Book: From A Wisconsin Soapbox

Mark H. Ingraham Dean Emeritus, College of Letters & Science, University of Wisconsin
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin [Click to view this 23MB PDF “book”]:

Part I Liberal Education
The Omnivorous Mind 3
Given May 16, 1962, to the University of Wisconsin Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Republished from The Speech Teacher of September 1962.
Truth-An Insufficient Goal 17
The Keniston Lecture for 1964 at the University of Michi- gan; March 17, 1964. Republished from the Michigan Quarterly Review of July 1964.
On the Adjective “Common” 31
An editorial for the February 1967 Review of the Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Letters, and Sciences, February 23, 1967.
Part II Educational Policy
Super Sleep-A Form of Academic Somnambulism 37
First given as retiring address as President of A.A. U.P . This much revised version was given to the Madison Literary Club, March 12, 1940.
No, We Can’t; He Has a Committee Meeting 57
Madison Literary Club; May 11, 1953.
Is There a Heaven and a Hell for Colleges? 70
Commencement address, Hiram College; June 8, 1958.
The College of Letters and Science 79
Talk given to the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin, May 3, 1958.
Some Half Truths About the American Undergraduate 84
Orientation conference for Whitney-Fulbright Visiting Scholars. Sarah Lawrence College, September 6, 1962.
Maps Versus Blueprints 94
Honors Convocation, University of Wisconsin, May 18, 1973.
Part III To Students
A Talk to Freshmen 103
University of Wisconsin; September 18, 1951
Choice: The Limitation and the Expression of Freedom 112
Honors Convocation, University of Wisconsin; June 17, 1955. Republished from the Wisconsin Alumnus.
“The Good is Oft Interred with Their Bones” 121
Commencement, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh; Janu- ary 19, 1968.
Talk at Honors Convocation at Ripon College
Talk at Honors Convocation at Ripon College 129
April 9, 1969
The Framework of Opportunity 136
Thanksgiving Address, University of Wisconsin; November, 1947
Part IV A Little Fun
Food from a Masculine Point of View 149
Madison Literary Club; November 11, 1946
On Telling and Reading Stories to Children 165
Attic Angel Tower, Madison, Wisconsin; March 6, 1978
Three Limericks 179
Fragments 181
a. From an address given to the University oF Wyoming Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, April 26, 1965
b. A comment
Part V Somewhat Personal
Letter of Resignation from Deanship 185
April 5, 1961
Retirement Dinner Talk 188
May 24, 1966

Thanks to Richard Askey for extensive assistance with this digitized book. Search Mark Ingraham.

Parent Feedback on the Madison School District’s “Branding” Expenditures

via a kind reader’s email: Parent Diane Harrington:

Dear Board Members, Dr. Nerad, and Madison Alders,
My 11-year-old and I visited John Muir Elementary for basketball practice one recent evening. Their gym has banners noting that for several years they’ve been named a “School of Excellence.”
Ben’s school, Orchard Ridge Elementary, had just been dubbed a “School of Promise.”
Which school would YOU rather go to?
But Ben didn’t need a marketing effort to tell him which school was which; he knows some John Muir kids. Ben, too, would like to go to a school where kids are expected to learn and to behave instead of just encouraged to.
Just like those banners, the very idea of your upcoming, $86,000 “branding” effort isn’t fooling anyone.
You don’t need to improve your image. You need to improve your schools.
Stop condescending to children, to parents and to the public. Skip the silly labels and the PR plans.
Instead, just do your #^%* job. (If you need help filling in that blank, head to ORE or Toki. Plenty of kids – some as young as kindergarten – use several colorful words in the hallways, classrooms, lunchroom and playground without even a second look, much less disciplinary action, from a teacher or principal.)
Create an environment that strives for excellence, not mediocrity. Guide children to go above and beyond, rather than considering your job done once they’ve met the minimum requirements.
Until then, it’s all too obvious that any effort to “cultivate relationships with community partners” is just what you’re branding it: marketing. It’s just about as meaningless as that “promise” label on ORE or the “honor roll” that my 13-year-old and half the Toki seventh graders are on.
P.S. At my neighborhood association’s annual Winter Social earlier tonight, one parent of a soon-to-be-elementary-age child begged me to tell him there was some way to get a voucher so he could avoid sending his daughter to ORE. His family can’t afford private school. Another parent told me her soon-to-be-elementary-age kids definitely (whew!) were going to St. Maria Goretti instead of ORE. A friend – even though her son was finishing up at ORE this year – pulled her daughter out after kindergarten (yes, to send her to Goretti), because the atmosphere at ORE is just too destructive and her child wasn’t learning anything. These people aren’t going to be fooled by a branding effort. And you’re only fooling yourselves (and wasting taxpayer money) if you think otherwise.

Parent Lorie Raihala:

Regarding the Madison School District’s $86,000 “branding campaign,” recent polls have surveyed the many families who have left the district for private schools, virtual academies, home schooling or open enrollment in other districts.
Public schools are tuition free and close to home, so why have these parents chosen more expensive, less convenient options? The survey results are clear: because Madison schools have disregarded their children’s learning needs.
Top issues mentioned include a lack of challenging academics and out-of-control behavior problems. Families are leaving because of real experience in the schools, not “bad press” or “street corner stories.”
How will the district brand that?
Lorie Raihala Madison

Excellence in Action: Seven Core Principles

Foundation for Excellence in Education:

High academic standards: High academic standards are based on the principle that all students can learn. Raising expectations for what students are required to learn in the classroom will better prepare students for success. Standards in core subjects must be raised to meet international benchmarks to ensure American students can compete with their peers around the globe.
Standardized measurement: To provide an accurate depiction of where our students are, annual standardized testing must be continued and expanded in all 50 states. Measuring whether students are learning a year’s worth of knowledge in a year’s time is essential for building on progress, rewarding success and correcting failures. To accurately measure progress, modern data and information systems should be utilized, and there must be maximum transparency across the board.
Data-driven accountability: Holding schools accountable for student achievement – measured objectively with data such as annual standardized tests and graduation rates – improves the quality of an education system. Success and learning gains no longer go unnoticed and problems are no longer ignored, resulting in efforts to effectively narrow achievement gaps.

Tom Vander Ark has more.

Boarding school spreads message to Milwaukee Public Schools’ kids

Erin Richards:

Standing outside a snow-covered garden at Nature’s Classroom Institute, teacher Dave Oyama poses a question to the group of bundled-up elementary-school children from Milwaukee:
“Though it’s not in use right now, this garden is organic. Does anyone know what organic means?”
Brows furrow. A few mittens go up. One child guesses “healthy.” Another thinks the word means “whole grains.”
On their second day at the Nature’s Classroom Institute, a residential environmental science school near Mukwonago, the children from Craig Montessori School are in the middle of a lesson that looks different than their traditional classroom work in the city.
As members of a pilot project between Milwaukee Public Schools and the nonprofit institute, the 25 students from Craig are the first from MPS to stay at the facility on 600 picturesque acres in northeastern Walworth County.
The students’ tuition from Feb. 16-19 was funded by an anonymous $6,000 grant from a Chicago donor, but organizers hope that the pilot will prompt fund raising to allow more city students to participate next years.

The charter school test case that didn’t happen

Howard Blume:

If they hadn’t been mostly shut out of bids to run a slew of new L.A. Unified campuses, the groups might have demonstrated how they handle students with challenging needs.
Los Angeles school officials lost a chance this week to test whether the booming charter movement can take on all the problems of the district’s traditional, and often troubled, schools.
On Tuesday, the Board of Education denied proposals from three major charter organizations that had sought to run newly built neighborhood schools, which would have included substantial numbers of limited-English speakers, special education students, foster children and low-income families.
That is exactly the population that charter schools have been criticized for not sufficiently reaching.
Charters are independently managed and exempt from some rules that govern traditional schools. They’re also schools of choice — campuses that parents seek and select. And researchers have found that charters enroll fewer students with more challenging, and often more expensive, needs.

Virginia acts to limit use of exam for special-ed students after criticism

Michael Alison Chandler:

Virginia officials are moving to sharply limit an alternative testing program that many schools in the Washington suburbs use to measure the abilities of special education students who traditionally have fared poorly on the state’s Standards of Learning exams.
The effort by state lawmakers and education officials targets “portfolio” tests, which have helped increase passing rates at many schools by allowing students to avoid the multiple choice tests in favor of more flexible, individually tailored assessments. Critics have said that the alternative tests undermine Virginia’s widely praised accountability system and overstate the progress districts are making in closing achievement gaps between racial groups.

It’s not just Lower Merion!: Bronx school watches unwitting students via Webcam

Holly Otterbein

In this week’s A Million Stories, we explored the messy Webcam scandal that’s going down at Lower Merion School District. The district insists that it only peered through students’ Webcams in order to find lost or stolen laptops, and did so using a security software called LANrev. Insanely enough, Douglas Young, the district’s spokesperson, told us that it wasn’t the only school district using such software: “The software feature isn’t just utilized in this school district,” says Young. “It’s utilized by other school districts and organizations.” (He said he couldn’t name any offhand.)

Business principles won’t work for school reform, former supporter Ravitch says

Nick Anderson:

For those who believe that performance pay and charter schools pose a threat to public education and that a cult of testing and accountability has hijacked school reform, an unlikely national spokeswoman has emerged.
Diane Ravitch, an education historian, now renounces many of the market-oriented policies she promoted as a former federal education official with close ties to Democrats and Republicans. In large part because of her change of heart, Ravitch’s critique of the reform ideas that prevail in government, philanthropies and think tanks is reverberating in the world of education.
“In choosing his education agenda, President Obama sided with the economists and the corporate-style reformers,” Ravitch writes in her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” circulating in advance of its general release Tuesday.
She stoutly defends teachers unions, questions the value of standardized test data and calls the president’s affinity for independently operated charter schools “puzzling.”

Online courses can reduce the costly sting of college

Daniel de Vise:

Inessa Volkonidina had taken precalculus once and dropped it. She needed to take it again, and quickly, to fulfill a graduation requirement at Long Island University. She went online and found a company with an odd name, StraighterLine, that offered the course on even odder terms: $99 a month.
She thought it might be a scam. But StraighterLine, based in Alexandria, is a serious education company and a force that could disrupt half a millennium of higher-education tradition. The site offers students as many general-education courses as they care to take for a flat monthly fee, plus $39 per course. As college tuitions go, it is more on the scale of a cable bill.
The courses, standard freshman fare such as algebra, are cash cows for traditional schools, taught to students by the hundreds in vast lecture halls. They generate handsome profits to support more costly operations on campus.

Charter schools take PEP meeting as chance to launch PR blitz

Maura Walz:

Last night’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting was the second in as many months to be packed to the gills with parents and teachers passionately pleading their case.
But this time it was charter school parents, not teachers and parents at closing district schools, who drove to the meeting in busloads.
“What we are pleading for this evening is space,” Trevor Alfred, a parent at Explore Empower Charter School, told the panel. “We deserve it.”
At first blush, the level of passion, and sometimes anger, directed towards the panel could seem odd. Although 16 school space proposals were up for a vote, the board had never voted down a city proposal, and none of the charter school proposals on the agenda yesterday was defeated.

Protests and Promises of Improvements at Chicago Schools

Crystal Yednak:

Josephine Norwood, a Bronzeville mother of three Chicago public school students, has rebounded from two rounds of school closings that displaced her children from their schools. As she watched the Board of Education approve another set of schools for closing or turnaround last week, Mrs. Norwood had a simple question: Can Chicago Public Schools officials promise that the new schools will be better?
“If this process could guarantee the child the best and they would benefit from the school closing, then maybe it is a positive thing,” Mrs. Norwood said. But she spoke out last week, along with many others, about the need for more transparency and proof that the disruptions are warranted.
As the public schools system entered its annual process of selecting schools for closing or turnarounds, parents, teachers and community groups leveled criticism at school officials for the lack of communication with the communities involved and questioned data from the central office that does not match the reality in the schools. Some also pleaded for the district to delay any action until the corrective measures taken at the lowest-performing schools — the wholesale turnover of administrators and teachers — could be better evaluated and a comprehensive plan for school facilities could be developed by a new task force.

‘Apparatchik’ seals the deal for All-City Spelling Bee winner

Steven Verburg:

“Star Wars,” Legos and an interest in word origins combined to prepare Vishal Narayanaswamy to become the 2010 Madison All-City Spelling Bee champion Saturday.
The 12-year-old from Jefferson Middle School rose to the top of a field of about 50 third- through eighth-graders during the competition on the Edgewood College campus.
Vishal clinched the win, and a trip to the Badger State Spelling Bee, by spelling “apparatchik,” a word of Russian origin meaning communist secret agent.
He wasn’t sure about the word’s meaning, but while studying for the competition he memorized the first four letters by remembering they were the same as the Tamil Indian word for “father.”
“And it sounded Slavic so I knew it had a ‘k’ at the end,” Vishal said. “I usually don’t hear the meanings. I just remember word patterns.”

Going with the Google for School District Email

Peter Sobol:

Technology director Bill Herman has migrated the district’s email over to Google. Our new email addresses are You can still continue to use the old addresses so the change should be transparent from the outside. The change is motivated by a desire to provide a more reliable system with less maintenance and support.

A few related links:

The Proposed Madison School District Administrative Reorganization Plan

Superintendent Dan Nerad, via an Arlene Silveira email 1.4MB PDF:

Processes of the Administration
The following administrative processes are currently being utilized to provide administrative leadership within the district:

  1. Superintendent’s Management Team Comprised of the Superintendent and department administrators, this team meets weekly and serves as the major decision making body of the administration.
  2. Strategic Plan Monitoring and Support
    The Superintendent meets monthly with administrators with lead responsibility for the five priority strategies within the Strategic Plan.
  3. Superintendents-Assistant Superintendents, Chief of Staff and Executive Director, Human Resources
    The Superintendent meets weekly with the Assistant Superintendents, Chief of Staff and Executive Director of Human Resources to discuss key operational issues.
  4. Board Liaison Team
    The Board Liaison Team, consisting of designated administrators, meets three times a month to coordinate Board agenda planning and preparation. District Learning Council The District Learning Council consists of curriculum, instruction and assessment related administrators and teacher leaders. This council meets bi-weekly to discuss major instructional issues in the district and provides coordination across related departments.
  5. Department Meetings Administrators assigned to each department meet as needed.
  6. Principal Meetings Assistant Superintendents meet minimally one time per month with all principals
  7. Committee Meetings
    There are numerous administrative/staff committees that meet as specific tasks require.

General Strengths of the Current Administrative Structure
The strengths of the current administrative structure within the district are as follows:

  1. The basic structure of our district has been in place for many years. As a result, the current department structure is known by many and has predictable ways of operating.
      There exist needed checks and balances within the current system, given the relative equal status of the departments, with each department leader along with the Assistant Superintendents and Chief of Staff directly reporting to the Superintendent of Schools.

    General Weaknesses of the Current Administrative Structure
    The weaknesses of the current administrative structure within the district are as follows:

    1. The degree to which the mission-work of the district, teaching and learning, is central to the function of administration is of concern especially in the way professional development is addressed without a departmental focus.
    2. Traditional organizational structures, while having a degree of predictability, can become bureaucratically laden and can lack inventiveness and the means to encourage participation in decision making.

    Organizational Principles
    In addition to the mission, belief statements and parameters, the following organizational principles serve as a guide for reviewing and defining the administrative structure and administrative processes within the district.

    1. The district will be organized in a manner to best serve the mission of the district .and to support key district strategies to accomplish the mission.
    2. Leadership decisions will be filtered through the lens of our mission.
    3. Central service functions will be organized to support teaching and learning at the schools and should foster supportive relationships between schools and central service functions.
    4. The district’s organizational structure must have coherence on a preK-12 basis and must address the successful transition of students within the district.
    5. The district will be structured to maximize inter-division and intra-division collaboration and cooperation.
    6. The district’s organizational structure must have an orientation toward being of service to stakeholders, internally and externally.
    7. The district must be organized in a manner that allows for ongoing public engagement
      and stakeholder input.

    8. To meet the district’s mission, the district will embrace the principles of learning organizations, effective schools, participative and distributive leadership and teamwork.
    9. The district will make better use of data for decision making, analyzing issues, improving district operations, developing improvement plans and evaluating district efforts.
    10. The need for continuous improvement will be emphasized in our leadership work.
    11. Ongoing development and annual evaluation of district leaders is essential.

    Leadership Needs
    Given these organizational principles, as well as a review of the current administrative structure and administrative processes within the district, the following needs exist. In addition, in the development of this plan, input was sought from all administrators during the annual leadership retreat, individual Management Team members and individual members of the Board of Education. These needs were specifically referenced in identifying the recommended changes in our administrative structure and related administrative processes that are found in this report.

    1. There is a need to better align the administrative structure to the district’s mission and Strategic Plan and to place greater priority on the mission-work of our organization (improved achievement for all students and the elimination of achievement gaps).
    2. From an administrative perspective, the mission-work of our district is mainly delivered through teaching and learning and leadership work being done in our schools. Central service functions must act in support of this work. In addition, central service functions are needed to ensure constancy of focus and direction for the district.
    3. New processes are needed to allow for stakeholder engagement and input and to create greater inter-department and division collaboration and cooperation
    4. The mission of the district must be central to decisions made in the district.
    5. The organizational structure must support PreK -12 articulation and coordination needs within the district.
    6. Leadership work must embody principles of contemporary learning organizations, effective school practices, participative and distributive leadership and teamwork. Included in this will be a focus on the purposeful use ofteacher leadership, support for our schools and a focus on positive culture within the district.
    7. There must be an enhanced focus on the use of data in our improvement and related accountability efforts.
    8. There is a need to unifonnly implement school and department improvement plans and to change administrative supervision and evaluation plans based on research in the field and on the need for continuous improvement of all schools, departments and all individual administrators.

    In addition, as this plan was constructed there was a focus on ensuring, over the next couple of years, that the plan was sustainable from a financial point of view.

Writer David Carr’s unconventional education

Valerie Strauss:

David Carr writes about media and culture for The New York Times, which is not why I wanted to interview him for this series. Rather, it was what Atlantic Monthly called his “joyous peculiarity” in this article.
Carr tells his own story in “The Night of the Gun,” a beautifully written, funny yet wrenching memoir that spares nothing about the drug addiction and madness into which he descended, but, from which, almost unbelievably, he escaped.
Before going to The Times, he was a contributing writer for Atlantic and New York Magazine and was the media writer for He also worked at the alternativeCity Paper in Washington D.C., as editor.
A father with three daughters, Carr and his wife now live in Montclair, N.J. Here are excerpts from our conversation about his formal and informal education.

The hype of ‘value-added’ in teacher evaluation

Lisa Guisbond:

As a rookie mom, I used to be shocked when another parent expressed horror about a teacher I thought was a superstar. No more. The fact is that your kids’ results will vary with teachers, just as they do with pills, diets and exercise regimens.
Nonetheless, we all want our kids to have at least a few excellent teachers along the way, so it’s tempting to buy into hype about value-added measures (VAM) as a way to separate the excellent from the horrifying, or least the better from the worse.
It’s so tempting that VAM is likely to be part of a reauthorized No Child Left Behind. The problem is, researchers urge caution because of the same kinds of varied results featured in playground conversations.
Value-added measures use test scores to track the growth of individual students as they progress through the grades and see how much “value” a teacher has added.

The Madison School District has been using Value Added Assessment based on the oft – criticized WKCE.

All teachers fired at R.I. school. Will that happen elsewhere?

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

All the teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island were fired by the board of trustees this week. More such cases are likely to arise across the US in the coming year because of pressure from the Obama administration – and the incentive of billions of federal dollars.
A small, high-poverty school district in Rhode Island is now ground zero for some of the most explosive debates over reforming America’s worst-performing schools.
To the dismay of many local and national union members, all the teachers, the principal, and other staff of Central Falls High School were fired by the board of trustees this week. The move is part of a dramatic turnaround plan proposed by the superintendent and approved by the state education commissioner.
Because of pressure from the Obama administration – and the incentive of billions of federal dollars – more such cases are likely to arise across the United States in the coming year.
Advocates of the “turnaround” approach say it’s a way to remove bad teachers or change a culture that makes it difficult for good teachers to work effectively. But teachers feel scapegoated. And there’s no clear-cut research guaranteeing that student test scores will improve when schools are reorganized with new staffs.

Study: Charter school growth accompanied by racial imbalance

Nick Anderson:

Seven out of 10 black charter school students are on campuses with extremely few white students, according to a new study of enrollment trends that shows the independent public schools are less racially diverse than their traditional counterparts.
The findings from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, which are being released Thursday, reflect the proliferation of charter schools in the District of Columbia and other major cities with struggling school systems and high minority populations.
To the authors of the study, the findings point to a civil rights issue: “As the country continues moving steadily toward greater segregation and inequality of education for students of color in schools with lower achievement and graduation rates,” the study concludes, “the rapid growth of charter schools has been expanding a sector that is even more segregated than the public schools.”

Commentary on the Seattle School District Budget….. Deja Vu?

Melissa Westbrook:

Mr Kennedy said that next week they would announce the cuts from the Central Administration budget. He said they needed to be at $6M and are at $5.4 so far. Kay said that in Meg’s report that there had been growth in Central Administration and if we grew by $7M, shouldn’t we be cutting $12M? Kennedy said he would get to that later in the meeting (but I don’t remember it happening). There was some discussion again about how the coaches had been inproperly coded by OSPI standards.
Michael again said that the district needs to have transparency in these kinds of budget issues (coding and labeling and sorting) because of the confusion it causes. He said we can’t have internal accounting that differs from external accounting.
Kay asked about comparing our Central office numbers with other districts but the answer was that it was too difficult to do because of the differences. (That didn’t seem to stop the State Auditor two years ago – I’ll have to send that report to Kay.)
(According to the report, both Viewlands and Rainier View Elementaries will have ELL and Special Ed programs.)

Student assignment wins essay contest

Brook Masters:

A former bank compliance officer now enrolled in graduate school has won the inaugural essay contest on banking regulation sponsored by the International Centre for Financial Regulation and the Financial Times.
Nana Esi Atsem, 31, won the $7,500 prize for the best entry with an essay that sought to answer the question: “What works best for banking regulation: market discipline or hard-wired rules?
Her essay won praise from the judges for its discussion of the best way to give creditors a stake in preventing excessive risk-taking, including a comparison of contingent capital, a form of debt that converts to equity when a bank gets into trouble, with subordinated debt, in which some creditors would see their claims made junior to those of depositors and senior bond holders.
“Fuelling debate around regulatory reform remains a key objective for the ICFR and the Financial Times. The research prize was designed to engage financial industry participants in a discussion on the repercussions of banking regulation on the global economy and the submissions we received surpassed our expectations,” said Lord Currie, ICFR chairman.

Some School Board Members Concerned About Edgewater TIF Funds


As design issues get worked out on the Edgewater Hotel expansion project, some local school board members are raising concerns about city tax money being used on the redevelopment.
Much of the focus on the Edgewater development so far has been on the design of the building. But what might affect residents more is the city financing for the project, WISC-TV reported.
The bottom line is we need a public discussion about how these districts benefit us and how they might hurt us,” said Lucy Mathiak, vice president of the Madison School Board.
Mathiak has some concerns about a $16 million loan from the city to the Edgewater developer.
“There are things we need to do as a (school) district and do differently with our budget, but this takes revenue away from us,” said Mathiak.

Digital Dilettantism

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
26 February 2010
The Kaiser Foundation, in its January 2010 report on the use of electronic entertainment media by U.S. students, aged 8-18, found that, on average, these young people are spending more than seven hours a day (53 hours a week) with such (digital) amusements.
For some, this would call into question whether students have time to read the nonfiction books and to write the research papers they will need to work on to get themselves ready for college and careers, not to mention the homework for their other courses.
For the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, however, the problem appears to be that we are not paying enough attention to the possible present and future connections between digital media and learning, so they have decided to invest $50,000,000 in grants to explore that relationship.
One recent two-year grant, “for $650,000 to study the effect of digital media on young people’s ethical development and to develop curricula for parents and teachers,” went to the Harvard Education School, which has distinguished itself for, among other things, seeming to have no one on its faculty with any research or teaching interest in the actual academic work of high school students, for example in chemistry, history, economics, physics, foreign languages, calculus, and the like.
The Harvard Ed School faculty do show real interest in poverty, disability, psychological problems, race, gender, ethnicity, and the development of moral character, so they may take to this idea of studying the relation between electronic media and student ethics. A visit to the Harvard Ed School website, and a review of the research interests of the faculty would prove enlightening to anyone who thought, for some odd reason, that they might be paying attention to the academic work of students in the schools.
Whether Harvard will conclude that seven hours a day doesn’t help much with the ethical development of students or not, one could certainly wish that they would discover that spending a lot of their time on digital media does very little for student preparation for college academic work that is at all demanding, not to mention the actual work of their careers, unless they are in the digital entertainment fields, of course.
The National Writing Project, which regularly has received $26,000,000 each year in federal grants for many years to help thousands of teachers feel more comfortable writing about themselves, has now received $1.1 million in grants from the MacArthur Foundation, presumably so that they may now direct some of their efforts to helping students use digital media to write about themselves as well.
Perhaps someone should point out, to MacArthur, the National Writing Project, the Harvard Ed School, and anyone else involved in this egregious folly and waste of money, that our students already spend a great deal of their time each and every day writing and talking about themselves with their friends, using a variety of electronic media.
In fact, it is generally the case that the students (without any grants) are already instructing any of their teachers who are interested in the use of a variety of electronic media.
But like folks in any other self-sustaining educational enterprise, those conversing on the uses of digital media in learning about digital media need a chance to talk about what they are doing, whether it is harmful to serious academic progress for our students or not, so MacArthur has also granted to “the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education (in Monterey, California) $2,140,000 to build the field of Digital Media and Learning through a new journal, conferences, and convenings (over five years).”
The MacArthur Foundation website has a list of scores more large grants for these projects in digital media studies and digital learning (it is not clear, of course, what “digital learning” actually means, if anything).
This very expensive and time-consuming distraction from any effort to advance respectable common standards for the actual academic work of students in our nation’s schools must be enjoyable, both for those giving out the $50 million, and, I suppose, for those receiving it, but the chances are good that their efforts will only help to make the college and career readiness of our high school students an even more distant goal.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Despite Madison’s relative affluence, poverty rate growing rapidly

Mike Ivey, via a kind reader’s email:

The doors at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul food pantry on Fish Hatchery Road don’t open for another 30 minutes, but a line has already formed.
They wait quietly, for the most part, this rainbow coalition of all ages: African-American grandmothers, Latino families, young women with pierced tongues, disabled seniors and working fathers.
What they have in common is poverty. Once a month, with a valid photo ID, clients get enough groceries to last a week.
“As my kids get older, I just keep having to cook more, so every bit helps,” says Belinda Washington, 44, who has four children at home ages 4 to 17.
A Chicago native, Washington moved to Madison 17 years ago and lives in the Lake Point neighborhood off West Broadway on the city’s south side. Her resume includes food service, catering and factory work but she’s been unemployed since her youngest was born. “I keep applying but the jobs are hard to come by,” she says.

The Next Wave of Digital Textbooks – DynamicBooks from Macmillan


ne of the most firmly entrenched academic practices centers upon the use of textbooks as the fundamental drivers of curricula. Ultra-expensive, these items represent one of the largest costs for public school systems as well as those attending college.
As the digital age continues to work its way into the stuffy world of academics, there are clear indications that textbooks are gradually being phased out in many areas of the country. The sheer volume of resources available on the net is leading many school districts to create and share their own materials.
Macmillan, considered one of the largest players in that old, conservative world, apparently has now also seen the “handwriting on the wall.” The company recently announced it will offer academics an entirely new format: DynamicBooks.

Mass firings at R.I. school may signal a trend

Greg Toppo:

The mass firing of teachers at a Rhode Island high school this week is hardly new: For nearly two decades, states and school districts have been “reconstituting” staffs at struggling public schools.
But Tuesday’s move by Central Falls, R.I., Superintendent Frances Gallo to remove all 74 teachers, administrators and counselors at the district’s only high school may be the first tangible result of an aggressive push by the Obama administration to get tough on school accountability — and may signal a more fraught relationship between teachers unions and Democratic leaders.
“This may be one school in one town, but it represents a much bigger phenomenon,” says Andy Smarick of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C., education think tank. “Thanks to years of work battling the achievement gap and the elevation of reform-minded education leaders, we may finally be getting serious about the nation’s lowest-performing schools.”

How Corrupted Language Moved from Campus to the Real World

Harvey Silvergate:

In some quarters I’m viewed as a lawyer with a professional identity problem: I’ve spent half of my time representing students and professors struggling with administrators over issues like free speech, academic freedom, due process and fair disciplinary procedures. The other half I’ve spent representing individuals (and on occasion organizations and companies) in the criminal justice system.
These two seemingly disparate halves of my professional life are, in fact, quite closely related: The respective cultures of the college campus and of the federal government have each thrived on the notion that language is meant not to express one’s true thoughts, intentions and expectations, but, instead, to cover them up. As a result, the tyrannies that I began to encounter in the mid-1980s in both academia and the federal criminal courts shared this major characteristic: It was impossible to know when one was transgressing the rules, because the rules were suddenly being expressed in language that no one could understand.
In his 1946 linguistic critique, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell wrote that one must “let meaning choose the word, not the other way around.” By largely ignoring this truism, administrators and legislators who craft imprecise regulations have given their particular enforcement arms—campus disciplinary staff and federal government prosecutors—enormous and grotesquely unfair power.

SES: Creating the Future or Endangered Future?

Tom Vander Ark:

You would think that raising standards and pushing for an extending day and year would be a great time to embrace a couple thousand entrepreneurial organizations that specialize in targeted tutoring and compelling after-school learning. You would think that a disruptive effort to fix or replace the lowest performing schools would be accompanied by an insurance policy of direct support for low income students that have been trapped in low performing schools. You would think that 500,000 low income minority students receiving targeted tutoring sounded like a good idea. However, Supplemental Educational Service (SES) providers are getting the message that they are not needed; more specifically, they are getting the message that school districts want the $3b Title 1 set aside back.
Maybe we just got off on the wrong foot; SES was inserted as what seemed like punishment in a progression of interventions in NCLB and, a result, most districts didn’t do much to market these extended learning opportunities. Where districts embraced SES providers as partners in student success, tailored solutions worked well for schools, kids, and parents.

Progress Slow in City Goal to Fire Bad Teachers

Jennifer Medina:

The Bloomberg administration has made getting rid of inadequate teachers a linchpin of its efforts to improve city schools. But in the two years since the Education Department began an intensive effort to root out such teachers from the more than 55,000 who have tenure, officials have managed to fire only three for incompetence.
Ten others whom the department charged with incompetence settled their cases by resigning or retiring, and nine agreed to pay fines of a few thousand dollars or take classes, or both, so they could keep their jobs. One teacher lost his job before his case was decided, after the department called immigration officials and his visa was revoked. The cases of more than 50 others are awaiting arbitration.
Lawyers for the department said an additional 418 teachers had left the system after finding out that they could face charges of incompetence. Because no formal charges were brought in these cases, the number is hard to corroborate; officials from the teachers’ union said they doubted it was that high.

3 Pivot Points to a Performance-Based Education System

Tom Vander Ark:

In education, there’s a lot up in the air right now: standards, testing, employment practices, budgets, student technology, online learning, and federal policy. It’s conceivable that if we took advantage of the uncertainty, a few places could emerge with a better and cheaper education system. Here’s three pivot points that could anchor next generation systems:
1. Merit Badges: the goal of college and career readiness and development Common Core standards will require most states, district to make lots of course and curriculum. States could use the opportunity to replace the 100 year old seat time and credit system with a new merit badge system–a bundle of assessments would be used to demonstrate learning of a bundle of competencies. Take ratios and fractions as an example; a merit badge would describe what students need to know and a combination of ways they can show it including content-embedded assessment (e.g., game score), performance assessment (e.g., project), adaptive assessment (e.g., online quiz), and an end of unit test. Mastery-based learning and merit badge evidence would replace grades and courses as the primary mechanism to mark student progress.

Duncan questioned on move to cut funding for Teach for America

Nick Anderson:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan faced unusually sharp questioning from House Democrats Thursday over the Obama administration’s proposals to eliminate a grant for the Teach for America program and hold the line on new funding for many other education programs.
The House Budget Committee hearing on the $50.7 billion education budget proposed for the fiscal year that begins in October provided an early glimpse at congressional reaction to the Obama administration’s plan to put more emphasis on competitions for federal funding, including its signature Race to the Top initiative that will reward states and school districts whose education policies are in line with Obama’s.
For decades, education programs have been driven by formulas that spread money across the country based on population, poverty levels and other factors, as well as targeted grants to benefit specific organizations. Those formulas mean that all 535 members of Congress can point to federal funding flowing to schools in their states and districts.

Rhee reports to D.C. Council on teacher misconduct

Bill Turque:

Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has fired 10 D.C. teachers for administering corporal punishment and two for sexual misconduct since July 2007, according to a report she submitted to D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.
Another 28 teachers served suspensions of as long as 10 days for administering corporal punishment, defined by District law as the use or attempted use of force against a student as punishment or discipline.
The report, sent to Gray (D) on Feb. 12, does not include names and offers only fragmentary descriptions of the incidents. Most involve grabbing, shoving, slapping, scratching or arm-twisting. One teacher drew a five-day suspension for putting a student in a closet and turning the lights off in February 2008. A case of spanking in November 2007 resulted in a teacher’s dismissal and reinstatement after a hearing officer’s decision. An instructor who threatened students with a knife if they misbehaved received a one-day suspension.

To Lynch a Child: Bullying and Gender Non-Conformity in Our Nation’s Schools

Michael Higdon:

n January 2010, a 9-year old boy named Montana Lance hung himself in a bathroom at the Texas elementary school he attended. Although certainly shocking, such acts are unfortunately becoming less and less unusual. In fact, the suicide of Montana Lance is very reminiscent of what happened in April 2009 when two 11-year-old boys, one in Massachusetts and one in Georgia, likewise committed suicide just days apart. What would cause these children to end their lives? The answer in each case is the same: all three suffered extreme levels of victimization at the hands of school bullies–bullying that others have described as involving “relentless homophobic taunts.” And, as we can see from the fate of these three little boys, this form of harassment was obviously very traumatic.
In this article, I look at the growing problem of school bullying in America today. Now, almost all children are teased and most will even face at least some form of bullying during their childhood. However, studies reveal that some children will unfortunately become chronic victims of school bullying. Chief among that group are those children whose gender expression is at odds with what society considers “appropriate.” As my article explores, the gender stereotypes that exist within our society are frequently to blame for the more extreme levels of bullying currently being carried out in our nation’s schools. And the impact this bullying has on its victims is staggering. Earlier I mentioned three children who took their own lives as a result of bullying. These are but three examples of those who have lost their lives to gender-based bullying. However, there are countless other victims who, although not paying with their lives, are nonetheless paying dearly in other ways. Specifically, the psychological literature on the emotional impacts that befall these chronic victims of bullying reveals a whole host of resulting problems–debilitating consequences that can last a lifetime.

Pull in more parents to school

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

A reading day with student performances and food.
A clothing swap for families that doubles as a PTO meeting.
Free transportation, child care and translators so more parents can participate in after-school functions.
Madison schools are doing a lot to draw more parents – especially minority and low-income parents – into their children’s educations. And much of the credit goes to creative parent leaders and teachers.
The stepped-up effort is encouraging and should continue in Madison and across Wisconsin.
The more parents of all backgrounds spend time at their children’s schools, the more likely their children will engage and succeed.

West High School Regent Drama Club Presents “Guys and Dolls”

March 5, 6, 12, 13
7:30 p.m.
West High School Auditorium
L. Joe Dahl, Director; Kelle Adams, Choreographer; Rebecca Jallings, Producer; Holly Walker, Assistant Producer; Serina Jolivette, Music Director; Steve Morgan, Orchestra Director; Brynna Godar, Stage Manager.
Tickets ($10 for adults, $8 for students) may be purchased in advance (highly recommended) at . Some tickets may also be available at the door.
Synopsis: All the hot gamblers are in town, and they’re all depending on Nathan Detroit to set up this week’s incarnation of “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York.” The only problem is that he needs $1,000 to get the place. Throw in Sarah Brown, who’s short on sinners at the mission she runs; Sky Masterson, who accepts Nathan’s $1,000 bet that he can’t get Sarah Brown to go with him to Havana, Cuba; Miss Adelaide, who wants Nathan to marry her; Police Lieutenant Brannigan, who always seems to appear at the wrong time; and the masterful music and lyrics of Frank Loesser, and you’ve got quite a musical. Includes the songs “Fugue for Tinhorns,” “Luck Be a Lady,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.”
Don’t miss it!

Beloit Teachers Voluntarily Taking Furloughs to Reduce School District Costs


The Beloit School District is facing a $1.5 million budget shortfall, but teachers are offering their help by taking days off.
The Beloit Education Association, which is the teacher’s union in the district, previously agreed to open its contract if state aid decreased from one year to the next.
“We went back to the table and worked out a voluntary settlement with the district regarding furlough days and salary reductions for those furlough days,” said Tim Verda, president of the Beloit Education Association.
The teacher’s union is going beyond a pay freeze by offering to take one furlough day this year and two next year.
The school district said it will result in a savings of $658,000.

More Rhetoric on the Seattle School District’s Court Loss on the Use of Discovery Math

Melissa Westbrook:

For entertainment value read the Discovering Math Q&A in this article in the Seattle Times. The Discovering Math guy (1) doesn’t always answer the question asked, (2) answers but doesn’t address the topic properly – see the question on if Discovering Math is “mathematically unsound” and (3) sounds like he works for the district.
Here’s one example:
The Discovering books have been criticized by parents, but they’ve been the top pick of a couple of districts in our area, including Seattle and Issaquah. Any thoughts on why the textbooks seem to be more popular with educators than with parents?
Ryan: I think because (parents) lack familiarity — this doesn’t look like what I was taught. I don’t know how you get students to a place where more is required of them by repeating things that have been done in the past. That’s not how we move forward in life.

Much more on the successful community lawsuit vs. the Seattle School District’s implementation of Discovery Math. Math Forum audio / video.

Hysteria Around School Turnarounds

Tom Vander Ark:

The NYTimes ran a story with this misleading headline and byline:

A Vote to Fire All Teachers at a Failing High School
CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. — A plan to dismiss the entire faculty and staff of the only public high school in this small city just west of the Massachusetts border was approved Tuesday night at an emotional public meeting of the school board.

When the teachers failed to adopt a ‘transformation’ plan that included a modest lengthening of the day, the superintendent shifted to Plan B, what federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) call Turnaround, which requires that at least 50% of the staff be replaced. Under Rhode Island law, teachers must be notified of the potential for nonrenewal by March 20, hence the board vote and notices. All the teachers will have the opportunity to reapply, up to half will be rehired.
The hysteria is now reverberating on CNN and papers around the country. Central Falls may be an early example but there are thousands to come. As I began reporting in October, SIG will cause widespread urban disruption. But we’ll all need to be cautious to use language carefully and differentiate between ‘firing all the teachers’ and notifying them of the requirement to reapply for their positions.

Related: Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s speech to the Madison Rotary:

Last Wednesday, Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman spoke to the Madison Rotary Club on “What Wisconsin’s Public Education Model Needs to Learn from General Motors Before it is too late.” 7MB mp3 audio (the audio quality is not great, but you can hear the talk if you turn up the volume!).
Zimman’s talk ranged far and wide. He discussed Wisconsin’s K-12 funding formula (it is important to remember that school spending increases annually (from 1987 to 2005, spending grew by 5.10% annually in Wisconsin and 5.25% in the Madison School District), though perhaps not in areas some would prefer.
“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

Ten rules for writing fiction

Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy:

Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray. Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, we asked authors for their personal dos and don’ts
Elmore Leonard: Using adverbs is a mortal sin
1 Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a charac ter’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2 Avoid prologues: they can be annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”

Confront Wisconsin teacher lobby on reform

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce is often maligned for throwing its weight around at the state Capitol.
But it was the big state teachers union (WEAC) that spent – by far – more money on lobbying last year than any other special interest group.
It helps explain why the teachers got precisely what they wanted from the Democratic-run Legislature and governor’s office in the last state budget: repeal of state limits on teacher compensation.
It also shows why reforming public education – to require more accountability and innovation – won’t be easy. The teachers union has resisted pay for performance, something commonplace in most professions, and frowned on innovative charter schools. State leaders will need to stand up to the union if public education is to be transformed.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: A Look at Pension Costs

Kathleen Gallagher:

Best way to guarantee a financially stress-free retirement in Wisconsin?
Work for the government.
State public employees – such as public school teachers and state and city workers – on average receive hundreds of dollars more per month in retirement than higher-paid employees in the private sector, according to a new report from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.
Even as the state has lost 140,000 jobs and one-eighth of its manufacturing workforce during the recession, public employees’ benefits have been protected. Those statistics prompted the institute to commission the report, said George Lightbourn, the president of the conservative think tank.
According to the report, an employee covered by the Wisconsin Retirement System who earns $48,000 a year would retire with an estimated monthly benefit of $1,712 from the system.
In contrast, a private sector employee who earned $70,000 a year would get an estimated $1,301 a month in retirement – or $411 less per month than the lower-paid public sector retiree, said Joan Gucciardi, a Milwaukee-area actuary with more than 40 years of experience who spent nine months preparing the report.
Gucciardi said she was surprised to learn that most public school teachers and others covered by the state retirement system don’t pay what’s called the employee contribution – about half of the 11.2% or more of their salary that’s deposited into their pension fund accounts each year. While state law makes that share negotiable, nearly all public employees in Wisconsin get it paid for them.

Gifted Education Quarterly

Spring, 2010 PDF, via email:

I would like to discuss a book which helps to inform educators and parents about gifted education in other countries from developmental, family and international perspectives. It is an excellent example of the increasing worldwide interest in studying and educating the most advanced students. By using the case study research method, Hanna David, Ph.D. and Echo Wu, Ph.D. have written fascinating accounts of Israeli and Chinese students who have demonstrated giftedness in public school classrooms and at the university level. David is a professor of education at Ben Gurion University in Eliat, Israel and Echo Wu is now teaching at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. Their book, Understanding Giftedness: A Chinese-Israeli Casebook (Pearson, 2010, ISBN 981-06-8300-6), contains such research topics as a study of five gifted boys in one classroom, parental influences of three Chinese-American families on talent development, case study of a visually disabled young boy (seven years), conversation with a Chinese Nobel Laureate (chemistry), and case study of a gifted family emigrating from Russia to Israel. All of these studies are a clear demonstration of the forcefulness of gifted characteristics and behavior under sometimes severe pressures from cultural influences and learning disabilities. The book also serves as an inspiration to researchers who use the case study method for studying giftedness. In this sense, David and Wu follow the traditions of Piaget and other masters of child development who grounded their work in making systematic observations and carefully recording the individual child’s intellectual development. I highly recommend that Understanding Giftedness be used as a model for further studies of the gifted mind.

U.S. students need to play catch-up, Obama says

Christi Parsons:

He tells the National Governors Assn. that states will be required to help students be ‘college- and career-ready.’
Reporting from Washington – Decrying shortcomings of the No Child Left Behind Act, President Obama on Monday pledged to make American students more competitive in the global economy by encouraging higher state standards for primary and secondary education.
Students in the United States lag by several crucial measures, Obama told a gathering of the nation’s governors at the White House, with eighth-graders ranking ninth in the world in math and 11th in science.
“In response to assessments like these, some states have upped their game,” Obama said, pointing to Massachusetts, where eighth-graders are tied for first in science around the world. “Some states have actually done the opposite, and between 2005 and 2007, under No Child Left Behind, 11 states actually lowered their standards in math.”

Michigan teacher contracts: The black hole of school spending

Education Action Group:

The current school funding crisis has a lot of people talking about raising taxes, creating new taxes or closing so-called tax loopholes, to provide more revenue for Michigan’s K-12 school districts.
We at Education Action Group Foundation don’t pretend to be experts on school funding, particularly on a statewide level. But we do know that local school districts are forced to spend a great deal of money on unnecessary labor costs, at a time when they can least afford it.
We don’t believe the state has the moral right to ask taxpayers for another dime for education until it helps local school districts free themselves from crippling labor expenses.
To support our argument, we spent a few weeks examining 25 teacher contracts from districts throughout Michigan, carefully choosing schools of various size and geographic location. We found countless examples of contractual expenses that are questionable in the current economic environment.
Our study is by no means scientific. It simply offers a sampling of the type of expenses that schools are forced to deal with by the state’s teachers unions. We believe Michigan residents will be surprised to learn how some of their tax dollars are spent.
Our source was the public school contract database, posted online and updated regularly by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. The database can be accessed by logging on to

Kansas City considers closing 31 of 61 schools

Greg Toppo:

n the pantheon of unpopular moves by school superintendents, perhaps none rivals what John Covington wants to do.
Faced with declining enrollment and a $50 million budget shortfall, the Kansas City, Mo., schools chief wants the school board to close as many as 31 of the city’s 61 schools and lay off one-fourth of its employees — including 285 teachers.
Covington wants it done by the time school starts in fall. A vote could come in March.
“The bottom line is the quality of education we’re offering children in Kansas City is not good enough,” he says. “One reason it’s not good enough is that we’ve tried to spread our resources over far too many schools.”
Closing schools in shrinking urban districts is nothing new: It’s happening in dozens of cities, including Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Memphis, San Antonio and Washington, D.C. But the scope of Covington’s plan sets it apart from even the most cash-strapped school districts.

Much more on Kansas City’s school closing plans here.

Pennsylvania High School Spying Update: Draconian Policies, Suspicious Software

Dan Nosowitz:

Two computer security experts, Aaron Rhodes and a man known by his pseudonym Stryde Hax, put together an eye-opening and well-researched attack on both the Lower Merion High School that’s been accused of spying on students and the software that was used to do it. In the process, they reveal some disturbing school policies regarding the use of the laptops, and the unnerving nature of the software itself.
The writers scoured forum activity, blog posts, and publicity videos made by one Mike Perbix, the Harriton High School technical security staffer who was in charge of the use of LANRev, the software in question. They also hunted down comments from some of the more tech-savvy members of the student body, who revealed some pretty startling policies regarding the laptops.
The main points: the school-supplied (and monitored) MacBooks were required for certain classes; the included Webcams could not be disabled; the laptops could not be “jailbroken” to circumvent the security measures (and any attempt could result in expulsion); and possession of a personal computer, meaning one other than the school-supplied MacBook, was forbidden and subject to confiscation. One example, from a student:

More here.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Illinois stuck in a ‘historic, epic’ budget crisis

Bob Secter:

Illinois government is staring down the barrel of an explosive financial mess, and perhaps nothing frames the danger better than two big numbers.
The first is $26 billion, the grand total that lawmakers have allotted this year for the meat of what the state does: funding education, health care, child welfare, public safety and the machinery of government itself.
The second number is $13 billion, the total of red ink in the state’s main checking account that, by law, has to be erased — at least on paper — before a penny can be set aside for day-to-day operations in the fiscal year, which begins July 1.
In short, the deficit is half as big as the core of the state budget.
To experts, that is an astoundingly scary ratio that ranks Illinois as one of the nation’s worst fiscal basket cases — if not the worst. The budget deficit in Illinois is almost as big as the one facing California, a financially beleaguered state that has triple Illinois’ population, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal Washington-based think tank.

Reactions: Is Tenure a Matter of Life or Death?

The Chronicle Review:

The shootings on February 12 at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, which left three faculty members dead and two more professors and a department assistant wounded, have sparked a good deal of soul-searching within higher education. Amy Bishop, an assistant professor of biology at the university who was recently denied tenure, was arrested at the scene and has been charged with murder and attempted murder.
Bishop’s tenure denial may or may not be relevant to the shootings, but some scholars are asking what role, if any, the stresses of academic life played in the tragedy. What are the psychological effects of academic culture, particularly on rising scholars? Can or should something be done to change that culture?
The Chronicle asked a group of scholars and experts what they thought.
Cristina Nehring, writer and Ph.D. candidate in English literature at the University of California at Los Angeles:
Amy Bishop is nobody’s poster girl–not even for the tragic perversity of the tenure process.

Branding: CNN Poll: Three-fourths think federal officials not honest


Folklore says that George Washington was known for never telling a lie. But as the United States marks its first president’s birthday, a new poll indicates that 74 percent of the public thinks the father of our country did lie to the public while he served as president – an indication that Americans think that the government has been broken for a very, very long time.
The CNN/Opinion Corporation survey was released Monday, the 278th anniversary of Washington’s birth.
Full results (pdf)
Three quarters of people questioned in the survey think that modern-day federal officials are not honest, a figure that is essentially unchanged since 1994. But the poll suggests that Americans think the problem of dishonesty is not a new one.

More high-schoolers reinvent or skip their senior year

Greg Toppo:

When Utah state Sen. Chris Buttars unveiled a cost-cutting measure this month that would have made the high school senior year optional, perhaps no one in the state Capitol Building was more surprised than 18-year-old Jake Trimble, who already opted out of the second half of senior year just weeks earlier.
He has spent the past month working at the Capitol as an unpaid intern for the state Democratic Party’s communications team, designing posters and writing scripts for legislators’ robocalls. Trimble graduated in January, one semester early, from the nearby Academy of Math Engineering and Science (AMES).
“I’m very happy to not be in high school anymore,” says Trimble, who proudly reports that he’s “not rotting in my parents’ basement.” Actually, when the legislative session ends next month, he’ll move on to another internship (this one paid) as a lab assistant at the University of Utah’s Orthopedic Center.
Trimble is part of a small but growing group of students — most of them academically advanced and, as a result, a tad restless — who are tinkering with their senior year. A few observers say the quiet experiment has the potential to reinvent high school altogether.

Madison school board rivals Tom Farley and James Howard square off at forum

Lynn Welch:

Walking toward the audience wearing a dark blue suit and tie, James Howard explained that he doesn’t have all the answers to big issues facing Madison’s schools.
“I won’t stand here and tell you I know the best way. But we do have to make sure we protect learning,” said Howard, 56, a contender for Madison school board, at a candidate forum on Sunday. “$30 million is a heck of a deficit. Have you written you r congress people? We really need to come up with a different funding source.”
Tom Farley and James Howard are vying for school board Seat 4, being vacated by Johnny Winston. It is the only contested seat of three on the April 6 ballot.
Following a brief presentation from uncontested candidates Maya Cole and Beth Moss, Howard and Farley answered questions posed by forum organizers from Progressive Dane and submitted questions from an audience of about 50 at Wright Middle School. One key area of inquiry was how the candidates would go about solving an anticipated $30 million budget hole next year.

An Interview with Eagle School Co-Founder Mary Olsky

It was a pleasure to meet and visit with Fitchburg’s Eagle School Co-Founder Mary Olsky recently.
We discussed a wide variety of topics, including Eagle’s History (founded in 1982), curricular rigor, the importance of good textbooks and critical student thinking. I also found it interesting to hear Mary’s perspective on public / private schools and her hope, in 1982, that that the Madison School District would take over (and apply its lessons) Eagle School. Of course, it did not turn out that way.
I’ve always found it rather amazing that Promega Founder Bill Linton’s generous land offer to the Madison School District for the “Madison Middle School 2000” charter school was rejected – and the land ended up under Eagle’s new facility.
Listen to the conversation via this 14mb mp3 audio file.

Read the transcript here.
Eagle’s website.
Finally, Mary mentioned the term “high school” a number of times, along with $20,000,000. I suspect we’ll see a high school at some point. It will take a significant effort.
Thanks to Laurie Frost for arranging this interview.

Will Fitzhugh…has been fighting for more non-fiction for years: Help pick non-fiction for schools

Jay Matthews:

It wasn’t until I was in my fifties that I realized how restricted my high school reading lists had been, and how little they had changed for my three children. They were enthusiastic readers, as my wife and I were. But all, or almost all, of the required books for either generation were fiction.
I am not dismissing the delights of Twain, Crane, Buck, Saroyan and Wilder, all of which I read in high school. But I think I would also have enjoyed Theodore H. White, John Hersey, Barbara Tuchman and Bruce Catton if they had been assigned.
Maybe that’s changing. Maybe rebellious teens these days are fleeing Faulkner, Hemingway, Austen, and Baldwin, or whoever is on the 12th grade English list, and furtively reading Malcolm Gladwell, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin and other non-fiction stars.
Sadly, no.
The Renaissance Learning company released a list of what 4.6 million students read in the 2008-2009 school year, based on its Accelerated Reader program that encourages children to choose their own books. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter has given way to the hormonal allure of Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire books, but both school and non-school books are still almost all fiction.
When I ask local school districts why this is, some get defensive and insist they do require non-fiction. But the only title that comes up with any frequency is Night, Elie Wiesel’s story of his boyhood in the Holocaust. It is one of only two nonfiction works to appear in the top 20 of Accelerated Reader’s list of books read by high schoolers. The other is ‘A Child Called ‘It,’ Dave Pelzer’s account of his alleged abuse as a child by his alcoholic mother.
Will Fitzhugh, whose Concord Review quarterly publishes research papers by high school students, has been fighting for more non-fiction for years. I agree with him that high school English departments’ allegiance to novels leads impressionable students to think, incorrectly, that non-fiction is a bore. That in turn makes them prefer fiction writing assignments to anything that could be described by that dreaded word “research.”
A relatively new trend in student writing is called “creative nonfiction.” It makes Fitzhugh shudder. “It allows high school students (mostly girls) to complete writing assignments and participate in ‘essay contests’ by writing about their hopes, experiences, doubts, relationships, worries, victimization (if any), and parents, as well as more existential questions such as ‘How do I look?’ and ‘What should I wear to school?'” he said in a 2008 essay for
Educators say non-fiction is more difficult than fiction for students to comprehend. It requires more factual knowledge, beyond fiction’s simple truths of love, hate, passion and remorse. So we have a pathetic cycle. Students don’t know enough about the real world because they don’t read non-fiction and they can’t read non-fiction because they don’t know enough about the real world.
Educational theorist E.D. Hirsch Jr. insists this is what keeps many students from acquiring the communication skills they need for successful lives. “Language mastery is not some abstract skill,” he said in his latest book, The Making of Americans. “It depends on possessing broad general knowledge shared by other competent people within the language community.”
I think we can help. Post comments here, or send an email to, with non-fiction titles that would appeal to teens. I will discuss your choices in a future column. I can see why students hate writing research papers when their history and science reading has been confined to the flaccid prose of their textbooks. But what if they first read Longitude by Dava Sobel or A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar? What magical exploration of reality would you add to your favorite teenager’s reading list?

Los Angeles Approves Governance Changes: Hands over Some Schools to Charters & Teacher Groups

Tamara Audi:

Los Angeles’ Board of Education voted Tuesday to hand over some of its public schools to charter school operators and teachers groups, part of an unusual experiment.
The city’s Board of Education voted Tuesday to hand over some of its public schools to charter school operators and teachers groups, part of an unusual experiment to see whether outsiders will have better luck improving student achievement in the nation’s second-largest school district.
But most of the 30 campuses, some with more than one school, were awarded to teachers and administrators employed by the school district. The board awarded four schools to charter groups, and two schools to a group led by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The majority of the schools were awarded to teachers’ groups. The board’s vote was a blow to charter advocates and a boost to teachers in the city’s divided education community.
Hundreds of parents, teachers and charter school advocates had gathered outside school board offices all day, and packed the board room during the five-hour meeting.

The high school courses students need for college

Bruce Vinik via Valerie Strauss:

It’s that time of year again. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to spring training and high school students are puzzling over which classes to take next fall. The choices students make do matter. Outside of grades, nothing is more important in college admissions than the classes kids take in high school. “Strength of Program” is a big deal.
Let’s start with the basics. Colleges expect students to take at least five core academic subjects every year of high school — English, social studies, science, math and foreign language.
In a perfect world, students would take each core subject every year. But the world isn’t perfect and colleges don’t expect kids to be. As long as students take each core subject through eleventh grade, they should feel free to pursue their particular academic interests in greater depth during twelfth grade. There’s nothing wrong with dropping social studies senior year in order to double up on science.

Assessment as Marketing

Dean Dad:

n a conversation last week with a big muckety-muck, I realized that there are two fundamentally different, and largely opposed, understandings of outcomes assessment in play. Which definition you accept will color your expectations.
The first is what I used to consider the basic definition: internal measures of outcomes, used to generate improvement over time. If you understand assessment in this way, then several things follow. You might not want all of it to be public, since the candid warts-and-all conversations that underlie real improvement simply wouldn’t happen on the public record. You’d pay special attention to shortcomings, since that’s where improvement is most needed. You’d want some depth of understanding, often favoring thicker explanations over thinner ones, since an overly reductive measure would defeat the purpose.
The second understanding is of assessment as a form of marketing. See how great we are! You should come here! The “you” in that last sentence could be prospective students being lured to a particular college, or it could be companies being lured to a particular state. If you understand assessment in this way, then several things follow. You’d want it to be as public as possible, since advertising works best when people see it. You’d pay special attention to strengths, rather than shortcomings. You’d downplay ‘improvement,’ since it implies an existing lack. And you’d want simplicity. When in doubt, go with the thinner explanation rather than the thicker one; you can’t do a thick description in a thirty-second elevator pitch.

More Catholic schools reaching out to special-needs students

Michael Alison Chandler:

A math class for students with intellectual disabilities at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax practiced naming dates on a calendar one recent morning and deciphering what time it is when the big hand is on the 10 and the little hand is on the 11. But first, the teacher led them in a prayer.
Father in heaven, we offer you this class and all that we may accomplish today,” they said together.
Federal law requires that public schools offer a free, appropriate education for students with disabilities, and federal and state governments subsidize the higher costs of smaller classes and extra resources. Catholic schools have no such legal mandate, and financial constraints have historically made it difficult for them to offer similar specialized services.
That is starting to change.

To Impress, Tufts Prospects Turn to YouTube

Tamar Lewin:

There are videos showing off card tricks, horsemanship, jump rope and stencils — and lots of rap songs, including one by a young woman who performed two weeks after oral surgery, with her mouth still rubber-banded shut.
There is also Rhaina Cohen’s video, working off the saying “You never truly know someone until you have walked a mile in her shoes,” and featuring the blue sandals from her bat mitzvah, the white sneakers she bought cheaply in Britain, and the black heels in which she “stood next to Hillary Clinton.”
It is reading season at the Tufts University admissions office, time to plow through thousands of essays and transcripts and recommendations — and this year, for the first time, short YouTube videos that students could post to supplement their application.
About 1,000 of the 15,000 applicants submitted videos. Some have gotten thousands of hits on YouTube.

Textbooks That Professors Can Rewrite Digitally

Motoko Rich:

Readers can modify content on the Web, so why not in books?
In a kind of Wikipedia of textbooks, Macmillan, one of the five largest publishers of trade books and textbooks, is introducing software called DynamicBooks, which will allow college instructors to edit digital editions of textbooks and customize them for their individual classes.
Professors will be able to reorganize or delete chapters; upload course syllabuses, notes, videos, pictures and graphs; and perhaps most notably, rewrite or delete individual paragraphs, equations or illustrations.
While many publishers have offered customized print textbooks for years — allowing instructors to reorder chapters or insert third-party content from other publications or their own writing — DynamicBooks gives instructors the power to alter individual sentences and paragraphs without consulting the original authors or publisher.

Learning as We Go: Why School Choice Is Worth the Wait

Paul Hill via a Center on Reinventing Public Education email:

Why haven’t schools of choice yet achieved a broader appeal? Publicly funded school choice programs–charter schools in forty-three states and vouchers in a few localities–have for the most part been qualified successes. Yet the rhetoric of choice supporters promised much more effective schools and an era of innovation that has not come to pass. In Learning as We Go: Why School Choice Is Worth the Wait, Paul T. Hill examines the real-world factors that can complicate, delay, and in some instances interfere with the positive cause-and-effect relationships identified by the theories behind school choice.
Hill explains why schools of choice haven’t yet achieved a broader appeal and details the key factors–including politics, policy, and regulation–that explain the delay. The author then suggests changes in public policy along with philanthropic investment that could overcome barriers and increase the rate of progress toward full operation of what he calls the “virtuous cycle” stimulated by school choice.

Parents, staff to take part in Jefferson Middle School concert

Pamela Cotant:

Jefferson Middle School parents and staff members who put away their band instruments years ago — or maybe never played one — will get a chance to perform in a school band concert.
A portion of Jefferson’s band concert at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the gymnasium will feature five songs performed by about 30 parents and community members connected to the school. They’ll be joined by about 10 staff members.
This is the second time in five years that Jefferson band director Allison Jaeger has invited adults to join the middle schoolers — an idea her husband, Ben Jaeger, had tried earlier at Spring Harbor Middle School, where he is the band director. Jaeger had fun taking part in that concert.
“Really the most important thing is that the parents are showing they are learning right alongside their students,” Jaeger said.

New Jersey Unions lose seats of power

Charles Stile:

Marching orders bellowed from across the state Senate president’s balcony on Monday, jolting the union members nestled in the public gallery.
They had to get out — now. Too noisy. Too crowded. The beefy sergeant-at-arms did not seem to care that some people had secured those seats hours earlier.
“That’s everybody,” he said, his arms shooing them toward the exits.
“Well, that’s a first,” a stunned New Jersey Education Association representative complained.
A brigade of public employee union leaders, hoping to defeat four pension “reform” bills with a last-minute show of force, also found little sympathy or patience downstairs at the door to the Senate chambers. A “Vote No!” chant was quickly doused. Officials herded them along the wall. An irritated state trooper snapped at one protester perceived to be a little too loud.
Public employee unions, whose money and muscle once earned them a permanent access to Trenton’s inner sanctums of power, are being told to leave their business cards at the door. They once roamed the State House halls, feared and respected; now they are subjected to aggressive crowd control.

National Standards: Raising the Bar for Global Opportunity

Woodrow Wilson International Center:

Arundhati Jayarao, Middle and High School Chemistry and Physics, Virginia; Sarah Yue, High School Chemistry, California; Kirk Janowiak, High School Biology and Environmental Science, Indiana; Ben Van Dusen, High School Physics, Oregon; Mark Greenman, High School Physics, Massachusetts; and John Moore, High School Environmental Science, New Jersey.
Moderated By: Kent Hughes, Director, Program on America and the Global Economy.
The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellows offer a unique perspective on U.S. schools and educational policymaking; they have been chosen by the Department of Energy to spend a fellowship year in congressional or executive offices based on their excellence in teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics(STEM) subjects in K-12 schools. The Fellows will discuss how to achieve national standards that are benchmarked to the world’s best and how higher standards will affect changes in curricula.

Where the Bar Ought to Be

Bob Herbert:

Deborah Kenny talks a lot about passion — the passion for teaching, for reading and for learning. She has it. She wants all of her teachers to have it. Above all, she wants her students to have it.
Ms. Kenny has created three phenomenally successful charter schools in Harlem and is in the process of creating more. She’s gotten a great deal of national attention. But for all the talk about improving schools in this country, she thinks we tend to miss the point more often than not.
There is an overemphasis on “the program elements,” she said, “things like curriculum and class size and school size and the longer day.” She understood in 2001, when she was planning the first of the schools that have come to be known as the Harlem Village Academies, that none of those program elements were nearly as important as the quality of the teaching in the schools.
“If you had an amazing teacher who was talented and passionate and given the freedom and support to teach well,” she said, “that was just 100 times more important than anything else.”

School District Laptop Snooping: district can’t discuss its cameras or other issues without alerting the plaintiff

Joseph Tanfani & Larry King:

The next time Lower Merion school administrators want to talk to students and parents about their laptop-camera controversy, they will have to get a lawyer’s blessing.
Not from their own lawyers, but the ones suing them on behalf of a Harriton High sophomore who claims the school invaded his home and his privacy by remotely snapping his image with the camera on his school-provided laptop.
The unusual order, signed by a federal judge yesterday, means those running the elite Lower Merion School District can’t say a word about the laptop cameras or any other issues in the suit without giving the other side a copy of what they want to say – plus six hours’ notice.
Such communication limits are commonplace in class-action litigation, but rare in the context of a school district at the center of what’s become a nationwide controversy.

Teacher Seniority Rules Challenged With Tens of Thousands of Layoffs Looming, Government Officials and Parents Want to Change the ‘Last in, First out’ System

Barbara Martinez:

Teacher seniority rules are meeting resistance from government officials and parents as a wave of layoffs is hitting public schools and driving newer teachers out of classrooms.
In a majority of the country’s school districts, teacher layoffs are handled on a “last in, first out” basis. Critics of seniority rules worry that many effective and talented teachers who have been hired in recent years will lose their jobs.
Unions say that seniority rules are the only objective way to carry out layoffs, and that they protect teachers from the whims and bias of managers, who might fire effective teachers they don’t like.
This year, because of cuts in state aid to New York City, the city could be facing a loss of about 8,500 teacher jobs out of a total of 80,000. The last time the nation’s largest school system laid off a teacher was 1976.
If New York City is forced to lay off some of the more than 30,000 new teachers it has hired in the past five years, it is “going to be catastrophic,” said Joel Klein, chancellor of the city’s school system. “We’re going to be losing a lot of great new teachers that we hired” in recent years, the chancellor said.

Khan Academy: Math & Science Lessons Online

Spencer Michels:

33-year-old math and science whiz kid — working out of his house in California’s Silicon Valley — may be revolutionizing how people all over the world will learn math. He is Salman Khan, and until a few months ago he made his living as a hedge fund analyst. But he’s become a kind of an unseen rock star in the online instruction field, posting 1200 lessons in math and science on YouTube, none of them lasting more than about 10 minutes. He quit his job at the hedge fund to devote full time to his Khan Academy teaching efforts, which he does essentially for free.
Khan explained how the U.S. unemployment rate is calculated in a NewsHour exclusive video.

The Boy Gap

Joanne Jacobs:

It’s time for schools to focus on the widening gap in reading and writing skills that leaves so many boys unprepared for success in college or vocational training.
As a volunteer in my daughter’s kindergarten class, I was asked to help children write a “story” (a few words) to illustrate their pictures. Only one girl needed my writing help; only one boy could write for himself. Nearly all the boys seemed to be a full year behind nearly all the girls in their ability to pay attention, follow directions, control frustrations, sit still, handle a pencil or crayon and do what used to be considered first-grade work.
As reading and writing are pushed down to earlier ages, boys are struggling harder to meet higher expectations, writes Richard Whitmire, a former USA Today reporter, in Why Boys Fail.
“Each year since 1988 the gap between boys’ and girls’ reading skills has widened a bit more,” Whitmire writes. Boys aren’t wired for early verbal skills — and teachers aren’t trained in “boy-friendly” techniques to help them catch up.

Raising the realtime child

Nicholas Carr:

Amazingly enough, tomorrow will mark the one-year anniversary of the start of Rough Type’s Realtime Chronicles. Time flies, and realtime flies like a bat out of hell.
Since I began writing the series, I have received innumerable emails and texts from panicked parents worried that they may be failing in what has become the central challenge of modern parenting: ensuring that children grow up to be well adapted to the realtime environment. These parents are concerned – and rightly so – that their kids will be at a disadvantage in the realtime milieu in which we all increasingly live, work, love, and compete for the small bits of attention that, in the aggregate, define the success, or failure, of our days. If maladapted to realtime existence, these parents understand, their progeny will end up socially ostracized, with few friends and even fewer followers. “Can we even be said to be alive,” one agitated young mother wrote me, “if our status updates go unread?” The answer, of course, is no. In the realtime environment, the absence of interactive stimuli, even for brief periods of “time,” may result in a state of reflective passivity indistinguishable from nonexistence. On a more practical level, a lack of realtime skills is sure to constrain a young person’s long-term job prospects. At best, he or she will be fated to spend his or her days involved in some form of manual labor, possibly even working out of doors with severely limited access to screens. At worst, he or she will have to find a non-tenure-track position in academia.

Lift the cap on Wisconsin virtual schools

Representative Brett Davis:

In Wisconsin, we have always been proud of our strong education system. New demands and technology are changing the way we prepare our children to enter the 21st century workforce. We must ensure that our state’s education system remains a national leader by providing our children with the skills that are needed to compete in a global economy.
It has been proven that not every child learns the same way. In fact, some students learn best outside of the traditional bricks-and-mortar school setting. For these children, virtual schools have come to fill an educational need. Virtual schools involve long-distance learning that use computers and Internet connections. These schools employ vigorous and challenging curricula along with regular interaction with state-certified teachers.
However, virtual schools were nearly wiped out in 2007 due to a court challenge by WEAC, the state’s teachers union.
In response, in the last legislative session I led the charge to ensure that virtual schools remain an option for Wisconsin’s parents and children. A bipartisan compromise was reached to keep the schools open but included a cap of 5,250 students requested by critics until a legislative audit could be conducted.

A Modest Proposal for NCLB Reauthorization

Chad Aldeman:

Senior House Republicans and Democrats recently announced a new bi-partisan effort to re-authorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It’s a good sign for some real progress, both for education specifically and Washington in general, but there’s been no word on whether the Senate is so inclined. The “proposals” put forward so far by the Department of Education and at yesterday’s announcement are light on details, so this post is my attempt at rectifying some of the major issues around No Child Left Behind.
No More Pass/ Fail
One of the more frequent criticisms of the law concerns its binary pass/ fail system. If a school fails to meet a single academic benchmarks in a single grade in a single subject by a single sub-group of students, it is said to not meet “adequate yearly progress,” or AYP. If it does not meet AYP for multiple years in a row, the school is subject to a series of consequences that become more punitive the more years it misses targets.
The strengths of this arrangement came from protecting under-served populations. Because a school would be held accountable for all groups of students, it focused much more attention on achievement gaps and did not let a school hide its problems educating important sub-groups behind school-wide averages.

Milwaukee Public Schools faces a crisis in both accountability and democracy

Milwaukee School Board member Bruce Thompson:

For Milwaukee Public Schools, the financial crisis that many of us have been warning about is here. As principals get their initial budgets, they are faced with cutting teachers; larger class sizes; the loss of specialty teachers such as those in art, music, physical education; and the lost of librarians. Perversely, schools that have the best student achievement are often the hardest hit, since the middle-class students attracted to these schools bring less aid with them.
While many other school systems (and other government units) are also facing cuts brought on by exploding health care costs and the weak economy, MPS has been particularly hard hit. And much of the MPS pain is self-inflicted. Next year, MPS is facing a 77% fringe benefit rate, meaning that the cost to the district of an employee is 77% more than that employee’s pay. If the unfunded liability for retiree benefits were correctly included, the fringe benefit rate would rise to almost 104%, meaning that the cost to the school district of an employee is more than twice that employee’s pay.
The biggest factor in the exploding benefits cost is the cost of health care. MPS offers two plans, one of which costs MPS twice as much per employee as the other. Yet because MPS pays the full cost of the plans, there is no incentive for employees to pick the less-expensive plan. Employees can retire at age 55 and continue to have MPS pay for their health insurance at the rate it did when they retired. Pensions have an employer and an employee contribution, but MPS pays both parts.

New Jersey Senate panel approves pension reforms; Whelan tells teachers times have changed

Juliet Fletcher:

As Trenton lawmakers gave first approval Thursday to a group of bills to reform the state’s public-worker pension and benefits systems, Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, tackled the teachers unions, telling them their case for strong state pensions was out-of-date.
Shortly before committee members voted to approve three bills and a constitutional resolution, Whelan, who teaches in the Atlantic City school district, told hundreds of assembled public workers — including dozens of teachers — that state workers should no longer claim they needed large pensions to make up for low pay.
“I’m of a generation that that was true for,” Whelan said at a hearing of the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism and Historic Preservation Committee that he chairs.
“Quite bluntly, when I began teaching — almost 100 years ago, not quite — we made lousy money, and you were always going to make lousy money. That was true whether you were a teacher, a cop, a fireman, any public employees across the board. We were underpaid,” he said.

Wisconsin Teachers Union Tops Lobbying Expenditures in 2009, more than Double #2

Wisconsin Government Accountability Board [22K PDF]:

The Wisconsin Education Association spent $1.5 million in 2009 lobbying state lawmakers, nearly twice as much as the next-largest spender, according to a report from the Government Accountability Board.
Overall, lobbying organizations reported spending $36.2 million in 2009, a 5.2 percent increase from the first half of the previous legislative session.
The 2009 report analyzes the activities of 746 lobbying principals and 750 registered lobbyists.
“Not only is Wisconsin’s lobbying law strong, but information about lobbying activities is easy to use online,” said Kevin J. Kennedy, director and general counsel of the G.A.B. “The law requires disclosure and prohibits gifts to lawmakers. The Board’s Eye on Lobbying online database allows the public to keep track of lobbying activities at the Capitol without leaving home.”
The most lobbied bill in 2009 was the AB 138, regarding appointment of the secretary of the Natural Resources Board. Organizations reported spending 2,923 hours attempting to influence legislators on that bill.

Complete 80K PDF Report.

The Pulse: Critical Week Ahead for Chicago School Reform

Crystal Yednak:

Chicago Public Schools’ controversial process of closing, consolidating and turning around schools will receive new scrutiny this week.
The City Council’s Education Committee will hold a hearing Monday on a resolution to impose a one-year moratorium on any such changes, and the Chicago Board of Education is scheduled to vote Wednesday on proposals to close two schools, consolidate two others, turn around five and phase out one. Turnarounds involve replacing new teachers, principals, and other staff while the student body remains intact.
“The process — from recommendation to the Board of Education vote — is probably no more than a month,” said Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd Ward), who co-sponsored the resolution in response to complaints of too little community involvement. “That’s unfair.”

The Post-Text World

Idea of the Day:

Today’s idea: Since written language is merely a technology for storing and transferring information, it’s likely to be replaced by a newer technology that performs the same function more effectively, a futurist says.
E Reader on empty bookshelf. This image has been manipulated using Photoshop.
The Britannica Blog has a series of posts called Learning and Literacy in the Digital Age, including this one by Patrick Tucker, senior editor of The Futurist. He speculates that text could be rendered obsolete not by the “culture of the image” — that threat is so last century — but by the so-called “information age” itself:

… Research into cyber-telepathy has direct ramifications for the written word and its survivability. Electronic circuits mapped out in the same pattern as human neurons could, in decades ahead, reproduce the electrical activity that occurs when our natural transmitters activate. Theoretically, such circuits could allow parts of our brain to communicate with one another at greater levels of efficiency, possibly allowing humans to access data from the Web without looking it up or reading it.

Stowe teachers set example for rest of Vermont: Forego 5.25% Pay Raise

Burlington Free Press:

Teachers and staff members in the Stowe School District have set an example for the rest of the state by agreeing to go without a pay increase built into their contract to help preserve programs and positions threatened by tough economic times.
The teachers and staff agreed to forgo a 5.25 percent raise, shaving about $240,000 from the proposed $9.7 million budget. That was enough to save a list of athletic and academic programs, as well as save jobs in the school district.
People tasked with balancing a public budget in the midst of the worst economic downturnin a generation often talk about making difficult decisions. Those who feel the impact of reduced budgets often are quick to argue why their interests deserve to be spared. This is a phenomenon seen from the halls of the Statehouse to budgets meetings in communities throughout the state.
The Stowe teachers took a different tack, choosing to give something up so their colleagues could keep their jobs, and students could keep their classes and teams.

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”.

Comments on Seattle’s Math Curriculum Court Ruling, Governance and Community Interaction

Melissa Westbrook:

I attended Harium’s Community meeting and the 43rd Dems meeting (partial) yesterday. Here are some updates (add on if you attended either or Michael DeBell’s meeting).
We covered a fair amount of ground with Harium but a lot on the math ruling/outcomes. Here’s what he said:

  • the Board will decide what will happen from the math ruling. I asked Harium about who would be doing what because of how the phrasing the district used in their press release – “In addition to any action the School Board may take, the district expects to appeal this decision.” It made it sound like the district (1) might do something different from the Board and (2) the district had already decided what they would do. Harium said they misspoke and it was probably the heat of the moment.
  • He seems to feel the judge erred. He said they did follow the WAC rules which is what she should have been ruling on but didn’t. I probably should go back and look at the complete ruling but it seems like not going by the WAC would open her decision up to be reversed so why would she have done it? He said the issue was that there are statewide consequences to this ruling and that Issaquah and Bellevue (or Lake Washington?) are doing math adoptions and this ruling is troubling. I gently let Harium know that the Board needs to follow the law, needs to be transparent in their decision-making and the district needs to have balanced adoption committees or else this could happen again. No matter how the district or the Board feel, the judge did not throw out the case, did not rule against the plaintiffs but found for them. The ball is in the Board’s court and they need to consider this going forward with other decisions.

Washington, DC: $28,000 per student, gives Voucher Students $7,500

John Stossel:

On my show last night — which re-runs at 10pm tonight on FBN — I said that Washington DC gives voucher schools $7,500 per student, but DC’s public schools cost twice that much: $15,000.
The $15,000 number has been cited by congressmen and newspapers like the WSJ and the Denver Post. It comes from the the National Center for Education Statistics, and the Census.
Unfortunately, it’s also wrong. Or at least very misleading, since it ignores major sources of spending. As CATO Education scholar Andrew Coulson explains:

DC also has a “state” level bureaucracy that spends nearly $200 million annually on k-12 programs, and the city spends another $275 million or so on school construction, school facilities modernization, and other so-called “capital” projects.

But those aren’t included in the regular spending figures.

Related: Education: Too Important for a Government Monopoly. Joanne has more as does Mark Perry.
Locally, the Madison School District has 24,295 students and a 2009/2010 budget of $418,415,780. $17,222 per student. The DC budget morass illustrates the necessity of K-12 budget clarity in all cases, including Madison.

16 Wisconsin high schools have students with perfect ACT scores

Amy Hetzner:

Sixteen Wisconsin high schools had at least one senior in the Class of 2009 who received the top score on the ACT, ACT Inc. announced this week.
The schools with students who received 36s were:
Arrowhead High School in the Town of Merton
Bay City Baptist School in Green Bay
Central Wisconsin Christian High School in Waupun
Edgewood High School in Madison
Fort Atkinson High School
Heritage Christian School in West Allis
Homestead High School in Mequon
Marquette University High School in Milwaukee
Middleton High School
Monona Grove High School in Monona
Neenah High School
Onalaska High School
Oshkosh North High School
Oshkosh West High School
Wauwatosa East High School
West High School in Madison

United Teachers Los Angeles protests school district reform

Adolfo Guzman-Lopez:

L.A. Unified’s teachers’ union organized protests today and for next week against school district administrators. The union is upset that the superintendent has tentatively allowed outside groups to assume control of new and low-performing campuses.
The school district received 85 proposals to run three dozen campuses. Teachers, charter school companies and other nonprofits crafted the plans. The superintendent is recommending teacher and district-written plans for more than half the schools. Outside groups could run another quarter of the schools.
A teacher, parent and student vote earlier this month favored the teacher plans. A nonprofit run by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa received the recommendation to run Carver Middle School.
Kirsten Ellis, a teacher there, doesn’t like the idea. “We demand that the school board and the superintendent adhere to and follow the vote of the people, instead of throwing it out and ignoring it.”

Your Kids Love It. You Love It. Perfect.

Stephen Kreider, Isaac and Levi Yoder:

Time was running out, so I bought two tickets to Villahermosa, Mexico.
Three planes, a bus ride and a hike later, Levi and I are finishing this column among the Mayan pyramids of Palenque. It’s about 80 degrees out, and howler monkeys are bellowing from the surrounding jungle.
But this isn’t a column about travel. It’s about one of the loveliest fringe benefits to having kids: You can use them as an excuse to do stuff you wanted to do yourself but never would have.
Time was running out on a promise I made Levi when he was 7. He has always been keen on history, and he became fascinated with the Mayans.
“Isn’t there a pyramid where you can go inside and see the king’s grave?” he asked. “Yes, and I’ve been there!” I said. “How about you and I go there some winter break soon?”

Harambee Community School has had periods of excellence. But now, lack of accreditation could mean its end after 40 years.

Alan Borsuk:

A rich history. Energetic, sweet students, including several kindergartners who spontaneously gave me hugs. Teachers and administrators who want to succeed. A good building. I enjoyed my visit to Harambee Community School, and I’d like to feel bad about what the school is facing now.
But I don’t.
Harambee faces its end, after 40 years. And it’s hard to reach any conclusion other than that it is the fault of leaders of the school.
If efforts to bring more quality to Milwaukee schools are going to mean anything, a central pillar has to be accountability or, to put it another way, taking a firm line on schools that don’t measure up, be they voucher, charter, or conventional public schools.
In a tough love sort of way, if Harambee closes after this school year, this probably will be a success for those saying high-needs children need better than what they are getting.
A law passed by the Legislature in 2006 was perfectly clear: To stay in Milwaukee’s private school voucher program and receive large sums of money from the state, a school had to get accredited by Dec. 31, 2009.
Three and a half years later, it was Dec. 31, 2009, and every school that was covered by the requirement had either succeeded or closed, except one: Harambee.

On Teacher Union Conflicts between Pay and Accountability

Kevin Manahan:

The New Jersey Education Association makes it easy to conclude that most public school teachers in New Jersey are lousy or mediocre. They must be, because they’re willing to settle for the same pay the lazy, unprepared and uninspiring slug in the chaotic classroom across the hall is getting.
The NJEA — the union for most of New Jersey’s public school teachers — refused to back the state’s application for hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid because the Rise to the Top program demands that teachers tie their pay to measurable student performance.
President Obama has endorsed merit pay, but the NJEA, as expected, has come up with many reasons why this is a bad idea. Of course it won’t propose its own merit-pay formula, because the NJEA is against any form of merit pay.
The union doesn’t want teacher pay tied to testing because a teacher could be penalized if “a kid was up all night playing video games” or “didn’t have breakfast,” NJEA president Barbara Keshishian recently told The Star-Ledger editorial board. That’s a silly argument, because no one would suggest tying a salary to a single test, but those are the kinds of silly arguments the NJEA makes.

Sibal to hold talks with India states on fee structure, teachers’ salary

India Times:

With a little over a month before the Right to Education Act is notified, union human resource development minister Kapil Sibal said that his ministry would hold consultations with the states to resolve issues such as fee structure and teachers’ salaries, that are likely to arise while implementing the Act. Stressing that the government will take steps to prevent commercialisation of education, Mr Sibal said that the consultation would be undertaken to evolve a policy so that “poor, marginalised, and disadvantaged” students are not adversely affected.
“Our aim is to ensure that all children in India get quality education, but we are against commercialisation of education. Incessant hike of fee and overcharging from parents is something we do not support. I will talk to every state government on issues regarding implementation of the RTE Act from April 1. I will be meeting Delhi chief minister Sheila Diskhit on Monday regarding the same,” the minister said. Mr Sibal drew special attention to the need to provide some relaxation to “marginal” schools, which are currently not recognised. The RTE makes it mandatory for all schools to be recognised. While state laws, such as that of Delhi, require that all recognised schools pay teachers according to government scales, and tuition fees of schools be regulated.

Friends School of Baltimore Teaches 8th-Graders About Islam

James Tarabay:

Most American schoolchildren learn about Islam in a social studies classroom. But at the Friends School in Baltimore, eighth-graders make their own mini-pilgrimage every year, to the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C.
As their bus rattles along the highway south to Washington, most of the kids are busy making up songs about each other. But 12-year-old Julia Potter is counting off the Five Pillars of Islam on her fingers: charity, prayer, fasting, profession of faith, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.
These kids are well-versed in the basics of Islam and more: In class, they learn about Judaism, Hinduism and Christianity; about prophets, taboos and holy laws. And every year, eighth-graders visit the Islamic Center — though every year, according to teacher Deloris Jones, they get there late. “There’s absolutely nothing over the years I have been able to do to keep this thing on time,” Jones says.

Change and Race to the Top

Robert Godfrey:

Which brings us to this next item, one with twist and turns not completely understandable at this point, but certainly not held up by people like myself as a model of how to “get the job properly done” — to use Herbert’s words.
Diane Ravitch, an intellectual on education policy, difficult to pigeonhole politically (appointed to public office by both G.H.W. Bush and Clinton), but best described as an independent, co-writes a blog with Deborah Meier that some of our readers may be familiar with called “Bridging Differences.” This past week she highlighted a possibly disturbing development in the Race to the Top competition program of the Department of Education, that dangles $4.3 billion to the states with a possible $1.3 billion to follow. Ravitch’s critique suggests that this competition is not run by pragmatists, but rather by ideologues who are led by the Bill Gates Foundation.

If this election had been held five years ago, the department would be insisting on small schools, but because Gates has already tried and discarded that approach, the department is promoting the new Gates remedies: charter schools, privatization, and evaluating teachers by student test scores.

Two of the top lieutenants of the Gates Foundation were placed in charge of the competition by Secretary Arne Duncan. Both have backgrounds as leaders in organisations dedicated to creating privately managed schools that operate with public money.

None of this is terribly surprising (See the Sunlight Foundation’s excellent work on the Obama Administration’s insider dealings with PhRMA). Jeff Henriques did a lot of work looking at the Madison School District’s foray into Small Learning Communities.
Is it possible to change the current K-12 bureacracy from within? Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman spoke about the “adult employment” focus of the K-12 world:

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

I suspect that Duncan and many others are trying to significantly change the adult to student process, rather than simply pumping more money into the current K-12 monopoly structures.
They are to be commended for this.
Will there be waste, fraud and abuse? Certainly. Will there be waste fraud and abuse if the funds are spent on traditional K-12 District organizations? Of course. John Stossel notes that when one puts together the numbers, Washington, DC’s schools spend $26,000 per student, while they provide $7,500 to the voucher schools…..
We’re better off with diffused governance across the board. Milwaukee despite its many travails, is developing a rich K-12 environment.
The Verona school board narrowly approved a new Mandarin immersion charter school on a 4-3 vote recently These citizen initiatives offer some hope for new opportunities for our children. I hope we see more of this.
Finally, all of this presents an interesting contrast to what appears to be the Madison School District Administration’s ongoing “same service” governance approach.

Give students a reality check: Assign more nonfiction books.

Jay Matthews:

It wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I realized how restricted my high school reading lists had been and how little they had changed for my three children. They were enthusiastic readers, as my wife and I were. But all, or almost all, of the required books for both generations were fiction.
I am not dismissing the delights of Twain, Crane, Buck, Saroyan and Wilder, all of which I read in high school. But I think I also would have enjoyed Theodore H. White, John Hersey, Barbara Tuchman and Bruce Catton if they had been assigned.
Could that be changing? Maybe rebellious teens these days are fleeing Faulkner, Hemingway, Austen and Baldwin, or whoever is on the 12th grade English list, and furtively reading Malcolm Gladwell, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin and other nonfiction stars.
Sadly, no. The Renaissance Learning company released a list of what 4.6 million students read in the 2008-09 school year, based on its Accelerated Reader program, which encourages children to choose their own books. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter has given way to the hormonal allure of Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire books, but both school and non-school books are still almost all fiction.

The Edgewater TIF. Or, Can I Use My MasterCard to Pay My Visa Bill???

As I watch the debates and political maneuvering around the proposed Edgewater development, it is hard not to consider ALL of the repercussions of the decisions that will be made before this is all over. One of the most invisible aspects of the debate is how TIF financing will affect the already-strained finances of Madison’s public schools.
No matter where one lands on the question of how many permanent jobs will be created, the right of people to be heard on development issues that affect their neighborhoods, the value of historic preservation, or public financing for private development, there is one issue that should be made visible to all parties: the TIF financing package is going to hurt the tax base available to our public schools until the TIF is closed out (which could be over 20 years from now).
While proponents of TIF financing rightly assert that TIF increases property value and by extension increases the tax base for the jurisdictions that levy property taxes, there is a hidden side that is rarely discussed publicly in the crush to jump on the “pro-economic development” bandwagon: that benefit does not become available until the district is closed. While districts often close earlier, they may remain open for over 20 years. The benefit does not accrue for years down the road, and in the meantime the value of the affected properties is frozen at the start year of the district.
Not to worry, says the Department of Revenue:
In many areas the school levy represents the biggest portion of the local property tax bill, so it is not a surprise that a large portion of tax increment revenues comes from the school levy. This doesn’t mean that schools don’t get the money they need, however. The school levy that goes toward the tax increment is levied on top of the taxes they need to operate. The school levy is subject to the revenue caps, but within those constraints the schools get all the money they require. The tax increment makes the levy higher than it would otherwise be, but only for as long as the district has a TID in it. Once the TID is closed the larger tax base can help to reduce the tax burden on district residents. (emphasis added)
In other words, the Department of Revenue adopts the same posture adopted by the Joint Finance Committee when it went forward with the plan that left Madison with the biggest cut in state aid to any Wisconsin district: “It’s OK. Schools don’t need to be hurt because districts can raise property taxes to cover the revenue that they lost.” This leaves the dirty work to school districts, who must choose between raising taxes and hurting property owners during a recession, or cutting programs and adding to the damage done by successive years of cuts since Wisconsin’s revenue caps went into effect in 1993.
The Double Whammy
In the case of the Edgewater, and the recently-approved expansion of the capitol square TID #23, Madison Metropolitan School District gets a double whammy of revenue loss. How does this work and what does it mean?
Full post at

Thinking about the Cost of Educating Students via the Madison School District, Virtual Schools and a Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes email to State Senator Fred Risser

Susan Troller:

Madison School Board member Ed Hughes sent me an e-mail pointing out another vexing problem with Wisconsin’s school funding system and how it penalizes the Madison district, which I’ve written about in the past. Hughes notes in his e-mail “This particular wrinkle of the state school financing system is truly nuts.”
Hughes is incensed that the IQ Academy, a virtual school operated by the Waukesha district, gets over $6000 in state aid for poaching students from the Madison district while total state aid for educating a student in a real school here at home is $3400. Waukesha makes a profit of about $500 per student at the expense of taxpayers here, Hughes says. And that’s including profits going to the national corporate IQ Academy that supplies the school’s programming.

The complete text of Ed Hughes letter to Senator Risser:

Sen. Risser:
As if we needed one, here is another reason to be outraged by our state school financing system:
This week’s issue of Isthmus carries a full page ad on page 2. It is sponsored by “IQ Academy Wisconsin,” which is described as a “tuition-free, online middle and high school program of the School District of Waukesha, WI.” The ad invites our Madison students to open-enroll in their “thriving learning community.”
What’s in it for Waukesha? A report on virtual charter schools by the State Fiscal Bureau, released this week, sheds some light on this. The Madison school district gets a little more than $2,000 in general state aid for each of our students. If you include categorical aids and everything else from the state, the amount goes up to about $3,400/student.
However, if Waukesha (or any other school district) is successful in poaching one of our students, it will qualify for an additional $6,007 in state aid. (That was actually the amount for the 2007-08 school year, that last year for which data was available for the Fiscal Bureau report.) As it was explained to me by the author of the Fiscal Bureau report, this $6,007 figure is made up of some combination of additional state aid and a transfer of property taxes paid by our district residents to Waukesha.
So the state financing system will provide nearly double the amount of aid to a virtual charter school associated with another school district to educate a Madison student than it will provide to the Madison school district to educate the same student in an actual school, with you know, bricks and mortar and a gym and cafeteria and the rest.
The report also states that the Waukesha virtual school spends about $5,500 per student. So for each additional student it enrolls, the Waukesha district makes at least a $500 profit. (It’s actually more than that, since the incremental cost of educating one additional student is less than the average cost for the district.) This does not count the profit earned by the private corporation that sells the on-line programming to Waukesha.
The legislature has created a system that sets up very strong incentives for a school district to contract with some corporate on-line operation, open up a virtual charter school, and set about trying to poach other districts’ students. Grantsburg, for example, has a virtual charter school that serves not a single resident of the Grantsburg school district. What a great policy.
By the way, Waukesha claims in its Isthmus ad that “Since 2004, IQ Academy Wisconsin students have consistently out-performed state-wide and district averages on the WKCE and ACT tests.” I didn’t check the WKCE scores, but last year 29.3% of the IQ Academy 12th graders took the ACT test and had an average composite score of 22.9. In the Madison school district, 56.6% of 12th graders took the test and the district average composite score was 24.0.
I understand that you are probably tired of hearing from local school board members complaining about the state’s school funding system. But the enormous disparity between what the state will provide to a virtual charter school for enrolling a student living in Madison, as compared to what it will provide the Madison school district to educate the same student, is so utterly wrong-headed as to be almost beyond belief.
Ed Hughes
Madison School Board

Amy Hetzner noted this post on her blog:

An interesting side note: the Madison Metropolitan School District’s current business manager, Erik Kass, was instrumental to helping to keep Waukesha’s virtual high school open and collecting a surplus when he was the business manager for that district.

I found the following comments interesting:

An interesting note is that the complainers never talked about which system more effectively taught students.
Then again, it has never really been about the students.

Madison is spending $418,415,780 to educate 24,295 students ($17,222 each).
Related: Madison School District 2010-2011 Budget: Comments in a Vacuum? and a few comments on the recent “State of the Madison School District” presentation.
The “Great Recession” has pushed many organizations to seek more effective methods of accomplishing their goals. It would seem that virtual learning and cooperation with nearby higher education institutions would be ideal methods to provide more adult to student services at reduced cost, rather than emphasizing growing adult to adult spending.
Finally Richard Zimman’s recent Madison Rotary talk is well worth revisiting with respect to the K-12 focus on adult employment.

New annual Wisconsin school testing system on hold

Amy Hetzner:

Nearly six months after the state announced it was scrapping its annual test for public school students, efforts to replace it with a new assessment are on hold and state officials now estimate it will take at least three years to make the switch.
The reason for the delay is tied to what is happening in the national education scene.
Wisconsin is among the 48 states that have signed onto the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which expects to complete work on grade-by-grade expectations for students in English and math by early spring. Once that is done, the anticipation is that the state will adopt the new standards, using them to help craft the new statewide test.
Wisconsin officials also are planning to compete for part of $350 million that the U.S. Education Department plans to award in the fall to state consortiums for test development.

The WKCE (Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts Exam) has been criticized for its lack of rigor. The Madison School District is using the WKCE as the basis for its value added assessment initiative.

Skydiving without Parachutes: Seattle Court Decision Against Discovery Math Implementation

Barry Garelick:

“What’s a court doing making a decision on math textbooks and curriculum?” This question and its associated harrumphs on various education blogs and online newspapers came in reaction to the February 4, 2010 ruling from the Superior court of King County that the Seattle school board’s adoption of a discovery type math curriculum for high school was “arbitrary and capricious”.
In fact, the court did not rule on the textbook or curriculum. Rather, it ruled on the school board’s process of decision making–more accurately, the lack thereof. The court ordered the school board to revisit the decision. Judge Julie Spector found that the school board ignored key evidence–like the declaration from the state’s Board of Education that the discovery math series under consideration was “mathematically unsound”, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction not recommending the curriculum and last but not least, information given to the board by citizens in public testimony.
The decision is an important one because it highlights what parents have known for a long time: School boards generally do what they want to do, evidence be damned. Discovery type math programs are adopted despite parent protests, despite evidence of experts and–judging by the case in Seattle–despite findings from the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Fine-arts teachers connect the educational dots

Karen Kimball:

First-year elementary school teachers must take a “generalist” exam to be in compliance with federal standards. The Texas Education Agency has successfully fought for a waiver that would exempt fine-arts teachers from the test.
While I certainly realize the time and expense involved in testing as many as 30,000 new teachers statewide and understand TEA’s desire to cut that number, I feel that such an exemption is a big mistake.
Elementary school is a time when children learn about the world around them and make connections between subjects. More detailed instruction in various disciplines comes at the secondary level. With the current emphasis on testing in math, reading, science and social studies, classroom teachers find themselves working to see that basic concepts in each of these subjects are learned by their students. Time constraints make lessons with numerous “connections” difficult to achieve.
What better place to weave many subjects together than in the music or art class? I have always chosen to teach this way but have discovered than many music teachers do not, perhaps because they do not see the necessity or because they may not see the connections themselves. A test of general knowledge may help.

Down with parent power

Jay Matthews:

I have been exchanging emails with Gabe Rose, communications director of something called the Parent Revolution in my home state, California. Rose and his organization are part of a movement that has, to my open-mouthed amazement, persuaded the state government to give parents the power to close or change the leadership of low-performing public schools.
It sounds great. It has many parents excited. It could shake up the state educational establishment, including the education department, school boards and teacher unions. They could use some shaking up.
Yet I can’t shake my feeling it is a bad idea, a confusing distraction that will bring parents more frustration, not less, and do little to improve their children’s educations.

The Disappearance of Public Schools


A fresh, educational reform is sweeping the U.S. and leaving Vermont in the Jurassic period of traditional public schools. What is this reform and why haven’t many MMU students heard of this?
The terms public school and private school are terms that are familiar to all of us. There is nothing foreign to us about the concept (or the practice) of public schools. Something that is not so familiar is the idea of a charter school. Many MMU teens have no idea what a charter school even is. An interviewed sophomore asked if charter schools were “private schools that public people went to,” that student was by far closer than most MMU students. There has been a fast-paced change in education over the past several years and while many states have jumped on the bandwagon, Vermont hasn’t even come close. That change is the development of charter schools.
The U.S .Charter Schools website defines charter schools as “innovative public schools providing choices for families and greater accountability for results.” In other words, they are schools that have been granted a charter exempting themselves from selective state or local rules, while still adhering to the basic educational laws. Their purpose is to build strong communities, to focus on the kids and their needs as well as the make sure each child has the access to a quality education.

Digital Books and Your Rights: A Checklist for Readers

Electronic Frontier Foundation:

After several years of false starts, the universe of digital books seems at last poised to expand dramatically. Readers should view this expansion with both excitement and wariness. Excitement because digital books could revolutionize reading, making more books more findable and more accessible to more people in more ways than ever before. Wariness because the various entities that will help make this digital book revolution possible may not always respect the rights and expectations that readers, authors, booksellers and librarians have built up, and defended, over generations of experience with physical books.
As new digital book tools and services roll out, we need to be able to evaluate not only the cool features they offer, but also whether they extend (or hamper) our rights and expectations.
The over-arching question: are digital books as good or better than physical books at protecting you and your rights as a reader?

New Plan on San Francisco School Selection, but Still Discontent

Jesse McKinely:

After years of complaints from parents, the San Francisco Unified School District has just taken a serious step toward revamping its well-meaning but labyrinthine student-assignment system, which decides the educational homes for tens of thousands of children.
The current system — designed to meet the terms of a settlement in a long-fought federal desegregation case — involves a complicated computer algorithm that creates student “profiles,” using various economic and educational factors, with the aim of sending students of different backgrounds to the same schools.
It has resulted instead in more segregation and has aggravated parents to a point where efforts to manipulate the system have become endemic.
This month, the school district rolled out a new plan. It is designed to more closely consider proximity between a student’s home and classroom. It is to be applied to every child headed for kindergarten.

Education reform, one classroom at a time

Melinda Gates:

Sitting on the desk of the secretary of education are dozens of ideas bold enough to finally start solving our country’s education crisis. They are contained in applications by 40 states and the District of Columbia for grants from the Race to the Top fund, a $4.35 billion piece of the stimulus package designed to dramatically improve student achievement.
Congress established strong guidelines to guarantee that states spend Race to the Top money on audacious reforms. Many states responded with equal fortitude, submitting proposals to radically improve how they use data or to adopt college- and career-ready standards — concepts that used to be considered third rails in the world of education. Never before has this country had such an opportunity to remake the way we teach young people.
One reason I am so optimistic about these developments is because, after decades of diffuse reform efforts, they all zero in on the most important ingredient of a great education: effective teachers. The key to helping students learn is making sure that every child has an effective teacher every single year.

Minnesota Schools proactive while eyeing state budget woes

Ed Lee:

The St. Peter School Board has directed district administration to identify $500,000, or even $1.2 million, in possible expenditure reductions.
Board members said they are trying to be proactive as the State of Minnesota deals with its own budget deficit of more than $1 billion.
The vast majority of funding to school districts flows from the State of Minnesota.
Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Olson said the state provides close to 80 percent of District 508’s funding.
School districts throughout Minnesota are bracing for cuts in state funding.

Madison schools want input for new branding Campaign

Gayle Worland:

If Madison Avenue met Madison public schools, imagine the possibilities:
Billboards touting the joys of high school algebra?
TV spots selling fifth-grade science?
Facebook updates on student test scores?
It’s not quite a case of “Extreme Makeover,” but the Madison School District needs to put some polish on its image, officials say. The word is out to marketing firms that the district would like some help, and officials are asking the public – particularly parents of school-aged children – to join them at Marquette-O’Keeffe Schools on Monday night to brainstorm on “positive branding” techniques.
The desire to spiff up the public perception of Madison schools came out of months of discussions last year as a community team formed a five-year strategic plan for the district, said Superintendent Dan Nerad.

Ideally, everything an organization does improves its brand. Today’s wonderful solo ensemble is a great example of a subtle, positive student, parent and faculty event.
I’d rather see the Administration and Board focus on substantive improvements than simple “messages”. Doc Searls is right on: “there is no demand for messages“. Verona’s recent approval of a Mandarin immersion charter school resonates far more with parents than spending precious dollars on messages.
Send your thoughts to the Madison School Board:

Education: Too Important for a Government Monopoly

John Stossel:

The government-school establishment has said the same thing for decades: Education is too important to leave to the competitive market. If we really want to help our kids, we must focus more resources on the government schools.
But despite this mantra, the focus is on something other than the kids. When The Washington Post asked George Parker, head of the Washington, D.C., teachers union, about the voucher program there, he said: “Parents are voting with their feet. … As kids continue leaving the system, we will lose teachers. Our very survival depends on having kids in D.C. schools so we’ll have teachers to represent.”
How revealing is that?
Since 1980, government spending on education, adjusted for inflation, has nearly doubled. But test scores have been flat for decades.
Today we spend a stunning $11,000 a year per student — more than $200,000 per classroom. It’s not working. So when will we permit competition and choice, which works great with everything else? I’ll explore those questions on my Fox Business program tomorrow night at 8 and 11 p.m. Eastern time (and again Friday at 10 p.m.).
The people who test students internationally told us that two factors predict a country’s educational success: Do the schools have the autonomy to experiment, and do parents have a choice?

Locally, the Madison School District has 24,295 students and a 2009/2010 budget of $418,415,780. $17,222 per student.