Middle Schools Fail Kids, Study Says

Shelly Banjo

New York City’s standalone middle schools do a worse job educating students than schools that offer kindergarten through eighth grade under one roof, according to a new study to be released Wednesday by researchers at Columbia University.
On average, children who move up to middle school from a traditional city elementary school, which typically goes up to fifth grade, score about seven percentiles lower on standardized math tests in eighth grade than those who attend a K-8 school, says Jonah Rockoff, an associate professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Business who co-authored the study.
The disparity stems from the toll that changing to a new school takes on adolescents and differences in the sizes of grades, the study says. Typically, K-8 schools can fit fewer children in each grade than standalone middle schools.
“What we found bolsters the case for middle-school reform.” says Mr. Rockoff, noting that there aren’t significant differences in financial resources or single class sizes between the two types of schools. Standalone “middle schools, where kids are educated in larger groups, are not the best way to educate students in New York City.”
The research culls data for city school children who started in grades three through eight during the 1998-99 school year and tracks them through the 2007-2008 school year, comparing test scores, attendance rates and parent evaluations. Of the student sample, 15,000 students attended a K-8 school versus 177,000 who attended a standalone middle school.

The complete paper is available here:

We examine the implications of separating students of different grade levels across schools for the purposes of educational production. Specifically, we find that moving students from elementary to middle school in 6th or 7th grade causes significant drops in academic achievement. These effects are large (about 0.15 standard deviations), present for both math and English, and persist through grade 8, the last year for which we have achievement data. The effects are similar for boys and girls, but stronger for students with low levels of initial achievement. We instrument for middle school attendance using the grade range of the school students attended in grade 3, and employ specifications that control for student fixed effects. This leaves only one potential source of bias–correlation between grade range of a student’s grade 3 school and unobservable characteristics that cause decreases in achievement precisely when students are due to switch schools–which we view as highly unlikely. We find little evidence that placing public school students into middle schools during adolescence is cost-effective.
One of the most basic issues in the organization of public education is how to group students efficiently. Public schools in the U.S. have placed students of similar ages into grade levels since the mid-1800s, but grade configurations have varied considerably over time. At the start of the 20th century, most primary schools in the U.S. included students from kindergarten through grade 8, while the early 1900s saw the rise of the “junior high school,” typically spanning grades 7-8 or 7-9 (Juvonen et al., 2004). More recently, school districts have shifted toward the use of “middle schools,” which typically span grades 6-8 or 5-8.1 Interestingly, middle schools and junior high schools have never been popular among private schools.2
The impact of grade configuration has received little attention by economists relative to issues such as class size or teacher quality. There are a few studies which provide evidence that the transition to middle school is associated with a loss of academic achievement, elevated suspension rates, and reduced self esteem (Alspaugh (1998a, 1998b), Weiss and Kipnes, (2006), Byrnes and Ruby (2007), Cook et al. (2008)). There is also a large body of work by educational researchers and developmental psychologists documenting changes in attitudes and motivation as children enter adolescence (Eccles et al. (1984)), and some have hypothesized that instructional differences in middle schools contribute to these changes. However, these studies examine differences between middle school and elementary school students using cross-sectional data, and therefore are unable to reject the hypothesis that differences across students, rather than differences in grade configuration, are responsible for divergent educational outcomes.3
In this study, we use panel data in New York City to measure the effects of alternative grade configurations. Specifically, we focus on variation in achievement within students over time, and examine how student achievement is affected by movement into middle schools. Elementary schools in New York City typically serve students until grade 5 or grade 6, while a smaller portion extend through grade 8; thus most students move to a middle school in either grade 6 or grade 7, while some never move to a middle school. We find that achievement falls substantially (about 0.15 standard deviations in math and English) when students move to middle school, relative to their peers who do not move. Importantly, these negative effects persist through grade 8, the highest grade level on which test data are available.

Adding Value to the Value-Added Debate

Liam Goldrick & Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab

Seeing as I am not paid to blog as part of my daily job, it’s basically impossible for me to be even close to first out of the box on the issues of the day. Add to that being a parent of two small children (my most important job – right up there with being a husband) and that only adds to my sometimes frustration of not being able to weigh in on some of these issues quickly.
That said, here is my attempt to distill some key points and share my opinions — add value, if you will — to the debate that is raging as a result of the Los Angeles Times’s decision to publish the value-added scores of individual teachers in the L.A. Unified School District.
First of all, let me address the issue at hand. I believe that the LA Times’s decision to publish the value-added scores of individual teachers was irresponsible. Given what we know about the unreliability and variability in such scores and the likelihood that consumers of said scores will use them at face value without fully understanding all of the caveats, this was a dish that should have been sent back to the kitchen.
Although the LA Times is not a government or public entity, it does operate in the public sphere. And it has a responsibility as such an actor. Its decision to label LA teachers as ‘effective’ and ‘ineffective’ based on suspect value-added data alone is akin to an auditor secretly investigating a firm or agency without an engagement letter and publishing findings that may or may not hold water.
Frankly, I don’t care what positive benefits this decision by the LA Times might have engendered. Yes, the district and the teachers union have agreed to begin negotiations on a new evaluation system. Top district officials have said they want at least 30% of a teacher’s review to be based on value-added and have wisely said that the majority of the evaluations should depend on classroom observations. Such a development exonerates the LA Times, as some have argued. In my mind, any such benefits are purloined and come at the expense of sticking it — rightly in some cases, certainly wrongly in others — to individual teachers who mostly are trying their best.

More on the Proposed IB Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men Charter School

522K PDF via a Kaleem Caire email:

Based on current education and social conditions, the fate of boys of color is uncertain.
Black boys are grossly over-represented among youth failing to achieve academic success, are at grave risk of dropping out of school before they reach 10th grade, are disproportionately represented among adjudicated and incarcerated youth, and are far less likely than their peers in other subgroups to achieve to their dreams and aspirations.
Research indicates that although black boys have high aspirations for academic and career success, their underperformance in school and lack of educational attainment undermine their career pursuits and the success they desire. This misalignment of aspirations and achievement is fueled by and perpetuates a set of social conditions wherein black males find themselves disproportionately represented among the unemployed and incarcerated. Without meaningful, targeted, and sustainable interventions and support systems, hundreds of thousands of young Black men will never realize their true potential and the cycle of high unemployment, fatherless homes, overcrowded jails, incarcerated talent, deferred dreams, and high rates of school failure will continue.
Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men (aka Madison Prep) will be established to serve as a catalyst for change and opportunity among young men of color. Its founders understand that poverty, isolation, structural discrimination, lack of access to positive male role models and achievement-oriented peer groups, limited exposure to opportunity and culture outside their neighborhood or city, and a general lack of understanding – and in some cases fear – of black boys among adults are major contributing factors to why so many young men are failing to achieve to their full potential. However, the Urban League of Greater Madison – the “founders” of Madison Prep – also understand that these issues can be addressed by directly countering each issue with a positive, exciting, engaging, enriching, challenging, affirming and structured learning community designed to exclusively benefit boys.

More here.

After the Deluge, A New Education System Today close to 70% of New Orleans children attend charter schools.

Leslie Jacobs:

Five years ago yesterday, the levees broke. Hurricane Katrina flooded roughly 80% of this city, causing nearly $100 billion in damage. The storm forced us to rebuild our homes, workplaces and many of our institutions–including our failing public education system.
But from the flood waters, the most market-driven public school system in the country has emerged. Education reformers across America should take notice: The model is working.
Citywide, the number of fourth-grade students who pass the state’s standardized tests has jumped by almost a third–to 65% in 2010 from 49% in 2007. The passage rate among eighth-graders during the same period has improved at a similar clip, to 58% from 44%.
In high school, the transformation has been even more impressive. Since 2007, the percentage of students meeting the state’s proficiency goals is up 44% for English and 45% for math. Schools have achieved this dramatic improvement despite serving a higher percentage of low-income students–84%–than they did before the storm. Many of these students missed months or even a whole year of school.

Oxford English Dictionary ‘will not be printed again’

Alastair Jamieson

The next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the world’s most definitive work on the language, will never be printed because of the impact of the internet on book sales.
Sales of the third edition of the vast tome have fallen due to the increasing popularity of online alternatives, according to its publisher.
A team of 80 lexicographers has been working on the third edition of the OED – known as OED3 – for the past 21 years.
The dictionary’s owner, Oxford University Press (OUP), said the impact of the internet means OED3 will probably appear only in electronic form.
The most recent OED has existed online for more than a decade, where it receives two million hits a month from subscribers who pay an annual fee of £240.

School Spotlight: K-Ready program preps children for kindergarten

Pamela Cotant

More than a fifth of the incoming kindergarteners registered in the Madison School District will be more ready for school this fall after attending a six-week summer program.
The full-day K-Ready program helps children prepare for kindergarten by working on academic readiness skills such as letter recognition, name writing and counting. They also have the opportunity to learn what school is like, how to get along with others, and how to listen to a teacher.
This summer, the program grew to a new high of 460 students – about 22 percent of projected kindergarteners.
Fakeith Hopson enrolled his daughter, Aniyah, who will attend Leopold Elementary School, in the K-Ready program at Huegel Elementary School and was impressed by the strides she made in counting and saying her ABCs. She also learned how to tie her shoes.

A Look at Wisconsin School Administrative Salaries; Madison has 45 employees earning > $100,000 annually.

Amy Hetzner

Public school districts in southeastern Wisconsin reported paying their top leaders an average salary of nearly $130,000 in the 2009-’10 school year, data released by the state Department of Public Instruction shows.
The average salary for the six-county region, which includes Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha counties, represents a 7.4% increase over superintendent salaries two years before and more than 40% more than such positions averaged a decade ago.
Teacher pay for the same school districts rose 7.6%, on average, between the 2007-’08 and 2009-’10 school years. Over the previous 10 years, however, average teacher salaries in southeastern Wisconsin school districts increased by 29%, according to the state information.
The data from the DPI is reported by school districts every fall, meaning that it might not capture salary increases given retroactively after teacher contracts are settled, which is also when many districts approve administrative compensation packages.
For that reason, the Journal Sentinel compared salaries reported in 2009-’10, the first year of negotiations for a new teacher contract, with the salaries from two years before at a similar stage in negotiations. The 10-year comparison also should eliminate some of the year-to-year fluctuations caused by the self-reporting method employed by the state.

Madison has 45 employees earning greater than $100,000.00, Green Bay has 21 (Madison’s Dan Nerad previously served as the Green Bay Superintendent), Milwaukee has 103, Racine 10, Waukesha 7 and Appleton 18. Madison spends $15,241 per student, according to the 2009-2010 Citizen’s Budget.
Search the Wisconsin public school employee database here.

Bill Gates Enrolls His Child in Khan Academy


“At some schools, a teaching load of five courses every academic year is considered excessive. But Sal Khan, as an earlier Slashdot post noted, manages to deliver his mini-lectures an average of 70,000 times a day. BusinessWeek reports that Khan Academy has a new fan in Bill Gates, who’s been singing and tweeting the praises of the free-as-in-beer website. ‘This guy is amazing,’ Gates wrote. ‘It is awesome how much he has done with very little in the way of resources.’ Gates and his 11-year-old son have been soaking up videos, from algebra to biology. And at the Aspen Ideas Festival in front of 2,000 people, Gates gave Khan a shout-out, touting the ‘unbelievable’ Khan Academy tutorials that ‘I’ve been using with my kids.'”

Ideological War Spells Doom for America’s Schoolkids


Students are returning to school this week. But they’re not heading back to class — they’re walking straight into a war zone. Our kids have become cannon fodder for two rival ideologies battling to control America’s future.
In one camp are conservative Christians and their champion, the Texas State Board of Education; in the other are politically radical multiculturalists and their de facto champion, President Barack Obama. The two competing visions couldn’t be more different. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. Unfortunately, whichever side wins — your kid ends up losing.
That’s because this war is for the power to dictate what our children are taught — and, by extension, how future generations of Americans will view the world. Long gone are the days when classrooms were for learning: now each side sees the public school system as a vast indoctrination camp in which future culture-warriors are trained. The problem is, two diametrically opposed philosophies are struggling for supremacy, and neither is willing to give an inch, so the end result is extremism, no matter which side temporarily comes out on top.
Both visions are grotesque and unacceptable — and yet they are currently the only two choices on the national menu. Which shall it be, sir: Brainwashing Fricassee, or a Fried Ignorance Sandwich?

Urban League president proposes Madison International Baccalaureate charter school geared toward minority boys

Susan Troller:

“In Madison, I can point to a long history of failure when it comes to educating African-American boys,” says Caire, a Madison native and a graduate of West High School. He is blunt about the problems of many black students in Madison.
“We have one of the worst achievement gaps in the entire country. I’m not seeing a concrete plan to address that fact, even in a district that prides itself on innovative education. Well, here’s a plan that’s innovative, and that has elements that have been very successful elsewhere. I’d like to see it have a chance to change kids’ lives here,” says Caire, who is African-American and has extensive experience working on alternative educational models, particularly in Washington, D.C.
One of the most vexing problems in American education is the difference in how well minority students, especially African-American children, perform academically in comparison to their white peers. With standardized test scores for black children in Wisconsin trailing those from almost every other state in the nation, addressing the achievement gap is a top priority for educators in the Badger State. Although black students in Madison do slightly better academically than their counterparts in, say, Milwaukee, the comparison to their white peers locally creates a Madison achievement gap that is, as Caire points out, at the bottom of national rankings.
He’s become a fan of same-sex education because it “eliminates a lot of distractions” and he says a supportive environment of high expectations has proven to be especially helpful for improving the academic performance of African-American boys.
Caire intends to bring the proposal for the boys-only charter prep school before the Madison School Board in October or November, then will seek a planning grant for the school from the state Department of Public Instruction in April, and if all goes according to the ambitious business plan, Madison Prep would open its doors in 2012 with 80 boys in grades 6 and 7.
Forty more sixth-graders would be accepted at the school in each subsequent year until all grades through senior high school are filled, with a total proposed enrollment of 280 students. A similar, same-sex school for girls would promptly follow, Caire says, opening in 2013.
Five things would make Madison Prep unique, Caire says, and he believes these options will intrigue parents and motivate students.

It will be interesting to see how independent (from a governance and staffing perspective) this proposal is from the current Madison charter models. The more the better.
Clusty Search: Madison Preparatory Academy.

Madison School Board Priorities: Ethics, Achievement, or ?

TJ Mertz makes a great point here:

Last up, is “Next Steps for Future Board Development Meetings and Topics.’ Board development is good and important, but with only 2/3 of the term left I hate to see too much time and energy devoted to Board Development.
I keep coming back to this. Every year about 1/3 of the time and energy is devoted to budget matters, that leaves 2/3 to try to make things better. Put it another way; it is September, budget season starts in January. Past time to get to work.
This just leaves the closed meeting on the Superintendent evaluation. Not much to add to what I wrote here. My big point is that almost all of this process should be public. I will repost the links to things that are public:

Charlie Mas continues to chronicle, in a similar manner to TJ, the Seattle School Board’s activities.
In my view, the Madison School Board might spend time on:

  • Public Superintendent Review, including oversight of the principal and teacher review process. Done properly, this should improve teaching effectiveness over time. This process should include full implementation of Infinite Campus. Infinite Campus is a potentially powerful tool to evaluate many activities within the District.
  • Implement a 5 year budget.
  • Evaluate ongoing MMSD Programs for their effectiveness, particularly from a spending and staffing perspective.

Voters will have another chance to weigh in on the Madison School Board during the spring, 2011 election, when seats currently occupied by Ed Hughes and Marj Passman will be on the ballot. Those interested in running should contact the City of Madison Clerk’s office.
Update: I received the draft Madison School Board ethics documents via a Barbara Lehman email (thanks):

  • Board Member Ed Hughes 241K PDF

    Presently we do not have a policy that describes expectations regarding the performance of School Board members. The Committee developed this list on the basis of similar policies adopted by other Boards as well as our own discussion of what our expectations are for each other. The Committee members were able to reach consensus on these expectations fairly quickly.
    Expectation No.4 refers to information requests. We realize that current MMSD Policy 1515 also refers to information requests, but our thinking was that the existing policy addresses the obligation of the superintendent to respond to information requests. We do not currently have a policy that addresses a Board member’s obligation to exercise judgment in submitting information requests.
    Expectation No. 10 is meant to convey that School Board members hold their positions 24-hours a day and have a responsibility to the Board always to avoid behavior that would cast the Board or the District in a poor light.

    How might Number 10 affect an elected Board member’s ability to disagree with District policies or activities?

  • Outgoing Madison School District Counsel Dan Mallin 700K PDF.:

    These paragraphs are a modification from existing language. Although the overall intent appears to remain similar to existing policy, I recommend the existing language because I think it does a better job of expressly recognizing the competing interests between the “beliefstatements” and a Board Member’s likely right, as an individual citizen (and perhaps as a candidate for office while simultaneously serving on the Board) to accept PAC contributions and or to make a statement regarding a candidate. Perhaps the langnage could make clear that no Board Member may purport to, or attempt to imply, that they are speaking for the School Board when making a statement in regard to a candidate for office. That is, they should be express that they are speaking in the individual capacity.

  • Draft ethics policy 500K PDF:

    The Board functions most effectively when individual Board Members adhere to acceptable professional behavior. To promote acceptable conduct of the Board, Board Members should:

  • Outgoing Counsel Dan Mallin’s 7/15/2010 recommendations.

Harvard Education School

When my father graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1927, I am pretty sure it was not called “The Harvard Graduate School of Medical Education.” People I know who got their degrees from Harvard Law School tell me that it was never, to their knowledge, called the “Harvard Graduate School of Legal Education.” I think that the Harvard Business School does not routinely refer to itself as the “Harvard Graduate School of Business Education.” Harvard College (this is my 50th reunion year) has never seen the need to call itself “The Harvard Undergraduate School of Academic Subjects,” as far as I know. But the Harvard Education School, where I was informed, in the late 1960s, that I had been made a “Master of Education,” (!?) calls itself the “Harvard Graduate School of Education.” Perhaps that makes it a status step up from being called the Harvard Normal School, but the name is, in my view, a small symptom of a deeper problem there.
I had lunch in Cambridge yesterday with a man from Madagascar, who was bringing his daughter (one of The Concord Review’s authors), for her first year at Harvard College. He asked me why there seemed to be so much emphasis in United States schools on nonacademic efforts by students (I assumed he was referring to things like art, band, drama, chorus, jazz ensemble, video workshop, sports of various kinds, community service, etc., etc.). Now you have to make allowances for a geophysicist from Madagascar. After all, on that large island, and indeed in the whole Southern Hemisphere, they think that June, July, and August are Winter months, for goodness’ sake!
As I tried to explain to him the long tradition of anti-intellectualism in American life, and the widespread anti-academic attitudes and efforts of so many of our school Pundits, I thought again about the way the Harvard Education School defines its mission.
As you may know, I am very biased in favor of reading and writing, especially by high school students, and since 1987, I have published 912 exemplary history essays by secondary students from 39 countries in the only journal in the world for such work, so when I have failed to stir some interest in faculty at the Harvard Education School, it has disposed me to look closer at what they are interested in other than the exemplary academic work of students at the high school (or any other) level.
To be fair, there have been a few Harvard people who have taken an interest in my work. Harold Howe II wrote to fifteen foundations on my behalf (without success) and Theodore Sizer wrote the introduction to the first issue in the Fall of 1988, and served on my Board of Directors for several years. Recently, Tony Wagner has taken an interest, and, a very good friend, William Fitzsimmons, Harvard Dean of Admissions, got his doctorate there.
But what are the research interests of faculty at the Harvard Education School, if they don’t include the academic work of students? I recommend that anyone who is curious about this odd phenomenon may review the interests of this graduate faculty by looking at their website, but here a few revealing examples:

“Dr. Ronald F. Ferguson is a Lecturer in Public Policy and Senior Research Associate at the Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he has taught since 1983. His research publications cover issues in education policy, youth development programming, community development, economic consequences of skill disparities, and state and local economic development. For much of the past decade, Dr. Ferguson’s research has focused on racial achievement gaps…”
“During the past two decades, [Howard] Gardner and colleagues have been involved in the design of performance-based assessments; education for understanding; the use of multiple intelligences to achieve more personalized curriculum, instruction, and pedagogy; and the quality of interdisciplinary efforts in education. Since the mid-1990s, in collaboration with psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon, Gardner has directed the GoodWork Project, a study of work that is excellent, engaging, and ethical. More recently, with longtime Project Zero colleagues Lynn Barendsen and Wendy Fischman, he has conducted reflection sessions designed to enhance the understanding and incidence of good work among young people. With Carrie James, he is investigating trust in contemporary society and ethical dimensions entailed in the use of the new digital media. Underway are studies of effective collaboration among nonprofit institutions in education and of conceptions of quality in the contemporary era. In 2008 he delivered a set of three lectures at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on the topic ‘The True, The Beautiful, and the Good: Reconsiderations in a post-modern, digital era.'”
“Nancy Hill’s area of research focuses on variations in parenting and family socialization practices across ethnic, socioeconomic status, and neighborhood contexts. In addition, her research focuses on demographic variations in the relations between family dynamics and children’s school performance and other developmental outcomes. Recent and ongoing projects include Project PASS (Promoting Academic Success for Students), a longitudinal study between kindergarten and 4th grade examining family related predictors of children’s early school performance; Project Alliance/Projecto Alianzo, a multiethnic, longitudinal study of parental involvement in education at the transition between elementary and middle school. She is the co-founder of the Study Group on Race, Culture, and Ethnicity, an interdisciplinary group of scientists who develop theory and methodology for defining and understanding the cultural context within diverse families. In addition to articles in peer-reviewed journals, she recently edited a book, African American Family Life: Ecological and Cultural Diversity (Guilford, 2005) and another edited volume is forthcoming (Family-School Relations during Adolescence: Linking Interdisciplinary Research, Policy and Practice; Teachers College Press).”

This is really a random sample and there are scores of faculty members in the School, studying all sort of things. If I were to summarize their work, I would suggest it tends toward research on poverty, race, culture, diversity, ethnicity, emotional and social disability, developmental psychology, school organization, “The True, the Beautiful, and the Good…in a post-modern, digital era,” and the like, but as far as I can tell, no one there is interested in the academic study (by students) of Asian history, biology, calculus, chemistry, foreign languages, European history, physics, United States History, or any of the academic subjects many taxpayers think should be the main business of education in our schools.
Of course all the things they do study are important, and can be funded with grants, but how can the academic work of students in our schools be of no importance to these scholars? How can they have no interest in the academic subjects which occupy the time and efforts of the teachers and students in our schools?
Perhaps if they were interested in the main academic business of our schools, the place would have to change its name to something less pretentious, like the Harvard Education School?
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

No gold stars for successful L.A. teachers

Jason Felch

It’s a Wednesday morning, and Zenaida Tan is warming her students up with a little exercise in “Monster Math.”
That’s Tan’s name for math problems with monstrously big numbers. While most third-graders are learning to multiply two digits by two digits, Tan makes her class practice with 10 digits by two — just to show them it’s not so different.
On this spring day, her students pick apart the problem on the board — 7,850,437,826 x 56 — with the enthusiasm of game show contestants, shouting out answers before Tan can ask a question. When she accidentally blocks their view, several stand up with their notebooks and walk across the room to get a better look.
The answer comes minutes later in a singsong unison: “Four hundred and thirty-nine billion, six hundred and twenty-four million….”
Congratulations, Tan tells them, for solving it con ganas. That’s Spanish for “with gusto,” a phrase she picked up from watching “Stand and Deliver,” a favorite film of hers about the late Jaime Escalante, the remarkably successful math teacher at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.

Keeping parents’ ‘helicopters’ grounded during college

Larry Gordon

The UCLA meeting hall was standing room only as campus psychologist Susan Bakota delivered a message to about 150 parents gathered at an orientation session designed just for them.
“Take a moment to inhale and release your concerns and anxieties and release your student to this wonderful adventure,” she told the audience, whose children are about to enroll as UCLA freshman. “And I suggest you too enjoy the ride.”
That may be easier said than done for many parents who are dropping their children off for the first time at a big university in a huge city. But at this time of year, more and more colleges across the country are attempting to teach anxious mothers and fathers a lesson not contained in any traditional curriculum: Let go.

What a school board member is — and isn’t

Libby Wilson

After serving on the Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s Governing Board of Trustees since 2006, I’ve decided not to seek re-election. My years on the board have been an amazing experience, but it’s time for me to step aside and allow a new community member the opportunity to offer his or her leadership to the school district.
As we head into the election season and what will certainly be a climate of overheated rhetoric about what’s right and what’s wrong with our school district and what ought to be done about it, I think it’s appropriate to lay out the duties of a school board member for the sake of voters and those who seek to serve on the board.
The California School Board Association spells out the role of a school board member very clearly: School board members are locally elected public officials entrusted with governing a community’s public schools.
Along with the superintendent, board members set the long-term vision for the district so students will reach their highest potential. Board members are responsible for maintaining an efficient structure of school district operations by employing the superintendent, setting policy for hiring other personnel, setting a direction for and adopting the curriculum, and establishing budget priorities. Board members ensure accountability by evaluating the superintendent and district policies as well as monitoring all aspect of the district’s operations. School board members must

As We See It: Public education at crossroads: Reforms should accompany more money

Santa Cruz Sentinel

Santa Cruz County schools face major challenges in coming years. Just like most schools in California, local districts are faced with funding cuts, fewer staff members and more demands — especially in educating students with limited English skills, many from disadvantaged socio-economic circumstances.
In addition, schools are trying to cope with ever increasing demands to raise standards and be more accountable to state and local government for results.
In the series, State of Our Schools, which concludes today, the Sentinel reports that local schools will be operating with fewer teachers, more students in classrooms, less support help and, in some districts, a shorter school year.
Clearly, most people in the county and state don’t like to see school funding cut. The easiest answer is to simply restore the funding.

10 Shifts that Change Everything

Tom Vander Ark

Change forces and market drivers (described in 3×5 revolution) are finally bringing the digital revolution to education. Online learning is creating new options for students. Blending online and onsite learning has the potential to improve learning and operating productivity. The digital learning revolution is creating 10 shifts int he way we learn (first explored in a 7/3 post)
1.Responsibility. Families are taking back responsibility for learning and choices in learning are exploding. In America, most states grant charters to nonprofit groups to operate independent schools. New York City closed 90 failing schools and invited community organization to assist in developing 400 new schools. Independently run government funded education is common in Europe, Scandinavia, and Chile. Low cost private schools provide educational options in India and Africa.
Higher learning choices are expanding; and while traditional college costs spiral higher, some new options like Open University are free, and some are very low cost. Competency-based programs like Western Governor’s University give credit for demonstrated expertise. Straighter Line allows students to earn college credits on an accelerated basis for $99 per month.
2.Expectations. The standards movement, culminating in the Common Core,[iii] reflects American political consensus that all students should be eligible and prepared for higher learning–a monumental step for equity but with the unintended consequence of standardizing a 19th century version of schooling based on age cohorts, credit hours and bubble sheet tests.

No place like home for school; more parents seek customized education

Krista Jahnke:

Her oldest son “was advanced in math in fifth grade but having trouble,” Brown said. “Things weren’t being properly explained. We were frustrated. … They just don’t have enough time to give to the students in schools. There are so many students in the school and only one teacher.”
Brown is part of a growing number of parents who have turned to homeschooling after more traditional education paths have presented challenges. “Our research shows that from about a decade ago until now, homeschooling has roughly doubled,” said Brian Ray, president of the nonprofit National Home Education Research Institute.
Families turn to homeschooling for diverse reasons, Ray said.
“They want customized education, they want more time together, they want strong family ties and they want guided social interactions. Many also see it as their job to pass on social values, not the schools,” said Ray, who estimated that the number of homeschooled children is growing 7 percent annually.
The increase in homeschooled students, has given rise to two major things: more educational resources for homeschoolers and more support for their parents.

5 Ways Tech Startups Can Disrupt the Education System

Audrey Watters:

“Revolutionary.” “Disruptive.” These terms are used with such frequency that they may have lost much of their meaning. That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of products and services that are innovative, and plenty of systems, plenty of organizations that are ripe for disruption or “revolution.” Take education, for example. Our modern education system is, after all, not so modern, with many of its practices strongly rooted in a “factory” model circa the Industrial Revolution. But what does revolutionizing education really look like? And which startups working in education technology are really “disruptive”?
A recent thread on Quora bypasses the “revolutionary” and “disruptive” adjectives, asking instead “What are some interesting startups in the education space?” But a recent blog post at The Teaching Master does invoke these adjective, listing the “Top 25 Web Startups Revolutionizing Teaching.” Neither the Quora nor the Teaching Master post offer metrics. There’s no indication of what makes a “top” startup or what constitutes “interesting,” let alone “revolutionary” work in the ed-tech space.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: How will Additional Federal Borrowed Tax Dollars Be Spent?

Ed Wallace

For the past 120 days I have pored over economic reports, commerce data, home sales across America, stats on inflationary trends and sales tax reports by state (when they can be found). I’ve sorted the data by date published, then prioritized it by importance to the economy, and looked for correlations positive or negative.
But no matter how many times I read over the data, I can come to only one solid conclusion: We have now finished changing into a two-tiered economy.
This change didn’t start with the downturn of the past two and a half years; instead, the completion of our segregation into two financial classes is what directly caused the downturn. No longer is the belief that “there’s the 20 percent of the population that live in poverty and then there’s the rest” a comfortably distant concept.

The discomfort line now divides those who “feel afraid” that they live in poverty-like circumstances, or soon will – even if they are gainfully employed – from “the rest.” And instead of a 20/80 split, have-nots to haves, today it may well be 60/40.

The federal government’s most recent debt expansion will provide K-12 districts with additional funds. Will these monies be used for:

Massachusetts Educational Excellence

Cape Cod Times:

The announcement on Tuesday that Massachusetts has qualified for $250 million in federal grant money under the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” program would seem to validate the state Board of Education’s unanimous decision in July to adopt the national standards program. The standards will dictate what students across the country will learn in English and math.
Nevertheless, the board’s decision still may prove a liability for Gov. Deval Patrick in his bid for re-election in November.
Nine other states will share more than $3 billion in grants in this second round of awards. Cape Cod schools look to gain almost $2 million — all of which will be targeted toward improving pupil performance, particularly in schools where the student achievement gap is significant. It will provide funding to improve teacher training, overhaul failing schools, and will increase accountability by tying test results to teachers.

The Seattle School Board’s 9/1/2010 Meeting

Charlie Mas:

Lots of fun, interesting stuff on the agenda for the September 1 Board meeting.
It begins with a work session on the Strategic Infrastructure and Maintenance Initiative. Give it a big fancy name like that and it creates the illusion that something’s happening. Nothing is happening. Just as they do with students working below grade level, the District counts and tracks backlogged maintenance, but they don’t actually do much about it. They will, however, produce a glorious powerpoint and lots of matrices and spreadsheets about the problem with no solution in sight.
The Legislative meeting opens with Public Testimony. It will probably be dominated, again, with people talking about the teachers’ contract negotiation. Of course, since that contract isn’t on the agenda, everyone who wants to talk about it can get bumped by people who want to talk about agenda items. If you can put together a group of 20 people who will sign up to speak to agenda items then you can freeze out all of the contract testimony.

India’s super rich educators

Shailaja Neelakantan

Bright-yellow mustard fields line the roadside along National Highway 8, about three hours from New Delhi in the state of Rajasthan. In the distance, tiny plumes of smoke float into the sky from the mud huts of local farmers.
For a hundred miles, the silence is broken only by the long-haul trucks, whose blaring horns discourage stray dogs and livestock from darting into their paths.
Then, suddenly, the towering tollbooths of a 12-lane expressway loom on the horizon, transforming the rustic Gandhian idyll into a scene straight out of the American Midwest.
Just a few miles from here, up a pristine blacktopped road, is the 100-acre NIIT University. Founded by two multimillionaires who earned their fortunes through a successful multinational computer-training and consulting company, NIIT represents a new kind of university sprouting up across India — one generated through private philanthropy.

Don’t Judge Me By My Students

Linda Thomas:

How do you hold teachers accountable for their students’ performance? Of all the issues facing education, that seems to be one of the main issues in the contract talks that are going on between the Seattle School District and its teachers.
Negotiations seem to be progressing. With extra bargaining sessions added this week, both sides are working toward a tentative agreement that teachers are scheduled to vote on September 2nd, in advance of the school year starting in Seattle on the 8th. But, there’s that pesky question of how to evaluate teachers that keeps coming up.
In an effort to make its case, the Seattle Education Association put a video up on YouTube this afternoon with a teacher talking about accountability. Shiree Turner says “students are more than a test score.”

Race to the Top: By the Numbers

384K PDF via a kind reader’s email:

Of the record $100 billion in federal education funds appropriated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2009, Congress and President Obama set aside $5 billion to be awarded at the discretion of the Secretary of Education to states, districts, and consortia that develop robust education reform plans. The $5 billon is broken down as follows:
$4 billion – Race to the Top State Incentive Fund (individual states)
$650 million – Investing in Innovation or i3 Grants (local, regional collaborators)
$350 million – Race to the Top Assessment Grants (multi-state consortia)
In total, these funds represent less than 1% of the $600 billion (federal, state, and local funds) spent on U.S. public elementary and secondary schools.
This unprecedented infusion of federal education reform funds, coupled with unprecedented latitude afforded to a U.S. Secretary of Education, catapulted the Obama Administration to the role of top U.S. venture philanthropist in the education policy world.

Praise for the Indiana Schools Superintendent

Indianapolis Business Journal:

Tony Bennett, the state’s superintendent of public instruction for nearly two years, deserves accolades for shoving education reform toward the top of Indiana’s agenda.
Unlike his predecessor, Suellen Reed, who seemed little more than a cheerleader for schools, Bennett is pushing hard-nosed reforms.
And while at times he’s unfairly cast the state’s powerful teachers’ union–the Indiana State Teachers Association–as a villain, Bennett wisely struck a more productive, collaborative tone during his State of Education address Aug. 23. The New Albany Republican avoided the rhetoric that scores political points but does little to actually improve schools.

Begging For an Education

Sandy Banks:

My daughter has snagged spots in a data analysis class, a Native American history course and another on comparative freedom movements of the 1960s. She’s hot on the trail of a biology class that is rumored to have an opening.
But the course that she and her classmates at San Francisco State really need — Crashing Classes 101 — isn’t among the school’s offerings. And if it were, it wouldn’t have an empty seat.

Stockholm schoolgirls fined for bugging staff room

Lester Haines

Two Stockholm schoolgirls have been slapped with a fine for bugging the staff room at their seat of learning.
According to The Local, the mid-teens pair intended to listen in to a meeting convened to decide pupils’ grades in the hope they might “glean information that would enable them to get their grades improved”.
Handily, they managed to get their hands on a key to the room, and the night before the planned get-together planted some off-the-shelf bugging kit they’d bought in a local “gadget store”.

Half of UK private school A-levels ‘are grade A or A*’

Half the A-levels taken by pupils at independent schools in the UK were graded A or A* this year, according to figures from the sector.
Almost one in five was awarded the new A* grade, says the Independent Schools Council, which represents the majority of independent schools in the UK.
Across state and private schools as a whole, 8% of A-level entries were graded A*, with 27% getting an A or A*.
About 6.5% of UK pupils go to private schools, rising to 18% among over-16s.

Milwaukee Public Schools’ New Chief Academic Officer

Alan Borsuk

Heidi Ramirez does not drink alcohol, except for one shot a year of bourbon in honor of President Harry Truman.
Truman, she says, was a great president, and he had a shot of bourbon every day. But obviously that’s not the whole story.
Ramirez grew up in a large, low-income family in Amsterdam, a small city northwest of Albany, N.Y. She made it to Syracuse University, and won a prestigious Truman Scholarship, a program that is aimed at college juniors “with exceptional leadership potential” and an interest in public service.
So, a toast once a year to Truman. The scholarship paved the way for her to go on to Harvard, Stanford and jobs in which she worked with some of the most influential people in American education.
And then she came to Milwaukee, where, at 36 and with no experience teaching or administering a school, she immediately became one of the most influential people on the local education scene. She is chief academic officer of Milwaukee Public Schools, one of several outsiders brought into MPS this summer by new Superintendent Gregory Thornton.
If MPS’ education problems could be solved by personal energy, we already would have everything licked. Thornton is an energetic person and Ramirez, if anything, surpasses him. She is so hard-driving, yet cheerful about what she is doing, that some people tell her she sounds giddy about her job. “I really am,” she admits. “I feel so incredibly blessed to be part of the work. . . .  I get to do work that I love and that I think really matters.”

Are Standardized Tests Biased Against Students Who Don’t Give A …?

In the Know: Onion News Network Commentary
A new Department of Education study has shown that students who think that school is a boring waste of time score significantly lower than their peers on standardized tests. Are these standardized tests biased against students who don’t give a sh*t?
Most certainly.
Students who don’t care enough to read to the end of a word problem have been shown to score 89% lower than students who do. Should schools be doing more?

Multiculturalism and Its Discontents

Susan Jacoby:

I am an atheist with an affinity for non-fundamentalist religious believers whose faith has made room for secular knowledge. I am also a political liberal. I am not, however, a multiculturalist who believes that all cultures and religions are equally worthy of respect. And I find myself in a lonely place in relation to many liberals, political and religious, because I cannot accept a multiculturalism that tends to excuse, under the rubric of “tolerance,” religious and cultural practices that violate universal human rights.
The latest example of the Left’s blind spot on this issue is the antagonism of so many liberal reviewers toward Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s recent memoir, Nomad. The Somali-born Hirsi Ali immigrated to the United States in 2006 after her close friend, the Dutch film director Theo Van Gogh, was murdered by a radical Islamist. Hirsi Ali still needs bodyguards because of frequent death threats.

L.A. schools chief says district will adopt ‘value added’ approach

Howard Blume

Cortines wants the method based on student test scores to count for at least 30% of instructor evaluations. But the teachers union must consent.
Revamping teacher evaluations with the goal of helping instructors improve has become an urgent priority in the nation’s second-largest school district, Ramon C. Cortines, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, said in an address to administrators Wednesday.
Cortines said the district will develop and adopt a “value added” method that determines teachers’ and schools’ effectiveness based on student test scores. And he told a packed Hollywood High School auditorium that he’s committed to using these ratings for at least 30% of a teacher’s evaluation. The plan would require the consent of the teachers union.
In a later interview, Cortines also said he was disappointed that California lost its bid Tuesday for $700 million in federal Race to the Top school improvement grants. L.A. Unified’s share would have been $153 million.

Blood Lust at the Ed Reform Corral

Leo Casey

There is an old myth that vampires cannot be seen in a mirror. A vampire has no real substance, the story goes, so light simply travels through him, rather than bouncing back and creating a reflection. That myth came to mind when Tim Daly of the New Teacher Project recently asked “who’s a member of the ‘blame the teacher’ crowd?” and could not find a single person. Apparently Daly cannot see himself in a mirror.
If there was ever a question about the existence of the ‘blame the teacher’ crowd, it was surely put to rest by the response of many in the self-identified ‘education reform’ community to the prospect of a wave of teacher layoffs as schools re-opened for the 2010-11 school year. Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation, Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute, Wal-Mart Professor of Education Reform Jay Greene: the blogging boys of the educational right have told all who would listen that the education funding crisis and the prospect of massive layoffs was a good thing, and that the passage of the edu-jobs legislation mitigating those layoffs was the real disaster. With Lenin, they embrace the formula “better fewer, but better”: public schools would be better off with fewer teachers. After all, what do teachers have to do with the education of students?

At least 20 days until Woonsocket uniform hearing

Russ Olivo

It will be at least 20 days before the Rhode Island Department of Education holds a hearing on a complaint protesting Woonsocket’s mandatory school uniform policy, but free speech and other constitutional issues many see as central to the dispute will be on the back burner when it begins.
Lawyers for the Woonsocket Education Department and the American Civil Liberties Union have agreed to first take up some comparatively uncomplicated procedural issues that might end the dispute and delve into the constitutional questions only if necessary.
Their plans were were mapped out by lawyer John Dineen of the ACLU and Richard Ackerman, legal counsel for the WED, during a preliminary hearing at RIDE headquarters yesterday. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist appointed RIDE counsel Forrest Avila as hearing officer to preside over the dispute.
Dineen sat across from Ackerman and Woonsocket Schools Supt. Robert Gerardi at a long conference table as a half-dozen reporters from around the state listened during the session, which lasted about 20 minutes. No arguments were made and no witnesses were called.

How to keep your kids safe for the school year

Carmen Gonzalez Caldwell:

Well, we survived the first week of school, so for this week, let’s review as we do every year how parents can help keep kids safe.

  • Never place your child’s name on any piece of clothing that is visible to anyone. You do not want to make them a target for a stranger to call out to by name.
  • Make sure your child knows his or her full name, phone number, parents’ full names, address and a work phone number. It is not helpful when officers find children who do not know their full names or addresses.
  • Throughout the school year, talk to your child about drugs, strangers and any weapon they might see or hear about, a bully or any related concerns. Let the child know that such information should be reported to the teacher and to you immediately.
  • If your child is going into a new school or going to school for the first time, ask her whether there is anything that frightens or makes him/her uncomfortable. Share that information with the teacher or school police; officers are well-trained in safety issues.

Parents accused of defrauding San Francisco school

Associated Press

A wealthy couple is accused of bilking the San Francisco school district and insurers of about $400,000 for their autistic son’s treatment.
Prosecutors say Jonathan Dickstein and his wife, Barclay Lynn, created a dummy company and used it to double-bill the district and insurers for special education services between 2006 and 2008. The couple also is accused of defrauding the law firm where Dickstein served as a partner.

Colonel Kicked Out of Afghanistan for Anti-PowerPoint Rant

Spencer Ackerman:

Consider it a new version of death by PowerPoint. The NATO command in Afghanistan has fired a staff officer who publicly criticized its interminable briefings, its overreliance on Microsoft’s slideshow program, and what he considered its crushing bureaucracy.
Army Colonel Lawrence Sellin, a 61-year old reservist from New Jersey who served in Afghanistan and Iraq prior to this deployment, got the sack yesterday from his job as a staff officer at the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Kabul. It was barely 48 hours after United Press International ran a passionate op-ed he wrote to lament that “little of substance is really done here.” He tells Danger Room, “I feel quite rather alone here at the moment.”
The colonel’s rant called into question whether ISAF’s revamped command structure, charged with coordinating the day-by-day war effort, was much more than a briefing factory. Or, as Sellin put it, “endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information.” According to Sellin, when his commanding general (whom he doesn’t want to name) saw that Sellin described IJC as a blinkered bureaucracy, he informed the colonel that it was time to pack his things. “He was very polite and shook my hand and wished me luck,” Sellin says.

Students clock fewer study hours

Minnesota Public Radio

Economists have discovered that the earning gap for college is even bigger because students are studying far less than previous generations. Midmorning asks if students are coming to college better prepared, or if the schools are complicit in lowering standards?

San Francisco public schools a good choice

Jan Goben:

C.W. Nevius’ columns about parents’ distress over San Francisco schools rang a bell with me, and I was prompted to weigh in about my delight with the public schools my daughter has attended in San Francisco.
When my daughter was starting kindergarten, friends said: “You can’t stay in San Francisco; you have to move!” I heard this often enough that I worried. Did my husband and I have to leave the city we loved?
Well, we did decide to stay, and we entered our daughter in our neighborhood school, Fairmount Elementary. “You can’t send her there – she won’t learn anything at a Spanish immersion school,” friends protested. I worried anew.

Change & Accountability: New Jersey Governor Fires Education Chief

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey has fired his education commissioner, Bret D. Schundler, in the midst of a controversy over the state’s failure to win a $400 million education grant, the governor’s office announced Friday.
A clerical mistake in the state’s grant application had led the state to come up short by just three points in the high-stakes competition, known as Race to the Top. Mr. Christie had defended his administration’s actions on Wednesday, in part by insisting that Mr. Schundler had provided the correct information to federal reviewers in an interview two weeks ago.
But federal officials released a video on Thursday showing that Mr. Schundler and his administration had not provided the information when asked. Mr. Christie, asked later Thursday about the videotape in a radio interview, said he would be seriously disappointed if it turned out he had been misled.

Fascinating. Administrative accountability.

DFER Milwaukee Reception for Wisconsin Legislative Candidates 8/30/2010

via a Katy Venskus email

Executive Director
Invites you to a reception honoring three emerging education reform leaders:
State Senator Lena Taylor
4th Senate District
Angel Sanchez
Candidate for the 8th Assembly District

Stephanie Findley

Candidate for the 10th Assembly District
These candidates have committed to support all children in all Milwaukee schools. Please help us show them that education reform supporters in Milwaukee recognize their efforts. With your help we can elect and re-elect committed leaders who will fight for real reform and support more quality options for children and their parents.
Please join us whether you can give $5, $50 or $500 to each candidate!
When: Monday August 30th, 2010
Where: The Capital Grille
310 West Wisconsin Avenue
Time: 5:00 pm-7:00 pm
Refreshments will be served.
Free Valet Parking Provided.
RSVP: Ptosha Davis, DFER WI, 414-630-6637 or dferwisconsin@gmail.com

Related: John Nichols notes that Madison Teachers, Inc. endorsed Ben Manski in the 77th District Wisconsin Assembly primary (via a reader’s comment) election (Nichols is President of the foundation that employs Ben Manski, via David Blaska). 77th candidates Brett Hulsey and Doug Zwank kindly spent a bit of time talking about education recently.

Ann Cooper’s latest tool in the Food Revolution


Food Revolution hero Ann Cooper recently re-launched her new and improved website for The Lunch Box — a collection of scalable recipes, resources and general information to turn any school lunch system into a healthy, balanced diet for kids. One of the most exciting initiatives of this revamp is the Great American Salad Project (GASP) which, in partnership with Whole Foods, will create salad bars in over 300 schools across America. The new salad bars will give young students daily access to the fresh fruits and vegetables they need, and will be funded by donations from Whole Foods shoppers and visitors to the website. To donate, click here.
Schools can begin grant applications on September 1. If you’d like to see a fresh salad bar in your cafeteria, click here to review the process and get your app ready.

Commentary on “Waiting for Superman”; a Look at the Tortured Path Toward School Choice in New York City

Tom Friedman

Canada’s point is that the only way to fix our schools is not with a Superman or a super-theory. No, it’s with supermen and superwomen pushing super-hard to assemble what we know works: better-trained teachers working with the best methods under the best principals supported by more involved parents.
“One of the saddest days of my life was when my mother told me Superman did not exist,” Canada says in the film. “I read comic books and I just loved ’em …’cause even in the depths of the ghetto you just thought, ‘He’s coming, I just don’t know when, because he always shows up and he saves all the good people.’ ”
Then when he was in fourth or fifth grade, he asked, “Ma, do you think Superman is actually [real]?” She told him the truth: ” ‘Superman is not real.’ I was like: ‘He’s not? What do you mean he’s not?’ ‘No, he’s not real.’ And she thought I was crying because it’s like Santa Claus is not real. And I was crying because there was no one … coming with enough power to save us.”
Waiting for Superman” follows five kids and their parents who aspire to obtain a decent public education but have to enter a bingo-like lottery to get into a good charter school, because their home schools are miserable failures.
Guggenheim kicks off the film explaining that he was all for sending kids to their local public schools until “it was time to choose a school for my own children, and then reality set in. My feelings about public education didn’t matter as much as my fear of sending them to a failing school. And so every morning, betraying the ideals I thought I lived by, I drive past three public schools as I take my kids to a private school. But I’m lucky. I have a choice. Other families pin their hopes to a bouncing ball, a hand pulling a card from a box or a computer that generates numbers in random sequence. Because when there’s a great public school there aren’t enough spaces, and so we do what’s fair. We place our children and their future in the hands of luck.”
It is intolerable that in America today a bouncing bingo ball should determine a kid’s educational future, especially when there are plenty of schools that work and even more that are getting better. This movie is about the people trying to change that. The film’s core thesis is that for too long our public school system was built to serve adults, not kids. For too long we underpaid and undervalued our teachers and compensated them instead by giving them union perks. Over decades, though, those perks accumulated to prevent reform in too many districts. The best ones are now reforming, and the worst are facing challenges from charters.

Every parent and taxpayer should see this film.

California Community colleges cancel deal with online Kaplan University

Larry Gordon

California’s community colleges have dropped a controversial plan that would have allowed their students to take some courses at the online Kaplan University and make it easier to transfer to that school for a bachelor’s degree.
State community college officials Wednesday said they had canceled a 2009 agreement with Kaplan, a for-profit institution, because the University of California and Cal State University systems had not agreed to accept Kaplan courses for transfer credits. Without the transfer agreements, the plan could have harmed students and the community colleges, the officials said.
Kaplan University officials, in a statement Wednesday, said they were disappointed by the decision but “will continue to foster relationships with California community colleges and to look for innovative ways to help students meet their academic and career goals.”

Virtual schooling a good fit for this family

Katey Luckey

I am a mother of four children, two of whom are enrolled in Wisconsin Connections Academy, the state’s public K-8 virtual school. My decision to do this was based on a number of factors. My oldest son, 6, is very bright and thoughtful, but has always had difficulty in social situations. He is easily overwhelmed by crowds and tends to withdraw, and I knew he would need help and extra attention to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. My daughter, 11, had been in the public school system from the beginning and was struggling as well. I knew that she was not getting the help she needed to keep up in math, for example. Also, the social stresses at school were affecting her self-esteem, and she was losing her desire to challenge herself. I began looking into virtual schools.
I have been a long-time supporter of public schools and a fierce advocate for involving parents as partners in education. Yet I also came to realize that bricks-and-mortar schools could only go so far toward individualized education. Virtual schools, like WCA, provide the perfect opportunity for children to receive personalized education. WCA provides a public school education using state-certified teachers who work directly with learning coaches to bring personalized instruction.
It is schooling at home, not home-schooling. While they sound similar, there is a huge difference. With WCA, I am the learning coach for my children, but they learn a state-certified curriculum, just like kids in bricks-and-mortar schools. They have desks, books and computers. We even have a Smart Board in our basement that we use on a regular basis. We go on field trips and have opportunities to meet other families who have similar stories about how they came to WCA.

Bribing parents to do their jobs is an outrage, right?

Jason Spencer:

I’ll confess my initial gut reaction to the news that HISD plans to offer parents cash to show up to parent-teacher conferences and help their children study was righteous indignation. What a shame, I thought, that we’ve been reduced to paying parents to be engaged in their children’s learning. I’d be insulted if someone were to greet my wife and me with a fistful of dollars when we show up at her pre-kindergarten open house tonight.
Obviously, many of our readers had the same reaction when we posted reporter Ericka Mellon’s story to chron.com just after 1 p.m.
It took a reader going by the name of R_Dub just five minutes to fire the first shot:
“What a (expletive) discrace (sic)! HISD giving away money for grades. This is not teaching students anything other than how to manipulate the system or take advantage of others. Good job you idiots.”
Similar comments have been streaming in at a clip of about one per minute.

Choosing online schools

Oregon Live:

It is, of course, essential that Oregon ensure the rigor and quality of online charter schools and demand financial and academic transparency from the private vendors operating these “virtual schools.” But once the state is convinced that online students are receiving a quality education, why should it prevent other families from making the same choice?
The Oregon Board of Education recently spent several hours kicking this question around before concluding that parents should be allowed to choose online schools — but only up to a point. A majority of board members supported parent choice only if there was a cap on how many students could leave an individual school district. In other words, parent choice for some, but not necessarily all.
We understand the issue: State money follows students, and in theory enough students might bail out of an individual school district that it would leave that district too financially weakened to serve its remaining students.

Grading Teachers in Los Angeles Value-added measurement shows that many of the city’s teachers don’t belong in the classroom.

Marcus Winters

It’s the start of another school year, and parents everywhere are asking themselves: Is my child’s teacher any good? The Los Angeles Times recently attempted to answer that question for parents. Using a statistical technique known as “value added”–which estimates the contribution that a teacher made to a student’s test-score gains from the beginning to the end of the school year–the paper analyzed the influence of third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade teachers on the math and reading scores of students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The results suggest a wide variation in the quality of L.A.’s teachers. The paper promises a series of stories on this issue over the next several months.
The Times has admirably highlighted the importance of using data to evaluate teacher performance, confirming the findings of a wide and growing body of research. Studies show that the difference between a student’s being assigned to a good or bad teacher can mean as much as a grade level’s worth of learning over the course of a school year. While parents probably don’t need studies to tell them who the best teachers are–such information is an open secret in most public schools–academic research helps underscore the inadequacy of the methods currently used to evaluate teacher performance. Even the nation’s lowest-performing school districts routinely rate more than 95 percent of their teachers as satisfactory or higher.

Want more school funding? Bring more transparency

Lynne Varner:

No surprise that most of the assortment of supplemental school levies on the ballot had a tough time capturing the voter enthusiasm of past school-funding requests.
The state Legislature’s abdication of its education-funding responsibility hit a low point this spring when lawmakers authorized some districts to ask voters in the August primary for additional funding beyond regular levies. The result was mixed: a supplemental levy in the Marysville School District failed, a similar request in Everett clings to life and two levies in the Edmonds and Northshore school districts passed narrowly.
Primaries are tough for funding requests anyway as voters go on vacation or lose interest midway down the ballot. More than anything, though, the levy results signal a noteworthy shift. People are pinching pennies. They don’t love their children’s schools any less, and I suspect most still agree education gets the best bang for public bucks. But the lingering scent of recession is forcing most of us down a new, more subdued path.

Bill Cosby, Jesse Jackson join Back to School rally in Detroit

Darren Nichols:

Hundreds of parents, teachers and school children wearing blue “I’m In” T-shirts marched along Woodward today for the second annual Back to School parade and rally downtown.
Comedian Bill Cosby, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and television and syndicated radio personality Rickey Smiley participated in the parade that culminated with a rally at Hart Plaza.
“We should just work on making Detroit a better place and DPS (better),” said Brandon Bailey, 14, who will attend Cass Technical High School this fall.
“It’s very important that DPS stays good financially, education-wise and just keeping kids on track and on task.”
The rally is a part of the district’s efforts retain students for the “I’m In” enrollment campaign. The district is seeking to target 77,313 students for this fall. Officials said last year’s campaign exceeded expectations by bring in 830 additional students and generating about $6.2 million for the financially strapped district.

Replacing a Pile of Textbooks With an iPad

Nick Bilton

When I’m not blogging away about technology for the Bits Blog, I’m also an adjunct professor at New York University in the Interactive Telecommunications Program.
The program is a technology-focused graduate course, so it came as no surprise when four of my students walked into class in early April with fancy new Apple iPads in hand. After the students got past the novelty factor, a debate ensued about how the iPad would fit into their school life. One factor the students discussed was the ability to carry less “stuff” in their backpacks: the iPad can replace magazines, notepads, even a laptop.
Now there’s an iPad application that could further lighten the load. A new company called Inkling hopes to break the standard textbook model and help textbooks enter the interactive age by letting students share and comment on the texts and interact with fellow students.

New report highlights the best and worst of Detroit’s schools


A new report by Excellent Schools Detroit is highlighting the best and worst Detroit’s schools.
The report is a report card of sorts about almost every school in the city. It ranks the schools from best to worst based on MEAP test results for elementary and middle schools and ACT results for high schools.
The report is meant to be used as a guide for parents who want to find the best school for their children. The authors recommend parents examine the data on their child’s current schools and then look at the data from other schools that they could attend.
Among the best elementary schools in Detroit are the private Cornerstone School – Nevada Primary and Martin Luther King Jr. Education Center Academy, a charter school. Also included are the Bates Academy and Chrysler, both of which have special admissions requirements.

Race to the Top: The Day After

Andrew Rotherham:

I had the craziest dream last night, Louisiana, a state that is a leader on all the things that the administration says are priorities didn’t get Race to the Top funding…oh wait…

Anyway, New York never disappoints, the Patterson presser is one for the ages. ‘Race to the cock?’ What the hell?

Big takeaways beyond the RTT issues below, are that the odds of seeing consistent and deep change across all Race to the Top winners got a lot longer with this round of selections. But the two fundamental questions basically remain the same and can’t be answered yet: How durable will the many RTT-inspired policy changes prove to be and will those changes actually improve student learning?

Should You Teach Your Kids Chinese?

More Intelligent Life

When I get into cocktail-party conversation about language and politics, someone inevitably says “and of course there’s the rise of China.” It seems like any conversation these days has to work in the rise-of-China angle. Technology is changing society? Well, it’s the flood of cheap tech from China. Worried about your job? It’s the rise of China. Terrified of nuclear Iran? If only that rising China would stop resisting sanctions. What’s for lunch? Well, we’d all better develop a taste for Chinese food.
I was reminded of this walking down New York’s Park Avenue last night, when I saw a pre-school offering immersion courses in French, Italian, Spanish and Chinese. For years now, we’ve been seeing stories like this: Manhattan parents, always eager to steal some advantage for their children, are hiring Mandarin-speaking nannies, so their children can learn what some see as the language of the future.
But while China’s rise is real, Chinese is in no way rising at the same rate. Yes, Mandarin Chinese is the world’s most commonly spoken language, if you simply count the number of speakers. But the rub is that they’re almost all in China. Yes, we’ve also read that Mandarin is advancing in Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas Chinese communities (which have traditionally spoken one of China’s other languages, such as Cantonese). And China is trying to expand the use of the language through the expansion of its overseas Confucius Institutes. But English remains the world’s most important language. America’s superpower status has made it everyone’s favourite second language. This is where its power lies. A Japanese businessman does deals in Sweden in English. A German airline pilot landing in Milan speaks English to the tower. English is also the language of writing intended for an international audience, whether scientific, commercial or literary.

Watch kids’ backs, parents told

Vernon Neo:

Children who carry schoolbags and adopt improper postures while sleeping, walking and doing homework are susceptible to spinal problems, chiropractors warned.
A Children Chiropractic Foundation survey of 1,298 Primary One to Six students from September last year to May this year found 18 percent of them suffered from spinal problems.
Foundation member Tony Cheung Kai-shui said girls are more susceptible to spinal problems as their growth development is faster compared with boys of the same age.
Cheung noted that common symptoms of spinal problems are headaches, chest pains, asthma, back pains and overall weakness.

Lesson Plan in Boston Schools: Don’t Go It Alone

Mike Winerip:

Earlier this year Massachusetts enacted a law that allowed districts to remove at least half the teachers and the principal at their lowest-performing schools. The school turnaround legislation aligned the state with the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program incentives and a chance to collect a piece of the $3.4 billion in federal grant money.
From Washington this makes abundant good sense, a way to galvanize rapid and substantial change in schools for children who need it most.
In practice, on the ground, it is messy for the people most necessary for turning a school around — the teachers — and not always fair.
Often the decisions about which teachers will stay and which will go are made by new principals who may be very good, but don’t know the old staff. “We had several good teachers asked to leave,” said Heather Gorman, a fourth-grade teacher who will be staying at Blackstone Elementary here, where 38 of 50 teachers were removed. “Including my sister who’s been a special-ed teacher 22 years.”

Enough ABCs From iPhone / iPad App Developers

Daniel Donahoo:

Here at GeekDad we are fortunate to spend time reviewing and exploring the increasing number of applications design to entertain, educate and amuse our children. The sudden rise in accessible touch technology through smartphones and tablets combined with the business model provided through App Stores to developers has turned application development into a modern day equivalent of a gold rush. Everyone is out there, developing apps as quickly as possible – hoping to strike it rich with a well designed flatulence application – and consequently flooding the market with sub-standard applications that see them back up their tent and leave the electronic frontier as quickly as they came.
Consequently, there are a lot of apps for kids that are not well thought through, not developmentally appropriate, or simply way too generic! And, in my professional life and personal life having reviewed and played a lot of these games I think it is time to ask developers to start focusing on quality, rather than quantity.

Scholars Test Web Alternative to Peer Review

Patricia Cohen

For professors, publishing in elite journals is an unavoidable part of university life. The grueling process of subjecting work to the up-or-down judgment of credentialed scholarly peers has been a cornerstone of academic culture since at least the mid-20th century.
Now some humanities scholars have begun to challenge the monopoly that peer review has on admission to career-making journals and, as a consequence, to the charmed circle of tenured academe. They argue that in an era of digital media there is a better way to assess the quality of work. Instead of relying on a few experts selected by leading publications, they advocate using the Internet to expose scholarly thinking to the swift collective judgment of a much broader interested audience.
“What we’re experiencing now is the most important transformation in our reading and writing tools since the invention of movable type,” said Katherine Rowe, a Renaissance specialist and media historian at Bryn Mawr College. “The way scholarly exchange is moving is radical, and we need to think about what it means for our fields.”

Plan to raise cash for US school reforms

Anna Fifield:

The Obama administration will ask Congress for another $700-800m next year so it can continue its Race to the Top education reform scheme, says Arne Duncan, the US education secretary.
The scheme, which saw another 10 reforming states receive $3.4bn in funding on Tuesday, has proven wildly popular as many states face budget crises.

Chicago Teacher’s Union: ‘Education on the cheap’ – Online Classes

Fran Spielman:

The Chicago Teachers Union on Tuesday accused Mayor Daley’s handpicked school team of hiring “baby sitters” to provide “education on the cheap” — online, after-school classes in reading and math that will extend one of the nation’s shortest school days for 5,500 students.
“When the kids are tired and they want to go home and they don’t want to do this any more, what happens? I’m a little concerned about how this plays out over an entire year,” said union president Karen Lewis.
At a news conference at Walsh Elementary School, 2015 S. Peoria, Daley acknowledged that “some parents and teachers will not support” his efforts to use computerized learning to extend the school day.
But he argued that an extra 90 minutes a day would add up to 255 more hours a year. That’s a 25 percent increase in a school day that pales by comparison to other major cities, he said.
“This is all about children and not about adults. . . . Education doesn’t end at 2:45” p.m., the mayor said.
Schools CEO Ron Huberman added, “All of our efforts to expand the school day with the traditional work force were, unfortunately, rejected. This has been the mayor’s push to say, ‘Despite constraints, we must find a way to do this.’ “

Virtual learning is an important and desirable part of the K-12 world.

With limited training, Teach for America recruits play expanding role in schools

Michael Birnbuam:

Four months ago, Jamila Best was still in college. Two months ago, she started training to become a teacher. Monday morning, the 21-year-old will walk into a D.C. classroom, take a deep breath and dive into one of the most difficult assignments in public education.
Best is one of 4,500 Teach for America recruits placed in public schools this year after five weeks of summer preparation. The quickly expanding organization says that the fast track enables talented young instructors to be matched with schools that badly need them — and the Obama administration agrees. This month, Teach for America won a $50 million federal grant that will help the program nearly double in the next four years.
But many educators and experts question the premise that teaching is best learned on the job and doesn’t require extensive study beforehand. They wonder how Best and her peers will handle tough situations they will soon face. Best, with a Howard University degree in sociology and psychology, will teach students with disabilities at Cesar Chavez Parkside Middle School in Northeast Washington. She has none of the standard credentials for special education.
“I’m ready to go,” Best said last week at the public charter school as she put finishing touches on her lesson plans. “The challenges will come.”

Racing to restore education standards: Arne Duncan on Race to the Top

Anna Fifield; video:

Arne Duncan, US education secretary, tells Anna Fifield, the FT’s US political correspondent, that the “Race to the Top” programme has led to a “quiet revolution” with 36 hard-up states implementing reforms simply in the hope of receiving federal funding. Despite opposition from teachers’ unions, Mr Duncan says the administration will continue to push for change, although it will not raise the proportion of education funding that comes from the federal government.

Which cities are most willing to tackle education reform?

Amanda Paulson:

A report released Tuesday ranks cities not in terms of best-performing schools but on their openness to outside ideas and education reform.
Education entrepreneurs – the sort of people who want to open a new charter school, or have an innovative way to get talented new teachers into schools – would do well to head to New Orleans. Or Washington or New York.
At least that’s the judgment of “America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents,” a study released Tuesday that’s attempting to rank cities in a new way. It doesn’t look at how well their students perform, or even on the programs their districts have put in place, but on how welcoming they are to reforms and new ideas. The education version of the World Bank’s annual ranking of the best countries for business, if you will.

Complete Study: 9.9MB PDF:

Enter the education entrepreneur, a problem-solver who has developed a different and–it is to be hoped–better approach to teaching and learning, either inside or outside the traditional school system. He or she may provide, among other things, a novel form of brick and mortar teaching, an alternative version of teacher recruitment or training, or time-saving software and tools that make for more efficient instruction and surer learning. Which cities would welcome and support such problem-solvers by helping to bring their ideas to scale, improve their odds of success, and nurture their growth? Put another way, which cities have the most reform-friendly ecosystems?
To answer this question, analysts examined six domains that shape a jurisdiction’s receptivity to education reform:
Human Capital: Entrepreneurs need access to a ready flow of talented individuals, whether to staff their own operations or fill the district’s classrooms.
Financial Capital: A pipeline of flexible funding from private and/or public sources is vital for nonprofit organizations trying to break into a new market or scale up their operations.
Charter Environment: Charter schools are one of the primary entrees through which entrepreneurs can penetrate new markets, both as direct education providers and as consumers of other nontraditional goods and services.
Quality Control: Lest we unduly credit innovation per se, the study takes into account the quality- control metrics that appraise and guide entrepreneurial ventures.
District Environment: Because many nontraditional providers must contract with the district in order to work in the city, finding a district that is both open to nontraditional reforms and has the organiza- tional capacity to deal with them in a speedy and professional manner can make or break an entrepreneur’s foray into a new market.
Municipal Environment: Beyond the school district, is the broader community open to, even eager for, nontraditional providers? Consider, for example, the stance of business leaders, the mayor, and the media.
Drawing on publicly available data, national and local survey data, and interviews with on-the-ground insiders, analysts devised a grading metric that rated each city on its individual and collective accom- plishments in each of these areas.

‘Impossible’ working conditions for teachers

I have just returned from giving a three-day workshop on student history research papers for English and Social Studies teachers, both high school and middle school, in Collier Country, Florida.
They assessed and discussed four high school student research papers using the procedures of the National Writing Board. We went over some of the consequences for a million of our students each year who graduate from high school and are required to take (and pay for) non-credit remedial courses when they get to college.
I talked to them about the advantages students have if they have written a serious paper, like the International Baccalaureate Extended Essay, in high school, and the difficulties with both reading nonfiction books and writing term papers which students (and college graduates) have if they have not been asked to do those tasks in high school.
It was a diligent, pleasant and interesting group of teachers, and I was glad to have had the chance to meet with them for a few days. They seemed genuinely interested in having their students do serious papers and be better prepared for college (and career).
At lunch on the last day, however, I discovered that Florida is a “right to work” state, and that their local union is rather weak, so they each have six classes of 30 or more students (180 students). One teacher is being asked to teach seven classes this year, with 30 or more students in each (210).
After absorbing the fact of this shameful and irresponsible number of assigned students, I realized that if these teachers were to ask for the 20-page history research paper which is typical of the ones I publish in The Concord Review, they would have 3,600 pages to read, correct, and comment on when they were turned in, not to mention the extra hours guiding students through their research and writing efforts. The one teacher with 210 students would have 4,200 pages of papers presented to him at the end of term.
It made me both sad and angry that these willing teachers, who want their students to be prepared for higher education, have been given impossible working conditions which will most certainly prevent them from helping their students get ready for the academic reading and writing tasks which await them in college (and career).
The Washington Post
25 August 2010
Valerie Strauss

America: Land of Loners?

Daniel Akst:

Americans, plugged in and on the move, are confiding in their pets, their computers, and their spouses. What they need is to rediscover the value of friendship.
Science-fiction writers make the best seers. In the late 1950s far-sighted Isaac Asimov imagined a sunny planet called Solaria, on which a scant 20,000 humans dwelt on far-flung estates and visited one another only virtually, by materializing as “trimensional images”–avatars, in other words. “They live completely apart,” a helpful robot explained to a visiting earthling, “and never see one another except under the most extraordinary circumstances.”
We have not, of course, turned into Solarians here on earth, strictly limiting our numbers and shunning our fellow humans in revulsion. Yet it’s hard not to see some Solarian parallels in modern life. Since Asimov wrote The Naked Sun, Americans have been engaged in wholesale flight from one another, decamping for suburbs and Sunbelt, splintering into ever smaller households, and conducting more and more of their relationships online, where avatars flourish. The churn rate of domestic relations is especially remarkable, and has rendered family life in the United States uniquely unstable. “No other comparable nation,” the sociologist Andrew J. Cherlin observes, “has such a high level of multiple marital and cohabiting unions.”

L.A. Times testing series raises more questions

Jay Matthews:

Few education stories have excited me as much as the series on teacher assessment being done by reporters Jason Song, Jason Felch and Doug Smith of the Los Angeles Times. They have dug up a goldmine of data on the student test score gains of 6,000 individual elementary school teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, information that the district has refused to show to parents despite pleas from its staff to do so.
The latest story in the series, “L.A.’s leaders in learning,” does many things that I think are crucial to improving American education, and fit what I have been trying to do calculating the level of challenge in high schools, nationally and in the Washington area, the last 12 years.
The latest Times story focuses on how schools as a whole, not individual teachers, are doing in raising achievement. That emphasis encourages schools to create team-like cultures in which everyone works to make everyone else better. The story buttresses the central point of the series–that schools that seem similar to parents trying to choose where to send their children look very different when unreported data like relative test score gains are revealed. It also shows in a dramatic way the uselessness of our usual means of rating schools. Those that have the highest test scores are considered the best, even though achievement measured that way reflects the average incomes of the parents far more than it does the quality of the teaching.

How does a $578 million school get built amid cuts, layoffs in L.A.?

Daniel Wood:

A football-field-sized lawn – lined with walks and trees – stretches from the street to a five-story, glass-front building in this otherwise scruffy neighborhood just west of downtown skyscrapers.
On the site of the Ambassador Hotel, known as the site of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968, now sprawl 23 acres of elementary, middle and high school buildings which will serve the poorest, most congested, and diverse district of America’s second-largest school system.
It’s price tag of $578 million makes it the most expensive public school in American history and an easy target of criticism. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has laid off 3,000 teachers in the past two years and is cutting academic programs this year to close a $640 million budget gap.

No hables con mi hija en inglés!


IT’S AUGUST, and time to reheat an old story, as most sensible journalists are on holiday (as I will be next week). Today the New York Times reports a trend in families seeking bilingual nannies. They reported on this same trend in 2006, with specific reference to Chinese nannies.
Parents think kids get a benefit from bilingualism, and they’re probably right. But this article does mention some of the costs I hadn’t seen mentioned before: word retrieval is said by Ellen Bialystock, a psychologist at York University in Toronto, to be milliseconds slower in bilingual kids than in monolingual ones. Overall vocabulary in the first language tends to be somewhat smaller (though overall vocabulary in both languages combined is of course greater). “It doesn’t make kids smarter,” says Ms Bialystock, though there are clear cognitive “developments”, some good, some less so.

Germ warfare: the end of antibiotics

Sarah Boseley:

A world without antibiotics could be a mere 10 years away as science and nature compete in a battle that may render some routine operations too risky to consider.
Just 65 years ago, David Livermore’s paternal grandmother died following an operation to remove her appendix. It didn’t go well but it was not the surgery that killed her. She succumbed to a series of infections that the pre-penicillin world had no drugs to treat. Welcome to the future.
The era of antibiotics is coming to a close. In just a couple of generations, what once appeared to be miracle medicines have been beaten into ineffectiveness by the bacteria they were designed to knock out. Once, scientists hailed the end of infectious diseases. Now, the post-antibiotic apocalypse is within sight.
Hyperbole? Unfortunately not. This month, the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases posed the question over a paper revealing the rapid spread of drug-resistant bacteria. “Is this the end of antibiotics?” it asked.

Poor economy cuts into college athletics

Alan Scher Zagier:

Count college sports among the sagging economy’s latest victims.
A newly released NCAA report shows that just 14 of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision schools made money from campus athletics in the 2009 fiscal year, down from 25 the year before.
Researchers blame the sagging economy and suggested that next year’s numbers could be even worse.
The research was done by accounting professor Dan Fulks of Transylvania University, a Division III school in Lexington, Ky. It shows the median amount paid by the 120 FBS schools to support campus athletics grew in one year from about $8 million to more than $10 million.

Ambitious School Overhaul Drive Hits Delays

Sam Dillon

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan set an ambitious goal last year of overhauling 1,000 schools a year, using billions of dollars in federal stimulus money.
But that effort is off to an uneven start. Schools from Maine to California are starting the fall term with their overhaul plans postponed or in doubt because negotiations among federal regulators, state officials and local educators have led to delays and confusion.
In this sprawling district east of Los Angeles, for example, the authorities announced plans earlier this year to use the program to convert Pacific High, one of California’s worst-performing schools, to a charter school, involving a comprehensive makeover.

Milwaukee layoffs a hard lesson for young teachers

Erin Richards

The insulated cooler sits on the playground bench, untouched.
Beside it, elementary school teacher Alica Magolan waits out her lunch break. She doesn’t have much appetite these days.
On one hand, she’s fortunate: She was recalled after being laid off from her job teaching third-graders at Humboldt Park Elementary School in Bay View. But that uncertainty has been replaced by a new stress: teaching at a north side school with a different culture, to a new grade level, leading a subject in which she has no specialized background.
The learning curve is a hairpin turn. The stomachaches come nightly.
“I know that people are like, ‘Well, you got a call, so you should be happy.’ ” Magolan said. “But I can’t help it that I miss my school.”
At 29, Magolan is one of many young teachers whose lives have changed dramatically since MPS sent layoff notices to 482 educators in June, almost twice the number of positions former superintendent William Andrekopoulos indicated the district would need to cut to balance the budget.
Suddenly jobless, fearing house payments and monthly bills, some on layoff accepted lower-paying educational positions elsewhere. A few landed highly competitive jobs in suburban public schools or other city schools. Some changed careers entirely.

Tracking Federal Tax “Stimulus” K-12 Spending

Susan Troller:

Where is stimulus money for education going, and how much has been spent? Here’s a new website that provides tracking for these significant, multi-billion dollar questions.
Kudos to the Education Writers Association for taking on this huge data gathering project, and to Bill and Melinda Gates who are funding it for the next two years.
When it comes to following the money, the flow of dollars is impressive: For example, Milwaukee has been allocated $202.6 million so far in stimulus money for its approximately 90,000 public school children; 58 percent, or $117.7 million, has been spent. Meanwhile, Madison has gotten $21.8 million in stimulus funds, and has spent around $12 million, or 55 percent for almost 25,000 students. I was also curious about smaller Dane County districts and their information is available too from Edmoney.org. For example: Sun Prairie, celebrating the grand public opening of its gorgeous new high school August 28 (go here for information about the festivities and school tours), has been awarded $6.6 million in stimulus funds and has spent $5.6 million of that. Middleton? $3.5 million awarded; $2.8 million spent. Verona? $4.9 million awarded; $4.3 spent.

Does Professor Quality Matter? Measures of Value-Added

Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors by Scott Carrel and James West present a study of value-added measures, instructor quality, and student achievement using the unique data panel from the U.S. Air Force Academy.
[At the USAFA], students are randomly assigned to professors over a wide variety of standardized core courses. The random assignment of students to professors, along with a vast amount of data on both professors and students, allows us to examine how professor quality affects student achievement free from the usual problems of self-selection…. [P]erformance in USAFA core courses is a consistent measure of student achievement because faculty members teaching the same course use an identical syllabus and give the same exams during a common testing period. Finally, USAFA students are required to take and are randomly assigned to numerous follow-on courses in mathematics, humanities, basic sciences, and engineering. Performance in these mandatory follow-on courses is arguably a more persistent measurement of student learning.
Results show that there are statistically significant and sizable differences in student achievement across introductory course professors in both contemporaneous and follow-on course achievement. However, our results indicate that professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement, on average, harm the subsequent performance of their students in more advanced classes. Academic rank, teaching experience, and terminal degree status of professors are negatively correlated with contemporaneous value-added but positively correlated with follow-on course value-added. Hence, students of less experienced instructors who do not possess a doctorate perform significantly better in the contemporaneous course but perform worse in the follow-on related curriculum.

The internet: is it changing the way we think?

John Naughton:

American writer Nicholas Carr’s claim that the internet is not only shaping our lives but physically altering our brains has sparked a lively and ongoing debate, says John Naughton. Below, a selection of writers and experts offer their opinion
Every 50 years or so, American magazine the Atlantic lobs an intellectual grenade into our culture. In the summer of 1945, for example, it published an essay by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineer Vannevar Bush entitled “As We May Think“. It turned out to be the blueprint for what eventually emerged as the world wide web. Two summers ago, the Atlantic published an essay by Nicholas Carr, one of the blogosphere’s most prominent (and thoughtful) contrarians, under the headline “Is Google Making Us Stupid?“.

Putting New Tools in Students’ Hands

Alice Rawsthorn:

Why would you study design if you weren’t planning to become a designer? Especially if you were a high school student in a depressed rural area of the United States, like Bertie County, one of the poorest counties in North Carolina, where 80 percent of students live in poverty, and your best chance of employment will be a low-skilled job in agriculture or biotechnology.
Why indeed? Yet all 16 teenagers in the 11th grade at the School of Agriscience and Biotechnology at the Bertie Early College High School have committed to attending an experimental design course, Studio H, for three hours every day in the new school year. An abandoned car body shop behind the school has been converted into a classroom, studio and workshop for the course. By the end of it, the students will have designed a community project, a farmers’ market to sell locally gown produce, and will then be paid to build it over the summer.
Because of Bertie County’s poverty, “very few of these kids will become designers,” said Emily Pilloton, founder of the humanitarian design group, Project H, who recently moved to Bertie County from San Francisco to run Studio H with Project H’s project architect, Matthew Miller.

Superintendent Climate Locally and Elsewhere: Collier School Board candidates evaluate how to replace Dennis Thompson; An Update on the 2008 Madison Candidates?

Naples Daily News:

Now that Collier County schools Superintendent Dennis Thompson’s contract isn’t getting renewed, the nine Collier School Board candidates have to think about what the next superintendent will be like.
After all, three of them will be involved in the selection of the next superintendent, which current board members agreed shouldn’t start until after the November election.
The primary election is Tuesday.
While the candidates believe a search should start and include community input, they differ on the approach to that search.
District 5 candidate Mary Ellen Cash was the only candidate to recommend saving the money from a nationwide search by hiring from within the district or area.
“We have a lot of home-grown people with a lot of talent,” she said.

Locally, the Madison School Board has held three meetings during the past two months on the Superintendent’s (Dan Nerad) evaluation:
6/29 Superintendent Evaluation, 7/12 Evaluation of the Superintendent, 8/9 Evaluation of the Superintendent.
The lack of Superintendent oversight was in issue in school board races a few years ago.
Steve Gallon (more) was a candidate for the Madison position in 2008, along with Jim McIntyre.
2008 Madison Superintendent candidate appearances: Steve Gallon, Jim McIntyre and Dan Nerad.

“The Courage” to Spend on Schools

Frederick Hess:

This definition of courage has become something of a theme for Obama’s Education Department — despite its reputation for gritty reform-mindedness. Earlier this summer, Maura Policelli, the department’s senior adviser for external affairs, told state officials to stop worrying about funding and “to see how [stimulus] funds can help alleviate layoffs.” She explained that this “require[s] some courage because it does involve the possible risk of investing in staff that you may not be able to retain in the 2011-12 school year.” When one official asked what would happen if a state had “unspent [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] money after 2011,” Policelli said: “You will be fired.” Looks like courage is not just about spending, but about spending quickly.
All of this might be laughable if the feds weren’t making it harder for states and school districts to prepare for rough seas ahead. When asked by the Associated Press what happens if districts use this money as a short-term fix and stand to get hammered next year, Duncan replied, “Well, we’re focused right now, Donna, on this school year. . . . We’re hopeful we’ll be in a much better spot next year.”
Well, while Duncan can hope to his heart’s content, the reality is that things will get much worse for schools before they get better. Scott Pattison, the executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, notes, “There are so many issues that go way beyond the current downturn. . . . This is an awful time for states fiscally, but they’re even more worried about 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.” Property taxes account for about a third of school spending, but property-tax valuations tend to lag property values by three years — which mean school districts are on the front end of a slide that’s got several years to run. And, as the authors of a recent Rockefeller Institute report note, “Even if overall economic conditions continue to improve throughout 2010, fiscal recovery for the states historically lags behind a national economic turnaround and can be expected to do so in the aftermath of the recent recession.”

More Comments on the Los Angeles Value Added Assessment Report

Melissa Westbrook:

So most of you may have heard that the LA Times is doing a huge multi-part story about teacher evaluation. One of the biggest parts is a listing of every single public school teacher and their classroom test scores (and the teachers are called out by name).
From the article:

Though the government spends billions of dollars every year on education, relatively little of the money has gone to figuring out which teachers are effective and why.
Seeking to shed light on the problem, The Times obtained seven years of math and English test scores from the Los Angeles Unified School District and used the information to estimate the effectiveness of L.A. teachers — something the district could do but has not.
The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students’ progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student’s performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.

Interestingly, the LA Times apparently had access to more than 50 elementary school classrooms. (Yes, I know it’s public school but man, you can get pushback as a parent to sit in on a class so I’m amazed they got into so many.) And guess what, these journalists, who may or may not have ever attended a public school or have kids, made these observations:

Censors shut website that translates US courses

Fiona Tam:

A non-profit mainland website that provided free translations of open courses on philosophy, history and 10 other subjects from prestigious US universities including Harvard and Yale has been shut down by mainland censors, apparently because of political concerns.
The YYeTs website, also known as “Everyone’s movie and television”, published a statement yesterday saying its servers had been confiscated by the government on Thursday and it was co-operating with an investigation by the authorities.
“We’re sorry to announce that the website was shut down by regional authorities from the culture, radio, TV, film, press and publication administration on Thursday afternoon for some reasons,” the statement said.
“Our servers have been confiscated … and we’ll clean out all content published on the website.”

Western Schools Sprout in S. Korea

Choe Sang-Hun:

Here on Jeju Island, famous for its tangerine groves, pearly beaches and honeymoon resorts, South Korea is conducting a bold educational experiment, one intended to bolster opportunity at home and attract investment from abroad.
By 2015, if all goes according to plan, 12 prestigious Western schools will have opened branch campuses in a government-financed, 940-acre Jeju Global Education City, a self-contained community within Seogwipo, where everyone — students, teachers, administrators, doctors, store clerks — will speak only English. The first school, North London Collegiate, broke ground for its campus this month.
While this is the country’s first enclave constructed expressly around foreign-style education, individual campuses are opening elsewhere. Dulwich College, a private British school, is scheduled to open a branch in Seoul, the capital, in a few weeks. And the Chadwick School of California is set to open a branch in Songdo, a new town rising west of Seoul, around the same time.

Time With Mom and Dad: Making It Fair

Jeff Opdyke:

“It isn’t fair.”
I’d be willing to bet that somewhere, some kid is uttering those words at this very moment. And most likely the outburst was triggered by sibling rivalry.
Amy and I got a taste of it (hardly our first) a while back when we took our 13-year-old son to see the latest installment of the “Twilight” movie saga. He has read all the books and seen the first two movies, so we’ve been promising we would take him as soon as we could.
Our 7-year-old daughter stayed with her grandmother, Amy’s mom. We knew various scenes in the movie — as well as the dark, overarching theme of vampires and werewolves — would simply be too scary for her.
So we arranged for her and her grandmother to have dinner at a restaurant our daughter likes. That way everyone would be happy.
Or so we thought.

LA unveils $578M school, costliest in the nation

Christina Hoag:

Next month’s opening of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools will be auspicious for a reason other than its both storied and infamous history as the former Ambassador Hotel, where the Democratic presidential contender was assassinated in 1968. With an eye-popping price tag of $578 million, it will mark the inauguration of the nation’s most expensive public school ever.
The K-12 complex to house 4,200 students has raised eyebrows across the country as the creme de la creme of “Taj Mahal” schools, $100 million-plus campuses boasting both architectural panache and deluxe amenities.
“There’s no more of the old, windowless cinderblock schools of the ’70s where kids felt, ‘Oh, back to jail,'” said Joe Agron, editor-in-chief of American School & University, a school construction journal. “Districts want a showpiece for the community, a really impressive environment for learning.”
Not everyone is similarly enthusiastic.

Free education?

Spencer Daily Reporter:

I remember hearing it somewhere.
What’s that term again, oh yes, “free education.”
Anyone can get a public education because it’s free.
Really, because I just spent close to $90 at one of our fine local retailers picking up a few of those last minute mandated items for that free education.
Obviously when you’re talking about parochial or private schools, there is a degree of tuition associated with that choice. But the public school system is supposed to be something that we pay taxes to cover.
And yet each year, I see a rack of flyers for each school within a one-hour radius with lots of small lettering detailing every item the students must have to attend the public schools to acquire their free public education.

A Look at the Madison School District’s Use of Infinite Campus

Susan Troller:

Since Andie was in 6th grade – she’ll be entering 8th grade Sept. 1 – the Smith family has used Infinite Campus, an electronic data system that gives parents access to information about how students are doing in school. It often provides more information than the typical middle school student brings home and it helps parents know from week-to-week what’s going on in the classroom. Madison, like most other Dane County school districts, has been using some form of electronic communication system for the last several years.
“I don’t have to ask to look at her planner anymore,” says Smith. “And, her group of teachers at Toki wrote a weekly newsletter last year that I could read online. When your kids get into middle school, they’ve got more classes, and parents generally have fewer connections with the teachers so I really appreciate the way it works.”
For the first time this year, Smith, like the rest of the parents and guardians of the approximately 24,000 students in the Madison Metropolitan School District, is using the online system to enroll her children in class. She also has a son, Sam, who will be a 5th grader at Chavez Elementary this fall. District officials hope that giving parents a password and user ID at the enrollment stage will expand the number of parents using Infinite Campus. A primary goal is to help increase communication ties between home and school, which is a proven way to engage kids and boost academic achievement.
But whether all parents will take to the system remains to be seen. Despite the boom in electronic communication, there are plenty of homes without computers, especially in urban school districts like Madison where poverty levels are rising. The extent to which teachers will buy in is also unclear. Teachers are required to post report cards and attendance online, but things like test scores, assignments and quizzes will be discretionary.

Much more on Infinite Campus and “Standards Based Report Cards”, here.

Value Added Models& Student Information Systems

147K PDF via a Dan Dempsey email:

The following abstract and conclusion is taken from:
Volume 4, Issue 4 – Fall 2009 – Special Issue: Key Issues in Value-Added Modeling
Would Accountability Based on Teacher Value Added Be Smart Policy? An Examination of the Statistical Properties and Policy Alternatives
Douglas N. Harris of University of Wisconsin Madison
Education Finance and Policy Fall 2009, Vol. 4, No. 4: 319-350.
Available here:
Annual student testing may make it possible to measure the contributions to student achievement made by individual teachers. But would these “teacher value added” measures help to improve student achievement? I consider the statistical validity, purposes, and costs of teacher value-added policies. Many of the key assumptions of teacher value added are rejected by empirical evidence. However, the assumption violations may not be severe, and value-added measures still seem to contain useful information. I also compare teacher value-added accountability with three main policy alternatives: teacher credentials, school value-added accountability, and formative uses of test data. I argue that using teacher value-added measures is likely to increase student achievement more efficiently than a teacher credentials-only strategy but may not be the most cost-effective policy overall. Resolving this issue will require a new research and policy agenda that goes beyond analysis of assumptions and statistical properties and focuses on the effects of actual policy alternatives.
A great deal of attention has been paid recently to the statistical assumptions of VAMs, and many of the most important papers are contained in the present volume. The assumptions about the role of past achievement in affecting current achievement (Assumption No. 2) and the lack of variation in teacher effects across student types (Assumption No. 4) seem least problematic. However, unobserved differences are likely to be important, and it is unclear whether the student fixed effects models, or any other models, really account for them (Assumption No. 3). The test scale is also a problem and will likely remain so because the assumptions underlying the scales are untestable. There is relatively little evidence on how administration and teamwork affect teachers (Assumption No. 1).

Related: Value Added Assessment, Standards Based Report Cards and Los Angeles’s Value Added Teacher Data.
Many notes and links on the Madison School District’s student information system: Infinite Campus are here.

Why so many colleges are education-free zones

Melanie Kirkpatrick

If you have a child in college, or are planning to send one there soon, Craig Brandon has a message for you: Be afraid. Be very afraid.
The Five-Year Party” provides the most vivid portrait of college life since Tom Wolfe’s 2004 novel, “I Am Charlotte Simmons.” The difference is that it isn’t fiction. The alcohol-soaked, sex-saturated, drug-infested campuses that Mr. Brandon writes about are real. His book is a roadmap for parents on how to steer clear of the worst of them.
Many of the schools Mr. Brandon describes are education-free zones, where students’ eternal obligations–do the assigned reading, participate in class, hand in assignments–no longer apply. The book’s title refers to the fact that only 30% of students enrolled in liberal-arts colleges graduate in four years. Roughly 60% take at least six years to get their degrees. That may be fine with many schools, whose administrators see dollar signs in those extra semesters.

Critical Thinking in Schools

Letters to the New York Times Editor

Schools Given Grade on How Graduates Do” (front page, Aug. 10) was revealing of system failure on several levels.
Especially telling for me were the comments by a remedial writing teacher at a community college who noted: “They don’t know how to develop an argument. They have very little ability to get past rhetoric and critically analyze what is motivating the writer.”
This teacher’s observation highlights what may well be the school system’s worst deficiency in terms of skills development: a failure to promote critical thinking. That skill is fundamental if our youth are to become thoughtful workers and thoughtful citizens of a democratic society rather than robots. Developing it can’t be left to writing classes alone but must happen throughout the curriculum.

An educational odyssey across three generations

Hector Tobar:

Striving to be a dad, I read “The Odyssey” this summer.
You probably know the story. Odysseus is trying to make his way back home from the battlefield at Troy. He’s been away at war for two decades.
But the gods punish him again and again on the sea journey home. With each new disaster that befalls him, Odysseus longs more for his wife and son. Finally he reaches the soil of his beloved Ithaca and speaks this line lamenting all he had lost by seeking glory in battle:
…I had no love for working the land, the chores of household either, the labor that raises crops of shining children.
That line caught my attention because I was reading “The Odyssey” precisely to help raise my family “crop.” My 14-year-old son enters high school in a few weeks and “The Odyssey” was his assigned summer reading.

D.C. charter schools face unfunded mandates

Deborah Simmons:

D.C. schools open their doors Monday morning for the start of a new year, and charter parents and advocates say a new problem is compounding an old one.
This school year, the D.C. Healthy Schools Act mandating new feeding and physical-education policies takes effect. But charter schools are scrambling to meet some requirements of the new law, which says schools must feed students locally produced fruits and vegetables and offer students overall healthier meals. The act also raises the bar on physical fitness.
“The majority of charter schools are going in commercial buildings,” said Robert Cane, executive director of the advocacy group Friends of Choice in Urban Schools. (FOCUS). “We support good food and exercise, but charter schools have scrambled to meet requirements.”
Charter and traditional schools often lack cafeterias, and most charters lack green space for children to play or hold gym classes. Many don’t have a swimming pool, gymnasium, football field, tennis court or a track course.

Education: From Chattel to Freshman

Time Magazine

he descendant of a slave is about to enter Mars Hill College, bringing to an end 105 years of segregation at the Baptist school in western North Carolina.* Her admittance means something more: the payoff of a novel moral debt.
The founders of little Mars Hill were in trouble as soon as they laid the last handmade brick on the first building in 1856. They owed the contractors $1,100; the treasury was empty. While they frantically passed the hat, the builders slapped a judgment on the Rev. J. W. Anderson, future secretary of the college. The Rev. Mr. Anderson owned a Negro named Joe –a strapping young man easily worth $1,100 on the slave market in nearby Asheville. Some say that Joe himself volunteered to be a human surety. The builders took him to jail for safekeeping. Four days later, when the founders raised the cash. Mars Hill was saved.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: New Jersey at the Frontier: A Sovereign Debt Crisis of Our Own

Erik Gerding:

As usual, New Jersey leads the nation. Today, rather than Snooki showing the country a new level of reality t.v. debauchery, we have the Garden State itself becoming the first state of the union ever charged with violating federal securities laws.
According to the SEC release, New Jersey failed to disclose in 79 state bond offerings between 2001 and 2007 (totaling $26 billlion) that two public employee pension funds were underfunded. According to the SEC, the failure to disclose masked
the fact that New Jersey was unable to make contributions to [the pension funds] without raising taxes, cutting other services or otherwise affecting its budget. As a result, investors were not provided adequate information to evaluate the state’s ability to fund the pensions or assess their impact on the state’s financial condition.
Given that this post is about securities law from a securities law professor, I should note that Ma Gerding is a New Jersey state employee.
New Jersey is a special state in many ways, but my gut instincts tell me this SEC action is just the vanguard of a coming wave of state and municipal securities litigation. We have all the ingredients for an epidemic:
Start out with the dire budget situation of states and municipalities squeezed by the financial crisis.

Backpacks for Success Giveaway

100 Black Men of Madison, via a Barclay Pollak email:

For Immediate Release Contacts: Chris Canty 608-469-5213 and Wayne Canty 608-332-3554
100 Black Men of Madison to Stuff and Give Away More Than 1,500 Backpacks to Area Kids
For more than a decade the 100 Black Men along with their partners have helped area children start the school year off on the right by providing them with more than 18,000 free back packs and school supplies. We’re celebrating our 14th annual Backpacks for Success Picnic at Demetral Park on the corner of Commercial and Packers Avenue this Saturday, August 28th from 10am to 1pm.
This event is “first come, first served” and will be held rain or shine. Students must be in attendance to receive a free backpack. No exceptions. Only elementary and middle school students are eligible for the free backspacks.
There will also be a free picnic style lunch available and activities for the family including health care information and screenings, a mobile play and learn vehicle, police squad and fire truck.
If you are interested in a “pre-story” before the picnic, the “Backpack Stuffing Party” will take place on Thursday August 26th at the National Guard Armory at 2402 Bowman St at 5:00pm. We should finish around 8:00pm or 8:30pm.
The 100 Black Men of Madison, their significant others, friends and many volunteers will fill the more than 1,500 backpacks with school supplies for both elementary and middle school students in one night.
For more information on the 100 Black Men of Madison organization and their programs, please go to www.100blackmenmadison.org.

Where newspaper goes in rating teachers, others soon will follow

Alan Borsuk

So you want to know if the teacher your child has for the new school year is the star you’re hoping for. How do you find out?
Well, you can ask around. Often even grade school kids will give you the word. But what you hear informally might be on the mark and might be baloney. Isn’t there some way to get a good answer?
Um, not really. You want a handle on how your kid is doing, there’s plenty of data. You want information on students in the school or the school district, no problem.
But teachers? If they had meaningful evaluation reports, the reports would be confidential. And you can be quite confident they don’t have evaluations like that – across the U.S., and certainly in Wisconsin, the large majority of teachers get superficial and almost always favorable evaluations based on brief visits by an administrator to their classrooms, research shows. The evaluations are of almost no use in actually guiding teachers to improve.
Perhaps you could move to Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times began running a project last Sunday on teachers and the progress students made while in their classes. It named a few names and said it will unveil in coming weeks specific data on thousands of teachers.

Related: Value added assessment.

Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World

Katharine Beals, Trumpeter Books, 2009 Reviewed by Barry Garelick, via email

Many school parents question the value of today’s homework assignments. They rightly wonder whether their children are getting the education they need in order to succeed in college. For the most part, they are well-meaning parents who were educated from the 1950’s through the 1970’s in a different style–a style derided by the current power elite in graduate schools of education and school administration. They describe the schoolroom remembered by today’s parents as: sitting in rows, facing front, listening passively to a teacher who talked to the blackboard, “memorizing by rote”, and thinking uncritically. In today’s classrooms, students are given a minimal amount of instruction, and instead are presented with a question–say a math problem–told to form groups and work out an approach to solving the problem. Or if not a math problem, they are told to discuss an aspect of a book they are reading. Homework assignments are often art projects, in which students must construct dioramas of the climactic event of a story they read, or decorate a tissue box with German phrases to help them learn the language, or put together a family tree with photographs and label each with the Spanish term for their place in the family.
In Raising a Left-brain Child in a Right-brain World, Katharine Beals explores today’s classrooms and describes in detail why this approach is particularly destructive and ineffective for students who are shy, awkward, introspective, linear and analytic thinkers. She is careful to explain that her use of the term “left brained” is her way of categorizing students who are linear thinkers–who process information by learning one thing at a time thoroughly before moving on to the next. (I use the term in the same fashion in this review.)
A particularly powerful passage at the beginning of the book describes the difficulties that left-brained children face and provides a stark and disturbing contrast with the traditional classrooms that the parents of these children remember:

Making matters worse is how today’s informal discussions favor multiple solutions, personal opinions, and personal connections over single correct answers. In previous generations the best answer, exerting an absolute veto power, favored the studious over the merely charismatic; how that there is no best answer, extroversion is king. … To fully appreciate the degree to which today’s classrooms challenge our children, we should consider how they might have fared in more traditional schools. Imagine how much more at ease they might be in general, and how their attitudes toward school might improve, if they enjoyed the privacy of quietly listening to teachers lecture instead of having to talk to classmates. …Imagine if they could read to themselves instead of to a group, do math problems on their own, and find, in the classroom, a safe haven from school yard dynamics. (p. 23)

Putting Teachers to the Test

Carl Bialik

My print column this week examines the debate over so-called value-added measures for teachers, which evaluate their performance based on how much they improve their students’ standardized test scores.
Douglas Harris, associate professor of educational policy and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin, is a cautious advocate of these measures, but points out that concerns about teaching to the test could be heightened if teachers, as well as principals and school districts, are evaluated based on test results. “Teacher can generate high value-added measures by drilling the test over and over,” Harris said.
If these measures catch on, they could also encourage more teachers to cheat. “If we start to place a lot of weight on these things, [you] have to expect some degree of malfeasance,” said Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. “You want the benefits to outweigh the costs, and you want to police it in a smart way.”
Will the benefits outweigh the costs? “That’s the big unknown,” Michael Hansen, a researcher in the Urban Institute’s Education Policy Center in Washington, D.C., wrote in an email. “What is known is that the way most districts currently hire, evaluate, and pay teachers is misaligned with the public goal of increasing overall student learning.”

The National Council on Teacher Quality, an Ed Reform organization posing as a think tank, has issued another report on Seattle.

Charlie Mas

The National Council on Teacher Quality, an Ed Reform organization posing as a think tank, has issued another report on Seattle. This one explores the proposals discussed in the negotiations over the teachers’ contract.
I have reviewed their report and found it to be a mixed bag.
I agree with the District and the NCTQ regarding teacher assignment.
I, too, would like to see principals have more authority to determine who works in their schools. I support the District proposal to eliminate super-seniority privileges and the forced placement of any teacher in any school. I also support mutual consent hiring for all teachers regardless of the reason a teacher is transferring schools or when the position is being filled. Under such a system, excessed teachers would be able to remain in the displaced pool for a limited amount of time while they search for a new position: 12 months for teachers on a continuing contract; 6 months for teachers on a provisional contract. After this period, they would be subject to layoffs. If teachers cannot find a principal in the District willing to hire them, then they don’t work here anymore.