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November 30, 2005

Paying Children for Performance

NY Post:

Under the pilot, a national testing firm will devise a series of reading and math exams to be given to students at intervals throughout the school year.

Students will earn the cash equivalent to a quarter of their total score — $20 for scoring 80 percent, for instance — and an additional monetary reward for improving their grades on subsequent tests....

Levin said details about the number of exams, what grades would be tested, funding for the initiative — which would be paid for with private donations — and how the cash will be distributed are still being hammered out....

"There are people who are worried about giving kids extra incentives for something that they should intrinsically be able to do," Fryer said. "I understand that, but there is a huge achievement gap in this country, and we have to be proactive."

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Morning Links

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November 29, 2005

Joy Cardin and Marcy Braun: Nutrition and Schools

Wisconsin Public Radio:

Wednesday, November 30, 2005 at 6:00 AM
What our kids are eat at school can send the wrong message about health and nutrition. So says Joy Cardin's guest, today after six. Guest: Marcy Braun ("brown"), nutritionist with the UW Health - Pediatric Fitness Clinic. She is a panelist at tonight's Nutrition and Schools Forum in Madison.
UPDATE: MP3 Audio of this broadcast

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Report Proposes Employee Health Insurance Savings through Switch to State Health Care Plan

According to a recent report by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, the Madison school district could save $2.4M per year by negotiating health insurance coverage for its teachers through the state's employee health insurance plan, rather than continue with Group Health (HMO) and Wisconsin Physician's Service plans.

The $100 Million Question: Breaking the Health Insurance Monopoly".

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Letter to Performance and Achievement Committee

The following letter was hand delivered to Shwaw Vang a week ago, and email copies were sent to the Board, Superintendent Rainwater, and Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash. There so far has been no response. A follow up email was sent yesterday to the Performance and Achievement Committee again asking that they look into why the English 9 curriculum has not worked in raising student achievement before allowing West High School to implement changes in the 10th grade English curriculum.

Dear Shwaw,

We are writing to you in your capacity as Chair of the BOE Performance and Achievement Committee to ask that you address a critical situation currently unfolding at West High School.

Enclosed you will find a copy of a report entitled "Evaluation of the SLC Project at West High School," written by SLC Evaluator Bruce King and dated November 2, 2005. The report focuses on the West administration's plans to overhaul 10th grade English.

For many years West sophomores -- like West juniors and seniors -- have chosen their English courses from an impressive list of electives that range in content and difficulty level. According to the report, the overarching reason for changing the existing system for 10th grade English is the concern that the elective structure contributes to unequal educational opportunities across different student groups. Specifically, there is concern that some groups of students do not sign up for the more rigorous, higher level electives. There is also concern that some West students complete their English credits without taking any literature courses. In essence, the proposal makes 10th grade English a lot like English 9 -- a standardized curriculum delivered in heterogeneous classes. The thing is, English 9 has not had the desired effect on these indicators of student achievement.

When you read the report, you will discover that English 9 -- which has been in place at West for several years -- has not done much to close the gap in achievement in English among West students. Thus the report recommends that "ongoing critical reflection and analysis of both the 9th and 10th grade English courses [is] needed [in order to] address ... concerns [such as] the failure rate for 9th grade English and which students are failing [because] it is not clear if a common 9th grade course has helped close the achievement gap" (emphasis added).

The report also states that "in addition, an action research group might be formed to evaluate the 9th grade course, including levels of expectations and differentiation, failure rates by student groups, and the extent to which it has helped or hindered students to take challenging English courses in subsequent years. Apparently, it hasn't helped some groups of students that much (emphasis added). Why? What needs to be changed so it does, and so the 10th grade course does, as well?"

In a word, we find it unconscionable to think that the West administration would expand a program into the 10th grade that has so clearly failed to achieve its objectives in the 9th grade. We can't help but suspect that a look at the hard data would convince any reasonable person that the appropriate and responsible course of action, at this juncture, would be to figure out why English 9 hasn't worked and fix it before making any changes to the 10th grade curriculum.

As Chair of the Performance and Achievement Committee, would you please take responsibility for obtaining from the MMSD Research and Evaluation Department the 9th grade data that goes along with the above statements from the report? Would you also please make these data public and schedule a public discussion of them at a Performance and Achievement Committee meeting?

We must stress to you the time urgency of this matter. At the November 7 West PTSO meeting -- when the West administration and English Department first introduced the proposal for English 10 -- it was mentioned that the West course catalogue is due at the printer in December. This leaves very little time for the public discussion that should have been an essential element of this curriculum change process. Consequently, we ask that you please obtain the data and hold a public discussion of them immediately.

Many thanks for your prompt attention to this urgent matter.


Laurie Frost, Jeff Henriques, Larry Winkler, Jim Zellmer, Joan Knoebel, Michael Cullenward, Ed Blume, Kathy Riddiough, Jane Doughty, Janet Mertz, Stephanie Stetson, Nancy Zellmer, Jan Edwards, and Don Severson

Link to the SLC report:

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WSJ: Texas School Finance Lesson

Wall Street Journal Review and Outlook:

The Texas Supreme Court did the expected last week and struck down the statewide property tax for funding public schools. But what was surprising and welcome was the Court's unanimous ruling that the Texas school system, which spends nearly $10,000 per student, satisfies the funding "adequacy" requirements of the state constitution. Most remarkable of all was the court's declaration that "more money does not guarantee better schools or more educated students."

In one of the most notorious cases, in Kansas City, Missouri in the 1980s, a judge issued an edict requiring a $1 billion tax hike to help the failing inner-city schools. This raised expenditures to about $14,000 per student, or double the national average, but test scores continued to decline. Even the judge later admitted that he had blundered.

LA education writer Paul Ciotti wrote in 1998 about the Kansas City Experiment:
In fact, the supposedly straightforward correspondence between student achievement and money spent, which educators had been insisting on for decades, didn't seem to exist in the KCMSD. At the peak of spending in 1991-92, Kansas City was shelling out over $11,700 per student per year.(123) For the 1996-97 school year, the district's cost per student was $9,407, an amount larger, on a cost-of-living-adjusted basis, than any of the country's 280 largest school districts spent.(124) Missouri's average cost per pupil, in contrast, was about $5,132 (excluding transportation and construction), and the per pupil cost in the Kansas City parochial system was a mere $2,884.(125)

The lack of correspondence between achievement and money was hardly unique to Kansas City. Eric Hanushek, a University of Rochester economist who testified as a witness regarding the relationship between funding and achievement before Judge Clark in January 1997, looked at 400 separate studies of the effects of resources on student achievement. What he found was that a few studies showed that increased spending helped achievement; a few studies showed that increased spending hurt achievement; but most showed that funding increases had no effect one way or the other.(126)

Between 1965 and 1990, said Hanushek, real spending in this country per student in grades K-12 more than doubled (from $2,402 to $5,582 in 1992 dollars), but student achievement either didn't change or actually fell. And that was true, Hanushek found, in spite of the fact that during the same period class size dropped from 24.1 students per teacher to 17.3, the number of teachers with master's degrees doubled, and so did the average teacher's number of years of experience.(127)

More on Ciotti

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater "implemented the largest court-ordered desegregation settlement in the nation's history in Kansas City, Mo" Google search | Clusty Search

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The Colossal Campus Challenge

Jay Matthews:

As states, school systems and private groups, backed by donations from software magnate Bill Gates, put new emphasis on making high schools smaller, monster campuses such as Robinson increasingly look out of place. Yet many of the educators who run them say big is not always bad and point to an array of unusual opportunities that large schools provide students.

"The fact that our school is so large allows us to offer a wide variety of electives that we may not be able to offer otherwise," said Shawn Ashley, principal of Long Beach Polytechnic High School in California, which has 4,779 students in ninth through 12th grades. Long Beach Poly's electives include print shop, auto shop, drafting, electronics, six kinds of art, nine science courses and many music choices.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:47 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

NYT Editorial: A Victory For Education

New York Times Editorial:

A federal judge in Michigan took exactly the right action last week when he dismissed a transparent attempt by the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, to sabotage the No Child Left Behind education act. The ruling validates Congress's right to require the states to administer tests and improve students' performance in exchange for federal education aid. Unfortunately, it will not put an end to the ongoing campaign to undermine the law, which seeks to hold teachers and administrators more closely accountable for how their schools perform.

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November 28, 2005

Madison School District Podcasts

Conversations with current Board of Education members in mp3 format can be found here. Art Rainwater's September and October messages are posted (in mp3 format) here. Both can be used with itunes automated podcast subscription tools.

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Thoreau Boundary Change Grassroots Work

Erin Weiss and Gina Hodgson (Thoreau PTO) engage in some impressive grassroots work:

November 28, 2005

Dear Thoreau Families, Staff, Teachers and Friends,

Now is the time for you to get involved in the MMSD redistricting process! This Thursday, December 1 at 6:30pm, a Public Forum will be held at Cherokee Middle School. This forum is being sponsored by the Board of Education in conjunction with the District’s Long Range Planning Committee and Redistricting Task Force. Please come to this forum to hear about the progress of the Redistricting Task Force, but more importantly, to share your opinions and ideas.

On the following pages is a brief description of the current Task Force ideas (as of November 28). Please bear with us if all the information presented below is not completely accurate. These ideas are changing rapidly and we are doing our best to summarize them for you with the information that is currently available. Please know that Al Parker, our Thoreau Task Force Representative, has been working hard for Thoreau school at Task Force meetings. He is a strong supporter of our school as it exists today.

The PTO will strive to provide you with the most up to date information throughout the redistricting process this year. Please be assured that we support ALL Thoreau students, families, staff and neighborhoods and will not choose to support any one neighborhood or group over another.

We have been working to find “neighborhood leaders” for each area of students that currently attend Thoreau. These neighborhood leaders will help to inform their neighborhood or area of new redistricting ideas or options as they arise. If you are interested in being a “neighborhood leader” or in helping to organize any redistricting efforts in your area, please contact the PTO or your neighborhood leader listed below. We can and will help neighborhoods or groups disseminate information to the Thoreau community in hopes that sharing information will promote understanding of all points of view.

A group of parents from several Thoreau neighborhoods have developed some “talking points” as a response to some of the task force ideas. We have attached the talking points for your reference. Please contact Heidi Pankoke (contact information is below under Nakoma) with any questions about those.

Erin Weiss 232-9906
Gina Hodgson 218-9240

Neighborhood Leaders:

Marlborough Heights
Dunns Marsh/Crawford Heights
Carrie Wilkomm willkomm at
Kristi Sprague Klepzig bananamoon at

Debbie Pilona-Turner

Arbor Hills
Need a volunteer

Curry Parkway
Need a volunteer

Fish Hatchery Area
Need a volunteer

West of Midvale
Melissa Meyer healthysolutions at

Dudgeon Monroe
Jill Karofsky/Jason Knutson jkarofsky at

Heidi Pankoke hmpwis at

Andrew Olson noslo4 at

Allied Drive/Crescent Rd Area
Katy Farrens
katyfarrens at

*Nakoma includes areas East of Midvale, South of Odana Rd., North of the Beltline Highway (including Winslow Way, Mohawk, Doncaster, etc.)


Memorial/West Attendance Area Task Force

November 28, 2005 Toki Middle School
6:30 p.m. All Purpose Room

November 29, 2005 Jefferson Middle School
6:30 p.m. Cafeteria

November 30, 2005 Hamilton Middle School
6:30 p.m. Cafeteria

December 1, 2005 Cherokee Middle School
6:30 p.m. Gymnasium

Madison Metropolitan School District
Madison, Wisconsin
Art Rainwater, Superintendent


Agenda: SPECIAL MEETING – Open Session

Thursday Cherokee Middle School
December 1, 2005 4301 Cherokee Drive, Gym
6:30 p.m. Madison, Wisconsin

Special Meeting of the Madison School Board and the West/Memorial Attendance Areas Demographics and Long Range Facility Needs Task Force Community Forum

Call to Order

Purpose of the West/Memorial Area Demographics and Long Range Facility Needs Task Force Community Forum

Summary of the process and procedures used by the West/Memorial Area Demographics and Long Range Facility Needs Task Force to develop the options created by the West/Memorial Area Demographics and Long Range Facility Needs Task Force to address the issues of:

Elementary schools in the Memorial and West attendance areas that have overcrowded student populations

Projected growth of the elementary schools in the Memorial and West attendance areas

Disparity of the income of parents whose children attend elementary schools in the Memorial and West attendance areas

4. The A2a, A2c, B2a, B2b, and C3 options created by the West/Memorial Area Demographics and Long Range Facility Needs Task Force

5. Public hearing on A2a, A2c, B2a, B2b, and C3 options created by the West/Memorial Area Demographics and Long Range Facility Needs Task Force

6. Summary of what transpired at this community forum and next steps the West/Memorial Area Demographics and Long Range Facility Needs Task Force will take to complete its task

BOE Meeting Dates Task Force Meeting Dates
December 19 December 6
January 30 December 20
November 10

Redistricting Task Force Summary of Ideas – November 29, 2005

Following is a brief description of the most recent developments of the Redistricting Task Force. Please use this as a guide to what will be discussed the Public Forum on December 1 at Cherokee Middle School at 7pm. Also included is an Agenda for the December 1 meeting, as well as a list of dates and locations for all the Public Forums this week.

If you would like more detailed information, such as Task Force Meeting Minutes, district statistics, or to post a question or comment on the online forum, visit the district website at HYPERLINK "" and click on Long Range Planning toward the bottom left side of the page. In addition, contact Al Parker at 288-0214, the Thoreau Task Force Representative, with your concerns, comments or ideas.

Following are the “values” the task force will be using to make decisions about ideas/options

No student in the district should have to ride the bus more than 45 minutes one way

Avoid high concentration of low income students at any school

Keep geographically defined neighborhoods together and consider proximity to schools.

Since the first Public Forum on November 15, the Task Force has broken its ideas into three main categories (called Group A, B & C).

  • Group A – Ideas involving building a new schools on the West Side (involves referenda)
  • Group B – Ideas addressing new growth and income disparity by major boundary change initiatives requiring moving of many students
  • Group C – Ideas addressing new growth and income disparity while moving the least students

The Task Force has developed several ideas under each group, a few of which have been dropped from discussion, and several of which remain as working ideas. Below we will describe current ideas and more specifically how each could affect Thoreau. Unfortunately, many of these ideas are not currently posted on the mmsd website, and even Task Force Representatives do not have all the details regarding the affects of these ideas.

Low-income percentages as a result of these ideas are not yet available. Hopefully, they will be available on or before Thursday evening. Check the website daily for any updates.

Currently, one idea remains under Group A. It is a proposal to build a school on the far West Side (Idea A2c). The idea to build a school at the Leopold Site was removed, as the task force did not see the possibility of building two new schools as a viable option. Idea A2a (not listed here) was voted on and dropped at the last Task Force meeting on November 23, therefore, it is unclear why it remains on the agenda above.

Idea A2c – Effects upon Thoreau
Allied Drive would attend Crestwood and Stephens
Thoreau would gain students currently attending other schools

Currently, two ideas remain under Group B. One includes a Thoreau/Leopold pair (Idea B2b) and the other includes a Leopold/Lincoln pair (Idea B2a). Both ideas have very significant ramifications for the students who currently attend Thoreau.

Idea B2b -Effects of Thoreau/Leopold Pair Upon Thoreau:
Only two grades would attend Thoreau, most likely grades 4 and 5.
Several current Thoreau neighborhoods would NOT be part of the pair.
Marlborough Height would attend Van Hise
Allied Drive would attend Crestwood and Stephens
Many more children would be bussed than are currently.

Idea B2a - Effects of Leopold/Lincoln Pair Upon Thoreau:
Many students who currently attend Thoreau would be bussed to other schools
Marlborough Heights to Midvale
Curry Parkway to Midvale
Alhambra to Midvale
West of Midvale toVan Hise
Allied Drive to Crestwood/Stephens

Currently two ideas remain under Group C. The two current ideas, C1 and C2, do not have as significant an affect upon Thoreau. Under one of the C1 or C2 ideas (and it is unclear which one), Allied Drive students will stay at Thoreau. Under the other idea, it is possible that Allied Drive will go to Crestwood or Stephens and not Thoreau. These ideas are still being developed.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:44 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Did anyone else read Michael O'Shea in Sunday's Parade this weekend? Only one state, Illinois, has PE mandatory in K - 12 and 40% of our elementary schools throughout the nation no longer set aside time for recess. See or

Is it me or is there a reason students are heavier, and is there a reason 1/4 of students attending American schools take some form of mood altering medication?

My happy, busy 2nd grade son, who loves school and gets along well with his peers, has been the subject of well meaning teachers requesting an ADHD evaluation. Are we treating kids so they can survive an 8 hour day without activity? Is this in the best interest of our children or to accommodate the "union approved schedule"?

My son has P.E. three times a week and recess for 25 minutes in an 8 hour day 4 days a week. He is 8. I take more breaks from work than he does. We (the nation) really don't get it. I look at the people I currently know who are successful as adults and not many of them sat still for 8 hours a day without activity, creativity, and pure frustration from adults around them nor were they medicated or prevented from physical activity due to budget cuts and testing. I can include in this list

  • my physician husband, (76 stitches by the time he was 10),
  • my cardiac surgeon brother-in-law, (who was told by teachers over and over he would never succeed because he never sat still as is his the same with his son),
  • my lawyer cousin who was always fighting those in authority (as is his son).
Not one of these adults were medicated as children but everyone of their children have been asked to be evaluated for ADHD. I don't disapprove of meds to help a real problem and I have seen the devastation of mental illness in my own family but students that love school, and have positive relationships at school, do we do them a disservice by turning to meds first?

We should let them move first then see what happens. I don't encourage hostile, ill behaved students but are we encouraging growth, creativity within unique students that succeed by eliminating movement? We need to let kids move so they can concentrate.

Let's keep Madison kids moving so they can think.

Posted by Mary Battaglia at 2:35 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Revisit and Evaluate a Strings Change

I know this topic is discussed every year but I want to re-visit the success of the administrative change to 4/5 strings based on budgetary demands versus academic demands.
The 4/5 strings was changed to once a week this year from twice a week last year. The choices the board juggled was no strings in 4/5, twice a week 5th only, or once a week 4/5 strings due to the budget cuts. While I applaud the board for trying to work with the community I would love some feedback on how the once a week 4/5 decision is working at other schools.
For my daughter, and I can only speak for her and a few of her friends, this is what we have experienced.........

In fourth grade, my daughter and several of her friends loved strings once they got the hang of it. She practiced all the time, played for her 95 year old grandmother in Texas on her birthday, took a summer strings camp provided by MSCR, and even (with not much whining)talked me into renting a violin over the summer so she could play.

In her fifth grade class, there are 35 kids in her strings class, twice as many as last year. She also only has class on Thursday. This month she has had a Teacher Conference, field trip, testing, and Thanksgiving break on Thursday and therefore she has not had strings in a month. Due to the class size half of the time is spend tuning the instruments and the other half seems frustrating to my daughter as there are so many kids and so little time.

I do not want to see 4/5 strings eliminated but would like to re-evaluate. If we only have limited funds perhaps I was wrong and it should just be for 5th graders twice a week, or perhaps it is just my child's class that is unrewarding to her as each teacher/school has its own style. I miss listening to her enthusiatic practice as she hardly ever plays her violin anymore. What is happening at other schools? The district makes so many decisions (like pairing schools, combining classes, etc..) based on economics and not academic studies and I wonder if we are EVALUATING the success of these decisions along the way.

Posted by Mary Battaglia at 1:02 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

We Can Make Health Care Affordable

Wisconsin families and businesses are being priced out of health care coverage. It doesn't have to be this way. We can turn things around.

Every day brings new evidence that we are in the middle of a health care crisis.

The Wisconsin Realtors Association released a poll earlier this month that showed 66 percent of Wisconsin residents are worried that health care costs will soon become unaffordable.

By Wisconsin State Senator Judy Robson (D-Beloit), a registered nurse, from, November 21, 2005.

The Economic Policy Institute reported that between 1999 and 2004, 355,000 Wisconsin residents lost employer-provided health coverage.

The Wisconsin Association of Health Plans recently reported that more people in Wisconsin now rely on taxpayer-funded health plans than on commercial insurance.

Perhaps the biggest wake-up call was the report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that showed eight of the nation's 10 most expensive cities in terms of physician costs are right here in Wisconsin.

It doesn't have to be this way. Many bright minds have put forth proposals to significantly bring down the costs of health care and insure more people. We aren't saying we need to spend more money on health care. We're saying we need to spend smarter.

One in every three dollars spent on health care in the United States is spent on administrative overhead. Not doctors, not nurses, not medicine. Anyone who had done battle with the health care bureaucracy knows how much time office workers spend figuring out the proper insurer to bill, the co-payment, the deductible, referral procedures, and whether the procedure should even be covered.

As a nurse, I have seen how much money and resources are expended on paper shuffling and marketing rather than direct patient care. I saw that the business model for health care was not working. Managed care was not bringing down health care costs. In fact, the expansion of managed care and market-based competition has coincided with the upswing in administrative costs over the last 30 years.

Jobs With Justice, a coalition of labor and faith-based organizations, calculated that we waste $94 billion nationwide due to our patchwork system of private insurers. That would be sufficient to insure 55 million people who are currently uninsured. If we also stopped drug manufacturers from overcharging for prescription drugs, we would have more than enough money to insure everyone in this country.

Of course, the pharmaceutical industry and other powerful special interests oppose any reform measures that would cut into their profits. That's why we can't wait for Congress to act. As we did with welfare reform and SeniorCare, Wisconsin can show the rest of the nation the way.

A group of state legislators has made a commitment to making health care affordable here in Wisconsin. Thirty-seven Democrats and one Republican have introduced the Action Plan for Affordable Health Care. The Action Plan requires both parties to come together to develop a plan that brings down health care costs by 15 percent within two years of enactment. The plan must also ensure that 98 percent of Wisconsin residents have health coverage. A working group could use the groundwork laid in existing proposals or develop entirely new approaches.

Any legislator who has spent any time talking to constituents knows that the cost of health care is at or near the top of their concerns. It's time for all of us to come together to develop a solution. The Republicans in control of the Legislature must change their can't-do attitude to a can-do attitude. We must stand up to special interests who oppose reform.

The Action Plan for Affordable Health Care sets the goals and the timeframe. It will be up to legislators of both parties to work out the details. The first step is for the Legislature to make affordable health care a priority.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 12:19 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Milwaukee Schools Superintendent Review Borsuk:

But issues facing MPS, including budget constraints, school closings and a recent decision by an arbitrator on a teacher contract that was widely unpopular among teachers, have subjected Andrekopoulos to increased heat.

The issues have underscored the way the board is frequently divided into two factions, with five members consistently supporting Andrekopoulos and the other four ranging from mild support to general opposition.

On the recent high-profile votes to close Juneau High School, the board repeatedly split 5-4, including six votes of 5-4 in one meeting.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel argues that Andrekopoul should have more time:
The reasons for supporting Andrekopoulos are as clear now as they were in 2004. The superintendent may have the toughest job in Milwaukee. No one in the country, as far as we know, has been completely successful at turning around a big-city school district. But Andrekopoulos has a vision for reform and a plan to make that vision a reality. He was hired to carry out that vision - which includes a move toward smaller high schools and cutting the district's central bureaucracy - and has had some success in moving it forward. But much more needs to be done.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:54 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 27, 2005

School Programs Promote Wellness for Life

Karen Matthews:

In a mirror-lined dance studio, teenagers sashay through a number from the musical "Hairspray." Next door in the weight room, teacher Shawn Scattergood demonstrates proper form on the leg press. At Northport High School on Long Island, physical education also includes yoga, step aerobics and fitness walking, as well as team sports like volleyball and basketball. There are archery targets, soccer fields and a rock-climbing wall where students inscribe their names to show how high they get.

For anyone who grew up when P.E. meant being picked last for softball, it's a dizzying array of choices.

"What we try and do is give them a real broad offering so that they can choose things they want to do," said Robert Christenson, the director of physical education. He said the current curriculum has been developed over the last five years.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Golden Carrot

CBS News:

At Seven Hills Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio, Hartman finds a cafeteria renowned for its great-tasting, healthy school lunches.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine awarded the cafeteria for overhauling the way they prepare food. Translation: they tossed out the deep fryer.

One worker was asked how the foods are fried and replied, "We don't fry. We bake."

And you know what that means: the food has less fat, of course, and there's less salt and sugar, and everything's cooked from scratch using organic meats, vegetables and whole grains.

"Some of the things we have here, I can't even pronounce," says one kitchen worker.

Rafael Gomez and volunteers from are hosting a Nutrition and Schools Forum Wednesday night, from 7 to 8 in the McDaniels Auditorium. Participants, topics and directions are available here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Status of West/Memorial Options

The MMSD Web site includes a table of options discussed and action taken at the meeting on November 17.

Posted by Ed Blume at 7:14 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

UW Madison Saturday Enrichment Program

University of Wisconsin School of Education:

Sessions each Saturday are 9:30 am - 12:00 pm; 12:30 pm - 3:00 pm, or 9:30 am - 3:00 pm. Students may participate in either a half day or full day experience. Students who choose to participate in a full day session should bring a sack lunch.
Course list.

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Cars for Coursework

Toni Randolph:

Newgate is a nonprofit organization that is completely self-supporting. It costs about $900,000 a year to run the program. Newgate gets all of its revenue from the sale of cars on which the students train. They buy some of the vehicles, and the rest are donated.

Instead of a traditional classroom, the students learn in the shop doing actual repair work. The students here don't take English and math classes, but they start with the basics of engine repair, then cleaning a car. Eventually, they start knocking out dents and dings, working their way up to more complex auto body work.

Newgate's been around for more than 25 years. More than 400 students have been through the 15-month program. About 20 students are enrolled at any given time.

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November 26, 2005

Wisconsin Charter School News (11/26/2005)

Posted by Senn Brown at 6:40 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Students Ace State Tests, but Earn D's From U.S.

Sam Dillon, New York Times writes:

"After Tennessee tested its eighth-grade students in math this year, state officials at a jubilant news conference called the results a "cause for celebration." Eighty-seven percent of students performed at or above the proficiency level."

The WKCE test taken in Fall 2005 (reported in Spring 2005) shows statewide percent performing at minimal (below basic level) in Grade 4 Reading: 4%; Grade 4 Math: 16%; Grade 8 Reading: 6%; Grade 8 Math: 11%.

The WKCE test results for test taken in Fall 2004 (reported in Spring 2005) shows MMSD percent performing at minimal level in Grade 4 Reading: 5%; Grade 4 Math: 16%; Grade 8 Reading: 3%; Grade 8 Math: 10%.

National Assessment of Educational Progress - Also known as “The Nation’s Report Card” is the only national standardized continuing assessment administered periodically by the US Dept. Of Education in reading, math, science, writing, US history, civics, geography, and the arts to random schools in each state to evaluate national performance of students ages 7, 12, 14, and 17.

The 2005 NAEP results for Grade 4 Reading: 33%; Grade 8 Reading: 23%; Grade 4 Math: 16%; Grade 8 Math: 24%.

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Educators, Students, Parents and Blogs

Vauhini Vara:

As parents wring their hands about Internet predators, many teens are worried about a different kind of online intruder: the school principal.

Students are blogging about schoolyard crushes and feuds, posting gossip about classmates on social-networking sites like and, and sharing their party snapshots on public Web pages. Increasingly, their readers include school administrators, who are doling out punishments for online writings that they say cross the line.

Kevin Delaney finds that parents are also watching what their children write online:
The spying started two years ago. Karen Lippe's daughter told her she was going to a school football game with friends. The next day, Ms. Lippe found out the truth: Her daughter, then 14 years old, had skipped out on the game with a friend, got in the car of a boy Ms. Lippe didn't know and headed to an ice-cream shop without permission. Ms. Lippe sat her daughter down after dinner to warn her not to let it happen again.

Ms. Lippe, a marketing consultant in Irvine, Calif., didn't divulge how she had found out. But her daughter figured it out anyway. The daughter's friend had recounted the transgression on her Web log, or blog, which Ms. Lippe had read online.

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November 25, 2005

Channel 3000 story on School Nurses

The following story aired on Channel 3/9 a few weeks ago and was recently posted on the Channel 3000 web site. This story discusses the impact of cutbacks of in-school staff, in this case school nurses, and reflects a serious issue that affects all of our schools. I urge you to read the extended story, which includes data on the number of students with serious chronic medical conditions in our schools.

When I was growing up, the school nurse was the lady in sturdy shoes and white opaque stockings who administered hearing and vision exams. We avoided her like the plague.

Today's school nurses are a far cry from what I grew up with in the 1960s and 1970s. They often are the primary health care providers for students. For students with chronic diseases, trained nurses are the key link between families and schools. In many of our schools, nurses provide gently used clothing - everything from underwear to mittens - for students who come to school without proper clothing, or who need emergency replacement clothing. They serve as de facto counselors for students who visit them with health problems that may come from stress at school or at home.

School Nursing Shortage Affects Madison Students

POSTED: 12:50 pm CST November 22, 2005
UPDATED: 10:30 am CST November 23, 2005

In the Madison School District, up to 700 kids a day need medical attention. But as News 3's Dawn Stevens reported, sometimes the person taking care of them doesn't have official medical training.

The lives of 450 children at Muir Elementary School are in the hands of Nurse Lisa Keller. She helps kids with asthma feel better, and takes care of any other medical needs.

More than 50 Muir Elementary students can walk into her office on a busy day. Six take daily medication, and a handful are profiled in a special book, because they're at a higher risk for a life threatening situation.

"There's a book with emergency plans in it so if there's a sub, or if Alice our secretary had to take over, they could pull it, see their picture and see their plan," said Keller.

Another part of the plan is in the lunch room. Pictures are posted on the wall of kids who may be at-risk for food allergies. If a child has a bad reaction an epi-pen -- an injector used to fight an allergic reaction -- is right there.

"It’s in a hidden place but the lunch lady has actually been trained," said Keller.

The lunch lady isn't the only one whose trained to tackle life threatening situations. If Nurse Keller or the nurse’s assistant isn't around, like at most schools, the secretary takes over.

“It is very stressful, there definitely could be life-or-death situations," said Alice Leidel, school secretary at Muir Elementary.

Alice has taken CPR. She realizes if a child is having a seizure, an allergic reaction, or any other potentially deadly situation, she's not as qualified as the nurse or nurse assistant.

"It isn't always real easy to make those split second decisions," said Leidel.

"They don't have the assessment skills that a nurse or nursing assistant would have. That's a problem,” said Keller.

It's a problem facing schools across in the Madison area and across Wisconsin. While Keller's office is covered most of the time, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction says many rural schools have no coverage most of the time. That means secretaries, principals and teachers must make crucial medical decisions.

The National Association of School Nurses recommends a ratio of one nurse to every 750 kids. Madison's kindergarten through fifth grade schools have a ratio of 1 to 782, while Monona is at 1 to 909. Verona has one nurse to every 1650 kids. In Middleton, the k through 12 nurse ratio is one to every 1556. In Janesville, there's one nurse to every 1659 students.

"I think schools would like more help," said Nurse Linda Caldart-Olson of the State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

But because budget cuts won't allow more help, schools have to come up with their own life saving plan. Just this year in Madison schools, budget cuts resulted in the elimination of one nursing position.

To put this story in to perspective, here's a look at how many children in the Madison School District have serious health issues:

# 22,000 students have asthma
# 1394 students have allergies and may use epi-pens

# 103 students have seizure disorders

# 68 have type 1 diabetes

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Study Indicates Changes in Global Standing for U.S.

The nation’s 4th graders may not stack up quite so well against their peers around the globe as previously thought, but also may not post as big a drop-off in achievement when they get to high school, a new analysis of international-test comparisons concludes.

The study, conducted by the Washington-based American Institutes for Research and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and the Urban Institute, looked at two international-assessment comparisons, covering grades 4 and 8 and 15-year-olds. It found that, when compared only with those countries that participate in both studies for all three student groups, the United States ranked in the middle or bottom of each.

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
From Education Week, November 22, 2005

“There has been a broad perception that the United States does reasonably well in 4th grade mathematics internationally, about average in 8th grade, and then [its performance] falls off a cliff in high school. But that is based upon a comparison of apples and oranges,” said Steve Leinwand, the AIR’s lead author of the report.
For More Info
The report, “Reassessing U.S. International Mathematics Performance: New Findings from the 2003 TIMSS and PISA,” as well as an executive summary, is available from the American Institutes for Research. Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader

Until now, comparisons have been made among all the countries participating in each of the studies. The United States has scored above the international average on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, for 4th and 8th graders, but at the bottom among industrialized countries on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tests math literacy and problem-solving.

Twenty-four countries participated in the 4th grade TIMSS, and 40 were involved in the 8th grade comparison. Those lists don’t necessarily match up closely with the nations involved in the PISA exam either, Mr. Leinwand said.

The new study compares the United States with 11 other developed countries that participated in all three student groups: Australia, Belgium, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the Russian Federation.

“What’s most important is that there is a fairly consistent pattern of mediocrity” among U.S. students, Mr. Leinwand said.

The latest ranking puts the United States eighth on the grade 4 comparison and ninth for both groups of older students. Students in seven other countries performed statistically better than American 4th graders, five outscored U.S. 8th graders, and six were better than this nation’s high school students.
Computational Skills Questioned

The AIR study also challenges the common notion that American students do well on basic computational skills. The nations in the study that did well on the easy questions also tended to do well on the more difficult ones. But the United States was below average in those areas as well.

The United States, for example, was below average on both low- and high-difficulty test items, and the performance of American students at all three grade levels was particularly weak on measurement questions and geometry skills. The students, however, showed strong abilities in data and statistics.

To improve the nation’s standing internationally, American schools need to focus more intently on building students’ foundational math skills in the early grades, the report recommends, and beef up instruction in geometry for middle school students. U.S. schools should also consider ways to narrow the lingering achievement gap between boys and girls, a trend evident in only one other country, Italy.

Although the new rankings suggest greater problems with U.S. math proficiency than had been reported previously, the performance of American students is still about average internationally, according to Gerald W. Bracey, an Alexandria, Va.-based researcher. Mr. Bracey also suggested that the substance of the PISA test—which includes broad questions gauging students’ analytical, quantitative, and analogical skills—may not yield adequate information about high school math achievement.

“What I object most to is the use of the word ‘mediocre.’ ‘Average’ is a statistic; ‘mediocre’ is a judgment,” said Mr. Bracey, who has challenged the notion that American students perform poorly on international comparisons. “When they run the final heat in the 100-meter dash in the Olympics, the guys who finish fourth or fifth are called average. Nobody is going to call them mediocre. How well you do depends on how stiff the competition is.”

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Jay Matthews on AP Classes

Jay Matthews:

So after more than two decades of underwhelming scholarly interest in this topic, I am delighted to report a surge of serious AP research, with four new studies in the past year and a fine piece by Andrew Mollison in the latest issue of the quarterly Education Next summing them up [see ]. One study in particular merits attention: "The Relationship Between Advanced Placement and College Graduation," by Chrys Dougherty, Lynn Mellor and Shuling Jian of the National Center for Educational Accountability.

Almost all the new studies show that students who get a good score on an AP test in high school do better in college than those who get a bad score or don't take AP. But I am also interested in how those students with bad scores did in college compared with students who did not take AP. Many AP teachers have shown me examples of students who did poorly on the exam but did well in college -- in part, they think, because struggling with AP gave them a useful dose of thick-reading-list-and-long-final-exam trauma.

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November 24, 2005

Studying the Achievement Gap: Voices from the Classroom

Audie Cornish:

From the MCAS test to the SAT, test scores have become the de-facto definition for achievement. There is evidence of girls scoring better than boys, or vice versa, or richer students outscoring poorer ones.

One longtime puzzle of the so-called achievement gap has taken center stage -- that gap between different races of students. In the past, the issue has rested in the laps of parents, but recent education reforms have pushed it firmly into the arms of teachers.

In the first of a WBUR four-part series examining the achievement gap, Audie Cornish visits one school that is trying to understand the problem and make changes.


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Anti-NCLB Lawsuit Fails

Joanne Jacobs:

A judge has thrown out a lawsuit seeking to block No Child Left Behind.

The NEA and school districts in three states had argued that schools should not have to comply with requirements that were not paid for by the federal government.

Chief U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman, based in eastern Michigan, said, "Congress has appropriated significant funding" and has the power to require states to set educational standards in exchange for federal money.

The ruling came as no surprise. However, the teachers' union says it plans to appeal.

The union got a lot of publicity for the lawsuit, Eduwonk notes. The dismissal won't get as much ink.

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Carol Carstensen's Message to PTO Presidents

Madison Board of Education President Carol Carstensen:

Subject: Nov. 21 Update

Parent Group Presidents:

The school district has been under revenue caps since 1993 when all school district budgets were frozen and then permitted to increase only by an amount per pupil each year (this year it is $250). That amount approximates a budget increase of 2.5% (the city and county are both struggling with cuts to keep their budgets close to a 4% increase).

Board meetings on Monday, November 21:
The Board looked at a comparison of the school district policy on arresting a child at school and the Police Department’s guidelines there are some significant differences, mostly in the area of informing the parent/guardian before the child is questioned and in making sure the child fully understands his/her rights at the time of questioning. The Board took no action but did ask the administration to continue working with the Police Department to try to bring their procedures more in line with school district policy.

Human Resources (chair Juan Lopez) had a report on the district’s workmen’s compensation costs and experience over the last several years. It was noteworthy that our current record is slightly better than the average for similar districts and this has resulted in lower costs overall. The committee then began the discussion of the second part of the superintendent’s evaluation. This is an evaluation of the superintendent’s skills and performance in several areas: planning, organizing, leading, supervising and job knowledge.

Next week’s schedule meetings will be back at Doyle but in McDaniels Auditorium. We will be piloting the televising of Board committee and special meetings.
5:00 Special Board Meeting
Discussion with Madison Partners in Special Education a parent’s group
Review of the budgets, staffing and services, of Business Services and Human Resources.

Have a happy, safe, relaxing Thanksgiving break.

Carol Carstensen, President
Madison School Board

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Cullen: East / West Taskforce Summary

Sandy Cullen:

task force representing schools on Madison's East Side has voted not to recommend closing any schools as a means of addressing declining enrollments in some elementary schools.

Instead, task force members are considering several possible recommendations for using available space in underenrolled schools, including moving Madison School & Community Recreation offices and programs from the Hoyt Building at 3802 Regent St., which the district could then sell. Other options include relocating the district's alternative programs from rented facilities on Brearly Street and reassigning some students from the West or La Follette attendance areas to the East attendance area.

Task force member David Wallner said savings of $300,000 to $500,000 gained by closing a school would be offset by costs to bus students who now walk to school and by the negative impact closings would have on students, families and neighborhoods.

A similar task force addressing crowding in elementary schools in the West and Memorial attendance area has taken building a second school at Leopold Elementary off the table in favor of considering a new school on the far West Side, where large growth from new housing developments is anticipated.

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Parents Effect on Achievement

Jay Matthews:

The group surveyed 5,500 teachers and 257 principals at California public elementary schools with large numbers of low-income students. They compared the methods used at each school with the average score on the 200-to-1,000-point API scale, which is based on state test results. The four practices most closely associated with high student performance were putting greater emphasis on student achievement, tightening the curriculum to fit the state academic standards, using student assessments to identify and remove weaknesses in instruction, and assembling certified and experienced teachers and principals with the best educational equipment.

Like the California study's authors, researchers say that regular parental contact correlates with achievement, even if it is unclear how much. "I've published four research reviews on this topic since 1981 . . . and I'm convinced that parent involvement is a key factor in the achievement gap and in improving low achievement," said Anne T. Henderson, a senior consultant with the Institute for Education and Social Policy at New York University.

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November 23, 2005

Link Roundup

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School's anti-war assignment canceled

A letter-writing campaign by third-graders at Allis Elementary School encouraging an end to the war in Iraq was canceled because it violates School Board policy, district officials said Tuesday.

Julie Fitzpatrick, a member of the 10-teacher team that developed the project for the school's 90 third-grade students in five classes, said the assignment was intended to demonstrate citizen action, one of the district's standards in social studies.

By Sandy Cullen, Wisconsin State Journal, 11/23/05

"We saw peace as a common good," Fitzpatrick said. "We were just advocating that people keep working toward peace."

But Robin Reynolds, an Army veteran whose 8-year-old grandson is in Fitzpatrick's class, said she regards the assignment as a form of "anti-war protesting" that "is not suitable for elementary students."

"They're supposed to teach the facts and not opinions," she said. "That's brainwashing."

"It was certainly an unfortunate thing to have happen," Superintendent Art Rainwater said. "It's a direct violation of our board policy.

Madison School Board policy prohibits teachers "from exploiting the institutional privileges of their professional positions to promote candidates or parties and activities."

"We don't want our staff ever using our students in a political activity, which this obviously was," Rainwater said. "I think the district would apologize to anyone who was offended. It should not have happened."

Allis Principal Chris Hodge said a letter was sent to parents Tuesday apologizing to anyone who was offended and informing them that the project was rescinded.
Reynolds, who served as a personnel assistant at Fort McClellan in Alabama during the Vietnam War and has three family members serving in Iraq, said she "blew up" last Friday when her grandson brought home a letter informing parents about the campaign, in which students were to write a letter every day for 12 days.

Letters were to go to other students, the state's U.S. senators and representatives, President Bush, and the secretary of the United Nations urging them to "join our press for peace." If the war were not over in 12 days, the sequence would be repeated.

Reynolds said her grandson was upset by the assignment. "He knows he's got an uncle and cousins over there."

Fitzpatrick and Hodge, said a misunderstanding resulted in the initial letter going out to parents.

"I left with the impression we could go with it," Fitzpatrick said.

But Hodge said she had wanted to find out what the School Board's policy was before the letter was sent home.

"I thought it was an inappropriate assignment," Hodge said, adding she felt the topic of war was "too vast" for third-graders to understand. "I just think it was too much to ask of a third- grader."

Hodge said she had only heard from one parent who also was concerned that the project was beyond a third- grader's level of understanding.

School Board President Carol Carstensen said board policy and the district's teachers contract also require teachers to withhold the expression of personal opinion unless asked a direct question when dealing with controversial issues.

While it would be appropriate for students to decide to write letters expressing their own views, Cartsensen said, "It isn't appropriate to mandate it."

U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R- Green Bay, who is seeking Republican nomination for governor in 2006, on Tuesday faxed Hodge a letter calling for the assignment to be rescinded.

Hodge said she had received Green's fax but had not had time to read it.

"We're really stunned by the reception," Fitzpatrick said. "In hindsight, I guess we should have anticipated it. It's kind of sad when peace causes a furor."

Fitzpatrick said many parents had sent envelopes and stamps as requested in the initial letter they received.

Sharon Johnson, co- president of the Allis's Parent Teacher Organization, and Toni Kress-Russick, both of whom have children in Fitzpatrick's class, said they were supportive of the project.

Kress-Russick, a special education teacher at Memorial High School, said it taught social responsibility and demonstrated to students that "people can make a difference" and that "just one little third-grader can matter."

"I thought it was a great assignment," Johnson said. "People just tend to blow things out of proportion all the time. I think this is one of them."

Susan Abplanalp, assistant superintendent for elementary and secondary schools, said she does not believe the teachers involved viewed the assignment as a political activity.

"They really looked at this as a peace project," Abplanalp said. "I don't think that the intent was to make this a political statement."

The assignment The letter sent home to parents last Friday said third-graders at Allis Elementary School would be "writing letters to encourage an end to the war in Iraq. The letter writing will teach civic responsibility, a social studies standard, while providing an authentic opportunity to improve composition skills and handwriting."

Students were to write a letter a day for 12 days to other students, the state's U.S. senators and representatives, the president of the United States, and the secretary of the United Nations "urging them to press for peace," as well as to the media.

If the war did not end in 12 days, the sequence would be repeated.

Parents were asked to provide 10 postage stamps and 12 envelopes.

An alternative assignment was to be provided for students whose parents did not want them to participate.

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November 22, 2005

School Nixes Fundraisers and Raises More


Instead of asking students and parents at Middleton's Sunset Ridge school to sell candy, magazines or wrapping paper, the school simply asked for a check.
To their surprise, they raised twice as much.
Sunset Ridge 4th graders headed to the capitol Tuesday morning for a tour then it was on to Overture Center for a symphony concert.
The PTA paid for the field trip.
But this year, instead of another product to sell, the PTA simply asked for a donation.
"A lot of time families are consumed with three or four fundraisers per year," said PTA president Donna Brambough. "A lot of times you're calling the same people over and over again."
The donations worked.

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11/30/2005 Nutrition and Schools Forum

Rafael Gomez and volunteers from this site are hosting a Forum on Nutrition Wednesday evening, November 30, 2005 from 7 to 8p.m. at the McDaniels Auditorium [Map]. The event will discuss the following questions:
  1. Should schools serve lunch?
  2. What kind of food would be best to serve?
  3. How do students feel about their lunch at school?
  4. If the public feels strongly about improving what is being served in their school, how could they raise the profile of this issue?
Participants include:
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Local Gang Prevention Task Force

Bill Novak:

"Larger numbers of young people are joining gangs, including more girls," Falk said, highlighting information in a new report by the Dane County Youth Prevention Task Force. "We are renewing our efforts to help keep young people from joining gangs."

Stephen Blue, delinquency services manager and co-chair of the task force, said about 4 percent of the area's young people, or about 1,400 kids in all, identify themselves as being members of gangs.

"The kids are disenfranchised, not getting support," Blue said.

Rafael Gomez and volunteers from this site hosted a Gangs and School Violence Forum on September 23, 2005. Audio and Video archives are online here, along with notes from that event.

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Bush Administration Grants Leeway on 'No Child' Rules

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 22, 2005; A01

The Bush administration has begun to ease some key rules for the controversial No Child Left Behind law, opening the door to a new way to rate schools, granting a few urban systems permission to provide federally subsidized tutoring and allowing certain states more time to meet teacher-quality requirements.

The Education Department's actions could signal a new phase for school improvement efforts nearly four years after the law's enactment. Taken together, these actions amount to a major response to critics who have called No Child Left Behind rigid and unworkable. They also help the administration combat efforts to amend the law in Congress.

The latest shift, announced Friday by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, is an experiment allowing as many as 10 states to try "growth models" for determining whether schools make adequate yearly progress. Such models could enable states to credit schools for the academic growth of individual students even if their test scores fall short of state standards.

"It's a much more realistic measure of student performance," said Jack O'Connell, California's superintendent of public instruction. "It gives every school, every year, a shot at success."

The current rating system, much debated in education circles, centers on whether all groups of students in a given school meet standards.

The Education Department plans to send details about the initiative to states today. Marland officials said they were studying whether to apply. Virginia education spokesman Charles Pyle said the state would not qualify because of limits in its testing program in recent years. It was unclear whether D.C. public schools would qualify or apply; a school system spokeswoman had no information.

Local educators often vent frustration with the law because many schools show overall gains on test scores but fall short in No Child Left Behind ratings. These schools can face significant penalties if they fail to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP. Some schools that repeatedly fall short are required to allow transfers to better-performing schools and, if they aren't turned around, eventually could face state takeover.

Bradbury Heights Elementary School in Prince George's County and near Southeast Washington is a case in point. It has failed to make AYP three straight years. But its scores in the last round of Maryland's reading and mathematics tests rose substantially in grades 3 through 6. Similar examples abound in Maryland, Virginia and the District.

"If we're talking about labeling schools," said Bradbury Heights Principal Denise Lynch, "there does need to be a rating system in place that would be more accurate and give the community a better picture of how their school is perceived."

In California, just 56 percent of 9,200 public schools made AYP in the past year. But the state found that four out of every five schools made significant gains.

The nation's largest teachers union, a consistent critic of the law, praised Friday's development. National Education Association President Reg Weaver said the department had heeded "the calls of millions of educators for a 'growth model' that truly reflects the great progress we are making in the classroom."

Spellings said she would not compromise on essential principles. Foremost, she said, is ensuring that all students are tested in reading and mathematics from grades 3 through 8, and once in high school, with results reported separately for racial and ethnic minorities, disabled students and other groups. The law's twin goals are to close achievement gaps and ensure that all students reach proficiency by 2014.

"A growth model is not a way around accountability standards," Spellings said Friday in Richmond.

In recent months, Spellings has shown flexibility in other key regulations. She granted New York public schools a waiver to allow them to provide free tutoring to low-income students even though several areas of the city's massive school system are deemed in need of improvement. Ordinarily, the law would bar such areas from providing the subsidized tutoring.

Boston and Chicago have received similar exemptions. Virginia won another that allows Alexandria, Stafford County and two other school divisions to provide tutoring to students in struggling schools before the systems are required to offer a transfer to another school.

Responding to another widespread complaint, the department is also working to ease testing regulations for disabled students who receive special education.

And on Oct. 21, Spellings issued a major pronouncement on teacher quality. The law requires states to put in motion plans to have highly qualified teachers in all core academic classes by the end of this school year. Such teachers have at least a bachelor's degree, full state certification and demonstrated knowledge of their academic subjects.

States have scrambled to meet the requirement, but some still fall short. Maryland reports that a quarter of its classes are not staffed by a highly qualified teacher. In Virginia, year-old data show that 5.5 percent of classes didn't meet the standard. (Teacher quality rules vary widely from state to state.)

In a letter to state education officials, Spellings wrote that she would not curtail federal funds for states that fall short if they can show they have made a "good-faith effort" to meet the teacher-quality standard. States that met certain requirements would be eligible for a one-year waiver, she wrote. Maryland officials said they would apply. Pyle said Virginia may do so as well.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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November 21, 2005

Bay View High School Leaders Take to the Streets to Stop Students Playing Hooky

Vikki Ortiz:

A few steps down the sidewalk, the students meet the gaze of assistant principal Jerome Hardt, who looms at the corner with a school security guard. Using sweeping arm motions, Hardt points the teens toward the high school building, ignoring the ones who roll their eyes.

Hardt is there to send students a stern message: Don't even think about heading into McDonald's or convenience stores instead of school.

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Johnny Winston, Jr. Isthmus Profile

Madison School Board Vice President Johnny Winston, Jr. is profiled in the current Isthmus. I'll link to the article if and when it is available online.
It might be useful to visit my April, 2004 elections page to take a look at a pre-election video interview with Johnny. Our public schools have no shortage of challenges. I hope that Johnny plays a major role in these transformations.

Article scans: Cover | Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

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Legislative Fiscal Bureau Releases 2005-2006 General School Aids Amounts for Districts

November 17, 2005

TO: Members Wisconsin Legislature
FROM: Bob Lang, Director
SUBJECT: 2005-06 General School Aids Amounts for All School Districts

In response to requests from a number of legislators, this office has prepared information [PDF File] on the amount of general school aids to be received by each of the 426 school districts in 2005-06. This memorandum describes the three types of aid funded from the general school aids appropriation and the reductions made to general school aid eligibility related to the Milwaukee and Racine charter school program and the Milwaukee parental choice program. The attachment
provides data on each school district's membership, equalized value, shared costs and general school aids payment, based on the October 15, 2005, equalization aid estimate prepared by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

Full document on-line here.

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Which East Side Schools Examined for Closing?

According to the minutes of the November 10 meeting of the East task force:

Task Force members requested information on savings from [closing] specific schools.

Unfortunately, the minutes do not mention the "specific" schools. Can a member of the task force or someone who attended provide the names of those schools?

I also wonder whether the meetings are getting a bit contentious.

The minutes say:

Rita Applebaum began this section of the agenda by reviewing the ground rules that were established at the Task Force’s initial meeting. She spoke about the need to respect both the members of the Task Force and their ideas and suggestions. Rita acknowledged the complexity of the task before the members, the challenges and the stress, that Task Force members may disagree with suggestions made by other members. However, she emphasized the importance of treating each other respectfully and asked for the cooperation of all Task Force members to create an environment of trust and respect as the group works toward addressing the charge given to it by the Board of Education.

It also sounds like the administration is trying to keep the task force from considering a full range of options. According to the minutes:

Rita Applebaum reviewed the charge to the Task Force with a focus on addressing the issues within the East Attendance Area. She also reviewed the steps within Board of Education document, “Elementary Schools with Declining Enrollment” that specifies beginning with steps to address excess space within the cluster or attendance area prior to going beyond the attendance area. (original emphasis)

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Look to Japan for Better Schools?

Brent Staples:

The United States will become a second-rate economic power unless it can match the educational performance of its rivals abroad and get more of its students to achieve at the highest levels in math, science and literacy. Virtually every politician, business leader and educator understands this, yet the country has no national plan for reaching the goal. To make matters worse, Americans have remained openly hostile to the idea of importing strategies from the countries that are beating the pants off us in the educational arena.

The No Child Left Behind Act, passed four years ago, was supposed to put this problem on the national agenda. Instead, the country has gotten bogged down in a squabble about a part of the law that requires annual testing in the early grades to ensure that the states are closing the achievement gap. The testing debate heated up last month when national math and reading scores showed dismal performance across the board.

Lurking behind these test scores, however, are two profoundly important and closely intertwined topics that the United States has yet to even approach: how teachers are trained and how they teach what they teach. These issues get a great deal of attention in high-performing systems abroad - especially in Japan, which stands light years ahead of us in international comparisons.

The book has spawned growing interest in the Japanese teacher-development strategy in which teachers work cooperatively and intensively to improve their methods. This process, known as "lesson study," allows teachers to revise and refine lessons that are then shared with others, sometimes through video and sometimes at conventions. In addition to helping novices, this system builds a publicly accessible body of knowledge about what works in the classroom
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November 20, 2005

Where Have All the Students Gone?

Additional Charts: Enrollment Changes, Number of Minority Students | Enrollment Changes, Low Income
MMSD Lost 174 Students While the Surrounding School Districts Increased by 1,462 Students Over Four School Years. Revenue Value of 1,462 Students - $13.16 Million Per Year*
MMSD reports that student population is declining. From the 2000-2001 school year through the 2003-2004 school year, MMSD lost 174 students. Did this happen in the areas surrounding MMSD? No. From the 2000-2001 through the 2003-2004 school year, the increase in non-MMSD public school student enrollment was 1,462 outside MMSD.

The property tax and state general fund revenue value of 174 students is $1.57 million per year in the 2003-2004 MMSD school year dollars (about $9,000 per student). For 1,462 students, the revenue value is $13.16 million per year. Put another way, the value of losing 174 students equals a loss of 26-30 teachers. A net increase of 1,462 students equals nearly 219 teachers. There are more subtleties to these calculations due to the convoluted nature of the revenue cap calculation, federal and state funds for ELL and special education, but the impact of losing students and not gaining any of the increase of students in the area is enormous.

What else can we see looking at these two school years? The number of low income students in MMSD increased 2,146 (total low income increase was 2,942), the number of minority students in MMSD increased 1,133 (total minority increase was 2,080). In contrast, the number of non-low income students decreased in MMSD 2,230 (total decrease was 1,654), the number of white students decreased 1,307 (total decrease was 792 students, because the surrounding districts showed an increase in the number of white students comparing the two school years).

What big picture questions do these data raise?

*The source of data for public school, private and home school data is the WI Department of Public Instruction. These two years were selected due to limitations in the number of years of economic status data available. Year to year enrollment numbers move up/down, but for MMSD the trend has been toward fewer students over the past 10 years.

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The Prodigy Puzzle

Ann Hulbert:

It is the Davidsons' other, related aim that calls forth a different kind of fervor. Authors (with Laura Vanderkam) of a book called "Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting Our Brightest Minds" (2004), they are on a mission to remedy what they are convinced is a widespread neglect of exceptionally talented children. That means challenging the American myth that they are weirdos or Wunderkinder best left to their own devices or made to march with the crowd. "By denying our most intelligent students an education appropriate to their abilities," Jan Davidson warns a nation in the midst of a No Child Left Behind crusade, "we may also be denying civilization a giant leap forward." Precocious children are not only avid learners eager for more than ordinary schools often provide, the Davidsons emphasize; they are also a precious - and imperiled - resource for the future. The Davidsons, joined by many other advocates of the gifted, maintain that it is these precocious children who, if handled right, will be the creative adults propelling the nation ahead in an ever more competitive world. As things stand, the argument goes, the highly gifted child is an endangered species in need of outspoken champions like the Davidsons, who are role models for the "supportive, advocating parent" they endorse.
Jan Davidson recently visited Madison. View her presentation: How to stop wasting our brightest young minds.

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Too Much Rigor? "The New White Flight"

Suein Hwang:

By most measures, Monta Vista High here and Lynbrook High, in nearby San Jose, are among the nation's top public high schools. Both boast stellar test scores, an array of advanced-placement classes and a track record of sending graduates from the affluent suburbs of Silicon Valley to prestigious colleges.

But locally, they're also known for something else: white flight. Over the past 10 years, the proportion of white students at Lynbrook has fallen by nearly half, to 25% of the student body. At Monta Vista, white students make up less than one-third of the population, down from 45% -- this in a town that's half white. Some white Cupertino parents are instead sending their children to private schools or moving them to other, whiter public schools. More commonly, young white families in Silicon Valley say they are avoiding Cupertino altogether.

Whites aren't quitting the schools because the schools are failing academically. Quite the contrary: Many white parents say they're leaving because the schools are too academically driven and too narrowly invested in subjects such as math and science at the expense of liberal arts and extracurriculars like sports and other personal interests.

The two schools, put another way that parents rarely articulate so bluntly, are too Asian.

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Governance in the LA Schools & Seniority

LA Times Editorial:

A RECENT STUDY SHOWS HOW union contracts can hamper school improvement — and provides another compelling reason why having L.A.'s mayor run the schools could help.

The study by the nonprofit New Teacher Project found that teacher contracts place seniority over what's best for students, especially by favoring longtime teachers for desired teaching slots over newer teachers who might be better for the job. That's true even if the more senior teacher is needed in another school.

To see The New Teacher Project's latest report, Unintended Consequences: The Case for Reforming The Staffing Rules in Urban Teachers Union Contracts, click here.

The report shows how contractual staffing rules undermine urban schools and the educational needs of their students. To view the press release, click here.
Leading educators, researchers and policy makers have galvanized around the importance of sharing the report's data and recommendations. To view their statements of support, click here.

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Boosters & The Madison School District Budget

Sandy Cullen:

In the last five years, the La Follette High School Booster Club has paid for everything from bats to books.

They've raised more than $260,000 to pick up the tab for balls and jerseys, renovations of weight rooms and training rooms and even taxi fare for students who needed transportation to get eyeglasses, said Deb Slotten, president of the La Follette club.

But Slotten draws the line at paying overtime for a custodian to be at the high school so teams can practice on five days the Madison School District is closed for Thanksgiving and winter break.


And then there are costs the boosters simply don't want to pay, such as the custodians who, administrators say, are required to be at the schools for practices during holiday breaks for contractual and safety reasons. The district's contract with AFSCME Local 60 requires custodians - who are paid $16.54 to $25.81 an hour - to be paid double-time in addition to their holiday pay if they have to work on a district holiday, said Human Resources Director Bob Nadler.

District spending goes up annually, while enrollment has remained flat over the years. The debate is largely where the money goes. A great deal of information can be found via these links:

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November 19, 2005

The Teacher in the Grey Flannel Suite

The Economist:

The second argument had to do with the rise of knowledge workers. Mr Drucker argued that the world is moving from an “economy of goods” to an economy of “knowledge”—and from a society dominated by an industrial proletariat to one dominated by brain workers. He insisted that this had profound implications for both managers and politicians. Managers had to stop treating workers like cogs in a huge inhuman machine—the idea at the heart of Frederick Taylor's stopwatch management—and start treating them as brain workers. In turn, politicians had to realise that knowledge, and hence education, was the single most important resource for any advanced society.

Yet Mr Drucker also thought that this economy had implications for knowledge workers themselves. They had to come to terms with the fact that they were neither “bosses” nor “workers”, but something in between: entrepreneurs who had responsibility for developing their most important resource, brainpower, and who also needed to take more control of their own careers, including their pension plans.

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WiFi Ruining College Classes?


theodp writes "Over at Slate, Avi Zenilman has seen the real classroom of the future firsthand: Students use class time to read the Drudge Report, send e-mail, play Legend of Zelda, or update profiles on But not to worry - replace laptops with crumpled notes, and the classroom of the future looks a lot like the classroom of the past." From the article: "... when Cornell University researchers outfitted classrooms with wireless Internet and monitored students' browsing habits, they concluded, 'Longer browsing sessions during class tend to lead to lower grades, but there's a hint that a greater number of browsing sessions during class may actually lead to higher grades.' It seems a bit of a stretch to impute a causal relationship, but it's certainly possible that the kind of brain that can handle multiple channels of information is also the kind of brain that earns A's."

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My Open Records Complaint to DA Brian Blanchard

Following up on my 10/12/2005 Open Records request regarding closed discussions (particularly the terms) of the Madison School District's purchase of land for a new elementary school on the far west side, I recently filed the following open records complaint with District Attorney Brian Blanchard: Background:

The complaint's text follows:


Mr. Brian Blanchard
Dane County District Attorney
City County Building
210 Martin Luther King Blvd. Room 523
Madison, WI 53703

Dear Mr. Blanchard:

Please find attached an open records complaint pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 19.37 against the Madison Metropolitan School District.

I believe that public knowledge of and confidence in government activities is vital to our society. Jefferson commented often on politics, people, public education and government, including these words: "Whenever our affairs go obviously wrong, the good sense of the people will interpose and set them to rights." --Thomas Jefferson to David Humphreys, 1789. ME 7:322

Disregard of the open records statutes undermines public confidence in our taxpayer funded schools. I urge you to address this matter forcefully and expeditiously.

Yours truly,

James E. Zellmer



I, James E. Zellmer, file this open records complaint pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 19.37. I allege and complain as follows:

1. I am a resident of the City of Madison, Wisconsin and my address is 4224 Waban Hill 53711.

2. I file this open records complaint against the Madison Metropolitan School District which has a business address of 545 West Dayton Street, Madison, WI 53703.

3. I filed an open records request by e-mail-with Clarence Sherrod, the attorney for the Madison Metropolitan School District on October 12, 2005. A copy of the request is attached as Attachment A to this complaint. Later on October 12, 2005, Mr. Sherrod indicated by e-mail that he had referred my request to the District's legal custodian for a reply. A copy of Mr. Sherrod's response is attached as Attachment B to this complaint.

4. My open records request requested copies of any agreements signed this year by the Madison Metropolitan School District or its representatives to purchase land for a school site. I specifically indicated that I understood the issue of purchasing land for a school site was discussed by the Madison Board of Education on October 10, 2005.

5. On October 25, 2005, I received a reply to my open records request from Robert Nadler, the District's Custodian of Records denying my request as to the agreement discussed at the Board of Education's October 10, 2005 meeting. A copy of the reply is attached as Attachment C to this complaint.

6. The October 25, 2004 response indicated that the request was being denied because:

a. The agreement has not been finally approved by the Board.

b. The agreement has contingencies which have not been removed by the Board and release of the agreement would place the School District at a competitive disadvantage in the bargaining of the contract.

c. Because the School District has not removed certain contingencies, the School District may choose to renegotiated certain terms and conditions of the agreement and the release of the agreement would place the School District at an unfair disadvantage in that negotiation.

d. If the agreement was released, third parties may seek to enter the bargaining process and place the School District in a disadvantageous position in negotiation.

e. Release of the requested agreement would inhibit the competitive bidding process if all agreements concerning the School District's attempts to purchase property were released before final approval by the Board of Education.

7. I understand that on the afternoon of Friday, November 4, the School District released to the public as part of the School Board's packet for its November 7, 2005 meeting, the agreement sought by my open records request. The agenda for the Board of Education's November 7, 2005 meeting included purchasing land for a school site.

8. The agreement sought by my open records request was a Vacant Land Offer to Purchase. The Vacant Land Offer to Purchase is a written agreement signed by the seller on September 23, 2005, and the Madison Metropolitan School District as the buyer on September 26, 2005. The agreement was signed by Roger Price on behalf of the School District.

9. Given a written agreement exists which requires the seller to sell the property to the School District, and given that only the School District had the option to get out of the contract, there was no competitive or bargaining reason for the signed written agreement to be withheld from the public. This is consistent with 81 Op. Atty Gen. 139 (1994).

10. Public access to land purchase agreements after negotiations are complete but before final approval of the transaction is consistent with the policy behind the open records law as stated in Wis. Stat. § 19.31. "In recognition of the fact that a representative government is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the public policy of this state that all persons are entitled to the greatest possible information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those officers and employees who represent them. Further, providing persons with such information is declared to be an essential function of a representative government and an integral part of the routine duties of officers and employees whose responsibility it is to provide such information. To that end, ss. 19.32 to 19.37 shall be construed in every instance with a presumption of complete public access, consistent with the conduct of governmental business. The denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied."

11. The School District's refusal to release the signed written agreement because the agreement had not been finally approved by the School Board, and the School District could therefore choose to renegotiate certain terms and conditions of the agreement, is contrary to the open records law. Indeed, if the School District's interpretation of the open records requirements is correct, then the School District would presumably be justified in not releasing any written agreement for any purpose until after the agreement was approved by the School Board. If that was the case, public comment, input and scrutiny on all District contracts would be foreclosed.

12. In order to protect the public's right to information about the School Board's important decisions, I make this complaint to the District Attorney for Dane County under the provisions of Wis. Stat. § 19.37(1)(b). I hereby request that the District Attorney for Dane County institute an action against the Madison Metropolitan School District and Robert Nadler, legal custodian, to recover the forfeiture provided in Wis. Stat. § 19.37(4) together with reasonable costs and disbursements as provided by law.

Dated: _________________________ __________________________________

James E. Zellmer

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November 18, 2005

Four Milwaukee Schools to Close

Doug Hissom:

The Milwaukee School Board voted to close Frederick Douglass and Philipp elementary schools, Webster Middle School and Juneau High School, with under-enrollment the contributing cause. The vote by the board was split along its usual 5-4 ideological leanings.

Closing Juneau High School raised the most questions, since, according to criteria set out by the MPS administration, it shouldn’t have been closed. Juneau, located at 6415 W. Mount Vernon Ave., was not under its enrollment. In fact, Juneau was over the capacity listed in its charter with MPS. The school is a citywide business school and also specializes in dealing with visually impaired students.

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MMSD Today Debuts

The Madison School District launches a very nice blog like page, including a syndication feed. Staff can submit articles and photographs, here.

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Are school lunches helping kids develop a healthy relationship with food as well as a healthy body?

Early in my career, I had to make a paradigm shift. Starting out, I thought my job was to tell people how to eat and I expected that they would eat as they “should”. Now I know that eating is a matter of taste and style and depends, for most people, to a lesser extent on nutrition facts. Although I’d love to be able to control what my clients eat, I have settled with the reality that I can’t even control what my dog eats! I buy Whole Foods dog food…he eats the white bread our neighbors toss on their lawn for the birds.

The point here is that your child’s eating style will be as unique as his appearance. It’s important that kids are provided with regular, fairly balanced meals and can choose what and how much to eat. It’s also important that they eat with others because meals are not just about consuming food. Once kids have meals that provide a framework for eating a variety of foods at predictable times, then the tendency to snack will lessen and cravings for processed foods will fade. Your child’s diet won’t be perfect, but he or she can still be perfectly healthy.

Normal, balanced eating has been taught throughout history by example—traditional combinations of foods eaten in a social context. Now we are expecting that kids will eat “healthy” by following a set of nutrition rules while surrounded by an unprecedented variety of very pleasurable, accessible and heavily advertised snacks. It is similar to telling a child, “for God’s sake, don’t touch yourself!”

Several hours after a small breakfast consisting of processed carbs (or no breakfast at all), hungry kids line up for school lunch. They start smelling the food, and then are faced with the choices: a meal? French fries and a Powerade? Dessert and juice? Many adults faced with the choice of what they “should” eat and what they “want” to eat will choose the latter…even more kids will do the same.

So, how can we help?
Adults can do a better job of managing the food environment to make it easier for kids to make more appropriate choices and to learn by example which foods are “staples” and which appear “now and then.” They also learn that combinations of different types of food make a satisfying meal for their body and mouth (otherwise termed hunger and appetite—both are important for guiding food choices).

A more ideal food environment would:

  • Offer fewer ala carte options which encourage kids to eat in a snacking/grazing style with more processed foods.
  • Provide a full meal for a flat fee. Choices can be offered within each food group (kids could select among several protein-containing main dish items; grain foods; a variety of fruits and vegetables; limited beverage options such as milk, chocolate milk or water; and small (1960’s sized) portions of recreational foods (desserts, chips, fries) several times per week.
  • Allow more time for sitting with friends and eating by scheduling longer lunch periods and having shorter lines.
  • Manage the diets of kids by having a deliberate plan for portion sizes and for frequency with which desserts and processed foods appear on the menu.
  • Offer a variety of foods to encourage kids to expand their tastes and see that all foods can be part of a decent diet. While fruit snacks have little redeeming nutritional quality, kids like them and are probably going to eat them. They should see, by example, that they are “now and then” foods (currently, they are available every day).
  • Avoid labeling food as “junk” or “unhealthy” or using nutrition labels that quantify calorie or fat content. With the combination of the obesity epidemic fueling fears and the “dieting” mind-set that is normative in the US, we feel we should identify which foods are junk and tell our kids, “for God’s sake, don’t eat it!” But, most kids like Oreos, for example. Because American culture promotes labeling food as “good” or “bad”, most kids can classify Oreos as bad. There is a small (very small) subset of very disciplined kids that won’t eat them. But most kids, given the chance, will. Of these, many will feel some degree of internal conflict. Negative food labels don’t change the food habits of most kids…they just add shame.
We need to guide our kids to be competent adult eaters by setting a reasonable example for what makes a satisfying meal and a nurturing eating environment. This needs to happen at school as well as at home.

--Marcy Braun, RD, Nutritionist, Pediatric Fitness Clinic, UW Health.

Ellyn Satter’s books will give you more information on feeding kids.

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Carol Carstensen's Email Message to Parent Groups

Carol Carstensen:

Parent Group Presidents:
N.B. The Board’s discussion regarding animals in the classroom has been postponed until January.

Why does the Madison district spend more than the state average per pupil? One part of the answer is that our student enrollment differs significantly from the state average in areas which require more services (and therefore greater costs):

  • Poverty Madison’s rate is 30% greater than the state’s average
  • English Language Learners (ELL): our percentage is more than 300% greater than the state’s
    Special Education the district has a higher percentage (16.8% vs. 12.6%) of students with special education needs - and a significantly higher percentage of high needs students. Of 389 students in the state identified with costs over $30,000 Madison has 109 (nearly 30%).

Board meetings on Monday, November 14: Long Range Planning (chair Bill Keys) heard an update on the East and Memorial/West Task Forces. There will be forums at several middle schools the week of Nov. 28 to get comments from parents and the community. Check the Task Force page on the district’s website ( to get dates, time and location. The Committee also approved a proposal to hire an architectural firm to work on a long range facility plan for both East and West High School. The maintenance referendum included major projects for these schools this plan will include both planned projects and improvements that will depend on private fundraising.

The Board approved the administration’s recommendation to proceed with a new Student Information System. This will be funded entirely out of reductions in staffing and other costs. Once in place, parents will be able to use the Internet to view their child’s attendance, test performance and progress reports.

Performance & Achievement (chair Shwaw Vang) heard a report from Pam Nash, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools, about the Middle Grades Design Team. The team is looking at ways to ensure that middle schools in the district offer more consistent experiences to all students and also that students are adequately prepared to take challenging courses in high school. There has been one meeting with middle school parents and another is planned to get reactions to proposed changes. There will also be a parent survey on the website to get further information from parents.

Human Resources (chair Juan Lopez) continued the discussion on setting goals for the Superintendent for this year. When these are finalized and adopted by the Board I will summarize them. The committee had a report on the increased number of employees of color. This has been a priority of the Board; the report showed that the district has more than doubled the percent of employees of color since 1987 (from 5.8% to 12. 6%).

Next week’s schedule meetings will be at WRIGHT MIDDLE SCHOOL [map]
5:00 Special Board Meeting
The first part is an executive session hearing from the district’s investigator into the taser incident last winter.
The open part of the meeting will be a discussion about the areas of conflict between the school district policy relating to interrogation and arrest of a student and the Madison Police Department procedures.
7:00 Human Resources (Juan Lopez, chair) report on the status of the district’s Workmen’s Compensation record and continued discussion on the 2005-06 Superintendent Goals and Evaluation process
Looking ahead: We are experimenting with televising committee and special Board meetings starting with the meetings on Nov. 28th. The main focus of the meeting will be an intensive review of the budget and staffing of 2 departments: Business Services and Human Resources.


Carol Carstensen, President
Madison School Board

"Until lions have their own historians, the hunters will always be glorified." - African Proverb

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Educational Reform Movements

"Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms" is a book by Diane Ravitch. On September 11, 2000, the Brookings Institute invited Ravitch for a discussion and public forum. Introductory remarks by Donna Shalala, then Secretary of HHS, and William Bennett, former Secretary of Education, preceded Ravitch's presentation, and the question/answer session that followed. Here

The basic premise of the book, an in depth study of the history, is that the reforms moved away from traditional rigorous academic standards, into social reform, causing the schools to fail for all kids, and therefore society. She also illustrates the how political labeling such as "liberal" and "conservative", "reform" and "traditional" have played an important role in school's failures.

Shalala's opening remarks should be familiar to those of us who followed her tenure as UW-Madison Chancellor. She emphasizes "we are not fair or honest with American kids about how hard learning is", citing her view that teacher should learn from coaches, who understand the role that practice, repetition, and small corrections play in achievement and reaching perfection.

Bennet's remarks are, from my view, the typically political "liberal v conservative" tripe that he is famous for, even as the issue of political labeling in the reform movement has been a contributing factor in educational quality failures.

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WKCE Test Problems

Amy Hetzner:

Missing and duplicate pages in test books, answers that were already filled in and other errors with the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations have been reported by school districts from Cudahy to Wausau as the state's testing period nears its end.

In all, 21 school districts have reported errors in 27 tests handed out to students since Oct. 24, the start of Wisconsin's five-week testing period for every third- through eighth-grader and high school sophomore enrolled in public school.

A spokeswoman for CTB/McGraw-Hill, which was paid $6.6 million in 2004 to oversee Wisconsin's testing program, blamed "printer-related problems" that affected test books given to a small number of students in fourth, eighth and 10th grades.

"The main thing to know is that the integrity of the student scores will be ensured," said Kelley Carpenter, director of public relations for CTB/McGraw-Hill.

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November 17, 2005

MMSD and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County Expand Mentoring Program

The Madison Metropolitan School District and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County are expanding the SOL Mentor Program to Leopold Elementary and Cherokee Middle Schools. The SOL Mentor Program continues to serve Latino, Spanish-speaking students at Frank Allis Elementary and Sennett Middle Schools and aims to match an additional 75 students with adult volunteers in the community over the next three years.

The SOL Mentor Program (“SOL” originally stood for Southdale Outreach and Links) seeks adult volunteers with some Spanish-speaking ability to become mentors in the lives of participating students. Traditionally, two types of volunteers have stepped forward in this capacity: Latino adults hoping to share their experiences in adapting to a new culture and Anglo adults eager to form friendships across cultural lines. The SOL Mentor Program embraces both.

“We are seeking adults who are genuinely interested in helping Latino youth lead healthy lifestyles,” says Lesli Vázquez, SOL Program Coordinator, MMSD. Interested persons should call 663-5237.

Currently, the program is experiencing a growing need for positive male role models. Male students enrolled in the program experience an average waiting time of at least twice as long as their female classmates.

The SOL Mentor Program serves a total of 57 families in the Madison area by matching Latino, Spanish-speaking 4-8 graders with adults in the community. The matches participate in a variety of educational and cultural activities, and most importantly establish a trusting relationship.

"The expansion of the program is creating momentum in our volunteer recruiting activity and as a result, we will be able to serve more children,” says Stephanie Gadzik, Volunteer Recruitment & Marketing Coordinator for BBBS of Dane County.

The partnership between MMSD and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Dane County has been a natural one. BBBS has been building meaningful relationships between adults and children in Dane County for more than 40 years. The SOL Program further enables the agency to extend its service to Madison’s fast-growing Latino community.

A special component of the SOL Mentoring Program is that volunteers have the opportunity to spend time with the children plus their families, in large community gatherings, sharing experiences and culture.

MMSD and BBBS of Dane County are implementing the SOL Mentoring Program with the assistance of several community partners. Bethel Lutheran Church, Dane County’s Joining Forces for Families, Centro Hispano, United Way of Dane County, Catholic Multicultural Center and the UW Office of Diversity and Community Initiatives each provide additional resources to the participating families, and help to recruit volunteer mentors for the program.

For more information on the SOL Mentoring Program, please log onto or contact the program at (608) 663-5237.

Ken Syke
Public Information
Madison School District
voice 663 1903; cell 608 575 6682; fax 608 204 0342

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Romney Calls for More Tech Innovation

Stan Gibson:

Underlining the challenge, Romney said leaders of one technology firm in Massachusetts anticipated that 90 percent of its skilled labor would be in Asia in 10 years. He also pointed to statistics that show the United States graduating only 4,400 mathematics and science PhDs each year compared with 24,900 math and science PhDs for greater Asia.

"China and India have a population a multiple of ours. They have natural resources. There is no reason they can't emerge as the superpower. The only way we can preserve that role for ourselves is through innovation. It's erroneous that we do high-level work here and send low-level work abroad. When our market is no longer the largest market in the world, the idea that we're going to be innovating and they're going to be copying is erroneous," Romney said.In response to the looming crisis, Romney pointed to some specific problems and proposed some remedies.

He said we must close the educational achievement gap between racial groups in the United States. "The education gap is the civil rights issue of our age." He also said all U.S. students must raise their standing compared with students in other industrialized countries. According to one study, U. S. students rank 25th out of 41 industrial nations. "Fewer and fewer are performing at the top level," he said.

He suggested paying teachers a $5,000 bonus for teaching Advanced Placement courses, as well as giving the top third of teachers a $5,000 bonus. He also suggested a bonus for teachers that teach in troubled school districts. Romney also favored giving secondary school students laptop computers.

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Dane County United Calls for Child Care Funding

More day care funding urged for low-income kids

By Pat Schneider, the Capital Times
November 17, 2005

Every kid deserves a piece of the pie.

That was the message Wednesday, when members of Dane County United joined with the Bright and Early Coalition to put out the message that more public money is needed to support quality child care programs for low-income families.

One half of Madison children enrolled in day care are in city-accredited programs, said Vernon Blackwell, a member of Dane County United, a grass-roots social justice advocacy group.

The number drops to one-quarter for low-income children, Blackwell said.

Dane County United has been working behind the scenes, building relationships with community groups to address the issue of early childhood care through a variety of strategies, from strengthening existing programs to exploring the possibility of kindergarten for 4-year-olds.

"This is something we have to address," Blackwell said.

He and David Wolfe of Bright and Early, a public education initiative, demonstrated the disparities in access to quality child care at a press conference at Madison Area Technical College with an old-fashioned pie chart - a pair of real pumpkin pies carved up to show the disproportionate numbers of children in accredited programs.

The activists praised Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who at their urging had restored early on $62,000 in proposed cuts to the city's child care accreditation and subsidy programs.

Former MATC student Sarka Cobb told the group about how being able to place her daughter in an accredited program right at the college allowed her to complete training for the position as a registered nurse she now holds at St. Marys Hospital.

"These programs change people's lives and, by changing people's lives, change the community," Blackwell said.

Cieslewicz said it becomes more difficult each year to sustain such programs because of dwindling federal and state funds.

"The federal government spends $6 billion a month on the war in Iraq," Cieslewicz said. "If we took a small portion of that and invested in our own children, we'd be a lot better off."

Every public dollar spent on early childhood care saves $7 later on in services that are not needed, he said.

Full story and GREAT photo at:

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Middle School Focus Group Parent Group Comments

November 10 Focus Group Responses (Background): [html version] [PDF]

The school district is continually working to build more rigor into the learning experiences that students have. Rigor is defined as commitment to a core subject matter knowledge, a high demand for thinking, and an active use of knowledge. When you think of a rigorous academic curriculum in the middle school, what would it look like?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:38 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

History Will Be Made On Friday Night!!!

On Friday November 18th at Madison Ice Arena [map] the Madison Metro Lynx invites you to attend their game versus Superior High School at 6:30 p.m. This is the first girls ice game in the history of the Madison Metropolitan School District!

Madison Metro Lynx is a seven school cooperative effort of the MMSD with Madison Memorial serving as lead school. Skaters also attend Middleton, Waunakee and Monona Grove.

For these girls and many other younger female hockey players in Dane County, this sport will provide an additional meaningful opportunity as they progress through their high school years.

We hope to see you as the Madison Metro Lynx play in their first game in their inaugural season.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 10:08 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MMSD Budget Mystery #4: Body Count or 1-2-3 FTE

All right, gice and galz. I been called in. Sam Spade, that is. No more pussyfootin' around like that little Nancy Drew kinda mystery ya been seein'. Dis is a tough one. Ain't none of ya gonna' figur it out. But I'm here ta make ya try.

When da Board of Education passed the MMSD buget on the first go round, that is, da balanced budget, da buget supposedly had 3781.23 FTEs (that's full time equivalent postions, for you beginners), compared to da 04-05 school year which supposedly had 3880.86 FTEs, and compared to da "same service" budget which supposedly had 3914.86 FTEs. Ya followin' me?

When da same said Board of Education passed da final buget, how many of dem so-called FTEs did it approve?

Ta give ya a hint, click here ta see a chart that shows some of da FTEs, but it's got lots of blanks, and I don't mean blanks in my .38. That's fully loaded.

The winnin' PI is da one can fill in da most blanks based on da MMSD buget documents.

Knock yerselfs out!

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Gates Foundation Looks at Results

Joanne Jacobs:

After investing $1 billion in small high schools, the Gates Foundation has learned results are "mixed," according to a study commissioned by the foundation. The study found progress in reading and language arts, but not in math.

Among the most disheartening findings of that analysis -- and one the researchers said also applied to comparison schools in their study that do not receive Gates support -- was the lack of rigor in teacher assignments and student work, especially in math.

"[W]e concluded that the quality of student work in all of the schools we studied is alarmingly low," the evaluation says. "This is not surprising, however, because students cannot demonstrate high-quality work if they have not been given assignments that require deep understanding" and higher-order thinking skills.

Education director Tom Vander Ark said the Gates Foundation already is working on the problems cited in the study, emphasizing "districtwide measures intended to improve the quality of curriculum and instruction, as well as an emphasis on using proven school models."

New schools had better results than existing schools that had been redesigned.

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Bus Battle Brewing at LaFollette

Angela Bettis:

Students and teachers at LaFollette High School are fighting for equal bus service.

They'll take their argument to the city council Tuesday.

Limited bus service from Lafollette on the east side to students' homes on the south side of the city is creating problems academically.

Students say they are not able to go to the same after school activities as kids at other schools because of the ongoing transportation problem.

Andres Garcia runs an after school Latino Club, but has been having problems getting students in the door.

"Because of the bus problems, no one was actually able to stay," he said.

Teachers have said students who need more help learning English are missing out.

"We have academics that meet after school and clubs," said science teacher Lisa Endicott. "Some of those things we can't get the kids home for academics is the thing that hurts the most."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 16, 2005

West / Memorial Forum Audio/Video Archive (11/15/2005 @ Leopold)

Watch this event (about 90 minutes) or Listen (mp3 audio)
A public forum was held to update the community on plans to address overcrowding in the West-Memorial attendance area at Leopold Elementary School Tuesday evening. Troy reports 150 people attended (in the comments, take a look at the video clip for details), rather decent, given some other events I've participated in - much more than my quick estimate of 40, which was wrong. [Editor: gotta love the quick feedback loop. Anyone else have a count? :)] In any event, substantive questions were discussed and raised.
A number of ideas were shared along with quite a few public comments. I've summarized a few below (from my notes) (there were many more - have a look at the video):
  • Why does Van Hise Elementary have such a small low income population relative to other schools?
  • What data supports the creation of "paired schools" from a student achievement perspective?
  • Why are we considering busing children all the way to Marquette / Lapham [map]?
  • (this comment was made after the official event closed) Why won't the MMSD build a school (farther south) in Fitchburg?
  • I asked: "Why were no scenarios / ideas presented vis a vis the nearby [map] Wright Middle School Facility?"
This 3 page pdf Forum / idea summary was sent to all Thoreau parents Tuesday. UPDATE: Arlene Silveira mentions, via email, that she thought about 120 attended.
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Beaverton School Board Rejects Regional Income Tax

OPB News:

A proposed regional tax to fund metro-area schools next year is dead.

The responsible party is the Beaverton school board, whose members voted unanimously last night to reject the plan. Rob Manning reports.

The vote was seven to zero. Eight to zero, if you count retired board member, Mike Leopold.

Mike Leopold: We don't want to let our local control away, let slip away, by joining with the other school districts to initiate a regional income tax.

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Union Contracts Stymie School Hiring Decisions

Elaine Korry, All Things Considered:

A new study details obstacles in union contracts that schools in big cities face in terms of being able to hire and fire teachers. In as many as 40 percent of teacher openings in five large districts, the study says, school administrators had no say in the selection process.
audio Much more, here.

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Grant to Increase AP Classes

Matt Pommer:

Madison will build on Project Excel, a program started last year to identify promising eighth-graders and provide assistance as they begin their high school years. Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash said the grant focuses on helping those students in the ninth grade.

Memorial High School now has a large number of advanced placement courses, and the district will focus on increasing the advanced placement courses at the other three high schools. Advanced placement courses often provide college credits, and that's important in an era of high tuitions, Nash said.

"Advanced placement courses are wonderful opportunities for students to be challenged," she said.

The eight rural districts, all in southwestern Wisconsin, will expand their opportunities through distance learning, aided by the University of Wisconsin and the Cooperative Educational Service Agency in Tomahawk.

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Board of Education in No Rush to Explore Health Insurance Savings

Last June, the Madison Board of Education ratified the 2005-07 collective bargaining agreement with Madison Teachers, Inc. The agreement commits the district and the teachers union to form a task force to identify potential cost savings from changes in health insurance coverage. If the task force finds savings, the parties may renegotiate the health care provisions. The deadline for this work is February of 2006.

Months ago, both sides named their representatives to the task force. Months ago, the Board’s attorney declared that the task force meetings—--prior to possible renegotiation—--would be public meetings. Five months have passed without a public meeting of the task force. The Human Resources Committee, which has oversight of this process, has not mentioned the topic or called for a report from administration. In fact, the board has received more updates from the administraton about discussions on the future of guinea pigs in classrooms than it has on possible savings in health care costs. Now only a few months remain to collect information on this complex topic, analyze the options and, if possible, renegotiate the health insurance provisions in the two-year agreement.

Much is at stake. Last year, health insurance for employees cost the district $37M, more than 10% of the budget. Payments for teachers' insurance account for most of the costs. In addition, teachers stand to benefit from wage increases during the remainder of the 2005-07 agreement, because the parties agreed that the teachers, not district programs, will get the benefit of new savings.

Although the district cannot save money during the two-year contract, it might be in a better position to contain health insurance costs in future agreements, if the task force is productive. A rushed process at the last minute is unlikely to produce the needed changes or to raise public confidence in the board’s handling of district finances.

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Test Prep Help for Students Who Can't Afford Kaplan

I'm not sure if this is still the case, but at one time, MMSD offered a college entrance test prep course in an 8-week summer session. But for many reasons, needing to work among them, not all students can take advantage of this opportunity.

What if high school seniors or adult volunteers tutored their younger classmates, especially those who can't afford the time or the money to take the Kaplan courses? How about a service project where students or adult volunteers offer a weekly review after school or (if student-run,during the lunch hour)?

In a perfect world, everyone would be taking these tests "cold", but the reality is that a tremendous amount of coaching takes place. Practicing the test format alone is helpful.

ACT test prep for low income students

MIDDLE- and upper-class teenagers get lots of extra help in the college application process. They get personal SAT tutors and SAT prep courses, they get assistance on their résumés and college essays from writing coaches and parents. They have guidance counselors and teachers with time to help.

The poor tend not to be so lucky. They can't afford tutors or prep courses, and often don't have parents who've been to college to guide them. Their high schools are more likely to be understaffed. North High School here, which is three-quarters black, has two guidance counselors for 1,100 students.

But a nonprofit program started here five years ago, Admission Possible, aims to give 600 poor teenagers a year (average family income of $25,000) the kind of edge that wealthy students routinely enjoy.

Students in Admission Possible get a 15-week ACT prep course (the dominant college entrance exam here), and their scores rise an average of 15 percent. They get extensive coaching on the essays. "We did my essay over 20 times," said Akil Foluke, a North High senior who hopes to go to Georgia Tech.

They get individualized help that would cost $100 an hour from a private tutor. The week before the ACT, Jocelyn McQuirter, a senior, called her Admission Possible coach, John Lindquist, begging for one more session. "I knew if I could get a 20 on that ACT, it would make a difference," she said. "We met at McDonald's. He gave up his Easter Sunday for me." And Jocelyn got her 20 (equivalent to 950 on the SAT verbal and math).

The day of the ACT, Admission Possible coaches like Bidisha Bhattacharyya are on the phone making sure students show up for the test. "She woke me at 6," said Melissa Mantooth, a Roosevelt High senior. "I probably would have been late or something. She even told us what to eat: lots of protein but nothing too heavy."

Jocelyn said, "For the ACT, John suggested peanut butter."

In 2000, Jim McCorkell, now 37, started Admission Possible out of his apartment, drawing on his experiences. Mr. McCorkell, whose parents never finished high school, is a graduate of Carleton College and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. He worked on the campaigns of Senator Paul Wellstone and was influenced by that Democrat's social activism. Mr. McCorkell helped pay for college by teaching Kaplan SAT prep courses for $15 an hour. "My starting idea was what if we replicated Kaplan for poor kids," he said.

The program is financed by corporate donations and foundations and has grown to a $900,000 budget, moving from the apartment to an office. It recently won a state award for innovation among nonprofits.

But what really makes Admission Possible succeed is the two dozen college coaches who are members of AmeriCorps, the nation's domestic Peace Corps. They are in their early 20's, just out of college, and idealistic enough to put in 50-hour weeks for an AmeriCorps salary of $10,600 a year. To get by, several need food stamps. Asked why he does this when he could earn so much more, Mr. Lindquist said, "I'm interested in closing the achievement gap."

Mike Favor, North High's principal, thinks so highly of the program, he gave Admission Possible an office beside his guidance department. "They're the glue keeping kids on track for college," he said. At the nine urban schools where the coaches are based, they have as high a profile as the military recruiters, but push college instead of the Army.

Each spring, they spend six weeks recruiting. It is not an easy sell. The program seeks motivated students with a realistic shot at college. They need a 2.5 average and must pass the state skills test. They interview with Admission Possible, get recommendations, and commit to four hours a week after school for two years. They take four practice ACT's in junior year.

To recruit, the coaches attend faculty meetings and pep rallies, send letters home, go to parent conference night. Nick Maryns wears a sandwich board at lunch at Patrick Henry High. "Kids laugh at me," he said, "but at most tables, there's one who's interested. It's not that they're irresponsible. They have so many responsibilities - raising siblings, translating for parents, working to support the family - they don't think of college."

The 317 accepted in this junior class are overrepresented by females (63 percent) and Asians (43 percent, mainly Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia). Twenty-one percent are black, but only 6 percent, 19, are black males. "It's our biggest problem," Mr. Lindquist said. "We recruit plenty, but a lot have G.P.A.'s of like 1.8. We tell them to spend the time raising their grades."

On the first ACT practice test, students average 15.5 (a combined 750 SAT) and improve to 18 (a combined 900 SAT, still low, but good enough to get into a college). Students like Louis Adams who went from 16 to 22 (1,050 combined SAT) are able to aim for more elite colleges. Retention is good; 10 percent drop out a year. Of the 300 juniors starting in 2003, 246 finished last spring, and 100 percent of them got into college (96 percent at four-year schools).

STUDENTS visit colleges and get help with schoolwork. "I'll call John three times in two hours," Louis said. "Today I came to John's office for help with AP calculus. To me, he's even more powerful than a military recruiter. You see him in hallways, in the office, everywhere."

The essay is a challenge. "At the beginning they think they should write about volleyball or student council," Ms. Bhattacharyya said. They are isolated in minority schools and neighborhoods and don't understand how they differ from middle-class America.

Ms. Bhattacharyya encouraged Tim Dumas, a Roosevelt senior, to write about his life in foster care. "Because my mom did not watch over me," he began, "I missed about three months of school in first grade." He described the two social workers who came to take him away, his hope of living someplace nice, and the reality. "I was greeted by the disappointment of a small bed in someone else's room." By eighth grade, he wrote, "I became the person who mainly cooked and cleaned the house."

All his life, Tim wrote in his college essay's conclusion, school has been his great joy: "Throughout my whole experience with dealing with foster care and moving a lot, I know of one friend, school, that stuck with me through it all. School has been my foster parent all along guiding me into my future. I would never turn my back on education because it never turned its back on me."

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Strong, Consistent Middle School Academics

As I listened to the Pam Nash’s (Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools) presentation on the Middle School Redesign to the Performance and Achievement Committee last night, I was thinking of an academic/elective middle school framework applied across the district that would be notable in its rigor and attractiveness to parents and some next steps. Personally, I consider fine arts and foreign language as core subject areas that all students need and benefit from in Grades 6-8.

Have at it and comment with your wish list/ideas, education and support for students, developing a few more options/strategies.

Possible “common” structure in middle school that next year could look like:

6th – math, social studies, language arts, science on a daily basis plus two unified art periods (one is A/B phys ed and music plus 4 one quarter units).
7th – math, social studies, language arts, science, foreign language on a daily basis plus two unified art periods (one is a/b phys ed and music plus 4 one quarter units)
8th – math, social studies, language arts, science, foreign language on a daily basis plus two unified art periods (one is a/b phys ed and music plus 2 half semester units

In each of the 5 day subject areas, look at differentiation - narrower, but not isolated, ranges of ability grouping and heterogenous classes. In math there would be the opportunity to take geometry in 8th grade, say. Other different challenging/support options in other areas. This is basically the current schedule at Hamilton Middle School and some other middle schools.

For the study units that make sense to offer on a quarterly then half semester basis, look across the district and see what the mixes are and also look at WI Code PI 8.02 (standards) to see what is required and allowed to be offered in quarterly or half semester units.

Look at participation in each elective at each school, look at skills/objectives in each. Survey parents and kids and ask them to rank their top 4, 5 or 10 electives. Offer these units as quarterly or half semester units for the next year. Identify those units that might go to a multi-quarter, one year or 3 one year course that would be an a/b, a) be excellent for this age group, b) leads into further study in high school, c) other.

I also think it would be worthwhile to pay close attention to what districts in the surrounding school districts are offering academically. These school districts could increasingly become Madison’s competition if they haven't already.

From 2001 to 2004 1,200 new students are in school in Madison and the surrounding communities. From 2001 to 2004 Madison lost nearly 200 students. The economic value of 1,200 kids at $10,000 per student is $12,000,000. Losing 200 students loses $2,000,000 in revenue which equates to 40 teachers. Also, during that same time period approx 2,000 low income students entered the MMSD and 2,000 non low-income students were no longer in the MMSD. About another new 1,000 low income students are in districts surrounding Madison.

I’m pulling this data from DPI and will post soon. Low income children can require more support services – higher overhead. If we do not keep a mix of students, more of the overhead dollars (non-instruction costs) will go to support services. That’s less education for all – more parents will continue to go to the ‘burbs. This does not have to be but will continue to be so if the School Board does not factor in this issue.

Enough for now. I’d be interested in folks thoughts.

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November 15, 2005

Student Shoots Classmate with BB Gun

Angela Bettis:

A 13-year-old boy is in police custody after allegedly shooting three fellow middle school students with a BB gun.
The incident happened on a Madison Metro bus Tuesday morning. Now that student could face expulsion. Officers say a Black Hawk Middle School 7th-grader hid a BB gun pistol in his sleeve, brought it on the school bus and shot one student in the chest and two others in the leg. Police say it all happened in the 500 block of Northport Drive.

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No Place for a Poet at a Banquet of Shame

You might agree or disagree with poet Sharon Olds on the war in Iraq, but you have to be touched by her description of writing by patients with severe disabilities. Read the full open letter in The Nation.

When you have witnessed someone nonspeaking and almost nonmoving spell out, with a toe, on a big plastic alphabet chart, letter by letter, his new poem, you have experienced, close up, the passion and essentialness of writing. When you have held up a small cardboard alphabet card for a writer who is completely nonspeaking and nonmoving (except for the eyes), and pointed first to the A, then the B, then C, then D, until you get to the first letter of the first word of the first line of the poem she has been composing in her head all week, and she lifts her eyes when that letter is touched to say yes, you feel with a fresh immediacy the human drive for creation, self-expression, accuracy, honesty and wit--and the importance of writing, which celebrates the value of each person's unique story and song.

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Middleton Schools Seek Answers to Failed Referenda

Ann Marie Ames:

The School Board wants to know why three of four referendum questions failed last month.

Board members on Monday night reviewed draft copies of a survey they intend to send to 400 residents in the Middleton-Cross Plains district.

The survey is one way the board hopes to improve communication between the school district and the community. The district also plans to increase the amount of positive information about district events sent to residents via e-mail.

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2M Student System Approved

Matt Pommer:

The $2 million for the student information system will be spread out over six budget years. Assistant Superintendent for Business Roger Price and planning and research director Kurt Kiefer said the system will pay for itself through efficiency and reduced staffing needs.

Parents would begin to see the impact of the new online system in the 2006-2007 school year, Kiefer said. He warned that training and implementation of the new computer software would take time and be "painful" for a period. The system is similar to one already being used in the Middleton-Cross Plains school district.

When it is fully operational, parents will be able to use a computer to see their child's grades, progress reports, attendance and behavior reports. Students will be able to examine course schedules and register over the new system. Class attendance reporting will be fully computerized with the system.

Board member Ruth Robarts questioned how much parents would be able to use the system to communicate with teachers or to see course assignments. Rainwater said there are labor union contract issues related to what teachers could be required to do in those areas.

Ruth identified a critical issue in the successfull implementation of such a system.

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West Reading Scores by Ethnicity

These are the figures from the DPI Web site on minimum and basic 10th grade readers at West.

Asian/Pacific Islander:

Minimum - 5%
Basic - 11%


Minimum - 22%
Basic - 24%

Combined Groups(Small Number)

Minimum - 25%
Basic - 34%

How will the core curriculum teach them to read and write?

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November 14, 2005

Evaluation of the SLC Project at West High School

Here is the full text of SLC Evaluator Bruce King's recent report on the plan to implement a common English 10 course at West HS.

Evaluation of the SLC Project at West High School
The 10th Grade English Course

M.Bruce King, Project Evaluator

2 November 2005

The development and implementation of the common 10th grade English course is a significant initiative for two related reasons. First, the course is central to providing instruction in the core content areas within each of the four small learning communities in grade 10, as outlined in the SLC grant proposal. And second, the course represents a major change from the elective course system for 10th graders that has been in existence at West for many years. Given the importance of this effort, we want to understand what members of the English Department thought of the work to date.

Seven** English Department faculty members participated in individual interviews on October 17 and 24, 2005. Each of them was asked to discuss the following general issues:

1. The process for developing the 10th grade course and your involvement in that process.
2. Your perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the course.
3. Extent of support for the course at any of these levels -- you, English Department, West faculty, administration, students, parents.
4. Other related issues or concerns.

The remainder of this report will address these teachers' views on the context and process for the course's development, the quality of the course, and suggestions for next steps. I will concentrate on dominant trends, that is, viewpoints and perspectives that were voiced by at least some of the teachers. Others may have disagreed or simply not commented on these dominant trends, but for the sake of (hopefully) being concise and maintaining confidentiality, my purpose does not include documenting each teacher's beliefs on all the issues discussed. I'll conclude with a few recommendations based on teachers' perspectives as well as my understanding of goals of the grant and related literature.

The Context for Course Development

Based on the interviews, it is clear that something needed to be done with the existing system for 10th grade English. The overarching concern for these teachers was that the elective course structure, while extremely positive in many respects, was a contributing factor to vastly unequal educational opportunities across different student groups. Certain elective courses were considered rigorous, challenging, and geared only for high achievers while others were thought to be remedial, uninspiring, and for low achievers. Student self-selection, as well as students being placed in or "encouraged" to take certain courses, has led to de facto ability-group tracking in English. The fact that high and low achieving student groups correspond to different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds was very significant for many of these teachers.

Why is this situation a problem? Most teachers echoed concerns arising from research (1) on tracking in diverse, comprehensive high schools. There is high variation across the different courses in expectations for learning, teaching quality, school climate, and course-taking patterns. Students of color and low SES students are more likely than their peers to be enrolled in courses with low levels of opportunity for academic success. Teachers were concerned that after 9th grade, some students could and did complete English credits without taking a literature course. Additional concerns with the existing system that were voiced by some of the teachers included the increased workload for preparation and grading that came along with teaching different courses, and the current writing courses that consisted of curriculum divorced from other important English content. It was noted that these concerns were sources of some ongoing discussion and conflict within the department.

The whole issue of a common 10th grade English course seems to have heightened the level of divisiveness within the department. Teachers reported that the department was split, with many wanting to revise the elective system and others pressing for the single common 10th grade course. The decision to go with the common course was an administrative one, which was seen as a positive move by a number of teachers interviewed. That is, they appreciated the principal taking a stand on a significant curriculum issue, especially one that had been contentious within the department itself and that would likely be among parent groups.

After the decision was made, many of those who were previously in favor of revising the elective system were willing to go with the common course and, to the extent possible, contributed to the development of the course over the summer. However, some of those initially in favor of the course opted out of its development due in part to the hostility they perceived from those in different camps. Thus, who was involved in the course development and who was not has now become another point of tension. At the process level, some have felt personally attacked and others frustrated that their views were not being considered or by the lack of support from departmental colleagues.

A working group formulated the curriculum for the course over a few days in August. Many of those involved reported that this was a valuable experience, with critical and respectful professional dialogue that constructively dealt with areas of disagreement. Teachers' perspectives on the quality of the course that was designed by the group in August is considered next.

Course Quality

While acknowledging that the new 10th grade English course will not be a cure-all, the vast majority of teachers believed that its design represents a relatively strong course that will likely benefit all students. Aspects of the course that teachers highlighted included:

---"Best of the best" of the elective courses. The course will provide a solid year of literature that will serve as a common foundation for further (elective) course work in English. The readings and themes should appeal to students of different ability levels and different backgrounds. Writing will be emphasized throughout the year and be tied directly to themes and literature.

--- Choice. Many teachers believed that one of the strongest components of the elective system was student choice. 10th grade English will maintain some choice with classes selecting the theme of "justice" or "identity" for study.

--- Mixed groups of students. All students will get a common challenging curriculum that some students, under the elective system, would otherwise miss. Differences in opportunity to learn will thereby be reduced. Teachers understood that equality in education does not require that all students have the same learning experiences and endorsed the next two points.

--- Honors component. Any student can opt for additional readings and assignments to achieve honors designation. These students will meet twice per week during lunch. Some teachers felt that high-end students will feel extremely challenged.

--- Help for struggling students. Opportunities for skill enrichment and for accommodations or adaptations in materials or assignments will be available twice per week during lunch. Teachers were optimistic that two years of a solid foundation in English at the 9th and 10th grade levels will encourage these students to take more challenging electives as 11th and 12th graders.

--- Year-long course. Continuity between students and teachers will help both social relationships and academic achievement.

A number of concerns with the course were also expressed. The main ones included the following:

--- Differentiation. Common courses with heterogeneously grouped students require considerable knowledge and skill on the teachers' part to provide appropriate learning experience to students. Teachers will need support to do this.

--- Regrouping. Some were concerned that the lunch hour components for honors and struggling students would group students by ability, something the course was supposed to end. A related concern was whether these opportunities would shift the responsibility away from teachers to appropriately differentiate within the classroom, leading to actual implementation of a one-size-fits-all course.

--- Choice of themes. As with the elective system, choice can lead to unequal opportunities to learn. The different themes must be taught in a rigorous manner so they are not associated with different levels of challenge or considered appropriate for certain groups of students.

--- Coherence and goals of the course. Most teachers endorsed the themes and works of literature that will be included in the course. However, questions were raised about the overall purposes and learning goals of the course.

Next Steps

As teachers reflected on the process for course development, the quality of the course, and level of support for it, they either stated directly or strongly implied a desire for particular efforts in the near term. I'll summarize here their shared points of view for next steps.

Collegiality within the English Department needs to improve. The divisiveness over the course itself and the personal nature of some confrontations should be addressed. Some teachers were hopeful and some were doubtful that relations can be rebuilt or improved.

Ongoing critical reflection and analysis of both the 9th and 10th grade English courses are needed. This analysis should address different but interrelated concerns:

1) The failure rate for 9th grade English, and which students are failing. It is not clear if a common 9th grade course has helped close the achievement gap.

2) Continuous improvement and revision of course curriculum. This activity not only addresses topics and readings (e.g., how much Shakespeare? are non-white authors sufficiently represented?), but also should consider what the "enduring" understandings, skills, and themes are that are targeted for student learning and how to get there. It was noted that the typical conversations around curriculum rarely get to these issues; they are abstract and philosophical or at the level of content coverage.

3) Monitoring the lunch hour components. Is the increased class time for students realistic? Are resources sufficient? Do the resource teachers have the skills to accommodate different students? How can we make sure the honors component does not become a mechanism to re-segregate students by ability?

Teachers of the 9th grade course and teachers of the 10th grade course need more time for collaboration to address issues of instructional quality. Specific concerns that were expressed included approaches to differentiation, increasing the challenges for critical thinking and writing, and how to best teach writing and what expectations for writing should be.


Based on the teachers perspectives, the goals of the grant, and the related literature, I offer a few reflections and suggestions for both near-term and longer term efforts. I'll first address the issue of relations within the department.

One of the major fault lines within the department seems to be between those who are most concerned with academic rigor and those who are most concerned with the students who are struggling. There is common ground here that might be pursued further. The literature on SLC's and school reform draws attention to the connection between excellence through rigorous learning experiences for all students and equity. Successful small learning communities have students actively investigate topics and produce authentic demonstrations of their knowledge through exhibitions or performances. Learning experiences require students to acquire and critically analyze information; develop, test, and defend conclusions; and demonstrate in-depth understanding. Research shows that when students are involved in this kind of intellectually challenging work, student effort and engagement is increased, and classroom practice is linked to improved and more equitable student achievement (2).

These considerations push the substantive focus of discussions beyond curriculum and into approaches to instruction and learning expectations. At the process level, in order to rebuild collegiality and cultivate common ground, some definitive norms for meetings, such as setting and sticking to agendas and no personal attacks, need to be established.

In high schools where the vast majority of students achieve academically, there are organizational patterns that promote community and sustained, collaborative activities that promote learning across student groups (3). Rather than a department-wide focus, perhaps a more modest but accessible goal in the near-term would be to concentrate on smaller groups of grade-level teams and interdisciplinary Core teams for the development of professional communities. To further collective responsibility, all department teachers should probably be on one of these teams (4).

The department's work on the 10th grade English course is to be commended. Teachers recognized that the unequal learning opportunities that the existing elective system created across different student groups had to be addressed. As was noted, the 10th grade course will not be a cure-all or a magic bullet, and teachers were spot-on in terms of the ongoing analysis that needs to take place. Could the elective system have been revised to address the problem of unequal learning opportunities? Perhaps. Increasing options for juniors and seniors seems reasonable, and as interviews suggested, the common English courses will hopefully encourage all students to take more challenging electives as 11th and 12th graders. But excellence and equity is enhanced by high levels of academic press (or expectations) through a narrow (as opposed to broad, comprehensive) curriculum (5). A common, heterogeneously grouped course is consistent with the implementation of Small Learning Communities.

The course developers have rightly emphasized differentiated assignments, but the extent to which this will consistently be put into practice remains to be seen. A red flag was, I think, appropriately raised about re-grouping of students by ability (consider how special education students might be encouraged, and assignments adapted, to achieve honors designation; will they?). I'll also point out that students will be regrouped across SLC's, rather than structuring these efforts by SLC where students are supposed to be better connected and their learning needs better understood. Hopefully, implementation will be consistent with the relevant literature for SLC's, "The necessity of school level detracking does not rule out the practice of grouping within SLC on an ad hoc and fluid basis (6)."

How can high quality implementation be promoted? Teachers' workloads should also be balanced. In addition, an action research group might be formed to evaluate the 9th grade course, including levels of expectations and differentiation, failure rates by student groups, and the extent to which it has helped or hindered students to take challenging English courses in subsequent years. Apparently it hasn't helped some groups of students that much. Why? What needs to be changed so it does and so the 10th grade course does as well?

Common time to meet, as separate 9th and 10th grade English teams, seems to be critical for generating collaboration on and collective responsibility on their respective courses. Professional development and other forms of support for differentiation should be available to address identified needs. Facilitation for constructive professional dialogue focused on the issues teachers raised above (learning goals and expectations, enduring understandings, teaching writing, etc.) is crucial. Integrating these discussions with the work of grade-level Core teams may help to foster and support SLC's interdisciplinary efforts, including perhaps a thematic or problem-based approach that is integrated across different subject areas (7). And if this looks somewhat different across SLC's, that can be positive as long as high academic expectations for all students are maintained (8).

Clearly, the work around the 10th grade English course has been extremely difficult, with both personal and collective trade-offs, in addition to utterly hurtful confrontations. And there is more to do. But, to the extent the interviewed teachers are representative of the department as a whole, there is a spirit and desire to collaboratively confront issues of curriculum, teaching, and learning -- as well as equity and excellence -- in a professional, respectful way. To move toward building professional community among teachers can only be beneficial for further implementation of the small learning communities.

** the West English Department currently has 17 faculty members

1 -- Murphy, J., et al. (2001). The productive high school: Creating personalized academic communities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

2 - Oxley, D. (2004). Small learning communities: Implementing and deepening practice. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Also Resnick, L.B., et al. (2003). The principles of learning: Study tools for educators. Pittsburgh, PA: Institute for Learning. The Principles of Learning emphasize an effort-based system instead of intelligence or ability-based system. "An effort-based school replaces the assumption that aptitude determines what and how much students learn with the assumption that sustained and directed effort can yield high achievement for all students. Everything is organized to evoke and support this effort, to send the message that effort is expected and that tough problems yield to sustained work. High minimum standards are set and assessments are geared to the standards. All students are taught a rigorous curriculum, matched to the standards, along with as much time and expert instruction as they need to meet or exceed expectations."

3 -- Murphy et al.

4 -- To the extent that any individual teachers teach only elective classes, they are not part of collaborative efforts focused on specific courses for diverse students.

5 -- Lee, V. E. (with Smith, J. B.) (2001). Restructuring high school for equity and excellence: What works. New York: Teachers College Press.

6 - Oxley, p. 72

7 - Research related to SLC's suggests that teacher collaboration can "expand teachers' knowledge of student learning needs and the means to increase the consistency of students' educational experiences," and that "academic department goals must support SLC's interdisciplinary teamwork." Oxley, p. 61, 69

8 - Small learning community research and practice indicate that SLC's with a unique focus or mission can be productive, Success then depends on choice and a shared commitment to the mission. See Oxley

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Middleton High School Wins DOE Blue Ribbon Award

Angela Bettis:

Middleton High School is one of the top in the state according to the federal government.

The school is one of only two high schools in Wisconsin to be recognized as a blue ribbon school by the U.S. Department of Education. The award recognizes Middleton's academically superior student performance.

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A different student viewpoint of West High

This was forwarded to the West High listserve with the request that it be posted as part of the current discussion about changes at West High.

When I read the anonymous email from a current West freshman who is defined as "talented and gifted," I could not help but feel that I should write about my own personal experiences. I am in the exact same position as the previous writer (a current freshman at West High, defined as "talented and gifted."), but I have completely opposite views. My time at West so far has been quite enjoyable. While some of the core freshman classes are indeed rather simple, I do not feel that my assignments are "busy work." While most classes may be easy, they still teach worthwhile information.

In my geometry class, for example, I am getting very high grades and do not always find the work completely challenging, it is important to learn the theorems and practice them before I can move on to a more difficult class. To get a more stimulating math experience, I worked it out with my guidance counselor to take an elective programming class, which is not intended fo r freshman, and that class stretches my mathematical limits. I am both learning the necessary theorems for math, and broadening my horizons. My english class I have also found enjoyable and plenty satisfying for a freshman class. I feel that it is necessary to point out that there is more than one freshman english teacher, and the anonymous freshman writer may very well have a far more mediocre teacher than I do. If that person is not finding their english class challenging enough, perhaps they could meet with their guidance counselor to switch teachers. The english curriculum in my class I have found to be quite interesting. As I will be a sophomore next year, I was rather concerned with the prospect of a core english curriculum and, I will admit, was not at all excited when I discovered that it would being going through. However, when I took the time to read through the details of this class, I was quite pleased. I am very excited with the literature that will be assi gned in this class, and I feel that this new curriculum may very well be more rigorous than any previous sophomore options. In addition, there are nearly a dozen elective english classes that sophomores will have the chance to take. Such classes should satisfy any sophomore's love for literature. There is also the option to take the extra english honor's classes. Yes, I am aware that these will be during lunch twice a week, but I feel that this is satisfactory. If a student wishes to continue to discuss their love for a piece of work they are reading, they most certainly can continue a discussion with the other honors students after the teacher has left. As a student, I feel that if I am truly dedicated, I ought to be willing to sacrifice any other club that would be going on at that time for the honors class. In the real world, choices need to be made, and they cannot be adjusted to suit a small group of people, no matter how "gifted and talented" they are. I also feel that the core english class is necessary to "shake things up." If the school created one separate class for gifted and talented students to test into, then this would defeat the purpose of having diverse classes (which is important, as West High is a very diverse school). I feel that if there were a separate honors english class to take in place of the core class, then this class would separate students - it would be a huge step back toward segregation in a progressive city. I believe that having a diverse classroom can be one of the most enjoyable and enriching experiences for any student. As for the new english curriculum, well, the combination of extra honors classes and elective english classes seem plenty to give even the most literature-loving sophomore a wonderful english experience. There is also one more thing that I would like to point out. Simply because a student is not "talented and gifted" does not mean that a student lo ves literature any less than any "talented and gifted" student. The opposite is implied when I read and hear "talented and gifted" parents rallying for a more rigorous sophomore english class. As a student, I believe that Mr. Holmes is doing a superior job in turning West High into an academically excellent school, and I am extremely pleased with the changes he has made so far as principal. I would like to thank all of the members of this group for taking my views into account and I am hope that they have given you a different perspective on the current changes being made at West High.
- An Anonymous West Freshman
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New Wisconsin Promise Conference: Closing the Achievement Gap

The 2006 New Wisconsin Promise Conference, Closing the Achievement Gap, will be held at the Monona Terrace Convention Center in Madison on January 11-12, 2006.

The conference will focus on strategies for educators who are looking for help in meeting the progressively higher academic expectations of No Child Left Behind.

The Engagement in Learning track includes sessions on attendance, graduation, teacher involvement in learning, student motivation for learning, parent and community involvement in learning, classroom management, and best instructional practices.

The School Improvement tracks features information on needs assessment, data-based decision making, evaluation, school improvement planning, professional development, literacy including early childhood literacy, and literacy for elementary, middle, and secondary grades, as well as adult literacy, and reading across the curriculum.

The Mathematics track will consider approaches to early childhood mathematics, mathematics for elementary, middle, and secondary grades, and functional mathematics.

Early registration of $75 per person is available through December 9, after which registration is $100. On-line registration is available. Conference details are available on the DPI's Web site.

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Middle School Survey
Send this web site to all the middle school, future middle school parents, and concerned community members you can e-mail.

Pam Nash and the middle school committee are seeking input from parents and this is our chance to give them feedback. While I find the survey would be on the "How to Not Make a Survey" curriculum in my graduate school class on Effective Survey's, I say congrates to the BOE and administration for allowing the community to give some feedback and input on this development. While it seems a little forced, quick and for some reason I am unclear why this issue is being discussed for middle schools that are functioning at a high level,(in other words let's fix the problem's where they exist, even if it means more resources, and not mess with what is working) I want all parents and those in the community interested to voice their thoughts and opinions. Please print off this survey and let the district know we want great middle schools, that reflect their community, not carbon copies of mediocre education.

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"Poor Kids Aren't Dolts -- Push Them Harder"

Wendy Kopp (President and Founder of Teach for America):

According to the annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup survey, the most recent of which was released in September, most Americans cite a lack of parental involvement, as well as problems in students' home life and upbringing and their lack of interest and motivation as the most important reasons for the huge gap between the achievement levels of students in upper- and middle-class neighborhoods and those in poor neighborhoods. More than 75% of those polled said they believe that white students and students of color have the same academic opportunities.

In contrast, Teach for America corps members, who are in those poor neighborhoods every school day, say the key to closing that gap is to train and employ better teachers and improve the quality of the leaders who make decisions in schools and school districts -- while simultaneously ensuring that teachers, principals and parents expect the kids to meet challenging academic standards.

Much more, including this, here:
Funding, in itself, is not the answer. Teacher quality and expectations of students outranked funding as both causes of and solutions to the gap. And as corps members spend more time in the classroom, the priority they place on funding gives way to other factors, such as school leadership. While some of their proposed solutions may require further investment, corps members express skepticism about increasing funding without addressing current allocation of resources.
Via Joanne.

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Sanderfoot on Ed Lite

Parent Alan Sanderfoot wrote a letter to the Isthmus Editor on Katherine Esposito's recent article: Ed Lite: Madison Middle Schools Serve Up an Uninspiring Academic Menu:

Dear editor,

Thank you for publishing Katherine Esposito’s article about Madison’s middle schools (“Ed Lite,” Nov. 11, page 12). Please allow me, however, to correct some mischaracterizations in her piece.
On the contrary, my daughter Olivia did not “bail” from Sherman when she transferred to O’Keeffe. Her mother and I worked diligently during her entire 6th grade year at Sherman trying to get the school and teachers to address her unique academic and social needs. Throughout the year, we met with Olivia’s team of three teachers, the learning coordinator, the guidance counselor and administrators. Much was discussed, but little action followed.

During the second semester, the district’s TAG coordinator for middle schools suggested that grade skipping or transferring my daughter to O’Keeffe might be the best option for her. I thought these were radical ideas at the time. I thought there was no reason why her current teachers couldn’t differentiate the curriculum enough to keep her challenged. She already had the motivation to learn but wasn’t being given sufficient guidance or opportunity. So I continued to work with the Sherman staff. By the end of the year, I thought we were starting to make some progress — enough to give us hope that 7th grade would be much better.

Then the changes to Sherman’s curriculum were announced — specifically, the changes to band and foreign language — two subjects that offered challenging opportunities for my daughter without the school needing to differentiate the curriculum. When the changes were announced, my wife and I could see the frustration and despair in our daughter’s eyes, and we felt no choice but to transfer her. Even after that decision was made, I remained committed to working with other parents regarding issues at Sherman and spent much time over the summer meeting with other concerned parents and advocating for the needs of all Sherman students, regardless of academic aptitude. The goal was to ensure that every child was being challenged at a level appropriate to his or her abilities.

To characterize my daughter’s actions as “bailing” paints the wrong picture. It was the hardest decision we had to make regarding her education and it required a lot of strength and courage from my daughter. Her transfer prompted many other Sherman families to take a closer look at the curriculum, and more requests for transfers followed.

I also was appalled that the article describes Sherman’s principal, Ann Yehle, as appearing “disarmingly young, with sun-blond hair and a chipper smile.” Though it probably wasn’t the writer’s intent, such characterization implies that Yehle is too young for the job and … well, we all know the unfortunate stereotype about blonds. Though many parents and students disagree with the direction she’s taking the school, there is no doubt in my mind that Ms. Yehle is acting with the best intentions for the school and its diverse student body. It is fair to debate someone’s ideas and policies, but leave their age and hair color out of it.

Meanwhile, I’m encouraged that the assistant superintendent for secondary schools Pam Nash has assembled a team to study the Madison’s middle schools and how we can bring equity, enthusiasm for learning, and challenging experiences to every student in every classroom — regardless of academic ability, race or socio-economic status. I agree that heterogeneous classrooms are the ideal environment to ensure equal access to education. However, this dream might never become a reality. The amount of differentiation that must occur in such classrooms, as well as the tremendous amount of staffing required to meet students’ diverse learning and behavioral needs, is not something the district is even close to funding adequately. And unless that changes, parents and students are likely to see more “Ed Lite” in the future.

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No Gifted Child Kept Behind

A letter to the NYTImes:
Gifted Children

To the Editor:

Diane Ravitch ("Every State Left Behind," Op-Ed, Nov. 7) hits the nail on the head when she suggests that we should not sacrifice our country's future for low academic standards and demands for good news.

A particular problem not addressed by most American schools is that our gifted youth are told to wait for their classmates to catch up with them and not to rush their learning. America is wasting precious talent because it keeps its gifted children from soaring.

Stringent federal standards are great, but why does No Child Left Behind have to mean "every gifted child kept behind"?

Mary Beth Miotto
Northborough, Mass., Nov. 7, 2005
The writer is vice president, Massachusetts Association for Gifted Children.

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2006 Distinguished Service Award Nominations

The Madison Metropolitan School District:

The Distinguished Service Award (DSA) honors individuals for service beyond the call of duty. It is considered to be the most prestigious of the recognition awards offered by the Madison Metropolitan School District. Distinguished Service Awards may be to employees who have served at least ten years with the MMSD in each of the following categories: elementary, middle and high school teachers, administrators, support personnel clerical/technical employees, custodial/building services/trades personnel, educational assistants and food service staff. Special awards are also given to employee teams, citizen volunteers and high schools seniors involved in community service.

To nominate someone you must answer five questions about the nominee and submit three letters of support. Anyone may submit a nomination. Self-nominations are not accepted. Please print the nomination form available below and carefully read the guidelines on page two of the nomination form.

I have several people in mind.

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1898 Michigan Teacher Exam

Fascinating 600K PDF (I would be in trouble)

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November 13, 2005

West High School Presentation on 10th Grade English: Same Curriculum for All Students

Click to view the Video

MP3 audio only

Barb Schrank, Videographer
Principal Ed Holmes, English department chair Keesia Hyzer, and teacher Mark Nepper presented information on the planned single English curriculum for all 10th graders at West this past Monday evening. Watch the video or listen to the audio by clicking on the links just to the left of this text. Background on this matter:
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SchoolFacts 2005: Madison School District Comparison

Active Citizens for Education recently commissioned a custom report from WISTAX. This report compares demographics, income / wealth, spending, staffing ratios and test scores between the Madison School District and Appleton, Green Bay, Janesville, Kenosha, Middleton-Cross Plains, Milwaukee, Racine, Sun Prairie and Verona.

Details below:

  1. Demographics
  2. Income and Wealth
  3. Spending
  4. Staffing Ratios
  5. Test Scores
  6. Test Scores (more)

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Anonymous Donors Provide 100% Tuition for Kalamazoo Public High Grads

Mark Baker:

Anonymous donor's provide up to 100% college tuition for graduates of the Kalamazoo Public Schools. The Kalamazoo Promise - Press Release.

Wow! This is a community serious about providing a sustainable differen

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November 12, 2005

When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed...and not before

On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”.

According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.

Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

In 1998, the Madison School Board adopted an important academic goal: “that all students complete the 3rd grade able to read at or beyond grade level”. We adopted this goal in response to recommendations from a citizen study group that believed that minority students who are not competent as readers by the end of the third grade fall behind in all academic areas after third grade.

“All students” meant all students. We promised to stop thinking in terms of average student achievement in reading. Instead, we would separately analyze the reading ability of students by subgroups. The subgroups included white, African American, Hispanic, Southeast Asian, and other Asian students.

“Able to read at or beyond grade level” meant scoring at the “proficient” or “advanced” level on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test (WRC) administered during the third grade. “Proficient” scores were equated with being able to read at grade level. “Advanced” scores were equated with being able to read beyond grade level. The other possible scores on this statewide test (basic and minimal) were equated with reading below grade level.

Using proficient/advanced scores in this way made sense. The Department of Public Instruction’s definitions of the categories would help us distinguish between reading at grade level or beyond and reading at a level that did not satisfy our goal for our students. The following are DPI’s definitions of the categories.

  • Advanced: Distinguished in the content area. Academic achievement is beyond mastery. Test score provides evidence of in-depth understanding In the academic area tested.

  • Proficient: Competent in the content area. Academic achievement includes mastery of the important knowledge and skills. Test score shows evidence of skills necessary for progress in the academic area tested.

  • Basic: Somewhat competent in the content area. Academic achievement shows mastery of most of the important knowledge and skills. Test score shows evidence of at least one major flaw in understanding the academic content area tested.

  • Minimal: Limited achievement in the content area. Test score shows evidence of major misconceptions or gaps in knowledge and skills tested in the academic content area.
However, staying true to our goal and using the categories of scores as intended does not lead to the conclusion that the critical achievement gap associated with race has been closed. There has been real progress since 1998. For example, African American third graders scoring proficient or advance has risen from 41% in 1998 to 69% in 2004. Nonetheless, there are significant differences between the percentages of students in subgroups who score proficient or advanced and those who score basic or minimal.

The news is best for “other Asian” students. Ninety-eight percent of these students score proficient or advanced. The gap between their performance on the WRCT and our goal of all students in the group “reading at or beyond grade level” at the end of third grade is two percent. White third graders come in second, with ninety-six percent scoring at proficient or advanced and a gap of four percent not likely to leave third grade reading at the desired level.

Ninety-one percent of Southeast Asian third graders scored at proficient or advanced. For them a gap of nine percent remains. Eighty percent of Hispanic third graders scored at proficient or advanced, leaving twenty percent with less than the desired reading level. Finally, sixty-nine percent of African American third graders scored at proficient or advanced and thirty-one percent are likely to complete the year without the reading skills needed to succeed in the next grade.

What the superintendent is saying is that MMSD has closed the achievement gap associated with race now that roughly the same percentage of students in each subgroup score at the minimal level (limited achievement in reading, major misconceptions or gaps in knowledge and skills of reading). That’s far from the original goal of the board. We committed to helping all students complete the 3rd grade able to read at or beyond grade level as demonstrated by all students in all subgroups scoring at proficient or advanced reading levels on the WRCT.

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Thursday's Middle School Curriculum Parent Forum

I believe a relevant and challenging curriculum is the #1 priority for any educational organization. There have been a number of questions raised over the years regarding the Madison School District's curriculum, including Math, English and Fine Arts and the recent controversial changes at Sherman Middle School (more details in Kathy Esposito's recent Isthmus article).

The District is currently conducting a Middle School Curriculum Review, lead by Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash (Formerly Principal of Memorial High School). Pam lead a Parent Forum Thursday evening, which I attended (one of about 28 participants). (7MB video clip of Pam kicking off the Forum). The goal of this event was to collect feedback from parents regarding these five questions (pdf version):

  1. The school district is continually working to build more rigor into the learning experiences that students have. Rigor is defined as commitment to a core subject matter knowledge, a high demand for thinking, and an active use of knowledge. When you think of a rigorous academic curriculum in the middle school, what would it look like?
  2. What experiences do you want your child to have in middle school to enhance his or her social and emotional growth?
  3. What are your hopes and dreams for your child in middle school?
  4. What are your greatest concerns for your child in middle school?
  5. If you could design Madison middle schools in any way you wanted, what would they be like?
Pam mentioned that the parent comments would be posted on the district's website, hopefully next week. She also said that the district would post these questions online, in an interactive way so that parents who were unable to attend Thursday's event might add their comments.

My notes follow:
  • Superintendent Art Rainwater wants the middle school curriculum task force to report back to him by mid December (2005).
  • The task force "design teams" recently broke up into "work teams".
  • Recommendations will affect middle school allocations.
  • I asked Pam when this process began. She said it started one month ago.
  • Pam mentioned that they hope to pull the parent group together one more time, in December.
I was initially displeased that the group of 28 participants was broken up (I was interested in hearing all of the conversations). However, I thought that the format was rather effective in obtaining comments from all participants (at least those in my group). Kudos to Pam for collecting a good deal of information.

I spoke briefly with Pam when the event concluded. I mentioned that it appears to me, a layman, that it would be challenging to implement major changes via a two month task force. However, incremental changes occuring via the allocations are certainly possible (for better or worse).

I heard many useful suggestions on these questions and will point to them when available on the District's website.

Learn more about the "Middle Grades Design Team" via this Board presentation (800K PDF file) Email your comments on this initiative to the Madison School Board:

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9th Grade Madison School District Algebra Data

Matt Pommer:

African-American rates increased from 27.5 percent to 49.7 percent in the four years and from 29.8 percent to 50 percent for Hispanic students. Among white students algebra completion rates had improved from 68.9 percent to 82.6 percent, the report said.
Related: this week's Isthmus article on Middle School Curriculum.

These report items were interesting as well:
  • In 10 years the number of African-American students has increased from 4,126 to 5,216, while the number of Hispanic students has increased from 957 to 2,845. White enrollment has gone from 17,937 to 13,712 in the decade. Asian enrollment has grown from 1,885 to 2,569.
  • The 94 percent enrollment goal was met at the elementary (95.1 percent) and (94.4 percent) middle school levels. But high school attendance dipped last year to 92.5 percent overall, including an 86.8 percent rate for pupils from low-income families, the report said. The best overall attendance for high schools was 93.6 percent in 2002-2003.

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Minority Hiring Not as Good as MMSD Touts

A story in today's Wisconsin State Journal reports carries a headline saying "Schools show big boost in minority staff." It's just not so.

The MMSD chose to give the paper the number of minority employees in various job categories in 1987 and 2005 -- ignoring an MMSD press release issued October 9, 1995, comparing 1987 and 1994.

If the recent release had compared 1994 and 2005, the comparison would have shown a decrease in the numbers and percentages of minorities among administrators from 23 (17%) in 1994 to 22 (15%) in 2005. Minority employees in clerical and technical catetories decreased from 47 (18%) in 1994 to 15 in 2005. (The press release did not provide a percentage for clerical technical categories.) Among custodians the number of minority employees remained unchanged: 37 (15%) in 1994 compared to 37 (17.7%) in 2005.

Click here for a Word file with numbers and percentages for all of the categories, including figures showing increases in the proportion of minority employees in other categories.

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November 11, 2005

Irving Independent School District Symposium

David Weinberger on the Irving School District's 1 to 1 Laptop Implementation:

Darrell Lynn of Apple, a sponsor of the event, introduces Angus King, former two-term, independent governor of Maine. King appears via his $129 iSite. He talks about the insights that guided him to the laptop policy.

First, he has no idea what the economy of the US and of Maine will be in ten years. But, he says he does know that whatever happens will require more education and a higher level of comfort with technology.

Second, every governor chases quality jobs for their state. "You don't get ahead by keeping up."

Third, everything governments do is incremental. Baby steps, not real change. In 1999, Maine had a surplus. So, King thought about how it could be used to bring change.

In 1996, he had lunch with Seymour Papert who told him that reducing the ratio of students to computers wouldn't matter until the ratio is 1:1.

So, Maine started by giving laptops to every kid in grades 7-8. King thought this would be well received, but it wasn't. He blurted out, in response to a question, that the computers would belong to the students, not the school. He says, "I got the living xxxx kicked out of me." [xxxx Barrier transgressed at 9:15am...and by a former governor!] The emails to his officce were 10:1 against. He persevered. (PS: The schools own the laptops.)

At some point, textbooks will be gone. I do generally like this sort of thing and perhaps it's fundamental to addressing some of the challenges Kathy Esposito noted in her excellent article on Madison's middle school curriculum. There's no doubt that for someone who knows how to use a computer effectively, the amount of information one can learn and use is simply extraordinary. My youngest found a very well done learning spanish podcast on itunes just the other day - free and simply delightful!!!

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Ed Lite: Middle schools stress social adjustment at the expense of academic achievement

Katherine Esposito:

Helen Fitzgerald, Sherman parent and president of the school’s parent-teacher group, wants high expectations set for Sherman.

"My kids want to compete!" she says, clearly frustrated. "They want to go to Brown. They want to go to Yale, to UC-Berkeley. My daughter wanted to go to Harvard when she was in the fourth grade! That’s their eye on the ball. That’s their expectation. And Sherman ain’t teachin’ those kids!"

In the modern middle school, however, competition is barely a footnote. Cooperation is king.

In the 1960s and 1970s, as an antidote to a hierarchical and often violent world, American educators proposed a middle-grades school for preteens that would place a premium on their social needs. Such practices as cooperative learning, peer tutoring and heterogeneous grouping would be kinder, gentler substitutes for the traditional top-down form of classroom organization in these "middle schools."

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Wisconsin Assembly Passes Two Bills Expanding Charter School Opportunities

This week the Wisconsin Assembly passed two bills that could expand charter school opportunities in this state. The Legislative Committee of the Madison School Board will review these bills on December 5.

Assembly Bill 730 proposes to amend current law to allow 5 UW-System 4-year universities, in addition to UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside, to each sponsor not more than 5 charter schools. The vote to pass was 56-36.

Assembly Bill 698 would amend current law to raise the student enrollment cap from 400 to 480 for the elementary charter school (21st Century Preparatory School) sponsored by UW-Parkside. The vote on this bill was 62-29.

In a related development earlier this week, the Senate Higher Education and Tourism Committee recommended passage of Senate Bill 96 (i.e. Senate companion / identical bill to AB 730) on a vote
of 4-1.

A new ECS Issue Brief entitled "A State Policymaker's Guide to Alternative Authorizers of Charter Schools" provides information about the rationale for allowing multiple agencies to authorize charter schools at the Education Commission of the State's website --

The State Legislature's current floorperiod has ended.The next two-week floor period is scheduled for December 6 - 15, 2005. Then, the legislature will recess through the holidays and resume floor sessions in 2006.

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Change the School Board to Change the Conversation - That's Just What Dover, PA, Did

On Tuesday, the voters of Dover, PA, voted out 8 school board candidates running who had promoted intelligent design in the science curriculum.

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Proposed West High 10th Grade English - The Male American Experience?

Meg Cooper, parent, gave permission for her observation of the proposed West HS 10th grade English curriculum to be posted:

Has anyone else noticed that 80% or more of the proposed new West HS English 10 curriculum consists of male authors? Perhaps it should be called The Male American Experience/Justice/Identity relating to The Male American Dream...! I was very shocked. It appears so traditional (in a bad way) and excludes half [the femamle's perspective] of the American experience. How can this possibly be a better program than the current English 10 electives at West HS?

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Recent Referenda Results

WisPolitics Referenda Roundup:

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Wisconsin Charter Bill Passes the Assembly

Earlier this afternoon, the Wisconsin Assembly passed the following two legislative bills which would expand the Wisconsin charter school law:

AB 698 proposes to amend current law to raise the student enrollment cap from 400 to 480 for the elementary charter school (21st Century Preparatory School) sponsored by UW-Parkside. The vote on the passage motion was 62-Ayes and 29-Noes.

AB 730 proposes to amend current law to allow 5 UW-System 4-year universities, in addition to UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside, to each sponsor not more than 5 charter schools. The vote on the passage motion was 56-Ayes and 36-Noes. In a related development earlier this week, the Senate Higher Education and Tourism Committee recommended passage of Senate Bill 96 (i.e. Senate companion / identical bill to AB 730) on a vote of 4-Ayes (Senators Harsdorf, Kedzie, Kapanke and Plale) and 1-No (Senator Breske).

Both Assembly bills (AB 698 and AB 730) were messaged to the Senate.

A new ECS Issue Brief entitled "A State Policymaker's Guide to Alternative Authorizers of Charter Schools" provides good info about the rationale for multiple-authorizers. You'll find the ECS Issue Brief at the Education Commission of the State's website --

The State Legislature's current floorperiod ends today. The next two-week floorperiod is scheduled for December 6 - 15, 2005. Then, the legislature will recess through the holidays ... and resume floorsessions in the new year.

This was a good day at the Capitol for charter school friends. If you have an opportunity, please communicate special thanks to Representative Leah Vukmir and Senator Alberta Darling who are the lead authors of AB 730 and SB 96 (i.e. companion / identical bills to allow 5 UW System universities to sponsor charter schools); and thank Rep. Vos and Senator Stepp who are the lead authors of AB 698. Enjoy the moment!

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November 10, 2005

4 arrested after brawl at Memorial

A story by Steven Elbow from the Capital Times, November 10:

A brawl that police say was gang-related led to the arrest of four teenage boys Wednesday at Memorial High School.

The fight broke out in the school cafeteria just before 1:30 p.m. when one student reportedly stepped on another student's foot. That sparked a fight that involved several students.

The arrested students, two 15-year-olds and two 16-year-olds, face disorderly conduct charges. Charges are pending against others who were involved, police said.

The incident follows several other recent gang-related fights and weapons violations at the school.

On Oct. 24, two boys confronted a third about over his gang affiliation, setting off a brawl that eventually drew several friends and family members. That same day, in an unrelated incident, a student punched a teacher in the face after the teacher asked the student to remove his hat.

The week before that saw four weapons-related incidents at the school, including one student with a loaded handgun in the parking lot and another student who had a large knife and a stash of ammunition in his car.

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Report on Minority Employees in the MMSD

Press Release from the BOE Human Resources Committee:

The number of racial minorities employed by the Madison Metropolitan School District has increased substantially since 1987 according to a report released today. The data also includes information from 1994. “The Board of Education has made diversifying our workforce a strong priority, I am happy to see the increase in the numbers of staff that reflects the diversity of our schools” says Juan Jose Lopez, the Chair of the Human Resources Committee which also includes board members Shwaw Vang and Johnny Winston, Jr.

Minority employees in the district increased from 153 in 1987 to 331 in 1994 to 501 in 2005, an increase of 227% since 1987 and 51% since 1994.

Minorities in the district made up 5.8% of employees in 1987, 9.4% in 1994 and 12.6% in 2005.

The number of minority administrators increased from 12 to 23 from 1987 to 1994 and was reported as 22 in 2005.

Minority teachers increased from 91 in 1987 to 157 in 1994 and 233 in 2005. Minority teachers represented 5.4% of the teaching staff in 1987, 7.0% in 1994 and 9.3% in 2005.

Educational Assistant positions held by racial minorities increased from 15 in 1987 to 51 in 1994 to 85 in 2005. Minority EAs represented 4.6% of that work group in 1987, 10.6% in 1994 and 15.7% in 2005.

Minorities working in the clerical/technical field showed an increase of only one from 14 in 1987 to 15 in 2005. Minority food service workers increased from 2 in 1987 to 16 in 1994 to 32 in 2005 and represented 1.8% of the unit’s workforce in 1987, 12% in 1994 and 23.2 % in 2005.

Minority custodial staff increased from 19 to 37 from 1987 to 1994 and remained at 37 in 2005. However, since the custodial staff has been reduced in recent years, these numbers represent 8.5% of the unit’s workforce in 1987, 15% in 1994 and 17.7% in 2005.

The makeup of the minority groups in 2005 is as follows: 207 African Americans, 165 Hispanic, 103 Asian and 26 Native Americans for a total of 501 minority employees.

Mr. Lopez adds that although these numbers are increasing the district must remain diligent in these very challenging economic times. “Our school district is competing with other districts as well as public and the private sector to recruit qualified minority and culturally competent candidates. We have to provide good compensation and benefit packages that will help us attract those candidates to our district. By continuing our commitment to diversity efforts, we not only create a better school district but a better community as a whole to learn in.”

For more information regarding this press release please contact Juan Jose Lopez at 242-5473 (home), 267-1932 (work), e-mail or Robert Nadler, Director of Human Resources at 663-1745, e-mail

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Should MMSD Board Follow Open Meetings Laws or Change Them?

In her posting, "Westside Land Purchase - was public if you were interested", Marisue Horton suggests that I, as chair of the Madison School Board's Legislative Committee "start making recommendations for change. Start changing the process instead of sitting around and bitching about it."

I am not suggesting that we need new processes. Like Lawrie Kobza, I am advocating that the Madison School Board follow the spirit and letter of existing Wisconsin law. I agree with the principles of the Open Meeting law.

As the law states,

" [a] representative government of the American type is dependent upon an informed electorate, [therefore]it is declared to be the policy of this state that the public is entitled to the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business." Only in specified exceptional cases may the school board go into closed sessions.

I also agree with Lawrie that the narrow exception allowing ongoing negotiations to be discussed behind closed doors did not apply to the October 10 meeting on the purchase of 8.3 acres of land near your home for a future elementary school. The Board's attorneys disagree. The legal issue will not be resolved until, as Bill Keys recommended, an official complaint has been filed with the Dane County District Attorney and we have his opinion. Isthmus newspaper has filed that complaint and in due time we will have a ruling by a neutral legal authority.

In this case, the Open Meetings law protects the public's interest in knowing how much the district planned to pay for this particular parcel and the conditions of the sale before the sale was complete. That interest was not respected. Maybe other sellers would have come forward with better offers, if they had known that we were poised to complete this purchase and were willing to sell the land back to them at less-than-appreciated value in the future. Maybe not. We will never know. Seven weeks passed between the signing of the deal by administration and the closed session meeting at which the board accepted the terms. The closing is not until November 15. What was the rush on November 7?

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 2:13 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MMSD: Shutting out the public

Isthmus, November 11, 2005, reports on the refusal of the MMSD administration and Board of Education to release details on a land purchase for a new school. Isthmus posted the full article and supporting documents in the Document Feed of Here are excerpts:

Jim Zellmer doesn’t know whether buying land for a new elementary school on the city’s far southwest side is a good idea. But he’s sure keeping the deal secret almost until the moment of final approval is a bad one. . . .

The deal was kept under wraps until 4:30 last Friday afternoon, when the school district put the contract into media folders just before closing for the weekend. At Monday’s meeting, Robarts and Kobza urged the board to delay approval for one week, to allow for public input, including that of a task force studying west-side school overcrowding. . . .

But Kobza’s motion failed on a 3-3 vote, with board members Bill Keys, Juan Jose Lopez and Johnny Winston Jr. opposed. Keys haughtily challenged critics of the secret deal to "go ahead and file charges"; Kobza urged members of the public to take up his suggestion.

On Wednesday, Isthmus followed through, asking Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard to investigate and prosecute. . . .

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:56 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 9, 2005

West-Memorial Forum

A PUBLIC FORUM  will be held to update the community on plans to address overcrowding in the West-Memorial attendance area.  Come to learn about options being considered AND to share your input!!
When:  7:00 p.m. Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Where:  Leopold Elementary school [Map]
Sponsors:  Thoreau, Leopold, and Cherokee

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Innovative Math: But Can You Count?

Samuel Freedman:

LAST spring, when he was only a sophomore, Jim Munch received a plaque honoring him as top scorer on the high school math team here. He went on to earn the highest mark possible, a 5, on an Advanced Placement exam in calculus. His ambition is to become a theoretical mathematician.

So Jim might have seemed the veritable symbol for the new math curriculum installed over the last seven years in this ambitious, educated suburb of Rochester. Since seventh grade, he had been taking the "constructivist" or "inquiry" program, so named because it emphasizes pupils' constructing their own knowledge through a process of reasoning.

Jim, however, placed the credit elsewhere. His parents, an engineer and an educator, covertly tutored him in traditional math. Several teachers, in the privacy of their own classrooms, contravened the official curriculum to teach the problem-solving formulas that constructivist math denigrates as mindless memorization.

"My whole experience in math the last few years has been a struggle against the program," Jim said recently. "Whatever I've achieved, I've achieved in spite of it. Kids do not do better learning math themselves. There's a reason we go to school, which is that there's someone smarter than us with something to teach us."

This sort of thing is happening in Madison as well. Much more here.

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1 Of 7 City Children Needs Mental Help

Our school staff certainly cannot meet the needs of children with mental illness. As a society we need to staff schools with mental health experts or examine new alternatives for educating children who pose challenges beyond our schools' capabilities.

Read Andy Hall's troubling story in the Wisconsin State Journal from October 25, 2005.

Posted by Ed Blume at 12:30 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

West’s Core Program: Enrichment, or Deprivation?

This anonymous entry is from a current 9th grader at West who shares their thoughts about the proposed changes in 10th grade English as well as lets us know how the current 9th grade core is experienced by students.

I am writing from the viewpoint of a gifted and talented 9th grader at West High who is stuck in the core program of English and History 9. “Stuck” is the perfect word for my situation. I am stuck in classes where brilliance is not only limited, but discouraged. I have been reprimanded by teachers for exceeding their expectations. Does West want to be a school known for restricting its gifted students?

I have been a student in the core program for two months, and I refuse to be a part of it for two years. In these classes, learning plateaus with an “A”. There should be levels of education beyond an easy A, which is all the core programs have to offer me or my classmates. Following a rigid schedule of note-taking, book-reading, and discussions which fail to be in-depth or even comprehensive, English 9 is a class in which gifted students’ intelligence recedes, instead of grows. There is frequent homework, but it is busy work which only requires time, not brain power. I have not once felt challenged in one of my core classes, and I was looking forward to honors courses sophomore year, where I could thrive in a challenging environment among other gifted students. Instead I was informed that “English 10” would be invoked in West’s new core program. I fail to see the benefits of this. This means another year of all of West’s gifted and talented students being stuck in classes where they do not learn, where they do not grow, and where they do not excel. I urge everyone who cares about the freshman class of West, please protest the creation of English 10. All current freshmen will suffer because of this. I write not only to represent the gifted students of West trapped in English 9, but students of all intelligence. I have not met one person who enjoys English 9, and those who are challenged by it are not challenged by an invigorating curriculum or challenging, thought-provoking discussions, but instead by unclear directions or annoying busy work. There should be an alternative to the core program offered, whether it is a class students must test into or simply abandoning the idea of the 10th grade core program, a decision which I am confident to say most freshman at West would vote for. The most recent information I obtained about the English core program was that there would be one honors class offered. I was not impressed by “assets” of this class, which seemed not to offer anything extra. Two days a week, half of the student’s lunches would be dedicated to working with the teacher, and more homework would be given to the students despite the similar curriculum. This seems like punishment to the honors students, and would discourage students from wanting to be in this class. I also doubt the effectiveness of giving more work, because the work would most likely be busy work similar to the homework in English 9. I cannot envision a class at west in which the homework given was challenging and thought-provoking. I believe English 10 honors would only be an English 10 class with more homework. I see no benefits of invoking the English core program at West.
Posted by Jeff Henriques at 8:59 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More on Taser Report

Angela Bettis:

The Madison school district may have violated some of its' policies, according to the report.

The incident involved Dalarence Goodwin, then 14, who was arrested at school and later shot by police with a Taser gun.

The independent report by lawyer Eileen Brownlee was posted on the Isthmus Website.

Brownlee was hired by the school district to sift through exactly what happened on Jan. 21 when Goodwin was tasered by Officer Tim Harder.
News 3's Dawn Stevens talked exclusively with Dalarence and his mother when charges of resisting arrest were dropped last month.

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November 8, 2005

Academic gap shrinks; both levels drop

By Michele Munz
Sunday, Oct. 30 2005

The gap in academic achievement between black and white students in the St. Louis area has decreased in the past five years, according to findings released Sunday of the first comprehensive study of school districts' efforts to reduce the gap - but only because the academic performance of white students dropped more than that of black students.

The study concluded: "An alarming fact came forth: the decrease in the gap was not due to an increase in achievement by black students, but, instead, resulted largely from a decrease in achievement levels by both black and white students."

The study looked at 25 school districts that educate the bulk of the area's black students in St. Louis and St. Louis County. The study was done by the St. Louis Black Leadership Roundtable as part of the group's initiative launched in 2001 to eliminate the achievement disparity between whites and blacks.

"This was never designed to lower the academic achievement of any child," said Dr. Madye Henson, chairwoman of the Roundtable's education committee. "In addition to focusing on eliminating the gap, we also have to focus on overall academic achievement."

Henson spoke before releasing the 102-page study - 2005 Regional Report Card: Eliminating the African American Academic Achievement Gap - at a conference Sunday at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. It included administrators, teachers, parents and community leaders from the districts.

The report card looked at Missouri Assessment Program scores - which measure student progress at meeting state standards - in mathematics, communication arts and science and in elementary, middle and high schools for each of the 25 districts. The report also includes statistics such as each district's graduation rate, percentage of certified teachers, number of college-bound students and parent-conference attendance.

The report held each school district's strategic action plan to eliminate the gap. By last month, all 25 districts had submitted plans to the Roundtable.

"So you can also know what's working and share with each other," Henson said.

A telling conclusion of the report was that schools with the highest achievement levels among black students - such as Clayton, Webster Groves and Kirkwood - often also had the greatest gap in achievement levels between whites and blacks.

Less often did a school district have both high achievement levels among blacks and the smallest gap. The elementary schools showed the greatest promise, where Hancock Place, Pattonville and St. Louis had both in communication arts. Pattonville also had both in communication arts in the middle and high schools, and Lindbergh did in high school mathematics.

"Prior to this point, no one looked at those two things together," Henson said of the gap and achievement levels. "That's where we can dig in and really start to make a difference."

Another component in the Report Card was information on parental responsibilities and resources. Mary Jo Liberstein, a black parent with two children in the Clayton School District, said parental involvement was the biggest reason for the gap in achievement levels.

Don Senti, the Clayton superintendent, said eliminating the gap while maintaining high achievement levels for everyone was a challenge.

"We hope all students are getting better every year, but that means that African-American students have to do twice as better every year," Senti said. "It's going to get better; I just wish it was going to get better faster."

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November 7, 2005

Report from West High PTSO Meeting

Some 70 parents were in attendance at Monday evening's PTSO meeting to hear about West High School's plans for 10th grade English. This was the largest turnout for a PTSO meeting in recent history. Approximately one-third of those there were parents of elementary and middle school students who will be attending West at some point in the future.

The consensus from parents was that they want more discussion of these planned changes, and given the school's timeline for formalizing next year's course offerings, these meeetings have to happen soon.

Parents heard from Principal Ed Holmes, English department chair Keesia Hyzer, and from teacher Mark Nepper. What follows is a brief summary of the presentation.

Mr. Holmes explained that the impetus for restructuring 10th grade English was the Small Learning Communities (SLC) grant that West High received two years ago. (West is currently in the second year of a three year grant). This grant has as its goals the improved achievement of all students and the simultaneous reduction of the achievement gap. That grant called for a core curriculum in both 9th and 10th grade. Last year the school implemented a core curriculum for 9th graders wherein students would take their core classes (math, English, social studies, and science) within their SLC. The English department began approaching the challenge of creating a 10th grade core this past January.

Ms. Hyzer reported that, as the English department approached this task, they had 3 areas of focus: their writing program, helping struggling students, and managing the department's workload. By creating a unified core 10th grade English, there is now an opportunity for teachers and students to spend an entire year together, a unified curriculum means that students won't be able to circumvent academic rigor in their course selection, and the common experience will provide a springboard for courses in the 11th and 12th grades.

The redesigned curriculum combines aspects of Fundamental and Intermediate Writers Workshop classes, Modern Literature, Writers in Their Times, and Justice.

The school firmly believes that heterogeneously grouped classes is the best way to meet the needs of all students, addressing the wide range of abilities through curriculum differentiation. Keesia Hyzer told parents that the English department will study differentiation over the summer and work to implement it in the classroom.

For students who want more challenge or a more rigorous English experience, West intends to offer the opportunity for an Honors designation. Students would be required to do extra work outside of class and would meet with the Honors coordinator twice a week during lunch for additional discussion/study sessions.

Many parents were skeptical that students would volunteer to do additional work and regularly give up portions of their lunch periods and the opportunities to participate in clubs and other activities for this designation. They questioned why students couldn't do this work in their daily English classes, and suggested that the school offer an honors section of English 10 within each SLC. They pointed out that students who enjoy literature and want more challenge in English are being punished by having to go outside the regular classroom to get their educational needs met, a situation that doesn't exist in math or science where academically advanced students can get their needs met in the classroom. While a number of parents were complimentary of the goal of integrating literature and writing within one course and the books that were on the proposed reading list, it was noted that the inclusion of challenging reading material does not automatically make a course rigourous. The speed at which the class moves through the material and the level of discussion can vary widely, depending on who is in the classroom. Also, as a 10th grader reminded us, there is no guarantee that all classes will read all of the books on the reading list.

Several parents also pointed out that no students get their needs met in a heterogenous classroom: Struggling students get discouraged when they compare themselves to high performing students, high end students report boredom and frustration as the class moves slowly so as not to leave students behind, and middle range students get ignored as teachers spend the majority of their time attending to either the high or low achieving students. Differentiation of curriculum has its limits, even for the most skilled teacher.

Mr. Holmes and Ms. Hyzer took questions for about 20 minutes and then left. Parents weren't ready to end the discussion and continued to talk about the presentation and raise questions for some 40 or so minutes afterwards. One of the biggest questions was "What can we do to get them to listen to us and genuinely take our concerns into consideration?" One answer is to contact the following district staff with your concerns and suggestions: SuperintendentArt Rainwater, Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Pam Nash, West Principal Ed Holmes, English department chair Keesia Hyzer, Director of Teaching and Learning Mary Ramberg, Language Arts and Reading Coordinator Mary Watson Peterson, the Instructional Resource Teachers for Language Arts and Reading in the Middle and High Schools - Sharyn Stumpf and Doug Buehl, District Talented and Gifted Coordinator Welda Simousek, and the Board of Education. Parents can also keep informed by subscribing to the West High PTSO mailing list.

Others who were in attendance are encouraged to add to this report.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 11:06 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Far West Land Purchase - Approved


The board voted four to two to spend 525-thousand dollars for the land.

The purchase was almost tabled by two school board members, which included Lawrie Kobza.

Lawrie Kobza said, 'I believed the negotiations were finished we should of been talking about these things in the public really for the last month in a half."

"It's the process the board goes through and developing public trust on decisions that were made, I was really trying to focus on that and it's disappointing the majority of the board didn't go with me," said Kobza.

"This isn't a secret, our community knows it's growing and we're going to have to build new schools in the future and we're going to have to purchase the land first," said Madison School Board Member Johnny Winston.

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Every State Left Behind

Diane Ravitch:

WHILE in office, Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton both called for national academic standards and national tests in the public schools. In both cases, the proposals were rejected by a Congress dominated by the opposing party. The current President Bush, with a friendly Congress in hand, did not pursue that goal because it is contrary to the Republican Party philosophy of localism. Instead he adopted a strategy of "50 states, 50 standards, 50 tests" - and the evidence is growing that this approach has not improved student achievement. Americans must recognize that we need national standards, national tests and a national curriculum.

The release last month of test results by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is part of the Department of Education, vividly demonstrated why varying state standards and tests are inadequate. Almost all states report that, based on their own tests, incredibly large proportions of their students meet high standards. Yet the scores on the federal test (which was given to a representative sample of fourth and eighth graders) were far lower. Basically, the states have embraced low standards and grade inflation.

Idaho claims that 90 percent of its fourth-grade students are proficient in mathematics, but on the federal test only 41 percent reached the Education Department's standard of proficiency. Similarly, New York reports that nearly 85 percent of its fourth graders meet state standards in mathematics, yet only 36 percent tested as proficient on the national assessment. North Carolina boasts an impressive 92 percent pass rate on the state test, but only 40 percent meet the federal standard.

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Carol Carstensen to speak Thursday night, Nov. 10

From Schenk-Atwood-Starkweather-Yahara Neighborhood Association council:

Long time Madison Board of Education member Carol Carstensen has agreed to be at our neighborhood association meeting next Thursday November 10 - 7:15 PM - at the Atwood Community Center - to talk about the future of east side schools, particularly Lowell and Lapham-Marquette elementary schools.

A school board task force is looking into underenrollment at some east side elementary schools - crowding at others - and what to do about it. Adjusting school attendance area boundary lines and / or closing schools are some of the options on the table. Emerson, Lapham and Lowell elementary schools -- all under capacity -- are said to be at risk if closings are considered.

In January the east side task force will recommend up to 3 options to the school board's Long-Range Planning Committee.

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The Shocking Truth

Jason Shepherd:

A series of institutional failures - by court employees, police officers and school officials - led to a Madison student being shot with a Taser stun gun in a school parking lot early this year, according to an independent investigator whose report the school district has tried to keep secret.

No one comes off unscathed in the report, issued last month by attorney Eileen Brownlee, whom the district hired to investigate the incident.

Some background: On Jan. 21, Madison Police Officer Tim Harder shot Dalarence Goodwin, a 14-year-old freshman, in the back with a Taser in the parking lot of Memorial High School. Goodwin had broken free from Harder's grip while Harder was attempting to handcuff him after arresting him inside the school. The arrest itself was based on a warrant apparently issued in error by a juvenile court.

Brownlee's eight-page report concludes in no uncertain terms that in the hours before and after the shooting, Harder and school officials violated district procedures.

"It is clear," Brownlee notes after recounting various versions of the events, "that the policy was violated."

Brownlee's Report on the Taser incident [PDF]. Ed Blume's notes.

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Public Information and Tonight's Land Purchase Vote

Tonight the Board of Education will vote on approving the purchase of land in the proposed plat of Linden Park located along Redan Road on the west side of Madison. The Board will vote on approving the purchase of 8.234 acres for the price of $535,258.83. One provision of the agreement requires the District to offer to sell the property back to the developer at the District's original purchase price plus the cost of improvements plus 5% interest compounded daily, if the District determines not to build a school on the site and instead to sell the property.

The Offer to Purchase this property was signed by the developer on September 23, 2005, and was signed by Roger Price for the School District on September 26, 2005. The Offer is contingent upon Board approval.

Despite the fact that negotiations over this contract were completed at the end of September, this signed contract was not available for public review until last Friday, November 4, 2005. In fact, the signed contract was deliberately kept from public review before then. A Board meeting to discuss the signed contract was held in closed session on October 10, 2005 (Ruth Robarts and I voted against going into closed session on this matter), and an open records request by Jim Zellmer for a copy of the signed document was denied.

The reason given for keeping this signed purchase document from the public was that the open meetings law permits a closed session for the purpose of "[d]eliberating or negotiating the purchasing of public properties, the investing of public funds, or conducting other specified public business, whenever competitive or bargaining reasons require a closed session." However, a 1994 Attorney General's Opinion issued by then Attorney General Jim Doyle
indicates that while a closed session is appropriate to formulate strategy while engaged in negotiations, once a governmental body has reached a tentative agreement, bargaining ceases as does the rationale for keeping matters from the public. At that point, the opinion states "[t]he question before the governmental body is no longer what strategy the body should adopt in order to obtain an agreement with favorable terms. The question is whether it is in the public's interest to ratify the terms as tentatively agreed to by the parties. Given that the governmental body is not actually engaged in negotiations at that point, it does not appear that "competitive or bargaining reasons" as that phrase is used in section 19.85(1)(e) exist to warrant discussing the agreement in closed session."

I am disappointed that the majority of the Board felt it was appropriate to keep this signed contract for the purchase of land for a new school site from the public until the Friday before we are asked to vote on the contract. I would have appreciated receiving public comment on the location of the proposed school site, the cost of the site, and the conditions included in the signed agreement. In particular, I would have appreciated receiving information from the Board's two long range planning task forces on their thoughts about the proposed site. I believe this information would help me make an informed vote on the purchase.

I also believe the public would have more confidence in the Board's decision-making if the public could see that information was made public in a timely way, if input was sought and considered, and if important matters such as the purchase of property were discussed openly.

The purchase of a new school site is a decision with important fiscal and long-range planning impacts. It could have a significant impact on the District for decades into the future. It is a decision that should be made in the light of day, not behind closed doors.

Posted by Lawrie Kobza at 9:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

$293,000 Unspent in Library Aids; Mystery #2 Deepens

In our unrelently effort to unravel the mysteries of the MMSD budget, our loyal fans may remember the Case of the Disappearing Library Aids - Budget Mystery #2.

It all began with an innocuous inquiry from a schoolmarm and inquisitive assistant who claimed that their library did not receive library aids for the last school year.

After more than a month of pointed proding, Assistant Superintendent Roger Price responded with a most mystifying missive which includes the alarming admission that the MMSD did not expend $293,055 in library aids received from the DPI last year!

While Mr. Price's e-mail expounds on the expectations for satisfying last year's lingering obligation, he confesses that the plans do not satisfy this year's obligation. I take his candid comment to concede that the MMSD will collect $675,004 in library aids for this school year (by his own account) without a contingency for spending it all!

What a curious calamity! The povery-pleading MMSD doesn't have a plan to spend all of the cash in its flow! Should the case be renamed Fumbling Fudiciaries?

(If any of our intrepid investigators have another interpretation or corrections to my canny conjecture, please post promptly.)

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

November 6, 2005

Survey: Ohio Residents Attitutude Toward Public Schools

Fordham Institute:

This is a problem. Serious education reform demands strong, competent leadership for two reasons. First, kids don't have lobbyists to look after their interests. The inertia and resistance to change manifested by the education system and its myriad adult interest groups are so powerful that, absent first-rate leadership, one must expect nothing much to change. This is particularly dangerous for a state with weak job growth, anemic economic growth, and signs of a brain drain.

Second, while Ohioans substantially agree about many of the problems facing public education and the reforms needed to address those problems, they are split down the middle on others. Effective leadership is mandatory, else nothing will change.

This would be okay if nothing needed to change, but Ohioans surely don't think so—and plenty of objective evidence says they are correct. Only a third of survey respondents—and fewer than one in five African Americans—believe their local public schools are "doing pretty well and need little change." Virtually all others want "major change" or "a whole new system." This is no surprise in a state where close to half of respondents also see the economy as a serious issue. Ohioans know that education and economic opportunity are connected, and they're worried about both

But there's good news in the survey, too. On many important education issues and reform ideas, Ohioans manifest broad agreement as to what's wrong, what's important, and what ought to happen.

Here are five key education topics where we see something akin to consensus:

  1. Money alone won't accomplish much. Respondents believe it would "get lost along the way" to classroom improvement (69 percent).
  2. Stop social promotion and automatic graduation. Teachers should pass kids to the next grade "only if they learn what they are supposed to know" (87 percent) and high school students should pass tests "in each of the major subjects before they can graduate" (83 percent).
  3. Free-up the front-line educators. Local schools ought to have considerably greater freedom and control over curriculum, budgets, and, especially, firing "teachers that aren't performing" (89 percent).
  4. Reward good teachers. Good teachers should be rewarded with higher pay (84 percent) and paid more if they "work in tough neighborhoods with hard-to-reach students" (77 percent).
  5. Enforce discipline. Schools should enforce strict discipline with regard to student behavior, dress, and speech (91 percent).
Joanne's site has links to Ohio's NAEP numbers.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:58 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Questions about task force data

In surfing through the information posted for the task forces, I have two questions about some of it.

First, I don't know why the MMSD staff presented the chart on Transportation_Students_Special Ed_ELL. However, the district does more busing and cabbing than just special ed and ELL students. Most children, I believe, in early childhood programs get bused or cabbed, but they may be included in the special ed students. In addition, children in TEP (Temporary Education Program) for homeless kids get bussed or cabbed (sometimes from Verona, Middleton, and Sun Prairie). If the chart were to include all kids who are bussed, the TEP kids definitely need to be added.

Second, another chart that shows classrooms set aside for districtwide programs does not show any districtwide program at Glenn Stephens Elementary. However, the 3rd Friday count shows 30 kids in an early childhood program at Glenn Stephens. Shouldn't those kids show up in rooms at Glenn Stephens?

I hope that someone on the task forces will ask MMSD staff for clarification on these two issues, since complete data will help produce better recommendations.

Posted by Ed Blume at 3:20 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Leaders Discuss Gang Issue Saturday


"In the 80s, we had African-American gangs really hit the scene here in Madison," said Madison Police Chief Noble Wray. "But what we're looking at today is that we have more young ladies involved in gangs, we have Asian gangs, and a real increase in Latino gangs."
Dane County Executive Assistant Ken Haynes said gang members are coming from diverse backgrounds, not just low-income neighborhoods.
"Problems ... challenges don't stop at geographic boundaries," Haynes said.
Community leaders said that to reduce gang activity, everyone needs to work together.
"Our strategies need to be connected to all the strategies with other service providers, strategies in the schools and the strategies with parents," Wray said
Video clips and archives from the recent Gangs and School Violence Forum.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:48 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 5, 2005

East Options & West/Memorial Plans

The MMSD Web site lists eight options for further review by the task force. Rather than try to list them here, you can link to the meeting minutes with the options.

The minutes from the West/Memorial task force include the following:

Seven Task Force members indicated that they had ideas for options to begin the discussion. Jane noted that we would have members bring up their ideas and then determine how to proceed in refining the ideas. She also noted that District staff would analyze the options further before the next meeting of the Task Force.

Posted by Ed Blume at 11:25 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Local School News Roundup

Local media posted a number of K-12 articles this morning:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:25 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 4, 2005

Music and Art Improve Student Achievement, Especially for English Language Learners and Low Income Students In Tucson Unified School District

The Tucson Unified School District’s Opening Minds through the Arts , also known as OMA, was recently awarded a federal grant totaling over one million dollars to continue research on its music and art model and how it positively effects student achievement.

Independent research has shown that OMA participant’s especially English language learners and students from disadvantaged communities, have significantly improved their standardized test scores in reading, language, and math. Furthermore, research indicates that students at OMA schools demonstrate fewer behavioral problems, improve their classroom focus, and show greater respect for themselves and fellow students and teachers.

Now in its fifth year at TUSD, OMA integrates the fine arts into traditional and arts curriculum for kindergarten through sixth-grade students. The OMA model is based on extensive research on the neurological development of children. Using opera, dance, costume design and music, students learn new ways to view and understand complex math and language problems. In Grade 3 students learn to play the recorder. In Grade 4 all students learn to play a stringed instrument and in Grade 5 all students learn to play an instrument in a band or orchestra.

OMA was one of 23 programs selected nationally to receive the U.S. Department of Education grant. Titled Professional Development for Arts Educators, the grant will provide the district with $1,001,700 over the next three years for additional research on past student achievement results and specific OMA components that help increase student success.

It's amazing what can be accomplished when minds are open to changes and a focus on what contributes positively to student achievement and what improves learning and closing the achievement gap. Federal funding for approaches similar to OMA have been available for several years. But, the first step is support for what supports children's learning and achievement and a willingness to work together under current constraints on new ideas. This past summer the director of OMA conducted workshops throughout the US, one in Minneapolis. Perhaps School Board will put together a working group to get started on something similar for our children.

Posted by at 8:53 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

From Gunpowder to the Next Big Bang by Thomas L. Friedman

There is a techie adage that goes like this: In China or Japan the nail that stands up gets hammered, while in Silicon Valley the nail that stands up drives a Ferrari and has stock options. Underlying that adage is a certain American confidence that whatever we lack in preparing our kids with strong fundamentals in math and science, we make up for by encouraging our best students to be independent, creative thinkers.

There is a lot of truth to that. Even the Chinese will tell you that they've been good at making the next new thing, and copying the next new thing, but not imagining the next new thing. That may be about to change. Confident that its best K-12 students will usually outperform America's in math and science, China is focusing on how to transform its classrooms so students become more innovative.

"Although we are enjoying a very fast growth of our economy, we own very little intellectual property," Wu Qidi, China's vice minister of education, told me. "We are so proud of China's four great inventions [in the past]: the compass, paper-making, printing and gunpowder. But in the following centuries we did not keep up that pace of invention. Those inventions fully prove what the Chinese people are capable of doing - so why not now? We need to get back to that nature." Nurturing more "creative thinking and entrepreneurship are the exact issues we are putting attention to today." But this bumps head-on against Chinese culture and politics, which still emphasize conformity.

But for how much longer? Check out Microsoft Research Asia, the research center Bill Gates set up in Beijing to draw on Chinese brainpower. In 1998, Microsoft gave IQ tests to some 2,000 top Chinese engineers and scientists and hired 20. Today it has 200 full-time Chinese researchers. Harry Shum, a Carnegie Mellon-trained computer engineer who runs the lab, has a very clear view of what Chinese innovators can do, given the right environment. The Siggraph convention is the premier global conference for computer graphics and interactive technologies. At Siggraph 2005, 98 papers were published from research institutes all over the world.

Nine of them - almost 10 percent - came from Microsoft's Chinese research center, beating out M.I.T. and Stanford. Dr. Shum said: "In 1999 we had one paper published. In 2000, we had one. In 2001, we had two. In 2002, we had four. In 2003 we had three. In 2004, we had five, and this year we are very lucky to have nine." Do you see a pattern?

In addition, Microsoft Beijing has contributed more than 100 new technologies for current Microsoft products - from the Xbox to Windows. That's a huge leap in seven years, although, outside the hothouses like Microsoft, China still has a way to go.

Dr. Shum said: "A Chinese journalist once asked me, 'Harry, tell me honestly, what is the difference between China and the U.S.? How far is China behind?' I joked, 'Well, you know, the difference between China high-tech and American high-tech is only three months - if you don't count creativity.' When I was a student in China 20 years ago, we didn't even know what was happening in the U.S. Now, anytime an M.I.T. guy puts up something on the Internet, students in China can absorb it in three months.

"But could someone here create it? That is a whole other issue. I learned mostly about how to do research right at Carnegie Mellon. ... Before you create anything new, you need to understand what is already there. Once you have this foundation, being creative can be trainable. China is building that foundation. So very soon, in 10 or 20 years, you will see a flood of top-quality research papers from China."

Once more original ideas emerge, though, China will need more venture capital and the rule of law to get them to market. "Some aspects of Chinese culture did not encourage independent thinking," Dr. Shum said. "But with venture capital coming into this country, it will definitely inspire a new generation of Chinese entrepreneurs. I will be teaching a class at Tsinghua University next year on how to do technology-based ventures. ... You have technology in Chinese universities, but people don't know what to do with it - how to marketize it."

A few of his young Chinese inventors demonstrated their new products for me. I noticed that several of them had little granite trophies lined up on their shelves. I asked one of them, who had seven or eight blocks on her shelf, "What are those?" She said the researchers got them from Microsoft every time they invented something that got patented.

How do you say "Ferrari" in Chinese?

* Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

The New York Times
November 4, 2005
Op-Ed Contributor

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Board of Education's 2005-06 evaluation of superintendent: next steps

On October 31, the Human Resources Committee of the Madison Board of Education reviewed a memo from Juan Jose Lopez, the chair of the committee. According to the memo, the Board developed goals for the 2005-06 evaluation of the superintendent during its recent closed sessions to evaluate his performance between 2002 and now.

If so, I believe that the Board violated the requirements of the Wisconsin Open Meetings law in those sessions. The Open Meetings law permits the Board to meet in closed sessions to consider "performance evaluation data". That is, the Board may discuss how the superintendent's performance measures up under the performance standards. The law does not permit the Board to develop the standards for future evaluations behind closed doors. That's why the October 10 meeting was scheduled as an open meeting. The Board must hold its discussion of future standards for this evaluation in public.

The memo also refers to a still secret document, "the Superintendent's evaluation", and recommends that the next evaluation of Superintendent Art Rainwater focus on four categories. Did the Board evaluate the superintendent in just four categories? We can't say, because the sessions were closed. Were there other ideas about where improvement is needed? We can't say, because the sessions were closed. Is this memo an accurate summary of Board discussions? We can't say, because the sessions were closed.

The next step is another Human Resource Committee meeting. Board members are encouraged to submit recommendations for the next evaluation before this meeting.

The memo follows:


October 31, 2005
TO: Members of the Board of Education
FROM: Juan José López
SUBJECT: Superintendent’s Goals for 2005-06
The following are goals that were articulated in the Superintendent’s evaluation:

1. Specific targets and measures need to be identified for each area of the Strategic Plan.

a) Following this first year of specific targets and measures, an Annual Report should be developed that identifies the base line measure.

b) This year, and in subsequent years, the Annual Report should give updates on the progress of each of these priorities.

2. The Board would like a detailed plan describing how the district will improve progress on our math goal.

a) The plan should include ways to measure our annual progress at specific elementary and middle school grades, as well as at 9th and 10th grades.

b) This year, and in subsequent years, the Annual Report should give updates on the progress of each of these priorities.

3. The Board would like more information on the district's collaborations/partnerships and to be kept informed of changes and developments.

a) Each collaboration/partnership should be identified in terms of participants, goals, and potential savings or benefit to district.

b) New collaborations/partnerships are encouraged, but are expected to have a net gain in terms of personnel, student benefit, resources, or long term goals when all staff time is considered.

4. The Board requests that the Superintendent develop a formal process to identify culturally competent potential administrators from within the District, and to develop their skills and experiences. The proposed process and potential participants should be identified by the end of the academic year, with implementation planned for the following year.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 1:25 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Equity and School Board - Hard Work Needed by School Board AND Equity Task Force

I've attended many of the School Board meetings where equity issues came up. I listened to parents and representatives from the Northside Coalition talk about their concerns about equity issues over the past several years, including concerns about the application of the equity formula over the past several years frustrated, in part, that the School Board was not implementing and overseeing the established, Board approved equity policy.

My daughter does not attend any of the schools represented by these parents, but my husband has taught in some of these schools, so I'm familiar with some but certainly not all of issues, and I've worked as a PTO Board member in support of many similar issues. I wholeheartedly support parent and community members' concerns, and I wholeheartedly believe we need to take steps to do the right thing for all our students, especially helping those who are in the greatest need of support to be successful learners.

I wasn't at Monday night's meeting, but I've heard Lawrie Kobza testify and speak on the need for the School Board to take steps to insure that the Equity Policy is implemented and to monitor the implementation of that policy as required. I agree with her recommendation that a first step for the Task Force would be to examine the existing equity policy, even though I believe this motion was defeated. I hope the Equity Task Force, when formed, will go ahead and begin their work by looking at the existing policy and keep the big picture in mind.

As I wrote yesterday, I believe that what is implicit in the equity issue is student achievement which very much depends upon closing the achievement gap. The second goal of the equity policy states: "that all students will achieve in accordance with the 100% success objectives." While the Equity Task Force begins their process, I hope the Performance and Achievement Committee will look at student achievement and the achievement gap more closely and as a regular part of their meeting agendas, using MMSD data.

I would hope that this committee raises questions about what is working toward closing the achievement gap? I know evaluators say it is difficult to “tease out” the right answer, but having been a program evaluator for more than ten years, I know these questions need to be asked and discussed in an ongoing fashion. The efforts of the Equity Task Force and the Performance and Achievement Committee are not mutually exclusive.

For example, even before the Equity Task Force even meets, the administration and/or staff/schools are already on a path to change 10th grade Enlish offerings in West High School, has removed regular foreign language classes from one middle schools substituting a reading hour for one academic hour, and is now started a redesigning process of our middle schools.

Where's the public discussions about these important academic issues that will affect student achievement at the school board level or on the Performance and Achievement Committee? These are not simply issues of which curricula, these are big picture issues, policy issues that will directly affect student achievement. The administration I can only assume believes these are necessary to close the achievement gap and necessary given our current financial situation - what does the Board think about this, what is our MMSD data showing us, are these our only options? However, what is the process for making these changes, when is the Board briefed and make decisions? Final decisions on curriculum are the legal responsibility of the School Board, but does that mean the School Board is only brought in at the last step? In any case, ongoing dialogue will help us all have a better understanding of these changes. When you look at the State Standards for various subjects, a wide variety of different people, including parents, business people are involved in the process. Doing otherwise runs the risk of constant us vs. them situations, which are counter-productive.

Last year, there was a presentation to the School Board by the District on their research-based reading curriculum. There continues to be great debate about the effectiveness of various district curriculum approaches and their results. Draft evaluations on certain reading curriculum have been prepared but not discussed at the Board level. Professionals with direct experience in how children learn to read have expressed concern about aspects of the District’s reading curriculum. Doesn’t the Board need to have a public discussion about the various approaches, results, directions? Don't we come to better understandings through public discussions?

I guess I believe student achievement is the primary responsibility of the School Board. The School Board needs to address these big picture questions, they need to set the parameters. They do not need to micromanage, but they need to set and monitor policy.

Posted by at 1:13 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Questions About West's Proposed One 10th Grade English Class

Below is the list of questions about 10th grade English that were sent to West Principal Ed Holmes, West English Chair Keesia Hyzer, and Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash (who will be attending the meeting).  We explained -- again -- that our goals in sending them questions before the meeting are to give them time to prepare answers, minimize "surprises" at the meeting, and insure that all of our questions are answered.  They are aware that we are posting the questions to this list serve and that many parents in attendance next Monday night will know that these questions have been asked of them.  We have asked Mr. Holmes to consider publishing our questions and the school's answers to them in the next issue of the Regent Reporter (much as Mr. Rathert did with my questions about the SLC initiative a year-and-a-half ago), in order that parents who are not able to attend the meeting next week can nevertheless be fully informed.  We also included a few questions about the research on ability grouping and the SLC initiative, more generally, but made it clear that we did not necessarily expect them to be addressed next week.

We hope to see a lot of you at the meeting (7:00 p.m. in the West LMC).  Feel free to bring along any additional questions you feel we have overlooked.

Questions about 10th grade English at West HS

  1. What are the West HS data that indicate there is a problem with the current system for 10th grade English?

  2. What are the data that suggest the solution being proposed (i.e., a standardized, homogeneous curriculum delivered in completely heterogeneous classes) will fix the problem?  (Are there empirical studies you can tell us about?)

  3. What are the data that indicate all students' educational needs will be well served by the proposed solution?  (Again, are there empirical studies you can tell us about?)

  4. What are the data that indicate no students will be harmed or poorly served by the proposed solution?  (And again -- any empirical studies?)

  5. If the 10th grade English core is implemented, will some English electives be dropped from the list of course offerings?  If so, which ones?

  6. Will advanced students be allowed to "test out" or be "teacher-recommended out" of the 10th grade English core?  If so, when would this happen?  (When they register for their 10th grade classes?  At the end of 9th grade?  At the beginning of 10th grade? In between semesters in 10th grade?  Some or all of these times?)

  7. Will you extend this option to advanced 9th graders and allow them to "test out" or be "teacher-recommended out" of 9th grade English?  (It is our understanding that this used to be allowed.)

  8. Would you consider keeping the current system in place  and adding the new curriculum as an additional elective for those students for whom it is a good educational match?

  9. Will the grant be jeopardized or lost if you do not implement a homogeneous 10th grade English core?  (If you are not sure, would you be willing to check into it and get back to us?)

  10. We fear that the plan to offer an honors designation in 10th grade English that requires two lunchtime meetings per week is likely doomed to failure for the following reasons: a) it seems highly unlikely that students who have just endured a year of required "freshman resource time" during their lunch hour will be willing to give up two-fifths of their hard-earned midday freedom as sophomores; b) the plan puts having an honors distinction (which is really not the point -- having an appropriately challenging curriculum and the opportunity to learn with similar-ability peers is the point) in direct competition with participation in clubs and other activities that meet during lunchtime; c) the plan forces students to choose between more academics and social time or "down" time.  Because so many reasons for students not to choose the honors option are being built into the plan, we feel the plan is likely to fail and that you will then use that as justification for discontinuing the option due to "lack of interest."  Would you please comment on our concerns?  What are your thoughts about the potential success or failure of the proposed honors designation, as it is currently defined?

  11. Who conceived of the proposal to restructure sophomore English by eliminating electives and implementing a standardized curriculum to be delivered in heterogeneous classrooms (i.e., what are their names, please)?

  12. Were District TAG staff included or consulted in the development of this proposal?

  13. Who is developing the 10th grade English core curriculum (again, what are their names, please)?

  14. Were District TAG staff included or consulted in the development of the new curriculum?

  15. What is the process the group is using to develop the English 10 core curriculum?

    Posted by Laurie Frost at 11:04 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Equity and the School Board – No Easy Answers

The district’s equity policy was originally adopted in 1994. Shortly after, the East Area Success Team came to the Board with a proposal that we adopt a more equitable approach to distributing resources. This became the Equity Resource Allocation formula; it was used, and is still used, to distribute additional resources (supplemental) to the neediest schools at the elementary level. The Board allocated a number of the supplemental positions to support SAGE programming at 16 schools in 2000-01. Since most schools used the supplemental resources to decrease class size this appeared to be a reasonable way to reduce class sizes and gain a bit more in state funding.

Last spring the Northside PTO Coalition, which has been very concerned about the equity policy, put this question before the school board: “If further cuts are required, will you commit to working with the community to try to protect smaller class sizes at the neediest schools, even if that means raising class sizes at schools with lower poverty levels?”

The Board discussion reported in the Capital Times earlier this week was about the questions and issues such an approach raises. My questions are:
How much do we take away from some schools and some programs to maintain resources at other schools?

  • Just to clarify, the first step the Task Force on Equity is directed to take is to review the district's current policy and the equity resource allocation formula.
  • Is the income of students to be the overriding criteria in funding discussions?
  • Do we end SAGE at those schools with poverty levels significantly below the district average (say less than 30%)?
  • Do we take away the .5 supplemental allocated to schools with lower poverty rates?
  • How do we handle programs that serve a lower percentage of low-income students?
  • Do we eliminate advanced courses at the high school or foreign language at the middle school in order to give additional resources to the secondary schools with the highest proportion of low-income students?

I do not have a ready answer to these questions – but they are ones that the Equity Task Force will discuss in considering their recommendations to the Board. The Equity Task Force was specifically requested by a number of parents and the Northside PTO Coalition.

Posted by Carol Carstensen at 10:48 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New Study on Inequality in School Readiness and Public Funding

New Fall 2005 study from the UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty:

"Inequality in children's school readiness and public funding" was authored by a team that includes local assistant professor of social work Katherine Magnuson. It asks:

There are still many questions about children’s preschool experiences and the rise in public preschool funding. Has the substantial expansion of public funding made inroads into the disparities in preschool enrollment? How good are the various types of programs—are some forms of preschool higher in quality than others? How effective are they in remedying disadvantage—do poor children who attend preschool programs really enter school better prepared to learn? Do any advantages of preschool expe-rience fade over time?

The full document is available online in PDF format at:

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 10:21 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

One English Program for West's Sophomores

Matt Pommer:

Under the new program targeted for fall 2006, all sophomores will take the same English program in the first semester focusing on the American Dream. In the second semester, students will be able to select from the themes of justice or identity, according to Keesia Hyzer, chair of the school's English department.

In the past, 10th-grade students have had more than 20 options, but 85 percent have selected among five or six choices, she indicated. Current plans call for the curriculum to be taught next year in 18 sections.

Principal Ed Holmes said the core curriculum "will meet the needs of the struggling learner as well as those of our gifted and talented students." He indicated that there is concern among some parents, but he urged them to see what the core curriculum will mean to their students. The core curriculum is still "a work in progress," he said, but it will be explained at Monday's PTO meeting.

"The parents' concern is that we are going to give up the rigor and challenge for our most talented students. By no means!" he said in a Capital Times interview.


Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:09 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The shocking truth

From Jason Shepard's column Talking Out of School in Isthmus, Madison's only media outlet to give the public in-depth coverage of the MMSD:

A series of institutional failures -- by court employees, police officers, and school officials -- led to a Madison student being shot with a Taser stun gun in a school parking lot early this year, according to an independent investigator whose report the school district has tried to keep secret. . . .

[The report] is a remarkable indictment of the ways in which police and school officials handled the Taser incident. But perhaps the case's most distrubing aspect concerns what appear to be ongoing efforts to cover up what transpired.

Superintendent Art Rainwater initally offered his assurances that all district policies were followed. "In my review with the principal, it would appear that the process was followed," the Wisconsin State Journal quoted him as saying.

File that quote under Take Nothing from the MMSD at Face Value.

But Rainwater, to his credit, ordered an independent investigation saying in the same article: "Given the high profile that this case has assumed, it would be better accepted by the public if someone outside the administration conducted the investigation and reached findings."

[The report] was submitted to the district on Oct. 18. District spokesman Key Syke this week denied a request by Isthmus to see the report, citing "pending litigation. . . ." (Of course, any party suing the district would easily be able to obtain [the report] through discovery.)

Isthmus was able to obtain the report through other means. It will be posted on the paper's Web site,, next Monday, November 7, under Document Feed.

Posted by Ed Blume at 6:56 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 3, 2005

MMSD Equity Policy Exists - Board Not Overseeing Policy

On Monday, October 31st, the Madison School Board voted to establish an equity policy task force even though a board equity policy exists - The existing equity policy goals are twofold: (1) that all students will be provided an equitable educational opportunity in a diverse setting and (2) that all students will achieve in accordance with the 100% success objectives. MMSD School Board members are not taking the necessary steps to ensure that the existing School Board Equity Policy is being implemented as stated in the policy requirements. Why not? It seems to be easier for the Board majority to punt to another new task force and confuse the situation, further delaying action.

There are serious flaws and confusion in the 'reasoning' and applications of the 'equity policy' by the majority of the Board: equity and equal are NOT the same; nor do the equity policy and the equity formula mean, nor do the same things. The Board majority and the Administration conveniently hide behind the confusion and lack of accountability they create to 'assure' everyone they are doing everything they can given financial constraints that prevent them from doing more. The lack of prior board oversight, work and actions simply do not support the board majority’s statements on Monday night.

For example, as Chair of the Performance and Achievement Committee last year, Board member Juan Jose Lopez had both the power and the authority to set the agenda for his committee. Did his committee make closing the achievement gap a priority? No. Did his committee examine curriculum, identify where resources are being allocated and what support resources are needed, review test results, budgets and make recommendations for changes to improve the achievement gap? No. I attended all the Performance and Achievement Committee meetings. What was done? District administrators made “seminar type” information presentations on various subjects and curricula, but no data on MMSD’s students were presented.

Few decisions were made – none directly tied to improving student achievement and support services as needed, which is implicit in equity for our students. There was no attempt to find out what curriculum issues might exist that would hamper children’s academic achievement and which curricula or aspects of a curricula are helping our children achieve academically. No serious work was done on improving academic achievement for all our students. Further, after January 2005, while Mr. Lopez attended other Board and Board committee meetings, his Performance and Achievement Committee did not meet for the remainder of his term as Chair of that committee.

Why hasn’t the School Board overseen this policy more rigorously? The equity policy requires that “the Superintendent will present to the Board an annual report which will include each school's educational goals and diversity profile. The report will also contain the progress or lack of progress each school has made toward reaching its goals, and appropriate recommendations for further action designed to achieve the goals.” The Superintendent does report to the School Board on the Board’s three priorities. The information contained in this report is necessary but not sufficient to oversee and to monitor the implementation of the equity policy. Succinct summaries needed to be presented to the School Board for their review and discussion. Why weren’t they?

There is no oversight or consistent follow-up by the board or a board committee, there is no reporting from the administration to the School Board as required in the policy. There is no committee work to assess curriculum that may be contributing to the achievement gap. So, when Board members say they are concerned about equity, their prior actions do not appear to support their statements. Financial challenges definitely exist for the District (I voted yes on all three referenda last spring), but that does not explain the School Board’s absence of monitoring important policies so they and the public can learn what is working/not working and what needs improvement. There are steps that need to be taken before making broad, sweeping statements that make for good press. There is an equity policy in place – the Board needs to do its job and enforce this policy.

If all that were needed for reducing the achievement gap were dollars, the School Board could have made that money available this year, for example, by making extracurricular activities self-funding. With high school sports at $2 million – the district could instead use that money to pay for 20-40 positions that could be used to teach children who need help. Or, maybe the Board needs to revisit the Reading Recovery program, which helps the neediest (but not all the neediest) first grade students vs. other reading curriculum assistance designed to help teachers work with children needing help in grades K-5. Reallocating Reading Recovery personnel would make available 20+ teaching positions. Or, perhaps the District could revisit Federal funding for reading programs – at least have some public discussions about possible next steps before turning our backs on such funding sources. Or, perhaps, make more programs in fund 80 self-funding and use part of that budget to support for kids that would qualify under the fund 80 guidelines. Lastly, the School Board could have reduced administrative staff.

There are positive steps that can be taken, but first the School Board needs to do the work of monitoring important policies such as the existing Equity Policy. If differences exist between the administration and parents/community members (such as on Madison’s northside) re. the implementation of this policy, it’s up to the School Board to work through these issues in a public format. How much longer does this community have to wait for this School Board to wake up and do its job?

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Gates Foundation & LA's Small Learning Communities

Naush Boghossian:

But the grant, the foundation's first sizable sum to the Los Angeles Unified School District, falls far short of investments the foundation has made across the country to smaller districts - a disparity some officials blame on the LAUSD's lack of a comprehensive plan.

And critics said Wednesday that, despite years of discussions with the Gates Foundation, the district superintendent, Roy Romer, has been unwilling to relinquish any control and create a partnership with the foundation to build the smaller learning environments that require autonomy to succeed - a charge Romer strongly denies.

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School Districts Sharing Services

Reason Foundation:

in many parts of the country 40 to 50 percent of education funding never makes it to the classroom. A new report by Reason and Deloitte finds that saving just a quarter of the tax dollars spent by school districts on non-instructional operations could save $9 billion. To put this number in perspective, it is equivalent to 900 new schools or more than 150,000 additional teachers. "School funding and per pupil spending are always hot-button issues," said Lisa Snell, co-author of the report. "Sharing services gives schools and districts a great opportunity to send a lot more money straight to classrooms, where it belongs. With much of the education world facing tough budget decisions, sharing services is a dramatically under-used option that can yield significant results."
Full Report [PDF] Obviously a good idea, however like many such initiatives (city / county consolidation is another example), execution is generally non-trivial. Reason has a number of education oriented publications posted here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:43 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Baltimore Schools Offer Algebra to Parents

Allison Keyes:

In Maryland, the current class of 9th graders will be the first to have to pass an algebra test to graduate from high school. That's putting pressure on some parents to brush up on their math skills so that they can help their children. Baltimore County's school system has recognized this potential problem and is now offering classes to bring parents up to speed on algebra.

The school system is offering its algebra awareness class for parents in a three-session format. Each session is two hours long.

The idea came from discussions of the new algebra requirement at Parent-Teacher Association meetings last year.

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November 2, 2005

More Studies Document Benefits of Early Childhood Education

Researchers Say Early Education Programs Pay Off

PDFs of Studies at:

POSTED: 1:38 pm CST November 2, 2005
UPDATED: 2:10 pm CST November 2, 2005

Two new studies suggest pre-K and Early Head Start programs benefit children -- especially those from low-income families -- in a variety of ways, including increased cognitive and language skills.

The first study looked at children who took part in pre-K programs -- programs run by public schools and serving 4-year-olds.

Researchers said they documented benefits in several aspects of school readiness, including improvements in reading, writing and spelling abilities.

The study, conducted by Georgetown University researchers, found that disadvantaged children and Hispanic children benefited the most from pre-K programs.

Researchers studied 1, 567 pre-K 4-year-olds and 1, 461 children who had just completed one of the pre-K programs in Tulsa, Okla.

The second study, conducted by researchers at Princeton and Columbia University, looked at the benefits of Early Head Start programs that serve infants, toddlers and their families.

Full story at:

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Charter School Bills Advance

The state Assembly Committee on Education Reform acted today (11/2/05) to recommend passage of three bills to expand charter school authorizing in Wisconsin. The bills may be scheduled for a vote next week by the entire State Assembly.

On a vote of 7-Ayes (Reps. Vukmir, Nass, Towns, Wood, Nischke, Pridemore & A. Williams) and 2-Noes (Reps. Sinicki & Lehman), the committee recommended Assembly Bill 730 (AB 730) which proposes to allow five UW System 4-year universities, in addition to UW-Milwaukee and UW-Racine, to each authorize (i.e. sponsor) up to 5 charter schools.

AB 698, which would raise the student enrollment cap from 400 to 480 on a charter elementary school sponsored by UW-Parkside, was recommended on a vote of 8-Ayes and 1-No (Rep. Sinicki). Two Democrats, Rep. Lehman and A. Williams, joined all Republicans in supporting the bill.

A proposal (AB 631) to create a new Tribal Charter School Authorizing Board was supported in committee on a close vote --- Ayes-5 (Rep. Vukmir, Wood, Nischke, Pridemore & A. Williams) to Noes-4 (Rep. Nass, Towns, Sinicki & Lehman).

For additional information about these proposals to expand Wisconsin's charter school law, please contact:

SENN BROWN, Secretary
Wisconsin Charter Schools Association
P.O. Box 628243
Middleton, WI 53562
Tel: 608-238-7491 Fax: 608-663-5262
Email: Web:

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Catholic Schoolgirls Unravel DNA

Michael D. O'Neill:

There were many big-league DNA scientists at the annual genome sequencing conference held here last month, but no one stood out more than a slight high school teacher in religious habit towing five of her students through the imposing crowd of genetics pioneers with a quiet grace.

The unlikely delegate was Sister Mary Jane Paolella, of Sacred Heart Academy, an all-girls Roman Catholic high school in Hamden, Connecticut. She wasn't here on a sightseeing trip. Paolella showed up with her students to make an official presentation of DNA sequencing data that her honors biotechnology class generated from genes associated with osteoporosis.

Paolella's been bringing her students here for eight years. The point, she says, is to give her class the opportunity to rub elbows with top scientists working at the cutting edge of research -- luminaries like Craig Venter, who led the private effort to sequence the human genome, and Dr. Hamilton Smith, who won the 1978 Nobel Prize for his work on DNA-cutting enzymes. She credits the experience for inspiring more and more of her students to pursue careers in traditionally male-dominated scientific fields.

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NPR: Hispanic Students Most Ill-Served in US

Claudio Sanchez:

New reports from the Pew Hispanic Center conclude that low-income Latino students are the most segregated, ill-served group in the country's public high schools. The reports detail high school conditions for Hispanic students in the United States.
Read the full report here.

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TABOR foes encouraged by Colorado

Sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment to limit state and local tax increases today sought to put a positive spin on a key vote in Colorado to exceed similar limits there.

"I think this shows that TABOR is working," said Rep. Frank Lasee, R-Bellevue, using the acronym for the Taxpayers' Bill of Rights. "The voters there had their say. When the people decide to tax themselves, that's how government should work."

But opponents of the proposal called it a death knell for Wisconsin's proposal.

By David Callender and Anita Weier
November 2, 2005 in The Capital Times

"This proves that robotic formulas don't work, especially when they are spliced into a state constitution," said Rich Eggleston, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Alliance of Cities. The Alliance has opposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights efforts in Wisconsin on the grounds that local governments need flexibility to meet local needs.

"We know from public opinion polls that support for a TABOR in Wisconsin is waning. And I hope this is another nail in the coffin," he said.

Wisconsin Republicans have been pushing for the proposal for almost three years. They contend that voters - not elected officials - should decide when and how much to increase state and local taxes.

Because Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle has threatened to veto any bill imposing such limits, the Republican plan would impose the limits under a constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments are approved by voters and are not subject to the governor's veto.

But Republicans in the Senate and Assembly remain split over just how the plan would work. Republican leaders said recently that they hope to have a plan ready for legislative action by next spring. The earliest the plan would likely come before voters is 2007.

In Colorado, voters agreed to suspend that state's spending caps for the next five years, thereby giving up more than $3 billion in taxpayer refunds to help the state bounce back from a recession. Voters ignored fiscal conservatives who argued that the government doesn't need more money to spend.

But Lasee noted that voters rejected another ballot measure that would have allowed the state to borrow an additional $1.2 billion immediately for economic recovery.

The vote was closely watched in states around the nation. Californians are scheduled to vote on state spending limits next Tuesday, and Kansas, Ohio, Maine, Nevada, Oklahoma and Arizona are considering spending caps.

"Colorado is still in a world of fiscal hurt. Its school system is at the bottom of the country. Its roads still need way more help than yesterday's referendum will provide. Legislators who can't do their jobs - to run the state budget the way taxpayers want - shouldn't rely on a TABOR for Wisconsin," Eggleston said.

Supporters of the referendum said Colorado simply could not afford to vote no, not with higher education, health care and transportation already suffering from millions of dollars in budget cuts.

"It was a tough election for all," said Republican Gov. Bill Owens, who stunned his own party by joining Democrats in crafting the measure. "Everyone cares for Colorado, and I understand why others feel differently."

The referendum approved Tuesday lets the state keep an estimated $3.7 billion over five years that would otherwise be refunded under its TABOR, a constitutional amendment that is considered the nation's strictest cap on government spending.

With 98 percent of the expected vote counted statewide, 559,006 voters, or 52 percent, had approved the plan, compared with 516,808, or 48 percent, who voted against it.

Voters rejected a second ballot measure that would have let the state to borrow up to $2.1 billion for roads, school maintenance, pensions and other projects. With 98 percent of the expected vote counted, 543,521 people were opposed, 529,293 were in favor.

One opposition group was already threatening legal action Tuesday night over voting problems that cropped up late in the day.

In the traditional conservative stronghold of El Paso County, anchored by Colorado Springs, some voters waited in line well after the polls should have closed because a higher-than-expected turnout had created a ballot shortage. Some people left in frustration, clerk Bob Balink said.

In Greeley, heavy turnout had voters at one library waiting in line for 40 minutes to cast their ballots.

"My job depends on it. Without it, we're toast," said Laura Manuel, who works at Metropolitan State College in Denver and supported suspending the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. "People want a free lunch - they want roads and sidewalks but don't want to pay for it."

The 1992 constitutional amendment, dubbed TABOR, has been celebrated by fiscal conservatives across the country. Until this year, Owens was among them, but he said he backed the change because Colorado faces a fiscal crisis.

Randy Wood, a 45-year-old PTA member with two daughters in Denver's public schools, said he voted in favor because he worries about more cuts in education after seeing music and the arts suffer.

Patricia Kropf, a retired dental office manager from Denver, said she voted against it.

"We don't trust the government, and we don't know what they would do with the money," the 62-year-old Republican said.

The vote capped a bitter, $8 million campaign.

Supporters argued that without the change, Colorado would be forced to close state parks and cut funding for health care and universities and community colleges.

Opponents branded the measures a tax grab by politicians too gutless to make tough decisions on spending.

"We have some people running around saying the sky is falling. Others say this is the opportunity we have been waiting for, that we can do government with less," said Jon Caldara, leader of the opposition group Vote No; It's Your Dough. Caldara said the ballot shortages Tuesday were inexcusable and he threatened legal action.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 10:16 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 1, 2005

West PTSO Meeting to Discuss Changes in English Curriculum

The November 7 meeting of the West High PTSO will feature a presentation by members of the West English department on the administration's plan to create a uniform 10th grade English curriculum beginning in the fall of 2006-07. This change will mean that -- beginning with the current 9th grade class -- West 10th graders will no longer be allowed to choose from the wide array of electives offered by the English faculty, a list of courses that vary by both content and degree of difficulty. Instead, under the proposed plan, all 10th graders will take the same English curriculum,
delivered in heterogeneously composed classes, much as West 9th graders do currently. 11th and 12th graders will continue to choose from the list of electives. If you are a current or future West parent and would like to know more about this plan or have concerns about its implementation, you are encouraged to attend the 11/7 meeting. West PTSO meetings are held in the West LMC and begin at 7:00 p.m.

Note: Parents of all age children within the West HS attendance area are welcome at this meeting. Background links.

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The Seven Options of the West/Memorial Task Force

The MMSD Web site says that the West/Memorial task force "identified seven options for additional analysis" by MMSD staff. I asked Superintendent Rainwater's Chief of Staff Mary Gulbrandsen for a list of the seven options, and here is her reply:

The West Memorial task force has not even seen the seven ideas that
were put forth by the seven small work groups, as they were the last
thing that we did at the meeting on Thursday night. We are just pulling the ideas together and are going to work with some of the members to actually create options. As soon as we have something that is in a form to send out to the task force, it will be posted on the MMSD website for reviewing. Mary

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Teacher Talk: Plainview, NY Teacher's Union President

Morty Rosenfeld:

If the United States is to preserve our system of free public schools, teacher unions are going to have to stop accepting the status quo and making excuses for the poor performance of our students. Most of us know that contrary to all of the talk about how we are raising our standards, in most of our schools they continue to decline. The low scores on the so-called high stakes tests are testimony to the fact that large numbers of students leave school knowing next to nothing and ill equipped for any but the most menial of jobs. While many of our most talented young people spend their days in so-called accelerated courses with curricula once thought more appropriate to the college level, too many of them have whizzed right by basic skills and cannot string together three coherent sentences or know to any degree of certainty if they have received the correct change in a store. We must face the fact that some of the right-wing critique of public education, particularly their criticism of the ever inflating costs of public education, resonates with the American public because it is true, or at least truer than some of the blather put out by the people who run the schools and the unions who represent the people who work in them. If it is true that our freedom is ultimately tied to our being an enlightened and educated citizenry, we are in terrible trouble.

Excuse number one – We don’t have enough money to meet the educational needs of our students. While too many of our school districts do need more financial resources, resources that many find impossible to raise trough the regressive property tax, the fact of the matter is too many of them also waste a substantial portion of what they have, a good piece of the waste mandated by state and federal law. I’ve written elsewhere about the administrative bloat in school districts where level upon level of bureaucracy insures that teachers and educational support staff are over scrutinized and under supervised to the point where teaching innovation and imagination are increasingly giving way to the routines of educational programs, particularly in math and English, that are intended to make teaching thinking-free.

Via Joanne and EIA Communique.

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Board Votes to Create Equity Task Force

Schools to take closer look at equity
Task force could lead to budget war

By Matt Pommer, The Capital Times
November 1, 2005

The Madison School Board created an "equity" task force Monday, setting the stage for a possible budget war over programs like elementary school strings and foreign language instruction in middle schools.

President Carol Carstensen said the board had been "skirting difficult issues" in budget preparations.

The board has been in favor of equality and directing resources to the neediest population, but "we have not used our power to allocate resources to our neediest children," she said.

The citizens task force was given a March 31 target date for a report, time enough to influence the development of the School Board's 2006-07 budget. Twelve people - three from each high school attendance area - will be named to the task force.

In light of state budget controls, it becomes more difficult to fund program like strings and foreign language in middle school, Carstensen said.

Board member Juan Lopez said the School Board has been "responsive" to organized groups rather than focused on equity. For example, the strings program is important, but he asked, "Is it equitable? No."

Groups may come to the board with a plea for an additional charter school, Lopez noted. That may not be equitable, but the board responds to a political push, he suggested.

Abha Thakkar, a member of the Northside Planning Council and the East Attendance Area PTO Coalition, urged the board to appoint the task force. She said in a "time of prosperity" it is easy to continue programs that help just some of the students in the district.

Helping the pupils from poor families is not just an east side or north side issue, she indicated. "It's a districtwide issue," she said, in urging adoption of the task force.

After the meeting, she told The Capital Times she was pleased by the creation of the task force. But she was most pleased at the lengthy board discussion before the vote.

"They finally fessed up to the issue," she said.

Board member Lawrie Kobza said the equity issue was the reason she ran for the board. "Maybe it's difficult to define equity," she said.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 10:16 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Run for School Board

It’s not too early to think about running, even though school board elections are “spring elections,” because it takes time to learn the issues and organize a campaign.

A lively debate during school board elections will help shape better policies and improve programs for Madison’s children. A lively debate, of course, requires more than one candidate in a race. You can be one of those candidates!

You won’t be alone. A strong network of experienced activists from all across the city will help with research, organizing, fundraising, and all the other necessities of running a campaign.

As a candidate, you would run city-wide for one of two numbered seats currently held by Bill Keys and Juan Lopez, both of whom I have encouraged to run again.

Learn more by visiting this web page.

If you’d like to know more about how to run, feel free to contact Jim Zellmer, Webmaster of, (608) 213-0434, zellmer at mac dot com; Don Severson, Active Citizens for Education, (608) 238-8300, don at activecitizensforeducation dot org; Ed Blume, (608) 225-6591, edblume at mailbag dot com.

Posted by Ed Blume at 8:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

West Task Force Survey (Cherokee)

A task force created by the Board of Education is evaluating options to address overcrowding in the West and Memorial attendance areas. The task force is expected to recommend three options to the Board in early January; the option chosen will be implemented in fall, 2006. Please help the Cherokee task force members accurately represent your views by answering the questions below.
Survey: English | Spanish
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Referenda: Elmbrook's Poll on $100M High Schools

Lisa Sink:

But he said that Elmbrook's results likely wouldn't stop other districts from moving forward with referendum plans because the cost of Elmbrook's plans was more than double what others typically seek.

"The size of the amounts are just so out of line with what everybody else has done that I'd be leery to generalize (Elmbrook's results) to someone who's going to ask for $25 million to build a school," Knapp said.

Spread across the district's tax base, the five building improvement plans presented in Elmbrook's survey would have a tax impact on an average $300,000 home of $288 to $363 per year for 20 years.

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