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July 31, 2005

Commercialism & High School Sports

Robert Andrew Powell takes a rather amazing look at the EA Sports Elite 11, a "camp" for the top 12 (following the Big Ten's math example, there are 12 high school quarterbacks in this California camp):

Cody Hawkins arrived from Boise, Idaho, wearing Converse sneakers and a rainbow-colored polo shirt he bought for $3 at Goodwill. As soon as he set foot on campus here Monday, Hawkins, along with 11 other top high school quarterbacks, was handed new gear. In an oversized black Nike duffel bag, he found pairs of Nike Shox running shoes and cleats, and a Nike football, the only brand he would be allowed to use for the next four days.

Nike is an official sponsor of the EA Sports Elite 11, which its organizers call a "campetition" for quarterbacks. Orange-flavored Cytomax is the camp's official sports drink. Muscle Milk Carb Conscious Lean Muscle Formula is the official protein drink, available in vanilla creme, chocolate creme and banana creme flavors. For dinner, campers ate barbecued ribs, chicken breasts and dollops of garlic mashed potatoes provided by Outback Steakhouse, a camp sponsor.

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July 30, 2005

$25 Per Quarter For Perfect Attendance

Sara Miller:

Under a new plan, a student who misses not a single day per quarter will receive $25 in an account - redeemable upon graduation. In doing so, the school joins a number of districts throughout the country turning to incentives to boost test scores, GPAs, and student turnout.
Via Joanne Jacobs.

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July 29, 2005

Milwaukee: Middle Schoolers Perform Better in a K-8 Setting

Sarah Carr:

Suspensions are down. Test scores and attendance are up. And many people are happier.

So concludes a first-of-its-kind report in Milwaukee on how sixth- through eighth graders are faring in the school district's rapidly growing number of kindergarten through eighth-grade (or K-8) schools.

In a relatively short period of time, K-8s have expanded to dominate the school landscape in Milwaukee and other cities such as Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Philadelphia, so the report will be heavily scrutinized here and elsewhere.

In 2000, there were only about 10 K-8 schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools district; this fall there will be 61 K-8 schools, including those that are transitioning to become K-8s. Meanwhile enrollment in traditional middle schools is expected to plummet by 16% in one year alone, from about 13,200 students last fall to about 11,050 this fall.

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Simpson Street Free Press

On Thursday July 21st, I was asked to speak to a group of students at the Simpson Street Free Press regarding the recent budget cuts and threats to music and fine arts programming in the MMSD. I have to say that I really enjoy the opportunity to speak with students. I feel it is very important to listen to their issues as well as giving them the opportunity to hear an adult perspective.

First, I was given a tour of their facility (which is located across from South Towne Mall). It is basically one large room with many tables, computers and a lot of dinosaur books. I wondered why so many dinosaur books? Apparently, some students sometimes have to submit an article as many as seven times to be proofread before being published. Hence the reason for so many dinosaur books – they never go out of date because they’re extinct! I was impressed with the professionalism in which the young writers did their work at a whisper noise level. At the time of my visit, there were about twenty-five students working on different aspects of the newspaper. It truly reminded me of the Wisconsin State Journal and Capital Times newsroom (which I was at earlier that same day talking with Christina Daglas).

Also, I was able to meet the students “to put faces with the names.” These students included Jazmine Jackson (who wrote an excellent composition on minority student achievement gap – published on SIS), Andrea Gilmore (who wrote an editorial on 4th and 5th grade strings program becoming part of the Elementary school curriculum – published in the State Journal and on SIS) and Si Si Chen (whose editorial was published in the Wisconsin State Journal) and Charles Peterson.

Next, I met with this small group of students along with several others including a couple of members of the board of directors (Jim Pliner, Athletic Director of LaFollette and Godwin Amegashie, state Director of Minority Business Programs) and program organizer Jim Kramer. The students asked many questions regarding the recent referenda, the budget and of course, “Why are programs being cut?” These students also talked about their own challenges of being one of few racial and ethnic minorities in band, orchestra, fine arts and advanced placement courses. I challenged them to continue their leadership by recruiting others to join them and to stay involved in their classes/programs no matter what the racial/ethnic composition of the class is.

In closing, I thoroughly enjoyed my time listening and speaking with students at the Simpson Street Free Press. These students are very smart, mature beyond their years and enthusiastic about education. There’s no doubt in my mind that these students are going to be successful! I look forward to shaking their hands in the future on graduation day. I encourage everyone to read the Simpson Street Free Press. It is a free publication available at many local businesses. Better yet, donate some money, time or even volunteer. I’m going to.

Donations can be sent to: Simpson Street Free Press P.O. Box 6307 Monona, WI 53716. Prospective volunteers should contact Jim Kramer at (608) 223-0489 or The website is

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 10:35 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teacher Merit Pay

Joanne Jacobs has an interesting set of links and comments on teacher merit pay:

Teacher Quality Bulletin's merit pay round-up includes a story on a privately funded plan at an elementary school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Each teacher got a bonus based on the percentage increase in her students' test scores.

For each pupil who made up to a 4 percent gain on the May test when compared with the pre-test last August, the teacher was entitled to $100. For each pupil who made a gain of between 5 percent and 9 percent, the bonus was $200. If the pupil’s gain was between 10 percent and 14 percent, the bonus was $300 and if the gain exceeded 15 percent, the bonus was $400.
Bonuses ranged from $1,800 to $8,600, and cost $65,000. The entire cost was $145,000 including testing costs and bonuses -- based on the overall 17 percent gain of students schoolwide -- to 25 other employees, including math and literacy coaches, the media specialist and maintenance and cafeteria workers.

In Florida, some districts give merit pay to many teachers; others have plans that make it impossible to qualify. The union wants it that way.

The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association was bitterly opposed to performance pay and helped set the eligibility bar so high that union chief Jade Moore said it would "make it nearly impossible" for any teachers to earn them.

Hillsborough is more flexible and leaves much of the bonus-granting power in the hands of principals.

Meanwhile Florida is having trouble with teacher certification scams (pdf). One 24-year-old claimed to have earned a bachelor's, master's and doctorate within three months.

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School district dishes up nutritious meals for hungry families

School's out for summer, but lunch is still served by the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Over the summer, the district serves lunch - and breakfast - five days a week at 31 schools, community centers and other local sites.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 11:31 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

July 27, 2005

State Debt Rises Along with School Funds

Karen Lincoln Michel:

Wisconsin schools got the budget increases they wanted, but the money comes at a cost of $195 million in debt interest over the next 20 years, according to figures by the governor’s budget office.

In the state budget signed Monday, Gov. Jim Doyle through his partial veto power transferred $159 million from the transportation budget to the general fund to help pay for the $861 million increase in K-12 funding.

To recapture some of the costs while maintaining all current road projects slated for the 2005-07 budget, Doyle created $213.1 million in bonding to fund the Marquette Interchange project in Milwaukee — resulting in $158 million in debt interest over the next 20 years. In addition, Doyle authorized $52 million in bonding for major road projects, resulting in $37 million in debt interest over the same period.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:01 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teaching Children CyberSecurity and Ethics

Cyber Security Industry Alliance [PDF]:

Just as we teach our children “right from wrong” in the physical world, we must ensure that the same lessons are taught in the cyber world as well.

What is missing here is a focused and organized national effort to teach children cyber security, cyber ethics, and cyber safety with national security in mind. These elements of cyber awareness are vital because pervasive use of the Internet also poses risks that may harm the emotional and personal safety of children. The technology, unfortunately, enables devious and unethical behavior toward people, organizations or information technology underpinning critical infrastructure. The cyber education our children receive does not go far beyond how to turn on the computer and use a mouse. It is incomprehensible that we are not teaching cyber security, ethics, and safety at an early age. Poor awareness by children about cyber security may cause inadvertent damage to their own PC, other electronic devices or personal information, and could ultimately threaten the fabric of our nation’s critical cyber infrastructure.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:26 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

State Budget Provides Over $26 Million to Dane County Districts

Governor Jim Doyle announced that the 2005-2007 State Budget he signed into law on Monday will prevent more than $26.5 million in funding cuts to Dane County schools that the Legislature's budget proposed.

Following are the cuts that Governor Doyle restored, by district:
• BELLEVILLE $368,424
• CAMBRIDGE $397,800
• DEERFIELD $305,592
• DEFOREST $1,273,368
• MADISON METRO $10,171,440
• MARSHALL $488,376
• MCFARLAND $796,416
• MIDDLETON-CP $2,226,864
• MONONA GROVE $1,139,544
• MOUNT HOREB $841,704
• OREGON $1,408,416
• STOUGHTON $1,476,144
• SUN PRAIRIE $2,155,464
• VERONA AREA $1,815,192
• WAUNAKEE $1,228,080

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State boasts lowest school dropout rate

Wisconsin kids boast the 10th highest quality of life and the lowest high school dropout rate in the nation.

That's the good news in a 50-state survey of child and teen well-being released by a national youth advocacy group today.

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July 26, 2005

UW Madison Math Tutors

I periodically here of requests for math tutors. The University of Wisconsin Math Department maintains a helpful list of tutors here.

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July 25, 2005

Schools get $400M as gov signs budget

By David Callender
Capital Times, July 25, 2005

Gov. Jim Doyle was set to use his veto pen today to restore more than $400 million in new state funding for public schools that Republican lawmakers had cut from his proposed budget and to create a "responsible property tax freeze" for the next two years.

Under the Democratic governor's plan, taxes for the owner of an average Wisconsin home valued at $150,000 would stay the same this year as last year, and would decline by $5 next year.

Doyle was scheduled to sign the new $53 billion state budget into law at a ceremony at the governor's mansion this morning.

"The people of our state have asked us to do four things with this budget: cut spending, cut taxes, make education the priority and freeze property taxes. I'm pleased to say this budget does all four, and we kept the faith with Wisconsin families," Doyle said in prepared remarks for the bill signing.

Despite a $1.6 billion gap between agency requests and state tax collections at the start of this year, Doyle noted that the budget contains no increase in state sales or income taxes.

Instead, the budget cuts state income taxes on Social Security benefits for senior citizens and contains a penny-a-gallon cut in the state gas tax.

In his written message to lawmakers, Doyle said he was using his veto pen 139 times to restore funding lawmakers cut from his budget for public schools and the University of Wisconsin, eliminate "pork barrel" spending, and shift some of the costs of road construction from cash to long-term borrowing.

"While some may criticize me for being too bold, I undertook to reshape this budget to one that protects both property taxpayers and our children," Doyle wrote, adding that he had considered vetoing the entire budget because of the cuts to public schools.

The Wisconsin Constitution allows the governor to strike out numbers, reduce appropriations, and even rewrite entire sections of any spending bill sent to him. Lawmakers have not overridden any of the hundreds of budget vetoes Wisconsin governors have made in the last 20 years.

Doyle's vetoes mark the latest move in a running battle over Wisconsin's property taxes, which are among the highest in the nation.

Doyle and majority Republicans in the Legislature have spent the last two years feuding over proposed property tax limits, which each side calls a "freeze."

Doyle in his original budget sought to limit property tax increases by pumping more than $930 million in new state money into schools - which make up the bulk of most local property tax bills - and providing incentives for local governments such as counties, cities, villages and towns to limit their spending.

Republicans rejected that proposal. Instead, their version would have provided $460 million in new money for schools and would have halved the amount of per-pupil spending increases allowed under state-imposed limits. That would effectively allow school spending increases of 1 percent annually.

Doyle responded that the Republicans' approach would have forced schools to choose between laying off teachers and slashing spending or asking taxpayers for huge property tax hikes.

The Republican plan also would have allowed local governments to increase their spending only by the amount of new construction in their communities.

The budget Doyle will sign today increases new state spending on schools to a total of $861 million over the next two years. That new money includes $124 million in new money for the school levy tax credit on homeowners' property tax bills, which he called "direct property tax relief."

The governor's plan would allow 2.6 percent annual spending increases for schools.

Doyle said his "freeze" would also allow local governments to increase their spending by either 2 percent or the total value of new construction, whichever is higher.

The Republican "freeze" would have lasted for three years. Doyle's plan will be in place for two years - or the length of the two-year state budget - "because it only works if the state keeps its commitment to funding schools and shared revenues" for local governments, he said.

Doyle said he would pay for the increased state funding for schools by cutting almost $360 million in "excessive state spending, unnecessary financing strategies, ill-conceived tax giveaways and pork barrel projects."

Those cuts include:

• $15 million in tax breaks for families that home-school their children or send them to private schools.

• $7 million in "legislative earmarks and pork-barrel projects," which the governor did not detail.

• $60 million in cash used to finance the Marquette Interchange on I-94 outside Milwaukee. Doyle argued that the money should come from long-term borrowing, because doing otherwise is like putting down cash to buy a house "and then not having any money left over to buy groceries, put gas in the care or help the kids get a good education."

• $35 million from a proposed study of the Zoo Interchange on I-94 outside Milwaukee. Doyle noted that the project would not begin until 2010 at the earliest.

• An additional $75 million in unspecified cuts to the state's highway and transportation budget.

Doyle indicated that such changes would likely come from using transportation fund money to cover costs that traditionally have been paid for with general tax funds, such as school transportation costs.

• Eliminating $94 million in proposed rate increases for nursing homes, outpatient hospital care, pharmacy costs and other spending under the Medicaid program.

Doyle stressed that the cuts would not affect eligibility or access to services for anyone in the Medicaid program for the elderly, poor and disabled; the SeniorCare program for prescription drugs for seniors, or the BadgerCare program for low-cost health insurance.

Despite his veto of the Republican tax "freeze," Doyle credited Republicans for working with him.

"All too often in Madison, the 10 percent of issues where we disagree get far more attention than the 90 percent of issues where we agree," he said.

Doyle noted that the two sides agreed on health care programs for the poor, elderly, disabled and veterans, as well as funding for school transportation and special education programs.

"The progress we made on a bipartisan basis is significant and will have real benefits to the people of Wisconsin," Doyle wrote.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 1:49 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Governor Doyle's Budget Message

Governor Doyle signed the State of Wisconsin's next two year budget document today. He also posted an extensive pdf document that outlines the changes he made to the Legislature's version, via his line-item veto power. Included in these changes:

Taken together, the budget I am signing today will increase state funding for schools and property tax relief by over $400 million compared with the Legislature's budget. Schools will receive a modest 3 percent cost-of-living increase, just as they have received annually for many years under Democratic and Republican administrations alike. The additional funding I am providing through my vetoes will enable the state – rather than local taxpayers – to shoulder the burden of paying for the increased costs of education over the next two years so that property taxes can be frozen.
Follow the discussion via the Budget Blog Brief budget Message (pdf).

3.8MB Full veto message pdf

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

July 24, 2005

K-12 Schools & Technology

“The greatest asset of the American, so often ridiculed by Europeans, is his belief in progress,” Victor Vinde, in 1945

Mary Kay Battaglia recently wrote about the virtual non-existence of electronic communication with parents in the Madison School District. I agree with Mary Kay's comments.

Having said that, I believe that any District technology investment should be made in the context of these three priorities:

  • Curriculum: we should strive to teach our children to be creators rather than consumers (writing and thinking rather than powerpoint).
  • High Expectations: Our children must have the skills (arts, languages, math, science, history) to compete in tomorrow's world. Retiring Milwaukee High School Principal Will Jude refers to the Tyranny of Low Expectations:
    Graduation comes, "but it's at the expense of content." The student goes to college and finds other kids are way ahead. Jude's response: "You were doing the A section of the book while they were doing the B and C sections. You covered a lot of material but it was very shallow. They covered a lot of material but it was in depth." . Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron (1961) provides further useful reading.
  • Inquisitiveness: Our students interest in and ability to ask questions, in other words, their willingness to question things that they read, observe and hear (Jay Rosen shows how important this is to our democracy).
Today's communication tools provide our students and community with an unprecedented ability to converse, debate and learn. Our K-12 students, like their parents and those who teach them should be comfortable conversing in written form, email, cellphones, voicemail, weblogs and html.

The Madison School District, as Troy Dasler pointed out, will soon start to implement a new internet based Student Information System.

This type of system can provide enormous benefits to staff, teachers, administrators, parents and students. However, and this is the critical part, people have to buy in and actually use it. In this respect, the Madison Schools are no different than any organization. Successful technology implementations require:

  • Leadership
  • Great People
  • Technology that works - in this order!
Kurt Kiefer and others in the Madison Schools have evaluated systems for some time. They've involved staff and parents (including me, for what it's worth) in this effort.

Mary Kay notes a central issue to the success of a new system:
I propose MMSD purchase a software system, (I have been informed MMSD is in the process of doing this), and parents volunteer to spend a Saturday or two doing an inservice day to educate our educators about e-mail and the internet. I have had this conversation with many parents, and I could get a whole classroom full of parents ready to help increase communication with the teachers and schools. I realize people HATE change. The teachers that have never communicated with parents won't and those afraid of computers will continue to avoid them. I believe each school has to embrace this and the principals have to reward adoption of computer communication. It would have to be manditory and the union would have to agree or the new system the district is buying will be a waste of money. Just like the voicemail our elementary school acquired has been a waste of money.
This seems like a great idea. Perhaps each PTO can organize periodic, open to all (parents, educators, staff, administrators, community members, students) Saturday or evening email, voicemail, html, student systems or other tech training sessions.

Take a look at the demos and if you'd like to support the PTO training approach, contact Mary Kay Battaglia at marybattaglia at tds dot net. System questions can be directed to Kurt Kiefer: kkiefer at madison dot k12 dot wi dot us I've asked Kurt and/or someone from the District to write an article on this project for this site. I'll post or link to it upon receipt - or they can post it directly :)

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:26 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin K-12 State Budget Update

Governor Doyle continues to dribble out his line item state budget changes (a classic way to keep a politician's name in the news each day). Details here on the "property tax freeze" which is not really a freeze. Rather Doyle's line item vetoes cap the rate of increase in property taxes to 2% or the net change in new construction, whichever is greater (I'm not sure this is the best approach from a land use perspective):

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:58 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

July 23, 2005

Madison School Board Workshop: Superintendent Review

The Madison School Board discussed their planned Superintendent Review (which has not been done for several years) at their recent workshop (7/18/2005). Watch the video or listen to an mp3 audio file (superintendent review discussion starts about 20 minutes into the audio clip)
Thanks to Ed Blume and Larry Winkler for their time capturing the video clips.
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July 22, 2005

Retiring Milwaukee Principal Pushes Parents and District to do Better

Alan Borsuk:

You can do a good paint job that makes a poorly performing car look good, but it's still a poorly performing car. That's true too often of MPS diplomas. For kids to get to graduation, they sometimes take courses that aren't as demanding as what should be expected. Graduation comes, "but it's at the expense of content." The student goes to college and finds other kids are way ahead. Jude's response: "You were doing the A section of the book while they were doing the B and C sections. You covered a lot of material but it was very shallow. They covered a lot of material but it was in depth."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:26 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Jessica Doyle to Discuss Education Investments in State Budget with Kids

After Governor Doyle signs the $54 billion State Budget for the next two years, First Lady Jessica Doyle will talk with kids about the education investments Governor Doyle made at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, July 25, 2005 at the Janesville Boys and Girls Club. Later in the day, at 3:00 p.m., the First Lady will visit the Merrill Community Center in Beloit and discuss the State Budget with kids there.

1:30 p.m. Janesville Boys and Girls Club, [map]
200 West Court Street, Janesville.

3:00 p.m. Merrill Community Center, [map]
1428 Wisconsin Avenue, Beloit.

Contact: Megan Perkins, Office of the First Lady, 608-266-7116

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Milwaukee Public Schools Direct Instruction Study

Wisconsin Policy Research Institute Study shows that Direct Instruction is successful, particularly with hard to reach students. The study is on-line at


Education That Works in the Milwaukee Public Schools:
The Benefits from Phonics and Direct Instruction
by Sammis White, Ph.D.

A phonics-based teaching technique (Direct Instruction) is proving successful in some Milwaukee Public Schools. This study of 23,000 third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students in the Milwaukee Public Schools showed that “among low-income students tracked between third and fourth grades 2002-03 to 2003-04, those with five years of Direct Instruction (DI) increased their math scores by 6.6% whereas non-low-income students increased their scores by 4.7%. This difference is statistically significant and is evidence of substantial progress.”

Direct Instruction in the Milwaukee Public Schools is creating real progress for hard-to-reach students.

* Students exposed to DI were even lower income, on average, than other MPS low-income students, but those individuals with long-term exposure to DI (defined as five years) did better, on average, than all low-income MPS students.

* In schools with DI in every grade and continuous professional development for the staff, students did even better, on average. Among low-income students, with a mix of regular and special education, students scored six points higher in reading and 25 points higher in math versus other low-income students. These differences suggest that with full implementation of DI at more schools, MPS would produce even greater academic gains.

The conclusions are less obvious from this article, but it is worth reading:

How best to teach reading?
Study of MPS students provides no clear answer

Posted: July 21, 2005

A controversial reading program called Direct Instruction is helping some Milwaukee Public Schools students, particularly those on the short end of the achievement gaps that are such an urgent issue here, a study of test scores of thousands of MPS students concludes.

But the comparison of students who have been in schools using the highly scripted program with those who haven't been taught by that method leaves room for argument that the increasingly popular approach is not having much impact, at least not the way it is being done in many schools.

For the entire article go to:

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 9:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

July 21, 2005

WPRI: Milwaukee Public Schools Find Success with Phonics-Based Teaching Technique

Sammis White, Ph.D (full report here: 250K PDF):

study of 23,000 third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade students in the Milwaukee Public Schools showed that “among low-income students tracked between third and fourth grades 2002-03 to 2003-04, those with five years of Direct Instruction (DI) increased their math scores by 6.6% whereas non-low-income students increased their scores by 4.7%. This difference is statistically significant and is evidence of substantial progress.” These results are reported in Education That Works In The Milwaukee Public Schools: The Benefits from Phonics and Direct Instruction, by Sammis White, Ph.D. The report was released today by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:10 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Now for the Good News

The Economist:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress as been periodically testing a representative sample of 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds since the early 1970s. This year's report contained two striking results. The first is that America's nine-year-olds posted their best scores in reading and maths since the tests were introduced (in 1971 in reading and 1973 in maths). The second is that the gap between white students and minorities is narrowing. The nine-year-olds who made the biggest gains of all were blacks, traditionally the most educationally deprived group in American society. .....
They need to have. The poor quality of America's schools is arguably the biggest threat to America's global competitiveness, a threat that will only grow as the best brains from India and China compete in an ever-wider array of jobs. And the growing gap between the educational performance of the rich and the poor, and between the majority and minorities, is arguably the biggest threat to America's traditional conception of itself as a meritocracy. The test results are thus doubly good news. They suggest that America may be able to improve its traditionally dismal educational performance. And they suggest that sharpening up schools can especially help minority children.

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Excessively abled

An interesting column in the London Guardian suggesting that a society should be judged not only on how it treats its least fortunate, but also its most talented.,3604,1532781,00.html

Mozart redeems my mediocrity
We should cherish those who possess great talent rather than envying them and begrudging their success

Dylan Evans
Thursday July 21, 2005

In ancient Greece, people expected their heroes to be different. The first readers of the Iliad didn't imagine they could ever be as great as Achilles. They accepted that he was in a completely different category, a different order of being. And they didn't envy him his superior talent - they admired him for it.
Nowadays, if someone is vastly more talented than us, we don't congratulate them - we envy them and resent their success. It seems we don't want heroes we can admire, so much as heroes we can identify with.

We want to think we could be like them, and so we make sure to select heroes that are like us. We worship David Beckham because he's fallible. If Achilles were around today, the headlines would all be about his heel.

This is the real reason for the astonishing rise of reality TV. We allow halfwits to become celebrities precisely because there is no great gap separating them from us. That consoles us, because it makes us think that we could be famous if we had a bit more luck, or if we tried a bit harder. We can't bear the idea that some people might be better than us, so much better that we could never be like them, no matter how hard we tried. That upsets our democratic ethos, our belief that all people are born equal.

But raw talent is not distributed equally. By definition, most of us are not exceptional. We are neither particularly stupid, nor especially intelligent. Only a very few are extremely gifted. But it is to these exceptionally talented people that the rest of us owe most of the greatest achievements of humankind. The Mona Lisa, the Goldberg Variations and King Lear were not the work of ordinary people like you and me. They were the work of geniuses, people so much more talented than us that we could never paint or write anything comparable to their achievements, no matter how hard we tried or how long we lived.

To some, that thought seems so humiliating and threatening that it must not even be countenanced. But to me it is liberating and inspiring. It is precisely the realisation that I will never be the equal of Mozart or Goethe that allows me to sit back and enjoy what they have bequeathed to me. It is my recognition of their greatness, my admission of the immeasurable superiority of their talent, that redeems my mediocrity. It is good to be human, not because every human can be great, but because a few people have shown us the heights to which humanity can occasionally ascend. Without the shining achievements of these few, the human race would be a waste of space.

Consider also how unattractive it is when someone begrudges another's talent, when they cannot praise success without also seeking to undermine it or feel diminished when a colleague wins praise. It is a sign of a mean spirit.

Conversely, the person who shows unreserved admiration thereby becomes admirable. To applaud someone else's achievements or good fortune, without the slightest trace of envy or resentment, is a mark of true generosity.

It is not just individuals who can be judged by such criteria. Societies too differ in terms of their attitude to success. It is often remarked that a society should be judged on how it treats its least fortunate members. But it is equally revealing to observe how a society treats its most fortunate members. A society that tramples on its poorest and weakest citizens is clearly less humane than one with social services and unemployment benefit. But a society that does not reward raw talent and praise excellence is equally barbaric.

The just allocation of admiration is a virtue that requires judgment and integrity: judgment to distinguish genuine talent from mere showiness, and integrity in refusing to bestow praise on those who do not fully deserve it. Prizes are only valuable if they are restricted to the very few. Not winning a prize is not something to be seen as shameful - it should be the norm, something that happens to the overwhelming majority of people.

Conversely, we need social structures that allow for very fine-grained distinctions to be made at the top of the ability range in any given domain - whether learning, sport or industry. There is no point in having an exam system in which more than 5% of the candidates can attain the top grade, let alone one in which 30% do. Society needs ways of picking out and rewarding the rare talent that is truly exceptional.

The rest of us should cherish those who possess such talent, for they are one of our most valuable resources. They are the scientists who will come up with the life-saving medicines of the future, the artists who will inspire us with new works of beauty, the sportsmen and women who will amaze us with their strength and skill. If we want society to progress rather than stagnate, we must learn to be more generous, and rediscover the lost art of pure admiration.

· Dylan Evans is a senior lecturer in intelligent autonomous systems at the University of the West of England

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San Clemente School Boundary Changes & CA 209

Jonathan D. Glater:

"The use of race in California, whether or not it's for segregation purposes or integration purposes, is illegal," said Sharon Browne, a lawyer at the firm, the Pacific Legal Foundation. "Any type of discrimination is wrong, and the people of California, in adopting 209, said it was wrong."

Last month the firm filed suit on behalf of Mr. Winsten and other parents, some of whose children would have to travel 13 miles to the high school they might be reassigned to. Lawyers for the foundation have asked a state court judge to bar the school district from implementing the new boundaries until the suit is resolved; the judge denied that request.

The suit against the Capistrano Unified School District is not the first instance in which the foundation has sought to use Proposition 209 to block a voluntary integration plan. It successfully attacked a race-conscious student transfer plan in Huntington Beach, Calif., in 2002. A suit in 2003 to halt a voluntary desegregation plan in Berkeley, however, did not succeed.

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July 20, 2005

Madison School Board Workshop: Public Participation on Board Committees

The Madison School Board discussed citizen participation on Board Committees Monday evening:

Watch This Discussion - Quicktime
There were a number of interesting discussions in this 30 minute video clip, including the recent Long Range Planning Committee and the recent referenda

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Madison School Board Workshop: Evaluate Business Services?

The Madison School Board had several interesting discussions Monday night. The first was a proposed 3rd party evaluation of the District's Business Services Department. This discussion is somewhat in response to the complaint that, given budget choices, the Madison School District lays off teachers rather than accountants.

Watch This Discussion - Quicktime

MP3 Audio
The 50 minute video provides a very interesting look at the different perspectives that the Madison School Board Members have on evaluating district operations and general decision making. I thought Carol did a nice job making the discussion happen.

Carol Carstensen, Lawrie Kobza and Ruth Robarts provided written comments on the Business Services evaluation - click the link below (well worth reading).

I also understand that the Board will start looking at next year's budget this fall, rather than waiting until the spring.

Carol Carstensen's comments on the proposed business services review (PDF Version):

I suggest the RFP for business services be centered around these questions: As we face the need to make further cuts to the school district budget please:
1. identify ways that we can carry out our current functions more efficiently (in terms of time andlor staff)

2. identify the areaslfunctions that we can reduce and/or eliminate without harming the district's legal responsibilities;

a) with a O0/0 increase for next year

b) with a 3% decrease from this year's level

c) with a 5% decrease from this year's level
Lawrie Kobza's comments on the proposed business services evaluation (PDF Version):
While I like the idea of an external review of the business services and human resources budgets, I don't believe the proposed RFP will get us the information the Board and the public wants.

The Project Description as set forth in subsec. 1.2.1 of the RFP states as follows:

"The Board of Education is seeking a qualified consultant to study existing organizational and operational aspects of all business (non-
instructional) operations of the District and to benchmark these services against comparable districts nationwide. This study is being undertaken to answer the question "Are we overstaffed in Business Services and Human Resources?" This question is being asked in light of on-going budget shortfalls."
This Project Description doesn't ask (and won't answer) the question, I want to know which is: "What would be the impact of additional cuts in the Business Services and Human Resources budgets?"

Knowing how the District's Business Services and Human Resources staffing compares to benchmarks from other comparable districts would be interesting, and if the study indicates the District is overstaffed, that would provide the District with information they could use to make staffing changes. But, if the study indicates that the District is not overstaffed, what then?

For the most part, our budget cuts are not based upon whether we are overstaffed in a particular area. I don't feel that we cut teachers, or social workers, or custodians because we felt that we were overstaffed in those areas. We didn't compare the District to benchmarks from other districts on custodial staffing levels to determine appropriate staffing levels for the District. We cut custodians because we had a budget that we had to meet.

I believe that Roger has told us that staffing in Business Services is as thin as it can be if Business Services continues to perform the same functions it is currently performing. I believe that he also indicated that further staff cuts would mean that functions would have to be dropped. I accept that statement. But, what I would like to see from Business Services and Human Resources is a written report on what functions or services they would pull back from if their budgets had to be reduced by lo%, 20%, or 30% (or whatever percentages we ask about), and what it would mean to the District if those functions or services were reduced or eliminated. I believe that we should ask staff to prepare that written report for us. They have the most expertise on this, and undoubtedly they have given the issue of budget cuts in their departments a lot of thought.

After the written report is prepared by District staff, it could then be provided to a third-party consultant for their review, comment and recommendation. The Board would need to hire this third-party consultant, and the consultant would report directly to the Board. This third-party review would give the Board an outside review of staffs report on the impact of further cuts to the Business Services and Human Resources budget. From my perspective, this third-party review of staffs budget cut or reduction in services plan would be much more useful than that proposed in the current RFP.

I think the work we are asking be done in the current RFP is too broad, would be too expensive, and it won't give us the information we really want. I strongly believe that the Board must think about the information it wants, why it wants it, and what it will do with that information once it gets it. Being able to say that we are not overstaffed in the Business Services area according to established benchmarks, does not answer the public's question of why we are laying off teachers rather than accountants. We need to show what laying off accountants means - and this can be done through the written plan developed by staff and reviewed by the outside consultant.

Ruth Robarts' comments on the proposed Business Services Evaluation (PDF Version)::
Thanks for the advance opportunity to review this proposal. I agree wholeheartedly with Lawrie's analysis and conclusions. 1 will not vote for spending any funds on this proposal, for the reasons that Lawrie expressed.

Her counter-proposal makes much more sense. In effect, we need to direct the administration to analyze the effect on functions of several levels of cuts. They should be able to use the Virchow-Kraus model as a guide, without our spending more money to purchase an analytical framework. I suggest 0%, cutting 3% and cutting 5%.

After we receive that report, we should follow Lawrie's suggestion of hiring an independent consultant who reports directly to the BOE and direct the consultant to advise us on the impact of the various levels of budget reduction. Then benchmarks from other districts and local governmental bodies become relevant.

We should accomplish this as soon as possible, so that we have the data in time to develop reduction-in-force policies and procedures consistent with the already existing H.R. policy that recognize the need for RIF procedures for budget reasons.

Finally, I recommend that we keep in mind that our obligations to employees on administrative contracts are created three ways:

  • by authorizing positions using the operating budget,
  • by using grant, state or federal funds to fund administrative positions
  • and by authorizing funds for community service for administrative positions.
I believe that we must approach the administrative staff in a coherent and coordinated way. The BOE needs to know which positions are essential and which are not regardless of the funding source. It does not make sense and is bad public relations to continue using retirements and resignations to cut positions that we may need for business or other reasons and at the same time growing central office or MSCR positions.

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... Schools Can't Do it Alone - East St. Louis

Claudio Sanchez, All Things Considered:

As Washington policymakers talk of leaving no child behind, the reality in places like East St. Louis, Ill., is that schools can't do it alone. When the school day is over and during the long summer vacation, children in these communities face poverty, crime, broken families and despair.

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Getting More Girls to Study Math

Dan Fost:

"There's still a big disparity between the percentage of women in science, engineering and technology versus the percentage of men," Milgram said. "I think there has been a tendency to define certain things as masculine and feminine. Science and technology are defined as masculine."

Milgram will be joined on the panel by Ellen Spertus, a computer science professor at Mills College and part-time software engineer at Google; Margaret Torn, a geological scientist at Lawrence Berkeley Lab; Neveia Chappell, product marketing engineer for Agilent Technologies; and Violet Votin, a recent graduate of Stanford University in cell biology.

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Energy Saving Daylight Savings Change?

Reader Erika Frederick emailed this article by John Fialka:

As a step to save energy, Congress appears poised to extend U.S. daylight-saving time for two months, starting it earlier, on the first Sunday in March, and ending it later, on the last Sunday of November.

The move was first approved in May as part of the energy bill by the House. The idea has now been agreed upon by House and Senate committee staffs, with the approval of both Republican chairmen and ranking Democrats. That means it is likely to be approved by the full House-Senate conference committee, which begins squaring the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill this week.
The change is not without controversy:
The Air Transport Association has asserted that its members, long-distance American airlines, could lose millions of dollars because of schedule disruptions that the proposal would cause by throwing U.S. arrivals at foreign airports out of synchronization with European schedules and Europe's system of awarding "slots," or landing rights at airports.

Some large church groups also oppose extending daylight-saving time into the early spring and late fall, because it would require children to wait for school buses in the dark. "Without the light of day, they are more susceptible to accidents with school buses, or other motorists, and the darkness also provides cover for individuals who prey on children," said the Rev. William F. Davis, deputy secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in a letter written to the House sponsors of the measure
The proposed change is part of the Energy Bill.

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July 19, 2005

Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown on Education

Recently married Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown comments on the LA Board of Education's proposed requirement that all students take the courses necessary to enter California State Universities.

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The Other 82%

From the FightingBob website comes this piece by a Milwaukee school teacher:

His thesis: "Education spending alone cannot eliminate the educational advantages that affluent children have over poor children, but that does not mean we should not try."

I sympathize with him and admire his dedication, but wonder still if there are reliable data to tease out the connection between dollars and performance. One thing I noticed in his arguing that we get good value for our teacher salaries and other per pupil spending was a reliance on the high ACT performance in this state, a statistic often touted. But I'd like to see an honest accounting of who these high scoring students are who actually take the test, out of the general student population, as well as where they attend school and what the per pupil spending is there and what the demographics are. In other words, I think that the use of the ACT statistic is a bit misleading.

I am certainly not advocating throwing in the towel on kids who come to school less prepared than those more fortunate, but I also think it's time for an honest discussion on just how much difference our public school system can make. In a world of infinite resources, we would spend unlimited funds to reach just a few, but that's not our reality. I would hope very much that we could have this conversation without labeling or name-calling.

Education spending alone cannot eliminate the educational advantages that affluent children have over poor children, but that does not mean we should not try.

The other 82 percent
By Jay Bullock

In a recent post about state Superintendent of Public Education Libby Burmaster, conservative blogger Lance Burri actually made a point with which I, a teacher and not a conservative, whole-heartedly agree. But he’s still wrong.

Lance used the hypothetical example of a child who grows up in a house full of books with two educated parents versus a child who grows up in a home with a single parent who did not finish high school, who works two jobs and does not emphasize the importance of schoolwork or higher education. If we spend $5,000 on the first child and $20,000 on the second, the first child will still likely grow up better educated.

“There’s a limit to what the schools can do,” Lance blogged. “The rest has to come from us, as students, as the parents of students, and as adults--just getting that diploma, even the one from college, isn’t enough to ensure success. Neither does school. School is an opportunity, not a solution. It’s us, ourselves, who make or break our chance at success.”

Lance is right. The fact is that students, believe it or not, only spend about 18 percent of their time with us teachers in their first 18 years. Goodness knows it often feels like more--I would imagine as much for them as it does for me--but that's it. Eighteen percent.

What happens in the other 82 percent is just as important, if not more so, than what happens within school walls. Small schools would not be any better at solving the problems of urban education overall because the problems of urban education often begin and end in the community. In Milwaukee we have staggeringly high unemployment, appalling rates of teen pregnancy, and the kind of segregation that most of the country only reads about in history textbooks.

If that is the 82 percent, I cannot fix it in the time a student is in my classroom.

Problem is I want to. I want to use every last resource available to me to do every last thing I can to provide the students I teach with every opportunity available to them. Call it quixotic, call it white liberal guilt, it doesn't matter. It is how and feel and what I do. If I wanted to only teach Lance's "first child," I would look for a job in the suburbs. With my resume, I could probably get one. But I don't.

Here's the thing: When you have to make up for the challenges that the other 82 percent of a child's life provides, it does, in fact, cost more than it does to teach students who do not have the kind of challenges most of my students do. There are facts that may make anti-tax and anti-public education people uncomfortable, especially if they are observing these facts from the comfort of their college-educated, book-reading households. When a child does not speak English, it takes more public education resources to teach that child. When a child has lead poisoning, it takes more public education resources to teach that child. When a child comes to school hungry, it takes more public education resources to teach that child.

And so on.

One of my big problems with deposed state Superintendent of Public Schools candidate Gregg Underheim's platform, such as it was, and Governor Jim Doyle's big "school funding reform" panel's recommendations, is that they all asked for a "study" to see what makes low-spending, high-achieving school districts so great. The answer, of course, is duh, accompanied by a big smack in the face: Low-spending, high-achieving districts are not, by and large, burdened by those students who require the additional public education resources to get their students up to standards.

In the same post, Lance takes the requisite rightwing jab at teachers. "We’re also near the top in total teacher compensation and spending per student," he writes. This is not said boastfully, mind you, but underhandedly in that he connects Wisconsin's apparently extravagant spending to your high property taxes--the rest of that paragraph is all about taxes. Let's look at facts:

Wisconsin currently rates, depending on whose estimate you choose, either 25th or 27th in the nation for teacher salaries. (We're 35th for starting teachers.) Our total compensation--including health benefits (won in part in exchange for these lower salaries)--puts us at 16th in the nation. If by "near the top," Lance meant "at the bottom of the top third," then he's right. Otherwise, he is mistaken.

As to per-pupil spending, according to the Census Bureau, we rank 12th of 51. So, yeah, top quarter and all. But remember three things: One, we consistently rank in the top five for educational quality--ACT scores and whatnot--so we get a good return on that investment. Two, we spend less than $1,000 more per student than the national average, or about 11 percent. Is it worth 11 percent for the higher outcomes we get? And three--if we are 12th in per-pupil spending but 16th in compensation--27th in salary--that extra money is not all going into our (or our doctors') pockets, now, is it?

But here is the other way Lance blows it, and kills any chance he and I had to agree on something for once: “We need to [. . .] agree that our task is to offer the opportunity--not to ensure that every student takes it. We will provide the buildings, classrooms, blackboards and computers. We’ll supply university-trained professional teachers, free transportation, and a curriculum that teaches, at a minimum, the basics of what it takes to succeed, so students will have more opportunities throughout their lives. We’ll provide tests to gauge achievement, and we’ll let those who fail at first keep trying.”

What it sounds like Lance is advocating here is stripped-down, bare-bones education. That probably would make the anti-tax and anti-public education crowd of his happy. But notice what else he is talking about here: He is advocating that we stop being proactive in our approach to public education in this state, that we let the chips fall where they may and if the (cough white cough) kids from college-educated, book-reading households get further ahead faster, then so be it. We save, in his example, $15,000 for each poor kid.

If Lance wants to abandon Wisconsin's 82 percent problem children in the name of saving money, then his conservative heart is colder than I could have imagined.

July 19, 2005

Jay Bullock is a teacher in Milwaukee and he maintains the "folkbum rambles and rants" and Sensenbrenner Watch Web logs.

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A New Deal for Schools

The Economist:

So the challenge is different. But the solution once again is to be found in the education system—particularly America's rotten public schools. Republicans are, generally speaking, reluctant to spend more money—partly because they represent people in richer school districts and partly because so much cash has already been wasted (America spends much more than other countries). Meanwhile Democrats, enslaved to the teachers' unions, are generally unwilling to countenance reforms such as school vouchers and testing; and they are also keener on affirmative action, the system of race-based preferences which makes universities less competitive and keeps the poison of race in a debate which is best focused on income.

This is depressing. But a political solution of sorts is going begging. Republicans should be willing to spend more cash on schools in poor areas (including on teachers' salaries) in exchange for the Democrats accepting structural reform. The No Child Left Behind Act, which introduced some forms of testing and the daring possibility of shutting down some bad schools, was an important step forward. But more is needed. Otherwise two Americas really will start to jump out off the map.

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July 18, 2005

100 Black Men of Madison Golf Outing

100 Black Men of Madison seeks individual golfers/foursomes for it’s 5th Annual Golf Outing on Monday July 25th at Cherokee Country Club.

The cost is $125 per person, which includes 18 holes, motorized cart & dinner. Registration begins at 10:30 am. Tee time is 12 noon. If you are interested in dinner only at 6 pm, the cost is $30 per person. For more information regarding the golf outing and dinner please contact Derrick Smith at 831-0525 or or Amos Anderson at 663-1530 or Proceeds to benefit the programs of the 100 Black Men of Madison.

These programs include the "Youth Mentoring Program", which is a partnership between the organization, Madison Metropolitan School District and Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Dane County. In addition, the "Annual Back to School Picnic" (this year on Saturday August 27th at Demetral Park - eastside of Madison) the organization is giving 1,800 backpacks filled with school supplies to students throughout Dane County. Lastly, the "African American History Challenge Bowl" is a competition where teams in Middle and High School throughout the Madison school district and Edgewood answer questions based on Black History facts. Winners compete at the 100 Black Men of America national competition.

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Johnny Winston, Jr. Annual Streetball & Block Party

The Johnny Winston, Jr. 2005 Streetball and Block Party will be held on Saturday August 13th from 12 noon to 7:00 p.m. at Penn Park (South Madison – Corner of Fisher and Buick Street). Last year this event raised the funds necessary to keep the MMSD varsity reserve football and boys and girls basketball program operational.

“Streetball” is a full court, “5 on 5” Adult Men’s Basketball tournament featuring some of the best basketball players in the City of Madison, Milwaukee, Beloit, Rockford and other cities.

The “block party” activities for youth and families include: Music by the New Hot 105.9 FM; Free Bingo at 1 pm, 3 pm and 5 pm sponsored by DeJope Bingo; Face painting and youth activities sponsored by Madison School and Community Recreation, YMCA of Dane County and the Neighborhood Intervention Program; Singers, Dancers and Hip Hop performances by local talent. This event also includes information booths and vendors selling a variety of foods and other items.

This is a not-for-profit event. All proceeds are given directly to local charitable programs that benefit the community and support education.

In all, this event will provide a wonderful organized activity for everyone to enjoy this summer. If you have any questions or would like to discuss any further details, please feel free to call (608) 441-0224 or by e-mail at:

Please feel free to forward this information to other interested persons or organizations.

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Where Teachers Rule: Schools with no Principal

Sarah Carr:

That's largely because Community High lacks a traditional hierarchy. The school is one of a rapidly growing number of so-called "teacher-led" schools that operate without administrators - including principals and assistant principals. The teachers make decisions about the curriculum, the budget and student discipline. They perform peer evaluations of each other. Often, they come to decisions through discussion and debate, taking a vote if a consensus is not reached. The buck stops with them, not in the principal's office.

In Milwaukee, which is a national leader in the movement toward teacher-led schools, there will be at least 14 such programs next year, and that figure does not count private schools.

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July 17, 2005

Can We Talk?

Can we Talk about communication?

My three busy kids participate in swimming, baseball, basketball, soccer, football, book clubs, math olympiad, etc..... you get the idea, my kids are healthy, busy kids. I see hundreds of families participating in these events, games, parties, and all of the commmunications relayed to every family right here in Madison is done on the computer, internet or better known as e-mail. If I did not have access to e-mail I would show up at incorrect times, fail to pay fees, miss important meetings, for all these activities my kids participate in and I volunteer to help. What does this have to do with MMSD education? Nothing, and I mean nothing at all because MMSD doesn't communicate with me via computer. When I moved to Madison, the PR on the Web and lead me to believe this was the future, the end all, the best the US offered. I wish they spent more on PC's than PR because the technology in our district is archaic.

We used to live in Anchorage, AK and while it might be thousand of miles away from the rest of civilization their school district had joined the 21st century via computers. They sent emails to parents and you could do the same. The amazing thing is, they answered the email! They sent concerns, weekly summaries and PTO newsletters on computers. What a concept, save money on xeroxing, increase parent participation and knowledge, and improve communication.

Can we talk? Not if your kids go to MMSD. Not one teacher has offered me an email address and our elementary school obtained voicemail two years ago and just one of the teachers my 3 children has had is willing to use it. In order to get a message to a teacher I have to call during class time, send a hand written note, or physically go to the school. (In their defense I had one teacher give me her home phone number but I felt too guilty to interupt her home time to ever use that method of communication.)

Verona has had the futuristic vision to place grades, notes, and communication on the computer for parents to review. I realize low income families cannot communicate in this fashion, however, 70% of the families can and 30% could via current paper systems. I would like MMSD to join the rest of the U.S., heck the rest of Madison and adopt this new techonolgy called computers (OK 25 years old).

I propose MMSD purchase a software system, (I have been informed MMSD is in the process of doing this), and parents volunteer to spend a Saturday or two doing an inservice day to educate our educators about e-mail and the internet. I have had this conversation with many parents, and I could get a whole classroom full of parents ready to help increase communication with the teachers and schools. I realize people HATE change. The teachers that have never communicated with parents won't and those afraid of computers will continue to avoid them. I believe each school has to embrace this and the principals have to reward adoption of computer communication. It would have to be manditory and the union would have to agree or the new system the district is buying will be a waste of money. Just like the voicemail our elementary school acquired has been a waste of money.

I do NOT want daily evaluations. I do NOT want lots of "aren't we great" communications. I WANT grades available via computer, I WANT monthly "We are covering this in math" and perhaps correspondence saying your child "is struggling to get assignments done, is delinquent in turning in homework, is doing great". I want PTO letters, school newsletters, and letters concerning the schools and district to come home via internet. I want more information, less paper, and a two way communication option. Would this be more work for teachers? Perhaps if they are disorganized. Perhaps if it creates more conversation with parents. Perhaps not, if parents actually get information that was formally in the bottom of the locker. Perhaps not, if it eliminates miscommunications. We should interview Verona teachers that utilize modern communication systems and see how they feel about time spent communicating via computer.

And lastly, it could possible save lots of money. As a PTO president I spent hours, literally hours, xeroxing and sending home notices about whatever event was upcoming. We also spend money on monthly newsletters at most schools. Think about the paper savings not to mention the manpower time. If all these families participating in extracurricula activities can get to each event by simply reading their computer mail, why can't the district do the same. Why is this district so slow to a concept so progressive?

Let's Get Madison to Talk.

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Study Great Ideas, But Teach to the Test

Four letters to the editor in response to Michael Winerip's recent article on teaching to the test:

Ms. Karnes learned all sorts of exercises to get children excited about writing, get them writing daily about what they care about and then show them how they can take one of those short, personal pieces and use it as the nucleus for a sophisticated, researched essay.

"We learned how to develop good writing from the inside, starting with calling the child's voice out," said Ms. Karnes, who got an A in the university course. "One of the major points was, good writing is good thinking. That's why writing formulas don't work. Formulas don't let kids think; they kill a lot of creativity in writing."

And so, when Ms. Karnes returns to Allendale High School to teach English this fall, she will use the new writing techniques she learned and abandon the standard five-paragraph essay formula. Right?

"Oh, no," said Ms. Karnes. "There's no time to do creative writing and develop authentic voice. That would take weeks and weeks. There are three essays on the state test and we start prepping right at the start of the year. We have to teach to the state test" (the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, known as MEAP).

Read the full article here. Read the letters to the editor by clicking on the link:

To the Editor:

Re "Study Great Ideas, but Teach to the Test," by Michael Winerip (Education page, July 13):

It is argued that standardized writing tests hurt the teaching of writing because teachers are forced to use the five-paragraph formula to help students pass even though it kills creativity and doesn't let them think.

Scott Stowell

The five-paragraph formula is not ideal; it's not even the ideal formula, but it's better than nothing. So, too, with standardized writing tests.

Let's be honest: Because of the No Child Left Behind Act's testing requirement, kids are writing more, the key to improving writing skills, because if they don't, they fail the standardized test.

American society places great emphasis on individual liberty and intellectual creativity, but students can't be great creative writers if they are not technically competent.

Strong writers don't need to use the five-paragraph formula; low-proficiency writers, and most school students, are better off using the defective five-paragraph formula than nothing.

Matt White
Swarthmore, Pa., July 13, 2005
The writer is director of the Writers Lab, a company that offers resources, books and training to improve results on the essay section of standardized tests.

To the Editor:

Michael Winerip cites the dilemma that many teachers face when they think they must teach the five-paragraph essay format for their students to be successful on standardized tests that include essay writing.

The College Board believes that students who follow this format may be denying themselves opportunities to write to their full potential.

The SAT essay is carefully designed to measure a student's mastery of many different elements of writing, with prompts to stimulate critical thinking about complex issues.

Critical thinking involves dealing with the complexity of an issue, not oversimplifying in the rush to produce an introduction, three "fitting" examples and a conclusion in 25 minutes.

In fact, students may be more likely to demonstrate critical thinking if they give one or two extended examples, taking the time to explain interactions between ideas.

Students will be better prepared for college writing success by learning formats that go beyond the five-paragraph essay.

Kathleen Williams
V.P., Office of Academic
Initiatives and Test Development
The College Board
New York, July 13, 2005

To the Editor:

"Study Great Ideas, but Teach to the Test" illustrates a dilemma: the needs of students to learn standard forms of communication sometimes interfere with what teachers love to do (teach creative writing).

But just as there is a place for dessert in a well-balanced meal, there is a place for creative writing in a well-balanced curriculum. In both instances, that place is usually toward the end - after the part that is less delicious but more nutritious.

The point is furthered by the fact that creativity by definition involves playing with conventions. Therefore, one cannot be creative without some level of mastery of the conventional.

K-8 may be a time during which the educational needs of children allow for less creative writing than some might like, especially for those children who have not yet been properly nurtured with regard to constructing the standard five-paragraph essay.

Paul Strand
Richland, Wash., July 13, 2005
The writer is an associate professor of psychology at Washington State University.

To the Editor:

Michael Winerip is concerned that formulaic writing strategies impede the development of students' thinking skills. I share his concern but question his diagnosis.

The "five-paragraph essay" is not the root of the problem; in fact, it's a reasonably good way to develop a little facility handling supporting evidence.

Like training wheels, the five-paragraph essay has its place. The real question is how to help kids move beyond it.

Creative departures from the five-paragraph formula should be encouraged, but there is little evidence that creative flights, as such, impart clarity, depth or cogency of thought.

The ability to organize and evaluate reasons (logic) was once the centerpiece of a good education. Sadly, it has been displaced by content-centered courses: courses that teach kids what to think rather than how to think. The solution is a return to thinking-skills instruction.

Andrew Norman
Pittsburgh, July 14, 2005
The writer develops thinking-skills curriculums for high school students.

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Public Hearing on Wisconsin Virtual Schools


After months of encouragement from the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families to engage in such a dialogue, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster has recently convened a group of expert advisors to examine virtual schools and online learning in the public PK-12 schools of Wisconsin. Their findings may include suggested changes in DPI practice, administrative rule, and Wisconsin States.

The Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families will testify before this committee.

Monday, July 18th
9:30 AM to 2:30 PM
Room G09 of the GEF2 Building
101 South Webster Street, [Map]

The Coalition consists of hundreds of parents, students, teachers and others concerned about the educational opportunities available to Wisconsin families. It was formed in the wake of legal threats to virtual education in Wisconsin. On January 7, 2004, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) filed a complaint in Ozaukee County Circuit Court against a virtual public school (the Wisconsin Virtual Academy), the Northern Ozaukee School District, and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) in an effort to shut down the school. They argued that parental participation was too significant. DPI, although it originally had approved the charter school, took the union's side in the dispute in December.

Public and the media are invited to attend.

For further information, contact:
George 414-763-3661

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Board & Administration Don't Respond to Request

I've twice sent the e-mail below, and I have received no acknowldegement or response.

From: Ed Blume
Cc: ; ;
Sent: Thursday, June 23, 2005 9:26 PM
Subject: Program spending

Can you please tell me the amount the MMSD budgeted and spent in the 2004-2005 fiscal year on the following programs:

Reading Recovery
Read 180
Direct Instruction
Educational Framework

Could you also give me the amount budgeted for each program in the 2005-2006 fiscal year?
Ed Blume

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July 16, 2005

Practicing Math with Your Children

Catherine Johnson sends a link to her Kitchen Table Math Wiki. Quite useful. (What's a wiki?)

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National High School Survey Results

The National Governor's Association, as part of their "Redesiging American High School initiative" recently conducted a survey of over 10,000 American students, ages 16 to 18. Major findings include:

  • Less than 1 in 10 say high school has been “very hard.”
  • More than one-third say high school has been “easy.”
  • 32% “strongly agree” they would work harder if high school offered more demanding and interesting courses.
  • 71% think taking courses related to the kinds of jobs they want is the best way to make their senior year more meaningful. (they also mention taking courses that count as college credit)
The survey also collects information from those who dropped out or are considering dropping out of high school.

Survey Conclusions:
  • It is critical to communicate to students that they need to seek out and take rigorous courses to be prepared for the future
  • Educators and parents must do a better job of encouraging students to find meaning in senior
    year by emphasizing its importance to their futures.
  • The message “you too can benefit from a high school education,” if continually reinforced, can work because a majority of teens who dropped out
    or who plan to drop out want to finish high school.
Read the entire summary here (250K PDF)

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Task Forces Need Community Expertise & Open Debate

I delivered the following statement to the MMSD Long Range Planning Committee on July 11:

Back on October 18, 2004, I spoke to the Long Range Planning Committee at a meeting at Leopold School. I suggested that “the Long Range Planning Committee take the time to think beyond an April referendum on a new school” at Leopold. I see the West side task force as just that, and I compliment the board for forming the group.

I also made the statement that “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’m here again tonight to restate my plea that the Long Range Planning Committee draw on the vast knowledge and experience of people in the community, because as I said in October, “I have this perhaps naive democratic belief that the more ideas you get the better the final outcome.”

I’ve also suggested to the Board of Education at a meeting earlier in July that you need not avoid controversy. “. . . [B]attles over substance, managed well, can be constructive. A furious volley of fact is met with a fierce counterattack of analysis—and the battlefield is littered with useful information. The self-interest on both sides tends to cancel out as long as the boss stays neutral.”

To edit that quote from a Fortune magazine article posted on, I urge the board and administration to stay neutral while the task forces work. Don’t stake out a position and expect the task forces to justify a predetermined outcome.

To ensure battles over substance on the West task force, I urge the board and long range planning committee to appoint Don Severson to serve on the board, because 1) his personal views (not the views of the Active Citizens for Education or ACE) match those of a large segment of us who wanted to vote for a solution to Leopold overcrowding but felt like the process had not explored all of the options, and 2) he can also tap many professional and business people who will freely give of their time and knowledge to help the task forces.

With Don’s help and the help of the whole community, I’m confident that the task forces can find widely supported options to improve the education of the children of Madison.

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Joe Gotjard, Toki's New Middle School Principle

Cristina Daglas:

He was known as "Big Joe" when he transitioned from student to staff member in the Madison school district more than 10 years ago. But times have changed and titles altered, and "Big Joe" is now Principal Gothard.

For the first time in 13 years, Joe Gothard will not be coaching football this season, and he says he's open to hobbies. However, the new top job at Toki Middle School and chasing after his three young children at home may just take up this 32-year-old's "extra" time.

Just recently hired, Gothard is settling into his new office and working diligently to get accustomed to the environment before the year's beginning rolls around. He's hoping to make the transition as smooth as possible keeping consistency for the Toki community. But the scenery isn't all too new for the Madison native, a true product of the district's "grow your own" administrator initiative, which one board member campaigns for rather frequently.

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UW's Lawson Software Implementation Problems


The "Lawson Project" aim to replace old mainframe technology with new comprehensive payroll software.

A News 3 investigation finds after years of work, and tens of millions of dollars, system officials still can't say when it will be powered up or how much it will cost.

"We have spent more money at this point than the people who initially envisioned the project thought we would have spent five years out, and we're not as far along as they thought we would be," said Don Mash, chairman of the steering committee for the APBS/Lawson project, which is an unprecedented endeavor that will impact every UW System campus and its 42,000 workers statewide.

The Madison School Distrct has also been working to implement a new Lawson HR/Finance (ERP) System.

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July 15, 2005

The Evils of Excellence

Susan Black on the "Trouble with Classroom Competition":

How much competition is too much?

I asked myself that question some years ago when I was appointed director of curriculum and instruction for a Midwestern city school district. Making the rounds of the district’s 12 schools I found competition everywhere.

In a 10th-grade English class, I found kids writing essays on citizenship for a local bar association’s contest. Moving on to a middle school, I saw seventh-grade science students drawing posters for a county humane society contest in hopes of winning stuffed animals. That afternoon, I watched third-graders hop around a gym as part of a national charity’s pledge drive. The kids who hopped the longest won crayons and coloring books.

When I counted up the number of competitive activities in classrooms -- more than 200 in one school year -- I knew it was time to put on the brakes. It wasn’t easy, but with the school board’s support and principals’ cooperation, we reclaimed the instructional program. Competitive activities were still allowed, but they were held after school for students who wanted to sign up.

Via Joanne Jacobs and Gadfly. I wonder if students in India, China, Japan, Finland and elsewhere have curriculum planners with this point of view? This thinking seems rather Soviet, where everyone is the same except for those who are not.

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Education Gains are Lost on High School Students

Alan Borsuk:

The message put forth by, among others, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings on Thursday, is that the data point to the urgency of the hot new issue in education: What can we do about high school?

The priority of the issue increased with the release of data on long-term, nationwide trends in performance by students in math and reading. The information is from the National Assessment of Education Progress, a Department of Education effort that calls itself "The Nation's Report Card." NAEP has been testing samples of students from across the United States since the 1970s.

The results show that among 9-year-olds, reading performance in 2004 was up a significant amount, compared with both 1999 and the oldest data available, from 1971. In fact, the overall score was the highest on record.

But among 17-year-olds, the average score in 2004 was exactly the same as in 1971, and the trend has been downward slightly since the early 1990s.

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July 13, 2005

Sam Dillon, NY Times: For Parents Seeking a Choice, Charter Schools Prove More Popular Than Vouchers

CLEVELAND - When Ohio enacted a pilot program of school vouchers here a decade ago, David Brennan, an Ohio businessman, quickly founded two schools for voucher students.

Three years later, with voucher programs under attack, Mr. Brennan closed the schools and reopened them as charter schools, another educational experiment gaining momentum at the time.

That decision reflected the fortunes of the two parallel school choice movements that once shared the cutting edge of the nation's school reform efforts. Charter schools, which are publicly financed but privately administered, have proliferated across the nation, with 3,300 such schools now educating nearly one million students in 40 states. In contrast, voucher programs, which use taxpayer funds to pay tuition at private schools, serve only about 36,000 students in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.

"Vouchers are moving slowly," said Paul T. Hill, a professor who studies school choice as director of the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education. "The American people don't want a complete free market in education. They want some government oversight of taxpayer-funded schools."

Last month voucher advocates achieved a rare victory when the Republican-dominated Ohio legislature created 14,000 new publicly financed "scholarships" or vouchers to allow students in failing public schools to attend private schools. That will make Ohio's voucher program, which began in 1996 with the Cleveland pilot program, the largest in the country. Earlier this spring the Utah Legislature also created a small voucher program that will allow disabled students to study at private schools at public expense.

But those twin victories were the meager results from the most ambitious legislative campaign yet by voucher advocates. Republicans introduced proposals in more than 30 legislatures for voucher or tuition tax credits, an arrangement under which parents receive a subsidy for children's private schooling through the tax code rather than as a direct grant. Vouchers were defeated in Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Indiana and Missouri.

Still, in the view of voucher proponents, the legislative sessions brought significant advances, and they are celebrating, especially because this is the 50th anniversary of the 1955 essay in which University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman suggested the use of vouchers.

In an interview, Dr. Friedman, now 93, said he believed that vouchers would eventually become more widespread than charter schools. But he acknowledged disappointment with vouchers' modest growth. "My personal belief is that the rapid expansion of charter schools will be a short-lived phenomenon, because they are only a halfway solution."Dr. Friedman said.

Many voucher students attend parochial schools like St. Agatha-St. Aloysius, housed in a crumbling brick hulk of a building on Cleveland's East Side. The neighborhood has changed much, from mostly Irish-American to mostly black, but the school, where Sister Sandra Soho has been a teacher or principal for 35 years, has not. Boys wear white shirts and ties, shelves in the basement library are stocked with trophies won by teams a half-century ago, discipline is strict and daily homework is a given.

Charter schools here and elsewhere encompass a range of curriculums and styles. The several Hope Academies in Cleveland, managed by Mr. Brennan's company, follow a back-to-basics approach. Some charter schools, like the City Day Community School in Dayton, are intimate academies. Others are technology-rich, where students take notes in class on computers.

Legislative debates over voucher programs and charter schools have tended to become fierce political brawls. "The entire educational establishment - the unions, the administrators, the school boards - is opposed to vouchers," said Kent Grusendorf, a Republican Texas state representative who chairs the House Education Committee.

Several Republican lawmakers voted with Democrats to defeat a voucher proposal in Texas last month. "This is one area where management and unions work in perfect unison," Mr. Grusendorf said.

The nation's first voucher program and its first charter schools began at about the same time. In 1990, Wisconsin enacted the first voucher program, in Milwaukee. A year later, Minnesota voted the nation's first charter school law. Many legislatures approved charter schools because they seemed less radical and aroused less opposition than vouchers, said Clint Bolick, president of the Alliance for School Choice, a Phoenix-based group.

"Charters are glasnost and vouchers are perestroika," Mr. Bolick said, referring to Mikhail Gorbachev's twin reform policies in the Soviet Union, the former a halfway measure of openness, the latter a more radical restructuring. "The educational establishment has been willing to allow charters in some states just to forestall vouchers."

As an example, he cited Arizona, where in 1995 lawmakers came within a few votes of enacting a broad voucher program. Instead, the Legislature passed a law that has made it easier to create charter schools there than anywhere else in the nation. Arizona now has 500 charter schools, but no voucher program. This year, the Legislature enacted a tuition tax credit, but Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, vetoed it.

Voters got a chance to give their opinions on voucher programs in 2000, when proponents succeeded in getting initiatives on the ballot in California and Michigan. That year vouchers programs got much positive publicity when George W. Bush spoke in favor of them during his presidential campaign. But voters overwhelmingly rejected the two state proposals that November.

Ohio launched its pilot voucher program in Cleveland in 1996, offering taxpayer-financed "scholarships" to about 2,000 students. By this past school year, the program had grown to about 5,600 students attending 44 private schools.

Also over the past decade, more than 200 charter schools have been started in Ohio. Mr. Brennan, the businessman who opened and then closed the two voucher schools in Cleveland, today runs 34 profit-making charter schools across Ohio.

The Cleveland voucher program has become quite popular, especially with black parents like Andrea Holland. Black children make up about half of the city's voucher school students.

Ms. Holland, who runs an electrical contracting business with her husband, enrolled their son Jonathan, 13, at St. Agatha-St. Aloysius parochial school two years ago, transferring him from a public elementary school where he had faced bullying, she said.

"I'm not otherwise able, like rich folks, to take my kid out and put him into a private school," Ms. Holland said. "But with this program I can afford to."

Kim Metcalf, an education researcher who conducted a nine-year study of the Cleveland voucher program, concluded that average achievement levels of Cleveland's voucher students were in some instances significantly higher, and were never lower, than those of students in the Cleveland public schools. In contrast, achievement levels at most of Cleveland's charter schools were somewhat lower than in Cleveland's traditional public schools with similar student populations, according to a 2003 study by Ohio's Legislative Office of Education Oversight, a nonpartisan agency.

Because voucher programs divert tax dollars from public to private schools that are not subject to the same government accountability measures - standardized tests, for example - both national teachers' unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, oppose them. Officially, at least, the unions support charter schools, as long as they are governed by nonprofit groups, are held accountable for student achievement and meet other criteria. In New York City, the United Federation of Teachers is working to start its own charter schools.

In states like Ohio that permit private companies to govern whole chains of charter schools, the unions have fought them bitterly.

"Charters and vouchers are equal on our agenda," said Tom Mooney, the president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers. "We consider charters more insidious right now, because they've grown larger, but vouchers could grow, too."

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
The New York Times
July 13, 2005
For Parents Seeking a Choice, Charter Schools Prove More Popular Than Vouchers


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Planning for MMSD Legislative Committee for 2005-06

As chair of the MMSD School Board's Legislative Committee for 2005-06, I post information about state and federal laws and legislative issues related to the Madison Schools on this blog under Hot Topics , Madison School Board Legislative Committee blog.

In June I asked MMSD staff for the committee, Joe Quick, for his ideas on future directions for the committee. My questions and his answers are available under as well as news reports and background materials.

My June memo to Legislative Committee:

At the first meeting of the Legislative Committee’s for 2005-06, I will ask the committee to review a plan of action for the year. I hope that we can meet with Dane County legislative representatives soon after we approve a plan. Their viewpoints should help us decide how to proceed.

In view of the Joint Finance Committee’s recommendations for the proposed biennial state budget, we must focus on the most promising strategies for reversing reductions in state support for K-12 schools. I have asked Joe Quick, the MMSD staff for the committee and longtime legislative liaison for the district, to help us get started by outlining a possible plan. I will review and revise the plan before presenting it to the committee.

Although I do not have Joe Quick’s experience with K-12 legislation, I served as the legislative lobbyist for a statewide healthcare union for many years and have previously served on the Legislative Committee as a citizen and member of the Board of Education. I look forward to working with the committee which includes citizen and Board members who also have prior experience working with the state legislature.

On June 11, I sent the following memo to Joe Quick.

Carol Carstensen appointed me to chair the Legislative Committee and communicated her goal for us to use the committee “more effectively”. I am trying to envision how the committee could become more effective.

I am asking for your guidance and ideas as staff. I believe that the committee should set its goals for the year only after it has the benefit of your advice and experience. I will convene the committee after you have drafted an outline for our consideration that answers these questions.

What should be our core message to the legislature and other advocates?

What should be our calendar for meetings and activities?

What resources will we need to convey our messages effectively?

What will be the role of staff and what should be the role of Legislative Committee members and Board members?

What should be our plan for building media support for our messages?

What barriers should we expect? (opposition from allies, positions of legislative majority, disconnect between MMSD calendar and legislative calendar, limits on the capacity of the Legislative Committee and Board of Education to commit time necessary for statewide organizing efforts???)

I am looking for a realistic and concrete plan for the next year of the Legislative Committee.


The response from our legislative liaison, Joe Quick:

Date: Mon, 11 Jul 2005
From: Joe Quick
Cc: Art Rainwater, Carol Carstensen, Mary Gulbrandsen

Q: What should be our core message to the legislature and other advocates?

A: I think our core message should be the need to re-examine school funding particularly, school funding/revenue limits, underfunded mandates (specifically, special ed. & bilingual) and tax fairiness (given that the property tax payers burden is 70% residential compared to 40%in 1946).

Q: What should be our calendar for meetings and activities?

A: This can't be determined until the committee decides its activities. the agenda the committee determines will dictate how often meeting is needed.

Q: What resources will we need to convey our messages effectively?

A: Our resources are "human" not financial. For example, fostering opportunities for Madison parent advocates to meet with parent advocates from say Racine, or Stoughton to discuss school funding issues would provide Madison parents/BOE members with a wider perspective.

Q: What will be the role of staff and what should be the role of Legislative Committee members and Board members?

A: To articulate the message of the need for tax fairness in order to prevent the annual ritual of cuts by school districts in order to comply with revenue limits.

Q: What should be our plan for building media support for our messages?

A: Let local media know about meetings with parent advocates from Racine and other communities and invite them to hear about the problems of school finance in OTHER communities.

Q: What barriers should we expect? (opposition from allies, positions of legislative majority, disconnect between MMSD calendar and legislative calendar, limits on the capacity of the Legislative Committee and Board of Education to commit time necessary for statewide organizing efforts???)

A: The barriers will be a Legislature that believes K-12 finances are adequate and posits that "tax fairness" is really just a "tax shift" and a governor and Legislature that campaigned for and was elected on a "no new taxes" platform. Certainly, the WI Manufacturers & Commerce will oppose and changes to the tax system unless the proposal provides another tax break.

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July 12, 2005

School districts adopt boundary changes

Boundary changes were approved by both Madison and Verona school boards last night.

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Private funds ok'd for soccer

Private funds for 2 West High Soccer teams were approved by the School Board on Monday, July 11th. The approval is for one year.

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Blame State Leaders if Schools Close: WI State Journal Editorial

The Wisconsin State Journal's July 11th editorial says Blame State Leaders if Schools Close "...state leaders are just as much if not more to blame if the Florence School District shuts down. And don't be surprised if more school districts, particularly in rural areas, are soon forced to consider such a drastic option."

When will our state leaders get down to business? How much more do our kids have to take?

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Florence School Board Votes to Close School District

The Florence County School Board in northern Wisconsin followed through with its plan to shut down the district, voting 6-1 for a second and final time Monday to dissolve next July.
Download file Florence School Board Votes to Close School District

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Edward Tufte in Madison 8/8

Presenting Data and Information: A One-Day Course Taught by Edward Tufte is in Madison August 8, 2005 ($320/person):

I attended his course in Chicago last year. Highly recommended. More on Edward Tufte.

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Merens Interviews Wisconsins' Future Jack Norman

WPR's Ben Merens interviewed Jack Norman, research director for the Institute for Wisconsin's Future on their "Wisconsin Adequacy Plan". Real audio - WPR is not, unfortunately podcasting at the moment. The Institute's Website has a number of useful articles and publications. Their Wisconsin Atlas of School Finance is worth looking at.

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July 11, 2005

School Naming Rights For Sale

Plymouth-Canton, Mich., school district is selling school naming rights.

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Arizona School Drops Textbooks


A high school in Vail will become the state's first all-wireless, all-laptop public school this fall. The 350 students at the school will not have traditional textbooks. Instead, they will use electronic and online articles as part of more traditional teacher lesson plans.

Vail Unified School District's decision to go with an all-electronic school is rare, experts say. Often, cost, insecurity, ignorance and institutional constraints prevent schools from making the leap away from paper.

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Goodbye, Class See You in the Fall: Looping in Ardsley NY Public Elementary School

The New York Times
July 11, 2005
Goodbye, Class. See You in the Fall.

ARDSLEY, N.Y. - Even though it was his last day of kindergarten, Zachary Gold, a bright, enthusiastic 6-year-old, said he wasn't scared about moving up to the rigors of first grade. Unlike most kindergartners at the Concord Road Elementary School in this Westchester County village, he already knew who his first-grade teacher would be.

The New York Times
July 11, 2005
Goodbye, Class. See You in the Fall.

ARDSLEY, N.Y. - Even though it was his last day of kindergarten, Zachary Gold, a bright, enthusiastic 6-year-old, said he wasn't scared about moving up to the rigors of first grade. Unlike most kindergartners at the Concord Road Elementary School in this Westchester County village, he already knew who his first-grade teacher would be.

In September, Zachary will come right back to room P8, his 18 classmates from kindergarten and his teacher, Leslie Cohen.

"I feel, like, not scared, because it's going to be the same," Zachary said. "Well, different work, but the same teacher. She's a nice teacher. I love Ms. Cohen."

Having a teacher stay with a class for more than a year - or looping, as it is known - is on the rise, according to many experts. As educational innovations go, it is remarkably simple. So are its benefits, proponents say. Teachers get to know their students, and the students' parents, extremely well. They know each child's strengths and weaknesses, and the children know the teachers' expectations and methods. This familiarity can save a lot of time at the beginning of the school year.

There is little hard data on the frequency or effectiveness of looping, but classes in hundreds, if not thousands of schools across the United States have adopted it.

"As schools try to improve their standardized test scores, this appears to be catching on," Arthur E. Levine, the president of Teachers College at Columbia University, said.

It is most common in elementary schools, though some middle schools do it, too. Schools in Colorado Springs have tried looping, as have those in Attleboro, Mass., and Antioch, Ill. In New York City, hundreds of classes stay together for more than a year, most of them in the lower grades.

"In New York, it's a lot more prevalent than we think," said Carmen Fariña, the city's deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. "It's becoming more popular."

The decision on whether a teacher will loop with a class is left to principals, teachers and parents, said Ms. Fariña, who herself stayed with a class through third and fourth grades four times in her teaching career. "In the city, there are hundreds of classes doing it," she said. "In a lot of schools there are four or five classes looping."

The big payoff from looping appears to be in the fall, when teachers typically take time to assess each child, trying to figure out their skill levels and how each student learns. But when Ms. Cohen and her class return in September, she said, "we can basically pick up where we left off."

"I've always felt the first six to eight weeks of the school year are extremely chaotic for kids," Ms. Cohen said, "and not a whole lot of learning takes place."

Spending two years together as a class also reassures young children, she said. "Both at the end of the year and at the beginning of the year, there is a tremendous amount of anxiety in kids," she said. "And I think the anxiety makes it more difficult for them to learn."

The potential disadvantages of looping are also clear-cut. If parents think a teacher is inadequate, they would surely oppose having their child spend an additional year in his or her class.

Advocates of looping say options need to be built into any program, so that parents and teachers can decide to place a child in a different class if remaining with a teacher would be detrimental.

Research into looping suggests that it can pay substantial dividends. The school district in East Cleveland, Ohio, experimented with looping from 1993 to 1997. A class in each of four elementary schools stayed with their teachers for three years, generally from kindergarten through second grade. The teachers worked extensively with parents to reinforce lessons in school, and the classes also met for five weeks each summer.

After three years, students in the looped classes scored an average of 25 percentage points higher on standardized tests in reading, language arts and math than other students in the school district, said Frederick M. Hampton, an associate professor of education at Cleveland State University who oversaw the research project.

"Everything about the children's lives is pretty much in constant motion," said Professor Hampton, who described East Cleveland as poor and predominantly African-American.

"It had occurred to me over a number of years that children, particularly from inner-city areas, need a different model of school, a more family-oriented model, in order to be successful," he said, "something that would allow them to see familiar faces, familiar teachers."

Many educators think middle-class children also benefit from a more prolonged relationship with teachers. Daniel L. Burke, the superintendent of the Big Foot Union High School District in Walworth, Wis., became an advocate of looping after experiencing it during his first years as a teacher. Dr. Burke taught seventh-grade English in Alsip, Ill., in 1970; at the end of the school year, he and two other young teachers were told they would have the same classes the following year, because of scheduling problems caused by construction.

"Those kids came in the door the first day and they knew me and I knew them," he said. "I knew their parents and they knew me. They knew what my expectations were. It was just wonderful."

Twenty years later, when he was a district superintendent in Antioch, Ill., Dr. Burke convinced a first-grade teacher to try looping. She liked it and word spread. By the time he left the district in 1999, he said, 85 percent of the elementary school teachers were staying with classes for at least two years.

Given the enthusiasm for looping in pockets of the country, many educators said they were surprised that it is not more popular and that it has not been studied more rigorously. The roots of looping trace back to the one-room rural schoolhouse and to educational innovations in Europe in the early 20th century.

The East Cleveland school district stopped looping once Professor Hampton's experiment ended in 1997, in part, he said, because the district was reorganized, with new schools opening and some old ones shutting down.

Professor Hampton said he thought the primary reason more schools have not adopted looping "is because most administrators have this one concept, this one paradigm of the word 'school.' And anything that does not fit into that, they don't bother with."

Some other educators said many teachers might be unwilling to stay with a class for a second year because it would involve learning the curriculum of a new grade.

That was not a problem for Ms. Cohen at the Concord Road School, because she had previously taught first and second grade, as well as kindergarten. Ms. Cohen said she liked the variety. She first suggested looping to her principal after an outside expert mentioned it in a talk given to Concord Road teachers two years ago, and the principal agreed to allow her to try it with her kindergarten class last year.

Would she loop with a class again? "I'll let you know," she said with a laugh. "Right now I love it. I love the connection I feel with the class. I think both for myself and for the parents, there's been a palpable sense of commitment. I'm really, really excited to start the school year again with them."

So are Zachary and many of his classmates. But not all of the children completely understand the arrangement. "I heard one of them say to another, 'We're going to have her again next time,' " Ms. Cohen said. "And the other child said, 'What about high school?' "

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
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Common Expectations for All Middle Schools

Does the MMSD Web site have a link to the document titled "Common Expectations for All Middle Schools," which the superintendent mentions as the guide for MMSD middle schools? If the site has a link, I couldn't find it.

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Letter from Art Rainwater to Sherman Parents About Changes at Sherman and Plans for all Madison Middle Schools

In response to inquiries from Sherman Middle School parents, Art Rainwater wrote a letter to parents/guardians dated June 27, 2005. In that letter he mentioned District plans to revisit the core courses taught middle school students - "...we will revisit this document [Common Expectations for All Middle Schools] again, beginning this summer, and address each of the areas in the document to ensure that our middle schools are consistent in the courses offered to each student." I didn't read anything about parents being included in such a process. If you have comments re your child's middle school academics and/or what processes you hope the administration follows - send them to the School Board at
Download Superintendent Rainwater letter to Sherman parents/guardians

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July 10, 2005

K-12 Math Curriculum: A Visit With UW Math Professor Dick Askey

UW Math Professor Dick Askey kindly took the time to visit with a group of writers and friends recently. Dick discussed a variety of test results, books, articles and links with respect to K-12 math curriculum. Here are a few of them:

  • Test Results:

    Wisconsin is slipping relative to other states in every two year NAP (sp?) Math test (4th and 8th grade). In 1992, Wisconsin 4th graders were 10 points above the national average while in 2003 they were 4 points above. Wisconsin students are slipping between 4th and eighth grades. In fact, white and hispanic children are now performing equivalent to Texas students while Wisconsin black students are performing above Washington, DC and Arkansas (the two lowest performers). He mentioned that there is no serious concern about the slippage.

    30 years ago, the United States had the highest % of people graduating from High School of any OECD country. Today, we're among the lowest. We also have a higher drop out rate than most OECD countries.

    Said that he has asked Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater twice in the past five years if our District asked for and received corrections for the current connected Math textbooks.

    Mentioned that CorePlus is evidently being used at West High but not Memorial

    Asked why these math performance declines are happening, he mentioned several reasons; "tame mathemeticians", declining teacher content knowledge (he mentioned the rigor of an 1870's California Teacher exam) and those who are true believers in the rhetoric.
  • Books:

    Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics: Teachers' Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics in China and the United States

    The Schools by Martin Mayer

  • Links:

    Ralph Raimi's Technical Commentaries on Mathematics Education and History

    Paul Gagnon Finding Who and Where We Are:
    Most college curricula offer no rescue. In the modern American university, nobody takes responsibility for what is taught. Faculty members avoid prescribing any subject matter in particular. The participatory democracy of curriculum making somehow always manages to end at the same point: Anything must be declared to be as good as anything else, lest the balance of departmental enrollments (and faculty positions) be disturbed. The arguments are not, of course, so crudely put. We academicians are too skilled at spinning high reasons for low acts. Letting students ignore the events and ideas that have shaped them and their world is called freedom of choice. Amnesia becomes liberation. The notion that freedom can proceed only out of requirements is too deep for us, especially at budget time, and as enrollments fall.

    If American education is ever to be made democratic, so that, as deTocqueville said, democracy may be educated, nothing will be more crucial than a common, sequential study of history throughout the elementary and secondary years. Only history, and particularly the history of Western civilization, can begin to help us find who we are and what choices we may have before us. But history is also, in Clifton Fadiman’s words, a generative subject, upon which the coherence and usefulness of many other subjects depend. It is essential to a serviceable view of art, architecture, drama, and literature, of the evolution of the natural sciences and social sciences. These are high claims for the uses of history, but they are justified by the aesthetic and intellectual experiences of countless Westerners, stretching back through time from Churchill to Thucydides. And such claims must be kept uppermost in mind, for otherwise it would prove impossible to decide what is most worth teaching out of the enormous mass of historical data facing us.

    Daniel T. WIllingham: The Cognitive Scientist: Do Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners Need Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Instruction?
  • Kathy Esposito's Isthmus article: New Math, New Questions
I suspect we'll be hearing much more from Dick on this subject.

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Ask the Cognitive Scientist

Daniel T. Willingham:

Modality theory—the idea that students differ in their visual, auditory, and kinesthetic abilities and learn more when instruction is geared to their strengths—has been a popular idea for decades. But research has found that learning is enhanced by designing instruction around the content’s best modality, not the student’s.

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Something New: Sun Prairie's Website is Now a Blog

The Sun Prairie School District has launched a new website, essentially a blog with links. The key for Sun Prairie or any organization is to embrace all that that internet offers (audio, video, links, background information) and provide timely and useful information. They must frequently update the site. I wish them well. PBS's Frontline provides a great example. Their stories include video/audio clips, transcripts, documents and extensive background data.

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More on the Florence School District

Phil Brinkman takes a look at the Florence School District, which may disband:

"I want them to teach our children within their means," said Tibbs, probably the chief antagonist in what has become a battle between cash-strapped residents and an equally cash- strapped school district over the future of education here.

Members of the Florence County School Board are finally conceding that battle after voters last month turned down the third spending referendum in the past two years. The measure would have let the district exceed state- imposed revenue caps by $750,000 a year for three years.

"There are other school districts of the same size, wealth and makeup that aren't dissolving," said Tony Evers, deputy state superintendent of public instruction. "Clearly, things happened in this school district that didn't happen in other school districts."

But Evers said Florence County's death spiral provides sobering evidence that the state's school funding formula is overdue for a change. Under that formula, state aid is provided in roughly inverse proportion to a community's property wealth, and the total revenue a district can raise is capped. If costs exceed that - and officials in districts from Florence to Madison to Milwaukee say they are - districts must ask property taxpayers for more.

"We will need to, absolutely, continue to find better ways to measure wealth than property value," Evers said.

note: this link will suffer "linkrot" as Capital Newspapers takes their links down after a period of time.

To save money, the board in the late 1980s offered an early- retirement package to employees that included paying their health insurance costs after they left the district. At the time, the move seemed a bargain.

When health care costs started spiraling out of control, the district sought to limit the benefit to age 65, when Medicare would take over; the teachers union believed the benefit should continue as a supplement past that age.


Intended to stem the flow of money, the school closure opened a new gash that now threatens to bleed the district dry. Angry parents of 30 students enrolled their children in a neighboring public school last year, taking about $167,000 in state aid with them.

So many parents have asked to transfer out of the district next year that the board has capped the number at 66. The exodus represents a potential loss to the district of $380,000 in state aid.


Of course, other districts - including Madison - have been affected. Voters in Madison last spring defeated a referendum to exceed the state revenue limits by $7.4 million to pay school operating costs, and another to build an elementary school. The district is in no danger of closing, but stagnant enrollment and rising costs forced the School Board to cut 23 teaching positions and trim extracurricular and other programs in May. Since the revenue caps were enacted in 1993, the Madison School District has made $38 million in cuts from its same-services budgets, and it anticipates at least an $8.6 million budget shortfall next year.

Brinkman's otherwise useful article does readers a disservice by not providing additional background to the Madison School District Administration's numbers. The Madison School District does face some spending challenges, however, local taxpayers have been extraordinarily supportive, supporting local school spending that has grown from $200M in 1994/1995 to 319M in 2004/2005 with essentially a flat enrollment. The district's demographics are changing, but Madison has always strongly supported its schools, both financially and with loads of volunteer time.

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July 9, 2005

"No" on Intellectual Pluralism

George Archibald:

"There are no secret agendas here. Divergency [of views] in the classroom is being stifled. More and more, what we can say in the classroom is being restricted," said Mr. Jackson, a high school English teacher from Kennewick, Wash.

Teachers have a responsibility "to instruct students how to think, not to indoctrinate," he said. "All this is trying to do is to open this up and to prevent restriction" of the academic freedom of students as well as teachers.

But Tom Oxter, president of a Florida higher-education group that led the fight before the Florida Legislature against a similar campaign for a student academic bill of rights there, denounced the proposal as "really just the beginning of a witch hunt" by conservatives.
Via Joanne Jacobs. Joanne also summarizes the NEA's comments on the Achievement Gap.

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Superintendent Rainwater's Letter to Governor Doyle

Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater via WisPolitics :

Thank you for making public education in Wisconsin a priority in the budget you presented to the Legislature – a proposal that protected Wisconsin’s overburdened property tax payers and the children of the state. Unfortunately, the budget before you resembles little of what you offered for our taxpayers and K-12 students.

Since the inception of state-imposed revenue limits in 1993, Madison has cut over $43 million in its “same-service” budget and eliminated almost 540 positions – including 121 positions for the 05-06 school year. It is disingenuous for Republican leaders to claim their $458 million school aid increase as “historic,” when over 90 percent of the resources are targeted for school property tax relief, not for school programs and services. We have long surpassed cutting fat from our local budget, but have cut into bone as we increase class size in secondary instruction, eliminate classroom opportunities for students and cut support staff who assist our most needy students and families.

I urge you to use your veto authority to the fullest extent in order to restore revenue limit increases that keep pace with inflation, versus the GOP plan that cuts the allowable increase to 1.4 percent – less than half of the current inflation rate. Aside from increases in categorical aids, the revenue limit increase represents a school district’s only opportunity to fund critical programs for students.
I'm glad the Superintendent sent his comments to the Governor. It will be interesting to see where the Governor, facing a 2006 election campaign, lands on the amount of increased spending for Wisconsin schools (the battle is over the amount of increased money: the Republican budget includes a 458M increase to the 5.3B base, while Governor Doyle originally proposed a $900M increase via borrowing and other shifts).

Madison is also somewhat unique in this discussion in that about 25% of its budget comes from the State (State school spending will go up faster than inflation, in either case. The puzzle for me is the 1.4% that Superintendent Rainwater refers to. Is this due to Madison's flat enrollment and/or based on the formulaic penalty we face for our higher than average per student spending? The enrollment situation is sort of strange, given the housing explosion we've seen over the past 10 years), whereas other districts receive a much higher percentage of their budget from state taxpayers. Further, Madison taxpayers have supported a significant increase in local school support over the past decade. The District's Operating Budget has grown from $200M in 1994-1995 to $317M in 2005-2005. Art's letter mentions "cut $43 million in its “same-service” budget and eliminated almost 540 positions – including 121 positions for the 05-06 school year". There's also been some discussion here about District staffing changes.

I also believe the District needs to immediately stop operating on a "same service approach". Given the rapid pace of knowledge and information change today (biotech, science, engineering among others) AND the global challenges our children face (Finland, India, China and other growing economies - see Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat) things that worked over the past decade may no longer be practical or affordable for that matter.

Having said all that, it is difficult to manage anything when the curveballs are coming rather quickly. It would be great for the state to be consistent in the way it provides funds for 25% of our District's budget. Similarily, in the private sector, many would love to see less risk and change, but I don't see it happening.

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July 8, 2005

It's About the Kids

My vote re the proposal to fund two West High JV soccer teams was about the kids and was for the kids. MMSD's athletic budget for next year will fund 8 teams in each high school for soccer, but at West the demand from kids is for 10 teams, so the parent proposal was to fundraise for the two teams that school would be short under next year's team allocation matrix.

I appreciated the parents' efforts to be proactive on behalf of 50 high school kids who want to play soccer. I appreciated that the parents from West High expanded the name of their group to Madison, recognizing the possible future need to help kids across the city who want to play soccer. I hope we can harness these parents' positive efforts for future discussions about what we need to do to keep athletics and other educational opportunities strong for our kids.

Further, in my opinion the long-term issue regarding extra-curricular sports is not about the number of teams (by the way, it's up to 66 teams for all grades per high school in several sports, not just soccer), but a) what high school athletic program do we want for Madison's children, b) how much does that athletic program cost, c) how much can the District afford to pay, and d) how will we pay for the amount not covered in the budget. The School Board has not had this discussion and needs to have this discussion ASAP.

In the meantime, as a community member on the Partnership Committee I supported this proposal and will continue to be open to new ideas from the community in all educational areas for different ways to build community linkages that will support a strong, complete educational environment for all our kids.

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Why One More Team?

If each high school will have 66 teams for each grade level, why do parents feel they need a few more soccer teams at West?

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July 7, 2005

I Voted Yes to Privately Fund Two West High Soccer Teams

At its June 27, 2005 meeting, the Partnership Committee listened to a request from West High School parents (Friends of West High School Soccer) to fundraise money for an additional 2 soccer teams this fall. A committee member made a motion to allow parents to fundraise the money and that motion passed unanimously. The entire School Board will vote on the Partnership Committee's recommendation on Monday, July 11th and I hope the majority of the School Board votes yes.

I am a community member on the Partnership Committee, and I voted yes because I want as many children as possible who want to play sports (soccer in this case) to have that opportunity, and I appreciate the parent group stepping forward to take on the job of fundraising the necessary money to field two more teams. I would also like to thank the parent group for changing their name from Friends of West High Soccer to Friends of Madison Soccer, intending to form a city-wide support group if that becomes necessary so kids can play sports in high school.

Was I concerned about equity issues among the 4 Madison high schools who field athletic teams when I voted yes? Not in this instance, because during the 2005-2006 school year each high school will have the opportunity to field up to 66 freshman, sophmore, junior varsity, varsity and combination athletic teams (264 teams in total). This district-wide team structure has a $2 million+ budget for next year that the School Board approved in June 2005.

Further, the up to 66 teams per school that is budgeted for the 2005-2006 academic year is more than the number of teams East and Lafollette High Schools had during the 2004-2005 school year and less than the number of teams that West and Memorial High Schools had this past school year.

The West High proposal is NOT about one school having teams and another school not having teams because of any disparity due to access to funding. The Athletic Committee that came up with the team structure for next year treated each school equally when it came to the number of teams per sport and total teams that would be funded.

To me, this proposal is about parents and community members a) seeing a demand for soccer greater than the District's budget can afford next year, and b) working together to come up with a proposal for helping kids play sports. Helping kids - that's what made so much sense to me in this proposal.

Will the School Board have to have discussions about equity when funding school activities, public vs. private funding for different activities? Yes, definitely, but I don't think those needed future discussions should stop the School Board from going forward with a proposal that makes sense. I hope a majority of the School Board supports this proposal on Monday, July 11th. I think it's a proposal that is good for kids, works within the existing athletic infrastructure, and we will be able to learn from this effort for future discussions about how sports are funded. Thank you, parents and community members for coming forward to help Madison's students.

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California English Teacher on Teacher Evaluations

Tod Seal discusses teacher evaluations in three parts:

  • Student Voices
    Students choosing the easy route make up a large percentage of any public school. I'd say that easily 80% of the students in any high school will choose the teacher who shows movies and simply requires basic recall of class lecture over the teacher who reads novels and requires challenging essays. Yes, students in public school choose Advanced Placement (AP) classes.
  • Teacher Voices
    It's been suggested that there is a struggle to create "objective, articulable standards" [sic] for teacher evaluation. It's further been suggested that teachers be evaluated based on subjective standards, in the absence of those "articulable standards." I, for one, certainly don't want to be judged on subjective standards and I don't want other teachers evaluated thusly. I wouldn't judge my students subjectively and I wouldn't expect any boss to evaluate employees subjectively.
  • Administrator View
    Teachers in my school district are currently evaluated by a bi-annual visit from an administrator (principals and the like). Every 2 years, an administrator spends 53 minutes in my classroom, taking notes on what happens during that time. That 53-minute period, that solitary visit to my classroom on a day and time that I know about well in advance is supposed to be some type of record of how effective I am as an educator. That visit is the single requirement our district has for teacher evaluation.

    Clearly, this is a flawed system

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Health Talks Won't Be Secret

Jason Shepherd wrote about the nature of the Madison School District's joint committee with MTI (Madison Teachers Inc.)regarding health care costs. Initially, according to Shepherd, Madison School Board President Carol Carstensen said that "the open meeting law does not apply to the committee".

KJ Jakobsen, a parent studying the District's health insurance costs, wants to attend the meetings to see if the district is conducting an appropriate review. "Questions have been raised for 20 years," she says. "Change won't happen if these meetings are secret".

But Carstensen, in an e-mail to Jakobsen, barred her from the meetings, claiming the committee is "part of the bargaining process" and thus excluded from the open meetings law. That raised the ire of [Ruth] Robarts, who said, "The public has a right to know what the distrct has been doing about its health insurance costs".
Read the article here. Isthmus' web site

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Are Students More Equal than Others?

Susan Lampert Smith: "West High kids may have more opportunities because their parents are able to pay so they can play". Evidently, the issue is $6,000 in the Madison School District's $320M+ budget.

Meanwhile, Sandy Cullen discusses an attempt to move extramural sports to MSCR (part of Fund 80) as a response to the elimination earlier this year of freshman no cut sports. Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater mentioned:

"Our problem is facilities," Rainwater said, adding that after-school activities, practices and games, as well as community programs, are already using the space needed for an extramural program. "If we don't have facilities, we can't do it."
I hope and assume that programs for our school age children always come first in these discussions.

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July 6, 2005

Konkel on the City's Budget Process

Tangential at best to this blog, but deja vu for readers. Brenda Konkel asks questions about the Madison Police Department's $44M budget and is accused of "micromanaging". Interesting times. Read on.

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Going Online Keeps Students in Line

Tom Kertscher:

At the same time, a new system for disciplining students also helped reduce the number of Badger Middle School students sent to the dean's office because of misbehavior, said first-year principal Ted Neitzke, 34. But the use of a daily "blog" - an adaptation of e-mails shared among teachers and other staff - was perhaps more important, Neitzke said. He had used the system a year earlier on his previous job as an assistant principal in Sheboygan.

The blog, Neitzke said, is a "positive, proactive communication tool."

The West Bend School Board received annual reports from schools on progress they are making on individual improvement plans. Badger, the larger of West Bend's two middle schools, said reducing behavioral problems was its "greatest achievement" in the school year that just ended.

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Gibson: Who Owns the Words?

William Gibson:

We seldom legislate new technologies into being. They emerge, and we plunge with them into whatever vortices of change they generate. We legislate after the fact, in a perpetual game of catch-up, as best we can, while our new technologies redefine us - as surely and perhaps as terribly as we've been redefined by broadcast television.

"Who owns the words?" asked a disembodied but very persistent voice throughout much of Burroughs' work. Who does own them now? Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do. All of us.

Though not all of us know it - yet.
Gibson's most recent book is Pattern Recognition, which is a must read. Gibson's website.

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July 5, 2005

Developing Credibility

From Debroah Bush-Suflita, Communications Manager of the Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services, Albany, New York:

The most important element of an effective public information program is credibility. Indeed, credibility is the most important element in an effective educational program. You cannot lie or obscure the truth, because you will quickly lose credibility. . . .
Unfortunately, you can also lose credibility even when you are telling it like it is. People mistrust government, and so they are naturally suspect of anything coming from the mouths of government officials. Here are some tips on how a district can develop credibility through its communications:

*Don't concentrate your communications on only the good news. School districts have problems. Talk about those problems and what the district is doing to resolve them. Believe it or not, the public is very forgiving of frailties, particularly when they see that school district officials recognize those frailties and are trying to do something about them.
* If you are going to use any opinion in a newsletter story or a public presentation, make sure you back it up with facts. For example, if you describe a teacher contract settlement as fair, show exactly how much the raises are. If you describe a sports program as being good for students, show how many sports teams you have, how many students are involved, and what value they receive from that participation. People can argue with opinion, but it's hard to dispute or dismiss the facts.
* Don't be afraid of controversy. If the community is talking about it, you should be writing or talking about it. Many times, bringing issues right out on the table diffuses the controversy. Here again, you should lean more heavily towards facts then opinion.
* Become sensitive to what people out in the schools and community are saying and what they are grumbling about. This will help you avoid writing or saying something that will be easily dismissed as lies.
* Be timely with your communications. People in the community should learn about new developments as they are occurring. They also should learn about problems as soon as the school district identifies them. And they should hear the news first from the district, not from other sources (such as over the back fence or at cocktail parties).
* Don't overlook your staff in your communications. Remember that school districts work on the reverse pyramid concept. As far as the public is concerned, the least credible sources of information are the people at the top. The most credible are those people at the bottom of the pyramid. You can write stories till your blue in the face about how economically the school district is being run, but if the teachers (or worse yet, the custodians or bus drivers) are talking out in the community about the incredible amount of waste they see, then you are dead in terms of credibility.
* Most importantly, have faith in the public - both internal and external. Don't be afraid to discuss any topic or share any kind of information with them. Being open will sometimes get you into trouble, at least temporarily so. In other words, the district will get criticized by some people once certain things are shared with them. But we have plenty of evidence to show that in the end, openness is the only way to develop trust. These very same people who criticize you will also come to respect you, particularly as they dialogue with you over the information you have shared; and in the end, they often will support you (or at the very least, they will lose the desire to stand in your way).

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California's Proposed School Funding Changes

Nanette Asimov:

Since California's property tax revolt more than 25 years ago, teachers, parents and school supporters have honed their battle skills arguing with politicians in Sacramento for more education money every year.

They haven't always gotten their way, but since 1988 they have been able to count on a minimum funding level established by Proposition 98, the voter- approved ballot measure enshrined in the state constitution that says schools would be given first priority in the budget.

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July 4, 2005

Only Half of Committees Have Met

Since the committee chairs announced goals for their committees on June 7, only three committees - Long Range Planning, Finance and Operations, and Partnerships -- have met. No committees have meetings scheduled for July or beyond.

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July 3, 2005

Online Middle School Math Assessment

Check out your middle schooler's math skills with an online Saxon Math placement test.

Saxon Math offers excellent math programs from all grade levels. Some parents ask the teachers not to assign math homework to their child and use daily Saxon Math lessons instead.

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Florence School District Likely to Close in One Year

In northern Wisconsin Florence County Schools Likely To Close. The local school board voted 6-1 to consider closing the schools.

Since 1998-1999 school year, Florence School District:

student population declined 15%
property tax share of school costs increased 16%
state contribution to school costs decreased 15.7%
cost to educate a child increased 23.3%

With changes like this coupled with the recent absence of meaningful discussions by the WI government on public education, more school closing/mergers are likely.

When are we going to have the discussion - what does it cost to educate a child? When will the WI government get down to seriously discussing the business of financing the public education of Wisconsin's children and stop the unproductive rhetoric saying we're spending more on schools than ever without having any idea of what level of investment is needed to fund public education? The state is happy to avoid the question blathering on about taxes and giving money to special projects all the while shifting the costs of education to property tax payers, an approach that won't work much longer.

How many more school districts have to close? How many more kids have to be displaced?

School district leadership bears some of the responsibility of meaningful strategic discussions about the future of financing public education and examining different approaches. More on that topic in a later blog.

Immediate issue is a state government that is not seriously undertaking the issue of school financing but is giving tax credits to home and private schooling while avoiding important discussions about the financing of public schools, which is part of the state's constitution. The United States is littered with examples of state governments who have avoided this responsibility - why does WI have to be one of those states?

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July 2, 2005

125 Science Questions

Science Magazine:

In a special collection of articles published beginning 1 July 2005, Science Magazine and its online companion sites celebrate the journal's 125th anniversary with a look forward -- at the most compelling puzzles and questions facing scientists today.

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NCTQ Debate on Teacher Compensation

The National Council on Teacher Quality has published their first Square off, where two economists debate: "Are Teachers Underpaid"?

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Property Taxes Biggest Share of Income in Milwaukee and Madison Areas


The other part of the state where the property tax burden was high was Dane county, according to WISTAX. The city and town of Madison led the area with property taxes at 8.8% and 8.2% of income, respectively. Five suburbs surrounding Madison also made the top-50 list: McFarland and Mt. Horeb (both 7.4%); Sun Prairie (7.3%); and DeForest and Stoughton (both 7.1%).


In a separate part of the report, WISTAX notes that the property tax-to-income ratio is much like a political "heart monitor." When property taxes relative to income climb above 4%, discontent begins to grow. The study cited several periods in the postwar era when property taxes were unusually high and led to a major change, either in politics or in policy-making. Most recently, this occurred in 1993-94, when property taxes completed a 14-year rise, hitting 4.8% of income. Then, a bipartisan majority in state government imposed school revenue limits and first committed the state to providing two-thirds of local schools’ revenues.

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July 1, 2005

DPI Letter - Optional Class Hours are NOT Part of the Regular School Day

In his letter to a Sherman parent, Michael George, Director of Content and Learning Team wrote:

"The requirements for regular instruction in 121.02(1)(L) are to be scheduled within the regular school day which is defined as “the period from the start to the close of each pupil’s daily instructional schedule.” Times of the day or week during which student attendance is optional are not considered part of the regular school day."

In May Sherman principal Ann Yehle sent a letter to Sherman parents telling them band, orchestra and vocal music classes would be offered in an optional 8th hour. Parents wrote to DPI for clarification of the state law regarding regarding regular school day.

There will still be an optional 8th hour class with some form of music, but the newest proposal is to offer orchestra, band and vocal music education courses as pull-out classes, pulling students from other classes who want to study band, orchestra or vocal music. I'm left to wonder why students who want to study band, orchestra or vocal music continously have to "double up" their studies - seems like they are being penalized. Why wouldn't this put additional and, perhaps, unnecessary, pressure on these students.

The entire content of the DPI letter follows:

June 15, 2005

Dear [Sherman Parent - name and address omitted for personal privacy],

I’m writing in response to inquiries from you and others at Sherman Middle School regarding course offerings and scheduling. I’m aware of the considerable planning and collaboration that has already taken place. As you know, staff, parents and students have also contacted this department about proposed changes.

The following excerpts from Wisconsin school law are the most applicable to the questions about middle level course offerings and definition of the school day.

Wisconsin Statute 121.02 (1) (L) and related Administrative Rule
In grades 5 to 8, provide regular instruction in reading, language arts, social studies, mathematics, science, health, physical education, art and music. The school board shall also provide pupils with an introduction to career exploration and planning... In grades 7 and 8 provide regular instruction in foreign language.
Regular instruction means instruction each week for the entire school term in sufficient frequency and length to achieve the objectives and allocation of instructional time identified in the curriculum plans.

Wisconsin Statute 121.02 (1) (F) and related Administrative Rule
Annually schedule … at least 1,050 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 1 to 6 and at least 1,137 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 7 to 12. Scheduled hours under this subdivision include recess and time for pupils to transfer between classes but do not include the lunch period. The school hours are computed as the period from the start to the close of each pupil's daily instructional schedule. No more than 30 minutes per day may be counted for recess…

…Music instruction including general music, vocal music, and instrumental music shall be available to all pupils in grades 7 through 12 and shall be taught by a licensed music teacher.

Text of the Wisconsin Statutes and related Administrative Code as referenced above can be found on the DPI Web site at and

The requirements for regular instruction in 121.02(1)(L) are to be scheduled within the regular school day which is defined as “the period from the start to the close of each pupil’s daily instructional schedule.” Times of the day or week during which student attendance is optional are not considered part of the regular school day.

You also asked about mirroring some electives during both the regular school day and your optional 8th hour. As long as instruction offered during the regular school day meets the requirements in Wisconsin school laws, additional electives offered after school are a local decision.

As you examine schedule options for the future, it is important to verify that your school will continue to meet the minimum annual hours of instruction referenced above: at least 1,050 hours
of direct pupil instruction in grades 1 to 6 and at least 1,137 hours of direct pupil instruction in
grades 7 to 12. In calculating hours of instruction, time for lunch is excluded and you must factor in early release days as well as other days that do not qualify for calculating hours of instruction.

I’m confident your planning team will develop ways to sustain a balanced curriculum and meaningful opportunities for the students at Sherman Middle School while also meeting the basic requirements in Wisconsin school laws.


Michael G. George, Director
Content & Learning Team

cc Ann Yehle, Principal, Sherman Middle School
Tony Evers, Deputy State Superintendent, DPI

Posted by at 11:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin Senate Passes Budget

The Wisconsin State Senate passed their version of the next two year budget early this morning. Read more here:

The bill goes back to the Assembly next week, where it must be approved before it is sent to Governor Doyle. The Senate version increases state support for K-12 public schools by 458M to 5.3billion (the Governor wanted to increase state support by 938M via borrowing and transfers).

I think Doyle, looking toward an election year in 2006, will take a Solomon approach and split the difference via his line item veto powers.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas