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October 31, 2005

DPI Forum on Special Ed

From Lauren Mikol:

The Department of Educational Services would like to advise staff, parents and community members of a public forum on November 9 sponsored by the State Superintendent's Council on Special Education.

The purpose of the forum is to gather public input on significant topics related to special education in Wisconsin including IDEA 2004 and state special education law and disproportionality issues in special education.

Open to anyone interested to attend and give input.

Posted by Ed Blume at 4:57 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Middle School Focus Group - Parents

Pam Nash (Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools) emailed this notice:

Many of you have expressed an interest in participating and discussing the changes to our middle schools. There will be a middle school focus group meeting for parents on Thursday, November 10, 2005, 7:00-8:30 p.m. at the Doyle Building, 545 W. Dayton Street in Room 103. [Map]

At this meeting, we will be gathering thoughts of what parents would like to see in the middle schools in Madison. There will also be an on-line survey available for parents to complete if they were unable to attend the meeting.

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Denver to Vote on Teacher Pay for Performance

Andrea Dukakis:

Denver residents will vote Tuesday on whether to approve a far-reaching plan to pay teachers extra based on their students' performance. School districts across the country are under pressure to raise test scores, and they are watching the vote closely.

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Barbara Golden: Is Art Rainwater Doing a Good Job?

Barbara Golden:

The Madison Metropolitan School District HAS NOT CLOSED THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP. Black third graders are still not reading at the same level as white students, most school arrests involve African Americans and the graduation gap is as wide as ever. Black students are disproportionately referred to special education (and once in, rarely get out), and are overly represented in remedial classes that do not prepare them for higher education, or meaningful employment after high school.

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October 30, 2005

Testing Time and Parent Power

See "Will Testing Be Right Answer for Schools?" in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel . The interesting story is about NCLB and testing time throughout Wisconsin. Coming Monday in the Journal Sentinel is a follow-up story about testing special ed students.

You may be interested, also, in reading "Cheating Our Kids -- How Politics and Greed Ruin Education," by Joe Williams, who writes about education for "The New York Daily News." Joe is a former education writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel . According to a reviewer, Joe Williams shows how parents can use consumer power to put children first, shining light on the special interests controlling our schools, where politics and pork infuse everything and our children's education is compromised, . He argues that increased accountability and choice are necessary, and shows how the people can take back the education system, enhancing responsibility inherent in democracy. The solution is a new brand of hardball politics that demands competence from school leaders and shifts the power away from bureaucrats and union leaders to the people who have a the greatest reason to put kids first: concerned parents. With practical steps and uplifting examples of success, this is a manifesto to action.

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Bob & Jan Davidson: Child Geniuses Find A Home

CBS News:

Finally it meant I wasn't the crazy mom who was pushing her kid to do things. I was a mom of a kid who had extraordinary abilities," Alicja says.

Jacob Komar was the epitome of what the Davidsons were looking for and the Davidson Institute was just what the Komars needed. First, the Davidsons helped pay Jacob's tuition to a private middle school for gifted math and science students.

More on Jan Davidson, here. Her low cost ideas for improving schools

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What are the Task Force options?

The newsletters posted on the MMSD's Long Range Planning page say that the East task force narrowed its considerations to eight options, and the West/Memorial narrowed its considerations to seven.

Could someone please post a list of the options for each task force?

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:17 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 29, 2005

I am Greatly Distressed About La Follette High School's Four Block System

Dear La Follette Parents & Taxpayers,

I am writing because I am greatly distressed about conditions at La Follette High School under the 4-block system. I strongly believe that as parents and taxpayers you have the right to be included in the debate about your child's education. Because I believe the future of the 4-block will be decided in the near future I am compelled to provide you with some information.

  1. Students in the traditional MMSD high schools are required to spend 50% of the credits required for graduation in academic areas. La Follette students are required to spend only 42% of their time in academic areas. Why does the district believe that La Follette students need less time in academic areas? Do the taxpayers support this decision? I understand that this is a debatable question. What I do not understand is why there is a different answer for La Follette students.

  2. The 4-block is intended to deliver a “comprehensive” education. What does this mean? From my anecdotal experience, I have concluded that less than 25% of our students are able to take 8 credits per year. If the district can't provide the funds to deliver 8 credits per student, if most students are forced to take unwanted study halls and unwanted elective classes, what is the point of the block? Teachers have asked the district to provide data to refute this anecdotal conclusion.

    Approximately one year ago, teachers requested that the district provide statistical data on a variety of questions. The MMSD School Board agreed that this information was necessary. To date, I have not received any data. Scuttlebutt informs me that the data gathered is both incomplete and inadequate. I hope the rumor mill is incorrect.

  3. Under the 4-block, a La Follette student is one of 166 students assigned to a teacher of a full-credit class. In the other high schools, an individual child is one of 135 students assigned to a teacher of a full-credit class.

    (In ½-credit classes the ratio is 332/1 at La Follette and 270/1 at traditional schools.)

    This circumstance presents two questions:
    • A. Does a La Follette student receive equivalent attention from their teachers?
    • B. Can a La Follette student receive equivalent attention from their teachers?
  4. 4. La Follette full-credit classes are 18 weeks long. All other MMSD full credit classes are 36 weeks long. Do La Follette students have sufficient time to internalize knowledge and practice academic skills? As an academic teacher I do not understand why music is so important and difficult that it requires a year-long schedule, but academics do not. Why has it been concluded that academic knowledge and skills are easier to acquire or less important?

  5. Under the 4-block, a La Follette student's full-credit classes have 15 fewer hours of instruction (direct teacher contact) compared to the other Madison students attending traditional high schools with the year-long 7-period day schedule.

    (La Follette- 90 minutes X 90 days = 8,100 minutes; 7-period day schedule – 50 minutes X 180 days = 9,000 minutes).

    This lack of instructional time has, historically, been exacerbated in the fall semester. In the fall semester instructional time is lost due to orientation activities associated with the beginning of school, WKCE testing, and Homecoming events.

    This year (2005), MMSD has scheduled the fall semester for 88 instead of 90 days. This schedule places fall semester, 4-block, academic students at a distinct and measurable disadvantage. La Follette students must absorb all of these activities in an 88 day, 7920 minute course. In all other MMSD schools, operating in the traditional 7-period system, these activities would be absorbed in a 180 day, 9000 minute course.

    Can a La Follette student learn as much content or as many skills with 15+ fewer hours of instruction? What content and skills are teachers forced to eliminate under these conditions?

  6. Under the 4-block, many students do not have equivalent prerequisite knowledge and skills. Administrative/organizational concerns appear to be driving the schedule (see #9). Thus, it has been decided (for what reason?) that students will be grouped by half-year. It has been decided to group history with science and math with English.

    This situation forces me to cope with serious pedagogical and ethical questions.

    My fall semester Advanced United States History students have not had 9th grade English, my spring semester students have had English or are concurrently enrolled. The standards for Advanced United States History require critical thinking and extensive writing experience. My fall semester students do not and cannot have the same amount of instruction or experience in thinking or writing skills.

    How, and to what extent, am I supposed to adjust the grading standards? How much time (which doesn't exist, especially in a shortened semester) can, or should, I spend on teaching grammar and writing? In the traditional system these subjects are taught concurrently which provides the student with continual and supporting instruction from both classes. This lack of consistent exposure to writing instruction also impacts the opportunity for La Follette students to succeed in the sciences.

    My husband is a civil engineer and my son is working on his PhD in Chemical engineering (3rd year); both support my contention that writing skills are very important for all students.

  7. Maturational development is also a problem under the 4-block. "Slow starters" struggle in the fall semester. Concepts and critical thinking skills that students can’t master in the fall may be possible six months later. However, under the 4-block these students are no longer in my class. Six months later they may be enrolled in foods, art, social dance, etc. These classes, while self-fulfilling, practical and hand-on, do not offer constant opportunities for the practice of critical thinking skills that are so necessary for success and active participation the 21st Century.

  8. La Follette is an open enrollment school. How many of the transfers, to La Follette, enroll because they are credit deficient and are told that a semester or a year at La Follette is an easy way to make-up credits? In 2004-05, La Follette had to accept 262 new students. Additional allocation was not provided until teachers spoke directly to the MMSD School Board. Additional allocation was not provided or implemented until the end of the first ½-credit (semester class) grading period. Can La Follette students or teachers functional successfully under these conditions?

  9. The scheduling at La Follette has been historically troubled. Historically, students have easy and difficult semesters. Teachers have grossly imbalanced workloads. This term I teach two sections of "America Since 45". One section has 10 students, the other section has 28. This course requires a substantial amount of class discussion and it is impossible to keep the two classes coordinated. Therefore, I confront three undesirable choices:
    • a. I plan 270 minutes every day (2 different sections of Am. S. 45 and one section of Adv. U.S. 9) – this is not logistically or intellectual possible.

    • b. I give the small class a significant amount of free time, camouflaged as enrichment.

    • c. I eliminate various topics/experiences from the larger class.

    I have been informed that next semester I will have the full complement of students. It is impossible to deliver equivalent instruction under these circumstances. There are always injustices, but I believe that the 4-block exacerbates these problems.

  10. The workload of 4-block teachers is significantly more than the teachers in other MMSD high schools (I can provide statistical data to support this statement). I believe this increased workload has a detrimental impact on the educational opportunities of La Follette students.

    I promised myself that this letter would be short and to the point. Obviously, I could not keep my promise. Yet, there is so much more that I believe you, as parents and taxpayers, need to know. If you are interested, I am eager to provide more information. I hope you will contact La Follette and MMSD administration to ask questions and demand answers (supported by data).

    Despite everything, I promise that I will work as hard as I can (a 60+ hour week) to help your child (every child). I have two children of my own (24 & 25 yrs old). I know it sounds stupid (corny), and that you may not believe me, but, I see my children’s "baby faces" reflected in your child. I deeply and truly want to help each and every one of my students. I am angry because I believe that the 4-block forces unnecessary and unjustified obstacles to my mission.

    In the interest of honest disclosure, I must inform you that I am a Madison Teachers, Inc. building representative. I have taught at La Follette for 15+ years. I have taught under the block since it was implemented (8 years ago). I became a union representative, for the 1st time, this year. I campaigned for a position as an MTI building representative when I could no longer avoid or tolerate MMSD policies that, I believe, are hurting my students. From my perspective, insufficient time-on-task, adolescent brain research on attention span, lack of funding, scheduling problems, alterations in start and end times (we no longer have the ½ hour after school to help students) and MMSD's continual demand that teachers increase their workload is unacceptable (hence, this letter & my MTI campaign/position). I regret that I did not speak out on this matter several years ago.

    Please ask questions. Please become involved. Please feel free to contact me ( if I can provide any assistance or information.


    Cecelia Gredell

    Teacher: Advanced United States History - 9
    America Since '45 – 11
    Advanced Placement United States History – 11 & 12

    Posted by at 7:54 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Obama on No Child Left Behind

Barack Obama:

But we don’t make much progress for our kids when we constrain ourselves like this. It appeared for a brief moment that the President, working with leaders like Senator Kennedy understood this, and many of us were initially encouraged by the passage of No Child Left Behind. It may not be popular to say in Democratic circles, but there were good elements to this bill – its emphasis on the achievement gap, raising standards, and accountability. Unfortunately, because of failures in implementation, particularly its failure to provide adequate funding and a failure to design better assessment tests that provide a clearer path for schools to raise achievement, the bill’s promise is not yet fulfilled.

The shortcomings of NCLB shouldn’t end the conversation, however. They should be the start of a conversation about how we can do better. Yes, it’s a moral outrage that this Administration hasn’t come through with the funding for what it claims has been its number one domestic priority. But to wage war against the entire law for that reason is not an education policy, and Democrats need to realize that.

[PDF Verision]

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Massachusetts Schools Try a Longer School Day

Anthony Brooks:

Massachusetts is the first state giving out grants to school districts to pursue a longer school day -- and 20 districts have applied for the money. Murphy Middle School in Boston is already experimenting with a longer day, offering help with homework and extra curriculum until late in the evening.

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Organized Athletics Taking Away from Kids Childhood?

Rob Zaleski:

A group of kids in the 8- to 10-year-old range would gather in a small park just across the street and engage in pickup baseball games, much like Richter, the recently retired University of Wisconsin athletic director, did while growing up on Madison's east side a half-century ago.

"They actually took a hammer and nails and some old plywood they must have found and tried to make a dugout," Richter laughs. "And they put a pole out in left field, with a tennis ball on top, as a foul line. I was just amazed."

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October 28, 2005

MMSD Legislative Committee Recommends Joining Statewide Coalition

On October 17, the Legislative Committee of the Madison School Board voted unanimously to recommend that the district join the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) The organization is a diverse, statewide coalition working for comprehensive school-funding reform.

Partners in the coalition believe in the following core principles that serve as "membership criteria" and the rationale for a school-finance reform proposal based on the Adequacy model, the Wisconsin Adequacy

The four core principles are

Sufficient resources

Wisconsin’s public schools need a system of funding that provides all children with the resources needed to provide them with the equal opportunity for a quality education guaranteed by the Wisconsin Constitution, the Supreme Court and federal and state statutes.
Resources should be linked to high standards

A new system of funding should guarantee a base amount of
resources to educate regular students to high standards and also
provide enough resources to give the same opportunity to meet high
standards to children with special education needs, those who live in
poverty, students with limited English skills, and those with special
needs determined by the size, location, and/or demographics of their
school districts.
State tax reform

New resources as part of school-funding reform should come from
statewide — rather than local — taxes in a way that lowers property
taxes while increasing fairness to all taxpayers.
Local control

A new system should build on Wisconsin’s successful tradition of local control by trusting individual communities to decide how
additional funding will be utilized and by assuring accountability and improved student performance.

More information about the organization is available at


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Colorado Referendum Targets Revenue Cap

To some Colorado residents, Referendum C is the best chance to spare the state’s schools from deep budget cuts. To others, the ballot measure—which will go before voters Nov. 1—represents a steep tax increase and gives lawmakers too much power over how state revenues are spent.

Referendum C is a proposed five-year suspension of Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. TABOR is a voter-approved 1992 constitutional amendment that imposed a formula-driven cap on state spending and required the state and local jurisdictions, including school districts, to give back to taxpayers any revenues in excess of the cap.

“It is by far and away the most restrictive tax and spending limitation in the country,” said Wade Buchanan, the president of the Bell Policy Center, a think tank in Denver. “It really is a measure that gives fiscal decisionmaking powers almost exclusively to the voters.”

From "Colorado Referendum Targets Revenue Cap: Easing restrictions would free up more tax dollars for schools and colleges", by Linda Jacobson in Education Week, October 19, 2005.

With efforts to get TABOR amendments passed in other states, including Wisconsin and Kansas, policymakers are closely watching the outcome of the vote in Colorado.

Because Colorado’s formula limits spending growth to the rate of inflation, plus annual population growth, Mr. Buchanan explained, the state’s spending limit was permanently lowered when the economy went sour in 2001.

“When you have a recession, [TABOR] essentially moves the cap down,” he said. “It’s like not being able to refill the reservoir after a severe drought.”

As the economy improved, rebates to taxpayers grew larger and larger, reaching a total of about $1 billion out of an $8 billion general fund in fiscal 2005.

That’s why Mr. Buchanan’s group and education associations in the state are supporting the referendum, which was placed on the ballot following a bipartisan agreement struck in March between Colorado Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, and top Republicans and Democrats in the legislature.

In his March letter to the state, Mr. Owens wrote: “I have never been one to shy away from spending cuts. But we have cut what we can responsibly cut.” He added that he thought residents would rather forgo their rebates than see more cuts to important programs.

If it passes, Referendum C will set a new cap at the highest level of state revenue reached between now and 2011, and allow those extra tax dollars—roughly $3.7 billion—to be spent on schools, higher education, and health care.

“This will help us keep the status quo,” said Jana Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Englewood-based Colorado Association of School Executives, which includes principals and other administrators. “If it fails, we’re really going to be hurting. We are estimating that districts can plan to lose 3 to 5 percent of their current budget.”

In an effort to protect K-12 schools from TABOR, the voters also passed Amendment 23 in 2000, which requires per-pupil spending and funding for special “categorical” education programs to increase annually by at least the rate of inflation, plus 1 percent.

If Referendum C passes, Colorado will be able to fully fund that formula, which lawmakers have not yet done because of a dispute over the formula.
A Tight Race

If the K-12 system is hoping for the measure to pass, then higher education officials are desperate for its approval. Since 2001, spending on higher education in the state has declined from 20 percent of the state budget to 10 percent, even though enrollment has continued to increase, according to the Colorado Office of Planning and Budgeting.

Hank Brown, a former Republican U.S. senator from Colorado and now the president of the University of Colorado, has said he supports Referendum C and has warned that if it doesn’t pass, serious cuts are likely.

A companion ballot measure—Referendum D—would authorize the state to issue $1.56 billion in bonds to repair and maintain public schools in poorer school districts, build roads and bridges, and make facility improvements at state colleges and universities. Gov. Owens and education groups back the measure.

Observers presume that if one measure passes, the other is also likely to pass. But if C passes and D does not, the legislature will have more say over how the additional revenue is spent.

Recent polls have shown that the votes on referendums C and D will be very close, and that those who are portraying the adjustment to TABOR as a huge tax increase are also getting their message to the voters.

In an op-ed essay that appeared in The Denver Post on Sept. 4, former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, who co-chairs a conservative Washington-based organization called FreedomWorks, wrote: “If the people vote ‘yes,’ TABOR will change and the government will collect and spend $3.7 billion more in taxes than is currently allowed. That’s a tax increase—no matter how much political spin supporters try to put on it.”

FreedomWorks is one of the organizations pushing for TABOR amendments in other states.

Colorado’s Independence Institute has also been a leading opponent of both measures. The institute’s president, Jon Caldara, argues that Colorado taxpayers need the money more than the government does.

Pamela Benigno, the director of the Golden, Colo.-based institute’s education policy center, said that the condition of school funding is not as dire as some claim. In an e-mail message, she said, “Even if Referenda C and D pass, school districts will continue to demand more money.”

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:50 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 27, 2005

Poverty and Education Forum: Audio and Video Archive

Rafael Gomez organized an excellent Forum Wednesday evening on Poverty and Education. Participants include:

  • Tom Kaplan: Associate Director of the Institute for Research on Poverty kaplan at
  • Ray Allen, Former Madison Board of Education Member, Publisher - Madison Times
  • Maria Covarrubias: A Teacher at Chavez Elementary mcovarrubias at
  • Mary Kay Baum: Executive Director; Madison-Area Urban Ministry mkb at
  • Bob Howard: Madison School District rhoward at
Listen to the entire event (70 minutes) via a mp3 file on your ipod/mp3 player or watch the entire video here. Individual presentations are available below:
Maria Covarrubias: A Teacher at Chavez Elementary describes her journey from a California migrant worker to a UW Educated Madison Teacher. Video

Tom Kaplan describes how we define poverty. Video
Ray Allen describes the main stream media's images of poverty. Video
Mary Kay Baum describes her views of Poverty and Education, along with some local data. Video
Bob Howard describes growing up in Milwaukee, completing his degree and his day to day interactions with poverty in the Madison Schools. Video

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Amazing solution to Mystery #3: Unknown Authorization

Try your decoder ring on this cryptic missive to solve Mystery #3, Case of the Unknown Authorization:

Major Division Highlights and Anticipated Challenges [for the Department of Educational Services]:
- Expand programming and placement options for elementary age students with severe Emotional Behavioral Disability (EBD) and significant mental health needs. Budget & District Profile, page 79

When you break the MMSD’s crypt it means:

Create two new classrooms at Marquette Elementary for students with EBD;

Put two teachers, two aids, and a school psychologist in the two classrooms;

Spend a minimum of $350,000 on the classrooms.

A slick sleuth might ponder the source $350,000+ in the MMSD's rare resources for a new program. Superintendent Rainwater has the answer: “The new program at Marquette was accomplished through a reallocation of funds within special education.”

And we guileless gumshoes believed that the MMSD had no money for new programs! At least, that’s what Superintendent Rainwater said in a Capital Times story which said:

In the early years of state controls, spending curbs could be managed by cutting overhead and administrative expenses, but they now are impacting directly on education. For example, the number of supplemental teachers deployed to help poor children has dropped from 54 to 24 people, he said. The controls also prevent any new programs from being developed. (emphasis added)

Now add insult to injury! On the official third Friday count of students, the $350,000 program had NO STUDENTS. That’s right! NO STUDENTS!

Which reinforces what this intrepid investigator suspected all along! The classrooms were hastily created by the MMSD administration without adequate consultation with district staff and the board of education. The planning should have been done and the students selected last winter and spring or done now for the program to begin in the second semester.

Put that $350,000 in your pipe and watch it go up in smoke, Sherlock.

Posted by Ed Blume at 12:35 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Arts & Technology Charter School

The Capital Times:

The initial steps toward creation of an arts and technology charter public school in Madison will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Madison Gas and Electric Co. Innovation Center in Research Park.

The target date to begin such a program is the fall of 2007, according to Nancy Donahue, a leader in the Preschool of the Arts. The Madison School District now has two charter schools - the Wright Middle School and Nuestro Mundo, a kindergarten/first-grade unit operating in the Allis Elementary School. Board of Education approval would be required to add a third school.

Donahue said the charter school could be built on encouraging the exploration by pupils much like what occurs in the private preschool of the arts. A downtown location would enable pupils to tap into existing resources there, she said.

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Madison Country Day School Budget Challenges

Doug Erickson:

Part of the operating budget for the private school was covered each year by John Frautschi of Maple Bluff, father of school founder Christopher Frautschi, according to Dan Stewart, newly elected chairman of the school's board of trustees.

The elder Frautschi will no longer fill that role, Stewart said.

Stewart would not reveal the size of Frautschi's annual subsidy, other than to say it was sizable. School officials are discussing the matter with other potential donors who have the capacity to give "six-figure gifts," he said.

"We do face a fundraising challenge this year of significant proportion," Stewart said. "The initial responses we're receiving are very encouraging and point toward a significant opportunity for success."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 26, 2005

Jan Davidson's Presentation: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds

Jan Davidson's recent Madison visit was (very nicely) recorded by MMSD-TV.

Watch the video here, or download an mp3 of her presentation for your ipod/mp3 player.

More on Jan Davidson.
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Parents question school safety at Memorial

The Wisconsin State Journal (October 26) carries a story on violence at Madison's Memorial High School:

After a tumultuous two weeks at Madison Memorial High School marked by four weapons incidents, a student hit by a car and a gang fight, about 250 parents gathered to question Principal Bruce Dahmen about school security Tuesday night.
Posted by Ed Blume at 8:14 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 25, 2005

Language Learning Through Podcasts

Alex Williams:

It's evident that podcasting is changing how educators view how they teach. Language learning services are picking up on the trend and in the process, showing the first examples of podcasting as a premium service.

I ran across an article in Asia Times Online about ALC Press Inc., a company in Japan that is teaching conversational english to students by using podcatching services. The cost comes to about $86 per year.

In ALC's new service, the student will pay a monthly study fee. The student will also purchase a study book that includes the necessary software for "podcatching", the process used to download new podcast feed files.

Here's how it works.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:07 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

300 Turn Out for Memorial Violence Meeting


There have been six incidents of violence at the school in the past week.

"It's pretty obvious that there is some gang issues related to what happened at school yesterday," said Lt. Tony Peterson.

Peterson said there have now been 40 arrests and citations at Memorial this school year.

Following a freedom of information request, the district released surveillance tape to News 3 showing a student waving a knife following an open gym night. Later, two others got into a fight.

Weapons, including a box cutter and a 9 mm handgun have also been seized from Memorial students.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:48 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Public's Right To Know: Madison School District Land Purchases

Two weeks ago, I emailed this Open Records request to Madison School District Attorney Clarence Sherrod:

Good Afternoon, Clarence:

I hope this note finds you well.

I am writing to make an open records request under sec. 19.35 of the Wisconsin Statutes. I would like copies of any agreements signed this year by the Madison Metropolitan School District or its representatives to purchase land for a school site. I believe the issue of purchasing land for a school site was discussed by the Madison Board of Education on 10/10/2005.

I believe that these sort of land/facilities discussions should be public knowledge, particularly in light of the East / West task force activity.

Thank you very much and best wishes.

I received a response today from Bob Nadler, the District's Custodian of Records. Essentially, this response means that the public has no right to know about the District's purchase of land for a new school site until after the Board agrees to purchase. Read Bob's letter here. I will post the document he referenced upon receipt.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:22 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Fights break out, staffer hit in face at Memorial

The Capital Times reports in a story by Lee Sensenbrenner:

A staff member at Memorial High School was struck in the face and a fire alarm went off after several fights broke out at once in a crowded hallway of Madison's largest high school.

According to a report by Madison Police Lt. Pat Malloy, eight to 10 students were involved in a disturbance Monday morning that "turned into three to five physical fights in the hallway." At some point during this, "an officer inadvertently touched a fire alarm," Malloy said.

"A short time later, a staff member asked a student to remove a hat," Malloy wrote in a release. "The student responded by striking the staff member in the face."

Has the MMSD or any other agency followed up on the suggestions to convene a task force on gangs and student violence, as proposed at the forum sponsored by the Seems like some follow up would be a good idea.

Posted by Ed Blume at 4:28 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Monday's Madison School Board Meeting: Buses and Taxes

The Madison School Board met Monday evening. Here are a few items from that meeting:

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Beaver Dam School Wins National Award


Statistics show half the students at South Beaver Dam Elementary fall into the disadvantaged category.
Yet the school scored 100 percent on reading, knowledge and concept exams and more than 96 percent in attendance.

The school received a National Blue Ribbon Award from the U.S. Department of Education.

"There is no child left behind," said parent Amy Grunst. "No child who can't go. Everybody goes."

"Our expectations are high," said Principal Dan Rikli. "We are sensitive where they came from, but we expect just as much from every kid who walks into this school."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:16 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 24, 2005

Making Schools Work: Hedrick Smith

Hedrick Smith:

This web site follows our production team into classrooms from coast to coast to see how some American communities are creating a small revolution in our schools. Don't expect one magic formula. You'll see different strategies. The common denominator is results – lifting scores and closing achievement gaps, not just for a few hundred children but for nearly two million, from our inner cities to rural America.
Transcript here.

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Ken Lonnquist @ Thoreau School

Local musician Ken Lonnquist was recently in residence at Thoreau School. Ken worked with each grade to compose a song. The resulting music, ultimately destined for a CD, was performed on a recent evening. Here's a brief video clip from the event.

UPDATE: Thoreau's Rhonda Schilling emailed the funding details:

Dane County Cultural Affairs ($1450 grant)
Wisconsin School Music Association ($500 grant)
Thoreau PTO ($1750 Cultural Arts Budget and Barnes & Noble Fundraiser)

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Mystery #3: Case of the Unknown Authorization

So far, undaunted detectives, Mysteries #1 and #2 remain largely unsolved, and I’ll shortly update the faithful followers on those.

In the meantime, train your magnifying glasses on Mystery #3, The Case of the Unknown Authorization.

The Unknown Authorization took place in the MMSD budget approved by the Board of Education. It created two new classrooms at Marquette Elementary for a cost of at least $350,000.

Find the authorization and the funds in the MMSD budget documents . . . if you can.

Hint: You’ll need your secret decoder ring!

Good sleuthing!

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Mary Gulbrandsen: MMSD Power Broker

No one appreciates Mary Gulbrandsen's contributions to the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) more than her boss, superintendent Art Rainwater. When we included Gulbrandsen in Madison Magazine's 2004 People You Should Know list, Rainwater was the first to let us know we'd made an inspired choice. As MMSD chief of staff for the last two years, Gulbrandsen's influence on all aspects of Madison's K-12 schools is undeniable. From long-range planning to finance and operations to performance and achievement, district administration minutes suggest Gulbrandsen has spent the last two years in meetings. But seeing her in action on some of the most difficult issues, like the school environment for kids and families of color, proves what a skilled administrator she's become. Add on top of all that her striking warmth and good sense, and Gulbrandsen seems a perfect fit for her behind-the-scenes position of power.

From "Power Influence & Anonymity: The Seven Women Power Brokers You Need to Know" by Robert Chappell, Neil Heinen and Brennan Nardi
Madison Magazine, November 2005

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October 23, 2005

Fascinating: Novel Way to Assess School Competition Creates a Stir

Jon E. Hilsenrath:

The unusual spat has put a prominent economist in the awkward position of having to defend one of her most influential studies. Along the way, it has spotlighted the challenges economists face as they study possible solutions to one of the nation's most pressing problems: the poor performance of some public schools. Despite a vast array of statistical tools, economists have had a very hard time coming up with clear answers.

"They're fighting over streams," marvels John Witte, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of political science and veteran of a brawl over school vouchers in Milwaukee in the 1990s. "It's almost to the point where you can't really determine what's going on."

Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist known for his free-market views, proposed 50 years ago that to improve schools, parents could be given vouchers -- tickets they could spend to shop for a better education for their kids. He theorized that the resulting competition among schools would spark improvements in the system. Free-market advocates loved the idea. Teachers' unions hated it, arguing that it could drain resources from some public schools and direct resources to religious institutions.

Five years ago Harvard's Caroline Hoxby, a rising star in economics, wrote a paper that reached an unusual conclusion: Cities with more streams tended to have schools with higher test scores.

Today her work is a widely cited landmark in the fierce national debate over free-market competition in public schools. And it's at the center of a bitter dispute with another economist that is riveting social scientists across the country.

Her adversary is Jesse Rothstein, a young professor at Princeton, who says her study is full of flaws. In a rebuttal to her critic, Dr. Hoxby wrote of his work: "Every claim is wrong." She has also accused him of ideological bias. Dr. Rothstein, in turn, says she resorts to "name-calling" and "ad hominem attacks" on him.

The unusual spat has put a prominent economist in the awkward position of having to defend one of her most influential studies. Along the way, it has spotlighted the challenges economists face as they study possible solutions to one of the nation's most pressing problems: the poor performance of some public schools. Despite a vast array of statistical tools, economists have had a very hard time coming up with clear answers.

"They're fighting over streams," marvels John Witte, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of political science and veteran of a brawl over school vouchers in Milwaukee in the 1990s. "It's almost to the point where you can't really determine what's going on."

Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist known for his free-market views, proposed 50 years ago that to improve schools, parents could be given vouchers -- tickets they could spend to shop for a better education for their kids. He theorized that the resulting competition among schools would spark improvements in the system. Free-market advocates loved the idea. Teachers' unions hated it, arguing that it could drain resources from some public schools and direct resources to religious institutions.

Research on these programs turns up evidence of benefits from school choice. But it hasn't proved strongly convincing, and testing the hypothesis is anything but simple. In the mid-1990s, researchers battled over how to interpret studies of voucher use in Milwaukee. In 2003, they tried to evaluate voucher experiments in New York and ended up squabbling over the right way to decide if a child was African-American. Last year, in assessing charter schools -- institutions that are publicly funded but not bound by traditional rules -- they argued over how to take into account differing backgrounds of the children who attend.

Analysts have searched as far away as New Zealand for evidence about the effects of competition in education -- and disagreed about what was found there, too. Now there is Hoxby vs. Rothstein.

Dr. Hoxby, 39 years old, is one of only two women tenured in Harvard's economics department, a distinction she achieved just seven years after earning a doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Other universities, such as Stanford, have tried to lure her away. Harvard, in turn, has given her a prestigious endowed chair.

Although her father, Steven Minter, was an official in the Carter administration Education Department, she has become a favorite in Republican circles for producing statistical evidence that competition improves schools. "This is a person who is smart, who is logical, who is committed and who is dedicated," says Rod Paige, President Bush's first Secretary of Education. Dr. Hoxby also is a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, the right-leaning research center affiliated with Stanford.

Dr. Rothstein, 31, is the son of Richard Rothstein, a former textile-union organizer who's now a lecturer at Columbia. Father and son have both worked closely with the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute in Washington. The son got interested in the streams paper while studying for his doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley. He is now an assistant professor at Princeton, not yet eligible for tenure. His Berkeley thesis adviser, David Card, describes Dr. Rothstein, who had majored in math as a Harvard undergraduate, as "tenacious" and having "very good technical skills."

In her 2000 paper, published in the prestigious American Economic Review, Dr. Hoxby explored competition among public schools. She noticed that some metropolitan areas, like Boston, had dozens of school districts, while others, such as Las Vegas, were dominated by just one. She reasoned that if pro-competition economists were right, school systems with many districts should produce better results, because parents in those cities would have more choices about where to live and educate their children, creating a more competitive environment.

To test this notion she might have simply counted the number of school districts in cities. But there were factors that muddied the waters. Sometimes the quality of the school districts influenced their number. That is, in some cases, it appeared cities had numerous districts partly because some were bad -- so bad they couldn't be closed or merged with others. It was the kind of chicken-and-egg problem that often trips up economic research.

Dr. Hoxby tried to find a way around this. She noticed that the number of school districts seemed related to geography. Streams were natural boundaries around which districts were formed many years ago. Cities with lots of streams had more school districts than cities with few streams.

An Opportunity

Testing a hypothesis in economics isn't as straightforward as, say, testing a drug, where researchers can randomly assign some subjects to receive a placebo. Many economists believe they can approach scientific rigor, however, by taking advantage of random events like draft lotteries and judicial assignments. For Dr. Hoxby, streams offered such an opportunity: Cities with lots of streams had been randomly chosen by nature to have more school districts and more school competition, while cities with few streams were naturally home to fewer districts and less competition.

"By using the variation in the number of school districts in a metropolitan area that is driven by streams, we can isolate the effect that interests us: the causal effect of more districts on achievement," she said in an interview via email.

When she found that metro areas with more streams tended to have more districts, and also higher student achievement, many academics thought she had come up with an ingenious way of testing Dr. Friedman's competition thesis. "Caroline had a great idea with that paper," says David Figlio, an education economist at the University of Florida. "It is incontrovertible that it was a brilliant insight."

Dr. Rothstein says it doesn't stand up to scrutiny. He makes several technical challenges, but his main attack is on the way the author counted streams.

A problem she faced at the outset was that some streams can affect more than school-district borders. Large, navigable ones affect commerce and wealth in an area and the kind of population it attracts -- influences that could distort her test. Small streams wouldn't have this problem, Dr. Hoxby said. She divided her streams into larger and smaller ones and entered them into her equations separately to make the distinction clear. Studying detailed maps published by the U.S. Geological Survey, she measured dimensions of water bodies in hundreds of metropolitan areas.

Dr. Rothstein said Dr. Hoxby never laid out exactly how she measured a stream's width, which, he noted, can vary at different points in its course. In the case of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which she found to have five large streams, Dr. Rothstein said when he tried to count them her way in the map room at Princeton's Fine Hall Library, he came up with 12. His research assistant got 15, he wrote in "A Comment on Hoxby," which the National Bureau of Economic Research published in March (Read an abstract). The American Economic Review is now preparing to publish a version of that paper.

"The exercise makes clear that Hoxby's larger-streams variable is subjective and unverifiable," Dr. Rothstein's paper added. In an interview, he says more bluntly: "Fort Lauderdale is a swamp. The idea that streams were a relevant thing in this area is just crazy."

He tried other ways to count streams. Using government databases, he distinguished between larger and smaller ones by their recorded length, and also by whether they flowed through more than one county. With these other measures, he wrote, he found a link between streams and school performance, but too small to be statistically significant.

Dr. Rothstein also complained that for years Dr. Hoxby ignored his requests for the data she used. Economists frequently argue about the availability of data. In this case, Dr. Hoxby said her ability to circulate all her data was limited because some came from the National Center for Education Statistics, which restricts public access to some of its information to protect the identities of students and school districts. Dr. Rothstein contends that the data she ultimately made available don't match up to the data used in her paper.

Dr. Hoxby responded in a National Bureau paper called "Competition Among Public Schools: A Reply to Rothstein," also slated for publication in the American Economic Review. By tossing aside her hand counts of streams, Dr. Hoxby wrote, Dr. Rothstein was proposing "the destruction of important information" and "promoting less informed measurement." (Read an abstract)

She added that "it is dismaying to see a great deal of my work (with strategic changes made by him) appearing on Rothstein's Web site, presented as though it were mainly if not wholly his work." And she wondered: "Why, especially when he has the benefit of hindsight, careful explanations, and nearly all of the data work done for him, does he make bad decisions repeatedly?"

It may be, Dr. Hoxby wrote, that Dr. Rothstein "was determined to generate results that would contradict those in [her original paper] at whatever cost."

Defenders Irked

The rejoinder irked his defenders. "Her nasty, vicious response is really about shutting down debate," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute. The group has sparred with her before. A book co-written by Dr. Mishel and Richard Rothstein, Jesse's father, dedicates a section to challenging her work on charter schools.

In an email, Dr. Hoxby responds that "EPI's work is funded by unions, and the teachers' unions are openly opposed to charter schools for reasons of self-interest." EPI says it gets 29% of its funds from unions.

In July, Harvard's student newspaper, the Crimson, quoted Dr. Hoxby, whose father is African-American, as saying that "there is a lot of race and gender bias going on here."

In an email, Dr. Hoxby says that the paper misrepresented her views and that she had made no allegation of racial or gender bias. The Crimson's president, Harvard senior Lauren Schuker, says the paper stands by "a fair story [that] covered all sides." (Read the Crimson article)

Writing to the Crimson, Dr. Hoxby accused Dr. Rothstein of "ideological bias." He says allegations of bias are "absurd" and unhelpful "name-calling."

In the background of the fight is the broader attempt by some economists to adopt the scientific convention of repeating, or "replicating," studies as a way to verify them. "Unfortunately, economics lacks a strong tradition of scientific replication," Dr. Hoxby wrote in her reply to Dr. Rothstein. She added: "Some economists even seem to believe, confusedly, that replication is not worthwhile unless it upsets a previous result. Rothstein may suffer from such confusion."

Dr. Rothstein: That's "ad hominem" criticism. An economics Web log called "The Lowest Deep" ( sums up the squabble as a "nerdy Celebrity Death Match."

The author of the competition thesis, Prof. Friedman, hasn't weighed in on the spat, but his enthusiasm for free-market approaches in education is undimmed. "The case for vouchers is so simple," the 93-year-old Dr. Friedman said to a crowd at New York's Mandarin Oriental Hotel in June, at a gathering to mark the 50th anniversary of his idea. "In area after area, things the government does, private enterprise can do at half the cost." In an interview, he describes Dr. Hoxby as "a very intelligent gal" whose papers "impress me favorably."

At the American Economic Review, editor Robert Moffitt says the journal wouldn't publish Dr. Rothstein's paper if its editors thought it had no merit. But he adds that the decision to publish isn't an endorsement of Dr. Rothstein's critique. "It's like we're saying, 'It's a good question,' " he says.

Meantime, he adds, the Review is trying to get the professors to dial down the language. "Editors make a lot of changes to assure that both parties are meeting an academic and civil tone," he says.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:19 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Budget: Same Service = Cost to Continue = Baseline

Jim Zellmer, and others have taken the district to task for having a "same service" budget - alledging that nothing changes as a consequence.

But let's clarify the use of some terms. The district uses the term "same service" to estimate the next year's costs - the city and county do the same thing, but use the term "cost to continue." This is not the entire process, but merely the starting place. The district and Board then make changes - both to comply with the state revenue caps and to improve our programs. We can figure what the changes will cost (or amount saved) by the difference from the same service budget.

Change and how to achieve it in a large system such as the school district is a major concern. Some changes have significant budgetary impacts, e.g. equipping schools with adequate computers (and the infrastructure to support this), reducing class sizes in the primary grades.

However, the one of the most far-reaching changes needed is to change what is occurring in the classroom. This change is brought about through intensive staff development - and is aided by smaller class sizes, but once the district budget includes funding for staff development and for smaller classes the critical factor is not the budget for these but how the funds are used.

Posted by Carol Carstensen at 9:51 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Student Brings Weapons into Memorial High School

Another Memorial High School student was arrested Thursday, when school officials say a teen brought in a handgun magazine and 12 9-mm rounds to school.

News 3 reported a teacher noticed them when they fell out of the student's pocket. A search of his car turned up two more boxes of ammo and a 12½ inch "Rambo Style" knife.

The student was taken to Dane County jail and arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and having a dangerous weapon on school grounds. Police said this is the third weapons incident at Memorial in a week.

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Media – The Next Generation

Lookout Sandy Cullen, Matt Pommer, Jason Shepard, and Mitch Henck! Professor Jack Mitchell's Journalism 335 class at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is teaching the next generation of media. For several weeks these students learn about the Madison School Board and the City Council. I asked Professor Mitchell if I could share the stories with all of you. Enjoy.

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October 22, 2005

Michigan Universities Offer More Remedial Math Courses

Lori Higgins:

What's the price of leaving high school unprepared? Ask Chelsea Stephanoff, a Wayne State University student who is spending nearly $600 this semester for a class that won't count toward graduation.

Why? Her math skills were poor enough that even after four years of high school math, she was placed in a remedial class.

"Math is not my strong point at all. I'm horrible at it. I have a hard time focusing on it," said Stephanoff, a fourth-year student from Shelby Township who wants to be an elementary school teacher.

Via Joanne.

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UW Freshman Class Scores High in Smarts - 52% Studied Performance Music

Karen Rivedale in the WI State Journal article, "Creamier Crop at UW Madison," writes that "This year’s freshman class posted high scores on college entrance exams, beating the average national scores on the tests and continuing UW-Madison’s increasing selectivity among the state’s top students. Freshmen this year posted high class ranks, with more than half graduating from high school in the top 10 percent."

In a sidebar in the article, the Freshamn enrolled is a record high (6,142), 62% earned a varsity letter, 52% performed with a school musical group, 23% won an award for community service.

Meanwhile, closer to home, MMSD's administrator's proposed a competitive athletic budget that continued to grow from the previous school year for this school year (parents do pay a fee of $115 per sport, extra for more expensive sports) - that's good. However, MMSD's administrators continued their cuts to music education with proposals to eliminate elementary performance music and increase general music class size. The School Board restored half the elementary stringed course in elementary schools and did not increase general music class size. There were also reductions in middle school performance music that were not restored.

Performance music improves academic performance, especially for lower income children who have no other access to performance music except through their public school. It is sad that MMSD is moving in the opposite direction of what the research shows benefits children's academic performance by cutting performance music.

Performance music directly benefits reading and mathematical skills for young children. There is more research and results that show that today and the information and data showing the positive effects of instrumental music on children's education are growing not shrinking. In future blogs I will post additional information on this research and results.

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Mr. Mom's Transport Service Press Conference

Mr. Mom's Transport held a news conference Friday. Pat Schneider was there:

Peter Munoz, executive director of Centro Hispano, fought back tears as he recounted the company's generous support of his nonprofit agency.

The Smiths' predicament, he said, "embodies some of the most intransigent problems we face in economic disparity and injustice.

"This business cannot be allowed to fail. It is too important," he said.

Richard Harris, executive director of the south side Genesis Enterprise Center where the news conference was held, said he doubted that state officials were giving other transportation providers "scrutiny as intent as Mr. Mom's."

"Ask yourself: Is the playing field equal?" he said.

More on the Madison School District's transportion contracts.

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Numbers on Arrests at MMSD School

Document Feed on the Isthmus web site has posted Jason Shepard's recent column and data supplied by the school district:

Police and schools: By the numbers
Spreadsheets compiled from raw data showing police calls and arrests at Madison schools, 2004-2005

In the 2004-05 school year, police were summoned to Madison schools more than 1,500 times and made nearly 400 arrests, mostly of students. Recently Isthmus writer Jason Shepard went through raw data of police reports to compile spreadsheets of police calls and arrests, arranged by school. One resulting finding -- that students of color account for a sharply disproportionate percentage of arrests -- has stirred particular concern, a topic explored in Shepard's column for the Oct. 21 edition of Isthmus. Included here is that column and three spreadsheets that provide cumulative data.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 8:34 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Stanford on iTunes

Interesting stuff: Stanford posts lectures, interviews, music and sports via itunes. One of the interesting lectures appears to be Denise Clark Pope's "Getting Ahead in School: How we are creating a Generation of Stress-Out, Materialistic and Miseducated Students". Perhaps the UW will follow suit (and the MMSD?)

UPDATE: Jeff Henriques points out in the comments that the UW has a resource page up here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:09 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 21, 2005

Poverty & Education, Wednesday, October 26, Overture Center

The volunteers of the schoolinfosystem blog invite everyone in the community to our second forum "Poverty and Education," Wednesday, October 26, 2005 7:00p.m. in the 3rd floor Wisconsin Studio of the Overture Center, 201 State St.

Presenters will be:

- Tom Kaplan: Associate Director of the Institute for Research on Poverty;

- Mary Kay Baum: Executive Director; Madison-Area Urban Ministry

- Hemant Shah: Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication and Asian America Studies

- A representative from the City of Madison

See all the details here.

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In the classroom, easy doesn't do it

A recent posting from the Tomorrow's Professor listserve looks at the importance of being a demanding teacher, and while the author is reflecting on his experience in the college classroom, the message is just as relevant for students at all grades.

Teaching is serious business. We have wonderfully bright and talented students here at Richmond. They have almost unlimited potential. For most, this is their one shot at college; they deserve nothing less than an excellent education, an academic experience that challenges them to excel from their first day to their last.

Faculty members have a responsibility to the world to coax the very best from their students because they will certainly become the next generation of leaders. Where they go from here, what they accomplish, how they impact the world, depends in large part on how much we are able to push and nurture their development. I want every student to leave my class at the end of the semester saying, "I didn't know that I could work so hard, and I didn't realize that I could learn so much." Anything less is unacceptable.

If a teacher challenges students to think and do their best, word gets around campus quickly, but having a tough reputation is both good and bad. When students walk into my class on the first day, they tend to be very quiet and pay attention right away. On the other hand, I am always so disappointed when a student says to me "I hear you are a good teacher, but I didn't take your class because I know you are very demanding." Isn't that just incredibly sad? I think Richmond will be a better school when students sign up only for classes where teachers push them each day to do their best.

Many times during each semester, I point out to my students that the grade of A, according to the University catalogue, reflects "outstanding" work. A student does not earn the grade of A for a good effort, only for consistently outstanding work. Grade inflation has hurt college education across this country and could be fixed simply by faculty members saying, "You earn an A when the work that I see is truly outstanding." Don't fool yourself; students are well aware of the difference between "good" and "outstanding."

I use the Socratic method. I call on every student every day in class. I don't ask them to regurgitate material; I ask them questions that I believe will cause them to think and reason-on the spot. That is what adult life is like, especially in the business world. I then follow my initial question with others based on their answers. If I don't get good replies from a student, I don't just nod and smile; I demand better of them. A student once compared my class to a contact sport. Richmond students should be ready, willing and able to discuss and debate issues. This is college, not high school.

I want a reasonable effort from my students because students get back based on what they put in. I expect them to study four to six hours each week outside of class so they'll be ready to participate in class discussions. I use carrots and sticks. I say, "Good job!" when a student gives me a thoughtful, well-conceived answer, and I say, "Listen, you can do better than that!" when a student gives me a bad answer. I don't view that as being disagreeable, although I do realize that it injects a bit of tension into the class. But this is not Sesame Street; a bad answer is a bad answer. There is only one primary goal in my class: to improve each student's ability to think, reason and understand. Our students realize how capable they are, but human nature loves to take the easy path.

A good basketball coach adapts to the talents of his or her players. A good teacher does the same. You cannot take an identical approach with every student. Some love to be pushed and pushed hard. They enjoy "in-your-face" challenges. Others are more fragile. You have to coax and nurture them. So toughness comes into my class where toughness is necessary. You teach each student, not each group. However, every student needs to be willing to prepare and to think. That is not negotiable.

One of the keys to becoming a good teacher is learning to walk into a room of students and "see" what is happening to the individual members: Billy needs a few extra seconds to formulate an answer, Susan loves to be called on, Andy doesn't know what is happening right now, Ellen is not prepared. You have to be able to adapt to your students on the spot every day.

Our students can do amazing things, but if we don't challenge them fully, they will never realize what marvelous talents they truly possess. Signing up for demanding classes might hurt a student's GPA, but which is more important: developing a good mind or a good GPA?

Joe Ben Hoyle is an associate professor of accounting in the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond. He has been teaching at the University since 1979. He is a five-time recipient of the University's Distinguished Educator Award, and he was named "Most Feared Professor" in April 2005 by seniors at the business school. Fall 2005 issue of the Richmond Alumni Magazine. © 2005, Richmond Alumni Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 12:51 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 20, 2005

Child Enticement Near Emerson


Madison police are warning parents about another child enticement. This one happened near Emerson School on Johnson Street. Two sisters say a man in a 4-door dark sedan told them to get in his car last Thursday morning. The suspect was a white male with a gray beard. He took off when the girls ran away. Similar cases have been reported in the Madison-metro area since September.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:12 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Police and Madison Schools

Bill Lueders and Jason Shepherd:

In the 2004-05 school year, police were summoned to Madison schools more than 1,500 times and made nearly 400 arrests, mostly of students. Recently Isthmus writer Jason Shepard went through raw data of police reports to compile spreadsheets of police calls and arrests, arranged by school. One resulting finding -- that students of color account for a sharply disproportionate percentage of arrests -- has stirred particular concern, a topic explored in Shepard's column for the Oct. 21 edition of Isthmus. Included here is that column and three spreadsheets that provide cumulative data

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Message from Mr. Mom's Attorney

This message was posted on the Communities United list serve by Yolanda Woodard, attorney for Mr. Mom's Transportation Service.

Dear Concerned Community & Business Leaders:

Recently the local newspapers and electronic media have reported on the Mr. Mom's Transportation Service. This coverage has been in the most unfavorable light possible. While some missteps have been made with the current operation of the business, the sensational, negative media coverage far exceeds the true nature of the situation.

Corrective actions have already begun, long before it became fashionable for the local media to "bash" Mr, Mom's.

Accordingly, we respectfully request that those of good conscience support Jeff and Cathy Smith and their company Mr. Mom's. We are asking the community to support this company's long standing presence in our community and its efforts to address the public concerns by attending a Press Conference to be held on Wednesday, October 21st at 10 am at the Genesis Economic Development Center, 313 W. Beltline Hwy. (Next to Nedrebo's).

Yolanda S. Woodard
Attorney for Cathy and Jeff Smith

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Eyewitness Report: School Board Decisions on Bus Contracts

A recent editorial in the Wisconsin State Journal claims that the Madison school board rejected Superintendent Art Rainwater's "painstaking" analysis of known problems with local bus companies when it granted long-term contracts to transport our students to locally owned companies. According to the editorial, the administration informed the Board about safety and reliability problems with some of the companies, but---safety and reliability be damned--- the Board rushed ahead. The administration, having taken its stand, then meekly agreed to commit the districts to contracts likely to fail our students and their families.

Time for a fact check. I was there for the administration’s presentation, for the votes on the contracts and for recent Board discussions about the problems that have developed with one of the local companies, Mr. Mom's.

This is my eyewitness report.

The Madison Board of Education rarely rejects the recommendations of Superintendent Rainwater. I recall only two times that we have explicitly rejected his views. One was the vote to authorize Nuestro Mundo Community School as a charter school. The other was when we gave the go-ahead for a new Wexford Ridge Community Center on the campus of Memorial High School.

Here’s how things happen when the superintendent opposes the Board’s proposed action.

Following the usual battle cry (“I would be remiss in my duties if I did not tell you….), the superintendent forcefully states his views. The storm of opposition that follows is at least a Category 5. We endure a tsunami of PowerPoint presentations and waves of legal and educational objections. Memos recommending other decisions fly our way. Our lawyers argue with their lawyers. Supporters of the proposed decision rally at meeting after meeting, trying not to be swept aside by the gale and watching the rough weather.

In contrast, here is what happened in the months preceding the Board’s decision to include two local bus companies---Badger Bus and Mr. Mom’s—in the group of companies that would receive five-year contracts to transport our students.

In December of 2004, our Business Services department under Assistant Superintendent Roger Price, completed a process that “pre-qualified” companies to bid on these contracts. In that process companies provided information that included their failure rate in a recent vehicle inspection by the State Patrol. On the low end, the Riteway Company reported a failure rate of .5%. On the high end, Mr. Mom’s reported a failure rate of 75%. The administration did not provide this information or any other information to the Board of Education that indicated concern about safety or reliability of any company.

Months later, the Board learned that two local companies had not qualified to bid. Both were locally-owned companies. The companies objected to this exclusion. So did some of the local media.

The Board questioned the exclusion of these companies. The administration defended its qualification process. They did not, however, tell us that either company failed our safety or reliability standards. They told us that the companies had not completed certain parts of the paperwork.

Believing that the national companies, which are much larger companies, had qualified to bid because of their larger, more efficient staffs, I concluded that all things were equal in terms of safety and reliability factors. I therefore voted with the majority to require the administration to negotiate contracts with the local companies as well as the national companies.

This month, The Capital Times reported that Mr. Mom’s company had a history of vehicle inspection failures going back to 2002. It also reported on a very recent brake failure on a field trip and on problems such as the drivers leaving a child at the wrong location and leaving a child on the bus by mistake. Accordingly, at our meeting on October 10, I asked the administration what they had known about vehicle inspection problems as the result of the “pre-qualification” process.

The answer from the administration was that they didn’t know. They’d need to investigate. They’d get back to me the next day. Not a word about their “painstaking” analysis or any long-term concerns about problems with Mr. Mom’s services.

In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sherlock Holmes solves the mystery because he draws the correct inferences from something that did not happen. When the hounds should have been howling, they weren’t.

As an eyewitness to the events surrounding the school board’s decisions on transportation contracts, I notice what did not happen in this situation. If the administration knew that one of the companies posed serious risks to our children’s safety and might not be able to provide reliable transportation, where was the storm of opposition? Where were the howls of protest? Why would they tell me that they had “to investigate” in order to know what was known when the Board went forward with the Mr. Mom’s contract?

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 11:19 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

State's learning gap still vast

Wisconsin students stayed above national averages in test results released Wednesday, but a Journal Sentinel analysis of the data shows that the gap between black and white students was among the largest in the nation. In eighth-grade reading and in fourth-grade math, the gaps were larger than in any other state in the country.

Oct. 19, 2005

"It breaks your heart when you look at gaps of that size," said Ross Wiener, the policy director for the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for disadvantaged students. "Wisconsin is not doing a good job of educating its black students."

But some in education cautioned that while the gaps are a continuing source of concern, the scores provide only a rough picture of student achievement.

"To treat the state as if it's a single school district is not particularly helpful," said Russ Allen, a researcher at the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state teachers union, referring to the fact that the test results are based on a limited sample of kids from across the state.

"It's a very rough measure of how the state of Wisconsin is doing."

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly called the Nation's Report Card, is the closest thing the country has to a national test, and as such offers the only detailed state-by-state comparisons available. Math and reading scores broken down by race and socioeconomic class are released for fourth- and eighth-graders in every state. The test is administered by a statistical arm of the federal Department of Education.

Overall, the results showed that the country's students continue to improve in math, particularly fourth-grade math, but have not made as significant gains in reading.

"It's very clear that our educational system is not making the kind of progress in literacy that we are making in numeracy," said John Stevens, a member of the NAEP governing board.

Wiener added: "We're not seeing as much progress in reading as in math, and we are not seeing as much progress in the older grades as the elementary grades. I think there's been a growing recognition that we need to reform what's going on in the middle schools."

In both subjects and grade levels, Wisconsin students scored above national averages. In eighth-grade reading, for instance, the average score (on a weighted scale of 0 to 500) was 266 in Wisconsin and 260 across the country. But in that same category, the average score for white students in Wisconsin was 271, and for African-American students, 236. That 35-point gap was larger than in any other state.

For Hispanic students, the gap was still significant, but less pronounced. In eighth-grade reading, the gap in scores was 24 points.

The study also found that the average score for African-American students in Wisconsin fell below national averages for African-American students in all four categories. White students in Wisconsin beat the national averages for white students in three of the four categories, though by only one to three points.
Test samples students

The NAEP exam, which is administered to a representative sample of students scattered throughout each state, offers a check on the testing systems used in different states. Generally, individual state achievement tests offer a rosier view of student performance than the results of the NAEP test.

In fourth-grade math, 59% of Wisconsin students scored in the basic or below-basic categories; 41% scored proficient or advanced, according to the NAEP results. In fourth-grade reading, 67% of Wisconsin students scored basic or below basic; 33% scored proficient or advanced.

Those percentages were comparable for eighth-graders. In math, 64% of students scored basic or below basic; 36% were proficient or advanced. In reading, 65% scored basic or below basic; 34% scored proficient or advanced.

Nationwide, the strongest improvement was in fourth-grade math, where scores were up for every major racial and ethnic group since the last NAEP release in 2003.

President Bush, meeting with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings at the White House Wednesday, called the overall results encouraging. The results are used by many educators and experts to try to gauge whether federal education policies - including a relentless focus on basic subjects and testing - are working.

"It shows there's an achievement gap in America that's closing," Bush said, according to The Associated Press.

In a statement, National Education Association leader Reg Weaver said, "improvement in test scores is a good sign, but can't be used as the sole indicator of student success."

"This national test is just one way for us to see part of what students are learning."
Gloom over gap

There was little to cheer about when it came to Wisconsin's achievement gap, as the gap between white and African-American students was the largest in some categories for the second time.

In 2003, the gaps in eighth-grade reading and math were the largest in the nation. That year, there was a 49-point difference between the average scores of white and black eighth-graders in math (the gap this year is 45 points).

Wisconsin has shown some progress in lifting the scores of African-American and poor students, but "black students in Wisconsin learn less than in most other states," said Wiener at the Education Trust.

Allen at WEAC notes that "we can't ignore the fact that poverty has a tremendous impact on how kids do in school. It's never an excuse, but to pretend it doesn't matter is really unrealistic and probably naïve."

In its release about the scores, officials at the state Department of Public Instruction note that state schools are experiencing the highest levels of poverty in more than a decade.

"We've made great strides in providing the (class reduction) and early childhood programs," said Tony Evers, the deputy state superintendent. "I don't think our efforts have been for naught. We do see on various other tests - where we test all children - slow, but steady progress."

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 11:08 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2005 NAEP Results

2005 National and State Mathematics and Reading Assessments for grades 4 and 8 are now available.

Robert Tomsho takes a look at the reading results:

Observers say boosting reading scores isn't likely to get any easier, given the rapidly changing demographics in the nation's schools where, for many students, English is a second language. Indeed, English was a second language for 10% of the fourth graders who took the NAEP reading test this year, up from 3% in 1992.

The lack of progress may also reflect divisions in the philosophy of how reading should be taught. Educators and political partisans have waged a long and sometimes bitter battle over how to handle the subject, as conservatives championing basic phonics-based teaching have clashed with liberal backers of "whole language," which revolves around making English instruction exciting by reading stories.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:26 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 19, 2005

Study Shows Few Gains Since NCLB

Lois Romano:

Despite a new federal educational testing law championed by the Bush administration, scores among fourth and eighth graders failed to show any improvements in reading, and showed only slow gains in math nationally during the past two years, according to a study released today.

Most troubling for educators are the sluggish reading skills among middle school students, which have remained flat for 13 years, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which has been testing students for three decades and bills itself as the "nation's report card."

"There is no rationale on eighth-grade reading other than we are not making progress," said Darvin M. Winick, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees the testing. Yet, he added, "I think educators and parents of elementary schools students should feel pretty good about this report. There is progress."

interesting quote NPR has more.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:05 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Minority Overrepresentation in Special Ed. Targeted

From Education Week, October 12, 2005
By Christina A. Samuels
A new provision of federal law taking effect this school year allows, and in some cases requires, school districts to focus some of their federal special education money on reducing the enrollment of minority students in such programs.

The provision, contained in the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, requires some districts to spend as much as 15 percent of that federal aid on what are called “early intervening” services, which are meant to bolster the achievement of students before they are officially referred for special education.

Educators generally support the provision but some special education advocates worry that the proposed regulations surrounding the provision may not be clear, or could divert federal money from the students who are most in need of services.

When Congress previously reauthorized the IDEA, in 1997, it added a provision that required districts to monitor the racial and ethnic breakdown of students who receive special education services. Advocates have long argued that special education has become a holding place for minority students.
Early Services

A provision in the 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act says that districts may use up to 15 percent of their federal special education funding for "early-intervening services," such as literary instruction, before they place students in special education.

K-3 pupils: Although such services may be provided to any student, the law encourages districts to focus on pupils in grades K-3 who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed.

Minority Students: Districts that have determined that they have a disproportionate share of minority students in special education must use the entire 15 percent for such early-intervening services. The law encourages districts to target such services toward children in minority groups that are overrepresented in special education.

In the 2004 reauthorization, lawmakers added the new provision to take the monitoring process a step further. Districts with an overrepresentation of minority group members in special education are now required to set aside 15 percent of their federal aid for students, particularly those in grades K-3, who need “additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in a general education environment,” according to the law.

Districts that do not have minority students overrepresented in special education can still use up to 15 percent of their federal special education money for early-intervening services, but they are not required to do so.

States are given the discretion under the revised IDEA to determine what constitutes overrepresentation for the purposes of the provision. Many do so by comparing the proportion of minority students in special education categories with the proportion of minority students in the overall school population. Other states compare how frequently minority students are assigned to certain special education categories, compared with how often white students are assigned to those categories.

Nationally, black students are overrepresented in certain special education categories compared with the student population as a whole, according to a 2003 report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Education’s office of special education programs.

About 17.4 percent of black students are considered mentally retarded, compared with 10.3 percent of all students. Also, about 11.3 percent of black students are considered emotionally disturbed, compared to 8.1 percent overall.
Programs Under Way

By reaching out to members of minority groups earlier, supporters of the new provision say, the numbers of minority students in special education should drop, because they would be receiving extra academic help sooner.

“This is an item that Virginia has supported from the get-go,” said H. Douglas Cox, the state’s assistant superintendent for special education and student services. Mr. Cox is also the president of the Alexandria, Va.-based National Association of State Directors of Special Education. Thirty of his state’s 133 school districts are required to use 15 percent of their federal special education funds for early-intervening services, he said.

W. Mabrey Whetstone, Alabama’s director of special education services, said his state has worked aggressively for the past five years to reduce its overrepresentation of black male students classified as mentally retarded or emotionally disturbed. Nine of the state’s 66 districts will be required this year to spend 15 percent of their federal aid on early-intervening services.

Several programs are already under way that would qualify as early-intervening services, Mr. Whetstone said. They include a teacher-training program that helps educators adapt their lesson plans for particular student needs and early reading and math initiatives.

Experts say that children who receive inadequate instruction, especially in basic subjects like reading, are more at risk for being wrongly identified later as having mental retardation or learning disabilities.

“If you’re overidentifying [students for special education], there ought to be something you’re doing” to address the issue, Mr. Whetstone said. The funding helps draw attention to the problem, he said.

The problem with the set-aside is that the federal government is not providing its fair share of total special education funding, said Deborah A. Ziegler, the assistant executive director for public policy for the Council for Exceptional Children. The Arlington-based council is the nation’s largest special education advocacy group.

“We support the idea of early intervention,” Ms. Ziegler said. However, her group believes that special education services are already underfunded by the federal government.

“We’re struggling to provide the services we need to under IDEA,” she added. “Do we rob Peter to pay Paul? We need more money in both pots.”
Unclear Rules?

Mr. Cox of the state directors’ group said he can understand the perspective of the CEC.

“But if we can work on some of the early-literacy issues, maybe you wouldn’t have to refer children to special ed,” he said, giving an example of an intervention that the set-aside could support.

DanielJ.Losen, a legal and policy-research associate with the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, said he believes the U.S. Department of Education has not provided enough guidance on the IDEA’s 15 percent provision.

He said he was concerned about how the money would be spent by districts which find they have an overrepresentation of minority students in special education classes.

The money is intended primarily for students who have no special education classification. But, once a district finds that it has enough overrepresentation to trigger the automatic 15 percent set-aside, he believes that at least some of the money should be spent on programs for the children who are already in special education, since the district has already noted a problem.

“How are you going to help address the issue, if the kids who triggered [the 15 percent set-aside] get none of that money?” Mr. Losen said.

The regulations should say that the law will not prevent districts from spending the set-aside money on students who happen to already be in special education, he believes.

Ronald Felton, a former head of special education for the Miami-Dade County, Fla., district, and an educator who has been involved in special education for 30 years, said that the focus on overrepresentation of minorities is positive.

However, there needs to be more research on the issue, he believes. For instance, he said, “we’re still arguing on how to measure disproportionality.” And, if a district has overrepresentation problem, it might not need to divert a full 15 percent of its federal special education funding to the problem, he said, but the law still requires it.

“The 15 percent [option] is a good thing,” said Mr. Felton, who retired from the 370,000-student district in July. “The mandate is a problem.”

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 11:26 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

UW Center Established To Promote Reading Recovery

A gift of nearly $3 million is being used to boost teacher training at the UW-Madison in a special, reading program.

But that program, Reading Recovery, has critics, who say it's not worth the necessary investment.

Training at a new UW-Madison Reading Recovery Center will involve videotaping teachers, as they instruct young children, in a one-on-one process between student and teacher that costs more than group programs.

Student progress with Reading Recovery in the Madison School District and across the country has been questioned.

The center's observation room will allow teachers from across Wisconsin and from other states to observe techniques as experienced teachers will instruct children behind one-way glass.

"It's an investment, but I think it's an investment that pays off in the long term," said Center director Catherine Lilly. "Many children in Reading Recovery avoid being placed in special education."

But UW-Madison Psychology professor Mark Seidenberg is skeptical. " The evidence that it works better than programs that can be done in small groups is lacking."

Seidenberg believes the new center will ciphon dollars from more proven, remedial reading approaches. "This program at the UW is going to train more Reading Recovery teachers. That means there will be more children that will be getting Reading Recovery," said Seidenberg.

"Where's the money coming from to pay for that? Answer: Other programs."

But Lilly argued one-on-one instruction does have advantages over group settings, and claimed student outcomes in Reading Recovery are improving.

In many states, Reading Recovery is excluded from getting federal funds earmarked for remedial reading programs, because of questions about Reading Recovery's effectiveness.

Reading Recovery involves first grade children with significant problems in reading and writing.

UW-Madison officials say Reading Recovery is used in approximately 300 Wisconsin schools.

From WKOW TV (Channel 27)on October 18, 2005

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 10:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A History of Changes at West

Last spring a longtime parent at West HS was asked to write a description -- content area by content area -- of the curriculum changes that have occurred at West HS in recent years that have affected the academic opportunities of West's "high end" students. Below you will find what she wrote. It includes changes that have actually occurred; changes that may and probably will occur; and important questions about what else may happen in the future.

This summary was then forwarded to two other longtime West parents for their comments. Excerpts from those comments may be found just after the original description. Next, the description of each content area was sent to the appropriate department head at West, for their comment with the goal being to produce a brief, descriptive document that everyone would agree was factually accurate, for educational and advocacy purposes. Unfortunately, none of the department heads responded.

Here is the original description:

1. English

a. A few students gifted in English used to be permitted to begin taking upper-level English courses beginning 2nd semester of 9th grade, based upon their English teacher's recommendation, outstanding performance during their 1st semester at West, and the availability of open slots in appropriate courses that fit the student's schedule. (Note: this option involves no monetary cost.)

b. The two sections of integrated 9th-grade English/Social Studies were eliminated as of the 2003-2004 academic year. The primary purpose of these experimental courses -- very similar in philosophy to the SLCs -- was to provide an opportunity for one English and one social studies teacher to pair together to partially integrate their curricula and get to know the same group of students, along with the students having the same set of classmates for both classes. "TAG" students were among the ones who self-selected into these courses, creating cluster grouping within mainstreamed classrooms.

c. 10th-grade English core curriculum will likely be introduced in 2006-2007. This change will prevent highly motivated and capable students from having the opportunity to take appropriately challenging courses in English until 11th grade (currently, students get to start choosing from among the English electives in 10th grade). Ultimately, the effect will be a reduction in the number and variety of upper-level English courses West is able to offer.

2. Social Studies

a. 9th-grade Integrated English/Social Studies course was eliminated (see above).

b. The British version of 10th-grade European History was eliminated as an option a couple of years ago when the teacher of this course officially retired. (Note: this teacher still teaches some sections of 10th-grade European History at West.) As with Integrated English/Social Studies, "TAG" students were among the ones who self-selected into this variant of 10th-grade social studies, creating high ability cluster grouping within a mainstreamed classroom.

c. West's Social Studies Department decided this year that underclassmen will no longer be permitted to take 12th-grade elective courses prior to 12th-grade, not even on a space-available basis that would involve no monetary cost. No other department has this restriction. Might they follow suit?

3. Science

a. 9th-grade Accelerated Biology is restricted to one section despite there being approximately four classrooms worth of students who desire each year to take on the extra challenge this class entails (i.e., over 100 students choose to take the optional test for admission into Accelerated Biology each year, some years, many more than that). Budget constraints will likely lead to the elimination of even this one section in the near future unless West is willing to assign all of the students in this class to the same SLC (or have one section per SLC).

b. Will the implementation of a 10th-grade Core include science as well? If so, will everyone take the same Chemistry course in 10th grade, eliminating the variety of science options currently available to 10th-grade students? (Note: at the March 2005 West PTSO meeting, West HS Science Department Chair Mike Lipp stated -- in response to a parent question -- that they would not eliminate the regular Chemistry class because the lack of math content/rigor in Chem Comm ("Chemistry in the Community") would leave West graduates unprepared for chemistry at the UW and other universities.)

4. Math

a. West used to have a course called "Precalculus." It covered Algebra 2/Trigonometry Accelerated and Algebra 3 Accelerated in one year. It was eliminated last year (2003-04). The math staff were needed, instead, for "Algebra I Extended." In addition, it was a controversial course, in that there was disagreement as to how many students could really handle and benefit from it. All of West's remaining "accelerated" math courses are really honors classes, that is, they are not accelerated in pace, as exists at many high schools of excellence in the US. (Important note: the "new" class that will be called "Precalculus" next year is simply Algebra 3 Accelerated with a new name, not the old Precalculus.)

b. With old Precalculus gone, will West now end up having too few students to justify continuing to offer Calculus II starting in 2006-2007? (Note: in order to take Calculus II in high school, a student must take geometry before 9th grade or take a year of math over a summer.) If so, West could end up the only MMSD high school not offering Calculus II.

c. In the future, will most students at West be mainstreamed into "Core Plus" starting in 9th grade? (Note: this would fit well with the plan to have an SLC-based core curriculum in 9th and 10th grade; that is, to have all students take Core Plus from the beginning would make possible a 9th and 10th grade core curriculum in math.) If so, will none of these students be able to take Calculus in high school?

Here are excerpts from the comments of Person #1:

The institutional history corresponds well with my experience and my children's experiences at West.

One other point that is not made is that it used to be easier to take an Independent Study course for credit if you were a high achieving student. ... Also, the school people will point to the option of going to UW as a way of providing for high end kids. [Although this works well for some], I think it is a bad option since the calendars [and daily schedules] do not in any way correspond with one another -- on a daily basis, the UW offers courses on a MW, TR, or MWF schedule, while West offers their courses on a MTWRF schedule. The transportation time and the differences in the class start times means that, essentially, taking a single course at UW makes a massive hole in a student's schedule.

Here are excerpts from the comments of Person #2:

As for science, 10th grade students either take Chemistry acclerated or Chem Com. In 11th grade, there are two physics offerings, Advanced Math Physics or General Physics. In 12th grade, the advanced topics courses in these two areas -- as well as in biology -- are fairly subjective, dependent on teacher interest. By contrast, Memorial students have AP Chem, Physics and Bio, as well as a 9th grade earth science class; additionally, the sequence is taught in the more accepted order, chem, physics and finally, biology. Many Memorial students graduate with 25-45 AP credits; very few West students take any other than calculus, foreign language and/or statistics--10-15 credits. This can make a huge difference in college, either for placement and/or early graduation with its attendant reduction in cost.

Fundamentally, the problem lies with the SLC program. Its primary purpose, despite the social rhetoric, is to homogenize the student body across all variables, including academics. Most of the features that made West a haven for TAG students are eliminated. Taking courses out of the normal sequence will be very difficult and the clustering of students, unless it happens de facto as the result of changes in the middle school curriculum, will disappear. It was this menu of options and flexibility that offset West's weak to non-existent AP program. I would also be very concerned whether a student will be able to participate in UW's Youth Options program; coordinating the university and high school schedules is difficult under the current arrangement with West's variety of courses and times. Youth Options has been a tremendous opportunity for gifted students to expand beyond the typical constraints of the high school curricula. (Note: the State now limits the number of college credits for which a District must pay to 18 per student. Also, the Youth Options Program may well face threat of extinction again in the near future.)

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 8:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin AB 618 and SB 305: Protect Child Passengers

Denny Lund emailed this information on two bills that address requirements for child passenger booster seats:

On Wednesday, October 19, the Joint Finance Committee of the Wisconsin State Legislature will be voting on both AB 618 and SB 305. Because there is no public hearing for this bill, it is imperative that these committee members hear from you.

Please call and/or email your representatives and urge them to support AB 618 and SB 305. If they are not on the Joint Finance Committee, urge them to contact committee members.

Find your legislator’s phone number here:

List of Joint Finance Committee members


According to Partners for Child Passenger Safety (PCPS), which has conducted the first comprehensive study devoted exclusively to pediatric motor vehicle injury, inappropriate restraint of children in adult seat belts results in a 3.5-fold increased risk of significant injury and a more than fourfold increased risk of significant head/brain injury. (PCPS, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, State Farm Insurance Companies, 2003)

Using a booster seat with a seat belt instead of a seat belt alone reduces a child's risk of injury in a crash by 59%. (PCPS, 2003)

In 2004, there were 350 fatally injured child passengers ages 4 through 7. (Fatality Analysis Reporting System, FARS, 2003)

Adult seat belt use is the best predictor of child occupant restraint use. A driver who is buckled up is three times more likely to restrain a child passenger than one who is not buckled. (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1998)

Motor vehicle crashes remain the leading cause of accidental injury-related death among children ages 14 and under. Seventy-five percent of motor vehicle crashes occur within 25 miles of home, and 60 percent of crashes occur on roads with posted speed limits of 40 mph or less. (SafeKids, 2005)

Although 96 percent of parents believe they install and use their car seats correctly, nearly 73 percent of car seats are misused in at least one way critical enough to compromise their effectiveness. The most common critical misuses are loose harness straps securing the child to the safety seat and loose seat belts securing the car seat to the vehicle. (SafeKids, 2005)

The use of belt-positioning booster seats lowers the risk of injury to children in crashes by 59 percent compared to the use of adult seat belts. The distribution of free seats accompanied by educational training can dramatically increase the use of booster seats among children ages 4 to 6. (SafeKids, 2005)
Restraint use is lower in rural areas and low-income communities. Lack of access to affordable car seats contributes to a lower use rate among low-income families. However, 95 percent of low-income families who own a car seat use it. (SafeKids, 2005)

The best way to protect children age 12 and under from risks posed by air bags is to place them in the back seat, properly restrained by the appropriate child safety seat, booster seat or seat belt.


Twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have booster seat laws. Only 10 states and DC require booster seats for children ages 4 - 8.

A 2004 Harris poll found that 84% of Americans support all states having booster seat laws protecting children ages 4 to 8. (Lou Harris, for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, 2004)

Child restraint laws have been proven to increase use rates. According to NHTSA's 2002 data, restraint use for children from birth to age 1 was 99%, and from ages 1 to 4 was 94%. However, both SafeKids and PCPS estimate that only 19% of 4-7 year-olds are riding properly restrained in booster seats. (SafeKids, 2002, Partners for Child Passenger Safety Interim Report 2002, updated 2003)

For further information, contact Jeremy Gunderson, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety,
202-408-1711 or

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 18, 2005

Non-Traditional School Finance Discussion

Props to Johnny Winston, Jr. for organizing today's Madison Board of Education Finance & Operations Subcommittee on Advertising meeting. I think a discussion of alternative funding sources is vital in light of Madison's generally high property taxes, sluggish economic growth and the biennial state funding battles. A number of possibilities were discussed including:

  • The District leading the implementation of local fibre optic networks, via it's many facilities (with, perhaps wifi servicing the last mile). I think this is quite interesting. Madison lags in true broadband service.
  • Naming Rights
  • Curriculum Program Underwriting
  • Sponsorships for district cable channels, website(s) and other parental communications
Participants included: Johnny, Roger Price, Barb Lehman, Ken Syke, Vince Sweeney (UW Athletic Department), Melanie Schmidt (President of the Timpano Group) Jodi Bender Sweeney, President of the Foundation for Madison Public Schools and the writer (me).

Finally, A representative of local cell providers discussed the type of fees they would pay for very small antennas placed on District facilities (no towers). The Capital Times' Matt Pommer attended as well and will, I'm sure write about it.

UPDATE: Pommer's article is here. I have some corrections:

  • I did not hear the word tower used in connection with the cell service discussions. I heard the word antenna used. Obviously, we'll have to see what the actual plans include to make an aesthetic determination on this question.
  • I'm quoted as saying "Madison is way behind on this issue," related to sponsorship and advertising. I said this when Roger Price was discussing the District's fibre optic network options vis a vis community broadband.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:12 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Ridgewood building razed

FITCHBURG - A demolition crew on Monday began tearing down a fire-ruined apartment building at 2001 Post Road in the Ridgewood Country Club Apartments complex.

Though the work was the first visible activity in the 52-acre, 832 apartment subdivision since Madison developers E.J. Plesko & Associates bought the troubled property this summer, a spokesman said taking down the structure "is not a precursor to other actions" being planned there.

By Cliff Miller
Correspondent for The Capital Times
October 18, 2005

Brandon Scholz said the demolition was "a singular event" to remove a building that was made uninhabitable by fire in February. Plesko expects consultants to finish "an in-depth market analysis" of the complex within 60 days.

Plesko told officials at a recent Fitchburg City Council meeting that he intends to present preliminary concepts to the city by the end of March next year, outlining what he proposes to do with the rest of the complex.

The developers allowed police and firefighters to conduct training exercises in the building while reusable materials such as doors and windows were being removed for salvage.

Removing the building was a final step required to settle an insurance claim by previous owners of the complex, Plesko said in a press release.

Fires and vandalism, coupled with neglect by the previous owners and a host of building and fire code violation complaints by the city, were followed by a mortgage foreclosure action by lenders. Plesko bought the complex for $29 million in August to settle the foreclosure case. Plesko took over for Gary Gorman & Associates of Madison, which had proposed to redevelop the property before pulling out in August.

Plesko has given few hints of his vision for the future of the apartment complex, which is home to a large population of Hispanic immigrants and other minorities.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 12:49 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Could virtual education courses help with TAG and AP?

I believe that virtual education initiatives could help with some of the concerns raised by parents and community members regarding Advanced Placement courses. Please check out this website and let me know what you think.

In late May, I blogged these comments on schoolinfosystem.

I wrote:
"Did anyone see the piece written by WEAC President Stan Johnson in Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal? My thought is, "Why doesn't the Madison Schools have their own virtual program?" I believe using technology is very important and should be used extensively as possible. Currently the district is using programs for increase reading support (READ 180) and for alternative schools. A virtual school could be developed for many students that are being home schooled now. Madison teachers could administer the curriculum and provide accountability. Every child has their own learning style and every parent knows what is best for their children. - The last statement is the challenge of being on the school board."

Tim Schell, Assistant Director of Instruction at Waunakee Community School District, replied me.

Tim wrote:
“There are some very promising virtual education initiatives already underway at MMSD. Here at Waunakee, we have had the opportunity to partner in the Dane Districts Online consortium headed up by Madison through the office of Joan Peebles, your Coordinator of Technology and Learning. Your staff is also participating in a WiscNet working group that I chair, examining the possibility of WiscNet hosting a network-wide Course Management System that member institutions could purchase into on a cost-recovery basis. Joan is chairing another working group on course content and online course brokerage issues. It is the hope of our working groups that economies of scale can be achieved through cooperative activity instead of each district working in isolation. I believe that Joan may be named to DPI's advisory group on virtual education. The Madison district is viewed as a leader in the area of virtual education and Technology and Learning's existing initiatives can only benefit from active support by you and the Board of Education generally.”

I've had a few conversations with Joan and this sounds exciting!!! I think its time to get this initiative "out of the dark" and "out to the light." Okay --- Here’s the website again. Check it out. Let me know what you think. Is this worth pursuing to help with TAG programming and AP courses? I know this won't be the total answer to some of your concerns but it would be more than a start. Please respond to the comments. I'm listening (or in this case, reading). Thanks.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 11:50 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Get Involved at West NOW

I said it in the comments section attached to Marcia's original post. Now is the time for pre-high school families to get involved at West. Don't wait.

This will be like turning around the Titanic, however--there is a great deal of momentum to disassemble much of what was strong about West for high achievers. And what the district seems to be ignoring is that many of these families make up the backbone of support for the school, from PTO, to athletic and drama boosters, etc, both in terms of hands-on involvement and financial contributions.

The safety valve of attending UW classes is also being shut off, too. If a course is offered ANYWHERE in the district, MMSD won't pay for a West student to take it at UW. In addition, there is a "residency" requirement, i.e., to be considered a full-time student, a certain number of credit hours have to be taken at West or be approved to be taken elsewhere. So even if your family can afford to pay for UW courses and can get approval from UW for your student to take more than one class per semester, your student might still run afoul of the residency requirement.

Of course, home schooling is an option. Some families have quilted together classes at West, UW and home or on-line. One of the "West" national merit scholars this year has done just that.

Posted by at 9:05 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Curriculum Changes Proposed at West High

As discussion continues over the lack of AP courses at West High School relative to the other three Madison high schools, West prepares to further reduce the course opportunities for students.

Many West parents wrote this past spring and summer to Principal Ed Holmes, Science Chair Mike Lipp, and District Science Coordinator Lisa Wachtel advocating for more not fewer sections of Accelerated Biology. Parents have also written to express concern about plans to homogenize the 10th grade English curriuculum, eliminating the options currently available to 10th graders, and requiring students to wait until 11th grade before they can take elective courses in English.

There had been no response to these concerns until a recent letter went out at the end of September from Principal Ed Holmes.

Dear Interested Parent:

As we continue to improve and expand our curricular program to meet the needs of a very diverse student population, I want to assure you that we are working with best practice models and some of the most informed professionals in the field to make sure we offer a quality academic program for your child. Our goal is to do our absolute best to provide a challenging rigorous curriculum that meets the needs of every student that we serve at West High School.

The following information represents the work that has been done over the summer and at the outset of the 2005/06 school year in the areas of science and English. The people involved in the work in biology have been Welda Simousek, Talented and Gifted Coordinator for MMSD, Lisa Wachtel MMSD science coordinator, Mike Lipp, West High, science Department Chairperson, and members of the West High biology teaching team. Work in the area of English has been done by Keesia Hyzer, West High English Department Chairperson, Ed Holmes, Principal, West High School and members of the West High English teaching team.


  • There was over 25 hours of district-supported science professional development this summer focusing on quality instruction and differentiation at the high school level. Members of the West biology staff participated in this professional development opportunity along with high school science teachers from all the other MMSD high schools.

  • There are eight professional development days scheduled during the 05-06 academic year to continue the work begun over the summer and further develop the honors designation in science.

  • While there has been initial work over the summer on the honors designation in science there remains a lot of work to be done by the West science staff

  • We are keeping in mind the following critical components as we plan:

    • More work is not the goal. Qualitatively different work is what will be expected.
    • Not all of the work can be done inside of class. There will be homework assignments just as always, but again, the work expected will be qualitatively, not quantitatively different.
    • We are looking for ways to enable students working toward the honors designation to spend some time together as a group as well as to work with other groups of students.


Over the summer, members of the English Department worked to create an English 10 curriculum. We will continue to fine-tune this curriculum over the school year. During the summer of 2006, English 10 teachers will meet to plan and differentiate particular units. Criteria for an honors designation in English 10 as well as additional attention for struggling students are both specified in the curriculum.

  • All students have the option to elect or drop the honors designation.

  • Honors designation does not guarantee an A.

  • One English teacher, as part of her allocation, will be assigned as Skills and Enrichment Coordinator. This teacher will meet with those students who have elected honors twice weekly during lunch to lead discussion of the enrichment literature. This person will also grade honors exams and papers.

  • The Skills and Enrichment Coordinator will meet twice weekly during lunch with students needing additional help. Books on tape, as well as reading and writing assistance will be provided.

The English Department meets at least once monthly; professional development days will also be used to continue our work on planning English 10. We plan to present information regarding grade 10 English curriculum at the November 7 PTSO meeting. All parents are invited to come to hear about the work the English Department has been doing over the last few months. We will continue to keep parents involved in the process as we determine the future of curricular and academic programming at West.

Ed Holmes

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 6:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

AP Courses Taught in Four Madison Public High Schools

Here is a listing of the AP courses taught at each Madison high school:

East (8 AP courses) -- Calculus I, Calculus II, French, Macro Economics, Micro Economics, Music Theory, Psychology, Spanish

LaFollette (13 AP courses) -- Calculus I, Calculus II, Chemistry, Computer Science, European History, French, Literature and Composition, Macro Economics, Micro Economics, Psychology, Spanish, Statistics, U.S. History

Memorial (16 AP courses) -- Biology, Calculus I, Calculus II, Chemistry, Computer Science, Environmental Science, European History, French, Language and Composition, Literature and Composition, Macro Economics, Micro Economics, Physics, Psychology, Spanish, World History

West (8 AP courses) -- Calculus I, Calculus II, Computer Science, French, Latin, Music Theory, Spanish, Statistics

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

October 17, 2005

Ridgewood Apartment Building Demolished

Channel 3000:

Demolishing the structure was the last step necessary for previous managers, CMS, to collect on the insurance claim.

New owners, EJ Plesko & Associates, are now in the early stags of conducting a market analysis.

"You want to look at surrounding areas," said Plesko official Brandon Scholz. "You want to know what apartments are like, what condos are like, what businesses are like and be able to look at what you have and how much more development you want to put into it."
EJ Plesko & Associates hopes to have a redevelopment plan to Fitchburg officials by early 2006.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:18 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School District Student Fee(s) Analysis

The Madison Board of Education Finance and Operations Committee will discuss student fees during their meeting tonight. Committee Chair Johnny Winston, Jr. kindly asked Barbara Lehman to forward two documents:

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

Data on AP Courses

The Department of Public Instruction web site includes data on AP courses offered going back to 1996-1997 through 2003-2004. (I apologize in advance for the long URL) The data is presented on statewide and individual district and school levels, which makes comparison possible:

The page also has a utility that allows comparisons between districts and schools using pre-defined sets (ex. Big Eight) or user choice.

The user will need to use the links to view data for individual subject areas (math, foreign languages, English, etc.). The menu pick for statewide data is in the left hand column of the page. If I read it correctly, the number of AP course offerings is going up across the state, down in the Madison Metropolitan School District. At least in English AP offerings.

I note that haven't had time to do a thorough analysis and have some questions about the data, and encourage others to do the same. I believe that there is some useful information through this source.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 8:48 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schoolhouse Blogs

Edward Moyer:

As blogging enters the classrooom and takes its place alongside reading, writing and 'rithmetic, adult Web surfers have the chance to relive the trials and tribulations of the wonder years.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Book: Top of the Class

Soo Kim Abboud and Jane Y Kim:

Asians and Asian-Americans make up 4 percent of the U.S. Population, and 20 percent of the Ivy League. The authors contend that Asian-Americans are no more intelligent than any other race or ethnic group, but that their parents have instilled in them a love of learning.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:09 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 16, 2005

A Few Notes on the Superintendent's Evaluation & Curriculum

Several writers have mentioned the positive news that the Madison Board of Education has reviewed Superintendent Art Rainwater for the first time since 2002. I agree that it is a step in the right direction.

In my view, the first responsibility of the Board and Administration, including the Superintendent is curriculum: Is the Madison School District using the most effective methods to prepare our children for the future?

There seems to be some question about this:

  • Language: The District has strongly embraced whole language (Troy Dassler notes in the comments that he has been trained in balanced literacy). I would certainly be interested in more comments on this (and other) point(s). [Ed Blume mentions that ""Balanced literacy" became the popular new term for whole language when whole language crumbled theoretically and scientifically."] UW Professor Mark Seidenberg provides background on whole language and raises many useful questions about it. Related: The District has invested heavily in Reading Recovery. Ed Blume summarized 8 years of District reading scores and notes that Madison 3rd graders rank below state wide average for children children in the advanced and proficient categories. (Madison spends about 30% more than the state average per student)
  • Math: The District embraces Connected Math. UW Math Professor Dick Askey has raised a number of questions about this curriculum, not the least of which is whether our textbooks include all of the corrections. A quick look at the size of the Connected Math textbooks demonstrates that reading skills are critical to student achievement.
  • Sherman Middle School's curriculum changes
  • West High School's curriculum changes and families leaving
  • "Same Service Budget Approach": I think the District's annual same service approach reflects a general stagnation.

Many organizations live on the fumes of their past. Is this the case with the Madison School District?

Superintendent Rainwater visited with the Capital Times on the day the Board released the report on the his evaluation. Matt Pommer briefly summarized the discussion and closes by mentioning that state budget controls prevent new programs from being developed. This statement reflects the "same service mantra". The District could certainly change expensive programs like Reading Recovery and invest in a different approach. The District could also strongly adopt virtual learning tools. Weyauwega-Fremont School Board President Steve Loehrke has spoken and written extensively on these questions. The District could also change the way in which it delivers information (there's a little movement on this).

Finally, Jason Shepherd's recent Isthmus article on the Superintendent's review process is well worth reading:

But the evaluation marks the first step toward charting Rainwater's leadership of the city's schools. Leaders of public institutions are best governed by public bodies that set forth clear expectations. The board's new goals for the superintendent in the coming year are due by Nov 1.
I've not seen much, if any discussion of curriculum issues at the Board level, or the Performance and Achievement subcommittee, which has not met since 1/31/2005. I seem to remember (but can't find the quote) that Board President Carol Carstensen said at a District event, that "we leave the curriculum up to the staff". I could not disagree more with this approach.

I think it's time for a serious Board curriculum discussion. Madison is fortunate to have some fabulous resources just down the street at a world class University. Let's work with them, before they move on.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:21 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 15, 2005

Third Grade Reading Scores

Madison third graders rank BELOW the state-wide average for children in the advanced and proficient categories.

Nearly one-third of the African-American third graders read at basic or below. (And basic is below grade level.)

African-American third grades still trail white students by a substantial margin.

Schools at the bottom in 1978-79 are still at the bottom in 2004-2005.

Click here to view an Excel file with eight years of reading scores.

Reading isn’t just something nice that kids should learn. It’s critical. Based on the most recent third grade reading test results, we can say with absolute certainty that one-third of the the tested third graders will not succeed in school! That’s unacceptable.

The Board of Education should include among its goals an immediate review of the MMSD's reading programs to throw out the unscientific practices and replace them with curriculum based on research outlined by Professor Mark Seidenberg below.

Posted by Ed Blume at 4:43 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Superintendent's Evaluation: What's Missing?

For the first time since 2002, the Madison School Board has produced a performance evaluation of Superintendent Art Rainwater. It’s a small step in the right direction. However, it’s important to understand how the evaluation fails to meet the requirements of the district’s employment contract with the superintendent.

The contract requires the Board to set specific, measurable goals for the superintendent by the first day of each school year. That did not happen.

It requires the Board to determine in advance what evidence and data will be used to measure his progress toward the goals. That did not happen.

It requires a confidential survey of administrators about his performance. That did not happen.

Having skipped those steps, the Board offers the community its own subjective views in a few general categories. More information will not be forthcoming because all discussions occurred in executive sessions.

For the 2005-06 school year, the Board proposes to set specific performance goals by November 1. This discussion does not yet appear on any meeting agenda. Whether we can quickly state our vision for the district and translate it into specific, measurable performance goals for the superintendent remains to be seen. I hope so. If we don’t hold our top employee accountable to clear goals, we will fail our students and the community.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 4:10 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Families Leaving West?

Many good things are happening in the Madison Metropolitan School District! This viewpoint and the things we see conflict with the stated concern by some families as they tell us that they will be leaving the district rather than attend West high school. The one reason common to families is that they want their child to have a chance to take AP courses (limited numbers offered at West, in contrast to the other MMSD high schools) for the academic challenge offered to prepare their child for application to competitive colleges. (This viewpoint seems to be paired with a concern that the Small Learning Community approach at West may result in decreased opportunities for other challenging course work). It seems so sad that these families are choosing to leave the district. The contributions that children and parents have made to the district will be greatly missed.

AP offerings seem to be the norm across the nation, yet at least one West staff member opposes these offerings. Can we have an open discussion about issues of concern??? What are the pros and cons of increased AP offerings? Is it important to attempt to retain families currently attending our schools? What do you think? If you have a special interest in this issue, you may want to check below for additional information. . . .

Today was a good day at our school. Our son participated in a “Reader’s theater” in which the 6th graders did a wonderful job of entertaining a room full of supportive parents. Our daughter participated in one of the 3 bands (sponsored by the school), to which she belongs. A great principal welcomed parents and commented on their children, whom she quickly came to know well, shortly after the start of a new school year. My email message to a teacher thanking him for completing some extra paperwork for our son resulted in him taking additional time to send another message of support and compliment. In a discussion about people who have earned our respect, our son immediately identified a teacher. There are so many good things happening that we appreciate at MMSD!

However, in conversations with families, we hear information that indicates that several are concerned that the high school within their boundary area will not meet the needs of their kids and they will therefore be placing their children in school in another district or sending their child to Edgewood or considering Madison Country Day school (OR have already moved from the district). Can it be the same district?? Indeed, these concerns have been shared about West high school. Parents reported a variety of reasons for leaving. There was, however, one common reason among ALL of the families; that being the limited number of AP courses offered at West high.

My original concern about students leaving the district led to a search for information on AP as a central factor impacting their decisions. I fully expected to find that their perception was in error or that there was surely something simple that could be done to add AP courses to meet the needs of more children or that there was clearly something better available to better meet that stated need for challenge and a strong college resume.

As an attempt to gather the complete story about the AP/West issue, I was in contact with the following by email or phone:

  1. TAG staff,
  2. Mr. Rainwater,
  3. several MMSD teachers,
  4. guidance staff,
  5. Mr. Holmes (West principal),
  6. Ms. Nash (assistant superintendent for secondary schools—sent message at request of Mr. Rainwater only),
  7. Department of Public instruction staff,
  8. AP coordinator at West,
  9. UW admissions office,
  10. and 2 members of the Board of Education. Additional information was obtained from written reports of the work by Valencia Douglas and Donna Ford, both supportive of AP courses offered for minority students.

    A variety of comments were received:
    • “I’m not opposed to AP courses”,
    • “I think we should increase the number”,
    • “We want the schools to meet the needs of all students”,
    • “Nearly all schools offer a significant number of AP courses. DPI is working to help rural and poor schools provide these courses so that their students aren’t at a disadvantage when applying for college”.
    • “I am not on board with adding AP classes. I would be very depressed if that were to happen”.
    • “I don’t understand why the other MMSD high schools have so many AP offerings while West does not”.
    • “That can’t be right. West used to have such a good reputation”.
    • “Teachers at West do not want to teach these courses, as they find them boring”.
    • “Your kids will surely want to take AP classes”.
    • “Most applicants to college do have AP courses and we expect to see them on their transcripts, although we don’t penalize West students, as we know that few AP courses are offered there”.
    There are many differing and contradictory viewpoints, within this group of district staff, posing a challenge in trying to determine the most valid viewpoint. Several asked me not to reveal their name out of concern for conflict with others. I heard the word “arrogant” twice as staff described others.
    Jan Davidson, author of “Genius Denied” responded to my question (at her presentation regarding gifted education) “What would you say to a school official who opposes AP courses?” I had hoped for some words of wisdom. In fact, she was speechless, as she couldn’t understand why this would be the case. Following the presentation she said that she had heard such good things about Madison that she expected something much different with regard to education here.

    To gain a broader perspective, I checked for additional information on AP offerings outside the district. I sent messages to 20 families who live elsewhere in the state or nation, asking them to identify the AP course offerings at their schools. I persisted until those same households responded. ALL 20 noted that their child’s school offered AP classes in
    • literature/writing,
    • history,
    • calculus,
    • at least one foreign language,
    • several science options,
    • as well as others, with several offering 30 such courses.
    In a class that I teach on the UW campus, I asked students to tell me about their AP course background. Out of 38 in attendance, 37 had four or more AP classes. The one student who did not was over the age of 40 and didn’t have an opportunity for those courses when she attended high school.

    It seems that AP courses appeal to a wide range of students, including many who plan on post-secondary education. Certainly AP courses are not a panacea for all who are concerned about challenging work. West does have some challenging and very well respected courses (although it was a bit difficult to locate that information). Some families who have very bright children are looking for courses even more challenging than the AP classes. In any case, we weren’t asking about “watered down” AP courses, but were hoping for consideration of courses to meet the need for challenges at the high school level. It is hoped that we could address the concern of families who may choose not to attend West for that reason and have an open discussion about any misunderstanding and work toward any needed changes as a team. Many of us believe that all students and families are valuable to the district and that we should actively work to meet all needs and consider all input. When a family who supports and contributes to a school chooses to leave, that seems so sad. I was hoping that representatives of the district may feel the same way. As for me, I was told “West is not in competition for your children”. Ouch!! I suspect that many in the district do not agree with the spirit of that statement.

    There’s a great deal more information out there about AP courses and I’ve developed a special interest in that area. My primary concern though, is for families who may leave the district. I know that there are many in the district who DO care about these and all families. Let’s have a discussion about both sides of the AP issue as well as other issues that may result in families leaving the district.

    Posted by Marcia Gevelinger Bastian at 1:48 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 14, 2005

Seidenberg's Recent "Informal Talk on Reading Education"

University of Wisconsin Psychology Professor [Language and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab] Mark Seidenberg recently gave a lecture on reading education at the University Club:

Whole Language was a massive, uncontrolled experiment, with millions of children as unwitting subjects.

How it's done: Someone gets an idea

  • Often a Guru. Many Gurus in reading instruction.
  • Guru has brilliant insight about how children learn, how to teach reading - Their own personal theory
  • The idea may be personally promoted by the guru, with direct appeals to teachers
  • The idea is implemented on a vast scale, based on intuitions that it is good.
860K PDF Version of the lecture.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 3:30 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Comments on Superintendent Evaluation

Thanks to both Johnny & Ruth for posting the news of the superintendent's evaluation.

Since neither left their posts open for comments, I'll offer a comment and encourage others to use this post for additional comments.

I'm particularly pleased that the board said that it "would like the Superintendent to develop targets and measures for each priority and to provide an annual report on our performance in each area."

I've argued before (Was the board actually listening!) that the priorities have no power without measurable, time-specific goals. Now maybe they will.

Posted by Ed Blume at 11:24 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Superintendent Evaluation: Board President's News Release

Madison Board of Education President Carol Carstensen released this Report on Evaluation of the Superintendent earlier today. (PDF), or click below to read the release.

News Statement from the Madison Board of Education October 14, 2005

Report on Evaluation of the Superintendent

Hiring, supervising and evaluating the Superintendent are major responsibilities for the Board of Education. It is important to remember that this is a collective task for the Board and represents the combined views of seven very different individuals.

The Board of Education met three times (August 22, September 26 and October 11) to discuss our evaluation of Art Rainwater’s performance as Superintendent. We evaluated him in the areas of Leadership, District Climate and Morale, and Relations with the Board of Education. (See below for the full list of areas we evaluated). We ranked the Superintendent using the scale: Exemplary, Strong, Competent, Improvement Needed, and Unsatisfactory. We identified areas of strength and made note of specific areas for improvement.

The discussions were frank, open and extensive. As Board president, I have met with Superintendent Rainwater to give him the detailed evaluation report and answer any questions he had. I am making available to the public this summary of the results of the Board’s discussion.

In all areas the Board found the Superintendent’s performance either “exemplary” or “strong.” We felt that his greatest strengths were in representing the district in the community, maintaining productive relationships with employee unions and in carrying out the directives of the Board. The Board feels that the Superintendent is a strong, respected leader. We were in unanimous agreement that the Superintendent has been effective in all three areas of Board relations. The progress that the district has made in closing the achievement gap in third grade reading scores and in significantly improving the graduation rates for all students is a testament to the way he has worked with staff to improve our outcomes in these areas.

While we feel that the district is definitely moving in the right direction in narrowing the achievement gap, we, like many in the community, are distressed about the slow progress in the area of math. We would like to see a new plan for this area complete with ways to measure our progress. We felt that, as a Board, we had not paid enough attention to some of the priorities outlined in the Strategic Plan – we would like the Superintendent to develop targets and measures for each priority and to provide an annual report on our performance in each area. We also took note of the progress the district has made in hiring a diverse workforce, but we would like to see a plan for “growing our own administrators” – administrators who are culturally competent and can work effectively with our diverse families and communities.

The Board recognizes the personal investment Art Rainwater has made in maintaining this district as one of the best in the country. We are appreciative of the care he has given to our students and staff, and the special concern he has shown for our most vulnerable students. We feel the district and the community are fortunate in having such an outstanding Superintendent.

For further comments, contact:
Carol Carstensen, Board President, 255-5931.

(evaluation p 2)

Evaluation of the Superintendent

Aligning the work of the district with the strategic priorities in the Strategic Plan
Organizing the district to make progress on the Board’s 3 goals (reading, math & attendance).
Representing the district in the community
Collaboration/cooperation with other organizations (city, county, school districts, community groups, etc.)

District Climate/Morale
Relations with unions
Hiring and supervision of senior administrative staff

Board of Education
Responding to Board member requests
Carrying out Board directives
Providing advice, information and recommendations to the Board


Posted by Ruth Robarts at 10:39 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Report on Evaluation of the Superintendent

News Statement from the Madison Board of Education

Report on Evaluation of the Superintendent

Hiring, supervising and evaluating the Superintendent are major responsibilities for the Board of Education. It is important to remember that this is a collective task for the Board and represents the combined views of seven very different individuals.

Download file

The Board of Education met three times (August 22, September 26 and October 11) to discuss our evaluation of Art Rainwater’s performance as Superintendent. We evaluated him in the areas of Leadership, District Climate and Morale, and Relations with the Board of Education. (See below for the full list of areas we evaluated). We ranked the Superintendent using the scale: Exemplary, Strong, Competent, Improvement Needed, and Unsatisfactory. We identified areas of strength and made note of specific areas for improvement.

The discussions were frank, open and extensive. As Board president, I have met with Superintendent Rainwater to give him the detailed evaluation report and answer any questions he had. I am making available to the public this summary of the results of the Board’s discussion.

In all areas the Board found the Superintendent’s performance either “exemplary” or “strong.” We felt that his greatest strengths were in representing the district in the community, maintaining productive relationships with employee unions and in carrying out the directives of the Board. The Board feels that the Superintendent is a strong, respected leader. We were in unanimous agreement that the Superintendent has been effective in all three areas of Board relations. The progress that the district has made in closing the achievement gap in third grade reading scores and in significantly improving the graduation rates for all students is a testament to the way he has worked with staff to improve our outcomes in these areas.

While we feel that the district is definitely moving in the right direction in narrowing the achievement gap, we, like many in the community, are distressed about the slow progress in the area of math. We would like to see a new plan for this area complete with ways to measure our progress. We felt that, as a Board, we had not paid enough attention to some of the priorities outlined in the Strategic Plan – we would like the Superintendent to develop targets and measures for each priority and to provide an annual report on our performance in each area. We also took note of the progress the district has made in hiring a diverse workforce, but we would like to see a plan for “growing our own administrators” – administrators who are culturally competent and can work effectively with our diverse families and communities.

The Board recognizes the personal investment Art Rainwater has made in maintaining this district as one of the best in the country. We are appreciative of the care he has given to our students and staff, and the special concern he has shown for our most vulnerable students. We feel the district and the community are fortunate in having such an outstanding Superintendent.

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

Jan Davidson's low cost suggestions for improving education

When Dr. Jan Davidson spoke this week in Madison, she shared with her audience of parents, teachers, and administrators 12 low cost ideas for improving the educational opportunities of our academically advanced students.

What can schools do?

What can schools -- schools that don’t have extra funds, but really care about the learning of their bright students -- do?

1. Early Entrance to kindergarten -- if a child is developmentally ready before the age or date specified, she can enter school early.

2. Pre-assessments are done before a unit or a course -- if a student demonstrates mastery, he is able to move to a more advanced course.

3. Self-contained classes for the gifted, particularly in core curriculum subjects.

4. Multi-age, self-contained gifted classes are even more effective.

5. Subject acceleration is encouraged when a student is proficient in a particular subject.

6. Grade acceleration is encouraged when a student demonstrates proficiency in a particular grade level.

7. Opportunities for dual enrollment are available to students, e.g., taking some high school courses when a student is in middle school.

8. Advanced Placement (AP) courses and/or International Baccalaureate (IB) program are available to students.

9. Provide counselors who are trained to counsel gifted students, including advising them of talent development opportunities.

10. Work with the Talent Searches and give students credit for the credits they earn in their academic summer programs.

11. Create a school culture that values intellectual discovery and achievement, where students encourage one another to accomplish more than they would on their own.

12. Administrators and teachers who are knowledgeable about the wide range of exceptional abilities among bright students and are flexible in addressing the individual student’s learning needs.

Dr. Davidson will be posting her lecture slides online at the Genius Denied website

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Thinking Different: Little Rock Principal and Teacher Incentives

Daniel Henninger:

She went to the Public Education Foundation of Little Rock. The Foundation had no money for her, and the Little Rock system's budget was a non-starter. So the Foundation produced a private, anonymous donor, which made union approval unnecessary.

Together this small group worked out the program's details. The Stanford test results would be the basis for the bonuses. For each student in a teacher's charge whose Stanford score rose up to 4% over the year, the teacher got $100; 5% to 9% -- $200; 10% to 14% -- $300; and more than 15% -- $400. This straight-line pay-for-performance formula awarded teachers objectively in a way that squares with popular notions of fairness and skirts fears of subjective judgment. In most merit-based lines of work, say baseball, it's called getting paid for "putting numbers on the board."

Still, it required a leap of faith. "I will tell you the truth," said Karen Carter, "we thought one student would improve more than 15%." The tests and financial incentives, however, turned out to be a powerful combination. The August test gave the teachers a detailed analysis of individual student strengths and weaknesses. From this, they tailored instruction for each student. It paid off on every level.

Little Rock is a state capital famous to the nation for the mysteries of its politics and the compulsions of its politicians. By insisting 50 years ago on the continued segregation of Central High School, Gov. Orval Faubus ensured among other things that the handsome, still-functioning Central High would stand today as a national shrine maintained by the National Park Service. Yet another national shrine to political tumult that one may visit in Little Rock is the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. I came to visit the Meadowcliff Elementary School. Perhaps in time someone will put a plaque in front of it too.

About 80% of Meadowcliff's students in the K-to-5 school are black, the rest Hispanic or white. It sits in a neighborhood of neat, very modest homes. About 92% of the students are definable as living at or below the poverty level, a phrase its principal Karen Carter abhors: "I don't like that term because most of our parents work at one or two jobs." This refusal to bend to stereotypes likely explains what happened last year at Meadowcliff.

The school's scores on the Stanford achievement rose by an average 17% over the course of one year. They took the Stanford test in September and again in May. Against the national norm, the school's 246 full-year students rose to the 35th percentile from the 25th. For math in the second grade and higher, 177 students rose to the 32nd percentile from the 14th. This is phenomenal. What happened in nine months?

Meadowcliff has two of the elements well established as necessary to a school's success -- a strong, gifted principal and a motivated teaching staff. Both are difficult to find in urban school systems. Last year this Little Rock public school added a third element -- individual teacher bonuses, sometimes known as "pay for performance."

Paying teachers on merit is one of the most popular ideas in education. It is also arguably the most opposed idea in public education, anathema to the unions and their supporters. Meadowcliff's bonus program arrived through a back door.

Karen Carter, the school's principal, felt that her teachers' efforts were producing progress at Meadowcliff, especially with a new reading program she'd instituted. But she needed a more precise test to measure individual student progress; she also wanted a way to reward her teachers for their effort. She went to the Public Education Foundation of Little Rock. The Foundation had no money for her, and the Little Rock system's budget was a non-starter. So the Foundation produced a private, anonymous donor, which made union approval unnecessary.

Twelve teachers received performance bonuses ranging from $1,800 to $8,600. The rest of the school's staff also shared in the bonus pool. That included the cafeteria ladies, who started eating with the students rather than in a nearby lounge, and the custodian, who the students saw taking books out of Carter's Corner, the "library" outside the principal's office. Total cost: $134,800. The tests cost about $10,000.

The Meadowcliff bonus program is now in its second year, amid more phenomena rarely witnessed in "school reform." Last year's bonuses were paid for by an anonymous donor; this year the school board voted to put the pay for performance bonuses on the district's budget. The Little Rock teachers union thereupon insisted that Meadowcliff's teachers vote for a contract waiver; 100% voted for the waiver. Another grade school, with private funding, will now try the Meadowcliff model.

The Meadowcliff program has the support of both Little Rock's superintendent, Roy Brooks, and Arkansas' director of education, Ken James. Superintendent Brooks, who was recruited from the reform movement in Florida, has cut some 100 administrative positions from the central bureaucracy and rerouted the $3.8 million savings back to the schools.

At his offices in the capitol building, Director James calls himself an "advocate of pay for performance" for a couple of reasons. Financial incentives of some sort are needed, he says, to stop math and science teachers from jumping ship to industry. And school districts like Little Rock's have to innovate fast because jobs and population are migrating internally, mostly into northwestern Arkansas. The Springdale district alone, he says, near Fayetteville and Bentonville, "hired 180 new teachers this year." Little Rock has to find a way to hold its best teachers. The teachers I saw at Meadowcliff Elementary seemed pretty happy to be there.

"School reform" is one of the greatest of the great white whales of American politics. It's by now virtually a mythical beast, chased by specialists, commissions, think tanks, governors. Gov. Bill and Hillary Clinton were famous Arkansas school reformers. With No Child Left Behind, President Bush has flung the reform fishing net over the whole country. The biggest urban school systems -- New York, Chicago, L.A. -- get most of the ink. But maybe the solutions are going to be found in places like Little Rock, where talented people can fly beneath the radar long enough to give good ideas a chance to prove themselves.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:57 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 13, 2005

A Profile of 2004 American High School Seniors

National Center for Education Statistics:

More than two-thirds of students who were high school seniors in 2004 expected to complete a bachelor’s degree, and 35 percent planned to get a graduate or professional degree. But nearly two-thirds of the students who expected to get a four-year degree had not mastered intermediate level mathematics concepts as 12th graders, and nearly a third could not consistently solve simple problems based on low-level mathematical concepts, according to a study released Friday by the U.S. Education Department.
Via Inside Higher Ed.

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Mr. Mom’s – Due Process Must Happen

It is no longer a secret that Mr. Mom’s Transportation Services currently faces significant challenges. Probably the biggest challenge for this small, local, minority owned business came from the school board last spring (2004). Mr. Mom’s and Badger Bus services were denied district transportation contracts. Our community was angered by this. In 2004, the Board received dozens of e-mails criticizing our decisions regarding contracts with local businesses. Here are some examples of the e-mails the school board members received:

Harold Gollman wrote:
I don't expect that 1 school board member who supports increases in
busing costs and closing out local and reliable businesses for out of
state one's should expect to be reelected ever. that's my guess. I
wouldn't be surprised if you were all out on your butts a lot quicker
than that. I would hope the school would hire teachers not out of state businesses. say bye bye.

William Graf wrote:
I'am concerned about Dunham School Services and First Student Inc. being awarded bus routes for the following reasons:

Badger has an unblemished record of loyal service to the city dating back to 1929.
- Badger was not allowed to use the MMSD as a reference in RFP #3037.
- Badger's and Mr. Mom's bid prices were significantly lower than the
recommended bidders and would save the district no less than $600,000 over the 3-year contract period.
- Why wouldn't the administration want to save money in light of the budget deficit estimated to be in the millions?
- Local ownership means more jobs and money stay in Madison.
- Mr. Mom's is minority owned and both Mr. Mom's and Badger recruit and hire minority applicants.
- Local owned companies serve as buffers and protect the interests of the district over the long term from price control if only the large national companies control the market.
- Badger has in the past come to the district's aid when other vendors were not performing up to expectation I would hope you will consider these points and reward Badger Bus and Mr. Mom's with the bus contract. WE are in very tight fiscial times and this makes sense to me. Thanks for your time.

Tracey Hensen:
It is disturbing to me to hear the news that the bus contract for the
Next three years may go to a company that is not locally owned! Badger Bus Company and Mr. Mom's has been providing quality service for many years. I also understand that the bids from Badger Bus and Mr. Mom's are less than the contracts being recommended. $600,000 is a lot of money when budgets are so tight! Please explain this decision to me and the community!! Not only is Madison trying to ruin local business by smoking bans, now we're trying to take our own business out of the state and take away jobs from local citizens! Please re-consider this direction for the good of our

There are a lot more. The Board intervened and recommended that the Administration award contracts to local vendors, including Mr. Mom’s. I fought and voted for the Mr. Mom's contract last spring. Jeff and Cathy Smith are the people who own Mr. Mom's Transportation Services. Jeff is an African American man who is a long time Madison resident with very strong ties to this community. Cathy is a Latina woman who is President of the Latino Chamber of Commerce. So what happened that has resulted in their reduced district contract? It is obvious that their small business grew faster than their ability to keep pace with the increased service demand. This is not an excuse but a fact.

The community wanted Mr. Mom’s last year and now that they face challenges, the community is calling for their head on a platter and asking for an immediate contract termination. The community, fueled by incomplete information reported in the media, has rushed to judgment on what should be the fate of Mr. Mom’s district contract. Student safety is paramount and it cannot be judged by newspaper accounts and public sentiments. As an elected representative to the Board, I stand firm in my responsibility and accountability to see that our district operates in a legal and ethical manner in all of its business.

The school district’s attorney, Mr. Sherrod, is providing sound legal counsel to direct due process for review of Mr. Mom’s contract and all business contracts with the district. I would hate to have the district in litigation with Mr. Mom’s (or any other business) and lose because it didn’t abide by its contractual obligations. I implore the community to support the district’s fair and respectful treatment and review of its contract with Mr. Mom’s Transportation Services.

All of our businesses - minority owned or not – must be treated equitably.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 11:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Tell Family Stories To Your Kids

Jennifer Harper:

Granddad's first job, the old homestead, mom's legendary cooking: Family stories make effective armor for children in an unsure world, according to a three-year study of 40 families by Emory University.

It found that children who share in those endearing and even heroic memories can grow strong and resilient for a simple reason: They have proof from mom and dad that family life goes on, despite negative outside events.

This is right on. I have direct experience with this, via my parents and grandparents.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:57 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Schools Transport Update: Cullen and Pommer on Mr. Mom's

Sandy Cullen:

The district is investigating how long the company was without insurance and also is looking into reports that some bus drivers did not have valid driver's licenses, Rainwater said.

Also last month, the brakes failed on a bus returning students to Spring Harbor Middle School after a field trip, Rainwater said. No students were injured, and the bus did not crash.

Attorney Clarence Sherrod said the district is in the process of preparing a notice of default, which could lead to termination of Mr. Mom's two contracts with the district.

Under the terms of its contracts, Mr. Mom's will have 20 days to respond to the default notice.

Matt Pommer has more:
Price provided copies of the safety audits done on the five bus firms that serve the Madison district in response to questions raised Monday by School Board member Ruth Robarts.

The reports showed that other bus firms last year had far smaller percentages of buses needing repairs in inspections by the State Patrol. Two of 15 Badger buses needed work; one of 20 Rite-Way vehicles needed repairs; eight of 23 Durham buses failed; and five of 21 First Student buses inspected needed work.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 12, 2005


Vernice Jones:

I left the Dominican Republic to come to the United States in 7th grade. I was put in a special education class. I wasn't slow, but I was quiet - you know different culture? I was very introverted. I'll always remember that class. Other kids used to tease all of us. It's interesting how people can get lost that way.

I befriended a teacher who took me under his wing. He encouraged me to participate in class. It was just a matter of confidence. If we were going to do something in science, he would encourage me to do a project and present it. He helped me come out of my shell.

Via Joanne.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

3 of 4 Middleton-Cross Plains Referenda Fail

Barry Adams:

Voters in the Middleton-Cross Plains School District narrowly approved Tuesday more elementary space and upgrades to heating and air conditioning at two schools but overwhelmingly rejected three other questions in a $53 million referendum package.

Voters said no to a $36 million combined elementary and middle school, a $5.8 million transportation garage and increases in state-imposed revenue caps.

"I'm really not surprised because of the bottom-line price," School Board member Ellen Lindgren said. "I think we'll have to take quite a bit of time analyzing why they voted the way they did."

Channel3000 has more.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:24 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Budgets and Account Structures - How Can We Find Out What a Budget is for a Curriculum, Service?

The expenditure side of the MMSD budget appears to be organized around departments - general administration, business services, student services, elementary education, etc. Within each department, expenditures seem to be organized according to an accounting structure, which I believe is dictated by DPI requirements.

Ed Blume has been asking questions about library and other program/services expenditures. The response from the administration, "...There are no specific accounts in the financial statements that report the expenditures against this receipt. Library expenditures are part of the central library and included in each building as part of the building formula accounts..." This seems to be an accounting response to a budget question.

In the chart of accounts why aren't there, or are there, "tags" (my word) that enable financial information to be organized in a way that if either a board member or the public wants to know what is being spent on library services, reading recovery, math instruction, other projects, this information can be provided?

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October 11, 2005

Update: Mr. Mom's Bus Company Contract with the Madison School District

As reported in The Capital Times, I recently questioned Superintendent Art Rainwater about the process that the district used to determine that Mr. Mom's bus company was qualified to bid for contracts to transport our students in the years from 2005-06 through 2010-11. The process is known as the "pre-qualification evaluation".

In a memo today, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Roger Price told the Board of Education that the pre-qualification evaluation for companies who wanted to bid on these six year transportation contracts was conducted in December of 2004. The process resulted in qualifying five companies to bid for the contracts. Mr. Price noted that "all vendors had some vehicles fail inspection" on the most recent inspections by the State Patrol.

His materials show very different failure rates for the companies.

Riteway: .5% failure rate (19 vehicles passed, 1 failed)
Badger Bus: 13% failure rate (13 vehicles passed, 2 failed)
First Student: 19% failure rate (21 vehicles passed, 5 failed)
Durham: 26% failure rate (23 passed, 8 failed)
Mr. Mom's: 75% failure rate (2 passed, 8 failed)

When the Board of Education voted on the contracts, it did not receive this information.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:24 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Board Governance Perspectives

Last night's Madison Board of Education meeting provided an illuminating look at two rather different perspectives on governance. The Board voted 4 (Carstensen, Keys, Lopez and Winston) - 3 (Kobza, Robarts, Vang) to support the Administration's approach to the growing problems with Mr. Mom's Transport Service (I believe there were two votes on this question - the minutes are not available as of this writing).

Many points were discussed, including the District's pre-contract vetting of Mr. Mom's and whether, given recent experience, the Administration should be allowed to subcontract with Badger Bus via Mr. Mom's (Badger Bus is replacing Mr. Mom's service on many routes). The District recently signed a five year agreement with Mr. Mom's Transport Service.

The motion passed 4-3 to allow the Administration to Subcontract Badger Bus service via Mr. Mom's (again, I think there was a 2nd vote on this). Watch the debate here
For what it's worth, I'm actually in favor of long term (5 year) contracts. They, hopefully allow vendors to optimize and perhaps manage costs more effectively. The subcontract to Badger Bus via Mr. Mom's, given the issues, seems unusual.

UPDATE: The 4-3 vote was on a Kobza motion, seconded by Robarts to contract directly with Badger Bus, rather than using a subcontract via Mr. Mom's. After this motion was defeated 4-3 (Kobza, Robarts, Vang), as noted above, the Board voted 5 - 2 (Kobza joined Carstensen, Keys, Lopez and Winston) to support the Administration's proposed subcontract with Badger Bus via Mr. Moms.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:00 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Middleton-Cross Plains School Referenda

Channel 3000:

Some in the district are concerned that there would be too many kids of widely varying age groups on the same campus, but Supt. Bill Reis sees benefits in kids staying at one school for nine years.
"So we'll get to know families, teachers, get to know kids," said Reis. "There will be communication elementary to middle school so that transition, I think, will be more successful."

But at least one Middleton resident opposes the idea.
"Mostly I'm looking at physical problems," said Karl Schroeder. "You already have harassment in your own age group. Now, you're just adding on to that."

Enrollment figures released to News 3 show just a one-student increase in the school district from one year ago, but explosive future population growth seems imminent.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:45 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MMSD Budget Mysteries #2

Mystery fans, you're joining this budget baffler in mid-case. I previously sent the following e-mail to Superintendent Rainwater:

I received an inquiry about library aids from a district employee, and I can't find the answer. Maybe you and Roger Price [Assistant Superintendent for Business Services] can help. The DPI Web site shows that the MMSD received $675,055 in library aids from the Common School Fund for the school year 2004-05. The DPI site also notes that the funds are paid by May 1 and have to be expended by June 30 of the year they were received.

I was able to find that the MMSD shows library aid revenue of $568,560 for 2004-2005 on page 238 in the 2005-2006 Budget & District Profile.

However, I cannot find an expenditure for the funds. On page 103 of the same document, I can find a total of $242,700 for "Major Non-salary Expenditures" in the Division of Library Media Services. The same page shows "Other expenses," including equipment and supplies, of $181,270 under a heading called General and another expenditure of $46,720 under the heading Community services. Those three amounts total $470,720.

Can you please explain why DPI shows a payment of $675,055 and the budget book shows an expenditure of only $568,560 for library aids?

Can you also tell me and the district employee where in the 2005-2006 Budget and District Profile I can find how the library aids were expended to total either $675,055 or $568,560?

The district employee was also under the impression that library aids were distributed to individual schools, but was told by the school librarian that the school had not received any funds prior to June 1. Could you possibly provide a list of library aids received by each school in the MMSD, if that's the way the MMSD uses the funds?

As always, I appreciate your time and attention.

Roger Price responded:

The DPI site . . . describes what can be funded with "common school funds". Common School Funds come into the district as a Categorical Aid.

There are no specific accounts in the financial statements that report the expenditures against this receipt. Library expenditures are part of the central library and included in each building as part of the building formula accounts. DPI does a review of total expenditures against the revenue and in most years we have met or exceeded the receipt in total expenditures. In addition we internally monitor the status of the expenditures to assure compliance. To this end we will need to make a budget adjustment as part of our October amendments to reflect the expected revenue and to assure that we have included the corresponding expenditures.

The mystery deepens!

How does one know how the library aids were spent if "there are no specific accounts . . . that report the expenditures against this receipt."

What is the "central library?"

How does one "monitor the status of expenditures to assure compliance" if "there are no specific accounts . . . that report the expenditures against this receipt."

How does one know that "in most years we have met or exceeded the receipt in total expenditures" if "there are no specific accounts . . . that report the expenditures against this receipt."

Roger, can you possibly put numbers to the receipts and expenditures to track the money? By that I mean, how did the MMSD spend (in dollars and cents) the $675,000 received from DPI? Does the budget show that the money was transferred from the library aids account into the "central library"? From the "central library" does the budget show that the library aids funds were transfered to each building?

To help the employee and school librarian who contacted me, can you provide a list of the library aids that went to each school in the MMSD?

This mystery confounds the mind and remains unsolved. Stay tuned for the next installment!

Posted by Ed Blume at 8:25 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 10, 2005

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater's October Message

Art Rainwater's October Message. Quicktime Video

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:38 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

State Superintendent Burmaster's Message for the Week

This is Elizabeth Burmaster's weekly message for October 9-15.

Gifted Education Week is Oct. 9-15

Wisconsin’s observance of Gifted Education Week reinforces our commitment to educating gifted and talented children to their full potential, Through education, today’s young people who are highly capable intellectually, academically, creatively, artistically or through leadership will become tomorrow’s inventors, leaders, and poets. We certainly want our best and brightest working in our schools, medical facilities, businesses, and communities and contributing their talents to the betterment of our society.

Educators have an important role in identifying and meeting the needs of gifted and talented children, The diversity of those recognized as gifted and talented should reflect the diversity of our student population. To ensure that we identify and educate all gifted and talented children no matter where they live, their family’s socio-economic background, their racial or ethnic heritage, the language spoken at home, or their disability status, we must continuously learn to recognize new cues, especially those that are creative or artistic, to identify students who need more opportunities to grow and develop.

Meeting the needs of gifted and talented students means first and foremost remembering that they are children, who have many characteristics of their age peers. They may need different types of instruction, perhaps through accelerated curriculum, special assignments, or pairing with a mentor, but they also need time to play and socialize. And just like their classmates, students who are gifted or talented need opportunities to struggle with new material, to experience setbacks, and to develop the stamina and courage to try again to seek higher levels of achievement.

Identifying and serving gifted and talented pupils is part of our mission in public education and our New Wisconsin Promise, which assures a quality education for every child. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction will become a stronger partner with our schools and organizations in serving gifted and talented students, thanks to provisions in the 2005-07 state budget. We will once again have a full-time coordinator for gifted and talented education, working with educators, parents, and students throughout the state. We will be focusing our energies on direct support for middle school programs and grants to enable more students to participate in Advanced Placement programs.

The week of October 9-15 has been set aside to observe gifted education in Wisconsin. Please join me in thanking the parents, teachers, and associations that have worked so hard over the years to support and advocate for our gifted and talented youth.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:36 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools Try Recess First, Lunch Later

Amy Hetzner:

Proponents of holding recess before lunch say it helps reduce food waste in the cafeteria, increases students' caloric and calcium consumption and can provide a calming buffer between frenetic play and quiet classroom work.

Food service and school nutrition groups have been busily advocating for more schools to change their schedules to reap the benefits.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:08 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Take Nothing from the MMSD at Face Value - Part 2

I previously posted a warning to take nothing from the MMSD at face value.

Here's another reason.

The MMSD claims that capacity at Lapham Elementary stands below 67%. However, the MMSD reports Lapham's maximum capacity at 304 students, and this year's attendance at 252 students, giving Lapham a current enrollment of 82.9% of capacity.

It's easy to believe that the MMSD administration has a hidden agenda to close an east side school when the administration plays with the truth.

Click here for a chart of enrollment and capacity.

Posted by Ed Blume at 8:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin School Spending Increases 4.6%, largest since 2001-2002


Wisconsin public school spending rose 4.6% in 2004-05, the largest increase since 2001-02 (5.7%). Spending on instructional support for such items as staff training, library services and athletics rose 7.7%. Expenditures for instruction and for building and grounds were both up 4.8%.

Spending per student rose 4.8%, slightly faster than the total because enrollments in the state’s public schools fell 0.3% in 2004-05 to 869,961. In 2004-05, Wisconsin school districts budgeted to spend $10,367 per student, or $477 more than the year before (The Madison School District's per student spending is about 30% higher than the state average). The majority of expenditures were for instructional costs, which climbed 5.0% to $6,068 per student. Expenditures for instructional salaries and benefits ($5,428) rose 4.6%, higher than the annual average of 3.9% during the previous five years. Per student expenditures for transportation ($408, +2.5%) and administration ($785, +3.8%) increased at below-average rates, WISTAX noted.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:39 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More on East / West Task Forces

Sandy Cullen:

Elementary schools considered most at risk are Emerson, Lapham and Lowell - which are at or below 67 percent of their capacity for students - as well as Lindbergh, Cohen said.

"We're rallying around Lindbergh," he said, adding that the school serves "probably the most fragile" population of low-income and minority families, including many from Kennedy Heights just across the street from the school.

Mary Gulbrandsen, director of student services and chief of staff to Superintendent Art Rainwater, said the Madison School District has no hidden agenda to close one or more East Side schools, as some parents fear.

Much more here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 9, 2005

The Social Logic of Ivy League Admissions

Malcolm Gladwell:

“As a hypothetical example, take the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State, which are two schools a lot of students choose between,” Krueger said. “One is Ivy, one is a state school. Penn is much more highly selective. If you compare the students who go to those two schools, the ones who go to Penn have higher incomes. But let’s look at those who got into both types of schools, some of whom chose Penn and some of whom chose Penn State. Within that set it doesn’t seem to matter whether you go to the more selective school. Now, you would think that the more ambitious student is the one who would choose to go to Penn, and the ones choosing to go to Penn State might be a little less confident in their abilities or have a little lower family income, and both of those factors would point to people doing worse later on. But they don’t.”

Krueger says that there is one exception to this. Students from the very lowest economic strata do seem to benefit from going to an Ivy.

More on Gladwell.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:20 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MMSD Budget Mysteries #1

This is the first installment of a series on the mysteries of the MMSD Budget.

Mystery #1: The MMSD received $$1,373,333 from a TEACH Grant Fund, and only spent $63,741. The budget document shows no other transfers or expeditures out of the $1,373,333. Where did the balance ($1,309,592) go?

To help solve this mystery, the revenue of $1,373,333 is shown on page 2 of the 2005-2006 Budget Financial Summaries. The expenditure of $63,741 is listed under expenditures for CFO/COO-Summary on page 50 of the same document.

Good sluething, all you Sherlock Holmes wannabe's.

Posted by Ed Blume at 8:00 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 8, 2005

Gifted Education Week

October 9-15 has been declared "Gifted Education Week" in Wisconsin by both Governor Jim Doyle and DPI Superintendent Libby Burmaster. Why not "celebrate" by attending one of the following events with Dr. Jan Davidson, co-author of "Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds" and co-founder and president of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development?

October 11, 7:30 p.m., McDaniels Auditorium, MMSD Doyle Administration Building, 545 West Dayton Street. Community presentation on "How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Young Minds" and book signing. Co-sponsored by the Madison TAG Parents Group and the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth. Free and open to the public. Information:

October 12, 8:00 a.m., Randy's Restaurant, Whitewater WI. Open administrator's breakfast and program on gifted education in Wisconsin. $10.00 per person; r.s.v.p. required. Contact Dale Johnson at to find out if there is still room. Sponsored by the Whitewater Talented and Gifted Network.

October 13, 7:00 p.m., Whitnall High School Auditorium, 5000 South 116th Street, Greenfield, WI. Community presentation on educating our gifted and talented students and book signing. Free and open to the public, but reservations are recommended. Reserve your seat by sending an e-mail to, indicating your name, the number attending and your school district's name in the subject line. Sponsored by Wisconsin CESA #1 P.A.G.E. (Parent Advocates for Gifted Education).

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:29 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teach for America is 15

Morning Edition:

Renee Montagne talks with Wendy Kopp, president and founder of Teach for America, about how far the organization has come in the last 15 years. Kopp came up with the idea for Teach for America as her senior project at Princeton and has since built it into a powerful nonprofit.

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October 7, 2005

364 Day School Opening?


A school is to consult teachers and parents on the idea of opening for lessons 364 days a year.
Teaching would take place throughout the year - even on weekends - but not everyone would be in at the same time.

Paul Mortimer, who is a government adviser and in charge of two Rochdale schools, says he wants to have a school of the 21st Century, not the 19th.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:19 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

NCLB & Privatization

Maya Portulaca Cole posted the following thoughts on the listserve of MAFAAC:

Reading through a recent article about the Portland, OR school system from In These Times, titled, "All for One, None for All: Schoolchoice policies sacrifice universal education in favor of personal freedom," I'm reminded of our own city and worry for its future.

On one hand, I think of Asa Hilliard's words that remind us that, The relative 'wealth' of the relatively small numbers of Africans in the middle-income level obscures the gross poverty of the masses of low and no income Africans. Satisfied personally, the higher income Africans may even become a buffer, silencing the voice of the masses by being in a broker position to cool out the masses, and earning money for that containment of their brothers and sisters. These brothers and sisters are usually not clear at all. Many seem not even to seek clarity. They seek entertainment."

I would argue that school vouchers may satisfy the needs of the lucky few, but it in no way will it provide for the needs of the children living in poverty - either black or white. It perpetuates the haves and the have-nots.

More than once I've heard folks remark how Madison is trending toward a smaller version of Portland (one of those supposed hip, creative, progressive, environmentally-aware communities). This makes me think of how we need to revisit No Child Left Behind and how it may change our school system as it expands.

More debate should be given to the topic of NCLB because it really captures the reality we face due to the current GOP's push for "accountability" and "school choice".

And given the context of the school board creating task forces on boundary changes and school expansion; along with Mr. Rainwater's evaluation, we could ask the board to predict where we are heading with NCLB which is essentially an unfunded mandate.

Just a thought.

Posted by Ed Blume at 4:04 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Town of Burke Aligns with DeForest

Bill Novak:

Madison's Smart Growth (land use) plan was rolled out this summer, and it put a shiver into Burke residents.

"It showed Madison stretching north to Wisconsin 19, which is the southern border of DeForest," Miller said. "When Burke officials came to us they said the residents of the town go to the DeForest schools so they wanted to be part of DeForest."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Nichols on Departing Madison School Board Member Bill Keys

John Nichols:

No member of the current Madison School Board has been more willing to throw himself into the thick of a debate - even if that meant going it alone on principle - than Bill Keys.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 6, 2005

Middle School Curriculum: Social Focus Yielding to Academics

Jay Matthews:

For two decades, policymakers have decreed that seventh grade should be a time when children have a chance to adjust to puberty and cliques and the other annoyances of turning 13. Lessons should be engaging and enriching, middle school advocates have said, but not put too much emphasis on mastering subject matter and passing difficult tests.

That attitude is changing, at Kenmore Middle School and in much of the rest of the country. Middle schools have "overemphasized emotional development at the expense of academic growth," said Mike Riley, superintendent of Bellevue, Wash., schools

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Plugged In, But Tuned Out: Getting Kids to Connect to the Non-Virtual World

Jeff Zaslow:

Children today have been labeled "the connected generation," with iPods in their ears, text messages at their fingertips and laptop screens at eye level. But their technology-focused lifestyle can also leave them disconnected from the wider world, especially from their parents.

Many teens won't give friends their home numbers, says Samantha Landau, 15, of West Hills, Calif. "They don't want friends to talk to their parents, because they don't want their parents to know about their lives."

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

Can We Talk: Some Ideas to Follow

A reader forwarded another perspective on school-parent communication in the Madison School District:

Here are some examples of really positive communication:

Our child's savvy, experienced 4th grade teacher sends home a 'weekly work ticket'. The ticket summarizes test/quiz scores, unfinished work not turned in and includes a place for teacher comments. I think this format is exceptional. It is certainly a time intensive task for the teacher. During the elementary years both of our children often had to return weekly progress slips with our signature. The teacher both children had for 3rd grade sent home a weekly newsletter that was simply a joy to read. A synopsis was created of the week's work and provocative questions were included to facilitate parent/child conversation. Example, "Tell me about the way mummies were preserved in Ancient Egypt?" The kids do have some responsibility for communication.

The loss of the 'Ready, Set, Go' conferences this year was a blow to teacher/school/parent communication but both of our schools sponsored 'Open House' nights this fall and we were given teachers' email addresses at that time. Our school also will put a call right through to the classroom, which does have voice mail.

The teaching pair at Cherokee even emailed us in advance of the Open House to invite us to attend. They made a point of polling the parents about their use of email and again distributed their addresses and encouraged communication. We also have to sign weekly reading minute slips for both of our children. We had a pleasant voice mail message last week just letting us know our child was an asset to the class.
I was reminded of my mother's insistenc on writing thank you notes - a little kindness goes a long way. You better believe I will support these teachers!

Interestingly, our eldest's middle school math teacher has been attempting to get her district email address changed for two years to reflect her married name. She did give us her current district email address and invited comments/concerns. We get a bi-monthly assessment of all math quizzes, homework assignments and tests. I think this is clearly another example of smart, experienced teachers reaching out to families to support their student's learning.

Cherokee Elementary School sponsored an optional summer program as an orientation for incoming students. The multi- day program was the result of a grant written by Principal Karen Seno to relieve the anxiety 6th graders felt about starting at a new school. The program is partially funded by MSCR and notifications were made in the Spring of the 5th grade year, at the Cherokee Open House and via a mailing to the home. The participants went on a scavenger hunt to learn the building layout, met faculty and even practiced using their combination locks. It made for a soft landing at the start of Middle School.

Cherokee students found out who their teachers were when they attended registration. The registration itself was the model of efficiency. A PTO sponsored picnic was held the first week and all of the 6th grade teachers, the learning coordinator, unified arts teachers and the Principal attended. The kids were given an incentive to introduce their parents to as many of their teachers as possible. I was impressed by the staff's commitment and enthusiasm.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:57 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


With apologies to Jonathan Swift:

Given the concerns about obesity in children - and the high cost of gasoline, I have a suggestion to deal with both. We need to redesign our buses so there are pedals for each rider - the students can provide much of the power to move the bus and reduce our reliance on gasoline while getting good exercise.

To take this one step further - we should design exercise rooms at the high schools so that bikes and treadmills also replace other energy sources.

Posted by Carol Carstensen at 4:43 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin's Student Achievement Tests: Are our kids doing as well as we think?

A recent New York Times article, "One Secret to Better Test Scores: Make State Reading Tests Easier" by Michael Winerip (10/05/05) reported that changes in k-12 achievement tests are the reason for substantially improved scores. The reporter argues that easier tests--not improved reading--account for much of the improvements claimed.

The Education Trust, a national non-profit organization, has published a study that compares student scores on state-created achievement tests with scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for each state. The most recent edition of the report covers 2003. The data support the conclusion that Wisconsin's tests may be overstating our students' achievement. For example, in Wisconsin 80% of students statewide scored at grade level or better ("Proficient or Advanced") on the Grade 4 Overall Reading and English Language Arts tests. However, only 33% of the Wisconsin sample taking the NAEP test scored at this level.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 4:24 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Can we Talk 2

I previously wrote about the lack of information received via email, internet, etc...from the school district. Since I posted that blog the District has been "experimenting" with two software systems they deem worth evaluation by parents and staff and are asking for feedback. (please go to the for more info)

But not all the communication problems with MMSD have to do with modern technology. Let me give some examples........

1. Last year I did not receive a real report card from MMSD teachers for my 1st, 4th or 6th grade students until the first week of Feb. Does this seem weird to anyone else? I contacted Jane Belmore, my principals, the teachers and was told this was MMSD policy. The first quarter is Parent/Teacher conference in November with no formal report card or grade required........the second quarter IN FEBRUARY is time for a formal grade. My problem; I have a child that is struggling with Math and by February it is "Too Darn Late" to know she is struggling to make a C. After contacting everyone listed above I was told if it was serious, I would be contacted before Feb. Here is my problem with that answer; to the MMSD staff serious seems to be a D or F, for me it is a C, because my child will never survive Math at Memorial or college with a C and I want to intervene (which I did with night classes at Kumon which is ridiculous since I can afford such a service and other families can not) before we have a C, low confidence, and more than half the year gone by!

2. The Jefferson "Back to School Night" this year was in the "Target" magazine and that was it! Jr. High students do not speak....they mumble and grunt and they are not going to tell me about "Back to School" night,or class expections (or anything else). I called the school to confirm when Back to School Night was occurring because my expectation was so low for any parental correspondence. (I later discovered this was listed on the "for a fee" calender sold on the day of registation.) Please send home a flyer to inform parents when events occur!!!!

3. Jefferson has traditionally informed students who their teacher will be, the day school starts. NOW..........I hate to tell MMSD but Jr. High students are nervous about their clothes, hair, braces, shoes, pimples, starting a new year, coolness factor, etc.......... I find it insulting that my son has to show up the first day of school to "discover" who he has as a teacher for the year. Can you eliminate the suspense so they can have some control over their lives? I find this a bazaar system and another example of no communication or the attempt to include parents in the educational process.

4. If the district is seeking to implement a new computer system of grades and information via the internet, there needs to be some (a lot) improvement in staff having a grade prior to February. No computer program is going to work or be successful if the staff is not required to have information or grades for parental review.

The NUMBER ONE factor in the success of a student is PARENT EXPECTATION (read the studies).....not the school.....not peers.....not Snoop Dog or Brett Favre.......not how beautiful or cool they are.....BUT THE #1 reason students succeed is PARENT EXPECTATION...Want to make grades across the board better......MMSD has to do a better job of informing parents so OUR expectations are HIGH and OUR students know OUR expectations are high......Talk to us.....communicate.....share......give parents the power to assert OUR control. I send my children to the black hole on a bus with no seat belt, a school with no information, a district with poor communication and I am suppose to be content with no information?
I have a vast interest in my children's lives and the lives of the students around them. Homeschooling and charter schools are succeeding because they offer parents with high expectations some control and respect. I guess that is all I am asking for is some respect for the information I have about my children, their school and their grades. Can We Talk....I hope so...Are all parents listening....I do Not Know, but give us all the benefit of the doubt and EXPECT a lot from us because I expect A LOT from you and my child. Let's talk, communicate, improve our primary goal which is to educate our children.

Posted by Mary Battaglia at 10:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Example of Board Goals

Thanks to Lawrie Kobza for her post "Superintendent's Evaluation a Step in the Right Direction."

She stresses the need for the board to set goals and expectations.

As an example of board-set goals and expectations, I noticed a list created by the board of education of the Forest Grove School District in Oregon. (I first saw the list when looking at the way the Forest Grove district used the concept of the $100 budget, promoted for use by the MMSD by Johnny Winston, Jr.)

I would add, as I have previously said on the blog, that effective goals (whether set by the MMSD or the Forest Grove district) should be measurable and time-specific.

Take this Forest Grove goal:

Increase academic achievement for all students in the district, emphasizing mathematics, literacy in reading, writing and speaking.

I'd think that it would be stronger if it read something like:

Increase academic achievement by at least 5 percentage points for all students in the district, emphasizing mathematics, literacy in reading, writing and speaking.

I hope the board successfully tackles a goal-setting process before the 1st day of the next school year, when it will need the goals to once again evaluate the superintdent's performance.

Posted by Ed Blume at 9:09 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 5, 2005

Senate Bill 286, What a waste of time

Just wanted to let everyone know that while WI tries to figure out how to pay for schools, healthcare, balance the budget, care for the needy, etc..................
Your legislatures are spending time on SB286.
In a nutshell it says "school districts should teach abstinence" as the only way to prevent STD and pregnancy. Wow, what a waste of time and your money. I received my undergraduate degree in Secondary Health and Biology education and I can assure you that all the books, lectures, and information I received in college taught me that this was the only form of "birth control" that was 100%. While I agree a great Health or Human Growth and Development class is of utmost importance to a great school district, this legislation is the biggest waste of time and tax payers money, but the biggest laugh is there are communities that will not allow you to teach Sex Education, or Human Growth and Development as we like to call it, in their schools so where does the Senate assume this statement or lecture will occur in these ultra conservative districts?

Wisconsin Legislation could not scream any louder that it is ignorant and scared of SCIENCE. Look at the bills; ban cloning, teach abstinence only, alleviate health care providers of responsibility if there is a conflict with moral judgement, and the ever popular intellegient design in science classes. We as educated parents should be concerned with science education in this state and how new legislation could effect our children's view and evaluation of science and theroy. Science is currently on the chopping block of the evagelical right and I am very concerned about legislation at the federal and state level concerning what our children are taught in Science class and whether that is decided by scientist and educators or whether it is decided by a religious political group.

Posted by Mary Battaglia at 10:51 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

One Secret to Better Test Scores: Make State Reading Tests Easier

Michael Winerip:

So? "The state test was easier," she said. Ms. Rosenstein, who has been principal 13 years and began teaching in 1974, says the 2005 state English test was unusually easy and the 2004 test unusually hard. "I knew it the minute I opened the test booklets," she said.

The first reading excerpt in the 2004 test was 451 words. It was about a family traveling west on the Oregon Trail. There were six characters to keep track of (Levi, Austin, Pa, Mr. Morrison, Miss Amelia, Mr. Ezra Zikes). The story was written in 1850's western vernacular with phrases like "I reckon," "cut out the oxen from the herd," "check over the running gear" for the oxen, "set the stock to graze," "Pa's claim."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:05 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


Establishing Performance Goals Must Be Next

I ran for the Madison School Board because I believed the Board needed to change how it did business. The majority of voters agreed with me.

I have now been on the Board for five months, and it is fair to ask whether my election really will make a difference. Will it result in the change I called for?

I am hopeful it will.

One very positive sign is that the Board is finally doing a performance evaluation of Superintendent Art Rainwater. Supervising the Superintendent is one of the Board’s most important jobs, and a major component of good supervision is regular and meaningful performance evaluations. Meaningful performance evaluations require the Board to examine how the Superintendent’s performance compares to the Board’s priorities and expectations. Good performance evaluations should identify areas of strength, and areas of recommended improvement. No one is perfect, and it should be expected that the Board identify recommended improvements for Superintendent Rainwater.

An important part of the performance evaluation process is the need for the Board to examine its priorities and expectations for the Superintendent’s performance. What does the Board expect? Has the Board communicated its expectations to the Superintendent? How will the Board measure whether the Superintendent’s performance is meeting the Board's expectations? These questions require the Board to look at its own performance. If the Board has not established expectations, has not communicated expectations, or has not established performance standards to measure progress towards its expectations, it is the Board who has failed in its performance.

In many ways, the Superintendent’s review is a review of the Board. It requires the Board to look internally and this can be uncomfortable. Perhaps that is why the Board has not reviewed the Superintendent since 2002.

But the fact that the Board is conducting the Superintendent’s performance evaluation now is a positive sign. The Board is engaging in discussions that need to be held. Will we come to consensus on every point in the evaluation? I am sure we will not. Will the final evaluation represent the views of all Board members? I doubt it will. But whatever the final product, I believe the Board’s discussions that have occurred because of the need to conduct the evaluation have been valuable.

After the performance evaluation process is complete, the next step for the Board is to set performance expectations or goals for Superintendent Rainwater for the next year. Setting these expectations is important because it ensures that the Superintendent and the Board are moving in the same direction, on the same priorities. This is the time the Board can ensure that its expectations are communicated to the Superintendent. And it is on these expectations the Superintendent’s performance should be measured next year.

As with the evaluation, it may be difficult for the Board to come to consensus on its expectations for the Superintendent for the upcoming year. But this can be no excuse. Each of us asked to be elected to the School Board and we must do the job we were elected to do.

Will there be real change on the Madison School Board? I hope so. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It happens one step at a time. Conducting the Superintendent’s performance evaluation will be one step in the right direction. Setting priorities and expectations for the Superintendent for the 2005-2006 school year will be another.

Posted by Lawrie Kobza at 3:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Doyle Wants to Increase Math and Science Requirements

Gov. Doyle says he wants high school students to take another year of math and science. Doyle says the move will make students better prepared for the future.

The announcement came when Gov. Jim Doyle released his Grow Wisconsin agenda last week.

"Part of my 2005 agenda is to require a 3rd year of math and science for all high school graduates."

Currently, high school students only need two years of math and science to graduate. But colleges often require at least three years, so most kids are already above the requirements.

"Our class of 2005 70 percent of our graduates took three or more years of math and science," says Joe Quick, spokesman for the Madison School District.

While Quick says this is a great idea on the surface, he says schools would have to add more math and science teachers and classes.

"It could be offset by dropping other classes. A kid who wanted to take a fine arts class– that might be something that gets dropped from the curriculum."

The kids that don't voluntarily take the extra math and science classes are not going to college, but Cora Marrett says one day, they might.

"One of the problems is that a number of students who think they might not go on to college find later that they do need the college experience."

Marrett works in Academic Affairs for the UW System, and she says many people who want to attend college later in life have even more work to do if they don't have the requirements in hand. Sometimes they just give up.

"The more limited the background in math and science the fewer the options."

Quick says there are definite pros and cons to the proposal, "Is three years of math and science necessary for every child who graduates from high school in Wisconsin? There will have to be a public discussion about that."

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 3:01 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MMSD Purchase of School Site

Here's the agenda for a special meeting of the Board of Education:

Monday October 10th, 2005
6:00pm - Special BOE Meeting, Doyle Admin Bldg, Rm 103
* Purchase of School Site
* Behavior and Discipline Plan
Posted by Ed Blume at 12:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 4, 2005

New Elementary Attendance Compared to Last Year

You can find the attendance by elementary school for the 2004-2005 school year compared to the newly release figures for the 2005-2006 school year. The comparisons are grouped by high school attendance area. Click here.

ps My apologies for the earlier and erroneous chart. I replaced it with one that should be accurate. If it isn't, please let me know. And always remember, take nothing at face value from me or the MMSD. Always check and double-check.

Posted by Ed Blume at 8:00 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Swaps Books for Bytes


A school in Arizona, US, has thrown out its paper-based text books and is relying solely on laptops and digital material to teach its pupils.

Empire High School is one of a band of schools which is taking computer technology out of the classroom and into students' bags.

Calvin Baker, chief superintendent of the Vail School district, told BBC World Service programme Go Digital that it has not signalled the total demise of text books

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:07 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

News Release: Madison Schools Enrollment Is 24,490

Student enrollment in the Madison Metropolitan School District for the 2005-06 school year is 24,490 according to the official enrollment count conducted on the third Friday in September, as required by state law. The number represents a decrease from last year of 220 students or eight-tenths of one percent.

This figure aligns with the district’s most recent projected student count -- 24,524. The total enrollment is only 34 students (0.1%) lower than this projection.

“When you look at the long-term trend statistically, our district-wide student enrollment remains stable,” said Superintendent Art Rainwater. “Of concern now – and one of the reasons two community task forces are working on possible solutions -- is under-enrollment in some of our schools and high enrollment in others.”

In comparison to last year, the number of elementary students (gr. K-5) is up 143, partially due to the largest kindergarten class since September 1996 – 1,957. There are 151 fewer middle school students (grades 6-8), and 212 fewer high school students (gr. 9-12).

Download file

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 2:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Excess school supplies

In our dive travels, we have happened upon rural schools in remote parts of the world operating with little in the way of supplies. Dive outfits who bring folks to these areas are a great conduit for getting supplies to these isolated areas.

A nifty service project perhaps for some enterprising students would be to gather up those extra notebooks, pencils, art supplies, etc at the end of the year, things that often get tossed, and ship them, or send them along with area divers, to these poor schools. The same of course could be done for schools in this country. I mention the international connection only because I'm familiar with some of the dive operators who expressed a willlingness to do the delivery and the extreme scarcity of school resources.

I'm in the phone book!

Posted by at 9:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Bucks 4 Books

This is a neat idea for helping out students displaced by the hurricanes administered by the League of Women Voters. The Wisconsin League is checking to see if MMSD is following up on the grant request piece. Read on if you'd like to contribute:

Melanie Ramey, President
LWV of Wisconsin
122 State Street, Suite. 405
Madison, WI 53703-2500
Phone: 608-256-0827
Fax: 608-256-2853

Dear Melanie,

Due to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, many students (K-12) in the Gulf States (Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas) have been driven from their homes and schools. The League of Women Voters of Louisiana Education fund has approved the "Bucks 4 Books" campaign to raise funds to support the displaced children from the Gulf States in their new school districts, whether those school districts are located elsewhere in their native state or in any other of the 48 contiguous states. The LWV of LA Ed Fund needs your support and help in the following tasks:

1. Helping to raise the funds to support this project by sending the attached letter to all of the League,
League allies and partners, the Parent Teacher Organizations, and everyone in your personal e-mail address book(s).

2. Help us to identify the school districts in your state that have taken in the Hurricane evacuees and
encourage the school districts to write for a grants application for financial support of those children's education materials.

These young people have lost their homes; they do not have to lose their hope. Remember, children learn from example. When we are responsible for them, they will become the responsible future citizens, whom our country needs.

The 100% of the "Bucks for Books" funds raised will be administered in accordance to the guidelines outlined in the attached letter. Since this is a 100% flow through of funds, all solicitation for this campaign will be by e-mail and no expenses may be charged against the donations. All checks should be may payable to: LWV of Louisiana Education Fund, P. O. Box 4451, Baton Rouge, LA 70821-4451

The League of Women Voters is uniquely positioned to meet this challenge with local League presents in all states. Please help us to help our children and the very generous school districts that have taken them in. Please encourage your State League, Local Leagues, Friends, Neighbors and Allies to enthusiastically embrace this very special project, "Bucks 4 Books." We must measure up for our young people and always . . .

Share the Spirit of League,
Jean Armstrong, President
LWV of Louisiana Education Fund
LWV of Louisiana

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East Meets West in the Classroom

ABC News:

Carol's school in China is sharply focused on math and sciences. In one day she takes math, two physics classes and three chemistry classes. In Emily's school in Maryland, interest in these subjects is dwindling.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 3, 2005

An Embattled School Chief's Parting Fight

Daniel de Vise:

It is perhaps the final chance for Smith to impose his vision, and his will, on a school system he set out to transform three years ago. He has built much of his reputation in Anne Arundel by importing or expanding rigorous programs such as IB, on the theory that an infusion of challenging coursework would benefit all.

Smith acknowledges that completing the trio of IB schools is "a very important piece" of his plan, and his legacy, in the county.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:17 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

60 Madison Students Named National Merit Scholars

Madison Metropolitan School District:

The third most students in Madison history — 60 — have qualified as semifinalists in competition for the 2006 National Merit Scholarship Awards. Three Madison students earned National Merit Achievement semifinalist status. This is the sixth straight year that at least 56 Madison students have achieved semifinalist status, a number not reached by any of the previous classes. That's quite remarkable because the National Merit Corporation says that about 1.3% of test-taking students become semifinalists. Based on that percentage, the Madison district should have about 10 semifinalists. Only last year and the year before did Madison have more semifinalists, 69 and 67 respectively.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

High Quality Teaching make the difference

Young, Gifted and Black, by Perry, Steele and Hilliard is a little gem of a book. (Hereafter, YGB). The subtitle is “Promoting High Achievement Among African-American Students”. Though specifically addressing African-American kids, the descriptions and proscriptions proposed can be applied to all – important, given the continual poor showing of U.S. students generally on international tests (OECD PISA, TIMSS).

It is the section written by Asa Hilliard, Professor of Urban Education at Georgia State University, that addresses the real “gap” and real “reform”. The following attempts to summarize his positions and arguments:

The real gap for all students, not just Black, is the gap between student performance and excellence. Where does one start to close the gap? – by relying on the experiences of teachers who do not fail to achieve excellence in all their students, regardless of background – these experiences have always been around, but few educators want to acknowledge. It is in this protected environment of excellence in education that the theories of curriculum, and excuses of deprivation, of language, of failure can be unmasked.

Absolute, instead of relative, standards of excellence can start with the 1983 College Board “Green Book”, detailing what students should know and be able to do upon high school graduation. Though there can always be improvements in standards, and differences about standards may exist around the edges, there is often little debate as to real accomplishments at some schools.

In mathematics, Project SEED and the Marcus Garvey School in Los Angeles represent such excellence. At Marcus Garvey, teachers are able to teach higher level of mathematics to traditionally low-performing student groups, and at ages earlier than more privileged groups. At Marcus Garvey, students are prepared in earlier grades and then are taught calculus during 5th grade. It can be done anywhere. As we will see, there is no magic, just good teaching.

That these excellent teachers succeed is to fundamentally challenge the conventional wisdom in teacher education, and educational research, theory and practice. These teachers worked, applying old methods, in old school facilities, without Ritalin, without vouchers, using rudimentary theoretical notions, with low technologies, and with no standarized cookie-cutter “research-based” programs or centralized micromanagement of the instructional process. For them, IQ scores did not predict achievement, cultural deprivation theory did not explain achievement, sociological theories about the correlation of socioeconomic status with achievement were irrelevant.

Current educational research has been, and continues to be rife with cultural deficit theories, demographic explanations of failure -- reflecting a terrible pessimism about the power of teachers, parents, and students. Educational researchers prefer controlled, large-scale experiments, comparing one cookie-cutter approach to others, and ignoring the many, single instances of atypical high performances with typically underachieving children – treating them as statistical outliers – errors outside the clean Bell curve of their expectations.

The education professions popular opinions for low performance of students, poor and/or black help and encourage the approaches to educational service that ultimately succeed in limiting the achievement of students. Each of these popular opinions needs to be submitted to those teachers and schools who have achieved excellence – the “gap closers” – for validation.

One such popular explanation is “acting white” – an explanation that even Black researchers have become enamored with – a simple explanation that fits the preferred paradigm of many educational consumers. Another popular explanation is internalization of teachers’ expectations of inferiority – again this fits the preferred paradigm of some. A third popular explanation is socioeconomic status and crime. And finally, the “critical periods” explanation – a generalization of ideas of imprinting of birds and rodents to human beings – that says if certain achievements do not occur at a certain age, then failure to close the gap is virtually certain.

In each of these cases, the experience of the “gap closers” is significantly different. Their experience, to the person, is that the above explanations and hypotheses are false. The acceptance of these false hypotheses exists only because there is a desire to have it persist. There is no excuse for the failure to accept, failure to understand, failure to study and emulate the “gap closers”.

There is now sufficient published evidence in the literature to demonstrate just how easy it is to produce high achievement in typically low-performing schools: Schmoker, 1999; Haycock, 1999; Sizemore, 1988; Sizemore, Brosard, Harrigan, 1994; Saunders, Rivers, 1996; Comer, 1980; Hughes, 1995; Jones, 1981; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Levine, Lezotte, 1990; Watson, Smiterman, 1996.

What makes gap-closing success possible? What features do such programs and teaching share? What do they look and feel like?

Project SEED at Berkley High School in California, is taught by Bill Johntz. Unlike most commercial educational programs that claim high achievement with low-income, cultural minority students, many of which actually produce less achievement, Project SEED works. Project SEED teaches children algebra, trigonometry, and recently calculus. Evaluation studies of the program show that the children gain two (2) years in arithmetic scores on standardized tests for each year of instruction. This translates not only into high mathematics scores, but significant increases of self-concept and self-esteem, and improvements in communication and social skills.

Bill Johntz teaches using the Socratic method. The class is alive with questions, probing, explanations, reasoning, excitement, high level content and thinking by children – results which confound those whose paradigms reject the notion of such children, or any children, displaying such skills.

However, it was quite clear from the outset, watching this class in action, that the teacher would have to possess a deep knowledge of mathematics, something that is very rare among public school teachers.

There is no way that the line of questions in response to students’ responses could be framed in an instant if the teacher did not know his or her subject in depth; many teachers teach outside their fields or receive most of their preparation in methodology rather than in content, and would be unprepared to engage students at the level necessary to achieve such excellence.

It is a wonderful sight to see – to take students who perform typically two or three years below grade level in arithmetic and engage them in high-level conceptually oriented mathematics within a few days. It challenges a whole host of common assumptions among educators about teaching and learning – assumptions about methodology, student mental capacity, student mental health and behavioral characteristics, and so on.

Though Project SEED and other successful gap-closing examples, and even whole successful schools have demonstrated excellence, they are frequent targets of school leaders. They are often seen as “not team players”. They do not fit the programs that are “research-based”. They are almost always ignored in typical research studies. The feeling seems to be that these teachers and these schools are unique or charimatic, and that what they do is beyond other teachers and schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. These examples lead where we should go.

What do we do? The public policy paradigm is fatally flawed and misguided. The common misguided policies and reforms include manipulating test scores in high-stake testing, using school vouchers, using school charters, purchasing commercial programs, bureaucratizing the educational processes, especially remedial and special education, such as Individual Education Plan team assessment and micromanagement of the educational process.

In general, educators have pursued “decoy issues”, such as testing, the preoccupation with “child capacity”, and school “reform”. However, as illustrated above, the essence should be approaches that encourage high-quality teaching. We, now, focus most of our attention on the children and little on the quality of the services and equity in its distribution.

Schools of Education, instead, must begin turning out gap-closing teachers and principals. But this is unlikely unless the Schools of Education contain gap-closing faculty, especially those in charge of clinical experience for teachers and school leaders.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 12:43 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 2, 2005

City of the Big Gaps

Luis Alberto Urrea:

But few of the hundreds, if not thousands, of poor evacuees now staring at Chicago's formidable towers are likely to enjoy the good fortunes of A. J. Liddell. And that's the larger story of the local economy: that in this era of outsourcing, housing bubbles and budget deficit pay-downs, the traditional Chicago gap between haves and have-nots has eroded into a chasm.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:53 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teach for America

Tamara Lewin:

For a surprisingly large number of bright young people, Teach for America - which sends recent college graduates into poor rural and urban schools for two years for the same pay and benefits as other beginning teachers at those schools - has become the next step after graduation. It is the postcollege do-good program with buzz, drawing those who want to contribute to improving society while keeping their options open, building an ever-more impressive résumé and delaying long-term career decisions.

This year, Teach for America drew applications from 12 percent of Yale's graduates, 11 percent of Dartmouth's and 8 percent of Harvard's and Princeton's. The group also recruits for diversity, and this year got applications from 12 percent of the graduates of Spelman College, a historically black women's college in Atlanta

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:49 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Study Faults High-Stakes Testing

Terrence Stutz:

High-stakes testing in Texas and across the nation has had
little impact on student achievement and is disproportionately targeting
minority students – as evidenced by increased retention and dropout
rates in many states – according to a study by researchers in Texas and Arizona.

The study, which examined the impact of high-stakes testing in Texas and 24 other states, found "no convincing evidence" that the pressure
associated with those tests – such as threatened sanctions for low
scores – produced better student achievement than would otherwise have
been expected.

Via Tom Maxwell.

"A rapidly growing body of research evidence on the harmful effects of high-stakes testing, along with no reliable evidence of improved performance by students, suggests that we need a moratorium in public education on the use of high-stakes testing," said Sharon L. Nichols of the University of Texas at San Antonio, lead author of the report.

The study, released Tuesday by the Education Policy Studies Laboratory
at Arizona State University, was undertaken to gauge the impact of the
federal No Child Left Behind Act. States are required under the law to
administer standardized tests that are used to hold schools and school
districts accountable for student achievement.

Dr. Nichols and the research team reached their conclusions by creating a so-called Pressure Rating Index that ranked states based on how much pressure they put on schools to improve test scores. Texas had the highest index – based on tougher requirements and other factors – and Kentucky had the lowest among the 25 states.

Scores of each state on the National Assessment of Educational Progress were then evaluated against the indexes to determine whether a higher level of pressure on schools produced higher scores on the national test.

"The theory of action implied by this accountability program is that the pressure of high-stakes testing will increase student achievement," the researchers said. "But this study finds that pressure created by high-stakes testing has had almost no important influence on student academic performance."

Among the key findings of the study, titled "High-Stakes Testing and
Student Achievement: Problems for the No Child Left Behind Act," were:

•States with greater proportions of minority students implemented
accountability systems that exerted greater pressure on educators and
their schools. An unintended consequence is that problems associated
with high-stakes testing disproportionately affect minority students.

•Increased testing pressure is related to increased retention and
dropout rates. High-stakes testing in some states has increased the
number the number of students – beginning with the eighth grade – who
will leave school before their senior year in high school.

•Reading scores on the NAEP – administered in grades four and eight –
did not improve as a result of increased testing pressure. That finding was consistent across all ethnic groups. While there was a weak correlation between pressure and fourth-grade math scores, researchers said the connection was more likely the result of "teaching to the test."

Dr. Nichols said Tuesday that while all states fall under the basic
mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act, states have discretion in
meeting the requirements – such as the minimum percentage of students
that must pass the state achievement test for the school campus or
district to hit annual improvement targets.

In Texas, schools must show "Adequate Yearly Progress" on the Texas
Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Unlike Texas, which puts most of the emphasis on TAKS scores, Kentucky
considers other criteria such as teacher evaluations of students,
according to Dr. Nichols.

This year, nearly 87 percent of school districts and 77 percent of
campuses in Texas made adequate progress under the federal law. Both
figures were down sharply from a year ago because of tougher standards
that took effect in the 2004-05 school year. For example, more students had to pass the math and reading sections of the TAKS.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:36 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 1, 2005

WestEd Book: How California's Most Challenged High Schools are Sending More Kids to College

Jordan Horowitz's Inside High School Reform, Making the Changes that Matter details the turnaround approaches that are preparing more students for college - disadvantaged students who wouldn't get there otherwise.

  1. Treat teachers as the trained education professionals they are.
  2. Hold students to high expectations.
  3. Continually use school, teacher, and student data to decide what changes to make next.
  4. Start with what you want students to know and achieve, then work backwards to create tests and lesson plans.
  5. Coordinate lesson plans and tests within departments and across grades and schools.
  6. Don't take the "easy way out" when deciding how to help underachieving kids.
  7. Create an optimistic, college-going culture and help students understand how high school work affects their future college and career choices.
  8. Develop flexible school systems to maintain reforms that work.
  9. Find partners such as local colleges, businesses, other schools, and parent groups to provide help.
  10. Stay alert for new partners, activities, and funding streams while maintaining a focus on reform.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:56 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas