School District issues, including controversial mandatory academic grouping changes (English 10, among others).
I had an opportunity to briefly visit with Dr. Gamoran during the District’s Strategic Planning Process. He kindly agreed to spend some time recently discussing these and other issues (22K PDF discussion topics, one of which – outbound open enrollment growth – he was unfamiliar with).
Click here to download the 298MB .m4v (iTunes, iPhone, iPod) video file, or a 18MB audio file. A transcript is available here.

Is AP the Only Way to Challenge Students?

Jay Matthews:

Every year, Jay Mathews compiles The Challenge Index, a ranking of schools based on a simple formula – the number of AP, IB, and other college-level tests given out at any given high school divided by the total number of graduating seniors from that school year. The index is not meant to be comprehensive but to give parents, teachers, and students an idea of how much a high school challenges its students.
This week, the blog Schools Matter featured an essay by user teacherken calling foul on Jay’s index. Teacherken, who says he is a high school AP U.S. Government and Politics teacher and actually graded AP tests this year, makes a case against The Challenge Index, arguing that schools challenge students in many more ways than just through AP and IB tests:

Germany’s mediocre universities

The Economist:

THE IG FARBEN building in Frankfurt has a history. This is where Zyklon B gas, used at Auschwitz, was invented and Dwight Eisenhower later worked. Now it is part of an €1.8 billion ($2.5 billion) building project at Frankfurt’s Goethe University. Not for Goethe’s 35,000 students the grotty campuses of others: the “House of Finance” has a marble floor inspired by Raphael’s fresco “The School of Athens.”
Thousands of less coddled students recently staged protests across Germany against their conditions. “Back education, not banks”, demanded protesters fed up with overcrowded lecture halls, crumbling campuses, tuition fees and a chaotic conversion from the traditional diploma to a European two-tier degree system.
German universities are underfunded by international standards (see chart). Professors juggle scores of students; at top American universities they nurture a handful. In switching to the bachelors-masters degrees prescribed by Europe’s standardising “Bologna process”, many universities tried to cram bachelors degrees into just six terms. Only six German universities are among the top 100 in the Shanghai rankings (Munich is highest, at 55th). Just 21% of each age cohort gets a degree; the OECD average is 37%.

If students actually write the essay, they’ll get extra credit.

Howard Blume:

To make classes more manageable, administrators have enrolled some especially challenging students in Locke 4, an academy whose Opportunities program consists of three classrooms set aside for students who are doing poorly or displaying serious behavior problems. The program also accepts students returning after being convicted of crimes.
On a recent Monday, 14 students sat in an Opportunities class with one teacher and an aide — Green Dot wanted especially small adult-to-student ratios for these youths. The posted class rules were simple: Stay seated during class; complete all of your work; be polite and respectful.
These expectations failed to achieve traction with several students, including a recently arriving freshman.
“Do you need help?” the teacher asked him.
“You need help,” he retorted, looking around for admiration from his peers. “You know, lady, I don’t like you.”
The group was assigned to organize an essay on juvenile justice after reviewing case studies of four young offenders. If students actually write the essay, they’ll get extra credit.
One table over from the ninth-grader, a wiry boy with slicked-back hair said he had landed in Locke 4 after punching a school security guard. He considers gang membership necessary to survive: “That’s almost part of life.”
Then he paused and offered something close to an endorsement of the new Locke: “Other schools, you have your enemies all the time. In this school everybody gets along. People talk to Bloods and Crips.”

Jerry Pournelle has more.

Do You Know a Great ‘Surplussed’ Teacher?

Jay Matthews:

I’m not saying Juliet Good is the best teacher I ever saw, but she is way above average. So why did Richard Montgomery High School, a splendid institution in a wealthy Maryland suburban school system, tell her they no longer had room for her?
Of course with budgets tight, schools are nudging lots of teachers out the door. One of the favorite words for this, the one Good’s supervisers used with her, is “surplussed,” as in “the district reduced the number of teachers allowed at that school and so she had to be surplussed.” (My dictionary says this isn’t a verb, but perhaps that will change soon.)
I know Good. I have spoken to her class—a unique program called Rocket Corps for high school students interested in teaching. She is very energetic and imaginative. She invented the program in 2001. It not only brought in expert speakers but gave students significant classroom experience at the school, as tutors and sometimes presenting to full classes. But many other fine teachers are being let go, even in school systems as well-funded as Montgomery County’s. It didn’t strike me as news.

Evanston Township High School Board Stresses Rigor in School Improvement Plan

This is an interesting read (688K PDF).

Rigor Recommendation: Develop a clear, consistent operational/working definition of rigor to be used at ETHS.
Supporting Detail:

  • Communicate the definition of rigor to all ETHS stakeholders. (Means of communication to include, e.g., ETHS website/newsletters and displaying definition of rigor in every classroom and in other locations.)
  • Ensure a common understanding of rigor by other means, including providing opportunities for all ETHS stakeholders to discuss and better understand the meaning of rigor and what it entails in different ETHS departments, the different expectations associated with rigor by different ETHS stakeholders, and the varying responsibilities of ETHS stakeholders to ensure that rigor is experience by students.
  • Identify the components of a rigorous classroom and provide illustrations thereof for each ETHS department, including curriculum/assignments, instructional techniques, behavioral expectations, and classroom dynamics/interaction.
  • Ensure that rigor is provided and experienced in ETHS classrooms by means of classroom observations conducted by outside experts andlor by other appropriate means.
  • Create and utilize diagnostics to monitor/assess the extent to which rigor actually is being provided at ETHS, to enable teachers to improve the rigor of their classes, and to identify areas where other improvement(s) may be needed. Such diagnostics should include, e. g., assessments that teachers can use in their classrooms to evaluate students’ experience of rigor and other questionnaires to be completed by students.

Who Are We as Americans?

Nat Hentoff:

resident Obama, in his May 21 speech at the National Archives Museum in Washington said that “we can defeat Al Qaeda …if we stay true to who we are…anchored in our timeless ideals.” A much more somber note, however, was in a warning by retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter the day before at Georgetown University Law Center.
Deeply concerned at how little knowledge Americans have of how this republic works, Justice Souter cited as an example that the majorities of the public can’t name — according to surveys — the three branches of government.
Who we are, Souter continued, “can be lost, it is being lost, it is lost, if it is not understood.” What is needed, he said, “is the restoration of the self-identity of the American people. … When I was a kid in the eighth and ninth grades, everybody took civics. That’s no longer true. (Former Justice) Sandra Day O’Connor says 50 percent of schools teach neither history nor civics.” Justice Souter continued that when he was in school, “civics was as dull as dishwater, but we knew the structure of government.”
This alert to the citizenry was almost entirely ignored by the press.
Admirably, O’Connor is trying to engage students in learning who they are as Americans through her Web site: Our Courts – 21st Century Civics (www.ourcourts.org). The site asks students what part of government they would most want to be a part of. And she invites teachers to click and “find lesson plans that fit your classroom needs.”

I complete agree with Hentoff. These words are particularly relevant when elected officials, such as Democrat Charles Schumer advocate biometric ID cards for all workers:

“I’m sure the civil libertarians will object to some kind of biometric card — although . . . there’ll be all kinds of protections — but we’re going to have to do it. It’s the only way,” Schumer said. “The American people will never accept immigration reform unless they truly believe their government is committed to ending future illegal immigration.”

The Obama Administration is advocating easy sharing of IRS data… (not good).

Wisconsin State K-12 Budget: “Robin Hood” for Madison Schools?

Steven Walters:

School-aid shift: Democrats added a shift in school-aid funding that would guarantee that no district loses more than 10% of state aid. The shift would give the Madison School District up to $1.8 million more, and take about that much from five Milwaukee-area suburban districts – Elmbrook, Oconomowoc, Mequon-Thiensville, Fox Point-Bayside and Nicolet.
QEO: The committee adopted a Senate-backed plan for an immediate repeal of the qualified economic offer system of limiting teachers’ pay raises. Doyle and the Assembly proposed a delay of the repeal until the 2010-’11 school year. Teachers have long complained that the QEO has unfairly kept salaries low; others say it keeps property taxes in check.

It will be interesting to see how the shift of money for Madison, at the expense of others plays out as state politics inevitably change…

The New Student Excuse?

Scott Jaschik:

Most of us have had the experience of receiving e-mail with an attachment, trying to open the attachment, and finding a corrupted file that won’t open. That concept is at the root of a new Web site advertising itself (perhaps serious only in part) as the new way for students to get extra time to finish their assignments.
Corrupted-Files.com offers a service — recently noted by several academic bloggers who have expressed concern — that sells students (for only $3.95, soon to go up to $5.95) intentionally corrupted files. Why buy a corrupted file? Here’s what the site says: “Step 1: After purchasing a file, rename the file e.g. Mike_Final-Paper. Step 2: E-mail the file to your professor along with your ‘here’s my assignment’ e-mail. Step 3: It will take your professor several hours if not days to notice your file is ‘unfortunately’ corrupted. Use the time this website just bought you wisely and finish that paper!!!”

School of the Future: Lessons in failure

Meris Stansbury:

When it opened its doors in 2006, Philadelphia’s School of the Future (SOF) was touted as a high school that would revolutionize education: It would teach at-risk students critical 21st-century skills needed for college and the work force by emphasizing project-based learning, technology, and community involvement. But three years, three superintendents, four principals, and countless problems later, experts at a May 28 panel discussion hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) agreed: The Microsoft-inspired project has been a failure so far.
Microsoft points to the school’s rapid turnover in leadership as the key reason for this failure, but other observers question why the company did not take a more active role in translating its vision for the school into reality. Regardless of where the responsibility lies, the project’s failure to date offers several cautionary lessons in school reform–and panelists wondered if the school could use these lessons to succeed in the future.

Recession? Valet Parking Arrives

Ben Eisen:

For some college students, “roughing it” may be a thing of the past.
When the concept of starting a valet parking service came up at a recent Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees meeting, it seemed less out of place than one would think. With the number of students growing, and the number of convenient parking spaces on campus unchanged, the idea to charge students and faculty for such a convenience did not seem unreasonable.
Florida Atlantic is just talking about valet service. Other colleges have implemented it. Florida International University and Columbia University introduced valet programs this spring. The University of Southern California has had a program in place since 2008, and High Point University brought in valet at the behest of its president, Nido Qubein, to provide a better student experience. California State University at Sacramento has also begun a premium parking program.

Tax Credits, Not Vouchers, Are Keeping School Choice a Viable Option

Adam Schaeffer:

Many school choice supporters are discouraged after having suffered a series of setbacks on the voucher front, ranging from the loss of Utah’s nascent voucher program last year to the recent death sentence handed to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. A rambling and inaccurate article in the normally supportive City Journal got the chorus of naysayers rolling more than a year ago with the cry “school choice isn’t enough.”
The bright spot for vouchers in recent years has been the success of special-needs programs. Yet the Arizona Supreme Court ruled recently that school vouchers for disabled and foster children violate the state constitution, which forbids public money from aiding private schools.
Naturally, the pessimists and opponents of choice are forecasting the death of the voucher movement. They’re wrong, because there never was a voucher movement to begin with. It has always been movement for educational freedom, and it is still going strong.
Over the past several years, there has been a gradual shift in focus from vouchers to an alternative mechanism: education tax credits. Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa already provide families with tax credits to offset the cost of independent schooling for their own kids. Florida, Pennsylvania, Arizona and three other states provide tax credits for donations to nonprofit scholarship organizations that subsidize tuition for lower-income families.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Wisconsin Budget, with an Earmark Appearance by David Obey

Nathaniel Inglis Steinfeld:

After working for the federal government in Washington, DC for two years, I was excited to move back to the Midwest. Returning to study public policy and law, I specifically came to learn more about state’s rights from the practical, decent state of Wisconsin. This past year I kept a close eye on state news, even more so as the biennial budget process began. How does Wisconsin make the biennial budget? What does the final budget look like?
The Legislative Reference Bureau seems like a better place to start than the federal level Schoolhouse Rock tutorial. The process of creating the Wisconsin budget is fairly simple – it follows the general legislative process, except in this case the process begins with the Governor. As the chief executive for the state, the Governor collects agencies’ estimates on their expenses. Once the Governor matches budget priorities to the expected revenues, the Joint Finance Committee takes the proposal to amend, review, and debate in a small committee. Once voted on by members of the joint committee, each chamber gets a chance to amend, review, and vote on the budget.
So the process itself doesn’t sound too complicated – what about the length of the timeline? Perhaps showing my age, this is the first state budget I’ve followed. The process is clearly not meant to proceed quickly. The purpose of going slowly no doubt comes from the size of the task, compiling all state agencies’ budgets and crafting budget priorities. Why force deliberation? I would imagine (and hope) slowing the process would limit rash decisions and promote a rational and well-justified budget. The biennial budget has long-ranging impacts, so the proposal usually is given plenty of time.

Our political class at work in Washington, fighting of an earmark for a LA public school training center, named, of course, for a congresswoman.

Waters and Obey have had an ongoing dispute about an earmark for a public school employment training center in Los Angeles that was named after Waters when she was a state representative.
Obey rejected that earmark as violating policies against so-called “monuments to me.” Waters revised her request to go to the school district’s whole adult employment training program, so the district could decide whether the money would go to the school named after Waters.
Thursday was the committee markup of the spending bill that would include the earmark, and Obey let it be known that the earmark would be denied. She approached him and complained.
A Waters aide said that Obey had pushed her.

Locally, Lynn Welch takes a look at the Madison School District and the State budget.

US Supreme Court Rules that Spending is Not the Only Criteria to Evaluate English Language Learner Programs

Pat Kossan:

The U.S. Supreme Court took a major step toward ending a 17-year legal battle today, deciding Arizona has done enough to help students who haven’t learned to speak, read or write English.
The justices reversed the decision of the lower courts and sent the case, known as Flores vs. Arizona, back with instructions to consider improvements the state has made in the way schools teach English learners.
“This is a major step to stop federal trial judges from micromanaging state education systems,” said state schools superintendent Tom Horne, who asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the case. “This affirms that important value that we the people control our government and our elected representatives and not ruled over by an aristocracy of lifetime federal judges.”
The Supreme Court decided the lower courts concentrated too narrowly on how much the state spent to help language learners and allowed that increases in overall school funding could be considered as a boost to help schools take the appropriate action called for in federal law.
The decision did not weaken Equal Education Opportunity Act of 1974, as some civil rights attorneys feared. But the justices’ said simply complying with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 did help to satisfy the requirements in the 1974 law to “take appropriate action” to help students overcome language barriers.

A Semantic Hijacking”

Charles J. Sykes, Dumbing Down Our Kids
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995, pp. 245-247

Ironically, “outcomes” were first raised to prominence by leaders of the conservative educational reform movement of the 1980s. Championed by Chester E. Finn, Jr. among others, reformers argued that the obsession with inputs (dollars spent, books bought, staff hired) focused on the wrong end of the educational pipeline. Reformers insisted that schools could be made more effective and accountable by shifting emphasis to outcomes (what children actually learned). Finn’s emphasis on outcomes was designed explicitly to make schools more accountable by creating specific and verifiable educational objectives in subjects like math, science, history, geography, and English. In retrospect, the intellectual debate over accountability was won by the conservatives. Indeed, conservatives were so successful in advancing their case that the term “outcomes” has become a virtually irresistible tool for academic reform.
The irony is that, in practice, the educational philosophies known as Outcome Based Education have little if anything in common with those original goals. To the contrary, OBE–with its hostility to competition, traditional measures of progress, and to academic disciplines in general–can more accurately be described as part of a counterreformation, a reaction against those attempts to make schools more accountable and effective. The OBE being sold to schools represents, in effect, a semantic hijacking.
“The conservative education reform of the 1980s wanted to focus on outcomes (i.e. knowledge gained) instead of inputs (i.e. dollars spent),” notes former Education Secretary William Bennett. “The aim was to ensure greater accountability. What the education establishment has done is to appropriate the term but change the intent.” [emphasis added] Central to this semantic hijacking is OBE’s shift of outcomes from cognitive knowledge to goals centering on values, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings. As an example of a rigorous cognitive outcome (the sort the original reformers had in mind), Bennett cites the Advanced Placement Examinations, which give students credit for courses based on their knowledge and proficiency in a subject area, rather than on their accumulated “seat-time” in a classroom.
In contrast, OBE programs are less interested in whether students know the origins of the Civil War or the author of The Tempest than whether students have met such outcomes as “establishing priorities to balance multiple life roles” (a goal in Pennsylvania) or “positive self-concept” (a goal in Kentucky). Where the original reformers aimed at accountability, OBE makes it difficult if not impossible to objectively measure and compare educational progress. In large part, this is because instead of clearly stated, verifiable outcomes, OBE goals are often diffuse, fuzzy, and ill-defined–loaded with educationist jargon like “holistic learning,” “whole-child development,” and “interpersonal competencies.”
Where original reformers emphasized schools that work, OBE is experimental. Despite the enthusiasm of educationists and policymakers for OBE, researchers from the University of Minnesota concluded that “research documenting its effects is fairly rare.” At the state level, it was difficult to find any documentation of whether OBE worked or not and the information that was available was largely subjective. Professor Jean King of the University of Minnesota’s College of Education describes support for the implementation of OBE as being “almost like a religion–that you believe in this and if you believe in it hard enough, it will be true.” And finally, where the original reformers saw an emphasis on outcomes as a way to return to educational basics, OBE has become, in Bennett’s words, “a Trojan Horse for social engineering, an elementary and secondary school version of the kind of ‘politically correct’ thinking that has infected our colleges and universities.”
“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
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

Rigor Reduction in Sports? An NBA Player Speaks Out!

Kevin Clark:

or some time, coaches have grumbled that the AAU’s emphasis on building stars and playing games over practicing produces a lot of talented prospects who have great physical skills but limited knowledge of the fundamentals. Now some players are speaking out.

By the middle of the last NBA season, as concerns build about his dwindling playing time and rough transition to the NBA, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, Michael Beasley of the Miami Heat, finally conceded a fundamental flaw: No one, at any level in his basketball career, had asked him to play defense. And especially not in AAU. “If you’re playing defense in AAU, you don’t need to be playing,” he says. “I’ve honestly never seen anyone play defense in AAU.”

An AAU official declined to comment for this article.

The chorus of critics ranges from AAU player Alex Oriakhi, a McDonald’s All-American center who plans to play for the University of Connecticut, who says shooting guards he’s seen in AAU are in for a “rude awakening” to USA Basketball officials and NBA coaches.

Founded in 1888, the AAU’s first goal was to represent American sports internationally. AAU teams blossomed in many sports, and the organization became a driving force in preparing Olympic athletes. In 1978, the Amateur Sports Act established a governing body for American Olympic sports, usurping the AAU’s role as an Olympic launching pad. Its most notable sport today is basketball, where it counts Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James among its alumni.

I am no NBA fan, having attended my last game, in I think, 1972 – a Milwaukee Bucks playoff game. A one dimensional game is not all that interesting, particularly via sky high ticket prices.

American IT grads unprepared and unemployable: Indian CEO Vineet Nayar

Richi Jennings:

Vineet Nayar is reported to have called Americans graduates “unemployable”; the CEO of IT services vendor HCL Technologies was speaking recently in New York. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers debate racism, stereotyping, sweatshops, and H1B visas.
By Richi Jennings, your humble blogwatcher, who has selected these bloggy tidbits for your enjoyment. Not to mention the best gaming toilets…
Rob Preston reports inflammatory comments with dignity:

via Lou Minatti.

Summer School Budget Cuts

Tom Benning & Anjali Athavaley:

Last year, Joseline and Mirelyne De Leon attended free summer school in downtown Los Angeles while their parents worked. It provided more than just a haven during the day. It also gave the two girls, 13 and 10 years old, the academic help they needed to bolster their grades for the following school year.
This year, budget cuts have forced the Los Angeles Unified School District to drop summer classes for elementary- and middle-school students, leaving their father, Rudy De Leon, trying to scrape up the money to pay for a few weeks at a private program that charges $50 a week per student. He is glad his daughters will receive some teaching over the summer. But they won’t receive school credit, and Mr. De Leon worries that they might fall behind.
Sierra Everett, a student at Lawrence Central High School in Indiana, had to pay for an online geometry course after her district canceled summer school .
“We’ll try to do the best we can,” he says.
Families across the country are facing similar dilemmas as state and local budget cuts are hitting school districts hard–forcing many of them to make cuts in summer programs that many educators consider critical to students’ academic success.

ABC’s and PhD’s: Towards a New Normal

Liz Stockwell:

For the past nearly two months I’ve been working towards some sort of new normal as I recover from and work with my doctors to figure out how to live with the illness I never dreamed would turn our family life so utterly on its head. Since then we’ve been taking one day at a time, each day assessing whether I need to spend extra time in bed on pain killers to get over a bad migraine and whether my husband has to once again skip his work obligations to take the children to one of their activities or take me to a doctor’s appointment. Our parents have all spent time with us, each taking a one to two week shift caring for our household. It’s been an unexpected silver lining for us to have so much time with them, and they give my husband a break to get some of his own work done and get back to academic life. He’s taken over as principle provider of domestic services and chauffer, as well as breadwinner, and he said recently that he’s looking forward to going back to work full-time so he can have a vacation — he’s exhausted! With our families here, I get many greatly appreciated offers to “just go lie down, I’ll take care of this” though it makes it a little more difficult to find ‘normal!’
Since my last post, my illness has been diagnosed at different times as brain stem migraine and viral encephalitis, for which I spent 12 days in hospital on a course of intra-venous anti-viral drugs. I should add that despite my tongue-and-cheek tone about the diagnoses, I’ve been very happy with the excellent medical care I’ve received and the thoughtful consideration my doctors have made for the fact that I’m the mother of two young children. When they saw how difficult it was for our family to be separated with me in hospital, they arranged for day passes and made accommodations for me to be temporarily unplugged from the IV to visit home. Yesterday was a long awaited appointment with a second neurologist who weighed in on my crazy collection of symptoms with yet a new diagnosis: syndrome of headache, neurological deficits, and cerebrospinal fluid lymphocytosis (or HaNDL, which almost sounds like it was invented as a catch-all for me and my symptoms). Along with the white blood cells in my spinal fluid, migraines, and dizziness, I also have entertaining colorful hallucinations (fairies, dragons, iridescent butterflies, and hammering cartoon characters) which have become an unlikely family source of creativity as I describe the latest over breakfast and my son later reproduces them, based on my descriptions, in his drawing journal at school. Fortunately his teacher is aware of my neurological problems, since I’ve not yet received any worried phone calls or visits from social workers to investigate my seven-year-old son’s involvement with mind-altering drugs as the inspiration for his art.

Pearson Gets Stakes In Indian Education, Including a Tutoring Service for US Students

Ketaki Gokhale:

Separately, Pearson said it will also buy a 17% stake in TutorVista, a Bangalore-based online tutoring company that links Indian tutors with U.S. students.
TutorVista will issue new shares to Pearson as part of its third round of fundraising. It has already received funding from Manipal Educational and Medical Group and private equity fund LightSpeed Venture Partners.
Pearson says its stake in TutorVista will strengthen its position as a supplier of education tools in the U.S., TutorVista’s core market.

Do charter schools work?

The Economist:

AMERICA’S universities are the best in the world, but the kindest verdict on its schools is “could do better”. It spends enough on them–around the rich-world average of 3.8% of GDP–but its pupils do poorly in tests of reading, writing and mathematics, and too many drop out before completing school. Teaching attracts few ambitious and able graduates; school leaders have little autonomy. The solution, to free-marketeers, seems obvious. Give taxpayers’ money not to a state-run monopoly, but to independent schools.
Since Minnesota started the experiment in 1991, most states have introduced independent, or charter, schools in some form. Evaluations have been broadly positive, but their enemies, including the politically powerful teachers’ unions, can fairly claim that more research is needed. Do charter schools’ pupils do better at tests because they have been coached intensively at the expense of a broad education? Do charters mean the most motivated students cluster in a few schools, to the detriment of the majority? Do they kick out–or coax out–the toughest to teach?

Students Without Borders

Maria Glod:

A team of very smart teenagers has set out to discover ways that maggots might make the world a better place. Two are from Loudoun County. Two live more than 9,000 miles away in Singapore.
To many U.S. politicians, educators and business leaders, Singapore’s students have become a symbol of the fierce competition the nation faces from high achievers in Asia. But these four students call themselves “international collaborators” and friends.
Even as globalization has fed worries about whether U.S. students can keep up with the rest of the world, it also has spawned classroom connections across oceans. Teachers, driven by a desire to help students navigate a world made smaller by e-mail, wikis and teleconferences, say lessons once pulled mainly from textbooks can come to life through real-world interactions.
“When we talk on Facebook,” Joanne Guidry, 17, one of the researchers at Loudoun’s Academy of Science, said of her Singaporean peers, “you can’t tell they are halfway around the world.”

Related: Credit for non-Madison School District Courses.

The economic cost of the US education gap

Byron G. Auguste, Bryan Hancock, and Martha Laboissière:

A persistent gap in academic achievement between children in the United States and their counterparts in other countries deprived the US economy of as much as $2.3 trillion in economic output in 2008, McKinsey research finds.1 Moreover, each of the long-standing achievement gaps among US students of differing ethnic origins, income levels, and school systems represents hundreds of billions of dollars in unrealized economic gains. Together, these disturbing gaps underscore the staggering economic and social cost of underutilized human potential. Yet they also create room for hope by suggesting that the widespread application of best practices could secure a better, more equitable education for the country’s children–along with substantial economic gains.
How has educational achievement changed in the United States since 1983, when the publication of the seminal US government report A Nation at Risk2 sounded the alarm about the “rising tide of mediocrity” in American schools? To learn the answer, we interviewed leading educational researchers around the world, assessed the landscape of academic research and educational-achievement data, and built an economic model that allowed us to examine the relationships among educational achievement (represented by standardized test scores), the earnings potential of workers, and GDP.
We made three noteworthy assumptions: test scores are the best available measure of educational achievement; educational achievement and attainment (including milestones such as graduation rates) are key drivers in hiring and are positively correlated with earnings; and labor markets will hire available workers with higher skills and education. While these assumptions admittedly simplify the socioeconomic complexities and uncertainties, they allowed us to draw meaningful conclusions about the economic impact of educational gaps in the United States.

Unions seek bigger role in charter schools

Libby Quaid:

As the Obama administration pushes for more charter schools, a teachers’ union is pushing for a bigger role in them.
It’s a new development for the charter school movement, a small but growing — and controversial — effort to create new, more autonomous public schools, usually in cities where traditional schools have failed.
On Tuesday in New York, the United Federation of Teachers expects to formalize a contract with teachers at Green Dot New York Charter School in the Bronx, a high school run by Green Dot, a nonprofit group that operates charter schools. Ten other New York charter schools are unionized.
And last week in Chicago, teachers voted to unionize three Chicago International Charter School campuses run by Civitas, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan made a point of talking about unions in a speech Monday in Washington to a national charter school conference.

The Cyber Way to Knowledge

James Glassman:

Every three years, the Program for International Student Assessment ranks the education levels of 15-year-olds around the world. The most recent test, in 2006, brought back results from 30 industrialized nations that were hardly inspiring for U.S. teachers and parents. American students’ science scores lagged behind those of their counterparts in 20 countries, including Finland, Japan, Germany and Belgium. The numbers from the math test were even worse: The U.S. came in 25th. The “rising tide of mediocrity” in American schools — famously so described in 1983 by a government report called “A Nation at Risk” — would now appear to be about chin-high.
In response to “A Nation at Risk,” Terry Moe and John Chubb in 1990 published “Politics, Markets and America’s Schools,” which identified special-interest groups — mainly teachers unions — as the culprits in preventing the reforms urged in the report. Now Messrs. Moe and Chubb have returned to the subject with “Liberating Learning,” a more optimistic sequel. The authors believe there exists a magic bullet that is capable of shattering the unions’ political power and, at last, bringing the sort of reform and excellence to U.S. K-12 education that might make U.S. students competitive with Finnish teenagers. The ammunition? Technology.

Unions, charter schools, and the Arne Duncan National School System

Edward Hayes:

First the banks; then the automobile companies, and now the schools. Planet Unicorn’s most entertaining experiment, the United States, has truly fallen down the rabbit hole. All three are failed industries run by weak, overpaid, and disingenuous charlatans disguised as experts. Thank goodness for the occasional Bernie Madoff, or we’d never have any fun at all. At least the phony finance guys go to jail now and then, and most of us enjoyed watching the General Motors clod get kicked off the island after flying to Washington D.C. on a private jet to beg for taxpayer money, but amazingly the man in charge of the nation’s worse urban school system gets promoted and is now in charge of all of our public schools. That is Lewis B. Carroll math to be sure, but it is the only arithmetic we have.
If Arne Duncan accomplished anything in Chicago besides avoiding the potholes in Hyde Park, it was the establishment of a handful of charter schools. The core value of the charter school is its freedom from union structure and restrictions. However, just last week the teachers at the three campuses of the Chicago International Charter School (CICS), voted to unionize. There were rumors and reports of increasing teacher workloads, larger and larger class sizes, and high personnel turnover in the magic kingdom of the charter schools. Furthermore, there is a bill sitting on the governor’s desk that would make it easier for charters to go union. Duncan’s school reform may have the same effect on us as Chinese food; we’ll be hungry again in an hour.
Curiously, the day after the CICS voted in the union, Arne was in town at the Hyatt Regency as a guest of an educational policy group. Inside the hotel they probably gave him an award for his wonderful achievements in education, while outside, C.O.R.E., Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (a really scary name), was demonstrating against his wonderfulness. The Chicago teachers in the C.O.R.E. picket line were protesting the process by which a worm public school becomes a butterfly charter institution. Apparently the larvae stage is called: TURNAROUND.

Artificial Turf Gets a Foothold At High Schools Across Region

Daniel de Vise:

In high schools in and around Washington, artificial turf is becoming an athletic status symbol.
Synthetic ballfields can be found at 10 public high schools in the District, seven in Anne Arundel County, four in Fairfax County and three in Arlington County. They have been installed at T.C. Williams High in Alexandria, Richard Montgomery High in Rockville, North Point High in Waldorf and a host of private and parochial schools. This summer and over the next school year, several more high schools will get artificial turf: Chesapeake and Old Mill in Anne Arundel, Lee in Fairfax, Bell-Lincoln in the District, and Walter Johnson and Montgomery Blair in Montgomery.
In most communities, the prospect of replacing real grass with plastic fiber and bits of shredded tire has prevailed with support from coaches and athletic boosters and little public dissent. But debate has emerged in Montgomery over such matters as how the turf deals were structured and whether tire crumbs from the fields might contaminate property nearby.

Court Favors Parents in Battle Over Special-Education Private School Tuition

Robert Barnes & Nelson Hernandez:

By a 6 to 3 vote, the court settled an emotional and contentious issue that has divided frustrated parents and financially strapped school officials, often ending in legal battles. In writing the opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens said Congress intended for the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act to provide an appropriate educational experience for all children, no matter whether they had ever received special-education services from a school system.
The issue has emerged as one of the fastest-growing components of local education budgets, threatening to “seriously deplete public education funds,” according to a brief filed by the nation’s urban school districts.
Local school systems in the Washington area spend millions of dollars each year on private school reimbursement. And the D.C. public schools allocated $7.5 million of this year’s $783 million budget just for the legal costs of hearing officers or judges to decide whether the system can provide appropriate services for children with disabilities.

Gender gap in maths driven by social factors, not biological differences

Ed Yong:

History has had no shortage of outstanding female mathematicians, from Hypatia of Alexandria to Ada Lovelace, and yet no woman has ever won the Fields medal – the Nobel prize of the maths world. The fact that men outnumber women in the highest echelons of mathematics (as in science, technology and engineering) has always been controversial, particularly for the persistent notion that this disparity is down to an innate biological advantage.
AdaLovelace.jpgNow, two professors from the University of Wisconsin – Janet Hyde and Janet Mertz – have reviewed the strong evidence that at least in maths, the gender gap is down to social and cultural factors that can help or hinder women from pursuing the skills needed to master mathematics.
The duo of Janets have published a review that tackles the issue from three different angles. They considered the presence of outstanding female mathematicians. Looking beyond individuals, they found that gender differences in maths performance don’t really exist in the general population, with girls now performing as well as boys in standardised tests. Among the mathematically talented, a gender gap is more apparent but it is closing fast in many countries and non-existent in others. And tellingly, the size of the gap strongly depends on how equally the two sexes are treated.

Girls vs. Boys at Math

Joyce Gramza:

Are men naturally better at math than women or is that just an out-dated stereotype? When former Harvard president Larry Summers said publicly in 2005 that men are innately better at math, many women were outraged. So a couple of women scientists decided to research it. This ScienCentral News video explains their report published this week.


via email a kind reader’s email:

[LFB Paper 812]
Governor/Joint Finance: Provide that a person who is a citizen of another country is exempt from nonresident tuition if that person meets all of the following requirements: (a) the person graduated from a Wisconsin high school or received a high school graduation equivalency declaration from this state; (b) the person was continuously present in this state for at least three years following the first day of attending a Wisconsin high school or immediately preceding the receipt of a declaration of equivalency of high school graduation; and (c) the person enrolls in a UW System institution and provides the institution with an affidavit that the person has filed or will file an application for a permanent resident visa with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services as soon as the person is eligible to do so. Specify that this provision would first apply to persons who enroll for the semester or session following the bill’s effective date.
Please make the call!
Please call your legislators today.
To locate your legislators online, visit:
You can also call the legislative hotline at 1-800-362-9472
Thank you for your participation to pass the tuition bill
Rafael Gomez

Two students, two schools — 20 miles and a world apart

Mitchell Landsberg:

Meet Kyle Gosselin and Henry Ramirez. Kyle attends La Cañada High; Henry was at South L.A.’s Jefferson High before moving to Texas. Their backgrounds may be worlds apart, but their dreams are similar.
Henry Ramirez, meet Kyle Gosselin.
We thought you should be introduced, at least virtually, because you have some things in common. You’re a couple of low-key, low-drama, low-maintenance 17-year-olds who have just navigated 11th grade at large public high schools. Both of you are planning to go to college. Both thinking about careers in medicine. Both willing to work hard (but not insanely hard). Both smart (but not gunning to be No. 1).
Yet how different two young lives can be.

Joplin School Board Discusses Strategic Plan

Melissa Dunson:

The document (11MB PDF) that will guide the Joplin school district for the next five years is up for final approval during a Board of Education meeting tonight.
The plan was produced after nearly a year of work that involved hundreds of school representatives and community members.
The board earlier this year approved one change posed in the plan: staggered start times for elementary and secondary schools.
The suggested changes that the board will consider tonight include alternative schools for high school and middle school, and flagging at-risk students and tracking their progress through school electronically.
The plan also calls for the district to hire several more middle-school counselors, a public relations director and a grant writer. It outlines the creation of several new mentoring programs, including a School Within a School model that puts 25 at-risk pupils with one teacher as they move from middle school to high school.

In Setbacks, Finding Motivation

Ralph Blumenthal:

A cane-cutter’s son from Aguada, Puerto Rico, Antonio Pérez barely made it out of high school in Washington Heights in 1964. But he went on to earn a doctorate by age 27 and become a college dean by 29. Since 1995, Dr. Pérez, now 62, has been president of Borough of Manhattan Community College on Chambers Street, now the largest unit of the City University of New York, with 22,500 matriculated students plus 10,000 in continuing education.

Justices Rule For Parents Of Special Ed Student

Larry Abramson:

The Supreme Court on Monday made it easier for parents of special education students to get reimbursement for private school tuition. School administrators fear the 6-3 ruling will lead to a jump in private school placements.
The student in the case is known simply as “T.A.” The Forest Grove School District, outside of Portland, Ore., noticed that he was having problems in high school, but suspected marijuana use and refused to give him special education services. Toward the end of his junior year, T.A.’s parents pulled him out of public school and sent him to a private residential academy.
The parents then sued the school district to recover the $65,000 they spent on private tuition. The school district argued the parents stepped over the line and lost the ability to seek reimbursement when they transferred him without first giving public special education a try.

Paternity and parental investment

The Economist:

MEN are doomed to uncertainty. Women know who their children are, but the ubiquity of sexual cheating makes it difficult for males of many species, humans included, to be sure which youngsters actually belong to them. If a male’s reproductive strategy amounts to little more than “Wham, bam, thank-you ma’am”, this may not matter to him much. But if, as in the human case, he takes an interest in his offspring, it matters a lot. There are few more foolish actions, from an evolutionary point of view, than raising another male’s progeny.
This line of reasoning led Alexandra Alvergne and her colleagues at the University of Montpellier, in France, to wonder if human fathers recognise features of children that might give away whose offspring they really are, and use those to guide the amount of attention doled out to each putative son and daughter. To find out, they established an experiment among villagers in the Sine Saloum region of Senegal, where polygynous marriages (ie, men with multiple wives) are common. In such societies the incentives for unmarried men and the opportunities for neglected women to engage in what zoologists who study other harem-forming species refer to as “sneaking” are particularly high. It gives the men a chance to reproduce and the women a chance to spread their bets.

Judge orders search for Milwaukee students in need of special education

Alan Borsuk:

A federal judge has ordered Milwaukee Public Schools to launch a wide search for students who didn’t get special education services they should have gotten between 2000 and 2005 and to figure out what needs to be done to make that up to them.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Aaron Goodstein ordered that someone from outside the system be hired to monitor work on providing education services to compensate the students or former students involved because MPS has not shown it will adequately remedy its problems in special education on its own.
Goodstein’s decision earlier this month was another step in a lawsuit that dates to 2001. In earlier decisions, he ruled that MPS had denied students their rights in the past and ordered major changes in how MPS deals with deciding whether children are entitled to special education help. The process of making those changes is under way.

Jack Welch invests in Online University

Paul Glader:

Former General Electric Co. Chief Executive Jack Welch is putting his name and money behind a little-known educational entrepreneur, injecting some star power into the budding industry of online education.
Mr. Welch is paying more than $2 million for a 12% stake in Chancellor University System LLC, which is converting formerly bankrupt Myers University in Cleveland into Chancellor University. It plans to offer most courses online. Chancellor will name its Master of Business Administration program The Jack Welch Institute.
Chancellor’s leading investor is Michael Clifford, an entrepreneur who has launched two publicly traded companies in the past year: Grand Canyon Education Inc., which operates Grand Canyon University, and Bridgepoint Education Inc., which operates Ashford University and University of the Rockies.
Investor groups led by Mr. Clifford bought those three institutions out of troubled situations and converted them to primarily online universities.
Mr. Welch’s name may help add allure to for-profit, online education, which is growing rapidly despite nagging questions about quality.
Boston research firm EduVentures Inc. estimates that 11% of the roughly 18.5 million U.S. college students took most of their classes online in the fall of 2008, up from 1% a decade ago.

British schools told to scrap ‘i before e’


British elementary schools have been advised to scrap one of the most venerable rules in English spelling: “I before e except after c.”
The word was given this week in a National Strategies document, “Support for Spelling.” The 124-page document includes a lot of words of wisdom for teachers working with young children, like using puns to teach the distinction between pair and pear.
The document has harsh words for the “i before e” rule.
“The i before e rule is not worth teaching,” it said. “It applies only to words in which the ie or ei stands for a clear ee sound. Unless this is known, words such as sufficient and veil look like exceptions. There are so few words where the ei spelling for the ee sounds follows the letter c that it is easier to learn the specific words.”

Do Schools Need More PE Time?

Nancy Armour:

The gym at Eberhart Elementary School is bright and spacious — with high ceilings, several basketball hoops, even a large, colorful climbing wall.
But for much of the day, the gym doubles as a cafeteria where the school’s 1,800-plus students are offered breakfast and lunch.
There’s another gym on the fourth floor, but it’s so old it has basketball hoops attached to ladders. Time and space limitations mean each class gets physical education just once a week for 40 minutes.
In the fight against childhood obesity, getting kids moving is one of the most effective ways to combat the problem. But only Illinois and Massachusetts require P.E. classes for all kids in kindergarten through 12th grade. And, as Eberhart’s example shows, even those requirements sometimes are not enough.
“I understand the funding issue. I understand the space issue,” said Betty Hale, one of two P.E. teachers at Eberhart. But “our children are getting shortchanged.”

Too Much Emphasis on One Test

Dan Gelber:

As a parent of three kids in public schools and as a legislator who has been fighting overreliance on the FCAT for almost a decade, I know overemphasis of the FCAT is doing more damage than good.
First, the problem is not that we have an FCAT — but that we overemphasize it to the exclusion of other things that matter. The FCAT is the sole organizing principle of our school system. Because a school’s grade is only indexed to how many students reach minimal competence in two or three subjects, minimal competence in a few subjects becomes the only metric our school system cares about.
How many parents want ”minimal competence” as their kids’ goal?
Performance in other subjects — foreign languages, history, civics, higher-level courses — does not raise a school’s grade, so they are ignored. And forget about electives like art, music and subjects that make learning fuller. In Florida’s underfunded school system, principles of triage leave those noncore subjects as mere afterthoughts — if they are thought about at all.
Second, a June 2 Herald editorial, Schools offer a lesson in frugality, pointed to improvement in FCAT scores and Florida’s ”top 10” ranking as proof we can get by without real investment in education. That is incorrect. The editorial came close to drinking the Kool-Aid. The FCAT is no longer ”norm referenced,” so we can no longer compare ourselves to students’ performance in other states. If you do compare us to kids in other states taking SATs and ACTs, Florida’s performance is almost always close to dead last — and has gotten worse since the arrival of the heralded FCAT.

Teach for America members arrive in Milwaukee for training

Erin Richards:

They are in their 20s, well-educated, ambitious and eager to improve the public schools in Milwaukee.
Welcome, Teach for America members. You have your work cut out for you.
On Friday, the group’s inaugural Milwaukee class completed its first week of training in the program, which recruits high-achieving, recent college graduates to teach in high poverty, low-income schools. The 38 “corps members,” committed to a two-year stint, met at Marquette University.
The group met teachers who already are part of MPS. They learned about the city’s politics, community and educational system. And they worked on essential skills: classroom management; lesson planning; how to control but also empower; how to apologize when they make mistakes.
“Nobody is absolutely going to be the perfect teacher,” Garret Bucks, the executive director for TFA in Milwaukee, told a room full of well-dressed and well-spoken young adults, all with pens at the ready.

Where Kids Learn All About The Bulls and the Bears

Candice Lee Jones:

Long division or long stock position? Both are part of the curriculum at Chicago’s Ariel Community Academy, a public school sponsored by Ariel Investments, where the kids are managing real-life portfolios.
Each first-grade class is given $20,000 to seed a portfolio. At first, the money is invested on their behalf as they study the savings-and-investment curriculum, a joint project of Ariel Investments and Nuveen Investments.
Finance classes start with counting coins. By sixth grade, students take more control of their portfolio.
Teacher Connie Moran says students usually choose to invest in names they recognize — Nike, Target, McDonald’s. And yes, their investments are down just like yours. Between March 31, 2008, and March 31, 2009, class portfolios fell an average of about 40 percent.

New Era at Hawaiian School of Hard Knocks

Brandon O’Malley:

Hawaii conjures up images of palm-fringed beaches and tropical tranquility, but when Gail Awakuni joined James Campbell High School as principal in 2000, it was a place of gang fights, hoodlums and educational failure. The 2,000-pupil comprehensive school was bottom in the state.
“We had violence, the highest non-graduation rate of the state, the highest pregnancy rate, the highest number of dropouts,” she says. “In our freshman class, 350 were being detained: they weren’t being promoted from ninth to 10th grade. It was out of control.”
Yet by 2007, Ms Awakuni and her staff had pushed graduation rates up from 86.4 per cent in 1999 to 98.9 per cent and the numbers going on to post-high school education from 57 per cent to 74 per cent. The amount earned by students in scholarships at colleges and universities soared from US$600,000 to US$7.3 million in the same period.
“This year has been record-breaking,” says Ms Awakuni. “One pupil gained a perfect 800 out of 800 in the United States-wide colleges admissions test in maths, another got 760 and a third pupil got 750 in the verbal test.”
Campbell High, which has pupils aged 15 to 18, earned Breakthrough School status in 2004 and Ms Awakuni, who reorganised the school into smaller learning communities, was awarded National Principal of the Year in 2004-5.

“I don’t believe in colleges and universities,” Ray Bradbury, 88, said. “I believe in libraries.”

Jennifer Steinhauer:

This is a lucky thing for the Ventura County Public Libraries — because among Mr. Bradbury’s passions, none burn quite as hot as his lifelong enthusiasm for halls of books. His most famous novel, “Fahrenheit 451,” which concerns book burning, was written on a pay typewriter in the basement of the University of California, Los Angeles, library; his novel “Something Wicked This Way Comes” contains a seminal library scene.
Mr. Bradbury frequently speaks at libraries across the state, and on Saturday he will make his way here for a benefit for the H. P. Wright Library, which like many others in the state’s public system is in danger of shutting its doors because of budget cuts.
“Libraries raised me,” Mr. Bradbury said. “I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”
Property tax dollars, which provide most of the financing for libraries in Ventura County, have fallen precipitously, putting the library system roughly $650,000 in the hole. Almost half of that amount is attributed to the H. P. Wright Library, which serves roughly two-thirds of this coastal city about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

She finally has a home: Harvard

Esmeralda Bermudez:

Khadijah Williams stepped into chemistry class and instantly tuned out the commotion.
She walked past students laughing, gossiping, napping and combing one another’s hair. Past a cellphone blaring rap songs. And past a substitute teacher sitting in a near-daze.
Quietly, the 18-year-old settled into an empty table, flipped open her physics book and focused. Nothing mattered now except homework.
“No wonder you’re going to Harvard,” a girl teased her.
Around here, Khadijah is known as “Harvard girl,” the “smart girl” and the girl with the contagious smile who landed at Jefferson High School only 18 months ago.
What students don’t know is that she is also a homeless girl.

Gödel, Escher, Bach: A Mental Space Odyssey

MIT Open Courseware:

What do one mathematician, one artist, and one musician all have in common? Are you interested in zen Buddhism, math, fractals, logic, paradoxes, infinities, art, language, computer science, physics, music, intelligence, consciousness and unified theories? Get ready to chase me down a rabbit hole into Douglas Hofstadter’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Gödel, Escher, Bach. Lectures will be a place for crazy ideas to bounce around as we try to pace our way through this enlightening tome. You will be responsible for most of the reading as lectures will consist primarily of motivating the material and encouraging discussion. I advise everyone seriously interested to buy the book, grab on and get ready for a mind-expanding voyage into higher dimensions of recursive thinking.

Larry Summers Vindicated? Global Study Shows Greater Male Variability in Math, Reading Scores

Mark Perry:

The tables above show selected statistics from the paper Global Sex Differences in Test Score Variability (see summary here), published by two economists, one from the London School of Economics and the other from the Helsinki School of Economics. Analyzing standardized test scores in reading and mathematics from the OECD’s “Program for International Student Assessment” (PISA), a survey of 15-year olds in 41 industrialized countries, the authors found that:
Our analysis of international test score data shows a higher variance in boys’ than girls’ results on mathematics and reading tests in most OECD countries. Higher variability among boys is a salient feature of reading and mathematics test performance across the world. In almost all comparisons, the age 15 boy-girl variance difference in test scores is present. This difference in variance is higher in countries that have higher levels of test score performance.

Georgia principal arrested in cheating probe

Kate Brumback:

A suburban Atlanta principal who resigned during an investigation into cheating on students’ standardized tests was arrested Friday and accused of altering public documents.
The school’s assistant principal also turned herself in to local police Thursday night in a case that the head of a state teacher’s group described as rare. School officials allege that the two changed answers on fifth-grade standardized tests to improve scores and help their school meet federal achievement standards.
Former Dekalb County principal James Berry was arrested at his home on charges of altering public documents, a felony. His assistant principal Doretha Alexander faces the same charges.

The Community College Placement Mess

Jay Matthews:

Newspaper reporters, a group to which I belonged until recently, usually don’t write about old reports, unless of course the documents have been suppressed for years by nefarious government minions. If a reporter tells her editor she has found a neat piece of research from 2007 in the bottom of her drawer, the editor will tell her it isn’t news and advise that she put a calendar in her cubicle.
We columnists, on the other hand, are free to roam the past, particularly when we stumble across something as remarkable as “Investigating the Alignment of High School and Community College Assessments in California,” a 41-page report by Richard S. Brown & David N. Niemi, published by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in June 2007.
I know. The title is sleep-inducing. But for the millions of people who care about community colleges — including the nearly half of all U.S. college students who attend them — it is a must-read.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin Debt would balloon under Doyle’s, lawmakers’ budget bills

Jason Stein:

In another sign of the fiscal crisis, repaying debt will take a greater share of Wisconsin’s revenue in years to come.
Like a financially strapped consumer facing higher credit card bills, the state would face unprecedented debt payments over the next four years under state budget proposals by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and lawmakers.
By 2012, yearly payments on state debt will likely consume at least 4.5 percent of the state’s total income from taxes and fees, according to projections by the Legislature’s and Doyle’s budget offices. That’s 13 percent higher than the 4 percent threshold state officials have long considered to be a reasonable limit.
“If you cross that threshold, that’s a new development,” said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. “We have been pushing the borrowing and debt envelope because we haven’t been coming to grips with our budget problems.”
The rising debt levels are one more sign of how the state’s financial crisis — the worst in at least a generation — will linger for years to come, threatening further cuts to state services and increasing pressure to raise taxes.

Wisconsin DPI Superintendent Chooses Staff

State schools Superintendent-elect Tony Evers has named Michael Thompson, of Sun Prairie, as his deputy state superintendent.
Thompson, currently executive assistant at the Department of Public Instruction, holds a master’s degree and doctorate in educational administration from UW-Madison.
Evers will be inaugurated July 6, at Hi-Mount Elementary School in Milwaukee, which he said was a symbolic location meant to bring “a singular focus to both the successes and challenges facing public education, not only in Milwaukee, but throughout the state.”
Jennifer Thayer, currently director of curriculum and instruction for the Monroe School District, has been named as assistant state superintendent in the Division for Reading and Student Achievement. Evers’ other cabinet members will include Sue Grady, executive assistant; and assistant state superintendents Richard Grobschmidt, Libraries, Technology and Community Learning; Deborah Mahaffey, Academic Excellence; Brian Pahnke, Finance and Management; and Carolyn Stanford Taylor, Learning Support: Equity and Advocacy.

The Clock is Ticking for the Milwaukee Public Schools

Bruce Murphy:

Wow, is Milwaukee Public Schools in trouble.
Back in 2004, I did a story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that found Milwaukee Public Schools was spending 51 cents on benefits for every dollar spent on salaries in 2003. That was projected to increase to 55 cents in 2004. Recently, JS reporter Alan Borsuk did a story noting (toward the back) that MPS was now up to 60 cents on benefits for every dollar in salary and this was expected to increase to 63 cents next year.
That’s a mind-blowing trend. If it continues – and it will, unless major changes are made in its benefits structure – MPS will be forced to gut its staff, impose annual double-digit tax increases or both. The heart of the problem is health care: The plan for employees has few cost controls. And the plan for retirees (many
of whom get lifetime health insurance) is funded on a “pay-as-you-go” basis. The latter is an actuarial nightmare: Each year there are more retirees covered by the health insurance and ever-higher premiums, but the system hasn’t put any money aside to pay for this growth, as a government pension plan normally does. So the costs have started to mushroom.

Should Advanced Elementary Students Be Bussed to a Middle School?

Jay Mattews:

Dear Extra Credit:
I am a former Montgomery County public schools employee, a parent of two in the system and a lifelong educator. An accelerated math program is presenting a unique challenge for the whole system.
As a parent, I addressed the issue first with the principal, then at a PTA meeting and then to the director of school performance when I thought that no satisfactory resolution was being looked into. There is still no resolution, and I do not believe the problem is unique to my small school.
Approximately 25 children in my son’s fourth grade have been accelerated two grade levels in math instruction. They took what’s called Math A (usually for sixth-graders) this year. They are slated to take Math B (usually for seventh-graders) next year, when they are in fifth grade.
In the past couple of years, the few students who qualified for this level of acceleration were bused to a middle school, then returned to the elementary school for the remainder of their day. This year, so many students have been found eligible that parents have requested that instead of sending them to the middle school, a Math B teacher be brought to the elementary school to teach them. This would reduce disruption and be better for their development.

Test-optional policy now in place

Illinois College:

Joining a growing list of top schools nationwide, Illinois College now offers students a choice about whether to submit their standardized test scores as part of the admissions process.
Under the new policy, students who believe their standardized test scores strengthen their application are encouraged to submit them, but students who elect not to submit standardized test scores will not be penalized. An exception will apply to international and home-school students.
“Emerging evidence indicates that a student’s academic promise can be accurately evaluated through a variety of means,” Barbara Lundberg, vice president for enrollment management, remarked. “We expect that the majority of candidates will submit test scores, but by becoming test-optional, we will have the opportunity to look beyond what a student does during a four-hour period on one day in their high school career.”
This change was approved by the faculty earlier this year following a yearlong study of the role of standardized tests in college admissions. Illinois College previously required all prospective students to submit official results of the ACT or SAT test scores in order to be considered for admission.
Lundberg said the new policy will apply to students who begin their freshman year studies in 2010.

So Many Dreams, So Many Diplomas

Michael Alison Chandler:

Fifteen-year-old Simon Lhuillier wants to become a pediatrician when he grows up and buy a big house near a lake. Nila Fasihi, 17, thinks she might one day open a hair salon in Afghanistan when the war is over.
To prepare for the future, Lhuillier is signing up for honors physics and Advanced Placement English classes at Fairfax High School next year and stockpiling credits for an advanced diploma. Fasihi will take anatomy and English 12 at Fairfax High and continue refining her haircutting and skin care skills in a career academy at Chantilly High. When she graduates next spring from Fairfax High, she will earn a standard diploma and a state license in cosmetology.
The District and many states, including Maryland, offer one main high school diploma. Additional diplomas are often available for special education students.

So Sexy So Soon

Commentary by Jean Kilbourne
Wellesley Centers for Women
Spring/Summer 2009 Research and Action Report

Thong panties and padded bras for seven-year-old girls are sold these days at major department stores. Tiny pink high-heeled shoes are advertised for babies. Risqué Halloween costumes for children (such as “Pimp Daddy” and “Child Ho”) fly off the shelves. T-shirts for toddler boys proclaim “Chick Magnet” and “Pimp Squad.” Little girls go to makeover parties and spas, and teenagers are encouraged to dress and behave like strippers and porn stars. F.C.U.K. is the name of an international clothing chain popular with young people.
Some of the cover stories for recent issues of magazines popular with young teenage girls include “15 Ways Sex Makes You Prettier” and “A Shocking Thing 68% of Chicks Do in Bed.” “Grand Theft Auto,” a video game especially popular with teenage boys, allows the gamer to have sex with a prostitute in a stolen car and then murder her. The latest version sold six million copies in its first week and grossed five hundred million dollars.1
I started talking about the sexualization of children way back in the late 1960s, when I began my work on the image of women in advertising. The first version of my film “Killing Us Softly,” made in 1979, included an ad featuring a sexy little girl and the slogan “You’re a Halston woman from the very beginning.” I knew something was happening, but I had no idea how bad it was going to get.

Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., senior scholar at the Wellesley Centers for Women, is internationally recognized for her pioneering work on alcohol and tobacco advertising and the image of women in advertising. Her newest book, So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids, co-authored with Diane E. Levin, was published in 2008. Her book, Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, won the Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology in 2000. She is also known for her award-winning documentaries Killing Us Softly, Slim Hopes, and Calling the Shots.

More at wcwonline.org.

Our family is reading Laura Sessions Stepp’s “Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both,” a book about the “hook-up” culture that currently prevails on our college campuses, so this commentary in a recent professional mailing caught my eye. Of course, I have long been a fan of Jean Kilbourne’s work.

Study Shows Possible Link Between Deaths and ADHD Drugs

Shankar Vedantam:

Children taking stimulant drugs such as Ritalin to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are several times as likely to suffer sudden, unexplained death as children who are not taking such drugs, according to a study published yesterday that was funded by the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Mental Health.
While the numbers involved in the study were very small and researchers stopped short of suggesting a cause and effect, the study is the first to rigorously demonstrate a rare but worrisome connection between ADHD drugs and sudden death among children. In doing so, the research adds to the evolving puzzle parents and doctors face in deciding whether to treat children with medication.
Doctors have speculated about such a connection in the past because stimulants increase heart rate and have other cardiovascular effects. Physicians are currently advised to evaluate patients for cardiac risks before prescribing the drugs, and FDA officials said yesterday that those guidelines do not need strengthening in light of the new study. About 2.5 million children in the United States take ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

Educators Seek Ways to Prevent Learning Losses During Vacation

Valerie Strauss:

It’s called “the summer brain drain” because during those long, hot months away from school, kids supposedly forget a lot of what they had learned in class.
Research, however, tells a more nuanced story: Some learning is lost among some groups, and others gain.
Here’s what experts from Johns Hopkins University, the University of Tennessee, the University of Virginia and elsewhere say happens over the summer:
— Most students — regardless of family income or background — lose 2 to 2 1/2 months of the math computational skills that they learned during the school year.

Their Parents’ Keepers

Paula Span:

My father and I were waiting in the director’s office for our tour to begin. With a recent haircut, he looked almost dapper despite the two hearing aids.
I admired the way he’d put together a life since my mother died. He had good friends, played cards several nights a week, faithfully attended services at his synagogue, shopped and cooked for himself. With prescriptions to keep his cholesterol and blood sugar in line, he was relatively healthy.
Yet how long could we be this fortunate? He was 83 then. Sooner or later, my sister and I knew, he’d need more help.
Nobody wants to have to face such questions. Yet we want to do the best we can for the people who did the best they could for us. Maybe this assisted-living place was where Dad would want to be, when the time came.

2009 British Graduation Climate


It is hard to imagine a more difficult time to be a school leaver entering the world of work.
The class of ’09 will be the first students in a generation to finish their studies in a recession.
With youth unemployment already at 16% and rising, what will their future be?
Greg James, 18, is revising hard. He is in the middle of his exams at the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College. He is also working hard to find a job, with prospects. Greg has applied for up to ten positions so far, without any luck. His dream job is working with computers.
“That’s what I really want at the end of the day, to get a job so that all the hours of hard work pay off, rather than sitting around doing nothing,” he says.

“Revolutionize Curriculum”? – Madison School’s Proposed Strategic Plan

I supported use of the term “revolutionize curriculum” as part of the proposed Madison School District Strategic Plan. The words contained in the document can likely be used to support any number of initiatives.
The term “revolutionize” appealed to me because I believe the School District should get out of the curriculum creation business (generally, the “Teaching & Learning Department“).
I believe, in this day and age, we should strive to hire the best teachers (with content knowledge) available and let them do their jobs. One school district employee could certainly support an online knowledge network. Madison has no shortage of curricular assets, including the UW Math Department, History, Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, Sports and Languages. MATC, Edgewood College, UW-Milwaukee, UW-Whitewater and Northern Illinois are additional nearby resources.
Finally, there are many resources available online, such as MIT’s open courseware.
I support “revolutionizing” the curriculum by pursuing best practices from those who know the content.
Dictonary.com: “revolutionize“.
Britannica on revolution.

California Schools’ Tough Choices

Stu Woo:

Residents of some affluent cities in this broke state are banding together to make up for cuts in public education, opening rifts between rich and poor school districts.
Key to the debate are parcel taxes, flat fees on property that are used by some cities to help fund public schools.
A handful of communities, such as the tony Bay Area enclave of Piedmont, Calif., have passed new parcel taxes to compensate for proposed state cutbacks, and others are considering them. Piedmont said the emergency measures would enable it to lay off only five of its 200 teachers, rather than nine.
“We’re very, very fortunate that our community is supportive of our schools,” said Ray Gadbois, vice president of Piedmont’s school board.
In less-affluent communities where voters are loath to approve parcel taxes, the state’s funding cuts are expected to hit harder.
One is Hayward, 15 miles south of Piedmont. At the city’s Tyrrell Elementary School, Principal Rosanna Mucetti said she stands to lose nine of 30 teachers.

Student Debt, Fool’s Gold?


In our discussion about the rising burden of student loans, we received numerous comments from readers who took on a lot of debt to pay for their education. Some found they simply couldn’t afford to repay the loans with the jobs they found after college. Others said their debts determined their life choices. Still others wondered if the college experience was worth the financial burden they’ll carry for decades afterward. Here are excerpts from their comments.

Tell the Truth About Colleges

Thomas Toch:

AMERICA’S PARENTS AND politicians obsess over getting kids to go to college. But the delivery of a decent education, once the kids are on campus, is at least as large a challenge. Only about half of all college entrants earn degrees within six years. And many who do aren’t learning much: one study indicates, for instance, that only 38 percent of graduating college students can successfully compare the viewpoints of two newspaper editorials.
The conventional wisdom is that you get what you pay for–that the larger the price tag, the better the product. But that’s not true in higher education. Tuition has been skyrocketing for years, with little evidence that education has improved. Universities typically favor research and publishing over teaching. And influential college rankings like the one published by U.S. News & World Report measure mostly wealth and status (alumni giving rates, school reputation, incoming students’ SAT scores); they reveal next to nothing about what students learn.
We need to shed more light on how well colleges are educating their students–to help prospective students make better decisions, and to exert pressure on the whole system to provide better value for money.
Reliable measures of the quality of undergraduate teaching already exist. The National Survey of Student Engagement gathers data on factors proven to correlate with learning–things like the number of books and lengthy papers assigned in courses. (The organization reports little relationship between having a prominent brand name and teaching students well.) The Collegiate Learning Assessment tests students’ critical thinking and measures progress over a college career.

All children deserve only the best teachers

Arlene C. Ackerman

Teachers are the bedrock of our schools and the single most important key to student success. To achieve great results, every student needs a great teacher, and every teacher deserves a fair and accurate evaluation that enhances their capacity to grow and improve without fear that the process will threaten their position or their professional standing.
To put the best interests of our children front and center, the School District of Philadelphia is determined to do everything in its power to recruit the best, brightest, and most dedicated teachers; to encourage, reward, and retain our highest performers; to provide meaningful assistance and support for teachers who are struggling to be successful and effective; and to create a comprehensive system that provides all instructional staff with ongoing opportunities for career and talent development.
We stand with President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in placing an aggressive and unrelenting focus on teacher effectiveness as a critical factor in creating better public schools. If we are committed to student success, then it is up to all of us – teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers, and legislators – to make a commitment that all of our teachers will have the skills they need to be successful educators and that all will be equitably placed where their talents are most needed.
We are morally obligated and collectively responsible to ensure that anyone entrusted with the education of our children is capable of doing a great job, is recognized for the excellence of their performance, and is justly rewarded for results. If we care about the success of our students, we must also care about the success of their teachers and treat them as the professionals they are.
Recently, the New Teacher Project released a report on “the nation’s failure to assess teacher effectiveness, treating teachers as interchangeable parts.” The two-year study describes a “widget effect” that has prevented schools and school districts from “recognizing excellence, providing support, or removing ineffective teachers.”
The study, available at www.widgeteffect.org, describes a “national failure to acknowledge and act on differences in teacher effectiveness” and faults teacher-evaluation systems that codify the “widget effect” by allowing excellence to go unrecognized and the need for improvement to go unaddressed. The authors noted that less than 1 percent of 40,000 teachers in the study were ever rated unsatisfactory.


FDA Says Kids Shouldn’t Stop Taking ADHD Medications

Jared Favole:

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday said children shouldn’t stop taking drugs that treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, despite a study showing the stimulants may be associated with sudden death.
A study released in the American Journal of Psychiatry found an association between the stimulants, which include drugs such as Ritalin, and sudden death in children who take the medicines.
The FDA, which partly funded the study, said there isn’t enough evidence to conclude the drugs are dangerous and recommends people continue taking their medications. The study compared 564 healthy children who died suddenly to 564 who died in a motor vehicle accident. The study found that two patients in the motor vehicle group were taking stimulants, while 10 in the group of those who died suddenly were taking the medicines. The children died between 1985 and 1996, before certain stimulants, such as Adderall, became more commonly used.
“Given the limitations of this study’s methodology, the FDA is unable to conclude that these data affect the overall risk and benefit profile of stimulant medications used to treat ADHD in children,” FDA said.

Study links breastfeeding to high grades, college entry


Breastfed babies seem more likely to do well at high school and to go on to attend college than infants raised on a bottle, according to a new U.S. study.
Professors Joseph Sabia from the American University and Daniel Rees from the University of Colorado Denver based their research on 126 children from 59 families, comparing siblings who were breastfed as infants to others who were not.
By comparing siblings, the study was able to account for the influence of a variety of difficult-to-measure factors such as maternal intelligence and the quality of the home environment.
The study, published in the Journal of Human Capital, found that an additional month of breastfeeding was associated with an increase in high school grade point averages of 0.019 points and an increase in the probability of college attendance of 0.014.
“The results of our study suggest that the cognitive and health benefits of breastfeeding may lead to important long-run educational benefits for children,” Sabia, a professor of public policy who focuses on health economics, said in a statement.

A College for History Only

Scott Jaschik:

A non-traditional and sometimes iconoclastic law school has announced plans to create a new kind of undergraduate college — one focused on history.
The new college will offer only the junior and senior years of instruction, will operate in a no-frills manner to keep costs down, and will offer the single major of history. The American College of History and Legal Studies will start offering classes in August 2010 and has been licensed to operate in Salem, N.H. — just seven miles from the Andover, Mass., campus of the Massachusetts School of Law. While the law school and the history college will be independent of one another in a legal sense, with their own boards, many trustees are expected to serve on both boards, and the two institutions will start with overlapping administrations.
Lawrence R. Velvel, the dean of the law school, said in an interview Friday that he saw a need to promote the study of history in a way that was affordable and might reach new groups of students. “I have been aware that this country is not only ahistorical, but because it doesn’t know history and ignores history, it makes the same mistakes over and over again,” he said.
Tuition is planned to start at $10,000 a year — low in comparison to most private colleges.