Masters of the Game and Leaders by Example

Dylan Loeb McClain via a kind reader’s email:

Fewer than 2 percent of the 77,000 members of the United States Chess Federation are masters — and just 13 of them are under the age of 14.
Among that select group of prodigies are three black players from the New York City area — Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black Jr. — who each became masters before their 13th birthdays.
“Masters don’t happen every day, and African-American masters who are 12 never happen,” said Maurice Ashley, 45, the only African-American to earn the top title of grandmaster. “To have three young players do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity. You normally wouldn’t get something like that in any city of any race.”
The chess federation, the game’s governing body, does not keep records on the ethnicity of its members. But a Web site called the Chess Drum — which chronicles the achievements of black chess players and is run by Daaim Shabazz, an associate professor of business at Florida A&M University — lists 85 African-American masters. Shabazz said many of them no longer compete regularly.

Has Teacher Quality Declined Over Time?

Matthew Di Carlo:

One of the common assumptions lurking in the background of our education debates is that “quality” of the teaching workforce has declined a great deal over the past few decades (see here, here, here and here [slide 16]). There is a very plausible storyline supporting this assertion: Prior to the dramatic rise in female labor force participation since the 1960s, professional women were concentrated in a handful of female-dominated occupations, chief among them teaching. Since then, women’s options have changed, and many have moved into professions such as law and medicine instead of the classroom.
The result of this dynamic, so the story goes, is that the pool of candidates to the teaching profession has been “watered down.” This in turn has generated a decline in the aggregate “quality” of U.S. teachers, and, it follows, a stagnation of student achievement growth. This portrayal is often used as a set-up for a preferred set of solutions – e.g., remaking teaching in the image of the other professions into which women are moving, largely by increasing risk and rewards.
Although the argument that “teacher quality” has declined substantially is sometimes taken for granted, its empirical backing is actually quite thin, and not as clear-cut as some might believe.

Chicago Public Schools’ Unveils School Turnaround Targets

Rebecca Vevea:

Chicago Public Schools officials plan to overhaul 10 schools next year, six of which will be managed by a private organization in the latest move by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration to turn to the private sector to aid poorly performing public schools.
The proposed overhauls–commonly called turnarounds–involve the firing of existing staff and improvements to school curriculum and culture. Turnarounds are the first step in a series of school actions that include consolidating and closing underperforming schools.
A new state law requires CPS to announce all school closings and turnarounds by Thursday. There was vociferous opposition to any proposed closings at recent public hearings, which were also required by the law, even though though the list of targeted schools had not yet been released.
The elementary schools slated for turnaround are: Pablo Casals, 3501 W. Potomac Ave.; Melville W. Fuller, 4214 S. Saint Lawrence Ave.; Theodore Herzl, 3711 W. Douglas Blvd.; Marquette, 6550 S Richmond St.; Brian Piccolo, 1040 N Keeler Ave.; Amos Alonzo Stagg, 7424 S Morgan St.; Wendell Smith, 744 E 103rd St. and Carter G. Woodson South Elementary Schools, 4414 S Evans. The Chicago Vocational Career Academy, at 2100 E 87th St., and Tilden Career Community Academy, 4747 S Union Ave., high schools also are targeted for turnaround.

The Decline of the English Department

William M. Chace:

During the last four decades, a well-publicized shift in what undergraduate students prefer to study has taken place in American higher education. The number of young men and women majoring in English has dropped dramatically; the same is true of philosophy, foreign languages, art history, and kindred fields, including history. As someone who has taught in four university English departments over the last 40 years, I am dismayed by this shift, as are my colleagues here and there across the land. And because it is probably irreversible, it is important to attempt to sort out the reasons–the many reasons–for what has happened.
First the facts: while the study of English has become less popular among undergraduates, the study of business has risen to become the most popular major in the nation’s colleges and universities. With more than twice the majors of any other course of study, business has become the concentration of more than one in five American undergraduates. Here is how the numbers have changed from 1970/71 to 2003/04 (the last academic year with available figures):

Can Unions Be Saved By Making Them Weaker?

Kevin Drum:

Reihan Salam directs us to an essay about labor unions by Alan Haus, an IP and employment law attorney in San Francisco. Haus thinks that conservatives ought to be more supportive of the power of labor unions in promoting higher wages:

There is much that could be said about the economic effects of promoting higher wages. For Republicans, the disadvantages should be trumped not only by the advantages but also by a vital consideration of political philosophy: the society of limited government to which most Republicans aspire will only come about in the real world if most Americans earn enough money to save for retirements and college educations, and provide for their long-term healthcare through substantially private markets. Achieving this requires some measure of support for a high wage economy.

But Haus is a lot less enthralled with every other aspect of organized labor:

For young math phenom, age is just another number

Mila Koumpilova:

In his first algebra class last year, Mani Chadaga slumped low in his front-row seat and pretended to read his new textbook intently.
Mani could make himself only so inconspicuous: He was, after all, a second-grader in a junior high class at St. Paul’s Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet School.
So he stopped trying.
Soon, he was piping up with solutions to the teacher’s questions and standing before his stumped classmates, explaining how he arrived at them. These days, as a third-grader juggling Algebra II and geometry, he kneels in his seat, only a smidgen of his early shyness and all his humility intact.

America’s Public Sector Union Dilemma

Lee Ohanian:

There is much less competition in the public sector than the private sector, and that has made all the difference.
Since the Great Recession began in 2008, there has been a growing criticism of public sector unions, reflecting taxpayer concerns about union compensation and unfunded pension liabilities. These concerns have led to proposals to change public sector union policy in very significant ways. Earlier this month, voters in Ohio defeated by a wide margin a law that would have restricted union powers, although polls showed broad support for portions of the law that would have reduced union benefits. In Wisconsin, a state with a long-standing pro-union stance, Governor Scott Walker advanced policy in February that would cut pay and substantially curtail collective bargaining rights of many public sector union workers. In Florida, State Senator John Thrasher introduced legislation that would prevent governments from collecting union dues from union worker state paychecks. And it is not just Ohio, Wisconsin, and Florida that are attempting to change the landscape of public unions. Cash-strapped governments in many states are considering ways to reduce the costs associated with public unions.

Madison School District agrees to release teachers’ sick notes

Steve Verburg:

The Madison School District has agreed to terms for releasing more than 1,000 sick notes submitted by teachers who missed work in February during mass protests over collective bargaining.
The district will remove the teachers’ names and other identifying information from the notes, under an agreement reached Monday with the Wisconsin State Journal, which requested the records under the state’s Open Records Law.
“It’s essentially what we asked for in May,” State Journal Editor John Smalley said Tuesday. “It was never our intention to publish any names or individual situations, but to look at the collective situation of all of these sick notes and how the district as an institution handled it.”
School Board President James Howard said the agreement protects teachers while complying with the newspaper’s needs and a Nov. 21 court ruling ordering the district to turn over the notes. The newspaper sued the district for the records after the district denied requests for them.

Jack Craver:

Many friends of mine are upset with the legal battle the Wisconsin State Journal waged to obtain the 1,000 sick notes Madison teachers used to get off work during the union protests in February. My own radio host and boss, Kurt Baron, referred to the paper as the “Wisconsin State Urinal” in describing his decision to no longer have the paper as his home page online. Some called into the show and promised to cancel their subscriptions.
Teachers should have a right to individual privacy over their medical records. We shouldn’t know whether John Q. cited herpes or hemorrhoids on his doctor’s note.
I am less sympathetic, however, to the teachers’ right to collective privacy. As long as their names are redacted, the public has the right to know if 273 teachers cited malaria and 345 claimed to suffer from ebola.
Unfortunately the recent ruling will violate individual privacy by allowing the State Journal to see the names of the teachers on the sick notes.

Keep KC’s school board, but get it plenty of help

The Kansas City Star

No one wants to see the Kansas City School District recover just enough to regain provisional accreditation and limp along in wounded form for another decade or so.
Kansas Citians are looking for an administrative structure capable of running schools that meet the state’s expectations and prepare students for college and jobs.
With the school district scheduled to become unaccredited on Jan. 1, the Missouri Board of Education is contemplating structural changes. Chris Nicastro, the education commissioner, has spent considerable time trying to figure out what to recommend to the board when it meets Thursday and Friday. At one point, she asked members of the Kansas City school board if they’d be willing to step aside in favor of an appointed board. Most would prefer to remain in charge.
School board governance has not served Kansas City well in recent decades. Candidate choices have mostly been weak. Voter participation in elections has been abysmal. Boards have been factious and meddlesome.

Money And School Performance:
Lessons from the Kansas City Desegregation Experiment by Paul Cioti:

For decades critics of the public schools have been saying, “You can’t solve educational problems by throwing money at them.” The education establishment and its supporters have replied, “No one’s ever tried.” In Kansas City they did try. To improve the education of black students and encourage desegregation, a federal judge invited the Kansas City, Missouri, School District to come up with a cost-is-no-object educational plan and ordered local and state taxpayers to find the money to pay for it.
Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil–more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country. The money bought higher teachers’ salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.
The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.
The Kansas City experiment suggests that, indeed, educational problems can’t be solved by throwing money at them, that the structural problems of our current educational system are far more important than a lack of material resources, and that the focus on desegregation diverted attention from the real problem, low achievement.

Taking healthcare to students

Anna Gorman:

As soon as the school day ended, the rush at the health clinic began.
Two high school seniors asked for sports physicals. A group of teenagers lined up for free condoms. A girl told a counselor she needed a pregnancy test.
The clinic, at Belmont High School near downtown Los Angeles, is part of a rapidly expanding network of school-based centers around the nation offering free or low-cost medical care to students and their families.
In California, there are 183 school health centers, up from 121 in 2004. Twelve more are expected to open by next summer, according to the California School Health Center Assn.
The centers have become a small but important part of the nation’s healthcare safety net, experts say, treating low-income patients who might otherwise not have regular medical care. Now, they add, campus clinics are serving as a model for health officials trying to reduce costs.

Scottish education ‘falling behind’ other countries


Scottish education is being overtaken by systems in other countries around the world, it has been claimed.
The warning comes from Keir Bloomer, a former leader of council education directors and one of the architects of the Curriculum for Excellence.
Mr Keir is heading the Commission on School Reform which will carry out an inquiry into scope for improvement.
He said Scottish education had many strengths but there was a need to increase the pace of improvement.
The commission, established by independent think tanks Reform Scotland and the Centre for Scottish Public Policy, includes representatives from political parties, heads of schools and colleges and figures from the business and sporting worlds.

English Teacher Reaches Through Student’s Haze

John Burnett:

Christine Eastus was a double major in English and chemistry with plans to go to medical school. Instead — to the chagrin of her parents — she became a teacher.
In the 1970s, she taught English at Greenhill School in Addison, Texas.
“Once I started teaching, it was a completely new world, sort of frightening in a sense, because you’re dealing with students who are so impressionable, but it’s heady stuff particularly when people like you, catch the bug and become writers and let you know about it,” she tells NPR’s John Burnett. “That is a real high, to hear from someone who’s your age still remembering me and I’m sure many of them curse me because I guess I was a bit demanding.”

Virtual schools are multiplying, but some question their educational value

Lyndsey Layton and Emma Brown:

A Virginia company leading a national movement to replace classrooms with computers — in which children as young as 5 can learn at home at taxpayer expense — is facing a backlash from critics who are questioning its funding, quality and oversight.
K12 Inc. of Herndon has become the country’s largest provider of full-time public virtual schools, upending the traditional American notion that learning occurs in a schoolhouse where students share the experience. In K12’s virtual schools, learning is largely solitary, with lessons delivered online to a child who progresses at her own pace.

The other student loan problem: too little debt

Justin Pope:

Jesse Yeh uses the University of California-Berkeley library instead of buying textbooks. He scrounges for free food at campus events and occasionally skips meals. He’s stopped exercising and sleeps five to six hours per night so he can take 21 credits — a course load so heavy he had to get special permission from a dean.
The only thing he won’t do: take out a student loan.
“I see a lot of my friends who took out student loans, then they graduated and because of the economy right now they still couldn’t find a job,” said the third-year student, whose parents both lost their jobs in 2009 and who grew up in the boom-and-bust town of Victorville, Calif., on a block with several houses in foreclosure. “The debt burden is really heavy on them.”

Reverse Mentoring Cracks Workplace

Leslie Kwoh:

Workplace mentors used to be older and higher up the ranks than their mentees. Not anymore.
In an effort to school senior executives in technology, social media and the latest workplace trends, many businesses are pairing upper management with younger employees in a practice known as reverse mentoring. The trend is taking off at a range of companies, from tech to advertising.
The idea is that managers can learn a thing or two about life outside the corner office. But companies say another outcome is reduced turnover among younger employees, who not only gain a sense of purpose but also a rare glimpse into the world of management and access to top-level brass.

Korean teen held after pushy mother’s death

Christian Oliver and Song Jung-a:

South Korean police have detained a teenager suspected of murdering his mother after she allegedly beat him with a golf club to get better school grades, in a case that has raised questions about the high-pressure nature of the country’s education system.
The macabre incident has shocked the nation, with younger mothers questioning the values of previous generations who have been pushing children hard to improve their school performance.
“Children are being driven to the limit … so many of them suffer from depression, kill themselves or commit impulsive crimes out of desperation,” says Oh Sung-sook, head of the Citizens’ Council for Educational Reform, an activist group.
Psychologists argue that the educational rat-race – children are routinely forced to study late into the night seven days a week and corporal punishment is still permitted – is stunting social development.

Rice makes plea for education in America

Lucy Madison:

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she’s concerned about the economy, the deficit, and the “jaded” nature of American politics – but she says the country’s “biggest single problem” is with the public school system.
Rice, speaking to CBS’ Bob Schieffer on a special Thanksgiving edition of “Face the Nation,” argued that the nation’s educational system is failing crucial populations, and that “it’s gonna drive us into class warfare like we’ve never seen before.”
Responding to a question about the current state of American politics, Rice argued that “we’ve become a bit jaded as a country.”
But she said that wasn’t her biggest concern with the future of America right now.
“I think we’ve got a deeper problem,” she said. “It speaks to the way that, for instance, I and my family got ahead. I think the biggest single problem we’ve got is the K-12 education system.”

Finland puts bar high for teachers, kids’ well-being

Erin Richards:

English class is about to start, and Taneli Nordberg introduces the day’s guests: a row of fresh-faced university students sitting in the back of the classroom. They’re training to be teachers at the University of Helsinki.
Nordberg, 31, wants the eighth-graders to become teachers for a moment.
“I want you to tell the teacher trainees something you would like them to do when teaching and something you want them to avoid doing,” he explains. “In English, please.”
The students tumble up to the chalkboards and start writing. Some of the advice is predictable – “not too much homework” – but much of it is insightful.
The exercise, though short and light, is something of a microcosm of the Finnish educational approach – engagement and collaboration between teacher and student, a comfortable atmosphere, and the expectation of quality in how students express themselves.
Over the past decade, students in Finland have soared on international measures of achievement. They’ve continued to post some of the best scores in the developed world in reading, math and science, according to a respected international exam. The country has one of the narrowest gaps in achievement between its highest and lowest-performing schools, and on average spends less per pupil than the United States.

Madison Schools’ dual-language program prompts concerns

Matthew DeFour:

Students in the Madison School District’s dual-language immersion program are less likely than students in English-only classrooms to be black or Asian, come from low-income families, need special education services or have behavioral problems, according to a district analysis.
School Board members have raised concerns about the imbalance of diversity and other issues with the popular program.
As a result, Superintendent Dan Nerad wants to put on hold expansion plans at Hawthorne, Stephens and Thoreau elementaries and delay the decision to the spring on how to expand the program to La Follette High School in 2013.
“While the administration remains committed to the (dual-language) program and to the provision of bilingual programming options for district students, I believe there is substantial value in identifying, considering and responding to these concerns,” Nerad wrote in a memo to the board.
In Madison’s program, both native English and Spanish speakers receive 90 percent of their kindergarten instruction in Spanish, with the mix steadily increasing to 50-50 by fourth grade.

New initiatives making schools data readily available

Bill Turque and Michael Alison Chandler:

Parents across the Washington region will soon have more readily available — and useful– information about how their public schools are doing, the result of new initiatives underway at the local and state level for reporting and displaying education data.
The District, Maryland and Virginia are pledging some changes as part of their applications to the Obama administration for exemption from unpopular requirements of the No Child Left Behind law, among them the mandate for 100 percent proficiency by 2014 on standardized reading and math tests.

Milwaukee Public Schools’ Quietly Implement Changes

Alan Borsuk:

Alas, Milwaukee Public Schools: The School Board and administration will never take the kind of bold action that’s needed to stabilize the financial picture. The system is awash in empty buildings, and they won’t do anything about it. They’ll never take real action to improve what goes on in classrooms. It’s hopeless.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong. And maybe wrong about the fourth one.
Without much fuss or attention, this has been an autumn of big change in the way MPS is run. It is still a highly troubled system, but it’s time to give credit to the leaders for taking action on some of the things that most threaten MPS. You can criticize them for not acting sooner or for other things, but let’s take advantage of some holiday cheer to look at recent events. There’s still life in the lumbering giant.
If you ask Superintendent Gregory Thornton, he’ll tell you what’s under way is “a quiet storm, and, when we wake up, the flowers will have bloomed.”
(Thornton, by the way, seems to be talking like a guy who isn’t going to pack up and leave soon, which has been a matter of speculation since shortly after he arrived 17 months ago.)

Do schools conceal violent incidents and threats to avoid negative press and parent outrage?

Maureen Downey:

Among the extended family I saw over the holiday was a young relative who is working as a substitute teacher in the Northeast since he can’t find a full-time teaching post. He shared a story that surprised me, and I wanted to run it by folks here.
He was subbing at a low-performing high school that recently had a well-publicized stabbing. A student in his class pulled what he thought was a real gun on him, and they had a standoff for several minutes until the teen put the “gun” away and the teacher tackled him to the floor. It turned out the gun was a toy, and the student received a three-day suspension for the incident.
The substitute teacher was disappointed with the punishment, but said the school wanted to prevent another round of negative press.
Would such an incident be kept quiet in Georgia? Could it go so easily unreported under zero tolerance policies in which students can get suspended for Tweety Bird key chains?

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: California vs. the Other States Rev. 11/18/11

Richard Rider:

Here’s a depressing but documented comparison of California taxes and economic climate with the rest of the states. The news is breaking bad, and getting worse (twice a month, I update crucial data on this fact sheet):
California has the 3rd worst state income tax in the nation. 9.3% tax bracket starts at $46,766 for people filing as individuals. 10.3% tax starts at $1,000,000.
Highest state sales tax rate in the nation. 7.25% (as of 1 July – does not include local sales taxes) Table #15
California corporate income tax rate (8.84%) is the highest west of the Mississippi (our economic competitors) except for Alaska. Table #8 – we are 8th highest nationwide.

The Secret of My Success: How Status, Prestige and School Performance Shape Legal Careers

Richard Sander & Jane Yakowitz:

Rewards are distributed more unevenly within the legal profession than in virtually any other occupation. Most of those who study the careers of lawyers would agree that law school eliteness, law school grades, and social status each play a role in determining which lawyers capture the greatest rewards. But remarkably little effort has been made to directly compare these inputs in explaining career outcomes, to see which of the three matters most, and how they interact.
In this paper, we first examine general beliefs about the importance each of these three factors has upon lawyer careers – beliefs among academics as well as beliefs among the actual participants in the sorting process. We next present some specific findings about each of the three factors. Finally, we directly compare the three factors in regression models of career outcomes. The consistent theme we find throughout this analysis is that performance in law school – as measured by law school grades – is the most important predictor of career success. It is decisively more important than law school “eliteness.” Socioeconomic factors play a critical role in shaping the pool from which law students are drawn, but little or no discernible role in shaping post-graduate careers. Since the dominant conventional wisdom says that law school prestige is all-important, and since students who “trade-up” in school prestige generally take a hit to their school performance, we think prospective students are getting the wrong message.

Welcome to India’s Higher Education system . God Bless You!!!


I have been taking an Under-Graduate Course in Computer Science and Engineering(in short B.Tech CSE) in a reputed Private Engineering in India for one and half years.My college has given me 7.5 grades till now. I would rate them 5/10. I wanted to give them 2 or 3 but presence of Infrastructure and some encouraging professors saved them.
Every day when I go to college I expect to learn something new that would encourage me for research and thinking. And after coming back to my hostel room, I do have something new that make me thinking. But mind you its not because of the college or their intensive study program that I’m paying high fees for; but it is the Internet, the articles at Hacker News and Reddit and other sites that does this. Whenever I get time I tend to open these sites on my not so good Nokia touchscreen phone. It doesn’t have much of features that i can boost of but it does my work. That is the state of our private Universities.
Well I agree with my college friends that most of the students that come to private universities don’t want education but a degree, a campus life and guys they can hook up with. They have their contacts and their Dad’s business after that. Most of the students that come here want spoon feeding. Tell them what is important and coming in exam and they will cram it, cram it so much they can recite it word to word. But still it doesn’t mean professors also does spoon feeding for them and come here for high salaries, comfort and increasing their teaching experience so that later on can go to some Top Government College.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other state leaders concerned with education should work toward a common school evaluation system.

Milwaukee Journal – Sentinel:

Wisconsin needs a new system of school accountability, but implementing effective measures will be difficult because there are so many different ideas about what it takes to make a good school.
The best schools have high standards in the basics – reading, math, science and writing. But they also excel at art, music and gym. They are places with strong leadership, inspired teachers and an organic system of training and mentoring.
To create more such schools and hold all schools accountable in a fair manner, though, requires all those with an interest in that issue to be at the table. Unfortunately, that’s not the case now.
When Gov. Scott Walker and State Superintendent Tony Evers formed a team to improve school accountability, the Wisconsin Education Association Council chose to sit this one out.
We get it: The state’s largest teachers union has plenty of reason to be upset with Walker for stripping it and other public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights – and for cutting funding to schools. But we still think the union’s refusal to take a place at the table was a mistake. The union needs to be involved in such efforts. Now, it’s on the outside looking in.

Wisconsin’s current assessment system is the oft-criticized WKCE, which has some of our nation’s lowest standards.
A Closer Look at Wisconsin’s Test Scores Reveals Troubling Trend by Christian D’Andrea.
WEAC’s Mary Bell advocates a “holistic” approach to school accountability.

Middleton seeks 11.5 percent increase in property tax levy

Rob Schultz:

In each of the past three years, the city of Middleton tried to avoid raising property taxes as it paid for three new $18 million public safety buildings.
That will change if the city’s proposed 2012 budget, which calls for an 11.5 percent increase in total property taxes, is approved by the City Council Tuesday night. The increase would amount to about a $150 jump for a $250,000 home, according to city administrator Mike Davis. More specific figures were not available Friday.
“The jump is practically directly related to the debt service for the new public safety buildings,” Davis said.
Middleton opened new fire and EMS stations in 2008 and a new police station in 2010 at a total cost of $18 million, Davis said. The city’s 2011 borrowing costs were more than $3.5 million, and Davis said most of that bill was paid with previously raised money. The tab for 2012 will be $3.6 million.
“Now it’s being picked up mainly by property taxes,” Davis added.

Smart, Young, and Broke: White-collar workers are China’s newest underclass.

Melinda Liu:

At first glance, Guo Yilei looks like a Chinese success story. Born to a poor peasant family in China’s remote Gansu province, he’s now a 26-year-old computer programmer in the Big Cabbage (as some call Beijing nowadays). By Chinese standards he makes decent money, more than $70 a week. When he has work, that is. It can take months to find the next job. And meanwhile, he’s living in Tangjialing, a reeking slum on the city’s edge where he and his girlfriend rent a 100-square-foot studio apartment for $90 a month. “When I was at school, I believed in the saying, ‘Knowledge can help you turn over a new leaf,'” says Guo. “But since I’ve started working, I only half-believe it.”
Guo and an estimated million others like him represent an unprecedented and troublesome development in China: a fast-growing white-collar underclass. Since the ’90s, Chinese universities have doubled their admissions, far outpacing the job market for college grads. This year China’s universities and tech institutes churned out roughly 6.3 million graduates. Many grew up in impoverished rural towns and villages and attended second- or third-tier schools in the provinces, trusting that studying hard would bring them better lives than their parents had. But when they move on and apply for jobs in Beijing or Shanghai or any of China’s other booming metropolises, they get a nasty shock.

California Teachers Association opposes Think Long Committee’s new tax measure

Kevin Yamamura:

A sweeping tax overhaul unveiled this week by a billionaire-backed coalition of political leaders has drawn fire from the California Teachers Association, one of the most influential groups at the Capitol and on the campaign trail.
The Think Long Committee for California hopes to place initiatives on the November 2012 ballot to raise $10 billion in taxes each year, mostly by charging sales taxes on services. Half of that money would go to K-12 schools. But deep within the plan is a proposal to eliminate a constitutional requirement that California increase funding for schools in good years to compensate for prior cuts.
Education groups like CTA rely on that Proposition 98 requirement as leverage each year when negotiating school funding in the state budget.
The union’s president, Dean E. Vogel, said in a statement, “The Think Long Committee Report was supposed to be a bipartisan path to rebuilding California’s future, not a dangerous detour that would hurt students and the poor. Educators are alarmed by these recommendations to raise taxes on the poor, lower taxes for corporations, dismantle Proposition 98 – the state’s minimum school funding law – and avoid repaying $10 billion already owed to public schools and students.”

Where Does Passion Come From?

Jared Cosulich:

A Pivot (someone who works for Pivotal Labs) gave an excellent presentation on observational astronomy the other day. The presentation was so well done that I think it could easily inspire people to learn more about astronomy.
This is one of the questions I think about a lot. I truly believe that for education to be effective you need to tap in to intrinsic motivation. You can’t rely on extrinsic motivators like grades otherwise you run the risk of losing all motivation once the extrinsic motivators are removed.
Passion is a vague term, but it’s often to used to identify some subject or activity that people are strongly intrinsically motivated to do. You never hear people talk about passions rooted in the desire to get a good grade or a big bonus or the chance of promotion. People talk about being passionate about something because of the importance it plays in the world or how it makes them feel at fundamental level.

Detroit Tackles Dropout Crisis By Engaging Students, Parents

PBS Newshour:

JEFFREY BROWN: And we turn to the high school dropout problem.
Over the next 18 months, the NewsHour and other public media partners are examining the consequences of, and solutions for, one of this country’s most pressing education issues. The project is called American Graduate.
Tonight, a look at Detroit, where four out of 10 children don’t graduate. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called it “arguably the worst school district in the country.” But he’s also said he’s encouraged by new efforts to improve the schools.
NewsHour correspondent Hari Sreenivasan reports on some of those efforts in this co-production with Detroit Public Television.
HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s another morning at Cody High School in Detroit, and teachers like Antonio Baker know that, for some of their students, just getting here is a victory.
ANTONIO BAKER, Medicine and Community Health Academy, Cody Small Schools: I had a young man who came in the classroom. He was really upset and he was just lashing out. He had, like, little dried-up blood on his uniform.
So I asked him, you know, what’s going on?

Seattle’s Advanced Learning Task Force

Charlie Mas:

The new Advanced Learning Task Force (or Steering Committee or Advisory Committee or whatever) has had its first meeting. It’s kind of a mess.
I’m on the committee. So is Melissa. So are Dr. Vaughan and Dr. Thompson. There are principals, central staff, teachers and community members. The committee is too big for any real discussion. It will be almost impossible for it to reach any authentic consensus. I suspect that staff will just write our conclusions for us and then allow us a final meeting to argue for small edits – which they will unilaterally decide to accept or reject. That’s how the Demographic Task Force worked.
The committee met once in November and will meet again in December. By that time we will already be overdue with our recommendation to FACMAC on the placement of elementary north-end APP. FACMAC needs it now. Without it, they will just move forward with their decisions without input from the Advanced Learning Committee.

Support grows for abolishing property tax in ND

Dan Gunderson:

Many Minnesota residents expect a bigger bill when their property tax statements arrive this month. But across the border, North Dakota residents are considering a proposal to make the state the first in the nation to abolish property taxes.
Supporters gathered more than 28,000 signatures to put that question on the ballot next June.
Backers of the measure say there’s plenty of revenue to go around without property taxes. But local government officials say eliminating property tax would create chaos.
That worries officials like Terry Traynor, assistant director of the North Dakota Association of Counties.
“I’m fearful that it has a possibility of passing,” Traynor said. “The proponents have a very attractive message to sell: Do you like property taxes? If you don’t, vote for this and they go away.”

Perth Amboy superintendent: Tenure laws keep bad apples in the classroom

Janine Walker Caffrey:

As the superintendent of the Perth Amboy school district, I am responsible for the education of more than 10,000 children.
We are fortunate to have the dedication of hundreds of committed and talented teachers and administrators who focus on education every day. But for 15 to 20 percent of each week, I shift focus from our students, who should be at the center of all we do, to certain adults who no longer have a place in our education system, yet simply can’t be dismissed.
There has been much discussion about teacher evaluation and its potential to improve learning in our classrooms. This issue focuses on things like linking teacher tenure and pay to student test scores, and so-called value-added data. There are many disagreements about these measures, but I believe we can agree on the fact that there are certain teachers who just should not be working with children. We don’t want teachers in our classrooms who talk explicitly about sexual acts, or who hit children, put soap in their mouths or curse at them. We certainly don’t want teachers who make repeated sexual advances to other teachers, do drugs at school or fly into rages for no apparent reason. I have active cases like these, and have returned almost all of these teachers to their positions.

iPads, not chalkboards: Kindergartners at home with technology; teachers want more apps

Paula Owen:

Eric M. DeHays has a vision — a vision of every elementary student in the Ashburnham-Westminster Regional School District holding an iPad.
And, like most visions, he had to start small — kindergarten small.
He first introduced his idea earlier this year to the School Committee. His proposal sought to implement a pilot program that would put an Apple iPad2 in the hands of every kindergartner in the district this fall.
As technology coordinator for the district, Mr. DeHays said he knew it was the way to go. He drew partly on firsthand knowledge, he said.
“Kids are using them earlier and earlier in life,” he said. “My son Kenyon was a kindergartner last year and I looked at the way he would use the technology (iPad). He was not trained properly. He was trained to see it as a gaming system, but it is more than that.”

Idaho teachers union leader has tough task ahead

Jessie Bonner:

The new president of the statewide teachers union has a tough task reorganizing the 13,000-member group after it took a beating during the 2011 Idaho Legislature, with measures passed to weaken their collective bargaining and phase out some job protections.
But Penni Cyr says she’s up for the assignment.
Cyr is starting a three-year term as president of the Idaho Education Association after nearly 30 years teaching in Moscow public schools. Her husband, Craig, works at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, Inc., in Pullman, Wash., and remains in Moscow, where their four adult children also live.
“I go home when I can, but it’s often time to work,” Cyr said.
Among her top priorities: A campaign to repeal the sweeping education changes that were signed into law earlier this year with backing from public schools chief Tom Luna and Gov. Butch Otter. The laws will go before Idaho voters in November 2012.

A High School Guidance Counselor’s Lasting Lessons

All Things Considered:

Guy Raz thanks his former high school guidance counselor, Walter Roig, for being in his corner and teaching him about wielding power. The conversation is part of the StoryCorps National Day of Listening project. On Friday, you can thank a teacher, too, on Twitter, with hash tag #thankteacher, or on the StoryCorps Facebook page.

A Closer Look at Wisconsin’s Test Scores Reveals Troubling Trend

Christian D’Andrea:

When the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released their 2011 results, things seemed to be working out well for Wisconsin’s public schools. The state posted above average numbers in key subjects like reading and mathematics in fourth and eighth grade.
However, a deeper look into those numbers exposes some troubling trends. Namely, Wisconsin’s Hispanic students are regressing when it comes to reading in the state’s classrooms.
The state’s 2011 results held steady at 202 points for fourth-grade reading amongst Hispanic pupils. This was down from a score of 208 in 2007 and less than the state’s score of 209 in 1992, the first iteration of the test. In eighth grade, the average score dropped from 250 to 248. This is a decrease from 1998’s average of 256 – the first year the test was recorded for the group.
These results highlight a grim trend. Over the past two decades, reading achievement amongst the state’s Hispanic students has regressed. While national averages have seen a growth of 5.7 percent in fourth grade reading and 5.5 percent in eighth grade reading amongst Hispanic test takers, Wisconsin has posted losses. The state’s scores dropped by 3.4 percent and 2.8 percent in the two grades, respectively.

Related: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 – Badgers 1; Thrive’s “Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report”

Earlier this year Wisconsin teachers and their supporters compared Wisconsin and Texas academically and claimed that Wisconsin had better achievement because it ranked higher on ACT/SAT scores. The fact that this claim ignored the ethnic composition of the states, prompted David Burge to use the National Assessment of Educational Progress(NAEP) to compare educational achievement within the same ethnic groups. His conclusion, based on the 2009 NAEP in Reading, Mathematics, and Science (3 subject areas times 2 grades, 4th and 8th, times 3 ethnicities, white, black, and hispanic equals 18 comparisons), was Longhorns 17 – Badgers 1.

The 2011 NAEP results are now available for Reading and
Mathematics. The updated conclusion (2 subject areas times 2 grades, 4th and 8th, times 3 ethnicities, white, black, and hispanic equals 12 comparisons) is Longhorns 12 – Badgers 0. Not only did Texas students outperform Wisconsin students in every one of the twelve ethnicity-controlled comparisons, but Texas students exceeded the national average in all 12 comparisons. Wisconsin students were above the average 3 times, below the average 8 times, and tied the average once.

Santa Clara County friendliest to charter schools

Sharon Noguchi:

Charter schools, once considered the experimental outliers of public education, are poised to go mainstream in Santa Clara County.
That’s due in part to sheer numbers. Eight new charter schools opened this school year, taking in 1,600 students. Last week alone, five charter schools were approved to open next August in the county. But perhaps more important, key places in the county have seen a transformation in attitude, from hostility and suspicion to acceptance and collaboration.
The growing number of charters cements the county’s reputation, along with the giant Los Angeles Unified district, as the most charter-friendly place in the state. In a month or so, the county school board will consider approving 20 more charters schools for Rocketship Education. The increase comes amid widespread growth of charter schools in California. Today about 7 percent of the state’s public school children attend a charter, which are public schools operating independently from local school boards and most of the state Education Code.

Scott Walker Tilts School Accountability Standards to Favor Charter and Private Schools

Rebecca Kemble:

Scott Walker is now waging his war on public education by coming up with accountability standards that favor charter and private schools. His School and District Accountability Design Team consists of thirty business and education professionals from across the state.
The Design Team is led by “Quad-Chairs” Governor Scott Walker, Senator Luther Olsen, chair of the Senate Education Committee, Representative Steve Kestell, chair of the Assembly Education Committee, and Tony Evers, State Superintendent of Schools in Wisconsin. The proceedings are being facilitated by a team of high-paid consultants working with the American Institute for Research (AIR), a company that racked up $299 million in revenue for the 2009 fiscal year.

China to Cancel College Majors That Don’t Pay

Laurie Burkitt:

College students wait in line to hand in their resumes to get interview opportunities from a company at a job fair held on the campus of Shanghai University of Finance and Economics in Shanghai, China.
Much like the U.S., China is aiming to address a problematic demographic that has recently emerged: a generation of jobless graduates. China’s solution to that problem, however, has some in the country scratching their heads.
China’s Ministry of Education announced this week plans to phase out majors producing unemployable graduates, according to state-run media Xinhua. The government will soon start evaluating college majors by their employment rates, downsizing or cutting those studies in which less than 60% of graduates fail for two consecutive years to find work.

Help Math & Science Education

Jim Young, via a kind Chan Stroman-Roll email:

Dear Colleague: I am writing this letter because I sincerely fear that the future of our children and grandchildren could be in jeopardy. While there are numerous important issues facing America today, one continues to be high on my priority list, K-12 Math and Science. What scares me the most is that no one seems to care – not parents, teachers, administrators, politicians or business people – that we have FALLEN TO 25th GLOBALLY IN MATH.
It has been our strength in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and the resultant innovation that fueled the great businesses of the 20th century. Automobiles, airplanes, radio, television, space travel, telecommunications and the Internet are just a few industries that are reliant on strong Math and Science skills and have produced a significant number of good jobs. There is a very good chance that our personal good fortunes can in some way be tied to the early innovation of our grandparents.
This comparative table needs no detailed explanation. Based on 2009 statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it clearly shows how far we have fallen and how competitive the rest of the world has become

Related: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 – Badgers 1; Thrive’s “Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report”.

Education’s good old days? Please, you’ve been sniffing too many chemical-soaked mimeograph sheets

Tom Breuer:

If you spend any amount of time on Facebook, eventually you’ll see a copied-and-pasted status update that looks something like this: “If you learned long division by hand, bicycled to school in the rain, drank lead-tainted water directly from the hose, played fast-pitch baseball in the dark with shiftless strangers, skinned your knee and ignored it until it became infected and led to a series of painful brain hemorrhages, sucked mercury from thermometers like marrow from the bones of dead hobos, and lived to tell about it, repost this and be thankful for the good old days.”
The implication, of course, is that kids are too mollycoddled these days, and we’re overthinking their upbringing – why can’t we just do things the way we used to? After all, we turned out fine.
I can’t help but believe that this notion – as well as sharp resistance to it – has contributed greatly to the statewide rift over collective bargaining that’s culminated in the current gubernatorial recall effort.
After all, in the past, kids did just fine under the tutelage of bitter, underpaid nuns and schoolmarms. Why spend more money for worse results? Teachers deserve a pay cut. They’re not holding up their end of the bargain.
I suspect that this attitude is actually fairly pervasive. Commenting on one of my recent blog posts, a reader said this: “Go back to teaching math, science, history and [E]nglish the way it was taught in the 50’s. Students either passed or failed based on work not on some stupid self-esteem.”

Lady Gaga Makes It to Harvard

[well, at least these guys don’t have students reading history books, writing history papers–stuff like that!!]
Charlotte Allen:

What is it about academics and Lady Gaga? Last year it was a freshman writing course at the University of Virginia titled “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender, and Identity.” This fall there’s an upper-division sociology course at the University of South Carolina titled “Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame.” Meghan Vicks, a graduate student in comparative literature at the University of Colorado, co-edits a postmodernist online journal, “Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga,” in which the names “Judith Butler” and “Jean Baudrillard” drip as thickly as summer rain and the tongue-tripping sentences read like this: “And her project?–To deconstruct the very pop culture that creates and worships her, and to explore and make problematic the hackneyed image of the pop icon while flourishing in the clichéd role itself.”
And now Gaga has reached the very pinnacle of academic recognition: a Harvard affiliation. On Nov. 2 she announced that she and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet Society will launch a nonprofit foundation, to be called Born This Way (after one of Gaga’s songs), which will focus on mentoring teenagers and combating bullying.
What is fascinating is how, well, gaga the tenured scholars and highly placed academic administrators are for the 25-year-old singer whose main claim to fame is her rise from unknown to superstar and multiple Grammy winner in just three years. She managed this feat mostly on the basis of outré costumes and transgressive dancing–plus her world-class flair for self-promotion–rather than her ho-hum musical ability. Mathieu Deflem, the sociology professor who is teaching the Gaga course at South Carolina, for example, owns more than 300 of her records, maintains a fan website called, and (according to a 2010 New York Times article) has attended more than 28 of her live concerts, following her from city to city around the world. Similarly, Harvard’s Berkman Center is a well-funded interdisciplinary think tank whose faculty consists of prestigious professors of law, engineering, and business at Harvard (two of the biggest names are Lawrence Lessig and Charles Ogletree). But when the forthcoming Gaga-Berkman partnership went public last week, the center’s mental heavyweights sounded as besotted as the teen-age girls and starstruck gays who hang onto every Gaga Twitter tweet. In an interview with the Harvard Crimson John Palfrey, a Harvard law professor who is the Berkman Center’s co-director, praised as “impressive” the “research” that Gaga had done and hailed the forthcoming partnership as “a good chance for Harvard to be one University.”
Gaga’s faculty fans like to clothe their obsessive interest in her with a dense coat of academic-speak. Christa Romanosky, the graduate student at U.Va. who made Gaga the centerpiece of her freshman writing course last year, told the student newspaper, the Daily Cavalier, “We’re exploring how identity is challenged by gender and sexuality and how Lady Gaga confronts this challenge.” The reading list for Deflem’s course at South Carolina includes several articles about Gaga by Victor Corona, a postdoctoral fellow in sociology at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. Corona’s writing is a kudzu-like tangle of po-mo jargon: “Gaga’s hypermodern gospel of liberation hints at the irrelevance of truth or, rather, the creation of one’s own truth, a performance that is relentlessly enacted until some version of it becomes true.
Yet Corona has nothing on Judith “Jack” Halberstam, English professor and director of the Center for Feminist Research at the University of Southern California. In an essay analyzing Gaga’s Grammy-nominated 2010 music video “Telephone” for Gaga Stigmata, Halberstam drops trendy poststructuralist surnames like coins into a wishing well: “[I]t is a [Michel] Foucaultian take on prison and ‘technological entrapment’; here… it has been read as the channeling of [Judith] Butler’s ‘Lesbian Phallus’; it is obscene, murderous, cruel to animals, misogynist, man-hating, homophobic and heterophobic; and I think you could safely place it as a [Gilles] Deleuzian exploration of flow and affect not to mention an episode in Object Oriented Philosophy. So whether the philosophy in question is drawn from [Slavoj] Zizek on speed, [Avital] Ronell on crack or [Quentin] Meillassoux on ecstasy, this video obviously chains a few good ideas to a few very good bodies and puts thought into motion.” Neither Halberstam nor Corona permit any negative assessments of their idol. Corona characterized a recent critical biography, Poker Face: The Rise and Rise of Lady Gaga, as “embittered.”
Since Gaga’s academic fan base indulges heavily in “theory,” as the po-mo types like to call it, allow me to indulge in my own “theory” about why college professors and other self-proclaimed avant-garde intellectuals have taken her to their bosoms. Take note of the academic fields represented by the scholars I have quoted above: sociology (Deflem and Corona), English (Halberstam), comparative literature (Vicks), and creative writing (Romanosky). Once those were real fields, with genuine bodies of knowledge to be studied and then enlarged by their scholarly practitioners. English professors taught and wrote about the literature of English-speaking nations. Sociologists studied the writings of Emil Durkheim and C. Wright Mills and built upon their paradigms for understanding how human beings function in social groups. Instructors of freshman writing focused on teaching their students how to write, often using models of particularly effective rhetoric and style.

Now, it seems, professors and their graduate students want to do anything but teach or do research in the fields with which they are supposedly affiliated. Sociologists want to devote class time to their record collections. English professors want to gush on about music videos. Writing instructors want to immerse their students in “gender and sexuality,” not the mechanics of constructing a coherent term paper. In short, professors want to teach pop culture and nothing but pop culture. Christa Romanosky, for example, was hardly unusual in turning her freshman writing class into a class about something else besides writing. The freshman writing course list for this fall at U.Va. includes sections titled “Gender in Film,” “Graffiti and Remix Culture,” “Cinematic Shakespeare,” “Queer Studies,” “Race Matters,” “Pirates,” and “Female Robots.” Fortunately for themselves, those professors who have turned the humanities and social sciences into vehicles for indulging their hobbies have the vast and unintelligible apparatus of postmodern theory to give their fanboy preoccupations intellectual respectability. Or at least to make it look that way to outsiders–such as parents–who might wonder why they are spending up to $6,000 per course so that little Johnny or Jenna can write an essay about “Telephone.”
I admit that I’m not much of a fan of Lady Gaga. I find her music monotonous, although she cleverly camouflages that defect with histrionic visuals and shocking costumes. I give her an A+, however, for brains, a sure market sense, and an entrepreneurial spirit worthy of Henry A. Ford. She has also snookered an entire generation of academics into deeming her profound. The Harvard Business School has just added Lady Gaga to its curriculum, with a case study of the decisions she and her manager made that catapulted her to fame. Now that’s where Lady Gaga belongs as an object of scholarly study.

Mathematical beauty

Javier Irastorza:

Reading science books for the general public, you’ll often find physicists talking about elegance, beauty and words of the like describing laws or theories.
The Wikipedia has an entry for “Mathematical Beauty“. Another entry says “Many mathematicians talk about the elegance of mathematics, its intrinsic aesthetics and inner beauty. Simplicity and generality are valued. There is beauty in a simple and elegant proof […]”.
The Spanish journal El Pais is publishing each week a mathematical challenge to its readers to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Spanish Royal Mathematics Society.
Last week’s challenge was to solve the sides of the different inner squares that compose the following rectangle, knowing that the red one has a side of 3.

College Does Pay Off, but It’s No Free Ride

Carl Bialik:

The swelling ranks of unemployed young college graduates are left with a diploma, stacks of student-loan bills and lingering questions about just how much that degree is worth.
A million dollars? Sorry, say economists, but that widely reported figure significantly overstates the boost a bachelor’s degree gives to earnings over a career. The estimate isn’t baseless, but it doesn’t account for the cost of college, nor the opportunity cost of forgoing income during school.
Another complication: Even before stepping foot on campus, students who attend college generally have better earnings prospects than their high-school classmates who go straight to work. So any estimate of college’s monetary value needs to separate out those factors.

Thumbs Up for Leopold; Thumbs Down for No Child Left Behind

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

As my previous post described, things are looking up at Leopold Elementary School. Leopold, the largest elementary school in Madison, has strong leadership and a talented and hard-working staff. Their efforts are paying positive dividends for the school’s 700+ young students.
There’s a millstone around Leopold’s neck, however, and it’s called No Child Left Behind. According to that much-maligned federal law, Leopold is a “School Identified for Improvement” (SIFI).
What gives? If so many signs point toward Leopold succeeding, why do the feds consider that it is falling short.

While many criticize the Ted Kennedy / Bush No Child Left Behind initiative, we parents certainly have a great deal more information on our publicly financed schools than before. For that, I am thankful. I am also thankful that NCLB has, to some extent, increased attention on our schools, including curricular issues.

Worried parents storm Dubai school premises

Muaz Shabandri:

Chaos and confusion broke out early on Saturday morning as hundreds of parents knocked on the doors of the Rajagiri International School in Al Warqaa demanding a meeting with the school’s management.
With more than a thousand students studying at the school, an alleged change of management has left the parents furious.
“We really don’t know what’s happening at the school. There is a new management and an old management and both of them are at loggerheads over the school’s ownership,” said a parent who did not wish to be named.
By afternoon, the number of parents had swelled up to more than 200 as the school staff hosted a parent-teacher discussion to inform parents of the developments. In a letter issued to the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), the school’s management alleged that the school premises had been sold by the landlord to another group. “The new group has come to the school asking the senior academic and administrative staff to hand over the school documents to them. According to them, it’s their school and we need to get out of the school,” read the letter issued on November 10.

Detroit School District Shoring Up its Finances

Matthew Dolan:

After more than two years under state control, Detroit’s public school district appears to be getting its basic finances in order by privatizing services, cutting wages, restructuring debt and aggressively seeking out students to fill its classrooms.
The district’s operating deficit stands at $83 million, down from $327 million at the start of the year, according to documents released by the district Monday. The progress under the district’s new state-appointed emergency financial manager could offer a roadmap for the city of Detroit, which is running out of cash and may itself fall into state hands.

Misleading the Taxpayer: the Per-Pupil Expenditure Dilemma: How Much Do We Spend Per Pupil?

The Common Sense Institute of New Jersey, a libertarian organization that opposes current levels of government spending, has just put out a new report called “Misleading the Taxpayer: the Per-Pupil Expenditure Dilemma.” The author, Mark Jay Williams, compares various ways that New Jersey estimates education costs and concludes that the variability among different formulas amounts to systemic underestimation by local school districts and a veritable sleight-of-hand for taxpayers.
If you can compartmentalize the political bent there’s some interesting stuff. For example, New Jersey spends 54.9% more per pupil than the national average ($16,271 vs. $10,499) . Also, the three ways residents can view per pupil costs — the DOE’s User-Friendly Budgets (the “primary tool responsible for misleading taxpayers”), costs-per-pupil in the NJ State Report Cards, and The Taxpayer’s Guide to Education Spending – have a surprisingly wide range. The author writes, “[d]epending on the reporting source utilized, Asbury Park’s per-pupil expenditures ranged from $22,090 to $39,149, a difference of $17,059.

Madison’s recently finalized 2011-2012 budget spends about $372,000,000 for 24,861 students ($14,963/student).

December 1 means School Board Nomination Paper Time!


It’s that time again!
December 1 marks the date on which those interested in running for the Sun Prairie School Board can start circulating nomination papers. All it requires is a cakewalk 100 signatures.
We’ve already heard rumors of several potential candidates…possibly enough to require a primary!
The seats available this year are (at least currently occupied by) John Whalen and Terry Shimek.
Will they even run for re-election????
Whalen hasn’t been looking so hot lately…with all the squirmingly unprofessional body language he’s shown at the board table. Shimek is well….the King of all Flip Flops and a Teller of Tall Tales. Neither is serving the taxpayers of this community, particularly senior citizens.

Madison has two seats on the spring, 2012 ballot. They are currently occupied by Lucy Mathiak, who is not running for re-election and Arlene Silveira.

Connecticut Graduation Rates, via a kind Doug Newman email:

For the past five years, ConnCAN has analyzed the state’s graduation rates; this Issue Brief provides a more detailed examination of the latest data. In addition to relatively flat graduation rates across the board in Connecticut, the data reveal dramatic, persistent gaps by race.1 These numbers point to an urgent need for policy change to reverse these trends. By 2020, nearly one-third of Connecticut’s population and nearly half of the youngest workers (25-29 year olds) will be non-white.2 If we fail to increase graduation rates significantly, especially for students of color, we risk seeing a continued increase in the proportion of children who are not prepared for success in our state–and we put our state’s economic future in peril.
As with previous years, our analysis also reveals that Connecticut State Department of Education graduation rates are significantly higher than the rates reported in Education Week’s Diplomas Count report. Edu- cation Week uses a more accurate cohort method to calculate these rates. Connecticut plans to use this method beginning with the class of 2009.3 The analyses in this report draw on data for the Class of 2008, which is the most recent data available from both the Connecticut State Depart- ment of Education and from Education Week’s Diplomas Count report.4

Baltimore schools launching Saturday School initiative

Erica Green:

The Baltimore school system will launch its first districtwide Saturday School initiative in December, a program promised by city schools CEO Andrés Alonso to help remedy declining scores on state tests.
The $3 million Saturday School program will run for 10 weeks, primarily targeting students who scored basic in math on the 2011 Maryland School Assessments. Students in grades four through eight are eligible for the program, which will offer between 20 and 30 hours of additional math instruction for up to 7,000 students before the 2012 assessments in March.
A principal whose school will host one of the programs said she is convinced that the additional instructional time will benefit her students.

Get Smart, Connecticut Campaign Report, via a kind Doug Newman email:

Back in January, we launched the Get Smart Connecticut campaign, calling on our state leaders to staff smart (improve the way we evaluate and retain teachers) and spend smart (fix our broken school funding system). This is our report
to you, the people who seek meaningful education reform in Connecticut, about what happened during the 2011 legislative session.
To be sure, the legislature made some modest gains on the education front. But as an advocacy movement, we hold our leaders and ourselves accountable for meaningful policy change, the kind of change that will close our state’s achievement gap and improve opportunities for even our highest performing students. How did we do on our two legislative goals? Well, to put it plainly, we got bupkis. That’s right–the legislature did not pass any legislation to improve Connecticut’s teacher evaluation and layoff policies or to fix our broken school finance system.
We could look at that and say, wow, nothing happened, so let’s just pack it up and go home. But we have no desire to call it quits. In fact, we’re more motivated now than ever to push forward. Despite the fact that legislation on these two issues was not enacted, we’re proud that the statewide conversation about wholesale education reform has changed dramatically during this campaign. When we consider the public dialogue around fixing the education funding system and effectively evaluating teachers, we are incredibly hopeful.

Toronto school not the first to try a ‘hard ball’ ban


While students at a Toronto school were aghast when administrators banned hard balls from their playground this week, the decision isn’t a new one.
Debate on whether kids should be playing with sponge balls in lieu of harder play objects has raged on in schools across Canada and beyond.
Almost two weeks ago, a student in St. Catharines, Ont. managed to overturn his school’s ban on all balls except basketballs.
Ten-year-old Mathew Taylor started a petition and arranged a meeting with the principal of Lockview Public School, the Niagara Falls Review reported. Thanks in part to his efforts, the report said balls have returned to the school’s playground.

Autism: What A Big Prefrontal Cortex You Have


A new paper has caused a lot of excitement: it reports large increases in the number of neurons in children with autism. It comes to you from veteran autism researcher Eric Courchesne.
Courchesne et al counted the number of cells in the prefrontal cortex of 7 boys with autism and 6 non-autistic control boys, aged 2-16 years old. The analysis was performed by a neuropathologist who was blind to the theory behind the study and to which brains were from which group. That’s good.

State now can track kids from kindergarten to college

Donna Gordon Blankinship:

Washington state education officials know a lot more about your kids than they ever knew about you.
They can now track a child from kindergarten through college enrollment and soon will be able to tell you everything about every kid who has gone to school in Washington from preschool through their first job.
Everything includes every school they attended, every achievement test they passed or failed, their ethnic identity, whether they qualified for free lunch, what college they chose, if they had to take remedial courses, when they started college, and more.
Of course this information is anonymous to outside viewers, including researchers and the public, but it gives local school officials a lot to comb through to find ways to improve their preparation of students for college and the world.

Wisconsin DPI survey still looks partisan

Rick Esenberg:

Last week, I posted a quick and dirty reading of the DPI/WASD survey on the impact of the biennial budget on school districts. I thought that the survey needs a more thorough vetting but that it seemed to be a polemical document and did not support the claims of disaster that some are making in response to it.
Jay Bullock tries to defend the survey but I am afraid that he totally misses the mark. I have no reason to doubt that a number of districts had some kind of staff reduction. Most did not but it appears that somewhere in the neighborhood of 42% of the surveyed districts did.
But the doesn’t tell us much. How deep were the reductions? How do they relate to changes in enrollment? What impact, if any, do they have on the delivery of services. Jay thinks that any reduction in staffing is a catastrophe, writing “[s]o, yes, a lot of districts were able to stave off disaster in this area but, you know, a full third didn’t. ” (emphasis in original)

The Florida Department of Education has taken a strong position on higher academic standards and comparing their students to the world. I’ve seen nothing from Wisconsin’s DPI regarding substantive curricular improvements.

Middleton school board president speaks out against budget cuts

Susan Troller:

Ellen Lindgren, 62, has served on the Middleton Cross Plains Area Board of Education for 17 years. She is currently the board president. Lindgren became involved with issues affecting children and schools when her oldest child — now in his early 30s and a high school social studies teacher in California — was in pre-school. All three of her children attended public elementary, middle and high schools in the Middleton area district.
A registered nurse who has experience on both sides of the bargaining table, she is now mostly retired. Even before Gov. Scott Walker announced unprecedented cuts in state funding for Wisconsin public schools last spring, Lindgren had been raising her voice to protest nearly two decades of state-imposed revenue caps that made it difficult, even in affluent communities like hers, to balance school budgets and keep up with inflationary costs.
Now she is speaking out even more forcefully on a number of topics, including the governor’s budget, which she says is balanced on the backs of teachers, his near elimination of collective bargaining and his support for voucher schools over funding for conventional public schools.
Last week, Lindgren took questions from members of the press during a telephone conference call with Mike Tate, chair of Wisconsin’s Democratic Party. Lindgren was objecting to a recent TV ad that touts the governor’s record of helping school boards balance their budgets and features Karin Rajcinek, a recently elected Waukesha School Board member who praises Walker for his efforts.

Related: Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.
Redistributed state tax spending for K-12 is coming back to earth after decades of growth. It would certainly be useful to debate statewide priorities, though Wisconsin is not facing another round of budget changes, like California…

Stanford’s Cryptography Class

Dan Boneh:

Cryptography is an indispensable tool for protecting information in computer systems. This course explains the inner workings of cryptographic primitives and how to correctly use them. Students will learn how to reason about the security of cryptographic constructions and how to apply this knowledge to real-world applications. The course begins with a detailed discussion of how two parties who have a shared secret key can communicate securely when a powerful adversary eavesdrops and tampers with traffic. We will examine many deployed protocols and analyze mistakes in existing systems. The second half of the course discusses public-key techniques that let two or more parties generate a shared secret key. We will cover the relevant number theory and discuss public-key encryption, digital signatures, and authentication protocols. Towards the end of the course we will cover more advanced topics such as zero-knowledge, distributed protocols such as secure auctions, and a number of privacy mechanisms. Throughout the course students will be exposed to many exciting open problems in the field.

Updated Madison Prep Business and Education Plan and Response to Administrative Analysis

The Urban League of Greater Madison:

Response to P4-5 of the Admin Analysis (No College Going Culture) [Page 23 of BP][Response] MMSD and the Boys & Girls Club have done an excellent job implementing the AVID/TOPS program in MMSD’s four high schools. While AVID is beginning to build a college going culture among the students it serves (students with 2.0 – 3.5 GPAs), more than 60% of African American high school students in MMSD, for example, have GPAs below a 2.0 and therefore do not qualify for AVID. At 380 students, AVID serves just 10% of all students of color enrolled in MMSD high schools.
While the Urban League believes AVID/TOPS should continue to grow to serve more students, it also believes MMSD must invest more resources in programs like Schools of Hope, MSCR, Aspira/Juventud, ACT Prep, Culturally Relevant Teaching and Commonwealth’s middle school careers program.
It must also invest in a system-wide, whole school reform agenda that addresses not only educational skill-building among students, but establishes a college going culture in all of
its schools for all students while addressing curriculum quality, instructional and school innovation, teacher effectiveness, diversity hiring and parent engagement at the same time. ULGM is ready to help MMSD accomplish these goals.
Response to P6 of the Admin Analysis (NO COLLEGE GOING CULTURE) [Page 23 of BP]
[Response] While MMSD offers advanced placement classes, very few African American and Latino students enroll in or successfully complete AP classes by the end of their senior year (see page 5 of the Madison Prep Business Plan). Nearly half of African American and Latino males don’t make it to senior year. Additionally, MMSD states that its students “opt to participate,” meaning, they have a choice of whether or not to take such classes. At Madison Prep, all students will be required to take rigorous, college preparatory courses and all Madison Prep seniors will complete all IB examinations by the end of their senior years, which are very rigorous assessments.
E. Response to questions from P7 of Admin Analysis (STUDENT PERFORMANCE MEASURES) [Page 29 of BP]
[Response] The Urban League acknowledges that WKCE scores of proficient are not adequate to predict success for college and career readiness. In the Madison Prep business plan, WKCE is not mentioned; instead, ULGM mentions “Wisconsin’s state assessment system.” It is ULGM’s understanding that by the time Madison Prep reaches the fifth and final year of its first charter school contract, Wisconsin will have implemented all of the new standards and assessments affiliated with the Common Core State Standards that it adopted last year. ULGM anticipates that these assessments will be more rigorous and will have an appropriate measurement for “proficiency” that is consistent with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in college and work. Additionally, Madison Prep will provide several supports to assist students below proficiency. These strategies are explained in Madison Prep’s business and education plans.
F. Response to Recommendation on P7 of Admin Analysis (STUDENT PERFORMANCE MEASURES) [Page 29 of BP]
[Response] Madison Prep will adjust its goals in its charter school contract to be commensurate with existing state and district accountability standards. However, to move a school whose student body will likely have a sizeable number of young people who are significantly behind academically to 100% proficiency in one academic year will require a miracle sent from heaven.

Related: Madison School District Administrative Analysis of the Proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB Charter School; WKCE Rhetoric.

Learning to Play the Game to Get Into College

Michael Winerip, via a kind Doug Newman email:

There is rarely a minute when Nathaly Lopera, a high school senior, isn’t working to improve herself.
Since second grade, she has taken advantage of a voluntary integration program here, leaving her home in one of the city’s poorer sections before 6:30 a.m. and riding a bus over an hour to Newton, a well-to-do suburb with top-quality schools. Some nights, she has so many activities that she does not get home until 10 p.m.; often she’s up past midnight studying.
“Nathaly gets so mad if she doesn’t make the honor roll,” says Stephanie Serrata, a classmate.
Last Wednesday, Nathaly did it again, with 5 A’s and 2 B’s for the first marking period.
She has excelled at Newton North High, a school with enormous resources, in part by figuring out whom to ask for help.

New Jersey Governor Christie at Notre Dame: K-12 education ‘most important issue in America’

Margaret Fosmoe:

Calling K-12 education “the single most important issue in America today for our long-term future,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie today offered a list of recommendations for improving the nation’s public schools.
He sharply criticized teachers unions and challenged Americans to have the strength to help poor children in failing schools.
“We neither have the guts nor the will to change the status quo and to stand up to the comfort of adults in favor of the potential of children,” the Republican governor said during a speech at Notre Dame Law School.
Christie, 49, spoke during a symposium about educational innovation and the law. Notre Dame is hosting events throughout this academic year focusing on ways to improve K-12 education.
There is no doubt that uninvolved parents are a serious problem, but children’s futures can’t be discarded because of the flaws of their parents, he said.

Recipe for a revolution in school lunches Healthful offerings like saffron rice, Jerusalem salad and free-range chicken are a low-cost hit with low-income students.

Monica Eng:

For lunch, Josh Rivera chose a plate of saffron rice, Jerusalem salad and a Greek-marinated kebab of free-range chicken raised without antibiotics.
“Last year I used to get a burger and pizza, but they were really greasy,” the high school sophomore said. “This is a lot tastier than before.”
Lynn Vo, a sophomore who was eating organic fruit salad along with penne in a Bolognese sauce made with grass-fed beef, agreed. “Last year the pasta tasted like sweat,” she said. “But this year it’s really good.”
It’s astonishing enough that notoriously picky high schoolers would have something nice to say about their cafeteria, in this case the one at Niles North High School in Skokie, Ill., just north of Chicago. But these meals containing premium ingredients are provided free to low-income students or sold for $2.25 at most.

Survey finds ethnic divide among voters on DREAM Act

Larry Gordon:

Among Latinos, 79% support government financial aid for illegal immigrants who attend state universities, compared with 30% of whites. And 49% of all respondents say UC and Cal State campuses are not very affordable or are unaffordable.
Many Californians worry that they are being priced out of the state’s public university systems, and they object to allowing illegal immigrants the same financial aid that U.S. citizens can receive at the campuses, a new poll has found.
Fifty-five percent of the voters questioned said they oppose a new state law known as the California DREAM Act. It will permit undocumented students who graduated from California high schools and meet other requirements to receive taxpayer aid to attend the University of California, Cal State and community colleges starting in 2013. Forty percent support it.
But there is a huge ethnic divide on the issue, according to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times survey: 79% of Latinos approve of the law, while only 30% of whites do.

Mayor could take Indianapolis Public Schools reins

Indianapolis Star:

Although he didn’t ask for it in his re-election campaign, Mayor Greg Ballard could become the boss of Indianapolis Public Schools in the coming year.
The most likely plan would include mayoral appointment of the School Board, combined with a decentralization of IPS. Schools would have an independence similar to what charter schools have, along with strict accountability to the mayor for performance.
A formal proposal along these lines will come from The Mind Trust, a local education reform organization led by David Harris, who was the city’s charter school czar during Bart Peterson’s administration. A shift in oversight of IPS would have to be approved by the General Assembly and Gov. Mitch Daniels. Informal talks about IPS reform took place earlier this year among Republican and Democratic leaders in the General Assembly as well as Indianapolis civic leaders.

A new ‘report card’ would help parents

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Of Milwaukee’s 187 elementary schools, only a dozen exceeded the statewide average in reading on Wisconsin’s standardized test last year, according to statistics compiled on the whole range of schools in the city by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. When it comes to math, only 22 of those schools made that grade.
Shouldn’t parents have easy access to this information? Shouldn’t they know which schools didn’t make the grade?
We think so, and so does the MMAC.
MMAC and an array of education experts, including Howard Fuller of Marquette’s Institute for the Transformation of Learning, and UW-Madison’s Value-Added Research Center, are developing a community “report card” for all city schools. The “report card” would include schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools system but also voucher and charter schools outside of the traditional district. While a wealth of data is available for all public schools on the state Department of Public Instruction website, creating an easily accessible, easily digestible common report makes sense to us. Look for that new “report card” sometime after the first of the year.

Life Expectancy PowerPoint

Hans Rosling:

Life expectancy is a very important measure when we compare the health of different countries. However, students often misunderstand some of the characteristics of life expectancy. This PowerPoint presentation focuses on two of these characteristics:

From Gingrich, an Unconventional View of Education

Trip Gabriel:

Newt Gingrich has some unconventional ideas about education reform. He wants every state to open a work-study college where students work 20 hours a week during the school year and full-time in the summer and then graduate debt-free.
In poverty stricken K-12 districts, Mr. Gingrich said that schools should enlist students as young as 9 to14 to mop hallways and bathrooms, and pay them a wage. Currently child-labor laws and unions keep poor students from bootstrapping their way into middle class, Mr. Gingrich said.
“This is something that no liberal wants to deal with,” he told an audience at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard on Friday, according to Politico.

Madison School District ordered to turn over sick notes

Ed Treleven:

A Dane County judge on Monday ordered the Madison School District to turn over more than 1,000 sick notes submitted by teachers who didn’t come to work in February during mass protests over collective bargaining.
Dane County Circuit Judge Juan Colas said the district violated the state’s Open Records Law by issuing a blanket denial to a request for the notes from the Wisconsin State Journal rather than reviewing each note individually.
Under the records law, government agencies must make public the records they maintain in most circumstances.
State Journal editor John Smalley said the court ruling was a victory for open records and government accountability. He said the newspaper was not planning to publish individual teacher names but rather report on the general nature of the sick notes the district received from employees.

Newt: Fire the janitors, hire kids to clean school

Maggie Haberman:

Via POLITICO’s Reid Epstein, Newt Gingrich tonight said at an address at Harvard that child work laws “entrap” poor children into poverty – and suggested that a better way to handle failing schools is to fire the janitors, hire the local students and let them get paid for upkeep.
The comment came in response to an undergrad’s question about income equality during his talk at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
“This is something that no liberal wants to deal with,” Gingrich said. “Core policies of protecting unionization and bureaucratization against children in the poorest neighborhoods, crippling them by putting them in schools that fail has done more to create income inequality in the United States than any other single policy. It is tragic what we do in the poorest neighborhoods, entrapping children in, first of all, child laws, which are truly stupid.
“You say to somebody, you shouldn’t go to work before you’re what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You’re totally poor. You’re in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I’ve tried for years to have a very simple model,” he said. “Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.”

Law, contract limit Madison Prep plan’s promise

Chris Rickert:

Let’s see: Longer school year, parent report cards, meaningful teacher evaluations and bonus pay, union staff, teacher compensation of between $60,000 and $65,000.
Sounds about right to me. Where do I sign up?
Unfortunately, I can’t, because while this seems like a pretty good model for a proposed charter school targeting under-performing, low-income minority students — really, for any public school — it was looking less and less possible last week.
The sticking points are an overly rigid Madison teachers union contract and a punitive new state law that pretty much makes tinkering with that contract tantamount to killing it.
Or, to put it another way, the issue, as it so often is, is money.
Under the proposal released last month by the backers of Madison Preparatory Academy, the school would employ union teachers at salaries of about $47,000, with benefits bringing total compensation to between $60,000 and $65,000.
In its own analysis of Madison Prep’s financials, though, the district found the school would be required to pay about $76,000 per teacher, with benefits bringing total compensation to about $100,000.

Much more on the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school, here.

Looking Out for #1: Professors, like other professionals in American society, are losing sight of their civic obligations

Donald Downs:

A troubling attitude seems prevalent today in many professional circles: confusing one’s own self-interest or viewpoint with the public interest. This problem is especially troubling in fields that have historically prided themselves on service.
Take universities and their role in training teachers. In April, the Wisconsin Association of Colleges of Teacher Education — the umbrella group representing 13 UW System campuses and prominent private colleges and universities such as Marquette, Beloit and Alverno — announced that its members would not participate in a U.S. News and World Report survey intended to assess the quality of teaching programs.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, this survey would be the “first-ever review of the nation’s roughly 1,400 colleges of education” and a response to a 2006 report issued by Teachers College at Columbia University, which claimed that less qualified students are going into teaching.
Teacher quality is of growing importance for at least two reasons beyond the concern noted by the Columbia report. First, reports continue to show American students falling further behind those of other nations, especially in the vital subjects of math and science. Second, many education schools teach progressive pedagogical theories and methods that critics claim are not rigorous enough to prepare students to master arduous subjects.

Rethinking education reform in California

James Guthrie:

As California’s budget crisis deepens, many fear that education funding could soon be placed back on the chopping block. Per-student funding of K-12 schools has already been reduced by more than 20 percent. If budgets are cut further, will it even be possible to get a high-quality education in California public schools?
The simple answer is yes. A high-quality education might be priceless in today’s economy. But it doesn’t have to be overly expensive to provide.
In this recession, nearly every state has already cut services. In fact, “elementary and high schools are receiving less state funding than last year in at least 37 states,” according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
But if we operate under the assumption that primary and secondary education have to be expensive to be good, we will be needlessly trading quality for austerity and thereby shortchange students.

Spanish in America: Language of the ghetto?

The Economist:

As it happens, one of Johnson’s first posts was on this subject. The short version: Spanish causes anxiety among many non-Latino Americans. Many believe that while previous waves of immigrants quickly learned English, today’s Latino immigrants do not, retaining Spanish and refusing or ignoring English, enabled by widely available television and radio in Spanish.
All of the evidence is to the contrary. The first generation raised in America overwhelmingly learns English–one study has found that 94% of immigrants raised in concentrated communities like South Florida and Southern California speak English “well” or “very well” by 8th grade (roughly age 13). As the charts I posted last year demonstrate, the language Latino children growing up in America don’t speak so well is Spanish. English abilities quickly improve through the generations; Spanish skills quickly decay. Typically the pattern is one of three generations: the arriving generation speaks Spanish and learns only limited English. The first generation raised in America speaks fluent English and some Spanish. The third generation is completely immersed and fluent in English, speaking little to no Spanish.

LAUSD won’t release teacher names with ‘value-added’ scores

Jason Song:

The Los Angeles Unified School District has declined to release to The Times the names of teachers and their scores indicating their effectiveness in raising student performance.
The nation’s second-largest school district calculated confidential “academic growth over time” ratings for about 12,000 math and English teachers last year. This fall, the district issued new ones to about 14,000 instructors that can also be viewed by their principals. The scores are based on an analysis of a student’s performance on several years of standardized tests and estimate a teacher’s role in raising or lowering student achievement.

Much more on value-added assessment, which, in Madison is based on the oft-criticized WKCE.

Education lobbying rises in Michigan amid changes

Tim Martin:

Teachers’ unions and some other education-related groups in Michigan have increased their spending to lobby state officials in 2011, largely in response to sweeping changes in school policy and budget cuts adopted by the Republican-led state Legislature.
The Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, reported lobbying expenses of $324,197 for the first seven months of the year, according to state records. The Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers reported expenses of $119,748. That’s a combined increase of about 11% compared with the same period in 2010.
The unions have opposed much of the education-related legislation passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder so far this year. The changes include making teacher performance the key factor in awarding tenure and deciding layoffs rather than seniority, a law that gives state-appointed emergency managers for school districts and cities more power, and education funding cuts adopted as part of the budget year that began Oct. 1.

School district touts virtues of Leopold Elementary, fights bad perceptions

Matthew DeFour:

While giving tours of Leopold Elementary to prospective area home buyers, Principal John Burkholder counters “myths” about overcrowding, chaotic hallways and “that we are a black hole when it comes to education.”
“I always give them a challenge when I take the tour to find a chaotic hallway.” Burkholder said, noting the school is at 82 percent capacity this year and calmer than it was as recently as five years ago.
But some parents also ask about one stigma that’s harder to dispel — Leopold is designated as a failing school under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The designation and related sanctions, which cost the Madison School District nearly $300,000 this year, were imposed despite a UW-Madison analysis showing Leopold students made some of the biggest improvements in the district on state test scores last year.

Stepping Back on Madison Prep Governance Rhetoric

Susan Troller:

Late last week I got an email from Kaleem Caire, Urban League CEO and champion of the Madison Preparatory Academy charter school proposal.
Caire was unhappy with the way I had characterized the latest version of the charter school proposal.
In a blog post following the Madison Prep board’s decision late Wednesday to develop the proposed school as what’s known as a “non-instrumentality” of the school district, I described this type of school as being “free from district oversight.”
While it’s true that the entire point of establishing a non-instrumentality charter school is to give the organization maximum freedom and flexibility in the way it operates on a day-to-day basis, I agree it would be more accurate to describe it as “largely free of district oversight,” or “free of routine oversight by the School Board.”
In his message, Caire asked me, and my fellow reporter, Matt DeFour from the Wisconsin State Journal, to correct our descriptions of the proposed school, which will be approved or denied by the Madison School Board in the coming weeks.
In his message, Caire writes, “Madison Prep will be governed by MMSD’s Board of Education. In your stories today, you (or the quotes you provide) say we will not be. This continues to be a subject of public conversation and it is just not true.”

I wonder if other Madison School District programs, many spending far larger sums, receive similar substantive scrutiny compared with the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy IB charter school? The District’s math (related math task force) and reading programs come to mind.
Ideally, the local media might dig into curricular performance across the spectrum, over time along with related expenditures and staffing.
From a governance perspective, it is clear that other regions and states have set the bar much higher.
Related: Updating the 2009 Scholastic Bowl Longhorns 17 – Badgers 1; Thrive’s “Advance Now Competitive Assessment Report”.
In my view, the widely used (at least around the world) IB approach is a good start for Madison Prep.

The unseen academy: As officialdom’s demands for meaningless Transparency and Information multiply, Thomas Docherty asks: has clandestine scholarship become the only way to carry out real research and teaching?

Thomas Docherty:

For a number of years, the university, in common with much of public life in general, has become obsessed with the need to present itself to the world through the twin pillars of Transparency and Information. It is taken for granted that we will piously revere, and robustly comply with, the demands of these iconic towers. Ostensibly, demands for Transparency and Information are positively good: after all, who would want important decisions to be based on a lack of information; and who would want procedures to be covert, operated according to unspoken laws or whimsy, and governed by secretive cabals?
But Information and Transparency are not as innocuous as they seem, especially in the university. When unquestioning respect for them is simply taken for granted as an axiomatic good, they start to assume the power of the obsessive fetish, and the price of fealty exacted is high. Transparency and Information become the means of securing the university’s official conformity with the prevailing social or governmental orthodoxy and dogma. When they assume a primary importance, they govern the official identity of the university, and they thereby deprive the institution of the capacity to make any serious claim for a cultural function beyond the society’s or the government’s official views of the academy.

Midyear “trigger cuts” likely for California schools

Katy Murphy:

The news today out of the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office was not good for public education in California: The LAO has forecasted that state tax revenues will fall $3.7 billion short of the level on which the June budget deal was based.
About $1.4 billion in automatic, mid-year cuts to k-12 schools and community colleges will be triggered if the shortfall is $2 billion or greater. Steve Harmon, our Capitol reporter, lays it out here.
The final word on the trigger cuts comes on December 15, when the Department of Finance issues its predictions. The rosier of the two projections prevails.

Could Apprenticeships Replace College Degrees?

Liz Dwyer:

With college costs skyrocketing and the number of jobs for new grads on the decline, it’s no wonder that students are questioning whether a degree is worth the investment. But given that the jobs of the future are projected to require some form of post-secondary education, a key question is how to provide academic knowledge and industry-specific training that will prepare students for the future. The answer might come from a throwback to the Middle Ages: apprenticeships.
Traditionally, we think of interning as the way for students to get on-the-job experience. But internships vary in quality and often aren’t paid, which means that students from low-income backgrounds are unable to take advantage of the opportunity. Apprenticeships offer a new model, combining paid on-the-job training with college or trade school classes.
The demand for apprenticeships is particularly acute in the United Kingdom, where a recent BBC survey of high schoolers revealed that two-thirds say they’d forgo attending college in favor of entering an apprenticeship. Businesses there also support the apprenticeship revival. Adrian Thomas, head of resourcing for Network Rail, a company that maintains the U.K.’s rail infrastructure told The Independent that “the investment that we make in our apprentices is driven by needing people with the right skills coming in to support our maintenance teams.” Thomas says organizing an apprenticeship program makes “both economic and safety sense,” because without the trainees, his company would be in the position of having to look outside the country for employees, or retrain workers from other industries.

How Should We Pay Teachers?

Andrew Rotherham:

Listen to the pundits, and public education has a Goldilocks problem. Are teachers being overpaid, underpaid or paid just right? Few arguments in education are as contentious — or as misleading. A report released Nov. 1 by two conservative think tanks, the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation, set off fireworks with the claim that teachers are overpaid by a collective $120 billion each year and that their pensions, health care and other benefits make their total compensation 52% higher than “fair market levels.”
The report looked at a variety of factors to reach its conclusion. Some are well known issues; for instance, teachers enjoy more generous benefits than most workers. But the analysis also rested on a variety of debatable assumptions about the quality of the teaching force, the job security that teachers have and opportunities for teachers in the private sector. Only by accepting all of the authors’ assumptions do you reach the eye-popping $120 billion figure.

Gov. Christie details his education agenda, urges Legislature to act

New Jersey News:

Gov. Chris Christie Wednesday unveiled what he describes as a comprehensive education reform agenda to address teacher accountability, improving low-performing schools, and rewarding those that do better.
The governor said the plan, unveiled in an No Child Left Behind waiver application to the U.S. Department of Education, is shaped in a manner consistent with President Obama’s national education reform package and includes his education proposals that are awaiting consideration in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
“There is no issue more important to the future of our state and country than putting the opportunity of a quality education within every child’s reach, no matter their zip code or economic circumstances,” Christie said. “Our education reforms, contained in four specific bills sitting in the Legislature today, are aggressive in meeting this challenge, bipartisan and in-line with the Obama Administration’s national agenda to raise standards, strengthen accountability systems, support effective teachers and focus more resources to the classroom.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America

Don Peck:

The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends, it will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar men. It could cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a despair not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years to come.
HOW SHOULD WE characterize the economic period we have now entered? After nearly two brutal years, the Great Recession appears to be over, at least technically. Yet a return to normalcy seems far off. By some measures, each recession since the 1980s has retreated more slowly than the one before it. In one sense, we never fully recovered from the last one, in 2001: the share of the civilian population with a job never returned to its previous peak before this downturn began, and incomes were stagnant throughout the decade. Still, the weakness that lingered through much of the 2000s shouldn’t be confused with the trauma of the past two years, a trauma that will remain heavy for quite some time.
The unemployment rate hit 10 percent in October, and there are good reasons to believe that by 2011, 2012, even 2014, it will have declined only a little. Late last year, the average duration of unemployment surpassed six months, the first time that has happened since 1948, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking that number. As of this writing, for every open job in the U.S., six people are actively looking for work.

Wisconsin Act 10 Enables Milwaukee Public Schools to Address Its Unfunded Liability

Mike Ford:

Wednesday I wrote about some of the ways collective bargaining can have a monetary cost. Last night the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) provided an example of how its reform has given local governments a path to financial stability. The MPS board, reports Erin Richards in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, approved by a vote of 6-3 a set of reforms projected to reduce the district’s post-retirement benefit liability by $900 million over the next thirty years.

Thank a Teacher on November, 25


The National Day of Listening is a new national holiday started by StoryCorps in 2008. On the day after Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks all Americans to take an hour to record an interview with a loved one, using recording equipment that is readily available in most homes, such as computers, iPhones, and tape recorders, along with StoryCorps’ free Do-It-Yourself Instruction Guide.
Celebrating the National Day of Listening provides a noncommercial alternative to “Black Friday” shopping sprees. Tens of thousands of Americans have participated in the National Day of Listening, and educators and community organizations have incorporated StoryCorps’ interviewing techniques into their programs.

School Dist. 126 contract proposals available online

Judy Masterson:

Taxpayers in Zion-Benton Township High School District can now compare contract proposals put forward by the union and school board.
The proposals are posted online on the Web site of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board at The two sides have been negotiating since April 21 and after several mediation sessions, the district declared an impasse on Oct. 31.
The online posting is mandated under SB7, the state’s school reform law, which orders more transparency in contract negotiations. The law stipulates that any unsuccessful mediation be followed by publication of last best offers — a move intended to help the public understand unresolved issues and positions taken by each side.

Quality doesn’t follow rise in voucher schools

Alan Borsuk:

Keith Nelson says it has been a godsend for Wisconsin Academy to take part in Milwaukee’s school voucher program. Thirteen voucher students are enrolled this fall, which stands to bring the school more than $83,000 in public money this school year.
The 13 students are less than a thousandth of the 23,198 city of Milwaukee residents whose education in private schools – the vast majority of them religious – is being supported by tax dollars this fall.
But the Wisconsin Academy involvement is eye-catching: The coed boarding high school with about 100 students is in Columbus, northeast of Madison and more than 70 miles from Milwaukee.
And the school’s involvement illustrates the core essence of the voucher program. Whether you find it wonderful, enraging or simply really interesting, it is (best as I’ve ever figured out) a fact that nowhere in America, present or past, has so much public money been spent on sending children to religious schools. Both the Wisconsin and United States supreme courts have found this constitutional.

IBM reveals secrets of Watson’s Jeopardy triumph

Iain Thomson:

IBM has explained the principles behind how its Watson machine bested the world’s finest Jeopardy players, even if it can’t handle Siri.
In a lecture at the University of California at Berkeley, IBM research scientist Eric Brown outlined the history of the project, and provided some details about how Watson was able to sort through a variety of structured and unstructured data in the fastest time possible. His team of 30 engineers spent four years designing the current system, and believe it has great potential for non-gimmicky purposes.
Watson runs on 90 IBM 750 servers, with 2,880 Power7 cores running on 3.55GHz processors. It has 15TB or memory and can pump out 80 teraflops. This is a commercially available configuration, but Watson’s secret sauce is IBM’s DeepQA data-handling software. Brown said that to answer a question on this rig eventually took under three seconds, compared to the two days it would have taken a single processor.

Georgia Tech Invokes FERPA, Cripples School’s Wikis

Audrey Watters:

Does FERPA ban schools from allowing students to post their schoolwork on the open Web?
Of the trio of laws that address children’s and students’ privacy and safety online, FERPA is often the one least cited outside of educational circles. The other two, COPPA and CIPA, tend to be in the news more often; the former as it relates to some of the ongoing discussions about privacy and social networking, the latter as it relates to BYOD and filtering programs. But in all cases, there seems to be a growing gulf between the laws and their practical application or interpretation, particularly since these pieces of legislation are quite old: COPPA was enacted in 1998, and CIPA in 2000. FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, dates all the way back to 1974.
FERPA is meant to give students control over access to and disclosure of their educational records. This prevents schools from divulging information about a student’s grades, behavior or school work to anyone other than the student without that student’s consent (with some exceptions, such as to parties involved with student aid or to schools to which students are transferring). The classic example used to explain how FERPA works: you can’t post a list of students’ names and grades on a bulletin board in the hallway.

Teacher Evaluations More Prevalent In Schools Across The Country

Kimberly Hefling:

Teachers and principals are worrying more about their own report cards these days.
They’re being graded on more than student test scores. The way educators are evaluated is changing across the country, with a switch from routine “satisfactory” ratings to actual proof that students are learning.
President Barack Obama’s recent use of executive authority to revise the No Child Left Behind education law is one of several factors driving a trend toward using student test scores, classroom observation and potentially even input from students, among other measures, to determine just how effective educators are. A growing number of states are using these evaluations to decide critical issues such as pay, tenure, firings and the awarding of teaching licenses.

Wisdom from Stanford’s Jim March on the Numbing Effect of Business Schools

Bob Sutton:

There is a great interview on leadership with Jim March (probably the most prestigious living organizational theorist) by Joel Podolny (current head of HR at Apple, but also a very accomplished academic researcher) in the current edition of the Academy of Management Learning and Eduction journal (Vol. 10, No. 3, 502-506.) The link is here, but someone will likely make you buy it.
March, as always, looks at things differently than the rest of us. For example, he does a lovely job of arguing — using historical figures like Aristotle and Alexander the Great — that the time frames used in most leadership research are often too short to be useful. But what really caught my eye was a line that reminded me of that old Pink Floyd song :

Oakland teachers push for changes beyond charter school conversion

Katy Murphy:

Teachers from two East Oakland elementary schools are on a mission to shake up the status quo in the Oakland school district.
This fall, they voted to turn their schools — ASCEND and Learning Without Limits – into independently run charters so that they could have more control over staffing, curriculum, budgeting and other things, such as the school calendar. Hearings on those charter conversion petitions and others begin at 6 p.m. Monday evening in the district office at 1025 Second Avenue.
But the teachers at these two schools have goals beyond charter conversion. They want to organize like-minded educators around some of their ideas, such as changing the way teachers are evaluated. They also want to do away with a layoff system driven almost entirely by credential and years of service in a district (though they’re not against including seniority as a factor). They, like the union’s current leaders, think teachers should have more say in what materials they use to teach children.

‘Prima donna’ professors lambasted for failure to mentor

Jack Grove:

A lack of leadership and the failure to support and mentor junior colleagues have been highlighted in a major study of the professoriate.
Of the 1,200 academic staff from lower grades who responded to a survey commissioned by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, more than half (53 per cent) said they did not receive sufficient help or advice from professorial staff.
Only about one in seven (14 per cent) said they did receive enough support.
Asked if they had received excellent leadership or mentoring from professors in their university, 26 per cent said “never” and 36 per cent “occasionally”. This compares with 9 and 19 per cent who responded “very often” and “quite often”, respectively.
The study was led by Linda Evans, a reader in education at the University of Leeds, who revealed the provisional findings to Times Higher Education.