New study on KIPP: Higher attrition and lots more money per pupil

Maureen Downey:

There are a few dissenters who have remained leery of the great success story of the KIPP schools, questioning the turnover of students in the acclaimed program. KIPP operates three schools in the metro area and a high school, KIPP Atlanta Collegiate, opens this summer.
Now skeptics are about to get some data on attrition and funding that may confirm their suspicions.
In a study bound to raise the hackles of KIPP supporters, researchers at the College of Education and Human Development at Western Michigan University and Teachers College at Columbia University found that KIPP has a high attrition rate among African-American boys.
While the study does not challenge the academic success of KIPP graduates, it raises questions about the funding and whether the high level of private dollars is sustainable. The study found that KIPP schools benefit tremendously by donations and private funding, earning an extra $6,500 on average per pupil.
KIPP sent me a comment and fact sheet rebuttal of the study: Go to the link to see the back sheet.

Tests Reveal Madison Schools Wrestle With Achievement Gaps Tests Examined Reading, Math Proficiency


Madison Metropolitan School District officials are beginning to digest new statewide test score results.
The results for Madison are mixed, but district leaders said that they believe they have a lot of work to do to improve.
The tests reveal that Madison is home to some very bright students, but Superintendent Dan Nerad said that schools aren’t doing enough for students who are struggling. He said the test results are proof.
The results showed that, in general, reading levels among students increased across the board while math performance improved only slightly.
District officials said that they also continue to be a “bi-modal” district — meaning there are students who are scoring at the highest level while it also has ones who are scoring at the lowest levels in nearly every grade in math and reading.


The Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts Examination (WKCE) has long been criticized for its lack of rigor. Wisconsin DPI WKCE data.

Related: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.

Final exam: As elections loom, Barack Obama tries to reform America’s schools

The Economist:

AMERICA’S schools are dotted with stories of progress. In December your correspondent watched a class of seven-year-olds on Chicago’s poor West Side. As Mauricia Dantes, a consultant for IBM before she retrained as a teacher, led the pupils in a discussion about the deaf-and-blind author Helen Keller, one small girl declared: “I feel like I’m in college.” One day, thanks to Ms Dantes and other teachers, she may be.
Barack Obama wants such scenes to be the rule rather than the exception. The question is what the federal government can do to help. Ten years ago Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), a bold effort to improve America’s schools. On March 14th Mr Obama announced that he wants to pass a new version by August. It could be one of his most important feats. But it will not be easy.

The Public Sector Premium for School Principals

Average Salaries, 2007-2008
Age Public Private Public Premium
  Under 40 $80,600 $47,300 70.40%
  40 to 44 $84,900 $54,800 54.93%
  45 to 49 $86,000 $55,000 56.36%
  50 to 54 $88,100 $59,500 48.07%
  55 or over $91,500 $63,700 43.64%
Average $86,900 $58,300 49.06%

In a recent CD post, I featured the public sector premium for full-time elementary and secondary school teachers, which ranges from 14% to 102%, depending on experience and education.  The chart above is based on Department of Education data for the salaries of private and public school principals in 2007-2008 based on age.  Compared to public school principals in the age groups above, private school principals have slightly more experience as principals, slightly less experience as teachers, and are less likely to have advanced degrees (Master’s or Doctor’s degrees).  So the age group categories above don’t control perfectly for education and experience, but still show huge premiums for public school principals of 43% or higher, with an overall average premium of 49%.

Detroit Considers 45 Charter School

Matthew Dolan:

The state-appointed manager of Detroit Public Schools identified 45 schools in the struggling district that could be turned over to private charter operators in a bid to improve student performance.
Wednesday’s release of the target list comes as the manager, Robert Bobb, heads into a new round of talks with unions, armed with broad new authority to reopen labor contracts, cut costs and dictate curriculum.
Since his appointment more than two years ago, Mr. Bobb’s efforts to stabilize the district’s finances and bolster its academics have faced resistance from teachers unions and the school board. Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder changed all of that earlier this month, when he signed into law expanded powers for Mr. Bobb and other financial managers appointed to take over struggling cities and schools.
A Wayne County judge who earlier ruled that Mr. Bobb had improperly exerted control over academics stayed her order in light of the new legislation.
“This is one-man rule,” said George Washington, an attorney for the school board. “He doesn’t even have to meet with the school board.”

Study: Voucher students more likely to attend college

Milwaukee voucher students are more likely to graduate and enroll in college than their public school counterparts, according to a new study from researchers the state asked to evaluate the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
The finding is one of eight that researchers with the University of Arkansas’ School Choice Demonstration Project say demonstrate the “neutral to positive” results of the 20-year-old voucher program.
Other findings, such as the neutral effect on student test scores, were discovered in past years of the study and reaffirmed in the latest findings.
“We haven’t found any evidence of harm, and it wasn’t for lack of looking,” said lead researcher Patrick Wolf, who will be presenting the new research at UW-Madison today.

Erin Richards has more on the Milwaukee voucher program:

A day after the release of state test scores showed voucher-school students in Milwaukee achieving lower levels of reading and math proficiency than students in Milwaukee Public Schools, new data from researchers studying the voucher program’s results over multiple years shows those students are doing about the same as MPS students, not worse.
The contradictory report is part of the latest installment of data from a group of researchers at the University of Arkansas who have been tracking a sample of Milwaukee voucher students matched to a set of MPS peers since 2005-’06.
After looking at achievement results on state tests over three years for those matched samples of students, the researchers’ data continues to show little difference in academic achievement between both sectors in 2009.
For a matched sample of ninth-grade students in 2005-’06, the researchers found slightly higher graduation rates and college enrollment for voucher students three years later.
John F. Witte, a professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who’s involved with research on the five-year study, said the program is justifiable because it gives low-income families more opportunities.
“Some higher-income people are free to switch schools or move their kids out of the city because they have resources, and some people don’t have those resources, so the program balances that out,” Witte said. “This was never intended to be a silver bullet.”

Milwaukee Parental Choice Research information.

Indiana House Passes Broad Voucher Bill

The Indy Channel:

The Indiana House on Wednesday passed what would be the nation’s broadest use of school vouchers, allowing even middle-class families to use taxpayer money to send their children to private schools. The bill passed the house 56-42.
In an effort to lure House Democrats back from a five-week, self-imposed exile in Illinois, Republicans agreed to reduce the number of vouchers, with a limit of 7,500 the first year and 15,000 the second, 6News’ Norman Cox reported.
Still, unlike other systems that are limited to lower-income households, children with special needs or those in failing schools, this one would be open to a much larger pool of students, including those whose parents earn up to $60,000 a year.

In School Board races, talk about education scarce

Chuck Sweeney:

A week from today, about 10 percent to 15 percent of the voters will go to the polls and choose three members of the Rockford School Board to help govern the third largest school district in Illinois.
A fourth member, Bob Evans, will be re-elected because the Rockford College professor is unopposed.
We’ve written reams of copy here at the News Silo about the upcoming election. Our colleagues at WNTA radio and at the television stations have interviewed the candidates on the air. Forums have been held.
A lot of issues have been discussed. Should the board continue to be elected from seven subdistricts or should we pursue legislation at the state level to allow the mayor of Rockford and the Winnebago County Board chairman to appoint some or all of the members? What are the “real” numbers in the ongoing debate about the size of the budget shortfall for the remainder of this school year and the next? Do people trust the superintendent or should we hire a new one?

Return of the One-Room Schoolhouse

RiShawn Biddle

Even among the nation’s woeful traditional big-city school districts, Detroit Public Schools is a particular abomination. Between falling into state receivership for the second time in the past 12 years, facing $327 million in budget deficits for the next four years, wrangling with scandals such as the travails of literacy-bereft now-former school board president Otis Mathis (who resigned last year after the district’s superintendent complained that he had engaged in lewd acts during meetings), and constant news about its failure to educate its students, the Motor City district has secured its place as the Superfund site of education.
So it wasn’t a surprise when Detroit’s state-appointed czar, Robert Bobb, announced on March 12 that the district would slash its deficit — and eliminate as much as $99 million in costs from operating its bureaucracy — by getting rid of 29 percent of the 142 dropout factories and failure mills. But instead of just shutting down the 41 schools (as the district originally planned to do) it would convert them into charter schools, handing off instruction, curriculum, and operations to nonprofits, parents groups, and others interested in running schools.

School Founder Says Class Size Doesn’t Matter

Neal Conan:

Small class size is thought to be a ticket to classroom success. Some states require schools, by law, to limit the number of students assigned to one teacher. But Eva Moskowitz, founder and chief executive of the Success Charter Network, argues that formula doesn’t guarantee a good education.

Obama team opposes Boehner’s school vouchers bill

Catalina Camia:

The Obama administration “strongly opposes” a bill championed by House Speaker John Boehner that would revive and expand vouchers for low-income students in the District of Columbia.
The administration’s statement stops short of saying President Obama will veto the measure, known as the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act or SOAR.
“Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement,” said the Office of Management and Budget statement. “The administration strongly opposes expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and opening it to new students.”

Retired Teachers in California Earn More Than Working Teachers in 28 States

Mike Antonucci:

I came across the most recent summary report for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) and I thought its pared-down tables and graphs nicely encapsulated the pension situation in the state.
First note that the average annual salary in 2010 for active working educators enrolled in the system was $64,156. The next table states that the average retirement benefit paid out in 2010 was $4,256 per month. That’s $51,072 annually. In other words, the average retired teacher in California made more than the average working teacher in 28 states, according to the salary rankings published by NEA.
The final graph in the report provides the big picture. While the value of the pension system’s assets has increased fairly steadily over the past nine years, the accrued liabilities have grown non-stop during the same period, leaving the fund at 78% of full coverage. What’s more, CalSTRS operated on an assumed annual return of 8 percent. Last year, the pension board lowered that expectation to 7.75 percent, which means projections for the future will show even more of a gap.


Several decades ago, the Canadian Army was having a problem with its male recruits. Far too many of them were going Absent WithOut Leave, for various reasons, to various places, for varying amounts of time.
The Army tried giving them punishment laps, kitchen duty, latrine duty, even time in the stockade, but nothing worked–they were still going AWOL.
Finally, someone thought of trying something completely new. They sent the recruit home to his mother, with a note saying he was too immature for Army duty, and would she keep him at home for another year, and then perhaps he could try again. The AWOL problem disappeared.
Something like 50% of new teachers leave the profession within five years, and they don’t, for the most part, go home to mother, but they do leave a hole and a problem in filling their shoes back in the schools.
My guess is that no one conducts serious exit interviews with these teachers, who are perfectly free to leave the profession, for personal reasons, to start a different career, or whatever. But I would argue that a significant portion of them, it would be found if there were serious exit interviews conducted, have been virtually pushed out.
People go back and forth arguing whether teaching is a profession or a civil service job like firefighters and police, paid out of municipal taxes.
In general, professionals don’t have clients delivered to them, as students are delivered to teachers, and if a client leaves a lawyer for another lawyer the first lawyer does not call his union representative.
For me, one test of whether a teacher is a professional or not is whether she/he can refuse service to someone. Lawyers who are about to try a case in court before a jury can interview potential jurors and they have, I think, two peremptory challenges, which allow them to say: “This potential juror and that potential juror are excused.” They can exercise this privilege if there are a couple of people they think would prejudice their case or make it harder to win. They don’t have to give any reasons.
A “professional” teacher, on the other hand, is not allowed to look over a class, and say, “This one and that one, I can’t teach.” Even if what it means is if those students stay in their class they may have to give 60% of their time to controlling them, and have only 40% of their time for the other 27 students. And it is worse than that, because the effort to control disruptive students does not come at one time in the class, but is needed to interrupt the rest of the class any number of times.
Teachers are trained and expected not to think about stuff like that. They are taught and expected to believe that it is their job to accept all comers and exercise their “classroom management skills” without being relieved of the burden of any disruptive student, no matter how much damage that student may do to the education of the other students in the class.
So teachers, for the most part, take all students, and their teaching suffers as a result. They are frustrated in their efforts to offer the best that they have to the majority of their students. And, by the way, it is no secret to the students that the school administration doesn’t have enough respect for the teacher’s professional work to remove such a student. And we wonder why people don’t want to be teachers and don’t want their children to be teachers.
Theodore Roosevelt had a guest in the oval office one day, when his daughter Alice came charging through the room screaming. The guest asked the President if he couldn’t control her. TR responded that he could control Alice, or he could be President of the United States, but not both. He was a professional and was treated as such.
I blame teachers for not having the courage to say that if I have to keep this student or that student in my class, the education I am able to offer to the other students will be damaged by 60%. If they did say that, of course they would be judged incompetent in classroom management and probably encouraged to leave the profession.
Many too many do leave the profession, and I believe that many of them were literally pushed out through being prevented from doing their best by the unchecked and disregarded misbehavior of some students. I know that every Nobel Prize winner was once a high school student, but so was every rapist and murderer, and students who cannot conduct themselves as they should must not be allowed to ruin the careers of our teachers. Perhaps such students should be sent home to their mothers, but they don’t belong in classrooms where important professional academic work is going on.
“Teach by Example”
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Sun Prairie Schools’ WKCE Results Above State Averages

Scott Beedy, via a kind reader’s email:

The 2010 Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam results reveal strong academic achievement for students in the Sun Prairie Area School District, according to district officials.
This past November, Sun Prairie administered the WKCE to more than 3,400 students in grades 3 through 8 and grade 10. Students in grades 3 through 8 were assessed in reading and math. Students in grades 4, 8 and 10 were also assessed in language arts, science, social studies and writing.
It is important to note that testing in the fall shows the impact of instruction from the previous school years and just two months at the designated grade level. For example, 6th grade scores reflect proportionately more about the 5th grade program than about the 6th grade program.
Combining all grade levels, 88 percent of Sun Prairie students are proficient or advanced in reading and 86 percent are proficient or advanced in math, according to district officials. The numbers are both an increase from last year.

Much more on the recent WKCE results, here.

Professor X Is Back

Scott Jaschik:

In his (anonymous) new book, Professor X describes a scene he witnessed in a departmental office. A frazzled student comes in and wants the secretary to get a message to her professor. The secretary asks the professor’s name, and the student turns out to be unaware — at the midpoint of the semester.
The secretary shows no judgment but proceeds to figure out a way to identify the professor:
“Male or female?”
“Tall or short?”
“Blond or brunette? Light hair, dark hair?”
She has dreads.
By process of elimination, the secretary identifies the instructor and promises to deliver the message. The secretary never smirks — even after the student leaves. The student is treated with respect. Professor X marvels at the commitment of staffers to helping students at the colleges at which he teaches. “Nowhere are employees friendlier,” he writes. “The staffers could not be more accommodating to students who have lost their way in the forests of financial aid or class schedules.”

School choice expanding as record fine languishes

Associated Press:

A school choice group that pumped millions of dollars into helping get its candidates elected in Ohio, Wisconsin and other states has yet to pay a record $5.2 million fine imposed three years ago by Ohio election officials, according to the state attorney general.
The fine imposed on All Children Matter languishes even as Ohio Gov. John Kasich pushes a $55.5 billion budget proposal that would continue to expand school choice, doubling the number of school vouchers in the state and lifting a cap on community schools.
The Ohio Elections Commission unanimously ruled in 2008 that All Children Matter, headed by former Michigan Republican Chairwoman Betsy DeVos and run out of that state, illegally funneled $870,000 in contributions from its Virginia political action committee to its Ohio affiliate. That violated a $10,000 cap on what Ohio-based political-action committees could accept from any single entity.

How to Raise the Status of Teachers

Room for Debate:

Michael J. Petrilli is the executive vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Raising the “status” of teaching is like chasing a mirage: It looks great from a distance but it never seems to materialize. Teachers today are one of the most respected members of our society, according to opinion polls. The growing backlash against perceived “teacher-bashing” in Wisconsin and elsewhere is more testament that Americans like their teachers. So what exactly is the problem the status-boosters are hoping to solve? Raising teachers’ self-esteem?
On the other hand, it’s true that teaching today is not among the most attractive careers open to talented young people. Making it more attractive is an objective we can do something about.
Today’s teacher compensation system is perfectly designed to repel ambitious individuals. We offer mediocre starting salaries, provide meager raises even after hard-earned skills have been gained on the job and backload the most generous benefits (in terms of pensions) toward the end of 30 years of service. More fundamentally, for decades we’ve prioritized smaller classes over higher teacher pay. If we had kept class sizes constant over the past 50 years, the average teacher today would be making $100,000.

D.C. to review high rates of erasures on school tests

Marisol Bello and Jack Gillum:

The D.C. State Board of Education will hold a hearing next week on irregularities in standardized test scores, board President Ted Trabue said Monday.
The hearing comes in response to a USA TODAY investigation that found 103 public schools in the nation’s capital where tests showed unusually high numbers of answers that had been changed from wrong to right.
“It’s disturbing,” Trabue said. “You never want to see the system being gamed.”
The board is a group of elected officials who advise the state superintendent, the District of Columbia’s equivalent to a state education department.

Mandating Betamax

Jay Greene:

I just returned from the Association for Education Finance and Policy annual conference in Seattle, which was a really fantastic meeting. At the conference I saw Dartmouth economic historian, William Fischel, present a paper on Amish education, extending the work from his great book, Making the Grade, which I have reviewed in Education Next.
Fischel’s basic argument is that our educational institutions have largely evolved in response to consumer demands. That is, the consolidation of one-room schoolhouses into larger districts, the development of schools with separate grades, the September to June calendar, and the relatively common curriculum across the country all came into being because families wanted those measures. And in a highly mobile society, even more than a century ago, people often preferred to move to areas with schools that had these desired features. In the competitive market between communities, school districts had to cater to this consumer demand. All of this resulted in a remarkable amount of standardization and uniformity across the country on basic features of K-12 education.
Hearing Fischel’s argument made me think about how ill-conceived the nationalization effort led by Gates, Fordham, the AFT, and the US Department of Education really is. Most of the important elements of American education are already standardized. No central government authority had to tell school districts to divide their schools into grades or start in the Fall and end in the Spring. Even details of the curriculum, like teaching long division in 4th grade or Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade, are remarkably consistent from place to place without the national government ordering schools to do so.

iPad as Digital Whiteboard

Fraser Speirs:

I want to highlight a fun thing I tried the other day. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before try it, but it worked pretty well.
Long story short, the whiteboards in my classroom are worn out. They’re impossible to wipe without spraying enough whiteboard cleaner to get an elephant high. Not a good situation.
With my new AV system in hand and an iPad 2, I figured out that I could probably put something together that looks like a digital whiteboard.

Freshmen Ineligibility: An Old-but-Wise Approach to Improving Academics in College Basketball

Maggie Severns:

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ushered in the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament earlier this month with an op-ed in The Washington Post arguing that schools should only qualify for post-season play if they are on track to graduate at least 40 percent of their players.
The argument by Duncan, who is a basketball player and fan himself, has been made by many critics, including the Knight Commission for Intercollegiate Athletics, which proposed restricting participation to only those programs that graduated more than half of their players. And rightfully so: men’s college basketball does a poor job of graduating its players, with 10 of the original 68 teams in the tournament not meeting the “50 percent” benchmark this year. This leaves players who don’t go professional — the vast majority of them — without the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the real world. Many sportswriters and fans, on the other hand, think that Duncan’s viewpoint is out of touch –and that critics of NCAA basketball and football need to come to grips with the fact that, for many athletes who play for hugely popular athletics programs, the sport is simply more important than the degree.

Multiculturalism and the politics of bad memories

Markha Valenta:

‘Multiculturalism’ entails society offering a full range of prospects, membership, and respect to all its members – regardless of cultural and religious differences -while also creatively accommodating them in a fashion that is both morally persuasive and practically effective for the majority of society. Has Europe ever tried it?
You always know something is up when the leaders of Germany, France and Britain are in happy agreement. Their most recent cheery confabulation is that multiculturalism in Europe has been a failure. In quick succession first Merkel, then Cameron, then Sarkozy seized the limelight and declared diversity’s demise. They stated this as a truism rather than as an argument. Equally striking is that these political leaders seem more relieved than troubled: as if, for a while, western Europe had lost its bearings but now is regaining them. Diversity is out, they seem to say, and common sense back in.
But of course, given the diversity of our societies, it is diversity that is common sense.

Wisconsin Schools Told to Wait on Contracts

Scott Bauer:

The Wisconsin school board association on Monday urged districts that have not reached new deals with teachers’ unions to hold off given the uncertainty over whether a new law removing nearly all collective bargaining rights is in effect.
Many school districts, counties and municipalities have been rushing to reach deals before the law that takes away all bargaining rights except over base salary kicks in.
Republican lawmakers pushed through passage of the law earlier this month despite massive protests that drew up to 85,000 people to the state Capitol and a boycott by Democratic state senators. Opponents immediately filed a series of lawsuits, and a hearing on one was scheduled Tuesday. The judge in that case had issued a restraining order barring Democratic Secretary of State Doug La Follette from publishing the law, typically the last step before it takes effect.

Caire, Nerad & Passman Wisconsin Senate Bill 22 (SB 22) Testimony Regarding Charter School Governance Changes

Madison Urban League President Kaleem Caire 13mb .mp3 audio file. Notes and links on the Urban League’s proposed IB Charter school: Madison Preparatory Academy. Caire spoke in favor of SB 22.
Madison School District Superintendent Dan Nerad 5mb .mp3 audio file. Nerad spoke in opposition to SB 22.
Madison School Board Member Marj Passman 5mb .mp3 audio file. Passman spoke in opposition to SB 22.
Much more on SB 22 here.
Well worth listening to. Watch the hearing here.

What cuts? Madison schools OK

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Alarmists in Madison suggest Gov. Scott Walker’s state budget proposal will decimate public education.
But Superintendent Dan Nerad’s proposed 2011-2012 budget for Madison School District tells a different story.
Under Nerad’s plan, unveiled late last week, the Madison district would:

That’s not to suggest Madison schools are flush with money. Gov. Walker, after all, is trying to balance a giant state budget deficit without raising taxes or pushing the problem further down the road. Walker has proposed cuts to most state programs, including aid to public schools.

Milwaukee Voucher School WKCE Headlines: “Students in Milwaukee voucher program didn’t perform better in state tests”, “Test results show choice schools perform worse than public schools”, “Choice schools not outperforming MPS”; Spend 50% Less Per Student

Erin Richards and Amy Hetzner

Latest tests show voucher scores about same or worse in math and reading.
Students in Milwaukee’s school choice program performed worse than or about the same as students in Milwaukee Public Schools in math and reading on the latest statewide test, according to results released Tuesday that provided the first apples-to-apples achievement comparison between public and individual voucher schools.
The scores released by the state Department of Public Instruction cast a shadow on the overall quality of the 21-year-old Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which was intended to improve results for poor city children in failing public schools by allowing them to attend higher-performing private schools with publicly funded vouchers. The scores also raise concerns about Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to roll back the mandate that voucher schools participate in the current state test.
Voucher-school advocates counter that legislation that required administration of the state test should have been applied only once the new version of the test that’s in the works was rolled out. They also say that the latest test scores are an incomplete measure of voucher-school performance because they don’t show the progress those schools are making with a difficult population of students over time.
Statewide, results from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam show that scores didn’t vary much from last year. The percentage of students who scored proficient or better was higher in reading, science and social studies but lower in mathematics and language arts from the year before.

Susan Troller:

Great. Now Milwaukee has TWO failing taxpayer-financed school systems when it comes to educating low income kids (and that’s 89 per cent of the total population of Milwaukee Public Schools).
Statewide test results released Tuesday by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction include for the first time performance data from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which involves about 110 schools serving around 10,000 students. There’s a total population of around 80,000 students in Milwaukee’s school district.
The numbers for the voucher schools don’t look good. But the numbers for the conventional public schools in Milwaukee are very poor, as well.
In a bit of good news, around the rest of the state student test scores in every demographic group have improved over the last six years, and the achievment gap is narrowing.
But the picture in Milwaukee remains bleak.

Matthew DeFour:

The test results show the percentage of students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program who scored proficient or advanced was 34.4 percent for math and 55.2 percent for reading.
Among Milwaukee Public Schools students, it was 47.8 percent in math and 59 percent in reading. Among Milwaukee Public Schools students coming from families making 185 percent of the federal poverty level — a slightly better comparison because voucher students come from families making no more than 175 percent — it was 43.9 percent in math and 55.3 percent in reading.
Statewide, the figures were 77.2 percent in math and 83 percent in reading. Among all low-income students in the state, it was 63.2 percent in math and 71.7 percent in reading.
Democrats said the results are evidence that the voucher program is not working. Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, the top Democrat on the Assembly Education Committee, said voucher students, parents and taxpayers are being “bamboozled.”
“The fact that we’ve spent well over $1 billion on a failed experiment leads me to believe we have no business spending $22 million to expand it with these kinds of results,” Pope-Roberts said. “It’s irresponsible use of taxpayer dollars and a disservice to Milwaukee students.”
Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who is developing a proposal to expand the voucher program to other cities, took a more optimistic view of the results.
“Obviously opponents see the glass half-empty,” Vos said. “I see the glass half-full. Children in the school choice program do the same as the children in public school but at half the cost.”

Only DeFour’s article noted that voucher schools spend roughly half the amount per student compared to traditional public schools. Per student spending was discussed extensively during last evening’s planning grant approval (The vote was 6-1 with Marj Passman voting No while Maya Cole, James Howard, Ed Hughes, Lucy Mathiak, Beth Moss and Arlene Silveira voted yes) for the Urban League’s proposed Charter IB School: The Madison Preparatory Academy.
The Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts Examination (WKCE) has long been criticized for its lack of rigor. Wisconsin DPI WKCE data.
Yin and Yang: Jay Bullock and Christian D’Andrea.
Related: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.

Racial achievement gap narrows state-wide, but remains a problem in Madison

Matthew DeFour:

Statewide the gap between the percentage of white and black students scoring proficient or advanced closed 6.8 percentage points in math and 3.9 points in reading between 2005-06 and this year. Comparing white students to Hispanics, the gap closed 5.7 points in math and 3.7 points in reading.
In Madison the gap between white and black students closed 0.4 percentage points in math and 0.6 points in reading. Among Hispanics, the gap increased half a point in math and decreased 1 point in reading.
Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad was unavailable to comment Monday on the results.

The Wisconsin Knowledge & Concepts Examination (WKCE) has long been criticized for its lack of rigor.
Related: “Schools should not rely on only WKCE data to gauge progress of individual students or to determine effectiveness of programs or curriculum”.

ALO versus Differentiated Teaching

Melissa Westbrook:

A thread was requested about ALOs (Advanced Learning Opportunities, the third tier of the Advanced Learning program) and differentiated teaching. Differentiated teaching is a teacher knowing his/her students’ strengths, challenges and readiness and being able to adjust teaching to the different levels in the classroom. (This doesn’t necessarily mean teaching to every single student’s level but rather knowing that there are different abilities in the classroom and trying to meet those needs.)

Teachers’ union sues MIddleton-Cross Plains school district

Gena Kittner:

The union representing teachers in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District sued the district Monday over their collective bargaining negotiations.
According to the complaint filed in Dane County Circuit Court, the union said the district “bargained in bad faith” and proposed non-negotiable contract changes including removal of just cause for discipline and discharge, total district discretion of work hours, elimination of seniority protections, elimination of fair share union dues, modifications/freezes on salary schedules and elimination of compensatory time off.
The district also proposed, according to the complaint, that the School Board be the final step in the grievance procedure as opposed to having a third-party arbitrator as the current agreement states.

‘Value-added’ teacher evaluations: Los Angeles Unified tackles a tough formula

Teresa Watanabe:

In Houston, school district officials introduced a test score-based evaluation system to determine teacher bonuses, then — in the face of massive protests — jettisoned the formula after one year to devise a better one.
In New York, teachers union officials are fighting the public release of ratings for more than 12,000 teachers, arguing that the estimates can be drastically wrong.
Despite such controversies, Los Angeles school district leaders are poised to plunge ahead with their own confidential “value-added” ratings this spring, saying the approach is far more objective and accurate than any other evaluation tool available.
“We are not questing for perfect,” said L.A. Unified’s incoming Supt. John Deasy. “We are questing for much better.”

Much more on “Value Added Assessment“, here.

Yin & Yang on Voucher Schools

Margaret Farrow:

School choice opponent Barbara Miner says that Wisconsin legislators should “just say no” to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to expand educational options for Milwaukee parents (Crossroads, March 13).
My advice to legislators?
Just say yes.
Those who do will have Milwaukee residents, especially Milwaukee parents, on their side.
In a recent poll, Milwaukeeans rate the 20-year-old Milwaukee Parental Choice Program successful by a two-to-one margin (60%-28%). The results cut across racial and economic lines and extend even to households without school-age children.
Parents are especially enthusiastic. Two-thirds say the program is successful, and 64% endorse expansion.
There is good reason for their support. Students in Milwaukee’s school choice program graduate from high school at rates 18% higher than Milwaukee Public Schools students, according to estimates by University of Minnesota professor John Robert Warren.

Barbara Miner:

Memo to all Wisconsin legislators. There is an easy way to prove you care about public education in Wisconsin. And it won’t cost a penny.
Just say no to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed expansion of the Milwaukee voucher program providing tax dollars to private schools.
This may seem merely like a Milwaukee issue. It’s not. Voucher advocates have made clear for more than 20 years that their goal is to replace public education with a system of universal vouchers that includes private and religious schools.
The heartbreaking drama currently playing in Milwaukee – millions of dollars cut from the public schools while vouchers are expanded so wealthy families can attend private schools in the suburbs – may be coming soon to a school district near you.
For those who worry about taxation without representation, vouchers should send shivers down your spine. Voucher schools are defined as private even though subsidized by taxpayers.

College daze: The insanity of the application process

George Will:

For many families, this is March madness — the moment of high anxiety concerning higher education as many colleges announce their admittance decisions. It is the culmination of a protracted mating dance between selective institutions and anxious students. Part agony, part situation comedy, it has provoked Andrew Ferguson to write a laugh-until-your-ribs-squeak book — “Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College.”
He begins in Greenwich, Conn. — a hedge fund habitat — watching Katherine Cohen, an “independent college admissions counselor,” market her $40,000 “platinum package” of strategies for bewitching Ivy League admissions officers. “Everyone in the room,” writes Ferguson, “was on full alert, with that feral look of parental ambition. They swiveled their tail-gunning eyes toward Kat when she was introduced.” Kat introduced them to terror:
“There are 36,000 high schools in this country. That means there are at least 36,000 valedictorians. They can’t all go to Brown. You could take the ‘deny pile’ of applications and make two more classes that were every bit as solid as the class that gets in.”

Bill bans trans fats in schools

Associated Press:

A bill that would ban trans fats in Nevada public schools got support from health advocates and some mild opposition from administrators who don’t want to be food police.
A Senate committee on Friday heard Senate Bill 230, which bans trans fats from vending machines, student stores, and school activities. The current bill version exempts school lunches, but pending rules through the national school lunch program would ban trans fats there, too.
Trans fats raise levels of harmful cholesterol and decrease levels of healthy cholesterol. They are common in processed snack foods, fried foods and baked goods.

Charter, Shmarter

New Jersey Left Behind:

Michael Winerip in today’s New York Times channels Diane Ravitch:

There is a quiet but fierce battle going on in education today, between the unions that represent the public school teachers and the hedge-fund managers who finance the big charter chains, between those who trust teachers to assess a child’s progress and those who trust standardized tests, and occasionally it flares out into the open over something as seemingly minor as the location of a school.

Ooh, those greedy hedge fund managers.
There are plenty of fierce battles in education today, some not so quiet, but I’m not sure the assignation of space in this Washington Heights neighborhood is one of them. Winerip describes two candidates for the space in question, one a traditional public school to be called Castle Bridge, which defines its mission as a non-reliance on standardized testing to gauge student learning, and the other a KIPP academy, with a well-proven track record of excellence.

Ed Hughes, Beth Moss and Maya Cole: Cieslewicz forged good partnership with schools

Ed Hughes, Beth Moss and Maya Cole

As members of the Madison School Board, we appreciate that Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s vision for the future recognizes that strong Madison public schools are vital to a growing and vibrant community.
Whether it’s been working together to establish the Meadowood Community Center, devoting city funds to improving safe routes for walking and biking to our schools or helping to plan for our new 4-year-old kindergarten program, the city under Cieslewicz’s leadership has forged a strong and productive partnership with the school district.
We look forward to continuing our work with Mayor Dave on smart and effective responses to the challenges that lie ahead for our schools and our city.
Ed Hughes, Beth Moss and Maya Cole, members, Madison School Board

IMPORTANT SCHOOL BOARD MEETING: Madison Board of Education to Vote on Madison Prep Planning Grant!

Kaleem Caire, via email:

March 28, 2011
Dear Friends & Colleagues,
In 30 minutes, our team and the public supporting us will stand before the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education to learn if they will support our efforts to secure a charter planning grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men.
For those who still do not believe that Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men is a cause worthy of investment, let’s look at some reasons why it is. The following data was provided by the Madison Metropolitan School District to the Urban League of Greater Madison in September 2010.
Lowest Graduation Rates:

  • In 2009, just 52% of Black males and 52% of Latino males graduated on-time from the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) compared to 81% of Asian males and 88% of White males.

Lowest Reading Proficiency:

  • In 2010, just 45% of Black, 49% of Hispanic, and 59% of Asian males in 10th grade in the MMSD were proficient in reading compared to 87% of White males.

Largest ACT Performance Gap:

  • Just 7% of Black and 18% of Latino seniors in the MMSD who completed the ACT college entrance exam were “college ready” according to the test maker. Put another way, a staggering 93% of Black and 82% of Latino seniors were identified as “not ready” for college. Wisconsin persistently has the largest gap in ACT performance between Black and White students in the nation every year.

Children Grossly Underprepared for College:

  • Of the 76 Black seniors enrolled in MMSD in 2010 who completed the ACT college entrance exam required by Wisconsin public universities for admission consideration, just 5 students (7%) were truly ready for college. Of the 71 Latino students who completed the ACT, just 13 students (18%) were ready for college compared to 403 White seniors who were ready.
  • Looking at it another way, in 2010, there were 378 Black 12th graders enrolled in MMSD high schools. Just 20% of Black seniors and completed the ACT and only 5 were determined to be college ready as state above. So overall, assuming completion of the ACT is a sign of students’ intention and readiness to attend college, only 1.3% of Black 12th graders were ready for college compared to 36% of White 12th graders.

Not Enrolled or Succeeding in College Preparatory Courses:

  • High percentages of Black high school students are completing algebra in the 9th grade but only half are succeeding with a grade of C or better. In 2009-10, 82% of Black 9th graders attending MMSD’s four comprehensive high schools took algebra; 42% of those taking the class received a C or better compared to 55% of Latino and 74% of White students.
  • Just 7% of Black and 17% of Latino 10th graders attending MMSD’s four comprehensive high schools who completed geometry in 10th grade earned a grade of C or better compared to 35% of Asian and 56% of White students.
  • Just 13% of Black and 20% of Latino 12th graders in the class of 2010 completed at least two or more Advanced Literature courses with a grade of C or better compared to 40% of White and 43% of Asian students.
  • Just 18% of Black and 26% of Latino 12th graders in the class of 2010 completed at least two or more Advanced Writing courses with a grade of C or better compared to 45% of White and 59% of Asian students.
  • Just 20% of Black 12th graders in the class of 2010 completed 2 or more credits of a Single Foreign Language with a grade of C or better compared to 34% of Latino, 69% of White and 59% of Asian students.
  • Just 33% of Black students took Honors, Advanced and/or AP courses in 2009-10 compared to and 46% of Latino, 72% of White and 70% of Asian students.
  • Just 25% of Black students who took Honors, Advanced and/or AP courses earned a C or better grade in 2009-10 compared to 38% of Latino, 68% of White and 64% of Asian students.

Extraordinarily High Special Education Placements:

  • Black students are grossly over-represented in special education in the MMSD. In 2009-10, Black students made up just 24% of the school system student enrollment but were referred to special education at twice that rate.
  • Among young men attending MMSD’s 11 middle schools in 2009-10, 39% of Black males were assigned to special education compared to 18% of Hispanic, 12% of Asian and 17% of White males. MMSD has been cited by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction for disparities in assigning African American males to special education. The full chart is attached.
  • Of all students being treated for Autism in MMSD, 14% are Black and 70% are White. Of all Black students labeled autistic, 77% are males.
  • Of all students labeled cognitively disabled, 46% are Black and 35% are White. Of all Black students labeled CD, 53% are males.
  • Of all students labeled emotionally disabled, 55% are Black and 35% are White. Of the Black students labeled ED, 70% are males.
  • Of all students labeled learning disabled, 49% are Black and 35% are White. Of the Black students labeled LD, 57% are males.

Black students are Disproportionately Subjected to School Discipline:

  • Black students make up a disproportionate percentage of students who are suspended from school. Only Black students are over represented among suspension cases.
  • In 2009-10, MMSD levied 2,754 suspensions against Black students: 920 to Black girls and 1,834 to Black boys. While Black students made up 24% of the total student enrollment (n=5,370), they accounted for 72% of suspensions district-wide.
  • Suspension rates among Black children in MMSD have barely changed in nearly 20 years. In 1992-93, MMSD levied 1,959 suspensions against a total of 3,325 Black students. This equaled 58.9% of the total black enrollment in the district compared to 1,877 suspensions against a total of 18,346 (or 10.2%) white students [Dual Education in the Madison Metropolitan School District, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, February 1994, Vol. 7, No. 2].
  • Black males were missed a total of 2,709 days of school during the 2009-10 school year due to suspension.
  • Additionally, 20 Black students were expelled from the MMSD in 2009-10 compared to 8 White students in the same year.

    The Urban League of Greater Madison his offering MMSD a viable solution to better prepare young men of color for college and beyond. We look forward to making this solution a reality in the next 18 months.
    Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men 2012!
    Kaleem Caire
    President & CEO
    Urban League of Greater Madison
    Main: 608-729-1200
    Assistant: 608-729-1249
    Fax: 608-729-1205

  • Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy Charter school.

    Appeals court sides with Seattle schools over math text choice

    Katherine Long:

    The Washington State Court of Appeals has reversed an earlier decision in King County Superior Court that found Seattle’s choice of a new high-school math series was arbitrary and capricious.
    The appellate court found no basis for the Superior Court’s conclusion in February 2010 that the Seattle School board “was willful and unreasoning in coming to its decision” when it chose the Discovering Math series of textbooks for algebra and geometry in high school math.
    The school district has been using the series since the start of the 2009 school year.
    Some parents have criticized the Discovering Math series, saying it is inferior to other series and that its emphasis on verbal descriptions makes it difficult for some students to understand, especially those for whom English is a second language.

    Much more on the Seattle Discovery Math lawsuit, here.

    Corbett’s vision for Pennsylvania schools: His plan includes voter approval of budgets.

    Dan Hardy:

    When it comes to changing public education in Pennsylvania, Gov. Corbett’s proposed billion-dollar funding cut to school districts this year could be just the beginning.
    The governor also is pushing a legislative agenda that could significantly affect the way children are taught, the teachers who instruct them, and how schools craft their budgets.
    One proposal that many suburban school boards fear and many taxpayers relish calls for voter approval of proposed district budgets when tax increases exceed inflation. If this were in effect now, more than 80 percent of the districts in Philadelphia’s suburbs probably would have to vote.
    Other Corbett initiatives would:
    Give school boards, for the first time, a free hand to lay off teachers to cut costs, with the decider in the furloughs being classroom performance, not seniority.
    Create vouchers providing state funding so low-income children in struggling schools could transfer to private ones. The role of charter schools would also be expanded.

    Audience Participation

    I remember once, in the early 1980s, when I was teaching at the high school in Concord, Massachusetts, I visited a class in European History taught by my most senior colleague, a man with a rich background in history and many years of teaching.
    He presented a lot of historical material in that class period, interlaced with interesting historical stories and anecdotes which the students seemed to enjoy. While I envied him for his knowledge and experience, I began to notice that the students were, for the most part at least, laid back and simply being entertained.
    They were not being asked to answer challenging questions on the material, or demonstrate the knowledge they had gathered from their homework or outside reading in history, or, in fact, do anything except sit there and be entertained.
    This was before the IPod, IPhone, IPad or laptops appeared in classrooms, so no one was texting anyone, but I did see that a few students were not even being bothered enough to be entertained. Here was this fine, educated instructor offering them European history and they were just not paying attention.
    I understand that high school classes are only partly voluntary, that if students want a high school diploma they have to take some courses, and history is generally less demanding than calculus, chemistry or physics.
    Nevertheless it stayed with me that there was so little “audience participation” from these Juniors and Seniors. I couldn’t see that any of them felt much obligation, or opportunity really, to do the work or take part in the class.
    Perhaps the teacher was trying to entertain them because a junior colleague was visiting the class, but I don’t think that was it. I think that good teacher, like so many of us, and so many of his colleagues to this day, had bought the idea that it was his job to entertain them, rather than to demand that they work hard to learn history for themselves.
    He told good stories, but the students said nothing. They, too, had adopted the notion that a “good” teacher would keep them entertained with the absolute minimum of effort on their part, as though it was the teacher’s responsibility to “make learning happen,” as it were, to them.
    The memory of this classroom visit comes back to me as I see so many people in and out of education these days, talk about selecting, monitoring, controlling, and, if necessary removing, teachers who are not sufficiently entertaining, who do not “make students learn” whether they want to or are wiling to work on it themselves or not.
    As a high school student in Pennsylvania recently commented, “It’s a teacher’s job to motivate students.” Of course, football and basketball coaches are expected to motivate their athletes as well, but not while those athletes do nothing but sit in the stands and watch the coach do “his thing.” They are expected to take part, to work hard, to get themselves into condition and to carry their load in the enterprise of sports.
    A sports clothing store near me sells sweatshirts which say; “Work all Summer, Win all Fall.” I confirmed with the store owner, a part-time high school football coach, that “Work” in this case does not mean get a summer job and save some money. Rather, it means run, lift weights and generally put time in on their physical fitness so that they will be in shape to play sports in the Fall.
    I do not know of any equivalent sweatshirt for high school academics: “Study all Summer, Get Good Grades all Fall.” I don’t think there is one, and I think the reason is, in part, that so many of us, including too many teachers, have decided that teachers are the ones who need to work on, and take responsibility for, student academic learning. Their job goes way beyond the coaches’ task of motivating young athletes who “Work all Summer” and come expecting to give it their all in the Fall.
    Those who keep saying that the most important variable in student academic achievement is teacher quality simply conspire with all those others, including too many students, who support the idea that academic work and student learning are the teachers’ problem, and not one in which the students have a major share. Of course teachers who are forced out of teaching because their students don’t do any academic work suffer, but we should also be concerned with the consequences for so many of our students who have been led down the primrose path of believing that school is not their primary job at which they also must work hard.
    “Teach by Example”
    Will Fitzhugh [founder]
    The Concord Review [1987]
    Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
    National Writing Board [1998]
    TCR Institute [2002]
    730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
    Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
    978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
    Varsity Academics®

    ‘Education was the main thing’

    Mark Lett:

    Richard Riley worked the levers of politics, government and education for more than a half-century by giving respect, taking advice, setting expectations, staying focused and never giving up.
    Most of all, he never gave up.
    As it turned out, Riley did it right. His career has been as successful as it has been tenacious. Now 79 and living and working in his hometown of Greenville, Riley:
    Mobilized support to overwhelm anti-tax sentiment and pass a tax increase for public education in 1984, producing what Southern historian Walter Edgar called “one of the most important pieces of education legislation ever passed in South Carolina.”

    Misplaced Priorities At a Session on Chicago Schools

    James Warren:

    Terry Mazany, interim chief of Chicago Public Schools, was like a baseball manager beckoning a star relief pitcher an inning early to hold a lead. Rather than Mariano Rivera, he waved in Kate Maehr to last week’s Board of Education meeting.
    He had opened an ultimately melancholy session dominated by budget woes by suddenly and without explanation defending the Breakfast in the Classroom program, quietly pushed through in January.
    The defense was due partly to an earlier mention in this column that generated lots of “Huh, are they serious?” responses among parents and others, according to board officials. The program mandates that the first instructional class open with pupils having breakfast at their desks, even at schools already offering pre-class breakfast.

    Discussion of Kansas ed spending ignites at public forum

    Michael Strand:

    Everybody knows education is expensive, but exactly how expensive depends on what you want to count.
    And a difference of opinion over that issue led to a few tense moments at Saturday mornings’s legislative forum in Salina.
    Ken Kennedy, director of operations for the Salina School District, asked local lawmakers the final question of the forum, asking whether lawmakers had suggestions for what spending districts should cut, and how soon they’ll know how much money they’re getting for the 2011-12 school year.
    Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, fielded the question first, saying it would likely be May before the Legislature passes a final budget — and that more cuts are likely.
    “It’s clear the trend has been down,” Brungardt said, adding that after accounting for inflation, school districts now have about the same funding as in 1990.

    Cost of borrowing to send child to a for-profit college may be too high

    Dear Liz: My son will be going to a for-profit technical school about 120 miles away from home. Unfortunately, we have not saved any money for his college education. What are our best options for borrowing to pay for his college education, which will cost about $92,000 for four years? He is not eligible for any financial aid other than federal student loans. Our daughter will graduate debt free with her bachelor’s degree in December. Since we concentrated on her education first, our son kind of got left behind.
    Answer: Please rethink this plan, because your family probably cannot afford this education.

    New L.A. schools chief to take lower pay: $275,000

    Jason Song:

    The incoming Los Angeles schools superintendent told the Board of Education on Saturday to withhold part of his $330,000 salary because of serious projected budget shortfalls.
    In an email to his bosses, John Deasy said he had been meeting with employees to explain potential budget-cutting scenarios. Last month, the board approved sending preliminary layoff notices to almost 7,000 teachers.
    “All of our work and plans for restoration are in serious peril,” Deasy wrote. “This is remarkably painful and emotional. As such, given our current circumstances, at this time I respectfully will not accept the salary offered in your contract.”
    Deasy will not forgo his entire salary but will instead keep receiving the pay — $275,000 — he has been getting as deputy superintendent. The $55,000 difference represents a nearly 17% reduction.

    It’s back to the basics in Milwaukee schools: evidence-based approach to improving literacy teaching and learning across all schools and classrooms

    Heidi Ramirez:

    The district has focused reading instruction and has launched an intensive effort aimed at boosting dismal outcomes. The MPS chief academic officer asks: Will we be given enough time?
    Walk in many Milwaukee Public Schools classrooms today, and here’s what you’re likely to see:
    There will be a teacher sitting at a table in a corner, guiding a handful of young readers or writers in targeted instruction. The other students, whether they be 4-year-olds or teenagers, will be actively engaged in small group work.
    What you’re not likely to see: a teacher holding court at the center of the room of mostly silent children, heads down on tables or blank stares on their faces.
    As the district’s new literacy effort takes hold, our students increasingly work in small groups at hands-on literacy stations set up around the room. Students, who otherwise would have had to wait for their teacher to pause and for their turn to speak, are instead guiding their own practice and that of their peers.

    Atlanta Public Schools underfunded its pension plan

    Russell Grantham:

    Beset by scandal over irregularities in test scores, Atlanta Public Schools has another, longer-running scandal on its hands: The district has underfunded its pension for custodians, bus drivers and cooks by more than a half-billion dollars.
    APS has the worst underfunding of any large public pension plan in the state, according to a recent state audit. While it is generally agreed that, at any given time, a pension plan should contain 80 percent to 90 percent of the money it is obligated to pay out, APS has assets to cover just 17.4 percent of its pension promises.
    The Jan. 1 report by the state Audits and Accounts Department found that pensions run by Georgia’s cities, counties and other local governments are under water by almost $4.5 billion. Three plans run by the city of Atlanta, plus the APS plan, accounted for nearly 40 percent of the deficit statewide.

    A Mentor’s Goal: Keeping At-Risk Chicago Teens Alive

    David Schaper:

    In Chicago last school year, 245 public school students were shot, 27 of them fatally.
    It’s a high toll. To try to find out who might be next, Chicago Public School officials developed a probability model by analyzing the traits of 500 shooting victims over a recent two-year period. They noted that the vast majority were poor, black and male, and had chronic absences, bad grades and serious misconduct.
    Using this probability model, they identified more than 200 teenagers who have a shockingly good chance of being shot — a better than 1 in 5 chance within the next two years.
    Project Director Jonathan Moy says the probability model isn’t perfect, but it’s working.

    Milwaukee could become first American city to use universal vouchers for education

    Alan Borsuk:

    Milwaukee’s private school voucher program has broken new and controversial ground often in its 21-year history. Now, it is headed toward what might well be another amazing national first.
    If Gov. Scott Walker and leading voucher advocates prevail, Milwaukee will become the first city in American history where any child, regardless of income, can go to a private school, including a religious school, using public money to pay the bill.
    Universal vouchers have been a concept favored by many free-market economists and libertarians since they were suggested by famed economist Milton Friedman more than half a century ago. Friedman’s theory was that if all parents could apply their fair share of public money for educating their children at whatever school they thought best, their choices would drive educational quality higher.
    Coming soon (fairly likely): Milwaukee as the biggest testing ground of Friedman’s idea.
    But not only is it hard to figure out what to say about the future of vouchers, it’s not easy to know what to say about the past of Milwaukee’s 21-year-old program of vouchers limited to low-income students except that it has been popular (more than 20,000 students using vouchers this year to attend more than 100 private schools) and there is not much of a case (except in some specific schools) that it has driven quality higher, both when it comes to many of the private schools specifically and when it comes to the educational waterfront of Milwaukee.

    Madison School District Proposes a 3.2% Property Tax Increase for the 2011-2012 Budget

    Matthew DeFour:

    Madison teachers wouldn’t pay anything toward their health insurance premiums next year and property taxes would decline $2 million under Superintendent Dan Nerad’s 2011-12 budget proposal.
    The $359 million proposal, a 0.01 percent increase over this year, required the closing of a $24.5 million gap between district’s estimated expenses from January and the expenditures allowed under Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed state budget, Nerad said.
    Nerad proposes collecting $243 million in property taxes, down from $245 million this year. Because of an estimated drop in property value, the budget would mean a $90 increase on an average Madison home, down from $170 this year. That amount may decrease once the city releases an updated average home estimate for next year.

    Related taxbase articles:

    Education ‘group think’ gets in the way of teaching kids to read

    Dick Lilly, via a kind reader’s email:

    School administrators should end their obsession with average test scores and focus instead on an absolute standard: Can each child actually read?
    For more than two decades now, the Seattle school district has been telling us that its most important goal is “closing the achievement gap.” Nevertheless, it is not unfair to say that only incremental progress has been made.
    Seattle, as everyone knows, is not alone. “Closing the achievement gap” has come to stand for the perennial problems of American K-12 education — though the inability of high schools to graduate more than two-thirds of their students has been running a close second.
    Among the results of this frustratingly persistent problem is a vast, energetic industry of school reform, headlined in recent years by the involvement of powerful private foundations and the policy directives of the federal government: “No Child Left Behind” in the “Race to the Top.”

    PLEASE JOIN US MONDAY! Madison Board of Education to Vote on Madison Prep; costs clarified

    March 25, 2011
    Dear Friends & Colleagues,
    On Monday evening, March 28, 2011 at 6pm, the Madison Metropolitan School District’s (MMSD) Board of Education will meet to vote on whether or not to support the Urban League’s submission of a $225,000 charter school planning grant to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. This grant is essential to the development of Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men, an all-male 6th – 12th grade public charter school.
    Given the promise of our proposal, the magnitude of longstanding achievement gaps in MMSD, and the need for adequate time to prepare our final proposal for Madison Prep, we have requested full support from the school board.
    Monday’s Board meeting will take place at the Doyle Administration Building (545 West Dayton Street) next to the Kohl Center. We hope you will come out to support Madison Prep as this will be a critical vote to keep the Madison Prep proposal moving forward. Please let us know if you’ll be attending by clicking here. If you wish to speak, please arrive at 5:45pm to register.
    Prior to you attending, we want to clarify misconceptions about the costs of Madison Prep.
    The REAL Costs versus the Perceived Costs of Madison Prep
    Recent headlines in the Wisconsin State Journal (WSJ) reported that Madison Prep is “less likely” to be approved because of the size of the school’s projected budget. The article implied that Madison Prep will somehow cost the district more than it currently spends to educate children. This, in fact, is not accurate. We are requesting $14,476 per student for Madison Prep’s first year of operation, 2012-2013, which is less than the $14,802 per pupil that MMSD informed us it spends now. During its fifth year of operation, Madison Prep’s requested payment from MMSD drops to $13,395, which is $1,500 less per student than what the district says it spends now. Madison Prep will likely be even more of a savings to the school district by the fifth year of operation given that the district’s spending increases every year.
    A March 14, 2011 memo prepared by MMSD Superintendent Daniel Nerad and submitted to the Board reflects the Urban League’s funding requests noted above. This memo also shows that the administration would transfer just $5,541 per student – $664,925 in total for all 120 students – to Madison Prep in 2012-2013, despite the fact that the district is currently spending $14,802 per pupil. Even though it will not be educating the 120 young men Madison Prep will serve, MMSD is proposing that it needs to keep $8,935 per Madison Prep student.

    Therefore, the Urban League stands by its request for equitable and fair funding of $14,476 per student, which is less than the $14,802 MMSD’s administration have told us they spend on each student now. As Madison Prep achieves economies of scale, reaches its full enrollment of 420 sixth through twelfth graders, and graduates its first class of seniors in 2017-18, it will cost MMSD much less than what it spends now. A cost comparison between Madison Prep, which will enroll both middle and high school students at full enrollment, and MMSD’s Toki Middle School illustrates this point.

    We have also attached four one-page documents that we prepared for the Board of Education. These documents summarize key points on several issues about which they have expressed questions.
    We look forward to seeing you!
    Kaleem Caire
    President & CEO
    Urban League of Greater Madison
    Main: 608-729-1200
    Assistant: 608-729-1249
    Fax: 608-729-1205

    Kaleem Caire, via email.
    Madison Preparatory Academy Brochure (PDF): English & Spanish.
    DPI Planning Grant Application: Key Points and Modifications.
    Update: Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes: What To Do About Madison Prep:

    In order to maintain Madison Prep, the school district would have to find these amounts somewhere in our budget or else raise property taxes to cover the expenditures. I am not willing to take money away from our other schools in order to fund Madison Prep. I have been willing to consider raising property taxes to come up with the requested amounts, if that seemed to be the will of the community. However, the draconian spending limits the governor seeks to impose on school districts through the budget bill may render that approach impossible. Even if we wanted to, we likely would be barred from increasing property taxes in order to raise an amount equal to the net cost to the school district of the Madison Prep proposal.
    This certainly wouldn’t be the first time that budgetary considerations prevent us from investing in promising approaches to increasing student achievement. For example, one component of the Madison Prep proposal is a longer school year. I’m in favor. One way the school district has pursued this concept has been by looking at our summer school model and considering improvements. A good, promising plan has been developed. Sadly, we likely will not be in a position to implement its recommendations because they cost money we don’t have and can’t raise under the Governor’s budget proposal.
    Similarly, Madison Prep proposes matching students with mentors from the community who will help the students dream bigger dreams. Effective use of mentors is also a key component of the AVID program, which is now in all our high schools. We would very much like to expand the program to our middle schools, but again we do not have the funds to do so.

    Mr. Hughes largely references redistributed state tax dollars for charter/virtual schools – a portion of total District per student spending – the total (including property taxes) that Madison Prep’s request mentions. I find Madison Prep’s fully loaded school based cost comparisons useful. Ideally, all public schools would publish their individual budgets along with total District spending.

    Great Teacher for Every Course

    Tom Vander Ark:

    here are some problems that are too hard to solve in traditional ways. Teacher effectiveness and school choice fit the bill–they are complicated and contentious. The good news is that digital learning allows us to solve these problems in new ways.
    It’s pretty easy to solve the teacher problem if we focus on providing a ‘great teacher for every course’ rather than a great teacher in every classroom.’
    If educational funding follows the student to the best course available (online or onsite) it provides a much more powerful and accountable model than partial funding for a private school down the street.
    Digital Learning Now recommends that all students should be able to “customize their education using digital content through an approved provider.” More specifically, DLN recommends that states:

    Building Teacher Evaluation Systems: Learning From Leading Efforts

    The Aspen Institute:

    Ambitious reforms across the country are reshaping teacher evaluation and performance management. Designing new systems for measuring teacher effectiveness and using that information to increase student achievement are at the heart of these efforts and at the center of important policy debates. Yet little information exists about how these systems work in practice and how to use evaluations in concert with other levers to improve teaching and learning.
    As policymakers and education leaders seek to accelerate reform in this area, it is essential to learn from efforts already underway. The Education & Society Program published three new reports: profiles of the performance management work in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and the Achievement First (AF) charter school network; and a synthesis of issues that emerge from the two profiles. Both DCPS and AF are at the forefront of efforts to re-design teacher evaluation, performance management, and compensation policies. The commonalities, distinctions, and early lessons learned in these initiatives represent an important learning laboratory for the field.

    Losing Our Way

    Bob Herbert:

    So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.
    Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.
    Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

    Japanese School A Blessing And A Curse For Students

    Jason Beaubien:

    In Japan, efforts to gain control of the crippled nuclear reactor continue at the same time that hundreds of thousands of people are living in shelters and millions of people are attempting to restart their normal lives.
    Officials in Japan now put the confirmed death toll at more than 10,000. Most of the deaths were due to the massive tsunami that pounded the Japanese coast.
    Some of the dead are parents and students swept out of a schoolyard in the coastal city of Ishinomaki.
    It was the last day of school and classes were letting out early. When the powerful 9.0 earthquake struck at 2:46 p.m., some parents had already picked up their children from the Kama Elementary School in Ishinomaki. Others were lingering in the parking lot that faces the sea. Still others were on their way to collect their kids from the school.

    The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, a Review

    Reviewed by Katharine Beals, via a kind reader’s email:

    The Death and Life of the Great American School System was wildly hailed as author and education critic Diane Ravitch’s dramatic about-face on No Child Left Behind, charter schools, and school choice. What’s missing from this sensational take is that Ravitch has changed her mind only about school reform tactics, and not about what constitutes good schools, or about her top priorities in fostering them.
    She still stresses curriculum–apparently still her topmost priority. She still supports a challenging, content-rich core curriculum of the sort promoted by E.D. Hirsch and his Core Knowledge Foundation. She still believes that the best teachers are those with who know their fields well and are enthusiastic about teaching. She still believes that attracting such teachers is nearly as essential, if not as essential, as curriculum reform.
    It’s in the question of why we’ve strayed so far from these ideals that Ravitch has shifted. While her earlier research (c.f. Left Back, published in 2000) critiqued, inter alia, a variety of prominent fad-peddling members of the education establishment, Ravitch now appears to blame just three factors: the high-stakes testing and accountability of No Child Left Behind (NCLB); the meddling in education by powerful outsiders like politicians and businessmen; and school choice ventures that skim off the best students and leave the rest to the most struggling of public schools.
    On NCLB testing and accountability, Ravitch is convincing. Tests can be effective, comprehensive measures of achievement, in which case teaching “to” them is equivalent to teaching students what they should learn anyway. But, as Ravitch explains, NCLB’s top-down, high-stakes, punitive approach deters states from devising tests that come anywhere near this ideal.

    Goodbye, flagship, and take elitism too

    Chris Rickert:

    My wife and I decided long ago that we have no intention of trying to bankroll the traditional college experience for our children.
    With tuition increases far outpacing inflation, I figure four years of college for each of my three kids would cost in the neighborhood of $300,000, and this journalist and his social worker wife would never be able to afford that.
    So when UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin says she wants her university to set sail from the constraints of the UW System, I say bon voyage!
    Respected public universities such as UW-Madison increasingly have sought status and brand-recognition as they prey on that bizarre middle-class American fetish for higher education that assumes a student’s choice of college is possibly the most important choice of his life.

    For that reason alone, he does not deserve Seattle School Board re-election

    Charlie Mas:

    In an earlier thread, skeptical wrote about Director Sundquist:

    Sundquist also opened the last, hardest, of this year’s budget sessions by making a sweeping statement that staff’s board recommendations should be baseline accepted as the starting point of discussion.

    For that reason alone, he does not deserve re-election. Which actions or statements by Board Directors make them un-deserving of re-election?
    I’ll provide the second one.

    GOP seeks to expand school voucher program

    Matthew DeFour:

    A Republican Assembly leader plans to add to the state budget bill an expansion of Milwaukee’s voucher program to other school districts, potentially giving more families in cities such as Madison access to private and religious schools.
    Voucher advocates say the time is ripe to expand the program to other cities, especially with Republicans in control of state government and a recent study suggesting students in the 20-year-old Milwaukee program are testing as well or better than their public school counterparts, with a lower cost per pupil.
    They also argue that vouchers would level the playing field for private schools, which have seen enrollment decline as public charter schools have gained popularity.
    But voucher opponents say expansion would further cripple public schools, which already face an $834 million cut in state funding over the next two years.
    And state test scores to be released Tuesday, which for the first time include 10,600 Milwaukee voucher students, could suggest they are testing no better than poor students in the Milwaukee Public Schools.
    “Given the proposed unprecedented cuts to public education as well as results from our statewide assessments, I question plans in the 2011-13 state budget for expanding the choice program in Milwaukee or anywhere else in Wisconsin,” State Superintendent Tony Evers said.

    Community College vs. Student Loan Debt

    Ron Lieber:

    One of the articles in our special section on Money Through the Ages (produced in partnership with the public radio program Marketplace Money) is about an 18-year-old high school senior with a choice to make. Should he go into at least $6,500 in debt each year to attend a private college or university like Juniata or Clark, or is he better off working part time and attending community college for two years before transferring to one of those colleges?

    Zac Bissonnette, the author of Debt-Free U and a senior in college himself, encourages students and families to take on as little debt as possible. He urged the subject of our profile, Mino Caulton of Shutesbury, Mass., to consider the University of Massachusetts, though Mr. Caulton was worried that he wouldn’t get enough individual attention there.

    Seattle’s Strategic Plan Refresh

    Charlie Mas

    The District is preparing a “Strategic Plan Refresh“. They will review the Strategic Plan and decide which projects to continue, alter, defer, or remove. The refresh will have to include goals, timelines, status, and budgets for each of the projects.
    I spoke with Mark Teoh last night and asked if he could include two items in the Refresh program:
    1) A record of the various projects in the Strategic Plan, including those that were originally in it, those that were added, those that were completed, and those that were simply dropped without notice. Remember how there was supposed to be an APP Review in the plan? Remember how there was going to be an alternative education review? These projects just silently faded away. At the same time, Capacity Management and World Language curricular alignment, which were not part of the original plan, have been added.
    2) A review of the community engagement protocols and some table that shows which of the projects are meeting the requirements of the protocol (it’s easy – none of them).

    A Nation of Dropouts Shakes Europe

    Charles Forelle:

    Isabel Fernandes, a cheery 22-year-old with a constellation of stars tattooed around her right eye, isn’t sure how many times she repeated fifth grade. Two, she says with a laugh. Or maybe three. She redid seventh grade as well. She quit school with an eighth-grade education at age 20.
    Ms. Fernandes lives in a poor suburb near the airport. She doesn’t work. Employers, she says, “are asking for higher education.” Even cleaning jobs are hard to find.
    Portugal is the poorest country in Western Europe. It is also the least educated, and that has emerged as a painful liability in its gathering economic crisis.
    Wednesday night, the economic crisis became a political crisis. Portugal’s parliament rejected Prime Minister José Sócrates’s plan for spending cuts and tax increases. Mr. Sócrates handed in his resignation. He will hang on as a caretaker until a new government is formed.

    Teachers protest IB program

    Mark McDermott:

    Fifty teachers from Redondo Union High School stormed the Board of Education Tuesday night to protest the implementation of the International Baccalaureate program.
    The group included a majority of the school’s department heads and some of the longest-tenured and most respected teachers at RUHS. Their concerns ranged from the cost of the program to what they argued was a lack of teacher input and a greater need to address the needs of less high-achieving students.
    Linda Dillard, the chair of the school’s science department, told the school board that teachers have not been allowed to engage in a “data-driven, fact-finding process” to help determine if the program is a good fit for RUHS.

    Race, Poverty and the Public Schools

    Letters to the New York Times:

    Re “Separate and Unequal,” by Bob Herbert (column, March 22):
    In spite of the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court, sadly the struggle goes on. The Department of Education reported in 2008 that 70 percent of white schoolchildren attend schools where at least 75 percent of the students are white, whereas more than half of all black children in industrial states attend schools where over 90 percent are members of minority groups. Go into any urban school and it is clear that 57 years after Brown, the schools have largely remained segregated.
    Years of social science research have cited the benefits of integrated schools. In our work with the West Metro Education desegregation initiative in Minneapolis public schools, the students in grades 3 to 7 who got on the bus to attend suburban schools made three times the progress in both reading and math when compared with similar students who did not participate.
    Teacher quality remains a consistent important factor. Ultimately, though, students in diverse classrooms benefit from collaboration and teamwork with those whose family circumstances are different from theirs. Eric J. Cooper
    President, National Urban Alliance for Effective Education
    Stamford, Conn., March 22, 2011

    On Public Education

    Jerry Pournelle:

    “How Not to Lay Off Teachers” in today’s Wall Street Journal (link) rather weakly repeats something that everyone who studies the education mess knows. It’s worth your time if you have any doubts that seniority is not the right way to determine who should be paid public money to teach in public schools. Of course just because everyone knows something doesn’t mean much.

    The steep deficits that states now face mean that teacher layoffs this year are unavoidable. Parents understandably want the best teachers spared. Yet in 14 states it is illegal for schools to consider anything other than a teacher’s length of service when making layoff decisions.
    It gets worse. “Many people don’t realize that teachers are not evenly distributed nationwide,” says Tim Daly of the New Teacher Project, which has released a new report on the nationwide impact on quality-blind layoffs. “Fourteen states have these rules but about 40% of all teachers work in those states, and they’re the states with the biggest budget deficits.” In addition to New York, the list includes California, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin.

    What do students miss with a virtual education?

    Christopher Dawson:

    I had the chance to speak at a local university on Tuesday, talking to a class on cloud computing about the impact of technology (especially, of course, the cloud) on higher education. The class was great and was, itself, focused on team-based learning and simulations using a variety of cloud and web-based tools. What was even better, though, was the Q&A session with the students and my follow-up conversations with faculty and staff.
    Let me start with something that ZDNet’s digital video and photo blogger, Janice Chen, wrote in an unrelated discussion we were having about ZDNet’s upcoming 20th anniversary:

    NEArmageddon: The State of States You Haven’t Read About

    Mike Antonucci:

    Kansas – A House committee passed a bill that would allow employee associations other than Kansas NEA access to teacher bulletin boards and orientation sessions.

    Florida – The House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would “require unions to get written authorization from union members in order to use those dues for political purposes.”

    Alabama – The House Ways and Means Committee passed a bill that would provide taxpayer-funded liability insurance for education employees. In states where workers are not compelled to join unions or pay agency fees, liability insurance from the union is a powerful recruiting tool.

    Why One Innovator is Leaving the Public Sector

    Andrew Rotherham:

    Lately you can’t turn around in education without bumping into someone talking about innovation. The President is asking Congress for more federal support for educational innovation in this year’s budget, more and more school districts are naming “innovation officers,” and just last week a group of Silicon Valley start-up veterans launched a new incubator for innovative education companies. But while innovation is a catchy buzzword, on the ground conditions are often anything but innovative. This week, the resignation of a school administrator in New York City who most readers have probably never heard of vividly illustrates that disconnect.
    Joel Rose, 40, got his start teaching in Houston with Teach For America. After law school and a stint at Edison Schools, he landed at the New York City Department of Education leading a personnel strategy for that massive 1.1. million student system. Rose was struck, as many observers are, by how little technology had changed education relative to most other fields during the past few decades. So he started a program within the New York City Public Schools called “School of One” that uses technology to offer a completely customized schooling experience for each student.

    Why He Did It: For good reason, the Capitol exploded when Gov. Walker struck at collective bargaining: The Rise of Teacher Unions

    Christian Schneider, via a kind reader’s email

    By now, the political lore is familiar: A major political party, cast aside by Wisconsin voters due to a lengthy recession, comes roaring back, winning a number of major state offices.
    The 43-year-old new governor, carrying out a mandate he believes the voters have granted him, boldly begins restructuring the state’s tax system. His reform package contains a major change in the way state and local governments bargain with their employees, leading to charges that the governor is paying back his campaign contributors.
    Only the year wasn’t 2011 — it was 1959, and Gov. Gaylord Nelson had just resurrected the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Certain of his path, Nelson embarked on an ambitious agenda that included introduction of a withholding tax, which brought hundreds of protesters to the Capitol. Nelson also signed the nation’s first public-sector collective bargaining law — the same law that 52 years later Gov. Scott Walker targeted for fundamental revision.
    Two different governors, two different parties, and two different positions.
    Ironically, their assertive gubernatorial actions may produce the same disruptive outcome. By empowering the unions, Nelson’s legislation led to public-sector strikes and work stoppages. By disempowering the unions, Walker’s actions might lead to public-sector strikes and work stoppages.
    In Walker’s case, union members reluctantly agreed to his pension and health-care demands, but have fought desperately to preserve their leverage in negotiating contracts. That raises the basic question of the Madison showdown: Why is Scott Walker so afraid of collective bargaining?
    The answer can be found in the rise of the state’s teachers unions.

    Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman:

    Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.”

    Not-so-public education: A Colorado school voucher program seems likely to benefit mostly middle-class students and religious schools.

    Los Angeles Times

    Supporters of school vouchers like to say that their goal is to provide a higher-quality education for the children who need it most. The latest events in Colorado say otherwise. A voucher program there seems more likely to benefit middle-class children and religious schools than low-income public school students, and to worsen inequities in education.
    Last week, the board of the Douglas County School District voted for a pilot program that will give the parents of 500 of its 60,000-students about $4,500 each — 75% of what the district receives in per-pupil funding — to use toward tuition at participating private schools of their choice. Many of the private schools in the area are religiously based.
    Even in Colorado, where a dollar stretches a lot further than in Southern California, $4,500 falls significantly short of private school tuition. Most schools there range from about $7,000 up to $14,000. Clearly, the parents poised to benefit most from this taxpayer-sponsored perk are those with a few thousand to spare to fill in the price gap. There might be scholarships for some of the needier students — about 10% of the Douglas County students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches — but no one is promising anything.

    The College Derby Andrew: Ferguson’s delightful plea for sanity about college admissions.

    Timothy Noah:

    I have this problem. I can’t read self-help books. Like everybody else, I’ve experienced my share of life challenges–“life challenges” being the self-help euphemism for “problems”–and I would never pretend not to need any help in facing them, solving them, or at least getting through them. I accept the principles of, and am myself no stranger to, modern psychotherapy. But whenever I try to cope with one of life’s predictable stress points by reading a self-help book, I can’t manage it. My eyes glaze over. I think “This person is an idiot,” or “This person thinks I’m an idiot,” or “Maybe I am an idiot, because I can’t follow this.” Within minutes I toss the book aside and start digging around for a decent novel.
    hat I’ve come to believe is that psychological advice isn’t worth much if it isn’t rooted in personal experience. So instead of reading self-help books I read memoirs about the kinds of experience I’m trying to cope with. It doesn’t especially matter whether the author went about confronting his problem in a sensible way, nor even, necessarily, whether the author came out of the experience with a clear understanding of what he did right and what he did wrong. For instance, just about the last person I’d look to for personal advice about anything is Joan Didion. But when my wife died six years ago, I devoured Didion’s best-selling memoir about widowhood, The Year of Magical Thinking, and then for good measure I read the script she wrote when she adapted it into a one-person show starring Vanessa Redgrave. (If asked to blurb either, I’d write, “Loopy but compelling.”) I read Donald Hall’s lovely book of poems about his wife’s death, Without, and Hall’s more tedious nonfiction reworking of the same material, The Best Day, The Worst Day. I read a mediocre book called Widow written three decades earlier by a publicist for Little, Brown named Lynn Caine, and a brilliant book–the gold standard on widowhood–called A Grief Observed, written four decades earlier by C.S. Lewis, an author I’d previously avoided like the plague. Some of these books were more helpful than others, but all provided some form of “self-help.” Meanwhile, a stack of self-help books pressed on me by well-meaning friends gathered dust.

    Chicago Public Schools deficit up to $720 million

    Rosalind Rossi:

    Interim Chicago Schools CEO Terry Mazany Wednesday delivered bad news — followed by more bad news.
    The estimated Chicago Public School deficit for next school year is $720 million, Mazany said. That’s up $20 million from just before his predecessor walked out the door in late November.
    Mazany called for “shared sacrifice,” including from teachers. Their pay raises will cost $80 million but, Mazany said, any successor to him appointed after Rahm Emanuel is seated as mayor May 16 will have to decide whether to try to re-negotiate the teachers’ contract to trim that tab.
    The interim CEO also proposed a series of what he called “urgently” needed actions that would impact 4,800 students at 17 schools, displace up to 100 teachers and up-end the jobs of, eventually, nine principals.

    How Miami students can get a free college education

    Stacy Teicher Khadaroo:

    Miami Dade College announced Wednesday the American Dream Scholarship. The ‘free college’ offer could help boost college graduation rates – a goal of President Obama’s.
    College tuition is going up and financial aid is on the chopping block in many states, but in the Miami area, one college is offering successful high school graduates a price tag that’s hard to refuse: free.
    Miami Dade College – the largest institution of higher education in America, serving more than 170,000 students on eight campuses – announced its American Dream Scholarship on Wednesday. It will cover 60 credits at a value of about $6,500 – enough to earn a two-year degree or start in on one of the four-year programs offered by the community college.
    This spring’s high school graduates in Miami-Dade County will be the first to benefit from the “free college” offer. To qualify for the new scholarship, students must have a 3.0 grade-point average and score well enough on entry tests to show they don’t need remedial math or reading courses. Normally, about a third of the college’s entering students pass at that level.

    Hand-Crafted Digital Texts

    Scott McLemee:

    Despite an abiding preference for the traditional book, I started using an e-reader about seven months ago — and have found it insinuating itself into daily life, just as a key chain or wallet might. For there is a resemblance. A key chain or wallet (or purse) is, in a sense, simply a tool that is necessary, or at least useful, for certain purposes. But after a while, each becomes more than that to its owner. To be without them is more than an inconvenience. They are extensions of the owner’s identity, or rather part of its infrastructure.
    Something like that has happened with the e-reader. I have adapted to it, and vice versa. Going out into the world, I bring it along, in case there are delays on the subway system (there usually are) or my medical appointment runs behind schedule (likewise). While at home, it stays within reach in case our elderly cat falls asleep in my lap. (She does so as often as possible and has grown adept at manipulating my guilt at waking her.) Right now there are about 450 items on the device. They range from articles of a few thousand words to multivolume works that, in print, run to a few hundred pages each. For a while, my acquisition of them tended to be impulsive, or at least unplanned. Whether or not the collection reflected its owner’s personality, it certain documented his whims.

    In Preschool, What Matters More: Education or Play?

    Bonnie Rochman:

    It’s practically been relegated to superstar status in the annals of parenting lore: the Manhattan mom who sued her daughter’s $19,000-a-year preschool on grounds that the 4-year-old was not sufficiently prepared to tackle the entrance test for private kindergarten.
    Earlier this month, Nicole Imprescia filed her lawsuit against the York Avenue Preschool, claiming that her daughter, Lucia, was not primed to take the intelligence test and was instead relegated to a mixed-age classroom where talk revolved around — oh, the horror — shapes and colors. As a result, Imprescia withdrew her daughter from the preschool. (More on Perspective on the Parenting Debate: Rich Parents Don’t Matter?)
    “The school proved to be not a school at all, but just one big playroom,” the suit stated.

    Questions Abound as the College-Rankings Race Goes Global

    Ellen Hazelkorn:

    It is amazing that more than two decades after U.S. News & World Report first published its special issue on “America’s Best Colleges,” and almost a decade since Shanghai Jiao Tong University first published the Academic Ranking of World Universities, rankings continue to dominate the attention of university leaders. Indeed, the range of people watching them now includes politicians, students, parents, businesses, and donors. Simply put, rankings have caught the imagination of the public and have insinuated their way into public discourse and almost every level of government. There are even iPhone applications to help individuals and colleges calculate their ranks.
    More than 50 country-specific rankings and 10 global rankings are available today, including the European Union’s new U-Multirank, due this year. What started as small-scale, nationally focused guides for students and parents has become a global business that heavily influences higher education and has repercussions well beyond academe.

    Parents want child with peanut allergy removed from school

    Amy Graff:

    As more kids are diagnosed with food allergies, more schools are faced with figuring out how to deal with students who require a special environment. Should schools be expected to inconvenience all students when only one of them has a severe peanut allergy? This debate is currently playing out at a school in Florida.
    A 6-year-old girl at a school in Florida has a peanut allergy so severe that she could have a reaction if she were to breath traces of nut dust in the air. Her elementary school in Edgewater, Fl., has taken extraordinary measures to accommodate her.
    All students are now required to wash their hands and rinse out their mouths before stepping inside the classroom. Desks must be regularly wiped down with Clorox wipes. School administrators have banned all peanut products and snacks are no longer allowed in the class. Earlier this month, a peanut-sniffing dog walked through the school to make sure everyone is following the rules.
    The school is legally obligated to take these safety precautions because of the Federal Disabilities Act, according to Nancy Wait, the the spokeswoman for Volusia County Schools.

    Madison teachers given until April 15 to rescind fake doctors’ notes

    Matthew DeFour:

    Madison teachers who missed school last month to attend protests and turned in fraudulent doctor’s notes have been given until April 15 to rescind those notes, officials said Thursday.
    The district received more than 1,000 notes from teachers, human resources director Bob Nadler said. A couple hundred of those were ruled fraudulent because they appeared to be written by doctors at the Capitol protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to limit collective bargaining.
    Teachers who don’t rescind fraudulent notes could receive a disciplinary letter of suspension, the most serious form of discipline aside from termination, Nadler said. The suspension would be considered already served — the time missed during the protests.
    “We didn’t want to give anybody more time off,” Nadler said. “They can’t afford it. We can’t afford to have them gone any more. I don’t think kids need their teacher gone another two days.”

    Hundreds attend, testify at legislative hearing on charter school changes

    Susan Troller:

    Testimony at the Capitol over a controversial bill that would strip control over charter schools from locally elected officials and place it in the hands of a politically appointed state-wide authorizing board drew hundreds on Wednesday to a standing-room-only Senate education committee hearing.
    Senate Bill 22, authored by state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) would also fund independent charter schools ahead of traditional public schools. I wrote about the bill on Tuesday and it’s generated a robust conversation.
    Madison Superintendent Daniel Nerad testified in opposition to the bill, and so did local school board member Marjorie Passman. Kaleem Caire, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison and a strong proponent of the proposed boys-only Madison Preparatory Academy for minority students, testified in support of the bill. Madison Prep, if approved, will be a publicly funded charter school in Madison.

    Saving Young Black Men

    Sunny Schubert:

    Kaleem Caire is tired of waiting.
    He has watched in frustration as yet another generation of young black men fail to reach their potential, as the achievement gap continues to widen, as the economic disparity between blacks and whites continues to grow.
    “We have failed an entire generation of young men of color. We have not provided them with an education, and that is why so many of them end up in jail. It has to stop,” he says.
    And if that means taking on the educational establishment and the teachers union, Caire is ready.
    “In public schools, you are so strapped by rules and regulations. If teachers work outside the rules of the union, they get slapped,” he says.
    Caire believes he knows how to address the needs of minority children in school, because he himself was on the verge of failing and turned himself around to become a national leader in educational reform.

    Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy, here.

    A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers

    Greg Forster, Ph.D.

    This report collects the results of all available empirical studies using the best available scientific methods to measure how school vouchers affect academic outcomes for participants, and all available studies on how vouchers affect outcomes in public schools. Contrary to the widespread claim that vouchers do not benefit participants and hurt public schools, the empirical evidence consistently shows that vouchers improve outcomes for both participants and public schools. In addition to helping the participants by giving them more options, there are a variety of explanations for why vouchers might improve public schools as well. The most important is that competition from vouchers introduces healthy incentives for public schools to improve.
    Key findings include:

    Suburban Parents Blocked In Try For Charter Schools

    Claudio Sanchez:

    Charter schools may be multiplying fast across the country, but they’re stalled in affluent, high-performing suburban school systems. Of the 5,300 charter schools in the U.S., only one-fifth are in suburbs.
    Suburban parents are frustrated by what they see as arbitrary policies to keep charter schools from spreading and are fighting back.
    That’s the case with some parents in Montgomery County, Md., outside Washington, D.C., where Ashley Del Sole lives. Her oldest daughter is about to start school, but she can’t go to her neighborhood school because it’s overcrowded.
    “My daughter is actually slated to go to a middle school next year for kindergarten because of the overcapacity problem,” Del Sole says.

    Can we achieve more with less?

    Dan Deming:

    With millions being cut from Kansas schools by legislative action or local boards reacting to reduced funding, it is easy to fall into a trap of believing that with less money our schools can’t possibly do as good of a job educating our kids. Probably, but not necessarily.
    Bill Gates, the Microsoft billionaire who is devoting much of his fortune to improving education and who co-chairs the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, wrote a provocative column this month in the Washington Post. Highlights from Gates’ conclusions are spotlighted in this week’s column to remind us that spending more money does not ensure better-educated kids and that some radical changes in how the dollars we now pour into education might significantly improve outcomes.

    Liberty School Board Candidate Profile

    Kim Marie-Graham:

    Fiscal Responsibility-The District has had the luxury of having sufficient resources to fund many non-essential expenditures. Our economy and funding levels have changed and will continue to do so going forward. The district must re-evaluate priorities. Significant cuts have been made to large ticket items but there is now work to do to improve the culture of fiscal responsibility. All decisions need to be made with an interest in doing what is best for the education of our children. If we can change the culture, we will be in a better position to afford the things we need to do, like pay our employees fairly.
    Educating Our Children-The Liberty Public Schools have a long and proud history of excellence in education. It is essential that we continue to focus on our primary mission, the education of our children. We must ensure our financial resources are spent on classrooms, proven curriculum, books and employees. We must continue our high academic achievement by maintaining and re-establishing, where possible, the essential programs we have lost. As popular culture continues to call for school reform, we must ensure we are making decisions that will always lead to the right end goal, an excellent education for all of our children.

    Judge Rules Chris Christie’s Education Cuts Violated State Constitution

    George Zornick:

    New Jersey has one of the most progressive education laws in the country — the Abbott v. Burke case produced several rulings requiring the state to equalize public education funding for all students, meaning that poor, urban districts must receive the same relative amount of funding as wealthy suburban districts. Abbott vs. Burke requirements have been characterized as “one of the most remarkable and successful efforts by any court in the nation to cut an educational break for kids from poor families and generally minority-dominated urban neighborhoods.”
    Today, a judge found that Gov. Chris Christie (R) violated Abbott v. Burke requirements when he slashed $820 million in state aid to schools last year, because the cuts were slanted too heavily towards poor districts:

    Clark Board of Education Approves 2011-2012 School Budget

    Jessica Remo:

    A proposed 2011-2012 school budget was approved unanimously by the Board of Education Tuesday night during a public hearing at the Clark Council Chambers. The spending plan would allocate just over $33.2 million, an increase of $225,000 over the previous year. The budget, if approved by voters, will mean a tax hike of three tax points, which translates into approximately $33 for the average taxpayer.
    Tax increases to fund schools is nothing new. In 2010, Clark residents saw a $36 rise in their tax bills following a loss of more than $671,000 in state aid. For the 2011-2012 school year, the budget includes $414,448 in funding from the state, an increase of $325,460 over last year’s spending plan. Overall, the budget yields a 0.83 percent increase over the 2010-2011 plan, well below the state-mandated 2 percent cap.
    Considering the economic climate and rising costs, Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Knops noted that the school board took on a daunting task — maintaining classroom quality while minimizing tax impact — and largely succeeded.

    Clark schools spends $14,896.85 per student. Madison’s most recent 2010-2011 citizen’s budget document indicates total planned spending of $358,791,418, which yields $14,661.90 per student (24,471 students).

    Justice Department sues on behalf of Muslim teacher, triggering debate

    Jerry Markon:

    Safoorah Khan had taught middle school math for only nine months in this tiny Chicago suburb when she made an unusual request. She wanted three weeks off for a pilgrimage to Mecca.
    The school district, faced with losing its only math lab instructor during the critical end-of-semester marking period, said no. Khan, a devout Muslim, resigned and made the trip anyway.
    Justice Department lawyers examined the same set of facts and reached a different conclusion: that the school district’s decision amounted to outright discrimination against Khan. They filed an unusual lawsuit, accusing the district of violating her civil rights by forcing her to choose between her job and her faith.

    Teacher bonus program fails to lure and retain top teachers in Washington’s high-poverty schools

    Jim Simpkins, via email:

    – A $99 million teacher bonus program that Washington legislators designed to lure good teachers into high-poverty schools has not worked as intended, according to a new analysis from the University of Washington Bothell’s Center on Reinventing Public Education.
    “Not only has the $10,000 annual bonus failed to move effective teachers to high-poverty schools, it has also failed to make those teachers any more likely to stay in high-poverty schools than other teachers,” said the report’s author, Jim Simpkins.
    Washington State provides $5,000 bonuses to those teachers who undergo and pass the rigorous national board certification process, a credentialing program that marks its graduates as among the best teachers. The evidence, however, on whether national board certified teachers (NBCTs) are actually more effective teachers is mixed.
    In 2007, state legislators added a second $5,000 bonus for NBCTs who teach in a high-poverty school, defined as one where a large portion of students are on free or reduced-price lunches. According to the Center’s report, ” . . . less than 1% of Washington’s NBCTs move from low-poverty to high-poverty schools each year.”


    Albert Shanker was one of a kind (sui generis). No one has replaced him or the intelligent analysis of American education in his weekly columns in The New York Times. Known as a powerful advocate of union solidarity and the protection of teachers, he was also the source of the idea for charter schools, and, perhaps most astonishingly, he often spoke of the “nomenclatura of American education.”
    He used that term, borrowed from the name for the Soviet bureaucrats and their special privileges and interlocking tentacles, to label the complex interconnections of the many layers of special interest agencies in our education system: organizations of superintendents, school boards, curriculum specialists, counselors, professional development experts, literacy experts of all kinds, and so forth.
    I believe he was pointing out that this system of special interest groups had achieved a paralysis of our educational efforts similar to the paralysis that the Soviet nomenclatura brought to the economy and society of the USSR, leading to its spectacular collapse in 1989.
    He suggested that any good idea for reform to help our students learn more was likely to be immediately studied, re-interpreted, deconstructed, re-formulated and expounded until all of its value and any hope of its bringing higher standards to American education had been reduced to nothingness. The concern of the special educational nomenclatura for their own jobs, pensions, perks, prerogatives, and policies would manage to overwhelm, confuse and disintegrate any worthwhile initiative for greater academic achievement by students.
    Mr. Shanker is gone, and the loss is ours, but the nomenclatura he spoke of is alive and well. With all the best intentions, for example, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the National Governors Association, cheered on by the Department of Education, major foundations, and others, have taken on the idea of Common Standards for American students.
    Unfortunately, they have largely left out curriculum–any clear requirements for our high school students to, for instance, read a history book or write a serious research paper. For a long time, those in the nomenclatura involved in assessment have been reluctant to ask students to demonstrate any knowledge on tests, for fear that they would not have any knowledge to demonstrate. So essay tests, for example, do not ask students to write about literature, history or science, but rather to give opinions off the top of their heads about school uniforms or whether it is more important to be a good student or to be popular, and the like.
    For all the talk in the nomenclatura about college and career readiness, no one knows whether our high school students are now expected to read a single complete nonfiction book or write one 20-page research paper before they graduate, because no one asks about that.
    One could have hoped that our Edupundits would try to fill the void left by the loss of Mr. Shanker, but sad to say, they have largely become lost in the tangles and tentacles of the nomenclatura themselves. They endlessly debate the intricate problems of class size, teacher selection, budgets, principal education, collective bargaining, school governance, and so on, until they are too exhausted, or perhaps just unable, to take an interest in what our students are being asked to read and write.
    Although great efforts have gone into the new Common Core Standards, they contain no actual curriculum, partly because the nomenclatura doesn’t want to engage in difficult political battles over what actual knowledge our students must have. So, even though almost all of the state bureaucracies have signed on the new Standards, the chance is good that they will collapse of their own weight because they contain no clear requirements for the actual academic work of students.
    Our Edupundits are constantly hard at work. Some could be described, to paraphrase Alexander Pope, as “dull, heavy, busy, bold and blind,” and they do meet, discuss, speak, and write a great deal about the details of educational administration and management–details which are very popular with those who seek to apply a business school mindset to the organization of our K-12 education.
    However, so long as they continue to ignore the actual academic work of our students, our students will be quite free to do the same. Fortunately, some teachers will continue to require their own high school students to read serious books and write research papers, and to do the most difficult academic work of which they are capable, in literature, languages, math and science. But in their efforts they will have received at best no help (or at least no interference) from the nomenclatura, and the Edupundits who are lost in their wake.
    “Teach by Example”
    Will Fitzhugh [founder]
    The Concord Review [1987]
    Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
    National Writing Board [1998]
    TCR Institute [2002]
    730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
    Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
    978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
    Varsity Academics®

    Harvard Isn’t Worth It Beyond Mom’s Party Chatter: Amity Shlaes

    Amity Shlaes:

    Anxious families awaiting April college admission news are living their own March Madness.
    Their insanity is captured in Andrew Ferguson’s new book, “Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College” (Simon & Schuster). He describes the vanity of a desperate mother at a cocktail party who is dying to announce her daughter’s perfect SAT scores:
    “‘We were really surprised at how well she did,’ the mother would say, running a finger around the rim of her glass of pink Zinfandel.
    Her eyes plead: Ask me what they were, just please please ask.”

    Idaho Teachers union takes first step to repeal education bills

    The day after two education reform bills were signed into law, the state teachers union filed petitions to repeal them.
    The actions of the Idaho Education Association could prevent those laws from ever being implemented.
    The IEA filed two petitions – one for each reform bill.
    It’s likely a third petition will also be submitted if the third education reform bill, which is up for discussion for tomorrow, also becomes law.
    “We just took the first step in the process,” said Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association.

    Separate and Unequal

    Bob Herbert:

    One of the most powerful tools for improving the educational achievement of poor black and Hispanic public school students is, regrettably, seldom even considered. It has become a political no-no.
    Educators know that it is very difficult to get consistently good results in schools characterized by high concentrations of poverty. The best teachers tend to avoid such schools. Expectations regarding student achievement are frequently much lower, and there are lower levels of parental involvement. These, of course, are the very schools in which so many black and Hispanic children are enrolled.

    Newark teachers protest charter schools’ use of public school buildings

    Daniel Ulloa:

    The Newark Teachers Union sent an email to its 4,800 members urging them to protest against the placement of charter school in underutilized public school buildings at an Advisory board meeting held tonight at Barringer High School.
    According to the Wall St. Journal, Union President Joseph Del Grosso strongly objects to the placement of charter schools in public school buildings, claiming that some of the private funding that the Charter schools will make obvious the stark differences between the two types of schools.
    The meeting will begin at 6 P.M. Tuesday, and staff, students, and parents are all being invited to voice their concerns.

    Unions Give Teachers a Voice and a Platform From Which to Help Students

    Marc Korashan:

    When I began teaching in New York City in 1975 I didn’t initially see the need for a union or get involved in union activities. I knew, from history and the stories my parents and grandparents told, about the struggle for unions, but like so many today, I took the existence of a union and a contract for granted. My chapter leader gave me some advice and made sure I had all the necessary forms when I got appointed, but that was the sum of my union involvement until I moved to a position as an Education Evaluator on School Based Support Teams.
    In that position, as a Special Education Teacher/Education Evaluator, I was much more exposed to the whims of management than I had been as a classroom teacher. Administrators didn’t often walk into my SIE VIII classroom as most of them were afraid of the volatile students I taught. I worked with my co-teacher and we succeeded in making a difference for most of our students.

    The Value of Education — and Teachers

    The Somewhat Daily RAG:

    A pharmacist friend in Jasper, Alberta said that she was appalled at the seemingly light sentences given to abusers who kill children while someone murdering a police officer gets a life sentence.
    Her take on this disparity was, “How do you know that if this child grew up he wouldn’t become a policeman?”
    An interesting and provocative take which I recalled when thinking of the value of education and our teachers who seem to be under attack these days as overpaid (whoever though a teacher could be accused of that?) and greedy.