Computer pioneer Sir Maurice Wilkes: vision and vacuum tubes

Jack Schofield:

Sir Maurice Wilkes, 96, one of the pioneers of British computing, strolls through the history the he helped create
Walk round the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park and sooner or later you’ll hear a cry of recognition and someone will say: “I remember using one of those.” It probably doesn’t happen often to The Millionaire, a mechanical calculator that went into production in 1893, but Sir Maurice Wilkes spotted it, adding: “We used to have one in the lab. I hope it’s still there.”
In this case, “the lab” was what became the Cambridge University Computer Lab, which Wilkes headed from 1945 until 1980. It was where he built Edsac, one of the world’s first electronic computers, using sound beams traversing baths of mercury for the memory units. Edsac (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator) first ran in May 1949, so this year a dinner was held to celebrate its 60th birthday. And, of course, to celebrate Wilkes himself, who is a bright, sharp 96 years of age, and has seen most of the history of computing at first hand.
How sharp? On seeing the museum’s air traffic control display, which fascinates many visitors, he immediately asks: “Where’s the radar?” Ah, well, there isn’t one. The displays are running real radar sequences but they’re recorded. Wilkes, the consummate hardware guy, doesn’t just see the screen, he looks to see how the whole system fits together.

Golden Handcuffs: Teachers who change jobs or move pay a high price

Robert Costrell & Michael Podgursky:

Teacher pensions consume a substantial portion of school budgets. If relatively generous pensions help attract effective teachers, the expense might be justified. But new evidence suggests that current pension systems, by concentrating benefits on teachers who spend their entire careers in a single state and penalizing mobile teachers, may exacerbate the challenge of attracting to teaching young workers, who change jobs and move more often than did previous generations.
The design of teacher pension plans is a timely concern: like other public pension plans, those for teachers are becoming more costly. Employer contributions to pension funds tack on a larger percentage of earnings for public school teachers than for private-sector managers and professionals, and this gap is widening (see “Teacher Retirement Benefits,” research, Spring 2009, Figure 1). Those data do not yet reflect the impact of the stock market decline since 2007: the drop in the value of pension funds means further increases in employer contributions will be required to fund promised benefits. As fiscal concerns force states to reevaluate the costs of teacher pension plans, officials might also consider the plans’ consequences for teacher quality.

Alternative test may inflate score gains

Michael Alison Chandler:

Lynbrook Elementary School, which serves one of the poorest communities in Fairfax County, seems to be a model for reform. Three years ago, the Springfield school failed to meet state testing goals in English. Since then, it has charted double-digit gains in passing rates for every one of its closely monitored racial and ethnic groups of students.
But the success at Lynbrook and other schools throughout the state is not only due to better teaching. More and more, students who have struggled to pass Virginia’s Standards of Learning exams are taking different tests.
The trend dates to 2007, when federal officials approved an alternative assessment after the Fairfax School Board threatened to defy a mandate to give multiple-choice reading tests to students who were destined to fail — students who, like many at Lynbrook, were just beginning to learn English.

Madison School District Talented & Gifted Plan Presentation Audio / Video

Madison School District Talented & Gifted Plan Presentation 11/17/2009 from SIS.

Click to listen or CTRL-Click to download this 32mb mp3 audio file. Much more on the Madison School District’s new talented & gifted plan.
Thanks to Jeff Henriques and Laurie Frost for recording this event.

DFER Reforming Education Speaker Series: Lessons for Milwaukee – Jon Schnur

via a Katy Venskus email:

Through out the fall of 2009 Democrats for Education Reform will bring to Milwaukee national education leaders with a proven record of reform in urban districts. Our speakers will offer new perspectives and experience with what works and what does not in a challenging urban district.
We are pleased to invite you to the second installment in this series featuring one of the most powerful national voices on education reform:
CEO and Co-Founder: New Leaders for New Schools
As CEO and Co-founder of New Leaders for New Schools, Jon works with the NLNS team and community to accomplish their mission- driving high levels of learning and achievement for every child by attracting, preparing, and supporting the next generation of outstanding principals for our nation’s urban schools. From September 2008 to June 2009, Jon served as an advisor to Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign, a member of the Presidential Transition Team, and a Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Jon also served as Special Assistant to Secretary of Education Richard Riley, President Clinton’s White House Associate Director for Educational Policy, and Senior Advisor on Education to Vice President Gore. He developed national educational policies on teacher and principal quality, after-school programs, district reform, charter schools, and preschools.
When: Tuesday December 1, 2009
Where: United Community Center
1028 South 9th Street
Milwaukee, WI [Map]
Time: 5:30pm-7:00pm (Hors d’oeuvres and cash bar)
RSVP to:
Katy Venskus 414.801.2036

Two Wisconsin AP Scholars Named

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction [40K PDF]:

Two graduates from Marshfield High School have been named Advanced Placement Scholars for Wisconsin. This is the third year that both scholars have been from the Marshfield School District. The College Board Advanced Placement (AP) Program recognized Kara Faciszewski and Stephen Nordin as 2009 State AP Scholars from Wisconsin for their performance on Advanced Placement exams. This is the 19th year that the organization has granted State AP Scholar Awards. The distinction goes to one male and one female student from each state and the District of Columbia with grades of three or higher on the greatest number of AP exams, and then the highest average score (at least 3.5) on all AP exams taken. For 2009, 109 students nationwide received AP Scholar Awards.

Related: Dane County High School AP Course Comparison. Marshfield High School offers 27 AP courses. Search high school AP course offerings here.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: America’s fiscal deficit

The Economist:

STUDENTS at National Defence University in Washington, DC, were recently given a model of the economy and told to fix the budget. To get the federal debt down, they jacked up taxes and slashed spending. The economy promptly tanked, sending the debt to higher levels than before. The lesson: “You’ll never get re-elected and you may do more harm than good,” concluded Eric Bee, an air-force colonel who took part in the exercise.
This is the ugly arithmetic of America’s public finances. Recession and aggressive fiscal stimulus have hugely swollen the federal deficit. Stimulus was essential to cushion a collapse in private demand. In spite of that, the economy has barely emerged from recession and unemployment is still rising, feeding speculation that more stimulus is needed. Yet at the same time voters are growing alarmed at the tide of red ink, and it may be only a matter of time before markets do, too.
On current policies the federal deficit, which hit a post-war high of 10% of GDP in the fiscal year that has just ended, will fall to 4.2% by 2014 and will then head steadily higher. Aides to Barack Obama know this is unacceptable. With a new budget due in February, government departments are said to be preparing to tighten their belts. Meanwhile an advisory committee, chaired by Paul Volcker, who used to head the Federal Reserve, will report to the president in early December on options for tweaking the tax system, though not how to raise much more revenue from it.

It is clearly unlikely that the K-12 world will see significant amounts of new funds, beyond the 5%+ annual growth experienced over the past twenty years, if that.

The Phony Funding Crisis: Even in the worst of times, schools have money to spend

Arthur Peng & James Guthrie:

Chicken Little is alive and seemingly employed as a finance analyst or reporter for an education interest group. If one relies on newspaper headlines for education funding information, one might conclude that America’s schools suffer from a perpetual fiscal crisis, every year perched precariously on the brink of financial ruin, never knowing whether there will be sufficient funding to continue operating. Budgetary shortfalls, school district bankruptcies, teacher and administrator layoffs, hiring and salary freezes, pension system defaults, shorter school years, ever-larger classes, faculty furloughs, fewer course electives, reduced field trips, foregone or curtailed athletics, outdated textbooks, teachers having to make do with fewer supplies, cuts in school maintenance, and other tales of fiscal woe inevitably captivate the news media, particularly during the late-spring and summer budget and appropriations seasons.
Yet somehow, as the budget-planning cycle concludes and schools open their doors in the late summer and fall, virtually all classrooms have instructors, teachers receive their paychecks and use their health plans, athletic teams play, and textbooks are distributed. Regrettably, this story is seldom accorded the same media attention as are the prospects of budget reductions and teacher layoffs.

Are Wisconsin Students Progressing?

The Wisconsin Taxpayer [Request a Copy]:

Wisconsin spent more than $10 billion in 2008-09 to educate 861,000 public school students. At more than $11,000 per student, this represents a public investment of over $I50,000 per student over their 13-year elementary and high school career.
The success of any investment-public or private-is measured by comparing its return wilh the amount invested. With public education, measuring returns can be difficult.
In an attempt to measure student progress, Wisconsin has tested public school students using the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams (WKCE) since thc mid-
I990s. The tests are based on Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards. Although not a perfect measure of how students (and schools) are doing, the results can provide useful information on academic progress.
The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which was passed with bipartisan support in 2001, requires thai “not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001-02 school year, all students … will meet or exceed the State’s proficient level of academic achievement on the State assessments.” Wisconsin uses the WKCE to test public school students in reading and math in third through eighth grades, and again in 10th grade. In fourth, eighth and 10th grades, Wisconsin tests students in language arts, science and social studies, as well as reading and math. Student test scores are rated as minimal, basic, proficient, or advanced.

Wisconsin School District Tax Levies to rise an average of 7.16%

Amy Hetzner:

Wisconsin school districts’ property tax levies will rise an average of 7.16% statewide for the current school year, according to new information from the state Department of Public Instruction.
Although a drop in state aid to public schools helped drive up property taxes in some areas, increased statewide restrictions on allowable per-pupil revenue as well as local decisions to keep the lid on potential tax increases kept the average levy from going higher.
In fact, this school year’s average increase is less than the average rise for school districts in 2007-’08. In the Milwaukee area, the average increase was about 5%.
Levy increases varied widely from one district to another for 2009-’10, with the Seneca School District posting the highest – a 41% increase in its portion of property taxes.
The Seneca levy spike was due to a new voter-approved operational tax increase and a 15% drop in state aid, said David Boland, superintendent of the small southwestern Wisconsin school system.
The original proposal for almost a 50% tax increase was voted down in the district’s annual meeting, as was a much smaller increase, he said.
Boland said the district’s expenses were pretty much set by the time the state finalized its budget and he learned the district would be receiving dramatically less in state aid.
“When it was done that late, there was no way to prepare,” he said. “We’re the same as a lot of other districts.”

Brighter Choices in Albany Education: City’s charter schools outshine the competition.

Peter Meyer:

All eyes turned to the dark-haired woman sitting on a folding chair along the back wall of the room. Some eyes rolled, as most of the group knew Eva Joseph, the embattled superintendent of Albany Public Schools (APS). They had seen her at countless education forums, on the local nightly news, and in the daily paper at every turn of the school budget clock, determinedly defending her district and, increasingly, railing against charter schools. “I’ll make it quick,” said Dr. Joseph. “I do want to thank you for acknowledging the situation in Albany, but going to the heart of what’s real, we have 10 charter schools in Albany with a total public school population of 10,500 students. Compare that to 23 charter schools in the Big 5, with the exception of New York City. Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, Yonkers. Twenty-three total charter schools and you total up their enrollment. The proliferation here. The oversaturation, per pupil and per capita, is glaring. And it has serious implications for the district. It destabilizes it on many fronts….”
Standing a few feet away, as Joseph plunged on, a man leaned against the wall, smiling. It was not a smug or obvious smile, nor the smirk of a man who was mocking or scornful. Tom Carroll was smiling because he had heard the speech before and because he knew, as founder of the charter school foundation that had siphoned off nearly a quarter of Dr. Joseph’s 10,500 students, that he was at least an immediate cause of the vitriol. It was the smile of victory.

Blowback on Madison’s “Talented & Gifted” Program: “TAG not a game Madison area schools need to play”

Sean Kittridge:

Bumper stickers are like tattoos for cars. They’re gaudy, mighty tough to get off and, no matter how hard they try, rarely inspiring. We don’t need goofy “coexist” decals to inform us that the person doing a mean 45 MPH in the passing lane is against religion-fueled hatred and wars. Of course that guy’s against war. He’s driving a Saturn Ion.
And we’ve just about had it up to here — lower jaw area — with those wretched honor roll notifications. “Oh really, Mrs. Johnson? Tommy’s getting straight A’s in middle school?” Somebody call NASA. Or, if nothing else, call B.S. Just wait ’til he starts listening to rap music.
But parents, as a species, aren’t rational beings. After all, if they were, they would’ve put you up for adoption. Instead, they foolishly assume their child is The Great White Hope, with equal parts of Jim Brown, Barack Obama and Jesus Christ mixed in — although, interestingly, none of them are white. In Madison, this wide-eyed parental belief that their genes will save the world is best represented by discussions surrounding programming for gifted youngsters.
As reported Monday in the Wisconsin State Journal, some area parents are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Madison school district’s weak implementation of TAG programming. TAG, which stands for “talented and gifted,” is class instruction designed to challenge more advanced students, and forever lost its credibility when it became loosely associated with a canned body spray. According to the article, the school district currently has eight and a half positions devoted to pushing TAG programming forward, and that’s simply not enough to spawn effective change.
Fortunately, it’s not necessary, especially when dealing with elementary and middle school students. Try and tell 9-year-olds they’re gifted; they’ll listen, but only after a good nose-picking and two minutes of straight laughter stemming from a joke that incorporated the word “butt.”

Fascinating. The TAG initiative, from my perspective, ideally should lead to increased rigor for all students. That is obviously a contentious topic…..

Cisco CEO: Education Is Top National Priority

Roger Cheng:

Education should be the top national priority ahead of health care, the economy and climate change, according to Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO) Chief Executive John Chambers.
Education should be an issue that brings together Democrats and Republicans at a time when they can agree on little else, Chambers said. He helped present the findings of an education-focused task force at the WSJ CEO Council conference Tuesday.
The task force determined that the government should form a national council for an educated work force, linking together the secretaries of education, labor and commerce, said Accenture Ltd. (ACN) Chief Executive William Green.
“We don’t have a national agenda to be tops in the world in education,” Green said. “On every measure, we’re slipping.”
Indeed, countries are doing a better job of preparing their children for the global work force, Chambers said.
AT&T Inc. (T) Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said that the talent pool coming out high schools is getting diluted.
“Parents need to recognize that their children are falling behind,” he said.

Leaders & Laggards: A State-By-State Report Card of Educational Innovation

Center for American Progress:

Two years ago, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Center for American Progress, and Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute came together to grade the states on school performance. In that first Leaders and Laggards report, we found much to applaud but even more that requires urgent improvement. In this follow-up report, we turn our attention to the future, looking not at how states are performing today, but at what they are doing to prepare themselves for the challenges that lie ahead. Thus, some states with positive academic results receive poor grades on our measures of innovation, while others with lackluster scholarly achievement nevertheless earn high marks for policies that are creating an entrepreneurial culture in their schools. We chose this focus because, regardless of current academic accomplishment in each state, we believe innovative educational practices are vital to laying the groundwork for continuous and transformational change.
And change is essential. Put bluntly, we believe our education system needs to be reinvented. After decades of political inaction and ineffective reforms, our schools consistently produce students unready for the rigors of the modern workplace. The lack of preparedness is staggering. Roughly one in three eighth graders is proficient in reading. Most high schools graduate little more than two-thirds of their students on time. And even the students who do receive a high school diploma lack adequate skills: More than 33% of first-year college students require remediation in either math or English.

Ben Paynter has more.

School meals: the breakfast sugar overload

Valerie Strauss:

The first thing that jumped out at me about today’s Washington Post story about kids in D.C. schools eating federally funded breakfasts was “sugar.”
How much sugar was in the breakfast given to fourth-grader Alex Brown?
He had a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal, amount not mentioned; but a single serving, 1 cup, has 14 grams of sugar. That’s not especially high in the sweetened cereal world,
but it’s not great.
The breakfast also included graham crackers, amount not mentioned. But the amount of sugar per serving, which is one little square, in Nabisco graham crackers is 2.2 grams.
Then there was the juice. The article said the boy had milk and juice, amount and kind not mentioned. But one serving, which is 1 cup, of Minute Maid orange juice has 22 grams of sugar.
If the child had a cup of Lucky Charms, two graham cracker squares and an 8-ounce glass of Minute Maid orange juice, he would have consumed 40.4 grams of sugar for breakfast.

Does the Gates Foundation Need a $500 Million Complex?

Robert Frank:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done ground-breaking work on such global problems as infectious disease and education. It has clearly made the world a better place as a result.
But the foundation’s latest ground-breaking-on a new headquarters building-is bound to raise some eyebrows.
According a blog post by Kristi Heim of the Seattle Times, the Gates Foundation is in the middle of building a 900,000-square-foot headquarters, comprised initially of two six-story, boomerang-shaped buildings on 12 acres near the Seattle Center.
The estimated cost: $500 million.
That is more than three times what nearby Russell Investments paid for its 42-story headquarters tower to house its staff of 900 and manage more than $200 billion in assets.
Neighboring, with more than $19 billion in revenue and more than 20,000 employees, recently paid $700 million to lease about 800,000 square feet, wit

Ex-Gates director looks to open a charter school in New York

Anna Phillips:

Former Gates Foundation education director Tom Vander Ark is behind one charter school’s application to open in New York City next year.
For years, Vander Ark shaped the educational giving for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, overseeing grants the organization gave to cities that agreed to build small high schools. Now a partner at an education public affairs firm in California, Vander Ark has supported such causes as lifting New York State’s charter cap and bringing more and better technology into classrooms.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education confirmed that Vander Ark is behind the application for Bedford Preparatory Charter School, a small high school school that, if approved, would open in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn next school year.
An overview of Bedford Prep describes the school as being modeled on NYC iSchool, a small, selective high school that opened in Tribeca last fall as the first school in the city’s NYC21C initiative. Since then, the Department of Education has opened eight more schools based on the iSchool model.

SEIU Threatens to Organize Charter School Teachers?

Mike Antonucci:

Can’t find confirmation anywhere other than in this story about the infighting between SEIU and the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW). Reporter Randy Shaw says SEIU is upset with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) for supporting NUHW. UTLA reportedly sponsored a fundraiser for NUHW in San Francisco, which was protested by SEIU activists.
According to Shaw, SEIU made a statement to UTLA that “it would seek to organize charter school teachers in retaliation for UTLA’s pro-NUHW stance.” If true, it’s an empty threat. What makes SEIU think it would be any more successful organizing charter school teachers than UTLA has been? And how much damage would it really do if it were successful?

Medical Schools Quizzed on Ghostwriting

Duff Wilson:

Senator Charles E. Grassley wrote to 10 top medical schools Tuesday to ask what they are doing about professors who put their names on ghostwritten articles in medical journals — and why that practice was any different from plagiarism by students.
Mr. Grassley, of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, sent the letters as part of his continuing investigation of so-called medical ghostwriting. The term refers to publication of medical journal articles in which an outside writer — sometimes paid by a drug or medical devices company whose product is being studied — has done extensive work on the article without being named on the publication. Instead, one or more academic researchers may receive author credit.
Mr. Grassley said ghostwriting had hurt patients and raised costs for taxpayers because it used prestigious academic names to promote medical products and treatments that might be expensive or less effective than viable alternatives.

A Writing Routine

Peg Boyle Single:

Recently I was talking with a group of master’s and doctoral students about writing. A colleague asked me to talk with his students and I gladly agreed. We were sitting in a round circle in a nice tan-colored classroom with lots of windows on the west side. There were about 30 of us in the room. After I spoke about writing and read excerpts from my book, I fielded a bunch of questions that came in quick succession. Then after a pause in the question and answer session, one student across from and to the right of me asked a question. From his voice, I could tell that he had been hesitating. He said he really appreciated my presentation on prewriting and on developing a regular writing routine. Then he admitted that he struggles with writing and that my experience with procrastination resonated with him. But this was his dilemma. He had a deadline for his master’s thesis in a few months and how does he go about trying to employ these new writing techniques while also getting a thesis written? Isn’t that too much to take on?
Oh boy, it brought me back to when I was a doctoral student, who was struggling with writing to the extent that I was at risk for being ABD. I too had to learn habits of fluent writing while working on my dissertation. For this reason, I readily talk with any group about developing a regular writing routine, I wrote my book, and I am writing this column. If I can prevent one person from experiencing the struggles I had with writing, I would consider it worth it.
To his question, I replied: “You will eventually have to complete your master’s thesis, and you will. You could probably gut it out without trying anything new, and it would be miserable, but you could do it.” He nodded in agreement. Then I added, “But, why not try these techniques? Yes, it will take additional effort as you will be changing habits and writing a thesis at the same time. But your deadline is going to arrive whether you try new techniques or not. So why not work on some of these techniques and see how it goes.” After talking a little more I concluded by saying: “I did it, and so can you.”

Making the Grade

A Second Grade Teacher:

There were a lot of things I was anxious about when I came out of the School of Ed. One was the switch from being the graded to the being the grader. It was really an odd sensation to grade someone else’s work in black and white. All that time spent at a liberal undergraduate school attending vegan potluck dinners, talking about how terrible judging people can be, and now I was being paid to judge people every day.
It gets easier with time. At first you might pour over your grades for a very long time, thinking about how many points a student really deserves based on their effort and the demonstration of their comprehension of an idea. You might come up with rubrics for the littlest assignments to ensure fairness and award points to papers only after covering up their authors. A lot of that will disappear under the shear workload that is grading. Really, looking at students’ work takes forever! A very good friend of mine back in Kansas has over 150 students on her rosters. Think about it: you assign a two page paper in all of your classes and all of a sudden you have a 300 page novel to tear apart, comment on, revise and turn back to its many authors. Who has time for that?
In addition to time, it’s really difficult to do any kind of grading if things are going poorly in the first year of teaching. It’s unfair to fail all of the students for not learning if you’ve not grabbed hold of the reigns and taken control of the class. While the vast majority of the students who failed my class last year were making very poor decisions that led to that failure, fewer would have done so poorly if I’d been able to give them the structure and support they needed. How many? Who knows.

More New York City High Schools Get A’s (and C’s, and D’s)

A. G. Sulzberger:

In releasing the third annual round of A through F grades for New York City high schools on Monday, the Education Department produced a rather murky picture: The number of schools receiving A’s on the city’s report cards increased this year, but more schools received C’s and D’s. And just one school received an F.
The Bloomberg administration has made the school report cards a central part of its accountability system, and the grades are likely to provoke renewed anxiety among large, struggling high schools in the city, which could be shut down for poor performance. The schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, has moved to close 28 schools, including nine high schools, since the city began issuing the grades in 2007.
State education officials have also said that they plan to close the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide to comply with guidelines for a competitive federal grant that will award billions of dollars to states making strong efforts to improve schools.

Most oppose mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools, poll says

Larry Sandler:

A majority of city and suburban residents oppose giving Milwaukee’s mayor control over the Milwaukee Public Schools, according to a survey released Tuesday.
The People Speak Poll also found support for a high-speed rail system and a regional parks district; opposition to a regional transit authority and gasoline tax increases; and deep divisions on other transportation and government finance issues.
Among the four counties surveyed, Milwaukee County residents were the only ones who thought their county government was on the wrong track. Milwaukee city residents were about evenly split on the question of whether the city was on the right or wrong track, while suburbanites voiced a more negative view of the city’s direction.
Mayor Tom Barrett and Gov. Jim Doyle have been pressing the Legislature to approve a bill that would give the mayor the power to hire and fire the MPS superintendent, along with ultimate authority over the school district’s budget and labor negotiations. They say the step is needed to improve student performance, following the lead of several other major U.S. cities.
But opponents object to taking power away from the elected School Board. A competing proposal would give the mayor the power to veto the School Board’s superintendent choice and budget decisions, but would let the board override those vetoes.

Do College Students Get Well-Rounded General Education?

Faiza Elmasry:

Before choosing where to go for college, high school students and their parents usually spend time shopping around, evaluating various colleges and universities. Many also consult the college rankings published by a number of magazines and organizations. Those lists rate schools on such criteria as tuition, student SAT scores, and teacher to student radio. This year, a new ranking considered a different criterion.
“What Will They Learn?” compares educational requirements, not academic reputation
What are students at this school expected to learn? That was the question posed by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni to 100 colleges and universities across the country. ACTA is an independent nonprofit dedicated to academic freedom, quality and accountability. Its president, Anne Neal, says ACTA wanted to compare educational requirements… not academic reputation.
The report looked at seven key subjects: math, science, composition, U.S. history or government, economics, foreign languages and literature. Courses in these key areas of knowledge are necessary for students to be successful in their careers and life, Neal says.

Seattle PSAT Update: A Baseline for More Rigor in High Schools?

Melissa Westbrook:

As you may recall I was wondering how come the district had no results (by grade or school or district) for the PSAT given last fall to 9th, 10th and 11th graders. Bob Vaughn in Advanced Learning told me they had too much on their plate to get it done.
Joy Stevens, the Public Records officer said this:

I am writing in response to your email below requesting PSAT test results. In doing so, I learned that the test results that we receive are in a format that cannot be easily incorporated into our information, which would allow us to release statistical information without violating individual student confidentiality. I am looking into whether it would be possible to redact or remove student identification from the results we get from the College Boards and/or extract statistical totals.

I also placed a call to Boeing and got a very nice guy who was puzzled but said that they were expecting a report by Dec. 31. He got back to me on Friday and said he got a report and that the district said they would be releasing the results shortly.

Human Resource

Simon Parry:

In a grimy shack near the entrance to an orphanage in the far north of Vietnam, Hoang’s mother watches anxiously – seemingly torn between instinct and obedience – as her first-born child is taken from her and given to a woman offering to sell him for US$10,000.
“Look at him – he’s such a handsome little boy,” baby broker Tang Thi Cai says as the two-month-old kicks his legs and blinks. “If you want him, though, you’ve got to be quick. We’ve already started the paperwork to sign him over to the orphanage, so there’s no time to lose.”
Sensing my hesitation as she fusses around the fly-blown room, Cai adjusts her sales pitch. “If you’d prefer a girl, let me know,” she says. “We have some pregnant women here about to give birth – and as soon as a girl is available, we can phone you.”
When Hollywood superstars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt adopted three-year-old Pax Thien from an orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City two years ago, it confirmed Vietnam’s status as one of the world’s most popular destinations for overseas adoptions. But a year later, adoptions from Vietnam to the United States were halted amid allegations of corruption, baby selling and irregularities in the way the infants were sourced. Today, the system is mired in even deeper suspicions.

Learning Math From the Rubik’s Cube

Jennifer Lee:

Can a Rubik’s Cube boost student confidence?
About a dozen New York City schools have introduced a child-friendly Rubik’s Cube-based math curriculum devised for students as young as 8. In addition, New York City’s Department of Parks and Recreation is planning to introduce Rubik’s Cube solving at its 32 after-school program sites citywide within the next few weeks.
These actions are happening under a program conceived around two years ago by the company that owns the license to the Rubik’s Cube, Seven Towns, which is based in London. In an attempt to make the cube part of an educational curriculum, the company took the relatively cryptic problem-solving guides and made them more student-friendly by adding colorful illustrations and simplifying the instructions.

Opposition grows to Massachusetts education reform bill

James Vaznis:

An unlikely opponent has joined the mounting opposition against a bill in the state Senate this afternoon that would expand the number of charter schools.
The Massachusetts Association of Charter Public Schools said today the bill could actually stifle the growth of charter schools because of changes made to the legislation last Friday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Those changes would pull first-year funding for all new charter schools from the state’s general education fund known as Chapter 70 and would create a new budget line for those costs, which the association fears could make it more vulnerable to line-item budget cutting.
Another change made by the committee would require that the first three new charter schools approved each year to be located in a district that ranks in the bottom 10 percent in MCAS scores. Given that the state only approves two or three applications a year, the association said the requirement would make it virtually impossible to open new charter schools in other parts of the state.

Parents question focus and speed of Madison’s gifted students program

Gayle Worland:

The parents of exceptionally bright students in Madison schools waited 18 years for a plan to raise the academic bar for their children. But now, they’re really getting impatient.
Approved by the Madison school board in August, the district’s new three-year plan for talented and gifted (“TAG”) students already is raising questions from parents about focus and speed. The district’s TAG staff, they note, consists of only 8.5 positions in a district of 24,622 students – and three of those positions are vacant.
“Change of a large system takes time,” said Chris Gomez Schmidt, the mother of three young children who serves on the district’s advisory committee for talented and gifted students. “But I think there’s a lot of families within the system who are frustrated when they see that their students’ needs are not being met. I think that families don’t feel like they have a lot of time to wait.”
The district’s talented and gifted plan, which replaces a 1991 document, will be spelled out for the public Tuesday night in a community forum from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Hamilton Middle School, 4801 Waukesha St. The forum is meant to make the reforms understandable and “transparent” to the public, said Lisa Wachtel, executive director for teaching and learning for the district.

The Edsel of Education Reform: The Ford Foundation finds a needy cause: teachers unions.

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

We hate to say it, but don’t be misled by headlines. The biggest headline in education circles last week was that the Ford Foundation is making a whopping $100 million grant “to transform secondary education in the nation’s most disadvantaged schools.”
Our eyes raced to see which piece of the vibrant school-reform movement Ford was going to support. Would it be America’s 4,600 charters schools, many outperforming their traditional school peers and some even closing the race gap? Maybe it would be Teach for America, busting at the seams and turning down Ivy League applicants by the hundreds. Or, who knows, maybe Ford’s really on the leading edge, and would want to support voucher programs in cities like Washington.
Would you believe the recipients of Ford’s largesse are the teachers unions? Yup. The folks at Ford are giving new meaning to the word “retro.”
Ballyhooing the $100 million, the foundation’s president Luis Ubinas said, “Improving our schools, and giving the most vulnerable young people real educational opportunities, benefits all of us. With this initiative we want to shake up the conversations surrounding school reform and help spur some truly imaginative thinking and partnerships.”

Legislators present alternative plan to mayoral control of MPS

Erin Richards:

The Milwaukee Public School Board would retain the right to choose the superintendent, and Milwaukee’s mayor would co-chair a new committee with the School Board president to improve education in the city, according to a plan unveiled today by two Milwaukee-area legislators.
The RACE for Success plan from State Rep. Tamara Grigsby and State Sen. Spencer Coggs (both D-Milwaukee) is meant to counter an education reform bill from State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) that would give the mayor the right to hire and fire the superintendent and assume much more financial control over the district.
Taylor’s bill is called the Milwaukee TEACH Act.
Grigsby said she believes the RACE proposal has a good chance of winning support, especially now that Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has announced he will run for governor.

Judge tells Chicago to let students transfer

Karen Hawkins:

A federal judge says Chicago Public Schools must arrange for the immediate transfer of students who want to leave a South Side high school after an honor student’s brutal beating death.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman’s ruling Monday came in a lawsuit filed last week against the district by 11 students who say they don’t feel safe at Christian Fenger Academy High School. Along with the transfers, the students want a judge to order the district to make Fenger safer.
Derrion Albert, a 16-year-old Fenger honor student, was beaten to death in September during a sprawling fight that was caught by a cell phone video camera.

Farewell, Milwaukee Mayoral Takeover

Christian Schneider:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s entrance into the race for Wisconsin Governor means many things; but perhaps most importantly, it means the death of the plan to have the mayor take over the Milwaukee Public Schools.
Last year, Wisconsin Interest magazine editor Charlie Sykes noted Barrett’s reluctance to follow through on the plan:

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett continues to downplay his interest in a mayoral takeover, saying “I’m not interested in a power grab.” But his call for a privately-funded assessment of the district marked a new activism on the mayor’s part, reflecting the growing national movement toward putting mayors in charge of their city’s schools.
In the last decade and a half at least a dozen of the nation’s largest school districts have been handed over to mayoral control, most notably in Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. Philadelphia’s schools are run by a board jointly appointed by the mayor and the governor.

The Last Days of the Polymath

Edward Carr @ Intelligent Life:

CARL DJERASSI can remember the moment when he became a writer. It was 1993, he was a professor of chemistry at Stanford University in California and he had already written books about science and about his life as one of the inventors of the Pill. Now he wanted to write a literary novel about writers’ insecurities, with a central character loosely modelled on Norman Mailer, Philip Roth and Gore Vidal.
His wife, Diane Middlebrook, thought it was a ridiculous idea. She was also a professor–of literature. “She admired the fact that I was a scientist who also wrote,” Djerassi says. He remembers her telling him, “‘You’ve been writing about a world that writers know little about. You’re writing the real truth inside of almost a closed tribe. But there are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people who know more about writing than you do. I advise you not to do this.’ ”
Even at 85, slight and snowy-haired, Djerassi is a det­ermined man. You sense his need to prove that he can, he will prevail. Sitting in his London flat, he leans forward to fix me with his hazel eyes. “I said, ‘ok. I’m not going to show it to you till I finish. And if I find a publisher then I’ll give it to you.’ ”
Eventually Djerassi got the bound galleys of his book. “We were leaving San Francisco for London for our usual summer and I said ‘Look, would you read this now?’ She said, ‘Sure, on the plane.’ So my wife sits next to me and of course I sit and look over. And I still remember, I had a Trollope, 700 pages long, and I couldn’t read anything because I wanted to see her expression.”
Diane Middlebrook died of cancer in 2007 and, as Djerassi speaks, her presence grows stronger. By the end it is as if there are three of us in the room. “She was always a fantastic reader,” he says. “She read fast and continuously. And suddenly you hear the snap of the book closing, like a thunder clap. And I looked at her, and she then looked at me. She always used to call me, not ‘Carl’ or ‘Darling’, she used to call me ‘Chemist’ in a dear, affectionate sort of way. It was always ‘Chemist’. And she said, ‘Chemist, this is good’.”
Carl Djerassi is a polymath. Strictly speaking that means he is someone who knows a lot about a lot. But Djerassi also passes a sterner test: he can do a lot, too. As a chemist (synthesising cortisone and helping invent the Pill); an art collector (he assembled one of the world’s largest collections of works by Paul Klee); and an author (19 books and plays), he has accomplished more than enough for one lifetime.

The Preschool Picture – 4K?

Chester Finn, Jr.:

The campaign for universal preschool education in the United States has gained great momentum. Precisely as strategists intended, many Americans have come to believe that pre-kindergarten is a good and necessary thing for government to provide, even that not providing it will cruelly deprive our youngest residents of their birthrights, blight their educational futures, and dim their life prospects. Yet a troubling contradiction bordering on dishonesty casts a shadow over today’s mighty push for universal pre-K education in America (see “Preschool Puzzle,” forum, Fall 2008).
The principal intellectual and moral argument that advocates make–and for which I have considerable sympathy–is similar to that of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) backers: giving needy kids a boost up the ladder of educational and later-life success by narrowing the achievement gaps that now trap too many of them on the lower rungs. Serious pursuit of that objective would entail intensive, educationally sophisticated programs, starting early in a child’s life, perhaps even before birth, and enlisting and assisting the child’s parents from day one.
Yet the programmatic and political strategy embraced by today’s pre-K advocates is altogether different. They seek to furnish relatively skimpy preschool services to all 4 million of our nation’s four-year-olds (and then, of course, all 4 million three-year-olds), preferably under the aegis of the public schools.

4K is on the radar of our local Madison schools.

Seattle School Board Meeting on Boundaries and Levies

Melissa Westbrook:

The School Board meeting for votes on both the new SAP boundaries and the levies is this Wednesday, the 18th at 6 p.m. You can sign up to speak starting tomorrow at 8 am by:
calling 252-0040 or e-mailing
Here’s we are, almost to zero hour. I don’t want to disappoint anyone but I’m not sure I believe any amendments will come forward. I think only a broad-based one like the “soft” boundaries one (allowing anyone within a block of a school to have access even if it isn’t their attendance area school) or the “one-time” option (which would allow anyone within, say, 3 blocks of a non-attendance area school to make the one-time choice to commit to that school). Those would not require moving boundaries. But I think the Board will say they just can’t at this point. (And that’s why I do not like staff saying, “Oh yes, the Board can do anything up until the vote.”)
Please let us know if you attended Director Carr or De Bell’s community meeting yesterday. I heard from someone who attended Director Carr’s that there were a couple of issues. One, that when parents pressed about amendments, Sherry said it was too late because of staff issues. Two, that many parents were pressing for changes based on personal issues for their children. However, this person did end with this:
“Either way, we’ll work to make our kids’ school the best it can be.”

Cyberbullies hit primary schools


Cyberbullying is a growing problem in primary schools, according to the Anti-Bullying Alliance.
In a small study carried out by the group in south east England, one in five children questioned said they had been bullied online or by phone.
And many of the 227 10 and 11-year olds questioned said they used social networking sites, even though users are meant to be over 13.
Campaigners say parents must learn how to help children protect themselves.
The Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), which is a charity bringing together 60 organisations, also released the findings of a survey of parents on cyberbullying at the start of ‘Anti-bullying week’.

Boulder Valley open-enrollment process goes online

Vanessa Miller:

Open enrollment has become part of the educational path that many families in the Boulder Valley School District follow, and this year officials have made some changes to the application process to make it both easier and greener.
For the first time, parents can file a request for their child to attend a Boulder Valley school outside their neighborhood on the district’s Web site, eliminating the need for applicants to pick up a paper form and drive it to the Boulder Valley Education Center. The online application will mirror the hard-copy version, allowing parents to choose their top choices and explain their reasoning.
“It will be more convenient, faster and it will mean that a person will not need to drop it by the education center,” said district assessment director Jonathan Dings. “We think this will save paper and gas, in an effort to be as green as we can in this process.”
Parents still will have the option of filling out a paper application and dropping it off, if that works best for them, Dings said. But, he said, the district is “hopeful that we will have a great deal of participation” in the inaugural online program.
“We know that if the product works well, a whole lot more people will try it,” he said.
Open enrollment is a statewide option that allows families to send their kids to schools outside their neighborhoods. The option plays a substantial role in how Boulder Valley students are placed, Dings said.

Related: Wisconsin part-time and full-time open enrollment.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Washington adapts to eastwards power shift

Edward Luce:

A few months ago Tim Geithner, the US Treasury secretary, assured a group of Chinese students in Beijing that their country’s US dollar investments were in good hands. “Chinese assets are very safe,” Mr Geithner said. His comments brought the house down.
White House officials will be hoping that Barack Obama can avoid a similar loss of face on Monday when he meets a group of students in Shanghai for the set piece “town hall” that has become the US president’s signature event.
The chances are that he will. But no amount of dexterity can disguise the fact that Mr Obama’s visit to China crystallises a big shift in the global centre of gravity over the past few years. Just a decade ago Bill Clinton persuaded Capitol Hill that China’s membership of the World Trade Organisation would strengthen the forces of democracy within China.
Today, almost nobody in Washington even tries to make that case. Subsequent developments in China – and elsewhere – make it hard to sustain the argument that economic liberalisation leads necessarily to political liberty. More importantly, the US no longer has the luxury of being able to play teacher to China’s student (not that China ever took instruction).

It’s difficult to see significant increases in K-12 spending over the next few years.

A ‘feel-good’ label for ‘at-risk’ kids?

Jay Matthews:

I sympathize with those who might not be comfortable with the latest plan to rid our schools of at-risk kids. Several educators across the country, including Alexandria Superintendent Morton Sherman, have decided not to call them that anymore. Henceforth they will be known as “at-promise” children.
“We use the term ‘at-promise’ in Alexandria City Public Schools to describe children who have the potential to achieve at a higher rate than they are currently achieving,” Sherman said in a July 23 op-ed in the Alexandria Gazette Packet. “Really, all children are at-promise, because we, as educators, have made a promise to each and every child that we will work toward higher achievement for all.”
Cathy David, Alexandria schools deputy superintendent, explained at a School Board meeting last December: “The previous ‘at-risk’ model was a deficit model that identified and categorized children by criteria such as low income, special education, ethnicity or English language proficiency, with the assumption that if the criteria fit the child, then the child must have some sort of deficit. The ‘at-promise’ model comes from strengths.”

Hmong charter school has culture of learning

Alan Borsuk:

Give me some adjectives to describe your school, the visitor asked a couple of dozen eighth-graders at the Hmong American Peace Academy one morning last week.
Peaceful, one volunteered.
Dependable, another said.
Show me a school where kids volunteer a list like that, and I’ll show you a bright spot on Milwaukee’s educational landscape. Which is exactly the case with this school, popularly known as HAPA.
Entering its sixth year, HAPA has a kindergarten through eighth-grade enrollment of 435, nearly twice the number when the doors first opened in 2004. That’s not counting another 60 in a partner high school, International Peace Academy, that is in its second year and just beginning to grow.
On a wall near that eighth-grade classroom, charts list the attendance each day, classroom by classroom. Most of the entries read: “100%.” Overall attendance is not only higher than the Milwaukee Public Schools average, it is higher than the state average.

No fit way to treat young athletes

Valerie Strauss:

How many concussions would you allow your child to suffer before you decided that perhaps he or she should retire from the travel soccer team?
In the past month alone, I have heard about several dozen injuries to young athletes, both on school and club teams, and I’m starting to wonder how so many families can be obsessed with sports to the point that a child’s health suffers.
I’ve actually heard parents talk about their children’s soccer concussions as if they were simple headaches: “He had another concussion last week but should be good to go soon.” I know one child who has suffered at least three breaks in his hands from high school football and baseball. His parents know there could be long-term health consequences, but that is less important, somehow, than the glory of youth sports.
There was a story in The Washington Post this month about companies that have redesigned football helmets to cut down on concussions.


Wisconsin Charter Schools Association (Video – What is a Charter School), via email [88K PDF]:

The Wisconsin Charter Schools Association (WCSA) has announced the winners of annual awards in four categories, as well as three career achievement honorees:
Charter School Person of the Year:
First Place: Dennis Conta
Second Place: Jan Bontz
Third Place: Lynne Sobczak & Kristi Cole (Milwaukee Public Schools)
Distinguished Merit: Robert Rauh (Milwaukee College Prep)
Distinguished Merit: Dr. Joe Sheehan and Ted Hamm (Sheboygan Area School District)
Charter School Teacher of the Year:
First Place: Victoria Rydberg (River Crossing Environmental Charter School, Portage)
Second Place: Erin Fuller (Carmen School of Science and Technology, Milwaukee)
Third Place: Kim Johnsen (WINGS Academy, Milwaukee)
Distinguished Merit: Darlene Machtan (Northwoods Community Secondary School, Rhinelander)
Distinguished Merit: Kirby Kohler (Rhinelander Environmental Stewardship Academy)
Charter School Innovator of the Year:
First Place: Department of Public Instruction (Project Based Learning Network)
Second Place: Danny Goldberg
Third Place: Seeds of Health Distinguished Merit: Valley New School (Appleton)
Overall Charter School of the Year: (overall winner, and 2 sub-categories within)
First Place (Platinum Award): Tenor High School (Milwaukee)

Education reform tour stops in Baltimore

Arin Gencer:

An unlikely trio explored several Baltimore schools Friday as part of an effort to highlight education reform and challenges, and called on Maryland to give charter schools more autonomy.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich repeatedly emphasized the need for changes to the state’s charter school law, which he called “too restrictive,” as he, the Rev. Al Sharpton and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan toured three city schools and spoke with students, administrators and others about their schools – and what sets them apart.
“I hope that everybody in Maryland will call the governor, will call the legislators, and will let them know that if they want every child in Baltimore to have the chance to have a quality education … they have to reform the charter school law,” Gingrich said, standing with Duncan and Sharpton at Hampstead Hill Academy, a neighborhood charter. “If you have the ability to shape resources, to shape people, to focus time on the students, you really can have a dramatic impact. But to do that, you have to have a more flexible, a more creative charter law.”

Selling Lessons Online Raises Cash and Questions

Winnie Hu:

Between Craigslist and eBay, the Internet is well established as a marketplace where one person’s trash is transformed into another’s treasure. Now, thousands of teachers are cashing in on a commodity they used to give away, selling lesson plans online for exercises as simple as M&M sorting and as sophisticated as Shakespeare.
While some of this extra money is going to buy books and classroom supplies in a time of tight budgets, the new teacher-entrepreneurs are also spending it on dinners out, mortgage payments, credit card bills, vacation travel and even home renovation, leading some school officials to raise questions over who owns material developed for public school classrooms.
“To the extent that school district resources are used, then I think it’s fair to ask whether the district should share in the proceeds,” said Robert N. Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents.
The marketplace for educational tips and tricks is too new to have generated policies or guidelines in most places. In Fairfax County, Va., officials had been studying the issue when they discovered this fall that a former football coach was selling his playbook and instructional DVDs online for $197; they investigated but let him keep selling.

Seattle’s education: credit requirements and assignments plans

Seattle Times:

Trying to fix academic problems in high school by adding more credit requirements would likely result in one thing for certain: more cost to educate, due to a need to hire more staff to teach 20 percent more classes [“Boost credits to ensure high-school grads are ready to succeed,” Opinion, guest commentary, Nov. 12].
There are many school districts in this state that already have 24-credit programs, and they aren’t preparing kids for graduation. In fact, Washington state is now 43rd in the nation in high-school completion.
Writer Trish Millines Dziko is so right when she stated we are not preparing kids for adulthood. Why? Our secondary schools, unlike those in most of the rest of the world, are more social halls than places of learning.
In a 20-credit school, you can obtain all of the credits and courses you need to gain admission to the most competitive colleges in this country.
What is needed is a much more serious, focused, deliberate approach to secondary schools by educators, parents and students.

Madison School Board Updates

via an Arlene Silveira email:

Board of Education Progress Report, November, 2009
BOE updates:
Dual Language Immersion (DLI): The Board approved the expansion of our DLI program into our 4 attendance areas at specified schools at the elementary/middle school levels. We are still studying high school models. DLI is a program where children are taught in both Spanish and English. DLI programs are currently at Nuestro Mundo and Leopold Elementary Schools. Next year our first middle school program will be at Sennett.
Cultural Relevance: The Board received an update on our Cultural Relevance initiatives. This is included in the strategic plan as a Strategic Objective in Curriculum. The District has a number of new/expanding projects in this area. Of note is a pilot created at Mendota and Falk Elementary Schools. Staff are collaborating with UW-Madison faculty for professional development in: African American language development; family involvement; black communications; classroom management; teaching from principles; culturally relevant literacy principles.
School Food Committee: This committee was formed to look at possible options for our food service operations. The district is bringing in an expert (Ann Cooper) in transitioning food service programs. Early next year she will come to Madison to look at our operations and provide a cost estimate for a feasibility study of the MMSD.
Budget: The Board approved our final budget and set the tax levy in October. Summary:

  • Total levy: $234,240,964 (3.49% increase)
  • Tax rate: $10.18 (3.77% increase)
  • Impact on $250,000 home: $92.83

Going into the meeting, the proposed tax rate was $10.40 with the impact on a $250,000 home of $147.50. Aware of the difficult economic times facing our community, the Board approved 6 budget amendments designed to decrease these numbers to the approved numbers. As part of our effort to decrease property taxes, the Board voted to freeze “non-essential” maintenance spending by deferring or foregoing $3,080,000 in maintenance referendum tax levy spending in 2009-10. By doing so, we were able to decrease the tax impact on the average home by $33.16. What does this mean for the schools? We will continue to make essential repairs using existing maintenance funds or other existing district resources. We have already spent 91% of the maintenance referendum that passed 5 years ago. We will evaluate and prioritize the remaining “non-essential” maintenance projects on the list, and will make funding decisions on an as needed basis using a different source of funding.
Lighthouse Project: The Board and Superintendent are participating in the Lighthouse Project. A study focused on behavior of school boards/superintendents in high-achieving school districts. Our participation in this project over the next 6 months will focus on the 7 conditions of school renewal: 1) Shared leadership; 2) Continuous improvement and shared decision-making; 3) Ability to create/sustain initiatives; 4) Supportive workplace for staff; 5) Staff development; 6) Support for school sites through data/information; 7) Community involvement.
H1N1 Activities: We received a presentation on the district’s H1N1 Pandemic Response Plan. The plan focused on 1) Education on H1N1; 2) Vaccination clinics; 3) Student/staff absences; 4) Supporting school operations; 5) Supporting students. An incredible amount of planning and communication went into the development of this plan and the district is now ready to deal with anything that comes our way as a result of H1N1.
If you have any questions/comments, please let us know.
Arlene Silveira (516-8981)

Should the Wisconsin school superintendent have more power?

Matthew DeFour:

n a nutshell
To seek a share of $4.5 billion in federal “Race to the Top” funding for public education, the Legislature passed a recent bill that among other things allows teachers to be evaluated, though not disciplined or fired, based on their students’ test scores.
However, to improve the state’s chances of receiving the most grant money possible, the Legislature is contemplating other changes to existing law. A bill in the Assembly to grant the state Superintendent of Public Instruction the power to take corrective action in failing schools and school districts is one such proposal.
The bill would give the state superintendent the power to implement new curriculum, expand school hours, add individual learning plans for pupils, make personnel changes and adopt accountability measures to monitor the school district’s finances.

No decision on Kansas school funding litigation

Lori Yount:

Leaders from about 60 school districts made no decision Friday about whether to sue the state over education funding.
Most of the discussion by members of the Schools for Fair Funding coalition was in a one-hour session that was closed to media and other spectators.
“They’re being very deliberate about this and taking it seriously,” said John Robb, lead attorney for the coalition.
“They want to get more folks on board.”

Paul Ciotti:

For decades critics of the public schools have been saying, “You can’t solve educational problems by throwing money at them.” The education establishment and its supporters have replied, “No one’s ever tried.” In Kansas City they did try. To improve the education of black students and encourage desegregation, a federal judge invited the Kansas City, Missouri, School District to come up with a cost-is-no-object educational plan and ordered local and state taxpayers to find the money to pay for it.
Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil–more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country. The money bought higher teachers’ salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.
The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.
The Kansas City experiment suggests that, indeed, educational problems can’t be solved by throwing money at them, that the structural problems of our current educational system are far more important than a lack of material resources, and that the focus on desegregation diverted attention from the real problem, low achievement.

James Howard Announces Run for Madison School Board

via a kind reader’s email:

Hello, my name is James Howard.
I am running for School Board because I care about the success of our children. I want our schools to be even better. I strongly believe that in order for our community to be successful we need to support “ALL THE KIDS ALL THE TIME.”
At the same, I understand the importance of maintaining fiscal responsibility to taxpayers. As an economist with over 35 years of experience I know it is critical to analyze and evaluate the economic impact of decisions.

My Priorities

  • High expectations for all students
  • Raise educational standards
  • Narrow the achievement gap
  • Base school curriculum, wellness and safety decisions on research
  • Ensure fiscal responsibility to taxpayers
  • Improve communication between teachers, parents, district administrators and the community

Press Release:

Today James Howard officially announced his candidacy for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education. Mr. Howard is a candidate for Seat 4 which is currently held by retiring Board member Johnny Winston, Jr.
“I’m announcing my candidacy with great excitement,” said Mr. Howard. “I care deeply about the success of our children. I strongly believe that in order for our community to have continued success we absolutely must support ‘ALL THE KIDS, ALL THE TIME.’ I want to work to ensure that happens.”
Mr. Howard, an economist and scientist at the Forest Products Laboratory, has been active in education and community matters for many years. He served on the MMSD Strategic Planning Committee, the East Attendance Area Demographics and Long Range Facility Needs Task Force, and was co-chair of Community and Schools Together (CAST), the school referendum support group. He has also served on the South Madison Economic Development Committee and the Town of Madison Economic Development Committee.
In making this announcement, Mr. Howard thanked Mr. Winston for his many years of dedicated public service to Madison’s children and community. “Mr. Johnny Winston, Jr. has been a leader on the board and in our Madison community. It will be a challenge for any newly elected board member to maintain the high standards that he exemplified,” said Mr. Howard.
Mr. Howard has identified as his Board priorities: ensuring high expectations for all students, raising educational standards; narrowing the achievement gap; basing school curriculum, wellness and safety decisions on research; ensuring fiscal responsibility to taxpayers; improving communication between teachers, parents, district administrators and the community; and improving state funding of public schools.
He and his wife, Kathryn, have three children. His adult daughter is a UW Madison senior studying abroad in Kenya, his son attends Sherman Middle School, and his youngest daughter attends Emerson elementary.
More information on Mr. Howard can be found at his campaign website:
For questions or comments, please contact:
James Howard
email address:
telephone number: 244-5278

Seattle Race Based School Assignment Policy Legal & Community Issues

via a kind reader’s email:

The case was brought by Seattle parents who challenged the use of race in assigning students to schools, arguing it violated the Constitution’s right of equal protection. The ruling was celebrated by those who favor color-blind policies, but criticized by civil rights groups as a further erosion of Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark 1954 case that outlawed school segregation.”
The results of this lawsuit in the Seattle Public School district are very discouraging, especially the disparity in income, race and available resources between “south end” and “north end” schools. A new school assignment plan currently being implemented for 2010-2011 will only relegate neighborhoods of color to the poorest schools in the district. The blog, while mostly dealing with “north end” problems like APP programs and such, the fact that children will be forced into neighborhood schools is dividing an already divided district. Rainier Beach High School, for instance, demographic data indicates Caucasians at less than 7% and an African American at more than 65%, a graduation rate of 37% and test scores at the bottom of the barrel.

Bracey’s last report–trashing our educational assumptions

Jay Matthews:

I got to the last page of the last icon-shattering piece Gerald W. Bracey will ever write, and felt sad and empty. As usual, he had skewered–with great erudition and insight–some of my fondest beliefs about how to improve schools. As a consequence, my thinking and writing about these issues will (I hope) be better next time. But who is going to do that for me in the future?
Jerry Bracey, the nation’s leading critic of unexamined assumptions in education, died Oct. 20 at age 69, apparently in his sleep, in his new home in beautiful Port Townsend, Wash. This was a shock to everyone who knew him because, although he had prostate cancer, it did not seem to have slowed him down.
The last person to receive one of his infamous emails questioning the ancestry and sanity of the recipient should frame the thing and put it on a wall. I don’t know anyone else in our community of education wonks who matched him in passion, honesty and wit. The 2009 edition of the Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education proves it.

The ‘Highly Qualified Teacher’ Dodge

New York Times Editorial:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been widely held in high regard since he was appointed in January, but no honeymoon lasts forever. Mr. Duncan’s came to an abrupt end earlier this week when he issued long-awaited rules that the states must follow to apply for his $4.3 billion discretionary fund, known as the Race to the Top Fund, and the second round of federal financing under the $49 billion federal stimulus package known as the state fiscal stabilization fund.
The language in the application reflects timidity at the White House and in Congress, where some voices wanted to delay the fight over this issue until next year when Congress will likely reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The language also reflects the sometimes excessive influence of boutique alternative certification programs, which want to keep doors open for teachers who might be shut out under traditional criteria.

Arne answers your questions

Jay Matthews:

I had a good chat with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan this morning at his office. He had other important duties, but I would not let him go until he addressed each and every one of the questions sent in by readers last night and this morning. (Sorry, I missed questions that came in after 8:30 a.m. I had to get going. You know what D.C. traffic is like in the rain.) Here is what he said. I think most of his answers can be summed up as “we’re handing out $4.35 billion in stimulus funds for innovation, and if we do it properly we will help solve a lot of problems.”
From mhallet1: Ask him how he is coming on national Algebra I standards.
Duncan said that was the job of the group of 48 states and the Districts working to produce common standards. He said he is following their progress with great interest, but at the moment it is a state, not a federal, project.
From nicheVC: Disclosure: I spent the first 15 years of my career as an education practitioner, the last 10 investing in and discerning how the private sector might bring innovation and efficacy to the same.

They Don’t Read!

Rob Weir:

Over the years I’ve often taught Edward Bellamy’s classic 19th century utopian novel Looking Backward. It’s a blistering critique of Gilded Age America and a creative imagining of a future in which work, social class, gender relations, and the political economy have been radically reconfigured. The novel is provocative and rich in ideas, and its premises spark great debate. What it’s not is a page-turner. Most of the book is an extended lecture interspersed with occasional questions and a contrived (and mawkish) romance. Students sometimes complain that the book is “boring.” I’ll take that — they have to have read it to render such a judgment.
Any book we assign is useful only insofar as students actually crack the cover and consume its contents. One of the biggest complaints one hears in the hallways and faculty lounges of American colleges concerns literary dieting. The professorial mantra of the 21st century is: “They just don’t read.” All manner of villains emerge to explain students’ repulsion toward reading: Internet surfing, video games, cell phone obsession, campus partying, over-caffeination, lack of intellectual curiosity…. When all else fails, professors whet their knives to slaughter tried-and-true scapegoats: television and inadequate high school preparation. Here’s a tip about why they don’t read: they never did! In previous articles I’ve noted that instructors often mistakenly assume that all students share their zest for learning. Alas, often we are but credit-accumulation obstacles that students must dodge.
There’s been no Golden Age of student reading in my lifetime — not when I was a student, a high school teacher, a community college instructor, a lecturer at an elite institution, or a prof at a state university. Move on. Think like Edward Bellamy; he was a utopian, but he was no fool. His ideal world did not rely upon people’s good natures; it was structured to remove choice from the equation. Everyone had to work — not a bad way to approach reading in your classrooms. If you want students to read, make it hard (or impossible) to avoid.

How well do kids do research today? Should they ever look at Wikipedia?

Valerie Strauss:

Parents: How extensively do your children do research for school papers? Does anyone still own encyclopedias?
Teachers: What sources and how many of them do you require when you assign a research paper? Is Wikipedia acceptable as a source?
Posted by: jane100000
Adam, some would say (and I would agree) that neither conducting an on-line search nor consulting an encyclopedia counts as doing a research paper. Google and wikipedia can give a student a great start in gaining some grasp of the issues s/he is planning to address in a paper, but only reading entire chapters (or entire books) and being able to consult journal articles can get you even close to confidence that you’re not missing the boat.

Doyle’s education reform plans could be held back in Senate

Erin Richards:

On the same day the federal government flicked a green light for states to apply for $4 billion in competitive education reform grants, the fate of two of Gov. Jim Doyle’s key initiatives remained uncertain.
The U.S. Department of Education finalized the application Thursday for the Race to the Top program and the criteria it will use to assess reform efforts from states, especially in the areas of standards and assessments, data systems, recruiting and rewarding good teachers and principals, and turning around low-performing schools.
Two reform proposals that Doyle says are crucial for Wisconsin to compete for funding – giving Milwaukee’s mayor the power to hire and fire the superintendent, and giving the state superintendent of public instruction more power to intervene in persistently poor-performing schools – are struggling to gain traction in the Legislature.
Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker (D-Weston) said Thursday that he believes the state can receive Race to the Top money without changing the governance of MPS and giving more power to the state schools chief. He expressed skepticism about the plan for mayoral control.
“This process needs to have community buy-in,” Decker said in a news conference in his Capitol office. “This is a big takeover. . . . A lot of us are apprehensive at this point of just slam-dunking anything.”
As for the state superintendent’s powers, Decker said he was reluctant to give a statewide elected official that much authority to intervene in a local school district.

Are Too Many Students Going to College?

Sandy Baum, Bryan Caplan, W. Norton Grubb, Charles Murray, Marty Nemko,Richard K. Vedder, Marcus A. Winters, Alison Wolf and Daniel Yankelovich:

With student debt rising and more of those enrolled failing to graduate in four years, there is a growing sentiment that college may not be the best option for all students. At the same time, President Obama has called on every American to receive at least one year of higher education or vocational training. Behind the rhetoric lies disagreement over a series of issues: which students are most likely to succeed in college; what kind of college they should attend; whether the individual or society benefits more from postsecondary education; and whether college is worth the high cost and likely long-term debt. The Chronicle Review asked higher-education experts to weigh in.
Who should and shouldn’t go to college?
Alison Wolf: Anyone who meets the entry criteria and is willing to pay the fees should be able to go. In one sense, that just passes the buck–politicians then have to decide how much subsidy they are willing to provide. But it shouldn’t be up to them to decide how many people go, what they study, and why.
Charles Murray: It has been empirically demonstrated that doing well (B average or better) in a traditional college major in the arts and sciences requires levels of linguistic and logical/mathematical ability that only 10 to 15 percent of the nation’s youth possess. That doesn’t mean that only 10 to 15 percent should get more than a high-school education. It does mean that the four-year residential program leading to a B.A. is the wrong model for a large majority of young people.

Sidwell Friends deals with dark side of limelight

Michael Birnbaum:

Its parent-teacher conferences made the evening news. So did cases of swine flu. And Sidwell Friends School has recently been the target of a few small protests that seem aimed at prominent parents, not students.
The school, long a favorite of Washington’s leading families, is no stranger to presidential children. But in the months since Barack and Michelle Obama decided to send their daughters there, Sidwell has been pulled into the spotlight of a distinctly 21st-century culture — one that is increasingly celebrity-obsessed and often shockingly unmannered.
Educators and others at Sidwell have portrayed this as what their most famous parent might call a “teachable moment.”
When five anti-Obama, anti-gay protesters appeared in front of the school’s Wisconsin Avenue NW entrance Monday morning, they were met by 150 Sidwell students waving signs ranging from “There is that of God in Everyone” to “I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It.”

Virtual charter school enrollment 1,615 students under cap, Wisconsin says

Amy Hetzner:

The number of students who used open enrollment to attend the state’s virtual charter schools this fall fell well short of the cap set last year by the state Legislature, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
In the end, only 3,635 students enrolled in virtual charter schools for the 2009-’10 by using the state’s public school choice system, the DPI says. That’s 3,000 fewer than initially applied and 1,615 under the cap enacted as part of a legislation in response to a court ruling that threatened the schools’ existence.

School Board member Johnny Winston, Jr. not seeking a third term on Madison BOE

via a Johnny Winston, Jr. email:

Dear Friends:
This message is to inform you that I will not be seeking re-election for a third term on the Madison School Board, Seat #4.
For six years, it has been my honor to serve our community as an elected member of the Madison Board of Education. Thank you for your confidence in electing me in 2004 and 2007.
During my tenure on the board, I had the pleasure of serving as the President, Vice President, Treasurer and Clerk. I also served on many committees including Long Range Planning, Partnerships, Finance and Operations and currently Student Achievement and Performance Monitoring. Serving in these roles and on these committees gave me a well rounded outlook on the district and helped shape a collective vision that assisted me in my decision making.
In addition to serving within the capacities of the school board, I was able to reach out to our community and listen to their views. With your help, we were able to build a new school to alleviate overcrowding, develop strong partnerships and complete many district maintenance projects. Lastly, being elected to the school board afforded me the opportunity to listen to parents, students and community members and assist them in identifying an appropriate district staff member or service that would help meet their needs.
Despite less than desirable financial constraints, I believe the MMSD’s future is brighter because of the development of a 4 year old kindergarten program, implementation of the district’s new strategic plan and school board members that work in collaboration with each other, the superintendent, the district staff, and its stakeholders. I thank all of my school board colleagues both current and former, for their knowledge, skills and their service.
Although, I leave the Madison School Board, I will continue to be actively involved in our community as a member of organizations such as the 100 Black Men of Madison’s Backpacks for Success event, Sable Flames, Inc. Scholarship Committee and other community groups that help make Madison a better place to live for everyone. I am also the proud parent of a current kindergartener so I will continue to be a proud supporter of the Madison Metropolitan School District and public education for many years to come.
Again, thank you for giving me the honor of serving our community.
Johnny Winston, Jr.

Wisconsin Education reform package produces odd alliances

Susan Troller:

To even be eligible for the funds, however, Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan had said that Wisconsin would have to repeal its “firewall” law that banned the use of student scores in teacher evaluations.
In his remarks, Obama acknowledged that eliminating the law was controversial in some places but said it was a necessary first step toward bringing a new accountability to classrooms, especially with struggling students.
Normally, that would be a message the Wisconsin Association of School Boards would be eager to hear. But instead, the so-called firewall reform bill passed by the Legislature is a failure in the group’s eyes because it doesn’t allow school districts to use student test scores to discipline or dismiss a teacher whose performance doesn’t measure up.
“While the wording of the legislation might meet the letter of the law, we don’t think it really addresses its spirit,” says Dan Rossmiller, a spokesman for the school boards association.
And because the new law requires collective bargaining over any teacher evaluation plan that includes student test scores, Rossmiller says the school boards association believes the requirement would make the process too unwieldy. “We think it will make it harder to use test scores to evaluate teacher effectiveness, not easier,” he adds. “For that reason, I don’t think we’ll be recommending that school districts try to develop evaluation plans for teachers that include using test scores.”
But Mary Bell, president of WEAC, says the new firewall reform law’s most important purpose is to improve teacher effectiveness and that a focus on using data in a punitive way misses the point.

Classic legislative sausage making.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Wisconsin budget rated in worst 10

Tom Held:

Wisconsin residents should brace for more tax increases and service cuts, based on an analysis that rated the state’s budget predicament among the 10 worst in the country.
The rise in unemployment and a steep drop in revenues from 2008 to 2009 suggest a dire future for a state that has struggled to fill perennial budget shortfalls, according to the Pew Center on the States and its report, “Beyond California: States in Fiscal Peril.
The top-10 ranking puts Wisconsin in a dubious group with California, a state that issued IOUs to contractors earlier this year. Wisconsin is ranked ninth-worst, tied with Illinois.
“A challenging mix of economic, political and money-management factors have pushed California to the brink of insolvency,” said Susan Urahn, managing director of the Pew Center on the States. “But while California often takes the spotlight, other states are facing hardships just as daunting.”
States will slow the country’s climb out of the recession if they turn to tax increases or drastic spending cuts to balance their budgets, Urahn said. At a minimum, the shortfalls will lead to more furloughs of state workers, higher college tuition fees and less support for social services.

Teaching at universities: A sense of entitlement

The Economist:

A COMIC novel, “Lucky Jim”, published by Kingsley Amis in 1954, portrayed life as a university lecturer as a grubby, tiresome slog, for all that it was shot through with humour. A somewhat drier study of university life has now found that academics no longer devote as much time to teaching as they did because of the bureaucratic burdens they are now forced to carry.
The study, by Malcolm Tight of Lancaster University, examined surveys of academic workloads since 1945. He found that university staff have worked long hours, typically 50 hours a week, since the late 1960s. Academics fiercely protect the time they spend on research. They also do more administrative work than in the past. As a result, he concludes, “the balance of the average academic’s workload has changed in an undesirable way… [making] it more difficult to pay as much attention to teaching as most academics would like to do.”
The finding suggests that new ideas for promoting better university teaching may be addressing only half the problem. On November 3rd Peter Mandelson, the business secretary, whose department’s wide remit includes universities, came up with a series of proposals for modernising them. He wants English universities to compete for students by publishing information on a whole host of issues, including how much direct contact they can expect to have with academic staff.

Harlem Children’s Zone Could Close Education Gap


We’ve blogged several times about Roland Fryer‘s research on education and the black-white achievement gap. Now Fryer thinks he has identified one system that successfully closes the gap. His new working paper, with co-author Will Dobbie, analyzes both the high-quality charter schools and the comprehensive community programs of the Harlem Children’s Zone (which was chronicled in Paul Tough‘s excellent book Whatever It Takes), with hopeful results: “Harlem Children’s Zone is enormously effective at increasing the achievement of the poorest minority children. Taken at face value, the effects in middle school are enough to reverse the black-white achievement gap in mathematics and reduce it in English Language Arts. The effects in elementary school close the racial achievement gap in both subjects.” Fryer and Dobbie attribute the program’s success to the high-quality schools or the combination of high-quality schools and community programs but find that community investments alone cannot close the gap. “The HCZ model demonstrates”, the authors conclude, “that the right cocktail of investments can be successful.”

At N.J. school, Governor-Elect Christie’s remarks political, personal

Adrienne Lu & Jonathan Tamari:

Gov.-elect Christopher J. Christie reiterated many of the themes of his campaign in an appearance at a suburban New Jersey high school yesterday, and offered glimpses of his personal life at the end of the campaign trail.
Christie told a crowd of hundreds of students at Steinert High School in Hamilton, Mercer County, that his priorities were cutting taxes and government spending.
Asked by a student how he defeated Gov. Corzine – who had the advantages of wealth and the support of national Democrats, including President Obama – Christie said, “I have absolutely no idea.”
Christie, who was joined by Lt. Gov.-elect Kim Guadagno and a handful of state lawmakers from the region, told students he wanted them to be able to afford to build lives in New Jersey as they grow older. Christie has four children, the eldest a teenager who now asks to be dropped off behind school so the new security detail following the family does not draw too much attention.
In a meeting with reporters after the event, Christie promised tough negotiations with labor unions representing teachers and state workers. He said the New Jersey Education Association, which represents teachers and opposes many of the urban education ideas he has backed, “has been a strong advocate for the status quo.”
“They need to get realistic about the fact that change is coming,” Christie said.
In dealing with state workers, Christie said he would be fair, but added, pointedly, “I’m not going to be a pushover, and that’s going to be a change.”
When negotiating with state workers’ unions, Christie said, he and Guadagno “are there to represent the taxpayers.”
Corzine was often criticized as being too close to unions.

The hard road of Michelle Rhee’s CFOs

Bill Turque:

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi named a new interim school system CFO Tuesday. Noel Bravo, a former senior budget adviser to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, replaces Noah Wepman, who resigned or was fired, depending on who you ask.
Bravo is walking into what has become one of District government’s most punishing posts. Wepman’s departure marks the second time on Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s watch that the school system’s top fiscal officer has left in the wake of questions about the transparency of the agency’s budget process.
Wepman and his predecessor, Pamela Graham, took different paths to the exit sign. But both ultimately discovered that trying to keep the numbers straight under Rhee’s high-velocity attempt at transformation can be dangerous to your career health.
Part of the peril is structural. A congressional directive from the financial control board era gives the District’s independent chief financial officer, not the head of the school system, power over spending. The set up put Wepman and Graham in a difficult position from the start: answering to Gandhi but facing enormous pressure to say “yes” to a chancellor given virtual carte blanche by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to fix the schools.

Blast ‘eyeQ’ with Science

Daniel Willingham:

Every week or two I get an email from a teacher, parent, or school board member seeking my opinion about a curriculum or product. I’m not a product reviewer, so until now I’ve declined. But some of the products seem so ill-conceived that I thought it was worth writing about them. So I’m starting an occasional series on this blog called “Hall of Shame” in which I’ll feature educational products that are unsupported or contradicted by scientific evidence, and yet are actually in use in schools.
eyeQ is a computer program currently being tested in Salt Lake City Schools which the makers describe as “an effective tool for Brain Enhancement, Reading Improvement, and Vision Therapy or Eye Training.” Near-sighted users are promised that they likely will see an improvement in their vision. Improvements in reading speed of 100% in less than one month are described as typical.
You can try the first lesson free at the website. You are encouraged to read at different paces (some that are clearly meant to be faster than you could possibly read), to follow a moving object as it appears and disappears at different spots on the screen, and to visualize an object expanding, guided by an oval that increases in size.

Duncan’s raison d’etre for reform

Elizabeth Brown:

Humans are fallible and have a tendency to repeat past failures. Education is no exception. The pendulum of reform has had its swing back and forth over the decades with minimal progress. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is taking the bull by the horns, purporting that the very teachers, who have entrusted him as their chief, are not to be trusted to do the proper job without close supervision, re-training, and additional monetary rewards. He calls for scrutiny, an uphauling of current educational institutions by employing a trace back system that will mark the culprit, the raison d’etre for the failure of our children.
Duncan’s tough, paternal scolding sends a clear message: teachers beware.
Revolutionary or some of the same? The 4.35 billion Race to the Top reform resonates a familiar cadence, the mantra of the Bush administration and No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the gotcha mentality that fails to consider a teacher’s moral intentions, or the common good. Certainly, within education, there exists a few bad apples, as in any profession. Yet, the majority of teachers choose the field of teaching for the intrinsic rewards rather than the monetary rewards.
Our failing schools reflect , more likely, a society gone amuck, an evolution of insidious issues that have seeped into the classroom, rather than inept teachers.Yet, Duncan argues that it is the teachers that are ill prepared and failing our students.
Critics who agree, suspected soft bigotry, low expectations, or inept teachers, are coming out in droves and applauding Duncan’s reform as brilliant. Ruben Navarrette, in his article entitled “An Apple for the Secretary” (San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/28/09), argues that the “trace back” method is “groundbreaking stuff” and will finally flesh out the culprits. He points to Louisiana, currently using the trace back theory: students in grades 4-9 with low scores are traced back to teachers and the teachers are then traced back to the institutions that trained them. The state then provides the institution with information and “urges schools to improve.”

True school performance levels at last

Adelaide Now:

BY promising basic information on the performance of our schools, Education Minister, Julia Gillard has landed a blow for common sense and for parents.
For too long, the argument about whether national testing on literacy and numeracy should even be done, let alone published, has been deadlocked.
Education experts, state education departments, teachers and their professional bodies, have long resisted the move arguing that such comparisons were worse than meaningless, they would be misleading.
The argument went that there were many more elements to the education of a young person than simply teaching he or she to read, write, and add up – the so called three “Rs”. But while this argument may be true, it has never been a convincing argument against gathering good information on those things that can be measured well, and then providing it freely.
Acknowledging the “whole person” objective of school education, Ms Gillard says a fundamental prerequisite to becoming a productive community member is basic literacy and numeracy.

India education faces overhaul

Amy Kazmin:

ndia’s Congress-led government is undertaking a radical overhaul of the country’s higher education system that will include legislation allowing foreign universities to operate in the country, the human resource development minister said on Monday.
Kapil Sibal, one of the most energetic reformers in the cabinet assembled after May’s parliamentary election, said the administration intends to establish a new legal framework to unshackle India’s universities, currently controlled by a huge, rigid and highly centralised bureaucracy in New Delhi.
“World class institutions can’t be built overnight, but that doesn’t mean we can’t lay the foundations for world class universities over the next five to 10 years,” Mr Sibal told executives at the Indian Economic Forum. “We have no time. This should have happened 15 years ago.”
Mr Sibal said the government plans to introduce the foreign education bill, which would open the higher education sector to foreign participation, in the upcoming parliament session.

Congress should make sure children are protected from food-borne illnesses

Las Vegas Sun Editorial:

The chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee wants an investigation into the safety of school lunches. Judging by what the nation has seen with E. coli outbreaks and other food scares, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., has good reason to be concerned that potentially fatal contaminants could be served up in school cafeterias.
A recent report to Congress found that the Agriculture Department’s Food and Nutrition Service, which provides up to 20 percent of the food served in the nation’s schools, doesn’t always provide the schools with timely recall notices. That increases the risk of contaminated food making its way onto children’s plates.
Miller notes that schools receive food from other sources and points to the recent E. coli outbreak from a meat packing plant in New York. None of the 500,000 pounds went to schools, but the contaminated meat — which caused two deaths and sickened 16 others — highlights another problem. The federal schools program mandates that all its beef be tested for E. coli. However, the meat that schools receive from other sources is not required to undergo E. coli testing.

Community Forum to Introduce the New MMSD “Talented and Gifted” Education Plan

The MMSD is hosting a community forum to introduce the District’s new “Talented and Gifted” (TAG) Education Plan.
Tuesday, November 17
6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Hamilton Middle School LMC (4801 Waukesha Street)
Superintendent Nerad, Teaching and Learning Director Lisa Wachtel, Interim TAG Coordinator Barbie Klawikowski, and MMSD TAG staff will be there. The focus of the forum will be to provide an overview of the new Plan and its implementation, as well as an opportunity for discussion.
All are welcome! Parents and guardians of K-12 students who are concerned that their children are not being adequately challenged are especially encouraged to attend.
Link to MMSD Talented and Gifted Division homepage (includes a link to the new TAG Plan):
Link to parent-written and other supporting documents (see especially “Background and Rationale for the TAG Plan” and “Letter from Parents to the BOE in Support of the Plan”):

Infographic of the Day: Does Adding Teachers Improve Education?

Cliff Kuang:

Politicians seem to have temporary set aside the debate about improving our schools, but you can bet that when the issue rises again, one solution will be raised, over and over: Improving student/teacher ratios–that is, hiring more teachers. But is it really a silver bullet for increasing results? What sort of results can we expect?
The graph above offers a few clues–but unraveling them takes a bit of explanation. The crucial point being: Adding teachers might improve student performance relative to past results, but it’s a weak lever for effecting aggregate improvements.
So, let’s dig into the graph. Each of the lines–colored in blue or green–represents data from a single state. To the left is that state’s student/teacher ratio; to the right is that state’s average SAT score.
The graph looks sort of confusing at first, but it actually does a pretty good job at showing that student/teacher ratios and SAT scores aren’t closely related. If they were highly correlated, you’d expect to see lines with slopes all at a 45-degree angle (whether sloping up or down). But as you can see, they’re actually a tangle. The states with the highest SAT achievement have relatively low student/teacher ratios–but those ratios alone don’t account for their performance, since plenty of other states have similar ratios but don’t score nearly as well.

Deal struck between Palo Alto school district and employee unions

Diana Samuels:

The Palo Alto Unified School District would spend an extra $740 on benefits for each of its employees under proposed contracts the school board is to review tonight.
The proposed 2009-2013 contracts do not give raises beyond scheduled “step-and-ladder” annual increases, and aim to lessen the impact of a $1.3 million rise in health care costs through such measures as increasing co-pays for doctor’s visits and giving retirees incentives to opt out of the district’s health care coverage.
Without those cuts, the district would have to contribute “significantly higher” amounts for benefits, said Scott Bowers, assistant superintendent for human resources.


Will a longer school day help close the achievement gap?

Amanda Paulson:

A longer school day can help improve student test scores, closing the achievement gap. But critics question the cost of those additional hours.
Going to school from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. may sound like a student’s nightmare, but Sydney Shaw, a seventh-grader at the Alain Locke Charter Academy on Chicago’s West Side, has come to like it – as well as the extra 20 or so days that she’s in class a year.
“I’m sure every kid at this school says bad things about the schedule sometimes,” says Sydney, who was at school on Columbus Day, when most Chicago schools had a holiday. “But deep down, we all know it’s for our benefit.”
Finding ways to give kids more classroom time, through longer hours, a longer school year, or both, is getting more attention. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan support a lengthier timetable. Many education reformers agree that more time at school is a key step.
Charter schools like Alain Locke and KIPP schools (a network of some 80 schools that are often lauded for their success with at-risk students) have made big gains in closing gaps in student achievement, partly through expanded schedules. Other schools have been making strides, too – notably in Massachusetts and in the New Orleans system.

Universities are not there to spoon-feed

AC Grayling:

Peter Mandelson wants more contact hours in higher education, but this would reduce students’ ability to think for themselves
Both the National Union of Students and Lord Mandelson, whose ministerial brief includes higher education, are making an issue of the number of “contact hours” between faculty and students, especially in the arts and humanities. It appears that Lord Mandelson wishes universities to market themselves along the lines of commercial organisations, now that students have to pay more out of their own pockets for their education. Accordingly, he wishes universities to compete with each other, among other things, over the amount of time they offer students.
The assumption that lies behind the contact hours issue is a deeply mistaken one. It is that universities are a simple extension of school, and that as at school, students should be given as much attention as possible. This misunderstanding is astonishing coming from Peter Mandelson, who read PPE at Oxford, though comprehensible enough among students first encountering a much more independent working style than they had while being prepared for the endless hoop-jumping at school. But before the unthinking campaign over contact hours gets out of hand, both the nature of a university education in the arts and humanities, and the role of faculty at universities, should be re-clarified.

Portland Teachers Overpower School Board Meeting

Beth Slovic:

Several hundred Portland Public Schools teachers gathered outside Monday night’s school board meeting to protest contract talks that have dragged on since before June 2008, when the teachers’ contract expired.
Their chanting outside delayed the meeting’s start time — then threatened to overpower the opening minutes. As school board chairwoman Trudy Sargent pounded the gavel to start the meeting around 7:15 pm, hundreds of teachers who had poured into the room shouted her down. “We are P-A-T” — the Portland Association of Teachers union — they cheered.
Union president Rebecca Levison was then given a few minutes to address the board. She said teachers didn’t feel respected by the district, which is asking teachers to take five furlough days and a retroactive cost-of-living increase only in the first year of the two-year contract. (All PPS employees are being asked to take five furlough days to help cover a statewide budget shortfall, but other labor groups already got their COLA.) Levison also mentioned WW’s story from two weeks ago about the surplus sale that got rid of school supplies. She cited the story as an example of PPS not looking out for teachers.
The two speakers who followed Levison were the human equivalents of one-two punches. Curtis Wilson, a second grade teacher at Sitton K-8 School, used to be a PPS custodian until he and all of his coworkers were outsourced in a move later found to be illegal. After he was let go in 2002, he returned to school to become a teacher. This year, he said, he “began to doubt the choice.”

Related: Madison School District & Madison Teachers Union Reach Tentative Agreement: 3.93% Increase Year 1, 3.99% Year 2; Base Rate $33,242 Year 1, $33,575 Year 2: Requires 50% MTI 4K Members and will “Review the content and frequency of report cards”.

Pittsburgh’s mayor says he’ll pursue 1 percent higher-ed tax

Rich Lord:

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl plans to propose a 1 percent college-education privilege tax to council today, in a move that’s likely to set off a fight with the city’s schools of higher learning.

College and university representatives met with the mayor on Wednesday and argued against the tax, which would be assessed on a college student’s tuition. It technically would not be a levy on the students or their schools, but rather on the privilege of getting a higher education in Pittsburgh.

“They weren’t pleased to hear that this was an option we were pursuing,” Mr. Ravenstahl said. But he said he is ready for “a fight, or a battle, if you will,” if that’s what it takes to plug a $15 million gap in his 2010 budget and help the struggling Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

“We don’t believe that [1 percent] is too burdensome on college students,” Mr. Ravenstahl said. “The city taxpayers are paying for the services that are provided to those college students,” including police, building inspection and fire service, he said. “The students have a role to play.”

Judge’s ruling allows autism helper dog in class


A first-grader in central Illinois gets to keep his autism helper dog in school, a Douglas County judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge Chris Freese sided with the family of
Kaleb Drew, who argued that the boy’s yellow Labrador retriever is a service animal allowed in schools under Illinois law. They say the dog is similar to a seeing-eye dog for the blind and is trained to help Kaleb deal with his disabilities, keeping him safe and calm in class.
The Villa Grove school district had opposed the dog’s presence and argued that it isn’t a true service animal.
The case and a separate lawsuit involving an autistic boy in southwestern Illinois are the first challenges to an Illinois law allowing service animals in schools.
Authorities in both school districts have said that the needs of the autistic boys must be balanced against other children who have allergies or fear the animals.
Kaleb Drew’s dog, Chewey, has accompanied him to school since August under court order, pending the judge’s final ruling Tuesday on the family’s lawsuit against the school district.
Similar lawsuits have been filed on behalf of autistic children in other states, including California and Pennsylvania.

A Look at the University of Wisconsin’s Value Added Research Center:

Todd Finkelmeyer:

Rob Meyer can’t help but get excited when he hears President Barack Obama talking about the need for states to start measuring whether their teachers, schools and districts are doing enough to help students succeed.
“What he’s talking about is what we are doing,” says Meyer, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Value-Added Research Center.
If states hope to secure a piece of Obama’s $4.35 billion “Race to the Top” stimulus money, they’ll have to commit to using research data to evaluate student progress and the effectiveness of teachers, schools and districts.
Crunching numbers and producing statistical models that measure these things is what Meyer and his staff of 50 educators, researchers and various stakeholders do at the Value-Added Research Center, which was founded in 2004. These so-called “value-added” models of evaluation are designed to measure the contributions teachers and schools make to student academic growth. This method not only looks at standardized test results, but also uses statistical models to take into account a range of factors that might affect scores – including a student’s race, English language ability, family income and parental education level.
“What the value-added model is designed to do is measure the effect and contribution of the educational unit on a student, whether it’s a classroom, a team of teachers, a school or a program,” says Meyer. Most other evaluation systems currently in use simply hold schools accountable for how many students at a single point in time are rated proficient on state tests.

Much more on “value added assessment” here, along with the oft-criticized WKCE test, the soft foundation of much of this local work.

Join the Fall Madison West High Drama Club Production of “The Miracle Worker” at 7:30 on November 6, 7, 13 and 14.

via a kind reader’s email:

Purchase your tickets in advance online to ease congestion at the box office on show nights. Tickets will also be available at the box office while they last..($10/adult, $5/student)
Ticket Website:
Director Holly Walker and Stage Manager Catherine Althaus have created a fantastic production. Immortalized on stage and screen by Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, this classic tells the story of Annie Sullivan and her student, blind and mute Helen Keller. The Miracle Worker dramatizes the volatile relationship between the lonely teacher and her charge. Helen, trapped in her secret world, is violent, spoiled and almost subhuman–and treated as such by her family. Only Annie realizes that there is a mind and spirit waiting to be rescued from the dark tortured silence. Following scenes of intense physical and emotional dynamism, Annie’s success with Helen finally comes with the utterance of a single word: “water”.
The Cast: David Aeschlimann (doctor), Eleana Bastian (Aunt Ev), Andrea DeVriendt (Little Annie), Kevin Erdman (Keller), Sam Gee (Jimmie), Emma Geer (Helen), Denzel Irby (Percy), Simon Henriques (Anagnos), Sarah Maslin(Annie), James Romney (James), Sasha Sigel (Kate), Bayaan Thomas (Viney), and Claire Wegert(Martha); plus Sam Barrows, Khadijah Bishop, Allison Burdick-Evenson, Heather Chun, Sophia Connelly, Molly Czech, Ryan Eykholt, Ellen Ferencek, Henry Fuguitt, Maddie Gibson, Erendira Giron-Cruz, Maddie Hoeppner, Emily Hou, Janie Killips, Elena Livorni, Marianne Oeygard, Frankie Pobar-Lay, Ari Pollack, Kaivahn Sarkaratpour, and Laura Young.
The Crew Heads: Sound: Bryna Godar, Sasha Sigel, Sam Factor, David Aeschlimann Lighting: Catherine Althaus, Zander Steichen Stage: Laura Young, Lindsey Conklin Costumes: Heather Chun, Leah Garner Administrative: Charmaine Branch, Nina Pressman, Thalia Skaleris Props: Jenny Apfelbach, Jamie Kolden Makeup: Margie Ostby
Cookies, Candy, Water and Fan-Grams will be for sale! Proceeds go to Friends of Madison West High Drama.

An Alabama High School Makes Literacy a Schoolwide Job
An Alabama school that is seen as a national model shows how to teach reading and writing in every subject.

[and the wordless picture books have been a big hit, too!!…Will Fitzhugh]
“The staff cobbled together an approach that incorporates methods and materials used with younger children, such as art projects and wordless picture books, into high-school-level instruction. The idea is to use engaging activities and easy-to-access materials as door-openers to more complex subject matter.
The result is a high school that ‘looks more like an elementary school,’ Mr. Ledbetter said, because teachers find that letting students sketch, cut out, or fold their ideas seems to work well.”

Catherine Gewertz:

The sheep’s-brain dissections are going rather well. Scalpels in hand, high school students are slicing away at the preserved organs and buzzing about what they find. It’s obvious that this lesson has riveted their interest. What’s not so obvious is that it has been as much about literacy as about science.
In preparing for her class in human anatomy and physiology to perform the dissections, Karen Stewart had the students read articles on the brain’s structure and use computer-presentation software to share what they learned. She used “guided notetaking” strategies, explicitly teaching the teenagers how to read the materials and take notes on key scientific concepts. She reinforced those ideas with more articles chosen to grab their interest, such as one on how chocolate affects the brain.
The class also watched and discussed a recent episode of the hit television show “Grey’s Anatomy,” about a patient with an injury to one side of the brain. The students’ work is graded not just on their grasp of the science, but also on the quality of their research and writing about it.
Ms. Stewart isn’t the only teacher who weaves literacy instruction into classes here at Buckhorn High School. It pops up on every corridor. A teacher of Spanish shows his students a self-portrait of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo and asks what cues it conveys about her culture. A physical education teacher brings his class to the school library to study body mass. And a mathematics teacher burrows into the Latin roots of that discipline’s vocabulary to help students see their related meanings, and uses “concept maps”–visual depictions of ideas–to help them grasp an idea’s steps or parts.
Literacy is shot through everything at this 1,350-student Alabama school in a former cotton field 10 miles south of the Tennessee state line. It’s been an obsession for a decade, ever since school leaders tested their students and found that one-third of the entering freshmen were reading at or below the 7th grade level, many at the 4th or 5th grade level.
“Those numbers completely changed my professional life,” said Sarah Fanning, who oversees curriculum and instruction at Buckhorn High. “I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. Each of those numbers had a face, and that face went to bed with me at night.”
‘Relentless From the Beginning’
The Buckhorn staff immersed itself in figuring out how to improve student learning by boosting literacy skills in all subjects, something few high schools do now, and even fewer were doing then. That work has made the school a national model. Hosting visitors and making presentations–including at a White House conference in 2006–have become routine parts of its staff members’ schedules.
Adolescent-literacy work such as that at Buckhorn High is taking on a rising profile nationally, as educators search for ways to improve student achievement. Increasingly, scholars urge teachers to abandon the “inoculation” model of literacy, which holds that K-3 students “learn to read,” and older students “read to learn.” Older students are in dire need of sophisticated reading and writing instruction tailored to each discipline, those scholars say, and without it, they risk being unable to access more-complex material. The Carnegie Corporation of New York recently released a report urging that adolescent literacy become a national priority. (“Literacy Woes Put in Focus,” Sept. 23, 2009.)
Selected literacy resources at Buckhorn High School:
Professional Reading
Reading Reminders, Jim Burke
Deeper Reading, Kelly Gallagher
Content Area Reading, Richard R. Vacca and Jo Anne L. Vacca
I Read It, But I Don’t Get It, Cris Tovani
Do I Really Have to Teach Reading? Cris Tovani
Wordless Picture Books
Anno’s Journey, Mitsumasa Anno
Free Fall, David Wiesner
Tuesday, David Wiesner
Freight Train, Donald Crews
Zoom, Istvan Banyai

Content-Area Picture Books and Graphic Novels
Chester Comix series, Bentley Boyd
Just Plain Fancy, Patricia Polacco
Harlem, Walter Dean Myers
The Greedy Triangle, Marilyn Burns
High-Interest, Easy-to-Understand Books for Adolescents
A Child Called “It,” Dave Pelzer
Hole in My Life, Jack Gantos
Crank, Ellen Hopkins
Burned, Ellen Hopkins
The “Twilight Saga” collection, Stephenie Meyer
The “Soundings” and “Currents” series, Orca Publishing
The Bluford High series, Townsend Press
Source: Buckhorn High School

Continue reading An Alabama High School Makes Literacy a Schoolwide Job
An Alabama school that is seen as a national model shows how to teach reading and writing in every subject.

Forget about rating teachers—rate schools instead.

Jay Matthews:

Those unfortunate people in the District may worry about the quality of their teachers, and wait anxiously for the results of the school system’s controversial new evaluation of classroom techniques and test score improvement. But those of us in the Washington area suburbs don’t have to worry because we already know that close to 100 percent of our teachers are entirely satisfactory. How? Our school districts say so.
I asked suburban school officials to share the latest results from their teacher evaluations, which are usually done by principals and subject specialists. Here are the percentages of teachers rated satisfactory, in some cases called meeting or exceeding the standard: Alexandria 99 percent, Calvert 99.8 percent, Charles 98.4 percent, Culpeper 97 percent, Fairfax 99.1 percent, Falls Church 99.55 percent, Loudoun 99 percent, Montgomery 95 percent, Prince George’s 95.56 percent, and Prince William 98.3 percent.
Anne Arundel, Arlington, Fauquier and Howard, and Manassas City say they don’t collect such data. Carroll says it is doing it for the first time and hasn’t finished yet.
Those numbers in the high 90s sound good, but they don’t impress some advocates of better teaching. Near perfect teacher evaluation passing rates are common throughout the country.
One reason why D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has launched her complex IMPACT evaluation of the District’s teachers is that the research and training organization she founded, the New Teacher Project, is a sworn enemy of those standard evaluation systems. Since teacher ratings in most districts are as discerning as peewee soccer award night, with everyone getting a trophy, why bother?

Parental anxiety is ruining playtime

Valerie Strauss:

It is well known that many preschool parents have become super-anxious trying to give their kids a leg up on kindergarten, but I didn’t realize just how nutty things had become until I talked to several dozen preschool program directors.
What child development experts know is that youngsters best learn the fundamentals of literacy through well-designed play. But lots of parents don’t understand that. Here is what’s going on in the preschool world of the greater Washington region and, I have no doubt, in other places across the country as well.
Parents are:

Bill stirs debate on religion, school

Jay Lindsay:

proposal before Massachusetts lawmakers aimed at protecting students who voice religious views at public schools is being assailed by advocates of separation of church and state, who say it forces religion on people.
Critics also argue it would open a backdoor for teaching creationism.
But the bill’s sponsors say opponents are misreading the measure. They say it would simply ensure the existing free speech rights of religious students that are sometimes neglected at schools around the country. “What we’re trying to do with this bill is create an even playing field,” said Evelyn Reilly of the Massachusetts Family Institute, which wrote the bill.
The bill has bipartisan backing and is pending before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education.

Press Release: Wisconsin Governor Doyle Signs Education “Reform” Laws

Governor Doyle’s Office [PDF]:

Governor Jim Doyle today signed into law Senate Bills 370, 371, 372 and 373, which take the first steps toward reforming education in Wisconsin and ensuring every student has a chance to succeed. Governor Doyle signed the laws at Wright Middle School just days after President Obama visited the school to call for states to make significant education reform. The bills take important steps to align Wisconsin with federal education reform goals laid out by the President and position Wisconsin to compete for Race to the Top funds.
“I want to thank state legislative leaders for acting swiftly to take these critical first steps toward major education reform,” Governor Doyle said. “We are really proud of our state’s great schools but we know we have to step it up and strive to reach the highest levels. We must continue moving forward reforms that put our students first and answer President Obama’s challenge to race to the top.”
The Governor will continue to work closely with the Legislature to move forward reform efforts to create clear lines of accountability at Milwaukee Public Schools, strengthen the State Superintendent’s ability to turn around struggling schools and raise math and science standards so every student can compete in the global economy.

Wisconsin Governor Doyle’s “Race to the Top” Press Conference Today @ Madison’s Wright Middle School

Via a kind reader’s email. It will be interesting to see the intended and unintended consequences of the recently passed (47-46 in the Wisconsin Assembly) legislation. The news conference is scheduled for today @ 12:45p.m. at Madison’s Wright Middle School.
A reader mentioned that the Madison School District’s budget, has, in the past been approved by the City’s “Board of Estimates“. A return to this practice has its pros and cons. However, it may actually improve financial transparency, which, in my view has declined recently. Susan Troller’s recent MMSD budget article mentions a $350M 2009/2010 budget while the District’s budget site does not include the November, 2009 budget update 1.1MB PDF, which mentions a $418,415,780 2009/2010 Budget ($412,219,577 2008/2009 and $399,835,904 in 2007/2008).
Related: Doug Newman – For Debate: Who Picks School Board?. Greg Bump covered Doyle’s most recent press conference, which included a relevant discussion.

The end of false choices on schools

Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston:

When President Barack Obama spoke to education groups on the campaign trail, he said he didn’t believe in the false choices currently offered by the education debate. He didn’t believe that it was a choice between supporting unions or supporting charters. He didn’t believe it was about striving for either equity or excellence.
Instead, Obama reiterated that this moment in education is about moving beyond ideology and moving toward results. What matters is not whether a kid goes to a charter school or a district school or a magnet school; what matters is they go to a good school. What matters is not whether a child has a union teacher or a non-union teacher; what matters is that every child has an effective teacher.
The recent DPS school board elections have been miscast as a referendum on the false choice Obama sought to dispel. In the aftermath, it is important to focus on what has actually driven both Denver and Colorado’s educational improvements in recent years and how that illuminates the road ahead.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been the perfect national symbol of this clear-eyed pragmatism, with a relentless focus on results. Long before he was a Cabinet member, Duncan found himself caught in a classic version of this false choice Obama dismissed. There were two competing groups of educators that released their own set of principles to guide the Obama presidency. One group was backed by “reformers” who insisted that the system needed radical changes to make sure we recruited, retained and released educators based on merit. The other was backed by a set of “union leaders” who argued that we must attend to the out-of-school variables that impact learning, including more counseling, support services and professional development.

What’s Really up With Online Study Scholarships?

Joyce Lain:

I must have landed on an Internet marketing list, because I receive so many e-mails pitching my chances to win a scholarship to an online college. Like: “Hey, mom, apply for a full-tuition scholarship, earn your degree and have a career!” Are these scholarships for real? — B.R.
A few people will win these scholarships, but the advertised financial-aid awards are really hooks cast by companies in the lead-aggregation industry. They’re marketing ploys.
Notice that virtually all the schools offering these scholarships are for-profit colleges. Higher-education experts tell me that on average, online for-profit colleges cost three times more than online nonprofit colleges.
Here’ the inside story. Lead-generating marketers require scholarship seekers to provide their personal information on a scholarship application — in reality, a “lead form.” The marketers aggregate the forms and sell them to participating schools at a price of up to $100 per qualified lead. It’s little wonder that you’re receiving so many scholarship pitches.

Blame parents, not SATs, for inequities

Eugene Veklerov:

This is in response to a “Teen Rant” of Oct. 18 by Lizzie Logan, who complained about SAT tests. Lizzie believes that the tests are unfair because they give an advantage to students from rich families. Here is what I’d like to tell Lizzie:
Yes, Virginia, the colleges do prefer knowledgeable students who are already fluent in trigonometry and calculus, who have a reasonably rich lexicon and who can convey their thoughts in the form of an essay. Otherwise, the students will have to spend two out of four college years taking remedial classes. Our society does not need engineers who study engineering subjects proper for only the two remaining years.

Community colleges: credit where it is due

Robert Preer:

As classes changed one recent weekday morning at Massasoit Community College in Brockton, the line of cars leaving the campus stretched more than a mile back from the lights on Route 27.
As other students arrived, campus parking lots overflowed and classrooms filled to capacity. Almost two years into a national recession, this low-tuition, two-year state institution is a very busy place.
“I looked into other schools, but for classes I can take anywhere, Massasoit is a lot more affordable,” Chelsea Gardner, 22, said as she waited between classes at the student union. A Long Island native who took a few years off after high school, Gardner commutes daily from Boston to the campus on Brockton’s east side.
The scene is also crowded at Massasoit’s other campus, in Canton, as well as at Quincy College’s three sites in Quincy Center, North Quincy, and Plymouth.
Across Massachusetts, students are flocking to two-year public colleges, which have become refuges in the recession. The schools have open enrollment for most programs, and tuitions markedly cheaper than four-year private or public institutions. Students who earn an associate’s degree at a two-year college can usually transfer the credits to four-year schools.

Charter schools are one strategy, not a cure-all

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

The State Journal’s call for more charter schools in the editorial welcoming the president to Madison was a bit off the mark.
A charter school is not an end in itself – it’s a means to achieve an end. If there are impediments to learning that we’re unable to address, or opportunities for improvement that we’re unable to provide through our neighborhood schools, then a charter could be an effective way to address the issue
For example, I’d be interested in a charter proposal designed to attack our achievement gap by providing a more intense academic focus in a longer school day and longer school year for students who are behind. But if a charter idea lacks that sort of vital justification, then for me there’s insufficient reason to deviate from our traditional neighborhood school approach.
The same is true for the school district’s recently-adopted strategic plan. More charter schools is not a goal, it’s a strategy. If charters can be an effective means of achieving our goals of improving academic outcomes for all students and ensuring student engagement and effective student support, for example, we should and likely will consider them.
As I understood the president’s remarks at Wright, this approach is consistent with the laudable goals he described.
– Ed Hughes, member, Madison School Board

University-industrial complex corrupts meaning of education

John Calvert:

According to the established wisdom, President Joseph Chapman‘s tenure at North Dakota State University has been a fabulous success. He’s the fellow who made everything grow – enrollments, sports, construction, institutional status, research and graduate programs to suit the quirkiest of tastes.
It was all so extravagantly admired that to ask whether any of it had anything to do with education would have seemed impertinent; indeed, over the past 11 years, Chapman himself never, so far as I know, uttered a single word about issues that are related to education, such as student quality, the dissolution of the core curriculum, the adjunctification of the faculty, and so on. That didn’t seem odd because no one else ever talks about them, either – not the governor, not the Legislature, not the State Board of Higher Education, not the trustees and not the leaders of other institutions.
It isn’t entirely their fault, because the anti-intellectualism that has always been a part of American life makes education a dangerous topic. Much, perhaps most, of the public expects education to yield a direct material payoff, and when it doesn’t, there are mutterings about public resources being wasted on something that is plainly “useless.”

Three’s a crowd when it comes to Los Angeles Eastside schools

Esmeralda Bermudez:

Things were a bit discombobulated last week on the Eastside, where a generations-old allegiance to Roosevelt Senior High School has been upset by a new relative: the recently opened Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez Learning Center.
At Roosevelt, hallways shimmered with gold and crimson banners hung in anticipation of the biggest football game of the season, against Garfield High School.
At the new Mendez high school — populated by many students transferred from Roosevelt’s overcrowded campus — the walls were bare; the gymnasium empty.
At Roosevelt, students celebrated spirit week and crowned a homecoming queen.
At Mendez, students felt unsure about their newly selected mascot, the jaguar. There were murmurs of school spirit. But there is no football team, no cheerleading squad, no queen to crown.
“We’re starting with nothing,” said Michael Mena, 15.

Madison Teachers, staff trying the ‘Wright way’

Doug Erickson & Gayle Worland:

Founded in 1993 as Madison Middle School 2000, the school alleviated crowding in the West High School attendance area and served as a hopeful sign to the ethnically diverse South Side, which lacked a middle school. The school moved to its building at 1717 Fish Hatchery Road (Panoramic view) in 1997 and was renamed for the late Rev. James C. Wright, a prominent local black pastor and civil rights leader.
The school’s early years were marred by lax discipline, high staff turnover, the resignation of the original principal and clashes among parents and teachers over governance. Stability arrived in 1998 with Ed Holmes, whose six-year tenure as principal earned praise from many parents and students.
“I would characterize (Wright) as one of the district’s grand experiments,” said Holmes, now West High principal.
As a charter school, students choose it; no one is assigned there. Enrollment is capped at 255, and classes rarely exceed 20 students. The school’s mission stresses civic engagement, social action and multicultural pride.

Related: Wright economically disadvantaged WKCE test scores compared to other Madison middle schools. Notes and links on President Obama’s recent visit to Madison’s Wright Middle School.