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October 31, 2004

Cell Phones R Us: Avoiding Fiscal Responsibility the Madison School Board Way

Recently Governor Doyle directed state agencies to �examine all operations to bring accountability and fiscal responsibility to government�. As a result, the state has reduced the use of cell phones and saved thousands of dollars. The Department of Administration characterized the use of cell phones before this change as �part of the carelessness� that marked state spending under prior administrations.

Dane County and the City of Madison have written procedures that limit the assignment of cell phones to specific categories of employees. For example, the city permits assignment of a cell phone �where it is required that an employee be reachable at all times, or where an employee must be regularly able to make business telephone calls while in the field�.

In contrast, the Madison Metropolitan School District does not have a policy or an administrative procedure to restrict the use of cell phones at MMSD expense. Don�t expect that to change anytime soon, even though the annual cost of employee cell phones has increased 60% since 2001 from $51,225 to $82,259, including the monthly fee for each cell phone.

The majority of the Board does not favor budget targets for the superintendent or controls on how the administration spends the budget. The expanding use of cell phones by MMSD employees is just another example of this bias against fiscal controls.

At my request, Carol Carstensen scheduled a discussion of cell phone costs at the October 25, 2004 meeting of the Finance and Operations Committee. The administration provided a memo for the meeting and a list of the 257 current users of MMSD cell phones and their jobs, also at my request. The majority of the 3-member committee-- Carol Carstensen and Juan Lopez-- decided that no action was needed. Board president Bill Keys and members Bill Clingan, Shwaw Vang and Johnny Winston, Jr. also participated in the discussion.

In the administrative memo, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Roger Price explained the rationale for the district�s 257 cell phones:

�We experienced a significant increase in the need and use of cell phones following 9/11 and as we have continuously stressed safety of our students and staff�. A number of our building services personnel are on call for bomb threats in addition to their specific areas of responsibility. We have also added phones for custodial use for second and third shift where personnel are often isolated in our larger buildings.�
On its face, Price�s safety rationale seems to track the reasons that the city assigns cell phones to certain categories of employees. Of course, we should use cell phone technology to increase the safety of our staff and our students, whether the cell phones are needed inside the buildings or when staff work in the community or on field trips.

I recommended that the Board adopt a policy or procedure similar to the City�s procedures for that reason. No takers. Much indignation that I was trying to �micromanage� the administration�s work.

Why do I care?

First, because a policy or procedure that limited cell phone assignments to employees with special responsibility for safety could reduce costs about $30,000. That amount is enough to pay a half-time teacher for one year or purchase about 600 new textbooks. That amount is as much as the district gained from some of the fee increases that parents are paying in 2004-05.

Second, because the list of current users suggests that safety is not always the reason for the cell phone. Often the reason seems to be administrative convenience.

Here is the pattern of current cell phone assignments.

Our 30 elementary schools have 39 cell phones. Most are assigned to the building and checked out as needed. The 11 middle schools have 15 cell phones and the high schools have a total of 19, mostly in the hands of administrators and the athletics department. Alternative programs and external programs have 13 cell phones. Altogether the schools and these programs control of 33% of the cell phones. These assignments make sense and no doubt contribute to safety for students and staff. Moreover, this pattern of assignments seems to avoid monthly charges for phones not needed on a regular basis.

The remaining two-thirds of the cell phones are assigned to staff in Special Education (47 phones including 17 for administrators or coordinators), Business Services (9 phones), Building Services (29 phones), General Administration (32 phones) and Madison School Community Recreation Department (54 phones). Some of these employees fit the city�s criteria in that they �must be reachable at all times� because of the scope of their duties and their roles, such as assistant superintendents who must be reached by schools with crises. Some of the Building Service cell phones are appropriately assigned to custodial staff regularly working in isolated areas when schools are closed.

However, the General Administration staff assigned cell phones includes the downtown Athletics Coordinator, the top five staff in Human Resources, Legislative Liaison, the Public Information Officer, the secretary to the Board of Education, the Director of Research and Evaluation, the Lead Elementary Principal, the Director of Risk Management, 4 staff in the Teaching & Learning Department and 5 staff who work on Title I funding projects. It is difficult to understand why these employees could not share a few phones assigned to their buildings for the rare situation when their work would meet the city�s criteria. It is equally hard to imagine the 9/11 reasons for these phones.

The largest user of cell phones is MSCR with its 54 phones or 21% of all MMSD cell phones. Here again it seems that a cost-conscious administration would assign a smaller number of phones to locations or programs and require staff to sign them out when needed. Among MSCR staff assigned cell phones are employees responsible for aquatic programs, after school programs, canoeing and outdoor programs, pontoon boats, camps, and bus tours. Again, it seems that the MSCR use results in many monthly charges for many phones where more centralized assignments would meet the safety need but cut the monthly cost.

If you have comments on this topic, you can reach all Board members at No further action is currently scheduled on this topic.

Ruth Robarts,
Member, Madison Board of Education, 1997 - present

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October 28, 2004

Courage to Teach Fall Dinner Video Clips/MP3 Audio

Click on these links to view video clips from Wednesday's event:

Finally, here's a 4MB MP3 audio file of the event.

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October 27, 2004

School Tax Bill Increase Modest / Board Votes to Go Ahead with Leopold Elementary New School Design

School Tax Bill Increase Modest

Tuesday, October 26, 2004
By Lee Sensenbrenner The Capital Times

After a year of budget cutting and no referendums, Madison property taxpayers will see a modest increase in what they'll pay for public schools next year.
For the owner of the house that perfectly follows the city's statistical averages, rising in value this year from $189,500 to $205,400, the bill from the Madison Metropolitan School District will climb by $54. The total bill will be about $2,362, according to administrators' figures.

For the few whose assessments did not increase, the school property tax will decline; the budget that the Madison School Board passed Monday cuts the tax rate from $12.18 to $11.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a 5.6 percent dip.

Overall, the portion of the $317 million budget supported by local property taxpayers rose by 3.16 percent this year, from about $196 million to $202 million. The year before, when voters approved a referendum, the same levy rose by almost 10 percent and school taxes for the average homeowner went up by $216.

Each fall, after counting official enrollment and making other adjustments, the Madison School Board formalizes the budget it set the previous spring. In this cycle, the board cut nearly $10 million worth of services that were squeezed out as cost increases pressed against the state's cap on school spending.

Board member Ruth Robarts was the only dissenter in the votes to authorize the budget. She has criticized the administration for bringing up only parts of the budget for debate and scrutiny and she feels greater efficiencies could be found through fresh analysis and a more open process.

Other board members Monday praised the administration for a thorough and exhausting effort to come up with the best possible budget, given that nearly $10 million worth of services would be taken from schools.

"This is the budget of clarity," board President Bill Keys said, adding that it underwent more scrutiny and was presented in more detail than ever before.


Leopold Elementary: On a unanimous vote, the School Board also moved closer Monday to building a new school on the city's south side.

Their vote gives the administration permission to get architects' designs for the school and to propose wording for the referendum that would fund its construction.

So far, the plan is to build a school on the campus that connects to Leopold Elementary. The old building would serve kindergarten through second grade and the new school would serve third through fifth grade, creating a campus with some 800 or more elementary school students.

The initial estimates put the cost for the project at roughly $11 million.

Leopold Elementary has been crowded for several years and many students who would be within its enrollment boundary are bused to schools on the west and far southwest side. Administrators say new subdivisions in the area are expected to further speed the influx of new students around Leopold.

"Not trying to build a school on that site would represent a break in faith with the Leopold parents," board member Bill Clingan said. "This really is the only practical thing to do."

Juan Jose Lopez, a board member who also spoke in favor of the school, brought up the two perennial concerns of trying to build a new elementary school. He said the district must find a way to convince those without children and those who live away from the south side to vote for it.

For the second group, there is, among other things, talk of districtwide boundary changes for elementary school enrollment.


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School Board Oks Budget For 2004-05 / Board Voted Unanimously to Pursue Building a Second Elementary School

School Board Oks Budget For 2004-05
Taxes On The Average Madison Home Will Increase $54.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004
Doug Erickson Wisconsin State Journal

The Madison School Board passed a final budget Monday that raises taxes by $54 on the typical city home.
The owner of an average-priced home in Madison, now valued at $205,400, will pay $2,362 in school taxes for 2004, according to the district.

In 2003, the average home was valued at $189,500, and the school tax bill on it was $2,308.

The board passed a preliminary budget in May. Adjustments are made every October after fall enrollment and state aid become clear.

Monday, the board approved total spending of $317.2 million for the 2004-05 school year. Comparisons to last year are tricky because the district is including more than $7 million worth of grant money in this year's total, said Roger Price, assistant superintendent of business services. In the past, grant money was not part of this total, he said.

Price said last year's budget of $305.1 million compares to $309.5 million this year, an increase of 1.4 percent.

Of the total budget, $202.4 million will come from the local property tax levy, an increase of $6.2 million, or 3.2 percent.

The district's tax rate actually declined this year by 5.6 percent because the total value of property in the district rose due to factors such as inflation and new housing growth. However, most homeowners will pay more school taxes because the assessed value of their homes increased an average of 8.3 percent from last year to this year.

This year's tax increase of $54 on the average home is one-fourth of last year's $216 increase. That's because the one-year spending referendum passed by voters in June 2003 has expired. Also, board members cut programs and raised fees this year to make up a $10 million difference between what the district wanted to spend and what state law would allow it to spend.

District enrollment this year is 24,710, down 178 students.

The vote on the budget was 6-1, with Ruth Robarts dissenting. "There are efficiencies that we must look at, and I have very little confidence that we've done that with this budget," she said.

Also Monday:

* The board voted unanimously to pursue building a second elementary school on the campus of Leopold Elementary, 2602 Post Road.

The South Side school has 678 students -- the top end of its capacity. Many more students are expected in the next five years due to home construction in Fitchburg.

Monday's decision allows the administration to work with architects on a preliminary design. However, the board has not yet authorized a referendum. That decision will come in a later vote. The board is strongly leaning toward putting the issue on the ballot in April.

The district's Long Range Planning Committee recommended earlier in the evening that the board pursue the second school.

Because Leopold's attendance area is a peninsula that borders other school districts on three sides, changing boundaries would be an impractical solution, said Superintendent Art Rainwater. The district would be forced to change the attendance areas of many schools, in some cases busing children past their neighborhood schools to get to schools on the Isthmus or the East Side that have space.

"The only way to look at it is that you wipe out all the current boundaries and start over," he said.

The estimated cost of the new school is about $11 million.

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MMSD Budget Amendments and Tax Levy Adoption for 2004-2005

On Monday, October 25, 2004, the MMSD approved the final budget and tax levy for the 2004-2005 School Year. The budget was updated to include new grant revenues, accounting adjustments, 3rd Friday of September 2004 student count and State Aid certified by Department of Public Instruction.

The School Board passed three resolutions:

Resolution 1:

Be it resolved that the Board of Education approve amendments to the 2004-05 budget to reflect the adjustments between funds, departments and major functions as presented (October 25, 2004 document) and further that the Board of Education amend the 2004-05 budget to increase revenues and expenditures in the amount of $7,237,466.

Roger Price's Presentation for Resolution 1: Posted by at 12:50 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 25, 2004

Washington State Charter School Battle

Sam Dillon:

In Seattle, at a recent debate on charter schools at the University of Washington, sparring was intense.

"How long do I have to allow my kids to go to the public schools?" asked Henterson S. Carlisle, a teacher whose two children attend his school in the Seattle public system. "At what point can African-American kids who are suffering in the public system have some different options?"

A few minutes later in the same debate, Catherine Ahl, president of a school board on the Kitsap Peninsula west of Seattle and an officer of the Washington League of Women Voters, argued that charter schools, which are run by private boards rather than publicly elected ones, "take away citizens' rights to oversee the spending of tax dollars."

"We shouldn't divert funds to create a separate, private school system," Ms. Ahl said.

In a somewhat related article, Milwaukee School District residents are near their annual voucher cap (15% of district students). Sarah Carr takes a look at the politics, both locally and from the Governor.

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Insights into Rainwater's comment on MMSD's 80% success in reading

Ruth Robarts wrote, "In his memo [to reject $2 million in Reading First funds]Superintendent Rainwater argues that MMSD should refuse to make the proposed changes at the five schools because we are a "successful" district. He states that our reading program is a success because more than 80% of all third graders score at grade level or above ("proficient or advanced") on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test. Unfortunately, that's not true for the schools that qualified for Reading First grants. As Rainwater admits, more than 30% of the third graders in these schools fell below "proficient or advanced" scores in recent years. See "Madison Superintendent Declines $2M in Federal Funds Without Consulting the Board" below."

The superintendent's interprestion of the 80% success rate doesn't seem to appreciate what Reading First consultants recommend for the other 20%.

To see what a complete reading program looks like, you can link to presentations by the Institute for the Development of Educational Achievement.

The presentation on the Center to Improve Reading Competence Using Intensive Treatments Schoolwide is especially revealing in showing how a reading program can address 80% of a school population, but the program needs a secondary prevention program to assist 15% of the school's kids and a tertiary intervention for the 5% with severe, sustained reading difficulty.

From my experience, the MMSD does not appear to have consistent, effective intervention for either the 15% or the 5%.

Ed Blume

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October 23, 2004

Madison Board Will Not Discuss Superintendent's Decision to Quit Federal "Reading First" Program

In a recent submission, I discussed three reasons why I believe that the Madison School Board should receive more information about Superintendent Rainwater's decision to end participation of five elementary schools in the federal "Reading First" program. See "What the Board Should Know Before Rejecting "Reading First" Funding".

I remain unconvinced that Rainwater's memo makes the case for declining $2M in federal reading assistance at Hawthorne, Glendale, Orchard Ridge and Lincoln/Midvale schools. In particular, the Board should be concerned about the reading achievement gap at each of these schools between economically disadvantaged children and children who are not economically disadvantaged. The results on the reading test at fourth grade in 2003--part of the Wisconsin Knowledge Concepts Evaluation tests---show these gaps between the economically disadvantaged students scoring "proficient or advanced" and their peers.

Hawthorne: Econ. Disadvantaged = 57%
Not Disadvantaged = 77%
Glendale: Econ. Disadvantaged = 73%
Not Disadvantaged = 82%
Orchard Ridge: Econ Disadvantaged = 55%
Not Disadvantaged = 90%
Lincoln: Econ. Disadvantaged = 66%
Not Disadvantaged = 88%
For District elementary schools combined: Econ. Disadvantaged = 66%
Not Disadvantaged = 88%

However, President Bill Keys has polled the Board members and told me that they all agree that discussion is not necessary. Here is our exchange of e-mails.

Bill: Please arrange for the Board to discuss the continuation of the Reading First funding at Hawthorne, Glendale, Orchard Ridge and Lincoln/Midvale. I don't think that the Board has sufficient information to approve the superintendent's action. Ruth

As I stated in an earlier email, I do not believe a meeting of the Board to discuss any one particular grant is appropriate. Historically, the Board has neither approved applications for grants, nor disapproved them so long as they are consistent with Board policies and MMSD practices and mission. Applying for grants is the work of the Administration and staff, and I believe that its action regarding the grant you refer to is consistent with their charge. I have polled all other Board members, and all feel the same: the Superintendent's action does not need their approval. Thus, I won't arrange for the Board to discuss the continuation of the Reading First grant at Hawthorne, Glendale, Orchard Ridge and Lincoln/Midvale.

I need to correct the wording of my last email re your request to have the Board discuss this subject. I simply polled the members and they said that they do not want to meet on this subject.


Bill: I believe that when the district receives grants, the Board
votes each time to increase the budget to include the grant. We also
regularly hear presentations about why the district is pursuing a
curriculum-related grant, such as funds for Comprehensive School


Posted by Ruth Robarts at 7:56 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 22, 2004

Could Madison Use Milwaukee�s Successful Reading Programs?

Please plan to attend a presentation by two principals of Milwaukee elementary schools that use a curriculum that won Barton Elementary federal recognition as a Blue Ribbon school, the only one in Wisconsin:

Could Madison Use Milwaukee�s Successful Reading Programs?
Norm and Dolores Mishelow
1:00 p.m.
Sunday, November 7
Madison Senior Center
330 W. Mifflin

Principal Norm Mishelow will discuss how academic achievement excels at Barton, because the school teaches reading using Direct Instruction (DI), a program that provides a detailed script for teacher-student interaction. The program focuses on small group learning and emphasizes phonics. The school also uses a math curriculum that focuses generally on building basic arithmetic skills.

Norm�s wife Dolores is a former principal of 27th Street School which was a failing school before she took over. She started DI, and their test scores soared. She used to believe in all the whole language and warm fuzzy teaching until, of course, she saw the light with DI. Norm was not using DI until Dolores nudged him to try it (after she retired) and his scores, though decent without DI, hit the stratosphere once DI got humming.

The same curriculum in MMSD elementary schools could help close the achievement gap, cut instructional costs, reduce special ed referrals, and raise achievement overall.

You can read more about Barton School.

Ed Blume

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The Yin & Yang of Curriculum

Interesting timing, given Jeff's post below about West's intention to drop advanced biology.

Doug Erickson on Madison Country Day School's expansion announcement:

Madison Country Day School broke ground Thursday on a $4.8 million expansion that will add a gymnasium, a performing arts stage and 13 classrooms.

The addition, which will house the private school's middle and high school, is expected to be done in August.

Opened in 1997 with 22 students in five lower grades, the school has grown to 252 students in grades pre- kindergarten through 10th. It reached capacity two years ago and is now using two portable buildings, said Adam de Pencier, head of school. "We're absolutely jammed."

The school at 5606 River Road is in the town of Westport near Waunakee. It is a non- religious, independent school that was designed to incorporate the best curriculum from around the world. The school wants to be seen as a research facility whose teaching practices can be used as a model for other public and private schools, de Pencier said.

The school was founded by Christopher Frautschi, nephew of philanthropist Jerry Frautschi, whose $205 million donation is paying for construction of the Overture Center for the Arts in Madison.

As always, there are options for people willing to spend the money. A challenging and proven curriculum is vital to our community.

I recently emailed a bit with Bill Keys, Madison School Board President, thanking him for the BOE's support of Lapham's English program and two school's exploration of Singapore Math. Here's the email message.

Friends of the school already have pledged $2.8 million to the $4.8 million capital campaign, de Pencier said. The Frautschi family foundation has pledged an additional $1 million, to be matched by the final $1 million raised in the community.

The school hopes to increase its high school enrollment to about 50 students per grade, at which time a separate high school building would be needed, de Pencier said. There are eight sophomores and two freshmen this year.

Total enrollment is up about 25 students from last year, he said. High school tuition at Madison Country Day School is $10,400. That compares to $6,730 at Edgewood High School and $4,740 at Abundant Life Christian School, two private, religious schools in

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October 21, 2004

West again proposes eliminating Accelerated Biology

Information from West High reveals that once again the Accelerated Biology course is being slated for the chopping block. The cutting of this course is being proposed as part of the initiative to maintain all inclusive, heterogeneous classrooms. Proponents of this cut, propose an alternative "Honors" designation for interested students who wish to be challenged above the standard course curriculum. Under this proposal, these "honors" students would do additional work alongside the standard curriculum that they would be completing in the heterogeneous classroom.

It was just this past spring, that a community letter writing campaign kept the accelerated biology class from being eliminated. If interested in sharing your thoughts on this program cut, please contact Mike Lipp, Science Dept. chair, Mikki Smith, Vice Principal in charge of scheduling, or Principal Ed Holmes.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 2:28 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Lifting the School System

Lifting the School System

Published Letter in New York Times: October 21, 2004

To the Editor:

In "Improving Education" (letter, Oct. 16), the writer says we not only need money but also "new ideas" to improve public education. But public education has been flooded with new ideas in recent decades, and far too many children continue to leave school without a decent education.

Just as improvements to horses and buggies do not produce an automobile, so all the many improvements to public schools over recent years do not add up to the new kind of education system needed to educate children in today's world.

Learning can be brought to the levels now needed only by basically changed relationships among students, teachers and families, in which each participant first holds himself accountable for quality performance and then the others for collaborating and support in nonbureaucratic ways.

Educational experience and research confirm that these relationships make some schools successful, even with students from difficult backgrounds. What subverts the system is the bureaucratic culture in public schools.

The current drive for more money and accountability is unlikely to reform our schools, only further entrench the existing dysfunctional public school system. Policy makers need to face this fundamental system change.

David S. Seeley
Staten Island, Oct. 18, 2004
The writer is a professor of education at the CUNY Graduate Center.

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LaFollette School Staffing - Special School Board Meeting - October 11, 2004

On Monday, October 11, the MMSD School Board met in a special meeting to review the request for additional staffing for La Follette High School. The District Administration was requesting an additional 1.65 FTE. Rather than hire new staff, District Administration was proposing to provide the additional staffing through existing teacher overloads. Requests for teacher overloads would be done on a voluntary basis.

Three teachers from La Follette spoke during public appearances at the meeting. They believed that staffing needs at La Follette were more than requested by District Administration. These teachers were concerned that too many students were spending nearly half their school day in study halls due to in adequate staffing needs and that teachers were feeling overburdened with existing staffing levels.

Since 2000, teacher FTEs at the high schools have decreased by 7 FTE, and the number of high school students has increased by 679 students.

Following is the video of one of the teachers who spoke during public appearances - Peggy Ellerkamp, LaFollette librarian.

Peggy Ellerkamp

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Bill Cosby Visits Milwaukee North Division High School

Meg Kissinger & Mark Johnson:

He pilloried the media.

Cosby, who was criticized for comments last spring by some who thought he was too harsh on young African-Americans, saved much of his venom for the media. Looking at the scores of reporters in the crowd, he said:

"They won't show up again until you kill somebody. They don't show up and write about you until your test scores are so damn low and they can prove that you're not smart. They don't care about you.

"We are letting TV sets raise our children," he said. "A transformation has to take place.

Eugene Kane summarizes the visit here. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial

MP3 Audio File

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October 20, 2004

Parental Involvement Critical in the Drug War

Amelia Buragas:

Don't be afraid to be involved - even intrusive - if you want to keep your kids off drugs, a Middleton High School student advised parents at a forum Tuesday night.

More than 250 people packed the school's cafeteria to ask questions and get information from a panel that included school officials, social workers, students and police officers. Catherine Zdeblick also sat on the panel. Her daughter Julie, a junior at Middleton High School, died from an Oxycontin overdose in March. That death has had a big impact on the community.

Beth Wild, 18, who was a friend of Julie's, talked about her own recovery from addiction to marijuana and Oxycontin. She told the crowd that her parents were instrumental in getting her sober because they were always there for her.

Wild, a senior at the Middleton Alternative High School, said she has been sober for 99 days, although she has been in treatment for two years.

She said that after several unhealthy relationships she finally decided to take her treatment seriously. Wearing a T-shirt that said "high on life," Wild told the crowd, "I love life and I'm very proud of myself."

I sent an email to Tom Vandervest, Middleton High's principal urging him to post an html/pdf, audio and video transcript on their web site. He responded with "Our school personnel will be recording it for our use. Thanks, Tom".

I hope that includes posting it online.

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Reading First Rejection Hits Minorities Hardest

Superintendent Rainwater's rejection of Reading First funds hits students of color the hardest. The funding would have gone to the following schools:

Lincoln - 77.4% of the students are minority students
Midvale - 72.5%
Hawthorne - 61.1%
Glendale - 64.4%
Orchard Ridge - 39.1

Ed Blume

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Class Multiplies but the Math Divides

Samuel G. Freedman:

Ms. Dempsey circled all those numbers on her own chart, which was being projected onto the blackboard. Now, she said, everyone in the class should color in all the multiples of two on his or her page. The students uncapped their yellow markers and set about filling in the appropriate boxes, noting the patterns they formed.

"Wonderful," Ms. Dempsey said, looking over one child's completed worksheet. "Just awesome."

At one particular desk, though, Jimmy was solving a different problem. He had just transferred to Claremont from a nearby Catholic school, and during the lesson he had whispered to an educator who happened to be visiting the room, "I know all my facts," by which he meant his multiplication tables.

So that educator, Ferzeen Bhana, the math coordinator for Ossining's elementary schools, gave him a problem to try: 23 times 16. Within a minute, Jimmy delivered 368, the correct answer. Ms. Bhana asked him how he had gotten it. Jimmy offered her a shy, yearning face and said nothing.

That brief moment, one moment in one school in one middle-income town, described the divide of the math wars in America. It was evident to Ms. Bhana that Jimmy had learned multiplication the old-fashioned way, with drills, algorithms and concepts like place-value. The rest of the students were using a curriculum called Investigations, one of the new constructivist models, which teaches reasoning out a solution.

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October 19, 2004

What the School Board Should Know Before Rejecting "Reading First" Funding

According to John Dewey, the public school system "should want for every child what a good and wise parent wants for his child. Anything less is unlovely and undermines democracy".

I think that this principle must guide the Madison Board of Education in deciding whether to permit Superintendent Rainwater to reject approximately $2M in federal funding for early reading programs at Hawthorne, Glendale, Orchard Ridge and Midvale/Lincoln Schools. Unless the superintendent can demonstrate that all families in these schools can expect better reading achievement from continuing the current reading curriculum than from adopting the curriculum required by the "Reading First" program, we should continue to participate in the program.

For me, key questions were not answered in the October 14, 2004 memo that the Board received from Mr. Rainwater.

First, why did these five elementary schools qualify for "Reading First" funding? According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the Reading First grants target Wisconsin schools where there is a documented gap of two to four years in reading levels between low-income students, racial/ethnic groups, students with limited English proficiency, Special Education and higher-performing peers. Are these the kinds of gaps that existed in these schools when MMSD sought the extra funds?

Second, why did the Reading First expert, Dr. Howe, require that the schools adopt a different reading curriculum? Did Dr. Howe offer solid reasons for the Madison schools to conclude that changing reading programs would close these achievement gaps? Specifically, what improvements might occur in reading achievement of low-income, racial/ethnic groups, students with limited English proficiency or Special Education students?

Third, why should parents of children in these schools who are significantly behind in reading believe that the district's program is better than the program proposed by Dr. Howe?
What's the evidence that keeping on with our current program will be the better alternative for these children?

In his memo Superintendent Rainwater argues that MMSD should refuse to make the proposed changes at the five schools because we are a "successful" district. He states that our reading program is a success because more than 80% of all third graders score at grade level or above ("proficient or advanced") on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test. Unfortunately, that's not true for the schools that qualified for Reading First grants. As Rainwater admits, more than 30% of the third graders in these schools fell below "proficient or advanced" scores in recent years. See "Madison Superintendent Declines $2M in Federal Funds Without Consulting the Board" below.

Bottom-line: It's not logical or responsible to refuse to adopt a different reading curriculum at five especially challenged schools because reading scores are better in the aggregate in the district. What matters is the gaps in achievement within these schools.

Since 1998, a major priority of the Board of Education has been that all children read at grade level by the end of third grade. Until the superintendent provides more complete information to answer my basic questions, I am inclined to think that the Reading First funds might be another step in the direction of achieving that goal.

Ruth Robarts,
Member, Madison Board of Education

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Details on Reading Program Rejected by Superintendent

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction hosts a Web site of information on Reading First, which Superintendent Rainwater said would have "injured" Madison students.

On the Web site DPI says, "Wisconsin is proud to assist teachers in the 65 Reading First schools in the areas of professional development in reading; implementation of the essential components of reading instruction; and the selection and/or administration of screening, diagnostic, progress monitoring, and outcome assessments."

Does the DPI endorse injuring the students in 65 schools?

See more at the DPI Web site.

Ed Blume

Posted by Ed Blume at 8:22 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Reactions to statement on new school on Leopold site

Here's a copy of the statement I used to address the Long Range Planning Committee on October 18.

After my statement, discussions with and among the Committee clarified that the annual additional cost of operating a new school falls in the range of $300,000 to $400,000 annually, not $2.4 million as I had calculated. The cost isn't so high, according to the discussion, because the district already spends money on teachers and supplies that would simply move into a new building. Even with an annual operating cost increase of $300,000, no one pointed to a specific plan to cover the expense and no backup should a referendum fail to allow spending above the state-imposed revenue cap.

The student representative on the Board acknowleged at West might be crowded but it wasn't a major concern. [I'm sorry that I don't remember his exactly words, but I think I have the meaning of what he said.] District officials said that more detailed five-year enrollment projections would be available on the MMSD Web site in November.

Carol Carstensen agreed with the suggestion for more hearings across the city.

From Board members' comments at the meeting and in news reports, the Board appears ready to approve a referendum.

Ed Blume

I suggest that the Long Range Planning Committee take the time to think beyond an April referendum on a new school, rather than rush to approve a referendum with possible consequences you�ve not yet considered.

I ask you to do only three simple things � consider the tax and referenda implications of a new school; consider a possible tidal-wave of enrollment on other schools; and, listen to the advice of the district�s citizens.

First, take the time to understand the budget consequences of a new school. By this I mean that you needed a referendum for operating expenses for this school year. You expect to schedule a referendum for operating expenses for next school year, and, I presume, every year into the foreseeable future.

How much additionally will you need to ask from taxpayers in annual referenda to fund a new elementary school? I have a possible answer � in the neighborhood of $2.4 million a year -- the current cost of operating a K-5 school, based on a total elementary budget of $66.4 million and the equivalent of 28 K-5 schools. That�s $2.4 million on top of whatever amount you need for current operations.

What�s your back-up plan if one of those annual referenda fails? Deleting whole programs, like strings, athletics, all extra curricular activities, or core programs? Closing schools? Massive layoffs? You appear to be hurtling down a budgetary slope without a map or safety line.

Second, take the time to understand the enrollment impact of a new elementary school on the middle school and high school it will serve. As I understand it, West High School has an overcrowding problem. Will a new elementary school push a tsunami of more students into an overcrowded high school? Again, you�re apparently headed into unknown consequences.

Third, citizens of the broad Madison school community include people with a tremendous amount of expertise in education, management, finance, urban planning, real life, and more. You should use every possible opportunity to tap their knowledge.

I have this perhaps naive democratic belief that the more ideas you get the better the final outcome, so you should schedule several well-publicized hearings throughout the district before deciding that a referendum is your only possible option.

In summary, I simply ask the Long Range Planning Committee to take the time to understand the broad range of unintended consequences of a new school and solicit the community�s expertise. If you don�t, you may well create a solution for Leopold today and migraine headaches for students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers in the very near future.

Posted by Ed Blume at 11:34 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Superintendent Declines $2M in Federal Funds Without Consulting the Board

On Friday, October 15, Madison School Board members received an e-mail from Superintendent Art Rainwater announcing that the district will withdraw from a federal program known as Reading First.

In subsequent interviews with local newspapers, Rainwater estimated that the decision means forgoing approximately $2M in funds for materials to help students in the primary grades learn to read. The Cap Times
Wisconsin State Journal

Whenever the district qualifies for such federal grants, the Board votes to increase the budget to reflect the new revenues. To the best of my knowledge, the superintendent has not discussed this decision with the Performance & Achievement Committee. He has certainly not included the full Board in the decision to withdraw from Reading First.

The memo follows (click on the link below to view it or click here to view a 200K PDF):

October 14, 2004

To: MMSD Board of Education
From: Art Rainwater
RE: Update on Federal Reading First Grants

Five Madison Schools (Hawthorne, Glendale, Orchard Ridge, Midvale and Lincoln) were awarded federal Reading First Grants by the Department of Public Instruction beginning with the 2003-04 school year. Federal grants are distributed through the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction but are ultimately based upon federal approval.

After several months of discussion with federal grant personnel, the MMSD has decided not to pursue the continuation of the Reading First Grants for the following reasons:

� The current MMSD Comprehensive Literacy Instructional Program is based on scientific research and is successful with 80% of our children.

� The program is resulting in continual growth in numbers of proficient and advanced readers and is resulting in a continued narrowing of the achievement gap.

� To this point we have made significant changes to our program to meet the criteria of Reading First which will result in improved achievement for our students, but. the further specific changes that would be necessary for us to continue with the Reading First process would not be productive for our students and in fact could be detrimental to student progress.

Therefore we are notifying DPI that we are not continuing with Reading First grants. DPI will discontinue funding for MMSD schools for years 2-5. This memo details the background and rationale for this decision.


In December, 2003, the Madison Metropolitan School District was notified by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction that some MMSD elementary schools were eligible to apply for Federal Reading First grants. Reading First is a national initiative and the criteria for grant approval are very prescriptive. DPI had just received approval of their Wisconsin Reading First Grant which in turn allowed them to provide grants to districts and/or schools throughout Wisconsin based on established criteria. The grant procedures called for applying a comprehensive evaluation process to a number of published core literacy programs and then making a selection of a published program to purchase. The MMSD hesitated to apply because the criteria did not align with MMSD�s approach to literacy instruction. However, in lieu of the purchase of a published reading program, there was one additional option for applying for the Reading First grant. A school or district could review the current literacy program in place in the school/district using a process called A Consumer�s Guide to Evaluating a Core Reading Program Grades K-3: A Critical Elements Analysis (Simmons, D. & Kame�enuie, E., 2003). We were encouraged by DPI to consider this option and to apply.

After reviewing the criteria of the grant and the alternative option and in consultation with DPI, five schools and the MMSD central office staff made the decision to take this alternative option to apply for the grants. A review of the MMSD Balanced Literacy Program using the Consumer Guide was then conducted.

The results of this review, the MMSD Comprehensive Literacy Instructional Program or CLIP, became the basis for five Madison schools to complete the application for Reading First grants. CLIP includes the components of our current Balanced Literacy Program but organizes them into the five critical factors that were called for in the Reading First Grant:

Phonemic Awareness

Five grant proposals were submitted to DPI and each grant was awarded. The five Reading First Schools met with DPI personnel and selected and purchased additional core and supplemental materials during the last months of the first year of the grant. During the summer, the school personnel participated in all of the State�s Reading First staff development activities.

In planning for the 2004-05 year, the CLIP was passed to the federal Western Regional Reading First Technical Assistance (WRRFTA) Center for the Midwest Region at the University of Oregon for final federal review. The person assigned to this review was Dr. Kathy Howe. On August 16, 2004, the district and DPI were notified by Dr. Howe that the Center would not recommend approval of the MMSD CLIP without the addition of a scope and sequence and specific lesson plans. In a letter dated September 8, 2004, Dr. Margaret Planner, Assistant Superintendent with the DPI, notified MMSD that second year funds for the Reading First Grant would be withheld until agreement could be reached with Dr. Howe and the WRRFTA Center about the additions needed. An ongoing conversation between the Center, MMSD and DPI occurred during the summer and early fall of the 04-05 school year to identify the expansions that were necessary. These included a scope and sequence, lesson plans and a way to ensure program implementation. During September, MMSD created the CLIP Scope and Sequence, CLIP Teacher Planning Guide and CLIP Implementation Monitoring System in response to the concerns noted from Dr. Howe. We felt that these expansions added value to our program.

On October 7, Dr. Jane Belmore, along with MMSD teaching and learning staff, and Reading First principals and school based coordinators, held a day long meeting with Dr. Howe. Dr. Howe gave an in-depth presentation regarding Reading First. She presented the scientifically based reading research evaluation process that the State of Oregon had completed to fulfill the requirements for its Reading First Grant. She used specific components from the Houghton Mifflin reading program as examples of a program that met the federally described criteria for a scientifically based reading program. However, she stated that to date there is no research that shows long term success with implementation of published programs such as this one.

Dr. Howe then received information from MMSD that specifically related our Comprehensive Literacy Instructional Program (CLIP) to the scientifically based reading research contained in the 2000 National Reading Panel Report, as well as to A Consumer�s Guide to Evaluating a Core Reading Program (2003)and Dr. Simmons and Dr. Kame�enui�s research based stages for school support of reading programs. In M. R. Shinn, H. M. Walker, & G. Stoner (Eds.), Interventions for academic and behavior problems II: Preventive and remedial approaches (pp. 537-569) Dr. Simmons and Dr. Kame�enui describe a core reading program in the following way:

�Benchmark intervention, or what typically includes the core instructional program in general education, should prepare 80% or more of the students to read at grade level. Approximately 15% of students will require strategic intervention, or what is provided in general education and some additional support, because they are not acquiring the beginning reading skills at high levels and rates of success. Finally, approximately 5% of students will require intensive intervention because they are significantly at-risk based on their poor performance on the screening measures.�

Dr. Howe was presented with MMSD student outcome data that shows the MMSD CLIP is a core reading program because it is successful for 80% of the students (see charts below). She was impressed with our data and was surprised that we were eligible for a Reading First grant because our data was so strong. While the overall data are strong, the five schools that meet the Wisconsin criteria for Reading First had 30% or more of the students not scoring proficient and advanced. One of the stated purposes of a Reading First grant is �to enable all students to become successful early readers�, thus the students in these schools are the very students for whom the Reading First Grant was designed.

Based on Dr. Howe�s earlier suggestions for program modifications, the following additional components that had been developed were shared and discussed:

� a thorough CLIP Scope and Sequence covering skills in the critical component areas

� an explicit CLIP Teacher Planning Guide for teachers to follow in developing lesson plans in each critical area including a systematic way of planning instruction for struggling readers

� a structured Comprehensive Literacy Instruction Program implementation monitoring system that will ensure that teachers are implementing the program appropriately

Following a lengthy discussion and analysis of our work, we found it contradictory that although the MMSD CLIP met the 80% criteria for a core reading program, Dr. Howe stated it did not meet the scientifically based reading research criteria process specifically designed for Reading First grants. While she applauded MMSD�s efforts in completing the additional components, she stated that in order to be considered for approval for the Reading First grant the following must occur:

� teachers should be given �scripted daily lesson plans� that would not allow for �teacher judgment about instruction� (either MMSD should create these lesson plans or MMSD should consider purchasing a published program that includes scripted plans) � this recommendation is in direct conflict with the research underlying the MMSD program that shows students learn best with highly trained teachers making sound judgments about the content, sequence and pacing of instruction for individual students.

� early reading instruction should focus only on phonetic decoding and should not include �reading for meaning� � children should not be encouraged to use picture cues or make educated guesses about words they do not yet know- this recommendation is in direct conflict with the research underlying our program that shows reading for meaning and using context cues in addition to phonics are strategies that students need to be successful readers.

When questioned about the suggestion that MMSD should consider discontinuing the current Literacy Program and purchasing a published program, Dr. Howe was not able to assure the district that research has shown that the adoption of a published program would guarantee the same level of 80% success that MMSD is currently achieving. She stated that Reading First had not been in implementation long enough to determine these results.


MMSD�s Balanced Literacy Program has been carefully developed around research that indicates that:

� instruction should be based upon the assessment of a student�s literacy strengths and needs

� each teacher should have the capacity (developed through a strong, cohesive, ongoing professional development program) to target specific literacy instruction to meet the identified student needs

� teachers are the most appropriate people to make decisions about the selection of instructional materials, and the content, sequence and pacing of instruction.

MMSD does not have one single published reading program; rather we have a range of appropriate texts and supporting materials available for teachers to select to meet the needs of students which support the instructional goals of the program.

In addition to having consistent instruction in all five critical areas of literacy, the contextual support provided for the MMSD Comprehensive Literacy Program ensures that appropriate interventions can be implemented based on the need of the student. An essential foundation for the MMSD program is that the teacher assesses each student�s instructional levels to determine the skills that they possess and the skills that they still need to acquire. Also essential to the MMSD program is the development of high quality teachers, who implement assessments, analyze the results and make ongoing decisions to plan and implement informed instruction for students. Research shows that these two essentials will result in student success. MMSD student data shows that these two essentials along with the core program have produced success.

It is not reasonable nor would data support MMSD in following Dr. Howe�s suggestion to eliminate our current program and purchase a single published program. The success of our current program indicates that we should not develop �scripted lesson plans� nor should we curtail the use of �meaning strategies� in instruction for young readers. The success of the MMSD Literacy Program is based on systematic instruction delivered by highly trained teachers making instructional decisions. Reading First would not support teachers making instructional decisions.

Further federal review and approval would not take place unless these significant changes were made. Therefore MMSD is electing not to continue to seek Reading First Grant funding.

Supporting Data:
Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test : Madison Results 2003-04

Reaching the level of 80% of students becoming proficient in reading by third grade was achieved during years that saw significant demographic changes in the MMSD. The percent of students of poverty increased from 25% in 1998 to 35% in 2003. The percent of students for whom English is a second language has increased from 5% of total enrollment to 12%. The percent of students of color has increased from 25% of the total enrollment to 35%.

An analysis of third grade reading scores based on race and socio- economic status shows that:

� There is no statistical achievement gap for middle income students regardless of race.

� There is no statistical gap between any group in the minimal category.

� There continues to be a gap between low income students by race and between low income and middle income students regardless of race.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 12:37 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 18, 2004

The value of AP courses

A study published this year in Psychological Science by April Bleske-Rechek and colleagues highlights the importance of Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Students who took AP courses in high school were much more likely to go on and obtain an advanced degree after graduating from college than similar students who did not take AP courses. This suggests that if we want students to make the most of their intellectual abilities, and if we want society to benefit from this intellectual capital, we need to provide these students with appropriate levels of challenge in their school coursework.

The following is from the abstract of the paper (with emphasis added) We evaluated the Advanced Placement (AP) program from the point of view of intellectually precocious youth and their subsequent educational-vocational outcomes, analyzing normative and idiographic longitudinal data collected across 30 years from 3,937 participants. Most took AP courses in high school, and those who did frequently nominated an AP course as their favorite. Students who took AP courses, compared with their intellectual peers who did not, appeared more satisfied with the intellectual caliber of their high school experience and, ultimately, achieved more. Overall, this special population placed a premium on intellectual challenge in high school and found the lack of such challenge distressing. These findings can inform contemporary educational policy debates regarding the AP program; they also have general implications for designing and evaluating educational interventions for students with special needs.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 1:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 17, 2004

MTI's John Matthews on 4 Year Old Kindergarden

John Matthews, writing in the Wisconsin State Journal:

For many years, recognizing the value to both children and the community, Madison Teachers Inc. has endorsed 4-year-old kindergarten being universally accessible to all.

This forward-thinking educational opportunity will provide all children with an opportunity to develop the skills they need to be better prepared to proceed with their education, with the benefit of 4- year-old kindergarten. They will be more successful, not only in school, but in life.

Four-year-old kindergarten is just one more way in which Madison schools will be on the cutting edge, offering the best educational opportunities to children. In a city that values education as we do, there is no question that people understand the value it provides.

Because of the increasing financial pressures placed upon the Madison School District, resulting from state- imposed revenue limits, many educational services and programs have been cut to the bone.

During the 2001-02 budget cycle, the axe unfortunately fell on the district's 4-year-old kindergarten program. The School Board was forced to eliminate the remaining $380,000 funding then available to those families opting to enroll their children in the program.

School districts such as Madison have not been able to provide 4-year-old kindergarten because under existing state-imposed revenue limits, there is no state aid for pupils enrolled in the first year of the program. Under the antiquated state school finance law, it takes three years for a school board to achieve full funding for the program. The Madison board recently estimated the need for an additional $4 million in 2005-06 alone to implement a 4-year-old kindergarten program.

While 4-year-old kindergarten is expensive, it provides substantial benefits. According to the often-cited Chicago Longitudinal Study, the positive impact of an early and extensive early childhood program saves the public significant money over the long haul. Under the leadership of UW-Madison professor Arthur J. Reynolds, the 16-year study found that early intervention programs reduce expenditures for school remedial services of grade retention and special education, among other costs. In fact, overall, $7.10 was returned to society at large for every dollar invested in pre- school.

With Gov. Jim Doyle and state schools Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster promoting funding of 4-year- old kindergarten in the next state budget, the Madison board is discussing making this valuable program available to Madison's children once again.

Madison Teachers Inc. is supportive of this proposal, but only if the board keeps control of the program to assure its quality and employs teachers who have achieved the education and license to carry out the district's mission.

The children and the taxpayers deserve this assurance. The quality of education depends on it. MTI believes that the success of the program depends on the quality of the teachers, as well as the coordination and supervision of the program.

The children deserve this educational opportunity. They will benefit significantly from it and for their whole lives. Society will benefit from it. Taxpayers will benefit from it. But no one will achieve the full benefit if it is not done well.

Matthews is executive director of the Madison Teachers Inc. labor union.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:56 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison�s Accredited Early Educators Propose Solution for Four-Year Old Kindergarten

Several times in recent years, the Madison School Board has considered ways to create a four-year old kindergarten program for all Madison children. The goal of "universal" four-year old kindergarten is to assure that every child enters elementary school ready to learn. In the past, the administration's proposals involved partnerships with private accredited daycare programs in Madison.

On Monday, October 18, the Performance & Achievement Committee of the Madison School Board will review a report from Superintendent Art Rainwater that recommends against going forward with four-year old kindergarten and rejects a July 2004 proposal from the Madison Area Association of Accredited Early Care and Education Providers.

The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. at Leopold Elementary School, 2602 Post Road. Below is a summary of the Association's proposal in "question-and-answer" format.

What is the Madison Area Association of Accredited Early Care and Education Providers?

The Association is a not-for-profit membership organization composed of 30 accredited early childhood programs that serve the Madison area. Membership is open to all city and nationally accredited early childhood programs, including accredited family child care.

What is the goal of the Association?
The Association seeks to improve the quality of early care and education for Madison�s children.

What is the Association proposing for four-year-old kindergarten?

The Association is proposing to provide four-year-old kindergarten for four-year-olds currently enrolled in member programs as a first step towards a universal offering of four-year-old kindergarten. The features of this proposal are largely the same as those worked out through 3 years of collaborative work with School District administrators.

What is the advantage to Madison�s children of the Association plan?

� The Association plan allows children to stay in one high quality setting throughout the longer child care day. Transitions and long bus trips would be avoided.
� The Association plan has the potential to incorporate lower income children into high quality mixed economic settings.
� Association member programs and buildings are designed for young children. Learning occurs throughout the day, not just in a compressed 2.5 hour time slot. Playgrounds and free play choices contribute to the child�s overall learning.
� The Association proposal has the potential to improve the overall quality of the early childhood system, as revenue increases and members are able to pay fairer wages for degreed teachers. Education and stability could improve for 2 and 3-year-old children as well as four-year-olds.
� The Association plan has the potential to build a real partnership between the School District and the very important, but much less visible part of the educational experience of Madison children: early childhood education.

How much would this cost?

In the first year, Association members would offer to enroll children at no cost to the School District. Teachers and curriculum already meet the D.P.I. standards for a four-year-old program. The Association programs are reviewed annually by the City of Madison under standards that exceed the minimum state requirements, or have similarly rigorous national accreditation. With a substantial number of four-year-olds enrolled at no cost or minimal cost to the District in the first year, the barrier of the large start-up costs is eliminated. The Association member contributions would have to be structured as a grant to meet DPI requirements. Second year revenues could be used to expand the program to more children.

How many 4-year-old children does the Association membership serve? Association Members currently serve 1200 4-year-old children residing in the City of Madison.

How will the Association move to universal coverage within the 3 years allowed by the State?

If District projections are correct, there are about 1,800 resident four-year-olds. An estimated 85%, or 1,530 might request service. The Association members serve 78% of that number. Because of recent declines in preschool enrollments, Association members could serve additional children given the necessary revenue.

Even so, adding 330 children to the accredited programs may not be feasible. We believe that an additional 180 children (15% of the current number) could be added without strain, leaving a need for approximately 150 students, or 10 classrooms that the school district might ultimately have to open.

What about low-income children?

The latest 4C survey shows that Association programs served 644 children on child care subsidies. (City accredited programs served 532 of those.) If 40% of four year olds are low-income, then 720 of the 1800 total would be low-income. Given the fact that 3 and 4-year-olds constitute the largest groups served in accredited program, it is most likely that about half of the subsidized children are four-year olds. Accredited Head Start programs alone serve 350-400 local children whose families are at the poverty level. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that Association members already serve more than half of the low-income four-year-olds in the district.

While it is difficult to determine exactly how many additional low-income children would need to be served, the number is probably between 100 and 300 children. Since Head Start and several small city-funded preschools in low-income neighborhoods are already part of the accredited system, the number unserved is smaller now than even a few years ago.

Unserved low-income children would need transportation. Head Start already has a well-developed transportation system, and with revenue could add to that system.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 5:24 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


The George Lucas Educational Foundation just launched a new education magazine: edutopia. George Lucas, who founded the organization was recently interviewed by the magazine:

Lucas, 60, is the father of three, but his interest in education dates back to his own school experience, as a boy in Modesto.

In an interview in the premiere issue of Edutopia, Lucas said, "I had a very hard time with education, and I was never described as a bright student. I was considered somebody who could be doing a lot better than I was doing, not working up to my potential. I wish I had known some of these (new methods) back then."

"The way we are educating is based on 19th century ideas and methods. ... Our system of education is locked in a time capsule. You want to say to the people in charge, 'You're not using today's tools! Wake up!"

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 16, 2004

Superintendant Rainwater turns down $2m in Federal Reading Funds

Lee Sensenbrenner on Art Rainwater's recent decision to turn down up to $2M in federal reading funds.
I have several comments:

1. I have no doubt that some state and federal regulations are non-sensical.

2. I have to agree with Ruth Robarts that this issue should have come before the board.

3. I find it unusual that the board has dealt recently with one or two person staffing issues, but not this up to $2M matter....

Send your thoughts to the Madison Board of Education's email address:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:28 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Nation's students unprepared for college

A new report from ACT reveals that the vast majority of America's high school students have not taken the courses they need to be successful in college or in the workforce. The report Crisis at the Core found that only 22% of the 1.2 million 2004 high school graduates who took the ACT exam in 2004 met all three of the ACT's readiness benchmarks in science, math, and English. The report highlights the importance of taking high level courses in math and science.

The report urges schools to strengthen the high school core curriculum to help improve students' readiness for college and the workforce. Students in K-8 who are not learning the foundational skills for rigorous high school coursework should be identified earlier and provided with supportive interventions, thus preparing them for higher level math and science courses such as trigonometry, pre-calculus, chemistry, and physics.

ACT's research shows that certain courses such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and advanced math courses beyond Algebra II have a strong impact on student performance and college readiness. ACT refers to these as Courses for Success.

"Our study clearly shows that not only is the number of courses important, but the quality and intensity of these classes will determine if a high school student is ready for college and work," said Ferguson.

The benefit of taking these courses can be seen in the ACT test scores for the national class of 2004. Students who took trigonometry in addition to the math core�Algebra I, Algebra II, and geometry�scored 2.6 points higher on the ACT Mathematics Test. Similar gains were seen on the ACT Science Test for students who took physics in addition to the science core�biology and chemistry.

Those who took trigonometry and another advanced math course scored even higher, as much as 4.4 points higher over those who took the math core. Score increases were seen for both genders and all racial/ethnic groups. The full report can be found here.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 7:20 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 14, 2004

MMSD has excess capacity

In researching the need for the MMSD to build a new elementary school on the Leopold site, I compared an MMSD analysis of elementary school capacity with current enrollment.

Existing Madison elementary schools could accomodate more than 1,600 new students. An MMSD official says only Hawthorne is over capacity.

You can see the school-by-school analysis in the table MMSD Excess Capacity 2004.

Ed Blume

ps. Feel free to post comments by clicking below.

Posted by Ed Blume at 9:06 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 12, 2004

Two Nations

The Economist, in a pre-election series, takes a look at our education system:

Some schools are thriving; others have been left behind

AMERICA'S system of education ranges from the superb to the awful. Its universities, especially at the graduate level, are the best in the world, gaining some 60% of all Nobel prizes awarded since the second world war. Its public-school system, however, is often marked by poor teaching, dilapidated buildings and violence (although the rate of violent incidents is falling, more than 5% of schoolchildren played truant last year to avoid violence at school). Official figures say that 85% of students finish high school, but the Urban Institute and other groups estimate that nearly a third of them drop out.

The result is a popular assumption that American education from kindergarten to 12th-grade high-school graduation (K-12) is in crisis. President Bush's main remedy, passed in 2001 with bipartisan support, is the No Child Left Behind Act, a programme promising lots of federal money ($13 billion next year) to school systems that test their students and improve their performance�and sanctions for those that do not. All in all, claims the Bush team, federal spending on K-12 education will have risen by the 2005 budget by 65%, the biggest increase since the Johnson presidency in the late 1960s.

The Democrats retort that �Every Child Left Behind� would be a better name. Echoing criticisms by the teachers' unions and many states, John Kerry calculates that the programme has been underfunded by more than $26 billion over the past four years. He would establish a National Education Trust Fund �to ensure that schools always get the funding they need�; put a �great� (and better paid) teacher in every classroom; expand after-school activities for some 3.5m children; and offer college students a fully refundable tax credit for up to $4,000 a year of college tuition (Mr Kerry says that Mr Bush reneged on a promise to increase Pell grants, which help the poor to pay for college).

What crisis?

Yet neither candidate has made education a campaign issue. Wary of offending the teachers' unions, Mr Kerry is loth to endorse imaginative solutions, such as giving parents vouchers exchangeable for tuition for their children in either public or private schools. If Mr Bush were to emphasise No Child Left Behind, he would risk drawing attention to its deficiencies.

The voters, too, have not made education a priority in their choice of president: after all, as the Republicans point out, education is a state, local and family responsibility, not a federal obligation. Indeed, for all the federal force of No Child Left Behind, the Republican platform stresses that �since over 90% of public-school spending is state and local, it is obvious that state and local governments must assume most of the responsibility to improve the schools, and the role of the federal government must be limited as we return control to parents, teachers and local school boards.�

Latino teenagers are three times more likely than whites to drop out of school

Such devolved power can produce extreme results, such as the vote of a Georgia school board in 2002 that �creationism� as well as the theory of evolution should be taught, even though the Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that creationism, as a religious idea, could not be required in public schools. Meanwhile unhappiness with the public schools has led to interesting experiments: there are now more than 2,500 �charter� schools, publicly funded but exempt from the local regulations that apply to normal public schools; there are more than a thousand �magnet� schools, which emphasise a particular subject and attract students from outside their neighbourhoods; and there are some 2m children being �home schooled�, with their parents exercising the legal right not to send them to school at all.

Arguably, �crisis� is in any case an exaggeration: in reading tests for 4th graders, America's children came 9th out of some 35 nations surveyed in 2001 by the Amsterdam-based International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement. A recent OECD study reported that over 12% of American 15-year-olds have �top-level literacy skills�, a proportion exceeded by only six other countries.

The problem is that while a relatively high percentage of students does well, a high percentage also does badly. For minorities, the situation is particularly bad: Latino teenagers are twice as likely as blacks and three times more likely than whites to drop out of school. Despite long-running attempts to achieve racial balance, in the largest 100 school districts (out of more than 17,000) non-white students outnumber whites by more than two to one. One reason is that white parents have simply placed their children in private or religious schools, which together now teach some 6m children. Among those sorts of pupils were both presidential candidates.

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Lincoln Teacher Andreal Davis Wins Milken National Educator Award

Aaron Nathans on the local Milken Award.

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October 11, 2004

Public Hearing - Oct. 18 - on Building New School

Monday October 18th, 2004

7:00pm - Long Range Planning, Leopold Elementary, Gym, 2602 Post Road.
Public Hearing Relative to Constructing a Second Elementary School on the Leopold Site

The MMSD's documents on the new school appear on the agendas of the Long Range Planning Committee.

Ed Blume

Feel free to post comments or questions by clicking on comments.

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October 10, 2004

WSJ on 4 Year Old Kindergarden

The Wisconsin State Journal Editorial Page addresses 4 year old kindergarden:

Early childhood education works: Children in a Madison kindergarten program for 4-year- olds made substantial literacy gains during the pilot project's first year, UW- Madison researchers say.

But if financial realities don't prevent more kids from reaping the clear and obvious benefits of 4-year- old kindergarten, it seems that union rules will.

The pilot project, which continues this school year, served just 33 students last year at Glendale Elementary School and another 17 students at a Head Start site on Lake Point Drive. UW- Madison researchers Arthur Reynolds and Beth Graue said children in the pilot program learned letters and words faster than would be expected by maturation alone. The findings provide a strong basis for expansion of the program.

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October 9, 2004

Courage to Teach Fall Dinner/Fund Raiser

Barbara Hummel [bhummel at]:

Courage to Teach, an important local effort to renew and support educators in Madison and Dane County, is holding a fall dinner fund-raiser Wednesday, October 27 at CUNA Mutual.

Courage to Teach (CTT) is an innovative program that has brought remarkable renewal to public educators in nearly 50 communities across the United States and Canada. Over the past two years, Bonnie Trudell and I have had the privilege of facilitating a local CTT group for 20 educators, thanks to the generous support of CUNA Mutual Group Foundation, the Foundation for Madison Public Schools, and many other businesses and individuals. The teachers who participate make a commitment of $500 themselves, in addition to giving 5 week-ends of their time over the year and a half program.

The impact of CTT on local educators was significant, as documented in the attached excerpt from the final report to CUNA Mutual Group Foundation. Participants reported steady and impressive improvements in all of the following areas:

  • Amount of time spent in focused reflection of their teaching practice;

  • Quality of connections with students and classroom practices;

  • Strength of collegial relationships at their school sites; and

  • Commitment to their educational practice.
Needless to say, we're excited about the promise this holds for sustaining teachers in the essential task of preparing our children to become vibrant, informed future citizens and leaders of our community.
Via Bill Steinberg. Additional information: CTT 99K PDF Brochure Teacher Retention 83K PDF 02/04 Results Report to CUNA 110K PDF

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The Limits of Money

Frederick M. Hess:

The truth is that, between 1960 and 2000, after-inflation education spending more than tripled. Harvard's Caroline Hoxby has found that real, inflation-adjusted spending grew from $5,900 per pupil in 1982 to more than $9,200 in 2000. In its most recent figures, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimates that current U.S. education spending is over $10,800 per child.

In fact, some may be surprised to learn that the U.S. ranks at the top of the international charts when it comes to education spending. In 2000, the most recent year for which international comparisons are available, the OECD found that the United States spent significantly more per child than any other industrial democracy, including those famous for their generous social programs. In primary education, on a per-pupil basis, the United States spent 66 percent more than Germany, 56 percent more than France, 27 percent more than Japan, 80 percent more than the United Kingdom, 62 percent more than Finland, 62 percent more than Belgium, and 122 percent more than South Korea. At the secondary-school level, the figures are similar, with the U.S. outpacing Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and South Korea, among others, by more than 40 percent per pupil.

Despite all this spending, the U.S. ranked 15th among the 31 countries that participated in the OECD's 2000 Program for International Student Assessment reading exam. Ireland, Iceland, and New Zealand were among the nations that outperformed the U.S. while spending far less per pupil. The results in math are equally disquieting: In the international 1999 TIMSS study, which assessed mathematics and science achievement at the eighth-grade level, the U.S. ranked 19th out of 38 countries.

Joanne Jacobs has more.

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October 7, 2004


Paul Burka takes an interesting look at the way the Texas Education Agency manages and calculates the dropout rate:

WHEN MY DAUGHTER FINISHED HER FRESHMAN year at Johnston High School, in Austin, where she was a student in a liberal-arts magnet program, I paid a visit to the college adviser to find out her class ranking. "She's thirty-seventh in a class of 750," he told me. "That's good," I said. "Top five percent. Good enough to get into the University of Texas."

"Not really," the adviser said. "We know from experience that only 250 freshmen, at most, will graduate. So think of her as thirty-seventh out of 250. That's not in the top ten percent."

That was bad news�both for my daughter and for the state of education in Texas. I did some quick calculations. There were around 100 freshmen in the magnet program. Presumably, almost all of them would graduate. This meant that of the remaining 650 or so students in her class�those who lived within Johnston's regular boundaries, almost all of them Hispanic or black�fewer than 150 would graduate with their peers. If his prediction was accurate, the dropout rate at Johnston would be 67 percent. In fact, the rate was even worse: Only 223 of the original 750 graduated.

Nancy and I lived in Dallas some years ago and very much enjoyed reading the excellent Texas Monthly Magazine, where Paul Burka is the senior executive editor.

Think of all the schools with demographics similar to Johnston's in Texas�in every city and along the border�and imagine what the statewide dropout rate must be. Would you believe one percent? I don't believe it either. Yet, when the Texas Education Agency (TEA) calculated the state's official dropout rate for 2000�-2001, the year my daughter graduated, that's what it came up with. This number is bogus and everybody�except perhaps the TEA�knows it.

My daughter is a senior in college now, and I had all but forgotten this incident until I read "I Hate School!"�Mommy X's account, beginning on page 138, of the changes that have buffeted public education in the time that my generation went from being students to being parents of students. Social change, as Mommy X observes, is overwhelming the public schools, and the statistic that best explains what is happening is the dropout rate�the real one, that is. Not the TEA's.

What is the real dropout rate? Every calculation but the TEA's�which requires schools to determine the reason why students left school and allows many exceptions for classifying dropouts as non-dropouts�produces a much higher rate. Perhaps the simplest way is to figure out, as I did for Johnston, how many students enter the ninth grade and exit the twelfth grade as graduates. A San Antonio research group says that the statewide class of 2001 lost 40 percent of its members between the ninth and twelfth grades. Another method is to figure the percentage of Texans of recent high school age (18�-24) who do not have a high school diploma. The U.S. Census Bureau says it's 29.3 percent. Meanwhile, the state continues to embrace an absurd system that tries to define away the problem.

How does the TEA come up with its fictitious number in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary? As I found out when I was a member of the Campus Advisory Council (CAC) at Johnston, TEA is more concerned with counting than with kids. During one meeting, we learned that the school had decided to hire a dropout prevention specialist. This sounded like a necessary, if belated, step: By using poor grades and erratic attendance as benchmarks, the specialist could identify which students were most likely to become dropouts and try to keep them in school. Or at least that's what I assumed the dropout specialist would do�until he came to a CAC meeting to describe his work.

He brandished a sheaf of pages of names of students who the school district said had been enrolled at Johnston but were no longer attending. His goal was to find out where those students were. If he could ascertain that they were attending another school in Texas or that they had moved out of state or that they were in jail or deceased or were pursuing a General Educational Development (GED) certificate, the TEA would not count the departed student toward Johnston's dropout rate. So the specialist spent all day on the telephone, trying to track down students who had left Johnston, never to return, instead of trying to retain students who were still in school but on the verge of dropping out.

This seems to make no sense, but in fact it makes perfect sense if you understand the accountability system by which Texas schools and school districts are rated. A dropout rate of more than 5.5 percent brings with it a rating of "unacceptable." The easiest way to reduce the dropout rate is to locate the "leavers," as the TEA calls them, and assign a benign cause for their departure (such as getting a GED). The incentive, then, is for school officials to game the system by writing in causes for departure that don't count toward the dropout rate. The Austin Independent School District paid a $5,000 fine in 1999 for falsifying dropout rates after a criminal-fraud investigation found that there was pressure from higher-ups to report reasons for leaving that did not trigger classification as a dropout.

The most infamous example, reported by Dan Rather on 60 Minutes, is Sharpstown High School, in Houston. The school reported a zero dropout rate for 2001�-2002 despite having a student population that included many children of poor immigrants�and despite losing 463 students during the school year. All of the departed students were reported to the TEA as having left for reasons that exempted them from being counted as dropouts. The revelation tarnished the reputation of former Houston superintendent Rod Paige, whose success in reducing the dropout rate had helped him become George W. Bush's Secretary of Education.

A lot has been said in recent years about the improvement in the Texas public school system, as measured by standardized tests, but the good scores may just be a manifestation of the dropout rate. Many of the lowest-achieving students leave the system; at Johnston, the CAC heard from the principal that during the previous school year, 50 percent of the ninth graders had flunked all four core courses�English, math, science, and social studies. In late June the Census Bureau reported that only 77 percent of Texans over 25 years of age have a high school diploma. It's a familiar refrain by now, but Texas ranks last among the states, well short of the national figure of 85 percent. State demographer Steve Murdock has said that educational attainment is the best predictor of income, so it comes as no surprise that dropouts earned an average of just $19,000 in 2002. Their unemployment rate has been 75 percent higher than the rate for graduates. They are more likely to end up in prison: Two thirds of the state's inmates don't have diplomas. The well-known Texas economist Ray Perryman has estimated that a 10 percent reduction in dropouts would produce 175,000 new Texas jobs and $200 billion in economic output.

This is the point in a policy story at which the author, having proved the seriousness of the problem with alarming statistics, proceeds to provide the solution. I wish I could. But the worst thing about the dropout dilemma is that nobody knows what to do about it. The politicians' approach has been to treat the dropout issue like educational performance, by holding schools and school districts accountable for reducing dropouts, as they are held accountable for teaching kids to read and to compute�skills that can be measured on standardized tests. But skills are taught in the early grades, when children are malleable; the dropout crisis occurs in high school, when, as you may have noticed, kids have minds of their own. Some dropouts leave because they want to�or have to�make money. Some leave because they get pregnant and have to raise a child. Some leave because of frustration over the current obsession with rules and discipline and zero tolerance. Some are convicted of crimes. Some leave because they fall too far behind academically.

Most of these reasons are beyond the school's capability to fix. They are the result of societal problems�poverty, teenage pregnancy, depression, alienation, parental indifference, drug use. To hold schools accountable for circumstances over which they have no control makes no sense. So why do we do it? When I asked an education consultant I know, he said that before counting dropouts became part of the accountability system, schools did nothing to stop kids from falling through the cracks; indeed, school administrators were only too willing to see them go. They regarded dropouts as problem kids who had trouble learning and trouble obeying the rules and trouble scoring well on standardized tests. Those who didn't drop out were shunted into vocational programs that were a sham: outdated equipment, menial work.

The hope was that by holding schools accountable, you could change the behavior of high schools. But, the consultant went on to say, high schools are impervious to change. Things that might work�individual attention, keeping in close contact with families of potential dropouts, and arranging partnerships with career programs in community colleges�are seldom tried. If he had his way, urban high schools would be much smaller than they are today, and there would be more alternative schools where students who don't fit into discipline-oriented high schools could learn at their own pace. But then you wouldn't have big-time football and marching band and cheerleaders and all the other extras of mega high schools.

I don't know what the ultimate solution to the dropout crisis is, but I do know where to start. The Texas Education Agency must stop concealing the extent of the problem with phony numbers. Otherwise the public pressure for change will never come.

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October 6, 2004

Recruitment of East High Principal

Assistant Superintendent Valencia Douglas assured East High parents that a national search would be conducted to find a replacement for removed Principal Catherine Tillman. East High parents might want to talk with members of the West High PTSO since West went through a principal search this past spring.

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October 5, 2004

MMSD Fine Arts Teachers Ask School Board for Community Arts Committee

On Monday night, October 4, 2004, more than 12 MMSD Fine Arts teachers attended the School Board meeting. Four of those teachers read a letter to the School Board asking for the Fine Arts Coordinator position to be filled. They also asked that a community committee be formed to develop a fine arts vision for the district that would include an assessment of the current fine arts curricula. A summary of the points in the letter (which can be downloaded) includes:

Fine Arts Coordinator (FAC)

- Thank you for reinstating the portion of the Fine Arts Coordinator position that works with teachers. (The existing � time position was funded by Fund 80 and would not have supported the 140+ teachers in 47 schools.)

- Need a professional in the field to fill the vacant position

- Need someone soon

- Hire an interim FAC � much like a long-term sub until a full-time professional is hired

- In next budget, look across all professional support staff � over the the FAC cut from 2 FTE to 0 FTE. The � Fund 80 position isn�t able to work with staff

Fine Arts Vision

- Fine Arts have curricula in MMSD

- Fine Arts have standards in MMSD

- Overture and UW have their vision for the role of art in the community � MMSD needs to do the same

- Form a community committee � community assessment of the fine arts in schools and development of fine arts vision for the MMSD with goals, budget, etc.

Download file

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October 3, 2004

New York's "Pseudo Charters"

Caroline Hendrie:

How much slack should a big-city district cut its schools to maximize student performance? That�s the question that New York City school leaders want to explore with an experimental governance model they are calling the "autonomy zone."

Started this month with 30 secondary schools, the pilot project sets specific performance targets for schools to meet in exchange for removing them from the bureaucratic hierarchy governing most of the city�s 1,300 public schools.


For his part, Louis Delgado hopes that the autonomy zone might help his 400- student Manhattan high school gain greater independence in hiring decisions. The 11-year-old Vanguard High School uses the district�s "school based" option for hiring teachers, which allows a committee of teachers and administrators at the school to screen candidates and offer them jobs. But those candidates can be bumped by more senior teachers who are laid off elsewhere in the system, the principal said, a situation he hopes the zone can help change.

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October 1, 2004

Staffing shortage at LaFollette

The problem of insufficient staffing at LaFollette makes me wonder how Dr. Rainwater will find enough staff for a new school.

Here's the beginning of an article from the WSJ:

"Tseoin Ayalew says her dreams of becoming a doctor are in jeopardy because a shortage of teachers at La Follette High School means she's wasting 90 minutes a day in a study hall instead of taking an advanced physics or chemistry class.

"I want to get into a really good college, so I think it's probably going to affect the scholarships," the junior said Thursday. "They probably want to see I'm challenging myself in the science world."

Jade Cramer, a La Follette freshman, says she's scheduled to take two 90-minute study halls - half of the school day - beginning in November. She's in one study hall right now, although she'd prefer to be taking a class.

"I'm trying to get rid of my study hall, but all of the classes are full," Jade said.

Tseoin and Jade are among a growing number of La Follette students who find themselves diverted to study halls or other non-class activities this fall because, according to some students and teachers, there aren't enough teachers.

The reason for the crunch: The school's enrollment this fall climbed to 1,741, compared to last year's count of 1,659, but staff levels remained virtually unchanged."

The article continues at In study-hall limbo at LaFollette.

The Cap Times also has an article at Four block now a 3 block?

Ed Blume

ps If you have any comments, you can click on "comment" below to post them.

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