Time 100: Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist

Amanda Ripley:

When Deborah Gist became commissioner of Rhode Island schools in 2009, she pledged to make every decision in the best interests of children — something we’ve heard before and rarely seen happen. Then she started doing it.
At first, no one outside Rhode Island noticed. Gist, 43, announced that staffing decisions would be based on teacher qualifications, not seniority. She also launched a new evaluation system in which teachers get annual reviews — an idea practiced in only 15 other states. When she learned that Rhode Island’s teacher-training programs had one of the lowest test-score requirements for entrance, she found out which state set the bar the highest — then raised Rhode Island’s one point above it.

Madison schools could consider teacher pay freeze

Gayle Worland:

The Madison School Board on Monday could discuss reopening the district’s 2009-11 teacher contract to institute a salary freeze estimated to save about $3.5 million.
And some board members who said they oppose renegotiating the current contract said they are open to the idea of asking for a pay freeze for teachers when bargaining begins again next year for the 2011-13 school years.
“I think it’s a small chance of it happening, but I definitely would support re-opening it,” said newly elected board member James Howard, referring to the current two-year contract that the district and Madison Teachers Inc. settled last October after months of talks. “I think teachers and everyone else have to play their part in this.”

The coming melt-down in higher education (as seen by a marketer)

Seth Godin:

For 400 years, higher education in the US has been on a roll. From Harvard asking Galileo to be a guest professor in the 1600s to millions tuning in to watch a team of unpaid athletes play another team of unpaid athletes in some college sporting event, the amount of time and money and prestige in the college world has been climbing.
I’m afraid that’s about to crash and burn. Here’s how I’m looking at it.
1. Most colleges are organized to give an average education to average students.
Pick up any college brochure or catalog. Delete the brand names and the map. Can you tell which school it is? While there are outliers (like St. Johns, Deep Springs or Full Sail) most schools aren’t really outliers. They are mass marketers.
Stop for a second and consider the impact of that choice. By emphasizing mass and sameness and rankings, colleges have changed their mission.
This works great in an industrial economy where we can’t churn out standardized students fast enough and where the demand is huge because the premium earned by a college grad dwarfs the cost. But…

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The national debt and Washington’s deficit of will

Joel Achenbach:

Bill Gross is used to buying bonds in multibillion-dollar batches. But when it comes to U.S. Treasury bills, he’s getting nervous. Gross, a founder of the investment giant Pimco, is so concerned about America’s national debt that he has started unloading some of his holdings of U.S. government bonds in favor of bonds from such countries as Germany, Canada and France.
Gross is a bottom-line kind of guy; he doesn’t seem to care if the debt is the fault of Republicans or Democrats, the Bush tax cuts or the Obama stimulus. He’s simply worried that Washington’s habit of spending today the money it hopes to collect tomorrow is getting worse and worse. It even has elements of a Ponzi scheme, Gross told me.
“In order to pay the interest and the bill when it comes due, we’ll simply have to issue more IOUs. That, to me, is Ponzi-like,” Gross said. “It’s a game that can never be finished.”

Motivated Multitasking: How the Brain Keeps Tabs on Two Tasks at Once

Katherine Harmon:

New research shows that rather than being totally devoted to one goal at a time, the human brain can distribute two goals to different hemispheres to keep them both in mind–if it perceives a worthy reward for doing so
The human brain is considered to be pretty quick, but it lacks many of qualities of a super-efficient computer. For instance, we have trouble switching between tasks and cannot seem to actually do more than one thing at a time. So despite the increasing options–and demands–to multitask, our brains seem to have trouble keeping tabs on many activities at once.
A new study, however, illustrates how the brain can simultaneously keep track of two separate goals, even while it is busy performing a task related to one of the aims, hinting that the mind might be better at multitasking than previously thought.
“This is the first time we observe in the brain concurrent representations of distinct rewards,” Etienne Koechlin, director of the cognitive neuroscience laboratory at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (Inserm) in Paris and coauthor of the new study, wrote in an email to ScientificAmerican.com.

A Government of Know-it-Alls: Smart People Have Their Uses, But Our Nation Doesn’t Belong to Them

PJ O’Rourke:

Barack Obama is more irritating than the other nuisances on the left. Nancy Pelosi needs a session on the ducking stool, of course. But everyone with an ugly divorce has had a Nancy. She’s vexatious and expensive to get rid of, but it’s not like we give a damn about her. Harry Reid is going house-to-house selling nothing anybody wants. Slam the door on him and the neighbor’s Rottweiler will do the rest. And Barney Frank is self-punishing. Imagine being trapped inside Barney Frank.
The secret to the Obama annoyance is snotty lecturing. His tone of voice sends us back to the worst place in college. We sit once more packed into the vast, dreary confines of a freshman survey course-“Rocks for Jocks,” “Nuts and Sluts,” “Darkness at Noon.” At the lectern is a twerp of a grad student-the prototypical A student-insecure, overbearing, full of himself and contempt for his students. All we want is an easy three credits to fulfill a curriculum requirement in science, social science, or fine arts. We’ve got a mimeographed copy of last year’s final with multiple choice answers already written on our wrists. The grad student could skip his classes, the way we intend to, but there the s.o.b. is, taking attendance. (How else to explain this year’s census?)

On Local School Budgets & Teacher Compensation

Peter Sobol:

I have to at least give credit the WSJ for continuing to keep education front and center of their Sunday opinion section. This last Sunday, under the headline “Protect kids from cuts” the WSJ takes on the issue of closing the remaining Madison SD budget gap and editorializes for a pay freeze for teaching staff. Although the current budget situation probably makes reducing compensation for staff in one way or another inevitable, I don’t think that devaluing the teaching profession can be construed as “Protecting kids”. After all, the number one factor in educational outcomes is the placement of a highly qualified teacher in front of each class.
Attracting quality teachers means we have to be sure it is rewarding profession, so balancing the budget through reductions in teacher compensation is in the long term unsustainable. If the current situation was a one or two year problem then a freeze might serve as a bridge to recovery, and although I don’t know the Madison situation I’m pretty sure their problems are similar to ours: shortfalls that extend year after year for the foreseeable future. The article notes that the Madison teachers receive the “standard” 1% raise this year. This year that seems inappropriate, but the fact that the same 1% is the “standard” every year since 1993 is also a problem.

I don’t think that 1% annual raises have been “standard since 1993”. I would certainly like to see a substantive change in teacher compensation, replacing the current one size fits all approach.
Current Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes, noted in May, 2005 that:

Here is an excerpt from the article in this morning’s State Journal that deserves comment: Matthews said it was worth looking at whether layoffs can be avoided, but he was less optimistic about finding ways to achieve that.
He said MTI’s policy is that members have to have decent wages, even if it means some jobs are lost.
The last teachers contract provided a 1 percent increase in wage scales for each of the past two years. This year’s salary and benefits increase, including raises for seniority or advanced degrees, was projected at 4.9 percent, or $8.48 million. Teachers’ salaries range from $29,324 to $74,380.
“The young teachers are really hurting,” Matthews said, adding that the district is having difficulty attracting teachers because of its starting pay.
Mr. Matthews states that young teachers are really hurting. I assume by “young” he means “recently-hired.” On a state-wide basis, the starting salary for Madison’s teachers ranks lower, relatively speaking, than its salaries for more experienced teachers. Compared to other teacher pay scales in the state, Madison’s scale seems weighted relatively more toward the more-experienced teachers and less toward starting teachers. This has to be a consequence of the union’s bargaining strategy – the union must have bargained over the years for more money at the top and less at the bottom, again relatively speaking. The union is entitled to follow whatever strategy it wants, but it is disingenuous for Mr. Matthews to justify an apparent reluctance to consider different bargaining approaches on the basis of their possible impact on “young teachers.”
According to the article, Mr. Matthews also stated that “the district is having trouble attracting teachers because of its starting pay.” Can this possibly be true? Here’s an excerpt from Jason Shepard’s top-notch article in Isthmus last week, “Even with a UW degree, landing a job in Madison isn’t easy. For every hire made by the Madison district, five applicants are rejected. June Glennon, the district’s employment manager, says more than 1,200 people have applied for teaching jobs next year.”

Madison School District Maintenance Report estimates $3,000 cost to replace single school toilet! What?

Susan Troller:

At $2,000 to $3,000 to replace a single toilet, and the same to repair a leaky faucet, it’s no surprise some Madison School Board members are suffering sticker shock when it comes to a new facility report on short- and long-term maintenance needs for Madison’s public schools.
In fact, Lucy Mathiak, board vice president, wonders if the numbers can even be trusted. “It makes me feel like I’m channeling Bill Proxmire when he challenged the costs on Pentagon toilets,” she says, referring to the late U.S. senator from Wisconsin. “Frankly, getting this information cost us a lot of money and, to say the least, I’m underwhelmed with the product.”
The estimates, though, might not be entirely out of whack with commercial repairs.
While swapping out an old toilet or sink at home could cost $500 or less, such a repair in an institutional or industrial setting might run upward of a couple thousand dollars, particularly if there were hazardous materials involved, or extensive tile or plumbing rework, experts say.

Related: Madison School Board member may seek audit of how 2005 maintenance referendum dollars were spent.

Madison High School Comparison: Advanced Levels of Academic Core Courses

Lorie Raihala 91K PDF via email:

For years there has been broad disparity among the four MMSD high schools in the number of honors, advanced/accelerated, and AP courses each one offers. In contrast to East and LaFollette, for instance, West requires all students, regardless of learning level or demonstrated competence, to take standard academic core courses in 9th and 10th grade. There has also been wide discrepancy in the requirements and restrictions each school imposes on students who seek to participate in existing advanced course options.
Parents of children at West have long called on administrators to address this inequity by increasing opportunities for advanced, accelerated instruction. Last year Superintendent Dan Nerad affirmed the goal of bringing consistency to the opportunities offered to students across the District. Accordingly, the Talented and Gifted Education Plan includes five Action Steps specifically geared toward bringing consistency and increasing student participation in advanced courses across MMSD high schools. This effort was supposed to inform the MMSD master course list for the 2010/11 school year. Though District administrators say they have begun internal conversations about this disparity, next year’s course offerings again remain the same.
Please consider what levels of English, science, and social studies each MMSD high school offers its respective 9th and 10th graders for the 2010-11 school year, and what measures each school uses to determine students’ eligibility for advanced or honors level courses.

Related: English 10 and Dane County AP Course Comparison.
I appreciate Lorie’s (and others) efforts to compile and share this information.
Update: 104K PDF revised comparison.

Some Papers Are Uploaded to Bangalore to Be Graded

Audrey Williams June:

Lori Whisenant knows that one way to improve the writing skills of undergraduates is to make them write more. But as each student in her course in business law and ethics at the University of Houston began to crank out–often awkwardly–nearly 5,000 words a semester, it became clear to her that what would really help them was consistent, detailed feedback.
Her seven teaching assistants, some of whom did not have much experience, couldn’t deliver. Their workload was staggering: About 1,000 juniors and seniors enroll in the course each year. “Our graders were great,” she says, “but they were not experts in providing feedback.”
That shortcoming led Ms. Whisenant, director of business law and ethics studies at Houston, to a novel solution last fall. She outsourced assignment grading to a company whose employees are mostly in Asia.
Virtual-TA, a service of a company called EduMetry Inc., took over. The goal of the service is to relieve professors and teaching assistants of a traditional and sometimes tiresome task–and even, the company says, to do it better than TA’s can.

“Anatomy of an Epidemic”: The hidden damage of psychiatric drugs

Jed Lipinski:

In the past few months, the perennial controversy over psychiatric drug use has been growing considerably more heated. A January study showed a negligible difference between antidepressants and placebos in treating all but the severest cases of depression. The study became the subject of a Newsweek cover story, and the value of psychiatric drugs has recently been debated in the pages of the New Yorker, the New York Times and Salon. Many doctors and patients fiercely defend psychiatric drugs and their ability to improve lives. But others claim their popularity is a warning sign of a dangerously over-medicated culture.
The timing of Robert Whitaker’s “Anatomy of an Epidemic,” a comprehensive and highly readable history of psychiatry in the United States, couldn’t be better. An acclaimed mental health journalist and winner of a George Polk Award for his reporting on the psychiatric field, Whitaker draws on 50 years of literature and in-person interviews with patients to answer a simple question: If “wonder drugs” like Prozac are really helping people, why has the number of Americans on government disability due to mental illness skyrocketed from 1.25 million in 1987 to over 4 million today?
Anatomy of an Epidemic” is the first book to investigate the long-term outcomes of patients treated with psychiatric drugs, and Whitaker finds that, overall, the drugs may be doing more harm than good. Adhering to studies published in prominent medical journals, he argues that, over time, patients with schizophrenia do better off medication than on it. Children who take stimulants for ADHD, he writes, are more likely to suffer from mania and bipolar disorder than those who go unmedicated. Intended to challenge the conventional wisdom about psychiatric drugs, “Anatomy” is sure to provoke a hot-tempered response, especially from those inside the psychiatric community

Student test score data proposed to evaluate L.A. teachers

Jason Song:

Teachers union officials strongly opposed recommendations made to the Los Angeles school board Tuesday that call for using student test score data to evaluate instructors.
The suggestions came from a task force comprising Los Angeles Unified School District administrators, principals, teachers and union leaders that was created shortly before The Times published a series of articles last May examining the difficulties in firing and evaluating teachers.
The task force made several proposals, including giving more money to high-performing teachers willing to work in hard-to-staff schools, waiting up to four years before granting tenure to teachers and requiring principals and local superintendents to vouch for an instructor before they receive tenure, and revamping the evaluation process to include student test scores and parent and teacher feedback.

Charter School Autonomy: A Half-Broken Promise

Dana Brinson & Jacob Rosch:

This Fordham Institute study finds that the typical charter school in America today lacks the autonomy it needs to succeed, once state, authorizer, and other impositions are considered. Though the average state earns an encouraging B+ for the freedom its charter law confers upon schools, individual state grades in this sphere range from A to F. Authorizer contracts add another layer of restrictions that, on average, drop schools’ autonomy grade to B-. (Federal policy and other state and local statutes likely push it down further.) School districts are particularly restrictive authorizers. The study was conducted by Public Impact.

Weak reform for Milwaukee schools

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

A minor bill aimed at improving Milwaukee’s failing schools barely passed the Legislature last week during the final day of session.
It was a weak and fallback response to the terrible problem of countless Milwaukee children falling behind their peers in reading and math and failing to earn diplomas.
What the Legislature should have done is give Milwaukee’s mayor the power to appoint the urban district’s school chief. That could have prompted swift, bold change with clear accountability for results.
Gov. Jim Doyle had championed mayoral appointment as the best way to shake up Milwaukee’s failing schools and save more children from academic ruin.

Bill Gates visits Foothill to observe math program

Town Crier:

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp. and co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attended math class at Foothill College April 20.
The software pioneer visited the Los Altos Hills campus to do some homework on Foothill’s Math My Way program, designed to help students grasp basic math concepts, outperform their peers and advance faster to college-level math classes.
Nineteen Math My Way students were told in advance that a special guest wanted to observe instructors Nicole Gray of Sunnyvale, Rachel Mudge of Mountain View and Kathy Perino of Campbell, to gain a better understanding of how they teach developmental math. Students were surprised when Gates and members of his foundation walked into the classroom, but quickly got to work on the math problems at hand. Later, the students had an opportunity to talk with Gates about how the methods used in the class are making a difference for them.
Gates and his team are reviewing models and best practices in developmental mathematics education. They heard about Math My Way during a meeting at the Gates Foundation offices in Seattle with Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Linda Thor, who was invited to discuss her experiences with online learning programs.

Oregon educational system offers Google Apps

David Weinberger:

Oregon has signed a deal with Google that enables any school district to provide Google Apps for Education [faq] for free to its students and teachers. This includes Google Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, Sites and Pages, Talk, Video, Groups, Docs, and Postini email management. Google Apps for Ed lets the school district use its own domain names rather than Google.com.
Google Apps for Ed is alwaysfree to schools, so the effect of this contract will depend on whether these are simply services students can use, or if students are actually expected to do their work with Google Docs et al. If the latter, this would be a step toward establishing Google (and its cloudy ways) as the educational default, the way Apple’s educational program inserted Macishness into the brains of our young. One Google Account Per Child!
It will be interesting also, of course, if it decreases the purchase of other software; Google says it will save Oregon $1.5M, but doesn’t say how)

Conflict may loom over Maryland teacher evaluations

Michael Birnbaum:

Student performance would be the biggest factor in teacher evaluations under draft regulations proposed Tuesday by the Maryland Board of Education.
The new regulations could set the stage for a conflict between education officials and the state’s teachers unions.
All of the state’s public schools would be required to make student progress, as measured by standardized tests and other means, account for at least 50 percent of teacher and principal evaluations by 2012. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have pressed educators to give student performance more weight in teacher evaluations.
Maryland education officials have said the 50 percent figure is important in showing the state’s commitment to Obama’s education priorities, which could help it qualify for as much as $250 million in federal aid through the Race to the Top competition.

Secret straw poll guided Madison School Board deliberations

Gayle Worland:

Madison School Board members used a secret straw poll, conducted via e-mail, to guide their deliberations over how to close a nearly $30 million budget hole for next year.
The move has raised questions about whether the board violated the state open meetings law by coming to agreement on decisions before taking a public vote.
“In my opinion it violates the spirit of the open-meeting procedures, if not the exact letter,” said Peter Fox, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.
But board president Arlene Silveira defended the process, saying the board sought to make its handling of the 2010-11 budget as transparent as possible. With more than 200 potential budget cuts proposed by district administrators, the board needed a way to streamline the process of reviewing the cuts, she said.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: New Jersey Governor Discusses Spending Growth Control

John Gramlich:

But there’s another line Christie likes to use to describe the fiscal situation he inherited: “The day of reckoning is here.” It’s difficult to argue his point. While nearly all states are in deep fiscal trouble, New Jersey is in deeper than most. Its deficit amounts to 37 percent of the entire state budget. Christie has responded by proposing to slash billions of dollars in state spending on everything from aid to municipalities to the normally sacrosanct K-12 education system. More than 1,300 state government positions would be eliminated.
The governor’s proposal — and his unapologetic defense of it — have made him a villain to mayors, teachers, superintendents and other public employees. But Christie, perhaps more than any other governor these days, has captured the imagination of conservatives who admire his eagerness to take on powerful public employee unions. Many Republicans believe that Christie’s tough stance on spending is hitting exactly the right political note in a major election year marked by anti-government anger and Tea Party activism.
Indeed, with the governorships of 37 states up for grabs in November — and state finances not expected to improve much anytime soon — Christie’s budget-cutting quest and all the hot rhetoric both for and against it may amount to much more than political theater. It may be a preview of how some new Republican governors will lead in states they win this year. In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Tom Corbett, the front-runner to become the GOP’s candidate for governor, says he’s been paying close attention to what’s going on in the state next door. Chris Christie, he told Stateline in an interview, “has made a very good example.”

It is difficult to see growth in redistributed state and federal tax dollars for K-12 organizations over the next few years.
State of Wisconsin K-12 redistributed tax dollars have grown substantially over the past 25+ years, as this chart illustrates.

Redistributed state tax dollars are generated from personal & corporate income taxes and fees.
The Economist has more on New Jersey:

I watched him campaign last year. His message was simple: he vowed to cut spending and red tape. He also stressed that he was not Jon Corzine, the unpopular Democratic governor. Mr Corzine, for his part, emphasised that Mr Christie was a) a Republican and b) fat. The first argument alone would usually be enough to win an election in New Jersey. But last year was a bad time to be a) an incumbent or b) a former boss of Goldman Sachs, and Gov. Corzine was both.
I wondered at the time if Mr Christie meant what he said about doing painful things to rescue New Jersey from its deep pit of debt. It seems that he did. In no time at all, he plugged a short-term budget gap by slashing spending. He has also set his sights on the outlandish benefits enjoyed by some public-sector workers, citing as an example a 49 year old retiree who paid $124,000 towards his retirement benefits and expects to get back $3.8m.
He proposed to balance the budget for fiscal 2011 by cutting a third from projected outlays. He suggested that teachers’ pay be frozen, rather than raised by 4-5%, and that they contribute a small amount (1.5% of salary) towards their health benefits.

Multiple Distractions

Co-education is bad enough, with its ability to make it very hard indeed to pay attention to what the teacher/professor is saying, but a recent piece by two medical school professors brings me to write about the follies of those who defend the attractions of digital learning and multi-tasking.
These professors say that their students have indicated to them that they (the professors) are digital immigrants, while the students themselves are digital natives, used to attending to multiple sources of information at once. Students did not indicate whether in these multiple digital processes they felt they were engaging several or all of their multiple intelligences at the same time or not, but their main argument was that the professors, if they hoped to teach the digital natives what they needed to know about medicine, needed to “get with it, Daddy-O” in the vernacular of another generation of teens who believed they belonged to a different (better, smarter, cooler) future than their (old) teachers.
The professors (this was an article in a medical journal, and I don’t have the citation) came to believe that indeed they were employing old-fashioned methods like reading, speaking, and writing, to bring medical knowledge to their students, and they expressed an awakening to their need to learn about this new digital culture of multi-tasking and so on.
In my own view, it is instead the students who are, in fact, the immigrants to the study of medicine and they would be wise to attempt some humility in the face of their own plentiful ignorance of the field, instead of trying to influence their teachers to provide them with more stimulation and better entertainment.
The first example of harmful multi-tasking that comes to my mind is the elevated accident rate of those drivers who think they can manage traffic and chat (or text!) on their cell phones at the same time. They can’t, and the accident numbers for those who try to manage those two tasks at the same time demonstrate that the net result is a minus not a plus.
The Kaiser Foundation, in a ten-year study of the use of electronic entertainment media by young people, found that on average they spend more than six hours a day with instant messaging, facebooking, twittering, music, chat, video games, and other forms of digital distraction, adding up to more than 48 hours a week. Young people believe they can do several of these activities at once, but the chances are that their competence in each task suffers with the addition of one more new task attempted at the same time.
According to the American College Testing program, more than half of high school students report spending three to four hours a week on homework, and it is not unlikely that the quality of even this small amount of homework is diminished by students multi-tasking with entertainment media while they do it.
These distractions do not all occur at home, or while driving, of course. Laura Mortkowitz reports in The Washington Post [April 25, 2010} that “The trend of laptop-banning seems strongest at law schools,” although a number of college professors have banned them from their classes as well.
Laptops were originally thought to provide an opportunity for students to take better notes and to absorb the learning their professors were offering even more profoundly, but as it has turned out, for far too many students, the laptop has opened a window on pure distraction, allowing the student to wander off into the Web, and multitask their social life, completely missing the content of their college courses in the process.
I don’t know how many high school history teachers have been seduced into having their students prepare PowerPoint© presentations instead of reading books and writing papers, but the computer/software industries, in collaboration with trendy students, have put a lot of pressure on school systems all over the country, and succeeded in causing them to spend many many billions of dollars on equipment to allow them to enter the new new worlds of multi-tasking and digital learning.
It seems likely to me that if, as they report, 47% of the freshmen in California’s state college system have to take remedial English classes, there is a chance that the students may have multi-tasked and digitally-enhanced their way to a very expensive and time-wasting state of aliteracy.
Let us make an effort to resist the persuasive billions spent by Disney and Microsoft et al to lure us and our students away from the basic tasks of reading books (especially history books), writing serious research papers, and paying attention to their teachers. Change can be charming, and technology is lots of fun, but learning is now, and always has been, hard work, and we pretend we and they can slide by without that at our students’ peril.
“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
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Varsity Academics®

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint; “PowerPoint Makes us Stupid”

Elisabeth Bumiller:

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown a PowerPoint slide in Kabul last summer that was meant to portray the complexity of American military strategy, but looked more like a bowl of spaghetti.
“When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war,” General McChrystal dryly remarked, one of his advisers recalled, as the room erupted in laughter.
The slide has since bounced around the Internet as an example of a military tool that has spun out of control. Like an insurgency, PowerPoint has crept into the daily lives of military commanders and reached the level of near obsession. The amount of time expended on PowerPoint, the Microsoft presentation program of computer-generated charts, graphs and bullet points, has made it a running joke in the Pentagon and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.) Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster, who banned PowerPoint presentations when he led the successful effort to secure the northern Iraqi city of Tal Afar in 2005, followed up at the same conference by likening PowerPoint to an internal threat.

Much more on Powerpoint & schools here.
Related: Seth Godin and Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on PowerPoint.

Public, students speak out against Grand Rapids schools’ online education, superintendent scales back plan

Kym Reinstadler:

About 600 people attended Monday’s rescheduled Grand Rapids Board of Education meeting, with nearly 50 registering days in advance to question the board about proposed changes, including a controversial shift to online instruction at the city’s high schools.
But Wes Viersen said he came to answer the board’s questions about online classes. The Creston High School senior considers himself an expert in online courses, having completed 14 this year — a feat he said he could verify with the transcript in his pocket.
“Overall, the quality of E2020 is horrible,” Viersen told the board. “I completed courses, but I did not get an adequate education.”

Frequently asked questions about Grand Rapids proposed High School Curriculum changes.

Test scores may keep Camden seniors from graduating

Joseph Gidjunis:

Hundreds of Camden City high school seniors are unsure if they’ll graduate this year after learning they failed at least part of the state’s Alternate High School Assessment, formerly known as the SRA.
But Camden’s seniors aren’t alone, as the first round of statewide testing in January resulted in massive failure — 90 percent of the 4,500 students who took the language arts section and two of every three of the 9,500 students who took the math section, didn’t pass — according to the Education Law Center, an urban school advocacy organization, which obtained the results of the test.
Across New Jersey, 120 school districts had no student pass the language arts section and 40 school districts saw no student pass math, said Education Law Center Director of the Secondary Reform Project Stan Karp.

More from New Jersey Left Behind.

The Deepest in Debt

Doug Lederman:

There’s a subtle debate unfolding among financial aid experts and advocates for students about just how much student loan debt is too much. While some recent studies have declared a crisis in student borrowing, citing the growing number of student borrowers and the amounts they owe, the College Board, in a report released Monday, seeks to reframe the discussion by focusing on those deepest in debt.
It’s not that the authors of the College Board report, Sandy Baum and Patricia Steele, don’t think there’s a major problem with student loan debt; they do, and their report, “Who Borrows Most? Bachelor’s Degree Recipients With High Levels of Student Debt,” offers plenty of troubling data. But in an era where grant money is usually insufficient to meet ever-rising tuition costs, it’s not borrowing per se that’s the problem, they argue; it’s the amount and types of loans that are likeliest to land borrowers in significant financial trouble.

It is Very Difficult to Reject Kids

Rajul Hegde:

Ace choreographer Saroj Khan, who has made almost all top Bollywood celebrities dance to her moves, is judging a reality show Chak Dhoom Dhoom on Colors which starts April 30.
She talks about her experience of judging the kids and her Broadway musical. Excerpts:
How was your judging experience in the audition rounds?
Superb! The kids are very talented, gifted and considering their age, really scary! All of them wanted to be different from each other and to be the best. Their spirit is admirable. It is very difficult to reject kids and see the sadness they go through, but we had to say ‘No’ to some. We will ensure that we do not break the hearts of these children.
You are known to be a very strict teacher. Are you going to be strict with the kids?
I am strict with the adults who claim to be good dancers and perform wrong steps and mudras. So I correct them. That is my duty and I will always do that. During Nach Baliye [ Images ] you must have seen how celebrity couples improvised and transformed into good dancers. Correction is very important and I don’t care if someone doesn’t like that. But with children, we have to very cautious and sensitive.

Celebrating new Seattle Chinese institute

Linda Shaw:

A new institute dedicated to spreading Chinese language and culture across Washington state was officially launched Monday, a partnership of Seattle Public Schools, the University of Washington and Hanban, a Chinese nonprofit group affiliated with China’s Ministry of Education.
Called the Confucius Institute, it will join about 250 similar organizations across the globe, one of a number of Hanban’s efforts to capitalize on the growing international interest in China.
Its efforts have been met with suspicion in some communities, most recently in suburban Los Angeles, where some parents expressed concern that a Hanban program might promote the Chinese government’s political views.
Washington officials don’t share those worries.
“We see nothing but upsides to teaching the languages and cultures of the world,” said Stephen Hanson, the UW’s vice provost of global affairs.

Madison School Board Votes 5-2 to Continue Reading Recovery (Howard, Hughes, Moss, Passman, Silveira: Yes; Cole & Mathiak Vote No)

Gayle Worland:

With Monday’s actions, the board still has about $5.6 million to deal with – either through cuts, property tax increases, or a combination of the two – when it meets again next week to finalize the district’s preliminary budget for 2010-11. So far, the board has made about $10.6 million in cuts and approved a levy increase of $12.7 million, a tax hike of $141.76 for the owner of a $250,000 Madison home.
In an evening of cost shifting, the board voted to apply $1,437,820 in overestimated health care insurance costs to save 17.8 positions for Reading Recovery teachers, who focus on the district’s lowest-performing readers. That measure passed 5-2, with board members Maya Cole and Lucy Mathiak voting no. The district is undergoing a review of its reading programs and Cole questioned whether it makes sense to retain Reading Recovery, which she said has a 42 percent success rate.

Related: 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.
Surprising, in light of the ongoing poor low income reading scores here and around Wisconsin. How many more children will leave our schools with poor reading skills?
The Wisconsin State Journal advocates a teacher compensation freeze (annual increase plus the “step” increases).

Vermont will not seek federal education grant

Associated Press:

Vermont will not seek millions of dollars in a federal grant program aimed at improving failing schools, joining a handful of states in dropping out of the “Race to the Top” program despite strapped budgets.
The competitive grant requires states to link teacher pay to student performance and invest in charter schools, which would require policy and legislative changes in Vermont, commissioner Armando Vilaseca said Monday.
After spending hundreds of hours reviewing the application and program, the state will not apply, Vilaseca said.

When the System Works

New York Times Editorial:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has vowed to press states to remake the 5,000 or so chronically failing schools that account for about half of the nation’s dropouts and usually serve — or more to the point fail to serve — the poorest children. A $4 billion school improvement fund is intended to give states the help and the incentive to turn these schools around.
Piecemeal plans that evaporate once the grant money is spent won’t do the job. Only comprehensive, districtwide approaches deserve to be financed.
Local administrators — and the Department of Education in Washington — should be paying close attention to what is happening in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.

College Students ‘Addicted’ to Social Media, Study Finds

Rick Nauert:

American college students are “addicted” to the instant connections and information afforded by social media, a new study suggests.
According to researchers, students describe their feelings when they have to abstain from using media in literally the same terms associated with drug and alcohol addictions: in withdrawal, frantically craving, very anxious, extremely antsy, miserable, jittery, and crazy.
In the study, University of Maryland researchers conclude that most college students are not just unwilling, but functionally unable to be without their media links to the world. However, the study was based upon self-report by students engaging in a set of unnatural and largely unrealistic behaviors.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Pension Financing Shortfall Is a Threat on the Horizon for Illinois

David Greising:

The clamor over the state’s estimated $13 billion budget deficit –and concerns over jobs and spending that prompted the protests — tends to drown out discussion of an issue that economists identify as perhaps the biggest long-term threat to Illinois’s financial health: The state’s shortfall of at least $61 billion in pension funding and the lack of any realistic plan to catch up.
In fact, the state’s pension troubles are even more dire than the official figures would indicate, according to a review of pension data and other economic studies by the Chicago News Cooperative. Illinois, which sold $3.47 billion in securities so it could make its required contribution to pension funds this year, is laying plans to sell at least $4.6 billion more to meet its obligations for fiscal 2011 — a move that is likely to jolt financial markets and many investors who thought years would pass before the state tried another sale of notes to cover its pension costs. Taxpayers ultimately will bear the burden as the need to pay for the bonds strains the state budget and threatens spending in other areas.

With the cash running dry, milking more out of the schools we have got is a better priority than building new ones

The Guardian:

From Thatcher to Major, and from Blair to Brown, the most heated arguments about education have turned on the question of choice. The election of 2010 is no different, but this time it is hard to concentrate on the debate, because of the distracting background din of the steel being sharpened for the savage years ahead. The row over fees for state nurseries which has now beset the Conservatives is a more instructive guide to what the next few years have in stall than any of the choice agendas we are being asked to choose from.
The Conservatives’ Michael Gove has long argued the best way to raise standards in general – and most particularly in deprived places – is to enable disgruntled parents to walk away from failing local authorities and establish schools of their own. Regarded by Mr Gove as a natural extension of Tony Blair’s academy programme, the plan is inspired by an 18-year old experiment in Sweden. And, until recently, the most pertinent questions related to the Swedish evidence. Initially positive signs have recently been overshadowed by the nation slipping down the educational league, and growing fears that gains in its free schools may have come at the expense of other institutions. As the scale of the post-election retrenchment becomes clearer, however, the really big question is the one acutely posed yesterday by a top Conservative councillor. Although Kent’s leader, Paul Carter, later “clarified” that he supported the party line, his query about where the cash will come from still demands an answer.

Explosive book for a new teacher generation

Jay Matthews:

A storm is brewing in teacher training in America. It involves a generational change that we education writers don’t deal with much, but is more important than No Child Left Behind or the Race to the Top grants or other stuff we devote space to. Our urban public schools have many teachers in their twenties and thirties who are more impatient with low standards and more determined to raise student achievement than previous generations of inner city educators, having seen some good examples. But they don’t know what exactly to do.
This new cohort is frustrated with traditional teacher training. They think most education schools are too fond of theory (favorite ed school philosopher John Dewey died in 1952 before many of their parents were born) and too casual about preparing them for the practical challenges of teaching impoverished children.

Los Angeles’ Markham Becomes Flashpoint for Teacher Seniority Reform Debate

Rob Manwaring:

We recently highlighted Markham middle school, a low performing schools in Los Angeles, in a report on low performing school improvement. Now Markham has become the flashpoint of the debate in California to overhaul teacher seniority policies. Governor Schwarzenegger recently visited Markham to highlight the problems at this school which unfortunately became a victim of seniority staffing policies (See related story). As part of a fresh start restructuring of the school, a non-profit organization established by the Mayor let all of the teachers at Markham go, rehired some of them, but mainly hired new young teachers to staff the school. The goals was to model the school after successful charter schools in the district like Green Dot. Unfortunately the school was still subject to the district’s collective bargaining agreement. So when the LA Unified faced a budget problem, it laid off over half of the staff at Markham in the summer of 2009, and has yet to be able to backfill those positions. The school is also part of a lawsuit by the ACLU to stop LAUSD from doing further harm at Markham and school like it.
Earlier this spring, the a task force created by LA’s superintendent, Ramon Cortines and chaired by Ted Mitchell, CEO of New Schools and chair of the State Board of Education (and my old boss), developed a set of recommendations to overhaul the district’s teacher and administrator policies including evaluation, seniority, tenure, differentiated compensation and career pathways. The report is worth a look. But, part of what this group determined was that there needed to be several changes in state law to allow them to implement the changes proposed.

UK Curriculum Changes


Head teachers have been urged to back an overhaul of the school curriculum by Education Secretary Mike Russell.
The Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) is to be implemented in secondary schools across Scotland in August.
But there have been union threats of disruption over the controversial, planned changes.
The changes, already in place in primary schools, are designed to give teachers more freedom and make lessons less prescriptive.
Mr Russell said: “Head teachers are at the heart of any successful school.

Low Income, Top Scores: A School Defies the Odds

Sharon Otterman:

To ace the state standardized tests, which begin on Monday, Public School 172 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, finds money for coaches in writing, reading and math. Teachers keep detailed notes on each child, writing down weaknesses and encouraging them to repeat tasks. There is after-school help and Saturday school.
But at the start of this school year, seven or eight students were still falling behind. So the school hired a speech therapist who could analyze why they and other students stumbled in language. A psychologist produced detailed assessments and recommendations. A dental clinic staffed by Lutheran Medical Center opened an office just off the fourth-grade classrooms, diagnosing toothaches, a possible source of distraction, and providing free cleanings.
Perfection may seem a quixotic goal in New York City, where children enter school from every imaginable background and ability level. But on the tests, P.S. 172, also called the Beacon School of Excellence, is coming close — even though 80 percent of its students are poor enough to qualify for free lunch, nearly a quarter receive special education services, and many among its predominately Hispanic population do not speak English at home.

Times of No Money

G. Rendell:

Some 25 years ago, a quasi-country quartet calling themselves “The Girls Next Door” had a moderate hit with a ditty about how “love will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no love.” Which is fine as far as it goes, but doesn’t explain why the fool thing has been going through my head for the last week or so.
Then I did some translating. First off, I remembered all the times I was told (also about 25 years ago) that God is love. So, by substitution, the aphorism became “God will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no God.” Which seems likely to be true, although I claim no particular expertise in these matters.
And then I remembered a T-shirt I saw a while back — “I believe in God, but I spell it Nature.” (Not sure whether that’s a quote or not. Doesn’t really matter.) Substituting again, we arrive at “Nature will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no Nature.” Which seems like a pretty clear expression of the precautionary principle as applied to climate change.

The State of the Humanities

Susan O’Doherty:

I’ve been thinking about Peter Conn’s article in the Chronicle about the depressing current and predicted future of academic employment in the humanities. The entire article is worth reading, but I was struck especially by his discussion of the need to communicate the value of the humanities to both the academy and the population at large, and to integrate these disciplines better into the world’s business:
Collectively, those of us who profess the humanities must make a sustained effort to explain to our various constituencies–students, parents, legislators, journalists, even our own university trustees (I speak from personal experience of that latter group)–that these disciplines, and the traditions they represent, are not merely ornamental and dispensable. They lie near the heart of mankind’s restless efforts to make sense of the world. Debates over war and peace, justice and equity: From the uses of scientific knowledge to the formulation of social policy, the humanities provide a necessary dimension of insight and meaning.
Generally, law school is considered the initial step on the path to a life of public service. Of course it’s important to understand the laws of the country you’re serving, but I’ve been having fun imagining what the government would look like with more humanities scholars running things. Here’s what I’ve come up with, and I hope you’ll add your thoughts:

Confessions of a Math Major

Barry Garelick:

In the fall of 1970, I dropped out of the University of Michigan during my senior year with the intention of never re turning. I was a math major and I convinced myself that I would have a better chance being a writer than a mathematician
In the fall of 1970, I dropped out of the University of Michigan during my senior year with the intention of never re turning. I was a math major and I convinced myself that I would have a better chance being a writer than a mathematician. I figured I would work at any job I could get to support myself. The only job I could get was unloading telephone books from a truck into the cars of people who were to deliver them. The job was to last three days–I quit after the first. During that first day, around the time when my arms became like rubber and I could hardly even lift one phone book, I had a flash of insight and decided to return to school and get my degree. Then I would become a writer. In the summer of 1971, I got my degree, and vowed to never again set foot in another math classroom in my life, and told myself that if I ever did I would puke.

When the System Works

New York Times:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has vowed to press states to remake the 5,000 or so chronically failing schools that account for about half of the nation’s dropouts and usually serve — or more to the point fail to serve — the poorest children. A $4 billion school improvement fund is intended to give states the help and the incentive to turn these schools around.
Piecemeal plans that evaporate once the grant money is spent won’t do the job. Only comprehensive, districtwide approaches deserve to be financed.
Local administrators — and the Department of Education in Washington — should be paying close attention to what is happening in North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system.
Two years ago, district administrators adopted an innovative staffing system intended to put the best principals in the most troubled schools — and give them the autonomy they need to succeed. While Charlotte was already one of the highest-performing urban systems in the country, it has made progress since then.

Unions, States Clash in Race to Top

Neil King, Jr. & Stephanie Banchero:

The Obama administration’s signature education initiative has incited tense showdowns in states across the country as unions and state officials feud over strategies to compete for $3.4 billion in federal funding.
The skirmishes come as states jockey for cash under the administration’s Race to the Top program, which seeks to reward states that are pushing to overhaul their education systems.
Applications for the second round are due by June 1, with winners to be chosen in September. Of the 40 states that submitted applications in the first round, only 16 were picked as finalists.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan ramped up pressure on the unions last month when he cited the advantage of union cooperation in picking just two states–Delaware and Tennessee–as winners in the competition’s first round. Those states will share $600 million.

Time to judge teachers the way teachers judge kids

Ruben Navarrette:

Teachers unions need a hug. After all, they’re having a really bad year.
So bad that their members are lashing out – blasting Education Secretary Arne Duncan after he questioned the effectiveness of teachers colleges, criticizing President Barack Obama for his approach to education reform, etc.
In fact, teachers are getting so flustered that they’re contradicting themselves. It’s acceptable for teachers to distinguish good students from bad students. But it’s outrageous for administrators to do the same with teachers. In contract negotiations, teachers like being part of a collective. But when an underperforming Rhode Island school district fired more than 70 educators at once, teachers complained about being judged collectively. When a student succeeds, teachers claim credit for a job well-done. When a student fails, it’s the parents who catch the blame for falling down on the job.

A $34 million crisis of confidence in Washington, D.C. schools

Bill Turque:

ollow the money, if you can.
First, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announces that an extra $34 million is available in the D.C. schools budget for teacher pay raises. Two days later, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi declares that not only is most of it nonexistent but also that Rhee is running a projected $30 million over budget in her central office operation.
Within hours, Rhee says an unspecified $29 million has been “identified” to fund the raises.
How this happened, why and how it will be resolved still isn’t clear. Rhee and Gandhi are saving most of their answers for scheduled testimony before the D.C. Council on Friday. Hanging in the balance is the fate of the District’s $140 million tentative agreement with the Washington Teachers’ Union, which is contingent on Gandhi’s certification that the pact is financially sound.

Madison Area schools face a big task in hiring and keeping minority teachers

Gayle Worland:

Madison has never had many black teachers, and now it faces another challenge in providing diverse role models for its students: a wave of black baby boomers nearing retirement.
Nearly 27 percent of the public school district’s African-American teachers, social workers, counselors and other front-line classroom professionals are at or over the district’s minimum retirement age of 55.
Henry Hawkins, an art teacher at Jefferson Middle School, has no plans to retire soon, but the 66-year-old who began teaching in the late 1960s sees the problem: As he’s watched his students become more and more diverse, the diversity among his colleagues has lagged.
“Part of the cycle is for students to be able to identify. It’s important in a sense to see oneself,” Hawkins said.

A Few Words on Teachers

I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the 2010 Wisconsin Solo & Ensemble Festival. It is a true delight to enjoy the results of student and teacher practice, dedication and perseverance.
I very much appreciate the extra effort provided by some teachers on behalf of our children.
I thought about those teachers today when I received an email from a reader asking why I continue to publish this site. This reader referred to ongoing school bureaucratic intransigence on reading, particularly in light of the poor results (Alan Borsuk raises the specter of a looming Wisconsin “reading war“).
I’ll respond briefly here.
Many years ago, I had a Vietnam Vet as my high school government teacher. This guy, took what was probably an easy A for many and turned it into a superb, challenging class. He drilled the constitution, Bill of Rights, Federalist Papers and the revolutionary climate into our brains.
Some more than others.
I don’t have the ability to stop earmark, spending or lobbying excesses in Washington, nor at the State, or perhaps even local levels. I do have the opportunity to help, in a very small way, provide a communication system (blog, rss and enewsletter) for those interested in K-12 matters, including our $400M+ Madison School District. There is much to do and I am grateful for those parents, citizens, teachers and administrators who are trying very hard to provide a better education for our children.
It is always a treat to see professionals who go the extra mile. I am thankful for such wonderful, generous people. Saturday’s WSMA event was a timely reminder of the many special people around our children.

Time for a Wisconsin Reading War….

Alan Borsuk:

Start the war.
What about Wisconsin? Wisconsin kids overall came in at the U.S. average on the NAEP scores. But Wisconsin’s position has been slipping. Many other states have higher overall scores and improving scores, while Wisconsin scores have stayed flat.
Steven Dykstra of the Wisconsin Reading Coalition, an organization that advocates for phonics programs, points out something that should give us pause: If you break down the new fourth-grade reading data by race and ethnic grouping, as well as by economic standing (kids who get free or reduced price meals and kids who don’t), Wisconsin kids trail the nation in every category. The differences are not significant in some, but even white students from Wisconsin score below the national average for white children.
(So how does Wisconsin overall still tie the national average? To be candid, the answer is because Wisconsin has a higher percentage of white students, the group that scores the highest, than many other states.)
Start the war.

Related: Reading Recovery, Madison School Board member suggests cuts to Reading Recovery spending, UW-Madison Professor Mark Seidenberg on the Madison School District’s distortion of reading data & phonics and Norm and Dolores Mishelow Presentation on Milwaukee’s Successful Reading Program.

Governance: Madison School Board Members Proposed 2010-2011 Budget Amendments: Cole, Hughes, Mathiak, Moss & Silveira. Reading Recovery, Teaching & Learning, “Value Added Assessment” based on WKCE on the Chopping Block

Well worth reading, particularly Maya Cole’s suggestions on Reading Recovery (60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use) spending, Administrative compensation comparison, a proposal to eliminate the District’s public information position, Ed Hughes suggestion to eliminate the District’s lobbyist (Madison is the only District in the state with a lobbyist), trade salary increases for jobs, Lucy Mathiak’s recommendations vis a vis Teaching & Learning, the elimination of the “expulsion navigator position”, reduction of Administrative travel to fund Instructional Resource Teachers, Arlene Silveira’s recommendation to reduce supply spending in an effort to fund elementary school coaches and a $200,000 reduction in consultant spending. Details via the following links:
Maya Cole: 36K PDF
Ed Hughes: 127K PDF
Lucy Mathiak: 114K PDF
Beth Moss: 10K PDF
Arlene Silveira: 114K PDF
The Madison School District Administration responded in the following pdf documents:

Much more on the proposed 2010-2011 Madison School District Budget here.

Seattle’s Superintendent Performance Review

Charlie Mas:

Well, while folks are talking about having the public kibbitz on school district labor contracts, I suppose we can’t help having comments on the Superintendent’s contract as well. The Board will soon take up the matter of the Superintendent’s annual performance review and action on her contract.
How has the Superintendent done?
I suppose the only proper way to answer that question would be to review her performance relative to her job description and the performance expectations for her that were established and defined in advance. These performance expectations should, of course, all be objectively measurable outcomes. That is, after all, her definition of accountability.
She wrote:

Changing Teacher Tenure: Last Teacher In, First Out? New York City Has Another Idea

Jennifer Medina:

Peter Borock, 23, is in his second year teaching history at Health Opportunities High School in the South Bronx. It could be his last.
With New York City schools planning for up to 8,500 layoffs, new teachers like Mr. Borock, and half a dozen others at his school, could be some of the ones most likely to be let go. That has led the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, into a high-stakes battle with the teachers’ union to overturn seniority rules that have been in place for decades.
Facing the likelihood of the largest number of layoffs in more than a generation, Mr. Klein and his counterparts around the country say that the rules, which require that the most recently hired teachers be the first to lose their jobs, are anachronistic. In an era of accountability, they say, the rules will upend their efforts of the last few years to recruit new teachers, improve teacher performance and reward those who do best.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: A Revolt Grows in New Jersey

NY Post:

New Jersey voters just sent another loud reminder of their disgust with out-of-control taxes.
Of 537 school budgets up for a vote in the Garden State, 315 — a whopping 59 percent — went down in flames Tuesday.
That’s more than the state’s seen in decades.
Why so many rejections?
Because some 80 percent of those budgets sought property-tax hikes.

For School Company, Issues of Money and Control

Stephanie Strom:

When the energy executive Dennis Bakke retired with a fortune from the AES Corporation, the company he co-founded, he and his wife, Eileen, decided to direct their attention and money to education.
Mrs. Bakke, a former teacher, said she had been interested in education since the summer she was a 12-year-old and, together with a friend, opened the Humpty Dumpty Day School, charging $2 a week in “tuition” to parents of the children attending. Mr. Bakke was eager to experiment with applying business strategies and discipline to public schools.
The Bakkes became part of the nation’s new crop of education entrepreneurs, founding a commercial charter school company called Imagine Schools. Beginning with one failed charter school company they acquired in 2004, they have built an organization that has contracts with 71 schools in 11 states and the District of Columbia. Imagine is now the largest commercial manager of charter schools in the country.

The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges

Paul Caron:

Since I am touring colleges with my daughter this week in advance of the May 1 acceptance deadline, I was particularly struck by the law prof blogosphere discussion (here and here) of The Price of Admission : How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges–and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates, by Daniel Golden. From the Washington Post’s review:

Stepping into this cauldron of anxiety about admission to elite colleges is Daniel Golden, a Wall Street Journal reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for a series of articles on the inner workings of college admissions offices. In his provocative and stimulating book, The Price of Admission, Golden makes a powerful case that the number of well-to-do whites given preference to highly selective colleges dwarfs that of minorities benefiting from affirmative action. He follows this central theme in a wide-ranging series of case studies of systematic preference for the wealthy, the privileged and the famous, as well as legacies, faculty children and — most innovatively — athletes in such patrician sports as rowing, horseback riding, fencing and even polo. A tough investigative reporter, Golden does not hesitate to name names — not only of specific institutions (including Harvard, Duke, Brown, Notre Dame, the University of Virginia, Princeton, Stanford and Amherst) and administrators, but also of individual students (including the sons of Al Gore and Sen. Bill Frist) whom he deems to be beneficiaries of preferences for the privileged. The result is a disturbing exposé of the influence that wealth and power still exert on admission to the nation’s most prestigious universities.
That virtually all elite private colleges give preference to the sons and daughters of alumni will come as a surprise to no one. But preference also extends to wealthy applicants whose families have been identified as potential donors — “development cases” in the parlance of the trade. Golden documents that even Harvard, with its $25.9 billion endowment, is not above giving preference to the scions of the super-rich. His primary example, however, of development cases being central to the admissions process is Duke, where the university embarked on a systematic strategy of raising its endowment by seeking out wealthy applicants. Golden estimates that Duke admitted 100 development applicants each year in the late 1990s who otherwise would have been rejected. Though this may be something of an extreme case, special consideration for applicants flagged by the development office is standard practice at elite colleges and universities.
Also enjoying substantial preference at elite colleges, both public and private, are varsity athletes. In a fascinating case study of women’s sports at the University of Virginia, Golden shows how the effort to comply with Title IX, a gender equity law that has the praiseworthy goal of ensuring equality between female and male athletes, has had the unintended effect of giving an admissions edge to female athletes who play upper-class sports. Between 1992 and 2002, the number of college women nationwide in rowing, a sport highly concentrated in private schools and affluent suburbs, rose from 1,555 to 6,690; more recently, the number of female varsity horseback riders increased from 633 to 1,175 between 1998 and 2002. The net effect of the rise of these overwhelmingly patrician sports, Golden argues, has been to further advantage already advantaged women.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Montana Passes the Piggy Bank for Cost-Saving Ideas

Stephanie Strom:

Nothing is forcing Montana, one of only two states to boast a budget surplus, to cut costs.
Nothing, that is, except its voluble governor, Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat and deficit hawk.
“Four years ago, when most states were awash in cash and new revenues were rolling in, I didn’t allow the Legislature to spend it or commit it,” Mr. Schweitzer said. “I vetoed more than 40 bills.”
He also has vigilantly cut costs, but by January, he said, he had “exhausted all the easy ideas.” So he turned for help to his constituents. He featured a pink piggy bank on his Web site and invited them to click on it and submit their ideas for trimming state expenses.
The Montana Accountability Project attracted more than 1,000 suggestions that included placing sensors in state buildings to turn lights off, switching to a four-day workweek for state employees, abolishing the death sentence and reducing the cost of appeals.

Hundreds of Orange County teachers strike over pay and benefits cuts

Carla Rivera:

Hundreds of Orange County teachers were walking picket lines Thursday, the first day of a strike protesting pay and benefits cuts in the Capistrano Unified School District.
Schools in the 51,000-student district remained open, but most after-school activities and sports events were canceled.
Scores of substitute teachers were hurriedly brought in to preside over classrooms with lesson plans that included enrichment activities in line with state education standards. But there were reports that some students were leaving campuses because there were too few substitutes.

Congratulations to MMSD Presidential Scholars Program Semi-Finalists

Four MMSD students have been named U.S. Presidential Scholars Program semi-finalists:
Timothy Choi – West HS
Laurel Hamers – Memorial HS
Ansel Norris – East HS (arts)
Valerie Shen – Memorial HS

In April, the Commission on Presidential Scholars reviews the applications of all semifinalists based on the same criteria used by the review committee. The Commission selects up to 121 academic scholars and up to 20 arts scholars. All scholars are honored for their accomplishments during National Recognition Week, held in June in Washington, D.C.
Presidential Scholars are guests of the Commission during National Recognition Week and enjoy an expense paid trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with government officials, educators, authors, musicians, scientists and other accomplished people. During the week, scholars have the opportunity to visit museums and monuments, and to attend recitals, receptions and ceremonies. To commemorate their achievement, the Scholars are awarded the Presidential Scholars medallion at a ceremony sponsored by the White House.
All Presidential Scholars are asked to identify those educators who have most influenced them. The selected educators are also invited to attend National Recognition Week. There, they are honored at a special reception to recognize and thank them for their efforts, and they are presented with the Teacher Recognition Award.
For over 45 years, this unique federal program has honored over 6,000 Presidential Scholars, who have demonstrated leadership, scholarship, and contribution to school and community. The work of the Commission on Presidential Scholars reaffirms, on behalf of the President, the Nation’s commitment to education.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Democrat Controlled Assembly & Senate pass Bill that Reduces Madison’s SAGE Funding by $2M; District must be prepared for More Redistributed State Tax Dollar Changes

Dee Hall:

A bill that Madison School District officials say could take state funding from the district passed the state Senate on Thursday without changes and is headed to the desk of Gov. Jim Doyle.
The measure would increase the maximum class size in schools receiving funding under the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education program. The limit would become 18 students per class, up from the current maximum of 15, which would make SAGE more affordable for some school districts.

4K proponents have argued that the “State” will pay for this service over time. Clearly, counting on redistributed State tax dollars should be done with a measure of caution.

271 Literacy: Backward Mapping

“The Review embodies Will Fitzhugh’s idea about how to get students thinking and writing. In supporting him, you would be helping a person who is building what should and can become a national education treasure.” Albert Shanker, 1993
“What is called for is an Intel-like response from the business and philanthropic community to put The Concord Review on a level footing with a reasonable time horizon.” Denis P. Doyle, 2010

Denis Doyle:

With recent NAEP results (holding steady) and the RTTT announcements (DE and TN are the two finalists in this round) everyone’s eye continues to focus on the persistent problem of low academic achievement in math and English Language Arts. And that’s too bad; it’s time for a change.
Instead of looking exclusively at the “problem,” it’s time to see the promise a solution holds. It’s time to “backward map” from the desired objective–universal literacy–to step-by-step solutions. Achieving true literacy–reading, writing, listening and speaking with skill and insight–is, as Confucius said, a journey of a thousand miles; we must begin with a single step. Let’s begin at the end and work our way backwards.
How might we do that? Little noted and not long remembered is the high end of the literacy scale, high flyers, youngsters who distinguish themselves by the quality of their work. By way of illustration, young math and science high flyers have the Intel Talent Search to reward them with great fanfare, newspaper headlines and hard cash (the first place winner gets a $100,000 scholarship) and runners-up get scholarships worth more than $500,000 in total.
That’s as it should be; the modern era is defined by science, technology and engineering, and it is appropriate to highlight achievement in these fields, both as a reward for success and an incentive to others.
But so too should ELA receive public fanfare, attention and rewards. In particular, exemplary writing skills should be encouraged, rewarded and showcased.
It was the Council for Basic Education’s great insight that ELA and math are the generative subjects from which all other knowledge flows. Without a command of these two “languages” we are mute. Neither math nor English is more important than the other; they are equally important.
Indeed, there is a duality in literacy and math which is noteworthy–each subject is pursued for its own sake and at the same time each one is instrumental. Literacy serves its own purpose as the fount of the examined life while it serves larger social and economic purposes as a medium of communication. No wonder it’s greatest expression is honored with the Nobel Prize.
What is called for is a Junior Nobel, for younger writers, something like the Intel Talent Search for literary excellence. In the mean time we are lucky enough to have The Concord Review. Lucky because its editor and founder, Will Fitzhugh, labors mightily as a one-man show without surcease (and without financial support). We are all in his debt.
Before considering ways to discharge our obligation, what, you might wonder, is The Concord Review?
I quote from their web site: “The Concord Review, Inc., was founded in March 1987 to recognize and to publish exemplary history essays by high school students in the English-speaking world. With the 81st issue (Spring 2010), 890 research papers (average 5,500 words, with endnotes and bibliography) have been published from authors in forty-four states and thirty-seven other countries. The Concord Review remains the only quarterly journal in the world to publish the academic work of secondary students.” (see www.tcr.org)
Lest anyone doubt the importance of this undertaking, permit me to offer a few unsolicited testimonials. The first is from former Boston University President John Silber, “I believe The Concord Review is one of the most imaginative, creative, and supportive initiatives in public education. It is a wonderful incentive to high school students to take scholarship and writing seriously.
The other is from former AFT President Al Shanker: “The Review also has a vital message for teachers. American education suffers from an impoverishment of standards at all levels. We see that when we look at what is expected of students in other industrialized nations and at what they achieve. Could American students achieve at that level? Of course, but our teachers often have a hard time knowing exactly what they can expect of their students or even what a first-rate essay looks like. The Concord Review sets a high but realistic standard; and it could be invaluable for teachers trying to recalibrate their own standards of excellence.”
Can an enterprise which numbers among its friends and admirers people as diverse as John Silber and Al Shanker deserve anything less than the best?
What is called for is an Intel-like response from the business and philanthropic community to put TCR on a level footing with a reasonable time horizon. Will Fitzhugh has been doing this on his own for 22 years (he’s now 73) and TCR deserves a more secure home (and future) of its own.

“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
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

Programs Train Teachers Using Medical School Model

Claudio Sanchez:

What if we prepared teachers the same way we prepare doctors?
As school reformers lurch toward more innovative ways for training classroom teachers, this idea is getting a lot of attention. A handful of teacher “residency programs” based on the medical residency model already exist. Boston was one of the first to create one in 2003.
Tom Payzant had been Boston Public Schools superintendent when he founded the Boston Teacher Residency program. Payzant, who now teaches at Harvard University, says the city desperately needed to attract more talented teachers, especially for hard-to-fill positions like math, science and special education. But it wasn’t just about the numbers, Payzant says. It was about the quality of teachers coming out of colleges of education.

Minnesota Teacher Union Lobbying

Mike Antonucci:

Minnesota lawmakers felt their Race to the Top application was adversely affected by insufficient teacher union buy-in. So they heeded the union’s repeated calls for “a seat at the table” by giving Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher, well, a seat at the table. Unfortunately, it was a seat at the legislators’ table during a committee hearing and Dooher is not only the union president, but a registered lobbyist.
Republican state Rep. Mark Buesgens said it was “like having Vito Corleone watching over his foot soldiers.”
The Democrats said the meeting was a working group and not a full committee hearing, so Dooher’s presence at the legislators’ table was not a breach of protocol. However, the Minnesota House voted 128-2 yesterday to bar lobbyists and executive branch members from sitting at the committee table with lawmakers during official meetings.

How to get more value out of your college education

Craig Ford:

These days, it seems like most middle class kids go on to college.
In fact, many jobs are now requiring a Bachelor’s degree. Thus, many kids are going to college as almost a default stage of life. Some people are wondering if a college degree is still worth it. While it is difficult to quantify the benefits of a college education, if you are in college you should try to get the full value out of every dollar you pay.
Some of the key ingredients in preparing for college are getting college savings, applying for scholarships, reducing expenses, and getting student loans (and, of course, later paying student loans). However, the value of a college education is about a lot more than the cost of tuition.

Transforming Britain’s Schools

The Economist:

THE general election due in Britain on May 6th is not the one David Cameron was chosen to fight. The opposition Conservatives made him their leader in 2005 after a barnstorming speech delivered without notes to their annual conference. His pitch: that he could persuade the electorate to trust him with public services and offer tax cuts too, by “sharing the proceeds of growth”. It was a formula worthy of an earlier young, centrist, opposition politician: Tony Blair, who in 1997 led Labour to victory after 18 years of Conservative rule.
Now there is nothing to share: taxes will have to rise and public spending fall. But still Mr Cameron is reprising Mr Blair. In 1997 Mr Blair memorably said that his priorities were “education, education, education”. In the run-up to this election, education reform is the main, perhaps the only, broad and deeply thought-out proposal from his self-styled heir.

Bellevue School Board chooses traditional math, budget cuts next

Joshua Adam Hicks:

The Bellevue School Board adopted a traditionalist-favored math curriculum last week, and the superintendent revealed her final budget-cutting recommendations on Tuesday, making April a pivotal month for the school district.
Regarding math, the school board voted 3-0 on April 13 to adopt the Holt series, snubbing an inquiry-based Discovering curriculum that had math purists and many district parents up in arms.
Board members Paul Mills, Peter Bentley, and Michael Murphy voted in favor of the Holt textbooks. Chris Marks, Karen Clark, Judy Bushnell and Cudiero were not present.
The math decision fell in line with a recommendation from the district’s textbook-adoption committee, which favored Holt over Discovering.

Your education, brought to you by…


t wasn’t too long ago that I was in high school, munching on Pizza Hut, In-N-Out and Kentucky Fried Chicken at lunch next to the Dasani and Coca Cola vending machines while wearing a school t-shirt sporting several local business sponsors.
The mix of education and corporate sponsorship seemed to be a win-win situation-the school district got money that was directed back into education and maintenance of facilities, the students were happy with non-cafeteria food, the cafeteria workers did little to prepare the meals besides handing them out and the sponsors maintained a steady stream of product and advertisement consumers. This was back in 2004, a few years before most of us could foresee the pending economic doom that awaited us.
In the past few years what seemed a relatively controlled partnership based solely on food has evolved into an intense, targeted marketing venture during a time when schools are hurting for money. In San Diego, Rancho Bernardo calculus instructor Tom Farber started selling ads on his exams at $10-30 a pop. The reason? Copies for tests would cost more than $500 per year, and his budget was only $316. The rest of the money would have to come from somewhere.

A Remarkable Headline: “WKCE results very similar to last year; non-low income students continue to do well”

Ken Syke, Madison School District Public Information:

Three conclusions from this year’s Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination results for Madison School District students:

  1. The performance of Madison School District students was relatively unchanged from last year in reading and math across the seven tested grade levels.
  2. MMSD’s non-low income students continue to outperform their Wisconsin peers in reading and math.
  3. Small gains were made in 10 of 14 scores on the achievement gap but the differences remain too significant.

1. In reading, across the seven grades tested, four grade levels had an increase in the percentage of students scoring at the Proficient or higher performance categories compared with the previous year while three grades showed a decline in the percentage. In math, four grades increased Proficient or higher performance, one grade declined and two grades remained the same. (See Table 1 below.)

The WKCE has been criticized for its lack of rigor. It may be replaced in the not too distant future.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: New Jersey’s Voters Turn Down Many School District Budgets

New Jersey Left Behind:

Today’s Wall Street Journal:
The election results are obviously a big setback for the Democratic Party-government union alliance that has ruled Trenton for the past decade. So far, Governor Christie is winning the spending debate. The lesson for other governors is that opposition from public-employee unions is not insurmountable if you can articulate to voters what’s at stake.
Joseph Marbach, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Seton Hall:
I think the governor was very successful in … portraying the teachers union as out of touch with what’s going on with working families. The voters are more aligned with his position… I think it … gives him continued momentum to continue to rein in costs.

Montgomery County to weigh student performance as a third of teachers’ reviews

Daniel de Vise:

Montgomery County teachers and school system leaders signed an agreement Tuesday that calls for test scores and other student performance data to “factor strongly” in one-third of every teacher’s evaluation, saying theirs is the first school system in Maryland to specify how much that data will count as a factor in teacher ratings.
The teachers and administrators acted in response to a new state law that allows student test scores to be used as a “significant” component of teacher evaluations. The law is part of Maryland’s proposal for federal education aid under President Obama’s $4 billion “Race to the Top” competition. Maryland is seeking as much as $250 million in the contest, which awards money to states whose applications show the strongest commitment to the president’s education reform agenda.
Test scores have been a part of Montgomery’s decade-old Teacher Professional Growth System, just as they factor into teacher evaluations in many other school districts. But Race to the Top has put school systems under pressure to place test scores front and center in those evaluations and to quantify their role in rating teachers.

In NJ school cut debate, insults overshadow issues

Geoff Mulvihill:

They’re the kind of obscenity-laced schoolyard taunts that could get a student suspended.
But the target of this tirade is New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie — and the perpetrators are the state’s teachers, irate over his calls for salary freezes and funding cuts for schools.
In Facebook messages visible to the world — not to mention their students — the teachers have called Christie fat, compared him to a genocidal dictator and wished he was dead. The postings are often riddled with bad grammar and misspellings.
“Never trust a fat f…,” read one profane post on the Facebook page, “New Jersey Teachers United Against Governor Chris Christie’s Pay Freeze,” which has some 69,000 fans, many of them teachers.
“How do you spell A– hole? C-H-R-I-S C-H-R-I-S-T-I-E,” read another.

U.S. tapping S.F. school’s recipe for success

Jill Tucker:

A top education official in the Obama administration sat in San Francisco’s Marshall Elementary School cafeteria taking notes Monday as parents, teachers and administrators recited a recipe for what it takes to turn around a struggling school.
The main ingredients included quality teachers, involved parents and a supportive principal mixed perhaps with a new dual-immersion language program. Time must be allowed to let it all take hold.
It is the kind of formula federal officials would love to see in place at schools across the country. Too many schools are failing year after year with no end in sight, said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller.

Houston Seeks Parent Input on High School Reforms

Ericka Mellon:

The Houston school district has scheduled meetings to discuss with parents its plans for reforming Lee, Jones, Kashmere and possibly Sharpstown high schools. HISD Superintendent Terry Grier and his staff presented the plans, which include extending the school day and year and offering students small-group tutoring, at a school board workshop last week. District officials plan to implement the changes this coming school year, so the turnaround is fast — and the parent meetings are just around the corner. After columnist Lisa Falkenberg got a tip about the upcoming meeting at Lee from a peeved state lawmaker, I asked the district for a list of all the meetings. It took a day to get it, but here it is:

Census: Women match men in advanced degrees

Hope Yen:

Women are now just as likely as men to have completed college and to hold an advanced degree, part of an accelerating trend of educational gains that have shielded women from recent job losses. Yet they continue to lag behind men in pay.
Among adults 25 and older, 29 percent of women in the United States have at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with 30 percent of men, according to 2009 census figures released Tuesday.
Women also have drawn even with men in holding advanced degrees. Women represented roughly half of those in the United States with a master’s degree or higher, due largely to years of steady increases in women pursuing a medical or law degree.

L.A. study affirms benefits of preschool

Carla Rivera:

Children enrolled in Los Angeles Universal Preschool programs made significant improvements in the social and emotional skills needed to do well in kindergarten, according to a study released Monday. The gains were especially pronounced for English language learners, the study showed.
The findings confirmed observations of preschool teachers that children attending high-quality programs are better prepared for kindergarten. For the first time, the study provided data to back up those observations, officials with the nonprofit preschool organization said.
“This is unique because there’s very little research in terms of cognitive progression in the preschool years,” said Celia C. Ayala, chief operating officer for Los Angeles Universal Preschool. “We know there are differences, we see the differences, but this gives us a way to assess improvements.”

Clusty Search: Los Angeles Universal Preschool.

Primary school heads to boycott UK Sats


The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) and the National Union of Teachers (NUT) confirmed today that industrial action to ”frustrate the administration of the tests” will go ahead, following meetings of their executives.
It comes after headteachers overwhelmingly supported a boycott in ballots carried out by the two unions.

Obama repeals Bush-era Title IX policy

Valerie Strauss:

The Obama administration is throwing out a Bush-era policy under the Title IX gender equity law that critics said made it easy for schools and colleges to avoid offering equal opportunities for women in athletics.
Title IX, passed in 1972, required schools to use a comprehensive evaluation to decide whether females were being given equal opportunity to participate.
In 2005, under then President George W. Bush, a new policy allowed schools to use a simple survey of women as its evaluation, and to combine non-responses with negative responses. Critics said gave institutions an easy way to avoid providing equal athletic opportunities for females.

The Education Mess: Can We Build a Better National School System? No….

Jerry Pournelle:

Diane Ravitch was one of the architects of No Child Left Behind, but in her new book she now admits that it isn’t working, and is in fact helping kill the kind of education she advocates. She continues to believe that the American public schools do a poor job, and that we can build a much more successful system of public education.
I agree with her on the first point. She’s dead wrong on the second. We can’t build a better system.
That’s not a cry of despair, it’s a statement of fact. There is never going to be a national school system much better than what we have now. It may get worse, but it won’t get much better.
We could build a better school system by the simple expedient of abolishing the Department of Education. Some of us thought we could manage that when Reagan was swept into office, but the liberal establishment with the support of the teachers unions wouldn’t permit that: and Reagan needed Congressional support for his defense measures. Some of us remember that when Reagan took office, only ten years before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States looked to be in bad shape, with too many overseas commitments — what Walter Lippman called drafts on our power — and too little actual power, either military or diplomatic. The military needed a big shakeup and buildup, we needed to look into our overseas commitments, financial reforms were desperately needed, and the liberals, knowing all this, were willing to help — provided that they got their share of liberal programs. The Department of Education was one of their bastions, and they would fight to the death — or at least to the death of the Republic — to prevent it from being abolished.

Less centralization, including the breakup of big districts would be a great step forward.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: New Jersey voters reject school budgets in heated elections


New Jersey voters took a stand on school spending and property taxes Tuesday, rejecting 260 of 479 school budgets across 19 counties, according to unofficial results in statewide school elections.
In the proposed state budget he unveiled last month, Gov. Chris Christie slashed $820 million in aid to school districts and urged voters to defeat budgets if teachers in their schools did not agree to one-year wage freezes. The salvo ignited a heated debate with the state’s largest teachers union.
Christie said the cuts were necessary to help plug an $11 billion state budget gap.
In many districts Tuesday, the governor made himself heard as 54 percent of the spending plans were rejected, according to unofficial returns. If the trend continues, it would mark the most budget defeats in New Jersey since 1976, when 56 percent failed. Typically, voters approve more than 70 percent of the school budgets.

A Toxic Dispute With Teachers in Washington, DC

New York Times:

Last fall, Michelle Rhee, the tough-minded and creative schools chancellor in Washington, laid off 266 teachers, citing a budget crunch. She has since reported finding a budget surplus. The city’s teachers’ union, which challenged the layoffs unsuccessfully last fall, has now asked a judge to review them again. The atmosphere has grown increasingly toxic.
Some of Ms. Rhee’s critics have implausibly suggested that she might have withheld information to justify the layoffs. It would be terrible for the city’s children if the dispute reached a point where it upended the innovative union contract that Ms. Rhee and union leaders provisionally agreed to earlier this month.
The contract, which changes the terms under which teachers are paid and evaluated, could pave the way for better schools for the District of Columbia’s students and could become a model for agreements between school districts and teachers’ unions around the country.

California State Education Budget Update Event

Brian Kaplan, via email:

The state budget once again appears to be in flux. The Governor has promised no cuts to education. But education leaders have disputed this claim and are once again faced with significant program reductions. The governor’s May Revise will provide additional details on how the public school districts will fare in 2010-2011. Our panelists will address the impact of the budget on education from multiple perspectives.
John Fensterwald, Writer of The Educated Guess and Journalist in Residence at Silicon Valley Education Foundation

What to do with ‘persistently underperforming’ schools?

San Francisco School Board Member Rachel Norton:

On April 20, the San Francisco Board of Education will convene a policy discussion to discuss the Superintendent’s plans for our 10 schools labeled “persistently underperforming” by the state of California.
This list was created as part of the state’s efforts to qualify for Race to the Top. It designates five percent of the state’s schools as failing, and prescribes one of four turnaround models for districts to take. There’s no choice in the matter, though it’s unclear under state law when these actions would have to be taken. If, however, a district wants to apply for Federal funds to help implement one of the turnaround models, it must submit a plan in the next few weeks–and begin the work within six months.
I am not crazy about any of the turnaround models. They assume that school leaders are so stupid that–D’oh! We never thought of replacing principals! We never thought of reconstitution (which we tried in this district and which failed, miserably)! Charter schools! Wow! (Even though charter schools have as mixed a record as traditional public schools–no miracles here.) School closure! (How does closing a school affect the achievement of its former students, exactly?)

A Home Library’s Educational Edge

Tom Kuntz:

Now they tell you, just when you’ve sold the old Harvard Classics on eBay, hauled the Britannicas down to the dump and signed up Junior for online SAT prep. Tom Jacobs reports for Miller-McCune:

After examining statistics from 27 nations, a group of researchers found the presence of book-lined shelves in the home — and the intellectual environment those volumes reflect — gives children an enormous advantage in school.
“Home library size has a very substantial effect on educational attainment, even adjusting for parents’ education, father’s occupational status and other family background characteristics,” reports the study, recently published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. “Growing up in a home with 500 books would propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average, than would growing up in a similar home with few or no books.

Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” Program Offers Only a Muddled Path to the Finish Line

William Peterson & Richard Rothstein:

In short, the Race to the Top 500-point rating system presents a patina of scientific objectivity, but in truth masks a subjective and somewhat random process.
This competition was a trial run for Secretary Duncan of a policy approach he hopes to make permanent. The Obama administration has proposed that formula-driven Title I funding16 be frozen at its present level, without future adjustment for inflation, and that increases in federal education spending be devoted entirely to a new collection of competitive grants, some of which have similar requirements to RTT, and some of which, as indicated above, attempt to create incentives for initiatives not included in RTT. Because such a reduction in real Title I funding would further exacerbate state fiscal crises, and because this trial run of a competitive system has proven to have little credibility, the administration should rethink its approach to federal education aid and its relationship to school improvement.
Yet for now, the Department of Education proposes to go through an identical process for judging a second round of applications by July. States that lost in the March competition have been invited to re-apply, and several are doing so, again investing time and expense to re-do their applications. Experts in these states are likely to spend many hours studying the review process employed in March, so they can recommend small changes in their states’ applica- tions to exploit the quirks of the Department’s rating system. Such gaming is unlikely to reflect an actual improvement in the education policies of applicant states.

Comments on the Seattle Public Schools’ Strategic Plan Update

Charlie Mas:

So I was just thinking about the progress on the Strategic Plan. I know I shouldn’t. It only serves to upset and frustrate me. Nevertheless…
Focusing just on the primary themes and elements of the Plan, it still doesn’t look good.
1. Ensuring Excellence in Every Classroom
1A. Adopt an aligned curriculum in math and science
They haven’t done this. They’re nowhere with regard to science; I don’t think they’ve even gotten started. They’re not much further along with math. They have standardized the textbooks (for the most part), and they have posted pacing guides, but there’s no evidence that they have aligned the curriculum. In fact, it doesn’t appear that they have any ability to align the curriculum, that they even know how to align curriculum, or that they know what aligned curriculum would look like. After making bold statements on PowerPoints and paying millions to vendors, they appear to be completely adrift.
1B. Develop districtwide assessments in math and reading
This is a reference to the MAP, but it isn’t districtwide yet and teachers either don’t know how to use the results or simply aren’t choosing to use them. There were supposed to be a lot of other common assessments, but there’s no evidence to suggest that they are either in use or useful. Mostly this was an excuse to funnel millions to a vendor for a data warehouse which isn’t ready yet and will be of questionable utility when it is ready.

Related: Madison School District Strategic Plan.

The Bad Teacher Protection Racket

Mike Nichols:

Legislators trying to help save a generation of Milwaukee children from lives of poverty and unemployment want to add a new law to the books in Madison this week.
They should, if they want to make a real difference, also delete one.
Part of the new education bill passed by the Senate the other day, and now being considered by the Assembly, calls for rigorous, annual teacher performance evaluations – something that many districts all across America already supposedly administer.
But not really.
Last year, the New Teacher Project researched teacher evaluations in 12 districts, both big and small, across the country. Methods and frequency of evaluation differed from district to district, but one thing was found to be strikingly similar. Virtually all teachers in the districts studied are told over and over and over again that they are either good or great. In districts that use binary rating systems, for instance, (generally “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory” categories are used) more than 99% of teachers are given the “satisfactory” designation, according to the researchers.

How Writing Can Improve Reading

Steve Graham & Michael Hebert:

Around the world, from the cave paintings in Lascaux, France, which may be 25,000 years old, to the images left behind by the lost Pueblo cultures of the American Southwest, to the ancient aboriginal art of Australia, the most common pictograph found in rock paintings is the human hand. Coupled with pictures of animals, with human forms, with a starry night sky or other images that today, we can only identify as abstract, we look at these men’s and women’s hands, along with smaller prints that perhaps belong to children, and cannot help but be deeply moved by the urge of our ancestors to leave some permanent imprint of themselves behind.
Clearly, the instinct for human beings to express their feelings, their thoughts, and their experiences in some lasting form has been with us for a very long time.This urge eventually manifested itself in the creation of the first alphabet, which many attribute to the Phoenicians.When people also began to recognize the concept of time, their desire to express themselves became intertwined with the sense of wanting to leave behind a legacy, a message about who they were, what they had done and seen, and even what they believed in.Whether inscribed on rock, carved in cuneiform, painted in hieroglyphics, or written with the aid of the alphabet, the instinct to write down everything from mundane commercial transactions to routine daily occurrences to the most transcendent ideas–and then to have others read them, as well as to read what others have written–is not simply a way of transferring information from one person to another, one generation to the next. It is a process of learning and hence, of education.
Ariel and Will Durant were right when they said,”Education is the transmission of civilization.” Putting our current challenges into historical context, it is obvious that if today’s youngsters cannot read with understanding, think about and analyze what they’ve read, and then write clearly and effectively about what they’ve learned and what they think, then they may never be able to do justice to their talents and their potential. (In that regard, the etymology of the word education, which is “to draw out and draw forth”–from oneself, for example–is certainly evocative.) Indeed, young people who do not have the ability to transform thoughts, experiences, and ideas into written words are in danger of losing touch with the joy of inquiry, the sense of intellectual curiosity, and the inestimable satisfaction of acquiring wisdom that are the touchstones of humanity.What that means for all of us is that the essential educative transmissions that have been passed along century after century, generation after generation, are in danger of fading away, or even falling silent.

Principal tells ninth graders to study, or leave

Jay Matthews:

One of my education reporting maxims is that principals of schools in troubled districts never seek me out. Journalists are poison to them. We only want to write about bad stuff. Anything they say can be held against them.
So I was surprised when Charlie Thomas, principal of Crossland High School in Prince George’s County, began sending me emails. His school has been one of the worst in a low-performing district for a long time. But Thomas, who arrived in 2004, was trying to improve his school and was willing even to deal with a fault-finding columnist if it would help. Nearly 66 percent of his students were low-income, but he was not going to let that slow him down.
I confess he has gotten my attention with some unusual moves. For instance, he quickly discovered that close to 800 of his 1,800 students were still in the ninth grade. “I asked for a list of every ninth grade student that was 16 years old or older with a grade point average of less than 1.0 [a D average],” he told me. The list had 330 names. Some had been there four or five years.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The People & Their Government: Distrust, Discontent, Anger & Partisan Rancor

The Pew Research Center:

By almost every conceivable measure Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days. A new Pew Research Center survey finds a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government – a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan- based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.
Rather than an activist government to deal with the nation’s top problems, the public now wants government reformed and growing numbers want its power curtailed. With the exception of greater regulation of major financial institutions, there is less of an appetite for government solutions to the nation’s problems – including more government control over the economy – than there was when Barack Obama first took office.
The public’s hostility toward government seems likely to be an important election issue favoring the Republicans this fall. However, the Democrats can take some solace in the fact that neither party can be confident that they have the advantage among such a disillusioned electorate. Favorable ratings for both major parties, as well as for Congress, have reached record lows while opposition to congressional incumbents, already approaching an all- time high, continues to climb.

An analysis of pay-for-grades schemes

Daniel Willingham:

Roland Fryer is an economist at Harvard University who had an idea for a straightforward method of getting kids at urban schools more engaged: Pay ’em.
Four reward schemes were tried in four different cities, each in a randomized control trial lasting one year. The results are reported in Time magazine this week.
New York City: Students were promised pay for higher standardized test scores. There was no effect.
Chicago: Students were paid for higher grades. The rewards prompted higher attendance rates and higher grades, but standardized test scores were not improved.
Washington, D.C.: Students were rewarded for improved behaviors such as good attendance, refraining from fighting, and so on. There was a modest improvement on standardized test scores.

Alternate Path for Teachers Gains Ground

Lisa Foderaro:

Not long ago education schools had a virtual monopoly on the teaching profession. They dictated how and when people became teachers by offering coursework, arranging apprenticeships and granting master’s degrees.
But now those schools are feeling under siege. Officials in Washington, D.C., and New York State, where some of the best-known education schools are located, have stepped up criticisms that the schools are still too focused on theory and not enough on the craft of effective teaching.
In an ever-tightening job market, their graduates are competing with the products of alternative programs like Teach for America, which puts recent college graduates into teaching jobs without previous teaching experience or education coursework.
And this week, the New York State Board of Regents could deliver the biggest blow. It will vote on whether to greatly expand the role of the alternative organizations by allowing them to create their own master’s degree programs. At the extreme, the proposal could make education schools extraneous.

Related, Janet Mertz: An Email to Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad on Math Teacher Hiring Criteria.

Eduspeak: Seattle School District’s Governance Language

Charlie Mas:

There are a number of people who believe that the District intentionally cultivates confusion around the definitions of the terms “curriculum”, “materials”, “content”, and “Standards”. The misuse of these terms on official District documents and by District staff is exactly the sort of thing that supports this suspicion. The misuse of these terms detracts from transparency and community engagement. This example is particularly egregious because it speaks to an adoption. These actions do NOT adopt a curriculum, only materials.

Truancy court in Oakland is for parents

Matthai Kuruvilla:

One by one, mothers stepped forward to face Alameda County Superior Court Judge Cecilia Castellanos and explain why their children have repeatedly failed to show up to elementary school.
One mom said she couldn’t find her son’s school. Another blamed traffic. One said her son was repeatedly tardy to class because he had difficulty opening his locker.
To each, Judge Castellanos said, “That’s not an excuse,” and ordered them back to truancy court for a follow-up.

Five hard truths about charter schools

Jay Matthews:

Many people get too excited about the latest hot education innovation. They lose their sense of perspective. It has happened even to me once or twice. When we wander off like that, we need someone with a sharp intellect and strong character to pull us back to reality.
One such person is Paul T. Hill, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and John and Marguerite Corbally Professor at the University of Washington Bothell. He has written a short, wise book, “Learning As We Go: Why School Choice is Worth the Wait,” which provides the clearest explanations I have seen for why independent public charter schools need more time to develop. Hill believes it is worth waiting for charters to make what he thinks will be widespread positive impact on the quality of education. He thinks they are more promising than a renewed fondness for strengthening bureaucracy and standardizing instruction that seems to be bubbling in some foundations and national advocacy groups.
Hill makes five simple points and more or less devotes a chapter to each. Here is what he says, with some fussing and worrying by me. If you want to add your ideas to these, or explain why these are nonsense, the comments box below awaits.

The teacher salary debate we long needed to have

Mike Kelly:

Since 2001, spending by local towns across New Jersey has risen by 70 percent, with average 4 percent raises for teachers each year playing a major role in the increases. During that same period, property taxes have risen by 56 percent.
You don’t need to be a math major to know that you can’t pay for a 70 percent spending hike with “only” a 56 percent increase in tax revenues. So how did towns make up the difference?
Answer: Trenton.
For many towns and school districts, the revenue gap was filled in with state aid. And that state aid has come largely from income taxes and other fees.
But then came the recession and the sharp drop in incomes – and income taxes.
And then came Chris Christie, handily beating the well-funded, union-backed incumbent Democratic governor, Jon Corzine.
Corzine did not lose because he wasn’t smart enough or because he did not have enough campaign cash of his own. He lost because voters no longer had confidence that he could deliver on his promise to find ways to cut spending and deliver some measure of property tax relief.

Merit Pay for Teachers

Alan Pagano:

A heated debate surrounding merit pay for teachers has existed for decades in the United States, where since the 1920s public schools began awarding compensation primarily according to title and years of experience rather than performance.
Political leaders such as President Barack Obama and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have recently expressed support for the notion of merit pay for teachers. In March 2009, Obama said that teachers should be treated “like the professionals they are while also being held more accountable. Good teachers will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement, and asked to accept more responsibilities for lifting up their schools.”
This has reinvigorated the debate, with many groups staking out positions on either side. The National Education Association, for example, has opposed merit pay, while the United Federation of Teachers, at least in part, seems to support the idea.
Here is a summary of questions and pro and con responses within the debate.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Madison property values see first decline in 35 years

Dean Mosiman:

There’s new evidence the deep national recession has taken a toll on Madison: the value of all real estate dropped by 3.1 percent for 2010, the first decrease in at least 35 years, according to data released by the city Friday.
Falling values do more than reduce the net wealth of property owners. Along with a slowdown in construction, they mean that under current tax rates, fewer dollars will be available to fund the rising costs of city, school and other public services 2011.
“There can’t be new spending. We’re going to have to cut where we can,” Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said in a phone interview from a transit research tour in the Netherlands. “Despite that, there will be considerable pressure on taxes.”

Local government units have been living off of parcel and assessed value growth for decades. This change has significant taxpayer implications…

Training Teacher’s Pe(s)ts

Darcy Heller Sternberg:

Back in the Paleolithic period, when men and women wore their Sunday best, classroom decorum was unquestioned; the relationship between professor and student was based on a set of unspoken rules. One wonders what their reaction would be to an e-mail message I received from a student: hey prof, owt late last nite …. am sic today. pls emal cls notes. yah thatd b great. thx see u.
I teach a course in public speaking at Borough of Manhattan Community College, part of the City University of New York, in which students give speeches ranging from how to clean a trumpet to solar energy. My job is to show them how to arrange their thoughts, use language to its best advantage and, most important, perform in front of an audience without fear.

Madison School Board to Discuss the Superintendent’s Proposed Administrative Reorganization Monday Evening

Organization Chart 352K PDF
Reorgnanization Budget 180K PDF
February, 2010 background memo from Superintendent Dan Nerad.
I spoke with the Superintendent Friday regarding the proposed reorganization. The conversation occurred subsequent to an email I sent to the School Board regarding Administrative cost growth and the proposed reduction in Superintendent direct reports.
I inquired about the reduction in direct reports, the addition of a Chief Learning Officer, or Deputy Superintendent and the apparent increased costs of this change. Mr. Nerad said that he would email updated budget numbers Monday (he said Friday that there would be cost savings). With respect to the change in direct reports, he said that the District surveyed other large Wisconsin Schools and found that those Superintendents typically had 6 to 8, maybe 9 direct reports. He also reminded me that the District formerly had a Deputy Superintendent. Art Rainwater served in that position prior to his boss, Cheryl Wilhoyte’s demise. He discussed a number of reasons for the proposed changes, largely to eliminate management silos and support the District’s strategic plan. He also referenced a proposed reduction in Teaching & Learning staff.
I mentioned Administrative costs vis a vis the current financial climate.
I will post the budget numbers and any related information upon receipt.
Finally, I ran into a wonderful MMSD teacher this weekend. I mentioned my recent conversation with the Superintendent. This teacher asked if I “set him straight” on the “dumbing down of the Madison School District”?
That’s a good question. This teacher believes that we should be learning from Geoffrey Canada’s efforts with respect to the achievement gap, particularly his high expectations. Much more on the Harlem Children’s Zone here.
Finally, TJ Mertz offers a bit of commentary on Monday evening’s Madison School Board meeting.