K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Coming Reset in State Government

Mitch Daniels:

State government finances are a wreck. The drop in tax receipts is the worst in a half century. Fewer than 10 states ended the last fiscal year with significant reserves, and three-fourths have deficits exceeding 10% of their budgets. Only an emergency infusion of printed federal funny money is keeping most state boats afloat right now.
Most governors I’ve talked to are so busy bailing that they haven’t checked the long-range forecast. What the radar tells me is that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. What we are being hit by isn’t a tropical storm that will come and go, with sunshine soon to follow. It’s much more likely that we’re facing a near permanent reduction in state tax revenues that will require us to reduce the size and scope of our state governments. And the time to prepare for this new reality is already at hand.
The coming state government reset will be particularly wrenching after the happy binge that preceded this recession. During the last decade, states increased their spending by an average of 6% per year, gusting to 8% during 2007-08. Much of the government institutions built up in those years will now have to be dismantled.

College Ratings Gone Wild

Jay Matthews:

Four years ago I ranked all of the major college guides for Slate. My piece is still there, if you want to look. It retains some relevance at this time of year, when America has its annual ratings-o-rama. It is more entertaining than informative, but so what? A little amusement might help us better understand what we want in our colleges.
I have been leafing through the guides that just arrived in the mail. There is the Newsweek-Kaplan college guide, where once again I have an article, so in the interests of modesty and objectivity we will ignore it. The granddaddy of guides, U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges,” sits atop my stack, still shiny and proud despite all the abuse it has gotten over the years. “The Best 371 Colleges,” a thick book by The Princeton Review, is a favorite because of its playfulness.
I am also fond of the Washington Monthly college guide. It has found a way to deepen and broaden each year what I once thought was a one-time gimmick–ranking colleges by how well they serve America. I am excited by a new guide, at least new to me, the “Military Friendly Schools” list published by G.I. Jobs magazine. The “What Will They Learn?” report, an unconventional guide by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, shows how the lists might look if we cared about what our colleges were teaching.

A College President Breaks Bread With His Foes

Paul Fain:

College presidents, like mob bosses, have precarious jobs. Both work under the lurking threat of removal, whether by a no-confidence vote or a whacking. For that reason, savvy presidents live by the old rule: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
So it was that Paul J. LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, decided early last year to hold an intimate chat with a group of his fiercest critics. He put together a list of about a dozen faculty members and invited them to a dinner discussion about the future of the university.
In his e-mailed invitation to the dinner, Mr. LeBlanc gave recipients five reasons that they got the nod, including because they had disagreed with him in the past, had served in leadership positions, or, more simply, “just straight out don’t like me.” (Read the text of the full invitation.)
Mr. LeBlanc booked a private room at a local restaurant, C.R. Sparks. Pizzas, salads, and wine were brought in, and the doors were closed for a three-hour, no-holds barred conversation. The president picked up the bill.

Will California Use Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers?

Raymond Barglow:

In decades past, education in California was a top priority for government, and the state’s schools were “the cutting edge of the American Dream.” Today, spending per pupil in the state has fallen to 47th in the country. Due to deep budget cuts, California school districts have been laying off teachers, expanding class sizes, closing some schools, and canceling bus service and summer school programs.
As for future funding of public education–the state of California is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The current dilemma stems from a provision in California’s Education Code that can be interpreted as ruling out the use by state officials of test scores to evaluate teacher performance and compensation. On the one hand, the Obama administration has informed state officials that this provision represents an unacceptable “firewall between students and teacher data” and must be removed if California is to be eligible to receive an educational grant from the administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top stimulus fund. On the other hand, California teachers are making it clear through their unions that the use by state government of student test scores to evaluate teachers would be detrimental to education and is an idea that must be rejected.
Taking up this issue has been the Senate Committee on Education, which held a hearing on Aug. 26 chaired by Senator Gloria Romero. The Committee is considering amending California law to ensure that the state qualifies for federal funding. “It is my goal,” Romero says, “to do everything possible to ensure that the Golden State has access to precious federal dollars that can help provide our students the best possible education.”

As Many Schools Earn A’s and B’s, New York City Plans to Raise Standards

Jennifer Medina:

With the vast majority of New York City schools receiving A’s and B’s on the progress reports released this week, Education Department officials said Thursday that they expected to adjust the grading system, in effect ensuring that more schools would receive lower grades next year.
In fact, school officials who helped create the system said they never meant it to be one that would have so many schools earning the highest marks.
“We are going to raise the bar,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief accountability officer for the department. He said that while he would want to see a wider distribution of the grades, “At the same time, when we set clear goals and schools meet them, they need to be recognized and rewarded for that.”
The huge increase in the number of top marks on the city report cards — 97 percent of schools received an A or B, up from 79 percent in 2008 — was driven by broad gains on state standardized tests in math and English. This year, the number of students who met state standards jumped to 82 percent in math, compared with 74 percent last year. In English, 69 percent of students passed, up from 58 percent.

26-School D.C. Cheating Probe ‘Inconclusive’

Bill Turque:

District officials revealed Thursday that they commissioned an investigation last summer into possible cheating at 26 public and public charter schools where reading and math proficiency on 2008 standardized tests increased markedly.
The probe, an analysis of incorrect student answers that were erased and changed to correct answers, found “anomalies” at some of the schools that administered the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS) test. But officials called the investigation, conducted by the test’s publisher, CTB McGraw-Hill, “ultimately inconclusive.”
District officials did not name the schools that were investigated, and they did not release a copy of the CTB McGraw-Hill report, which was requested by The Washington Post on May 29 under the Freedom of Information Act. Officials also offered no explanation for the interval between the conclusion of the investigation in March and their decision to disclose it at a news conference called by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) on Thursday.

Same-sex classes worth a shot

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Anyone who has ever walked the halls of a middle school knows the hormones are hopping and the social drama is intense.
Growing evidence also suggests boys and girls learn best in different ways.
That’s why experimenting with same-sex schools and classes is a welcome trend in Wisconsin. If pilot programs in Beaver Dam and a handful of other districts can boost the attention and achievement of both sexes, more schools should consider separating the girls from the boys in targeted grades and subjects.
Beaver Dam educators are separating sixth-graders into two single-gender classrooms for math, science and English this fall. Other classes such as physical education will still be coed.
Educators in Beaver Dam and elsewhere plan to analyze and compare test scores as well as attendance, discipline and behavioral referrals. Results will be vital in determining whether to continue or expand the effort.

School speech backlash builds

Nia-Malika Henderson:

School districts from Maryland to Texas are fielding angry complaints from parents opposed to President Barack Obama’s back-to-school address Tuesday – forcing districts to find ways to shield students from the speech as conservative opposition to Obama spills into the nation’s classrooms.
The White House says Obama’s address is a sort of pep talk for the nation’s schoolchildren. But conservative commentators have criticized Obama for trying to “indoctrinate” students to his liberal beliefs, and some parents call it an improper mix of politics and education.
“The gist is, ‘I want to see what the president has to say before you expose it to my child.’ Another said, ‘This is Marxist propaganda.’ They are very hostile,” said Patricia O’Neill, a Democrat who is vice president of the Montgomery County School Board, in a district that borders Washington, D.C. “I think it’s disturbing that people don’t want to hear the president, but we live in a diverse society.”
The White House moved Thursday to quell the controversy. First it revised an Education Department lesson plan that drew the ire of conservatives because it called for students to write letters about how they can help the president.

Tim Padgett:

When Barack Obama won Florida last November — the first Democrat to take the Sunshine State since FDR — many saw it as a sign of centrist GOP Governor Charlie Crist’s moderating influence. But lately, Florida’s disgruntled Republicans aren’t looking very moderate. This week, in fact, the peninsula’s GOP registered arguably the loudest outcry over the education speech President Obama plans to deliver to U.S. primary and secondary students via webcast and C-Span next Tuesday. In perhaps the most over-the-top performance, state Republican Chairman Jim Greer called it an attempt to use “our children to spread liberal propaganda” and “President Obama’s socialist ideology.”
Thanks in large part to the Administration’s ham-handed advance work, the strident conservative anger that erupted this summer over health-care reform has shifted from town halls to school halls. On the surface, Obama’s intentions for Tuesday seem nothing more threatening than a presidential pep talk about taking education seriously. But some ill-advised prep material from the Education Department — like suggestions that teachers have students write letters on “how to help the President” and recommendations that those pupils read his books — has left the door ajar (and that’s all it seems to take these days) for Republican charges that Obama “wants to indoctrinate our kids,” as Clara Dean, GOP chairwoman of Florida’s Collier County, puts it. (Read Joe Klein on Barack Obama’s August to forget.)

Madison Marquette Elementary teacher named one of two Wisconsin elementary school teachers of the year

Patricia Simms:

A veteran fourth-grade teacher at Marquette Elementary School was named one of two Wisconsin elementary school teachers of the year today.
State officials surprised Maureen McGilligan-Bentin, who has been teaching 37 years, with the award in a cafeteria full of cheering and clapping students and colleagues.
She will receive $3,000 from U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl’s education foundation and will be competing for a national teaching award throughout the year.
McGilligan-Bentin, 60, lives in Madison, holds an education degree from UW-Madison and was a former professional dancer.


Education works as a placebo effect

Kai Ryssdal & Tyler Cowen:

KAI RYSSDAL: College students, and their parents, who have yet to write this fall’s tuition checks may want to bear the following statistic in mind. According to the Department of Education, more students are going deeper into debt to pay for school. Last year, total federal student loan payments increased 25 percent. Are students getting what they borrowed for? Commentator Tyler Cowen says yeah they are, sort of.
TYLER COWEN: There’s lots of evidence that placebos work in medicine; people get well simply because they think they’re supposed to.
But we’re learning that placebos apply to a lot of other areas and that includes higher education. Schooling works in large part because it makes people feel they’ve been transformed. Think about it: college graduates earn a lot more than non-graduates, but studying Walt Whitman rarely gets people a job. In reality, the students are jumping through lots of hoops and acquiring a new self-identity.
The educators and the administrators stage a kind of “theater” to convince students that they now belong to an elite group of higher earners. If students believe this story, many of them will then live it.

Lavish public spending on the well-being of children does not always hit the mark

The Economist:

WHEN the poet William Wordsworth declared that “the Child is father of the Man“, he meant that the gifts of childhood endow adults with some of their finest qualities. And many governments, these days, feel that the path to happiness for society as a whole lies through spending on the welfare of its youngest members: their health, education and general well-being. A report* from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a rich-country think-tank, scrutinises these efforts and asks if the aim is being achieved.
With its stress on quantifiable facts, the spirit of the OECD report differs from one by UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, in 2007 which made waves by saying children in Britain did badly. UNICEF relied too much on asking youngsters how they felt (did they have “kind and helpful” schoolmates?); the new study stresses meatier things like vaccination and test scores.
With equal rigour, the OECD avoids a single index of child welfare in its 30 member states. Instead, after sifting hundreds of variables, the researchers settled on 21 that coalesce into six categories: material well-being; housing and environment; educational well-being; health and safety; risky behaviour; and quality of school life. Then they ranked countries six times.

It’s expensive, so it must be good

The Economist:

THERE are plenty of interesting factoids in this post, on a study examining the well-known U.S. News and World Report annual college rankings. Despite the best efforts of well-intentioned administrators to reduce the influence of the publication’s extremely popular and rather superficial league tables, the rankings get results; movement into or within the top 50 produces dividends in the quality of the following year’s applicant pool.
But this is particularly curious:

The Politics of President Obama’s “Back to School Speech” Beamed to Classrooms

Foon Rhee:

Here’s the latest exhibit on how polarized the country is and how much distrust exists of President Obama.
He plans what seems like a simple speech to students around the country on Tuesday to encourage them to do well in school.
But some Republicans are objecting to the back-to-school message, asserting that Obama wants to indoctrinate students.
Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer said in a statement that he is “absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology” and “liberal propaganda.”
Wednesday, after the White House announced the speech, the Department of Education followed up with a letter to school principals and a lesson plan.
Critics pointed to the part of the lesson plan that originally recommended having students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.”

Eric Kleefeld:

The Department of Education has now changed their supplementary materials on President Obama’s upcoming address to schoolchildren on the importance of education — eliminating a phrase that some conservatives, such as the Florida GOP, happened to have been bashing as evidence of socialist indoctrination in our schools.
In a set of bullet points listed under a heading, “Extension of the Speech,” one of the points used to say: “Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.”
However, that bullet point now reads as follows: “Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short‐term and long‐term education goals. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.”

Alyson Klein:

om Horne, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, put out his own statement, with an education-oriented critique of the speech and its lesson plans.
Here’s a snippet from his statement:

The White House materials call for a worshipful, rather than critical approach to this speech. For example, the White House communication calls for the students to have ‘notable quotes excerpted (and posted in large print on the board),’ and for the students to discuss ‘how will he inspire us,’ among other things. …In general, in keeping with good education practice, students should be taught to read and think critically about statements coming from politicians and historical figures.


Just as it quickly became impossible to have a rationale discussion about health care as August wore on, we could be heading that way on education. If you haven’t heard (don’t get cable news?), President Obama plans to give a speech to the nation’s schoolchildren next week. To accompany it the Department of Education prepared a – gasp – study guide with some ideas for how teachers can use the speech as a, dare I say it, teachable moment.
Conservatives are screaming that this is unprecedented and amounts to indoctrination and a violation of the federal prohibition on involvement in local curricular decisions. Even the usually level-headed Rick Hess has run to the ramparts. We’re getting lectured on indoctrination by the same people who paid national commentators to covertly promote their agenda.
Please. Enough. The only thing this episode shows is how thoroughly broken our politics are. Let’s take the two “issues” in turn.

Michael Alison Chandler & Michael Shear:

The speech, which will be broadcast live from Wakefield High School in Arlington County, was planned as an inspirational message “entirely about encouraging kids to work hard and stay in school,” said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor. Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to principals nationwide encouraging them to show it.
But the announcement of the speech prompted a frenzied response from some conservatives, who called it an attempt to indoctrinate students, not motivate them.

I think Max Blumenthal provides the right perspective on this political matter:

Although Eisenhower is commonly remembered for a farewell address that raised concerns about the “military-industrial complex,” his letter offers an equally important — and relevant — warning: to beware the danger posed by those seeking freedom from the “mental stress and burden” of democracy.
The story began in 1958, when Eisenhower received a letter from Robert Biggs, a terminally ill World War II veteran. Biggs told the president that he “felt from your recent speeches the feeling of hedging and a little uncertainty.” He added, “We wait for someone to speak for us and back him completely if the statement is made in truth.”
Eisenhower could have discarded Biggs’s note or sent a canned response. But he didn’t. He composed a thoughtful reply. After enduring Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who had smeared his old colleague Gen. George C. Marshall as a Communist sympathizer, and having guarded the Republican Party against the newly emergent radical right John Birch Society, which labeled him and much of his cabinet Soviet agents, the president perhaps welcomed the opportunity to expound on his vision of the open society.
“I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed,” Eisenhower wrote on Feb. 10, 1959. “Such unity is not only logical but indeed indispensable in a successful military organization, but in a democracy debate is the breath of life.”

Critical thinking is good for kids and good for society.
I attended a recent Russ Feingold lunch [mp3 audio]. He spoke on a wide range of issues and commendably, took many open forum questions (unlike many elected officials), including mine “How will history view our exploding federalism?”. A fellow luncheon guest asked about Obama’s use of “Czar’s” (operating outside of Senate review and confirmation). Feingold rightly criticized this strategy, which undermines the Constitution.
I would generally not pay much attention to this, but for a friends recent comment that his daughter’s elementary school (Madison School District) teacher assigned six Obama coloring projects last spring.
Wall Street Journal Editorial:

President Obama’s plan to speak to America’s schoolchildren next Tuesday has some Republicans in an uproar. “As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology,” thunders Jim Greer, chairman of Florida’s Republican Party, in a press release. “President Obama has turned to American’s children to spread his liberal lies, indoctrinating American’s [sic] youngest children before they have a chance to decide for themselves.” Columnists who spy a conspiracy behind every Democrat are also spreading alarm.
This is overwrought, to say the least. According to the Education Department’s Web site, Mr. Obama “will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning”–hardly the stuff of the Communist Manifesto or even the Democratic Party platform. America’s children are not so vulnerable that we need to slap an NC-17 rating on Presidential speeches. Given how many minority children struggle in school, a pep talk from the first African-American President could even do some good.
On the other hand, the Department of Education goes a little too far in its lesson plans for teachers to use in conjunction with the speech–especially the one for grades 7 through 12. Before the speech, teachers are urged to use “notable quotes excerpted (and posted in large print on board) from President Obama’s speeches about education” and to “brainstorm” with students about the question “How will he inspire us?” Suggested topics for postspeech discussion include “What resonated with you from President Obama’s speech?” and “What is President Obama inspiring you to do?”

Nearly 1 in 10 in California’s class of 2009 did not pass high school exit exam

Seema Mehta:

Nearly one in 10 students in the class of 2009 did not pass the state’s high school exit exam, which is required to receive a diploma. The results, released Wednesday, were nearly stagnant compared with the previous year.
By the end of their senior year, 90.6% of students in the graduating class had passed the two-part exam, compared with 90.4% in the class of 2008.
“These gains are incremental, but they are in fact significant and they are a true testimony to the tremendous work being done by our professional educators . . . as well as our students,” said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, whose office released the data.
Beginning in their sophomore year, students have several chances to take the exit exam. A score of at least 55% on the math portion, which is geared to an eighth-grade level, and 60% on the English portion, which is ninth- or 10th-grade level, is required.
The achievement gap between white and Asian students and their Latino and black classmates persisted. More than 95% of Asian students and nearly 96% of white students passed the exam by the end of their senior year, compared with nearly 87% of Latino students and more than 81% of black students. But the data did show the size of the gap narrowing. English-language learners and lower-income students also lagged but have made notable gains since the exam was first required.

Students Borrow More Than Ever For College

Anne Marie Chaker:

Students are borrowing dramatically more to pay for college, accelerating a trend that has wide-ranging implications for a generation of young people.
New numbers from the U.S. Education Department show that federal student-loan disbursements–the total amount borrowed by students and received by schools–in the 2008-09 academic year grew about 25% over the previous year, to $75.1 billion. The amount of money students borrow has long been on the rise. But last year far surpassed past increases, which ranged from as low as 1.7% in the 1998-99 school year to almost 17% in 1994-95, according to figures used in President Barack Obama’s proposed 2010 budget.
The sharp growth is “definitely above expectations,” says Robert Shireman, deputy undersecretary of the Education Department. “But we’re also in an economic situation that nobody predicted.” The eye-opening increase in borrowing is largely due to the dire economic environment, which is causing more people to seek federal loans, he says.
The new numbers highlight how debt has become commonplace in paying for higher education. Today, two-thirds of college students borrow to pay for college, and their average debt load is $23,186 by the time they graduate, according to an analysis of the government’s National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, conducted by financial-aid expert Mark Kantrowitz. Only a dozen years earlier, according to the study, 58% of students borrowed to pay for college, and the average amount borrowed was $13,172.

Milwaukee Public Schools Mayoral Control plan has more questions than answers

Eugene Kane:

As Milwaukee students return to school this week, their first lesson might be to learn a new phrase so they don’t feel out of the loop.
Just like teenagers are known to create new words for their social networking sites, the adults in charge of making decisions about the future of Milwaukee Public Schools have upgraded their lingo, too.
Take note: It’s not being called a “takeover” of MPS anymore; it’s being called “mayoral governance.”
(I know; it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the same way, does it?)
Mayor Tom Barrett says the new verbiage is the latest attempt to find a less-imposing description of a controversial education initiative that has been attempted by several other public school districts nationally.
With discussions on the topic heating up among social, business and civic groups, it seemed a name change was in order.
“Words do carry connotations,” Barrett said during an interview. “For some people, takeover sounded nefarious.”

Revised Madison school budget boosts tax increase

Gayle Worland:

The owner of a $250,000 Madison home would pay $82.50 more in school property taxes this year under a proposal by city schools superintendent Dan Nerad that seeks to partially cover a projected $9.2 million cut in general state aids to the district.
That’s $80 more than estimated under a preliminary 2009-10 district budget approved by the school board in May, when the board expected state cuts to be less severe.
The tax increase would cover only a portion of the state cut. School officials said the remaining gap would be bridged through cost-saving measures that do not directly affect students.
“Am I comfortable or happy?” with the district’s proposal, said Arlene Silveira, school board president. “No. But the whole (budget) situation doesn’t make me comfortable or happy. I appreciate that there are ways that we can deal with this gap without really cutting programs and without putting too much of a burden back on our community.”
The Madison district’s $350 million budget for the current school year won’t be final until the school board votes on it in late October. Officials are awaiting final student counts in late September, which figure into the amount of aid each district receives from the state.
“In terms of where we are in this economy and where we are in public education, you need to be realistic,” said [Erik] Kass. “You need to be conservative, and you need to realize there are things that are going to pop up during the year. But I think you also need to be cognizant of the fact that you’re being a steward of public resources, and you need to utilize those resources to provide a service that the public is giving you the money to provide.”

Washington Monthly’s College Guide

Washington Monthly:

I’d like to welcome you all to the Washington Monthly’s College Guide website and blog. Our aim is for this site to be your one-stop-shop for information about higher education reform. Since 2005, the Washington Monthly has sought to steer the national conversation about higher education away from a maniacal focus on elite schools that is the abiding obsession of the mainstream press and towards the less selective (but often wonderful) rank-and-file colleges and universities where most Americans actually get their educations. This site is the latest step in that effort.
We’re looking to do a few different things here:
· Highlight the Monthly’s annual college rankings, which rate schools not based on crude and easily-manipulated measures of money and prestige, like certain other magazines do, but rather on their contributions to society. Are they producing cutting-edge scientific research and PhDs? Do they steer their graduates into public-service jobs? Do they recruit economically disadvantaged students and help them graduate, or merely cater to the affluent? On these measures, the elite schools don’t do so well. For instance, only one of U.S. News & World Report’s top ten universities–Stanford–makes the Washington Monthly’s top ten, while some institutions that rank high on our list, like South Carolina State (#6) and Jackson State (#22), are buried in the bottom tier of the U.S. News list. We hope you’ll take the time to look at some of the surprising results our methodology led to.

An Interesting Presentation (Race, Income) on Madison’s Public Schools to the City’s Housing Diversity Committee

Former Madison Alder Brenda Konkel summarized the meeting:

The Madison School District shared their data with the group and they decided when their next two meetings would be. Compton made some interesting/borderline comments and they have an interesting discussion about race and how housing patterns affect the schools. There was a powerpoint presentation with lots of information, without a handout, so I tried to capture it the best I could.
The meeting was moved from the Mayor’s office to Room 260 across the street. The meeting started 5 minutes late with Brian Munson, Marj Passman, Mark Clear, Judy Compton, Dave Porterfield, Brian Solomon and Marsha Rummel were the quorum. Judy Olson absent, but joined them later. City staff of Bill Clingan, Mark Olinger, Ray Harmon and Helen Dietzler. Kurt Keifer from the School District was here to present. (Bill Clingan is a former Madison School Board member. He was defeated a few years ago by Lawrie Kobza.

A few interesting notes:

Clear asks if this reflects white flight, or if this just reflects the communities changing demographics. He wants to know how much is in and out migration. Kiefer says they look more at private and parochial school attendance as portion of Dane County and MMSD. Our enrollment hasn’t changed as a percentage. There has been an increased activity in open enrollment – and those numbers have gone up from 200 to 400 kids in the last 8 – 10 years. He says the bigger factor is that they manage their enrollment to their capacities in the private and parochial schools. Even with virtual schools, not much changes. The bigger factor is the housing transition in Metropolitan area. Prime development is happening in other districts
Kiefer says smaller learning communities is what they are striving for in high schools. Kiefer says the smaller learning initiative – there is a correlation in decrease in drop out rate with the program. Compton asks about minority and Caucasian level in free lunch. She would like to see that.
Kiefer says that Midvale population is not going up despite the fact that they have the highest proportion of single detached units in Midvale – they are small houses and affordable, but also highest proportion of kids going to private and parochial schools. He says it was because of access because to parochial schools are located there. Kiefer says they think the area is changing, that the Hilldale area has been an attractor for families as well as Sequoya Commons. Family and school friendly areas and he tells the city to “Keep doing that”. He is hopeful that Hill Farms changes will be good as well.

Fascinating. I wonder how all of this, particularly the high school “small learning community initiatives” fit with the District’s strategic plan and recently passed Talented and Gifted initiative?

GMAT kicks GRE into touch

Della Bradshaw:

Although top-tier business schools such as Harvard, Wharton, Stanford and MIT Sloan have decided to adopt the GRE test as well as the GMAT, there is little appetite for the test in the majority of the US’s top business schools, according to a report by Kaplan, the test preparation company.
Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions conducted a survey of admissions officers at 260 of the top MBA programmes in the US. Some 24 per cent already accept GRE (Graduate Record Exam) test scores in addition to GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) scores. Of the remaining schools, however, only 4.3 per cent said they were considering adopting GRE.
The GRE test is the entry test to a range of post-graduate degrees, whereas the GMAT is designed specifically for business students and so gives more accurate predictions of MBA success, says Dave Wilson, president of GMAC, which administers the GMAT test..

L.A. charter schools get a chance to grow, but how big?

Howard Blume:

A groundbreaking plan to open 51 new Los Angeles schools and 200 existing ones to possible outside control has Randy Palisoc feeling as if salvation is just steps away. A new $54-million campus he covets is rising a block from where his award-winning charter school operates in a rented church.
Palisoc is among many with big dreams since the Los Angeles Board of Education approved its landmark school control resolution last week. The management of about a fourth of all district schools could be up for grabs.
As a result, leading charter school operators anticipate accelerated growth for their organizations and better facilities for some current schools. An 11-school nonprofit group controlled by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is eyeing a new high school south of downtown and may bid for more existing campuses. Momentum is building for internal district proposals.
And even the powerful teachers union, which vigorously opposed the plan, is preparing to take part.

University of Texas Drops Merit Program for Need-Based Aid

Tom Benning:

An increase in the number of students seeking financial aid has prompted the University of Texas at Austin to phase out its multimillion-dollar National Merit Scholarship program starting next year so it can use the money for need-based scholarships.
The university enrolled 281 National Merit Scholars last year — second only to Harvard University — and says it will honor all current scholarships but not offer them to freshmen next year.
Coming amid the recession and climbing college costs, the move by the state’s largest university could signal a renewed emphasis on need-based aid by the country’s colleges, experts said. Many schools have spent the past decade using scholarship money to attract high-performing students.
“This gets back to equity in college — which should be the primary goal of student aid,” said Justin Draeger, vice president of public policy at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.
The National Merit Scholarships are awards that go to about 8,200 students a year, based in part on their scores on the College Board’s PSAT exam, a standardized test typically taken during the junior year of high school. The program gives winners $2,500 apiece, but corporations and some colleges also finance merit scholarships through the program. The University of Texas at Austin was one of about 200 universities that paid for merit awards, promising $13,000 over four years.

Comic Bill Cosby lends support to Detroit schools

Corey Williams:

Bill Cosby had heard about the tough-as-nails, uncompromising man tackling fraud and improving education throughout the Detroit’s public schools, and wanted to help.
So the 72-year-old actor, comedian and activist decided to loan the district his celebrity as Detroit tries to hold off plummeting enrollment amid a fiscal crisis that a few weeks ago spurred suggestions of a possible bankruptcy.
“All around the United States of America – in the cities and the counties – our public education is suffering and has been suffering. Cuts, cuts, cuts,” Cosby told reporters Tuesday as he began a day that would take him from shooting commercials to visiting homes in a far northwest Detroit neighborhood.
He has joined “I’m In,” emergency financial manager Robert Bobb’s $500,000 campaign to stop the flow of students leaving the district – and maybe persuade parents who have sent their children elsewhere to give Detroit another shot.

Arizona’s Private School Tax Credit Program

The East Valley Tribune:

Day 1: Aug. 1, 2009
THE FIX : The tuition tax credits law was supposed to revolutionize school choice for disadvantaged children. Instead it fostered a rigged system that keeps private education a privilege for the already privileged.
NO OVERSIGHT: The state has no way of ensuring that $55 million a year in tax credits really goes toward scholarships for private school students as the law intended.
Day 2: Aug. 4, 2009
HOW-TO GUIDE: Many private schools teach parents how to skirt the law by lining up donors for their children.
PLOT TWIST : The tale of Maricopa County Schoolhouse Foundation begins with criminal indictments and fraud, but ends as an example of tuition tax credits’ promise for serving the underprivileged.

Kevin Carey has more.

How trendy tutors hook pupils hungry for help

Tanna Chong & Yau Chui-yan:

heir faces gaze from billboards and the backs of buses everywhere: well-groomed, serious-looking professionals, often with catchy nicknames. The accompanying text spells out their expertise in various school subjects, such as maths and English.
They may be sitting serenely in their office suites or surrounded by beaming youngsters holding up handfuls of “A” result slips. But this highly public face of the celebrity tutors – who make as much as HK$1 million a month from the desperate desire of parents to ensure their children get good grades at all cost – is only part of the publicity machine Hong Kong’s frenzied cram-school industry has built up to lure pupils.
Schools use a web of incentives including star performances, free gifts and gift-redemption points that have children pressing their parents to send them to tutors who have become as much of a status symbol as a designer handbag, and just as expensive.
The stakes will get higher still as uncertainties over the new secondary school curriculum – which Form One pupils will follow for the first time when classes resume this week – and, in due course, the increase in senior secondary pupils it will produce stokes demand for tuition.

Is A College Education Worth The Debt?


A college degree has long been considered a golden ticket to success in this country. But with the current economic recession, some question whether obtaining a college degree is worth going into debt. Boyce Watkins, a professor of finance at Syracuse University; author Richard Vedder, a professor of economics at Ohio University, discuss how many are rethinking their high hopes of a college education. The men are joined by Hunter Walker, a recently-enrolled graduate student at Columbia School of Journalism, who recently wrote about his educational debt worries on the tabloid Web site Gawker.com.

How Much Can you Learn From a Free Online Edication?

Popular Science:

I was not screwing around. When I took the first physics class of my life, at age 35, it was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and my professor was Walter Lewin, one of that institution’s most respected instructors. Lewin is a man so comfortable with his vectors that he diagrams them in front of a classroom audience while wearing Teva sandals.
OK, I wasn’t really “at” MIT. And “took” the class may be a stretch. I was watching the video of one of Lewin’s lectures from the comfort of my backyard in Brooklyn, and I too was wearing sandals (but not Tevas; I have standards).
Lewin is the breakout star of MIT’s OpenCourseWare (OCW) program, what the school calls a “Web publication” of virtually every class taught in its hallowed halls. For his dynamic teaching and frequent stunts (building a human pendulum, firing golf balls at glass panels), he’s been downloaded by physics enthusiasts around the globe and profiled on the front page of the New York Times as the first luminary of online open learning. The professor’s fans are examples of a new type of student participating in a new kind of education, one built around the vast library of free online courseware offered by many of the world’s temples of higher learning, as well as museums, nonprofit organizations and other knowledgeable benevolents.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Madison proposes settlement with Walgreens in property tax dispute

Nick Heynen:

The city of Madison would pay Walgreen Drug Stores $495,000 in interest-free property tax refunds under the terms of a proposed settlement presented to the City Council on Tuesday.
The proposed settlement comes after the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled last summer the city had improperly assessed the property value of two Madison stores. The city reimbursed Walgreens about $248,000 for tax years 2003 and 2004 after that case. This new settlement would reimburse the company for extra taxes it paid from 2005 through 2008. Walgreens’ challenge of its 2009 assessment remains unsettled.
About $181,000 of the $495,000 would come out of the city’s operating budget. The remaining $314,000 would be returned to the city in the coming year from the state and county governments as well as Madison Area Technical College and the Madison Metropolitan School District, city comptroller Dean Brasser said.

Girls and Dieting, Then and Now

Jeffrey Zaslow:

One day in January 1986, fourth-grade girls at Marie Murphy School in Wilmette, Ill., were called down to the principal’s office.
A stranger was waiting there to ask each girl a question: “Are you on a diet?”
Most of the girls said they were.
“I just want to be skinny so no one will tease me,” explained Sara Totonchi.
“Boys expect girls to be perfect and beautiful,” said Rozi Bhimani. “And skinny.”
I was the questioner that day. As a young Wall Street Journal reporter, I had gone to a handful of Chicago-area schools to ask 100 fourth-grade girls about their dieting habits. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco were about to release a study showing 80% of fourth-grade girls were dieting, and I wanted to determine: Was this a California oddity, or had America’s obsession with slimness reached the 60-pound weight class?
My reporting ended up mirroring the study’s results. More than half of the 9-year-old girls I surveyed said they were dieting, and 75%–even the skinniest ones–said they weighed too much. I also spoke to fourth-grade boys and learned what the girls were up against. “Fat girls aren’t like regular girls,” one boy told me. “They aren’t attractive.”

Minneapolis schools present new overhaul plan

Tom Weber:

The Minneapolis school district has finished updating a wide-ranging overhaul plan that will close several schools and change the way students are transported.
The district first proposed the plan in April and is presenting a final version to school board members Tuesday night. A final vote is expected in about three weeks.
The effort, called “Changing School Options,” addresses a number of aspects of how the district is run — from transportation to curriculum to which programs and school buildings remain in use. The aim is to save millions of dollars but also make instruction more equitable throughout the district.
The original plan called for closing schools, returning some magnet schools to regular community schools, and changing busing options for students. It was tabled a week after it was proposed because Superintendent Bill Green said the votes weren’t there to assure passage by the board. The new plan still proposes many of the same changes but has been altered in ways some board members found crucial to assuring their vote.
For board chair Tom Madden, the new plan includes more details on issues like attendance boundaries. “Parents can now look at it and see exactly how they fit into the plan, and they couldn’t do that before,” he said.

Stop Sending Sick Kids to School

Valerie Strauss:

Let’s have a show of hands: How many of you have sent a child to school when you have suspected (I’m being polite here) that he/she was not well and might be contagious?
Maybe it will help if I tell you that my hand is up.
I know that you had your excuses: Your son didn’t have fever when you dropped him off at school at 8 a.m.–even if the nurse says he has 102 degrees Fahrenheit an hour later… You thought your daughter was sneezing and coughing because of her allergies… It is sometimes hard to tell when your kid’s physical complaint is an excuse to get out of a test.
I believe all of that. And I also believe that some people will keep sending their kids to school sick even if the secretary of Health and Human Services personally comes to their door and begs them not to.
But for those of us who are capable of changing our behavior, this is the time. Here’s why:

Professors Embrace Online Courses Despite Qualms About Quality

Marc Parry:

They worry about the quality of online courses, say teaching them takes more effort, and grouse about insufficient support. Yet large numbers of professors still put in the time to teach online. And despite the broad suspicion about quality, a majority of faculty members have recommended online courses to students.
That is the complicated picture that emerges in “The Paradox of Faculty Voices: Views and Experiences With Online Learning,” part of a two-volume national study released today by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities–Sloan National Commission on Online Learning.
The major survey of public colleges and universities found that 70 percent of all faculty members believe the learning outcomes of online courses to be either inferior or somewhat inferior, compared with face-to-face instruction.
Professors with online experience are less pessimistic. Among those who have taught or developed an online course, the majority rated the medium’s effectiveness as being as good as or better than face to face. But in a potentially controversial finding, even among professors who have taught online, fully 48 percent feel it is either inferior or somewhat inferior.

Bad Student Writing? Not So Fast!

Laurie Fendrich:

It would be good for the blood pressure of everyone involved in criticizing education–state legislators, education policy professionals, professors, school administrators, parents–to take a deep breath. Put aside the statistics, the studies, the anecdotes, and take a look at the big picture.
Here’s what Edith Hamilton had to say about education, in The Echo of Greece (1957), one of her many trenchant books on the subject of the ancient Greeks:
“If people feel that things are going from bad to worse and look at the new generation to see if they can be trusted to take charge among such dangers, they invariably conclude that they cannot and that these irresponsible young people have not been trained properly. Then the cry goes up, ‘What is wrong with our education?’ and many answers are always forthcoming.”
Note the droll and ironic, “and many answers are always forthcoming.” Perhaps studying people who lived so long ago–people who invented the very idea of education as a route to genuine freedom, and understood freedom to be worthwhile only when coupled with self-control–gave Hamilton one of those calm, stoical uber-minds that comprehends competing pronouncements about education never to be more than opinion.

Midland Public Schools International Baccalaureate FAQ

Midland, Michigan Public Schools:

The Midland Public Schools has created a Q & A sheet for parents and students curious about the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme.
Q: What is the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme?
A: The IB Diploma Programme is a comprehensive and challenging pre-university curriculum for juniors and seniors recognized worldwide.

Q: What exactly does the Diploma Programme involve?

A: The IB Diploma Programme requires students to take six IB classes, three for one year (SL – standard level), and three for two (HL – higher level). Students will also take the Theory of Knowledge (TOK) class, and log 150 hours of Creativity/Action/ Service (CAS), which essentially is service to community, involvement in activities and participation in various school-based extracurricular programs. In addition, they will conduct an individual research project culminating in a paper of not more than 4,000 words.
Q: What options are available for my student?
A: Students must take part in all aspects of the IB Diploma Programme in order to earn an IB Diploma. Students may also select individual IB courses and earn IB certificates in those classes. Or, students may sign-up for an IB class, partake in all of the curricular requirements, and earn no IB certificate or diploma since their assessments will not be sent out for external scoring. The IB diploma is separate from the MPS diploma.
Q: What classes will be offered?
A: MPS will offer courses in each curricular area: English – World Literature 1 & 2, Second Language – French, German or Spanish, Science – Physics 1 & 2, Math – Math Studies 1 & 2 (Advanced Algebra & Pre-Calculus) and Math HL 1 & 2 (Advanced Algebra-Trigonometry & AP Calculus BC), Social Studies – History of the Americas & World Topics, and The Arts – Studio Art and Musical Perspectives. In addition, Psychology may count under either Social Studies or The Arts, as will the Business courses of Marketing Management and Entrepreneurship. TOK will be at the core.

Why Gen-Y Johnny Can’t Read Nonverbal Cues

Mark Bauerlein:

In September 2008, when Nielsen Mobile announced that teenagers with cellphones each sent and received, on average, 1,742 text messages a month, the number sounded high, but just a few months later Nielsen raised the tally to 2,272. A year earlier, the National School Boards Association estimated that middle- and high-school students devoted an average of nine hours to social networking each week. Add email, blogging, IM, tweets and other digital customs and you realize what kind of hurried, 24/7 communications system young people experience today.
Unfortunately, nearly all of their communication tools involve the exchange of written words alone. At least phones, cellular and otherwise, allow the transmission of tone of voice, pauses and the like. But even these clues are absent in the text-dependent world. Users insert smiley-faces into emails, but they don’t see each others’ actual faces. They read comments on Facebook, but they don’t “read” each others’ posture, hand gestures, eye movements, shifts in personal space and other nonverbal–and expressive–behaviors.
Back in 1959, anthropologist Edward T. Hall labeled these expressive human attributes “the Silent Language.” Hall passed away last month in Santa Fe at age 95, but his writings on nonverbal communication deserve continued attention. He argued that body language, facial expressions and stock mannerisms function “in juxtaposition to words,” imparting feelings, attitudes, reactions and judgments in a different register.

Significant Gender Gap on the PSAT Math Test

Mark Perry:

The table above (click to enlarge) is based on PSAT scores in 2008 for college-bound juniors for males and females taking the mathematics exam, showing the results for the five geographical regions of the U.S. For both males and females, the highest scores were in the Midwest states, similar to the findings for the SAT test results, reported yesterday on the NY Times Economix blog, “Why The Midwest Rules on the SAT.”
The results also show a significant gender gap in favor of males for the mean math test scores in all five regions, with mean male test scores ranging from 3.2 points higher in the Midwest (52.2 for males vs. 49 for females)to a low of 2.5 points higher in the South (50 points for males vs. 47.5 for females). In all five regions, the standard deviation of male test scores was higher than the standard deviation of female test scores, confirming previous findings of greater variability in male intelligence/scores on standardized tests.

21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead

Andrew Rotherham & Daniel Willingham:

To work, the 21st century skills movement will require keen attention to curriculum, teacher quality, and assessment.
A growing number of business leaders, politicians, and educators are united around the idea that students need “21st century skills” to be successful today. It’s exciting to believe that we live in times that are so revolutionary that they demand new and different abilities. But in fact, the skills students need in the 21st century are not new.
Critical thinking and problem solving, for example, have been components of human progress throughout history, from the development of early tools, to agricultural advancements, to the invention of vaccines, to land and sea exploration. Such skills as information literacy and global awareness are not new, at least not among the elites in different societies. The need for mastery of different kinds of knowledge, ranging from facts to complex analysis? Not new either. In The Republic, Plato wrote about four distinct levels of intellect. Perhaps at the time, these were considered “3rd century BCE skills”?
What’s actually new is the extent to which changes in our economy and the world mean that collective and individual success depends on having such skills. Many U.S. students are taught these skills–those who are fortunate enough to attend highly effective schools or at least encounter great teachers–but it’s a matter of chance rather than the deliberate design of our school system. Today we cannot afford a system in which receiving a high-quality education is akin to a game of bingo. If we are to have a more equitable and effective public education system, skills that have been the province of the few must become universal.

Good Books Don’t Have to Be Hard

Lev Grossman:

A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It’s what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it’s also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them. Plot makes perverts of us all.
It’s not easy to put your finger on what exactly is so disgraceful about our attachment to storyline. Sure, it’s something to do with high and low and genres and the canon and such. But what exactly? Part of the problem is that to find the reason you have to dig down a ways, down into the murky history of the novel. There was once a reason for turning away from plot, but that rationale has outlived its usefulness. If there’s a key to what the 21st-century novel is going to look like, this is it: the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot.
Where did this conspiracy come from in the first place–the plot against plot? I blame the Modernists. Who were, I grant you, the single greatest crop of writers the novel has ever seen. In the 1920s alone they gave us “The Age of Innocence,” “Ulysses,” “A Passage to India,” “Mrs. Dalloway,” “To the Lighthouse,” “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Sound and the Fury.” Not to mention most of “In Search of Lost Time” and all of Kafka’s novels. Pity the poor Pulitzer judge for 1926, who had to choose between “The Professor’s House,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Arrowsmith” and “An American Tragedy.” (It went to “Arrowsmith.” Sinclair Lewis prissily declined the prize.) The 20th century had a full century’s worth of masterpieces before it was half over.

Learning Isn’t For Nine Months; It’s Forever

Jay Matthews:

Maybe our whole back-to-school tradition is the problem.
We think of education as a year-to-year thing. Start school in late summer. Finish in late spring. Then repeat. Learning doesn’t work like that. Our fixation on the calendar is getting in the way.
When I was young, I didn’t understand that. I accepted the rhythms set by my parents and teachers. So it was a shock to leave school and discover that when working and raising a family, it no longer mattered so much what time of year it was. I had to get that kid potty-trained, and soon! I had to write that story. I had to convince the foreign editor I could succeed overseas. I had to find a publisher for that book idea. I had to master new skills and absorb new information quickly and competently, or my plans for myself and my family were in jeopardy.
The Post tried giving standard job evaluations, sort of grown-up June report cards, but they didn’t last. My job was to produce stories that interested readers, a real-world test not tied to the calendar.

NEA Internal Survey on Health Care Reveals “Huge Divide Between NEA Executives and Presidents and Rank and File

Mike Antonucci:

The National Education Association has appeared front and center in the debate over reform of the health care and insurance system, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbying and media buys. But a 2008 internal survey of NEA members and officers on health care issues indicates varying levels of enthusiasm for proposed reforms.
Though the survey itself was not made available to EIA, the union’s collective bargaining and member advocacy department has been briefing union activists on its findings throughout 2009. I have posted a link to the relevant information on EIA’s Declassified page. The report included statistics such as the average health insurance premium paid in 2007 by NEA members was $603 for employee-only coverage – about 12.6% of the total cost. Eight affiliates reported members paid nothing.
NEA commissioned the polling firm of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner to learn member and officer attitudes about health care reform. Most of those surveyed were concerned about the system, but satisfied with their own health care. NEA members were also more favorably disposed towards government health care programs than the average American.
Still, the survey found that NEA members were “split on whether government or employers should provide health care” and that a “Massachusetts-style proposal [is] susceptible to arguments against it.”

New college majors for changing needs

Kai Ryssdal:

Some cities up near the fire have canceled the first day of school, it was supposed to have been today.
A lot of college students around the country have either started classes already, or are about to. And as they choose their course loads for the semester amid rising tuition costs, there’s less and less enthusiasm for the old stand-by majors like history or political science or biology. Marketplace’s Steve Henn reports that today’s students want something that sells.
STEVE HENN: Mark Taylor is a tenured religion professor at Columbia University. But he compares higher education to the Detroit Big Three.
MARK TAYLOR: They are producing a product for which there’s no market.
Which wouldn’t be so bad if these students also had skills valued outside academia but…

Student’s visit to Vietnam is lesson in college culture

Ja’Nay Carswell:

The third time proved to be a charm for Adam Croglia of Amherst, a senior political science major at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva.
After visiting Vietnam as a tourist twice before with his family–for a month in 2006 and again in 2007 — Croglia went again for 11 weeks this summer as an intern with the Institute of International Education, an organization in Ho Chi Minh City promoting cultural exchange. Croglia, who returned home earlier this month, said his latest trip was very rewarding and culturally enriching.
“Vietnam is a rapidly developing country with a remarkable desire to globalize,” said Croglia, who traveled through a grant funded by his college. “Living there opened my eyes in a way I couldn’t get from visiting.”
In Ho Chi Minh City, Croglia advised and educated Vietnamese students interested in pursuing an education at American colleges and universities.
“I had the opportunity to reach many Vietnamese students,” he said. “Through my presentations both in Ho Chi Minh City and around the country, I think I presented to a total of about 1,500 people.”
Croglia, 20, gave presentations throughout the country on resumes, personal statements and relationship building. The 2006 St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute graduate said the students were very receptive and intrigued by American culture and education.

Seize opportunity for education reform in Wisconsin

Tim Cullen:

Three factors have conjoined this month to make education reform in Wisconsin a real possibility in the next year and a half:

  • The announcement by Gov. Jim Doyle not to seek re-election but serve out his term.
  • The tragic, but courageous incident involving Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a promoter of education reform in Wisconsin’s largest city.
  • The potential of qualifying for new federal education dollars.

The logjam created by the state teachers union’s political activities — which contribute millions of dollars per election year almost entirely on behalf of Democrats — has led over the past 15 years to no educational policies put forward by Democrats or Republicans.
Some individual legislators have had proposals, but they have not gone far in the legislative process.
The political ground rules in Madison have been too crassly partisan on both sides of the aisle. It goes like this: If the Democrats control Madison, Wisconsin Education Association Council gets what it wants. If Republicans control Madison, WEAC gets nothing that it wants.
This is disheartening to the many people across the political spectrum who want reform and progress.
The newly aligned stars offer a chance to break the logjam. Doyle lacks the need for WEAC because he is not running again. Barrett’s popularity has surged after he was injured when he came to the aid of a woman threatened by a pipe-wielding attacker. And the federal aid is a carrot.
Reformers have been helped by President Barack Obama’s secretary of education, who called one Wisconsin law on education “ridiculous.” That law currently makes Wisconsin ineligible for its share of $4 billion of federal education money.
Wisconsin now has a chance to take advantage of this alignment to make dramatic fixes to the Milwaukee public school system, change Wisconsin law so teachers can be at least partially evaluated by student test scores, and make long overdue changes in K-12 educational funding formulas.
The funding formulas currently in place will, with no doubt, increase property taxes, increase class sizes, and increase teacher layoffs.
One more entity needs to get its star aligned — the state Legislature. The Democrats do need WEAC in 2010. But I believe there are good people in the Legislature who, I hope, will grab this moment.
The goal of public education is clear and simple: improve student achievement. There are three major items that accomplish this:

  • Better family structure and parental involvement in schools.
  • Adequate funding — without involving students in the unpopular reliance on property taxes, the most unpopular tax of all. Think about it, the funding of our prisons does not involve the property tax wars, but paying to educate our children does.
  • Appreciated teachers who continue to stimulate students to improve and are evaluated and rewarded for outstanding performance.

These times for reform do not come often.
Cullen, former state Senate majority leader, is a member of the Janesville School Board.

Using Tests Smartly

Elizabeth Hartley Filliat:

Several letters to the editor on Aug. 24 (“A New Initiative on Education“) express concern that greater reliance on standardized tests for students will, in one writer’s words, leave “little room for passion, creativity or intellect.”
This possibility could occur, but with wise guidelines from Education Secretary Arne Duncan, this need not occur. The main purpose of standardized testing should be to assess the yearly advancement (or lack thereof) of individual students, not to punish teachers.
Students cannot learn if they are not taught at the level at which they are functioning. It is haphazard to teach “Romeo and Juliet” to a ninth-grade student who is reading on a fifth-grade level.
For educators to stick their collective heads into the sand is foolhardy. Educators must come out of the Dark Ages, use test results for diagnostic purposes and then teach students with precision and creativity.