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September 30, 2006

The End of Literacy

Bill McCoy:

In a comment on my post Does Reading Really Matter?, bowerbird challenged me to name names on who's arguing the position that "the end of literacy is nigh, and that's OK".

Well William Crossman for one is practically exuberant about post-literacy:

By 2020, electronically-developed countries will be well on their way to becoming oral cultures... Reading, writing, spelling, alphabets, pictographic written languages, written grammar rules, and all other written notational systems will be rapidly exiting the scene
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:39 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

I oppose Constructivist Teaching Practices

As you know, I oppose constructivist teaching practices and favor a more traditional instructivist approach. But there is another way too. I'll call it "de-structivism"

A good example here.

BTW, I've managed to get the new school cell phone policy training video. It's about time.

Video here.

Posted by Reed Schneider at 5:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Press release: MMSD Information sessions about Nov. 7 referendum

The Madison School District will hold four referendum information sessions in advance of the November 7 referendum. The public is invited to attend any of these sessions.

Thurs. October 12 6:30 PM Sennett School 502 Pflaum Rd. 53716 Lecture lab
Tues. October 17 6:30 PM Cherokee School 4301 Cherokee Dr. 53711 LMC
Wed. October 18 6:30 PM Sherman School 1610 Ruskin St. 53704 Cafeteria
Wed. October 25 6:30 PM Jefferson School 101 S. Gammon Rd. 53717 Lecture hall

During these sessions, Supt. Art Rainwater will show a short video and make a brief presentation. Most of each session will be spent answering questions from those in attendance.

Spanish interpreters will be available at Cherokee School on October 17 and Sherman School on October 18.

A $23.5 million referendum is on the November 7 ballot. The three parts of the single referendum question are: build a new school on the far west side, provide financing for more classroom space at Leopold School, and provide revenue cap relief via debt refinancing.

For more information about the referendum, go to and click on “2006 Referendum.”

For more information contact:
Ken Syke, 663-1903, or Joe Quick, 663-1902

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 4:00 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More Clout Sought for Social Studies Curriculum

Ian Shapira:

This week, the Virginia Consortium of Social Studies Specialists and College Educators launched a campaign here to get its educational niche a more prominent place in the law as Congress begins to consider revisions in the coming year. The group aims to include social studies test scores in federal formulas used to rate schools.

As the law now stands, the group said Tuesday, subjects such as history, government and geography sometimes get short shrift while schools increase time spent on reading and math.

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

Kudos To Harris For Taking School Back

Jenni Gile:

As a former East High School student who lived through four years of closed campus for lunch, and a parent of current East High students -- one a freshman, the other a junior -- I applaud East High Principal Alan Harris.

I think next year he should be brazen and close campus for lunch for all students, unless they are involved in an off-site program. Ease the hectic lunch schedule of the upperclassmen and set an example for the rest of the city.

Talk about taking back the school! This principal is the best one we have seen since Milt McPike. We are cheering for him in our home.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wanted: Strong Crop of School Candidates

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Madison was treated to two lively and competitive races for School Board last spring.

Voters deserve more of the same next spring.

But that will require another strong group of candidates to step forward.

At least one seat on the board will be open because board member Ruth Robarts is retiring after a decade of service. Board president Johnny Winston Jr. has announced he'll seek re-election. Member Shwaw Vang has not yet said if he'll seek another term.

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

September 29, 2006

Montessori students outperform traditionally taught students academically and socially

Erin Richards:

A study of Milwaukee schoolchildren published today in the journal Science underscores what proponents of Montessori education have believed for decades: that Montessori students might be better prepared academically and socially than students in traditional classrooms.

Among the findings: 5-year-old Montessori students had better reading, math and social skills than 5-year-old non-Montessori children, and 12-year-old Montessori students wrote essays that were more creative and sophisticated than those by 12-year-old non-Montessori students. The study tested two groups of Milwaukee Public Schools students: those who by luck of a lottery got into Craig Montessori on the city's northwest side, and those who didn't.

It reaffirms the benefits of a system started by Maria Montessori 100 years ago, local administrators said, while also boosting the reputation of a city that has increasingly made public school Montessori options available to a poor, urban population.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:20 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

9/25/2006 Health Insurance Presentation

On September 25, the Human Resources Committee of the Madison School Board heard a presentation from Robert Butler, a negotiations consultant from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, about the ever-increasing costs for employee health insurance for school districts. Mr. Butler also recommended steps for the district to take in the future. The committee meets again on Monday, October 30. Board members on the committee are Lawrie Kobza and Shwaw Vang. I am the chair.

Butler's presentation [269K PDF].

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 12:21 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MMSD Referendum Info

The attached document is copied from Vicki McKenna's web site. Her comments are accurate from the conversations she and I have had and information she has reviewed. There still is a lot more critical information, questions and concerns about the referendum that needs exploration, analysis and 'airing.'

Here is what I think is some significant additional data:

The District continues to refuse to tell the public (taxpayers) about the TRUE costs of the referendum. The District is only telling us to consider a $23.1 million referendum without telling us the FULL tax burden that includes the approximate 60% (Sixty) additional cost to taxpayers to satisfy the State Equalization (negative aids) obligation. That $23.1 million actually becomes an estimated $37.67 million. The three parts to the referendum question break out as follows:

  1. Linden Park Elementary: Basic of $17.7 million, plus 60% or $10.6 million equals $28.3 million total actual tax burden

  2. Leopold Elementary School Addition: Basic of $2.76 million, plus 60% or $1.65 million equals $4.41 million total actual tax burden

  3. Debt Refinance: Basic of $3.1 million, plus 60% or $1.86 million equals $4.96 million total actual tax burden
Items 2 and 3 are, in effect (back door approach), a referendum to raise the revenue cap by releasing over $800,000 per year from debt obligations in the operations budget to spend in whatever ways the Board of Education chooses. The Board has done no planning as to if, let alone how, this money will be spent on priorities for classroom, instruction and programs and services toward directly affecting student achievement.

I encourage you to share your insights, questions and suggestions.

An Active Citizens for Education (ACE) meeting is scheduled for Thursday, October 5, 7:00 pm, Oakwood Village West. More details to follow. McKenna's website.

Posted by Don Severson at 12:04 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MMSD at Stage 1 in partnerships

As with leadership, Stage 1 on the five-stage chart best describes the MMSD's partnership development:

Approach in Stage 1
There is no system for input from parents, business, or community. Status quo is desired for managing the school.

Implementation in Stage 1
Barriers are erected to close out involvement of outsiders. Outsiders are managed for least impact on status quo.

Outcome in Stage 1
There is little or no involvement of parents, business, or community at large. School is a closed, isolated system.

I can see some members of the board nudging the district toward more involvement of parents, but the creep is slow, slow, slow.

The description of implementation clearly describes the administration and the thinking of some board members in my mind. The description explains to me why the superintendent unilaterally returned the two-million-dollar Reading First grant. The recent revelations of bureaucratic impropriety are just after-the-fact rationalizations.

I encourage others to comment on this chart and the previous one. If various school advocates can come to some agreement (or at least understanding of each others' points of view) on these charts, we might be able to begin some productive dialog that would move the MMSD closer toward Stage 5.

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


This is the third in a series of farewell posts to the SIS blog. I still don’t know how long this will take; I don’t have a schedule but I don’t think too much longer. There are still things I want to say before I leave this forum. “The Long Goodbye?” I hope not, but a bit longer. I also want to note that as part of weaning myself from SIS, I’ve decided not to “do comments.” Some of that decision is a selfish desire to pursue my own agenda and some of it is a recognition that “doing comments,” pulls me in exactly the direction I’ve been complaining about. I only mention this because I want to applaud Ed Blume’s recent effort to be constructive, education4U’s and Larry Winkler's comments on my previous post in this series and thank Barb S. for her kind words. Some of the things I want to say are very general about how I think about education and activism; some are specific to my experiences in Madison and with SIS. Most are a combination. This one is a combination that turns out to be timely (I intended to write this before the event that gives it timeliness – an event I had no direct part in).

This post is about the referendum campaign, CAST (Communities and Schools Together) and what others have called “the CAST leaders,” (I have never heard anyone associated with CAST call himself or herself or anyone else a leader. I prefer to think them as those who are working the hardest). There has been an attempt to make the referendum campaign at least partially about the people working with CAST. If that is gong to be the case I think it is important to relate what I know about those people and that organization.

It is serendipitous that the word CAST fits so well with what I want to write about, which is the how CAST came together and how it functions. I don’t know the entire story and the fact that I don’t know is part of the story. It is significant that there is very little formal organization or structure and much improvisation; that things get done because varied and talented and committed people find the time and means to get them done. We’ve been doing this without being given orders or deadlines or anything but encouragement. So I don’t know all about how CAST came together (and in fact to know all that, I think I’d have to query every person who proudly calls himself or herself a member of CAST because every person has their individual story and reasons for wanting to help get the referendum passed). Enough with the protestations of ignorance, there are some things that I do know and these are part of the story too.

Carol Carstensen was designated (officially? unofficially?) by the Board of Education to coordinate the campaign. In some manner and in some way and to some (from what I can tell, limited) fashion Carol recruited people to fit certain slots, like a casting director casts a play or movie. I don’t know what these slots were, but I would guess that geographic diversity and earned respect from varied portions of the MMSD community were part of the criteria and skills and strengths may also have been considered. That is one meaning of cast.

Cast also describes casting a line or a net to see what you catch. That’s how most of the people working for the referendum came together. It was more of a wide net than a line. Calls for help on list serves, word of mouth, letters to supporters of past referendums, more word of mouth…were all parts of it that I know of. When you cast a wide net, you can end up with many different types of fish.

CAST has many different types of fish, many different types of educational activists. Really, we share only three things: (1) A desire to see the referendum pass; (2) a willingness to work to make that desire a reality and (3) respect for one another. There are people who I am working closely with who I have in the past had public disagreements with. There are people who I am working closely with who have made public statements that show they have a greater concern than I do about “Bright Flight.” There are people making great contributions and I don’t know anything about them but their names and their contributions. There are probably people who have views that are very, very different from mine. There is no party line but to get the referendum passed. That’s one reason why it is so laughable that anyone would try to make a big deal about the fact that no CAST member “called” me on what I wrote about the Wright PSO meeting (and note that the person making that accusation was on the CAST list, read the message and only attempted to “call” me on it in a different and more public forum where he was confident that his distortions would get a more friendly reception). What was really going on was I was sharing something that was important to me with a diverse group who I knew would (with one exception) treat my thoughts with respect. I didn’t post those thoughts on SIS because I knew they wouldn’t be treated with respect. I don’t give a damn now, so before I leave I’m going to say a lot more about that meeting. The other people on the list (with one exception) understood that: TJ on the soapbox again, sometimes worth heeding, sometimes wrong, sometimes tiresome, but not to be twisted or ridiculed. Respect. It wasn’t a policy statement or an attempt to convince anyone of anything. Maybe at some level I wanted to prompt people to think about contrasting attitudes on support for public education, but mostly I wanted to share my moving experience of hearing from other supporters with those who are working to build support (again, with one exception). So a wide net was cast and the catch is good and varied. That’s what coalitions are. We work together to achieve those goals we share in common.

The final usages of cast I want to bring in are biblical. “Cast your bread on the waters; for you shall find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11). Most interpretations of this injunction concern faith and charity and doing good works. Having faith to follow a practice that appears to make no sense (historically seed was cast from river boats at high tide as a way of planting, so there was method to the madness). And charity and good works, in that if give of yourself based on faith, your faith will be returned, your good works will yield returns, you will find the bread. I have the sense that the people working with CAST are working based on a faith that building that school, renovating the other, refinancing those debts will all be returned to the community with a multitude of small and large benefits. Given the current atmosphere, I need to point out that this isn’t a blind and irrational faith, there is good evidence to back it up (look at the CAST web site). But in another sense it is irrational for many of us. My children will not attend the new school or Leopold; the odds of the money saved directly benefiting my children are very small. Still I have faith that doing what is right -- right for the children who will attend the new school, right for those whose schools will avoid some overcrowding because of the new school, right for those at Leopold who will finally get some relief from overcrowding, right for those who may gain a teacher or a smaller class and will not lose some services because of the refinancing, right for the MMSD community of five or ten or fifteen years from now who without these measures will be forced to build a new school or new schools in crisis situations (because that land is there and homes will be built and children will need schools) -- will yield indirect returns for me and those I care about. It will make Madison a better place. I can’t see any way that failing to pass this referendum will make Madison a better place.

My faith has been shaken lately. Not my faith that passing the referendum is the right thing to do. It is my faith in myself, in my understanding of how the world works and in my belief that the vast, vast majority of people on this planet are people of good will. These faiths have been shaken by doubts that whatever benefits may come from my advocacy; the road that I have taken my advocacy on in response to recent events may be causing harm to an individual in ways that I did not anticipate and do not desire. These faiths have also been shaken by momentary doubts about how much and how far I can trust someone who I like very much but don’t know very well. The first set of doubts I am struggling with. I quickly decided to dismiss the second set, but I am ashamed that they even rose in my mind. I am sorry to be so cryptic, and only am sharing this because it has brought home to me how important trust and honesty are. Living life with the assumption of distrust is not a good way to be. Working to improve our children’s schools and futures based on distrust is not a good way to get things done.

The last use of cast I’m going to say anything about is “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” (John 8:7). (If you got this far aren’t you glad I decided not to drag in anything about casting from a mold, or a cast for a broken bone. I am.) I’ve cast some stones in my day that I am not proud of and I’m not without sin, so I’m not claiming personal purity. I’ve certainly had some stones cast my way lately. I’ll pick a fight and almost never back down, but I would never initiate the kind of dirty tactics I’ve seen directed my way and at CAST. As I am sure anyone who was on the CAST list can attest, there has never been any discussion or contemplation of using dirty tactics. (Really, the best opposition research that came from this failed Nixonian misadventure was a statement from me completely divorced from the referendum that had to be misinterpreted in order to even try to do anything with.) I’m not saying CAST is without sin, but we aren’t casting stones either. There may be referendum supporters casting stones, but they are not part of any campaign I am involved with.

CAST is a coalition of dedicated people who believe that passing the referendum is the right thing to do. No more, no less. In regard to how the electorate votes on the referendum, most of this shouldn’t matter at all. I’ve asked repeatedly that those of us who devote time to educational activism help others decide how to vote based on the merits of the proposals on the ballot. This plea has been met with resistance from those who oppose the referendum and those who have not taken public stances. Who supports or opposes the referendum and how they express their support or opposition isn’t on the ballot. This shouldn’t be about me or anyone else. Unfortunately Jim Zellmer and others are correct that at least some voters will be thinking of things other than the merits of the ballot measures as they cast their votes. If one of those things is the revealed character of activists on each side, then I can’t help but feel good about the prospects for passage.

Vote Yes for Schools!

To be continued.


Posted by Thomas J. Mertz at 10:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

U.S. homework outsourced as "e-tutoring" grows

Jason Szep

BOSTON (Reuters) - Private tutors are a luxury many American families cannot afford, costing anywhere between $25 to $100 an hour. But California mother Denise Robison found one online for $2.50 an hour -- in India.

"It's made the biggest difference. My daughter is literally at the top of every single one of her classes and she has never done that before," said Robison, a single mother from Modesto.

Her 13-year-old daughter, Taylor, is one of 1,100 Americans enrolled in Bangalore-based TutorVista, which launched U.S. services last November with a staff of 150 "e-tutors" mostly in India with a fee of $100 a month for unlimited hours.

Taylor took two-hour sessions each day for five days a week in math and English -- a cost that tallies to $2.50 an hour, a fraction of the $40 an hour charged by U.S.-based online tutors such as market leader that draw on North American teachers, or the usual $100 an hour for face-to-face sessions.

"I like to tell people I did private tutoring every day for the cost of a fast-food meal or a Starbucks' coffee," Robison said. "We did our own form of summer school all summer."

The outsourcing trend that fueled a boom in Asian call centers staffed by educated, low-paid workers manning phones around the clock for U.S. banks and other industries is moving fast into an area at the heart of U.S. culture: education.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:20 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools Of Hope - Tutors Needed

[Not part of the "farewell series," much more important]



There are a number of factors that have contributed to the historic closing of the achievement gap in Madison schools including small class sizes and talented and well trained teachers. But there's no disputing the United Way of Dane County-led Schools of Hope project and the hundreds of tutors it has mobilized have played a crucial role. So crucial that a significant decrease in tutors would put the hard won gains at risk. We believe this community won't let that happen.

United Way, and Schools of Hope partners RSVP and the Urban League are conducting training for tutors right now. Tutors need no prior experience or training, just the interest to devote a little time to helping en elementary school child with reading or a middle school child with algebra. 104 volunteers registered this week. But at least another hundred are needed. The next training is Tuesday October 3 from 4:00 to 6:00 at the Memorial Union. Schools of Hope is a community success. It works because of you. It's that important. Help if you can.

Posted by Thomas J. Mertz at 8:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

September 28, 2006

Meet the New Principal

Jason Shepherd:

Good principals must satisfy interest groups and carry out the goals of policymakers. They must master the bureaucracy, feed their teachers’ energy, inspire students and families. They must blend nimbleness with strategic planning, instant pragmatism with sustained idealism.

“The quality of a principal is the single most important factor in a school’s success,” says Superintendent Art Rainwater.

Talk about pressure.

Patrick Delmore, the former principal at O’Keeffe Middle School, knows how hard it can be.

“You might intellectually know the many facets of the job,” he says. “But even if you work pretty efficiently, you find out quickly how important it is to work those extra hours.”

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:50 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Dissecting the Dollars: MMSD Referendum Nears


The five-minute video, available on MMSD's Web site, explains why there is a referendum, and how a yes-vote impacts taxpayers' wallets. Board member Carol Carstensen said it's intended to be shown at various meetings. "In parent groups, neighborhood groups, service organizations, anyone who wants to find out the facts about the referendum question," she said.

Since tax dollars produced it, Carstensen said the video is simply factual, not promotional. In places, she said the numbers are quite exact. For instance, Carstensen said when it shows the impact on the average home, the dollar amounts include an extra 60-percent the district has pay to help fund poor school districts in the state. "That includes the negative aid, the way in which the state finances work," she said.

Watching the district's finances, and the video closely, will be Don Severson. He heads the group Active Citizens for Education, which doesn't take a position on the referendum, but seeks to clarify information for voters. Severson will questions other dollar amounts, like the lump sum $23 million being advertised on the district's Web site. "What they aren't saying is the other extra 60-percent which amounts then to $37 million," he said.

Severson said he'll spend the next six weeks dissecting similar numbers in this video. "Trying to make sure it's as complete as possible and as accurate as possible." He said voters should still watch out for the district's official enrollement numbers for the year, which were taken last Friday. Severson said voters will need that information, since two of the three parts of the question concern overcrowding.

Much more here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Kindergarten Prep: The Academic Push -- How Early is Too Early?

Ilene Lelchuk:

When Dylan and Matthew Goode bounded into the Score Educational Center in Alameda, Dylan, 6, asked for a turn with the ladybug-shaped computer mouse. And Matthew, 4, wanted to know when he could shoot hoops, the reward for finishing each hourlong lesson.

Once in front of computer screens with headphones on, they slumped in their chairs, swung their legs and talked back at animated math and phonics sessions.

The academic push now starts before kindergarten. Parents worried about the rigors of elementary school enroll their tots in tutoring programs and academic preschools or sit them in front of videos that promise to teach children as young as 15 months their ABC basics in a few short weeks.

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


Joanne Jacobs:

AB 2975 would have labeled California students "proficient" if they were on track to pass the state's graduation exam, which requires partial mastery of 7th and 8th grade math and 9th and 10th grade English by the end of 12th grade. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's veto message was succinct.
Redefining the level of academic achievement necessary to designate students as 'proficient' does not make the students proficient."
Not unless the word means "no more than four years below grade level."
There's been some local discussion regarding the redefinition of success here and here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:59 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Seattle's School "Choice" & Transportation Costs

Jessica Blanchard:

The district's current "open choice" enrollment policy allows students to attend virtually any public school in the city. Students who live near their school are expected to get there on their own, while free busing is provided for all other middle and high school students, and for elementary school students who attend a school within the large geographic "cluster" in which they live.

It's a popular plan with many parents, but it's more complex than those of neighboring districts, and more expensive: The district annually spends an average of $560.86 per student, far more than other large districts in the state. About half the district's roughly $25 million annual student transportation cost is paid by the state; local property-tax money covers most of the rest.

With Seattle schools facing a multimillion-dollar structural deficit, officials have said they can't afford to maintain the status quo for much longer. By scaling back the system and offering parents fewer choices of where to send their child to school, the district could see major financial savings -- as much as a couple of million dollars a year.

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

Extending the Class Day

Ledyard King:

Demands for more tests and more academic rigor are spurring schools to consider something that makes most students shudder: more time in class.

Massachusetts is paying for longer days at 10 schools this year. Minnesota is considering whether to add five weeks to the school calendar. A smattering of schools nationwide, including schools in Iowa, North Carolina and California, already have increased the time some students spend in class.

The argument that students should spend more time in school isn’t new.

“A Nation at Risk,” the landmark 1983 report dissecting America’s education challenges, recommended that schools run seven hours (up from about six today) and 200 to 220 days (up from a current average of 180) to accommodate more rigorous instruction. KIPP charter schools, started in 1994, rely on longer days and Saturday school to teach students.

But the argument is gaining support as increased math and English testing required by the federal No Child Left Behind law has forced schools to focus on the basics at the expense of the arts, physical education and recess.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:48 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Hospital, Schools Develop Curriculum

Michael Alison Chandler:

Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III announced a partnership this week between the school system and Inova Loudoun Hospital to develop courses that will give more high school students hands-on training in medical professions.

The Claude Moore Charitable Foundation has given the venture a push with a $150,000 donation, which was presented to the partners before Hatrick's "State of Education" address at a Chamber of Commerce meeting Tuesday morning.

The training programs could offer a solution to staffing shortages at hospitals and become a national model, said J. Hamilton Lambert, executive director of the Fairfax County-based foundation.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Robarts Served a Valuable Role"

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The taxpayers of Madison owe Ruth Robarts a big thank you.

Robarts has served on the Madison School Board for a decade, asking pesky questions about how tax dollars are spent and how Madison children are educated.

What she lacked in tact she made up for in candor and an unflinching commitment to changing a school system that, while strong, is too often thin-skinned and resistant to scrutiny.

Perhaps a bit early for the eulogy, but well said. Much more on Ruth here and here

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:34 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2 Bushes on No Child Left Behind

Sam Dillon:

Over the years since, Governor Bush has mostly held his tongue about the president’s very different law, even as detractors of all stripes have attacked it.

But in recent weeks — perhaps seeking to cement his legacy as a school-policy expert as he prepares to leave office — Governor Bush has been speaking out about the federal law, mixing dollops of praise with measured criticisms — and taking an occasional potshot. He has been caustic, for instance, about the requirement that 100 percent of the nation’s students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

“I mean perfection is not going to happen,” Mr. Bush said Sept. 12 at a news conference in Orlando, arguing that achievement targets are important but that unrealistic ones discourage educators. “We’re all imperfect under God’s watchful eye, and it’s impossible to achieve it.”

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

September 27, 2006

Top-flight colleges fail civics, study says

Tanya Schevitz:

Seniors at UC Berkeley, the nation's premier public university, got an F in their basic knowledge of American history, government and politics in a new national survey, and students at Stanford University didn't do much better, getting a D.

Out of 50 schools surveyed, Cal ranked 49th and Stanford 31st in how well they are increasing student knowledge about American history and civics between the freshman and senior years. And they're not alone among major universities in being fitted for a civics dunce cap.

Other poor performers in the study were Yale, Duke, Brown and Cornell universities. Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore was the tail-ender behind Cal, ranking 50th. The No. 1 ranking went to unpretentious Rhodes College in Memphis.

Full report can be found at

My high school government teacher, a Vietnam vet, drilled (drilled!) our government's structure, mechanics and history into my brain.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:58 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Public Schools Open Their Doors To Autism

Kathleen Carroll:

The growing number of children identified as autistic -- and the steep cost of educating them -- is fueling a boom in public school programs.

In Bergenfield, a dozen preschool students are attending the inaugural class of the TriValley Academy, a collaborative effort with New Milford and Dumont. Districts including Leonia and West Paterson also opened new autism classrooms this month.

Existing programs are growing quickly. Hawthorne, Paterson and Teaneck have added classes. A two-year-old program for teenagers run by the Bergen County Special Services School District grew 50 percent this fall.

Public awareness of the disorder is at an all-time high, and more children are being classified as autistic under special-education rules. Plus, the state's stellar reputation for autism programs has attracted families from all over the country, creating demand for more services.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:04 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Kindergarten Student Walks Away From School


A five year old kindergarten student at Lowell Elementary School failed to board his school bus at dismissal and was discovered by the staff of a nearby youth center.

"I don't feel comfortable that children don't get on their transportation, " Atwood Youth Center staff member Kristin Bartell told 27 News.

Bartell told 27 News a staff member discovered the boy had joined children from the Center's after school program as those children were escorted from the school to the center.

"The child indicated he didn't want to jump the bus and he didn't want to go home," Bartell said.

The distance between the school and the center includes a busy, commercial stretch of Atwood Avenue with steady traffic.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:22 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Talking passed each other

I can make sense out of the tensions between different factions of MMSD advocates by placing their various positions at the different ends of the attached chart on school leadership. (Replace "principal" with "superintendent" and "school" with "district" when reading the chart.)

At stage 1 on the chart,

the Approach is:
[Superintendent] as decision maker. Decisions are reactive to state,
district, and federal mandates;

the Implementation is:
[Superintendent] makes all decisions, with little or no input from teachers, the community, or students. Leadership inspects for mistakes;

the Outcome is:
Decisions lack focus and consistency. There is little staff buy-in. Students and parents do no feel they are being heard. Decision-making process is clear and known.

I feel (and perhaps many other posters do to) that Stage 1 closely describes the MMSD.

My impression is that many pro-district advocates believe the MMSD is at Stage 5 at the other end of the chart where

the Approach is:
A strong continuous improvement structure is set into place that allows for input from all sectors of the school, district, and community, ensuring strong communication, flexibility, and refinement of approach and beliefs. The school vision is student focused, based on data and appropriate for school and community values, and meeting student needs.

the Implementation is:
The vision is implemented and articulated across all grade levels and into feeder schools. Quality standards are reinforced throughout the school. All members of the school community understand and apply the quality standards. Leadership team has systematic interactions and involvement with district administrators, teachers, parents, community, and students about the school's direction.

the Outcome is:
Site-based management and shared decision making truly exists. Teachers understand and display an intimate knowledge of how the school operates. Teachers support and communicate with each other in the implementation of the quality strategies. Teachers implement the vision in their classrooms and can determine how their new approach meets student needs and leads to the attainment of student learning standards.

Consequently, advocates at the ends of the chart can agree on broad issues, such as the MMSD should serve all students, they cannot agree on how well the MMSD serves students nor on how to serve them better.

Posted by Ed Blume at 1:01 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Punished by CAST?

The pro-referendum group Communities and School Together (CAST) deleted my membership in its list serve, and changed the membership process to require membership approval by a moderator.

I guess that some members of the community are welcome and others aren't. We'll see whether CAST lets me rejoin. Probably not.

Should CAST members be banned from

Posted by Ed Blume at 9:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Pouring Water

When I'm doing the very best I can
You're pouring water
On a drowning man
You're pouring water
On a drowning man

“Pouring Water on Drowning Man”
Dani McCormick & Drew Baker
Download file">Listen to James Carr’s version

This is the second of a series of farewell posts to this blog. My original intent had been to wait till the final posts to directly address the reasons contributing to my decision to leave this forum. I’m still going to post those, but Barb Lewis’ comment on the first in this series is such a perfect example of one of the contributing factors that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interrupt my plan and explore the pervasive poison culture that has come to dominate here and to a lesser extent MMSD (and maybe educational) politics and advocacy in general. For those who need it spelled out, I’m drowning in disgust with this culture and Barb Lewis’ comment is the titular water.

Barb Lewis wrote:

Once again the position of most TAG advocates is misunderstood. What many of us would like to see are programs which actually try to identify and serve ALL talented and gifted kids, not just those who have the good luck to be born to parents who are well-educated themselves and have the financial resources to help them be challenged outside of school if necessary. It is precisely the children you mention, who have no books or even homes, who are being most underserved now by MMSD's almost nonexistent TAG programs. They are the ones who would benefit most from being nurtured and encouraged at an early age, so that they might actually make it to Calculus.

I am sick and tired of people telling me (or anyone else) what I (or anyone else) understood or misunderstood, believe or think. This is especially true in cases like this when the words I wrote and presumably are in front of them give no support their assertions and in fact support an interpretation to the contrary. If something isn't clear, ask for a clarification. I do, often.

Inevitably this happens when someone (in this case me) posts something that doesn’t 100% agree with the commentator’s views. Go back and read what I wrote. I did not say a word about TAG parents concern for children in poverty. Everything I wrote about TAG advocates was to praise them. I did imply (and believe) that if your educational priorities center on children in poverty, then TAG programming should not be the primary way to address their needs. If you believe differently I would guess you are woefully and perhaps willfully ignorant of the circumstances of children in poverty and the educational research about addressing these circumstances (please note, this is a guess, if the guess is wrong, please correct me and explain why you believe differently. That is a discussion I’d welcome). What Barb Lewis posted was a subtle straw man attack. She did not engage what I wrote (I would welcome a discussion of that line dividing desires from needs), she put words in my mouth and used them to attack me.

The irony here is that in fact I agree with Barbra Lewis that part of the answer is reaching out to include children in poverty and other underrepresented groups in TAG and other advanced programs. It is one reason why I support “some TAG programming.” It is why I wrote about the need to “create opportunities for children who have no books in their homes or no homes at all.”

More importantly, I have (as I have noted on this site) advocated for this in my work on the MMSD Equity Task Force. I drafted the original language of the following material from the Task Force Interim Report (the final language is a collaborative effort):

(Under Guiding Principles)
The district will eliminate gaps in access and achievement by recognizing and addressing historic and contemporary inequalities in society.

(Under Implementation Strategies)
Open access to advanced programs, actively recruit students from historically underserved populations and provide support for all students to be successful.

I make no claim to any special or original authorship of the definition of Equity offered by the Task Force, but I think it also speaks to these issues:

Equity assures full access to opportunities for each MMSD student,
resulting in educational excellence and social responsibility.

What is so sad and awful about this is that instead of seeing the potential and seizing the opportunity to build a coalition to work toward achieving the goals we share, there is an inclination to see the worst in those who don’t share all your goals or strategies and (unfortunately) attack them.


Posted by Thomas J. Mertz at 9:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Thought we could all use a yuck...

NEW YORK -- A public school teacher was arrested today at John F. Kennedy
International Airport as he attempted to board a flight while in
possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule and a
calculator. At a morning press conference, Attorney General Alberto
Gonzales said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-gebra

Mr. Gonzales did not identify the man, who has been charged by the FBI
with carrying weapons of math instruction.

"Al-gebra is a problem for us," Gonzales said. "They desire solutions by
means and extremes, and ! sometimes go off on tangents in search of absolute

"They use secret code names like 'x' and 'y' and refer to themselves as
'unknowns', but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of
the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country."

As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, 'There are 3 sides to
every triangle'."

When asked to comment on the arrest, President Bush said, "If God had
wanted us to have better weapons of math instruction, He would have given
us more fingers and toes."

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

Students Aren't Interchangeable

Patrick Welsh (A high school english teacher):

One of the biggest concerns of parents for the new school year is this: What kind of kids are in my child's classroom? The answer to this question is particularly difficult for parents of average students, the most forgotten group today.

All parents want their children to be with the nice kids, the bright and well-behaved types who will pull classes up, rather than with kids who will drag them down. In big, economically and ethnically diverse high schools such as mine, T.C. Williams in Alexandria, Va., where there is enormous variation in academic abilities, average kids run the risk of ending up in one of two tracks: in classes full of students with weak skills and lousy attitudes or in so-called advanced courses where they find themselves in over their heads.

A major part of the problem is the anti-tracking movement, which began in the mid-1980s. Since then, tracking has become to education what abortion and gay marriage are to politics — an incendiary topic with fanatics on both sides. So-called progressive teachers and administrators, whose mantra is "every child can learn," want to do away with tracking.

Good teachers, and fancy sounding course labels such as Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate, are supposed to raise the level of all students no matter how varied their skills or abilities. In truth, social engineering — mixing of races and ethnic groups in classes — is what many administrators really prize, while giving lip service to academic rigor.

On the other end of the tracking wars are fanatical parents — usually white, in my experience — who think their kids are geniuses, who must be protected from less talented kids and who are entitled to every advantage and resource the school system has to offer.

Joanne has more.

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Reading First Curriculum Review

Reading First, subject to a scathing economic/lobbying audit recently was also just reviewed in this report from the Center for Education Policy [Kathleen Kennedy Manzo] [Full Report 176K PDF]:

“Participating schools and districts have made many changes in reading curriculum, instruction, assessment, and scheduling,” the report by the Washington-based Center on Education Policy says. “Many districts have expanded Reading First instructional programs and assessment systems to non-Reading First schools.”

Titled “Keeping Watch on Reading First,” the Sept. 20 report by the research and advocacy group is based on a 2005 survey of all 50 states and a nationally representative sample of some 300 school districts in the federal Title I program, as well as case studies of 38 of those districts and selected schools.

Some 1,700 districts and more than 5,600 schools receive grants under Reading First, which was authorized by the No Child Left Behind Act.

While hard data, such as test-score comparisons, are still not available, the survey results show that “with scientifically based research, strict requirements [for following research findings], and substantial funding, you can bring about results,” said CEP President Jack Jennings.

Rotherham has more.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:07 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

September 26, 2006

So Many Grading Scales, What's an Admissions Director to Do?

Valerie Strauss:

Admissions director Richard Martinez faces a mishmash of grading systems every time he sits down to review freshman applications at Ohio's College of Wooster.

He sees transcripts with grade-point averages based on a scale where an A is worth 4 points and others where an A is 4.3 points or 7 -- or more -- depending on the supposed difficulty of a course. One high school has five grading scales.

"We have found that it is incredibly difficult to find out what a GPA really means," said Martinez, a former high school teacher. "That's one reason that we travel to high schools to learn the differences in what an A means at each. We have to know."

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What Role Colleges Play in Career Success Stirs Debate

Carol Hymowitz:

ven some educators who have headed small schools concede the Ivies, with their large endowments, have an edge. Dr. William Hamm, president of the Foundation for Independent Higher Education in Washington, D.C., and former president of Waldorf College in Iowa, writes, "If a student asked me whether to enroll at Wisconsin, Waldorf or Harvard, I'd tell him or her they'd be foolish to pass up the opportunity for Harvard."

But Scott Albert, a New Jersey educational consultant, says that after 20 years as an educator, he has "long believed that the college admission process is one of the great lies perpetuated by educators. It dangles a motivational worm in front of young people as a way to get them to work harder, but not necessarily learn more." In the end, he says, "it breeds fear and rejection into a majority of young people while offering a false sense of security to the few who are accepted."

David Curran believes in another key to success altogether. "In my own experience with several Fortune 500 companies," he writes, "I have found the best leaders (versus managers) are individuals who have had to deal with some form of adversity (no money, single parent situations, etc.) and have developed mechanisms to transform those challenges into opportunities -- regardless of what school they attended."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:35 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Audio: Education Secretary Margaret Spellings

National Press Club.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:30 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Pro November 7 Referendum Madison CAST website is live. I've also added it to the election page.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:26 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


I would like to address the issue of how the $276,000 from the Leopold refinancing would be handled in the 06-07 school year if the referendum is passed.

The money for the debt service related to the Leopold construction is currently in the Business Services Budget for the District. If the referendum passes, the Board has committed to moving that $276,000 to the District's contingency fund. Questions have been raised about the wisdom of moving the money to the contingency fund. I believe that is a wise move.

The Board has three options for the funds if the referendum is passed. It can either leave that money in the Business Services budget, it can decide to spend that money in another way, or it can decide to move the money to the contingency fund and potentially use it to soften the budget cuts that will be required for the 2007-08 budget period.

I believe the best course is to put the money in the contingency fund and use it to soften the budget cuts needed for 2007-08 if possible. I don't believe it is wise to put something back into the 2006-07 budget now - after it was already cut - especially if it is likely that it would need to be cut again in 2007-08.

Putting money in the contingency fund does give the Board discretion on how to spend or not spend the money. Therefore, if 5 out of the 7 Board members believe that the contingency fund is needed in 2006-07 for some unexpected or unbudgeted item, the money could be used for that item. However, and I believe most importantly, the Board could decide not to spend that money at all and use it to address the cuts needed in the 2007-08 budget. If the Board instead determines now to spend that money in 2006-07, that money would not be available to cushion the blow in 2007-08.

Posted by Lawrie Kobza at 1:29 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Flowers for the Easter Altar

This is the first of a series of farewell posts to this blog. The reasons behind that decision will be detailed in other posts. There are some things I want to say first. I don’t know how many posts or how long this will take. This one is a story about my mother.

In 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, my parents were involved in an effort to get food, clothes and shelter to those people on the west side of Chicago who lost everything in the destruction that followed. My parents’ activism was rooted in the Catholic Social Action tradition. We attended a suburban parish where their work both found much support and inspired obscene phone calls, filled with racist language, letters and other personal attacks (the callers on occasion directed their hate at me and my brother if we happened to answer the phone – so I learned about being attacked by idiots early on).

As you may remember, Dr. King was killed shortly before Easter. My parent’s desire to help those in need was one with their faith, their understanding of what it meant to be a Catholic. So the natural thing for them to do was to ask permission to collect money to help the relief effort outside of Church after Mass. The Monsignor refused, with the explanation that they were already scheduled to collect money for flowers to place on the altar Easter morning. My mother argued (correctly) that Christ’s mission was better served by helping people in need than by decorating the altar of a suburban church. The Monsignor wouldn’t budge. Neither would my mother. The meeting ended in an impasse.

Sunday morning, my mother was on the corner collecting money for those in need. My brother and I were with her. We saw people give generously and express support and we saw people sneer and mutter ugly things as they passed. The Monsignor sent a young Priest to remove her. She refused. She had learned the lessons of non-violent direct action. She stayed till the end. My mom taught me a lot and gave me much to be proud of.

My educational priorities have been the topic of discussion here lately. This story helps me explain them. I look around our district and see the equivalent of those who lost everything in the riots of 1968. I want to help them get what they need. I also look around this district and see people working to get what I consider to be the educational equivalent of flowers for the Easter altar. I like flowers on the Easter altar; I wish MMSD could afford to give every student everything they desire. I respect (most of) these people for their willingness to work for what they believe in, for what they think is best for the schools. They might be surprised to learn (even though I’ve said this on this blog before) that I strongly believe MMSD should offer some advanced programming, some AP classes, some talented and gifted programming, some arts education… These are all things that I classify as needs. I also distinguish needs from desires. I don’t put my efforts in these areas (yet) because there are already very able advocates and because I don’t believe that in MMSD we have reached that hard to define line that divides needs from desires. I can’t define that line, but I will say that there is a difference in the long term good or harm produced by funding or cutting programs that do their best to educate and create opportunities for children who have no books in their homes or no homes at all and programs that offer a second year of calculus for high achieving high school students. If the first year of calculus is on the cutting block, you may find me fighting alongside the TAG advocates.

Stay tuned for more.


Posted by Thomas J. Mertz at 9:26 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Home sales collapse means what for MMSD?

Existing home sales fall for fifth straight month, reports MSNBC.

Though the article reports that Midwest sales have not been hit as hard as other regions, what are the trends for homes in the MMSD?

If home sales slow, does the MMSD need a new West side school at this point in time?

It's easy to predict a contraction of outlying areas in coming years as high fuel prices (gasoline, heating oil, natural gas) pull people closer to central cities. This possibility also could reduce growth on the fringes of the MMSD -- both east and west.

Posted by Ed Blume at 9:19 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"They're All Federal Educators Now"

Interesting words from the Cato Institute:

For decades, conservatives stood against big-government intrusions into American education. They defended local control of schooling, championed parental choice, and pushed to abolish the federal Department of Education. But then, tragedy struck: Republicans took power in Washington, and conservatives suddenly learned to love big government. Indeed, some are now so enamored of it that they are proposing what was once unthinkable: having the federal government set curricular standards for every ...

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

Panel Calls for College Database

Morning Edition:

A commission assembled by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings finds that college is too expensive. The panel says students and parents would benefit from a common database that explains what different schools offer.
One day, I hope that a similar searchable database is available for parents seeking K-12 information locally.

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

Madison School Board HR Committee: Health Care Costs Discussion

Ruth Robarts, Chair of the Madison School Board's HR Committee held a meeting last night to discuss health care costs.

Watch the proceedings, or listen [mp3 audio]

Robert Butler's article is well worth reading "How Can This Continue: Negotating Health Insurance Changes"
Parent KJ Jakobson's remarks, notes and links related to health care costs followed the May, 2005 referenda where two out of three initiatives lost. Local voters will determine the fate of one referendum question this November 7, 2006 (in three parts). Much more on health care here.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:47 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

September 25, 2006

Pro-referendum leader doesn't care about parents of TAG students

From the list serve of the pro-referendum group, Communities and Schools Together (CAST):

We have at least three people willing to translate into Spanish (anyone for Hmong?). I think that the "newsletter blurb" and the FAQ are musts. Do we want anything else? I'll get these started with the volunteers on Wednesday or Thursday.

At the Wright PSO meeting one of the things that really got me was a father who talked at length about "so little money for the children." I thought about how many of these families have made such great sacrifices for their children's futures, leaving their homes, coming to strange country, struggling with language... that to them it is a no brainer to spend a bit more for the schools. We hear about "Bright Flight," but when it comes down to it I care a lot more about giving these immigrants what they came for than I do about catering to those who threaten to move out or go to private schools. I think I share their values more and know I want what they have to offer for our shared future.

Sorry for getting on the soapbox, but it was very moving to hear how simple the referendum question appeared to them. Like anyone else they wanted the figures and the details, but when they heard them there was no question where they stood. Hell, it seems simple to me too. (emphasis added)

It's a sad comment from a leader of a group which supposedly advocates for quality education for all kids. (No one on the CAST listserve called him on his statement. Does his thinking represent all of the leadership?)

I won't invade the writer's privacy by revealing his name; however, if he has any courage in his convictions, he'll post his thinking behind his comment.

I'm voting NO on the referendum.

Posted by Ed Blume at 12:43 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

No Teacher Left Behind

Opinion Journal:

Schools of education have gotten bad grades before. Yet there are some truly shocking statistics about teacher training in this week's report from the Education Schools Project. According to "Educating School Teachers," three-quarters of the country's 1,206 university-level schools of education don't have the capacity to produce excellent teachers. More than half of teachers are educated in programs with the lowest admission standards (often accepting 100% of applicants) and with "the least accomplished professors." When school principals were asked to rate the skills and preparedness of new teachers, only 40% on average thought education schools were doing even a moderately good job.

The Education Schools Project was begun in 2001, with foundation funding, to analyze how America trains its educators and to offer constructive criticism. Its report card this week is significant for two reasons. First, it is based on four years of broad and methodical research, including surveys of school principals and of the deans, faculty members and graduates of education schools. In addition, researchers studied programs and practices at 28 institutions. No matter how many establishment feathers get ruffled by the results of these inquiries, miffed educators can't easily brush off the basic findings: There are glaring flaws and gaps in our teacher-training system.

The report's most stunning revelation--to outsiders at least--is that nobody knows what makes a good teacher today. Mr. Levine compares the training universe to "Dodge City." There is an "unruly" mix of approaches, chiefly because there is no consensus on how long teachers should study, for instance, or whether they should concentrate on teaching theory or mastering subject matter. Wide variations in curricula, and fads--like the one that produced the now-discredited "fuzzy math"--make things worse. Compare such chaos with the training for professions such as law or medicine, where, Mr. Levine reminds us, nobody is unleashed on the public without meeting a universally acknowledged requisite body of knowledge and set of skills.

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Notes & Links on Reading First

Andrew Rotherham:

Title I Monitor is all over it here. Quick reax: First, this is going to walk on the message the Secretary was hoping to get out next week in her big speech. Second, harder to argue that Jack Jennings is in the tank for Democrats now, here is his recent evaluation praising Reading First! Finally, politically, this could set the issue of good reading instruction back a good bit, and that's seriously a real shame.
Joanne has more. Local notes & links.

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

September 24, 2006

The Ballad of Big Mike

Michael Lewis:

When he did this, Mitchell opened the book for him. She didn’t care much about football, but she fairly quickly became attached to Michael. There was just something about him that made you want to help him. He tried so hard and for so little return. “One night it wasn’t going so well, and I got frustrated,” Mitchell says, “and he said to me, ‘Miss Sue, you have to remember I’ve only been going to school for two years.”’

His senior year he made all A’s and B’s. It nearly killed him, but he did it. The Briarcrest academic marathon, in which Michael started out a distant last and had instantly fallen farther behind, came to a surprising end: in a class of 157 students, he finished 154th. He had caught up to and passed three of his classmates. When Sean saw the final report card, he turned to Michael with a straight face and said, “You didn’t lose; you just ran out of time.”

From Lewis's new book: The Blind Side.

Jason Kottke has more.

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Baraboo Referendum Loss (2nd Round) Notes

Christina Beam:

Supporters of a five-year, $7.5 million school referendum -- who appeared to have made no headway in their campaign since the same referendum question failed six months ago -- were devastated by Tuesday night's defeat.

When the same referendum was on the ballot April 4, voters rejected it by 64 votes, or 1 percent. Last week, with only 11 fewer voters weighing in, the measure failed by about 2 percent, or 135 votes.

"Obviously, we need to be doing something different than what we are because we're not connecting with people we need to connect with," School Board President Kevin Vodak said.

Links:The Madison School District has a three part (one question) referendum on this November's ballot (11/7).

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Hands-on Science Brings Deforest Teacher Kudos

Ellen Williams-Masson:

The mock forensics exercise is one of many hands-on approaches that fifth-grade science teacher Anne Tredinnick uses to illustrate the scientific method and share a love of science with her pupils.

Tredinnick has been named the Middle School Teacher of the Year by the Department of Public Instruction and is under consideration to be Wisconsin's representative in the National Teacher of the Year program.

A state selection committee picks four educators from a pool of 86 Herb Kohl Education Foundation teacher fellows for the Teacher of the Year awards, choosing representatives from elementary school, middle school, high school and special services. The other three teachers selected are Terry Kaldhusdal of Oconomowoc for the elementary level, Carl Hader of Grafton for the high school level, and Rebecca Marine of Menomonie for special services.

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Hope after Katrina: New Orleans Public Schools

Kathryn Newmark & Veronique De Rugy:

According to the plan’s “educational network model,” the school system would include a mix of charter, contract, and system-run schools, organized in small “networks” of similar schools. The Algiers Charter School Association, for example, could be one network within the larger school system.

All schools will have considerable autonomy—including control over staffing, the authority to set their own budgets, and the freedom to offer extended school days or longer school years—but will be held accountable for results, and funds will follow students as they choose the schools that best meet their needs. A network manager will provide support and accountability for each network of schools. A “lean” district office will focus on policymaking instead of top-down operational decisions, including a small “strategy group” that will set learning standards and ensure the equitable allocation of resources, but will not mandate teaching methods or control school spending. The other major component of the district organization will be a new central support-services office that will provide optional assistance to help schools obtain services such as food preparation and transportation. One superintendent will direct the network managers, strategy group, and services office and report to the school board, whose role will be oversight, not execution.

The plan explicitly rejects an all-charter-school system, but preserves many of the advantages of such a system, such as flexibility and decentralization. The plan also provides enough structure and support to help school leaders be successful without impinging on their autonomy. In fact, it seems that, within this framework, even the system-run schools will be indistinguishable from charter schools.

Joanne has more.

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September 23, 2006

Schoolmates Made Fun Of Boys Charged in Plot

Kari Lydersen:

Shawn R. Sturtz and William C. Cornell were inseparable, according to friends and acquaintances at Green Bay East High School. They ate lunch together, played with Yu-Gi-Oh game cards during class and played video games after school.

They shared some other things: At 300 pounds each, the two 17-year-old boys felt the verbal barbs and bullying of classmates, and, according to police, each had a fascination with the 1999 attack at Columbine High School near Denver.

Authorities here say that over the past two years, the pair plotted in secret to carry out their own version of the Columbine attack. They stockpiled guns and ammunition and mixed homemade explosives and napalm in Cornell's large, yellow Victorian house in a leafy neighborhood a few blocks from the high school.

Last week, Sturtz proposed carrying out the plan, which involved shooting guns and setting off explosives in the school while blocking the exits with burning napalm, according to John P. Zakowski, Brown County district attorney.

More here.

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Schools fight cheaters who use tech tools

Sharon Noguchi:

The Advanced Placement government assignment over the summer was to read and analyze political commentator Chris Matthews' book ``Hardball.'' So four friends at American High School in Fremont did what they say everyone else was doing: divvied up the 13 questions about the book and exchanged answers via e-mail. They each altered the text slightly, then handed in their individual papers.

The students call it collaboration. The teachers call it cheating.

As technology makes it easier than ever to cheat, educators are combating the intractable problem on at least three fronts: setting clear standards, using technology to fight back, and talking with students and parents about ethics and pressure.

Many students use e-mail to share work and program iPods and cell phones to cheat in class in new ways. On the flip side, schools can hire services that use computers to scan essays for plagiarism; one leading service claims its business is doubling every year.

Throughout the South Bay and across the Peninsula, schools are banning electronic devices and stiffening penalties. Turning around attitudes is more challenging.

Maria Glod posts a related article: "Students Rebel Against Database Designed to Thwart Plagiarists".

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Robarts Confirms She Won't Seek Re-Election

Andy Hall (who's been busy this week):

Madison School Board member Ruth Robarts confirmed Friday that she won't seek re-election, ending her sometimes-stormy tenure that over the past decade earned her praise for being a watchdog but also the label of "public enemy No. 1."

"It is primarily for personal reasons. A decade is a long time to meet every single Monday night," Robarts said.

Also, she said, governments benefit from the energy of newcomers.

Ruth announced her intention to not seek re-election in Jason Shephard's spring 2006 article: "The Fate of the Schools". Ruth has done a tremendous service for the community via her strong, independent voice on the Board. She will be missed. Ruth was instrumental in getting this site rolling.

Johnny Winston, Jr. confirmed that "he'll be in their swinging" next April. Check out these video interviews of Ruth, Johnny and others in the April, 2004 election.

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

6 city students get perfect ACT score

Andy Hall:

They began by seeking balance, and wound up finding perfection.

An unprecedented six Madison School District students attained a perfect score on recent ACT college entrance exams, district officials said Friday.

Just 11 Wisconsin students received a score of 36, the top possible mark, out of 45,500 tested in April and June.

During that period, 178 of 837,000 students nationwide received a perfect composite score in the assessment of English, mathematics, reading and science skills.

"I want to start by saying, 'Wow!' " Pam Nash, the assistant superintendent overseeing Madison's middle and high schools, told the students, their parents and educators Friday at a celebration at West High School.

More on the ACT scores here and here.

The Badger Herald has more:

Though Nash argued the quality of Madison’s public high schools contributed to the scores, she added natural talent, intelligence and hard work from the six students was also crucial to their success.

“Reading is important, and Madison emphasizes that,” Nash said. “But the kids themselves ... chose the academic route.”

But Poppe, a Madison West senior surprised with the outcome of the test, attributes his perfect score to a healthy breakfast and a little practice.

“I did one of the practice tests and made sure to get a good breakfast,” he said. “I think a lot of the classes I took earlier in high school helped, but I think some people are more comfortable in a testing environment.”

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

Freshman Closed Campus: Praise & Scorn at East

Andy Hall:

Chiengkham Thao says it's working.

Anna Toman and Moises Diaz think it's got problems.

They and the 420 or so members of their Madison East High School freshman class find themselves part of a grand experiment -- the first Madison high school in at least a dozen years to close its campus.

The school's 1,400 older students still are allowed to lounge outside during their 30-minute lunch break.

Better yet, they're able to jump into cars for a dash from 2222 E. Washington Ave. to Burger King, McDonald's or Taco Bell.

But for East's freshmen, there's one choice for lunch -- the cafeteria -- as school officials attempt to reduce the school's truancy rate.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Accountant pays district for Audit Error

Mike Johnson & Kay Nolan:

By the time Virchow Krause & Co.'s accounting error was discovered, the mistake had been repeated and the deficit had ballooned to $2.7 million in fall 2004, prompting a downgrading of the district's bond rating and budget freezes, district officials said.

The firm discovered the error during a 2004 audit and reported it to the district. After about 1 1/2 years of negotiations, Virchow Krause agreed to pay the district $275,000 and to forgive $15,476 owed to the firm by the district. The School Board approved the settlement agreement late Tuesday.

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

September 22, 2006

Audit Finds Education Department Missteps

Ben Feller:

A scorching internal review of the Bush administration's billion-dollar-a-year reading program says the Education Department ignored the law and ethical standards to steer money how it wanted.

The government audit is unsparing in its view that the Reading First program has been beset by conflicts of interest and willful mismanagement. It suggests the department broke the law by trying to dictate which curriculum schools must use.

Reading First aims to help young children read through scientifically proven programs, and the department considers it a jewel of No Child Left Behind, Bush's education law. Just this week, a separate review found the effort is helping schools raise achievement.

This audit confirms that Reading First is yet another example of rampant cronyism within President Bush's administration. MMSD was wise to stand up to federal blackmail by refusing to abandon its successful elementary reading program.

US Education Secretary Margaret Spelling's statement. The complete Inspector General report [2.9MB PDF].

Posted by Neal Gleason at 4:38 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"MBA Students Likely to Cheat"

Sharda Prashad:

Who says cheaters never prosper?
MBA students in Canada and the United States are more likely to cheat than students in other disciplines because they believe it is how the business world operates — and because they believe their peers cheat, according to a new study.

The study found that 56 per cent of graduate business students admitted to cheating in the last year, compared with 47 per cent of non-business students. More than 5,000 MBA students from 11 graduate business schools in Canada and 21 schools in the U.S. took part.
Jim Fisher, vice-dean of MBA programs at University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, said he wasn't surprised by the results, since MBA students are highly competitive and have a high need for achievement. "There is a propensity for those types of behaviour."

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

Wingra School Receives Anonymous Donation up to $5M

Susan Troller:

Anonymous donors have pledged up to $5 million to a private school group to purchase and preserve Dudgeon School on Monroe Street.

The plan initially gives $1 million to Wingra School to purchase and begin renovations on the building it has rented for 34 years. The building is owned by the city of Madison, and its sale price is $750,000.

Up to $4 million more would be available as part of a matching contribution program spanning 10 years, and is designed to help preserve and upgrade the building for its continued use as an education center in the neighborhood.

The gift comes with a set of conditions that must be fulfilled to help preserve the building's historic presence and personality. Those conditions include keeping the former public school as a neighborhood polling place and ensuring that the grounds in front of and behind the building remain open to the public as a neighborhood athletic field and playground.

More from Dean Mosiman, Channel3000 and NBC15.

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

DPI's Burmaster Proposes Teacher Bonuses

Alan Borsuk:

State schools Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster proposed Thursday that Wisconsin provide $5,000 annual bonuses to highly qualified teachers to teach in high-needs schools such as most of those in the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Burmaster also said the next state budget should include $1.6 million for pilot projects in Milwaukee schools that want to extend the school year beyond the conventional 180 days a year; $1 million in grants for arts programs in MPS schools; and significant property tax relief for city of Milwaukee residents through changes in how the voucher school program is funded.

In unveiling her proposals for the two-year state budget that will take effect July 1, Burmaster said Wisconsin should stick to funding two-thirds of the cost of general operation of schools throughout the state, a step that would require an additional $588 million over the two-year period. The state is providing about $5.9 billion in local school aid this year; continuing at the two-thirds level would present a major challenge to an already-stressed budget

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

September 21, 2006

Major Changes Needed to Boost K-8 Science Achievement

The National Academies:

Improving science education in kindergarten through eighth grade will require major changes in how science is taught in America's classrooms, as well as shifts in commonly held views of what young children know and how they learn, says a new report from the National Research Council. After decades of education reform efforts that have produced only modest gains in science performance, the need for change is clear. And the issue takes on even greater significance with the looming mandate of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which says that states must measure students' annual progress in science beginning in 2007.

Being proficient in science means that students must both understand scientific ideas and demonstrate a firm grasp of scientific practices. The report emphasizes that doing science entails much more than reciting facts or being able to design experiments. In addition, the next generation of science standards and curricula at the national and state levels should be centered on a few core ideas and should expand on them each year, at increasing levels of complexity, across grades K-8. Today's standards are still too broad, resulting in superficial coverage of science that fails to link concepts or develop them over successive grades, the report says. Teachers also need more opportunities to learn how to teach science as an integrated whole -- and to diverse student populations.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:28 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Alberta's Booming Schools

The Economist:

Many educators acknowledge that over the past 30 years Alberta has quietly built the finest public education system in Canada. The curriculum has been revised, stressing core subjects (English, science, mathematics), school facilities and the training of teachers have been improved, clear achievement goals have been set and a rigorous province-wide testing programme for grades three (aged 7-8), six (10-11), nine (13-14) and twelve (16-17) has been established to ensure they are met.

It is all paying off. Alberta's students regularly outshine those from other Canadian provinces: in 2004 national tests, Alberta's 13- and 16-year-olds ranked first in mathematics and science, and third in writing. And in international tests they rank alongside the best in the world: in the OECD's 2003 PISA study, the province's 15-year-olds scored among the top four of 40 countries in mathematics, reading and science (see table).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:23 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School District Policy Change Regarding Credit for Non-MMSD Courses

I emailed this message to the Madison School Board:

A policy change has recently been implemented in the MMSD regarding whether students can receive high school credit for courses offered by the MMSD that they take elsewhere (e.g.'s, via correspondence through UW-Extension, Stanford's EPGY, and Northwestern's Letterlinks programs, attendance at UW or MATC, summer programs offered through the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth and Northwestern's Center for Talent Development).

Prior to this fall, students could receive high school credit for non-MMSD courses as long as they obtained prior written approval that the courses they planned to take were deemed worthy of high school credit. I have recently learned that this is no longer true. Rather, the only non-MMSD courses that can currently be approved for high school credit are ones in which a comparable course is not offered ANYWHERE in the District.

Why the change in policy?

Why was it permissible to implement this change in policy without first having open public discussions regarding its pros and cons followed by a BOE vote whether to approve it? This policy change will adversely affect a wide variety of students with learning needs that differ from the norm. These alternative learners include students who attend Shabazz High School or other alternative programs within the MMSD, students with disabilities or long-term illnesses, academically gifted students who learn at a faster pace, and students who lack the means to transport themselves in a timely manner to a District school that offers courses their neighborhood school does not.

The cost to the MMSD of the previous policy was essentially zero, if not negative. On the other hand, the new policy will be highly detrimental to some students who now may fail to graduate from high school due to lack of sufficient high school credits or specific courses required by the District or State of Wisconsin.

Some students affected by this policy change may leave the MMSD for other school districts or alternative schooling options such as home schooling. The latter will lead to loss of $s to the MMSD. Students lose. The MMSD loses. Thus, I urge you to place this item on the agendas for upcoming BOE and Curriculum and Achievement Meetings.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Sincerely yours,
Janet Mertz,
West area parent

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Notes & Links on MTI - WEAC Relations

A reader involved in these issues sent this link [strong language warning] [Mike Antonucci's website]:

WEAC felt MTI had overstepped its authority and, in an effort to punish MTI, unilaterally terminated the 1978 affiliation agreement. MTI claimed WEAC could not take such action, and sought arbitration. WEAC resisted, and MTI sued WEAC to compel arbitration. After losing in county court, MTI won its point in state and federal appeals courts.

From July 18-20, 2006 - more than five years after the SCEA incident - attorneys for MTI and WEAC crossed swords in front of arbitrator Peter Feuille of the University of Illinois. EIA has obtained a copy of the transcript, and the proceedings not only provided a detailed and enlightening look at the history and internal politics of WEAC, but supplied yet more evidence that the bonds of unionism are sometimes composed of dollar bills, and little else.

MTI's website | WEAC. Alan Borsuk has more.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:09 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

September 20, 2006

Yale University to post courses on Web for free


Yale University said on Wednesday it will offer digital videos of some courses on the Internet for free, along with transcripts in several languages, in an effort to make the elite private school more accessible.

While Princeton University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others already offer course material online without charge, Yale is the first to focus on free video lectures, the New Haven, Connecticut-based school said.

The 18-month pilot project will provide videos, syllabi and transcripts for seven courses beginning in the 2007 academic year. They include "Introduction to the Old Testament," "Fundamentals of Physics" and "Introduction to Political Philosophy."

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

Issue Data On School Incidents, Report Says

Lori Aratani & Ernesto Londono:

In a 77-page report [5.2MB PDF]commissioned by the Montgomery County Council, the Office of Legislative Oversight examined the school system's method for tracking fights, bomb threats and other serious incidents. It found that although the district has tracked the incidents since 1973, the figures are not released publicly and the information is not detailed enough to allow school officials to identify trends or even the number of times a student has been in trouble.

The report also said that by November, the school system, police department and state's attorney's office should develop guidelines for what types of incidents school officials must report to authorities.

Police officers and prosecutors are seeking the guidelines because they believe principals sometimes deal with criminal activity internally. But negotiations over the guidelines have been contentious, and reaching an agreement has been difficult, said council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), chairman of the council's public safety committee.

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

Markets in everything: unhealthy school dinners

New Economist:

he parents claim they are taking action because pupils are turning up their noses at what they describe as "overpriced, low-fat rubbish".

Four of them are using a supermarket trolley to make daily runs with fish and chips, pies, burgers, sandwiches and fizzy drinks from local takeaways.

Staff at Rawmarsh Comprehensive School, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, have called in environmental health and education officials. They are looking into whether the women are allowed to sell food without an operating licence and whether they are covered by food hygiene regulations.

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

Madison School District Fall Referendum Video

Watch this brief video.

Much more on the November 7 election and referendum here.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Benefit Performance for GSA for Safe Schools

Mark your calendars!

Stage Q is having a benefit performance of Carolyn Gage's play "Ugly Ducklings" for GSA for Safe Schools. Under the direction of Jan Levine Thal, the benefit performance will be held on Friday, September 29th, at 8:00 p.m. at the Bartell Theater (113 E Mifflin Street). Call 608-661-9696, ext. 3, for tickets. Cost is $15.

"Ugly Ducklings" picks up where "Tea and Sympathy" and "The Children's Hour" left off. Set in a girls' summer camp, the play explores the dynamics of homophobia in a same-sex environment. A gothic thriller, "Ugly Ducklings" examines the unhealthy turns that relationships between girls can take when they are not allowed their natural expression. The so-called "Ophelia Syndrome" comes alive as the cabin of younger girls, their self-esteem still reinforced by the primacy of their relationships, comes into contact with the older girls who have begun to turn against themselves and each other in their attempts to conform to the pressures of compulsory heterosexuality. Angie, a middle-class college student, is falling in love with another counselor at the camp, Rene, who is a working-class "out" lesbian. Against this backdrop of intense homophobia, the young women struggle with their feelings for each other and the problems of defining themselves in a society that insists they be invisible. The camp legend about a monster in the lake parallels the adult phobias about lesbianism, and, confronted with an attempted child suicide, campers and counselors are compelled to face their worst fears in the microcosmic world of the summer camp.

Pre-theater event: Cafe Montmartre (127 E. Mifflin) between 6:30 and 7:45. Light snacks will be offered. You may also purchase dinner.

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Research: School diversity may ease racial prejudice

A small study and I confess I haven't looked at the study itself, but a reminder that some important aspects of education aren't measured by standardized tests.


Research: School diversity may ease racial prejudice
More bias seen in kids in mostly white setting

By Shankar Vedantam
The Washington Post
Published September 19, 2006

White children in 1st and 4th grades who live in areas and attend schools with little ethnic diversity are more likely to blame a black child than a white child when presented with ambiguous information involving potential misbehavior, according to a study released last week that explores the origins of bias.

Researchers showed 138 white children attending a rural Middle Atlantic school a number of pictures and then asked them what they thought was happening.

One set of pictures, for example, showed a child sitting on the ground with a pained expression, while another child stood behind a swing--suggesting that the child on the ground might have been pushed. Another interpretation would be that the child on the ground had fallen off.

In every case, the pictures showed children of different races. In some, a white child stood behind the swing and a black child was on the ground. In other pictures, a black child was the potential perpetrator, and the white child the potential victim.

While 71 percent of the 7- and 10-year-old children said the pictures showed evidence of wrongdoing when the child behind the swing was black, only 60 percent guessed that the white child had pushed the black child when the roles were reversed, University of Maryland researchers Heidi McGlothlin and Melanie Killen reported last week in the journal Child Development.

The paper noted that white children at a more diverse school had not shown such a bias in a previous experiment, suggesting that greater social contact among children of different ethnicities may prevent or reduce bias among youngsters.

Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune

Posted by Thomas J. Mertz at 10:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Artists Working in Education

Molly Snyder Edler:

Artists Working in Education (AWE) presents "A Celebration of Children's Art," a collection of work created this summer by kids who participated in AWE's Truck Studio Program.

"A Celebration of Children's Art" hangs in the Milwaukee City Hall Rotunda, Sept. 19 through Oct. 6. There is an opening reception on Tuesday, Sept. 19 from 5 to 7 p.m. at City Hall, 200 E. Wells St.

The exhibit features paintings, collages, plaster casts and fiber arts pieces made by four to 14-year-olds who were instructed by professional artists, art teachers and college-level art students through the Truck Studio Program.

"All of the work is created by children in Milwaukee's most challenged neighborhoods," says Sally Salkowski Witte, AWE executive director. "To me, it's entirely appropriate that their artwork is positioned, at least for a short time, where those who have a great deal of power to make a difference will pass by every day."

Artists Working in Education website.

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

Five truths I've learned from five weeks of teaching

Elliot H (a 4th grade teacher in Phoenix):

Since I finally have a moment to pause and reflect, I thought I would use one of my infrequent posts to put down some of the things I've discovered thus far. In no particular order...

1. The achievement gap is very, very real. Most of my fourth graders don't know the meaning of simple words like "show" and "pair." Most can't do their 2s times-tables. Most read at least a grade level behind. Most have writing skills that could charitably be called atrocious. It's a miracle that so many of them can find Arizona on a map, because they certainly can't find anything else (but, to be fair, 7th graders were placing "Europe" in Oregon and "Greenland" in Montana).

Then there's the one non-special ed. nine-year-old who I last week taught to read the word "the."

It's not that they can't do it. My kids are a bright, energetic, inquistive bunch. Nor is it that they have no prior knowledge -- it's just floating around in shards, unconnected to anything meaningful. I have to ask this question, though: If thirty students have gone through 4 years of many different schools and understand so little, isn't that a sign that something has gone horribly wrong?

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

Madison Schools Equity Task Force Discussion [audio / video]

Watch or listen to most of the discussion: Video | 32MB mp3 audio

Susan Troller has more.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:38 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

September 19, 2006

"In Many Classrooms, Honors in Name Only"

Jay Matthews:

During a visit in March to an honors sophomore English class in an impoverished area of Connecticut, Robyn R. Jackson heard the teacher declare proudly that her students were reading difficult texts. But Jackson noticed that their only review of those books was a set of work sheets that required little thought or analysis.

Jackson, an educational consultant and former Gaithersburg High School English teacher, sought an explanation from a school district official. He sighed and told her, "We have a lot of work to do to help teachers understand what true rigor is."

In an American education system full of plans for better high schools, more and more courses have impressive labels, such as "honors," "advanced," "college prep" and "Advanced Placement." But many researchers and educators say the teaching often does not match the title.

Brett has more:
One of the biggest misperceptions among the public is that NCLB sets high academic standards for students and schools, and punishes those who do not meet them. In reality, NCLB does not set any standards, nor does it specify which tests are used to measure student outcomes against those standards. Rather, it only tells the states that they must set their own academic standards, and that they must select the tests used to measure student achievement. (See here for a good overview of the law.)

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

"Like Lambs to the Slaughter..."

Zachary Norris:

Like the teacher on the show, I was greeted by a dysfunctional buzzer upon arrival at my school. A fitting symbol of the system's disarray, they were desperately in need of teachers and couldn't let me in once I got there. Many of my peers in the program were “surplussed,” bouncing around from school to school until the district administrators decided where our services could be put to best use. Upon arrival at my school, I was placed in a classroom that had not been cleaned by the previous year's teacher, who I later learned was a first-year teacher that had quit in February. It is common in Baltimore for rookie teachers to quit during the school year. In fact, in my first year in Baltimore, only two out of the six first-years who started the year at my school actually finished. The result of this trend was a staff crunch, and my classroom role swelled at times to above forty students (ranging in age form 3rd to 6th grade, with up to 16 IEP students). It is criminal.

Speaking of criminal, how much of the City’s budget is spent on pointless professional development programs like the one shown on The Wire’s season premiere? Educational consultants with six-figure salaries rattle off clever acronyms like IALAC (I Am Loved And Competent) in steamy August auditoriums and cafeterias. I mean really, how many teachers actually use that stuff? I know I never did. As the frustration of the teachers builds to a crescendo, the professional development meeting devolves into a gripe session about the student population and the hopelessness of their situation. This in itself is destructive, perpetuating negative stereotypes of students and lending to the apathy of teachers. So in the end, the good intentions of administrative policies turn into a completely destructive activity. Welcome to education in Baltimore.

Matthew Yglesias adds:
But what would it mean -- what could it mean -- to close the achievement gap between high- and low-SES students in American schools? For a whole variety of reasons, this just doesn't seem like it's going to be possible. At the outer limit, more prosperous parents are always going to be able to re-open the gap by investing even more resources in their kids' education. An education and child development arms race to the top might not be a bad thing, but it wouldn't close any socioeconomic gaps. To do that, you actually need to tackle inequality itself. In the context of a reasonably egalitarian society, a well-functioning school system shouldn't exhibit massive achievement gaps, but in the context of a wildly inegalitarian one there's no way the school system can singlehandedly set everything back to zero.

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

Math Organization Attempts to Bring Focus to Subject

Sean Cavanagh:

More than 15 years after its publication of influential national standards in mathematics, a leading professional organization has unveiled new, more focused guidelines that describe the crucial skills and content students should master in that subject in elementary and middle school.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics last week released “Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten Through Grade 8 Mathematics,” a document that supporters hope will encourage the polyglot factions of state and local school officials, textbook publishers, and teachers to set clearer, more common goals for math learning.

While the report is being published by the NCTM, it was reviewed by numerous math experts from across the country, some of whom have strongly disagreed with the organization’s past positions on essential skills. The new document reflects an attempt to overcome those conflicts and focus on a number of crucial, agreed-upon concepts.

“I would hope that this has a large impact, because I believe it gets it right,” said R. James Milgram, a Stanford University mathematics professor and a critic of the math organization’s previously issued national standards. He was one of 14 individuals who provided an outside, formal review of the document. “I would like to hope that this represents a new era of cooperation,” he added. “I hope that what this represents is an end to the math wars.”

Much more here and here.

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Equity Policy Discussions

Susan Troller:

Deciding which schools should get how many staff members and other resources is a hot topic, and Madison School Board members are tussling over it now.

A majority of board members asked on Monday night to continue the discussion at next week's meeting, despite board President Johnny Winston Jr.'s reluctance to put the issue on the Sept. 25 agenda.

Winston said the equity issue, which has to do with the fair allocation of resources to students and schools, was too broad to be hurried into discussion. He also said it has the potential to be very divisive. When equity formulas are put in place, some schools gain and some schools lose resources, based on the unique needs of their students.

"It's a very complex issue," Winston said.

He is concerned that the board could make hasty changes in how the district's existing policy is applied, creating "ramifications we don't fully understand," he said in an interview today. The district and its financial situation were very different more than a decade ago when the current equity policy was put in place, he said.

Discussion audio and video are available here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:39 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Third Friday Counts

The official Download fileThird Friday Counts were distributed to the Board of Education last night (and shared with the Advocates for Madison Public School list serve this morning). Contrary to dire predictions and assessments (see here: and here), the district is growing. This will mean some increased funding under the current formula and that is good news.

However, the reassignments of the first weeks reveal how the continued tight budget situation limits flexibility in ways that disrupt schools, teachers, families and children.

I believe that this growth is further evidence that passage of the referendum is necessary; that the time to act is now at the beginning of the projected upswing in enrollments.


Posted by Thomas J. Mertz at 10:54 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Miracle Math

Typical of many math textbooks in the U.S., this one is thick, multicolored,and full of games,puzzles,and activities,to help teachers pass the time, but rarely challenge students. Singapore Math’s textbook is thin, and contains only mathematics — no games. Students are given briefexplanations, then confronted with problems which become more complex as the unit progresses.


Barry Garelick [232K PDF]:
It was another body blow to education. In December of 2004, media outlets across the country were abuzz with news ofthe just-released results of the latest Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) tests. Once again despite highly publicized efforts to reform American math education (some might say because of the reform efforts) over the past two decades, the United States did little better than average (see Figure 1). Headquartered at the International Study Center at Boston College and taken by tens of thousands of students in more than three dozen countries, TIMSS has become a respected standard of international academic achievement. And in three consecutive TIMSS test rounds (in 1995, 1999,and 2003), 4th- and 8th-grade students in the former British trading colony of Singapore beat all contenders, including math powerhouses Japan and Taiwan. United States 8th graders did not even make the top ten in the 2003 round; they ranked 16th. Worse, scores for American students were, as one Department of Education study put it,"among the lowest of all industrialized countries."

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

Civic Involvement Tied to Education

Amy Goldstein:

High school dropouts are significantly less likely than better-educated Americans to vote, trust government, do volunteer work, or go to church, according to a new report that reveals a widening gap in "civic health" between the nation's upper and lower classes.

The report, a portrait of civic life in the United States, finds that Americans' disengagement from their communities during the past few decades has been particularly dramatic among adults who have the least education. Among people who lack a high school diploma, the percentage who have voted plummeted from 1976 to 2004 to 31 percent -- half the 62 percent of college graduates who voted in 2004.

The class divide is the most striking finding of the report, prepared by leading social scientists and released yesterday by the National Conference on Citizenship, a nonprofit organization created by Congress. "High school dropouts are . . . nearly voiceless in a system that fails them," said John Bridgeland, a former domestic policy adviser to President Bush who is chief executive officer of Civic Enterprises and leads the conference's advisory board.

Full Report: [630K PDF]

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"State School Spending is Above Average"


A new report by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance found that Wisconsin's schools spend about 11 percent more per student than the national average.

The report finds the state spends about $9,000 per student, which puts Wisconsin 12th highest nationwide based on 2004 census data. The national average was is about $1,000 less.

Paul Soglin adds a few comments here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:21 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

September 18, 2006

Teaching Math, Singapore Style

NY Times Editorial:

The countries that outperform the United States in math and science education have some things in common. They set national priorities for what public school children should learn and when. They also spend a lot of energy ensuring that every school has a high-quality curriculum that is harnessed to clearly articulated national goals. This country, by contrast, has a wildly uneven system of standards and tests that varies from place to place. We are also notoriously susceptible to educational fads.

One of the most infamous fads took root in the late 1980’s, when many schools moved away from traditional mathematics instruction, which required drills and problem solving. The new system, sometimes derided as “fuzzy math,’’ allowed children to wander through problems in a random way without ever learning basic multiplication or division. As a result, mastery of high-level math and science was unlikely. The new math curriculum was a mile wide and an inch deep, as the saying goes, touching on dozens of topics each year.

Much more, here.

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"Teacher Education Is Out of Step with Realities of Classrooms"

Arthur Levine:

most education schools are engaged in a "pursuit of irrelevance," with curriculums in disarray and faculty disconnected from classrooms and colleagues. These schools have "not kept pace with changing demographics, technology, global competition, and pressures to raise student achievement," the study says.

A majority of teacher education alumni (61 percent) reported that schools of education did not prepare graduates well to cope with the realities of today's classrooms, according to a national survey conducted for the study. School principals also gave teacher education programs low grades, with fewer than one-third of those surveyed reporting that schools of education prepare teachers very well or moderately well to address the needs of students with disabilities (30 percent), a diverse cultural background (28 percent) or limited English proficiency (16 percent).

Full Report. Joanne has more.

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Should for-profit companies run public schools? An entrepreneur and a principal weigh in.

Steven Wilson & George Wood:

Steven F. Wilson

Senior fellow, Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government; founder and former CEO of Advantage Schools

George Wood

Principal, Federal Hocking High School, Stewart, Ohio; director, the Forum for Education and Democracy

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MIT dean takes aim at admissions anxiety

Justin Pope
AP Education Writer

Though just teenagers, the applicants to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are a scarily accomplished lot. They have started businesses and published academic research. One built a working nuclear reactor in his garage. In their high schools, they have led every extracurricular club and mastered the SAT.

But surprisingly few have done what Marilee Jones, the woman who actually decides which one in seven MIT applicants gets in, thinks 18-year-olds ought to be doing.

Not many sleep eight hours a night, or eat three meals a day. Few spend time each day just staring into space.

And Jones is blunt about the consequences.

The quest for perfection "is making our children sick," the MIT dean of admissions told a recent gathering of college admissions professionals in Boston. She means it literally, snapping off statistics on the increase in ulcers, anxiety disorders and control disorders such as cutting and anorexia.

"Kids aren't supposed to be finished," she said. "They're partial. They're raw. That's why we're in the business."

For years, high school teachers and counselors have been complaining about the emotional and physical toll of the competition for slots in selective colleges. SAT prep classes and an arms race of extracurricular resume-building, they say, are draining the fun out of life for their students.

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UW System Campus Admission Advice

Megan Twohey:

Tuesday's meeting also included campus-specific admissions advice:
  • Madison: For the second year, applicants must take and submit the writing portion of the ACT. Postponed applicants - those who are neither admitted nor denied admission in the initial review process - should submit the supplemental application. The university expects to use its waiting list more often because it is finding it increasingly difficult to predict whether accepted students will enroll.

  • Eau Claire: Space is tight in the nursing program, so students should make sure to apply on time. Decisions aren't made on a case-by-case basis. Students in the nursing program must meet or exceed the minimum requirements, including having taken high school chemistry and biology.

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September 17, 2006

Local Students in the Admissions Pressure Cooker

Wisconsin State Journal
Sunday, September 17, 2006

Madison West High School senior Eliza Zimmerer is a teaching assistant in a bio- technology class.

She mentors younger students and leads freshmen through orientation. She's involved in student government. Captain of the varsity tennis team. Honor roll. French honor society.

Her resume goes on and on, but she still wonders if it's enough to get her into some of her preferred schools. And she's not alone.

"It's really apparent here, as it is in almost any high school," said Becky Bebber-Wells, a guidance counselor at West. "Now, more and more kids are trying to apply to these select colleges. They feel if they don't get in, that's the end.

"They're taking a full load of courses, doing a sport or two, they might be working a part- time job," she said. "And of course, homework. They're also going to bed really late and getting up really early."

Bebber-Wells recalls a recent day in her office when a sophomore came in crying because she couldn't get into one class for a "perfect schedule."

"She about had a nervous breakdown," she said.

The agonizing and hand- wringing over getting into a top-tier college isn't just something that happens with students aiming for the Ivy League.

Zimmerer, who's looking at Rice University, Carleton College, UW-Madison and a handful of other schools, said she chooses her activities based on what she values, rather than what will look good on a college resume. But she admits the nonstop schedule is demanding.

"It's pretty exhausting," she said. "The classes I'm taking really require a lot of work. On top of that pressure, not only do I have to write an essay for English class, I also have to write a personal statement for Madison."

To ease the waiting-game grief, UW-Madison uses a rolling admissions process, letting students know whether they've been accepted within four to six weeks of application rather than waiting until April•1.

"Who do you think has a better senior year, someone applying to Harvard or Wisconsin?" UW-Madison Dean of Admissions Robert Seltzer asked rhetorically.

On a recent evening at Memorial High School, parents of seniors sat in the auditorium to learn about what their children need to do to prepare for college.

"It's so different these days," Tina Moses, whose daughter Lisa is a senior, said after the session. Both she and her husband went to UW-Madison, one of the schools Lisa is considering.

"It's much more competitive. I never questioned I'd be accepted at Madison," she said. "Now you're lucky if you get in."

Moses said she looks at the personal-statement section on college applications and thinks, "You know they are saying the exact same thing as everyone else."

She recalled seeing a newspaper article about a high- school-age girl who spent her summer break volunteering in Africa.

"I feel like, oh God, does my child have to go to Africa to stand out?"

Copyright © 2006 Wisconsin State Journal

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November 7, 2006 Referendum & Election Page Update

I've updated the election page with information and links regarding the November 7, 2006 selection.

Links include the Madison School District's information page, boundary changes and the open government complaint documents (and District Attorney Brian Blanchard's recent response) related to the School Board's closed meetings over the Linden Park land purchase. A motion to make the deal public (before the final Board vote) failed on a 3-3 vote - Shwaw Vang was absent (Shwaw's seat is up for election in April, 2007). Supporting open government were Carol Carstensen, Lawrie Kobza and Ruth Robarts (Ruth's seat is up for election in April, 2007. She is not seeking re-election).

Supporting a closed approach (and prevailing) were Bill Keys (did not seek re-election, replaced by Arlene Silveira who defeated Maya Cole by 70 out of 33,000+ votes in one of the closest local elections in years - having said that, Arlene, in the words of a friend "has been a good addition to the board"), Juan Jose Lopez (defeated by Lucy Mathiak) and Johnny Winston, Jr. (Johnny's seat is up in April, 2007. I assume he's running, but if Mayor Dave seeks the County Executive seat, perhaps Johnny will give that position a run and face former School Board member Ray Allen?). Art Rainwater is correct when he said that education is inherently political.

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Opting Out of Private School

Nancy Keates:

It's the lurking fear of every private-school parent: The kid next door is getting just as good an education at the public school -- free of charge.

Ben and Courtney Nields of Norwalk, Conn., agonized over the issue last year when they moved their daughter Annie from the New Canaan Country School, set on a 72-acre campus, to a public school for first grade. The move was primarily economic -- they have twins entering kindergarten this year and faced tuition bills of $22,500 per child.

"It was like taking your child out of the Garden of Eden," says Mrs. Nields. But Annie thrived at the school. Her confidence grew and the teacher, say the Nieldses, was phenomenal.

Across the country, some schools and education professionals report a growing movement from private to public. Among the possible reasons: Private-school tuition has grown sharply, while some colleges are boosting the number of students they take from public schools. New studies have suggested that public-school students often tested as well or better than their private school peers. And increasingly, public schools are enriching their programs by holding the same kinds of fund-raisers often associated with private schools, such as auctions and capital campaigns.

"But lately there's strong anecdotal evidence of frequent movement from private schools to public schools. There are more choices for parents now."

Some public schools are actively recruiting private-school students. At Torrey Pines Elementary in La Jolla, Calif., Principal Jim Solo began holding monthly tours and meetings for private-school families four years ago. Many students had left for private or charter schools. While he says it was not a main motivator, having students return to the school increased state funding, as the district is paid on a per-pupil basis.

Locally, I've seen movement both ways. A number of parents have left over curriculum and climate issues while others have jumped back in because the public schools offer services or curriculum not available in the private school world. Homeschooling is another growing factor.

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Private School Parents Control Board

Destroying Public Schools

New York Times
September 16, 2006
At Odds Over Schools


[This] school district has been changing, house by house, as Orthodox Jewish families have flocked here over the last two decades, gradually at first and then in growing numbers.

While not yet a majority, the Orthodox have nonetheless emerged as the dominant force in a clash of cultures. And the front line in this battle is Lawrence’s once highly regarded public school system.

In each of the last four years, Orthodox voters mobilized to defeat the school budget — one of the longest losing streaks on Long Island. Then in July, they took charge of the school board, though few of the Orthodox send their children to public schools. Out of seven seats, the new majority consists of four Orthodox members and one ally.

[M]any of this district’s Orthodox residents object to paying school taxes that average about $6,000 per home for a system they do not use. Their leaders also complain that more public money should be channeled to the Orthodox day schools, which by law are limited to tax-financed busing, books and special education services.

“We feel invaded,” said an Atlantic Beach delicatessen customer, a self-described non-Orthodox Jew and activist parent who declined to give her name. “We don’t mind them being here, but taking over and shutting down the school system is not the right thing.” (Atlantic Beach is part of the Lawrence school district.)

Experts who track expanding Orthodox neighborhoods around the nation say the conflict in Lawrence has far-reaching implications.

“Other communities are watching Lawrence very closely, for fear they may be next,” said Prof. William B. Helmreich, the director of the Center for Jewish Studies at Queens College. Orthodox adherents “are cohesive, they marshal forces and vote as a bloc,” he said. “It could happen anywhere.”

It has already happened in Rockland County, where Orthodox residents control the East Ramapo school board. Similar strains have arisen over the schools and other services in Lakewood, N.J., home to a large Orthodox population.

“It’s ominous,” said Steven Sanders, a former New York City assemblyman who was chairman of the State Assembly’s Education Committee. “This is not going to be an isolated situation. This is a worrisome trend. The common thread is not religion. The common thread is people who don’t feel invested in educating other people’s children. What do you do when a community is significantly comprised of individuals who don’t have a stake in public schools when they’re already spending for private schools? It’s a fracturing of the social compact.”

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"Promoting the End of Social Promotion"

Jay Greene and Marcus Winters:

Should the grade-level a student is in be based entirely on how old he is or at least partially on how skilled he is? This is the fundamental question underlying the debate over social promotion — the practice of moving students to the next grade regardless of whether they have acquired the minimal skills covered in the previous grade. Advocates of social promotion suggest that it is best to group students by age rather than by skill. Students who are held back a grade are separated from their age-peers and, the argument goes, this social disruption harms them academically. Opponents of social promotion favor requiring students to demonstrate minimal skills on a standardized test before they receive automatic promotion to the next grade.

Until now the bulk of the research favored social promotion. Most studies found that students who were retained tended to fare less well academically than demographically similar students who were promoted. The problem with this previous research is that it was never entirely clear whether retained students did worse because they were retained or because whatever caused them to be retained led to worse outcomes. This is especially a problem because these previous studies examined retention based on educator discretion. If teachers decide that one student should be retained while another demographically similar student should be promoted, they probably know something about those students that suggests that the promoted student has better prospects than the retained student. When researchers match students on recorded demographic factors they cannot observe or control statistically for what a teacher saw that led that teacher to promote one student while retaining the other.

The complete report is available here.

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September 16, 2006

Technology: "It Can Do More Harm Than Good"

Ryan Boots:

I've been something of a cheerleader on the use of new media in the classroom, principally in the form of digital textbooks.  But similar to what we've already seen with the calculator, such technology has the potential to inflict damage in the classroom.

Exhibit A: Right Wing Prof flipped his lid a couple of days ago over a math lesson titled "Making Money from Lemons" (produced by Microsoft no less--oh, the irony).  Just one problem: the lesson didn't actually involve any, you know, math.  Just a bunch of mouse clicks that an orangutan could be trained to perform. 

Exhibit B: Educomputer vendor Steve Hargadon did an interview with author Larry Cuban on his 2001 book "Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom".  I highly recommend all of Hargadon's post, but I find this paragraph particularly important:

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Studio School Update

Susan Troller:

The backers of the Studio School were given permission by the Madison school board last year to pursue the planning grant.

Donahue said the proposed Studio School will focus on providing a school-wide, arts rich curriculum for elementary school students. It would be chartered with the Madison school district in a way similar to the district's very successful dual immersion Spanish language school, Nuestro Mundo Inc., or its other charter school, Wright Middle School. Both schools focus on issues of multi-culturalism and integrating social action into the curriculum.

More on the Studio School.

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North Carolina & Math Standards

Todd Silberman:

Despite North Carolina students' steady improvement in reading and math, their performance on state end-of-grade tests has been far better than on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In fact, North Carolina stands out because of the wide gap between results on the state and national tests.

In 2005, about 84 percent of North Carolina eighth-graders earned proficient or better scores on state math tests; 32 percent were proficient or advanced on the national math test. Only West Virginia showed a sharper difference.

"When you see the huge disparity that you do between proficiency levels [on state and national tests], at least part of it is about rigor," said Ross Weiner, policy director for the Education Trust, a Washington group that advocates for poor and minority students. "North Carolina has a bigger difference than most other states. That raises questions about expectations and whether North Carolina's standards are high enough to demonstrate that students are learning what they need to know."

More on "how states inflate their progress under No Child Left Behind".

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The End of Cupcake Days

Eric Zorn:

There were some two dozen of us in the 4th grade classroom at parent orientation night this week, and not one of us looked the least bit disappointed when the teacher, Mrs. Rand, announced "absolutely no cupcakes this year!"

She'd done the math. Naturally. And she figured that if every child had a little birthday party -- where a parent brings in treats, drinks, maybe goodie bags -- she'd lose roughly 10 hours of total classroom instruction time over the course of the year.

Parents have done the math too. The one responsible for buying the treats (usually the mother and usually cupcakes) and making sure they get to school at the right time and that kids with dietary restrictions are provided with edible options also loses an hour or so.

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September 15, 2006

The Midwest Academic Talent Search

Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) is hosting an informational session about the Midwest Academic Talent Search (MATS) program run by the Center for Talent Development (CTD) at Northwestern University.

The MATS provides an opportunity for academically advanced students in grades three through nine to take an out-of-grade-level standardized test. Students in grades three through six may take the Explore test (essentially an ACT designed for eighth graders); students in grades six through eight may take the SAT test; and students in grades six through nine may take the ACT test. For students who routinely hit the ceiling of their district and state level tests, an out-of-grade-level test may be the only way to truly know what they know. Test results may be used for advocacy purposes, as well as to access a wide array of advanced educational experiences across the country.

Our guest speaker for the evening will be Carole Nobiensky, longtime staff member and Director of Programs at the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth (WCATY).

Please join us on Wednesday, September 27, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Room 209 of the Doyle Administration Building, 545 West Dayton Street.

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September 14, 2006

All Kindergartners Need to Know....

Kate Grossman:

The state laid out Tuesday what it wants every kindergarten student to know, an exhaustive list that includes everything from writing letters and identifying shapes to understanding that hurting others is wrong and the value of a sense of humor.

Illinois has had broad learning goals for all students since 1997 but until now hadn't specified what that meant for kindergarten students. Specific goals for clusters of other grades and preschoolers already have been established.

The 172 new "benchmarks," or skills, cover language arts, math, science, social science, physical development and health, fine arts, foreign language and social/emotional developme

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September 13, 2006

As Homework Grows, So Do Arguments Against It

Valerie Strauss

The nation's best-known researcher on homework has taken a new look at the subject, and here is what Duke University professor Harris Cooper has to say:

Elementary school students get no academic benefit from homework -- except reading and some basic skills practice -- and yet schools require more than ever.

High school students studying until dawn probably are wasting their time because there is no academic benefit after two hours a night; for middle-schoolers, 1 1/2 hours.

And what's perhaps more important, he said, is that most teachers get little or no training on how to create homework assignments that advance learning.

The controversy over homework that has raged for more than a century in U.S. education is reheating with new research by educators and authors about homework's purpose and design.

No one has gone as far as the American Child Health Association did in the 1930s, when it pinned homework and child labor as leading killers of children who contracted tuberculosis and heart disease. But the arguments seem to get louder with each new school year: There is too much homework or too little; assignments are too boring or overreaching; parents are too involved or negligent.

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Math Wars Earthquake

Tamar Lewin:

In a major shift from its influential recommendations 17 years ago, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics yesterday issued a report urging that math teaching in kindergarten through eighth grade focus on a few basic skills.

If the report, “Curriculum Focal Points,” has anywhere near the impact of the council’s 1989 report, it could signal a profound change in the teaching of math in American schools. It could also help end the math curriculum struggles that for the last two decades have set progressive educators and their liberal supporters against conservatives and many mathematicians.

At a time when most states call for dozens of math topics to be addressed in each grade, the new report sets forth just three basic skills for each level. In fourth grade, for example, the report recommends that the curriculum should center on the “quick recall” of multiplication and division, the area of two-dimensional shapes and an understanding of decimals. It stopped short of a call for memorization of basic math facts.

The 1989 report is widely seen as an important factor nudging the nation away from rote learning and toward a constructivist approach playing down memorization in favor of having children find their own approaches to problems, and write about their reasoning.

“It was incredibly influential,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a Department of Education official in the Reagan administration. “More than half the states explicitly acknowledged it in devising their own standards. This report is a major turnaround.”

Lewin's article references a 2005 document: "10 myths of NCTM (Fuzzy) Math".

NCTM source materials and related links here.

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Enrollment projection errors create school turmoil

Susan Troller:

But because the projected enrollment numbers don't match the actual numbers of students at Stephens this year, one grades 2-3 classroom is being dropped, with students assigned to other classrooms and Bazan's job at Stephens eliminated.

The same scenario is playing out at five other elementary schools where teachers and sections are being eliminated due to smaller than expected student populations, district spokesman Ken Syke said. Meanwhile, nine elementary schools are over projected enrollments and will be adding sections to address bursting-at-the-seams populations.

The district will add 10 classes at these schools to add capacity. Four teachers will be hired, in addition to shifting teachers from the under-enrolled schools.

Schools where classes are being eliminated include Crestwood, Falk, Kennedy, Randall, Schenk and Stephens. Schools that are adding teachers include Glendale, Hawthorne, Lake View, Mendota, Marquette, Muir, Sandburg, Thoreau and Leopold. Two teachers will be added at Leopold, which had a particularly large increase in students.

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The Not-So-Public Part of the Public Schools: Lack of Accountability

Samuel Freedman:

WHEN Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel I. Klein gained unprecedented power over the vast archipelago of public education in New York more than four years ago, they were the beneficiaries of three beliefs widely held in the city.

The first was that the system of decentralized control, ended after 35 years by the State Legislature in June 2002, had been a misadventure of bureaucratic inefficiency, academic inconsistency and persistent corruption.

The second was that the education program advocated by Mr. Bloomberg’s predecessor, Rudolph W. Giuliani, with its emphasis on steering public money into vouchers for private schools, was too radical for New York.

The final factor was that Mr. Bloomberg, astride a personal fortune, and Mr. Klein, an anti-trust lawyer in the Clinton administration, were so independent and incorruptible they could be trusted to run a system with more than a million students and a budget well into the billions with few, if any, of the traditional forms of government or community oversight.

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90 Area Students Named National Merit Scholar Semifinalists

The Capital Times:

Sixty-seven students at six Madison high schools have been named semifinalists in the 52nd annual National Merit Scholarship Program, announced today. It is one of the most prestigious academic competitions for high school students nationwide. In addition, 23 students from the surrounding area have also been named semifinalists.

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Facebook & Privacy

Danah Boyd:

Facebook implemented a new feature called "News Feeds" that displays every action you take on the site to your friends. You see who added who, who commented where, who removed their relationship status, who joined what group, etc. This is on your front page when you login to Facebook. This upset many Facebook members who responded with outrage. Groups emerged out of protest. Students Against Facebook News Feeds is the largest with over 700,000 members. Facebook issued various press statements that nothing was going to change. On September 5, Mark Zuckerberg (the founder) told everyone to calm down. They didn't. On September 8, he apologized and offered privacy options as an olive branch. Zuckerberg invited everyone to join him live on the Free Flow of Information on the Internet group where hundreds of messages wizzed by in the hour making it hard to follow any thread; the goal was for Facebook to explain its decision. In short, they explained that this is to help people keep tabs on their friends but only their friends and all of this information is public anyhow.

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Texas Gives Teachers in 76 Schools $7M in Bonuses

Ericka Mellon:

Some critics of merit pay argue it puts too much emphasis on standardized tests, but Perry and Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley defended the state's plan for compensating teachers who prove themselves.

"When you reward excellence, excellence becomes the standard," Perry said Tuesday at Oleson Elementary in the Aldine Independent School District.

Eleven schools in Houston ISD and two schools in North Forest ISD also are expecting the staff bonuses. Schools had to give at least 75 percent of the bonus money to teachers, but they could include others.

Perry said the bonuses could be as large as $10,000. At Oleson Elementary, the figure was much lower. Some at the campus received $2,800 while others earned $1,100 based on the school's formula, said Principal Cassandra Cosby.

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Failure to Understand Science is a National Security Issue

Charles Anderson:

A hint of the politicians’ dilemma was buried in a May 10 New York Times-CBS News poll about the performance of U.S. elected officials on a host of policy issues.

Not surprisingly, neither President Bush nor Congress earned high marks. What startled me, though, was the response to this question: “Regardless of how you usually vote, do you think the Republican Party or the Democratic Party is more likely to see to it that gasoline prices are low?”

Fifty-seven percent of the respondents said that the Democrats could keep prices low. Another 14 percent chose the Republicans or both parties. Seventy-one percent of Americans, in other words, see the price of gas as a political issue. This is tantamount to living in a fantasy world and ignoring both the economic law of supply and demand and the accumulating environmental damage caused by our fossil-fuel-dependent economy.

It’s not surprising that many politicians choose to respond to numbers like these with stopgap measures that delay the inevitable reckoning, hoping that something will come up in the meantime. But the root of the problem stretches beyond Washington to an electorate that can’t evaluate science-based statements. It’s time, then, for a sea change in science education in our nation’s schools.

Imagine how politicians would act differently if the public were more knowledgeable about ideas currently considered too arcane for political debate—fossil-fuel supply chains; hidden costs not included in the price we pay for a product; and the chemistry of tailpipe emissions.

That scenario remains imaginary for now, since, by every indication, the public is ill-equipped to evaluate arguments based on such ideas. Adults and children know that pollution is bad for the environment and that trees are good, but they have no idea why experts see the price of gasoline as connected to housing policies, ethanol production, or plug-in hybrids.

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September 12, 2006

Elections, Referendums, School Boards and Administrators

Aaron Bensonhaver:

Phil Hartley, legal counsel for the school boards association, said one area that school board members and superintendents often get into trouble is in supporting a referendum or candidate.

Hartley said either can support such situations on their own time, but must be careful not to use tax money, including being on the clock while campaigning, while working for the cause.

He said using tax money to encourage people to vote is OK, but doing so to encourage people to vote a certain way can get systems into trouble, which usually amounts to fines of $1,000-$10,000, depending on the number of violations of the Ethics and Government Act, which is also the law that requires candidates to disclose contributions they have received.

Herb Garrett, executive director of the superintendents association, gave the board members and superintendents, which included four members of the Dougherty County School Board, one member of the Lee County School Board and each system's superintendent, tips on how to talk to legislators.

Garrett said the key is giving the legislators or candidates local information concerning their district.

He said about $167 million had been eliminated from state funding for public education in recent austerity cuts, but that number is too big and abstract for a legislator to understand.

But, as he did with a representative from Henry County, if local officials show how much local impact such cuts cause — nearly $26 million over five years in Henry County — and what those cuts mean, including not having enough money for updated textbooks, the legislators will be more likely to understand how their decisions in the General Assembly affect their constituents.

Garrett didn't have such numbers for Dougherty or Lee County.

David Maschke, Dougherty County School Board District 1 representative, said he thought the presentation would benefit the about 40 school system representatives present.

"The intent of this was to be able to communicate with legislators and candidates," Maschke said.

He said with all the other issues legislators face, school lobbyists and representatives need to know how best to approach the state decision makers to get their point through.

"It helps us make decisions using credible data," Maschke said of the meeting.

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Schools Active Year Round

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater:

Twenty-two year old Louisa Brayton stepped before her class of 12 students to begin the first day of school. It was not only her first day but also the first day for all of her students and more importantly the first day of school in Madison Wisconsin. It's March, 1838 and school will be in session for only two months.

How times have changed! School now operates all year.

After school ended last June, over 4,000 children continued in school for the following six weeks. Some attended because they needed extended time to learn and to reach a level where they will be successful next year; others took courses to extend their knowledge in their area of interest. Many of the students who attended our morning summer program continued at school in the afternoon in recreation programs conducted by our own Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR) department.

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Return to Basics in Teaching Math

Critics of "Fuzzy" Methods Cheer Educators' Findings; Drills Without Calculators. Taking Cues from Singapore.

John Hechinger:

The nation's math teachers, on the front lines of a 17-year curriculum war, are getting some new marching orders: Make sure students learn the basics.

In a report to be released today, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which represents 100,000 educators from prekindergarten through college, will give ammunition to traditionalists who believe schools should focus heavily and early on teaching such fundamentals as multiplication tables and long division.

The council's advice is striking because in 1989 it touched off the so-called math wars by promoting open-ended problem solving over drilling. Back then, it recommended that students as young as those in kindergarten use calculators in class.

Those recommendations horrified many educators, especially college math professors alarmed by a rising tide of freshmen needing remediation. The council's 1989 report influenced textbooks and led to what are commonly called "reform math" programs, which are used in school systems across the country.

Francis Fennell, the council's president, says the latest guidelines move closer to the curriculum of Asian countries such as Singapore, whose students tend to perform better on international tests. There, children focus intensely on a relative handful of topics, such as multiplication, division and algebra, then practice by solving increasingly difficult word and other problems. That contrasts sharply with the U.S. approach, which the report noted has long been described as "a mile wide and an inch deep."

If school systems adopt the math council's new approach, their classes might resemble those at Garfield Elementary School in Revere, Mass., just north of Boston. Three-quarters of Garfield's students receive free and reduced lunches, and many are the children of recent immigrants from such countries as Brazil, Cambodia and El Salvador.

Three years ago, Garfield started using Singapore Math, a curriculum modeled on that country's official program and now used in about 300 school systems in the U.S. Many school systems and parents regard Singapore Math as an antidote for "reform math" programs that arose from the math council's earlier recommendations.

The Singapore Math curriculum differs sharply from reform math programs, which often ask students to "discover" on their own the way to perform multiplication and division and other operations, and have come to be known as "constructivist" math.

Links:Strong parent and teacher views on the MMSD's math strategy may well spill over to non-support for referendums and incumbent board members, particularly in light of increasing UW Math Department activism on this vital matter.

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High School Dropouts Face Steep Costs

Ben Feller:

Dropping out of high school has its costs around the globe, but nowhere steeper than in the United States.

Adults who don't finish high school in the U.S. earn 65 percent of what people who have high school degrees make, according to a new report comparing industrialized nations. No other country had such a severe income gap.

Adults without a high school diploma typically make about 80 percent of the salaries earned by high school graduates in nations across Asia, Europe and elsewhere. Countries such as Finland, Belgium, Germany and Sweden have the smallest gaps in earnings between dropouts and graduates.

The figures come from "Education at a Glance," an annual study by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The report, released Tuesday, aims to help leaders see how their nations stack up.

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Working in Schools May Reduce Senior's Property Taxes

Katharine Goodloe:

Seniors citizens in Germantown may soon be able to get a discount on their property taxes - by working in schools throughout the year to earn it.

The district is considering adopting a program, popular in several Wisconsin districts, that places seniors in school-based roles, then issues them a check to be applied toward their property tax bill.

Richmond Elementary in Waukesha County adopted the program eight years ago, and seniors there can work up to 78 hours a year for $5.50 an hour. They must be age 62 or older, and at the end of the year a two-party check is issued to the senior and to the county treasurer to be applied to their property tax bill.

"Everybody I talk to, I tell them what I'm doing and they can't believe I'm getting money off my property taxes for doing this," said Lois Fast, 78, one of the school's seven volunteers in the Senior Citizen Tax Exchange Program, or STEP.

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Per Pupil Spending Parity

Sara Neufeld:

The city spends the equivalent of about $11,000 per child in its regular public schools.

Charter schools in the city receive $5,859 per child in cash and the rest in services that the school system provides, such as special education and food.

Two city charter schools, City Neighbors and Patterson Park Public, appealed that formula to the state school board in 2005, saying it limited their ability to choose how to provide services.

The state school board ruled in the charter schools' favor, and the city school system appealed that decision in court.

"All we're asking for is parity," said Bobbi Macdonald, president of the City Neighbors board. "We're not asking for anyone to spend more money on charter school kids."

Via Joanne.

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September 11, 2006

How Lowering the Bar Helps Colleges Prosper

Daniel Golden:

Twice a year, after reviewing applicants to Duke University, Jean Scott lugged a cardboard box to the office of President Terry Sanford. Together, Ms. Scott, director of undergraduate admissions from 1980 to 1986, and Mr. Sanford pored over its contents: applications from candidates she wanted to reject but who were on his list for consideration because their parents might bolster the university's endowment. Ms. Scott won some battles, lost others and occasionally they compromised; an applicant might be required to go elsewhere before being taken as a transfer.

"There was more of this input at Duke than at any other institution I ever worked for," says Ms. Scott, now president of Marietta College in Ohio. "I would have been very pleased to have the best class as determined by the admissions office, but the world isn't like that."

Over more than 20 years, Duke transformed itself from a Southern school to a premier national institution with the help of a winning strategy: targeting rich students whose families could help build up its endowment. At the same time, and in a similar way, Brown University, eager to shed its label as one of the weakest schools in the Ivy League, bolstered its reputation by recruiting kids with famous parents. While celebrities don't often contribute financially, they generate invaluable publicity.

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On Homework: Busy Work

Ben Wildavsky:

Perhaps homework really is out of control in certain (generally affluent) schools and districts. But that would be a far narrower problem than the national epidemic these authors describe. Their books are best understood as part of a broader ideological struggle over the direction of American education. From his approving invocation of Noam Chomsky to his denunciation of testing and other accountability-based reforms, it's clear that Kohn sees homework as just one more instrument of social control. Even the valid points he makes (for instance, that the correlation between homework and academic achievement in some grades doesn't necessarily imply causation) are undercut by his tendentious approach. There's no small irony in a professional provocateur like Kohn accusing respected researchers of being "polemicists" who cherry-pick studies to buttress their preexisting views. Bennett and Kalish, though less overtly political, are just as apt to cast children in the role of an oppressed class.

It's a shame these volumes aren't more credible. Averages notwithstanding, some kids certainly do get buried in assignments of dubious worth -- and in those cases Bennett and Kalish's lobbying tips could prove useful. Similarly, Kohn's insistence that schools justify both the quantity and quality of the work they're assigning is perfectly reasonable. But in the absence of more persuasive evidence that American kids are plagued by excessive, rather than insufficient, academic rigor -- homework included -- parents and policymakers should look elsewhere for a nuanced and reliable guide to this eminently worthy subject. ·

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Mississippi Free School Fruit Pilot Program


Results of a pilot program in Mississippi hints that distributing apples, oranges and other fresh fruit free of charge at school may be an effective part of a comprehensive program aimed at improving students' eating habits.

During the 2004-2005 school year as part of the Mississippi Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Pilot Program, 25 secondary schools gave out free fresh fruit and vegetables during the school day and provided nutrition education to promote and support the program.

Initial results based on 851 participating students in grades 5, 8, and 10 from 5 schools suggest that the program significantly increased the variety of fruit and vegetables tried by the students in all three grades.

The program appeared to be most effective among students in grades 8 and 10, report Doris J. Schneider from the Child Nutrition Program, Mississippi Department of Education and colleagues in the current issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Children from low-income families often suffer exclusion at school

Children from low-income families often suffer exclusion at school
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
©2006 Ann Arbor News
Imagine this: You live in Ann Arbor. Your first-grade student comes home from school and tells you the teacher handed out cupcakes today - to every child except yours and two others. Why? "Teacher said I wasn't on the list of kids who were paid for.''

You call the teacher and are told you never sent in money for daily snacks. The reason you didn't pay was because you couldn't. With four mouths to feed, living on disability, you struggle to pay your rent, utilities and food bills. There is no money for extras. And now your child watches, while almost everyone in the class enjoys snacks every day.

Does this really happen in Ann Arbor? It does not. If it did, we would collectively rise in protest. We can't imagine a teacher who would skip a student when distributing treats just because his or her parent is too poor to pay. In fact, when research showed hungry children had trouble focusing on academics, policy makers universally embraced the concept of free and reduced school breakfast and lunch programs.

Now ask yourself this: Which would a child rather have - a cupcake or school pictures? A bag of chips or a yearbook? Every year in most of our children's classrooms, teachers hand out school picture packets to some kids, but not others. They give certain children yearbooks, but skip their peers. Why? Because their parents didn't pay. Sometimes by choice, but more often the reason is financial.

Through my work for Community Action Network, I have learned how difficult it is for low-income families to live in Ann Arbor. CAN offers programs and services at two local public housing communities. In the shadow of our world-class university, these families live in extreme poverty. They struggle to pay rent and energy bills. They run out of food at the month's end. And time and time again, their children feel as if they don't quite belong in our classrooms. Our low-income children experience systematic social exclusion in our schools. Let me share a few examples.

School pictures and yearbooks: Anyone who has been in a classroom when school pictures are distributed can tell you this is a social event. Kids compare. They moan about their hair. Best of all are the small wallet-sized pictures, designed for exchange with a message on the back, like "Friends 4-Ever!'' Similarly, when yearbooks come out, everyone looks to find themselves and friends, the track team, a school party. Homeroom teachers set aside time for students to write in each other's yearbooks. Imagine not receiving pictures or a yearbook. It doesn't matter if you are the only child in that classroom, or if there are many of you. You feel left out. It is awkward. You need to do something with yourself, pretend to not care, while all around you peers are writing messages, affirming friendships and creating memories.

Middle school fundraisers: I resent the use of our children to sell things - there is something manipulative about it. I take even more exception to the high pressure incentive system: Winners get a limousine ride to McDonald's for lunch or earn stuffed animals, MP3 players, Rollerblades. Many schools organize it as a contest between classrooms. Some teachers make it into a team building experience. "Our class can earn the pizza party, if everyone contributes!'' A friend of mine works at a large firm, and many of his colleagues are happy to order magazine subscriptions at the reduced rates the fundraiser offers. His son earns many points and lots of prizes.

Imagine you are the teen from an extremely low-income family. Your parents may be barely literate. Your family doesn't have money for magazine subscriptions. Your neighbors don't buy them. You simply cannot participate. You can't be part of the "team.'' Every announcement, every drawing, every tally excludes you, again and again.

Field trips: It's not unusual for me to find a school child playing outside alone on a school day. Sometimes the child is home because a field trip is scheduled. The family can't afford the (optional) contribution, and doesn't want to face the embarrassment of asking for a scholarship. Nor is there money for the McDonald's lunch afterwards. These small amounts can be barriers to participation in field trips - for students who already experience the least exposure to educational events!

Time and time again, the children CAN serves are left out of the social fabric of their classrooms and schools. Book orders? Our kids don't place them. Wear your $25 school sweatshirt every Friday? Not possible. Pizza night, ice cream social, family game nights? Unless they are free, our kids can't attend. This school year, count how many times you pull out your checkbook. It is mind boggling.

Why should we care? First, we should care because we believe in social justice. In our liberal city, where only Democrats can win city council races, we should demand that all economic barriers to social belonging are removed from our public classrooms.

Second, we must recognize, even if only instinctively, that children learn better if they are socially integrated. Most of us have been in situations where we felt out of place. It is uncomfortable and stressful. It is exhausting. Imagine feeling that way every school day. I am convinced this constant stress detracts from our children's ability to focus and learn.

But there is third compelling reason to care: self interest. I believe the effects of social exclusion to be cumulative. In the lower grades, many of our sweet, sweet children naively believe they are the same as their classmates. They make friends easily, with a diverse group. They are eager to belong, eager to please. The constant bombardment of exclusionary experiences erodes their confidence.

By the time our kids are in middle school, the reality - that they do not quite belong and never will - is evident. Many children manage to cope, but in my experience, the most sensitive start displaying "problem'' behaviors. They act indifferent or even hostile. They give up on blending into the mainstream and some eventually give up on school altogether. While our kids as individuals pay a heavy price for this, so do we, as a community. High school dropouts cost us much. We pay for their support, for their housing. And we pay with higher crime and incarceration rates. A recent Alliance for Education publication confirmed what we already knew: "Education has a strong impact on crime prevention and the personal safety of Americans.''

Is systematic social exclusion of low-income children solely responsible for their achievement gap or higher drop out rates? Of course not. Many of our children experience educational challenges and have no at-home academic support to turn to when they need it. It is clear that no individual, family or social factor alone is responsible for the achievement gap and there is no one easy solution. But the social exclusion factor adds yet another reason for our low-income Ann Arbor students to feel inadequate. How can it not?

Community Action Network has been working with the Ann Arbor Public Schools administration and schools our children attend to address the economic barriers to social equality. These are not adversarial discussions. We have become partners in trying to solve this complex problem. The district does not have funds to make a systemic change. Schools depend on their PTO's fundraising dollars to buy special equipment and fund the very field trips discussed. Our district cannot buy yearbooks or pictures for every student who can't afford them.

Some schools have made adjustments. Allen School has not asked for field trip contributions for several years. At King School, every time something requires a contribution, the PTO, teachers and principal work together to make certain every child is included. But these examples are exceptions, dependent on individuals taking initiative, and their solutions are pieced together.

We need a communitywide partnership to tackle this social problem. If all principals, teachers, parents and PTOs at every school in the city resolve to no longer tolerate systematic economic exclusion, it should be one of the easier problems to solve. If it can happen anywhere, it can happen here. And it should. We owe it to the children from low-income families, to our own children and to ourselves.

To contribute essays to Other Voices, contact Mary Morgan, opinion editor, at 734-994-6605 or

©2006 Ann Arbor News
© 2006 Michigan Live. All Rights Reserved.

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Hundreds of kids flock to state's new online schools

Linda Shaw:

Washington's two newest online schools didn't know how many students to expect when they announced they would open their virtual doors this fall. Leaders cautiously hoped for 250, maybe 300 as a start.

They were low — way low. As school starts, the two public schools are happily struggling to handle double and triple that number.

Insight School of Washington, the state's first fully online high school, stopped accepting students after 650, and has 1,000 more who've expressed interest. The Washington Virtual Academy, a K-8 based in Steilacoom, has 652 students registered, and another 500 in the application pipeline.

It's another spurt in the growth of online learning in Washington state, where more than 9,000 students took one or more online classes last year.

Going to school via computer is "not for most kids," said Bill Finkbeiner, executive director of Insight School, a partnership between a Portland company and the small Quillayute Valley School District in Forks. "Most students are going to do better in traditional high schools. But there are a significant percentage of students who don't fit in to a regular high school and, for many of them, this is a good option."

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September 10, 2006

Advice for (School) Administrators

Ms. Cornelius:

A while back, a friend asked me what advice I would give administrators, since we were discusing advice to new teachers. After having gotten through the first few weeks of school, I am riled up enough now that I'm going to pick up that challenge. So here we go: advice for vice principals, principals, assistant superintendents, superintendents, and any other person who gets to dip their toes into actual policy-making for the educational world.

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Outsourcing Homework

Charles McGrath:

For $9.95 a page she can obtain an “A-grade” paper that is fashioned to order and “completely non-plagiarized.” This last detail is important. Thanks to search engines like Google, college instructors have become adept at spotting those shop-worn, downloadable papers that circulate freely on the Web, and can even finger passages that have been ripped off from standard texts and reference works.

A grade-conscious student these days seems to need a custom job, and to judge from the number of services on the Internet, there must be virtual mills somewhere employing armies of diligent scholars who grind away so that credit-card-equipped undergrads can enjoy more carefree time together.

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America on the cusp of education renaissance

Matthew Ladner:

In the past, a lack of data enabled stagnation. Armchair observations of real-estate agents were often the most sophisticated opinions regarding the quality of local schools. Today, online services like provide a mountain of comparative testing and parental review data in a few short clicks.
New technologies and practices, such as self-paced computer-based instruction and data-based merit pay for instructors, hold enormous promise which has only begun to be explored. That said, disadvantaged children in KIPP Academy schools, among others, have achieved phenomenal academic results not with new technologies, but rather with old-fashioned “time on task” hard work and extended school days.

In short, we now have the primordial soup of a market for schools.

Via Joanne.

No doubt. I've mentioned before that Milwaukee, over the next few decades (despite stops and starts) will have a far richer K-12 climate than Madison. Madison has the resources and community to step things up - I hope we do so (does it have the leadership?).

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Madison Teen Gets Perfect SAT Score

Doug Erickson:

e represented Wisconsin in the National Spelling Bee. Now Robert Marsland III has another claim to fame.

The Madison high school senior earned a perfect score on the SAT college entrance exam, a feat all the more impressive because the test was revamped and expanded this year, with a writing essay added.

Last year, 1,050 students got a perfect 1600 score, according to the College Board, which administers the test. This year, just 238 students earned the new perfect score of 2400.

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"Candy isn't Dandy in Madison Schools"

Susan Lampert Smith:

Expect details of the Madison School District plan in the coming week. Here's what my sticky fingers were able to pry out of Mary Gulbrandsen, student services director:

Soda pop has already vanished from Madison school vending machines. Candy is no longer sold in school, and in two years, no school group will be allowed to sell candy for fundraising.

(Horde your hockey team candy bars - soon you can sell them on eBay as collectors' items!)

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September 9, 2006

Reality Doesn't Meet the Ambitions Of Many Teens

Elizabeth Agnvall:

As parents and guidance counselors encourage high school students beginning the new school year to pursue their dreams, a new study suggests that many of them are setting their sights too high.

Researchers at Florida State University (FSU) studied teens' educational and occupational plans between 1976 and 2000 and found a widening gap between what teens believe they will do after graduation and their actual achievements, a problem that the study's authors say can lead to wasted resources, anxiety and distress.

"High school students' plans for what they will achieve are increasingly distant from what's likely," said lead author John Reynolds. The FSU sociology professor said other studies have shown a disconnect between students' goals and their achievements, but this one shows that the gap has grown in the past 30 years.

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September 8, 2006

How Can This Continue: Negotating Health Insurance Changes

Robert Butler[PDF]:

Health insurance has become the most prevalent issue discussed at the bargaining table today. Recent premium increases for school districts with July renewal
dates have focused even more attention on this issue.

Many administrators and board members ask: How can this continue? How do we communicate to our employees, our taxpayers and other interested constituents the effect that our health insurance costs have on our budgets? How do we maintain and, hopefully, expand our educational offerings when our costs for health insurance continue to eat up an ever larger portion of our budget?

There are many factors that have contributed to the high cost of health insurance: utilization of services, demographic trends (such as life expectancy and obesity), healthcare provider consolidation, duplication of services, new products and services, the growing number of uninsured, marketing of prescription drugs, medical malpractice expenses, level of benefits and plan design, among others.

This article will provide insight on how to address items that we can control at the bargaining table: the level of benefits, plan design and consumer behavior. Remember, health insurance is an economic and emotional issue; people don't always make rational decisions when negotiating over this topic.

Butler is Co-Director of Employee Relations Services, Staff Counsel; Wisconsin Association of School Boards.

Negotiating health care costs with employees is the first item on the Board's Human Resources Committee agenda: Monday, September 25, 2006 @ 6:00p.m. in the McDaniels Auditorium [map].

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The Hidden Cost of Curriculum Narrowing

Craig Jerald [PDF]:

in March, The New York Times published a major education story under the headline “Schools Cut Back Subjects To Push reading and Math.” The article claimed that “thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math requirements laid out in No Child left Behind [...] by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.”1 The headline appeared “above the fold” in the Sunday edition of the Times, the most valuable and influential real estate in american print journalism.

Predictably, the rest of the media quickly picked up the story in a series of ripples extending outward to other newspapers and magazines to radio and finally to television, cycling back to newspapers in the form of outraged editorials. By the time the story hit the late-night talk shows and drive-time airwaves, commentators had begun to express near hysterical dismay that social studies, science, and the arts were all but disappearing from american schools.

Not so fast. as often happens when complex educational issues encounter the popular media, the extent of the problem was blown out of proportion. The original study on which the Times based its story had actually found that about one third of districts reported that their elementary schools had reduced social studies and science “somewhat” or “to a great extent,” and about one fifth said the same of art and music.

More about the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. Via Rotherham.

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Schools Find Free Veggies a Hard Sell

Mike Stobbe:

Bad news - but probably no surprise to parents - when it comes to young children and vegetables: A government study showed fifth-graders became less willing to try vegetables and fruits when more were offered as free school snacks.

Older kids in the same study upped the amount of fruit they ate, but there was no change in their vegetable consumption.

The study results are somewhat disappointing for champions of getting more fresh produce into school lunchrooms.

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September 7, 2006

Teacher Blogs

Maria Sacchetti:

One Needham teacher gushed about the time a student worried that Australia would fall off the planet -- and how that led to a lesson on gravity. A Brookline teacher banned the word ``stuff" from her fourth-graders' vocabulary. A young teacher, also from Needham, got personal, thanking parents for their support after her husband died.

Meet the newest group of bloggers drawing audiences online: teachers.
Teacher-generated blogs have been increasingly popping up from Needham to Martha's Vineyard, many in the past year. Teachers at all grade levels reveal glimpses of themselves as well as the magical moments -- and at times, difficult ones -- that can happen in a classroom. Parents, in turn, scour the blogs, post comments, or borrow snippets to use as dinner conversation with their children.

As students head back to school this week, teachers are again typing dispatches during breaks at school, or from home in their pajamas.

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Philadelphia Opens High Tech School

Jon Hurdle:

Philadelphia on Thursday opened a public high school where students work on wireless laptops, teachers eschew traditional subjects for real-world topics and parents can track their child's work on the Internet.

Called "The School of the Future" and created with help from software giant Microsoft, it is believed to be the first in the world to combine innovative teaching methods with the latest technology, all housed in an environmentally friendly building.

The school, which cost the school district $63 million to build, is free and has no entrance exams. The 170 students in the inaugural ninth-grade class were selected by lottery from 1,500 applicants.

Joanne says it's New Tech with the same old curriculum.

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Madison School District Progress Report

Via a Johnny Winston, Jr. email:

Welcome back to school! I hope you had a wonderful summer. On August 28th the Madison school board approved plans Plan CP2a and Plan CP3a relative to boundary changes that will be necessary if the November 7th referendum to construct an elementary school on the Linden Park site passes or fails. The plan will need to be adjusted depending on enrollment. The board also passed a resolution to place $291,983.75 of the Leopold addition/remodeling monies in the contingency fund of the 2006-07 budget if the referendum passes less the expenses incurred relative to the initial financing of the project

On August 21st, Partnerships, Performance and Achievement and Human Resources convened. The Partnerships Committee (Lucy Mathiak, Chair) discussed strengthening partnerships with parents and caregivers and is working to develop a standard process for administering grants to community partners. Performance and Achievement (Shwaw Vang, Chair) had a presentation on the English-as-a-Second Language Program. Human Resources (Ruth Robarts, Chair) discussed committee goals and activities for 2006-07

On August 14th the board approved a policy that allows animals to be used in the classroom by teachers in their educational curriculum but also protects students that have allergies or other safety concerns. Questions about the November referendum were discussed and an additional JV soccer program at West High school was approved. This team is funded entirely by parents and student fees. The Finance and Operations Committee (Lawrie Kobza, Chair) met to discuss concepts and categories of a document called the People’s Budget that would be easier to read and understand. Lastly, three citizens were appointed to the newly created Communications Committee (Arlene Silveira, Chair): Deb Gurke, Tim Saterfield and Wayne Strong

Upcoming board meetings include on September 11th our regular board meeting, Partnerships and Communications committees, as well as beginning the process of evaluating the Superintendent. On September 18th the Long Range Planning Committee (Carol Carstensen, Chair) will have a presentation from the City of Madison planning department about development that will impact the MMSD for the next 5 to 20 years. The Board will also receive an interim report from the Equity Task Force, and discuss expulsion and expungement processes.

School District News: Former Madison Police officer Luis Yudice will be recommended to be the district's Coordinator of Safety and Security after the retirement in early October of the current coordinator, Ted Balistreri
Madison students who took the 2006 ACT college entrance exam continued to outperform their state and national peers. Madison students outperformed state peers by 9% & national peers by 15%
. The district has hired 142 new teachers. Twenty-two of them are minorities.

Did you know? 3,800 students participated in the summer school programming? Summer school is composed of several programs. They include: Extended Learning Summer School; ESL/Bilingual; Madison School and Community Recreation-Afternoon Program; Enrichment and High School Summer School.

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.

Yudice participated in last fall's Gangs & School Violence Forum organized by Rafael Gomez.

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Report Finds U.S. Students Lagging in Finishing College

Tamar Lewin:

The United States, long the world leader in higher education, has fallen behind other nations in its college enrollment and completion rates, as the affordability of American colleges and universities has declined, according to a new report.

The study, from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, found that although the United States still leads the world in the proportion of 35- to 64-year-olds with college degrees, it ranks seventh among developed nations for 25- to 34-year-olds. On rates of college completion, the United States is in the lower half of developed nations.

“Completion is the Achilles’ heel of American higher education,’’ said Patrick M. Callan, president of the center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in San Jose, Calif., and Washington.

Wisconsin's "Report Card" [200K PDF]: Preparation: B+, Participation A-, Affordability: F, Completion: A, Benefits: B- and Learning: I. 2004 Report Card.

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"How We Dummies Succeed"

Robert Samuelson:

If you're looking for the action in education, forget the Ivy League. Talk instead to Anthony Zeiss, president of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte. It has six campuses and 70,000 students taking classes in everything from remedial English to computer networking. With about 12 million students, the nation's 1,200 community colleges help answer this riddle: Why do Americans do so badly on international educational comparisons and yet support an advanced economy?

At this back-to-school moment, the riddle is worth pondering. Those dismal comparisons aren't new. In 1970, tests of high school seniors in seven industrial countries found that Americans ranked last in math and science. Today's young Americans sometimes do well on these international tests, but U.S. rankings drop as students get older. Here's a 2003 study of 15-year-olds in 39 countries: In math, 23 countries did better; in science, 18. Or consider a 2003 study of adults 16 to 65 in six advanced nations: Americans ranked fifth in both literacy and math.

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September 6, 2006

Top Ten No Sympathy Lines

Steve Dutch:

This Course Covered Too Much Material...

Great! You got your money's worth! At over $100 a credit, you should complain about not getting a lot of information. If you take a three credit course and get $200 worth of information, you have a right to complain. If you get $500 worth, you got a bargain.

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TEDTalks: Sir Ken Robinson Talk

Sir Ken Robinson:
is author of Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, and a leading expert on innovation and human resources. (Recorded February, 2006 in Monterey, CA.)
[Video | mp3 Audio | Downloadable video]
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Locked-in lunches now for East High 9th-graders

A story from Susan Troller and The Capital Times:

Freshmen at East High School will no longer be spending their lunch hours at Burger King or the local convenience store.

A new closed-campus policy for ninth-graders went into effect today at Madison's oldest public high school.

"We're interested in getting our entering freshmen off to a good start," East Principal Alan Harris said as he explained the sharp departure from a policy that had given freshmen through seniors the ability to come and go at lunch time.

About 430 incoming freshmen will be affected by the change.

"It was a scheduling nightmare to get all our ninth-graders taking first lunch (at 11:15 a.m.), which they will spend here at school," Bea Bonet, East's ninth-grade principal, said.

But, she added, "we think it will be well worth it in terms of making sure that the kids are done with lunch in time to get to their afternoon classes."

Older students at East will still enjoy an open campus.

Bonet said the change in policy is aimed at reducing truancy rates among freshmen. She noted that ninth-graders, who are typically not old enough to drive, found it difficult to walk to McDonald's or a convenience store and get back to class within 30 minutes for their afternoon classes. Once they realized they would be late, many said they were reluctant to come back to school at all.

East, which has the highest poverty level among the Madison high schools, was rapped in June under the federal No Child Left Behind law for its 74 percent graduation rate, which does not meet the law's required 80 percent, and also for not meeting requirements in reading proficiency levels for economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.

Harris said he hopes that closing the campus at lunch time for freshmen will be part of an overall effort to keep students engaged and in school, leading down the road to improved test performance and, ultimately, graduation rates.

"As my dad used to say, 80 percent of any success is just showing up," Harris said.

"We spent quite a bit of time in the spring working on the truancy issue," he added. "We found that we had our highest truancy rates among freshmen. We heard that they were influenced by older peers, and that it was hard to get back to school after lunch. So we're excited about this effort."

He said that East will be looking very closely at its truancy data mid-year to see if the closed lunch policy is having the desired effect.

Lucy Mathiak, an East parent and member of Madison's School Board, said she was enthusiastic about the change.

"As adults we recognize that students at 13 and 14 may not have the maturity to manage their time and make decisions wisely," she said. "This takes away one big distraction for kids as they are getting accustomed to high school."

Pam Nash, assistant superintendent of Madison's middle and high schools, said that the true open-campus policy that was once widespread had gradually become more restrictive.

"All our high schools are beginning to reconceptualize how we do things. I imagine all three other schools will be watching this experiment very closely," she said.

Published: September 6, 2006

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First item on Human Resources Agenda for MMSD: Negotiating health care costs with employees

In August the Human Resources Committee of the Madison School Board---Lawrie Kobza, Shwaw Vang and I--voted unanimously to adopt committee goals for 2006-07 previously presented in this blog.
Human Resources Committee of Madison Board To Set Agenda

Accordingly, Bob Butler, a collective bargaining consultant from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, will discuss why and how school boards should approach negotiating changes in the cost of employee health insurance plans [How Can This Continue? Negotiating Health Insurance Changes]. The meeting of the Human Resources Committee is currently scheduled for 6:00 p.m. in McDaniels Auditorium on Monday, September 25.

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Learning to Teach Math

"John Dewey":

I am in a class in which the teacher is, shall we say, an adherent of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and its standards. In fact, the NCTM standards and our understanding of same make up a portion of the syllabus. Our first assignment is a comparison of those standards with the math standards for the state in which we reside for a particular “content standard”, grade level, and “process standard. The content standard describes what students are supposed to learn. The process standard describes how they are supposed to learn it. I got assigned Geometry/11th grade/representation. "What is 'representation'?" I hear you asking. Expressing things in different ways, I think. You can use a graph to express a function, or a table of values, or a formula, for example. Which one is best to analyze the problem at hand, I think is what they’re getting at but they go on and on in the standards, bringing in all sorts of ways to show things which might be good things to mention as an aside, but to devote so much class time to it supplants the basics that they are supposed to be learning. (And which educationists think is mundane, and mind numbing.)
Joanne has more. John Dewey background.

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September 5, 2006

The Ed School Disease, Part Two

Jay Matthews:

I read Stanford University educational historian David F. Labaree's new book, "The Trouble With Ed Schools," shortly after last week's column scorching those same education schools. You would think his wonderfully insightful book, which is even harder on ed schools than I was, would make me feel good. Here is a distinguished education school professor who knows that world so well, and he is validating my opinions.

Instead, the book made me ashamed of myself. It was similar to the feeling of loathsome guilt I had when I was eight years old and beat up a five-year-old with a lisp next door who had annoyed me for reasons I no longer recall. Labaree succeeds in making American education schools such objects of pity, suffering from decades of low status and professional abuse, that you want to give the next ed school professor you meet a big hug and promise to bake her a plate of cookies.

That is not the worst part. In last week's online column, and in a column in The Washington Post Magazine Aug. 6, I fussed over the failure of education schools to pass on tips from the real world of expert teachers working in inner city schools. I cited several methods used by famous teachers who have raised student achievement significantly. I decried the response from many ed school people: We can't teach that until we subject it to thorough research.

But Labaree has gone a long way toward convincing me that ed schools are doing no such thing. He concludes, after an exhaustive examination of the birth and evolution of teacher training in the United States, that education schools have about as much impact on what happens in U.S. classrooms as my beloved but woeful Washington Nationals are having this season on the pennant race.

Teachers in training, he shows, are far more influenced by their memories of how their own school teachers behaved, and by orders and advice they get from supervisors and colleagues in the schools that eventually employ them. Rookie teachers are happy for the credential they get from ed schools that allow them to start earning a paycheck, but they don't use very much of what they learn there, Labaree says.

At the heart of the book is a Frankie and Johnnie romance between two losers, ed schools and child-centered progressive education. Labaree notes several books that have decried the effect on public schools of progressive education, including the thoughts of theorist John Dewey. Then he asks a simple question: What evidence is there that many classroom teachers are actually doing anything that Dewey would want them to do? As the faculty lounge saying goes, Dewey advocates are supposed to act like a guide on the side, letting each student follow his or her natural instincts and curiosity, rather than a sage on the stage, dispensing wisdom which everyone must write down and memorize.

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Fear is Shaping Our Children

Patricia Pearson:

The helmet perfectly symbolizes childhood today. Nothing is safe, kids should be wary of everything, pass the Ritalin. This phenomenon would be laughable if it weren't so serious.

“Summertime,” goes that wonderful old song by the Gershwins, “and the livin' is easy.”

Well, it used to be, anyway. This past one seemed fraught with peril, as they usually do, these days, for parents. Allergies, skin cancer, air pollution, injuries, drownings, heat stroke, West Nile virus … oh my.

Gone are the golden afternoons of my own childhood, when I left the house without a hat, or sun screen, to noodle about on my bike (without a helmet) and play hide-and-seek in the bushes (without benefit of mosquito repellant or pedophile spray) and invariably stayed out until supper (which consisted of fattening foods).

Now, my children cannot exit my home from May through October unless they are dressed in the equivalent of a hazmat suit.

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Stereotypes and the Achievement Gap

Richard Monastersky:

In a striking experiment about stereotypes and academic achievement, African-American seventh graders performed better in school months after they were asked to spend 15 minutes thinking about their identity and values.

The results of the study, published in today's issue of the journal Science, demonstrate how racial stereotypes can adversely affect minority students and how simple interventions can partly counteract those stresses, researchers said on Thursday. . . .

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MPS Often Lacks Librarians

Alan Borsuk:

If your children are elementary school students in Milwaukee Public Schools, there's a strong chance that Lisa Chatman or Mildred McDowell will be their librarian this year.

Don't expect Chatman or McDowell to read stories to your kids. Don't expect them to check out books, keep the shelves orderly or choose new books or other materials to purchase. In fact, don't expect Chatman or McDowell to set foot in the building more than occasionally.

That's because Chatman and McDowell work in central administration. To meet state regulations, they are listed officially as the certified supervising librarians at more than 60 elementary schools this year. But the hands-on work in the libraries will be done by paraprofessionals, aides, teachers or volunteers, often with limited hours and limited background in library work.

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A Day in the Life of a School Principal


As schools return to session, we get sent to the principal's office to find out how hard his job really is.

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Education in Medieval Britain

The Economist:

FEW children, in the developed world, spend their summer holidays bringing in the harvest. Yet the timing of the summer break dates from the days when child labour was too valuable to lose in the vital final weeks of the growing season. The roots of modern education, in Britain and elsewhere, lie in the half-hidden world of ancient schools.

Nicholas Orme's previous book, a definitive history of English medieval childhood, disproved the notion that previous generations treated children as miniature adults. This one explodes some pervasive myths about their education. First, there was quite a lot of teaching available: it was not just confined to the rich and priestly. There were hundreds of schools in England, some in monasteries and cathedrals, others founded with individual charitable endowments, often with a large bunch of private pupils paying modest fees.

Medieval Schools: From Roman Britain to Renaissance England by Nicholas Orme.

Nor was education just for boys, though just how and where girls were taught is hard to trace. The boundaries between childhood and adulthood were blurred: at Winchester, the first and most generously endowed independent school, relatives of the founder could stay until they were 25.

Education was not just for the pious. Although biblical texts were central, there were plenty of other subjects, including maths and secular literature. Business studies—a mixture of law, accountancy and practical French—were taught at Oxford as early as the 13th century, arousing the same sniffy response from some of the dons as they do today.

Then, as now, the decline of educational standards was hotly debated. In 1509, Edmund Dudley, a counsellor to Henry VII, wrote sorrowfully, “Look well upon your two universities, how famous they have been and in what condition they be now. Where be your famous men...the good and substantial scholars of grammar?” The notion that education peaked around the time of the complainer's own graduation, and has gone down ever since, is an ancient one.

So too are some government policies. The determination to destroy good schools in the name of uniformity dates from the dissolution of the monasteries. And the state's desire to ensure that young minds are spared the danger of independent thought pops up a few years later, with the licensing of teachers and the setting of government-approved textbooks.

One weakness is the book's scope. Describing a time when national identity mattered less than it does now, some mention of schools elsewhere in Christendom would have been welcome. But provincialism in educational research is, alas, nothing new.

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Movement toward "Small Learning Communities" Slowing?


Hopes were high in this blue-collar town when Lebanon High was broken up into four smaller schools-within-a-school to try to reduce the dropout rate.

At the time, in 2004, the small-schools movement was growing across the country, and it had a powerful backer in Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

But just two years later, criticism from parents and educators has put the future of small schools in jeopardy across the country.

``We made a mistake trying to push autonomy really hard, and the community blew back at us," said Mark Whitson, a journalism teacher at Lebanon High School. ``Parents want us to slow our pace of change until they know what we are doing."

The small-schools concept calls for dividing large high schools into groups of about 300 students with similar academic interests. (Lebanon was divided into ``academies" devoted to communications; farming, natural resources, and health; arts, business, community and family affairs; and engineering and other technical fields.)

The groups then take classes together for four years, with the same teachers. Proponents say students learn more because they and their teachers get to know one another better.

Joanne has more.

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September 4, 2006


Many of you probably read John Stossel’s polemic in the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal (9/3/06). I’d reprint here, but I don’t want to give it a wider readership than it already has. Instead I want to say few words about a central fallacy in the thinking of Stossel (and many others who wish to destroy public education). Contrary to their rhetoric, PUBLIC EDUCATION IS NOT A MONOPOLY.

I’m not talking about the fact that many fine non-public schools thrive (although that’s true), what I want to do is remind people of the important distinctions between the public and private spheres, between government and enterprise (these distinctions aren’t quite the same, but they are close enough for the purposes here). Education is a public matter, a government function because we have for 150 years (more-or-less, depending on the state and locality) we have wanted it that way.

There were and are many good reasons why this is the case. At base, education is – like garbage disposal, safe food and drugs, efficient roads, airline safety, clean water and much else – too important to be left to the vagaries of the market. At one point Stossel quotes an economist praising the “unpredictability” of the market as a source of innovation. That’s fine for producing a better mousetrap, but in schools (as in all the other examples listed) the stakes are too high to let greed be the motive force. I hear “unpredictability” and think of the children in scam voucher schools who lost out so someone could profit. The successes and innovations of capitalism are the successes of greed. The failures of capitalism are the failures of greed. Tainted milk, like bad charter schools in Milwaukee, was profitable; the market did its work by inducing more people to sell tainted milk. It isn’t the all powerful and all wise market that makes sure our children have safe milk -- profit is profit, the market doesn’t care -- it is the government. Schools were once all private or semi-private, but this – like tainted milk – was not satisfactory and in a democracy things that aren’t satisfactory can be changed.

Democracy is one key to why education is a public matter. If you read the words of those 19th and early 20th century men and women who created and expanded public education, you can sense both their fears and faith. Democratic self-government was a new thing and many scoffed at the idea that “the masses” were capable of the tasks. There was a very real fear of rule by the ignorant mob. But there was also a faith that given the tools their fellow-countrymen (and later women) would be up to the job. The most basic tool was literacy and more broadly education. The state of our political culture may induce many to think that these optimists were wrong about the potential for self-government or perhaps that public education has failed in this mission. I feel that way sometimes, but the republic has survived and the experiment isn’t over. I don’t think we should abandon the basic idea, I think we should work to improve our execution. And since public education is democratically governed (another reason that terming it monopoly is a misnomer), we have the means to make our calls for improvement heard.

Democracy also requires a sense of belonging to the community and the nation. There has long been a tension between the Pluribus and the Unum. America has always been diverse and group identities have threatened to overwhelm a sense of common purpose. When German children went to German schools and Presbyterian children went to Presbyterian schools and rich children went to elite schools and many children went to no school at all (or to charity schools), there was very little to bind them together and much to pull them apart. By making schools public and “common,” the school promoters sought to bolster the Unum. We also struggle with these issues and have arrived in a slightly different place where most of us desire schools to respect group identities, teach respect for group identities (multiculturalism) as well cultivate our commonalities. Finding the balance is not easy and never finished. That cultivating the common is necessary and that the best place to do this is in democratically controlled public schools seems beyond question to me.

Interestingly, capitalism is another reason why public education was considered essential to the health of the nation. There has always been a desire for trained workers and for people to be trained for work, but that isn’t the most interesting or important way that public schools support capitalism. Capitalism is a system of winners and losers. Democracy depends on a rough sense of egalitarianism – “All men are created equal.” So there is another tension here and public education helps resolve it. With free public education, equality becomes “equality of opportunity” and eventually “equality of educational opportunity” (as in the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974). The promise (unfulfilled to a great degree) of equality of opportunity through education further binds the nation together, diffuses the resentments of existing inequalities and provides hope for mobility. Without this, capitalism would be constantly threatened by the “losers.”

Disciples of the market like Stossel rarely address a basic premise of their philosophy and that is that greed and only greed can produce progress and improvement. They see schools that aren’t as good as they should or must be and see “introducing market forces” as the only solution. I don’t hold this dark view of human nature or society. I think that we can be genuinely altruistic; I think that we can work together (cooperation) instead against each other (competition) to produce better schools and a better world. The people who founded public education were far from perfect and filled with self-interested motives, but at the core most shared this belief and I would point to their creation (as imperfect as it is) as evidence that they were right.


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Student Math & Writing Skills

I have a friend that teaches at MATC--she tells me that she is shocked at the lack of math and writing ability of the Madison high school students coming to MATC's two year technical programs. MATC is very important to Wisconsin's future. What is happening at the high school level that these students are not prepared properly? Anyone have any thoughts?

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Chief Proposes Year-Round Classes to Aid Ailing Programs

V. Dion Haynes:

D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey is proposing year-round classes at five mainly low-achieving schools in an effort to give students more time in the classroom by shortening the long summer break.

The proposal, which is the school system's first attempt to adjust the traditional calendar, will probably ignite a local and nationwide debate: Education experts extol the benefits of a year-round calendar, citing studies that show significant knowledge loss over the summer, but many parents argue that children need downtime.

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The High Price of Easy Homework

Valerie Ulene:

Two weeks ago, Kerry and Lee Schmelzer left their Montana dream home and relocated to a rental in Reno. Pulling up stakes wasn't easy, but, they ultimately decided, it had to be done. Their 13-year-old daughter, Emma, needed a new school.

For years, the Schmelzers had struggled to challenge Emma academically at their local public schools. Although some years were better than others, they believed Emma wasn't getting what she needed. "She learned a lot of things," says her mom, Kerry. "But she learned them really, really quickly. She spent most of her time waiting around for her classmates to catch up." In spite of skipping two grades by the ninth grade, Emma remained well ahead of her peers at school, and the family agreed that they needed to make a change.
Last week, Emma began attending the Davidson Academy, a school for profoundly gifted students.

In many respects, Emma's story is not unusual. The needs of many gifted children are largely overlooked, some educational experts say. Not only does this practice prevent these students from reaching their full academic potential, but it has other surprisingly serious consequences for them as well.

"There is a pervasive myth that gifted kids will be fine on their own," says Jane Clarenbach, director of public education at the National Assn. for Gifted Children. "I think it's simply an excuse not to deliver the necessary services."

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Teachers in the Most Challenging Classrooms

Noah Mackert:

I teach a group of South Bronx sixth graders with reading and emotional disabilities. One day last year, I was having them write essays. Most everyone selects a topic — bring the troops home, stop pollution, don’t demolish Yankee Stadium — and most everyone gets to work. Katherine, on the other hand, pulls a Mickey Mouse bandanna over her hair, which violates the school’s dress code, and slumps in her chair.

I sit down next to her. What does she care about? Cats. What is she angry about? She doesn’t know. Then I have an idea. It’s my job to know what she’s been through; I ask her to tell me about when she was in foster care.

“They shouldn’t take kids away from their parents,” she says.

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September 3, 2006

National School Testing Urged

Jay Matthews:

Many states, including Maryland and Virginia, are reporting student proficiency rates so much higher than what the most respected national measure has found that several influential education experts are calling for a move toward a national testing system.

A recent study by Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, found that states regularly inflate student achievement. In 12 states studied, the percentage of fourth-graders proficient in reading climbed by nearly two percentage points a year, on average.

Kevin Carey [Ed Sector, Hot Air: How States Inflate Their Educational Progress Under NCLB] and the Fordham Foundation have criticized Wisconsin's state standards.

Andrew Rotherham has more:

Sherman Dorn weighs-in on Jay Mathews much chattered about Sunday front page Washington Post splash on national standards. Sherman raises the issue of cut scores on tests. This recent ES Explainer looks at that issue, which doesn't get the attention it should.

What I think is unfortunate is that Mathews' article has set off something of a false debate, namely about whether all these people who support using NAEP as a national test are right or wrong. Thing is, the Fordham report (pdf) looked at a multiple routes to national standards including my favored route of common standards developed by the states themselves. I actually think using the NAEP for this is a lousy idea and that the states are not going to enforce anyone else's standards anyway, hell they mostly won't enforce their own now under No Child. Worth reading the entire report not just the clips.

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September 2, 2006

At 2-Year Colleges, Students Eager but Unready

Diana Schemo:

At first, Michael Walton, starting at community college here, was sure that there was some mistake. Having done so well in high school in West Virginia that he graduated a year and a half early, how could he need remedial math?

Eighteen and temperamental, Mickey, as everyone calls him, hounded the dean, insisting that she take another look at his placement exam. The dean stood firm. Mr. Walton’s anger grew. He took the exam a second time. Same result.

“I flipped out big time,’’ Mr. Walton said.

Because he had no trouble balancing his checkbook, he took himself for a math wiz. But he could barely remember the Pythagorean theorem and had trouble applying sine, cosine and tangent to figure out angles on the geometry questions.

Mr. Walton is not unusual. As the new school year begins, the nation’s 1,200 community colleges are being deluged with hundreds of thousands of students unprepared for college-level work.

According to scores on the 2006 ACT college entrance exam, 21 percent of students applying to four-year institutions are ready for college-level work in all four areas tested, reading, writing, math and biology.

For many students, the outlook does not improve after college. The Pew Charitable Trusts recently found that three-quarters of community college graduates were not literate enough to handle everyday tasks like comparing viewpoints in newspaper editorials or calculating the cost of food items per ounce.

“It’s the math that’s killing us,’’ Dr. McKusik said.

The sheer numbers of enrollees like Mr. Walton who have to take make-up math is overwhelming, with 8,000 last year among the nearly 30,000 degree-seeking students systemwide. Not all those students come directly from high school. Many have taken off a few years and may have forgotten what they learned, Dr. McKusik said.

Notes and links on math curriculum.

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On Grade Inflation

Erin O'Connor:

As part of University of Colorado president Hank Brown's decision to tackle the tough issue of grade inflation, CU regent Tom Lucero is inviting members of the public to contribute their thoughts on the subject:

Even cum laude graduates sometimes lack the skills needed to succeed in today's workplace. This can prove to be an expensive and frustrating problem for new employers who must allocate the time and resources to adequately train new-hires.

I would like to invite you to participate in a discussion about grade inflation and its impact on the quality of our college graduates.

--What influence does grade inflation have on individuals, society and the economy?

--What are your experiences with the caliber of work from recent college graduates?

--What measures can be taken to better prepare students for life in the real world?

We are beginning a debate at the University of Colorado about the important issue of grade inflation. Please send your comments and thoughts to

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni took up grade inflation in its 2003 report, Degraded Currency: The Problem of Grade Inflation. It's a good starting point for anyone interested in thinking about the issue.
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September 1, 2006

Are out-of-state students crowding out in-staters?

Mary Beth Marklein:

For Virginia native Max Wilson, getting into the University of Vermont, his top choice, practically was easier than driving up to start his freshman year. Not only was he accepted early, he was admitted into the honors college, which landed him in a brand-new dorm — "an awesome perk," he says.
Compare that with Steve Connor, whose family lives just 45 miles or so from campus, in East Montpelier. With his solid grades and extracurriculars, everyone thought he was a shoo-in. Yet Connor was one of 92 Vermont applicants placed on a waiting list, a first for the university. Only after weeks of uncertainty did he finally learn he was admitted for the fall.

Sparsely populated states and those with tight higher education budgets always have relied on non-residents and the higher tuition payments they bring to help sustain their public universities. Tiny Vermont falls into both categories.

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Chocolate & Zucchini:

Cantine is French for school cafeteria*, and it is hard to find a grown-up that doesn't have a story or two to recount about his cantine days. These memories are often a mix of the bitter (the food was less than stellar, and the atmosphere was one of constant struggle for social survival) and the sweet (petit-suisse fights were fun, and if you knew what strings to pull, you could lay your hands on an extra serving of fries -- du rab de frites), but in both cases, they are an integral part of how personalities and palates were formed.

A book called Cantines came out yesterday in France, based on these very premises. Food writers Sébastien Demorand and Emmanuel Rubin have selected sixty dishes that used to be were served, with varying degrees of gastronomic success, at school cafeterias when we were kids -- from friand au fromage (a puff pastry envelope with a creamy cheese filling) to petit salé aux lentilles (salted pork and lentils), by way of macédoine de légumes (a mayo-laden salad of peas, potatoes, and carrots) and hachis parmentier (a sort of shepherd's pie).

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How did this St. Paul 18-year-old ace the SAT and ACT?

Tad Vezner:

arents and teachers call him St. Paul's low-key whiz kid. Jake Heichert grew up spurning studying, sleeping through the occasional exam — and, most recently, earning a rare pair of perfect scores on the ACT and SAT.

Last week, his family sat around their living room, wondering how it all happened.

Rich and Susan Heichert's only child received a 2400 on his SAT college assessment test in May. In February he scored a 36 on his ACT. He earned perfect 5s on his Advanced Placement tests in chemistry, U.S. history, and government and politics.

Oh, and calculus, Jake added. Almost forgot.

His parents searched for an explanation.

"Do you study, Jake?" Susan asked.

"We've never seen it," Rich added.

"They told us he might have a learning disability," Susan said of the day Jake was born, oxygen deprived.

Via Ed Gadfly.

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Standard & Poor's Recognizes 20 Wisconsin Schools for Narrowing Achievement Gaps (including Madison's Cherokee and Black Hawk)

Standard & Poors "School Matters":

Standard & Poor's School Evaluation Services today announced it has identified 20 Wisconsin schools that have significantly narrowed the achievement gap between higher- and lower-performing student groups during the 2003-04 and 2004-05 school years. This is the first year Standard & Poor's conducted an achievement gap analysis in Wisconsin.

The 20 schools are located in 19 school districts throughout the state. One school district--Madison Metropolitan School District--has two schools that have significantly narrowed at least one achievement gap between student groups. And one of those two schools, was able to narrow the gap among multiple student groups.

Of the 20 Wisconsin schools that have narrowed the achievement gap, one school is recognized for reducing its black-white gap, two schools for narrowing the gap between Hispanic and white students, and 17 schools are recognized for narrowing the gap between economically-disadvantaged students and all students.

Brown Deer Middle School in the Brown Deer School District was the only school recognized for narrowing the achievement gap between its black and white students.

Two schools: Preble High School in the Green Bay Area School District and Cherokee High School in the Madison Metropolitan School District are recognized for narrowing the gap between Hispanic and white students.

  • Summary Findings 108K PDF
  • Wisconsin Schools home page on S & P's School Matters site.
  • Susan Troller:
    Black Hawk Middle School and Cherokee Middle School were hailed along with 18 other Wisconsin schools for significantly narrowing achievement gaps between groups of students in different demographic groups.

    Madison was the only district to have two schools cited for progress in this area, which has drawn increased scrutiny and concern among educators and parents nationwide over the past decade. In addition, Cherokee was the only school that was able to narrow the gap among multiple student groups.

    "This is a great boost for our staff as we go back to school next week," Cherokee Principal Karen Seno said. "It's an absolute recognition of their professionalism, commitment and the effectiveness of their practices."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:40 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Tuition Breaks: Midwest Student Exchange Program

Megan Twohey:

Wisconsin students don't know it, but they have become eligible for thousands of dollars in tuition breaks at dozens of Midwestern colleges and universities.

The discounts are part of the Midwest Student Exchange Program, a reciprocity agreement that includes Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and North Dakota.

More here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:06 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas