Please consider not doing a PhD.

Livre d’Or:

You’re in your final year of university. You’re doing really well, you’re getting stunningly good marks and lots of praise from your tutors. You’ve probably never been so happy in your life, you’re using your incredible brain to think about really interesting, really hard problems. And you’re starting to be aware of the frontiers of knowledge in your field, the stuff that isn’t in textbooks yet, the stuff that people are right now actively trying to find out. Perhaps you did a summer project or a long finals project where you got a taste of actually doing some original research yourself, and it was mindblowingly awesome.
What could possibly be better than spending the rest of your life doing this kind of thing, and hopefully even getting paid for it? Probably everybody around you is encouraging you to go for a PhD, because after all that’s what brilliant students do. And universities look good when their best students go on to PhDs after graduating. The academics you most look up to are telling you that you, yes, you, could be like them one day. If you’re at an elite university, you’re perhaps experiencing the negative side to this, whispers and gossips and subliminal messages that anything other than a PhD is, well, y’know, a bit second-rate really.
Look, I am in fact a career academic. I know exactly what’s attractive about it, I’ve made considerable financial and personal sacrifices to get myself to a position where I can work in a university environment and spend my time doing groundbreaking research. And yet. The gateway into this life is a PhD, and the PhD system is deeply, deeply fucked up when it isn’t actively abusive. Doing a PhD will break you. It’s pretty much designed to break you. Yes, even you, you who are brilliant (that almost goes without saying; it’s because you’re brilliant that you’re contemplating doing a PhD in the first place). You who are resilient and have survived several kinds of shit that life has thrown at you just to get to the point where you’re about to graduate with a brilliant degree. You who have the unconditional support of your family and friends and partners. If you have every admirable personal quality you can think of, if you have every advantage in life, still, getting through a PhD will grind you down, will come terrifyingly close to killing your soul and might well succeed. It will do horrible things to your mental and physical health and test to breaking point every significant relationship in your life.

The Danger of iPads in School

Matt Hall:

We’re touring some schools for kindergarten in the fall, and I’m starting to see a trend. So far every school – every one – touted their expanding use and purchase of iPads. They downplayed their existing computers (usually iMacs or older Apple laptops) and assured the assembled parents they were getting “lots more” iPads. iPads have some really attractive features to schools – low maintenance, portability, touch screens, and so on. But they have one major downside: they’re not directly programmable. This means the first experience kids are going to have with computers is with something that feels more like a game console than a real computer. They can’t simply download something like Scratch (or other “real” programming languages) and make something themselves. There are a couple semi-exceptions to this on the iPad like Codify, but more or less you only get to run what Apple lets you.

How University of Virgina cheats great students

Jay Matthews:

Last spring, Washington area students took more than 750 unnecessary Advanced Placement exams. At least 2,250 hours of effort and $67,000 in test fees were wasted because department heads in many of our finest colleges and universities haven’t a clue about what is happening in high schools like ours.
The students who took the unnecessary AP exams were enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program, a system of college-level courses and tests similar to AP, although better at teaching writing. In a sensible world, good scores on IB exams would be enough to earn college credit, as good scores on AP exams do. But most colleges and universities don’t give credit for successful completion of some IB courses and tests.
The Washington area students who took a one-year IB course and did well on the IB final exam also had to take the one-year AP course exam in that subject, even though they did not take the AP course. Otherwise, they would not get college credit. Students who do well on IB exams usually do well on AP exams because the IB and AP courses are similar in content and rigor, a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute confirmed. Some colleges will bump IB students to the next-level course but give them no credit unless they take the AP test.

Rocketship charter schools revamping signature ‘Learning Lab’

Valerie Strauss:

The Rocketship network of charter schools has made a name for itself in the world of school choice — and attracted $2 million from the Obama administration to help it grow — with its “blended learning” model that incorporates traditional classroom settings with a computer “Learning Lab” for students.
The idea behind the lab was that students could learn basic lessons in math and reading while teachers could work with students on more complicated material. Part of the attraction, too, was that the computers would cost less than hiring more teachers. Well, it turns out that the vaunted “Learning Lab” isn’t working so well. In fact, it has turned out to be so much less than expected that Rocketship is revamping it.
Here’s what my colleague Lyndsey Layton wrote about the Learning Lab in this 2012 story about Rocketship and its co-founder and chief executive officer, John Danner:
In each Rocketship school, children file into a “Learning Lab” every day, where they sit at computer carrels that line the perimeter of the room.

On Japan’s school lunch menu: A healthy meal, made from scratch

Chico Harlan:

In Japan, school lunch means a regular meal, not one that harms your health. The food is grown locally and almost never frozen. There’s no mystery in front of the meat. From time to time, parents even call up with an unusual question: Can they get the recipes?
“Parents hear their kids talking about what they had for lunch,” said Tatsuji Shino, the principal at Umejima Elementary School in Tokyo, “and kids ask them to re-create the meals at home.”
Japan takes seriously both its food and its health and, as a result, its school lunches are a point of national pride — not a source of dismay. As other countries, including the United States, struggle to design school meals that are healthy, tasty and affordable, Japan has all but solved the puzzle, using a system that officials here describe as utterly common sense.
In the United States, where obesity rates have tripled over the past three decades, new legislation championed by Michelle Obama has pushed schools to debut menus with controversial calorie restrictions. But even the healthiest choices are generally provided by large agri-food companies, cooked off site, frozen and then reheated, and forced to compete in cafeterias with all things fried, salty and sweet.

Doing the Math to Find the Good Jobs

Sarah Needleman:

Nineteen years ago, Jennifer Courter set out on a career path that has since provided her with a steady stream of lucrative, low-stress jobs. Now, her occupation — mathematician — has landed at the top spot on a new study ranking the best and worst jobs in the U.S.
“It’s a lot more than just some boring subject that everybody has to take in school,” says Ms. Courter, a research mathematician at mental images Inc., a maker of 3D-visualization software in San Francisco. “It’s the science of problem-solving.”
The study, released Tuesday from, a new job site, evaluates 200 professions to determine the best and worst according to five criteria inherent to every job: environment, income, employment outlook, physical demands and stress. ( is published by Adicio Inc., in which Wall Street Journal owner News Corp. holds a minority stake.)


Why You Truly Never Leave High School

Jennifer Senior:

Robert Faris puts an even finer point on this idea. “If you put adults in a similar situation”–meaning airlifted into a giant building full of strangers with few common bonds–“you’d find similar behaviors.” Like reality television, for instance, in which people literally divide into tribes, form alliances, and vote one another off the island. “And I think you see it in nursing homes,” says Faris. “In small villages. And sometimes in book clubs.” And then I realized, having covered politics for many years: Congress, too. “It’s not adolescence that’s the problem,” insists Faris. “It’s the giant box of strangers.”
As adults, we spend a lot of time in boxes of strangers. “I have always referred to life as ‘perpetual high school,’ ” Paul Feig wrote me in our first e-mail exchange, later adding, when we spoke, that his wife’s first order when she landed her Hollywood dream job was to go fire her predecessor. Brown tells me she frequently hears similar things from men in finance–as a reward for outstanding quarterly earnings, they get to pick their new office, which means displacing someone else. (The corresponding shame led one to consider quitting: “I didn’t sign up to terrorize people,” he tells her in her latest book, Daring Greatly.) Today, we also live in an age when our reputation is at the mercy of people we barely know, just as it was back in high school, for the simple reason that we lead much more public, interconnected lives. The prospect of sudden humiliation once again trails us, now in the form of unflattering photographs of ourselves or unwanted gossip, virally reproduced. The whole world has become a box of interacting strangers.
Maybe, perversely, we should be grateful that high school prepares us for this life. The isolation, the shame, the aggression from those years–all of it readies us to cope. But one also has to wonder whether high school is to blame; whether the worst of adult America looks like high school because it’s populated by people who went to high school in America. We’re recapitulating the ugly folkways of this institution, and reacting with the same reflexes, because that’s where we were trapped, and shaped, and misshaped, during some of our most vulnerable years.

Reshaping California Higher Education

Jennifer Medina:

LOS ANGELES — During a 1960s renaissance, California’s public university system came to be seen as a model for the rest of the country and an economic engine for the state. Seven new campuses opened, statewide enrollment doubled, and state spending on higher education more than doubled. The man widely credited with the ascendance was Gov. Edmund G. Brown, known as Pat.
Decades of state budget cuts have chipped away at California’s community colleges, California State University and the University of California, once the state’s brightest beacons of pride. But now Pat Brown’s son, Gov. Jerry Brown, seems determined to restore some of the luster to the institution that remains a key part of his father’s legacy.
Last year, he told voters that a tax increase was the only way to avoid more years of drastic cuts. Now, with the tax increase approved and universities anticipating more money from the state for the first time in years, the second Governor Brown is a man eager to take an active role in shaping the University of California and California State University systems.

Saving the city’s young men, one boy at a time

James Causey:

The task was simple: Bring 25 at-risk black boys together, put them in a classroom, ask them questions about their lives and then have them write down their “true fears.”
Easy, right? Wrong.
None of the students mentioned money, even though 83% of the students at Westside Academy II, 1940 N. 36th St., receive free or reduced-priced lunch, a proxy for poverty.
Instead, these fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders listed the basics, the things we take for granted: having a relationship with their father, having someone help them with their homework and not having the awful sounds of gunfire break the silence of their dark nights.
As community activists and spoken word poets Kwabena Antoine Nixon and Muhibb Dyer began to gain the trust of the youths, the conversation went even deeper.
The boys were sitting in a circle as Nixon and Dyer explained how senseless violence and incredibly high rates of incarceration were making the black males an endangered species.

UW prof says we owe students of color equal faith in their potential

Pat Schneider:

It is not an “achievement gap,” says Gloria Ladson-Billings. The disparity in test scores and graduation rates between students of color and white students that is frustrating school officials, parents and communities across the country is an “education debt,” says professor Ladson-Billings of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education.
The failure of U.S. school systems to adequately teach African-American students has historical, economic and sociopolitical underpinnings, she says. And it has a moral dimension as well. “We should be putting a lot of energy into ensuring, as the Bible says, we care for those who are the least. That’s our barometer of who we are as a nation.”
A former classroom teacher in her native Philadelphia, Ladson-Billings was later recruited to the UW by former Chancellor Donna Shalala, who reasoned that you have to diversify the faculty before you diversify the students.
More than two decades later, Ladson-Billings is an assistant chancellor and professor in what she says is the highest-ranked department of curriculum and instruction in the world, and there still are not enough teachers of color in collegiate training or in the classroom.

Teaching the Common Core: Debate Continues

Alice Mercer:

Fellow Sacramento teacher (and friend), Larry Ferlazzo, asked me to help him out by contributing to an article at EdWeek on “implementing Common Core”. Little did I know the minefield I was stepping into. The article has morphed into a fight between the “agnostics” (Common Core skeptics like myself and Larry), and the atheists (folks who view Common Core with the same suspicion and loathing that Richard Dawkins has for Creation “Science”).
Here is the original article on EdWeek. You’ll really need to go down to the comments to see the fireworks. Then David Cohen chimed in and the discussion continued here. Two commenters in particular are leading the charge on this, P.L. Thomas, and Stephen Krashen, who argue with the point that Common Core implementation is “inevitable”. Their argument boils down to “only if you agree that it is”.

Urban League leader blasts hand-wringing about city’s image

Paul Fanlund:

During 2011, Kaleem Caire became a household name in local public affairs by leading a passionate but ultimately unsuccessful fight to create the proposed Madison Preparatory IB charter school.
When I mentioned it in an interview at his Park Street office last week, Caire, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, instantly recited the date of the Madison School Board’s 5-2 rejection (Dec. 19, 2011).
Madison Prep was to be an academically rigorous school of mostly minority students who would dress in uniforms and be divided by gender. The school day would be longer and parental involvement required. Teachers would also serve as mentors, role models and coaches. The goal was to lessen the city’s achievement gap between white and minority students.
But the board voted no, citing unanswered questions and worries about costs. Also in play were teacher union trepidations and widespread skepticism about the charter school concept, a favorite of conservatives, in liberal Madison.

Related: Achievement gap exists for both longtime, new Madison students.
Madison School district must solve problems no matter where they originate.
When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before (November, 2005).
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin: “We are not interested in the development of new charter schools”.

Strife and Progress: Portfolio Strategies For Managing Urban Schools

Paul Hill, Christine Campbell, Betheny Gross, via a kind Deb Britt email:

This new book from Paul Hill and colleagues Christine Campbell and Betheny Gross explains the underlying idea of the portfolio strategy. Based on findings from studies of portfolio school districts, the book shows how mayors and other city leaders have introduced the strategy, compares different cities’ implementation, tells about the civic coalitions that come together to support it, and analyzes the intense and colorful conflicts it can set off. The book also offers a clear, concise explanation of the main components of the strategy and how they work together under a model of continuous improvement to create a unified strategy.
One core theme is that entrenched interests are sure to fight any reform initiative that is strong enough to make a difference in big city education. The authors explain how the fact that no adult group’s interests perfectly match those of children makes conflict inevitable and often productive.
The book also takes stock of results to date, which are mixed, though generally positive in the cities that have pursued the strategy most aggressively. However, Hill, Campbell, and Gross make clear that early reform leaders like Joel Klein in New York and Paul Pastorek in Louisiana have been too optimistic, assuming that the results would be so obviously good that careful assessment was unnecessary. The authors show what kinds of proof are necessary for a portfolio strategy and how far short the available evidence falls.

Udacity strikes deal to bring low-cost online classes to California university

Amar Toor:

Udacity, a startup that provides online college courses, is set to announce a partnership with San Jose State University this week, in a move that could set the stage for broader, less expensive web classes across California. According to the New York Times, this marks the first time that college professors have collaborated with a massive open online course (MOOC) to create a full slate of for-credit classes, including instructional videos and web-based quizzes.
Under a pilot program set to kick off this month, Udacity will offer San Jose State students both remedial and college-level algebra courses, as well as an introductory class on statistics. For now, each class will be limited to 300 students, with half of the slots allocated to San Jose State students, and the other half to students from nearby community colleges and high schools. The financial terms of the agreement have not been disclosed, but students will have to pay only $150 for each three-unit course, well below the tuition fees for standard classes at San Jose State.
The deal was reportedly spearheaded by California Governor Jerry Brown, who has been urging schools to adopt online classes as a way to deal with the state’s educational shortcomings. According to Ellen N. Junn, San Jose State provost and vice president of academic affairs, more than 50 percent of students entering the California State University System cannot meet basic requirements in math and English. The idea, then, is for Udacity to help facilitate this transition.

Bucknell’s admission raises questions about how many colleges are reporting false data

Scott Jaschik:

This month, responding to four instances in which colleges admitted to having provided false information for its rankings, U.S. News & World Report published an FAQ on the issue. One of the questions: “Do you believe that there are other schools that have misreported data to U.S. News but have not come forward?” The magazine’s answer: “We have no reason to believe that other schools have misreported data — and we therefore have no reason to believe that the misreporting is widespread.”
Less than three weeks later, another college — Bucknell University — came forward to admit that it had misreported SAT averages from 2006 through 2012, and ACT averages during some of those years.
The news from Bucknell left many admissions experts wondering whether there are larger lessons to be learned by colleges as report seems to follow report with regard to inaccurate information being submitted by colleges.

Overeducated and underemployed

Annalyn Kurtz:

Getting a college degree still helps your chances of getting a job, but not necessarily a good one.
Some Americans are becoming overeducated for the jobs that are available to them, as data shows more college educated workers are taking low-skill jobs that are clearly below their qualifications.
Take taxi drivers for example. About 15%, or more than than 1 in 7, had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2010, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Compare that to 1970 when less than 1% of taxi drivers had college degrees. And the job description hasn’t changed much, if at all, since then.
“A lot of people, particularly people with bachelor’s degrees, are getting jobs, but not good jobs,” said Richard Vedder, an economist at Ohio University.

Catholic schools gave me an education grounded in faith, freedom

Heather Bernard:

“You never really know what you have till it’s gone.” It is these words that have a profound resonance with my experience here as a Battle Creek Area Catholic School (BCACS) student.
I tried to think of a way to describe the BCACS experience, and no other description did it justice other than the one above.
We hear these 10 words time and time again, mostly by adults or advice givers for consolation or a bit of wisdom to an unexpected ending.
But, I can say these words are inspiration to every student that passes through the doors of St. Joseph Elementary, Middle School, and St. Philip High School. They are inspiration to remember how lucky we are to go to a Catholic school.

Portuguese teachers protest against education cuts


Thousands of Portuguese teachers marched through Lisbon on Saturday to protest against cuts in education imposed as part of the government’s austerity program.
Teachers union Fenprof estimated 30,000 teachers marched through Lisbon city center, demanding the resignation of the education minister and protesting against pay cuts and what they called a deterioration in working conditions.
“I am here to protect the public school, and, above all, I am here to defend the future of our country and the future of my children who are still growing,” teacher Anabela Mendes told Reuters.
The protest was the biggest so far this year. Relative patience with the terms of Portugal’s 78 billion euro ($105 billion) bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund ran out in the middle of last year and protests and strikes have become more common.

Madison Memorial science bowl team headed to national championship

Matthew DeFour:

Not even two months old, Madison Memorial High School’s new science bowl team is headed to Washington in April to represent the state in the National Science Bowl Championship.
The team of seniors Srikar Adibhatla, Sohil Shah, Thejas Wesley and William Xiang and sophomore Brian Luo won the state regional qualifier at the Milwaukee School of Engineering on Saturday.
Madison has sent a team to the national middle school National Science Bowl Championship for the past two years, but has never fielded a high school team since the fast-paced quiz competition began in 1991. No Wisconsin team has won the championship.
A second team from Memorial, with seniors David Ho, Kevin Cao and Trang Nguyen, junior Rutvi Shah and sophomore Newton Wolfe, placed third at the regional qualifier. Neither team had lost a match until they faced off against each other in the semifinals, Coach Sowmya Partha said.

Yes, Higher Education And College Is Going To Get Disrupted By New Technology

Tim Worstall:

One of the most hidebound areas of the modern economy, and this applies in Europe just as much as the US, is higher education. Productivity has actually been falling in the sector in recent decades: there are now more employees per student graduated than there used to be. Good grief, they still use medieval technology like the lecture.
So there’s been some hope that all the lovely things being done on this internet might be able to shock the sector out of its indolence. Online lectures being only a part of it: physical libraries are becoming less important and so on.

Will Your College Go Out of Business Before You Graduate?

Mark Cuban:

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from High School kids asking whether or not they should go to college. The answer is yes.
College is where you find out about yourself. It’s where you learn how to learn. It’s where you get exposure to new ideas. For those of us who are into business you learn the languages of business, accounting, finance, marketing and sales in college.
The question is not whether or not you should go to school, the question for the class of 2014 is what is your college plan and what is the likelihood that your college or university you attend will still be in business by the time you want to graduate.
Still in business ? Yep. When I look at the university and college systems around the country I see the newspaper industry.
The newspaper industry was once deemed indestructible. Then this thing called the internet came along and took away their classified business. The problem wasn’t really that their classifieds disappeared. It was more that they had accumulated a ton of debt and had over invested in physical plant and assets that could not adapt to the new digital world.
When revenue fell the debt was still there, as were all the big buildings they had purchased, all those presses they had bought and the acquisitions they had made declined in value, but the debt accumulated to pay for them never went away.
They were stuck with no easy way out.
The exact same thing is happening to our 4 year schools. You can’t go to a big state university and not see construction. Why ?

Madison School district must solve problems no matter where they originate

Chris Rickert:

Madison learned last week that it might not be able to blame its long-standing achievement gap on outsiders, as a school district analysis of testing data throws cold some water on a theory making the rounds of some of Madison’s opinion brokers.
Suggested by a previous district report and championed by Mayor Paul Soglin, the theory is that minority students are doing worse academically than their white peers because many of them have transferred in from other (presumably worse) districts.
Had they spent their whole careers in the (presumably better) Madison schools, goes the theory, they would be doing better.
Unfortunately for theory proponents, when controlling for demographic factors such as race and income, district number crunchers didn’t find much difference between the test scores of students who grew up in the district and the scores of those who didn’t.
The analysis suggests the achievement gap is a much more frightening, wholly owned subsidiary of the district; in other words, not something Madisonians can mentally file under “out of our control.”
The question now is: Are we ready to believe it?

Related: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before (November, 2005).
Achievement gap exists for both longtime, new Madison students.

Say What About the Flex Degree?

Sara Goldrick-Rab:

On June 19, the University of Wisconsin System announced an initiative called the Flex Degree which was described as competency-based online instruction. That day, I blogged about it, noting that while I certainly had some concerns, there were enough potential positive effects of the program to withhold full judgment either way.
Friends on both sides were surprised. Colleagues who know and respect the priority I place on access and affordability for all potential students thought I should have been more strongly supportive of the “innovative” initiative that has the promise to drive down costs. Others, of the liberal activist persuasion, noted Governor Scott Walker’s involvement, and the strong likelihood of negative repercussions for faculty job security and the quality of education delivered. Still, I demurred, deciding to wait to hear more.
Unfortunately, information hasn’t exactly been forthcoming. I keep up to speed, reading the papers and blogs, and talking with those “in the know” and yet, I still have no clear picture what this Flex Degree really is. Perhaps it’s because where I spend most of my time, UW-Madison, isn’t involved? Maybe faculty at Parkside and Milwaukee have a clearer picture of what’s happening? Maybe this initiative doesn’t involve us tenured faculty at all, leaving the process to the administrators? I’ve tried to check things out– and am hoping this blog stirs discussion so I can learn more. All I’ve heard thus far is that the faculty at Parkside are seriously concerned about the effort, and had a disagreement about the program with their Chancellor, resulting in the displacement of their Provost.

Wisconsin School District Budget Outlook

Matthew DeFour:

Educators across Wisconsin blame 20 years of state-imposed limits on how much revenue they can generate from state aid and property taxes for perennial program cuts and increasing class sizes. When former Gov. Tommy Thompson introduced the limits in 1993 to help keep a lid on property taxes, he also committed the state to covering two-thirds of the cost of K-12 education, but the state share has declined to about 62 percent.
“The revenue limit is the villain,” said Jamie Benson, superintendent of the River Valley School District just west of Dane County, which recently approved $630,000 in cuts, including 13 layoffs that affect art, English, business, technical education and computer classes.
The layoffs were based on the state increasing funding $50 per student. An increase of $200 per student might spare three of those layoffs, Benson said. Portage’s layoffs are based on no increase.
“You can’t have a revenue cap increase per year that goes up at 2 percent or less when your expenses, whether it’s lighting, gas, books, technology or staff, go up at a higher rate,” Benson said.

Related: Madison School District’s Final 2012-2013 Budget: $385,911,793. 2012-2013 enrollment is 27095 PK-12. 2012-2013 per student spending is $14,242.

MBA’s salary-enhancing power slashed

Della Bradshaw & Laurent Ortmans:

The MBA degree, often seen as the quickest route to a fat salary, no longer delivers the purchasing power it once did.
Students on the top US MBA programmes in the mid-1990s saw their salaries triple in five years, but those who graduated from the same schools in 2008 and 2009 saw that increase halved, according to data collected for the FT’s annual Global MBA rankings.
At the same time, MBA fees have risen by 7 per cent a year. MBA students who enrolled in 2012 paid 62 per cent more in fees – up 44 per cent in real terms – than those who began their programmes in 2005, even though the increases in post-MBA salaries remained in line with inflation.

Teach for America in Milwaukee for the long haul

Alan Borsuk:

Rodney Lynk grew up on the north side. He went to Frederick Douglass School and the Milwaukee School of Languages, both part of the Milwaukee Public Schools system. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in finance, but signed up for a two-year stint teaching in high-needs schools instead of going off into the business world.
That was almost four years ago and Lynk is still at it, working in education in his hometown. “It doesn’t feel right to leave something when it’s solvable,” he says. “It’s our duty to solve it.”
Frankly, I’ve seen so many people with praiseworthy determination come and go. Probably more important, I’ve seen so many organizations, campaigns and reforms with such determination come and go.
But I’m betting that Lynk is going to be in it for the long haul when it comes to working on better education outcomes in Milwaukee.
“This is where my passion lies,” he says. “When you get bit by the bug . . .”

The Cartography Of High Expectations

Matthew Di Carlo:

In October of last year, the education advocacy group ConnCAN published a report called “The Roadmap to Closing the Gap” in Connecticut. This report says that the state must close its large achievement gaps by 2020 – that is, within eight years – and they use to data to argue that this goal is “both possible and achievable.”
There is value in compiling data and disaggregating them by district and school. And ConnCAN, to its credit, doesn’t use this analysis as a blatant vehicle to showcase its entire policy agenda, as advocacy organizations often do. But I am compelled to comment on this report, mostly as a springboard to a larger point about expectations.
However, first things first – a couple of very quick points about the analysis. There are 60-70 pages of district-by-district data in this report, all of it portrayed as a “roadmap” to closing Connecticut’s achievement gap. But it doesn’t measure gaps and won’t close them.
ConnCAN simply calculates, for 30 individual towns/districts, how many individual students (per grade, per year) would be required to improve in order for these systems to achieve 80 percent at grade level on state tests and 90 percent graduation, as well as the annual percentage point increase needed to get to an average SAT score of 1550. The first two targets correspond roughly to the proficiency and graduation rates among white students, while the third is the “college ready” benchmark score for the SAT.

What price a top state school? The best things in life may be free, but buying a house in the vicinity of the best things in life is expensive

Tim Harford:

How much do parents value a safe environment, green spaces and a good education for their children? Such things are priceless – except that, of course, they are not. The best things in life may be free, but buying a house in the vicinity of the best things in life is expensive.
Economic researchers use house prices like a movie jewel-thief uses an aerosol spray. The aerosol isn’t important by itself, but it reveals the otherwise invisible laser beams that will trigger the alarm. The house prices aren’t necessarily of much direct interest, but indirectly they reveal our willingness to pay for anything from a neighbourhood free of known sex offenders to the more familiar example of a popular school.
In principle this is easy. Compare the market price of two otherwise identical houses, one of which enjoys the amenity in question (a nice view, a quiet street, access to an excellent school) while the other does not. In practice, houses are rarely identical, and all sorts of valuable amenities from good schools to good neighbours to low crime are likely to be jumbled up together.

The American Case Against a Black Middle Class

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

I went on a Twitter rant yesterday because I’d finished Isabel Wilkerson’s phenomenal The Warmth Of Other Suns. The book is a narrative history of the Great Migration through the eyes of actual migrants. Several points stick out for me.
1) The Great Migration was not an influx of illiterate, bedraggled, lazy have-nots. Wilkerson marshalls a wealth of social science data showing that the migrants were generally better educated than their Northern brethren, more likely to stay married, and more likely to stay employed. In fact, in some cases, black migrants were better educated than their Northern white neighbors.
2) In this sense, the migrants to Northern cities resembled immigrant classes to whom black people in these same cities are often unfavorably compared to. There’s a quote in Wilkerson’s book which I can’t find where a supervisor basically says that blacks are the favored workers because they will work hard at the worst jobs for relatively little money. You would have thought the guy was talking about Hispanic farm-hands today.

Robot Makers Spread Global Gospel of Automation

John Markoff:

The robot equipment industry has one word for the alarmist articles and television news programs that predict a robot is about to steal your job: Fiddlesticks!
Well, that wasn’t actually the word used this week at the Automate 2013 trade show held here through Thursday, but the sentiment was the same. During a presentation on Monday, Henrik I. Christensen, the Kuka Chair of Robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Computing, sharply criticized a recent “60 Minutes” report on automation that was based on the work of the M.I.T. economists Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson.
The two economists in 2011 wrote “Race Against the Machine,” a book that renewed the debate about the relationship between the pace of automation and job growth. They argue that the pace of automation is accelerating and that robotics is pushing into new areas of the work force like white-collar jobs that were previously believed to be beyond the scope of computers.

Higher Higher Ed Needs to Think Differently as Students Focus on the Economy

Jeff Selingo

The results of the annual survey of college freshmen, released this week by researchers at UCLA, confirm that the fragile economy continues to weigh heavily on the minds of today’s students. Since 2006, freshmen have listed getting a better job as the most important reason to go to college, and this year, 88 percent of them said so, an all time high.
Previously, first-year students had said that learning about things that interest them was the number one reason to go to college. Nearly 3 in 4 students now say that making more money is a very important reason to go to college.
It’s no wonder that economic concerns now dominate the discussion about the value of college. List prices for colleges continue to rise as the incomes of Americans lag. The median net worth of American families hasn’t been this low since 1992, so tuition is eating up a greater share of income, now nearly 38 percent of median income, up from 23 percent in 2001.

From the report (4MB PDF):

The past year saw intensified discussion about almost everything connected with higher edu- cation, but especially the increasing cost of attending college and the worth of a college degree, graduation rates, what the impact of the massive open online course (MOOC) will be, and various takes on “disruption.” While many differing viewpoints are espoused, one certainty is that well-conducted and relevant educational research is necessary. The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) is a leading source of such information, and the past year saw a variety of research published using CIRP data, some of which we highlight below.

My master’s wasn’t worth it: Be careful what you study. Going to grad school isn’t always worth the time, effort and money.


I once looked at the MBA as the crème de la crème of business degrees, but now I realize I’m a dime a dozen.
I have an MBA in media management from Metropolitan College of New York and a master’s in organizational leadership from Mercy College. I am in debt to the tune of $120,000, and for me, it just wasn’t worth it.
After graduating, I applied for jobs in New York for at least a year. In interviews, I was either overqualified, or high risk.

Stay Focused: New research on how to close the achievement gap

The Economist:

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character. By Paul Tough. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 256 pages; $27. Random House; £12.99. Buy from,
THE young teenagers who graduated from a special South Bronx middle school in 1999 became nationally famous. All black and Hispanic and largely from low-income families, the students had been recruited four years earlier to participate in an experimental programme called KIPP (ie, the Knowledge Is Power Program), designed to close the achievement gap between privileged and poor students. The experience seemed to pay off: in a citywide test, these students earned the highest scores of any school in the Bronx, and the fifth-highest in all of New York City. Most won admission to top high schools, often with full scholarships. They all seemed destined for college, and for successful, precedent-bucking, demographic-defying lives.
But six years after their high-school graduation, only about a fifth of KIPP’s first class had completed a four-year college degree. Most ended up dropping out, reaffirming America’s growing class divide on college campuses. KIPP’s founders were distraught, particularly because a college degree has never been more valuable, enabling Americans to earn some 80% more than people with only a high-school diploma. So how had KIPP failed to prepare these students for college? What did they do wrong?

Not Getting What You Paid For

Scott Jaschik:

Stories abound of college graduates working at Starbucks, living at home and facing an uncertain economic future. And many of these stories have led to increased questioning of the value of a college degree.
But a report released today says that — despite the current economic hardships faced by people at all levels of education — the value of a college degree remains strong.
The unemployment rate for recent four-year college graduates is 6.8 percent, higher than the rate for all four-year graduates of 4.5 percent. But the 6.8 percent is much, much better than the 24 percent rate for recent high school graduates. These figures, and a series of others, appear in “The College Advantage: Weathering the Economic Storm,” from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University.
As the name of the report suggests, the report does not claim that college graduates have been immune from the recession. The report’s summary begins with this sentence: “When it rains hard enough and long enough, everyone gets a little wet.”
But the report seeks to distinguish between reports of the real difficulties facing recent graduates and the idea that these hardships mean that their degrees lack genuine economic value.

Who are You Bargaining For?


The question of the day is: WHY is the SPEA Negotiating Team dragging out negotiations for 2012-13 (Hello! We’re beyond the midway point! Time to start working for 2013-14!!!)
The school board offered a very fair package which addresses what SPEA (and WEAC) have declare o be a primary mission: raising the starting wage for teachers. But that’s not good enough. You see, in order to do that with the pot of money available, a significant portion must be earmarked for those teachers with 1-6 years of experience. That means that a small amount would be available to more tenured teachers, most n the form of a stipend (as opposed to a base salary builder).
It’s called compromise, people! You are getting to do some serious good for starting teachers. But you’re not willing to accept that because this plan calls for either a small token stipend (or perhaps nothing) for those teachers that already earn like…say…$86,000 in base salary. REALLY? Is THAT what unions are all about?

and, a related post Sun Prairie’s budget.

Common Core leading districts to adopt unproved math programs and failed approaches

Laurie Rogers, via a kind email:

Many of America’s public schools have incorporated “student-centered learning” models into their math programs. An adoption committee in Spokane appears poised to recommend the adoption of yet another version of a “student-centered” program for Grades 3-8 mathematics.
It’s critically important that American citizens know what that term means. Aspects of the Common Core State Standards initiatives are leading many districts to adopt new curricular materials that have “student-centered learning” as a centerpiece.
In Spokane Public Schools, student-centered learning (also known as “inquiry-based” learning or “discovery-based” learning or “standards-based” learning) has been the driver of curriculum adoptions for nearly 20 years. This approach has not produced graduates with strong skills in mathematics. Spokane now suffers from a dearth of math skills in most of its younger citizens.
Nor is Spokane alone with this problem. Student-centered learning has largely replaced direct instruction in the public-school classroom. It was pushed on the country beginning in the 1980s by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the federal government, colleges of education, and various corporations and foundations. Despite its abject failure to produce well-educated students, student-centered learning is coming back around, again pushed by the NCTM, colleges of education, the federal government and various corporations and foundations.

My College Experiment: Building a drone with financial aid money: Unlike technology, the American educational system is ancient.

Jacob Thomas:

Sure, we have laptops in high schools and most college professors are finally embracing electronic forms of communication and instruction, but that doesn’t cut it. The technological forces and service industries of this country are being innovated in leaps and bounds, yet the educational foundation that is being set for future generations is, in many ways, pathetic. Since the system itself doesn’t innovate, how can it stress and pass on an innovative mindset to pupils? It can’t!

The culture of the copy: On the printing press, the Internet & the impact of duplication

James Panero:

We now live in the early part of an age for which the meaning of print culture is becoming as alien as the meaning of manuscript culture was to the eighteenth century. “We are the primitives of a new culture,” said Boccioni the sculptor in 1911. Far from wishing to belittle the Gutenberg mechanical culture, it seems to me that we must now work very hard to retain its achieved values.
–Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, 1962
Technological revolutions are far less obvious than political revolutions to the generations that live through them. This is true even as new tools, for better and worse, shift human history more than new regimes do. Innovations offer silent coups. We rarely appreciate the changes they bring until they are brought. Whether or not we become the primitives of a new culture, as the Futurist Umberto Boccioni observed, most of us still live behind the times and are content to do so. We expect the machines of the present to fulfill the needs of the past even as they deliver us into a future of unknowns.

At What Age Will You Stop Using Facebook?

Conor Friedersdorf:

Adults are typically grateful that social media didn’t exist when they were teenagers — that their Facebook photos and status messages date to their college years at the earliest, not their first years of high school or middle school. Would you retroactively give your 13-year-old self the power to permanently put anything he or she wanted on the Web? I’d sooner incapacitate him with arcade-prize finger traps, the unexpectedly hazardous technology of my youth.
What I’d never pondered, until a friend questioned me about it last weekend, is when I’ll stop using Facebook. Assuming it endures as a company, will there be an age at which most people abandon it? Right now, I’m a light user who mostly exploits the platform to share links to my articles.
Some people in my “stream” do the same. We’ll all follow the crowd.
As I reflect on the way most of my friends from high school and college have used Facebook in the past and how they use it today, I’d say that their activity is more often than not tied to life changes. A new “relationship status.” A new job. A move to a new city. A wedding proposal, followed by photographs from the bachelorette party, the wedding, and the honeymoon. A pregnancy, followed by photos of the baby, her first steps, her second birthday, her last day of school, and her spot on the bronze medal podium after placing third in a state college swim meet.

Hugh Pope Interview

Hugh Pope SIS interviewIt was a privilege to talk with author and adventurer Hugh Pope [website, International Crisis Group, Twitter] recently regarding education. Pope has lived and worked in the “Middle East” for three decades. His books (all highly recommended) include: Dining with al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East, Sons of the Conquerors: the Rise of the Turkic World and Turkey Unveiled: a History of Modern Turkey.
Here’s an excerpt:

In your education as you think about growing up, when did your light go off about critical thinking and observation as opposed to just accepting? Was it your education, was it your experience? Was it your parents? What was decisive?
Hugh: Well, I think that I never felt that I had a particular base group to relate and I was born South Africa and lived the first nine years of my life there and saw things from a, I suppose, a English speaking South African perspective. Then I, because of political reasons we had to move out of South Africa…and the apartheid regime had made things difficult for my father, so we moved to England and I was put in a completely different area and they took, it was very puzzling because I spoke English, I thought it was English but it turned out that actually there’s more to English that’s being English than just language. I don’t think that I ever completely fit in, and so I always saw things as a bit of an outsider there. I think that when you are an outside you take a much more careful view of everything that’s going on. You see things rather more distinctly than someone who’s always been inside it, so perhaps that was the critical thing for me, moving at the age of nine. Not that I would particularly recommend it as a course of action, I don’t think it’s a very…It’s quite traumatic. I think that’s where it comes from if anything.
Jim: If we could turn on the time machine and take you back to 18 or 16, would you study the same thing? Would you pursue the same career? What would you do, Hugh?
Hugh: Well, I always remember at the Oriental institute, in my University, that we used to really pity the people that were studying Chinese and Turkish, because when we were 18 those two countries really seemed to be completely pointless. What were they ever going to contribute? Everyone clamored to learn Arabic and Persian because those were oil-rich countries that were clearly going to be much better for peoples’ careers, and of course it turned out to be exactly the other way around. [laughs] I suppose it’s a bit like those advertisements about investments, don’t judge past performance as an indication of future profits. It’s very difficult to choose what to do. I think I was very lucky in that I was one of the last generation of people educated for free in Britain.
It actually didn’t matter what one chose, because there was no debt associated with it. Nowadays if you go into University I think you’ve got to be much more aware of, “Whether this is going to be a possible investment of time and money?” because that debt is going to hang over people, isn’t it? If I was going today I think I would be a bit more commercially minded, in a sense that I would choose something that was not just of intellectual interest.
Still, I did love learning Persian, and I think that was a benefit in itself, I still think that the Persian poetry we were taught about made a deep impact on me. I wouldn’t change that. There are many things about the Middle East that make one really frustrated but at the same time there is a liveliness and an instantaneous about the Middle East which you don’t find in Europe.
The way that countries like Turkey and elsewhere change rapidly is much more exciting than a country in Europe where everything is planned many, many years ahead. People start thinking about their pensions in their 20’s.

I found Pope’s comments on languages interesting as well. I hope you enjoy the conversation and appreciate Hugh’s time.
Read the transcript or listen to the mp3 audio file.

There are now 23,795 Chinese students in U.S. private high schools, up from 4,503 in 2008

John Millman:

As growing numbers of Chinese students seek a college education in the U.S., many are turning to American high schools as a steppingstone. The resulting surge in Chinese enrollment has helped private high schools, and religious academies in particular, reap much-needed revenue.
There are now 23,795 Chinese students in U.S. private high schools, up from 4,503 in 2008, according to federal figures.

Why Gloomy Pundits and Politicians Are Wrong About America’s Education System

Derek Thompson:

Here’s what everybody knows about education in the United States. It’s broken. It’s failing our poorest students and codding the richest. Americans are falling desperately behind the rest of the developed world.
But here’s what a new study from the Economic Policy Institute tells us about America’s education system: Every one of those common assumptions is simplistic, misguided, or downright wrong.
When you break down student performance by social class, a more complicated, yet more hopeful, picture emerges, highlighted by two pieces of good news. First, our most disadvantaged students have improved their math scores faster than most comparable countries. Second, our most advantaged students are world-class readers.
Why break down international test scores by social class? In just about every country, poor students do worse than rich students. America’s yawning income inequality means our international test sample has a higher share of low-income students, and their scores depress our national average. An apples-to-apples comparison of Americans students to their international peers requires us to control for social class and compare the performances of kids from similarly advantaged and disadvantaged homes.
That’s precisely what Martin Carnoy, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and Richard Rothstein have done in their new paper, “What Do International Tests Really Show About U.S. Student Performance?” Carnoy and Rothstein dive into international standardized tests and compare U.S. performance, by social class, to three post-industrial countries (Germany, the UK, and France) and three top-scoring countries (Canada, Finland, and Korea).


A Profusion of Words

John Simpson:

The early modern period was an era of great change for the English language. According to the OED’s record, the number of words ‘available’ to speakers of English more than doubled between 1500 and 1650. Many of the new words were borrowed into English from the Latin or Greek of the Renaissance (for example, hypotenuse), or from the far-off countries visited by travellers and traders (e.g. pangolin), and must have seemed hard to understand to many of the population.
At the same time, there were significant demographic shifts in Britain towards an urbanized culture based in the big cities, such as London: the population of London increased eightfold over these years. In retrospect, one can argue the growing availability of books and other printed matter as the period developed–alongside the emergence of the grammar school as a focus for education (especially for boys)–meant that the scene was set for the emergence of the English dictionary.

What Does Your MTI Contract Do for You? Just Cause

Madison Teachers, Inc. Solidarity Newsletter, via a kind Jeannie Bettner email (PDF):

JUST CAUSE does not mean “just because”. It sets standards and procedures which must be met before an employee can be disciplined or discharged. Fortunately, for those in MTI’s bargaining units, all have protection under the JUST CAUSE STANDARDS. They were negotiated by MTI to protect union members.
There are seven just cause tests, and an employer must meet all seven in order to sustain the discipline or discharge of an employee. They are: notice; reasonableness of the rule; a thorough and fair investigation; proof; equal treatment; and whether the penalty reasonably meets the alleged offense by the employee.
MTI’s various Contracts enable a review and binding decision by a neutral arbitrator as to whether the District’s action is justified and the burden of proof is on the District.
These steps are steps every employer should have to follow. They are not, but MMSD must follow them because of MTI’s Contracts. Governor Walker’s Act 10 destroys these protections. MTI is working to preserve them.

New Federal Ruling: Students with Disabilities Must be Enrolled in Local District to Access Services

Laura Waters:

Last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, VA found that, according to the National Association of School Boards, “a disabled student unilaterally placed in a private school is not entitled to special education services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504).”
While the ruling hasn’t received much notice (beyond this write-up in Education Week), it has significant implications for students throughout the country who are enrolled in religious schools but receive services because of a diagnosed disability. In this particular case, the child, D.L., attends a yeshiva in Baltimore and is diagnosed with A.D.H.D. His parents sought services from the local Baltimore school, where he is not enrolled.

At-Home Dads Make Parenting More of a ‘Guy’ Thing

Sue Shellenbarger:

Mr. Mom is dead.
At least, the pop-culture image of the inept dad who wouldn’t know a diaper genie from a garbage disposal has begun to fade. In his place, research shows, is emerging a new model of at-home fatherhood that puts a distinctly masculine stamp on child-rearing and home life.
At-home dads aren’t trying to be perfect moms, says a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Instead, they take pride in letting their children take more risks on the playground, compared with their spouses. They tend to jettison daily routines in favor of spontaneous adventures with the kids. And many use technology or DIY skills to squeeze household budgets, or find shortcuts through projects and chores, says the study, based on interviews, observation of father-child outings and an analysis of thousands of pages of at-home dads’ blogs and online commentary.

College Degree, No Class Time Required: University of Wisconsin to Offer a Bachelor’s to Students Who Take Online Competency Tests About What They Know

Caroline Porter:

David Lando plans to start working toward a diploma from the University of Wisconsin this fall, but he doesn’t intend to set foot on campus or even take a single online course offered by the school’s well-regarded faculty.
Instead, he will sit through hours of testing at his home computer in Milwaukee under a new program that promises to award a bachelor’s degree based on knowledge–not just class time or credits.
“I have all kinds of credits all over God’s green earth, but I’m using this to finish it all off,” said the 41-year-old computer consultant, who has an associate degree in information technology but never finished his bachelor’s in psychology.
Colleges and universities are rushing to offer free online classes known as “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs. But so far, no one has figured out a way to stitch these classes together into a bachelor’s degree.

A Dream Deferred: How access to STEM is denied to many students

Scientific American – DNLee

My interest in teaching and science outreach crystallized with NSF GK-12 Fellowship experiences in St. Louis. I was graduate student assigned as a Resource Scientist to a nearby public high school. I was responsible for co-designing lesson plans and delivering lessons for biology and environmental science classes. Science Fair project came around and there was big push to get all students involved. There was a very low participation rate, but since I was the classroom scientist, I was responsible to helping students develop science fair projects and getting them ready for the competition.

Some of the students came up with some really amazing ideas. Not only because they developed some great questions and hypotheses, but because the questions were personally relevant to them. Do cheaper brakes stop as quickly as more expensive breaks? Will cheaper brakes wear faster than more expensive ones? Are One-touch Diabetes testers as effective as traditional blood sugar testing devices that require more blood? The first two questions were posed by one of my boys – who declared his hatred of science daily, but he loved cars. The third question was posed by one of my girls who had diabetes and had to test her ‘sugar’ many times a day. Her grandmother had diabetes, too. She wanted to enlist her granny in her project.

However, like most of the other projects proposed by my students, these projects never happened. And what was more heart-breaking was that these kids interests in science (and the science fair) was dashed and never to be rekindled again. For kids like my students – inner-city kids from poor families (whether working-class or on welfare), average or below-average academic performance, some with behavior problems – interests in STEM dies by 10th grade and one of three things kill the promise of opportunity.

  1. Lack of resources
  2. Benign discouragement by well-meaning adults
  3. Active exclusion by powerful gatekeepers

I witnessed all three during my time at Normandy Senior High School and the University of Missouri-St. Louis MO-STEP.

Teachers’ test boycott draws growing support

Linda Shaw:

Eleven years ago, Rachel Eells saw value in the tests that she and other teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School are now refusing to give their students.
Back then, she was a new middle-school teacher in the Highline School District, and the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) helped her identify the strengths and weaknesses of her students in reading.
But Eells grew disenchanted with the MAP, saying it was, at best, a rough diagnostic tool that often left her with more questions than answers, especially with her older students. She couldn’t tell why, for example, a student would do well on literary terms one time, then poorly the next.
So when a Garfield colleague asked Eells last month whether she would consider boycotting the MAP, she said yes so quickly the colleague paused, a little taken aback.

An Open Letter to the People of Purdue:

Mitch Daniels:

Words on paper cannot adequately convey the sense of honor and gratitude with which I joined your ranks this week. I accepted Purdue’s presidency last June with a sense of profound respect for all that this historic institution represents, but the intervening half year has only served to deepen that conviction.
I have tried to use the time afforded by the first-semester interim to learn all I could from and about you. I have made spare-time and weekend “field trips” to the campus, totaling some seventeen days. These trips have featured briefings on all the major functions of the school and tours of many major facilities.
Daniels Speaking
I have spoken to a host of experts across the spectrum of higher education, including more than a dozen current and past university presidents. I have visited campuses including Harvard, Yale, and Chicago, and attended seminars on topics such as the impact of technology and the restructuring of student assistance. And I have read as much as I could manage of the gusher of books, articles, and interviews which are everywhere these days, predicting major change or even upheaval in American higher education.

Is University Necessary?

James Paul Halloway & David Fontenot:

University is necessary. It is necessary as an institution because of the value that it brings to students, and through them to society. The education it provides is necessary for young people because of the discipline and structure that a university provides for intellectual development. This provides the strong foundation on which their future contributions to society are built.
Some of my readers are already chewing on what they imagine my arguments will be, searching for a single counter example. These are easy to find: Bill Gates. But of course Gates did go to college; he simply did not graduate. Michael Dell. Oops, same story. Andrew Carnegie! Never went to college at all. Success! University is not necessary! (And if you accept this argument, then university is exactly right for you.)
Of course Andrew Carnegie did endow a college, which is now a rather good place called Carnegie Mellon University. If university is not necessary, why did he do such a thing? Because Carnegie recognized the importance of education, as do Gates, and Dell. All three have supported higher education broadly, with significant sums. It is not useful to draw conclusions about the value of higher education from successful entrepreneurs like these. Carnegie was a singularity, as are Gates and Dell. They are not like everybody else: they were lucky, especially in their timing, they were wicked smart, they were hugely ambitious and driven, and they were not typical.

Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force

Richard Ingersoll and Lisa Merrill (PDF):

Has the elementary and secondary teaching force changed in recent years? And, if so, how? Have the types and kinds of individuals going into teaching changed? Have the demographic characteristics of those working in classrooms altered? To answer these questions we embarked on an exploratory research project to try to discover what trends and changes have, or have not, occurred in the teaching force over the past few decades. We were surprised by what we found. We discovered that the teaching force has been, and is, greatly changing; yet, even the most dramatic trends appear to have been little noticed by researchers, policy makers, and the public.
To explore these questions, we used the largest and most comprehensive source of data on teachers available–the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) and its supplement, the Teacher Follow-Up Survey (TFS). These data are collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Education. NCES has administered six cycles of SASS over a 20-year period–1987-88, 1990-91, 1993-94, 1999-2000,
2003-04 and 2007-08 (for information on SASS, see NCES, 2005). In each cycle, NCES administers questionnaires to a nationally representative sample of about 50,000 teachers, 11,000 school-level administrators and 5,000 district-level officials, collecting an unusually rich array of information on teachers, their students, and their schools. We decided to take advantage of both the depth and duration of these data to explore what changes have taken place in the teaching force and teaching occupation over the two decades from 1987 to 2008. Below, we summarize seven of the most prominent trends and changes; we found the teaching force to be:

How Does Your Missouri School District Stack Up?

Children’s Education Alliance:

Last month, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) released a working draft of the new Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) 5 Annual Performance Report (APR) for school districts. MSIP is the system used by DESE to classify the performance of school districts.
MSIP 5 is slated to go into effect later this year. Once the new system is in place, districts will be classified based on the percentage of points they score on a 140-point system, instead of the number of points they score on a 14-point system.
School districts that earn 90% and above of the points on the MSIP 5 scale will be “Accredited with Distinction”
School districts that earn 70%-89.9% will be “Accredited”
School districts that earn 50% to 69.9% will be “Provisionally Accredited”
School districts that earn 0%-49.9% will be “Unaccredited”

Making UK academies work

Chris Cook:

On the Today programme last week, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, announced that Ofsted, the inspectorate, will start trying to piece together which local authorities are good at driving school improvement and which are weak.
This plan, intended to focus fire on local government, could end up drawing attention to the Department for Education. This is because Sir Michael will hold the local authorities to account for all local schools – including academies, independent state charter schools.
On the radio, he was up against David Simmonds, a Tory councilor from Hillingdon representing the Local Government Association, who pointed out that there is a particular problem with academies. He noted that academies, which now constitute half of all secondaries, answer directly to civil servants in the DfE – not to their local authority.

District analysis finds Madison 4K may help close achievement gap

Matthew DeFour:

Results from a fall kindergarten test that gauges school readiness show Madison’s 4-year-old kindergarten program may help raise achievement levels of minority students, according to a new district analysis.
The analysis found attending 4K in Madison reduced a student’s chance of being deemed unprepared for school by 5.5 percent and increased scores on the Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) test by 2.7 points (an average score is 59).
The data also show black, Asian and multiracial 5-year-olds who attended Madison’s 4K program scored higher on the test than those who didn’t. Hispanic students who attended Madison’s 4K program scored lower and white students scored about the same.
The results are only a first look at 4K effectiveness and future test results from the same group of students may show different outcomes, the analysis notes. But “these early results are encouraging and suggest that 4K in Madison has made an immediate and observable impact on kindergarten student literacy.”
Students who attended 4K last year were more likely to be minority, low-income and from families with lower education levels than those didn’t, the analysis found.

Chief Keef is teaching our kids all too well

James Causey:

Over the age of 25? Then the name, Chief Keef, doesn’t ring a bell, does it? But this Chicago-based rapper, who glorifies violence, speaks for many young hip-hop heads in urban neighborhoods.
And we’re losing a street battle him and others, the street rappers, the drug dealers and the family members who don’t have the best interests of our kids at heart.
Urban neighborhoods, in fact, are losing a generation of young men to senseless violence and incarceration.
When I hear rappers such as Keef glorifying all that with their filthy lyrics – and offering no solutions – it’s apparent to me that they are part of the problem.
When kids can recite word-for-word the lyrics from Keef’s hit “Don’t Like” – words I won’t subject you to – but then struggle to read, then we have a serious problem.
Keef is only 17, and he made news last week when he was sentenced for violating probation on a gun charge. The violation was not the news; it was how he reacted when a Chicago judge sentenced him to 60 days in juvenile detention.

Early exams deter foreign-language learners, say teachers

Dennis Chong:

Pupils who study a foreign language at secondary schools must take the university entrance exam for the subject months before the tests in mainstream subjects are held, leading to a potentially high drop-out rate, teachers say.
The exam authority offers its own Chinese and English tests but exams for other language subjects must be outsourced to overseas providers, and that complicates the scheduling.
The teachers say an emphasis on foreign-language training, which the recent academic reforms stress as important, will amount to a waste of public resources if the situation is not fixed.

The maths of GCSE reform in England

Chris Cook:

Last week, the TES, the leading UK teachers’ magazine, ran a number of fascinating pieces on the “EBC”, the proposed successor to the GCSE – the exam taken by English children at the age of 16. The basic point is that the Department for Education has come up with a plan for a new qualification that is causing grave concern within Ofqual, as has been made public, as well as among school leaders, inspectors and its own civil servants.
When the plan to reform GCSEs was originally leaked to the Daily Mail, it contained the claim that the new GCSE would only be for the brightest three-quarters of children. I wrote at the time that this would be problematic. The Lib Dems insist this aspect of the plan has gone. Some rightwingers appear to hold the opposite impression.
For their part, DfE officials are working under the assumption that children will need to know more to reach the lowest passing grade on the new qualification. But they also assume children will respond to the exam changes by learning more, so no more children will fail. This is, it is fair to say, an assumption resting on a rather thin evidence base.

I Don’t Want My Preschooler to Be a ‘Gentleman’

Lynn Messina:

My 4-year-old son, Emmett, swallows a spoonful of cereal and asks me if I know what a gentleman is. Surprised, I tell him I have some idea; then I ask what the word means to him.
“A gentleman lets girls go first,” he says, explaining that every day at naptime all the girls go to the bathroom before the boys.
His explanation, along with the quiet solemnity with which he delivers it, is completely endearing and yet it makes my heart ache. This adorable little boy, who is only beginning to learn the ways of the world, just got his first lesson in sexism — and from a teacher who, I don’t doubt, believes she’s doing something wonderful for womankind.
She isn’t the only one.
Start to complain about your preschooler adopting gentlemanly behavior and you quickly discover how out of step you are with the rest of the world. Almost everyone I mention it to thinks it’s lovely and sweet. What’s the harm in teaching little boys to respect little girls?

Health Law Pinches Colleges: Reducing Adjunct Teaching

Mark Peters & Douglas Belkin:

The federal health-care overhaul is prompting some colleges and universities to cut the hours of adjunct professors, renewing a debate about the pay and benefits of these freelance instructors who handle a significant share of teaching at U.S. higher-education institutions.
The Affordable Care Act requires large employers to offer a minimum level of health insurance to employees who work 30 hours a week or more starting in 2014, or face a penalty. The mandate is a particular challenge for colleges and universities, which increasingly rely on adjuncts to help keep costs down as states have scaled back funding for higher education.
A handful of schools, including Community College of Allegheny County in Pennsylvania and Youngstown State University in Ohio, have curbed the number of classes that adjuncts can teach in the current spring semester to limit the schools’ exposure to the health-insurance requirement. Others are assessing whether to do so, or to begin offering health care to some adjuncts.

Act 10 will hurt state, education in long run

Retired High School Teacher Rose Locander:

The public schools in Wisconsin are some of the best in the country. Over the years, businesses have moved into this state knowing their employees will be able to feel confident sending their children to the local public schools.
What will happen as the years go by and the public schools in this state lose their ability to meet the expectations of excellence in education? Exactly what will attract businesses to this state when the public schools are no longer quality schools? Are we going to woo companies with the promise of our wonderful weather?
Too many of us have taken our public schools for granted. From early childhood through high school, we have become used to well-trained, dedicated teachers, quality educational programs, identification and early intervention of learning issues and a host of other resources found only in the public schools. We expect this of our public schools, but with Act 10, these opportunities that were of great value to all of our children will continue to disappear.


Lowell Elementary students embrace quilting

Pamela Cotant:

The plan is for six new quilts sewn by students to hang in Lowell Elementary School by the end of the school year.
The second and third graders are nearly finished with the first installment of four quilts that depict the seasons and will hang side-by-side.
“I’ve been surprised and amazed by how much the kids have gotten into it and how much they’ve enjoyed it,” said Zoe Rickenbach, a Lowell parent and quilt artist who has been instrumental in the project. “I just didn’t expect it to be so wonderful.”

Achievement gap exists for both longtime, new Madison students

Matthew DeFour:

The data showed the same result overall, but found new students are disproportionately low-income or minorities. Comparing students in similar racial and income groups, the district found time spent in the district did not explain the difference in test results.
The new district analysis challenges Mayor Paul Soglin’s focus in recent months on students moving to Madison from larger cities such as Milwaukee and Chicago. Soglin has called for alternative programs specifically geared toward new students to help improve low-income and minority student achievement.
“The practical fact is that mobility and newness are things we take into consideration, but when we plan how we’re going to address learning needs, they’re not the most important factors,” Superintendent Jane Belmore said.

I’m glad Mr. DeFour continues to look into this important issue.
Related links:
“When controlling for demographic characteristics, the effects of additional years in MMSD on WKCE scores are largely ambiguous”. An Update on Madison’s Transfer Students & The Achievement Gap.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin: “We are not interested in the development of new charter schools”.

Building motivation, instilling grit: The necessity of mastery-based, digital learning

Michael Horn:

The potential of a competency-based (or mastery-based) education system powered by digital learning to customize for each individual student’s needs and bolster learning excites many. A question some ask though is: What about the unmotivated students? Won’t they be left behind?
Furthermore, in light of the recent publicity around the research on the importance of grit–defined as “sticking with things over the very long term until you master them”–to life success, some further suggest that although competency-based learning and blended learning are nice, unless we solve the problem of instilling grit or perseverance in all students, isn’t it true that those next-generation learning things won’t matter?
These questioners raise good questions. As we discussed in the Introduction to Disrupting Class, the fact that our education system does not intrinsically motivate a large percentage of students is a root cause of the country’s education struggles. Solving this is imperative to improving the nation’s schools.

Pupils polled on three top changes for happier school life

KC Ng:

More school outings, more encouragement from teachers and less homework would make pupils happier, a survey by members of the Boys and Girls Clubs Association has found.
A total of 513 pupils from Primary Four up to Form Three were asked to rank a list of what schools could do to make their time in school more pleasant.
The survey found that 70 per cent of respondents wanted schools to organise more outings or field trips, instead of only conducting “boring” lessons in class. Ideally, they said, there should be one or two trips each month.

Unreleased D.C. report exposed by tampering charges

Jay Matthews:

In the course of reporting Wednesday on the allegations of test tampering in the D.C. schools, I discovered a study commissioned by the school system that they apparently have never released. It may be unrelated to the greater issue of whether educators changed wrong answers to right ones to make their schools look good, but I thought I ought to report it even though it did not fit in my piece about Adell Cothorne.
D.C. schools spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said D.C. leaders asked Caveon Test Security to interview educators at certain schools in 2011 about testing procedures on the DC-CAS annual test in 2010. Caveon had done an investigation of 2009 testing, some of which the school system revealed. But this 2010 testing study appears to have remained hidden and, according to Salmanowitz, will remain that way.
She told me about the study because she is trying to discredit Cothorne’s account, a version of events Cothorne has told PBS, a federal court and me. Cothorne has said that she found signs of test tampering at the Noyes Educational Campus when she was principal there from 2010 to 2011. Cothorne does not appear to remember a visit by Caveon to Noyes that Salmanowitz said took place on March 17, 2011, when she was asked about test security in 2010.

Reggio Emilia: From Postwar Italy to NYC’s Toniest Preschools; Remembering the Rejected Madison Studio School (Charter)

Emily Chertoff, via a kind reader’s email:

A teaching approach meant to perk up the children of war is popular at a handful of posh American schools. But wouldn’t it make more sense to use it with underprivileged kids?
It’s relatively rare to hear a preschool described as “luxurious.” But in 2007 the New York Times used just that word in praising one on the Upper East Side. What did the reporter mean, exactly? Artisanal carob cookies? Cashmere blankets at nap time?
Not quite. The article was describing a school run on the principles of Reggio Emilia, an educational method that privileges beauty and art. Reggio, which is named after a town in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, often appears in the U.S. as part of the pedagogy of ultra-elite private schools — but it was developed to help the humblest children.
On April 25, 1945, Allied forces in Italy, and their counterparts in the country’s transitional government, declared an end to the Mussolini regime. Some Italians marked Liberation Day by throwing parties or pouring out into the streets. The residents of one small village near Bologna celebrated by founding a school.
The town of Reggio Emilia and its surrounding villages had been flattened by years of bombings and ground warfare. The Germans, who had retreated through the area, left behind tanks and ammunition in fine condition, but these were of no use to the townspeople.

Recall that the Madison Studio School (Wisconsin State Journal Article), rejected as a charter school by the Madison school board was based on the Reggio Emilia model.
Related: Madison Mayor Paul Soglin: “We are not interested in the development of new charter schools”

Cornell professor driven to convey beauty of mathematics

Jim Catalano:

Steven Strogatz wants to take the mystery and fear out of math — and make it fun, even thrilling, in the process.
Whether it’s through his New York Times columns, speaking engagements, appearances on National Public Radio’s “Radiolab” or his new book “The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity,” Strogatz — the Schurman professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University — strives to explain how and why mathematics are present in everyday life in a clear and compelling fashion.
Strogatz describes his mission to make mathematical concepts more accessible as “an act of friendship” that “feels very natural to me.”
“I find in my daily life — either with my kids, who are 10 and 12, or my wife, who’s not mathematical, or with friends — when they ask me what I’m working on, I have to find a way to explain,” he said. in an interview at his Cornell office last month.
“So I’ve just always lived my whole professional life trying to communicate with people about what I’m doing and why I like doing it. It’s not hard to do, but maybe hard to do well. But I do like trying to do it.”

American Calendar: Birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

What So Proudly We Hail, via a kind reader’s email

Are we at last one nation, with liberty and justice for all? In this ebook, we reflect on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement, and assess their efforts to overcome racial discrimination and to promote racial equality and integration. The first chapter explores the origins and traditions of the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration, with particular attention to the American character of the holiday. The second chapter presents powerful accounts of the black American experience during the era of racial segregation–from Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Zora Neale Hurston, to Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin–with a focus on showing the need for civil rights. The third chapter brings us to the Civil Rights Movement itself, evaluating the goals, strategies, and tactics of the Movement’s various leaders. The final chapter raises questions about the challenging and vexed issues left open in the wake of the successes of the Civil Rights Movement: equality; family, religion, and culture; and identity.
Each selection includes a brief introduction by the editors with guiding questions for discussion. Also unique to this collection is a never-before published letter by coeditor Leon R. Kass about his and his wife Amy’s experience working with civil rights activists in Mississippi during the summer of 1965.

“A civics and history curriculum done right”.

Soglin right not to soft-pedal problems

Carl Silverman:

I agree with Mayor Paul Soglin. Tackling our “urban problems” is preferable to soft-pedaling them and relying instead on improved public relations.
Given the wide achievement gap and the portion of black and Latino kids in our schools, it’s hard to believe Superintendent Jane Belmore’s claim that most of our school kids are doing very well. If, as Soglin believes, much of the gap is related to the many kids who transfer from other districts and are behind grade level upon entry, maybe the district should place them in grades appropriate for their achievement levels rather than basing placement solely on age. Similar reasoning might lead to abandoning present widespread use of social promotion, and promoting only those kids who have achieved grade level skills by the end of the year.

Related: “When controlling for demographic characteristics, the effects of additional years in MMSD on WKCE scores are largely ambiguous”: An Update on Madison’s Transfer Students & The Achievement Gap.

“The explosive growth in the state pension payments means every other part of the budget has less money” $400M less for education in Illinois

Ray Long:

Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration is projecting a $400 million reduction in education spending in the next budget after the state failed to rein in government worker pension costs.
If that holds up, the governor would unveil a financial blueprint that would result in state education funding going down for the third consecutive year. The move also would be part of a broad-based, across-the-board slice made throughout most of state government. Among major exceptions would be health care spending for the poor, which is expected to rise after cuts last year, and public safety, an area projected to be mostly flat after the recent closure of two prisons, according to new preliminary figures.
“The explosive growth in the state pension payments means every other part of the budget has less money,” said Abdon Pallasch, Quinn’s budget spokesman. “The pain’s going to get worse and worse every year before we fix this pension problem.”

Private schools funded through student jobs

Jay Matthews:

Twelve years ago, I stumbled across a story that seemed too good to be true. A Catholic high school in Chicago ensured its financial survival by having students help pay their tuition by working one day a week in clerical jobs at downtown offices.
This was a new idea in U.S. secondary education. New ideas are not necessarily a good thing, because they often fail. But the creator of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School was an educational missionary named John P. Foley who had spent much of his life helping poor people in Latin America. I was not going to dump on an idea from a man like that without seeing how it worked out.
Now I know. The Cristo Rey network has grown to 25 schools in 17 states, including a campus in Takoma Park, where more than half the students are from Prince George’s County and more than a third are from the District. It is blossoming in a way no other school, public or private, has done in this region.

Does having a high IQ makes you less creative?

There was a man named Lewis Terman who believed that only knowing the IQ of a person could predict their success in life and this potential could be measured since childhood, that’s why he sent his colleagues to California schools and gave the children a few IQ tests, identifing 1500 children whose IQs averaged 150 points.
Terman took for granted that these children were going to make great contributions to their disciplines in the future.
After 35 years Terman error was obvious, the majority had regular careers, and a surprising number ended up with careers that even Terman considered failures. Nor were there any Nobel Prize winners in his group of geniuses.

Math Fiction

Alex Kasman:

Do you like fiction and mathematics? Are you looking for a book or story that might be useful for the students in your math class? Are you interested in what our society thinks about mathematicians? Then you’ve come to the right place. This database lists over one thousand short stories, plays, novels, films, and comic books containing math or mathematicians

How Tealeaf Academy increased student engagement 3x


This post is written by Kevin Wang, Chief Instructor at Tealeaf Academy. Tealeaf Academy is an online school for developers, and offers intensive, project based online bootcamps on web development. If you think this post is useful, you should check them out!
At Tealeaf Academy, creating a “Study Together, Progress Together” experience for our students is at core of our way of teaching. One of our core tools is the discussion board where students ask questions, share ideas, collaborate on homework assignments, and teachers quickly jump in to help students get unstuck on problems. One of our recent priorities was to reduce friction in discussion board usage and encourage more discussions with a complementary email notification and a “reply-to email to post on discussion board” workflow. Once we implemented the below code using the Mailgun Routes API, activity on our discussion board increased three fold, and questions are now typically getting answered within an hour, sometimes even minutes, and students are able to move on the next set of tasks a lot quicker. Here’s how we did it:

Bank Robber with $250,000 Student Loan Debt

Ed Treleven:

A man who wore a three-dimensional Bucky Badger hat when he allegedly robbed an East Side credit union last week told police that he wants to go to prison and needed the money because he has $250,000 in student debt.
Randall H. Hubatch, 49, of Madison, was charged Friday with armed robbery for the Jan. 11 robbery of the Summit Credit Union, 1799 Thierer Road. What stood out about the robbery was Hubatch’s choice of apparel, which included the Bucky Badger hat.
“If the district attorney agrees to send me to prison for a long time, then I will confess and plead guilty,” Hubatch told Madison police Detective Tom Helgren after his arrest on Monday, according to a criminal complaint. “Otherwise, I have nothing else to say, and if released I will do it again.”

Special needs vouchers are an empty promise

Gary E. Myrah, Janis Serak and Lisa Pugh:

As a new legislative session gets underway, a statewide group concerned about the education of students with disabilities is waving a yellow caution flag.
Parents often say what is most important to them about their children’s education is that they receive quality instruction, they are safe and feel like they belong. Parents of children with disabilities are no different.
There is statewide disagreement about what ingredients go into creating a successful education for students with disabilities, but there is now a threat to students with disabilities that has the potential to harm not just them but all public school districts in Wisconsin.
Key legislative leaders have indicated that a proposal to expand school choice through “special needs scholarships,” commonly known as vouchers, is in the works. We, Wisconsin proponents for quality education for students with disabilities, believe this is a shallow solution that funnels public funding to private schools without accountability.
Children with disabilities have a right to an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, where educators and parents collaborate to design a successful educational program. This includes expectations and accountability for what children learn, how they will learn it and the supports required. These rights are the result of decades of parent struggle and advocacy to move children with disabilities out of church basements and kitchen classrooms to the neighborhood school, where they are included and educated alongside their siblings and neighbors.

Music & Math

Rachel Halliburton:

Not that Marcus du Sautoy – who, as well as being a professor of mathematics at Oxford university, has succeeded Richard Dawkins as Simonyi professor for the public understanding of science – can adequately be summed up by the word “mathematician”. For a start there’s the hurricane force of his personality (journalists have a lot of fun talking about his bright clothes), and the range of his ambition (theatre is a passion, as is the desire to be a chef). We meet at his home in Stamford Hill in north London and, as he waves his arms around talking about everything from turn-of-the-century polymath Poincaré to palindromes, his enthusiasm for music makes him resemble a follically challenged Simon Rattle.
I talk to du Sautoy about the riots that greeted Schoenberg’s work. Why did atonal music disturb people so much? “I think musicians wanted to upset audiences,” he replies. “They were breaking the complacency of previous music – people were expecting to reach one destination through harmony or rhythm, and suddenly they were pulled away to somewhere completely different. What’s so exciting for me is how different that soundscape was – it was a time of complete change. In some ways one does have to go through the whole gamut of history to understand 20th-century music.”

An A+ student regrets his grades

Afraj Gill:

The purpose and meaning of education is widely misunderstood and wrongly presented.
This is why the education system needs “reinventing, not reforming,” according to Harvard Innovation Education Fellow Tony Wagner. We’re creating a culture – reinforced by society and habitually drilled into students from an early age and well into their teens – that revolves around textbooks, lectures, GPAs and exams, where failing or not doing well are either unacceptable or wrongly considered a sign of weakness or a lack of intellect.
Education is not confined to the walls of a classroom; it stretches well beyond that. Valuing success above all else is a problem plaguing the schooling systems, at all levels, of many countries including Canada and the United States, and undermining those very qualities that are meant to foster an educated and skillful society.
This very issue took a toll on my own educational career, not in terms of academic performance, but other aspects considerably more important.
Less than three years ago, I graduated high school. I was a driven student who scored a 100 per cent average, served as the students’ council president and class valedictorian, earned over 16 scholarships/awards, etc. The bottom line is that I was a high achiever, but I mistakenly defined achievement in a way most do: with my GPA. It was only until a couple of years ago, when I began to question my own educational career, that I realized something profound: The academic portion of my high school life was spent in the wrong way, with cloudy motivations. I treated schooling and education synonymously. I had been directed not by my inner voice, but by societal pressures that limited my ability to foster personal creativity.

Next Made-in-China Boom: College Graduates

Keith Bradsher:

Zhang Xiaoping’s mother dropped out of school after sixth grade. Her father, one of 10 children, never attended.
But Ms. Zhang, 20, is part of a new generation of Chinese taking advantage of a national effort to produce college graduates in numbers the world has never seen before.
A pony-tailed junior at a new university here in southern China, Ms. Zhang has a major in English. But her unofficial minor is American pop culture, which she absorbs by watching episodes of television shows like “The Vampire Diaries” and “America’s Next Top Model” on the Internet.
It is all part of her highly specific ambition: to work some day for a Chinese automaker and provide the cultural insights and English fluency the company needs to supply the next generation of fuel-efficient taxis that New York City plans to choose in 2021. “It is my dream,” she said, “and I will devote myself wholeheartedly to it.”

Questions abound Wisconsin Governor Walker’s education agenda

Alan Borsuk

So let’s ask some detailed questions as a way of getting a glimpse of the education decisions that will be made between now and June. Walker has spoken only in generalities so far, including in his “state of the state” address last week. It’s clear that supporters of charter, voucher and virtual schools are going to be a lot happier than a lot of folks involved in public schools. And Walker has talked a lot about creating ways to include the success (or lack thereof) of a school in decisions about how much money it gets. But talking points aren’t policy.
So here are a dozen policy questions:
1: What will the governor propose for the revenue cap on public school students? Two years ago, the cap was cut by 5.5%, or $550 per student, in the first year of the budget, with most schools getting a $100 increase in the second year. That was dramatic after years in which the cap went up $200-plus each year. Walker appears on track to increase the cap this time. Will he go along with the $200 per year figure some, including some Republicans, are suggesting?
2: How much will state aid to schools go up? The revenue cap covers generally money that comes from the state and local property taxes combined. The more state aid, the less pressure on property taxes. Again, Walker has indicated he will support increasing state education spending. How much? And what portion will be in general aid increases and what portion in special funds such as money to reward high performing schools?
3: Walker said in the “state of the state” address, “We will lay out plans to provide a financial incentive for high-performing and rapidly improving schools.” What does he mean by that? There’s not much evidence nationally on what is really effective on this front. And Walker has been urged by people such as influential Republican Sen. Luther Olsen not to count on the new state report cards on schools as a basis for decisions. Olsen is among those saying it may be several years until the grades will be useful that way. Will Walker use the grades anyway as the basis for rewards and punishments?
4: What will Walker propose for the per-student payment for voucher and charter school students? The voucher payments have been held flat for four years at $6,442, while independent charter schools get $7,775 per student. (Depending on how you figure it, Milwaukee Public School gets something around $13,000 per student overall.) Charter and voucher leaders are pushing hard for sizable increases in the payments, and for high school vouchers to be worth more than grade school vouchers, just because high school is more expensive. Walker is clearly sympathetic.

Related: Comparing Milwaukee Public and Voucher Schools’ Per Student Spending. I’m glad Mr. Borsuk compared per student spending.

Ritalin Gone Wrong

L. Alan Sroufe:

THREE million children in this country take drugs for problems in focusing. Toward the end of last year, many of their parents were deeply alarmed because there was a shortage of drugs like Ritalin and Adderall that they considered absolutely essential to their children’s functioning.
But are these drugs really helping children? Should we really keep expanding the number of prescriptions filled?
In 30 years there has been a twentyfold increase in the consumption of drugs for attention-deficit disorder.
As a psychologist who has been studying the development of troubled children for more than 40 years, I believe we should be asking why we rely so heavily on these drugs.
Attention-deficit drugs increase concentration in the short term, which is why they work so well for college students cramming for exams. But when given to children over long periods of time, they neither improve school achievement nor reduce behavior problems. The drugs can also have serious side effects, including stunting growth.

Education: From blackboard to keyboard

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson & Chris Cook:

Higher education online courses are growing in popularity but their business model is uncertain
Your keystrokes will find you out. Students tempted to enlist outside help for their college tests risk disqualification if the pace and style with which they type their answers does not fit their unique “keystroke biometrics”.
This novel method of verifying that students are doing their own work is being pioneered by Coursera, one of the digital education start-ups that is rattling ivory towers and intriguing investors with so-called “Moocs” – “massive open online courses”.
Cheating in your essays is just one time-honoured practice in higher education that is being upended by technology. In the past year, Coursera has signed up 33 leading universities to offer more than 200 online courses to 2.2m users – and to do it for free.

A Bit of Sarbanes-Oxley for Universities, Please

Todd Zywicki:

The impulse to impose Sarbanes-Oxley on universities is tempting. Indeed, formal legal mandates on conflicts of interest and the other attributes of good governance might be even more appropriate for universities than for public corporations, as universities lack many of the safeguards of good governance, such as the ability to measure performance through profitability and engaged shareholders with incentives to monitor performance.
It has traditionally has been assumed that universities, as ostensibly charitable organizations, would be run with an eye on the public good, thus formal restraints on self-dealing, conflicts of interest, and rules that apply to private corporations would not be necessary. Today, however, universities are big businesses riven with self-interest. And there is little evidence that charitable purpose plays any role in their behavior. University president’s salaries routinely reach into the seven figures–Dartmouth’s recent president, for example, earned over one million dollars a year and demanded millions of dollars of renovations to the college president’s house and access to a private jet as part of his compensation package, even while laying off dozens of staff members and issuing hundreds of millions of dollars in debt (to be financed by future generations of students and parents) to close a massive budget deficit caused when the endowment cratered in the wake of the financial crisis.

Families and how to survive them: How differences that isolate individuals can unite humanity

The Economist:

Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. By Andrew Solomon. Scribner; 962 pages; $37.50. To be published in Britain by Chatto & Windus in February; £30. Buy from,
ANDREW SOLOMON never knew a time when he was not gay. He chose pink balloons over blue ones and described operas on the school bus rather than trade baseball cards. He was teased at school for being effete and ignored by children issuing party invitations. In his teens Mr Solomon began to suffer from depression. His parents, supportive and understanding, would have preferred their son to be straight and encouraged him to marry a woman and have a family. The recognition that he was gay came only when he understood that gayness was not a matter of behaviour, but of identity; and identity is learned by observing and being part of a subculture outside the family.

The case for school choice

Torrey Jaeckle:

This year over 41,000 students took advantage of Wisconsin’s open-enrollment policy to transfer to public schools outside their home district, according to the Department of Public Instruction. An additional 37,000 students attend over 200 charter schools. Over 25,000 students participate in the Milwaukee and Racine voucher programs, while 137,000 students attend over 900 private schools. Clearly demand for choice by parents and students is strong.
Yet choice is not without its critics. Some argue school choice is an effort to “privatize” public education. But Wisconsin is constitutionally required to provide public schools. And certainly families who are happy with traditional public schools (of which there are many) are not going to abandon them.
This fear of “privatization” begs the question: Is the goal of public education to achieve an educated public, or the creation of a certain type of school? Focusing on form over function is a mistake.
Others believe choice starves public schools of critical funding. But as the number of families exercising choice over the past few decades has grown dramatically, so have public school expenditures. According to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, from 1999 to 2011 real inflation-adjusted per pupil public school expenditures in Wisconsin have increased almost 16 percent, from $10,912 to $12,653.
In addition, a University of Arkansas study on the Milwaukee voucher program estimates it saved Wisconsin taxpayers nearly $52 million in 2011 due to the voucher amount being far less than what Milwaukee public schools typically spend per student. Arguing that choice has hurt public school finances is not supported by the evidence.
Another frequent criticism of school choice is the objection to taxpayer money being spent on private educational institutions. But our government spends taxpayer dollars on products and services from private companies all the time. Why is it OK to pay private contractors to build our schools, private publishing companies to provide the books and private transport companies to bus our children, but when the teacher or administrator is not a government employee we cry foul?
Our focus should be on educating children and preparing them for life, through whatever school form that might take.

Milwaukee school choice beats the alternative

Patrick J. Wolf & John F. Witte:

Education expert Diane Ravitch wrote in a Jan. 11 op-ed that Milwaukee should abandon its long-running school choice programs involving private and public charter schools and instead concentrate all education resources on a single, monopolistic public school system.
The actual research on school choice in Milwaukee argues against such a move. At the request of the State of Wisconsin, we led a five-year study of school choice in Milwaukee that ended last February. We found that school choice in Milwaukee has had a modest but clearly positive effect on student outcomes.
First, students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice (“voucher”) Program graduated from high school and both enrolled and persisted in four-year colleges at rates that were four to seven percentage points higher than a carefully matched set of students in Milwaukee Public Schools. Using the most conservative 4% voucher advantage from our study, that means that the 801 students in ninth grade in the voucher program in 2006 included 32 extra graduates who wouldn’t have completed high school and gone to college if they had instead been required to attend MPS.
Second, the addition of a high-stakes accountability testing requirement to the voucher program in 2010 resulted in a solid increase in voucher student test scores, leaving the voucher students with significantly higher achievement gains in reading than their matched MPS peers. Ravitch claimed in a Nov. 5 blog post that private schools no longer have to administer the state accountability test to their voucher students and post the results, but that assertion is and always was false.

Notes and links on school choice in Milwaukee. Comparing Milwaukee Public Schools and Voucher school per student spending.

Cleverer still: Geniuses are getting brighter. And at genius levels of IQ, girls are not as far behind boys as they used to be

The Economist:

SCIENCE has few more controversial topics than human intelligence–in particular, whether variations in it are a result of nature or nurture, and especially whether such variations differ between the sexes. The mines in this field can blow up an entire career, as Larry Summers found out in 2005 when he spoke of the hypothesis that the mathematical aptitude needed for physics and engineering, as well as for maths itself, is innately rarer in women than in men. He resigned as president of Harvard University shortly afterwards.
It is bold, therefore, of Jonathan Wai, Martha Putallaz and Matthew Makel, of Duke University in North Carolina, to enter the fray with a paper that addresses both questions. In this paper, just published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, they describe how they sifted through nearly three decades of standardised tests administered to American high-school students to see what had been happening to the country’s brightest sparks.

More Money at Risk on Teacher Evaluations

Al Baker:

A day after New York City’s failure to create a new teacher evaluation system cost it hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid, an exasperated state education official on Friday threatened to withhold more than $1 billion more from the city, including its share of federal Race to the Top grants.
John B. King Jr., the state education commissioner, said Obama administration officials had expressed such concern over the breakdown in the state’s largest school system that the state’s entire $700 million Race to the Top grant was also in danger.
Plans for evaluating teachers had to be in place by midnight Thursday for nearly 700 school districts in New York. When many of them were lagging behind a year ago, Arne Duncan, the federal education secretary, warned that the state could be a “national leader” or lose money from sliding back on commitments for reform. The city was one of only four districts to fail to submit a plan that is envisioned as an informed way to identify superior teachers and rid schools of ineffective ones.

School’s Twist on Going Private

Stephanie Banchero:

A Vermont town’s plan to close its only public grade school and reopen it as a private academy puts an unusual twist on efforts by parents and residents nationwide to seize more control of educational opportunities.
Moves to overhaul control of public schools have usually sought to improve institutions that are low-performing. But in the case of North Bennington Graded School, parents are satisfied with its academic showing.
Richard Beaven for The Wall Street Journal
John Ulrich teaches children at North Bennington Graded School in Vermont. Mr. Ulrich said he is conflicted about changing the school’s status.
Instead, their move was launched, in part, to ward off a state push for consolidation that the group fears could have led to the North Bennington, Vt., school being merged with another.

Mathematicians aim to take publishers out of publishing

Richard Van Noorden:

Mathematicians plan to launch a series of free open-access journals that will host their peer-reviewed articles on the preprint server arXiv. The project was publicly revealed yesterday in a blog post by Tim Gowers, a Fields Medal winner and mathematician at the University of Cambridge, UK.
The initiative, called the Episciences Project, hopes to show that researchers can organize the peer review and publication of their work at minimal cost, without involving commercial publishers.
“It’s a global vision of how the research community should work: we want to offer an alternative to traditional mathematics journals,” says Jean-Pierre Demailly, a mathematician at the University of Grenoble, France, who is a leader in the effort. Backed by funding from the French government, the initiative may launch as early as April, he says.

Slim Academy? Carlos Slim brings Khan Academy to LatAm

Adam Thomson:

¿Hablas inglés? If the answer is no, help is at hand: Carlos Slim, the world’s richest man, has just signed an agreement to translate the Khan Academy’s online classes into Spanish.
Through his Carlos Slim Foundation, the largest of its kind in Latin America, the Mexican telecoms tycoon has pledged to support the now-famous online academy founded by Salman Khan and popularised on Youtube.
The educational videos on subjects such as mathematics and science have racked up more than 225m views so far and the Khan Academy’s youtube channel has 550,000 subscribers.

Poor ranking on international test misleading about U.S. student performance, Stanford researcher finds

Jonathan Rabinovitz:

Socioeconomic inequality among U.S. students skews international comparisons of test scores, finds a new report released today by the Stanford Graduate School of Education and the Economic Policy Institute. When differences in countries’ social class compositions are adequately taken into account, the performance of U.S. students in relation to students in other countries improves markedly.
An accurate comparison of nations’ test scores must include a look at the social class characteristics of the students who take the test in each country, says Stanford education Professor Martin Carnoy.
The report, What do international tests really show about U.S. student performance?, also details how errors in selecting sample populations of test-takers and arbitrary choices regarding test content contribute to results that appear to show U.S. students lagging.
In conducting the research, report co-authors Martin Carnoy, a professor of education at Stanford, and Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, examined adolescent reading and mathematics results from four test series over the last decade, sorting scores by social class for the Program on International Student Assessment (PISA), Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), and two forms of the domestic National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
Based on their analysis, the co-authors found that average U.S. scores in reading and math on the PISA are low partly because a disproportionately greater share of U.S. students comes from disadvantaged social class groups, whose performance is relatively low in every country.

Schools need to teach soft skills

The Journal-Times:

“They just can’t present themselves — they have alcohol on their breath, bad hygiene, or some just kind of keep putting their foot in their mouth: They say they’re looking for a job because their unemployment compensation is about to run out.”
Nor are these just the extreme examples, stories swapped by business owners in a “you won’t believe this one” conversation. There’s a noticeable, serious lack of “soft skills” — the skills you would need at any job, regardless of the field, just to remain in good standing with your employer — among those looking for work, or newly employed, in Racine County .
Most of us learned these fundamental soft skills at home, at an early age: Show up for work every day you’re scheduled, unless you’re truly too sick to go in. Show up on time, ready to work. When you’re on the clock, you’re expected to be working.

How and Why You Should Learn Speed Reading

Ryan Whiteside:

Whether it’s reading more novels or keeping up with industry blogs, just imagine what it would be like if you could read 2, 3, or even 4 times faster than you do now.
The reality is you can do it… and it’s much easier than you think!
My name is Ryan Whiteside and I’m a personal development junkie. I’ve read (literally) hundreds of personal development books over the past five years. One of those books that I gained incredible value from was called Breakthrough Rapid Reading by Peter Kump.
Before that book I had never taken the subject of speed reading seriously. Like most people I was a bit skeptical it was even possible to learn speed reading, and if it was I thought it would be too difficult for me to learn.
As it turns out, speed reading was much easier than I expected. In only a matter of a few hours of practice with the drills in the book, I went from reading 180 WPM (slightly below average) to 450 WPM (top 1% fastest in the world). I couldn’t believe it!
I’ve been a slow reader my entire life, but now all of a sudden I was able to read over twice as fast as I did previously. A book that would normally take me 20 hours to read would now take me less than 10. I could now read 4-5 books a month instead of just 1-2.

Innovative lenses will boost learning

Joshua Silver:

Sir, You identify the life-changing potential of glasses for children in the developing world, shortlisted for the Design Museum’s Design of the Year award (“Design shortlist balances form against function“, January 14), but credit for the design belongs not to me personally but to the team at the Centre for Vision in the Developing World, of which I am CEO, and consultants Goodwin Hartshorn.
The true innovation of these glasses is not that their size is adjustable but that the wearer can – under the supervision of, for instance, a schoolteacher – adjust the power of each lens to correct his or her own vision.
Clinical trials (references are available at have shown that young people aged 12-18 as well as adults are able to achieve good correction by this process of self-refraction. We estimate that today at least 60m short-sighted children in the developing world lack access to accurate vision correction.

A Simple Choice Of Words Can Help Avoid Confusion About New Test Results

Matthew DiCarlo:

In 1998, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) lowered the threshold at which people are classified as “overweight.” Literally overnight, about 25 million Americans previously considered as having a healthy weight were now overweight. If, the next day, you saw a newspaper headline that said “number of overweight Americans increases,” you would probably find that a little misleading. America’s “overweight” population didn’t really increase; the definition changed.
Fast forward to November 2012, during which Kentucky became the first state to release results from new assessments that were aligned with the Common Core Standards (CCS). This led to headlines such as, “Scores Drop on Kentucky’s Common Core-Aligned Tests” and “Challenges Seen as Kentucky’s Test Scores Drop As Expected.” Yet, these descriptions unintentionally misrepresent what happened. It’s not quite accurate – or at least highly imprecise – to say that test scores “dropped,” just as it would have been wrong to say that the number of overweight Americans increased overnight in 1998 (actually, they’re not even scores, they’re proficiency rates). Rather, the state adopted different tests, with different content, a different design, and different standards by which students are deemed “proficient.”
Over the next 2-3 years, a large group of states will also release results from their new CCS-aligned tests. It is important for parents, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders to understand what the results mean. Most of them will rely on newspapers and blogs, and so one exceedingly simple step that might help out is some polite, constructive language-policing.

The Brothers Who Busted Philly Unions. For Good.

Steve Volk:

All of the videos are voyeuristic–surveillance-quality film of a construction site. The worst ones, shot from three different angles on a sunny day in July 2012, involve the fence:
On the screen we see an engineering contractor who wants to enter the controversial Goldtex construction site at 12th and Wood streets, only to find his path blocked by eight union men. With mincing steps, the non-union contractor–a middle-aged man in a blue short-sleeved shirt–tries to sneak in behind them, sidling through a narrow gap between a temporary chain-link fence and a stone wall. But the union men spot him, move toward the fence, and start to lean against it. Then we see four of them take turns pushing–using the fence like a microscope slide to fix the contractor against the wall. In one of the videos, you can hear the man start to cry out, his voice tremulous as he’s crushed. Finally, he slumps to the ground.
The most troubling part, though, isn’t the sight of the men trapping the contractor; it’s the brief glimpse of one of the protesters grinning as the contractor wails. And the way the union guys stroll casually away from the scene when their victim collapses.