K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Los Angeles Appraisals Probed

Tamara Audi & Erica Phillips:

Property values in the ritzy communities of Beverly Hills and Brentwood have fallen along with those elsewhere amid the recession. But prosecutors here say that for some of those houses and businesses the drop isn’t because of the economy, it’s criminal.
An investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office last month led to the arrest of a former county appraiser on felony charges for allegedly improperly lowering dozens of property values by a combined $172 million.
The arrest was part of an continuing criminal investigation of the Los Angeles County Assessor’s office to determine whether homeowners and businesses in some of the nation’s richest neighborhoods were given tax breaks in exchange for campaign contributions to the assessor.

The Sad State of Diabetes Technology in 2012

Scott Hanselman:

I’ve been diabetic for almost two decades. It’s tiring, let me tell you. Here’s a video of my routine when I change my insulin pump and continuous meter. I’m not looking for pity, sadness or suggestions for herbs and spices that might help me out. I’d just like a day off. Just a single day out of the last 7000 or the next, I’d like to have a single piece of pie and not chase my blood sugar for hours.
Every time I visit the doctor (I do every 3 months) and every time I talk to someone in industry (I do a few times a year) I’m told that there will be a breakthrough “in the next 5 years.” I’ve been hearing that line – “it’s coming soon” – for twenty.
I used to wait a minute for a finger stick test result. Now I wait 5 seconds but we still have blood sugar strips with +-20% accuracy. That means I can check my sugar via finger stick twice and get a number I’d take action on along with one I wouldn’t. Blood sugar strip accuracy is appalling and a dirty little secret in the diabetes community.

Diversity lags at highly selective Thomas Jefferson High School

Jay Matthews:

When I first heard complaints that the admissions process at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology had gone soft, I guessed that the cause of the unrest was an effort by our nation’s most selective school to become more diverse.
Of the freshmen who entered the Fairfax County public school in 2010, only 13 were Hispanic and four were black. That amounted to 3.5 percent of the class, even though 52 Hispanic and 29 black applicants had academic records good enough to survive the first cut. I assumed that the school, reacting to those numbers, had begun to admit more Hispanic and black students, which in turn might be the source of criticism for a downturn in this year’s freshman grades.
I was wrong. More freshmen this year needed remediation, but growing ethnic diversity cannot be the reason.

The man who started the hacker wars

David Kushner:

Hotz talked about how he wrote his first computer program when he was five, while sitting on his father’s lap at their Apple II. By fifth grade, he was building his own video-game console with an electronic-projects kit from Radio Shack. His parents often found household appliances (remote controls, answering machines) gutted. “He always liked learning stuff, and if that was how he did it, great,” his father, George Hotz, Sr., a high-school computer teacher, told me. Hotz, bored with his classes and letting his grades slide, became known at school as an inventive joker who rolled down the hallways in wheeled sneakers and once hacked several classroom computers to simultaneously play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. His mother, Marie Minichiello, a social worker, told me that although she punished him for his acts of mild disobedience, she always supported him. “I didn’t want school to kill his passion,” she said.
When Hotz was fourteen, he beat thousands of students from more than sixty countries to reach the finals of the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. He appeared on the “Today” show with his invention, a small robot on wheels that could plot the dimensions of a room using infrared sensors, and wirelessly transmit the information to a computer. “Well, I think it’s very cool to be good in science,” Katie Couric told her viewers, as Hotz, in an ill-fitting dark suit, stepped forward, “and George Hotz is an example of that.” Couric asked if the technology could improve automated vacuum cleaners. But Hotz was more excited about helping soldiers fight terrorists. “They can send it into a complex before the military infiltrates it!” he said, his voice not yet broken. “Well, I’m impressed, George,” Couric replied, nudging him in the shoulder. “You’re a little brainiac, you.”

On the Madison School District’s “Achievement Gap” Plan and Looming Superintendent Departure

Matthew DeFour:

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad’s impending departure raises questions about the future of this year’s biggest budget initiative: the School District’s $49 million achievement gap plan.
“It’s a big question mark” whether a new superintendent will want to adopt the plan or make changes, said Michael Johnson, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County.
“I don’t think (the School Board) should adopt the whole plan and hand it over to the new superintendent,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t take a job if a board of directors said, ‘Here’s the plan we came up with and want you to execute.'”
Nerad said Friday he plans to accept a superintendent job offer in Birmingham, Mich., and leave Madison by September.

Homework and the Achievement Gap

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes:

When I reviewed the many sound initiatives in the Achievement Gap Plan (AGP), I came to think that a piece was missing. The plan addresses the need for our teachers and schools, our community partners, and our parents all to do their part to assist in the academic achievement of our students. Nowhere in the plan, however, do we acknowledge the basic fact that ultimately our students are the ones responsible for their own learning.
The only way students who are behind will be able to catch up is by putting in the time and effort necessary to expand their learning and increase their skills. It’s pretty simple. If we are to narrow the achievement gap in the sense that we expect students of color to achieve at the same level as white students – and not merely expect that a higher percentage of students of color will achieve proficiency as measured on standardized tests – then the students of color will have to work harder than the white students in order to make up the ground between them. There is simply no other way. The white students aren’t going to just sit around and wait for the others to reach their level.

Related: Madison Schools Administration has “introduced more than 18 programs and initiatives for elementary teachers since 2009”

Teaching unions urge rethink of phonics checks

Judith Burns:

Leaders of three teaching unions have written to MPs urging a rethink of the phonics checks for six-year olds which are starting in schools.
The unions say the controversial tests are an expensive way to tell schools what they already know and will do nothing to improve children’s reading.
They describe the checks on how well children can read both real and made-up words, as “flawed”.
Schools minister Nick Gibb called the unions’ position disappointing.
Mr Gibb said: “Many of their members have already told us how this quick check will allow them to identify thousands of children who need extra help to become good readers.

Grieving Father Struggles to Pay Dead Son’s Student Loans

Marian Wang:

A few months after he buried his son, Francisco Reynoso began getting notices in the mail. Then the debt collectors came calling.
“They would say, ‘We don’t care what happened with your son, you have to pay us,'” recalled Reynoso, a gardener from Palmdale, Calif.
Reynoso’s son, Freddy, had been the pride of his family and the first to go to college. In 2005, after Freddy was accepted to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, his father co-signed on his hefty private student loans, making him fully liable should Freddy be unwilling or unable to repay them. It was no small decision for a man who made just over $21,000 in 2011, according to his tax returns.
“As a father, you’ll do anything for your child,” Reynoso, an American citizen originally from Mexico, said through a translator.

Can Montessori shift save Milwaukee Public Schools?

Alan Borsuk:

So what’s so cool about Montessori schools?
“I was a slow convert,” Meagan Holman answers. It took until she saw her 6-year-old son bloom in first grade at Fernwood Montessori School in Bay View for her to be convinced about the distinctive Montessori approach, built on a child’s choices to pursue learning in a classroom without conventional grades and textbooks.
“They get them where they need to be,” she said of Montessori programs, which, among other things, emphasize hands-on projects for learning and classrooms where students range across three ages (6- to 9-year-olds, for example), with students staying with the same teacher for three years.
Now, Holman, who represents the southeast side on the Milwaukee School Board, has become a key figure in a drive to increase Montessori offerings in the city – and, in her view, improve the prospects for Milwaukee Public Schools to rebound from the buffeting it has taken for years.
The prospects for a Montessori surge were underscored when a School Board committee voted Thursday to support opening a new program on the south side in September. Isn’t this MPS, where the wheels grind slowly? Not in this case.

Tanzania: Dar es Salaam Education System Best in East Africa


THE Vice-President, Dr Mohammed Gharib Bilal, on Friday launched the Tanzania 21st Century Basic Education Structure in Mtwara and urged the public to adopt and accept it saying it is the best compared with other systems in East Africa.
He said the structure was aimed at enhancing the development of primary education in Mtwara Region. The ceremony was held in Kambarage Primary School in Mtwara Region.
The project is implemented by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the information and technology system. According to Dr Bilal, most people have developed poor perception with the structure calling on such people to accept and adopt it for the betterment of education.

Students assigned to cheat on exam use doctored Little Brother cover and many other clever methods

Cory Doctorow:

The IEEE’s Computer and Reliability Societies recently published “Embracing the Kobayashi Maru,” by James Caroland (US Navy/US Cybercommand) and Greg Conti (West Point) describing an exercise in which they assigned students to cheat on an exam — either jointly or individually. The goal was to get students thinking about how to secure systems from adversaries who are willing to “cheat” to win. The article describes how the students all completed the exam (they all cheated successfully), which required them to provide the first 100 digits of pi, with only 24h to prepare. The students used many ingenious techniques as cribs, but my heart was warmed to learn that once student printed a false back-cover for my novel Little Brother with pi 1-100 on it (Little Brother is one of the course readings, so many copies of it were already lying around the classroom).

Next Steps for Madison Schools’ 2012-2013 $374,700,000 Budget

Todd Finkelmeyer:

But as the School Board prepares to sign off on a final, scaled back version of the district’s achievement gap plan on Monday night, it appears a little wind has been taken out of the sails of an initiative that had many in the community talking this past winter.
“This whole discussion has been a bit hard to follow in recent weeks,” says Kaleem Caire, the president of the Urban League of Greater Madison. “The plan started out as one thing and then became something else and then became something else. To be honest, though, I’m not sure this issue ever got the momentum in the community that I thought it would.”
The School Board is meeting Monday at 6 p.m. at the district’s Doyle Administration Building (545 W. Dayton St.) to give preliminary approval for a 2012-13 budget. Superintendent Dan Nerad’s $374.7 million budget proposal released late last month includes $4.4 million next year to fund the achievement gap plan, which is down significantly from the $12.4 million price tag that was originally attached to the project.
“When the original plan was presented it was based on a view that there isn’t just one thing that any school district can do, and there isn’t any one thing that the community can do, to solve this problem,” says Nerad. “Instead, we needed to look at the many things that need to be in place if we’re going to have the elimination of this disparate achievement. But in the end, we also had to make sure we took into account other budget needs and to present a sustainable plan, so reductions were made.”
Nerad’s budget proposal also includes a $3.5 million increase in funding for maintenance. The entire budget, as proposed by the superintendent, would increase the amount the district levies for taxes by 4.1 percent — to $11.78 per $1,000 of assessed value. For the average-priced home in Madison, it’s estimated that school property taxes would increase $68.12.

Related: notes and links on the 2011-2012 Madison school district budget, which spent roughly $369,394,753 for 24,861 students ($14,858.40 / student).
And, more from Birmingham, Michigan on their Superintendent search. Birmingham spends about 10% less per student than Madison.

Dumb Kids’ Class: The benefits of being underestimated by the nuns at St. Petronille’s

Mark Bowden:

Catholic school was not the ordeal for me that it apparently was for many other children of my generation. I attended Catholic grade schools, served as an altar boy, and, astonishingly, was never struck by a nun or molested by a priest. All in all I was treated kindly, which often was more than I deserved. My education has withstood the test of time, including both the lessons my teachers instilled and the ones they never intended.
In the mid-20th century, when I was in grade school, a child’s self-esteem was not a matter for concern. Shame was considered a spur to better behavior and accomplishment. If you flunked a test, you were singled out, and the offending sheet of paper, bloodied with red marks, was waved before the entire class as a warning, much the way our catechisms depicted a boy with black splotches on his soul.
Fear was also considered useful. In the fourth grade, right around the time of the Cuban missile crisis, one of the nuns at St. Petronille’s, in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, told us that the Vatican had received a secret warning that the world would soon be consumed by a fatal nuclear exchange. The fact that the warning had purportedly been delivered by Our Lady of Fátima lent the prediction divine authority. (Any last sliver of doubt was removed by our viewing of the 1952 movie The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, wherein the Virgin Mary herself appeared on a luminous cloud.) We were surely cooked. I remember pondering the futility of existence, to say nothing of the futility of safety drills that involved huddling under desks. When the fateful sirens sounded, I resolved, I would be out of there. Down the front steps, across Hillside Avenue, over fences, and through backyards, I would take the shortest possible route home, where I planned to crawl under my father’s workbench in the basement. It was the sturdiest thing I had ever seen. I didn’t believe it would save me, but after weighing the alternatives carefully, I decided it was my preferred spot to face oblivion.

Wired for speed

The Economist:

ARE geniuses just born with their brains wired differently? Or do their early experiences fashion a richer set of neuronal interconnections that let them view the world through a sharper lens? The literature is replete with accounts of people who went on to accomplish great things–in the arts, sciences, philosophy or even politics–after exhibiting little promise in their youth. It would be encouraging to think that, if nurturing does indeed play a crucial part, there could yet be hope for the rest of us.
An outfit in San Francisco called “tenXer” has begun testing a service that aims to help people boost their mental accomplishments by up to tenfold–hence its name. That has made your correspondent wonder what distinguishes the truly talented from the journeymen of any trade. And what, if anything, the rest can do to improve their more menial lot.
Several years ago, your correspondent wrote a column about innovative operating systems (see “Heading for the clouds“, June 17th 2010). The software he admired the most was PC/GEOS, from a tiny firm in Berkeley, California, which crammed a full multitasking operating system and a whole suite of applications with scalable fonts and a stunning graphical interface into a couple of megabytes. The Microsoft equivalent of the day needed nearly ten times more memory and came with half the tools and none of the applications. In the early 1990s, GeoWorks Ensemble (as the program later became known) was the hare to the Mac and Windows tortoises.

An E-Reader Revolution for Africa?

Geoffrey Fowler & Nicholas Bariyo:

It is time for a vocabulary lesson in Bernard Opio’s sixth-form class at the Humble Primary School in Mukono, Uganda. One new word the students have already learned this year is “Kindle.”
Mr. Opio instructs them to pull out their Amazon.com Kindle e-reading devices. Within seconds, most of the teenagers have a digital Oxford English Dictionary open on their screens. “It took the kids just a few days to learn how to use them,” says Mr. Opio.
The Humble School, which serves needy children in a part of Africa ravaged by poverty and HIV, is on the front lines of an effort to reinvent developing world literacy programs with technology. The premise is that the new economics of digital publishing might make more and better books available in classrooms like Mr. Opio’s.

What’s Next for Online Education?

Sebastian Thrun:

Yet there is one project he’s happy to talk about. Frustrated that his (and fellow Googler Peter Norvig’s) Stanford artificial intelligence class only reached 200 students, they put up a website offering an online version. They got few takers. Then he mentioned the online course at a conference with 80 attendees and 80 people signed up. On a Friday, he sent an offer to the mailing list of a top AI association. On Saturday morning he had 3,000 sign-ups–by Monday morning, 14,000.
In the midst of this, there was a slight hitch, Mr. Thrun says. “I had forgotten to tell Stanford about it. There was my authority problem. Stanford said ‘If you give the same exams and the same certificate of completion [as Stanford does], then you are really messing with what certificates really are. People are going to go out with the certificates and ask for admission [at the university] and how do we even know who they really are?’ And I said: I. Don’t. Care.”
In the end, there were 160,000 people signed up, from every country in the world, he says, except North Korea. Rather than tape boring lectures, the professors asked students to solve problems and then the next course video would discuss solutions. Mr. Thrun broke the rules again. Twenty-three thousand people finished the course. Of his 200 Stanford students, 30 attended lectures and the other 170 took it online. The top 410 performers on exams were online students. The first Stanford student was No. 411.
Mr. Thrun’s cost was basically $1 per student per class. That’s on the order of 1,000 times less per pupil than for a K-12 or a college education–way more than the rule of thumb in Silicon Valley that you need a 10 times cost advantage to drive change.
So Mr. Thrun set up a company, Udacity, that joins many other companies attacking the problem of how to deliver the optimal online education. “What I see is democratizing education will change everything,” he says. “I have an unbelievable passion about this. We will reach students that have never been reached. I can give my love of learning to other people. I’ve stumbled into the most amazing Wonderland. I’ve taken the red pill and seen how deep Wonderland is.”

Statement Regarding the Florida School Boards Association’s (FSBA) Anti-High-Stakes-Testing Resolution

Florida Education Commissioner Gerard:

Public pronouncements by any governing institution remain one of the best ways to measure its tenacity of purpose. Embodied inside the words adults choose to convey an important message are their hopes and fears about the future. That is particularly true when schoolchildren are the topic of conversation.
Yesterday’s vote by the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA) in favor of an anti-high-stakes-testing resolution is a perfect example of adults expressing concern about the future. Unfortunately, the resolution is short on providing hope to schoolchildren who are Florida’s future. Similar to the national resolution that calls into question the need for educational assessments, the FSBA’s resolution claims the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is too expensive, narrows the curriculum and is a detriment to student success. Let us separate rhetoric from reality.

Sharing the knowledge burden

The Economist:

ALBERT EINSTEIN was a singular genius. The Albert Einstein model of discovery, however–the solitary mind producing remarkable insight–was not particularly unusual for his time. For much of the period from the beginning of the industrial revolution, scientific and technical advances–including the occasional stroke of brilliance–were within the reach of the diligent amateur and the garage tinkerer. That is no longer the case. As the stock of human knowledge increases, the time needed to move oneself to the knowledge frontier grows. In a 2009 paper, Benjamin Jones noted:

Online Classes See Cheating Go High-Tech

Jeffrey Young:

Easy A’s may be even easier to score these days, with the growing popularity of online courses. Tech-savvy students are finding ways to cheat that let them ace online courses with minimal effort, in ways that are difficult to detect.
Take Bob Smith, a student at a public university in the United States. This past semester, he spent just 25 to 30 minutes each week on an online science course, the time it took him to take the weekly test. He never read the online materials for the course and never cracked open a textbook. He learned almost nothing. He got an A.
His secret was to cheat, and he’s proud of the method he came up with–though he asked that his real name and college not be used, because he doesn’t want to get caught. It involved four friends and a shared Google Doc, an online word-processing file that all five of them could read and add to at the same time during the test.

9-Year-Old Who Changed School Lunches Silenced By Politicians

Marilyn McKenna:

For the past two months, one of my favorite reads has been Never Seconds, a blog started by 9-year-old Martha Payne of western Scotland to document the unappealing, non-nutritious lunches she was being served in her public primary school. Payne, whose mother is a doctor and father has a small farming property, started blogging in early May and went viral in days. She had a million viewers within a few weeks and 2 million this morning; was written up in Time, theTelegraph, the Daily Mail, and a number of food blogs; and got support from TV cheflebrity Jamie Oliver, whose series “Jamie’s School Dinners” kicked off school-food reform in England.
Well, goodbye to all that.

Investors Go to School on Charters

Mike Cherney:

Charter schools, publicly financed alternatives to traditional public schools, are drawing more than just increasing numbers of students: Bond investors also are signing up.
As charter schools have grown, their bond sales–which usually go toward financing construction of new facilities–have gotten bigger as well, a sign of rising interest from investors. And while the relatively high yields are burdening the schools with higher borrowing costs, they are proving particularly enticing to market participants at a time of near-zero interest rates.
Bond offerings of $30 million or more accounted for nearly 12% of all charter-school bond sales last year, compared to 5% in 2007, according to Wendy Berry, a former analyst at Moody’s Investors Service and a charter-school finance consultant for the Local Initiatives Support Corp., a community development organization. About 10% of the new deals this year have crossed that threshold.

Humanities have a place, even at Caltech

Larry Gordon:

When Christina Kondos receives her bachelor’s degree at Caltech’s commencement Friday, she will represent a tiny and little-known minority at the prestigious science and engineering campus in Pasadena.
Kondos is the only one in her graduating class of 247 to have majored in humanities or social sciences — economics and history in her case — without double-majoring in science, math or engineering.
Since 2008, only a dozen Caltech students have done the same, and they received bachelor of science degrees because Caltech doesn’t offer a bachelor of arts, campus officials said.
Science, of course, rules at Caltech, but it doesn’t eliminate the likes of James Joyce or Immanuel Kant.

Universities Feel the Heat Amid Cuts

Jack Nicas & Cameron McWhirter:

A panel of business and academic leaders warned funding cuts to higher education are hurting the global competitiveness of U.S. research universities, the latest sign of financial strain that is intensifying battles over school leadership and has led to several high-profile departures of university presidents.
U.S. research universities “are in grave danger of not only losing their place of global leadership but of serious erosion in quality,” the committee of 22 academic, business and nonprofit leaders warned in a 250-page report issued Thursday. The report, commissioned by Congress, called for a combined effort among the schools, governments and corporations to reverse the decline.
Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity and retired economics professor at Ohio University, reviewed parts of the report Thursday and was skeptical. He said he has found no correlation between extensive university research and a nation’s economic prosperity. The Center for College Affordability is a research group that focuses on free-market solutions for rising college costs.

Board of Education tables reassignment of 38 percent of Lloyd Rd. School staff

Nicole Antonucci:

A standing-room-only crowd of teachers filled the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District Board of Education meeting room Monday night to protest staffing reassignments throughout the district. Proposed staffing changes, which involve approximately 38 percent of the faculty, or 19 teachers, at Lloyd Road Elementary School in Aberdeen, were tabled after approximately 100 teachers raised concerns during the board’s June 11 workshop meeting at Cambridge Park Elementary School.
An additional 12 teachers are being reassigned to other schools. “My transfer along with the other involuntary transfers are not only ethically egregious but, most importantly, detrimental to our students,” Barbara Danback, a school counselor at the grades 4-5 school, said.
Teachers lined up to take turns at the podium to tell the board the transfers are involuntary and to ask the board to reconsider such a large move.
“My colleagues and I believe that the transfers being recommended are not educationally sound,” Wendy Winchel, a fifthgrade teacher at Lloyd Road, said.

Pennsylvania & School Vouchers

David Feith:

The recent Wisconsin recall election showed that even voters in blue states are willing to reward leaders who take on entrenched government unions. Have Pennsylvania Republicans missed the memo?
The question is raised by Pennsylvania’s continued failure to enact school vouchers, even as Harrisburg has been run for two years by Republicans who campaigned on school choice. Gov. Tom Corbett has talked the talk, calling education “the civil rights issue of the 21st century,” blasting a system in which “some students are consigned to failure because of their ZIP codes,” and identifying vouchers as his top educational priority. But with legislators’ summer break approaching on June 30 (and elections dominating the calendar after that), vouchers are already off the table. Apparently the fury of teachers unions would be too much for the Keystone State to bear.
Last October, Pennsylvania’s Senate passed a bipartisan voucher bill to throw an immediate lifeline to low-income students in the worst 5% of schools, with roughly 550,000 low-income kids becoming eligible within three years. Eight months later, Speaker Sam Smith and Majority Leader Mike Turzai–both Republicans who claim to support choice–haven’t brought the bill up for a vote in the House.

Parents protest surge in standardized testing

Stephanie Simon:

A backlash against high-stakes standardized testing is sweeping through U.S. school districts as parents, teachers, and administrators protest that the exams are unfair, unreliable and unnecessarily punitive – and even some longtime advocates of testing call for changes.
The objections come even as federal and state authorities pour hundreds of millions of dollars into developing new tests, including some for children as young as 5.
In a growing number of states, scores on standardized tests weigh heavily in determining whether an 8-year-old advances to the next grade with her classmates; whether a teen can get his high school diploma; which teachers keep their jobs; how much those teachers are paid; and even which public schools are shut down or turned over to private management.

Student Loans and Double Standards

The Wall Street Journal:

President Obama likes to say that everyone in America should “play by the same rules.” Okay, so then why does the Administration’s new student-loan rule apply to for-profit colleges, but not nonprofits?
The regulations that go into effect in July cut off federal student aid to career and technical colleges whose former students don’t meet the Education Department’s definition of “gainful employment.” Education programs would be cut off from the government trough if their former students don’t meet one of three thresholds for three out of four years: They must have at least a 35% loan repayment rate, 30% debt-to-discretionary-income ratio, or 12% debt-to-annual earnings ratio.
The stated purpose of the regulations is to protect taxpayers. Fine. If the feds are going to subsidize higher education, it makes sense to attach strings to the taxpayer purse. If only the White House had been as scrupulous when it doled out billions to its for-profit friends in the green lobby. But then shouldn’t the White House apply the same medicine to all colleges?

The College Graduate as Collateral

Luigi Zingales:

ACADEMIC economists like to make fun of businesspeople: they want competition when they enter a new market but are quick to lobby for subsidies and barriers to competitors once they get in. Yet scholars like me are no better. We work in the least competitive and most subsidized industry of all: higher education.
We criticize predatory loans by mortgage brokers, when student loans can be just as abusive. To avoid the next credit bubble and debt crisis, we need to eliminate government subsidies and link tuition financing to the incomes of college graduates.

A Point of View: Embarrassing parents and the teenage truth

Adam Gopnik:

Recently in America, nothing has been argued about more, or more vociferously, than child-rearing methods. As though such a thing existed. One might as well talk about wolf-watching methods. They do it to you, you don’t do it to them.
You may have heard, for instance, of the self-proclaimed “Tiger Mom” – that Asian mother who boasted of pushing her kids brutally through school and towards success – though surely the memoir of the Tiger Cub will be the one to read.

Kauffman School: a year of theory put to practice

Joe Robertson:

When the school year started, 103 children were enrolled in the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s attempt to run its own charter school — an endeavor being watched nationally as the well-known research foundation becomes the practitioner.
More than nine months later, as the inaugural class’s fifth-grade year finally ends this week, 91 are still on board.
Between the longer year and the longer days, they’ve spent 35 percent more time in school than students on a regular school calendar.They’ve endured daily double doses of math and reading and extra tutoring.
In return, Principal Hannah Lofthus said, the students on average have gained 2.4 grade levels in math, 2.1 grade levels in reading and 2.3 grade levels in science.

The Silencing of Maya


Eleven weeks ago I wrote about a lawsuit that posed a threat to my daughter’s voice. Maya, who is four years old and unable to speak, uses an app called Speak for Yourself (SfY) to communicate, and the creators of SfY were being sued for patent infringement by Prentke Romich Company (PRC) and Semantic Compaction Systems (SCS), two much larger companies that make designated communication devices (not iPad apps). You can read the original post here, and see the numerous news articles that were spurred by this case here. Maya was poised to become a very real, very human, and very adorable casualty of patent law.
After that blog post, two big things happened. First, I learned a tiny bit about patent law, most notably that while in the worst case scenario (for us, a verdict again Speak for Yourself) the judge could shut down the app, it was also quite possible that PRC/SCS would only be awarded monetary damages. I was able to relax a little and lose some of the terror that SfY (which Maya was already relying on) would be suddenly yanked away or disappear. The second, and far more exciting development, is that Maya’s progress in using the app to communicate has been staggering. In my original post I imagined a future in which I could hear Maya “speak” in phrases and share her thoughts . . . now, only weeks later, we are living that future. She politely makes requests, tapping out “I want cookie please.” She makes jokes, like looking out the window at the bright sunshine and tapping “today rain” and laughing (what can I say, 4 year olds don’t tell the best jokes). And two days ago she looked at my husband as he walked by and tapped “Daddy, I love you.”

Critics decry latest shrinkage of L.A. Unified’s school year

Howard Blume:

A tentative agreement to shorten the school year for Los Angeles students — for the fourth consecutive year — is almost certain to weaken academic gains, and was driven, critics said, by expediency more than the best interests of students.
The deal reached last week between L.A. Unified and its teachers union calls for canceling up to five instructional days from the 2012-13 school year. It also could reduce teacher pay by the equivalent of 10 days overall, about a 5% salary cut. This would bring to 18 the number of school days cut over four years.
All sides agree that the pact is bad for students but some insist it was unavoidable. The district had come under increasing pressure to avoid eliminating adult education and elementary arts programs and sharply increasing class sizes, among other things. The union wanted to spare more than 4,000 teachers and others from layoffs, although it still stands to lose more than 1,300 members.

Related: What more time can (and can’t) do for school turnarounds, by Elena Silva.

The Ultimate Guide to Writing Better than You Normally Do

Colin Nissan:

Writing is a muscle. Smaller than a hamstring and slightly bigger than a bicep, and it needs to be exercised to get stronger. Think of your words as reps, your paragraphs as sets, your pages as daily workouts. Think of your laptop as a machine like the one at the gym where you open and close your inner thighs in front of everyone, exposing both your insecurities and your genitals. Because that is what writing is all about.
Procrastination is an alluring siren taunting you to Google the country where Balki from Perfect Strangers was from, and to arrange sticky notes on your dog in the shape of hilarious dog shorts. A wicked temptress beckoning you to watch your children, and take showers. Well, it’s time to look procrastination in the eye and tell that seafaring wench, “Sorry not today, today I write.”

NEA Admits, “Things Will Never Go Back to the Way They Were.”

Mike Antonucci:

The National Education Association took a body blow when it failed to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but even before the results were known, the union’s national leadership recognized that the serious troubles it faced extended far beyond a single state.
As reported here two weeks ago, NEA plans a reorganization to concentrate its efforts on stemming the loss of revenue and membership and establishing a better public image. Whether it will succeed is open to debate, but judging by the budget numbers presented to the union’s representative bodies, NEA’s lofty position as the most powerful political force in education is in serious doubt.
The union’s reorganization is being introduced to NEA activists this way:

Biosensors to monitor students’ attentiveness

Stephanie Simon:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has poured more than $4 billion into efforts to transform public education in the U.S., is pushing to develop an “engagement pedometer.” Biometric devices wrapped around the wrists of students would identify which classroom moments excite and interest them — and which fall flat.
The foundation has given $1.4 million in grants to several university researchers to begin testing the devices in middle-school classrooms this fall.
The biometric bracelets, produced by a Massachusetts startup company, Affectiva Inc, send a small current across the skin and then measure subtle changes in electrical charges as the sympathetic nervous system responds to stimuli. The wireless devices have been used in pilot tests to gauge consumers’ emotional response to advertising.

‘You’re not special’ graduation speech sparks buzz

Pueng Vongs, via a kind reader’s email:

Social media was buzzing about a Boston-area high school teacher’s blunt commencement speech that told students they “are not special.”
Wellesley High English teacher David McCullough Jr. told graduates “You are not special. You are not exceptional,” quoting empirical evidence:
“Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians … 37,000 class presidents … 92,000 harmonizing altos … 340,000 swaggering jocks … 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs,” he said in the speech published in the Boston Herald.
He added: “Even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.”

Anger, frustration envelop Philadelphia schools

CBS News:

The school system’s chief recovery officer was trying to explain how broke the district is, but no one could hear him.
“Save our schools! Save our schools!”
More than 200 protesters had packed the Philadelphia school board meeting and were drowning out the official presentation; they also waved signs expressing “No confidence” in next year’s austere budget. It was the second major demonstration at district headquarters in just over a week.
The City of Brotherly Love is boiling over with frustration. It’s not just the $700 million in education cuts this past year. It’s not just a loss of state aid, which led to a massive rally and 14 arrests. And it’s not just the plan to close 40 of Philadelphia’s 249 schools within a year.
“For 10 years we’ve lived with promises that privatization and choice options would be the magic bullet to a lot of the problems,” said parent Helen Gym. “What we found is chasing after these silver bullets has really drained schools of resources and starved them to the point of dysfunction.”

Wisconsin’s New Dual (high school/College) Enrollment Program

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

If Wisconsin wants an educated workforce that can compete in a global economy, it has to stop thinking in terms of education pieces: K-12, colleges and universities, technical schools. It has to start thinking in terms of one system that students can navigate with ease to get the education they want and need, both in basic knowledge and upgrades when they want them; a system aimed at best serving their needs, offering them enrichment and skills.
An important step in that direction was taken Tuesday with the signing of a dual enrollment agreement by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers and University of Wisconsin Colleges and Extension Chancellor Ray Cross at UW-Marathon County in Wausau. The agreement allows high school students – mostly juniors or seniors – to earn credit that can be transferred easily to state four-year universities or two-year colleges after graduation, along with many private colleges.
Evers said in an interview Tuesday that the initiative “creates some synergy between systems that have not been directly connected in the past,” according to an article by Journal Sentinel reporters Erin Richards and Karen Herzog. “Even though we’re all differently governed, we need to make our systems look more like one instead of two or three or four.”
This helps students in several ways, including reducing the cost of a college degree. That’s more important than ever in light of the increasing cost of a college education. Just last week, UW officials announced a 5.5% hike in tuition.

The devil is in the details, as always.
Much more on credit for non-Madison School District courses, here.
Wisconsin DPI:

UW Colleges and DPI announce expanded dual enrollment program
Program will allow students to take UW Colleges courses at their high schools
High school students in Wisconsin will be able to earn college credits while still in high school under a new dual enrollment program announced by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the University of Wisconsin Colleges.
Tony Evers, state superintendent of public instruction, and Ray Cross, chancellor of UW Colleges and UW-Extension, signed an agreement and announced the new statewide model for dually enrolling high school students in high school and UW Colleges courses. They spoke at a June 12 ceremony at the University of Wisconsin-Marathon County, one of the UW Colleges campuses in Wausau. UW Colleges is the UW System’s network of 13 freshman – sophomore campuses and UW Colleges Online.
Evers and Cross said the new partnership would allow students across Wisconsin to access UW Colleges courses in their high schools via classroom teachers and online. The new dual enrollment program would accelerate students’ ability to earn UW credits, reduce the cost of obtaining a college degree, and increase the readiness of high school graduates for either college or the workplace. The program should be in place no later than the 2013-14 school year.
“We’re trying to better serve high school students by bringing our University of Wisconsin courses right into their high schools in a cost-effective way,” said Cross. “We’re committed to making these UW credits as affordable as possible for high school students, their families, and the school districts.”
“More students need the opportunity to take advanced courses and earn high school and college credit simultaneously,” Evers said. “This statewide dual enrollment agreement is a great way for students to get an introduction to college coursework and earn credits before even enrolling in a school of higher education. This will increase the number of students who graduate from high school ready for college and careers.”
Additional information is contained in the complete news release. A copy of the Memorandum of Understanding is available online.

School leavers’ skills cause of concern

Chris Cook:

One-third of businesses are dissatisfied with school leavers’ literacy and numeracy skills, according to a new survey – a problem the government will try to address this week with a draft primary school curriculum that will specify words and grammar that children must learn at each age.
The survey of 542 companies, undertaken by the CBI employers’ group and Pearson UK, the British education arm of the company which owns the Financial Times, suggested that there had been little improvement in basic skills over the past decade, when a similar question received similar answers.
A further proposal for reforming the primary curriculum, also under consultation, would make foreign languages mandatory from the age of seven. In 2010, the coalition government had dropped the previous administration’s plans to make them compulsory.

The inside skinny on cheating at the AF Academy that they’d rather not discuss

David Mullin:

Air Force Academy officials recently stated that the honor system works because, they said, 78 cadets were caught cheating on a Math 142 (integral calculus) exam.
The Superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michael Gould, and the Vice Dean, Col. Richard Fullerton, have gone on record stating that fragmentary evidence of declining honor cases in recent years is evidence that the honor system is working. So if the number of cadets caught in honor violations is up, the system is working. And if known honor violations are down, the system is working. It’s no wonder that the Center for Character Development and Leadership, the Air Force Academy unit responsible for running the honor system, has been consistently uninterested in using the best available data sets in assessing the effectiveness of the honor system.

The Kids Have Chores. Why Am I So Tired?

Demetria Gallegos:

I fired my children. It was a cold Saturday in December, when I told them they no longer had jobs and should leave the house. I didn’t care where they went, as long as they got out of my hair for three hours so I could do their chores without bitterness.
Our detailed checklist-based system, with jobs paying from 50 cents to $3, was a failure. Every weekend I’d nag my four girls–ages 10 to 15–for a day or so to start. The girls would bicker throughout, as one tried to sweep before another had gotten around to dealing with rugs. Every time I’d turn around, another girl would have wandered off before finishing, distracted by a book or the iPad. Then they’d fail inspection.

Student Cluster Challenge

International Supercomputing Conference:

ISC’12 will feature a new activity this year in collaboration with the HPC Advisory Council – the HPCAC-ISC Student Cluster Competition. The HPC Advisory Council is the main organizer for the competition; please visit their website for detailed information (http://www.hpcadvisorycouncil.com/events/2012/ISC12-Student-Cluster-Competition/index.php).
The competition consists of five teams of university students from around the world that will compete to demonstrate the incredible capabilities of state-of-the-art high-performance cluster hardware and software. The teams will be competing in real-time and will build a small cluster of their own to demonstrate the greatest performance across a series of benchmarks and applications. The students will have a unique opportunity to learn, experience and demonstrate how high-performance computing influences our world, including day-to-day learning.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Federal Deficit & Debt

CNBC, via Barry Ritholtz:

For all of the hemming and hawing about spending cuts in Washington, the Congressional Budget Office’s latest long-term budget forecast reflects two painful facts for Washington: How large the nation’s problems remain, and how the GOP’s 2010 surge into Washington has had only a limited impact in changing America’s fiscal trajectory. The annual report, released on Tuesday by Capitol Hill’s nonpartisan budget umpires, argues that if Congress’s current policies continue – meaning that the Bush tax cuts are renewed at year’s end and Medicare providers don’t face drastic reductions in payments, among other issues – federal debt held by the public will reach 93 percent of gross-domestic product (GDP) by the year 2022. That’s down about seven percentage points from CBO’s 2011 forecast, which saw the nation’s debt as a share of GDP rising to 100 percent by 2021. That’s thanks in large part to the Budget Control Act of last summer – also known as the debt-ceiling deal – where Congress achieved more than $2 trillion in savings over the next decade through a combination of spending cuts and discretionary spending caps.

Related: How Safe are US Treasuries?

Hugh Bailey: Public schools are worth the price

Hugh Bailey:

Since the state (CT) passed education reform a few weeks ago, we should be looking forward to the prospect of more help for struggling schools. Instead, we’re probably looking forward to more teachers losing their jobs.
Because school reform, at its base, is not about education. It’s about money.
In some cases, that means cashing in. You’d have to be blind to think there aren’t people looking to get in on the giant pile of public education money in this country. That means testing companies, privatizers and more. But that’s only a part of the story.

Religious education increasingly ‘marginalised’ in schools

Graeme Paton:

Growing numbers of teenagers are being forced to drop GCSEs in religious studies because of the introduction of new-style league tables that prioritise other disciplines, it was claimed.
In some schools, pupils are no longer allowed to take RE at all in the last two years of secondary education.
It is also feared that an expansion of independent academies – state schools run free of local authority control – is leading to rising numbers of schools dropping locally-agreed syllabuses in the subject.
The comments by the Religious Education Council of England and Wales were made despite claims of strong backing for the subject.
A survey of 1,800 adults – published by the council tpday – shows that more than half of people back compulsory lessons in RE up to the age of 16. Only a third said it should not be mandatory, it was revealed.

The Demographics of Milwaukee’s Independent Charter School Sector

Mike Ford:

Last November I wrote about the different types of charter schools operating in Wisconsin. My hope was to list in one place a simple description of a reform model that people often find confusing.
Today I am going to dig a little deeper into the demographic profile of Milwaukee’s independent charter school sector. In 2011-2012 18 independent charter schools operated in Milwaukee. Seven were authorized by the City of Milwaukee, and 11 were authorized by UWM.

Sun Prairie Graduation 2012 – Still Exceeding Statistical Probability


It was nice. It felt…comfortable. But of course that maybe because things went as expected and as they usually do: a phenomenal percentage of honors and high honors graduates.
Sure, there floated the occasional beach ball until confiscated by the aisle monitors. There were several bold souls that “shook their stuff” on the stage before accepting their diploma case. But could anyone help but notice the inverted triangle of high honor grads?
Last year 1 in 4 students graduated with high honors. This second verse very nearly mirrored the first. By our unofficial tally, 109 students graduated with “high honors” (cumulative GPA greater than 3.50, or between a B+ and an A-). We don’t have a final tally on the number of graduated, but with we use 440, the number of 12 graders in SPHS, the percentage is 24.9%. If we total all 12th graders (including PPA and virtual schoolers, the number of kids is just under 500 and 109 represents about 22%).

Weaker WEAC meets new reality

Wisconsin State Journal:

The conversation covered much ground, but mostly we talked about WEAC’s new reality, and the daunting task facing a union that just lost a huge political battle in a decisive way.
Some highlights:

  • Did WEAC make a mistake in endorsing Kathleen Falk so early in the process? “She was a strong and viable candidate,” Bell said. “And we needed to make sure there was another voice in the arena.”
  • What does the future hold for WEAC? “Every election has lessons,” she said. “Scott Walker is going to be in office for at least two more years, and we have to figure out how we can work with that.”
  • Can WEAC sustain its membership in a post-Act 10 world? Burkhalter said membership was about 90,000 before Walker’s strict limits on collective bargaining for most public workers kicked in. Once all the current teacher union contracts expire and individual teachers are free to choose whether to pay dues or not, WEAC hopes to retain 60,000 to 70,000 of that base, he said.

WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators. Much more on WEAC.

The Rise of the AP

Sarah Fudin, via a kind email:

As the 2012 school year begins to wind down, many students across the country are diligently preparing for Advanced Placement exams in 34 different subject areas. AP courses are designed to help high school students acquire the skills and study habits essential for success in college. With test dates running from May 7 through May 25, AP students are poised to hit the ground running when beginning their post-secondary careers, should they earn a score high enough to gain them college credit.
In keeping with the testing season, we are very excited to launch an infographic that highlights the progress made within AP curricula over the past decade. Our graphic, “The Rise of the AP,” shares information and statistics from the College Board’s 8th Annual “AP Report to the Nation.”

As Student Debt Grows, Possible Link Seen Between Federal Aid and Rising Tuition

Josh Mitchell:

Rising student debt levels and fresh academic research have brought greater scrutiny to the question of whether the federal government’s expanding student-aid programs are driving up college tuition.
Studies of the relationship between increasing aid and climbing prices at nonprofit four-year colleges found mixed results, ranging from no link to a strong causal connection. But fresh academic research supports the idea that student aid in the form of grants leads to higher prices at for-profit schools, a small segment of postsecondary education.
The new study found that tuition at for-profit schools where students receive federal aid was 75% higher than at comparable for-profit schools whose students don’t receive any aid. Aid-eligible institutions need to be accredited by the Education Department, licensed by the state and meet other standards such as a maximum rate of default by students on federal loans.

Not looking for the union label

Esther Cepeda:

As observers outside Wisconsin attempt to divine what the failed attempt to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker means for November’s presidential election, let us instead focus on what the so-called union-buster’s triumph says about Big Labor.
My favorite comment on the matter came via Twitter: “Please explain: why so many people I know who are in unions (trades or schoolteachers) so excited for Walker’s win?”
Let me take a crack at that one: Because not every tradesman or teacher wants to be forced into joining a union. And they certainly don’t want to pay hefty union fees that go toward supporting political agendas that have nothing to do with, say, educating children.

Want to Help Students Prepare for College? Have Them Play More Games

Megan Garber:

Gamification, depending on what’s being gamified, can either be elegantly fitting or weirdly redundant. Gamified social networking? Generally fantastic. Gamified shopping experiences? Generally not so much. One space that’s obviously ripe for a little game-changing, though, is education. Kids like games; games can help kids; and BOOM! Win.
In February, the education services company Pearson introduced Alleyoop, a personalized digital-tutoring service that tries to gamify the classroom — and to do it, specifically, outside of the classroom. Think Zynga, but smart. (And also: Zynga, but trying to make you smart.) The platform focuses on middle- and, in particular, high-school curricula, and emphasizes the immediate feedback aspects of the gamification model. Instead of a once-a-semester report card, featuring the blunt assessment metrics of letter grades, students get real-time feedback on the details of their performance — from real-time tutors who are not their teachers. The system is personalized, iterative, and adaptive, so a student having trouble with, say, trigonometry can delve into trigonometry at his or her own pace, learning from mistakes and gaining immediate rewards from successes.

Children go back to basics in maths

Graeme Paton:

Children will be introduced to times tables, mental arithmetic and fractions in the first two years of school as part of a back-to-basics overhaul of the National Curriculum.
Ministers will this week announce key tasks pupils are expected to master at each age under wide-ranging plans to counter more than a decade of dumbing down in schools.
A draft mathematics curriculum suggests that five and six year-olds will be expected to count up to 100, recognise basic fractions and memorise the results of simple sums by the end of the first year of compulsory education.
In the second year, they will be required to know the two, five and 10 times tables, add and subtract two-digit numbers in their head and begin to use graphs.

Dismissive Reviews: Academe’s Memory Hole

Richard Phelps, via a kind email:

“In scholarly terms, a review of the literature or literature review is a summation of the previous research that has been done on a particular topic. With a dismissive literature review, a researcher assures the public that no one has yet studied a topic or that very little has been done on it. A firstness claim is a particular type of dismissive review in which a researcher insists that he is the first to study a topic. Of course, firstness claims and dismissive reviews can be accurate–for example, with genuinely new scientific discoveries or technical inventions. But that does not explain their prevalence in nonscientific, nontechnical fields, such as education, economics, and public policy, nor does it explain their sheer abundance across all fields.
“See for yourself. Access a database that allows searching by phrases (e.g., Google, Yahoo Search, Bing) and try some of these: “this is the first study,” “no previous studies,” “paucity of research,” “there have been no studies,” “few studies,” “little research,” or their variations. When I first tried this, I expected hundreds of hits; I got hundreds of thousands.”

He’s Uneducated: Rethinking Our Models of Learning

Laurissa Wolfram:

The more I thought about the comic, though, the more I realized we can actually read it two different ways:
The interviewee is trying desperately to use the appropriate (yet empty) buzzwords that give him the credibility he needs. But to the Boss, it’s being translated into a completely different message: I’m a high school drop-out who failed three times at starting my own business. I’m not competent enough to make it through the formal education process, so I just try patch together the skills I need here and there. Instead of going to school, I went online and signed up for a few free courses, and printed off the completion certificates myself.

Test scores not enough to measure success at Wings

Alan Borsuk:

The 10-year flight of Wings Academy will end Tuesday. The closing of the small school on the south side where the vast majority of students qualify for special education leaves me thinking that nationwide we haven’t worked hard enough on figuring out what to aim for with special ed kids and how to figure out if we’re achieving it.
To what degree should we set the same goals for at least a large portion of special ed kids as for other kids, largely measured by test scores? Is success on less measurable fronts – personal development and preparation for adulthood – good enough? Better? Settling for too little?
Wings was an independent charter school, authorized to operate by the Milwaukee School Board. It had the atmosphere of a friendly, energetic, but, as one staff member put it, squirrelly family. Its program included phonics-oriented reading instruction, individualized and project-based work in many classes, tae kwon as its physical education focus, and a lot of relationship building among staff, students and families.
Test scores at Wings were, as Nicola Ciurro, co-founder and head of the school, put it, terrible. “We always knew that,” she said. Among 10th-graders in last fall’s testing, 34% were proficient in reading, 6% in math.
About 80% of the 150 students, who ranged from first- to 12th-graders, had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disorders, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia or other special circumstances. Many of the other 20% were “gray area” kids when it came to special needs, Ciurro said.

Charter Advocates Face Gap in Mayor Race

Lisa Fleisher:

For more than a decade, New York’s charter-school advocates and other supporters of education reform have had a powerful ally in Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
But that is likely to change after next year. None of the presumed mayoral candidates fully support Mr. Bloomberg’s policies, which have been at the forefront of a national movement to promote school competition, accommodate charter schools and use test scores to judge schools and teachers.

Teachers showcase new ways of teaching math, literacy

The Lane Report:

Teachers from across Kentucky showed how their new approaches to teaching math and literacy skills are paying off for students, both in greater interest in learning and achievement results.
An audience of about 200 from Kentucky and other states learned from the teachers’ experiences. The new strategies are backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and have been guided in Kentucky by the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence and the state Department of Education, which is now leading expansion of the program. The new approach to math puts students in the center of problem solving that taps students’ thinking skills; the new language arts assignments require deeper thinking and stronger writing in English, science and social studies classes.
The approaches highlighted at the June 4 showcase here are now being used in 17 school districts across the state, up from nine districts last year. Nationally, the project is expanding to new states, with educators from Colorado, Louisiana and Florida in the audience here to learn about what Kentucky teachers are doing.
“This is the second year we’ve heard that all teachers in the state need to be able to do this type of work,” said Stu Silberman, executive director of the Prichard Committee. “I know I want my grandkids to have the chance to be part of classrooms where teachers do this.”

Beware subprime college education bubble

George Will:

Tuitions and fees have risen more than 440 percent in 30 years as schools happily raised prices — and lowered standards — to siphon up federal money. A recent Wall Street Journal headline: “Student Debt Rises by 8% as College Tuitions Climb.”
Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economist, writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education that as many people — perhaps more — have student loan debts as have college degrees.
Have you seen those T-shirts that proclaim “College: The Best Seven Years of My Life”? Twenty-nine percent of borrowers never graduate, and many who do graduate take decades to repay their loans.
In 2010, The New York Times reported on Cortney Munna, then 26, a New York University graduate with almost $100,000 in debt. If her repayments were not then being deferred because she was enrolled in night school, she would have been paying $700 monthly from her $2,300 monthly after-tax income as a photographer’s assistant.

On Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad & the Birmingham (MI) Job

Observer & Eccentric:

If you judge the process by the questions, it would appear Dr. Daniel Nerad has the edge in being offered the job as the next superintendent for Birmingham Schools.
Nerad is the Madison School District superintendent in Wisconsin and one of two finalists for the Birmingham job. The other person is Robert Shaner, executive director of instruction and technology at the Warren Consolidated district.
Nerad has been superintendent for Madison Schools since 2008. Before that, he spent seven years as the superintendent for the Green Bay Area Public Schools. Shaner has less than a year of administrative experience.

Madison School Board Members 2012-2013 “Budget Amendments”

It is interesting to compare and contrast Board member amendments to the Administration’s proposed 2012-2013 Madison School District budget. The 2011-2012 budget spent $369,394,753 for 24,861 students or $14,858.40 each.
Mary Burke: Require Accountability for All Achievement Gap Programs.
Maya Cole offers 11 amendments, the first seeks to address the District’s literacy problems. Cole’s amendment 6 questions the Administration’s use of WPS health care savings (“general fund”).
James Howard seeks a student data analysis assistant and the implementation of a parent university.
Ed Hughes offers 3 amendments, the first seeks to moderate proposed administrative staffing growth, the 2nd requests $3,000,000 in additional maintenance spending (500K less than the Administrative proposal) and a change (reduction) in the use of the District’s reserves (or “fund equity“). Mr. Hughes’ amendments would result in a 5.7% property tax increase. Related: controversy and a possible audit over past maintenance spending.
Beth Moss requests additional middle school media library staffing and increased funding for the middle school Avid program. Much more on the AVID program, here.
Marj Passman requests the introduction of a credit recovery program at East High School (the other high schools evidently have in-house programs) and the creation of a “Department of African American achievement”.
Arlene Silveira requests $75K for the Superintendent Search and a possible interim candidate, a dropout recovery program, a Toki Middle School “Expeditionary Learning Program” and the creation of an implementation plan for all achievement gap programs. Notes and links on Toki middle school and the “Expeditionary Learning Program“.
Somewhat related: Madison Schools Administration has “introduced more than 18 programs and initiatives for elementary teachers since 2009”
I continue to wonder if all schools are held to the same academic and financial standards expressed during the debate and rejection of the proposed the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school?

Basic Skills Versus Conceptual Understanding: A Bogus Dichotomy in Mathematics Education

H. Wu:

EDUCATION SEEMS to be plagued by false dichotomies. Until recently, when research and common sense gained the upper hand, the debate over how to teach beginning reading was character- ized by many as “phonics vs. meaning.” It turns out that, rather than a dichotomy, there is an inseparable connection between decoding–what one might call the skills part of reading–and comprehension. Fluent decoding, which for most children is best ensured by the direct and systematic teaching of phonics and lots of practice reading, is an indispensable condition of comprehension.
“Facts vs. higher order thinking” is another example of a false choice that we often encounter these days, as if thinking of any sort–high or low–could exist out- side of content knowledge. In mathematics education, this debate takes the form of “basic skills or concep- tual understanding.” This bogus dichotomy would seem to arise from a common misconception of math- ematics held by a segment of the public and the educa- tion community: that the demand for precision and fluency in the execution of basic skills in school math- ematics runs counter to the acquisition of conceptual understanding. The truth is that in mathematics, skills and understanding are completely intertwined. In most cases, the precision and fluency in the execution of the skills are the requisite vehicles to convey the conceptual understanding. There is not “conceptual understanding” and “problem-solving skill” on the one hand and “basic skills” on the other. Nor can one ac-quire the former without the latter.
It has been said that had Einstein been born at the time of the Stone Age, his genius might have enabled him to invent basic arithmetic but probably not much else. However, because he was born at the end of the 19th century–with all the techniques of advanced physics at his disposal–he created the theory of rela- tivity. And so it is with mathematics. Conceptual ad- vances are invariably built on the bedrock of tech- nique. Without the quadratic formula, for example, the theoretical development of polynomial equations and hence of algebra as a whole would have been very dif- ferent. The ability to sum a geometric series, some- thing routinely taught in Algebra II, is ultimately re- sponsible for the theory of power series, which lurks inside every calculator. And so on.

Viewpoints: Open enrollment unlocks path to choice Share

Gloria Romero and Larry Sand:

Getting any school choice legislation passed in California is a daunting task. The Legislature, in thrall to the teachers unions, is unwilling to disrupt the moribund status quo, which has led to disastrous consequences for public education. But the Open Enrollment Act has jumped through various legal and political challenges and miraculously survived, though efforts are under way to have it weakened.
Included in California’s 2010 sweeping reform package, the Open Enrollment Act has received far less attention than its sister statute, the “parent trigger” law. But while the parent trigger provision requires the signatures of 50 percent of parents at a school designated as chronically underperforming by the California Department of Education, the open enrollment provision requires only one. It is efficient, simple and unencumbered by the political obstacles that have undermined parent empowerment under the parent trigger law – one parent can rise to the challenge and demand change.

The Power of Open Education Data

Todd Park and Jim Shelton:

That’s why we are excited about the Education Data Initiative, an Administration-wide effort to “liberate” government data and voluntarily-contributed non-government data as fuel to spur entrepreneurship, create value, and create jobs while improving educational outcomes for students. The Education Data Initiative is part of a recently announced series of Open Data Initiatives in energy, health care, public safety, and education to spark new private-sector consumer-facing and business-oriented tools, products, and services – such as mobile apps and websites- all while rigorously protecting personal, proprietary, and national security information.
Led by the U.S. Department of Education, in close partnership with the White House and other agencies, the Education Data Initiative seeks to (1) work with data owners inside and outside of government to make education-related data available, machine-readable, and accessible, while ensuring personal privacy is protected, and (2) collaborate with private-sector entrepreneurs and innovators to ensure they are aware of these existing and newly available digital assets and encourage them to include these data as inputs into their new products, services, and features that can improve student success.
For example, existing Federal databases of higher education information available on education.data.gov (e.g., institutional prices, graduation rates, loan default rates, etc.) can fuel new or improved online services that help students and their families make informed choices about which college to attend, based on indicators of affordability and quality. Similarly, making individual federal financial aid application and award data securely available to applicants and borrowers in machine-readable form promises to help customize and personalize college-choice tools and services.

NJ’s Dueling Tenure Reform Proposals

Laura Waters:

As June wanes, the pressure on NJ legislators to pass some sort of tenure reform increases. How long have they been working on this? Years. But, as NJ Spotlight reports today, dueling bills threaten to forestall progress.

The first bill, thoroughly vetted by, well, just about everybody, is Senator Teresa Ruiz’s TEACHNJ bill (S 1455), would make teacher tenure conditional on classroom effectiveness and (depending on the version) end LIFO, or last in, first out when making lay-off decisions. It would also tie teacher evaluations to student outcomes and give principals more responsibility and authority.

(New Jersey School Boards Association supports the Ruiz bill. NJEA doesn’t.)

The second bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee, isn’t even out there in final form (or any form for that matter), but it represents the greatest challenge to the possibility of tenure reform in NJ.

Math Challenged: Illinois Teacher Pension Fund Just 45% funded

Andrew Thomason:

In fact, if the adopted rate of return figure is less than 7.75 percent, the unfunded liability would continue to grow yearly, said Hans Zigmund, associate director at the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.
TRS has an unfunded liability of $44 billion, or 55 percent unfunded, meaning it only has enough assets on hand to cover 45 percent of the cost of current and future pensions.
A recommendation for a change to the expected rate of return for TRS investments, which happens every five years, could come as early as its June 21-22 board meeting.
State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, D-Evanston, said the rate of return could be lowered because of pressure from the bond-rating agencies, which determine a state’s credit worthiness.
“The rating agencies like Moody’s and their counterparts have been more insistent in recent years that the return on investments be re-calibrated to be more accurate,” Schoenberg said. “This is not only happening in Illinois, but across the nation as well.”

Vouchers Breathe New Life Into Shrinking Catholic Schools

Stephanie Banchero & Jennifer Levitz:

It had been years since Principal Kathleen Lowry pulled extra desks from the dusty attic of St. Stanislaus, the only Catholic school left in this port city. But after Indiana began offering parents vouchers in the spring of 2011 to pay for private tuition, she had to bring down 30 spare desks and hire three teachers’ aides.
Thanks to vouchers, St. Stanislaus, which was $140,000 in debt to the Catholic Diocese of Gary at the end of 2010, picked up 72 new students, boosting enrollment by 38%.
“God has been good to us,” says Ms. Lowry. “Growth is a good problem to have.”
For the first time in decades, Catholic education is showing signs of life. Driven by expanding voucher programs, outreach to Hispanic Catholics and donations by business leaders, Catholic schools in several major cities are swinging back from

Forget B-School, D-School Is Hot

Melissa Korn & Rachel Emma Silverman:

Stanford University’s d.school–the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design–has gained recognition in recent years for introducing the trendy, but murky, problem-solving concept known as “design thinking” to executives, educators, scientists, doctors and lawyers. Now other schools are coming up with their own programs.
Students at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design — the d.school — have their photos posted on the walls of a main meeting space.
Design thinking uses close, almost anthropological observation of people to gain insight into problems that may not be articulated yet. For example, researchers may study the habits of shoppers waiting to pay for groceries in order to create a more efficient checkout system that maximizes last-minute purchases while keeping customers moving quickly.
Traditionally, companies have relied on focus groups to get feedback on products that were already in development. With design thinking, potential solutions–products, processes or services–are modeled, often using simple materials like markers and pipe-cleaners, then tested and quickly adjusted based on user feedback.

WEAC has no regrets about failed Walker recall

Meg Jones:

Since the collective bargaining measure was enacted last year, WEAC’s membership has dropped from around 90,000 to 70,000, but the remaining membership became energized by the recall. Union leaders are hopeful that passion will continue as the union rallies around issues such as public school funding. The union is working on membership drives this summer.
“I think we will be smaller but stronger,” Bell said.
Burkhalter estimated 25% to 30% of WEAC members voted for Walker in 2010 while on Tuesday about 5% voted for the governor.
“He really united our membership,” said Burkhalter.
Bell said Walker prevailed in the recall partly because many voters don’t like recall elections and some believed recalls should only be used in cases of malfeasance. She admitted public employees were easy targets for the governor and Republican lawmakers because of generous pensions and benefits, which Bell noted were mostly a result of former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson’s qualified economic offer law that gave better benefits in return for salary concessions to public school employees several years ago.

Related: WEAC: $1.57 million for Four Wisconsin Senators.

What’s Wrong with Multi-Culturalism, Part 1

Kenan Malik:

I gave the Milton K Wong lecture in Vancouver on Sunday. I very much enjoyed the event- it was a stunning venue, a superb audience and a good discussion of the issues. My thanks to the Laurier Institution, University of British Columbia and CBC for inviting me. Entitled ‘What is Wrong with Multiculturalism? A European Perpective’, the lecture pulled together many of the themes about immigration, identity, diversity and multiculturalism of which I have been talking and writing recently. It was a long talk, so I am splitting the transcript into two. Here is the first part; I will publish the second part later this week. It will be broadcast in full on 22 June on the CBC’s Ideas strand.
It is somewhat alarming to be asked to present the European perspective on multiculturalism. There is no such beast. Especially when compared to the Canadian discussion, opinion in Europe is highly polarised. And mine certainly is not the European perspective. My view is that both multiculturalists and their critics are wrong. And only by understanding why both sides are wrong will we be able to work our way through the mire in which we find ourselves.
Thirty years ago multiculturalism was widely seen as the answer to many of Europe’s social problems. Today it is seen, by growing numbers of people, not as the solution to, but as the cause of, Europe’s myriad social ills. That perception has been fuel for the success of far-right parties and populist politicians across Europe from Geert Wilders in Holland to Marine Le Pen in France, from the True Finns to the UK Independence Party. It even provided fuel for the obscene, homicidal rampage last year of Anders Behring Breivik in Oslo and Utøya, which in his eyes were the first shots in a war defending Europe against multiculturalism. The reasons for this transformation in the perception of multiculturalism are complex, and at the heart of what I want to talk about. But before we can discuss what the problem is with multiculturalism, we first have unpack what we mean by multiculturalism.

The Greenfield School Revolution & School Choice

Greg Forster & James Woodworth

The recent explosion of educational innovation has focused primarily on creating wholly new models of what a school can be. From KIPP to carpe Diem, education is entering a revolutionary period driven by the reinvention of the entire school rather than by gradual programmatic reforms. Although some of these new models have been more successful than others, and the level of success for any given new model can be debated, there is a growing consensus that these new school models collectively represent a dramatic challenge to the status quo in education.
These “greenfield school models” do not just challenge our assumptions about schooling. They also challenge the assumption that one school model can provide the right education for every child. The public mind has been opened to the potential of educational options as never before.
The nation faces two crucial challenges as we enter this new period. Only a tiny fraction of the promise and potential of greenfield school models has been tapped so far. how can we create far more of these models, with greater variation and more institutional support for innovation? And how is it possible for greenfield school models to create improvement in the vast majority of schools, the “un-reinvented” regular public schools, given that even gradual attempts at programmatic reform within those schools have been ineffective over the past 50 years?
Universal school choice has great potential to meet both of these challenges. Although the private school sector provides structures that should be inviting to entrepreneurs, currently they do not find the private school sector attractive. The “tuition barrier” locks out institutional change; private schools can’t reach out to a large enough base of families seeking different learning environments, because they must charge tuition. By lowering the tuition barrier and allowing private schools to serve new populations, universal choice would provide educational entrepreneurs with dramatically more freedom and support than they currently enjoy even in charter schools. entrepreneurs would be more free to innovate beyond the confines of the “default” public school model, giving them the ability to truly reinvent the school.

How should mathematics be taught to non-mathematicians?

Tim Gowers:

Michael Gove, the UK’s Secretary of State for Education, has expressed a wish to see almost all school pupils studying mathematics in one form or another up to the age of 18. An obvious question follows. At the moment, there are large numbers of people who give up mathematics after GCSE (the exam that is usually taken at the age of 16) with great relief and go through the rest of their lives saying, without any obvious regret, how bad they were at it. What should such people study if mathematics becomes virtually compulsory for two more years?
A couple of years ago there was an attempt to create a new mathematics A-level called Use of Mathematics. I criticized it heavily in a blog post, and stand by those criticisms, though interestingly it isn’t so much the syllabus that bothers me as the awful exam questions. One might think that a course called Use of Mathematics would teach you how to come up with mathematical models for real-life situations, but these questions did, and still do, the opposite. They describe a real-life situation, then tell you that it “may be modelled” by some formula, and proceed to ask you questions that are purely mathematical, and extremely easy compared with A-level maths.

College 2.0: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Reforming Higher Education

Ben Wildavsky and Robert E. Litan, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation:

A far-reaching discussion is taking place in the United States about the challenges facing higher education and the possible forms postsecondary learning might take in the future. Notwithstanding the strengths of our best research institutions, the shortcomings of many U.S. colleges and universities are significant. There is growing evidence that they need to focus more effectively on student learning, improve completion rates, lower costs, make much better use of technology, boost productivity, improve delivery of instruction for nontraditional students, and take innovations to scale more quickly.
To make this happen–and to provide brand-new alternatives to traditional models–a more entrepreneurial approach to postsecondary education is sorely needed. But even as a period of unusual ferment in U.S. higher education gets under way, numerous barriers continue to slow innovation and thwart experimentation, both in traditional institutions and in start-up ventures.
In an effort to understand the nature of those barriers and to generate ideas for overcoming them, in December 2011 the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation convened a diverse group of analysts and practitioners for a two-day retreat in Palm Beach, Florida. Participants included Shai Reshef, founder of the University of the People; the management editor of The Economist; the founders of startups 2tor, Inc. and StraighterLine; senior leaders of nontraditional universities such as Olin College and Western Governors University; the president and CEO of Kaplan, Inc.; the directors of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, and the Center for American Progress; and professors who both study and participate in postsecondary reform initiatives.

NSF Releases Report Detailing Substantial Growth in Graduate Enrollment in Science and Engineering in the Past Decade

National Science Foundation:

A recent report released by the National Science Foundation found that graduate enrollment in science and engineering grew substantially in the past decade.
Approximately 632,700 graduate students were enrolled in science, engineering and health programs in the United States as of fall 2010. This was a 30 percent increase from 493,000 students in 2000, according to the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering.
The growth in first time, full-time graduate student enrollment in science, engineering, and health programs over this time was even greater, with a 50 percent increase from approximately 78,400 students in 2000 to almost 118,500 students in 2010.

Madison Teachers Newsletter; Teacher & Labor Course

Solidarity 65K PDF:

Register now for Teaching Labor History Course August 6 and 7
Many MTI members have asked that MTI once again sponsor a staff development course conducted by the UW Extension’s School for Workers on “Teaching Labor History Through Film and Media: Struggles from Our Past & Present, Part 2”. Using films, music and other sources (which were not shown during last year’s course) this class will look at some of the epic struggles of workers in recent and contemporary history and will discuss ideas about teaching labor history and collective bargaining in the classroom. The course will also examine the impact of economic, social and political conditions on workers and their unions, as well as the role played by business and government. The course will also examine the significance of immigration, and ethnic, racial and gender differences to the evolution of the American working class.
The ten (10 ) hour, two-day course will meet from 9:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. on August 6 and 7, 2012. The course is offered at no cost to MTI members, a light lunch will be provided. Space is limited to the first 40 registrants. Under the terms of MTI’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, Madison teachers may be eligible for 1.0 PAC credits, subject to approval by the MTI/MMSD Professional Advancement Credit Committee.
Contact MTI to register (257-0491 or mti@madisonteachers.org)

Education Interruptus

Back in the day, it was possible to go to a movie theater and watch the whole movie right through, without having unrelated matter introduced at various times. Now, with 21st Century presentation customs, a movie on television will be broken into a number of times for five or six advertisements for widely unrelated products and services.
This sort of fragmentation is not only present in education, but welcomed as a brave new way of motivating students and trying to retain their attention. A number of experts, seeing the popularity of video games, with their changes in level and constant supply of “rewards,” recommend that the curricula we offer students should benefit from constant interruptions as well. With Milton’s “On His Blindness”–
When I consider how my light is spent
E’re half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg’d with me useless….
Deep Reading practice suggests that students should often break into their own reading at some point to “interrogate” the material, asking questions about the relationship of text to text, text to world, text to self, and the like. So, for instance, in starting to read Milton’s sonnet, they might pause to inquire, “Do you know anyone who is seeing-impaired?” “Is there a connection in the text between ‘light’ and ‘dark?'” “How do you feel about the services for the blind in your community?”
…Though my Soul more bent To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, least he returning chide,
Doth God exact day-labour, light deny’d, I fondly ask?
Here again it would be possible to ask “Have you ever been chided for something?” “How did that change your feelings at the time?” “What sort of community service have you been involved in lately?” “What have you made that you feel most proud of?” “Is there a God?” These interruptions are recommended to help retain the students’ attention and to support their motivation to continue reading, which, it appears, John Milton’s sonnet could no longer do without such modern pedagogical aids.
Similarly, other academic matters may be modernized by introducing frequent scores, levels of difficulty, and, of course, extensive visual and auditory stimulation. Modern students who have watched hundreds of thousands of hours of chopped-up television shows, and played hundreds of thousands of hours of fragmented video games just cannot be expected to pay attention for any extended periods to any “text” or academic task, without the sort of interruptions on which they have become dependent. Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #1–
…It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved
for the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide
the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or
not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or
whether they are forever destined to depend for their political
constitutions on accident and force…
Deep Reading here might lead the student down the “labyrinthine ways” of questions about the use of force in society or the frequency of accidents on our highways?
Some might argue that this history of shattered attention has led to a kind of addiction to interruption which it should be education’s mission to help students overcome. They would point to the research that shows that multitasking means each task will receive less attention and be done less well, and argue that students, instead of being encouraged (required) to break into their own attention with interrogatories, should be shown ways to sustain a focus on the academic works before them.
However, those who believe that nothing in what civilization has to offer can hold the attention of students today without the regular intrusion of pedagogical gimmicks and process techniques to jolt them with scores, questions, rewards, counts of the # of “reading minutes” and the like, might simply say that fragmented attention is not only a good thing, but it must be rewarded so that students will not drop out of school and sit slumped at home watching various media and playing digital games.
The Kaiser Foundation recently found that the average young person in the United States now spends about 53 hours a week with various electronic entertainment activities, so many educators (and hardware and software sales professionals) have come to the conclusion that unless we bring interrupted education into the newly digital 21st Century classroom, we will not have adapted successfully to the scattered brains of our young people today.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

Birmingham School Board Questions Nerad About Controversy in Madison

Laura Houser:

In 2006, you were the Wisconsin Superintendent of the Year. Can you address why some of your later evaluations in Madison haven’t reflected that?
In March, the Madison Board of Education evaluated Nerad on the low end of “proficient” in an evaluations system designed to mimic the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Nerad scored lowest in “strategic leadership and district culture,” and in “staff evaluation and personnel management.”
However, Nerad said Thursday there are two things he has not been deserving of: being named superintendent of the year and being assessed as barely proficient.
“The last couple years in Madison have been challenging (and) there’s no one that wishes I could be more of a unifying force than me,” Nerad said. “I ask only to be judged on my whole record.”
What is your recommended evaluation process between yourself and the school board?
“I’m a big believer in evaluation,” Nerad said, noting that if he were hired, he and the school board would have to agree on evaluation metrics.
“We should have a conversation about what that assessment should look like, (but) I believe in holding myself to the highest standards when it comes to improvement goals.”
How did you whittle down your plan to reduce the achievement gap from $12 million to $4 million?
Nerad admitted that upon cutting down his plan’s price tag, it wasn’t able to accomplish everything it originally set out to do. According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the original plan included 40 strategies for reducing the achievement gap; the revised plan has 21 strategies.
“I felt it was my responsibility to present something (to the school board) that’s stable financially,” Nerad said, noting he and his team had to prioritize the most important strategies.
His plan to fund the first year of the achievement gap plan? Nerad said he is proposing to use Madison’s fund balance — similiar to Birmingham Public School’s fund equity — and leaving it to the school board to decide where funding should come from in coming years.

Much more on outgoing Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad, and Birmingham, here.

Attention education experts! Why do so many kids graduate with poor reading and math skills?

Katy Murphy:  

We’ve all seen the reports on college-level remediation — the high numbers of kids who graduate from high school and are admitted to college with low reading comprehension and math skills. Here, you’ll find the CSU freshman proficiency rates for 2010.
One of my colleagues wants to explore some of the reasons behind this phenomenon. You’d think I would have a clear idea, after covering k-12 for so long, but I’m afraid to say that I don’t.
That’s where you come in — the people who teach kids how to read and/or solve mathematical problems, who supervise or coach those who do, or parents who watch the system closely. As you look at the system from pre-k through high school, where do you see the breakdowns happening, and what are the fixes?

Forget Wisconsin, The Unions’ Biggest Loss Was in CA. And What It Means For Improving Schools

Andrew Rotherham:

Pension reform will help cities balance budgets, but will their schools still be able to attract talented teachers?Bad news for teachers and other public-sector employees: America is more than ready to cut your pensions and benefits. While most politicos had been focusing this week on the Wisconsin recall, an election 2,100 miles away in San Jose, Calif., may be a bigger harbinger of the kind of austerity voters are developing a taste for.
In this city of about a million residents an hour south of San Francisco, voters on Tuesday approved arguably the country’s boldest pension cuts. San Jose’s Democratic mayor, Chuck Reed, has been grappling with ballooning pension costs that have increased from $73 million to $245 million in the last decade. Retirement costs already consume more than 20% of the city’s general fund, which helps explain why Reed was pushing San Jose to pass Measure B, which would give voters the power to approve increases in pension benefits and give the city the power to suspend automatic 3% annual raises during a fiscal crisis. The measure would also make workers contribute half the cost of their pensions; employees currently pay $3 for every $8 the city contributes, and the city is financially responsible for any shortfalls. Also included are provisions to curb the abuse of disability benefits. It’s a tough package — and will certainly be challenged in court because it changes benefits not only for future workers, something everyone agrees is legal, but for current ones as well. Nonetheless, voters passed it by a stunning margin of 69.5% in favor, 30.4% opposed. A pension reform measure also passed in San Diego.

The Pros & Cons of Accountability

PBS NewsHour

Judy Woodruff:As part of our American Graduate focus on teachers, testing and accountability, Ray Suarez moderated a discussion with several New York public school teachers on the challenges they face in the classroom and how they think they should be evaluated.
Finally tonight, our series on teachers, testing and accountability.
On Monday and Tuesday, we heard from philanthropist Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation, and Diane Ravitch, a historian and former assistant secretary of education.
Ray Suarez recently moderated a conversation, one of a dozen events in the past year held with teachers around the country. This one was organized by WNET in New York City, featuring educators from each of the city’s five boroughs.
It’s part of our American Graduate project sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Student who doubled as high school’s custodian now Harvard-bound

Nancy Cordes:  

It’s high school graduation season, and one young woman who is getting her diploma this evening is our choice for “most likely to succeed” — because she already has, against some incredible odds.
At 6 this morning, long before her classmates were even awake, 18-year-old Dawn Loggins was already pushing a mop through her high school in Lawndale, N.C. — where she also works as a custodian.
“I’ll work two hours before school. And then I’ll go to school. And then I’ll come back and work two hours after school,” Dawn said. Then homework when she gets home.
Home — for Dawn — is complicated. For years she moved around, sometimes squatting with her drug dealer stepfather and unemployed mother.

Schools Get Tough on Pranks

Nathan Koppel:

It is a time-honored ritual for high-school students: flouting authority one last time before graduation.
But this year, the senior prank has been no laughing matter at schools around the country. Administrators have suspended or even filed criminal charges against students for pranks that have ranged from the classic food fight to creative uses of animals to cause an uproar.
“Schools understand that students want to leave their mark on the way out the door, but a better way to do that is to take up a donation and plant an oak tree,” said Mark Goulet, a lawyer for the school board in Smithville, Texas, where students last month were suspended after a cafeteria food fight involving burritos.
“Some kids ordered double lunches,” Mr. Goulet said. “It was a melee.”

Body Language

Lapham Quarterly:

A version of this joke appears in a 1941 dissertation on “the gestural behavior of eastern Jews and southern Italians in New York City, living under similar as well as different environmental conditions.” The study was written by David Efron, who grew up in an orthodox Jewish home in Argentina and arrived in New York for graduate study in the 1930s. By his own account, when he spoke Spanish, he gestured with “the effervescence and fluidity of those of a good many Argentinians.” When he spoke Yiddish, his gestures were more “tense, jerky, and confined.” He sometimes combined the two styles, as when “discussing a Jewish matter in Spanish, and vice versa.” After living in the United States for a few years, he found his gestures becoming “in general less expansive, even when speaking in his native tongue.” His gestural identity was further complicated by the “symbolic Italian movements” he had picked up from Argentine-Italians and reinforced on a trip through Italy. But no matter what language he spoke, he proved to be “an adroit table-pounder.”
Efron was one of the last students of the famous anthropologist Franz Boas. Boas spent his career arguing that it was culture and environment, not biological race, that accounted for differences in how groups of people behaved. Efron’s study was designed as a challenge to the impressionistic explanations of gesture that the race theorists of the 1930s were passing off as science. One claimed that Jews of mixed race who no longer had other Jewish physical traits could still be identified by their gestures. Another categorized gesture by race: Nordic gestures were restrained; Mediterranean gestures were playful; the gestures of the Phalic race (as in the German region of Westphalia) reminded one of a fleeing chicken; Italian gestures were explained with reference to hot blood, light bones, and poor impulse control.

The ‘autism epidemic’ and diagnostic substitution

Deevy Bishop:

Everyone agrees there has been a remarkable increase in autism diagnosis across the world. There is, however, considerable debate about the reasons for this. Three very different kinds of explanation exist.

  • Explanation #1 maintains that something in our modern environment has come along to increase the risk of autism. There are numerous candidates, as indicated in this blogpost by Emily Willingham
  • Explanation #2 sees the risks as largely biological or genetic, with changing patterns of reproduction altering prevalence rates, either because of assortative mating (not much evidence, in my view) or because of an increase in older parents (more plausible). 
  • Explanation #3 is very different: it says the increase is not a real increase – it’s just a change in what we count as autism. This has been termed ‘diagnostic substitution’ – the basic idea is that
    children who would previously have received another diagnosis or no diagnosis are now being identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This could be in part because of new conceptualisations of autism, but may also be fuelled by strategic considerations: resources for children with ASD tend to be much better than those for children with other related conditions, such as language impairment or intellectual handicaps, so this diagnosis may be preferred.

In Defense of School Testing

Anne Murphy Paul:

The school year is winding down, but one faction within the world of education is ratcheting up: the anti-testing movement. More parents are pulling their kids out of end-of-year math and literacy assessments. More teachers and administrators are speaking up against testing–like the group of school district superintendents in Georgia who are calling on the state legislature to reconsider its test-based accountability system. And a national resolution condemning testing has now attracted the endorsements of more than 300 organizations and 8,500 individuals. Standardized testing is “an inadequate and often unreliable measure of both student learning and educator effectiveness,” the resolution reads in part, and “the over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing in state and federal accountability programs is undermining educational quality and equity in U.S. public schools.”

Chicago Teachers union faces dilemma as strike vote nears

Greg Hinz:

If I were a member of the Chicago Teachers Union, I would vote for that strike authorization today. Mayor Rahm Emanuel hasn’t given me much choice.
Then I would pray — a lot — that a strike never occurs. And get on the phone to CTU President Karen Lewis to tell her she would be absolutely bonkers to actually take ’em out this fall.
The facts of life, Chicago-style, are that the CTU — arguably the city’s most powerful labor union — is in the fight of its life this economically difficult time.

State accountability system flags 10 Madison schools for poor minority-student achievement

Matthew DeFour:

Ten Madison schools and five others in Dane County have been identified among the lowest performers in the state in terms of low-income and minority student achievement under a new statewide school accountability system.
The Department of Public Instruction developed the system — which identifies schools as “focus” and “priority” — to obtain a waiver from requirements under the federal No Child Left Behind law, which for the past decade has resulted in sanctions for certain schools.
The Madison schools identified as “focus” schools are Allis, Falk, Lakeview, Leopold, Midvale/Lincoln, Lowell, Orchard Ridge, Sandburg, Schenk and Thoreau elementaries. Other local “focus” schools include West Middleton Elementary in Middleton-Cross Plains, Bird Elementary in Sun Prairie, and Badger Ridge Middle, and Glacier Edge and Sugar Creek elementaries in Verona.
Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad, in a letter Tuesday to parents at the affected schools, said “the district is still learning the full details and impact on schools.”

Related: Wisconsin Education wake-up call is looming and www.wisconsin2.org.

Time to Try Charter Schools

The Columbian:

Efforts are under way to place an initiative on the Nov. 6 ballot that would ask voters to allow 40 public charter schools around the state in five years. Supporters have until July 6 to gather almost 250,000 signatures. It’s a worthwhile effort and a modest proposal, a mere foot in the door in Washington, one of just eight states that do not have charter schools.Before explaining why this is a good idea, we will first point out that this is precisely why the initiative process is important in our state. The Columbian believes the premier function of initiatives is not necessarily to change laws but more effectively to force action after the Legislature has refused to act. A good example is the statewide ban on indoor smoking in public places. After legislators continually neglected this issue, the people took the matter upon themselves. The result was Initiative 901, which passed in 2005 by 63.2 percent of voters statewide (65.6 percent in Clark County).
We’d like to see the same public mandate expressed about charter schools. The concept has reached its time in Washington. Charter schools are much easier than public schools to open or close, and they have shown varying degrees of success around the country. Charter schools are run independent of public school districts. Each is governed by a multiyear performance contract that requires improvements in student performance.


Richard Vedder:

A generation ago Charles Sykes wrote a controversial, provocative, but I think 90 percent correct book, ProfScam. I think a better than decent case can be made for a new book, a sequel if you will, called CollegeScam. Professors are not the only ones engaged in using higher education for personal power and glory.
“Is College Too Easy?” is the headline of a superb story by Daniel de Vise on page one of today’s Washington Post. In it, de Vise presents in substantial detail data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) that show students study relatively little. Average total time on all academic work amounts to about 27 hours a week, the story says.
Since the typical student is in class at best 32 weeks a year, the total annual hours spent “learning” is on average about 864 (27 x 32), less than one-half the time the student’s parents are spending on their jobs, partly to support the education of their child. As de Vise notes, five-year-old kids in kindergarten spend about as much time on school work as 20-year-old college students.

Timing is right for MPS to consider a longer day

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

The recall race for governor is over, and with teachers union contracts coming to an end, Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Gregory Thornton may have an opportunity to bargain for things that he could not have gotten if it were not for Act 10, the law that sharply curtailed collective bargaining for most public workers.
So far, Thornton and the School Board have been quietly active. The board voted to require employees to contribute more to their health insurance premiums and retirement benefits, a move that will reduce the district’s deficit and save millions of dollars that can be reallocated to the classroom. Years of rising benefits and retirement costs combined with budget cuts were choking the life out of MPS. With the last of the union contracts coming to an end in 2013, Thornton and the board will have more flexibility.
But it will take more than asking for bigger contributions from the rank and file to improve the district’s performance. Right now, MPS ranks near the bottom for urban districts in the United States in fourth- and eighth-grade reading for minority boys. Last month, Thornton said he was disappointed that he has not been able to move the needle.

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad’s Birmingham Candidate Response

Laura Hoser:

How does a school district know when it has an effective program?
This can be a struggle for school districts, Nerad said, but programs need to be evaluated over time, districts need effective ways to collect data, and there needs to be systems in place that allow teachers to collaborate around data and solve problems.
What is the role of principals, the school board and superintendent in terms of innovation and curriculum development?
According to Nerad, the school board ensures there are enough resources for curriculum development and innovation, the superintendent is responsible for outlining what that curriculum will look like, while schools have the responsibility to implement curriculum in the way that’s best for each building.
What is your budgeting process and how would you go about cutting money from Birmingham’s budget?
Budgeting has to be a year-round process, Nerad said, and should he be hired, he would go to district stakeholders — whether they be parents, teachers or community members — and ask: what are your priorities?
How would you engage the rest of the Birmingham community, including the local business community?
Nerad said he would work with the district public relations office to focus heavily on engagement and outreach. “I do believe in putting a face on the superintendency,” he said.
How did you build consensus on an important issue?
When trying to reach consensus on tough issues, Nerad said he uses voting procedures and works to ensure people are heard. “My whole life has been dedicated to those kinds of practices.”
How do you judge whether a school board is doing a good job?
According to Nerad, the school board should be a model for the entire district.
“I believe if the superintendent evaluates the board, the board should evaluate itself,” Nerad said. “If we want our staff to grow, we have to model that kind of commitment. It’s about the whole organization getting better, from the superintendent to the board to teachers to support staff.”

Much more on outgoing Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad, here.
A quick comparison of Birmingham and Madison schools.

Education wake-up call is looming

Sarah Archibald & Michael Ford:

Wisconsin is about to get a wake-up call about the quality of its K-12 education system.
The Department of Public Instruction’s attempt to get a waiver from the federal government’s flawed No Child Left Behind law includes plans to increase testing standards for Wisconsin pupils.
According to the DPI, the effect of this change will be “dramatic” because while Wisconsin students will take the same test they do now, they’ll need much higher scores to be deemed proficient.
Currently, 83% of eighth-graders who take the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam are said to be proficient in reading, for example. Under the proposal to index scores to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, that percentage would plummet to just 35%.
In other words, state testing next year will show substantially fewer Wisconsin pupils proficient in core subjects.
More rigorous standards will demand smarter instruction. Fortunately, Wisconsin is well-positioned to use value-added analyses of standardized tests as a tool to improve instructional decisions in ways that benefit students.

Using Value-Added Analysis to Raise Student Achievement in Wisconsin.

Don’t let failed prep school end dialogue

Chris Rickert:

t was already something of a fig leaf for a district that rejected the much less expensive Madison Prep amid opposition from the teachers union and liberal activists who painted the school’s chief advocate, Urban League of Greater Madison president Kaleem Caire, as something of a school privatization Trojan Horse for the right.
(I never really understood how a black guy of modest origins who struggled in the Madison schools himself got tossed in with the likes of Newt Gingrich.)
This despite one of the widest racial achievement gaps in the state and a dismal four-year graduation rate for blacks of 50 percent.
I called Cummings on Saturday to see what he thought of Thursday’s news.
“I hate to be a cynic,” he said, but he’d seen it happen “over and over and over. … It’s easy to wear people out by giving them hope.”
Cummings initially wasn’t a big fan of Madison Prep. It would have served only a few dozen students, he argued, and what minority kids need is a districtwide attitude adjustment toward the issue.

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

The dreaded gaokao looms

Patti Waldmeir:

Tomorrow cities throughout China will divert traffic, close internet cafés, prohibit horn honking, muzzle public mourning and even change some aircraft flight paths so that 9m of the country’s top students can concentrate on the “gaokao“, the university entrance exam to beat all others, the final act in an educational drama that begins at birth and involves not just the whole family but the whole country.
UK A-levels and the US Scholastic Aptitude Test are no slouches either, but one image from the internet last month captures the degree to which the gaokao is in a class of its own: students in Hubei province sit huddled over desks piled high with books – and each one is hooked up to an intravenous drip delivering amino acids to help them survive the ordeal. University places are scarce, and most students can forget about getting one if they do not do well on gaokao.
Western students, of course, have been known to mainline coffee (or worse) to keep awake at exam time – but the teacher is not usually handing out the uppers. In Hubei, the school was not only dispensing the drips but the government was providing a subsidy to pay for them.

Managing Talent for School Coherence: Learning from Charter Management Organizations

Michael DeArmond, Betheny Gross, Melissa Bowen, Allison Demeritt, Robin Lake via a kind Deb Britt email:

The current wave of new teacher evaluation systems around the country offers an opportunity to broaden the conversation surrounding teacher effectiveness and its relationship to school coherence, to look at how schools and school systems might take a more integrated and intentional approach to attracting, training, and managing high-quality teachers. Charter management organizations (CMOs) are an important but overlooked source of ideas for thinking about how to build talent management systems that get the right teachers into the right schools and create coherent work environments that develop and support teacher performance.
This report examines how CMOs manage teacher talent: How do CMOs recruit and hire teachers? How do they develop teachers? And how do they manage teacher performance? CRPE researchers analyzed data from a larger study of CMOs conducted jointly by Mathematica Policy Research and CRPE. That study offered a rich array of data on how CMOs manage teachers, including in-depth case study data and survey data from CMO central offices and principals.

The Best Third-Grade Teacher Ever

Andrew Lo:

One of the most important economic issues we face today is how much to spend on education, both individually and as a society. As tax revenues decline due to demographic changes and deteriorating business conditions, municipalities have to make tough choices about which programs to cut, and education is often an early victim. Because we don’t yet have good measures of all the future benefits produced by better education today, school programs are easy targets for cost-cutting measures, especially in lower-income regions where parents are focused on meeting more basic needs and less likely to put up a fight. But experiments like Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone hint at the enormous impact that early educational support can have on lifetime achievement.
I have my own example: Mrs. Ficalora, the best third-grade teacher ever.
In 1968, as a third-grade student at P.S. 13–a neighborhood public elementary school in Queens, New York–I had the amazing good luck of being in Barbara Ficalora’s class. Mrs. Ficalora changed my life. A slender tallish woman with a radiant smile, a Jackie Kennedy hairdo, and a warm but commanding and confident presence, she was everything a third-grader wished for in a teacher. When she spoke, we all listened, and despite the fact that there were close to 30 students in her class, she always seemed to be speaking to each of us individually, managing to make each of us feel special, appreciated, and cared for. She lauded Richie Weintraub on his prowess in punchball during recess. She extolled the impressive acting ability of Bruce Bernstein in our school play. She cooed over the exotic sari worn by Nuri Tjokroadismarto at the international potluck dinner she organized for the students and their parents. And even when she teased the Vorcheimer twins for their messy desks–comparing them to Fibber McGee’s closet–we all understood that she did it with great affection and respect for the two boys, despite the fact that no one knew who Fibber McGee was or what his closet had to do with their desks.