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October 31, 2006

High School Redesign & Academic Rigor: East High United Meeting 11/9 @ 7:00p.m.

With all of the talk about the district's high schools going through a redesign process (similar to what the middle schools did last summer), I think it's important that as many interested people as possible attend the East High United meeting at 7 p.m. on Nov. 9 at East High School [map/directions].

I recently asked principal Alan Harris about English 9 and whether it would continue to be divided into three ability groupings: TAG, Academically Motivated, and regular. I was pleased to find out that they no longer call one section Academically Motivated. Instead, it's called Advanced.

At any rate, Alan told me that assistant principal David Watkins is the best contact for all information regarding core academics (English, Math, Science, Social Studies). He also told me that they are in the current planning stages for next year and can't say whether ability groupings will be offered.

Alan stated: "At our East High United meeting on November ninth, at 7:00 we will be discussing our Vision 2012 goals related to high expectations. Advanced classes, TAG programming and curriculum expectations will be a part of this discussion."

If TAG programming, high expectations, and academic rigor are important to you, please attend this meeting and voice your concerns.

Thank you,

Alan Sanderfoot
H 608.242.7344
E sanderfoot at

Posted by Alan Sanderfoot at 7:52 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Dane County health insurance costs are lowest in Wisconsin

A new study by the Institute for One Wisconsin found that Dane County had the lowest regional health insurance cost in the state, as did the Madison metropolitan area compared to other metro areas.

The analysis by the nonprofit research and education organization, which supports a progressive agenda, found that there was a nearly 30 percent cost variation between the highest and lowest cost areas.

Northwestern Wisconsin had the highest costs by region, followed by west-central and then southeastern Wisconsin. The Racine metro area had the highest cost, followed by the Chippewa Valley and then La Crosse.

By Anita Weier, The Capitol Times, October 31, 2006.
October 31, 2006

Milwaukee, which has been the focus of previous reports for high health care costs, ranked fourth.

"There is increasing evidence that the employer-based health care system is under severe stress in Wisconsin," the report also found. The percentage of Wisconsin workers who had health insurance through their employers plunged from 73 percent in 1979 to 56 percent in 2004.

John Kraus, executive director of the institute, said the report also shows that the consolidation of health systems is a major factor driving up health insurance costs, and - conversely - that large buying pools can bring costs down.

The data did not support the contention that cost shifting of non-reimbursed costs from Medicaid and Medicare patients to private insurance rates is a major factor in high health care costs.

If cost shifting were a big factor, the highest health insurance costs would be in metro areas and regions of the state with much higher Medicaid use, poverty rates and numbers of uninsured people. But some of the highest cost areas, such as La Crosse and Eau Claire, did not fit that pattern.

The study compared the relative health insurance costs across regions and metropolitan areas of Wisconsin by analyzing the 2007 rates paid by the state of Wisconsin's Group Health Insurance Program, which covered 194,000 people - including state employees and retirees and their families - in 2006. Twenty-one participating private health insurance plans in the program cover almost every county in the state.

Dane County qualified as a region because it has such a large number of state employees covered through the insurance program. That fact lends credence to the idea that bargaining power gets better rates, as does having a competitive health care provider market, such as is found in Madison.

The study found that annual Group Health Insurance Program costs for individuals totaled $5,607 in Madison, the lowest, compared with $7,213 in Racine. The state average was $6,501.

Regionally, Dane County had that same low figure of $5,607, while northwestern Wisconsin had the highest single plan cost at $7,189.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 1:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Chuckle from the MMSD budget

I know that decision-makers often try to bury items in budgets, planning documents, and legislation, but I had to chuckle at one that I found in an MMSD budgte document that details spending on consultants. Here's how the explanation of a consulting expenditure of $159,144 reads:

debate and forensics, accompanists for choral/band/orchestra concerts and rehearsals and jazz directors, piano/organ player for graduation, consultant for developing middle school guidance program, drama (costume designers, pit orchestra, lighting, set designers). Other expenses are speakers for all school assemblies, artists in residence, speakers for various classes.

Now isn't it odd that an expenditure for a "consultant for developing middle school guidance program" get buried in a long list of items for the performing arts? Could a reasonable person believe that someone was trying to hid the expenditure for a consultant for developing middle school guidance program?

I asked the MMSD to provide a breakout of the expenditure for the guidance program consultant.

Feel free to search for other oddities in the million dollar budget for consultants. Click here for a PDF of the expenditures.

Posted by Ed Blume at 12:52 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Toss Out the PR Playbook

As a senior adviser and former president of Public Agenda, I’m often asked to interpret public-opinion research in relation to the priorities of major education groups. These groups are seeking information that can help them refine their “messaging” strategies to promote a particular agenda.

“Messaging,” when it assumes that the solution is a given, merely in need of better packaging, is the last thing education reform needs more of. What is undeniably needed in its stead is authentic public engagement, and lots more of it.

The American public education system is facing multiple challenges that are unique in its history, and its ability to respond will depend on greater public involvement and understanding than has been evident to date.

By Deborah Wadsworth, Education Week, October 25, 2006

One significant challenge arises from increased competition from abroad. Public leaders—ranging from President Bush to Bill Gates, and including corporate CEOs and college presidents—have pointed to the need for American schools to ramp up achievement and learning, especially in math, science, foreign languages, and international studies. Unless we do, we risk undermining our own nation and falling behind countries like China and India, which are racing forward in the global competition for high-tech and creative industry.

The second challenge grows out of our promise to deliver education fairly, or to live with the grave consequences of persistent gaps in student achievement. Our nation has made a half-hearted commitment to equal educational opportunity for all, and very troubling achievement gaps between whites and minorities continue as a result. Our education pipeline is leaking badly, with dropout rates for Hispanics and African-Americans at both the high school and college levels unacceptably high. Research from Public Agenda shows that minority students are more likely than white students to report very serious problems in their schools on a whole range of academic and social issues.

A third challenge to public education is maintaining the momentum behind the improvements that have been made so far. Whatever one’s take on the standards movement—whether the changes are generated by local and state policy or the federal No Child Left Behind legislation—it is important to keep in mind that virtually no one we have surveyed believes that we should return to the pre-standards-and-testing past, the status quo ante. This includes teachers, parents, administrators, and students. Maintaining momentum, examining what’s working and what’s not, fine-tuning, and making the right midcourse corrections—those are the primary challenges now. The question is, how do we solidify progress?

I believe it is the human factor that will make a real difference going forward. Very few education leaders—very few Americans, in fact—reject these challenges out of hand. Yet there are strong differences of opinion about how to address them. Focusing on the human ingredient in reform, which has received far too little attention, is going to be indispensable to making further progress on education. At the moment, however, some significant obstacles with very human dimensions are getting in the way of success. We’ve identified them in our research, and, in each instance, at the heart of the matter is the need for greatly improved, many-layered communication.

A major obstacle grows out of the crosstalk that public leaders, educators, communities, and families engage in so frequently. These groups—often on completely different wavelengths—are unable to communicate, making very different assumptions about how well schools work now, and how much change schools need.

Employers and professors, for example, give young people very low marks on a long list of skills and attitudes essential to succeeding in either higher education or the workplace. Yet few principals and superintendents say low standards are a problem for their districts, and parents say schools are better and harder than they were when they went to school. Top business and leadership groups are calling for the country to drastically upgrade its math and science education. But while majorities of parents support stronger math and science education in general, seven in 10 parents of high school students say their children’s math education is just fine as it is. In fact, parents’ concerns about improving math and science education in local schools have actually declined since 1998.

Does it matter if parents and students don’t grasp the challenge as long as education leaders recognize the problem and set policies that require more math and science? The answer is yes, it matters a lot. Even with the No Child Left Behind law, education remains quintessentially a local issue—curriculum requirements; hiring good math, science, and foreign-language teachers; and providing new resources that may be required to make these things happen all boil down to decisions made in communities. Furthermore, simply requiring more of these classes won’t necessarily produce more-motivated students. We need to bridge these gaps in perception and build the “demand” side, the desire among parents for students to excel in these areas, and among students to pursue the challenges and excitement of advanced studies in mathematics, science, and technology.

Another obstacle that calls for better engagement is low teacher morale and the growing evidence that too many schools, especially those serving minority and at-risk students, simply don’t provide the orderly, safe, and respectful environment needed for teachers to teach and kids to learn. Public Agenda surveys repeatedly have shown that teachers are the group most troubled by the environment in which education reform is proceeding, and that they sense their concerns and perspectives are not taken seriously by reformers, or even their own administrators.

Teaching conditions and morale are a major problem. Does it matter? Let’s put it this way: Would a coach want to take the field with demoralized and frustrated players? There is little doubt that teachers’ sense of confidence and purposefulness can affect progress. There is an urgent need to bring classroom teachers into the discussions about how to improve education, to treat their concerns about school climate and student motivation with respect and seriousness. And there is a need to open new channels of communication between teachers and parents on how they can work together on shared goals.

A third obstacle facing education reform is complacency. Problems like truancy, lack of parental involvement, disruptive classroom behavior, and dropping out can’t be solved by schools alone. They require action from the community as a whole. Parents, grandparents, mentors, community and religious groups, businesses, and local agencies need to address these problems and make the case for adequate resources of all kinds to effectively educate the most diverse generation in the nation’s history.

These challenges and obstacles cry out for fundamental shifts in the way teachers, principals, superintendents, students, and parents communicate among themselves and with each other in their day-to-day activities. Improving learning for all kids at high levels requires confidence and purposefulness in the classroom and authentic support in the community. Building real support is not easy, and it is certainly not business as usual. And, quite frankly, “messaging” isn’t going to cut it.

Top-down campaigns, in which the mission is to persuade people to adopt a preconceived agenda without genuine input, cannot build the relationships required to address the kinds of problems we’re facing. Addressing these deeply human issues requires genuine give-and-take among people inside and outside schools. Education leaders and policymakers need to engage with a broad cross section of the community, including regular folks who are not already strongly involved in school activities, to set overall goals and establish priorities for change. Giving people alternatives to consider helps them learn about trade-offs that must be faced and helps reduce simplistic thinking and the tendency to reach for easy answers. Most importantly, a carefully thought-out engagement process allows people with very different starting points to talk effectively and productively about issues.

Public Agenda’s experience in different kinds of districts and diverse communities persuades us that genuine engagement with the public and other stakeholders can help build a broader base for change and help avoid the miscommunication that sometimes stalls progress. Conversation that includes real give-and-take can strengthen relationships and create the channels of communication upon which lasting change can be built. Will people back your agenda? Maybe not on every point and detail, but they will be responsive and thoughtful if invited into broader discussions and given a stake in deciding how to improve student learning.

My advice is to say no to messagingwhen it means spending inordinate amounts of time and money to come up with silver bullets, the language and images needed to persuade folks to buy your point of view. Instead, reconsider what it means to win the game. Engage the public—parents, teachers, education leaders, students, and whole communities alike. Develop relationships that can solve problems, help make solutions stick, and will take root for the long haul. This is not a game to be won through public relations, but with public engagement it is a season that can end successfully.
Deborah Wadsworth, a senior adviser to the nonprofit group Public Agenda, was formerly its president. This essay is adapted from her remarks in September to the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s Leadership for Effective Advocacy and Practice Institute, in Washington.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School District Healthcare Cost Savings

The Madison School District Board of Education approved a collective bargaining contract with the custodial units last night in which the custodians agreed to move from their current health care plans (GHC and the Alliance PPO) to a 3 HMO plan which is GHC, Dean Care and Physicans Plus. MMSD continues to pay 100% of the premium, but there are cost savings associated with this change. 85% of those costs savings was passed on to employees in salary and 15% went to MMSD.

This change is effective 1/1/2007. A big benefit of this change is that Administrators will also move to the 3 HMO option.

I've not seen an MMSD press on this important issue, but this is what I understand is happening.

Health care expense links.

This is a very positive development, particularly given the inaction on this topic in the recent past and one I believe helps support the 11/7/2006 referendum.

MMSD Press Release.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Conserving Energy in the Madison School District


The cooler weather that arrived early this year forced many people to turn on their heat much sooner than they might have hoped. The high cost of heating is compounded for the Madison Metro School District, which pays about three million dollars a year in utilities. Recently, the district has gotten creative about conserving energy, and money, with a little help from energy conservation group Focus on Energy.

"Every dollar we save in an energy bill is a dollar that can be put back into the classroom,” says Doug Pearson, with MMSD.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

NCLB Exemptions

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

For example, the Education Department has granted a waiver to Chicago's public schools, even though that system has been identified repeatedly as "in need of improvement" under NCLB and therefore not allowed to provide after-school tutoring. There is no shortage of private providers -- from Newton Learning to Sylvan to the Princeton Review -- willing to step in and serve the 200,000 or so students in the Windy City eligible for free tutoring.

But under pressure from teachers unions and public education bureaucrats like the Council of the Great City Schools, Ms. Spellings is allowing the Chicago system to offer its own tutoring. And with predictable results. After assuring the secretary that it would not limit student access to private tutoring, Chicago is doing exactly that. Principals have been directed to give preference to the district's service and limit parent and student access to alternatives. Teachers have handed out registration forms for the district's tutoring program at events where outside providers were banned. A full third of all students enrolled in tutoring are enrolled in the public district's program.

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

More on Teacher Merit Pay

Stanford's Terry Moe:

The Department of Education recently announced its first grants in a new $94-million program to fund incentive-pay plans for teachers. The money itself is a drop in the bucket for a public school industry that spends more than $400 billion annually. And only a small portion of the nation's school districts will be chosen to participate. But the idea -- that a teacher's pay should depend in part on how much his students actually learn -- is revolutionary. It is also common sense.

The current system makes no sense at all. Beyond a brief probationary period, teachers have lifetime job security (tenure) and are virtually impossible to dismiss even if their students learn absolutely nothing year after year. Their pay, moreover, is based entirely on a salary schedule defined by seniority and credentials, and takes no account of whether their students are learning anything. All teachers, good and bad, are rewarded equally -- a truly dumb idea. With this kind of reward structure, teachers are not given strong incentives to promote student learning to the fullest, because nothing happens to them one way or the other. Good teachers do not gain from their successes; mediocre teachers suffer no consequences for their failures. So why strive extra hard to get students to achieve? Taking it easy yields the same rewards.

To make matters worse, teachers who are especially talented, skilled and effective -- qualities that employers throughout the economy are looking for -- are well aware that their superior value will only be rewarded if they leave teaching for another career, which many of them do. Mediocre teachers, meantime, have the same lifetime security and pay as the good teachers. And people of low quality have especially strong reason to seek out these jobs and remain in the system until retirement, because almost nowhere else (outside government) would their poor performance be tolerated -- indeed, rewarded. The disconnect between pay and performance, then, inevitably affects the quality and motivational character of the entire pool of people who wind up in the classroom.

Recent comments on merit pay. More on Terry Moe.

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

More on the 11/7/2006 Madison Schools Referendum

Andy Hall:

The outcomes of previous ballot measures have varied.

Voters approved six of seven referendums offered from 1995 to 2003.

In May 2005, district voters approved a referendum exempting $29.2 million in maintenance and equipment expenses from state revenue limits through 2010.

Voters rejected two other measures, though, that would have exempted $7.4 million in operating costs from revenue limits and would have approved $14.5 million for renovations and a second school on the Leopold site.

The School Board then decided to press ahead with a scaled-down project at Leopold, paying for it -- at least for now -- out of the operating budget.

More on the referendum here. Meanwhile, Janesville has a $70M question for voters.

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

October 30, 2006

Breaking Down The Ivory Tower: Study Finds Ed Schools in Poor Shape

Jay Matthews:

This should be a shining moment for education schools. Never has the nation paid so much attention to improving the quality of teaching. Yet the institutions that produce teachers have never faced so much criticism.

"Teacher education is the Dodge City of the education world," said Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia University's Teachers College. "Like the fabled Wild West town, it is unruly and chaotic."

Stanford University educational historian David F. Labaree wrote in a recent book: "Institutionally, the ed school is the Rodney Dangerfield of higher education; it don't get no respect. The ed school is the butt of jokes in the university, where professors portray it as an intellectual wasteland."

The attacks have become so frequent and intense that some educators say they have gone too far. But a growing number of educators say ed schools fail to give teachers enough background in their subject matter, fail to prepare them for the difficulties of urban schools and fail to recruit the best students.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:12 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New Jersey's "Robin Hood" School Finance System Faces Questions

Winnie Hu:

Garfield is a so-called Abbott school district, one of 31 poor districts that have received a total of $35 billion in state aid since 1997 as part of an ambitious court-ordered social experiment to narrow the achievement gap between rich and poor students, whites and minorities. In a decision that set a precedent for school equality cases nationwide, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the poorest urban school districts should be given the resources to spend as much on their students as the wealthiest suburban districts do.

In the meantime, state education officials plan to audit all 31 Abbotts in the next year after finding that the highest-spending districts were making the fewest gains. Asbury Park spent the most, $18,661 per student, in the 2004-5 school year. Still, slightly fewer than half the district’s fourth-grade students were proficient in state language arts and math tests in 2005. “What we know is lots of money has been spent, and in some places, there is very little to show,” said Lucille E. Davy, the education commissioner.

For their part, the Abbott districts have criticized what they see as a bureaucratic system that undermines local authority and forces them to adopt programs that they do not need. For instance, Patrick Gagliardi, the Hoboken superintendent, said that he is required to provide full-day preschool to every 3- and 4-year-old child in his district, regardless of income, a mandate that now benefits many affluent families. “The court intended to help poor people, not the wealthy,” he said. “Now it’s costing the state more money, and it’s inefficient and flawed.”

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 29, 2006

LA adds More Charters (now 103) With Some Interesting Commentary

Naush Boghossian:

LAUSD has 103 of the independent public schools, the most of any district in the nation. It has opened 40 charters since 2005.

Young projects that the LAUSD will continue to add 20 to 30 charters a year. Statewide, more than 300 charter schools are in development.
District officials, as well as the president of the teachers union, bristle at assertions by the Charter Schools Association that middle and high school charters are significantly outperforming their district counterparts.

A fairer comparison would be with the district's magnet schools, which outperform charters, school board member Jon Lauritzen said.

"I think it's basically unfair to compare an entity that is able to take their entire budget and focus it entirely on their own schools," he said. "They have some real advantages over our schools in the flexibility of actually providing the type of education that a particular community wants, whereas we are trying to provide a curriculum that works for everyone all across the school district."

Earlier this year, Lauritzen was unsuccessful in his bid to place a moratorium on approving additional charters.

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

Seeking an equal say in schools' future

Carla Rivera:

By the end of the day one thing was clear: Parents, teachers and community organizations want an equal say in determining how the district will be remade.

illaraigosa acknowledged as much in his opening remarks to the group of 100 or so people, who represented church groups, businesses, human services agencies, city and county departments, law enforcement, city councils and numerous schools.

"This issue of 'mayor control' is a misnomer," he told the meeting — billed as an education retreat — at the Doheny campus of Mount St. Mary's College near downtown. "This is the perfect example of a partnership. I don't need to bring 200 people together if I was just going to do it alone."

A close observer of the Madison public education scene for a number of years, I've seen this tension grow, something reflected in recent referenda results and board elections.

On the one hand, we have statements from top Administrators like "we have the children" to teachers, on the other; staff and parents very unhappy with a top down, one size fits all approach to many issues (see the most recent example of substantive changes without public discussion). Parental interest and influence (the use of the term influence does not reflect today's current reality) ranges from those who are extremely active with respect to systemic issues and those active for individual children to various stages of participation and indifference.

In 2006, I believe that parents and citizens continue to have a much smaller role in our K-12 public system governance than they should, given our children's interests and the District's source of funds such as property taxes, fees, sales and income taxes recycled through state and federal spending. Madison's school climate is certainly not unique (Nielsen's Participation Inequality is a good read in this context).

Peter Gascoyne asked some useful questions in response to Gene Hickok's recent Washington Post piece. I "think" that Hickok was driving in the direction of a much more substantive parental role in education.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Revenue From (Developer) Growth Tax Falls Short of Promises

Miranda Spivack:

A Montgomery County "growth tax" law designed to force builders to pay for new roads and schools to ease the impact of development has raised substantially less money than promised by its supporters.

County officials had predicted that the 2003 law, which created a tax to help pay for schools and increased an existing roads tax, would generate as much as $66 million over the past two years. Instead, the amount raised has totaled about $37 million.

Although the shortfall was caused in part by a slowdown in the housing market, more than a third -- about $13.5 million -- of the anticipated funds were not collected because the County Council allowed a four-month delay before the new taxes took effect. That lag set off a rush by builders to apply for permits before the March 1, 2004, deadline.

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

"More Straight Talk from Bill Cosby"

Deborah Schoch:

But while some black leaders and educators have condemned his criticisms, he was greeted with sustained applause Saturday when he took on the black educational system in front of hundreds of Los Angeles area parents, teachers and students at Maranatha Community Church in the Crenshaw district.

Cosby was the keynote speaker at a forum titled "Education Is a Civil Right," organized by local black educators to help forge an African American education agenda.

No subject was sacred.

Cosby chastised those black parents who he said fail to involve themselves in their children's education, know what subjects they're studying, visit their schools or meet the teachers. Some fail to monitor their children's habits, he said.

"We've got parents who won't check the bedrooms of their children to see if there's a gun," he said.

He chided teachers for not explaining clearly to students who ask, "Why do I need to know this?" that their algebra and English classes can help them obtain higher-paying jobs.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:10 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Entrepreneurial Imperative

Denis P. Doyle:

What if we were to start from scratch? Would we design a similar system? Hopefully not. To the contrary, we would recognize that schooling should fit the cultural and economic system of which it is a part, and we are a long way from the agrarian calendar and factory model which inspired the modern school. Today’s reality is latch-key kids, working moms, high tech, high touch (games and tools): in a word, multitasking. The social order kids are part of is a world with few adult role models. It is the peer group that dominates, which is impressionable, with no institutional memory, flexible to the point of chaos, open, innovative and more than ever in need of structure and adult guidance.

Indeed, the two most pressing needs of modern culture and the economy are a safe place for children to be from dawn till dusk, year ‘round, and mastery of the knowledge and skills kids need to take their place in society when they grow up. No social institution (save only the family) is better prepared to serve these needs than the school. But not as it is presently organized. It should look like the modern high tech firm – open 24/7, year ‘round, with rank established not by time in the saddle but by demonstrated accomplishment.

Imagine a school which is open when the family needs child care and that provides a constant stream of academically oriented enrichment activities; one that is standards-based (not age-based) in which you advance at your own pace. These deceptively simple structural changes would have a profound impact – for example, for whatever reason, students could “stop out” for days, weeks or months at a time, returning to where they left off when they came back. They could do so to join an expedition, live abroad, prepare for exams, participate in Olympic training, or simply take a break.

Book link.

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

Paying More for Good Teachers

Jason Shephard:

If Wisconsin lawmakers ever get around to seriously pondering changes in K-12 education, they should ask UW-Madison professor Allan Odden about research linking teacher bonuses to student performance.

“Democrats, Republicans, big-city schools and small rural schools all want to change teacher pay structures,” says Odden, co-director of the UW’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education. “The real challenge is getting viable ideas and plans on the table.”

Across the country, school districts have had mixed success with merit-pay programs, lately dubbed “performance pay” to broaden political appeal.

In January, Houston expanded its school-based bonus system to target individual teachers, who can receive $3,000 bonuses if students meet performance expectations. Last year, Denver began a $25 million plan that pays more to teachers who earn advanced degrees, take tough assignments and meet student-achievement goals. And California lawmakers last year proposed a constitutional amendment linking teacher pay to student performance.

But, as with many other educational reforms, Wisconsin has been slow to embrace merit pay. This, says Odden, may be because educational leaders here are “a little bit squeamish about testing and uncertain about strong state accountability measures.”

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:34 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 28, 2006

Most Young People Entering the U.S. Workforce Lack Critical Skills Essential For Success

Partnership for 21st Century Skills, The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families and the Society for Human Resource Management:

As the baby boom generation slowly exits the U.S. workplace, a new survey of leaders from a consortium of business research organizations finds the incoming generation sorely lacking in much needed workplace skills — both basic academic and more advanced “applied” skills, according to a report released today.

The report is based on a detailed survey of 431 human resource officials that was conducted in April and May 2006 by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management. Its objective was to examine employers’ views on the readiness of new entrants to the U.S. workforce — recently hired graduates from high schools, two-year colleges or technical schools, and four-year colleges.

“The future workforce is here, and it is ill-prepared,” concludes the report.

The findings reflect employers’ growing frustrations over the preparedness of new entrants to the workforce. Employers expect young people to arrive with a core set of basic knowledge and the ability to apply their skills in the workplace – and the reality is not matching the expectation.

Complete 3.5MB PDF report | PDF Workforce Readiness Report Card

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:50 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Education Revolution America Needs

Eugene Hickok:

Even if Secretary Spellings were right that NCLB is 99.9% pure, it still would not be the formula for what ails American education.

The current debate over NCLB overlooks a critical problem: Nothing the administration does under NCLB will ensure the law's promise that every child will be proficient in reading and math by 2014. For reasons unrelated to the law's merit, NCLB is simply not up to the task. Something far more profound and transformative must happen for American education to offer every child the opportunity to succeed.

The deeper problem is the existing institutional architecture of American public education. No Child Left Behind erects an accountability system atop the status quo and requires states to provide families with options when schools fail. But public education governance, structure, finance, management and politics remain intact.

Here is the heart of the problem: American public education -- because of the way it is structured, administered, funded and understood by parents, teachers, administrators and taxpayers -- is incapable of delivering on the promises of NCLB. The root of the problem isn't in the law; it's in the American education system. It can't get there from here.

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

October 27, 2006

Getting out information about MMSD health insurance costs: some progress

At the October 23, 2006 meeting of the Human Resources Committee for the Madison School Board, I reported on why the Board of Education and employee representatives should work together to reduce future health insurance costs.

With one exception, my data came directly from the September 25 presentation by Bob Butler, attorney-consultant for the Wisconsin Association for School Boards. Madison School Board HR Committee: Health Care Costs Discussion What's new in my presentation [880K pdf version]is the cost for employee health insurance in 2006-07 ($43.3M) and the portion of this year's budget that goes to pay for health insurance (13%).

Here's the short version of my presentation.

Reason 1: Health insurance costs for school districts are increasing at higher rates than for the private sector or other government employers in Wisconsin.

Reason 2:
The percentage of the district's operating budget that goes to health insurance is large and growing rapidly.

  • $43,303,350 will go to employee health insurance for 2006-07
  • 13% of the total budget for 2006-07 will go to employee health insurance
  • 17% of the budget under revenue limits will go to employee health insurance
Reason 3: Spending more and more on health insurance means that the district must go to strategies such as cutting positions, not replacing employees that retire, increasing class sizes, or creating positions that do not qualify for health insurance in order to balance the budget.

Reason 4: Health insurance costs are drastically reducing dollars that can go to pay competitive wages.

Reason 5: Health insurance costs are also drastically reducing post-retirement benefits to our employees.

Reason 6: Changes in providers and plans can significantly affect future costs.

Reason 7: Districts can have a significant impact on future health insurance costs by working with employee representatives to propose changes in plan designs, providers and wellness plans.

Following discussion, the HR Committee passed the following motion: "the Human Resources Committee recommends that the Board of Education direct the administration to provide recommendations about how the administration could communicate information regarding employee health insurance costs to all district employees and the public. The information should address the following:

  1. Health insurance costs for school districts are increasing at higher rates than for the private sector or other government employers in Wisconsin;
  2. The percentage of the district’s operating budget that goes to health insurance is large and growing rapidly;
  3. Health insurance costs are reducing dollars that can go for paying competitive wages;
  4. Health insurance costs are also reducing post-retirement benefits for our employees;
  5. Changes in providers and plans can significantly affect future costs; and
  6. Some Wisconsin districts have reduced future health insurance costs by working with employee representatives to make changes in plan design, providers, wellness programs and other aspects that reduce future costs.
(Kobza and Robarts voting yes, Vang voting no). This is an unofficial statement of the motion passed. The committee will not vote on the minutes until our November meeting.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 5:18 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Working on a Scientific Mindset

Joel Dresang:

With the shift from manufacturing to a knowledge-based economy, the call for workers schooled in the sciences, technology, engineering and math is expanding. At the same time, the region also needs more jobs in the sciences to stimulate greater pursuit of those careers.

"Every job out there incorporates science into it," says Creapeau, who has an associate's degree from Milwaukee Area Technical College. "Science isn't just your chemistry, physics, classes like that. It's analytical skills. It's being able to figure something out with the variables you're given. You know, that's present in every job."

It's an area of social justice in our school district," says Lauren Baker, coordinator of career and technical education at Milwaukee Public Schools. Too few Milwaukee students are exposed to scientists and engineers and need to discover the opportunities in those fields, Baker says. "Our kids can do the kinds of jobs they see around them, but it won't get them out of poverty," Baker says. "STEM occupations get kids out of poverty."

Using broad measures of occupational employment, the four-county Milwaukee area is on par with the national average for jobs in the sciences, math and engineering, especially when health care is included. But Milwaukee lags behind rates in some other nearby cities, including Minneapolis, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Omaha, Neb., and Madison.

"My gut reaction is we're not doing all that well. Madison is doing much better," says Jill Zoromski, managing director for the Milwaukee-based employment recruiting wing of Capital H Group.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:31 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Educational Attainment by State: Wisconsin 9th in High School Graduates and 33rd in College Grads

US Census Bureau. The data is aggregated a variety of ways, including by state. Minnesota ranks first in the percentage of population 25 and older who have a high school diploma (Wisconsin is 9th) while Connecticut ranks first in the percentage with Bachelor's degrees at 36.8% (Wisconsin is 33rd at 25%). .xls file.

Census Bureau press release:

Adults age 18 and older with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $51,554 in 2004, while those with a high school diploma earned $28,645, according to new tabulations released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Those without a high school diploma earned an average of $19,169.

The series of tables, Educational Attainment in the United States: 2005, also showed advanced-degree holders made an average of $78,093.

It will be interesting to see which way the Madison school district goes - one size fits all ala West High's English 9 & 10 [Bruce King's report] or toward a more rigorous, college prep/technical curriculum. One hopeful sign is Johnny Winston Jr.'s recent statement that education is "not one size fits all". We'll see how this plays out and if the school board is active on this question.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:15 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Gates Foundation Shifts High School Strategy

Debra Viadero:

Since 2001, the American Institutes for Research, based in Washington, and SRI International, of Menlo Park, Calif., have been evaluating progress in a sample of Gates-funded schools in four districts. But foundation officials told the two research groups last year that they planned to pull the plug on that study. The foundation intends instead to forge a new study plan centered around building a database to monitor educational performance in every school it supports.

The studies conducted to date have not found dramatic gains in student achievement in the experimental schools. But Tom Vander Ark, the executive director for education initiatives at the Seattle-based philanthropy, said that Gates was not altering its evaluation strategy to “paint a rosier picture” of the results.

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

Superintendent's Efforts to Improve 134,000 Student Maryland District

Nelson Hernandez and Daniel de Vise:

Deasy has vowed to raise the county's test scores, which have increased in recent years, by reallocating staff to the system's worst-performing schools, bolstering teacher recruitment and retention, improving parental participation, and giving children more opportunities and better training to participate in Advanced Placement courses.

"You need not be concerned about the level of gravity in which we take it," Deasy told the board. "You need to be concerned about the celebration when we meet our goals."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:29 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Milwaukee Property Taxes Increase 7.7%

The "tax freeze" continues. Alan Borsuk:

At the heart of a decision by Milwaukee Public Schools officials to increase property taxes for schools by 7.7% was a choice not discussed in public:

Millions of dollars that had been freed up within the $1.15 billion budget for the 2006-'07 school year could be used to hold down the tax increase. Or they could be used to increase spending by $78.90 per student across the MPS system - totaling almost $6.7 million.

Administrators and a split School Board on Tuesday went with the increased spending.

Labeled a "one-time rebate" in MPS budget documents, the payments will go to all the schools in the traditional MPS system and to charter schools staffed by MPS employees.

That will help ease a financial squeeze that is harming education in the city, MPS officials say. The money will allow schools to do such things as restore teaching or safety aide positions that were cut going into this year, MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said Wednesday.

The Madison School District's property taxes will rise 5.8% with the arrival of December's tax bills. Local school property taxes had been relatively flat the past few years due to redistribution of income, sales taxes and fees via state aids and to some extent flat enrollment and the revenue caps.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:24 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Project Follow Through


Have you ever heard of Project Follow Through? Most people haven't, despite the fact that it was the largest-scale and most expensive education study ever conducted, costing more than $1 billion and involving more than 20,000 children.

PFT was initiated by President Lyndon Johnson as part of his "war on poverty", and was designed to see how educators could sustain and build on the advances made by young children in Head Start programs. The program tested multiple approaches to reading instruction, and generated clear evidence as to the efficacy of some programs over others.

Sounds great, right? A large-scale, longitudinal research study that offered unambiguous and actionable results. So why doesn't anyone know about PFT - and why do we still have such a hard time teaching kids to read?

Clusty search results.

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

11/7/2006 Referendum Update

I've added a number of links to the election page including:

  • Marisue Horton's letter to the editor: "Yes Moves Schools Ahead".
  • One Question Wraps Up $23.5M Referendum - Channel3000
  • Where's the Beef? - WKOW-TV
  • CAST Pro Referendum Internet Advertising, appearing Thursday the first day of no school during the fall WEAC convention. (TJ Mertz notes in a comment that the ads started running Wednesday.)

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

October 26, 2006

Latest on the Madison School District's Policy Change Regarding Credit for Non-MMSD Courses

Here is the official wording of the new MMSD policy regarding students taking non-MMSD courses. 78K PDF. See my earlier post on this unpublished change:

A. Taking outside courses (other than Youth Options) if a student wishes to receive credit toward graduation.
  1. The course must be pre-approved by the principal.
  2. The course may only be an elective.
  3. A student may only receive elective credit toward graduation provided the District does not offer a comparable course, if a student receives credit it will be reflected as pass/fail.
  4. Elective credits toward graduation shall be granted in the following manner:
    No more than 1 elective credit per year. No more than 1 elective credit in the same subject. more than 2 elective credits may be applied to the total graduation requirement.
  5. The student’s transcript shall only include a description of the course, the institution, if any, the date the course was completed, the credit, if any, and the pass/fail grade.
  6. No grades will be included as part of a student’s GPA.
  7. All costs related to taking the course shall be the responsibility of the guardian of the student or student.

B. Taking outside courses if a student does not wish to receive credit.
  1. The course must be pre-approved by the principal.
  2. The course may only be an elective.
  3. The student’s transcript may only include a description of the course, the institution, if any, the date the course was completed, and the pass/fail grade unless the student or his/her parent/guardian request that the student’s grade appear on the transcript in which case the student ’s grade will appear on the transcript.
  4. No grades shall be included as part of a student’s GPA.
  5. All costs related to taking the course shall be the responsibility of the parent of the student or student.
Posted by Janet Mertz at 12:55 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Attracting and Keeping School Leaders


I am extremely impressed with the collaborative coaching and learning (CCL) model. What is the philosophy that led to its development?

For decades, America's schools have been structured and scheduled in ways that make collaboration and shared learning among teachers difficult. Teachers are alone in classrooms with their students most of the day and have little time for interaction with colleagues. In most professions, there is regular interaction and shared responsibility for tasks and outcomes. CCL breaks down the isolation by scheduling common planning time for teachers to review student data, discuss the curriculum, observe each other teach, and collaborate as a group to determine what works and what doesn't. Teachers and principals become part of a professional learning community.

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

Misunderstood Minds


Millions of American children struggle in school daily because of serious learning problems. The causes are often unknown, specific problems can be difficult to pinpoint, and the long-term effects hard to predict.

Research in the field of learning problems took off in the 1960s, when the first federal funds were earmarked to support children with specific learning disabilities. Experts know more now than ever before, but the evolution of that knowledge also parallels the rise of standardized tests and the current era of high-stakes testing. The tension between the demand for academic success and the stubborn reality of a problem makes learning difficulties one of the most contentious topics in an increasingly competitive and educated society.

It comes as no surprise that when a child can't read or write or pay attention -- and when the problem doesn't go away -- parents, educators, experts, and policymakers often collide in an earnest struggle to find answers.

The landscape of learning problems encompasses a range of expert opinions. Different approaches to terminology and treatment reflect that range. Some learning specialists use the phrase "learning differences" to describe cognitive strengths and weaknesses without labels that they believe may erode children's self-esteem and motivation to succeed. Neurologists and other learning specialists prefer the phrase "learning disabilities" to describe specific neurocognitive breakdowns in otherwise bright children and to underscore the existence of disabling conditions.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:24 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 25, 2006

Could be much worse

Having long believed that there are solid grounds for criticizing the Madison School Board, I am happy to see how well we compare in our conduct and meetings to some school boards.

School board has a truancy problem
Steve Brandt, Star Tribune

State conservation officer Brian Buria was checking a wetland complaint on Deer Lake last summer when he encountered a nude Minneapolis school board member.

"It was 3 o'clock in the afternoon. I said, 'Jeepers. You got to be careful about that. You can get yourself in trouble. You could get registered as a sex offender exposing yourself.' "

Neighbors say it was just another swim for Audrey Johnson. Bert Robertson, who lives next door, is among the neighbors who say that Johnson has been living at her family's Itasca County cabin, almost 200 miles from her Minneapolis constituency.

Johnson is one of three members of the seven-person board whose attendance has plummeted this year.

Johnson and Colleen Moriarty, both lame ducks whose terms conclude Dec. 31, have missed six and nine, respectively, out of about 30 public meetings since January, records indicate. Mid-termer Sharon Henry-Blythe has missed seven.

Responding via e-mail from her cabin, Johnson said she has spent substantial time at her cabin for family reasons and acknowledged the skinny-dipping, but she disputed the neighbors' time estimates for both. She said she keeps in touch with constituents mostly by e-mail but also by phone.

Other board members say the absences are frustrating, one factor in the perception that the board has lost steam this year.

There's plenty to deal with: falling enrollment, tight money, an achievement gap, reforming middle and high schools. The board sets policy in these areas, hires a superintendent and oversees finances.

"It's never an easy job, but when I look at what's on their plate, it's an awful lot," said Ann Kaari, a former board chairwoman.

The board adopted a budget in June with only four of seven members present; the numbers were the same on Aug. 22 and Sept. 26, when the board got state testing results. Minutes indicate that the board hasn't met at full strength since July 11.

"It's been really frustrating not to have a full board for meetings," said first-termer Peggy Flanagan. "Frankly, when you run for the board you say you're going to serve the people of Minneapolis, and people need to honor that commitment to the end of the term."

Johnson's neighbor Bert Robinson estimates she spends 90 to 95 percent of her time at Deer Lake. "She's living up here," he said.

As for the skinny-dipping, "It's pretty common. I've probably seen it by accident a dozen times," said Jim Kudluboy, who lives across the lake.

Johnson disputes those estimates.

State law says a vacancy occurs when a school board member ceases to be a resident of the district. Maintaining a home in the district, as Johnson has done, is usually enough to keep residency, according to attorney Cathy McIntyre of the Minnesota School Boards Association.

Chairman Joseph Erickson and Lydia Lee have the board's best attendance records, missing only one meeting each, followed by Farmer, with two.

Erickson, who is also a lame duck, said he's frustrated by attendance problems but leaves showing up to the conscience of members. Their gross pay is $13,800 a year. Erickson said he hasn't delayed any issues due to attendance.

But Flanagan said the board has taken longer to plow through issues such as high-school reform when missing members return and rehash territory that others already have discussed.

Erickson last spring listed three priorities for the board before the terms of four members expire Dec. 31. The board has completed one, taking first steps toward strategic planning that will be mainly carried out by the new board that begins work in January.

Erickson said another priority, student safety, has been discussed mostly by administrators. The board will start to address the third, making middle grades work better, this week.

The lame-duck status of Johnson, Moriarty, Erickson and Judy Farmer prompted the board to delay a search for a superintendent until the new board is seated. The board also didn't follow through on plans for office hours in the community and formal school visits. It did begin cable-casting its discussion meetings.

Absent members list reasons

The truant board members give a mix of reasons for their absences. Moriarty cited a busy season at the nonprofit agency she heads, an ear infection and surgery. Henry-Blythe listed recent trouble keeping track of board meeting times, a family trip, and out-of-town travel or work conflicts.

Johnson responded from her cabin. She said she was sick for two meetings, and out of town or on vacation for others.

Asked about the board's pace this year, she wrote in an e-mail: "I feel that we should allow the meatier decisions to be made by the new board." She said that after seven years on the board, "I have found that the system is very entrenched; politics and the interests of adult players dictate many decisions. The Board of Education has very little authority."

Johnson expressed interest in chairing the board for 2005, but members chose Erickson. Johnson is an outspoken critic of federal and state education policies.

Johnson has yet to pay more than $29,000 in health-insurance premiums she owes the district. Johnson has said that she can't afford to pay until she finds a job after her term ends. Meanwhile, her family is without health insurance, she said.

The district said it still plans to collect the money, which accumulated when premiums weren't fully withheld because of computer issues.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 •

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

To Tailor Schedules, Students Log In to Online Classes

Sean Cavanagh:

Some students crave a class that their school doesn’t offer. Others want to fortify their high school transcripts before college-admissions officers review those records.

Jessica B. Byerly, 17, had her own reasons for signing up for an online course as a junior: Her schedule was so packed with academic classes the previous year, she was forced to give up her lunch period. She wanted it back.

"I was stressed out all the time," recalled Ms. Byerly, now a senior at University High School in Normal, Ill. Taking an online Advanced Placement literature and composition course outside the traditional school day "gave me a lot of options," she said. "I liked the flexible scheduling of it."

Interest in online school courses is surging nationwide, especially at the high school level, according to those who follow trends in educational technology. Much of that demand is coming not from home-school students or students seeking to take all their courses online, but from those, like Ms. Byerly, who enroll in just one or two classes a year to meet a particular academic need or resolve a scheduling hang-up.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:53 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

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

Steven Wilson & George Wood:

Resolved: For-profit companies shouldn't run public schools.

Wilson: The irony! Here we are, in the temple of entrepreneurialism, debating a proposal to continue to deny our public schools--our most troubled institution--that greatest of American strengths, private sector innovation. The results are entirely predictable: An inefficient, outdated education system that consumes ever-increasing resources and posts flat or declining academic results. Worse still, in many inner cities, the public schools not only betray our shared ideals. They are our national shame. Systematically, callously, year after year, they fail millions of children, especially the urban poor. How can there be equal opportunity without universal access to a high quality education? Private action in public education should be welcomed, not decried. Let's engage the talents of private sector in reinventing the schools.

Wood: Not so fast, my friend. Let's look at a couple of your suppositions before we go on, beginning with the claim that our public schools are our most troubled institution. Really? Checked out the health care system lately? How about Congress? And before you credit the American private sector with too much innovative power let us not forget Enron and General Motors to name just a couple of instructive examples.

Of course schools could be better; I've spent the past 25 years working inside of them to do just that. With fewer resources than any CEO would accept, my school and thousands like it are doing a terrific job for every kid that walks through the door. We do something the private sector would never dream of doing: with no control over the funds we have, the materials we are given, or the outcomes that are dictated to us, we do our job and enjoy the highest level of trust of any institution in this country (see the 5/22/06 Zogby poll).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:48 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Change in Federal Rules Backs Single Sex Public Education

Diana Jean Schemo:

The Bush administration is giving public school districts broad new latitude to expand the number of single-sex classes, and even schools, in what is widely considered the most significant policy change on the issue since a landmark federal law barring sex discrimination in education more than 30 years ago.

Two years in the making, the new rules, announced Tuesday by the Education Department, will allow districts to create single-sex schools and classes as long as enrollment is voluntary. School districts that go that route must also make coeducational schools and classes of “substantially equal” quality available for members of the excluded sex.

The federal action is likely to accelerate efforts by public school systems to experiment with single-sex education, particularly among charter schools. Across the nation, the number of public schools exclusively for boys or girls has risen from 3 in 1995 to 241 today, said Leonard Sax, executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. That is a tiny fraction of the approximately 93,000 public schools across the country.

Andrew Rotherham notes that Hilary Clinton has long supported single sex education.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:39 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 24, 2006

Vang won't run for re-election

Now, six years later, we were alone as we discussed Vang's reasons for not seeking reelection to the school board in April 2007. While I had heard rumors of his decision, our discussion made it public and official. Vang's life had changed in six years. His job at Kajsiab House as the resource development director was taking up more and more of his time. And his children were growing older and needing more and more of his time, whether they realized it or not. His oldest son was now in high school.

Continued at The Capital City Hues.

Posted by Ed Blume at 11:48 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A different view of Reading First controversy

From Nancy Salvato, a Head Start teacher in Illinois:

In the Summer of 2001 Dame Marie Clay, creator of the New Zealand based Reading Recovery program, and her entourage came to the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC, to speak with House Education Committee Staffer Bob Sweet. Her purpose was to ascertain whether Reading Recovery would be eligible for Reading First funding once the bill was passed. Bob explained to Ms. Clay that explicit, systematic phonics instruction had to be included in any program eligible for RF funding because it was one of the necessary key components of reading instruction that had been established through decades of carefully conducted quantitative research.

These findings had been validated in the Report of the National Reading Panel in 2000 and were now going to become an essential part of the Reading First Law. He pleaded with Ms. Clay to use her extensive network of teacher training programs all over the US to help in the implementation of the RF program. He encouraged her to provide the leadership within the RR family to make the modifications necessary, and thus make RR eligible for RF funding consideration.

With a stare as cold as ice, Marie Clay replied that RR would not be making any changes to their program; however, Mr. Sweet could be certain a new description of its components would be written in such a way as to bring it into compliance with the RF law. Momentarily dumbfounded, he maintained that Reading Recovery could not be eligible for RF funding without modification, and his initial estimation then still stands today.

Continued at National Ledger:

Posted by Ed Blume at 11:30 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Read 180: A Reading Boost for Older Children

Amy Hetzner:

Reading aloud embarrassed Vanessa Hernandez when she had to do it in a classroom full of students for whom words and pronunciation seemed to come easy.

But after seeing her reading ability jump two grade levels in just over a month, and with only a computer judging how she pronounces words, Vanessa Hernandez said she is finally learning how reading can be fun.

"You feel so much confidence," the sixth-grader from Waukesha's Hadfield Elementary School said of the improvements she's made this year.

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

Madison School District Working on Virtual School


By this time next year, students from across the country could be attending Madison schools online.

The Madison Metropolitan School District is developing a virtual campus and curriculum. The idea has been in the works for several years, but the district hopes to make it widely available for the 2006-2007 school year.

WISC-TV caught up with one Sun Prairie family who uses online education to home school nine of their 10 children.

Sharon Leonard has nothing but glowing words for virtual schools. Her son John, 7, is currently enrolled in the Appleton School District’s Virtual kindergarten program.

"I like curriculum with a lot of diversity that's a bit challenging," said Leonard. "Not too heavy on the writing part, not lots of homework, not lots of extra assignments. I just want them to focus on the basics."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:39 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Take Responsibility for School Violence"

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

That is why Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater was right last week when he said a recent flurry of violence in Madison schools merited attention by families and the community, as well as educators.

School violence is not just a school problem. It is a community problem.

Rainwater also said something that was wrong, however: "Our schools are absolutely safe."

To be sure, Madison schools deserve high marks for safety. But the evidence shows that safety is far from absolute.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Notes & Links on Constructivism

Joanne Jacobs:

I said Ken De Rosa of D-Ed Reckoning would write more on why constructivism doesn't work. He has. See part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4.

Natalie Solent looks at reasons why constructivism (aka "discovery, experiential, problem-based or inquiry learning" ) remains popular despite lack of results. She thinks people who were good at school are generalizing from their own ah-hah! experiences, forgetting the non-ah-hah! moments and flattering themselves that they figured things out without help. Also, she says, "they don't want to look bossy."

But they're plenty bossy when they teach prospective teachers, writes Tin Drummer.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 23, 2006

US Welfare Accounting Overhaul

Krishna Guha:

A radical new approach to government accounting that would require the US administration to account for the cost of future social security payments year by year as people build up entitlements will be proposed on Monday.

The proposal by the federal accounting standards advisory board (FASAB) – which would also require the government to account for benefits accrued under Medicare and other social insurance programmes in the same way – is unprecedented internationally. It would radically change the presentation of US government finances, in effect bringing forward the cost of rapidly increasing social security and Medicare obligations and greatly increasing the reported fiscal deficit.

George W. Bush’s administration is firmly opposed to the proposal, which officials believe wrongly implies that the government is contractually obliged to make future payments based on current benefit rules.

They fear this would make it more difficult to reform the big entitlement programmes and increase pressure on future governments to raise taxes to meet projected funding shortfalls.

The big increase in the reported fiscal deficit under the proposed rule could have an immediate political effect, making it more difficult to press for Bush tax cuts scheduled to expire in 2010 to be made permanent.

This will ripple all over the place, or "trickle down" as it were. FASAB "preliminary views".

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

The Merrow Report

Learning Matters:

The Broad Foundation awards $1 million to the top urban school district in the nation. But what is the measure of success? And what are the ways that urban superintendents can lead their schools toward success in the long-term? John Merrow moderates a symposium with the five finalists. Superintendents from Boston; Bridgeport, CT; Jersey City, N.J.; Miami-Dade County; and New York City joined last year's winner from Norfolk, VA to discuss and debate the best practices of urban education.

Reforming our urban educational systems is a daunting task and a national necessity, particularly as America's urban centers become more diverse. The lively exchanges among these experienced superintendents about everything from union negotiation and parental expectations to state-takeovers and the merits and short-comings of the controversial No Child Left Behind legislation are sure to inform--and entertain--you.


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

Saving Money in the Toledo School System

Chris Meyers: is all about citizen-powered ideas. You can comment, rate and even submit your own ideas here to help the Toledo Public School (TPS) district save money. Learn more about the site purpose and function or get help by reading our FAQ.

You can rate the ideas without an account. You also do not need an account to submit your great idea(s), but if you are interested in commenting please create an account. View the ideas below or using the links on the left in the Navigation box. You DO NOT need to live in Toledo to submit ideas. We need everyone's help!

Via Rotherham.

Deja vu on the list of ideas, particularly with respect to the Administration Building. A great example of citizen activism.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:14 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

UW Gets $3M to Explore Educational Gaming

Chris Fleissner:

An education research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will receive $3 million from the MacArthur Foundation to study the impact of digital media on youth culture, learning, and literacy.

MacArthur's total $50 million investment will support 24 national studies of different aspects of the digital revolution and its educational and societal implications.

"What MacArthur is actually trying to do, with this grant to us, is establish the field of video games and learning," said James Paul Gee, principal investigator in the UW-Madison project.

"It's a new field," Gee said, "We will do the research to establish what the key issues, topics, and approaches in the field ought to be, and the implementation of new programs."

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

Clauses and Commas Make a Comeback: SAT Helps Return Grammar to Class

Daniel de Vise:

Mike Greiner teaches grammar to high school sophomores in half-hour lessons, inserted between Shakespeare and Italian sonnets. He is an old-school grammarian, one of a defiant few in the Washington region who believe in spending large blocks of class time teaching how sentences are built.

For this he has earned the alliterative nickname "Grammar Greiner," along with a reputation as one of the tougher draws in the Westfield High School English department.

Or, as one student opined in a sonnet he wrote, "Mr. Greiner, I think you're torturing us."

Greiner, 43, teaches future Advanced Placement students at the Chantilly school. Left on their own to decide where to place a comma, "they'll get it right about half of the time," he said. "But half is an F."

Ten or 20 years ago, Greiner might have been ostracized for his views or at least counseled to keep them to himself. Grammar lessons vanished from public schools in the 1970s, supplanted by a more holistic view of English instruction. A generation of teachers and students learned grammar through the act of writing, not in isolated drills and diagrams.

Today, Greiner is encouraged, even sought out. Direct grammar instruction, long thought to do more harm than good, is welcome once more

One of my high school English teachers was just like Greiner.

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October 22, 2006

Political Backlash Builds Over High-Stakes Testing

Peter Whoriskey:

This election season may be the first in which the growing use of high-stakes school testing, embodied in the No Child Left Behind legislation, has reached this level of political prominence.

A similar exam revolt has become a key issue in the race for governor in Texas, another state in the vanguard of the testing movement, and the issue has roiled the Ohio gubernatorial contest as well.

High-stakes testing -- using standardized test scores to impose consequences affecting teachers and students -- has been embraced widely in recent years as a way to hold educators and students accountable for their performance. Experts say the movement is one of the most significant shifts in U.S. education in decades.

Mike Antonucci has more.

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MMSD and School Climate

I've been very impressed with the way that Madison School District staff have communicated with parents during several recent unfortunate events and incidents.

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Study Takes a Sharp Look at NYC's Dropout Rate

Elissa Gootman:

The first comprehensive look at New York City’s failing students has found that nearly 140,000 people from ages 16 to 21 have either dropped out of high school or are already so far behind that they are unlikely to graduate.

The study, which the New York City Department of Education is to present to the State Board of Regents today, for the first time sheds light on a population of students who for decades have been relegated to the shadows of the city’s sprawling school system. The study was conducted by the Parthenon Group, a Boston consulting group, and was paid for with $2.6 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Lucy Mathiak recently discussed a Madison School District Study that evaluated late 1990's dropout data:
I think we need to be careful about what we assume when we are talking about students of color in the schools. The children of color in our schools include a growing number of children whose parents, regardless of racial or ethnic identity, are highly educated with degrees ranging from the BA/BS levels to PhD, law, and medical degrees. Many have attended schools or come from communities with high numbers of professionals of African American, Latino/a, Asian American, or American Indian heritage. As our businesses and higher educational institutions hire more diverse professionals, we will see more children of color from middle and upper income families.

Children of color with highly educated parents historically have had trouble getting access to advanced educational opportunities regardless of their academic preparation or ability. And we are seeing a concurrent relocation to private schools, suburbs, and other cities because the parents have every bit as high expectation for their children as any other parents.

I hope there will be an update to this study. Related: The Gap According to Black.

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Parents vs. Coach

C.W. Nevius:

Parents interfering in their kids' sports is nothing new. But a group of parents at Castro Valley High is taking it to a new extreme.

What started as a group of unhappy parents griping amongst themselves has ballooned into multiple investigations, an observer attending every girls varsity basketball practice and a committee that will pick the team.

It's the kind of over-the-top behavior that's increasingly common -- parents running on the field, screaming from the sidelines and, in the worst cases, punching out officials. It happens when well-intentioned parents let their protective instincts for their children overwhelm their good judgment.

In Castro Valley, the club wielded by parents is legal clout.

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October 21, 2006

Terrific job by Lucy Mathiak

Lucy Mathiak deserves high praise for her performance in the discussion on the MMSD's math curriculum. She pressed and pressed the superintendent to justify his recommendations.

A board member of any organization or corporation does not need to be an expert on a topic, but simply has to be certain that the head of the organization holds a firm grasp of the facts to support the direction of the organization.

We need more Lucy Mathiak's on the board.

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Wisconsin School Financing Proposal

Amy Hetzner:

A major study of restructuring the state's school funding system has produced a plan its author predicts could double academic achievement among Wisconsin students for 6.8% more money annually than the state spends currently.

The study by Allan Odden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison education professor, is more than a year in the making and has included input by some of the state's most influential education policy makers. However, members of the task force who have been advising Odden say it is still a work in progress, and major disagreements arose Friday at a meeting at which he released detailed cost estimates for his plan.

"Nobody agrees with everything," Odden conceded, "but there's been no great revolts."

Odden is slated to present the plan at a hearing next week of a special legislative council on the school-aid formula, which is headed by state Sen. Luther Olsen ( R-Ripon), a member of Odden's task force.

The council will also hear about two other plans, one from Democratic state Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) and the other from the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, Olsen said.

Jack Norman, research director for the Institute for Wisconsin's Future, who helped draft the funding plan for the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, called Odden's plan "really terrific." But he disagreed with some of the details, including how it would fund special education and its reduced funding for high school electives.

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Amplification in the Classroom

Reader Steven Ralser emails this article by Wendy Cole:

Twenty pairs of eyes eagerly converge on Jennifer Larcey as the afternoon science lesson gets under way at Bassett Elementary in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Sure, the transfixed first-graders are salivating at the prospect of examining--and tasting--the physical properties of peanuts, raisins and M&Ms. But something else is riveting the kids, even as Larcey stands to the side of the room issuing directions: the breathtaking clarity of her voice. "Feel the peanuts, and try to describe the texture," she instructs.

Larcey is one of seven teachers at Bassett who are, in effect, wired for sound. Nearly every word to her students is amplified through speakers wirelessly linked to a small blue transmitter dangling from her neck. Because she began using the technology three years ago, Larcey barely notices the device, except for the rare instances when she forgets to switch it on. "It's obvious. The kids just don't pay attention in the same way," she says. Bassett has joined the growing ranks of schools embracing a deceptively simple technology at a time when federal No Child Left Behind accountability standards are compelling districts to find new ways to boost academic performance. Although amplification systems have long been used to help hearing-impaired students, recent research has shown that enhanced audio benefits all students by helping a teacher's voice get through loud and clear, even at the back of the classroom.

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October 20, 2006

Dane County Saves $1.2M on Employee Health Insurance: Will the Madison School District Follow This Lead?

Recently, the Sun Prairie School district and its teachers' union successfully bargained with DeanCare to bring down future costs for employee health insurance. This week Dane County and five of its employee unions agreed to save $1.2M in employee health insurance costs for 2007 by moving all covered employees to one provider, Physicians Plus HMO. County reaches pacts with 5 of 9 employe unions They chose Physicans Plus HMO following a competitive bidding process.

Can the Madison School Board learn from these examples? I hope so.

On September 25, the Human Resources Committee (Kobza, Vang and Robarts) heard a presentation from a Bob Butler, an attorney-consultant from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards on this topic. Containing MMSD's employee health insurance costs: what's next? The presentation demonstrated why school districts have no choice but to work with employee representatives to try to get the best health insurance for the lowest cost.

On Monday, October 23, the Human Resources Committee will consider making recommendations to the full board regarding future health insurance costs. The meeting will be at 7:45 p.m. in McDaniels Auditorium and will be televised.

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Nations With ‘Happy’ Students Post Poorer Scores

A nation full of students who enjoy mathematics and feel confident in the subject is not necessarily a nation that scores high on international math tests, a report being released this week concludes.

The report from the Brookings Institution suggests, in fact, that the so-called “happiness factor” in math may be inversely related to achievement. In countries where students express high levels of math confidence and enjoyment, it says, students tend to score below average on international math exams in 4th and 8th grades, and vice versa.

Students in the United States are among the world’s happiest, though their average scores are higher than those for most countries that rate strongly on the “happiness” scale.

By Debra Viadero, in Education Week, published October 18, 2006

“I’m not trying to say we should go out and destroy kids’ confidence,” said Tom Loveless, the author of the annual report and the director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Washington think tank. “What’s clear from these findings is happiness is not everything. Our national obsession with student happiness over academic content may, in fact, be hurting our children when considered in an international context.”

Other scholars, though, saw less cause for concern in the findings for American students.

“We’re scoring above the international average with kids who like math,” said David C. Berliner, an education professor at Arizona State University in Tempe. “That suggests we’re producing enough high-level math students to meet the needs of our economy.”

Mr. Loveless based his conclusions on 2003 results from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, which tested 4th graders from 25 countries and 8th graders from 46 countries. He compared the test scores with students’ responses to questions gauging their confidence in and enjoyment of math, and teachers’ ratings of the extent to which they made math lessons relevant to real life—strands that Mr. Loveless calls the “happiness factor.”
Sad in Singapore?

Of the 10 countries where 8th graders scored highest on average for confidence in their mathematical abilities, only two—Israel and the United States—scored above average for achievement. More than 40 percent of students in Egypt, Ghana, Israel, and Jordan said that they usually do well in math; students in all of the countries but Israel fell below the international average. The United States, where 22 percent of 8th graders expressed the same level of confidence, ranked ninth.

The bottom 10 countries in self-confidence, on the other hand, include some of the world’s highest-achieving nations in 8th grade mathematics—Singapore, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea.

Even the least confident 8th graders in Singapore, on average, outscored the most confident American students on an international math test.

That pattern was the same, according to Mr. Loveless, among 4th graders and for questions gauging students’ enjoyment of math. Mr. Loveless could find no relationship, though, between math achievement and the degree of relevance in students’ math lessons.

Yet, within countries, the data showed the opposite pattern occurred: The happiest, most confident students were those with the highest test scores.

Mr. Loveless said that paradox may be due partly to differences in how cultures define success. It could also be explained, he said, by what researchers have dubbed the “frog-pond effect.” In other words, students may measure their own abilities against those of their peers.

“A lot of American kids think they’re good in math, and they may be good in the United States,” said Mr. Loveless. “But if they went to another country, their perceptions may change.”

The 29-page report also examines claims that the federal No Child Left Behind Act is prompting states to exaggerate the gains their students are making on state reading tests.

For that part of his study, Mr. Loveless compared five to seven years of data from state tests with states’ 4th and 8th grade scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal program that periodically tests representative samples of students within states and nationwide. While the state-test scores are higher on average than the NAEP scores, the analysis showed, the gains they report vary by grade level and are not steep enough for states to meet federal targets by 2014, as the law requires.

“There’s no clear evidence,” Mr. Loveless concluded, “that states before or after NCLB did anything different.”

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No Test Tubes? Debate on Virtual Science Classes

Sam Dillion:

When the Internet was just beginning to shake up American education, a chemistry professor photographed thousands of test tubes holding molecular solutions and, working with video game designers, created a simulated laboratory that allowed students to mix chemicals in virtual beakers and watch the reactions.

In the years since, that virtual chemistry laboratory — as well as other simulations allowing students to dissect virtual animals or to peer into tidal pools in search of virtual anemone — has become a widely used science teaching tool. The virtual chemistry laboratory alone has some 150,000 students seated at computer terminals around the country to try experiments that would be too costly or dangerous to do at their local high schools. “Some kids figure out how to blow things up in half an hour,” said the professor, Brian F. Woodfield of Brigham Young University.

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October 19, 2006

To Voting Madison Citizens

I didn't vote for the Leopold referendum last spring, and I still believe that was the correct vote. If the community had voted to build a second school on Leopold then we would not have the opportunity for the community to vote "Yes" on this referendum, which I believe is a better financial and long term solution for our growth. When I was asked to participate on the Westside Long Range Planning Task Force, I was determined to find a better solution for our district than building another school.

I approached this job with study and concentration, as did many of the Task Force participants. In my effort to not build a new school I looked at shifting students East, shifting South, moving 5th graders to middle school, and moving neighborhoods to other schools and in the end I found it was more than just filling seats. The shifts made equity uneven. One shift created a school with less than 5 % low income while others were closer to 70%. Other shifts still left some schools too full because the seats were not where the growth is coming from. Some shifts worked but only for two years. After many hours of discussion and shifting, it became clear that we could shift students if we wanted to; split neighborhoods, shift them again in two years, create schools of inequity, provide 100's of students with a bus ride of 45 minutes or more each way, and change our classroom quality so that teachers no longer had classrooms but carts that they moved from room to room (Art and Music Teachers). When we thought about those options, none of us wanted it for our own children or grandchildren and we believed that for $30 a year, others in the community would prefer that their children and grandchildren not be handed one of these options either. There are other options, but none with the long term solutions that the current referendum provides.

I was not a believer last go round because the numbers and location did not make sense to me, but I am a firm believer in this referendum and a quick drive on HWY M and viewing the numbers on the MMSD website for Chavez, Stephens, Crestwood, Falk and of course Leopold will let you know it is now or later. Fiscally there is no reason to wait as the building cost will continue to climb ever higher. The three part question provides approval for funds to build the new Westside school currently referred to as Linden Park; refinance an expansion to Leopold's building by converting current space and adding cafeteria space, and the third part ask voters to approve refinancing a debt that could save the district money. These are fiscally good decisions, with positive long term results, that have been discussed at length by many good citizens in our community. Please view the MMSD video or check out the vast amount of data available to citizens on their website at Most of all, VOTE November 7th!

Mary Kay Battaglia
Parent of Crestwood and Jefferson Children
Member of Westside Task Force

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New Jersey Considers School District Consolidation

Tom Hester, Jr.:

New Jersey voters would decide whether the state should create 21 county school districts under a plan considered Wednesday by legislators looking to cut the nation's highest property taxes.

A referendum question would ask voters to approve the shift next year, a massive undertaking for a state with 616 school districts spread across 566 municipalities.

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Madison School Board Math Curriculum Discussion with the Superintendent

Video | Audio
School Board members that ask questions are essential to public confidence in and strong oversight of our $332m+ district. Monday evening's Superintendent review discussion with respect to the district's controversial math curriculum was interesting in this respect. Watch the video or listen to the mp3 audio file. The math related discussion starts about 24 minute into the video and ends at about the one hour mark.
3 School Board seats are up for election in April, 2007. These meetings demonstrate the need for candidates with strong leadership and governance abilities with respect to the most important issues for our next generation: a world class curriculum.
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Maybe Math isn't Supposed to be Fun: Just Cutting to the Chase is a Better Approach

Ben Feller:

Children who are turned off by math often say they don't enjoy it, they aren't good at it and they see little point in it. Who knew that could be a formula for success?
The nations with the best scores have the least happy, least confident math students, says a study by the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

Countries reporting higher levels of enjoyment and confidence among math students don't do as well in the subject, the study suggests. The results for the United States hover around the middle of the pack, both in terms of enjoyment and in test scores.

In essence, happiness is overrated, says study author Tom Loveless."We might want to focus on the math that kids are learning and just be a little less obsessed with the fact that they have to enjoy every minute of it," said Loveless, who directs the Brown center and serves on a presidential advisory panel on math.

"The implication is not Let's go make kids unhappy,'" he said. "It's Let's give kids better signals as to how they're performing, relative to the rest of the world.'"

Other countries do better than the United States because they seem to expect more from students, he said. That could also explain why high performers in other nations express less confidence and enjoyment in math.

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MetLife 2006 Survey of the American Teacher

Harris Interactive:

The 2006 survey looks at the expectations of teachers upon entering the profession, factors that drive career satisfaction, and the perspectives of principals and education leaders on successful teacher preparation and long-term support. In addition, it examines data collected from past MetLife American Teacher surveys to understand the challenges teachers face and their likelihood of remaining in the profession in order to recommend recruitment and retention strategies. Through focus groups of prospective and former teachers, also conducted by Harris Interactive, the report offers added insight about why individuals choose to enter the profession, and why some "opt out" early.

Key findings include:

1. Today’s teachers face challenges:

  • Most teachers do not have enough time for planning and grading (65%), helping individual students (60%) or classroom instruction (34%).
  • Although teachers’ professional prestige is on the rise, nearly four in 10 (37%) say their professional prestige is worse than they expected.
  • Two-thirds of teachers (64%) report their salaries are not fair for the work they do.

2. The struggle to retain teachers gives cause for concern:

  • One quarter (27%) of teachers say they are likely to leave the profession within the next five years to enter a different occupation.
  • The veteran teacher with 21 years or more experience is more likely than his or her less-experienced colleague to "opt out"—that is, more than twice as likely to leave the profession (56% vs. 26%).

3. Principals and education leaders have dramatically different perspectives on what new teachers should expect on-the-job.

  • More than half of principals (54%) think teachers are unrealistic about the number of hours they will work each week, in contrast to 32% of deans and chairpersons.
  • More than half of principals (52%) believe teachers are unrealistic about the number of students with special needs with whom they will work, in contrast to 25% of deans and chairpersons.

4. Teachers’ experiences align more closely with what principals say they should expect than with the views of deans and chairpersons who prepare them for classroom life.

  • Four in 10 teachers (42%) work more with special needs students than they expected.
  • Fifty-eight percent of teachers find the hours they work each week are worse than expected.
  • Three of the four top strategies teachers recommend for recruitment and retention—a decent salary, more financial support of school systems and more respect in society--are similar to those of principals.

5. Still, there is good news about the state of K-12 education:

  • Despite the challenges they face, teachers’ career satisfaction is at 20-year high: 56% are very satisfied with teaching as a career, a 70% increase over findings reported in the 1986 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Restructuring the Teaching Profession.
  • Today's new teachers feel better prepared to engage families, work with students of varying abilities and maintain order in the classroom than did their than experienced peers when they first entered the career.
  • Eighty-two percent of new teachers were matched with a more experienced mentor during their first year of teaching, compared to only 16% of veteran teachers.

Full Survey 800K PDF.

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October 18, 2006

11/7/2006 Referendum Conversation: Mitch Henck, Johnny Winston, Jr and Don Severson

Listen to the conversation, along with call-in questions: 17MB mp3 audio (about 50 minutes). Mitch Henck's website. Much more on the referendum here.

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Police Reports from The East and West High School Area

Madison's East and West High Schools were locked down Monday. The Daily Page linked to the two police reports:

Channel3000 has more here and here.

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The Structural Inadequacy of Public Schools for Stigmatized Minorities: The Need for Institutional Remedies

Shavar Jeffries:

This Article challenges the failure of courts and advocates considering remedies in school cases to assess whether public schools, as currently constituted, are institutionally aligned with stigmatized minorities' particular educational needs. Numerous legal scholars have written about the longstanding failure of public schools to effectively educate racial minorities; but they have overlooked the relationship of public schools' institutional context to the educational consequences of racial stigma. This Article does so, claiming that because stigma attacks the very capacities enabling education, services must specifically account for stigma's noxious effects on racial minorities' educability. Stigma distinctively affects minorities' educational fortunes both categorically and individually. As a class, the ontological challenge posed by stigma, obviously, affects only the stigmatized; individually, children have different levels of access to resources contradicting stigma and also cope variably with stigma. Schools therefore need flexibility to respond not only to the unique class-wide harms engendered by stigma but also its specific manifestations in individual children.

Despite this need for flexibility, traditional public schools are highly bureaucratic and rule-bound, preempting the flexibility stigmatized minorities require. This disposition toward uniformity, moreover, is not coincidental but is central to political accountability, especially in urban districts disproportionately serving racial minorities. Finally, because they are minorities, relatively poor, and stigmatized, stigmatized minorities cannot politically realize bureaucratic rules consistently responsive to their educational needs.

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For Math Students, Self-Esteem Might Not Equal High Scores

Jay Matthews:

It is difficult to get through a day in an American school without hearing maxims such as these: "To succeed, you must believe in yourself," and "To teach, you must relate the subject to the lives of students."

But the Brookings Institution is reporting today that countries such as the United States that embrace self-esteem, joy and real-world relevance in learning mathematics are lagging behind others that don't promote all that self-regard.

onsider Korea and Japan.

According to the Washington think tank's annual Brown Center report on education, 6 percent of Korean eighth-graders surveyed expressed confidence in their math skills, compared with 39 percent of U.S. eighth-graders. But a respected international math assessment showed Koreans scoring far ahead of their peers in the United States, raising questions about the importance of self-esteem.

1.3mb PDF Full Brookings/Brown Report

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October 17, 2006

Facts & Questions about the 2006 Madison School District Referendum


What is the anticipated cost of equipping the Leopold addition and the elementary school at Linden Park? Are those projected costs included in the referendum authorization or not?

What is the anticipated cost of operating the Leopold addition and the elementary school at Linden Park? How will those costs be appropriated/budgeted (and in what years?) given that the Board expects to have to cut $6-8 million per year?

What are the “shared revenue” total costs for each of three parts of the referendum question? Are these costs included in the $29.20 estimated cost for a median assessed home-owner? Please provide the ‘working papers’ or calculations arriving at these costs. How can a home-owner figure the annual cost of this referendum for the assessed value of their home?

What information about the Ridgewood complex and projected enrollment was used to calculate the need for the Leopold addition?

Construction has already begun for the Leopold addition without voter/taxpayer approval. What is the current impact on the operations budget? What would be the future impact on the operations budget if the referendum fails?

What is the current rate of interest paid by the District for the previous additions to the three elementary schools and now for the new addition to Leopold? What is the anticipated rate of interest and fees for refinancing these debts if the referendum is approved?

What changes occur in the calculations of residential build-out and estimated numbers of children in the next few years given the accelerating decline in permits and new home starts and the increasing costs of interest, building materials and land?

How is the planning for the Leopold addition and the new elementary school integrated with a long-range plan for entire District? What are the consequences of flat/stable enrollment figures over the last several years and that from 2005 to 2006 school years five elementary schools on the west side are down in enrollment and seven have had only slight increases?

What priorities will be addressed and what are the plans for use of the nearly $800,000 under the revenue cap in the operations budget that would become available if the referendum is approved?

Referendum Facts, Background & Additional Questions:
The Madison Metropolitan School Board of Education has proposed a referendum for district voters to consider on November 7, 2006.

The referendum is a single question with three parts:

Build a new 650-student elementary school in Linden Park on the far west side of Madison at a cost of $17.7 million.

Move previously committed financing of $2.76 million for Leopold elementary school from underneath the revenue cap.

Move financing for previous school additions and land development in the amount of $3.1 million from beneath the revenue cap.

Thus, if approved, the referendum will create $17.7 million of new debt outside the revenue cap, and refinance and move $5.86 million of present debt outside the revenue cap (total of $23.5 million). The School Board and District are telling the public that these actions will cost the owner of an average assessed home of $239,400, about $29.20 per year.

But the Board has refused to tell the public of the true total cost to the taxpayers, and fact that the Board is creating a ‘blank check’ spending entitlement for the Board.

State law will require Madison taxpayers to pay a nearly 60% premium in shared revenues to the State for increasing for increasing local spending authority above the revenue cap by referendum. Thus, if the referendum is approved, Madison taxpayers will have to pay the State over $14 million, making a total of $37.6 million above the revenue cap, all to be borne by Madison taxpayers over the years. In this way, Madison taxpayers will actually be paying costs of other school districts in the state.

Under present District budgeting, the debt service for the $5.86 million existing debt (numbers 2 and 3 of the referendum) is under the revenue cap. By moving this debt from beneath the revenue cap the Board will free up about $800,000 of spending authority. When asked for an accounting of how this new-found money will be spent, they have stated they don’t know.

Consider these issues before voting:


The current revenue caps and levels of state aids to local schools and the property tax bases for local funding will not change in the foreseeable future

The local Board of Education will be required to more effectively and efficiently manage its financial affairs with less money

The local Board of Education will be required to make changes in its delivery systems of curriculum and instruction and student services to attain better achievement results

The local Board of Education will be required to establish a realignment of educational and operational priorities and how those priorities can be met with the existing funding base

The Board of Education cannot financially and educationally manage to take on more debt and operational expenses, as a result of this referendum, with declining ability to pay for these burdens.

Part 1--Regarding the new elementary school proposal:

What will be the operational costs of this school? (has not been disclosed)

How will the operational costs of the school be paid for and what will be the impact on the operational budget when the Board has stated it will have to cut up to about $8 million each year for the next several years? (no planning has been done)

Student enrollment has remained stable for the last several years. Enrollment from 2005 to 2006 declined (-97) in five west side elementary schools and increased in seven (+185)

The impact on reducing existing elementary school building capacities the past several years has been largely due to Board policies regarding class size, racial and low-income student ratios, SAGE reading programs and time of transporting students to and from school

The Board contracted this past spring for architectural and engineering design services for this school at a cost of approximately $90,000

The Board has relied on City of Madison projections for the build-out of 13,000 homes on the far west side in the next 20 years. No consideration has been given to how those numbers are projected to sequentially play out over the years

The decline in home building in Dane County this year has accelerated in September, remaining the weakest this century, less than half of September 2005 (195 down to 73) and at least 68 below every September back to 1999. Year-to-date through September there were 1116 permits in Dane County, 711 below a year ago and at least 332 below every year back to 1999.

Building and land costs as well as interest rates continue to increase creating the significant decline in new residential starts

Approval of the referendum will tax Madison property owners for over $10 million to be given to the state in shared revenues for poorer school districts as no financial benefit to the Madison school district

Part 2--Regarding the addition to the Leopold Elementary School proposal:

Construction for this addition already began in June of this year

Voters defeated a referendum in May 2005 to build an additional complete elementary school on the same property as the existing Leopold Elementary school. The Board is forcing through this addition without prior voter approval and asking taxpayers to approve the expenditure by referendum after the fact

The Board of Education is currently making debt service and principle payments from the general operations budget under the revenue cap

Approval of the referendum would remove approximately $200,000 per year for 16 years from under the revenue cap and provide that amount for the Board to spend without any plan and accountability to educational priorities and needs

Budget cuts for programs, services and various staff were made to the 2006-2007 operations budget partially due to the impact constructing this addition now

The Board made the decision to move ahead not knowing what the impact of redevelopment to the Ridgewood Apartment complex will have on enrollment at Leopold

The addition is underway without a comprehensive long-range plan for dealing with potential enrollment growth in the Fitchburg area of the District coupled with potential growth on the west side of Madison an impacts on existing elementary buildings and boundaries

Approval of the referendum will tax Madison property owners for over $1.65 million to be given to the state in shared revenues for poorer school districts as no financial benefit to the Madison school district

Part 3—Regarding the proposal for refinancing of existing building and land debt:

At the time the Board approved this part for the referendum, no comparative analysis had been conducted of the current debt service cost, length and amount of payments with the same data if approved with the referendum, so they had no idea whether this decision was financially sound or not

Approval of the referendum would remove approximately $516,000 per year for 6 years from under the revenue cap and provide that amount for the Board to spend without any plan and accountability to educational priorities and needs

The Board is forcing through this refinance provision asking taxpayers to approve the expenditures for prior construction and land acquisition by referendum after the fact

Approval of the referendum will tax Madison property owners for over $1.86 million to be given to the state in shared revenues for poorer school districts as no financial benefit to the Madison school district

Taxpayers can view additional questions, information and supporting data by connecting with the following Internet sites:

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If Chartering is the Answer, What was the Question?

Ted Kolderie and Joe Graba, charter school leaders at Education/Evolving urge legislators to expand Wisconsin’s charter school law:

"The Importance of Innovation in Chartering"

Remarks to the Legislative Study Committee on Charter Schools
By Ted Kolderie and Joe Graba, Education/Evolving
October 17, 2006


Let me try to set the context for the Legislature's use of the chartering strategy. The 'Why?' of anything is important to legislators. It is fair to ask: "If 'chartering' is the answer, what was the question?"

The question is: How do we make schooling different enough to motivate the kids who have never learned well in conventional school?

Paul Houston, the head of AASA, has been pointing out how dramatically the signals have been switched for public education. Forever, their charge was access and equity: take everybody; give everybody the opportunity to participate and to learn. Now suddenly the charge is proficiency: The districts are required to see that all children learn.

This is a huge change. The current model of schooling was not built for this. The districts were not built for this. Success with this very different assignment requires major readjustment in the institution.

The states -- which design and construct this institution -- had to ask whether they could rely solely on the existing organizations to meet this new goal. Many asserted they could, or hoped they could. But it was not obvious that kids who had never learned well in traditional schooling suddenly will learn well simply because adults make traditional school 'more rigorous', or tell the kids they "have to".

Most major states decided it is not prudent to commit exclusively to the strategy of transforming existing schools. They have opened a second option, which is to create a new sector in which schools can be created new. It was entirely predictable and perfectly reasonable for the states to conclude that a somewhat different institution is required to carry out successfully the new charge to produce student learning.

A principal charge to this new sector is innovation. In adapting K-12 the states did not -- as they might have -- order the creation of some number of some particular new kind of school recommended by some expert consultant. Rather, the states left the chartering laws open. They invite a wide variety of people to set up and to try out a variety of new models of schooling that might work better. And many states make it possible for these people to get their authorization from a variety of different 'sponsors'.

The goal is better learning. But the Legislature cannot enact better learning. All it can do is to create the conditions that will elicit from the workers on the job of learning -- the students and the teachers -- the motivation and the effort that excellence requires. Chartering is a way of creating those conditions; a way to innovate with models of organization, types of school-culture and approaches to learning that change what kids and teachers do.

We do not know as much as we should about the innovation occurring in the new sector. Probably innovation is the exception, among the schools. Still, there is likely to be more than we think. Research to date has not been very interested in innovation. As John Witte points out: Research looks to generalize; does not focus on the individual cases that might represent the breakthrough model. There is quite an important innovation in school governance in Milwaukee, for example -- which Joe will discuss more specifically -- on which research has not picked up at all.

Choice is a logical and necessary corollary for change and innovation. Nowhere will everyone agree on the direction or rate of change. It is best not to vote on change because we do not believe in coercing people into new-things. So, wisely, the Legislature provided options. Those who want something different can have that. Those who prefer to stay with the traditional model can do that.

So we are now in a major transition. In place of the historic public-utility model, the states now have a diverse form of public education. The districts remain, while a new open sector is emerging. Parents and students may choose where they want to enroll. All this is still evolving: This, like most major changes, a work in progress, continually being adjusted by the state as architect for the system. This too is predictable and reasonable: As Albert Shanker used to say, "Nobody ever gets everything right on the first try".

Like most such change this one is also controversial. The adjustment is difficult for educators. With their long experience in the culture shaped by the old rules it is understandable they are struggling with the new environment of choice, competition and the requirement now for proficiency. There is an understandable impulse to wish all this change could somehow disappear; that everyone could go back to an earlier and more comfortable time.

But the state cannot go back. The challenge is to adapt, as a group of superintendents in Minnesota saw clearly in 1998. Don Helmstetter, the president of MASA that year, and those who joined him in that report, said: We accept what the state has done, with standards and testing and choice and competition. But in fairness to us in the districts, and in the state's own interest, you need now to give us the ability to succeed in this new environment. They asked for flexibility with staffing and with time, for the opportunity to contract for services and for the opportunity to bring in new technology.

That has to be the agenda: to increase the organizational capacity and the system-capacity for change. The requirement for proficiency makes new models of schooling necessary. Information technology -- computers, the internet, the web, the data bases, the search engines -- now make radically new models possible. Gradually, districts in both our states are starting to explore these new possibilities, with innovations both in school-organization and in the approach to learning.

The immediate question now is how -- as it continues to adjust this new and more diverse system of public education -- the Legislature can ensure that the district sector and the open sector, both, have the autonomy needed for the innovation that is required.

Let me turn this over now to Joe, who will talk more specifically about what this rationale implies for the structure of the chartering laws.


Let me say again: The need is to produce radically different schools. This is necessary, and this is possible. It will take time . . . and in the meantime we will of course need to keep doing all we can to improve the schools we have, in both sectors. I simply want to stress that for the educational job that has never been done we will need schools of a type we have never had.

There will be some reluctance to do this. Most everybody wants our schools to be better, but almost nobody wants them to be different. So the states will need to move with considerable skill in rearranging the K-12 system to produce the new and different schools.

Minnesota has a more diverse chartered sector than Wisconsin. Early on, our Legislature added other sponsors. We now have the broadest list of eligible sponsors of any state -- including not only colleges and universities but also large nonprofits and foundations as well as various entities in the K-12 structure. Also, in Minnesota the school becomes a discrete legal entity, a nonprofit organization; in your terms a non-instrumentality. Minnesota's schools are relatively independent even when sponsored by districts. We think perhaps Minnesota should create a new category of chartering in which the schools would be closer to the districts, to encourage districts to be more active in this new sector of public education.

Wisconsin is the reverse. Its law, its program, is quite different from most in the country, as you doubtless know. Here chartering has remained almost exclusively a district program. This state has moved only modestly to alternate sponsors; in Milwaukee and in Racine. And the district-sponsored schools are not separate entities. They are, as the law famously says, instrumentalities of the district.

A state is unlikely to get significantly different schools, to get major innovation, within the existing structures. This is not a criticism of the districts: The culture in all organizations works against radical change; works to maintain existing policies and processes. Research by Clayton Christensen at Harvard Business School makes it clear that significant innovation comes only when people have the opportunity to work in what he calls "new organizational space". Airlines did not grow out of railroads and motels did not originate with hotels and the PC did not come from the people making mainframes. The innovations appeared outside.

Progressive educators and union leaders are beginning to understand that 'successful' requires 'different' and that 'different' requires 'new'. For the last four or five years I have been a fairly regular attendee at meetings of TURN, the Teacher Union Reform Network. Much of the union leadership understands how deeply its interests are now linked to the creation of new and different schools that can succeed with all kids. In New York City the United Federation of Teachers has gone to one of the alternate authorizers, the State University of New York, to start new schools under New York's chartering law. Discussions are under way similarly in Minneapolis and in California -- actually modeling off Milwaukee.

(I might say: The UFT recently advertised for teachers for its second chartered school. This school will have 20 teaching positions. Eleven hundred teachers applied. And when Public Agenda asked a national sample of teachers a couple of years ago: "How interested would you be in working in a charter school run by teachers?" it found that 55% of all teachers, two-thirds of the under-five-year teachers, and 50% of the over-20-year teachers would be somewhat or very interested in that arrangement.)

This perhaps underscores the significance of the organizational innovation in Milwaukee, in which the authority to design the learning program and to arrange the administration of the school is placed in the hands of a formally-organized group of professional teachers. This is a professional model of school; essentially a partnership. Its effects are quite remarkable. It elicits from teachers the kind of effort it is not often possible for administrators to get within the traditional 'management' model. It does, however, tend to disrupt the traditional operating model, and it is a continuing challenge for top management in Milwaukee to give these schools sufficient authority on a continuing basis.

The new requirement to get all kids to learn is the overriding reason why we need to find new forms of schooling. But there is another important reason to give Wisconsin schools greater opportunity to innovate with governance and with learning. This is the prospect that the traditional model is not economically sustainable even in the fairly near term.

The technology of teacher-instruction is very expensive, and the steady rise in the costs of this service (including the cost of hospital and medical insurance) makes it difficult for states to finance, K-12 being usually the largest single item of state expenditure. With revenue unable to keep up, what results is a continuing process of increases in taxes combined with reductions in the service program; endlessly, less for more.

The response currently, across the country, is to try to secure 'adequate' revenues; to guarantee K-12 revenue sufficient to cover the rising cost of the traditional model regardless of the overall condition of the state budget or of the state's economy. But as these proposals appear the states will likely to want to consider whether there is an alternate approach; some different model with a cost structure that will be sustainable going forward.

Probably there is. Legislators are aware that recent developments with electronic information technology might make this possible; customizing learning in ways that draw greater effort from the students, and that permit the teachers to reduce the time spent simply transmitting-information and increase the time they spend working individually with students.

The need to encourage innovation suggests that Wisconsin now expand its chartering law in several directions. The idea is to give districts and schools, as Wisconsin has been urged to give students, "all the options available".

The teacher-partnership arrangement in Milwaukee is an important variation on the 'instrumentality' school: It should be extended and enlarged.

Second, it would be useful to allow for the non-instrumentality arrangement to be available more widely in the state, and to be used more commonly by the districts.

Third, it would help if the Legislature were to expand the types of sponsors available. Todd Ziebarth set out the possibilities for legislative action along these lines when he appeared before your group earlier.

In Minnesota we have been especially interested recently in the Legislature adding, creating, a few sponsors that would be, as we say, 'special purpose' sponsors. Most sponsors today, everywhere, have some other major thing to do for a living. The 'special purpose sponsor' would have no function except to generate quality public schools new. It would be proactive. And each would specialize, in some way. We think this would help both with innovation and with replication.

We would be happy to discuss these ideas with you.


Senior Associate
Center for Policy Studies, Saint Paul, MN
Ted has worked on system questions and with legislative policy in different areas of public life: urban and metropolitan affairs and public finance through the 1960s and '70s; K-12 public education almost continuously since 1983. He is recognized nationwide for his work on education policy and innovation. Ted was instrumental in helping to design and pass the nation’s first charter law in 1991, and has since worked on the design of chartered school legislation in over seventeen states. He has written about the charter idea and its progress in a variety of publications, and is the author of “Creating the Capacity for Change – How and Why Governors and Legislatures are Opening a New-Schools Sector in Public Education,” a book about charter schools as a state strategy for the reform of public education.

A graduate of Carleton College and of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs at Princeton University, he was previously executive director of the Citizens League in the Twin Cities area, a reporter and editorial writer for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, and a senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute.

Senior Policy Fellow
Hamline University, Saint Paul, MN
Joe’s career in public education spans forty years and an impressive array of leadership positions. Education/Evolving’s thinking on system questions and legislative policy are influenced greatly by Joe’s ability to integrate knowledge gained as a high school teacher, union leader, state legislator and administrator influencing a variety of education committees, national education committee member, and a higher education administrator.

He began as a science teacher at Wadena Public Schools, and served three years as Vice President of the Minnesota Federation of Teachers. Most recently, he was Dean of Hamline University’s Graduate School of Education. In between, he served three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives; four years as Chair of School Aid Committee. He was appointed as Deputy Commissioner of Education for the State of Minnesota, State Director of Minnesota’s Technical College System, Deputy Executive Director of the Minnesota Higher Education Coordinating Board, and Interim Executive Director of the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office. Beyond Minnesota, Joe was Chair of the Education Committee of the Midwest Conference of the Council of State Governments and a member of the Education Task Force, National Conference of State Legislatures.

Joe received his undergraduate degree from Bemidji State University and did graduate work at Northern Colorado University and Bemidji State University.

Follow the work of the Legislature’s Special Committee on Charter Schools here.

Posted by Senn Brown at 7:22 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Does Television Cause Autism?

Michael Waldman, Sean Nicholson and Nodir Adilov [Full 728K PDF Report]:

One of the major health care crises currently facing the United States is the exploding incidence of autism diagnoses. Thirty years ago it was estimated that roughly one in 2500 children had autism while today it is estimated that approximately one in 166 is diagnosed with the condition – more than a ten-fold increase.1 In turn, due to the high costs of treating and caring for a typical autistic individual over his or her lifetime, it is estimated that the annual cost to society of autism is thirty-five billion dollars (Ganz 2006). Clearly, the highest priority needs to be given to better understanding what is causing the dramatic increase in diagnoses and, if possible, using that improved knowledge to reverse the trend.

Despite the recent rapid increase in diagnoses and the resulting increased attention the condition has received both in the media and in the medical community, very little is known about what causes the condition. Starting with the work of Rimland (1964), it is well understood that genetics or biology plays an important role, but many in the medical community argue that the increased incidence must be due to an environmental trigger that is becoming more common over time (a few argue that the cause is a widening of the criteria used to diagnose the condition and that the increased incidence is thus illusory). However, there seems to be little consensus and little evidence concerning what the trigger or triggers might be. In this paper we empirically investigate a possibility that has received almost no attention in the medical literature, i.e., that early childhood television watching is an important trigger for the onset of autism.

Via Slate.
Researchers might also turn new attention to study of the Amish. Autism is rare in Amish society, and the standing assumption has been that this is because most Amish refuse to vaccinate children. The Amish also do not watch television.

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

Reading First: The Lie of Robert Sweet of Errors and Misconceptions in Washtington Post

Trying to find the truth in education, like in most areas in American society, is fraught with dilemma -- most public commentors are either incompetent or bald-faced liars.

Robert W. Sweet, Jr. likely falls into both categories.

See previous posts of regarding his comments on this site, and his letter to the Washington Post here. Robert Sweet's title is Former Professional Staff Member Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House of Representatives Committee Staffer for the Reading First law.

First, let's place all this into context. The Inspector General's Reading First report (hereafter IGRF), published September 2006, audited the Reading First Grant Application Process and reported problems. Michael Grunwald of the Washington Post wrote an article about the IGRF Report, and Robert Sweet responded to the Grunwald article in a letter to the Washington Post editor. The crux of the Sweet letter was to allege, point-by-point, each significant error made the Grunwald in his article interpreting the IGRF findings.

I'm not going to review either Grunwald's article nor Sweet's response point-by-point, and I have not read or studied the IGRF fully, so I'm not prepared to do so. To prove Robert Sweet a liar will only require comparing one, his first, claim of "error" he's alleged with the actual language of the IGRF.

Here is Sweet's first alleged error by Grunwald.

1. Grunwald: "The Reading First panels that oversaw state applications were stacked with department officials and other phonics fans." Correction: Department officials were not on panels that judged state applications.

Sweet's comment shows his art of misdirection -- his "correction" does not refute Grunwald's interpretation. It's true that Department officials were not on the panels, but as the IGRF details, quoted below, it was the Department officials who actually judged the applications from the States' perspective.

Let's read the actual language of the IGRF report, at length (with minimal editting).

Section 1203(c)(2)(A) states that the Secretary, in consultation with the National Institute for Literacy (NIFL), shall convene a panel to evaluate applications and that, at a minimum, the panel shall include: three individuals selected by the Secretary, three individuals selected by NIFL, three individuals selected by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and three individuals selected by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). We have determined that each of the four organizations nominated at least three individuals to serve on the expert review panel; however, the Department failed to ensure that each State application was reviewed by a properly constituted panel.

After selecting the panelists, the Department created subpanels made up of five panelists each to review the State applications and recommend either approval or disapproval to the Secretary. None of the subpanels possessed adequate representation from each of the organizations identified [as required by law].

The Department created a total of 16 subpanels to review the State applications. A majority of the panelists were nominated by the Department for 15 of the 16 subpanels; and 7 of the 16 subpanels consisted entirely of Department-selected panelists. None of the subpanels included a representative from each of the nominating organizations and there is no indication that the subpanels ever met as one large panel to review the State applications and/or recommend approval or disapproval to the Secretary.

The Department created the Reviewer Guidance for the Reading First Program (Reviewer Guidance), which describes the process by which panelists will review applications and provide their comments. The Reviewer Guidance, which the Department provided to panelists, states that it is the reviewer’s responsibility to provide a rating for each review criterion and constructive strength and weakness comments on the Technical Review Form. The guidance states that the panel chair will complete an additional summary sheet, called the Panel Chair Summary, which will reflect a consensus rating and supporting comments for each criterion. The guidance also states that the Panel Chair Summary will provide an overall consensus recommendation for approval or disapproval of the application.

The Reading First Guidance also states that SEAs “will have an opportunity to address the issues and concerns raised by the expert panel reviewers.”

The panelists adequately documented their reasons for stating that an application was unready for funding. The panelists recorded their individual comments on the Technical Review Forms, and then met to discuss these comments. The panel chair then entered a consensus rating on a Panel Chair Summary, which was submitted to the Department’s Reading First office. The Panel Chair Summary appeared to contain constructive comments to support the panel’s ratings.

After the panel chair submitted the Panel Chair Summaries to the Reading First office, the Reading First Director and his assistant created what they called an “Expert Review Team Report.” This report was provided to the States. No other documents reflecting the expert review panel’s comments were provided to the States.

The Reviewer Guidance states: “the conference call between the panelists and the SEA that will take place after the review of the SEA’s application has been established so that the State may receive direct feedback from the expert review panel.” In actuality, only the Reading First Director and his assistant conducted these calls. By conducting these conferences and writing the document that was sent to the SEA, the Reading First Director and his assistant cut off any direct contact between States and the expert review panelists and effectively controlled the feedback States received on their applications.

According to the Reading First Director, he and his assistant created the Expert Review Team Reports to give States a distilled, organized version of the panel’s comments that would show them which areas they needed to address. However, we found the Department’s Expert Review Team Reports were not always accurate representations of the expert review panelists’ comments. The Reading First Director and his assistant changed panelists’ comments, left off others, and added comments of their own. In a number of cases, the Department generalized or omitted specific questions or suggestions. In other situations the Department’s Expert Review Team Report exaggerated or misstated the panelists’ concerns.

The IGRF then preceded to give examples of how this process affects the States. The example states were Nevada, New York, Georgia, Virginia, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. Here's what the IGRF says about the Wisconsin experience:

Wisconsin submitted its application four times prior to receiving approval. The Panel Chair Summaries for Wisconsin’s submissions often included comments that ran several pages for each criterion. One Panel Chair Summary was 88 pages long while the Department’s Expert Review Team Report was only 4 pages and failed to capture most of what was prepared by the panel chair. Further, the Department’s Expert Review Team Report often did not include any of the panel chair’s specific concerns and simply restated the application criteria requirements instead.

Q.E.D. The proof is complete. Without question, Robert Sweet is a liar. It only required reading the first 14 pages of the IGRF to prove that. That he lied regarding a clear statement in Audit, should we assume mistake only, and argue that "Okay, he made a mistake there, but his other points are true"? I think not.

I remember a famous H.L. Mencken story which is apropos. Understanding that Mencken was a misogynist doesn't change its effect for me. As the story goes (in the 1930's), Mencken was to have said to others, that he can get any woman to sleep with him for enough money. So at a dinner party, he asks a woman across the table if she would sleep with him for $10,000. She thought about it a little, then said "yes". Then Mencken asked if she would sleep with him for $5. "What kind of woman do you think I am?", she retorted. To which Mencken replied, "I've already established that. Now we're just negotiating the price."

I've already established the character of Robert Sweet. Further discussion of his character and views is a waste of time.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 10:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Far too Fuzzy Math Curriculum is to Blame for Declining NYC Test Scores"

Elizabeth Carson:

Here's a math problem for you: Count the excuses people are trotting out for why schoolkids in New York City and State did poorly in the latest round of math scores. The results showed just 57% of the city's and 66% of the state's students performing at grade level - and a steady decline in achievement as kids got older.
It's about family income, said an article in The New York Times. "The share of students at grade level in affluent districts was more than twice as big as in impoverished urban districts."

It's about unfair funding levels, said state education Secretary Richard Mills.

It's about class size, said activist Leonie Haimson.

Wrong again, claimed other observers. The real culprit was a new test.

If, like me, you're running out of fingers - and patience - there's a reason. Nobody spinning the test scores is zeroing in on the single biggest reason math achievement in New York City and state lags and will continue to lag: Our schools use a far-too-fuzzy curriculum that fails to give kids rigorous instruction in the basics.

In New York City, the program required in the vast majority of schools is called Everyday Mathematics. Chancellor Joel Klein swears by it. If you ask administrators to explain it, they'll use just enough jargon to make it sound decent.

But the truth is, Everyday Math systematically downplays addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, which everyone knows are the foundations for all higher math. Instead of learning those basic four operations like the backs of their hands, students are asked to choose from an array of alternative methods, such as an ancient Egyptian method for multiplication. Long division is especially frowned upon.

Everyday Math is used in the Madison School District. Much more on Math curriculum and politics here. Via Joanne.

Carson is Co-Founder and Executive Director of NYC Hold:

The performance of American students in mathematics is mediocre at best. In many cases, mathematics instruction is not serving our children's best interests. In order to help all students achieve success in school mathematics courses, have access to adequate preparation for the broadest options in high school math and science courses, and the opportunity to advance into mathematics based college courses and careers, it is important to examine the direction of recent attempts at mathematics education reform.
More on Everyday math.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:30 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Tips for Better Parent-School Relationships

Jay Matthews:

In many ways, parents are the most important teachers children will ever have. But drawing them into schools is often difficult. So is forging a constructive parent-school relationship. Teachers complain about parents who meddle too much and those who can't be found. Parents say that educators claim to want more involvement but that they belittle their suggestions.

Here are 10 recommendations for better relations from educators and school-savvy parents.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

City Students Endure Traumatic Day

Andy Hall:

tudents, parents, police and educators throughout Madison were rattled Monday but no significant injuries were reported in three unrelated incidents that included a lockdown at East High School, a pellet gun attack outside West High School and a car crash triggered by two O'Keeffe Middle School students.

Tensions were high because of recent violence and threats in schools in Wisconsin, Colorado and Pennsylvania, officials acknowledged. Monday's chaos ended peacefully, they said, because of an unnamed community tipster, good security planning and quick police work.

Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater said about 1,800 students at East High School were restricted to their third-period classrooms, except for a quick trip to the cafeteria and bathroom breaks, from 11 a.m. until classes were dismissed at 3:30 p.m. because of a "credible threat" against a student.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 16, 2006

Significant errors and misconceptions - “Billions for an Inside Game on Reading" by the Washington Post

Robert W. Sweet, Jr.

This letter and the enclosure are an appeal to you for help in alerting your readers to significant errors and misconceptions in an article printed in the Post on October 1, 2006 titled "Billions for an Inside Game on Reading" by Michael Grunwald.

He asserted that Reading First grants were awarded to preferred reading programs, and that billions of dollars were misspent because the requirement in Reading First that reading programs be based on "scientifically based reading research" were ignored.

Below is a summary of the essential facts that document the errors and misconceptions that have damaged one of the most effective programs to teach vulnerable children to read. Attached to this letter is a detailed presentation that seeks to correct the record.

It is my hope that you will consider printing a clarification so that the public you serve will know the truth about Reading First.

The MMSD's omission with respect to Reading First was to support the Superintendent's rejection of the $2M+ grant without a School Board discussion, particularly in light of the District's devotion to the expensive Reading Recovery program. 2M is material, even to an organization with an annual budget of $332M+. Much more on Reading First here and Bob Sweet [Interview].

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:19 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

East & West locked down on Monday


Madison school officials locked down East High School this morning after "serious" threats were made by one student to another.

The school's safety procedures call for the doors, which were secured at 11 a.m., to remain locked until the end of the school day at 3:30 p.m. Students were not to be released until that time.

The threat was made to one student who was at the school by another who was off school grounds.

"The danger is outside the school, not inside," said school district spokesman Ken Syke. "That's why we went into lockdown."

Officials said the threats stemmed from fights between East High students over the weekend, with the disputes remaining unresolved today.

Syke said rumors circulating among students that someone was spotted with a gun are simply "not true."

But he added, "It was a legitimate enough notice that we have taken it seriously."

Also at West High School this morning, pellet gun shots were reportedly fired from a vehicle passing the school. The shots were reported by a witness who heard the shots and saw the vehicle.

Police had the alleged perpetrator in custody by 1 p.m. District security coordinator Luis Yudice, West High administrators, central office staff and Madison police worked together to initiate the district's safety and security procedures to respond to the situation at West, which included limiting access to the school until early this afternoon.

Posted by Ed Blume at 4:22 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

E-Learning Guide

US News & World Report:

Thinking about getting an online education?'s E-Learning Guide lays out detailed information gathered directly from more than 2,800 traditional colleges and virtual universities. Select one of the options below to find the online degree or certificate that's right for you.

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

October 15, 2006

Special Education Funding

Andy Hall:

Pressure on schools has intensified because the state has paid a decreasing share of special education costs. This year, the state is reimbursing schools 29 percent of the $1.16 billion cost. In 1993, the state paid 45 percent of the $585.9 million cost of special education.

Educators say they have been forced to cut so deeply into overall school budgets that in many cases, the educations of regular and special education students are jeopardized.

Terry Milfred, superintendent of the Weston district, 75 miles northwest of Madison, said administrators had to eliminate a school counseling position, slice the music program in half, eliminate cooking and sewing portions of home economics classes, outsource drivers' education to a private company and reduce library staffing to balance the budget in recent years.

"Those things aren't required by law, and consequently that's where the services tend to be reduced to the point that we feel we can," said Milfred, who sympathizes with the Legislature's desire to hold down taxes but hopes for reforms.

Meanwhile, he said, the bill for one of the district's special education students is $30,000, and another is transported 160 miles a day to receive specialized services.

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

October 14, 2006

The Essential Support for School Improvement

Penny Bender Sebring, Elaine Allensworth, Anthony S. Bryk, John Q. Easton, and Stuart Luppescu:

n this report, which draws on data from Chicago public elementary schools in the 1990s, the authors present a framework of essential supports and community resources that facilitate school improvement. The authors provide evidence on how the essential supports contribute to improvements in student learning, and they investigate how community circumstances impact schools’ ability to embrace the essential supports.

The authors offer empirical evidence on the five essential supports—leadership, parent-community ties, professional capacity, student-centered learning climate, and ambitious instruction—and investigate the extent to which strength in the essential supports was linked to improvements in student learning, and the extent to which weakness was linked to stagnation in learning gains.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:15 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Defending the Classroom

Jeff Carlton:

Youngsters in a suburban Fort Worth school district are being taught not to sit there like good boys and girls with their hands folded if a gunman invades the classroom, but to rush him and hit him with everything they got - books, pencils, legs and arms.

"Getting under desks and praying for rescue from professionals is not a recipe for success," said Robin Browne, a major in the British Army reserve and an instructor for Response Options, the company providing the training to the Burleson schools.

That kind of fight-back advice is all but unheard of among schools, and some fear it will get children killed.

But school officials in Burleson said they are drawing on the lessons learned from a string of disasters such as Columbine in 1999 and the Amish schoolhouse attack in Pennsylvania last week.

via Joanne.

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

October 13, 2006

More concern about technology in MMSD: another teacher explains the problem

Recently, I posted a letter from a middle school teacher in Madison regarding inadequate computers at one of our middle schools. Fancy programs on aging computers:an MMSD teacher tries to make things work

Today the Madison school board received another letter from a teacher explaining how the current state of computers and software makes teaching harder and more stressful. While this is a typical complaint from the schools, I don't see the same problems with central administration computers.

Dear Board Members and Mr. Rainwater,

I have been a teacher for MMSD for fifteen years. I am committed to and love this district and its students. I work at .... This is a wonderful building in which to work. The staff is solid, caring, and professional.


A second concern in our building is technology. I love the new attendance system and am currently using the grading program on infinite campus which I also enjoy. Unfortunately, our computers are slow and often freeze up. Quite often, I have to call my attendance into the office because it takes 10-15 minutes for the computer to load. We have little access to adequate computers as a staff. It makes it difficult to be able to keep grades in a timely manner. Six of us in 8th grade have to share one antiquated computer for our planning area. My guess is that most other professionals in this city would not even think of working with such inadequate technology.

I know budget cuts are the number one problem here and I'm sure you'll tell me that there's nothing that can be done unless we get more money. I just wanted an opportunity to tell you that this is quite a stress on those of us who teach and are in the trenches every day. We love our kids and our jobs but it is becoming very difficult to be the best we can be.

Thanks for your time.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 12:28 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin Tax Climate Update & Local Property Tax Levy Changes

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The first step toward improving the state's tax climate must be for lawmakers to control spending. The state cannot afford to cut taxes and thus forgo revenue unless the next governor and Legislature do a better job of paring, consolidating and conserving.

Even the promise that lower taxes will generate more business development in the future will not address the immediate strains created by rising costs for Medicaid and other programs.

Tax Foundation's report.

WISTAX has more:
  • Municipal Property Taxes Outpace "Freeze", Rise 4.1% in Large Cities:
    Despite a "freeze" designed to slow property tax growth, Wisconsin’s 230 largest cities and villages increased levies at the same rate as in prior years. According to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX), municipal-purpose property tax levies rose 4.1% in these municipalities in 2005-06 (2006), the same as the average increase from 2002 to 2005.
  • State Budget Increasingly on Autopilot:
    In recent years, most state spending growth has been in two areas: school aids and Medical Assistance (MA). The inescapable link between state aid and school revenue limits on the one hand and property taxes on the other virtually assures that, when combined with accelerating MA costs, most new state revenue is already "spoken for." Funds for state agencies, higher education, and other state programs are likely to grow little, if at all, thus continuing a long trend..

    State law gives the governor and legislators the power to enact budgets. Yet, through various actions and commitments from both over the past decade, they have increasingly put the state budget on autopilot.

  • Election 2006 Issues and Questions.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Globally, American companies already are at a disadvantage because the benchmark federal corporate tax rate is 35%, which the Tax Foundation notes is "one of the highest corporate tax rates of any of the industrialized economies" - even after the successive rounds of tax reductions under President Bush.

The foundation's report, however, only added to a bewildering array of national tax rankings, each using different methodologies that have sparked a lively debate among policy-makers.

The foundation's annual State Business Tax Climate Index is based on a weighted index that ranks each state's corporate taxes, individual income taxes, sales taxes, unemployment taxes and property taxes. While it relies on U.S. census data for each state's property tax, it compares state tax rates and tax laws to measure the other four. It employs a matrix of 10 subindexes and 113 variables.

The Madison-based Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, using the latest available census numbers, put Wisconsin at No. 6 when measured as a percentage of personal income. That figure represents years of incremental improvements after Wisconsin registered No. 3 in the nation under the same measures in 1994.

Taxes, particularly the much discussed property tax "Freeze" will certainly be on voter's minds November 7, 2006. The Madison School District's 06/07 budget will grow local property taxes by 11,626,677 to $211,989,932 (5.8%) [See 2006/2007 Budget Executive Summary - PDF]. Gotta love politics, 5.8% is certainly not a freeze :). The Madison School District's property tax levy changes over the past 6 years. The mill rate has not changed at the same rate as the levy increases because local assessed values have been increasing. That will probably change now as the housing market takes a breather.

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

The Handwriting is on the Wall

Margaret Webb Pressler:

The computer keyboard helped kill shorthand, and now it's threatening to finish off longhand.

When handwritten essays were introduced on the SAT exams for the class of 2006, just 15 percent of the almost 1.5 million students wrote their answers in cursive. The rest? They printed. Block letters.

And those college hopefuls are just the first edge of a wave of U.S. students who no longer get much handwriting instruction in the primary grades, frequently 10 minutes a day or less. As a result, more and more students struggle to read and write cursive.

Many educators shrug. Stacked up against teaching technology, foreign languages and the material on standardized tests, penmanship instruction seems a relic, teachers across the region say. But academics who specialize in writing acquisition argue that it's important cognitively, pointing to research that shows children without proficient handwriting skills produce simpler, shorter compositions, from the earliest grades.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Better Teachers: A Lesson Plan

Marie Gryphon:

Good teachers matter. This may seem obvious to anyone who has a child in school or, for that matter, to anyone who has been a child in school. For a long time, though, researchers couldn't actually prove that teaching talent was important. But new research finally shows that teacher quality is a close cousin to student achievement: A great teacher can cram one-and-a-half grades' worth of learning into a single year, while laggards are lucky to accomplish half that much. Parents and kids, it seems, have been right all along to care whether they were assigned to Mrs. Smith or Mr. Brown.

Yet, while we know now that better teachers are critical, flaws in the way that administrators select and retain them mean that schools don't always hire the best.

Many ingredients of good teaching are difficult to ascertain in advance--charisma and diligence come to mind--but research shows a teacher's own ability on standardized tests reliably predicts good performance in the classroom. You would think, then, that top-scoring teachers would be swimming in job offers, right? Not so, says Vanderbilt University professor Dale Ballou. High-scoring teaching applicants "do not fare better than others in the job market," he writes. "Indeed, remarkably, they do somewhat worse."

Even more surprising, given the national shortage of highly skilled math and science teachers, school administrators are more keen to hire education majors than applicants who have math or science degrees.

No one knows for sure why those who hire teachers routinely overlook top talent. Perhaps they wrongly think that the qualifications they shun make little difference for students. Also, administrators are probably naturally drawn to teachers who remind them of themselves.

But failing to recognize the qualities that make teachers truly effective (and to construct incentives to attract and retain more of these top performers) has serious consequences. For example, because schools don't always hire the best applicants, across-the-board salary increases cannot improve teacher quality much, and may even worsen it. That's because higher salaries draw more weak as well as strong applicants into teaching--applicants the current hiring system can't adequately screen. Unless administrators have incentives to hire the best teachers available, it's pointless to give them a larger group to choose from.

If public school hiring processes are bad, their compensation policies are worse. Most districts pay solely based on years of experience and the presence of a master's degree, a formula that makes the Federal General Schedule--which governs pay for U.S. bureaucrats--look flexible. Study after study has shown that teachers with master's degrees are no better than those without. Job experience does matter, but only for the first few years, according to research by Hoover Institution's Eric A. Hanushek. A teacher with 15 years of experience is no more effective, on average, than a teacher with five years of experience, but which one do you think is paid more?

This toxic combination of rigid pay and steep rewards for seniority causes average quality to decline rather than increase as teacher groups get older. Top performers often leave the field early for industries that reward their excellence. Mediocre teachers, on the other hand, are soon overcompensated by seniority pay. And because they are paid more than their skills command elsewhere, these less-capable pedagogues settle in to provide many years of ineffectual instruction.

So how can we separate the wheat from the chaff in the teaching profession? To make American schools competitive, we must rethink seniority pay, the value of master's degrees, and the notion that a teacher can teach everything equally well--especially math and science--without appropriate preparation in the subject.

Our current education system is unlikely to accomplish this dramatic rethinking. Imagine, for a moment, that American cars had been free in recent decades, while ToyotasToyotasTM and HondasHondasHMC sold at full price. We'd probably be driving Falcons and Corvairs today. Free public education suffers from a lack of competition in just this way. So while industries from aerospace to drugs have transformed themselves in order to compete, public schooling has stagnated.

School choice could spark the kind of reformation this industry needs by motivating administrators to hire the best and adopt new strategies to keep top teachers in the classroom. The lesson that good teachers matter should be taught, not as a theory, but as a practice.

Much more on Marie Gryphon.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:24 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 12, 2006

A New School on Madison's Far West Side: A Long Term Perspective

On November 7, Madison area residents will be asked to vote on a referendum concerning our local schools. While the referendum has three parts, this paper will focus on the first part - the construction of a new school on the far west side, representing over 75% of the total cost of the referendum.

This report will argue that the most important determinant of whether or not a new school should be built on the far west side (or anywhere else in the district), is whether the long-term outlook clearly indicates it is appropriate. Otherwise, the problem should be considered temporary, with temporary measures pursued to address it. However, the situation here suggests strongly that the problem is a more permanent one, requiring a "permanent solution", the building of a new school.

This report will not attempt to forecast specific enrollment figures for the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) - such an effort would take several months to do properly. Instead, it will focus on the TRENDS that support the conclusion a new school is warranted.

Capacity Constraints - Current Forecast

The charts below compare the MMSD's enrollment projections with current capacity, by school. They are sorted by middle school area. When, for example, it shows Leopold at +76 in 2009, it implies that current projections show that school being over-capacity by 76 students in the 2009-10 school year.

Without a new school, Stephens and Chavez will likely face overcrowding substantially worse than that experienced at Leopold today. Meanwhile, Crestwood, Falk and Huegel also face capacity pressures.

Long Term the Key

The situation over the next several years is disturbing. The West & Memorial Area Attendance Task Force examined it thoroughly over a several month period, with significant public input. A new school on the far West side, as well as a modest improvement and expansion of the Leopold campus, was their best proposed solution.

Nevertheless, some question whether a new school is appropriate, particularly given underenrollment on the near East side, a slowing housing market, and the substantial cost involved.

It is difficult to predict with precision what will happen from one year to the next. MMSD's 3-5 year enrollment projections portend serious overcrowding. Nevertheless, one must be cautious about building a new school unless it can be clearly demonstrated that it will be needed in the long-term, more than five years out (preferably 10-20 years out, or longer).

The long-term is the key. New schools will be in place for decades to come. Boundary changes are in effect for years, and hard to reverse. The rest of this report will look at MMSD's long-term picture, and will focus on three areas that shed ligwest side:
  1. Population growth in the Madison area
  2. Potential growth & development on the far west side
  3. Demographic trends pertaining to the numbers of elementary school age kids

1. Madison Population Growth

Madison's population is projected to increase by over 33,000, or about 15%, over the next twenty years. Meanwhile, the populations of Fitchburg and Verona are each anticipated to grow at 2-4 times the rate of Madison itself.

It's not surprising Madison's population has been growing so steadily, given the area's offerings: an attractive environment, a diverse economy, good schools and a family-friendly place to live. This continued area growth is vital to the question at hand, for it underlays the argument enrollment will continue to increase for years to come.

2. Potential Growth & Development on Far West Side

The Beltline runs essentially east-west on the south side of Madison. South of the Beltline, and to the west of Verona Rd (Route 18), the MMSD comprises an area of approximately 26 square miles. Imagine High Point Road (just before the Beltline hooks north) extending due south all the way to the furthest reaches of the district, virtually on the outskirts of the city of Verona.

For the table below, MMSD student count data was set against a map of the MMSD boundaries. While the map shows a cluster of schools on the eastern half of this southwestern corner of the MMSD, it is apparent there is potential for many more students to move into the area west of the imaginary High Point Rd line.

The Madison Planning Commission projects 13,000 homes over the next several decades on the far west side of town, with their forecast obviously applying to a far west area larger than the simple area described here. It is extremely easy to imagine many more hundreds of elementary school kids moving into, and growing up in, that far west corner of the district. Meanwhile, it is extremely difficult to imagine that not happening.

3. Demographic Trends - by age

To understand demographic trends concerning age, and their impact on school enrollment, it will be helpful to look at the number of infants (less than 1 year old) in the United States since World War II.

While one can question whether infant count will continue to rise steadily through 2030 (it is difficult for the Census Bureau to try to time another drop), it is significant births have been increasing for the past 9 years, with no sign of soon reversing.

3. Demographic Trends - by age Elementary School

Elementary school children are typically 5-10 years of age. This chart shows that age cohort for the US, expressed as a percentage of the 2005 count; (all charts hereafter will be expressed as a percentage of 2005, to permit comparison across different measures).

The MMSD elementary school enrollment has conformed to the general US pattern, although with more gyrations, and a tendency to lead the nation by about 2-5 years (perhaps because it is a university town).

Madison birth counts serve as a pretty good predictor of MMSD school enrollment. Here, elementary school enrollment is compared with the count of Madison births for the prior 5-10 year period (e.g. Madison births for 2005 equals total births for 1995 to 2000 period).

3. Demographic Trends - by age Middle & High School

The decline in births in the early 1990's in Madison, as well as throughout the country, explains much of why MMSD middle and high school enrollments have been declining. We can expect their enrollments to continue declining a few years longer - and then to follow the upward path already established at the elementary school level.


The trends described above lead to a very clear conclusion: a new school on the far west side will be required in the long term.
  • An attractive setting, a healthy and diverse economy, and a family-friendly setting combine to suggest population growth will continue to occur in Madison and in the area covered by the MMSD.

  • Madison Planning Commission forecasts, and many square miles of developable land, point to much future population growth in the far west side.

  • The demographic age cycle, which can be traced back to the beginnings of the baby boom, help explain enrollment cycles over the past 60 years. Those cycles, in turn, support expectations of continued increases in elementary enrollment for some time to come.

  • While this report has not looked at the East side, the trends described here suggest that elementary school enrollment will increase there as well: development continues apace, notwithstanding the housing slump; enrollment has been up the last two years, (and had been declining at a much slower pace the three years prior).
Delaying construction of the far west school would seem advisable if there was a potential for flat elementary school enrollment in the next 5-10 years, or if the pressures on existing structures were not already significant and showing signs of soon becoming substantially worse, or if the cost of construction might suddenly decline. But as none of these elements are evident, and other serious and contentious matters remain, delay seems distinctly unwise.

108 PDF Version of this Report.
Posted by Peter Gascoyne at 7:38 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Changing our high schools

by Superintendent Art Rainwater

The purpose of high school is to ensure that all of our students leave ready for college, jobs and civic involvement. Our traditional, comprehensive high schools today look and feel much like they have for generations. However, the world our students will live and work in has changed dramatically.

The structure of high schools has served society well by preparing young people for the world they were entering. There were good, family supporting jobs that didn't require a high school diploma. The type of classroom teaching strategies that were employed worked well for the post high school plans of our students.

It is becoming increasingly clear however, that not only four year colleges, but also any post secondary education or job training program requires a substantial background in mathematics, science, social studies and language arts.

We need to dramatically change our high schools. This is not a reflection of current high school teachers or their teaching methods. It is a reflection of a changing society. The needed reforms at high school have to be concentrated on making a high level of demanding coursework accessible to all students. To accomplish this goal requires that we change the way we relate to students and that we implement a wide variety of teaching strategies in every class.

The education world has not been oblivious to this need for change. There have been many efforts, across the country, to change high schools, including in our own district. However, high school reform has rarely addressed the underlying problem -- the high school classroom.

To meet the needs of every student, the student, not the content of the course, must be at the center of our work. It's obvious that the content is critical, for that is what will prepare students for adult success. But first, everything from our teaching methods to the way we inculcate positive behaviors must begin with the student and not the textbook. We have to use our knowledge of how children learn to create classroom strategies that connect with students' own experiences and relate what we want them to learn to its use in the real world.

Regardless of how our high schools look there must always be three goals for our students: ensure that every student gains the knowledge and skills to be a successful adult, provide the opportunity for every student to grow academically and socially, and to learn to be an active participant in the society in which they live.

To reach these three goals we must continue to foster high academic achievement; we must close the achievement gap among different groups of students and we must promote civic and personal growth among our students.

We are beginning the journey of redesigning our high schools. This will take creativity, commitment and our best thinking. It will take all of us, collectively, having the will to find the way so that a diploma from our high schools can provide a ticket to the future for all of our students.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 5:09 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Conference on High School Task Force recommendations

The State Superintendent will host a conference on October 20 on the recommendations of the High School Task Force, which she appointed:

A: Encourage educators and policymakers to move outside of existing structures and pursue innovation.

B: Give students the opportunity to engage in rigorous, authentic learning experiences that are relevant to their learning needs and future ambitions.

C: Create smaller, personalized learning environments and require learning and lifelong education plans for individual students.

D: Promote and enhance partnerships among schools, parents, businesses, and communities, linking community resources with school programs and curriculum.

Link to a PDF of the conference brochure.

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

Indiana School District Deploys District-Wide Wireless Network

Government Technology:

New Castle School District of New Castle, Indiana, is deploying the Meru Networks Wireless LAN System across its district to enable its more than 4,000 students and 500 staff and faculty to access a broad range of wireless voice and data applications. When completed, the wireless deployment will span New Castle's seven elementary schools, a middle school, high school and vocational school, the district's administration building and its technology center.

With a wireless LAN and several mobile computer labs, New Castle could allow entire classrooms to use computing resources efficiently and cost-effectively. In addition, the district wanted a solution that could be used for both data and voice over IP, allowing staff to keep in touch as they move about the school's campus during the workday.

Posted by Lawrie Kobza at 9:59 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The State of the City's Schools

Superintendent Art Rainwater and Madison School Board President Johnny Winston, Jr. discuss the state of Madison's public schools with Stuart Levitan.

Watch the video | MP3 Audio
Topics discussed include:
  • School Safety
  • The November 7, 2006 Referendum
  • School funding
  • "Education is not one size fits all" - Johnny during a discussion of the initiatives underway within the school district (the last 12 minutes) such as online learning, the Studio School and differentiation.
  • Levitan asked Art Rainwater if, during his 8 years as Superintendent, the education our children receive is better than it was in 1998? Art said it was and cited a number of examples.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:29 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 11, 2006

Tests & Results: New York State Elementary & Middle Mathematics

New York State Education Department:

Posted by Steffen Lempp at 9:00 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Mathematics Education of Elementary School Teachers

Jim Lewis:

The Mathematical Education of Teachers [268K PDF] recommends that the mathematical education of teachers be viewed as a partnership between mathematics faculty and mathematics education faculty and further recommends that there needs to be more collaboration between mathematics faculty and school mathematics teachers. We will report on The Mathematics Semester at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a partnership that resulted from Math Matters, a NSF-CCLI grant.
Also: Math in the Middle Institute Partnership [PDF]

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:08 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Politics of K-12 Math and Academic Rigor

The Economist:

Look around the business world and two things stand out: the modern economy places an enormous premium on brainpower; and there is not enough to go round.

But education inevitably matters most. How can India talk about its IT economy lifting the country out of poverty when 40% of its population cannot read? [MMSD's 10th Grade Reading Data] As for the richer world, it is hard to say which throw more talent away—America's dire public schools or Europe's dire universities. Both suffer from too little competition and what George Bush has called "the soft bigotry of low expectations".

Thursday's meeting between Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater, the MMSD's Brian Sniff and the UW Math department included two interesting guests: UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley [useful math links via the Chancellor's website] and the Dean of the UW-Madison Education School. Wiley and the Ed School Dean's attendance reflects the political nature of K-12 curriculum, particularly math. I'm glad Chancellor Wiley took time from his busy schedule to attend and look forward to his support for substantial improvements in our local math program.

Citizen agitation regarding local use of "fuzzy math" has been underway for some time. Melania Alvarez's April, 2004 School Board campaign was based on her UW-Madison work, where she evaluated math capabilities of incoming freshman. A parent, Melania also tutored Math at Thoreau Elementary School, so she "could see both ends". Melania discussed these campaign issues early in 2004:

  • The Madison School District's full speed ahead implementation of Discovery Math in Elementary School, Connected Math in Middle School and Core Plus in High School despite the dismantling of these programs in Minnesota and California along with extensive local teacher and parent concerns.
  • Her discussions with MMSD Administration over their plans for these "fuzzy math" programs:
    "What happened also is I went and I talked, three years ago [2001], I went and I talked to people at the Madison Metropolitan School District and I asked them if they were trying to implement Discovery, if they were going to do, you know, Connected Math for everybody, and they told me that that was not what they were going to do. And I don’t know if that parents go . . . parents go there, they discuss, they talk with people, they will assure you you’re out there thinking that, you know, that they told you truth, and then come find later on that that’s not the case."
    - shades Garelick's words.
  • The role of the School Board in setting and overseeing K-12 curriculum:
    And what happens is that one of the main jobs of the School Board is to choose curriculums, set curriculums, and the implementation of those curriculums. And, unfortunately, they have not been doing that in the last year(s).

    And, of course, then the interest of the few group of educators who want to leave their mark in the world with their own system, this is the way you become famous for life. If your system, if your methodology work, then that’s it, you know, you’re remembered for generations, yeah, and so that is, so this, you know, it’s like a religion, something like that.

    And so what happens is that we have to really look at all the possibilities out there, which are being looked at. Like I said, in 19, in late ‘90s, when these curriculums were starting to be implemented, we already knew that these curriculums were controversial and they were failing. And so I am up to date to all those things.

  • Transcript | Video Interview.

I've heard from a number of teachers over the years who have expressed great concerns over the "downtown" math program, or "math police".

Specifically, a group of West High's math teachers wrote a letter to Isthmus:

At West, to address the problems of inadequate preparation, we offer an extra hour of math per day in a class called Algebra Extended. There are 11 sections of this class. This is how more kids "complete ninth grade math in the ninth grade," not because of some touted "success" of the feeder programs in middle school.

As a matter of fact, the algebra skills and problem-solving skills of my geometry students have been generally worse every year, and my experience is echoed by many of my colleagues who teach classes beyond geometry. The kids are frustrated and angry as well, feeling, rightfully so, that it's not their fault.

What is the Truth?

One of the challenges parents face when considering these issues is to slog through the numerous studies, rhetoric and financial interests related to curriculum. For example Mark Clayton wrote an article about the Department of Education's math curriculum review process:
Core-Plus was one of the best of the programs reviewed, panel members say. But studies of its effectiveness were co-authored by Harold Schoen, a University of Iowa professor.

Dr. Schoen, who is listed as a co-director of the program, admits he is in line to receive royalties from the sales of Core-Plus textbooks. His studies, he says, are not motivated by the prospect of royalties, of which he has received little.

But some critics have concerns. "You simply cannot have one of your principal investigators [in a research project] also be the outside evaluator," says R. James Milgram, a Stanford University mathematician and critic.

Click for more on the texts.

A quick look at the size of the Connected Math textbooks compared to the equivalent Singapore Math course materials illustrates the publisher and author interests in selling these large volumes irrespective of curriculum quality and rigor (not to mention the much larger potential for errors or the lost trees....).

Who is Responsible for Curriculum Decisions?

Locally, the Madison School Board, certainly the majority of the Board has generally been unwilling to wade into the curriculum oversight waters. One of the arguments put forth is that the Administration takes care of that, and they are the "experts". Wisconsin law says otherwise; School Boards are legally responsible for curriculum:
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) 8.01 & Parent Barb Schrank:
Each school district board shall develop, adopt and implement a written school district curriculum plan which includes the following: a. A kindergarten through grade 12 sequential curriculum plan in each of the following subject areas: reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, health, computer literacy, environmental education, physical education, art and music.
What can Parents/Citizens do?
  • Run for School Board. Three seats will be contested in April, 2007. Those positions are currently held by Johnny Winston, Jr., Shwaw Vang and Ruth Robarts (Ruth announced last spring that she would not seek re-election).

  • Send an email ( or write a letter to the Madison School Board. Mention the board's legal curriculum responsibilities and urge them to publish a review of the current K-12 curriculum with input from Administration, Parents, Teachers and the UW Math Department. In other words, make sure that those critical of the current approach have a substantive say.
  • Ask that the District's K-12 math curriculum materials (teacher and student) and references be published online (html format) in an easy to review manner. This information should be updated annually.
  • Advocate for school-based budgeting (a number of districts do this) and local decision making. Teachers should receive the information and tools necessary to meet the needs of all students. MMSD Teacher Barb Williams reflected on this issue in a letter to Isthmus.
  • Become active in your local PTO, or form a Math Support Group. Thoreau Elementary school has such a group for years. Math was the subject of two Thoreau PTO meetings this year. Following are my notes from the April, 2006 meeting:
    The MMSD's Carrie Valentine gave a presentation on how the current K-5 math curriculum was developed and also displayed the new teacher guides "Learning Mathematics in the Primary Grades". Evidently this will be distributed to principals next week.

    There were a number of useful questions, including those from a Thoreau teacher who has used Singapore Math the past few years (Barb Williams).

    The district has received a "diversity in mathematics grant".

    The District requires (or is it the state?) that students have 1 hour of math learning per day.

    The two curriculums that they use are Growing with Math and Math Expressions.

    Barb Williams mentioned that they (her class at Thoreau) were selected to pilot Singapore math (actually a "toe dip" according to the mmsd), yet when she and her students arrived last fall (09/2005), there were no materials.

    Singapore Math evidently has been suggested as a supplement in the new teacher materials.

    One parent asked if Singapore math can be used as a core? Carrie's response was that they did not select it because there was (has now been rectified, evidently) very little teacher training available for it. Another parent followed up and asked if the PTO could help fund teacher training in Singapore Math.

    Another parent mentioned that Singapore has differentiation materials built in, unlike everyday math which is "so shallow" that teachers end up spending lots of free time seeking and copying materials for various students.

    A parent asked if the mmsd is tracking students who have taken Singapore math as they move forward? "No."

    A parent asked if teachers could share their method and curriculum with parents. She said it would be very helpful to know how they can help. She followed up and said the methods and curriculum change from year to year so it is hard to keep track of what's happening.

  • Write a comment relating your K-12 math experiences on this post below.
Links & Notes:
  • The Economist - The Battle for Brainpower:
    IN A speech at Harvard University in 1943 Winston Churchill observed that “the empires of the future will be empires of the mind.” He might have added that the battles of the future will be battles for talent. To be sure, the old battles for natural resources are still with us. But they are being supplemented by new ones for talent—not just among companies (which are competing for "human resources") but also among countries (which fret about the "balance of brains" as well as the "balance of power")
  • Celeste Roberts on Connected Math:
    The problems with CMP go far beyond failing to reach parents. One big problem is that the edifice of mathematics is so huge. Think of how long it took mathematicians to discover all of it. When one tries to use the discovery paradigm as the sole model for math lessons, all of the time available is spent in discovery process of basic concepts. There isn't time for more than a cursory look at any topic. There isn't any work on hard problems related to basic concepts. There isn't time to master computational aspects of basic concepts. Everyone learns 1/2 + 1/4, but no one learns how to find the least common denominator of 1/14 and 1/35. The people who promote a constructivist approach to math set up a false dichotomy between traditional math which teaches one to memorize formulas and tables of computations, and discovery math which teaches one to really understand how math works. I actually had a TAG resource teacher say this to me very patronizingly. "We don't teach math anymore the way that YOU learned it. Now children really understand math when they learn it." Excuse me, but traditional math was never like that. Tradtional math presents concepts AND teaches understanding of concepts. One learns formulas AND why they work. One also does large numbers of progressively more difficult computations to become skilled at them. The problem with traditional math is that large numbers of students don't understand the concepts as presented and try to get by with memorizing and manipulating formulas which they don't understand. They also don't master the computational aspects and try to make up for this deficit by using calculators inappropriately.
  • State Educators Called Dinosaurs:
    Business and technology change rapidly. Education often changes slowly. Nearly 200 people from the southern Wisconsin business and education sectors gathered Thursday to hear an education expert talk about ways of helping education catch up.

    Willard Daggett, president and founder of the International Center for Leadership in Education in Rexford, N.Y., was the keynote presenter at a business education conference at the Comfort Inn. He introduced examples of emerging technology and noted that the job market is changing, resulting in fewer low-skill jobs and more high-technology positions.

    Daggett offered an especially critical look at education in Wisconsin. "You look more like 1970," he said, comparing state educators to "curators preserving a museum."

  • Promises Betrayed on the MMSD's changing curriculum.
  • Richard Askey on MMSD 8th grade math performance.
  • Lee Sensenbrenner on Connected Math.
  • 35 Members of the UW Math Department (out of 47) wrote a letter expressing concern regarding the MMSD's criteria for a Math Coordinator. Superintendent Art Rainwater's reply.
  • Art Rainwater has been very active in the local Board scene (which is commendable, though I wonder if it inhibits some of the local K-12 discussion). He serves on the Board of the United Way, the Foundation for Madison Public Schools, The Minority Student Achievement Network The Collaboration Council and was formerly on SCALE's Advisory Board (with Terry Millar, a UW professor who participated in the recent Math Forum, supporting the Districts' program).
  • NCTM's "Focal Points" tries to bring coherence to a national school math problem of many different State Standards. To a reasonable extent, this was influenced by successful Asian curricula, which place a greater focus on what is to be learned each year, expect students to have learned this material, and go on to other topics the next year. There is a greater emphasis on getting arithmetic solid than we have had, and this is included in "Focal Points".
  • William Reese via Susan Troller:
    "I suspect Madison can be seen as a microcosm of what is going on throughout the rest of the country," Reese said in a recent interview in his book-lined Bascom Hill office. "There are many extraordinarily well educated people here, and they have very high expectations of what kind of education their children are receiving."
  • Barry Garelick:
    It was a textbook case on how to adopt substandard math textbooks. On June 15, 2005, the Washington, DC School Board voted to adopt Everyday Mathematics (EM) for elementary schools and Connected Math Program (CMP) for middle schools. The action was a photocopy of actions taken by other school boards across the country adoptions that have been occurring on a disturbingly regular basis for the past decade and a half.

    What the DCPS Board did and said on June 15 was so similar to what other school boards have done, one would think that they all operate from the same scripts:

    • A script on how to adopt math textbooks that require extensive teacher training and whose success is most likely attributable to the flurry of tutoring, enrollments in learning centers, or supplemental materials teachers must use if their students are to learn any math that will be of use.
    • A script on how to disparage testimony from mathematicians and knowledgeable parents, and give credibility only to their own witnesses.
    • A script on how to have an independent consultant summarize the results of the recommendations for textbook evaluations made by a committee hand picked by the school board.
    Like any sleight of hand, once you know the tricks, these techniques are not subtle.

    Unfortunately, many people fall prey to the illusions used to convey objectivity and professionalism in the same way Las Vegas audiences believe David Copperfield can make an automobile onstage disappear.

    Via Joanne.
Judy Newman's recent article "Ring of Hire: Emergence of High-Tech Firms Nets Jobs - and Prestige - for Madison" notes the growth of tech employment in Dane County - echoing The Economist.

Obviously, getting math right for our future generations is critical to our social (tax base) and economic well being. An MMSD Administrator mentioned to me that they recognize the problem but believe it will take a long time to fix. It appears we have a way to go.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:31 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teaching Math, Singapore Style

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.

Editorial, New York Times, September 18, 2006

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.

Many people trace this unfortunate development to a 1989 report by an influential group, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. School districts read its recommendations as a call to reject rote learning. Last week the council reversed itself, laying out new recommendations that will focus on a few basic skills at each grade level.

Under the new (old) plan, students will once again move through the basics -- addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and so on -- building the skills that are meant to prepare them for algebra by seventh grade. This new approach is being seen as an attempt to emulate countries like Singapore, which ranks at the top internationally in math.

All these references to Singapore are encouraging, given this country's longstanding resistance to the idea of importing superior teaching strategies from abroad. But a few things need to happen before this approach can succeed.

First of all, the United States will need to abandon its destructive practice of having so many math and science courses taught by people who have not majored in the subjects -- or even studied them seriously.

We also need to fix the current patchwork system of standards and measurement for academic achievement, and make sure that students everywhere have access to both high-quality teachers and high-quality math and science curriculums that aspire to clearly articulated goals.

Until we bite the bullet on those basic, critical reforms, we will continue to lose ground to the countries with which we must compete in the global information economy.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 5:00 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison United for Academic Excellence Meeting on Differentiation

Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) will hold its next meeting on Tuesday, October 17, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. in Room 209 of the Doyle Administration Building, 545 West Dayton Street. Members of the MMSD Talented and Gifted (TAG) staff will be our guest speakers for a discussion of "Differentiation: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know ... Don't Be Afraid to Ask."

As background for the evening, you are encouraged to read the following article: . Although it discusses differentiation in a middle school classroom, the issues and information are relevant to all grade levels.

A question-and-answer period will follow the presentation. Please consider submitting your questions beforehand to

Thanks and see you on the 17th!

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World Famous Artist Collaborates with Cherokee Middle School Students


tudents at a Madison middle school collaborated with a world-famous contemporary painter to create a mural.
The artist known simply as Wyland -- who is famous for panting building-sized marine murals in cities around the country -- visited Cherokee Middle School on Tuesday where he worked with 40 students to paint a mural.
Much more on Wyland. Wyland's Milwaukee County Courthouse Annex "Whale Commuters" was recently destroyed as part of a new freeway project.

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October 10, 2006

Report Urges Changes in the Teaching of Math in U.S. Schools

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.

Article by Tamar Lewin, New York Times, September 13, 2006

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.''

Dr. Finn added, ''This is definitely a back-to-basics victory, emphasizing the building blocks children have always learned that a large part of the country believes are important, and moving away from the constructivist approach some educators prefer, in which children learn what they want to learn when they're ready to learn it.''

The president of the council, Francis Fennell, a professor at McDaniel College in Maryland, played down the degree of change the new report represented, adding that he did not like talk of ''math wars.''

Dr. Fennell pointed out that the report did not take a stand on instructional methods, allowing teachers to use whatever works: worksheets, calculators or materials like rods that children can manipulate to try out different numeric relationships.

In a way, the new report stands as a plea for consensus. ''Take this opportunity to share the best that we know as we work together to produce improved tools that support our shared goal of a high-quality mathematics education for every student,'' the introduction says.

And consensus may be at hand. Some of the same math professors who last year released a chart -- aimed directly at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics -- detailing the ''10 myths'' of ''N.C.T.M. (Fuzzy)'' math now find themselves generally in line with the new report.

''It represents an enormous evolution from the 1989 standards, from the perspectives and attitudes that were present in both camps then,'' said R. James Milgram of Stanford, one of the ''10 Myths'' signers. ''The fact that we are now collaborating is incredibly important.''

Math skills have taken center stage in the national debate over education since the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study found that Asian students outperformed American students. Almost a quarter of American college freshmen take a remedial math course, according to the National Science Board.

Most states now have math curriculum standards setting forth dozens of topics, or ''learning expectations,'' to be covered in each grade -- so many that it is difficult to ensure that students will learn the most important math skills.

The report notes great inconsistencies in which math topics are covered in which grades, how they are defined and what students are expected to learn.

It stops short of recommending a national math curriculum but does try to outline a curriculum narrowed to the most important skills in each grade.

''We tried to identify the really key things, the things a student has to focus on to progress,'' said Sybilla Beckmann, a University of Georgia professor who helped write the report. ''People like to paint this in terms of black and white, back-to-basics and constructivism, but I think there's a lot of agreement about what students need to know.''

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The No. 1 Graduate School of Education?

Kevin Carey:

What's the No. 1 graduate school of education in America? If you asked people in the academic world, many would probably mention Teachers College at Columbia University, which is not only well-regarded by its peers, but also unusually large, granting more than 100 doctoral degrees in education every year.

But for the past two decades, one university has out-produced Teachers College in doctorate production: Nova Southeastern University. Based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Nova enrolls more than 25,000 students, making it the seventh-largest private, nonprofit university in the nation. It was founded as a technical university in 1964 and specializes in distance learning for adult students. Most students for advanced education degrees are classroom teachers and other educators in public schools.

For most of the 1990s, Nova Southeastern granted about 250 education doctorates per year. But as Chart 1 shows, those numbers began to increase sharply in 2002. By 2005, Nova's degree production surged to almost 450 a year. Teachers College granted 150 education doctorates that year, virtually the same as it granted in 1998.

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The Accuracy and Effectiveness of Adequate Yearly Progress: NCLB's School Evaluation System

William J. Mathis [16.1MB PDF]:

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is the key element of the accountability system mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This report reveals that AYP in its 2006 form as the prime indicator of academic achievement is not supported by reliable evidence. Expecting all children to reach mastery level on their state’s standardized tests by 2014, the fundamental requirement of AYP, is unrealistic. The growth model and other improvement proposals now on the table do not have sufficient power to resolve the underlying problems of the system. In addition, the program, whether conceived as implementation costs or remedial costs, is significantly underfunded in a way that will disproportionately penalize schools attended by the neediest children. Further, the curriculum is being narrowed to focus on tested areas at the cost of other vital educational purposes.

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Money & Academic Success

Ken DeRosa:

In his new book, Eric Hanushek delivers the smack down on Johnathan Kozol who has been insisting these many years that the funding gap between middle class and inner city schools was the cause of the achievement gap between white and minority kids. Thus, to erase the achievement gap all we had to do was eliminate the funding gap:
In both Savage Inequalities and its 1995 successor, Amazing Grace, Kozol described the once beautiful and successful Morris High School in the Bronx as “one of the most beleaguered, segregated and decrepit secondary schools in the United States. Barrels were filling up with rain in several rooms. . . . Green fungus molds were growing in the corners” of some rooms, and the toilets were unusable. Kozol wrote that it would take at least $50 million to restore Morris’s decaying physical plant and suggested that the white political establishment would never spend that much money on a ghetto school. The city actually did spend more than $50 million to restore Morris High School after the publication of Savage Inequalities, though Kozol had not a word to say about it when discussing Morris in the second book. Of course the newly gleaming building had no perceptible effect on the academic performance of the students.

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Fancy programs on aging computers: an MMSD teacher tries to make things work

From time to time, I wonder whether MMSD's central administration decisions take into account the needs of staff in our schools. Here's a recent letter to the school board from a middle school teacher discussing the poor fit between software and hardware at the school.

"I came in very early this morning to run new student summaries for several of my kids who had decided to make up missing work in order to raise their grades. I think we would all agree that this is a good thing.

I spent 15 minutes trying to get my computer to print one student's summary. The computer kept locking up on me and I would have to cold boot it. Actually, this is not my computer; it is the only computer in the planning area shared by 6 eighth grade teachers. It runs Windows 98.

As I was complaining about this computer, one of my colleagues mentioned that she has to phone in her attendance each hour about 1/3 of the time because the computer in her classroom either locks up or takes too long to process her attendance. Our tech person has been out several times and is able ! to fix it for awhile, but then it stops functioning properly again.

I have had a similar situation in my classroom. The teacher who is in there first each day timed it and it takes about 7 minutes to boot it up in the morning.

My special education partner just read this note and asked me to add that she was trying to work after school yesterday in the library with some students and the computers in there kept freezing up.

You are asking us to use sophisticated programs on antiquated machinery and it's causing a great deal of stress for staff and students.

And yes, I am filling out a work order for this computer."

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 11:39 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Report from the First Grade Trenches

Ken Derosa:

The first month of school is now over for my son who is in first grade. Let me summarize what has transpired in the first 1/9 of the school year so far. Bear in mind that most of my information comes from a six year old with the attention span of a flea.

One assignment asked them to draw pictures of things having numbers, like a clock or calendar. Another asked them to find a picture that told a math story--there are three dogs and two cats in this picture, how many are there all together.

He's learning about math, instead of learning math. Clearly, the focus is on "understanding," and not on developing proficiency in basic math skills. There are opportunity costs associated with this high constructivism approach as well. Time spent on these contrived exercises is time lost in which basic math skills, like addition, could have been taught and practiced.

I hesitate to call what's going on reading since there is so little actual reading going on. The kids were given a DIBELS test and broken up into reading groups. Whether they were broken up by ability, I do not know. Teaching consists mostly of letting kids pick out books they like and letting them "read" them independently. If the kids can't read yet, they can look at the pictures. That's nice.

Again, we see a pedagogy that favors higher performers. Kids who can read already, practice their reading skills. Kids who can't read, practice their picture viewing skills. Which kids do you suppose will make more progress learning to read this year?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New Bus Routes Get LaFollette Students Involved


One year after LaFollette students complained of having to drop out of extra-curricular activities becasue of busing problems, the situation is fixed. More buses are running and WISC-TV went back to see if it has made a difference.

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October 9, 2006

Falling need for West side school?

Do current housing declines wipe out the need for a new West side school? Here's an article from The Capital Times (Oct. 9, 2006):

Home building keeps plunging here
The decline in home building in Dane County this year accelerated in September, remaining the weakest this century, according to the latest figures from MTD Marketing.

There were just 73 permits issued for single-family homes and duplexes here in September, less than half the 195 last September, and at least 68 below every September back to 1999, the earliest year MTD reported figures.

The September permits did set a record average value for the month at $242,836. The average square footage was 2,410, third highest since 1999.

Year-to-date through September, there were 1,116 permits in Dane County, 711 below a year ago and at least 332 below every year back to 1999. The average value for the first nine months of the year did set a record at $246,660. The average square footage of 2,449 was behind only the 2,469 in 2004.

Posted by Ed Blume at 1:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Book: What School Boards Can Do

Donald R. McAdams:

To provide essential guidance to urban school board members committed to high achievement for all children, Don McAdams presents a comprehensive approach to board leadership he calls reform governance. This accessible framework brings together all the work of an urban school board, including everything from big ideas about core beliefs and theories of action for change, to the fundamental relationships and processes through which boards and superintendents work together, and the leadership role boards have in building community support for sustained change. Taking into account the hot political arena of urban education, reform governance:
  • Helps school board members understand why it is necessary to redesign urban districts and what their role in the process should be.
  • Sets forth principles that boards can use as guides to action, and gives real-life examples of how they work.
  • Shows how a strong board and superintendent team can work together to be agents for change.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Cost of an "Adequate" Education

Eric A. Hanushek:

The nation is watching to see what happens with New York City school finance. After a dozen years in the courts, the case of Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) v. New York is now back at the Court of Appeals for a final judgment about the added appropriations that the legislature must send to the city. This judgment is, however, unlikely to be the final statement. If the legislature must come up with an incredible sum of money close to the more than $5 billion currently on the table, it may well balk, precipitating a true constitutional crisis.

New York's school-finance case may be the most visible in the nation, but it is certainly not unique. Almost half of the states today have an "adequacy" case in their courts. Only five states have never faced a school-finance case during the past three decades. New York, however, is on center stage this week. Because of the size of the judgment, the New York decision could send shock waves through state legislatures across the country.

Earlier this year New York's intermediate court called for an added appropriation of $4.7 to $5.6 billion per year to go to New York City schools. The state, with Attorney General Eliot Spitzer helming the defense, appealed this decision. Final oral arguments will be given tomorrow, marking at least a culmination in the legal battle, though likely not the last word in the fight.

New Yorkers tend to view this case with righteous indignation: The legislature simply failed to provide the city schools with adequate resources. After all, they argue, the trial court, after listening to seven months of testimony, found this to be a clear violation of the state constitution and slapped a precise dollar value on what it saw to be the magnitude of that violation.

Unfortunately, in determining the cost of an "adequate" education, the court relied heavily on the questionable analysis of consultants hired by the plaintiffs. Their analysis, labeled a "professional judgment model," was advertised as a scientific determination of the amount of spending necessary to secure an "adequate" education for every New York City student. Yet, this analysis violates virtually every principle of science and, as a result, has produced a politically saleable but scientifically unsupportable answer to the problem.

Background on the "Campaign for Fiscal Equity".

Mr. Hanushek is a member of the Hoover Institution's Koret Task Force on K-12 Education and editor of "Courting Failure" (Education Next Books, 2006).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:38 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School System offers Teachers Special Inducement

Michael Alison Chandler:

Despite those limitations, school officials came up with a new tool this year to entice more teachers to Loudoun.

With help from the county's chamber of commerce, a school employee approached dozens of area businesses, banks and apartment complexes about offering discounts of some kind for county educators.

The result is the Loudoun Incentives for New Employees program. Think of it as a coupon book for teachers.

School officials say they hope that with the extra financial assistance -- a break on closing costs for a new home, for example, or a $100 deposit in a new checking account -- more teachers will choose to live in Loudoun, closer to the football games and after-school activities that are part of school life. Loudoun is now the home address of 63 percent of the county's teachers.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Why More Class-Size Reduction is a Bad Idea

Lance T. Izumi & Rachel L. Chaney:

There's no more popular education program among politicians and teachers than reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. No other program, however, has spent more tax dollars for less result. Now lawmakers are pushing a bill that would fund class-size reduction (CSR) for additional grades.

SB 1133 would spend nearly $3 billion over seven years to decrease class size in fourth through eighth grade down to 25 students. California's current CSR law has spent around $16 billion over the last 10 years reducing class size to 20 students per K-3 classroom. The ultimate goal of the program, says the state Department of Education, is to "increase student achievement, particularly in reading and mathematics." Under this criterion, CSR comes up short.

A state-sponsored consortium of top research organizations analyzed the program and found no association between the total number of years a student had been in reduced size classes and differences in academic achievement. Further, there's no evidence that CSR helps at upper grade levels. Stanford education professor Michael Kirst says that research has focused on elementary grades, not middle-school levels, as SB 1133 would do. Also, that research has examined reducing class sizes to 20 students or fewer, not to 25 students as the bill would require. Says Kirst, "This is really a dark continent in terms of any research."

In spite of this lack of evidence, some top state education officials believe that SB 1133's minor provisions aimed at improving teacher quality in low-performing schools make the bill worthwhile. Unfortunately, teacher-quality problems in California plunge to a much deeper level. Consider the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) given to prospective teachers in California.

The CBEST was designed, "to test basic reading, mathematics, and writing skills found to be important for the job of an educator," according to the official CBEST website. While teachers should be proficient in these areas, the CBEST sets such low standards that it proves nothing.

One Bay Area teacher who took the test in 2003 described the experience as "a joke" and said: "Compared with other standardized tests like the SAT and GRE, the CBEST is laughable. The math section tests maybe for a fourth-grade skill level, and the verbal sections are hardly better."

Joanne posts a sample question from the CBEST test:
Which of the following is the most appropriate unit for expressing the weight of a pencil?


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Fabulous Inside the Cell Animation


Beth Marchant:

The Inner Life of a Cell, an eight-minute animation created in NewTek LightWave 3D and Adobe After Effects for Harvard biology students, won’t draw the kind of box office crowds that more ferocious˜and furrier˜digital creations did last Christmas. But it will share a place along side them in SIGGRAPH's Electronic Theatre show, which will run for three days during the 33rd annual exhibition and conference in Boston next month. Created by XVIVO, a scientific animation company near Hartford, CT, the animation illustrates unseen molecular mechanisms and the ones they trigger, specifically how white blood cells sense and respond to their surroundings and external stimuli.
Via Wayne.

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

Letters Regarding "Demoting AP Classes"

Letters to the editor regarding "Demoting AP Classes":

To the Editor:

Re “Demoting Advanced Placement,” by Joe Berger (On Education column, Oct. 4):

As a college history professor, I see the demotion of Advanced Placement courses as a step toward (not away from) the “frenzied” race toward college and the dumbing down of American education.

In my classes, students who have taken A.P. history are consistently better prepared for intensive college-level work. They know how to read maps and analyze primary sources. They understand that “huffing and puffing through chronological parades of facts and documents” is indeed necessary for any serious understanding of “The Grapes of Wrath,” Montesquieu or Freud.

They understand that history is about change over time, and that yes, the most lively discussion of Reconstruction should give way to study of women’s suffrage, and to the connections between the two topics.

Eliminating rigorous survey courses at the high school level means that colleges have to do remedial work with even the most “elite” students.

Atina Grossmann
New York, Oct. 4, 2006
The writer is a professor of history at Cooper Union.

To the Editor:

Advanced Placement courses are rigorous, but they are not just rote memorization. Students are challenged by the structure, pace and demands of these courses and need that challenge before college.

Many universities award course credit for A.P. scores. Early graduation is possible at some colleges. My daughter graduated early from college using A.P. credit, saving $16,000 in tuition.

Some argue that equally rigorous courses would replace A.P.’s. I’m not convinced. Even the best teachers could lack the time and resources to develop equally challenging replacement curriculums.

Taking Advanced Placement courses as a résumé builder for college can put undue pressure on students not ready for college-level work. Avoiding that pitfall falls to vigilant staff members who limit admission to A.P. courses, parents who are willing to face their child’s true ability level and college admissions policies that penalize students with poor performance in A.P.’s.

Janet Berger
Livingston, N.J., Oct. 5, 2006
The writer is a private college counselor.

To the Editor:

Joe Berger’s Oct. 4 column about the possible discontinuation of Advanced Placement courses at Scarsdale High School saddened me.

As a 1987 graduate of another well-regarded public school (Millburn High School, in Millburn, N.J.), I count my A.P. classes among the best aspects of my high school experience, as well as important influences on my undergraduate and graduate paths at Harvard.

Mr. Berger suggests that some schools may discard A.P. classes because it may be too challenging to mix novel reading, debate and discussion with the teaching of the people, places and events essential to survey courses. He also notes that the College Board acknowledges that it does need “to do a better job” explaining how flexible such courses really can be.

Here’s my suggestion: Ask for guidance from my former A.P. teachers at Millburn. They fostered the freedom and creativity — by teaching with primary documents, historical re-enactments, creative writing exercises and discussions of novels and nonfiction books not necessarily on the A.P. syllabuses — that Mr. Berger’s article suggests may be lacking elsewhere.

And they simultaneously covered the “basics,” which simply cannot be neglected.

Erika Dreifus
Westport Island, Me., Oct. 4, 2006

To the Editor:

As a teacher of the Advanced Placement language and composition course for many years, I found the A.P. curriculum not only intellectually challenging, but also adaptable to all kinds of creative classroom activities and assignments geared to the analysis of rhetorical devices and logical fallacies.

Rather than insisting on a prescribed reading list of authors and sources, the curriculum focuses on the development of critical thinking, reading and writing skills.

The purpose is to instill in youngsters more awareness of language whose purpose is to manipulate and perhaps exploit, whether in politics, literature, advertising, journalism or any other form of written or spoken communication.

Rather than eliminating such a course, schools should recognize its value for all students. There is nothing esoteric or elite about it, and taking the A.P. test can be optional.

Carol Lefelt
Highland Park, N.J., Oct. 4, 2006

To the Editor:

I am a senior in high school, and I take three Advanced Placement courses. I received a 1,250 on my SAT. I have a 3.6 grade point average. It’s not good enough, not by a long shot.

The intense pressure in nearly every school across America to become a success is wearing us down. Four or five A.P. classes is the average for an academically competitive student at my school, and taking seven (out of a seven-period class schedule) is not unusual.

Colleges, parents, teachers, strangers — all want more from us than we can give. A 17-year-old should not have to spend a week in the hospital for exhaustion. Students shouldn’t have to drag themselves through each and every school week on 28 hours of sleep or take a handful of Advil to get through soccer practice or calculus class.

It may not seem like it, but we’re tired.

Molly Lehmuller
Charlotte, N.C., Oct. 4, 2006

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October 8, 2006

School Improvement Rubrics

School Improvements, desired by all of us, need financial resources, but primarily, the need is for a quality strategic and measureable plans and goals. Ed Blume has posted a few such rubrics from Victoria Bernhardt. He has not received much input on these worthy rubrics. See.

That was certainly my experience also, as I posted a full Excel spreadsheet of Bernhardt's rubrics on this site back in August 21, 2005.

I will continue with three more school improvement rubrics from Bernhardt: Continuous Improvement, Information and Analysis, and Student Achievement.

Bernhardt's rubrics allows one to subjectively rate each of these measures on Approach, Implementation and Outcome on a scale of 1 to 5.

The above three rubrics add to this important list. These rubrics are based on measuring individual schools, and so those with more intimate knowledge of a particular school will be better able to evaluate these rubrics, but using these rubrics to evaluate the District would also be useful. I think finding such raters, at the school level, will be nigh impossible because what I perceive to be the very closed nature of the school administration at MMSD as a whole.

To start the exercise, look at Continuous Improvement.

Level ONE

Approach: Neither goals nor strategies exist for the evaluation and continuous improvement of the school organization or for elements of the school organization.

Implementation: With no overall plan for evaluation and continuous improvement, strategies are changed by individual teachers and administrators only when something sparks the need to improve. Reactive decisions and activities are a daily mode of operation.

Outcome: Individuals struggle with system failure. Finger pointing and blaming others for failure occurs. The effectiveness of strategies is not known. Mistakes are repeated.

Level TWO:

Approach: The approach to continuous improvement and evaluation is problems solving. If there are no problems, or if solutions can be made quickly, there is no need for improvement or analyses. Changes in part of the system are not coordinated with all other parts.

Implementation: Isolated changes are made in some areas of the school organization in response to problem incidents. Changes are not preceded by comprehensive analyses, such as an understanding of the root causes of problems. The effectiveness of the elements of the school organization, or changes made to the elements, is not known.

Outcome: Problems are solved only temporarily and few positive changes results. Additionally, unintended and undesirable consequences often appear in other parts of the system. Many aspects of the school are incongruent, keeping the school from reaching its vision.

Level THREE:

Approach: Some elements of the school organization are evaluated for effectiveness. Some elements are improved on the basis of the evaluation findings.

Implementation: Elements of the school organization are improved on the basis of comprehensive analyses of root causes of problems, client perceptions, and operational effectiveness of processes.

Outcome: Evidence of effective improvement strategies is observable. Positive changes are made and maintained due to comprehensive analyses and evaluation.

Level Four:

Approach: All elements of the school's operations are evaluated for improvement and to ensure congruence of the elements with respect to the confirmation of students' learning experience.

Implementation: Continuous improvement analyses of student achievement and instructional strategies are rigorously reinforced within each classroom and across learning levels to develop a comprehensive learning continuum for students and to prevent student failure.

Outcome: Teachers become astute at assessing and in predicting the impact of their instructional strategies on individual student achievement. Sustainable improvements in student achievement are evident at all grade levels, due to continuous improvement.

Level FIVE:

Approach: All aspects of the school organization are rigorously evaluated and improved on a continuous basis. Students, and the maintenance of a comprehensive learning continuum for students, become the focus of all aspects of the school improvement process.

Implementation: Comprehensive continuous improvement becomes the way of doing business at the school. Teachers continuously improve the appropriateness and effectiveness of instructional strategies based on student feedback and performance. All aspects of the school organization are improved to support teachers' efforts.

Outcome: The school becomes a congruent and effective learning organization. Only instruction and assessment strategies that produce quality student achievement are used. A true continuum of learning results for all students.

Now, on this one measure called Continuous Improvement, how would you rate the Board of Education, MMSD, and one or more individual schools that you are familiar with?

Posted by Larry Winkler at 10:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Narrowing the Field

Elite athletes now dominate many high school teams. As other sports opportunities shrink, average kids lose out.

Shari Roan:

THE long, sweaty summer practices are over. The pep rallies have begun. Fall sports are underway around the nation.

Cory Harkey, 16, is part of the action. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound junior at Chino Hills High School is symbolic of the elite athlete who has come to dominate interscholastic high school sports. He practices to the point of exhaustion almost daily and plays on private club teams to maintain his star status in several sports. He dreams of a college scholarship in basketball or football, and college scouts undoubtedly will scrutinize his potential during the coming year.

Sara Nael, 17, is not part of any team. A senior at the same school, she won't go near a volleyball game this fall, having failed to make the team as a freshman. She considered trying out for something else but eventually concluded that playing in high school sports "doesn't look fun."

The two students represent what is both positive — and distressing — about the state of youth sports today. High school athletes are fitter, more skilled and better trained than ever before. But these top-notch athletes, say many health and fitness experts, have become the singular focus of the youth sports system — while teenagers of average or low ability no longer warrant attention.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:43 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 7, 2006

Drumroll Starts for a Yes Vote

Susan Troller:

With Election Day just a month off, the discussion over Madison's $23.5 million dollar school referendum has been remarkably quiet.

But that changes today and referendum supporters say they are optimistic that this time voters will give a thumbs-up to district building projects.

A grassroots citizen group will start today to assemble and distribute yard signs supporting the referendum. In the next two weeks, the school district will hold four informational sessions at Sennett, Cherokee, Sherman and Jefferson middle schools.

At issue is the three-part question that school district voters will be asked to approve or reject Nov. 7.

Much more, here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Profile of the UW's William Reese

Susan Troller:

When publications like the New York Times want an expert to comment on the big issues facing public schools like testing or immigration, it's a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor they're likely to call.

Relatively unknown in his adopted hometown, history and educational policy studies professor William Reese is able offer a long view on these kinds of perennial hot-button issues that resonate across the country, and provoke local debate, too.

In one recent New York Times story about schools cutting back on other subjects to concentrate on math and reading so their students will perform better on nationally mandated testing, Reese explained that President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act has leveraged one of the most abrupt instructional shifts in education history.


But when asked to apply his knowledge to how our Madison schools work, and how the public responds to them, he shrugs off the questions, saying he is only an outside observer. He and his wife, Carol, do not have children; he says any knowledge he has about local school affairs comes only from living in the city and having friends who are teachers in the Madison Metropolitan School District.

"I suspect Madison can be seen as a microcosm of what is going on throughout the rest of the country," Reese said in a recent interview in his book-lined Bascom Hill office. "There are many extraordinarily well educated people here, and they have very high expectations of what kind of education their children are receiving."

Reese's website.

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

Study says no video games on school nights

Eric Bangeman:

s parents of two children, the older of which is in the first grade, one of the decisions we've had to make is how much screen time—TV and computer—the kids get. A new study appearing in the October 2006 issue of Pediatrics suggests that any amount of video gaming and TV is too much, if it happens on a school night.

The results come from a survey of 4,500 midle-school students in New Hampshire and Vermont. Researchers asked the students to rate their own performance in school on a scale ranging from "below average" to "excellent," instead of looking directly at their grades or other metrics of academic performance. The study also took different parenting styles into account, but did not look at specific household rules covering homework, gaming, and watching TV.

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

Algebra Basics Website

"Show me how, Now".

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:04 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Lessons from Charter Schools

Chester Finn, Jr:

Charter schools have taught us much. Since Minnesota enacted America's first charter law in 1991, 39 states have followed suit and eager school reformers have created some 4,000 of these independent public schools. About 3,600 are still operating today, enrolling approximately a million kids, 2 percent of all U.S. elementary and secondary pupils. More than a dozen cities--including Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee--now have charter sectors that serve at least one in every six children. These numbers rise annually--and would balloon if the market were able to operate freely, unconstrained by legislative compromises, funding and facilities shortfalls, and local pushback from the school establishment and its political allies.

The first lesson is that the demand for alternative school options for children is intense--and plenty of people and organizations are eager to meet it wherever policy and politics allow them to. In Dayton, Ohio, today, more than a quarter of all kids attend charter schools; in New Orleans (a special case, to be sure) it's seven out of ten children. Many schools across the nation have waiting lists.

Lesson Two: Though critics warned that charters would "cream" the best-parented, ablest, and most fortunate youngsters, actual enrollments are dominated by poor and minority kids, ex-dropouts, and others with huge education deficits unmet by regular school systems--most often the urban school systems whose residents most urgently need decent alternatives.

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

A Seattle Summit to Raise Black Achievement Standards and Close Gaps

Seattle Alliance of Black Educators:

To help African American students experience success in school districts and meet the challenges of the state graduation requirements, Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators in partnership with Seattle Public Schools, Pearson Scott Foreman, National Urban Publishing Companies, and other community organizations will host an Educational Summit on October 13 & 14, 2006 at Mercer Middle School in Seattle.

Many African American students have been left behind in the public education system in the state of Washington, and a transformed education system is needed that honors all students in a holistic manner—accounting for their various worldviews, languages, learning styles, cultural heritages, and multiple intelligences. Therefore, it is critical that our parents and communities must partner with schools, churches and other service providers to maximize resources and to improve student learning outcomes.

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

Seattle School District Does the Math on Surplus Properties

Kathy Mulady:

Preschoolers walk in wiggly, giggly lines through the wide halls of the old Crown Hill Elementary School. They clamber on playground equipment, building up appetites for lunch being prepared in the kitchen.

The Seattle School District closed the doors more than 25 years ago, but these days it has found new life.

As the Small Faces Childhood Development Center, about 180 youngsters duck through the doors during the week for preschool, before- and after-school care and summer programs. There's ballet and a children's flamenco class. Community meetings are held in the newly painted classrooms. Basketballs bounce in the gymnasium.

But as the district proposes closing as many as 10 more buildings next year, it also is considering what to do with about two dozen surplus properties it owns, including seven former schools now leased to day care and community-center operators at a discounted rate of $37,000 to more than $60,000 a year.

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

October 6, 2006

If I were superintendent

If I were the superintendent of the MMSD, I’d set the following as my highest management priorities:

1. Move the MMSD administration out of Stage 1 and toward Stage 5 on leadership and partnerships;

2. Focus on the MMSD’s core mission: education. That might mean finding other agencies to provide MSCR functions and summer food programs, for example;

3. Design and implement a budget system that allows for assessment and control of operational and curriculum expenditures by the board;

4. Innovate for achievement, beginning by initiating pilot projects staring with curriculum and charter schools and partnerships with other educational institutions to give MMSD students a wider range of academic choices.

Hopefully, others will post thoughts on what their priorities might be as superintendent.

Posted by Ed Blume at 12:49 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Better Luck this Time?

Jason Shephard:

On Nov. 7, residents in the Madison Metropolitan School District will vote on a referendum that includes building a new school on the far west side. The total package would hike taxes on an average home by about $29.

Although a similar referendum was defeated in May 2005, this year’s ballot initiative may be the best solution to the growth and school-boundary issues that have dogged the district for more than five years.

Already, several Madison schools, notably Leopold elementary, are severely overcrowded. And city planners expect west-side growth to add 13,000 new dwelling units, twice as many as in the city of Middleton, over the next two decades.


“The referendum is not only about the space issue. It’s sort of about how this community supports the school district,” he says. “The district needs to know from a planning perspective whether the community will help the district meet its bottom line.”

There’s no question that boundary and growth issues have consumed Madison school officials, at the expense of issues regarding achievement, accountability and curriculum. November’s referendum gives citizens the chance to move forward the agenda.

Interesting comments from Carol regarding substantive changes in the Madison School Board's discussions. Much more on the 11/7/2006 referendum here.

Shephard's last paragraph succinctly sums up my views on the November question.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:27 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

For Afghan Girls, Learning Goes on in the Shadows

UW Grad Thomas Barnett:

"For Afghan Girls, Learning Goes On, In the Shadows: Home classes proliferate as insurgents attack schools," schools," by Pamela Constable, Washington Post National Weekly Edition, 2-8 October 2006, p. 17. 17.
It all starts with educating young girls, the one great predictor of development.

Naturally, in Afghanistan, it is the great consistent target of the Taliban, who have "targeted dozens of schools in the past year, especially those teaching girls."

The resurrection of schooling, especially that for girls, was heralded as the great advance in post-Taliban Afghanistan. From nowhere, five million kids were in school. Now that tide is receding in areas threatened by the Taliban and across much of the rest of the country--just too dangerous:

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

Bush: No Child Left Behind Closing Achievement Gap

Theola Labbe:

President Bush said today that the No Child Left Behind education requirements he signed into law four years ago have helped to close the achievement gap and he proposed several changes to the law aimed at assisting teachers and giving parents more school choice.

Speaking at Friendship-Woodridge Elementary and Middle School in Northeast Washington, Bush said that the federal law has been successful because the annual testing in reading and math hold schools accountable for how they teach and what students learn. The law, which is scheduled to be reauthorized next year, requires all students, including special education and learning disabled populations, to be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

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

The Beginnings of Teach for America

Gillian Gillers:

Kopp didn’t listen. Traveling around the county that summer, she met with potential funders, nonprofit leaders, and school system officials. After securing a seed grant from Exxon Mobil and office space from Morgan Stanley, Kopp hired nearly 20 recent college graduates to help run the program and recruit teachers. By the spring of 1990, the team had selected 500 college seniors and convinced six school districts to hire them. Then Texas billionaire Ross Perot offered Kopp a challenge grant of $500,000, which she had to match three to one. The grant gave Teach For America credibility, and other donors soon emerged with the remaining $1.5 million. The organization trained and placed its first corps class by the fall of 1990.

Today, Teach For America has grown into a hugely successful non-profit organization. This fall, they won a “Social Capitalist Award” sponsored by Fast Company magazine and the Monitor Group. The annual award honors 25 non-profits that use creativity and business smarts to solve social problems.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:09 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 5, 2006

How the Torrent of Anti-Americanism Affects Teenagers

Jeff Zaslow:

Knowing that America is hated in many corners of the world, some of our best high-school students have a few requests.

Their school curricula require them to study the French Revolution, which began in 1789. Why, they ask, aren't they also learning about the Iranian Revolution of 1979?

They're taught foreign languages -- lots of verbs and nouns -- but not enough about the cultures where these languages flourish. Why, they ask, are they not given more insight into the politics and religions of those countries?

I learned of these and other concerns last week, when I interviewed about 70 students taking advanced-placement government and international-affairs courses at two suburban Detroit schools. These juniors and seniors -- they were the 11- and 12-year-olds of Sept. 11, 2001 -- had a good sense of the issues threatening the nation they will inherit. Aware that many of their contemporaries overseas are being taught to hate the U.S., they wonder what confrontations lie ahead when their generation reaches adulthood.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:21 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Containing MMSD's employee health insurance costs: what's next?

In June of 2006, the Madison School Board identified containment of employee health insurance costs as a major goal for its Human Resources Committee for 2006-07. On September 25, the HR committee began to study current health insurance costs, projections of future increases in these costs and the implications of failing to slow the expected increases. At the September meeting, Bob Butler, an experienced negotiator and consultant from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, presented the facts. 9/25/2006 Health Insurance Presentation

When the HR committee meets again on October 30, I will ask the committee to follow up on key recommendations in the Butler presentation. I will propose two things: a public education campaign and a public process for exploring alternatives. The public education campaign would explain in detail why it is in the best interests of the employees and the district to contain health insurance costs. The public process for exploring alternatives would involve inviting representatives of our employees to engage in a joint and public exploration of changes in plan designs, insurance providers, wellness programs and other options.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 5:19 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Deal is a Lesson in Education Politics

Bob Sipchen:

Six weeks ago, Deshawn Hill and I walked into Pacific Dining Car and caught a glimpse of democracy in action: A.J. Duffy and Robin Kramer having a late evening chat.

Duffy's the charmingly cocky boss of Southern California's biggest teachers union. Kramer is the mayor's charmingly clever chief of staff. I'll remind you who Hill is later. For now, let's stick to the boss and the chief.

Kramer tells me the meeting was a coincidental bump-into-each-other thing. But seeing those two together at the city's power-broker steak palace resonated with a hunch I'd been harboring: All those months of teachers union squawking about Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plans to take over the Los Angeles Unified School District were mainly for show.

Because he's a teacher, though, his motives conflict.

Like you, I think good teachers are heroes who deserve more money and respect and smaller classes and more control over what they teach. I understand why many people have a hard time accepting that their kids' teachers' interests don't always overlap with students' interests. In protecting a teacher's interests, a union often adds to the bureaucratic bloat.

Since I began reporting this column in January (and in the 17 years I've followed my children through L.A. Unified schools) the most righteously frustrated people I've met have tended to lash out at two villains: the district bureaucracy and the union to whom so many board members and bureaucrats are beholden.

Even many teachers say privately that they're disgusted that unions erect barricades against merit pay, charter schools and administrators' ability to move experienced teachers to the schools at which they're most needed. Hear enough stories about just how hard it is to fire an utterly incompetent teacher, and you begin to wonder why the public tolerates unelected union power brokers in their children's lives at all.

Mike Antonucci has much more, including notes from Racine here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:43 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

NYC Considers Plan to Let Outsiders Run Schools

David M. Herszenhorn:

In what would be the biggest change yet to the way New York City’s school system is administered, officials are considering plans to hire private groups at taxpayer expense to manage scores of public schools.

The money paid to the private groups would replace millions of dollars in grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which supported dozens of these groups in opening more than 180 small schools in the city since 2003.

The four-year grants, typically worth $100,000 a year per school, will run out for more than 50 schools in June.

The move would further Chancellor Joel I. Klein’s earlier efforts to tear apart the traditional bureaucracy of the nation’s largest school system, giving principals greater autonomy and increasing the role of the private sector. It could put private entities like the College Board, the Urban Assembly and Expeditionary Learning-Outward Bound on contract to manage networks of schools as soon as the 2007-8 school year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:53 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Demoting Advanced Placement

Joe Berger:

This town’s public high school, well known for turning out some of the nation’s finest college prospects, is contemplating a step that would seem to betray its competitive reputation: eliminating Advanced Placement courses.

Scarsdale High School is a place where 70 percent of the 1,500 students take an A.P. course, and many take five and six to impress college admissions officers with their willingness to challenge themselves. But like a few private schools, Scarsdale is concluding that the A.P. pile-on is helping turn the teenage years into a rat race where learning becomes a calculated means to an end rather than a chance for in-depth investigation, imagination, even some fun to go along with all that amassing of knowledge.

“People nationwide are recognizing what an inhuman obstacle course college admission is, and a big element of that is A.P.,” said Bruce Hammond, director of college counseling at Sandia Preparatory School in Albuquerque, which dropped A.P. courses a few years ago.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:35 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

October 4, 2006

11/7/2006 Referendum Notes & Links

We're closing in on the 11/7/2006 election, including the Madison School District's Referendum. Kristian Knutsen notes that a petition was circulated at Tuesday evening's Madison City Council meeting regarding the referendum. Johnny Winston, Jr. posted a few words on the referendum over at the daily page forum.

This will be an interesting election. Nancy and I support the referendum question (and hope that we see progress on some curriculum issues such as math and West's one size fits all English 10, among others). However, as Phil M points out, there are a number of good questions that taxpayers will ask as they prepare to vote. I previously outlined what might be on voter's minds this November.

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

A Recipe to Fix School Funding

Andy Hall
Wisconsin State Journal
October 4, 2006

On a moonlit autumn evening, talk turned Tuesday to a "perfect storm" that might actually help Wisconsin fix its school-funding mess.

"Everything is coming together in an election year," Thomas Beebe, outreach specialist for the nonprofit Institute for Wisconsin's Future, told 17 Madison School District parents and activists who gathered at the Warner Park Community Recreation Center to discuss why Wisconsin schools always seem to be running out of money, and what to do about it.

The Institute for Wisconsin's Future helped establish the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, a coalition of 122 organizations and school districts, including Madison's, focusing on school-finance reform.

Beebe, a former official at the state Department of Public Instruction, who served on the Fort Atkinson School Board, said prospects are brighter now than any time in the past decade because increasing numbers of the state's 425 public school districts are reporting serious financial problems because of state revenue limits imposed since 1993.

In addition, Beebe said, a state task force headed by UW-Madison researcher Allan Odden soon will recommend major changes in how Wisconsin pays for its schools, and a bipartisan Wisconsin Legislative Council panel is exploring school financing for the first time in a decade.

A top goal, Beebe said, would be to radically shift Wisconsin's philosophy. The education budget would be based on what's needed to adequately educate all children, including those with special needs, rather than forcing schools to make do with whatever amount of money is available through a formula.

But to make the storm happen, Beebe said, the public will need to push political candidates and public officials into taking stands - including support of controversial proposals to boost school funding by raising the sales tax, eliminating some sales tax exemptions, raising corporate income taxes, and other means.

"I think Tom is exactly right," Barbara Arnold, a former Madison School Board president who two years ago served on a governor-appointed task force on education reform, said after the session sponsored by the East Attendance Area PTO Coalition.

Matt Calvert, a parent of a Lapham Elementary first- grader and a Marquette Elementary third-grader, said he's pleased with the schools and their teachers, but he's troubled by discussions of reducing a music program and increasing class sizes.

"It's getting to the point now that it's pinching," Calvert said.

Madison School Board member Carol Carstensen agreed that prospects for reform are brightening, but she also warned that big changes will require sacrifice.

"There's no real solution without additional funds," she said.

Posted by Barbara Katz at 8:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Comment on Early Repairs in Foundation for Reading

The post by Ruth Robarts includes the following:

The panel also will recommend some shifts in teaching techniques, said a panel member, Dr. Susan Landry of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. These include having at-risk children spend more time in small groups that address their specific weaknesses; emphasizing skills like blending sounds (C + AT = CAT), which have been found to be good performance predictors; and training parents to reinforce school lessons.

To be able to blend C+AT, a student must first have a command of phonemic awareness, i.e., the ability to hear three sounds. To be able to read (and therefore blend) C+AT, the student must have a command of sound-symbol correspondence, i.e., the child must know what sounds the letters make when pronoucing C, A, and T.

This is true of absolutely every child, regardless of their so-called learning style.

Effective reading programs (like direct instruction curricula) make absolutley and systematically certain that students possess phonemic awareness and sound-symbol correspondence.

Less effective reading programs (like Reading Recovery and balanced literacy) leave the student to discover or construct phonemic awareness and sound symbol correspondence hapazardly on their own.

Unfortunately, children who struggle to read do not easily (and sometimes never) make these discoveries on their own. Even those who learn to read easily benefit from instruction that builds mastery of phonemic awareness and sound-symbol correspondence.

Posted by Ed Blume at 7:48 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Early Repairs in Foundation for Reading

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Children with severe reading problems usually struggle for years before getting the help they need. But a growing number of neurologists and educators say that with the latest diagnostic tests, children at high risk for these problems can be identified in preschool and treated before they ever begin to read.

The newer tests, available in computerized versions, measure a child’s fluency with the skills that are the foundation of reading: the ability to recognize differences between sounds, the knowledge of letters and the accumulation of basic vocabulary and language skills. The National Early Literacy Panel, a committee of experts convened by a consortium of federal agencies, has found that these tests, when given to 3- and 4-year-olds, predict later reading problems as effectively as they do when they are given to kindergartners and first graders, said the panel’s chairman, Dr. Timothy Shanahan of the University of Illinois in Chicago. The committee plans to recommend increased preschool screening when it publishes its findings later this year.

The panel also will recommend some shifts in teaching techniques, said a panel member, Dr. Susan Landry of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. These include having at-risk children spend more time in small groups that address their specific weaknesses; emphasizing skills like blending sounds (C + AT = CAT), which have been found to be good performance predictors; and training parents to reinforce school lessons.

The point is to identify and attack the problems early, when they are easiest to correct.

“Once a child falls behind, it’s very difficult to catch up,” said Dr. Angela Fawcett of the University of Sheffield in England.

Article from New York Times by By JOHN O’NEIL, published: October 4, 2006

In the Head Start program here, screening and teaching are increasingly tied together, and a detailed skills assessment is part of the new school year routine. Last month, Karen Gischlar, a reading consultant, sat down with a 4-year-old, Destiny Freer, with a set of blocks, a book of pictures and a handheld computer loaded with M-Class: Circle, one of several formal screening tests on the market.

M-Class: Circle, which was developed by Dr. Landry, measures the skills linked to reading success. Its manufacturer, Wireless Generation, said the test was used to screen 45,000 preschoolers last year; paper versions were used to screen a similar number.

Destiny breezed through the first rounds of a series of one-minute tests, on naming letters and simple objects. She also aced the first rhyming exercise, on whether pairs of words sounded the “same or different.”

But her answers became hesitant on the next round, when she was asked to find a rhyme to a word given by Ms. Gischlar. And she had more trouble with higher-level skills, like using the blocks to show the number of words in a short sentence and clapping out the syllables in words like cowboy, big or wagon.

When the test was done, there on the computer screen were Destiny’s scores, color coded in red, green and yellow, and a comparison to her scores from earlier this year, both of which showed Destiny to be developmentally on track, despite some of her faltering.

Another tap of Ms. Gischlar’s stylus brought up a list of suggestions for her specific weaknesses — building awareness of word sounds, for instance, by telling a story in rhyme and letting her guess how some sentences end.

Destiny’s teacher, Eliza Commareri, said the test helped plan how to individualize instruction and in arranging small groups because the program provides a database showing children with similar needs. The other benefit, she said, was the close link between the screening and a step-by-step curriculum of suggested activities. For teaching syllables, for instance, Ms. Commareri said she might ask the whole class to clap out “play-ground” when they’re headed out to recess, or get a few children together to bang out words on a drum.

“It’s very helpful because it gives results in all different areas, and activities in all different areas,” she said.

Head Start programs have been taking the lead in preschool screening, in large part because low-income children have high rates of language delay; most of the children in the center here arrive more than a year behind.

Reading failure is linked to two different causes. Children with dyslexia tend to have inherited abnormalities in the brain’s sound-processing mechanism. But insufficient early exposure to what neurologists call “rich language,” a situation more common in poor families, can also undermine the processing abilities that are reading’s foundation.

Screening can uncover both kinds of problems, but poor children are the ones who can benefit the most from preschool intervention, said Dr. Peggy McCardle, the chief of the child development branch of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

School policy has traditionally been that children qualify for significant extra help only after they’ve fallen behind. In 2004, according to federal data, fewer than 10 percent of students getting special education services under the category of specific learning disability — most of whom have reading as their primary problem — were younger than 9.

In August, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings announced new regulations meant to make it easier for elementary schools to offer extra help as soon as students start to struggle.

Dr. Fawcett, who is also the editor of the journal Dyslexia, said making students wait for help was costly, both for schools and students.

A study she led found that a small amount of extra tutoring given to preschoolers with language delays — an hour a week of small-group work for 10 weeks — boosted their skills in comparison with similar children in a control group. The gain exceeded what a year’s worth of remediation at age 7 or 8 would produce, she said.

Marj Jones, who runs Head Start programs in Phoenix as the executive director of the Arizona Literacy and Learning Center, is an enthusiastic user of another screening test, Get Ready to Read, developed by the National Center for Learning Disabilities. The center’s executive director, James H. Wendorf, estimated that the test was used to screen about 70,000 preschoolers each year by teachers or by parents using the interactive version available at But Ms. Jones said that even the best testing produces only a limited gain unless it is part of a larger effort.

“You can go in and screen a child, but if you don’t have continuous support from teachers and parents, you’ve only accomplished a short-term goal,” she said.

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"Anyone Being Educated on the Upcoming Referendum?"

The Daily Page Forum, where Stuart Levitan announced that Art Rainwater and Johnny Winston, Jr. will be on Madison City Cable Channel 12 October 11 from 7 to 8:00p.m.:

It's not a debate on the referendum, it's a report on the state of the school system. The referendum will be one of the topics. So, no, not planning on inviting any referendum opponents. But they are welcome, nay, encouraged, to call.
I asked what "Might be on voter's minds" a few months ago as they consider the 11/7/2006 referendum. Inevitably, voters will take their views on our $332M+ 24,490 student school district with them to the ballot "box". These views, I think, are generally positive but for math , report cards and some of the other issues I mentioned in August.

More on Stuart Levitan.

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October 3, 2006

Art Rainwater's Memo on School Violence

Madison School District Superintendent Art Rainwater:

By now, I'm sure you know that last Friday a 15 year old boy entered Weston School in Cazenovia (Sauk County) and allegedly shot and killed the principal. This incident has stirred in all of us the uneasy realization that this can happen anywhere, at anytime. We mourn the loss of the principal and empathize with the staff, students, families and community members of that school district. We also feel tremendous responsibility for our own students and staff. Last week, our entire staff spent a day talking about the crucial nature that relationships play in our schools. While the primary focus was on issues of race and equity, we also know that we were talking about any student who doesn't feel connected to the school and valued by an adult. Last Friday after we heard about what happened at Weston High School, we sent to our staff the following reminders:
Notes & Links:
  • Channel3000
  • Clusty News | Google News | Microsoft Live | Yahoo News
  • Rafael Gomez organized a Gangs & School Violence Forum last September [Audio / video / Notes], attended by all Madison High School Principals and local law enforcement representatives. East High grad Luis Yudice also participated. Yudice is the Madison School District's coordinator of safety and security.
  • Many more links
  • Johnny Winston, Jr.:
    Message from Johnny Winston, Jr., President of the Madison Board of Education

    On behalf of the Madison Board of Education, we send our heartfelt condolences to the Klang family, Weston School district and Cazenovia community.

    In response to this tragedy as well as recent incidents in Green Bay and Colorado, Superintendent Art Rainwater has sent a message to all employees of the Madison Metropolitan School District outlining strategies and effective communication tools between students and adults. He wrote, “The most effective tool we have for preventing violent behaviors at school is building and maintaining a climate of trusting relationships and communication between and among students and adults.” He has also indicated that the Madison Police will increase their presence at our schools for the next week.

    We know that the Madison community joins our school board in support of the Klang family, Weston School district and Cazenovia community. Our thoughts and prayers are with them during this difficult period.

Elizabeth Mannering:

Culture of high school marginalizes those who don't conform

Seven years after Columbine, school shootings are still occurring with frightening regularity. Much has been made of the influences that culturally sanctioned violence, neglectful parents and video games may have had on the actions of disaffected young men, and I have no doubt that these are powerful influences indeed.

However, I have yet to see any analysis of the way the culture of public high schools may be linked to the tragedies.

American public high schools have a culture that deifies the physically attractive, the athletically gifted and those who find conformity easy.

This adulation not only gives the "chosen ones" an enormous amount of social power, it also marginalizes students who are not members of the elite.

Not everyone gets to be a beauty, an athlete or a member of a well-adjusted family. There are many students who cannot or will not conform to the accepted norms, and their voices are silenced through abuse, ostracism and simply being allowed to slip through the cracks.

The fact that school administrators the target of the most recent incident in Cazenovia apparently ignore the abuses of the popular and powerful represents appalling indifference to the difficulties the outsiders face.

Bullying is dismissed as something kids just do, and victims are too often told to buck up and ignore it, or that they bring it on themselves by being weird in other words, that simply being who they are gives bullies license to hurt.

I remember all too clearly, all too painfully, my own experiences as a bullying victim in Madison's public schools, and although I cannot condone violence, a part of me understands the motivations of school shooters.

When you are silenced, marginalized, treated as if you don't matter, and abused every day by the people around you, you become desperate. Desperate enough to kill just to make yourself heard.

The culture at large may be the driving force behind the culture of high school. Professional athletes and stereotypically beautiful entertainers are paid sums of money vastly disproportionate to the significance of their occupations. They are held to different standards of behavior, as though they were royalty.

It does not matter whether these individuals have any personal integrity, intelligence or imagination so long as they can throw a touchdown pass or look a certain way. They are held up as role models nonetheless, warping young minds into believing that this is what one should must aspire to.

What does this leave for the uncoordinated young man with acne who writes poetry, or the overweight bespectacled young woman with intellectual curiosity?

Why is it so threatening to the mainstream when a young person chooses to dress outrageously, or falls in love with someone of the same sex?

As members of the same species, we are more alike than we are different, whatever our ethnicity, home environment, appearance or sexual orientation. It is shameful that a culture as rich as ours offers such a narrow spectrum of expression.

I don't know how to change any of this, but the culture of high school needs a serious overhaul. Without it, we can look forward to new generations of desperate young people who feel they have no choice but to lash out with violence.

Doug Moe: School Violence a Tie that Binds:
FOR YEARS, Margaret Nelson had been thinking about writing the story of her family and the tragedy that happened in Tomah in 1969.

Nelson, a Minneapolis-based journalist, finally started to write the story last week. "I wrote a few pages on Thursday," Nelson was saying this week.

Then, the next day, Friday, she heard the terrible news out of Cazenovia, the 15-year-old with a shotgun, a principal dead.

"It really did take me right back to that time and what happened to us," Nelson said.

How could it not?

Wisconsin State Journal commentary.

Legislator suggests arming teacher, says Erin Richards.

The Economist:

TO JOURNALISTS, three of anything makes a trend. So after three school shootings in six days, speculation about an epidemic of violence in American classrooms was inevitable, and wrong. Violence in schools has fallen by half since the mid-1990s; children are more than 100 times more likely to be murdered outside the school walls than within them.

Of course, that average is not wholly comforting. Most children who are murdered are murdered by someone they know. But most parents know with certainty that neither they nor their friends or relations are killers, so their worries focus on strangers. Their fears are inevitably stoked by the breathless coverage of school shootings.

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Ten Ways to Get A's in College

Jay Matthews:

Getting A's was not high on my to-do list. To this day I don't believe getting good grades in college is as important as getting good grades in high school. High school, for most people these days, is about getting ready for college. You cannot do that if you do not apply yourself to your studies. College, on the other hand, is about getting ready for life. Unless you have your heart set on med school or law school or some other form of grad-school trauma, your extracurricular activities in college are often more important than your courses.

But getting A's is better than getting B's, B's are better than C's, and so on. For those who want to get the best grades they can in the time they have allotted for study, a new book, "Professors' Guide to Getting Good Grades in College," provides wonderfully useful and easily digestible wisdom.

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At the Head of Some Classes, Desks Dismissed

Jay Matthews:

"I just never figured out how on earth to teach sitting down," said Dorman, 58, a veteran teacher at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington County. She calls herself "a walker and a stalker." She carries what she needs in her pockets and keeps students in what she considers a useful state of alertness because they are never quite sure where she is going to be.

Here and there, a small but growing number of teachers is following Dorman's example, educators say, abandoning the traditional classroom power center. To them, a desk is really a ball and chain, distancing them from students.

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Wisconsin Association of School Boards Governor's Q&A

Too busy to continue the farewell and the urge to share information remains. This is from the October School News a publication of the WASB. Linked here. Excerpt:
SN: Gov. Doyle, in the 2005-07 state budget, you provided more than $700 million for K-12 schools and restored two-thirds funding in the second year of the biennium. Will school funding again be your priority in the 2007-09 state budget? Will you propose restoring the state’s two-thirds funding commitment? Doyle: Education is my top priority. As governor, I have consistently fought to ensure that our schools have the resources they need to maintain the high quality of instruction and services that Wisconsin parents and taxpayers expect. While I have fought to increase resources to make Wisconsin’s high-quality schools even better, I have also been helping to protect our schools from repeated Republican attacks to cut school funding. In the 2003-05 biennial budget, I vetoed Republican efforts to cut $400 million from our schools, and, again, in the 2005-07 budget, I vetoed Republican efforts to cut $330 million. These cuts would have put thousands of teachers out of work, forced the elimination of arts and foreign language classes, increased class sizes and put our children’s education at risk. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards released a study that showed the Republican budget proposal could have meant the elimination of more than 4,700 teacher positions. Just as it was in this past budget, school funding will continue to be a top priority of mine in the 2007-09 biennial budget. As part of this commitment, I will again propose funding two-thirds of the cost of local schools in the 2007-09 biennial budget. SN: Rep. Green, at the State Education Convention in January, you stated that you are opposed to the restoration of the state’s two-thirds funding commitment for schools. At what level should the state fund public K-12 schools? Green: I believe that a strong education system is critical to the future of our state. Without a solid educational foundation, we are disadvantaging our students as compared to students from neighboring states. While education will always be my top spending priority, given our current fiscal climate, I think it would be irresponsible for me as a candidate to be our state’s chief executive to say I would arbitrarily commit to a $500 million spending increase. I believe our state needs to commit to K-12 education an amount that begins to meet the mutual goals established for our K-12 public schools by the citizens of Wisconsin, the governor’s office and the state Legislature. For some years that may, in fact, be two-thirds funding, but in others, it may be more or it may be less. In either case, I will increase funding for education — it is just a matter of how much. I cannot, in good conscience, make a promise I am not 100 percent certain I could keep. Jim Doyle promised as a candidate in 2002 to fund two-thirds. However, less than two months after being in office, he broke that promise. If there is one thing I know about our state it is that there is no shortage of good ideas. My door would always be open to you to make certain we are meeting the needs of our students.
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Two at Memorial get national kudos ...

From The Capital Times (Weekend of September 30 - October 1, 2006):

Two Madison Memorial students are among 1600 African American high school seniors being honored for their academic excellence by the National Achievement Scholarship Program.

Michael McKenzie and Jarrell Skinner-Roy are designated semifinalists in the 43rd annual awards competition, which makes them eligible to compete for about 800 scholarship awards worth a total of about $2.5 million.

The National Achievement program is conducted by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation and was initiated in 1964 to honor academically promising black youths.

Congratulations, Michael and Jarell!

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"I Teach to the Test"

Matthew Matera:

Like most K-12 teachers in America, I work in a world of standardized tests these days. I analyze state standards and study breakdowns of my students' test performance. I think about the expectations of the state as I plan lessons, and I spend time explicitly teaching test-taking strategies.

So, yes, I admit it. I teach to the test.

The more important question then becomes, is that a problem?

I don't think it is, but the issue is hardly uncontroversial.

Michael Winerip, the former New York Times education columnist, registered a typical complaint recently about the No Child Left Behind Act: "Because teachers' judgment and standards are supposedly not reliable, the law substitutes a battery of state tests that are supposed to tell the real truth about children's academic progress." Jonathan Kozol, a best-selling writer, sent a mass e-mail earlier this year calling on educators "to resist the testing mania."

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Remaking the New Orleans School System

Larry Abramson:

Today, there are only about one-third as many students attending the New Orleans public school system as there were before Hurricane Katrina. The system is recovering from the storm, and from a state takeover to address years of failing test scores. As a result, it has been completely remade, and is now being run by a patchwork of charter school organizers, and state and local administrators.

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Study: Weekday TV viewing harms class performance

Carla Johnson:

Parents now have science to back them up when they say, ``Turn off the TV. It's a school night.''

Middle school students who watch TV or play video games during the week do worse in school, a new study finds, but weekend viewing and gaming does not affect school performance much.

``On weekdays, the more they watched, the worse they did,'' said study co-author Dr. Iman Sharif of Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx. ``They could watch a lot on weekends, and it didn't seem to correlate with doing worse in school.''

Children whose parents allowed them to watch R-rated movies also did worse in class, and for boys, that effect was especially strong. The findings are based on a survey of 4,500 students in 15 New Hampshire and Vermont middle schools. The study appears in the October issue of Pediatrics.

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October 2, 2006

Tuesday October 3d Forum on School Funding -- Warner Park

Another thing more important than my farewell.


On Tuesday, October 3rd, a Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES) forum on school funding will be held at the Warner Park Community Center from 6:30 - 8:00. This event is sponsored by the East Attendance Area PTO Coalition. A flyer of the event is available.

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Looking Behind Bad Decisions

Q & A with Max Bazerman:

Why is it that the U.S. federal government allows local communities to give tax dollars to wealthy sports team owners rather than to create better benefits for citizens? Why are organ-donor programs constrained to the point where thousands of Americans die needlessly each year? Why did the South African government take a stand against an effective AIDS treatment drug?

The inability of government to make wise tradeoffs—give up small losses for much larger gain—has been investigated by HBS professor Max Bazerman and his research colleagues for years. Much of this work used economic science and political science to explain drivers behind the crafting of public policy. Now Bazerman and coauthors Jonathan Baron and Katherine Shonk are looking into the psychology of decision making to provide a fuller explanation. Their paper, "Enlarging the Societal Pie through Wise Legislation: A Psychological Perspective," has been accepted for publication in Perspectives on Psychological Science later this year.

What they found was that psychological science does indeed help explain how governmental decision making is influenced by such forces as parochialism, nationalism, and dysfunctional competition, while also providing tools that foster rational decision making.

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MMSD to get continuous improvement grants

According to a media release from DPI, the MMSD will receive $135,000 in continuous improvement grants:

District School Improvement Grant $80,000
Alliance for Attendance Grant $20,000
Early Literacy Grant $35,000

I haven't seen any comment from the MMSD.

Read the release here.

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One in Ten

Richard Edelman:

"Did you know that one in ten teenage girls in Washington, D.C. are HIV-positive? Did you know that one in twenty adults in the District of Columbia have AIDS? It is an outrage. Those are Third World types of incidence rates and it is happening in our nation’s capital. All of the attention being given to the AIDS epidemic overseas is long overdue but what about the crisis we have at home?"

I probed her [Sheila Johnson] for an explanation. She suggested three main factors:

  1. A Macho Male Culture and Lack of Female Ego -- Young girls feel obliged to have sexual relations with their partners. Girls lack the confidence to say no or to insist on the use of a condom.

  2. A Cycle of Despair -- The poor economic prospects, the large number of single parent families, the prevalence of drugs and tottering school system give little hope even to an ambitious child. Some young girls want to bear a child as a sign of being "grown-up."

  3. Lack of Information --The basics of sex education do not seem to be getting through to the target audience.
I asked Ms. Johnson what could be done to ameliorate the situation. Here were a few of her thoughts:

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October 1, 2006

Reality Check 2006: How Principals and Superintendents See Public Education Today

Jean Johnson, Ana Maria Arumi and Amber Ott [350K PDF]:

It's probably natural for leaders of organizations to be upbeat about their institutions, and the nation's school children might not be well-served by superintendents and principals who see public schools as places of disappointment, failure and ineptitude. Even so, the positive, almost buoyant outlook of school leaders nationwide captured in this fourth installment of Reality Check 2006 may come as something of a surprise to reformers and critics, including regulators enforcing No Child Left Behind. In many respects, local school leaders seem to operate on a very different wavelength from many of those aiming to reform public schools. The two groups have different assumptions about how much change today's public schools really need. Even when they see the same problems, they often seem to strive for different solutions.

To most public school superintendents - and principals to a lesser extent - local schools are already in pretty good shape. In fact, more than half of the nation's superintendents consider local schools to be "excellent." Most superintendents (77 percent) and principals (79 percent) say low academic standards are not a serious problem where they work. Superintendents are substantially less likely than classroom teachers to believe that too many students get passed through the system without learning. While 62 percent of teachers say this is a "very" or "somewhat serious" problem in local schools, just 27 percent of superintendents say the same.

Some highlights:

  • 93% of superintendents, and 80% of principals, think public schools offer a better education than in the past, and most (86% and 82%) think the material is harder.

  • Despite the call from the business community for a great focus on science/math, 59% of superintendents and 66% say that the statement “kids are not taught enough science and math” is not a serious problem in their schools.

  • 77% of superintendents and 79% of principals say that the statement “academic standards are too low, and kids are not expected to learn enough” is not a serious problem in their schools.

  • 51% of superintendents say that local schools are excellent; 43% say they are good.

  • Only 27% of superintendents, compared with 62% of teachers, say it’s a serious problem that too many students get passed through the system without learning.

  • 76% of superintendents and 59% of principals, compared with 33% of high school teachers, say that students graduating from middle school have the reading, writing, and math skills needed to succeed in high school.
Via Brett.

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Kindergarten Prep: When Parents Keep Kids Home an Extra Year

Janine DeFao:

When other kids their age started kindergarten last month, 5-year-old Caitlin and Jackson Pilisuk just waited on the sidelines.

The Oakland twins were eligible, but their parents and preschool teachers decided they weren't ready "emotionally to deal with the rigors of kindergarten," said their mother, Philippa Barron. So the twins will stay in preschool and start kindergarten at age 6.

Evan Swihart, on the other hand, is happily plugging away in his Walnut Creek kindergarten class at age 4.

"After a few days, we got the sense that he's in the right spot after a whole year of worrying and fretting about it," said his mother, Christine.

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The Education Issue

Michael Grunwald:

To some extent, the controversy over Reading First reflects an older controversy over reading, pitting "phonics" advocates such as Doherty against "whole language" practitioners such as Johnson.

The administration believes in phonics, which emphasizes repetitive drills that teach children to sound out words. Johnson and other phonics skeptics try to teach the meaning and context of words as well. Reading First money has been steered toward states and local districts that go the phonics route, largely because the Reading First panels that oversaw state applications were stacked with department officials and other phonics fans. "Stack the panel?" Doherty joked in one e-mail. "I have never *heard* of such a thing . . . ." When Reid Lyon, who designed Reading First, complained that a whole-language proponent had received an invitation to participate on an evaluation panel, a top department official replied: "We can't un-invite her. Just make sure she is on a panel with one of our barracuda types."

Doherty bragged to Lyon about pressuring Maine, Mississippi and New Jersey to reverse decisions to allow whole-language programs in their schools: "This is for your FYI, as I think this program-bashing is best done off or under the major radar screens." Massachusetts and North Dakota were also told to drop whole-language programs such as Rigby Literacy, and districts that didn't do so lost funding. "Ha, ha--Rigby as a CORE program?" Doherty wrote in one internal e-mail. "When pigs fly!"

Said Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators: "It's been obvious all along that the administration knew exactly what it wanted."

But it wasn't just about phonics.

Success for All is the phonics program with the strongest record of scientifically proved results, backed by 31 studies rated "conclusive" by the American Institutes for Research. And it has been shut out of Reading First. The nonprofit Success for All Foundation has shed 60 percent of its staff since Reading First began; the program had been growing rapidly, but now 300 schools have dropped it. Betsy Ammons, a principal in North Carolina, watched Success for All improve reading scores at her school, but state officials made her switch to traditional textbooks to qualify for the new grants.

No Child Left Behind Votes: Congress 381 Ayes, 41 Noes 12 NV (Tammy Baldwin voted Aye) | Senate 87 Yea, 10 Nay, 3 Not voting (Feingold Nay, Kohl Yea)

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GOP likes (and will keep) school spending caps

Some people believe that the Wisconsin Legislature just doesn't understand how revenue caps affect Wisconsin schools.

I'm sorry to say, legislators know very well how caps control spending and they're happy about it.

"In GOP Plays Politics With Property Taxes," The Capital Times' Matt Pommer wrote in December 2004:

Republicans sought to recapture the anti-tax banner by imposing tougher spending limits on school districts than the current revenue controls. The unionized teachers had supported Doyle, and toughening the already-in-place spending limits seemed like a nifty political move. Doyle vetoed the tougher spending limits.

At about the same time, the AP reported:

[GOP] State Rep. Frank Lasee, who has authored several versions of the limits, known as TABOR, said Tuesday this draft was crafted to address previous concerns about how best to place strict limits on spending increases across all levels of government and schools. . . .

State spending would be limited to the rate of inflation for the Milwaukee-Racine urban area plus Wisconsin's population growth.

County and municipal spending would be limited to the same inflation measure plus new construction.

School districts and technical college districts would be limited to the same inflation measure plus annual growth in the student body.

Voters would have to approve a referendum in order to exceed the caps, increase taxes or issue new bonds for many projects.

The legislature has been told again and again about revenue caps. For example, the Wisconsin State Journal carried an article on October 1 with the headline "Cash-strapped school districts will plead case to state." The article begins:

In a farm country 55 miles northeast of Madison, the Markesan District Schools are caught in a vise.

Enrollment is declining in the Green Lake County area, causing state support for the schools to fall sharply, while costs per pupil of paying the teachers, heating the schools and fueling the school buses keep rising.

If local voters fail to approve a $3 million rescue by next spring, the School Board will be forced to consider dissolving the 200-square-mile school system and parceling its 850 students to other districts, said Sue Alexander, Markesan schools superintendent.

So she's coming to Madison this week to deliver a blunt message to legislators and a panel studying reforms in the state's formula for funding schools:

"This is a conservatively, well-managed district . . . and we cannot survive with the way you've set this up in the state of Wisconsin. And that's a shame because this is a terrific little district."

Alexander will be among at least eight educators from places as scattered as Janesville, Milwaukee and the North Woods testifying Thursday.

In response to concerns about revenue caps:

The Legislative Council panel's chairman, State Sen. Luther Olsen, a Ripon Republican who also heads the Senate Education Committee, cautions that the panel's short-term options are limited because the Legislature and taxpayers appear determined to avoid raising taxes during an election year.

Olsen, a former president of the Berlin School Board involved with school finance issues for three decades, said that as he speaks with critics of the funding formula, "it seems like everybody's fix is, 'Send us money that somebody else raised.'"

In the end, revenue caps will change only when a Democratic majority takes over the State Assembly and Senate.

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Boulder's $296.8M Maintenance Referendum

Amy Bounds:

Supporters of Boulder Valley's measure say the hefty price tag is the result of cuts to the district's maintenance budget, along with an average building age of 43 years. The combination, they say, has led to schools that are in bad shape.

"We have a lot of old buildings," school board member Ken Roberge said. "We've put our money into the classrooms. We've made the trade-off. At some point, you have to do renovation."

But opponents are skeptical.

Fred Gluck, a school volunteer whose children went through Boulder Valley schools, said he's campaigning against the measure because he no longer trusts the district to keep its promises.

"I support the schools, the teachers and the kids, but I do not support the district administration," he said. "It's a lack of accountability, lack of clear oversight and a lot of money."

The last Boulder Valley bond issue totaled $63.7 million and was approved in 1998. Voters also approved an $89 million bond issue in 1994 and a $45 million bond issue in 1989.

In the past few years, voters also have said "yes" to a $15 million-a-year tax increase to boost the district's operating revenue and a transportation tax increase that frees up money for new computers.

Boulder Valley School District links & information.

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'Special education' label covers wide variety of students

Karen Rivedal:

Madison educators said people must be careful not to label all special education students as violent just because the suspect in Friday's shooting of a rural Wisconsin principal was in special education classes

Special education is broadly defined, they noted. It can be any kind of mental or physical disability that affects a student's learning, from mild to severe, including speech and language problems, autism and emotional disturbances.

"Just because a child is a behavioral problem doesn't mean that child is going to commit this kind of incident at all," said Art Rainwater, superintendent of the Madison School District.

"There are thousands of children throughout the U.S. who have behavioral problems who don't resort to violence."

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