Education in Malaysia

New Straits Times:

On the National Key Result Areas, the deputy premier said there were four areas that touched on education.
The first was on efforts for all children to attend pre-school from the present 63 per cent only. Starting next year, he said new schools would be built, starting with 378 classrooms, and in three years, all children would be able to attend pre-school.
“From our research, we found that pre-school is very important and we want to make it possible for everyone to send their children.”
Secondly, Muhyiddin said it was the government’s target that all children could read and count by the time they were in Year Three.
“We will identify weak students in Year One itself and provide special classes for them to ensure they are not left behind,” he said.
The third area was to identify 100 schools in the next three years to be converted into high performance schools. These schools, Muhyiddin said, would cater for excellent students and receive additional assistance from the government.

The Global Achievement Gap

Sara Bennett:

While I’m recommending books…. I recently read The Global Achievement Gap, by Tony Wagner, an excellent book about the failures of today’s secondary schools and how schools prepare students to memorize facts rather than problem solve. He identifies seven skills necessary to survive in the 21st century: critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and developing curiosity and imagination. He takes “learning walks” through schools, and provides snapshots of school days, both good and bad. I wish every principal would read this book, take a learning walk of her/his own, and then implement many of the wonderful suggestions for ways to engage students in a meaningful way.

Pakistan’s Education System and Links to Extremism

Council on Foreign Relations:

Pakistan’s poor education system has increasingly become a matter of international concern. Lack of access to quality education, which in turn limits economic opportunity, makes young Pakistanis targets for extremist groups, some experts say. The World Bank says nearly half the adult population of Pakistan can’t read, and net primary enrollment rates remain the lowest in South Asia. Experts say the system suffers from inadequate government investment, corruption, lack of institutional capacity, and a poor curriculum that often incites intolerance. In August 2009, chief counterterrorism adviser to the White House John Brennan, summing up a concern held by many U.S. terrorism experts, said extremist groups in Pakistan have exploited this weakness. “It is why they offer free education to impoverished Pakistani children, where they can recruit and indoctrinate the next generation,” he said. There have been some efforts by the Pakistani government, Western governments, and the World Bank to reform the system, but serious challenges remain.

Washington, DC Area Educators Study Promising Japanese Teaching Method

Emma Brown:

Third-grade teacher Andy Gomez stood at a whiteboard before 10 of his colleagues on a recent Thursday afternoon at Marie Reed Elementary in Adams Morgan. His students were stumbling over subtraction problems like 700 minus 369, he said — the zeros were tripping them up.
The solution to their difficulties was coming — by way of Japan.
For the next half-hour, the group discussed — down to nitty-gritty details about vocabulary to use or avoid — what the students’ fundamental misunderstandings about numbers might be and how to address them.
This collaborative examination of the mechanics of teaching is part of the school’s embrace of “lesson study,” a model of professional development for teachers that was developed in Japan. It was pioneered in the District by five teachers at Marie Reed, who began meeting weekly two years ago to study math content and pedagogy.

School district contracts push up tax levy

Jo Egelhoff:

At a time when taxpayers are struggling in this destabilizing recession and most are not seeing wage gains, the Appleton Area School District (AASD) has proposed a budget that increases the tax levy by 9.7%.
At a time when the state budget is suffering billion dollar deficits, when the state has cut its support of AASD, when enrollment has declined by 220 students, and when inflation is 0%, still the district’s total budget increased by over $3 million (from $176 million to $179 million)!
The district’s budget increase is primarily fueled by employee compensation increases, including an 8.2% increase in health care benefits – for a benefit plan that is already a Cadillac. Cost reductions could most certainly be achieved via increased efforts to decrease utilization and increased premium participation (school employees pay only 5% of their health insurance premium that for a family is almost $20,000 a year) and/or simply putting the very costly health insurance program out to bid. As it is now, the union dictates that the health insurance must be carried by an arm of WEAC.
In addition, though the budget reflects a wage freeze for administration employees, no such offer has been forthcoming from the teachers union.

Parents Judging Parents of Home-Schoolers

Lisa Belkin:

Over on last week, senior editor Andrew O’Hehir posted the first in what will be a series of essays about home-schooling his 5-year-old twins with his wife, Leslie. It is long, but insightful and informative, filled both with the whys and the hows of this choice.
What struck me most about the piece, though, was not its practical bent, but its philosophical notes, where O’Hehir describes the reactions of strangers when he mentions home schooling to them — the judgment, spoken or not, particularly from other parents. He writes:

After various tense conversations with friends, family members and strangers, Leslie and I have concluded that earnest, heartfelt discussion of exactly how we’re approaching our kids’ education and why we’re doing it is a bad idea. For reasons I can about halfway understand, other parents often seem to feel attacked by our eccentric choices. I guess this is what it’s like to be a vegan, or a Mennonite convert. I can certainly remember having a weirdly defensive response (“You know, I hardly ever eat red meat”), one where I reacted to someone else’s comment about themselves as if it were really all about me.

Education in Uruguay: Laptops for all

The Economist:

FOR the past year the pupils of Escuela 95, in a poor neighbourhood of Montevideo, have had a new learning tool. Each has been issued with a laptop computer. This has been of particular help to the 30 or so children with severe learning difficulties, says Elias Portugal, a special-needs teacher at the school. Before, he struggled to give them individual attention. Now, the laptops are helping them with basic language skills. “The machines capture the kids’ attention. They can type a word and the computer pronounces it,” he says.
Nearly all of Uruguay’s 380,000 primary-school pupils have now received a simple and cheap XO laptop, a model developed by One Laptop Per Child, an NGO based in Massachusetts. The government hopes this will help poorer and disadvantaged children do better in school while also improving the overall standard of education. These ambitions will be tested for the first time later this month when every Uruguayan seven-year-old will take online exams in a range of academic subjects. The rest of the world should be intrigued: the first country in Latin America to provide free, compulsory schooling will become the first, globally, to find out whether furnishing a whole generation with laptops is a worthwhile investment. (Peru, a bigger, poorer and less homogenous country, is trying something similar.)

School Reform

Ed Garvey:

Just about every meaningful reform begins with education. If our schools are not working well, then ultimately nothing works. Wisconsin has enjoyed great schools from kindergarten to the university system to technical colleges.
One reason our kids score at or near the top in national testing is parental involvement. Parents in Wisconsin demand high quality education and the elected school boards respond.
The Wisconsin Constitution guarantees public school education for all children from age 4 to 20. At one time that protection did not apply to children with “learning problems.” They were called “retarded” and were sent to institutions, but in 1966 parents decided that was unacceptable. They turned to Attorney General Bronson La Follette for his opinion and he ruled that “all” meant “all.” Every child in Wisconsin would be educated.

State education chief supports cultural learning

Mary Catherine Martin:

Cultural and academic education shouldn’t be separate and unequal, Alaska Commissioner of Education Larry LeDoux said on Wednesday.
“We can prepare kids to engage in any career they have a dream for and still be conversant in their language and their culture,” he said.
LeDoux was speaking as part of an education panel at the 97th annual Grand Camp Convention of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood. It’s a convention in which education needs for the Native population features prominently: The theme is “Wooch.éen; Gu dángahl: Yes We Can! Cultural Unity through Education and Communication.”
ANB President Brad Fluetsch also mentioned the gap between cultural and academic education, giving the example of harvesting a seal.
“To us, it’s cultural education, but to the university, it’s biology credits,” he said.
LeDoux said the department is planning cultural training for new teachers, though it does not yet have funding. Seventy percent of Alaska teachers come from out of state, he said.
One thing for which the department does have funding is hiring a director of rural education, which LeDoux said will happen “any day now.”

Latinos and Education: Explaining the Attainment Gap

Mark Hugo Lopez:

Nearly nine-in-ten (89%) Latino young adults ages 16 to 25 say that a college education is important for success in life, yet only about half that number-48%-say that they themselves plan to get a college degree, according to a new national survey of 2,012 Latinos ages 16 and older by the Pew Hispanic Center conducted from Aug. 5 to Sept. 16, 2009.
The biggest reason for the gap between the high value Latinos place on education and their more modest aspirations to finish college appears to come from financial pressure to support a family, the survey finds.
Nearly three-quarters (74%) of all 16- to 25-year-old survey respondents who cut their education short during or right after high school say they did so because they had to support their family. Other reasons include poor English skills (cited by about half of respondents who cut short their education), a dislike of school and a feeling that they don’t need more education for the careers they want (each cited by about four-in-ten respondents who cut their education short).
Latino schooling in the U.S. has long been characterized by high dropout rates and low college completion rates. Both problems have moderated over time, but a persistent educational attainment gap remains between Hispanics and whites.

William McKenzie has more.

NEA Sends $200,000 to Washington to Fight Initiative 1033

Mike Antonucci:

ext month, Washington state voters will consider Initiative 1033, which would limit the growth of government general fund revenue to a rate tied to population and inflation. The latest poll shows the measure leading 45%-32%, with 22% undecided. It’s hardly surprising that the teachers’ union is leading the opposition.
In an off-year, we would normally expect huge wads of national money to be flowing into Washington from NEA headquarters. But because of the vagaries of Washington’s campaign finance laws, NEA cannot fund the opposition from its multi-million dollar ballot measure fund. Instead, NEA allocated $200,000 from its contingency fund, which is capped at $2.5 million and must cover a host of other costs – most notably the half-million dollar expense of instituting the new business items passed by the NEA Representative Assembly last July.

Baby Bundle: Japan’s Cash Incentive for Parenthood

Daisuke Wakabyashi & Miho Inada:

Japan wants to set just the right mood to get its people to make more babies. But forget dinner and candlelight: The government’s plan depends heavily on large amounts of cash.
With a worried eye on declining birth rates and an aging population, Japan’s new leaders propose offering new parents monthly payments totaling about $3,300 a year for every new child until the age of 15. Other initiatives include more state-supported day care, tuition waivers and other efforts designed to make parenthood more appealing.
But experts warn money alone does not a baby make. Governments have a mixed record in pushing up birth rates, as economic inducements sometimes fail to overcome other complex societal forces that affect baby-making decisions.
In Japan, they include the traditional reliance on mothers to perform the bulk of duties in the home, including child-rearing. Demographers say Japan might have more success if they also encourage more Japanese men to come home and do the dishes.

Scottish School Cash “Not Getting Results”


Spending on education in Scotland could be cut by up to £680m without affecting standards, a study has suggested.
Researchers at the Centre for Public Policy for Regions [Complete Report – PDF] said good teachers were key to improving standards, not smaller class sizes or higher spending.
They said spending on education in Scotland was high relative to that in the other home nations.
They added attainment had “flatlined” since devolution and Scottish pupils were falling behind UK counterparts.
The Centre for Public Policy for Regions (CPPR) at Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities concedes attempts to compare Scotland with England, Wales and Northern Ireland are fraught with uncertainty, but it insists ministers could find savings without compromising quality.

Private school pupils ‘dominate’


Forty-two per cent of the UK’s top scientists and scholars were privately educated and the trend looks likely to continue, a report suggests.
A study by the Sutton Trust educational charity looked at the schools and universities attended by 1,700 top scientists and scholars.
It also found 51% of medics, 70% of judges, 54% of leading journalists and 32% of MPs went to independent schools.
The charity says less-privileged children should be given equal chances.
Private schools educate about 7% of children in the UK and about 9% of 17-year-olds. About 14% of university entrants are from independent schools.
In the study, analysts looked at the educational backgrounds of 1,700 of the 2,200 fellows of the Royal Society and British Academy.

Herta Müller Wins Literature Nobel


Herta Müller, a member of Romania’s ethnic German minority who was persecuted for her critical depictions of life behind the Iron Curtain, won the 2009 Nobel Prize in literature Thursday in an award seen as a nod to the 20th anniversary of communism’s collapse.
Ms. Müller, born in Romania’s Transylvania Banat region, was honored for work that “with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed,” the Swedish Academy said.
“I am very surprised and still can not believe it,” Ms. Müller said in a statement released by her publisher in Germany. “I can’t say anything more at the moment.”
The decision was expected to keep alive the controversy surrounding the academy’s pattern of awarding the prize to European writers.

Committee backs $53 million in interest-free bonds for MPS projects

Larry Sandler & Erin Richards:

Milwaukee Public Schools could borrow up to $53.1 million interest-free to create new science and engineering laboratories, build a community learning center and repair aging schools, under a plan backed Wednesday by a Common Council committee.
If the plan wins final approval from the full council, federal stimulus dollars would pay the interest on the bonds and property taxes would be used to repay the principal. The School Board has voted to seek up to $53.1 million of the $72.1 million maximum that the federal government authorized for MPS borrowing, but the city issues school bonds.
Wednesday’s vote by the council’s Finance & Personnel Committee calls for the council to give preliminary approval Tuesday to borrowing the money without a referendum. Further action would be needed to issue the bonds. Mayor Tom Barrett plans to recommend a bond issue of about $48 million, said his chief of staff, Patrick Curley.
Michelle Nate, chief financial officer for MPS, said the ability to borrow at free or extremely low interest rates would allow the district to spend about $30 million on maintenance projects that have been put off for years.
“It’s like any major expense (for a homeowner),” Nate said. “You know you need a new roof, but you put it off until you can afford it.”

Education Agency Will Offer Grants for Innovative Ideas

Sam Dillon:

The federal Department of Education sketched out a new nationwide competition on Tuesday under which some 2,700 school districts and nonprofit groups are expected to compete for pieces of a $650 million innovation fund.
The department already has the 50 states vying for chunks of a $5.4 billion education improvement fund that it calls Race to the Top; the innovation fund is a separate competition.
Federal officials said the Investing in Innovation Fund would be distributed in three categories. Small development grants of up to $5 million will support new, unproven ideas that seem worth exploring, they said. Validation grants of up to $30 million will support existing programs that have shown evidence that they can work. Scale-up grants of up to $50 million will go to programs that have developed a strong track record for improving student achievement, the officials said.

UK Education Political Battle

Francis Gilbert:

Michael Gove’s ruinous plans for education
Today’s speech showed a party committed to micro-managing schools, using policies that have no empirical backing
Michael Gove delivered a speech at the Conservative party conference which played to the prejudices of his audience. His oration was peppered again and again with talk of how the Labour party has failed the country in creating schools which lack discipline and high standards and fail to make our children literate or patriotic. Funnily enough though, he failed to mention that the academy that he felt was a beacon shining in a world of dross was in fact created by the Labour party.
Throughout his speech, he referred to the Labour initiative of academies as a panacea for our educational ills. If in power, the Tories would enable any school to become an academy. In this sense, this flagship policy is no different from Labour’s.

Stand By for Higher Madison Taxes

Tim Morrissey:

Since Labor Day, County Exec Kathleen Falk has been calling it “the toughest budget since the Great Depression”. Her mouthpiece, Josh Wescott, echoes the depression line, and adds another cliché – “the perfect storm” of declining revenues. Falk has proposed a 7.9% property tax increase and is hoping for a 3 percent wage cut from county employees.
Mayor Cieslewicz calls his plan “a budget for hard times”, and says “the primary theme is steadiness”. He’s proposed the lowest spending increase in the past fifteen years. His operating budget will increase taxes 3.8% on the average Madison home. He’s hoping other city employees will join the firefighters, who’ve agreed to no raises for two years, and then 3% at the end of the two-year period.
Meanwhile, a couple weeks ago, Madison teachers hauled in a 4% raise in each of the next two years – a quarter of it in salary increases (1%) and the rest in other bennies, mainly insurance. They get a small pay increase, while county workers may take a cut, and city workers will likely get nothing.
Moral of the story: you want John Matthews on your side of the bargaining table.

Community Leaders Excluded from Duncan and Holder Four Seasons Chicago Meeting

Dick Johnson & Steve Bryant:

Community leaders and parents outside Fenger are in disbelief that they are not at the breakfast table with Arne Duncan and Eric Holder.
Attorney General Holder and Secretary of Education Duncan are in town to speak, ostensibly, with the community about youth violence — a blight on Chicago neighborhoods so vividly brought to national attention by the videotaped beating of Derrion Albert.
“They are meeting about us without us,” said Phillip Jackson of the Black Star Project, a Chicago-based educational reform organization.
Duncan and Holder’s meeting at the Four Seasons also includes Mayor Daley, Pastor Michael Pfleger, CEO of Chicago Public Schools Ron Huberman, and Police Superintendent Jody Weis.

Material for the Daily Show.

Madison Schools enrollment remains steady at 24,622

via a Madison School District email:

Student enrollment in the Madison Metropolitan School District for the 2009-10 school year is up 82 students to 24,622 according to the official enrollment count conducted on the third Friday in September, as required by state law.
The 82 student rise over last year’s official enrollment count of 24,540 represents an increase of one third of one percent (0.33%).
Enrollment in Madison Schools has been remarkably consistent. This is the ninth straight year that MMSD enrollment has been between 24 and 25-thousand students.
Of note is the increase in the number of kindergarten students enrolled in Madison Schools. The count of 2,146 kindergarten students is:

  • 140 students above last year’s number (2,006);
  • the highest enrollment for that grade level in the last 15 years;
  • nearly four percent greater than the most recent projection (80 students above 2,066 projection).

For more information on kindergarten-12th grade enrollment, go to

Related: “Where have all the students gone?” The student population drives a school district’s tax & spending authority.

New Book: Rethinking Homework

Sara Bennett:

There’s a new homework book, Rethinking Homework: Best Practices that Support Diverse Needs, by Cathy Vatterott, an associate professor of education at the University of Missouri, St. Louis, who calls herself Homework Lady. The first half of the book, which I loved, takes a fresh look at the research on homework and is written in a very accessible way. The second half of the book challenges teachers to rethink their homework policies and suggests ways to make homework more meaningful. Obviously, I would have preferred a book that followed through to the end with its indictment of homework, rather than suggesting ways to improve it, but I understand the author’s desire to appeal to teachers and this book certainly will. And, if teachers follow her advice to differentiate homework, then maybe those parents who don’t wish for homework at all will get that kind of accommodation.
My favorite part of the book is her Bill of Rights for Homework. She suggests that all teachers implement the following 6 “rights”:

Youth Violence a National Issue

All Things Considered:

Following the recent incident of youth violence in Chicago, the Obama administration dispatched two Cabinet officials, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, to deal with the issue. Duncan says the issue is a national one — not just urban or rural or suburban.

More on Duncan’s Chicago appearance here.

On the Proposed Mayoral Takeover of the Milwaukee Public Schools

Sheriff David Clarke:

Reducing Crime, Violence, Disproportionate Black Incarceration Rates and Prison/Jail Overcrowding Through Education Reform of MPS
Q: Why as a top law enforcement official have you continually been outspoken on the failure of K-12 public education in Milwaukee?
For the seven years that I have been Sheriff of Milwaukee County, I have been outspoken on the research-proven nexus between school failure, violent crime and criminal behavior; between school failure and disproportionate minority incarceration rates; and between school failure and jail and prison overcrowding. The connection is clear and that’s why I have had from day one a sense of urgency about the need to fundamentally improve K-12 public education in Milwaukee–and that means Milwaukee Public Schools.
If we’re ever going to solve the problems of poverty, crime, violence, disproportionate minority incarceration rates and jail and prison overcrowding, no remedy is more important than dramatically improving MPS.

The School Volunteer Jobs That Most Help Your Kids

Sue Shellenbarger:

Rosa Rivera receives so many invitations to volunteer at her children’s school and other activities that the dozens of daily emails and calls about various projects can be “just overwhelming,” says the mother of two.
At her children’s stage, ages 7 and 9, her top priority is to take the projects that will help them most in school and life, says Ms. Rivera, Austin, Texas. But it can be hard to figure out which projects those are. “You’re pulled and stretched in so many directions, now more than ever,” she says.
Cash-strapped schools are leaning hard on parents for help this fall. Some 53% of parents plan to volunteer at their children’s schools, up from 44% last year, says a poll of 1,086 parents by Harris Interactive and GreatSchools, a nonprofit parent-involvement group. The re-opening of schools this fall has triggered a 50% increase in volunteer signups at, a Web site for organizing volunteers, to 75,000 from 50,000 last summer, says founder Karen Bantuveris,.
Sometimes, of course, it is best to volunteer where a school needs you most. And most school volunteer projects have worthy goals. Fundraisers keep alive arts, sports or music programs. Helping out in the school office fills staffing gaps. Painting classrooms improves kids’ environment. Serving on the school board helps shape schools’ strategy and direction.
But for parents with limited time and energy, which roles deliver the biggest benefit for your kids? And how does the answer to that question change as a student grows up? Here’s what research and experts say:
• Elementary School: Volunteer where your child can see you.

New Prince George’s Superintendent Promises “Dramatic Achievement Improvement”

Nelson Hernandez:

The head of Prince George’s County schools vowed Tuesday night to “dramatically improve student achievement” as he said that the county had showed strong academic gains.
In his first State of the Schools address since becoming superintendent this year, William R. Hite Jr. said the system should try to “make every child in Prince George’s County smarter.” He spoke for greater accountability for teachers, more prekindergarten classes, better customer service and alternatives for students who aren’t succeeding.
In recent years, Prince George’s has experimented in some schools with a pay-for-performance model that offers bonuses to excellent teachers, and Hite said Tuesday that effective teachers can make significant differences.
“We cannot construct a definition [of teacher effectiveness] that does not include student performance as one of the indicators,” Hite said.

Focus in Chicago: Students at Risk of Violence

Susan Saulny:

The new chief officer of the public schools here, Ron Huberman, a former police officer and transit executive with a passion for data analysis, has a plan to stop the killings of the city’s public school students. And it does not have to do with guns or security guards. It has to do with statistics and probability.
The plan comes too late for Derrion Albert, the 16-year-old who was beaten to death recently with wood planks after getting caught on his way home between two rival South Side gangs, neither of which he was a member, the police said.
The killing, captured on cellphone video and broadcast on YouTube, among other places, has once again caused widespread grief over a seemingly intractable problem here. Derrion, a football player on the honor roll, was the third youth to die violently this academic year — and the 67th since the beginning of the 2007-8 school year. And hundreds of others have survived shootings or severe beatings on their way to and from school.

Fewer Schools Sell Students Snacks


Fewer U.S. high schools and middle schools are selling candy and salty snacks to students, the federal government said in a report released Monday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report was based on a survey of public schools in 34 states that compared results from 2006 to 2008. The study didn’t report the total number of schools that have changed. Instead, it looked at the proportion of schools in each state.
It found that the median proportion of high schools and middle schools that sell sugary or salty snacks dropped to 36% from 54%. The share of schools that sell soda and artificial fruit drinks fell to 37% from 62%.

New Tack on Math Promoted Problem-Solving Is Focus of High School Guide

Sean Cavanagh:

Three years after calling for a reordering of elementary and middle school math curricula, the nation’s largest group of math teachers is urging a new approach to high school instruction, one that aims to build students’ ability to choose and apply the most effective problem-solving techniques, in the classroom and in life.
Cultivating those skills will make math more useful, and more meaningful, to students, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics argues in a document scheduled for release this week.
Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making” is a follow-up to the NCTM’s 2006 document, “Curriculum Focal Points,” which offered grade-by-grade content standards in math for prekindergarten through 8th grade. “Focal Points” won general praise in math circles, even from some of the NCTM’s strongest critics.
The high school document has both a different purpose and a different structure. It is not a suggested set of content standards, but rather a framework that attempts to show how skills that the NCTM considers essential–reasoning and sense-making–can be promoted across high school math.

Body Posture Affects Confidence In Your Own Thoughts, Study Finds

Science Daily:

Sitting up straight in your chair isn’t just good for your posture – it also gives you more confidence in your own thoughts, according to a new study.
Researchers found that people who were told to sit up straight were more likely to believe thoughts they wrote down while in that posture concerning whether they were qualified for a job.
On the other hand, those who were slumped over their desks were less likely to accept these written-down feelings about their own qualifications.
The results show how our body posture can affect not only what others think about us, but also how we think about ourselves, said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at Ohio State University.
“Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people,” Petty said. “But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you’re in.”

Portfolio school districts: promising but ‘Works in progress’

via a Deb Britt email:

“Portfolio school districts are promising new developments but they still have big problems to solve,” is how Dr. Paul Hill describes reforms in the four big cities being studied by his team at the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), University of Washington Bothell.
In New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, school officials are revamping the traditional school district model: from being an operator of a uniform set of schools and related services to being a holder of a diverse portfolio of schools, each meant to meet a particular need, and all subject to evaluation in light of evidence.
“A portfolio district is built for continuous improvement via expansion and imitation of the highest-performing schools, closure and replacement of the lowest-performing, and constant search for new ideas,” says Hill. “So far we’ve found that each city is taking a different approach to developing their portfolio. By the end of our study (in 2011), we think this will tell us a lot more about this approach to public education.”
Portfolio School Districts for Big Cities: An Interim Report, published today by CRPE, introduces the subject of portfolio districts and opens a window on the particular approaches being taken in the four cities.
New York City – gave schools freedom over hiring and use of funds in return for accepting performance-based accountability and by adopting pupil-based funding of schools citywide.

Crusader for Syntactic Disambiguation Exprobrates Banks’ Labored Locutions

Sara Schaefer Munoz:

A few months ago, 71-year-old Chrissie Maher got a mailing from her bank titled “Personal and Private Banking — Keeping You Informed.” Baffled by its blizzard of terms such as “account facility limit,” Ms. Maher replied in simpler language.
“The leaflet needs much more thought if it is to be understood by your customers,” she said in a letter to Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC. “As it stands, it should be renamed ‘Keeping You Confused.’ ”
After critiquing the pamphlet’s “tortuous and ambiguous sentences,” she redrafted it, changing terms like “maximum debit balance” to “the most that can be owed.”
RBS may have picked the wrong woman to target with financial mumbo jumbo. Ms. Maher is the founder of the Plain English Campaign, a 30-year-old group whose stated goal is to stem “the ever-growing tide of confusing and pompous language” that “takes away our democratic rights.”
Over the years, Ms. Maher and her group have battled police agencies, expansion planners at Heathrow Airport, and the “frequently bizarre language” of the European Union. (At issue: phrases such as “unlock clusters,” “subsidiarity” and “sector-specific benchmarking.”) She has blasted local government on the use of “worklessness” to refer to unemployment and once attacked the president of the U.K. Spelling Society over his claim that the apostrophe is “a waste of time.”

CDC: Fewer schools selling candy, soda to students

Mike Stobbe:

Fewer U.S. high schools and middle schools are selling candy and salty snacks to students, the federal government said in a report released Monday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report was based on a survey of public schools in 34 states that compared results from 2006 to 2008. The study did not report the total number of schools that have changed. Instead, it looked at the proportion of schools in each state.
It found that the median proportion of high schools and middle schools that sell the sugary or salty snacks dropped from 54 percent to 36 percent.
The share of schools that sell soda and artificial fruit drinks dropped from 62 percent to 37 percent.

High School Civics: Mourning Constitutional

Matthew Ladner, via a kind reader’s email:

September 17 is Constitution Day, marking the day 222 years ago in Philadelphia when the Constitution of the United States was signed. Legend has it that a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, as he was leaving the constitutional convention, what sort of government had been created. Franklin’s reply: “A republic, if you can keep it.”
A major justification for supporting a system of public schools has been the promotion of a general diffusion of civic knowledge necessary for a well-informed citizenry. America’s founders, hoping to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” knew that our system of ordered liberty would endure only if its citizens understood the nation’s guiding principles. The endurance of American liberty, the founders believed, depends upon a broad knowledge of the nation’s history and an understanding of its institutions.
Charles N. Quigley, writing for the Progressive Policy Institute, once explained the critical nature of civic knowledge: “From this nation’s earliest days, leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams recognized that even the well-designed institutions are not sufficient to maintain a free society. Ultimately, a vibrant democracy must rely on the knowledge, skill, and virtues of its citizens and their elected officials. Education that imparts that knowledge and skill and fosters those virtues is essential to the preservation and improvement of American constitutional democracy and civic life.
“The goal of education in civics and government is informed, responsible participation in political life by citizens committed to the fundamental values and principles of American constitutional democracy.”1
For its part, the State of Oklahoma also lays out the goals of social studies education. According to the state’s academic standards: “Oklahoma schools teach social studies in Kindergarten through Grade 12. … However it is presented, social studies as a field of study incorporates many disciplines in an integrated fashion, and is designed to promote civic competence. Civic competence is the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required of students to be able to assume ‘the office of citizen,’ as Thomas Jefferson called it.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: 47% will pay no federal income tax

Jeanne Sahadi:

An increasing number of households end up owing nothing in major federal taxes, but the situation may not be sustainable over the long run.
Most people think they pay too much to Uncle Sam, but for some people it simply is not true.
In 2009, roughly 47% of households, or 71 million, will not owe any federal income tax, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.
Some in that group will even get additional money from the government because they qualify for refundable tax breaks.
The ranks of those whose major federal tax burdens net out at zero — or less — is on the rise. The center’s original 2009 estimate was 38%. That was before enactment in February of the $787 billion economic recovery package, which included a host of new or expanded tax breaks.
The issue doesn’t get a lot of attention even as lawmakers debate how to pay for policy initiatives like health reform, whether to extend the Bush tax cuts and how to reduce the deficit.

Education + Politics = $

Cartel, the Movie:

eachers punished for speaking out. Principals fired for trying to do the right thing. Union leaders defending the indefensible. Bureaucrats blocking new charter schools. These are just some of the people we meet in The Cartel. The film also introduces us to teens who can’t read, parents desperate for change, and teachers struggling to launch stable alternative schools for inner city kids who want to learn. We witness the tears of a little girl denied a coveted charter school spot, and we share the triumph of a Camden homeschool’s first graduating class.
Together, these people and their stories offer an unforgettable look at how a widespread national crisis manifests itself in the educational failures and frustrations of individual communities. They also underscore what happens when our schools don’t do their job. “These are real children whose lives are being destroyed,” director Bob Bowdon explains.
The Cartel shows us our educational system like we’ve never seen it before. Behind every dropout factory, we discover, lurks a powerful, entrenched, and self-serving cartel. But The Cartel doesn’t just describe the problem. Balancing local storylines against interviews with education experts such as Clint Bolick (former president of Alliance for School Choice), Gerard Robinson (president of Black Alliance for Educational Options), and Chester Finn (president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute), The Cartel explores what dedicated parents, committed teachers, clear-eyed officials, and tireless reformers are doing to make our schools better for our kids.

Reviving America’s schools: Ready, set, go

The Economist:

BETWEEN classes at Fenger High School, on the far South Side of Chicago, hundreds of students churn through the halls. Elizabeth Dozier, the new principal, keeps a watchful eye. “Let’s go, gentlemen!” she shouts. “Let’s go to class!” Ms Dozier wears a two-way radio to deal with problems the minute they arise. One is small: the girls’ toilets have no paper towels. One is bigger: there’s a brawl upstairs. It’s not to be ignored: on September 24th an honour-roll student was beaten to death near Fenger, swept up in senseless violence.
For an idea of the task confronting Arne Duncan, Barack Obama’s education secretary, Fenger is a good place to start. The school lies closer to Indiana’s mills than Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. From 2006 to 2008 fewer than 3% of pupils met Illinois’s meagre standards of achievement. But this year everything is supposed to change. The Chicago school district chose Fenger as a “turnaround”. Old teachers have been sacked and new programmes put in place. Fenger faces formidable odds. But if Mr Duncan has his way, the school’s transformation will be the start of a larger shift.

Lack of computer skills foils many job-seekers

Alex Johnson:

After working for the city of Zanesville, Ohio, for 27 years, Sharon Newton had to go back to school.
Newton lost her job this year, and when she went to look for a new one she discovered that, even with all of her experience, she wasn’t prepared for the modern work force. When prospective employers asked about her computer skills, she had no answer.
It turns out “that is extremely important,” said Newton, who needed help with using spreadsheets and other entry-level office computer tasks. She is now enrolled in computer training courses offered by Zane State University and by Experience Works, a nonprofit national job training organization.

The Evolution Of Technology In Schools

Daniel Brusilovsky:

Schools try to keep up with the current technology trends, especially in Silicon Valley, the home of technology innovation. You would think that schools in Silicon Valley would be the most up to date on technology–with the latest computers, projectors, drawing boards–but coming from a first hand perspective, as a student at a local school, it’s the complete opposite. I go to a high school where there are no technology classes that even teach students the basics of web development, or video production, or anything of that matter.
Our school just upgraded our computer labs to brand new computers, Windows XP machines, that of course, block Facebook, YouTube, and all those other good “time wasting” sites. Just this year, all the teachers’ computers got connected to projectors so that teachers can show presentations, documents, etc. Also this year, our school finally got WiFi, but it is password protected and not open to students.
The restrictions on the use of school computers and the internet, are in my opinion, extreme. Each night all student accessible computers are wiped completely, and restored with all the basic programs – Mozilla Firefox, IE6, Microsoft Office 2003. I understand the need for schools to protect local machines from viruses and spyware, but I feel like school policy is too extreme when it comes to blocking YouTube, Facebook, and other sites. These sites can be “time wasting” sites, but there are occasions when the sites are useful. I was the Technology Editor for my school newspaper last year, where we needed to get pictures and information from fellow students. We used Facebook chat and messages to communicate with other students to get information, to co-ordinate and to find things such as video from events.

New Houston Superintendent Terry Grier’s first impressions

Ericka Mellon:

New Superintendent Terry Grier wasn’t shy about sharing his opinions at his first workshop with the school board last week.
On technology in HISD: “I think we are very, very far behind in technology for a district our size.” I’d expect Grier to push for major technology upgrades in the district, but could he fund them without another bond referendum? In San Diego, Grier oversaw the passage of a bond that included funding for a one-to-one technology package, where every classroom will get
a laptop for every student, an interactive white board, digital cameras and an audio system. Research hasn’t always supported the give-every-kid-a-laptop approach, but perhaps HISD can learn from the San Diego experiment.
On principals: Grier said the district has to change how it selects and interviews principals. He said his staff recently brought him a few candidates to interview and he wasn’t pleased with the quality. After that, he said he basically told his staff, “If you can’t bring me better principals to interview, don’t bring them.” Just because a candidate is popular with a school board member or the community doesn’t mean that person can lead, Grier said. Ouch! Read here about the so-called Haberman interview process Grier implemented in Guilford County (and perhaps in San Diego too).

Tips for parent-teacher conferences

Mrs. Cornelius:

Who doesn’t want to make parent teacher conference time go more smoothly?
Let’s remember: you’ve probably worked all day and barely had time to grab a bite to eat, and then you sit and meet with parents rapid-fire in ten or fifteen minute increments.
So here’s some tips:
1. Dress professionally in welcoming colors that flatter your skin tone. I like blue or green due to my coloring. Avoid red or black. Think about matadors and bulls, here.
If you can, don’t wear your dressy clothes all day– they will be wrinkled and possibly sweaty if your schools HVAC works as well as mine does. Wear comfortable clothes during the day, and then change after the kids leave.
Brush your teeth before the parents come, too.

UC Berkeley To Pay Consultant to Find Cost Cuts

Nanette Asimov:

UC Berkeley has agreed to pay a consultant $3 million to help the school find new ways to save money – an agreement that has irritated some faculty members whose pay is being cut this year.
The university is facing a $150 million budget deficit for the 2009-10 year, a consequence of less state funding and higher operating costs. Like all 10 UC campuses, UC Berkeley has cut faculty pay through furloughing workers, laying off employees, reducing course offerings and raising student fees.
These short-term fixes, however, “are an unsustainable long-term financial strategy,” Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said Friday in an announcement posted on the campus Web site. “We are now planning for a future that relies less on volatile state funding.”

Gates Foundation Pays Consultants to Help Ohio (and other states) Apply for Federal Tax Dollar “Race to the Top” Grants

Catherine Candisky:

Ohio appears well-positioned to win a share of $4 billion in federal education money, but the state’s budget problems and limits on charter schools could prove costly.
Although education officials believe Ohio can meet the requirements for funding, the most creative proposals will win out. “We have to think innovatively,” said Scott Blake, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.
Blake’s department is preparing the state’s application for the federal aid. Called “Race to the Top,” the money was set aside to create rigorous academic standards, data systems for measuring student success, tougher teacher evaluations, and to turn around low-performing schools. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is paying for private firms to help Ohio and 15 other states prepare their grant applications.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said the Obama administration wants to reward states willing to commit to significant education initiatives, including tax-funded, privately operated charter schools that have been controversial in Ohio and elsewhere.
“I think, based on outside evaluations that have been done by the Gates Foundation and others, Ohio is fairly well positioned for Race to the Top dollars,” said Terry Ryan, vice president for Ohio programs and policy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Dayton.

Gifted Student Is Being Held Back By Graduation Rules

Jay Matthews:

Anyone who wants to appreciate how strong a grip high school has on the American imagination — and how clueless some school districts are about this — should consider the story of Drew Gamblin, a 16-year-old student at Howard High School in Ellicott City.
Drew, a child so gifted he taught himself to write at age 3, craves a high school education and all that comes with it — debate team, music, drama and senior prom.
After a series of inexplicable decisions by Howard County school officials, such as requiring him to stay in a Howard High algebra class he had already mastered, his parents decided to home-school him and put him in college classes. But Drew insisted on his high school dream.
So he is back at Howard, although it’s not clear what grade he is in, and the school district is making it hard to enjoy what the school has to offer. He is being forced to take a world history course he already took at Howard Community College and a junior-year English course he took at home, as well as classes in other subjects he has studied.

Good educators all differ

Alan Borsuk:

A Milwaukee-area middle school. Two boys playing around, nothing terrible, but things get a bit too rough. One of them tears the sleeve of the other one’s shirt. Not such a big deal – except the shirt belonged to the boy’s late father. It carried a lot of emotion for him.
The boy goes to pieces. He ends up in front of the principal.
The principal has an idea: Save the shirt. Convert it to short sleeves.
The principal goes to the school’s family and consumer education teacher (OK, they were called home economics teachers in my day). She’s only in the building part of the day, she doesn’t teach sewing, she doesn’t have the boy in class or even know him. But maybe she’ll do it.
She does it – that evening, on her own time, the way lots of teachers do out-of-the-way things for their kids, or even for kids they don’t directly teach.
The shirt is saved. The emotions are treated with dignity. By the next day, the boy again has this renewed memento of his father.

Study critiques schools over subjective grading

Washington Post:

If you have ever rolled your eyes when your child says a teacher’s grade was unfair, you might want to think again. Your child might be right.
Douglas Reeves, an expert on grading systems, conducted an experiment with more than 10,000 educators that he says proves just how subjective grades can be.
Reeves asked teachers and administrators in the United States, Australia, Canada and South America to determine a final semester grade for a student who received the following grades for assignments, in this order:
C, C, MA (Missing Assignment), D, C, B, MA, MA, B, A.
The educators gave the student final semester grades from A to F, Reeves said.
Why? Because, he said, teachers use different criteria for grading.

On Teacher Unions, Political Power and Reform

Kyle Olson:

Earlier this year Robert Chanin, the recently retired general counsel for the National Education Association, discussed the effectiveness of teachers unions at a gathering in San Diego:

Despite what some of us would like to believe, it is not because of our creative ideas. It is not because of the merit of our positions. It is not because we care about children. And it is not because we have a vision of a great public school for every child.
NEA and its affiliates are effective advocates because we have power.

You can see that portion of his 20 minute speech here:

Related: the most recent proposed agreement between the Madison School District and Madison Teacher’s, Inc. , local comments and the expression of political power through the current Democrat majority in the Wisconsin legislature via the elimination of “revenue limits and economic conditions from collective bargaining arbitration”.

50 Free Ivy-League Lectures on the Economy

Online Classes:

The economy has taken central stage in world news for the past few years due to rapidly failing markets the world over. Even with so much attention focused on economic issues if you’re not familiar with the field, or simply want a more in-depth look at things, it can be hard to follow just what’s going on. These lectures, given by scholars from some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the United States and around the world can help give you that foundation of knowledge and help you better understand the financial crisis that’s been building over the past few years.

Rethinking “Small Learning Communities”: A review of the small-schools structure at North Eugene High nears

Anne Williams:

Four years after North Eugene High School set out to reinvent itself, the Eugene School Board wants to take stock. [Eugene School Board Goals, Superintendent’s Proposed Goals.]
Within the next month or two, the district — at the board’s behest — will hire an individual or team of educational researchers to try to gauge how well North Eugene’s “small schools” structure is serving students.
“It’s kind of consistent with board goals; we try to have measurable results,” board Chairman Craig Smith said. “We decided that, since the first class has come through, it’s time to see where we are in terms of progress.”
Showing gains — lower dropout rates, improved student achievement, better attendance and greater college readiness — has been difficult at many schools that have taken North Eugene’s path.
Championed and chiefly bankrolled by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the small schools movement aimed to lift student achievement by creating highly personalized schools where all students were known and held to high standards and teachers worked closely together.
But after investing a goodly share of $2 billion into the creation of hundreds of small schools across the country, the Gates Foundation has shifted direction in its high school reform strategy, focusing less on structure and more on effective teaching and curriculum.
“The structural and design changes in schools we focused on in our earlier work simply did not yield those gains,” Vicki Phillips, the foundation’s education director, told Congress last May.
A growing number of grant recipients have dissolved their small schools and are going back to a traditional model, sometimes with some small-school elements intact. Most cite disappointing results or burdensome operating costs, or both. Those schools include Portland’s Madison High School and Mountlake Terrace High School in the Seattle suburbs, a flagship of the initiative that staff members from North visited during the planning phase.


Ben Chavis: “The Democrats have it wrong, guys,” Chavis said Friday at a forum hosted by the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington. “We have screwed up the public school systems.”

Lynsi Burton:

Although a Democrat, Ben Chavis, the former principal of the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, is an unlikely advocate for the education reform plan backed by President Obama.
Chavis bucks the conventions typically associated with his party’s education platform, which is generally union-friendly.
“The Democrats have it wrong, guys,” Chavis said Friday at a forum hosted by the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington. “We have screwed up the public school systems.”
When he took over one of Oakland’s worst-performing charter schools, he emphasized the importance of standardized test scores, shamelessly ousted teachers he considered substandard, and employed military-style discipline on his students.
Now, based on California’s Academic Performance Index, only four middle schools in California perform better than his Oakland charter school, where 81 percent of kids are classified as low-income.
It is this style of teaching accountability that the Obama administration seeks to employ – much to the chagrin of unions – with Race to the Top, a competitive grant program for schools that the White House unveiled in July.

California Teacher Layoffs

Seema Mehta:

As thousands of laid off California teachers sit out the school year, educators are worried about the long-term effect of losing so many teachers. Some instructors are considering leaving the state or even the profession, and if history is any indication, fewer young people will pursue careers in teaching.
“The pipeline issue is one of the most significant challenges that we’re dealing with, with the layoff situation or the pink-slipping,” said Margaret Gaston, executive director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit focused on strengthening California’s teacher workforce.
Faced with severe budget cuts, school districts last spring issued more than 27,000 pink slips. Although many of those teachers were eventually rehired by school districts, thousands are still out of work, existing on a combination of unemployment benefits, their savings, spouses’ wages and substitute teaching income when possible.

Virginia Governor Candidates on The Schools

Michael Alison Chandler:

Hundreds of teachers, social workers, librarians and superintendents made clear in a series of hearings across the state last week the challenges that face the next Virginia governor: Overworked teachers. Shorter library hours. Longer bus routes. Bigger class sizes.
“Virginia is 37th in the nation in per pupil state spending. That is a sad fact,” said Jim Livingston, a math teacher from Prince William County, speaking Wednesday night before members of the state Board of Education at West Potomac High School in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County. “Further cuts in funding will make it all but impossible to provide the children of the commonwealth” with a high-quality education.
Both gubernatorial candidates have vowed to improve the public schools by raising teacher salaries and strengthening math and science instruction. Robert F. McDonnell (R) wants to increase the number of charter schools and institute a performance pay system to reward successful teachers. State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) hopes to continue expanding access to pre-kindergarten and create a college scholarship program for students who pledge two years to public service.

More Transferring from Private to Public Schools in Montgomery County

Michael Birnbaum:

At the end of August, Gabriel Liegey left his crisp school uniform gathering dust in his closet in favor of jeans and T-shirts. Natalie Medrano and her sister traded a long drive to private school in Frederick for a ride on the school bus with other kids on their block. And Lawson Hamilton gave up an eighth-grade class of 26 for a freshman class of almost 500.
All four joined the rising number of Washington area students who have switched out of private schools this year as financial pressures and the availability of good public schools have made the option irresistible to some.
In Montgomery County, the only jurisdiction in the area that tracks movement between private and public schools, the net number of students who jumped from private to public schools rose to 727 in the 2008-09 school year, according to preliminary figures. That is more than double the number in 2006-07 and the largest total since the county began tracking the numbers in 1988.
Other public schools across the region reported a rise in the number of families transferring in.

A longer school year, day?

Justin Reynolds:

A longer school year for American students? It would be the ideal reality if the Obama administration has its way.
Earlier this year, according to the Associated Press, President Obama said that, while an unpopular idea, longer school days and longer school years are necessary to deal with the challenges of a new century.
Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, recently told the Associated Press that America’s “school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today.”
“Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30% longer than our students here,” Secretary Duncan said. “I want to just level the playing field.”
While students in other countries might spend more days in school, students in America, on average, spend more hours in school each year, the Associated Press reported.
Dr. Gary Richards, superintendent of schools, said he doesn’t necessarily agree with the President.

A Crackdown on Bake Sales in City Schools

Jennifer Medina:

There shall be no cupcakes. No chocolate cake and no carrot cake. According to New York City’s latest regulations, not even zucchini bread makes the cut.
In an effort to limit how much sugar and fat students put in their bellies at school, the Education Department has effectively banned most bake sales, the lucrative if not quite healthy fund-raising tool for generations of teams and clubs.
The change is part of a new wellness policy that also limits what can be sold in vending machines and student-run stores, which use profits to help finance activities like pep rallies and proms. The elaborate rules were outlined in a three-page memo issued at the end of June, but in the new school year, principals and parents are just beginning to, well, digest them.

M.I.T. Taking Student Blogs to Nth Degree

Tamar Lewin:

Cristen Chinea, a senior at M.I.T., made a confession in her blog on the college Web site.
“There’ve been several times when I felt like I didn’t really fit in at M.I.T.,” she wrote. “I nearly fell asleep during a Star Wars marathon. It wasn’t a result of sleep deprivation. I was bored out of my mind.”
Still, in other ways, Ms. Chinea feels right at home at the institute — she loves the anime club, and that her hall has its own wiki Web site and an Internet Relay for real-time messaging. As she wrote on her blog, a hallmate once told her that “M.I.T. is the closest you can get to living in the Internet,” and Ms. Chinea reported, “IT IS SO TRUE. Love. It. So. Much.”
Dozens of colleges — including Amherst, Bates, Carleton, Colby, Vassar, Wellesley and Yale — are embracing student blogs on their Web sites, seeing them as a powerful marketing tool for high school students, who these days are less interested in official messages and statistics than in first-hand narratives and direct interaction with current students.

One Reason Why Risky D.C. Teacher Evaluation Might Work

Jay Matthews:

My colleague Bill Turque has a terrific story today about D.C. Schools Chancellor MIchelle Rhee’s plan to evaluate the effectiveness of her teachers and get rid of those who are not helping students learn.
The idea is full of risks. Rhee’s plan to evaluate each teacher’s class at the beginning of the year, based on prior test scores and other factors, and set a reasonable mark for their improvement, has not, as far as I can tell, ever been tried before on this scale.
There is only one reason why I think it has a reasonable chance of success, and his name is Jason Kamras. He is now Rhee’s deputy for human capital, an unusual title, but I sort of understand what it means.
Turque said Kamras “led the effort to revamp the District’s system” for assessing teachers. If Kamras were just another headquarters paper pusher, I would predict doom for his plan.
But he is one of the best teachers in the country. Long ago, I once spent a few days getting his life story and checking him out with other great teachers I know. He taught math at Sousa Middle School in the District, and also offered a photography class for those students, most of them from low-income families.

How Teachers Unions Lost the Media

Richard Whitmire & Andrew Rotherham:

Quick: Which newspaper in recent editorials called teachers unions “indefensible” and a barrier to reform? You’d be excused for guessing one of the conservative outlets, but it was that bastion of liberalism, the New York Times. A month ago, The New Yorker–yes, The New Yorker–published a scathing piece on the problems with New York City’s “rubber room,” a union-negotiated arrangement that lets incompetent teachers while away the day at full salary while doing nothing. The piece quoted a principal saying that union leader Randi Weingarten “would protect a dead body in the classroom.”
Things only got worse for the unions this past week. A Washington Post editorial about charter schools carried this sarcastic headline: “Poor children learn. Teachers unions are not pleased.” And the Times weighed in again Monday, calling a national teachers union “aggressively hidebound.”
In recent months, the press has not merely been harsh on unions–it has championed some controversial school reformers. Washington’s schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, who won’t win any popularity contests among teachers, enjoys unwavering support from the Post editorial page for her plans to institute merit pay and abolish tenure.

A Crazy Idea for Middle Schools

Jay Matthews:

When education pundits like me talk about the Ben Chavis. He is very different from us data-sifting eggheads. It is not an exaggeration to call him a wild man. He delights in upbraiding lazy students, outraging inattentive teachers and making wrong-headed visitors to the school wish they had stayed home. He has the independent spirit of someone who had a successful career in construction, teaching and business before the then-woebegone AIPCS board asked him to rescue the school. He didn’t need the job. He did it mostly as a favor to fellow Native Americans–he was born into a Lumbee Indian family of sharecroppers in North Carolina–and as a challenge. He has many of the habits of some of the best educators I know–a wicked sense of humor, a weakness for shocking the conventionally wise and a deep love of children, particularly those who have had difficult lives. I was not initially surprised when I read his new autobiography, “Crazy Like A Fox: One Principal’s Triumph in the Inner City,” written with Carey Blakely, a teacher and administrator who helped him launch the American Indian Public High School. His story was much like those of other ground-breaking educators I have known.”>American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, Calif., the conversation is always about the middle school’s leader, Ben Chavis. He is very different from us data-sifting eggheads. It is not an exaggeration to call him a wild man. He delights in upbraiding lazy students, outraging inattentive teachers and making wrong-headed visitors to the school wish they had stayed home.
He has the independent spirit of someone who had a successful career in construction, teaching and business before the then-woebegone AIPCS board asked him to rescue the school. He didn’t need the job. He did it mostly as a favor to fellow Native Americans–he was born into a Lumbee Indian family of sharecroppers in North Carolina–and as a challenge. He has many of the habits of some of the best educators I know–a wicked sense of humor, a weakness for shocking the conventionally wise and a deep love of children, particularly those who have had difficult lives.
I was not initially surprised when I read his new autobiography, “Crazy Like A Fox: One Principal’s Triumph in the Inner City,” written with Carey Blakely, a teacher and administrator who helped him launch the American Indian Public High School. His story was much like those of other ground-breaking educators I have known.

Increase in ‘academic doping’ could spark routine urine tests for exam students


The increasing use of smart drugs or “nootropics,” to boost academic performance, could mean that exam students will face routine doping tests in future, suggests an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics.
Despite raising many dilemmas about the legitimacy of chemically enhanced academic performance, these drugs will be near impossible to ban, says Vince Cakic of the Department of Psychology, University of Sydney.
He draws several parallels with doping in competitive sports, where it is suggested that “95%” of elite athletes have used performance enhancing drugs.
“It is apparent that the failures and inconsistencies inherent in anti doping policy in sport will be mirrored in academia unless a reasonable and realistic approach to the issue of nootropics is adopted,” he claims.

Education Spending: Lies Our Professors Tell Us

Neal McCluskey:

On Sunday, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by the chancellor and vice chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, in which the writers proposed that the federal government start pumping money into a select few public universities. Why? On the constantly repeated but never substantiated assertion that state and local governments have been cutting those schools off.
As I point out in the following, unpublished letter to the editor, that is what we in the business call “a lie:”

It’s unfortunate that officials of a taxpayer-funded university felt the need to deceive in order to get more taxpayer dough, but that’s what UC Berkeley’s Robert Birgeneau and Frank Yeary did. Writing about the supposedly dire financial straits of public higher education (“Rescuing Our Public Universities,” September 27), Birgeneau and Yeary lamented decades of “material and progressive disinvestment by states in higher education.” But there’s been no such disinvestment, at least over the last quarter-century. According to inflation-adjusted data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers, in 1983 state and local expenditures per public-college pupil totaled $6,478. In 2008 they hit $7,059. At the same time, public-college enrollment ballooned from under 8 million students to over 10 million. That translates into anything but a “disinvestment” in the public ivory tower, no matter what its penthouse residents may say.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. The term “cut” is often used when referring to a reduction in the annual increase in education spending.

Education Management Initial Public Offering (IPO)

Lynn Cowan:

The IPO of for-profit college operator Education Management Corp. scored well with investors Friday, while shipment router Echo Global Logistics Inc. struggled to attract them.
Education Management’s initial public offering of stock closed at $21.77 on the Nasdaq Stock Market, up 21% from its offering price of $18. It sold 20 million shares at the low end of its expected price range of $18 to $20 a share.
Pittsburgh-based Education Management has increased its enrollment and revenue through 2008 and 2009. The company operates four for-profit colleges: the Art Institutes, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College and South University.
About 82% of Education Management’s revenue is derived from federal student-aid programs, which require it to meet certain financial responsibility standards. But a high level of debt — $1.99 billion in June — puts it out of compliance and requires the company to post a $120.5 million letter of credit.
Education Management was taken private for $3.4 billion in 2006 by a consortium of investors that included Providence Equity Partners, Goldman Sachs Capital Partners and Leeds Equity Partners. The buyout was financed by a large chunk of debt.

From Birth, Engage Your Child With Talk

Jane Brody:

I recently stopped to congratulate a young mother pushing her toddler in a stroller. The woman had been talking to her barely verbal daughter all the way up the block, pointing out things they had passed, asking questions like “What color are those flowers?” and talking about what they would do when they got to the park.
This is a rare occurrence in my Brooklyn neighborhood, I told her. All too often, the mothers and nannies I see are tuned in to their cellphones, BlackBerrys and iPods, not their young children.
There were no such distractions when my husband and I, and most other parents of a certain age, spent time with our babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Like this young mother, we talked to them. We read to them and sang with them. And long before they became verbal, we mimicked their noises, letting them know they were communicating and we were listening and responding. (And we’ve done the same with our four grandsons, all born after the turn of this wireless century.)

Inflation Adjusted United States Federal Spending Per Pupil & Achievement of 17 Year Olds, % Change since 1970

Andrew Coulson, via a kind reader’s email:

The debate over No Child Left Behind re-authorization is upon us.
Except it isn’t.
In his recent speech kicking off the discussion, education secretary Arne Duncan asked not whether the central federal education law should be reauthorized, he merely asked how.
Let’s step back a bit, and examine why we should end federal intervention in (and spending on) our nation’s schools… in one thousand words or less:

Teachers Union Shifts Stance, Backs Looser Staffing Rules

Robert Tomsho:

With the Obama administration trying to turn around failing schools, the nation’s largest teachers’ union will ask its local bargaining units to waive contract language that might hamper school districts from staffing troubled schools with highly qualified teachers.
For the National Education Association, the announcement represents a major shift away from some of its traditional stands regarding teacher staffing. Some observers, however, expressed caution about whether it will result in significant change.
School administrators long have complained that collective-bargaining pacts often require them to fill job openings based on seniority, leading experienced teachers to transfer out of low-performing, high-poverty schools as soon as they can find an opening elsewhere in a district. Many union agreements also bar districts from using merit pay or other incentives to persuade their best teachers to staff these schools.
As a result, students in such schools are more likely to be taught by teachers who have little experience or expertise in their field. Four out of 10 classes in high-poverty schools are taught by out-of-field teachers, more than double the rate found in more affluent schools, according to a 2008 study by the Education Trust, a research and advocacy group that focuses on low-income schools.

Detroit Coaxes Students to High-Stakes Roll Call

Alex Kellogg:

Annual ‘Count Day’ Determines How Much State Money Schools Will Get; a Test for District’s Emergency Financial Manager
Public school districts across Michigan mobilized Wednesday to boost attendance for Count Day, the annual fall roll call that largely determines how much money each district receives under the state’s per-pupil funding system.
Students in Detroit were treated to free meals, ice-cream parties, T-shirts, celebrity visits and a chance to win iPods and a plasma-screen TV — just for showing up for class.
Districts received an average of $7,810 per student last year, but that could decline by more than $200 a pupil this year as Michigan looks to close a $1.7 billion budget hole. Every student in class Wednesday represented funding for the school year.
The stakes were especially high for the Detroit Public Schools, where Wednesday’s carnival atmosphere masked grim financial realities. Enrollment has plummeted roughly 50% in the past decade, contributing to a $259 million deficit this year that has put the district on the brink of bankruptcy.
The results of the count will serve as the first report card for Robert C. Bobb, the district’s state-appointed emergency financial manager, who is hoping to stave off bankruptcy and stabilize enrollment. Detroit schools this summer launched a $500,000 campaign aimed at keeping students that included ads by Bill Cosby.

Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control?

Paul Tough:

“Come on, Abigail.”
“No, wait!” Abigail said. “I’m not finished!” She was bent low over her clipboard, a stubby pencil in her hand, slowly scratching out the letters in the book’s title, one by one: T H E. . . .
“Abigail, we’re waiting!” Jocelyn said, staring forcefully at her classmate. Henry, sitting next to her, sighed dramatically.
“I’m going as fast as I can!” Abigail said, looking harried. She brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes and plowed ahead: V E R Y. . . .
The three children were seated at their classroom’s listening center, where their assignment was to leaf through a book together while listening on headphones to a CD with the voice of a teacher reading it aloud. The book in question was lying on the table in front of Jocelyn, and every few seconds, Abigail would jump up and lean over Jocelyn to peer at the cover, checking what came next in the title. Then she would dive back to the paper on her clipboard, and her pencil would carefully shape yet another letter: H U N. . . .

At School in Queens, Success Draws Crowd

Jennifer Medina:

ining up for lunch with their plastic foam trays, students at Francis Lewis High School pile on their choices — hamburgers here, chicken nuggets there, some steamed vegetables over there.
At Francis Lewis, in Fresh Meadows, Queens, with nearly twice as many students as the 2,400 it was designed for, administrators have been forced to look for every possible nook and cranny of space — and time — to cram in more bodies. The first lunch period starts at 8:57 a.m.; the last one ends at 2:46 p.m. Some students begin classes as early as 7 a.m., while others do not finish until 12 hours later.
The flag team practices in the hallway. Hundreds of students are assigned to physical education in room “Outs” — the schedule abbreviation for outside. When it snows or the temperature drops below 34 degrees, they run in the corridors. A few science classes are held in one tiny square room with no ventilation.

The College Calculation

David Leonhardt:

The most subversive question about higher education has always been whether the college makes the student or the student makes the college. Sure, Harvard graduates make more money than graduates of just about any other college. And most community-college students will end up making far less than graduates of flagship state universities. But of course these students didn’t enter college with the same preparation and skills. Colleges don’t help to clear up the situation either, because they do so little to measure what students learn between freshman and senior years. So doubt lurks: how much does a college education — the actual teaching and learning that happens on campus — really matter?
A recession makes such doubt all the more salient. Last month, National Public Radio ran a segment called ““>Is a College Education Worth the Debt?” in which an economist noted that 12 percent of mail carriers have college degrees — the point being that they could have gotten the same jobs without the degrees. In January, “20/20” ran a similar segment, in which somebody identified as an education consultant and a career counselor summed up the case against college. “You could take the pool of collegebound students and you could lock them in a closet for four years,” he said, and thanks to their smarts and work ethic, they would still outearn people who never went to college. I heard a more measured version of these concerns when I recently sat down with a group of college students. They were paying tuition and studying hard, and yet they weren’t sure what they would find on the other side of graduation.

Curbing College Gambling

Jennifer Epstein:

A lottery ticket or an online game of Texas Hold’em might be a little bit easier to avoid than a beer at a party, but an industry-funded panel released a report Tuesday urging colleges and universities to handle student gambling much like student drinking.
In its report, “A Call to Action,” the year-old Task Force on College Gambling Policies has formulated recommendations aimed at helping institutions construct their own student health and disciplinary policies on gambling. The group was created by the Harvard Medical School-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance’s Division on Addictions and funded by the American Gambling Association’s charity, the National Center for Responsible Gaming.
A 2005 study conducted by the Division on Addictions and funded by the gaming center found that 22 percent of a scientifically selected group of 119 colleges had written gambling policies. In its press release on the report, the NCRG cites the study as the impetus behind the task force’s creation.

Binghamton Lecturer Critical of Athletics Is Fired

Pete Thamel:

The Binghamton University adjunct lecturer who accused the athletic department of giving preferential treatment to men’s basketball players and pressuring her to change her grading policy for players was dismissed Tuesday.
The lecturer, Sally Dear, who taught human development for 11 years, said she felt the decision was linked to her criticism that appeared in a New York Times article in February.

A Push for New York Charter Schools

Gail Robinson:

In the wake of a study finding charter schools help close the student achievement gap, Mayor Michael Bloomberg today announced a series of steps to expand and otherwise bolster charter schools in the city. (We’re not sure why this announcement came from his campaign and not the mayor’s office or the education department but it did.)
Much of the plan suggests proposals that charter proponents have sought for a while: lifting the cap on the number of charter schools, giving the schools chancellor the power to grant charters (an authority that now rests with the State Board of Regents) and streamlining the charter review process.
But the statement also provides additional evidence of the mutual back scratching between the Bloomberg administration and the Harlem Children’s Zone and its founder, Geoffrey Canada.

The Billion Dollar Gram

Information is beautiful:

Billions spent on this. Billions spent on that. What does it all look like? Hopefully The Billion Dollar Gram will help.
This image arose out of a frustration with the reporting of billion dollar amounts in the media. That is, they’re reported as self-evident facts, when, in fact, they’re mind-boggling and near incomprehensible without context. But they can start to be understood visually and relatively, IMHO.

The Inner-City Prep School Experience

Maggie Jones:

In the Southeast section of Washington, a public boarding school sits on four compact acres, enclosed by an eight-foot-high black metal fence. Behind the fence, the modern buildings of the SEED School are well scrubbed and soaked in prep-school culture. Pennants from Dartmouth, Swarthmore and Spelman decorate the hallways. Words that might appear on the next SAT — “daedal,” “holus-bolus,” “calamari” — are taped to bathroom and dorm walls. And inside the cafeteria hang 11-by-15-inch framed photos of SEED grads in caps and gowns, laughing, clutching diplomas.
Beyond the fence, the scene is a different one. Despite some recent development, Southeast’s Ward 7, where SEED is located, and neighboring Ward 8, remain the most impoverished parts of the city, with more than their share of tired liquor stores and low-slung public housing. In all of Ward 7, the 70,000 residents have just one sit-down restaurant, a Denny’s.

A College Teacher’s Response to President Obama’s Idea of Lengthening the School Day

A College Teacher“:

A few days ago, President Obama talked about increasing the length of the school day and school year. Before I even had a chance to fashion a response in my head, I received this piece from K, who has been teaching science at a small independent college for over a decade and has written for this blog before here. She spends her leisure time learning from her three young boys. You can read more of her random thoughts at her blog, raisingthewreckingcrew.
A College Teacher’s Response to President Obama’s Idea of Lengthening the School Day
by K, A College Teacher
President Obama advocates increasing the length of the school day and the length of the school year. More School: Obama Would Curtail Summer Vacation.
There are many problems with this.
President Obama seems to be arguing: if something isn’t working, what we really need is more of it. It just plain doesn’t make sense. While some countries provide more learning in more time, there are other nations that make better use of less time and have better student outcomes.

NEA moves to help poor schools with best teachers

Greg Toppo:

The USA’s largest teachers union will encourage local chapters to ignore contract provisions that in the past have kept school districts’ best teachers out of schools that serve mostly poor and minority students.
Testifying Tuesday before the House education committee, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said the union, which represents about 3.2 million teachers and other workers, will ask local affiliates to draw up memoranda of understanding with local school districts that would “waive any contract language that prohibits staffing high-needs schools with great teachers.”
Van Roekel said the move is part of the union’s “Priority Schools” campaign that will also encourage “the most accomplished teachers-members” to start their teaching careers in high-needs schools, remain there or transfer there.
In the past, NEA has come under fire from critics for supporting contracts that allow experienced teachers with more seniority to transfer to schools that serve more middle-class children.

Steve Barr’s Answers for School Reform

Malaika Costello-Dougherty:

Green Dot’s founder, who led the turnaround of the toughest school in Los Angeles, discusses his ideas on how to fix a failing system.
This might be the moment for Green Dot founder Steve Barr.
The Obama administration has set a goal of turning around 5,000 failing schools in the next five years, supported by an expected $3 billion in stimulus funds and $2 billion in the 2009 and 2010 budgets. Known in education circles and beyond as an aggressive agent of change, Barr has been in talks with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about how to boost failing schools and whether Green Dot’s methods can serve as a blueprint for fixing schools across the country.
It was these same failing schools that inspired Barr to start Green Dot. Having known hard times in his youth, including some time as a foster child, Barr was drawn to improving schools for disenfranchised youth.
After working in politics for many years (and cofounding Rock the Vote), he began researching the push to wire all schools with technology. He saw a map that used green dots to represent schools with the necessary infrastructure to be wired and red dots for schools that lacked that foundation. Barr had the vision that every school should be a green dot, and thus began his crusade.
Green Dot consists of 19 small charter high schools in Los Angeles — several of which were formerly part of Watts’s infamous Locke High School, which Green Dot, in an unprecedented coup, broke down into smaller schools. In addition, Green Dot New York finished its first year last June.

Democrat Senator (Illinois) Dick Durbin and Washington, DC School Vouchers

Wall Street Journal:

Low-income families in the District of Columbia got some encouraging words yesterday from an unlikely source. Illinois Senator Richard Durbin signaled that he may be open to reauthorizing the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a school voucher program that allows 1,700 disadvantaged kids to opt out of lousy D.C. public schools and attend a private school.
“I have to work with my colleagues if this is going to be reauthorized, which it might be,” said Mr. Durbin at an appropriations hearing Tuesday morning. He also said that he had visited one of the participating private schools and understood that “many students are getting a good education from the program.”
Earlier this year, Mr. Durbin inserted language into a spending bill that phases out the program after 2010 unless Congress renews it and the D.C. Council approves. A Department of Education evaluation has since revealed that the mostly minority students are making measurable academic gains and narrowing the black-white learning gap. D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and a majority of the D.C. Council have expressed support for continuing the program.

In knots over school headscarves

The Economist:

FOR all its grand central squares and lively cultural scene, the Belgian port of Antwerp is not always a happy town. Flemish old-timers share its gritty streets with Arabs, Africans, Asians and, in the diamond district, Hasidic Jews. Race relations are not easy: in the latest local elections, a third of the vote went to Vlaams Belang, an anti-immigrant, far-right Flemish nationalist party. The handsome stone bulk of the Royal Atheneum, a once-elite state school with a 200-year history, has produced legendary free-thinkers and radicals in its day. Now, however, it is enjoying unhappy fame: as the centre of an experiment in multiculturalism wrecked by intolerance. The story defies neat conclusions.
In September 2001 Karin Heremans became headmistress of the Atheneum, which has students of 45 nationalities. The September 11th attacks on America came ten days after she took charge, and her schoolyard became the scene of “very intense” arguments. Ms Heremans responded by working hard to turn her school into a place of “active pluralism”. A project about Darwin was led by science teachers but backed by a dialogue among the school’s religious instructors. A local composer wrote a work with Christian, Jewish and Muslim passages for pupils to sing. There were debates on sexuality and elections. A fashion show saw girls invited to wear Muslim headscarves, or not: one teenager wore half a scarf to symbolise indecision.
In France Muslim headscarves, along with all ostentatious religious symbols, have been banned at state schools since 2004. It helps that France has a record of separating religion from the state going back more than a century (even a Christmas nativity play would be unthinkable at a French state school).

Teenage Sexual Maturity

The Economist:

IT HAS long been a puzzle that girls who grow up without their fathers at home reach sexual maturity earlier than girls whose fathers live with them. For years, absent fathers have taken the blame for this, because growing up quickly has negative consequences for girls. For example, early-bloomers are more likely to suffer depression, hate their bodies, engage in risky sex and get pregnant in their teen years.
It could be a simple matter of not having as many eyes, particularly suspicious fatherly ones, watching over daughters. Or it could be a complicated physiological response to stress, in which girls adapt their reproductive strategy to their circumstances. If life is harsh, the theory goes, maybe they need to get their babies into the world as quickly as possible.