Florida Leads the Nation in the Percentage of High School Students Enrolled in High Level Classes; Some States Still Leave Low-Income Students Behind; Others Make Surprising Gains

by Sharona Coutts and Jennifer LaFleur:

Florida is a state of stark contrasts. Travel a few miles from the opulent mansions of Miami Beach and you reach desperately poor neighborhoods. There’s the grinding poverty of sugar cane country and the growing middle class of Jacksonville. All told, half the public-school students in Florida qualify for subsidized lunches. Many are the first in their families to speak English or contemplate attending college.
In many states, those economic differences are reflected in the classroom, with students in wealthy schools taking many more advanced courses.
The Opportunity Gap
But not in Florida. A ProPublica analysis of previously unreleased federal data shows that Florida leads the nation in the percentage of high-school students enrolled in high-level classes–Advanced Placement and advanced math. That holds true across rich and poor districts.
Studies repeatedly have shown that students who take advanced classes have greater chances of attending and succeeding in college.
Our analysis identifies several states that, like Florida, have leveled the field and now offer rich and poor students roughly equal access to high-level courses.
In Kansas, Maryland and Oklahoma, by contrast, such opportunities are far less available in districts with poorer families.
That disparity is part of what experts call the “opportunity gap.”

Wisconsin’s results are here, while Madison’s are here.

WEAC sues over law giving Wisconsin Governor Walker power over DPI rules

Jason Stein:

Members of state teachers unions sued Thursday to block part of a law giving Gov. Scott Walker veto powers over rules written by other state agencies and elected officials.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal skirmishes between the GOP governor and public employee unions.
In the case, parents of students and members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and Madison Teachers Inc. challenge the law for giving Walker the power to veto administrative rules written by any state agency. That law wrongly gives Walker that power over the state Department of Public Instruction headed by state schools superintendent Tony Evers, the action charges.
“The state constitution clearly requires that the elected state superintendent establish educational policies,” WEAC President Mary Bell, a plaintiff in the suit, said in a statement. “The governor’s extreme power grab must not spill over into education policy in our schools.”
The measure, which Walker signed in May, allows the governor to reject proposed administrative rules used to implement state laws.

Hollowing out the ivory tower

Tim Black:

‘The idea – which I have to say has affected large numbers of politicians – that you can just give people at university a certificate and, hey presto, they’ll earn this amount more and the country will be x-amount richer has always seemed so bizarre to me that I have to pinch myself that so many apparently rational people believe exactly that.’
Professor Alison Wolf is a breathless speaker – as I discovered while trying to keep up during the course of our interview. But as the author of Does Education Matter? Myths About Education and Economic Growth, and more recently of the government-commissioned Review of Vocational Education, Wolf is certainly worth listening to on the plight of British universities. And nowhere is her insight more valuable than when it comes to tackling what she has called ‘the great secular faith of our age’ – namely, the idea that education is the key to economic growth, swelling both an individual’s bank balance and expanding a nation’s GDP.

Oregon Gov. Kitzhaber’s school reforms mark a decline in teachers’ union influence

Nigel Jaquiss:

The state’s most powerful political force got rolled in the 2011 Legislature.
Last week, Gov. John Kitzhaber and his allies rammed a dozen education bills through roadblocks erected by the 48,000-member Oregon Education Association.
A coalition of Kitzhaber, House Republicans, a few Democrats willing to buck the teachers’ union, and newly emboldened interest groups handed the OEA its biggest policy setbacks in years.
“There is a strong desire for real movement forward on education, and people were willing to break a few eggs to get there,” says Rep. Chris Garrett (D-Lake Oswego), one of three Democrats who voted “yes” on HB 2301, a controversial online charter-school bill that catalyzed the breakthrough.
To be sure, OEA successfully pushed for a $175 million increase in the K-12 budget over Kitzhaber’s opening proposal, and the union helped forestall any significant changes to the Public Employees Retirement System this session. But in terms of educational politics, this session saw substantive bills that have been stymied for many sessions zip through.

L.A. School District Decides To Go Easier On Homework

Eyder Peralta:

After banning flavored milk, the Los Angeles Unified School District is doing something kids all over will cheer about: They issued a decree that homework can only count for only 10 percent of a student’s grade. The policy goes into effect July 1.
The idea behind the new rule is that it will level the playing field for students who don’t have educational support at home. Also, Los Angeles isn’t alone in this new approach. The Los Angeles Times reports:

In many districts, limits are being placed on the amount of homework so students can spend more time with their families or pursue extracurricular activities like sports or hobbies. The competition to get into top colleges has left students anxious and exhausted, with little free time, parents complain.

Fog of Common Core (Lessons from Arizona’s Adoption)

David Griffith:

Today marks one year since Arizona adopted the common core state standards, but you wouldn’t know it based on any information provided by public officials or the press in Arizona. Indeed, you would have an impossible time finding any details about the Arizona State Board’s official action to adopt the standards.
Last year, I wrote about the bizarre situation where states that were completely overhauling their K-12 reading and math standards in favor of the more advanced, 21st century common core state standards were not only downplaying this standards transformation, but in some instances, also appeared to be proactively burying the information.
Arizona fell into this last group as I mentioned last July:

Charlotte’s New Superintendent

Eric Frazier:

Almost three weeks after Superintendent Peter Gorman’s resignation, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board on Tuesday bid him goodbye and named Chief Operating Officer Hugh Hattabaugh as interim leader.
Board members approved a separation agreement that effectively made the meeting Gorman’s last as superintendent, ending a five-year reign marked by rising test scores, budget cuts and aggressive reforms that sparked outcry from teachers.
Board members praised Gorman for increasing student achievement and managing a diverse, 135,000-student school system full of competing constituencies, even at the cost of increasingly personal criticisms leveled at him.

Kaukauna Area School District projects $1.5 million surplus after contract changes to health care, retirement savings; Milwaukee Plans to Lay Off 354 Teachers

Appleton Post-Crescent:

As changes to collective bargaining powers for public workers take effect today, the Kaukauna Area School District is poised to swing from a projected $400,000 budget shortfall next year to a $1.5 million surplus due to health care and retirement savings.
The Kaukauna School Board approved changes Monday to its employee handbook that require staff to cover 12.6 percent of their health insurance and to contribute 5.8 percent of their wages to the state’s pension system, in accordance with the new collective bargaining law, commonly known as Act 10.
“These impacts will allow the district to hire additional teachers (and) reduce projected class sizes,” School Board President Todd Arnoldussen wrote in a statement Monday. “In addition, time will be available for staff to identify and support students needing individual assistance through individual and small group experiences.”

Karen Herzog

Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton announced at a news conference this afternoon that 519 layoff notices would be issued for next school year, including 354 teachers.
Most of the teacher cuts come at the elementary level. The district has about 125 elementary schools. The elementary schools most affected are those that lost funding for a program that reduces class sizes.
The layoffs are the result of a number of budgetary factors, including the loss of $84 million in state aid to MPS for the next fiscal year, Thornton said.
Thornton called on the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association to reconsider the district’s request that teachers pay 5.8% of their salaries toward their pensions, which would have reduced the number of layoffs by about 200 teachers.

More on Kaukana, here.

Wisconsin School District Administrative Cost Comparison

WISTAX via sp-eye:

Phil Frei and his Traveling Pie-in-the-Sky Budget Show like to compare Sun Prairie administrative costs to the state average. And we look great! That trick’s not working so well anymore. As they say in the deep south, “that dog don’t hunt”. Heck even the new associate editor for the STAR, covering the recent budget hearing, asked if we didn’t have a more realistic comparison.
Well… here’s where we rank: 45th. Not even in the top 10%. At least when we look at Administrative costs per student.

Madison spends $1003/student (7.8% of operating expenditures).

Third Circuit, Landmark Victories for Student Speech Limit Schools’ Ability To Censor Students Online

Erica Goldberg:

Yesterday, the full court for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued two simultaneous opinions to resolve how much control grade schools and high schools may exercise over their students’ off-campus, online speech. In Layshock v. Hermitage School District and J.S. v. Blue Mountain School District, the 14-judge court delivered two landmark victories for free speech, holding that school officials cannot “reach into a child’s home and control his/her actions there to the same extent that it can control that child when he/she participates in school sponsored activities.” In the cases, two students had been disciplined for creating parody MySpace profiles mocking their respective principals. The Third Circuit held that schools cannot punish students’ online speech simply because it is vulgar, lewd, or offensive. In addition to their impact in the grade school and high school settings, these decisions further solidify the robust free speech rights that must be afforded to college students engaging in online speech.
We previously blogged about Layshock and J.S. last year, when separate three-judge panels of the Third Circuit issued contrary decisions despite the very similar facts in the two cases. In Layshock, the Third Circuit had held that a then-senior in high school could not be suspended, placed in a special education class, and banned from extracurricular activities for a parody MySpace profile which described his principal as being a “big steroid freak” and belittled the size of the principal’s penis, among other insults. In J.S., a different panel of the Third Circuit had held that a then-middle school honor student could be suspended, without violating the First Amendment, for her MySpace profile. J.S.’s profile parodied her principal as stating, “I love children, sex (any kind), dogs, long walks on the beach, tv, being a dick head, and last but not least my darling wife [a guidance counselor at the school] who looks like a man.”

Another study points to advantages of printed textbooks

Nicholas Carr:

Even as administrators and legislators push schools to dump printed books in favor of electronic ones, evidence mounts that paper books have important advantages as tools for learning. Last month, I reported on a study out of the University of Washington which showed that students find printed books more flexible than e-books in supporting a wide range of reading and learning styles. Now comes a major study from the University of California system showing that students continue to prefer printed books to e-books and that many undergraduates complain that they have trouble “learning, retaining, and concentrating” when reading from screens.
The University of California Libraries began a large e-textbook pilot program in 2008. In late 2010, more than 2,500 students and faculty members were surveyed to assess the results of the program. Overall, 58% of the respondents said they used e-books for their academic work, with the percentage varying from 55% for undergraduates to 57% for faculty to 67% for graduate students. The respondents who used e-books were then asked whether they preferred e-books or printed books for their studies. Overall, 44% said they preferred printed books and 35% said they preferred e-books, with the remainder expressing no preference. The preference for print was strongest among undergraduates, 53% of whom preferred printed books, with only 27% preferring e-books. Graduate students preferred printed books by 45% to 35%, and faculty preferred printed books by 43% to 33%.

Detroit Public Schools’ Roberts faces public at forum on school budget


In less than 10 minutes, Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts tonight reviewed an 11-page summary of the district’s $1.2-billion budget for next school year that projects cutting $200 million from the deficit and reducing all wages by 10%.
Roberts’ first public hearing on the budget since taking over in May as the state appointee in charge of DPS began tonight at 6 p.m.
The budget projects that the $327-million deficit will be reduced to $127 million as DPS sells $200 million in bonds, he said.
“We treasure your input, we’re going to take it to heart,” Roberts said to the audience.

Politics in China’s exam system

Eric Fish:

“A fox served fish soup in a flat plate and invited the crane to share it with him ‘equally’. But it turned out the crane couldn’t drink any because of his long beak, and the fox hogged it all. What does this fable tell us?”
If you answered, “The bourgeois declare ‘everyone is equal before the law’, but this form of equality is the essence of capitalism,” congratulations, you’d be one step closer to qualifying for graduate school in China. If not, better luck next year.
Over 1.5 million people sat this year’s National Entrance Examination for Postgraduates (NEEP), China’s equivalent to the Graduate Record Examinations used in the United States. The annual test given each January is the first hurdle most students
must clear before being considered for grad-school admission. The majority of its content differs based on school and major, but 20% of the exam is a politics and philosophy section uniform across the entire nation.

Operations bring smiles back to cleft-palate tots

Lana Lam:

Moments after Mao Dongmei gave birth to her first son, doctors in her hometown of Qidong Lusi in Jiangsu province gave her one piece of advice: get rid of your baby because he is deformed.
“After I gave birth, the doctors suggested I abandon my son because he would not be able to suck on the breast,” 26-year-old Mao said.
Her son, Gu Yanhu, who is now 15 months old, was born with a cleft lip and palate, a congenital deformity that affects one in 600 children born on the mainland.
“But I felt confident that I could look after my baby. I could never abandon him. It was the right choice,” Mao said, as she stroked the dozing toddler after his operation at a charity hospital in Hangzhou run by Operation Smile.

Self-evaluation a key skill students must acquire for effective learning

David Carless

One of the most effective ways students can improve their ability to learn for themselves is through the development of self-evaluative skills.
Self-evaluation is judging the quality of one’s performance and planning strategies for self-improvement.
This is important, because students learn best when taking responsibility for their own progress.
Students must understand what constitutes quality work. Without an appreciation of quality, it is difficult for students to use feedback to improve their performance. Children can develop such skills by being asked to consider what they are learning, and identify strengths and weaknesses in their work.

Pro-reform member of state education board will not seek another term

Andrew Vanacore:

One of the more reliable backers of the reform movement that has radically altered public schools in New Orleans is planning to retire from the state board of education.
Glenny Lee Buquet, from Houma, said Monday that she will not run for another term on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, or BESE, when elections come up this fall. Buquet has served on BESE since 1992 and is one of the six-member majority on the 11-member board that has helped push through the controversial reforms championed by former State Superintendent Paul Pastorek.
Nowhere in the state have those reforms been more far-reaching than in New Orleans. The state took over most schools in the city following Hurricane Katrina, and under the state’s Recovery School District, most of those have been transformed into independent charter schools.

Katy Venskus:

Well, the budget battle royale in Wisconsin has come and gone. The tent city of protestors has packed up and moved on. Our state electeds are no longer front and center on Fox News, MSNBC, Colbert or the Daily Show. The guy blowing the vuvuzela outside Governor Walker’s East Wing Capitol office is probably still there, but the tidal wave of fervor and insanity that engulfed us seems to have finally receded.
And for all my bright shiny optimism early in this legislative session, some of which persisted well into the spring, I am disappointed with the outcome. There have been some good public policy changes, but on the whole the political losses and missed opportunities far outweigh the gains.
Good News First…
We found middle ground on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program…more or less. The program will remain means tested, but more working class families will be eligible. The private schools that participate will continue to administer the state assessment to choice students so an accurate picture of student performance is available in all publicly funded schools. Unfortunately, many solid choice schools are still being slowly strangled by the discrepancy in funding between kids in the public schools and kids enrolled in choice and charter schools, and we have still done little to get lousy schools out of the education pipeline in Milwaukee once and for all.

Teacher Grades: Pass or Be Fired

Sam Dillon:

Emily Strzelecki, a first-year science teacher here, was about as eager for a classroom visit by one of the city’s roving teacher evaluators as she would be to get a tooth drilled. “It really stressed me out because, oh my gosh, I could lose my job,” Ms. Strzelecki said.

Her fears were not unfounded: 165 Washington teachers were fired last year based on a pioneering evaluation system that places significant emphasis on classroom observations; next month, 200 to 600 of the city’s 4,200 educators are expected to get similar bad news, in the nation’s highest rate of dismissal for poor performance.

The evaluation system, known as Impact, is disliked by many unionized teachers but has become a model for many educators. Spurred by President Obama and his $5 billion Race to the Top grant competition, some 20 states, including New York, and thousands of school districts are overhauling the way they grade teachers, and many have sent people to study Impact.

Group works on alternatives for troubled schools

Associated Press:The Indiana Department of Education is spending nearly $700,000 to develop strategies for overseeing troubled schools that don’t involve a traditional school board.
The work by The MindTrust is being done as the state prepares to recommend which of 18 failing public schools should be removed from district control and given to private school operators to attempt a turnaround.
All 18 schools have scored in the lowest category on the state ISTEP+ exam for five straight years. A 1999 state law allows the state to take over schools if test scores are in the lowest category for a sixth consecutive year.
The education department has paid more than $680,000 to The MindTrust in an effort to make sure none of the failing schools — seven of which are in the Indianapolis Public Schools system — return to the hands of a school board that will lead it back to failure.
“The fact that we have as many failed schools in IPS as we do reflects a larger issue in the overall system,” David Harris, chief executive officer of The MindTrust, told the Indianapolis Business Journal. “The state doesn’t want to return schools to a governance structure that isn’t going to produce conditions that are optimal for success.”

Whan I Retire

Mr. Foteah:

I recently wrote about how having friends at work was never a priority. However, the fact of the matter is I have made some close ones – people I really respect and enjoy being around. That makes work pleasant, as we’re all dealing with similar challenges together, instead of battling alone. Of course, it makes you want to go to work everyday, knowing that you’re going to a place where you are liked and like the people around you.
Now, I’ve heard anecdotes recently from a variety of schools about colleagues not being so supportive of each other, saying nasty things behind others’ backs and the like. I hope no one is doing this to me, and if any of my colleagues have any kind of issue with me, that they can bring it to my attention and we can work it out.
Like everyone else, I want to be recognized for my positive attributes, and I want those to be my hallmarks and form my reputation.
We recently celebrated the end of the school year with our annual party. This one had the added wrinkle of being a defacto retirement party for some much loved members of the staff.
I was moved by the way people spoke about each retiree. I didn’t expect such wonderful things to be said, and more importantly, the honorees were genuinely surprised and touched.

US Teachers’ Instructional Hours Among the Longest

Phil Izzo:

Students across the U.S. are enjoying or getting ready for summer vacation, but teachers may be looking forward to the break even more. American teachers are the most productive among major developed countries, according to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data from 2008 — the most recent available.

Among 27 member nations tracked by the OECD, U.S. primary-school educators spent 1,097 hours a year teaching despite only spending 36 weeks a year in the classroom — among the lowest among the countries tracked. That was more than 100 hours more than New Zealand, in second place at 985 hours, despite students in that country going to school for 39 weeks. The OECD average is 786 hours.

And that’s just the time teachers spend on instruction. Including hours teachers spend on work at home and outside the classroom, American primary-school educators spend 1,913 working in a year. According to data from the comparable year in a Labor Department survey, an average full-time employee works 1,932 hours a year spread out over 48 weeks (excluding two weeks vacation and federal holidays).

Curriculum is certainly worth a hard look.

Culture and the Achievement Gap

Charlene Collazo:

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Education Testing Service’s Achievement Gap Symposium, which addressed research and solutions for our education system in Pre-K-third grade, especially for low-income, minority and African American students. What I found most interesting was a comment Jerry D. Weast, Superintendent of the Montgomery County Public Schools and one of the speakers, said: “structure drives your culture and culture drives your expectations.” Weast believes the achievement gap can be solved if a district or school can establish a culture with high expectations.
To do this, teachers should be mentors and role models. All children, especially minority students need someone like Mrs. Menendez, my kindergarten teacher, who told me that I would grow up to be a great lawyer one day. She also told my parents that they needed to make sure they did everything in their power to get me through high school and college. Today, my master’s program is nearly done and law school is next on the schedule. Parents of minority and low-income children need this kind of one-on-one advice.

‘That’s Racist!’ How A Serious Accusation Became A Commonplace Quip

Neda Ulaby:

My editor proposed this story about “that’s racist” after hearing her young son’s friends using it as a joke. Just the night before, it had been a punchline on one of my favorite sitcoms, Parks And Recreation. (Someone calls sorting laundry into whites and darks racist.)
Our sense that “that’s racist” was evolving into a commonplace catchphrase that only occasionally had to do with racism and race was confirmed by conversations with parents, teachers and a website that tracked how it started as an online meme. A video clip from the cult TV show Wonder Showzen showed an African-American kid with the words “that’s racist” underneath. It became a virtual retort on online message boards. People started dropping it into Internet arguments, to quench or inflame them.

Charter school bill passes Delaware House

J L Miller:

Legislation to reform Delaware’s charter school system by requiring background checks for charter founders and board members and placing the schools under tighter financial oversight got a unanimous passing grade in the House Thursday.
House Bill 205, sponsored by Rep. Terry Schooley, D-Newark, was prompted by a News Journal investigation that found the state Department of Education failed to check the credentials or criminal background of the founder of Reach Academy. Reach Academy is facing closure amid serious financial problems and a fight over control of the board.
The legislation, which now moves to the Senate for consideration, would require yearly mandatory external audits for charter schools and allow the Office of Management and Budget to analyze the financial status of a struggling school and manage some of the school’s finances. It also would require that decisions to close a school be made no later than January so parents can enter their children in the school-choice program and meet deadlines to get into charter schools.

UK Education secretary scraps modular GCSEs from 2012


Modular GCSEs are to be scrapped from September 2012 the Education Secretary Michael Gove has told the BBC.
Currently pupils can sit a series of bite-sized exams as they study a subject.
In future, students will have to sit final exams at the end of two years taking in all the modules of a course.
Mr Gove told BBC1’s Andrew Marr show that he wanted to end a culture of “resits” which he called “wrong”.
He also said that other countries had more rigorous examination regimes and schools here needed to catch up.
“The problem that we had is that instead of sitting every part of a GCSE at the end of a course, bits of it were taken along the way,” Mr Gove said.

New Detroit Schools boss vows to cut everything but corners, sets ‘focus on educating kids’

Associated Press:

After only about a month as top boss of Detroit Public Schools, Roy Roberts, a 72-year-old former General Motors executive and private equity firm founder, is well aware that some people already want him gone.
The district’s new financial manager said he’s OK with that reality, adding that differing opinions have value. His only request: Stay out of the way as he tries to turn around one of the nation’s worst public school systems.
I don’t care what people think about me, really … because I know what parents are going to think,” Roberts told The Associated Press during an interview in his Detroit Midtown office. “They’re going to love it because I’m trying to do the right thing for their children, and you won’t find a parent that doesn’t want that. I’m simply going to look at a system and say ‘What is the best system we can put in place to educate these kids?’ I don’t care about the politics.”
What concerns him, he said, is a massive budget deficit and students who either don’t receive a legitimate education or flee the district in search of one. Those mountainous challenges form the ridge that for decades has left the 74,000-student district on the shadowy side of progress.

Related: Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s speech to the Madison Rotary Club.

On status quo apologists

Joel Klein:

Aaron Pallas, an ed school professor at Teachers College, appears to be unwilling to acknowledge that our public schools are failing to effectively educate huge numbers of our kids, or that there’s much we can do about it. He struggles to debunk existing examples of demonstrable success perhaps fearing that we might otherwise ask why do we keep doing so poorly when we have proof that we can do so much better.
To that end, last week Pallas penned a piece in this column challenging my assertion in a Washington Post op ed that our “schools can get much better results with th[e] same kids than they’re now generally getting.” Employing a locution that I never used, and that cannot fairly be inferred from what I said, he tries to portray my view as placing “the emphasis on what schools can extract from kids.” (His italics.)
No, Professor Pallas, I don’t think knowledge resides in kids and, like iron ore, all we need to do is carefully extract it. What I do think is that our schools, and especially our teachers, need to do a much better job of educating our kids – that is, teaching them the skills and knowledge they will need to be successful in the 21st century. As I put it in my piece, “teachers matter, big time.”

Teacher Appreciation

Susan O’Doherty:

I was a little shell-shocked after reading the comments on Aeron’s June 15 post. I hadn’t looked at them when I wrote last week about my enjoyment of her column, and I was amazed at the vitriol. I have taught only a few brief seminars myself, and each has taken a gazillion hours of preparation, as well as intense, sustained focus and concentration during the actual teaching hours. I am in awe of real teachers’ dedication and stamina.
So I want to use this week’s post to express appreciation for a great teacher I am in the process of taking leave of.
Three years ago, when I registered for my first singing class in over 20 years, I had to walk around the block several times to get up the courage to walk in the door. I had been traumatized by a voice teacher, until my singing voice got so small and weak it almost disappeared. I hadn’t tried to sing in front of others for years, until Ben started asking me to sing with him. The thought made me so anxious I knew I needed professional help.
A friend walked me to the first class, to be sure I didn’t succumb to the urge to hightail it home at the last minute. When Martha, the teacher, asked each of us to articulate what it was that we wanted from the class, all I could think to say was, “I want to be able to get through a song without passing out.”

Providence teachers union wants seniority review

Associated Press:

Providence’s teachers union is asking a Rhode Island education board to review a state official’s decision to prohibit seniority as a basis for assigning teachers.
The union says the state’s education commissioner, Deborah Gist, has taken the position that using seniority alone to assign teachers doesn’t comply with state regulations.

Higher ed bubble?

Steve Hsu:

What are the economic returns from a college degree, net of individual ability? Does college add value, or is it mainly a signaling device (e.g., for intelligence and work ethic)?
Results from two new studies are discussed here and here in the Times.

West Aurora looking to data to tell how school district’s doing

Matt Brennan:

The West Aurora School District is looking at options about what data to collect on student achievement and district performance and quality, and what can be done with that data. District officials say they are looking to create a “dashboard” that will give them a general idea of progress, both on an individual level with students, and on a broader scope of trends.

“It’s like you’re driving a car down the road and looking at all the various things,” West Aurora Superintendent Jim Rydland said. “This tells you how your vehicle is running.”

The School Board last week heard a presentation from Barb Vlasvich, the district’s director of assessment. The presentation covered the importance of being able to monitor this data, and what questions should possibly be asked for the 2011-12 school year.

Baltimore’s Alonso on cheating schools: There will be more

Erica Green:

Baltimore city schools Andres Alonso said last week that while the school district has gone to great lengths to tighten testing security, he anticipates coming before the city again to announce that more schools attempted to game the system.
There are two more investigations pending, from a batch of four schools referred to the state last year. The 2011 Maryland School Assessments will be released next week.
In a news conference last week, Alonso told reporters that it may take one or two more years before cheating is eradicated from the system. He vowed, however, that at some point, “we will emerge from this conversation–it may take one or two years–but we will emerge with our heads held high.”
He also indicated that Maryland’s new teacher evaluation system, which is partly based on student progress, will spur a “perverse incentive to do something wrong.” Baltimore is one of seven districts that will pilot the new state evaluation system in the fall.

Milwaukee Public Schools, city grapple with deciding school facilities

Alan Borsuk:

So we’ve got all these empty school buildings in Milwaukee at the same time we’ve got schools or potential schools that need decent buildings. Resolving this doesn’t sound like the most complicated issue facing the human race.
Almost needless to say, it’s complicated.
For quite a while, there was not much action on the empty-school front. Now, there’s a lot, including plans being developed on two different (and potentially competing) tracks.
Making maximum use of these assets will take cooperation between leaders of Milwaukee Public Schools and non-MPS schools, who are not known for cooperating across turf lines. But there is some chance that at least hunks of the empty-school issue will be worked out cooperatively and to the actual benefit of school kids. In fact, a major example of that is unfolding without public controversy right now.
School Board members last week were given a list of 29 properties owned by MPS that were considered “surplus.” Several of them are not schools. Several currently are being leased or used in some way. When you boil it all down, there are maybe a dozen that seem to be good candidates to be used as schools.
With green lights being given by the state Legislature to open more charter schools (independent or semi-independent, nonreligious, publicly funded schools) and private schools in the publicly funded voucher program, more people are eyeing empty MPS buildings. Getting use of them could save millions of dollars, compared with the alternatives.

Judge Milwaukee educational outcomes on the facts

Larry Miller:

School voucher advocates have had two recent op-eds in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “The story behind school choice study” by John Witte and Patrick Wolf on May 28 and “Special needs students benefit from many choices” by Susan Mitchell on June 19. Both are at best misinformed and at worst deceptive. The facts should matter.
State law says voucher schools must accept special education students. Then why are so few special education students (the number hovers near 1%) attending voucher schools? I put this question to a voucher school principal, who said her school has no special education services or students.
I asked her how that was possible. She stated that she simply tells parents of special education students that she cannot provide the services that their children need. Parents then choose another school, she said – most likely in Milwaukee Public Schools.
MPS does receive more money per student than voucher schools receive. But Mitchell claims MPS receives $15,000 per student while voucher students receive $6,442. She somehow arrived at these numbers without doing her homework. One needs to subtract from the total the amount transferred to voucher schools for a variety of programs.

SP-EYE on Sun Prairie Schools: Are Those The Winds of Change Blowing in Sun Prairie?


It’s not just rhetoric, people, these are truly unprecedented times. The economy seems to choke and sputter like an engine with a fouled spark plug. Consider all that has transpired of late, and it all begs the question: is it time for new leadership within the Sun Prairie School District? We offer 5 solid indicators.
1. District Administrator Tim Culver’s Unofficial Approval Rating is at an all-time low.
Years ago Culver could toss it aside as just a few malcontents. He’s referred to them as “Nitters and Pickers” and “Wreckers”. SheeeeAH…as if name calling is really going to solve the problem. But these folks didn’t go away. Rather, they have brought the dirty laundry out into the bright of day. And they multiplied like rabbits on the farm.
For a school district to function effectively and move forward, its leader must have the support of both the public and the district staff. Frankly we don’t hear much other than outright contempt for Culver from any of the schools. Ask any of your friends and neighbors and the story is the same…the staff just no longer support Culver. OK…he may have the support of a few of his inner circle administrators…you know…his “pets”. And let’s not think for one minute that Culver doesn’t have his pets. It’s as plain as day for anyone who takes the time to see which administrators are getting the 7% raises, and which ones are getting a pittance. It’s also clear which administrators are getting revised job descriptions to give them whatever they want.

The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

William Deresiewicz:

It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League degrees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house.
It’s not surprising that it took me so long to discover the extent of my miseducation, because the last thing an elite education will teach you is its own inadequacy. As two dozen years at Yale and Columbia have shown me, elite colleges relentlessly encourage their students to flatter themselves for being there, and for what being there can do for them. The advantages of an elite education are indeed undeniable. You learn to think, at least in certain ways, and you make the contacts needed to launch yourself into a life rich in all of society’s most cherished rewards. To consider that while some opportunities are being created, others are being cancelled and that while some abilities are being developed, others are being crippled is, within this context, not only outrageous, but inconceivable.

Race to the Top Promises Delayed

Brett Turner:

After months of work across the state to define multiple measures of student growth, the Delaware Department of Education has asked the United States DOE for, and – word is – will receive, permission to delay implementation of our DPAS II teacher evaluation system, which will impact the roll-out of numerous other Race to the Top reforms.
The revised DPAS II evaluation system would have identified teachers as “highly-effective,” “effective,” “needs improvement,” or “ineffective,” ultimately impacting eligibility for various initiatives. Below are programs and policies that will be affected by delaying DPAS II implementation:

Diane Ravitch: Teachers’ Hero or Education Hypocrite?

Adam Ozimek:

Diane Ravitch, the historian and leading education reform critic, can be hard to understand. Not that her writing is difficult. Quite the opposite actually, it’s incredibly lucid and lively, and my favorite thing about her in fact. Rather it’s difficult to understand who exactly the person is that could contain both the Diane Ravitch who once wrote so passionately and doggedly in favor of school choice and accountability from the halls of the Hoover Institute, and the Diane Ravitch who now writes reform criticisms with the hyperbole and one-sidedness of a teacher’s union spokesperson. But in a new City Paper piece, Dana Goldstein tries to reconcile the two and find the intellectual continuities that have stayed with her on such a seemingly bipolar intellectual journey. As much of a Ravitch critic as I may be, like Goldstein, I believe that there are some coherent ties that bind old and young Diane, and perhaps surprisingly, one of them is Friedrich Hayek.

To Curb Childhood Obesity, Experts Say Keep Baby Fat In Check

Linda Thraysbule:

The number of overweight kids and adolescents in the U.S. has almost tripled since the 1980s. That’s pretty troubling, but the Institute of Medicine says we need to be paying more attention to the littlest kids: those under five.
Almost 10 percent of babies and toddlers carry too much weight for their size. And more than 20 percent of children 2 through 5 are already overweight, the IOM says, which could have pretty serious repercussions later in life.
“Contrary to the common perception that chubby babies are healthy babies and will naturally outgrow their baby fat, excess weight tends to persist,” Leann Birch, chair of the IOM’s childhood obesity prevention committee, said in a statement. The committee’s report released today makes some recommendations on what to do about it.

“Better PowerPoints”: Army colonel in Afghanistan fired for criticizing PowerPoint

Tara McKelvey:

Yet Holbrooke is no longer around and the diplomatic surge, like so many other good ideas that have been exported to Afghanistan, has floundered. The country remains awash in chaos, violence, and corruption, and the surge of civilians has hardly made a dent. One of the few things that the Americans have done is to assist Afghan officials in preparations for their presentations before other officials; in other words, as Semple says, “better PowerPoints.”

Related: John Cook:

Wired’s Spencer Ackerman reports that Col. Lawrence Sellin, a 61-year-old Army reservist, has been dismissed from his post in headquarters with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force less than 48 hours after he published an op-ed, via UPI, complaining that the “war consists largely of the endless tinkering with PowerPoint slides to conform with the idiosyncrasies of cognitively challenged generals in order to spoon-feed them information.” Sellin clearly anticipated that his tirade, which NATO says he didn’t clear for publication in advance, would serve as a resignation letter. It opened with, “Throughout my career I have been known to walk that fine line between good taste and unemployment. I see no reason to change that now. Consider the following therapeutic.” He went on to excoriate the meaningless, self-serving, metastasizing military bureaucracy that holds sway in Afghanistan and justifies its existence via PowerPoint slide: “Little of substance is really done here, but that is a task we do well.”

Recovery School District to lay off more than 70 employees

Andrew Vanacore:

The Recovery School District, a state body that oversees the majority of New Orleans public schools, is laying off more than 70 employees at its central office, part of a sweeping organizational overhaul initiated by the district’s new leader.
RSD officials have been saying for weeks that the district will need to downsize as it turns over more of the schools it manages to independent charter operators and closes others. That’s been the RSD’s strategy since it took over schools in the city following Hurricane Katrina.
But in an interview Friday, RSD Superintendent John White said the district has now begun to notify employees who will lose their jobs as a result of cutbacks, which will take the central office head count down by 35 percent, from 220 people to 144.

Harvard MBA Program Sees Largest Female Percentage

Associated Press:

Early statistics are showing that this year’s incoming MBA class at the Harvard Business School will have its greater percentage of women.
The school said this week that of the 918 students in the MBA class of 2013, 39 percent will be female. Women comprised 36 percent of the enrolled MBA students in the two previous classes.
School spokesman Brian Kenny said the school’s admissions strategy has evolved over the last several years on trying to find ways to increase diversity
He said Harvard Business School has no fixed targets when it comes to industry, geographical, or gender representation.

Science’s 10 hottest fields

Clive Cookson:

Understanding the genome
The sequencing of the 6 billion chemical “letters” of human DNA was completed in draft in 2000 and in final form in 2003. But clinical benefits have arrived more slowly than the initial hype suggested. This is mainly because the human genome actually works in a much more complex way than predicted by the late-20th-century model.
Twenty-first-century research shows that we have only 21,000 genes, one-fifth of the number predicted when the project started, and that just 1.5 per cent of the genome consists of conventional protein-coding genes. Efforts are under way to understand the vital regulatory and other functions of the non-coding regions of the genome, once dismissed wrongly as “junk DNA”.

Changes to New Jersey’s Pension System

Matt Bai:

“It’s an extraordinary day for New Jersey,” Chris Christie boomed proudly when we talked this afternoon. It’s a pretty extraordinary day for New Jersey’s governor, too.
Regular readers of The Times Magazine may recall that I wrote a cover piece on Mr. Christie back in February, exploring in some detail his long campaign to remake the pension and health care system for New Jersey’s public service unions. Near the end of that piece, in a kind of “to be continued” way, I noted that Mr. Christie had made a lot of noise for his agenda but hadn’t yet achieved the most pivotal pieces of reform.
And so Mr. Christie was calling, minutes before the New Jersey House started voting on a bipartisan reform package, to do a little crowing. He wanted me to know that he and the leaders of New Jersey’s Democratic-controlled Legislature were about to do something pretty amazing.

Generation FB

Katrin Bennhold:

“My e-mail?” The boy looks at me as if I had just suggested staying in touch by carrier pigeon. “What, you don’t have an email?” I ask, insecure now. “Sure I do. But I only use it for my parents and my grandparents,” he says. “Aren’t you on Facebook?” I am. Phew. Of course I mostly check my Facebook profile when I’m prompted by an e-mail notification, but I don’t tell him that. Trevor Dougherty is 19 and to him, I am a geriatric 36-year-old who belongs to that amorphous generation of people-who-don’t-really-get-social-networking that stretches all the way back to, well, his grandparents.
I met Trevor in January, during a dinner debate on social networking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he was by far the youngest and most eloquent speaker on the subject. I have perhaps 100 people in my life I call friends. Trevor has 1,275. At one point he tried to add someone called Trevor in every capital so he would have friends to visit across the world. He chats, posts, tweets and consults “his community” on important decisions: “I’m going to start producing/DJing electronic music. What should my stage name be? #youtellme.”
The encounter made me curious: what does it do to teenagers to be “on” all the time? Are they just doing what we did 20 years ago — gossiping, dating, escaping pubescent solitude — and simply channeling those age-old human urges through this new technology? Or is this technology changing humanity in a more fundamental way? What kind of citizens, voters, consumers, leaders will kids like Trevor grow up to be?

UK Education standards ‘not good enough’ warns former Tesco boss

The UK Telegraph:

Sir Terry, who stepped down from the helm of Britain’s largest private employer earlier this year after 14 years in charge, was addressing an audience of teachers at the Wellington College Festival of Education.
“Standards in schools vary too widely, more widely than you would find in business,” he said.
“The standards in too many schools are simply not good enough.
“The answer is deceptively simple. It is about good leadership in each school, good teachers in each classroom and support in their work by the wider society.”
He said this was often hampered by a “myriad” of well-meaning Government initiatives and a tendency to “micromanage” education, with “too much management, and not enough help or trust”.

Confusion over National Standards

Greg Forster:

I greatly admire both Jeb Bush and Joel Klein, so I have mixed feelings saying that I’m confused about their op-ed this morning.
The article is entitled “The Case for Common Educational Standards.” But the article does not contain any case for common educational standards.
Quite the contrary, the article emphasizes the case against common standards. As in:

And, while education is a national priority, the answer here does not appear to be a new federal program mandating national standards. States have historically had the primary responsibility for public education, and they should continue to take the lead.

So that would be an argument against common standards.

Encouraging Mathematical Thinking in Gifted Kids

Carol Fertig:

Parents, do you want to encourage your young people to think mathematically this summer and beyond? Here are some ways to accomplish that.
Nurturing Mathematically Talented Preschoolers-In this blog entry, Natasha Chen shares her experience on parenting a mathematically precocious child. The author acknowledges that it can be difficult to find a program for three- to five-year-olds, so she offers some tips that she has found useful. Her suggestions include

New York Governor Cuomo Likely to Veto Bill on School Borrowing

Danny Hakim:

State lawmakers on Friday approved a bill that would allow school districts to borrow as much as $1 billion without voter approval, but a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the measure would most likely be vetoed.
Without advance notice and with little debate, the bill won Senate approval late Thursday night, several days after the legislative session had been scheduled to end. The Assembly passed the measure Friday afternoon, and the governor’s office then took the unusual step of publicly opposing the legislation moments after its passage, effectively dooming it.
Elizabeth Lynam, deputy research director at the Citizens Budget Commission, a business-backed group that generally favors lower spending, described the bill as one of the worst things the Legislature had done this session.

Mandarin in the Sun Prairie Schools?


Remember how Culver and a group of his peeps were going to explore the possibility of an elementary charter school/ Mandarin Chinese immersion program and report back to the board?
Well skip the board and just sign up because we’re hearing that incorporating Mandarin Chinese into the district is a done deal that will occur by the start of the 2012-1 school year.
Mandarin Chinese? Really? Don’t go screamin’ “xenophobia”, now, but one has to wonder: Is Culver thinking that the economy is tanking so badly that we all should be brushing up on the new landlords’ language? Or is he still trying to catch up with his district administrator buddy in Verona? And why are we worrying about what ANYBODY is up to instead of just focusing on our own kids?
And while we’re on the subject. We’re hoping that the rumors we’re hearing are just that…rumors. ‘Cause we’d be wondering how much it would cost John Q. TaxPayer to develop this little Mandarin Chinese program.

Kaleem Caire’s Speech on the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School to the Madison Rotary Club

Kaleem Caire, via email:

Based on current educational and social conditions, the fate of boys of color is uncertain. African American and Latino boys are grossly over-represented among young men failing to achieve academic success and are at greater risk of dropping out of school. Boys in general lag behind girls on most indicators of student achievement.

  • In 2009, just 52% of African American boys and 52% of Latino boys graduated on-time from Madison Metropolitan School District compared to 81% of Asian boys and 88% of White boys.
  • In the class of 2010, just 7% of African American seniors and 18% of Latino seniors were deemed “college-ready” by ACT, makers of the standardized college entrance exam required for all Wisconsin universities.

Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men (Madison Prep) is a public charter school being developed by the Urban League of Greater Madison. Madison Prep will serve as a catalyst for change and opportunity, particularly young men of color. Its mission is to prepare scholars for success at a four year college by instilling excellence, pride, leadership and service. A proposed non-instrumentality charter school located in Madison, Wisconsin and to be authorized by the Madison Metropolitan School District, Madison Prep will serve 420 students in grades 6 through 12 when it reaches full enrollment in 2017-2018.

Watch a video of the speech, here.

New College Board Research on Young Men of Color Stirs Demand for Action

Jamaal Abdul-Alim, via a kind reader’s email

While a panel discussion held by The College Board on Capitol Hill this week was meant to highlight a new report on the lagging rates of educational attainment among non-White men, some of the panelists questioned the need for more research on the subject.
“How much data do we need?” asked panelist Dr. Roy Jones, executive director for the Eugene T. Moore School of Education’s Call Me MISTER Program at Clemson University. (MISTER is an acronym for Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role-models).
His remarks came after a discussion of the new report titled “The Educational Experience of Young Men of Color: A Review of Research, Pathways and Progress,” co-authored by John Michael Lee Jr., a co-panelist and policy director at the College Board’s Advocacy and Policy Center.

Civics education and Virginia’s school standards

Henry Borger:

The June 18 editorial “Students of history” outlined steps that should be taken to correct the distressing ignorance of U.S. students about civics. I am sure most education professionals will endorse those recommendations, such as civic-oriented activities, because they follow modern theories of education. Unfortunately, these actions would introduce gross inefficiencies and time-wasting activities into the curriculum. Modern education theories are the main reason students complain of too much work but show themselves to be poorly educated in most subjects.
I took a one-year high school course in civics 60 years ago that was taught by our football-basketball-baseball coach, whose main interest was athletics, not civics. We never took any field trips or did any community service. Yet we learned civics. How? We went through the textbook. It wasn’t sexy or exciting — real learning seldom is — but it worked. To really improve students’ knowledge, schools need only buy good textbooks and tell the teachers to teach the book. It’s that easy.

Major Education Reform Bills Pass the Oregon House & Senate


Both the Oregon House and Senate this week passed 3 groundbreaking education bills that are now on their way to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law. The bills bring more choice to Oregon’s public education system and allow students to learn in schools where they best grow, learn and succeed.
From the standpoint of the state Republican party, who sponsored and supported these bills, they accomplish 3 goals:

  1. allow students to enroll in the school district of their choice
  2. raise the enrollment cap on virtual charter schools
  3. empower community colleges and public universities to create charter schools.

“The Legislature is on track to have its most successful session on education reform in decades,” said House Education Committee Co-Chair Matt Wingard (R-Wilsonville). “Together, these reforms help promote choice, accountability and innovation in our educational system. I’m particularly pleased with the progress we’ve made in expanding choice for parents and their children.”

Promises, Promises

Richard Lee Colvin:

When Gov. Rick Snyder this week announced his big, long-awaited plan to rescue the Detroit Public Schools he also promised to raise money to send all of the district’s graduates to community colleges or training programs. The idea is modeled after the Kalamazoo Promise, a similar but more ambitious plan launched in 2005 that provides full scholarships for that city’s graduates to any Michigan public college or university. Anonymous donors pony up $20 million a year for the program, which has inspired similar programs in 23 communities across the country, including five others in Michigan, according to the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. (Complete list here.)
Not only do such programs increase college attendance, they give families who now reside in those communities an incentive to stay and entice new ones to relocate, spurring economic growth and development. The schools in El Dorado, Ark., for example, have seen a 5 percent enrollment increase since its program began four years ago. Detroit badly needs such a boost. The city lost 25 percent of its population over the past decade and 44 percent of its students since 2003 but did not cut expenses fast enough, which contributed to a $327 million deficit for this year.

The coming teacher-union offensive: Education lobby gathers big money to reconquer lost ground

Don Soifer:

Already, national political fundraising ma- chines are beginning to hum and s putter toward early targets in their quest to break another election cycle’s worth of spending records. The nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association (NEA), was the heaviest contributor to U.S. political campaigns in 2007-08, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Early indications show it is a front-runner to be so again. Along with its state affiliates, the NEA took in $1.5 billion in revenue in 2008-09, the Education Intelligence Agency notes. Nearly all of this revenue came from member dues, and most of the war chest will be spent seeking to increase spending and to block those school reforms deemed most threatening to union clout.
The stakes are high, even by contemporary standards. The nation’s annual taxpayer investment in kindergarten-through-12th-grade public education runs over half a trillion dollars and accounts for more than 4 percent of gross domestic product. Meanwhile, teachers union members are starting their summer under the dark cloud of a trillion dollars in unfunded educator pension-fund liabilities.

Chicago Teachers making house calls?

Kristen Mack and Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah:

New Chicago schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard expressed support Thursday for the idea of teachers and staff visiting students at home, even in some of the city’s toughest neighborhoods.
At an event Thursday held by United Neighborhood Organization, a community organization that runs charter schools, Brizard said he liked some of the charter network’s ideas, including home visits.
UNO teachers make two home visits per student during the course of a school year. Brizard said if teachers and administrators at Chicago Public Schools each took on 10 home visits, the public school system with 430,000 students could follow the charter network’s lead in some of the city’s most challenging communities.
‘”Our students go there every day,” Brizard said. “Why can’t we?”

Parent Trigger Court Hearing – A Potential Hanging Chad Moment in the Making

Gloria Romero:

June 9: Notes from Superior Court Hearing on the Compton Parents and the Parent Trigger Petition
Location: Downtown Los Angeles
You’ve probably heard the Compton Parent Trigger story by now: over 200 parents grew tired of seeing their kids drop out and fail to learn to read at one of the chronically, lowest performing schools in California. So they banded together to use the historic new Parent Trigger Law (which I authored), only to face an all-out assault by the Compton Unified School District against their efforts to create a better future for their children.
What these parents are doing invokes the spirit of Mendez, a 1946 federal court case that challenged racial segregation in Orange County schools. In its ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in an en banc decision, held that the segregation of Mexican and Mexican American students into separate “Mexican schools” was unconstitutional. Likewise, in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education the United States Supreme Court declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional.

Letters to the WiSJ on Madison Teachers’ John Matthews

Merle Lebakken:

Following the exploits of Madison Teachers Inc. leader John Matthews in the State Journal makes it obvious that he is a negotiator extraordinaire.
He’s managed to have his people on one side of the “negotiating table” and at least some he helped elect on the other side, so it is not a “bargaining table” but a “collaboration table.”
Maybe, however, he has gone too far in not enthusiastically promoting measuring teacher performance, as encouraged by President Barack Obama. Now it seems Wisconsin’s taxpayers need to take back some of the functions, like measuring employee performance, usually ascribed to management but, through negotiation, given to the employee.

Thomas Kavanagh:

I appreciated the respect for John Matthews’ achievements conveyed by Madison labor mediator Howard Bellman’s comment in Sunday’s article, and his concern about the possible effect of Gov. Scott Walker’s attempt to destroy the Madison teachers union and public employee unions throughout Wisconsin:
“It would be like somebody watching all their paintings burn up… What he’s accomplished over the years would have been just a memory.”
However, that analogy fails to give consideration to the value of his work beyond creating a robust and effective union. For the artist, the joy of the creation might be lasting, but the product of his efforts would be gone. That would not be the case for what Matthew’s efforts have produced.

Bob Hartwig:

fter encouraging Madison teachers in February to stage an illegal sick-out, which robbed children of educational opportunities and caused disruption for many parents, he now says teachers are “ready to do whatever it takes” to continue the protest of state budget reductions. He was also quoted as saying; “It’s going to get down and dirty.”
Wow! This kind of rhetoric coming from a 71-year-old man who receives about $310,000 in annual income and benefits from union fees. Makes you ask the question: What is his priority?

A growing number of skeptics wonder whether college is worth the time or the cost

Bill Gross:

A mind is a precious thing to waste, so why are millions of America’s students wasting theirs by going to college? All of us who have been there know an undergraduate education is primarily a four year vacation interrupted by periodic bouts of cramming or Google plagiarizing, but at least it used to serve a purpose. It weeded out underachievers and proved at a minimum that you could pass an SAT test. For those who made it to the good schools, it proved that your parents had enough money to either bribe administrators or hire SAT tutors to increase your score by 500 points. And a degree represented that the graduate could “party hearty” for long stretches of time and establish social networking skills that would prove invaluable later on at office cocktail parties or interactively via Facebook. College was great as long as the jobs were there.
Now, however, a growing number of skeptics wonder whether it’s worth the time or the cost. Peter Thiel, an early investor in Facebook and head of Clarium Capital, a long-standing hedge fund, has actually established a foundation to give 20 $100,000 grants to teenagers who would drop out of school and become not just tech entrepreneurs but world-changing visionaries. College, in his and the minds of many others, is stultifying and outdated – overpriced and mismanaged – with very little value created despite the bump in earnings power that universities use as their raison d’être in our modern world of money.
Fact: College tuition has increased at a rate 6% higher than the general rate of inflation for the past 25 years, making it four times as expensive relative to other goods and services as it was in 1985. Subjective explanation: University administrators have a talent for increasing top line revenues via tuition, but lack the spine necessary to upgrade academic productivity. Professorial tenure and outdated curricula focusing on liberal arts instead of a more practical global agenda focusing on math and science are primary culprits.

Cuts in the Classroom: What’s on the School Chopping Block?

Andrew Rotherham:

The slow pace of America’s economic recovery means many states are still hurting financially. As many as 15 states still can’t agree on a budget, and that’s a problem, because in many states the fiscal year begins next month.
Parents are understandably anxious about what this all means for the upcoming school year. And they should be. An analysis released earlier this month by the National Governors Association and National Association of State Budget Officers found that 16 states are planning cuts for next year, following 18 that made extra cuts midway through last year. And that’s before cuts at the local level. So even though fear about the education budget axe never matches the reality, there will be real sacrifices in some states and communities and, overall, spending remains below what it was just a few years ago. (See if the golden age of education spending is over.)
Unfortunately school districts and states are more tight-fisted about sharing information than they are about spending money. And too often budget cuts are based more on what’s easiest for the adults in charge of the schools rather than the kids in them. So here are 5 things parents should know — or ask — about the spending decisions and how they will impact schools next fall.

Well worth reading.

Kentucky seeks to replace No Child Left Behind standards


Kentucky is seeking to become the first state in the nation to use its statewide accountability system to determine whether schools are meeting the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Gov. Steve Beshear sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Monday, asking for a waiver that would allow Kentucky to replace the current method for determining if schools are making adequate yearly progress under the federal law with a new measuring stick that state officials are still developing.
That would allow Kentucky more control over determining whether schools are making sufficient academic progress each year.
“I believe that federal law should set high expectations for education goals, but grant power and judgment to states and districts with regard to the means of achieving those goals,” Beshear said in a statement Monday.
There’s a lot at stake for Kentucky schools.

District rejects community efforts to help Celesta

Laurie Rogers:

[Note from Laurie Rogers: This is part 3 of a series of articles on Celesta, a grade-11 student in Spokane, WA. I interviewed her for a June 4 episode of “Cut to the Chase,” a local radio show hosted by Rob Chase for the ACN Network. Part 1 of the series described Celesta as lacking multiple basic skills in mathematics. Part 2 discussed the district’s response to my queries about how to help Celesta and her classmates.]
I’ve been writing about Celesta, a high school student who was carrying a 3.6 GPA, who passed her math tests, got As in her math classes, was placed into honors pre-calculus, and who – like many of her classmates – suddenly found out she was missing multiple critical skills in elementary math. She was struggling to pass her honors math class. She also has few skills in grammar.
I’ve been trying to figure out a way to help Celesta and her classmates.
The best way to help the students:
Go back in time and teach the students the grammar and the six years of math skills the district refused to give them. I need a time machine to do that, and no one has invented one – not that they’ve told me, anyway.

Hispanic, white achievement gap as wide as in 90s

Associated Press:

The achievement gap between Hispanic and white students is the same as it was in the early 1990s, despite two decades of accountability reforms, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education on Thursday.
Performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows the gap narrowed by three points in fourth- and eighth-grade reading since 2003, a reduction researchers said was statistically significant. But the overall difference between them remains more than 20 points, or roughly two grade levels.
“Hispanic students are the largest minority group in our nation’s schools. But they face grave educational challenges that are hindering their ability to pursue the American dream,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said.

Idaho school officials knock new data system

Betsy Russell:

Idaho’s new multimillion-dollar student data system is causing giant headaches at school districts around the state and local school officials say it isn’t working.
State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna said he’s working to address the concerns, and said some aren’t valid. “This is the first year ISEE has been operational,” Luna told the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which is holding its interim meeting this week. “We are the last state in the nation to deploy a statewide longitudinal data system, but we have made progress quickly. This is the most accurate data we have ever had.”
Tom Taggart, president-elect of the Idaho Association of School Business Officials and director of business and operations for the Lakeland School District, told the lawmakers, “We want to look forward in what we can do to make this work, without being too negative, but I think part of our message is a dose of reality as to what’s going on at the school level. … We’re the nuts and bolts people who are in the business offices in the schools. We like it when things work, and when they don’t work we like to find a way to fix them.”

If teaching is such a sweet deal, why isn’t everyone doing it?

Tom Breuer:

There’s a certain childlike innocence that goes along with the popular modern sport of teacher bashing. I say this because most people get over the idea that teachers are ultra-powerful beings who live unattainable lives of luxury at around the age of 7, when they realize that rumpled, coffee-stained JC Penney office apparel is not haute couture. Many critics of teachers, however, manage to hang on to this silly notion way past the time when their skulls have fully hardened.
Call me a fuzzy-headed liberal, but I just don’t see the point in bashing people who help train our future workforce.
Of course, the tired old canard that teachers are remorseless, mustache-twisting budget-drainers has been resurrected in the past few months – first when the governor’s budget repair bill touched off mass protests among public employees, and most recently when the Wisconsin Supreme Court removed the final barrier to the bill’s enactment.
Some have reacted to teachers’ and other public employees’ reluctance to lie down and simply accept significant cuts in compensation and the stripping of their collective bargaining rights with everything from derision to rancor.
For example, some local wags took to calling Walkerville – the protest village near the Capitol that was inhabited by disgruntled public employees and their supporters – “Entitledtown.”

A Rough But Intriguing Metric for School Assessing a School Principal

Bob Sutton:

Yesterday, I did an interview for the BAM network on Good Boss, Bad Boss.  The content expert on line was Justin Snider, who teaches at Columbia and has in-depth knowledge about K-12 schools, as that was the focus of the conversation.  Justin had great questions and comments about bosses in general (see this recent post) and about school principals in particular.  I thought he made especially good comments about how the best principals are PRESENT, constantly interacting with teachers, students, and parents. He especially suggested that school principals think about where their offices are located.. are they in a place that essentially requires them to keep bumping into teachers and parents, or are they in some corner of campus that reduces the amount of interaction.

A Retrospective Look: Teachers at Work

Renee Rybak Lang:

Teacher at Work: Improving Teacher Quality Through School Design (October 2009)
There is no question that high-quality teachers have an enormous impact on student achievement. Over the years, schools and districts have looked at a variety of ways to attract better teachers to public schools, especially those serving the poorest students.
“But these reforms are likely to disappoint if nothing is done to fundamentally overhaul the way the work of teachers is organized,” Elena Silva argues in Teacher at Work. Better teaching, she says, will in the long run come not only from attracting a strong pool of talent and giving them boosts in pay, but from “changing the nature of the job.”
In the report, Silva highlights promising models of school design, such as Generation Schools in New York City, which provides a school model that focuses on the strategic use of people and time, and calls for a new approach to addressing the teacher quality challenge in public education.
Education Sector: What drew you to this issue in the first place?

Peeking Into Private-School Paranoia

Alexandra Cheney:

At a time when it is harder than ever to secure a kindergarten spot in one of New York City’s elite private schools, Delaware transplants Jeffrey and Samantha Jasinski decided to jettison any decorum and lie their 5-year-old daughter, Beatrice, into a top-flight institution. The couple had tried the traditional route, attending open houses and informational interviews, only to be summarily dismissed by more than a half dozen schools. So they hired a consultant and concocted a complex fabrication. Jeffrey, a computer programmer, suddenly became a renowned poet with a forthcoming collection culled from sexually explicit text messages. With that, the Jasinskis were granted a rare interview with the headmistress at Coventry Day School.
At least, that’s how it all happened in the mind of filmmaker Josh Shelov, whose new movie, “The Best and the Brightest,” takes a satirical look at the lengths to which parents often go to get their children into the city’s private schools.
“I was eager to write something deeply uncensored,” said the first-time director, who based the story on his own experiences trying to get his son into kindergarten about five years ago. He succeeded.

Investing? With Kids? That’s A Good One

Karen Blumenthal:

Amid the frantic pace of daily family life, it seems almost comical to try to find time to discuss investing with our kids.
Honestly, who really wants to talk about mutual funds in the precious time you have when you’re all together?
Yet, many families find a way to share their values about money and investing from generation to generation, whether they’re offering tips on being smart shoppers, making the family budget stretch just enough or opening brokerage or savings accounts for youngsters.
In my Getting Going column, in honor of Father’s Day, I reflected on the lessons I learned from my father and my grandfather.
They came from very different generations, one influenced by the Great Depression, the other by the growth and prosperity of the 1950s and ’60s. One believed in bonds and the other in stocks. Together, they introduced me to the basics of investing–and more importantly, to how to keep the whole process in perspective. While my style is different from either of theirs-( have less tolerance for risk than my dad, but more than my grandfather had-their advice continues to resonate as I plan for my own future.

Seattle: Why it’s Hard to Take Our District Seriously

Melissa Westbrook:

This is our district and how it operates even during hard times.
Update: I attended the joint Mayor/Superintendent event tonight (separate thread to come) but I asked the Mayor two things. One, how many staff at City Hall got a raise since he has been Mayor because the District had and, if he was hearing from powers that be about taking over the school district. (I pointed out that we RIFed teachers, laid off elementary counselors and maintenance workers with a $500M backlog in maintenance.) On the latter, he said no and that he felt that they were still in the collaboration stage with the district and it was working well. On the former he stated that the unionized city workers had been persuaded to NOT take a 2% raise but take the amount of inflation and that NO other city workers (non-unionized) had a raise. (He said he could not himself take a pay cut under City Charter but had given $10k to charities and that his staff was making less than the previous administration.)
The Superintendent jumped in and said that they gave bumps to people who got promotions. I had specifically said in my question to the Mayor that these were not for people with promotions and/or additional job responsibilities and I said that again. She then said that they had found that they hadn’t been paying people what they should and gave them raises. You can imagine how that went over in the room.
Paying administrative people what they are worth in a poor economy in a district that says it has no money. It is not the fault of those people to ask for the money but it is wrong for the district to pay them more now. There’s no amount of waffling that can change that.

Verona tutor wins teaching award

Susan Troller:

eading tutor Pam Heyde of Verona has won an “Unsung Hero” award from the International Dyslexia Association for her work helping children to read.
The local reading instructor works outside of school with children who are struggling to learn to read. She was nominated for the national award by Chris Morton, a parent whose son, Will, is one of Heyde’s success stories.
I interviewed the Morton family last year as part of an article about an effort to pass legislation requiring schools to identify struggling readers earlier in their school careers and to require teachers to learn more about the different ways children learn to read.

Colorado Board Of Education Being Sued By Three Civil Liberties Unions

Andrea Rael:

Three civil liberties unions plus some Douglas County parents filed a lawsuit this morning against the authorization of funds by the state treasurer to a lottery program created to subsidize scholarships to private schools–many of which are religious schools.
The national Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and ACLU of Colorado, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed the lawsuit in Denver District Court on behalf of plaintiffs who allege that the Douglas County Pilot Voucher Program disrupts the separation between church and state.
The Douglas County school board-approved Pilot Voucher Program is a scholarship lottery for 500 students to attend one of 19 private schools, but 14 of those schools are religious. In charge of implementing the state’s first ever voucher program is Dr. Christian Cutter, assistant superintendent for the Douglas County School District.

Rahm Emanuel defends decision to cancel 4 percent teacher raises

Fran Spielman

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday defended the decision by his handpicked school board to cancel 4 percent pay raises for Chicago teachers, arguing that teachers have gotten two types of pay raises since 2003 while students got “the shaft.”
With a $712 million deficit, Emanuel said the Board of Education could not continue to honor a contract that satisfied everybody’s concerns but the only group that really matters: Chicago Public School students.
“Teachers got two types of pay raises. People in public life got labor peace. Can anybody explain to me what the children got? I know what everybody else got,” Emanuel said.
“Just a little north of 50 percent of our kids graduate. Our [test] scores haven’t moved. Yet, in all that time, not one additional minute of instructional time for the children of Chicago where they can be safe and learning. . . . Our future — which is what this is about, the mission of education — our children got the shaft. . . . I will not accept our children continuing to get the shaft.”

San Francisco losing kids as parents seek schools, homes

Heather Knight:

For Kearsley Higgins, raising a baby in San Francisco was idyllic. She and her husband owned a small two-bedroom house in the Castro, she found plenty of activities for her daughter, Maya, and made friends through an 11-member mothers’ group.
Now as the mother of an almost 4-year-old, with a baby boy due in September, Higgins has left. A year ago, she and her husband, a digital artist, bought a four-bedroom home with a large backyard in San Rafael. Maya easily got into a popular preschool and will be enrolled in a good public elementary school when the time comes.
The other moms in Higgins’ group have moved on, too – to the East Bay, the Peninsula, Michigan and Texas. Just one of the 11 still lives in San Francisco.
“Everyone was very committed to the city when we were starting, and then they all left,” said Higgins, 36, a stay-at-home mom. “You see tons of strollers in the city and people running around with the little ones, but then the vacuum occurs.”

Tuition at some NYC private schools tops $40,000

Associated Press:

With $40,000 you could buy a new Lexus or a foreclosed house in a depressed community. Or you could pay for a year at one of the city’s top private schools.
The Riverdale Country School will charge $40,450 for high school students in the fall, and other schools aren’t far behind. The Hewitt School will charge $38,000, and Ethical Culture Fieldston will charge $37,825.
Added costs such as transportation, books and supplies will bring the total annual tab at several schools up to $40,000.
The figures were reported in The Wall Street Journal on Monday.
According to the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Independent Schools, the median tuition for a high school senior at the association’s member schools in New York City was $35,475 in the 2010-11 school year. The comparable national figure was $21,695.

Worst of Detroit schools to be moved to new system

Corey Williams:

The worst of Detroit’s schools will be pulled out of the district–which the nation’s top education official calls the “bottom of the barrel”–and placed in a new system that gives principals and staff more control over spending, hiring and improvement efforts, state officials announced Monday.
The overhaul is meant to help address problems in a debt-plagued district where nearly one in five students drops out. While the Detroit Public Schools has had a state-appointed emergency financial manager for two years, the current one said there’s only so much that can be done without more radical change.
“The system is broke and I can’t fix it, and you can’t fix it,” Roy Roberts said at a news conference where he and the governor announced the plan.
As many as 45 schools could be moved to the new system in the fall of 2012. Principals will be in charge of hiring teachers, and they and their staffs will handle day-to-day operations.

Seattle Schools’ report card: faltering progress on academic goals

Dick Lilly:

In an unusually blunt assessment, the board says its academic-performance goals, particularly for disadvantaged students, “are not on track to be met.”
Each year about this time Seattle School Board members evaluate their only employee, the district’s superintendent. With an interim superintendent on the job only a few months, this year had to be a little different.
In fact, you could say the board did the evaluation three months ago when they fired the previous superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, following revelations that an employee had spent money on contracts for which the district received little or nothing in return.
With Goodloe-Johnson gone and no need to attach accomplishments or failures to the superintendent or go through the agony of determining whether or not she got a raise, the board in a report at its regular meeting last week focused on what the district itself had or had not accomplished. The result was surprising and refreshingly candid language about where the district stands.

Charlie Mas has more.

Arkansas takes control of Pulaski County schools

Max Brantley:

Arkansas Education Department Director Tom Kimbrell (above) met reporters this afternoon to talk about the state’s decision to take over two school districts today — Helena-West Helena and the Pulaski County Special School District.
Most of the questions from Little Rock reporters were about Pulaski County, the state’s second-largest district with more than 17,000 students. In the brief YouTube clip below, Kimbrell responds to my question about whether the reorganization period is seen as a time to talk about reconfiguring the three public school districts in Pulaski County. Many Jacksonville residents have wanted to secede from the doughnut shaped district. Others have talked about combinations with Little Rock and North Little Rock to create, for example, two districts on either side of the Arkansas River. In short, said Kimbrell, yes, it should be discussed.
Other high points:

  • No one factor precipitated the Pulaski takeover. Kimbrell said he certainly gave great weight to wishes of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, which recommended the option. But he also referred obliquely to ousted Superintendent Charles Hopson’s seeming statements that he didn’t intend to be guided by Board wishes in some spending decisions. The “tone at the top” is vital, he said, in answer to a question about why the state decided to both oust Hopson and dissolve the school board.
  • Hopson’s contract is now null, Kimbrell said. The state has no obligation to pay him.

Q & A with Jon Schwartz of Kids Like Blogs

Katherine Vander Ark:

Jon Schwartz is an elementary school teacher and runs the site Kids Like Blogs! He believes that blogs motivate students to write, read, create art, and the use of technology. See the Q & A with Jon and be sure to see the work that his students are producing.

Q: There are many ways to incorporate technology in the classroom. What made you decide to have the children begin to blog?
A: There were several factors. One, I always had my students write a lot, whether I am teaching first or fifth grade. What happens is they end up with a huge amount of work, and I was never satisfied with how it just went in a folder at school, a binder, their desk, or got sent home. I wanted to be able to keep an efficient record of their work that could easily be referenced and shared with others. For example, they may not have written a lot in the previous year, and when their prior teachers want to see how much they have grown, with a blog, you send them a url, rather than sending over a bunch of papers (which they already have stacks of). By either having the students type on a blog, or have them write on paper and then scanning their handwritten work and art and posting it on the blog as a jpeg, you basically have an online gallery and portfolio. This can be shared with the principal who can then look it over quickly and give a quick high five to the kid as they pass in the halls.
One of the biggest advantages is that by creating an online portfolio, you are in effect creating virtual office hours. With class sizes in some cases doubling (I had a 4/5 combo class this year with 39 kids nearly equally split between 4th and 5th grade), you can imagine there is very little opportunity for one on one conferences, the time when you can give input to children on their work.

At High School in Queens, R.O.T.C.’s Enduring Influence

Michael Winerip:

In 1994, when retired First Sgt. Richard Gogarty arrived at Francis Lewis High School in Queens to start an Army Junior R.O.T.C. program, only two staff members, one of them a custodian, would talk to him. The sergeant sat by himself in the teachers’ cafeteria, hoping someone would say something, even if it was just “please pass the salt.”
The union representative, Arthur Goldstein, did not want him there. “I said, ‘Oh my God, he’s going to have kids marching in circles doing stupid stuff,’ ” recalled Mr. Goldstein, who teaches English to immigrant students and describes himself as “politically to the left.”
But Sergeant Gogarty, using his military training, disarmed Mr. Goldstein, volunteering to come in an hour early each day to tutor a Hispanic girl who was failing. “She was completely lost,” Mr. Goldstein said. “But something clicked. She started passing tests — it was Richard reading with her in the morning.”

Rotary Club Speech: Madison Preparatory Academy for Young Men: Innovative Solution & First All-Male Public Charter School in Wisconsin

Madison Rotary Club:

Join us next week,
Wednesday, June 22, at the Alliant Energy Center’s Exhibition Hall as we welcome fellow Rotarian Kaleem Caire to the podium for a presentation on the features of the Madison Preparatory Academy, its timeline for implementation and a status report on where it is in the school development and approval process.
Attendees will learn why and how the Urban League hopes to lead a renaissance in K-12 education in Greater Madison, tying its charter school effort to local school improvement
initiatives, economic development projects and advancements and innovations in higher education and workforce development in Greater Madison.

Best American High Schools; Wisconsin: 12 out of 500, None from Dane County


To compile the 2011 list of the top high schools in America, NEWSWEEK reached out to administrators, principals, guidance counselors, and Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate coordinators at more than 10,000 public high schools across the country. In order to be considered for our list, each school had to complete a survey requesting specific data from the 2009-2010 academic year. In total, more than 1,100 schools were assessed to produce the final list of the top 500 high schools.
We ranked all respondents based on the following self-reported statistics, listed with their corresponding weight in our final calculation:
Four-year, on-time graduation rate (25%): Based on the standards set forth by the National Governors Association, this is calculated by dividing the number of graduates in 2010 by the number of 9th graders 2006 plus transfers in minus transfers out. Unlike other formulas, this does not count students who took longer than four years to complete high school.
Percent of 2010 graduates who enrolled immediately in college (25%): This metric excludes students who did not enroll due to lack of acceptance or gap year.
AP/IB/AICE tests per graduate (25%): This metric is designed to measure the degree to which each school is challenging its students with college-level examinations. It consists of the total number of AP, IB, and AICE tests given in 2010, divided by the number of graduating seniors in order to normalize by school size. AP exams taken by students who also took an IB exam in the same subject area were subtracted from the total.
Average SAT and/or ACT score (10%)
Average AP/IB/AICE exam score (10%)
AP/IB/AICE courses offered per graduate (5%): This metric assesses the depth of college-level curriculum offered.  The number of courses was divided by the number of graduates in order to normalize by school size.

Just 12 Wisconsin high schools made the list, not one from Dane County. It would be interesting to compare per student spending (Madison spends about $14,476 per student) , particularly in light of a significant number of “southern” high schools in the top 50. Much more on United States per student spending, here. Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.

Sometimes, the best we can do for kids’ education is to get out of the way and let them do it themselves.

Steve Rankin, via email:

Mikko Utevsky, 17, of Madison, decided to form a student-led chamber orchestra, so he did. Their premiere was June 17 on the UW-Madison campus, and here’s what Mikko had to say to Jacob Stockinger, a classical music blogger from Madison, at the beginning of a week of intensive rehearsal: http://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/classical-music-qa-high-school-conductor-mikko-utevsky-discusses-the-madison-area-youth-chamber-orchestra-which-makes-its-debut-this-friday-night-in-vivaldi-beethoven-and-borodin/
Obviously, these kids did not arrive at their musical talents without adult teaching and guidance. Many of them began in their school bands and orchestras. They continue to study with their own teachers and with adult-run orchestras such as WYSO (http://wyso.music.wisc.edu/) and school-based bands and orchestras. As school funding continues to be in jeopardy, and arts programming is first on the chopping block (the MMSD strings program has been under threat of elimination a number of times and has been cut twice since most of these students began, (https://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2007/01/elementary_stri_3.php, https://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2006/05/speak_up_for_st.php, https://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/000241.php, https://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2006/05/on_wednesday_ma.php, https://www.schoolinfosystem.org/archives/2006/05/speak_up_for_st_2.php – many more citations available through SIS), the chances for a student-led ensemble such as MAYCO (Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra) to continue to thrive are also in jeopardy.

Who cares about American history?

Jeff Jacoby

WHEN THE DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION last week released the results of the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress — “the Nation’s Report Card” — the bottom line was depressingly predictable: Not even a quarter of American students is proficient in US history, and the percentage declines as students grow older. Only 20 percent of 6th graders, 17 percent of 8th graders, and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrate a solid grasp on their nation’s history. In fact, American kids are weaker in history than in any of the other subjects tested by the NAEP — math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography, and economics.
How weak are they? The test for 4th-graders asked why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure in US history and a majority of the students didn’t know. Among 8th-graders, not even one-third could correctly identify an advantage that American patriots had over the British during the Revolutionary War. And when asked which of four countries — the Soviet Union, Japan, China, and Vietnam — was North Korea’s ally in fighting US troops during the Korean War, nearly 80 percent of 12th-graders selected the wrong answer.
Historically illiterate American kids typically grow up to be historically illiterate American adults. And Americans’ ignorance of history is a familiar tale.
When it administered the official US citizenship test to 1,000 Americans earlier this year, Newsweek discovered that 33 percent of respondents didn’t know when the Declaration of Independence was adopted, 65 percent couldn’t say what happened at the Constitutional Convention, and 80 percent had no idea who was president during World War I. In a survey of 14,000 college students in 2006, more than half couldn’t identify the century when the first American colony was founded at Jamestown, the reason NATO was organized, or the document that says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Numerous other surveys and studies confirm the gloomy truth: Americans don’t know much about history.
Somewhere in heaven, it must all make Harry Truman weep.
He never attended college and had no formal intellectual credentials, but Truman was an avid, lifelong student of history. As a boy he had devoured Plutarch’s Lives and Charles Horne’s four-volume Great Men and Famous Women, developing an intimacy with history that would later become one of his greatest strengths. “When Truman talked of presidents past — Jackson, Polk, Lincoln — it was as if he had known them personally,” the historian David McCullough wrote in his landmark biography of the 33rd president.
Truman may have been exaggerating in 1947 when he told Clark Clifford and other White House aides that he would rather have been a history teacher than president. Yet imagine how different the NAEP history scores would be if more teachers and schools in America today routinely imparted to their students a Trumanesque love and enthusiasm for learning about the past.

Alas, when it comes to history, as Massachusetts educator Will Fitzhugh observes, the American educational system imparts a very different message.
While the most promising high school athletes in this country are publicly acclaimed and profiled in the press and recruited by college coaches and offered lucrative scholarships, there is no comparable lauding of outstanding high school history students. A former public school history teacher, Fitzhugh is the publisher of The Concord Review, a journal he began in 1987 to showcase the writing of just such exceptional student scholars. The review has printed 924 high-caliber research papers by teenagers from 44 states and 39 nations, The New York Times reported in January, winning a few “influential admirers” along the way.
But this celebration of what Fitzhugh calls “Varsity Academics®” amounts to just drops of excellence in the vast sea of mediocrity that is American history education. Another kind of excellence is represented by the National History Club that Fitzhugh launched in 2002 in order to encourage middle and high school students to “read, write, discuss, and enjoy history” outside the classroom. Beginning with a single chapter in Memphis, the club has grown into an independent national organization, with chapters in 43 states and more than 12,000 student members involved in a rich array of history-related activities.
“Our goal,” says Robert Nasson, the club’s young executive director, “is to create kids who are life-long students of history.” He and Fitzhugh have exactly the right idea. But as the latest NAEP results make dismally clear, they are swimming against the tide.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
— ## —
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

Is it time to kill the liberal arts degree?

Kim Brooks:

Every year or two, my husband, an academic advisor at a prestigious Midwestern university, gets a call from a student’s parent. Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so’s son is a sophomore now and still insistent on majoring in film studies, anthropology, Southeast Asian comparative literature or, god forbid … English. These dalliances in the humanities were fine and good when little Johnny was a freshman, but isn’t it time now that he wake up and start thinking seriously about what, one or two or three years down the line, he’s actually going to do?
My husband, loyal first and foremost to his students’ intellectual development, and also an unwavering believer in the inherent value of a liberal arts education, tells me about these conversations with an air of indignation. He wonders, “Aren’t these parents aware of what they signed their kid up for when they decided to let him come get a liberal arts degree instead of going to welding school?” Also, he says, “The most aimless students are often the last ones you want to force into a career path. I do sort of hate to enable this prolonged adolescence, but I also don’t want to aid and abet the miseries of years lost to a misguided professional choice.”
Now, I love my husband. Lately, however, I find myself wincing when he recounts these stories.

School Spotlight: Oregon Middle School greenhouse will supply students with veggies

Pamela Cotant:

The locally grown movement has reached Oregon Middle School where vegetables grown over the summer in its new hoop-style greenhouse will be served to students when classes resume.
“We wanted to get some things cranked up so in the fall we can pull off our first salad in the cafeteria,” said Nate Mahr, eighth-grade science teacher.
Tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, watermelon and pumpkins have been started. Salad greens will be grown right when students come back and raspberries also will be planted in the fall.
“(We’re) trying to have some of the food locally produced,” said Darren Hartberg, eighth grade health teacher. “That’s what will be happening under this piece of plastic.”

Stay-at-home fathers are getting much-needed companionship through Hong Kong Dads

Ben Sin:

It’s midday, mid-week in Mid-Levels and a group of middle-aged men are enjoying a few beers together. This part of the day is down time for Rob Daniel, Donald Knapp, Edo Fuijkschot and Chris Lee because they aren’t employed in traditional jobs.
All are stay-at-home dads, full-time fathers, house husbands, Mr Moms or whatever label society has given them. They are meeting when their children are either at school or with the family helper, and their wives have yet to leave work.
The number of men who have quit or scaled back their jobs to take on homemaking duties traditionally ascribed to women forms a miniscule demographic. But their numbers are edging up – at least in the West. According to the United States Census, there were an estimated 160,000 full-time fathers in 2007. That only accounts for about 3 per cent of all stay-at-home parents. Nonetheless, it is triple the 1997 figure. In Britain, a Guardian report estimates there are 250,000 stay-at-home fathers.

Let’s hear it for plain speakers

Harry Eyres:

I think you’ll know what I mean by the “higher guff” – the kind of sonorous and empty talk which often issues from the mouths of heads of state and princes. I heard a classic example recently at a British media awards ceremony from the admirable Prince Felipe of Spain. He was being courteous and diplomatic, praising the links and similarities “between our two great countries”, once imperial powers and once sworn enemies. “We have so much in common,” he enthused; an ironic commentary came from my neighbour, a photographer with a wicked wit: “Yes,” said Michael, “we’re both in deep shit.” The prince can’t have heard this, because he went on: “Indeed, so many of your citizens decide to move to Spain.”
“Yep,” was the uncharitable response from Michael: “All the criminals.”
The rule is that the higher the language soars, unless you’re careful, the more it leaves itself open to attack from below. Shakespeare was the dramatist who knew this best, especially in the excruciating scene from Troilus and Cressida where Thersites provides a scabrous commentary on the seduction of Cressida by Diomedes. “Lechery, lechery, still wars and lechery” is his conclusion: the pretensions of the Trojan war reduced to an itch and a scratch.

Equilibration in progress

Steve Hsu:

The US salary figure for MBAs from “leading schools” seems too low to me. Is this apples to apples? Still, it’s incredible what people are earning in China and India. One private equity guy I know told me they are hiring top talent in Beijing/Shanghai for USD $100k+ these days.

NCLB Reauthorization, Waivers, and the Third Variable Problem

Charles Barone:

>Most of the inside-the-beltway chatter this week was around Secretary Arne Duncan’s announcement on Monday, via Politico, that if A.: Congress did not act soon to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act, he would B.: proceed to “develop a plan that trades regulatory flexibility for reform.” I can’t confirm this, but the rumor is that the plan arrived at OMB last night, and will be finalized in August. At any rate, it doesn’t seem like they’re playing games on this one. All signs suggest that they plan to follow through.

We ran down our concerns when we got a whiff of this back in December (here).  Long story short, we don’t like the process and see serious pitfalls ahead on the substance. We recommend you also take a look at takes this week by reform veterans like Margaret Spellings (the first two Vinnie Barbarino paragraphs alone tell you most of what you need to know), Andy Rotherham, and Jeanne Allen
I know that the current Secretary sincerely thinks states and school districts need relief. And I would agree that in some instances, some flexibility that allows states to revise their current plans makes sense. But the lack of action on the Hill is not why a waiver process is so urgent per se. In fact, both the turbulence around reauthorization and, now, the waiver process, stem from an underlying third variable: the temporary lapse in strong leadership on the part of those who know, can do, and have done, better.

After Home Schooling, Pomp and Traditional Circumstances

Tamar Lewin:

The 26 young men and women, seated in alphabetical order, were nearly silent as they waited for their high school graduation to start. No giggles. No buzz. No camaraderie. And no wonder: they had met just once before, at the rehearsal two weeks earlier where they got their caps and gowns.
They had come on this muggy June evening to the Miami Zoo, past the flamingos and the tiger, for an hourlong ceremony that Gloria Rodriguez, the organizer, proudly called “the very first South Florida home-school graduation ever created.”
Ms. Rodriguez’s “home-school class of 2011” had no prom, no yearbook, no valedictorian. Still, for these students who had sidestepped a traditional education — and especially for their parents — there was “Pomp and Circumstance” and shiny turquoise tassels to shift from one side of a cap to the other.

CDC: 1 in 4 high schoolers drink soda every day

Mike Stobbe:

A new study shows one in four high school students drink soda every day — a sign fewer teens are downing the sugary drinks.
The study also found teens drink water, milk and fruit juices most often – a pleasant surprise, because researchers weren’t certain that was the case.
“We were very pleased to see that,” said the study’s lead author, Nancy Bener of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Still, a quarter have at least one soda each day. And when other sugary drinks like Gatorade are also counted, the figure is closer to two-thirds of high school students drinking a sweetened beverage every day.
That’s less than in the past. In the 1990s and early 2000s, more than three-quarters of teens were having a sugary drink each day, according to earlier research.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to announce sweeping Detroit Public Schools reforms Monday

David Jesse:

Gov. Rick Snyder will create a new authority to run several failing Detroit Public Schools as part of a sweeping reform package to be announced Monday for the struggling district, sources said.
The plan would restructure the failing school district, which has a $327 million budget deficit, by moving underperforming DPS schools under a new authority to be run by current DPS Emergency Financial Manager Roy Roberts, according to sources.
Roberts would have the authority to make new work rules at those schools, a process sources familiar with the discussions said could take a year. A law passed this year gives emergency managers new powers to control academic and financial matters and to cancel or modify union contracts.

More from DFER, here.

How Illinois education reform passed

Kerry Lester:

Running for re-election in a tight race last fall, state Rep. Keith Farnham received a sizable chunk of his campaign cash — $50,000 of $462,000 — from Stand for Children, an Oregon-based education group seeking sweeping reforms in Illinois.
Shortly after the November election, the group was moving to get changes in place, fast — among them, tougher tenure requirements, limiting teachers’ ability to strike, and lengthening the school day in Chicago.
Stand for Children had, after all, successfully worked to overhaul school policies in other states around the country.
But Illinois was not Colorado or Wisconsin, where the power structure made it easier to push laws that weakened union rights. No, Illinois had a Democratic-controlled, union-backed legislature and governor’s office.

Quick fixes don’t work; Phileadelphia schools need new leaders

Helen Gym:

A decade ago, Philadelphia families were told that a state takeover was necessary to fix a failing, bankrupt school system. As we face the third school financial crisis since then, we have to ask whether this experiment has finally run its course.
Back then, privatization and education-management organizations were promoted as the saviors of failing schools, even though they had limited success elsewhere. After investing hundreds of millions of dollars, there has been little measurable benefit.
Today we chase after other quick fixes – Renaissance Schools and Promise Academies. There is also a strong push in Harrisburg for vouchers.
Yet, what good are these “fixes” when high school science programs face the layoffs of 42 chemistry, biology, and physics teachers? The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers reports pink slips going to 115 English teachers, 121 math teachers, 66 social studies teachers, and 323 special education teachers. We should think about the effect of losing 50 art teachers across the district.

Flaws in my college-for-all fix

Jay Matthews:

I find myself more and more interested in the growing debate over how much and what to teach high school students. I support the side that thinks all students should be given skills that will make them ready for college because the same abilities—to write, read, do math and manage their time–are necessary if they want good jobs or trade school slots after high school.
On the other side are those who think college prep for all is a failed experiment. They say it alienates too many students and must be replaced by vocational programs that get to the heart of what employers want without killing student interest with required essays on the Romance poets and the Federalist papers. A recent report by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which I trashed here, is the best and most complete recent example of this argument.
I hadn’t encountered any promising efforts to bring the two sides together until I saw a commentary, “Untangling the Postsecondary Debate,” by Mike Rose, professor of social research methodology at UCLA, in the latest Education Week “Diplomas Count” report. He is critical of both sides, but helped me most in understanding where my arguments are weak.

Administrators who want to push harder

Jay Matthews:

We have been discussing the issue of tracking in high school, particularly the standard system of regular (or general), honors (or advanced) and Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses. Parents in Fairfax County are resisting the school district’s elimination of honors courses, leaving only a choice between regular or AP classes. I suggested the district get rid of the regular and leave only honors and AP, because research shows that the college skills taught in honors classes are also important for students who want to get a good job or go to trade school right out of high school.
This generated much comment from around the country, including the two responses below from high school administrators who share the belief that they are not giving all of their students the enriched education they need. I think they provide a useful perspective from inside schools. What do you think of what they are saying?
Mike Musick is the principal of Conifer High School in Conifer, Colo. About nine percent of its students are low-income, and its AP test participation rate is high enough to rank well on my annual Challenge Index list. Amy Fineburg, an assistant principal, asked that I identify her high school only as a high-achieving one in Alabama. But I can say that its demographic and academic characteristics are similar to Conifer High’s.

Bilingual education called best of both worlds

Michelle Mitchell

“¿Qué es esto?” Martha Arriola asks her kindergarten class, holding a picture of a bed.
“Cama!” the students respond in unison. “Cah … ahh … mmm … ahh,” they sound out each letter.
Arriola picks one student to find the letters that make those sounds from a group of cards and place them in the right order to spell the word.
Later, she turns an invisible switch on her head. “Click, click click, English time,” she said as the students mimic the gesture.
They repeat the same exercise in English — this time with “bed.”
The class at Coral Mountain Academy is one of about 12 bilingual classes in kindergarten through fourth grade at the Coachella school.