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March 31, 2006

School Board Candidates Want to Get Past Politics


Tuesday's school board election will bring big changes as the winner replaces veteran school board member Bill Keys.

Maya Cole and Arlene Silveira both want to take over for Keys. Each woman has been aligned with one of the two factions of the school board.

But both candidates told News 3 the education of of the must rise above petty differences.

Cole on Friday told a local radio audience that she'll ask a lot of questions as a fresh voice on the school board. Cole is cast in the role of a maverick who represents change, WISC-TV reported.

"That's the way some people are perceiving it, and I think it's unfortunate," said Silveira. "I'm a very independent person, and I've been saying from day one that change is necessary."

Silveira has the campaign literature and buttons that show she has the backing of the teacher's union. She's been cast in the role of a person who would stay the course, WISC-TV reported.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:43 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Why I'm Voting for Mathiak and Cole on April 4

I think the State Journal received so many pro-Mathiak/Cole letters, they had to leave a lot of them out! Here's my 200-word submission that didn't make the cut:

Dear WSJ,

I am voting for Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole on April 4. As a long time advocate for academic excellence for all students, I believe these courageous and independent-thinking women understand the complexity of the issues and will not settle for simplistic solutions. They understand, for example, that we cannot honor, much less celebrate, much less meet the educational needs of our diverse student population by treating all students the same. Cookie-cutter curricula and one-size-fits-all classrooms in our middle and high schools may make some adults feel good; but research shows clearly that those simple-minded approaches meet no student's needs well. As Jefferson said, "Nothing is so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals."

I am also deeply concerned about the longstanding culture of bullying on the BOE. I believe it has rendered the Board completely ineffective. I am convinced that a change of membership is the only way to bring back respectable and respectful behavior -- not to mention increased transparency of operations and a thoroughgoing accountability to the public.

I am voting for Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole because I believe that, as our elected officials, they will insist on data-based decision-making and refuse to collude with the current culture of secrecy.

Laurie Frost

Posted by Laurie Frost at 6:44 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

What would Juan and Arlene do?

Maya and Lucy have been clear about wanting a different budget process and document that might reflect the district's commitments, policies, and activities. The current budget document and process don't. The process uses a black box into which the administration inserts last year's expenditures and presto! this year's cuts come out.

I can't find Juan or Arlene saying much about changing the budget process or document. Could those of you who support them (or even those who don't) cite their discussions or suggestions on the budget process and document? Maybe I'm just not looking in the right places.

Posted by Ed Blume at 2:01 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas



This was a letter to the editor published in the Wisconsin State Journal, March 30, 2006

Dear Editor,

The best reason to vote for Maya Cole and Lucy Mathiak: Electing both will change the majority on the school board. Together, Maya and Lucy will restore decorum to a board now typified by bullying and rigidity. Open government, accessible to all, and transparent decision-making will be the new order. Instead of simply rubberstamping administration and union positions, Lucy and Maya will work hard to build consensus, to develop creative answers to knotty issues like budget constraints, curriculum standards, equity; and they will support their decisions with real data gleaned from outside the current echo chamber. A vast improvement over the status quo, they will also exercise genuine oversight, making the board, not the superintendent or the union president, the final arbiter of district policy.

These are women of high standards, integrity and a refreshing honesty, both deeply committed to educating our children. Please join me in voting for Cole and Mathiak on April 4th. Together, they will transform board governance by resurrecting civility, accountability and public accessibility so that our schools can best prepare all children for their and our future.

Joan Knoebel

Let me add this postscript: the next board may very well pick a new superintendent. Will the majority on the board be committed to hiring a superintendent who is accountable to the board, who promptly responds with information when asked by a board member, who explains the assumptions underlying the budget he or she produces, who defers to the board on issues of policy?

If Lucy and Maya are both elected, the answer is yes. If neither or only one of them is elected, I fear we'll see more of the same.

Posted by Joan Knoebel at 1:52 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Make Your Picks for the Madison School Board

The Wisconsin State Journal ran a number of letters to the editor in yesterday's "Spectrum" section. Check them out here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:56 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Channel 3000 on the school board election

Yesterday, Juan Jose Lopez and I had the honor of debating in Mr. Borowski's AP American Government and Politics class. The debate was open to anyone at East High School who wanted to attend. The students organized it, wrote and asked the questions, and managed one of the best debates that we've had since the campaign season began. Kudos to East and the class. Here is the Channel 3000 report ( Neil Heinen's Sunday morning show will be taped dialogue with all 4 candidates)

School Board Candidates Face Off In Debate
Two Seats Are Open On Board

UPDATED: 9:25 am CST March 31, 2006

MADISON, Wis. -- School board candidates up for election next Tuesday brought their debate to a Madison high school classroom on Thursday.

Incumbent board member Juan Jose Lopez and challenger Lucy Mathiak debated in a Madison East High School civics class.

During the debate, the students asked questions about some of their concerns, including curriculum questions about math and advanced placement classes.

Candidates responded by expressing their hopes and intentions for the district, WISC-TV reported.

Lopez said that he supports where the district is headed and that focusing on certain expectations have translated into the schools' success.

"I've focused on student achievement. Student achievement is one of the most important things for young people in this community," he said. "We value public education. We value excellence. We value what's important to our young people in this community. Our public schools are No. 1 because that's what we value."

Mathiak said that she supports changes in district policy on things like the budget. She said that it's important to plan for the future to keep the city's schools ahead of the curve, WISC-TV reported.

"In Madison, we take a lot of pride in having strong schools," she said. "We have excellent teachers, we have very strong programs, but I don't think we can afford to be complacent. And by that, I mean we cannot afford to sit back and think that we have always had great schools so we always will"

Retiring school board member Bill Keys said that what's at stake in this election is really an attitude toward public education.

"It's going to have a decades-long impact to make the right kind of vote," Keys said. "They should make an informed vote. They should read the literature."

The two open seats for the school board have four candidates. Mathiak and Lopez are competing for one seat and Maya Cole and Arlene Silveira for the seat that Keys is vacating.

Lopez and Silveira have endorsements from Madison Teacher's Inc., the teachers' union. Mathiak and Silveira have been endorsed by the Capitol Times in their respective races.

The current board is split on who it will endorse, WISC-TV reported.

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

Study to Examine California Public Schools

Mitchell Landsberg:

The studies, to be completed by the end of the year, will be aimed at giving state officials the information needed to reform the system, with a focus on whether funding is adequate and whether it is allocated efficiently and fairly.

That will mean taking on some politically delicate topics such as the discrepancies between rich and poor districts, and the difficulty of assigning the best teachers to the neediest schools.

"We admit we have an achievement gap, and that achievement gap is unacceptable," state Supt. of Schools Jack O'Connell said in a telephone news conference about the research project. "We need a clear idea of what it's going to cost to meet the different educational needs of our very diverse student population."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:15 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Monona Referendum: Mayor vs. School Board


The Monona Grove School District referendum is just five days away, and the tension has just gotten thicker.

The issue has split the community, and now it has Monona's Mayor and the School Board divided.

Both sides issued statements today and exchanged some heated words.

The Board accused the Mayor and Council of meddling in the District's business, and Mayor Robb Kahl says the Board is personally attacking him.

This all started after the Mayor came out and publicly opposed the $29 million referendum, saying there's a cheaper solution.

"When you can find a solution for about half that cost, it's something where I don't think I had a choice but to come out and make that known," says Mayor Kahl.

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

A Teacher on Education Schools

Ms. Cornelius:

Help me with something. What makes ed schools so special? In all seriousness are ed schools truly needed and if so, why? Why can students not have a liberal arts major and an education minor, student teach and then go into the classroom with full knowledge of the subject they are teaching. I guess a better question might be if I were to be a teacher what classes do I take as an undergrad and how many (and which) of those classes are truly meaningful and challenging? Which of the classes truly prepare me to teach?

...Just something I have wondered about -- Today, it might help more people want to become teachers if they could teach something they were passionate about. Again, I do not know what classes education majors are required to take.

This is a serious question that deserves careful consideration, by people who have been in education schools and then tested out the theories taught there in the classroom. Unfortunately, serious and civil discussion is all too lacking. So let's try. Here's an expanded version of a comment I made:

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 30, 2006

‘Virtual’ symposium brings nanotech, biotech topics to K-12 science teachers

University of Wisconsin:

The convergence of nanoscience, biotechnology and information technology is a major frontier in research, with potential to enhance human abilities and improve the nation's productivity and quality of life. This virtual symposium provides an opportunity for K-12 science teachers and other educators to gain an understanding of the concepts and applications involved in these disciplines to solve current and future problems and for making the United States more competitive in the world marketplace. Science teachers will learn how to use these technologies topics to demonstrate the interdependency of the sciences of biology, chemistry and physics with technology in their science classrooms.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:44 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Budget Forum Audio / Video

Rafael Gomez held a "Parent and Taxpayer Perspective on School Budgets" last evening. Participants included: Carol Carstensen, Peter Gascoyne, Don Severson, Jeff Henriques, Shari Entenmann, Jerry Eykholt and Larry Winkler. This 70 minute event is well worth watching (or listening via the audio file).

  • Carol discussed the "three legs" of school finance and passed around an article she wrote recently "State Finance of Public Education and the MMSD Budget" [112K pdf version];

  • Peter Gascoyne suggested that we embrace long term financial forecasts as a means to guide our planning. Peter also expressed doubts about any material change to state school financing of public education over the next five years (I agree with this assessment).

  • Don Severson mentioned Madison's historic strong financial support for public education and the need to be as efficient as possible with the District's $321M+ budget.
Audio [mp3] and video

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

John Nichols: Maya Cole's no closet conservative

Capital Times, March 30, 2006
By John Nichols

Paul Wellstone has been dead for a long three years, and yet there is rarely a national political debate that does not cause me to think: What would Wellstone do?

The late Minnesota senator was an epic political figure, who fought not just against right-wing Republicans but against those in his own Democratic Party who would warp it into a pale reflection of the GOP. Wellstone's willingness to challenge the accepted political "wisdom" of the moment often put him at odds with folks he expected or at least hoped would be his supporters.

Madison School Board candidate Maya Cole, a graduate of "Camp Wellstone," the candidate training program developed by the former senator's family and friends to train a new generation of rabble-rousing contenders, knows that feeling. She's a passionate progressive who has poured her energies into struggles to stop the war in Iraq, reduce gun violence, defend voting rights, challenge racism and reorder economic priorities so that society will be more just.

John Nichols: Maya Cole's no closet conservativeBy John Nichols

Paul Wellstone has been dead for a long three years, and yet there is rarely a national political debate that does not cause me to think: What would Wellstone do?

The late Minnesota senator was an epic political figure, who fought not just against right-wing Republicans but against those in his own Democratic Party who would warp it into a pale reflection of the GOP. Wellstone's willingness to challenge the accepted political "wisdom" of the moment often put him at odds with folks he expected or at least hoped would be his supporters.

Madison School Board candidate Maya Cole, a graduate of "Camp Wellstone," the candidate training program developed by the former senator's family and friends to train a new generation of rabble-rousing contenders, knows that feeling. She's a passionate progressive who has poured her energies into struggles to stop the war in Iraq, reduce gun violence, defend voting rights, challenge racism and reorder economic priorities so that society will be more just.

A lot of her energy over the years has gone to Mothers Acting Up, a terrific national advocacy group that declares itself to be "dedicated to mobilizing the gigantic political strength of mothers to ensure the health, education and safety of every child, not just a privileged few."
John Nichols: Maya Cole's no closet conservative
File photo
Maya Cole

In a strong endorsement of Cole's candidacy, Juliana Forbes, a co-founder of Mothers Acting Up, says, "I have a great deal of respect for how she tirelessly works to protect the health and well-being of children, in an enthusiastic manner, without being divisive or combative. Maya is exactly the kind of person all school boards want to have: passionate, articulate, tenacious and able to collaborate with diverse perspectives."

Yet, in the local discussion of her candidacy during this year's race for the School Board, Cole has frequently been portrayed as a conservative contender not because she has taken right-wing, anti-public education stands but because she's backed by current School Board members Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza, who have frequently challenged school district administrators and dissented from the board's majority. The hits have come so hard that one of Cole's neighbors, who has known and liked her for years, asked me the other day whether she was a closet conservative.

Cole has reacted with good humor to rejections of her candidacy by groups with which she has worked. She's clearly an in-it-for-the-long-haul activist and she can take it. In addition, she is up against another candidate, Arlene Silveira, who brings good progressive credentials to the contest even if Silveira and Cole disagree on some issues.

Progressives can and should divide up as they choose in this year's School Board races and no one should take these words as a criticism of Silveira, whom this paper has endorsed on the basis of her long experience with and deep commitment to the schools. But a dose of realism needs to be added to this debate.

People need to remember that education issues are complex and often emotional, not least because parents are deeply engaged with questions about how their children can and should learn. Good people differ on how best to approach curriculum, construction and spending issues.

A fine example of how these differences play out came during the debate over federal No Child Left Behind legislation. When these education reforms were debated by Congress in 2001, most Senate Democrats, including Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, enthusiastically supported them. Kennedy even appeared with President Bush at the bill signing. Among the handful of opponents of the legislation was a senator who worried that too much emphasis was being placed on testing, and too little on making sure that teachers could use all their skills to educate children.

That senator, Paul Wellstone, turned out to be right. And today his concerns are echoed by the Democrats who in 2001 shunned him.

The point here is not to suggest that what Maya Cole is saying this spring will be proven right or wrong. Rather, the point is to suggest that she's a bright, new progressive who has been willing to wade into the political fray. And she deserves credit and respect for that.

Cole is being criticized by a lot of Madison progressives this spring. But my sense is that, if she stays involved with local politics, as she certainly should, many of those who shun her now will eventually be singing her praises.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. E-mail:

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 9:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Performance and Achievement Meeting of 27-Mar-2006 Available

The Performance and Achievement Meeting of 27-Mar-2006 is now available. Julie Palkowski, the District's Fine Arts Coordinator, made a presentation on the current Elementary Schools Strings program, and discussed future directions.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 6:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 29, 2006

Facts and Folly - Thomas L. Friedman, NYT

I was leaving for a trip the other day and scooped up some reading material off my desk for the plane ride. I found myself holding three documents: one was the Bush administration's National Security Strategy for 2006; another was a new study by the Economic Strategy Institute entitled "America's Technology Future at Risk," about how America is falling behind the world in broadband. And the third was "Teaching at Risk," a new report by the Teaching Commission, headed by the former I.B.M. chairman Louis Gerstner Jr., about the urgent need to upgrade the quality and pay of America's K-12 teachers.

The contrast was striking. The Bush strategy paper presupposes that we are a rich country and always will be, and that the only issue is how we choose to exercise our power. But what the teaching and telecom studies tell us is that key pillars of U.S. power are eroding, and unless we start tending to them in a strategic way, we aren't going to be able to project power anywhere.

Because we've long been rich, there is an abiding faith that we always will be, and those who dare question that are labeled "defeatists." I wouldn't call Lou Gerstner a defeatist. He saved I.B.M. by acknowledging its weaknesses and making dramatic changes — beginning with scrapping I.B.M.'s arrogant assumption that because it was such a great company, it could do extraordinary things with average people. Mr. Gerstner understood that an extraordinary company could stay that way only if it had a critical mass of extraordinary people. This is the message of his Teaching Commission: We cannot remain an extraordinary country without a critical mass of extraordinary teachers.

"If teaching remains a second-rate profession, America's economy will be driven by second-rate skills," Mr. Gerstner says. "We can wake up today — or we can have a rude awakening sooner than we think."

The Teaching Commission notes that "our schools are only as good as their teachers," yet this "occupation that makes all others possible is eroding at its foundations." Top students are far less likely to go into teaching today; salaries are stagnant; nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave within five years. To remedy this, the commission calls for raising teachers' base pay, finding ways to reward the best teachers, raising standards for acquiring a teaching degree and testing would-be teachers, on the basis of national standards, to be certain they have mastered the subjects they will teach (

Meanwhile, the report by the Economic Strategy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, is equally harrowing. It notes that while the U.S. led the world in broadband Internet access in 2000, it has now fallen to 16th place. In 2000, 40 percent of the world's telecom equipment was produced in America. That share is now 21 percent and falling. The U.S. ranks 42nd for the percentage of people with cellphones.

In an age when connectivity means productivity, when communications infrastructure is at the heart of any innovation ecosystem, these things matter for job creation and growth. The lack of ultra-high-speed networks in the U.S. "makes it impossible for U.S.-based companies to enter key new business sectors" — one reason venture capitalists are moving their R.&D. start-ups to Asia, E.S.I. noted.

"The wealth and long-term economic growth of the United States," it added, "have long depended upon technological advancement as a means of competing with our foreign rivals. ... America's emphasis has always been on achieving such high levels of productivity that it could be the low-cost producer while still paying high wages." The study offers a variety of regulatory and investment prescriptions (

It's not surprising that the Bush strategy paper is largely silent about these educational and technological deficits, as well as about the investment we need to make in alternative fuels to end our oil addiction. Because to acknowledge these deficits is to acknowledge that we have to spend money to fix them, and the radical Bush tax cuts make that impossible. It would be one thing if we were going into debt to solve these problems that affect our underlying national strength. But we are going into debt to buy low-interest houses and more stuff made in China.

We're like a family that is overdrawn at the bank just when the parents need to send their kid to college, buy a computer and a D.S.L. line, and replace a gas-guzzling furnace. Whatever "strategic plan" that family has for advancement, it won't get anywhere until it rebalances its books.

New York Times, March 29, 2006

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

MMSD Solicits Comments on Food Policy

Please share your opinion on the MMSD's proposed food policy at you can agree/disagree and comment on each section of the policy as well as see it. This is especially important because the policy has been changed since the final draft came out of Student Senate and thus bans pretty much all soda and candy/baked goods sales in the schools.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 6:28 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Take Home Test: Week 10


Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:10 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MTI on Inclusion

For what it's worth, this comes up when you Google for Madison and inclusion [pdf version]:

From a 1996 MTI document. Note the emphasis on appropriate support and funding, and the statement "MTI opposes the exclusive use of any full inclusion model." Can anyone posting to this blog tell us whether this is still the MTI position (and I am not criticizing it) and what this means for the push to extend heterogeneous classrooms to all Madison Schools, as one of a parent noted in board testimony in early February?

  1. MTI believes that Inclusion exists when student(s) with disability(ies) attend age appropriate regular education class(es), with appropriate support and funding.
  2. MTI believes that Inclusion is one option in the full continuum of services and full range of delivery models available to students with disabilities as determined by the Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).
  3. MTI believes that Inclusion requires additional Federal and State funding. This funding is mandatory prior to the implementation of Inclusion and will continue for as long as this option exists.
  4. MTI believes that coordinated planning time for all educational employees involved is a requirement for successful Inclusion.
  5. MTI believes that the impact of Inclusion must be bargained.
  6. MTI believes that regular educators, special educators and support personnel must be involved as full partners in the planning for and implementation of Inclusion.
  7. MTI believes that inservice education for all educational employees involved in the implementation of Inclusion must be provided.
  8. MTI believes that modification in class size, scheduling, and curriculum design may be needed to accommodate the shifting demands that Inclusion creates.
Madison Teachers Inc. believes the prime consideration in the placement of all students should be the welfare of each student thereby requiring a full continuum of placement options. MTI opposes the exclusive use of any full inclusion model. Any decision concerning the placement of an exceptional student must be a majority opinion of those participating in the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team meeting. MTI further believes that adequate safeguards must be provided for the classroom teacher to ensure that a proper classroom atmosphere be maintained at all times.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 2:15 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Response to Betzinger et al on Heterogeneous Grouping

March 29, 2006

To the Editor of the Capital Times:

I read with interest the March 28 letter from Betzinger et al regarding heterogeneous grouping.

Using inflammatory "tracking" vs. "inclusion" rhetoric, the authors clearly misrepresent my position on the current debate, which was posted through the Isthmus on-line questions to candidates two weeks ago. I have stated my position in front of the board and in several forums attended by their group. I also have asked for dialogue with Barb Katz on more than one occasion and she has declined my request to learn more about her position.

Under the circumstances, I can only believe that the authors would prefer not to be confused by the record, which is:

Mathiak: Despite noble rhetoric in favor of this plan, I have deep reservations about the current push for "mixed ability grouping" (a.k.a. "heterogeneous grouping"). The district has failed to clarify whether the goal is to achieve a perfect demographic balance in each classroom or address the historic segregation of Madison's advanced academic programs.

These are two very different objectives that would require different strategies to succeed.

Since 2000, the district has known that 27% of high school drop outs scored above the 84th percentile in the 5th grade math test; this group includes a large number of low income and minority students. If the district wanted to desegregate advanced academics it would require:

  • Early testing of all students to identify and nurture high ability students of color and low income students.
  • Reform of the middle school and high school guidance system to encourage rather than discourage advanced classes among students of color and low income students.
  • Creation of enough places in advanced classes to accommodate all students capable of success.
If the goal is to achieve a perfect population mix, we need to have a plan that meets the needs of all of the students in that mix. This means addressing several factors identified in successful models but which are not part of Madison's current public school practice including:
  • The ability to control who attends the school and under what terms
  • The ability to require teachers to be trained in and to implement differentiated curriculum (one expert recently testified that this takes ten or more years to put in place).
  • Generous levels of in-stepping for students who are significantly above grade level.
  • Adequate numbers of support staff -- social workers, psychologists, learning disabilities specialists, librarians, TAG specialists, and other core staff -- to allow teachers to teach to all levels.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 2:06 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


Beth Swedeen: Silveira best pick for School Board
A letter to the editor

Dear Editor: Arlene Silveira is the best choice for Madison School Board. She has shown her commitment to the overall issues facing the district through activities such as the effort to support a referendum last year and tireless work on the boundary task force. Instead of flip-flopping on tough issues, like whether a new school should be built to alleviate Leopold crowding, she has taken consistent stands and done the research to support her positions.

She doesn't use jargon like "transparency" as an excuse to put off hard decisions. She has listened with respect to many stakeholders: parents, community leaders, school staff and those whose voice isn't always heard. Because she has an asset-based approach, she will work for constant improvement in the district, not just for the sake of change.

Beth Swedeen
Published: March 29, 2006
The Capital Times

Michael Maguire: No business as usual for Cole, Mathiak
A Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor: The recent years' actions of our Madison School Board create a nice template for a new reality television series, "School Boards Behaving Badly!"

The passionate, yet appropriately measured, and get-things-done approaches of Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza would be complemented quite well by Maya Cole and Lucy Mathiak.

Cole is a bright, out-of-the-box child advocate who has a very clear focus on short-, mid- and long-tem thinking about how to tackle the school district's toughest, high-priority issues of budgeting and enrollment. She brings no baggage of influences created by long-term relationships with district personnel, the major point of contention I have with Arlene Silveira's candidacy. I worked with Arlene on the Memorial/West Task Force and I know that she has some good ideas.

With Maya Cole, district stakeholders can be assured that there are no favors to be made in doing what's best for our district's children, their families and taxpayers.

Lucy Mathiak is simply the better candidate. To date, she's only delivered a no-nonsense, non-emotional vision for good district planning that, like Cole, is not burdened with a "business-as-usual" approach often assumed by incumbent board members.

Let's create a majority of transparent doers on the School Board! Vote Cole and Mathiak!

Michael Maguire

Published: March 29, 2006
The Capital Times

Posted by at 12:18 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Ruth Robarts: Cole, Mathiak Offer Fresh Perspectives For School Board

From The Capital Times, Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Dear Editor: Old problems facing the Madison school district will continue and worsen unless the School Board opens its mind to new solutions.

We must raise public confidence in our decision-making, in order to gain support for the programs that our children need and the construction of new schools that is on the horizon. An open process that considers all the options would greatly increase confidence in our decisions, the likelihood of passing well-conceived referendums and business support.

I am supporting Maya Cole and Lucy Mathiak in the April 4 board election because both candidates bring new perspectives and independent thinking to the important public discussion of the future of our schools. Both worked their way through public schools and have children in our schools. Both volunteer in the schools. Both are committed to giving the public a bigger role in setting the course of the Madison schools. Both are aggressively looking for new approaches, and both understand that board members are the voice of the community when it comes to choosing curriculum to meet our children's needs.

At the same time, Maya Cole and Lucy Mathiak are very much individuals. They offer different skills and work experiences. They think their own thoughts and communicate with a wide range of different friends, neighbors and colleagues. They are not clones of each other or anybody. They offer us a new synergy on the School Board.

Albert Einstein said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." He was talking to us. Let's give his idea a serious try.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 12:17 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Michael Maguire: No business as usual for Cole, Mathiak

From The Capital Times, March 29, 2006

Dear Editor: The recent years' actions of our Madison School Board create a nice template for a new reality television series, "School Boards Behaving Badly!"

The passionate, yet appropriately measured, and get-things-done approaches of Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza would be complemented quite well by Maya Cole and Lucy Mathiak.

Cole is a bright, out-of-the-box child advocate who has a very clear focus on short-, mid- and long-tem thinking about how to tackle the school district's toughest, high-priority issues of budgeting and enrollment. She brings no baggage of influences created by long-term relationships with district personnel, the major point of contention I have with Arlene Silveira's candidacy. I worked with Arlene on the Memorial/West Task Force and I know that she has some good ideas.

With Maya Cole, district stakeholders can be assured that there are no favors to be made in doing what's best for our district's children, their families and taxpayers.

Lucy Mathiak is simply the better candidate. To date, she's only delivered a no-nonsense, non-emotional vision for good district planning that, like Cole, is not burdened with a "business-as-usual" approach often assumed by incumbent board members.

Let's create a majority of transparent doers on the School Board! Vote Cole and Mathiak!

Michael Maguire

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 12:07 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


A letter to the editor

Dear Editor: We are dismayed that two of the candidates running for the Madison School Board, Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole, would work toward reversing access for students by promoting ability-grouping and tracking. In fact, Cole called the district's efforts to provide more heterogeneous classes that all students could access "worrisome."

Consider these points:

• The research has clearly shown that ability-grouping and tracking lead to unequal educational opportunities for students, particularly students of color, poor students and students with disabilities.

• Madison schools are regularly studied and visited by other urban districts looking for successful ways to increase inclusion.

• Only nine-tenths of 1 percent of MMSD's African-American students are taking advanced placement classes, while more than 30 percent receive special education support.

• The achievement gap between white, middle-income students and all other students in the district is just starting to show improvement.

This is an issue of civil rights and full access for traditionally marginalized groups. Mathiak, Cole and their supporters can point to no hard data showing that including all students in classes with appropriate supports, services and differentiated curriculum harms the highest echelon. At most, they claim that some high-achieving students may be "bored." Hardly a concern when the dropout rates, AP course access, and postgraduate outcomes for traditionally marginalized students continue to be both a nationwide and an MMSD problem.

Using words like "cookie cutter" approach and "one size fits all," they portray the issue of access as one of "dumbing down" to low achievers. Nothing could be further from the truth in successful differentiated classes, where all students access curriculum at the learning levels that are appropriate for their individual needs and goals.

In fact, teaching in a fully inclusive model requires the best-trained, most creative and hardest-working school staff available. While Mathiak and Cole say it sounds good in theory, we have seen effective inclusive education in classrooms all over the district.

That's why Madison Partners supports strong leadership, high-level training and total team teaching as strategies to improve Madison schools and outcomes for all students. Just because inclusive strategies are challenging doesn't mean these research-proven methods aren't worth doing.

We encourage the community to step forward on this critical civil rights issue.

Kelli Betzinger, Kristina Grebener, Helen Hartman, Barb Katz, Jane and Randy Lambert, Lisa and Mike Pugh, Tom Purnell, Beth Swedeen and Terry Tuschen on behalf of Madison Partners for Inclusive Schools

Published: March 28, 2006
Copyright 2006 The Capital Times

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Madison School Board Leopold Expansion and New West Side School Discussion

Watch or listen to the Madison School Board's discussion and approval of expanding Leopold Elementary School and a new west side school. Though the Board did not vote on how to fund these schools. That decision will be taken at their April 10, 2006 meeting, according to Susan Troller. Video | MP3 Audio

Additional coverage:
Many links, articles and videos regarding the Leopold discussion can be found here.
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New Berlin School District Sells Naming Rights

Reid Epstein:

While other public schools have named sports stadiums after major donors, New Berlin is believed to be the first Wisconsin district to actively solicit naming rights sponsors for other areas of its schools.

The InPro corporate sponsorship, which is worth $150,000 to the district, is the first of what New Berlin school officials hope will be a gravy train of private money for the Reagan school and the district's high school additions.

Quite literally, the names of everything from conference rooms to weight rooms are for sale.

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Majors Not For High School Students

Josh Cohen:

Lost in this consumer’s plight is the student’s struggle to figure things out for his or herself. Gained is a concentration of power in the state.

What may be most egregious about the plan is that with the inevitable succession of self-proclaiming experts will come the further diminishment of a teacher’s authority in the classroom. Teenagers may think this sounds cool, but several years later, in the real world, they will find themselves terribly misled. The Senate should resist the powerful forces at hand, reject Gov. Bush’s proposal and relegate adolescents back to where they belong: in high school, without a clue.

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March 28, 2006

Mathiak wins Capital Times endorsement

Under the headline, Mathiak for School Board, the Capital Times editors, wrote:

Lucy Mathiak sounds in many ways like a veteran member of the Madison School Board. She knows the budget, she is well versed regarding major debates about boundaries, curriculum, construction and referendums, and she well understands the complex personal and political dynamics of the current board. But Mathiak is not a board member. Rather, she is a first-time candidate challenging a board veteran, Juan Jose Lopez, whom this newspaper has always backed in the past. It is a measure of how impressive Mathiak is that we are endorsing her this year, despite our respect for Lopez. Mathiak is a super-engaged parent and citizen who, while raising two children, earning a doctorate in history and working as director of communications and college relations for the University of Wisconsin's College of Letters & Science, has taken a remarkably active role in the debate over public education for the better part of two decades. . . .

Posted by Ed Blume at 12:01 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Board of Ed Elections

The recent years' actions of our MMSD Board of Ed create a nice template for a new reality television series, "School Boards Behaving Badly!"

The passionate, yet appropriately measured and get-things-done approaches of Ruth Robarts and Laurie Kobza would be complemented quite well by Maya Cole and Lucy Mathiak.

Cole is a bright, out-of-the-box child advocate who has a very clear focus on short-, mid- and long-term thinking about how to tackle MMSD's toughest, high-priority issues of budgeting and enrollment. She brings no baggage of influences created by long-term relationships with MMSD personnel, the major point of contention I have with Arlene Siveira's candidacy. I worked with Arlene on the Memorial/West Task Force and I know that she has some good ideas.

With Maya Cole, district stakeholders can be assured that there are no favors to be made in doing what's best for our district's children, their families, and taxpayers.

Lucy Mathiak is simply the better candidate. To date, she's only delivered a no-nonsense, non-emotional vision for good district planning that, like Cole, is not burdened with a 'business-as-usual' approach often assumed by incumbent board members.

Let's create a majority of transparent do-ers on the BOE! Vote Cole & Mathiak!

Posted by Michael Maguire at 8:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Johnny's Big Idea

As a member of the Memorial/West Task Force, I recently received an e-mail for BOE member Johnny Winston. Doing his best caped crusader, Johnny pontificates to us about saving the day for Leopold families. To wit,

[title of his e-mail] "The Leopold Community Needs School Board Leadership
By Johnny Winston, Jr., Vice President of the Madison School Board" and,

"I pledge to provide strong leadership in both the short and long-range plans for Leopold Elementary school and the affected communities."

Johnny's BID IDEA is to build more space at Leopold. Like we haven't proposed that before.

Among the proclamations he made in his mini missive was this sign off: "The time is now for the Madison school board to provide the leadership necessary to solve Leopold Elementary School's current overcrowding and the welcomed challenges that growth brings."

The only thing I like about this comment is how clearly it points to the lack of direction provided by too many of our incumbent school board members.

Johnny - the time to act was (at least) five years ago.

If I learned anything from the work of our task force, it is that the MMSD's Board of Education has - somehow, some way - been paralyzed over the past several years by long-range PLANNING vs. long-range DOING. Committees, sub-committees, task forces, and meetings. Signs of a political bureaucracy firmly entrenched.

Too many of the current BOE members need to get over themselves, roll up their sleaves, put aside their emotions and egos (which are usually on full display at BOE meetings), and get to work on problem-solving action to address overcrowding - for the long term.

Posted by Michael Maguire at 8:52 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


Last Thursday, the Isthmus newspaper published an extensive article by Jason Shepard entitled “The Fate of the Schools.” While the article covered many areas of interest regarding the school district and the upcoming school board elections, we have significant concerns about the way in which the article was written. These concerns include:


• The data in the article were used inappropriately. This story compares Madison’s schools with the small, suburban, middle-class districts surrounding it. A more comparable study would have looked at other districts with similar proportions of low-income students, such as Green Bay, LaCrosse, Racine and Milwaukee. The data also was not dis-aggregated. If it had been, it would have revealed that Madison’s white, non-poor children do as well as and even surpass both Dane County and larger districts in Wisconsin. Of that group, 96% of the "non-low-income" students scored proficient or advanced.

• Additionally, MMSD has 35% of the county's 3rd graders - and 70% of the county's low-income 3rd graders. On the math scores quoted in the article, it wasn’t pointed out that while Madison “only matches” the state average, Madison’s overall poverty rate is 30 percent higher. Madison continues to score above state and national averages on the ACT exam each year, despite the fact that more low-income and non-white students are taking the exam each year. MMSD had 69% of all the National Merit Semifinalists in the county this year (with only about 40% of the students).


• The top sources of information listed in the article when talking about diminishing public support for MMSD and data on the schools come from two sources: talk radio and the SIS blog, neither of which are primary sources. Also, no grassroots parent groups or civic groups were interviewed other than SIS. And, no educational experts from curriculum and instruction at UW-Madison were interviewed, yet it is listed as the number one Graduate School of Curriculum and Instruction in the United States (U.S. News and World Report, 2006).

• We acknowledge that many families have opted-out of the district, for a variety of reasons. However, the overall trends for enrollment in and outside of Madison also reflect the growth and availability of new housing. It is very difficult to pull out whether the bulk of the enrollment choices were based on perceived educational quality of MMSD or for a larger house with more young families in the neighborhood. Just as anecdotal evidence from SIS and other sources indicate disengagement from MMSD, we could assert, with just as much authority that, based on our own experiences with people we know, families continue to move into MMSD for its breadth of instruction, diversity, and high quality teachers and staff.


• On the issue of equity, MMSD should not be blamed for segregated housing in Madison. And in fact, many of the board members have supported increased resources to schools with high poverty rates, not just Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza. The formation of a new equity task force came from Carol Carstensen. Lawrie Kobza voted against its formation.

We raise these concerns in the interest of fairness, to give our fellow SIS readers a broader understanding of the issues covered in the article.

Submitted by: Francoise Davenport, Kirsten Engel, Jerry Eykholt, Kristina Grebener, Andrew Halada, Denise Halada, Molly Immendorf, Barbara Katz, Ed Kuharski, Jane Lambert, Randy Lambert, Beth Moss, Duncan Moss, Marge Passman, Lisa Pugh, Thomas Purnell, Fred Swanson, Beth Swedeen, Terry Tuschen, Barbara Wagner, Margaret Walters, and Andrea Wipperfurth.

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Educational Flatline in Math and Reading Bedevils USA

Greg Toppo:

Despite nearly 30 years of improvements in U.S. children's overall quality of life, their basic academic skills have barely budged, according to research led by a Duke University sociologist.
The "educational flatline," as measured by scores on math and reading exams, defies researchers' expectations, because other quality-of-life measures, such as safety and family income, have improved steadily since 1975.

More recently, even areas that had worsened in the 1970s and 1980s, such as rates of teen suicide, have improved dramatically, so researchers had expected that education improvements would soon follow. They didn't.

2006 Child Well-Being Results.

The Educational Flatline, Causes and Results:The Education Flatline: Causes and Solutions

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March 27, 2006

Teaching Commission Final Report

The Teaching Commission:

The Teaching Commission, the non-profit advocacy organization founded by former IBM chairman and CEO Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., this morning released a final report urging state and local leaders to go "far further, far faster" in transforming the teaching profession. The message comes as the Commission ends its work on schedule, three years after its inception.

"If teaching remains a second-rate profession, America's economy will be driven by second-rate skills," said Gerstner. "We can wake up today-or we can have a rude awakening sooner than we think."

In its final report, Teaching at Risk: Progress and Potholes [Complete PDF Report], the Commission cites significant progress since 2003-but, due to the urgency of the challenge of improving America's skills in an increasingly competitive global economy, gives state, local and federal leaders disappointing grades for their work in four crucial areas:


Local districts. Superintendents and school boards should, among other things, "resist the pressure to continue paying teachers more money across the board without any meaningful changes in the way those increases are doled out," and "much more attention needs to be paid to how teachers are hired, moving up timetables and eliminating transfer rights on the basis of seniority."

They also published a companion report on state's legislative activity [pdf report] in four areas:
  1. Compensation and Performance
  2. Skills and Preparation, and
  3. Leadership and Support
Wisconsin had no legislative activity in these areas during 2004-2005. I've seen a number of teachers go the extra mile (or more), whether it's working after school hours with children who are far behind in math and reading, adding more children to a classroom to help another teacher or implementing a new curriculum better suited to student's needs. I hope, over time, we as a society can create better compensation models for teachers. Paul Soglin has more on this.

Marjorie Passman's words, in the comments below are well worth reading.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:16 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Marisue, will you open your posts for comments?

I noticed that you haven't left your last couple of posts open for comments. I hope that you just forgot and didn't do it to keep people from engaging you in a discussion.

If the comments were open, I'd have asked you whether you will be asking the board tonight to support the MMSD string program. Will you be?

Posted by Ed Blume at 1:46 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Task Forces Are an Important Mechanism for Bringing People With Different Perspectives Together to Work on Important Issues - What About Music and Art Education?

Tonight the School Board's Performance and Achievement Committee will discuss a status report on the elementary strings class, which they received last Thursday.

This report describes the current course, but the report a) is not an assessment of the course and b) says nothing about the future of the course. (Mr. Rainwater told me the committee only asked for a status report.) I have been one of hundreds of advocates for this course over the past 5 springs, and I see the same thing unfolding again this year that I have in the 4 previous springs without any work from the preceding year on this academic course. This course is much loved by generations of people who live in Madison, many who do not have children in the schools but do vote.

Not included with the status report is a draft vision statement developed by a group of string teachers. It's long, needs more discussion with string teachers and the community (all string teachers have seen this) but with this draft statement a) these teachers tried to come up with something meaningful, which top management asked them to do and b) these teachers have had less than two hours of group time to even discuss what the future could be and that ended abruptly in December with no further next steps. These same teachers were given no time to work together on what adjustments needed to be made to curriculum when class time is cut in half. In June, they asked the interim FAC, who forwarded this request to Supt. Rainwater. The meetings did not take place. I don't feel this should happen, especially when drastic curriculum changes are being considered.

For five years, hundreds of students, parents, community members and community organizations have asked for your help - either restructuring the course of redesigning this course, but working with the community in some way to keep arts strong, because it's so important for achievement.

I and others have been strong proponents of making the course work in our current financial situation. Over these five years, I feel we have lost opportunities to develop relationships which are important for acquiring funds, to assess and redesign the K-5 music education curriculum, to develop funding sources for small group lessons for children afterschool to further strengthen what they learn during the school day.

Last year the elementary strings course reached about 1,800 students in 27 schools. Nearly 600 children (42% of the low income children in Grades 4 & 5 participated in this course). This year the course is teaching 1,650 students. The status report does not say how many low income. I do know from conversations with the Fine Arts Coordinator and with teachers that more low income children indicated an interest in taking elementary strings than were in the class for many reasons, I am sure.

I think elementary strings is an example where there have been hundreds of advocates for keeping this course, but minimal positive response and support from the School Board to bring the professionals and advocates together to work on this and other music and art issues. We have task forces for boundary changes, afterschool, live animals in the classroom, equity, etc. Given the community's love of the arts, such a task force seems right for the arts.

I'd like to see the dialogue change this year for elementary strings and for music and art education to one where we talk about how can we work together. I would like to see the School Board consider a community task force under the oversight of the Performance and Achievement and the Partnership Committees that would bring advocates for music and art education and professionals together to work on this issue. I would like to see such a committee work on short-term issues re the elementary strings course, but also develop a 5 year fine arts strategic community plan. I have spoken with teachers, music organizations, private music teachers, the Fine Arts Coordinator and the Superintendent about the need for this. I have heard positive responses from community members and teachers, interest from the Fine Arts Coordinator.

I feel such a committee needs to be led by well-known community leaders who support the arts and arts education in the schools, because developing relationships within the community will be important for partnerships and possible fundraising.

I also think such a committee is important for credibility and for continuity. Over 5 years, MMSD has had 3 fine arts coordinators with one year without a fine arts coordinator. In spring 2003, the last fine arts coordinator was getting up to speed, in the 04-05 school year a teaching team was to help with coordination when the fine arts coordinator position was cut but this group was not put in place, and now the district has a new fine arts coordinator, who is working hard, meeting the community, teachers, helping in many ways. I think this is a critical position on the district and an important member to be on a community fine arts education committee.

Lastly, without classes during the day for elementary strings, there is no way to reach as many low-income children as the course currently reaches. Also, the district loses something special. Hundreds of children have asked the Board for help. I hope they do.

I will commment on this at the School Board meeting tonight. I have taken to writing on the blog vs. speaking at School Board meetings, because, after 5 years, and personal attacks, it takes too much out of me.

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Live Animal Discussions Important - It's the Lack of Budget Discussion that Concerns Me and the Likely $8 Million in Cuts Going to Schools on Monday, April 3rd

Dear School Board Members:
When I looked at the School Board calendar for March, what jumped out at me was the lack of any Finance and Operations committee meetings on 06-07 budget issues even though a) allocations go to schools on April 3rd and b) tonight the School Board majority will likely vote to pay for the debt service on an addition to Leopold with what could amount to an additional $350,000 cut from the operating budget.

What I did see were meetings on Live Animals in the Classroom. My concern was not so much that I saw Live Animals in the Classroom on the agenda (although I wish this issue had been resolved positively and fairly when it first came up 1.5 years ago, I support and mean no disrespect to the members or the work of this committee) but that budget discussions were missing. Earlier this calendar year I was left with the impression that the Superintendent had informed the School Board that March would be filled with discussions about the budget.

I did see important issues such as the Equity Task Force meeting and board discussions about boundaries and schools, but I did not see any discussions about the budget scheduled, and I do not yet see any formal meetings re the budget on the School Board calendar as yet.

In her email to PTO Presidents, Carol Carstensen said the School Board decided not to consider cuts until after the School Board has the entire budget and they will have the document sooner this year rather than later this year, but not until the end of April, or thereabouts. I and others have made suggestion along these lines in previous years - you do want to discuss cuts in the context of the entire budget; however, the devil is in the details and that is where I have concerns.

The budget timeline the School Board is working from says the administration is going to send out allocations to schools on April 3rd. Straight forward administrative task - once again the devil is in the details. In his email to me, Superintendent Rainwater said that the timing of allocations is driven by the union contract deadlines for layoff notices (late May) and surplus notices (July 1 but MMSD gives them in mid-April). Also, Mr. Rainwater informed the School Board earlier this year that the District would be facing $8 million in cuts next year.

Now, as the Superintendent informed me, many things go into allocations. However, he will have $8 million less next year than he felt would be needed, so $8 million in cuts will have to be made. The question is when and how will these cuts be made? If the union deadlines drive the April 3rd date, then I would expect cuts will be included with the allocations that go out to schools on April 3rd as has been the case in preceeding years. If that is the same this year, I feel the School Board and the public needed to know what budget framework is being used to send out the allocations - class sizes, courses, etc. I feel there needed to be public discussions about this.

School Board members tell the public that final decisions about cuts are their decisions. That's true, but in practice it is not. By the time allocations are determined in mid-May, there will be little opportunity for the public or the School Board to have much, if any discussion about the budget and the $8 million in cuts. I don't agree with that. I think it is bad policy.

I believe live animals in the classroom are important. Re this issue, I only wish that more progress had been made by now - I looked up references to this as far back as Fall 2004. My daughter attended Franklin Elementary School and visited Mary Powell's classroom - so did I! Re. live animals in the classroom, I think we need a board policy that makes this experience part of our children's education. I guess I thought the existing policy, as Mary Powell pointed out in Fall 2004, addressed the issue.


Barb Schrank

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Cap Times Heartily Endorses Silveira for Seat #1

A Cap Times editorial

It has been a good long while since Madison Metropolitan School District voters have had an opportunity to vote for a new School Board candidate who is as prepared as Arlene Silveira is to hit the ground running and to have an immediately positive impact on the process.

The parent of an 8th-grader, Silveira currently serves as the president of the Cherokee Middle School PTO and is the past president of the Leopold Elementary School PTO. She's been a highly engaged member of the school district's West/Memorial demographics task force and has worked closely with the Madison Foundation for Public Schools. She's on the steering team of Madison CARES, the group set up to inform voters about referendum issues. She's a regular at School Board meetings, and she showed up for her Capital Times endorsement interview with a copy of the budget in hand and a clear familiarity with the document.

To a board where new members are often marginalized by a demanding learning curve, particularly when it comes to budget issues, Silveira will bring knowledge, skills and contacts that are likely to make her a more significant contributor than several veteran members.

That's important, because difficult budget, referendum timing and curriculum issues are on the agenda immediately and this board is no place for a newcomer who will simply fall in line with one of the two relatively well-defined factions that have developed around Carol Carstensen, the current board president, and Ruth Robarts, the loudest and most frequent critic of the board majority and school district administrators.

Silveira is backed by Carstensen and other members of the board majority, while her opponent, Maya Cole, is backed by Robarts and board member Lawrie Kobza. But Silveira, who works for the Promega Corp., is too sharp and too concerned about issues facing the school district to fit easily into one of the board's existing camps. Her own experiences as the mother of a Latina daughter in the public schools, as an active parent at the elementary and middle school levels, and as a member of bodies charged with advising the board on critical issues regarding overcrowding and new construction, have made her exceptionally sensitive with regard to the achievement gap, to curriculum and to spending matters that have divided the board in the past. As such, she is refreshingly blunt about her desire to build new coalitions so that the board can present a more coherent message to the community particularly when it comes time for referendum votes.

It is this combination of experience and independence that underpins our faith that Silveira is the better choice in the contest for Seat One on the board, which is being vacated by former board President Bill Keys. We think her no-nonsense approach will help the board overcome some of the pettiness that has distracted it in recent years, and we are excited by the prospect that as a savvy newcomer she will forge an effective working relationship with Kobza, who has much to contribute.

The only qualm we have about endorsing Silveira has nothing to do with her. Rather, it has to do with her opponent.

Maya Cole is an exceptionally appealing candidate. Like Silveira, she is a genuine progressive, with a track record of activism that is as long as it is impressive. Cole would be a fine School Board member, and we hope that she will run again in the future.

But, at this essential turning point for the schools, we are convinced that Silveira is better prepared to join the board as a fully prepared and fully engaged member. She is ready to serve as the progressive coalition builder that the board needs to get focused and to win the confidence of all the constituencies students, staff, parents, taxpayers whose support is essential to maintaining one of America's great urban school systems.

Published: March 27, 2006
Copyright 2006 The Capital Times

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Longtime advocates for academic rigor and educational excellence back Mathiak and Cole

Recent post from the Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) list serve:

Dear MUAE Friends,

When we volunteered to oversee a District-wide "TAG" parents email list back in 2002, it was in part to help out the District "TAG" staff and in part to make the list available for explicit "TAG" advocacy efforts. We never expected that it (or we) would become explicitly political; but then, never in million years did we expect to have the crystal clear choice in BOE candidates that we have before us this year.

As fellow members of this on-line community, we think you need to know that Juan Lopez -- however laudable his other views and positions may be -- has the most extreme and consistent anti-"TAG" voting record of any BOE member who has served on the Board in the ten years that we have been involved with the issues. Juan once actually said to Jeff in a budget-focused BOE meeting, when Jeff was arguing in support of "TAG" funding, something like "Jeff, why should I support this? It has nothing to do with minority students." Not surprisingly, Juan has shown absolutely no interest whatsoever in the District dropout data that we have "put out there" many times in the past three years.

In very stark contrast, we first met Lucy Mathiak almost ten years ago, when we were still relatively new Franklin ES parents. We had attended a couple of District-wide "TAG" parent meetings and wanted to do some organizing and educating within the Franklin community. Someone gave us Lucy's name as a very well-informed east side parent and excellent speaker. We invited her to a meeting; she came; she educated us about Standard t and how to influence our school's SIP ("School Improvement Plan"); and she inspired us to greater things, as both parents and education advocates. In a word, we were thrilled last fall when we learned that Lucy had decided to run for School Board.

It is our firm belief that if the District's academically talented and motivated students are to have a fighting chance at having their educational needs met in our schools, they need a strong voice and representation on the BOE. They need someone on the BOE who understands their lived experience; someone who understands the issues facing the District in a way that includes them. Lucy Mathiak thoroughly understands these students, their needs, and the issues, in part, because she has lived them as a parent. As we see it, Lucy has the experience, the knowledge, the commitment, and the deep confidence to make sure that the brightest students of all colors and backgrounds are well taken care of by the Madison schools. In our opinion, no one else even comes close. For voters who care about academic excellence for all, the choice couldn't be more clear.


What about the race for Seat #1? The truth is, we do not know either Maya Cole or Arlene Silveira nearly as well as we feel we know Juan and Lucy. Nevertheless, we know who we are voting for.

Consider the following paragraph from an op ed piece of Arlene's that appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal in January:

Racial and economic achievement gaps.
The School Board must address differences in proficiency levels and graduation rates between racial and ethnic groups. In addition to continuing efforts such as School of Hope, small class sizes and cultural competence training opportunities for teachers and support staff, we must develop partnerships with community groups and provide venues for parents to come together to help the district find ways to allow all children to succeed. With the high mobility rates of some students, we must look at ways to help stabilize students' school experience. The board cannot be proud of the district's progress until all groups of students achieve equal success in all academic disciplines throughout their school careers.
(bold added)

Frankly, that last line scares us. We have asked Arlene more than once what she means by it, but she has yet to respond. Arlene is openly pro-heterogeneous classrooms, we know that; but her vision sounds like Camazotz, the evil place in "A Wrinkle In Time."

In contrast, we have spoken at length with Maya about her candidacy, her vision for the BOE and the District, and her own experiences as a parent. It is our very strong impression that she has started down the road that the rest of us are already on and that -- like Lucy -- she "gets it." Maya is a courageous and independent thinker who will insist on data and documentation and who will not be cowed by bullies. She understands the need for increased transparency and increased accountability on the BOE and in the District administration. She does not support cookie-cutter curricula. She does not support heterogeneous classes. Like Lucy, she wants to find ways to increase minority participation in "high end" classes, not get rid of the classes according to some misguided notion of what constitutes educational equity. If you care enough about rigorous curricula and high academic standards to be on this list serve, then Maya Cole is the one for you.


There is one more reason why we are voting for Lucy and Maya on April 4. As longtime observers of the Madison School Board, we are deeply concerned about the culture of bullying and secrecy that exists in the Doyle Building and on the BOE. We feel it has paralyzed the Board and rendered it completely ineffective. We are convinced that a change of BOE membership is the only way to bring back respectable and respectful behavior -- not to mention increased transparency of operations and a thoroughgoing accountability to the public -- to the task of educating our children.

Many thanks for your consideration,

Laurie Frost, Ph.D., and Jeff Henriques, Ph.D.
West HS and Hamilton MS Parents
Former Franklin-Randall ES parents
Former Franklin-Randall PTSO Board member (Diversity and Community-Building Committee Chair) (LF)
West HS PTSO Board Member (Treasurer) (JH)
Advisory Board Member, Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY) (LF)
Madison United for Academic Excellence

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 10:04 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Schools' Proposed Comprehensive Food Policy

Madison Metropolitian School District News Release:

Community asked for feedback on proposals, Board will begin to consider next month

As the next step in developing a Madison School District comprehensive food policy, recommendations are being released today by a student work group for consideration by the Board of Education.

There's been quite a bit of discussion on this topic here.

This policy could influence which foods are served in school breakfast and lunch programs, school "potlucks" and other classroom celebrations; vending machine sales and other school fundraising activities; and the locations in the school in which food is eaten.

Included in the proposals are separate sets of recommendations from
the MMSD Student Senate and the district's management team.

The school district has placed on its Web site a questionnaire that is
designed to provide community feedback on the recommendations
contained in the draft food policy. See "Comprehensive Food Policy" at
. All related food policy documents are available
here also.

In addition, citizens will have opportunities to address the Board of
Education members at Board meetings or through the "comments" portion
of the district Web site in the coming weeks before the Board makes
any final decisions. The Board is first scheduled to consider the
recommendations on April 24.

The Need

The Madison Metropolitan School District is committed to developing a
comprehensive food policy that promotes the health of students,
through a safe and healthy food environment and high quality lunches
and food services, and that addresses the sale of foods for

1. Health of Students: Overweight and obesity rates have doubled in
children and tripled in teens over the two decades. Currently, 16.5%
of American children are obese.

While obesity is a multi-factored problem, over-consumption of soft
drinks and foods with minimal nutritional value is part of the
problem. While low levels of physical activity are also an important
part of the problem, children are clearly eating more calories now
than in the past.

2. Safe and Healthy Environment: MMSD has a duty to maintain a safe
and healthy environment for its students and staff by minimizing the
risks related to poor food preparation and of exposure to allergens,
particularly nuts and peanuts.

3. School Lunch/Food Services: In all grades, the overriding goal of
the comprehensive food policy is to improve the nutritional quality of
foods available to children by ensuring that no foods or beverages
available at school contradict the current nutritional

4. Fund-raising: Competitive foods are any foods sold in competition
with the school lunch program. In the MMSD, competitive foods include
items that are sold by school stores, in vending machines, or as part
of fund-raising activities.

The district is committed to providing the most nutritious food
possible to our students during the school day.

The Process

At the start of this school year, a small group of high school
students who are members of the MMSD Student Senate expressed an
interest in working intensively on developing recommendations for a
comprehensive food policy. Over the last four months, they have
learned a great deal about health, nutrition and Food Services
operations in schools.

In addition to the student work, several focus groups have been held
to gather parent, community and school staff input.

The student work group then developed a food policy and presented
their recommendations to the Student Senate and to the district
management team. The final recommendations are in the draft food
policy that is being forwarded to the Board of Education for

The Student Senate and the district management team chose to offer
their own set of recommendations, some of which are the same and some
of which differ from the work group's set.

The Recommendations

There are 19 recommendations in all, grouped into five categories:
Nutrition, Sales, Food Safety, Environment, and Consumption. They
would apply to school breakfast/lunch programs, vending machines,
school stores, school sponsored fund-raising activities, and classroom

The proposals would not apply to booster club fund-raising or the
fund-raising of school-sanctioned clubs that occurs more than 30
minutes outside of school hours.

Agreement Of the 19 recommendations, the student work group, the
Student Senate and the district management team agreed in full on 11.
For details, see the table "Comprehensive Food Policy --
Recommendations by Student Work Group, Student Senate and Management

In short, the agreed upon recommendations are:

1A. Meals served by MMSD Food Services comply with or exceed all USDA

1B. Maximum fat and saturated fat percentages are established for all
"a la carte" items available during school breakfast/lunch programs or
that are served to students during the school day.

3A1. For all school activities held during school hours which include
the preparation of food, and the consumption of that food by students
(e.g. pot lucks or theme meals), the steps below (4 -- 6) must be
observed. These steps are also strongly recommended for staff-only
activities (e.g. teacher appreciation lunches).

3A2. The MMSD School Potluck Food Safety pamphlet will be distributed
to all who will prepare the food and that food must be prepared in
accordance with the pamphlet.

3A3. A comprehensive list of ingredients for each dish must be placed
in close proximity to the dish and the list must also identify the
name of one person who participated in the making of the dish and
his/her contact information.

3A4. Each school will have at least one designated person who has
completed food safety training. That person will be responsible for
ensuring that the food served at school events, whether prepared at
home or school, is prepared and served in accordance with the School
Potluck Food Safety guidelines.

3B. MMSD Food Services will not provide peanuts or nut products in
elementary school lunches after the 2005-06 school year. This includes
peanut butter sandwiches.

4A. Food will not be consumed on or over carpets or rugs.

4B. School staff are encouraged to limit consumption of food in

5A. When permitted by classroom teachers or other supervising adults,
students may eat their own food. It is each student's responsibility
to clean up after him/herself.

5B. All students receiving their breakfast from MMSD Food Services and
eating it in their school building will be permitted at least 10
minutes in which to eat. All MMSD schools shall have lunch periods of
at least 30 minutes.

Differences The Student Senate and the district management team did
not agree in full on eight of the student work group recommendations.
These recommendations are in three distinct areas: vending sales,
candy and snack sales, and food safety.

Vending sales -- The student work group and the management team
recommend beverage vending at middle and high schools of only water,
milk, 100% fruit juices without sweeteners or caffeine, and sports
beverages without caffeine or a specified level of sweetener.

The Student Senate proposes no restrictions on beverages offered at
high schools.

Candy and snack sales --
(2B1) The student work group and the management team recommend candy
will not be given or sold to students nor offered for sale at school
or to the community by the school during the school day.

The Student Senate proposes this restriction would not apply to high
school students.

(2B2) The student work group and the management team recommend no food
will be sold from vending machines to students.

The Student Senate proposes this restriction would apply only during
the school day or within 30 minutes of the school day.

Food Safety -- The only significant disagreement of the three
recommendations is on (3E). The student work group and the management
team recommend food will not be used in classrooms as a manipulative
or reward for learning (e.g. small candies used in math class) or in
activities that involve students handling and possibly eating the food

The Student Senate proposes this restriction would not apply to high
school students.

To see the complete recommendations, go to the table "Comprehensive
Food Policy -- Recommendations by Student Work Group, Student Senate
and Management Team".

Madison Metropolitan School District
Public Information Office
545 W. Dayton St.
Madison, WI 53703

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:34 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 26, 2006

2006 West Side Strings Festival: Photos & Video

Check out the photos and video from this great event.
[Download a video ipod compatible file here.]

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:56 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Parent and Taxpayer Perspective on School Budgets

Rafael Gomez is hosting a Forum this Wednesday evening (3/29/2006) from 7 to 8:00p.m. at the McDaniels Auditorium [map and driving directions]. The topic is a A Parent and Taxpayer Perspective on School Budgets. Rafael's guests on the panel include:

We hope to see you there!

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:36 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MAFAAC & Communities United School Board Candidate Forum Audio

MAFAAC (the Madison Area Family Advisory/Advocacy Committee) and Communities United (a broadly-based coalition of groups and individuals representing Madison's minority communities, and other citizens working on behalf of social justice and civil rights) held a school board candidate forum yesterday. MP3 Audio clips are avaible below:

  • Opening Statements: [10.7MB mp3]
  • Question 1: What do you think the causes are of the achievement gap? [7MB mp3]
  • Question 2: What role do community groups play in addressing the achievement gap? [4MB mp3]
  • Question 3: How would you rate the leadership of Superintendent Art Rainwater? [7.5MB mp3]
  • Question 4: What are the sources of the discord, the disagreement on the board? [7.5MB mp3]
  • Question 5: Barbara Golden Statement on Dissent, David (I could not catch his last name) has a question on the budget & Candidate Responses to the budget priorities. [6MB mp3]
  • Question 6: Latinos Unite for Change in the Classroom. What are you going to do to support the needs of the ELL students? [3.5MB mp3]
  • Question 7: The district insists that a young child go through an ESL program. The parents disagree. What is your role if someone brings you a case like this? [4.5MB mp3]
  • Question 8: The chair of Communities United's Statement and Question: What specifically would you do to insure that there is equity in the (District's) programs. [8.5MB]
  • Question 9: Audience questions regarding heterogeneous vs homogeneous classrooms; can people in the community who care about an issue like heterogeneity, get that in front of the school board? The way the board is currently comprised, the answer is no. [10.5MB mp3]
  • Complete Event: 2 hours, 30 Minutes [65MB mp3]

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:55 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"D.C.'s Distinction: $16,344 Per Student, But Only 12% Read Proficiently"

Education & Academia:

he District of Columbia spends far more money per student in its public elementary and secondary schools each year than the tuition costs at many private elementary schools, or even college-preparatory secondary schools. Yet, District 8th-graders ranked dead last in 2005 in national reading and math tests.

Not one U.S. state can boast that a majority of the 8th-graders in its public schools last year had achieved grade-level proficiency or better in either reading or math.

How much money did your state spend per pupil while failing to adequately educate in reading and math the majority of students in its public schools? The answers are in the chart below.

Wisconsin ranked 11th in per student spending ($9,805 - Madison spends about $13,107 per student (321M budget [pdf]) / 24,490). Via Joanne, who notes that there is not much correlation between spending and NAEP test performance. UW-Madison emeritus professor Dick Askey discussed NAEP scores with respect to math performance recently.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:17 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"City Schools Could try Pirating Students"

Susan Lampert Smith takes a light hearted look at the effects of the state school aid formula (based on growing or declining enrollments):

In this week's Crawford County Independent, reporter Charley Preusser writes that school districts out there are so desperate for students (and the $5,900 in state aid that comes with them) that they're actively courting and stealing each other's students.

This odd situation was set up by our state aid formula, which brutally punishes districts that decline in enrollment. By now these districts have cut so many of the extras that their remaining students are starting to look elsewhere.

A thoughtful columnist would urge that the Legislature fix this situation before Wisconsin's public schools are destroyed. But I've tried that, and apparently our legislators can't be bothered by something so trivial.

Jason Shepherd referenced this issue in his definitive Isthmus article on the April 4, 2006 Madison School Board race. Madison's enrollment has declined somewhat over the past few years, while the city and county continue to grow. This exacerbates the District's financial challenges.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:16 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 25, 2006

Bridgette and Gregg White: Silveira best choice for School Board

A letter to the editor
Dear Editor: We believe supporting Arlene Silveira for Madison School Board is the best choice.

Large organizations like the school district need care and attention. Silveira has communicated with broad constituencies in her PTO, referendum and task force work awareness. She seems to know that you have to problem-solve and promote at the same time in order to keep the school system from suffering the consequences of many modern institutions.

We urge a vote for Silveira on April 4 so that our schools keep delivering the value they are known for.

Bridgette and Gregg White

Published: March 24, 2006
The Capital Times

Posted by at 10:06 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MSCR committee planting questions at School Board forum

Ruth Robarts originally posted the following:

On March 30, the North Side Planning Council will host a public forum for school board candidates at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center starting at 7 p.m. Usually, the NSCP moderates a panel discussion with the school board candidates. During the forum, the candidates respond to a set of questions developed by NSCP. When time permits, the moderator facilitates questions from the audience.

There's a new twist this year. A citizen advisory committee for the Madison School Community Recreation (MSCR) program is planning to bring a list of its own questions.

On Tuesday, March 28 the MSCR Citizen's Advisory Committee will meet to "develop questions to ask Board of Education candidates" at the NSCP forum, according to the official agenda of the committee.

The citizen members of the advisory committee are all appointed by the Board of Education. Board member Johnny Winston, Jr., is currently the representative of the school board on the committee. Senior staff from MSCR participate in these meetings.

Posted by Ed Blume at 9:48 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MSCR committee planting questions at School Board forum

On March 30, the North Side Planning Council will host a public forum for school board candidates at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center starting at 7 p.m. Usually, the NSCP moderates a panel discussion with the school board candidates. During the forum, the candidates respond to a set of questions developed by NSCP. When time permits, the moderator facilitates questions from the audience.

There's a new twist this year. A citizen advisory committee for the Madison School Community Recreation (MSCR) program is planning to bring a list of its own questions.

On Tuesday, March 28 the MSCR Citizen's Advisory Committee will meet to "develop questions to ask Board of Education candidates" at the NSCP forum, according to the official agenda of the committee.

The citizen members of the advisory committee are all appointed by the Board of Education. Board member Johnny Winston, Jr., is currently the representative of the school board on the committee. Senior staff from MSCR participate in these meetings.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 5:03 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The fate of the schools

Will the Madison district sink or swim?
April 4th elections could prove pivotal

At the end of an especially divisive Madison school board meeting, Annette Montegomery took to the microphone and laid bare her frustrations with the seven elected citizens who govern Madison schools.

“I don’t understand why it takes so long to get anything accomplished with this board!” yelled Montgomery, a Fitchburg parent with two children in Madison’s Leopold Elementary School. She pegged board members as clueless about how they’ve compromised the trust of the district’s residents.

“You don’t think we’re already angry? What do we have to do to show you, to convince you, how angry we are? If I could, I’d impeach every single one of you and start over!”

Impeachment isn’t being seriously considered as solution to the Madison Metropolitan School District’s problems. But infighting and seemingly insurmountable budget problems have increasingly undercut the board’s ability to chart a positive course for Madison schools.

And that’s not good, given the challenges on the horizon for a district of 24,490 kids with a $319 million budget. These include declining enrollment of upper- and middle-class families; continuing increases in low-income families and racial minorities; an overall stagnant enrollment which limits state funding increases; and prolonged battles with parent groups over everything from boundary changes to curriculum choices.

By Jason Shepard, Isthmus, March 23, 2006

Student achievement in Madison, while following statewide trends showing improvements over the past decade, still lags behind suburban districts in Dane County. Gaps between whites and minorities remain large.

Looming over everything is a school-financing system that may soon cripple the district’s ability to produce further achievement gains. State revenue caps hold districts to smaller annual budget hikes than are less than increases in costs; so, each year, districts must shave spending or get voters to hike their own taxes by passing referendums to exceed the caps. Even in Madison, that’s getting much harder to do.

The Madison district has cut nearly $46 million in services since 1993. For 2006-07, the district projects a spending increase limit of about 2.6%, which will force it to cut $7.96 million from its budget. If past years are an indication, debates over what to cut will further polarize parents and staff and burn precious political capital.

Meanwhile, the chorus of critics grows louder, on local talk radio and the popular blog, Last spring, voters ousted an incumbent school board member endorsed by scores of local leaders, then rejected two of three school-spending referendums.

District leaders have never succeeded in drumming up widespread public outrage over revenue caps. Indeed, some think the board’s obsession with the funding crisis is paralyzing it from taking bold action or embracing creative approaches. And sometimes, the board acts as if questions and criticism are personal attacks, further alienating important constituencies.

“The differences of opinion are taken personally, and because of that, people don’t listen to what other people are saying,” says board member Lawrie Kobza, who unseated Bill Clingan last April. “You can’t move forward when no one is listening anymore.”

Election stakes
The two school board contests on the April 4 ballot are a referendum of sorts on Madison’s schools. Voters can send a message of support for the board’s current leadership and direction, or convey their desire for change.

In Seat 1, Maya Cole and Arlene Silveira are vying to replace longtime board member Bill Keys. In Seat 2, Lucy Mathiak is challenging incumbent Juan Jose Lopez.

A win by both Cole and Mathiak would dramatically alter the board. They would join Kobza and Ruth Robarts to create a majority in favor of significant change. And, for the first time in years, it would be a majority opposed by the Madison Teachers Inc., the powerful teachers union.

This could open the door for Kobza to be elected board president. (Robarts says she won’t seek re-election next year and is not interested in the presidency.)

Meanwhile, victories by Lopez and Silveira would retain the power of the current majority, who seem poised to elect Johnny Winston Jr. as board president. This could create something of a coalition, as Winston has vowed to make Kobza chair of the board’s budget committee.

Board members on both sides are making their cases. School board President Carol Carstensen warns “it will be very difficult for the administration to function” if Robarts, for example, were calling the shots. And Robarts says a Kobza presidency would bring about new transparency and hold officials accountable for presenting all sides of issues and a full picture of data.

The election is even more important given the expectation that Superintendent Art Rainwater will retire in the next few years. Thus whoever wins may select the next superintendent.

Acknowledging success
Carstsensen, a board member since 1990, says dire assessments of the district come mostly from those who are misinformed or who refuse to recognize how revenue caps are undermining the quality of public schools.

“When I look back at how far we’ve come in a number of areas, despite the budget constraints and significant demographic changes,” she says, “I think that we’re doing a far better job than I would have believed we could do.”

The school board has billed Madison as having one of the nation’s “premiere” school districts. And the city has long touted its public schools as a key draw.

On many measures, the Madison district continues to excel. For example, a high number of its students take and pass Advanced Placement exams. Madison ACT scores, a measure of college readiness, outpace the state average. And there’s been a consistent increase in the number of National Merit Semifinalists.

The district has made sustained progress since 1998 in three priority areas: third-grade reading scores, high school algebra completion, and school attendance. Says Rainwater, “We’ve stayed the course, and that’s allowed us time to train and implement and evaluate and change.”

Finally, the district’s graduation rates have risen dramatically, from 79% ten years ago to 94% today.

“The fact is, there are many markers that we’re headed in the right direction,” says Carstensen. “I don’t want people to say, ‘She’s just painting a rosy picture.’ But it’s important as a district to recognize that we’ve had some success. We need to acknowledge the success, celebrate it, then go back and keep working.”

Not all good news
But on many academic achievement measures, Madison is simply mediocre. Pointing this out, though, is sometimes seen as heresy by board members and district officials. That in itself is part of the problem.

Consider the scores from third-grade reading tests.

The Madison board and school district have regularly touted these scores as proof of significant progress. The numbers of students scoring advanced or proficient has risen from 58.9% in 1998 to 82.7% in 2005, according to the state Department of Public Instruction. In September 2004, a front-page Wisconsin State Journal headline declared, “One racial gap has closed,” based on data showing little or no racial disparity among those who failed the test.

But whether Madison can claim victory for rising test scores is debatable, given that the state as a whole has seen significant increases in scores. Madison’s rate of improvement is not much greater than the state and nearby districts. Indeed, Madison still ranks 16th among Dane County’s 16 school districts.

On other exams in 4th, 8th and 10th grades, Madison generally only matches statewide averages. Richard Askey, a UW-Madison emeritus mathematics professor, recently posted an analysis of district math scores on While the number of Madison students passing the 8th-grade test rose from 40% in 1997 to 71% in 2004, the gains were smaller than statewide averages.

“We went from a district which was above the state average to one with scores at best at the state average,” Askey concluded.

And the racial achievement gap continues on virtually all measures. Two weeks ago, board member Shwaw Vang expressed his disappointment over racial disparities among those who attend the district’s summer school, targeted at struggling students: “If this number continues to be 80% minority and 87% low-income, it tells me that either we as a society or we as a school district are not educating our minority kids and low-income kids.”

Rainwater says the district should be especially proud of its successes given the significant changes in Madison’s student body. Scores have gone up at a time when they might have very well gone down.

“Not only have our demographics changed and we’ve continued to get better, but we’ve continued to get better with fewer resources,” says Rainwater, who segues into a less sanguine point. “There’s a limit, obviously, to how many creative workarounds we can develop. I don’t know where that limit is, but my sense is it’s approaching pretty quickly.”

Demographic changes
Many of the critical issues facing Madison schools are linked to how the district adapts to the changing demographics of its student body.

Madison has seen dramatic hikes in the number of students who require more intensive – and expensive – services. In 1991, 11% of Madison students received special education instruction; in 2005, it was 17%. During the same period, the share of English language learners went from 3% to 13%.

Racially, the district is becoming much more diverse. The number of African Americans and Hispanics has increased significantly, while the number of whites has declined in each of the past 15 years.

There have also been significant changes in income levels. In 1990, 20% of students attending Madison schools came from low-income families, as defined by those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. By 2005, this had nearly doubled, to 38%.

Worse, the district’s low-income students are concentrated in particular areas and schools. Five of the district’s 31 elementary schools have more than two-thirds of their students come from low-income families, while seven have fewer than one-fourth from low-income families.

The district has been hesitant to redraw school attendance areas and increase busing to bring about balance, something educational research has shown is important. Robarts and Kobza have suggested giving extra funding to schools with higher levels of low-income students. A task force is now studying these equity issues.

Overall, the district’s enrollment – one basis for the level of state funding -- has been in decline since peaking in 1997. Projections show enrollment steadying in the next few years. But Dane County as a whole is growing, and surrounding school districts have seen significant increases in student population.

An analysis by Barb Schrank on estimated that Madison’s loss of 174 students from 2000 to 2003 translated into a loss of funding for 26-30 teachers, while student enrollment increases at the seven closest Dane County districts meant a net gain of 219 teachers.

“People decide where to live in large part on the quality of schools,” says Schrank. “The district doesn’t really have a strategic plan to market [itself] to everyone, including those who may be leaving and those who may be moving to Dane County.”

Some have speculated that families with means have enrolled their kids in private schools or moved into higher-performing suburban districts, although school officials say there’s no firm evidence of this. Parental threats to leave the district have surfaced in debates over whether the district’s curriculum is rigorous enough for high-achieving students.

As it gets harder each year to find ways to find budget cuts that don’t directly affect classroom instruction, Carstensen has noticed an increase in “crabbiness” among local players. She agrees personality clashes often overtake the board’s ability to make important decisions.

“What has been frustrating to me,” she says, “is that philosophically we’ve got a board that, at least according to their own statements, cares about kids and cares about the achievement gap, and yet there’s been an unwillingness to work together.”

Carstensen, Kobza and Vang rarely stoop to personal attacks. But the board’s other members -- Lopez, Keys, Robarts and Winston -- often engage in throw downs that have stifled discussion and left some relationships frayed beyond repair. One example:

A few weeks ago, Winston was miffed by Robarts’ opposition to using a contingency reserve fund for projects Winston was backing. In an unrelated debate about possibly selling or leasing the Doyle administration building, Winston deemed it inappropriate for Robarts to participate because she works for UW-Madison, which could be interested in the land or the building. Robarts joked that she was pretty low in the university hierarchy, but later admitted the conflict-of-interest allegation caught her off guard.

“Ms. Robarts, I’m not going to play games,” Winston said angrily. “I’m not going play games with you, alright? Your passive-aggressive behavior is beyond reproach, and I’m tired of it.”

Or consider the board’s behavior at its Jan. 30 meeting, the one that led up to Annette Montegomery call for impeachment. At issue was overcrowding at Leopold Elementary School. Instead of having a serious, relevant and detailed discussion, board members degenerated into cheap shots and political grandstanding.

The debate began in earnest when Carstensen asked Kobza to explain comments she had made in a radio interview. In response, Kobza said she wouldn’t support building a new west side school or expanding Leopold without a five-year plan regarding boundary and facility needs. Keys immediately labeled Kobza’s idea a “red herring” and said she was a “little late in game.”

Lopez hammered home the importance for the board to be united in a 7-0 vote for any future referenda. Winston then turned on Kobza and Robarts, saying rejecting a task force proposal about Leopold “disrespects” the process. Winston said he hoped voters “see at the ballot box board members who don’t look at the recommendations,” drawing an audible “whoa” from spectators.

Kobza retorted that she “won’t be bullied” and reminded Winston of her own ballot box victory in April. Robarts said the majority was being hypocritical: they’ve long ignored ideas from her and Kobza, only to demand their allegiance at referendum time.

“We can play politics, Ms. Robarts,” retorted Lopez. “We’ve done it before. I’ve won some and you’ve won some.” Lopez then claimed Robarts’ “political” actions had come at the expense of “the children of this school district.” Of course, playing the “children” card – much like the “race” card – shattered any hope for meaningful discussion.

And so it seemed appropriate when Montegomery let board members have it.

“You bicker so much! You accomplish absolutely nothing!” she shouted. “How many times have we been here talking about the same things? You know where the parents stand. We know where you stand. You talk about trying to come together. Let’s face it. You people are never going to come together!”

This was not the Madison school board’s finest hour. But, searching over the past few years, it’s hard to point to many fine hours.

Seat 1: Silveira v. Cole
Better PR, or fresh approaches?

Maya Cole and Arlene Silveira are articulate, involved moms who have adjusted well to the steep learning curve of their first campaign for public office.

Silveira, 47, is a single mom who’s served as president of two parent groups and actively campaigned for last year’s three school referendums. She works as a marketing director for Promega and holds a master’s degree in molecular biology.

Cole, 43, is a stay-at-home mom of three young boys who regularly volunteers in the schools. She’s active in progressive politics, attending peace rallies and lobbying against the Legislature’s concealed-carry bill. She has a degree in biological sciences and is a former zookeeper.

Each is supported by different factions on the board, with Silveira garnering endorsements from members of the current majority, along with many local political leaders. She’s also endorsed by Madison Teachers Inc., which is expected to pour significant money into the race.

Cole, meanwhile, is seen as more of an outsider and would-be reformer, and is supported by Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza.

Perhaps the biggest distinction between the two is whether they see the problems facing the district as being more about perception or reality.

Silveira has made much of the need to improve the district’s public-relations efforts. “The board and the district have not done a good job in providing information to the public and promoting themselves,” she says. “It comes down to providing information, letting people know what is happening with their property tax dollars, and what it really takes to provide a quality education.”

Cole, meanwhile, is more likely to talk about educational research and think-tank studies that suggest ways to improve education. “I’m willing to say, we as a board screw up things sometimes. We’re not always the experts. And that’s sorely missing. The majority of the board doesn’t convey the feeling that they’re listening to people. They’re about window-dressing.”

Silveira says her business experience makes her better able than Cole to deal with complex issues. She also boasts a “much more positive viewpoint” about the city’s schools.

Cole, meanwhile, cites her passion and fresh perspective, saying says lacks the “baggage” that Silveira carries from her connections with referendum supporters and pointed criticisms of Robarts and Kobza.

Seat 2: Lopez v. Mathiak
Attacking the achievement gap

Juan Jose Lopez and Lucy Mathiak are both veteran school advocates, Lopez as the consummate insider and school-district cheerleader, Mathiak as the parent advocate and scrappy outsider.

Lopez, 46, first elected to the board in 1994, is well known for his advocacy on Hispanic issues and his nonprofit jobs working with kids. He is currently a planning and policy analyst for Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager.

Mathiak, 50, is making her first bid for public office but has been involved for years in school committees, parent groups, and booster organizations. She holds a Ph.D. in history and works as a communications director for the UW’s College of Letters and Science.

Lopez says closing the achievement gap is among his top priorities: “It’s clear we’re moving in the right direction, from our reading results and our math completion rates, but we’re still not where we need to be.” His other priorities are increased funding and school safety.

Mathiak suggests Lopez has an achievement gap of his own, saying he’s failed to use his role as chair of the board’s performance and achievement committee to bring about real improvement. Instead, she claims, Lopez simply held “show and tell” sessions for district staff.

“There’s a palpable anger when I talk to parents and educators of color, when I talk about what’s happening with our students,” says Mathiak, whose family is biracial. She has aggressively campaigned on the disparate treatment of nonwhite students, saying the district has to move beyond token gestures like bringing in outside consultants.

The school board gets high marks from Lopez for its leadership through turbulent budget cuts. He calls disagreement on the board “healthy,” even though he’s often railed against dissent in board debates, saying it undermines public confidence.

Lopez says he and Mathiak are politically similar, but that he has three advantages: his experience, his compassion, and his life’s commitment to working with kids.

Mathiak, meanwhile, says she brings a stronger work ethic and a deeper commitment to dig into issues: “It’s not enough for me to say I’m here for the kids. I’m here for the kids, but I intend to do something about it.”

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 4:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math

Sam Dillon:

Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush's signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Schools from Vermont to California are increasing — in some cases tripling — the class time that low-proficiency students spend on reading and math, mainly because the federal law, signed in 2002, requires annual exams only in those subjects and punishes schools that fall short of rising benchmarks.

The changes appear to principally affect schools and students who test below grade level.

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March 24, 2006

MMSD administrators will propose cutting 92 positions

According to a document apparently floating around the Doyle Administration Building and MTI offices, the MMSD administration will recommend cutting 92 positions when the Board of Education meets on April 3.

Disappointment best describes my reaction. I’m not surprised, of course. I’m not even upset that the union has the information even before the board, since it might be wise to alert John Matrhews rather than surprise him on April 3.

I’m disappointed. Disappointed because the board and administration have not listened to a single plea about following a new budget process. This is the same-old same-old. The administration puts last year’s spending into a black box. And presto! Cuts come out.

For years, those of us on and others throughout the community have begged and pleaded for a more understandable budget process, for input on the budget from the community, for a budget that reflects some set of priorities, and this year a budget that reflects the $100 budget exercise.

We should have saved our breath.

The administration and board don't hear.

They only want to talk AT us -- to tell us that we don’t understand the state budget, don’t understand the district’s changing demographics, don’t understand the complexity of school issues – like we’re all dummies.

But we DO understand all of that!

What we don’t understand is the MMSD budget process, the MMSD budget document, and the MMSD budget priorities. And to tell you my frank opinion, neither does a single soul on the board because they too never get to see inside the black box and they have no priorities to reflect in the budget.

It’s time to throw the bums out and replace them with board members who will listen, respond, and create an open process and understandable budget.

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Considering the Future of Madison Schools

Marc Eisen:

Unless you have a kid in the Madison schools, many of the issues discussed by the four Madison school board candidates in our weekly Take-Home Test may not strike a familiar chord.

That's why we asked our schools reporter Jason Shepard to provide an overview in this week's Isthmus of the trends buffeting the 24,000-student district. The cover story is: The Fate of the Schools: Will the Madison district sink or swim? April 4th elections could prove pivotal.

As you'll read, the growing number of poor students, decreased state funding and nasty board infighting provide a sobering context for the election.

Shepherd has written the definitive piece for the April 4, 2006 election. Pick up the current Isthmus and have a look or view the article online here. I've placed two charts from the article below (click continue reading..... if you don't see them).

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"Regional Tax Base Sharing"

Madison Alder Zach Brandon:

Joint Economic Development Zones
A "Capital Corridor" municipal tax base sharing model

It is imperative that the City of Madison, and the surrounding municipalities, seek out new opportunities to expand and diversify the region's economic base. Utilizing forward-thinking business development strategies to create jobs is essential in meeting that goal. The City of Madison should be proactive in facilitating regional economic development through innovative cooperative agreements with neighboring municipalities and through the development of regional strategies for growth.

via the daily page.

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"Expectations for Our Teachers Are Misplaced"

Arthur Levine, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Several years ago, I was part of a group that a philanthropist had assembled to review his foundation's education agenda. In the course of a two-day meeting, the conversation turned negative only once, when education schools were discussed.

The philanthropist said he had given up on education schools, preferring to work with business schools or organizations outside of colleges and universities. A former governor who was known to be a thoughtful education-policy leader chimed in, calling the flagship education school in his state largely irrelevant. A major school-system superintendent reported having told the two education schools in his area that if they were unable to turn one of his high schools around, they should go out of business. Dismissively he said that only one of the education schools was even trying. A union leader nodded in agreement, something the superintendent had rarely experienced.

This is an age of finger-pointing. As profound demographic, economic, global, and technological changes rack the country, all of our social institutions — created to serve a disappearing world — perform less well than they once did. As they try to adjust to a society in motion, they appear to be broken and unable to fix themselves. Thus we say the government is broken. The American family is broken. So it is with the education school.

The response by the public is to withdraw. As it does, we increasingly see the institution in distorted caricature, and we develop unrealistic expectations for what it should be able to accomplish. We blame the institution for all of the problems in its field and deem its inability to change willful.

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Dumbing Down Proficient: Intel, State Farm Heads Say Easy State Tests Sap U.S. Education


After only 50 percent of Arizona's eighth-grade public school students passed a standardized reading test, state education officials took decisive action: They made the exam easier. Last year, 71 percent of students were rated ``proficient'' in reading.

As students throughout the U.S. undergo the latest round of tests this month, corporate leaders including Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel Corp., and Edward Rust, chief executive officer of State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., say they're concerned about slipping standards among states. They're exploring whether to renew a decade-old push for national tests.

A commenter over at Joanne Jacobs notes that "Every state must participate in the NAEP every year".

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Back to School

The Economist:

"TEACHERS, teachers, teachers." Thus the headmistress of a school near Helsinki, giving her not-exactly-rocket-science explanation for why Finland has the best education system in the world.


It has achieved all this by changing its entire system, delegating
responsibility to teachers and giving them lots of support. There is no streaming and no selection; no magnet schools; no national curriculum; and few national exams. It is all, as that Finnish headmistress suggested, about getting good teachers--and then giving them freedom. If there is a lesson for EU leaders, it is: forget about multiple priority areas and action plans. European governments should go back to school. In Finland.

The Lisbon agenda proclaimed that the EU should aim to become the world's "most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy by 2010". Obviously, the words competitive and dynamic are hilariously inapt at such a sluggish time, when most of France seems to have taken to the streets to defend the notion that one's first job should come with a lifetime guarantee. But the phrase "knowledge-based" is almost as incongruous.

Europe is failing its students. Seventeen of the top 20 universities in
the world are American, according to Shanghai's Jiao Tong university.
Over a quarter of students studying outside their country of birth are
in America. Moreover, the EU's universities seem to be falling further
behind--and not just behind America. Britain has almost doubled its
graduate numbers since the 1960s, but that increase (which is rapid by
EU standards) has been enough only to keep it in roughly the same
position in the rankings of countries measured by graduates per
head--in so far as numbers, rather than quality, can be a proxy for
total educational output. Germany has increased its graduate population
only slightly, and thereby plummeted from the middle of such rankings
to near the bottom.

The fact is that global competition in higher education has become
ferocious. South Korea has invested hugely in education and is now
overtaking Europe in numbers of graduates (it has the third-highest
number of graduates per head). China and India are producing more
graduate engineers than the entire EU, which may be one reason why
Microsoft has a huge research centre in Beijing (though it also has
more than one in Europe).

The blunt fact is that most Europeans do not value degrees as highly
as Asians or Americans appear to. In a new study for the Lisbon
Council, a Brussels pressure-group, Andreas Schleicher offers some
calculations that try to estimate what degrees are worth to university
graduates. Everybody does well: on average, a student gets a 10% return
on his (or more often his taxpayers') investment. But in America the
average return is around 15%; in France and Italy it is only 8%.

Europe's failings in higher education are familiar enough. More
surprisingly, it is falling behind in secondary schools as well. The
performance in mathematics of an average 15-year-old from a big
European country is at or below the international average, according to
the PISA study run by the OECD. Top of the list are Hong Kong, South
Korea and Japan, plus a few small outward-looking EU members (including

Worse still, European schools do not provide the equality of
educational opportunity that people seem to think they do. The PISA
study also tries to assess how much student performance is affected by
socio-economic background and how much by personal skills, by
considering variations in mathematics results both within and between
schools. The first variation presumably reflects student skill; the
second, the socio-economic background of schools and students. If EU
countries had equitable education systems, one might expect a lot of
variation within schools, because pupils vary, but rather less between

In fact, one finds precisely the opposite. The differences between
schools are larger in most big EU countries than in the United States,
for all its supposed canyon between hyper-achieving magnet schools and
dismal sinkholes. Only a few small EU countries actually deliver an
equitable education; and these are the ones that have junked the
devices, such as stringent national curricula, or central direction
from state or national bureaucracies, that are supposed to ensure equal

The explanation, argues Mr Schleicher, is that European education is
stuck with an industrial mindset and has not adapted to the post-industrial world. Post-industrial organisations insist that
innovation must come from anywhere; that hierarchies must be flat; and
that everyone should be well educated. Manufacturing required a
pyramid: lots of unskilled manual workers, some skilled ones, plus a
few highly educated managers. The schools that meet this old
demand--with early selection of students into academic and vocational
streams, elite academic colleges and good vocational training--are
still around, especially in Germany and central Europe. They are
testimony to Europe's resistance to change. (How many teachers does it
take to change a lightbulb? What do you mean, CHANGE?)

Looking at France today, one might despair that change will ever come.
Its government even blocked the publication of findings on French
educational achievement and incomes (in a spirit of friendly
co-operation, we have done some back-of-the-envelope calculations which suggest that standards in French schools are more closely related to incomes than in other countries). Yet in the 1960s, Finland had all these faults. Now, it has the best schools in the world. Finnish 15-year-olds have the highest level of mathematical skills, scientific knowledge and reading literacy of any rich industrialised country.

It has achieved all this by changing its entire system, delegating
responsibility to teachers and giving them lots of support. There is no streaming and no selection; no magnet schools; no national curriculum; and few national exams. It is all, as that Finnish headmistress suggested, about getting good teachers--and then giving them freedom. If there is a lesson for EU leaders, it is: forget about multiple priority areas and action plans. European governments should go back to school. In Finland.

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March 23, 2006

"Public education is the foundation of our democracy"

George Lucas, writing about education and his Foundation (via Maya Cole's post on Effective School Boards:

Public education is the foundation of our democracy -- the stepping stones for our youth to reach their full potential. My own experience in public school was quite frustrating. I was often bored. Occasionally, I had a teacher who engaged my curiosity and motivated me to learn. Those were the teachers I really loved. I wondered, "Why can't school be exciting all of the time?" As a father, I've felt the imperative to transform schooling even more urgently.

Traditional education can be extremely isolating -- the curriculum is often abstract and not relevant to real life, teachers and students don't connect with resources and experts outside of the classroom, and schools operate as if they were separate from their communities.

Project-based learning, student teams working cooperatively, students connecting with passionate experts, and broader forms of assessment can dramatically improve student learning. New digital multimedia and telecommunications can support these practices and engage our students. And well-prepared educators are critical.

Our Foundation documents and disseminates the most exciting classrooms where these innovations are taking place. By shining the spotlight on these inspiring teachers and students, we hope others will consider how their work can promote change in their own schools.

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Nutrtitional Battle Lines Form at Schools

Brenda Ingersoll:

Mindful of the obesity epidemic and nutritional goals, the Madison School District is thinking of banning soda sales in its high schools, and candy in elementary and middle schools.

In the DeForest School District, a committee is mulling giving students more whole- wheat bread and switching to lower-fat milk.

In Mount Horeb, a similar "wellness" committee is pondering phasing out the chips and candy bars available in vending machines, and replacing them with fresh fruit and granola bars.

And Oregon is considering offering raw carrots, broccoli and celery daily, instead of a few times a week.

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WIBA Interview with School Board Candidates Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole

12MB mp3 audio file from today's WIBA interview.

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"What Kind of School Board Will You Vote For April 4th?"

Seat 1 Candidate Maya Cole:

I've got this stopwatch in my house that my campaign manager gave me for practicing speeches. The problem is that I can't figure out how to stop it; and, it occassionally will sound off from the deep recessess of my laptop bag. It goes off probably once a day.

My kids pretend it's a ticking timebomb. I think of it as a reminder to use every day wisely. It is a metaphor for my school board campaign that will be decided on April 4th.

So I kindly suggest to voters and supporters to concentrate on the issues. The task before you is one of choosing your school board; and make no mistake, this race is about status quo or investing in something new.

To help you out I have taken the liberty of providing five characteristics that make an effective school board. I see these suggestions as a guideline for change. Read them and then try to guess the source.

Links, articles and interviews with Maya Cole and her opponent, Arlene Silveira, are available here.

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A proposal is before the Madison Metropolitan School Board to approve a $2.8 million addition to Leopold funded under the revenue caps. The Board may vote on this proposal on Monday, March 27. While the Leopold overcrowding is a serious problem that absolutely must be addressed, the question for the Board is whether this should be addressed by cutting an additional $343,000 (the yearly debt service on the $2.8 million loan) from programs and services from our operating budget.

What would we have to cut to pay for this? We don't know yet, but examples of items that could be proposed for cuts include:

  • Elimination of the entire elementary strings programs (approx. $250,000)

  • Elimination of High School Hockey, Gymnastics, Golf, and Wrestling ($265,000)

  • Reduction of 4 Psychologists or Social Workers ($277,000)

  • Reduction of 7 Classroom Teachers ($350,000)
While no one wants to pit one educational need against another, that is what happens in the budgeting process when we are constrained by revenue caps. Paying for necessary physical improvements to Leopold now out of the operating budget means that other programs will be cut. On the other hand, failure to make those physical improvements now out of the operating budget means that either Leopold students will be required to deal with very overcrowded conditions without any assurance that a referendum to pay for a solution to the overcrowding will pass, or that boundary changes will have to be made that will affect many students in the West attendance area.

Difficult decisions must be made on what to fund out of our operating budget, and ultimately it comes down to a question of how we prioritize our District's different educational needs. I would appreciate readers' thoughts (click the comments below) on how to prioritize these needs and whether they believe the Leopold expansion should be paid for out of the operating budget.

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March 22, 2006

MMSD Staffing Resources/Cuts Go To Schools April 3rd – Where's the School Board, Where's the Board Governance?

It’s nearly the end of March, and there’s a strange quiet at the Madison School Board. Every March for the past five plus years has meant public School Board discussions and meetings about next year’s budget, budget cuts and referendum. Earlier this year, Superintendent Rainwater informed the School Board there would be budget discussions throughout the month of March. Yet, here we are at the end of March – silence on a $320+ million budget, but cuts are being planned just out of the public’s eye while pets in the classroom take front and center stage.

Funny – isn’t there a school board election on April 4th?

On Monday, April 3rd, on the eve of the 2006 spring school board election, MMSD school principals will receive their staffing allocations for the 2006-2007 school year according to the District's published budget timeline (updated March 15, 2006). The administration will provide school principals with the number of staff they will have for next year, and the principals will need to provide the Human Resources Department of MMSD with information on April 10th about how they will use the staff – number of teachers, social workers, psychologists, etc. For the most part principals have little say about how their staffing is allocated, especially in the elementary school. These dates are driven in part by teacher contract requirements for surplus notices and layoff notices that are due in late May.

Earlier this year, the Superintendent advised the School Board that $8 million in cuts will be needed next year. That means the staffing allocations going out on April 3rd will need to include these cuts. There are also plans afoot to avoid a referendum to add an addition to Leopold and borrow the money in a way that does not require a referendum. However, this approach will negatively affect the operating budget. The estimated additional cost will mean $350,000 in cuts on top of the $8 million in cuts estimated for next year. Where will those $350,000 in additional cuts come from – you can expect more cuts in teachers in the classroom, districtwide classes such as elementary strings, social workers, TAG resources, books, larger class sizes.

In opinion, this is one of the worst, closed budget processes I have seen in years. On March 9th, I blogged about five points that I feel are important considerations in a budget process, especially when we are in a financial crisis. Our School Board majority is missing most, if not all of them and will not even discuss budget items in March! Parents and the community ought to be alarmed. Madison will have to pass referendums to keep our schools strong in these punative financial times that Madison and all WI schools are facing. Conducting Board budget business in this way - behind closed doors, will not build community confidence and will not pass referendums!

I asked Superintendent Rainwater where was the cut list and what budget was he using to determine the allocations. He said this year the Board would be discussing cuts in the context of the entire budget? Huh? Decisions about cuts and reductions in allocations are being made now – what budget is being used? Why isn’t the School Board publicly discussing the budget? Who’s making the decisions and governing the school district – not the current School Board majority. We need a School Board majority that will do the business the public entrusted them with and who will do their work in public.

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Standardized Tests Face a Crisis Over Standards

Michael Winerip:

Which brings us to Connecticut. Last year, Connecticut filed suit against the federal Department of Education, contending that federal officials had failed to pay the cost of all the tests required by No Child Left Behind. While the suit got much news media play, many of the underlying testing issues were missed.

Connecticut wants to maintain its state tests, which feature many essay questions and problems that require students to explain their work. The state maintains that to administer these tests every year from third to eighth grade, as the federal law requires, will cost $8 million more than federal financing provides.

In a May 3, 2005, letter, the federal education secretary, Margaret Spellings, said that while Connecticut's tests "are instructionally sound, they go beyond what was contemplated by N.C.L.B." Federal officials suggested that Connecticut switch to multiple-choice tests and eliminate writing tests to cut costs.

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Madison School Board Candidate Take Home Test Week 9


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Candidates Split on District's Direction

Susan Troller:

It's an old truism that our strengths are our weaknesses. When a citizen runs for local office, he or she is likely to learn that in the glare and scrutiny of the campaign, the very qualities that make them an appealing candidate may cause some anguish in the tussle and turmoil of the race.

Madison School Board candidates Maya Cole and Arlene Silveira have both taken some flak: Cole for a hurtful comment that infuriated supporters of the Leopold Elementary School addition and Silveira for her business background and thoughtful style that has been occasionally characterized as too corporate.

For both, issues of personality have become a part of a race that offers significant differences in perspective on the school district as well as distinct choices of style and personality.

It's interesting that the Cap Times raised this issue, given that Maya's drawn quite a bit of partisan attention at recent (mostly thinly attended) candidate forums (Ideally, these things should be cordial, but that has not always been the case). A reader emailed this link to the first post failed May, 2005 Referenda Long Range Planning Committee meeting. This is the meeting where a number of people spoke, including Seat 1 candidate and very active referenda supporter (Madison Cares, a group Arlene spearheaded, spent over $40K promoting passage of the questions - fwiw, I told Carol I thought that all 3 questions would pass while she was leafletting the Farmer's Market, up until the ballot error/reprinting problem) Arlene Silveira.

The Cap Times' article discussed Board members behaving poorly toward one another:

She said she was surprised by the number of people who follow the School Board meetings on television, and said that some of the occasionally fractious behavior on the part of board members diminishes the group's credibility. "That must stop," she [Arlene] said firmly.
Certainly, this video fuels the discussion, with Arlene first up.

From my perspective, the Fitchburg school saga must include the mid-1990's MMSD turn-down of Bill Linton's offer of free land near Promega (Current President Carol Carstensen and incumbent Juan Jose Lopez were on the board at the time). That land became the private Eagle School. A Promega partnership may well have spawned more by today. Interestingly, I learned about this years ago, while waiting for luggage at the Dane County Airport next to then Superintendent Cheryl Wilhoyte. She seemed excited about the possibilities.

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Bigelow: County Democrats Support Silveira

Wayne Bigelow:

Dear Editor: On March 8, almost 100 members of the Dane County Democratic Party endorsed Arlene Silveira for Madison School Board.

Although it had been more than a decade since the Democratic Party made an endorsement in a School Board race, we felt that Silveira was an extraordinarily well-qualified candidate who will be a great addition to the board. She combines a long history of a advocacy for all students, leadership positions in her school involvement and a commitment to challenging curriculum for Madison's youth.

We believe that her experience in corporate budgeting and management provide her with skills that will be valuable to the School Board as it seeks to deal with budget constraints in the next few years. Finally, we believed that Silveira's emphasis on consensus building and collaboration will serve the School Board well as it tackles the many challenges facing our educational system.

We strongly urge a vote for Silveira for School Board on April 4.

Wayne Bigelow
Democratic Party of Dane County

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Young Madison Activists Reflect On Resistance

Three years ago, a group of fifth-graders at Madison's Crestwood Elementary School took on "The Man," as they like to put it.

The students, dubbed the "Recess Rebels," tried to restore an outdoor recess that administrators had removed in a restructuring of the school day.

They didn't win, but they claimed a few victories along the way, such as forcing a districtwide vote by all elementary teachers on the issue.

The students, now eighth-graders at Jefferson Middle School, have given up the fight but not the passion.

Six of them will present a 90-minute workshop Thursday at the National Service Learning Conference in Philadelphia titled "Taking a Stand: Empowering Youth in the Community." The students wrote a proposal for the workshop and were accepted to present.

About 2,000 educators and 1,000 students are expected to attend the conference, which promotes an educational method in which students identify and address community needs. Former President Clinton is the keynote speaker.

By Doug Erickson, Wisconsin State Journal, March 21, 2006 608-252-6149

At a recent meeting to plan their talk, the students reflected on their experience.

"I learned how to resist authority," said Nick Allen, 14. "Our principal was kind of against what we were doing and stuff. She was The Man' -- Big Brother and all that. We didn't listen to her."

Ben Brasser, 13, more of a diplomat, jumps in, "It wasn't that we didn't listen to her, we just continued on even though we were told to stop. In the process, we learned about teamwork and the value of completely believing in yourself."

In 2003, the Crestwood students started a petition to reclaim a 15-minute outdoor recess that had been replaced by a 10-minute indoor break. They researched the benefits of physical exercise, surveyed school and community members, lobbied the School Board and recorded public service radio announcements.

By the end, about 40 Crestwood students had participated in the effort. However, in a districtwide vote, elementary teachers said they preferred the indoor break. The issue died.

"I think we'll always be disappointed because we came so close," said Tessa Dorresteyn, 13.

The students' story is now a vignette in a new textbook titled, "Civics in Practice: Principles of Government and Economics," published by Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

In the years since the battle, the students have told their tale at various conferences and created a display at the Dane County Fair. Eight of them earned the highest possible rating at a national civics competition in San Francisco.

"The way they've stayed with this has been phenomenal," said Peter Plane, one of their Crestwood teachers.

Joyce Hemphill, mother of Carlton Hemphill, 14, jokes that her son learned how to resist authority a little too well. But she's proud that the students have become independent thinkers.

It will not be difficult for them to fill 90 minutes, she said.

"They could easily go on for two hours or more."

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March 21, 2006

Madison Schools' Potential Food Policy Update


A new controversial, food policy proposal in the Madison Metropolitan School District could take food out of children's mouths and funding for clubs, activities and supplies.

The district's Board of Education will consider district-wide recommendations on food policy within the next few days that might include a ban on candy, soda and snack food sales during school hours, according to the student representatives to the board.

The administrator writing the final recommendations refused to reveal if a ban will be part of the proposed policy, WISC-TV reported.
Supporters of the proposal argue that the food policy is to promote healthy eating and food safety.

A ban would impact food sales in school cafeterias and vending machines, as well as fundraisers sponsored by school clubs and extracurricular activities.

UPDATE: Bill Novak has more:
The school sale of junk food, candy and sugar-filled soft drinks could be affected by food policy changes to be considered by the Madison School Board.

The School Board is expected to consider new food policy recommendations within the week.

Madison Metropolitan School District spokesman Ken Syke confirmed the food policy is on the table but wouldn't release details on what recommendations are in the new report.

"It's a comprehensive food policy, and many different groups weighed in on it," Syke said. "Does it ban junk food? I can't say."

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Kristof: Student Reporting Trip Around the World

Nick Kristof:

"I'm looking for a masochist. If your dream trip doesn't involve a five-star hotel in Rome or Bora-Bora, but a bedbug-infested mattress in a malarial jungle as hungry jackals yelp outside - then read on.

"Over the next month, I'll be holding a contest to find a university student to accompany me on a reporting trip to the developing world. I'm not sure where yet, and that will depend partly on what's in the news at the time. But to give you a sense of the kind of travel I'm thinking of, the possibilities include a jaunt through rural Burundi and Rwanda in central Africa, or an odyssey from the coast of Cameroon inland to the heart of the Central African Republic …"

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Supporting Neighborhood Schools

Seat 1 School Board Candidate Maya Cole:

Boundary changes create a larger effect on a district than the direct impact on the children and their families.
  • Neighborhood schools are vital for a community.
  • Transportation costs eat away at a budget.
  • Kids don't get the daily benefit from a walk to school every day.

These are a few reasons that I feel strongly that we need to support and maintain all of our neighborhood schools.

I think it's important to keep in mind that Madison has become a growing urban school district. Our community has undergone radical transformation in the past 20 years, and any plan to address the community's educational needs must take those changes into account.

My vision is to continue the work of the long-range planning groups and expand it to form a strategic plan along the lines of the University of Wisconsin strategic planning. Long-term goals for the district, in my opinion, should be at least ten years or more.

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Why You Should Choose Math in High School

Espen Andersen, Associate Professor, Norwegian School of Management and Associate Editor, Ubiquity:

[The following article was written for Aftenposten, a large Norwegian newspaper. The article encourages students to choose math as a major subject in high school - not just in preparation for higher education but because having math up to maximum high school level is important in all walks of life. Note: This translation is slightly changed to have meaning outside a Norwegian context.]
Why you should choose math in high school

A recurring problem in most rich societies is that students in general do not take enough math - despite high availability of relatively well-paid jobs in fields that demand math, such as engineering, statistics, teaching and technology. Students see math as hard, boring and irrelevant, and do not respond (at least not sufficiently) to motivational factors such as easier admission to higher education or interesting and important work.

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What does it mean if NCLB wants to leave history

Ms. Cornelius:

A few of us from the high school got together with a couple of our middle school counterparts a while back. They wanted to meet with us to see how they could help align the skills and content they teach to help support their students who want to take AP level courses in high school. This was a watered down version of a concept known in AP world as "vertical teaming."

What finally came out after we got finished talking about specific things like creating a thesis statement and analyzing documents and pictorial evidence was this: they have gotten the message from administrators that their only function in an NCLB world is to reinforce the English curriculum. They were meeting with us in a bid to justify their existence as an independent department. Of course, this situation is already in jeopardy when you have not one soul teaching a social studies class in two of the three grades in one of the middle schools who has an actual major in social studies or history.

Not. One.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:59 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Providence School forum will explore fresh approach to math

Linda Borg writing in the Providence Journal:

Michael Lauro, the district's new math coordinator, will discuss plans for a curriculum called FASTT Math.

PROVIDENCE - Osiris Harrell, an outspoken critic of the school district's math curriculum, has invited parents and school officials to a meeting March 22 to discuss the effectiveness of the math program.

The forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Federal Hill House, 9 Cortland St., Providence.

Michael Lauro, the district's new math coordinator, will discuss plans for a fresh approach to math called FASTT Math. The district is considering trying it on a limited basis next year.

Harrell has met with Lauro to discuss his concerns about the current math program and to agree on how to work together, according to school spokeswoman Maria Tocco.

Harrell, in a recent interview with The Providence Journal, said he was distressed by the district's approach to math instruction, a program called Math Investigations that teaches students how to think about problem-solving rather that drilling them in the basics. The district adopted it in 2003 at the urging of then-Supt. Diana Lam.

Harrell, who is forming a parents' watchdog group called Project Future 2000 and Beyond, has been circulating a petition that asks the district to prove that its current math curriculum works. When Harrell gets 800 signatures, he said he will present the petition to Mayor David N. Cicilline and Schools Supt. Donnie Evans.

After Harrell's comments were published in The Journal, he said that a number of parents contacted him to share their frustration with Math Investigations, which encourages students to come up with their own solutions to basic math problems.

By contrast, FASTT Math is a return to the skill-and-drill approach familiar to many of today's parents. After taking an on-line test to determine their skill levels, students spend 10 minutes answering basic math problems. The problems get harder as the student progresses.

"The theory is that students need to be able to recall these facts within so many seconds so they can free up their minds for higher-order math skills," said Debbie Hodin, director of direct marketing for Tom Snyder Productions, the company that makes the software.

A number of school districts, including Hillsborough, Fla., Evans' former employer, have adopted the program, which is designed for students who are struggling with basic math, especially those who are performing at least one grade level below their peers.

FASTT Math was developed by Ted Hasselbring, a professor of special education technology at the University of Kentucky, and Laura Goin, the CEO of Designs for Learning.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:25 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Candidates agree education is at crossroads

Madison School Board candidates Juan Jose Lopez and Lucy Mathiak look at what is happening in schools here in very different ways, but on at least one issue they are in complete agreement: Public education here and throughout the Badger State is at a critical crossroads.

But the two candidates vying for School Board Seat No. 2, which Lopez has held since 1994, have quite distinct notions about the nature of the challenges facing the Madison Metropolitan School District.

By Susan Troller, The Capital Times, March 21, 2006

For Lopez, the major issue threatening the district is a dozen years of strict state-imposed spending controls that have hobbled public education. He says the financial situation jeopardizes educational progress and puts at risk Madison's reputation for academic excellence. Lopez said continuing budget cuts put the district "on the verge of severely cutting our basic instructional program."

Lopez takes personal pride in the district and its successes in raising minority achievement scores and graduation rates while continuing to turn out an enviable number of high-achieving National Merit Scholars and semifinalists - and this at a time when there has been a historic influx of low-income students.

For Mathiak, the biggest issue is not lack of money, but what she sees as lack of public trust in the School Board and the administration. She sees a multitude of missed opportunities and a board and a district that are fractured and not willing to look seriously at its very real challenges.

"The last election and failed referenda (to build a new school at Leopold Elementary and override revenue caps to fund the district's operating budget) spoke volumes," Mathiak said. "This city is blessed with smart, engaged parents and a community that is generally supportive of public education. I think people are loyal to their schools and teachers, and many of their principals, as well. But I believe they are not satisfied with the board."

Certainly she is not. Mathiak has been involved with Madison schools in various volunteer capacities since her children were in elementary school. But she says she became particularly frustrated with the board when she served on the district's Long Range Planning Committee in 2004 and 2005.

"I saw the good, the bad and the ugly," she observed. She said that the functional work of the committee was hindered by board members who attended the meetings and often gave long, rambling speeches that seemed designed to praise each other, but with precious little result.

"At the end of many meetings, there was no movement, no decisions made, no votes taken," she said.

She contrasted that with committees she has seen where parents and citizens drive the process.

"When we seriously ask for advice on these school-related issues from the parents, citizens and school staff who are on the front lines, they do a great job, like the work that came out of the East and West-Memorial boundary task force groups," she said.

Lopez is known as one of those board members given to a certain amount of speech-making and Mathiak does not mince words. She made a deliberate decision to challenge him rather than compete for the other seat on the ballot this year, from which the incumbent, Bill Keys, is retiring.

"Juan goes to a lot of meetings in the community and he is a nice guy but a board member needs to deliver," she said.

She noted that the performance and achievement committee Lopez chaired last year met only sporadically and had little substantive to show despite concerns on issues like the minority achievement gap and 4-year-old kindergarten.

Lopez focuses less on the process and more on the district's success stories.

"I'm not sure that many people in Madison actually recognize how different our student population is today from where it was even five or 10 years ago," he said.

He observed that there are new immigrants from all over the world that are coming to Madison to find good jobs, to start businesses and to have the opportunity to give their children an excellent public school education.

The result of this influx, and other demographic shifts in Madison's population, means that there are now many Madison schools with 40 or 50 percent of their students coming from low income families.

Despite those changes, and fierce budget cutting, the district is somehow succeeding to stay afloat and even make progress, Lopez said, making it a beacon of hope among urban school districts.

Lopez, who grew up and went to school in a segregated district in San Antonio, Texas, takes some of the credit for educational improvements over the last decade. Noting that he "led the charge" in creating the very successful Spanish immersion school, Nuestro Mundo, housed within Frank Allis Elementary School, Lopez also has been a strong advocate for programs the district has put in place to help minority and low-income students.

In a recent speech prepared for a community forum, he noted that shortly after he was elected, he and several other board members began to focus intensely on students who were failing.

"Our task was to lift them up, while maintaining our exceptionally high standards for middle class kids," he wrote.

The results, he says, speak for themselves, including distinctly improved numbers in three critical areas: percentage of third-graders reading at or above grade level (almost doubled since 1998), the percentage of ninth-graders who complete algebra and in the percentage of students graduating from high school.

These hard-won but potentially fragile achievements, he says, come in the face of budget cuts that will require nearly $8 million to be carved out of the current school budget.

Jeff Henriques, a Mathiak supporter and senior lecturer in the UW's psychology department whose sons attend West and Hamilton, said he believes Mathiak's tough approach and long history of activism on behalf of both gifted and minority students will benefit both of those groups, and every other student, as well.

"The role of high standards for all students is something that Lucy will bring to the School Board. She's a straight talker," Henriques said.

Mathiak's older son is African-American and she expresses frustration with what she sees as low expectations from some in the district.

"How is it that this diverse School Board has yet to take up some key issues that parents of minority students are concerned about?" she asked.

These include racial profiling and disparate discipline policies, equity issues in the schools, how increasingly scarce resources are being allocated and how some counselors and staff in the district are not placing high expectations on minority students.

These and a host of other broad, substantive conversations on subjects like curriculum, budget, process or contracts, sometimes appear to be off limits for serious consideration, Mathiak says.

"The discussions one would hope to be having aren't taking place, and those that are - like the animals in the classroom debate, for example - are sucking up hours of board time."

Curriculum: Teaching methodology sounds as dry as dust. But for parents who are seeing their children thrive or struggle with a particular learning program in subjects like reading or math, the issues surrounding curriculum are just about enough to make people put their homes up for sale and move in, or out, of a school district.

Lopez is well aware how passionately people feel.

"When we implement a new program, I look at it from a learning perspective. I want kids to learn academically, and I want them to learn socially," he said. He has been a key advocate for Nuestro Mundo, the language immersion school that has parents eagerly signing up for a waiting list.

He also supports new programs like the highly controversial core English programs at West High School that have eliminated ninth- and 10th-grade English electives in favor of classrooms where students of all abilities study a subject together, but with some individualized attention.

"I hate to see students segregated, and I think these classes help bring different kinds of kids together," he noted. The purpose of what's known as the heterogeneous classroom is to reduce the gap between high- and low-achieving students. Mathiak opposes the move toward this type of instruction. She explains that the needs of her own boys would make it unlikely that they would be well-served in the same classroom.

"It's scary to see West disemboweling its previously excellent English curriculum for some poorly articulated goals regarding achievement," Mathiak said. She noted that she believes curriculum issues must be discussed, and that data supporting these changes need must come from a source without a vested interested in the results.

Her willingness to focus on curriculum issues is not likely to win her a popularity contest with the district's administration, or with a majority of the current School Board.

School Board politics: As any observer of the School Board over the last several years cannot fail to see, there is often a sharp and occasionally acrimonious split between two factions. There are plenty of unanimous votes, and some realignments on random topics. But on many significant issues the Board votes 5-2, with the majority including Lopez, Board President Carol Carstensen, retiring incumbent Bill Keyes, Vice President Johnny Winston Jr. and Secretary Shwaw Vang. All have endorsed Lopez. Meanwhile, the usual dissenting voices from the board majority are Ruth Robarts and Lawrie Kobza, and both are supporting Mathiak.

The "negativity" of the critics of the Board and the district has become an issue in both this School Board race and the race between Maya Cole and Arlene Silveira for Seat 1. Supporters of the status quo charge that critics are a destructive and impossible to please; a small, cranky faction that has stirred up public dissatisfaction when they challenge the board majority, the budget process, general decision making, the superintendent, the teacher's union and the administration.

"God help us in a democracy if you can't ask questions," Mathiak responded. "I was raised to question authority, and I believe that's called critical thinking. We need to ask about the data that is supporting policy decisions and whether it makes sense. It's not critical or negative to expect people to bring solid, objective support for their ideas. It's part of the 'sifting and winnowing' tradition."

As for Lopez, he said he believes he can get along with anyone.

"I respect the people I don't agree with, and I respect the fraternity of the School Board and all its members." He also noted that it is the role of the challenger to criticize the status quo.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 2:16 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

When Ability Grouping Makes Good Sense

By James J. Gallagher

I am posting this article from 1992 given the recent debate on one size fits all classrooms. Professor Gallagher makes the point that the argument that homogeneous grouping hurts no one is clearly false: research consistently shows that high ability students do better when they are in classes with similarly able peers.

The recent educational literature has been filled with discussions of the effects of ability grouping, tracking, etc., and new virtues have been found in the concept of heterogeneous grouping of students. The homogeneous grouping of slow-learning children does not appear to be profitable, but the homogeneous grouping of bright students is a very different matter, and often ignored in these discussions. (See "Tracking Found To Hurt Prospects of Low Achievers,'' Education Week, Sept. 16, 1992.)

The goal of heterogeneous grouping appears to be a social one, not an academic one.(emphasis added) The desirability of that goal needs to be argued on its own merits, which I believe to be considerable. The argument is clouded, however, by the insistence of the proponents that nothing is lost in academic performance by such grouping. This position is clearly false, in my judgment, as it applies to bright students. Apart from the meta-analyses which indicate substantial gains for gifted students grouped for ability, there is a small matter of common sense.

Do we improve the skills of our Olympic swimmers by asking that they take time to teach nonswimmers how to swim? Is our plan for preparing the next John McEnroe or Jimmy Connors to ask them to play tennis with novices? Are our graduate classes more stimulating if we combine the most sophisticated students with beginners, or will we put the sophisticated student to sleep while we try to bring the new students up to speed? How many teachers, given a choice, would take a class with a range of five grade levels of performance in it compared with one that would have two grade levels?

The attempts to draw from the ability-grouping literature a favorable reading on heterogeneous grouping of bright students are disingenuous, to say the very least. They fall short on the following counts:

* Different curriculum. If the gifted students are learning about the Fall of Rome in their special class, how do you compare their performance with gifted students in the heterogeneous classroom? This has often been handled by measuring the two groups on their knowledge that they have both been taught. If the groups achieve equally on that measure, then the gifted group is clearly ahead since they know as much as those in the heterogeneous class, and in addition, have their special knowledge of the Fall of Rome.

* Measuring instruments. Standard achievement tests have often been the measure by which ability grouping is tested. But gifted students clearly bump their heads against the low ceilings of these tests and, therefore, you cannot easily determine how much they really know. The recent move to authentic assessment may help this problem considerably.

* Failure to use personal perceptions. One of the strongest and clearest judgments against heterogeneous grouping is easily available, if seldom used. You merely have to ask the bright students what they think of the two different settings. The statements of gifted students of crashing boredom, of idleness, of lack of challenge are the most eloquent evidence in favor of some form of ability or performance grouping.

* International comparisons. The failure of our best students to keep pace with top students in other countries, documented by the work of Harold Stevenson and others, should surely give people pause before they design an educational setting that seems to insure a less-than-optimum performance from our most capable students.

All of these factors are easily perceived. Can it be that the advocates of heterogeneous grouping want to believe so strongly in their position that they prefer to ignore what is obvious to a first-year graduate student or any knowledgeable parent? Those suggesting, or even wishing, to mandate heterogeneous grouping are following an unfortunate recent American belief that "We can have what we want most, at no cost or sacrifice.'' We would almost have to send our political and educational leaders to the dictionary to find the definition of "sacrifice,'' since it is so little used in present dialogue.

The honest argument should be over whether the social goals which are presumably attained through heterogeneous grouping are so important that they are worth the cost of lower academic performance from our brightest students. That is the true question and it can be argued on the basis of values and desired outcomes. To believe there are no costs to what we wish to accomplish is to engage ourselves in unproductive, wishful thinking.

Let us come to the issue of the disproportion of minority students in programs for students with special needs, gifted or retarded. The only reason why people would assume that the demographic proportions in special classes for gifted or retarded youths should come out even to their proportions in the society is to believe that intelligence is a factor fixed at conception--an obvious untruth. The proper solution to these disproportions is not to eliminate programs for the gifted, but to enhance the learning environments and opportunities for children who are at risk for less favorable developmental progress, so that more capable students from all economic and cultural backgrounds will qualify for advanced work, as they surely would.

Our sense of justice and equity requires no less, and the future of our society may well depend upon it.

James J. Gallagher is the Kenan Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 7:43 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More on Allied Drive Redevelopment

Dean Mosiman:

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is offering a vision for troubled Allied Drive as he tries to get support for buying and redeveloping a series of worn buildings in the heart of the neighborhood.

The vision includes buying nine apartment buildings on Allied Drive and redeveloping them with condos and perhaps retail space, supporting "good landlords," and closely monitoring the fate of a row of buildings on Carling Drive - a block off Allied Drive - with the potential of another city purchase.

Neighborhood input is important and a planning process will be completed in July, Cieslewicz stressed. But "I'd like people to be clear on what it is I'd like to accomplish."

Madison alder Brenda Konkel has more.

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Expedition Education

David Herszenhorn:

After four days and nights camping in the Rockland County woods, Donnell Tribble, a baby-faced 15-year-old from Brooklyn with tight cornrow braids, learned to trust and depend on his classmates and his teacher.

Along with 13 other boys and girls from James Baldwin High School in Manhattan, he struggled through moments of misery. The students pitched tarps for shelter, shuddered and whined in the cold and rain, ate strange foods like muesli, griped about the lack of comforts, and worried about meeting a bear outside the safety of the Bronx Zoo.

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March 20, 2006

What Islands of Excellence Would You Expand

Maya Cole wants to expand the district's island of excellence if she's elected to the school board.

What islands of excellence would you expand?

The islands might be a particular teacher, an afterschool program, an academic program, or a particular class. Just list what you'd like to expand and briefly tell how you'd expand it.

To get things started, I'd expand the championship chess at West High School by recruiting chess enthusiasts to teach chess after school at each school in the district.

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New Glarus Parent Files Gifted Ed Lawsuit Against DPI, DPI Superintendent Burmaster

New Glarus parent and Madison attorney Todd Palmer has filed a lawsuit against the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and DPI Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster for their failure to promulgate rules for the identification and appropriate education of Wisconsin's 51,000 academically gifted students, as is required by Wisconsin state law. Here is the press release; a link to the lawsuit itself may be found at the end.

Todd will be joining us for the beginning portion of our Madison United for Academic Excellence meeting on Thursday, March 23, at 7:00 p.m. in Room 209 of the Doyle Administration Building. We will also be discussing the INSTEP process and the District's new TAG education plan, currently under development. Come share your experiences and offer your input. All who care about rigorous curriculum and high educational standards are welcome.



March 13, 2006

On March 2, 2006, a lawsuit was filed in Dane County Circuit Court against the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster. The lawsuit challenges DPI’s failure to promulgate rules to govern public school districts in educating pupils identified as gifted and talented.

At present, DPI estimates that there are over 51,000 Wisconsin school children enrolled in Wisconsin’s public schools who are gifted and qualify for special educational programs. However, Wisconsin lacks a comprehensive, objective and clearly defined set of rules to ensure that all 426 school districts in our state meet the needs of these students. A recent Legislative Audit Bureau investigation demonstrated that in the absence of these rules, the needs of these gifted and talented students are not being met. According to DPI, this problem is only getting worse.

DPI has acknowledged that, “Wisconsin state law requires school districts to establish programs for these pupils, but the fiscal pressures facing many school districts has led a growing number of them to severely curtail or eliminate these programs.” DPI has acknowledged that gifted students are the most underserved pupils in public schools and that “too often, these pupils are ignored, restricted or underachieving and, if not part of the typical dropout statistics, have become in-school dropouts.”

On November 29, 2005, approximately 200 parents filed a Petition with DPI asking that DPIcreate rules to ensure that the educational needs of gifted children are being met. By letter dated February 1, 2006, DPI refused to issue those rules. The March 2, 2006 lawsuit challenges DPI’s denial of that Petition and asks the Court to order that DPI create these rules that are required by state law.

According to Todd Palmer, a parent and the attorney who filed the lawsuit, “Many school districts simply ignore the needs of gifted and talented students because adequate rules are not in place to define appropriate programs for these children and to ensure those requirements are enforced.”

According to Palmer, “Recent surveys show that 60% of the Wisconsin school districts plan to cut or altogether eliminate their talented and gifted programs despite the statutory mandate that requires these programs to be offered to students.” He believes this state’s problem is exacerbated by a lack of federal funding for gifted education, “recent estimates predict that only 3/10 of a penny per $100 spent on education in this country is devoted to gifted children.”


Media Contact:

Todd Palmer
DeWitt Ross & Stevens S.C.

Link to Todd's lawsuit:

Link to the DPI Gifted Education home page:

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"The World is Complacent"


In relation to the story in today's Times about black men which has obvious eduimplications (including the grad rate issue the article mentions) Joe Williams notes that "this problem is so much more severe than the "World Is Flat" problem that everyone seems to be talking about."

I couldn't agree more. One is a long-term problem, the other is staring us in the face, right now, every day. Good Brian Friel story in National Journal ($) getting at this a few weeks ago.

Erik Eckholm's NYT article is a must read:
Focusing more closely than ever on the life patterns of young black men, the new studies, by experts at Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and other institutions, show that the huge pool of poorly educated black men are becoming ever more disconnected from the mainstream society, and to a far greater degree than comparable white or Hispanic men.

Especially in the country's inner cities, the studies show, finishing high school is the exception, legal work is scarcer than ever and prison is almost routine, with incarceration rates climbing for blacks even as urban crime rates have declined.

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The Rose Report: Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading


The national curriculum in England is to be revised so children are taught to read primarily using the method known as synthetic phonics [Full Report 432K PDF]

In the most famous experiment, in Clackmannanshire, children taught using synthetic phonics were years ahead of their contemporaries by the time they moved on to secondary school.

The method is already endorsed by the Scottish Executive.

"Unless you can actually decode the words on the page you will not be able, obviously, to comprehend them," Jim Rose

Critics say it might teach children to read - but not necessarily to understand what they are reading.

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Gates' Small Learning Communities: The Wrong Investment?

Diane Ravitch:

Bill, I heard you speak a few weeks ago at Davos, when you told a large audience that education is the biggest challenge for the future. You are right about that. You pointed to the 1,500 or so small high schools that the Gates Foundation has funded as evidence of your commitment to make a difference. If you are worried about our nation's future competitiveness, I am not so sure you made the right investment.

Small schools are not always the best answer to low achievement. Sometimes they are, sometimes not. Poor academic results can be found in large schools and in small schools. Great academic results can be found in schools of any size. Success is the result of a solid curriculum, dedicated teachers, a strong principal and students who arrive in high school with the skills and motivation to succeed.

There is another investment that you could make that would be far more effective in raising student achievement than churning out another thousand or so small high schools. As the chief executive officer of the largest software company in the world, you have a certain competitive advantage. Your company really knows how to use advanced technology to teach people almost anything.

American students are accustomed to using computers and getting instant answers. Yet, when they open their textbooks, they find wooden prose. Instead of inspiring them to dig deeper into their studies, the textbooks more often than not simply turn them off. The medium itself is a problem, especially when compared with what they are used to doing for themselves on a computer. Textbooks have never been known for their sparkling prose, but today more than ever their obsolescence is apparent when they compete with new technologies.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:26 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

In Defense of Big Schools

Gotham Gazette's Reading NYC Book Club met with author Samuel Freedman, New York Times education columnist, and Jessica Siegel, the teacher who is one of the subjects of “Small Victories: The Real World of a Teacher, Her Students and Their High School."An edited transcript is below:

The problem is that you have this tail of this big grant from the Gates Foundation wagging this policy dog at the Department of Ed. Because Gates has a big priority to start small schools, the Department of Education is jumpstarting 50 a year, year after year. It's just impossible to have quality opening up schools in that kind of frenetic way. It also means a lot of these schools get opened up with these ultra-niche academic orientations – sports careers or architecture – that I think are really preposterous for a ninth grader. I think what they tend to do is serve the interests of community organizations that are sponsors. These may be perfectly well-intended sponsoring groups, but that doesn't mean that the high school as a whole is going to work with a curriculum that is defined that narrowly, especially when there is a good reason to put more emphasis on language, science, math and a lot of the core subjects.

Joanne Jacobs has more
, including this"
Gotham Gazette: Jonathan Kozol recently wrote an article for Gotham Gazette Segregated Schools: Shame Of The City, in which he argued that one issue that is being ignored is racial segregation. He said that until that is confronted, other reforms will not accomplish much. What is your perspective on that?
Jessica Siegel: What is the percentage of the public schools students that are children or color? Eighty-five percent? It's not even relevant. That's who is in the public schools. To me it's not an issue of segregation so much as what kind of education you are going to give to the kids there.

Samuel Freedman: I completely agree with Jessica. Kozol espouses a point of view you pick up in education schools. But it is a high-minded excuse for paralysis.

. . . It's part of educational suicide to say now, however well intentioned you are, that until you solve poverty or segregation nothing can happen in the schools. Something has to be able to happen in the schools.

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Ruling Supports Virtual School

A circuit court judge ruled on Friday (3/17/06) that a virtual charter school in Wisconsin did NOT violate state law by allowing parents to assume some duties of state-certificated teachers. See the Wis. Coalition of Virtual School Families' Press Release. Andrew Rotherham has more.

Charter Schools Strive to Expand

DPI Charter School Grant Info Meetings on March 22 & 23

Explore Websites of 30 "Green" Charter Schools

Sign up for NAPCS' E-Newsletter (National Alliance for Public Charter Schools)

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Wisconsin SAGE Class Size Discussion

Amy Hetzner:

If his school couldn't exceed the SAGE ratios, Burdick K-8 School Principal Robert Schleck said his school probably would have dumped the program.

"There's different models that are being used throughout the city," he said, noting that in some SAGE classrooms, groups of students are pulled into the hallway or other locations during the day to maintain the teacher-to-student ratio.

Particularly in schools with fewer low-income students, which receive less SAGE funding, the state Department of Public Instruction has been willing to allow classrooms to exceed the law's 15-student cap, although it often requires that they have extra personnel for reading and mathematics.

State DPI data show that at least 40% of SAGE schools employed half-time teachers to meet the program's requirements in 2004-'05.

Marjorie Passman wrote:
Help me out here. I don’t quite understand your point in quoting Amy Hetzner’s article. Why not include the following web article as well: which concludes: Compared head-to-head against school vouchers, SAGE is far more effective in improving student achievement.

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

Wisconsin Charter School News

You're invited to the WISCONSIN CHARTER SCHOOLS FAIR. The FAIR is a FREE public event in Appleton on April 2, Sunday afternoon (1:00 to 4:30 pm). HURRY APRIL !


Learn about the Performance of Public Charter Schools in Wisconsin from UW-Madison Professor John Witte. View 20 charter school displays and visit with students and teachers from several charter schools. The FREE FAIR will be held at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel in downtown Appleton --

The FAIR precedes the 2006 Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference, co-sponsored by the WCSA & DPI, on April 3 & 4 in Appleton.

Conference Overview (program, registration, hotel, etc.)

Schedule & 40+ Concurrent Sessions (i.e. seminars):

You can TOUR charter schools in Appleton


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March 19, 2006

MIT's Open Courseware


A free and open educational resource for faculty, students, and self-learners around the world. OCW supports MIT's mission to advance knowledge and education, and serve the world in the 21st century. It is true to MIT's values of excellence, innovation, and leadership.

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Milt Rosenberg: Public Schools, Choice and Reform

Retired University of Chicago Professor Milt Rosenberg recently hosted a discussion on the state of Americas public schools and make a case for school reform and school choice. Joseph Bast, president and CEO of the Heartland Institute, and Herbert Walberg, research professor of education and psychology at the University of Illinois Chicago along with a number of call-in teachers participated. 87 minute mp3 audio file

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:16 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"What if They Don't Want to Be Saved?"

"Ms. Cornelius":

I was working in my room the other day during a prep period when I overheard raised voices down the hall. One of my colleagues, Mr. Spector*, was debating with a kid from his classroom. It was obvious the kid was lipping off to Mr. Spector and basically refusing to do anything but sleep in Mr. Spector's class. When Mr. Spector insisted he remain upright, the kid took exception.

Mr. Spector is a fifty-ish second-careerist who is caring, funny, and an ultraconservative. (I forgive him and I love him anyway.) The man can squeeze a quarter so hard that snot comes out of George Washington's nose. He tries every day to do right by his students and expects them to learn something, and that's what matters to me.

Posted by James Zellmer at 7:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

An innovative teacher turns kids into writers

Stacy Teicher:

"Out of all my classes, this is the most exciting - she captures your attention while she's teaching," says senior Phillip Longo, who first encountered her in an after-school class for students who had failed English.

Loved as she is for handing out creative assignments, never "busywork," her students also give Barile credit for insisting they put their commas in the right place.

"She helps everyone with their writing so much," says Autumn Zandt, a senior in Barile's advanced-placement course. "It's been really nice to have someone focusing on [grammar] before we go away to college."

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March 18, 2006

Lopez, Silveira support one-size-fits-none classrooms

From an article in The Capital Times by Susan Troller:

Noting that he grew up poor in a segregated school district, Lopez said firmly, "I don't like segregating kids." He said that there are real advantages for all students in classes that reflect the real world. He also said that he believes young people benefit from teaching to, and learning from, each other.

Silveira, who has an eighth-grade daughter and has been involved with school issues as a volunteer for almost a decade, agreed with Lopez.

"I'm a proponent of the heterogeneous classroom," she said.

Heterogeneous classrooms mix students of all skill levels. For example, English 10 at West places non-readers and college-level readers in the same classroom.

While the board still investigates the appropriateness of one-size-fits-none, it's disappointing to have two candidates whose minds are already made up.

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SAT Takers Advised to Pay for Test Reviews

Anne Marie Chaker and John Hechinger:

In the wake of grading errors that wrongly lowered the SAT scores of thousands of students, a number of guidance counselors and college test-prep services say they are urging test takers to pay extra for backup scoring services to verify results. These services, which can range from $10 to $100 on top of the $41.50 fee for the test, are available only through the College Board itself. They include sending students copies of their answer sheets that they can check themselves, or hand scoring the test, which is usually graded by machine.

Some services may not be available to all students, depending on what month they take the test. And recent test takers probably won't be able to use them to affect the current college-application season, which is in full swing. But as reports of mistakes continue, counselors and students say their confidence in the scoring process is eroding.

"This is like 'Election 2000' in Florida," says Bari Meltzer Norman, associate director of college counseling at Ben Lipson Hillel Community High School in North Miami Beach, Fla., who says she will suggest the hand-scoring service to all future test takers.

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March 17, 2006

Intel Science Talent Search Winners


On March 14, 2006 Intel Corporation and Science Service awarded the top 10 college scholarship awards for the Intel Science Talent Search (STS) at a black-tie banquet in Washington, D.C.
Nicholas Michael Wage from Appleton East placed fourth, winning a $25K scholarship.
Nicholas Michael Wage, 17, of Appleton, studied generalized Paley graphs, an important class of graphs, for his Intel Science Talent Search project in mathematics. Given a prime p such that 4 divides p-1, we obtain a Paley graph by taking as vertices the integers (0, 1, ..., p-1), with an edge between x and y just in case x - y is a square modulo p. These, together with similarly defined graphs and directed graphs form the class called "generalized Paley." In the case above, when p - 1 is divisible by 4, Nick found the asymptotic limit, as p increases, for the number of complete subgraphs of a fixed size. He showed that this limit equaled that which Paul Erd”s (incorrectly) conjectured for all graphs. Nick also counted the number of three cycles for members of the larger family of generalized Paley graphs. His proofs used results from number theory, including Weil's deep theorem on the Riemann Hypothesis for finite fields. Nick, who attends Appleton East High School, earned 800s on his critical reading and math SAT scores. His paper is published in the journal Integers. Son of Drs. Michael Wage and Kathy Vogel, he plans to study math at Harvard or the University of Wisconsin.
Wage was one of only two semifinalists (out of a group of 300 chosen throughout the U.S.) from Wisconsin. The other was Michael James Pizer from Milwaukee's University School. Martin Weill has more. David Pescovitz has photos.

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Leopold expansion means cutting seven teachers?

Correct me if I'm wrong (as if I need to even say it).

If the Board approves an addition at Leopold from the operating budget (without a referendum), won't the Board also have to cut an additonal seven teachers from next year's budget to cover the cost?

I hope that I'm wrong, because that divisive course, which the board majority seems poised to approve, would certainly pit Leopold and its expansion supporters against the teachers and parents of each and every school that might lose a position.

A less divisive course would be to ask voters in a referendum for funds for the expansion in the context of a complete plan for growth on the boundaries of the district.

According to the district's figures, Leopold serves only 23 students beyond its capacity, but parents and teachers tell of severe overcrowding. Either the parents and teacher are wrong, or the district numbers are wrong. I'm going to believe the parents and teachers, forcing me to raise the question: how many other numbers are wrong in the administration's spreadsheets.

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March 16, 2006

Why the School System Prefers AP Over Honors Courses

Fairfax County Assistant Superintendent Ann Monday:

It is recommended practice for all secondary schools to offer two curriculum levels for all core subjects at each grade, with one offering providing advanced academic coursework.

In 1998, the first year of open AP enrollment for all students, both the numbers and the diversity of students increased throughout the County. In this same year, all students taking AP courses were also required to take the end-of-course AP exams. Enrollment in AP has increased consistently with 2005 having the highest AP participation yet with 13,995 students enrolled in AP courses. . . .

FCPS is committed to providing students with challenging courses offering preparation for life in a competitive society. . . . If you have questions about particular courses or guidance policies regarding dropping and adding courses, please discuss the matter with your local guidance department and school administration.

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Madison School Board candidates differ on classroom mix

From an article by Susan Troller in The Capital Times:

Citing the example of her own family, Madison School Board candidate Lucy Mathiak says she does not believe that a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching is a good idea. Mathiak, who is running against incumbent Juan Jose Lopez in the upcoming April 4 spring election, was one of a quartet of candidates featured Wednesday at the Downtown Madison Rotary meeting.

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Wisconsin Academic Decathlon

Tuesday afternoon, the Madison Masonic Center was the setting for the Wisconsin Academic Decathlon State Competition.  About 800-900 people were there, almost all of high school age.  It had all the youthful enthusiasm and cheer of a pep rally, except this time mental achievement was being honored, not physical.  School mascots were in attendance, and competing cheers filled the auditorium before quiztime.  
Twenty high school teams of nine students each competed in the final Super Quiz Oral Relay.  During this section of the competition (the written portion was held the day before), each member went down to sit at tables facing a screen where a multiple choice question was displayed that was read out by News 15’s John Stofflet.  Competitors then had ten seconds in which to “bubble-in” their response.  Correct responders were known immediately as they were asked to raise their hands.  Each team’s cheering section would then erupt with glee (provided a hand had been raised).
Each team member answered five questions; there were 45 questions in all.  And they were tough, all having to do with the Renaissance.  Waukesha West were declared the state champions at a dinner held at the Madison Concourse Tuesday night.  They will get to compete in the national finals in San Antonio, TX on April 27-29.  Wilmot was second and Sun Prairie third.  McFarland also made the finals.  Madison and Middleton were not amongst the 114 teams fielded this 2005-06 season.
This was the 23rd annual competition, and quite possibly the last, as the event costs about $220,000 annually, and depends on private donations for two-thirds of that amount; this year, donations fell $50,000 short.  I am writing this as thousands arrive in Madison on a snowy day to watch three days of state high school basketball competition.  As well they should; it’s a culmination of a long and exciting season for those twenty schools.  But I can think of no more exquisite demonstration of our society’s values than the hoopla at the hoops this weekend versus the media’s nigh-silent coverage of the noisy and exuberant academic decathlon.  The WSJ had a four-sentence description beneath two photos; the Capital Times had nothing at all.
On Waukesha West!  On Wisconsin!

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March 15, 2006

Silveira is right choice for School Board

A letter to the editor
Dear Editor: For years I have been fairly passive about working on local campaigns, but this year the School Board election has me so alarmed that I feel I have to do more than just vote or put up a yard sign.

Anyone who has attended recent forums has seen Arlene Silveira continually giving superior answers to all questions because she is much more familiar with the issues schools face today. Arlene has gained her information through experience and study. She has put in her time supporting our schools and not attacking them.

While some think her opponent is a nice person, I have never seen any sense of depth on educational matters coming from her; in fact, most of her answers at forums are non-answers, attacks on school administrators or worse, naive and unrealistic proposals to save money.

I have not heard one positive statement about our schools made by those candidates endorsed by the people behind the "school info systems" blog.

We have one candidate who states that parents of younger children haven't been "tainted" by our schools yet and who has called Fitchburg parents "whiners" because they didn't get a school. A second candidate promises we can have all the programs we want if we just get rid of more administrators. Since these people have no trust in our schools and believe every bit of information given to them is flawed, how are we possibly going to get a positive dialogue going on the real, substantive issues facing our schools? Frankly, the incessant attacks on our schools are beginning to wear thin.

For honest answers to our problems I suggest going to two Web sites:

1) Read under "Hot Topics - Recently Answered Questions" and discover, among other things, that school administrators have been reduced by 28.4 percent over the last six years with four more administrators up for elimination in next year's budget. This means that the remaining administrators are doubling, tripling and even quadrupling their responsibilities.

2) for a truly reasonable discussion of issues characterized by good judgment and sound thinking.

Personally, I don't want angry, negative people running our schools, and so this is not an election to be neutral about. It is time for the press and our entire community to support a candidate who wants to take an already great school system and make it even better. It is Arlene Silveira's confidence in our schools as well as her quiet dignity and intelligence that we need on our School Board.

Marjorie Passman

The Capital Times
Published: March 15, 2006

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No Diploma, No More Driving

Crystal Lindell:

Illinois high school dropouts may soon find themselves without a driver’s license as well as lacking a diploma.
Under legislation moving through the state Senate, dropouts would lose their driving privileges until they re-enroll or turn 18 years old.
“I think we all recognize the issue and the problem of dropout that we have in secondary education,” Sen. Frank Watson, R-Greenville, said. “This is an attempt to try to address that.”
The measure, which already has won approval in the House, would target anyone younger than 18 who is either a high school dropout or has 18 or more unexcused absences. Watson said dropouts are more likely to end up in jail, so such deterrents are needed.

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NPR's OnPoint: The Cost of a Good Education


Parents in Milwaukee want school vouchers and the governor's signing up. Hear about one city's big experiment with vouchers.

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Konkel on Madison's Planned Allied Drive Building Purchases

Madison Alder Brenda Konkel:

No, I'm not talking about the residents who live there, I'm talking about the City of Madison. So, we're probably going to bid at the auction for the "Hauk Properties". (It still needs council approval.) That is likely a very responsible decision given the alternatives. I feel comfortable with that decision. Problem is, what if we end up with the properties, then what?

The City and private property owners have a pretty long history of taking a low-income area, doing wholesale evictions for any infraction, enticing people to move with relatively low "incentives", creating housing that people who previously lived there can't afford or rehabbing the properties, moving people around until they get too frustrated to stay and then if they are persistent, making tenants re-apply to live in their old apartments and then denying them based on strict screening criteria. Essentially, destroying the sense of community that exists and the support networks of the people who live there.

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Madison School Board Candidate Take Home Test Week 7


Great questions.

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March 14, 2006

West claims chess title for fourth straight year

A story in The Capital Times reports:

For the fourth consecutive year, Madison West took top honors at the Wisconsin Scholastic Chess Championship last weekend at UW-Oshkosh.

West's top-ranked A team includes Jeremy Kane (who also won Varsity Division 1, 1st Board Champion), Siarhei Biareishyk (who also won Varsity Division 1, 2nd Board Champion), Sam Bell, Gabe Lezra and Geremy Webne-Behrman.

West's B team placed fifth overall, and includes team members Joe Swiggum, Adeyinka Lesi, Dennis Zuo, Casey Petrashek (who also won Varsity Division 1, 4th Board Champion) and Kenny Casados.

Alex Betaneli and Neal Gleason are West's chess team coaches.

West chess teams also won three consecutive championships from 1998 through 2000.

Congratulations to the team and coaches.

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Open enrollment popularity grows

One of Jamie and Kathy Malwitz's three children didn't fit in at Fond du Lac High School — known as having one of the largest enrollments in the state, about 2,400 students.

"We opted for school choice with Kaitlin. She's now a senior at Oakfield High School, plays varsity soccer and loves the atmosphere at a small school," Kathy said.

Through Wisconsin's open enrollment period — Feb. 6 to 24 this year — parents were able to choose which public school system in the state they wanted their children to attend.

Now in its ninth year, the open enrollment program continues to grow in popularity, from 2,464 student transfers the first year to more than 18,000 in 2005, said Joe Donovan, spokesperson for the state Department of Public Instruction.

"The number of applicants is pretty striking," he said.

So is the increasing number of students opting out of brick and mortar public schools and enrolling in one of 13 virtual schools in Wisconsin.

By Sharon Roznik, The Reporter, March 10, 2006,

Kris Diener, originally from Fond du Lac, is principal of iQ Academies, Wisconsin's largest virtual high school, offered through the Waukesha School District.

"We had over a thousand new applicants and several were from Fond du Lac," Diener said.

iQ has a current enrollment of 550 students, bringing in about $5,700 in state aid per student into the Waukesha School District. That's a total of more than $3 million.

Financial loss

A high-count student exodus in Waupun (61) raises concerns for Bill Zeininger, director of business services and human resources. Because that same per pupil state aid follows every student wherever they go to school, the financial loss can be great.

"A total of 107 students are going elsewhere, at $5,700 a student. It's a crippling blow to our school district and will be a further drain on us financially," he said.

North Fond du Lac School District Administrator Sue McFarlane said enrollment figures can appear artificially high for a variety of reasons.

"I'm guessing at least 20 to 30 of those students (out of 60 requesting transfers) moved into the North Fond du Lac School District but continued to attend schools in their old district. We also have 10 to 12 students who were being home-schooled and applied to one of the virtual schools," she said.

Diener confirmed the Waukesha virtual school attracts home-schoolers, performance athletes and students who travel the world because of their parents' profession, yet still want a diploma from Wisconsin.

"We are aware of the feelings some public school administrators have about virtual schools," Diener said. "I understand there is competition in public schools, and it isn't something they had to deal with before. I tell them we can be partners in educating children that cannot, for whatever reason, attend public school on a full-time basis."

Oakfield School District Administrator Joe Heinzelman said he's pleased with the district's growing popularity. With 28 new enrollees added to the number of transfer students already at the school, there are 59 potential open enrollment students coming in, a hefty sum for a school district with 563 students.

"It makes us feel great, and I think it shows that parents look for schools where a child can participate and get personal attention. Students aren't just a number here," he said.

Virtual school offerings

Fond du Lac has plans to jump on the bandwagon and offer its their own virtual school, on a limited basis, to students in 2006-07. Plans to expand virtual school course offerings are now being considered by a district committee under a charter school grant.

"Virtual school continues to be an option for parents," School Superintendent Greg Maass said. "It provides yet another opportunity for students beyond the traditional school setting."

Numbers in New Holstein indicate 35 students are leaving through open enrollment compared to four coming into the district. School Superintendent Joe Wieser said that of those students, 16 are in 4-year-old kindergarten and travel with their parents to schools near their place of employment.

Still he has concerns about overcrowding in the schools prompting parents to look elsewhere, and he hopes voters will approve a November referendum asking for a new middle school.

"We are so crowded, we are renting classrooms from the church across the street," he said.

As for open enrollment trends, Donovan said parents' reasons for choosing open enrollment are as varied as the number of transfer requests.

"Up until last year, there was a cap on the number of students that could leave a particular district," Donovan said. "Last year, it was 10 percent; prior to that, 3 percent. Now there are no caps, so more parents are opting to move their students around."

Kathy Malwitz, a retired school teacher, said she and her husband, Jamie, picked the kind of education that fit each of their children.

"Jamie home-schooled Kaitlin her sophomore year," she said. "Our older daughter, Kari, attended Fond du Lac High School but spent her senior year attending classes at Moraine Park Technical College through the youth options program. Our son, Adam, was a good, quiet student, and he did fine at Fond du Lac."

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The Liberal Arts in School and College

Stanley N. Katz:

The debates that dominate the discussion of the transition from high school to college today assume that the sole function of high school is to prepare graduates to succeed in college courses. If we look at secondary education from the point of view of the liberal arts, however, we can discover a fundamentally different concept of its purpose — and of the capabilities of adolescents. A liberal-arts focus shows how different American assumptions are from those of the other industrialized nations with whom we compete globally today.

Let me start with two points. First, liberal education (by which I mean an engagement with the major aspects of human knowledge and values) is not a throwaway, a bauble for rich kids in select institutions who are going to get good jobs no matter what they study. Liberal education is, or should be, at the core of training our youth to serve themselves, their country, and the world. Second, liberal education is a process laden with content that stretches over an extended period of schooling — at the very least from the third year of high school through the second year of college — and arguably over the entire eight years for those who attend the two institutions.

The question I want to raise is whether we, in the United States, assume that the majority of students aren't ready to take on a challenging liberal-arts curriculum until they get to college. Have we implicitly taken for granted that adolescents are not capable of tackling the liberal arts? And must we assume, as I think we do, that college students need to get through studying them as quickly as possible, in order to go on to more-professional studies?

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2006/2007 Madison School District Budget Timeline

The Madison School District has posted a schedule of budget events for the review, discussion and approval of their $321M+ (2005/2006) upcoming 2006/2007 budget. One interesting date: individual building allocations will evidently be sent April 3, 2006, one day before the spring, 2006 school board election (April 4, 2006)

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Jobs: Special Assistant to the Superintendent for Parent / Community Response

Madison Metropolitan School District:

Provide consultation and direction to schools in their efforts to develop and administer programs which result in achievement of all students. Provide consultation to schools in their efforts to integrate authentic multicultural education in all subject areas. Work with schools to promote teaching strategies that facilitate achievement of students from diverse backgrounds. Provide consultation to the Teaching and Learning Department to ensure the District is offering a comprehensive multicultural education. Provide consultation to staff on the selection, evaluation and use of multicultural resources.
MMSD jobs on the web, including summer school positions.

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New Jersey School Administrator Compensation Discussion

Richard Lezin Jones:

Local school boards in New Jersey, driven by stiff competition for top-flight administrators, have given them "questionable and excessive" compensation packages that cost taxpayers millions of dollars and are often hidden from public view, according to the results of a review by state officials released Monday.

The review, by the State Commission of Investigation, examined the payrolls of dozens of school districts and found that boards of education around the state have lavished officials with cars, computers, cellphones, improper pension increases and donations to tax-deferred annuities. Superintendents and other top administrators received, on average, extra compensation that was valued at slightly more than $70,000 over their base salaries, the state found.

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March 13, 2006

The New $4.5 Billion Federal School Funding Program Nobody Knows

Kevin Carey:

But lost in this debate is one of the biggest and largely untold stories of NCLB: Since the law's passage, Congress has changed the way it distributes the Title I funds that support NCLB, targeting an additional $4.5 billion to the states with strong school funding policies and the school districts with the highest concentrations of low-income children. Congress and the President deserve credit for the shift.

The change has attracted scant attention because it involves the law's complex funding formulas. Title I uses not one but four different formulas to distribute money to schools—Basic, Concentration, Targeted, and Incentive. Before passage of NCLB, Congress used only the Basic and Concentration formulas. Those formulas spread Title I monies too widely, resulting in districts with relatively few poor children receiving significant funding and high-poverty schools receiving too little. But as the chart below shows, since Congress passed NCLB in 2001 it has increased Title I funding significantly and distributed all of the additional monies through the Targeted and Incentive formulas—helping the nation's highest-poverty school districts and rewarding states that make the greatest effort to fund education and distribute funding fairly to local districts.

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What's an AYP Rating? And Why it Matters


Most everyone in the political and policy world was fixated on all the "what does it mean" questions about Sunday's NYT Mag story on Mark Warner. But there was also some chattering about the Outlook spread on No Child Left Behind in the Wash. Post. It was well done including reactions from DC-area principals, an NCLB primer by Jay Mathews, and a map of DC-area schools (pdf) not making "adequate yearly progress" or AYP.

But despite the primer, readers might have been left wondering about these adequate yearly progress targets. That's understandable, it's confusing, and they're not the result of a single calculation. Instead, it's a multi-step process with opportunities to increase or decrease the level of difficulty at each one. It goes something like this:

First, the state chooses a test to use. This can be a pre-existing test used elsewhere, a custom-designed one based on the state's standards, or a combination of the two. Obviously, the degree of difficulty is a big issue here.

Second, the state decides what the cut score on the test will be for a student to be "proficient" as well as "basic", "advanced", and any other delineations of performance the state wants to have. In other words, how many questions does a student need to answer correctly? For No Child Left Behind the most important category is proficient because that is what the law's "adequate yearly progress" ratings are based on. There are several methods for determining cut scores. What's most important to remember about them is that they all rely on professional judgment. There is no revealed source of truth about what a fifth-grader or a high school student needs to know and be able to do. At the risk of oversimplifying too much, the three most common methods are based on using expert judgment from a panel of experts to come up with cut scores, comparing and contrasting how various groups of test takers do on the test, and scaling the questions from easy to hard and determining various delineations for performance along the scale. Again, plenty of chances to increase or reduce the level of difficulty in this process.

But, while newspapers commonly report the percentage of students passing a test, they rarely report on what the cut scores are and when and how they are set. The composition of the professionals involved also matters a lot. Is it just K-12 teachers, or outside experts for instance representatives of higher education, too? Lack of attention to this process is unfortunate because there is plenty of opportunity for mischief and a state with a difficult test and a high cut score, say 40 out of 50, is going to have different results than a state with an easier test or a low cut scores. But, cut scores of half to 2/3 of the questions correct in order to be "proficient" are not at all uncommon. All this is public information or can be obtained through a FOIA. And it's all extremely relevant to all this.

Dick Askey commented on test scores vis a vis local, state and national results here.

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High school may be added to UNC system

School of science, math would be 17th campus

The General Assembly will be asked to approve adding a 17th campus to North Carolina's public-university system, and this time it's a high school.

Trustees at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics voted unanimously Friday to integrate with the University of North Carolina system. The UNC board of governors also must approve the reorganization.

The School of Science and Mathematics, a 25-year-old residential high school in Durham, has been under the UNC system umbrella for years. But the UNC board of governors has had no direct supervision of the high school's trustees.

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Marketing Tools Aid Schools

Elizabeth Redden:

The increased popularity of “school choice” and charter schools has another — often overlooked — consequence: an increased emphasis on school marketing.

“Schools find themselves in a different environment today,” said Dr. Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change in Minnesota.

“It used to be pretty cut and dried who goes to what school.

“As we’ve evolved in the last decade toward more public school choice through the charter school movement, more and more families want to learn about their options.”

Delaware is one of the nation’s leaders in school choice, according to a 2005 report released by the nonprofit Rodel Foundation of Delaware.

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Improving math ed -- Bush right about that, But where are the teachers coming from?

Jonathan David Farley:

In his State of the Union address in January, President Bush stressed the importance of improving math education. He proposed to "train 70,000 high school teachers to lead advanced placement courses in math and science, bring 30,000 math and science professionals to teach in classrooms, and give early help to students who struggle with math."

But where will these teachers come from? And will the training of teachers be sufficient to increase the number of students choosing math and science careers? And why does all this matter?

Because mathematics is the foundation of the natural sciences. It is no coincidence that Isaac Newton, the man who formulated the law of gravitational attraction that revolutionized our understanding of the universe, was also the man who popularized the calculus. And the natural sciences, however pure, are what give us airplanes, cable TV and the Internet.

In the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment, a test that measures math literacy, American 15-year-olds performed worse than their peers in 23 countries, as well as those in Hong Kong. It's not hard to see why. According to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 40 percent of the nation's middle school math teachers do not have the equivalent of an undergraduate minor in math. The average starting salary of a teacher is only $30,000, whereas the average starting salary for a recent college graduate in computer science or engineering is $50,000.

Jonathan Farley is a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, and a CISAC science fellow.

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Virtual Public Schools a Great Option

Rose Fernandez:

I am the mother of 4 children who are excelling with Internet-based learning though a public school in Wisconsin. I am also the President of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families.

Together with our fellow parents, families and friends, we strive to educate policy makers and others on why we chose a virtual public school for our children; how those schools work; about the close, working relationship we have with our teachers and administrators; and much, much more.

Our Coalition strongly support AB 1060, a bill authored by Representative Brett Davis and Senator Luther Olsen, which has passed both houses of the Legislature and is awaiting the Governor's signature. While public schools do not require additional legislation in order to continue to operate, we appreciate the Legislature reaffirming its intent to keep virtual public education as an option before the parents of Wisconsin.

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Some schools, including Sherman, will get fresh fruit & vegetables

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster issued the following press release:

Students will crunch on carrots or cauliflower, or whip up a fruit smoothie while learning the importance of eating fresh produce in 25 schools throughout the state, thanks to a federal grant that brings Wisconsin into the successful U.S. Department of Agriculture's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program.

"This grant allows us to offer more fresh produce to all students as a supplement to the school breakfast and school lunch programs," said State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster. "Many schools will offer the fresh fruits and vegetables at times during the day when children would otherwise be hungry, or might need an energy boost to improve their attention in the classroom. We know that hungry children can't learn, so this program supports our efforts to boost achievement for all students and close the achievement gap."

The following schools received the grants:

Abbotsford Elementary School, Abbotsford School District — $ 23,896
Bluff View Intermediate School, Prairie du Chien School District — $ 33,318
Butte de Morts Elementary School, Menasha School District — $ 27,288
Edward Bain School of Language and Art, Kenosha School District — $ 58,797
Glidden K-12 School, Glidden School District — $ 16,508
Howe Elementary School, Green Bay Area School District — $ 35,580
Ladysmith Elementary School, Ladysmith-Hawkins School District — $ 26,308
Lakeview Elementary School, South Milwaukee School District — $ 22,689
Logan Middle School, La Crosse School District — $ 40,027
Marinette Middle School, Marinette School District — $ 61,209
Mead Elementary School, Wisconsin Rapids School District — $ 35,278
Milwaukee Public Schools
Forest Home Elementary School — $ 61,133
Kosciusko Middle School — $ 34,976

North High School, Eau Claire Area School District — $ 132,368
Northern Lights Elementary School, Superior School District — $ 48,168
Parkside Middle School, Wautoma Area School District — $ 38,067
Rock Elementary School, Hudson School District — $ 45,304
Salem Elementary School, Salem School District — $ 84,351
Sherman Middle School, Madison Metropolitan School District — $ 40,555
Turtle Creek Elementary School, Delevan-Darien School District — $ 41,836
Viroqua Middle School, Viroqua Area School District — $ 18,091
City of Wausau
GD Jones Elementary School, Wausau School District — $ 18,468
Newman Catholic School, Wausau — $ 15,679
Webster Stanley Elementary School, Oshkosh Area School District — $ 33,469
Wilson Elementary School, Janesville School District — $ 23,745

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March 12, 2006

Tom Beebe Discusses Wisconsin's Public School Finance System

20 Minute Video | MP3 Audio
Tom Beebe of the Institute for Wisconsin's Future (IWF) gave a talk Friday afternoon at Edgewood College as part of their school finance class. In this talk he reviews how Wisconsin's basic school finance structure works, and how the revenue gaps has affected school funding throughout the state. He also provides some suggestions on how and where the funds can be found to correct the situation.
There will be a longer clip posted later this week.
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Vo-Tech as a Door to College

Lori Aratani:

Every day, after a morning of classes at Wheaton High School, David Gonzales, a dark-haired, slightly scruffy senior, headed to Thomas Edison High School of Technology. There he donned a tool belt and goggles and went to work as part of a team of student builders who have been constructing a...

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O'Keefe Student Wins Badger Spelling Bee

Barry Adams:

When Isabel Jacobson exited last year's state spelling bee in the fourth round, the tearful O'Keeffe Middle School student predicted she would be back for another shot at the title.

Her prophecy was right on - and then some.

The three-time Madison All-City Spelling Bee champ outdueled the La Crosse area's three-time winner, Spring Raine Decker, in a six-minute, four-word showdown to win the 58th annual Badger Spelling Bee.

Isabel, 13, correctly spelled "picaresque" to win an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C., to represent Wisconsin in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on May 31 and June 1.

"It feels really good," said Isabel, who leaped from the Monona Grove High School stage to get hugs from her family when she won. "I think one of my mistakes last year was that I really geared up for the city bee and didn't study enough for state."

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March 11, 2006

Kansas Study on School Performance & Spending

Jim Sullinger:

The way Kansas schools spend their public money may be just as important as how much they get, according to a study released Thursday.

Initiated last year by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the study by the Standard & Poor’s School Evaluation Services is thought to be the first to analyze and compare student performance and the way schools allocate budget dollars. It was funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

The study identified 17 districts that were using their dollars most effectively in achieving high levels of student performance on assessment tests.

The surprise for lawmakers was how much these 17 spent compared with less-successful districts.

“They spent less than the state average and less than districts that didn’t perform as well,” said Jason Kingston, chief analyst on the Standard & Poor’s project.

Based on the analysis, the study concluded that it would be too costly for the state to spend its way to proficiency.

The complete report can be found here [240K PDF file]. A summary is available here.

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How the Masses will Innovate

Frank Moss, head of MIT's Media Lab via a Q & A with Business Week:

You talk about education and the bottom-up effect that millions more people will play in societal advances. How do you see this unfolding?

We will undergo another revolution when we give 100 million kids a smart cell phone or a low-cost laptop, and bootstrap the way they learn outside of school. We think of games as a way to kill time, but in the future I think it will be a major vehicle for learning.

Creative expression (is another area). No longer will just a few write or create music. We will see 100 million people creating the content and art shared among them. Easy-to-use programs allow kids to compose everything form ringtones to full-fledged operas. It will change the meaning of creative art in our society.

We are already seeing early signs of it in blogs. The source of creative content is coming from the world. That revolution will go well outside of the written word to all forms of visual and performing arts.

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Program Teaches Kids About Cyber Security

William Kates:

The program teaches students about data protection, computer network protocols and vulnerabilities, security, firewalls and forensics, data hiding, and infrastructure and wireless security.

Most importantly, officials said, teachers discuss ethical and legal considerations in cyber security.

"It's a great course. It's a littler harder than I expected," said Catherine Gudaitis, a junior interested in theater. "But I know in the world I'm going to live in, this will be necessary information, even common knowledge."

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"Mathiak, Cole would bring Fresh Perspective"

Ed Hughes, writing in the Capital Times:

The most important qualifications for a School Board member today are a willingness and ability to grapple with the budget challenges our schools confront under the state's ill-advised school funding laws.

School Board members will have to think boldly and creatively about how best to preserve the quality of education our students deserve under the limits the law sets. While committed to excellence, they should also be independent and tight-fisted enough to win the confidence of taxpayers.

Unfortunately, our current School Board majority has been a disappointment on budgetary issues. As the results of the last referendums show, the current board has been unable to earn the trust of the voters.

We need a change in direction. That's why I support Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole. They would help form a School Board majority that could bring a fresh and critical approach to the budgetary challenges and, when referendums prove necessary, help persuade the city's voters to provide the resources our schools need to excel.

Ed Hughes

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"Support for Candidates that Care about the Majority"

David Wandel emails:

I am glad that your group, as limited and as narrow as it is, has a forum. It is a shame that your beliefs about the "majority" of the current School Board are so militant and out of focus.

One of those School Board members is Juan Jose Lopez. Here is someone that has devoted 12 years to improving the life of the children of Madison. Without delving into the depth and detail to pose only the minute narrow issues that you seek to blow out of proportion I would like to suggest that instead of postulating on what is needed you need to do something positive. Help elect the candidates that will help solve the problems instead of making current situations worse.

Change your focus of vehemence toward those at the state level that set the budget for our school system. In doing so you will address the real issues.

Mr. Lopez has apparently offended your sensibilities by representing the greatest number of children in the most appropriate way instead of focusing on the narrow group of students you seem to represent – only your own children.

In my case, I have 5 children. They range from a 15 year old fresh-person at West to a 31 year old lawyer in the Chicago area. Never, in all the years that I have represented my children in numerous school systems have I seen such an angry group. You seem like professionals. Act like them.

I personally find that our school system is the best I have come across so far. Perfect, no. Better than others – yes. Likely to help my children succeed – definitely.

Well, I’m done. On April 4 I will vote. For the candidates that care about the majority. Candidates that represent youth in the most appropriate fashion. Candidates that are interested in finding solutions not complaining and hiding in a Blog. Not your candidates but candidates for the people of Madison, not the special interests. Juan and Arlene. Real people that will fight for all our children. Put away your swords and get with it.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:57 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 10, 2006

Given the Freedom, Tireless Reporters

Michael Winerip:

In a recent issue, Chelsea had a front page article on the growing bureaucratic demands taking up teachers' time. The article quoted six teachers criticizing new policies being imposed by the Blair High principal and by Montgomery County officials. All six teachers were quoted on the record, with their names, a journalistic feat many grown-up reporters would have trouble matching.

"Chelsea's relentless," said Maureen Freeman, a journalism teacher who is adviser to the paper. "She's relentless in a good way. It's a positive relentlessness. For two weeks, everywhere I went, there was Chelsea interviewing some teacher in the back of a classroom."

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Maya Cole endorses healthy Homegrown Lunches

The following commitment by Maya Cole seems particularly important to post given the lively discussion on healthy food:

I enthusiastically endorse the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch Food Policy Recommendations, and I will work to win adoption of the recommendations if I have the opportunity to serve on the Board of Education of the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD).

Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch is a grassroots program whose goal is to enhance the Madison public schools' existing meal programs by introducing fresh, nutritious, local and sustainably grown food to children, beginning in the city's elementary schools. The program, like similar "farm-to-school" programs around the country, will provide an opportunity for children to reconnect with their natural world and will help establish a stable market for local farmers and processors.

I know elementary school teachers who give their students carrots and other fresh vegetables for snacks, and the children gobble them up, so children will eat healthy food when given the opportunity.

Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch is a joint project of the REAP Food Group and the University of Wisconsin's Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.

Farmers markets are islands of pride and excellence in our community, and homegrown, locally purchased foods extends farmers markets into the lunch rooms of our schools. What could be better for farmers and children?

The Web site of Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch lists the following principles that it recommends for the MMSD:

• Healthy children are the foundation of a healthy society;
• Healthy, well-nourished children are better able to learn;
• All children deserve nutritious, safe, and deliciously prepared food;
• Eating habits developed in childhood will affect health throughout life;
• Knowledge of food—how it is grown, who grows it, how it is prepared, and its connection to tradition —is integral to a healthy education.

Additional information is available at the Web sites of REAP Food Group and Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems.

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

California Math Standards

California Department of Education (pdf):

A high-quality mathematics program is essential for all students and provides every student with the opportunity to choose among the full range of future career paths. Mathematics, when taught well, is a subject of beauty and elegance, exciting in its logic and coherence. It trains the mind to be analytic—providing the foundation for intelligent and precise thinking.

To compete successfully in the worldwide economy, today’s students must have a high degree of comprehension in mathematics. For too long schools have suffered from the notion that success in mathematics is the province of a talented few. Instead, a new expectation is needed: all students will attain California’s mathematics academic content standards, and many will be inspired to achieve far beyond the minimum standards.

The content standards identify what all students in California public schools should know and be able to do in mathematics at each grade level. The standards emphasize computational and procedural skills, conceptual understanding, and problem solving. The standards are organized by grade level and are presented in five strands up to grade seven: number sense, algebra and functions, measurement and geometry; statistics, data analysis, and probability; and mathematical reasoning. The mathematics studied in grades eight through twelve falls naturally under the discipline headings of algebra, geometry, etc.

Additional standards and frameworks are posted here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:42 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

It's INSTEP Season

Are you concerned that your MMSD K-12 student is not being adequately challenged in one or more academic content areas? Perhaps s/he needs an INSTEP.

An INSTEP is an "Individualized Student Education Plan." It's like an IEP ("Individual Education Plan"), except that it's for high performing students. (IEP's are for students with special education needs.) For any given student, an INSTEP can be done in a single curricular area or in multiple curricular areas. Now is a good time to request an INSTEP because it will insure that no time will be lost in meeting your child's educational needs next year.

It's been said that the INSTEP is one of the District's best kept secrets. Find out all there is to know at

To request an INSTEP -- or to simply explore the possibility that your child may need one -- all you have to do is contact the appropriate District TAG ("Talented and Gifted") staff:

Rosy Bayuk -- -- 663-5230
(Emerson, Franklin, Leopold, Lincoln, Mendota, Midvale)

Kerry Berns -- -- 663-5230
(Elvehjem, Gompers, Hawthorne, Kennedy, Lakeview, Lindbergh)

Leah Creswell -- -- 663-5221
(Allis, Lowell, Nuestro Mundo, Orchard Ridge, Randall, Thoreau)

Rebecca Finnerud -- -- 442-2152
(Glendale, Lapham, Marquette, Sandberg, Schenk)

Bettine Lipman -- -- 442-2153
(Chavez, Crestwood, Falk, Huegel, Muir, Stephens, Van Hise)

Ted Widerski -- -- 663-5221
(all middle schools and all high schools)

Welda Simousek -- -- 663-5245
(District TAG Coordinator)

The TAG staff are an invaluable resource for the entire District. They are the only educational professionals in the District who are trained and experienced in both the appropriate assessment of advanced learners and in curriculum differentiation (theory and practice). They also know a lot about the social and emotional needs of academically talented children.

Uncomfortable with the word "gifted"? No need to be. No need to even use it. Just think of a performance distribution (one for each academic content area) and ask yourself if your child is in the top 15-20% of the distribution (the top 16% is one or more standard deviations above the mean). Ask yourself if they are advanced by two or more grade levels? Finally, ask yourself if you think your child is truly being challenged at school. Don't forget to ask your child a few questions -- Are they learning new material? Does the pace of learning feel about right for them? Are they regularly bored in class because they already know the material, it goes too slowly or there's too much repetition? Etc.

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

Charter School Evidence from California

RAND Corporation [pdf file]:

This "Occasional Paper" from the RAND Corporation assesses the state of charter schools in California. The results show that test scores for California's charter school students are keeping pace with comparable students in traditional district schools. Researchers found that the state's charter schools have achieved comparable test score results with fewer public resources and have emphasized non-core subjects more than have traditional schools. In addition, they found evidence that charter schools have not created "white enclaves" or "skimmed" high-performing students from traditional district schools as some opponents had feared. RAND's findings, coupled with the fact that charter schools typically use less public resources, leads them to the conclusion that "charter schooling is a reform initiative worth continuing in California."

Posted by James Zellmer at 12:29 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Keep Focus on Math and Science

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The United States is falling behind China and India in producing scientists and mathematicians, raising serious questions about America's economic future.

While the national scene is troubling, Wisconsin enjoys some bright spots.

State students consistently score above the national average on the ACT college admissions test, especially in math and science. An increasing number 69 percent of 2005 graduates took the test.

To compete in the global knowledge-based economy, Wisconsin must continue its commitment to math and science education and encourage more students to take related courses.

There's been a great deal of discussion on these issues here.

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Kalamazoo, Mich., Pegs Revitalization Plan on Tuition Plan

Neal E. Boudette:

Last year, Greg DeHaan and his partner built 189 homes in the leafy, middle-class suburbs ringing this downtrodden industrial city, but not one in Kalamazoo itself. "There was no demand," says Mr. DeHaan, whose company, Allen Edwin Homes, is one of the largest home builders in Michigan.

By early December, however, a market had suddenly materialized, prompting the developer to pay $7 million for three separate tracts of land. Out-of-state investors began scouring the area for opportunities, too.

Mr. DeHaan and others in town trace this new interest in Kalamazoo to an unusual, anonymously funded plan. Beginning this June, college tuition will be free for any student who enters the Kalamazoo school system by the ninth grade -- regardless of income or need. The program, unveiled in November by the city's superintendent of schools and underwritten by a group of local philanthropists, is to run for at least 13 years.

Called the "Kalamazoo Promise," the tuition plan requires only that students live in Kalamazoo or neighboring Oshtemo township, graduate from public high school and attend a public university or community college in Michigan. Students who go from kindergarten through the 12th grade get a full ride. The program will cover 65% of tuition costs for those who spend at least their four high-school years in the city's schools, with the percentage of aid rising for those who spend more years in the system.

Interesting relationship between education, economic development and a community.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 9, 2006

April 2004 West High School Math Teacher Letter

Susan Lochen, Madison West High School (co-signed by other West math teachers: Janice Cis, Keith Knowles, Carol Michalski, Jackie Hubbard, Daniel Boyland, Artie L. Orlik, Stephen Lang, Stephen Land, Tim Goldsworthy):

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?

I'd forgotten (unfortunately) about this letter. School Board Seat 1 candidate Maya's post below included a link to these words. The current school board majority has not addressed these critical questions....

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"You can learn and I'm not going to let you not learn."

Madison School Board Seat 1 Candidate Maya Cole:

From his book, Innumeracy, Mathematical Illiteracy And Its Consequences, John Allen Paulos defines innumeracy as, " inability to deal comfortably with the fundamental notions of number and chance, [it] plagues far too many otherwise knowledgeable citizens."

Paulos goes on to state that, "[i]n an increasingly complex world full of senseless coincidence, what's required in many situations in not more facts---we're inundated already---but a better command of known facts, and for this a course in probability is invaluable...Probability, like logic, is not just for mathematicians anymore. It permeates our lives."

Finally, Paulos concludes, "I'm distressed by a society which depends so completely on mathematics and science and yet seems so indifferent to the innumeracy and illiteracy of so many of its citizens; with a military that spends more than one quarter of a trillion dollars each year on ever smarter weapons for ever more poorly educated soldiers; and with the media which invariably become obsessed with this hostage on an airliner, or that baby who has fallen into a well, and seems insufficiently passionate when it comes to addressing problems such as urban crime, environmental deterioration, or poverty."

So where do we start?

Math curriculum.

That's right, we start with math. The complicated and controversial topic of many school districts; but one that I hope, can be dicussed at every school board forum in the next few weeks.

A very lively discussion of the math curriculum in the Madison Metropolitan School District ensued recently at a forum held with University math professors, the school of Education, the general public and the MMSD administration. (You can watch the video below.)

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Misleading School Budget Debate Led by Current Board Majority

In his blog titled Misleading School Budget Debate, Mr. Soglin says:
" is incumbent upon us to figure out where the additional revenue should come from and if we are going to cut, the consequences of those cuts."[emphasis added]

I feel it is most definitely incumbent upon us to figure this out in order to keep Madison's excellent public schools strong, and I feel that is NOT what the current school board majority has been doing. We do need to know, among other things:

  • a) what education the community we live in expects and values,
  • b) what that education will cost for all our children,
  • c) what revenue can we expect,
  • d) what options (referendum, other) do we need to pursue to meet the needs of our community's schools, and
  • e) what are the consequences of cuts and alternatives to cuts.
These important discussions need to take place throughout the year in an organized, cohesive manner that engages the Board and the community. There needs to be multiple local and statewide strategies for funding - increased sales tax might be one, what are others? We have gone far too long without needed vision, guidance and important discussions from the Madison School Board majority.

Something's not right when more time appears to be spent in board meetings discussing pets in the classroom than framing and discussing issues affecting our wonderful school district's future viability.

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Learning from Leaders

Susan Troller:

Female students at East High School learned in one morning how to be happy in love, what their rights and responsibilities are as young voters, and where to find a skilled, independent job that pays $30 to $50 an hour plus benefits.

The presentations were part of a new event at East called "Week of the Young Woman," which began Monday and continues through Friday, featuring more than 50 female community leaders who are talking about topics that range from date violence to finance and economics, nontraditional jobs and women's health issues. It was scheduled in early March as part of the recognition of Women's History Month; the talks are open only to East High students.

Posted by James Zellmer at 11:29 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

French Math Teacher Covers Structure Of Derivatives; Banks Clamor for 'Quants'

Carrick Mollenkamp and Charles Fleming:

As a result, banks are hiring an increasing number of recruits who understand derivatives. Inside banks, they are known as "quantitative analysts," or "quants" for short. They are able to marry stochastic calculus -- the study of the impact of random variation over time -- with the realities of financial trading.

Derivatives are financial contracts, often exotic, whose values are derived from the performance of an underlying asset to which they are linked. Companies use them to help mitigate risk. For example, a company that stands to lose money on fixed-rate loans if rates rise can mitigate that risk by buying derivatives that increase in value as rates rise. Increasingly, investors are also using derivatives to make big bets on, say, the direction that interest rates will move. That carries the possibility of large returns, but also the possibility of large losses.

The 75 or so students who take Ms. El Karoui's "Probability and Finance" course each year are avidly sought by recruiters. Three years ago, Joanna Cohen, a specialist in quant recruitment at Huxley Associates in London traveled to Paris to meet Ms. El Karoui to ensure her search firm was in the loop when students hit the job market. Today, Ms. Cohen says she carefully checks résumés with Ms. El Karoui's name to make sure applicants aren't overstating their interaction with the professor.

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

"Misleading School Budget Debate"

Paul Soglin:

Carrie Lynch at What's Left focused on the critical issue regrading the cost of public education and provided her own terse but insightful observation:
Madison's high property taxes were in issue in Paul's run for Congress in the mid 1990's. I do agree with Paul that we as a community need to diversify public education's sources of funds. Much more, here.

Barb Schrank has more.

Posted by James Zellmer at 5:59 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

California's Proposed $50/Parcel Tax

Friends of

Put your hand on your wallet! Check out this North County Times article. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell and EdVoice are working to get a measure on the ballot called the "Classroom Learning and Accountability Act". This measure would add a $50/parcel tax on every piece of property in California. The only parcels exempted would be those owned by the disabled or senior citizens.

The measure would create about a pot of over $500M for a variety of uses. The money would allocated as follows:

  • $225M for additional class size reduction
  • $100M for textbook purchases
  • $100M for school safety
  • $90M for school modernization
  • $20M for the CALPADS student longitudinal data system

I'm quite surprised that liberals like O'Connell would even support this regressive tax which would have a greater impact on low-income homeowners who would pay a larger portion of their income than wealthy homeowners. That seems to go against their usual "tax the wealthy" strategy. I guess he feels that $50 is such as small amount that even the low-income families would be OK with paying it. Of course, the real problem is that this $50 wouldn't be the end of it. In the article, it even says that O'Connell plans to add another $50 every 4 years, so this tax would just keep increasing. Also, if this tactic works, rest assured that other special interests will be running to the ballot with their own $50 parcel tax measures.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:53 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

It's Elementary

Vincent P. O'Hern:

or the past few years, at least, part of our mission at Isthmus has been to cover education in Madison. Sometimes it's a cover story, other times it's an ongoing monitoring of the process. This week, for instance, we print excerpts from "Take-Home Test," a feature that appears on The Daily Page, consisting of questions posed to school board candidates prior to next month's election.

But most of our coverage has focused on the institutional operation of the school system, including the political games adults sometimes play. If you really want to know the state of public education, you have to go beyond the system and inside the school's four walls to experience how students and staff bring Madison education to life. I had the opportunity to do just that this week under the aegis of Principal for a Day, a program of the private Foundation for Madison's Public Schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New Glarus 4th Grader Wins Art Prize

Ellen Williams-Masson:

Fourth grader Jonathan Mattmann may live in a hushed world but his artistic interpretation shouts from the page in the drawing that has won him top honors in a statewide art competition for people with disabilities.

Jonathan comes from a family in which sign language is a way of life and lip reading is second nature. His father, Eric, has been deaf since early childhood and Jonathan, his sister Heather, and his mother Melisa have varying degrees of hearing loss.

Jonathan's drawing titled "Summer Day on the Farm" was one of five winners selected from more than 100 entries in the VSA arts of Wisconsin's 2006 Children's Call for Art. The winning pieces are displayed in a traveling art show for five years before being retired and sold.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 8, 2006

Performance and Achievement Meeting of 06-Mar-2006 Posted

The Performance and Achievement Committee of MMSD met on Monday, March 6, 2006 to discuss the Summer 2006 program and to review the 2005 program. A video of the meeting is available.

There was a public appearance by a student from La Follette arguing against continuation of the MMSD policy of forbidding headware in the schools.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 10:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Board Candidate Forum Excerpts and Video

March 7, 2006 Madison School Board Candidate Forum
Thoreau Elementary's PTO held a (reasonably well attended - roughly 24) candidate forum last night. Excerpts, questions, links and video available below:

Opening Remarks [video];

Arlene Silveira (seat 1)

Look at decision making from a business point of view, what is the data, are programs working, is this cost effective? We're in a terrible situation budget wise and I think we need to start making decisions based on good information.

Three things I want to accomplish on the board and address immediately.

We really have to work on communication between board members and between the board and the public.

Safety and violence in the schools is very important to me. It's an issue that really needs to be addressed.

Access to educate all of our children. Irrespective of who you are, where you come from. We're a diverse district. It's very important that we provide the tools to challenge all of our children and make sure they develop to their full potential.

Maya Cole (seat 1)

Budget. We can't do the things we want to do as a school district unless we're very clear about what's going on with the budget. Discusses the 2 year administrative agreements vs. the current annual budget cycle. What that means is that when the public (and the media) goes to see budget debates, the first thing to get cut is gym.

I want parents to be engaged and respected for their opinions, their education and for their experience. We need to get away from the 1 year budget cycle and from the experts in the Doyle building telling us we don't have any more money to cut. This is not how it's done in other districts. The district acts like they are surprised that they will have to cut again, at least to the general public. We need to come up with a 4 or 5 year budget.

The district's vision is 3rd grade reading, math (algebra/geometry) and attendance. Most progressive school districts take those goals and make sure everything supports those goals.

Neighborhood schools are very important to me, whether you're in Fitchburg or the east side of Madison.

We have to hold the board and administration accountable for their decisions.

Juan Jose Lopez (12 year incumbent, seat 2)

We have to be strategic in how we deal with the budget. I have the experience, the know how and I have the commitment to deal with that issue.

The number one issue you have all the time is academic achievement. Are the resources going to your school so that your kids experience not only a positive experience but a successful education experience. Those are two critical things when we're looking at academic achievement. We need to make sure that the resources are here so that the teacher is engaged with the student. That they are engaged academically, that they are challenged and that their expectations are high.

We as a school board have been very, very supportive of making sure that the expectations of all of our kids are high. There are many challenges with the type of different students we have in the Madison Schools. 44% of our kids are poor kids in this Madison School District. That does not necessarily reflect the Madison population.

The most important thing is safety. Safety is a big issue. I'm talking about bullying, gangs and all those other issues that we're seeing more and more in our society, that have hit Madison, WI.

Lucy Mathiak (seat 2)

When it comes to budget time, we discover (even though we sort of know that we have a structural deficit) that when we look at what we think we're going to need and we look at what we're going to have under the state revenue caps, we are going to have to cut. Again this year, we've seen one of the first volley's and what is the group we're talking about: social workers. These are the last places I'd like to cut.

I would really, really like to find a process that looks at the entire budget. And really starts with what do we need to keep our schools strong. What do our schools need to succeed and what do the children need? Depending on who the children are, what the school needs changes. How do we allocate resources to make sure we have those things?

I find it ironic that the Ford Foundation has put out a publication called "Deep in the heart of Texas" that talks about how the Texas schools are using arts to increase academic achievement, and in Madison we're talking about cutting them.

I would like to see a different process and a different outcome. If you are interested in changing how things work, then I will be your candidate.

Question 1:

I was wondering if the school board is able to cut the salaries of the Administration? [video]

Question 2:

One suggestion I've heard a number of people say, regarding a school building is to let the developers pay for it, in those new areas. A lot of people don't know, and I've learned this in the past year myself, that that is in violation of state law.

With that background, under current state law can the school district move to a multi year budget? [video]

Question 3:

From being a member of the West and Memorial Task Force and knowing that Thoreau was always an immediate player in the Leopold issue, but also as a parent on the far west side, where do each of the candidates stand on the building or facility plans in the Leopold attendance area as well as the far west side of Madison and since you did bring up, Maya (Cole), the enrollment issue in your last response could we start with you and just work our way around. Thank you. (Marisue, an active parent, has endorsed Cole's opponent, Arlene Silveira) [video]

Links, interviews and much more are available on the election page

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:42 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Jazz in the Schools

the National Endowment for the Arts and Jazz at Lincoln Center:

Dear Teacher:

Welcome to NEA Jazz in the Schools. The National Endowment for the Arts and Jazz at Lincoln Center have created these materials to help fill and enthrall your classroom with jazz and build important connections for your students between the music and the story of our nation.

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"For Once, Blame the Student"

Patrick Welsh:

Failure in the classroom is often tied to lack of funding, poor teachers or other ills. Here's a thought: Maybe it's the failed work ethic of todays kids. That's what I'm seeing in my school. Until reformers see this reality, little will change.

Last month, as I averaged the second-quarter grades for my senior English classes at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., the same familiar pattern leapt out at me.

Kids who had emigrated from foreign countries - such as Shewit Giovanni from Ethiopia, Farah Ali from Guyana and Edgar Awumey from Ghana - often aced every test, while many of their U.S.-born classmates from upper-class homes with highly educated parents had a string of C's and D's.

As one would expect, the middle-class American kids usually had higher SAT verbal scores than did their immigrant classmates, many of whom had only been speaking English for a few years.

What many of the American kids I taught did not have was the motivation, self-discipline or work ethic of the foreign-born kids.

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Earthwatch Scholarships and Volunteer Opportunities

Earthwatch Institute:

We offer a range of opportunities specifically designed for educators and students. Be sure to check back often to see what's new!

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A wealthy school district asks: How much is too much?

Teacher contract up for vote this week.
Jessica T. Lee:

n Hanover, where public school teachers are already the highest paid in the state, voters this week will decide whether a proposed teachers' contract is too generous, as some residents contend, or appropriate for the affluent school district.
People on both sides of the issue ask that voters compare the school district's $59,236 average teacher salary to the salaries of others.

Opponents of the contract, which includes the majority of the school district's finance committee, point out that the pay is 35 percent higher than the state average of $43,941. The finance committee has long noted a "premium" that residents pay for education, and is asking for evidence students are receiving an education proportional to that premium.

Teachers point to a different comparison: $70,877, the median household income in Hanover and Norwich, Vt., is 20 percent higher than last year's average teacher salary. Teachers said they are asking for salaries comparable to those in the schools' community.

"People can point to our salaries, and make claims or ask, 'Is it really worth it?'" said Pamala Miller, president of the Hanover Education Association, the teachers' union. "I would ask the parents in the community that question, and I guess we'll get the answer with the vote."

The debate comes as the Concord School Board and the local teachers' union are struggling to reach their own three-year contract; both salaries and health insurance are n disput

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Schools to share what works through charter dissemination grants

State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster has announced $1.3 million in dissemination grants to 12 charter schools in nine school districts. The grants are part of the state's $52 million, three-year federal funding to create 100 new charter schools in Wisconsin. Four of the grants renew previous dissemination projects; eight are for new projects, some of which include partnerships with existing schools to improve student achievement.

“Charter school practices keep getting better each year of the program,” said State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster in announcing $1.3 million in dissemination grants to 12 charter schools in nine school districts. . . .

New charter school grants went to
• Appleton Area School District, Appleton eSchool, $40,000;
• Eau Clare Area School District, Chippewa Valley Montessori Charter School,$149,760;
• Kiel Area School District, Kiel eSchool, $40,000;
• Milwaukee Public Schools, Fairview Charter School, $150,000;
• Portage Community School District, River Crossing Charter School, $84,217;
• Stevens Point Area School District, McDill Academies, $150,000, and Wisconsin River Academy, $150,000; and
• Waukesha School District, Harvey Phillip Alternative Charter School, $47,575.
Renewal grants for existing dissemination projects went to
• Milwaukee Public Schools, Whittier Elementary School, $150,000, and Wisconsin Career Academy, $150,000;
• Oshkosh Area School District, EAA/OASD Third Grade Aviation Charter School, $150,000; and
• Racine Unified School District, McKinley Middle Charter School, $75,000.
Posted by Ed Blume at 1:08 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Ogden & Nussbaum: Cole is best pick to serve on Madison School Board

Genie Ogden and Mitch Nussbaum:

Dear Editor: We feel that Maya Cole would be an excellent addition to the School Board. She is progressive, and we feel she would represent our children's interests better than anyone else.

She was running the "Opt-Out" campaign. This campaign helps parents opt their children out of the requirement from the "No Child Left Behind" law that makes a student's personal records available to the military.

Maya is interested in getting the School Board to work together this is very important because they have been divided for too long.

The opponent's campaign has implied in her literature that Maya is from the "conservative faction," and nothing could be further from the truth.

Genie Ogden and Mitch Nussbaum

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Madison Schools' Board of Education Candidate Take Home Test: Week 7


There's no doubt that Isthmus has the juice in this campaign. The traditional daily newspapers haven't covered any substantive issues in this race. I'd like to see some links/words that contrast my opinion on their lack of "beef" (Have they attended any forums?). Focusing on personalities is a simple, self made "pass" that avoids issues critical to our children:
  • World Class Curriculum; ineffective curriculum choices can place a lifelong tax on our children. Ironic, from a community that includes the University of Wisconsin.
  • Leadership that can pass referenda (will the current approach and personalities be successful?)
  • Transparency with respect to the District's growing $321M+ budget. Again, will the current approach pass the necessary referenda?
Isthmus's work represents the best of local journalism. Rather amazing, given the resources they have vs the enormous dailies. Interestingly, the Fitchburg Star has posted some useful articles as well.

The Memorandum to Local Media represented one attempt to at least look at the issues rather than simply compare and contrast personalities.

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Principal for a Day – Understanding Schools

Neil Heinen:

When all is said and done, there may be no more important relationship in our system of public education than a principal and their school. The impact a principal has on students, teachers, staff, parents and learning is undeniable. And the good ones make their schools good.

Madison has many good ones. And understanding the role principals play is an important function of the "Principal for a Day" program, now in its third year as part of the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools. The nearly 60 business and civic leaders who participated in this year's event have a better understanding of both the role principals play and the current state of our schools.

Which leads us to Adopt-a-School. With the support of CUNA Mutual, businesses can now form a relationship with an individual school to help sustain and extend the excellence of our schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:53 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Professor Goodgrade

Louise Churchill:

This fall I gave my students grades for the first time. Of course, my students have received grades from me before, but I was always of the philosophy that those grades should be the ones they had earned.

This semester, that changed. I began giving A's like gifts. Why? I need to get tenure.

At my midtenure review, I performed excellently in all areas but one -- the computerized scores calculated from student evaluations of my teaching. Despite my solid scholarship, a wide range of academic service, great rapport with colleagues, and, most significantly, many strong written testimonials from students praising my teaching, I was warned that my computer scores needed to rise significantly in order for me to be sure of tenure at my small college.

On the written evaluations, students attest that my high standards, impressive expertise, and challenging assignments mean that they learn a great deal in my class. Many students express gratitude for that.

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

UW-Madison to offer 32 languages in summer 2006 offerings

Ronnie Hess:

UW-Madison, a national leader in language education, will offer 32 languages this summer in a variety of for-credit courses. The languages will be taught through full immersion programs, special summer institutes and regular course offerings.

The languages include Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, English as a Second Language, Filipino, French, German, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Hmong, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Javanese, Khmer, Lao, Latin, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Norwegian, Persian, Sanskrit, Spanish, Swedish, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Tibetan, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 7, 2006

Concern over Boys' College Enrollment Numbers

Richard Whitmire:

American boys continue to fall behind girls in their enrollment numbers at the university level. Commentator Richard Whitmire asks where the boys are, and where the concern is over these falling rates.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:43 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Standards, Accountability, and School Reform

This is very long, and the link may require a password so I've posted the entire article on the continued page.

Standards, Accountability, and School Reform

by Linda Darling-Hammond — 2004

The standards-based reform movement has led to increased emphasis on tests, coupled with rewards and sanctions, as the basis for "accountability" systems. These strategies have often had unintended consequences that undermine access to education for low-achieving students rather than enhancing it. This article argues that testing is information for an accountability system; it is not the system itself. More successful outcomes have been secured in states and districts, described here, that have focused on broader notions of accountability, including investments in teacher knowledge and skill, organization of schools to support teacher and student learning, and systems of assessment that drive curriculum reform and teaching improvements.

The education reform movement in the United States focused increasingly on the development of new standards for students: Virtually all states have begun the process of creating standards for student learning, new curriculum frameworks to guide instruction, and new assessments to test students’ knowledge. School districts across the country have weighed in with their own versions of standards-based reform, including new curricula, testing systems, accountability schemes, and promotion or graduation requirements.

The rhetoric of these reforms is appealing. Students cannot succeed in meeting the demands of the new economy if they do not encounter much more challenging work in school, many argue, and schools cannot be stimulated to improve unless the real accomplishments─ or deficits─ of their students are raised to public attention. There is certainly merit to these arguments. But will standards and tests improve schools or create educational opportunities where they do not now exist? What evidence do we have about the success of standards-based reform strategies, especially for the students in America’s urban school systems where educational needs are greatest? In this paper I review evidence about the outcomes of different approaches to standards-based reform in states and districts across the country with an eye toward evaluating whether and how they improve educational opportunities and student learning.


Some proponents of standards-based reforms have envisioned that standards that express what students should know and be able to do would spur other reforms that mobilize more resources for student learning, including high quality curriculum frameworks, materials, and assessments tied to the standards; more widely available course offerings that reflect this high quality curriculum; more intensive teacher preparation and professional development guided by related standards for teaching; more equalized resources for schools; and more readily available safety nets for educationally needy students (O’Day & Smith, 1993). For others, the notions of standards and accountability have become synonymous with mandates for student testing which may have little connection to policy initiatives that directly address the quality of teaching, the allocation of resources, or the nature of schooling (see, e.g., Educate America, 1991).

In addition to these differences, distinct change theories have emerged around the idea of standards-based reform. Some argue that standards for learning and teaching should be used primarily to inform investments and curricular changes that will strengthen schools. They see the major problem as a need for teacher, school, and system learning about more effective practice combined with more equal and better-targeted resource allocation. Others argue that standards can motivate change only if they are used to apply sanctions to those who fail to meet them. They see the major problem as a lack of effort and focus on the part of educators and students.

Policy makers who endorse the latter view have emphasized high-stakes testing─ that is, the use of scores on achievement tests to make decisions that have important consequences for examinees and others─ as a primary strategy to promote accountability. Some high-stakes decisions affect students, such as the use of test scores for promotion, tracking and graduation. Others affect teachers and principals when scores are used to determine merit pay or potential dismissal. Still others affect schools, as when schools are awarded recognition or extra funds when scores increase or are put into intervention status or threatened with loss of registration when scores are low. Some policies take into account differences in the initial performance of students and in the many nonschool factors that can affect achievement. Some do not, holding schools to similar standards despite dissimilar student populations and resources.

Many questions arise from this policy strategy. Will investments in better teaching, curriculum, and schooling follow the press for new standards? Or will standards and tests built upon a foundation of continued inequality simply certify student failure more visibly and reduce access to future education and employment? In states where standards accompanied by high-stakes tests have been imposed without addressing inequalities in access to qualified teachers and appropriate, a new generation of equity lawsuits has emerged. Litigation in California, Florida, New York, and elsewhere has followed on the heels of recently successful ‘‘adequacy’’ lawsuits in Alabama and New Jersey.

A growing body of research has found unintended consequences of high-stakes tests. Some studies have found that high-stakes tests can narrow the curriculum, pushing instruction toward lower order cognitive skills, and can distort scores (Klein, Hamilton, McCaffrey, & Stretcher, 2000; Koretz & Barron, 1998; Koretz, Linn, Dunbar, & Shepard, 1991; Linn, 2000; Linn, Graue, & Sanders, 1990; Stetcher, Barron, Kaganoff, & Goodwin, 1998). In addition, grade retention as a response to low test scores appears not to improve educational achievement for those who are held back and increases their likelihood of dropping out (Hauser, 1999). Finally, there is evidence that high-stakes tests that reward or sanction schools based on average student scores can create incentives for pushing low-scorers into special education, holding them back in the grades, and encouraging them to drop out so that schools’ average scores will look better (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 1992; Darling-Hammond, 1991, 1992; Figlio & Getzler, 2002; Haney, 2000; Koretz, 1988; Shepard & Smith, 1988; Smith et al., 1986). School rankings tied to test scores have sometimes punished schools for accepting and keeping students with high levels of special needs and rewarded them for keeping such students out of their programs through selective admissions, transfer, and even push out policies (Smith et al., 1986).

In a recent paper citing concerns about the negative outcomes of test-based promotion and graduation policies, Robert Hauser (1999) voiced skepticism about whether many states’ or districts’ high-stakes testing policies are likely to result in positive consequences for students:

It is possible to imagine an educational system in which test-based promotion standards are combined with effective diagnosis and remediation of learning problems, yet past experience suggests that American school systems may not have either the will or the means to enact such fair and effective practices. Such a system would include well-designed and carefully aligned curricular standards, performance standards, and assessments. Teachers would be well trained to meet high standards in their classrooms, and students would have ample notice of what they are expected to know and be able to do. Students with learning difficulties would be identified years in advance of high-stakes deadlines, and they and their parents and teachers would have ample opportunities to catch up before deadlines occur. Accountability for student performance would not rest solely or even primarily on individual students, but also, collectively, on educators and parents. There is no positive example of such a system in the United States, past or present, whose success is documented by credible research. (p. 3)

Hauser’s concerns appear apt, given the research on such policies that has been available to date. In this paper, I review additional data indicating on the outcomes of test-based accountability systems. I also examine research on urban districts that have substantially improved their students’ performance by focusing on the improvement of teaching (by attending to professional accountability) rather than on sanctions for students (by emphasizing test-based accountability). In the course of this article, I argue for a broader conception of accountability that examines whether the actions undertaken by policymakers in fact produce better quality education and higher levels of learning for a greater share of students and whether they work to address shortcomings in children’s opportunities to learn.


To expand our frame for examining accountability, it may be useful to recognize that there are many different conceptions of accountability that have influenced U.S. education policy and interact with one another in today’s systems. They include at least the following:

  • Political accountability: Legislators and school board members, for example, must regularly stand for election and answer for their decisions.
  • Legal accountability: Schools are to operate in accord with legislation, and citizens can ask the courts to hear complaints about the public schools’ violation of laws.
  • Bureaucratic accountability: Federal, state, and district offices promulgate rules and regulations intended to ensure that schooling takes place according to set procedures.
  • Professional accountability: Teachers and other staff are expected to acquire specialized knowledge, meet standards for entry, and uphold professional standards of practice in their work.
  • Market accountability: Parents and students may in some cases choose the courses or schools they believe are most appropriate (Darling-Hammond, 1989).
All of these accountability mechanisms have their strengths and limitations, and each is more or less appropriate for certain goals. Political mechanisms can help establish general policy directions, but they do not allow citizens to judge each decision by elected officials, and they do not necessarily secure the rights of minorities. Legal mechanisms are useful in establishing and defending rights, but not everything is subject to court action and not all citizens have access to the courts. Bureaucratic mechanisms are appropriate when standard procedures will produce desired outcomes, but they can be counterproductive when clients have unique needs that require differential responses by those who must make non-routine decisions. Professional mechanisms are important when services require complex knowledge and decision making to meet clients’ individual needs, but they do not always take competing public goals (e.g., cost containment) into account. Market mechanisms are helpful when consumer preferences vary widely and the state has no direct interest in controlling choice, but they do not ensure that all citizens will have access to services of a given quality.

Because of these limits, no single form of accountability operates alone in any major areas of public life. The choices of accountability tools─ and the balance among different forms of accountability─ are constantly shifting as problems emerge, as social goals change, and as new circumstances arise. In most urban public school systems, legal and bureaucratic accountability strategies have predominated over the last 20 or more years. These have especially focused on attempts to manage schooling through standardized educational procedures, prescribed curriculum and texts, and test-based accountability strategies, often tied to tracking and grouping decisions that are meant to determine the programs students will receive.

Few have experimented with market accountability until very recently. Most notable among them are New York City, which launched more than 150 small schools of choice in the 1990s to add to the many dozens that existed before that time, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, which has had a system of choice-based schools for more than 15 years. Finally, a very few urban districts have launched well-developed professional accountability strategies tied to standards for teaching as well as student learning. New York City’s District #2, New Haven, California, and several cities in Connecticut, a state that launched a highly successful state-wide reform focused on teaching quality are among these, and are described later.


Since the mid-1800s, urban school systems have periodically used student test scores to allocate rewards or sanctions to schools or teachers. (For historical accounts, see Callahan, 1962; Tyack, 1974.) Many states and districts have approached standards-based reform through this familiar strategy, claiming to implement new standards even when the tests are not aligned to the standards and when students are not assured of receiving qualified teachers, curriculum aligned with the standards, or schools organized to support them. ‘‘Standards-based reform strategies’’ that have used test scores as the basis for promoting students from grade to grade, determining program placements (e.g., to compensatory or gifted and talented classes), and making graduation decisions have received a great deal of publicity in the mid- to late-1990s as ‘‘new’’ reforms; however, they replicate policies that have come and gone many times before.

In contrast to schools in most European and Asian countries, U.S. schools have a long tradition of retaining students in a grade if they seem not to be succeeding at school. It has been estimated that the United States has an overall retention rate of 15–20% of its students annually (most of them at-risk students in central cities), placing U.S. public schools on a par with countries like Haiti or Sierra Leone and in stark contrast with countries like Japan, which has less than a 1% rate of grade retention, and European nations that bar grade retention (Smith & Shepard, 1987; Hauser, 1999). During the early 1980s, grade retentions increased as school districts instituted policies that linked standardized test scores to student promotion and placement decisions. Many of these policies failed and were repealed by the late 1980s, only to be reinstated less than a decade later.

For example, New York City experienced many of the problems associated with grade retention when the Promotional Gates Program was put in place in elementary and junior high schools during the early 1980s. At that time, gateways in grades four and seven were created through which students could pass only if they demonstrated a specified level of performance on the standardized citywide reading and mathematics tests. Students who did not meet the minimum standards were retained, sometimes repeatedly, until they were able to achieve the necessary score on the tests. Instead of strengthening most students’ academic performance, however, the program created cohorts of students who had been retained repeatedly without learning gains; sometimes they had been held back for so long that their advanced age and physical size led to increased misbehavior and decreased achievement for both the retained students and others in their classrooms. The students retained had lower achievement, greater incidences of disciplinary difficulties, and higher dropout rates than students at similar achievement levels who had previously been promoted. A district study found that 40% of the students retained in seventh grade had dropped out within 4 years, as compared to 25% of a comparison group, and that, while those who received intensive services in the Gates year improved their achievement temporarily, neither the services nor the students’ progress were sustained (New York City Division of Assessment and Accountability, 2001). Eventually, in the face of national and local evidence about the failures of this approach, the program was ended by Chancellor Fernandez in the late 1980s (Gampert & Opperman, 1988).

A decade later, with no sense of irony or institutional memory, the New York Times reported in September, 1999, that 21,000 students would be held back under the City’s ‘‘new’’ policy to end social promotion (Wasserman, 1999). Two weeks later the newspaper reported that the social promotion policy was in disarray as two-thirds of the 35,000 students forced to take summer school still did not pass the tests and, further, that 4,500 students’ test scores had been misreported and as many as 3,000 had been forced to take summer school by mistake (Hartocollis, 1999). Similar news headlines appeared in Los Angeles, where a policy to ‘‘end social promotion’’ resulted in more than 10,000 students being threatened with grade retention, only to find that the schools could not accurately identify who had passed or failed and could not find qualified teachers to teach the summer school programs that were supposed, miraculously, to catch these students up. The New York City Division of Assessment and Accountability (2001) has noted that a sharp increase in dropout rates between the classes of 1998 and 2000 (from 15.6% to 19.3% of each class) is likely a function of both the ‘‘new’’ city promotional standards and the state’s new test-based graduation requirements.

These outcomes have been replicated in other recent test-based promotion and graduation reforms. For example, the much publicized Chicago effort, which sought to end social promotion by requiring test passage at Grades 3, 6, and 8, appears to have failed to improve the learning of the thousands of students it retained. In the first two years under the policy, more than one-third of third, sixth, and eighth graders failed to meet the promotional test cutoffs by the end of the school year. Despite the fact that there were large-scale waivers for students with limited English proficiency and special education students, more than 20,000 students were retained in grade in 1997 and 1998, during the first two years of the program. Although average test scores improved, an evaluation by Consortium on Chicago School Research concluded that:

Retained students did not do better than previously socially promoted students. The progress among retained third graders was most troubling. Over the two years between the end of second grade and the end of the second time through third grade, the average ITBS reading scores of these students increased only 1.2 GEs (grade equivalents) compared to 1.5 GEs for students with similar test scores who had been promoted prior to the policy. Also troubling is that one-year dropout rates among eighth graders with low skills are higher under this policy. . . . In short, Chicago has not solved the problem of poor performance among those who do not meet the minimum test cutoffs and are retained. Both the history of prior attempts to redress poor performance with retention and previous research would clearly have predicted this finding. Few studies of retention have found positive impacts, and most suggest that retained students do not better than socially promoted students. The CPS policy now highlights a group of students who are facing significant barriers to learning and are falling farther and farther behind. (Roderick, Bryk, Jacob, Easton, & Allensworth, 1999, pp. 55–56)

These findings confirm those of a substantial body of research that has demonstrated that retaining students does not appear to help them catch up with peers and succeed in school; however, it does contribute to high rates of academic failure and behavioral difficulties. Studies comparing the learning gains of students who were retained with those of academically comparable students who were promoted have typically found that retained students actually achieve less than their comparable peers who move on through the grades. Students do not appear to benefit academically from grade retention regardless of the grade level or the student’s initial achievement level (for reviews, see Baenen, 1988; Holmes & Matthews, 1984; Illinois Fair Schools Coalition, 1985; Labaree, 1984; Meisels, 1992; Oakes & Lipton, 1990; Ostrowski, 1987). Shephard and Smith (1986) conclude in their review of research: ‘‘Contrary to popular beliefs, repeating a grade does not help students gain ground academically and has a negative impact on social adjustment and self-esteem’’ (p. 86).

When students who were retained in a grade are compared with students of equal achievement levels who were promoted, the retained students consistently suffer poorer self–concepts, have more problems of social adjustment, and express more negative attitudes toward school at the end of the period of retention than do similar students who are promoted (Eads, 1990; Holmes & Matthews, 1984; Illinois Fair Schools Coalition, 1985; Shepard & Smith, 1988; Walker & Madhere, 1987).

In addition, many studies have found that grade retention increases dropout rates (Anderson, 1998; Hess, 1986; Hess, Ells, Prindle, Liffman, and Kaplan, 1987; Safer, 1986;Smith & Shepard, 1987; Temple, Reynolds, & Miedel, 1998). Researchers have found that the odds of dropping out increase significantly for retained students, increasing the probabilities from 70% (Anderson, 1998) to as much as 250% (Rumberger & Larson, 1998) above those of similar students who were not retained.

The notion of holding students back is a crude remedy for educational problems derived from the factory assembly line model of schooling developed during the early years of the twentieth century: The assumption was that a sequenced set of procedures would be implemented as a child moved along the conveyor belt from 1st to 12th grade. If a particular set of procedures didn’t ‘‘take,’’ the procedures should be repeated until the child was properly ‘‘processed.’’ There are a number of reasons why grade retention is not generally a productive answer to low achievement, however. First, students develop at very different rates, and in the early grades the wide range of development that produces many of the differences in achievement measures evens out by about third or fourth grade. However, students who are held back often develop a conception of themselves as incapable, which then often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as it affects their motivation and willingness to attempt difficult tasks. Second, if there is a real problem with a student’s learning, wholesale grade retention does not typically lead to diagnosis of special learning needs or the use of more appropriate teaching strategies targeted to those needs. Finally, grade retention does not address system problems of poor teaching; nor does it promise better teaching in the subsequent year. In fact, low-achieving students are generally assigned to the least experienced and qualified teachers, exacerbating their learning difficulties.

Generally, the premise of grade retention as a solution for poor performance is that the problem, if there is one, resides in the child, rather than in the school setting. Rather than looking carefully at classroom practices and student needs when students are not achieving, schools send students back to repeat the same experience over again. Very little is done to ensure that the experience will be either higher in quality or more appropriate for the individual needs of the child. In short, grade retention provides little accountability for the quality of the educational experience students receive.

While it is certainly true that both students and their parents bear a measure of accountability for attending school, putting forth effort, and striving to meet expectations (and policies that set standards appropriately seek to mobilize those efforts), it is important for accountability policies to fairly assess what children and parents can do and what they system must do to enable successful efforts. This is especially important given the clear evidence that children in the United States receive dramatically unequal access to high-quality curriculum and teaching, and that these differentials are strongly related to their achievement (see Darling-Hammond, 1997, for a review).

Despite the rhetoric of American equality, the school experiences of students of color in the United States continue to be substantially separate and unequal. More than two thirds of ‘‘minority’’ students attend predominantly minority schools, and one third of Black and Latino students attend intensely segregated schools (i.e., 90% or more minority enrollment), most of which are in central cities (Orfield & Gordon, 2001). Currently, about two thirds of all students in central city schools are Black or Hispanic (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997a). This concentration facilitates inequality. Not only do funding systems and tax policies leave most urban districts with fewer resources than their suburban neighbors, but schools with high concentrations of low-income and ‘‘minority’’ students receive fewer resources than other schools within these districts. And tracking systems exacerbate these inequalities by segregating many ‘‘minority’’ students within schools, allocating still fewer educational opportunities to them at the classroom level.

In their review of resource allocation studies, MacPhail-Wilcox and King (1986) summarized the resulting situation as follows:

School expenditure levels correlate positively with student socioeconomic status and negatively with educational need when school size and grade level are controlled statistically. . . .Teachers with higher salaries are concentrated in high income and low minority schools. Furthermore, pupil-teacher ratios are higher in schools with larger minority and low-income student populations. . . . Educational units with higher proportions of low-income and minority students are allocated fewer fiscal and educational resources than are more affluent educational units, despite the probability that these students have substantially greater need for both. (p. 425)

The situation has not improved in most states over the last decade and has grown substantially worse in some, as recent lawsuits challenging inequalities in Alabama, California, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and elsewhere have demonstrated. In combination, policies associated with school funding, resource allocations, and tracking leave poor and minority students with fewer and lower quality books, curriculum materials, laboratories, and computers; significantly larger class sizes; less qualified and experienced teachers; and less access to high quality curriculum. The fact that the least qualified teachers typically end up teaching the least advantaged students is particularly problematic, given recent studies that have found that teacher quality is one of the most important determinants of student achievement (for a review, see Darling-Hammond, 2000). Low-income and minority students are least likely to receive well-qualified, highly effective teachers (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997a; Sanders & Rivers, 1996). Some evidence suggests that differences in the quality of teachers available to poor and minority children may explain nearly as much of the variance in student achievement as socioeconomic status (Ferguson, 1991; Strauss & Sawyer, 1986).

Unequal access to qualified teachers exacerbates the disparate effects of test-based promotion and graduation policies. Nationally, retention rates for low-income children are at least twice those for high-income students. Students who are retained in grade are disproportionately representative of racial and ethnic and populations whose dominant language is other than English (Illinois Fair Schools Coalition, 1985; Shepard & Smith, 1986; Walker & Madhere, 1987). Thus, the students who receive the scantiest resources, the least qualified teachers, the poorest physical facilities, and the most restricted access to quality learning opportunities are supposed to be ‘‘fixed’’ by being held back.

The Chicago study noted that the failure to invest in improved teaching was an unrecognized problem in the city’s reform strategy, which had tried to rely on a highly scripted centrally developed curriculum (which by design assumes, inaccurately, that students learn in the same ways and at the same pace) and grade retention as its major tools. The authors noted: ‘‘Thus the administration has worked to raise test scores among low-performing students without having to address questions regarding the adequacy of instruction during the school day or spend resources to increase teachers’ capacity to teach and to meet students’ needs more successfully’’ (Roderick et al., 1999, p. 57).

Where the failure to learn is a result of inadequate teaching and where the system’s primary response is to require children to experience that inadequate teaching again, it is doubtful that such a policy increases the system’s accountability to parents and students. The educational system’s accountability to the greater society is also reduced when a side-effect of the policy is that large numbers of students drop out of school, thus creating a societal burden of undereducated youth who are unable to function in the labor market and who increasingly join the welfare or criminal justice systems rather than the productive economy. Society as a whole does not benefit from school policies that claim to heighten accountability by pushing low achievers out of school to make test scores look better─ a result that has been documented in several studies─ or by failing to offer education that enables these students to learn.


Unfortunately, most cities and states have used test-based reform strategies that rely on cross-sectional measures of student scores for different populations of students (e.g., average scores for eighth graders in a given year are compared to average scores for a different group of eighth graders in the prior year), rather than longitudinal assessments of student gains for students who remained in a given school over a period of time. Because schools’ average scores on any measure are sensitive to changes in the population of students taking the test, and such changes can be induced by manipulating admissions, dropouts, and pupil classifications, policies that use schools’ average scores for allocating sanctions have been found to result in several unintended negative consequences. As noted earlier, these include labeling low-scoring students for special education placements so that their scores won’t ‘‘count’’ in school reports, retaining students in grade so that their relative standing will look better on ‘‘grade-equivalent’’ scores, excluding low-scoring students from admission to ‘‘open enrollment’’ schools, and encouraging such students to leave schools or drop out. This occurs because the policies create incentives for schools to keep out of the testing pool─ or the school itself─ students who will lower the average scores. Smith and colleagues explained the widespread engineering of student populations that he found in his study of New York City’s implementation of performance standards as a basis for school level sanctions:

(S)tudent selection provides the greatest leverage in the short-term accountability game. . . . The easiest way to improve one’s chances of winning is (1) to add some highly likely students and (2) to drop some unlikely students, while simply hanging on to those in the middle. School admissions is a central thread in the accountability fabric. (Smith et al., 1986, pp. 30–31)

In some cases, policies that reward or punish schools for average test scores have created a distorted view of accountability, one in which beating the numbers by manipulating student placements overwhelms efforts to serve students’ educational needs well. These policies may also further exacerbate existing incentives for talented staff to opt for school placements where students are easy to teach, and school stability is high. Capable staff are less likely to risk losing rewards or incurring sanctions by volunteering to teach where many students have special needs and performance standards will be more difficult to attain. This outcome was recently reported as a result of Florida’s recent use of aggregate test scores, reported as cross-sectional averages and unadjusted for student characteristics, for school rewards and sanctions. Qualified teachers were leaving the schools rated D or F ‘‘in droves’’ according to news reports at the start of the 1999 school year (DeVise, 1999; Fischer, 1999), to be replaced by teachers without experience and often without training. As one principal queried, ‘‘Is anybody going to want to dedicate their lives to a school that has already been labeled a failure?’’

Ironically, this approach to accountability compromises even further the educational chances of disadvantaged students, who are already served by a disproportionate share of those teachers who are inexperienced, unprepared, and underqualified. This outcome will be further exacerbated by policies that plan to reduce federal funds to schools that have lower test scores. Critics have argued that applying sanctions to schools with lower test score performance penalizes already disadvantaged students twice over: having given them inadequate schools to begin with, society now punishes them again for failing to perform as well as other students who attend schools with greater resources. Such sanctions can discourage good schools from opening their doors to educationally needy students and place more emphasis on manipulating scores by eliminating or keeping out low-scoring students than on improving schools.

These outcomes have been noted of reforms in several states. For example, after the Regents Test reforms of the early 1980s in New York State, studies found evidence of schools retaining students and placing them in special education to increase average school performance in critical grade levels used as benchmarks for accountability policies (Allington & McGill-Franzen, 1992) and encouraging low-scoring secondary students to leave school entirely (Smith et al., 1986). By 1992, New York’s graduation rates had dropped to only 62%, leaving the state ranked 45th in the country on this measure (Feistritzer, 1993).

Similarly, Atlanta, Georgia, instituted a pupil progression policy in 1980 based on test score thresholds for each elementary grade. High failure rates and repeated retentions led to increased dropout rates. The high school completion rate in Atlanta dropped to 65% by 1982 and to 61% by 1988. A 1988 state policy set up additional test thresholds for promotion and graduation. This policy exacerbated the declines in graduation in Atlanta and elsewhere across the state. As Gary Orfield and Carole Ashkinaze (1991) noted:

Although most of the reforms were popular, the policymakers and educators simply ignored a large body of research showing that they would not produce academic gains and would increase dropout rates. In other words, this was a policy with no probable educational benefits and large costs. The benefits were political and the costs were borne by at-risk students. The damage was psychological as well as educational, increasing the likelihood that at-risk students would drop out before receiving their diplomas; school districts were also hurt by the diversion of resources to repetitive years of education for many students. (p. 139)

An analysis of the test-based reform strategies enacted in 1983 and 1984 in Georgia and South Carolina, both of which tied rewards and sanctions to annual tests at each grade level found that neither state realized gains in achievement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress during the 1990s, although both experienced declines in high school graduation rates (Darling-Hammond, 2000). (See Figure 1.)

Recent analyses of test-based reforms instituted in Texas in the 1980s have pointed to these and other problems. Although ostensible gains in
Figure 1. Student Achievement in Reading National Assessment of Educational Progress, 1992–1998 scores on the TAAS tests have caused the state’s reforms to be hailed as the Texas Miracle, a number of studies have suggested that the outcomes may be less positive than they appear. First, studies by the Center for Research and Evaluation on Testing (Haney, 2000) and by the Intercultural Development Research Association (1996) have found that both retention rates in ninth grade and dropout or attrition rates for high school students increased substantially since the 1980s. Both studies found that fewer than 50% of African American and Latino ninth graders progress to graduation 4 years later, and only about 70% of White ninth graders reach graduation. Haney (2000) found evidence that a growing number of low-scoring students leave school as early as eighth or ninth grade, before their scores are factored into school accountability rankings. The effects are most pronounced for students of color:

In 1990–91, Black and Hispanic high school graduates relative to the number of Black and Hispanic students enrolled in grade 9 three years earlier fell to less than 0.50 and this ratio remained just about at or below this level from 1992 to 1999. (The corresponding ratio had been about 0.60 in the late 1970s and early 1980s). . . . From 1977 until about 1981 rates of grade 9 retention were similar for Black, Hispanic, and White students, but since about 1982, the rates at which Black and Hispanic students are denied promotion and required to repeat grade 9 have climbed steadily, such that by the late 1990s, nearly 30% of Black and Hispanic students were ‘‘failing’’ grade 9 and required to repeat that grade.

Haney’s report and Texas Education Agency (TEA) analyses agree that dropout rates in Texas are substantially higher for students retained in ninth grade than for any other group.

TEA data find that rates of dropping out are at least 3 times higher for this group, even though they provide a rosier picture of overall graduation rates, since they do not count as dropouts the large number of students who are transferred to GED programs and fail to finish them.

Several recent studies have produced empirical data that cast doubt on the gains noted on the state TAAS tests, observing that Texas students have not made comparable gains on national standardized tests or on the state’s own college entrance test (Haney, 2000; Gordon & Reese, 1997; Hoffman et al., in press; Klein et al., 2000; Stotsky, 1998). These studies have variously suggested that teaching to the test may be raising scores on the state high-stakes test in ways that do not generalize to other tests that examine a broader set of higher order skills; that many students are excluded from the state tests to prop up average scores; and that passing scores have been lowered and the tests have been made easier over time to give the appearance of gains.

The American Psychological Association, American Educational Research Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education have issued standards for the use of tests that indicate that test scores are too limited and unstable a measure to be used as the sole source of information for any major decision about student placement or promotion. A recent report of the National Research Council on high stakes testing concluded:

Scores from large-scale assessments should never be the only sources of information used to make a promotion or retention decision. . . . Test scores should always be used in combination with other sources of information about student achievement. (Heubert and Hauser, 1999, p. 286).

The test-based accountability systems in dozens of states and urban school systems stand in contravention to these professional standards. However, the negative effects of grade retention and graduation sanctions should not become an argument for social promotion─ that is, the practice of moving students through the system without ensuring that they acquire the skills that they need. What are the alternatives? There are at least four complementary strategies that evidence suggests can improve student learning without grade retention:

  1. Enhancing preparation and professional development for teachers to ensure that they have the knowledge and skills they need to teach a wider range of students to meet the standards;
  2. Redesigning school structures to support more intensive learning─ including creating smaller school units (within an optimal size of 300– 500) and schools that team teachers to work with smaller total numbers of students for longer periods of time;
  3. Employing school-wide and classroom performance assessments that support more coherent curriculum and better inform teaching; and
  4. Ensuring that targeted supports and services are available for students when they are needed.
Some urban districts have used these strategies to upgrade student learning and to create a more genuine accountability to parents and students. Though all of these districts continue to face difficulties and challenges, their substantial successes offer a very different model for standards-based reform, one that rests on the use of standards and assessments as a stimulus for professional development and curricular reform rather than as punishments for schools and students. Three examples are offered here: the statewide reforms in Connecticut that have supported substantial improvements in a number of cities (featured here are New Britain, Norwalk, and Middletown─ among the state’s lowest-income and once lowest-achieving districts); New York City’s School District #2, and New Haven, California.


Connecticut provides an especially instructive example of how state level policy makers have used a standards-based starting point to upgrade teachers’ knowledge and skills as a means of improving student learning. Since the early 1980s, the state has pursued a purposeful and comprehensive teaching quality agenda. The Connecticut case is a story of how bipartisan state policy makers implemented a coherent policy package over more than 15 years. They used teaching standards, followed later by student standards, to guide investments in school finance equalization, teacher salary increases tied to higher standards for teacher education and licensing, curriculum and assessment reforms, and a teacher support and assessment system that strengthened professional development.

Connecticut’s teacher assessments and preparation requirements ensure that every entering teacher has strong content and pedagogical knowledge to enable him or her to teach a wide range of diverse learners well─ including those who have special education needs and English language learning needs. Standards-based professional development opportunities have dramatically upgraded the knowledge and skills of the veteran teaching population. Student assessments are aimed at higher order thinking and performance skills and are used to evaluate and continually improve practice. While the public reporting system places strong pressure on districts and schools to improve their practice, the student assessments are not used for rewards or punishments for students, teachers, or schools. Rather than pursue a single silver bullet or a punitive approach that creates dysfunctional responses, Connecticut has made ongoing investments in improving teaching and schooling through high standards and high supports.

Dramatic gains in student achievement (accompanied by increases rather than declines in student graduation rates) and a plentiful supply of well-qualified teachers are two major outcomes of this agenda. By 1998, Connecticut’s fourth grade students ranked first in the nation in reading and mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), despite increased student poverty and language diversity in the state’s public schools during that decade (National Center for Education Statistics, 1997b; National Education Goals Panel, 1999). (See Figure 1.) The proportion of Connecticut eighth graders scoring at or above proficient in reading was also first in the nation, and Connecticut was not only the top performing state in writing, but the only one to perform significantly better than the U.S. average. A 1998 study linking the NAEP with the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) found that, in the world, only top-ranked Singapore outscored Connecticut students in science (Baron, 1999). The achievement gap between white students and the growing minority student population is decreasing, and the more than 25% of Connecticut’s students who are Black or Hispanic substantially outperform their counterparts nationally (Baron, 1999).

In explaining Connecticut’s reading achievement gains, a recent National Educational Goals Panel report (Baron, 1999) cited the state’s teacher policies as a critical element, pointing to the 1986 Education Enhancement Act, as the linchpin of the teacher reforms. In this omnibus bill, Connecticut coupled major increases in teacher salaries with greater equalization in funding across districts, higher standards for teacher education and licensing, and substantial investments in beginning teacher mentoring and professional development. An initial investment of $300 million was used to boost minimum beginning teacher salaries in an equalizing fashion that made it possible for low-wealth districts to compete in the market for qualified teachers. The average teacher’s salary increased from a 1986 average of $29,437 to a 1991 average of $47,823 (Fisk, 1999). These grants were provided on an equalizing basis to enable poor districts to better compete in the market for qualified teachers. Districts were given incentives to hire qualified teachers because salary grants were calculated on the basis of fully certified teachers only, and emergency credentials were phased out.

To further ensure an adequate supply of qualified teachers, the state offered incentives including scholarships and forgivable loans to attract high-ability teacher candidates, especially in high-demand fields, and encouraged well-qualified teachers from other states to come to Connecticut through license transportability reforms. An analysis of the outcomes of this set of initiatives found that they eliminated teacher shortages, even in the cities, and created surpluses of teachers within three years of its passage (Connecticut State Department of Education, 1990). These surpluses have been maintained since, allowing districts─ including urban school districts ─ to be highly selective in their hiring and demanding in their expectations for teacher expertise.

At the same time, the state raised teacher education and licensing standards by requiring a major in the discipline to be taught plus extensive knowledge of teaching and learning as part of preparation (including knowledge for all teachers about literacy development and the teaching of special needs students); instituted performance-based examinations in subject matter and knowledge of teaching as a basis for receiving a license; created a state-funded beginning teacher mentoring program which supported trained mentors for beginning teachers in their first year on the job; and created a sophisticated assessment program using state-trained assessors for determining who could continue in teaching after the initial year.

Connecticut also required teachers to earn a master’s degree in education for a continuing license and supported new professional development strategies in universities and school districts. Recently, the state has further extended its performance-based licensing system to incorporate the new INTASC standards1 and to develop portfolio assessments modeled on those of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. As part of ongoing teacher education reforms, the state agency has supported the creation of professional development schools linked to local universities and more than 100 school-university partnerships. In addition, Connecticut has developed courses on teacher and student standards that can be applied toward the required master’s degree. The state also funds and operates a set of Institutes for Teaching and Learning.

Connecticut’s portfolio assessments for beginning teacher licensing are modeled on those of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; they examine directly whether a teacher is able to teach to Connecticut’s student learning standards in specific content areas. The performance assessments examine teacher plans, videotapes of lessons, student work, and teacher analyses of their practice. They are developed with the assistance of teachers, teacher educators, and administrators: Hundreds of educators are convened to provide feedback on drafts of the standards, and many more are involved in the assessments themselves, as cooperating teachers and school-based mentors who work with beginning teachers on developing their practice, as assessors who are trained to score the portfolios, and as expert teachers and teacher educators who convene regional support seminars to help candidates learn about the standards and the portfolio development process. Preparation is organized around the examination of cases and the development of evidence connected to the standards.

Together, these activities have had far-reaching effects. By one estimate, more than 40% of Connecticut’s teachers have gone through the process as new teachers or have served as assessors, mentors, or cooperating teachers. By the year 2010, 80% of elementary teachers, and nearly as many secondary teachers, will have participated in the new assessment system as candidates, support providers, or assessors. Because the assessments focus on the development of teacher competence, are tightly tied to student standards, and lead to sophisticated analysis of practice, the assessment system serves as a focal point for improving teaching and learning.

In addition to the state’s major investments in teaching quality, the Goals Panel report also pointed to the thoughtful use of student standards and assessments in Connecticut. In 1987, following the teaching reforms, student learning standards were adopted in an early effort to link teacher education standards with expectations for teaching. In 1993–1994, the student standards were updated to emphasize higher order thinking skills and performance abilities, and new assessments were developed; these include constructed response and performance assessments that measure reading and writing authentically and reflect more challenging learning goals than the previous tests.

Also critical is the fact that, in line with professional standards for testing, the law precludes the use of these assessments for promotion or graduation of students. Instead, they are used for ongoing improvements in curriculum and teaching. The Goals Panel report noted the benefits of the state’s low-stakes testing approach, which emphasize reporting and analysis strategies that support the wide dissemination of the standards and test objectives along with widespread professional development around literacy and the teaching of reading. The State Department of Education also supports the use of test results for educational improvement by giving districts computerized data that allow analyses at the district, school, teacher, and individual pupil level. The Department assists districts in analyzing the data in ways that permit diagnosis of needs and areas for concentrated work (Baron, 1999). The state then provides targeted resources to the neediest districts to help them improve, including funding for professional development for teachers and administrators, preschool and all-day kindergarten for students, and smaller pupil-teacher ratios, among other supports.

The Goals Panel study notes that this approach to assessment has enabled districts to clarify their teaching priorities and has helped galvanize district efforts to make major revisions and improvements in their reading instruction. At the same time, the targeted provision of resources to the state’s neediest districts through categorical grants has enabled these districts to enhance their reading initiatives and to begin to close the gap between their scores and those statewide (Baron, 1999).

Among the 10 Connecticut districts that made the greatest progress in reading between 1990 and 1998, three─ New Britain, Norwalk, and Middletown─ are urban school systems in the group identified as the state’s ‘‘neediest’’ districts based on the percentage of students eligible for free lunch programs and their state test scores.

Grade Level
1993 CMT Index Score
1998 CMT Index Score
Gain in Average CMT Score

Grade 4
+ 8.6

Grade 6
+ 6.2

Grade 8
+ 5.6

Grade 4
+ 13.9

Grade 6
+ 7.2

Grade 8
+ 10.9

Grade 4
+ 12.0

Grade 6
+ 7.4

Grade 8
+ 12.6

New Britain
Grade 4
+ 11.1

Grade 6
+ 10.6

Grade 8
+ 13.8

Follow up studies in these districts identified a number of state-level policies and related local strategies as contributing to this success (Baron, 1999). Among them were teacher policies that have enabled districts to hire and retain highly qualified teachers who had been prepared to teach a wide range of learners, and the required beginning teacher program that provided state training for all mentors, thus increasing the knowledge and skills of veteran teachers along with beginners involved with the program. In addition, district respondents described state- and locally supported intensive professional development around the teaching of reading. Consistent with the student standards and the state assessments, professional development funds were orchestrated to improve teachers’ knowledge of how to teach reading through a balanced approach to whole language and skill-based instruction, how to address reading difficulties through specific intervention strategies, and how to diagnose and treat specific learning disabilities. Most of the districts had developed cadres of teacher trainers or coaches who were experts in literacy development and who were available to work with colleagues in the schools, offering demonstration teaching as well as classroom coaching. A number used state grants to sponsor intensive summer literacy workshops focused on the teaching of at-risk readers.

The approaches to reading instruction used in sharply improving districts rely on the enhanced teacher knowledge spurred in Connecticut’s teacher education reforms and represented in the state’s teaching assessments: systematic teaching of reading and spelling skills (including linguistics training that goes beyond basic phonemic awareness); use of authentic reading materials─ children’s literature, periodicals, and trade books─ along with daily writing and discussion of ideas; ongoing assessment of students’ reading proficiency through strategies like running records, miscue analyses, and analysis of reading, writing, and speaking samples; and intervention strategies for students with reading delays, such Reading Recovery, which was used in 9 of the 10 sharply improving districts and is widely used across the state (Baron, 1999).

District administrators noted the importance of the system’s coherence in allowing them to pursue these sophisticated strategies for teaching and learning. In addition to their work on teacher development, they described how they had realigned district curriculum and instruction to the student learning standards and assessments, and how they had used the rich information about student performance made available by the CSDE as the basis for school problem solving and teachers’ individual growth plans (the latter are part of the teacher evaluation system). They also credited the fact that the state assessments measured reading and writing in authentic ways, the preparation and professional development programs were supportive of the same approaches, and beginning teachers were coming to them better prepared to teach to these standards using successful pedagogical strategies, while veterans also had many opportunities to develop.

The quality of teaching in Connecticut can be traced directly to the implementation of an increasingly well-developed statewide infrastructure that has been designed to encourage high-quality teaching by (a) linking salaries to high standards for preparing, entering, and remaining in teaching, (b) providing intensive support and assessment of beginning teachers, and (c) requiring and supporting continued high-quality professional development for teachers and administrators. These factors have helped establish a foundation of professional expertise that can ensure the success of other organizational policies and practices, such as analysis of student achievement results, linking school improvement plans and teacher evaluations to student achievement, and aligning expectations and assessments for students with high standards for teachers.

New York City District #2

A remarkably similar set of strategies has produced similar results in New York City’s Community School District #2, an extremely diverse, multilingual district of 22,000 students of whom more than 70% are students of color and more than half are from families officially classified as having incomes below the poverty level.2 More than 100 different languages are spoken in the collective homes of District #2 students, a large share of whom are recent immigrants. During the decade-long tenure of superintendent Tony Alvarado, from 1987 to 1997, the district rose from 11th to 2nd in the city in student achievement in reading and mathematics, scoring above New York State norms as well as New York City averages, even while the population of the district grew more more language diverse.

Studies of District #2 have attributed these gains to the district’s decision to make professional development the central focus of management and the core strategy for school improvement. The strong belief governing the district’s efforts is that student learning will increase as the knowledge of educators grows (Elmore & Burney, 1997). Rather than treating professional development as a discrete function implemented with a set of disparate nonsystemic activities, District 2 makes professional development around common standards of teaching the most important focus of all district efforts, its most prominent discretionary budgetary commitment, and a key part of every leader’s and every teacher’s job.

After consolidating categorical funds and focusing them on a coherent program of professional learning, District 2 moved most of its central office personnel positions back to school sites to focus on the improvement of practice. In a set of moves intently focused on enhancing professional accountability, Alvarado aggressively recruited instructionally knowledgeable teachers and principals, created pointed expectations and opportunities for professional development around the deepening of instructional practice─ first in literacy and then in mathematics─ and replaced through retirements, ‘‘counseling out,’’ and personnel actions those underskilled principals and teachers who were unable or unwilling to develop their practice. Both principals and teachers were expected to learn about best practices in teaching literacy and mathematics, and school leaders were held accountable for their own and their colleagues’ increasing skill, for the quality of instructional practice in their buildings, for recruiting well-prepared new teachers, and for moving ineffective teachers out of the district.

While he was transforming the composition and skill set of the district staff, Alvarado created 17 Option Schools, small alternative schools that reorganized instruction to focus on greater personalization and more performance-based assessments to guide teaching, while encouraging the redesign of other schools. These efforts leveraged the creation of more small schools along with grouping practices that keep teachers and students together for more than one year, schedules that allow collaborative planning and professional development for teachers within the school day, and more coherent, intellectually challenging curriculum supported by ongoing diagnostic and performance assessments of student learning.

School redesign was joined with professional development in a conscious strategy to improve both teachers’ expertise and schools’ ability to support in-depth teaching and learning. Well-known for his efforts to create restructured schools and schools of choice when he was previously superintendent in District #4, Alvarado found that the creation of new alternatives, while useful for the schools where dynamic educators coalesced, did not go far enough in building knowledge for better practice in all schools and classrooms. As he explained, ‘‘When I moved to District 2, I was determined to push beyond the District 4 strategy and to focus more broadly on instructional improvement across the board, not just on the creation of alternative programs’’ (Elmore & Burney, 1997).

Staff development in District 2 differs substantially from the one-shot workshop that expects teachers to take generic ideas unconnected to their ongoing work and apply them in the classroom. Rather, the prevailing theory is that changes in instruction occur when teachers receive continuous support embedded in a coherent instructional system that is focused on the practical details of what it means to teach effectively. The district’s extensive professional development efforts, which have paid off in rapidly rising student achievement, include several vehicles for learning. Instructional consulting services allow expert teachers and consultants to work within schools with groups of teachers in sustained ways develop to particular strategies, such as literature-based reading instruction. Intervisitation and peer networks are designed to bring teachers and principals into contact with exemplary practices. The district budgets for 300 total days each year to provide the time for teachers and principals to visit and observe one another, to develop study groups, and to pair up for work together. Off-site training includes intensive summer institutes that focus on core teaching strategies and on learning about new standards, curriculum frameworks, and assessments. These are always linked to followup through consulting services and peer networks to develop practices further. The Professional Development Laboratory allows visiting teachers to spend 3 weeks in the classrooms of expert resident teachers who are engaged in practices they want to learn. Oversight and evaluation of principals focuses on their plans for instructional improvement in each content area, as does evaluation of teachers. There is close, careful scrutiny of teaching from the central office as well as the school and continual pressure and support to improve its quality. As Elmore and Burney (1997) explain:

Shared expertise takes a number of forms in District 2. District staff regularly visit principals and teachers in schools and classrooms, both as part of a formal evaluation process and as part of an informal process of observation and advice. Within schools, principals and teachers routinely engage in grade-level and cross-grade conferences on curriculum and teaching. Across schools, principals and teachers regularly visit other schools and classrooms. At the district level, staff development consultants regularly work with teachers in their classrooms. Teachers regularly work with teachers in other schools for extended periods of supervised practice. Teams of principals and teachers regularly work on districtwide curriculum and staff development issues. Principals regularly meet in each others’ schools and observe practice in those schools. Principals and teachers regularly visit schools and classrooms within and outside the district. And principals regularly work in pairs on common issues of instructional improvement in their schools. The underlying idea behind all these forms of interaction is that shared expertise is more likely to produce change than individuals working in isolation.

A key feature of these strategies is that they have focused intensely for multiple years on a few strands of content-focused training designed to have cumulative impact over the long term, rather than changing workshop topics every in-service day or picking new themes each year. The district has sponsored 8 years of intensive work on teaching strategies for literacy development and 4 years on mathematics teaching. District 2’s approach began with reading and writing because this focus provided a readily available way for the district to demonstrate improvement in academic performance in an area that was important on city-wide assessment measures and because literacy was important in the context of the district's linguistic and ethnic diversity. New York City's development of more performance-oriented assessments in reading and mathematics in

Posted by Thomas J. Mertz at 4:34 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Students Need to Prepare Earlier"

Beverly Creamer:

Leaders of Hawai'i's P-20 Initiative say students and families need to start thinking about getting through high school and beyond as early as the middle- school years to avoid pitfalls in the education system.

Also troubling is the amount of remediation needed by students enrolled in Hawai'i's community colleges. According to the P-20 Initiative's new strategic plan, 89 percent of students in Hawai'i's two-year colleges require remediation in math, and 68 percent require remediation in English.

That's especially troubling to national Education Trust advocate Kati Haycock.

"Having to take one brush-up course is not a big deal," Haycock said. "But students who have to take two or three end up never completing anything in college, so it's something you want to fix."

Related: Hawai'i Public Schools "Leak Students".

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:16 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A 5 Year Approach to the Madison School District's Budget Challenges; or what is the best quality of education that can be purchased for our district for $280 million a year?

Two weeks ago, Roger Price presented a 5-year forecast for the district, which included a projection that there would be a $38 million budget gap, by 2011, if the district proceeded with it’s present operations.  He emphasized the presumption that this was before changes are implemented to address the gap.  He also emphasized his discomfort with the accuracy of any forecast beyond one year.
As a consultant who has done economic modeling and forecasting for almost 20 years, I can certainly understand this discomfort.  However, I note that the district website contains a list of budget cuts enacted by the board since 1993, a list which includes over $32 million in cuts over the last 5 years.  With prices only increasing over time, and with the special concerns raised over health care and energy costs, the initial $38 million deficit projection does not seem unreasonable.  My preference would be to round it to $40 million, and to recognize that it may require six years (give or take) to achieve that gap.  But the forecast makes clear that we are talking about a very large amount, and that there is a structural budget gap.  By structural, I mean that anticipated revenue increases are expected to consistently fail to keep up with expenses, and that over time ever-more drastic cuts will be required to remain in budgetary balance.
How might the district address this ominous gap?  I think there are two basic approaches that can be taken.  One is to endeavor to cut approximately $8 million each year, to address each budget year on its own, and to effectively ignore the looming structural gap.  This approach implies keeping the same district structure as today, and essentially tearing away different pieces of it each year.  Of course, this approach continues to be more and more painful each year, as the easy cuts are long completed and now only more critical programs and services remain for the knife.
I would like to respectfully recommend a second approach.  That rather than look at the budget picture one year at a time, that you instead look at where the budget will be (approximately) five years from now.  In effect, that you determine how to cut $40 million from the budget, not $8 million.  Last month, numerous efforts were made to find $3.77 in cuts from a $100 budget.  Few were able to find that amount.  I am suggesting a group be formed to find the equivalent of $15 in cuts, and by the way, they will have five years over which to implement those cuts.  You may laugh at the prospect, but that is exactly the situation this district is facing – it indeed must find $15 or more in cuts over the next five years.
How to find $40 million?  By asking a very different question, one which has nothing to do, and everything to do, with that amount.  By asking, what is the best quality of education that can be purchased for our district for $280 million a year.  Start with a completely clean slate.  Identify your primary goals and values and priorities.  Determine how best to achieve those goals to the highest possible level, given a budget that happens to be $40 million smaller than today’s.  Consider everything – school-based budgeting, class sizes, after-school sports, everything.
When it’s all done, this group will have likely shaped an educational structure for this district that is quite different than the one you use today.  The second task of this group, therefore, would be to determine how to implement the necessary changes.  Perhaps one school is run under the new model in the first year, then additional schools, or perhaps all other schools, would be so run the following year.
I have no idea what this new structure, what this new district, will look like.  But I am sure of this:  I will be much more likely to prefer my two kids attend a district that is the outcome of a process such as this which is well-thought out and planned, than I will a district that has continued to endure the annual relentless torturing of it’s current structure.

I read these words during the public appearances segment of last night's School Board meeting.

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More on Schools Avoid Class Ranking, Vexing Collegs

Tyler Cowen comments on this recent article:

Let us say your kid is smart but has a small chance of making it into a top school. At Yana's high school (Woodson, in Fairfax) I've seen folders of students with 4.0 and 1600 SAT scores who did not get into Harvard or Yale. Getting into those places has elements of a crapshoot. You are gambling, with the odds against you, and a payoff varying only at some threshold level of success (i.e., getting in is what matters; if your kid doesn't get in, it doesn't matter how close he came.) Those are the classical conditions where the gambler prefers to take more risk. On the upside, your chance of getting in goes up and on the downside, the longer left-hand tail doesn't hurt you.

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More-healthful school menus fatten districts' food bills

Ofelia Madrid:

chool lunch has definitely changed from the days of mystery meat slapped onto a tray.

Some students now have their choice of chicken Caesar wraps, chocolate covered bananas and fruit and yogurt parfaits.

Schools across the Valley are making the switch to more-healthful foods on the lunch menu in anticipation of a state law banning junk food and a federal wellness mandate requiring more-healthful lunches starting July 1.

School district nutrition directors must figure out how to meet the nutrition guidelines and offer more-healthful foods, which are more expensive. Students, who are noticing and liking some of the new foods, could be asked to pay more than the average $2 for lunch.

"They're . . . giving us healthier sides," said Scottsdale student Jessica Charchedi. "Now we get fruit instead of fruit rollups,"

Food broker David Glutz remembers getting into the school-lunch business 20 years ago.

"The school wanted to spend 40 cents an entree. That hasn't changed," said Glutz, who works with most Valley school districts.

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Michigan's House Increases High School Graduation Requirements

Judy Putnam:

Gov. Jennifer Granholm last year called for the more rigorous courses in an effort to make Michigan's workers more competitive. The state now requires only a half-credit civics course, with other requirements set by the local districts.

Rep. David Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, voted for the graduation requirements even though he was leading an effort to delete Algebra II from them. A vote to drop Algebra II wasn't taken, but Hildenbrand said he will try when the legislation comes back from the Senate.

"I'm all for rigor, and I think Algebra II is right for most kids, but not every kid,'' he said after the vote. "I think it's important that we have that local flexibility.''

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March 6, 2006

School Potlucks To Be Exempt From Restaurant Rules

You laugh, but the zeal to protect ourselves from our food has gotten the better of many well-intentioned people, and was challenging the ability of school groups to host potlucks. The original of this release is on-line at:


By unanimous vote the Wisconsin State Senate has concurred in Assembly Bill454, the “Potluck Liberation Bill”. The bill, authored by State Representative Barbara Gronemus, will exempt potluck events from the public health regulation of restaurants. The bill previously passed the State Assembly by a vote of 95-0.

According to Gronemus, “Assembly Bill 454 was introduced to correct a “state of confusion” between our law books and our state administrative codes on the subject of potlucks by creating an exception to the definition of “restaurant” for a potluck event in Wisconsin and defines the term “potluck event” events that meet the following criteria:
(1) attendees provide food and beverages to be shared and consumed at the event,
(2) no compensation is provided to any person who conducts or assists in providing the event or who provides food and beverages, and no compensation is paid by any person for consumption of food or beverages, and
(3) the event is sponsored is a church; religious, fraternal, youth, or patriotic organization of service club; civic organization; parent-teacher organization; senior citizen center or organization; or adult day care center.

In final comments on Senate passage of Assembly Bill 454, Gronemus stated, “To quote a major newspaper in our state, “Potlucks are as much a Wisconsin tradition as Packers tailgate parties and Friday Fish fries and are an old-old way for communities to come ogether, share food and trade hot dish recipes” and I am proud to have authored Assembly Bill 454 to being some common sense back to the area of potlucks and keep them alive and well as a means of social interaction between people and their recipes and their communities, and I am hopeful that Governor Doyle will sign it into law”.

In addition, Gronemus renewed her intent to sponsor a State Capitol Potluck in celebration of her efforts to protect and liberate them from over zealous government regulations.

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Great cities have great school districts

Art Rainwater:

The health of cities, towns and villages is interdependent with their school districts. Great cities have great school districts. For 167 years the residents of the Madison Metropolitan School District have enjoyed that reality. I am honored and proud to work here. All of our citizens have every reason to feel that pride in what they have created and supported - a great place for kids to grow and learn.

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Madison Schools: Recently Answered Questions

The Madison School District has posted a recently answered question page on their website. This page includes comments on the budget, administrative staffing and the proposed middles school design changes.

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Further discussion of ability grouping postponed

The continued public discussion of "some" versus "no" ability grouping originally scheduled for tonight's Performance and Achievement Committee meeting has been postponed. Instead, according the the District website, the agenda for tonight consists of a 2005 Summer School report and 2006 budget recommendations.

In response to a suggestion that the discussion has been postponed because U.W. Sociology Professor Adam Gamoran's January 30 presentation to the Performance and Achievement Committee had not provided the "green light" on heterogeneous grouping that the BOE had hoped for, BOE President Carol Carstensen wrote, "I am not putting off the discussion on heterogeneous classes because of any information, pro or con, from any of the presentations so far. I have always said that this should be a complete discussion - and that the Board should not rush into any decisions. I am hoping that we can continue these discussions in May and early June." Ms. Carstensen also reminded us that Shwaw Vang is chair of the Performance and Achievement Committee.

In expressing our disappointment at this turn of events, we reminded Ms. Carstensen that as the BOE makes sure not to rush into any decisions, individual schools continue to make and implement curriculum decisions and individual families continue to make educational decisions for their children. (We perhaps should have also noted that as the BOE is careful not to rush into things, the District-wide middle school redesign plan moves forward with the core assumption of three years of complete heterogeneity in all curricular areas except math, where quite a lot of good thought has been given to the problem of how to meet the full range of educational need. It seems important to ask why the same level of thoughtfulness and responsiveness has not been brought to our middle schoolers' educational needs in the areas of language arts, social studies and science.)

If you would like to communicate with Ms. Carstensen and her BOE colleagues your own disappointment or frustration with this postponement -- or perhaps your own plans to move, go private, or home school your child -- please send an email to Because Mr. Vang tends to not check his email, feel free to call him at home -- 240-3552.

Finally, here is the summary we compiled for Ms. Carstensen -- at her request -- of the research on the effects of ability grouping on the academic performance and academic self-esteem of high ability students. The summary also contains a few articles on the performance and self-esteem of the remaining students when the highest performing students are allowed to leave the otherwise heterogeneous class. We have strongly encouraged Ms. Carstensen and Mr. Vang to invite U.W.-Whitewater Professor Pam Clinkenbeard and U.W.-Madison Professor Corissa Lotta to address the BOE on these issues. Both are nationally recognized experts on the educational (PC) and counseling (CL) needs of gifted students. As we wrote to Ms. Carstensen, "[we provided you with a summary of the research], but Pam and Corissa could really bring the literature to life for you and your BOE colleagues, as well as answer any questions you might have. Both of them are excellent speakers."

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Vermont Principal: "Have More Babies"

Pam Belluck:

Poultney, a town of 3,600 bordering New York, is just one example of a situation that increasingly alarms many in Vermont. This state of beautiful mountains and popular ski resorts, once a magnet for back-to-the-landers, is losing young people at a precipitous clip.

Vermont, with a population of about 620,000, now has the lowest birth rate among states. Three-quarters of its public schools have lost children since 2000.

Vermont also has the highest rate of students attending college out of their home state — 57 percent, up from 36 percent 20 years ago. Many do not move back. The total number of 20- to 34-year-olds in Vermont has shrunk by 19 percent since 1990.

Most of my UW-Madison friends have long since left Wisconsin. We're providing some help to states like California and Colorado.

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23 WI Schools Schedule April, 2006 Referenda

Amy Hetzner:

Even though previous years have seen more school districts hold referendums - 42 in April 2001 - never before have so many scheduled referendums asked for an increase in operating revenue, according to information from the state Department of Public Instruction. The DPI has monitored referendum results since 1990, and has recorded whether the referendums involve issuing bonds or exceeding the revenue caps since 1999.

Among those seeking to boost their revenue this year are the Northern Ozaukee and Richfield school districts.

"The revenue cap has been in effect since '93," Northern Ozaukee Superintendent William Harbron said. "It's done what it's supposed to do. And people right now do not have enough revenue to operate their districts."

The rise in referendums to exceed revenue caps could be a result of declining student enrollments throughout the state, said Dale Knapp, research director of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

According to a recent report by the taxpayers alliance, 239 of the state's 426 school districts had fewer students in the 2004-'05 school year than they had the year before, and 51 of those districts had their enrollment decline for five consecutive years. Revenue caps tie schools' operating income to their enrollment for the last three years.

"There's an increase in the number of districts where the revenue cap is really starting to squeeze district finances," Knapp said. "Their transportation, their heat, their building costs, their administrative costs, etc., those continue to go up. But because of the way enrollment plays into the revenue formula, their revenue is either stagnant or declining."

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More on The "Silent Epidemic"

Colin summarizes conversation on the Gates Foundation's recent report on dropouts:

The study, titled The Silent Epidemic (pdf doc), funded by the Gates Foundation and conducted by Civic Enterprises, was compiled from information gathered from interviews with recent dropouts. John Bridgeland, CEO of Civic Enterprises says, "the problem is solvable." In part, it's solvable because it's not necessarily a case that dropouts are intellectually incapable of keeping up with classes. 90 percent of the dropouts interviewed for the study reported they were passing in all of their classes. So, what are the forces causing kids to close their eyes to the fact of getting placed behind the power curve by virtue of dropping out.

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March 5, 2006

School Board Candidate Interviews Continue: Seat 2 Lucy Mathiak

Watch or listen to this interview [video | mp3 audio] with Seat 2 candidate Lucy Mathiak. Learn more about the candidates here.
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2.27.2006 Board Meeting Video Clips

Video clips of Monday's Madison School Board Meeting are now available:
  • Discussion about the potential sale or other use of the school district's Doyle Administration building (adjacent to the Kohl Center) (44MB)
  • Legislative Committee: Discuss the legal requirements, if any for certain district administrator contracts. (41MB)
  • East Attendance Area Task Force Report (207MB)
Posted a video of the recent Health Care Task Force Meeting (120MB)
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The Road to the Digital School -- Education Speakers coming to Wisconsin

Technology Leadership Institute:

Join leading edge school districts as we explore what it means to teach and learn in a 21st century instructional environment. Today, the pressure to improve achievement levels is greater than ever before. Recent research has shown that when students have greater access to technology-based learning, the greater their engagement and achievement. That is the reward of the digital school. Achievement improves faster when digital natives and digital immigrants - students and teachers - are mutually comfortable with technology and mutually engaged. This event is designed to help you rethink the digital school. Rethink what an innovative educational environment can be. And rethink how it can benefit your students.

Guest Speakers

This Brookfield event is sponsored by Apple Computer.

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March 4, 2006

Primary Progress, Secondary Challeng: A State-By-State Look At Student Achievement Patterns

The Education Trust [full report: 480K pdf]:

The analysis also raises questions about the rigor of state tests and standards, putting a spotlight on the huge disparities in student performance on state tests and on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) [an issue raised recently by UW Math Professor Dick Askey]. Just 29 percent of the nation’s eighth-graders demonstrate proficiency in reading and math on federal NAEP assessments. But most states report much higher proficiency rates on their own tests. The report provides a 50-state look at student performance on both tests.

Among the report’s key findings:

  • Overall achievement gains were most consistent in the elementary grades, where math achievement increased in 29 of 32 states examined, and reading achievement increased in 27 of 31 states. Math achievement declined in one state, reading achievement in three.
  • In middle school math, 29 states improved overall achievement while one lost ground and one saw no change. The picture in middle school reading, however, is less positive. Overall reading achievement increased in only 20 of 31 states examined, while achievement declined in six states and did not change in five others.
  • High school math results increased in 20 of 23 states and decreased in only two. High school reading results increased in 17 of 24 states and decreased in five.

While important, overall trends do not tell the whole story. To ensure that all students meet grade-level standards, schools must increase achievement for all students while accelerating gains for poor and minority children who are often the furthest behind. Many states are meeting this goal in the elementary grades, but the results in middle and high school are disturbing.
Via Joanne.

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The Power of No Excuses

Ruben Navarrette, Jr.:

YOU HAVE to hand it to critics of "No Child Left Behind." In trying to preserve the status quo, they're wrong. But at least they're persistent. In fact, they're persistently wrong.

Made up of teachers, administrators, school board members and anyone who turns a blind eye to the mediocrity of public schools, the critics are relentless in their attempts to discredit the education reform law.

They'll get another chance to blast away over the next several months as a bipartisan commission holds public hearings across the country to get an earful on what works with the law, and what doesn't. The commission will send recommendations to Congress, which is expected to renew the law in 2007.

It's easy to see why those who prefer the status quo detest "No Child Left Behind." Under the law, children in every racial and demographic group in every public school must improve their scores on standardized tests in math and science. No excuses. Schools that fall short of that goal can be shut down, and their students can transfer to another public school.

The critics hate requirements like that for one reason -- because good tests not only tell you if kids are learning, but also if teachers and administrators are holding up their end. If the truth comes out, disgruntled parents might go from demanding accountability from schools to demanding it from the individuals who work in them.

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Schools Avoid Class Ranking, Vexing Colleges

Alan Finder:

High schools are trying to avoid giving class ranking information to colleges, concluding it could harm the admission chances of their students.

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Citizens offer advice on long-range school planning

Bill Livick:

The two-hour meeting was organized by Vandewalle & Associates and the UW Applied Population Lab. The organizations are doing research to determine potential future school sites and predict space needs. Their findings will be part of a long-range facilities and enrollment report. District officials believe the report will help guide decisions about where and when to build new schools, and will ultimately save taxpayers millions of dollars.

About 40 residents, as well as School Board members and district administrators, met at Country View Elementary School on Tuesday, Feb. 21. The goal was to better understand residents? values and priorities regarding schools and the district?s future.

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Parent Involvement - from NCLB to easing the work of teachers

Madison School Board Seat 1 Candidate Maya Cole:

Did you know that the No Child Left Behind legislation requires school districts that receive Title 1 funds to involve parents with their children’s schooling?

One goal I have for the school board is to encourage and model increased parental participation in the schools. We need to focus on building consensus on the board, with the parents and in the community.

I am hoping as a school board member to visit a different school every week for the academic year. I think it would also be helpful to volunteer in that same school for an hour during the visit as well.

As parents, many of us recognize the need to augment or encourage creative and social learning for our children outside of the classroom. What better way to share this with other kids than by involving parents?.....

We need more effective communication between the district and the community. We need to be open to new ideas, voices and perspectives of education in our community.

Maya's opponent in the April 4, 2006 election is Arlene Silveira. Learn more about the candidates here.

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Elementary school students build cardboard cities

Amanda Becker:

After months of constructing miniature cardboard buildings and houses, more than 800 students from 10 Dane County elementary schools brought their box cities to Monona Terrace Friday.

The young architects and carpenters-in-training also brought their yellow hard hats with them, and spread their cities, like urban picnics, on green tarps representing the land, applying duct tape for roads and blue construction paper as water.

Each school created its own model city. A typical display filled the space of about three dinner tables.

The models showed whatever the children thought belonged in a city: people, cars, hospitals, police and fire departments and even schools.

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March 3, 2006

UW Madison Hosts Summer Opportunities Fair

University of Wisconsin News:

How can middle- and high-school students get a leg up on preparing for college? In many cases, summer recreation, academic and athletic programs play a valuable role.

The Youth Opportunity Fair, designed to promote summer youth activities, will be held from 10 a.m.-noon on Saturday, March 4, at the Villager Mall, 2300 S. Park St.

Parents and students will find exhibitors from many of the skill-building programs - academic, recreational and athletic - offered by post-secondary educational institutions in Dane County for this summer.

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More on Local/State vs. National Tests

Michele Besso & Cecilia Le:

The study raised questions about the rigor of state tests and standards because of the large disparity in student performance between state and federal standardized tests. While most states report high proficiency rates on their own tests, just 29 percent of the nation’s eighth-graders did well in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal test.

In Delaware, 85 percent of fourth-graders scored as proficient or above in reading in the Delaware Student Testing Program, but only 34 percent of the same group scored proficient or above on the federal test. In math, those numbers are 77 percent on the state test versus
36 percent on the federal test.

“They set proficiency on the NAEP pretty darn high,” Woodruff said. “I feel our [minimum] score for meeting the standard is reasonable, but we need to get our students beyond proficient. This business of ‘meeting the standard is enough’ is not OK.”

Dick Askey made a similar point regarding local test results here.

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What about heterogenous classes with high-track curriculum?

It's clear from educational research that "tracking" high school students into low to high-level courses based on their prior academic achievement denies opportunities to low income students and many students of color. De-tracking is clearly in order for school districts seeking to offer equal educational opportunity to all students.

However, de-tracking can be done in many ways. The MMSD administration's plan for tenth grade English courses at West High School follows one model: eliminate high level courses, require all students to take the same course and depend on teachers to "differentiate" instruction so that students of all ability levels and interest are challenged and gain academically.

A diverse suburban district in New York has narrowed the achievement gap in math by offering its high-track curriculum to all students. Rather than offer a mid-range materials with special opportunities for very capable students to accelerate to all students, the district has offered the same high-level courses to all students. Students having difficulty with the course material also attend special support classes and receive afterschool help four days a week. Closing the Achievement Gap by Detracking?

The resulting gains in student achievement are worth our consideration.

from Phi Delta Kappan, April 2005

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Local Property Tax Comparisons: the Swan Creek Discussion

Marisue Horton notes that Madison, Oregon and Fitchburg have different property tax mill rates. The mill rate applied to a property's assessed value determines the amount of tax due.

Mill rates are one element to the story. However and unfortunately, these comparisons are difficult because each community reassesses property on a different timeframe. Madison reassesses annually while surrounding communities are often on a different schedule (every 3 or 5 years in some cases). There may be differences as well with respect to the assessed vs. market value ratio (a subject that creates no shortage of discussion).

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Community Service Fund 80 -- Can We Talk?

For full copies of this paper, including charts and citations, go to (html version):

http:// http://

A few weeks ago, Madison school board member Johnny Winston Jr. circulated a message that urged readers to support community organizations that had submitted grant proposals for funding under the district’s Community Service Fund (Fund 80). His message began:

“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.” (emphasis added)

After describing the programs that he proposes to fund, Mr. Winston portrays the issue as whether one is for or against community programs that enhance student achievement. At a minimum, he frames the issue to suggest that one cannot support school-community partnerships and question the district’s Community Service Fund (Fund 80), when he writes:

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.” (emphasis added)

Contrary to Mr. Winston’s assertions, it is very possible to support the intent of the proposed grants and still have serious reservations about Fund 80 and its uses. Indeed, the grants and services that he describes make up only a small portion of the annual expenditures from this source. Whether or not the proposals are approved is less important than the much-needed public discussion of how the Madison school district is using its Fund 80 resources and whether taxpayers agree that those uses are worth the increase in their property taxes. With projected growth from $5.4 million 2001-2002 to over $16 million in 2011, most of it from property taxes, it is our elected representatives’ responsibility to engage the community in discussion to approve or reject the board’s uses of this fund.

(For the full document, please go to one of the links listed at the beginning of this post.)

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Jauch, Wood Debate Taxpaper Protection Act

WisPolitics video:

In a new Web cast from the Madison offices of WHD Government Affairs, GOP Rep. Jeff Wood and Dem Sen. Bob Jauch debate TABOR and the new “Wisconsin Taxpayer Protection Amendment.”

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Leveling the Playing Field: Creating Funding Equity Through Student-Based Budgeting

When the Cincinnati Public Schools devised a reform strategy for improving student performance, it became clear that the district's traditional budgeting system was inadequate. The authors trace the district's process of moving to a system of student-based budgeting: funding children rather than staff members and weighting the funding according to schools' and students' needs.

By Karen Hawley Miles, Kathleen Ware, and Marguerite Roza, from Phi Delta Kappan magazine, October 2003.

THE INCREASING local and national focus on accountability has districts and states scrambling to develop ways to hold all schools to the same high standards. But demanding equivalent achievement levels across all of a district's schools makes no sense if the financial resources are unevenly allocated and the schools aren't given the flexibility to use those resources in ways that address their own academic priorities and the particular needs of their students.

Most discussion about funding equity has focused on differences in levels of funding between districts, and it is often assumed that funds are distributed evenly to schools within districts. But recent research highlights startling differences within districts, with some schools receiving as much as 60% more funding than others with similar categories and numbers of students.1

The role of the district in ensuring a high-quality education for all students is the principal focus of School Communities That Work: A National Task Force on the Future of Urban Districts.2 This article was prepared in conjunction with the Task Force's efforts to understand, support, and develop the work of urban education systems that are seeking to level the educational playing field for all students in their jurisdictions.

Seeking Resource Equity

Redistributing resources within a district can be a painful and controversial task and can result in the loss of cherished programs and staff. But the equitable distribution of funds creates the basis for real equality of opportunity for all students, and the process of creating such equity can bring a district to a much clearer sense of purpose and strategy.

The Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) discovered the payoff -- and the pain -- when the district overhauled its inequitable school funding system in the midst of implementing an ambitious, long-range reform strategy that focused on accountability. Between 1998 and 2001, the district made the transition to a student-based budgeting formula that eliminated dramatic variation in funding levels between schools within the system. Beginning in 2002-03, the only differences in school funding were to be those driven by student need.

Cincinnati's process highlights the need for widespread community support and bold leadership from the administration and the school board. It also helps to clarify the idea of "resource equity" and its connection to other critical elements of a districtwide strategy for improving student performance. In this article, we use the CPS experience with student-based budgeting to show how funding equity and flexibility are inextricably linked to accountability and excellence. Then we focus on the reasons some schools get more than others, not only in Cincinnati but in most school districts. We show how CPS used student-based budgeting to distribute dollars more fairly and to create more flexibility in their use. Finally, we include a set of questions to ask in your own districts and states.

Students First: Cincinnati's Reform Strategy

Begun by Superintendent Michael Brandt and continued under the leadership of Superintendent Steven Adamowski, Cincinnati's strategic school reform plan, known as Students First, has been implemented over the past five years with the involvement of the entire community. A moral imperative for more equitable funding between schools and for more school-level flexibility in the use of funds gradually emerged from the interaction of the plan's four components:

* Establish standards for student performance.
* Decentralize resources and decision making to the school level.
* Hold schools accountable for results.
* Provide professional development and support for schools.

Cincinnati's reform strategy includes a powerful school accountability plan, which holds faculty members and schools responsible for student performance. Under the plan, the district rates schools annually according to gains in student performance. It then awards bonuses and other benefits to staff members in the highest-performing schools and provides intervention and support for those schools that perform poorly.

The Cincinnati strategy requires that all students meet the same standards, but it allows schools to choose the means of meeting those standards. An integral part of this strategy is the requirement that schools adopt a comprehensive school design from an approved list that fits with the district philosophy. Each of these designs combines research-based curriculum and instructional strategies into a schoolwide approach.

As principals and school instructional leadership teams set to work planning, hiring staff, purchasing materials, and grouping students to fit their school's chosen design, they began to demand more dollars and greater flexibility. They found they needed more resources to enable them to offer special design features, such as small seminars, extra foreign language classes, or increased social-service support for students. They also wanted the flexibility to change allocations so that they could, for example, fund an additional staff position with money earmarked for administrative costs or use funds for a librarian to hire a literacy specialist. These requests for flexibility were hard to accommodate within the traditional budgeting system, which allocated positions according to a standard staffing model.

In response to these demands, CPS developed a plan to allocate dollars to schools based on student enrollment rather than on staff positions, thereby freeing schools to craft their own staffing and budgeting models. In short, district leaders decided to fund children rather than staff members, and children with greater needs would be funded at a higher level.

Staff-Based Versus Student-Based Budgeting

Understanding why schools within a district receive different levels of funding requires looking closely at how districts allocate resources. Most districts use a formula that starts by allocating staff positions and other resources to schools, based on the number of pupils in the school. But then districts add staff positions and dollars on top of the formula-driven resources, using criteria other than student enrollment. For example, a school with a special arts focus designed to attract students from all over the district might get additional funding to support its program.

These standard practices sometimes result in the allocation of very different per-student dollar amounts to schools. In some cases -- such as differing allocations to cover the heating bills in older or newer buildings -- the reasons are fully justifiable. In other cases, the inequities are simply products of mathematical formulas, political influence, history, or the special interest of a district administrator or school board member.

In a system of student-based budgeting, it is the students who are funded, not the schools. The concept is simple: each student receives a base "weighting" of 1.0, which represents a foundational dollar amount. Then, weights are established for groups of students who have specific educational needs. For example, it costs more to educate a student with a disability than a nondisabled peer. In Cincinnati, the cost of educating an orthopedically handicapped student, for example, is 236% more than the cost of educating the typical student. So the weight for an orthopedically handicapped student is 1.0 + 2.36, or 3.36. This money follows the student to any district school he or she attends.

Phase 1: A Cautious Beginning to Student-Based Budgeting

In 1999-2000, CPS implemented the first phase of its new student-based budgeting system. District leaders agree that equity was not the primary motivation during this first phase. Lynn Marmer, a veteran school board member and chair of the finance committee, recalled, "Really, we were as concerned with decentralizing control and making the system more understandable as we were about equity." The district administration realized that it could not hold schools accountable for results if it did not give them control over the processes of education, and that included control over the use of resources.

After a seemingly endless review of financial scenarios that played out the effects of implementing student-based budgeting, the district and the school board agreed to a first-phase formula that disturbed existing funding practices as little as possible. As Marmer noted, "This was the first time the board really understood the extent of the funding differences by school. It was a new idea for us, and we pretty much left it alone. We needed to chew on it for a while."

While many of the inequities in funding remained during the first round of the student-based budgeting, the differences across schools had been made explicit and public for all to see and discuss. With this information, the administration and school board could grapple with the reasons for the differences and debate whether they were justifiable.

Cincinnati's student-based budgeting system highlights four reasons why some schools get more than others: student needs, school operating costs, political needs, and strategic investment.

During Phase 1, extra funding (through added weighting) continued to be given for special education students. Neither the staff-based formula nor Phase 1 of the student-based formula provided extra dollars for other student needs, such as the needs of second-language learners or of students in poverty.

Phase 1 also maintained the differences in operating costs by keeping them separate from the student-weighted formula and by adding dollars on top to cover the special costs for each school. Differences in school size, in organization, and in such costs as utilities and maintenance accounted for most of these operating differences. The old staff-based allocation had favored smaller schools because such staff members as principals, secretaries, and librarians are assigned to all schools regardless of size. In small schools, these costs were spread over fewer students, thereby resulting in a higher per-pupil allocation. In a straight student-based budgeting system, in which all district dollars are included in the weighted formula, small schools find it more difficult than large schools to cover the same overhead costs of a principal, a plant operator, and contract-required clerical support.

To protect its small schools, CPS added in Phase 1 a fixed amount on top of the allocation for each student in these schools to cover such overhead costs. However, the funds drawn off for this protection lowered the basic allocation for students in larger schools, since the practice reduced the total amount of money on which the value of the 1.0 weighting was determined.

The student-based calculations highlighted dramatic differences in funding across CPS high schools. For example, Hughes High School received 38% -- nearly $2,000 -- more per pupil than Walnut Hill High School. In fact, Walnut Hill students were shown to be receiving the same dollars as CPS elementary students, even though the traditional secondary school, with its subject-matter specialists and varied course offerings, costs more to operate than an elementary school. That funding level translated into core academic classes at Walnut Hill of 30 or more students. The Phase 1 funding levels did not change this inequity.

The third reason for inequitable funding -- political need -- can be difficult to justify. For example, Cincinnati funds magnet programs that attract middle- and upper-income parents to the system. Like most urban districts, CPS depends on middle-class support to sustain its tax base. CPS had worked hard to ensure that middle-class parents continued to send their children to district schools and actively supported the levying of taxes to pay for them. Magnet schools played a major role in keeping a diverse student body in Cincinnati's schools.

Eighteen of the district's 77 schools were designated "magnet schools." Each magnet school was organized around an educational philosophy and model, and, when first implemented, magnet schools received extra staff members who were funded by the state in an effort to promote desegregation. When that funding ended, the district continued to pay for extra staff members out of its general fund.

Students in magnet schools received additional weighting in Phase 1 of student-based budgeting. The district calculated these weights according to the costs of each particular program. For example, because Montessori elementary schools were costing the district 13% more than neighborhood schools, students who attended them were given a weight of 1.13. Paideia elementary schools cost 25% more to operate, making the weight of their students 1.25. Weighting students by magnet status clearly violated the "money follows the student" principle of student-based budgeting.

In its ranking of schools by student performance, the accountability system in CPS highlighted the disturbing fact that many of the nonmagnet schools were doing poorly compared to the magnets. It didn't take long for the school board and the district administration to suspect that schools that were underperforming might have fewer resources. As Lynn Marmer noted, "We could move so much further along than we could have five years ago. Now, we had performance data by school and could see that nonmagnet schools were not doing as well and didn't get as much funding. How can you demand equal results with unequal resources?"

Finally, a district may choose to invest more in a certain school or group of students for strategic reasons. For example, based on research showing the student performance benefits of small class sizes in early grades, a district might weight students in kindergarten through third grade at higher levels. Though Superintendent Adamowski had hoped to do this in Phase 1, the funds were not available at that time without taking significant dollars away from secondary schools. This higher weighting for the early grades was not accomplished until Phase 2.

Phase 2: Biting the Bullet

In December 2001, the school board approved a radical overhaul of the student-based-budgeting formula. Phase 2 eliminated extra funding for magnets and special programs, added a per-pupil weighting for poverty, and moved more dollars into the student-driven part of the formula by eliminating the fixed allocations to schools. The passage of a levy in November 2000 had allowed the district to increase funding to nonmagnet schools and to reduce the gap between magnets and others. The new funds also allowed the district to make a strategic investment in K-3 students by weighting them 20% higher.

Even with the levy, Phase 2 moved schools closer to equitable funding by taking significant funding from many schools. Sixteen schools lost more than 2% of their budgets -- in some cases, more than $100,000 -- while others gained significantly. Naturally, supporters of many schools and programs losing dollars reacted swiftly and passionately. CPS leaders reviewed each school's funding and the reasons for the losses.

As supporters of schools and programs that were losing money lobbied hard, board members found it hard to hold the line. Lynn Marmer recalled, "We had to keep reminding each other that the amount of money in the pot did not change. We kept holding up a piece of paper and ripping it into pieces, to show that it was a fixed pie. When we give to one school, we take from another."

In each case in which schools lost significant dollars, the district created a transition fund to phase in the changes with as little student disruption as possible. In some cases, such as that of a special school serving former high school dropouts, the district determined that students with such needs and characteristics would receive an explicit extra weight that would follow them regardless of school or administrative decisions.

A school board resolution describing the principles behind the new funding scheme was a powerful outcome of Phase 2, and it fortified board members and district leaders as they faced lobbying from those who were losing funding. The resolution established seven principles of funding that guide the new formula, each followed by an action statement (see "Principles of Student-Based Budgeting," below).

At that time, Lynn Marmer was in her last months on the school board. "As board members, we deal with so much that feels transitory," she recalled, summing up her last effort. "It felt so good to take on this powerful issue and leave something like this set of principles behind. Even as the details of funding change, district leaders can always go back to these fundamentals."

Questions to Ask About Equity and Flexibility

As Cincinnati discovered, when districts push for greater school accountability, they must reassess their budget systems and be more explicit about school funding levels. We offer the following questions to help begin that process.

* Does the district allocate resources to schools using staffing formulas or does it use a student-based-budgeting approach, allocating dollars for each student?
* How much flexibility do schools have to use dollars or staff in different ways?
* In dollars, what is the average per-pupil cost overall and at each school level -- elementary, middle school, and high school?
* Does the district allocate more dollars to support students from impoverished homes or homes in which English is the second language spoken?
* Does the district have certain types of schools that cost significantly more to operate than others? Are there student performance data that support this higher cost?
* Does the district track the characteristics and quality of teachers in each school and adjust funding or support in response?

As board members and district leaders in Cincinnati hammered out the new funding formula, the work was hard, the controversy sometimes draining. When asked why she devoted so much energy to the change, board member Marmer reflected, "I saw this as an opportunity to really benefit the kids who are most dependent on public schools. Other kids have options, but the kids in neighborhood schools, being funded at the lowest levels, didn't. It really became a moral issue for all of us."

1. This research is analyzed in School Communities That Work, First Steps to a Level Playing Field (Providence: Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University, 2002).

2. Information on School Communities That Work is available at

KAREN HAWLEY MILES is president of Education Resource Management Strategies, Dallas, a firm that supports districts and schools in developing strategies, allocating resources, and creating organizations focused on improving instruction. KATHLEEN WARE is associate superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools. MARGUERITE ROZA is a senior research fellow at the Center for Reinventing Public Education, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington, Seattle. This article was prepared in conjunction with their work with School Communities That Work: A National Task Force on the Future of Urban Districts (, an initiative of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.

Principles of Student-Based Budgeting

Principle. All budgeting will be easily understood, clearly comparable, open, and public.
Action. Annually, the administration will report -- to the public and the board -- school budgets in a manner that is clear, comprehensive, and easy to understand.

Principle. All schools will be treated fairly and equitably. All students are valued and equally entitled to resources.
Action. All students receive a weight of 1.0.

Principle. We recognize the intensive focus on grades K-3.
Action. All K-3 students receive an additional 20% weighting to lower the pupil/teacher ratio and to support early literacy and numeracy.

Principle. We acknowledge the importance of supporting students during a transition year.
Action. For all ninth-graders, there is an additional 5% weighting. Schools must use these additional funds for orientation, for building study skills, for supporting transition, and for retention.

Principle. We recognize the extra costs associated with students for whom English is a second language and for students from economically impoverished households.
Action. Students who are learning English receive an additional 47% weighting, and students who qualify for federally subsidized lunches receive an additional 5% weighting.

Principle. We use local money to supplement state funding for special education and vocational education.
Action. Vocational students receive an additional 60% weighting; special education students receive an additional weighting based upon their individual disabilities.

Principle. We promote special programming for gifted students.
Action. Gifted students (identified by state standards) receive an additional 20% weighting wherever special programming is available and described in the school's educational plan.

Source: Cincinnati Board of Education, Resolution passed 3 December 2001 (excerpt).

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WGN Program on School Reform & "Lets Put Parents Back in Charge"

Milton Rosenberg is a retired social psychologist from the Univ. of Chicago. He has a radio show on WGN, 720 on AM. Next Tuesday, March 7, the topic is "School Reform". The two guests, Joseph L. Bast and Herbert Walberg, have written a new book: "Let's Put Parents Back in Charge: A Guide for School Reformers". The show starts at 9 PM and ends at 11.

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March 2, 2006

Madison Seeks Room to Grow

Dean Mosiman:

After decades of gobbling land like a ravenous Pac-Man, Madison is facing the reality of running out of real estate.
To share the region's new jobs, housing and businesses, the city must push outward, which brings tension and conflict with neighbors.

Now, the city is negotiating with those neighbors on its final borders, which will decide who controls rules for private, undeveloped lands and who reaps tax money to pay for police, garbage collection, plowing streets and other services.

It will also dictate how and where growth happens.

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Teacher Pay for Performance Comparison

Florida Department of Education:

A Comparison of Performance Pay Proposals: 2005; Denver, Houston, Florida and Minnesota.

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Charles Hamilton Houston Institute: The color of freedom

In 2001, Dr. John Odom proposed a new national civil rights strategy in his book 'Saving Black America: An Economic Plan for Civil Rights.' Since then, several prominent African American Madisonians from a variety of professional fields have been planning to implement Odom's vision on a local level.

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WI School Funding Update

Funding reform resolution introduced -- your chance to act
Funding system continues to erode quality education
School-funding reform calendar
The Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) is a statewide network of educators, school board members, parents, community leaders, and researchers. Its Wisconsin Adequacy Plan -- a proposal for school-finance reform -- is the result of research into the cost of educating children to meet state proficiency standards.
Funding reform resolution introduced -- your chance to act

School-funding reform is finally in front of the Wisconsin Legislature. Where it goes now is up to you.

Wednesday, March 1, a press conference was held in the Assembly Parlor in the Capital ( to introduce a joint resolution ( calling for a new funding system by July of 2007. The call for reform is based on a set of core principles that include adequate resources to prepare all children for high school graduation, additional resources for children and communities with special circumstances, and a reduced level of local property taxes.

Authors of the joint resolution are Sen. Roger Breske ( and Reps. Sondy Pope-Roberts (, Barbara Toles (, John Lehman (, and Gary Sherman ( Contact them now to offer your thanks and support. The joint resolution has also been endorsed ( by Assembly Democratic Leader Jim Kreuser (

This is your opportunity to your part in the reform effort. Contact your Representative and your Senator (their names and contact information can be found at with this message:
Ask your Representative to contact Assembly Speaker John Gard and request the joint resolution be scheduled for discussion during the current legislative session.
Ask your Senator to contact Senate President Alan Lasee and request the joint resolution be scheduled for discussion during the current legislative session.
Ask your Representative and your Senator to publicly endorse the joint resolution and ask them how they will vote when it is considered.
Remember, it is critical to hold your elected officials responsible and accountable. As stated at the press conference, Wednesday, it is their job to solve this problem. If they say they will not help you help your children, ask them why. If they say they will help, tell them you will follow up on their promise.

You should also contact Rep. Gard ( and Sen. Lasee ( and ask them to schedule debate on the joint resolution.

Even before you make your contacts, please forward this update to others interested in school-funding reform.
Funding system continues to erode quality education

According to a report just released the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) and the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA) the state's school-funding system continues to erode the quality of education available to our children (

The annual survey ( finds that cuts have worsened across the board since the 1998-99 school in each of the 27 program and service areas included in the survey. For example, 48% of the school districts increased class sizes in 1998-99 because of the financing system, while 70% did so in the 2004-05 school year. Thirty-six percent laid off teachers in 1998-99, compared to 70% in 2004-05.

"Wisconsin's schools have always been a leader in the nation, but they will not continue to be if we do not change this law," said WASDA Executive Director Miles Turner. "The failure to invest in our infrastructure poses a real and permanent threat to the basic quality of our schools."
School-funding reform calendar
March 3, 2006 -- School-funding reform presentation for the Portage County Rotary Club, 7 a.m., at the Comfort Suites (300 Division Street N., Stevens Point)

March 8, 2006 -- School-funding reform presentation, 7:15 p.m., for school finance class in Room 3006 of Winther Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

March 10, 2006 -- School-funding reform presentation, 3:30 p.m., School Finance Class (Ed 810) in the Edgewood College Doctoral Program
March 13, 2006 -- School-funding reform presentation, noon, for the Fond du Lac Retired Educators Association, Knights of Columbus building, 795 Fond du Lac Avenue
March 29, 2006 -- School-funding reform presentation, 7 p.m., Menomonee Falls High School Library (, Merrimac Drive, sponsored by the Menomonee Falls Council of PTAs

March 30, 2006 -- Forum on school-funding reform and taxes sponsored by the Lodi School District (, 7-9 p.m. at the Lodi Elementary School (featuring Jack Norman, research director with the Institute for Wisconsin's Future; Prof. Andrew Reschovsky with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Lafollette School of Public Affairs; and Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance)
April 28 -- School-funding reform presentation, 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., at the Wisconsin PTA Convention ( at the Plaza Hotel and Suites, 201 North 17th Avenue, , Wausau

April 28-30, 2006 -- Youth ROC Wisconsin Statewide Youth Summit ( on Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
May 18-19 -- School-funding reform presentations from 3:15-4:15 p.m. on May 18 and 9:45-10:35 a.m. on May 19 at the annual convention of the Wisconsin School Business Officials ( at the Regency Suites in Green Bay

June 6, 2006 -- School-funding reform presentation, 1 p.m., for the Dodge County Retired Educators Association, Marsh Haven

Please feel free to share your copy of the WAES school-funding update with anyone interested in school-finance reform. Contact Tom Beebe ( at 414-384-9094 for details.
Thomas S. Beebe, Outreach Specialist
Institute for Wisconsin’s Future
1717 South 12th Street
Milwaukee, WI 53204

Voice: 414-384-9094
Fax: 414-384-9098
Cell: 920-650-0525

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Public schools are public. Consequently, it seems a reasonable principle that unless privacy is at issue, the processes by which major decisions about them are made should be public, too. But too often this isn't the case. Teacher collective bargaining negotiations are a primary example. They're usually conducted behind closed doors and with some noteworthy exceptions it is generally difficult to find the contracts themselves despite the enormous influence they have. But, Rick Costa, the president of the Salem Education Association in Oregon is setting a good standard for how it should be done (via Intercepts). More transparency in bargaining is a key recommendation of Collective Bargaining in Education: Negotiating Change In Today's Schools

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Home-schooling grows quickly in United States

Alan Eisner:

Nobody is quite sure exactly how many American children are being taught at home. The National Center for Education Statistics, in a 2003 survey, put the number that year at 1.1 million. The Home School Legal Defense Association, which represents some 80,000 member families, says the figure now is quite a bit higher -- between 1.7 and 2.1 million.

But there is no disagreement about the explosive growth of the movement -- 29 percent from 1999 to 2003 according to the NCES study, or 7 to 15 percent a year according to HSLDA.

This growth has spawned an estimated $750 million a year market supplying parents with teaching aids and lesson plans to fit every religious and political philosophy. Home-schooled children regularly show up in the finals of national spelling competitions, generating publicity for the movement.

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Most US high school dropouts regretful: study

Patricia Wilson (Reuters):

Most students who drop out of high school in the United States admit they made a mistake by quitting and some say they might have stayed if classes were more challenging, according to a report released on Thursday.

Researchers said they were surprised to find that a majority of the 467 dropouts they interviewed were not what most people would consider underachieving troublemakers and losers.

One-third said they were failing in school, but more than six out of 10 were maintaining C averages or better when they quit. Almost half said they were bored or that the classwork seemed irrelevant.

"The teacher just stood in front of the room and just talked and didn't really like involve you," a young female respondent from Baltimore said.

Source: Gates Foundation Report. Morning Edition has more (audio).

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Senate, Assembly Democrats: Call for Timetable on School Funding Reform


Sen. Breske
Rep. Pope- Roberts
Rep. Toles
Rep. Lehman
Rep. Sherman

Assembly and Senate Democrats Want New Funding Formula by June of 2007

MADISON – A group of Democratic lawmakers unveiled a timeline for reworking the Wisconsin school funding formula at a Capitol news conference today. The school financing system has long been criticized for inequities that treat rural school districts unfairly. In addition a state Supreme Court ruling, Vincent v. Voight, has also directed the legislature to equalize the funding formula.

“Our schools throughout the state are in crisis mode,” said Representative Lehman (D-Racine). “They’re getting attacked from all sides, be it for property taxes, for accountability, or for quality education. These problems face every school district in the state from Kenosha to Superior.”

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. Supporters of the resolution were hoping for a public hearing sometime soon.

“We owe it to our property owners to establish what a quality education is and to guarantee that adequate funding will be there to prepare the next generation for life, regardless of whether they go on to college, into the workforce or the military,” affirmed Representative Pope-Roberts (D-Verona).

Last fall, the near dissolution of the Florence County School District illuminated the crisis facing schools in Wisconsin. Florence, in the end, passed a referendum that will keep them in the black for the next five years. However, there is every likelihood that several other school districts will be in the same situation very soon.

“The outdated formula uses property values to equalize state aid over 426 school districts. But vacation homes and large tracts of untaxable land are inflating property values in areas where household incomes are barely above poverty level,” Senator Breske (D-Eland) said. “Skyrocketing property taxes are forcing grandparents to choose between their grandchildren’s future and their homes.”

“Declining enrollment has quickly become a reality for a majority of districts in Wisconsin over the last few years. Basing revenue limits on a per-pupil factor places a price tag on students,” Representative Sherman (D-Port Wing) commented. “For small, rural, schools who have consolidated everything they can, counting bodies does not ensure that the students’ basic needs are met, especially given the high operating costs driven by gas and heating fuel, among others.”

“Our focus, first and last, must be on the students,” Representative Toles (D-Milwaukee). “Each district has unique needs. Whereas rural districts face high transportation costs, Milwaukee schools are less concerned with transportation and more concerned with their demanding population of special needs students with physical, learning and social needs. We must ensure that an adequate education is available, but also that flexibility is retained so that districts can truly meet the needs of their students.”

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From the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal


Black Flight

The exodus to charter schools.


MINNEAPOLIS--Something momentous is happening here in the home of prairie populism: black flight. African-American families from the poorest neighborhoods are rapidly abandoning the district public schools, going to charter schools, and taking advantage of open enrollment at suburban public schools.

Today, just around half of students who live in the city attend its district public schools. As a result, Minneapolis schools are losing both raw numbers of students and "market share." In 1999-2000, district enrollment was about 48,000; this year, it's about 38,600. Enrollment projections predict only 33,400 in 2008. A decline in the number of families moving into the district accounts for part of the loss, as does the relocation of some minority families to inner-ring suburbs. Nevertheless, enrollments are relatively stable in the leafy, well-to-do enclave of southwest Minneapolis and the city's white ethnic northeast. But in 2003-04, black enrollment was down 7.8%, or 1,565 students. In 2004-05, black enrollment dropped another 6%.

Black parents have good reasons to look elsewhere. Last year, only 28% of black eighth-graders in the Minneapolis public schools passed the state's basic skills math test; 47% passed the reading test. The black graduation rate hovers around 50%, and the district's racial achievement gap remains distressingly wide. Louis King, a black leader who served on the Minneapolis School Board from 1996 to 2000, puts it bluntly: "Today, I can't recommend in good conscience that an African-American family send their children to the Minneapolis public schools. The facts are irrefutable: These schools are not preparing our children to compete in the world." Mr. King's advice? "The best way to get attention is not to protest, but to shop somewhere else."

They can do so because of the state's longstanding commitment to school choice. In 1990 Minnesota allowed students to cross district boundaries to enroll in any district with open seats. Two years later in St. Paul, the country's first charter school opened its doors. (Charter schools are started by parents, teachers or community groups. They operate free from burdensome regulations, but are publicly funded and accountable.) Today, this tradition of choice is providing a ticket out for kids in the gritty, mostly black neighborhoods of north and south- central Minneapolis.

While about 1,620 low-income Minneapolis students attend suburban public schools, most of the fleeing minority and low-income students choose charter schools. Five years ago, 1,750 Minneapolis students attended charters; today 5,600 do. In 2000-01, 788 charter students were black; today 3,632 are. Charters are opening in the city at a record pace: up from 23 last year to 28, with 12 or so more in the pipeline.

According to the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute, Minneapolis charter school enrollment is 91% minority and 84% low-income, while district enrollment is 72% minority and 67% low-income. Joe Nathan, the center's director, says that parents want strong academic programs, but also seek smaller schools and a stable teaching staff highly responsive to student needs. Charter schools offer many options. Some cater to particular ethnic communities like the Hmong or Somali; others offer "back to basics" instruction or specialize in arts or career preparation. At Harvest Preparatory School, a K-6 school that is 99% black and two-thirds low income, students wear uniforms, focus on character, and achieve substantially higher test scores than district schools with similar demographics.

Since the state doles out funds on a per-pupil basis, the student exodus has hit the district's pocketbook hard. The loss of students has contributed to falling budgets, shuttered classrooms and deep staff cuts, and a district survey suggests more trouble ahead. Black parents in 2003 gave the Minneapolis school system significantly more negative ratings than other parents, the two major beefs being poor quality academic programs and lack of discipline. Preschool parents, another group vital to the district's future, also expressed disillusionment: 44% expressed interest in sending their children to charters. Charter school parents, in contrast, appeared very satisfied: 97% said they would be "very likely" or "somewhat likely" to choose a charter again.

The school board has promised to address parent concerns, but few observers expect real reform. Minneapolis is a one-party town, dominated by Democrats, and is currently reeling from leadership shake-ups that have resulted in three superintendents in the last few years. The district has handled budget cutbacks and school closings ineptly, leading some parents to joke bitterly about its tendency to penalize success and reward failure.

Parents are particularly angry about seniority policies, which often lead to the least experienced teachers being placed in the most challenging school environments. Nevertheless, a few weeks ago the Minneapolis school board approved a teacher contract that largely continues this policy, along with other union-driven practices that perpetuate the status quo.

Black leaders like Louis King have had enough. He has a message for the school board: "You'll have to make big changes to get us back." He says the district needs a board that views families as customers and understands that competition has unalterably changed the rules of the game. "I'm a strong believer in public education," says Mr. King. "But this district's leaders have to make big changes or go out of business. If they don't, we'll see them in a museum, like the dinosaurs."
Minneapolis families seeking to escape troubled schools are fortunate to have the options they do. That's not the case in many other states, where artificial barriers--from enrollment caps to severe underfunding--have stymied the growth of charter schools.

The city's experience should lead such states to reconsider the benefits of expansive school choice. Conventional wisdom holds that middle-class parents take an interest in their children's education, while low-income and minority parents lack the drive and savvy necessary. The black exodus here demonstrates that, when the walls are torn down, poor, black parents will do what it takes to find the best schools for their kids.

Ms. Kersten is a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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The Gap According to Black

Bridging the Achievement Gap: Positive Peer Pressure - Just the Push Students Need to Succeed
Cydny Black:

The decisions we make, especially as adolescents, are influenced by the people who surround us, and by how we feel about ourselves. I’ve found that the encouragement of my friends and family, and the examples they set, have a lot to do with my academic success. My friends challenge themselves and encourage me to do the same. This concept is known as peer pressure—a term that often has a negative connotation. In many situations, however, peer pressure can be positive and powerful. Positive peer pressure can give students the push they need to succeed.

It occurs to me that friends who value academic success help give us the support we need to do well. Not only does it help to have friends who push us to do better in school, but these friends also help us to feel better about ourselves.

In school, I notice that many students who are not making the leap over this gap are students who are surrounded by negative reinforcements. These students often lack friends who value education. Negative friends don’t challenge themselves by taking difficult classes, or holding Thursday night study sessions. Negative friends don’t work with you to prepare for final exams.

So what can we do? For all the students reading this who are succeeding in school, my advice is to step out and lend a helping hand to those who are not as successful. Be a supportive classmate, and more importantly, be a good role model. Promote the idea that getting good grades does not mean you’re acting “white” or “selling out” and it definitely does not mean you’re nerdy.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 8:06 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Dropout Rate as a Civil Rights Issue

Mitchell Landsberg:

The high school dropout problem is "the new civil rights issue of our time," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared Wednesday in a speech that drew a line from the efforts to desegregate the South a half-century ago to today's struggles over the performance of Los Angeles students, who are predominantly Latino.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

What First Amendment?

Paul Soglin makes a great point:

We went wrong in the 1970's. That was when the core curriculum in America's public schools changed and the the classical civics classes were dropped. I had no problem with expanding the curriculum, particularly given the absence of 'real' history. I had and still have a problem that most pubic schools do not have at least one required course at both the elementary and the high school level on American institutions, civics, or history that covers among other things, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Then maybe half, instead of ten percent, of all Americans would know their freedoms.
My high school government teacher (a Vietnam Vet) drilled these rights and words into our brains (drilled).

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

"Black Flight: Minneapolis Exodus to Charter Schools"

Katherine Kersten:

Something momentous is happening here in the home of prairie populism: black flight. African-American families from the poorest neighborhoods are rapidly abandoning the district public schools, going to charter schools, and taking advantage of open enrollment at suburban public schools. Today, just around half of students who live in the city attend its district public schools.

Black parents have good reasons to look elsewhere. Last year, only 28% of black eighth-graders in the Minneapolis public schools passed the state's basic skills math test; 47% passed the reading test. The black graduation rate hovers around 50%, and the district's racial achievement gap remains distressingly wide. Louis King, a black leader who served on the Minneapolis School Board from 1996 to 2000, puts it bluntly: "Today, I can't recommend in good conscience that an African-American family send their children to the Minneapolis public schools. The facts are irrefutable: These schools are not preparing our children to compete in the world." Mr. King's advice? "The best way to get attention is not to protest, but to shop somewhere else."

They can do so because of the state's longstanding commitment to school choice. In 1990 Minnesota allowed students to cross district boundaries to enroll in any district with open seats. Two years later in St. Paul, the country's first charter school opened its doors. (Charter schools are started by parents, teachers or community groups. They operate free from burdensome regulations, but are publicly funded and accountable.) Today, this tradition of choice is providing a ticket out for kids in the gritty, mostly black neighborhoods of north and south- central Minneapolis.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 1, 2006

Study: Reading Key to College Success

Ben Feller:

One major factor separates high school graduates who are ready for college from those who aren't, a new study shows: how well students handle complex reading.

Trouble is, most states don't even have reading standards for high school grades, and not a single state defines the kind of complexity that high school reading should have.

"If you're not asking for it, you're not going to get it," said Cynthia Schmeiser, senior vice president for research and development at ACT, the nonprofit company that did the study.

In a complex text, organization may be elaborate, messages may be implicit, interactions among ideas or characters may be subtle, and the vocabulary is demanding and intricate.

The ACT isolated reading complexity as a critical factor by analyzing the results of the 1.2 million high school seniors in 2005 who took the well known ACT college entrance test.

Based on that test, only 51 percent of students showed they were ready to handle the reading requirements of a typical first-year college course. The literacy of today's high school graduates has become an enormous concern for colleges and employers.

What differentiates students who are ready for college from the rest, the research shows, is an ability to comprehend sophisticated texts that may have several layers of meaning.

ACT Report: Reading Between the Lines.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:12 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

McKenna Interview with Seat 1 Candidate Maya Cole

Vicki McKenna interviewed Seat 1 Candidate Maya Cole recently. 12MB mp3 audio file [podcast link]. Cole's opponent, Arlene Silveira was evidently unable to make today's program but, according to McKenna will hopefully appear on a future show.

Posted by James Zellmer at 6:43 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Leadership Greater Madison Day: Child Equity and Attainment

Brennan Nardi:

We also had the opportunity to interact with Jefferson students. We ate lunch with the eighth graders and poked our heads into afternoon classes. Four area educators then weighed in on what matters most in helping kids achieve. Jefferson principal John Burmaster told us that during middle school, “the best thing you can do is sit down with a kid and show that kid that you like them. It always goes back to relationships.”
[3.5MB PDF, Page 12]

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Do the Math

Joanne Jacobs:

Columnist Richard Cohen isn't the first to advise young people not to bother about learning math. In 2003, WOAI in San Antonio asked a selection of adults -- a radio DJ, a school board president, a councilman and a former judge -- to take Texas' new TAKS test, a graduation requirement. The school board president got an A in English and a B in math. Everyone else flunked the math. DJ Jamie Martin tells students not to worry.

"Kids did you hear me? You don't need to learn math like me. You can still be successful and do bad on math."
Despite the grammatical error, she scored a B in English.
More than half of San Antonio's 11th graders failed on their first try.

Educators say they saw the same kind of failure rates and complaints when they introduced the TAAS test. By the time it was retired, those teachers say, the TAAS test was considered too easy.
Adults who've been away from the classroom for years are bound to be rusty on their "vertices and vortexes," not to mention "the little numbers." If they needed to pass the test to get ahead, they'd study and learn. San Antonio students can do that too. They're more likely to be successful if they can do the math. Not everybody can grow up to work in the innumerate media.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:26 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Schools' Board of Education Candidate Take Home Test: Week 6


  1. Three-quarters of Madison homeowners don't have kids in school, and almost half ($2,087) of the average Madison homeowner's property tax bill ($4,633) this year goes to fund the Madison schools. What do you say to taxpayers who feel they’re paying too much?
  2. Extra Credit: If you could change two ways in which state law affects individual school districts, what would they be?
  3. More Extra Credit: How many lottery tickets have you purchased over the last year?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:21 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

West High Event to Focus on Fast Food Companies' Responsibility

Given all of the interest on the District's proposed food policy, the following event might be of interest to SIS readers in the West attendance area:

To what extent should fast food companies be held responsible for their customer's health? West High School Students for an Informed Response (SIR) invite you to hear opposing viewpoints, debate, discuss, and learn about this question at SIR's Family and Community Town Supper this Thursday evening, March 2, at 7:00 p.m. We'll host David Schwartz of the UW Law School and Pete Hanson of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, and they will discuss obesity lawsuits, nutrition, and other related matters. The audience will get a chance to join in the discussion and ask questions. We'll provide a dinner: a choice between pizza or bagels, along with drinks, salad, chips, and a dessert of some kind.

This should be a very informative and interesting event and hopefully some of you or others you know may be interested. For those with students interested, we are selling tickets through Thursday afternoon before and after school in the Ash Street entrance for $5.00. If you are interested in coming but don't have a means of purchasing tickets at West, feel free to email me ( and let me know that you are interested; you may pay at the door. However, we do need a count beforehand of how many people are coming for calculating the amounts of food.

Thanks for your interest!

Reuben Henriques
Students for an Informed Response

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 10:15 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Victoria Department of Education's Wireless Network: 10,000 access points

Rodney Gedda:

If securely deploying 10,000 wireless access points across 1700 locations in five months to create what is said to be the world's largest enterprise Wi-Fi network sounds like a challenge, Victoria's Department of Education (DET) took it all in its stride - with the help of a little penguin.

With 540,000 students, 42,000 teachers, more than 200,000 computers, and 40,000 notebooks spread across the 1700 sites, the department last year allocated $6.5 million to implement a wireless network aimed at easing connectivity, but at first its technology options were limited.

During a presentation at this year's wireless summit in Sydney today, the department's head of ICT security, Loris Meadows spoke of how the Wireless Networks in Schools (WINS) project required a custom proxy and security services appliance dubbed "EduPass" to be engineered due to the WAN's complexity.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:14 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Proposals seeking money from MMSD Fund 80

Assistant Superintendent Roger Price provided the following electronic copies of the proposals the Board of Education will for funding on March 6:

Kajsiab House and Freedom Inc.
Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network-South Central Wisconsin (GLSEN)
Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY)
The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, Inc. (CHHI)
Johnny Winston, Jr. explains the process for soliciting these proposals in a post on the blog, while Ruth Robarts raises some concerns.

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

Senators Pass Bill Regulating Indoor Air Quality In Schools


he Wisconsin Senate passed a bill on Tuesday that would monitor indoor air quality at schools around the state.

The measure, Senate bill 235, was championed by Jeanne and Dick Black, of Darlington, after their 9-year-old daughter Jade became ill from what they said that poor air quality at her school.

They said that Jade was diagnosed with severe mold-induced asthma and suffered headaches, migraines, blurred vision, rashes on her face, stomach aches and nausea while attending Darlington Elementary and Middle School. The symptoms subsided when she transferred to another school under doctor's orders.

According to the Wisconsin Education Association Council, 80 schools in the state have air quality problems. They include Chavez and Midvale Elementary in Madison, Edgerton High School, Marshall Elementary School, Webb Middle School in Reedsburg, and Black Earth Elementary in the Wisconsin Heights District. Other districts cited without a specific school listed include Adams-Friendship, Boscobel, Columbus, Cuba City, Monticello, Palmyra-Eagle, Poynette, Rio and Wisconsin Dells, WISC-TV reported.

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

Hiring By School Tie

Jared Sandberg:

School ties are immensely powerful in the business world, providing preexisting networks of relationships and low search costs. But while relying on them often works out just fine, lost in the mix of well-meaning loyalty to educational institutions and nostalgia for the past is the possibility that the ties that bind can also blind, undermining corporate efforts to build meritocracies.

Everyone knows that the educational degrees you earned can affect your career. How else to explain the spate of exaggerated claims of academic prowess among top executives, some of whom have decades-long track records but nonetheless continue to inflate precareer educational achievements. Most recently, Radio Shack was stung by this problem. But it also happened to Bausch & Lomb, Veritas Software, A.T. Kearney and the U.S. Olympic Committee when they welcomed executives to their top echelons.

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