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February 28, 2006


D-Readers is a breakthrough in reading comprehension instruction for grades 3-8.
3D-Readers trains students in research-based metacognitive strategies by combining interactive visuals, automated text scoring, and immediate feedback in a Web-based product.
Private sector internet learning tools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:07 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Capital Times Story on Muriel Simms

Muriel Simms was my 6th grade teacher at Lincoln Middle School. She is a longtime educator in Madison teaching elementary and middle school plus she was a central office administrator and principal for the Madison School District. She currently teaches at Edgewood College. She has now started a greeting card company. She is also a board member of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 5:04 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Are Administrators Golden?

Next year's projected operating budget shortfall is $8 million - projected expenses will exceed revenues by that amount. For 13 years the growth in expenses have exceeded what the district received and was allowed to receive from the a) state and federal government revenues and b) allowed growth in revenues from property taxes. Further, the state and federal governments do not pay for their promised share of expenses for mandates that local school districts are to provide special education and ELL, to name a few areas. The financing of public education is broken in WI and neither the Republicans nor Democrats are taking this issue on and working through toward viable solutions. One step we can all take is to write your legislators - local, state and federal. Tell our state legislators to stop twiddling their thumbs on financing of public schools, because the problem is "too tough for them to 'figure out.'"

At the same time, drastic financial times will continue to stress Madison's public schools and our School Board and administrative staff will have no choice but to think in different ways PLUS go to referendum. I'm a solid supporter of school referendums - I have voted yes each time. However, I feel the School Board needs to take a different, more proactive approach to how the School Board thinks about and addresses a number of issues, including administrative contracts. Not doing so, will only compound the difficulties and stresses of our current fiscal situation.

Lawrie Kobza pointed out last night that 2-year rolling administrative contracts may be important for some groups of administrators and that the School Board should consider that issue. Otherwise, if the annual pattern continues, extensions will occur in February before the School Board looks at the budget and makes their decisions about staffing. Even though the Superintendent has indicated what positions he proposes to eliminate for next year, when the School Board has additional information later in the budget year, they may want to make different decisions based upon various tradeoffs they believe are important for the entire district.

What might the School Board consider doing? Develop criteria to use to identify/rank your most "valuable" administrative positions (perhaps this already exists) and those positions where the district might be losing its competitive edge. Identify what the "at risk" issues are - wages, financial, gender/racial mix, location, student population mix. Or, start with prioritizing rolling two-year contracts for one of the more "important," basic administrative groups - principals. Provide the School Board with options re administrative contracts. School board members please ask for options for this group of contracts.

Ms. Kobza commented that making an extension of contracts in February for this group of staff could make these positions appear to be golden, untouchable. Leaving as is might not be well received in Madison by a large number of people, including the thousands of MMSD staff who are not administrators on rolling two-year contracts nor a Superintendent with a rolling contract (without a horizon, I think). The board might be told MMSD won't be able to attract talented administrators. I feel the School Board needs to publicly discuss the issues and risks to its entire talent pool.

Mr. Nadler reported that MMSD might be losing its edge in the area of administration. He gave one example where there more than a few applicants for an elementary school position (20 applicants); however, other districts, such as Sun Prairie, are attracting more applicants (more than 100). The communities surrounding Madison are becoming more attractive over time as places to live and to do business. If we don't recognize and try to understand the issues, beyond simply wages and benefits, the situation will continue to worsen. I feel the process in place needs to change in order to be a) more responseive to the issues, b) more flexible for the School Board in their decisionmaking processes, especially around budget time.

Last night the School Board discussed administrator contracts once again and made no decisions, only what appeared to me to be a vague recommendation. Mr. Nadler, Executive Director of Human Resources, made the following points in speaking to the School Board: a) wages in MMSD are higher than surrounding area but places such as Verona offer better total wage and benefit packages, b) MMSD is not attracting the same number of principals for an open elementary school position as Sun Prairie, and c) if MMSD does not offer two-year rolling contracts, our district will be out of line with the other school districts.

The issue was referred to the Human Resources Committee without much direction; but if I understood what was being said by MMSD administration, the administration has a policy to go ahead and extend the admin. contracts if the School Board does not make a decision. I hope they do not act now on that for all employees even though they feel they made need to do this.

I hope the administration considers adjusting its policy. This is not likely without School Board direction, and I don't blame administrators for staying the course given the existing policy. Also, though, these are their contracts, and it may be hard for administrators to step away and be "objective" about contracts directly affecting their jobs.

It is the School Board's responsibility, and for the past three budget cycles, I have not seen much change in practice, or thinking about how to go about a change in practice.

I understood Mr. Nadler's presentation to mean that we have to keep the present system in place if the district is to have any chance of remaining competitive with other districts. Also, a competive package is important in attracting minority and women administrators.

Posted by at 9:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Cole: New schools should be green

Maya Cole posted an interesting idea on her Web site:

Energy efficiency stands out as one island of excellence in the MMSD. The Wisconsin Focus on Energy program features the Madison school district in one of its case studies on energy-efficient schools.

I'd like to take the MMSD’s excellent energy-efficiency commitment one step further by directing the district to construct any new school or other building with environmentally sensitive practices, including natural lighting, energy efficiency, water conservation, recycled products, and other green building practices.

You can find examples of "green built" schools on the Web site of the U.S. Green Building Council. For example, the Third Creek Elementary School in Statesville, NC lowered electricity demand through energy-efficient equipment and design, including extensive daylighting. The Clearview Elementary School in Hanover, PA reduced water use by 30%. At Clackamas High School, Clackamas, OR "[t]he creation of a high-performance, green building was not considered a primary aim. In fact, at the time, there was little interest in sustainable design. However, energy efficiency, high-quality indoor environments, environmental responsibility, and resource efficiency became integral to meeting the school district's established goals," according to the Web site of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Best of all, healthy school buildings can be built for the same (or less) than a conventional school building and operated at a savings. For example, "the low-energy design of Clackamas High School will save the school district $69,000 per year in energy costs." The construction cost of $117 per square foot was "significantly lower than that of a typical high school, which averages $135 to $145 per square foot."

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

Eye Scans: High Tech Hall Pass?

Greg Toppo:

The brushed aluminum box on the brick wall glows purple, a rim of light around an unblinking HAL-like eye.

You peek in and stare for a second, and the steel doors click open. A soothing female voice says: "Identification is completed."

Welcome to Park Avenue Elementary School.

Freehold Borough School District installed the iris-scanning devices in its three schools last month. It and a district down the road in New Egypt are the first U.S. school systems to study what happens when adults are asked to eye-scan to get in the door each day.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:51 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Universal Preschool Discussion - California

Joanne Jacobs rounds up commentary, including those from Cal education and public policy professor Bruce Fuller:

Universal preschool would cost Californians $23 billion over the next 10 years, if Rob Reiner's Proposition 82 passes. But it won't close the learning gap for poor kids, warns Bruce Fuller, a Berkeley education and public policy professor. Currently, 64 percent of four-year-olds go to preschool; Reiner's plan would boost that only to 70 percent. Instead of directing public money at needy families, most of the dollars would go to provide free preschool to middle-class and wealthy parents. Any gains by poor children are likely to be lost when they enter substandard schools.

We are learning empirically that gains experienced by poor children who attend preschool fade by third grade unless youngsters enter quality elementary schools, according to new studies by UC-Santa Barbara and University of Wisconsin economists.

Fuller also questions the requirement that all preschool teachers earn a bachelor's degree. This would disqualify two-thirds of current preschool teachers.

. . . two decades of research show that children benefit when their teachers have a two-year degree and focused training in child development. After that, more years in college are spent on general education requirements, exerting no additional effects. Only the cost rises dramatically.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:50 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"The Incumbent Protection Act"

John Stossel:

Citizens can petition to put an initiative on the ballot, which the public can then vote to pass. Some citizens, thinking they were already paying plenty, organized a movement to repeal the tax increase. Two local radio hosts, Kirby Wilbur and John Carlson, spent lots of time on the air explaining why they think the gas tax is a bad idea.

The nerve!

In response to this challenge to their authority, a group of politicians turned to campaign-finance laws to silence Wilbur and Carlson. The theory is this: Radio airtime is valuable. So if a radio host expresses strong political views, that's a contribution, just as if a caterer were providing free food to the campaign's volunteers. Washington law limits contributions in the final three weeks of a political campaign to $5,000, so Wilbur and Carlson must shut up. Or at least the anti-tax group must count the minutes they talked about it on the air, assign some price to that and report that under campaign finance limits. Or something -- Mike Vaska, the lawyer acting as prosecutor, has suggested that if Wilbur and Carlson distanced themselves enough from the other people on their side, they'd be allowed to speak freely on the radio. Ironically, Vaska just happens to be a member of a big private law firm that stands to make big money off a higher gas tax -- maybe millions in legal fees -- $25,000 per bond backed by the tax. For some reason, Washington legislators seem to think that's OK. No one's telling him to shut up.

I'm actually in favor of a realistic look at energy taxes, however, I think this article raises some useful points. I think we're seeing a small (so small) uptick in local interest in elections. I hope that continues. More from the Journal-Sentinel editorial board.

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

February 27, 2006

NCLB Area Comments

Kurt Gutknecht and Bill Livick pen an interesting article, published recently in the Fitchburg Star:

Several teachers at area schools did not return calls asking for their opinion on the act. Administrators were less reluctant to weigh in.

The principal of a Madison middle school, who did not want to be identified, gave a qualified endorsement to the act for focusing on essential skills and for including all students.

“They’re reasonable standards. A student can’t solve problems if she can’t read well,” the principal said.

Madison schools have a good foundation in addressing the needs of all students, which predated the act, according to the principal. Of greater concern was the act’s requirement that specialists teach every content area, which could force many qualified teachers from the profession. Although it’s not unreasonable to focus on formal teaching standards, “it seems ludicrous” because “many of our most effective teachers are generalists,” said the principal, particularly when there’s no funding for training.

The requirements of the act have “terrified” some teachers, who fear being labeled as ineffective and are concerned about teaching in a school that’s labeled as having failed, according to the principal.

Unless something changes, the No Child Left Behind Act could eventually leave all schools behind within a few years, according to educational administrators in the area. So far, schools have accommodated the legislation, which is officially known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, without noticeable effect.

But many anticipate major problems a few years from now when schools that haven’t met the standards are subject to sanctions. When that happens, schools will be squarely in the center of a debate involving some of the most contentious issues in American society, including race, segregated housing and poverty, as well as funding for education.

Implementation of the act unleashed a storm of criticism and comment.
Opponents portrayed it as a draconian attempt to punish teachers – or even as a prelude to “teacherless education.” Proponents touted it as a long overdue attempt to enforce discipline and responsibility on an unwieldy and recalcitrant educational bureaucracy.

As in most things, the truth probably lies somewhere in between. In a recent column, Art Rainwater, the superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District, said the act “captures both the best and worst of current educational thought” – and also predicted that “all of our nation’s schools” will eventually be subject to sanctions for failing to have made “adequate yearly progress” as defined by the legislation. According to Rainwater, the best of the act is the reliance of “academic performance data” to assess performance, particularly of children of color and those who live in poverty. The same tests are also linked to the worst aspects of the act, according to Rainwater, which will use the results “to create a punitive climate for change.”

Every aspect of the act has generated controversy, including the tests used to assess compliance.

There’s concern that the narrow focus on math and reading fails to adequately encompass the efficacy of education and will lead to teaching for the test instead. A recent issue of the newsletter of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the teachers’ union, recounted the experiences of several teachers who said the testing requirements are “robbing students of valuable learning time and disrupting the learning atmosphere in schools,” in addition to increasing the pressure on young kids to perform well on tests.
Several teachers at area schools did not return calls asking for their opinion on the act. Administrators were less reluctant to weigh in.
The principal of a Madison middle school, who did not want to be identified, gave a qualified endorsement to the act for focusing on essential skills and for including all students.

“They’re reasonable standards. A student can’t solve problems if she can’t read well,” the principal said.

Madison schools have a good foundation in addressing the needs of all students, which predated the act, according to the principal. Of greater concern was the act’s requirement that specialists teach every content area, which could force many qualified teachers from the profession. Although it’s not unreasonable to focus on formal teaching standards, “it seems ludicrous” because “many of our most effective teachers are generalists,” said the principal, particularly when there’s no funding for training.

The requirements of the act have “terrified” some teachers, who fear being labeled as ineffective and are concerned about teaching in a school that’s labeled as having failed, according to the principal.
With the strength of the teachers’ union, however, there’s little concern about job loss if a class fails to meet the standards, the principal said.

Although the school hadn’t yet incurred substantial costs associated with testing, costs could be substantial in a “failing” school if its teachers and other staff members are replaced. Eventually, however, the principal predicted the act would lead to the “sacrifice” of instruction in areas other than math and reading and the continued loss of all staff not directly involved in teaching. “I wish we didn’t have to make that choice, but it’s coming,” the principal said, particularly as Madison schools become blacker, browner and poorer.
The principal agreed that eventually nearly all schools would fail to meet the standards specified by the act.

Administrators at other area school districts echoed that assessment. The act has focused more attention on students with particular needs, said Jane Peschel, director of instruction with the Oregon School District, but she also questioned whether they could bring all students to proficient and advanced standards by 2014, as is required by the act.

She insisted that the district wasn’t purchasing or using material geared to the tests, and said the act had increased the district’s emphasis on being accountable.

Administrators with the Verona Area School District, whose students are more diverse than in Oregon, weren’t as charitable in their assessment of the act. A large number of African-American students in the district performed at the minimal level in reading, which meant the school narrowly avoided sanctions, said Linda Christensen, the district’s director of curriculum.

The district took measures to correct the problem but the performance of these students still lags behind African-American students attending school in Madison. The act’s focus on reading and math worries Christensen.

“With time, attention and money going only to reading and math, I worry what will happen to other content areas,” Christensen said.
While praising some aspects of the bill, Verona Superintendent Dean Gorrell said the act was punitive and unrealistic in demanding 100 percent proficiency. “There isn’t any organization that has 100 percent efficiency,” he said.

Students attending a school that fails to meet standards for two consecutive years can transfer to schools that do meet these standards, which Christensen said could lead to disparities in enrollment, exacerbating crowding in some schools and vacant classrooms in others.

If performance doesn’t meet standards of the act, schools are supposed to implement an improvement plan that’s approved and supervised by the state department of public instruction, which lacks the staff to provide the necessary assistance, Christensen said. Sanctions may also involve the loss of state funding, further worsening the plight of these schools.

Students who don’t perform up to standards can also request tutors, although it’s not clear who would bear the cost, Gorrell said.
And it’s not as if a district can simply opt out of the act since it’s linked to federal Title 1 aid. Even if a district opted not to accept federal funds, it would still be bound by the testing standards.
The Verona district received $133,000 in Title 1 funds this year. “It’s not a tremendous amount, but given our budget situation, it’s not insignificant,” Gorrell said. Christensen said some states have considered rejecting Title 1 funds to avoid complying with the act. The district has already incurred substantial costs to comply with the act, including the time required for eight-hour tests, Christensen said. Gorrell estimated the district invested thousands of hours of staff time in testing and many more hours to prepare for tests.
Despite the criticisms, Christensen thinks the act will remain, even with a change in administration at the federal level. Educators are hoping that the law will allow for more flexibility in how progress is measured, particularly for disadvantaged students, Christensen said.
As matters now stand, the No Child Left Behind Act appears likely to leave every school behind. That might not happen if schools had lavish budgets to deal with the demands and consequences of the act. They don’t – and they probably won’t. In a few years, holding educators accountable – at least by the standards of the act—may prove to be much less attractive than anyone expected.-

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

As AP Expands, Studies Disagree on Its Value

Jay Matthews:

Now, a series of competing, sometimes contradictory studies have begun to look at the effectiveness of AP and IB in meeting their central purpose -- preparing students such as Palma for college. Some parents and students are questioning whether the college-level courses are placing too much strain on children and supplanting useful honors courses. And the College Board, which sponsors the AP program, has begun to ask schools to examine the content of their AP courses to make sure they meet the program's standards.

Palma is taking AP psychology but decided on the regular history course, calling the AP class "beyond my capabilities." Choices such as hers are part of a debate over AP that shows no signs of abating as the program undergoes growing pains.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:40 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Singapore Math Program Used In Madison

Justin Ware:

"And that's what's so exciting about the program for the kids," said Luke Felker, Madison Country Day School, "is that through some solid work at the beginning, they begin to realize that they can do a lot of this in their heads."

Felker says the program also focuses more on depth, than it does covering a variety of math lessons, making it easier for the kids to retain what they learn.

Retired UW professor Richard Askey says the Singapore program is highly successful, but it isn't the only way to properly teach math.

"It's possible to do it in other ways," said Askey. "Japanese elementary schools are not exactly the same as the Singapore, and they're done carefully."

Askey says US schools haven't been teaching math 'carefully.'

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:24 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Silveira is a great resource for schools

A letter to the editor
Dear Editor: Arlene Silveira is a great resource to this entire district. I'm looking for a School Board decision-maker and solution-provider. Arlene is a facilitator willing and able to bring discussions and concerns to the table.

When boundary changes were released last year, she let me know this issue reaches beyond the West and Memorial attendance areas. She told me where to find information on other district schools. To understand, I visited Hawthorne and Lakeview (East attendance area). Arlene attended Hawthorne's meeting, sitting next to me, listening to each speaker's concerns.

After researching a district map of the referendum results from 2005, I believe it's time to evaluate how we engage our entire district all attendance areas and all Madison citizens. The West attendance area has been affected by overcrowding at Leopold for more than five years. I believe the lack of responsiveness caused even the Fitchburg community to be torn, producing a split vote.

Maybe, like the rest of us, they are frustrated with the legislative process for getting a new school and for funding our programs. MMSD has yet to be a leader with the state Legislature in considering options for new ideas and formulas. I'd like to see us start talking about budget constraints and possible solutions. Arlene Silveira has recommended it's time.

Marisue Horton
MMSD parent

Published: February 27, 2006
The Capital Times

Posted by at 8:30 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison and Wisconsin Math Data, 8th Grade

At a meeting on February 22 (audio / video), representatives of the Madison Metropolitan School District presented some data [820K pdf | html (click the slide to advance to the next screen)] which they claimed showed that their middle school math series, Connected Mathematics Project, was responsible for some dramatic gains in student learning. There was data on the percent of students passing algebra by the end of ninth grade and data from the state eighth grade math test for eight years. Let us look at the test data in a bit more detail.

All that was presented was data from MMSD and there was a very sharp rise in the percent of students scoring at the advanced and proficient level in the last three years. To see if something was responsible for this other than an actual rise in scores consider not only the the Madison data but the corresponding data for the State of Wisconsin.

The numbers will be the percent of students who scored advanced or proficient by the criteria used that year. The numbers for Madison are slightly different than those presented since the total number of students who took the test was used to find the percent in the MMSD presented data, and what is given here is the percent of all students who reached these two levels. Since this is a comparative study, either way could have been used. I think it is unlikely that those not tested would have had the same overall results that those tested had, which is why I did not figure out the State results using this modification. When we get to scores by racial groups, the data presented by MMSD did not use the correction they did with all students ( All 8th grade students in both cases)

Oct 97 40 30
Feb 99 45 42
Feb 00 47 42
Feb 01 44 39
Feb 02 48 44
Nov 02 72 73
Nov 03 60 65
Nov 04 71 72

This is not a picture of a program which is remarkably successful. We went from a district which was above the State average to one with scores at best at the State average. The State Test was changed from a nationally normed test to one written just for Wisconsin, and the different levels were set without a national norm. That is what caused the dramatic rise from February 2002 to November 2002. It was not that all of the Middle Schools were now using Connected Mathematics Project, which was the reason given at the meeting for these increases.

It is worth looking at a breakdown by racial groups to see if there is something going on there. The formats will be the same as above.

MMSD Wisconsin
Oct 97 19 11
Feb 99 25 17
Feb 00 29 18
Feb 01 21 15
Feb 02 25 17
Nov 02 48 46
Nov 03 37 38
Nov 04 50 49

Black (Not of Hispanic Origin)
Oct 9785
Feb 99107
Feb 00117
Feb 0186
Feb 02137
Nov 024430
Nov 032924
Nov 043929

Oct 97 25 22
Feb 99 36 31
Feb 00 35 33
Feb 01 36 29
Feb 02 41 31
Nov 02 65 68
Nov 03 5553
Nov 04 73 77

Oct 97 54 35
Feb 99 59 48
Feb 00 60 47
Feb 01 58 48
Feb 02 62 51
Nov 02 86 81
Nov 03 78 73
Nov 04 88 81

I see nothing in the demography by race which supports the claim that Connected Mathematics Project has been responsible for remarkable gains. I do see a lack of knowledge in how to read, understand and present data which should concern everyone in Madison who cares about public education. The School Board is owed an explanation for this misleading presentation. I wonder about the presentations to the School Board. Have they been as misleading as those given at this public meeting?

Richard Askey
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Closing the Gap Forum

Samara Kalk Derby:

Kambwa, who served as emcee for the Closing the Gap conference, gave the younger students five guidelines for bridging the achievement gap:
  • Ask younger students how they're doing in school.
  • Recommend a good book to a peer or younger student.
  • Help younger students with their homework. Quiz them on their knowledge of academic subjects. Let them know you are there for questions.
  • Raise your hand in class, or sit in front while you're in class. Set a positive example for your peers.
  • Adopt a new attitude. Don't be afraid to say what you're about: "I think it's cool to get good grades. I plan to go to college."

In Wisconsin, the gap is greatest between white and Hispanic students when comparing high school graduation rates. White students graduate at a rate of 90 percent, compared to only 63 percent for Hispanic students. For Asian students it's 89 percent, Native Americans 73 percent and black students 72 percent.

Charles Peterson, 17, another Free Press editor, called the achievement gap "huge" and said it is only getting wider.

As a young black male, Peterson has done well at La Follette despite expectations to the contrary.

"I get a lot of negative attention from all colors for doing well in school and for not fitting stereotypes," he said.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:22 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 26, 2006

Basic Instincts

Chester Finn, Jr. and Diane Ravitch:

U.S. students lag behind their peers in other modern nations -- and the gap widens dramatically as their grade levels rise. Our high school pupils (and graduates) are miles from where they need to be to assure them and our country a secure future in the highly competitive global economy. Hence, any serious effort at education reform hinges on our setting world-class standards, then candidly tracking performance in relation to those standards. Even when gains are slender and results disappointing, we need the plain truth. Which is why recent attempts by federal and state governments to sugarcoat the performance of students is so alarming.
NAEP vs. State test scores was discussed during the recent math forum.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:36 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More MMSD Administrators in 2004-2005 than in 1998-1999?

Early 2005, School Board members received a spreadsheet that summarized administrative contracts from 1998-1999 through plans for 2005-2006. That spreadsheet showed 147 administrative contracts in the 1998-1999 school year and 149.65 administrative contracts planned for 2005-2006. In 2003-2004 the total administrative contract budget for wages and benefits was approximately $15.1 million ($100,000 average wage and benefit per administrative contract). This information differs from the information posted in a recent blog by Board President Carol Carstensen (15 central administrators vs. 10.8), and both these sets of numbers differ from what is reported to DPI.

I feel the School Board needs to consider definitions:

a) how are administrative personnel defined - activity, contract, b) how does the board want information about personnel who perform administrative tasks summarized and presented to them, c) what is the number of personnel doing various administrative tasks, d) how has this number and cost (wages and benefits) changed over time - over 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, e) how are these positions funded?

A bigger picture question, though, seems to me to be: what will happen to MMSD's administrative functions if 5%, 10%, 20% are cut? The public in the $100 budget process zeroed in on cutting administration, which was no surprise to MMSD's administration. However, telling us that "x" number of positions have been cut and will be cut does not give the type of information the public can use to understand what the loss is to the District's ability to function and to support educational services. Further, recent board discussions were over a February deadline date to give extension of administrative contracts where MMSD administrators felt this was a firm date. If the date can be flexible, don't Board members want to keep the flexibility? If the board does not do this, aren't they giving the appearance to the Madison community that the School Board values administrators more than teachers? I don't feel they do.

Clearly, an organization needs administrative functions to operate appropriately. I don't think that's the issue in anyone's mind. It's not for me anyway. I simply would like Madison's School Board to have the flexibility to make the decisions the board feels are in the best interest of the school district when the time comes to make budget cuts.

The State of WI's inability to address financing public education has put many school districts in the position of having to beg for funding via referendums and sadly for our children, this is not changing anytime soon. In the meantime, numbers need to be clear, consistent and understandable as do the risks and tradeoffs. I'd suggest starting with agreed upon definitions.

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Governors Urge Change in Eating Culture

Robert Tanner:

Greasy food. Sugary drinks. And exercise? The tolls from today's temptations, from sweet soft drinks popular with school kids to drive-through lunches eaten behind the wheel, are well-known: obesity, diabetes, heart attacks. Governors say states can guide people to healthier choices - and that they must to cut rising health care costs.
NGA Healthy America site

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Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style

Virginia Tufte:

In Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style, Virginia Tufte presents and comments on - more than a thousand excellent sentences chosen from the works of authors in the 20th and 21st centuries. The sentences come from an extensive search to identify some of the ways professional writers use the generous resources of the English language.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:57 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Lost in Numbers

Ms. Cornelius (an anonymous AP History high school teacher):

All of my grades are based on percentages. I'm not one of these teachers who wants to convert someone's scores in my head, so I just weight grades differently. But all grades are based on 100 possible points. I can tell at a glance how a student is doing this way.

But this habit often makes it interesting when students are trying to figure out their grades on quizzes. I usually have a rather simple number of questions in terms of being able to calculate grades easily: 5, 10, 12, 20, 25, or 33 items. As I watched several of my AP students struggle with figuring out their grades, I had to suppress a groan of frustration. It was a 20 item quiz-- therefore each question would be worth 5 points, right? Young Frederick wanted to pull out his calculator to figure out what his score would be if he missed 7.

"No calculator. You can do this," I urged.

He couldn't begin to figure out how to determine his grade without a calculator. He is 16 years old and taking pre-calculus and other college-track classes (I never took a course beyond algebra 2, much to my chagrin). He doesn't immediately know that 7x5=35, and then subtract 35 from 100, nor can he figure out that 13x5=65. As a matter of fact, he stumbled over the 100-35 part and insisted the answer was 75.

It is obvious that his only problem is NOT that he didn't do his reading for my AP US history class carefully enough last night. His problem begins with a basic innumeracy. Of course, many would say that he is a victim of a larger educational trend which I pray to God is finally being placed on the pyre of idiotic educational theories: that rote memorization is bad, bad, baddety bad bad.

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February 25, 2006

President to School Board: New ideas are OK, sometimes...

Carol Carstensen, President of the Madison School Board, announced in a recent letter to The Capital Times that new ideas are OK with her, so long as they are not illegal, in violation of contracts, can save money and are capable of implementation. School Board ideas must be feasible

The Madison district will spend $37M on health insurance for its employees this year. That's about 10% of the operating budget. The district also foresees an $8M gap between its expenses and revenues for 2006-07.

Looking for ways to provide high quality health insurance for the teachers at lower costs would seem like a good idea in these circumstances. The district had even set the stage for this new idea by forming a task force with the teachers union to explore options for different coverage.

However, Ms. Carstensen had zero interest in this new idea. Not one Board meeting on the topic, not one instruction to the district's representatives. She skipped the two meetings of the task force. When the union announced that the talks were over, she had no comment.

Illegal? In violation of contracts? Not a good way to save money? Impossible to implement? Which of the four tests did the health insurance task force fail?

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 8:21 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Math Forum Audio / Video and Links

Video and audio from Wednesday's Math Forum are now available [watch the 80 minute video] [mp3 audio file 1, file 2]. This rare event included the following participants:

The conversation, including audience questions was lively.

The discussion continues with these notes and links from the audience and participants:

West High School Math Teachers:

Moreover, parents of future West High students should take notice: As you read this, our department is under pressure from the administration and the math coordinator's office to phase out our "accelerated" course offerings beginning next year. Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

It seems the administration and our school board have re-defined "success" as merely producing "fewer failures." Astonishingly, excellence in student achievement is visited by some school district administrators with apathy at best, and with contempt at worst. But, while raising low achievers is a laudable goal, it is woefully short-sighted and, ironically, racist in the most insidious way. Somehow, limiting opportunities for excellence has become the definition of providing equity! Could there be a greater insult to the minority community?

Victoria Hand:

Learning from Teaching: Exploring the Relationship between Reform Curriculum and Equity, Jo Boaler, Stanford University [110K pdf]:
Some researches have expressed doubts about the potential of reform-oriented curricula to promote equity. This article considers this important issue and argues that investigations into equitable teaching must pay attention to the particular practices of teaching and learning that are enacted in the classrooms. Data are presented from two studies which middle school and high school using reform-oriented mathematics curricula achived a reduction in linquistic, ethnic, and class inequalities in their schools. The teaching and learnign practices that these teachers employed were central to the attainment of equality, suggesting that it is critical that relational analyses of equity go beyond the curriculum to include the teacher and training.
The Real Story Behind Story Problems: Effects of Representations on Quantitative Reasoning Kenneth R. Koedinger, Human–Computer Interaction Institute Carnegie Mellon University; Mitchell J. Nathan, School of Education, University of Colorado [677K PDF]:
This article explores how differences in problem representations change both the performance and underlying cognitive processes of beginning algebra students engaged in quantitative reasoning. Contrary to beliefs held by practitioners and researchers in mathematics education, students were more successful solving simple algebra story problems than solving mathematically equivalent equations. Contrary to some views of situated cognition, this result is not simply a consequence of situated world knowledge facilitating problem-solving performance, but rather a consequence of student difficulties with comprehending the formal symbolic representation of quantitative relations. We draw on analyses of students’ strategies and errors as th ebasis for a cognitive process explanation of when, why, and how differences in problem representation affect problem solving. We conclude that differences in external represen- tations can affect performance and learning when one representation is easier to comprehend than another or when one representation elicits more reliable and meaningful solution strategies than another.

Dick Askey:
Madison and Wisconsin Math Data, 8th Grade

NAEP 2005 data for US, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Texas
4th grade


All students 237 241 246 242

White 246 247 251 254

African-American 220 210 219 228

Hispanic 225 224 223 235

8th grade

All students 278 285 290 281

White 288 291 296 295

African-American 254 246 251 264

Hispanic 261 265 263 271

Terry Millar:
Wisconsin Center for Education Research:
Attached is the powerpoint presentation [820K pdf | html (click the slide to advance to the next screen)] that Linda, Faye, and I used.

I also have cc'd UW-Madison Curriculum and Instruction Professor Victoria Hand who spoke from the audience Wednesday evening. You might contact her about contacts in the School of Education with expertise on the science of testing, or for research in math education. Dr. Norman Webb is one such person, and therefore I have copied him also. As I said that evening, Connected Math will be releasing a report sometime in March that has a lot of information about implementation of Connected Math nationwide. Their url is

I found the forum interesting - thanks for arranging it.

Gisele Sutherland:
Madison Parent
Last night was a display of statistics that 3 of the 4 professors shot holes in quickly. I really don't care what the statistics show -- I'm NOT happy with the math curriculum. And, as a taxpayer, I should have a say, and I do, but I am not heard -- as evidenced last night, where I felt I was dismissed when I went to speak to one of the MMSD panelists.

We have to reinforce fractions and teach percentages, decimals, etc at home because the basic building blocks are not being addressed in the classroom. Ridiculous. As parents, we should not have to do the job ourselves -- support the job done at school, YES. But, do the job ourselves, NO. And, my sense is the teachers agree with us -- two or three with whom I have spoken at Thoreau would love direction to switch to Singapore. It's logical, sequential, and text-book based, as opposed to all these loose sheets that come home, which do not seem to build on anything.

Steffen Lempp:
Madison Parent and UW Math Professor:

Larry Winkler:
Madison Parent
Good meeting last night.

But, whenever data or statistics or testing was mentioned, the conversation was redirected.

There seems to be little understanding of testing, what each test means, what each kind of test tests; characteristics of norm referenced tests (NRT), of criterion referenced tests with their cut scores, achievement tests, predictive tests, how test items are chosen, the specific characteristics of WKCE, NAEP, TIMSS, PISA, ACT, SAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, etc.

Statistics is not understood, and how it is reflected in the testing, and testing wars. Classics such as Huff's How to Lie With Statistics, and more currently, Best's two books "Damn Lies and Statistics", and "More Damn Lies and Statistics". Seems to me these books are the bibles of the advocates.

Prof Askey mentioned the NAEP as the key indicator of student success, but the National Academy of Science, as cited approvingly by NCES, "NAEP's current achievement level setting procedures remain fundamentally flawed. The judgment tasks are difficult and confusing; raters’ judgments of different item types are internally inconsistent; appropriate validity evidence for the cut scores is lacking; and the process has produced unreasonable results."

What I am seeing is purposeful misrepresentation in the schooling wars, each side conveniently hiding flaws and inconsistency in their reasoning and data. All smoke and little light.

I would like to suggest a forum to discuss the "science" of testing to help remove the smoke.

Larry Winkler

Gabriele Meyer:
Madison Parent and UW Math Lecturer

Good evening, I am Gabriele Meyer and I am a lecturer in the Math dept at
UW Madison. Through my son, Walter, I first encountered Connected Math.
Here is what I found:

on a practical level:

  • the material covered in Connected Math is insufficient in depth and structure and even in scope, e.g. it doesn't explicitly cover double fractions and even though it is excessively wordy, it doesn't cover multistep word problems.
  • The way material is covered does not stress the connections within math, i.e. the mathematical structures and rules, which to a large extent are the beauty of the field
  • there are way too few exercises to firm up the concept in the learner.
  • It takes a very good teacher to achieve a good outcome given these flaws. In particular, the teacher would have to supplement with other material and modify lesson plans. This is inefficient and prone to great inequities in teaching performance.

on a philosophical level:

Math was discovered over thousands of years and represents the distillate of the efforts of its many practitioners. The next step can only be comprehended if the previous one has been understood. The investigative/discovery method, while very enjoyable, makes the student to reinvent the wheel, without the benefit of the rules already discovered. 12 years of math education are simply too short to have students discover their way to calculus, a path that took humanity from prehistory to the 16 hundreds.

What can be done?

On a general note, any teaching philosophy elevated to the level of dogma is bad. Good teachers usually use a mix of techniques. We should not completely discard the investigative approach, but we should look at what others, also in other countries, do better.

For uniform Math instruction at the Middle school level, I personally, would use Singapore Math. It worked for our son, with Discovery/Connected Math as a backup and supplement. This ensures that the benchmarks (arithmetic with whole numbers and fractions, some geometry) are met and the kids can go on to geometry and algebra in high school.

If there are to be different Math class styles in middle school, then the choice of which class to attend should be left to the parents/children with the understanding that in some classes more homework is required to keep up.

Also, it should be clear that certain types of math are terminal in the sense that they do not prepare for the next level. For example, to a very large extent Discovery type math throughout high school does not prepare for the rigors of Calculus, as is needed for the sciences and engineering. It costs time and money to make up for this in college.

I think it is especially important that *Public Schools* provide a solid math curriculum for the sake of economically and socially disadvantaged youths. They can't get it anywhere else.

Thank you.

Mike and Kristin Jenkins:
Chapel Hill, NC
We feel your pain, and have left Madison to live in an area that "gets it". Our 6th grade son is now enrolled in a racially diverse public school program and studying among other things the quadratic equation and Shakespeare. In addition to this our property taxes are about half what they were in Madison. A short description of the program is below. UW is just as good (probably better) as UNC and I expect this could be put together in Wisconsin. We would move back in a minute if a "LEAP like" program was available in Wisconsin. Wisconsin spends lots of money on challenged folks who need help...gifted kids need help your dropout rates indicate. I have no doubt in my mind that my son would not have made it through public school in Wisconsin.

Tar Heel Education: Something For The Gifted

In the schools of the college town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, kids who score above the 97th percentile in reading and math are invited to participate in a program that is designed to meet their needs:

Carol Horne, gifted program curriculum coordinator for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, explained in a presentation Tuesday night at Smith Middle School the logistics of LEAP. [ Learning Environment for Advanced Programming]

The program is geared toward kids who have “demonstrated extraordinary levels of intellectual potential and academic achievement found in the top 1 percent of the national population in reading and math,” according to Horne’s presentation.

Previously offered only to fourth- and fifth-graders, the program now is available at Smith to all eligible district students in sixth- and seventh-grades. And by the 2006-07 school year, eighth-graders will get their chance to prove their skills.

Ed Holub, whose child participates in the program, said he is pleased with the program and emphasized its necessity.

“It’s hard to operate with a wide range of students in the class,” he said. “It fulfills the district’s mission of meeting each child’s potential in every classroom.”

Holub said it is almost impossible for teachers to instruct each student at his or her own proficiency level in a class, and that LEAP provides an efficient way of teaching the most talented kids.

Tuesday’s information session focused on availability and which children qualify for the program. Horne explained that a committee decides entrance based on aptitude or achievement — students take the Naglieri Non-Verbal Aptitude Test as one indicator.

Only those who score in the 97th percentile or higher on both the reading and math portions of the test are eligible for the program.

Horne said many parents who have children who qualified for the program might choose not to leave their individual school, adding that each system school had a “thriving, excellent gifted program.”

One concern about LEAP is that students might be isolated from the rest of the school population, which might prove detrimental.

But Valerie Reinhardt, principal at Smith, said no such problem exists.

Students in the program have homeroom and four core sections with their LEAP classmates but attend three electives that allow them to follow an avenue of learning of their choice, she added.

“Above all, they are Smith students, not LEAP students,” she said.

Boyd Blackburn, a math and social studies teacher in the program, agreed.

“In the middle school, they aren’t isolated,” he said. “It’s a good mix. I would not describe them as isolated, and I don’t think they feel isolated either.”

So far, Reinhardt said the installation of the program into middle school has progressed smoothly.

“There’s a lot of healthy learning,” she said. “There were a couple of bumps in the beginning, but the kids and parents are pleased.”

Holub admitted how satisfied he was with the program so far.

“I think the district did an outstanding job of recruiting teachers and putting together a curriculum,” he said. “They are very committed to making the entire LEAP program a success.”
It is a most unfortunate fact that in many American schools bright and highly-motivated children are often "picked-on" by students who think that school is not a place to work and learn but a place to play and waste time.

It is even more unfortunate that in many cases, the schools permit this to continue.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:48 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools consider Afrocentric curriculum

This is not meant as a suggestion that MMSD should take this approach but I do think that we should be aware of what similar districts are considering and doing.

See also:


Schools consider Afrocentric curriculum
Evanston-Skokie district's proposal targets achievement gap between blacks and whites

By Lolly Bowean, Tribune staff reporter. Freelance writer Brian Cox contributed to this report
Published February 15, 2006

Hoping to better capture the attention of African-Americans and close the achievement gap between black and white students, a group of parents and educators is pushing for adoption of an African-centered curriculum in Evanston/Skokie School District 65.

The curriculum would keep state-required core subjects such as reading, language arts and math but include the history and culture of Africans and African-Americans in daily school lessons.

But while parents and educators across the district of 6,755 pupils agree that the achievement gap has to be closed, some voiced concern at a school board committee meeting this week that the proposal could further segregate the schools in a district that prides itself on diversity.

Supporters urged board members to launch a pilot program in kindergarten through 2nd grades at two elementary schools where almost half of the pupils are African-American. The program could start in the fall, though the school board has yet to vote on it.

If approved, the initiative would be rare for a suburban school district, according to experts, who say that Afrocentric courses are more common in urban schools with majority black populations.

What troubles school board member Jonathan Baum, who led Monday's committee meeting, is "how do we explain this to our children?"

Martin Luther King Jr. brought blacks and whites together, and the Afrocentric curriculum could mean that students would be separated based on race, because whites and Latinos may opt out of the classes, Baum said.

The idea behind Afrocentric curriculum is that the lessons focus on black students and, in addition to teaching them basic skills, build their self-esteem and confidence, said Cheryl Ajirotutu, an anthropology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, who is co-author of the book "African-Centered Schooling in Theory and Practice."

There is no standardized national or state curriculum; each district or school crafts its own teaching plan. The curriculum proposed for Evanston schools hasn't been developed yet.

In District 65, where about 44 percent of pupils are African-American, educators have tried techniques to bridge the achievement gap, but scores still reflect a divide.

Former school board member Terri Shepard, who now heads the curriculum panel for the African-American Student Achievement Committee, has monitored test scores for 20 years.

While 94 percent of white pupils in District 65 met or exceeded standards for 3rd-grade reading, only 47 percent of black pupils did, according to the latest Illinois State Achievement Tests. In 3rd-grade math, 96 percent of white pupils met or exceeded standards, and 69 percent of black pupils met standards.

"We all say we support diversity," she said. "For that reason, we want all the kids sitting together. But the statistics show having all the kids in the same room has not benefited students of color. Why not give these kids a chance to thrive?"

Schools with culture-based curriculums have become popular in major cities where blacks are in the majority of the public school population, such as Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, Ajirotuto said.

Now, "other school districts are wondering how do you turn the tide of school failure."

In Evanston, supporters, including the NAACP, have researched the topic for a few months, and although they have a general idea how the curriculum would look, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. They include who would be in charge of the program, how much it would cost and what effect would it have on the racial make-up of general-education classes in the district.

When Shepard visited Woodlawn Community School, a Chicago public school, she was impressed that state test scores have climbed since 2001.

"I always believed the reason white children achieved is because everything was for and about them," she said. "There was nothing that showed a child of color at the center. With an African-centered curriculum, the kids see themselves everywhere."

But there's no proof that the concept actually works, said Harvard University's Ron Ferguson, who teaches and writes about educational issues.

"It's not something to be afraid of or terribly enthusiastic about," he said. "They are groping for a way to get black kids engaged academically. If you get some charismatic teachers on board, you may get results. But those same charismatic teachers might try another technique and it would work too."

The subject is touchy in Evanston because schools there have been integrated since the early 1950s--before Brown vs. Board of Education desegregated the nation's public schools--and district officials have been careful to try to make sure all schools are diverse.

And though the pilot program would be implemented at Oakton Elementary School, which is 49 percent black, and Kingsley, which is 41 percent black, it could be divisive if only African-Americans volunteer for the program, according to some at Monday's meeting.

Baum, of the school board, questioned whether it was a good idea to start another experimental program at Oakton, which has an immersion program for Spanish-speaking pupils.

"I'm not saying [the curriculum] would not be a good choice for Oakton School, but there has to be a design that is a choice for everyone," said Candace Hill, co-president of the school PTA.

Chante Latimore, who supports the proposal, said that when she asks her 5-year-old daughter what she learned in class that day, she gets the same answer: "Nothin'."

Except during Black History Month in February, when Cheyenne Buford's eyes open wide as she tells her mother about Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou. "Then she remembers everything she learns," Latimore said.

She believes an African-centered curriculum would have that effect all year long.


Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Posted by Thomas J. Mertz at 2:13 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Carol Carstensen on "No New Ideas"

Carol Carstensen:
A letter to the editor

Dear Editor: As soon as I saw my words quoted in boldface in the Feb. 21 Capital Times article about the school budget, I knew that someone would make the comments in the following day's Sound Off about the need for new School Board members.

I think new ideas and fresh perspectives are invaluable. However, there are a few qualifications: The ideas must not violate any laws or contractual agreements, they should actually save money, and they must be ones we can implement.

I can come up with a new idea of how to save money on transportation: outfit the buses with pedals for every seat and have the students provide some of the energy needed to move the bus, both reducing use of gasoline and providing kids with exercise. However, the plan is not very feasible, at least in the short term. I can also buy lottery tickets, but that approach is not very reliable.

A few additional facts:

The school district has been under revenue caps, and reducing expenditures, for the last 13 years.

• The city and county were faced with significant problems as they kept their budget increases to around 4 percent.

• The school district's budget increase was 2.5 percent (and the school district's tax levy actually decreased by $2 million).

One final qualification: Claiming the problem doesn't exist isn't a new idea.

Carol Carstensen
Madison School Board

Published: February 24, 2006
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:05 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Taxes; Fed: Stagnant Net Worth for Typical Family

This site, along with many others includes discussion on public school finance. Public education money is currently generated from local property taxes, fees and redistributed state and federal funds (via income, energy and other taxes. Barry Ritholtz points to a recent Fed report [pdf] which quantifies that the average US family is not making much economic progress:

"After growing rapidly during the boom of the 1990s, the net worth of the typical American family rose only 1.5% after inflation between 2001 and 2004, the Federal Reserve said in an update of a survey it does once every three years.

The Fed said the net worth of the median American family -- the one smack in the statistical middle -- was $93,100 in 2004. Net worth, the difference between a family's assets and liabilities, rose a robust 10.3% between 1998 and 2001 and 17.4% in the three-year interval before that.

A booming housing market boosted the typical American family's wealth between 2001 and 2004, but stagnant stock prices and rising debt offset many of those gains."

WISTAX notes that Wisconsin taxes set a record in 2005, with residential and business taxes up 10% over 2004 (meanwhile, the State continues to deal with a structural deficit). Clearly, we as a community need to have a discussion about our public spending priorities and allocate funds accordingly.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:06 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Less May be More with Math Curriculum"

Jamaal Abdul-Alim:

The books are distributed by an Oregon-based company known as, which counts a private school in Madison as the first of its growing number of clients.

The biggest difference between math instruction in Singapore - a city-state with a population of about 4.4 million - and the United States is a simple premise: Less is more.

Students in Singapore are introduced to roughly half the number of new math topics a year as students in the United States are. Experts and policy analysts say Singapore's emphasis on depth over breadth is a formula for success.

The thicker the textbooks and the greater the volume of math topics introduced a year, the less likely American students and teachers are to achieve similar results, says Alan Ginsburg, director of the policy and program studies service at the U.S. Department of Education.

More on the Connected Math / Singapore Math textbook photos.

Madison Country Day School was the first US school to purchase Singapore Math textbooks, in 1997, according to this article.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:19 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 24, 2006

15 Administrators Downtown Cut Since 2000 – 4 More Next Year

To provide some additional information to the budget discussions. Since 2000-01 the Board has eliminated 15 administrator positions from downtown, as follows:

3 FTE (Assistant Superintendent, Title 1 Coordinator and Staff Development) were combined into one - Coordinator of Government Programs
Community Relations
Contract Compliance
5 FTE in Business Services
(4 in IT and the Risk Management Coordinator)
Drivers Ed/Environmental Ed Coordinator
Physical Ed/Athletics Coordinator
Social Studies/Foreign Language Coordinator
Math Coordinator

Proposed Administrator cuts for 2006-07:

1 FTE in Business Services
1 FTE in Educational Services
1 FTE in Teaching & Learning (Reading Recovery Coordinator)
1 FTE in Human Resources (Payroll Manager)

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

What's not to like about funding new community programs?

On March 6, the Madison Board of Education will vote on Johnny Winston Jr.'s proposal for the district to spend approximately $200,000 this year on four community programs. Great Opportunity Needs Your Support

Sounds good. These are all good programs run by good people with good ideas and goals.

The question before the board, however, is not whether we like the programs or think that they would use our funds for good purposes. The question is whether the district should commit these dollars from this budget to these community programs at this time.

I think that the answer is no.

Fiscal policy problem: "These dollars" are the dollars remaining in the Reserve for Contingencies in our budget for "community programs and services" budget, aka Fund 80. Three months remain in our fiscal year. It is good fiscal policy to have money in reserve for emergencies. If an organization must spend its reserve, it is good fiscal policy to use the funds for one-time costs, rather than to create new programs that will need funds again the next year. It is bad fiscal policy to spend all of the Reserve for Contingencies on new programs. We will have no capacity to deal with emergencies in the remainder of the fiscal year if we make this commitment. The same programs will add $208,000 to next year's budget for Fund 80 (the basic allotment to each program plus 4.1% for increases in their costs).

Budget management problem: "This budget"--Fund 80--is a budget of more than $8M in local property taxes that the board collected for community services and programs in 2005-06. The board also oversees the much larger operating budget. For this school year, the local tax portion of the operating budget is about $294M.

Think of the operating budget as a checking account funded by local taxpayer contributions. Unless voters pass an operating budget referendum, the dollars in the budget from taxes for the next school year will increase by a very small percentage. That's what "revenue limits" do to the operating budget.

Think of the community service budget as a credit card paid off by local taxpayers. The board can spend to the maximum limit each year. It can also raise the maximum for next year by passing a bigger Fund 80 budget. No messy referendum votes needed for this budget.

Back to Mr. Winston's proposal. Tax payers gave the board $302M to spend in 2005-06 ($294M in our checking account and $8M in a line of credit). The board will spend the entire $302M. Next year it will need more for both budgets because costs of current services and programs on both sides will go up.

Good budget management would---at the very least---require holding the credit card expenses below the maximum limit. Bad budget management would be spending to the max on the credit card. Worse budget management would be this proposal, increasing expenses beyond the max for next year.

Selection process problems: If the board believes that community programs are necessary complements to the district's school-based programs, it should identify the unmet needs of our students and openly seek proposals from providers. There was no identification of unmet needs and no open competition in this case. "These communitiy programs" are programs that Mr. Winston asked to submit proposals for funding.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 6:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Carol Carstensen's Weekly Update

Carol Carstensen:

Parent Group Presidents:

The Community Service Fund (known for its state accounting code, Fund 80) is not under the revenue cap; these services are funded by a combination of fees and a separate portion of the tax levy. Madison School Community Recreation (MSCR) represents more than 80% of these expenditures. Some of the MSCR programs are: adult exercise programs, youth swimming classes, summer day camp, adult sports leagues, and after school programming at the elementary and middle schools.

5 p.m. Special Board Meeting, executive session - expulsions
6 p.m. Finance and Operations Committee (Johnny Winston, Jr., chair):
5-year budget forecast shows that the district will need to make cuts of $8 million for next year, and by 2010-11 the 5 years of cuts will total $38 million. One caveat this is based on the assumption that current laws continue.
The Committee heard proposals from community agencies for after school activities that would be funded from unallocated money in the Community Service fund (Fund 80). The 4 community agencies are: WiCATY (WI Center for Academically Talented Youth), GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), Kajsiab House, and the Youth Empowerment Academy. The Committee supported having these proposals go to the entire Board for funding.

7 p.m. Partnerships Committee (Lawrie Kobza, chair)
The Committee considered a policy governing gifts/donations to support activities during and/or after school; the policy will cover gifts of $10,000 or more and directs the Superintendent to review the impact of such a gift on the district to make a determination whether the district should accept it. This policy was approved by the Committee and will be on the Board’s agenda on March 6.

Future Meetings:
February 27:
5:00 p.m. Legislative Committee (Ruth Robarts, chair) legislation that would increase the number of administrators who could be designated “at-will” employees; requirements for school district reports; requiring developers to pay fees to support the building of new schools; newly proposed TABOR amendment.
5:45 p.m. Special Board Meeting: the Board will respond to the Swan Creek petition our original agreement with the Oregon School District requires both districts to reject any such petition; discussion of the East Area Task Force recommendations; the Task Force will have a chance to talk with the Board; discussion about future uses of the Doyle Building; administrator contracts.
March 6:
5 p.m. Performance & Achievement Committee (Shwaw Vang, chair) report on 2005 summer school and proposals for the 2006 summer school.
6 p.m. Special Board Meeting: report from the administration on possible land acquisition in Fitchburg and a look at long term use of space added to Leopold.
7:15 p.m. Regular Board Meeting

N.B. I spent most of Tuesday, Feb. 21 at the Capitol with Joe Quick (the district’s legislative liaison) lobbying our Dane County legislators to oppose the latest TABOR proposal. (Since the authors of TABOR seem only concerned about taxpayers, I have started referring to our students as “pre-taxpayers.”)


Carol Carstensen, President
Madison School Board

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

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:51 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

What a Sham(e)

Jason Shephard, writing in this week's Isthmus:

Last week, Madison Teachers Inc. announced it would not reopen contract negotiations following a hollow attempt to study health insurance alternatives.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but anyone who suggests the Joint Committee on Health Insurance Issues conducted a fair or comprehensive review needs to get checked out by a doctor.

The task force’s inaction is a victory for John Matthews, MTI’s executive director and board member Wisconsin Physicians Service.

Losers include open government, school officials, taxpayers and young teachers in need of a raise.

From its start, the task force, comprised of three members each from MTI and the district, seemed to dodge not only its mission but scrutiny.

Hoping to meet secretly until Isthmus raised legal questions, the committee convened twice for a total of four hours – one hour each for insurance companies to pitch proposals.

No discussion to compare proposals. No discussion about potential cost savings. No discussion about problems with WPS, such as the high number of complaints filed by its subscribers.

Case closed. Never did the task force conduct a “study” and issue a “report” of its “findings,” as required by last year’s contract settlement.

Conspiracy theorists point to the power of Matthews – both in getting the district to play dead and in squelching any questions about conflicts of interest based on, as reported last week, his $13,000 income from WPS.

While the school board is often accused of dodging tough issues, this tops the list. A change in insurance could have resulted in higher pay for teachers and, some argue, could save the district millions in the long run.

Background links and articles here. Link to current school board members. Governance is another significant issue in the April 4, 2006 Madison School Board election.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:57 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Making One Size Fit All: Rainwater seeks board input as schools cut ability-based classes

Jason Shephard, writing in this week's Isthmus:

Kerry Berns, a resource teacher for talented and gifted students in Madison schools, is worried about the push to group students of all abilities in the same classrooms.

“I hope we can slow down, make a comprehensive plan, [and] start training all teachers in a systematic way” in the teaching methods known as “differentiation,” Berns told the Madison school board earlier this month. These are critical, she says, if students of mixed abilities are expected to learn in “heterogeneous” classrooms.

“Some teachers come about it very naturally,” Berns noted. “For some teachers, it’s a very long haul.”

Following the backlash over West High School replacing more than a dozen electives with a single core curriculum for tenth grade English, a school board committee has met twice to hear about the district’s efforts to expand heterogeneous classes.

The school board’s role in the matter is unclear, even to its members. Bill Keys told colleagues it’s “wholly inappropriate” for them to be “choosing or investigating curriculum issues.”

Superintendent Art Rainwater told board members that as “more and more” departments make changes to eliminate “dead-end” classes through increased use of heterogeneous classes, his staff needs guidance in form of “a policy decision” from the board. If the board doesn’t change course, such efforts, Rainwater said, will likely be a “major direction” of the district’s future.

Links and articles on Madison West High School's English 10, one class for all program. Dr. Helen has a related post: " I'm Not Really Talented and Gifted, I Just Play One for the PC Crowd"

Most elementary and middle schools long ago abandoned “tracking” students based on test scores or prior grades. Now some question whether the “one size fits all” model is best for high schools.

In summarizing the research, Adam Gamoran, director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, urged board members to keep a close eye on failure rates and standardized test scores. [video from the recent performance and Achievement meetings: 1/30/2006 2/13/2006]

Heterogeneous classes aren’t a panacea, but Gamoran said grouping kids by ability has in the past led to lower-tracked classes with weaker teachers, lower standards and higher percentages of minorities.

Others share this same concern.

“While we can tell kids and we can tell each other that…we’re all the same, we’re all equal, separateness doesn’t communicate equality, and it doesn’t produce equality,” said Amanda Bell, a sixth grade teacher at Sherman Middle School. Indeed, she told the board, ability-grouping was “feeding into racism.”

But Jeff Henriques, a member of the group Madison United for Academic Excellence, told the board high-achieving students deserve to be challenged in classrooms of like-minded students. And Lucy Mathiak, who is challenging incumbent Juan Jose Lopez in April’s school board election, says heterogeneous classes aren’t the only solution to racial disparities in classes.

“You want to desegregate [advanced placement] and upper level classes?” Mathiak asked board members. “Then start desegregating the guidance system,” which she says often encourages minority students to take less challenging courses.

Action or inaction on curriculum will certainly be a significant issue in the April 4, 2006 Madison School Board election (2 seats)

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

Aligning High School Policies with the Demands of College Work

Cecilia Le:

Of every 100 high school freshmen in Delaware, 21 will graduate from college on time.

Sixty-four will graduate from high school in four years, 38 will enter college immediately after high school and just 30 are still enrolled by their sophomore year. [Wisconsin: 79 graduate from high school on time, 47 immediately enter college, 34 are still enrolled sophomore year and 25 graduate from college on time [pdf report])

The numbers are similarly sobering nationwide, where just 18 out of 100 high school freshmen graduate from college on time -- within three years for an associate degree or six years for a bachelor's degree.

View Wisconsin's results via the website.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:08 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

WestEd: Bilingual vs. English Immersion in California


How should English learners be taught? What can state and local education leaders do to better support these students’ academic progress? Conclusions from a five-year evaluation have been released by a team of researchers from AIR and WestEd. The report, based on the study of 1.5 million California English learner and 3.5 million English-fluent and native-English speaking students, includes detailed findings and policy implications for education in California and nationwide. In 1998, California voters passed Proposition 227, mandating that California English learners be taught overwhelmingly in English through immersion programs not normally expected to exceed one year; bilingual instruction was to be permitted only through the granting of a special waiver. Has this been a good thing for students? The California legislature commissioned AIR and WestEd to conduct an exhaustive evaluation and provide some answers. Key findings include the following:
Via Jenny D, where there are some useful comments.

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Lending a Brain

Inside Higher Ed:

With scientific expertise sweeping the globe, the next generation of American scientists and engineers are going to face unprecedented competition, and college is too late to begin preparing them for it, according to the National Science Board.

The board released its “Science and Engineering Indicators, 2006″[pdf] report Thursday. The report, which focused on elementary and secondary education, cast a foreboding tone. According to the report, while the scores of American students on national math assessments have risen slightly in recent years, the same cannot be said for science. According to the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics Science Study , fourth and eighth graders in the United States performed better in math and science than the international average of industrial nations, but improvement since 1995 was modest for eighth graders, and fourth graders took a slight step backward.

Even a fourth grade student who is getting his or her first exposure to science might already be left in the starting blocks, according to Jo Ann Vasquez, a National Science Board member and the lead author of the report. “[Kids] have to get science by third grade,” she said, “or that wonderment disappears.”

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Eating for Credit

Alice Waters:

IT'S shocking that because of the rise in Type 2 diabetes experts say that the children we're raising now will probably die younger than their parents — the result of a disease that is largely preventable by diet and exercise. But in public schools these days, children all too often are neither learning to eat well nor to exercise.

Fifty years ago, we had a preview of today's obesity crisis: a presidential council told us that America's children weren't fit — and we did something about it, at great expense. We built gymnasiums and tracks and playgrounds. We hired and trained teachers. We made physical education part of the curriculum from kindergarten through high school. Students were graded on their performance.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schoolyard Cred: What Little Boys Were Made of Before Lawsuits

Ned Crabb:

Two weeks ago, a six-year-old boy was suspended from first grade for three days for "sexual harassment" because he allegedly put "two fingers inside [a] girl's waistband while she sat on the floor in front of him," according to an AP story.

Sexual harassment at age six. Growing up kind of fast these days, aren't they?

"He doesn't know those things," the boy's mother told the local press. "He's only six years old." The woman said she "screamed" about the suspension.

Yeah, well, I'd scream too. The whole thing is stupid--children poking at one another and then being punished for it in terms of adult concepts, described with adult words.

I remember a fellow male first grade classmate walking up and kissing a female classmate many, many (!) years ago.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:14 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

" I'm Not Really Talented and Gifted, I Just Play One for the PC Crowd"

Dr. Helen:

Wouldn't the proper way to answer the question of why Blacks and Hispanics are lagging behind Whites and Asians be to conduct research on the factors that may be causing the discrepancies and remedy those rather than setting up a phony group of gifted students whose only gift may be that they have a teacher who holds self-esteem and looking diverse in higher regard than children actually learning anything?

With such unscientific inquiry, it is no wonder more and more parents are homeschooling or turning to private schools to educate their children. I foresee that the more schools substitute "diversity" for education, the more parents will take flight from the public schools.

The link includes several interesting comments.

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February 23, 2006

How Safe is Your High School? Madison West


The police data on the school shows a mixed record. In the past three and a half years, Madison West ranks first among the other city schools in bomb threats, property damage and fights.

However, it also has the fewest number of drug incidents and weapons violations.

Overall, West High School has the lowest crime rate.
School principal Ed Holmes, who is in his second year, said that he wants it even lower.

He said that it's one reason that he's completely reshaped the school day with a revolutionary overhaul of the lunch schedule.

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School Boards Thinking Differently

Madison School Board Seat 1 Candidate Maya Cole:

In a report published by the Educational Research Service titled, Thinking Differently: Recommendations for 21st Century School Board/Superintendent Leadership, Governance, and Teamwork for High Student Achievement, recommended that school districts can effectively raise student achievement with strong leadership and teamwork from the school board and superintendent.

The study was supported by a Ford Foundation grant to the New England School Development Council.

The authors point to a new way of thinking:

Strong, collaborative leadership by local school boards and school superintendents is a key cornerstone of the foundation for high student achievement. That leadership is essential to forming a community vision for children, crafting long-range goals and plans for raising the achievement of every child, improving the professional development and status of teachers and other staff, and ensuring that the guidance, support, and resources needed for success are available.
If this country is serious about improving student achievement and maximizing the development of all of its children, then local educational leadership teams – superintendents and school board members – must work cooperatively and collaboratively to mobilize their communities to get the job done!

How does a board lead? With vision, structure, accountability, advocacy, and unity – to be used as criteria for continuous development and self-evaluation of a team’s leadership and governance.

Maya's opponent in the April 4 election is Arlene Silveira.
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Leopold's Black History Night

Leopold teacher Troy Dassler emails:

QT Video

Once again we had an incredible turnout at Leopold event. We had a Black History night of celebration. The gym was packed with children, parents, friends and staff members of the Leopold Community. Academic achievement awards were presented to students for their hard work and dedication. Johnny Winston Jr. was the special guest of honor. He also received an award. The Outstanding School Board Member Award (see picture)

I am starting to think that the overcrowding, the years of out-posting, the Ridgewood Apartment fires, a failed referendum, music and art on-a-cart, the classrooms carved out of the lunchroom, the corner of our library turned into a computer classroom, the various classrooms separated by bookcase walls in the hallways, the budget cuts, the various redistricting of our students, and the endless board meetings have made us a stronger community. During the last referendum our mantra was that our “diversity makes us stronger.” I think it may need to change for the next referendum, “Adversity made us stronger.”

“In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity we know our friends.”

John Churton Collins

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Tony Castañeda Interviews Seat 2 Candidate Lucy Mathiak

Tony Castañeda interviewed Seat 2 candidate Lucy Mathiak this morning on WORT. 12MB MP3 Audio. Mathiak's opponent is 12 year incumbent Juan Jose Lopez. More on the election here. WORT is raising money here.

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Safety in Madison High Schools - Memorial


News 3 examined the data from Madison Memorial High School on Wednesday night. The school outpaces the three other city schools combined.

So far this year, Memorial has 68 arrests while West High School has 11, East High School has 18, and Robert M. LaFolette has 15.

At the current rate, Memorial would end the school year with an 88 percent increase in crime. West would be up 29 percent, but East and LaFollette would each see a 54 percent decrease

Memorial is a school at a real crossroads, and one frequently in the news because of reports of violence.


WKOW-TV notes a recent pellet gun shooting at the school.

UPDATE: Lisa Schuetz reports that a 17 year old girl was charged in this shooting.

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Message from Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts

Dear Friend:

On Wednesday March 1, at 10:00 am in the Assembly Parlor in the State Capitol, I will be joined by a group of Legislators representing districts around the state to unveil a Joint Resolution that directs the Legislature to create a new school financing system that provides each child with an equal opportunity for a sound basic education. Under the resolution, the school financing system must find a way to provide an adequate education to all pupils in the state regardless of their circumstances or regional differences. If you support our efforts, I hope that you can attend the press conference to show your support.

Attached is a copy of the resolution.

Download file

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WISTAX on State Budget Spending & Structural Deficit


A Medicaid shortfall, recently estimated at $76.7 million, is also a problem. "Reporting a Medicaid Trust Fund deficit separate from the general-fund budget and then claiming the general fund is in balance is akin to a shell game," WISTAX President Todd A. Berry noted. Medicaid is a joint state-federal program that provides health care to low-income individuals and families.

If any of these items were properly addressed in the budget enacted last summer, the WISTAX report concludes, the general fund would have a deficit. WISTAX is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to public-policy research and citizen education.

Another feature of the 2005-07 budget that gave WISTAX researchers pause was the transfer of monies from special-purpose funds to the general fund. Although the most publicized is a $430 million transfer—accomplished by executive veto—from the transportation fund to the general fund in order to pay increased school aids, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau identified a total of $647.9 million being "used for purposes other than those for which the fund was generally established."

• The state is slated to spend, from all sources (excluding bond proceeds), $52.7 billion over the next two years, of which $26.1 billion (49.5%) is from general purpose revenues (GPR)—mainly state taxes deposited in the general fund. Federal revenues account for another 25.6%.

• Individual income taxes alone account for 51.7% of general fund revenues. Combined with corporate income and sales taxes, the "big three" represent 92.1% of GPR revenues.

• Education dominates GPR spending during 2005-07, accounting for 50.4% of the total. Human services is second at 28.2%.

• In terms of who benefits from the GPR budget, various local governments and school districts lead the list, the beneficiaries of 56.7% of biennial expenditures. Aids to various individuals and organizations is a distant second at 19.7%. Shares devoted to running state government (16.3%) and the University of Wisconsin (7.3%) trail. School aids and tax credits alone represent 43.3% of the GPR total.

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Great Opportunity Needs Your Support

We have a great opportunity! On Monday March 6th, the Madison School Board will be considering four proposals for funding that have an opportunity to have a positive impact on the student achievement in our school district. These programs are community based after school and summer programming that can supplement students’ academic achievement in the Madison Metropolitan School District. These programs are not subject to the state imposed revenue limits. They are Kajsiab House and Freedom Inc., Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network-South Central Wisconsin (GLSEN), Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY) , and The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, Inc. (CHHI) . I am asking for your support to help fund these programs.

Kajsiab House and Freedom Inc. proposes to conduct culturally relevant programming for Hmong students to improve attendance and graduation rates. By working closer with both of these organizations, the MMSD can develop better communication and increase student achievement of Hmong students.

Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network-South Central Wisconsin (GLSEN) intends to use funding to increase their capacity to decrease bullying and harassing behaviors in Middle Schools. They will do this by increasing the number of gay-straight alliances, workshops and conferences. GLSEN will also partner with the school district media channel, Wisconsin Public Television, and MSCR.

Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY) would like to continue and expand their “Children of Promise” program at Toki Middle School as well as giving financial aid to economically disadvantaged students as a part of the summer national talent search. This program is in response to identifying more students of color to participate in advanced placement courses and talented and gifted programs in the MMSD.

The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, Inc. (CHHI) has developed a comprehensive supplemental educational program for Black American students. The CHHI seeks to support the MMSD thru enhanced educational, counseling and intervention programming. This program will seek to prepare students for economic independence.

The leaders of these organizations Doua Vang, Cindy Crane, Ellie Schatz and Dr. John Odom, their staff, volunteers and board members are some of the finest people in this community and experts in their field. These programs have the tremendous potential to strengthen school and community relationships. The total amount of funding for these programs is $150,000.

School district community services monies also fund programs such as Centro Hispano, Urban League of Greater Madison, African American Ethnic Academy, Project Bootstrap and Madison School and Community Recreation all of whom work directly with students of color, economically disadvantaged youth, senior citizens and community based services.

Please be aware that the school board and district are under attack from people who believe that programs such as these are "driving up their taxes." This is simply not true! Community services funding is included in this year's community services budget, but hasn't been allocated. However, because the district budget has already been passed, each proposal will need five votes from the seven-member school board.

I am asking for your support for these programs. Please consider doing the one of the following. First, if your schedule allows please attend the Monday March 6th school board meeting at 7:15 p.m at the Doyle Administration Building located at 545 W. Dayton Street. During this meeting, it will be very important to have people who support these programs and others like it to testify. Supporters can sign up at the McDaniels Auditorium and have 3 minutes to make a public statement. These comments should talk about all of the good things that can be accomplished through programming with the MMSD. If you can't attend the meeting please contact the elected board and central administration via e-mail at Please take a few moments to write positive words to encourage the elected school board to fund these programs and support others like it.

If you have questions, comments or would like additional information please contact Johnny Winston, Jr. at 441-0224 (home), 347-9715 (cell) or If we work together, we can truly make a difference for our students in this community. Thank you.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 2:16 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Full Funding Of Schools An Empty Promise

Wisconsin State Journal :: OPINION :: A6
Wednesday, February 22, 2006
We all say we want great public schools.
Yet we continue to fight amongst ourselves for an ever diminishing pot of money for our public schools.

We blame board members, parents, students, teachers, retired individuals, businesses, administrators, homeowners, renters and everyone -- except those who have put us in this position.

About 13 years ago, our state senators and representatives made a promise to Wisconsin citizens. A law controlling school revenue was passed. It allowed school districts to increase revenue by a small percentage -- less than inflation and certainly less than heating, gas and health care costs have increased.

The only way around this mandate was to have school districts ask and beg for money year after year in the form of referendums, which pit children against taxpayers.

School districts, large and small, took up this mandate and spent the first few years cutting the services that did the least harm to students. Those years are long gone.

Very quickly schools were forced and continue to cut and cut. Schools are now cutting the programs that make Wisconsin schools great -- gifted classes, remedial classes and smaller class sizes.

Revenue controls were supposed to be temporary while our state leaders worked on an equitable way to fund schools. No one can argue the fact that if you give schools less money than inflation, you are expecting schools to get rid of programs. What has been going on for the last 13 years?

I have been keeping my promises. Have they? Bills have been introduced to remedy this travesty, but nothing has changed. Schools keep cutting. Our children receive a smaller piece of the pie while living in one of the richest countries in the world.

Thirteen years is a long time to put off work that was promised. The children graduating from high school this year started as kindergarteners 13 years ago. We have our third governor, a new president, men and women have gone to war, died, and come home. What has been done?

I have seen a lot in the news about trying to change the hunting age for children, or how to help families pay for college, but nothing to remedy public schools.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with the hunting age, properly funding our schools should be at the top of our priority list.

We all realize that our public schools are the founding blocks of our democracy. All of us benefit, whether we attended public schools, or our doctor did, or the person helping us at the store. A democracy needs superior public education. Just look at democratic countries without this.

Could it be that the promise our state leaders made was never intended to be kept? Maybe we don't want "all" children to have good schools. Maybe we're worried our good schools will help minority and low-income children achieve. Maybe we want rural or inner city or suburban or all public schools to close.

My taxes have been paying the salaries of our state leaders. We have waited too long for an equitable plan to fund school. I wait with voter pen in hand.

\ Lamont is the mother of a Madison middle school student.

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Arlene Silviera's post-referendum comments

Arlene Silveira and other Leopold referendum supporters addressed the MMSD Board of Education a few days after the failed referendum. I posted my reactions on June 6, 2005:

Leopold school supporters packed room 103 of the Doyle Building to speak at a meeting of the Long Range Planning Committee on Monday evening, June 6.

Arlene Silveira led off with a bitter attack on Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza, accusing them of causing the defeat of the referendum to build a second school on the Leopold school site.

Beth Zurbachen followed with an equally nasty attack.

Nearly two dozen more Leopold supporters continued the assault for almost two hours.

Ironically, Lawrie Kobza, at Carol Carstensen's suggestion, kept their hopes alive. Carol offered the idea of forming a task force. Since she isn't a formal member of the committee, she could not make a motion. Instead Lawrie made, Juan Lopez seconded, and the committee approved a motion to form a task force to explore attendance issues on the West side.

If Carol hadn't made the suggestion and Lawrie had not made the motion, the committee would have adjourned with absolutely no movement on solving the overcrowding problem at Leopold, and probably no possibility of considering the issue until late in the summer.

Carol deserves praise for recognizing the need to restart an examination of the overcrowding on the West side.

Lawrie also deserves praise for not behaving vindictively against the Leopold supporters who blasted her. Instead she was more than willing to move toward an inclusive process that might just give the Leopold supporters and all West side children an option to overcrowding.

You can watch Arlene's presentation here

For comments on my original post go here.

Posted by Ed Blume at 1:04 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Enough Money for Good Teachers"

Joanne Jacobs rounds up recent articles about teacher compensation:

The "qualified teacher" shortage is a myth, writes Michael Podgursky in the spring Education Next. Most public schools have enough money to recruit and retain competent teachers -- if they could raise pay for teachers with high-demand skills, such as physics and chemistry, without having to pay more for every teacher.

Podgursky compared teacher pay in low-poverty public schools with non-religious private schools. Private school teachers averaged 80 percent of the pay of public teachers with affluent students.

Paul Peterson observes that teacher pay systems reward the "credentialed careerist," not necessarily the most talented teachers.

Another article looks at When Principals Rate Teachers, finding principals are good at judging effectiveness.

Great Expectations critiques the cost-effectiveness of national board certification of teachers, suggesting a better system would look at the value added by exceptional teachers.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:41 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Middle School Design Team: Final Report to the Superintendent

The Madison schools middle school curriculum design team's final report is now available [1.7MB pdf]. Topics addressed include:

  • Math
  • Music
  • Art
  • World Languages
  • Health/Family and Consumer Education
  • Information and Technology Literacy
  • Student Services
The report closed with a discussion of the Future Areas for Discussion:

The Design Team had a very specific charge. As the team met, it quickly became apparent that additional areas that pertain to middle level education are ripe for discussion. The final recommendation from the team includes a wish to continue this discussion over time. The areas that are of interest include:
  • K-8 model
  • Scheduling around part-time staff. Sharing staff.
  • Distance Learning, i.e. district on-line course offerings
  • Mental health and severe behavioral issues
  • Alternative educational settings
  • Bus safety
  • Regular articulation meetings between middle and high school staff in all content areas
  • Regular articulation meetings between middle and high schools among student
  • services staff to increase communication and develop a set of agreed upon
  • expectations and practices regarding 8th to 9th transition.
  • Advisories
  • Safety issues, i.e. bullying, climate
  • City-wide projects and competitions
  • Revisit the juxtaposition of the MMSD Educational Framework, the Equity Framework, the MMSD Middle School Common Expectations, and the current middle school models used in MMSD.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:18 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 22, 2006

Watchdog of Testing Industry Faces Economic Extinction

Michael Winerip:

But for all FairTest's impact, its days may be numbered. Never before has standardized testing so dominated American public education, thanks to the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind Law. Every child from grade 3 to high school must now take state tests. And the Bush administration is considering extending those tests to colleges.

"With N.C.L.B., a lot of people feel the debate is over," said Monty Neill, director of FairTest, officially the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. "The attitude seems to be, 'Testing is so pervasive, what's the point?' " Support from foundations has virtually dried up and individual donations have not made up the difference. "Our board has seriously discussed whether to fold the operation," Mr. Neill said

Eduwonk has much more.

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

Police Calls Down In Most Categories At LaFollette High School


News 3 examined the data from Robert M. LaFolette High School on Tuesday night. The school is the smallest of the four schools included in this series, boasting more than 1,700 students.

During a typical afternoon at LaFollette High School, principal Mike Meissen walks the halls.
If it's going on at LaFollette, Meissen knows about it. He uses a new technology that all four Madison principals have this year -- a palm pilot. Meissen can access a list of LaFollette's 1,748 students along with their pictures and class schedules. They tell him where they should be at all times.
Assistant Principal Mikki Smith is in her first year as one of his top assistants and she said that he has a reputation for maintaining order at the school.

"Mike is known for running a pretty tight ship," Smith said. "He has high expectations for students and he makes that known."


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A Formula for Failure in L.A. Schools

This is from a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. I was alerted to it by the Daily Howler blog I mention this because that site has had some great education coverage lately and will soon be launching an all-education companion blog.,0,3211437.story?coll=la-news-learning

A Formula for Failure in L.A. Schools
Because they can't pass algebra, thousands of students are denied diplomas. Many try again and again -- but still get Fs.
By Duke Helfand
Times Staff Writer

January 30, 2006

Each morning, when Gabriela Ocampo looked up at the chalkboard in her ninth-grade algebra class, her spirits sank.

There she saw a mysterious language of polynomials and slope intercepts that looked about as familiar as hieroglyphics.

She knew she would face another day of confusion, another day of pretending to follow along. She could hardly do long division, let alone solve for x.

"I felt like, 'Oh, my God, what am I going to do?' " she recalled.

Gabriela failed that first semester of freshman algebra. She failed again and again — six times in six semesters. And because students in Los Angeles Unified schools must pass algebra to graduate, her hopes for a diploma grew dimmer with each F.

Midway through 12th grade, Gabriela gathered her textbooks, dropped them at the campus book room and, without telling a soul, vanished from Birmingham High School.

Her story might be just a footnote to the Class of 2005 except that hundreds of her classmates, along with thousands of others across the district, also failed algebra.

Of all the obstacles to graduation, algebra was the most daunting.

The course that traditionally distinguished the college-bound from others has denied vast numbers of students a high school diploma.

"It triggers dropouts more than any single subject," said Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer. "I think it is a cumulative failure of our ability to teach math adequately in the public school system."

When the Los Angeles Board of Education approved tougher graduation requirements that went into effect in 2003, the intention was to give kids a better education and groom more graduates for college and high-level jobs. For the first time, students had to pass a year of algebra and a year of geometry or an equivalent class to earn diplomas.

The policy was born of a worthy goal but has proved disastrous for students unprepared to meet the new demands.

In the fall of 2004, 48,000 ninth-graders took beginning algebra; 44% flunked, nearly twice the failure rate as in English. Seventeen percent finished with Ds.

In all, the district that semester handed out Ds and Fs to 29,000 beginning algebra students — enough to fill eight high schools the size of Birmingham.

Among those who repeated the class in the spring, nearly three-quarters flunked again.

The school district could have seen this coming if officials had looked at the huge numbers of high school students failing basic math.

Lawmakers in Sacramento didn't ask questions either. After Los Angeles Unified changed its policy, legislators turned algebra into a statewide graduation requirement, effective in 2004.

Now the Los Angeles school board has raised the bar again. By the time today's second-graders graduate from high school in 2016, most will have to meet the University of California's entry requirements, which will mean passing a third year of advanced math, such as algebra II, and four years of English.

Former board President Jose Huizar introduced this latest round of requirements, which the board approved in a 6-1 vote last June.

Huizar said he was motivated by personal experience: He was a marginal student growing up in Boyle Heights but excelled in high school once a counselor placed him in a demanding curriculum that propelled him to college and a law degree.

"I think there are thousands of kids like me, but we're losing them because we don't give them that opportunity," said Huizar, who left the school board after he was elected to the Los Angeles City Council last fall. "Yes, there will be dropouts. But I'm looking at the glass half full."

Discouragement, Frustration

Birmingham High in Van Nuys, where Gabriela Ocampo struggled to grasp algebra, has a failure rate that's about average for the district. Nearly half the ninth-grade class flunked beginning algebra last year.

In the spring semester alone, more freshmen failed than passed. The tally: 367 Fs and 355 passes, nearly one-third of them Ds.

All those failures and near failures have left a wake of discouraged students and exasperated teachers.

Fifteen-year-old Abraham Lemus, the son of Salvadoran immigrants, finally scraped by with a D after his mother hired a tutor. But he recalls how he failed the first time he took the course. "I was starting to get suicide thoughts in my head, just because of math," he said.

Shane Sauby, who worked as an attorney and stockbroker before becoming a teacher, volunteered to teach the students confronting first-year algebra for a second, third or fourth time. He thought he could reach them.

But, Sauby said, many of his students ignored homework, rarely studied for tests and often skipped class.

"I would look at them and say, 'What is your thinking? If you are coming here, why aren't you doing the work or paying attention or making an effort?' " he said. Many would just stare back.

Sauby, who now teaches in another district, failed as many as 90% of his students.

Like other schools in the nation's second-largest district, Birmingham High deals with failing students by shuttling them back into algebra, often with the same teachers.

Last fall, the school scheduled 17 classes of up to 40 students each for those repeating first-semester algebra.

Educational psychologists say reenrolling such students in algebra decreases their chances of graduating.

"Repeated failure makes kids think they can't do the work. And when they can't do the work, they say, 'I'm out of here,' " said Andrew Porter, director of the Learning Sciences Institute at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

The strategy has also failed to provide students with what they need most: a review of basic math.

Teachers complain that they have no time for remediation, that the rapid pace mandated by the district leaves behind students like Tina Norwood, 15, who is failing beginning algebra for the third time.

Tina, who says math has mystified her since she first saw fractions in elementary school, spends class time writing in her journal, chatting with friends or snapping pictures of herself with her cellphone.

Her teacher wasn't surprised when Tina bombed a recent test that asked her, among other things, to graph the equations 4x + y = 9 and 2x -- 3y = -- 6. She left most of the answers blank, writing a desperate message at the top of the page: "Still don't get it, not gonna get it, guess i'm seeing this next year!"

Teachers wage a daily struggle in classes filled with students like Tina.

Her teacher, George Seidel, devoted a class this fall to reviewing equations with a single variable, such as x -- 1 = 36. It's the type of lesson students were supposed to have mastered in fourth grade.

Only seven of 39 students brought their textbooks. Several had no paper or pencils. One sat for the entire period with his backpack on his shoulders, tapping his desk with a finger.

Another doodled an eagle in red ink in his notebook. Others gossiped as Seidel, a second-year teacher, jotted problems on the front board.

"Settle down," Seidel told the fifth-period students a few minutes after the bell rang. "It doesn't work if you guys are trying to talk while I'm trying to talk."

Seidel once brokered multimillion-dollar business deals but left a 25-year law career, hoping to find a more fulfilling job and satisfy an old desire to teach. Nothing, however, prepared him for period five.

"I got through a year of Vietnam," he said, "so I tell myself every day I can get through 53 minutes of fifth period…. I don't know if I am making a difference with a single kid."

Seidel did not appear to make a difference with Gabriela Ocampo. She failed his class in the fall of 2004 — her sixth and final semester of Fs in algebra.

But Gabriela didn't give Seidel much of a chance; she skipped 62 of 93 days that semester.

After dropping out, Gabriela found a $7-an-hour job at a Subway sandwich shop in Encino. She needed little math because the cash register calculated change. But she discovered the cost of not earning a diploma.

"I don't want to be there no more," she said, her eyes watering from raw onions, shortly before she quit to enroll in a training program to become a medical assistant.

Could passing algebra have changed Gabriela's future? Most educators would say yes.

Algebra, they insist, can mean the difference between menial work and high-level careers. High school students can't get into most four-year colleges without it. And the U.S. Department of Education says success in algebra II and other higher-level math is strongly associated with college completion.

Apprenticeship programs for electricians, plumbers and refrigerator technicians require algebra, which is useful in calculating needed amounts of piping and electrical wiring.

"If you want to work in the real world, if you want to wire buildings and plumb buildings, that's when it requires algebra," said Don Davis, executive director of the Electrical Training Institute, which runs apprenticeship programs for union electricians in Los Angeles.

Algebra, with its idiom of equations and variables, is more abstract than the math that comes before it. It uses symbols, usually letters, to represent numbers and sets of symbols to express mathematical relationships.

Educators say algebra offers a practical benefit: Analytical skills and formulas enable people to make sense of the world. Algebra can help a worker calculate income taxes, a baseball fan determine a pitcher's earned-run average and a driver determine a car's gas mileage.

"It's the language of generalization. It's a very powerful problem-solving tool," said Zalman Usiskin, director of the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project.

Rationale for Algebra

Although experts widely agree that algebra sharpens young minds, some object to making it a graduation requirement.

"If you want to believe you're for standards, you're going to make kids take algebra. It has that ring of authenticity," said Robert Balfanz, an associate research scientist with the Center for Social Organization of Schools at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "But you're not really thinking through the implications. There may be no good reason why algebra is essential for all high school students."

Compulsory algebra is a relatively new idea in the faddish realm of education reform.

Until recently, high schools offered a range of programs. Students seen as academically able were placed in college-prep classes. Others were funneled into vocational courses in which they learned such skills as auto mechanics and office technology.

It was an imperfect system in which some bright students, particularly minorities, could find themselves trapped in classes that steered them away from higher education.

Then, about a decade ago, the pendulum began to swing as the state decided to raise academic standards for high school graduation.

The concept of algebra for all also was meant to elevate the level of U.S. high school students, whose math performance has long trailed that of peers in other industrialized countries where algebra is introduced at earlier grade levels.

Eager to close this competitive chasm, education and business leaders in California sought to re-engineer the state's approach to math. They produced new math standards they believed would foster a "rising tide of excellence."

This meant teaching algebra earlier, as soon as eighth grade for some students, even if instructors questioned whether younger students could handle abstract concepts.

"We didn't regard any of this as extreme," Stanford University mathematician James Milgram said recently, defending the 1997 math standards he helped write. "We need competent people in this country. We're on our way to [becoming] a second-rate economic power."

Legislators joined the charge in 1999, creating a high school exit exam with algebra questions, which takes effect this spring. They then enacted the law requiring algebra for graduation, starting with the Class of 2004, to prepare students for the exam.

To its staunchest advocate in the Legislature, algebra stood for higher expectations and new opportunities.

"We have a problem with a high dropout rate. You don't address it by making it easier to get through and have the meaning of the diploma diluted," said state Sen. Chuck Poochigian (R-Fresno), who wrote the algebra graduation law. "It should be a call to action … not to lower standards but to find ways to inspire. Our future depends on it."

'I Give Up'

Whether requiring all students to pass algebra is a good idea or not, two things are clear: Schools have not been equipped to teach it, and students have not been equipped to learn it.

Secondary schools have had to rapidly expand algebra classes despite a shortage of credentialed math teachers.

The Center for the Future of Teaching & Learning in Santa Cruz found that more than 40% of eighth-grade algebra teachers in California lack a math credential or are teaching outside their field of expertise; more than 20% of high school math teachers are similarly unprepared.

Recruitment programs and summer math institutes for teachers have been scaled back or eliminated because of budget cuts.

"It's a real collision of circumstance, and students are now having … to bear the brunt of public policy gone awry," said Margaret Gaston, executive director of the Santa Cruz research center.

High school math instructors, meanwhile, face crowded classes of 40 or more students — some of whom do not know their multiplication tables or how to add fractions or convert percentages into decimals.

Birmingham teacher Steve Kofahl said many students don't understand that X can be an abstract variable in an equation and not just a letter of the alphabet.

Birmingham math coach Kathy De Soto said she was surprised to find something else: students who still count on their fingers.

High school teachers blame middle schools for churning out ill-prepared students. The middle schools blame the elementary schools, where teachers are expected to have a command of all subjects but sometimes are shaky in math themselves.

At Cal State Northridge, the largest supplier of new teachers to Los Angeles Unified, 35% of future elementary school instructors earned Ds or Fs in their first college-level math class last year.

Some of these students had already taken remedial classes that reviewed high school algebra and geometry.

"I give up. I'm not good at math," said sophomore Alexa Ganz, 19, who received a D in math last semester even after taking two remedial courses. "I think I've been more confused this semester than helped."

Ganz, who wants to teach third grade, thinks the required math courses are overkill. "I guarantee I won't need to know all this," she said, perhaps not realizing that if she were to teach in a public school, she could be bumped as a newcomer to upper grade levels that demand greater math knowledge.

Administrators in L.A. Unified say they are trying to reverse the alarming failure rates of high school students by changing the way math is taught, starting in elementary schools.

The new approach stresses conceptual lessons rather than rote memorization, a change that some instructors think is wrong. New math coaches also are training teachers and coordinating lesson plans at many schools.

The simplest algebraic concepts are now taught — or are supposed to be taught — beginning in kindergarten.

These changes appear to be paying off, at least in elementary grades. L.A. Unified's elementary-level math scores have risen sharply over the last five years, although middle schools and high schools have yet to show significant progress.

Searching for a solution in its secondary schools, L.A. Unified is investing millions of dollars in new computer programs that teach pre-algebra, algebra and other skills.

Officials are considering other costly changes, including reducing the size of algebra classes to 25, launching algebra readiness classes for lagging eighth-graders and creating summer programs for students needing a kick-start before middle school or high school.

Some schools have taken matters into their own hands.

Cleveland High, four miles from Birmingham, places ninth- and 10th-graders who get a D or F in algebra into semester-long classes that focus on sixth- and seventh-grade material and pre-algebra. Students then return to standard algebra classes.

Eighteen percent of Cleveland's 10th-graders were proficient in algebra on state tests last spring, compared with 8% at Birmingham and 3% districtwide.

But Cleveland's strategy comes with risk. The state can lower the academic rankings of schools that remove ninth graders from first-year algebra. Consistently low rankings can invite district audits and penalties, including removal of teachers and administrators.

Birmingham High, wary of these consequences, is attacking the algebra crisis the way many other schools do: providing students with extra help after school and on weekends. The school launched a round of Saturday classes last fall for 600 students who were failing beginning algebra. Only 100 showed up, even though administrators called each student's home.

The Saturday sessions start anew in February with a twist: separate algebra classes for parents who want to help their children.

But even as it tries to solve its algebra puzzle, Birmingham — along with the district's 50 other traditional high schools — will soon face the even more rigid graduation requirements passed by the school board.

The chairman of Birmingham's math department, Rick Prizant, said he believes the college-prep agenda is a noble but misguided policy dictated by district officials out of touch with the realities of the classroom. Where others see opportunity, he sees catastrophe.

"They're being very unrealistic in what they are asking…. We're spinning our wheels here," said Prizant, who doubles as the school's athletic director. "I think you're going to see more dropouts. It's frightening to me."


Times staff writer Mitchell Landsberg contributed to this report.



Go figure

Most Los Angeles ninth-graders find algebra difficult. A sample question from the algebra standards test:

A 120-foot-long rope is cut into 3 pieces. The first piece of rope is twice as long as the second piece of rope. The third piece of rope is three times as long as the second piece of rope. What is the length of the longest piece of rope?

A) 20 feet

B) 40 feet

C) 60 feet

D) 80 feet


Correct answer: C

More algebra problems inside

Source: California Department of Education


Algebra test

A majority of ninth-graders in Los Angeles fail algebra or pass with a D grade.

Algebra grades of LAUSD freshmen in fall 2004:

C and above 39%

D 17%

F 44%


Sources: Los Angeles Unified School District, California Department of Education


About This Series

Students drastically limit their prospects by dropping out of high school. To understand why so many do, Times journalists spent eight months studying Birmingham High School in Van Nuys. This series began Sunday. The remaining parts:

Friday: Fast friends — 11 started; three finished.

Saturday: The dropout industry.


On the Web

An interactive algebra quiz, a photo gallery, a discussion forum and other multimedia features, as well as Sunday's article, are available at



"Class of 2005," a segment of the news magazine "California Connected" produced in partnership with The Times, will air at 8:30 p.m. Friday on KCET in Los Angeles and at varying times that night on other PBS stations. For a complete broadcast schedule, go to


Copyright 2206 Los Angeles Times

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School board candidates Silveira and Cole face off in April

By Susan Troller
Although Madison School Board candidate Arlene Silveira's 48 percent showing in Tuesday's primary has established her as the front runner in the race for a Madison School Board seat, an opponent's supporter says a primary win does not assure a general election victory, especially when the turnout is very low.

School Board member Ruth Robarts is a supporter of Maya Cole, who trailed Silveira in Tuesday's primary with 35 percent of the vote. Robarts noted when she ran for the School Board in 1997, she finished a distant second in the primary with just 22 percent of the vote. Robarts picked up about 11,000 votes following the primary and won the general election.

"What was established (in Tuesday's primary) is that there are now two viable candidates, each with an opportunity to pick up a significant number of votes in the general election," Robarts said.

Silveira and Cole both have strong credentials as volunteers in the community. They held off 27-year-old doctoral student Michael J. Kelly to advance to the general election to compete for the School Board seat being vacated by incumbent Bill Keys. Under 5 percent of the district's voters turned out for Tuesday's election.

"Given that this was the only race, I thought the turnout was actually fairly good," said Silveira. "And I was very happy for support across the whole district. I heard, again and again, that the needs of children are the issue."

Silveira, who is single and has a middle school age daughter, has been an active school volunteer for nine years. A member of the West/Memorial area boundary task force, she supports that group's recommendation to build an addition at Leopold Elementary and a new far west side elementary school to address issues of overcrowding and growth. Silveira is a marketing director for Promega Corporation.

Cole is a stay-at-home mother of three elementary school age boys, and has been an activist in opposition to concealed carry legislation.

"Obviously, I hope that there's a bigger turnout in the general election," Cole said today. "I'm looking forward to working really hard over the next 40 days and to getting people fired up about this School Board race."

The former editor of a medical journal, Cole is the community/communication chair of the Franklin/Randall PTO. She takes a cautious approach toward building, and has called for what she calls a more transparent budget.

Kelly, who moved to Madison from Boston last summer and is pursuing his doctorate in medieval history at the University of Wisconsin, was a surprise late entrant into the race, which prompted the citywide primary. Given his low-key campaign, which included just a handful of appearances at forums and candidate debates, he said he was happy with his showing. And he clearly liked the process, saying he intends to continue to be involved in Madison politics.

"I have learned a lot from this campaign and look forward to taking that knowledge and experience, along with my active and progressive vision for Madison and my strong voter base, with me into future campaigns," he said.


• Arlene Silveira: 3,191

• Maya Cole: 2,338

• Michael J. Kelly: 996

Published: February 22, 2006

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A Power Point You Will Actually WANT To See

Description from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

MONDAY, Feb. 20, 2006, 2:33 p.m.
Banding together: Waukesha students support music programs

Waukesha South High School band boosters have set to music their reasons for why band and orchestra should be saved from anticipated cuts in the next school year.

You can check out their multimedia presentation here. A sample: "Don’t let the community that gave us Les Paul end up with Less Music."

The Waukesha School Board is considering $3 million worth of program and service cuts to balance its 2006-’07 budget. Among the cutbacks being contemplated is the elimination of three full-time music teachers, which would push back the start of elementary orchestra and band instruction by one year.

The board has a work session scheduled for Feb. 28. A final vote on program cuts is slated for the board’s March 8 meeting.

-By Amy Hetzner

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Life Without Algebra

Joanne Jacobs rounds up a number of links:

Mathphobe Richard Cohen advises a girl who's flunked algebra six times that the subject is useless in later life since "most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator," while "no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note -- or reason even a little bit."

Gabriela, sooner or later someone's going to tell you that algebra teaches reasoning. This is a lie propagated by, among others, algebra teachers. Writing is the highest form of reasoning. This is a fact. Algebra is not. The proof of this, Gabriela, is all the people in my high school who were whizzes at math but did not know a thing about history and could not write a readable English sentence. I can cite Shelly, whose last name will not be mentioned, who aced algebra but when called to the board in geography class, located the Sahara Desert right where the Gobi usually is. She was off by a whole continent.
if that's the kind of reasoning taught by writing, I'll take algebra.

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Take Home Test: Week 5


6618 voters in the Madison Metropolitan School District have spoken: school board candidates Maya Cole and Arlene Silveira will move on the April 4 general election. Cole received 2338 votes (or 35.32%), Silveira received 3191 votes (or 48.21%), while third place candidate received 996 votes (or 15.04%).

With that, week five of the Take Home Test is condensed to four candidates: yesterday’s winners in the Seat One race, along with Seat Two candidates Juan Jose Lopez and Lucy Mathiak.

This week's questions:

Extra credit question: " Role playing exercise: Convince a family moving to the Madison metro area that Madison schools will provide as good as or better educational opportunities than they would receive in a suburban school district."

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"Moving Beyond Islands of Excellence"

Madison School Board Seat 1 Candidate Maya Cole:

The Madison Metropolitan School District is, in my opinion, at a tipping point. We need to adopt a new way of looking at education. Our community is growing and is beginning to look more and more like an urban school district. Debate in the public forum is healthy when it comes to addressing issues of equity and education.

The Learning First Alliance, a partnership of leading education organizations was founded in 1997, is looking at this type of leadership model in school districts. The goals of the Alliance are to: ensure that high academic expectations are held for all students; ensure a safe and supportive place of learning for all students; and, to engage parents and other community members in helping students achieve high academic expectations.

Cole's opponent in the April 4, 2006 election is parent Arlene Silveira

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"Gifted" Label Takes a Vacation in Diversity Quest

Lori Aratani:

Middle school magnet programs in Montgomery County have traditionally operated as schools within schools, offering specialized curriculum to a few select students -- who have been mostly Asian and white.

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Florida & Iowa: Pay for Performance Teacher Bonus Proposals

Donna Winchester & Ron Matus:

The Board of Education is expected today to approve a proposal that would give some teachers a bonus equal to 5 percent of their salary. The extra pay would be based solely on their ability to show student learning gains on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

But the biggest impediment could be lack of teacher support. Unlike Denver officials, who worked closely with the teacher's union, Florida education officials didn't consult with the state teachers union until after they had a draft of their plan.

When performance pay is "forced on teachers, you have a war," said Allan Odden, professor of educational administration at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "And if you're having a war, it's unlikely to be an incentive to improving student learning."

Jonathan Roos:
A commission would be created to design the new compensation program, which would likely include the measurement of student improvement over a year's time as a yardstick of how well a teacher is performing.

Democrats reacted cautiously to the Senate Republicans' merit pay initiative.

"I think the responsible course of action would be for us to first come to agreement on what such a program would entail," said Vilsack.

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Go with Your Gut

Harriet Brown:

LAST week's reports that low-fat diets may not reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer have left Americans more confused than ever about what to eat. I'd like to make a radical suggestion: instead of wringing our hands over fat grams and calories, let's resolve to enjoy whatever food we eat.

Because, as it turns out, when you eat something you like, your body makes more efficient use of its nutrients. Which means that choking down a plateful of steamed cauliflower (if you hate steamed cauliflower) is not likely to do you as much good as you think.

In the 1970's, researchers fed two groups of women, one Swedish and one Thai, a spicy Thai meal. The Thai women — who presumably liked the meal more than the Swedish women did — absorbed almost 50 percent more iron from it than the Swedish women. When the meal was served as a mushy paste, the Thai women absorbed 70 percent less iron than they had before — from the same food.

The researchers concluded that food that's unfamiliar (Thai food to Swedish women) or unappetizing (mush rather than solid food) winds up being less nutritious than food that looks, smells and tastes good to you. The explanation can be found in the digestive process itself, in the relationship between the "second brain" — the gut — and the brain in your head.

Imagine sitting in your favorite Japanese restaurant before a plate of sushi, chopsticks poised. You take in its fragrance and the beautiful cut of the fish, the shapely rice and nori rolls. Those delectable smells and sights tell your brain that the meal will be enjoyable, and the brain responds by pushing your salivary glands into high gear and ordering your stomach to secrete more gastric juices.

Result: you get more nutritional bang for your buck than you would, say, faced with a platter of lutefisk. In that case, your brain might send fewer messages to your mouth and stomach, causing the food to be less thoroughly digested and metabolized.

Does this mean we should be reaching for the Krispy Kremes and forgoing the raw cauliflower? No. The food has to have nutritive value in the first place. But maybe we could take a lesson from the French, whose level of heart disease is lower than ours despite their richer diet. The French savor the taste and texture of food and the experience of eating; we tend to eat dutifully (how much cauliflower can you choke down?), on the run (hardly realizing what we're eating), or rebelliously (devouring a whole box of Entenmann's because we feel deprived).

In fact, we're hard-wired to enjoy food; it's a survival mechanism. Volunteers in the 1946 University of Minnesota Starvation Study, who spent six months at half rations, developed a slew of peculiar rituals around eating. They devoted hours to meals that might normally take a few minutes, cutting a slice of bread into tiny bits with a knife and fork, arranging the bits on the plate, chewing each mouthful 200 times — all behaviors engineered to prolong both the act of eating and the enjoyment of the limited food available.

The health writer Lawrence Lindner tells of a committee that gathered to hammer out the wording of the United States Dietary Guidelines in 1995. One committee member suggested that the first guideline read "Enjoy a variety of foods" — language that was rejected as "too hedonistic." (In the end, Mr. Lindner wrote, the committee "opted for the apparently less giddy 'Eat a variety of foods.' ") So let's vow to enjoy our food, not wolf it down in the car with a heaping order of guilt. Call it Slow Food, conscious eating, or eating the French way, the point's the same: eating well and with pleasure is more than hedonism — it's good nutritional policy and practice. Bon appétit!

Harriet Brown, the editor of the forthcoming anthology "Mr. Wrong," is working on a book about anorexia.

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AKA Fundraiser: Men Who Cook

On SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 3PM TO 5 PM Alpha Kappa Alpha's Annual Scholarship Fundraiser "Men Who Cook" is at the Fitchburg Community Center located on 5520 Lacy Road. Tickets are $15 in advance or can be purchased at the door the day of the event for $20.

Again, funds that are raised have been used to: Award scholarships to talented, minority high school seniors to help offset the cost of their first year in college; Award scholarships for elementary aged students to attend the African-American Ethnic Academy (AAEA); and to support local school and community arts programs (recently we have donated money to Lincoln Elementary Schools Strings program and are awarding money to Madison Creative and Performing Arts program to fund a scholarship for an African American child to attend a theatre camp).

So, please support us in this effort as we would like to do more!

This year we will have spoken work entertainment. A few of the featured cooks this year include:
Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz
MMSD School Board Member Juan Lopez
Madison Police Chief Noble Wray
Madison Police Officer Carlos Valentin
Andre Bernard and James Lynch (formerly and presently with Nehemiah Community Development Corp. and members at Fountain of Life Family Worship Center)

A few of the dishes you can look forward to sampling include:
Collard Greens
Seafood Fettucini
You may contact me at this email or at 628 4134 to secure a ticket!

Melissa L. Harrell Robinson
Pre-College Program Coordinator
Diversity Affairs Office-College of Engineering
University of Wisconsin-Madison
1150D Engineering Hall
1415 Engineering Drive
Madison, WI 53706-1691
(608) 265 9042

"Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength for our nation." -- John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963)

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February 21, 2006

Secrets of Graduating from College

Jay Matthews:

The first Toolbox provided the most powerful argument by far for getting more high school students into challenging courses, my favorite reporting topic. Using data from a study of 8,700 young Americans, it showed that students whose high schools had given them an intense academic experience -- such as a heavy load of English courses or advanced math or Advanced Placement -- were more likely to graduate from college. It has been frequently cited by high school principals, college admissions directors and anyone else who cared about giving more choices in life to more students, particularly those from low-income and minority families.

The new Toolbox is 193 pages [pdf] of dense statistics, obscure footnotes and a number of insightful and surprising assessments of the intricacies of getting a college degree in America. It confirms the lessons of the old Toolbox using a study of 8,900 students who were in 12th grade in 1992, 10 years after the first group. But it goes much further, prying open the American higher education system and revealing the choices that are most likely to get the least promising students a bachelor's degree.

Toward the end of the report, Adelman offers seven tips. I call them the "College Completion Cliff Notes." They are vintage Adelman, very un-government-report-like, so I will finish by just quoting them in full:

"1. Just because you say you will continue your education after high school and earn a college credential doesn't make it happen. Wishing doesn't do it; preparation does! So . . .

"2. Take the challenging course work in high school, and don't let anyone scare you away from it. Funny thing about it, but you learn what you study, so if you take up these challenges, your test scores will inevitably be better (if you are worried about that). If you cannot find the challenge in the school's offerings, point out where it is available on-line, and see if you can get it that way. There are very respectable Web sites offering full courses in precalculus, introductory physics, humanities, music theory, and computer programming, for example.

"3. Read like crazy! Expand your language space! Language is power! You will have a lot less trouble in understanding math problems, biology textbooks, or historical documents you locate on the Web. Chances are you won't be wasting precious credit hours on remedial courses in higher education.

"4. If you don't see it now, you will see it in higher education: The world has gone quantitative: business (obviously), geography, criminal justice, history, allied health fields -- a full range of disciplines and job tasks tells you why math requirements are not just some abstract school exercise. So come out of high school with more than Algebra 2, making sure to include math in your senior year course work, and when you enter higher education, put at least one college-level math course under your belt in the first year -- no matter what your eventual major.

"5. When you start to think seriously about postsecondary options, log on to college and community college Web sites and look not so much for what they tell you of how wonderful life is at Old Siwash, but what they show you of the kinds of assignments and examination questions given in major gateway courses you will probably take. If you do not see these indications of what to expect, push! Ask the schools for it! These assignments and questions are better than SAT or ACT preparation manuals in terms of what you need to complete degrees.

"6. See if your nearest community college has a dual-enrollment agreement with your school system, allowing you to take significant general education or introductory occupational courses for credit while you are still in high school. Use a summer term or part of your senior year to take advantage, and aim to enter higher education with at least six credits earned this way -- preferably more.

"7. You are ultimately responsible for success in education. You are the principal actor. The power is yours. Seize the day -- or lose it!"

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Knowledge of Elders Stream Into Area Classrooms

Maria Glod:

"You don't learn if you don't listen," Gundersen said, quieting the pair just a little.

"We have to respect each other," Erin acknowledged, nodding his head.

Gundersen, a 30-year veteran of the State Department who comes to Birney one afternoon each week to talk with Erin about history or homework or life, is among a growing cadre of older adults and retirees who volunteer regularly in schools across the country, helping children learn to read, practice multiplication tables and learn geography.

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To: Subject: Why It's All About Me

Jonathan D. Glater:

One student skipped class and then sent the professor an e-mail message asking for copies of her teaching notes. Another did not like her grade, and wrote a petulant message to the professor. Another explained that she was late for a Monday class because she was recovering from drinking too much at a wild weekend party.

Jennifer Schultens, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of California, Davis, received this e-mail message last September from a student in her calculus course: "Should I buy a binder or a subject notebook? Since I'm a freshman, I'm not sure how to shop for school supplies. Would you let me know your recommendations? Thank you!"

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Madison Schools 5 Year Budget Forecast

QT Video The Madison School District's Finance and Operations Committee reviewed a 5 year financial forecast, starting with this year's $320M+ budget, prepared by the Administration Monday evening. Video and mp3 audio.

Local media comments:

Susan Troller:
Roger Price, business services director for the district, cautioned that projections beyond the next two years are simply a forecast, and a budget tool. "I'm very confident about the figures for 2007 and fairly confident for the following year. After that, it's more speculative," he said.

Costs to run the school district rise about 4 percent per year, while state-mandated revenue caps limit what a district can spend from the combination of property taxes and state aid to 2.6 percent. Every year, the district must find a way to close the gap to balance the budget.

Under the revenue cap formula, districts that are growing in size benefit while districts that are losing enrollment must subtract the cost of educating their students from their budgets. Total student enrollment has been declining throughout Wisconsin. Madison has seen a loss of students over the last decade, while suburban Dane County has seen rapid growth.

WKOW-TV has more. Background links and articles on the budget are available here.

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2/21 Spring Primary Election Results

Today's primary election results will be available here.

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The importance of diversity and race relations training

This clip is one more reason for the importance of diversity and race relations training in this district and every other in the country. This sad commentary is another reason for the position of Special Assistant to the Superintendent for Parent and Community Relations. In addition to that position, the MMSD needs to be committed to the Minority Recruiter position. Lastly, (and please listen closely at toward the end of the clip) yet another reason for students of color to be involved in Advanced Placement courses. I received this from my wife, who received it through colleagues. It is not enjoy but educate yourself.

Dr. Angela Byars-Winston wrote:

I thought that you might both find this incident in the schools
informative. It is quite provocative.

Johnny, for this reason I'm glad for your presence on the school
board. (note: I thought I would never see that last line in writing!)

Dear Colleagues,

We recently received this news clip (see below) from a colleague, which we have attached and would like to share with you. It disturbed us greatly! More importantly, it underscores how imperative it is as educators that we continue to talk about diversity and challenge ourselves to discuss issues of race, particularly with regard to language in substantive and sometimes uncomfortable ways. This one news clip speaks volumes and helps to illustrate how inequities
and racism, whether intentional or unintentional, are insidiously and sadly woven into the fabric of our educational system. Inequalities within our educational system are painful and have real consequences for young people, particularly those from underrepresented groups. We share this clip not so much to argue a point; but, to provide an example of how one teacher's ignorance has the potential to negatively impact the lives of many.

Ghangis & Stephanie Carter

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Gentle reminder:

Remember to vote in today's primary

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MMSD Wins EPA Clean Bus Grant

Great Lakes Environmental News:

The EPA has just awarded 37 grants totaling $7.5 million as part of the Clean School Bus USA program, which is intended to reduce kid's exposure to diesel exhaust. The program encourages policies and practices to eliminate unnecessary school bus idling, to install emission control systems on newer buses and to replace older buses with cleaner diesel or compressed natural gas powered buses. Grant recipients are contributing an additional $13 million in matching funds and in-kind services. The grants will help fund the cleanup of more than 500 tons of annual diesel emissions from 4000 school buses nationwide.
Via the Daily Page.

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Minutes from Board Meeting to Create the Equity Task Force

Thanks for the link to the minutes of the October 31 meeting in the other thread. I found the document fascinating, and am posting it here (with the portion of the meeting devoted to expungement deleted for length reasons) for those who are following the equity task force. The discussion leading up to the charge is particularly interesting. The "continue reading" link will take you to the full minutes.

Art Rainwater, Superintendent

BOARD OF EDUCATION Doyle Administration Building, Room 103
Minutes for SPECIAL MEETING – Open and Executive Sessions\545 West Dayton Street
October 31, 2005 Madison, Wisconsin

The Special Meeting of the Board of Education was called to order by President Carol Carstensen at 6:10 p.m.

MEMBERS PRESENT: Carol Carstensen, Bill Keys, Lawrie Kobza, Juan José López, Ruth Robarts, Shwaw Vang

MEMBERS ABSENT: Johnny Winston, Jr.

STUDENT MEMBERS PRESENT: Jesse Ayala (alternate), Connor Gants


STAFF PRESENT: Joe Quick, Art Rainwater, Ann Wilson-Recording Secretary


1. Approval of Minutes
It was moved by Bill Keys and seconded by Juan José López to approve the Special Meeting minutes dated March 28, May 10, May 16, and June 27, 2005. Lawrie Kobza asked that the May 10 minutes be amended on page 3 to identify the Board members who were making statements. Student liaison advisory vote – aye. Motion to approve the minutes as amended carried unanimously by those present.

FOLLOW-UP: Lawrie Kobza asked why these minutes were submitted for approval so long after the meeting date and why more recent ones had already been approved; why are they completed out of sequence. Some of these dealing with budget would have been important to have earlier. Art Rainwater indicated he will follow-up.

2. Public Appearances
Abha Thakkar, representing the East PTO Coalition and Northside Planning Council
, thanked Board members for creating the Equity Task Force and giving it the consideration it deserves. As budgets are shrinking, it is important to see an equity policy; see it as a statement of priorities and a districtwide issue. Hope there is ample opportunity for input from the whole community and that the definition is broadened beyond finances to include curriculum and the quality of leadership.

3. Announcements
There were no announcements.

4. Modification of Madison School Board Policy 4047-Expungement

(text removed to permit focus on Equity Task Force in this post)

5. Creation of Resource Equity Task Force

(Written materials distributed: Draft Equity Task Force; Current Board Policy 9001 – Equity; attached to the original copy of these minutes.)

It was moved by Juan José López and seconded by Bill Keys to approve the creation of an Equity Task Force based on the draft charge, timeline, process and membership as presented.

It was agreed the following changes would be made:
o The timeline would begin in November 2005 and conclude with a report to the Board by March 31, 2006.
o Three, rather than two, adult participants from each attendance area.
o No staff person from Research and Evaluation.
o No Legal Counsel except on an as-needed basis.
o No Staff to the Task Force, although there will be Central Office co-chairs.
o Under Process:
3. Change this item to read, “Take testimony from Board members and the community.”
5. Change this item to read, “Recommend to Legal Counsel the principles to be included in a policy.”
6. Add a new item to read, “Review and respond to the proposed wording of a policy prepared by Legal Counsel.”

Lawrie Kobza distributed copies of current Board Policy 9001 – Equity and proposed a change to the charge for the Task Force.

A substitute motion was made by Lawrie Kobza, seconded by Ruth Robarts, to amend the charge so that it would read, “Recommend to the Board of Education maintenance of or revisions to the Board’s current equity policy that includes possible guidelines for implementing the current or proposed revised policy.”

• Disagree; hope for a solid, concrete definition.
• Need something more defined, more guidelines for making decisions in a time of restricted resources. Take broad view. Comfortable with reviewing current policy, but not to look only there. Hope task force will confront issues; nothing in the current policy helps make budget decisions.
• Support committee work before legal input. Not limit work to current policy.
• Good things in the current policy; task force could start with what we already have that has been reviewed and approved. Task force should not assume all parts of the policy are to be revised.
• Reminder that the work of the task force is advisory to the Board.
• Hope the Board seriously considers the work of the task force.
• Already have a policy that responds to concerns but has not been implemented, just replaced by the ERF. Answer has been to abandon existing policy rather than using it to respond to issues; replacing it with something that has no teeth. Improve what we have, make revisions, go forward.
• Supplemental allocation can always be increased – core of instruction needs to occur, supplemental adds to that. Different district when the policy was written. Documentation and plans exist and could be provided to the Board.
• As much as possible, bring language is line with current use.

Student liaison advisory vote – aye. Substitute motion failed 3-3 with Lawrie Kobza, Ruth Robarts, and Shwaw Vang voting aye.

Lawrie Kobza requested separation of approval of the charge to the Equity Task Force as contained within the original motion. There was consensus to separate the charge from the remaining structure of the Task Force. It was moved by Lawrie Kobza and seconded by Ruth Robarts to approve the original charge to the Task Force as presented. Student liaison advisory vote was aye. Motion carried 4-2 with Lawrie Kobza and Ruth Robarts voting no.

There was discussion about how participants would be selected. Carol Carstensen indicated that she and Vice President Johnny Winston, Jr. would make selections from names that are provided through self-nomination, recommendations received from parent and community groups, and those provided by other Board members. Their goal would be to have diverse participation. It was recommended by Lawrie Kobza and agreeable to all that at least 50% of the representatives come from (reside in) elementary school attendance areas that exceed the district average for low income students.

The main motion, as edited, to approve the creation of an Equity Task Force based on the draft charge, timeline, process and membership--Student liaison advisory vote was aye, motion carried 4-2 with Lawrie Kobza and Ruth Robarts voting no.

6. Other Business
There was no other business.

Ruth Robarts recused herself at this point. Student Representatives left at this time. Joe Quick and Art Rainwater left at this time.

Recessed at 8:02 p.m.
Reconvened at 8:15 p.m.

(The meeting continued in Executive Session)

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Prevailing Wisdom on Autism Questioned

From University Communications, UW-Madison

Experts question prevalent stereotypes about autism

February 20, 2006
by Paroma Basu

As theories about autism spread like wildfire in the media and the general public, a panel of autism experts will reflect on the validity of four widely held - and potentially inaccurate - assumptions about the developmental disability.

Drawing on the latest in autism research, a psychologist, an epidemiologist, a psychiatrist and a physician will critically assess widespread stereotypes about autism during a symposium entitled "Science of Autism," at the 2006 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

"With the surge in both scientists and society turning their attention toward autism, there comes responsibility," says Morton Gernsbacher, a Vilas Research Professor of psychology at UW-Madison and the symposium's chair and organizer. "It behooves us as scientists to distinguish uninformed stereotypes from scientific reality and to move beyond myths and misconceptions."

During her talk, Gernsbacher will cast doubt on the prevalent notion among autism researchers that autistic individuals lack a "theory of mind." The belief that autistic children lack a sense of both their own minds and those of others emerged about 20 years ago, becoming a seemingly undisputed tenet in the literature since then, says Gernsbacher.

When the psychologist began delving into the question, however, she found that scientists usually ascertain how well individuals perceive the mind with tasks that require a relatively sophisticated level of linguistic ability. Since a common diagnostic criteria for autism is the impairment of communication skills, Gernsbacher says it's not surprising that most autistic children don't fare well on such theory-of-mind tests.

"I think we as a society fall prey to a slippery slope when we begin talking about members of our society as not appreciating that they or others have a mind," says Gernsbacher. "An uncritical acceptance of the hypothesis that autistic individuals lack a theory of mind can seriously compromise how autistic individuals are treated in the workplace, the community and society in general."

The other panelists will similarly address other stereotypes about autism. Judith Grether, an environmental epidemiologist who works for the state of California, will contest the popular notion that North America is reeling from an autism epidemic. Grether will make the point that a higher number of reported autism cases - due to looser diagnostic criteria - doesn't necessarily translate into an actual rise in the overall number of cases.

Panelist Irving Gottesman, a psychiatrist at the University of Minnesota, will similarly dispute the idea circulating among some researchers that childhood vaccines potentially cause autism. Recent large-scale literature reviews, he says, fail to support that link.

Finally, Laurent Mottron, an autism researcher and physician at Montreal's Hopital Riviere des prairies, will discuss the common idea that most autistic people are cognitively impaired. Mottron will assert that the numbers of cognitively impaired autistic individuals have been over-estimated - a fact that has important implications for the kind of therapies that autistic individuals receive.

Ultimately, Gernsbacher hopes that events such as today's AAAS symposium will help to set the record straight. "I would like scientists to become more skeptical of the stereotypes that flourish about autism and members of society to become more skeptical of the myths that are circulated."

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How Safe is Your Madison High School - East?


How safe is your teen's school?

WISC-TV wanted to know. Eric Franke and Terri Barr conducted a three-month investigation into all four Madison area high schools.
They analyzed the number of police calls and arrests made on school campuses.


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Janesville School Officers to Carry Tasers


School police liaison officers in the Janesville School District will now carry tasers for increased security at all school campuses.

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February 20, 2006

UW: Future Artists Showcase

University of Wisconsin:

The arts are not only a means of personal expression. Ideas also regularly travel the compelling highways that the arts of all kinds provide.

Case in point: The ideas embedded in the works that apprentice artists — students — are exploring and articulating in “The Chancellor Presents the Performing Artists of the Future: A World Class Evening of Music, Drama and Dance,” Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Overture Center.

Quite a deal at $15.00.

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"Let's Teach to the Test"

Jay Matthews:

Let's start by trying to clarify what I consider the most deceptive phrase in education today: "teaching to the test."

Teaching to the test, you may have heard, is bad, very bad. I got 59.2 million hits when I did a Google search for the phrase, and most of what I read was unfriendly. Teaching to the test made children sick, one article said. Others said it rendered test scores meaningless or had a dumbing effect on instruction. All of that confused me, since in 23 years of visiting classrooms I have yet to see any teacher preparing kids for exams in ways that were not careful, sensible and likely to produce more learning.

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Would You Take the Bird in the Hand, or a 75% Chance at the Two in the Bush?

Virginia Postrel:

Would you rather have $1,000 for sure or a 90 percent chance of $5,000? A guaranteed $1,000 or a 75 percent chance of $4,000?

In economic theory, questions like these have no right or wrong answers. Even if a gamble is mathematically more valuable -- a 75 percent chance of $4,000 has an expected value of $3,000, for instance -- someone may still prefer a sure thing.

People have different tastes for risk, just as they have different tastes for ice cream or paint colors. The same is true for waiting: Would you rather have $400 now or $100 every year for 10 years? How about $3,400 this month or $3,800 next month? Different people will answer differently.

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Portage School Referendum


Pulfus cites the speedy payoff of the high school as one example of a way the District has worked to keep costs down for taxpayers. He also says the district attracts 140 students each year from surrounding districts under the school choice program, showing they have quality programs and education.

"If parents didn't believe we had a good school here, they wouldn't be coming here." Pulsfus says. School districts get paid, in part, by the number of students enrolled.

Unlike districts facing increasing or declineing enrollm,ent problems, the nmber of student sin the Portage District remains about the same, with a projected decrease of 44 students in seven years. (From 2465 students in 2003-04 to 2419 students 2009-10.

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Building the Prototypical School: Measuring What Works, and What Doesn’t

Tom Still:

The report notes that Wisconsin’s education system needs to “double or triple current performance so that in the short term, 60 percent of students achieve at or above proficiency, and in the longer term 90 percent of students achieve at that level.”

Wisconsin suffers from what might be described as the “Lake Wobegone Syndrome.” Like the residents of Garrison Keillor’s mythical Minnesota burg, we believe our kids are all above average. Judged by some national standards, they are; judged by international standards; it’s not true at the K-12 level. Only after post-secondary education do American students begin to climb up the global proficiency scale.

If you’re looking for an ambitious mission statement, consider this pledge from the bipartisan Wisconsin School Finance Adequacy Initiative: “We will not simply propose adding new dollars on top of current dollars, but propose a complete new reuse of all dollars – first those currently in the (K-12 public school) system, and then any additional dollars if that is the finding of the adequacy analysis.”

In other words, this blue-ribbon panel won’t be satisfied with recommending more of the same when it comes to public education in Wisconsin, unless “more of the same” is producing tangible dividends for students, their communities and the overall economy.

Now halfway through its study of Wisconsin public schools, the 26-member task force led by UW-Madison Professor Allen Odden is trying to live up to its promise to scrutinize current spending levels and to adjust them up, down – or even out – based on empirical evidence of what works and what does not.

Links: via Google Allen Odden: Clusty | Google

Wisconsin School Adequacy Finance Initiative website.

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Editorial on Tuesday's Primary Election

The Capital Times:

Kelly has not made a credible case for his nomination. Both Silveira and Cole have.

We've been impressed with Cole's ability to mix her deep and thoughtful analysis of education issues with a sense of humor that has been sorely lacking on the board. While she's obviously a very smart and very engaged parent, Cole also has a very quick wit.

Silveira, meanwhile, brings her own impressive record of leadership in local school organizations and her savvy as a scientist who now works as a marketing director for Promega Corporation. She is intimately familiar with the complexities of school boundaries from her work on the West/Memorial boundary task force.

Cole and Silveira both have the capacity to engage this community in a spirited and respectful debate over the direction of Madison's schools.

Links and candidate information available here.

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Kids, Schools & Cities, Part II

Paul Soglin:

In parting, let me share with you the findings of a Northwestern University professor, James Rosenbaum.* He studied poorly performing high school students, virtually all Black, from the Chicago Public Schools who moved into areas served by suburban schools. His findings were that most of these failing students in Chicago were getting C's in the suburbs. A tougher school district and improved grades!

The main point of his paper was to challenge the commonly accepted conclusion that once a student was doing poorly academically, there was not much hope for turn around after the 6th or 7th grade. His findings completely contradicted that conclusion.

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Carol Carstensen's Weekly Message

Carol Carstensen:

Parent Group Presidents:

MTI has just informed the district that it will not agree to reopen negotiations to consider changes to health insurance. If the union had agreed to reopen negotiations on this point, the agreement was that any savings that resulted from a change in health insurance options would be used to increase salaries for staff.

5 p.m. Special Board Meeting Members of the Memorial/West Task Force spoke with the Board about their recommendations and how they arrived at them. They emphasized that they did not reach their recommendation (to build a new school and add on to Leopold) easily or quickly. It was only exhausting all other approaches that they came to agreement that the only truly long range solution involved building.

The Board then discussed the Memorial/West Task Force recommendation to build a new school on the far west side and to build an addition onto Leopold (known as the build-build approach). The Board decided not to put the issue on the April ballot but to provide more time for discussion and to look at the options if the community doesn’t support the build recommendation. The Board directed the administration to come back with information about the possibility of finding land in Fitchburg to build on and also to show how an addition to Leopold is necessary and would improve the current building.

February 20:
5 p.m. Special Board Meeting, executive session - expulsions

6 p.m. Finance and Operations Committee (Johnny Winston, Jr., chair) 5-year budget forecast; proposals from community agencies for after school activities funded through the Community Service fund (Fund 80).

7 p.m. Partnerships Committee (Lawrie Kobza, chair) continued discussion about a policy governing gifts/funds to support activities during and/or after school.

February 27:
5:00 p.m. Legislative Committee (Ruth Robarts, chair) legislation that would increase the number of administrators who could be designated “at-will” employees; requirements for school district reports; requiring developers to pay fees to support the building of new schools; newly proposed TABOR-like amendment.

6 p.m. Special Board Meeting: discussion of the East Area Task Force recommendations; the Task Force will have a chance to talk with the Board at the start of the meeting; the Board will respond to the Swan Creek petition; discussion about future uses of the Doyle Building; administrator contracts.
Stay warm,

Carol Carstensen, President
Madison School Board

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

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Teach Math Procedures as a First Step to Conceptual Understanding

Stanford's Keith Devlin, via Joanne Jacobs:

. . . professional mathematicians, scientists and engineers, want the schools -- the pipeline that keeps those professions supplied with new personnel -- to ensure student mastery of numerical, algebraic and computational skills. "We don't want to spend our time having to reteach the incoming students how to add fractions!" is a common refrain heard in university science and engineering departments.
Basic skills are not all they want, but they don't want them left out or de-emphasized.

Ranged against them (again, broadly speaking) is the mathematics education community, which argues that a focus on procedural skills is misplaced, and that the primary aim of school mathematics education should be to produce conceptual understanding. "If students understand the concepts, they can pick up any skills they need easily enough, as and when they need them."

As a professional mathematician, I often have to learn a new part of my subject. Every time I have to go through the same process: Start by learning the rules, then practice using the rules, and keep practicing until understanding develops. Practically every professional mathematician, scientist, or engineer I have spoken to has said more or less the same. Understanding follows experience.

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February 19, 2006

Will Standards-Based Reform in Education Help Close the Poverty Gap

Reader Paul Baker emails:

February 23, 2006, 4:00-5:30 p.m.
Gale VandeBerg Auditorium, Pyle Center Room 121, 702 Langdon Street

Cosponsored by the Institute for Research on Poverty, WCER, and the School of Education. Presenter: Barbara Foorman, University of Texas-Houston. Respondent: William Clune, UW-Madison. More about this event is available here.

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Sable Flames 13th Annual “Second Alarm Scholarship Benefit”

On Saturday, February 25, 2006 at the Edgewater Hotel at 666 Wisconsin Avenue in Downtown Madison, The Sable Flames, Inc. will present its Thirteenth Annual “Second Alarm Scholarship Benefit” at 8:00 p.m. until 1 a.m.

The Sable Flames (the African-American Firefighters of the City of Madison Fire Department) have developed two scholarships to help individuals fulfill their educational dreams and goals. The Jones-Robinson Scholarship has been awarded minority persons from single-family households or living in low-income neighborhoods. The Arthur Dinkins III/MATC Fire Education Scholarship has been developed to financially assist persons who would like to take classes at MATC to enter the field of Firefighting or Emergency Medical Technician. Over $30,000 has been raised since the group’s inception in 1993.

Entertainment for this year’s event features disc jockey David Muhammad playing “classics”, R & B, Hip Hop and dance music; complimentary hors d’oeuvres, door prizes, music, dancing and a cash bar will be provided. A mature audience and dress attire is requested.

Tickets are available from members of The Sable Flames, Inc. or can be purchased at the door. The cost of the event is $25 in advance and $30 at the door. Tickets are tax-deductible and can be purchased as a donation if you cannot attend the event. If making a donation, it can be sent to 502 Traveler Lane, Madison, WI 53718 (my home address) and checks for tickets or donations should be made to: “Sable Flames, Inc.” The Sable Flames, Inc. is a non-profit, tax-exempt organization.

For tickets and additional information, please contact Johnny Winston, Jr., at 441-0224 (home), 347-9715 (cell) or e-mail:

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Math Forum: Wednesday 2.22.2006 7:00p.m.

There's been no shortage of discusion regarding math curriculum. Rafael Gomez's latest event, this Wednesday's Math Forum should prove quite interesting. The event will be at the Doyle Administration Building (McDaniels Auditorium) [Map] from 7:00 to 8:00p.m. Participants include:

The general format follows:
  1. Each Speaker presents their passion and views about math as subject matter in the school setting
    • views will be decoded into a scope and sequence of curr. in the middle school
    • views about the math program at MMSD
  2. Discussion: Questions relative to a scope and sequence as well as developmental stages of a middle school student
  3. Audience Questions
The Forum's goal is to provide an informative event for parents and other interested parties.

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Madison Schools Board of Education Election Site Update

I've added several items to the Spring, 2006 Madison School Board election page:

  • Arlene Silveira's response to the Northside Planning Council's Questions;
  • Letters supporting candidates:
Parent Marisue Horton posted words for Arlene in the comments below.

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A Larger Conversation about Quality Inclusive Education

These are thoughts authored by community member and MMSD parent, Beth Swedeen:

The issue of children being adequately served by special education services is a challenge playing out across the country. Certainly, as someone who works with families of children with disabilities and as a parent of a child with disabilities myself, I know the anguish and frustration of watching a child flounder when needs are not adequately met. I also know families who use public school choice and even move so their child receives adequate services. This is not a Madison-specific problem.

Single solutions, such as eliminating cross-categorical staffing or segregating children into ability-grouped learning situations, is simplistic and can lead to unintended consequences, such as lower expectations in those segregated settings, or rigid one-size fits all instruction by "learning disability" or "cognitive disability" teachers.

In its most heart-breaking forms, category-specific programming in smaller districts leads to children being pulled out of their home school and bussed 15 miles or more away to the "cognitive disability" or "emotional disability" program in a neighboring town. I am working with 2 families who are facing that right now. The fact that their child, who has made friends and connections at school, is being ripped away from the community because he or she has Down symdrome or cerebral palsy is truly tragic. Less than 15 years ago, Madison grouped students in this way, and children did not attend their neighborhood school, not based on parent choice, but based on their disability labels.

Madison Partners for Inclusive Education is working closely with MMSD and with the community as a whole to help support students, their families, and educational staff in improving outcomes for students with special needs.

MMSD has some real positives going for it:

  • More than 97 percent of special needs students are either being served in their home school or in a school of the parent's choice.
  • The vast majority of students with disabilities at all ages are spending the majority of their day in regular education classrooms (I believe the highest rate of any urban school district in the country.)
  • Leadership at the administrative and at most building levels is committed to inclusive practices.
  • Ties to the University of Wisconsin and evidence-based best practices are strong.
  • Commitment to adequate training and continuing education is present.
Madison Partners has also identified several key areas in which they want to continue to partner with the district to further strengthen the quality of services:
  • Input into hiring at key leadership levels (building principals).
  • Continued partnerships with resources in the community and with families to elevate services and get much-needed supports to classroom teachers, special educators, and related staff.
  • Continued emphasis on total team teaching (using all resources present, including reg/special ed, speech, OT/PT therapists, classroom aides, and related staff to meet every need in classrooms. This also means sharing resources: for instance, reading specialists in schools working with special educators on specific strategies to meet student reading goals.)
  • Continued resources for in-service and pre-service training on effective differentiation.
  • Direct training for families and students on how students can take part in and play leadership roles in developing their own Individual Education Plans (IEPs).
  • More leadership opportunities in schools for students with disabilities.
  • Working with MMSD and community to strengthen state funding for schools.
We know that no single person, no matter how gifted, can meet diverse needs of 15-20 students in any given classroom. Instead of separating children out, though, we endorse strategies than engage the entire school team in the success of each student. Together, we believe we can elevate outcomes, not just for students with disabilities, but for all students in our district.

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Change is on Candidates Minds

Sandy Cullen:

Two of the three candidates running in Tuesday's Madison School Board primary election want to change how the board functions. But they are approaching it from different directions.
Much more on the school board elections here

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7.96M Spending vs. Revenue Gap Projected for the Madison School District (2006 - 2007 Budget)

Sandy Cullen:

Madison School District administrators are projecting a $7.96 million gap between what it would cost to continue the same services next year and what it will be able to raise under state revenue limits.

A gap of $6 million to $10 million had been projected.

[ed: 2005-2006 budget is $321M+]

There are many factors that affect the district's budget including enrollment (flat or slightly declining - every time a student leaves, the district loses spending authority), state and federal redistributions, state spending caps (district spending, which increases annually is limited by enrollment and a % growth), health care costs and program choices among many others. Details here.

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

The Poetry Foundation

Through the new Web site, the Poetry Foundation seeks to celebrate and share the best classical and contemporary poetry with a broad and diverse audience, from the devoted poetry reader to the casual one. At the core of the new site is an extensive archive of poetry, including poetry and essays from back issues of Poetry magazine (now in its 94th year of continuous publication). At launch the archive will include more than 3,000 poems by over 300 poets. All of the site's content, including the poetry archive, is accessible free of charge.

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

The FruitGal

Sam Whiting:

nstead of getting employees to eat junk food on breaks at work, the company buys them fruit. They put that in the break room and the employees snack on that instead of junk and they feel good and they work hard and they don't call in sick.

On cost

It's about $60 for a 40-serving box of seasonal fruit that's guaranteed to please. If it's not of the quality you want, we'll replace it. There's no contract.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:52 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Extra Special Education at Public Expense"

Nanette Asimov:

At Woodside High in San Mateo County, college-prep classes awaited a 15-year-old boy with learning disabilities and anxiety.

He would blend in with other college-bound students, but also receive daily help from a special education expert. He would get a laptop computer, extra time for tests -- and an advocate to smooth any ripples with teachers. If an anxiety attack came on, he could step out of class.

But Woodside High wasn't what his parents had in mind.

Instead, they enrolled him in a $30,000-a-year prep school in Maine -- then sent the bill to their local public school district.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:37 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Strategies to Raise SAT Scores

Ian Shapira:

School officials said they are weighing several options, including encouraging more non-honors or non-AP students to enroll in Algebra II by sophomore year instead of participating in an easier, two-year Algebra I course; financing the PSAT for sophomores and perhaps freshmen; and, on a more basic level, adding more testing sites within the county so that students can take the exam in a comfortable setting without having to commute long distances.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"We Must Show Every Child The Light"

Reaction to Joel Rubin and Nancy Cleeland's "The Vanishing Class":

'So Much Damage'

Perhaps these fiascos could be avoided if public officials first tested proposed policy changes on a small scale (instead of blindly applying them to tens of millions of students with no insight on the potential impact). At this point, so much damage has been done to so many people, I'm uncertain how the situation can be rectified (except perhaps to save future generations of students).


'Learning … Is Work'

Get rid of calculators … [and get rid of the] false belief that learning should be fun! Learning, the repeated cycles of drill and mastery, is WORK!


'Squeaky Wheel'

Parents need to be more involved, and this involvement has to originate from the schools. With the large numbers of students whose parents do not speak English, the schools must do a better job of bringing these parents into the school community and getting them involved in their child's education. Many a night I sat frustrated and nearly on the verge of tears because I couldn't help my son. My son was lucky, though, I was the proverbial squeaky wheel that ensured he was not passed over, but most students aren't that lucky.


'Individual Attention'

As a member of a school board in Ventura County (not the rich part), I can say that I think there are two reasons that LAUSD is failing its students. First, the system is simply too large. How can a school of 4,000 do everything well? Our kids need individual attention, and I just don't see how any massive organization like LAUSD can succeed. Second, I believe that because politics are involved in such an intimate way in these large districts, the kids get left in the dust. The unions are fighting for ever more of the financial pie (most districts spend 85% to 90% of their total [budget] on personnel and benefits); the administration is beholden to the myriad rules and regulations coming at them from both the state and federal level; and less and less control is at the local level. The politicians don't want to pay for raises for employees or lower student-staff ratios, so the existing dollars must be stretched. That means more students per class, more students per counselor, more students per custodian, maintenance person, etc. And we wonder why the kids feel like no one cares about them?


These links include many more words and are well worth reading.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:18 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 18, 2006

New Schools Venture Fund

New Schools Venture Fund:

NewSchools Venture Fund™ is a venture philanthropy firm working to transform public education through powerful ideas and passionate entrepreneurs so that all children – especially those underserved – have the opportunity to succeed in the 21st century.
James Flanigan has more:
Recipients of the fund's investments are not whiz kids eager to become the next Bill Gates. Mainly, they are public school teachers with a passion to improve the ways poor children are taught. The companies they form are nonprofit charter school management organizations, capable of running publicly financed elementary and secondary schools that are freed from some rules and regulations in exchange for producing educational results better than those of the large urban school district. Almost all their students are eligible for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches.
Financing from New Schools and charitable foundations helps them to build or buy school properties and to get elementary, middle and high schools up and running. But their operations are expected to quickly become self-sustaining on the stipends paid from local, state and federal taxes for educating each student.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:46 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Sex and the Single Bee

Via Joanne Jacobs:

If parents really told their kids about the birds and the bees, sex would be less popular, Eugene Volokh writes. "Now, daughter, think of yourself as a bee. There's a 99.99% chance that you'll never get any, and instead of...

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:27 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Maya Cole is best for School Board

Jim Zellmer:

Dear Editor: The election of Maya Cole to the Madison School Board is the best choice for Madison's future generations.

Our public schools face a number of challenges, including flat or declining enrollment (despite a growing metropolitan area), providing our children with a world-class curriculum and significantly improving taxpayer confidence in the budget process so that referendums pass.

Maya's advocacy for much stronger school district interactions with the city and local community groups, of which Madison has many, is a smart approach to increasing parent and public support (and therefore enrollment and resources) for the school district. The district has, under some current board members, declined community opportunities, such as Fitchburg biotech powerhouse Promega's offer of free land for a school in the mid-1990s. That land became Eagle School.

Maya has extensively discussed improving the district's curriculum by working closely with local world-class resources, such as the University of Wisconsin and adjacent higher education institutions. Maya's words stand in stark contrast to the district's current efforts to reduce curriculum choices and quality for our next generation.

Maya notes that many school districts provide taxpayers with a detailed school-by-school budget and a long-term forecast. Transparency and long-term budget information are critical to taxpayer support for future referendums.

I'm supporting Maya Cole, a Madison parent of three young children who attend our public schools, for Seat 1, and I hope you do as well.

Jim Zellmer

Published: February 17, 2006

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:36 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Advanced Classes Open Doors for Minorities

School district works to boost participation

By Kelly McBride

The path toward post-secondary education formed naturally for 18-year-old Wekeana Lassiter.

Her mom always emphasized the importance of learning. An older sister attends college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. And Lassiter is a studious Green Bay Preble High School senior with aspirations of becoming an architect.

If college was a given, the Advanced Placement courses that are preparing her for it — as well as allowing her to earn college credit — made just as much sense for Lassiter, who will attend UWM in the fall.

"Originally, why I took AP classes was to get credit," said Lassiter, who is enrolled in AP physics and AP calculus. "Now that I'm in them, they're really difficult, (but) it's awesome. You get kind of a feel about how college classes are going to be."

But the doors that have opened for Lassiter, who is black, have in many cases stayed closed for some of her peers, say officials in the Green Bay School District.

Minority participation in AP courses continues to lag behind that of their white counterparts, with a lower percentage of minority students, by about 15 percentage points, taking AP courses than that of whites during 2004-05, data show.

But the figures are improving, and district officials say new initiatives can help alter the disparity.

Posted by Laurie Frost at 11:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Cole has kids' best interest at heart

Ruth Robarts:

Dear Editor: Maya Cole gets my vote in Tuesday's School Board primary because she believes that we can do better by our children, she's actively looking for new solutions to old problems, and she's committed to bringing parents and the community into policy-making.

She's a mom on a mission to reform how the Madison schools do business at a time when we need change. Maya understands, for example, the important role that the community should play in evaluating the effectiveness of our curriculum.

We need her kind of leadership to keep all kinds of families in the public schools and serve all kids as well as we possibly can.

Ruth Robarts
Madison Board of Education

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

Want to know whether the Madison schools get a good health insurance deal for teachers? Forget it.

Most of the $37M that the Madison school district will spend this year for employee health insurance goes to the cost for covering our teachers and their families. That's about 10% of the total annual budget.

I support high quality health insurance for all of our employees. As a school board member, I also have a duty to ensure that all district dollars are spent wisely. I should know whether the district gets the best coverage that it can for teachers at the best cost that it can find. I cannot make good decisions regarding future contract negotiations or future operating budget referendums without this kind of information.

In nine years of service on the Madison school board, I have learned little in executive sessions on negotiations that would help me answer the basic question: are we getting a good deal on health insurance for teachers? When the district and Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI) agreed to form a joint task force that would publicly consider health insurance options, I hoped that open competition among providers would help me understand how the current commitments to Wisconsin Physicians Services and Group Health Cooperative compare to other options. I had hoped that the public would also learn something about how effectively the district negotiates over the cost of health insurance.

Forget it. The district and the union held two meetings on this topic and invited two insurance companies, in addition to the current providers, to make proposals. The union took an internal poll and decided to end the discussions. Teachers bar shift in health coverage

Business as usual continues. No direction from the board regarding the task force is one of many reasons that the public and the school board are no better informed as the result of creating the task force.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 11:09 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teachers bar shift in health coverage

Madison's teachers union said Friday it will not agree to reopen its contract with the School District to renegotiate health-care benefits, dashing hopes the district could find cheaper coverage.

A joint committee of district and union representatives has been studying rising health- care costs, but both sides had to agree to reopen the 2005-07 contract to take any action. Either way, officials say taxpayers would not have seen savings, at least not in the short term.

John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., said a strong majority of union members like the coverage they have and don't want to jeopardize it, even though any savings would have gone to higher salaries.

"Members of MTI have elected to have a higher quality insurance rather than higher wages, and that's their choice," he said.

By Doug Erickson, Wisconsin State Journal, February 18, 2006

The district is contractually obligated to give teachers a 3.98 percent total package increase in salaries and benefits in 2006- 07. It's largely the union's decision how it spends that pot of money.

While cheaper health insurance would have shifted more of the increase to salaries, the bottom line for taxpayers would not have changed.

Down the road, district officials say cheaper insurance might give them more spending flexibility, but they note that a state law called the qualified economic offer, or QEO, requires that districts provide annual total package increases of at least 3.8 percent to avoid union arbitration.

"I think the misperception out there is that there's going to be this huge windfall of savings to the district, which isn't going to happen," said Bob Nadler, the district's human resources director. "Most of what we save is going to go back into salaries."

Still, district officials sought to reopen the contract, saying higher wages would make it easier to retain and recruit high-quality employees, particularly much-sought-after minority teachers.

Superintendent Art Rainwater said Friday he was disappointed by the union's decision. While cheaper insurance is not a panacea for budget problems, "certainly, over the long haul, there could be savings to the district," he said.
The Madison School District spends $39.7 million annually on health insurance for about 4,000 eligible employees, according to chief negotiator Bob Butler.

Of MTI-represented members who enroll in health-care plans, slightly more than half choose a health maintenance organization (HMO) offered by Group Health Cooperative. The rest choose a preferred provider organization (PPO) offered by Wisconsin Physicians Service (WPS).

PPO enrollees have freedom to go outside the regular physician network for care and need no referrals to see specialists, although they pay higher co- pays to do so. The PPO option is more expensive per enrollee for the district.

HMO enrollees have fewer out-of-pocket expenses but generally must stay within a provider network. The district hopes more teachers will move toward HMO coverage, and that has been happening.

However, Matthews said that in a survey of members, 74 percent of teachers who responded ranked as "most important" the right to self- referral and the ability to select their physicians and clinics.

Critics contend Matthews has a conflict of interest because he's a paid member of the WPS board of directors. Matthews pointed to the survey results Friday. "The members speak for the union, not me."

According to the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, Matthews was paid $13,000 as a WPS director in 2004, the most recent year on file.

Matthews stressed that in the last 25 years union members have assumed more of the financial burden to keep WPS coverage, agreeing to a deductible and co-pays for prescriptions.
The union's unwillingness to reopen the contract was expected by critics. Don Severson, founder of the watchdog group Active Citizens for Education, said he never expected the joint committee to amount to much.

"This whole exercise was a cosmetic, public relations approach to make it appear as if the district is trying to do something," he said.

Severson said many community members think Madison teachers have a "Cadillac" health-care plan. That doesn't necessarily mean teachers must sacrifice benefits to save money, but the union should at least be willing to bid contracts competitively, he said.

Matthews said he has yet to find an insurance carrier able to provide the same services as WPS at a cheaper price. Although the joint committee evaluated proposals from two carriers besides WPS and GHC, the two additional carriers submitted incomplete information, making a comparative analysis impossible, he said.

District officials say they think savings are possible, although only if teachers agree to give up some of the flexibility and coverage they now enjoy.

School Board member Ruth Robarts faulted the joint committee for seeking proposals from only two additional insurance companies.

"The district has done really nothing to seriously examine objectively and comprehensively the choices that might be out there," she said.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 11:05 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Students Form Video News Team

Marcia Standiford:

A class of sixteen high school juniors and seniors is meeting everyday in the Doyle building to learn video production and journalism skills. This district-wide High School Video News Production class is being offered for the first time thanks to the efforts of Mary Ramberg, Director of Teaching and Learning and Gabrielle Banick, Coordinator of Career and Technical Education and a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Expecting High Quality Work from Students

Mary Ramberg, MMSD Teaching and Learning:

If nothing is expected of a man, he finds that expectation hard to contradict.

Frederick Douglas

The converse of what Frederick Douglas learned from his life experience has been tested and verified by educational researchers.

Research in Chicago schools looked at what happens when teachers expect more of students. In other words, if teachers expect much of students, are those expectations affirmed? The answer is "YES."

When students are expected — and supported — to do high quality work and to learn important content, that's exactly what they do.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 17, 2006

The Gates Effect: High School Small Learning Communities

Wendy Zellner:

More to the point, others wonder: Is the Gates Foundation making the right calls? The early results of its high school reinvention efforts--with many foundation-backed schools now in their fourth year of existence--are mixed at best. Outside researchers hired by Gates have found "positive cultures" at the new and redesigned schools but raise serious questions about such issues as the teacher burnout, attendance, and the quality of math instruction.

Particularly troublesome has been the effort to transform existing high schools rather than start from scratch. "Improving struggling schools remains a challenge," admits Vander Ark. Indeed, the foundation's own studies show that these restructured schools are often bogged down in their early years with questions about facilities, schedules, and staff. In some cases, says Vander Ark, instead of beginning with structural change, "it may be better to start with curriculum--getting rid of dead-end classes and encouraging students to take more challenging courses--and improving the quality of instruction."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:26 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Oregon School Board: Presentation on Accountability for Student Success

Oregon School District:

This presentation was shared at the WASB conference. 18MB PDF file

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Lapham Student Move Called Unlikely

Kobza Says Most Of Board Rejects Idea

A new Madison School District report that outlines how Lapham Elementary School students could be moved to the Marquette-O'Keeffe school site has rattled parents and staff, but the School Board member who requested the analysis says she doubts it will go anywhere.

As outlined in the report, the move would free up space at Lapham for other school district programs, including Affiliated Alternatives, which currently rents space on Brearly Street, MSCR (Madison School Community Recreation) programs and a day care facility. An early childhood program would remain at Lapham under the scenario sketched out in the report.

By Susan Troller, The Capital Times, February 16, 2006

Lapham, located on the near east side, serves kindergarten through second-grade students. Third- through fifth-graders in the same attendance area go to Marquette.

The summary analysis, dated Feb. 9, was circulated at a Lapham Parent Teacher Group meeting Tuesday night.

"It absolutely was not something we were expecting," said Sally de Broux, co-president of the Lapham PTG.

She noted that although the information included in the report was taken from data organized by a parent-citizen task force that studied issues related to under-enrollment in some east side schools, that group's final recommendations specifically removed school closings from consideration.

A School Board discussion of the East Area Task Force recommendations is scheduled for Feb. 27. De Broux said parents at the PTG meeting felt the report did not comply with the spirit of the task force recommendations and added that it seemed unfair that the report would be circulated before there had been an opportunity to discuss the final recommendations before the School Board.

Lapham parents wondered if the timing of the report was driven by an upcoming deadline for the Affiliated Alternatives program, which rents space for $130,000 per year. Notice for rental agreement termination is due by Feb. 28 of any given year.

The school district did the analysis at the request of School Board member Lawrie Kobza. According to Kobza, she made the request about a month before the task force made its final recommendations.

"I've always said all ideas should be considered," she said. "There should not be certain topics that are off limits.

"In the intervening time, the majority of the board has made it clear where their thoughts are, so I don't really expect anything to come of this," she said.

In addition to the East Area Task Force, the board is considering recommendations about school boundary changes from a west side task force.

On the west side, growth and overcrowding are major issues, while in the East High School boundary areas, underenrollment is a concern. The final recommendations of the west side task force include building a new far-west side elementary school and an addition at Leopold School.

Several board members, including President Carol Carstensen, have said they intend to follow the recommendations of both task forces, which were presented last month.


Posted by Ruth Robarts at 12:54 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Alliances Are Unconventional In School Board Primary Race

Madison school politics make for some strange bedfellows.

Take the case of the Feb. 21 primary race for the School Board, in which three candidates are vying for the seat left open by incumbent Bill Keys' decision not to seek re-election.

The marketing manager of a Madison-based biotechnology giant has been endorsed by the powerful Madison teachers union and Progressive Dane. Meanwhile, an activist stay-at-home mom who helped put pink paper locks on legislators' doors to protest concealed carry legislation is aligned with voices in the community that challenge the district's status quo. As a critic of the board's budget, she has struck a chord with some conservatives.

And then there's the unanticipated late entrant into the race who forced the primary to be held, a UW doctoral candidate in medieval history who arrived in Madison last August.

By Susan Troller, The Capital Times, February 16, 2006

What's going on here?

The three newcomers seeking Keys' seat could be characterized as a pair of thoroughbreds -- Maya Cole and Arlene Silveira -- and a dark horse -- Michael J. Kelly.

Factions: In the buzz behind the candidates for School Board, there is a sense that this race is not just about issues affecting students, but also about the overall direction of the district, as driven by individual School Board members and those who support them.

Cole, 43, the activist stay-home mother, has the backing of an increasingly potent group that has criticized the district's fiscal and educational leadership.

With the School Information System blog ( as its informational home base, the group successfully backed board member Lawrie Kobza last year in an upset win over incumbent Bill Clingan. Kobza now backs Cole, as does board member Ruth Robarts, who has clashed frequently with the majority of the current School Board, the administration and Madison Teachers Inc.

If Cole wins and Lucy Mathiak unseats Juan Jose Lopez in another race on the April ballot, then the critics of the status quo would have a majority of board members.

Jim Zellmer, a parent and business owner who developed the School Information System blog, said in an e-mail interview that Cole is the right choice because she "has the right priorities for the district's long-term health: curriculum (high standards, particularly math and science), budget transparency and accountability, and expanding our islands of excellence."

Kelly, a 27-year-old doctoral candidate, has done no campaigning and has not received any public endorsements, but Silveira has a lengthy list of powerful backers. Aside from MTI and Progressive Dane, current board members Carol Carstensen, Bill Keys, Juan Jose Lopez and Johnny Winston Jr. have lined up behind Silveira, as has Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

Former School Board President Nan Brien, a local children's advocate, said Silveira, 47, is the best choice in part because of her background as the marketing director of Promega Corp.

"We're in danger of losing the district, primarily due to the fiscal challenges facing public schools," Brien said bluntly. "In these challenging times, I think both the business perspective and the depth of understanding of the district that Arlene would bring to the board is critical. Her background allows her to deal constructively with a broad range of issues and diverse opinions. That's going to be extremely important as the district moves forward."

Build new schools?
A key issue that separates Cole and Silveira is their approach to building new schools in the district.

Silveira is a member of a boundary task force that unanimously recommended building a far west side elementary school and an addition at Leopold Elementary to address overcrowding. She advocates a fall referendum, and says she hopes the district will take the time necessary to develop a complete communications plan to explain the research and reasoning behind the recommendations to build.

Silveira's concerns about the impact of overcrowding on students, staff and education were forged during her years as an active Leopold Elementary parent, where capacity has been over 100 percent for years. She was part of the Madison CARES group that supported last year's failed referendum to build a new school on the Leopold site.

Silveira noted that the task force worked long and hard in evaluating option after option to address the overcrowding issues. "For a long-term solution, building was the only answer," she said.

Kelly was still in Boston during last year's referendum and he did not answer questions about his stance on further construction.

Cole supported the Leopold referendum last year, as well as the other referendums on overriding revenue caps for both operational and maintenance budgets, but now she advocates a cautious approach toward new construction.

"I think we need to slow down this whole process," she wrote in an e-mail interview. "Of particular concern is the rush to discuss, with no meeting of the Long Range Planning Committee on the specifics/questions pertaining to budget priorities and questions brought up by the public in those meetings.

"This is a situation where we may be asking the public to make another multi-million-dollar decision without first dealing with our budgeting process. It's putting the cart before the horse. It's a painful process but it has to be done," she said.

Budget concerns:
Cole has made budget matters a major focus of her campaign, calling for "a more transparent budget process." What this means, she says, is a more concise budget that clearly outlines where money is coming from and where it is going, and how those decisions reflect the priorities of the district.

"Every time (budget cycle) there is a flurry of painful cuts that seem to pit the interests of one group of parents against another, and that, bottom line, removes money from the classroom where it belongs," she said. "I just don't buy that we're down to the bare bones, but I don't really know because the budget is basically incomprehensible."

Silveira says she prefers to keep any cuts that are necessary to the district's budget as far away from the classroom as possible. But it is an absolute priority, she maintains, to change the funding structure for public schools, noting that the financial cuts required each year to balance the budget are a genuine threat to the district's reputation for excellence.

Kelly, meanwhile, said the district needs to focus on both the future and on fundamentals. He encourages creative thinking, citing a Saturday school that he worked with in the Boston area. Staffed by volunteers, it provided additional instruction for students interested in doing more advanced work.

"It provided a valuable service to the community at no cost to the school system," he said. "We had more volunteers than we needed."


Posted by Ruth Robarts at 12:46 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


This message was sent to me by Mazie Jenkins an MMSD employee. This trend needs to STOP. I'm committed to changing this. I need your support on Monday nights and every single day!!!

If there is not major intervention in the next 25 years, 75 percent
of urban young men will either be hopelessly hooked on drugs or
alcohol, in prison or dead.

The data are clear. Reports by the American Council on Education, the
Education Trust and the Schott Foundation show that African-American
boys spend more time in special education, spend less time in advanced
placement or college prep courses and receive more disciplinary
suspensions and expulsions than any other group in U.S. schools today.

The Schott Foundation started the Black Boys Initiative in 2003, says
President Rosa Smith, because "black boys represented the worst-case
scenario for a group coming out of public education."

The foundation's 2004 state-by-state report on black male students
found that, among other negative indicators, more black males receive
a GED in prison than graduate from college.

In regard to last year's local violent crime, Star columnist Steve
Penn recently reported that a disproportionate number of the victims
(86) and suspects (54) in the 127 homicides were African-American. And
most of them were African-American males.

Why might the violent crime rate be so high among African-American
youths? They make up a brotherhood of the broken, bruised and
defeated. Their girls have their mothers, aunts, teachers, school
administrators and social workers to daily advocate for them. These
boys have few advocates who understand their pain and speak up for
them. Their issues don't reach the mainstream until white boys in the
suburbs reach a similar set of circumstances.

What makes the plight of African-American boys so disturbing is that
it appears as if few are concerned. The traditional social development
institutions are failing them. Their family of origin, their schools,
their churches, the youth-serving social service agencies, social
workers - all are failing to reach this group of hardened boys.

Spencer Holland of Morgan State University cites the problem this way:
Young African-American inner-city boys, coming from predominantly
female-headed households with few, if any, adult male role models who
value academic achievement, may come early to view school as no place
for a boy. Performance-based instructional strategies in the primary
grades that require children to copy and imitate behaviors
demonstrated by primarily female teachers may lead boys to believe
that school work and activities are "what girls do." Thus, they begin
to reject learning activities for those behaviors that appear

In many schools, African-American boys are removed from traditional
education by disciplinary interventions or by being tracked into
special education. Vernon C. Polite, professor at Bowie State
University and co-editor of the book /African American Males in
School // and Society/, in an independent study found that suspensions
may range from two to 22 days, leaving large numbers of
African-American boys to wander the streets daily where they begin
engaging in crime.

Of African-American boys who enter special education, only 10 percent
return to the mainstream classroom and stay there, and only 27 percent

In addition to data on the challenges African-American boys face in
public schools, researchers point to less quantifiable factors.
Professor Melissa Roderick of the University of Chicago notes that
black boys often do not feel cared for in their school or their
communities. Polite also noted that the perceived lack of caring was
the most devastating factor for African-American boys.

If African-American boys are not in school, they are not likely to be
directed to youth-serving agencies like Boys and Girls Clubs, Big
Brothers/Big Sisters, Boy Scouts or YouthFriends, and these agencies
are not really set up to support these tough boys. And many inner city
churches don't have the budgets or the full-time staff to devote to
their deep needs.

Nell Noddings, a professor at Stanford University, a former K-12 math
teacher and the author of several books on caring, observes that
"young black men and boys growing up without male role models and in
conditions of poverty probably do need, more than anyone else, that
assurance that somebody really cares. Many studies show the single
most important thing in turning lives around is the ongoing presence
of a caring adult."

The downward trend of Kansas City's African-American boys in school
and society will not end unless educators, clergy, and community and
business leaders make African-American boys a high priority. If you
don't believe me, wait 25 years from now and see what the results are.

Or, do you really care?

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

"Why We May Have to Move ..."

I received a copy of this personal essay -- a letter to the Administration and BOE -- last night. The author said it was fine for me to post it, if I thought it was worth it. I most definitely think it's worth it because it so poignantly describes a family's real life experience and frustration in our schools ... not to mention their agony over whether or not to move elsewhere.

Our kids are in 5th, 4th and 1st grades. I am really very concerned about our son going into sixth grade next year. He has some special education needs related to Asperger Syndrome, such as sensory defensiveness and skills to do with what some have called "theory of mind" (self-control, recognizing and assessing others' points-of-view and feelings, anger management). I love the idea that Spring Harbor is smaller because of his sensitivities to light, personal space issues, noise levels and the like. I do not like that they are relatively inflexible in meeting special needs otherwise because they are small and missing some services - or severely limited - due to space and spending constraints. I also do not like that we would have NO options as to who his special ed case manager/teacher would be, because there is essentially one person to cover it all for each grade, whether or not they display and apply the kind of flexibility that being a "cross-categorical" special ed teacher demands.

His teachers at XXXXX have generally managed to meet his needs relative to AS pretty well, but they are kind of at a loss as to what to do with his obvious degree of intellectual ability because they can only address so many different needs at once, and for him, it has repeatedly come down to crisis management. He has had very competent and caring teachers much of the time, but when there are a variety of academic levels and associated needs in one classroom, some of them just can't keep more than about half of the class engaged at any one time. His 4/5 teachers (for example) have been teriffic, but his 2/3 teacher(s) did not understand him or his needs at all (for example, including one of his special ed teachers (!), they had no idea of his level of intellect and thought that when he had nervous breakdowns and "meltdowns", he was "misbehaving" and needed "consequences for his misbehaviors"). Our 4th grade daughter skipped over first grade, going from Kindergarten to second (after not having been allowed to start Kindergarten "early" even though she could read and do basic math). Even then, as far-and-away the youngest in a 2/3 class, she was a 2nd grader grouped mainly with 3rd graders in most areas (hurrah for her teacher for daring to group them and reach out to all levels!!), and was at loose ends by the beginning of 3rd grade because all of her academic peers were gone (on to 4th grade). It is a very good thing that her teacher thought she was the best thing since sliced bread, or her fidgeting, non-linear thought patterns and concomittant anxious perfectionism in 3rd grade would have alienated the poor woman completely. That teacher continued to let her go as far as she wanted to in math (with one boy as a peer there), occupy her own spelling group, and read as much as she could on the side while also keeping up (easily) with the highest book group/reading group the teacher could run (she felt they needed at least three people to read the same book and try to discuss it at all!). When our daughter was working on other subjects during other groups' discussion times, she did her own work well and listened to the groups going on around her enough that she used to blurt out answers during reading groups other than her own. Her teacher used to joke that she was in ALL the (5) reading groups! For science, they were as cramped as everyone else by the standardized "blahness" of Foss, because that is what they have to use, and it does not allow any room at all for creativity and differentiation by even the best teachers (much less by a typical elementary teacher who generally feels that science is their shallowest subject).

Now, in 4th grade in a 4/5 class, she has a teacher who cannot seem to differentiate to save her (or my daughter's) life. She has all of the kids on the same page in the same math textbook at the same time, in her fourth grade math. Thank God we finally approached the teacher she teams with across the hall and who teaches the 5th graders from both their classes math, and worked out to have our daughter switched over to there by Thanksgiving - but it took months and she was a basket case mentally and emotionally, from not being challenged at all in math, and having the naughtiest kids around assigned seats next to hers (so she could "calm them down" and "help them", I'm sure), resulting in a complete lack of concentrated work time to do the work in the first place. She literally is on medication for the stress and anxiety resulting from being in this class. And she is too damn nice to share what she shares with us with her teacher, because she wants everyone to like her. So it sounds like we are claiming she feels this, that and the other, even with her trying to soften the blow with "well-kind-ofs" or, "it's-been-better-latelys" when we do get in to see her teacher with her along.

I am so tired. I am tired of being the brass, obnoxious mom who seems to think only her kids are gifted (which is not true - I teach special ed myself, and I know what brilliance lurks behind some learning disabilities and what level of boredom and frustration being some emotional disabilities), and I am tired of having to come up with all the suggestions for solutions and new ideas myself. At least they have been willing to try those suggestions recently, but I honestly don't think they understand that we are not harping on our daughter to "be the best" and "work more", and expecting that the teacher concentrate only on her and her needs. Anyway, I am just tired. If I am going to do most of the instruction myself, then at least I should be homeschooling her or be her "learning coach" for virtual schooling, and get some of the credit for it. On the other hand, I also hate to take her out of our school now, because they need more kids like her who care and work hard, not fewer!!

I am sorry: I know you have heard all this a million times. I believe in quality public education and I hate the thought of everyone with kids who need more challenge than is typical out of our public schools. But I also need to do what's right for my own kids. I don't know how much to tell of what to whom, and not have them just think I am yet another annoyed white upper-middle class parent who thinks her children are the smartest around and just wants all the educational services to go to them. I am not, and I don't.
I meant it when I said I almost cry when I start thinking about all this junk, and let it start getting to me. I know what it is like myself, to be a really bright (okay, "gifted") kid who is afraid to show it because everyone will think you're stuck-up or just a complete geek that no one would ever want to spend time with in any circumstance beyond allowing you to do all the work on a "group, cooperative learning project". And my teachers were largely supportive of me - I hate to think of what would have happened to me if I had not gotten the support I needed from my teachers and my school(s). Especially my daughter who reminds me so much of me - I don't want her to end up with even more insecurities and emotional problems than I had to go through. (said with a rueful smile, but at least 75% seriously)

I know what it is like as a teacher to have 21 kids with 21 wholly different sets of needs, staring at you and expecting help in learning what they need to know, day after day. It is bad enough when you have seven 7th graders in a reading class, ranging from two who cannot even identify letters and sounds, all the way through two who can "read" at a low third grade level but not understand more than half of what they read. When I think of trying to meet their needs at the same time as trying to meet the needs of ten other learners who range from "average", through "gifted" and on into "highly gifted/genius" levels...? I can't sleep at night trying to imagine that! It is hard enough trying to actually engage learners at levels "only" five to two grade levels below expectations. Trying to engage learners from typical through gifted in the same class at the same time, is almost impossible, even if you DO know how to differentiate well. And teachers are not paid enough for the kind of planning time that would take, on top of what they already work at teaching and planning for classes of learners even close to the same abilities.

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

February 16, 2006

Noted Educator Donna Ford is Coming to Wisconsin

Dr. Donna Ford, Vanderbilt University Professor and nationally known speaker on gifted education and multi cultural and urban education issues, will be visiting Wisconsin this March.

In conjunction with the MMSD Parent Community Relations Department, Dr. Ford will be presenting a workshop for parents entitled "Promoting Achievement, Identity, and Pride in your Children" on March 8, 2006 from 6:00—8:00 p.m. at the Double Tree Hotel, 545 W. Johnson Street, Madison, WI. For more information and to register, contact Diane Crear at 663-1692 or Space is limited. Please make your reservation no later than February 20, 2006

Then on March 10 and 11, the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted (WATG) is proud to have Dr. Ford as the featured speaker for their spring event for educators and parents:

On Friday afternoon, March 10, Dr. Ford will speak on "In Search of the Dream: Designing Schools and Classrooms that Work for High Potential Students from Diverse Cultural Backgrounds" in Janesville.

Friday evening, March 10, Dr. Ford will address parents and educators on the topic of "Parenting for Achievement and Identity" in Milwaukee.

Saturday, March 11, Dr. Ford will present an all day workshop in Milwaukee on "In Search of the Dream: Designing Schools and Classrooms that Work for High Potential Students from Diverse Cultural Backgrounds." This is a learning and application experience designed specifically for use in the urban/suburban classroom!

For more information and to register go to .

Donna Y. Ford is Betts Chair of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University and teaches in the Department of Special Education. She was formerly a Professor of Special Education at the Ohio State University (OSU). She teaches courses in gifted education, and focuses extensively on students in urban communities. Prior to coming to OSU, she was an Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Virginia, and a researcher with the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. Dr. Ford also taught at the University of Kentucky. Professor Ford earned her Doctor of Philosophy degree in Urban Education (educational psychology) (1991), Masters of Education degree (counseling) (1988), and Bachelor of Arts degree in communications and Spanish (1984) from Cleveland State University.

Dr. Ford consults with school districts nationally, and conducts research primarily in gifted education and multicultural/urban education. Specifically, her work focuses on:

    1. Recruiting and retaining culturally diverse students in gifted education
    2. Multicultural and urban education (e.g., creating multicultural literature and culturally responsive learning environments)
    3. Minority student achievement and underachievement;
    4. Increasing minority family involvement in schools and their children's education.

Her work has been recognized by various professional organizations: Research Award from the Shannon Center for Advanced Studies; Early Career Award from The American Educational Research Association; Early Scholar Award from The National Association for Gifted Children; and the Esteemed Scholarship Award from The National Association of Black Psychologists.

She has published more than 100 articles. Dr. Ford is also the author of Reversing Underachievement Among Gifted Black Students (1996) and Multicultural Gifted Education (1999). She has made more than 200 presentations at school, state, and national conferences. Donna has received more than $13,000,000 in grants.

Donna is a former board member of the National Association for Gifted Children, and has served on numerous editorial boards, such as Gifted Child Quarterly, Journal of Negro Education, and Roeper Review. She is a member of dozens of professional organizations, including the National Association for Gifted Children, the Council for Exceptional Children, and the American Educational Research Association.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 11:17 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Video of Performance and Achievement Meeting Available

The video of the Performance and Achievement meeting of December 19, 2005 is available in the Performance and Achievement blog site.

This meeting is the second meeting concerning the Middle School Design Team work, with a presentation by Pam Nash explaining the current status, focus groups involved, role of the Board, access by the Board to draft decisions and general approaches being considered by the Team and Administration.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 9:21 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Tale of Two Budgets: the Operating Budget for Madison Schools versus its Budget for Community Programs and Services

Everybody knows that the Madison School district has an operating budget for the district’s educational programs. The district also has a second budget for community programs and services. The second budget is sometimes known as “Fund 80”.

Things to know about the community programs and services budget:

1. “Fund 80” sounds like a source of outside funding, such as federal aid. It’s not. When the district spends funds for community purposes, it accounts for the expenditures under this accounting title.

2. The district cannot raise property taxes for the operating budget more than a small percentage from year to year without passing a referendum. That’s not true of the community program budget. The district can raise taxes for community programs and services by any percentage without going to referendum and it does. In other words, there are two budgets and two taxes.

3. State law does not require the district to spend any revenues in this way. State law allows the district to have a separate budget for community education, training, recreational, cultural or athletic programs

4. State law limits ways that districts can spend community program funds. For example, the district cannot use these funds for the regular instructional program or restrict programs to our students. It cannot fund “activities that provide instruction and supporting services to k-12 pupils” through this tax.

5. 2000-01 was the first year that the legislature exempted community programs from the “revenue limits”. The Madison district spent $3.8M for community programs that year. In 2003-04, the total for this budget rose to $9M. It dropped to $8.2M for 2004-05.

6. Taxes are not the only source of funds for community service programs. There are also fees, grants and sometimes state or federal sources of funds. However, the tax portion of the community service budget has grown from $3.3M in 2001-02 to $7.7M in 2004-05. For that year, residential property taxes provided 93% of the total community service budget.

7. Cutting spending on community service programs does not automatically result in more funds to spend on schools and programs through the operating budget. It could result in some reduction of a homeowner’s annual taxes for schools. The district would need to cut on the community service side and win a referendum to exceed the revenue limits on the operating budget in order to turn a cut in community service spending into a gain for the operating budget.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 4:09 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More on the CMP Math Curriculum

Celeste Roberts:

The problems with CMP go far beyond failing to reach parents. One big problem is that the edifice of mathematics is so huge. Think of how long it took mathematicians to discover all of it. When one tries to use the discovery paradigm as the sole model for math lessons, all of the time available is spent in discovery process of basic concepts. There isn't time for more than a cursory look at any topic. There isn't any work on hard problems related to basic concepts. There isn't time to master computational aspects of basic concepts. Everyone learns 1/2 + 1/4, but no one learns how to find the least common denominator of 1/14 and 1/35. The people who promote a constructivist approach to math set up a false dichotomy between traditional math which teaches one to memorize formulas and tables of computations, and discovery math which teaches one to really understand how math works. I actually had a TAG resource teacher say this to me very patronizingly. "We don't teach math anymore the way that YOU learned it. Now children really understand math when they learn it." Excuse me, but traditional math was never like that. Tradtional math presents concepts AND teaches understanding of concepts. One learns formulas AND why they work. One also does large numbers of progressively more difficult computations to become skilled at them. The problem with traditional math is that large numbers of students don't understand the concepts as presented and try to get by with memorizing and manipulating formulas which they don't understand. They also don't master the computational aspects and try to make up for this deficit by using calculators inappropriately.

When I was TAing calculus in grad school, a typical scenario would be the student who never understood the algebra lesson about what a logarithm is and tried to memorize the associated list of formulas to get by. Now here we are in logs again. The student doesn't understand the algebra of logs, misplacing minus signs willy-nilly, so is destined to fail at calculus. In addition he doesn't really have a good handle on the multiplication tables, so every example has to be presented sooo slowly for him to follow. Why does this happen? Well it may be that some kids don't have enough mathematical talent/interest to master the material, but I don't believe it. In countries like Singapore and my husband's native country of Finland, everyone learns this math and learns it pretty well. I don't believe the gene pool is so radically different there. I think it has to do with expectations and foundations. If you live in a culture where everyone knows math and expects everyone else to know it, people will learn it. Math is built like a brick wall, bottom up. You have to learn the foundations properly and well to get along well further on. At each step, mastery requires doing lots of problems until they are like second nature. Learning some fuzzy understanding of the basic concept doesn't cut it here. You have to do lots of problems. You have to work hard. You can't do trigonometry if basic calculation is slow and difficult. It's no different than athletic training. You don't go out and run a marathon without practice and sweat. The problem needs to be fixed at the elementary level and also in our society with its dysfunctional attitude toward math. I think the people who promote curricula like CMP see this as a way to reach the kids with low math skills. These kids can at least get some kind of tenuous connection to math this way. But it is absolutely hopeless as a preparation for rigorous college-prep math. Of course the way to cure that is, guess what, put discovery math into the college-prep courses since with CMP as a background the kids will never be able to master real math. At West the Algebra text has been replaced with Discovery Algebra, and soon, I believe, Geometry will follow. Check it out at Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this math is the way to go for the non-mathematical kids. But then they should have an alternative curriculum for kids who really like math and expect to need it in their careers. This CMP stuff(along with Everyday Math) just makes kids who like math scream in agony. It's torture. If you have a kid who's managing fine in CMP, it's likely the teacher is heavily supplementing with outside resources. But of course they can't let the brightest kids go. It would be (gasp!) tracking, and in any case the lesson structure requires that the bright kids be there to facilitate success in the group and help others along. I recommend you save your $30,000. Do not invest more money in this curriculum. It's just throwing good money after bad.

I know that the people who create and implement these curricula have good intentions. They want the kids to learn. I know they don't intend to pull the schools down. There's some kind of mass delusion that has infected the education researchers, and we have to deal with the consequences.

Full disclosure. We are a family of math nerds. My husband is a math prof at UW and I have a master's degree in math. I run a math olympiad group at my children's elementary school and assist in the classroom whenever the teachers can use my assistance. We do Singapore Math at home to fill in the gaps in school instruction and do math for fun at the dinner table. I just made the painful decision to move my soon-to-be-middle-schooler daughter to private school next year, in part (but only a small part) to avoid CMP.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:34 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Nick Berigan: Silveira's actions prove she belongs on School Board

A letter to the editor
Dear Editor: I'm voting for Arlene Silveira for Madison School Board because she has, with words and actions, shown leadership about school resource policy. From the last year's dialogue I've concluded that candidates need to be judged on how they respond to the complex issues. Does he or she problem-solve or position?

I think it's useful when a candidate focuses on improving communications and helps devise ways to get wider circles involved in resource issues. If a candidate has actually organized people to address resource issues, then she has demonstrated credibility. Arlene has helped organize people toward solutions. I don't think it is useful when candidates talk ambiguously about trust and perceptions without offering solutions.

I think it's practical when, in response to state funding failures, a candidate supports interim solutions to minimize the damage. Arlene took a stand on the referendums. I think it's disingenuous when candidates avoid taking such clear stands, preferring instead to criticize the real outcomes that result from those state failures.

I think it's responsivewhen candidates offer interim solutions to resource issues so the community can re-evaluate as circumstances change. Arlene helped make those decisions. I think it's "spin" when a candidate attempts to portray short-term solutions as ignoring planning just to make a political point (especially when long-term planning IS occurring).

I think it's strategic when candidates talk about districtwide solutions that engage the support of a range of interests from real estate agents to homeowners, parents of students and teachers. As a businesswoman Arlene is credible across that spectrum. I think it erodes support for schools when candidates "work" narrow interests, promising narrow solutions.

Times are tough for our schools. Neocon policies at other levels of government are designed to reduce the expectations of publicly delivered education here and elsewhere. Candidates who resist that drift by bringing people to the process and seeking real solutions counter those damaging intentions.

Arlene has demonstrated a view that school resource policy is not just about her kids, their school or this or that program but is a matter that impacts shared expectations for our schools across the district.

Nick Berigan

Published: February 16, 2006
Copyright 2006 The Capital Times

Posted by at 2:09 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Nick Berigan: Silveira Belongs on School Board

Nick Berigan:

Dear Editor: I'm voting for Arlene Silveira for Madison School Board because she has, with words and actions, shown leadership about school resource policy. From the last year's dialogue I've concluded that candidates need to be judged on how they respond to the complex issues. Does he or she problem-solve or position?

I think it's useful when a candidate focuses on improving communications and helps devise ways to get wider circles involved in resource issues. If a candidate has actually organized people to address resource issues, then she has demonstrated credibility. Arlene has helped organize people toward solutions. I don't think it is useful when candidates talk ambiguously about trust and perceptions without offering solutions.

I think it's practical when, in response to state funding failures, a candidate supports interim solutions to minimize the damage. Arlene took a stand on the referendums. I think it's disingenuous when candidates avoid taking such clear stands, preferring instead to criticize the real outcomes that result from those state failures.

I think it's responsivewhen candidates offer interim solutions to resource issues so the community can re-evaluate as circumstances change. Arlene helped make those decisions. I think it's "spin" when a candidate attempts to portray short-term solutions as ignoring planning just to make a political point (especially when long-term planning IS occurring).

I think it's strategic when candidates talk about districtwide solutions that engage the support of a range of interests from real estate agents to homeowners, parents of students and teachers. As a businesswoman Arlene is credible across that spectrum. I think it erodes support for schools when candidates "work" narrow interests, promising narrow solutions.

Times are tough for our schools. Neocon policies at other levels of government are designed to reduce the expectations of publicly delivered education here and elsewhere. Candidates who resist that drift by bringing people to the process and seeking real solutions counter those damaging intentions.

Arlene has demonstrated a view that school resource policy is not just about her kids, their school or this or that program but is a matter that impacts shared expectations for our schools across the district.

Nick Berigan

Nick Berigan is a Progressive Dane steering committee member.

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

Deluxe Grant Boosts Reading Recovery

Mary Ellen LaChance:

Mention accelerated learning and you probably think of high school students taking Advanced Placement classes. But did you know that every year about 300 of the very lowest performing first graders participate in a special literacy intervention that provides opportunities for them to accelerate their literacy learning skills? After just 12-20 weeks in Reading Recovery the very lowest readers have the prospect of joining an average reading group!

Rapid changes in learning depend upon the teacher's ability to individually design a series of lessons to match the unique learning characteristics of each child. So teachers are continually confronted with the need to expand their expertise.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:10 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Literacy Lumps into the Kill Zone

Tony Long:

Sadly, this devalues the thoughtful essayist and the sheer linguistic joy of the exposition. And the language dies a little more each day.

Then there's the havoc wrought on spelling and punctuation by all this casual communication. You can't lay all that at the feet of technology, of course. Grammar skills have been eroding in this country for years and that has a lot more to do with lax instruction than it does with e-mail or instant messaging. (Math is a different matter. No student should be allowed to bring a calculator into a math class. Ever.)

But couple those deficient grammar skills with the shorthand that's become prevalent in fast communication (not to mention all those irritating acronyms: LOL, WYSIWYG, IMHO, etc.) and you've just struck a match next to a can of gasoline. And people wonder why the tone of e-mail is so easily misunderstood.

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

February 15, 2006

Performance and Achievement Videos available.

Videos of the Performance and Achievement committee meetings of January 30 and February 6 are available in the Performance and Achievement blog.

The topics of these meetings were heterogeneous vs. homogeneous classroom instruction. Professor Adam Gamoran, Director of WCER, made a presentation at the January 30 meetng. His Powerpoint presentation and a research paper are included.

The following week continued with presentations by Mike Lipp, West HS Biology teacher; Linda McQuillen, Math Resource teacher; Jenny Ruef, Math teacher at East HS; Lisa Wachtel, Science and Environment Coordinator, and Pam Nash, Asst Superintendent for Secondary Schools.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 11:14 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Analysis critical of proposed constitutional revenue limits

The full text of the analysis is on-line in PDF format at:

From the UW-Madison on-line press releases:
Analysis critical of proposed constitutional revenue limits

February 14, 2006

by Dennis Chaptman

Proposed limits on the amount of revenue Wisconsin governments can collect would reduce public services, hamstring the state's future economic growth, and diminish local control, according to an analysis by a UW-Madison economist.

"If the costs of providing public services continue to grow faster than the inflation and population growth rates, the impact of the amendment would be to continuously reduce the level and quality of public services," says Andrew Reschovsky, professor of public affairs and applied economics.

Lacking high-quality services, notably education, Reschovsky says the state's ability to compete for businesses and residents would be damaged.

The state Legislature is considering a complex, 2,500-word constitutional amendment that would link state, school and local government tax collections to factors including inflation and population growth.

Reschovsky's analysis found that the proposed revenue limits would hurt economic development by limiting government's ability to invest in education, health care and transportation infrastructure.

Additionally, Reschovsky says that the limits would deprive communities of local control, which is important to help tailor solutions that respond to problems at the Main Street level. Reschovsky says that there appears to be no evidence that the current budgeting process, which relies on the judgment of elected local officials, is seriously flawed.

Reschovsky also discounted the argument that taxes and spending in Wisconsin are "out of control." According to state Department of Revenue data, he says that state and local taxes relative to state personal income are considerably lower today than they were 10 years ago.

His analysis also notes that, using the sum of all taxes and fees relative to personal income, Wisconsin is a rather average state. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Wisconsin ranks 23rd, only a few tenths of a percentage point above the national average.

If the limits had been in effect beginning in 1985, Reschovsky says that state government revenue today would be about 30 percent less than the actual amount, while University of Wisconsin System state appropriations on a "best-case" basis would be an estimated 25 percent less.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 10:50 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Voucher & SAGE Expansion?

Alan Borsuk & Sarah Carr:

An agreement is likely to be announced Thursday and is expected to include a substantial increase in state funding of the class size reduction program known as SAGE.

Two sources told the Journal Sentinel that the agreement will likely allow an increase in the number of low-income students using publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools and religious schools in Milwaukee from roughly 15,000 to about 22,500. It also reportedly calls for all schools using vouchers - currently 124 schools - to obtain one of several forms of accreditation within several years. Many have such accreditation now, but some, including some of the weakest schools, do not.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:57 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin Virtual Academy Parent Information Sessions

Wisconsin Virtual Academy:

Learn More About WIVA at These Interactive Sessions

At these online sessions, we will review the K12 curriculum, demonstrate our lessons and materials, and answer your questions about the Wisconsin Virtual Academy. For more information on how to join an online virtual information session, please email

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:56 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Thinning the Milk Does Not Mean Thinning the Child

Gina Kolata:

It's not that no one has tried. In the 1990's, the National Institutes of Health sponsored two large, rigorous studies asking whether weight gain in children could be prevented by doing everything that obesity fighters say should be done in schools — greatly expand physical education, make cafeteria meals more nutritious and less fattening, teach students about proper nutrition and the need to exercise, and involve the parents. One study, an eight-year, $20 million project sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, followed 1,704 third graders in 41 elementary schools in the Southwest, where students were mostly Native Americans, a group that is at high risk for obesity. The schools were randomly divided into two groups, one subject to intensive intervention, the other left alone. Researchers determined, beginning at grade five, if the children in the intervention schools were thinner than those in the schools that served as a control group.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:42 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Realistic "Pellet Gun" Found at Memorial High


Madison police said that they found a realistic-looking gun in a Memorial High School locker on Tuesday morning.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:29 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Mathiak on Memorandum to Local Media

Madison School Board Candidate (Seat 2) Candidate Lucy Mathiak, via Kristian Knutsen:

Although I understand your interest in exploring the political impact of on-line communication, I was dismayed to see a piece that went beyond questions of blog influence to focus on my campaign in a way that made it appear that the memo in question was a thinly-disguised campaign ploy.

Certainly your omission of the coverage and support given to Arlene Silveira's campaign on the SIS blog makes it appear that this resource is the personal territory of Maya Cole and me. Similarly, you neglected to mention that Michael Kelly and Juan Jose Lopez are not a presence on the site because they have chosen to not use the blog to communicate with potential voters.

Kristian includes some useful links with his post, including incumbent School Board candidate Juan Jose Lopez's statement on blogs.

I mentioned some of the many techniques used locally to (try to) influence the media here. Having said all that, I'm ecstatic that there's a growing discussion, online, regarding these local school board races. Perhaps we might have a bit of coverage of the upcoming middle school math forum, next Wednesday (2.22.2006).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:07 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More Math Links

  • Ben Feller:
    Science and math have zoomed to the top of the nation's education agenda. Yet Amanda Cook, a parent of two school-age girls, can't quite see the urgency.

    "In Maine, there aren't many jobs that scream out 'math and science,'" said Cook, who lives in Etna, in the central part of the state. Yes, both topics are important, but "most parents are saying you're better off going to school for something there's a big need for."

    Nationwide, a new poll shows, many parents are content with the science and math education their children get - a starkly different view than that held by national leaders.

  • Celia R. Baker:
    Dissatisfaction with math curriculum in Alpine School District might seem like a local issue. It isn't.

    Alpine's math wars made the area ground zero for the explosion of charter, home and private schools in Utah, and the discord continues to drive legislation regarding school choice.

    Eagle Mountain resident Doug Cannon, father of seven, became concerned about Alpine's math curriculum soon after the district adopted the "Investigations" math program in its elementary schools in 2001.

    The textbook series is meant to improve students' understanding of math through discovery of math concepts. As originally implemented, it downplayed rote learning and memorization of traditional algorithms such as times tables.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:03 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

What to Do About Fitchburg?

Carrie Lynch:

They were asked to build a new school at Leopold to accommodate the growth in the area and they voted it down 837 to 813. They were asked to support exceeding the revenue cap to help run the new school and they voted in down 1017 to 632. Worst of all, they were asked to support additional funds for maintenance of Madison schools and they voted it down 849 to 799.

The Madison School Board and the candidates running for the two seats available this spring have a tough battle facing them. They really do need to work out a long-term solution soon both for the residents of Fitchburg and the residents of Madison. Both areas would be served well by a long-term solution, something the residents of Fitchburg say they want. But if the long-term solution has a large price tag, and how can building new schools and classrooms not, will the residents of Fitchburg even support it?

Via The Daily Page

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:19 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Janesville School District's Proposed New Food Policy


The proposal would require schools to offer healthier options, like flavored water instead of juices and soda high in sugar. It would also discourage using candy for classroom rewards or for school fundraising.

Steve Salerno, principal of Marshall Middle School said schools should show nutritional responsibility.

"When we see things about childhood obesity, as we do in the news, how are we as a school practicing what we preach?" said Salerno. "We educate good nutrition, we need to be able to put our backing behind that."

Julie Ruef, the kitchen manager at Marshall, emphasized the importance of the family meal.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:25 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Isthmus Take Home Test, Week 4


So what do the Madison school board candidates think about teaching Creationism/Intelligent Design as science in the schools? Given the proposed Wisconsin state legislature bill to ban it, we thought we'd dedicate week four of the Take Home Test to the issue.

This is the final round of questions before the primary election on Tuesday, Feb. 21, for Seat One on the Madison Board of Education. The three-person field of Maya Cole, Michael Kelly and Arlene Silveira will be winnowed to two candidates on the April 4 general election ballot. There is no primary for the Seat Two candidates, Juan Jose Lopez and Lucy Mathiak.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:35 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Another Peek Inside the Toolbox

Inside Higher Ed:

The longitudinal study, which its author calls a “data essay,” explores the high school class of 1992 as it moved from high school to higher education and compares its success, favorably, to the high school class of 1982 tracked in an earlier report, “Answers in the Tool Box.”

Both reports provide support for efforts to improve the quality of high school curriculums and the participation in those curriculums of larger (and more diverse) proportions of students. New data indicate that progress is occurring — the eight and a half year graduation rate for the 1992 cohort rose to 66 percent, from 60 percent for the 1982 cohort.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teach Children Dollars & Sense


Wisconsin students should learn to be financially savvy enough not to succumb to two huge national problems - low savings and high debt.

The state Department of Public Instruction, with help from educators, lawmakers, money managers and others, introduced voluntary state standards last week. Now it's up to local school districts to adopt them.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:17 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 14, 2006

"Beat the Achievement Gap" Student Conference

The Simpson Street Free Press will be holding a city-wide "Beat the Achievement Gap" conference on Saturday, February 25, at 2:00 p.m. at LaFollette High School, 702 Pflaum Road. At the conference, students will take the following pledge: "I will be an active role model for younger students. I will work to spread a positive message of engagement at my school and in my community. I will encourage academic success among my peers."

For more information, see "The Gap According to Black: A Feature Column by Cydny Black" and the inspiring two-page spread entitled "Education: Bridging the Achievement Gap" in the January, 2006, issue of The Simpson Street Free Press.

Additional information at

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Moving Lapham to Marquette; Affiliated Programs to Lapham

The Lapham/Marquette PTG e-mailed the following to members today:

The Lapham/Marquette PTG will meet this evening from 6:30 - 8pm in the Marquette LMC. Childcare will be available.

Following are agenda items (not necessarily in this order):

1) Preschool Survey preliminary results

2) MMSD's Feb. 9th executive summary for Lapham School summarizing the impacts of moving Lapham to Marquette and moving the Alternative Affiliated Programs into Lapham. (So, they finally said it. How will we respond?)

Posted by Ed Blume at 6:27 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

For The Record: An Interview with Editors and Writers from the Simpson Street Press on the Achievement Gap

Neil Heinen hosted an interesting conversation Sunday morning with editors and writers (Andrea Gilmore, Ashley Crawford) from the Simpson Street Press on the achievement gap. Video and audio, available: (audio feed | video feed) or a popup window. Slick.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:19 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Fragile Futures: Risk and Vulnerability Among Latino High Achievers

Patricia Gándara
Policy Information Center, Educational Testing Service
December 2005

The achievement gap usually refers to the chasm between low- and higher-performing students. But, as this study makes clear, disparities are just as pronounced among separate groups of high-achieving students. For example, in 2002 the top fifth of Latino test-takers scored means of 598 and 646 on the SAT verbal and math sections, respectively. Their white peers’ mean scores were 65 points higher on the verbal section and 74 points higher in math. Yet of the hundreds of studies reviewed for this report, hardly any “acknowledge… that high-achieving students might need support and that this support might differ from what is needed by their lower-achieving peers.” It’s tempting to think that smart youngsters, regardless of socio-economic situations or ethnic backgrounds, will turn out just fine. But as these data show, that’s not always true. Bright Latino students, who often come from low-income families and have parents with little education, are particularly susceptible to becoming frustrated or discouraged with schoolwork and the school environment. These kids require just as much encouragement, support, and instruction as their lower-performing peers, albeit in different ways. They, too, need goals, and information on where academic achievement can lead (college). But too often, they don’t receive it. Even when Latino students earn good grades in high school, register for the SAT (not an insignificant step), and do well on the exam, many still make poor college decisions. We cannot address achievement gaps by continuing to ignore these bright youngsters.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 12:56 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Academic Rigor Not Just for A Select Few"

Mary Ramberg, executive director of Teaching & Learning:

Rigor means different things to different people. Some people think rigor and rigidity are the same. In this case, academic rigor might look like teacher inflexibility — an "it's my way or the highway" kind of attitude. Some people think rigor and harshness are the same. In this case, academic rigor might mean that student work is an endurance test and only a predetermined number of students can receive high grades. Neither of these views of rigor matches the MMSD understanding of rigor in an academic setting.

The MMSD Educational Framework describes three characteristics of rigor in an academic setting:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:58 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Isthmus Op-Ed on Memorandum to Local Media

Kristian Knutsen:

We are in a Carboniferous period of communications, with personal media pumping tremendous volumes of oxygen into the infosphere. Here's one example:

Last Thursday, Jim Zellmer, an organizer of School Information System (SIS), sent a memo to editors and news directors at 13 local publications, including Isthmus. It is titled 2006 Madison School Board Elections: Memorandum to Local Media, and is posted at SIS, a well-trafficked group blog devoted to educational issues, particularly as they revolve around the Madison Metropolitan School District.

There are many local techniques used to influence the media. These include op-ed pieces, letters to the editor, phone calls, lunches, meetings, editors invited to be "superintendent, mayor or principal for a day", press conferences, blogs and events.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:18 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Board Candidate Forum Tonight @ Falk Elementary

The Falk Elementary School PTO [map] would like to extend an invitation for you and the members of your school and community to join us for our February PTO meeting. On Tuesday February 14 from 6:30-8:00pm the Falk PTO will be hosting a School Board Candidate Forum for the community to meet the candidates running for the two open seats and be able to ask them questions. Juan Lopez and Lucy Mathiak will be running for seat #2 and their will be a run-off on February 21 for seat #1 between Arlene Silveira, Maya Cole and Michael Kelly. Learn more about the candidates here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:16 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"What? Me Worry?

"What? Me Worry? is the attitude of education researchers, writes Douglas Reeves, CEO of the Center for Performance Assessment, on Education Gadfly. Reeves cites a study by Peggy Hsieh and Joel R. Levin, which ran in the Journal of Educational Psychology on "ed researchers' continued retreat from accepted research methodology. In this case, randomized experiments."

Randomized experiments, aka field trials, whereby an experimental group that receives an intervention (say, Whole Language) is compared with a control group that receives no intervention, have been standard operating procedure since rats were first run through mazes. But who needs control groups in the age of feelings-based research?

. . . Hsieh and Levin report that "The percentage of total articles in these four journals [Cognition & Instruction, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Journal of Educational Psychology, Journal of Experimental Education, American Educational Research Journal] based on randomized experiments decreased over the 21-year period in both the educational psychology journals (from 40 percent in 1983 to 34 percent in 1995 to 26 percent in 2004) and the American Educational Research Journal (from 33 percent to 17 percent to 4 percent)."
Education policy makers are eager for the latest magic bullet and reluctant to think through fundamental changes, Reeves argues.

via Joanne
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Clinton, Wood Johnson Foundation Announce Healthy Schools Effort


Former President Clinton and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced an $8 million initiative Monday to fight childhood obesity by promoting healthier food and more exercise in schools.
Meanwhile, Idaho politicians are concerned with exploding soda consumption in their schools.

February 13, 2006

Notes from Monday's Madison School Board Meeting

Two interesting notes, among many, I'm sure from Monday evening's Madison School Board meeting:

  • Johnny Winston, Jr. introduced a motion for the Administration to look at acquiring land in Fitchburg for a new school. This motion passed 5-1, with Bill Keys voting no (and Juan Jose Lopez absent).
  • Ruth Robarts advocated curriculum changes as a means to attract more families to certain schools. She mentioned the use of Singapore Math (Note that some Madison residents are paying a chunk of money to send their children to Madison Country Day School, which uses Singapore Math).
Speaking of Math, Rafael Gomez is organizing a middle school math forum on February 22, 2006, from 7 to 8:00p.m.

Local news commentary:

  • Channel3000:
    The Madison Metropolitan School Board met for hours Monday discussing overcrowding options for the looming referendum
  • WKOW-TV:
    After nearly five hours of discussion, the Madison School Board decided to put off asking tax payers for a new school in April and says voters may have to head to the polls this fall instead.
  • Susan Troller:
    That potential option was added to the mix regarding how the Madison School District could deal with growth and overcrowding on the west side following a special School Board meeting Monday night.

    Board Vice President Johnny Winston, Jr. led a motion to ask district administrators to explore land sites and options for a possible new school in the rapidly developing areas south of the Beltline in Fitchburg, including land currently in the Verona and Oregon school districts.

    Board member Lawrie Kobza supported Winston's motion and said she may be willing to support a new elementary school in the south Fitchburg area as part of a long-range plan for the district. Kobza does not support an addition at Leopold, saying the school already has more than 650 students, which the district has deemed its maximum acceptable capacity.

  • Sandy Cullen:
    The Madison School Board voted Monday to direct district administrators to investigate purchasing land for a future school in south Fitchburg as a long-term solution to crowding at Leopold Elementary School, while board members continue to explore a more immediate solution to the problem.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:40 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

WisPolitics: Walker, Green Forum

WisPolitics hosted a recent Forum for GOP candidates for governor. Incumbent governor Jim Doyle has agreed to appear at a future forum, which I will link to when that occurs. Both GOP candidates addressed school funding, to some degree. Scott Walker said that he supported 2/3 state funding, but that it was not a "blank check". Mark Green said that given the state's structural deficit, he could not commit to maintain the 2/3's state funding.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:35 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The New Reverse Class Struggle

Jay Matthews:

The idea seems odd to many. But some scholars and administrators say raising class sizes and teacher pay might improve achievement

It was 9:45 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. Jane Reiser's mathematics class in Room 18 was stuffed with sixth- and seventh-graders. There were 32 of them, way above the national class size average of 25. Every seat was filled -- 17 girls, 15 boys, all races, all learning styles. A teacher's nightmare.

And yet, despite having so many students, Reiser's class was humming, with everybody paying attention. She held up a few stray socks to introduce a lesson on probabilities with one of those weird questions that interest 11- and 12-year-olds:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:18 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

By Invitation Only: How the MMSD-MTI Health Insurance Task Force Limited Its Options

In June of 2005, when the majority of the Madison School Board approved the two-year collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union, the agreement included a task force to study and make recommendations on possible changes in health insurance coverage for the teachers, the majority of the district's employees. Task force members would be the superintendent and his appointees and John Matthews, exuective director of Madison Teachers,Inc. (MTI) and his appointees. They were to issue a report no later than February 15, 2006.

From the beginning, the task force provision was a great deal for the teachers union. It was risk-free. If the parties could identify health insurance savings, the savings would go directly to increase teacher wages during 2006-07. The parties would re-open the contract to switch dollars from this important fringe benefit to wages. If not, the teachers would keep the current coverage and current wages.

A gain for the district was not so easy to identify. Superintendent Art Rainwater talked about the potential health insurance savings as a benefit in future negotiations. Lowering health insurance costs during 2006-07 would allow the district to continue high quality health insurance coverage for its teachers (as we should) and go into future negotiations with a reduced base for health insurance costs. With health insurance costs for all employees running at about $35M per year, any longterm reduction would help the board redirect significant dollars to school programs and staff.

If the task force had used the year to take a comprehensive, objective look at health insurance alternatives for the teachers, the school board might expect an important report this week. It would tell the board how dollars currently going to health insurance could be used for wage increase at no loss in quality of care for district employees. I don't expect anything like that because we have not seen a serious effort to seek out alternative insurance proposals and evaluate them and the board has exercised no oversight or direction.

The task force has met twice at MTI headquarters, on January 11 and January 25. It did not solicit a wide range of proposals for health insurance for the teachers.

Instead, the task force invited the current providers, Wisconsin Physicians Services and Group Health Cooperative, plus Dean Care and Unity to make presentations. They did not invite Alliant (whose insurance is good enough for MMSD administrators and the custodial union), Physicians Plus (a very competitive local provider with a doctors' network that overlaps the current providers), the State Health Plan (open to school districts) or WEA-IT (a company associated with the Wisconsin Education Associations Council). John Matthews, who continues to serve on the Board of Directors for WPS, did most of the questioning of the insurance companies at the task force meetings. The gist of his questions for Dean Care and Unity were whether they could provide what WPS currently provides, according to him.

The task force report is due in two days. The board has not met once during the year to discuss any aspect of the task force or its goals. The only information that the board has received in a copy of a memo from Human Resources Director Bob Nadler to Art Rainwater, dated February 7.

According to the memo, the district is "ready and willing to reopen the (collective bargaining) agreement if MTI decides to do so". MTI is surveying its members. [memo: 93K PDF]

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 1:34 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


Focus groups have been held with parents, middle school teachers, current high school students, current middle school students, and representatives of community organizations that are connected to our middle schools through tutoring, mentoring or other programming. Summaries of those focus groups are attached.

The design team has set one additional all day meeting to draft the recommendations. This meeting will be held on December 20. The report will go to the Superintendent and will also be made available to the original parent focus group for their feedback and suggestions.

Throughout this process, information, questionnaires and summaries of input have consistently been made available on the district website.

The design is going to focus on specific, consistent recommendations regarding length and duration of classes in middle school in the areas of FiFine Arts, Life Skills, Mathematics, Wellness, Student Services, and World Languages.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 1:24 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Administrative Analysis of Referendum Scheduling

A note from Superintendent Art Rainwater to the Madison Board of Education on 2006 Referendum scheduling:

At Carol's request we have prepared an analysis of the possible dates to seek referendum approval for one or more new facilities. The analysis includes our view of the positives and negatives of three dates: April 06, June 06 and September 06


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

High Grades, No Skills

Joanne Jacobs:

Honor students who can't pass California's graduation exam should be angry, writes Ken at It Comes in Pints? They should be angry at teachers who gave them A's they didn't deserve.

While the hardest questions on the graduation exam require 10th grade English skills and algebra (allegedly an 8th grade skill in California), students with basic skills who guess blindly on the harder multiple-choice questions should be able to get a minimum passing grade in their first, second, third, fourth or fifth try at the test. The minimum passing grade is 60 percent for English and only 55 percent for math.

In Tracy, a girl who claims a 3.6 grade point average says she's failed the math exam five times because teachers didn't teach her right. She doesn't seem to question the validity of her A's and B's.

My great potential is being snuffed by this test.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:50 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

College Goal Sunday


The goal of college goal Sunday is to help high school students fill out this the free application for federal student aid - or the FAFSA form. Students and their parents were taken through a step-by-step process of filling out the FAFSA something organizers say is the most important step in getting high school students to attend schools of higher education.

While 48 percent of Wisconsin High School students say they plan on attending college many don't follow through because they don't know where to look for financial aid. There were 14 families that attended the event in madison - and organizers hope they can expand that number next year. College goal sunday held in 12 different locations around the state. Wisconsin is one of 24 states that participated in the college goal sunday event.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Love Thy School Board

Ian Shapira:

It's National School Board Recognition Month, when school officials across the country dutifully heap appreciation upon their board members, who appreciate the appreciation, even if some of them think it can be gratuitous.

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

East High School Show Choir

Sandy Cullen:

Antonio Branch may have gotten off on the wrong foot at Madison East High School, but his tune changed once he started singing and dancing with the school's Show Choir.

"I was with a bad crowd," said Branch, 18, who saw many of his friends from eighth grade drop out of high school.

But Branch said the tightknit ensemble of student performers he joined last fall has helped give him the motivation to get his grades up and set his sights on attending Madison Area Technical College en route to a four-year college degree.

"They build you up, tell you you can do it," said Branch, a senior who's now thinking about becoming an elementary school teacher.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:21 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Borsuk on What You Need to Know on Vouchers

Alan Borsuk:

Amid a barrage of television and radio ads, stories in the newspaper almost every day and conflicting claims about Milwaukee's controversial and precedent-setting program by which almost 15,000 low-income students attend private schools using public money, the basics of what is going on can be lost easily.

Here is a primer on the current, heated episodes in the long running battle over school choice.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:18 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 12, 2006

Fall Referendum?


A resolution for a referendum will go before the Madison school board Monday night.
The West-Memorial Task Force has recommended an addition to Leopold and to build a new school on the far west side of the city.
The Long Range Planning Committee chairman said there's not enough time to build a campaign for the April election, but a referendum is inevitable.
"I still believe Madison voters do not understand the need for those new schools," said chairman Bill Keys. "The population has shifted dramatically from the East to West side in terms of raw numbers."
Keys believes the board may push for a fall referendum.
Keys told WISC-TV he wouldn't be around for the final decisions because he plans to retire by then.

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

Another Referendum?


The Madison Metropolitan School District is hoping to address issues of overcrowding and future growth. One school board memember says Monday the board will decide whether to once again bring their concerns to the public in a referendum. The issues on that potential refereundum could include a new elementary school on the Linden Park site, operating costs for the school, and an addition a the Leopold Elementary site.

Board member Ruth Robarts believes if the board moves forward with the current plan, voters will likely vote down the referendum.
“All parents want to know which schools are going to be where two, three, five years from now. That involves more than just getting the report from our task forces back and then suddenly going to referendum," she says.

Decisions of this type usually come in two steps...first the vote of whether to hold a referendum, and then how it will be worded. But Robarts says the board has a deadline of February 17th to notify the city, and the public of their desire for a referedum.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:55 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Ethicist: Schooling Parents

Randy Cohen:

The president of our local board of education sends her children to the public elementary schools, but when they get to high school, she moves them to private schools. Isn't it her ethical obligation either to send her children to the schools she sets policy for and espouses as so wonderful or to step down from the board? JoAnne Manse, Rutherford, N.J.

It is not. It is the obligation of board members to strive mightily to make the public schools so good that even parents with the means to opt out choose to remain. If the public schools are not yet that good, the president may honorably send her kids elsewhere — indeed, her duty as a parent compels her to. Even where a public school is excellent, parents may seek programs it does not offer — religious instruction, for example.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:49 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Black Star Project

What Is The Black Star Project? The Black Star Project is a Chicago-based nonprofit that works around the country to help preschoolers to collegians succeed. The group focuses on low-income black, Hispanic and American Indian students in low-achieving schools.

Problems of school districts that teach Black children and the solutions

Via School Board Seat 1 Candidate Maya Cole [podcast]

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:13 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools Await Final Grade

Nick Anderson:

It has been eight years since Maryland told the Prince George's County school to shape up, or else. It has been four years since the federal government raised the pressure with a law meant to force shake-ups through aid and sanctions.

Yet Charles Carroll Middle School has continued to fall short of state standards, even though the county has switched textbooks, changed principals three times and even assigned a "turnaround specialist."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:06 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Art of Teaching Traditional Building

Bruce Smith:

The steady pings of hammers on molten metal, the grinding of stone and scraping of plaster fill the workshop of a new school that seeks to pass on old-world building techniques in an age of cookie-cutter construction.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:59 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Student Newspaper Promotes Diversity in Language, School


Students at La Follette High School are making sure every student has a voice through the use of their school newspaper, WISC-TV reported.

With the first edition of La Follette Lance in 2006, the newspaper began targeting students who thought they had been forgotten.

For example, Andres Garcia enjoys the entire page of Spanish articles the Lance editors and writers produce for each issue.

Garcia is part of 10 percent of the school that is Latino.

"This is something that was actually overdue," Garcia said. "That was something we should have had years ago."

The newspaper staff is involved every step of the process, including getting the paper ready for mailing and distribution.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:01 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Nineteen Finance and Taxation Questions for Elected Officials

Paul Soglin:

These questions were developed in Wisconsin but are universal. Here are nineteen questions that an elected official (School Board, City Council/Town or Village Board, County Board, State Legislature) should be able to address after two budgets, or two years in office, whichever comes first.

Note: Some of the questions are premised upon faulty or erroneous assumptions, or the political view of the questioner. Other questions have no 'correct' answer but the answer should reflect the respondents' views on levels of taxation and redistribution of resources through taxation.

Soglin has also begun an essay on Kids, Schools and Cities.

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

February 11, 2006

Tutor Program Going Unused

Susan Saulny:

The No Child Left Behind law requires consistently failing schools that serve mostly poor children to offer their students a choice if they want it: a new school or tutoring from private companies or other groups, paid for with federal money — typically more than $1,800 a child in big cities. In the past the schools would have been under no obligation to use that Title I federal poverty grant to pay for outside tutoring.

City and state education officials and tutoring company executives disagree on the reasons for the low participation and cast blame on each other. But they agree that the numbers show that states and school districts have not smoothed out the difficulties that have plagued the tutoring — known as the supplemental educational services program — from its start as a novel experiment in educational entrepreneurship: largely private tutoring paid for with federal money.

Officials give multiple reasons for the problems: that the program is allotted too little federal money, is poorly advertised to parents, has too much complicated paperwork for signing up, and that it has not fully penetrated the most difficult neighborhoods, where there are high concentrations of poor, failing students.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:46 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Board Candidate Campaigns With Podcast

In what may be a Wisconsin first, Maya Cole posts pod casts on the Web. A story by Susan Troller in The Capital Times reports on the innovation:

Madison School Board candidate Maya Cole is reaching out to tech-savvy voters with a new way of communicating her campaign issues.

Cole, who is in a primary race for Seat 1 on the School Board against Arlene Silveira and Michael J. Kelly, has started podcasting what she calls a "School Board Minute."

The 60-second audio summaries are recorded in her own voice and are available on her Web site and on the School Information Systems blog run by Jim Zellmer, who is one of Cole's supporters.

Posted by Ed Blume at 5:54 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Revolution on Wheels: High Tax States See a Stealth Migration Out

Related to Johnny Winston, Jr.'s post below, Karen Hube notes a significant outbound migration from many high tax states [Wisconsin is ranked 5th in tax burden as a % of per capita income (11.4%)] including Minnesota to South Dakota:

NOT SURPRISINGLY, MANY STATES are feeling the drain of fleeing taxpayers. At a time of serious competition between states for jobs and tax revenues, "states with high taxes are losing their wealthiest and most successful taxpayers, as well as businesses, and they're not creating as many jobs," says Dan Clifton of Americans for Tax Reform.

Serious fiscal troubles started for most states after the stock market tanked in 2000. "They had been matching their spending habits with the flood of revenues that came in during the boom years of the 1990s," Clifton says. "When that spigot got turned off, many states were incapable of moderating their spending to match the new reality."

In 2000 states were still flush enough to cut taxes by a net $5.8 billion for fiscal year 2001. But shortly after, in a scramble to boost revenues, states started raising taxes.

Johnny's point is important: Schools must diversify their revenue sources while using existing resources as efficiently as possible. This includes trying to use all sources, including, as Ed Blume pointed out, federal funds, such as the $2M in Reading First money. WISTAX notes that Wisconsin's rose 10% last year. Finally, Neil Heinen notes that Wisconsin's state budget has a "structural deficit".

Bobbi raises a useful point regarding the construction of new schools: the existing $320M+ operating budget is spread over more facilities, which as several teachers have mentioned to me, has implications for current facilities.

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

February 10, 2006

MMSD: Searching for alternative revenue streams

As a member of the Madison School Board and chair of the Finance and Operations Committee, I would like to get your ideas and perspectives regarding “alternative revenue streams” for the MMSD. The parameters would be: not to target students, No alcohol & drugs (e.g. bars), promotion of good health (e.g. no soft drinks), nothing morally questionable (use your imagination). Here are some areas identified:

Sponsorships: Adopt a school or program, Extracurricular programs, MMSD TV

Advertising: Limited toward adults, not children – e.g. website, District-owned vehicles, signs on stadiums, fields in athletic arenas (outside of school building).

Naming rights: To new schools, facilities, and rooms. Patterned after U.W. and City of Madison model.

Exclusive rights: “Company A is the exclusive vendor of (pencils) in exchange for $75,000 donation to Foundation.” Patterned after U.W. and City of Madison model.

Cell Tower/Antennas: On school facilities or parking areas. Done in many school districts including Milwaukee. Cell phone companies would rent space. Could bring in over $1000/month per company per site.

What do you think? Do you have any ideas? Thank you in advance for sharing your perspective. Remember the parameters…

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 9:55 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

For Fraught Preteen Years, A Class on Being a Friend

Michael Alison Chandler:

She surrenders her room, with its cozy couch, to the ponytailed pre-adolescents, and their dramas unfold: How could you pretend you didn't see me in the hallway? Or: Why did you invite Celia to your slumber party and not me? There's the inevitable "That hurt my feelings" and the occasional "I'm sorry." On a good day, they leave the room Best Friends Forever. Again.

Many of the girls are graduates of "Chicks and Cliques," a course Dunne designed to curb the gossiping, rumor-spreading and snubbing that's endemic to girls. She helps them figure out how to talk through their problems, then she lets them borrow her office to use their new skills.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:30 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teach, the Film

Davis Guggenheim's new film (CC licensed):

As our politicians and the press argue the merits of countless school reforms, it is our teachers who enter the classroom every day and fight the real fight: educating our children, one child at a time. The First Year shows the human side of this story: the determination and commitment of five novice teachers as they struggle to survive their first year in America's toughest schools.

George teaches recent immigrants learning English as a second language. After the school board plans to cut funding for her high school class, she rallies her students to fight city hall and wins.

Geneviève “wanted to teach the kids no one else wanted to teach.” She spends hours of extra time reaching out to a middle-school student only to lose him in the end.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:54 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Allied Drive units a step closer to city buyout

Mike Ivey:

The largest property owner on Allied Drive has fallen into receivership, further opening the door for the city of Madison to purchase nine buildings in the heart of the low-income neighborhood on the city's southwest side.

Members of the Allied-Dunn's Marsh Neighborhood Association have generally been supportive of city purchase of the properties, although there has been some concern that if the units are converted to condos it would price many out of the neighborhood.

Duane Steinhauer, a landlord who also owns rental property in the Allied neighborhood, said he is opposed to city purchase of the property. He said Hauk's problems began when the city failed to get behind those initial plans for a private-sector redevelopment of the properties.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:29 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Bringing Community to the City

Pallavi Gogol:

"Clearly, townships are promoting the idea of preventing sprawl, in clear contrast to the past when developers had to battle city hall for zoning changes," says Roy Higgs, chief executive of Development Design Group, an architecture firm in Baltimore. This comes at a time when developers are under a lot of pressure to maximize use of both land and construction, costs of which have spiraled in the past decade.

Furthermore, many counties and townships find that the sprawl has stretched their own finances. "Communities want to trim their budgets for new roads and schools," says Terry W. McEwen, president of Memphis-based Poag & McEwen, a developer currently making six master-planned communities, one with condos over retail shops.

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

Job: Executive Director, MMSD Teaching & Learning

Madison Metropolitan School District:

The Madison Metropolitan School District is seeking qualified applicants for the position of Executive Director of Teaching & Learning. The Madison Metropolitan School District is the second largest school system in Wisconsin and has a student population of 24,710 students in 31 elementary schools, 11 middle schools, 5 high schools, and several alternative programs, a total staff of over 5,900 and an operatingbudget of $319 million. The District has a 42% minority student population. The Madison Metropolitan School District has schools at elementary, middle and high school levels rated as National Schools of Excellence.

Evidence of appropriate Wisconsin certification required prior to employment. The salary range for 2005/06 is $80,050-$102,233 for 225 days employment. Salary range for 2006/07 will be determined later in the school year. All positions require experience working cross-culturally and/or commitment to work toward improving one's own cultural competence, i.e. valuing difference/diversity, recognizing personal limitations in one's skills and expertise, and having the desire to learn in these areas. Deadline for receipt of a completed application form, including responses to the required Experience Inventory, letters of reference, and grade transcripts, is Tuesday, February 28, 2006.

MMSD employment site.

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Gutknecht on "Swan Creek residents ask to join Oregon schools"

Kurt Gutknecht:

Frustrated by continued uncertainty over where their children will attend school, residents of Swan Creek are asking to be transferred to the Oregon School District.

The decision would reverse a 2003 decision that transferred Swan Creek to the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Residents obtained signatures from 188 households on a petition asking the respective school boards to consider the request. Three real estate developers also endorsed the move.

If the school boards refuse the request, residents can ask that an appeals board consider the transfer.

“We know it’s an uphill battle,” said resident Renee Hammond, referring to the previous unsuccessful attempt to reverse the decision of the two school boards.

Several residents said they had been misled about schools when they purchased their homes. Some had been told that they could choose which school district they wanted to attend or that the Madison district planned to construct a school in Swan Creek or elsewhere in Fitchburg.
More upsetting to residents, however, is the uncertainty over whether their children can continue to attend Leopold Elementary School. The Madison school board is weighing plans to alleviate overcrowding at Leopold that could send children from Swan Creek to several different schools.

Organizers of the petition drive said they could easily have obtained more signatures.

Romney Ludgate said there’s no assurance that making space for additional students at Leopold would be more than a short-term solution to overcrowding and that residents might have to continually address the issue.

“Until a school is built in Fitchburg, residents of the southern part of the district in Fitchburg will continue to face extreme instability” in where Swan Creek students would attend school, Hammond said.

Jennifer Shanahan said it was clear that other new developments in Fitchburg would add more students to Leopold. The district doesn’t consider these additional students until these developments are platted.

“We would be happy to remain at Leopold if they could give us a viable plan. Even the preferred plan (which would add several classrooms to Leopold) is only a short-term solution. In five years, we’ll be facing the exact same problem again,” said Deb Gilbert.

“We can’t wait and fight this battle year after year. Swan Creek is a great neighborhood. We deserve a great school,” said Ludgate.
Residents said they also felt disenfranchised in the district and that the system of electing board members amounted to taxation without representation. The Oregon district has a representative from Fitchburg on its board.

Residents also questioned whether voters in the district would support a referendum to construct an addition to Leopold, especially when several schools on the district’s east side are dealing with a shortage of students. The Madison school board again appears to be divided in its support for an addition at Leopold, which may reduce support for the referendum authorizing construction at Leopold.

Parents also questioned the wisdom of constructing such a large school (more than 1,000 students) at Leopold.

They praised the commitment of the Madison district to support educational opportunity for all students and said they would be delighted to stay in the district if it weren’t for the overcrowding and uncertainty.

Gilbert said she had studied data concerning the relationship between academic performance and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students. Transferring Swan Creek students from Madison’s schools would have only a slight effect on academic performance, she said – and would alleviate much of the overcrowding at Leopold.

“We can make any school a success, if it’s stable. We’re the soccer moms who want to contribute,” said Erin Ennis.

“We want to be involved. We can’t wait to help” at our children’s school, said Shanahan.

The transfer request will be discussed this month by both school boards. If the boards deny the request, residents can petition the state Department of Public Instruction to hear the case.

In 2003, developer Phil Sveum was unsuccessful in his attempt to have the School District Boundary Appeal Board reverse the transfer.

Additional background, links and documents.

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School board divided again over plans to reduce overcrowding

Kurt Gutknecht, writing in the Fitchburg Star about the recent Board and public discussion of the East / West Task Forces:

There was a sense of déjà vu when the Madison Metropolitan School Board met Jan. 30 when the schism that fractured it last year – and which appeared to be a key factor in the defeat of a referendum last spring – surfaced again. Four members of the board appear solidly in support of another referendum and two members appear steadfast in their opposition, although the board hasn’t officially acted on the matter.

The possibility of a divided board has already alarmed supporters of a new addition to Leopold Elementary School, who think it will provide additional ammunition to critics.

The discussion was often heated as Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza charged that the board was rushing to a referendum without an adequate long-range plan.

Their stance irritated Juan Jose Lopez, who accused them of “playing politics” with the future of schoolchildren simply because they didn’t like the outcome. “I for one will not sit here and allow you to do that,” he said.

A key disagreement involved the weight accorded the recommendations of the task forces charged with formulating long-range options.

The Memorial/West Task Force endorsed a new school on far west side and an eight-room addition to Leopold.

“If we didn’t like what they said, we should have done it ourselves,” Johnny Winston, Jr. said, noting that it would be “an act of total disrespect” to ignore the recommendations.

No matter how hard they tried, the West/Memorial Task Force simply couldn’t ignore the “800-pound gorilla in the room,” – the need to expand Leopold and construct a new school on the far west side, said Bill Keys.

“It would be wholly inappropriate” to reject their recommendations, he said. “They are the experts” and the board could put “full faith and credit” in their findings.

“The task force did not enter this process with that (new construction) in mind,” Keys said.

But Kobza said overcrowding would be a greater problem in the Memorial and LaFollette attendance districts, based on projected enrollment for 2011. Carstensen said those concerns should have been addressed when the task forces were created and that crowding in the West/Memorial attendance district, particularly at Leopold where students must eat in shifts and classrooms have been jammed in hallways, demanded immediate attention.

“I don’t understand your refusal to build an addition at Leopold,” Keys said.

Carstensen asked Kobza how her long-range planning would differ from the four-month deliberations by the task forces. Carstensen insisted the recommendations of the task forces were a long-range plan and said Kobza’s request appeared to “come a little bit out of left field.”
Carstensen rebuffed charges of rushing to a referendum. Information concerning when a draft resolution must be completed in order to be placed on the ballot in April was simply a realistic timeline to avoid the need to call a special election, if the board approves a referendum.

The fate of students in Swan Creek occupied much of the discussion.
Kozba suggested moving students from the development into adjacent schools and claimed that one option, transferring them to Midvale/Lincoln, had never been seriously considered by the task force. “It would be tight” even if Swan Creek students were moved to Midvale/Lincoln, said Mary Gulbrandsen, chief of staff for the district.

Carstensen said students couldn’t be viewed simply as numbers, and that the attempt to balance enrollments at different schools shouldn’t take precedence over other objectives. The Memorial/West task force came to a similar conclusion. Christensen said parents especially objected to “third level” moves in which their children were transferred to accommodate students from another school.
Robarts questioned whether redevelopment plans for the Ridgewood apartment complex, located adjacent to Leopold, would markedly reduce the number of students. Gulbrandsen reiterated that the district couldn’t consider these factors until redevelopment plans had been officially approved, just as it couldn’t consider students from new developments until those developments had been platted.

Keys said proposals to bus Swan Creek students to other schools involved “gigantic distances” “We have done that to these kids (in the Allied Drive neighborhood) for too long. I wouldn’t want to put that kind of sacrifice on any other kids,” said Lopez.

Four residents of Swan Creek reiterated their desire to stay at Leopold, but said a better option was to construct a separate school in southern Fitchburg, citing a statistic by Gulbrandsenthat 1,000 students in the district lived south of the Beltline.

Wendy Cooper, a member of the task force, said they had considered every option but didn’t think a new school in south Fitchburg was realistic, considering voters’ previous opposition to new buildings. The reluctance of Swan Creek residents to consider moving to Lincon/Midvale largely reflected concern about long bus rides, Cooper said. She said such a shift represented only a temporary solution.
“I do not want to see a mega school for Fitchburg students,” said Renee Hammand, a Swan Creek resident, referring to the approximately 1,100 students that would attend Leopold if an addition was added.
“We cannot fail children again” if another referendum fails, said Deborah Gilbert, another resident of Swan Creek.

Annette Mongomery, a resident of Brynewood, angrily castigated the board for its indecisiveness and said residents of the Fitchburg subdivision were selling their houses because of the uncertainty. Two had already been sold and five residents were waiting to put their houses on the market, she said.

Kobza said the board was treating growth in Fitchburg no differently than in other parts of the district. The boundaries for Leopold should have been redrawn two years ago, she said. And she questioned whether the board’s policy of limiting bus rides to 45 minutes was too restrictive. Bus rides of up to 50 minutes would be acceptable, she said.

More support for school in Fitchburg?

Several members of the Madison Metropolitan School Board appear to be more receptive to building a school in Fitchburg, although there’s little likelihood that this will occur soon.

There have long been complaints that the school board had an unofficial policy of not building outside the city of Madison. The district has denied the charge.

In response to an e-mail inquiry, Ruth Robarts said “population expansion to the south will necessitate a Fitchburg-area school.” Lawrie Kobza said she “would support buying property in Fitchburg for an elementary school site. However, I would want to wait to decide whether the next new school (after the Memorial area school) should be built in Fitchburg or the LaFollette area.”

Board President Carol Carstensen wrote that a new school in Fitchburg “would be several years down the road. My experience is that finding land and then getting agreement on price can take a long time (up to two years) – and then it is another two-plus years to build. I am not ruling out supporting a school in Fitchburg, but that does not solve our immediate problem.”

Robarts and Kobza repeated their call for a long-range plan for the district, beyond the recommendations of the task forces. Kobza wrote that she didn’t think additional study was necessary. “I think we need to put all the pieces that we already have together into a written comprehensive five-year plan for the district.

“My personal feeling is that the timetable for the Leopold area would include immediate redistricting, the purchase of land for a future elementary site and continued evaluation of when that new school should be built, taking into account the growth in other areas of the district.

Robarts repeated her concern that the addition to Leopold would result in an elementary school that would pose educational and safety problems. A short-term solution to overcrowding at Leopold would probably involve moving some students from Swan Creek to Midvale-Lincoln, although not until there was a five-year plan, she wrote.

Kobza believes “there is enough capacity at Midvale/Lincoln to handle the overcrowding at Leopold for the next four to five years.”
Robarts also called for an analysis of “ending the practice of moving students from school to school to affect income levels of the student body.”

She also recommended moving school administrators to underused school buildings, and then leasing or selling the building currently used to house administration offices, and determining whether magnet programs could increase the voluntary movement of students to schools outside their attendance area.

“I believe we must deal with the overcrowding at Leopold first,” Carstensen wrote. Failing to build at Leopold would address overcrowding for no more than three years, she wrote. “Doing something that you know will be inadequate in a few years is not good long-range planning.”

Fitchburg Star. Audio / Video of this meeting

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

Carol Carstensen's Weekly Update

BUDGET FACTOID: Of the MTI-represented employees in the district, more than 50% take their health insurance with Group Health (the lowest cost of any of the HMO’s). February 6th MEETINGS : 5 p.m. Finance & Operations Committee (Johnny Winston Jr., chair): Report on the $100 Budget exercise in January 173 people participated in the exercise; their responses indicated that their highest priorities were: Academic Achievement and Specialized Services (special education, English as a Second Language).

Doug Pearson, in charge of buildings and grounds for the district, gave a presentation explaining that a combination of factors (drought in the Midwest, Hurricane Katrina and increased oil prices) have resulted in a huge increase in construction costs. As an example, when the district built Chavez (2000-01), construction costs were estimated at $85/sq.ft. today the estimate to build a new school is estimated to cost $162/sq.ft. These increases also affect all of the district’s maintenance projects.

6 p.m. Performance & Achievement Committee (Shwaw Vang, chair)
The Committee heard presentations about the elimination of tracking in the West High Biology course (begun in 1997) and in East High Algebra/Trig (started in 2004). In both cases the changes were the result of discussions by the teachers at the school and supported by staff from downtown. Likewise, both reported that they felt that they were serving all students more effectively and that their classes were more representative of the entire student enrollment. The Committee will continue looking at this topic.

7:15 p.m Regular Board Meeting: Mostly routine business; the Board did approve hiring an architectural firm to plan for work on the East High patio roof.

February 13 (televised, McDaniels Auditorium)
5 p.m. Special Board Meeting discussion about the recommendations from the Memorial/West Task Force (the East Area Task Force recommendations will be discussed on February 27).
The Board will meet first with the entire Task Force to give them a chance to explain their work and their recommendations. Next there will be Public Appearances. After that there will be a discussion of information about the Doyle Building - possibilities for sale/leasing/remodeling to house alternative programs and costs of moving current staff elsewhere.
The Board will then discuss the Memorial/West Task Force recommendation to build a new school on the far west side and to build an addition onto Leopold. The Board will also have before it the wording for referendum questions. If the Board wants to put the building proposals on the April ballot it must act no later than February 17 (Friday of next week).

February 20:
5:30 p.m. Finance and Operations Committee (Johnny Winston, Jr., chair) 5-year budget forecast; proposals from community agencies for after school activities.
6:30 p.m. Partnerships Committee (Lawrie Kobza, chair) continued discussion about a policy governing gifts/funds to support activities during and/or after school.
February 27:
5:00 p.m. Legislative Committee (Ruth Robarts, chair) legislation that would increase the number of administrators who could be designated “at-will” employees; requirements for school district reports; requiring developers to pay fees to support the building of new schools.
5:45 p.m. Special Board Meeting: discussion of the East Area Task Force recommendations; the Task Force will have a chance to talk with the Board at the start of the meeting.


Carol Carstensen, President
Madison School Board

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

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February 9, 2006

NYC Schools: Administration, Teachers Union and Parents

Interesting article on the leadership dynamics of the New York City Department of Education by David Herszenhorn:

"Parents and parent organizations feel less enfranchised now than they did four years ago, and that is a dangerous trend," Mr. Sanders said. He added, "Ultimately you cannot have a successful education system if parents and communities of parents don't feel invested."

Stephen Morello, Mr. Klein's communications director, issued a statement saying parent involvement "has been an important priority from the beginning of our reform efforts."

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Charge to the equity task force

Jason Shepard reports in this week's Isthmus that the newly appointed task force on equity will look at "Differences in curriculum opportunities, extracurricular programs and access to meaningful information about a school's performance . . ."

However, I can't find a charge to the task force. Can someone post it or provide a link?

Posted by Ed Blume at 8:28 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Good goals, flawed reasoning: Administration Goes Full Speed Ahead on English 10 at West High

At January and February school board meetings, Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater reported on the administration's plan to go ahead with one English course for all tenth graders at West High School starting in 2006-07. The goal of the plan is to increase academic opportunity for students of color. The mechanism is to teach all students the same curriculum, leaving it up to teachers to "differentiate" their approach and give equal challenge to every student. The school board has taken no action on this plan and does not plan to adopt, modify or otherwise vote on the plan before it is implemented.

I support the goal. I am not convinced, however, that the mechanism is based, as claimed, on the best research. The presentations to the Performance and Achievement Committee have raised my level of doubt.

At the January 30 meeting, the board heard from a University of Wisconsin expert. His published research on the subject of differentiated teaching concluded that more research is needed on this subject. Where the expert found successful differentiated teaching in high schools,the circumstances of the schools were far different from the circumstances at West High School. For example, successful "differentiated" classes occurred in schools where administration could match the skills and motivation of the teachers to the classes and where students vied for spots in the classrooms. We have a staff based on seniority and teacher options within the seniority system and must accept all students at tenth grade level into the program.

We were asked to consider the Biology I/ Advanced Biology I program at West High as a basis for making the change in the English program. In that program, approximately 20 students qualify for the advanced course and all others take Biology I. We were told that taking Biology I (rather than the advanced course) had not prevented a high percentage of West students from becoming National Merit Semi-Finalists. Never mind that the tests used for selecting the semi-finalists do not test science skills. At best, this correlation shows that taking Biology I did not harm the high-scoring students skills and aptitudes in non-science areas.

Two of our teachers made more persuasive arguments for caution in moving to "differentiated" courses. One cited research showing that the teacher training for these courses is a five to ten-year process. The other teacher gave us the factual background necessary to analyze the administration's proposal. That teacher's testimony follows.

Board of Education: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you at Monday’s meeting. This is the information that was requested by Ms. Robarts.

I strongly support and applaud the efforts of the East Math Department in revising the Algebra/Trigonometry Course. However, I question whether the revision of this course at East HS is a model that will assure the success of the new English 10 course at West HS. These are the reasons for my concerns:

  • English 10 is a required course designed for 100% of the 10th graders. Alg/Trig is an 11th grade elective that is taken by 38.9% or 169 of the 11th graders. Students not yet ready to take Alg/Trig in 11th grade may take the course in 12th grade as 59 students did this year or if ready, take it earlier as forty-five 10th graders did this year. Essentially the students at East consist of higher 10th graders, middle 11th graders and lower 12th graders. This population does not include the highest or the lowest ability students and thus may make it easier to differentiate than the English 10 class.

  • The English Department at West may resist requests to skip English 10. At East fifty-four 10th graders skipped ahead to Pre-Calculus.

  • English 10 replaced as many 15 courses. Algebra/Trig has combined only 2 courses.

  • There are not other English courses available to 10th graders at West. At East, Advanced Algebra/Analytical Geometry, Integrated Math III, Trigonometry & Topics, & Pre-Calculus are also available as elective courses that cover similar material at differing pace and depth.

  • The East High course somewhat reflects the population of the school except for the populations of EEN & low-income students. The school has 1839 students. 23% are African American, 8% are Hispanic, 11% are Asian, 57% are white, 42% are low income, 13% are English Language Learners and 22% receive Special Education services. The Algebra/Trig class serves 273 students. 20% are African American, 111% are Hispanic, 10% are Asian, 58% are white, 31% are low income, 11% are English Language Learners and 11% receive Special Education Services.

Potential Cost: It has been stated that the District will allow academically capable students to skip English 10 through the In-Step process. It is not known how many students will access this option, but if we use the fifty-four 10th grade East math students as a possible number of 10th grade English students at West, we face a potentially large expense through the Youth Options program. Students that complete 4 years of English in 3 years could opt to take a UW course each semester at MMSD expense. The current credit cost for two 3-credit courses would be $1760 or for two 4-credit courses the cost would be $2346 per student.

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2006 - 2007 Kindergarden Enrollment

Madison Metropolitan School District:

Kindergarten Enrollment for the 2006-2007 school year is Monday, March 6, 2006 from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. at all MMSD elementary schools. To be eligible, children must be 5 years old on or before September 1, 2006.

When enrolling a child for kindergarten, parents will be required to show proof of age (birth certificate, baptismal record, medical assistance card,) proof of residency (utility bill) and an immunization record.

Find your school here.

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Monona Grove Sets $28M Referendum for 4/4 Election


The Monona Grove School Board set a referendum date of April 4 to ask voters to spend $28 million on a new school and renovations.

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Gangs, Schools & City Government

Paul Soglin & Mary Kay Battaglia:

When I posted Teachers Strike in Madison: Thirty Years Later January 27, 2006, Mary commented:
While failing public schools are linked to the high number of low income students attending them, you may be interested in some MMSD data. If you go to the MMSD web site and look under their data you will find that in 1991 Madison's elementary schools had a total %low income of 24.6%. In 2005 that number almost doubled to 42.4%. Our schools are in a crisis of becoming just another urban school in trouble. That's almost double in 14 years.

Why is it that Madison city government is so UNinvolved with the schools? It seems to me for growth and economic stability the two should have a better working relationship. The district is clueless to the growth and the city does not seemed concerned with informing the district or working to help crisis areas of the city to help both the school and neighborhood. Allied is an example where they could work together. Mary Kay Battaglia

And this week Channel 3 WISC is running a series, Experts: New Street Gangs Rising In Dane County.
Mary Kay previously wrote about this here. Lucy Mathiak followed up on that post here.

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The Best and Worst of No Child Left Behind

Superintendent Art Rainwater:

One of the most significant occurrences in public education during my Superintendency has been the "No Child Left Behind Act" (NCLB) which was passed with the intention of changing and improving public education. The act is significant because it is the first time the federal government has inserted itself into determining the quality of K-12 education at the local level. NCLB captures both the best and worst of current educational thought.

The recognition of the importance in understanding our children's learning needs through good academic assessment has been a major positive change. Educators have the best chance for success when we are using academic performance data about each individual child to inform instruction.

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More on the Swan Creek Petition to Leave the Madison School District

Sandy Cullen:

The Madison School Board and the Oregon School Board both are scheduled to address the petition at their Feb. 27 meetings.

The land on which the subdivision is located was previously part of the Oregon School District. It was transferred effective July 1, 2003, to the Madison district in exchange for commercial property, said Clarence Sherrod, attorney for the Madison School District.

School boards in both districts also agreed not to allow the land to be transferred back, said Madison School Board President Carol Carstensen.

"I do not want them to leave," Carstensen said, adding, "I certainly understand their concern over the uncertainty."

Carstensen said some Swan Creek residents who want to remain in the Madison School District "are not happy at the timing" of the petition, which they thought would used as a "last-ditch" option.

The petition, statutes and more details can be found here.

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February 8, 2006

Poll Shows Divide Among Parents & Teachers

Ben Feller:

In the poll, for example, less than half of parents say student discipline is a serious concern at school.

Teachers scoff at that. Two in three of them call children's misbehavior a major problem.

Over 14 years of teaching, Carol-Sue Nix has watched discipline problems trickle down from the fifth grade to pre-kindergarten. A parent-teacher conference usually follows.

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School Board Candidate Take Home Test, Week 3


Here's the third round of the Take-Home Test, the weekly question and answer session Isthmus is conducting with this spring's candidates for the Madison Board of Education.

Here are this week's questions:

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MMSD's Enrollment & Capacity Picture: A Perspective

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) is facing a significant challenge - growth. As a result of that growth - which is not evenly distributed across the district's region - some schools are facing, or will soon be facing, overcrowding. Other schools still continue to see languishing enrollment which calls into question the appropriate future use of their facilities. Two task forces were created to examine these issues, and to recommend up to three options to address them. The task forces were also asked to develop options so as to reduce concentrations of low-income students. This report endeavors to examine how the enrollment picture plays out over the next five years, particularly under the various options proposed by the task forces. Special attention is given here to the West Side task force options due to this author's greater familiarity with them, and his continued maintenance of a model tracking their proposals.

This report [121K PDF] first looks at the proposed options for the West & Memorial areas, and examines how projected enrollment and capacity compare over each of the next five school years. The report will then consider population projections over the next 25 years to try to get some sense of what one may expect as regards future demand for school facilities.

Disclosure, or why am I doing this?

  • I recently moved to Madison and saw this issue as a way to get involved in the community and to understand "how things work" here.
  • This particular issue is a complex problem, and therefore a rather interesting one to look at.
  • I have two children attending MMSD schools, and therefore am especially interested in the well-being of this district, and community.
  • Once I got started, it's been hard to stop (though my work and family demands have certainly constrained my efforts).


The following preliminary conclusions can be drawn from this analysis:
Elementary SchoolsSome slight "tweaking" of the options may be warranted, particularly to address the near-term situation for Chavez.
Middle SchoolsJefferson & Toki are facing overcrowding risks in the next 5-10 years. In that light, particular attention will need to be given to the precise alignment of students attending a new school. If they are all aligned to attend only one of the middle schools, overcrowding will become an even greater risk.

Cherokee's longer-term situation appears all right, but that will definitely depend largely on the level of growth in the Fitchburg area.

Long-Term OutlookThe demographics and growth picture for Madison, and the country, suggest there will be continued increase in elementary school enrollment for some time. The projected increase in enrollment over the next five years does not appear to be a temporary phenomenon that will soon reverse itself
PDF Version for printing [121K PDF] Please contact me at if you have questions, or post comments here.

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Schools Top Scores No Accident

Rosalind Rossi:

More African-American kids at Morgan Park passed their AP exams in two courses -- English language/composition and European history -- than at any other high school in the nation offering AP courses last year, AP officials said.

The number of Morgan Park students required to achieve that feat was 32 in English language and 26 in European history.

That may not sound like much, but those numbers translate roughly into 1-1/2 classrooms full of kids, all of them testing at college-level standards, and all of them African American -- the racial group most under-represented in AP classrooms across the nation, state and city. Two sections of each course were offered last year at Morgan Park, where the student body is 93 percent African-American.

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AP Program Gaining Increasing Prominence Nationwide

Tamar Lewin:

According to the second annual report from the College Board, which administers the Advanced Placement program, about 60 percent of American high schools now offer Advanced Placement courses, and the average high school offers a choice of eight such courses.

"The number of students participating in A.P. has more than doubled in 10 years, and today almost 15,000 U.S. schools offer A.P. courses," said Gaston Caperton, the president of the board, a New York-based nonprofit organization.

The percentage of American high school students passing A.P. exams increased in all 50 states last year, the report said. In the class of 2005, 14.1 percent of students received an A.P. exam grade of 3 or higher on one or more A.P. exams, up from 13.2 percent of the class of 2004, and 10.2 percent of the class of 2000.

A.P. exams in 35 subjects are given in May, at a cost of $82 each. They are graded on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 representing A-level college work, and 3 representing about a C+.

Barb Schrank earlier noted that East offers 8 AP courses, LaFollette 13, Memorial 16 and West 8. The District's efforts in these areas appear to be going in different directions, with a growing effort to provide a one size fits all curriculum (West and Sherman examples) while recently receiving a grant to increase the number of AP classes. The District's approach to Athletics has apparently not changed, though Kurt Vonnegut via his short story Harrison Bergeron, notes that 2081 might be the year for that.

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February 7, 2006

Why Virtual Learning is Growing in Popularity

Lisa Hendrickson:

Virtual schools – also known as “schools without walls” and cyber-schools – are just one of the many educational options available for families today in Wisconsin. Virtual schools started appearing in the late 1990s and have quickly become a very real alternative for children who may do better – for any number of reasons – outside the traditional classroom.

As a former "bricks and mortar" schoolteacher, I am experiencing the benefits of virtual schooling firsthand in my role as a "virtual schoolteacher." I am able to work with each of my students and a parent or other adult who serves as the child's face-to-face "Learning Coach" to develop lesson plans that best meet their individual learning style and ability. Parents enjoy getting involved and the results have been very successful. In fact, WCA has doubled in size since its inception in 2002, dissolving the mystery of virtual learning and replacing it with well-educated young people.

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New Dane County Gangs Task Force


Concerns about the growth of street gangs in the Madison area are prompting authorities to create a new task force that will target Dane County's top gang leaders and drug dealers, WISC-TV reported.

Federal, state, and local police will play a key role in the new gang unit.

There's a great deal being planned on many fronts right now to combat the growing gang problem, and the new gang task force is one component, WISC-TV reported.

Rafael Gomez recently hosted a Forum on Gangs & School Violence: Audio / Video.

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AP Exams Growing in Popularity

Jay Matthews:

American high school seniors took more than 1.5 million Advanced Placement exams last year, closing the gap with the SAT test and dramatizing the rising influence of AP on school curriculums, college admissions and assessment of schools and state education programs.

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Here's How to Meet School Challenges

Arlene Silveira:

A Wisconsin State Journal editorial on Jan. 2 correctly described me as an active Parent-Teacher Organization parent and school issues activist. I am proud of that. But just as important is my long experience working at Promega: It has equipped me with the business and scientific acumen necessary for handling budget and policy and procedures development.

The editorial asked for ideas for meeting the district's challenges. Here is my overview.

Dealing with another $6 million to $8 million gap in the 2006-2007 budget.

The district has cut all "the fat" over the past decade of cuts (about $45 million) and further cuts are hurting the classroom. I will trust the $100 budget process, whereby community members will tell the School Board what programs they value most.

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State of the Union, Budget and Our Educational Framework

Maya Cole:

So the bottom line is that we shouldn't expect much from the federal government. The dilemma for the Board and the community is to find out what our priorities will be for the coming years in Madison.

Although we have been looking at our school budget as a $100 budget cutting exercise, I would like to look at a program already cut by the district.

One elementary school program in particular, the Ready Set Go conferences, have come to my attention repeatedly from both teachers and parents. It was both a commitment by the district to voice the educational expectations of the district and an opportunity for a family to share with the teacher their goals for the child.

Barry Ritholtz posts a number of useful charts on the proposed 2007 federal budget. Neil Heinen notes that the state situation, with its "structural deficit" does not look much better. This, despite a 10% jump in taxes paid by Wisconsin residents in 2005, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayer's Alliance.

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Monona Grove Board Dresses Up Referendum

Barry Adams:

The Monona Grove School Board looked Monday at more than the bottom line when it considered a spring building referendum.

Besides keeping the price tag under $30 million, it also made sure it offered something for both Cottage Grove and Monona. Under the plan, Cottage Grove would get a $23.2 million middle school for students in grades five through eight from Cottage Grove and in seventh and eighth grade from Monona.

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District Officials Expected Residents to Target them for Budget Cuts

Sandy Cullen:

Hardest hit was the area of curriculum research and staff development, which was targeted for reduction by 25 groups, followed by the superintendent's office and business services.

Superintendent Art Rainwater said that in the two groups he worked with, "People first, almost without exception, went to any form of administration."

"We will have to take a look at this and reconcile this input to our recommendations," Price said. "This is valuable information."

Even more valuable were the directives administrators received on what not to touch, Price said, adding, "Teacher and pupil services were areas very much protected by the groups."

Providing safe and secure schools ranked highest among participants' individual priorities, followed by academic achievement, minority achievement and specialized services, such as alternative programs and talented and gifted programs.

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Thinking Different: D.C. Proposes Deals with Developers for Schools and Libraries

Debbie Wilgoren:

The old schools and libraries need to be replaced. Developers are hungry for space for even more condominiums. So D.C. officials want to make a deal: The developers would build new libraries, schools and maybe even police stations, and get the privilege of putting condominiums or shops on top of or alongside them.

Proponents say developers could pay now for amenities the city wouldn't fund for years, if ever, and developers would get scarce city space for housing -- mostly high-end, but some affordable.

With the costs of fixing schools and libraries estimated at close to $2 billion, said D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, "I don't believe we can tax our way out."

I think we'll see much more of this.

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Sophomore Year: Between Lark and a Hard Place

Valerie Strauss:

Social studies teacher Leirdre Galloway won't accept late assignments, strictly enforces classroom rules and demands that her students think for themselves. "I'm going to teach you how to fish," she likes to tell them. "I'm not going to give you fish."

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Board Committee Meetings - Live on TV

The MMSD is beginning to regularly broadcast live School Board committee meetings on Cable Channel 10. Most board committee meetings are held on Monday and begin around 5 p.m.

This is a first for the school district, and I welcome this outreach step. It's during the board workshops, special sessions and committee meetings that issues can be discussed in a fair level of detail over several meetings.

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February 6, 2006

National Institute of Aerospace 4th Annual Educator Training Workshop

National Institute of Aerospace:

The National Institute of Aerospace (NIA), in partnership with NASA Langley Research Center and the North Carolina and Virginia Space Grant Consortia, is pleased to announce our 4th Annual Educator Training Workshop. The workshop is an opportunity for middle and high school teachers and administrators to delve into the world of aerospace to provide exciting learning opportunities for their students. This activity will be an intense two weeks focused on current and past NASA research in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

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Expert Political Judgment: How Good is It? How Can We Know?

Berkeley Professor of Leadership Philip E. Tetlock has written a rather interesting book:

He evaluates predictions from experts in different fields, comparing them to predictions by well-informed laity or those based on simple extrapolation from current trends. He goes on to analyze which styles of thinking are more successful in forecasting. Classifying thinking styles using Isaiah Berlin's prototypes of the fox and the hedgehog, Tetlock contends that the fox--the thinker who knows many little things, draws from an eclectic array of traditions, and is better able to improvise in response to changing events--is more successful in predicting the future than the hedgehog, who knows one big thing, toils devotedly within one tradition, and imposes formulaic solutions on ill-defined problems. He notes a perversely inverse relationship between the best scientific indicators of good judgement and the qualities that the media most prizes in pundits--the single-minded determination required to prevail in ideological combat.

Clearly written and impeccably researched, the book fills a huge void in the literature on evaluating expert opinion. It will appeal across many academic disciplines as well as to corporations seeking to develop standards for judging expert decision-making.

Robert Heller has more. New Yorker Review Google.

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MMSD School Board's Philosopy of Education - community responsibility

Point 5 in the Madison Metropolitan School District's Philosophy of Education says:

We believe that students, parents, school personnel, members of the BOARD, and the general public share the responsibility for the total educational program of the School District. We believe that this responsibility requires cooperation, effort, and dedication if the youth of the school community are to receive the learning opportunities necessary for them to become effective citizens in a free society.

I would like to see the School Board keep this point in mind when discussing heterogenous classes, changes to curriculum, redesigning middle school. Other school districts use on-going broader-based public coalitions when changes are being considered and as changes are being made leading up to board decisions.

The School Board took a positive step in this direction with the long-range planning task forces, and I hope this will extend to other areas in a meaningful way. I'd only add that the issues and timelines for the long-range planning task forces needed to extend beyond the task force work so next steps were better understood by all, including all board members.

Too often the School Board's approach seems to be the board and admin. vs. them (teachers, parents, for example) on any number of topics (heterogenous classes at the Board meeting tonight and social studies curriculum at West High tonight but over the past few years there have been issues - fine arts curriculum, math, reading, open classroom) rather than working toward approaches/solutions and bringing the various knowledgable, interested and concerned parties together. I think a change in conversation and how we work together is warranted, because we will have to pass referendums. This is not simply a case of folks not happy with decisions. I think the feelings run much deeper, and the implications for successful referendums are not good if we continue in this manner and that worries me.

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The Boy Who Couldn't Find 8 x 7

Karin Klein:

What struck me was that the reasons why Johnny can't do algebra in L.A. today are remarkably similar to why Johnny Patrello couldn't do algebra almost four decades ago in Yonkers, N.Y.

Johnny and I were brought together by Mrs. Elizabeth Bukanz, the algebra teacher. Mrs. Bukanz wore her sandy hair in a frizzy French twist and her glasses on a chain. But she was gentle and smiling, and she had passion — at least for what she called "the beauty of algebra." I, too, loved its perfect logic and tidy solutions, so unlike my messy teenage life.

But Johnny was deaf to algebra's siren song. He was flunking, and Mrs. Bukanz hoped that if I used my study halls to tutor him, he might score at least 65% on the New York State Regents exam. Passing the exam allowed even failing students to move on to high school, which started in 10th grade; otherwise, Johnny would be left behind.

Via Joanne

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Students in U.S. Could Use New Formulas

Tanya Caldwell:

As the Los Angeles Times' Monday installment of "The Vanishing Class" series described, 35% of future elementary school instructors who studied at Cal State Northridge, the largest supplier of new teachers to the Los Angeles Unified School District, got Ds or Fs in their first college-level math class last year.

Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer has cited the "cumulative failure of our ability to teach math adequately in the public school system."

William Schmidt, a professor at Michigan State University and executive director of its Third International Math and Science Study Research Center, was asked by The Times whether other countries have as much trouble finding adequately trained math teachers as the United States.

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Calculating Beyond Their Years

Daniel de Vise:

Some Washington area high school students are pushing so far ahead in math courses that Advanced Placement, the widely accepted pinnacle of pre-collegiate study, no longer goes far enough.

More than 500 students in the Montgomery and Fairfax school systems, the region's two largest, are taking multivariable calculus, a course traditionally taken by math majors in their second year of college -- at least in the old days. That means the students have a full year of college-level calculus under their belt before they leave high school.

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Carol Cartsensen's Weekly Message

Carol Carstensen:

Parent Group Presidents:BUDGET FACTOID:

The district has a grant development section (funded entirely from the grants the district gets). The grant developer averages about $3 Million a year in external funding.

January 30th Meetings:
5 p.m. Performance & Achievement Committee (Shwaw Vang, chair):
UW Professor Adam Gamoran spoke to the Committee about his research on the effects that different grouping practices (heterogeneous or by ability) had on achievement of various groups of students. He also provided information about the elements that should be in place so that teachers can successfully differentiate curriculum for the individual needs of students. There will be second meeting on this topic on Monday, Feb. 6.

6 p.m. Special Board Meeting:
The Board began discussing each of the recommendations from the two Long Range Planning Task Forces. No action was taken. The administration was asked to prepare questions for a possible referendum in April. This discussion will continue on Feb. 13.
February 6th MEETINGS : (these will be in McDaniels auditorium and televised on Channel 10)

5 p.m. Finance & Operations Committee (Johnny Winston Jr., chair): report on the $100 Budget exercise; presentation explaining the status of construction costs for repairs, remodeling and building.
6 p.m. Performance & Achievement Committee (Shwaw Vang, chair)
Further presentations on heterogeneous grouping a look at what is occurring in the district. Public Appearances will be after the presentations.
7:15 p.m Regular Board Meeting:

February 13 (televised)
5 p.m. Special Board Meeting continued discussion about the recommendations from the 2 Task Forces.

Sorry for the cold weather I was hoping for more snow though.

Carol Carstensen, President Madison School Board

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

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As Children Go to School, Parents Tag Along on the Web

Katharine Goodloe:

When Brenda Peterson's 17-year-old son, Matthew, comes home and asks for more lunch money, she's able to log into an online system at Hartford Union High School that shows just how many cheese fries, Little Debbie snacks and cookies he's downed lately.

Looking at that list has prompted Peterson to sit her son down and say, "Hey, you have to make better choices," she said.

At West Bend's Badger Middle School, teacher Jessica Gieryn e-mails about 75 parents each Monday, outlining forthcoming assignments and project due dates.

Although West Bend doesn't expect to have a district-wide system for online grades until next year, Gieryn has been sending her informal list for four years, and the number of parents wanting the information grows steadily, she said.

Not only do the notes cut down on phone calls - most parents e-mail her instead - they also put students on alert. Some complain that parents know details of a big project the moment kids arrive home from school, or that parents have printed out study guides for them to memorize, she said.

"It definitely does change expectations," Gieryn said.

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Sun Prairie Finalizes Three High School Referenda Questions

Gena Kittner:

The first question would be if the district should build one high school, which could be expanded, for 1,400 students on the city's east side, said board President Mary Ellen Havel- Lang.

The other two possible questions would be if the district should build a bigger gym than what's proposed in the new high school and if the auditorium should be built so that it could be turned into a performing arts center, she said.

Sun Priarie School District site.

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February 5, 2006

And, For Perfect Attendance, Johnny Gets a Car

Pam Belluck:

Attendance at Chelsea High School had hovered at a disappointing 90 percent for years, and school officials were determined to turn things around. So, last fall they decided to give students in this poverty-stung city just north of Boston a little extra motivation: students would get $25 for every quarter they had perfect attendance and another $25 if they managed perfect attendance all year.

"I was at first taken a little aback by the idea: we're going to pay kids to come to school?" said the principal, Morton Orlov II. "But then I thought perfect attendance is not such a bad behavior to reward. We are sort of putting our money where our mouth is."

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Taking Control of Restless Energy

Susan Troller:

Students at Lowell Elementary School are learning better ways to release pent-up energy than by kicking a desk or taking a poke at a classmate.

Through an innovative series of exercises designed to link body movement to breathing to a calm and focused mind, students and teachers, as well as some entire families, are finding an alternative to the restless energy that creates conflict and disrupts classrooms.

"The 3S Smart Learning System is transforming," said Elisabeth Phillips, a special education teacher at Lowell who has been instrumental in developing the yoga-like program at Lowell.

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State of Education: Who Makes the Grade?

Kavan Peterson:

Schools spend fewer dollars per student in Utah than in any other state, but more fourth-graders there improved reading and math scores over the past decade than in more than half of the states.

Maine, for example, spends nearly twice as much on a comparable student population -- $9,300 a student vs. $4,800 in Utah. But fewer Maine fourth-graders improved their math scores -- and their reading scores actually declined in the past decade.

Both states ranked just above the national average on 2005 national reading and math tests, known as the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP. But Utah stands out for its success in boosting the number of students to pass the tests since 1992, the first year of state-by-state NAEP testing, despite ranking dead last for spending.

State by State Test Scores and Per Pupil Spending (.xls)

UPDATE: a reader emails:
The relevant comparison to make on the data on school funding and NAEP scores is Minnesota versus Wisconsin. We have a somewhat higher level of students eligible for free or reduced lunch, over 10% higher funding per pupil and lower NAEP scores.

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Reader Reed Schneider on Curriculum and School Boards

Reed Schneider emails on recent posts regarding a School Board's role in curriculum policy:

I agree that the school board should be responsible for the district's curriculum. In fact, it is the most important thing they are charged with. 10 or more years ago, before widespread internet availability, the non-edu-estab person on a board would have the excuse that it would be impossible for them to know which curricula works. All decisions would be deferred to the so-called experts. That excuse doesn't work any more. Any board member can now go to and discover opinion and independent research showing programs like Reading Recovery and balanced Literacy have serious flaws. They can go to and discover that math programs recommended by the NCTM like Everyday Math fail our children.

Even if the board becomes involved, it will take board members willing to do this. Just because they become involved with curriculum will not automatically mean they will critically evaluate administrators recommendations. Far too often they simply rubber stamp what the curriculum specialist puts in front of them.

The parents and tax payers are the only ones with the power to change this. A good question at a board candidate's forum would be: "What is your opinion of reading or math programs based on constructivist theory?" If they don't understand the question, can't answer, hem and haw, or embrace it, don't vote for them. It's really that simple.

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February 4, 2006

MMSD School Board Says They Don't Do Curriculum: WI State Law Says Otherwise

The Madison School Board is directly and legally responsible for the curriculum taught in their district. The WI Administrative Code, which is law, sets forth the legal requirements for public instruction. Public Instruction, Chapter PI 8.01 (Download Admin. Code Public Instruction - School Standards)says:

2. Each school district board shall develop, adopt and implement a written school district curriculum plan which includes the following: a. A kindergarten through grade 12 sequential curriculum plan in each of the following subject areas: reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, health, computer literacy, environmental education, physical education, art and music.

Does this mean the Madison School Board is responsible for designing and creating curriculum and curriculum plans? No, of course not. I feel, however, they are responsible a) for making sure a process is in place so that academically rigorous, sequential curriculum plans are developed and evaluated regularly for meeting stated goals (and with opportunity for public comment along the way) and b) for approving curriculum plans developed under the guidance of the administration. How does the process currently this work? It's not publicly clear, perhaps, because the Madison School Board has no written curriculum board policy and no written administrative procedures (that I could find and I've asked - see below) for the development and approval of curriculum plans.

I have been told by board members the Superintendent and his staff "do curriculum," because they are the experts. What does that mean? Of course, we hope they are the experts; and, being experts in education administration, we hope and expect they use the teachers and other professionals who are experts in their field to develop curriculum plans using a well defined process that is clear and known by all. Yet, the sentiment from the board that was heard again in the their discussions of heterogenous classes is simply, "We don't do curriculum." When I first heard this type of statement from board members several years ago, I was puzzled and then I found the WI Admin. Code, which identifies the Board's responsility over approval of curriculum plans. My question for the Madison School Board is: How do and will you execute your legal responsibility? How can the School Board make this clear to the public? Written board policies and procedures that are discussed and approved by a school board are how board members spell out publicly how they will execute their legal responsibilities. I feel such policies and procedures for curriculum, which ties directly with a board's top priority of student achievement, would be illuminating and helpful for the board, public, teachers, administrators, etc.

I'd like to share my understanding of what I've learned. Curriculum plans are legally required, must be approved by the local School Board; and, as I've learned, these plans are different from standards. Basically, standards identify what we want children to learn in a particular field, at a particular time in their development; and standards are most useful when they are developed by grade. At the state level, DPI's standards are developed for grades 4, 8 and 10, and in many cases, these standards were developed with input from professionals in the field, businesses, parents, community members, other. National and professional standards in a field might guide this, but groups with broad representation refined and recommended standards used as guidelines (not law) by DPI. Locally, to help guide their board-level oversight of student's achievement, standards by grade level would seem to be more appropriate to guide both administrators and teachers.

School districts in Wisconsin are required to have locally approved K-12 sequential curriculum plans in above identified subject areas that specifies objectives, course content, course sequence, resources, specified instructional time to meet the curriculum, and a program evaluation method. MMSD's School Board did develop standards in the late 1990s, but board approved curriculum plans are a bit trickier to locate. I know sequential, K-12 curriculum plans exist per state law and are current with state and national standards exist for music and visual art education. These documents were approved by the School Board. I don't know for other areas, but I would hope and expect that each teacher has the K-12 curriculum plan for the field(s) they are teaching. As a parent, I feel I ought to be able to walk into my daughter's school and ask for a K-12 sequential curriculum plan for math, science, etc.

At a March 3, 2003 Performance and Achievement meeting, I spoke during public appearances, asking about the curriculum process. From the approved minutes: "Barbara Shrank said she has not been able to find information about the process by which changes are made to curriculum plans that have been approved by the Board of Education, and at what point professional staff members are involved. (Art Rainwater responded that curriculum change - content - is not part of the budget process and would only come into play if the budget prevented implementation. Up to this point content has not been affected by budget cuts. If the district were not able to deliver curriculum standards, it woud become a curriculum issue.)"

My questions are: the admin does what, how? What's the process, who's included (for example, admin, teachers, non-MMSD professionals, parents), etc. A School Board curriculum policy would spell out the Board's expectation, including procedures, and a written policy would make this clear for all Board members, the administration, other MMSD staff and for the public of what is expected and how it is to be done. I feel a School Board curriculum policy is lacking and I would like to see the Madison School Board take the leadership steps to develop a board level curriculum policy. Without one, anyone can say and do anything about curriculum on whatever timeline in whatever way, and that sometimes appears to be the case to the public, giving the perception of confusion. A board policy could begin to change that.

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Madison School Board Election Site Updates

I've updated the candidate election page with information from the January, 2006 campaign finance filings and a link to the first podcast.

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Notes from Performance & Achievement Meeting on Ability Grouping

At this past week's meeting, Adam Gamoran from the UW Center for Educational Research spoke to the Board about ability grouping. Dr. Gamoran talked about how ability grouping often ends up grouping students by race and SES because these students enter school having had different early childhood experiences and different educational opportunities (recall Donna Ford discussing the number of books in the homes of low income and middle income families).

Dr. Gamoran noted that there are often differences in the classroom experiences of high and low ability groups of students in regards to teacher expectations, academic rigor, and teacher ability.

He also emphasized that there is no simple solution to the achievement gap. Heterogeneous or homogeneous grouping by themselves will not reduce the gap in achievement. However, there are some clear cut solutions that are obvious according to Dr. Gamoran.

  1. No more dead end classes like general math for the low ability students;
  2. high academic expectations for students of all ability levels; and
  3. teachers should not be assigned in a way that results in only the newest and least experienced teachers working with the low ability students, in other words, all students deserve quality instruction.

In discussing heterogeneous grouping, Dr. Gamoran noted that differentiation is hard work for teachers, and they need a lot of support and training in order to be successful.

Dr. Gamoran also shared an example of a school where heterogeneous grouping was successful. This was a school that was 51% free and reduced lunch, but because the school had a strong, dynamic leader and had gotten grants, they were able to recruit a top notch staff. Not only was the principal able to select which teachers worked in the school, but approximately half of the student body had to go through an interview process to get into the school, so this magnet school was selective about its teachers and its students. Class size was kept to 15 students and instruction went at a fast pace. Students who were struggling were expected to attend tutoring sessions on Saturdays. I think there was an expectation that parents would be involved in their student's education, but I am not sure about that.

Obviously the situation in the Madison schools is different from this ideal, and that's why I think it is important for the Board and the administration to hear from students and parents what it is like in the classroom. I should add that Bill Keys was very annoyed that the Board was even discussing this issue because he believes that the Board has no place in the classroom. According to Mr. Keys this is the responsibility of the teachers and administrators and they know better than the members of the Board what should be done in the classroom. However, I would argue that the teachers and administrators don't know any better than the Board does about what happens in the classroom, and they certainly don't know what it is like for high ability students in those classes. Those of us who have sat around the kitchen table while our children talk about their boredom, frustration, and lack of challenge need to help them understand and make our voices heard.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:48 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 3, 2006

School Foods Policy Meeting

I took the opportunity to attend the meeting for health professionals on the development of a school foods policy for the MMSD.

Americans seem to take an "all or nothing" approach to nutrition (either "on" a diet or "off"; restrained with eating all day and anything goes in the evening)--I'm afraid most of us know what I'm talking about. I'm hoping food policy doesn't take a similar dichotomy.

There is concern that school food service will not be able to operate in the black if they don't sell food that "students will actually buy and eat". I think there can be a moderate approach that is healthful. Yes, pizza can still be served, but how about a smaller portion as part of a meal that includes fruit/vegetable/salad and milk?

Here are the recommendations from our clinic--in short, we want to encourage normal meals at mealtimes (a good mix of foods, appropriate portion sizes, reasonable time allotment). Much of what has gone wrong with our eating is this country can be traced to the breakdown of meals and the huge increase in snacking/grazing on processed snack foods. Correcting this accomplishes the first big step in changing our consumption patterns and disease risk.

UW Children’s Hospital Pediatric Fitness Clinic
Position on Effective School Foods Policy
February 1, 2006

  • Offer full meals for a flat fee during breakfast and lunch periods. Choices could be offered within each food group--choice of 2-3 different fruits/vegetables/salad, 2 entrees, etc, but ultimately each child would get a meal. Children should eat meals at meal times and these meals should model current standards for normal, balanced eating.

  • Phase out a la carte lines. A la carte lines encourage the snacking/grazing pattern of eating and increase consumption of processed snacks, desserts, sugary drinks.

  • Maintain nutrition standards for all foods served on school grounds. See “Model School Foods Reform Legislation” ( for examples of specific standards.

  • Reflect current standards and guidelines in school breakfast and lunch menus. For example, since health professionals do not advocate eating French fries every day, the schools should not offer them every day. Or, current nutrition recommendations encourage 3 ½ ounces whole grain foods each day, so whole grains should be part of the mix of foods served at breakfast and lunch.

  • Model appropriate inclusion of desserts, fried and processed foods in school meals. Since children need to learn appropriate ways to include “pleasure” foods into their diets (i.e. reasonable portions in the context of a meal), these foods should appear on school menus. A plan should be in place for the portion size and frequency with which these foods are included on the menu.

  • Schedule longer meal periods to promote normal eating. Meals should feel relaxed and provide social time. When kids are rushed, it impacts the pace of their eating and their food priorities (“I’ll just eat the pizza and throw away the salad if I run out of time”). Increasing food quality/food cost may not improve nutrition if kids throw food away due to time limits.

  • Promote a positive food environment. Less emphasis on labeling foods “good” or “bad”, avoid posting nutritional content of individual foods. Modeling is an effective teaching tool and kids should feel secure that the adults in the school environment are looking after their nutritional health.
Posted by Marcy Braun at 12:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Nutritionist campaigning against junk food

Anne Wallace Allen:

Stephanie Rose walked into the lunchroom of the Idaho Falls High School with a homemade chart and tallied what she found: Canisters of potato chips. Heaps of candy. Cellophane-wrapped cakes. High-caffeine sports drinks.

Twelve percent of the foods offered by the district a la carte program were granola or cereal bars, fruits, vegetables, or low-fat chips or pretzels. The other 88 percent included nachos, corn dogs, chips and cookies.

"For 25 cents you can buy 310 calories," said Rose, a nurse and diabetes educator who attended Idaho Falls High in the 1980s, when she had to take a helping of beans on her plate whether she wanted them or not.

These days, the school promotes "Corn dogs: two for a dollar," she says. "Good Lord, what are you trying to do here?"

UW Health Nutritionist Marcy Braun participated in a recent Forum on Nutrition and Schools audio / video

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:39 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February Math Events

  • Hamilton Middle School [Map] is hosting a Math Night, Wednesday, February 8, 2006 at 7:00p.m., evidently designed for parents of children attending that school this fall.

  • Rafael Gomez is organizing a Forum on Middle School Math Curriculum Wednesday evening, February 22, 2006 at the Doyle Administration Building (McDaniels Auditorium) [Map] from 7:00 to 8:00p.m. Participants include:
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Leopold: Add on or Build New School in Fitchburg?

Sandy Cullen:

The Madison School District should purchase land now for a future school in Fitchburg, rather than build an addition on crowded Leopold Elementary School, School Board member Lawrie Kobza said.

But in the interim, that would likely mean Fitchburg students who now attend Leopold would be reassigned to Lincoln and Midvale schools, where space is now available.

The proposal differs from the recommendations of a task force that was assembled to address crowding problems in the West and Memorial high school attendance areas. The task force advised building an addition at Leopold, which has dealt with crowding for five of the last six years.

School Board President Carol Carstensen said she supports that idea, adding that members of the task force considered building a school in Fitchburg but felt an immediate solution was needed.

We are facing a real crisis at Leopold. It's not only a space crisis," Carstensen said, adding the Leopold community's support for the district is also at risk.

A referendum to build a second elementary school adjacent to Leopold failed last year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 2, 2006

Swan Creek Petitions to Leave the MMSD

Fitchburg's Swan Creek subdivision petitioned recently to leave the Madison School District. [Map] A reader emails that Swan Creek currently has 21 students in the MMSD. Links:

5 pages from the petition [1.1mb pdf] Wisconsin Statutes: [106K PDF]

UPDATE: A reader wondered recently what the mileage differences might be between Swan Creek and schools in the MMSD or Oregon*.

  • High Schools: Madison West 7 miles [map] or Oregon High School 7 miles [map]

  • Middle Schools: Cherokee 7.2 miles [map], Oregon's Rome Corner's Intermediate 7.7 miles [map] or Oregon Middle School 8.3 miles [map]

  • Elementary Schools: Leopold 3.5 miles [map], Lincoln 4 miles [map], Midvale 8.2 miles [map]. Oregon: Prairie View Elementary 6.7 miles [map] Netherwood Elementary 6.7 miles [map] Brooklyn Elementary School 13 miles [map]
* Obviously, the pickup route and traffic conditions determine the actual travel time, given similar distances.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Regular computer users perform better in key school subjects, OECD study shows

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development):

The relationship with student performance in mathematics is striking. Students who have used computers for several years mostly perform better than average. By contrast, those who don’t have access to computers or who have been using computers for only a short time tend to lag behind their class year.

According to the OECD study, students who had been using computers for less than one year (10% of the total sample) scored well below the OECD average. By contrast, students who had been using computers for more than five years (37% of the total sample) scored well above the OECD average.

Via the Economist. My view on this, fwiw, is that we need to get the curriculum right first, then apply technology where it makes sense.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:20 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New York City Eliminates Whole Milk from The Menu

David Herszenhorn:

For generations of children, a serving of whole milk, customarily in a red and white carton, has been as synonymous with school as a yellow No. 2 pencil. When President Harry S. Truman signed the National School Lunch Program into law in 1946, a half pint of milk was one of five dietary staples required by the bill.

But children today are fat, or at least too many of them are, and to cut the risks of obesity, diabetes and other health problems, New York City — the nation's largest school district — has decided to cut whole milk from the menu.

That feat, no small one in a system that serves a half-million half pints of milk a day, is already under way, with whole milk banished from cafeterias in the Bronx and in Manhattan. To the ire of the dairy industry, which has lobbied fiercely against the change, the other boroughs are following suit and, by the end of this month, officials say, whole milk will be gone for good.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:15 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Why Education is Productive, A Parable of Men and Beasts

Tyler Cowen:

We know the paradox. Education improves earnings but most formal schooling appears to be a waste of time. Many economists claim that education is mostly a means of signaling quality.

I view education as a self-commitment to being a more productive kind of person. Education is about self-acculturation.

Men are born beasts. But education gives you a peer group, a self-image, and some skills as well. Getting an education is like becoming a Marine. Men need to be made into Marines. By choosing many years of education, you are telling yourself that you stand on one side of the social divide. The education itself drums that truth into you.

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

Oregon Kids Getting Heavier

Tim Fought:

Because Oregon kids are growing out faster than they are growing up, public schools must get students exercising and remove the temptation of junk food, child advocates say.

Nearly one in four Oregon children meet the definition of overweight or obese, in adult terms, according to the annual Kids Count report.

It said this is part of a national trend: More than twice as many children and three times as many adolescents are overweight today than was the case 30 years ago.

The leader of the group that issues the report, Children First for Oregon, said overweight children are part of an epidemic.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:24 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Change and the Five C's

Seat 1 Madison School Board Candidate Maya Cole:

This election is about change. I want to see a Board that embraces change as a way to focus our limited resources on quality education for all kids.

I, for one, would like to see our Board work out of the box and get to a point where they are governing instead of bounding from issue to issue. We have an annual budget cycle. We need to look at a budget cycle of three to five years. The budget comes up every year and every year we talk about cuts to strings, cuts to janitorial services, cuts to art and physical education.

Let's revisit a commentary by Peter Hutchinson, president of the Public Strategies Group Inc. of St. Paul, Minnesota in Education Week in 1997.

I'm actively supporting Maya Cole's Candidacy.

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

February 1, 2006

Students and Teachers, from K to 12 Hit the Podcasts

Jeffrey Selingo, via reader Wade Waege:

THE subjects were typical for a seventh-grade classroom: a summary of a mealworm's metamorphosis, strategies on improving memory and making studying easier and a story about a classroom candy thief.

But the discussions last fall at Longfellow Middle School in La Crosse, Wis., were not taking place only for their classroom to hear. They were recorded as part of a series of podcasts the students produced and syndicated over Apple's iTunes music store.

"Their audience has moved to the entire world," said Jeanne Halderson, one of two seventh-grade teachers at Longfellow who supervise the podcasts. "The students find that exciting. It's a lot more motivating to write something that the whole world can hear, rather than just something for a teacher to put a grade on."

Podcasting - posting an audio recording online that can be heard through a computer or downloaded to a mobile device like an iPod - is following blogs and online classes as yet another interactive technology catching on as a teaching tool. Currently, iTunes lists more than 400 podcasts from kindergarten through 12th-grade classes, while Yahoo has nearly 900 education-related podcasts. Some are produced by teachers wanting to reach other educators with teaching tips, while many are created by students, like the La Crosse seventh graders with their podcast, at

Wade mentioned that Apple is holding a free seminar on February 14 in Brookfield, 2006 on Education and Podcasting.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:53 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Take Home Test, Week 2

Isthmus continues their quite useful take home test with two interesting questions for the candidates:

  1. Beyond the nucleus of academic requirements and mandated services, what programs are essential to the district’s success and should be protected from budget cuts?

  2. As a student, what was your worst experience in school? As an adult, what lessons do you draw from it?

  3. What was the last book you gave as a gift to a family member or friend?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:52 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

WisPolitics Lunch (2/3/2006): Mark Green and Scott Walker is hosting a lunch for Republican Gubernatorial candidates Mark Green and Scott Walker who are facing off to run against incumbent Democrat Jim Doyle this fall.

Cost is $15 for Madison Club members and $19 for non-members. Call Loretta to RSVP at the Madison Club, 608-255-4861.

This is perhaps one of the best local opportunities to question the candidates regarding their views of K-12 public financing, the achievement gap, the QEO and our state's economy which supports our education system. Governor Doyle created a school finance task force several years ago, but did not implement any changes to the current regime.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:15 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas