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August 31, 2006

Saying No to School Laptops

Jessica Vascellaro:

Ms. Adam is part of a backlash against programs that equip every student in a classroom with a computer. A few years ago, such programs, which aim to better engage and train students by giving them round-the-clock computer access, were introduced in schools across the country -- often with encouragement from the large computer makers, such as Apple and Dell Inc., that win the contracts. But now, some parents and educators are having second thoughts over higher-than-anticipated costs and the potential for inappropriate use by kids. At the same time, there is a sense that the vaunted benefits of constant computer access remain unproven. The programs are increasingly under attack -- and in a few cases are crumbling.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:57 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Millions on The Breakfast Table

Roger Thurow:

Twenty-nine million children, most from low-income families, eat federally funded lunch in school. But only nine million eat school breakfast. To federal and state officials, that gap is a big reason for the persistence of childhood hunger in America.

To entrepreneur Gary Davis, it's also a business opportunity. Those 20 million unserved breakfasts translate into nearly $2 billion in federal money that could be claimed from school-feeding programs, but has been left on the table each year. In the summer of 2004 Mr. Davis wondered: What if he could get all the children who eat lunch in school to eat breakfast, too?

His answer: a grab-and-go meal of cereal, crackers and fruit juice, in small boxes that could be distributed on buses, in the cafeteria or in the first-period classroom. He launched his product at the beginning of last school year, and by the end, he says he was selling three million of them a month.

Long-neglected, school breakfast is becoming a sought-after market for business. At the same time, that business is driving participation in an underused government social program. Earlier this month, Kellogg Co. began selling its own breakfast-in-a-box to schools, which includes cereal, a Pop-Tart or graham crackers, and juice. Tyson Foods Inc. is adapting its popular lunchtime chicken nuggets and patties into smaller sizes for breakfast. Scores of other companies also are pitching breakfast items to schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:50 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

August 30, 2006

A Better Breakfast Can Boost a Child's Brainpower

Allison Aubrey

Attention, children: Do not skip breakfast -- or your grades could pay a price.

Evidence suggests that eating breakfast really does help kids learn. After fasting all night, a developing body (and brain) needs a fresh supply of glucose -- or blood sugar. That's the brain's basic fuel.

"Without glucose," explains Terrill Bravender, professor of pediatrics at Duke University, "our brain simply doesn't operate as well. People have difficulty understanding new information, [they have a] problem with visual and spatial understanding, and they don't remember things as well."

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

Spellings on "Tweaking NCLB"

Lois Romano:

Saying that the federal government has "done about as much" as it can in many ways, Spellings noted that states need to do much of the remaining work on NCLB in order to meet the goal of reading proficiency by 2014.

"They have made a lot of progress on standards, measurement, data and focusing on teachers' credentials," she said, adding that there is still work to be done involving school structure. Among areas for focus, she cited how courses are allocated, the use of personnel and academic rigor.

"There are a lot of issues that relate to the grown-ups and that is the next big thing. I mean, how is Joel Klein going to do school restructuring in low-performing schools?" she said, referring to the chancellor of New York City schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:32 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Maryland Teacher Merit Pay

John Wagner:

"Merit pay is obviously something that has been very controversial around the country," Ehrlich acknowledged to the board, calling his plan "a step in that direction."

Ehrlich and his aides provided few details yesterday about the scope of the proposed program, saying much remains to be worked out. Ehrlich said he would leave it to local jurisdictions to decide whether to participate.

Phil M and TeacherL recently had a fascinating dialogue regarding merit pay.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:26 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Fall Referendum Climate: Local Property Taxes & Income Growth

Voters evaluating the Madison School District's November referendum (construct a new far west side elementary school, expand Leopold Elementary and refinance District debt) have much to consider. Phil Brinkman added to the mix Sunday noting that "total property taxes paid have grown at a faster pace than income".

A few days later, the US Census Bureau notes that Wisconsin's median household income declined by $2,226 to $45,956 in 2004/2005. [Dane County data can be viewed here: 2005 | 2004 ] Bill Glauber, Katherine Skiba and Mike Johnson:

Some said it was a statistical blip in the way the census came up with the new figures of income averaged over two years.

"These numbers are always noisy, and you can get big changes from year to year," said Laura Dresser of the Center on Wisconsin Strategy.

David Newby, head of the state's AFL-CIO, didn't make much of the new numbers, either.

"My hunch is (wages) have been pretty stagnant," he said. "We have not seen major swings."

Others, though, seized on the data as significant. This is, after all, a big election year, with big stakes, including control of Congress and control of the governor's mansion in Madison.

U.S. Rep. Mark Green of Green Bay, the Republican candidate for governor, said in a statement that the data showed that "Wisconsin's families saw just about the biggest drop in their income in the entire country."

However, Matt Canter, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle, said the census information "is totally inconsistent with other current indicators," adding that the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows an increase in average wages.

The complete census report can be found here 3.1MB PDF:
This report presents data on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in the United States based on information collected in the 2006 and earlier Annual Social and Economic Supplements (ASEC) to the Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Real median household income increased between 2004 and 2005.2 Both the number of people in poverty and the poverty rate were not statistically different between 2004 and 2005. The number of people with health insurance coverage increased, while the percentage of people with health insurance coverage decreased between 2004 and 2005. Both the number and the percentage of people without health insurance coverage increased between 2004 and 2005. These results were not uniform across demographic groups. For example, the poverty rate for non-Hispanic Whites decreased, while the overall rate was statistically unchanged.

This report has three main sections - income, poverty, and health insurance coverage. Each one presents estimates by characteristics such as race, Hispanic origin, nativity, and region. Other topics include earnings of year round, full-time workers; poverty among families; and health insurance coverage of children. This report also contains data by metropolitan area status, which were not included last year due to the transition from a 1990-based sample design to a 2000-based sample design.

I'm certain there will be plenty of discussion on the state household income decline.


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

Do PTA's Matter?

Steve Barr:

I want to use today's post to ask all you eduwonkers a serious question. Do PTA's matter? I know they matter at local schools where parents rally around a school. I mean, do they matter in a systematic change kind of way. Can any real change happen in this country without a pure, loud, parent revolt? In my experience building charter high schools in the highest need areas in Los Angeles where dropout rates can hit 70%, I can't find a PTA. These are areas where generations have dropped out. In Los Angeles the PTA seems to be against everything. Is it that way across the country? Is it the way they are funded? Do they attract the same people who use to dominate student government? In response to this we bring you the Los Angeles Parents Union.

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

August 29, 2006

Help for the Child Who Says No to School

Jane Brody:

James, a tall, bright, personable 12-year-old, had been successful socially, athletically and scholastically all through elementary school.

But everything fell apart when he had to move on to a large centralized middle school. Never a morning person, James now had to get up at 6 a.m. instead of 7:30 to catch the bus. Once at school, he had trouble finding his way around and arrived late for many of his classes. Rather than asking for reasons, which included being bullied and hit by several older boys, his teachers simply gave him late marks and detention.

James’s grades plummeted, and his feelings about school crashed with them. He couldn’t sleep at night. He started missing school a few days a week, then found himself unable to go at all. His parents were understanding and spoke to school authorities about his problems, but nothing anyone did seemed to make things better, not even disconnecting the television and computer to reduce the “rewards” of staying home.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:02 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Involving Families in High School and College Expectations

Jennifer Dounay [PDF]:

he numbers are astonishing and unfortunately all too familiar – while four in five high school students expect to complete a college degree, fewer than a third will actually emerge from the high-school-to-college pipeline with a baccalaureate six years after high school graduation. A growing number of parents see a college degree as absolutely necessary for their child’s success, and more students believe that they will attain this goal. But the sad fact is that only one in three will complete a college degree. This policy brief examines the troubling gap between educational aspirations, what students (and parents) need to do to achieve those expectations, and what states are doing to better communicate to students and parents the importance of being academically prepared for college and the steps to take to achieve that level of preparation.

Students (and their parents) expect they’ll finish high school and go to college

Most high school students today (and their parents) believe they should – and will – graduate from high school and complete some form of postsecondary education. As the graph below makes clear, this expectation has been rising since 1980 for every racial and socioeconomic group.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:48 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"The Ed School Disease: Part One"

Jay Matthews:

Bill Rhatican spent nine years teaching government and history at West Potomac High School in Fairfax County, Va., before he retired in June. He had been a journalist before that, and learned the power of getting his students' papers published in some form. Seeing their words in print lent an excitement to their research and writing that they could not get enough of.

But when Rhatican showed off the book full of 20-page high school essays he published each year, some professional educators, victims of the nose-in-the-air education school disease, shrugged off the result as it were just another teacher huckster gimmick. The student-written book was "non-academic," they said.

Rhatican told this story in an e-mail taking my side in the evenly-divided debate over a column "Learning From the Masters" I wrote for the Washington Post Magazine on Aug. 6. I asked why our education schools did not teach the many practical and effective methods of teaching in the inner city developed by our best instructors. I cited examples from the playbooks of four nationally renowned educators, Rafe Esquith, Mike Feinberg, Dave Levin and Jason Kamras. Each of them had much more experience with low-income kids than the average ed-school professor, and their methods -- none of them learned in ed school -- had helped produce exceptional gains in student achievement.

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

Rhode Island Puts New Limits on Local School Spending

Jeff Archer:

The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on fall 2005 data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The precollegiate education spending figures do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.

Rhode Island continues to rethink the way it pays for schools, while also sending more dollars to local districts.

Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, signed a $3.2 billion state spending plan last month for fiscal 2007 that includes $848 million for K-12 schools, a 6.2 percent hike over the $798 budget enacted last year. Of the $50 million increase, $30 million is targeted directly for local operations.

Lawmakers opted to give each district a 4.8 percent increase over last year’s amount, despite an initial proposal by the governor to base each district’s share on the size of its teacher-retirement costs. Critics said Mr. Carcieri’s plan would give more aid to wealthier districts with higher teacher-compensation levels.

The legislature also sought to control growth in local school spending with a new cap on increases in budgets requested by district school boards. By 2013, the measure will prevent school boards from proposing budgets that would hike local spending by more than 4 percent above their budgets from the previous year.

Another new law gives tax credits, up to a statewide total of $1 million, to Rhode Island companies that contribute money to scholarship funds that help students pay for tuition at private elementary and secondary schools, both secular and religious.

Meanwhile, a state legislative committee established last year to propose changes in Rhode Island’s school finance system recently hired a consultant to estimate the cost of providing a quality education in the state. Analysts expect the legislature to take up a so-called adequacy-based funding proposal next year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:51 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Randall School Turns 100

Susan Troller:

It was Madison's first far west side school. Built in open fields at the edge of the city, Randall School was created to serve an exploding population of children from brand-new neighborhoods in University Heights and Wingra Park, adjacent to the Henry Vilas Zoo.

That was in 1906.

This fall, as Randall opens its doors to returning students, it will begin observing its 100th anniversary, a celebration that will kick off officially on Sept. 30 and continue through the school year, with a final all-school picnic next spring.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:47 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

What can the MMSD sell?

Congratulations! You have been selected to write 30 second radio ads for the MMSD to recruit families and students to the district’s schools. Remember, the ads should stress what’s unique about Madison schools, and what a student will get only in Madison, because all of the area’s suburban and private schools compete for the same students; so the ads should subtly contrast the MMSD with those competitors. The ads cannot just say, “Madison has excellent, dedicated teachers and staff,” because every school district probably says the same thing.

The ads need to target familes with students of various ages, so we need at least three ads, separately targeting elementary, middle, and high school. You might consider speciality ads for families from various cultures and races.

Post your ads (not lengthy discussions) as responses to this post.

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Student SAT Results Released

Madison Metropolitan School District [SAT Wisconsin Report - 244K PDF]:

Madison students taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scored significantly above their state and local peers, continuing a trend of more than a decade.

Madison students' composite score was 1251, well above Wisconsin students' composite score of 1188 and the national composite of 1021. (See tables below for details.) The composite score combines a student's math and verbal scores on the test. Each section of the test is worth 800 points.

For the first time, the SAT was expanded to include a writing test, however, several Madison seniors took the SAT prior to the change, so the writing sample is not included in the composite totals. But the 370 Madison students who did take the writing test had a mean score of 599, compared with 577 for state students and 497 nationally.

The participation rate by Madison seniors was 22.6%, down from 24% last year. Only 402 students took the SAT test. Most Madison students take the ACT college entrance exam, with 70% of Madison seniors taking the ACT in 2005-2006.

SAT Score Comparison by Year:

Year      Madison   Wisconsin US
2005-06   1251      1188      1021
2004-05   1266      1191      1028
2003-04   1250      1183      1027
2002-03   1241      1179      1026
2001-02   1242      1182      1020
2000-01   1229      1180      1020
1999-00   1257      1181      1019
1998-99   1248      1179      1016
1997-98   1254      1175      1017
1996-97   1247      1169      1016
1995-96   1229      1163      1013
Year      Madison   Wisconsin US
2005-06   617       588       503   
2004-05   624       592       508
2003-04   615       587       508
2002-03   606       585       507
2001-02   606       583       504
2000-01   603       584       506
1999-00   618       584       505
1998-99   609       584       505
1997-98   614       581       505
1996-97   616       579       505
1995-96   608       577       505
Year      Madison   Wisconsin US
2005-06   634       600       518
2004-05   642       599       520
2003-04   635       596       518
2002-03   635       594       519
2001-02   636       599       516
2000-01   626       596       514
1999-00   639       597       514
1998-99   639       595       511
1997-98   640       594       512
1996-97   631       590       511
1995-96   621       586       508

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Madison, WI 53703



There's been quite a discussion of the recently released ACT scores here and here.

Much more on the SAT here.

Jay Matthews:

At a press conference in Washington, College Board officials blamed the drop in scores not on increased test difficulty, but on fewer students taking it more than once. They emphasized, however, their concern that SAT reading scores have been virtually unchanged in the past 30 years and that students are reporting a decline in the amount of composition and grammar lessons they are getting in their English courses.

The officials rejected the view of many students, counselors and SAT preparatory course teachers that the score drop was the result of fatigue from the longer test. The new SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes and can take more than four hours, counting breaks.

Joanne Jacobs:
The highlight of the standards report is: It Takes a Vision: How Three States Created Great Academic Standards by me [200K PDF
]. Working as a freelancer, I analyzed the development of standards -- the politics, the players and the passion -- in Massachusetts, California and Indiana, all of which got top ratings from Fordham.
Alan Borsuk:
Whatever the reason for the drop, it hit a sour note just as students nationwide are launching or are about to launch a new school year.

The combined drop in reading and math scores on the nation's most widely used college entrance exam was 7 points, from 1028 out of a possible 1600 last year to 1021 this year.

Officials of the College Board in the past have said increases of similar size were significant good news. This time, they said little should be read into the downturn.

The decline contrasted with the largest one-year increase in 20 years nationwide in scores on the ACT, the other major college entrance test. ACT officials said this month that the average rose from 20.9 a year ago to 21.1 this year, on a scale of 1 to 36.

In some ways, Wisconsin didn't play much of a role in either the SAT or ACT trends - and that was good news because of how well Wisconsin students do on each of the tests, officials said.

Karen Arenson:
Instead, the officials attributed the drop to a decline in the number of students who took the exam more than once. The board said 47 percent of this year’s students took the test only once, up from 44 percent last year. The number taking the test three times fell to less than 13 percent from nearly 15 percent.

Students typically gain 14 points a section when they take the test a second time, and another 10 or 11 points a section on the third try.

The SAT writing test includes a 25-minute essay, which counts for about 30 percent of the writing score, and 49 multiple-choice questions on grammar and usage, which count for the rest. The average score on the writing section was 497 out of a possible 800, the board said.

Also gaining attention is the impact of the new writing section on average male-female SAT score differences. Historically, men have had higher average scores than women, not just on the SAT overall but also on both its verbal and math subsections--a departure from other assessments where men tend to do better than women on math (with a few caveats), but women tend to do better on verbal skills. But women did do better than men, on average, on the new writing section, lowering the the male-female score gap from 42 points in 2005 to 26 points this year. In addition to the writing section, the new critical reading section, which eliminated the infamous verbal analogies, probably also made the test more female-friendly, since verbal analogies are one of the few areas of verbal skills in which men typically outperform women, and the difference between men's critical reading scores this year and their verbal skills last year is larger than that for women.

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

Minority AP Class Success

James Hohmann:

California education officials call AP Spanish Language an important gateway to success in other honors classes -- a way for struggling students to sharpen Spanish skills and gain confidence to try advanced English, math and science courses later.

"For the Latino students, the key is getting them to see success in their language," said Sallie Wilson, the Advanced Placement consultant at the California Department of Education.
"We want the underrepresented students to get one under their belt and learn what the whole process is about," she said. "It's all about the peer relationship that says, `Hey man, this is a pretty cool class".

Many schools see their AP tests as a springboard for minority groups that historically were shut out from the upper echelons of the classroom. And now those schools are doing more to encourage Latino students to take a chance on any of the 34 rigorous tests -- from biology to Latin -- that can translate to college credit.

Some students say a stigma can deter them and their Latino classmates from trying challenging classes.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Fordham Foundation: Wisconsin DPI Academic Standards = D-

Alan Borsuk:

It's the fourth time in three months that a national study has accused state officials of shirking their responsibilities, particularly to minority students and those from low-income homes. Two national education reformers said Monday that Department of Public Instruction officials have misled citizens about their work to improve the quality of education in Wisconsin.

The report being released today by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington uses harsh terms in critiquing the standards that are intended to guide instruction in Wisconsin schools. "Depth is nowhere to be found," it said of the science standards. "This document has no structure or method," it said of the world history standards. "Skimpy content and vague wording," it said in describing the math standards.

In June, a different group ranked Wisconsin No. 1 in the country in frustrating the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Also in June, a third organization focused on Milwaukee and Wisconsin as examples of places where more inexperienced - and therefore, less proficient - teachers are disproportionately assigned to high-needs schools. And two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education rejected as inadequate Wisconsin's plans for dealing with federal requirements that every student have a "highly qualified" teacher.

Is there a drumbeat in the bad grades for Wisconsin's efforts to raise the bar in education?

Not surprisingly, DPI officials disagreed on almost every point. Tony Evers, the deputy state superintendent of public instruction, said the DPI was moving forward in addressing the concerns in all of the reports, was meeting all the requirements of federal law, and had made closing the achievement gaps in Wisconsin a high priority.

He said that, separate from the Fordham report, the DPI was getting started on redoing the state's academic standards, which have not changed in a decade or so.

Evers said if there is a theme common to the four reports, it is that all are premised on creating more of a national system of standards and testing for students, something Wisconsin educators do not favor.

Bill Chrisofferson has moreas does former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

August 28, 2006

Making The Grade

Chris Whittle:

Quiz: Of the 10 largest school systems, which have made the best gains in student scores? Answer: Philadelphia and New York. Between 2002 and 2005 for grades K-8, Philly gained 19.5 points in proficiency on the state assessment system, while NYC schools posted a 13-point increase on state exams. Even if you normalize for the different gains made in various states, you get the same rankings: Philly No. 1, NYC No. 2.

In 2002, only 21% of Philadelphia students were proficient. By 2005, that nearly doubled to 40%. At its current pace, Philadelphia will increase the proficiency of its students by more than 25 points across five years. That has life-changing consequences for a quarter of its students: One who would have dropped out might now graduate. Another who would have gotten into college might now get into a better one.

In sharp contrast to years past, most big public school systems are now producing achievement gains. That's to be applauded, but educational leadership can learn much from two cities with multiyear trajectories two to three times those of their similar-sized peers. Each has managed to put (and keep) together a group of factors that drive academic success, and that others may want to replicate:

The fourth success factor may seem at odds with the third. While Messrs. Vallas and Klein believe in a robust, central system to support their schools, they promote educational competition within their cities. Have they concluded that it may not be possible to move to a complete free market of education in the near term; and, in the meantime, the old but improved system should coexist with a bevy of new educational providers? Or do they believe that one major educational provider with multiple smaller competitors is a preferable course that pushes all schools to higher performance levels? Whatever their philosophy, their actions are clear. Mr. Vallas now presides over a district where roughly 25% of schools are charters or managed by private institutions. Mr. Klein has increased the presence of charters and alternative providers -- and argued that New York's legislature should lift the cap on charters. He's also given unprecedented freedom to a quarter of the sites within his system, those he deems to be most capable of managing their freedom -- as long as they agree to be held accountable if their children fail to improve.

More on Chris Whittle.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:38 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Fall Referendum: Madison School District Boundary Changes


Regardless how people in Madison vote this November the school board will make boundary changes, forcing some students into new schools. Two options were chosen Monday night to deal with overcrowding. The first option reflects what the district would look like if the referendum passes. The second option on the table is in case it doesn't pass
Susan Troller:
bout 510 students will move if the new school, located west of County M in a rapidly developing area of new homes, is approved and built. If the referendum fails, over 225 students will move and program changes, including converting art and music rooms to classrooms and increasing class size, will be necessary to gain capacity, said Mary Gulbrandsen, the district's chief of staff.

School Board members also voted unanimously on Monday to return over $291,000 to the School District's contingency fund if the referendum passes. That amount represents money already approved to construct the addition at Leopold, which came out of the district's operating budget.

Board member Lawrie Kobza said she felt the public was asking good questions about the referendum, and that it was the board's responsibility to work hard to develop good answers.

An area of concern for Kobza is that the proposed new school does little to change the substantial discrepancy between schools with high and low concentrations of low-income students.

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

At Top Public School, Rising Stars Dodge Falling Ceiling Tiles

Diya Gullapalli:

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology routinely reports among the nation's highest average SAT results and number of National Merit Scholarship finalists. Ronald Reagan and Al Gore have addressed its students, and educators from overseas often tour the school in search of inspiration.

But recently, what's made the biggest impression isn't the school's supercomputer or its quantum physics lab -- it's the moldy ceilings. And the bug infestations. And the fact that the school's young whizzes have been repeatedly threatened by falling ceiling panels, light fixtures and pieces of steel air ducts.

Some classrooms were so mildewed that parents complained their kids were developing allergies and had to use inhalers. A few months ago, then-principal Elizabeth Lodal visited a particularly musty anthropology classroom, where the school newspaper quoted her as saying, "I could feel my throat closing," and, "I've got to get out of here."

Ms. Lodal, who retired this month, confirms she had trouble breathing in the classroom.

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

No More Mystery Meat

Stacy Finz:

Schools weren't always citadels of health. For years, they were more like junk food coliseums. Now, as this school year begins, cafeteria menus are being scrutinized as closely as the curriculum in preparation for compliance with recently passed legislation to better students' diets. School officials from Santa Clara to Sonoma counties are planning inventive programs to rid their halls of high-calorie and fatty foods.

Profile of Ann Cooper, Berkeley school nutrition director.

But for four people in the Bay Area, changing the way kids eat has become their life's mission.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:48 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Refocus education on core subjects"

Representative Debi Towns:

You might recall the legislation I introduced to increase Wisconsin's high school graduation requirement from two- to three-years of math and science. Based on a recent television ad by Jim Doyle, you might be led to believe that this bill was signed into law.

It wasn't.

However, the issues of increasing our math and science requirements and the lack of academically prepared high school graduates keeps surfacing. Constituents talk to me about it at their doors and at public forums, and it's the subject of national publications and state studies:

  • Revamping high school graduation standards to more closely mirror college-entrance requirements and employer needs was a nearly unanimous recommendation of the U.S. Department of Education's 19-member Commission on the Future of Higher Education this month.

  • The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance recently studied the lack of academically prepared students entering the University of Wisconsin System. Almost 17 percent of all UW freshmen took remedial math courses in 2004. At two campuses, more than half the freshmen class needed remedial math instruction. It seems wasteful that our colleges need to spend additional resources preparing students to be there. Among the recommendations of the study was more rigorous exposure in high school curricula.

  • The recently released national ACT college entrance exam scores showed that the majority of ACT-tested graduates are likely to struggle during their first year of college. Only 42 percent of test-takers are expected to earn a C or higher in college algebra, and only 27 percent are prepared enough to succeed in college biology.
I HAVE NEVER claimed that a third year of math and science for all high school graduates was a cure-all. Yet, a refocus on our core academic areas is obviously part of the solution. We need more rigorous high school curricula and the courage to increase our expectations of student performance. We also need to re-focus on the purpose for publicly funded high schools.
Via WisOpinion.

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

Milwaukee Superintendent's "Mission Impossible"

Alan Borsuk:

The new episode, starring William Andrekopoulos and debuting in many schools near you on Sept. 5, will feature:
  • Increased pressure on teachers, students and schools, as well as on the mission leader, to get better results from kids.
  • More competition from schools outside MPS, including voucher and charter schools.
  • Smaller staffs in many MPS schools, and a lot of nervousness at schools about how things are really going.
  • A group of schools bearing the new label "SMAART" (and that's not a compliment).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

August 27, 2006

The Math Was Complex, the Intentions, Strikingly Simple

George Johnson:

Last week, a reclusive Russian topologist named Grigory Perelman seemed to be playing to type, or stereotype, when he refused to accept the highest honor in mathematics, the Fields Medal, for work pointing toward the solution of Poincaré’s conjecture, a longstanding hypothesis involving the deep structure of three-dimensional objects. He left open the possibility that he would also spurn a $1 million prize from the Clay Mathematics Institute in Cambridge, Mass.

Unlike Brando turning down an Academy Award or Sartre a Nobel Prize, Dr. Perelman didn’t appear to be making a political statement or trying to draw more attention to himself. It was not so much a medal that he was rejecting but the idea that in the search for nature’s secrets the discoverer is more important than the discovery.

“I do not think anything that I say can be of the slightest public interest,” he told a London newspaper, The Telegraph, instantly making himself more interesting. “I know that self-promotion happens a lot and if people want to do that, good luck to them, but I do not regard it as a positive thing.”

Nadejda Lobastova has more. Poincaré Conjecture

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Madison's New Voting Equipment: Public Test This Week

The Madison City Clerk is holding a public test of new voting equipment this week:

This is to give notice that the Office of the Madison City Clerk will conduct a public test of the electronic voting equipment (including the AutoMark Voter Assist Terminals) in accordance with Section 5.84(1) Wisconsin State Statutes:

August 28 – September 1, 2006 8 a.m.-Noon and 2-4 p.m. (or until complete)
Room 104 of the City-County Building
210 Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Madison [Map]

Maribeth Witzel-Behl, Interim City Clerk
Check it out!

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"Why are parents subsidizing the textbooks and drama classes schools should be paying for?"

Karin Klein:

ut mostly I'll be writing checks for all the things that public school doesn't pay for anymore.

I was sifting through my check register the other day and here's how this academic year has added up:

The required locker fee was $5, then $200 for cross-country booster fee, $9 for a vocabulary book (since when do schools make us pay for textbooks?), $240 for bus transportation for my youngest kid, $100 for drama booster fee, $70 for dance booster fee, $45 for associated student body fee, $150 for track booster fee, $23 for required summer-reading books, $50 toward grad night — I've written more than $800 in checks for a free and public education.

That doesn't count various donations or incidentals. At least one spending decision was easy — I'm boycotting the PTA until it starts holding meetings when parents with regular working hours can attend.

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'Little Emperors' Learn the Hard Way in China

Ching-Ghing Ni:

If you think these children are victims of substandard public schooling, think again. Their parents paid to send them here to West Point, a popular boot camp named after the American military academy but designed to straighten out the "little emperors" of China's one-child generation.

For more than two decades, China's strict family planning policy has created a culture in which the coveted lone male heirs tend to run amok at home and in school because besotted parents forget to teach them the meaning of discipline.

One woman believes the only way to rein in all these spoiled boys is to stop sparing the rod. At Wan Guoyin's West Point, every child knows the consequences of bad behavior.

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Schools Lean on Parents to Close Budget Gaps

Sharon Noguchi:

Pamela Cutkosky sent her daughters back to school last week carrying emergency forms, permission slips and about $1,000 in checks for the school and PTA.

That's not counting the $1,000 that the foundation supporting the Palo Alto Unified School District requested from the two girls. Because Cutkosky donated to that group, Partners in Education, last spring, she's holding off a bit on her 2006-07 gift.

As schools around the South Bay open, public school parents are again engaged in a peculiar rite of the academic year: making private contributions for schools they already fund with their tax dollars. This year, the pleas are even more intense, as a growing number of community foundations vie with PTAs, home and school clubs and other groups for support.

Palo Alto illustrates the trend. This year PTAs are asking for as much as $350 per child, and the education foundation, known as PiE, is suggesting $500 a student. Teachers and supporters of sports, music, science, technology, libraries and journalism also are seeking money now.

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Want to Write? Read

Elon Journalism Professor and Pulitzer Prize Winner Michael Skube:

The schools are no different, even if their stake in creativity is more defensible. And so, in the middle schools and even elementary schools, students scribble away in journals, write skits and sketches, labor over sentences littered with misspelled words (this is called "creative spelling") and faulty grammar. The aim is not competency in the plain carpentry of prose but self-expression and creativity. It is the Little League of Art. Nothing wrong with self-expression. But it's worth asking when self-expression devolves into self-spelunking and the preening narcissism evident everywhere on the Internet.

Parents know teenagers can rattle away with ease when instant messaging friends. But for many young people, the expedient baby talk of IM-ing and text-messaging becomes "real" English, as natural as conversation and often a preferred substitute.

Ask them to write straightforward English and you would think it was a second language, even for kids whose ancestors have been here generations. Sentence structure, punctuation, the parts of speech — they are almost completely unfamiliar with any of it. Wanting to sound as if they are someone they are not, college students invariably button their verbal collars, straighten their ties and turn out sentences stiff as starched shirts.

More on Skube.

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Social Promotion

Eugene Kane:

The report card has been bothering her all summer. Now that her daughter is scheduled to start her senior year at South Division High School, Sandra questions if she's actually prepared to enter the last step of her public education.

"How can the system do something like this?" asked Sandra, who has two other children who also have attended MPS.

As a single mother who works as a cook, Sandra doubts her daughter is ready to enter the working world or attend college with grades like this.

For this beleaguered mother, something isn't right.

"She's just not up to par, but they're promoting her anyway," she said. "It's scary."

For proof, Sandra sent me a copy of her daughter's report card from last semester.

It's been a long time since I actually saw a high school report card, but I can understand Sandra's dismay at the results. Out of five classes, her daughter received a "U" in all but one. The other grade was a "D," which in my day wasn't exactly something to write home about.

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College Sophomore Advice to Freshman

Megan Twohey:

The students - from Alverno College, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, UW-Whitewater and Marquette University - offered a variety of tips and personal experiences. One had a roommate situation she didn't think would work out - at first. Another became a science major, much to her surprise. A third found help picking his classes through a Web site called

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August 26, 2006

In Schools Across U.S., the Melting Pot Overflows

Sam Dillon:

Some 55 million youngsters are enrolling for classes in the nation’s schools this fall, making this the largest group of students in America’s history and, in ethnic terms, the most dazzlingly diverse since waves of European immigrants washed through the public schools a century ago.

Millions of baby boomers and foreign-born parents are enrolling their children, sending a demographic bulge through the schools that is driving a surge in classroom construction.

It is also causing thousands of districts to hire additional qualified teachers at a time when the Bush administration is trying to increase teacher qualifications across the board. Many school systems have begun recruiting overseas for instructors in hard-to-staff subjects like special education and advanced math.

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PCRM: A Veggie Laden Lunch Line

Maria Glod:

This week, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a District-based group that promotes a vegan diet (one that excludes all animal products) and healthful, low-fat food options for children, awarded the Fairfax County school system an A in its School Lunch Report Card. None of the other 17 large U.S. school systems the group surveyed scored as high.

"Everybody is responsive to the childhood obesity epidemic, but Fairfax really pulled out all the stops," said Jeanne Stuart McVey, a spokeswoman for the group.

The Montgomery County schools, the only other local system in the report card, received a B.

Details here.

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Where The Data Aren't (And Are!)

Andrew Rotherham:

While critiquing a cage-match point that my colleague Kevin Carey made Sherman Dorn raises an important and overlooked issue. When it comes to data in education there are really two problems. The first, pretty well known, is that there is a real lack of data to answer a bunch of important questions in a serious empirical way. Two great examples, the back and forth on charter schools and the fact that we have to debate roughly how many students graduate from American public schools and use estimates to figure it out. What other $450 billion dollar industry can't give you a decent denominator on productivity?

But the second, which Sherman gets at, is that in some cases there is good data but no one is using it to ask and answer interesting and important questions...That's a more overlooked and subtle problem of incentives and politics but it's an enormous missed opportunity. What's the point of putting these powerful state data tracking systems in if no one is going to use them to ask and try to answer, best we can, some tough questions...

More here. There's been some discussion of these issues related to the recently released ACT scores.

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More time in PE doesn't add up

Nanci Hellmich:

Just increasing the amount of time students are supposed to spend in physical education class is no guarantee they'll move more, a new study shows.
Obesity experts have been calling for children to go to gym class more often to help stop obesity in young people. About one-third of children and teens in the USA are either overweight or on the brink of becoming so.

Government research shows that the percentage of high school students enrolled in daily physical education decreased from about 42% in 1991 to 33% in 2005.

Most states introduced legislation this year and in 2005 to toughen up PE requirements.

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August 25, 2006

Public Domain Audio Books

Craig Silverman:

Ms. Shallenberg’s recordings of “The Secret Garden,” “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and other works are now available, free, to anyone with an Internet connection and basic audio software. She is part of a core group of volunteers who give their voices and spare time to LibriVox, a project that produces audiobooks of works in the public domain.

“Everything I read to Henry was copyrighted,” Ms. Shallenberg said, adding that she was frustrated she couldn’t share those works. “The idea of creating audiobooks that other people could enjoy was exciting.”

LibriVox is the largest of several emerging collectives that offer free or inexpensive audiobooks of works whose copyrights have expired, from Plato to “The Wind in the Willows.” (In the United States, this generally means anything published or registered for copyright before 1923.) The results range from solo readings done by amateurs in makeshift home studios to high-quality recordings read by actors or professional voice talent.

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August 24, 2006

Embracing the California High School Exit Exam

Russlynn Ali [pdf]:

As we’ve said before, alternatives end up being a way out of educating high school students. Take New Jersey for example. New Jersey enacted an alternative to their high school exit exam for students deemed “test phobic.” Over time, though, the results told a different story: In New Jersey’s high poverty high schools, almost half of the students graduate under the alternative – in some urban high schools the fi gures rise to a full 80 and 90 percent of students. Conversely, at schools serving the fewest numbers of low-income students, only 3 percent of students take the alternative assessments. Recognizing that the alternative became a way to keep chronic low performance out of public view and under the state’s accountability radar, New Jersey has decided to cease its alternative.

All the while, as adults in Sacramento debated changes to the CAHSEE and the litigation attempting to cease the exam ensued, we heard from students, teachers and administrators who said they believed the consequences were never going to kick in, so they didn’t even try. Now, instead of focusing on ways out, there are new questions to answer. Do we believe all kids can meet a minimum standard by the end of high school and are we going to do what it takes to support them and their teachers? Can we challenge and change the cycle of low expectations that we hold for ourselves, and our leaders hold for our communities?

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Sensenbrenner on Connected Math

Running some searches recently, I came across this April, 2004 article by Lee Sensenbrenner on Connected Math. The words remain timely more than two years later:

A seventh-grader at a Madison middle school is posed with the following situation: A gas station sells soda in three sizes. A 20-ounce cup costs 80 cents, a 32-ounce cup is 90 cents and a 64-ouncer goes for $1.25.
The first question, which appeared in similar form on a recent exam, is as traditional as any mathematical story problem: What size offers the most soda for the money?

But the second question carries the spirit of the Connected Math Program, which has developed strong undercurrents of controversy - both here and nationally - and plays prominently in one of the Madison School Board races Tuesday.

This question asks: If the gas station were to offer an 84-ounce Mega Swig, what would you expect to pay for it?

There's really no concrete answer. A student, for instance, could argue that the 84-ouncer would cost what the 20-ounce and 64-ounce cups cost together. Another student could say that soda gets cheaper with volume, and then choose an answer based on some per-ounce price slightly less than what was given for the 64-ounce drink.
For the people fighting an impassioned battle over Connected Math, the differences between question number one and question number two are not subtle or inconsequential.

On one side, those who support Connected Math say that engaging students by presenting problems as real-life scenarios - often with no absolute solution or single path to arrive at an answer - fosters innovation and forces students to explain and defend their reasoning as they discover mathematical concepts.

The other side says the approach trades the clear, fundamental concepts of math, distilled through thousands of years of logical reasoning, for verbiage and vagary that may help students learn to debate but will not give them the foundation they need for more advanced mathematical study.

Many links and articles on math can be found here. The recent Math Forum is also worth checking out, along with a discussion of the District's math performance.

I'm told that the MMSD's math curriculum will be getting some attention this fall. We'll see (35 of 37 UW Math Faculty Open Letter on Math).

My largest concern with Connected Math - having read some of the books is that we're training the students to be consumers, not creative types (figure out the phone bill, count the cheerios, buy a soda, etc.). TeacherL made a great point recently: We can choose to be consumers or we can choose to be citizens. I know which one I think will provide the stronger future for our country."

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A fabulous tool for the excellent firefox web browser:

With Hyperwords™ installed in your web browser, select any text and a menu appears: searches, references, emailing, copying, blogging, translation, & more

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The Answer is Jazz, Not Schooling

John Taylor Gatto:

Saturation schooling, kindergarten through college, was a leadership response to the demands of a centralized corporate economy that replaced American/Canadian entrepreneurialism between 1880 and 1920.

What corporatism required was two things: A laboring mass - including a professional laboring mass of doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and schoolteachers - who did what they were told without question, and a citizenry in name only, one which defined itself by non-stop consumption, one which believed that choosing between options offered by management was what democracy was all about.

Lockstep schooling, driven by standardized testing, testing not to measure learning but obedience, was the mechanism used to drive out imagination and courage. It worked and still works superbly, but, like the little mill that ground salt when salt wasn't needed, this brilliant utopian construction is about to kill us.

North American economies dazzled the world for centuries because they encouraged resourcefulness, individuality and risk-taking to dominate the marketplace, and these qualities were encouraged in everyone, not just in the elites.

Three North American commercial juggernauts are currently blowing away competition all over China: computer hardware and programming, fast food franchising and commercial entertainment (singing, dancing, story-telling, games and all the rest).

Each of these businesses is almost exclusively the work of dropouts, from college, high school and elementary school. They are erected from imagination. Our fast food franchises don't really sell "food" at all, but two intense tastes - salty and sweet - surrounded by clean, well-lighted places and spotless toilets and primary colors. They sell a return to early childhood and its simplicities.

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Charting A New Course

Ann Carrns:

More than half of 53 public schools expected to be open in New Orleans by early September -- 31 schools -- will be run independently under state and local charters issued to a dozen different organizations. Charter schools receive public funding and must meet public academic standards, but have great leeway in hiring staff, setting salaries, choosing a curriculum and managing daily operations. Some groups run the schools themselves, while others have hired private companies to do so. Proponents say charter schools' independence fosters innovation and better academic performance, while critics contend that empirical studies don't show charters to be superior to more traditional schools. Regardless of that debate, many people in New Orleans see charter schools as the key to a once-in-a-lifetime chance to remake New Orleans's public education system, and to eke some good out of the horror that was Katrina.

"This is truly an opportunity to hit a restart button," said Leslie Jacobs, vice president of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. "We're taking advantage of that opportunity to design for the long term a very different model based on public-school choice."

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Half of states require exit test

Anica Butler:

Since Texas in 1987 first required students to pass a standardized test before being awarded a high school diploma, half the states have adopted similar requirements, with mostly successful results.

Educators say the tests encourage students to take more rigorous courses and require teachers to work harder. But critics say they deny diplomas to the most disadvantaged students and force teachers to "teach to the test."

"It really depends on who you ask. ... The studies go in both directions," said Kevin Carey, research and policy manager for Education Sector, a Washington think tank.

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Charter Schools Lag, Study Finds

Jay Matthews:

Fourth-graders in traditional public schools nationwide did somewhat better on average than those in charter schools in reading and mathematics in 2003, a long-awaited federal report said yesterday.

Earlier versions of the data have been used as weapons in a lively political and academic war between charter school advocates and opponents, but the new National Center for Education Statistics study appeared to provide little new ammunition for either side and little guidance for people trying to judge their schools.

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August 23, 2006

Dodging Land Mines at the School Lunch Table

Karen Batka:

I puttered around the kitchen as Grace munched on her calcium-added Goldfish and worked on long division. "Mom, what does high fat content mean?" she asked.

"Why?" I asked, choosing to answer a question with a question.

"Paige said that Lunchables aren't healthy because they have a high fat content." Once again, reality refused to cooperate with my script. I'd now lived in California long enough to witness the witch hunt mentality of the nutrition evangelists. But I had failed to consider that this school of thought had already penetrated the minds of young children.

"Well what does Paige bring for lunch?" I asked. It was time to wave the white flag of surrender.

"She brings Sushi or veggie wraps, yogurt or fruit and vitamin water."

See also Kidchow - some fabulous items on their menu [].

August 22, 2006

In Elite NY Schools, a Dip in Blacks and Hispanics, Plus Letters

Elissa Gootman:

More than a decade after the city created a special institute to prepare black and Hispanic students for the mind-bendingly difficult test that determines who gets into New York’s three most elite specialized high schools, the percentage of such students has not only failed to rise, it has declined.

The drop at Stuyvesant High School, the Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School mirrors a trend recently reported at three of the City University of New York’s five most prestigious colleges, where the proportion of black students has dropped significantly in the six years since rigorous admissions policies were adopted.

The changes indicate that even as New York City has started to bridge the racial achievement gap in the earlier grades, it has not been able to make similar headway at top public high schools and colleges. Asian enrollment at all three high schools has soared over the decade, while white enrollment has declined at two of the three schools.

Letters to the Editor regarding this article:

Published: August 22, 2006
To the Editor:

Re “In Elite Schools, a Dip in Blacks and Hispanics” (front page, Aug. 18):

We do not need test results to tell us what we already know. Black children in urban schools receive an inferior education. No amount of test preparation can make up for years of social, cultural and educational neglect.

Any real gains in the closing of the so-called achievement gap in the early grades in New York City are lost in the middle grades. These are the years when black children, boys in particular, are destroyed by the school system.

Can we blame institutional racism? Absolutely! Black children too often suffer from less qualified teachers and inadequate facilities.

The Campaign for Fiscal Equity successfully sued New York State over school financing. Now someone should challenge New York City for its educational neglect of black children.

Bernard Gassaway
Jamaica, Queens, Aug. 18, 2006
The writer is a former principal of Beach Channel High School and a former senior superintendent of alternative schools and programs for New York City.

To the Editor:

Any analysis of the declining minority populations at New York’s specialized public high schools must consider one factor: it is impossible to get a passing score on the admissions test without taking the test, and the city’s middle schools vary widely in the percentage of their students who take this test.

I offer a proposal: Administer the specialized high school exam during the school day, and make it standard for all New York City eighth graders, rather than only for those who come in on a weekend to take it.

This would not solve all the inequalities in the school system, but it would move the specialized high schools a step closer to reflecting New York City’s diversity.

Benjamin W. Dreyfus
New York, Aug. 18, 2006
The writer is a teacher at Stuyvesant High School.

To the Editor:

More than 20 years ago, when I was director of Manhattan East Junior High School, a public school in East Harlem, high-achieving and unquestionably competitive black and Hispanic students year after year did not make the cut score on the specialized high school test.

Disgusted by the failure of these tests to accurately assess our students’ knowledge and skills, we connected these students to elite private high schools like Dalton and St. Paul’s, which were impressed enough to give them full scholarships.

These students went on to get scholarships from prestigious Ivy League universities like Harvard and Dartmouth and become very productive citizens.

How tragic that the Department of Education continues a policy that keeps out some of its best and brightest students.

Jacqueline Ancess
New York, Aug. 20, 2006
The writer is co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching, Teachers College, Columbia University.

To the Editor:

The effort to help minority students test into the best science high schools does not work because the city preparatory program spends too much time on remedial work and not enough time on test preparation.

The highest-performing students are bored by the needless repetition of material they have already covered in regular class.

If New York City wants to address the racial imbalance in its best high schools, it should hire the companies that have done such a good job with Asian students and offer test preparation that works.

The Department of Education might also consider the effect of the existing racial imbalance at Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science. How many black and Hispanic students tested into those schools but chose to go elsewhere? Minority students and parents may see the stark racial imbalance as an unwelcoming environment.

Frank Douglas
New York, Aug. 18, 2006

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"Banish the Bling"

Juan Williams:

With 50 percent of Hispanic children and nearly 70 percent of black children born to single women today these young people too often come from fractured families where there is little time for parenting. Their search for identity and a sense of direction is undermined by a twisted popular culture that focuses on the "bling-bling" of fast money associated with famous basketball players, rap artists, drug dealers and the idea that women are at their best when flaunting their sexuality and having babies.

In Washington, where a crime wave is tied to these troubled young souls, the city reacts with a curfew. It is a band-aid. The real question is how one does battle with the culture of failure that is poisoning young people -- and do so without incurring the wrath of critics who say we are closing our eyes to existing racial injustice and are "blaming the victim."

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100 Black Men Back to School Backpack Filling and Give-Awa

via a Johnny Winston, Jr. email:

100 Black Men of Madison Back to School Backpack Filling and
The 10th Annual Back to School Picnic & Backpack Give-Away

For more information please contact Wayne Canty at 332-3554.

100 Black Men of Madison will distribute 2,400 backpacks to needy elementary and middle school students on Saturday August 26th at Tenney Park. But before we distribute the backpacks, the members of the 100 Black Men of Madison and numerous other volunteers will fill these backpacks with school supplies on Wednesday August 23rd and Thursday August 24th from 6 pm to 9 pm both nights at The National Guard Armory, 2402 Bowman Street. This is a great human-interest story for your readers, viewers or listeners. This is the 10th anniversary of the Back to School Picnic. The number of backpacks given to students has been growing each year from 300 the first year too 2,400 backpacks this year. This is an 800% increase in 10 years. St. Vincent de Paul, Delta Sigma Theta sorority and other members of the community will assist the 100 Black Men of Madison in their efforts for this year’s Back to School Picnic. Sponsors of this event include Target Inc, Kraft Foods, Famous Footwear, Anchor Bank, Glass Nickel, Coca Cola, and former University of Wisconsin Badger football star and Minnesota Vikings player Erasmus James.

Back Pack Stuffing will take place on Wednesday August 23rd and Thursday August 24th from 6 pm to 9 pm at the National Guard Armory at 2402 Bowman Street. Go down Wright Street past MATC Truax all the way to Mitchell Street and turn right into the Armory parking lot.

The 10th Annual Back to School Picnic will be held on Saturday August 26th at 11 am at Tenney Park Shelter located on 1338 E. Johnson St. This is a new location this year. The picnic includes free hotdogs, hamburgers and backpacks filled with school supplies for elementary and middle school students. 2,400 backpacks will be given out this year a 33% increase over last year. It is “first come, first serve.” This event will happen rain or shine. Students must be present to receive a backpack. For more information please contact Wayne Canty at 332-3554 or

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NEW - Forum for Parent Organizations

Via a Ken Syke email:

To support parent organizations in their work, the school district is now providing a vehicle to communicate with one another -- an online forum. It's meant to provide support and assistance so that you can communicate about whatever issues you wish.

It's also something that you can use, or not use.

It is intended for those who are presidents of school parent organizations. This can be one, two or, in some schools, even more persons.

This is being sent to all persons whom the Public Information Office has as a "Parent Group President". If you are not in that role this year, let us know and tell us the e-mail address for the current leader. We will be adding and deleting names as new presidents are determined.

Here's how it will go from here.

Chris Burch ( ) in the Public Information office of the district, is the administrator of the Parent Organization forum. After he creates a forum account for you, you will receive an e-mail message from him with your Username and Password. Please hang on to this information. The message will say that your account is inactive. Once Chris activates your account, you will receive another e-mail message from him letting you know that your account is now active, and you can log in with the information contained in the first e-mail. The forum is located at: Only members of the forum can read, write and reply to posts in the forum, and accounts will only be created by the administrator. This assures that your messages will be read only by fellow parent organization presidents/leaders. Chris is the only MMSD staff person who will have access. You can Log In at the above address using the last link at the top of the page. Once you log in, you can change your password by clicking on the "Profile" link at the top of the page. Enter your old password, and then your new password 2 times. Also, if you would like your posts to have some identifying information on them, such as your name, enter what you would like in the "Signature" text area. The text in this box will be added at the end of your forum posts. Once you are done making changes to your Profile, click on the "Submit" button at the bottom of your page. YOUR CHANGES WILL NOT TAKE PLACE UNTIL YOU CLICK ON THE SUBMIT BUTTON. When you are done using the forum, you can click on the "Log out" link at the top of your page, or simply close your browser. If you have any questions on how to use the forum, please e-mail Chris at or call him at 663-1916. If you wish to give us some feedback on this concept, now or in the future, please e-mail me. Thanks. Ken Syke

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

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Wisconsin CHARTER SCHOOL NEWS: Week of August 21

DPI Awards $4 Million in Charter School Grants

WCSA's New Office -- The WCSA is now located in a new office in downtown Madison. The WCSA's new address, phone, fax and email is -- Wisconsin Charter Schools Association, P.O. Box 1704, Madison, WI 53703 & Tel: 608-661-6946 & Fax: 608-258-3413 & Email: WCSA website:

WCSA's New Directors & Officers -- The WCSA Board of Directors has elected its officers for 2006-07 -- President Tom Scullen, Appleton; Vice-President Barbara Horton, Milwaukee; Secretary Sandra Mills, Menasha; and Treasurer Jim Morgan, Madison. The WCSA is governed by a 12-member Board of Directors

State Legislature's Special Study Committee on Charter Schools schedules initial meeting on September 26 --

Charter School to Focus on Health Science & Technology --

Merrill's 2 Charter School Planning Grants --

Charter School Grants to Omro, Ripon & Oshkosh --

Grant for High-Tech Virtual Charter School in Janesville --

The 2007 Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference is scheduled to be held on
April 15 - 17, 2007 (Sunday afternoon thru Tuesday) at the Country Springs
Hotel, Waukesha.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is the national umbrella organization for the WCSA and other state charter school associations. TheAlliance's 2007 National Charter Schools Conference will be held on April 24-27 in Albuquerque, NM.

CHARTER SCHOOL GRANT RECIPIENTS (i.e. Charter School Planning Groups with

Milwaukee Renaissance Academy

The Studio School

Baraboo Hills Elementary School

Senn Brown

Wisconsin Charter Schools Association

PO Box 1704, Madison, WI 53703

Tel: 608-661-6946 Fax: 608-258-3413


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The Determinants of Student Achievement in Ohio's Public Schools

Matthew Carr [pdf]:

One of the most important, and seemingly intractable, policy problems facing the state of Ohio is how to improve student achievement in public schools. This report rigorously analyzes the factors most commonly thought to affect student achievement. It uses quantitative econometric techniques to separate the factors that truly matter from the ones that only distract policy makers from effective change. To capture the changing dynamics of both different academic subjects and students at different ages, this analysis evaluates student performance in five subjects (math, reading, writing, science and citizenship) across grades 3 to 12. This combination gives us 21 separate analyses, or mathematical models. Controls were also included for geography, student socio-economic status, race, and learning disability.

This study breaks new ground by also analyzing the factors that influence student performance in charter schools. Charter schools are a new system of public schools, created by the legislature in 1997. To date they are authorized only in large cities. By assessing whether the inputs that affect achievement in traditional public schools are similar to those that affect achievement in charter schools, we can determine to what degree these two public institutions are similar.
The Buckeye Institute.

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August 21, 2006

2006 / 2007 Madison School District Bus Routes

Individual school routes are available here.

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Kids Say the Darndest Things in Their Blogs

Yuki Noguchi:

Unlike their parents, today's youth have grown up in the age of public disclosure. Keeping an Internet diary has become de rigueur; social lives and private thoughts are laid bare. For parents in high-profile positions, however, it means their children can exploit a generational disconnect to espouse their own points of view, or expose private details perhaps their parents wish they would not.

"All the things I've typed in my blog I've argued with my father about," like whether mergers hurt customers, something Jared Watts said he thinks does inconvenience consumers. But publicly criticizing his company is not the same as a personal attack on the father who supports him "100 percent," he said.

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"The Value of Vouchers"

Thomas Reeves:

The voucher system is still fighting its way through state legislatures and the courts. The concept of giving school money directly to parents and letting them choose schools for their children breaks the well established precedent in this country of sending almost all children to public schools, where they were given courses in traditional subject matter and taught patriotic and moral values common to most American citizens. Indeed, there is a case against vouchers.

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Too Few Overachievers

Jay Matthews:

News editors and book publishers are susceptible to Robbins's argument because many of them live in such places, where family incomes are in the top 5 percent nationally and talk about school stress in rampant. It would be almost a relief to many educators if these families, and their highly motivated students, were typical and overachievement were the greatest threat to high school education today. But the sad truth is quite the opposite.

And what of that overload of AP courses? Newsweek's annual high school rankings indicate that only 5 percent of U.S. public high schools have students averaging more than one AP test a year. The demands made on our most disadvantaged students in the inner cities, who are almost never mentioned in Robbins's book, are pitifully below even the low standards for our average suburban neighborhoods. Some educators think this lack of academic challenge is one reason why nearly half of college students eventually drop out.

If they are not doing much homework in high school, what are they up to? The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research collects time diaries from American teenagers. These documents make clear our youth are not taking long walks in the woods or reading Proust. Instead, 15- to 17-year-olds on average between 2002 and 2003 devoted about 3 1/2 hours a day to television and other "passive leisure" or playing on the computer. (Their average time spent in non-school reading was exactly seven minutes a day. Studying took 42 minutes a day.)

Rotherham has more.

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Who got the money? Johnny won't answer.

In using MMSD resources and to promote his basketball event, Johnny Winston, Jr.'s announcements said:

This year’s proceeds will go toward “The Campaign to Promote Student Achievement and Parent Involvement in Schools.”

I have e-mailed him twice to ask for details about the campaign, and he has not answered. Laurie Frost also raised this question in response to Johnny's post and received no response.

I searched the online records of the Department of Regulation and Licensing for a charitable organization by that name. Nothing. I searched the records of the Department of Financial Institutions for a corporation by that name. Nothing. I searched the Internet, and the name only appears in the announcements Johnny distributed.

Johnny's silence makes me wonder whether any such campaign exists, and whether he misused MMSD resources, his political position, and the public's trust. I hope that I'm wrong.

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Math Disaster

NYC Teacher Bruce Winokur:

Teaching mathematics has been my profession in New York City public schools since 1969, first at I.S. 201 in District 5, then at J.H.S. 17 in District 2, and since 1983, at Stuyvesant High School. I'm also the father of a 10-year-old daughter who attends District 2 schools and a member of an organization, Nychold (, dedicated to bringing sanity to math education.

I'm a firm believer in public education, the great equalizer. Sadly, over the past 10 years, I've witnessed how badly things can go wrong. I am referring specifically to the constructivist math curricula that abound in our city public schools in general and more specifically in District 2, where I live, teach, and raise my daughter.

Constructivist curricula, such as TERC and CMP, forsake algorithms, postulates, and theorems (the foundation of math) as well as teacher-centered learning. Instead, they have students working among themselves in groups, loosely guided by the teacher in a drawn out attempt to "discover" math truths.

In my Upper East Side neighborhood, an incredible number of intelligent young students from the fourth grade and up are seeing private math tutors. Many of these are not the type of children who would normally struggle in arithmetic or elementary algebra. As a result of the way they're taught elementary math, they find themselves unable to do real math. When they're taught math in a more traditional way by their tutors, they invariably find themselves relieved and highly critical of the way they've been taught mathematics.

At Stuyvesant, we have a disproportionate number of freshmen from District 2 taking our introductory algebra course. Most Stuyvesant students have already completed that course before they enter our school. The ratio of District 2 students to non-District 2 students in those classes is close to twice that same ratio in the freshman class as a whole.

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In competition for students, schools market selves more

Sarah Carr:

"When I first started in education, marketing wasn't something you even had to do," said Suzanne Kirby, principal of MPS' Bell Middle School. Now the south side school has a more strategic effort in place. Kirby cleared her schedule for the summer and invited any prospective family in for a personal tour of the school. She's also designated the school's orchestra director "marketing guy" and has given him some time off in his schedule to visit feeder elementary schools.

Bell teacher ElHadji Ndaw says such efforts are important because "if you have fewer students, you have fewer teachers," and the quality of your programs can deteriorate since so much of school's funding is tied to the number of students.

Then, "if you get down below 300 students," he adds, "they think about closing you."

There are different perspectives on this issue, as Marcia Gevelinger Bastian noted last fall:
Many of us believe that all students and families are valuable to the district and that we should actively work to meet all needs and consider all input. When a family who supports and contributes to a school chooses to leave, that seems so sad. I was hoping that representatives of the district may feel the same way. As for me, I was told “West is not in competition for your children”. Ouch!! I suspect that many in the district do not agree with the spirit of that statement.

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August 20, 2006

Writing Off Reading

Michael Skube:

In our better private universities and flagship state schools today, it's hard to find a student who graduated from high school with much lower than a 3.5 GPA, and not uncommon to find students whose GPAs were 4.0 or higher. They somehow got these suspect grades without having read much. Or if they did read, they've given it up. And it shows -- in their writing and even in their conversation.

A few years ago, I began keeping a list of everyday words that may as well have been potholes in exchanges with college students. It began with a fellow who was two months away from graduating from a well-respected Midwestern university.

"And what was the impetus for that?" I asked as he finished a presentation.

At the word "impetus" his head snapped sideways, as if by reflex. "The what?" he asked.

"The impetus. What gave rise to it? What prompted it?"

I wouldn't have guessed that impetus was a 25-cent word. But I also wouldn't have guessed that "ramshackle" and "lucid" were exactly recondite, either. I've had to explain both. You can be dead certain that today's college students carry a weekly planner. But they may or may not own a dictionary, and if they do own one, it doesn't get much use. ("Why do you need a dictionary when you can just go online?" more than one student has asked me.)

As freshmen start showing up for classes this month, colleges will have a new influx of high school graduates with gilded GPAs, and it won't be long before one professor whispers to another: Did no one teach these kids basic English? The unhappy truth is that many students are hard-pressed to string together coherent sentences, to tell a pronoun from a preposition, even to distinguish between "then" and "than." Yet they got A's.

Exit exams have become almost a necessity because the GPA is not to be trusted. In my experience, a high SAT score is far more reliable than a high GPA -- more indicative of quickness and acuity, and more reflective of familiarity with language and ideas. College admissions specialists are of a different view and are apt to label the student with high SAT scores but mediocre grades unmotivated, even lazy.

Bill McCoy has more.

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Two-year schools add four-year option

Becky Bartindale:

ndiana University's 90 30 program is just one model. It allows students to take 90 semester units at a community college and the final 30 units through correspondence or online courses at the equivalent of Indiana in-state tuition rates. In addition to Gavilan, the Indiana program is being offered at 16 other community colleges in California, including De Anza in Cupertino, Hartnell College in Salinas, Santa Rosa Junior College and City College of San Francisco.

Other area schools also are developing collaborative relationships that let students earn bachelor's degrees without leaving the community college campus.

This fall, the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in Palo Alto will offer courses leading to a bachelor's degree in psychology at De Anza College in Cupertino. The new program, which emphasizes the importance of social justice, is the first bachelor's degree offered by a professional school known for its doctoral programs. Tuition this year will be about $27,500.

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Improving School Food

Lisa Belkin:

By any health measure, today’s children are in crisis. Seventeen percent of American children are overweight, and increasing numbers of children are developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, which, until a few years ago, was a condition seen almost only in adults. The obesity rate of adolescents has tripled since 1980 and shows no sign of slowing down. Today’s children have the dubious honor of belonging to the first cohort in history that may have a lower life expectancy than their parents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted that 30 to 40 percent of today’s children will have diabetes in their lifetimes if current trends continue.

The only good news is that as these stark statistics have piled up, so have the resources being spent to improve school food. Throw a dart at a map and you will find a school district scrambling to fill its students with things that are low fat and high fiber.

But there is one big shadow over all this healthy enthusiasm: no one can prove that it works. For all the menus being defatted, salad bars made organic and vending machines being banned, no one can prove that changes in school lunches will make our children lose weight. True, studies show that students who exercise more and have healthier diets learn better and fidget less, and that alone would be a worthwhile goal. But if the main reason for overhauling the cafeteria is to reverse the epidemic of obesity and the lifelong health problems that result, then shouldn’t we be able to prove we are doing what we set out to do?

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Cosby's Ongoing Passion

Eugene Kane:

ut Bill Cosby still cares about the issues he's been talking about all over the country in a one-man campaign to send a message to African-Americans about personal responsibility, good parenting and the need for education.

Even when Cosby's mainly in town to make people laugh, the plight of black America is never far from his mind.

But Cosby is also the recently outspoken social critic who has held community meetings in black neighborhoods across America designed to address nagging problems related to the under-performance of black students, black parents and black leaders in general.

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Expanding High School Rigor

Nick Anderson:

To that end, Deasy proposed that by the 2007-08 school year each of the county's 22 major high schools should offer at least eight AP courses, which are meant to introduce students to college-level study. Currently, AP offerings in the county vary widely. Many high schools have only a few.

The College Board, which oversees the AP program, will help the school system train a new corps of 200 AP teachers over the next year. In addition, the school system plans to expand subsidies for AP test fees to help ensure that needy students take the tests.

"It's a monumental culture shift," Deasy said. "AP will be on the tongue of every kid around here before too long."

Michael Marchionda, a College Board official working on the project, called it "a multiyear effort" to widen student access to AP. "It's very comprehensive," he said.

The county school board will consider the plan Thursday and is expected to support it.

"People asked for rigor," said Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro). "We've got rigor."

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August 19, 2006

"Aiming for Diversity, Textbooks Overshoot"

Daniel Golden:

The prop room on the fourth floor of Houghton Mifflin Co.'s offices here holds all manner of items, including a blackboard, a globe, an aquarium -- and a wheelchair.

Able-bodied children selected through modeling agencies pose in the wheelchair for Houghton Mifflin's elementary and secondary textbooks. If they're the wrong size for the wheelchair, they're outfitted with red or blue crutches, says photographer Angela Coppola, who often shoots for the publishing house.

Ms. Coppola estimates that at least three-fourths of the children portrayed as disabled in Houghton Mifflin textbooks actually aren't. "It's extremely difficult to find a disabled kid who's willing and able to model," she says. Houghton Mifflin, which acknowledges the practice, says it doesn't keep such statistics.

Houghton Mifflin's little-known stratagem illustrates how a well-intentioned effort to make classroom textbooks more reflective of the country's diversity has led publishers to overcompensate and at times replace one artificial vision of reality with another.

To facilitate state approval and school-district purchasing of their texts, publishers set numerical targets for showing minorities and the disabled. In recent years, the quest to meet these targets has ratcheted to a higher level as technological improvements enable publishers to customize books for individual states, and as photos and illustrations take up more textbook space.

"There's more textbook space devoted to photos, illustrations and graphics than there's ever been, but frequently they have nothing to do with the lesson," says Diane Ravitch, a New York University professor and author of "The Language Police," a 2003 study of textbook censorship. "They're just there for political reasons, to show diversity and meet a quota of the right number of women, minorities and the disabled."

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August 18, 2006

Joel Klein on Education Reform

Joel Klein, Chanceller - New York City Department of Education [pdf]. Andrew Rotherham has more:

education reform involves changing a culture that has inhabited our school systems for decades. It is a culture that claims to be in the business of educating children but puts schools, and the people who work in them, at the bottom of the organizational chart. It is a culture that stifles innovation. It is a culture that seeks to preserve the existing arrangements for the adults who work in the system, and, all too often, it does so at the expense of the kids who most need our schools to work for them.

Not to sound like a giddy big think type, but we really are at a transformative time in public education. The pressure to shift to a system that focuses on performance is firmly embedded in public policy and generational shift is taking place in the leadership, teaching, and policymaking communities. Both are enormous challenges but also enormous opportunities. What makes Klein a lightening rod is not that everything he's tried in New York hasn't always panned out, it's that he's on the edge of this change and so almost regardless of the results he's going to be catching hell for a while.

The shift from uniformity to differentiation could be the most important over time for the continued success of public education as a broadly supported institution."

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August 17, 2006

Black students boost ACT scores

Madison students continue to top state average
By TCT staff, news services

Madison high school students bested the state ACT test score average once again for the 12th straight year, with scores of African-American students rising at a greater pace than all other students.

ACT test score comparisons were released today.

According to the Madison Metropolitan School District, the composite score for Madison students was 24.2, or two points higher than the statewide average of 22.2 and more than three points higher than the national average of 21.1. A perfect score is 36.

African-American students in Madison scored an average composite of 18.8, a 6 percent increase from the 17.7 average in 2005, while Asian students had a 23.0 composite this year (22.1 in 2005) and Hispanic students a 21.8 composite (21.5 in 2005).

The big increase in black students' scores closed the gap on white students' scores locally, with the white students composite of 24.8, 24 percent higher than the black students composite, down from a 30 percent gap last year.

The overall Madison composite of 24.2 is a tenth of a point lower than last year, but test scores for Madison students have stayed in the lower 24s for the past 10 years, keeping the two-point advantage over the rest of Wisconsin.

The average ACT scores of Wisconsin's high school seniors remained second-best in the nation this year, one-tenth of a point behind Minnesota and more than a full point above the national average.

State students graduating in 2006 had an average composite score of 22.2, the same score that Wisconsin students achieved for the last six years. It was the 10th best score in the nation, but second among the 25 states in which at least 50 percent of students took the test.

Wisconsin also ranked second to Minnesota in 2005 after holding the top spot for 10 straight years.

The test scale ranges from 1 to 36 and covers math, science, English and reading.

The national average composite score was 21.1, up from 20.9 last year, according to results prepared for release today. Minnesota students led the nation with an average composite score of 22.3.

Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster attributed Wisconsin's high performance to the number of students taking a college-preparatory curriculum.

"We, parents and educators, must continue to encourage young people to engage in a rigorous high school curriculum," she said.

Asian students in Wisconsin scored a composite average of 20.4, American Indians scored 20.1, Hispanics scored 19.6 and blacks scored 17.0. White students in Wisconsin scored an average of 22.6.

The scores by ethnic group in the state have remained consistent over the last five years.

The number of Wisconsin students who took the test was 44,275, about a 3 percent drop over last year. Over the same period, the number of students across the country who took the test increased by 1.7 percent.

More Wisconsin students than the national average exceeded several benchmarks considered indicators that students can handle college-level work. About 77 percent of Wisconsin students met the mark in English, 52 percent in math, 61 percent in reading and 35 percent in science.

Wisconsin's average scores for the individual subjects each topped the national average. Students' scores in the state remained constant over 2005 in English, math and reading - 21.5, 22.0 and 22.4 respectively. The students scored 22.2 in science, down one-tenth of a point.

Published: August 16, 2006

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Superintendent's evaluation

Here's what the superintendent's life-time contract language says about the superintendent's evaluation:

PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS: Each year before the first day of school, the Board and superintendent must establish performance expectations for the next year in writing based on his duties and responsibilities under the contract and any other criteria mutally agree upon.

MEASURABLE OUTCOMES: "To the extent possible, all performance expectations shall have measurable outcomes".

JULY 30 DEADLINE: After setting performance expectations, the Board must meet with the superintendent to discuss his evaluation no later than July 30.

Two types of appraisals are required.

SPECIFIC RESULTS & ACCOMPLISHMENTS BASED ON PERFORMANCE EXPECTATIONS: The written performance expectations must include goals that reflect the superintendent's priorities for the improvement programs, projects and activities to be undertaken. Prior to meeting with the Board for his evaluation, the superintendent must complete a self-evaluation that summarizes his progress on each goal.

PERFORMANCE CATEGORIES---PLANNING, ORGANIZING, LEADING, SUPERVISING AND JOB KNOWLEDGE: In each category the Board must indicate the type of evidence of performance and data sources that will be used to evaluate the superintendent's performance.

SURVEYS OF OTHER ADMINISTRATORS: The Board must distribute surveys about the superintendent's performance in the five categories to individuals who report directly to him and a random selection of other administrators.

Has the board met the contract requirements? No one knows.

Last year Ruth Robarts posted news of the evaluation.

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Human Resources Committee of Madison Board To Set Agenda

On Monday, August 21 the Human Resources Committee of the Madison School Board will have its first meeting at 7:00 p.m. in Room 103 of the Doyle Administration Building (545 West Dayton Street).

Following a goal-setting meeting of the Board on June 19, the committee will address a number of important issues, beginning with alternative ways that the district could negotiate health insurance coverage for its employees with the goal of providing the same quality service, higher wages and savings for the district. Committee members this year are Shwaw Vang and Lawrie Kobza. I am the chair.

To: Human Resources Committee & Staff
From: Ruth Robarts
Date: August 17, 2006

RE: Goals and agenda for HR Committee for 2006-07 and schedule for meetings

Below are the issues identified at the Board’s June 19, 2006 meeting for the Human Resources Committee for 2006-07 and a proposed calendar for addressing the issues. At our planning meeting on August 21, I hope that we can agree to set calendar for regular meetings (a set Monday of each month and a set meeting time). I have contacted Bob Butler, a Wisconsin Association of School Boards consultant, to make a presentation on approaches to negotiating employee health insurance. Bob has agreed to make a presentation but I cannot reach him before Monday in order to find out when he’s available on a Monday in September.

I look forward to talking with you about our goals.


Health Insurance

• Review impact of current employee health insurance options on district costs, salary increases, post-retirement payments for all bargaining units and administrators
• Consider recommendations for change

Administrator Employment

• Review total compensation packages (including free parking, memberships, subscriptions, post-retirement hiring, etc.)
• Compare starting salaries and ranges with other districts
• Review policies/ procedures and revise if necessary
Timing of approvals for extension of administrators’ contracts
Merit pay
Performance evaluation
Board and public role in selection and reassignment of principals
Handling of parent or staff complaints

Teacher Employment
• Compare Admin/Teacher salaries
Compare starting salaries and salary range with other districts
Review retirement payments and post-retirement obligations
Review layoff process re: keeping the best teachers
Review buyouts of contracts without Board review and approval
Review handling of parent complaints

Minority Recruitment/Retention
• Review annual reports


Monthly on a set Monday at a set time to help the public participate in our activities and with a month between presentations of information and recommendations for action


August : set goals, priorities and calendar

September: WASB presentation on impacts of current health insurance plans

October: Recommendations re: district approach to health insurance costs
and review of handling of parent complaints about teachers, principals or other administrators

November: Review merit pay , contract renewal, performance evaluations, hiring and reassignment of administrators and related topics

December: Recommendations for re: merit pay, contract renewal, performance evaluations, hiring and reassignment of administrators or related topics

January: Presentation comparing administrator/teacher salaries and benefits with comparable districts (start salaries, benefits, salary ranges, post-retirement employment, early retirement plans, etc.)

Recommendations re: approach to administrator/teacher salaries

Review annual report on minority recruitment/retention


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"Arkansas Aggressive on Childhood Obesity"

Jill Zeman:

Rhonda Sanders received an eye-opening letter from her daughter's school three years ago: At age 10, her 5-foot, 137-pound child was heavier than 98 percent of her peers.

After a regimen that included the family jumping rope in the backyard, swapping bottled water for soda and eating more fruit, Sanders' daughter last year was 5-6 and weighed 120 pounds.

"There was something about getting that letter that changed us," Sanders said Wednesday as Arkansas unveiled new body-mass index numbers used to assess childhood obesity.

The percentage of Arkansas schoolchildren overweight or at risk of becoming overweight was 37.5 percent this year, down from 38.1 percent three years ago. The most recent canvass covered 371,082 of Arkansas' 450,000 public school children.

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Wisconsin Fails Federal Test for "Qualified Teachers"

Alan Borsuk:

Wisconsin officials take pride in being at the top of at least one list nationally when it comes to putting "highly qualified" teachers in classrooms, but Wednesday they found themselves at the bottom of the list when it comes to meeting federal rules for doing exactly that.

U.S. Department of Education officials announced they had rejected as inadequate every one of the responses Wisconsin gave when asked how it was dealing with six general requirements for assuring that every child has a highly qualified teacher.

Wisconsin, Hawaii, Missouri and Utah were designated by the federal department as being at "high risk" of not meeting the teacher quality rules. The four states were ordered to redo their plans by Nov. 1, "including specific steps to ensure that poor and minority children are not taught disproportionately by less qualified teachers."

Anne Marie Chaker has more:
It is a problem that increasingly bedevils school districts around the country. Nationally, the demand for teachers continues to rise in a number of fields, such as physics, math, chemistry and bilingual education. At the same time, a flood of experienced, baby-boomer teachers who entered the profession in the 1960s and 1970s are retiring, and relatively few new teachers are sticking with the profession. One analysis of Education Department data by Richard Ingersoll, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania, showed that 46% of new teachers leave the profession after only five years.

To help fill vacant teaching slots, a number of states are taking action, passing legislation with incentives to attract, train and retain more teachers. So far this year, 18 states, including Illinois, Connecticut, Virginia and Kansas, have passed measures encouraging teaching, according to the Education Commission of the States, which tracks education policy for state governments. The initiatives ranged from luring teachers out of retirement to offering scholarships to programs that forgive education loans. Tricia Coulter, director of the commission's Teaching Quality and Leadership Institute, says legislative efforts gained momentum in 2000, with 21 to 42 state measures each year targeting teacher recruitment and retention.

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The Start of Schooling

Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater:

It's almost here for our five year olds, the first day of school. They have looked forward to it with excitement and fear all summer. Some have asked repeatedly how much longer until it arrives and others have sat quietly hoping it will go away and their young lives will not change.

For all, there are wonders to be learned and fears to be overcome. There is a new person in their lives — the teacher. Although the persons will change over time the teacher will be ever present in their lives for the next 13 years. There will be teachers that they remember forever. Almost every one has teachers who create life changing experiences for him or her.

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August 16, 2006

Back to School: A Time to Rethink Time

Milton Chen:

Another year has passed, and American schools are still captives of an outdated calendar. It's mid-August, and the world of education is awakening from its three-month slumber. The seasons of schooling set the schedules for close to seven million K-12 educators and staff and fifty-five million students and families. Yet our schools and universities stand alone in hewing to a calendar with a long summer vacation added to holiday and spring breaks. No other sector of our society -- government, business, transportation, health care, manufacturing -- considers its year to be composed of 180 days or 36 weeks.

Add to this "outer limit" the "inner limit" of the 50-minute period of most secondary schools, and we have a pigeonholed system of schooling. This time frame was born out of the Carnegie Unit, which requires 120 hours of class time for high school courses. (Five such periods each week for 31 weeks achieves the 120-hour requirement.) The Carnegie Unit grew out of the early work of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, endowed by industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1906, and surely it's time for education to leave behind a 100-year-old idea.

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The Expert Mind

Philip Ross:

He thus put in a nutshell what a century of psychological research has subsequently established: much of the chess master's advantage over the novice derives from the first few seconds of thought. This rapid, knowledge-guided perception, sometimes called apperception, can be seen in experts in other fields as well. Just as a master can recall all the moves in a game he has played, so can an accomplished musician often reconstruct the score to a sonata heard just once. And just as the chess master often finds the best move in a flash, an expert physician can sometimes make an accurate diagnosis within moments of laying eyes on a patient.

But how do the experts in these various subjects acquire their extraordinary skills? How much can be credited to innate talent and how much to intensive training? Psychologists have sought answers in studies of chess masters. The collected results of a century of such research have led to new theories explaining how the mind organizes and retrieves information. What is more, this research may have important implications for educators. Perhaps the same techniques used by chess players to hone their skills could be applied in the classroom to teach reading, writing and arithmetic.

The Drosophila of Cognitive Science
The history of human expertise begins with hunting, a skill that was crucial to the survival of our early ancestors. The mature hunter knows not only where the lion has been; he can also infer where it will go. Tracking skill increases, as repeated studies show, from childhood onward, rising in "a linear relationship, all the way out to the mid-30s, when it tops out," says John Bock, an anthropologist at California State University, Fullerton. It takes less time to train a brain surgeon.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

College Board Pushes Further into K-12

Karen Arenson:

To generations of students and their teachers, the College Board has been synonymous with the SAT test. But these days it has broader ambitions and wants to reach deeply into high school and even middle school classrooms nationwide.

The board is marketing new products, like English and math curriculums for grades 6 through 12. It has worked with New York City to start five College Board Schools, with plans to open 13 more in New York and other cities by 2007. It is also trying to improve existing schools, starting this fall with 11 public high schools outside New York State and adding 19 next year. In November, it will open an institute for principals.

The board says it is eager to bring new rigor to education. But these efforts are also being driven by the fact that the board, a nonprofit organization based in New York City, is no longer an unrivaled force. It faces strong competition from the ACT in college admissions testing, and some colleges are making the SAT optional. Recent gaffes in SAT scoring raised questions of confidence in the test and the organization.

“We should not say that one size fits all,” said George H. Wood, the principal of Federal Hocking High School in rural Ohio. His school does not offer A.P. courses other than calculus, Mr. Wood said, because they are “too restrictive in terms of content.”

Kati Haycock, director of Education Trust, an advocacy group that supports testing, said she was concerned about adding even more testing, as some of the board’s products do. “It’s a little bit of a problem, with testing, testing, testing,” she said. “School officials are getting sick of it all.”

Still, Ms. Haycock said her group had reviewed the board’s SpringBoard program, which helps shape what is taught in English and math in grades 6 through 12, and found it “fabulous.”

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:08 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

ACT scores are best in 20 years, with a catch, MMSD Curriculum & Upcoming Elections

The issue of curriculum quality and rigor continues to generate attention. P-I:

The good news is that the high school class of 2006 posted the biggest nationwide average score increase on the ACT college entrance exam in 20 years and recorded the highest scores of any class since 1991.

The bad news is that only 21 percent of the students got a passing grade in all four subject areas, including algebra and social science.

"The ACT findings clearly point to the need for high schools to require a rigorous, four-year core curriculum and to offer Advanced Placement classes so that our graduates are prepared to compete and succeed in both college and the work force," Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in Washington, D.C.

Alan Borsuk has more:
Wisconsin high school graduates are better prepared to succeed in college than students nationwide - but that means only that more than 70% of state students are at risk of having trouble in one or more freshman-level subjects while the national figure is almost 80%, according to ACT, the college testing company.

The message still isn't getting across," Ferguson said in a telephone news conference. If students want to go to college and do well, they have to take high school seriously and take challenging courses, he said.

ACT results showed that students who took at least four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies in high school did substantially better on the tests (22.9 in Wisconsin, 22.0 nationwide) than those who took lighter loads in those core areas (21.0 and 19.7, respectively).

Elizabeth Burmaster, Wisconsin's superintendent of public instruction, said she believes that if schools in Wisconsin stay focused on efforts such as early childhood education and small class sizes in the early grades, combined with strong academic programs in middle school and high school, achievement will go up and racial and ethnic gaps will close.

Individual state data is available here.

Burmaster's statement, along with the ACT information will increase the attention paid to curriculum issues, such as the ongoing questions over the Madison School District's math program (See UW Math professor Dick Askey's statement on the MMSD's interpration and reporting of math scores). Will we stick with the "same service" approach? This very important issue will be on voters minds in November (referendum) and again in April, 2007 when 3 board seats are up for election. See also the West High School Math Faculty letter and a recent open letter to the Madison School District Board and Administration from 35 of the 37 UW Math Department faculty members. Vaishali Honawar has more.

The Madison School District issued a press release on the recent ACT scores (68% of Wisconsin high school graduates took the ACT - I don't know what the MMSD's percentage is):

Madison students who took the 2006 ACT college entrance exam continued to outperform their state and national peers by a wide margin, and the scores of Madison's African-American test takers increased significantly. Madison students' composite score of 24.2 (scale of 1 to 36) was higher for the 12th straight year than the composite scores of Wisconsin students and those across the nation (see table below). District students outscored their state peers by 9% (24.2 vs. 22.2,) and their national peers by 15% (24.2 vs. 21.1).

Compared to the previous year, the average ACT composite score among the district's African-American students increased 6% — 18.8 vs. 17.7 last year. The gap between district African-American and white student ACT scores decreased this year. The relative difference this year was 24% (18.8 vs. 24.8) compared to 30% last year.

Scores also increased this year for the district's Asian students (22.1 to 23.0) and Hispanic students (21.5 to 21.8).

The Madison School District recently published this summary of student performance vs other similar sized and nearby districts (AP, ACT and WKCE) here. Madison's individual high schools scored as follows: East 22.9, LaFollette 22.1, Memorial 25.1 and West 25.5. I don't have the % of students who took the ACT.

I checked with Edgewood High School and they have the following information: "almost all students take the ACT" and their composite score is "24.4". Lakeside in Lake Mills averaged 24.6. Middleton High School's was 25 in 2005. Verona High School's numbers:
222 students took the ACT in 2005-2006.

Our composite score was 23.6 compared to the state at 22.2

87% of test takers proved college ready in English Composition (vs. 77%)

66% of test takers proved college ready in College Algebra (vs. 52%)

77% of test takers proved college ready in Social Science (vs. 61%)

45% of test takers proved college ready in Biology (vs. 35%)

37% of test takers proved college ready in all four areas (vs. 28%)
(#) as compared to the state %

Waunakee High School:
Score HS Mean (Core/Non-Core)
Composite 23.3 (24.3/21.5)

English 22.5 (23.9/19.5)

Mathematics 23.2 (24.2/21.8)

Reading 23.3 (24.1/21.5)

Science 23.7 (24.4/22.7)

McFarland High School's 2006 Composite average was 23.7. 110 students were tested.

UPDATE: A few emails regarding these results:

  • On the Waunakee information:
    In the Waunakee information I sent to Jim Z, our mean for the Class of 2006 comes first, followed by the core/non-core in parentheses. So, our mean composite score for our 157 seniors who sat for the ACT was 23.3, the mean composite for those completing the ACT suggested core was 24.3, the mean composite for those who did not complete the core was 21.5.

    With ACT profile reports, the student information is self-reported. It's reasonably accurate, but some students don't fill in information about course patterns and demographics if it is not required.

    Please let me know if there are any other questions.
  • McFarland data:
    It appears that Jim Z's chart comparing scores uses Waunakee's "Core score" as opposed to the average composite that the other schools (at
    least McFaland) gave to Jim Z.. If Jim Z. wishes to report average "Core" for McFarland it is 24.5. Our non-core is 22.2 with our average composite 23.7.
  • More on the meaning of "Core":
    Probably everyone is familiar with the ACT definition of core, but it's 4 years of English, and three years each of math, science, and social studies. ACT is refining their position on what course patterns best position a student for undergraduate success, however.
Additional comments, data and links here

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

August 15, 2006

CAST Gearing Up For $23.5 Million Referendum

From Channel 3000:

Fall is right around the corner. That means classes back in session and another school referendum for Madison voters.

A group calling itself CAST is gearing up to get voters to say yes to a $23.5 million referendum on Nov. 7.

CAST stands for Communities And Schools Together.

Rich Rubasch is heading up the group. He's a parent looking out for the best interest of his children. He believes a referendum is the answer.

"Since our kids go to Chavez we know the overcrowding is a problem," said Rubasch. "Music and art are going to take the impact first." Rubasch believes the best answer is a long-term solution, like the referendum.

The referendum includes a new school on the West side, an addition to Leopold Elementary and refinancing past loans.

If passed, it would cost the typical homeowner about $30 more a year, reported WISC-TV.

School board members say even though the referendum includes Leopold, it looks different than last year.

"We understood there were some shortcomings in the last referendum," said school board president Johnny Winston.

Winston said this year the decision to seek a referendum came from a community task force, not the school board.

Last year voters failed two of three questions. This year there are also three parts, but only one check box.

"I think it was important to make it as simple as we could and that meant one question," said Winston.

A citizens group questions the decision to ask for additions to Leopold again. They believe changes and redevelopment at nearby Ridgewood Apartments could lower the school-age population, and make the addition unnecessary.

"We're trying to get the data, so better informed decisions can be made," said ACE member Don Severson.

Active Citizens for Education is also raising questions about refinancing loans.

If the district does refinance, it would save $100,000. Severson would like to know what the district plans to do with that money.

Posted by Ed Blume at 3:49 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

U.S. Pushes the Use of Tutors at Failing Schools

Elaine Korry:

One of the key provisions of the No Child Left Behind law is that children in failing schools should be given extra help in the form of tutoring. Yet millions of students who are eligible for tutoring aren't getting it. The U.S Education Department is warning school districts that, this fall, they must do a better job of signing families up.
audio. More here.

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Rotherham, Bloomberg & Jeb Bush on NCLB

Andrew Rotherham:

Sunday's WaPo op-ed by Florida Governor and first brother Jeb Bush and New York Mayor and Michael Bloomberg is sort of mystifying the Eduwonk. Sure, they are big names, but the op-ed is vapid. It would be like some big name foreign policy type penning an op-ed saying that the problem in the Middle East is that people just don't seem to get along with each other. Would the WaPo publish that?

Anyway, Bush and Bloomberg lay out four big think reforms for No Child Left Behind. If this is what passes for big think in the Republican Party right now then Democrats have no excuses for not eating the Rs lunch on this issue in 2008. Bush and Bloomberg want to:

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

August 14, 2006

Still On the Slippery Slope of West HS's English 10?

Last week, families of rising juniors at West High School received a copy of the Junior School Counseling Newsletter. On page 2, there is a section entitled "English Course Selections for 2006/07." The paragraph reads as follows:

Students are required to earn four credits of English for graduation, and this must include one semester of composition beyond tenth grade. Students in grades 11 and 12 are given a choice of non-sequential semester electives, each providing one-half credit towards graduation. College preparatory students, however, should check the colleges of their choice to be sure about what courses are acceptable for college admisison, i.e., some colleges might not accept courses in such areas as theater or media for admission.

The second half of the first sentence (assuming it is not a typo) reflects an important change in the English requirement for graduation at West -- one that has never been discussed with students and parents and one that is surprising and confusing, given the stated goals and content of English 10.

It is also not consistent with what's stated in the 2006-07 course catalogue. (Thanks for bearing with me for including the complete entry here.)

Students are required to earn four credits of English for graduation. Ninth and tenth grade English is required of all students; in grades 11-12, students are given a choice of nonsequential semester elelctives, each providing one-half credit towards graduation. College prepatory students, however, should check the colleges of their choice to be sure about what courses are acceptable for college admisison; i.e., some colleges might not accept courses in such areas as theater or media for admission.

The classes of 2007 and 2008 must take one semester of composition beyond ninth grade; any one of three composition offerings meets this requirement. Please note: Intermediate Writing Workshop (IWW) will be offered ONLY first semester, 2006. A student may select more than one English course in a semester. Students wishing to apply to college are advised to take a minimum of seven semesters of writing, literature, and/or grammar.

Some courses may not be offered both semesters. The number of sections of a course is dependent on student selection and teacher allocation.

As I put all of this together, it seems to me that -- sometime between the printing of the 2006-07 course catalogue and the printing of the Junior School Counseling Newsletter -- the West administration has decided to require an additional semester of composition for graduation.

Now, I'm all for people (of all ages) becoming better writers. I value the written word and admire the ability to craft a sentence. I fully expect my sons -- both of them excellent writers -- to happily and voluntarily take more writing courses than will be required of them in high school. While I value good, clear exposition, however, I do not support secrecy and unilateral decision-making -- especially in highly charged contexts, which West's English 10 has so clearly been.

I also cannot help but wonder what the motivation has been for the additional requirement? (In case it hasn't occurred to you, the new requirement will mean that West juniors and seniors will be able to take fewer English electives, many of which are honors courses ... unless they are willing to take extra English courses.)

Another parent has suggested that the new requirement seems to reflect an expectation that English 10 will fail. Why? Well, if you recall, English 10 was created by integrating the contents of the several most popular 10th grade English courses, including "Intermediate Writing Workshop" ("IWW"). One of the goals of English 10 is to integrate writing assignments with the reading of great literature, something that did not happen in IWW. The rationale -- which I find quite reasonable -- is that the lessons of good writing will be more easily learned and more deeply retained if they are taught that way. But if that's supposed to be an improvement over the old system, why start requiring yet another semester of composition (especially without discussing it with students and parents)?

Another frustration is that many of us parents suggested additional English requirements like this as a more pointed and potentially more effective strategy for addressing the problem of underperformance of certain groups of students in English -- y'know, something for the administration to try instead of the complete overhaul known as English 10. It just seemed reasonable to us that if one of the problems was that some groups of students weren't taking certain types of English courses (the composition ones and the more challenging ones), one good solution might be to require them to take one or more of those courses. Oh, well.

Gosh, I am hoping this is a typo in the newsletter. I have a call in to the West Counseling Department about it (even though another parent has been unable to get an answer to the same question). Stay tuned.

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

Schools go "Back to Basics"

Amy Hetzner:

As the start of the school year approaches, schools are going back to the basics with a vengeance. Many Milwaukee students, and some suburban ones, will arguably spend more time on reading and math than during any time in recent memory, although some educators argue that the trend is to the detriment of other subject areas, such as science and social studies.

In a set of lower-performing Milwaukee elementary schools, students will have at least two hours a day of reading instruction and an hour a day of math this fall by decree of the central administration. The time will be much more focused and prescriptive than it has been in the past in terms of what is being taught, and how. These schools will join the ranks of several others that already have beefed up the amount of time spent on the so-called three R's - reading, writing and arithmetic.

At St. Marcus Lutheran, a private school in Milwaukee, middle-school students get 90 minutes of math each day - as opposed to the 45- to 50-minute block of five years ago.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

August 13, 2006

Growing, Detrimental use of Powerpoint

I previously posted links to articles discussing the inappropriate use of Powerpoint - particularly in lower grades. I've been reading Thomas Rick's "Fiasco" . Ricks' mentions that Powerpoint was used to draft and communicate battle and reconstruction plans in Iraq:

[Army Lt. General David] McKiernan had another, smaller but nagging issue: He couldn't get Franks to issue clear orders that stated explicitly what he wanted done, how he wanted to do it, and why. Rather, Franks passed along PowerPoint briefing slides that he had shown to Rumsfeld: "It's quite frustrating the way this works, but the way we do things nowadays is combatant commanders brief their products in PowerPoint up in Washington to OSD and Secretary of Defense…In lieu of an order, or a frag [fragmentary order], or plan, you get a bunch of PowerPoint slides…[T]hat is frustrating, because nobody wants to plan against PowerPoint slides."
Yet, Powerpoint is widely used in schools. Garr Reynolds has more.

Some alternatives - outliners that help conceptualize a work prior to expressing it in words. Internet outliners are extraordinarly powerful:

Much more, here.

Don Norman: In Defense of Powerpoint.

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August 11, 2006

Who should public schools serve?

Mary Battaglia's post on a Curious Social Development began to raise some fundamental questions about who the public schools should serve, and a healthy discussion on this blog might help clarify differing views on some of the current trends being implemented in the MMSD.

To set the discussion, let me offer that schools serve roughly three populations: the neediest, the average, and the brightest -- not too startling a breakdown.

Which group should the schools target?

If schools target one, should the schools just let the other two groups fend for themselves? For example, should schools place their priorities on raising the academic accomplisments of the lowest performing students, on the assumption that the average will get by and the brightest will succeed regardless of what schools do? Or maybe schools should triage the groups? Let the neediest drop by the wayside, target the average, and just expect the brightest to do well.

How then do we determine whether the schools succeed? Do we measure success by the number of National Merit Scholars or by the increase in the performance of the neediest?

I think schools should and can successfully serve all three groups by using curriculum and programs to challenge all students academically.

I hope that many will candidly post their opinions.


ps. To the grammarians, I know that the title should be "Whom should public schools serve?" But "whom" sounds so stilted.

Posted by Ed Blume at 9:47 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

People's Budget: Conceptual Thoughts

Please review and add comments. We'll be discussing this Monday evening.

Posted by Lawrie Kobza at 2:08 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

August 10, 2006

Curious Social Development

My daughter is the "Mothering Type". You know the kind. She still loves dolls beyond her friends, and loves pets, and she took the babysitting class as soon as possible so she could be around small children. She is always the person in the class the helps and socializes with the high needs kids in her classroom too. One day while I was volunteering at her school, a very nice mom of a high need autistic child was in her class, to discuss what she needed the students in this class to know. She discussed her child's sensitivity to sound, high stimulation, and the need for calmness. During this discussion the students in the class discovered that this student had a sibling. A student inquired about this sibling and who's class (teacher) he/she was in....

The mother responded that her other child went to a private school in town because she wanted that child to have the best education possible. I sat there stunned for a moment. This mother has the right to send her child wherever she believes they fit best. She has the right and the honor to elect where to send her child for an education but I was stunned. There sat my daughter rubbing this child's back to calm them down from the stress of the conversation, and I am thinking "Is my child a part of a social experiment? Did I send her to this public school to socialize poor behaving children and high needs children and see what happens?" Remember when parents of high need students fought hard to intergrate their children into normal classrooms? Remember when parents were mad they had to pay to send their special need students to private schools? Are we reversing this trend in the opposite direction?

I know several parents with dual children in the district. One functioning at a high level and one with special needs. This was my first thought of the public school being a place to put your special needs child and not your high functioning child. What an interesting development. Obviously this Mom loves her children and wants the best for both of them, but I somehow came away from that interaction with a new outlook. Public education is now the place to put your special education child and then you pay to put you high functioning child somewhere else. Didn't we just reverse this trend in the 80's so that special needs would be intergrated? If all parents felt this way we would have a real problem. One day the public school may be nothing but high need students. I find this a curious development.

My husband is a psychiatrist, with two very psychotic sisters. We are very knowledgeable in the world of mental health. The mental health institutes were abolished and legislation passed to develop local mental health clinics to care for these patients so they would no longer live in those unhealthy mental health institutes. The problem is no federal funds followed and the local mental health clinics were never developed. Now you can find homeless and imprisoned mentally ill across the nation. I find a similar situation with the high need students. A federal mandate to intergrate high need students followed by a substandard of funding. It is as though we are repeating ourselves with societies highest need citizens. I suppose I felt a sense of "well it is O. K. to send my high needs child to public schools but if I want my high functioning child to make it in the world I need to send them to a private school". Or maybe I felt a twing of "yuck, public school is for the needy but not for the smart." I don't know and I know I am being unfair to this mom but it made be think about how I sometimes think my children are a part of a social experiment.....and I am unsure if the experiment is for the better or worse for my children. Either way it is an unusual and noteworthy development.

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

Texas Teacher Incentive Plan

Terrence Stutz:

Let the classroom competition begin.
Texas' first full-fledged attempt to reward teachers for students' performance is under way this school year, with 1,162 public schools – 15 percent of all campuses – invited to participate in the state's new incentive pay plan.

Schools must let the state know today if they want a piece of the merit pay pie, and few are expected to turn down an offer that could fatten teachers' paychecks by $3,000 to $10,000 a year – if their students perform well on next spring's state assessment.

Proposed state grants for individual schools have already been posted by the Texas Education Agency, with amounts ranging from $40,000 at many elementary schools to $295,000 for one of the largest high schools in the state.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Study Urges Cutback in Soda"

John Fauber:

That action might include removing soda and other vending machines from schools, reducing soft drink consumption at home and limiting marketing and advertising of soft drinks to children, he said.

What about fruit juice?

Shailesh Patel, professor and chief of endocrinology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, would take it even one step further, telling people to avoid not just soda, but fruit drinks and juices as well.

"Eat fruit; never drink it," said Patel, who practices at Froedtert Memorial Lutheran Hospital in Wauwatosa. "There is no such thing as a healthy fruit juice, even orange juice. If you want vitamin C, eat the fruit."

The full study,Intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain a systematic review, by Vasanti S Malik, Matthias B Schulze and Frank B Hu can be found here.

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

August 9, 2006

Financial Literacy


The catch phrase is financial literacy... the understanding of money and it's meaning in our society. And according to Michael Gutter, UW Extension Financial Specialist, "Wisconsin, like almost every other state, is failing the grade."

With young people having more access to money and credit, it's become painfully evident that many of them don't have the skills to manage it wisely. "Bankruptcy rates for people under 25 are at an all time high and growing at an all time fast rate. This is of a lot of concern, because people who have to file for bankruptcy so early limit their choices for the next few years," says Gutter, who points out that the ripple effect could impact the economy as a whole; those young people won't be buying like normal consumers, because of their bankrupt history.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction this year came out with a set of guidelines for what money classes schools should teach and how they should be taught. "They deal with everything form understanding how money varies with your career choices to simple things as budgeting, retirement, savings and investing," says Gutter.

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6th Annual Streetball & Block Party on Saturday Aguust 12th

Johnny Winston Jr.:

he 6th Annual Johnny Winston, Jr. Streetball and Block Party will be held on Saturday August 12th from 12 noon to 7:00 p.m. at Penn Park (South Madison – Corner of Fisher and Buick Street). Streetball is a full court, 5 on 5 adult mens Basketball tournament featuring some of the best basketball players in the City of Madison, Milwaukee, Beloit, Rockford and other cities.

The block party activities for youth and families include: Music by D.J. Fabulous & friends; A drill and dance team competition at 2 pm; Free Bingo sponsored by DeJope Gaming at 1 pm, 3 pm and 5 pm; Face painting and youth activities sponsored by M.S.C.R., YMCA, Neighborhood Intervention Program and the Boys & Girls Club. At 3 pm, a talent showcase featuring singers and Hip Hop performances will take place on the MCCCA Culture Coach stage. In addition, this event includes information booths and vendors selling a variety of foods and other items.

This is a safe, family event that has taken the place of the South Madison Block Party. The Madison Police Department and other neighborhood groups are supporting this as a positive activity for the South Madison community. This year’s proceeds will go toward “The Campaign to Promote Student Achievement and Parent Involvement in Schools.”

The founder and organizer for this event is Johnny Winston, Jr. Mr. Winston is a firefighter for the City of Madison and currently serves as President of the Madison School Board.

This event will provide a wonderful organized activity for our community to enjoy this summer. If you have any questions please feel free to call (608) 347-9715 or e-mail at: Hope to see you on Saturday August 12th at Penn Park!

In a nod to the local political aspects of this event, Mayor Dave is planning to attend as well.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:29 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A question for Tom & Neal Gleason


I've asked you, Neal Gleason and others, but all of you avoid the question. Let's try one more time.

Do you believe a 50%-60% success rate for Reading Recovery is about all that can be achieved because 1) some students just can't learn or 2) no one knows how to teach struggling first graders or 3) the MMSD doesn't know how to teach those first graders?


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It Takes More Than Schools to Close Achievement Gap

Diana Jean Schemo:

WHEN the federal Education Department recently reported that children in private schools generally did no better than comparable students at public schools on national tests of math and reading, the findings were embraced by teachers’ unions and liberals, and dismissed by supporters of school voucher programs.

But for many educators and policy makers, the findings raised a haunting question: What if the impediments to learning run so deep that they cannot be addressed by any particular kind of school or any set of in-school reforms? What if schools are not the answer?

The question has come up before. In 1966, Prof. James S. Coleman published a Congressionally mandated study on why schoolchildren in minority neighborhoods performed at far lower levels than children in white areas.

To the surprise of many, his landmark study concluded that although the quality of schools in minority neighborhoods mattered, the main cause of the achievement gap was in the backgrounds and resources of families.

For years, education researchers have argued over his findings. Conservatives used them to say that the quality of schools did not matter, so why bother offering more than the bare necessities? Others, including some educators, used them essentially to write off children who were harder to educate.

More on the Coleman Report from Clusty.

Kevin Carey has some comments:

Schemo frames No Child Left Behind as one side of an argument between people who believe that factors outside schools affect students, and believe who don't believe that factors outside schools affect students. There is no such debate. No reasonable person believes that students' economic, social, and family circumstances are irrelevant to educational progress.

To say that NCLB "holds a school alone responsible" for student progress is to ascribe far more power to the law than it, or any law, could possibly have. There are whole worlds of responsibility for the dire circumstances of disadvantaged students who aren't learning well. All No Child Left Behind does is create a system that identifies which schools those students attend, and insists that we should try to make those schools better.

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

"A Nation of Wimps?"

Hara Estroff Marano:

Maaybe it's the cyclist in the park, trim under his sleek metallic blue helmet, cruisin along the dirt path... at three miles an hour. On his tricycle

Or perhaps it's today's playground, all-rubber-cushioned surface where kids used to skin their knees. And... wait a minute... those aren't little kids playing. Their mommies—and especially their daddies—are in there with them, coplaying or play-by-play coaching. Few take it half-easy on the perimeter benches, as parents used to do, letting the kids figure things out for themselves.

Then there are the sanitizing gels, with which over a third of parents now send their kids to school, according to a recent survey. Presumably, parents now worry that school bathrooms are not good enough for their children.

Consider the teacher new to an upscale suburban town. Shuffling through the sheaf of reports certifying the educational "accommodations" he was required to make for many of his history students, he was struck by the exhaustive, well-written—and obviously costly—one on behalf of a girl who was already proving among the most competent of his ninth-graders. "She's somewhat neurotic," he confides, "but she is bright, organized and conscientious—the type who'd get to school to turn in a paper on time, even if she were dying of stomach flu." He finally found the disability he was to make allowances for: difficulty with Gestalt thinking. The 13-year-old "couldn't see the big picture." That cleverly devised defect (what 13-year-old can construct the big picture?) would allow her to take all her tests untimed, especially the big one at the end of the rainbow, the college-worthy SAT.

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Schools Try Elementary Approach To Teaching Foreign Languages

Maria Glod:

School systems across the Washington area are adding foreign language classes in elementary grades in response to a call from government and business leaders who say the country needs more bilingual speakers to stay competitive and even to fight terrorism.

Educators say that the youngest brains have the greatest aptitude for absorbing language and that someone who is bilingual at a young age will have an easier time learning a third or fourth language later on. Compared with adults or even high school students, young children are better able to learn German with near-native pronunciation or mimic the subtle tones of Mandarin.

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August 8, 2006

"Mainstreaming of special education students has helped improve their academic peformance"

University of Florida:

However, the trend once known as “mainstreaming”— widely considered the best option for such students – appears to have stalled in some parts of the country, the study’s authors report. And a student’s geographic location, rather than the severity of his disability, often determines how he will spend his school days, the researchers say.

“We’ve known for a long time that students with MR (mental retardation) are better off educationally if they can spend at least part of the day in a typical classroom,” said James McLeskey, chair of special education in UF’s College of Education and an author of the study. “We’ve found that there are still lot of students who could be included in the general classroom but aren’t included.”

Before the mid-1970s, most children with mental retardation were completely segregated from other children in the school system, if they were formally educated at all. Society widely viewed these children as uneducable, and those who did attend school were sent to institutions solely for children with mental retardation.

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Can the model designed for a farm economy be fixed?

Jim Wooten:

School reform matters especially in Atlanta. The city may or may not be in the midst of a return-to-the-city movement. Certainly, condos and apartments are going up everywhere. But until the problem of a laggardly school system is cured, people with children won’t return, unless they have alternatives. Atlanta’s revival will be limited to the childless and to retiring baby boomers. I think that means, of course, some program of vouchers or tax credits that encourages new schools to be created by the private sector or by groups of educators starting their own.

It’s always necessary to try to improve the existing school system for parents who will always prefer to let government do it, who will choose to be uninvolved and are perfectly happy to hand Jimmy over at age 5 and check him back out at age 18, hoping he’s educated enough to get out of the house. The question for conservatives, though, is whether that’s enough. Can the model designed for a farm economy be fixed so that it serves most everybody? And if you’re open to reform, what’s the boldest reform you’d support?

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August 7, 2006

Pet Policy Approved by the Madison School Board


After more than a year of debate, the Madison school board finalized a policy regarding animals in the classroom on Monday night.

Board members said it strikes a balance between animals and the health of students.

Susan Troller has more.

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Governing Board Revamps Mathematics NAEP For 12th Graders

Sean Cavanagh:

he board that sets policy for the National Assessment of Educational Progress has revised the blueprint for the 12th grade mathematics version of the influential exam, in an attempt to make the test better reflect the skills that students need for college and highly skilled jobs.

The changes, approved Aug. 4, are expected to make the math test more challenging in some areas, through the addition of more-complex algebraic concepts, trigonometry, and a stronger emphasis on mathematical reasoning and problem-solving, officials associated with the board say. Those revisions could also shape individual states’ math standards, which are often influenced by the content of the NAEP frameworks.

The National Assessment Governing Board, the independent entity that directs NAEP, unanimously agreed to make the changes at its quarterly meeting here. The board has spent about two years on the project.

“What we’re doing here is not unique to NAEP. It is what society is demanding,” said Sharif M. Shakrani, a professor of psychometric testing at Michigan State University in East Lansing, who consulted on changes to the framework. “We need to judge what students know and where they are weak.”

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Fall Referendum - 3 months to Time Zero

The Madison School District's Fall $23.5M Referendum Question will be in front of voters 3 months from today. The question asks voters to fund 3 iniatives with a single yes or no vote:

What K-12 issues might be on voter's minds November 7?The community has long supported Madison's public schools via above average taxes and spending (while enrollment has largely remained flat) and initiatives such as the Schools of Hope and the Foundation for Madison Public schools, among many others. The November 7, 2006 question will simply be one of public confidence in the governance and education strategy of the MMSD and the willingness to spend more on the part of local property taxpayers.

UPDATE: Recently elected Madison School Board Member Arlene Silveira posted words seeking input on the Progressive Dane "In the News" blog.

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In a One-Style-Fits-All Educational System, the Misfits Lose Out

Bob Sipchen:

This ugly two-story Lawndale strip mall seems better suited to selling kalua pork at the Hawaiian BBQ downstairs than to educating high school students. In fact, when I first walk into the standard-looking classroom on the second floor, not much education seems to be going on. Not that teacher Jeanett Hector isn't trying. She's picked a Stephen King teleplay for the class to read aloud, and she's brimming with enthusiasm for it, certain that the 17 students slumping in their seats will get into it. At the moment, though, most of them are mumbling excuses and acting bored. Well aware that a reporter's watching, Hector grows increasingly annoyed.

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August 6, 2006

"Is Our Students Learning?"

Kevin Carey:

Imagine you're about to put a chunk of your life savings into a mutual fund. Now imagine you peruse the various "best mutual fund" guides on the news rack, only to find they're all missing crucial pieces of information. The guides list where the fund managers went to college, how much investment capital they've attracted, and what kind of "experience" investors had at the annual fund meeting. But they don't tell you what you most want to know: What the funds' rates of return have been--or if they've ever made a dime for anyone. You might still decide to invest in a mutual fund, but it would be a heck of a crapshoot. And with their scorecard hidden, fund managers wouldn't be under much pressure to perform, let alone improve.
That imaginary mutual-fund market pretty much shows how America's higher-education market works. Each year prospective college students and their parents pore over glossy brochures and phone-book-sized college guides in order to decide how to invest their hard-earned tuition money--not to mention four years of their lives. Some guides, like the popular rankings published by U.S. News & World Report, base ratings on factors like alumni giving, faculty salaries, and freshman SAT scores. Others identify the top "party schools," most beautiful campuses, and most palatial dorms.

But what's missing from all the rankings is the equivalent of a bottom line. There are no widely available measures of how much learning occurs inside the classroom, or of how much students benefit from their education. This makes the process of selecting a college a bit like throwing darts at a stock table. It also means that colleges and universities, like our imaginary mutual-fund managers, feel little pressure to ensure that students learn. As anyone who's ever snoozed through a giant freshman psychology 101 lecture knows, sitting in a classroom doesn't equal learning; knowledge doesn't come by osmosis.

Related: Washington Monthly's Annual College Guide.

Here's a sampling of their top schools:

We love Texas A&M.

Sure, for some of us, Texas A&M evokes imagery of the weak being forced into a locker by the strong, but that doesn't change the numbers. At 60th place on the U.S. News rankings, Texas A&M may not be celebrated, but few other schools can compare when it comes to churning out great engineers and scientists in high numbers. It has a healthy level of ROTC enrollment, and it uses federal work-study money towards community service. Texas A&M thus breezes to fifth place on our list.

We love the ladies.

Three cheers for Bryn Mawr College, 21st on the U.S. News list but first on our list of liberal arts colleges, and the same to Wellesley, fourth on the U.S. News list but second on ours. On every front--social mobility, public service, and research--both schools perform near the top. Does their gender ratio, 100:0 women-to-men, have an influence? We don't know, but it doesn't look like an argument for admitting men.

Emory gets no love from us.

Emory, 20th on the list of U.S. News, comes in at 96th on our list. It ranks lowest on our list of any of the U.S. News top 25, and it's a full 42 spots behind runner-up Carnegie Mellon. Its social mobility score puts it at 104th place. (Its number of Pell recipients is low, its SAT scores are relatively high, yet its graduation is relatively low.) By spending its money on recruiting applicants with high SAT scores (a way of boosting one's U.S. News ranking) Emory has apparently decided reaching out to poorer students is a low priority. Nor does it do especially well in public service or research. That's not great for a school with an endowment of $4.5 billion, the eighth-highest in the nation. Boo, Emory.

The New School University: "unusual intent" meets non-existent results.

The New School University in New York doesn't engage in a lot of U.S. News jockeying, but it boasts of goals that are exactly of the sort this guide rewards. Its website speaks of the school's "unusual intent" to bring "actual, positive change to the world." The reality: it's at 228th place on our list. By every measure we have, it drops the ball. (By contrast, The Evergreen State College in Washington State, which approvingly quotes a description of itself as "ultra-progressive," scores much higher, at 47th place.) The best candidate for "actual, positive change" may in fact be the New School.

The Big Ten slaughters the SEC.

Of the 11 members of the Big Ten Conference--University of Illinois, University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, Purdue University, University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, University of Iowa, Ohio State University, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Pennsylvania State University--all 11 make our top 75. Of the 12 members of the Southeastern Conference--we'll not list them all--only Vanderbilt University and the University of Florida even crack it. Football is fine for schools, as long as they're Midwestern.

UC schools continue to rule.

Sorry, red-staters. By our yardstick, University of California, Berkeley is about the best thing for America we can find. It's good by all of our measurements. The same goes for the rest of the schools in the UC system, four of which make our top 10, the rest of which make our top 80.

Via Joanne.

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August 5, 2006

The Overachievers

Eugene Allen:

“The Overachievers” is part soap opera, part social treatise. Robbins identifies her main characters — four juniors, three seniors and one alum who’s a college freshman — by how they’re perceived at Whitman. Then she stands back and lets them prove otherwise. Julie, the Superstar, is so plagued by self-doubt that she worries she will be voted “Most Awkward” by her senior classmates. Sam, the Teacher’s Pet, runs out of time to find and interview a Muslim for an assignment in his Modern World class, so he makes one up and writes a fake transcript of their conversation. And A.P. Frank, who took a grueling all-Advanced Placement course load his junior and senior years of high school, wants nothing more than a decent social life when he gets to college. I was so hooked on their stories that I wanted to vote for my favorite contestant at the end of every chapter.

The book is less effective when Robbins leaves Whitman to gather supporting anecdotes from students in other parts of the country. After a while the kids at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., sound like the kids in Kentucky, who sound like the kids in Vermont, who sound like the kids in New Mexico. There’s also a detour into the cutthroat world of private schools in Manhattan that would have worked better as the seed for another book. Nice coup, sitting in on interviews and admission decisions at the Trinity School, but can we please get back to Bethesda?

Tattered Cover Link: The Overachievers by Alexandra Robbins.

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College Competition & Ninth Grade

R.C. Barajas:

Our son is poised on the knife's edge between middle and high school, and we have arrived -- as if by time machine, it seems -- at the moment when we must decide where he will spend his last four years of mandatory education.

We are welcomed, and given an overview from several educators, including Arlington Superintendent Robert Smith, and about half an hour later parents splinter off to presentations in various rooms around the school. Represented here are the four Arlington high schools: Washington-Lee, which has the International Baccalaureate option; high-achieving Yorktown; H-B Woodlawn, with its hugely popular alternative approach; and Wakefield, which is open to all Gunston Middle students who want to continue in Spanish immersion. Each of these schools appeals to us in some way, so I want to get information on all of them. Topping the list at the moment, though, is the continuation of Spanish immersion, so I follow our close-knit group of parents to where Wakefield is presenting.

Wakefield's principal, Doris Jackson, is very charismatic. She's been with Arlington Public Schools for 15 years -- this is her fifth as Wakefield principal, and the staff members standing behind her this evening in Room 110 smile at us with pleasant zealotry. Jackson says the school believes fervently that the makeup of Advanced Placement classes should mirror the racial, ethnic and economic makeup of the general student body. To this end, in the spring of 2004, Wakefield launched an effort to support any and all students who want to take AP classes: a preparatory program called AP Bridge, which is designed to help entering students overcome their hormone-induced brain scramble by strengthening their time management and study skills. Visualizing Sebastian's junk heap of a desktop, I scratch a large "!" in my notes.

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La Follette's New Principal: John Broome

Susan Troller:

And like Goldilocks finding a perfect fit after several tries, Broome has had experiences - rather positive experiences he is quick to note - in other places that make him especially appreciative of La Follette's, and the Madison public school district's unique charms.

As Broome steps into the buzz saw surrounding La Follette's controversial four-block scheduling system, and a student population that has grown rapidly diverse, he appears not only fearless, but positively ebullient.

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August 4, 2006

Students Learn from Global Field Trips

Anita Clark:

or some students studying Chinese at Memorial High School, their summer assignment was intense: Spend three weeks in China, conversing with natives and exploring their culture.

"What surprised me is how different the rural area of China is from the big cities," said Alison Knickelbine, 18, who plans to major in Chinese when she begins college this fall at the University of Hawaii in Manoa.

Nine young people and six adults who made the trip gathered recently for their first reunion, sharing a cake decorated with a Chinese proverb and laughing at memories such as sampling exotic food and planting bamboo in a panda reserve.

Ten young explorers from Sun Prairie's two middle schools returned last month from the Amazon rainforest in Peru, where they expected to meet pink dolphins, spot umbrella birds and catch piranha.

"The kids learned an enormous amount of science," said Geri Stenstrup, a teacher at Royal Oaks Elementary who led the trip two summers ago. Next year, she'll take older teens to Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

The China trip cost about $3,200 per person. Two students received full scholarships and one a partial scholarship, supported by fundraising projects such as selling Chinese dumplings and egg rolls in the Memorial lunchroom.

The Center for East Asian Studies at UW-Madison paid most costs for the accompanying teachers, and a grant will pay for developing curriculum from the trip.

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August 3, 2006

On the Public-Private School Achievement Debate

Paul E. Peterson and Elena Llaudet:

According to the NCES study, the performance of students attending private schools was superior to that of students attending public schools. But after statistical adjustments were made for student characteristics, the private school advantage among 4th-graders was reported to give way to a 4.5 point public school advantage in math and school-sector parity in reading. After the same adjustments were made for 8th-graders, private schools retained a 7 point advantage in reading but achieved only parity in math.

However, NCES’s measures of student characteristics are flawed by inconsistent classification across the public and private sectors and by the inclusion of factors open to school influence.

Utilizing the same data as the original study but substituting better measures of student characteristics, improved Alternative Models identify a private school advantage in 11 out of 12 public-private comparisons. In 8th-grade math, the private school advantage varies between 3 and 7 test points; in reading, it varies between 9 and 13 points. Among 4th graders, in math, parity is observed in one model, but private schools outperform public schools by 2 to 4 points in the other two models; in 4th-grade reading, private schools have an advantage that ranges from 6 to 10 points. Except when parity is observed, all differences are statistically significant.

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Blackboard Inc. files first course management patent suit

Richard Wiggins:

Huge news that will affect universities and K-12 schools in a big way, so far ignored by the media:

Blackboard Inc. has sued Desire2Learn Inc. asserting that they infringe upon a patent for course management systems. Blackboard was awarded the patent in the US in January and has filed similar patents in many nations.

The US patent, 6,988,138, reads in incredibly broad terms. No doubt the defendant and rival learning management companies such as Angel are checking into prior art and obviousness defenses.

Course management systems (aka learning management systems) are de rigueur in higher education now, and fast spreading across K-12 education. Students find the syllabus, read the course reading materials, collaborate, and take tests, all online. They are used for on-campus and distance education applications. This is a huge market and this is likely to be a huge and ugly battle.

Nathan Dintenfass discusses prior art.

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Good, Bad News on the Math Front

Karen Rouse:

When results are broken down by race, just 10 percent of black and Latino sophomores in Colorado schools are proficient in math; 90 percent are not.

Those scores are "scary," said Jenna Fleur Lin, a math teacher who tutors high school students in the Cherry Creek School District and runs a free week-long math and science camp at an inner-city Denver church.

"What it means is you have a huge population that's not going to function properly," Lin said.

Moloney said one problem is that, unlike elementary and middle school students, high schoolers have the freedom to choose many of their own courses.

"Are minority youngsters being channelled into challenging programs or are you being (steered) to diminished programs?" he said.

Lin said she believes many students don't have a solid foundation in math in elementary school.

They are just learning to do calculations but they don't understand how to

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August 2, 2006

Tasting Freedom’s Simple Joys in the Barnes & Noble

Samuel Freedman:

Nearly a decade ago, hanging out in a bookstore would have seemed so corny. Back then, Mr. Edwards was a high school dropout, known as Kat on the streets of Paterson, and Top Cat on his arrest record, the one that described his itinerary for the evening of Nov. 12, 1997. With a friend, a stolen car and several weapons, he robbed nine people within an hour. He wound up with a few dollars, some jewelry and, ultimately, a prison sentence of 9 years, 10 months and 4 days.

All that time gave him a chance to reconsider the virtues of corniness. He had gotten his first dictionary in prison, from a friend serving 30 years for homicide. Mostly, Mr. Edwards took it to the law library, doing a felon’s version of homework. Only later, after he was transferred to a halfway house in Newark, had someone suggested to him that reading had purposes beyond filing an appeal.

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National Geographic's My Wonderful World Combats Geographic Illiteracy

My Wonderful World for Educators, Parents and Kids/Teens:

Geography is more than places on a map. It's global connections and incredible creatures. It's people and cultures, economics and politics. And it's essential to understanding our interconnected world.

But sadly, our kids aren't getting enough of it. A new National Geographic-Roper survey shows half of young Americans can't locate world powers like Japan and India. Twenty percent can't even find the Pacific Ocean. (More about the survey.) Without geography, our children aren't ready for the world.

That's why we started My Wonderful World. It's a National Geographic-led campaign—backed by a coalition of major national partners—to expand geographic learning in school, at home, and in the community. We want to give our kids the power of global knowledge.

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Black Star Project Encourages Parents to Walk Their Children to School

Chicago's Black Star Project launches the "Million Father March". Molly Snyder Edler has more:

Chicago's Black Star Project launched a nationwide event called the "Million Father March" that encourages African-American fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers and foster fathers to "march" their kids to their first day of school to demonstrate their commitment to education and their kids' futures.

Even thought the "Million Father March" is based in the Windy City, it will take place all over the country. Almost 50 cities are on board with the project, including Milwaukee.

Local organizers Phillip Bridges and Todd Pierce hope to see thousands of dads escourting their kids to class on the first day of school. Milwaukee Public Schools start Tuesday, Sept. 5.

"Research has shown that when a father takes an active role in the educational and social development of a child, the child earns better grades, gets better test scores, enjoys school more and is more likely to graduate high school and attend college," says Bridges.

In Milwaukee, only 24 percent of African-American males graduate from high school, and 54 percent are unemployed. Also, it's speculated that by 2007 the incarceration rate of black men in Milwaukee will be over 65 percent.

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August 1, 2006

Madison School Board Progress Report for the week of July 31st

Via a Johnny Winston, Jr. Email:

Is it me or is the summer going by way too fast? Very soon the school year will arrive for our students and the board action will mark some changes. On July 17th the Board approved a “wellness policy” that will prohibit the sale of soft drinks at local high schools in favor of milk, diet sodas, bottled water and 100% juices. In addition, it will stop the sale of “junk food” during the school day that put school cafeterias in competition with school stores or vending machines. Some of our students and staff believe that this will hurt school fundraising efforts, however, our board believes that our students are resourceful and will find alternative means for funding. This policy was developed in part because of a federal mandate that all schools nationwide must have a wellness policy...The board also approved “advertising” and “sponsorship” policies. These policies have very clear parameters. Examples of where ads and sponsorship could occur include the district website, newsletters and announcements at sporting events. Given our fiscal challenges, I believe that this is an appropriate policy that I hope will help preserve some of our extra-curricular, arts and sports programs which are often vulnerable to budget cuts... On August 7th the Board will vote on the proposed “Animals in the Classroom” policy and begin the process of evaluating the Superintendent
On August 14th the board will discuss the November 7th referendum and have our regular monthly meeting.

District Notes: The summer edition of MMSD Today is now available at Congratulations to Reggie Williams for being named Boys Varsity basketball coach at LaFollette.... Enrollment of all MMSD elementary school students will be Thursday, August 24 from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the student’s school... Supply lists for elementary schools are online... MMSD’s Summer Food Service provides free meals to children. The program was established to ensure that children in needy areas continue to receive nutritious meals during summer vacation.

Save the Date (Community Events):
On Saturday August 12th the 6th Annual Streetball & Block Party at 12 noon to 7 p.m. at Penn Park, South Madison. Activities include a men’s basketball tournament, youth activities, food and fun. Proceeds to the campaign to promote student achievement and parent involvement... The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network ( is putting on a walk to raise awareness of food allergies on Saturday August 19th at Elver Park at 9 a.m.

Did you know? Madison School and Community Recreation (MSCR) is a department of the Madison Metropolitan School District and has been providing recreation programs for 80 years?

Thank you for your interest and support of the MMSD.

Johnny Winston, Jr., President, Madison School Board

Want district information? Go to
Write to the entire school board at
Sign up for MMSD communications at
Watch school board meetings and other district programs on MMSD Channel 10 & 19.

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High School Rigor: Iowa AP Index and a Michigan School Board Member

The University of Iowa:

Every May a large number of high school students across America take AP exams. In May 2005 over 1.2 million high school students took over 2.1 million AP exams. AP allows students to pursue college-level studies while still in high school. Over 3000 colleges accept AP exam scores for either college credit or placement in higher level courses. AP was developed by The College Board and is one of the most successful and respected academic programs in the nation.
There have been numerous studies and articles proclaiming the advantages of AP. AP test scores have been found to be very good predictors of college grades and college graduation. A National Center for Educational Accountability study (2005) indicated that passing AP exams shows a strong and consistent relationship to college graduation rates. Recently, there has been considerable reporting on the benefits of AP courses and exams for minority students and students from poverty backgrounds. Such students exceed their educators’ expectations on AP (when given the opportunity). AP tests and minority students were made famous with the movie “Stand and Deliver” portraying the high success of inner-city Latino students on the AP Calculus exam.

While there is some controversy over AP (e.g., too much material covered in a short time; more breadth than depth) there is strong agreement (backed by research) by educators that AP courses and exams are a rigorous and meaningful indicator of academic preparation for college. Also, AP exams provide a uniform standard of academic accomplishment across geography, economic status, ethnicity and school size. AP exams cover 34 subject areas and exams are scored on a scale of 1-5, with 5 considered top level work (a grade equivalent of an "A") in a corresponding college course. A score of 3 or better is often accepted for either college credit or placement.

Jay Matthews has more:

Colangelo said he thought paying close attention to each school's AP DATA would be a good way to encourage Iowa schools to be more challenging. Only four Iowa public schools qualified for the latest Newsweek list of the country's most challenging public high schools. Colangelo discovered that of the 389 public and private high schools in Iowa, only 213 had at least one student take an AP exam in 2005. Of that group, 187 schools--171 public and 16 private--consented to participate in the Iowa AP Index. "The top 25 schools range in class size from 11 to 378," said the report, co-authored by Colangelo, Susan Assouline, Damien Ihrig and Clar Baldus. "There are 20 public and 5 private schools in the top 25. The #1 school is Rivermont Collegiate High School, a small private school in Bettendorf. The biggest school (based on graduating seniors) in the top 25 is Iowa City High School in Iowa City, Iowa [378 seniors]. The smallest school is Russell High School in Russell, Iowa [11 seniors]." The University of Iowa researchers even found an Iowa school, Roosevelt High in Des Moines, that qualified for the Newsweek list but that I had missed, a mistake I plan to rectify soon.

She said she has asked 85 college admissions officers in the past two years what was the first thing they look for in applicants' transcripts. She said each told her it was "the level of difficulty of the courses taken by a student. It is an automatic assumption that if an able student does not take AP courses when his or her high school offers them, then he or she has chosen not to challenge him or herself."

Mike Reno, a School Board Trustee in Rochester Michigan:
The mission is clearly defined. I proposed ideas, but did not cross the line of micromanaging. The measurement of success is clear: improved MEAP scores and a smaller achievement gap.

One can argue more patience and planning is prudent. Well, this has persisted for years, and while perhaps the administration is already trying things, I believe we need something more bold and aggressive.

I proposed to try this for a year or two and see if it can make a difference. We need to address this issue district-wide, but we need to start where the need is the greatest.

The response I received from some board members seemed to focus on everything but the proposal.

Their concerns over "surprise motions" ring hollow. Mrs. Reseigh's recent motion to cut board member comments from the minutes came without notice, as did Mr. Greimel's motion when he reversed himself on May elections.

And if they liked the idea, but wanted time, why didn't they move to table it until the next meeting?

Cries of "politics" ignore the fact that I have nothing to gain politically by trying to help these schools. It's what I was elected to do. If proposed a month ago, there would've been louder cries of "politics" due to the board election.

It's also puzzling some couldn't understand the plan; it's not complicated, and this board rarely seeks details anyway. For example, there's a budget item of $300,000 for high school reform with absolutely no details whatsoever.

I even suggested the funds could be contingent on a more detailed plan if that's what they wanted.

Barb Schrank compiled a list of AP courses taught at Madison's four high schools last fall: East (8), LaFollette (13), Memorial (16) and West (8). Laurie Frost recently took a look at the four high school's 9th and 10th grade offerings.

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Georgia District's Schoolchildren Already Back in Class

Susanna Capelouto:

While many students around the country still have weeks left of vacation, the school year began today in Rockdale County, Ga. The early start is part of a trend in pockets of the country, as summer breaks get shorter.

Schools are under pressure to raise test scores, and experts say a shorter break can help kids retain what they've learned in the previous year. But parents are split over whether that's worth sacrificing their childrens' summers.

Rockdale County, 20 miles east of Atlanta, is one of a handful of school systems that are opening up in July. And an early August start date is now common in Georgia. The trade-off for the short summer break comes in the form of two week-long breaks through out the year.

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

"Big Mother & Kids Lunches"


While programs like these have a solid premise, we envision kids making friends for more than just social reasons as middle-school cafeterias turn into fast-paced trading blocks to circumvent the system as connector children smuggle in junk food from the outside world. Or maybe we're just letting our imaginations get away with ourselves again.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:31 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Kids Come First

Joseph Epstein:

And child-centered we indubitably are, like no other people at no other time in history. A major enticement for parents to move, for example, is good schools. Private schools, meanwhile, flourish as never before, heavy though the expense usually is. Parents slavishly follow their children around to their every game: soccer, little league, tennis. Camcorders whirl; digital cameras click. Any child who has not been either to Disneyland or Disney World by the age of seven is considered deprived. Serious phone calls are interrupted because Jen or Tyler needs Mom or Dad now. Attention must be paid.

Nor does it end in childhood. A friend wrote to me about his 16-year-old: "My daughter Hope is a serious rocker, and I've been taking her and her girlfriends to a lot of concerts recently. The latest was at a biker-bar-like club in a suburban Virginia strip mall next to a Korean grocery store to see a Swedish metal band called Opeth. It was about 95 degrees in the place, and when I got home at 1:30 a.m., my clothes were still damp and smelled of smoke." He wasn't complaining, please understand, merely describing.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:30 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas