Grade Inflation: The more we spend on higher education, the more we spend on higher education.

Greg Beato:

When it comes to reforming Big College, give the federal government a C+. Throughout 2010, grade grubbers in Congress, the White House, the Department of Education, and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) worked hard to investigate and regulate the booming for-profit college sector. Among other sins, they accused the schools of predatory recruiting practices, inflating grades to keep students eligible for federal aid, and charging too much for degrees that ultimately have little value in the workplace.
Given that the approximately 2,000 for-profit colleges in the U.S. rely on federal aid for a huge portion of their revenues, such scrutiny is clearly warranted. Still, the $25 billion in federal grants and loans that flows to them each year represents just a fraction of the $113.3 billion the government made available to higher education as a whole in 2009-10. And not all of the $89 billion or so that non-profit institutions collected in federal aid went toward teaching the nation’s youth such career-enhancing skills as how to deconstruct soap operas from a Marxist perspective.

Education expert says flat test scores are result of student apathy

Alan Borsuk:

Henry Kranendonk describes himself as “a person who’d never served on anything other than a church board” until the day about three years ago when he got a call from an aide to Margaret Spellings, then the U.S. secretary of education.
Would he join an elite group of somewhat frustrated people working near the top of the national education pyramid?
Well, that’s not quite how it was put. But that’s a practical reading of what being a member of the National Assessment Governing Board has meant for Kranendonk, who was the top math specialist in Milwaukee Public Schools at that point.
Those unhappy numbers, released last week, about how only one in five high school seniors across the country is proficient in science? The data a year ago that put MPS fourth- and eighth-graders near the bottom of the proficiency list among 18 urban districts? Those reports over the last decade that showed Wisconsin had the largest or close to the largest gaps in the U.S. between white and black students in reading and math?

Contemporary Student Life

John Tierney:

It may be that, like me, you don’t quite know what to make of articles that have appeared recently about the state of contemporary secondary and post-secondary education. But maybe you can! If so, help me sort through it. I’ve spent my entire professional life as a teacher — for over twenty years at the college level, and for the last nine years at a high school. Despite all that, I still don’t know what to make of all this.
So, I’m just going to call your attention here to some disparate things I’ve read in recent months, without trying to weave them together in a coherent essay. If you have thoughts, please let me hear them.

DeKalb, GA finds teachers could have accessed tests late at night

Megan Matteucci:

Principals and teachers may have violated state procedures by entering locked DeKalb County school closets on weekends and late at night to access students’ answers to standardized tests.
Principals and teachers may have violated state procedures by entering locked DeKalb County school closets on weekends and late at night to access students’ answers to standardized tests.
If so, they weren’t caught on camera, but their security key cards gave them away.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution learned DeKalb County school district’s internal investigation into possible cheating on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test hinged on illegal access to the tests and led to 24 educators being removed from the classroom this week. The list includes principals, assistant principals and teachers who are now doing administrative jobs.
“There’s a chain of evidence that requires only certain people to have access to those tests,” schools’ spokesman Walter Woods said Friday. “There were several instances where employees accessed school over the weekend, and those employees were flagged.”

A $60 Million Palace for Texas High School Football

Greg Bishop:

From his office window, Steve Williams surveyed the chaos of construction. His view consisted of rocks and dirt beneath bulldozers and cranes, but where others might see excess, he saw something brazen, bold and gloriously Texan.
The $60 million football stadium at Allen High School, where Williams is the district athletic director, was starting to take shape.
This is no ordinary stadium, in no ordinary state, where football ranks near faith and family. Super Bowl XLV will take place a short drive southwest next Sunday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, but while the “big game” will repeatedly highlight football’s oversize importance in Texas, the folks in Allen need no reminders. Here, every game is big.
Williams — Bubba to his friends — arrived long before the boom, when Allen was more speck than sprawl, and now he cannot fathom all the fuss over this stadium, the calls from England, the Pacific Northwest, New York.

College grads make their own jobs

Molly Armbrister:

With Colorado’s unemployment rate at 8.6 percent, college graduates are getting creative when it comes to making a career out of their newly completed educations. For more and more graduates, this means starting a business venture all their own.
Fortunately for these young hopefuls, the entrepreneurial environment in Colorado is a friendly one, from business schools preparing students to begin their venture to established business owners who welcome aspiring entrepreneurs.
The College of Business at Colorado State University is making sure that students have the opportunity to gain all the skills and inspiration necessary to jump-start any entrepreneurial leanings they may have. The college offers a certificate of entrepreneurship program to interested business and engineering students.

Early results promising in Houston school reform effort

Ericka Mellon:

Student attendance rates are up, suspensions are down and math performance is improving in the nine struggling Houston ISD schools taking part in the district’s experimental reform program called Apollo 20.
But the instruction in many classrooms remains too basic and boring, according to the first major progress report on the $29 million effort being watched by urban districts nationwide. Questions also remain about future funding of the program.
HISD Superintendent Terry Grier, who released the Harvard University report to the school board on Saturday, described the first-semester results as “very good news” but acknowledged some weaknesses.
“This is a three-year pilot,” he said. “You’re not going to turn around the lowest-performing schools in the district, all of them, in a year.”
The Apollo program launched in August at five middle schools and four high schools that ranked among the lowest-achieving in the Houston Independent School District. The effort started with a staff shake-up. Grier’s administration replaced all the principals, and about 40 percent of the teachers are new to the campuses.

The Process for Discussing Madison School District High School Alignment

Superintendent Dan Nerad:

This is to provide clarity, transparency and direction in improving our high school curriculum and instruction, with ongoing communication.
(As presented to the MMSD Board of Education on January 6, 2011)
The following guiding principles were discussed:

Lots of related links:

What happened to studying?
You won’t hear this from the admissions office, but college students are cracking the books less and less

Keith O’Brien:

They come with polished resumes and perfect SAT scores. Their grades are often impeccable. Some elite universities will deny thousands of high school seniors with 4.0 grade point averages in search of an elusive quality that one provost called “intellectual vitality.” The perception is that today’s over-achieving, college-driven kids have it — whatever it is. They’re not just groomed; they’re ready. There’s just one problem.
Once on campus, the students aren’t studying.
It is a fundamental part of college education: the idea that young people don’t just learn from lectures, but on their own, holed up in the library with books and, perhaps, a trusty yellow highlighter. But new research, conducted by two California economics professors, shows that over the past five decades, the number of hours that the average college student studies each week has been steadily dropping. According to time-use surveys analyzed by professors Philip Babcock, at the University of California Santa Barbara, and Mindy Marks, at the University of California Riverside, the average student at a four-year college in 1961 studied about 24 hours a week. Today’s average student hits the books for just 14 hours.

Proposed Changes in Madison’s Open Enrollment Policy

Dylan Pauly:

The attached proposed changes to Policy 4025 reflect the amendments to Wis. Stat. §118.51, which now permits a nonresident district to consider whether a student has been habitually truant for purposes of allowing open enrollment into the non-resident district. This change applies to students who lived in the district, moved outside of the district boundaries, and are seeking to stay in the district as a nonresident student. A second change allows a district to prohibit a nonresident student from attending district schools after an initial acceptance if the student is habitually truant during either semester of the current school year. The open enrollment period begins February 7, 2011 and ends February 25, 2011.

Much more on open enrollment, here.
Wisconsin’s 2011-2012 open enrollment application period is February 7, 2011 to February 25, 2011.

Education historian Diane Ravitch to speak in Madison 3/8/2011

University of Wisconsin School of Education:

Diane Ravitch, regarded by many as the nation’s leading education historian today, will offer an informed analysis of the current state of American education — what’s broken and how can it be fixed — at a free, public presentation sponsored by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education, and the Wisconsin Center on Education Research, with support from the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the UW-Madison Lectures Committee.
Ravitch’s presentation, “The Future of Public Education,” will be held Tuesday, March 8, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin Union Theater, Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St., Madison. A 30-minute question-and-answer period will follow the presentation. Students, parents of students, and education professionals are encouraged to attend.

Mystery of Piano on Miami Sandbar Finally Solved

Associated Press:

The rumors can stop swirling: The baby grand piano that turned up on a Miami sandbar was burned to tatters by New Year’s revelers, then brought to its new home by a television designer’s teenage son who said Thursday he hoped the idea might help him get into a prestigious art school.
Theories of the instrument’s origin had abounded, with some saying they saw helicopters and television crews hovering around the piano. Others tried to claim responsibility, but Nicholas Harrington, 16, had his endeavor on videotape.
Mr. Harrington said he wanted to leave his artistic mark on Miami’s seascape as the artist Christo did in the early 1980s when he draped 11 small islands in Biscayne Bay with hot pink fabric. And if it helped the high school junior get into Manhattan’s Cooper Union college, that would be OK, too.

A Measured Approach to Improving Teacher Preparation

Chad Aldeman, Kevin Carey, Erin Dillon, Ben Miller, and Elena Silva, via email:

Over the next five years, more than a million new teachers will enter public school classrooms. But the system in place to produce these teachers–supported by an ever-expanding set of federal financial aid programs and multimillion-dollar federal grants–offers no guarantees of quality for anyone involved, from the college students who often borrow thousands of dollars to attend teacher preparation programs to the districts, schools, and children that depend on good teachers.
“Simply put, the nation’s thousands of teacher preparation programs are good at churning out teachers but far less successful at ensuring that those teachers meet the needs of public schools and students,” say the authors of a new Education Sector policy brief. In A Measured Approach to Improving Teacher Preparation, analysts Chad Aldeman, Kevin Carey, Erin Dillon, Ben Miller, and Elena Silva examine the way the United States currently prepares teachers and offers some specific suggestions on how to improve it.

Tailgating: Isn’t four hours long enough to party?

Maureen Downey:

I’m not sure why the University of Georgia Student Government Association wants tailgating beyond four hours, which seems like a reasonable period time for any pre-game party to me.
Nor am I sure if the SGA is in the best position to ask for a relaxing of the restrictions put on tailgating by the UGA administration to cut down on the trash and mayhem. The administration says someone dragged a couch out of a dorm and set it on fire in Myers Quad during the Nov. 27 game against Georgia Tech. And the college had to deal with jagged glass from beer bottles on the ground as well.
Take a look at this AJC story, which states that UGA student leaders want three North Campus tailgating restrictions imposed last year relaxed; the prohibitions against tents, tables longer than four feet and tailgating more than four hours before kickoff. Lest anyone forget why these restrictions were imposed, please look at the photo accompanying this blog of North Campus after one of the tailgating afternoons that led to the clamp-down by UGA.

Why 4-K is a good idea

Jami Collins & Vikki Kratz:

Mary was four years old when she entered the pre-kindergarten program in Marshall. Her parents were struggling with her behavior. She had a significant speech delay. She didn’t like snuggling with them. She didn’t want to read books. And she refused to let her parents touch her hair.
“What are we doing wrong?” her parents wondered.
Mary’s early childhood teachers worked with her parents and her pediatrician to help diagnose the problem: Mary had autism. Her teachers created a special education plan for her, which included “social stories” — books of pictures from Mary’s daily life that helped explain mysterious rituals like brushing her hair.
The teachers taught Mary how to read facial expressions and verbalize her feelings, instead of having tantrums. They took her on field trips to public places, so she could get used to the noise and bustle of other people.
As Mary’s parents began to understand autism, the teachers supported them by offering advice. The intense, early intervention helped Mary and her family learn to manage her autism. By sixth grade, Mary was doing so well she was able to exit special education services for good.

Much more on Madison’s planned 4k program, here.

Milwaukee leaders, lawmakers forge plan for vacant schools

Erin Richards:

An unusual partnership has formed between City of Milwaukee leaders and suburban legislators to wrest control of empty, wasting Milwaukee Public Schools buildings, and a last-ditch effort by the superintendent to negotiate with them appears to be going nowhere.
According to legislation proposed this week by the two suburban Republicans and endorsed by city officials, the City of Milwaukee would control selling or leasing surplus real estate in Milwaukee Public Schools if it sits fallow for 18 months.
State Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and state Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) co-authored the bill to help the city get more high-performing schools into vacant or underutilized MPS properties. The plan could open the buildings for a variety of uses and the city would direct proceeds from the sales or leases back to MPS.
“It’s in the best interest of the taxpayer that we have a clear line of authority on property of the city,” Darling said in an interview. “Many people have been patient about this for years.”

Obama School Reform Plan Relies on Big Business

Kate Anderson Brower:

To help the U.S. compete with emerging economies such as China and India, President Barack Obama pitched Congress on a renewed focus on education in his Jan. 25 State of the Union message. “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” he said, invoking the U.S. response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the first satellite. That feat, at the height of the Cold War, jarred American assumptions of technological superiority.
With a divided Congress and House Republicans gunning for the Education Dept., Obama’s school reform plans may depend largely on Big Business. Administration officials say they have had more than 30 meetings and phone calls over the last year with executives about school overhaul. Penny Pritzker, who led Obama’s 2008 campaign fundraising effort and is chairman of Pritzker Realty Group in Chicago, says she’s “sure that business leaders will be asked to go to Capitol Hill to make the argument” for an improved public education system. Jeffrey R. Immelt, the General Electric (GE) chief executive officer, agrees education should be a part of his portfolio as head of Obama’s new jobs and competitiveness council, Pritzker says.

Do students at selective schools really study less?

Games with Words:

So says Philip Babcock in today’s New York Times. He claims:

Full-time college students in the 1960s studies 24 hours per week, on average, and their counterparts today study 14 hours per week. The 10-hour decline is visible for students from all demographic groups and of all cognitive abilities, in every major and at every type of college.

The claim that this is true for “every type of college” is important because he wants to conclude that schools have lowered their standards. The alternative is that there are more, low-quality schools now, or that some schools have massively lowered their standards. These are both potentially problems — and are probably real — but are not quite the same problem as all schools everywhere lowering their standards.
So it’s important to show that individual schools have lowered their standards, and that this is true for the selective schools as well as the not-selective schools. The article links to this study by Babcock. This study analyzes a series of surveys of student study habits from the 1960s to the 2000s, and thus seems to be the basis of his argument, and in fact the introduction contains almost the identical statement that I have quoted above. Nonetheless, despite these strong conclusions, the data that would support them appear to be missing.

‘Embedded honors’ program has issues

Mary Bridget Lee:

The controversy at West High School continues about the Madison School District’s new talented and gifted program. Students, parents and teachers decry the plan, pointing to the likelihood of a “tracking” system and increasingly segregated classes.
While I am in agreement with them here, I must differ when they mistakenly point to the current “embedded honors” system as a preferable method for dealing with TAG students.
The idea itself should immediately raise red flags. Teaching two classes at the same time is impossible to do well, if at all. Forcing teachers to create twice the amount of curriculum and attempt to teach both within a single context is unrealistic and stressful for the educators.
The system creates problems for students as well. There is very little regulation in the execution of these “embedded honors” classes, creating widely varying experiences among students. By trying to teach to two different levels within one classroom, “embedded honors” divides teachers’ attention and ultimately impairs the educational experiences of both groups of students.
While the concerns raised about Superintendent Dan Nerad’s plan are legitimate, “embedded honors” as a solution is not.

Lots of related links:

A Collaboration to Transform Education in Los Angeles

L.A. Compact, via a David Baskerville email:

In February 2009, leaders from the Los Angeles Education Community publicly signed the L.A. Compact – a collaborative commitment to transform education in Los Angeles. The Compact signers have pledged to put the interests of students first. They have committed to work together to meet the following goals:

Goal 1: All students graduate from high school
Goal 2: All students have access to and are prepared for success in college
Goal 3: All students have access to pathways to sustainable jobs and careers

As part of their commitment, the signers pledged to release an initial data report in order to facilitate the measurement of their progress against these baselines in future years. The data in this report details Los Angeles Unified School District’s rates of graduation, enrollment, preparation, and more. It then follows LAUSD graduates and tracks their progress in post-secondary education. At this point in its development, the report highlights several important markers as we discuss collaborative opportunities for improvement. The measurements and their sources will continue to be refined and expanded over the coming years.

L.A. Compact.

No Child Left Behind, perfection and caveats

Nick Anderson:

A couple of highly valued sources have taken issue with a story I wrote in today’s paper about the No Child Left Behind law.
The gist of their complaint, I believe, is that I did not walk readers through more of the fine print of the 2002 law to explain the context of the well-known goal of all students passing state tests by 2014. So let’s do that now.
First of all, here’s what the law says:
Section 1111 (b)(2)(F) Accountability–Timeline: Each State shall establish a timeline for adequate yearly progress. The timeline shall ensure that not later than 12 years after the end of the 2001-2002 school year, all students in each group described in subparagraph (C)(v) will meet or exceed the State’s proficient level of academic achievement on the State assessments under paragraph (3).
This excerpt from a rather long statute marks the core of the promise of No Child Left Behind. “All students” means what it says. “Shall ensure” is self-evident. “Proficient” means, essentially, passing the test. The requirement here is for states to chart a path toward 100 percent proficiency by 2014. Not 90 percent, or 80 percent, but 100 percent.

144 Unions, 18 School Districts Receive Health Care Waivers

Mike Antonucci:

The Department of Health and Human Services released its latest list of companies and organizations that received a one-year waiver of the Affordable Care Act’s ban on annual dollar limits on benefits. A total of 733 waivers have been granted for 2011, of which at least 144 went to unions and union trusts, while an additional 18 went to school districts.
Waivers were granted to at least 17 locals and affiliates of the Teamsters, 11 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), 28 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), 7 of the SEIU, and one to the United Federation of Teachers Welfare Fund.

Georgia’s DeKalb yanks 24 teachers from classroom on cheating allegations

Megan Matteucci and Jaime Sarrio:

Twenty-four DeKalb County educators have been reassigned to nonschool duties over irregularities in 2009 state testing that affected nine schools and possibly 1,400 students. The unidentified educators, both teachers and principals, could face losing their teaching licenses. The DeKalb District attorney will review the investigation conducted by the school system and determine if criminal charges are warranted.
DeKalb County schools Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson said 29 current and former employees were referred to the state Professional Standards Commission.
Phil Skinner, AJC DeKalb County schools Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson said 29 current and former employees were referred to the state Professional Standards Commission.
School officials told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Thursday they referred 24 educators and five former employees to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission after an internal investigation uncovered numerous irregularities on the April 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
“No cheating has been proved and no one has come forward and admitted to cheating,” schools spokesman Jeff Dickerson said. “But we couldn’t have these individuals in the classroom right now. We made these decisions based on what is best for our students.”

More here.

Benchmarking the Seattle School District’s Administrative Costs

Melissa Westbrook;

I attended 4 hours of the Board Work Session on the 2011-2012 Budget. Unfortunately, the meeting was 5+ hours (maybe longer, Dorothy?) It was taped so I will try to get a link if you care to listen.

I will write up my notes but for your reading pleasure here are the following:

  • staff finally got information to the Board that I know the Board has wanted for a long time. This would be benchmarking comparisons to other districts (both local and out-of-state). This chart is for 2009-2010 expenditures and FTE comparisons in dollars.
  • This chart is for 2009-2010 expenditures and FTE comparisons (as a % of total)

My irritation with these is that this is information that should have been presented LONG ago. It overburdened an already long and heavily detailed meeting.

The Powerpoint and another document – the Strategic Plan Budget Planning Tool for Fiscal Year 2011-2012 – are not yet up at the website. You’ll want to see those as well but for now, the above charts should keep you busy. The Fiscal document really is key because it gets to the heart of the Strategic Plan.

Building Sage (Open Source Math) on Amazon EC2

A quarter or two ago my son Andy took a rather unique course at the University of Washington. In his Math 480b: Programming for the Working Mathematician course, Andy learned about a number of important topics including the Unix command line, Python programming (including classes, exceptions and decorators). In the second half of the quarter they learned about the Sage open source math system.
The course ended by teaching the students how to make a genuine contribution to Sage. They were asked to find an open bug, figure out how to fix it, fix it, and to create and submit a patch. In essence, they learned a very practical skill that is taught all too rarely in school — how to be a contributor to an open source project. This is pretty significant. Despite the presence of the word “open”, I have come to learn that many people don’t understand the actual workings of the process. Walking the students through it, and having them make an actual contribution, will ensure that they leave school with this knowledge under their belt. With any luck it will be easier for them to find jobs and they’ll be more useful and more productive once they start.

Public School Principals: No Good Deed Left Unpunished

Christian Schneider:

Over at the mothership, Sunny Schubert has a wonderful column about a teacher she knows that has attempted to infuse his school with a little class. Zach, the fresh faced 22 year old newbie, decided he needed to set himself apart from his 7th grade students, so he started wearing a tie to school. For this transgression, he was mocked by the veteran teachers, none of whom saw any reason to dress up for school. In a show of solidarity with their teacher, Zach’s students actually started wearing ties to school – while the other teachers took time out of their day to trash his classroom with gaudy neckties.
This story is good enough – but Schubert also mentions a wildly entertaining “scandal” brewing at Glendale Elementary School in Madison, which serves a large number of African-American children. (In fact, Glendale has the highest percentage of poor and minority students at any Madison elementary school.)
In 2005, Mickey Buhl took over as Glendale’s principal, with the purpose of instilling the school with a new attitude and more innovative techniques. Since he took over, the school’s test scores have risen dramatically.

A rebellion at Madison West High School over new curriculum

Lynn Welch

When Paul Radspinner’s 15-year-old son Mitchell wanted to participate in a student sit-in last October outside West High School, he called his dad to ask permission.
“He said he was going to protest, and wanted to make sure I had no problem with it. I thought, ‘It’s not the ’60s anymore,'” recalls Radspinner. The students, he learned, were upset about planned curriculum changes, which they fear will eliminate elective class choices, a big part of the West culture.
“It was a real issue at the school,” notes Radspinner. “The kids found out about it, but the parents didn’t.”
This lack of communication is a main reason Radspinner and 60 other parents recently formed a group called West Cares. Calling itself the “silent majority,” the group this month opposed the new English and social studies honors classes the district is adding next fall at West, as well as Memorial. (East and La Follette High Schools already offer these classes for freshmen and sophomores.)
The parents fear separating smarter kids from others at the ninth-grade level will deepen the achievement gap by pushing some college-bound students into advanced-level coursework sooner. They also believe it will eviscerate West’s culture, where all freshmen and sophomores learn main subjects in core classes together regardless of achievement level.
“It’s a big cultural paradigm shift,” says parent Jan O’Neil. “That’s what we’re struggling with in the West community.”

Lots of related links:

2010 State Teacher Policy Yearbook Blueprint for Change

National Council on Teacher Quality, via email:

Most states’ evaluation, tenure and dismissal policies remain disconnected from classroom effectiveness.

  • Teacher evaluation is a critical attention area in 42 states because the vast majority of states do not ensure that evaluations, whether state or locally developed, preclude teachers from receiving satisfactory ratings if those teachers are found to be ineffective in the classroom. In addition, the majority of states still does not require annual evaluations of all veteran teachers, and most still fail to include any objective measures of student learning in the teacher evaluations they do require.
  • In 46 states, teachers are granted tenure with little or no attention paid to how effective they are with students in their classrooms. While there are a few states that have vague requirements for some consideration of evidence, and a few others that promise that teacher evaluations will “inform” tenure decisions, only Colorado, Delaware, Oklahoma and Rhode Island demand that evidence of student learning be the preponderant or decisive criterion in such decisions.
  • Dismissal is a critical attention area in 46 states. There are at least two state leaders taking this issue head on. In Oklahoma, recent legislation requires that tenured teachers be terminated if they are rated “ineffective” for two consecutive years, or rated as “needs improvement” for three years running, or if they do not average at least an “effective” rating over a five-year teaching period. In Rhode Island, teachers who receive two years of ineffective evaluations will be dismissed. Any teacher with five years of ineffective ratings would not be eligible to have his or her certification renewed by the state.

Fixing Teacher Tenure Without a Pass-Fail Grade

Andrew Rotherham

Education eyes were on Washington this week to see what President Obama would say about schools in his State of the Union address. But just as in 2010, if you really want to follow the action on education reform, it’s better to look toward the states. All the new governors (29), education chiefs (18 new ones elected or appointed since November) and legislators (nearly 1,600) mean things are more fluid in the states, where teacher tenure is becoming a major flash point. Florida and New Jersey are considering pretty much ending tenure altogether. And while those states may be ground zero for tenure battles, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania are also considering significant changes.
Quick primer: When people refer to tenure for public-school teachers, what they’re really talking about is a set of rules and regulations outlining due process for teachers accused of misconduct or poor performance. The elaborate rules often make it nearly impossible to fire a teacher. Joel Klein, who recently stepped down as New York City schools chancellor, has pointed out that death-penalty cases can be resolved faster than teacher-misconduct cases. In some places, the due-process rules are part of collective-bargaining agreements, and in others they’re state law. In either case, there is a consensus among education reformers and some teachers’-union leaders that the rules need to be changed and the process streamlined. The contentious debate tends to be about how to modify what constitutes due process — as negotiators did in a landmark teachers’ contract in the District of Columbia in 2009 — rather than get rid of it altogether.

Duncan’s school of wisdom

George Will:

“Since 1995 the average mathematics score for fourth-graders jumped 11 points. At this rate we catch up with Singapore in a little over 80 years . . . assuming they don’t improve.”
– Norman R. Augustine,
retired CEO of Lockheed Martin
What America needs, says one American parent, is more parents who resemble South Korean parents. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, 46, a father of a third-grader and a first-grader, recalls the answer Barack Obama got when he asked South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, “What is the biggest education challenge you have?” Lee answered: “Parents are too demanding.” They want their children to start learning English in first rather than second grade. Only 25 percent of U.S. elementary schools offer any foreign-language instruction.
Too many American parents, Duncan says, have “cognitive dissonance” concerning primary and secondary schools: They think their children’s schools are fine, and that schools that are not fine are irredeemable. This, Duncan says, is a recipe for “stasis” and “insidious paralysis.” He attempts to impart motion by puncturing complacency and picturing the payoff from excellence.

Chinese University scraps exams to boost teaching of classic books

Elaine Yau:

Exams are out, the Great Books are in.
In a far-reaching overhaul of undergraduate education, Chinese University will scrap exams for most mandatory subjects and boost the teaching of both Western and Chinese classics.
The changes are part of the university’s preparation to lengthen degree courses from three years to four years next year.
Details of the overhaul revealed yesterday include a drastic reduction in the number of final exams for mandatory courses in general education, languages, physical education and information technology.
“We will focus on the classics by [authors such as] Adam Smith, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx. We want students to cite classics when thinking about modern problems,” said Leung Mei-yee, director of the university’s general education foundation programme.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Senator Rand Paul on Cutting the Federal Deficit by 1/3

David Freddoso:

Want to save $500 billion this year? Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has a way to do it.
Is it realistic? Maybe not every part of it, but have a look below and judge for yourself. I don’t think his total removal of rental subsidies is unreasonable — the fact that Section 8 is a total failure doesn’t justify dumping its beneficiaries into oblivion. But there’s also no reason every agency has to see its budget increase every year, and a lot of these cuts really do make sense. Most of them simply represent a return to 2008 levels of spending — remember that a 30 percent cut is less than it seems when an agency’s budget been increasing by 40 percent over the last few years.
Why fund NASA at traditional levels if President Obama has scaled back its mission? Why not let Indian tribes manage their own trust funds, especially considering the federal mismanagement? Why not realign our military bases abroad, sell unused federal buildings (something Obama has already begun doing), transfer some national parks to the states, and end the wasteful corporate subsidies that come out of the Departments of Energy and Commerce?

This exercise illustrates the huge changes that lie (not too far) ahead given the large deficits (and debt) we face.

Tough-love mums train cubs for uncertain future

Zhuang Pinghui:

Ding Xinzhu considers herself a strict mother. She lays down the rules for her four-year-old daughter, Yueyue, and she says she’s the only one in the family of seven whom Yueyue “is afraid of” and obeys.
“I told her she needs to sit up straight and feed herself at the table. If she disobeys, I will spank her. She cries, but she listens to me,” Ding, a 34-year-old executive in Shanghai, said. She picked a prominent kindergarten for her daughter and chose painting and ballet as extracurricular activities. On weekends, Yueyue takes piano lessons. “I think I’m the most demanding among my circle of mothers, but I’m only trying to provide the best for my child and prepare her for the future,” Ding said.

Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshmen

Tamar Lewin:

The emotional health of college freshmen — who feel buffeted by the recession and stressed by the pressures of high school — has declined to the lowest level since an annual survey of incoming students started collecting data 25 years ago.
In the survey, “The American Freshman: National Norms Fall 2010,” involving more than 200,000 incoming full-time students at four-year colleges, the percentage of students rating themselves as “below average” in emotional health rose. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who said their emotional health was above average fell to 52 percent. It was 64 percent in 1985.
Every year, women had a less positive view of their emotional health than men, and that gap has widened.
Campus counselors say the survey results are the latest evidence of what they see every day in their offices — students who are depressed, under stress and using psychiatric medication, prescribed even before they came to college.

Low expectations and other forms of bigotry

The Economist:

SMALL rays of light can illuminate surprisingly large areas of darkness. The fuss continues to rumble on about the decision by Michael Gove, the education secretary, to publish revised school league tables showing how many pupils achieved a reasonable pass in five core subjects: English, maths, a foreign language, a science subject and either history or geography (a cluster of subjects that he is calling the English baccalaureate). This marked a sudden switch away from a system in which schools reported how many pupils gained a reasonable pass (an A, B or C grade) in any five subjects including English and maths.
As my colleagues in the Britain section reported earlier this month, this transparency ambush has already achieved one desired and desirable effect: to expose how many schools were boosting their scores by pushing pupils into soft, often vocational subjects which counted for as much as a pass in chemistry, French or history.

Credentialism and elite employment

Want an elite job at the very pinnacle of 21st century capitalism? Read the rest of this post. Here’s what I said in an earlier post How the world works: (see also Creators and Rulers.)

Go to the web sites of venture capital, private equity or hedge funds, or of Goldman Sachs, and you’ll find that HYPS alums, plus a few Ivies, plus MIT and Caltech, are grossly overrepresented. (Equivalently, look at the founding teams of venture funded startups.)
Most top firms only recruit at a few schools. A kid from a non-elite UG school has very little chance of finding a job at one of these places unless they first go to grad school at, e.g., HBS, HLS, or get a PhD from a top place. (By top place I don’t mean “gee US News says Ohio State’s Aero E program is top 5!” — I mean, e.g., a math PhD from Berkeley or a PhD in computer science from MIT — the traditional top dogs in academia.)
This is just how the world works. I won’t go into detail, but it’s actually somewhat rational for elite firms to operate this way …

The paper below is by a Kellogg (Northwestern) management professor, Lauren Rivera. No offense to Rivera, because she gets things mainly right, but much of (good) social science seems like little more than documenting what is obvious to any moderately perceptive person with the relevant life experience. Bad social science, on the other hand, often means completely missing things that a moderately perceptive person would have noticed! 😉

Wisconsin NAEP science results exceed national average

Wisconsin DPI, via a kind reader’s email:

cience scores for Wisconsin students exceeded the national average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science assessment, administered between January and March of 2009.
The state’s scale scores on the assessments were 157 at both fourth and eighth grades, eight points higher than the national scale scores of 149 for both grades. In state-by-state comparisons, Wisconsin’s results at fourth grade were higher than those in 27 states, not significantly different from those in 12 states, and lower than seven states. At eighth grade, Wisconsin’s results were higher than 27 states, not significantly different than 14 states, and lower than five states.

Jack Buckley

Today I am releasing the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress science results.
Students were assessed at the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades. Over 156,000 students at grade 4, 151,000 at grade 8, and 11,000 at grade 12 took the assessment. We have national results for public and private school students at all three grades. At grades 4 and 8, we also have results for public school students in 46 states and the Department of Defense schools. The state samples were combined and augmented with sampled students from the four non-participating states plus the District of Columbia, along with a national sample of private school students, to create the full national samples for grades 4 and 8. The twelfth-grade sample is smaller because there are no state-representative samples at that grade.

WEAC statement.
NCES state profiles.

School defends experiment to separate black students in a bid to boost their academic results

The Daily Mail

A high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is defending its decision to segregate its students by race and gender.
The scheme, at McCaskey East High School, separates black students from the rest of the school body, and then further breaks it down into black females and black males.
The separation is only for a short period – six minutes each day and 20 minutes twice a month – but it naturally drew criticism for bringing back the awful memory of racial segregation.
Today the school’s principal defended its policy.

The Future for Public Education in California


As California starts a new year and a new decade–with new state leadership–what major forces will affect public education? And how will they either help or hamper our schools’ ability to cope with the dual pressures of financial adversity and the need to improve student achievement?
Please join us for this year’s EdSource Forum and get a view of what this new decade holds from state and national leaders who see these issues, and the future for California public education, from a variety of different vantage points.

Reading between the lines

The Economist:

WHAT good would a gathering of literary types be if it didn’t coincide with a little acrimony and rancour? South Asia’s largest book festival is under way in Jaipur, Rajasthan, a five-hour drive (if you’re lucky) from Delhi. From January 21st to the 25th a couple of hundred authors, tens of thousands of book-lovers and a few Nobel laureates cram the lawns of the Diggi palace in the Pink City.
The annual Jaipur Literature Festival is now big enough–32,000 attended last year; this year the tally will be much higher–that there should be no need for anyone to stir up controversy to get attention. Nonetheless, shortly before the event Hartosh Singh Bal, an (Indian) editor of a local magazine, accused William Dalrymple, a (British) writer who co-directs the festival, of being “pompous” and setting himself up as an arbiter of writers’ taste in the country.
Stung, Mr Dalrymple accused Mr Bal, in turn, of racism. A flurry of angry commentary has followed in the Indian press and beyond, along with a discussion of whether or why Indian writers crave foreign approval, especially from Brits.

On the other hand

Harry Eyres:

I want to speak out on behalf of an oppressed minority. This is not one of those minorities one could call fashionable; its oppression might seem negligible, and perhaps most of it, in the west at least, occurred in the past. But left-handed people, who constitute about one-tenth of the population pretty much across the board, have suffered in the course of history.
The negative connotations attached to left-sidedness and left-handedness are remarkably consistent across cultures and across history. Perhaps the most striking is the Latin adjective sinister, which starts off meaning “left” or “on the left hand”, but quickly (in Latin that is) acquires the secondary meanings “wrong”, “perverse” and then (closer to the meaning of sinister in modern English) “unfavourable”, “adverse”, “ill-omened”.

Young inventors prompt colleges to revamp rules

Alan Scher Zagier:

Tony Brown didn’t set out to overhaul his college’s policies on intellectual property. He just wanted an easier way of tracking local apartment rentals on his iPhone.
The University of Missouri student came up with an idea in class one day that spawned an iPhone application that has had more than 250,000 downloads since its release in March 2009. The app created by Brown and three other undergraduates won them a trip to Apple headquarters along with job offers from Google and other technology companies.
But the invention also raised a perplexing question when university lawyers abruptly demanded a 25 percent ownership stake and two-thirds of any profits. Who owns the patents and copyrights when a student creates something of value on campus, without a professor’s help?

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez: We ‘are not under-taxed; the government has simply over-spent’

Andrew Malcolm:

Like fellow Republican governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, New Mexico’s new governor, Susana Martinez, is her state’s first female chief executive. She is also the nation’s first Latina governor, as Haley is the first woman governor in the United States of Indian descent.
But Martinez is not new to public service, having been a prosecutor for nearly a quarter-century. Her full biography is here. Her husband, Chuck Franco, has also had a long career in law enforcement. See the couple’s photo below greeting a little girl.
Last week with Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell’s State of the State address, we heard of the strong economy in the country’s largest state geographically. (For links to all of the state of the state addresses published on Top of the Ticket so far, please scroll to the bottom.)
With New Mexico, however, we return to the familiar 2011 governmental theme of deficits and the need to cut spending. Martinez hits that theme strongly, imposing several major changes from policies of her predecessor, Democrat Bill Richardson.
She has ordered the state jet sold, cut expenses at the governor’s residence by 55%, including letting go the two personal chefs who had been working there, cut her cabinet members’ salaries by 10% and frozen all new vehicle purchases, except for law enforcement, among other stringencies.

Data reveal wide higher ed Dane County attainment gap

Todd Finkelmeyer::

The Chronicle of Higher Education released a nifty interactive map which shows the percent of those 25-and-older with at least a bachelor’s degree in each county across the United States.
This remarkable tool, which relies heavily on Census Bureau data, not only allows one to break college attainment figures down by gender and race (Asian, black, Hispanic, white) in each county, but also lets one compare these statistics decade to decade.
The good news is 44.4 percent of all residents 25-and-older in Dane County now have at least a bachelor’s degree. That’s the highest percentage of any county in the state and ranks among the national leaders.
Conversely, while 45.0 percent of whites here have a four-year degree, only 18.5 percent of blacks do. That 26.5 percentage point gap locally is larger than in Milwaukee County — which the Chronicle singles out as an area where the college attainment gulf between whites and blacks is especially wide.
Not that this gap in Dane County should stun anyone, says Sara Goldrick-Rab, an assistant professor of educational policy studies and sociology at UW-Madison.

There is more than one way to teach a class

Sunny Schubert:

A young friend of mine – I’ll call him Zach because that is, indeed, his name – graduated from college last May and started his first teaching job in August: 7th-grade Spanish in a school with a fairly high population of low-income children.
Zach is a very good-looking young man, but I must emphasize the word “young” because he has, for lack of a better term, a baby face.
Well aware of the fact that he looks younger than some of his students, Zach decided last summer that every day, he would wear a dress shirt and tie to school.
This was a source of amusement for some of his students, who had apparently never seen a teacher wearing a tie before.
It was NOT amusing to his fellow teachers, however, some of whom apparently felt Zach was making them look bad.
One day, all the male teachers wore ties – loud ties, ugly ties, sloppy ties, with T-shirts and sweatshirts.

Tuition Hike-oholism Hits Bottom?

Kristin Conklin:

“After decades of funding our eleven campuses on the basis of past appropriations and past expenditures, we have lost track of the rationale for each campus’s funding level. We must begin a new approach to funding higher education where we ask the board of higher education to develop a funding methodology that is based on the outcomes that education leaders and citizens would like to see from their college campuses.”
— North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple’s Jan. 4 state of the state address.
Faced with a 5 percent tuition rise and the likelihood of future increases, students at the City University of New York filed a lawsuit against the school protesting the tuition hike. Could we be on the verge of a student movement like that recently under way in England, where rioters incensed over tuition increases have thrown Molotov cocktails, smashed windows, and even attacked Prince Charles’s car?
CUNY’s was a modest hike, with average prices remaining well below the national average. CUNY takes pride in its history of serving low-income and first-generation students with a high-quality, affordable education.. But CUNY, like many public institutions in the U.S., is doing what led to student revolts in England: shifting the burden of paying for higher education from taxpayers to students. According to the State Higher Education Executive Officers association, tuition in the U.S. increased from 25 percent of all educational revenue to 37 percent from 1984 to 2009, even as total spending per student remained about the same.

Introducing Hispanics for School Choice

Aaron Rodriguez:

Hispanics for School Choice (HFSC), a non-profit organization founded in Milwaukee County, is hosting a coming out event at the United Community Center (UCC) on January 24th. It marks the first time in Wisconsin history that leaders in the Hispanic community have organized to expand the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
A Buzz at the State Capitol
Last week, Executive Board members of Hispanics for School Choice created somewhat of a buzz as they descended upon the State Capitol to circulate their legislative agenda. Associates from the American Federation of Children and School Choice Wisconsin accompanied HFSC in separate meetings with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, Education Committee Chair Steve Kestell, and Secretary of the Department of Administration Mike Huebsch to discuss a timetable of moving the School Choice program forward.
HFSC Board Members were also given exclusive entry to a closed caucus in the Grand Army of the Republic Hearing Room before Assembly Republicans – an access rarely granted to non-profit organizations of any sort for any reason. Before the 60-member caucus, Board Members of HFSC were introduced communicating the idea that HFSC aimed to be more of a resource to legislators than a needy lobbyist.

The worst of “best practices”

Roxanna Elden:

District, county, and state education offices are fond of sharing “best practices” through professional development. The idea is to spread the word about strategies that work in some schools so other teachers can use these strategies and get the same great results. There are times when it works this way. Unfortunately, things can get complicated when the same people who pick and distribute best practices are also responsible for checking whether they are being done correctly, and when none of those people are current teachers. Here’s an example of how the sharing of best practices sometimes works once supervising offices get involved.
Phase one: A school seems to be successful in educating students in a given subject or demographic sub-group. Let’s call this School A.
Phase two: A team of people who want to know what made School A successful descends upon the school. They sit in the classrooms. They ask questions. Then the team comes back with a report that says something like, “Teachers at School A are successful because they ask students to make their own test using fill-in-the-blank test questions. This is a research-based report.”
Phase three: The information from the report is filtered through a series of people sitting in a quiet, student-less office. Materials are created. Packets are made.

Tiny island school a beacon for wayward teens

Martha Irvine:

This school isn’t a place you end up by accident.
A small propeller plane flight or a two-hour ferry ride into the northern reaches of Lake Michigan gets you as far as St. James, the northern hub of Beaver Island. But it takes another half hour by car, down bumpy gravel roads, to get to the south tip of the island and the small cluster of classroom buildings and log cabins, shadowed by the historic lighthouse for which this secluded alternative high school is named.
“What the hell have I gotten myself into?” That’s exactly what 18-year-old Katie Daugherty thought as she arrived at the Beaver Island Lighthouse School last September.
She was scared, felt sick to her stomach. She hardly talked to anyone.

The Educationist View of Math Education

Barry Garelick:

In Jay Greene’s recent blog post, “The Dead End of Scientific Progressivism,” he points out that Vicki Phillips, head of education at the Gates Foundation misread her Foundation’s own report. Jay’s point was that Vicki continued to see what she and others wanted to see: “‘Teaching to the test makes your students do worse on the tests.’ Science had produced its answer — teachers should stop teaching to the test, stop drill and kill, and stop test prep (which the Gates officials and reporters used as interchangeable terms).”
I was intrigued by the education establishment’s long-held view as Jay paraphrased it. This view has become one of the “enduring truths” of education and I have heard it expressed in the various classes I have been taking in education school the last few years. (I plan to teach high school math when I retire later this year). In terms of math education, ed school professors distinguish between “exercises” and “problems”. “Exercises” are what students do when applying algorithms or routines they know and can apply even to word problems. Problem solving, which is preferred, occurs when students are not able to apply a mechanical, memorized response, but rather have to apply prior knowledge to solve a non-routine problem. Moreover, we future teachers are told that students’ difficulty in solving problems in new contexts is evidence that the use of “mere exercises” or “procedures” is ineffective and they are overused in classrooms. One teacher summed up this philosophy with the following questions: “What happens when students are placed in a totally unfamiliar situation that requires a more complex solution? Do they know how to generate a procedure? How do we teach students to apply mathematical thinking in creative ways to solve complex, novel problems? What happens when we get off the ‘script’?”

Restoring the Faculty Voice

Dan Berrett:

Faculty members from the unions of public colleges from 21 states met this weekend in Los Angeles and committed to launching a campaign with a lofty goal: assuring the future of higher education.
Participants reviewed and many expressed support for a set of organizing principles contained in a draft document called “Quality Higher Education for the 21st Century” that was prepared by the California Faculty Association. It advocates for more scrupulous analysis of calls to reform higher education. “Wholesale embrace of change without careful thought and deliberation can take us in the wrong direction,” the document states, “not toward reforming higher education but, in fact, toward deforming precisely those aspects of American higher education that have made it the envy of the world.”

Where Have All The Thinkers Gone?

Gideon Rachman:

A few weeks ago I was sitting in my office, reading Foreign Policy magazine, when I made a striking discovery. Sitting next door to me, separated only by a narrow partition, is one of the world’s leading thinkers. Every year, Foreign Policy lists the people it regards as the “Top 100 Global Thinkers”. And there, at number 37, was Martin Wolf.
I popped next door to congratulate my colleague. Under such circumstances, it is compulsory for any English person to make a self-deprecating remark and Martin did not fail me. The list of intellectuals from 2010, he suggested, looked pretty feeble compared with a similar list that could have been drawn up in the mid 19th century.
This was more than mere modesty. He has a point. Once you start the list-making exercise, it is difficult to avoid the impression that we are living in a trivial age.
The Foreign Policy list for 2010, it has to be said, is slightly odd since the magazine’s top 10 thinkers are all more famous as doers. In joint first place come Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for their philanthropic efforts. Then come the likes of Barack Obama (at number three), Celso Amorim, the Brazilian foreign minister (sixth), and David Petraeus, the American general and also, apparently, the world’s eighth most significant thinker. It is not until you get down to number 12 on the list that you find somebody who is more famous for thinking than doing – Nouriel Roubini, the economist.

A Breath of Fresh Air on Ed Reform

Melissa Westbrook:

I do wish I had attended the Washington Policy Center breakfast last week. One reason is the speaker was Dr. Andres Alonso, the head of Baltimore Schools. He sounds like an interesting guy and I would have liked to hear him in person.
However, a couple of readers (Greg is one), pointed out that there was coverage of his speech in this week’s Crosscut. What is interesting is he seems the non-firebreathing, anti-union, anti-parent Michelle Rhee. He came into an incredibly poor situation:
Only 35 percent of Baltimore’s students received high-school diplomas the year before Alonso arrived. Proficiency levels as measured by standardized tests were in the cellar. Over nine years the district lost 25,000 students, dwindling from 106,540 in 1999 to 81,284 in 2008.
In the same period the district gained 1,000 staff, Alonso said. With costs rising despite continuing enrollment declines, “baseline aid from the state to the city had doubled…. It was clearly an organization not sustainable over time.”
How could they lose over 25,000 students and gain 1,000 staff? Who was the superintendent before this guy?

The art of good writing

Adam Haslett:

In 1919, the young EB White, future New Yorker writer and author of Charlotte’s Web, took a class at Cornell University with a drill sergeant of an English professor named William Strunk Jr. Strunk assigned his self-published manual on composition entitled “The Elements of Style“, a 43-page list of rules of usage, principles of style and commonly misused words. It was a brief for brevity. “Vigorous writing is concise,” Strunk wrote. “When a sentence is made stronger, it usually becomes shorter.” Half a century later, when preparing his old professor’s manuscript for publication, White added an essay of his own underlining the argument for concision in moral terms. “Do not overwrite,” he instructed. “Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating.” Strunk & White, as the combined work came to be known, was issued in 1959 and went on to become a defining American statement of what constituted good writing, with 10m copies sold, and counting. Its final rule summoned the whole: “Prefer the standard to the offbeat.”
Though never explicitly political, The Elements of Style is unmistakably a product of its time. Its calls for “vigour” and “toughness” in language, its analogy of sentences to smoothly functioning machines, its distrust of vernacular and foreign language phrases all conform to that disciplined, buttoned-down and most self-assured stretch of the American century from the armistice through the height of the cold war. A time before race riots, feminism and the collapse of the gold standard. It is a book full of sound advice addressed to a class of all-male Ivy-Leaguers wearing neckties and with neatly parted hair. This, of course, is part of its continuing appeal. It is spoken in the voice of unquestioned authority in a world where that no longer exists. As Lorin Stein, the new editor of the celebrated literary magazine The Paris Review, recently put it to me: “It’s like a national superego.” And when it comes to an activity as variable, difficult and ultimately ungovernable as writing sentences, the allure of rules that dictate brevity and concreteness is enduring.

More choice in schools needed

James Gleason:

The Gleason Family Foundation has long had an intense interest in the quality of education. With great disappointment over the decades, we’ve watched our public education system continually fail to meet the needs of all children.
The education special interests tell us that the crisis in education is a fabricated one. But the growing body of achievement data overwhelmingly shows that K-12 student performance, particularly in urban school systems, has been middling at best, comparing unfavorably even to some Third World countries.
Rochester, like all too many urban school systems, graduates fewer than 50 percent of its students, many of whom are totally unprepared to meet the challenges of an increasingly high tech world.

Virtual School Enrollment Cap Stifles Choice

James Wigderson:

Today marks the beginning of School Choice Week.
Well, members of the Wisconsin legislature have several important choices ahead of them as they look at the educational landscape in this state.
The temptation is to sweep our state’s educational problems under the rug with one heck of a broom for an excuse, “there is no money.”
To give in to that temptation would be wrong and there are steps the legislature can take to restore educational innovation and improve educational access without breaking the bank.
One of the steps would be to eliminate the cap on online public charter school enrollment. The cap is one of the most shameful educational policy holdovers from the Governor Jim Doyle era, and it needs to be repealed.

The Sinking States

Scott Jaschik:

States are spending more than $79 billion on higher education in 2010-11, a decline of 0.7 percent from last year, according to a report being released today by the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University and the State Higher Education Executive Officers.
While a cut of less than 1 percent might seem like a relief, given the magnitude of some of the cuts public higher education systems have faced in recent years, the report contains plenty of danger signs for the future. More than $2.5 billion of the total state spending on higher education came from the federal government in the form of stimulus funds that have now run out. Over two years, state support is down nearly 2 percent — in a period when the same economic downturn that has left state coffers empty has also spurred enrollment increases in much of public higher education, and greater demands for financial aid. And plenty of states are talking about additional cuts for 2011-12.

Huge child health survey kicks off in Waukesha

Laurel Walker:

One hundred down, 1,150 more to go.
Waukesha County researchers have identified 100 babies who’ll be part of a landmark study of children’s health – a tiny fraction of the 100,000 nationwide who may eventually be identified for the largest long-term study of children’s health ever conducted in the country.
Waukesha County is among the first seven pilot locations, the only one in Wisconsin and part of 105 centers eventually who’ll participate in the National Children’s Study. The $2.7 billion study will follow children from before their birth until age 21 with the aim of identifying the influence of environmental factors, including physical, chemical, biological and psychosocial, on their health and development.
A celebration at the study’s Waukesha office Wednesday highlighted the success in finding the first 100 local participants.
Another 1,150 babies will eventually be added in Waukesha County, and researchers are still recruiting from Brookfield, Big Bend, Hartland, Pewaukee, Oconomowoc, Dousman, New Berlin, Waukesha, Menomonee Falls and Sussex.

Chinese schoolchildren to sit compulsory manners classes

Peter Foster:

From primary school onwards, Chinese children will now receive lessons in the art of queuing, good table manners, how to respect their elders and betters and the correct way to write letters, emails and even send SMS messages.
Older children will be tutored in the arts of introducing oneself to strangers, dealing politely with members of the opposite sex, making public speeches and the rudiments of dealing with foreigners and (to Chinese eyes, at least) their strange ways.
“The goal is to let students know that China is a country with a long history of civilisation, rituals and cultures,” said the guidelines which were published on the ministry’s website.

Calculating the difference in New Jersey charter schools

Bob Braun:

It’s New Jersey School Choice Week. Gov. Chris Christie signed a proclamation encouraging all citizens to “join the movement for educational reform.”
Or, at least, his brand of reform, one that includes cutting $1 billion from traditional public schools while spending taxpayer money on independent schools that have somehow failed to enroll New Jersey’s neediest children, those with handicaps, language problems, and very low income.
In the last few days, the governor issued a study that purported to show charters “outperforming” traditional schools, approved 23 more charters, proposed laws making it easier to create the independent but publicly funded schools, and hired an organization run by Geoffrey Canada, the champion of New York charter schools, to try his magic in Paterson.
Some critics argue state studies comparing scores of charter schools with their home districts were not scientific and unbiased and, if they showed anything, proved test score averages can be improved by not enrolling children who don’t do well on standardized tests.

It’s time for Oklahoma to excel in education

Bill Price:

The 2011 legislative session presents a historic opportunity for Oklahoma to lead in improving our children’s future through comprehensive education reform. The combination of a reform-minded Legislature, governor and state school superintendent, along with an engaged public, provides a unique window for passing the greatest educational improvements in our lifetime.
The first reform is choice in education through an educational tax credit scholarship act that follows the example of the states that have seen the most rapid improvement in educational achievement. This bill empowers parents to find the schools that will best meet their children’s needs, stimulates the creation of innovative scholarship schools, and provides the competition that has been proven to greatly improve the public schools.
Choice also is promoted by expanding the charter school laws, allowing the state schools superintendent to charter new schools, and freeing these highly successful charter schools to finance their own infrastructure needs.

And Then What Happened?

Roger Rosenblatt:

I have a good feeling about this class. I’m going to like them. Liking a class is more practically useful than it sounds. In a likable class, discussions are freer, more open. When the students like one another, they take everyone’s work more seriously. In another class I taught, after a woman read a section of her novel aloud, another woman asked, “May I be your friend?” The first woman answered, “You already are.” The students will also feel safe with one another and will trust the group with personal information they use in their writing.
In my novel-writing workshop, a student wrote about a woman who was taking care of her husband, whose mind was deteriorating. She too was deteriorating from the effort. She told her story as a novel, but the students understood it was her own. They respect such disclosures. They unite with one another like a noisy brood of brothers and sisters. And they can always unite against me.

Suitable to whom? Legislators defining a “suitable” education or curriculum for Kansas schools won’t necessarily keep the state out of court.

The Lawrence World:

From a practical standpoint, we would like to think that every action taken by the Kansas Legislature would be “suitable” for the state.
However, that word has spawned considerable controversy in Kansas as it pertains to education funding — controversy that has landed the state in court before and may do it again.
Gov. Sam Brownback wants to avoid that and many Kansans would agree with his contention that defending state laws in court is a poor use of precious resources. To that end, in his State of the State address, Brownback invited legislators to better define “a suitable education.”
Like many Kansans, Brownback quoted a term that actually doesn’t appear in Article 6 of the Kansas Constitution, which covers education. The actual wording is that the legislature “shall make suitable provision for finance of the educational interests of the state.” The sentence even appears under Section 6: Finance.

Pro-school choice organization launched

Georgia Pabst:

Hispanics for School Choice, an organization designed to expand school choice programs, launched Monday at a gathering at the United Community Center.
The group’s legislative agenda includes:

  • Removing the enrollment cap in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
  • Expanding choice schools to allow students from Milwaukee to attend schools throughout Milwaukee County.
  • Allowing all parents to participate in choice by lifting income limits.
  • Expanding school choice to other cities.

“Despite differences in political philosophies, our community agrees that school choice is educationally effective in educating our children, and we’re serious about getting the best for our children,” said Zeus Rodriguez, president of the organization.
The school choice movement has backed an array of options outside the traditional public school system. Proponents argue that such programs expand options for parents and pressure public schools to operate more efficiently. Critics argue that the choice program drains resources from public schools, and that public funds shouldn’t flow to private, often religious schools.

In response to criticism, Madison Schools will consider additional 4K sites

Matthew DeFour:

Responding to concerns that potential locations for Madison’s new 4-year-old kindergarten program are not located in poor neighborhoods where they may be most beneficial, school district officials said Monday they will evaluate additional sites.
The School Board on Monday approved 19 elementary schools with available space as potential 4K sites, but also asked the district to identify churches or community centers with space where Madison teachers could be assigned for the 2 1/2 hour daily program beginning this fall.
The district is expecting to hear back this week from 35 day care centers that were approved to participate in the program.
Not all of the 54 potential sites will end up being used, but the district won’t know the exact distribution until parents register their students beginning Feb. 7.

Much more on Madison’s 4K program, here.

Dumbed-down diplomas Low academic standards have students paying more for less

Craig Brandon:

The news that 45 percent of college students learn little or nothing during their first two years of college comes as no surprise to those who have been studying higher education. But it should serve as a wake up call for parents who go deeply into debt to purchase a very expensive diploma for their children.
The researchers who studied more than 2,300 undergraduates found that nearly half showed no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years. After four years, 36 percent of students still did not demonstrate significant improvement.
Undergraduate students just aren’t asked to do much, according to findings in the new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.” Half of students did not take a single course requiring 20 pages of writing during their prior semester. One-third did not take a single course requiring even 40 pages of reading a week.

Austin superintendent rallies task force to get back to long-term plan

Melissa B. Taboada:

Austin schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen met with facilities task force members Saturday to encourage them to broaden their scope and not to focus as much on the district’s looming budget crisis.
In recent weeks, the task force seemed to stray a bit from its mission of creating a 10-year plan on future schools, renovations and attendance zones. After it earlier this month named nine schools that could be closed for efficiency’s sake, outraged community members rallied to save their schools.
Although the long-term plan probably will have recommendations on closures, task force members said they felt pressured to produce short-term fixes to help the district get past one of the worst anticipated budget shortfalls in its history.
On Saturday, Carstarphen, in effect, told task force volunteers that was her burden, not theirs.
“There’s only so much in efficiencies you can do,” she said. “You can’t do it all. You don’t need to do it all.”

Austin School Board.
The Austin School District’s 2010-2011 budget is $973,997,900 for 86,000 students ($11,325.55 per student). Madison’s 2010-2011 budget is $379,058,945 (according to the January, 2011 “State of the District” presentation for 24,471 students. That is $15,490 per student.

Let students make the right choice

Lindsay Burke:

Expect to hear the phrase “school choice” more than usual in the coming days. The fourth week of January is National School Choice Week, and advocates for educational freedom across the country will be highlighting its effectiveness for children.
Why school choice? Economist Milton Friedman best stated the philosophy behind it: “You can subsidize the producer or you can subsidize the consumer. In education, we subsidize the producer; we subsidize the school. If you subsidize the student instead, you would have competition. The student could choose which school he would go to, and that would force the schools to improve and to meet the tastes of their students.”
But you don’t have to get philosophical. Just ask the kids.

College Saving Gets Trickier

Jane Kim:

After being pilloried by critics and written off by many families, 529 college-saving plans are getting better. But well-heeled investors still would be wise to spread their bets around.
So-called 529 plans allow people to save for college expenses and withdraw the earnings tax-free. Many also offer a break on state income tax–savings that, in theory, an investor can roll back into the account.
For years 529s were pitched as the ultimate college-savings vehicle, but their limitations were thrown into sharp relief during the financial crisis. Too reliant on stocks, the average 529 investment option lost nearly 24% in 2008. Even portfolios geared to older kids just a few years away from college got hammered, losing 14%, according to investment-research firm Morningstar Inc. What’s more, because savers can generally make investment changes only once a year, many people watched helplessly as their accounts dropped in value.

Parents awarded $1 million in suit claiming therapists created false memories of abuse

Doug Erickson:

A Dane County jury has awarded $1 million to a former Madison couple who claimed therapists created in their daughter false memories of childhood sexual and physical abuse.
Jurors early Sunday found two of the three therapists who treated Charlotte Johnson in the early 1990s professionally negligent, said attorney Bill Smoler, who represented her parents, Dr. Charles and Karen Johnson.
The couple, now of St. Louis, had been accused by their daughter of being Satanists and incest perpetrators. Charlotte Johnson had come to believe that her father had raped her at age 3, that her mother had come after her with a knife and tried to drown her, and that the family dabbled in cults and infanticide, said Smoler, who termed the alleged memories “outrageous.”

The Difference Engine: More pennies, please

The Economist:

EVER since 1982, when the American penny (one-cent piece) ceased being minted from brass and started being made instead from zinc with a thin coating of copper, eighth-graders at some of the country’s more inspired schools have been given a nifty little experiment in electrochemistry to do for homework. Your correspondent’s 13-year-old came home recently with goggles and instructions to find the amounts of copper and zinc in a modern penny. While in class, each kid had first carefully weighed three such coins on a scientific balance. After that, the rest was up to them (and their dads).
The experiment is designed to test the pupils’ knowledge of the galvanic series, and the science that explains how corrosion occurs. The series lists metals according to their resistance to electrochemical reaction–with the “noblest” (eg, palladium, platinum and gold) at the top of the rankings, and the most reactive or “basest” (eg, beryllium, zinc and magnesium) at the bottom. Copper comes 11 places above zinc in the table. Thus, when the two metals share an electrolyte, the zinc (being much the more reactive) will dissolve into the solution long before the copper. In a similar way, zinc anodes attached to the hulls of ships protect the vessels’ steel plates from rusting away by being sacrificed instead.

UW-Madison Professor Honored By President Obama


President Barack Obama is honoring 11 people, including a University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering professor, for their mentoring efforts.
Douglass Henderson was named a recipient of the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring.
Henderson, 10 other people from around the nation and four organizations will receive the awards at a White House ceremony in the next week.

Probation rallies Atlanta Public Schools supporters

Kristina Torres:

The threat to revoke the accreditation of Atlanta Public Schools last week was as ominous as a shark fin: Could one unruly school board somehow pull the whole city under?
Shortly after the school system was placed on probation, however, powerful interests in the city and state coalesced into a formidable defensive line. Loss of accreditation, they said, simply can’t happen.
“Come September, we will have an accredited, functioning school system,” state Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, said of a Sept. 30 deadline facing the school board to improve its governance. “We are all committed we will work our way through this … issue. That’s the most important message any of us could give.”

The English Patient

Paul Temple:

Higher education in England is currently the subject of an extraordinary experiment in the allocation of public funding: the question is, will the patient survive, and if so, in what state?
The Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government is (in England, but in not the rest of the UK, where higher education is a regional responsibility) removing, at a stroke, almost all of the public funding for teaching, lending it to students to pay tuition fees, and then make them pay it back after graduation, as soon as they start earning a half-decent salary (currently £21,000). Fees are expected to go up from the present level for undergraduates of just over £3000 to (the government assumes) £6000, or in some cases up to £9000. The government clearly assumes that the £9000 level will be exceptional – but there are some indications that it may become the new norm, not least because of concerns that charging less may send a signal about academic quality (which is exactly what happened when the present fee regime was introduced in 2006). If the government is wrong about fee levels, then its financial planning is in serious trouble.

Abuse Case Sparks a Clash Over Limits of Tough Parenting

Miriam Jordan:

Dmitriy Kozlov waited until nightfall to place a 911 call to Oregon authorities, alerting them to a terrible case of child abuse in an immigrant community that existed, almost invisibly, in this city’s midst.
The alleged victim was 14-year-old Dmitriy himself. From a pay phone on July 20, 2009, he reported that his parents regularly beat him and several of his six siblings. Their parents, he said, struck them with wires, branches and belts for wearing makeup and getting a fake tattoo.

George Washington University launches online prep school

Daniel de Vise:

George Washington University has opened a private college-preparatory high school that will operate entirely online, one of the nation’s first “virtual” secondary schools to be affiliated with a major research university.
The opening of a laboratory-style school under the banner of a prestigious university generally counts as a major event among parents of the college-bound. The George Washington University Online High School, a partnership with the online learning company K12 Inc., is competing with brick-and-mortar prep schools and with a small but growing community of experimental online schools attached to major universities.
Online learning may be the next logical step in the evolution of university “lab” schools, an ongoing experiment in pedagogy. Online instruction holds the potential to transcend the factory model of traditional public education, allowing students to learn at their own pace. In the ideal online classroom, no lesson is ever too fast or too slow, and no one ever falls behind.


Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools

Joanne Barkan:

The cost of K-12 public schooling in the United States comes to well over $500 billion per year. So, how much influence could anyone in the private sector exert by controlling just a few billion dollars of that immense sum? Decisive influence, it turns out. A few billion dollars in private foundation money, strategically invested every year for a decade, has sufficed to define the national debate on education; sustain a crusade for a set of mostly ill-conceived reforms; and determine public policy at the local, state, and national levels. In the domain of venture philanthropy–where donors decide what social transformation they want to engineer and then design and fund projects to implement their vision–investing in education yields great bang for the buck.
Hundreds of private philanthropies together spend almost $4 billion annually to support or transform K-12 education, most of it directed to schools that serve low-income children (only religious organizations receive more money). But three funders–the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with road) Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation – working in sync, command the field. Whatever nuances differentiate the motivations of the Big Three, their market-based goals for overhauling public education coincide: choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision-making. And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don’t rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher. Other foundations–Ford, Hewlett, Annenberg, Milken, to name just a few–often join in funding one project or another, but the education reform movement’s success so far has depended on the size and clout of the Gates-Broad-Walton triumvirate.

Using an iPad as a Textbook

Laura Goode

For some classes at the University of Notre Dame, iPads are replacing textbooks — at least temporarily.
The school is studying the use of the Apple Inc. tablet among students to see how it affects learning, and after a test this fall found that students students thought the device made their class more interesting.
“Moments before the start of class, I could place a video into students’ dropboxes, and the majority of them would arrive having already watched it and able to discuss it. Those sorts of things made the class more interesting and dynamic and could never have happened in the past,” said Assistant Professor Corey Angst, the professor behind the project. Half of the students ultimately said they strongly agreed that the iPad made their project management course more interesting.
The study, called the eReader Project, looked at undergraduates in a project-management course at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business this past fall. The sampling of students was small: 40 students in the course used Wi-Fi iPads for seven weeks of the semester; a second wave of 38 students received in the second half of the semester.

New Jersey lawmakers advance school voucher program for students in failing schools

Jessica Calefati:

A state Senate committee voted Thursday to advance a program that would offer vouchers for students in failing public schools to attend private and parochial schools.
The Opportunity Scholarship Act is a signature piece of Gov. Chris Christie’s education reform agenda and another proposal over which he and the state’s largest teachers union are coming to blows. The New Jersey Education Association vehemently opposes the voucher program, calling it “a government bailout for struggling private schools.”
If implemented, the bill would cost about $825 million and serve 40,000 students in 166 chronically failing public schools by its fifth year. It could be a boon for parochial schools, which have been closing in droves because of declining enrollment, but could also force reductions in state aid to public school districts.

Time for Change is Now – Milwaukee’s New Superintendent

Alan Borsuk:

If the Milwaukee Public Schools system keeps operating the way it is now, things just aren’t going to get much better. If we want things genuinely to improve, big changes need to be made. And the time for making changes is now.
I’m not presenting my views. I’m describing the views of Gregory Thornton.
With a half-year as superintendent of MPS behind him, he is beginning to make moves that are sure to define the success or failure of his time in Milwaukee – and may have a major impact on the shape of education in the city for years to come.

  • Lengthening school days and teacher workdays.
  • Giving administrators freer hands in hiring and assigning teachers.
  • Revising rules that make seniority the deciding factor in who gets laid off or reassigned when cuts are made.
  • Revamping teacher evaluations and maybe pay, including student performance as a factor.
  • Giving management more freedom to schedule training for teachers.
  • Revising the relationship between the School Board and the administration so the superintendent has a freer hand.

Supporting Wisconsin School Reform

Wisconsin State Journal:

We heard encouraging words about school reform last week from Republican leaders in the state Legislature.
For starters, those leaders — Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon and Rep. Steve Kestell of Elkhart Lake — both seem focused on change and flexibility, essential parts of any movement forward with our public schools. And both seem committed to reducing the mandates and state demands on local school systems.
That type of increased local control will be necessary not only to truly bring about change to public schools but also to maneuver them through an era of exceedingly tight budgets. Funding for schools no doubt will be squeezed as Gov. Scott Walker deals with the state’s $3 billion-plus deficit in his two-year budget proposal next month.

Idahoans speak out on education reform

Jusin Corr:

It was a packed house today as teachers, parents, superintendents, and members of the community showed up to voice their concerns or approval for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s comprehensive plan for education reform.
It was also a historic day at the Statehouse as the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee took public comment for the first time ever, and boy did they ever take public comment.
It was standing room only as people crowded in to give their 3-minute testimonies on Luna’s plan to overhaul K-12 education in Idaho.
“Hansen has been hit hard by the cuts to education,” said teacher Lauren Peters. “Unlike many districts, we were unable to pass our override levy. So our children lost out. Our drama and music classes are entirely gone.”
“We don’t have the money,” said Danielle Aarons, a mother. “We have to make cuts. It’s not fun, it’s hard. But at home, in our budgets, this is what we have to do. It’s simple math.”
The first major point of Luna’s plan includes merit pay for teachers and doing away with their tenure.
“Currently, there is no accountability system where districts, schools, or teachers are recognized or rewarded for top performance, or corrected when performance is poor,” said Colby Gull, Superintendent of Challis schools.

Some schools giving desks the boot

Amy Hetzner:

Concentration broken only by the soft whispers of student questions, the fifth-graders in Hartland South Elementary School teacher Holly Albrecht’s class lounge on bean bags, perch on fabric cubes or lightly bounce on stability balls.
With the entire class studiously completing math tests, a couple of students choose to work at a table pushed to a corner during a redesign of Albrecht’s classroom. But the room’s sole desk goes abandoned.
Just changing the furniture by removing almost all of the desks and most of the chairs in her classroom has brought about changes in her students, Albrecht said, aiding concentration and providing more flexibility for how they learn. Other teachers in her school have taken notice and are planning changes of their own, budget allowing.
“The kids love it,” Albrecht said.
Although this is only a few teachers and only one school building, such moves to get rid of the traditional desk-and-chair design of an upper-elementary-grade classroom are part of a larger rethinking of the school experience.

Everything old is new again.

State of the Madison School District – January, 2011

The Madison School District: 2.6MB PDF

The Report
The 2011 State of the District Report brings into focus the great strengths and challenges of the Madison Metropolitan School District, and sheds light on our strategies, plans and priorities for keeping all of the community’s children on a secure path toward learning and healthy development.
Mission Critical
The mission statement of the Madison Metropolitan School District focuses on our commitment to ensuring that our students develop a love of learning, and the necessary citizenship skills that will allow them to function effectively in an evermore complex world and be of assistance to the communities in which they reside.
MMSD In Context
The MMSD is the second largest school district in Wisconsin with 24,796 students. This is the 3rd Friday of September 2010 count and includes pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
Student Population by Race/Ethnicity:
White 47%
African-American 24%
Hispanic 17%
Asian 10%
Multiracial 6%
Native American 1%

  • 49% Free and Reduced Price Lunch Students (37% State Avg.)
  • 17% English Language Learners (6% State Avg.)
  • 70 different languages spoken as the primary language in the homes of MMSD students
  • 15% Students with Disabilities (14.1% State Avg.)

Employees FTEs*
Total 6,286 3,853.4
Some employee groups:
Teachers 2,626 2,500.61
Substitutes 729 N/A
Educational Assistants 625 480.55
Custodians 211 211.0
* Full-time equivalent; 1.0 FTE = a full-time position
Financial Status:
With the 2009-10 fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, the Madison Metropolitan School District’s General Fund (10) expenditures were less than budgeted, allowing the district to increase fund balance over last year by $5.15 million, to $40.49 million.
The adopted 2010-11 budget continues to put resources where they are most needed – in the classrooms. The budgeted spending for all funds is a total of $379,058,945 which is an increase of $8,771,475 or 2.37% over 2009- 10.
The total property tax levy increased by $10,823,758 or 4.62%, with a mill rate increase of $0.88 or 8.65%. The following graph shows the breakdown of 2009-10 Actual Revenue by four major categories.

1.5MB complete report.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Path Is Sought for States to Escape Debt Burdens

Mary Williams Walsh:

Policy makers are working behind the scenes to come up with a way to let states declare bankruptcy and get out from under crushing debts, including the pensions they have promised to retired public workers.
Unlike cities, the states are barred from seeking protection in federal bankruptcy court. Any effort to change that status would have to clear high constitutional hurdles because the states are considered sovereign.
But proponents say some states are so burdened that the only feasible way out may be bankruptcy, giving Illinois, for example, the opportunity to do what General Motors did with the federal government’s aid.
Beyond their short-term budget gaps, some states have deep structural problems, like insolvent pension funds, that are diverting money from essential public services like education and health care. Some members of Congress fear that it is just a matter of time before a state seeks a bailout, say bankruptcy lawyers who have been consulted by Congressional aides.

Penn Law Professor Too Lazy To Come Up With New Multiple Choice Questions Causes Exam SNAFU

Elie Mystal:

=And here’s a good one: don’t reuse exam questions just because you are teaching at a different law school. It’s called “the internet,” professors. Your students have access to it and can find your old questions. If you put in just a little bit of work, you can come up with entirely new exam questions.
It’s your job! You get paid for it!
And if you do your job with minimal diligence, you won’t end up like Penn Law professor William Wilson Bratton, and we won’t have to write about you…
Last year, a visiting professor at NYU got into trouble for re-using exam questions. It’s a mistake that’s so easy to avoid that I’m surprised to see it happen again. But maybe we just need to post one of these stories every year to encourage professors to demonstrate basic competence stay on their toes.

Madison schools’ ‘Cadillac’ health insurance a myth

Susan Troller:

There’s always lots of talk about how Madison area teachers enjoy gold-plated health insurance plans, courtesy of the taxpayers. But a recently released report from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards should go a long ways towards dispelling that myth.
Almost 400 school districts showed insurance data for the 2009-2010 school year, and the cost of premiums for Madison school district employees were rock bottom, second only to the tiny Maple school district’s premium costs. (Only about a quarter of the school districts in Wisconsin have yet reported their 2010-2011 figures).
Last year’s premium costs for the Maple School District, located in Douglas County in northern Wisconsin, were $369.26 per month for a single person’s policy; Madison’s costs ran $419.13 for a single policy, with Hortonville in third place at $419.42. Family insurance premiums in Maple were $1107.79 per month while Madison’s were $1119.10; Hortonville was 1220.41.

College Reversal? Studies find a decline in Asian-American students’ success once they move away from home and go to college.

Kathy Seal:

Some research has found that once Asian-American kids hit college, they no longer outstrip white students academically — if they’re living away from home.
For example, a study of 452 students at UC Irvine led by University of Denver psychologist Julia Dmitrieva found that while both white and Asian-American students’ freshman year grades dipped below their 12th-grade GPAs, Asian-Americans’ fell dramatically, while white Americans’ dropped only slightly.
“There’s a reversal of ethnic differences in college grades, at least temporarily,” Dmitrieva says. That reversal didn’t stem, as some have guessed, from Asian-American students taking more natural science courses, which generally are graded more stringently than other subjects. In fact, her study showed that grades in both natural and social sciences dropped for the Asian-American freshmen, while grades in natural sciences rose for white students.
“We observed the same dip in grades for natural sciences among the Asian-Americans as there are for other majors,” says Dmitrieva.

Learning to Play ‘Angry Birds’ Before You Can Tie Your Shoes

Jennifer Valentino-DeVries:

These kids today. They’re playing with apps and computer games and learning to use a mouse. Whatever happened to tying their shoes and learning to ride a bike?
Young children are still learning to do those traditional activities, but they’re also mastering a variety of tech skills early in life — raising questions about how quickly the world is changing for kids and parents.
Take the skill of tying shoelaces, for example. In a recent survey, 14% of kids age 4 or 5 could tie their shoes, while 21% could play or operate at least one smartphone app.
In the same study, which polled 2,200 mothers in several developed countries, 22% of children that age knew at least one Web address, 34% could open a Web browser and 76% could play an online computer game. By comparison, 31% knew to dial 9-1-1 in an emergency, 35% could get their own breakfast (which we assume doesn’t mean making eggs) and 53% knew their home address. (A full 67% could ride a bike, which makes your Digits blogger feel bad for not learning until she was well into elementary school.)

New Jersey Governor pitches plan to school reform advocates

Nora Muchanic:

Governor Chris Christie has some changes in mind when it comes to education in the Garden State.
Christie invited players in the education reform movement to Trenton on Wednesday for a showing of “Waiting for Superman”, the acclaimed documentary that looks at the failures of public education.
Christie said beforehand it’s his goal to turn those failures around.
“The failed teacher must be shown the door, bad schools must be closed and start over,” Gov. Christie said.
Hoping to give students in troubled districts more choices, the state has just approved the opening of 23 new charter schools across New Jersey. Charters are publicly funded schools that operate independently.

Wyoming teacher evaluation bills would put cameras in classrooms

Jackie Borchardt:

Security cameras have been in schools for years, but several lawmakers want to bring them into the classroom.
Two bills filed this week in the Wyoming Legislature would require videotaped class periods to be part of every teacher’s evaluation.
All teachers are evaluated annually by law. Initial-contract teachers are evaluated twice each year.
House Bill 166 would also require all teachers — on initial and continuing contracts — to be evaluated in writing every month.
The bill has strong support in both chambers, sponsored by Reps. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, Donald Burkhart, R-Rawlins, Kendell Kroeker, R-Casper, Michael Madden, R-Buffalo, and Matt Teeters, R-Lingle; and Sens. Paul Barnard, R-Evanston, Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, Hank Coe, R-Cody, and Bill Landen, R-Casper.

MPS suspends too many kids

James Causey:

Let me start out by saying, I’ve never been suspended from school, and I attended Milwaukee Public Schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Was I an angel?
No, but I was lucky enough to have teachers and school leaders who reined me in if I got out of control.
Oh, and I can’t forget my mother’s threat:
“Don’t make me come up to your school and embarrass you in front of your friends, because you know I’ll do it.”
As my mother prepared to leave for work every morning, she would always say to me before I locked the door behind her, “Be good in school, and remember I love you.”
That message kept me out of fights, arguments and trouble – most of the time, anyway.
When I attended school 25 years ago, a suspension was a big deal. Today, a suspension is nothing more than a vacation for kids and an inconvenience to working parents.

The purpose of college in 2011

Christopher Howard:

The Purpose of College in 2011
There exists a familiar crescendo during the holiday season that achieves its apex as the New Year begins. If your family is like mine, it began with great anticipation about gifts, both receiving them and choosing just the right one.
But after the presents were opened and the last bit of leftover turkey devoured, we turned our attention to contemplating the purpose of the holidays and our ambitions for the upcoming New Year. As the president of one of America’s oldest institutions of higher learning, Hampden-Sydney College, I thought it appropriate to offer my comments on the purpose of a college, for higher education is, or should be, central to the ambitions of all our young men and women.
A bit of history is illustrative.
Universities, when they were established more than a thousand years ago, focused on educating clergy and instilling religious piety. Over the years, religious education was supplement and then supplanted by the notion of civic virtue and, eventually, by secular humanism which became the core purpose of institutions of higher learning. The 1800s gave rise to the German university with its graduate students and deliberate focus on research. The American concept of a liberal arts education, which included emphasis on teaching and, usually, the shaping of moral character, was shaken to its core as research universities attracted talented professors, eager students, and government and foundation dollars. But undergraduate students still needed some degree of moral formation or at least some growing up. Colleges and universities still have to address this need — particularly for the Millennials — our wonderfully over-programmed, over-achieving and, at times, over-confident young people born after 1979.

Parsons takes over Marlboro County School Board

Patricia Burkett:

A major change took place in Bennettsville Tuesday evening as Lucy Parsons was sworn in as the new chairperson of the Marlboro County School Board.
Parsons previously served as the mayor of Bennettsville and also played a vital role among a group Citizens for Marlboro County, which opposes the construction of a landfill near the Wallace community.
Many residents say they felt there were a lot of issues that needed to be addressed not only when it came to the Marlboro County School Board, but in terms of the school district as well.
Some said tensions within the school board as well as news of an investigation over possible misuse of federal funds by the school district, played very influential roles when they cast their votes for the chairperson’s position in November.

New Jersey Tries to Duplicate Harlem Children’s Zone

Lisa Fleisher:

The methods behind the Harlem Children’s Zone education and social project have been praised by President Barack Obama and lionized in the film “Waiting for Superman.'” But the integrated approach to raising successful children has been tough to repeat — and now New Jersey is going to give it a try.
Officials in Paterson, N.J., will begin working with experts from the Harlem Children’s Zone to mimic the model, the Christie administration said Wednesday.
Few details were given about what exactly that might look like. Geoffrey Canada, the outspoken president of Harlem Children’s Zone, will work with city officials “over the coming weeks and months” to create a program. It’s unclear whether there will be additional federal, state or private funding for the Paterson experiment.

Students, teachers profit from financial literacy

Felicia Thomas-Lynn:

Shekira Roby is only 11 years old, but she is already becoming fluent in the language of money.
She has studied the time value of money, the concept of risk and reward, as well as the importance of budgeting and most of all how to save.
“I’m almost up to $100,” said Roby, who has also become adept at counting money as one of four tellers at the in-school bank at the Business and Economics Academy of Milwaukee or BEAM, where she is a sixth-grader.
The type of learning she and others are engaged in at the school already is paying dividends toward her financial future, said Tim O’Driscoll, director for the Center for Economic Education at the Lakeland College Milwaukee Center.
“People have to save more at a younger age,” O’Driscoll implored. “In society, there is a tremendous lack of knowledge about personal finances and just basic economics.”

The Private High School Option

Eliza Woolf:

During spring semester 2010, Katherine Parker (a pseudonym) resigned from her position as a tenure-track history professor at a regional comprehensive university, on the border between the South and the Midwest, to work at an elite private high school. She left, she says, for a number of reasons including low pay, frozen salaries, and cost-of-living adjustments that never came; insufficient resources for travel, research, and instruction; blatant administrative condescension toward faculty; and a poor personal fit with the region and its culture. There was also, Parker explains, “the sense that I was becoming more and more disconnected from my work — phoning it in because it no longer offered anything exciting.”
For three successive years, Parker attempted to find a better position within the ivory tower, and every year she was a finalist for “a great job.” But, in the end, each of the search committees offered her dream academic job to another candidate. In the midst of the 2009-10 job season, Parker decided that the plummeting state of the academic market meant that it was time to explore other options. She’d had enough. “Private school teaching attracted me because it combined the work I already knew I enjoyed with an institution that could support that work better (more resources, fewer students, more support for those students). It also promised a higher caliber of student.”