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November 30, 2006

Revamping the high schools

Isthmus' Jason Shepard covers the story:

Curriculum changes halted as district eyes study group

JStanding in front of a giant projection screen with his wireless remote control and clip-on microphone, Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater on Monday unveiled his grand vision for Madison’s four major high schools. But the real backdrop for his presentation before the Madison school board was the criticism of changes implemented last year at West High and proposed this year at East. Both involved reducing course offerings in favor of a core curriculum for all students, from gifted to struggling.

Rainwater stressed his intention to start from scratch in overhauling all aspects of the education provided at West, East, Memorial and La Follette, whose combined enrollment tops 7,600 students. The move follows consolidation of practices in the city’s elementary and middle schools. But it may prove more challenging, since the high schools have a longstanding tradition of independence.

Over the next two years, Rainwater would like a steering committee of experts to study best practices in high school education. Everything, Rainwater stresses, is on the table: “It’s important we don’t have preconceived notions of what it should be.”

Heterogeneous classes, which until last week were the district’s preferred direction for high school changes, are, said Rainwater, “only one piece” of the redesign. But curriculum changes are clearly going to happen.

“It’s not acceptable anymore to lecture four days a week and give a test on Friday,” Rainwater declared. Teachers must learn how to teach students, rather than teach content.

The 50 parents and teachers in the audience reacted coolly, judging from the comments muttered among themselves during the presentation and the nearly two-hour discussion that followed.

Tellingly, the biggest applause came when board member Ruth Robarts said it was “high time we as a board start talking about high school curriculum.” Robarts chastised Rainwater for not including teachers and parents on the steering committee, which will “reinforce a perception that is not in our favor.” She said the district was giving critics only two options: accept the changes or “come down and protest.”

On Nov. 16, East Principal Alan Harris unveiled plans to eliminate several courses in favor of core classes in ninth and 10th grades. Attendees said the plan was presented as a “done deal.” In e-mails to the board, parents called the plan “short-sighted and misguided,” and one teacher warned: “Don’t do it.”

Rainwater, apparently recognizing the damage to parent and teacher relations, sent a memo to principals last week.

“I am asking you to cease any significant programmatic changes at each of your schools as this community dialogue progresses,” he wrote. “We need a tabula rasa mentality that will allow for a free flow of ideas, an opportunity to solidify trust in our expertise, and a chance at a solid, exciting product at the end.”

The four high schools will remain under their current programs until the steering committee gets to work. Chaired by Pam Nash, deputy superintendent of secondary schools, it will include several district administrators as well as experts from the UW-Madison, Edgewood College and MATC.

Rainwater sought to assure board and audience members that teachers and parents will have ample opportunity for input. His plan calls for three separate periods of public comment, after which subcommittees will make revisions. The school board will then vote on the recommendations after additional hearings and debate.

“You get better input if people have something to react to,” Rainwater said, adding that involving teachers in all stages would be impractical, because it would be difficult to cover their teaching assignments. That comment drew a collective groan from teachers in the audience.

Rainwater’s call for a revamping of the city’s high schools suggests the current approach isn’t working. And that poses a dilemma for school officials. The district likes to tout its record number of National Merit semifinalists and state-leading ACT scores as proof that its high schools are successful. Many parents worry that those high-end benchmarks are under attack.

But Madison’s schools continue to fail countless kids — mostly low-income and minority students. This is a profound challenge hardly unique to Madison, but one that deserves more attention from policymakers.

Research in education, the starting point for Rainwater’s steering committee, offers promising solutions. But the district risks much in excluding teachers from the start, since inevitably they will be on the front lines of any change. And excluding parents could heighten the alienation that has already prompted some middle- and upper-class families to abandon the public schools.

While struggling over details, most board members conceptually support the study. During their discussion Monday, Lawrie Kobza cut to the chase.

“What is the problem we’re trying to solve?” she asked. “And is this how we solve this problem?” Kobza professed not to know the answer. But these are the right questions to ask.

Posted by Joan Knoebel at 8:44 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Closing the Racial Achievement Gap

On Point, Tom Ashbrook:

By 2014, just eight years from now, the No Child Left Behind Act mandates that there be no racial achievement gap in American education -- none. All children -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian -- will be performing on the same bell curve of test scores.

It's a tough deadline and a beautiful idea. Trouble is, despite Bush administration claims, most studies show it is not happening.

Test score gaps show up in kindergarten, and just get worse, except where they don't. There are trend-bucking success stories in this country - remarkable schools where that gap is being closed, child by child.

This hour On Point: we talk with three principals in the trenches who have made it happen in the war on America's education achievement gap.

Posted by Jill Jokela at 5:15 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Milwaukee Police to be Stationed in Schools

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee police officers will be assigned for the first time to full-time duty inside city public schools under an agreement between police and Milwaukee Public Schools leaders.

The effort to improve school safety will begin small - with two pairs of officers in the spring semester, which begins in late January - but all involved hope that it will grow by next fall, provided that money can be found to do that.

In releasing details of the police plan late Tuesday, MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos also said he expects to propose in December that MPS spend about $450,000 during the rest of this school year for increased services from a Milwaukee County mental crisis intervention team that deals with children. Andrekopoulos said "more anger and hostility" were showing up among MPS students and that mental problems have been a factor in some recent violence.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:56 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Dealing with Bullies

C.K. Gunsalus - Inside Higher Ed:

Some difficult people are merely minor irritants: Others learn to avoid them as much as possible, and the overall working environment is not badly compromised. But a person who targets others, makes threats (direct or indirect), insists on his or her own way all the time, or has such a hair-trigger temper that colleagues walk on eggshells to avoid setting it off, can paralyze a department. In the worst cases, this conduct can create massive dysfunction as the department finds itself unable to hold meetings, make hiring decisions, recruit new members, or retain valued ones. When I first got involved in helping department heads cope with such people, my colleagues and I used concepts and approaches we gleaned from studies of bullies.

The bullies I have encountered in the academic environment come in many forms, from those who present themselves as victims, all the way to classic aggressors who rely on physical intimidation. In academe and other settings populated by “knowledge workers,” one often encounters other kinds of bullies as well, including “memo bullies” (who send regular missives to a long mailing list) and “insult bullies” (destructive verbal aggressors).

Jason Shephard discussed local bullying in last spring's "The Fate of the Schools".

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

Milwaukee Fathers Form Citywide Parent Group

Erin Richards:

Jason Brown doesn't know what to do if his 14-year-old son doesn't get into a good high school next year, namely Rufus King or Riverside.

ellow Milwaukee Public Schools parent James West feels equally uneasy about finding that a teacher had given a near-perfect score to what he called a near-incoherent essay by his daughter.

Anthony Drane, who works in a supplemental instruction program at Milwaukee Area Technical College, fears for his children's futures when he encounters former MPS students who lack basic study skills such as note taking.

The problem, the three fathers have concluded, is not just that Milwaukee's public schools are in crisis but that there aren't enough parents like them who are alarmed and trying to do something about it. They hope to change that with the North Milwaukee Parent Association, a citywide group that intends to motivate parents by giving them the knowledge and support to participate in the school system.

The idea, they said, is that empowering Milwaukee's youths must start with educating their guardians.

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

November 29, 2006

11/27/2006 High School Redesign Presentation Materials

Here is a copy of Monday night's presentation. I amended it to include the listening sessions with the individual schools as the first step in the process. [354K PDF Version] Video here.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:35 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School Board: Superintendent's High School Redesign Presentation & Public Comments [Audio / Video]

Four citizens spoke at Monday evening's school board meeting regarding the proposed "high school redesign". Watch or download this video clip.
Superintendent Art Rainwater's powerpoint presentation and followup board discussion. Watch or download the video.

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

Bolstering the School System is Up to Us

Joel Connelly (Seattle):

Three times in the past week, I've witnessed parents of young children ponder whether to trust education of their offspring to Seattle Public Schools.

In raising children, however, families cannot afford mistakes. When a young life gets off on the wrong track, its retrofit can get more complicated than putting new rails in a tunnel.

And a city increasingly populated by singles and childless couples badly needs families with children. A disastrous mandatory busing program drove working families from Seattle during the 1970s and '80s.

Loss of confidence now threatens public schools with an institutional death spiral.

What happens? People use their doubts and subpar average test scores -- which shouldn't mean much to the middle class, given scores' correlation with poverty -- to justify leaving, without really exploring, what is offered by their local school.

The Madison School Board has recently opened a new chapter in it's governance responsibilities by discussing substantive issues (things that would have never made their agenda two years ago, like rigor, budget details (recently revealed structural deficit) and health care costs, among others). Don't roll back the clock, run for school board!

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New Project to Send Musicians Into Schools

Daniel Wakin:

Two pillars of the classical musical establishment, Carnegie Hall and the Juilliard School, have joined forces to give birth to a music academy whose fellows will go forth and propagate musicianship in New York public schools.

The city’s Education Department is opening its arms to the new program, seeing an inexpensive but valuable source of teaching for a system deprived of comprehensive music training. And the leaders of Carnegie and Juilliard see an opportunity to promote their conviction that a musician in 21st-century America should be more than just a person who plays the notes.

Under the new program elite musicians will receive high-level musical training, performance opportunities at Carnegie Hall and guidance from city school teachers in how to teach music. The fellows will each be assigned to a different school and work there one and a half days a week. They will teach their instruments, or music in general, and give their own pointers to school music teachers.

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

November 28, 2006

All kids need all skills to read

ALL knowledge and skills essential to reading are essential for ALL learners. Absolutely every proficient reader must master all of the following:

a. Phonemic awareness: hearing the separate sounds and syllables in words and words in sentences;

b. Alphabetic principle: knowing which sounds go with which letters; using knowledge of which sounds go with which letters to sound out or decode words;

c. Fluency: reading words and connected text quickly and accurately;

d. Vocabulary: knowing the meanings of words;

e. Comprehension: making sense of text.

Every “school” of reading instruction agrees on these five, whether the schools are Direct Instruction or constructivist (whole language and balance literacy).

However, direct instruction makes certain that every child masters every skill. Direct instruction leaves nothing to chance.

On the other hand, constructivist theory lets the child “discover” these five skills. Consequently, some children will discover them all; some will discover some of them; some may not discover any of them.

In short, learning is too important to be left to chance.

Posted by Ed Blume at 8:04 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Comments on Redesign of MMSD High Schools

Kudos to the district for stopping the rush to the middle Rainwater and his assistants have been promoting for East. However, the changes that were pushed onto West should also be backed off while the district has a long overdue, community-wide conversation about what it desires its high schools to provide all students. And this time, let's have that discussion backed with empirical studies. Even if the community agrees with Rainwater (and some if not all of the BOE) that closing the minority achievement gap takes priority over other educational goals, let's have a frank discussion as to how that is best achieved.

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

MMSD to study high schools before "redesigning" them

Madison school Superintendent Art Rainwater has put the brakes on recently proposed changes to the city's high schools as part of an effort to make long-term progress.

That means putting a hold on the proposed elimination of accelerated classes at East. In addition, there will be no changes in the four-block schedule at La Follette at least until a comprehensive look at the entire high school experience in Madison is completed, Rainwater confirmed in an interview this morning. Rainwater says 'whoa' to school changes

By Susan Troller, The Capital Times, November 28, 2006

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State School Finance Reform Proposal: Eliminate Sales Tax Exemptions

Steven Walters:

Erpenbach argued that closing tax exemption "loopholes" would save every homeowner thousands of dollars a year in property taxes and take a giant step toward eliminating funding disparities between rich and poor school districts.

"It's not a tax increase," said Erpenbach, who conceded that his plan would still force consumers to pay more for some goods and services that are now exempt. Nonetheless, he said, "Most everybody, at the end of the day, will have more money in their pocket."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:59 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 27, 2006

Escaping "Average"

Jay Matthews:

But Secondary Education Director James VanSciver and other Seaford educators became convinced that with extra help, many more students could be taking algebra in middle school and college-level courses in high school. Four years ago, they began offering special tutoring, summer classes and Saturday classes. The number of Advanced Placement classes at Seaford High swelled from four to 14.

The focus on helping average students also boosted minority enrollment in the most rigorous classes. The district has about 3,400 students, 40 percent black and slightly more than half white. Through the initiative, administrators found more black students doing well and going on to college.

Julius Mullen, who directs a Saturday program for young African American males in Seaford, said the students discovered they could advance if given more time and the assurance that they had their friends with them. "When expectations are raised, I think students will grab for them if they have the support programs in place," Mullen said. "They have to see their friends achieving success."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Board to discuss future of high schools

From The Capital Times:

A discussion regarding the future of Madison's high schools is back on the agenda for tonight's School Board meeting.

The controversial item, which involves curriculum changes and other proposals, is scheduled as part of a special board meeting at 8 p.m. in the Doyle Administration Building, 545 W. Dayton St.

In an officers meeting last week, School Board President Johnny Winston Jr. removed the topic of high school redesign from tonight's agenda, saying that he felt the process was not far enough along to produce a productive discussion.

But when other School Board members said that they would prefer keeping the subject on the agenda for tonight's meeting, Winston agreed to return it to the lineup of topics.

The special session will follow meetings of the communications committee at 5 p.m., the human resources committee at 6 p.m. and the finance and operations committee at 7 p.m.

Later tonight, the board also is expected to go into a closed-door discussion of the negotiation strategy regarding Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers union.

Posted by Ed Blume at 12:29 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Board works harder, better

What a difference a couple of elections make!

In November of 2005, the MMSD Board of Education held two meetings (and the attendance task forces met six times).

This November, the Board has six meetings of the full board, including executive and open sessions, and ten committee meetings. The Equity Task Force will meet once.

Congratulations to a harder working, more effective board.

Let's elect people in the spring who will conintue this new board's committment to overseeing management of the MMSD.

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Activist Parent & Contributor Janet Mertz Named AAAS Fellow

Adam Dylewski (UW Madison):

Five University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty members are among the 449 scientists and engineers to be awarded fellowships from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which were announced this week (Nov. 23).

The AAAS grants the distinction to researchers advancing science and engineering in significant ways. New fellows will be recognized at the Fellows Forum, held during the 2007 AAAS annual meeting in San Francisco on Feb. 17.

UW-Madison faculty elected this year include:

Janet E. Mertz, professor of oncology, for the development of recombinant DNA methods and for the co-discovery of introns, messenger RNA transport elements and mechanisms by which viruses regulate their expression.

The AAAS is the largest scientific society in the world. Founded in 1848, the AAAS publishes the journal Science.

Janet's SIS posts can be found here.

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

Science a la Joe Camel

A reader forwarded this: Laurie David:

At hundreds of screenings this year of "An Inconvenient Truth," the first thing many viewers said after the lights came up was that every student in every school in the United States needed to see this movie.

The producers of former vice president Al Gore's film about global warming, myself included, certainly agreed. So the company that made the documentary decided to offer 50,000 free DVDs to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) for educators to use in their classrooms. It seemed like a no-brainer.

The teachers had a different idea: Thanks but no thanks, they said.

In their e-mail rejection, they expressed concern that other "special interests" might ask to distribute materials, too; they said they didn't want to offer "political" endorsement of the film; and they saw "little, if any, benefit to NSTA or its members" in accepting the free DVDs.

Gore, however, is not running for office, and the film's theatrical run is long since over. As for classroom benefits, the movie has been enthusiastically endorsed by leading climate scientists worldwide, and is required viewing for all students in Norway and Sweden.

Still, maybe the NSTA just being extra cautious. But there was one more curious argument in the e-mail: Accepting the DVDs, they wrote, would place "unnecessary risk upon the [NSTA] capital campaign, especially certain targeted supporters." One of those supporters, it turns out, is the Exxon Mobil Corp.

That's the same Exxon Mobil that for more than a decade has done everything possible to muddle public understanding of global warming and stifle any serious effort to solve it. It has run ads in leading newspapers (including this one) questioning the role of manmade emissions in global warming, and financed the work of a small band of scientific skeptics who have tried to challenge the consensus that heat-trapping pollution is drastically altering our atmosphere. The company spends millions to support groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute that aggressively pressure lawmakers to oppose emission limits.

It's bad enough when a company tries to sell junk science to a bunch of grown-ups. But, like a tobacco company using cartoons to peddle cigarettes, Exxon Mobil is going after our kids, too.

And it has been doing so for longer than you may think. NSTA says it has received $6 million from the company since 1996, mostly for the association's "Building a Presence for Science" program, an electronic networking initiative intended to "bring standards-based teaching and learning" into schools, according to the NSTA Web site. Exxon Mobil has a representative on the group's corporate advisory board. And in 2003, NSTA gave the company an award for its commitment to science education.

So much for special interests and implicit endorsements.

In the past year alone, according to its Web site, Exxon Mobil's foundation gave $42 million to key organizations that influence the way children learn about science, from kindergarten until they graduate from high school.

And Exxon Mobil isn't the only one getting in on the action. Through textbooks, classroom posters and teacher seminars, the oil industry, the coal industry and other corporate interests are exploiting shortfalls in education funding by using a small slice of their record profits to buy themselves a classroom soapbox.

NSTA's list of corporate donors also includes Shell Oil and the American Petroleum Institute (API), which funds NSTA's Web site on the science of energy. There, students can find a section called "Running on Oil" and read a page that touts the industry's environmental track record -- citing improvements mostly attributable to laws that the companies fought tooth and nail, by the way -- but makes only vague references to spills or pollution. NSTA has distributed a video produced by API called "You Can't Be Cool Without Fuel," a shameless pitch for oil dependence.

The education organization also hosts an annual convention -- which is described on Exxon Mobil's Web site as featuring "more than 450 companies and organizations displaying the most current textbooks, lab equipment, computer hardware and software, and teaching enhancements." The company "regularly displays" its "many . . . education materials" at the exhibition. John Borowski, a science teacher at North Salem High School in Salem, Ore., was dismayed by NSTA's partnerships with industrial polluters when he attended the association's annual convention this year and witnessed hundreds of teachers and school administrators walk away with armloads of free corporate lesson plans.

Along with propaganda challenging global warming from Exxon Mobil, the curricular offerings included lessons on forestry provided by Weyerhaeuser and International Paper, Borowski says, and the benefits of genetic engineering courtesy of biotech giant Monsanto.

"The materials from the American Petroleum Institute and the other corporate interests are the worst form of a lie: omission," Borowski says. "The oil and coal guys won't address global warming, and the timber industry papers over clear-cuts."

An API memo leaked to the media as long ago as 1998 succinctly explains why the association is angling to infiltrate the classroom: "Informing teachers/students about uncertainties in climate science will begin to erect barriers against further efforts to impose Kyoto-like measures in the future."

So, how is any of this different from showing Gore's movie in the classroom? The answer is that neither Gore nor Participant Productions, which made the movie, stands to profit a nickel from giving away DVDs, and we aren't facing millions of dollars in lost business from limits on global-warming pollution and a shift to cleaner, renewable energy.

It's hard to say whether NSTA is a bad guy here or just a sorry victim of tight education budgets. And we don't pretend that a two-hour movie is a substitute for a rigorous science curriculum. Students should expect, and parents should demand, that educators present an honest and unbiased look at the true state of knowledge about the challenges of the day.

As for Exxon Mobil -- which just began a fuzzy advertising campaign that trumpets clean energy and low emissions -- this story shows that slapping green stripes on a corporate tiger doesn't change the beast within. The company is still playing the same cynical game it has for years.

While NSTA and Exxon Mobil ponder the moral lesson they're teaching with all this, there are 50,000 DVDs sitting in a Los Angeles warehouse, waiting to be distributed. In the meantime, Mom and Dad may want to keep a sharp eye on their kids' science homework.

Laurie David, a producer of "An Inconvenient Truth," is a Natural Resources Defense Council trustee and founder of

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

Telling Tales Out of School, on YouTube

Ian Austen:

In the good old days, students simply used technology like cellphones to cheat on tests. Now, they’re posting what happens in their classrooms on YouTube.

Two students who attend the equivalent of Grade 9 at a school in Gatineau, Quebec, a city across the river from Ottawa, were sent home last week after officials learned that they had posted a videotape of a teacher losing his temper on YouTube. The episode was not spontaneous. A girl, who has not been identified, provoked the teacher while a boy secretly taped the encounter with a compact video camera.

YouTube removed the video at the request of the Portages-de-l’Outaouais school board a week ago, the board president Jocelyn Blondin said. But that has left the question of determining what to do with the students and how to prevent similar episodes in the future.

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

November 26, 2006

What It Takes to Make a Student

A lengthy discussion of what it might take to close the minority achievement gap in the New York Times Magazine entitled, " What It Takes to Make a Student". The study Larry Winkler has so cogently referenced time and again here is highlighted.

The author concludes that low-income minority students need better educational opportunities than their middle class white counterparts. If there is a limited budget for education, does this mean then that those middle class students must accept less? Is it this thinking that is driving the elimination of diversity in our high school curricula? As I read this article, the greatest chance of overcoming disparities resides in early childhood and elementary experiences, not in dismantling the high school curriculum.

Posted by Joan Knoebel at 9:56 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Still Left Behind"?

Paul Tough:

The schools that are achieving the most impressive results with poor and minority students tend to follow three practices. First, they require many more hours of class time than a typical public school. The school day starts early, at 8 a.m. or before, and often continues until after 4 p.m. These schools offer additional tutoring after school as well as classes on Saturday mornings, and summer vacation usually lasts only about a month. The schools try to leaven those long hours with music classes, foreign languages, trips and sports, but they spend a whole lot of time going over the basics: reading and math.

Second, they treat classroom instruction and lesson planning as much as a science as an art. Explicit goals are set for each year, month and day of each class, and principals have considerable authority to redirect and even remove teachers who aren’t meeting those goals. The schools’ leaders believe in frequent testing, which, they say, lets them measure what is working and what isn’t, and they use test results to make adjustments to the curriculum as they go. Teachers are trained and retrained, frequently observed and assessed by their principals and superintendents. There is an emphasis on results but also on “team building” and cooperation and creativity, and the schools seem, to an outsider at least, like genuinely rewarding places to work, despite the long hours. They tend to attract young, enthusiastic teachers, including many alumni of Teach for America, the program that recruits graduates from top universities to work for two years in inner-city public schools.

Third, they make a conscious effort to guide the behavior, and even the values, of their students by teaching what they call character. Using slogans, motivational posters, incentives, encouragements and punishments, the schools direct students in everything from the principles of teamwork and the importance of an optimistic outlook to the nuts and bolts of how to sit in class, where to direct their eyes when a teacher is talking and even how to nod appropriately.


At KIPP’s Bronx academy, the sixth, seventh and eighth grades had proficiency rates at least 12 percentage points above the state average on this year’s statewide tests. And when the scores are compared with the scores of the specific high-poverty cities or neighborhoods where the schools are located — in Newark, New Haven or the Bronx — it isn’t even close: 86 percent of eighth-grade students at KIPP Academy scored at grade level in math this year, compared with 16 percent of students in the South Bronx.


Toll put it this way: “We want to change the conversation from ‘You can’t educate these kids’ to ‘You can only educate these kids if. ...’ ” And to a great extent, she and the other principals have done so. The message inherent in the success of their schools is that if poor students are going to catch up, they will require not the same education that middle-class children receive but one that is considerably better; they need more time in class than middle-class students, better-trained teachers and a curriculum that prepares them psychologically and emotionally, as well as intellectually, for the challenges ahead of them.

The most malignant element of the original law was that it required all states to achieve proficiency but then allowed each state to define proficiency for itself. It took state governments a couple of years to realize just what that meant, but now they have caught on — and many of them are engaged in an ignoble competition to see which state can demand the least of its students.

The evidence is now overwhelming that if you take an average low-income child and put him into an average American public school, he will almost certainly come out poorly educated. What the small but growing number of successful schools demonstrate is that the public-school system accomplishes that result because we have built it that way. We could also decide to create a different system, one that educates most (if not all) poor minority students to high levels of achievement.

EdWize has more:
But there are still those few schools, mostly charters, that really do seem to have found the right formula: high standards, a structured instructional approach, character education, long hours, great teachers and development of a esprit d’corps.
And while Tough laments the fact that teacher unions have constrained the growth of charter schools, it is clear that there is little, if anything, these schools are doing that could not be done in a unionized school – unless of course we expect that schools that rely on teachers working twice the hours (15 or 16 a day, he says) can be replicated systemwide without increasing teacher salaries proportionally. (In fact, those strategies are precisely what the UFT and Chancellor Crew built into the Extended Time Schools back in the 90s, and many of them are working today in the UFT Charter Schools in East New York.)

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Unschooling via Homeschool

Susan Saulny:

On weekdays, during what are normal school hours for most students, the Billings children do what they want. One recent afternoon, time passed loudly, and without order or lessons, in their home in a North Side neighborhood here.

Hayden Billings, 4, put a box over his head and had fun marching into things. His sister Gaby, 9, told stories about medieval warrior women, while Sydney, 6, drank hot chocolate and played with Dylan, the baby of the family.

In a traditional school setting, such free time would probably be called recess. But for Juli Walter, the children’s mother, it is “child-led learning,” something she considers the best in home schooling.

“I learned early on that when I do things I’m interested in,” Ms. Walter said, “I learn so much more.”

Doc Searls has more.

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November 25, 2006

Does Closing the Minority Achievement Gap Require a Downward Rush to the Middle

The prime motivator for taking MMSD's high schools from an academically rich curriculum to the one-room schoolhouse model has been to close the minority achievement gap. Thus, I read with interest the following NYTimes letters:

A Racial Gap, or an Income Gap? (7 Letters)
Published: November 24, 2006

To the Editor:

In emphasizing race-based achievement gaps, “Schools Slow in Closing Gaps Between Races” (front page, Nov. 20) pays insufficient attention to the significant role of socioeconomic inequalities in explaining these gaps.

For social scientists studying the No Child Left Behind law, the slow progress comes as no surprise. The education researcher David Berliner has noted that “poverty is the 600-pound guerilla in the classroom.”

As long as proponents of No Child Left Behind continue to dismiss the examination of the economic backgrounds of students as an example of what President Bush has called the “soft bigotry of low expectations” or as an excuse for low achievement by low-income students, standards-based reforms like No Child Left Behind will have limited effects.

It is time for policy makers to place as much emphasis on reducing poverty as they do on improving the schools attended by poor children. Both are necessary, but are alone insufficient to reduce the achievement gap.

Alan R. Sadovnik
New York, Nov. 20, 2006
The writer is a professor of education, sociology and public affairs at Rutgers University in Newark.

To the Editor:

Yes, the achievement gaps remain persistent. But perplexing? Come on.

Having 10 years’ experience teaching in low-income, largely black districts, and also having raised three middle-class white children, I consider it a no-brainer why my children achieve well in school while many of my students do not: I am one mother to three kids, but a teacher to 25.

Aside from the socioeconomic differences between my kids and my students (a separate, undoubtedly more important perspective on achievement disparities), my children get more of my attention, period.

I want to give all of my students the same advantages I’ve given my own kids, but how can I possibly meet 25 individual needs with as much sensitivity and precision?

Why does this discussion always ignore class size as a contributing factor?

Why not lower the teacher-student ratio to 1 to 10 for a few years and then study the outcomes? The obvious answer is cost. But perhaps over the years this would be offset by the savings built from a better-educated and more productive group of graduates.

Mary Scheffler
Ocean, N.J., Nov. 20, 2006

To the Editor:

No Child Left Behind, signed into law by President Bush in January 2002, has not closed the achievement gap between minority and white students, but it has had a major effect on education in America.

The law has had a major impact on the privatization of education. With financing now available from school vouchers, increasing numbers of both minority and white families are placing their children in private and religious schools.

In addition, American schools are increasingly becoming racially segregated as white parents remove their children from public education.

Martin Gittelman
New York, Nov. 20, 2006

To the Editor:

All the tests in the world will not close the achievement gap. When politicians and business leaders stop blaming the schools and start focusing on the real reasons for the achievement gap — the economic gap, the health care gap and the racial gap — poor and minority students may have a fighting chance.

Until then, the more than $2 billion testing industry will continue to reap a bonanza as our nation falls further and further into the educational abyss.

Judy Rabinowitz
Ocean, N.J., Nov. 20, 2006

To the Editor:

How can you discuss the test-score gaps between minority and white students without attributing some of the problem to the child poverty rate of almost 18 percent, the child hunger rate of 17 percent and the 19 percent uninsured rate for poor children, when African-Americans and Hispanics bear the brunt of those disadvantages?

Yet the education experts quoted in your article speak as if poverty and hunger, and the illnesses associated with them, had no effect on children’s school attendance and capacity to learn.

That’s not the way the principal of a school that narrowed the gap between black and white students saw it. You write that he “credited a prekindergarten program and a school health clinic that helped keep poor students from missing class.”

No Child Left Behind is big on testing and promises. But it does far too little to address the social and economic needs of black, Hispanic and poor white children — needs that are inextricably linked to school achievement.

Milton Schwebel
New Brunswick, N.J., Nov. 20, 2006
The writer is the emeritus dean of the Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University.

To the Editor:

Standardized tests may be relatively efficient to administer, but they do not provide the information educators need to understand and work to close the achievement gap. Teachers need detailed information about their students’ strengths and areas of need. All they get from a standardized test is a number.

If we want to make greater progress toward the goal of leaving no child behind, let’s shelve those standardized tests and work together to truly understand the nature of the achievement gap and the academic, social and economic factors that contribute to it.

Howard Miller
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Nov. 20, 2006
The writer is an associate professor of literacy education at Mercy College.

To the Editor:

A new approach to closing the education gaps between races is needed.

Instead of looking at the performance of unsuccessful schools, unsuccessful teachers and poorly performing minority students, why not look for the factors that underlie success?

A study of the successful Asian students who outperform whites and other minority students might yield some interesting insights that could be effectively applied to solving the problem of those “left behind.”

Lynn Garon
New York, Nov. 20, 2006

Posted by Joan Knoebel at 9:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

LIFE IS SHORT | Autobiography as Haiku

Elaheh Farmand:

I come from Tehran and no, there are no camels where I come from. There are cars and honking taxis that pass women in black veils or short, colorful scarves that barely cover their heads. In this beautiful prison of banned dreams, there certainly isn't a statue of liberty; men and women liberate themselves with cafes, cigars, smuggled drugs and secret relationships. In America, I am a writer. I can imagine, dream, live, breathe as an Iranian, an American. I can add color to anything; if only I could paint the gray streets of Tehran with my words.

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

November 24, 2006

Letter to East Community From Principal Harris Nov. 22, 2006

From the East High Web Site

November 22, 2006

Dear East High School Community:

When I decided to become a principal I promised myself that I would do several things. One was to work as hard as I could to make quality education a reality for all of the students in my building and the second was to pay attention when confronted by people’s concerns and hopes.

As I have worked at East over the last year and a half I have pushed to get the building under control, to begin a conversation with the teaching staff about high quality instruction, to empower students, and to take an honest look at our data.

What we know is that East students can stack up to any group, any where if we give them the tools and the chance. Vision 2012, which involved a group of community members, parents, staff and students, provided us with clear goals for our future. I have proposed programmatic changes I believe can achieve those goals.

Superintendent Art Rainwater has asked that all four high schools cease programmatic changes until the entire district can take the quality time necessary to have broad community discussion regarding how we prepare students for post secondary education and eventual employment in an increasingly global economy.

Changes that are eventually implemented will not be successful without the support of the larger East community. The passion and interest that has been shown by you this week is a strength that we can build on for future discussions.

Let’s take the time to figure out how to best serve all of our students today and in the future, retain parent and community support for our programming, and continue to draw upon the expertise of our East teachers and staff.

Our students deserve this careful approach.


Alan Harris

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 11:16 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Supt. Rainwater requests reinstatement of Reading First grant funds


Feds seek Reading First probe

by Joe Quick, Legislative Liaison/Communication Specialist

Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold, along with Rep. Tammy Baldwin have requested that the U.S. Department of Education investigate Madison Schools' loss of an estimated $3.2 million after the district refused to dismantle its successful reading program two years ago, and seek to have the grant re-instated.

A scathing internal audit this fall claimed that USDOE officials managing the $1 billion program knowingly broke the law with unethical practices surrounding the program. In a letter to the above named members of Congress, Supt. Art Rainwater said, "In light of the government audit of the federal Reading First program contending that USDOE ignored the law and violated ethical standards to steer money the way it wanted, I am asking that you request reinstatement of the lost resources to the Madison Metropolitan School District due to USDOE's faulty conclusions that the audit makes obvious."

In a letter to Terrell Halaska , USDOE assistant secretary for legislative and Congressional affairs, the Wisconsin Congressional members said, "The report from the Office of Inspector General questions the program's credibility and implies the Department broke the law by interfering in the curriculum decisions made by schools, thereby failing to follow proper grant review procedures.

"We would appreciate your review and investigation of the concerns expressed by the Madison Metropolitan School District. Specifically, they are seeking reinstatement of lost federal resources to the Madison Schools from the Reading First program."

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (now referred to as No Child Left Behind) is before Congress for reauthorization in 2007. Discussion of Reading First is sure to be part of Congress' examination of needed modifications to the law.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 4:59 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Redesign acknowledges failure to close achievement gap

The high school dumbing down (aka high school redesign) shows the MMSD administration’s loss of will, as well as its refusal to adopt curriculum changes needed to close the achievement gap.

The gap begins in elementary school: 46% of black students score below grade level on the third grade reading test, but only 9% of the white students.

The gap remains into high school: 49% of black 10th graders score below grade level in reading, while only 12% of the white students are at the minimal or basic levels.

Facing the failure to raise the performance of black students, the MMSD superintendent and his administrators have thrown up their hands and turned to dumbing down the curriculum.

The gap remains because the superintendent and administrators refuse to use curricula that will raise performance. For example, the MMSD clings to expensive and ineffective Reading Recovery and fuzzy math in the lower grades, while refusing to expand Read 180 which the district’s reading staff trumpeted for its success in upper grades.Previous boards and some current members share the responsibility too, because of their insistence that they have no role in curriculum issues.

Fortunately, the insistence of some board members to hold a public session on high school dumbing down might represent a modicum of hope that curriculum improvements may be possible.

Posted by Ed Blume at 11:31 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin Math, reading proficiency are much higher on state exams than on federal

Amy Hetzner:

Wisconsin students continue to fare far better on the state's standardized tests than they do on those given by the federal government, according to a new analysis that raises questions about what it means to be "proficient."

About 70% to 85% of Wisconsin students were considered proficient or better on the state's reading and math tests for the 2005-'06 school year. Yet only 33% to 40% of the state's fourth- and eighth-graders scored at least proficient on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress in those subjects, according to the study by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

The state was one of 16 in the country that had a proficiency gap of 45 to 55 percentage points, the Taxpayers Alliance found. Several states, such as Oklahoma and Mississippi, had even larger differences between the percentage of students considered proficient by their states as opposed to the federal government.

"It just creates confusion," said Dale Knapp, research director for the Taxpayers Alliance. "We want a sense of what our students know, where they sort of stand. And we're really getting two different answers that are very different answers."

The blame doesn't necessarily fall on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations, said Tony Evers, deputy superintendent of the state Department of Public Instruction, which administers the tests annually.

"Math is the same in Madison as it is in Missouri as it is in Mumbai." - Michael Petrilli,
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a group that has raised the idea of national standards

"What that ought to be is a big signal to the folks in Wisconsin that they really need to evaluate the rigor of their standards and their assessment." - Daria Hall, Education Trust

More on the Fordham Foundation's report and EdTrust. Finally, WISTAX offers a free report on testing.

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

"What the Approved Referendum Means"

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater:

November 7 was a great day for our children and for the community. Certainly, the fact that we will have a new school in an area that is experiencing substantial growth is important for our future.

The relief that the community approved from the revenue cap will mean that we will have to reduce our services by less than expected, although we will still have to make cuts of several million dollars. Every staff member whose position is saved to serve children is important and $807,000 of relief will save a number of services.

The most obvious gains aside, it was just as important that the passage of the referendum involved support from the whole community.

The grassroots organization CAST (Community and Schools Together) worked long and hard to be sure that our citizens understood what was at stake and how important their vote was. District staff from the central office, building services and the schools supported this through their hard work and discussion with neighbors and friends.

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

Oregon School Cafeteria Makes It from Scratch

Jane Greenalgh:

Thanksgiving is a time to savor good food, something you don't expect to find in a school cafeteria. In fact, most schools across the country serve reheated, premade food that is trucked in from central kitchens. Daily offerings are often uninspiring: chicken sticks, macaroni and cheese, and pizza.

But there is a move in some parts of the country to bring real cooking back to school kitchens. Last year, Abernathy Elementary School in Portland, Ore., bought a second-hand stove and a big mixer and started cooking all its food from scratch.

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


I am still amazed four years later after a transportation department change that was made during a budget crunch timeframe, that not only is the department still lacking the secretarial position, but it increased the salary and benefits level of every player involved in the situation.

  • Are the students, parents and school staff being better served by the Transportation Department's surplus of a knowledgeable union employee (4 years ago today)?
  • Has the fact that the Transportation Coordinator was promoted to Manager, and the newly hired Transportation Coordinator (a former staff of First Student Bus Co) helped with the enormous amount of phone calls that department receives on a daily basis?
  • Have the homeless students been served with a staff person who stays at the office when a child is lost or not accounted for? (I risked insubordination for "refusing to lose a child in order to force the Board to realize we needed a 3rd person in the department")
I find it hard to believe knowing that the district is maintaining an employee on staff (not even a union employee) waiting for the position of the transportation secretary, to once again be posted and for her to be hired. Until then, I hear the secretaries in the schools and other district operations saying they can't get anyone to talk to in the Transportation Dept or that the carriers have been given the go-ahead to make the decisions.

When personal information is confidential regarding the students, this makes it extremely difficult for carriers to have all the facts they need when a student is missing or unaccounted for. By increasing the Transportation Manager's salary, and her supervisor's salary, and the newly created Coordinator's salary THREE pay levels higher than the surplused secretary's salary, (remember this strongly impacts their benefits - retirement, life insurance, etc) has this substantial cost increase resulted in matched increased service in the transportation department?

I think it would be fair to say in this case that the district is getting less service for more cost and that's exactly opposite where we should be going at a time when budget cuts are affecting the classroom and the students. Does this department really need so many levels of administrators - who is doing the REAL work like talking on the phones and working with the schools and parents and carriers?

Want to know more about this whole scenario? Then push for more information to be released by the administration or the staff who were affected by this surplus, on what really took place on Nov 22, 2002. Then maybe with the public forcing answers to all of the questions, just maybe the Board will take a hard look at what really is happening not only in this department, but across the district, and not say “it's a personnel issue”.

Posted by Linda Martin at 6:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 23, 2006

Board's goals for Superintendent Rainwater in 2006-07

On Monday, November 20, 2006, the Madison Board of Education voted unanimously to approve four goals for Superintendent Art Rainwater for 2006-07. (Carstensen, Kobza, Mathiak, Robarts, Silviera, Vang voting yes; Winston absent)

The goals require the superintendent to do the following:

1. Initiate and complete a comprehensive, independent and neutral review and assessment of the District's K-12 math curriculum.
• The review and assessment shall be undertaken by a task force whose members are appointed by the Superintendent and approved by the BOE. Members of the task force shall have math and math education expertise and represent a variety of perspectives regarding math education.
• The task force shall prepare and present to the BOE a preliminary outline of the review and assessment to be undertaken by the task force. The outline shall, at a minimum, include: (1) analysis of math achievement data for MMSD K-12 students, including analysis of all math sub-tests scores disaggregated by student characteristics and schools; (2) analysis of performance expectations for MMSD K-12 students; (3) an overview of math curricula, including MMSD's math curriculum; (4) a discussion of how to improve MMSD student achievement; and (5) recommendations on measures to evaluate the effectiveness of MMSD's math curriculum. The task force is to present the preliminary outline and a timeline to the BOE for comment and approval.
• The task force is to prepare a written draft of the review and assessment, consistent with the approved preliminary outline. The draft is to be presented to the BOE for review and comment.
• The task force is to prepare the final report on the review and assessment.

2. Develop in collaboration with the Board and external advisors, a plan for the District to communicate to the community why parents or guardians should send their children to MMSD schools. Specific tasks include (1) determining what parents and guardians consider important in selecting schools; (2) determining whether and how MMSD schools provide what parents and guardians consider important in selecting schools; (3) using the information gained from parents and guardians, developing a vision of what MMSD should be in the future; and (4) developing a communications plan to promote MMSD schools and why parents or guardians should send their children to them. Timeframe to develop: 6 months.

3. Provide information to the Board in a clear, accurate, complete yet concise, and timely manner. The Board will evaluate progress on this goal through the use of a rating sheet for Board members to give periodic feed-back on the information they receive from the administration. Information provided to the Board shall be rated for timeliness, accuracy, organization and presentation.

4. Implement the Administrative Intern Professional Development Program. Program participants should be selected by the 4th quarter of this year. Special attention will be given to the recruitment of people of color and other historically under-represented groups in administrative positions in all employment categories of the District. (principals, building services, etc.) A report on the program shall be provided to the BOE at least annually.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 4:15 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


Wikipedia | US Census Bureau

A quick note to thank the Madison School Board (Johnny Winston, Jr., President; Lawrie Kobza, Vice President; Carol Carstensen, Treasurer; Shwaw Vang, Clerk; Lucy Mathiak, Ruth Robarts and Arlene Silveira) for publicly discussing and addressing a number of issues this year:

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

On, Off and On Again 11/27/2006 Madison School Board High School Redesign Discussion

Susan Troller wrote this on Tuesday, 11/21/2006:

A presentation on the redesign of Madison's high school curriculum scheduled for next week's School Board meeting has been scrapped for the immediate future, School Board President Johnny Winston Jr. confirmed late this morning.

"We'll hold off on changes until we get a better feel for how the process will work," Winston said.

Winston, other School Board members and members of the administration met this morning to discuss high school curriculum proposals, including changes in accelerated classes for freshmen and sophomores at East High.

Andy Hall wrote this on 11/22/2006:
Madison School Board President Johnny Winston Jr. said community outcry and confusion over East's plans to restructure its classes likely will dominate the board's discussion of reforming operations in the district's high schools. The meeting is set for 8 p.m. Monday in the auditorium at the Doyle Administration Building, 545 W. Dayton St.

"I'm sure we're going to hear a lot from the community," Winston said. "Board members want to hear it. They want it now."

Winston said he expects people riled about potential or recent changes at La Follette and West high schools also will attend.

The board, Winston said, needs to set direction for the district's schools and needs to be kept informed. He's opposed to eliminating classes for talented and gifted students. "We need to be enhancing them," he said.

It's essential, Winston said, for parents, students, teachers and the community to have a voice in any talks about changing the way schools are run.

"I really hope we can get this thing, whatever it is, in order," Winston said.

Indeed, a look at the School Board's calendar for Monday, 11.27.2006 reveals that the High School Redesign discussion is scheduled for 8:00p.m. that evening.

The Board has been criticized over the years for simply not discussing some of the tough issues such as health care, the District's rejection of $2M in federal Reading First funds (the politics and implementation of Reading First have been controversial. However $2m is $2m and it at least deserved a public conversation) and West High's full speed ahead on a one size fits all curriculum (See also "the Fate of the Schools".

I'm glad to see the Board take this up Monday. A recent discussion of the District's quiet policy change regarding credit for non-madison school district courses appeared, disappeared and now is on a 12/11/2006 Performance and Achievement committee agenda.

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

New Program in Schools Takes Students From Playwriting to Performance

Campbell Robertson:

There have been programs promoting theater involvement in New York City schools for years, but Fidelity Investments, together with the Viertel/Frankel/Baruch/Routh Group, the Broadway producing team behind “Hairspray” and “Company,” and Leap, a 30-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to arts education, have announced one of the broadest programs yet.

Other organizations, like Theater Development Fund, have programs to involve students in Broadway theater, but this one, which started last month at 10 high schools and junior high schools in the city, aspires to be the most comprehensive. It is a seven-month course involving big-name theater professionals, trips to Broadway shows, playwriting and play producing classes and, for 10 students, a Broadway stage on which their plays will be performed.

“We have never done a program as comprehensive as this,” said Alice Krieger, the associate executive director of Leap.

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

November 22, 2006

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater Halts East High Redesign

Marc Eisen:

The uproar over proposed changes in East High School's curriculum has apparently prompted Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater to announce a halt to any plans to change programming at Madison's four major high schools.

Here's Rainwater's message to his principals:

To: John Broome, Bruce Dahmen, Alan Harris, Ed Holmes
From: Art Rainwater
Re: High School Redesign Proposal

On Monday, November 27, at the Board meeting I will be putting forth a proposal concerning our high schools. I believe that discussion concerning the way in which our schools prepare all students for post secondary education and employment in an increasingly global economy is too important to rush.

Interest in this topic is high and we can best serve our future students, our broader community and our beliefs as educators by taking the quality time necessary to hear from parents, students, staff, business people, post secondary institutions, and others who value what a high school education can provide.

I am asking you to cease any significant programmatic changes at each of your schools as this community dialogue progresses. We need a tableau rosa mentality that will allow for a free flow of ideas, an opportunity to solidify trust in our expertise, and a chance at a solid, exciting product at the end.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:17 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More Than English 10: Let's REALLY Talk About Our High Schools

First, I want to say BRAVO, RUTH, for putting it all together and bringing it on home to us. Thanks, too, to the BOE members who overrode BOE President Johnny Winston Jr's decision to table this important discussion. Finally, deepest thanks to all of the East parents, students and teachers who are speaking out ... and to the many West parents, students and teachers who have also spoken out over the past few years.

As we begin what will hopefully be a thoughtful and thoroughgoing community-wide conversation about what's going on in our high schools, I'd like to clear up some muddiness about what's happened at West in the past few years. I think it's important to have our facts straight and complete. In doing so -- and in comparing what's happened at West to what's now going on at East -- I'd like to draw on the image of an animal experiment (that apparently never happened). In one condition, a frog is put into a bath of cool water, the temperature is gradually raised to boiling, and the frog dies without a struggle. In another condition, a frog is put into a bath of boiling water, immediately jumps out, and lives to tell the tale. As I see it, West was put in the first condition. The administration implemented small changes over the course of several years, with the ultimate goal of turning 9th and 10th grades into two more years of middle school. Students and parents were lulled into thinking that everything was O.K. because, hey, what's one small change? East, in contrast, has been put in the second condition. There, the administration seems to have the same goal of turning 9th and 10th grade into two more years of middle school, but has introduced all of the changes at once. Like the frog placed in the boiling water, East has been shocked into strong reaction.

So what's been going on at West? Advanced learning opportunities have been gradually whittled away, that's what.

This year, as everyone knows, West HS implemented it's new core sophomore English curriculum, English 10. (Did you know that West has also implemented a single Social Studies 10 curriculum this year? More on that in a moment.) It is also true that some of the old English electives (perhaps 5 or 6 -- not the dozen that was recently reported somewhere else on this blog) are no longer offered at West. That's because they have been "rolled into" the single English 10 curriculum. Not necessarily a bad thing.

All West sophomores are now required to take English 10. West sophomores used to be able to choose their English courses from (almost) the full range of English electives. (Certain honors electives required the permission of the student's 9th grade English teacher.) Within English 10, students may elect to take an "embedded" honors option. From what we have heard from current sophomores and their parents, the implementation of this embedded honors option (which also now exists in biology and 10th grade social studies) has been highly variable across teachers. We have heard about one teacher who discouraged her students from taking the honors option because it was just more work. Another teacher, we have been told, lets her students sign up for the honors option but makes no distinction between the honors and non-honors students in the class, in terms of course work requirements. Yet another class we've heard about has 10 honors option students and is essentially functioning as an honors section because of the high level of student-led discussion. It does not appear that anyone is overseeing the implementation of the embedded honors "program" in English 10. Of course, West does not have a full-time TAG coordinator, as is being proposed for East.

Some other details --

While taking the required English 10 course, West sophomores can also take certain additional English electives (mostly the lower level, less challenging ones). Yes, that would mean taking two English courses in one or both semesters of 10th grade.

Finally, this year, a very small number (7 out of 500-plus) of West sophomores were "instepped" over English 10 and allowed into the full range of English electives as 10th graders. These accelerated placement decisions were, for the most part, based on these students' 8th grade WKCE scores in reading and language arts (taken during the first semester of 8th grade). Interestingly, 9th grade students were not allowed to use their 8th grade reading and language arts WKCE scores in order to be "instepped" over English 9. In fact, no West student is allowed to test out of English 9 anymore, although it used to be that some advanced 9th graders were allowed to skip over the second semester. In contrast, at Memorial -- the only other MMSD high school with a single 9th grade English curriculum right now -- 4 or 5 freshmen are allowed to skip English 9 and go right into English 10 Honors each year.

It is important to note that the chief reason the West community was given for the implementation of English 10 was, in a nutshell, the achievement gap. (Indeed, the achievement gap was the rationale for the entire Small Learning Communities initiative.) We were told that certain groups of students have high failure rates in English, as well as low participation rates in the more challenging English electives at West. The hope was that English 10 would boost these students' achievement and self-confidence, such that they would voluntarily elect to take the more challenging English electives as juniors and seniors. The thing is, West's English 9 was similarly intended to close that achievement/participation gap and -- according to a November, 2005, report written by SLC Evaluator Bruce King -- there is no evidence that English 9 has had an impact on what is clearly a very serious problem. That absence of evidence is why West parents pleaded with school and District officials last year to stop plans for implementing English 10 and instead take the time to evaluate and fix English 9. No one listened -- at West or "downtown" -- and West went ahead with its plans.

I mentioned that West has also implemented a single 10th grade social studies curriculum this year. The single curriculum replaces the three "flavors" of 10th grade social studies that used to exist. (West sophomores used to be able to choose between courses with a greater emphasis on a particular time in history -- e.g., the Middle Ages or the Ancient World.) A few years ago, there was also an integrated English-Social Studies option. It, too, has gone away. The overriding reason why these courses have disappeared is that they produced ability grouping; that is, higher performing and more highly motivated students were self-selecting into certain courses and not others, creating ad hoc honors classes. This was seen as a problem. The solution was to get rid of the classes.

I also mentioned that embedded honors options are now available in biology and Social Studies 10. I have not heard anything about how they are going. I do know, though, that many people see the embedded honors option in regular biology as a threat to the single section of Accelerated Biology that parents have had to work so hard to save in recent years. In contrast to the situation at West, the number of sections of Advanced/TAG Biology offered each year at LaFollette and East are adjusted to meet demand.

The SLC initiative has been "blamed" for many of the curricular changes that have been implemented at West -- though no one has ever explained to us why we couldn't have honors sections of many of these courses in each of the four SLC's, a plan that would increase the accessibility of honors courses and could easily be combined with efforts to increase the diversity of the students who take honors classes. (Actually, I've heard that some high-level administrators favor that plan. I am hoping they make their preference known soon.)

In any event, there are several important issues in all of this:

  1. There is an absence of adequate school-based and/or District-based data supporting the specific changes being implemented (West) and proposed (East).

  2. There is an absence of adequate evidence from the empirical literature supporting the specific changes being implemented (West) and proposed (East). (Why, even UW Professor Adam Gamoran told the Superintendent and BOE last January that they are operating on "belief." And did you know that research consistently shows that the students who are hurt the most by "de-tracking" are poor and minority students of high ability?)

  3. It is not clear how the bulk of these changes are going to help the huge percentage of high school students in our District who are reading below grade level and who, therefore, are at risk for poor performance and less learning in most any other course they may take.

  4. There has been an all-but-complete absence of adequate community dialogue about these issues and changes. The community has not been allowed to have a meaningful impact on the planning. There has been only the appearance of partnership. This is because plans have been presented to community members (sometimes even BOE members) after most of the decisions have been made. We are asked to "tweak" and "ask clarifying questions" only. At West, the stonewalling by District officials was more than severe.

  5. The appropriate District professionals (for example, TAG staff) and their expertise have not been included in a respectful, substantive, meaningful way.

  6. There is a cross-high school equity issue regarding how students of similar high ability and motivation are treated and what educational opportunities are made available to them. (State and federal mandates -- as well as the District's fear of litigation -- insures far greater equitability of educational services for other groups of students -- which is not to say they are necessarily well-served.)
As the East community experiences and reacts to a concentrated version of what the West community has experienced, dribbled over the past several years -- and especially as the BOE, the press, and even the District Administration take greater notice than ever before of what we are all saying to them, East and West -- I am hopeful that the tide may be turning, and that meaningful dialogue is about to begin.

Posted by Laurie Frost at 6:58 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Comments from East High Parents on Proposed Curriculum Changes

Viewpoints coming to Madison School board members illustrate the need for a thoughtful look at new goals or curriculums for our high schools.

Here are two samples from e-mail to the board on November 22.

Dear Board Members,
I read with dismay this morning about the East High School proposal to do away with TAG programming. I urge you think long and hard about the long term consequences of doing such a thing. I believe you will lose the support of many, many families. The jury is still very much out on hetergeneous groupings for everything, for every subject, all the time.

I believe as a teacher of 29 years and someone who has been a leader in teaching methods and dedicated to improving learning that this is not the way to go. I was the developer and lead teacher of MATC's Critical Literacy Project for teaching and learning improvement for many years. I taught cooperative learning strategies. To do it well takes expertise and lots of structure and planning--more so than a lecture. Individual accountability needs to be built in. And, I wouldn't recommend using it all the time. It is my impression that lots of sloppy "collaborative learning" is taking place. It often is a simplistic "put them in groups," give them something, and then assume they all work equally together like happy little bees. In the real world, it doesn't work that way.

I will be quite frank here. By the time kids get to 8th grade or earlier most of them HATE group work. You might really want to listen to the kids on this one. It's not organized well, the bright kids get the answers first, the lower achievers copy. The lower kids feel stupid. The research is done by one or two and the others ride along. In fact, there is almost an institutionalization of cheating and short cuts that is happening. As one young teen said, "If it shows scores going up it's because some kids are getting the answers from others."

I could go into some detail about O'Keefe Middle School and what happened there when they went to heterogeneous math classes in 6th and 7th grade. (Hopefully, the Algebra class taught by Hetzel will not also get the axe.) The little secret story many of you don't know is that after countless meetings with individual teachers and the principle and staff downtown that got us nowhere when parents of over 20 students tried to point out that the groups were not working for the bottom or the top, a group of parents was forced to hire a math teacher and teach a cohort of students outside of school, two days a week. To think that teachers will design great extensions to keep those who need greater challenge is somewhat naive. They are often thrown an extra assignment or two and that is it. And, I don't blame teachers--you've got so many students to deal with, it just becomes hard to reach out to all different levels.

I have two daughters at East High. Some of their classes are TAG and others are not. The first time they ever came to appreciate group work was when they were in their TAG classes. They were challenged. They didn't have to lie and cover up for other students who weren't doing their share. They could get down to work with others who were engaged. The TAG Biology class taught by Mr. Duvair is the jewel of the entire Madison School District and envy of every other high school.

Yes, we need to find ways to bring up the bottom and it may have to do with more engaging and inspiring kinds of teaching, and it may have to do with better preparation of basics. It may have to do with reaching down to a focus on 0-5 years of age when the foundation for learning is laid. An approach of just mix everyone for everything seems to me a cheap short cut to a larger challenge. On this note, I would encourage you to talk to Mr. Kelly of East High School . He retired last year, but still teaches the night high school completion program. Mr. Kelly is a brilliant teacher. He taught TAG English and inspired and challenged thousands of students. He teaches English at night school to low-achieving kids. He is brilliant in both contexts, and students thrive and achieve at both ends. If you were to ask him about mixing those two groups, I imagine he would say both would lose out.

I care deeply about low-achieving or simply disadvantaged students who were not tracked for university. I have spent almost three decades teaching them and honing my craft. It takes different things to reach different students sometimes. What they need may differ at times. I myself am for a mixed approach -- to have some heterogeneous and some homogeneous groupings. East seems to have done this. My daughters get a mix of experiences.

In conclusion, I would ask that you not follow the seemingly seductively simple solution of hetergeneous groupings. You might want to consider ways to recruit your best and most inspiring teachers to teach at both ends of the spectrum. For example, if you are not in Mr. Duvairs TAG Biology, but his regular biology, you get a great class. Same for Mr. Kelly.

The Board needs to think about the long term and not losing more middle class families from the public schools. You need to meet the needs of all students and you can't have a viable policy that takes down some to bring others up. We must find ways to bring up without bringing down. I am writing because I am worried about the future of the public schools in Madison . So far we have held our own with a socio-economic mix. That may start to change in a big way and it would be tragic for our district.

To all concerned: As the controversy over the TAG program heats up, I thought I'd share the observations of my son who is a freshman at East. He is not in TAG, nor is he a student in trouble. In other words, he's one of the large middle whose voices unfortunately are not often heard. (He would also be annoyed with his mother if he knew I was sending this...)

Let me first explain that my son has a vantage point that is at the very least, unusual, if not unique. He has friends in TAG and he has friends who are barely getting by. He is friends with white kids, African-American kids, and Latino kids. He has friends who come from Maple Bluff and friends who have been homeless from time to time. As he put it, "I have a pass to just about all of the groups, except! maybe the jocks." My son also has an uncanny knack for sizing up a situation, and unsual insight into people, especially when we consider that he is a 14 year old boy.

When I asked him about this controversy, he said that the TAG program as it is currently designed creates what he called an "elite ghetto." He said the perception among so many is that the "TAG kids" as they are known, "get everything." He said that right now the school can be divided into three groups "the entitled, the kids who are hurting, and everybody else." When I asked about "the kids who are hurting" he said he knew of too many kids who are simply passing time until they drop out. He described these kids as overwhelmingly African-American and Latino. He said it was truly sad because "there are kids in that group who are so smart. No, they don't do well in school, but they have something to say. They know a lot about the world." When I asked whether there was any interaction between the TAG group and this other group he said, "You've got to be kidding. I'm not sure they know that each other exists. They have nothing in common." Then he said, "something has to change." I also asked whether there were any kids of color in the TAG group and he said "maybe one or two. Maybe."

I asked if making honors/advanced/TAG/AP (whatever you want to call them) options accessible to more kids would help at all, he said that many people in the "everybody else" group would certainly benefit, and he knew of many kids of color who would probably be successfully involved. As for the kids in tough shape, he said, "I hope Mr. Harris can come up with something."

Like I said, my son wouldn't be thrilled if he knew I were passing this on. Nevertheless, I thought that his perspective was something that needed to be shared.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 3:43 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Superintendent Rainwater: "We need to dramatically change our high schools."

On Monday, November 27, the Madison School Board will begin to address rumors about major changes coming to our high schools. There are some realities behind the rumors.

For example, West High School substantially reduced the English courses for tenth graders this year. The principal at East High School met with parents last week. He delivered a message that many parents understood as an explanation that decisions on curriculum changes at EHS have already been made and would be carried out. Period. He has since said that he welcomes student and parent viewpoints. End of Gifted Class Drawing Protest And last month there was--to say the least--confusion and misinformation about when students can opt to take college courses for high school credit.

However, the main source of community comment and concerns may be Superintendent Rainwater's October editorial announcing his commitment to redesign of the high schools. Changing our high schools The editorial that went sent to homes across the district via student backpacks is long on generalities and short on specifics, giving rise to the kinds of questions that I have been hearing at work.

In my opinion, now is the right time for the school board to set parameters and goals for changes in the high schools. That's our role. We should hear the ideas coming from the schools and their communities as well as those coming from central administration before any process to redesign the schools goes forward.

I welcome both an on-going board discussion and community public discussion of possible changes to our high schools, particularly changes that could raise academic goals for all students and ensure a wide range of academic challenging courses and activities.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 10:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Snapshot of the State of U.S. Education

U.S. Department of Education:

Report on the State of American Schools Shows High School Students Challenged by Math and Science

High school students in the United States are consistently outperformed by those from Asian and some European countries on international assessments of mathematics and science, according to The Condition of Education 2006 report released today by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Fourth-graders, by comparison, score as well or better than most of their international peers, although their counterparts in other countries are gaining ground.

“While our younger students are making progress on national assessments and are ahead on some international measures the same can not be said at the high school level,” said Mark Schneider, NCES Commissioner. “U.S. students do relatively well in reading literacy when compared to their international peers, but they are outperformed in mathematics and science and our 15-year-old students trail many of our competitors in math and science literacy.”

The Condition of Education is a congressionally mandated report that provides an annual statistical portrait of education in the United States. The 50 indicators included in the report cover all aspects of education, from student achievement to school environment and from early childhood through postsecondary education.

The report shows that U. S. public schools have the most diverse student population than at any other time in history. In addition, more individuals are enrolling in postsecondary education, and more bachelor’s degrees have been awarded than in the past.

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

November 21, 2006

Keep an eye on math, board tells Rainwater

The Madison School Board has given Superintendent Art Rainwater a set of specific orders to accomplish in the coming year, including several directives to take an in-depth look at the district's entire math curriculum.

In the past several years, area math educators have expressed concern about the effectiveness of the Madison district's reliance on a reform math curriculum, which emphasizes word-based problem-solving.

Another goal board members mandated for the superintendent for next year is that he collaborate with them and other advisers on a plan to tell community members why parents and guardians should send their children to Madison public schools.

In addition, the board will evaluate the administration on providing information in a clear, accurate, concise and timely manner.

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

A fourth goal requires the district management to implement an intern program to encourage people of color and other historically underrepresented groups to consider a broad range of administrative jobs in the district.

"I certainly accept and support these four good goals," Rainwater said in an interview this morning. "Like every school year, when you have limited resources, 25,000 students to educate and you want them all to learn, you have many, many things on your plate."

He added that there have been questions in the past about the math curriculum and that he welcomes the opportunity to bring together experts in math and math education to really look at how local students are doing in this critical subject.

In the past, School Board member Ruth Robarts, chair of the Human Relations Committee, has been critical of the administration. She welcomed the new goals for the administration.

"As a board, I think we will be in a much more favorable position to make decisions," she said. "I think this is what the public and the community expect from us."

In addition to new performance goals, the School Board gave Rainwater a review of his 2005-06 performance. Board members rated him either "strong" or "proficient" in the categories of district management, board relations, community communications, and staff supervision and evaluation.

In the category of professional growth and development, board members unanimously gave Rainwater a strong rating. Other rating categories include: exemplary, improvement needed and unsatisfactory.

Delay on high school courses: A presentation on the redesign of Madison's high school curriculum scheduled for next week's School Board meeting has been scrapped for the immediate future, School Board President Johnny Winston Jr. confirmed late this morning.

"We'll hold off on changes until we get a better feel for how the process will work," Winston said.

Winston, other School Board members and members of the administration met this morning to discuss high school curriculum proposals, including changes in accelerated classes for freshmen and sophomores at East High.

Those changes were presented last week by Principal Alan Harris, and have drawn fire from students and parents, who have complained there was not enough opportunity for community input.

"I think we need a more inclusive process," Winston said.

Winston added that he thought all areas of the district's high school redesign might be reconsidered, including La Follette High School's four-block scheduling system and the controversial, undifferentiated core English program for grades 9 and 10 at West High.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 1:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Local School Tax & Spending Climate Update

Two links on local and state taxes (some have implications on future state tax redistribution for schools):

Locally, the Madison School District's property tax assessments will go up less than the County, about 3.2%.

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

East High Student Insurrection Over Proposed Curriculum Changes?

Andy Hall:

"This is a discussion killer and it's an education killer because it's going to make kids feel uncomfortable," Collin said Monday of the emerging plan, which would take effect in the fall.

This morning, Collin and other students - he says it may involve 100 of the school's 1,834 students - plan to protest the planned changes by walking out of the school at 2222 E. Washington Ave. Some may try to meet with Superintendent Art Rainwater at his Downtown office.

East Principal Alan Harris said he's heard talk of a student protest. Students refusing to attend class would be dealt with for insubordination, he said, and could face suspension, particularly if he determines their conduct is unsafe.

Harris said he's met with parents, staff members and students, and more private and group meetings are planned, to hear their concerns.

However, Harris said he believes he remains on the right track. East, he said, must change.

Read the extensive discussion on the Madison School District Administration's High School redesign plans here. The Madison School Board will meet to discuss the proposed high school changes on November 27, 2006.

Related Links:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:08 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

BOE has completed the evaluation of the Superintendent

The Madison Board of Education has completed the evaluation of Superintendent Art Rainwater for the 2005-06 school year. The Board met several times since September in executive session to complete the Superintendent Appraisal Report and discuss goals for this year. We also discussed the goals from last year in open session, which the Superintendent has successfully completed.

The Superintendent was evaluated in five areas: District Management, Board Relations, Community Communication & Relationships, Staff Supervision & Evaluation and Professional Growth & Relationships. He was ranked using the following scale: Exemplary, Strong, Proficient, Improvement Needed and Unsatisfactory. His scores were as follows:

District Management: Scores qualitatively fell between the rating of Proficient and Strong.

Board Relations: Scores qualitatively fell between the rating of Proficient and Strong.

Community Communication & Relationships: Scores qualitatively fell between the rating of Proficient and Strong.

Staff Supervision & Evaluation: Scores qualitatively fell between the rating of Proficient and Strong.

Professional Growth & Development: Score was in the rating of Strong.

In addition to completing the appraisal report, the Board and Superintendent have mutually agreed to four goals for this year that include: (1) development of a Math Task Force; (2) development of a plan to promote the MMSD; (3) evaluation of information given to the members of the Board; and (4) implementation of the Administrative Intern Professional Development Program.

In conclusion, evaluating the Superintendent and setting goals are important responsibilities for the Board of Education. It is imperative that the Board and Superintendent work together for the betterment of the school district. As Board President, I would like to thank the members of the Madison Board of Education (Lawrie Kobza, Carol Carstensen, Ruth Robarts, Shwaw Vang, Lucy Mathiak and Arlene Silveira) for their open, honest and respectful conversations that allowed all board members to fully participate in this evaluation process. I would also like to thank Superintendent Art Rainwater for his hard work, dedication and willingness to work with the elected members of the Board of Education to collaborate on our challenges and celebrate our accomplishments in the Madison Metropolitan School District.

Posted by Johnny Winston, Jr. at 12:04 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 20, 2006

Board of Education meeting of 30-Oct-2006

The October 30, 2006 Board of Education met to discuss a series of resolutions, and approve the final 2006-07 MMSD Budget, and approve the AFSCME Local 60 contract.

QT Video
The video of the meeting is 210MB, and 2 hours and 30 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video. The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to sections of the meeting. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download.

Public Appearances
There was a public appearance by Barbara Lewis who expressed concern over the apparent change in policy of MMSD in granting high school credit for courses taken at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Both Superintendent Art Rainwater and Director of Alternative Programs Steve Hartley discussed the issues with the Board and clarified that the policy statement which Ms. Lewis had received, and which apparently was being misinterpreted by some high school staff referred only to Independent Study. The Board, noting confusion of parents, school staff and themselves, requested that these issues be placed on the Board agenda as soon as possible.

Agenda Item #4
Resolution supporting expenditures for school security be placed outside the revenue caps.

Agenda Item #5
Resolution supporting language by the Superintendent and other superintendents that the State adopt the Adequacy Model for school funding.

Agenda Item #6 - Discussion and Approval of 2006-2007 Budget
This portion of the meeting begins at approximately 20 minutes into the meeting and continues until the Board votes to approve the tax levy amount at 2 hours into the meeting. Final approval of the full budget is rescheduled for a later meeting. The discussions included issues of fund equity, the fund reserve, the unexpected decrease of State support, liquidation of earnings on Chavez building funds, changes in the budget necessary to offset decrease in State support, and the minimum decisions the Board needed to make to meet budget deadline.

Agenda Item #7
Approval of the AFSCME Local 60 contract, in which the District and Union agree to a health care package containing only HMOs, saving the District significant healthcare costs, in exchange for a generous wage increase.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 9:26 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Mutiny on the MMSD Intrepid?

Celeste Roberts posted the following comment in an earlier thread, and it's too good to get lost in the comments section. It deserves recognition on its own.

Captain Rainwater of the MMSD Intrepid, renowned 'round the world for his feckless bravery and singlemindedness, stands at the helm of his beloved vessel and surveys the icy waters ahead.

A crew member approaches. "Captain, sir, we've just received an urgent radio message. Satellite photos show us bearing down on a large iceberg, and nearby ships respectfully asking us if we are monitoring this?" Captain growls, "Well, what do the instruments show?" "Nothing, sir." Captain, glaring, "Well, what are you standing there for? Back to your post." "But sir, what shall I tell the other ships?" "Tell??? Tell them NOTHING," roars the captain. Some moments later, a loud cry is heard. "Ahoy! Iceberg spotted ahead." Soon the deck is filled with sailors scanning the foggy seas ahead. The Captain impassively stands at the helm, maintaining his course. "Captain, what shall we do? Why don't you turn the ship, call for help?" cries one sailor, despairing at the Captain's apparent lack of reaction to the impending disaster.

Aroused from his reverie, the Captain surveys the crowd of panicked sailors surrounding him. "D'ya all see that iceberg there?" "Yes, oh yes," the moan rises. "I'll show you what I'm gonna do. Look, here, I'll make the iceberg vanish. This is a brand-spankin' new magnetic/chemical invisibility screen. The latest technology right here on our ship." Captain holds up a large black box with a big button on it that says 'PRESS ME.'

"Now in order for this here gadget to work properly, I gotta have your full cooperation. Everyone close your eyes and repeat after me while I fire this baby up: There is no iceberg. There is no iceberg. There is no iceberg....Good" As the crew obediently repeats the mantra, Captain Rainwater aims the box at the looming iceberg, presses the button, and incredibly, it disappears. "O.K., you can all open your eyes, now. Look, is the iceberg gone?"

Astonished murmurs fill the deck. They all crane their necks, but the iceberg is nowhere to be seen. Just then, the same timid crewman whom we first encountered bringing the Captain bad news at the beginning of our tragic tale, approaches the Captain again. "Sir, I've just gotten another message from the other ship. They are tracking our approach to the iceberg and respectfully are asking if, ah, if you are out of your mind. Sir, if I might make a suggestion, it is conceivable that our instruments are not operating properly." Another sailor approaches from the other side. "Well, what is it?" barks Captain. "Sir, beggin' your humble pardon, but I'm alooking and looking where that iceberg was, and I think I can still see it a bit. It's kinda hidden, but when I really look hard I can see it behind sort of a silvery screen. I think maybe it IS still there."

The Captain turns toward him, black rage filling his eyes. "So, you see the iceberg. Look carefully now. Do you see it now?" "Um, yyyyes, sir. It's over there." With a quick movement, the Captain shoves the hapless sailor overboard. In a matter of seconds, he sinks below the waves and is drowned. "Hm! Problem solved. Now you don't see it anymore. Anyone else still seeing that iceberg?" In unison, a chorus from the terrified crew, "No, SIR!" .....

How can we turn this story around? Maybe a mutiny by the ship's officers? Put the Captain off in a lifeboat and quickly change course?

Posted by Ed Blume at 9:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Black Enrollment in AP Surges in Montgomery; Half Take Some Type of Honors Course

Daniel de Vise:

Montgomery County public schools this year passed a milestone in college preparation: Half of the 9,737 black high school students are enrolled in honors or Advanced Placement courses.

Five years ago, barely one-third of African Americans participated in such classes, despite the county's reputation as a national leader in college prep. Now, a black student in Montgomery is more likely to take an AP test than a white student elsewhere in the nation.

Kalema took all the honors courses available to her in the ninth grade, then progressed into AP. As a senior, she is taking AP geography, calculus and English literature. She partly credits her counselor, Scott Woo, with her advancement.

"It's always been Mr. Woo saying, 'I think you can take this class,' " she said.

The county's achievement is striking because the national surge in Advanced Placement testing has largely left black students behind.

The success of urban schoolteacher Jaime Escalante with a group of minority AP students in East Los Angeles in the 1980s convinced public educators that motivation and hard work might be just as important as standardized test scores in predicting AP success. Over the past few years, that philosophy has become pervasive in the Washington region.

Principals and teachers in Montgomery high schools began looking for reasons to include students in AP courses, rather than reasons to keep them out. The process evolved into a science: All students now take the PSAT, or Preliminary SAT, a strong predictor of AP potential, in the ninth grade. Principals get spreadsheets that allow them to sort students by PSAT score and grade-point average to identify those capable of AP study not enrolled in an AP course.

Kalema was being groomed for AP while still in middle school. She took Algebra I, a high school course, in the eighth grade; the school system has dramatically expanded advanced math study in elementary and middle schools as a pipeline to future AP and IB study.

Montgomery County Public Schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


The Wisconsin Charter Schools Association, headquartered in Madison, is seeking an Executive Director to assume the leadership role with the statewide organization.

See Responsibilities of the Executive Director, Qualifications, and Application Information

To be considered in the initial application review process, a cover letter and resume must be submitted by December 15, 2006 to:

Barbara Horton, Chair
Executive Director Search Committee
Wisconsin Charter Schools Association
PO Box 1704
Madison, WI 53701 – 1704

WCSA Website

Posted by Senn Brown at 7:24 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

One in Four Pass California's Student Physical Fitness Test

Dana Hull:

Despite growing alarm about childhood obesity and stepped-up efforts to get California's 6.3 million public school children exercising and eating well, only one in four could stretch, lift, curl and run enough to pass the state's annual physical fitness test.

Every spring, fifth-, seventh-, and ninth-graders take the test, which includes a mile-long run and push-ups. Results from the spring 2006 tests, made public Friday, highlight a troubling trend. Today's children are much like the nation's adults: increasingly inactive and sedentary.

``Three out of four students are not in good physical shape,'' state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said in announcing the results. ``Students need to turn off the video games, turn off the television and the computer and get out and walk and play games.''

The 2006 test scores show a slight gain -- 1 percent -- in overall performance compared to last year's results.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:50 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools Slow in Closing Gaps Between Races

Sam Dillon:

Despite concerted efforts by educators, the test-score gaps are so large that, on average, African-American and Hispanic students in high school can read and do arithmetic at only the average level of whites in junior high school.

“The gaps between African-Americans and whites are showing very few signs of closing,” Michael T. Nettles, a senior vice president at the Educational Testing Service, said in a paper he presented recently at Columbia University. One ethnic minority, Asians, generally fares as well as or better than whites.

The reports and their authors, in interviews, portrayed an educational landscape in which test-score gaps between black or Hispanic students and whites appear in kindergarten and worsen through 12 years of public education.

Some researchers based their conclusions on federal test results, while others have cited state exams, the SATs and other widely administered standardized assessments. Still, the studies have all concurred: The achievement gaps remain, perplexing and persistent.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:47 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

NYT Letters: The New New Math: Back to Basics

NYT Letters to the Editor regarding "As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics":

s a middle school tutor, I’m always amazed at the pride many schools feel because their middle school curriculum includes topics in pre-algebra/algebra. This sounds like good news until it becomes clear that it’s not pre-algebra that students find problematic: it’s basic arithmetic.

Enabling students to have rote facts at their fingertips endows them with great self-confidence and permits them to take risks with subsequent higher-thinking math skills. This self-confidence eliminates that “fear” of math that prevails in our culture.

When I was an elementary school student in the 1950s, what was drilled daily in the classroom was reinforced nightly with numerous homework problems.

This is a technique that not only allows students to master the math basics, it also instills a sense of self-esteem gained through accuracy, precision and academic discipline.

E. S. Goldberg
Miami, Nov. 14, 2006


I was an educator in New York City for 31 years, and in my educational lifetime as dean of a Manhattan high school, a teacher in several junior and senior high schools and in summer and afternoon school tutorial programs, and a night adult-school teacher, I was involved in many new teaching programs.

Education is not an activity to promote politically correct reforms. Education is a process by which students are taught fundamentals in a structured environment with the least amount of distractions and political or doctorate-minded invasions.

The outrageous proposals to substitute the basics will always be with us, and the smart thing to do is not to waste the good taxpayer’s patience or money.

John A. Manicone
Port St. Lucie, Fla., Nov. 14, 2006

As a high school teacher of many years and a mother, I, too, am greatly concerned with curriculum revision that tends toward the dogmatic acceptance of one educational model over other models.

As most teachers know, there is not one path to mastery. What works well in one arena does not necessarily translate to another arena. Children who memorize multiplication tables have an easier time on standardized tests and in life than those who only know how to creatively group together dried kidney beans to figure out the process and answer.

Realistically, both models have a place in the classroom. But ultimately, at the end of the day, the person needs to know the answer.

Perhaps the problem lies with the commercialization of educational models and the proliferation of high-priced consultants. When incomes are determined by reinvention, then reinvention reigns over best practices. The question should not be what are the most interesting or creative models but what are the most effective strategies for teaching a particular subject.

Elizabeth Napp
Mount Kisco, N.Y., Nov. 14, 2006

To the Editor:

Isn’t there a very simple and obvious answer here? If the kids in Japan, Taiwan and elsewhere do so much better in math than our kids do, why not just use their textbooks and curriculum rather than reinvent the wheel?

Certainly, this would be a faster and more economical approach to this problem than reinventing curriculum and textbooks yet again.

Diana d’Ambra
Maplewood, N.J., Nov. 14, 2006

To the Editor:

No pun intended, the common denominator in predicting either the success or failure of any math curriculum — and I have been involved in a countless number of them during the past 45 years as a math educator — is the balance in it between theory and rote learning.

It didn’t harm me any to wait till I learned college-level and in some instances postgraduate-level mathematics to learn of the theoretical underpinnings of some algorithms. Frankly, frequently a greater level of mathematical maturity is needed to fully understand and appreciate such.

And let’s not forget the need for teachers who understand the nature of mathematics!

Milton L. Meller
Brooklyn, Nov. 14, 2006

To the Editor:

Thank you for publishing your article on the country’s lagging math scores.

I wrote a letter to the superintendent of my suburban Seattle school district when I was a junior in high school being poorly prepared for the SAT. I pointed out precisely the same problems with “reform math” that your article outlined.

I am now a sophomore in college and still paying the price for the poorly developed methods of “Integrated Mathematics.” You can be sure I will be forwarding a copy of this article to the superintendent, as well as updating her on my progress in remedial algebra. I’ll get the basics this time around; unfortunately, my parents are now paying $40,000 for them.

Alison Bailey
Portland, Ore., Nov. 14, 2006

To the Editor:

Raising the bar won’t help, unless the children are developmentally ready for the concepts being taught.

As a fifth-grade teacher in California, I am forced to teach concepts that I learned in junior high school (prime factorization, plane geometry, integers), in addition to some concepts I learned in high school, like the volume of a pyramid or copying a triangle with a compass. If that weren’t bad enough, I find that I spend much time trying to bring them up to snuff on doing all basic operations in decimals and fractions.

All of this would be great to use as enrichment, since the upper fourth of the class usually grasps the material. However, the rest of the class truly struggles. I would advise against using California’s math standards, unless they are thoughtfully pruned.

Carol Tensen
Burbank, Calif., Nov. 14, 2006

To the Editor:

One reads every day that American students are lagging in mathematics and sciences. Has anyone paid any attention to their English lately? We’re a country where the majority of people speak only one language, and that one they speak badly. Arts? Literature? History? Government? American students are lagging, period!

Mary C. Stephenson
Austin, Tex., Nov. 15, 2006

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:43 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 19, 2006

Did the tide turn last week?

A week ago, I said people who want change in the MMSD are a bunch of damn fools. We keep raising issues and making suggestions, but nothing changes. The champions of management without input must laugh themselves to sleep every night, I thought.

However, the forces of board and citizen control may have gained an upper hand in the last week:

The board proposed an independent review of the MMSD math curriculum when the superintendent defended it as good as any other math curriculum available and proposed adding math coaches.

The board proposed a goal for the superintendent to “Provide information to the Board in a clear, accurate, complete yet concise, and timely manner.”

Parents didn’t back down and said the central administration (not individual guidance counselors) had to clarify its own policies on credit for courses taken outside of the MMSD. AND, the board agreed to discuss the issue in committee. (In the last few years, board committees never met, and when they did, they just listened to presentations by the administration.)

The board seems to want to examine the dumbing down of high school curriculum. (The administration calls it high school redesign, but all the rest of us know its dumbing down.)

Lawrie Kobza uncovered the administration’s practice of proposing an out-of-balance budget. (Previous board approved budgets with barely a single probing question.)

The expenditure of $1.34 million for a Madison Virtual Campus came to light and may be an item for discussion on a future board agenda.

Could it be true? Could the board, parents, and citizens be taking control of the Madison schools away from the administration?

Posted by Ed Blume at 6:31 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

On Math Rigor

Teacher Ms. Cornelius:

Well, I teach high school kids, and I've sat through about five hundred IEP meetings. I have sat through meetings for kids in middle school and then meetings for the same kids in high school. And there's one thing I can tell you.

In five years, their goals had not changed one bit. In middle school, they were only expected to do 70% of their homework at 70% accuracy, and in high school, they were still only expected to do 70% of their homework with 70% accuracy. And for those of you who are reaching for your calculators because of the New New Math, that means that they only had to get 49% of their math work correct. Ever. Now if one were to bring this up before an IEP meeting, one will get looked at in much the same way that people avert their eyes at the sight of road kill.

This does not equate to proficiency in a one-size-fits-all world.

Alison Kepner has more.

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Over-Scheduled, Over-Protected Children May Need to Break Out on Their Own

Tim Holt:

Madeline Levine is a Marin psychologist who in her private practice sees a steady stream of overprotected suburban teenagers. (They're the subject of her best-selling book, "The Price Of Privilege.") Because of parents' exaggerated fears, the explorations of these suburban teens are often restricted to a short distance from home, according to Levine. Given this narrow experience, these kids tend to adopt their parents' fearful view of the world outside their home. As a result, she notes, "they are often denied a sense of real pleasure in exploring and enjoying the world around them."

Not so for the 60 city kids I interviewed for this article. Urban parents seem to take a different approach from those in the suburbs. With very few exceptions, the high-school-age kids I spoke with seemed to enjoy a great deal of freedom to explore their city. As Phil Halperin, the father of one free-roaming teenage boy, put it, "With all its diversity, San Francisco is a wonderful place for kids to learn how the world really works."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Academic Blend: A Thoreau Fundraiser

Academic Blend: A Thoreau School Fundraiser

Academic Blend, a 100% Fair Trade Coffee. An insurgent fundraising idea from Thoreau Elementary School's activist parents. 4 flavors (check out the eyes), $10/pound. Email Rosana Ellman ( to order.

Add your interesting fund raising ideas to this post via the comments. The recently revealed Madison School District's $6M structural deficit (slightly less than 2% of its $332M budget) places a premium on creative fund raising and expense reduction. The 2007/2008 budget will feature larger than normal reductions in the District's spending increases, due to the structural deficit.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:20 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Admissions Board faces Grade Inflation

Justin Pope:

But in the increasingly frenzied world of college admissions, even Zalasky is nervous about his prospects. He doubts he'll get in to the University of Wisconsin, a top choice. The reason: his grades.

It's not that they're bad. It's that so many of his classmates' are so good. Zalasky's GPA is nearly an A minus, and yet he ranks only about in the middle of his senior class of 543 at Edina High School outside Minneapolis.

That means he will have to find other ways to stand out.

. . . The average high school GPA increased from 2.68 to 2.94 between 1990 and 2000, according to a federal study. Almost 23 percent of college freshmen in 2005 reported their average grade in high school was an A or better, according to a national survey by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. In 1975, the percentage was about half that.

GPAs reported by students on surveys when they take the SAT and ACT exams have also risen — and faster than their scores on those tests. That suggests their classroom grades aren't rising just because students are getting smarter. Not surprisingly, the test-owners say grade inflation shows why testing should be kept: It gives all students an equal chance to shine.

More than 70 percent of schools and districts analyzed by an education audit company called SchoolMatch had average GPAs significantly higher than they should have been based on their standardized test scores — including the school systems in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Denver, San Bernardino, Calif., and Columbus, Ohio.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:35 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More on the Kalamazoo Promise: College for Free

The Kalamazoo Promise program has drawn 985 students to their K-12 system. Jamaal Abdul-Alim recently visited the city to learn more:

The program is as much a social experiment aimed at leveling the playing field of access to higher learning as it is an economic development initiative meant to generate school revenue, boost the economy and reverse the effects of a middle-class flight - some say "white flight" - that began in the 1960s and continued after the 1973 court-ordered desegregation of the city's public schools.

Students and parents in Kalamazoo believe the program has made children's educational futures so secure that some have scrapped their college-savings plans to buy household items, such as TVs.

Teachers say students and parents are showing more concern about their children's performance in school.

Home sales are up, and enrollment in the public school system - roughly 11,000, down 40% from four decades ago - is on the upswing. The 985 new students this school year brought an additional $7.5 million in state aid, and the district hired 50 new teachers. No new taxes were levied because of the promise.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

15 Wisconsin Fall Referendums Pass

Amy Rinard:

Fifteen school districts around Wisconsin won building project referendums worth $290 million on Nov. 7, and voters in several districts also voted to raise their tax levies a collective $51 million beyond the state spending caps.

Those results pleased a top state school board official, but he said it only shows how desperate times have become for many local districts, and that school advocates will be urging a re-examination of Wisconsin's school funding formula.

John Ashley, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said the number of districts that succeeded in getting approval of referendums showed voters value education and are willing to invest in future generations.

"I'm very, very happy for these districts because it's a matter of life and death for many of them," he said. "But I'm saddened at the number who didn't get their referendums passed."

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

November 18, 2006

New Glarus Parent Files Request for Summary Judgement On Behalf of Gifted Education in Wisconsin

State gifted education advocate and Madison attorney Todd Palmer recently filed a request for a judicial "summary judgement" in the matter of "Todd Palmer v. The State of Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and Elizabeth Burmaster." As he explained it to me in layperson's terms, a summary judgment "is a procedure wherein a party (me) asks the judge to render a decision based on the record. I am essentially arguing that the factual issues here are undisputed, therefore the judge can render a decision without a trial. I have every expectation that this motion will decide all relevant issues (one way or the other) and therefore we will avoid a trial. The state (DPI) must respond to my motion on or before 12/1/06." Todd expects a decision from Judge Nowakowski sometime in January, 2007.

The complete document has been posted on the Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) website --

Here is the Introduction:

This case is about a state agency purposely ignoring statutory mandates that require educational opportunities to be provided to an entire class of underserved and at-risk children -- specifically those labeled as "gifted and talented."

At their core, the issues before this Court are straightforward: Can a state agency ignore a legislative directive to promulgate rules governing this underserved class of children? Alternatively, can a state agency unilaterally transfer this rulemaking responsibility to local units of government in contradiction of a clear legislative directive? The clear answer to both issues is no.

Here, these issues arise in the context of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's ("DPI") failure -- for nearly 20 years -- to promulgate rules which implement and administer the gifted education mandates set forth in Wis. Stat. 118.35(2) and 121.02. In these two statutes, the Legislature clearly directed DPI to:

1) "BY RULE establish guidelines for the identification of gifted and talented pupils." See Wis. Stat. 118.35(2).

2) "PROMULGATE RULES to implement and administer" the legislative mandate that each school board "provide access to an appropriate program for pupils identified as gifted or talented." See Wis. Stat. 121.02(1)(t) and (5).

3) "PROMULGATE RULES to implement and administer" an auditing program to ensure that school boards are providing gifted students with access to appropriate programs. See Wis. Stat. 121.02(2) and (5).

To date, DPI has not promulgated rules meeting these directives. Instead, DPI has perpetuated a regulatory environment for nearly two decades whereby Wisconsin's 426 school boards have had: (a) no rules for identifying the gifted children within their district which require specialized services; (b) no rules defining what specialilzed educational services must be provided to these students once identified; and (c) no rules defining how DPI will unilaterally audit school boards to ensure compliance with these gifted education mandates.

In the absence of these rules and DPI's total abdication of its responsibilities, school districts have largely ignored their obligations owed to gifted children and many are openly planning to severely cut or altogether eliminate gifted programs in the future. This is a serious situation. Former State Superintendent of DPI, Herbert Grover, described the status of gifted education in Wisconsin as follows:

Research continues to show that, as a group, gifted and talented children are the most underserved pupils in public schools. Too often, these pupils are ignored, restricted, or underachieving and, if not part of the typical dropout statistics, have become in-school dropouts.

In order to educate yourself about the status of gifted education in Wisconsin, I encourage you to read the entire brief.

For additional background, here is the link to a previous entry about Todd's March, 2006, lawsuit against the DPI:

Link to the DPI Gifted Education home page:

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

2 West High Students Face Charges In Connection With Bomb Threat


Two Madison West High School students have been suspended and are facing criminal charges after allegedly creating a bomb scare twice -- once on Monday and on Halloween.
A 17-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl allegedly just wanted to play a practical joke, but the school's officials said they don't think it’s a laughing matter and are sending a strong message.
"We can't have students making those kinds of threats. We will have to take those kinds of threats very seriously. There will be consequences both from the school district and from the criminal justice system," said Ed Holmes, principal at West High School. "One student not wanting to go to class shouldn't impact on over 2,000 people in a school community."

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A bit of Sunshine on the Madison School District's Budget Process: 2006/2007 Madison School District Budget & $6M "Structural Deficit" Discussions

video hereThere's been a fascinating school board discussion over the past few weeks as the 2006/2007 $332M+ Madison schools budget is finalized.
(about 41 minutes into this 61 minute video clip) Lawrie Kobza:
"Why did our equity go down this past year since we, the board, passed a balanced budget in 2005/2006? Why did it go down by $2.8M (about a 1% variance in last year's $319M+ budget)?

Answer: "Negative expenditure of $6M in salaries (tuition income was down, special ed high incidence aid was down) $5.9M "structural deficit in place"."
Art Rainwater:
"The way we have attempted to deal with maintaining the quality of education as long as we could was to budget very, very aggressively, realizing that we had an out of fund balance ($5.9M in 2006/2007). We made the decision 7 years ago or so to budget aggressively and try to manage to that budget believing that we would use less fund equity over time than if we set aside a set amount. So that's been our approach. That fund equity has now come down to the point that we believe we can't do that any more and we will not bring you a balanced budget that is aggressive particularly where it gets into aggressive on the revenue side in how much efficiency we believe we can budget. So, what the effect of that is to increase the amount you have to pay.
Lawrie Kobza:
We budgeted under this CFO/COO account, we budgeted that we were going to find $6.1M somewhere without saying where, and we didn't. We found all but 2.7M of that. In this year's budget, we have the same type of thing. We have budgeted that we're going to find $5.9M somewhere. So, while we can look at all of our budget items, oh, we're doing great we're right on budget for salaries, transportation, for whatever. We can't just meet our budget, we have to do $5.9M better than our budget. We're going to take this up in the Finance committee to see if there is a different way we can present some of this, to be able to track it.
Roger Price mentioned that this was not a new item, but was in place when he arrived in the mid 1990's.

Ruth Robarts asked about a February 2006 consultant's forecast of the District's equity versus Roger Price's Numbers (52 minutes). Ruth also asked about the financial implications of the District's retirement buyout commitments through 2009. "I've been on the Board a long time and did not see in the documents I've seen that kind of structural deficit".

Watch the video here or listen to the mp3 audio.

Bottom Line: Thanks to Lawrie Kobza's digging, the public knows about the Madison School District's $6M "structural deficit". This also means that next year's balanced budget will require significantly greater reductions in spending increases, or "cost to continue approach" than we've seen in the past. It would also be interesting to see how our District's "equity" or cash reserves have declined over the years.

The good news regarding the budget's "Fuzzy Math, or the balanced budget that isn't" (there must be some)? The discussion happened publicly, on MMSDTV, and the community is now aware of looming larger budget changes than we've seen in the past. Unfortunately, I've seen no mention of this in the traditional media.

Run for school board!

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

November 17, 2006

Discontent Brews Over School Changes

Jason Shephard:

Last year, amid the uproar that followed West High School’s replacement of more than a dozen elective offerings with a core curriculum for 10th-grade English, Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater told the school board that such changes would be a “major direction” in the district’s future.

Some people see signs that this shift is now occurring.

Concerns about eliminating course offerings are being aired at East High School, which has traditionally offered an array of elective courses in core subject areas. Principal Alan Harris is expected to unveil the plan at a parent meeting on Thursday; officials declined to release details before then.

“There are a lot of reasons to be concerned,” says Lucy Mathiak, a school board member whose son attends East. “It does sound a lot like the West model, and that’s not what East parents asked for,” especially those who participated in this spring’s planning group called East 2012.

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"Too Little Math in Math?"

Lynn Thompson:

But they strongly believe that their math textbooks should include actual math.

Donald's "Connected Mathematics" book at Harbour Pointe Middle School in Mukilteo asks him to arrange a list of 20 cities in order of their populations, all in the tens of millions.

Yes, he concedes, he must recognize differences among numbers, but it's a pretty low-level task for a bright sixth-grader, about as challenging as alphabetizing words.

But check out the next activity: Locate the cities on a map.

"That's not math," Donald protests. "That's geography."

The Chacon-Taylor children and their parents, Hugh Taylor and Monique Chacon-Taylor, are among Snohomish County families raising questions about the effectiveness of widely used math textbooks that encourage discovery and writing about math, but de-emphasize basics such as multiplication and long division.

They've joined other Washington parents in an organization called Where's the Math? that's calling on the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to rewrite its K-12 math standards, select more effective textbooks and re-examine the math content of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL)

The calls for rethinking the state's math education come amid signs that the present system is failing large numbers of students. Just 51 percent of 10th-graders and 59 percent of fourth-graders passed the math section of the WASL in the spring. About 29,000 juniors haven't passed the WASL math test, which they must do to graduate in spring 2008..

The Madison School District uses Connected Math in middle school. Many links and notes on math, including the recent Math Forum audio/video.

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Board proposes goals for superintendent

According to the agenda for the Board of Education meeting on November 20, 2006:

It is recommended that the Board approve the 2006-07 goals for the Superintendent that require the Superintendent to:

a. Initiate and complete a comprehensive, independent and neutral review and assessment of the District's K-12 math curriculum.

  • The review and assessment shall be undertaken by a task force whose members are appointed by the Superintendent and approved by the BOE. Members of the task force shall have math and math education expertise and represent a variety of perspectives regarding math education.
  • The task force shall prepare and present to the BOE a preliminary outline of the review and assessment to be undertaken by the task force. The outline shall, at a minimum, include:
    1. analysis of math achievement data for MMSD K-12 students, including analysis of all math sub-tests scores disaggregated by student characteristics and schools;
    2. analysis of performance expectations for MMSD K-12 students;
    3. an overview of math curricula, including MMSD's math curriculum;
    4. a discussion of how to improve MMSD student achievement; and
    5. recommendations on measures to evaluate the effectiveness of MMSD's math curriculum. The task force is to present the preliminary outline and a timeline to the BOE for comment and approval.
  • The task force is to prepare a written draft of the review and
    assessment, consistent with the approved preliminary outline. The draft is to be presented to the BOE for review and comment.
  • The task force is to prepare the final report on the review and assessment.

b. Develop in collaboration with the Board and external advisors, a plan for the District to communicate to the community why parents or guardians should send their children to MMSD schools. Specific tasks include
  1. determining what parents and guardians consider important in selecting schools;
  2. determining whether and how MMSD schools provide what parents and guardians consider important in selecting schools;
  3. using the information gained from parents and guardians, developing a vision of what MMSD should be in the future; and
  4. developing a communications plan to promote MMSD schools and why parents or guardians should send their children to them. Timeframe to develop: 6 months.
c. Provide information to the Board in a clear, accurate, complete yet concise, and timely manner. The Board will evaluate progress on this goal through the use of a rating sheet for Board members to give periodic feed-back on the information they receive from the administration. Information provided to the Board shall be rated for timeliness, accuracy, organization and presentation.

d. Implement the Administrative Intern Professional Development Program. Program participants should be selected by the 4th quarter of this year. Special attention will be given to the recruitment of people of color and other historically under-represented groups in administrative positions in all employment categories of the District. (principals, building services, etc.) A report on the program shall be provided to the BOE at least annually.

Posted by Ed Blume at 11:26 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Public Comments Regarding the Madison School District's Quiet Policy Change Regarding Credit for Non-MMSD Courses

MP3 Audio | Video
Monday (11/13/2006) Madison School Board Performance and Achievement Committee meeting agenda originally included a discussion of the Administration's recent quiet policy change regarding students receiving credit (paid for by parents or the District) for non-MMSD courses.

The agenda item mysteriously disappeared, but several parents, including Board Member Lucy Mathiak spoke. The discussion is now scheduled for the 12/11/2006 Performance & Achievement Committee meeting.
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November 16, 2006

Madison School Board High School Redesign Discussion

The Madison School Board will discuss the Administration's High School Redesign plans on Monday evening, November 27, 2006, according to their calendar [screenshot]. East High School is holding a meeting this evening on their curriculum changes.

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More effective school boards

Tim Schell marvels at the difficulty of serving on a local school board, and I certainly share his amazement at the volume of information presented to board members. With all of that information and time necessary to understand it, how can board effectively oversee the management of a school district? To me, effective means being certain the boards decision's and the actions of the administration reflect the educational goals and values of a community.

I'd think that a board could function most effectively if a district had a clear plan for its future -- clear enough that the community can understand and support it; clear enough that the volumes of information can be understood in the context of the plan; clear enough that a board can keep the administration and itself focused on the plan; clear enough that new programs, new laws, new grants can be assessed against the plan.

Little of the above seems to apply to the MMSD, so the board's oversight of the administration happens piecemeal, largely in response to community screams about changes made unilaterally by the administration.

The disussion of the Madison Virtual Campus stands as an illustration of my point; the board and the community seem to know little about it; no one seems to have discussed whether the Madison Virtual Campus might fit into a grand plan or impact other activities of the district. Just to list a few questions, could the virtual campus satisfy the requests for AP and other advanced classes? Could it reduce the need for more classrooms on the edges of the community? Could it actually reduce MMSD expenditures? Could it be used to raise academic achievement for students who are not up to grade level standards? And the big question, what's the goal or goals of the Madison Virtual Campus?

Back to my original point, the MMSD board could more effectively oversee the Madison Virtual Campus if the MMSD had a clear plan and a clear statement of how the Madison Virtual Campus fits into that plan.


Actually, I think the administration has a plan (maybe not a grand plan) which guides board and administration decisions. The plan seems to be one to close the achievement gap (and cut costs perhaps) by dumbing down the curriculum. The plan helps me make sense of apparently unrelated decisions, such as English 10 at West, changes at East, and restricting students from accessing courses from institutions outside of the district.

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:26 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2006/2007 Wisconsin General School Aids for All School Districts

Bob Lang, Director, Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau [88K PDF]:

In response to requests from a number of legislators, this office has prepared information on the amount of general school aids to be received by each of the 425 school districts in 2006-07. This memorandum describes the three types of aid funded from the general school aids appropriation and the reductions made to general school aid eligibility related to the Milwaukee and Racine charter school program and the Milwaukee parental choice program. The attachment provides data on each school district's membership, equalized value, shared costs and general school aids payment, based on the October 15, 2006, equalization aid estimate prepared by the
Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

General School Aids

General school aids include equalization, integration (Chapter 220), and special adjustment aids. In 2006-07, $4,722.7 million from the general fund is appropriated for general school aids. Of the total amount of funding provided, including adjustments, 414 school districts are eligible for $4,620.4 million in equalization aid, 28 districts are eligible for $89.0 million in integration aid and 50 districts are eligible for $13.3 million in special adjustment aid.

Equalization Aid.
A major objective of the equalization aid formula is tax base equalization. The formula operates under the principle of equal tax rate for equal per pupil expenditures. In pure form, this means that a school district's property tax rate does not depend on the property tax base of the district, but rather on the level of expenditures. The provision of state aid through the formula allows a district to support a given level of per pupil expenditures with a similar local property tax rate as other districts with the same level of per pupil
expenditures, regardless of property tax wealth. There is an inverse relationship between equalization aid and property valuations. Districts with low per pupil property valuations receive a larger share of their costs through the formula than districts with high per pupil property valuations.
Madison, with 24,792 students will receive $56,984,764 (17.16% of the $332M+ budget) from the State (via income, sales taxes and fees).

Related Publications:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:29 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

State School Finance Spaghetti Blowback

Earlier this year, recently re-elected Governor Jim Doyle creatively used his line item veto power to move funds from transportation and other areas of the state budget to public school funds. Wisconsin citizens may have some "blowback" from that decision in the form of higher vehicle registration fees. This Wisconsin State Journal editorial has more information:

But that's no excuse for sticking it to the little guy who already pays one of the highest gas taxes in the nation.

The DOT is proposing a 45-percent increase, from $55 to $80, in the annual registration fee for cars.

The governor and Legislature should quickly reject the proposed $25 hike. They also should be wary of even bigger increases proposed for registration fees on light trucks.

The higher vehicle registration fees would bring in an additional $208 million to state coffers over the next two budget years. The DOT says the money is needed to fix roads and to rebuild Interstate 94 south of Milwaukee.

The road work may be justified. But motorists shouldn't get soaked just because state leaders are mismanaging the state's money.

State leaders -- the governor and the Legislature -- have diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from the transportation fund in recent years and spent it on other things such as public schools. To avoid road construction delays, our state leaders then borrowed money to make up the difference.

Patrick Marley has more:
The car registration fee would rise 46%, from $55 to $80. The department also wants to raise the registration fee for light trucks to $80 to $112, depending on their weight.

The changes would raise the cost of a license from $24 to $34 to cover the cost of new federal requirements to make identification cards more secure. Licenses are good for eight years.

The recommendations were due two months ago as part of the agency's budget request, but the department didn't submit them until Friday - three days after Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle was re-elected. The department noted that for years it had filed its requests about two months later than other agencies.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more:
At the same time, the governor and the Legislature can help future DOT budgets by not raiding the transportation fund to fill holes elsewhere in the state budget, something that has occurred too often in recent years and is one of the reasons for the transportation department's structural deficit.

Drivers should not be taxed by the state twice, once on income and once in fees, to meet the education budget, for example. The fees and the gasoline tax should be reserved for transportation.

A useful reminder that increased local (property taxes), state (income, sales taxes and fees) or federal (income, fees) spending on education ends up coming from the same sources. blowback

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Most Students in Big Cities Lag Badly in Basic Science

Diana Jean Schemo:

A least half of eighth graders tested in science failed to demonstrate even a basic understanding of it in 9 of 10 major cities, and fourth graders, the only other group tested, fared little better, according to results released here Wednesday.

The outcome of those tests, part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, often called the nation’s report card, showed that student performance in urban public schools was not only poor but also far short of science scores in the nation as a whole.

Half or a little more of the eighth-grade students in Charlotte, San Diego and Boston lacked a basic grasp of science. In six of the other cities — New York, Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Atlanta — the share of eighth graders without that knowledge was even higher, ranging from about three-fifths in New York to about four-fifths in Atlanta. Only in Austin, Tex., did a majority of eighth graders — and only barely there — have a basic understanding.

By comparison, the number of eighth graders who lacked a basic grasp in the nation as a whole was 43 percent.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:35 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Officials Meet to Discuss School Safety


Insubordination, bullying and fighting top the list of problems Madison schools deal with regularly.

Madison police and district officials answered questions and discussed the safety challenges of local schools.

Police handed out an incident report for Memorial High School.

According to the report, there were 32 calls to police for fighting since last January. There were 9 calls for possible sexual assaults and one weapons violation. Police say they're seeing more calls for weapons violations.

They did not give out reports for the other high schools.

Madison compares favorably to the rest of the nation on the issue of school violence. A study released in 2005 by the U.S. departments of Justice and Education indicated that nationally there was an average of 24 violent crimes for every 1,000 students on all grade levels.

For Madison's high schools last year, WISC-TV's findings revealed 4.4 violent crimes per 1,000 students. And while that's below the national average, district officials said they know that area parents judge things by a different standard.

"It's never willing to simply sit back and say we're good enough, always trying to improve, always looking forward," Yudice said.
"You have to continually examine what you're doing. You can't ever say, 'Boy we've got the answer.' Because the one thing I promise you is, we don't," said Art Rainwater, Madison Metropolitan School District superintendent.

For the entire 2005-2006 school year, Madison Memorial topped the list with 286 calls to police. Lafollette had 276 calls; East had 238 and West had 222.

The four-year trend showed a general decline in police calls to the same schools. Of the four, only Madison Memorial has seen a slight increase -- 26 percent since 2002.

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

November 15, 2006

Madison Virtual Campus costs $1.34 million so far

I asked Roger Price to point out where I could find spending for the Virtual Campus in the MMSD budget documents.

The MMSD then provided a memo which shows the following expenditures from DPI grants:

$295,000 . . 2001-2002
$250,000 . . 2002-2003
$235,000 . . 2003-2004
$250,000 . . 2004-2005
$200,000 . . 2005-2006
$100,000 . . 2006-2007
$ 7,755 Spring 2005
$1,337,755 Total

"No district operating budget has been used to build the Virtual Campus," according to the memo (original emphasis).

Based on Johnny Winston's comment, "Why don't people know about this," I can only assume that the administration spent $1.34 million without ever informing the Board of Education. That's just plain wrong (my emphasis).

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:21 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Quality and the Achievement Gap

Debra Viadero:

Two new studies shed light on how the achievement gaps between groups of students grow as they move from elementary to middle school.

The studies—one by researchers Eric A. Hanushek and Steven G. Rivkin and the other by the Northwest Evaluation Association—both found that black students start out school trailing behind their white counterparts, learn less over the course of the school year, and fall further behind as they progress through school.

But the studies diverge as they try to pinpoint potential causes for those learning gaps.

Mr. Hanushek and Mr. Rivkin, both university-based economists, suggest that the growth in the size of the learning gaps that occur as children move from kindergarten through 8th grade can be explained by certain differences in the schools that black and white children attend.


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Gates: U.S. Education System Needs Work

Donna Gordon Blankinship:

Gates said the experience of being a parent of three kids - ages 10, 7 and 4 - has led him to spend more time thinking about schools. Specifically, he said the U.S. education system needs higher standards, clear accountability, flexible personnel practices and innovation.

Gates, whose children are in private schools, said every state should require students to take three or four years of math and science to graduate from high school - 25 states currently have such requirements. He wants states to have the power to intervene at low-performing schools.

"Real accountability means more than having goals; it also means having clear consequences for not meeting the goals," he said in a speech earlier Monday to Washington state educators who came to hear the results of an education task force.

Gates said schools should also be able to pay the best teachers better and offer incentives to attract people with rare abilities.

"It's astonishing to me to have a system that doesn't allow us to pay more for someone with scarce abilities, that doesn't allow us to pay more to reward strong performance," he said. "That is tantamount to saying teacher talent and performance don't matter and that's basically saying students don't matter."

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Enough to Do the Job? Critical Questions About California's Latest Teacher Equity Plan

The Education Trust-West [PDF Report]:

In addition to the concerns raised above, the plan suffers from other important defi ciencies. First, it is extremely long and diffi cult to comprehend, even for those who are familiar with the jargon of education policy and practice. There is also an overall need to clean the document to enhance its clarity: there are tables with contradictory numbers, references to appendices that don’t exist, inconsistent program names, and so forth. The need for a more streamlined, publicly-accessible version was noted at the September 26 SBE meeting, but has yet to materialize. Also, despite giving the public virtually no time to review the completed plan before it was fi nalized and sent to the USDOE, the state has now decided to forego any further revisions to the plan unless changes are requested by the federal government. Furthermore, the September 29 version has not been circulated widely or made easily accessible on the state’s website or USDOE’s website, as of October 31. Moving forward, we recommend that the state clean up its current plan and make a synthesized, more legible version easily available to the general public

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"How to Improve Your Grade"

Ms Cornelius:

I was asked by a student today about how he could improve his grade. Beyond the obvious answer:

(Get higher grades on your work. Understand that a zero will NOT raise your average.)

there are these thoughts:

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November 14, 2006

Tax rates don't tell the whole story

Dan Benson:

The proposed tax rate, however, is $1.83 per $1,000 of equalized value, down from $1.97 this year. That means the owner of a $250,000 house would save about $35 on the tax bill from the previous year.

"(Vrakas) is calling it a tax decrease because the impact on some homeowners is that their tax bill may go down a couple bucks," said Christine Lufter, president of the Waukesha Taxpayers League.

Focusing on tax rates is "the most deceptive way of selling a budget. It's not an indicator of government efficiency," she said.

Instead, she and Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Association, say taxpayers should focus on the entire budget picture.

"Taxpayers should not pay attention to the tax rate. It's a function of both taxes and (property) values. And in the last 10 to 15 years, when values have been going up at a pretty rapid clip, it becomes almost a no-brainer to drop the tax rate," Berry said. "Playing games with the tax rate is my No. 1 pet peeve."

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More A's, More Pay

Karen Springen:

Meet the fourth R: reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic—and a reward. The Department of Education just launched the first federal program that uses bonuses to motivate teachers who raise test scores in at-risk communities, awarding $42 million this month to 16 school systems in places like Chicago, Dallas and South Carolina.
Joanne has more on teacher incentives as does Mike Antonucci.

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Boundary changes for Lake View & Chavez?

A story by Susan Troller in the Cap Times reports:

Two elementary schools at opposite ends of the Madison Metropolitan School District are bursting at the seams and may face boundary changes next year to deal with crowding.

Lake View Elementary on the northeast side of the city and Chavez Elementary on the southwest side are both well over their intended capacities, with Lake View at 116 percent and Chavez at 108 percent.

Lake View has an enrollment of 309 students, but is designed for 266. Chavez, with an intended capacity of 602 students, has an enrollment this year of 652 students.

Lake View has an enrollment of 309 students, but is designed for 266. Chavez, with an intended capacity of 602 students, has an enrollment this year of 652 students.

At a Long Range Planning Committee meeting Monday night, School Board President Johnny Winston Jr. noted that in the past, Lake View Elementary parents and staff members said they would prefer dealing with crowding issues internally rather than face boundary changes.

"A couple of years ago we knew Lake View was crowded. They doubled up a room and put some special programs on a cart to free up classroom space. We'll talk again with the school community. Boundary changes may be part of the dialogue now," Winston said.

Although crowding at Chavez will ease when the district's new far west side school at the Linden Park site opens in two years, concerns about the continuing population crunch next year may require action by fall 2007, School Board member Arlene Silveira said.

"We are committed to looking at some solutions to crowding at these two schools. Their numbers are just too high," Silveira said.

At Monday's meeting, Mary Gulbrandsen, district chief of staff, suggested that an option for next year could be moving about 60 students who live in the High Ridge Trail neighborhood in Fitchburg from Chavez to Thoreau Elementary. To accommodate this influx of students at Thoreau, 20-some students living in the Allied neighborhood would move from Thoreau, and be given the choice of attending Crestwood or Stephens Elementary. The Allied students would then attend Memorial High School, and the High Ridge Trail students would attend West.

This particular student switch had already been suggested as an option when the new school opens in 2008, but would be moved up a year if approved as the correct strategy for dealing with current crowding at Chavez.

Gulbrandsen said the administration also looked at the idea of outposting students from Chavez for a year or two while the new school is being built.

Outposting typically involves moving an entire grade from one school to another where there is excess capacity. But Gulbrandsen said there did not appear to be any single school on the west side where four classrooms would be available.

"We'd like the administration to take a look at the options, and crunch the numbers in terms of impact, including how it would affect the various grades at each school," Silveira said.

She also noted that it would be important to look at how the proposed changes would affect the numbers of low-income students at each school.

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Methodology Matters

Edward Glaeser:

Today, the Faculty will begin to take on the central and difficult question of what students should know to graduate from Harvard. The Task Force on General Education has produced a serious and thoughtful answer to this question. It has proposed that the College train students for citizenship in a global society and, to that end, require students to take courses in ten diverse areas from reason and faith to analytical reasoning. I fear, however, that the proposal goes too far in rejecting the Core Curriculum’s “approaches to knowledge” in favor of teaching knowledge itself. Methodology, particularly the scientific approach to human society, should play a prominent role in general education.

Like any self-involved faculty member, I could argue that the proposed program gives too little attention to my own field of economics while spending too much time on other less important disciplines. In extreme fits of economo-centrism, I can certainly convince myself that reading, writing, and breathing are pretty irrelevant relative to understanding the laws of supply and demand. I am not, however, writing this column to argue that my discipline deserves more recognition in general education. Indeed, I do not profess to know how much space in the general education curriculum should be allocated to any field, and I do not know what subjects should be focused on in other fields. I do, however, know that with regards to economics, the report focuses too much on social science topics but too little on social science methodology.

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Developing the China Connection Through Education Programs

Oregon Representative Dennis Richardson advocates substantially increasing the number of students studying mandarin [PDF]:

The U.S Department of Education in announcing its role in the National Security Language Initiative reported some statistics:
  • More than 200 million children in China are studying English, a compulsory subject for all Chinese primary school students. By comparison, only about 24,000 of approximately 54 million elementary and secondary school children in the United States are studying Chinese.
  • According to the Center for Applied Linguistics, only 31% of American elementary schools (and 24% of public elementary schools) report teaching foreign languages, and 79% of those schools focus on giving introductory exposure to a language rather than achieving overall proficiency. Richardson/Porter Proposal 10/31/06 4
  • Only 44% of American high school students are enrolled in foreign languages classes as reported by the 2002 Digest of Education Statistics. Of those students, 69% are enrolled in Spanish and 18% in French, with less than 1% of American high school students combined study Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Japanese, Korean, Russian or Urdu
  • Less than 8% of United States undergraduates take foreign language courses, and less than 2% study abroad in any given year. Foreign language degrees account for only about 1% of undergraduate degrees conferred in the United States.
Although there is no existing report on Chinese language courses in Oregon, some Oregon schools are independently developing their own programs for their students to learn the Chinese language. Portland Public Schools has a Chinese immersion (half day Chinese, half day English) program at Woodstock elementary that started in 1997. In the Fall 2006 semester it doubled in size from one class per grade (25-30 students) to two classes (50-60 students). So far the double class is only kindergarten. One grade will be added each year as the students get older. Some of the students are now in middle school at Hosford Middle School. A high school component will be added at either Cleveland or Franklin High School. The Portland Public Schools may start another Chinese immersion program at another elementary school in the future.
Mandarin is offered at one Madison High School: Memorial. Oregon Business Plan.

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National Council of Teachers of Math Changes Course on Teaching Math Fundamentals

SEATTLE — For the second time in a generation, education officials are rethinking the teaching of math in American schools.

The changes are being driven by students’ lagging performance on international tests and mathematicians’ warnings that more than a decade of so-called reform math — critics call it fuzzy math — has crippled students with its de-emphasizing of basic drills and memorization in favor of allowing children to find their own ways to solve problems.

At the same time, parental unease has prompted ever more families to pay for tutoring, even for young children. Shalimar Backman, who put pressure on officials here by starting a parents group called Where’s the Math?, remembers the moment she became concerned.

“When my oldest child, an A-plus stellar student, was in sixth grade, I realized he had no idea, no idea at all, how to do long division,” Ms. Backman said, “so I went to school and talked to the teacher, who said, ‘We don’t teach long division; it stifles their creativity.’ ”

As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics

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As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics

Erin O'Connor:

And parents shouldn't only be concerned about math instruction. They should be looking hard at the reading and writing parts of their kids' educations, too. Are they learning grammar? Can they spell? Punctuate? Understand what they are reading? Most of the Ivy League English majors whose writing I grade have trouble in these areas, which suggests to me that most everyone their age does. I tend to assume that the students I see are among the most linguistically competent students of their generation--but there are still a lot of issues with things such as run-on sentences, comma splices, murky phrasing, limited vocabulary, dangling modifiers, spelling, and so on. That's the legacy of a pedagogical attitude toward literacy that mirrors the one the mother above encountered when she inquired why her son wasn't being taught basic math skills. When I taught high school English in a boarding school a couple of years ago, I found that a great many students there had abysmal language skills. Some bordered on functional illiteracy. When I asked whether the school taught grammar at any point, the head of school told me that teaching grammar thwarted students' creativity and stifled their interest in reading. The utter inadequacy of that outlook really hits home when you realize that it amounts to lying to parents and kids about their kids' abilities, and that it involves sending kids off to college without the skills they will need to succeed there.
Tamar Lewin:
For the second time in a generation, education officials are rethinking the teaching of math in American schools.

The changes are being driven by students’ lagging performance on international tests and mathematicians’ warnings that more than a decade of so-called reform math — critics call it fuzzy math — has crippled students with its de-emphasizing of basic drills and memorization in favor of allowing children to find their own ways to solve problems.

At the same time, parental unease has prompted ever more families to pay for tutoring, even for young children. Shalimar Backman, who put pressure on officials here by starting a parents group called Where’s the Math?, remembers the moment she became concerned.

“When my oldest child, an A-plus stellar student, was in sixth grade, I realized he had no idea, no idea at all, how to do long division,” Ms. Backman said, “so I went to school and talked to the teacher, who said, ‘We don’t teach long division; it stifles their creativity.

Grass-roots groups in many cities are agitating for a return to basics. Many point to California’s standards as a good model: the state adopted reform math in the early 1990s but largely rejected it near the end of the decade, a turnaround that led to rising math achievement.

“The Seattle level of concern about math may be unusual, but there’s now an enormous amount of discomfort about fuzzy math on the East Coast, in Maine, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and now New Jersey is starting to make noise,” said R. James Milgram, a math professor at Stanford University. “There’s increasing understanding that the math situation in the United States is a complete disaster.”

Notes and links here. More comments. Joanne has more on "word problems".

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

Just Whose Idea Was All This Testing?

Jay Matthews:

Critics say standardized testing has robbed schools of the creative clash of intellects that make Plato's dialogues still absorbing. "There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all," said educational psychologist Gerald W. Bracey, research columnist for the Phi Delta Kappan education journal.

Historians call the rise of testing an inevitable outgrowth of expanding technology. As goods and services are delivered with greater speed and in higher quantity and quality, education has been forced to pick up the pace.

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Leaving the City for the Schools, and Regretting It

Winnie Hu:

Only the suburban bargain the Ophirs thought they were getting turned out to be no bargain at all. They chose the Yorktown school system, a relatively well-off district whose students consistently outscore their peers on state tests. But the Ophirs came to view the schools as uninspiring and unresponsive, and now they pay $51,000 a year for their children, 11-year-old Dylan and 9-year-old Sabrina, to attend the private Hackley School here — on top of $23,000 annually in property taxes.

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November 13, 2006

Equity Task Force Community Input

The Equity Task Force will be holding two public sessions this week and is continuing to collect feedback via the web.

The first session will be hosted by the Falk PTO as part of their regular meeting, between 6:30 and 8:00 pm on Tuesday November 14th in the LMC. The second will be Wednesday November 15 at 11:30 am at Centro Hispano, 810 W. Badger Rd.

That’s the official information. Unofficially (as a Task Force member, but not speaking for the Task Force), I’d like to explain a little about this phase of our work. What we are seeking is kind of a reality check, a general sense of what others think about equity, what is important to them and what they would like an equity policy to do. We want to consider this information as we prepare our report to the Board of Education. When we finish with our recommendations and present them to the Board of Education there will be plenty of opportunities to weigh in on the specifics.

Thanks in advance for your participation.


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Civic, Business Leaders and the Milwaukee Public Schools

Alan Borsuk:

The key players involved - a group that you would not have found at the same table often in the past - are the GMC, which is generally composed of business and civic leaders; the Milwaukee School Board; schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos; and the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, the union representing more than 8,000 MPS employees.

Sister Joel Read, the retired president of Alverno College who chairs the Greater Milwaukee Committee's education committee, said Milwaukee is a risk-averse city and change in MPS would involve risks for everyone, but she was optimistic about what will result from the effort.

"I think there's a new day here in Milwaukee," she said.

The effort will begin with more than two dozen meetings beginning this week and running into January with a wide range of people who have stakes in the success of MPS. The meetings will include sessions with teachers, principals, business leaders, parents and philanthropists. There will be a public session in each of the eight school board districts

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East High School to Follow West's One Size Fit's All 9/10 Curriculum?

From a reader involved in these issues:

The plan for East HS is to have only regular classes (that is, no Advanced (formerly AcaMo) and no TAG classes) and AP classes (which, presumably, only juniors and seniors will be able to take). East currently offers 9 AP classes. This means there will be a core curriculum delivered in completely heterogeneous classes (except for the special ed and ESL classes) across the boards in 9th and 10th grades. Our source did not specify if this means the end of Paul DuVair's renowned TAG Biology class. There also is no word on embedded honors options, like West now offers (though we have heard many reports about how profoundly uneven implementation is -- aside from the fact that embedded honors options rarely give students the critical opportunity to learn together at a high level).

The only exception to this plan will be math, largely because the kids enter East already ability grouped (i.e., some into Algebra, some into Geometry, etc.).

Additional info --

-- the official word is that this plan is coming from Alan Harris himself (yeah, right)

-- the other official word is that one of the reasons for this drastic change is that the TAG students were "coasting" (huh?)

So please spread the word -- especially to East attendance area parents that you know, including parents of younger kids -- and please attend, if you can. And if anyone can videotape ...

Related Links:I wonder how Shabazz fits into this? It seems like an outler, given the current high school curriculum direction.

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Is Science Education Failing Students?

Susan Black:

In many classrooms, science textbooks add to children’s misconceptions.

William Beaty, an engineer who designed an electricity exhibit for the Boston Museum of Science, discovered “a morass of misconceptions, mistakes, and misinformation” in grade school science textbooks. In fact, he couldn’t find a single book that explained basic electricity correctly.

North Carolina State University physics professor John Hubisz found similar problems in a two-year study of middle-school science textbooks. All told, he compiled 500 pages of errors in 12 textbooks, including mix-ups between fission and fusion, incorrect definitions of absolute zero, and a map showing the equator running through the southern states.

Reporting on the ways science textbooks are developed and sold to schools, Forbes writer David McClintick says many companies “churn out rubbish” with countless errors. One widely adopted text, for instance, claims the earth rotates around the sun, when it actually revolves around the sun and rotates on its axis.

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Txt Speak on Tests


Text-speak, a second language for thousands of teens, uses abbreviated words and phrases such as "txt" for "text", "lol" for "laughing out loud" or "lots of love," and "CU" for "see you."

The move has already divided students and educators who fear it could damage the English language.

New Zealand's Qualifications Authority said Friday that it still strongly discourages students from using anything other than full English, but that credit will be given if the answer "clearly shows the required understanding," even if it contains text-speak.

Tommy Franks issued battle orders in Iraq via Powerpoint [see also Thomas Ricks "Fiasco"]. One can imagine the techniques a future General will use....

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School math books, nonsense, and the National Science Foundation

David Klein:

Problem: Find the slope and y-intercept of the equation 10 = x – 2.5.

Solution: The equation 10 = x – 2.5 is a specific case of the equation y = x – 2.5, which has a slope of 1 and a y-intercept of –2.5.

This problem comes from a 7th grade math quiz that accompanies a widely used textbook series for grades 6 to 8 called Connected Mathematics Program or CMP.[1] The solution appears in the CMP Teacher’s Guide and is supported by a discussion of sample student work.

Richard Askey, a mathematician at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, reported, “I was told about this problem by a parent whose child took this quiz. The marking was exactly as in the text.”[2] Students instructed and graded in this way learn incorrect mathematics, and teachers who know better may be undermined by their less informed peers, armed with the “solution.” This example is far from the only failing of CMP. Among other shortcomings, there is no instruction on division of fractions in the entire three year CMP series, and the other parts of fraction arithmetic are treated poorly.[3]

Is CMP just an anomaly? Unfortunately not. CMP is only one of more than a dozen defective K-12 math programs funded by the National Science Foundation. More specifically, the NSF programs were created and distributed through grants from the Education and Human Resources (EHR) Division within the NSF. In contrast to the NSF’s admirable and important role in supporting fundamental scientific research, the EHR has caused, and continues to cause, damage to K-12 mathematics education.

Notes and links on math curriculum. Audio / Video from the recent math forum.

Connected Math is widely used within the Madison School District resulting in no small amount of supplementing by teachers, students and parents.

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November 12, 2006

World's Oldest Organization on Intellectual Disability Has a Progressive New Name

AAMR's name change draws applause from professional community and people living with a developmental disability

Washington, DC (November 2, 2006)-The American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR), a 130-year old association representing developmental disability professionals worldwide, has changed its name to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), establishing a new standard in disability terminology and making way for a more socially-acceptable way of addressing people with intellectual disabilities. The AAIDD is arguably best-known for officially defining the condition of mental retardation for the world, and its successful advocacy in abolishing the death penalty for victims with this condition in the United States. The name change will take effect January 1, 2007.

"This new name is an idea whose time has come," says Doreen Croser, Executive Director of AAIDD. "Individuals with disabilities and family members do not like the term 'mental retardation' and their advocacy is encouraging political and social change at national, state, and local levels. Our members demanded that we keep up with times and they voted for this name change." AAIDD members consist of faculty members, researchers, and service professionals working with people with intellectual disabilities in settings such as group homes, institutions, schools, hospitals, private clinics, colleges, and university centers.

The name of the AAIDD has been an ongoing source of contention in the disability community. While it is widely perceived that mental retardation (MR) is a condition that exists, it was also recognized that the term is prone to abuse, misinterpretation, and has devolved into an insult, especially for people with disabilities and family members. Further, the name AAMR was perceived as not in keeping with the progressive orientation of the information, products, and services offered by the Association.

The applause from the community of people with disability was unanimous once the name change was announced. "In taking 'MR' out of your name, you've set a precedent for it to be taken out of the classrooms, the doctors' offices, personal case records, and eventually out of the vocabulary of people walking down the street," says Amy Walker of Illinois Voices, a group working on behalf of people with intellectual disabilities.

Hank Bersani, current President of AAIDD explains, "Intellectual disability is a more accurate and modern term, and is also in keeping with terminology in Europe and Canada. We want to move away from any use of the word 'retardation,' while still allowing educators and other professionals to accurately describe the needs of the people they serve. Further, with the new name, we are reminding our members and the public that our mission has long included people with various developmental disabilities." Most members of AAIDD work closely with people with developmental disabilities since conditions such as autism and Down syndrome often co-exist with an intellectual disability.

Despite the new name, the core mission of the Association still remains the same-to promote progressive policies, sound research, effective practices, and universal rights for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The AAIDD has changed its name four times since its inception is 1876. The Association last changed its name in 1987 to the American Association on Mental Retardation.

Apart from its definition and advocacy work, the AAIDD is well-known for its journals, the American Journal on Mental Retardation and Mental Retardation. In recent times, the Association has received critical acclaim for the Supports Intensity Scale, a planning tool that empowers people with intellectual disabilities to live a desired life by getting services based on individual needs, not deficits.

Learn more about AAIDD at

CONTACT: Anna Prabhala
Ph: (202) 387-1968, ext. 212

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No money, no money, no money

For the last few years, we've heard the mantra from many school board members and the administration - no money, no money, no money - especially for new programs.

Thanks to Isthmus we now learn that "The district has spent five years building infrastructure, training staff and convincing stakeholders of the growing demand for virtual learning."

Development of the virtual classroom once again confirms the administration's approach to managing the MMSD to minimize input from any source other than administrative staff in the Doyle Building. The administration always seems to find money for what it wants to do, such as a new classroom at Marquette, but never money for suggestions from others.

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Is Admissions Bar Higher for Asians at Elite Schools?

Daniel Golden:

Though Asian-Americans constitute only about 4.5% of the U.S. population, they typically account for anywhere from 10% to 30% of students at many of the nation's elite colleges.

Even so, based on their outstanding grades and test scores, Asian-Americans increasingly say their enrollment should be much higher -- a contention backed by a growing body of evidence.

Whether elite colleges give Asian-American students a fair shake is becoming a big concern in college-admissions offices. Federal civil-rights officials are investigating charges by a top Chinese-American student that he was rejected by Princeton University last spring because of his race and national origin.

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Performance and Achievement of August 21, 2006

The Performance and Achievement Committee meeting of August 21, 2006 has been posted to the at Performance and Achievement sub-blog.

The agenda of the meeting was to cover which topics would be the focus of this academic year's meetings, and received a report on ESL from the ESL Coordinator Amy Christianson.

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November 11, 2006

Madison School District Virtual Learning

Jason Shephard:

One of the better-kept secrets in Madison is that the school district currently offers more than 100 online courses for city high school students. The program is called the Madison Virtual Campus.

“It turns out Madison is a leader in this technology,” says Johnny Winston Jr., the school board president. “My first question was, ‘Why don’t people know about this?’” He thinks virtual schools could help keep students who might leave for other options.

“As the second-largest school district in the state, we should be leading the way,” Winston says. “And to find out that yeah, we’re already doing this but nobody knows about it, I’m like, c’mon, let’s make this happen.”

But officials have purposely kept the program under wraps as they’ve fine-tuned it. There’s no mention of the program on the district’s Web site, and most parents have never heard of it. The district has spent five years building infrastructure, training staff and convincing stakeholders of the growing demand for virtual learning.

“We’re close to crossing a threshold in this district,” says Kelly Pochop, the district’s online learning facilitator. “Keep your ears open. We’re actively exploring options with our administrative team.”

The big question is how fast the district wants its students to take advantage of the Madison Virtual Campus. Currently, only eight high school students are taking online courses for credit. Another 14 middle school students are taking an online geometry course through the Kiel school district, with a Madison teacher providing support, to meet demands by the local teachers union.

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Gates Foundation's Small Learning Communities Have Yet to Yield Big Results

Linda Shaw:

The experiment — an attempt to downsize the American high school — has proven less successful than hoped.

The changes were often so divisive — and the academic results so mixed — that the Gates Foundation has stopped always pushing small as a first step in improving big high schools. Instead, it's now also working directly on instruction, giving grants to improve math and science instruction, for example.

Most of the dozen-and-a-half Washington schools with so-called "conversion" grants have ended up only as hybrids — a mix of small-school elements added to big-school features.

Going forward, the foundation is advocating a core curriculum that all high-school students would be expected to take, he said. And it wants to help improve math and science instruction by backing efforts to increase math requirements for high-school students, and to train more math and science teachers and pay them better.

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

Chartering Change: The push for alternatives underscores the need for school reform

Jason Shephard:

Many parents are actively researching educational options for their young children. Increasingly, they are expecting more from public schools than the one-size-fits-all model schools have traditionally offered. Across the state, school districts are opening more charter schools and boosting their offerings of online and virtual classes to diversify educational approaches.

Some see these alternatives as necessary for the future of public school districts — especially urban ones struggling to eliminate the racial and income achievement gaps while expanding opportunities for both struggling and high-performing students.

“While the system serves many children well, it doesn’t serve all of them well,” says Senn Brown of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association. “By recognizing that kids learn differently, and by creating options to serve them, school districts do better for all kids.”

Vince O'Hern has more on Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater:
Take away the glasses, and Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater bears a passing resemblance to Rodney Dangerfield, the late comedian whose tag line was, “I don’t get no respect.”

The Madison Metropolitan School District has compiled an impressive record of student achievement through the years and has shown heartening progress in reducing the racial performance gap — a gap that has been documented in many districts across the land. But despite this, Rainwater has faced an increasingly restive constituency and a growing public perception, justified or not, that Madison schools are in decline

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November 10, 2006

Madison BOE Progress Report for November 8th

I would like to thank our community for their passage of the referendum on November 7th. This referendum will build a new school in Linden Park, finance the cafeteria and remodeling of Leopold Elementary and refinance existing debt…

Board committees have been working hard this year and have been at the forefront of the meeting calendar. Here’s an update.

  • Finance and Operations (Lawrie Kobza, Chair) continues its work on the People’s Budget document and analyzing transportation costs.
  • Long Range Planning (Carol Carstensen, Chair) received reports from the City of Madison and Fitchburg planning depts. about housing developments and its affect on the district. They also received reports on enrollment which is 24,576, up 86 students from last year.
  • Human Resources (Ruth Robarts, Chair) received a report on the status and impact of health care costs from Bob Butler from the Wisc. Assoc. of School Boards. The committee also discussed handing complaints of staff.
  • Communications (Arlene Silveira, Chair) discussed legislative issues and supported them such as Rep. Spencer Black’s proposal to move security expenditures outside the revenue cap and supporting educational leadership for all students. The committee also discussed their next steps for community conversations.
  • Community Partnerships (Lucy Mathiak, Chair) had a panel of school principals discuss best practices for parent participation. They also discussed a timetable and plan for parent input sessions.
  • Performance and Achievement (Shwaw Vang, Chair) will receive a report on District's Fine Arts programs and discuss credits for courses outside the MMSD.
For a listing of the board calendar, please log onto

On Oct. 31st the board approved the tax levy of $10.02 per $1,000 of assessed property value, down from $10.43 last year. Taxes on the typical city home will increase by $74, or 3.2 percent. The board will complete it’s work on the overall budget soon… We are close to completing our evaluation of the Superintendent and goal setting… The board has ratified two collective bargaining agreements with Local 60 custodial and food service employees. The custodians agreed to a 2.0 % wage increase for the first year and a 2.9 % increase in the second year. The food service workers agreed to a 3.25% the first year and 4.25% the second. These wage increases were the result of savings passed on to the employees by their agreeing to a new three-HMO employee health insurance option for the employees that includes Group Health Cooperative, Physicians Plus and Dean Health Plan effective 1/1/07.

District News:
Centro Hispano recognized Cherokee Principal Karen Seno, with its 2006 Partnership Award for outstanding leadership in promoting academic achievement for Latino students…

Building Services Director Douglas Pearson accepted the Governor's Energy Efficiency Award and a check for more than $45,000 on behalf of the MMSD. The award recognizes the districts on-going commitment to energy conservation that results in significant cost savings for the District…

East High teacher, Mary Klecker received an Honorary Recognition award in October from the University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. It is the highest honor bestowed, recognizing outstanding contributions toward the development of agriculture, protection of natural resources and improvement of rural living…

The Madison West Rocket Club has won yet another NASA Student Launch Initiative grant. This is West’s fourth SLI grant in three years…

The LaFollette Boys’ cross–country team, led by Coach Brady Nicols, won it’s first-ever WIAA state title…

Congratulations to East and Memorial for their participation in the state soccer tournament. This was East’s first ever appearance at the state tournament. Memorial was the eventual champion in division 1…

Congratulations to all the schools in the MMSD for exceeding the $10,000 milestone needed to establish their endowment fund for the Foundation for Madison’s Public Schools! Endowments are held at the Madison Community Foundation.

Your Input Is Needed:
The Equity Task Force, appointed by the MMSD Board of Education, is seeking community and district employee input regarding aspects of a proposed equity policy. To facilitate gathering community input, a brief online survey is available. To take the survey, please go to or go to the district's home page and click on the top link under "News from MMSD Today".

Thank you for your interest and support of the MMSD.

Johnny Winston, Jr., President, Madison School Board

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

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Virtual School Reports

North American Council for Online Learning:

New Research Reports Released on Online Learning:

Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: A Review of State-level Policy and Practice by John Watson Released November 2006 [PDF]

An International Perspective of K-12 Online Learning: A Summary of the 2006 NACOL International Survey and International Matrix

Virtual Schools and 21st Century Skills, written by NACOL and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (November 2006)

Learning Point/NCREL’s Synthesis of New Research on K-12 Online Learning

Exploring E-Learning Reforms for Michigan: the New Education (R)evolution

Corey Murray has more.

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November 9, 2006

See a Good Idea. See it Run Into Trouble

Paul Beston:

In 1991, a New York State teacher of the year, John Taylor Gatto, wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal in which he announced his departure from public school teaching after 30 years. He was no longer willing to "hurt kids" in a broken system where political pressure snuffed out worthy efforts for change. By now, he wrote, "even reformers can't imagine school much different."

Indeed, the first priority of education reformers is often not success but the preservation of methods with which they are already comfortable. As Harold Henderson writes in "Let's Kill Dick and Jane," the American educational establishment possesses "an uncanny ability to transform golden ideas for change -- from left, right, or center -- into a leaden sludge." Mr. Henderson, a longtime staff writer for the Chicago Reader, describes the fate of one textbook company -- Illinois-based Open Court -- as it tried to bring its share of golden ideas to a resistant school system.

The book's title refers to the basal readers that were once a mainstay in American schools: Dick and Jane, created by advocates of the "Look-Say" theory of reading instruction in which children were taught to memorize the appearance of words at the expense of phonetic understanding. The theory has since been discredited, at least in part by the publication in 1955 of Rudolf Flesch's best-selling "Why Johnny Can't Read," which urged a return to phonics instruction.

Blouke Carus and his wife, Marianne, Americans with strong German roots and a familiarity with the exacting standards of the German gymnasium, read Flesch's book and formed Open Court in 1962. Together with a small band of dedicated educational theorists and consultants, they created innovative materials with the goal of educating the American masses as rigorously as the elites of Europe. Providing both a history of this remarkable company and a withering portrait of the education culture, Mr. Henderson's book is more compelling than any lay reader could reasonably expect.

Order "Let's Kill Dick and Jane: How the Open Court Publishing Company Fought the Culture of American Education. More on Paul Beston. Brett posted a few words on the article.

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Creating a positive place for students

By Superintendent Art Rainwater

The three tragic school shootings that occurred this fall made us aware of the unique place that school occupies in our minds. Each of us felt the trauma that accompanied the violation of that place that we hold special.

School is the one common experience we all have. School is a place for friendships to grow and to learn the skills needed for adulthood. It is a place where we should feel safe, both physically and emotionally.

As tragic and traumatic as school shootings are, they are rare. It is important that we prepare to prevent violence in any form, and react immediately and strongly when it does occur. However, the real safety issue in schools is much more common and insidious. The often unspoken and hidden safety issue that must be addressed is emotional safety.

Children are much more likely to be emotionally damaged than they are to be physically harmed. Bullying and harassment in all of its forms carry lasting affects.

It is easy to reminisce about the good old days and say “there has always been a bully on the playground”. Because there has always been harassment doesn’t make it right, then or now. We know more today about children and the effects that everyday interactions with peers and adults have on their adult persona, both positive and negative.

It is clear that we need to teach students how to respect differences and accept people for the value that each of them contributes. It is less obvious, but more important, that schools ensure that our adult interactions and institutional systems promote these same ideals.

Historically, school has been a place where rules and punishments were the norm for dealing with misbehavior. Most of us hold that as the expectation and the standard. It shouldn’t be. We have an obligation to our future adults to assure that we teach, using every skill that we have, what good behavior looks and feels like. Instruction in behavior should be an on-going part of our educational mission.

The one thing that is a given is that most children will test the limits of the boundaries we set. That is a necessary part of growing up. The key to creating a positive place for students to learn is how we react to those tests.

Rather than a punitive response only, we must help the student accomplish three things:

  • Gain an understanding of what he/she did and who was affected and how he/she might have handled the situation differently,
  • Provide restitution to those harmed by his/her actions,
  • Return to good standing in his/her community with a new set of behavior skills.

If we, along with children’s families, can accomplish these three things, students will grow into adulthood
with the interpersonal and social skills to function effectively as productive and contributing citizens.

After all, that is one of the most important goals of public education, and where we fail in that mission we fail not just the student but all of us.

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Memorial High School Taser Incident Notes

From a reader:

Address 201 South Gammon Road (Memorial High School)

Arrested person/suspect 1. Jacquelyn L. Lightfoot, 37-year-old female of Madison (Charges –Disorderly Conduct 947.01, Resisting/Obstructing A Police Officer 946.41)

2. 14-year-old female (10th grade Memorial HS Student) of Madison
(Charges – Disorderly Conduct 947.01, Resisting/Obstructing A Police Officer 946.41)

3. 15-year-old female (9th grade Memorial HS Student) of Madison (Charges – Disorderly Conduct 947.01, Resisting/Obstructing A Police Officer 946.41)

Victim/Injuries Jacquelyn L. Lightfoot was evaluated at local hospital for treatment related to injuries sustained prior to this incident.

Details On 11/08/06 at approximately 11:29am, Educational Resource Officer (ERO) requested emergency backup at Memorial High School reference a belligerent parent that was out of control.

Upon arrival, it was determined that a 17-year-old male subject, who was not a student of the school, had been taken into custody by the ERO and was being cited/released on a municipal violation of possessing tobacco products.

Jacquelyn L. Lightfoot (parent of the 17-year-old male) was made aware of the arrest scenario and responded to Memorial High School. Lightfoot made her way to the office of the ERO and began to verbally attack the officer for the police action he was involved in concerning the 17-year-old male.

Lightfoot continually escalated her actions towards the officer and was told many times to calm down and cease her physical approach; as she demanded her son be released from custody immediately. The ERO was then surrounded by Lightfoot and her two daughters in a confined area, and deeming Lightfoot the greatest threat, a Taser was utilized by the ERO to deescalate this threat to a manageable level.

It should be noted that the officer verbalized and used a physical separation technique before using the Taser as his last resort.

Jacquelyn L. Lightfoot and her two daughters were all arrested on charges of Disorderly Conduct and Resisting/Obstructing A Police Officer. The situation that occurred was an isolated event that did not place the school in any harm at any time. School officials were quick to act in this scenario, and it was resolved quickly after police arrived on scene.

It is understandable that parents would be concerned about the welfare of their children, but school officials and police would expect that parents would be appropriate in utilizing the correct mode of conflict resolution. This is a case that all involved parties did not envision, but concerns by any interested person must be dealt with in an appropriate manner if the educational environment is to remain conducive to that of learning.

WKOW-TV interviews Lightfoot.

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LA Community College District to be Powered by the Sun

From Solar Energy International:

The Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), the nation’s largest community college district, plans to produce enough of its own electricity to take its nine campuses “off the grid.” The LACCD believes that it is the first community college district in the nation to plan to generate all its own electricity. The initial plan is to install enough PV to produce one megawatt of electricity at each of its nine colleges.

The one megawatt per campus program is part of the LACCD's Energy Strategy Plan which includes: plans for a renewable energy Central Plant; performance conservation efficiency contracts; and a sustainability curriculum for its nine Los Angeles-area colleges.

Read the LA district's press release.

Hopefully the MMSD school building approved by voters in the November referendum will include solar and other green building features.

Posted by Ed Blume at 11:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Discussion of AP/IB High School Classes

Jay Matthews:

I am collecting the Challenge Index data now. The early returns indicate our local schools will set a record for the number of AP and IB tests being given. In fact, there appears to be no other region in the country that has as high a level of participation in college-level courses and tests.

That, I think, is a good thing. The Washington area is going to look good on most educational measures because it has some of the highest levels of parental income and education. All the research shows that students who come from affluent families with parents who went to college do better in school than students without those factors. But most of our school districts have done something most other U.S. districts have not done. Our districts have opened these challenging courses to all students, not just to those with affluent, well-educated parents. And they have prepared many students from disadvantaged homes so well that they are passing these college-level tests and not only earning college credit but also getting a useful sense of how to handle the heavy reading lists and long final exams that make college, for many students, such a difficult adjustment.

Two large studies in California and Texas have shown that good grades on the three-hour AP tests correlate with higher graduation rates in college. I have interviewed hundreds of AP and IB teachers and students over the past 20 years. They almost all say that the courses and tests are the best academic experiences their high schools have to offer, and they recommend that more high schools use them.

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November 8, 2006

Education Action at the Federal Level

Andrew Rotherham:

But that's down the terms of this new Congress, George Miller taking over the education committee in the House will probably surface a misunderstood dynamic around national education politics. Namely, while a lot of people think that the No Child Left Behind debate is Republican v. Democrat, in fact it's really intra-party. Miller is a stronger accountability hawk than President Bush's Administration is. He's for teaching to standards in that debate...Senator Kennedy (who seems likely to again chair the education committee in the Senate) has moved to a pro-accountability position over the past decade (and his key staffer on education is a former civil rights attorney so she gets these issues from that lens which is the Ed Trust, CCCR, etc...lens).

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11/7/2006 School Referendum Passes

Susan Troller:

It was a very good night for the Madison schools Tuesday.

By the time all the votes were counted, 69 percent of district voters said yes to three referendums that totaled $23 million in projects: building a new elementary school at Linden Park, shifting the cost of an addition at Leopold from the operating budget to borrowed cash and refinancing existing debt at a more favorable rate.

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Streaming to Virtual Schools

The Doyle Report:

State virtual schools are among the fastest growing programs in K–12 public education. Twenty-eight states now have virtual school programs that enroll students statewide, up from four such programs in 1997. Last year, some 139,000 students enrolled in at least one course through a state virtual school. Two of the oldest and largest state on-line programs, in Utah and Florida, have both expanded by more than 50 percent over the past five years. If trends continue—if states continue to create virtual schools and recently created programs grow at even half the rate of the programs in Florida and Utah—we can expect a half-million students to enroll in state virtual schools in just a few years.

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Seven Ways Politicians Are Dumb About Schools

Jay Matthews:

It is election day -- a good day, I think, to thank God for our freedoms and for finally relieving us of the pain of listening to all those annoying campaign commercials.

I watch and listen to them anyway, even the worst of them. I am a political news junkie and always find them interesting, if exasperating. But as an education reporter, it bothers me that the politicians and campaign consultants who do these commercials promote the same myths about schools, election after election after election. Their messages distort our thinking about education and make it harder to raise student achievement.


We have yet to elect any president, senator or member of Congress who has had a marked positive (or negative) impact on student achievement. Candidates for those offices will say they plan to rescue the education system because their polls say voters think this is important, but their promises are meaningless. Governors, as well as school board members, do have the power to make schools better, but very few have ever done so. Usually the best work is done by aggressive teachers and principals who know what they want and work very hard to get it, without ever asking anyone to vote for them.

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

November 7, 2006

Going Green Saves Schools $100,000 a Year


A new national report finds that building "green" would save an average school $100,000 each year - enough to hire two new additional full-time teachers.

The report breaks new ground by demonstrating that green schools - schools designed to be energy efficient, healthy and environmentally friendly -- are extremely cost-effective. Total financial benefits from green schools outweigh the costs 20 to 1. With over $35 billion dollars projected to be spent in 2007 on K-12 construction, the conclusions of this report have far-reaching implications for future school design.

Sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers, the American Institute of Architects, the American Lung Association, the Federation of American Scientists and the US Green Building Council, the report includes a detailed analysis of 30 green schools built in 10 states between 2001 and 2006. The analysis demonstrates that the total financial benefits of green schools are 20 times greater than the initial cost, and include energy and water savings, and improved student health and test scores. If all new school construction and school renovations went "green" starting today, energy savings alone would total $20 billion over the next 10 years. Some of the major benefits documented in Greening America's Schools include:

· On average, green schools use 33% less energy and 32% less water than conventional schools, and would improve national security by reducing reliance on imported energy.

· Green schools typically have better lighting, temperature control, improved ventilation and indoor air-quality which contribute to reduced asthma, colds, flu and absenteeism… helping improve learning, test scores and lifetime student earnings.

· Greening all school construction would create over 2000 additional new jobs each year from increased use of energy efficiency technologies.

· Additional benefits calculated in the report include improved teacher retention and a reduction in dangerous air-pollutants that cause respiratory disease and premature mortality.

Specific school findings include:

· The green school in Dedham, MA saved the town $400,000 in new sewer-system infrastructure by reducing stormwater runoff from the school grounds.

A review of five separate studies by Carnegie Mellon University found a 38.5% asthma reduction in buildings - such as green schools - from improved indoor air-quality.

One school district in North Carolina experienced a 33% increase in the percentage of students testing at grade-level for reading and math after moving to a green school.

Study author Greg Kats, a former Director of Finance for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the US Department of Energy, has worked with dozens of corporations, developers, state agencies and organizations to arrive at conservative cost/benefit comparisons of different environmental and building strategies. In Greening America's Schools, Kats emphasizes that the financial benefits of green schools are substantially broader than those quantified in the report and include the creation of new educational opportunities, improved equity in education and insurance savings. "Building green schools," he writes, "is more fiscally prudent and lower risk than continuing to build unhealthy, inefficient schools."

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Youth Options Program - DPI Information and Link

There's been discussion on this website about taking UW classes and the WI Youth Options Program - who pays and who gets credit, what are the District's policies. Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has a website with a brochure and frequently asked questions on this program - The website also includes the state law on this topic.

The Youth Options program allows all public high school juniors and seniors who meet certain requirements to take postsecondary courses at a Wisconsin technical college or institution of higher education. An institution of higher education (IHE) includes UW System institutions, tribally controlled colleges and private, nonprofit institutions. Youth Options Program Brochure

On Monday, November 13th at 6:15 p.m., McDaniels Auditorium, the Board of Education's Performance and Achievement Committee's second topic for discussion isCredits for courses outside the MMSD.

Two questions from DPI's FAQ on the Youth Options Program that may pertain to next Monday's Performance and Achievement Committe's discussion on this topic:

1. May a school district limit the number of credits a student takes through the youth options program?

Yes, if a school district has a board policy in place, the school district may limit a student to 18 college credits over the two years the student is eligible for youth options. {§118.55(7t)(a), Wis. Stats.} The school district is not authorized to set the number of credits lower than 18, however the district may set the number of credits higher or not set a limit.

2. Can the number of college credits per semester be limited?

The number of college credits per semester may be limited by the post-secondary institution, but the school district does not have authority to limit the number of credits in a semester.

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I Didn't Know ... Reading First Grant Audit

In the post "Audit Faults Wisconsin's Reading First Grant Process" the author, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, in Education Week wrote, "There is also no explanation of the decision by officials in the Madison school district to give back its $2 million grant shortly after it was approved. Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater decided to drop out of the program after federal consultants told district officials they would have to abandon their existing literacy initiative and adopt a commercially published core reading program, he wrote in a detailed memo to the school board. ("States Report Reading First Yielding Gains," June 8, 2005.)"

I thought MMSD, per the Superintendent, did not continue the process rather than turned down an approved $2 million grant, because he felt the District was being pressured into a curriculum that did not support what was currently underway in the District, and the Superintendent felt the District's curricula was better for Madison's kids.

Does anyone remember the process? Was the School Board involved?

I'm sick to my stomach about the Dept. of Education's administration of the Reading First grant dollars. Does anyone know if children's reading achievement has improved due to Reading First?

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Notes on "Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy"

Brett posts his thoughts on the book"Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy:

As with his last book, Mathews offers a great deal of evidence as to the roots and the current state of the issues preventing community engagement. It’s a challenge that’s been more than a century in the making: when the idea of professional specialization took hold at the end of the 19th century, the public passed the reins of our schools to a new class of education administrators, and that trend grew over time into the chasm we see today between the two groups. As a result, we have owners who aren’t getting the results they want from schools, but don’t feel qualified to direct change, and we have experts who resent being second-guessed by people who aren’t qualified to make decisions. (For more, see my notes on his last book here.)

He also paints an exciting picture of what education could look like if communities were welcomed and fully involved. He sees the potential for the community itself as an educational institution, allowing for reinforcement and application of academic content in a real-world environment made up of encouraging and active citizens. And just as importantly, he sees the public as the proper authorities to set educational mandates –the outcomes we wish to reach by educating our kids.


First, most community action happens at a local level and, for the most part, the important education decisions are no longer made locally. Decisions on what to teach, what to test, and often even what materials can be used are made at the state level, and school districts don’t have the authority to overrule them. Further, there’s actually very little discretionary funding available locally to drive change: I’ve heard from school board members who say that they can influence no more than 10% of the district’s budget, and I’ve heard from numerous sources that principles typically have control over less than $50,000 each year (and that’s in school budgets that run into the millions each year).

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

Audit Faults Wisconsin's Reading First Grant Process

Wisconsin education officials failed to ensure that schools and districts that received federal Reading First grants adhered to the program’s strict guidelines, a failing that, if not rectified, could cost the state nearly $6 million of its $45 million allocation, a federal report concludes.

The audit by the U.S. Department of Education’s inspector general, dated Oct. 20, found that nine of the state’s 26 grant recipients had not received the required approval of a review panel and may not have met all the requirements for receiving the money.

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, Education Week, November 1, 2006

State officials acknowledged that some of the local grant proposals were stronger than others, and they agreed with the inspector general that the state needs to monitor more closely the program’s implementation and give additional guidance to Reading First schools and districts.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction “supports the Reading First program and will do whatever it takes to guarantee successful implementation of all its programs,” Julie Enloe, Wisconsin’s Reading First coordinator, wrote in her response to the inspector general.

The report is the second of six reviews of the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program being conducted by the inspector general. The first, released in September, was a scathing critique of the federal Education Department’s management of the program following an examination of program documents, e-mail correspondence between federal employees and consultants, and interviews. ("Scathing Report Casts Cloud Over ‘Reading First’," Oct. 4, 2006.)

‘Is This All There Is?’

The new report is limited to Wisconsin’s performance in administering the grants. Little detail about the state’s difficulties in getting approval for its grant during the program’s rollout in 2002 and 2003 is given.

Some Wisconsin educators had complained, for example, that consultants and reviewers rejected the specific reading programs the state had proposed, and pressured them to adopt other programs or assessments.

There is also no explanation of the decision by officials in the Madison school district to give back its $2 million grant shortly after it was approved. Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater decided to drop out of the program after federal consultants told district officials they would have to abandon their existing literacy initiative and adopt a commercially published core reading program, he wrote in a detailed memo to the school board. ("States Report Reading First Yielding Gains," June 8, 2005.)

“Is this all there is?” Kathy Champeau, who heads a task force on the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the Wisconsin State Reading Association and is a member of the state’s Reading First leadership team, said of the inspector general’s audit.

“I was shocked at the limited scope of the report,” she said, “and that it didn’t address … the coercion the state faced to use certain published programs.”

Those issues, however, were not within the scope of the audit, which was to determine whether the state education department followed the requirements of the Reading First program in issuing the grants to local education agencies, the report says. Other audits may include more detail on the Wisconsin program.

Ms. Champeau contended that the Wisconsin department went to great lengths to monitor the grants and ensure that the participating reading programs were of high quality.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:25 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Few More 11/7/2006 Referendum Links

  • Support Smart Management: Wisconsin State Journal Editorial Board:
    Taxpayers in the Madison School District should demand that the School Board be smarter about managing the district's money and resources.

    On Tuesday's ballot is a school referendum containing three smart proposals.

    That's why the referendum deserves voters' support.

    More important than the referendum, however, is what happens next. The School Board is confronting difficult choices, including how to respond to rapid growth in areas where there are no schools while in other parts of the city, schools have excess space.

    A pivotal question in upcoming months will be: Does the board have the courage to close a school? While the rapidly growing Far West Side merits a new school, other parts of Madison are experiencing declining student populations.

    Taxpayers can't afford to build schools where the children are while maintaining schools where the children aren't.

    At least one school should eventually be closed and sold, with boundary changes to distribute children to other schools.

  • Another Referendum: WKOW-TV:
    This referendum is different from the last - it has one question, with three parts. In 2005, just one issue of a three-part question passed. Voters passed a plan for building renovations, but they said voted down a second school on the Leopold Elementary site, and to exceeding the revenue cap

    Monday night, spokesperson Ken Syke pointed out that since at 1993 no MMSD referendum has fully failed-at least one issue has always passed.

  • Don Severson & Vicki McKenna discuss the referendum question and a District email to MSCR users [mp3 audio]
Many more links here.

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November 6, 2006

"Vouchers for the Gifted"

Joanne Jacobs:

Levi Clancy's special needs can't be met by his local public schools, so his mother enrolled him a school where he's able to learn. But the district won't pay the cost, because the 14-year-old boy (aka Levi Meir Levi) is a junior premed at UCLA. The mother's suit for special ed compensation for the "profoundly gifted" -- in this case college tuition -- was heard by the California First District Court of Appeals in Sacramento two weeks ago. The suit asks for vouchers for gifted students whose needs can't be met in the normal K-12 schools. The state says it has no "constitutional duty" to offer a free education beyond the high school level, even to students who are required by law to attend school.

The New York Sun tells the story of a progressive superintendent who eliminated classes for gifted and talented students in her New York City region, driving out middle-class families and radically reducing the number of students who qualify for specialty high schools. In the name of equity, smart kids are denied the chance to learn at their own level.

Janet Mertz has been following the Madison School District Administration's curriculum reduction (without Board discussion/approval) initiatives.

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Frederick W. Taylor, Scientific Management and Standardized Testing

Cynthia Crossen writing in "Deja vu" on Taylor, whose ideas continue to this day in the education world (among others):

"You have been quarreling because there have been no proper standards for a day's work," Mr. Taylor chided bosses. "You do not know what a proper day's work is. We make a bluff at it and the other side makes a guess at it, and then we fight."

The second part of Mr. Taylor's system was a task-bonus wage plan. Each worker was given a daily production target. If he made it, he got a high price per piece. If he failed, he received a much lower rate. At one machine shop, for example, Mr. Taylor set a rate of 35 cents apiece if the machinist finished 10 pieces a day, 25 cents if he finished nine or fewer.

Skeptical manufacturers wondered whether better productivity would be more than offset by higher wages. Mr. Taylor's answer: If his time study had been carried out correctly, it would be very difficult for a worker to beat the target.

Much more on Taylor here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

DPI has grants for after-school academic enrichment

The Department of Public Instruction has announced the availability of grant funding through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, funded under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Funds may be used to build or expand after school programs that provide academic enrichment in reading and math, as well as other youth development and recreation activities during the hours when school is not in session. For centers new to DPI funding, grants awarded through the competition will provide an average of $100,000 per center, per year, for a period of five years, assuming adequate funds continue to be appropriated by Congress.

DPI will give priority to applications which address higher levels of economic disadvantage than the minimum requirement, and program services to be provided in a school, or with students primarily attending schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress or are identified for improvement. Workshops and other resources will be available to assist applicants in preparing proposals. See the complete story at for further information on eligibility, program requirements, priorities, and additional resources on best practices may be found on the DPI website.

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

Big Brother working in Food Services?

A plan to fingerprint elementary school students when they buy lunch has some parents worrying that Big Brother has come to the cafeteria.

The Hope Elementary School District has notified parents that, beginning this month, students at Monte Vista, Vieja Valley and Hope elementary schools will press an index finger to a scanner before buying cafeteria food.

The scan will call up the student's name and student ID, teacher's name and how much the student owes, since some receive government assistance for food. 3 California schools to fingerprint students

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 5, 2006

Latest Forum: Rafael Gomez on Elections and Education

Mp3 Audio | Video
Rafael Gomez discusses his recent experience with the Mexican election in light of our approaching vote. He also discusses our two national education systems.
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Tougher reading program means low city grades

Joe Smydo:

Parents of some Pittsburgh elementary school students will find an unwelcome surprise -- unusually low marks in reading -- when their children bring home report cards Nov. 17.

Because the Pittsburgh Public Schools this fall introduced a standardized grading system and what it described as a more rigorous reading program, some students have seen their performance slip on classroom tests.

That will translate into lower grades on report cards than parents are accustomed to seeing, said Susan Sauer, curriculum supervisor for elementary reading, and Barbara Rudiak, executive director for 18 district elementary schools. Some parents already have noticed a drop in their children's test scores.

"This has created a certain amount of controversy with principals, parents and teachers," said Dr. Rudiak, who is project manager for the "Treasures" reading program, purchased from Macmillan/McGraw-Hill for about 13,250 students in kindergarten through grade five. The program is also used in elementary classrooms at the district's K-8 schools and accelerated learning academies.

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Poor Management Compels "No" Vote

After being decisively defeated in two spending referendums last year, the administration and a majority of the Madison School Board haven't learned that the voters are sick and tired of runaway spending and poor management.

In a demonstration of true arrogance, after being told in May 2005 that flat enrollment did not justify a new school in the Leopold School area of Arbor Hills, in June this year, the administration began construction of a major addition to Leopold School.

In so doing they put forth no plan to pay for the addition while gambiling on voters reversing themselves in a new referendum.

Madison spends significantly more per student than other Wisconsin districts. Over the past 10 years, while student enrollment has declined, full-time equivalent staff has increased by more than 600. At the same time, operating budgets have increased 58 percent, the cost per pupil is up 59, and there are 325 more non-teaching staff and administrators.

Clearly, the administration does not seem to be able to prudently manage district finances.

The voters said no to the $17 million request for a new school in 2005, and now the administration and majority of the board want authority to spend $23.56 million for a new school.

It has been repeatedly suggested that any proposal to add a new school should dicate closing an old school. The good economics of coupling such a move would only be fundamental good management, but this suggestion has been totally ignored by the board's majority and the administration. This is not good management.

In May 2005, the voters also overwhelmingly said no to raising the revenue cap for operations. By including all three new borrowing requests in one referendum question, the board and administration gambles on sweeping in refinancing authority by further permanently raising the revenue cap.

This refinancing ploy is a backdoor move that would raise our taxes to free up more than $800,000 a year for the district to spend. But we are not being told how the money will be spent.

Likely we will get more of the same -- more non-classroom and administration personnel, but no improvement in budgeting or expense control.

In the past six years, voters have twice approved referendums to provide funds for deferred maintenance, which the administration repeatedly failed to budget. However, there continues to be substantial deferred maintenance, and voters have not been told how the additional maintenance funds authorized in the past have been spent.

We need to reject the poor budgeting and management and the school board majority's unwillingness or inability to be honest with the voters. It is time to send a message by voting no on Tuesday, and, next spring, by electing board members who are capable and honest managers, good at budgeting, and who will listen to the taxpayers.

We want good schools, but we must insist on good management, and expenditures that benefit our students.

Posted by Thomas G. Ragatz at 10:30 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


On November 7th, voters will be asked to approve a referendum allowing the Madison Metropolitan School District to build a new school and exceed its revenue cap. After very careful consideration, the Board of Education unanimously decided to ask the question. I fully support this referendum and urge you to vote yes.

Our community is committed to our children and our public schools. We want our children to be well-educated and prepared for the future. We engage in passionate discussions over how best to educate our students, and how to ensure that the community’s investment in education is sound. We are not satisfied with the status quo, and we are continually looking for our schools to do better. The Board of Education shares this commitment. We take very seriously our responsibility to gather information, ask questions, and initiate actions to accomplish these goals.

We need to build a new elementary school on the far west side of Madison because there is simply not be enough room in our schools to accommodate the dramatic growth there. Projections, confirmed by student count information, are that elementary schools in the Memorial attendance in total will exceed capacity by 2007 and will be at 111% of capacity by 2010. Linden Park, a fast growing residential area about three miles from the nearest elementary school, is an excellent location for that school. It will service a large attendance area where many students will be able to walk to school, helping to control bussing costs.

No alternatives eliminate the pressing need for a new school. West attendance area schools are currently at 94% capacity (with enrollment projected to increase), so moving students there is not a viable option. Although there is some excess capacity in the East attendance area, the inefficiency and cost of moving students from the far west side of Madison through the Isthmus makes that alternative unworkable. Programming changes – such as expanding class sizes, or eliminating art and music rooms – could slightly expand school capacity, but could not provide nearly enough additional capacity to significantly delay the need for the new school.

Also included in the referendum is the refinancing of debt previously incurred for improvements to Leopold and Hawthorne schools, and the purchase of land on the far eastside of Madison. Refinancing debt with money outside the revenue cap will allowing the District to spend an average of approximately $516,000 over the revenue cap for the next six years, giving the District a small amount of flexibility as it deals with inevitable future budget cuts. In total, passage of the referendum would increase 2007 property taxes for an owner of average-priced home ($239,400) by $29.21

After studying the facts, I truly believe that a “yes” vote on the school referendum is the right decision for our community. I am confident that after studying the issues and alternatives, as the School Board has, voters will also agree that passing the referendum is in the best interest of our children, our schools and our community as a whole.

Posted by Lawrie Kobza at 6:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 4, 2006

"How to Manage Urban School Districts"

Stacey Childress, Richard Elmore and Allen Grossman writing in the Harvard Business Review:

One of the biggest management challenges anywhere is how to improve student performance in America’s urban public schools. There has been no shortage of proposed solutions: Find great principals and give them power; create competitive markets with charters, vouchers, and choice; establish small schools to ensure that students receive sufficient attention—the list goes on. While these approaches have had a dramatic impact on individual schools, they have failed to produce a single high-performing urban school system.

Despite these initiatives and a doubling in annual public spending on education over the past 30 years, to approximately $450 billion in 2005, no one has figured out how to achieve excellence on a broad scale—at every school in a district. One reason is that educators, researchers, and policy makers often see the district office—the organization headed by the superintendent that oversees and supports all the schools in the district—as part of the problem and not as a crucial part of the solution. This is a mistake.

School-based solutions, while important, aren’t enough. If they were, and low-performing schools could heal themselves, urban systems today would be chock-full of highly functioning schools. Achieving excellence on a broad scale requires a districtwide strategy for improving instruction in the classroom and an organization that can implement it. Only the district office can create such a plan, identify and spread best practices, develop leadership capabilities at all levels, build information systems to monitor student improvement, and hold people accountable for results. One of the main reasons reform efforts haven’t scored any districtwide successes is they have neither helped the district office play this role nor created a viable substitute.

To serve in this capacity, district offices will have to transform themselves. Business leaders, who care about their communities and know that their companies need well-educated workers in order to be competitive, have a big stake in assisting with this transformation. They have been extremely generous with money and counsel for urban districts, only to be frustrated by the results. As some corporate executives are beginning to realize, urban school systems are vastly more complex than businesses, yet the knowledge about how to manage them is amazingly sparse.

Clusty Links: Stacey Childress | Richard Elmore | Allen Grossman

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11/7/2006 Referendum: "Vote No To Stop Sprawl"

Dan Sebald:

The Nov. 7 school referendum is about more than the question of whether Madison needs a new elementary school. It's about the placement of the proposed site and its associated inefficient land use.

I see a "yes" vote as a vote for the same poor growth model of civic design that has been going on for the past 10 years in Dane County, where sprawling developments are constructed for quick revenue and services like the new elementary school come as an afterthought.

Why did the city and county not plan for an eventual site that doesn't slowly encroach on environmentally sensitive areas like Shoveler's Sink and its nearby prairies? One not so dependent on the automobile? One that doesn't consume even more farmland?

While homes in downtown Madison are overvalued and our streets are crumbling back into gravel, the growth-oriented parts of the city have new roads, large lots and no retail. Yet neighborhoods are the fabric of Madison, not subdivisions.

No one has explained what is different from the referendum that was voted on two years ago and that put before us on Nov. 7 other than the referendum's packaging. A "no" vote may force the school and city to rethink the placement of a new school and perhaps bring some regional planning back to Dane County.

Dan Sebald Madison

One of the more interesting comments I've heard on local sprawl was from a nearby town chairman when the City of Madison annexed land for what became the American Center. "When Madison annexes and develops, it's called "planned growth". When a town develops, it's "sprawl". Interesting semantics.

A Madison voter's related views.

Much more on the referendum here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 3, 2006

"You Might Help a Teen Avoid Dumb Behavior by Nurturing Intuition"

Sharon Begley:

As adolescents and young adults head into another weekend of (for many) driving too fast, drinking too much, smoking and doing their all to perpetuate the species, at least we know why they engage in self-destructive risk-taking. Adolescents feel invulnerable ("Me, get hurt? No way.") and drastically underestimate risks ("Come on, what are the chances of getting pregnant the first time -- 100 to 1?").

Except that they don't.

For 40 years both popular and scholarly wisdom have held that the reason adolescents court risk is twofold: They believe danger bounces off them and they low-ball the chances that it will bring harmful consequences. They have weighed the risk (low), taken stock of their resilience or skill or smarts (excellent) and made the "rational" decision to drag-race down Main Street while inebriated. This explanation implies that when teens do stupid things, it is for rational reasons.

There is a problem with this explanation. "Adolescents don't tend to underestimate the probability of major risks, nor [do they generally have] feelings of invulnerability," argues Keith Stanovich of the University of Toronto in the new issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest.

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

More on "More Madison Building Referendums on the Way?"

Susan Troller's article on Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater's comments regarding the "eventual need for five new elementary schools" sparked a few comments here, as well as several reader emails, one of which included the March June, 2006 School Board minutes:

It appears that the 'plan' was referred to Long Range Planning for additional articulation. The minutes at least put the discussion in context. Note also that Ruth voted against bundling the 3 questions into 1.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:27 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Mosquito RingTones

On a humorous note from Mulitmedia and Internet

Cell phones may be ringing in your classroom—and you may not be able to hear them.

A new cell phone ringtone that may only be heard by the young has been created from a high-pitched sound originally developed to keep groups of young people from congregating in public places.

The "ultrasonic youth deterrent for shops and homes" was developed in the U.K. by Compound Security Systems in an effort to "disperse gangs of youngsters hanging around the streets," without affecting older generations. Nimble technologists decided the sound would make a perfect ringtone in situations where the young wouldn't want older folks to know that phones were ringing—places like classrooms, for example.

Bootleg versions of the sound as ringtone were becoming so popular that Compound Security Systems developed Mosquitotone, the official Mosquito ringtone. In the U.S., Mosquitotone is available at, currently only for mp3-compatible phones. Additional formats are expected soon.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 9:30 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

States Should Change Policies to Expand Online Learning, Report

The Doyle Report:

States should expand precollegiate online learning by allowing teachers to teach across state lines and removing student seat-time requirements, according to a report that tracks the fast growth of state virtual-learning programs. More states could add online programs if policies meant for traditional schools could be amended to take into account the "anytime, anywhere" aspects of online learning, say the authors of "Keeping Pace," slated for release this week at the Virtual School Symposium in Plano, Texas. The symposium is an annual conference sponsored by the Vienna, Va.-based North American Council for Online Learning, or NACOL, a nonprofit advocacy and research organization.

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November 2, 2006

Severson / McKenna on Negative Aid, Local Media Coverage of Schools and the Referendum

There were some interesting items in today's conversation between Don Severson and Vicki Mckenna [13.7MB mp3 audio file]:

  • A caller (29 minutes): "Why does the rest of the media have such complacency with the Schools?" Don noted the lack of negative aids discussion in Monday's "very long" Wisconsin State Journal article. The caller raised a good question.
  • $10.95 of the 29.21 annual average property tax payment for the referendum is "negative aid", ie money local property taxpayers must pay over and above the referendum cost due to the MMSD's spending above state revenue caps. In other words, the more the MMSD spends above the revenue caps, the more state aid it loses and therefore local property taxes have to make up the difference. Some states refer to this as a "Robin Hood" Act.
More on the referendum here.

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

Candidate training for women

Fact: Women make up 51% of the US population, but only 14% of the US Congress. Fair representation is the way to fair policies; we're not there yet, and we can do better.

Studies show that women win just as frequently as men. Conclusion: more women need to run for office. Studies also show that women need to be asked to run for office three times before they will do it. Conclusion: consider yourself asked, and tell your girl friends to run.

Emerge Wisconsin is a groups that recruits and trains women to run for office. Their training program is 1 weekend/month for seven months, and is the most comprehensive candidate training program that I know of. The deadline for applying for the program is November 15th, and I'm hoping that you (if you are female) will consider applying, or pass this on to women who you think should run for office.

Emerge's website:

The application can be downloaded and viewed at:


Melissa Malott, Attorney
Water Program Director
Clean Wisconsin
122 State St., Suite 200
Madison, WI 53703
tel. (608) 251-7020 x13
fax (608) 251-1655

Posted by Ed Blume at 3:58 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More Madison Building Referendums on the Way?

Susan Troller:

On Tuesday, voters will make a decision on a $23.5 million school referendum that would include giving the green light to an elementary school on Madison's far west side, but school district officials see it as just the first of several in the near future.

Based on current residential growth patterns, as many as five new elementary schools may eventually be needed to accommodate new generations of children in and around Madison, according to Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Art Rainwater.

Interesting timing.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:55 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Should Scarsdale Drop AP?

Jay Matthews:

But at Scarsdale High, my son was told he could not get into the course unless he did well on an entrance test given to every prospective AP U.S. history student. He passed the test, got into the course and did well, as I expected. That was not my problem. What bothered me was the assumption, deeply imbedded in that school and that community, that AP courses should not be used as great learning experiences for all students headed for college, as they were at Garfield, but instead should be used as rewards for good grades and test scores. At Scarsdale High, only the students with the highest entrance test scores, or highest grade-point averages and strongest teacher recommendations, were considered worthy of admission to an AP course. Not surprisingly, this approach reflected the Ivy League college admission system that is such an obsession in Scarsdale and places like it.

I have always been grateful to Scarsdale High's educators for exposing me to this dysfunctional view of AP because I soon learned that they were not the exception, but the rule. Most U.S. schools, then and now, felt as Scarsdale did that AP should be used as a sorting exercise, not a teaching tool. Eventually, in reaction to what I learned at Scardale, I created the Challenge Index, a way of rating high schools by AP and IB test participation. The index is used by Newsweek for its "America's Best High Schools" list. Many Scarsdale people don't like it because it penalizes them for restricting AP admittance. They think the school deserves to be much higher than number 176 on that list.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:15 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Jacob Stockinger: A 'yes' vote for schools ensures a better future

This is one of the best things I read recently on support for public education.


Jacob Stockinger: A 'yes' vote for schools ensures a better future
By Jacob Stockinger
There is a lot I don't know about my parents. But I do know this: They would never have voted no on a school referendum.

They grew up in the Depression, then worked and fought their ways through World War II.

They saw how the GI Bill revolutionized American society and ushered in the postwar economic boom. They knew the value of education.

If the schools said they needed something - more staff, another building, more books - then they got it.

I am absolutely sure my parents and their generation thought there was no better way to spend money than on schools. Schools meant jobs, of course - better jobs and better-paying jobs. But schools also meant better-educated children, smart children. And schools were the great equalizer that meant upward social mobility and held a community together. Schools guaranteed a future: Good schools, good future. Bad schools, bad future.

Schools were the linchpin, the axis of American society. That's the same reason why they would never have questioned a teacher's judgment over one of their own children's complaints. Teachers were always right because they were the teachers.

And the reason I can still remember the name of the local superintendent of schools - Dr. Bruce Hulbert - was because my parents spoke of him with awe and respect as a man who was not looking to steal from their checking account but instead to help their children.

It's probably the same reason I can recall so many of my teachers' names - Mrs. Cuneo, in whose second-grade class I took part in the Salk polio vaccine trials, and Mr. Firestone, my sixth-grade teacher who made me memorize the multiplication tables and then sing in Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Pirates of Penzance." And so on right though high school and undergraduate school and graduate school.

I find myself thinking of my parents now, wondering what they would do in the current atmosphere of criticism and even hostility directed at the schools.

They were middle-class, not wealthy, so when they paid taxes, it was not always happily but it was always with gratitude. They believed that paying taxes was a patriotic duty, the price you paid for living in a privileged, free and - in those days - increasingly egalitarian society.

Taxes were the cement that held us together, the concrete expression of the social contract. Taxes, they felt, were a form of insurance that guaranteed life would get better for everyone, especially for their own children.

But they knew value, and they knew that no dollar buys more value than a dollar you spend on educating a child.

Of course, times have changed.

Things are more expensive. And we have forgotten what life was really like - for the poor, for the elderly, for ethnic minorities, for the disabled - when we had the small government and low taxes that today's Republicans have bamboozled people into thinking were the good old days. My parents, and their parents, knew better.

But whatever fixes we need now, we should not deprive the children.

Yes, I see room for changes.

•We need to shift the burden of funding from the property tax. I think the income tax is more appropriate, along with a sales tax. And what would be wrong with just a plain old education tax?

•We need to correct the feeling that the public has been lied to. School spending keeps going up and up, but we keep seeing reports that American students have become less competitive internationally. Is someone crying wolf?

Let me suggest that a lot of the confusion has to do with bookkeeping. I would like to see the health costs for special education come from the state Department of Health and Family Services budget. I would like to see how much money goes for actual curriculum and instruction. Call it truth in spending.

Mind you, I am not suggesting that special education is wrong or too expensive. It is important for us to provide it. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^But we should have a better idea of just how much everything costs and whether some areas benefit because others are shortchanged.

•We need to stop lobbying groups like the Wisconsin Millionaires Club - I'm sorry, I mean Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce - from luring money away from other social programs for socialized business disguised as free market capitalism.

•We need to become prouder of paying taxes because they are, despite some instances of waste or mismanagement, generally very good deals. If you want Mississippi taxes, are you really ready for Mississippi schools and Mississippi health care and Mississippi arts?

•We need to make Washington pay its fair share of education costs. If we can fight wars as a nation, we can educate children as a nation.

So for the sake of myself, my parents and the children, I will vote yes on the Nov. 7 referendum for Madison's schools. I urge you to do the same.

Jacob Stockinger is the culture desk editor of The Capital Times. E-mail:
Published: November 1, 2006

Posted by Thomas J. Mertz at 7:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"The Woody Hayes of 8th Grade Science"

Elizabeth Holmes:

Richard Bender is holed up in his classroom nearly every day with 21 young assistants. They are building self-propelled vehicles and bottle rockets, and boning up on genetics and aquatic ecology. He swears outsiders to secrecy, as if this were "Cold War technology development," he says.

He and his students are preparing -- after school, at night and on weekends -- for the Science Olympiad, an annual spring academic competition among 14,500 schools nationwide. Under Mr. Bender, an eighth-grade science teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School here, the team has won 15 state titles, seven consecutive top-four national rankings and two national titles.

The Indiana General Assembly passed a resolution praising Mr. Bender "for his dedication to increase student interest and academic achievement in science." Some compare his winning record to that of legendary Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes. Says Gerard Putz, the Olympiad's president and co-founder: "He's one of those magical coaches."

But is the magic fading? Last season, the team's winning streak snapped when it came in 10th, and Mr. Bender's kids are feeling the heat. Says 13-year-old Jessie Bunchek: "It just kind of blew everybody away."

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

Milwaukee Truancy Solution Discussions

Erin Richards:

The success story that Alliance for Attendance members will hear about comes from Racine, which cut its truancy rate from 21.7% to 9% in two years.

The proposal comes from Ald. Tony Zielinski, who wants to change the way citations are issued to truant students. Currently, students have to be caught "red-handed" by police to receive a truancy ticket.

MPS' habitual truancy rate, which was more than 50% in 2001-'02, hasn't dropped below 45% in the intervening years. That translates to about 40,000 MPS students each year who had five or more unexcused absences during a semester, said Dan Wiltrout, a consultant for compulsory attendance from the state Department of Public Instruction.

"That's a big job," Wiltrout said.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

November 1, 2006

The Role of District Leadership in Radical Reform: Philadelphia 2001-2006

Elizabeth Useem, Jolly Bruce Christman and William Lowe Boyd [PDF]:

Recognizing the repeated failure of many conventional approaches to improving urban districts, reformers have turned to increasingly radical ideas. Since 2001, the School District of Philadelphia has served as a prime example and living laboratory for radical reform of a large urban school system. Because of a unique state takeover that sought both comprehensive district-wide reform and, simultaneously, privatization in the management of a large number of schools, educators and policy analysts nationwide are closely watching each stage of this reform. When the controversial state takeover began—in the midst of acrimonious relations between the school district and the state government and strong mayoral and grass roots opposition—the complexity and contradictions of this combination of features led many observers to fear a “train wreck.” Indeed, the title of a previous paper we wrote conveys the difficult circumstances and challenges: “A tall order for Philadelphia’s new approach to school governance: Heal the political rifts, close the budget gap, and improve the schools” (Boyd & Christman, 2003).

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

Grading a School's Grades

Alan Finder:

Mr. Hartranft, a nuclear engineer who had been forced to retire early because of Parkinson’s disease, came up with what he thinks is a rigorous mathematical model to compare the school’s demanding grading system with more lenient grading in other schools. The model, he and some local school administrators say, is a bold new way to think about grades.

“I’m giving you a G.P.S. navigation system, as opposed to scraps of maps,” Mr. Hartranft said. “If all you have are scraps of maps, which is all that admissions offices get in the existing protocol, then this gives you an overall orientation.”

Mr. Hartranft created an analytical method he calls the g.p.a. plot; it uses national data on grade-point averages and SAT scores to compare national grading norms with those at the local high school. The purpose, he said, is to reduce the variability and subjectivity of grades — and to make it absolutely clear to college admissions offices that a B or B-plus at Simsbury may be the equivalent of an A at most high schools.

Simsbury has included his statistical comparison in its admissions submissions for the last four years. In the suburb just to the north, Granby Memorial High School is using the g.p.a. plot for the first time this fall.

Here in Simsbury, administrators and parents appear satisfied with the results of the model, even though it is unclear whether it has helped increase the number of Simsbury students admitted to elite colleges. Neil Sullivan, the high school’s principal, said the proportion of students admitted by the most selective universities had increased somewhat over the last four years, after dipping slightly when the number of A’s dropped sharply between 1998 and 2001. But the number of A’s given out by Simsbury teachers has also increased in recent years.

He took the scores of 1.5 million students and graphed them against the students’ grade-point averages, as reported by the students on their SAT exams. In a given year, for instance, the analysis might show that on average nationally, students with an A average had a combined SAT score of 1,150, under the old two-part aptitude test. Then he would perform the same comparison for students at Simsbury, where, on average, a student with an A average might have a combined score of 1,220.

Details at

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