Study: California Classroom spending dips as ed funding rises; A Look at Per Student Spending vs. Madison

Don Thompson:

Spending in California classrooms declined as a percentage of total education spending over a recent five-year period, even as total school funding increased, according to a Pepperdine University study released Wednesday.
More of the funding increase went to administrators, clerks and technical staff and less to teachers, textbooks, materials and teacher aides, the study found. It was partially funded by a California Chamber of Commerce foundation.
Total K-12 spending increased by $10 billion over the five-year period ending June 30, 2009, from $45.6 billion to $55.6 billion statewide. It rose at a rate greater than the increase in inflation or personal income, according to the study. Yet researchers found that classroom spending dipped from 59 percent of education funding to 57.8 percent over the five years.
Spending on teacher salaries and benefits dropped from 50 percent of statewide spending to 48 percent over the same period. Spending on administrators and supervisors, staff travel and conferences all increased faster than teachers’ pay.

Complete study: 1.1MB PDF.
This is not a big surprise, given the increasing emphasis on, ironically, in the K-12 world, adult to adult spending, often referred to as “Professional Development“. Yippy Search: “Professional Development“.
The report mentions that California’s average per student expenditure is just under $10,000 annually. Madison’s 2009/2010 per student spending was $15,241 ($370,287,471 budget / 24,295 students).

A Review of State Academic Standards, and the Common Core

Sheila Byrd Carmichael, Gabrielle Martino, Kathleen Porter-Magee, W. Stephen Wilson:

he K-12 academic standards in English language arts (ELA) and math produced last month by the Common Core State Standards Initiative are clearer and more rigorous than today’s ELA standards in 37 states and today’s math standards in 39 states, according to the Fordham Institute’s newest study. In 33 of those states, the Common Core bests both ELA and math standards. Yet California, Indiana and the District of Columbia have ELA standards that are clearly superior to those of the Common Core. And nearly a dozen states have ELA or math standards in the same league as Common Core. Read on to find out more and see how your state fared.

Wisconsin’s standards (WKCE) have often been criticized. This year’s study grants the Badger State a “D” in Language Arts and an “F” in Math.

The National Standards Delusion

Neal McCluskey:

As Massachusetts nears decision time on adopting national education standards, the Boston Herald takes state leaders to task for their support of the Common Core standards, which some analysts say are inferior to current state standards. But fear not, says Education Secretary Paul Reville. If the national standards are inferior, the Bay State can change them. “We will continue to be in the driver’s seat.”
If only national standardizers — many of whom truly want high standards and tough accountability — would look a little further than the ends of their beaks.
Here’s the reality: Massachusetts will not be in the drivers seat in the future. Indeed, states aren’t in the driver’s seat right now, because it is federal money that is steering the car, and many more DC ducats will likely be connected to national standards when the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is eventually reauthorized. And this is hardly new or novel — the feds have forced “voluntary” compliance with its education dictates for decades by holding taxpayer dollars hostage.

Charter Backers Flex Political Muscles

Jacob Gershman:

The charter-school movement appears to be catching up to the teachers union in political giving to Albany.
With the help of hedge-fund managers and other Wall Street financiers, charter-school advocates gave more than $600,000 to Albany political candidates and party committees since January, according to the latest campaign filings. That’s more than twice as much as in prior reporting periods, according to allies of charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.
Pro-charter donations appear to have surpassed the $500,000 or so that candidates raised from teachers unions during the six-month period.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Federal Bailout Spending up to 3,700,000,000,000; A Look at Wisconsin’s Taxes and the British PM Flies Commercial


Increased housing commitments swelled U.S. taxpayers’ total support for the financial system by $700 billion in the past year to around $3.7 trillion, a government watchdog said on Wednesday.
The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program said the increase was due largely to the government’s pledges to supply capital to Fannie Mae (FNMA.OB) and Freddie Mac (FMCC.OB) and to guarantee more mortgages to the support the housing market.
Increased guarantees for loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration, the Government National Mortgage Association and the Veterans administration increased the government’s commitments by $512.4 billion alone in the year to June 30, according to the report.

The Wisconsin Budget Project (“An Initiative of the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families“).

The Wisconsin Budget Project is a WCCF initiative engaged in analysis and education on the state budget and tax issues, particularly those relating to low and moderate income families. The budget project seeks to broaden the debate on budget and tax policy through public education and the encouragement of civic engagement on these issues.
Quick Facts about the Wisconsin Budget:

  • Based on the most recent national data (from 2007), Wisconsin ranked 29th in total state and local spending (measured as a percentage of income).
  • Contrary to the perception that our state has a large government bureaucracy, Wisconsin ranked 44th (7th lowest) in 2008 in the number of state employees relative to population, and 41st (10th lowest) in total state and local government employees relative to population.

Clusty Search: Wisconsin Budget Project & WISTAX (Wisconsin Taxpayer’s Alliance).
Setting a great example for our political class, British Prime Minister David Cameron flew commercial on a recent trip to the United States. Congressional use of military jets continues to be controversial (to his credit, US Senator Russ Feingold can often be seen flying commercial).

What we know on the standards debate

Jim Stergios:

We know that Massachusetts students scored below the national average on SATs in the early 1990s and barely broke the top 10 on national assessments. We know that Massachusetts students have become the best students in the nation on these same assessments, and are among the best “nations” in math and science.
We know that implementing standards in Massachusetts took years of public debate and hard work, and, spending over $90 billion since 1993 on K-12 education, that it came at no small cost to the Commonwealth and its communities.
We know that there are ways to improve our current standards and our performance across all demographics and geographies of the Commonwealth.
We know that our education reforms distinguish us from the rest of the country and are critical to business and job creation.
We know that having state flexibility allows us to improve faster than the rest of the nation and to make adjustments that are good for the people and children of Massachusetts.

National Standards for US Schools Gain Support From States

Avi Arditti & Bob Doughty:

Americans have never had national education standards. Goals for what public schools should teach are set by state and local school boards. Their members are often elected.
But some Americans say the lack of national standards is wrong in a competitive global economy. Former president Bill Clinton said it was as if somehow school boards “could legislate differences in algebra or math or reading.”
President George W. Bush and Congress expanded federal intervention. His education law, still in effect, required states to show yearly progress in student learning as measured by the states’ own tests.

‘The friend of my enemy is my enemy’: Virtual universe study proves 80-year-old theory on how humans interact


Social networks are made up of different types of social interactions. This multi-relational aspect is usually neglected in the analysis of large social networks. A monochrome representation, such as provided by mobile phone data (see figure 1), leads to a gross representation of the system. The richness of the interactions can only be uncovered by identifying the nature of the links between people (represented by the different colours in figure 2). Because players are immersed in a virtual world in online games, all their actions/communications are stored in log files, resulting in rich data.
A new study analysing interactions between players in a virtual universe game has for the first time provided large-scale evidence to prove an 80 year old psychological theory called Structural Balance Theory. The research, published today in PNAS, shows that individuals tend to avoid stress-causing relationships when they develop a society, resulting in more stable social networks.

Gifted education might benefit from some new terminology

Ron Legge
Gifted and Talented Education is a broad term for special practices used in the education of children who have been identified as intellectually gifted. There is no common definition for exactly what that means. GATE supporters argue that the regular curriculum fails to meet their special needs. Therefore, these students must have modifications that will enable them to develop their full potential.
In Virginia, each school division establishes procedures for the identification of gifted students and for the delivery of services to those students. GATE funding comes from the state with a local match. Consequently, there is some variation between school divisions in the strength of their GATE programs.
Each Virginia school division must develop a GATE plan. The larger school systems often have separate GATE teachers and classrooms. Others use the regular classroom teacher (often specially trained) to practice what is called differentiation within the classroom.
Differentiation is not providing the GATE student with an extra worksheet. It might be more like, for example, having the GATE students write a novella while the other students are writing a short report. The GATE students may also work together in small groups to solve teacher-generated problems related to the curriculum the whole class is working on…..
But GATE has long struggled with an educational system that has been much more focused on the children struggling to reach a certain level of proficiency. This became more pronounced with the advent of SOL tests and No Child Left Behind. GATE also suffers from charges that it is elitist and focuses on economically advantaged and non-minority children. Any time children and academic labels come together, it can make for a highly-charged environment.
There is no doubt that some children’s academic skills put them in a very different category from the majority of students. And who could argue with the concept that public education should try to provide specialized programs to meet each student’s specific needs. I think advocates of gifted education would get more public support if they used different terminology. Special education is defined by the type of curriculum not the intellectual capabilities of the students. The identification process can be arbitrary in defining who is “gifted” and who is not. And everyone has the capability to be talented at something….

School Quality Model and Management

Charlie Mas:

Seattle Public Schools has a number of slogans. Among them is “Every School a Quality School”. The District claims to be working towards this goal, but the District has no definition of a Quality School, so those claims lack credibility. Rather than clucking at the District for not having a definition of a Quality School, our time would be more productively used helping them to find one.
What is a Quality School? We need to be clear that we separate the idea of a Quality School from the students in the school. If we were to rely on student achievement, for example, as our definition of a Quality School, then we might conclude that Bryant is good school and that Hawthorne is a struggling school. But does anyone believe that if the Hawthorne students were all transferred to Bryant and if the Bryant students were all transferred to Hawthorne that the outcomes for the students would be much different? Would the Hawthorne students suddenly start to achieve because they are now at a good school and the Bryant students suddenly start to under-perform because they are now at a struggling school? I doubt it.

Rutgers University to Approve Charter Schools Under a Proposed New Jersey Bill

Michael Symons:

With the latest batch of charter-school approvals likely to be announced soon by the state Department of Education, some state lawmakers are beginning a push for a bill that could expand the alternative public schools’ movement in New Jersey.
The proposal would permit Rutgers University to approve charter schools, in addition to the Department of Education. It also would end deadlines for organizers to apply for charters, allowing applications to be filed at any time and requiring decisions on them within five months.
The proposal would also expand the types of charter schools allowed in New Jersey, allowing virtual or e-charter schools, charter schools with students of only one gender and charter schools catering to students with behavioral needs or disorders, such as autism.
The legislation is sponsored by five Democrats but seems likely to receive a warm welcome from pro-charter Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his education commissioner, Bret Schundler, who helped found a Jersey City charter school in the 1990s.

Most Northwest Indiana schools lag on classroom spending

Chelsea Schneider Kirk:

A majority of Northwest Indiana schools districts fell behind the state’s average in the percentage of dollars spent in the classroom, according to an annual school expenditures report released by the state’s Office of Management and Budget this month.
But at least seven school districts were above the state average of 58 percent. Gary Community School Corp. was among the highest in the region with 66 percent of its overall budget tied to student achievement compared to other operational and overhead expenses, such as salaries and costs for transportation and construction.
Lake Station Community Schools and the School City of Hammond routed 65 percent and 63 percent to district classrooms, respectively, during the 2008-2009 school year.
Those numbers include teacher salaries, textbooks as well as guidance counselors, social workers and other expenses tied to instructional support. While the state average is comparable to previous years, Indiana lags 5 percentage points behind the national average. Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett challenged school districts to not only meet the national average but to push more dollars to classrooms than any other state.

Learning ‘Globish’

Matthew Engel:

Stand on the promenade of any British seaside resort on a summer’s afternoon, and you will hear the full, remarkable range of accents of this small island pass by soon enough.
Stand on the seafront in Brighton, and the experience is rather different. The accents come from all over the planet. Most people seem to be speaking English, which is what they are meant to be doing. But it may not be English as we know it.
For if English is now the language of the planet, Brighton might be the new centre of the universe. There are about 40 language schools operating within the city. And at the height of the season – which is right now – about 10,000 students crowd into town, thronging the bars and cafés, practising their fragile English skills.
It’s great business for the locals. This trade seems to be recession-proof; it is certainly weather-proof – these visitors arrive in even the wettest south-coast summers; and the weak pound is a bonus. The students’ presence spreads cash round all corners of the area, since most of them stay with host families – and anyone with a decent spare room can earn some pocket money.


David Gelernter:

This is the second in a series of essays by Gelernter commissioned by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The German translation was published on June 22nd (“Ein Geist aus Software“).
DAVID GELERNTER is a professor of computer science at Yale and chief scientist at Mirror Worlds Technologies (New Haven). His research centers on information management, parallel programming, and artificial intelligence. The “tuple spaces” introduced in Nicholas Carriero and Gelernter’s Linda system (1983) are the basis of many computer communication systems worldwide. He is the author of Mirror Worlds, and Drawing a Life: Surviving the Unabomber.

Could we have a low-cost version of UW?

Jack Craver:

Tuition inflation has always been a subject that has fascinated me. How can our political system stand idly by as our public universities increase tuition at double the rate of inflation? How could a trend that is so harmful to the middle-class (I’m not even talking working class — nobody cares about them) stand stronger against the will of the people than even the most powerful Wall Street banks?
What is more fascinating is that nobody seems to have a definitive explanation for why students have to pay more and more every year. Liberals blame declining state support, while conservatives tend to place the blame on wasteful administration and high professor salaries.
All of these points inevitably show up in every discussion of the issue, in addition to an unavoidable observation about campus life these days: It’s a lot nicer.

Craver makes an excellent point. It seems that higher education is spending more and more on expensive student facilities. One might refer to it as an “arms race” for student dollars.

New York’s Charters Chief Steps Down

Barbara Martinez:

Victory Schools Inc., a for-profit charter-school operator, has hired away New York City’s charter-schools chief and is considering converting into a nonprofit.
Michael Duffy, the director of the Department of Education’s Charter School Office, will join Victory, according to representatives for both the DOE and the company. Victory helps manage 16 charter schools with 7,000 students in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago.
Mr. Duffy, whose title hasn’t yet been decided, is widely credited for accelerating charter-school growth in the city. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
The future of Victory has been the subject of interest since the spring, when the New York legislature passed a law that essentially prevents for-profit charter schools from growing. The law, which also doubled the number of charter schools allowed in the state, said no more than 10% of the state’s charter schools can be for-profit. Victory operates nine such schools in the state.

Massachusetts panel wants to set limits on virtual public schools

James Vaznis:

The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, apprehensive about a new state law that allows public schools to operate almost entirely in cyberspace, will consider imposing limits on the growth of these “virtual schools,” much to the dismay of supporters.
The goal of the proposed regulations, which the board is scheduled to vote on tomorrow, is to allow some experimentation in Massachusetts with these kinds of schools, while not allowing them to grow unfettered without knowing what works and what doesn’t, said Jeff Wulfson, an associate education commissioner.
Among the proposed limits: capping enrollment at each virtual school at 500 students and requiring at least 25 percent of those students to reside in the school district that is operating the virtual school, according to the proposed regulations.
“We’re trying to find the right balance,” Wulfson said.

New York State’s Exams Became Easier to Pass, Education Officials Say

Jennifer Medina:

New York State education officials acknowledged on Monday that their standardized exams had become easier to pass over the last four years and said they would recalibrate the scoring for tests taken this spring, which is almost certain to mean thousands more students will fail.
While scores spiked significantly across the state at every grade level, there were no similar gains on other measurements, including national exams, they said.
“The only possible conclusion is that something strange has happened to our test,” David M. Steiner, the education commissioner, said during a Board of Regents meeting in Albany. “The word ‘proficient’ should tell you something, and right now that is not the case on our state tests.”

Wisconsin’s WKCE has been criticized for its lack of rigor, as well.

Parents fret about Milwaukee Public Schools’ middle-high school hybrids

Erin Richards:

When Kim Lecus heard that the Fritsche Middle School program would move into Bay View High School in the fall of 2010, she immediately was concerned about the impact on her daughter, who just finished seventh grade at Fritsche.
The emerging middle/high model at Bay View may offer student Lindsey Lecus a greater variety of accelerated courses, but in her mother’s eyes, it comes with a serious price: the mixing of vulnerable adolescents with older teenagers.
The Milwaukee School Board has approved an increasing number of sixth through 12th grade schools in the city. Board members think it will improve the transition for students from middle to high school and will consolidate space in the district.
The “best” way to serve children in the delicate and hormonally charged years between ages 11 and 13 – something national researchers have wrestled with for years – is still unclear. Underscoring that point is Milwaukee, where the emergence of more 6-12 schools is coming just a few years after former superintendent William Andrekopoulos championed moving middle schoolers in with elementary students in K-8 schools.
“It’s not like any other time period in life,” said Trish Williams, executive director of EdSource, a non-profit group that recently studied the effects of grade design on middle schoolers at more than 300 schools in California.

Gove’s UK schools proposals are being rammed through – and the devil is very possibly in the absence of detail

The Guardian:

Of all the vows made at the coalition’s May marriage, one stood out: the vow for a new politics. Out, so it seemed, was the divisive tub-thumping positioning, along with the legislate-first-think-later style of government. In its place was the prospect of cross-party public administration which was deliberative, consultative and calm. No Conservative seemed more in tune with the new times than Michael Gove. What a shame, then, that the same Mr Gove was yesterday defending a decision to ram schools reforms through without full parliamentary scrutiny on the basis that Labour had once displayed similar haste.
The education secretary’s bill will allow schools to turn themselves into academies without consulting the council. Where the issue is the removal of extra-parliamentary consultation it is surely especially important for ministers to provide the time for a thoroughgoing consultation with parliament itself. Yet instead of a white paper, which invites responses on detailed proposals and gives the select committee time to get its teeth into principles, we have a bill which may be law before Mr Gove has even met that committee. And instead of line-by-line scrutiny in a standing committee – with scope to consider representations, and time for parliamentary alliances to be formed – the detailed drafting of the law will be finessed on the floor of the House, a procedure ordinarily reserved for responding to emergencies.

Wake School Board Prepares For Packed House Regarding Neighborhood Schools At Tuesday Meeting

Lauren Hills:

The decision to switch to neighborhood schools has been a divisive one in Wake County, and although the school board has already voted to shift to the new model, groups like “Great Schools In Wake” said they will still plan to have a presence and a voice at the meetings as the board hashes out the specifics of the new policy.
“Give our input and have some influence,” said Yevonne Brannon with the Great Schools in Wake Coaltion. “I still hope, think, there’s room for negotiation and still hope there’s room for reconsideration.”
That’s the hope for many who oppose neighborhood schools. It’s also why the NAACP will hold a protest before the meeting in down town Raleigh Tuesday morning. The organization will call school board leaders to stop what they say is segregation and promote diversity.

Math Curricula

Charlie Mas:

I know that I’m inviting trouble with this, but something that Reader wrote in a comment on another thread piqued my interest. I would like to discuss only a narrow question. Please don’t expand the discussion.
Writing about Everyday Math and Singapore, Reader wrote: “The fact is, the newer curricula stress more problem solving and discovery. That is, it’s doing more than a lot of older curricula.”
Here’s my question: can problem-solving be taught?
I mean this in the nicest possible way and I don’t have an answer myself. I’m not sure, I’m asking. Can people be taught or trained in problem-solving techniques or is it a talent that some people just natively have more than others? Problem solving requires a certain amount of creativity, doesn’t it? It can require a flexibility of perspective, curiosity, persistence, and pattern recognition. Can these things be taught or trained?

Related: Math Forum audio/video links.

The art of slow reading

Patrick Kingsley:

Has endlessly skimming short texts on the internet made us stupider? An increasing number of experts think so – and say it’s time to slow down . . .
If you’re reading this article in print, chances are you’ll only get through half of what I’ve written. And if you’re reading this online, you might not even finish a fifth. At least, those are the two verdicts from a pair of recent research projects – respectively, the Poynter Institute’s Eyetrack survey, and analysis by Jakob Nielsen – which both suggest that many of us no longer have the concentration to read articles through to their conclusion.
The problem doesn’t just stop there: academics report that we are becoming less attentive book-readers, too. Bath Spa University lecturer Greg Garrard recently revealed that he has had to shorten his students’ reading list, while Keith Thomas, an Oxford historian, has written that he is bemused by junior colleagues who analyse sources with a search engine, instead of reading them in their entirety.

Five secrets to stop the entitlement epidemic

Amy McReady:

Many parents are frustrated these days by a feeling of entitlement by today’s youth. Whether it’s getting almost anything they ask for or expecting everything to be done for them, today’s kids have learned how to get their way and the problem is out of control like a run-away train.
So who’s to blame? It’s easy to point to Hollywood and Madison Avenue, but while they may contribute to the issue, the real problems start at home.
Pampering and overindulging
The biggest culprits of the entitlement epidemic are parents who pamper and overindulge their kids. No parent intends to raise a child who feels the world owes him a living; instead, the problem starts small and continues to fester. A toddler throws a tantrum at the store and her tired, overworked mom buys a toy to keep her happy and quiet. Years later, Dad is eventually worn down by his teenager’s dramatic threat that her “life will come to an end” if she doesn’t get the latest and greatest Smartphone. The “quick fix” does nothing to solve the challenge at hand — it only sets the stage for the next incident.

Amy McReady.

On Budgets & Professional Development

Patricia Wasley and Stephanie Hirsch:

BUDGETS across the state and nation are being slashed, forcing education leaders to confront economic shortfalls unseen in recent memory and make do with less.
One area especially hard hit by the cuts is professional development — the process by which we ensure our educators are well equipped to meet constantly evolving demands of helping students succeed. Often overlooked, high-quality professional learning is indispensable in generating the outcomes — like better test scores and higher graduation rates — that should be expected of our schools.
Absent high-quality professional learning and support for professional growth, the ability of teachers to meet new challenges becomes compromised and their practices habitual. This makes it more difficult to achieve higher outcomes and is not what we want for our teachers or students.

There has been an increasing emphasis on “adult to adult” expenditures within our public schools, as Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman noted last summer.

Bye-Bye, Blue Books

Harvard Magazine:

at its meeting on May 11, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) adopted a bland-sounding motion that henceforth, “unless an instructor officially informs the Registrar by the end of the first week of the term” of the intention to end a course with a formal, seated exam, “the assumption shall be that the instructor will not be giving a three-hour final examination” and no slot will be reserved for it in the schedule. Previously, the faculty members’ handbook specified that courses were assumed to end with examinations unless instructors petitioned for an exemption. That procedure has been uniformly ignored: dean of undergraduate education Jay M. Harris told colleagues he had never received such a form.

Primary cancelled for Detroit school board as no candidates file to run for open seats

Jonathan Oosting:

It’s been a tough year for the Detroit Board of Education.
So tough, it appears nobody wants the job.
The Detroit News reported this weekend that not a single candidate has filed to run for two open seats on the 11-member board. As a result, the race will not appear on the city’s Aug. 3 primary ballot.
But really, can you blame potential candidates for seeking other opportunities?
The popularity of the board hit perhaps an all-time low last month when then-president Otis Mathis resigned amid allegations he fondled himself during meetings with Superintendent Theresa Gueyser. He’s since been charged criminally.

Parenting: When the Ties That Bind Unravel

Tara Parker-Pope:

Therapists for years have listened to patients blame parents for their problems. Now there is growing interest in the other side of the story: What about the suffering of parents who are estranged from their adult children?
While there are no official tallies of parents whose adult children have cut them off, there is no shortage of headlines. The Olympic gold medal skier Lindsey Vonn reportedly hasn’t spoken to her father in at least four years. The actor Jon Voight and his daughter, Angelina Jolie, were photographed together in February for the first time since they were estranged in 2002.
A number of Web sites and online chat rooms are devoted to the issue, with heartbreaking tales of children who refuse their parents’ phone calls and e-mail and won’t let them see grandchildren. Some parents seek grief counseling, while others fall into depression and even contemplate suicide.
Joshua Coleman, a San Francisco psychologist who is an expert on parental estrangement, says it appears to be growing more and more common, even in families who haven’t experienced obvious cruelty or traumas like abuse and addiction. Instead, parents often report that a once-close relationship has deteriorated after a conflict over money, a boyfriend or built-up resentments about a parent’s divorce or remarriage.

Tough lesson in high school econ

Christine Armario, Terence Chea:

Students graduating from high school this spring may be collecting their diplomas just in time, leaving institutions that are being badly weakened by the nation’s economic downturn.
Across the country, mass layoffs of teachers, counselors and other staff members — caused in part by the drying up of federal stimulus dollars — are leading to larger classes and reductions in everything that is not a core subject, including music, art, clubs, sports and other after-school activities.
Educators and others worry the cuts could lead to higher dropout rates and lower college attendance as students receive less guidance and become less engaged in school. They fear a generation of young people could be left behind.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: The Crisis in Public Sector Pension Plans

Eileen Norcross:

New Jersey’s defined benefit pension systems are underfunded by more than $170 billion, an amount equivalent to 44 percent of gross state product (GSP) and 328 percent of the state’s explicit government debt. Depending on market conditions, the state will begin to run out of money to pay benefits between 2013 and 2019. The state’s five defined benefit pension plans cover over 770,000 workers, and more than a quarter million retirees depend on state pensions paying out almost $6 billion per year in benefits. Nationwide, state pensions are underfunded by as much as $3 trillion, approximately 20 percent of America’s annual output.
This path is not sustainable. In order to avert a fiscal crisis and ensure that future state employees have dependable retirement savings, New Jersey should follow the lead of the federal government and the private sector and move from defined benefit pensions to defined contribution pensions. While significant liabilities will remain, the first step to addressing the pension crisis is capping existing liabilities and providing new employees with more sustainable retirement options.

Wisconsin’s Education Superintendent on the National “Common Core” Academic Standards

Alan Borsuk:

But signing Wisconsin on to the nationwide standards campaign may trump all of those. Wisconsin’s current standards for what children should learn have been criticized in several national analyses as weak, compared with what other states have. The common core is regarded as more specific and more focused on what students really should master.
Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the generally conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, is a big backer of the new standards. “There is no doubt whatsoever in Wisconsin’s case that the state would be better off with the common core standards than what it has today,” he said in a phone interview.
But standards are one thing. Making them mean something is another. Evers said that will be a major focus for him ahead.
“How are we going to make this happen in the classrooms of Wisconsin?” he asked.
The answer hinges on making the coming state testing system a meaningful way of measuring whether students have learned what they are supposed to learn. And that means teaching them the skills and abilities in the standards.
Does that mean Wisconsin will, despite its history, end up with statewide curricula in reading and math? Probably not, if you mean something the state orders local schools to do. But probably yes in terms of making recommendations that many schools are likely to accept.
“We will have a model curriculum, no question,” Evers said. He said more school districts are looking to DPI already for answers because, with the financial crunches they are in, they don’t have the capacity to research good curriculum choices.

Debate over school data in wealthy counties

Jay Matthews:

Educational statistics expert Joseph Hawkins, one of my guides to the mysteries of test assessment, is impatient with the way the Montgomery County Public School system, as he puts it, “is always telling the world how better it is than everyone else.” He finds flaws in its latest celebration of college success by county graduates, particularly minorities.
As a senior study director with the Rockville-based research firm Westat, Hawkins’ critique has regional and national importance because it deals with the National Student Clearinghouse. This little-known information source may become the way school raters like me decide which school families and taxpayers are getting their money’s worth and which aren’t.
The clearinghouse has a database of more than 93 million students in more than 3,300 colleges and universities. It originally specialized in verifying student enrollment for loan companies. Now it tells high schools how their alums are doing.
Yeah, sure, says Hawkins, but “data from the Clearinghouse is not completely accurate, especially if social security numbers for students are not obtained.” Also, he says, some of the numbers Montgomery County brags about don’t look so good when compared to others.

On UC’s Risky Venture Into Online Education Mortarboards without the bricks

San Francisco Chronicle:

A handful of administrators at the University of California are spearheading an effort to create an ambitious online educational program for undergraduates. The idea is that UC could become the first top-tier American university to offer a bachelor’s degree over the Internet. It’s a thought-provoking, fascinating and innovative concept. It’s also a highly risky experiment.
Online education has a place – even in the university system. For students, it’s impossible to beat the convenience and the accessibility of online learning. For workers, it can be a great way to expand their knowledge base without having to leave their jobs. Corporations, small businesses, even traffic schools – all of these institutions have shown that there’s a positive place for online education in our society.
But that doesn’t mean that the UC should jump into the fray.

In Search of EduProductivity

Tom Vander Ark:

Almost every state has been slashing budgets trying to balance expenses with shrinking revenues. A few governors have asked for creative ways to stretch education funding while improving learning and operating productivity. Here’s a few ideas:
Promote blended learning
Require all students to take at least one online course each year of high school and negotiate a 10-20% discount with multiple online providers and give students/schools options.
Provide statewide access to multiple online learning providers and reimburse at 80% of traditional schools (with performance incentives for serving challenging populations).
Encourage K-8 schools to adopt a Rocketship-style schedule with 25% of student time in a computer learning lab and a tiered staffing model that makes long day/year affordable. A loan program to upgrade to a 1:3 computer ratio would support adoption of a blended model could be repaid out of savings.

Hard to Find: Discovery and the Science of Science


have an article in this Sunday’s Ideas section of the Boston Globe entitled Hard to find: Why it’s increasingly difficult to make discoveries – and other insights from the science of science. It discusses a scientific paper of mine published recently in Scientometrics, which is the journal of the “science of science”. The journal article entitled Quantifying the Ease of Scientific Discovery (also freely available on the arXiv), discusses how to think mathematically about how scientific discovery becomes more difficult over time.

NO to Mayor control. YES to Community.

Shea Howell:

The debate over control of Detroit Public Schools is intensifying. Last week three important events happened.
First, the elected school board selected community activist Elena Herrada to join them. Herrada brings vision and passion to the board and a long history of working on behalf of the community.
Second, citizens under the name of We the People testified before the Detroit City Council, objecting to the very idea of mayoral control of the schools.
Finally, Council President Charles Pugh, who appears to be at least willing to listen to new thinking, indicated to Rochelle Riley that he is not necessarily in favor of mayoral control.
The Mayor’s effort to seize control of public schools is wrongheaded and dangerous. It is part of a larger scheme, backed by corporate interests, to destroy the democratic responsibilities of public education and to make money off the bodies of our children while limiting their minds.

Flexibility for higher ed, and maybe some help

David Sarasohn:

This is a life’s work,” says Jay Kenton, the Oregon University System’s vice chancellor for finance and administration. “I’ve been working to change this for 30 years.”Flexibility for higher ed.
“This” is not Oregonians’ understanding of the importance of a national-class higher education system, why some states regard their universities as economic engines, why it’s a problem to be among the lowest higher-ed-funding states in the country. Changing that could be more than a life’s work; it could take at least until Oregon State wins a Rose Bowl.
Kenton’s goal, expressed in a proposal from the State Board of Higher Education earlier this month, is to loosen the Legislature’s control over the state universities’ budgets, control that has not lightened an ounce while the state’s fiscal contribution has become almost weightless.

How to keep a handle on college costs

Kathy Kristof:

The expenses can be daunting even to parents who’ve saved since their child was little. Here are some things you can do before freshman year and beyond.
About 19 million kids head to college next month, which is likely to have their parents in a mild panic about how to pay the bills. Even if you saved religiously from the time your child was a toddler, the stock market has worked against you over the last decade, leaving many families short.
Worse, college isn’t a one-time expense. One of my friends likens it to buying a luxury car, then driving it off a cliff. “Repeat that four times,” he said. “Then you can imagine what it’s like to pay for college.”
Of course, the hope is that college will pay off in increased earnings for your child. But that’s only if your child goes to the right school and manages to graduate and get a job. What can you and your child do to boost that chance and reduce out-of-pocket costs in the meantime?

Economy’s impact on public schools


I was contacted by a reporter working on a story for Gannett News Service about the economy and its impact on public schools. At my kids’ former school (AS#1) we got hit with the triple whammies of the budget cuts, drop in enrollment, and a decline in parent involvement, so I feel that my experience isn’t exactly typical. I thought this blog would be a great place to get a broad response. Here is a modified version of the email the reporter sent me (edited to fit a public forum). If you’d rather contact the reporter directly to give a quotable account of your experience, you can email me at
Here’s the story overview:

Seattle Community Blog Commentary

Melissa Westbrook:

So I like to check in regularly with other blogs. I look at LEV’s blog, the Alliance’s blog and Harium’s blog. One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that, when challenged or asked about information on their threads, you can rarely get an answer. Charlie asks a lot of pertinent questions in a respectful, albeit blunt, manner and rarely gets an answer. Harium does occasionally but most of his replies are that he supports the staff. I noticed that when Charlie started asking questions at LEV, there stopped being replies.
So what are these people afraid of? I can get Harium being busy and not able to reply to everything (but then, why have a blog?). But LEV and the Alliance say they want to engage and talk and yet there’s silence. I think there are two issues.

When Will Montgomery County Learn to Embrace Charter Schools?

Jeanne Allen:

When I arrived at the Crossways Community in Kensington, I felt as if I had discovered a little-known gem.
Nestled on several acres behind an older neighborhood is an integrated learning environment that spans generations. It’s a place families can go to become healthy, single mothers can go to reshape their lives and become effective parents, children from all backgrounds can join in a diverse Montessori community and school, and people of all races and ethnicities can advance their education, language skills and more.
It is a place where one woman’s enrollment in the family education program while her daughter attended the early education program yielded her child a full ride to the private Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart and later a Posse Scholarship to Grinnell College in Iowa.
“When they see their children really improving, they start seeing a future for themselves,” Crossways President Kathleen Guinan told me.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: IRS Expansion via Obamacare

Wall Street Journal:

If it seems as if the tax code was conceived by graphic artist M.C. Escher, wait until you meet the new and not improved Internal Revenue Service created by ObamaCare. What, you’re not already on a first-name basis with your local IRS agent?
National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson, who operates inside the IRS, highlighted the agency’s new mission in her annual report to Congress last week. Look out below. She notes that the IRS is already “greatly taxed”–pun intended?–“by the additional role it is playing in delivering social benefits and programs to the American public,” like tax credits for first-time homebuyers or purchasing electric cars. Yet with ObamaCare, the agency is now responsible for “the most extensive social benefit program the IRS has been asked to implement in recent history.” And without “sufficient funding” it won’t be able to discharge these new duties.
That wouldn’t be tragic, given that those new duties include audits to determine who has the insurance “as required by law” and collecting penalties from Americans who don’t. Companies that don’t sponsor health plans will also be punished. This crackdown will “involve nearly every division and function of the IRS,” Ms. Olson reports.

Oklahoma’s lowest performing schools split $36.9M in federal grants

Megan Rolland:

The grants were approved during a special meeting Wednesday so schools could implement sweeping reforms this summer, state schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett said.
“This could really be transformative for urban districts,” Garrett said.
Oklahoma City Public Schools received $12.1 million for three schools: U.S. Grant High School, Douglass Middle School and F.D. Moon Elementary School.
Tulsa Public Schools received $22.6 million for six schools: Clinton and Gilcrease middle schools, and Central, East Central, Nathan Hale and Will Rogers high schools.
And Crutcho Elementary School in northeast Oklahoma County will receive $2.24 million.

Bedside Table: Words, Words, Words

The Economist:

Robert Lane Greene is an international correspondent for The Economist, currently covering American politics and foreign policy online. His book on the politics of language around the world, “You Are What You Speak”, will be published by Bantam (Random House) in the spring of 2011.
Monitors of language-usage are often seen as either scolds or geeks. Which book do you recommend to convey what is fascinating about language?
After years of reading about language for pleasure and then researching for my own book, I’d still refer anyone who asks back to the book that lit a fire for me a decade or so ago: Steven Pinker’s “The Language Instinct” (written about by The Economist here). You can take or leave Mr Pinker’s case that all human languages share a few common features, and that those features are wired into our grey matter (rather than, say, an extension of our general intelligence). But whatever your views on this subject, it’s hard to read the book and then happily go back to seeing language as a set of iron-bound rules that are constantly being broken by the morons around you. Instead, you start seeing this human behaviour as something to be enjoyed in its fascinating variability.

On national standards, the Gates Foundation gets what it pays for

Jim Stergios:

This week, State House News broke a story on the “cozy relationship” between Health Care for All and the Patrick Administration. HCFA is an effective organization, but when an HCFA official writes to the state’s Insurance Commissioner: “If you expect to do anything ‘newsworthy’ [on insurance premium caps], can we be helpful with our blog or media at all?” well, then you have to take their positions with a brimming cup of salt.
Surrogate relationships are very much a fact of life in a state where one party is dominant, like Massachusetts. Next up to bat in this age-old game, Education Commissioner Mitch Chester and Secretary Paul Reville. In anticipation of the important debate over whether to adopt weaker K-12 national standards, they have to all appearances lined up their surrogates.
Via two trade organizations, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), the Obama Administration and the Gates Foundation have decided to get all states to “voluntarily” adopt national standards. They are working closely with longtime national standards advocates, such as Achieve, Inc., and are funded with tens of millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation. As Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution notes in an article by Nick Anderson of the Washington Post:

Many doctors don’t feel obliged to report incompetence

Tiffany O’Callaghan:

More than one in three American physicians say that they do not always feel a responsibility to report colleagues who are impaired or incompetent, according to a new report from researchers at the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital. The findings, published in the July 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, are based on the survey responses of 1,900 physicians throughout the U.S. specializing in internal medicine, pediatrics, cardiology, general surgery, family medicine, psychiatry and anesthesia. Of those who responded, only 64% said that it was their professional obligation to report any colleagues who were significantly impaired — due to substance abuse or mental illness — or incompetent.
The findings suggest that self-regulation in the medical profession may not be enough to ensure that ill-equipped physicians aren’t potentially harming patients, the researchers say. For example, of the doctors who responded to the poll, 17% said they knew of physicians who were practicing despite impairment or incompetence in the previous three years, yet of those who witnessed sub-par performance, only two thirds said they had taken steps to report it.

Study sheds light on how psychiatric risk gene disrupts brain development


A research group led by Dr. Li-Huei Tsai from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology had recently discovered that the psychiatric risk gene, Disrupted in Schizophrenia-1 (DISC1), is an essential regulator of the proliferation of early brain cells (known as neural progenitor cells) via inhibition of a molecule called GSK3? and modulation of the Wnt signaling pathway. Disruptions in the Wnt pathway, which is critical for embryonic development, have previously been linked with developmental defects and with various human diseases.
“Our recent finding was particularly interesting because one of the actions of lithium, the most common mood disorder drug, is to inhibit GSK3?.” explains Dr. Tsai. “Although DISC1 was one of the first psychiatric illness risk genes to be identified and we know that it plays a key role in brain development, the mechanisms by which DISC1 is regulated remain unknown.” In this study, Dr. Tsai and colleagues built on earlier work and investigated how DISC1 is regulated during cortical development by looking for novel DISC1-interacting proteins.

Gates’ latest mission: fixing America’s schools


It’s been two years since Bill Gates left his day-to-day role at Microsoft to concentrate on supervising the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation–and his new enterprise is booming. Headquartered in a converted check-processing center in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood, the 10-year-old foundation plans to move into a 900,000-square-foot campus and visitors’ center near the city’s Space Needle next spring. The Gates Foundation opened a London office this year; it also has offices in Washington, Delhi, and Beijing, and 830 employees around the world, up from about 500 in 2008. With assets of $33.9 billion as of Dec. 31, 2009, and America’s two richest people–Gates and Warren Buffett–as trustees, the foundation plans to spend $3 billion in the next five to seven years on education. If there’s such a thing as a charity behemoth, the Gates Foundation is it.

Crowd Science Reaches New Heights

Jeffrey Young:

Alexander S. Szalay is a well-regarded astronomer, but he hasn’t peered through a telescope in nearly a decade. Instead, the professor of physics and astronomy at the Johns Hopkins University learned how to write software code, build computer servers, and stitch millions of digital telescope images into a sweeping panorama of the universe.
Along the way, thanks to a friendship with a prominent computer scientist, he helped reinvent the way astronomy is studied, guiding it from a largely solo pursuit to a discipline in which sharing is the norm.
One of the most difficult tasks has been changing attitudes to encourage large-scale collaborations. Not every astronomer has been happy to give up those solo telescope sessions. “To be alone with the universe is a very dramatic thing to do,” admits Mr. Szalay, who spent years selling the idea of pooling telescope images online to his colleagues.

Bill Gates’ School Crusade The Microsoft founder’s foundation is betting billions that a business approach can work wonders in the classroom

Daniel Golden:

It’s been two years since Bill Gates left his day-to-day role at Microsoft (MSFT) to concentrate on supervising the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation–and his new enterprise is booming. Headquartered in a converted check-processing center in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood, the 10-year-old foundation plans to move into a 900,000-square-foot campus and visitors’ center near the city’s Space Needle next spring. The Gates Foundation opened a London office this year; it also has offices in Washington, Delhi, and Beijing, and 830 employees around the world, up from about 500 in 2008. With assets of $33.9 billion as of Dec. 31, 2009, and America’s two richest people–Gates and Warren Buffett–as trustees, the foundation plans to spend $3 billion in the next five to seven years on education. If there’s such a thing as a charity behemoth, the Gates Foundation is it.
While its efforts in global health are widely applauded, its record in America’s schools has been more controversial. Starting in 2000, the Gates Foundation spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its first big project, trying to revitalize U.S. high schools by making them smaller, only to discover that student body size has little effect on achievement.

Related: Small Learning Communities and English 10.

Arne Duncan’s $800 million fight

Joel Wendland:

he total federal budget for 2010 came in at just a hair under $3.6 trillion. In some weird sort of perspective that means $800 million equals less than three hundredths of one percent (.00022 percent) of the total amount. So why is Education Secretary Arne Duncan fighting so hard to keep it?
According to media reports, the $800 million comes out of his “Race to the Top” and other education reform programs to help offset a $10 billion package to protect education jobs in the House supplemental appropriations bill, which includes $33 billion for the wars.
Leading House Democrats proposed the offset in response to public school teachers who oppose some of the provisions of the “Race to the Top” program.
While they appreciate the administration’s commitment to educate, teachers say the “Race to the Top” reforms specifically emphasize testing and school privatization over a needed bigger commitment to professional development and financial support for ailing schools. Under the reform, teachers argue, schools are forced to teach to tests or face closure and mass firings of school personnel.

School’s Out for Summer but Education Reform Talk is In

Alberta Darling:

School may be out for the summer, but the topic of education reform has certainly not gone on vacation. Both nationwide and right here at home there are several different ideas on the table that, if implemented, could go a long way tdsoward improving educational outcomes for our students.
Under the guidance of Governor Tommy Thompson, Wisconsin was once a nationwide leader in educational innovation. Unfortunately, bold, reform-minded leadership has been absent from the Governor’s office for the last eight years. The most recent failures of Governor Jim Doyle and legislative Democrats were their unsuccessful efforts to grab federal Race to the Top dollars and their blundering attempt at a mayoral takeover of the Milwaukee Public Schools.
Usually we look to our nation’s capital for examples of how not to do business, but the new collective bargaining agreement Washington D.C. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee struck with her teachers’ union is just the sort of thing we need here in Milwaukee. The contract includes teacher pay for performance, lessens the weight of seniority if layoffs become necessary and ends “job for life” tenure for ineffective teachers.
Another reform MPS sorely needs is the elimination of the teacher residency requirement, a completely arbitrary barrier that discourages quality educators from teaching at MPS. Only two of the nation’s fifty largest school systems, Milwaukee and Chicago, still require its teachers to live within the city limits. No other school district in Wisconsin has a residency requirement.
As always, there will be some who maintain the cure for all that ails K-12 public education is just to keep throwing more money at it. There are some holes in that logic. First, one need look no further than MPS for an example of high spending and low results. Second, aid to public schools is already the biggest chunk of the state budget by far and spending per pupil is over $11,000. Even if simply putting a lot more money into the system were the answer, the state doesn’t have it and taxpayers are already stretched to the limit.

Clusty search: Alberta Darling.

Why Morning People Rule the World Morning people are more proactive – and therefore more successful in their professional lives — according to new research.

Courtney Rubin:

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the morning people are different from you and me – or so says new research.
Early birds are more proactive than evening people – and so they do well in business, says Christoph Randler, a biology professor at the University of Education in Heidelberg, Germany.
“When it comes to business success, morning people hold the important cards,” Randler told the Harvard Business Review of his research, some of which originally appeared in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. “[T]hey tend to get better grades in school, which gets them into better colleges, which then leads to better job opportunities. Morning people also anticipate problems and try to minimize them. They’re proactive.” (Not that evening people are life’s losers: They’re smarter and more creative, and have a better sense of humor, other studies have shown.)

Sometimes, Good Parents Produce Bad Kids

Neil Conan:

When kids act out, it’s often the parents who get the blame.
Whether they’re getting in trouble in school or misbehaving with family, many parents worry they’re doing something wrong. But that may not always be the case.
Dr. Richard Friedman, professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York
Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock

Teacher Fired, School Disciplined For Student’s Drowning

Jen Chung:

A Department of Education investigation into the drowning of sixth grader Nicole Suriel during a class trip to Long Beach slammed Columbia Secondary School for poor planning that led to the tragedy. The beach had numerous signs noting there were no lifeguards on duty; there were three adults supervising the 24 students. The DOE fired first-year teacher Erin Bailey and disciplined assistant principal Andrew Stillman and Principal Jose Maldonado-Rivera.
The Daily News runs down some of the findings, including how “Assistant Principal Andrew Stillman decided at the last minute not to go, staying behind to do administrative work. Bailey’s boyfriend – former teacher Joseph Garnevicus, 28 – went in Stillman’s place, but couldn’t swim.” Also, “There weren’t specific permission slips, just ‘blanket’ slips from the start of the year that didn’t include swimming.” The “blanket slips” were only for trips in Manhattan; instead of issuing a permission slip to parents, Stillman simply emailed them, “We’re headed to the beach tomorrow.”

U.S. education secretary calls on NAACP to focus on schools

Mara Rose Williams:

Calling education “the civil rights issue of our generation,” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Wednesday issued a national challenge for whole communities to get involved in improving public education.
“The only way to achieve equality in society is to achieve it in the classroom,” Duncan told NAACP delegates meeting in Kansas City for the group’s annual convention.
“This is not just a moral obligation; it is our economic imperative,” he said. “Everyone has a responsibility. Every one can step up. Education is our national mission. Education is our best hope.”
He said community leaders “must be at the table when decisions are made about how to improve struggling schools.”
The Obama administration is making $4 billion available to improve the 5 percent worst-performing schools in the country, Duncan said.

House bill would make school lunches healthier

Mary Clare Jalonick:

House Democrats are moving forward on first lady Michelle Obama’s vision for healthier school lunches, propelling legislation that calls for tougher standards governing food in school and more meals for hungry children.
A bill approved by the House Education and Labor Committee Thursday would allow the Agriculture Department to create new standards for all food in schools, including vending machine items. The legislation would spend about $8 billion more over 10 years on nutrition programs.
“This important legislation will combat hunger and provide millions of schoolchildren with access to healthier meals, a critical step in the battle against childhood obesity,” Mrs. Obama said in a statement after committee passage.
Some Republicans on the committee expressed concern about how the bill would be paid for, but three of them ended up voting for it. The legislation was approved on a 32-13 vote.

Hong Kong Schools warned to toe line or else on Dwindling Student Numbers

Beatrice Siu:

Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung has warned schools hit by dwindling student numbers to accept the government’s options “or face the consequences.”
The Education Bureau has urged secondary schools facing closure due to under-enrollment to adopt relief measures, including the voluntary reduction of Secondary One classes from five to four.
Suen admitted at a tea gathering that secondary schools were not very responsive to the scheme.
The bureau issued a circular on June 30, calling on schools to either operate three Secondary One classes, merge with other schools, or launch specialized schools.
When asked what the government will do if schools resisted, Suen said they would have to “accept it or face the consequence” of closure.

High school drug testing shows no long-term effect on use

Greg Toppo:

New research paints a decidedly mixed picture when it comes to mandatory drug testing for high school students trying out for sports or other extracurricular activities: While testing seems to reduce self-reported drug use in the short term, it has virtually no effect on teens’ plans to use drugs in the future.
A U.S. Department of Education study, out today, surveyed students at 36 high schools that got federal grants to do drug testing. Half of the schools had already begun testing for marijuana, amphetamines and other drugs; the other half had not.

We Are What We Choose

Jeff Bezos:

As a kid, I spent my summers with my grandparents on their ranch in Texas. I helped fix windmills, vaccinate cattle, and do other chores. We also watched soap operas every afternoon, especially “Days of our Lives.” My grandparents belonged to a Caravan Club, a group of Airstream trailer owners who travel together around the U.S. and Canada. And every few summers, we’d join the caravan. We’d hitch up the Airstream trailer to my grandfather’s car, and off we’d go, in a line with 300 other Airstream adventurers. I loved and worshipped my grandparents and I really looked forward to these trips. On one particular trip, I was about 10 years old. I was rolling around in the big bench seat in the back of the car. My grandfather was driving. And my grandmother had the passenger seat. She smoked throughout these trips, and I hated the smell.

New Jersey’s Christie Seeks Superintendent Pay Cap


New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proposed salary caps on public school superintendents to help rein in the highest property taxes in the U.S., a move he said may slice pay for 70 percent of the top district administrators.
Christie, 47, announced the limit today as part of a package to control rising real estate tax bills. The proposal would cut salaries for 366 school superintendents when their current contracts expire, the governor’s office said in a statement.
More than 50 school administrators had base salaries of $200,000 or more last year, the state Education Department reported last month. The governor’s salary is $175,000.

Notes and links via New Jersey Left Behind and the Associated Press.

The origins of literacy: Reading may involve unlearning an older skill

The Economist:

LEONARDO DA VINCI had many talents, including the ability to read (and write) mirror-writing fluently. Most adults find this extremely difficult, but new evidence suggests that recognising mirror images comes naturally to children. The 7th Forum of European Neuroscience, held in Amsterdam this week, heard that learning to read requires the brain’s visual system to undergo profound changes, including unlearning the ancient ability to recognise an object and its mirror image as identical.
Stanislas Dehaene, a cognitive neuroscientist at the French medical-research agency, INSERM, believes that skills acquired relatively recently in people’s evolutionary past must have piggybacked on regions in the brain that originally evolved for other purposes, since there has not been time for dedicated neural systems to develop from scratch..

Accepting That Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds

Richard Freidman:

“I don’t know what I’ve done wrong,” the patient told me.
She was an intelligent and articulate woman in her early 40s who came to see me for depression and anxiety. In discussing the stresses she faced, it was clear that her teenage son had been front and center for many years.
When he was growing up, she explained, he fought frequently with other children, had few close friends, and had a reputation for being mean. She always hoped he would change, but now that he was almost 17, she had a sinking feeling.
I asked her what she meant by mean. “I hate to admit it, but he is unkind and unsympathetic to people,” she said, as I recall. He was rude and defiant at home, and often verbally abusive to family members.

Behavior problems in school linked to 2 types of families

R & D Magazine:

Contrary to Leo Tolstoy’s famous observation that “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” a new psychology study confirms that unhappy families, in fact, are unhappy in two distinct ways. And these dual patterns of unhealthy family relationships lead to a host of specific difficulties for children during their early school years.
“Families can be a support and resource for children as they enter school, or they can be a source of stress, distraction, and maladaptive behavior,” says Melissa Sturge-Apple, the lead researcher on the paper and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Rochester.
“This study shows that cold and controlling family environments are linked to a growing cascade of difficulties for children in their first three years of school, from aggressive and disruptive behavior to depression and alienation,” Sturge-Apple explains. “The study also finds that children from families marked by high levels of conflict and intrusive parenting increasingly struggle with anxiety and social withdrawal as they navigate their early school years.”
The three-year study, published July 15 in Child Development, examines relationship patterns in 234 families with six-year-old children. The research team identified three distinct family profiles: one happy, termed cohesive, and two unhappy, termed disengaged and enmeshed.

Graduate tax and private colleges at heart of UK higher education blueprint

Jessica Shepherd and Jeevan Vasagar:

The government signalled the biggest shakeup of Britain’s universities in a generation today, with a blueprint for higher education in which the highest-earning graduates would pay extra taxes to fund degrees, private universities would flourish and struggling institutions would be allowed to fail.
Vince Cable, the cabinet minister responsible for higher education, also raised the prospect of quotas to ensure state school pupils were guaranteed places at Britain’s best universities, breaking the private school stranglehold on Oxbridge.
Comparing the existing system of tuition fees to a “poll tax” that graduates paid regardless of their income, the skills secretary argued it was fairer for people to pay according to their earning power.
He said: “It surely can’t be right that a teacher or care worker or research scientist is expected to pay the same graduate contribution as a top commercial lawyer or surgeon or City analyst whose graduate premium is so much bigger.”

Obama’s School Reforms Are a Priority


In the days following his inauguration, President Obama included a package of educational reforms in his stimulus bill that offered states financial incentives to make dramatic improvements in their education systems. About 10% of the $100 billion allocated for education was used to create competitive grants. States could only win them by drafting comprehensive and aggressive plans to, for example, adopt higher academic standards, turn around chronically low-performing schools, and redesign teacher evaluation and compensation systems.
Although it has received much less attention than health care and financial regulatory reform, this measure may ultimately be one of Mr. Obama’s most profound and lasting achievements. In just one year, we’ve already seen more reforms proposed and enacted around the country than in the preceding decade.
Yet on July 1, with little warning, the House of Representatives watered down these reform efforts by approving an amendment to the emergency supplemental appropriations bill, proposed by Rep. David Obey (D., Wis.). It takes away $800 million that has already been committed to three critical parts of the president’s education reform package–Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, and the Charter Schools Program. This breaks a promise to the states, districts and schools that are doing the most important work in America. The funds are to be redirected to a $10 billion “Edujobs” bill to prevent teacher layoffs.

“Common core standards”: education reform that makes sen

Los Angeles Times:

In many third-grade classrooms in California, students are taught — briefly — about obtuse and acute angles. They have no way to comprehend this lesson fully. Their math training so far hasn’t taught them the concepts involved. They haven’t learned what a degree is or that a circle has 360 of them. They haven’t learned division, so they can’t divide 360 by 4 to determine that a right angle is 90 degrees, and thus understand that an acute angle is less than 90 degrees and an obtuse angle more.
It makes no pedagogical sense, but California’s academic standards call for third-graders to at least be exposed to the subject, and because angles might be on the standardized state test at the end of the year, exposed they are.
Now, that might change. In June, a yearlong joint initiative by 48 states produced a set of uniform but voluntary educational standards in English and math. Urged on by the Obama administration, the initiative’s main purpose was to encourage states with low academic standards to bring their expectations into line with those of other states. Twenty states have already adopted the standards; 28 more, including California, are considering them. Texas and Alaska are the only states that declined to participate in the project.

Clusty Search: Common Core Standards.

Advocates: Private Reform Aid Slights Rural Schools

Mary Schulken:

Rural schools are being left out of pivotal policy changes being tried out in the nation’s education system, say some rural advocates, and that goes for reform experiments bankrolled with private dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“The [Gates] Foundation funded work around smaller schools in mostly urban places–a sort of ironic phenomenon, given the consolidation of rural schools. And they funded some early-college initiatives in places like rural Appalachian Ohio,” said Caitlin Howley, senior manager, education and research, for ICF International in Charleston, W.Va., an educational research firm. “But I don’t think rural is part of what they’ve been thinking about.”
A Washington Post report this week tracked the influence of some $650 million the Gates Foundation has pledged for key reforms in the nation’s schools in the past two and one-half years. The story also noted the close relationship between the Gates Foundation and the Obama administration (a number of Gates Foundation employees have assumed key roles in the administration) as well as similarities in the educational priorities pushed by Gates and the Obama White House.

Teaching: The Passion and the Profession

Room for Debate:

A Times article this week described the stiff competition among graduates from top colleges for jobs with Teach for America. “Teach for America has become an elite brand that will help build a résumé, whether or not the person stays in teaching,” writes Michael Winerip, the On Education columnist for The Times.
But, Mr. Winerip noted, the 20-year-old program has gotten mixed reviews from education experts, who complain that the recruits do not stay long enough to gain the experience to make them effective teachers. T.F.A.’s proponents point out that the poorest schools don’t attract the top career teachers to begin with. Does Teach for America’s popularity among top students raise the status of the teaching profession? Or is there a risk that it makes teaching seem more like a personal steppingstone, rather than a lifetime career?

Long papers in high school? Many college freshmen say they never had to do one.

Jay Matthews:

Kate Simpson is a full-time English professor at the Middletown, Va., campus of Lord Fairfax Community College. She saw my column about Prince George’s County history teacher Doris Burton lamenting the decline of research skills in high school, as changing state and local course requirements and grading difficulties made required long essays a thing of the past.
So Simpson gave her freshman English students a writing assignment.
Simpson noted my complaint that few American high-schoolers, except those in International Baccalaureate programs, were ever asked to do a research project as long as 4,000 words. Was I right or wrong? Did her students feel prepared for college writing? The timing was good because her classes had just finished a three-week research writing project in which they had to cite sources, do outlines, write and revise drafts.
She said she discovered that 40 percent of her 115 students thought that their high schools had not prepared them for college-level writing. Only 23 percent thought they had those writing skills. Other responses were mixed.

Will Fitzhugh has been discussing this issue for decades….

UC online degree proposal rattles academics

Nanette Asimov:

Taking online college courses is, to many, like eating at McDonald’s: convenient, fast and filling. You may not get filet mignon, but afterward you’re just as full.
Now the University of California wants to jump into online education for undergraduates, hoping to become the nation’s first top-tier research institution to offer a bachelor’s degree over the Internet comparable in quality to its prestigious campus program.
“We want to do a highly selective, fully online, credit-bearing program on a large scale – and that has not been done,” said UC Berkeley law school Dean Christopher Edley, who is leading the effort.

Matthew Ladner has more.

The Slippery Slope Toward National Science Standards

Lindsey Burke:

The Obama Administration is successfully orchestrating one of the largest federal overreaches into education policy since the Great Society programs of the mid-1960s. If this news is coming as a surprise, it’s because the Administration is maneuvering outside of normal legislative procedure, by way of Trojan-horse programs such as Race to the Top and the suggestive power of their “blueprint” to reauthorize No Child Left Behind.
The Administration’s push for national standards and tests, which is moving quickly, is an historic federal overreach. By August 2, 2010, states must submit “evidence of having adopted common standards” in order to increase their chances of winning a Race to the Top grant. For states not enticed by the $4.35 billion grant competition, the Administration has already laid the groundwork in their blueprint for tying the $14.5 billion in Title I funding for low-income districts to the adoption of national standards–a deal that states will likely be unable to turn down.

Are we witnessing the denationalization of the higher education media?

Kris Olds:

The denationalization of higher education – the process whereby developmental logics, frames, and practices, are increasingly associated with what is happening at a larger (beyond the nation) scale continues apace. As alluded to in my last two substantive entries:
‘Bibliometrics, global rankings, and transparency’
‘The temporal rhythm of academic life in a globalizing era’
this process is being shaped by new actors, new networks, new rationalities, new technologies, and new temporal rhythms. Needless to say, this development process is also generating a myriad of impacts and outcomes, some welcome, and some not.
While the denationalization process is a phenomenon that is of much interest to policy-making institutions (e.g., the OECD), foundations and funding councils, scholarly research networks, financial analysts, universities, and the like, I would argue that it is only now, at a relatively late stage in the game, that the higher education media is starting to take more systematic note of the contours of denationalization.

Trials on drug testing in Hong Kong schools are prudent given the threat to young people

Lai Tung-kwok:

The objectives of the drug-testing trial scheme in Tai Po schools were made abundantly clear at the outset. It was meant to strengthen the resolve of students to stay away from drugs. With the support of their parents, more than 12,400 students have joined the scheme voluntarily to make that pledge. Now they are in a better position to say “no” to their peers when tempted to try drugs.
The scheme is also meant to assist students troubled by drugs and to motivate them to seek help. Since the scheme was announced last summer, the Counselling Centres for Psychotropic Substances Abusers serving Tai Po have received some 80 self-referral cases involving youngsters, more than double the number over the same period in the previous year.

What is the Education Revolution really all about?

Charlie Mas:

The League of Education Voters is trying to co-opt dissent by creating a campaign called Education Revolution and using a lot of incendiary language and images, but not taking any action.
It got me thinking about what the Revolution really is or should be. Help me clarify my thinking on this.
I think that the Revolution is about re-defining and re-purposing the District’s central functions and responsibilities. The change will come when the role of the central administration is defined. What do we want the District’s central administration to do? And what DON’T we want them to do?
Ideally, the District’s headquarters will take responsibility for everything that isn’t better decided at the school building level. They should relieve the school staff of those duties. They should:
1) Provide centralized services when those services are commodities and can achieve economies of scale. For example, HR functions, facilities maintenance, data warehousing, contracting, food service, procurement, accounting, and transportation.

Well worth reading.

Helena school board gets earful on sex ed proposal

Matt Gouras:

A proposed sex education program that teaches fifth graders the different ways people have intercourse and first graders about gay love has infuriated parents and forced the school board to take a closer look at the issue.
Helena school trustees were swamped Tuesday night at a hearing that left many of the hundreds of parents in attendance standing outside a packed board room. They urged the school board in this city nestled in the Rocky Mountains to take the sex education program back to the drawing board.
The proposed 62-page document covers a broad health and nutrition education program and took two years to draft. But it is the small portion dealing with sexual education that has drawn the ire of many in the community who feel it is being pushed forward despite its obvious controversial nature.

California’s school funding system and report of an ACT inequity

Katy Murphy:

Most people I’ve spoken with about California’s school finance system, regardless of their political views, seem to think it’s a mess. The researchers on the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence described it as “the most complex in the country, lacking an underlying rationale and transparency.”
Mike Kirst, the Stanford University education Professor Emeritus I interviewed today, said he wouldn’t even call it a system. He called it “an accretion of incremental actions that don’t fit together and that make no sense.”
Will the courts finally force the deadlocked state Legislature to overhaul the formulas and regulations that dictate how California allocates money to its schools (and how much)? The nonprofit Public Advocates law firm hopes so. It filed suit today in Alameda Superior Court on behalf of a coalition of advocacy groups, students and parents, saying the status quo denies students the right to a meaningful education.

College presidents taste life outside their offices

Jenna Johnson & Daniel de Vise:

In his three years as president of George Washington University, Steven Knapp has tried nearly everything to bond with undergraduates.
He moved onto campus, right across the street from a freshman dorm known for its party culture. He hired a graduate student to tell him which events to attend. He helped students haul their stuff into the dorms, created a Facebook account, danced at parties, judged a pie-eating contest and drummed with a basketball player.
Still, many students thought he was boring and out of touch.

When Did Cheating Become an Epidemic?

Room for Debate:

For as long as exams and term papers have existed, cheating has been a temptation. But with Web technology, it’s never been easier. College professors and high school teachers are engaged in an escalating war with students over cutting and pasting articles from the Internet, sharing answers on homework assignments and even texting answers during exams. The arms race is now joined between Web sites offering free papers to download and sophisticated software that can detect plagiarism instantly

How Bellevue’s Superintendent Works

Melissa Westbrook:

Interesting article in last week’s Times about the Superintendent over in Bellevue. First, she’s never been a superintendent before; Bellevue got to her come from her consulting business in California. Two, she says she’s doing this one gig and then going back to consulting. (She was allowed to still keep that job as president something that seems to bother some. The State Auditor found no issue with her hiring of a colleague to work as an education consultant.)
What makes her most interesting is this:

The first-time superintendent is engaged in a bold move to change the teaching culture in a district that has already gained a reputation for excellence, with all five of its high schools regularly winning national acclaim.
But it’s that very reputation, the school board believes, that has masked an important failure: reaching students at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder in a district that’s far more diverse than many may realize.
Cudeiro believes a philosophy she honed over eight years of consulting work could close the divide.

Does He Want It? Does the Mayor of Detroit Want to Control the City’s Schools?

Darrel Dawsey:

There’s a scene from the legendary HBO show The Wire that I think about when I consider this increasingly divisive issue of mayoral control of Detroit Public Schools: In the scene (which I decided against posting here because it’s graphic), young drug runner Namond is urged by his friend and fellow dealer Michael to confront a kid who has run off with Namond’s drugs. When Namond and Michael find the young thief, the kid starts to insult the obviously intimidated Namond. Michael steps in and beats the kid bloody.
“Take ya pack,” Michael then says to Namond, motioning for him to retrieve his stolen drugs from boy. But Namond, who never wanted to be a dealer in the first place, recoils and rushes off into the night, leaving Michael and the drugs behind. “I don’t want it,” he sobs as he scurries away.
If DPS is the coveted “pack,” Bing reminds me of Namond. Everyone else may think this is worth battling over and some may be egging him on to take over the troubled Detroit school district. But it seems that deep down, the mayor doesn’t want it.

Over 5,000 anti-school bookmarks found in books at libraries in Dover, Portsmouth, Durham

Leslie Modica:

Local libraries were recently the subject of a deliberate and calculating attack — of the bookmark variety.
Volunteers and staff at the Dover Public Library spent 30 hours in May collecting more than 5,000 bookmarks secretly placed inside books at the library sometime before May.
The bookmarks contained information about the beliefs of two organizations, the School Sucks Project and Freedomain Radio.
The School Sucks Project is focused on a call to end publicly funded education because of what the group calls an attempt to stifle creativity and a valuing of order and obedience over all else in the school system, according to the group’s website.

On Facebook, Telling Teachers How Much They Meant

Susan Feinstein:

Darci Hemleb Thompson had been on the lookout for Alice D’Addario for many years. From her home in Hampton, Va., Ms. Thompson, 49, who is married and has a 12-year-old daughter, was determined to find Ms. D’Addario on the Internet. She tried every search engine and networking site she could find.
About 18 months ago she hit the jackpot.
“Nice to see one of the greatest teachers of all time on Facebook!” Ms. Thompson wrote on Ms. D’Addario’s wall. “I love to go to your page just to see your smiling face. Even your eyes still smile. You are an amazing person!”
Ms. D’Addario was Ms. Thompson’s Advanced Placement history teacher at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station, on Long Island, in 1977.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: More Americans’ credit scores sink to new lows

Eileen Aj Connelly:

The credit scores of millions more Americans are sinking to new lows.
Figures provided by FICO Inc. show that 25.5 percent of consumers — nearly 43.4 million people — now have a credit score of 599 or below, marking them as poor risks for lenders. It’s unlikely they will be able to get credit cards, auto loans or mortgages under the tighter lending standards banks now use.
Because consumers relied so heavily on debt to fuel their spending in recent years, their restricted access to credit is one reason for the slow economic recovery.
“I don’t get paid for loan applications, I get paid for closings,” said Ritch Workman, a Melbourne, Fla., mortgage broker. “I have plenty of business, but I’m struggling to stay open.”

Milwaukee’s School Experiment Shows Promise

Patrick Wolf:

On a rainy May morning in 2008, my research team assembled at the Italian Community Center in downtown Milwaukee for focus-group sessions with the parents of students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
After a long morning of listening to parents vent about the aspects of their children’s schools that disappointed them, the tone of the meeting suddenly changed when we concluded with an “open mike” session.
“We may complain a lot about our children’s schools,” one of the parents told us, “but please, please, please don’t take our school choice away.”
Parents like this concerned mother have played a starring role in the long-running policy debate over the school-choice program, which enables parents to select a school for their child other than the assigned neighborhood public school. Charter schools, for example, offer choices within the public school system. School-choice programs like Milwaukee’s notably include private schools and are often called voucher programs.

A Fresh Take on Urban Schooling

Sunny Schubert:

It is just minutes before the bell rings to end Tom Schalmo’s eighth-grade reading class at Milwaukee’s Burbank Elementary School, and the first-year teacher is trying hard to keep the 29 kids in his room focused.
He is reviewing the answers to a test on the book Holes by Louis Sachar. But a warm breeze floats through the window, carrying the sounds of kids on the playground three stories below. Schalmo’s students are restless, and he has to tell them to “Sit down” repeatedly. He does it firmly, without saying “Please,” and without raising his voice.
A tall, gangly kid in the second row keeps getting to his feet and edging toward the door. In the third row, another boy and a girl poke and slap at each other. Schalmo holds his hand up and says in a flat, warning tone, “Five, four, three…” The kids settle.
“These grades are important to you,” he says, holding a handful of test papers aloft.
“I have recorded them. Now pay attention.”
The students take turns answering the questions aloud, until Schalmo asks what offense Kissin’ Kate Barlow had committed that caused her to be cursed. The answer: “She kissed a Negro.” This causes about half the class — the black kids — to burst into giggles.

Curing Baumol’s Disease: In Search of Productivity Gains in K-12 Schooling

Paul Hill & Marguerite Roza, via a Deb Britt email:

Public schools in most areas of the U.S. are caught in the vise of declining revenues and rising costs.
Policymakers talk about innovating to do more with less, but to date no one knows what that looks like in education. The truth is that dramatically more productive schooling models simply have not emerged in the last two decades, even amidst cost pressures that drove spending up faster than inflation or GDP.
While education differs in important ways from other service sectors, improvement in productivity in other economic sectors may hold important lessons for understanding how the education system can become more efficient and effective.
This paper first explores the past and future outlook for education absent productivity gains. The authors then discuss several areas in which labor-intensive businesses have improved productivity: information technology, deregulation, redefinition of the product, increased efficiency in the supply chain, investments by key beneficiaries, production process innovations, carefully defined workforce policies, and organizational change. They conclude with a five-step agenda for finding the cure for Baumol’s* disease in public education.
*In the 1960s, economist William Baumol observed that productivity (defined as the quantity of product per dollar expended) in the labor-intensive services sector lagged behind manufacturing. Because labor-intensive services must compete with other parts of the economy for workers, yet cannot cut staffing without reducing output, costs rise constantly. This phenomenon, of rising costs without commensurate increases in output, has been labeled Baumol’s cost disease.

420K PDF Report.

Fighting the Dropout Crisis

Richard Lee Colvin:

In his first address to Congress in February 2009, when the nation teetered on the brink of economic collapse, President Obama declared that “dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country–and this country needs and values the talents of every American.” Since then, the administration has made a major commitment to increasing America’s high school graduation rate, which was once the highest in the developed world and is now among the lowest. Leading researchers now agree that 25 to 30 percent of students who enroll in American high schools fail to graduate. In many of the country’s largest urban school districts, such as Detroit, Cleveland, and Indianapolis, the dropout rate is as high as 60 percent, and rates are similarly high in many rural areas. A generation ago, high school dropouts could still join the military, or get work on assembly lines, and had a fair chance of finding their way in the world. President Obama does not exaggerate when he implies that today’s America has little use for dropouts and cannot expect to flourish so long as their numbers remain so high.
The administration has proposed nearly $1 billion in its latest budget specifically for the dropout problem. And it has already put $7.4 billion on the table, including its famous Race to the Top grants, which states and districts can get only if they agree to overhaul their worst-performing high schools. These are the 2,000 or so high schools that Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan refer to as “dropout factories”–schools that graduate fewer than 60 percent of their students and account for more than half the nation’s dropouts.
This level of financial commitment to fixing America’s underperforming high schools is unprecedented. The 1983 Nation at Risk report, which marked the start of the modern era of education reform, did not so much as mention the dropout problem even as it called for higher graduation requirements. Between 1988 and 1995, only eighty-nine school districts won federal grants for dropout prevention programs. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 applied mostly to grades three through eight. While it nominally required states to hold high schools accountable for dropout rates, it ended up allowing them to lowball the problem. Generally, the thought among educational reformers has been to concentrate on preschool and grade school education, and hope that success there would result in better student performance in high school.

What Canada can teach the U.S. about education

Lance Izumi, Jason Clemens And Lingxiao Ou, via a Kris Olds email:

Canadians, particularly those of conservative persuasion, love to compare Canada with the United States, which has a lot to learn in the key area of K-12 education. As the United States struggles with mounting deficits and debt, Americans would be well served to look north if they want to raise student performance while saving money. Canadians would be equally well served to understand their own success and expand it.
Little known to most Canadians is how well the country’s students perform on international tests, particularly when compared to the United States. The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an internationally standardized test administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Every three years PISA tests 15-year-olds in reading; mathematical and scientific literacy; and general competencies — that is, how well students apply the knowledge and skills they have learned at school to real-life problems.

No More Cuts To Public Education – The Case for The Parcel Tax

Doug Porter:

The San Diego Unified District Board of Education will be voting Tuesday, July 13th, at 5pm in the evening to place a temporary parcel tax up for voter approval on the November ballot. While this move on the surface is a response to the “funding cliff” that public education systems state-wide are facing as Federal stimulus dollars expire next year, the reality is that much larger stakes are in play here.
The school district is facing the prospect of $127 million in projected cuts for the school year beginning in September 2011 after cutting more than $370 million from its budget over the last four years. They have tentatively proposed a long list of budget reductions, from eliminating librarians and counselors to halving the school day for kindergartners. More than 1,400 employees – ten per cent of school district employees – will be facing layoffs if those cuts become reality.

New Jersey Teacher Union Politics & Budget

New Jersey Left Behind:

Here’s NJEA President Barbara Keshishian on yesterday’s Assembly approval of legislation to cap property tax increases at 2%:

This is a devastating day for children and public education in New Jersey. On the heels of more than $1.3 billion in cuts to public education, the Legislature and the governor have put an ill-conceived and shortsighted policy in place that will prevent our public schools from ever climbing out of the hole that has been dug for them by the state.

An understandable reaction, if a bit histrionic. The hole we’re in doesn’t have a lot to do with any sort of property tax cap, but to an expensive, inefficient, and unsustainable public school system.

The Twins Who Test Better

Jeremy Singer-Vine:

Female twins who shared the womb with a brother are better at visualizing shapes being rotated than those who shared the womb with a sister, according to a study in Psychological Science. Sex differences in mental rotation tasks–in which participants try matching rotated versions of 3-D block figures–have been linked to testosterone levels, with males outperforming females from an early age. Previous studies have reported that female twins from opposite-sex pairs are exposed to higher levels of testosterone in the womb than those from same-sex pairs. That degree of testosterone exposure appears to masculinize certain physiological features, such as finger-length ratios. In the present study, 804 twins, the average age of which was 22 years old, performed a mental rotation test in which they matched figures that were identical but rotated. Out of a maximum score of 24, females with a twin sister scored 9.01 on average, while females with a twin brother scored 10.26–a statistically significant difference after the researchers factored in age, birthweight and other variables. Male twins from same-sex pairs scored 12.87, while those from opposite-sex pairs averaged 13.74, but the difference between the two groups wasn’t statistically significant.
Caveat: Environmental differences between same-sex and opposite-sex twins might have influenced rotation test scores.

School’s out, but education reform talk is in

Alberta Darling:

School may be out for the summer, but the topic of education reform certainly has not gone on vacation. Both nationwide and here at home, there are several different ideas on the table that, if implemented, could go a long way toward improving educational outcomes for our students.
Under the guidance of Gov. Tommy Thompson, Wisconsin was once a nationwide leader in educational innovation. Unfortunately, bold, reform-minded leadership has been absent from the governor’s office for the past eight years. The most recent failures of Gov. Jim Doyle and legislative Democrats were their unsuccessful efforts to grab federal Race to the Top dollars and their blundering attempt at a mayoral takeover of the Milwaukee Public Schools.
Usually, we look to our nation’s capital for examples of how not to do business, but the new collective bargaining agreement Washington, D.C., School Chancellor Michelle Rhee struck with her teachers union is just the sort of thing we need in Milwaukee. The contract includes pay for performance, lessens the weight of seniority if layoffs become necessary and ends “job for life” tenure for ineffective teachers.
Another reform MPS sorely needs is the elimination of the teacher residency requirement, an arbitrary barrier that discourages some quality educators from teaching at MPS. Only two of the nation’s 50 largest school systems, Milwaukee and Chicago, still require its teachers to live within the city limits. No other school district in Wisconsin has a residency requirement.

Parents’ Real Estate Strategy: Schools Come First

Christine Haughney:

When Ann and Jonathan Binstock started shopping for an apartment in Manhattan in 2007, their first call was not to a real estate broker. Instead, they hired an educational consultant, to show them where the best schools for their daughter, Ellen, were. After the consultant suggested the most desirable zones , they chose a two-bedroom apartment near Public School 87 on the Upper West Side. Public records show it cost $1.975 million.
Ms. Binstock said the family’s apartment “was a stretch financially.”
“We ended up buying the apartment that we live in now based on the schools,” she added. “All of our money is in our little two-bedroom apartment.”
Now Ellen is entering second grade, and the Binstocks are finding that plenty of other parents shared their real estate strategy: P.S. 87 has become so overcrowded with students that, in first grade, Ellen had no gym class, and her lunch started before 11 a.m. It has a waiting list. The Binstocks heard that a neighboring school, P.S. 199, was also crowded, with its own waiting list.

Opposing view on early education: ‘Significant dividends’

Yasmina Vinci:

At-risk children who depend on Head Start should not have their futures jeopardized by a study that leaves many questions unanswered or by decision-makers who seem to be ignoring the study’s very first conclusion: Head Start children outperformed the control group “on every measure of children’s preschool experiences.”
Head Start’s value has been affirmed by people who experience the outcomes. Just ask police chiefs who know that people who began in Head Start commit fewer crimes and go to jail less often. Just ask school administrators. For example, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland recently found that kindergarteners with special needs who had been in Head Start needed 3.7 hours of special education per week on average, versus 9.8 hours for non-Head Start children — a huge financial saving.

Cutting and Pasting: A Senior Thesis by (Insert Name)

Brent Staples, via a kind reader’s email:

A friend who teaches at a well-known eastern university told me recently that plagiarism was turning him into a cop. He begins the semester collecting evidence, in the form of an in-class essay that gives him a sense of how well students think and write. He looks back at the samples later when students turn in papers that feature their own, less-than-perfect prose alongside expertly written passages lifted verbatim from the Web.
“I have to assume that in every class, someone will do it,” he said. “It doesn’t stop them if you say, ‘This is plagiarism. I won’t accept it.’ I have to tell them that it is a failing offense and could lead me to file a complaint with the university, which could lead to them being put on probation or being asked to leave.”
Not everyone who gets caught knows enough about what they did to be remorseful. Recently, for example, a student who plagiarized a sizable chunk of a paper essentially told my friend to keep his shirt on, that what he’d done was no big deal. Beyond that, the student said, he would be ashamed to go home to the family with an F.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Debt commission chiefs give gloomy fiscal outlook

Dan Balz:

The co-chairs of President Obama’s debt and deficit commission offered an ominous assessment of the nation’s fiscal future here Sunday, calling current budgetary trends a cancer “that will destroy the country from within” unless checked by tough action in Washington.
The two leaders — former Republican Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff under former President Bill Clinton — sought to build support for the work of the commission, whose recommendations due later this year are likely to spark a fierce political debate in Congress.
“There are many who hope we fail,” Simpson said at the closing session of the National Governors Association meeting. He called the 18-member commission “good people with deep, deep differences” who know the odds of success “are rather harrowing.”

A Case Study in Teacher Bailouts: Milwaukee shows that unions will keep resisting concessions if Washington rides to the rescue.

Stephen Moore:

The Obama administration is pressuring Congress to spend $23 billion to rehire the more than 100,000 teachers who have been laid off across the country. Before Congress succumbs, it should know about the unfolding fiasco in Milwaukee. Wisconsin is a microcosm of the union intransigence that’s fueling the school funding crisis in so many cities and states and leading to so many pink slips. It also shows why a federal bailout is a mistake.
Because of declining tax collections and falling enrollment, Milwaukee’s school board announced in June that 428 teachers were losing their jobs–including Megan Sampson, who was just awarded a teacher-of-the-year prize. Yet the teachers union, the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, had it within its power to avert almost all of the layoffs.
The average pay for a Milwaukee school teacher is $56,000, which is hardly excessive. Benefits are another matter. According to a new study by the MacIver Institute, a state think tank, the cost of health and pension benefits now exceeds $40,000 a year per teacher–bringing total compensation to $100,500.