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January 31, 2007

Talented Students On Hold

Kristen Stephens and Jan Riggsbee

DURHAM - In his State of the Union address last week, President Bush called on Congress to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), saying "We must increase funds for students who struggle...and make sure these children get the special help they need." But NCLB, as it is currently implemented, largely ignores another important group that is struggling -- gifted and talented students.

Our society typically views struggling students as those who are disadvantaged by ability or demonstrated achievement level -- those students not meeting proficiency levels for their respective grade.

However, gifted and talented students struggle because they sit in our classrooms and wait. They wait for rigorous curriculum. They wait for opportunities to be challenged. They wait for engaging, relevant instruction that nurtures their potential.

And, as they wait, these students lose interest in their passions, become frustrated and unmotivated from the lack of challenge their schools' curricula provide them. As a result, they become our lost talent.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Gifted student feels Left Behind

Dave Toplikar
January 30, 2007

Lawrence ninth grader to speak up for high achievers during Capitol visit.

As No Child Left Behind policy is reviewed this year, there is one group of students some think may have been left behind — those who are high achievers.

“Most of the time I’m stuck in regular classes,” said Dravid Joseph, a ninth-grader at West Junior High. “Sometimes I’m bored with what I’m doing there.”

Partially for that reason, Dravid will join a contingent of some of Kansas’ most gifted students who will travel Wednesday to Topeka to advocate for specialized classes for more than 15,000 of their peers across the state.

Similar stories from Wisconsin and beyond:

Spring 2007 Election Update: Cross-Leone, Moss and Thomas Discuss Volunteerism

Kristian Knutsen:

Let's skip the issues this week and probe the Madison school board candidates on their community involvement and their advice for students moving up to high school. We've asked them to describe their most fulfilling volunteer experiences, as well as what they would say to a graduating class of eighth graders.

Here are the responses for the candidates for Seat 3: Pam Cross-Leone, Beth Moss, and Rick Thomas.

Much more on the election here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Denver Schools Get Bonuses for Student Population Growth

Allison Sherry:

Some of the Denver's most popular public schools will get pots of cash this spring for attracting students from out of the district or from charter schools.

The move is designed to draw students back to Denver public schools, which have lost more than 8,000 students in the past six years.

Places like the Center for International Studies, the Denver School of the Arts, and East and Thomas Jefferson high schools will receive cash - from $20,000 to $156,000 - because they attracted "new" kids this year to their rolls, Denver Public Schools administrators said Thursday.

District leaders consider "new" students as those previously attending school out of the district or at a charter school.
Charter schools are public but are operated privately and get to keep the bulk of state per-pupil money. In Denver, that is about $6,500 per student.

For each "new" student, Denver schools will receive $1,395, but to receive the money, the school had to have a net gain of students.

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

School Finance: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate

School spending has always been a puzzle, both from a state and federal government perspective as well as local property taxpayers. In an effort to shed some light on the vagaries of K-12 finance, I've summarized below a number of local, state and federal articles and links.

The 2007 Statistical Abstract offers a great deal of information about education and many other topics. A few tidbits:

US K-12 Enrollment [.xls file]40,878,00041,216,00047,203,00047,671,00048,183,00048,540,000NA
US K-12 Deflated Public K-12 Spending - Billions [.xls file]$230B311.8B$419.7B$436.6B$454.6B$464.8B$475.5B
Avg. Per Student Spending$5,627$7,565$8,892$9,159$9,436$9,576NA
US Defense Spending (constant yr2000 billion dollars) [.xls file]$267.1B$382.7B$294.5B$297.2B$329.4B$365.3B$397.3B
US Health Care Spending (Billions of non-adjusted dollars) [.xls file]$255B$717B$1,359B$1,474B$1,608B$1,741B$1,878B
US Gross Domestic Product - Billions [.xls file]5,1617,1129,8179,89010,04810,32010,755

Related Federal Spending Links:

  • A recent book: Taxes, Spending, and the U.S. Government's March Towards Bankruptcy by NYU's Daniel Shaviro:
    The United States is moving toward a possible catastrophic fiscal collapse. The country may not get there, but the risk is unmistakable and growing. The "fiscal language" of taxes, spending, and deficits has played a huge and underappreciated role in the decisions that have pushed the nation in this dangerous direction. This book proposes a better fiscal language for U.S. budgetary policy, rooted in economic fundamentals such as wealth distribution and resource allocation in lieu of "taxes" and "spending" and in the use of multiple measures (such as the fiscal gap and generational accounting) to replace misguided reliance on annual budget deficits.
  • Fed Chairman Bernanke's recent speech on the national debt problem:
    The large projected increases in future entitlement spending have two principal sources. First, like many other industrial countries, the United States has entered what is likely to be a long period of demographic transition, the result both of the reduction in fertility that followed the post-World War II baby boom and of ongoing increases in life expectancy. Longer life expectancies are certainly to be welcomed. But they are likely to lead to longer periods of retirement in the future, even as the growth rate of the workforce declines. As a consequence of the demographic trends, the number of people of retirement age will grow relative both to the population as a whole and to the number of potential workers. Currently, people 65 years and older make up about 12 percent of the U.S. population, and there are about five people between the ages of 20 and 64 for each person 65 and older. According to the intermediate projections of the Social Security Trustees, in 2030 Americans 65 and older will constitute about 19 percent of the U.S. population, and the ratio of those between the ages of 20 and 64 to those 65 and older will have fallen to about 3.
  • Washington Post:
    Bernanke noted that the federal deficit has declined in the past two years but said that was "the calm before the storm" of skyrocketing expenses for an aging population. He cited Congressional Budget Office projections that spending on the big entitlement programs -- Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- will equal 15 percent of the nation's gross domestic product by 2030, double last year's level.
  • and the debt spiral.
  • "The Budget Illusion" NY Times editorial.
  • Competing in the Global Economy by Michael Porter:
    When I was working on The Competitive Advantage of Nations, it became clear to me that seeing economic and social issues as separate agendas was not only wrong but counterproductive. To have a productive economy, you need people who feel safe at work, who are healthy, and who have a sense that if they work hard, they'll have the opportunity to do better. Productivity is also consistent with a clean environment. Environmental pollution normally is a sign of inefficient and unproductive use of resources and is almost always a reflection of inadequate technology. Countries with toughening environmental regulations, then, are not necessarily at an economic disadvantage; in fact, the opposite can be true. Finally, an independent national organization has grown out of my 1995 HBR article "The Competitive Advantage of the Inner City," which is included in this collection. I find that the only sustainable solution to our distressed communities is to improve their economic competitiveness by building on their competitive advantage. We must shift from a poverty-reduction mentality to one of creating income and wealth through the market economy.

Wisconsin Spending Links:

Jerry Eykholt:

Madison is not alone in seeing large increases in public school funding in the last 10-15 years, and one reason is relaxed federal supports to the states. Another reason is inflation on elements that hit schools harder than most other sectors of the economy (school costs are primarily staffing, health insurance, energy, and building/construction costs - all have seen higher rates of increase than the CPI).

Rising school costs were considered to be the design of greedy and inefficient school districts - and the property tax revolt did little to advance an understanding of why costs were increasing in the first place. However, during that period, Wisconsin schools were regarded very well by national experts in education. Several anti-tax legislators got elected primarily for their stated anger over property taxes. Tommy Thompson's popularity was buoyed by anti-tax rhetoric. That we are pretty much at the same point with the legislature (in terms of understanding) is no surprise to me.  We should also understand that the revenue caps were designed to fail at a certain point. If we lead by the sound bite, we are bitten.

MMSD is one of the most expensive public school districts in the state (per pupil spending is highest among the largest school districts). It has been for decades. However, the annual rate of increase in per pupil spending has been very close to the Wisconsin average. While per pupil spending for the average Wisconsin public school district has increased at an annual rate of 5.10%, it has increased by an annual rate of 5.25% in MMSD (see table below).  That MMSD costs have risen more should be no surprise, because of cost of living, the loss of students to the growing suburbs (subsidized by state taxes), and the relative portion of special education needs and classroom support needs have risen significantly. The raw data indicate no significant fiscal mismanagement of the MMSD relative to the Wisconsin norm.  Like any large public institution, there are likely more efficient ways of doing things, however MMSD is investing a large fraction of its internal brain power on trimming budgets - the total cost of this on education (including the negative effects on learning by diverting talent away from teaching and stimulating creative learning environments) is much greater than the temporary budget savings, in my opinion.

One very important grounding point is that, while MMSD costs per pupil have increased significantly, the MMSD portion of school taxes has not increased that much for the average homeowner. Most of us are helped greatly by the large increase in property valuation in Madison. In our case, school property taxes on our near westside home went from $2229 in 1996 to $2435 in 2006.  This is less than a 10% increase in 10 years, although the value on our home has increased more than 65% in the same period.  For my wife and I, raising 3 kids, that's a pretty good value.

In my opinion, there are several factors we should be looking at when we consider MMSD's long-term budgeting:

  • the value to our economy from the perception (and continued demonstration) that we have one of the best public school districts for communities of our size.
  • the value that and staff to the Madison economy. This is the multiplier effect. Think about it - for every dollar spent on public education, a large fraction of that ($0.50 or more) comes back to the Madison area economy from what teachers spend. More comes back to support our health care infrastructure, more comes back to construction and other maintenance, transportation services.  The jobs we have through MMSD is a major boost to the local economy.
  • the rate of increase in per pupil spending is not likely to continue at the same rate. Woes in other state and national school districts are mounting, and there likely is to be some greater effort placed on reducing the factors leading to increased costs (health care reform, for one).
  • the rate of per pupil spending in our neighboring school districts (Verona, Middleton/Cross Plains, Sun Prairie, ...) is likely to increase at a greater rate than Madison - because the ratio of the rate of growth of students (a major factor in state support) and the demand for services is declining.  There may be greater economic forces in the area that promote a larger percentage of the student growth in Dane County to be within MMSD's boundaries
  • the rate of increase in special needs and bilingual services is declining - and benefits gained from services delivered in the past have lasting value. MMSD has done a stellar job addressing a large change in its demographics - it has adapted dynamically, with great energy and staff devotion to meeting early childhood and elementary education needs.  This will likely have a great benefit for the long term, and we should expect a declining rate of increase in the levels of need because we are doing a good job of addressing them early.
  • service to educational standards and national service. MMSD is seen as a leader nationally - it is referenced regularly by other school districts as one to emulate. We do an important service to the nation by doing things well here - and it is a national value.  We need to pay attention to the creation and stimulation of educational best practices and the effects it has nationally on public education.the nation will be experiencing some very difficult fiscal challenges in the near future, due to a retiring baby boom, large federal debt, declining rates of productivity growth, and a decline in personal savings to debt ratio. We should be seeing education now (as well as building community around the coming challenges) as a major preparation for the future.

Thanks for following my rather long note - and thanks to those who look at this carefully, advocate for strong public schools, and respond dynamically to the challenges.

According to the Wisconsin DPI, per student spending in Wisconsin has increased by 5.1% annually, since 1987. The Madison School District increased at a 5.25% rate during that time. Clearly, our public schools are attempting to address more issues than ever, from academics to breakfast, special education and health care.
Annual K-12 Per Student Spending: 1987 - 2005

YearWisconsin AverageMadison School District
Source: Wisconsin DPI.

The Wisconsin School Finance and Education System by Allen Odden [2.8MB PDF]:

In 2004–05, Wisconsin public schools educated 880,000 students in 425 districts. Wisconsin schools were funded with $7.9 billion from local and state sources (Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction [WDPI], 2005).

The state used a three-tiered guaranteed tax base (GTB) system of school finance. For the first tier of the system, the primary aid level, the state guaranteed a tax base of $1.93 million to all districts, allowing them to tax themselves as if their tax base were $1.93 million for revenues up to $1,000 per pupil. Just about every public school received some aid because the $1.93 million level was above almost every district’s property valuation per pupil. This tier required a local property tax rate of 0.52 mills.

The second tier, the secondary aid level, provided a GTB of $1,006,510, called the secondary guarantee, for spending from $1,000 to $7,782, the latter called the secondary cost ceiling. Fully accessing the $7,782 per pupil required an additional local property tax rate of 6.74 mills, for a Tier 1 plus Tier 2 tax rate of 7.26 mills.

For the third tier or tertiary level, the state guaranteed the statewide average property value per pupil, or $407,300. Districts with a tax base at or lower than this guarantee could use the guarantee to spend at any higher level they chose and still receive positive state aid. Districts with a tax base above this level could also spend at a higher level, but their state aid would be a
negative number, and that number would be subtracted from their Tier 2 aid until that tier was reduced to zero. This tier was designed to discourage spending above the secondary cost ceiling for high-wealth districts (WDPI, 2005).

In 1993, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted a revenue cap on spending to thwart the continuous increases in education spending that had occurred during the previous decade. Allowed to increase generally at a rate of inflation, the revenue limit recently has been set at a fixed level; in 2004–05, the limit was $241 per pupil (Reschovsky, 2002; WDPI, 2005). Districts can exceed the revenue caps through a local referendum. There is no cap on the top amount a district can choose to spend.

Simultaneously, the state also eliminated binding arbitration, made teacher strikes illegal, and adopted the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO). The QEO was adopted to ensure that bargained agreements could be financed within the allowable cost increases. Districts can bargain with unions over salaries and benefits, but if the two sides cannot agree, the district can impose a settlement if it offers a QEO, which is defined as an offer that increases salaries and benefits by at least 3.8%. Over the past several years, we conclude that the QEO has been responsible at least in part for reducing the rate of teacher salary increases.

Additionally, in fiscal year 1997, the state made a commitment to pay two thirds of school funding—a figure that does not include federal revenue but does include $469 million in property tax relief each year (Norman, 2002). In 2003–04, state funds, excluding the property tax relief, accounted for about 61.6 percent of district revenues, and during the 2003 legislative session, the two-thirds guarantee was reduced to 65 percent.
A longer explanation and analysis can be found in Andrew Reschovsky's policy primer [350K PDF]

Thanks to Peter Gascoyne for these links.

Illinois thinks about cashing in their future lottery revenues today - shades of Wisconsin's trade of future tobacco settlement proceeds for money today (2001).

NY Governor Spitzer Ties Increased School Funds to Performance:

Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York said today that he would allocate more money to the state’s public education system in his 2008 budget proposal, but he said the increased spending would be tied to better results from schools, educators and students.

“There will be no more excuses for failure,” Mr. Spitzer said. “The debate will no longer be about money, but about performance.”
The governor, in office for less than a month, did not tip his hand today on how much the public school system will get in the budget that he will submit to the state Legislature on Wednesday. But in an address to school leaders and legislators, he said that every school district that receives at least $15 million more this year in his new budget, or 10 percent more than in the previous year, would be subject to a new “contract for excellence” that will dictate how they can spend those funds.
Schools that do not perform well, he said, would be shut down. Educators who do not meet performance goals would be dismissed. A new accountability system would monitor how schools are performing academically and whether they are making the best use of their money, he said. Also, the schools will be judged on whether their academic programming is helping students perform better.

  • James Wigderson on the QEO:
    That number is growing, not shrinking. School aids, school tax credits and Medicaid have all been growing as a percentage of the state budget, while the next eight of the top 10 budget items have all been shrinking as a percentage of the budget.

    Given how much of the state budget is consumed by education spending and how almost all of the local school districts are claiming to be short the necessary funding, taxpayers should be outraged that the state is seriously considering eliminating the largest cost control for local districts, the qualified economic offer.

    The QEO means that school districts can avoid going to binding arbitration in labor negotiations with the teachers’ unions if the districts offered wage and benefit increases that total 3.8 percent per year.

    It’s not a perfect system. As the Waukesha Taxpayers League showed last year with their study of the Waukesha School District, the actual average salary increases the last three years were 6.8 percent, 4.6 percent and 6.9 percent.

  • Amy Hetzner has more on the Waukesha School District's budget.
  • New Jersey considers a Property Tax annual increase "cap".
  • Wisconsin's $2.15B structural deficit.
  • Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle's State of the State Address:
    Called for a mandatory third year of math and science for high school graduation.

    Announced he will triple funding to give kids access to the school breakfast program. Right now, Wisconsin ranks 50th in school breakfast participation.

    Urged the Legislature to approve a major investment to reduce class sizes from kindergarten to grade three.

    "Smaller classes, higher standards, good nutrition, a strong start in life, and a ticket to college for every kid willing to work for it," Governor Doyle said. "That's our education agenda, an agenda of opportunity."

  • Wisconsin Senator Scott Fitzgerald's response noted the State's $2B deficit.
  • Andy Hall's Wisconsin School Finance Series:

Madison (Property Tax) spending links:

Locally, city school property taxes have been relatively stable while overall school spending continues to grow. In other words, state and federal income and sales tax and fee redistribution are paying a growing percentage of local K-12 budgets. In addition, the dramatic growth in new construction in and around Madison over the past decade has softened the spending growth by spreading the costs across more parcels. A new construction slowdown will have an affect on property taxes, and assessments. Paul Soglin's January, 2006 article on Madison's tax base is well worth reading. Fred Mohs notes that there is a growing number of tax exempt parcels in Madison.

A 5 Year Approach to the Madison School District's Budget Challenges; or what is the best quality of education that can be purchased for our district for $280 million a year? by Peter Gascoyne and 2007/2008 Madison School District Budget Outlook: Half Empty or Half Full?

Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin suggests a .25% increase in the sales tax to grow K-12 funding along with another .25% for cities.

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

January 30, 2007

Why are school boards choosing to charter?

You’ll find the answer in the ATTACHED article from the “Wisconsin School News,” monthly journal of the Wisconsin School Boards Association. Appleton Embraces Charter Schools by Annette Talis. [650K PDF]

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Health Literacy

Jane Brody:

Whether you left school at 16 or have a doctorate; whether your annual income is in four figures or six; whether you are black, white, Hispanic, Asian or American Indian, chances are there have been many medical encounters that left you with less than optimal understanding about how you can improve or protect your health.

National studies have found that “health literacy” is remarkably low, with more than 90 million Americans unable to adequately understand basic health information. The studies show that this obstacle “affects people of all ages, races, income and education levels,” Dr. Richard H. Carmona, the United States surgeon general, wrote in the August issue of The Journal of General Internal Medicine, which was devoted to health literacy.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:52 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Grammar Girl

Mignon Fogarty:

Mignon works hard to balance the needs of her business with the growing success of the Grammar Girl podcast. If more than a few days pass without a new Grammar Girl episode, it is almost certain that she has a deadline for a client's project. Never fear! She will return.

Grammar Girl believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. She strives to be a friendly guide in the writing world. Her arch enemy is the evil Grammar Maven who inspires terror in the untrained and is neither friendly nor helpful.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Spring, 2007 Madison Referendum?

Susan Troller:

Is there another school referendum in Madison's immediate future?

If it means saving small schools in the center of the city that face closings or consolidations in the path of this year's $10.5 million budget-cutting juggernaut, some neighborhood advocates argue it would be well worthwhile.

Matt Calvert, a Lapham-Marquette elementary school parent, said he favored a referendum that would provide money to the district for the next several years so that it would not close schools, increase class sizes or cut programs in an effort to close its budget gap.

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

Madison School District's Press Release on Reduced State Special Education Funding

Madison Metropolitan School District:

The state's failure to pay for mandated special education and English Language Learner (ELL) costs reduced available resources to Madison Schools by over $11.6 million, according to information released to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).

At the district's request, Pocan asked the LFB to calculate the reimbursement for special education and ELL expenses comparing the level of state categorical aid during the 1993-94 school year (the first year of state-imposed revenue limits) and the 2005-06 school year. School districts statewide were reimbursed for special education expenses at nearly 45% for 1993-94. The reimbursement for 2005-06 slipped to below 29%, translating to a loss of over $9.4 million in resources for Madison Schools compared to 1993-94.

For ELL students, the 1993-94 state reimbursement to districts for expenses was 33.1%. Currently, school districts are reimbursed at 11.5%, a loss of over $2.2 million in resources for Madison Schools compared to 1993-94.

For decades the state had a statutory provision requiring reimbursement for special education to be 63%, but the statute was eliminated from law in the 1999-2001 biennial budget.

The State of Wisconsin has been increasing it's overall K-12 funding during this time, including the much discussed commitment to fund 2/3 of school district budgets. It would be interesting to see a summary of the spending changes over time, including areas that saw increases, and like this example, decreases.

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

Sun Prairie's February 20 New School Referendum

Sun Prairie School District:

On February 20, 2007, voters within the Sun Prairie Area School District will be asked to vote on a referendum to build a 7th elementary school within the school district.
Cliff Miller has more.

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Elementary String Education for Nine and Ten Year Olds: Private Funding Required

According to a meeting I had with the Superintendent, he says MMSD will require $300,000 to fund elementary string instruction and that private funding and/or grants will be needed to continue Elementary String Education in the Madison public schools. Without this funding, he is likely to again propose cutting this Madison public school tradition of nearly 40 years.

I'm exploring setting up a specific fund for string education at either the Foundation for Madison Public Schools or the Madison Community Foundation, so tax deductible contributions can be made in support of the curriculum. Madisonians United for String Education for Students (MUSEs) is a working title for a group of parents who want to keep elementary string instruction in our public schools for our young children. We welcome your ideas on next steps. Personally, we feel if this is the route we have to take, an endowment fund will be needed to ensure the course continues into the future.

I met last week with the Superintendent who said he a) supports elementary string curriculum instruction during the school day, b) would accept proposals for privately funding elementary string education. I also said the support and/or leadership of the Fine Arts Coordinator was important to such an effort, and he agreed, saying the Fine Arts Coordinator would be supportive.

Public schools surrounding Madison have strong, growing elementary string courses, because the community values the course and this is the foundation course for more advanced instrumental training/experiences in middle and high school. Plus, elementary string courses make their school districts attractive to parents deciding where to live and to send their children to school. Many parents want their children to have the experience of learning to play an instrument and to make music with other students. Private lessons can cost $2,000 or more per year - few families can afford this, especially low income families. That's what's special about Madison's elementary strings program. In Madison, in previous years, Grade 4 and 5 strings taught about 500+ low-income students annually.

String instrument instruction offers a number of benefits for children - they can be sized to a small child, they are "easy" to take home to practice, all types of cultural and popular music can be played on the string instruments, and these instruments lend themselves to ensemble playing. Furthermore, learning how to play an instrument prepares you for playing a string or band instrument in middle school or for chorus, because you learn how to read music. Through the one- to two-year elementary course, children experience the joy of making music and performing through discipline and practice. Also, by offering this course Madison's public schools stand shoulder to shoulder with what the surrounding school districts value and offer their children.

Lastly, I'm also be looking at various financial information to develop some proposals for the School Board's consideration. I welcome your support and ideas.

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January 29, 2007

Whole Language in Sheep's clothing

Joanne Jacobs:

In a Fordham report, Whole-Language High Jinks, reading expert Louisa Moats warns that ineffective whole-language reading programs with names like “balanced literacy” are trying to grab funding intended for programs that have been proven far more effective. New York City, Denver and Salt Lake City have been misled by programs that are whole language in disguise, Moats writes. Warning signs include:
  • Use of memorization and contextual guessing, instead of direct, systematic teaching for word recognition and actual comprehension;
  • Rejection of explicit phonics, spelling, or grammar instruction;
  • Application of the whole-language principles for English language learners.

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NY Governor Spitzer to Tie Increased School Funds to Performance

Maria Newman:

Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York said today that he would allocate more money to the state’s public education system in his 2008 budget proposal, but he said the increased spending would be tied to better results from schools, educators and students.

“There will be no more excuses for failure,” Mr. Spitzer said. “The debate will no longer be about money, but about performance.”

The governor, in office for less than a month, did not tip his hand today on how much the public school system will get in the budget that he will submit to the state Legislature on Wednesday. But in an address to school leaders and legislators, he said that every school district that receives at least $15 million more this year in his new budget, or 10 percent more than in the previous year, would be subject to a new “contract for excellence” that will dictate how they can spend those funds.

Schools that do not perform well, he said, would be shut down. Educators who do not meet performance goals would be dismissed. A new accountability system would monitor how schools are performing academically and whether they are making the best use of their money, he said. Also, the schools will be judged on whether their academic programming is helping students perform better.

“We should be ready to close more schools that fail — perhaps as many as 5 percent of all the schools in the state if we have to,” he said.

Spitzer's Speech, "A Contract for Excellence" is available here.

Jonathan Mandell comments.

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Stretching Truth with Numbers: The Median Isn't the Message

Stephen Jay Gould:

My life has recently intersected, in a most personal way, two of Mark Twain's famous quips. One I shall defer to the end of this essay. The other (sometimes attributed to Disraeli), identifies three species of mendacity, each worse than the one before - lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Consider the standard example of stretching the truth with numbers - a case quite relevant to my story. Statistics recognizes different measures of an "average," or central tendency. The mean is our usual concept of an overall average - add up the items and divide them by the number of sharers (100 candy bars collected for five kids next Halloween will yield 20 for each in a just world). The median, a different measure of central tendency, is the half-way point. If I line up five kids by height, the median child is shorter than two and taller than the other two (who might have trouble getting their mean share of the candy). A politician in power might say with pride, "The mean income of our citizens is $15,000 per year." The leader of the opposition might retort, "But half our citizens make less than $10,000 per year." Both are right, but neither cites a statistic with impassive objectivity. The first invokes a mean, the second a median. (Means are higher than medians in such cases because one millionaire may outweigh hundreds of poor people in setting a mean; but he can balance only one mendicant in calculating a median).

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Studies Find Benefits to Advanced Placement Courses

Jay Matthews:

In the midst of a national debate over whether Advanced Placement courses place too much pressure on U.S. high school students, a team of Texas researchers has concluded that the difficult courses and three-hour exams are worth it.

In the largest study ever of the impact of AP on college success, which looked at 222,289 students from all backgrounds attending a wide range of Texas universities, the researchers said they found "strong evidence of benefits to students who participate in both AP courses and exams in terms of higher GPAs, credit hours earned and four-year graduation rates."

A separate University of Texas study of 24,941 students said those who used their AP credits to take more advanced courses in college had better grades in those courses than similar students who first took college introductory courses instead of AP in 10 subjects.

Madison United for Acadmic Excellence has a useful comparison of AP and other "advanced" course offerings across the four traditional Madison high schools. Much more on local AP classes here.

Wisconsin Advanced Placement Distance Learning Consortium.

Verona High School Course Prospectus, including AP.

Middleton High School Course List.

Monona Grove High School Course Catalog [320K PDF]

Sun Prairie High School Courses.

Waunakee High School Course Index.

McFarland High School Course Guide.

Edgewood High School.

Jay Matthews has more in a later article.

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On Musical Talent

David Shenk:

How can we explain the vast differences in musical ability? How can one species produce Paul Simon and William Hung? Are we born with musical talent, or do we develop it? Let's sort through the research:

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

January 28, 2007

The Declining Quality of Mathematics Education in the US

Leland McInnes:

Mathematics education seems to be very subject to passing trends - surprisingly more so than many other subjects. The most notorious are, of course, the rise of New Math in the 60s and 70s, and the corresponding backlash against it in the late 70s and 80s. It turns out that mathematics education, at least in the US, is now subject to a new trend, and it doesn't appear to be a good one.

To be fair the current driving trend in mathematics education is largely an extension of an existing trend in education generally. The idea is that we need to cater more to the students to better engage them in the material. There is a focus on making things fun, on discovery, on group work, and on making things "relevant to the student". These are often noble goals, and it is something that, in the past, education schemes have often lacked. There is definitely such a thing as "too much of a good thing" with regard to these aims, and as far as I can tell that point was passed some time ago in the case of mathematics.

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Teacher Excellence and the Reality of Teaching

Message from the Vice President, AERA
November 14, 2006

Christine Sleeter
California State University, Monterey Bay

Being a teacher educator these days can be a strange experience. Over the past several months, I have given numerous presentations depicting teaching as intellectually challenging, complex work. Using case studies of teachers in diverse classrooms, I have argued that learning to teach well is complicated, partly because excellent teachers know how to engage their students in thinking deeply about things that matter, while embedding the teaching of skills and basic content in broader ideas and problems that have relevance to their students. Ron Berger's descriptions of teaching and learning in An Ethic of Excellence are not only brilliant and inspiring, but helpful illustrations of what classroom teaching and learning can be.

As teacher educators, this is the kind of teaching we try to promote. Linda Darling-Hammond's most recent book Powerful Teacher Education develops excellent portraits of the best in preservice teacher education. [Highlights Alverno College in Milwaukee - LJW]. In New Zealand, the Ministry of Education has been sponsoring an Iterative Best Evidence Syntheses program, connecting research on teaching to diverse students' learning, and to teacher professional development. For example, professional development linked to enhanced children's learning incorporates teachers' knowledge and skills, provides theoretical content knowledge related to practice, involves teachers in analyzing data from their own settings, and engages them in critical reflection that stretches their thinking and challenges their assumptions most recent issue of Harvard Educational Review, Betty Achinstein and Rod Ogawa examine two cases of beginning teachers whose students were out-scoring those of their peers on state tests, but who were pushed out of their teaching positions because of their refusal to follow the script.

What is going on here? It is true that teacher education as a whole has not done nearly as well as it could in preparing teachers to teach all students well. At the same time, reducing learning to teach to learning to follow a script greatly shortchanges what teaching and learning could be. It is ironic that teaching has become exceedingly prescribed and determined at a time when the U.S. is aggressively exporting its version of democracy and personal liberty. Not only is tolerance for diverse perspectives currently the lowest it has been in my lifetime, but support for intellectual inquiry and creativity in education seems to have disappeared.

To prompt consciousness-raising, curriculum theorist Thomas Poetter wrote a novel, The Education of Sam Sanders. Set in about 2030, it tells the story of a student who rebelled against rote learning and test preparation because he wanted to read whole books of his own choosing. His rebellion awakened some teachers' memories of a time when teaching and learning involved harnessing reading, writing, and math skills to explore interdisciplinary themes of significance to the lives of students. Books that had been banned were brought out of a locked vault. Teachers began working collaboratively to design engaging curricula. You'll have to read the book to find out what happened.

I believe it is essential that we demand more for students. In part, this means demanding more from our own teacher education programs. Our work as teacher educators needs to be grounded in the realities of the diverse students who populate classrooms today. But rather than acquiescing to formulas and scripts, we must re-invigorate a vision of, in the words of Maria de la Luz Reyes and John Halcón, The Best for our Children.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 8:09 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin School Finance: QEO, Revenue Caps and Sage

Andy Hall:

The revenue caps and QEO are transforming the operations of public schools, pushing school officials and the public into a never-ending cycle of cuts, compromises and referendums.

Most districts reduced the number of academic courses, laid off school support staff and reduced programs for students at the highest risk of failure, according to a survey of 278 superintendents during the 2004-05 school year by groups representing administrators and teachers.

Public schools, the most expensive single program in Wisconsin, account for about 40 cents of every dollar spent out of the state's general fund.

In the old days, school boards wanting more money for school operations could simply raise taxes, and risk retribution from voters if they went too far.

Revenue caps stripped school boards of that power, requiring them instead to seek the permission of voters in ballot questions.

"We're literally governing by referendum," complained Nancy Hendrickson, superintendent of the Pecatonica Area School District in Blanchardville, 35 miles southwest of Madison.

Much more on the Madison School District's $331M+ budget here and here.

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Milwaukee Schools' Enrollment Dip

Sarah Carr:

Enrollment in the main roster of Milwaukee Public Schools is expected to take its sharpest dip in years this fall, dropping by more than 3,300 students.

Less than 10 years ago, enrollment in traditional MPS schools was at about 97,000, and this September officials predict it will be only about 81,600.

The projections were released Friday night by MPS officials as part of a budget forecast for next school year. Superintendent William Andrekopoulos attributed the accelerated slide to growth in the private school voucher program, decreasing population in the city and crime and poverty rates scaring off potential newcomers.

"There are not as many families migrating to Milwaukee as in the '90s," he said.

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Why Teacher Unions Are Good for Teachers and the Public

Diane Ravitch:

They Protect Teachers' Rights, Support Teacher Professionalism, and Check Administrative Power.

We live in an era when leaders in business and the media demand that schools function like businesses in a free market economy, competing for students and staff. Many such voices say that such corporate-style school reform is stymied by the teacher unions, which stand in the way of leaders who want unchecked power to assign, reward, punish, or remove their employees. Some academics blame the unions when student achievement remains stagnant. If scores are low, the critics say it must be because of the teachers’ contract, not because the district has a weak curriculum or lacks resources or has mediocre leadership. If some teachers are incompetent, it must be because of the contract, not because the district has a flawed, bureaucratic hiring process or has failed to evaluate new teachers before awarding them tenure. These critics want to scrap the contract, throw away teachers’ legal protections, and bring teacher unions to their collective knees.

It is worth recalling why teachers joined unions and why unions remain important today. Take tenure, for example. The teacher unions didn’t invent tenure, despite widespread beliefs to the contrary. Tenure evolved in the 19th century as one of the few perks available to people who were paid low wages, had classes of 70 or 80 or more, and endured terrible working conditions. In late 19th century New York City, for example, there were no teacher unions, but there was already ironclad, de facto teacher tenure. Local school boards controlled the hiring of teachers, and the only way to get a job was to know someone on the local school board, preferably a relative. Once a teacher was hired, she had lifetime tenure in that school, but only in that school. In fact, she could teach in the same school until she retired—without a pension or health benefits—or died.

More on Diane Ravitch. Joanne adds notes and links to Diane's words.

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Notes on Outsourcing Public Education

Leo Casey:

Edwize has obtained a copy of the RFP [Request for Proposal] for “Partnership School Support” that the New York City Department of Education has hidden from the general public in a remote precinct of its website accessible only to private vendors with passwords. In it one finds the details of one of the central components of the latest structural reorganization Chancellor Klein want to impose on New York City public schools.

What is remarkable about the RFP is the general plan to outsource to these private ‘partnership’ entities virtually all of the educational support functions traditionally fulfilled, for better or for worse, by the DOE. Instructional program, professional development, special education: all of these and more will now be organized and supported by the Partnerships. And in contrast to the current intermediaries such as New Visions and Urban Assembly, this RFP invites ‘for profit’ EMOs [Educational Maintenance Organizations, modeled after Health Maintenance Organizations or HMOs] like Edison Schools and Victory Schools to become Partnerships.

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

January 27, 2007

More on the Proposed Madison Studio School

The Madison School Board discussed the proposed Madison Studio School recently. Watch the video and read these recent articles:

  • Mayoral Candidates Endorse the Studio School by Susan Troller
  • Board Wants Study of Studio School by Deborah Ziff
  • Don't Rush Approval of Studio School by John Keckhaver
  • Chafing at Charters by Jason Shephard:
    But citizen praise was matched by district badmouthing. At every stage, district officials exaggerated the potential problems posed by the school, and at no point did they provide evidence that they had worked to resolve them.

    For example, Rainwater wants the 44-student school to have its own full-time principal and secretary, while Studio School backers want to save money by sharing Emerson’s resources.

    Rainwater’s insistence on spending more money, which could torpedo the proposal, left some shaking their heads. Kobza asked whether it would make sense to even consider other charters, as Rainwater’s rules would make them financially unviable.

    Rainwater, amazingly, conceded the point: “I agree that you would never have a charter school” given these requirements, he said.

John Keckhaver: Don't rush approval of Studio School A letter to the editor

Dear Editor: Much has been made about how the proposed charter Studio School is really a referendum on the openness of the School Board to new ideas. Members of the board have already shown that they are willing to innovate, and this proposal - bound to have impacts not only on those kids who attend the boutique school but also on the entire student body - needs to succeed or fail on its merits.

A number of serious concerns exist, but have yet to gain much media attention.

At a time when the district will be cutting $12 million or so from our schools' budgets, dismissing critical staff and enlarging class sizes at many schools, funding and operating a separate and different program within a larger school, particularly one with a significant low-income population, is simply unfair.

Combined with this concern is the fact that proponents of the school have so far completely failed to reach out to a representative group of Emerson parents.

The fact that the methodology to be employed has largely been one utilized in private preschools and that there are no evaluations to examine regarding its impact on student experiences and outcomes at the public elementary school level suggests a further and more detailed look is needed, and suggests the board should not approve the proposal next week.

John Keckhaver, Madison

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January 26, 2007

What's the MTI political endorsement about?

In 2006-07 the Madison School district will spend $43.5M on health insurance for its employees, the majority of the money paying for insurance for teachers represented by Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) That is 17% of the operating budget under the revenue limits.

In June of 2007, the two-year contract between the district and MTI ends. The parties are now beginning negotiations for the 2007-09 contract.

The Sun Prairie School district and its teachers union recently saved substantial dollars on health insurance. They used the savings to improve teacher wages. The parties joined together openly and publicly to produce a statement of the employees health needs. Then they negotiated a health insurance package with a local HMO that met their needs.

The Madison School district has no choice but to look for ways to reduce future health insurance costs, while keeping a high quality of care. What we pay our teachers in the future depends on it--both in wages and in post-retirement benefits. What we can offer to our children in programs depends on it.

We have made some progress in reducing future health insurance costs for some of the union-represented employees and for our administrators. I hope that board members elected in April will continue down this path. It's not an easy path.

MTI plays hard ball in its election endorsements. It is looking for candidates that will continue coverage by Wisconsin Physicians Services (WPS)---no matter what else is available. It is also telling the incumbents what kind of treatment to expect from executive director John Matthews if the incumbent takes his or her board role seriously enough to represent the kids' interest at the negotiating table. For an example, see MTI's newsletter for late January: [65K PDF]

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 12:49 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison's Mendota Elementary School beats the odds

What does it take to truly create a school where no child is left behind?

That question defines what is probably the most pressing issue facing American public education, and a high-poverty school on Madison's north side west of Warner Park seems to have figured out some of the answers.

Mendota Elementary is among a small handful of schools in Madison where the percentage of children from low-income families hovers above 70 percent. But contrary to what most research would predict, Mendota's standardized test scores meet or beat Madison's generally high district averages, as well as test scores from throughout the state, on the annual Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam.

In fact, Mendota's test scores even exceed those of many other local schools where the majority of students come from more affluent homes with a wealth of resources to devote to child raising, including both time and money.

From "Successful schools, successful students" by reporter Susan Troller, The Capital Times, January 26, 2007.

So what is it about Mendota Elementary that has made it a success, helping many of its kids and families beat the daunting odds stacked against them?

"I think it's the whole high expectations thing," said former Mendota parent Jill Jokela, who, like many others, credits Mendota Principal Sandy Gunderson for the school's surprising success.

"Sandy absolutely understands that demographics may be predictors of performance, but they're not an excuse for a school to give up. In fact, she knows that everyone associated with the school must believe that their kids will succeed," Jokela said.

After Mendota's former longtime principal retired, the school blew through multiple temporary principals.

Poverty rates at the school had reached 60 percent, and teachers were disheartened by the uneven leadership and direction.

Parents were worried about safety, and alarmed that their neighborhood school was in a downward spiral, with test scores showing that only half of the students were scoring proficient or advanced on standardized tests in core subjects. At the time, the literacy rates at Mendota were the lowest in the district.

"It was very chaotic," Jokela admitted. But she hung in there, and she has nothing but positive words for Gunderson, who is now in her 10th year at Mendota.

Parents express confidence in the school, and there is a palpable sense of creative energy in the classrooms. Teachers and the rest of the dedicated staff work closely with each other, focusing on every child and his or her progress.

Ten years ago, staff undertook a school improvement plan that unflinchingly looked at where the problems were, and what kind of resources would be necessary to address them.

Getting Mendota officially identified as a high-poverty school has been critically important to get resources to limit class sizes and provide extra materials for the school, reading specialist Amy Horton said. Even basics like books were a problem.

"We simply had no materials," Horton recalled. "Teachers were spending their own money, and it caused us to be horrible hoarders. Under the circumstances, it was hard to feel very collaborative."

But she says that has changed dramatically. Today, Mendota's book room is a richly stocked and perfectly organized resource where teachers can easily access appropriate materials to supplement lessons and curriculum for students of widely varying skills and abilities.

Gunderson has promoted an integrated curriculum and strong sense of teamwork among the teachers at Mendota, a system that is geared toward making sure every child's needs are well known to staff members, and not just teachers.

The halls and classrooms are bright with student art and immaculately clean. The students greet custodians Ed Carberry and Dan Zimmerman enthusiastically by name. In turn, they are also greeted by name.

Teachers, meanwhile, systematically share information about how each student is doing and ideas for improvement.

"There is a lot of curriculum continuity here. All teachers get the big K-5 picture, and I think the teachers are really empowered to supplement any gaps they see. Honestly, I believe that every day each teacher knows where every student is academically," Gunderson said.

Each morning at Mendota begins with a breakfast program in the cafeteria, with older students eating first and the kindergarten, first- and second-graders getting their food second. They sit by classroom, under the eagle eyes of their teachers.

"This is where we figure out how every child is feeling, what kind of mood they're in. We want them to get off to a good start every morning," Gunderson explained.

'The Mendota way': There is a high degree of discipline and control at Mendota, from a strict dress code to how students behave in hallways and classrooms.

To teach kindergartners what Gunderson calls "the Mendota way," small children moving from class to class learn to walk with their arms folded, or held behind them. And they are quiet. It looks regimented, and it is.

"They learn to occupy their own space," Gunderson noted.

There are evenly spaced tape marks on rugs and kindergartners are expected to keep their bottoms on the floor, their legs crossed in place and their eyes forward. They are praised for being attentive listeners, and while the atmosphere is fun and lively, there is a definite emphasis on structure, routine and predictability.

A former special education teacher, Gunderson notes that all kids, but especially special needs children, seem to thrive in calm classes.

The staff, including Gunderson, is warm and demonstrative with students, and students are both affectionate and remarkably polite.

But when a small girl bolts from a line where her teacher is giving instructions to embrace Gunderson, the principal firmly turns her around and sends her away with the words, "This is not hugging time, this is listening-to-your-teacher time."

On several recent days, fourth- and fifth-grade classes felt almost serene.

Students spoke quietly, and worked attentively in small groups on assigned tasks. There was surprisingly little horseplay under the watchful eyes of teacher Kim Ireland.

The same was true in Janice Bartholow's combined fourth- and fifth-grade class as she worked alongside students on math problems that looked like they could stump many high school students, or older journalists.

Most children walk to Mendota, and Gunderson said that the surrounding community has embraced the school, with a strong sense of neighborhood and the feel of a small town where everyone seems to know everyone else.

Both the Vera Court Community Center, which shares a back yard with Mendota, and the Packers Townhouses Community Center, work closely with the school to keep an eye on kids and help make strong connections with families. Teachers and staff have been encouraged to reach out to students and their parents, and that work is paying off.

At recent parent-teacher conferences, more than 50 percent of the classes had 100 percent participation, and all classes had better than 80 percent participation.

When Kim Davis and her husband moved to Madison from Chicago less than six months ago, they scouted schools and neighborhoods across the city for a place to buy a home and set down roots for their young family, which includes a kindergartner, a toddler and an infant.

Davis is a former high school chemistry teacher, and a stay-at-home mom. She said her top priority was finding a school where students were performing well academically. She and her husband also wanted a school that was diverse.

They spent time at Mendota and were impressed, and were not put off by the school's high poverty rate.

They recently purchased a home within easy biking distance.

"We are thrilled," she said. "The atmosphere at the school is so friendly, and my daughter loves it. Teachers are willing to speak to me any time, not just during a conference, which means a lot.

"Mrs. Gunderson goes above and beyond if I ask for something. And if she doesn't know the answer, she says, 'Kim, I'll get back to you with the answer.' And she does.

"Coming from Chicago," Davis added, "we really appreciate the fact that there is art and music in the elementary schools. As a former teacher, I love this school."

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 11:43 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Late January School Board Progress Report

The Madison Board of Education is faced with several great challenges over the next few months. One of the biggest is the announcement that Superintendent Art Rainwater will retire at the end of the June 2008. The board will be working with a consultant to assist in hiring the next superintendent. Another board challenge is the budget shortfall of $10.5 million dollars. Lack of state and federal funding, unfunded and under funded mandates, revenue limits and the qualified economic offer, all contribute to the annual budget woes. While addressing these issues the Board continues its discussion and analysis on positive student behavior in our schools. These changes will lead from a punitive approach to a preventive and restorative justice methodology. This model will increase school safety and lead to changes in the student Code of Conduct and Board policy that can be applied fairly to all students.

Board Committees:
Our board committees continue to meet on a regular basis and are working hard to analyze complex issues to be voted on by the entire board. Finance and Operations (Lawrie Kobza, Chair) has received feedback on the People’s Budget. This will be a document that is easier to read and understand. Long Range Planning (Carol Carstensen, Chair) has held public forums to gather public input regarding overcrowding at Chavez and Lakeview. Joint meetings between the two committees have been held to discuss elementary class size throughout the district. Human Resources (Ruth Robarts, Chair) are discussing the use of a consultant to compare administrative salaries. Communications (Arlene Silveira, Chair) held a meeting featuring several state legislators regarding many issues of the board including school finance and clarification of state statues. Community Partnerships (Lucy Mathiak, Chair) discussed programs receiving community services funding and will have the programs report to the committee soon. Performance and Achievement (Shwaw Vang, Chair) received a presentation of the math masters grant program. Also, a fine arts task force is being developed to study issues and data regarding the percentages of low-income and racial and ethnic student involvement in fine arts programming and make recommendations to increase diverse student participation.

Upcoming meetings in February include: Performance and Achievement will receive a summer school report and budget and a report from Nuestro Mundo on 2/12. The full board will make a decision on The Studio School, charter school proposal and Finance and Operations will receive a report on athletics and extra-curricular activities on 2/19. Please check the board calendar at for updates.

District News:
The MMSD is seeking suggestions for the name of the new school in the Linden Park area. Anyone can submit a name for consideration by completing a form available on the district’s website and submitting by February 23rd. The school is scheduled to open in September 2008…The Elvehjem Playground Improvement Committee was recently named as a finalist in the Playskool “Win A Boundless Playground” Contest. Over 900 entries were received for this competition… Congratulations to LaFollette High School Junior, Denise Jackson for advancing to Hollywood to compete on the hit television show, American Idol. Please follow Denise’s journey and watch American Idol on Fox 47… Over 100 students throughout our district were recognized in the Annual Urban League Youth Recognition Breakfast and Youth Service Day. Former East High School principal, Milt McPike and Tosha Songolo, a senior at Memorial were presented with the City of Madison MLK Humanitarian award. Congratulations to all of the award winners, participants, organizations, students and our community for keeping Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream alive.

Thank you for your interest and support of the MMSD.
Johnny Winston, Jr., President, Madison Board of Education

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Watch school board meetings and other district programs on MMSD Channel 10 & 19.

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High School Research Studies Database

Education Commission of the States:

This unique resource is for you:
  • If your governor or your legislator has asked you to tell him/her what the research says on education issues
  • If you don't know whom to trust -- and find it difficult to navigate potential bias and the selective use of data
  • If you don't have time to read 25 pages and trudge through complicated explanations of methodology
  • If you need to cut through the mud right to the findings and policy implications.

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

The Baltimore Algebra Project

Sherrilyn Ifill:

was recently trying to list the 10 most encouraging initiatives by black people in 2006 and I thought I’d share one with you. It’s the Baltimore Algebra Project, a group of African American inner-city teens who’ve evolved from tutors to activists in an effort to force change in the failing Baltimore City School system. The Algebra Project, many of you may know, was created by the brilliant soft-spoken civil rights activist and organizer Robert Moses, who left the U.S. to live in Africa, in the 1960s. When Moses returned to the U.S., he became convinced that the abysmal performance of African American students in math and science are a major barrier to full citizenship and empowerment. He created a program designed to help African American students excel in math in science. There are Algebra Projects in several U.S. cities. The Baltimore Algebra Project began as a tutoring program, but the young people in the project – students at many of the city’s struggling schools – have become increasingly more activist over the past 3 years. Finally, frustrated at continuing inequities in the school system, the Project announced the launch of “Freedom Fall” [fascinating - more at Clusty] this past September. They marched on the headquarters of the school board, and in a stroke of courage and brilliance created an alternative school board, called the Freedom Board.

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

Spending & Education Commentary

Richard S. Davis, writing in the Spokesman Review:

What should the state spend on public schools?

In Olympia today, there is only one right answer: More.

And that answer has budget-busting consequences.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, the current education governor – when has the mansion not been occupied by an education governor? – has proposed increasing per student spending by 25 percent. Republicans don't disagree, though they might spend it differently. And the governor has called her education budget, which goes a long way toward depleting a $1.9 billion surplus, just a down payment.

Not satisfied with promises, nine school districts went to court earlier this month, suing for more state money. They didn't say how much they wanted, possibly to avoid low-balling the judge. The courts can be very generous with other people's money.

But there are limits to how much is available. The current surplus will be spent in a few years. And when "more" means higher taxes, public support erodes quickly.

Perhaps, rather than focusing on how much we are spending, we should be asking how well existing money is being spent.

Joanne has more.

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

Making our schools a top priority: Investment in education will always pay off in society

Bill Baumgart:

When I was first contacted about writing a guest opinion, I thought, "What a great opportunity to share my strong feelings about public education." Then I realized I need to be aware that everyone will not feel the same as me nor for the same reasons and I must be cautious lest I alienate them. But I was asked for my views, so I will give them.
I believe education of our youth is the most valuable thing we as adults can provide to them. Similarly it is a great responsibility we hold. For the youth it gives them the future. They, of course, must decide how to use it. Often overlooked is the value that is returned to us as providers. If we have done well, we will have real contributors to our society in our future: our doctors, nurses, community leaders, engineers, lawyers, writers, ethical politicians and journalists. And we will provide the teachers for that next generation so this responsibility can go on.

None of this comes free. There is a cost and I agree it is substantial. But if you look at it as an investment, you will find a return on your money. There is the development of the future as shown in the preceding paragraph. There is also the concrete value of your community and the property you hold. It is accepted that the quality of life and property values are directly related to the education provided in that community. We all can think of areas where we would rather not live and raise our children, but you would also find that in many of those you could afford to buy a house. There is a direct correlation between the quality of local education and property value. Why else is an evaluation of the schools always a prime part of buying a house?

My concern is that as a society we seem to be less interested in the education we are providing than we need to be. When our founding fathers were putting this country together they considered an education for all to be a cornerstone of our democracy. They saw it as a differentiator from the rest of the world. And it was! As we moved through the 18th and 19th centuries, widely accessible education was a major factor in making America a world leader in manufacturing, technology, economics, medicine and on and on. Other regimes used the political strategy of limiting education to gain power while oppressing the population.

But what has happened to this fervor for education? We find other countries passing us in a number of categories while we struggle with impossible funding systems in Wisconsin and throughout the country. As you look around Waukesha County you will see district after district cutting budgets. They are increasing class sizes; eliminating programs that businesses clamor for such as technical education, consumer education, personal finance and business education; reducing graduation requirements; closing libraries, reducing guidance counselors at a time when they are greatly needed; and eliminating school nurses. Once programs are eliminated, they don’t come back quickly.

Wisconsin earned the reputation as a state with superior education, excelling at measurements like being among the leaders in the nation in ACT scores, graduation rates, students proceeding to college and teachers produced out of colleges. We are in serious danger of dropping out of the top rankings. I, for one, don’t want to see us follow the example of other states that went from "first to worst."

I was recently at the state education convention for school board members and school administrators. In the opening session the wonderful music was provided by Kettle Moraine High School. Awards were presented to teachers, principals, the business official and superintendent of the year. Waukesha County shined. But more and more, we are spreading teachers and leaders too thin. With constant cuts in staff and administration plus new mandates at the state and national level, less and less time is available to develop and deliver innovative and valued curriculum.

And consider the stress staff must feel every year at this time when they wonder if theirs is the position that will be gone next year. No organization gets the best out of their people when they live under such a cloud.

We need to decide education is critically important and overhaul the way it is funded. The current system, which allows expenses to increase by about 4 percent or more and restricts revenue increases to approximately 2 percent, is flawed. You don’t even need a basis in economics to see that eventually this will lead to disaster. Some districts in the state are already flirting with bankruptcy. How much is a house worth on the market when that happens? This is certainly not what our forefathers saw as the future.

Education is an investment in the future. Though it comes at a cost, how will it compare in the future with the cost of ignorance?

(Bill Baumgart is president of the Waukesha School Board.)

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NYC Public Schools, Minus the Public

Leo Casey:

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein unveiled yet another in a permanent revolution of structural reorganizations, highlighting a program which would allow private entities to assume a prominent role in the management of New York City public schools. For months, there had been rumors swirling around the exact nature of this “Partnership” program, so much so that the New York Times had published an October article on the DOE’s plans, describing them as private management of scores of schools. When a large group of labor, community based organizations, education advocates and elected officials met earlier this month to plan opposition to these efforts, Klein announced publicly that “as long as I am the chancellor of the public school system… the city of New York public schools will remain public schools.” With that announcement, speculation shifted to what the exact nature of the RFP for the “Partneship” would be.

The RFP is now out, sort of. It is hidden deep on the DOE web site, and only registered DOE vendors, such as Edison and Urban Assembly [two entities which have publicly indicated their interest], can actually see it.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Thought on Education


My wife is a teacher, she teaches in Middle School. To be polite, a lot of her kids appear to be uninterested in the learning experience. Instead of wasting their time and the time of kids who actually wanted to learn, I’ve suggested that the school remodel a few classrooms to give these uninterested kids a leg up in their future careers. This special classroom would be equipped with a cash register, a cooking surface, a deep fryer, a soda fountain, and a system that offers orders for the students to fill correctly. The kids would be graded on their ability to operate the equipment, and tests would include simulated customer orders. Additional equipment would include mops and brooms, which they would use to clean up the room at the end of the class. Extra credit could be offered for asking “would you like fries with that, ma’am?” or “Biggie size, sir?”

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 25, 2007

Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth

Watch an excellent explanation of current math instruction and alternatives to it. I've never before seen such clear demonstrations of current math education. It really helps make the current math controversies much more concrete. Go to You Tube.

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

Singapore Math is a plus for South River students

Chandra M. Hayslett:

It's also different from American math in that fewer topics are taught in an academic year, giving the instructor the opportunity to teach the concept until it is mastered. "There's a tendency in the United States to teach a topic, then it's never seen or heard from again," said Jeffery Thomas, president of Inc., the official distributor of the math books based in Oregon City, Ore.

The American Institute for Research, one of the largest behavioral and social science research organizations in the world, says Singapore Math is better than American math because Singapore's textbooks provide a more thorough understanding of concepts, while traditional American math books barely go beyond formulas and definitions. Before someone in Singapore can become a teacher, she must demonstrate math skills superior to her American counterparts, according to the AIR, which is based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, Singapore offers an alternative math framework for low-performing students, but at a slower pace and with greater repetition.

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

Madison School Board Discusses an Independent Math Curriculum Review

The Madison School Board's 2006/2007 Goals for Superintendent Art Rainwater included the "Initiatiation and completion of a comprehensive, independent and neutral review and assessment of the District's K-12 math curriculum". Watch the discussion [Video] and read a memo [240K PDF] from the Superintendent regarding his plans for this goal. Much more here and here.

Barbara Lehman kindly emailed the Board's conclusion Monday evening:

It was moved by Lawrie Kobza and seconded by Ruth Robarts to approve the revised plan for implementation of the Superintendent’s 2006-07 goal to initiate and complete a comprehensive, independent, and neutral review and assessment of the District’s K-12 math curriculum as presented at this meeting, including extension for completion of the evaluation to the 2007-08 school year. The Board of Education shall receive a report in 2006-07 with analysis of math achievement data for MMSD K-12 students, including analysis of all math sub-test scores disaggregated by student characteristics and schools in addition to reports in subsequent years. Student representative advisory vote * aye. Motion carried 6-1 with Lucy Mathiak voting no.

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

WI - MI College Tuition Pact in Jeopardy

Megan Twehey:

The University of Minnesota is threatening to pull out of a tuition reciprocity agreement between Minnesota and Wisconsin unless its students from Wisconsin start paying between $1,200 and $2,700 more a year.

Wisconsin has rejected the proposal, but the University of Minnesota is pushing back.

"We would like to reach agreement within the existing agreement," said Craig Swan, vice provost for undergraduate education at the University of Minnesota. "That's the preferable outcome. But I don't want to rule other things out."

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

January 24, 2007

1989-2006 Math Comparison: Are Students Better Now?


W. Stephen Wilson [75K PDF]:

Professors are constantly asked if their students are better or worse today than in the past. This paper answers that question for one group of students.

For my fall 2006 Calculus I for the Biological and Social Sciences course I administered the same final exam used for the course in the fall of 1989. The SAT mathematics (SATM) scores of the two classes were nearly identical and the classes were approximately the same percentage of the Arts and Sciences freshmen. The 2006 class had significantly lower exam scores.

This is not a traditional research study in mathematics education. The value of this study is probably in the rarity of the data, which compares one generation to another.


Nineteen eighty-nine is, in mathematics education, indelibly tied to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ publication, Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (1989), which downplayed pencil and paper computations and strongly suggested that calculators play an important role in K-12 mathematics education. My 2006 students would have been about two years old at the time of this very influential publication, and it could easily have affected the mathematical education many of them received. Certainly, one possibility is that mathematics preparation is down across the country, thus limiting the pool of well prepared college applicants.

Wilson is a Professor of Mathematics at Johns Hopkins University.

Posted by Richard Askey at 11:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Elementary Strings: Update and Community Appeal

Action and Help Needed: I am beginning to work with some parents and others in the community to raise awareness and possibly financial support for all fine arts education. If you are interested in learning more, or would like to help, let me know ( or 231-3954). I will be posting on the blog more of what we are doing, including surveys and petitions of support.

Due to the proposed budget gap for next year and the Superintendent's preliminary discussion idea to cut up to $300,000 from elementary strings, our focus will be on this course in the short-term. Elementary strings is only one piece of Fine Arts Education, but there is no other organization that teaches so many low income children how to play an instrument for about $200 per child vs. $2,000 per child in private instruction. We would like to resolve this issue this spring, working collaboratively with the administration and the school board.

The School Board would like proposals from the community re supporting elementary strings. I have begun working with parents and others on this topic, and I welcome ideas and support from readers of this blog. In addition to various proposals for School Board consideration, which I'm being encouraged to submit, we feel there is a need to raise awareness of the importance of a strong, vibrant standards-based, academic fine arts education. For an instrumental curriculum that meets national and state standards, course instruction begins in Grade 4 and classes are held at least twice weekly during the day.

The demand for elementary strings from parents and students has been and continues to be strong; but sadly, I feel the administration (not the School Board) has been a barrier to moving forward in partnership with the community, preferring each year to cut and to whittle away the course each year rather than gather the community together to bring ideas and solutions to the table. Last November, I asked District Administration for the following basic information: number of elementary string students, number of FTEs, number of middle and high school band and string students, number of FTEs, and revenue collected. I have not received this information, which I need to work on proposals, even though I have asked for the information repeatedly. The administration may have a lot on their plate, but I was only asking for basic information needed to develop some proposals for board consideration. I thought, perhaps the administration is working on their own proposals to continue this course, but that is not the case.

Up until a few years ago, there were nearly 2,000 4th and 5th grade students taking elementary strings, 30-40% of these children were low income (600+ children). During the 1990s, as the district's low income population increased, enrollment in elementary strings doubled from about 1,000 students in 1991 to more than 1,900 in after the year 2000.

Elementary strings has been part of the Madison schools for more than 40 years. Growing school districts around Madison offer this course, and the enrollment is growing. Grandparents and parents who live in Madison took this course when they were in elementary school. The large string festival is one of other opportunities that make our elementary schools unique. If we want to keep parents sending their children to Madison, and to keep the needed diversity in our schools, I think this course is important and unique to Madison.

I hope some of you will join me in supporting a vibrant fine arts education for our children and working on proposals for elementary strings. Thank you for reading this blog item,


Background: In December 2006, Supt. Rainwater wrote a memo to the School Board outlining ideas for discussion for possible cuts to balance the budget. Not only is the District facing budget cuts from revenue caps but there is a structural deficit in the budget of about $6 million.

The Superintendent provided the School Board with a list of possibilities - one more troubling than the other. For example, increased class sizes, was on the list. A couple of weeks ago, the School Board discussed increasing class sizes, including increases in class sizes for specials.

On the list was a specific recommendation to cut up to $300,000 from strings. In checking with the Superintendent, he said the amount was for elementary strings.

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Will Increasing Class Time Help?

Jay Matthews:

My favorite at the moment is time. Are our students getting enough hours of teaching and learning to reach the achievement goals we have set? Should the school day, or the school year, be longer?

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There is plenty in the news on this. Massachusetts has launched a $6.5 million public-private partnership to lengthen the school day in 10 schools in five districts. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, one of the cleverest of the pack of presidential candidates descending upon us, has proposed both a longer school day and a longer school year for low-performing schools in his state. Policy makers in Minnesota, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Illinois are all considering adding time for learning.

Elena Silva has more.

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

Parents Sound Off on Detroit School Plan

Mark Hicks:

The reorganization is part of the district's controversial plan to shutter 47 schools this summer and five more during summer 2008 in a bid to save $19 million.

The struggling district lost nearly 12,600 students last fall after a teachers strike, and more than 50,000 have left in the last eight years. The district lists an enrollment of 116,800 students.
At Monday's forum, representatives from the district's consolidation team cited declining birth rates, competition from charter schools and the city's population loss as factors.

The decreases represent a natural phenomenon, said DPS's Jeffery Jones. "This is not unique to Detroit."

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

Elmbrook Schools Set $99.3M Referendum

Lisa Sink:

Elmbrook School District officials have 10 weeks to persuade voters to make state history, after the School Board voted tonight to schedule an April 3 referendum seeking a record-setting $99.3 million to upgrade the district's two high schools.

The board voted 6-1, with Patrick Murphy opposed, to approve the plan to substantially renovate and expand Brookfield Central and East high schools on their existing sites. They agreed to knock $500,000 off the formerly eyed $99.8 million amount, at the request of board member Steve Schwei.

His reason: "I want people to round down to $99 million (rather) than to round up to $100 million."

Board members also agreed to add a second ballot question asking residents to allow the district to borrow another $9.5 million to add more gymnasium space to both high schools. That vote was also 6-1, but with board member Tom Gehl opposed.

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

January 23, 2007

State Legislative Panel Supports Increased School Spending Limits & Property Tax Authority

Andy Hall:

Madison school officials were heartened Monday by a bipartisan state study panel's backing of a measure that would allow the School Board to raise more than an additional $2 million a year.

That would cost the owner of an average city home about $25 a year.

If approved by the Legislature, the proposal would essentially allow school boards to boost their revenue limits by up to 1 percent, which in Madison would be $2.2 million next year. Boards would need to OK such moves by a two-thirds vote, and the spending would be in effect for just one year at a time.

Madison and some other districts with relatively high levels of spending and property values have strong financial disincentives against exceeding the revenue caps. Madison taxpayers, for example, pay $1.61 for every $1 the district exceeds the revenue cap due to the school funding formula, which works to equalize the tax burden between richer and poorer districts.

But the measure that advanced Monday wouldn't subject Madison and similar districts to that financial penalty.

An additional tax of $2.2 million would mean the owner of an average Madison home valued at $239,400 would pay about $25 more per year, said Doug Johnson, a Madison School District budget analyst. The district's property tax levy is $209.2 million.

The Madison School Board's Communications Committee recently released a list of spending increase authority changes they would like to see the State enact. More on the School District's $331M+ Budget.

David Callendar has more.

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

Sun Prairie High School Tightens Fighting Policies

Gena Kittner:blk.

Throwing a punch on high school grounds here will get you arrested, removed from school and in some cases could land you in jail.

After two significant fights at Sun Prairie High School in December, one involving as many as six students, the city's high school has changed the way it deals with violence at school.

The message came Jan. 4 and 5 over the school's public address system: If a student is involved in a violent act or there is a substantiated threat of physical violence, he or she will be arrested and removed from the school by Sun Prairie police, Principal Paul Keats said.

Previously, fighting students could be cited by police, but not necessarily removed from the building, he said.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:17 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

January 22, 2007

Early Start in Business Teaches Lessons

Carol Hymowitz:

Many CEOs who have scaled the corporate ladder say their early start in business gave them their best advantage. While many of their classmates socialized, they were punching time cards, earning money and learning management lessons they still use -- from how to promote new ideas to organizing work efficiently and handling arduous schedules.
Who can forget the early paper routes, particularly on blustery winter mornings, or cleaning a restaurant's grease trap.....

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:49 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Learning the Three R's - In College

Heather LeRoi:

Should he have learned about such math concepts well before getting to college? Probably.

But the reality is, he hadn't. And remedial education classes - or developmental coursework, as many colleges prefer to call it these days - offer Lythjohan, who's considering a career in nursing or business, that second chance.

Lythjohan is far from alone.

According to a 2004 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, 28 percent of incoming freshmen nationwide enrolled in at least one remedial reading, writing or mathematics course at postsecondary institutions in 2000. At public two-year colleges, the figure jumps to 42 percent.

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

Taking Middle Schoolers Out of the Middle

Elissa Gootman:

The two schools, in disparate corners of the nation’s largest school system, are part of a national effort to rethink middle school, driven by increasingly well-documented slumps in learning among early adolescents as well as middle school crime rates and stubborn high school dropout rates.

The schools share the premise that the way to reverse years of abysmal middle school performance is to get rid of middle schools entirely. But they represent opposite poles in the sharp debate over whether 11- through 13-year-olds are better off pushed toward adulthood or coddled a little longer.

Should the nurturing cocoon of elementary school be extended for another three years, shielding 11-year-olds from the abrupt transition to a new school, with new students and teachers, at one of the most volatile times in their lives?

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

On National Teacher Certification

Michael Alison Chandler:

Although some wonder how much the program raises student achievement, there is a growing movement toward national certification. The number of board-certified teachers has tripled in the past five years to more than 55,000 nationwide. Increasingly, school systems are seeking to raise teacher quality.

Prince George's County School Superintendent John E. Deasy said board certification helps teachers reflect on their profession in a way that often leads to faculty-room discussions about sharing lesson ideas. "Education is one of the most isolated professions," he said. "This is a very public process."

Deasy said he aims to get 10 percent of the county's teachers board-certified, up from less than 1 percent now. To accomplish this goal, Prince George's has increased its annual stipend for board-certified teachers to $5,000 from $3,000, according to the school system. That's on top of a $2,000 stipend from Maryland.

The states with the highest financial incentives tend to have the most board-certified teachers. In North Carolina, where teachers can receive a 12 percent pay increase each year they have a valid certificate, an estimated 13 percent of teachers are board-certified; in South Carolina, where teachers earn a $7,500 bump each year, about 11 percent are board-certified.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

NYC School Governance Overhaul Would Let Teachers Rate Principals

David Herszenhorn:

Pressing the case for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s latest round of changes to the city school system, Chancellor Joel I. Klein yesterday detailed how the new powers being granted to principals would be accompanied by new evaluations of them: teachers for the first time would be able to rate their supervisors.

The mayor’s plans include giving more power and autonomy to principals, requiring teachers to undergo rigorous reviews before earning tenure, and changing the financing formula for schools. The administration is eliminating the current 10 regional superintendents and creating a wider role for private groups in supporting schools.

Allowing teachers to help evaluate principals has been a longstanding request of the teachers’ union, and Mr. Klein seemed to be going out of his way to praise teachers a day after the mayor announced that tenure after a three-year probationary period would no longer be nearly automatic. Instead teachers will be rigorously evaluated.

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

January 21, 2007

Shifts in School Costs Significantly Increase Racine County Property Taxes

Jennie Tunkieiecz:

But taxpayers across the western half of Racine County saw dramatic jumps in their tax bills as the result of the western county school districts taking on the full cost of special education, which had previously been paid for in the county portion of the property taxes.

The Village of Union Grove jumped from fourth to second place among cities and villages. Janice Winget, village clerk/treasurer, said she has been hearing the outrage from people coming in to pay taxes.

"The average hit was probably $500 to $600, if not more," Winget said. "The schools tried to warn people it was going to happen, but no one had the idea it was going to have that effect on people."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:32 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

I Support the Madison Studio School

Taxpayers, parents and students, particularly those who will enter our schools over the next few decades will benefit from more local choices if the Madison Studio School can lift off, soon.

The Madison School District Administration's recent history has been marked by a reduction in choice for parents and students and generally a monolithic approach to curriculum. Examples include the rush toward one size fits all curriculum in high schools [East High School and West High School's English 9/10], the annual attempt to kill elementary strings and the ongoing implementation of scripted curriculum such as Connected Math, among others. This has occurred despite flat overall enrollment and growing district budgets.

The Madison Studio School initiative rises out of the successful near westside Preschool of the Arts family. Learn more by visiting their website along with these articles.

Lifting off is made more difficult by the Madison School District's structural deficit, which further limits annual increases in the $331M+ budget.

I hope that The School Board, Administration and Studio School proponents can mutually find a way to say yes, rather than, as Scott Milfred points out, starting with the usual same service reasons to say no.

Over time, I believe the Studio School will grow and spawn additional charter initiatives, perhaps offering middle and high school students more options.

For me, this is simply a governance issue. I think movement away from the typical monolithic approach will benefit our students and community over the long haul.

A closing data point: Appleton's public schools offer 13 charter options, compared to Madison's two.

David Cohen makes some useful counter-points in his comments below.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:05 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Innovation in the Madison Public Schools

Scott Milfred:

The Madison School District just went through a successful school building referendum. Yet a key argument by opponents resonated with the public. The critics asked: Why not close an East Side school with falling enrollment to help pay for construction of a school on the far West Side where the number of students is increasing?

Enter a core of enthusiastic East Side parents pitching an idea they believe could fill Emerson at little cost and ease the pressure to construct yet another school elsewhere. If the parents are right, their proposal for turning Emerson into a charter school just might be the only way to save it from closing.

Charter schools are free from certain state rules and strive to innovate. The Emerson parents are proposing a "Studio School" that would emphasize the arts and technology. The charter school would start with two combined kindergarten-first grades next fall. It would feature more hands-on group projects driven by student interests. Yet core subjects such as reading, writing and arithmetic would still be incorporated throughout school activities.

Madison's stubborn teachers union has long been suspicious of charter schools. The union has taken a defensive position that presumes the very suggestion of a charter school implies that traditional schools are somehow inadequate.

The union shouldn't feel insecure. Our traditional Wisconsin public schools do many great things in the face of daunting challenges. Yet public education can and must get better and try new things -- even if some attempts fail.

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

Prep School Payday

Ellen Gamerman:

Since its founding in 1970, Forsyth Country Day School in Lewisville, N.C., has built an idyllic campus and become known for sending graduates on to the Ivy League. Forsyth stands out another way, too: Its headmaster, Henry M. Battle Jr., received more than $300,000 in salary and bonuses in 2004-05, according to the school's most recently available tax filings. That's nearly double the national median salary for private-school chiefs -- and above the pay at names like New York's Dalton and Connecticut's Choate Rosemary Hall.

Across the country, the job description for private-school headmasters is changing -- and that is rapidly lifting their pay. With competition fierce for candidates who combine CEO-level business acumen and academic credentials, total compensation packages worth $400,000 or more are increasingly common. In some cases, candidates are getting new perks, from college-style sabbaticals to travel stipends.

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

Schools Turn Down the Heat on Homework

Nancy Keates:

Some of the nation's most competitive schools are changing their homework policies, limiting the amount of work assigned by teachers or eliminating it altogether in lower grades. There also is an effort by some schools to change the type of homework being assigned and curtail highly repetitive drudge work.

The moves are largely at elite schools in affluent areas, including the lower school at Westminster Schools in Atlanta, Gunn High School in Palo Alto, Calif., Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles and Riverdale Country Day School in New York City. The effort is by no means universal, and in fact some national statistics show that the amount of homework is continuing to grow.

Still, the new policies at such schools are significant because moves by institutions of this caliber are closely watched by educators and often followed.

Seventeen-year-old Jacob Simon endorses the new approach. When he gets home from school, he usually watches sports on TV. But the senior at Gunn High School isn't slacking off: He's taking five Advanced Placement courses this year, including calculus and physics. What's changed is his school's efforts to -- in the words of one of its teachers -- "make the homework assignments worthy of our students' time." Mr. Simon says, "It's nice to be able to relax a little."

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

January 20, 2007

District Cool to Third Charter School

Danya Hooker:

A proposal to open a third charter school in Madison is too costly and lacks educational research support, the Madison School District administration said, even as it announced a projected $10.5 million shortfall in next year's budget.

"We (the administration) believe the proposal is not complete enough and does not contain enough detail about how the school would operate this fall," Superintendent Art Rainwater said.

Organizers for the Studio School, which would have an arts and technology focus, asked for funding for 2 full-time teachers. Nancy Donahue, lead organizer for the school, estimated first-year costs to be about $35,000 if the school shared a principal and administrative costs with a host school such as the under- capacity Emerson Elementary School.

Rainwater said the administration believes shared principals are far from ideal. He said paying for another principal and administrative staff could cost the district nearly $5 million over five years.

More on the Madison Studio School.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:35 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Character Education"

Sarah Carr:

When her 5-year-old lost his winter hat, he somberly apologized to his mother, saying: "I know it's my responsibility." Without Lecus asking, her 7-year-old holds doors open for other people. And her fourth-grader has become a leader on the playground, helping other kids when they struggle or fall.

Lecus does not take all the credit. Instead, she cites a new character education program at Milwaukee's Whittier Elementary School, where her children attend. With the nudging of a parent, Whittier has started making a more conscious effort to teach students values such as honesty and responsibility.

In doing so, Whittier joined what Michael Swartz, superintendent of the Jefferson School District, west of Waukesha, calls a "national movement."

Motivated by a declining sense of values in a society in which people are more likely to curse and less likely to offer their seat on the bus, schools in Wisconsin and across the country are turning the teaching of character into a formal part of the curriculum.

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

Classroom Distinctions

Tom Moore:

IN the past year or so I have seen Matthew Perry drink 30 cartons of milk, Ted Danson explain the difference between a rook and a pawn, and Hilary Swank remind us that white teachers still can’t dance or jive talk. In other words, I have been confronted by distorted images of my own profession — teaching. Teaching the post-desegregation urban poor, to be precise.

Although my friends and family (who should all know better) continue to ask me whether my job is similar to these movies, I find it hard to recognize myself or my students in them.

So what are these films really about? And what do they teach us about teachers? Are we heroes, villains, bullies, fools? The time has come to set the class record straight.

At the beginning of Ms. Swank’s new movie, “Freedom Writers,” her character, a teacher named Erin Gruwell, walks into her Long Beach, Calif., classroom, and the camera pans across the room to show us what we are supposed to believe is a terribly shabby learning environment. Any experienced educator will have already noted that not only does she have the right key to get into the room but, unlike the seventh-grade science teacher in my current school, she has a door to put the key into. The worst thing about Ms. Gruwell’s classroom seems to be graffiti on the desks, and crooked blinds.

I felt like shouting, Hey, at least you have blinds! My first classroom didn’t, but it did have a family of pigeons living next to the window, whose pane was a cracked piece of plastic. During the winter, snowflakes blew in. The pigeons competed with the mice and cockroaches for the students’ attention.

This is not to say that all schools in poor neighborhoods are a shambles, or that teaching in a real school is impossible. In fact, thousands of teachers in New York City somehow manage to teach every day, many of them in schools more underfinanced and chaotic than anything you’ve seen in movies or on television (except perhaps the most recent season of “The Wire”).

Ms. Gruwell’s students might backtalk, but first they listen to what she says. And when she raises her inflection just slightly, the class falls silent. Many of the students I’ve known won’t sit down unless they’re repeatedly asked to (maybe not even then), and they don’t listen just because the teacher is speaking; even “good teachers” are occasionally drowned out by the din of 30 students simultaneously using language that would easily earn a movie an NC-17 rating.

When a fight breaks out during an English lesson, Ms. Gruwell steps into the hallway and a security guard immediately materializes to break it up. Forget the teacher — this guy was the hero of the movie for me.

If I were to step out into the hallway during a fight, the only people I’d see would be some students who’d heard there was a fight in my room. I’d be wasting my time waiting for a security guard. The handful of guards where I work are responsible for the safety of five floors, six exits, two yards and four schools jammed into my building.

Although personal safety is at the top of both teachers’ and students’ lists of grievances, the people in charge of real schools don’t take it as seriously as the people in charge of movie schools seem to.

The great misconception of these films is not that actual schools are more chaotic and decrepit — many schools in poor neighborhoods are clean and orderly yet still don’t have enough teachers or money for supplies. No, the most dangerous message such films promote is that what schools really need are heroes. This is the Myth of the Great Teacher.

Films like “Freedom Writers” portray teachers more as missionaries than professionals, eager to give up their lives and comfort for the benefit of others, without need of compensation. Ms. Gruwell sacrifices money, time and even her marriage for her job.

Her behavior is not represented as obsessive or self-destructive, but driven — necessary, even. She is forced into making these sacrifices by the aggressive neglect of the school’s administrators, who won’t even let her take books from the bookroom. The film applauds Ms. Gruwell’s dedication, but also implies that she has no other choice. In order to be a good teacher, she has to be a hero.

“Freedom Writers,” like all teacher movies this side of “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” is presented as a celebration of teaching, but its message is that poor students need only love, idealism and martyrdom.

I won’t argue the need for more of the first two, but I’m always surprised at how, once a Ms. Gruwell wins over a class with clowning, tears, rewards and motivational speeches, there is nothing those kids can’t do. It is as if all the previously insurmountable obstacles students face could be erased by a 10-minute pep talk or a fancy dinner. This trivializes not only the difficulties many real students must overcome, but also the hard-earned skill and tireless effort real teachers must use to help those students succeed.

Every year young people enter the teaching profession hoping to emulate the teachers they’ve seen in films. (Maybe in the back of my mind I felt that I could be an inspiring teacher like Howard Hesseman or Gabe Kaplan.) But when you’re confronted with the reality of teaching not just one class of misunderstood teenagers (the common television and movie conceit) but four or five every day, and dealing with parents, administrators, mentors, grades, attendance records, standardized tests and individual education plans for children with learning disabilities, not to mention multiple daily lesson plans — all without being able to count on the support of your superiors — it becomes harder to measure up to the heroic movie teachers you thought you might be.

It’s no surprise that half the teachers in poor urban schools, like Erin Gruwell herself, quit within five years. (Ms. Gruwell now heads a foundation.)

I don’t expect to be thought of as a hero for doing my job. I do expect to be respected, supported, trusted and paid. And while I don’t anticipate that Hollywood will stop producing movies about gold-hearted mavericks who play by their own rules and show the suits how to get the job done, I do hope that these movies will be kept in perspective.

While no one believes that hospitals are really like “ER” or that doctors are anything like “House,” no one blames doctors for the failure of the health care system. From No Child Left Behind to City Hall, teachers are accused of being incompetent and underqualified, while their appeals for better and safer workplaces are systematically ignored.

Every day teachers are blamed for what the system they’re just a part of doesn’t provide: safe, adequately staffed schools with the highest expectations for all students. But that’s not something one maverick teacher, no matter how idealistic, perky or self-sacrificing, can accomplish.

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Spring 2007 Madison School Board Election Update

Isthmus continues their useful weekly candidate take-home tests, this week's questions include a look at Superintendent Art Rainwater:

Much more on the election here.

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January 19, 2007

Education & Intelligence Series

Charles Murray posted three articles this week on Education and Intelligence, a series that generated some conversation around the net:

  • Intelligence in the Classroom:
    Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited. It is a matter of ceilings. Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.
    We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.
  • What's Wrong with Vocational School?
    Begin with those barely into the top half, those with average intelligence. To have an IQ of 100 means that a tough high-school course pushes you about as far as your academic talents will take you. If you are average in math ability, you may struggle with algebra and probably fail a calculus course. If you are average in verbal skills, you often misinterpret complex text and make errors in logic.

    These are not devastating shortcomings. You are smart enough to engage in any of hundreds of occupations. You can acquire more knowledge if it is presented in a format commensurate with your intellectual skills. But a genuine college education in the arts and sciences begins where your skills leave off.

    In engineering and most of the natural sciences, the demarcation between high-school material and college-level material is brutally obvious. If you cannot handle the math, you cannot pass the courses. In the humanities and social sciences, the demarcation is fuzzier. It is possible for someone with an IQ of 100 to sit in the lectures of Economics 1, read the textbook, and write answers in an examination book. But students who cannot follow complex arguments accurately are not really learning economics. They are taking away a mishmash of half-understood information and outright misunderstandings that probably leave them under the illusion that they know something they do not. (A depressing research literature documents one's inability to recognize one's own incompetence.) Traditionally and properly understood, a four-year college education teaches advanced analytic skills and information at a level that exceeds the intellectual capacity of most people.

  • Aztecs vs. Greeks:
    How assiduously does our federal government work to see that this precious raw material is properly developed? In 2006, the Department of Education spent about $84 billion. The only program to improve the education of the gifted got $9.6 million, one-hundredth of 1% of expenditures. In the 2007 budget, President Bush zeroed it out.

    But never mind. A large proportion of gifted children are born to parents who value their children's talent and do their best to see that it is realized. Most gifted children without such parents are recognized by someone somewhere along the educational line and pointed toward college. No evidence indicates that the nation has many children with IQs above 120 who are not given an opportunity for higher education. The university system has also become efficient in shipping large numbers of the most talented high-school graduates to the most prestigious schools. The allocation of this human capital can be criticized--it would probably be better for the nation if more of the gifted went into the sciences and fewer into the law. But if the issue is amount of education, then the nation is doing fine with its next generation of gifted children. The problem with the education of the gifted involves not their professional training, but their training as citizens.

    We live in an age when it is unfashionable to talk about the special responsibility of being gifted, because to do so acknowledges inequality of ability, which is elitist, and inequality of responsibilities, which is also elitist. And so children who know they are smarter than the other kids tend, in a most human reaction, to think of themselves as superior to them. Because giftedness is not to be talked about, no one tells high-IQ children explicitly, forcefully and repeatedly that their intellectual talent is a gift. That they are not superior human beings, but lucky ones. That the gift brings with it obligations to be worthy of it. That among those obligations, the most important and most difficult is to aim not just at academic accomplishment, but at wisdom.

Joanne has notes [more], along with Nicholas Lehmann, who comments on Murray's The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. Technorati search. Clusty Search on Charles Murray. Brad DeLong posts his thoughts as well.

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Notes on Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater's Reign

Marc Eisen:

I could rattle off a half-dozen reasons why it’s a good thing that Art Rainwater is resigning as Madison’s school superintendent in 18 months. But I won’t. I wish instead that he was staying on the job.

Rainwater’s lame duck status and the uncertainty over his replacement come at a particularly bad moment for the schools.

In education-loving Madison, the schools are the city’s pride and joy. But they face huge issues: the influx of educationally disadvantaged poor kids; the loss of middle-class families, who provide the ballast to keep schools on even keel; the deeply troubling “achievement gap” between white and minority students; and the onerous financial squeeze delivered by the state’s perverse system of financing K-12 education.

Rainwater knows these issues. He understands how crucial their solution is to Madison’s future. I’m sharply critical of some of his personnel and strategic decisions, but I don’t doubt his sincerity and commitment to Madison’s 24,000-student district.

A Capital Times Editorial:
Rainwater has brought stability and vision to the district. Where his predecessor had seemed weak and unfocused, Rainwater was a solid administrator who spoke directly and effectively about the system's strengths and its promise. He established a good working relationship with the teachers union, he won the confidence of the community and he has presided over a period of needed growth and, for the most part, smart change.

This is not to say that Rainwater has been a perfect administrator. He has, at times, had testy relations with some members of the School Board, and the voters have sided with the board members who have pressed the administrator -- sending clear signals in the last several elections that they want the board to assert itself and play a more definitional role with regard to the direction of the district. Even Rainwater's critics have recognized, however, that the problem has less to do with him than with the relative weakness of the board in recent years.

Jason Shephard:
Replacing Superintendent Art Rainwater will dominate the Madison school board’s agenda in the next 18 months, a task board members rightly view with trepidation.

“For me, there is an appeal to finding a new person,” says board member Carol Carstensen. “But a lot of me just says this is going to be really, really difficult.”

Rainwater’s retirement announcement this week gives the board until June 30, 2008, to find a replacement. But he’s leaving mighty big shoes to fill.

Rainwater took over Madison schools nearly nine years ago after predecessor Cheryl Wilhoyte was run out of town. Avoiding her missteps, he won at least grudging respect from most quarters, managing tight budgets while maintaining student achievement gains. His candor, plain talk and work ethic have helped build good will with unions, politicians and the media.

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Middle and Elementary School Mathfests

Ted Widerski, via email:

I would like to thank the many of you that have supported our efforts to bring together our many promising young mathematicians for a day of comaraderie and competition. Many of you have offered kind words, your help, or your $$. All are greatly appreciated!

As a result of your support, we will be holding a Middle School Mathfest on February 21st and Elementary (East & West) Mathfests on March 2nd and 12th.

We are currently planning the events, but the schedule will include a talk from a math professor, learning about a challenging math topic, and individual and team contests.

At the elementary level, the school will be asked to choose a team consisting of a total of eight 4th and 5th graders. For middle schools, the TAG department collaborated with learning coordinators to select students.

For the math competition, we’d love to have a celebrity team join us. Perhaps, TV personalities, UW athletes, the mayor, etc. If anyone would like to take on such a cause and has some connections, it would be great!

We would like to run a first-class event for these first-class students. Additional funds could be used. If any group or individual wishes to contribute, please contact Ted Widerski, TAG Resource Teacher at or at 663-5221.

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Mayors & Schools

The Economist:

As Mr Bloomberg campaigned for mayor in 2001, it was clear that New York's school board was failing its 1.1m students. The board, removed from the city's budget process, had little control over school finances. The consequences were dire. Many high schools were losing more than half their students before graduation. Mr Bloomberg promised change.

With the central school-board disbanded, the mayor got to work. He appointed as his education “chancellor” Joel Klein, a former top trust-buster at the federal Department of Justice. Together, they dissolved the city's 32 school districts and replaced them with ten regions. They chose a uniform curriculum for reading, writing and maths. And they began to close large high schools and open small ones in their place. Mr Bloomberg set up 15 small high schools in 2002, and got money from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2003 to help open 169 more.

Two years after seizing control, Messrs Bloomberg and Klein began a push to give more power to certain schools. Management scholars such as William Ouchi, of the University of California, Los Angeles, argued that decentralisation had saved American businesses; it could save schools too. In 2004, New York began opening schools where principals have more control over everything from budgets to staffing. If a principal does not meet the mayor's targets, he can be fired. Last spring, 322 principals, a fifth of the total, joined this “empowerment” programme.

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Name Madison's New Far West Side Elementary School

Madison Metropolitan School District:

The Madison Metropolitan School District is seeking suggestions for the name of the new school in the Linden Park area. Anyone can submit a name for consideration by completing a form that's available from the district, and submitting it by 4 p.m. on February 23rd, 2007.

"We encourage community members and organizations to submit name suggestions," said Superintendent Art Rainwater. "A wide variety of suggestions from the community will help us as we make this decision."

The form that needs to be submitted can be obtained from the district website at or by calling 663.1879, or stopping by Room 100 of the school administration building, 545 West Dayton Street. The form is available in Spanish, as well as English.

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January 18, 2007

Madison Parents' School Safety Site

Within moments of reading Chris Anderson's "The Vanishing Point Theory of News", a link to the Madison Parents' School Safety Site arrived in my inbox. The site includes a useful set of questions that all parents should use to evaluate their children's school.

RSS Feed.

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LA Mayor Announces his Public School Strategy

Duke Helfand & Joel Rubin:

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled a sweeping reform strategy for Los Angeles public schools Wednesday, calling for top-to-bottom changes that would include ending the practice of promoting failing students, requiring school uniforms and bringing in outsiders to help transform schools.

The education blueprint — drawing heavily from reform ideas already underway in Los Angeles and elsewhere — amounts to Villaraigosa's fall-back position if the courts rule against his efforts to gain a measure of control over the Los Angeles Unified School District.

In releasing the "Schoolhouse" policy framework [400K PDF] at a town hall meeting Wednesday evening, and supporting candidates in the March 6 school board elections, Villaraigosa is hedging his bets: He is seeking a prominent role in the school district through a friendly board majority that could promote his vision of more decentralized schools.

Related LA Times Editorial:
MAYOR ANTONIO Villaraigosa's blueprint for the Los Angeles schools, unveiled Wednesday evening, contains a little something for everyone. There are some fine-but-small ideas (school uniforms), some big-but-redundant ones (more schools and family centers) and a few that are simply pie-in-the-sky (better-paid teachers, smaller class sizes and longer school hours). The problem with the mayor's "schoolhouse" plan isn't his vision — it's his inability to carry it out.

The feel-good plan offers no thoughts on how the mayor, who currently has no authority over the schools, would bring its proposals to fruition. It provides only vague notions about how such proposals would be paid for, and it doesn't refer to his legal battle to win partial control of the schools.

That battle isn't going so well, with the mayor having suffered two losses in state court. So the blueprint is a kind of fall-back plan: If he can't beat the school district, Villaraigosa will join it. After all, he can wield his considerable charisma to influence Schools Supt. David L. Brewer, and his equally considerable political power to support a sympathetic slate of school board candidates.

Naush Boghossian has more.

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More on the Milwaukee Public School Cell Phone Ban

Alan Borsuk:

Even before Milwaukee Public Schools as a whole launched a new effort to bar cell phones from schools this week, Bradley Tech High School officials were trying to do that.

"If it's visible and it's being used, we confiscate it," Principal Ed Kovochich said Wednesday, the day MPS leaders, District Attorney John Chisholm and others came to the school to announce steps aimed at reducing violence, with a cell phone ban getting the most attention.

So how many students at that moment were carrying cell phones inside Bradley Tech?

Of 1,600 students in the school, Kovochich estimated, 1,500 had cell phones on them.

"But I'll give you a buck for every one you see," he added.

He didn't need to pay up.

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Established School Districts Losing Students

Josh Kelley:

After decades of adding classrooms and teachers, school districts in some of the Valley's more established neighborhoods are wrestling with enrollment declines.

The loss of students, which results in le ss state funding, will lead to tighter budgets and difficult decisions for large districts in Mesa, Phoenix and Scottsdale.

In the Paradise Valley district, enrollment dropped by 373 students last year. But district officials anticipate residential development, making it tricky to determine the need for a new high school.

"Up until you hit that peak, you're growing and people are used to, 'Hey, we've got a thousand new kids,' " said Chuck Essigs, director of government relations for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials. "Those thousand kids are nice revenue generators for the district, and people get used to that."

Barb Schrank noted the enrollment changes in public school districts around the Madison area last fall.

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Will High Schools Be a Relic of the Past?

CBS Evening News:

We're often told that problems aren't always as big as they seem, and that a little creativity may bring a solution.

So when North Carolina's governor confronted his big problem — one of the worst high school dropout rates in the country — his creativity kicked into overdrive, CBS News correspondent Lee Cowan reports.

"One way to get the high school dropout rate down is to do away with high school," says Gov. Michael Easley.

Sound far-fetched? The Legislature didn't think so.

"When I put this in the budget for the first time, I thought there'd be a big fight over it. And everybody said 'this is a great idea, let's do it,'" the governor says.

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NYC Mayor Moves to Give Principals More Autonomy

Diane Cardwell:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg laid out ambitious new plans yesterday to overhaul the school system by giving principals more power and autonomy, requiring teachers to undergo rigorous review in order to gain tenure and revising the school financing system that has allowed more-experienced teachers to cluster in affluent areas.

The plan, which would also increase the role of private groups, represents the most dramatic changes to the system since the mayor reorganized it after gaining control of the schools in 2002. Although the mayor has chosen to spend some of the city’s current surplus on tax cuts, he said he could invest more in schools with money promised by Gov. Eliot Spitzer to equalize state education aid across New York.

The administration can undertake most of the education reforms unilaterally, without City Council or union acquiescence.

While New York City appears to de-centralize, Milwaukee is evidently moving in the opposite direction. WNYC has more.

David Herszenhorn has more:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg yesterday effectively doubled his bet that the nation’s largest school system is capable of unprecedented improvement, wagering the education of the city’s nearly 1.1 million students and his own legacy on a far-reaching decentralization plan that puts enormous pressure on principals to raise student achievement.

The mayor’s announcement, in his State of the City address, made clear that by the end of his second term he hopes to leave behind a school system irreversibly changed and virtually unrecognizable from the bureaucracy that existed before he took office.

It will have new rating systems for schools, principals and teachers, a new finance system designed to break the lock that many schools in middle-class neighborhoods have had on highly paid veteran teachers, and a sharply increased role for private groups in helping to run schools. It will also make it harder for teachers to get tenure.

But Mr. Bloomberg’s plan, while cementing his place at the forefront of urban education reform in America, also carries huge risks, raising questions about whether yet another reorganization will bring such swift and noticeable improvement in test scores and graduation rates that it can mute critics who say the administration is using constant change to mask mediocre results.

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Daily Newspapers Support Wisconsin School Finance Reform

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

The need for a new state school funding system is starkly illustrated by the fix in which the Waukesha School District finds itself. Caught between rising costs, state mandates and state caps, the district faces a $3.4 million budget shortfall in the next school year. To meet the shortfall, district administrators have suggested cutting the equivalent of about 62 full-time positions in 2007-'08.

The cuts may not prove devastating to the system right now, but they do point to the fact that many school districts have pared the fat from their systems and are now starting to cut into bone. And more cutting will come as expenses, especially health care costs, continue to rise.

What's needed is not mere tinkering, such as the proposal to eliminate the "qualified economic offer," which has helped to suppress teacher pay. What's needed is a new plan that rethinks how schools are financed and is able to put some kind of brake on racing health care costs.

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:
Aloud school bell has been ringing across Wisconsin for years now, and it's not the end of recess.

It's an alarm bell -- one that state leaders can no longer ignore.

Wisconsin's school financing system is an out-of-date and unfair mess. For many schools, the state essentially forces them to increase spending faster than they are allowed to raise revenue.

About the only way around the rigid formula is to ask voters for more money in referendums, which are difficult to pass, divide communities, hinder efficiencies and create financial instability. Districts also have dramatically different transportation, special education and security needs, which a new funding formula must better account for.

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January 17, 2007

MySpace to Give Parents More Information

Julia Angwin:

In a bid to appease government critics, News Corp.'s popular Web site is planning to offer free parental notification software -- a move that risks alienating its young users.

Parents who install the monitoring software on their home computers would be able to find out what name, age and location their children are using to represent themselves on MySpace. The software doesn't enable parents to read their child's e-mail or see the child's profile page and children would be alerted that their information was being shared. The program would continue to send updates about changes in the child's name, age and location, even when the child logs on from other computers.

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Milwaukee's MATC to Train Students in Advanced Manufacturing

Erica Perez:

A three-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor will allow the Milwaukee Area Technical College to recruit and train 1,600 workers in five areas of advanced manufacturing where local businesses are projected to have critical shortages.

The money also will help MATC build a more strategic career-planning system, said Duane Schultz, associate dean in the division of technology and applied sciences for MATC. The goal: to anticipate earlier what jobs will be available locally and train students in those areas.

MATC surveyed about 30 local companies, including Master Lock, General Automotive Manufacturing and Rockwell Automation. In all, they said they would have roughly 1,745 openings in the next three years for computer numeric control machinists, welders and fabricators, maintenance technicians, quality inspectors and production manufacturing technicians.

Average entry-level wages for these jobs range from $11 to $15 an hour.

"We targeted our (program) around manufacturing because it's such a strong part of the southeast Wisconsin job base," said John Stilp, vice president of MATC's Mequon campus.

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Hybrid Learning

Megan Twohey:

The English professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee used to gather his students in a classroom twice a week. He would stand in the front lecturing for an hour and a half.

Now he limits his face-to-face instruction to once a week. His students spend the rest of class online, posting comments about assigned reading, engaging in online discussions and, in some cases, grading each other's work.

It is part of hybrid learning, a combination of in-person and online instruction that is on the rise in colleges and universities across the country.

UWM, a pioneer of the method, has offered a smattering of hybrid courses for years. With half a million dollars from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the university plans to launch soon a variety of hybrid degrees, from a bachelor's in criminal justice to a master's in occupational therapy.

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Milwaukee Schools to Ban Cell Phones

Alan Borsuk:

Principals throughout Milwaukee Public Schools were ordered Tuesday to crack down on students carrying cell phones and similar electronic devices inside schools.

Seeking to improve safety after a first semester marred by numerous violent incidents, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos told principals to come up with effective policies banning cell phones, with some exceptions, by Jan. 29, when the second semester starts.

He also announced that students who use cell phones to summon outsiders to a school for reasons that threaten safety will be expelled from school.

In addition, he said that Milwaukee County's new district attorney, John Chisholm, has agreed to consider charging people involved in violence at schools with felonies. Generally, people involved in fighting have been given municipal disorderly conduct tickets, which Andrekopoulos said was too weak a punishment to be effective.

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"America's Best Classroom Teacher"

Jay Matthews:

Rafe Esquith is the most interesting and influential classroom teacher in the country, but he is not getting nearly as much glory as he deserves. He won't SAY that, of course. Modesty is one of the big lessons taught to his fifth graders in room 56 at the Hobart Boulevard Elementary School in Los Angeles, and Esquith believes that role modeling is one of the most important things that teachers do.

But on the cover of his terrific new book, "Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56," Esquith hints at what he is feeling when he, a film addict, sees the latest movie based on some other teacher's life. Underneath his name on the cover are these words: "An Actual Classroom Teacher."

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Denver's School for the 21st Century

Joann Gonchar:

On a 10-acre parcel at the southern edge of the master-planned community that is emerging on the site of Denver’s former Stapleton International Airport, educators at an unusual high school are working to provide its diverse student body with a rigorous science, math, and technology focused liberal arts education.

The Denver School of Science & Technology (DSST) is not a neighborhood school, however. Few of its 400 students are Stapleton residents. DSST is a public charter school that admits students from the entire metropolitan area by lottery only. Low-income students make up at least 40 percent of each class, and at least 45 percent are girls. All are expected to attend four-year colleges, despite varying degrees of academic preparation before high school.

To house the ambitious program, officials imagined a building “where kids could feel good about coming to school and about being involved in the sciences,” says David Ethan Greenberg, DSST founder and member of its board of directors. The school’s architect, klipp, responded with a colorful building made up of a pleasing collection of different sized volumes clad in brick, stucco, and metal. The facility opened in January 2005, after DSST spent is first semester of operation in temporary quarters at a parochial school.

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January 16, 2007

Education and Educational Research in an Era of Accountability: Insights and Blind Spots

I am pleased to invite you to a conference on "Education and Educational Research in an Era of Accountability: Insights and Blind Spots", to be held on February 7-8, 2007, at the Pyle Center [map], near the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Attendance is free, and we very much hope that members of the local educational community will be able to attend. The conference is sponsored by the Department of Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A schedule detailing the presentations is attached.

The conference will examine the impact on schools of the increased accountability, rationalization, and standardization of education symbolized and accelerated by the No Child Left Behind Act. It will also look at recent shifts in educational research that are associated with these trends, out of which a new emphasis on, and a new definition of, "scientific research" have emerged.

The conference will start Wednesday evening, February 7th, with a keynote address by Professor Richard F. Elmore, who is the Gregory R. Anrig Professor of Educational Leadership at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Co-Director of the Consortium of Policy Research in Education. Professor Elmore will be introduced by Dean Julie Underwood of the UW School of Education. He is particularly interested in complex efforts at the school level to improve the quality of instruction. He seeks to understand how current state and federal accountability systems can work to support those efforts, as well as how these systems may unintentionally work at cross purposes with school and district level efforts. His recent works include School Reform from the Inside Out and the co-edited Redesigning Accountability Systems for Education.

Thursday's conferences sessions, on February 8th, will include a philosopher's reflections on criteria for judging school improvement; a session by scholars whose research exemplifies the value of quantitative studies of school programs and their effects; and a session by scholars who look at dimensions of current programs that some believe can more readily be understood by participating in the lives of school or talking with educational providers and participants. All of the sessions will consider questions about what is gained and lost by the current emphasis on "accountability" and "scientific research."

All sessions will allow time for audience participation. We hope to draw a rich mix of scholars, students, and practitioners that will encourage stimulating conversation on these subjects. We very much hope that you will join us at this event, and that you will share this invitation and information about the conference with your colleagues.


Michael R. Olneck
Professor and Conference Convener


Education and Educational Research in an Era of Accountability: Insights and Blind Spots

A conference sponsored by the
Department of Educational Policy Studies

University of Wisconsin-Madison
February 7 - 8, 2007
Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St., Madison

Wednesday, February 7, 2007, Pyle Center (check Events Board for room location)

7:00 PM Keynote Address

Richard F. Elmore, Gregory R. Anrig Professor of Educational Leadership, Harvard University; Co-Director, Consortium for Policy Research in Education

"Education and Educational Research in an Era of Accountability"

Thursday, February 8, 2007, Pyle Center (check Events Board for room location)

8:30 - 9:00 AM Registration and Continental Breakfast

9:00 - 10:00 AM Philosophical Perspectives on Evaluating Education Reforms

Harry Brighouse, Professor of Philosophy and Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Values in Evaluation: Why Empirical Evidence is Never Enough"

10:15 AM -
12:00 PM Studying Education Reforms with Quantitative Methods: Emerging Directions and Findings

Adam Gamoran, Professor of Sociology, Educational Policy Studies, and Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis; Director, Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"From Discipline-Based Theories to Practical Knowledge: Measuring "What Works" in Education"

Geoffrey Borman, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, Educational Policy Studies, and Educational Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Final Reading Outcomes of the National Randomized Field Trial of "Success for All""

Douglas Harris, Assistant Professor of Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Reconciling the Short-Term Demands of Accountability with the Long-Term Goals of Education and Research"

1:15 - 3:00 PM. Studying Education Reforms with Qualitative Methods: Emerging Directions and Findings

Mary Haywood Metz, Professor of Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Accountability "Shines a Light" on the Products of Schools: Studying School Life Outside the Circle of That Light

Patricia Burch, Assistant Professor of Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Markets and the Implementation of Federal Education Policy: The Case of Supplemental Education Services"

Elizabeth Graue, Professor of Curriculum and Instruction; Director of Graduate Training, Wisconsin Center for Education Research; Wisconsin-Spencer Doctoral Research Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Square Pegs, Round Holes, and Contested Agendas: Doing Policy Relevant Research in a Culture of Accountability"

3:15 - 4:00 PM Conference Summary, Synthesis, and Further Discussion

Michael Olneck, Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Registration and Fees:

The conference is free and there is no pre-registration.


Go to


Public parking is available at the Lake and Frances Streets ramps, and the Helen C. White public parking area. Limited parking closer to the Pyle Center is sometimes available for $9 / day. To obtain a permit before the conference call the Pyle Center Front Desk at 608 / 262-5956.

For More Information:

Call the Department of Educational Policy Studies at 608 / 262-1760.

This conference is made possible, in part, by a generous contribution from the University Lecturers Committee.

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Reduced Math Rigor

Wilfried Schmid:

What is 256 times 98? Can you do the multiplication without using a calculator? Two thirds of Massachusetts fourth-graders could not when they were asked this question on the statewide MCAS assessment test last year.
Math education reformers have a prescription for raising the mathematical knowledge of schoolchildren. Do not teach the standard algorithms of arithmetic, such as long addition and multiplication, they say. Let the children find their own methods for adding and multiplying two-digit numbers! For larger numbers, let them use calculators! One determined reformer puts it decisively: "It's time to acknowledge that continuing to teach these skills (i.e., pencil-and-paper computational algorithms) to our students is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive and downright dangerous."

Mathematicians are perplexed, and the proverbial man on the street, when hearing the argument, appears to be perplexed as well: improve mathematical literacy by downgrading computational skills?

Yes, precisely, say the reformers. The old ways of teaching mathematics have failed. Too many children are scared of mathematics for life. Let's teach them mathematical thinking, not routine skills. Understanding is the key, not computations.

Mathematicians are not convinced. By all means liven up the textbooks, make the subject engaging, include interesting problems, but don't give up on basic skills! Conceptual understanding can and must coexist with computational facility - we do not need to choose between them!

Much more, here.

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Notes on Minnesota's K-12 State Tax Dollar Spending Plans

Laura McCallum:

A two-percent increase in the basic amount schools get for each student would cost around $300 million a year. Pawlenty told school board members he recognizes that school costs for fuel, salaries and health insurance are going up.

"I concede the reality, we have got to get you more money, we got to get you at least inflation and hopefully better, particularly when you look at all the variables. But we have a system where we are always in crisis."

Pawlenty suggested that one factor for the constant school funding crunch is that school leaders can't do much to control costs. The biggest expense for schools is salaries and health insurance for teachers and staff. Pawlenty says he doesn't think teachers make too much money, but he has pushed for an alternative way of paying teachers. His Q Comp performance pay program is voluntary for districts, and 34 districts have signed up so far.

Pawlenty told school board members that while he supports early childhood education, he's not sure the state should require every school district to offer all-day kindergarten. DFL legislative leaders have called for statewide all-day K, at a cost of $160 million a year.

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Spring, 2007 Madison School Board Election Update

Some updates regarding the April 3, 2007 (and a Seat 3 primary February 20th, 2007) Spring school board elections:

Much more on the 2007 elections here.

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Notes on Single Sex Schools

Vivian Roe:

No matter what side of these specific issues you fall on, one thing is undeniable: The Milwaukee Public Schools system is failing. We've got such horrible statistics when it comes to the dropout rate, illiteracy, proficiency in math and science, discipline in the schools, etc., that even friends from out of state know of our educational crisis.

We've got a nasty reputation, but it's well-deserved.

So when I read that single-sex schools are "controversial" while teachers in essence "deserve more," I conclude that in reality it's exactly the opposite.

To disclose, I am a "St. Mary's Girl" - all-girls St. Mary's Academy class of 1987. I got an excellent education there, and I was very disappointed when the school closed in 1991.

With none of the distractions of flirting with boys, dressing up to impress boys, not wanting to be "too smart" in front of the boys, we learned. Which is all teenagers are supposed to do in school anyway.

What I remember the most is that being in a relaxed atmosphere, where the learning style and interests of girls was catered to, made each day bring with it lessons in maturity, responsibility and life discipline.

Mind you, we were hardly cloistered and had a good deal of opportunity to mingle with boys (particularly from all-boys Thomas More and Marquette University High School). And it was clear that our counterparts were experiencing the same on their side of the spectrum.

Michael Mathias adds another perspective.

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January 15, 2007

Madison United for Academic Excellence Meeting on Our High Schools

Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE -- will hold its next monthly meeting on Tuesday, January 23, at 7:00 p.m. in Room 209 of the Doyle Administration Building. The topic for the evening will be our high schools. An informal panel of students and parents from each of our four high schools will be joining us for the evening. They will provide us with an insider's view of their school communities and update us on recent events at their schools. We also hope to have a representative from the MMSD Student Senate at the meeting.

Here is the complete list of topics that we will be discussing that evening:

1) A comparison of the four high schools, in terms of course offerings -- especially in terms of high-end course offerings, especially at the 9th and 10th grade levels.

2) An update on Superintendent Rainwater's December 4 "High Schools of the Future" presentation, including his plans for a two-year high school "study" and the freeze he has put on any further changes in our high schools while the study is going on.

3) The difference between TAG, honors, accelerated, advanced, AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) classes; the evidence regarding AP courses and tests and later success in college; and the AP audit that is going to be conducted this year.

4) An update on the current situation at each high school.

5) A report on the MMSD Student Senate's recent discussion of embedded honors and complete heterogeneity in the high school classroom.

6) An update on the Youth Options Program and the general issue of receiving MMSD credit for non-MMSD courses.

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Community Members Petition for Joe Gothard to be Named LaFollette High School Principal

Some Madison community members are circulating a petition to put forward a candidate to be La Follette High School's next principal.
That name is Joe Gothard, who is the former dean of students at La Follette and currently serves as principal at Akira Toki Middle School, WISC-TV reported.
Questions about who would lead the school began to swirl after former principal John Broome stepped down last month after only six months on the job. Loren Rathert, a Madison Metropolitan School District veteran has stepped in to serve as interim principal for the remainder of the school year.
Some of those behind the petition said that Gothard is "exactly what La Follette needs" and is "tough, intelligent, and personable," WISC-TV reported.
Much more on LaFollette High School here.

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Wisconsin Charter School Update

Green Charter Schools” in Wisconsin Trails Magazine

2007 Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference Co-Sponsored by WCSA & DPI.

Why Public Charter Schools [PDF]?

Links to 34 “green” charter schools

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More School Board Candidate Tea Leaves

Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin weighs in on Progessive Dane's "Loyalty Oath" requirement:

PD basically demands a loyalty oath from all candidates seeking its endorsement. The absolutist position of PD in regards to candidates is one of the reasons that the present mayor, no longer needing them to establish his left credentials, is not renewing his membership.

And there have always been good progressives (yes, with a small 'p'), comfortable with most of the Democratic Party and Progressive Dane agendas.

But all of this challenges Progressive Dane. It would seem that a political party that demands adherence to a strict platform would find meddling in the internal workings of another party morally and politically reprehensible.

Some current Madison School Board members along with several 2007 candidates have been endorsed by Progressive Dane. Brenda Konkel weighs in on the "PD spin". Much more on the 2007 Madison School Board elections here. Progressive Dane has endorsed Beth Moss (Seat 3 candidates include Pam Cross-Leone, Moss and Rick Thomas) along with incumbent School Board President Johnny Winston, Jr. (Seat 4; Johnny's opponent is Tom Brew).

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Notes on Racine's Boundary/Busing Decision

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

"Desegregation in Racine and throughout the nation has failed based upon the mechanism used, which is busing," said County Supervisor Ken Lumpkin, who publishes a black community newspaper. Lumpkin's partner in a debate held last week, board member Randy Bangs, argued that ending long bus rides would give students more time for other activities, such as studying, and may help close the achievement gap.

Mattie Booker, who taught in the district before desegregation, argued that busing students was necessary.

"I watched black and brown kids play jacks in classes because their teachers did not have what it took to teach them," she told the crowd at the debate. Her partner in the debate, Sister Michelle Olley of the Racine Dominicans, was School Board president when the board adopted the desegregation policy in 1977. She said it worked throughout the 1970s and 1980s.

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January 14, 2007

"Do you want innovative public school options in Madison?

If you do, then your support of The Studio School charter school proposal is critical. Please let the school board know. Write letters. Email them []. Call them. Attend the meeting on January 22nd! I have heard from a board member that if the "pressure" to vote for opening this school in the fall isn't strong enough, board members will not vote in favor of this proposal January 29th.

The opportunity to offer this innovative educational option with the possibility of up to $450,000.00 of federal funding over the next two years will not be available to MMSD again.

For more information to find out how to help, community members are invited to join us for our planning group's general meeting on January 17th (this Wednesday) at 6:30 PM at the Sequoya Branch of the Public Library [Map]. You can also go to our website for more information.

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An LA School Finds a Singular Road to Success

Howard Blume:

"Schools rise to the level of expectation we place upon them," said James S. Lanich, coauthor of the just-released "Failing Our Future: The Holes in California's School Accountability System and How to Fix Them." "If we don't have a high level of expectation, schools won't improve."

Hundreds of California schools are "failing" under the federal standards, but one that's shining bright — and adding its own wrinkle to the debate over school reform — is Ralph Bunche Elementary, named for the black American diplomat who won the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize.

At this school, the primary mover has been first-time Principal Mikara Solomon Davis, who arrived in mid-2000. Some would say she's done the near impossible.

Bunche has blown past the target score of 800 on the state's Academic Performance Index. Its 868 compares favorably to the scores at schools in Beverly Hills and San Marino. A school would score 875 if every student scored "proficient" on standardized tests.

And that means pushing parents, who adjusted to a principal who in her first year issued more than 100 suspensions in a school of 467 students.

"There was such an issue with discipline that you couldn't teach. Disrespect for teachers and adults was the norm," said Solomon Davis. When parents confront her over a suspension, "I begin by saying, 'Our goal is college for your child. We're not here to punish,' " Solomon Davis said.

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For Teachers, Being 'Highly Qualified' Is a Subjective Matter

Michael Alison Chandler:

To overhaul public education, the No Child Left Behind law required a massive expansion of student testing. But it also called for states to ensure that all teachers in core academic subjects are "highly qualified" to help students succeed -- an unprecedented mandate that has delivered less than promised.

The law, which turned five years old this week, has held schools to increasingly higher standards for student achievement. For teachers, however, standards meant to guarantee that they know their subjects are often vague and open to broad interpretation.

Legal loopholes and uneven implementation by states and the U.S. Department of Education have diluted the law's impact on the teaching workforce, some education experts say. They say that meeting the standards of quality is more about shuffling paper than achieving two vital goals: ensuring that teachers are prepared to help students succeed and reducing the teacher talent gap between rich and poor schools.

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January 13, 2007

Wisconsin DPI Ordered to Write Rules Identifying Gifted Children

Amy Hetzner:

The state Department of Public Instruction must write more specific rules for how Wisconsin school districts should identify gifted and talented students, a Dane County circuit judge ordered Friday.

The ruling by judge Michael Nowakowski gave a rare court win to advocates for gifted student education. Yet the judge rejected a request that the DPI create rules detailing what programs districts have to provide to gifted students and provide a more vigorous enforcement of its standards.

Todd Palmer, the New Glarus parent and attorney who filed the suit, called the judge's ruling "a tremendous victory for gifted students in this state."

It comes at a time when Palmer and others argue that services for gifted children are in danger because of the twin pressures of school budget constraints and efforts to raise proficiency levels among low-performing students.

Currently, DPI's rules on identifying students in need of gifted and talented services require only that school districts use "multiple criteria that are appropriate for the category of gifted including intelligence, achievement, leadership, creativity, product evaluations, and nominations."

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

Friends of Johnny Winston, Jr. School Board Campaign -Seat 4

Dear Friends & Supporters of Education:

On Tuesday April 3rd, I am seeking to be re-elected to the fourth seat on the Madison School Board. I ran for election to the Board of Education in 2004, because I felt that public service is a wonderful opportunity to continue giving back to the community that helped educate me from childhood to adulthood. But, I’m not done … Tough times are ahead … More difficult decisions need to be made … Every student in the MMSD needs the opportunity for a quality education to be prepared for successful participation in our global economy.

Every person in the community is a part of that process. For the past three years, we have worked together to provide opportunity for our students. I have worked with you to provide a positive return on our taxpaying investment in our schools. Look what I have done since 2004 with your support.

· Developed partnerships with businesses, local universities, colleges and non-profit organizations.
· Worked in collaboration with board members, district staff and community groups.
· Involved parents and the community in board processes.
· Successfully passed referenda to alleviate overcrowding and funding for school maintenance.

I have not just complained about the problems of the district, by working with you, together we have been an active part of the solutions. I’m asking for your continued support to re-elect me for three more years of service on the Madison School Board. Please go to my website: to learn more about my school board campaign and how you can help me win on Tuesday April 3rd.

Johnny Winston Jr.

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January 12, 2007

Financially Support Madison Schools' Math Festival

Ted Widerski:

The Talented and Gifted Division of MMSD is busy organizing ‘MathFests’ for strong math students in grades 4 – 8. These events are planned to provide an opportunity for students to interact with other students across the city who share a passion for challenging mathematics. Many of these students study math either online, with a tutor, by traveling to another school, or in a class with significantly older students.

These events will be hosted by Cuna Mutual Insurance and American Family Insurance. Students will have an opportunity to learn math in several ways: a lecture by a math professor, group learning of a new concept, and individual and small group math contests. Over 300 students from 38 schools will be invited to participate.

The funding for this project is challenging as there are no significant MMSD funds available. A plea for funding in the last several weeks has resulted in gifts totaling about $1000. Those gifts will guarantee that the middle school Mathfest will be held on Wednesday, February 21st.

In order to hold the Elementary MathFests on each side of Madison would require additional donations. Gifts totaling $1600 would provide the necessary support to provide 200 students with a very special experience. If anyone or any group would like to contribute, it would be most appreciated. Please contact me: Ted Widerski, TAG Resource Teacher at:

Thank you for supporting this math event.

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A judge says Preston Hollow Elementary segregated white kids to please parents. The reality is deeper and maybe more troubling.

On a sunny September morning in 2005 Preston Hollow Elementary School hosted Bike to School Day. Dozens of grinning children with fair skin played and talked outside in the courtyard, relaxing happily after rides through their North Dallas neighborhood of garish mansions and stately brick homes. Parents shared tea and fruit, capturing the smiles of their kids with digital cameras. A police officer gave the group a friendly lecture on bicycle safety. Inside the classrooms surrounding the courtyard, other children watched glumly. Many of them lived in the modest apartment complexes off Central Expressway, separated from their school by busy roads and shopping centers. Those kids, nearly all them Hispanic and black, took the bus to school.

As their classmates parked their bikes and snacked on fruit and juice the other children waited in English as a second language (ESL) classes. A federal judge would later rule that many of them shouldn't have been there. Their language skills were good enough to be in the same classes as the kids who rode their bikes to Preston Hollow.

From Dallas Observer, January 11, 2007.

A parent volunteered to organize the morning activities and the school's PTA posted pictures of the event on its Web site. The images show a crowd of cheerful kids who look like they came out of central casting for a 1950s musical. Nearly all of them are white. In a school where 66 percent of the children are Hispanic a Latino kid can hardly be found in any of the photos. Parents with the PTA say they sent everyone notices in English and Spanish about Bike to School Day, but some parents didn't know about the event until days later.

Lucresia Santamaria a mother of three children at Preston Hollow, asked her children about Bike to School Day. They told her Latino children weren't invited. Unlike many of the school's Hispanic mothers and fathers, Santamaria lives close to Preston Hollow in a cozy stone and brick house surrounded by newly constructed mansions. Her husband is an industrial engineer. But at Preston Hollow, Santamaria didn't fare any better than the Hispanic parents in the faraway apartment complexes. Her children were also confined to ESL and bilingual classes for no good reason.

Santamaria's children were not that upset that they were left out of the event. That's just how things were at Preston Hollow they said.

"They'd heard in school that the white kids were the most intelligent. They already knew they were more advanced. They felt separate," she says. "So to them, it was normal."

A few months after Bike to School Day an exasperated Santamaria, along with another Preston Hollow mother, Ana Gonzalez, met with Principal Teresa Parker and members of the PTA. The two parents wanted to know why their children were in ESL and bilingual classes even though their language scores suggested they should be with the other children. But they didn't accomplish anything, and the parents left the school feeling that they had to at least consider legal action, or else nothing would change.

After the meeting Donna Flores, who helped translate the meeting for the parents and whose children graduated from public schools in Dallas, had an impromptu conversation with an assistant principal. A few months later, Robert McElroy would tell a federal court that the principal unfairly placed minority children in ESL classes in order to keep the Anglo children together. Parker did that to placate the neighborhood parents, McElroy speculated, but up until that moment, he didn't stand up and take on Parker. Instead, he acted as if Preston Hollow operated in its own universe with its own rules.

"I turned around and asked him 'Do you see anything wrong here?'" Flores recounts. "And he said, 'There are some things that are going on, but nobody can do anything about it.'"

Flores then asked McElroy to elaborate but he spoke vaguely. Like Santamaria's children, he seemed resigned to how Preston Hollow worked. "This is how the school is run, and nobody is going to do anything about it," she says McElroy told her. "People try to do things, but nobody listens."

Last November a federal judge both listened and acted, issuing a bluntly worded ruling that stigmatized Preston Hollow as a corrosive school that is purposefully and systematically segregated at all grade levels. U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay ruled that Parker was personally liable and ordered her to pay $20,000 to one of the two mothers who sued the school. His 106-page opinion recounting volumes of classroom data and testimony from teachers, illustrated how the school marginalized dozens of Hispanic and black children, placing them in ESL classes for no sound academic reason. Instead, Lindsay opined, the principal isolated too many minority children in ESL classes so that the white children from the surrounding neighborhood could stay together, even if this created a school polarized along racial and ethnic lines. The judge has given Dallas Independent School District until mid-January to assign students into more racially mixed classes.

Like many schools in North Dallas Preston Hollow draws from both affluent neighborhoods and low-income apartment buildings. As a result, the school struggles to serve two disparate constituencies. There are Hispanic children, who may grow up in households where English is never spoken, and far wealthier Anglo children who come to school with considerable advantages. Those kids have completely different needs.

The goal of public education is to have all different kinds of kids learn as much as possible in the same classroom but it takes a smart, coordinated effort from teachers, parents, administrators and the district itself to make that happen. Most of all it takes common sense. Maybe someone at Preston Hollow should have realized that having a Bike to School Day is going to leave a lot of children on the inside, looking out. DISD is perhaps the most obstinate and secretive public institution in the city, unwilling to answer the most basic questions about how it educates children. Barraged by a never-ending parade of exposés about its shoddy spending and hiring practices the district has developed a bunker mentality in which it seems to view itself as immune to scrutiny. So when the district had to explain itself to a federal judge, it's hardly surprising that it did so halfheartedly. With Preston Hollow and the district on trial and with the entire school system's reputation at stake, DISD chose a rather tepid, clumsy defense. Calling only a handful of witnesses, most of whom wound up inadvertently helping the plaintiffs' case, DISD argued from both sides of the fence: No, the school never wrongly placed minority children in ESL classes, but if it did, no harm was done. The judge rejected the first part of this defense by citing the district's own damning data, then castigated the second as the infamous separate-but-equal argument that was used to justify segregation before the Civil Rights Movement.

The court's ruling assigns blame for Preston Hollow to DISD administrators and PTA board members. Most of all the judge directs his ire toward Parker, who last week was transferred to an administrative job. He ridiculed her testimony, accused her of a cover-up and criticized her for orchestrating the errant placement of minority students into ESL classes to keep the Anglo children together.

"Principal Parker's behavior over the years demonstrated a total lack of concern for the constitutional rights of Latino children to learn in integrated classrooms," he wrote. "When public officials break the law they must be held accountable."

When the judge released his opinion about Preston Hollow Anglo parents were stunned. This looked nothing like the school they knew and loved. They adored Parker, and their kids were always in classes with blacks and Hispanics. But on a Saturday morning in November, after Lindsay issued his opinion, the parents woke up to read the following on the front page of The Dallas Morning News: "For years, it was an open secret at North Dallas' Preston Hollow Elementary School: Even though the school was overwhelmingly Hispanic and black, white parents could get their children into all-white classes."

In fact the News missed the finer point of the judge's ruling, which found the school to have purposefully placed white neighborhood children in the same mixed classes keeping the white kids together even if it meant unfairly placing minorities in ESL classes. But there were no all-white classes at Preston Hollow. It was never that egregious.

Still the daily's mistake only galvanized the Anglo parents who felt like everyone from the media to their own school district was against them. In the judge's opinion, they came off as stodgy and domineering, so much so that they chose to showcase Anglo kids in a brochure for the school at the expense of the other children. Despite drawing the ire of the court and even after taking a battering in the press, the parents defend their efforts to market the school to their neighbors.

"We're the minority in this school," says Joe Bittner whose wife, Meg, is the president of the Preston Hollow PTA. "We're trying to attract more minorities. Why is it OK for UT to want more black students, but it's not OK for us to want more white students?"

The Anglo parents along with many teachers at Preston Hollow, have taken the judge's portrayal of their school personally. Together, they offer a volume of elaborate theories to explain why he threw the book at their school. They say that the teachers who testified against the principal were merely disgruntled and that the parents who filed the suit had ulterior motives. They speculate that the district's legal strategy was to sacrifice the principal to save itself from the court's wrath. Most of all, they say the judge simply doesn't understand bilingual education, in which decisions that may seem prejudiced actually serve the best interests of the child.

Of those explanations only the last one has a ring of truth. There are Hispanic children who may test out of ESL but still learn more in that setting. Teachers, administrators and even parents have the discretion to make that call. Bilingual education at DISD follows a fluid, haphazard process. For whatever reason, DISD has no clear policy on how it fills up its ESL classes, and not only does each school have a different understanding of how to place children, different teachers at the same school don't always agree how that should work.

Still the vagaries of ESL classes at DISD don't begin to explain what happened at Preston Hollow. Too many Latino kids with good language scores wound up in an ESL class. That's what DISD's own witness said. And why exactly were the black kids there with them? Maybe the judge did oversimplify what has been happening at Preston Hollow, but he recounted enough incriminating data and testimony that shows that the school had a problem, from the principal to the district and everyone in between.

"The court is left with the distinct impression that the primary objective of fairly educating students was lost," the judge wrote. "And substituted in its place was an effort to prevent white flight from Preston Hollow." In June 2005 Parker met with the school's PTA parents to talk to them about their upcoming kindergarten class. According to the testimony of teacher Sally Walsh, Parker told the parents that "the neighborhood children" would be placed in the same general education class. Some of the parents remember this as well. Nearly all of the neighborhood children that Parker was talking about were Anglo. That year, of the 46 children enrolled in kindergarten at Preston Hollow only 10 were white. All of them were in the same general education class where they made up the majority. Parker kept her promise. But by keeping the neighborhood kids together in one room, Preston Hollow wound up having too many ESL classes for all the other kids. Assigning students to ESL classes can be somewhat makeshift, but there is supposed to be some sort of process. When parents enroll their child, they indicate what language is spoken at home. If it's something other than English, the children take a standardized language exam called the Woodcock-Muñoz test. How children perform on that test largely determines if they fall under a formal category awkwardly titled "Limited English Proficient," or LEP. LEP kids as they're often called, are placed in ESL or bilingual classes, while non-LEP kids are ready to learn in general education classes with their English-speaking peers.

There can be sound academic reasons to place a kid who speaks English well in an ESL class particularly if their parents feel that they can use the extra drilling on their language skills. But by and large, most ESL classes are for kids who have trouble with English. That wasn't the case at Preston Hollow. In fact, the district's own expert, Dr. Gilda Alvarez-Evans, said that throughout the elementary school and not just in kindergarten there were simply too many ESL classes and she could find no explanation for that.

Last year at Preston Hollow only five or six kindergarten children fell into the LEP category. But the school had two ESL classes, spreading those LEP kids into both. Preston Hollow could have easily created one ESL class for the six LEP students, filling up the remaining spots with borderline students, and had two general education classes for everyone else.

But if the school had done that the neighborhood kids would have been split between two general education classes. Those children then wouldn't have been the majority in either classroom. But by keeping the neighborhood kids together in the same class, the school wound up having an unnecessary ESL class. As a result, Preston Hollow had as many as 26 kids who could have been in the same general education class as the neighborhood children. Ana Gonzalez's daughter was one of them.

If you only heard her speak English you might mistake Ana Gonzalez for a tentative, soft-spoken woman not likely to stick up for herself. It is only when she talks in her native Spanish that you see a glimpse of the woman who helped upend a school. In Spanish, she speaks rapidly and forcefully; her sense of indignation seeps out without ever clouding her story.

When Gonzalez enrolled her daughter in kindergarten at Preston Hollow she filled out a language survey. Asked what language her daughter speaks the best, Gonzalez put Spanish first and English second. That meant her daughter had to take the Woodcock-Muñoz language test. The girl scored a five the highest possible score. She also tested as gifted and talented, but Gonzalez's daughter was placed in an ESL class with no Anglo students.

Almost immediately the girl started to feel as though she were somehow different from the Anglo children.

"My daughter started saying 'My hair is ugly.' She started saying, 'Mom, I want to have blond hair.' I told her all hair colors are pretty," Gonzalez says.

After a few months Gonzalez became concerned about her daughter's progress. Within a year, she would score lower on a standardized test than she did prior to enrolling at Preston Hollow. In January 2006 Gonzalez and others had a meeting with Principal Parker along with officials from the district. The purpose was to find out how the school was placing its students.

"We had lots and lots of questions," she says. "Why in my daughter's class, were there so many kids who weren't LEP? What was happening?"

But everybody was ducking the questions.

Finally Gonzalez asked Parker directly why her daughter was placed in an ESL class. The mother would testify that the principal gave a rather unimpressive answer: "The children were assigned to [ESL] classes according to their origin and what country they came from." That's not exactly how the system is supposed to work.

Parker would deny to the court she ever gave that explanation but another parent at the meeting, Lucresia Santamaria, corroborated Gonzalez's account.

Not long after the meeting with Parker Santamaria and Gonzalez decided to contact the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). Within weeks, they would file a lawsuit against the school, the district and Parker.

"My son says he wants to be like his father [an engineer]," says Santamaria who has sent three children to Preston Hollow. "I realized they'll never get to go to college if they don't get out of these classes."

Today classes at Preston Hollow are far more integrated. A recent tour of the school reveals a more harmonious place than anyone would have guessed. During the trial, people at the school testified that kids of different races rarely interacted with each other, and when they did, their encounters were fraught with tension.

But during one lunch period at least black, Hispanic and Anglo children eat at the same table. They seem at ease with each other, talking, joking and even getting into trouble as a group. Their parents can learn a thing or two.

For a day at least Preston Hollow looks like a model school. A tiny Hispanic girl in a green skirt hugs an Anglo parent. He asks her if she won the science fair last year. She flashes an adorable smile and says yes. Her parents came to Texas from Mexico and don't really speak English, but she talks without an accent. "Where then did you learn how to speak English?" she's asked.

"Preston Hollow," she says beaming.

If only DISD had called her to the stand. Located in the center of North Dallas Preston Hollow Elementary is tucked in a tree-lined neighborhood that handily lives up to the stereotypes of that part of town. New money is on the move, and bad taste is on display. Sprawling McMansions are gobbling up older brick homes, creating an architectural mishmash of traditional styles and trendy designs. One new house looks like a castle and is built to the edge of the lot. It makes the nearby homes look like servant quarters. Many of the wealthier families in Preston Hollow send their children to private schools, but there has been a long line of Anglo parents who have supported Preston Hollow Elementary School. George W. and Laura Bush lived in the neighborhood before he was elected governor in 1994 and both their daughters went to Preston Hollow. In fact, Laura Bush served on the school's PTA.

At the time the girls attended Preston Hollow Anglo students made up nearly half the student body. Now it's closer to 18 percent. But what hasn't changed as much is the school's PTA. Today Anglo parents dominate the organization. They coordinate nearly all the activities, make up most of the volunteers and fill the leadership positions. In fact, parents say they can't remember the last time a Hispanic parent served on the board.

Ana Gonzalez joined the PTA shortly after her daughter enrolled at the school in 2005. Because her English was only so-so she couldn't understand some of the meetings, but she figured it would make sense to attend anyway. But Gonzalez says that although she tried to make an effort, the Anglo parents largely ignored her and other Hispanics.

"The white parents would only talk to us if they were asking for money for something," she says.

By the end of the fall Gonzalez turned from a meek member of the PTA to its most strident critic. In November 2005 the president of the PTA, Meg Bittner, sent an e-mail to a Preston Hollow employee by the name of Graciela McKay about an upcoming photo shoot for the school's brochure. McKay, who is Hispanic, showed the e-mail to Gonzalez, who was shocked at what she read.

In her e-mail Bittner wrote that the purpose of the brochure was to lure more neighborhood parents who live in "big, expensive houses" to reconsider their private school tuitions and send their kids to Preston Hollow. One way to do that, she implied, was to leave Latino kids out of the picture. Literally.

"While our demographics lean much more Hispanic we try not to focus on that for this brochure. A big questions [sic] that neighborhood parents have is about the ethnic breakdowns of our school population. Our neighbor school, being mostly Hispanic, throws the neighborhood families off a bit."

Bittner explained why she wanted more of those families. "If I can get more neighborhood families my PTA membership goes up, the fundraiser makes more and we have a good donor base for more of our projects."

In that same e-mail Bittner wrote, "I just don't want any hurt feelings if we use one or two Hispanic kids in the shot."

When McKay showed Bittner's e-mail to Gonzalez she was hurt and surprised. Even if she wasn't getting the warmest welcome at the PTA meetings, she didn't think they would do this to her.

"I had been a part of the PTA all year," she says. "How is it possible they wouldn't include the Latino kids?"

The next day Gonzalez showed up at the school to discover where the PTA was shooting its brochure. The principal told her she'd help but then left and never returned. Gonzalez later walked in on the session just as it was ending.

The photographer took a few shots of Latino children but few of them found their faces in the PTA's advertisement. In fact, when it was finished, it included almost all Anglo children, including one where out of nine children pictured, six were white.

That brochure wound up being perhaps the most controversial tract in the literary history of the PTA. It came up repeatedly during a federal trial and has since been dissected in the Morning News and on local blogs. At the time it was released teachers complained that it didn't reflect the demographics of the school. The judge agreed. The brochure also drew the ire of the school's black assistant principal, McElroy, who sent his boss Parker an e-mail.

"It has come to my attention that my children were possibly used as 'tokens' for the photo shoot for the...brochure," he wrote.

Even after the controversy the material stirred Anglo PTA parents don't have any regrets.

"It was our intention to have more neighborhood kids in the brochure," says Joe Bittner who since the trial has emerged as the school's and the PTA's top defender. "That's marketing. People want to see people they're comfortable with."

Skip Hollandsworth a writer for Texas Monthly and a Preston Hollow parent, says that Meg Bittner's e-mail and the subsequent brochure may seem politically incorrect, but it was intended to make a statement to the school's wealthier neighbors.

"To me the ad said, 'get over this idea that your child is too good for us' that you have to pay $15,000 to $20,000 a year for a private elementary school. We've got a great school right here with teachers and academic programs just as good as yours. And yes, my fellow neighbors, there are white kids there our kids. They're right there in the middle of those sea of brown and black faces and we're damn proud of them."

As for Meg Bittner herself she declined to comment on her e-mail and the brochure because of ongoing litigation in the case. The tall, blond Bittner has come to encapsulate the image of the school's Anglo-dominated PTA, but she's not that easy to pigeonhole. Just look at an e-mail she wrote to fellow PTA parents in October 2005 urging them to help welcome a new group to their organization: The Hispanic Advisory Parents Committee.

"We sit in PTA meetings and lament on how to embrace the Hispanic culture in our school. We finally have an opportunity. They have so much to offer. Please dig deep and find a way you can get this off the ground." Teresa Parker has emerged as an elusive, mysterious figure in the wake of the judge's ruling, keeping a low profile ever since the court acted. Like all principals, Parker had her share of adversaries and allies. Schools are gossipy, political places that make it almost impossible for any principal to build a strong base. But Parker seemed to have more supporters than the average school administrator: Some of her teachers think so highly of her that they wish DISD would have enlisted them to testify on her behalf. Many of the PTA parents, meanwhile, avidly support their now former principal. They reject the belief that they ever pressured her to keep their children together or that she would listen to such a request. Mainly though, they remain indignant at the public slights to her reputation.

"I hope people remember that this woman has spent most of her career at public schools with lower-income minority kids. She's devoted her life to improving their education," Hollandsworth says. "The idea that she would jeopardize her career by putting white kids together just because white parents asked her is crazy."

But at the trial the plaintiffs put forth evidence that Parker did just that. Before the 2005-2006 school year a sixth-grade teacher submitted classroom assignments to Parker in which the teacher divided the Anglo children evenly among three classes, but Parker changed it and put all the Anglo students in the same class.

Just as the kindergarten Preston Hollow's sixth grade seemed to have too many ESL classes for the number of students whose English was limited. In fact, in one of those ESL classes, only two out of 22 kids fell into the category of limited English proficiency.

Teachers at Preston Hollow say that all types of children can benefit from an ESL class not just those who are learning English. These classes, which are typically taught in English, employ more visual strategies and that can benefit native speakers too. Other experts inside and outside the district agree with that, saying that including different types of students in the same class even an ESL class can benefit everyone. Interestingly the sixth-grade teacher at Preston Hollow originally assigned four Anglo students to a pair of ESL classes.

But Parker changed that placement keeping all the white students in the same classroom. In any case, if ESL is for all children, why at Preston Hollow did Anglo students almost always end up in general education classes? And those who didn't, one source says, typically came from outside the immediate neighborhood. Meanwhile, nearly two-thirds of the school's black students wound up in ESL classes.

Some parents speculate that black students were placed in ESL classes as a way to remedy their poor reading scores. But while some schools may occasionally use ESL for that purpose in Texas, those classes are intended primarily for kids who live in Spanish-speaking households. English-speaking kids who struggle with reading won't usually have their needs met by ESL classes.

In any case David Hinojosa, the attorney for the plaintiffs, points out that when the teachers themselves were deposed, they couldn't explain why so many black and Latino kids wound up in ESL classes, even though they qualified for general education classes.

"One of the teachers we deposed ended up crying in her deposition," Hinojosa says. "We showed her one of the exhibits and asked her where these numbers came from and she ended up broke down."

As the judge would say far too many black and Hispanic kids were assigned to ESL classes "without regard to their language abilities." One of those was Santamaria's son, who in the judge's ruling is referred to as Doe No. 1. During the trial DISD conceded that Doe No. 1's language skills could have placed him in a general education class but say that he wasn't harmed in an ESL setting.

Santamaria knows better. She says that her son was bored in his ESL class and complained that he was learning the same things over and over. Soon he lost interest in school. Sometimes he refused to go, and now he's fallen behind other kids his age.

"It's taken a lot of work to try and get him caught up," Santamaria says in Spanish. "We got a tutor for him. But he says 'For what? What's it going to do now?'"

Staff writer Megan Feldman contributed to this story.

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

Time on the Job

WKOW-TV notes that Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater has banked quite a bit of unused sick leave time (and therefore money upon his retirement).

WKOW-TV raises some useful policy questions. However, I do think Art is to be commended for the extraordinary amount of time he spends in the community. I've been amazed at how frequently I see his name appear around town.

I certainly have had some disagreements with certain policies that he has pushed such as one size fits all mandatory classroom groupings, but Art is to be commended for his extensive time in the schools and community.

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

Madison School Board Election: Take Home Test Week 1, Seat 5

Kristian Knutsen:

Here are the responses from the two candidates for Seat 5, Maya Cole and Marjorie Passman.
Much more on the April 3, 2007 election (and February 20, 2007 Seat 3 Primary) here.

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

Notes on the QEO

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

Gov. Jim Doyle - Democrat and ally of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's chief umbrella teachers union - has tried to rescind the QEO in the past. The Republican-controlled Legislature wouldn't hear of it. Since then, one chamber, the Senate, has shifted Democratic. And rescission of the QEO is an idea whose time may be near.

But any such step mustn't take place in isolation. The QEO is part of an intricate financing mechanism for schools, whose most troubling cost is health care, which is rising out of control. Any abolition of the QEO must be part of a plan that rethinks how schools, including health care, are financed.

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

School Advertising on the Way

Anita Clark:

adison public schools will allow advertising at athletic sites for the first time under a plan that has won unanimous approval from School Board members.

In its continuing search for new sources of money, the Madison School District said Wednesday it will begin accepting advertisements in its high school gymnasiums and other athletic locations.

The district hopes to make about $200,000 over two years.

"I really think we're on the right track here," said board President Johnny Winston Jr., a longtime advocate of finding new revenue sources who chaired a committee that studied the issue.

Susan Troller has more.

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

January 11, 2007

West High School PTSO Meeting of 08-Jan-2007

The West High School PTSO met on January 8, 2007 with featured guest West teacher Heather Lott,
coordinator for the Small Learning Community grant implementation. The video below only includes Heather Lott's presentation and questions that followed. It does not include other portions of the meeting such as Dr. Holmes report of the West Principal, nor reports from West PTSO officers.

The video QT Video of the meeting is 117MB, and 1 hour and 27 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.

Lott presented an overview of the three-year Federal SLC grant (Year 1, 2003-2004; Year 2, 2004-2005; Year 3, 2005-2006), what changes were begun in the year prior and the changes and goals for the 2006-2007 school year, post-SLC grant. She emphasized that the SLC plan would take 7 years to "complete" and that the remaining 4 years would need to be funded. The 3 year federal grant paid her salary and for professional development only. Budget cuts for the 2006-2007 year and continuing fiscal problems in the district will hamper making the desired progress.

When asked how much, minimally, West would need make acceptable progress in the implementation of the SLC plan, Dr. Holmes suggested $20,000.

She also presented data showing discipline improvements and academic achievement improvements over the SLC years.

Discussions also included the topics of differentiation and heterogeneity, and general discussions from parents of incoming West students on the social aspects of the small learning communities.

Slides for Heather Lott's presentation are in PowerPoint and PDF for your convenience.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 8:55 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

News on boundary changes?

Does anyone have any news on the meeting on January 10 on boundary changes on the north side?

The rumor mill says that the administration offered a plan to close Lapham.

How could closing Lapham improve the situation on the north side?

Posted by Ed Blume at 5:55 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More on School Violence

Ruth's recent post on the Madison School District's Student Discipline Code generated some email. There are a number of related posts available here, including the Fall, 2005 Gangs & School Violence Forum Audio / Video. Post your comments here.

Posted by James Zellmer at 4:44 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

It's the right time for Madison School Board to review student discipline code

In The Capital Times, reporter Susan Troller tells the stories of students and teachers who recently experienced violence at Madison schools or school-related activities. The story underscores how important it is for the Madison School Board to take a hard look at violent misconduct at all levels. The board must consider whether the current discipline system needs change--both to improve safety for students and staff and to ensure that interventions are prompt, consistent, unbiased and effective.

The MMSD administration has made some presentations on its ideas during the fall of 2006. Before the board considers changes, I hope that the board will hear more about the facts, particularly the facts about violent incidents. No changes will help unless they are carefully calibrated to the facts.

Facing Violence at School:Social events canceled as girls caught in hostilityFacing Violence at School

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 2:09 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Superintendent Rainwater Tells MTI about Resignation Plans Before He Tells the School Board?

In a guest editorial in The Capital Times on January 10, 2007, MTI leader John Matthews explains that Madison school superintendent Art Rainwater unveiled his plan to resign at the end of 2007-08 to the teachers union leader long before he told the Madison Board of Education in an executive session on Monday, January 8, 2007.

"When Madison Superintendent of Schools Art Rainwater announced on Monday that he will retire in June of 2008, the news did not catch me by surprise for two reasons.

First, he proclaimed when he was appointed superintendent in 1999 that he would serve for 10 years, the duration of his contract. He said then that he and his wife, a teacher in Verona, planned to retire in 2008.

Secondly, he told me at our regular weekly meeting during the week of Dec. 18 that he would advise the School Board of his resignation when school resumed in January.

Art elected to serve the notice at this time as a courtesy to the school district. It is his belief that the process of selecting a new superintendent will take about 14 months and it will take the next few months to put a plan in place to conduct the search, hire a search firm and the like. Thus, notice at this time is necessary to enable a selection to be made in time to replace him by July 1, 2008.

Art took over as the leader of Madison's schools at a very difficult time. The previous superintendent, Cheryl Wilhoyte, had been terminated during a stormy year of controversial bargaining with Madison Teachers Inc.

Wilhoyte sought to break MTI as she saw the union as being too powerful and she attempted to force a change in MTI's selection of health insurance carriers. She failed on both accounts and caused substantial unrest in the community with her failed attempts.

Art was named interim superintendent and on his first day in office called me early in the morning to say, "We have a lot of bridges to build. When can we get started?"

I responded that we could discuss it at lunch that day.

We developed plans to enable the union and the school district to work together whenever possible and the means to solve problems when the parties experienced bumps in the road.

We talked about how we could improve communications with each other and understand the position of the other party.

Among the systems we developed on that first day were that he and I would meet weekly for a meal. If lunch was not possible, it would be an early breakfast. We agreed that we would not discuss business until we had finished the meal. This really forces the parties to get to know each other and, in our case, develop a respect for each other.

We decided that the MTI professional staff and the district's Labor Relations and Human Resources staff would meet each week and discuss an agenda of cases. When this did not produce resolution of a case, we agreed that the case would go on Art's and my agenda and if we could not resolve it that we would find a peaceful means of resolution.

At times, that has meant litigation via arbitration or the courts, but most often the cases are resolved by the aforementioned means.

We opened our phone lines to each other and take and make calls knowing that the other will be available if we state that there is a need.

In this way, we have gone from a totally dysfunctional relationship with the district being headed by the prior superintendent, to a functional working relationship with Art at the helm.

I see Art as a very knowledgeable and capable educational leader who is hampered by the state's failure to adequately fund education. In fact, he has had to guide the dismantling of the country's best school district because of the Republican leadership usurping the local School Board's authority by imposing revenue controls.

Art is a tough but competent administrator who finds the dismantling of Madison's schools the most repugnant thing he has ever had to do.

On the other side of this issue, he has worked with me to attempt to correct this negative legislation, even to the point of inviting me to meet with the state superintendents' association.

I think the harsh state-imposed revenue controls on school boards will make it very difficult for the Madison Metropolitan School District to attract highly competent candidates for superintendent. They will see their job not as being able to promote programs to improve the quality of education, but rather as overseeing the further demise of the district because of the impact of the revenue controls.

Wisconsin superintendents, in an annual survey, have repeatedly said that they are cutting elective courses, increasing class sizes, laying off staff, not making repairs to buildings, not cleaning classrooms as often as they should be cleaned, using outdated textbooks, etc.

Why would a high-caliber superintendent want to take employment in a district facing such a future?"

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 9:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Notes and Links on the Madison K-12 Climate and Superintendent Hires Since 1992

Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater's recent public announcement that he plans to retire in 2008 presents an opportunity to look back at previous searches as well as the K-12 climate during those events. Fortunately, thanks to Tim Berners-Lee's World Wide Web, we can quickly lookup information from the recent past.

The Madison School District's two most recent Superintendent hires were Cheryl Wilhoyte [Clusty] and Art Rainwater [Clusty]. Art came to Madison from Kansas City, a district which, under court order, dramatically increased spending by "throwing money at their schools", according to Paul Ciotti:

In 1985 a federal district judge took partial control over the troubled Kansas City, Missouri, School District (KCMSD) on the grounds that it was an unconstitutionally segregated district with dilapidated facilities and students who performed poorly. In an effort to bring the district into compliance with his liberal interpretation of federal law, the judge ordered the state and district to spend nearly $2 billion over the next 12 years to build new schools, integrate classrooms, and bring student test scores up to national norms.

It didn't work. When the judge, in March 1997, finally agreed to let the state stop making desegregation payments to the district after 1999, there was little to show for all the money spent. Although the students enjoyed perhaps the best school facilities in the country, the percentage of black students in the largely black district had continued to increase, black students' achievement hadn't improved at all, and the black-white achievement gap was unchanged.(1)

The situation in Kansas City was both a major embarrassment and an ideological setback for supporters of increased funding for public schools. From the beginning, the designers of the district's desegregation and education plan openly touted it as a controlled experiment that, once and for all, would test two radically different philosophies of education. For decades critics of public schools had been saying, "You can't solve educational problems by throwing money at them." Educators and advocates of public schools, on the other hand, had always responded by saying, "No one's ever tried."

Cheryl Wilhoyte was hired, with the support of the two local dailies (Wisconsin State Journal, 9/30/1992: Search No Further & Cap Times Editorial, 9/21/1992: Wilhoyte Fits Madison) by a school board 4-3 vote. The District's budget in 1992-1993 was $180,400,000 with local property taxes generating $151,200,00 of that amount. 14 years later, despite the 1993 imposition of state imposed annual school spending increase limits ("Revenue Caps"), the 2006 budget is $331,000,000. Dehli's article mentions that the 1992-1993 School Board approved a 12.9% school property tax increase for that budget. An August, 1996 Capital Times editorial expressed puzzlement over terms of Cheryl Wilhoyte's contract extension.

Art, the only applicant, was promoted from Acting Superintendent to Superintendent in January, 1999. Chris Murphy's January, 1999 article includes this:

Since Wilhoyte's departure, Rainwater has emerged as a popular interim successor. Late last year, School Board members received a set of surveys revealing broad support for a local superintendent as opposed to one hired from outside the district. More than 100 of the 661 respondents recommended hiring Rainwater.
Art was hired on a 7-0 vote but his contract was not as popular - approved on a 5-2 vote (Carol Carstensen, Calvin Williams, Deb Lawson, Joanne Elder and Juan Jose Lopez voted for it while Ray Allen and Ruth Robarts voted no). The contract was and is controversial, as Ruth Robarts wrote in September, 2004.

A February, 2004 Doug Erickson summary of Madison School Board member views of Art Rainwater's tenure to date.

Quickly reading through a few of these articles, I found that the more things change, the more they stay the same:

Fascinating. Perhaps someone will conduct a much more detailed review of the record, which would be rather useful over the next year or two.

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

January 10, 2007

Isthmus Take Home Test 2007: Week 1, Seat 4

Kristian Knutsen:

To help voters assess the candidates, Isthmus is conducting its second annual Take Home Test of the hopefuls.

Here are the responses from the two candidates for Seat 4, incumbent Johnny Winston, Jr. and challenger Tom Brew.

Much more on the April 3, 2007 (February 20, 2007 Seat 3 Primary) School Board election, here.

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

For The Record: Wisconsin School Finance Adequacy Initiative

Channel 3's For the Record recently interviewed Allen Odden (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Tim Schell (Waunakee School District) and Jennifer Thayer (Monroe School District) regarding their participation in the Wisconsin School Finance Adequacy Initiative. 77MB mp4 video file (suitable for video ipods and other devices).

Neil Heinen's conversation with Allen, Jennifer and Tim includes some interesting comments on funding and education quality.

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

A Call for an Honest State Budget

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Wisconsin's state government ended the past fiscal year with a giant deficit of $2.15 billion, according to the accounting methods used by most businesses.

But the state's books show a cozy balance of $49.2 million.

The discrepancy results from years of Wisconsin governors and legislators manipulating the accounting process to hide irresponsible budget decisions.

Those accounting tricks must stop. Wisconsin should begin to hold itself to the more business-like accounting methods used by Wall Street and by 16 other states the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, known as GAAP.

Wisconsin's fiscal situation makes it unlikely that there will be substantial changes in state funding for K-12 schools, particularly for rich districts like Madison that spend 23% ($333,000,000 for 24,576 students) more per student than the state average. Current state law penalizes districts that increase local school spending (property taxes) via referendum via reduced state aids. This means that for every $1.00 of new local spending above state revenue growth caps, Madison taxpayers must pay $1.61.

The 2/20/2007 and 04/03/2007 school board election presents an interesting contrast between candidates who believe that the best interests of our children are served by advocating for larger state spending beyond the typical 3.5%+ annual increases in the District's budget and those who view the likelihood of substantial state changes for rich districts, like Madison as remote and therefore advocate more efficient management of the extraordinary resources we currently have. Health care costs present a useful example of this issue: Inaction [What a Sham(e)] vs discussion and some changes (in this example, 85% of the health care cost savings went to salaries).]

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:07 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Desegregation, neighborhood schools face off as Racine Redraws School Boundaries

Dani McClain:

More than 100 Racine residents gathered Tuesday to hear panelists debate the merits of desegregation vs. neighborhood schools.

The forum, sponsored by the Racine Taxpayers Association, comes as the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates on school desegregation battles in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, and as the Racine Unified School District decides how to redraw its own district boundaries for next year.

"Desegregation in Racine and throughout the nation has failed based upon the mechanism used, which is busing," said County Supervisor Ken Lumpkin, who publishes a black community newspaper called Insider News.

Mattie Booker, who taught in the Racine Unified School District in the days before desegregation, argued that transporting students is necessary to achieve equityThe forum, sponsored by the Racine Taxpayers Association, comes as the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates on school desegregation battles in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle, and as the Racine Unified School District decides how to redraw its own district boundaries for next year.

"Desegregation in Racine and throughout the nation has failed based upon the mechanism used, which is busing," said County Supervisor Ken Lumpkin, who publishes a black community newspaper called Insider News.

Mattie Booker, who taught in the Racine Unified School District in the days before desegregation, argued that transporting students is necessary to achieve equity

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:14 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Art Rainwater on Principals

Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater:

Over 20 years ago Dr. Ron Edmonds, a Harvard researcher, first reported the critical role that a school principal's instructional leadership plays in creating successful learning opportunities for all students. That fundamental proposition has borne the test of further research and time and is now included in almost all school reform measures.

While there is general acceptance of the critical nature of instructional leadership by the school principal, the demanding nature of that role for a lone individual who bears that responsibility is not often described. The principal of a school, whether a large urban high school or a small rural elementary school, shares the responsibility for the future of every student in his/her building.

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

January 9, 2007

Madison School Board Seat 3 Candidates: Take Home Test, Week 1

Kristian Knutsen posts the very useful Isthmus Take Home Tests, starting with Seat 3 candidates (who have a February 20, 2007 primary) Pam Cross Leone, Beth Moss and Rick Thomas. Much more on the election here.

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

School Choice: How Low Income Parents Search for the Right School

Paul Teske, Jody Fitzpatrick, and Gabriel Kaplan [1.1MB PDF Report]:

Starting with the economist Milton Friedman, supporters of school choice have assumed that competition would lead to better schools, and that parents could do a better job of assigning children to schools than could school administrators. The debate on the first assumption is raging. The second assumption has received little attention, except from those who assert that middle-class families can make good choices but impoverished families can’t.
Barriers to parent choice can all be overcome, but it will take planning, organization, and some modest public spending.

Our new research paints a very different picture of how low-income and minority families in big cities choose schools when they get the chance. Like middle-class parents who have always had choices, low-income parents don’t look for alternatives if their children are happy and successful in school. But once they start thinking about school options, low-income families want information about schools and think hard about the choices they have. Poor parents seek to escape problems evident in their children’s current school, and have definite ideas about the differences between one child and another (our studious boy, our distractible girl) that lead them to search for an appropriate match between child and school.

But our results also identify barriers that must be overcome before low-income parents can become the types of savvy consumers that can make school choice work well for them.

Center on Reinventing Public Education

Alan Borsuk has more:

The researchers based their findings on surveys conducted about a year ago with 300 parents in Milwaukee, 300 in Washington, D.C., and 200 in Denver. Milwaukee and Washington are on the cutting edge of school choice in the United States, each with wide arrays of options for parents, including numerous charter schools and private schools that take part in publicly funded voucher programs for low-income families.

"This report's general finding is that low-income urban parents report feeling more well informed than was anticipated," the researchers said in the report, being released today. "They are extremely satisfied with their choices, and most do not believe that they lacked any important information when they made their choice."

The optimistic conclusions about school choice - in the broadest sense of the term - do not include an assessment of whether parents were actually making good choices in terms of schools where academic achievement is strong or where their children specifically would thrive.

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

Advocating Single Sex Schools

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

The School Board should proceed down this path, but cautiously. As officials of the Milwaukee Public Schools have noted, private schools have long offered single-sex education. Parents who send their children to public schools deserve that choice, too. But officials should be prepared to abandon this experiment if it is shown to hurt girls, as gender separation did in the past.

The proposal is to open an all-boys school and an all-girls school in September, though that target date may not be met. There should not be a rush to do so. Getting the schools right is more important than getting them open quickly. MPS has yet to specify what grade levels the schools would encompass.

The initial impetus for proposals to separate school kids by sex was to help girls, who lagged behind boys in math and science. The theory was that girls were too reticent around boys and that the sexes had different styles of learning. In an all-female setting, girls wouldn't be afraid to show how smart they were, and the material could be presented in a feminine style. Also, such a setting would permit girls to take leadership roles they would be too bashful to assume in a co-ed milieu.

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

More Demand for Mandarin Classes

Sarah Carr:

In Milwaukee, the School of Languages added Chinese as a partial immersion program this school year. The Marshall Montessori International Baccalaureate High School is starting to build a Mandarin program. When the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Languages opens in the fall, students as young as 4 will have at least a half-hour of Chinese-language instruction daily.

The trend is as strong in urban public schools as it is in wealthier suburban and private ones, according to experts. The University School of Milwaukee in River Hills, one of the most elite and expensive private schools in the area, will offer Chinese next school year as part of a new global studies program at the school. Ten University School teachers will travel to China in summer in preparation. "I think we see China as the next emerging power, and there's an intense interest both among our students and our parents," said Roseann Lyons, the head of the upper school.

This year, the College Board unveiled its first Advanced Placement exam in Mandarin; AP exams are often considered in college admissions, and good scores can provide students with college credit. The College Board surveyed schools about their interest in the exam before its release, and the Chinese exam caught the interest of 10 times more schools than a new topic normally would, said Michael Levine, a vice president of the Asia Society, a non-profit organization that works to educate Americans about Asian cultures.

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

At 10 a.m., is it lunch or brunch?

Edward Kenney:

Senior Jernai Turner dug into a plateful of hearty beef macaroni for lunch last week in the Brandywine High School cafeteria.

Not a bad lunch. But for Turner and her fellow diners, bacon and eggs might have been more appropriate: Lunchtime at the school starts at 10:30 a.m.

The early start time is common at schools in Delaware and elsewhere, as scheduling large numbers of students into a cafeteria with limited seating dictates spreading the lunch shifts out.

But, Jernai said, "Sometimes, you don't have the appetite, and you don't eat. It is too early. I think lunch should start around 11:30."

It could be much worse: Lunch is served beginning at 8:20 a.m. at Central High School in Philadelphia and at 9:05 a.m. at Bayside High School in Virginia Beach, Va.

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

January 8, 2007

Madison Superintendent To Retire In 18 Months

From Channel 3000:

MADISON, Wis. -- Madison Metropolitan School District Superintendent Art Rainwater announced on Monday night that he will retire next year.

Rainwater informed the district's Board of Education at their Monday meeting. His retirement will be effective the end of next school year, which will be June 30, 2008, according to a district press release.

"I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the board and the Madison community," said Rainwater in the news release. "This is a great school district and a great community that has always put the welfare of our children first. I am honored to contribute to this effort."

Rainwater said that he gave the board 18 months notice so they would have sufficient time to conduct a search for the next superintendent.

Rainwater has been the district's superintendent since February 1999.

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

View from the MMSD Student Senate

At its November 21, 2006, meeting, the MMSD Student Senate discussed many issues of interest to this blog community (e.g., completely heterogeneous high school classes, embedded honors options, etc.). Here is the relevant section from the minutes for that meeting:

Comments and Concerns:

  • regular classes don’t have a high enough level of discussion
  • students who would normally be in higher level courses would dominate heterogeneous class discussions
  • bring students up rather than down
  • honors classes help students who want to excel to do so
  • array of advanced and regular classes in every subject
  • honors and AP classes are dominated by a certain type of students (concerning ethnicity, socio-economic status, neighborhood, family, etc.)
  • honors within regular classes -- response to whether or not regular students are an integral part of the class:
      not isolating
      discussion level is still high
      homework is the same (higher expectation for essays; two textbooks)
      teachers don’t cater to one type of student in discussions

  • there’s a risk of losing highly-motivated students to private schools
  • being in a classroom with students of similar skill levels is beneficial
  • teachers teach very differently to honors/advanced/AP students than they do to regular students
  • least experienced teachers are given to students who need the most experienced teachers (new teachers get lowest level classes)
  • sometimes split classes will be divided so that the honors students will be doing work in the front of the classroom while the regular students are doing lab work in the back
  • the problem is with the average classes
  • won’t help anything to cut TAG classes
  • mental divide among students in classes where honors and regular students are in the same classroom
  • more behavioral problems in regular classes (possibly more behavioral problems) à cycle teachers through so that one teacher isn’t stuck with the same type of student for an extended time
  • college is a factor to consider

  • Main problems to bring to BOE:

    • higher standards for all students *
    • division within classes creates too many boundaries *
    • not bad to keep advanced classes in some disciplines *
    • voluntary peer education *
    • colleges consider accelerated course loads (factor to consider) *
    *Group majority

    On December 4, 2006, BOE Student Representative Joe Carlsmith made a presentation about recent MMSD Student Senate activities to his BOE colleagues. Here is the relevant portion of the BOE Regular Meeting agenda for that date:

    Heterogeneous vs. Homogeneous class grouping; Multi-level divisions within classrooms at West.

    Voted consensus, though no official motion, on the following:

    1. We need to work toward higher standards at all levels.
    2. Motivated teachers result in motivated students.
    3. Total elimination of TAG or AP classes would be detrimental to the overall curriculum.
    4. Honors or AP divisions within classes create too many barriers between students.

    When I asked Joe if Item #4 referred specifically to embedded honors options, he replied: "We came up with item four as a general consensus on a discussion we had specifically about West's embedded honors program." In other words, as he explained to me on the phone, the Student Senate does not support embedded honors options in our high schools because of the divisions they create within a classroom.

    I have invited Joe (and the other members of the Student Senate) to come to the Madison United for Academic Excellence meeting on January 23 (7:00 in Room 209 of the Doyle Building) because our focus that evening will be our high schools. As well, we will have at least one student and one parent from each of our four high schools present at the meeting, prepared to give a brief update on what's been going on at their school and to answer any school-specific questions that might come up.

    Posted by Laurie Frost at 6:40 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Mayors and Public Schools

    There's been a great deal of activity vis a vis Mayoral control and influence over local public schools:

    Locally, Mayor Dave has been, as far as I can tell, very quiet vis a vis substantive public school issues, other than periodically meeting with MTI's John Matthews. I'm unaware of any similar parental meetings on what is a critical issue for any community: raising our next generation with the tools necessary to contribute productively to our society (and I might add, support a growing economic/tax base). Madison has long strongly supported it's public schools with above average taxes and spending.

    Former Madison Mayor (and parent) Paul Soglin weighs in on this topic:

    For over thirty years I said, "There is nothing a mayor can do that has the impact on a city that is as great as the public school system."

    The mayor needs to be a partner, a protector, an advocate for the public school system. Any mayor who lets a week go by without having some contact, involvement or support with public education is not doing the job.

    Perhaps the April, 2007 Mayor's race will include some conversations about our $333,000,000; 24,576 student K-12 system.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:15 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    LaFollette ranks third on most indicators

    With the debate about high school redesign and the furor over the four-block schedule at LaFollette, I looked at DPI data for Madison's high schools. On nearly every indicator, LaFollette ranks third behind West and Memorial, with East ranking fourth.

    See the data

    Posted by Ed Blume at 11:59 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Wisconsin Governor Doyle Again Focuses on Teacher Pay

    Steven Walters:

    In what could be the biggest fight yet over repealing the controversial law limiting the pay raises of Wisconsin's teachers, Gov. Jim Doyle and Democrats who run the state Senate once again are taking aim at it.

    The so-called qualified economic offer law was passed in 1993 to control property taxes on homes.

    It says that teachers unions and school boards at a collective bargaining impasse cannot request binding arbitration, if the unions have been offered wage and fringe benefit raises that total 3.8% a year. If increased fringe benefits costs eat up the 3.8%, school boards don't have to offer teachers any pay raise.

    Stoking the Capitol fire is the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state's largest teachers union, which says the entire school-aid formula is so broken it must be reinvented this year - a change the union says should include abolishing the qualified economic offer law.

    Backing up Republicans such as Rhoades is Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's largest business group and one of the most powerful Capitol lobbying groups.

    "Any effort to repeal QEO is a non-starter with the business community because it's going to lead to pressure to raise property taxes," said Jim Pugh, the business group's spokesman. "Wisconsin has the seventh-highest taxes in the nation."

    But the largest teachers union, an equally powerful Capitol force, says the school-aid formula is so broken a new one must be passed this year - a huge task that legislators might not have the time, will or cash to approve.

    Wisconsin Education Association Council President Stan Johnson said the formula fails the poorest one-third of all public school students - the ones who need the most help.

    Since 1993, Johnson says, the pay-raise limit has caused average salaries for Wisconsin's teachers to fall to 24th nationally overall and to 30th nationally for starting teachers.

    The law has meant that property taxes have been controlled "on our backs" for the past 13 years, Johnson said.

    It "has been their property tax relief program," Johnson said of Capitol officials.

    Although the council spent $1.9 million to help re-elect Doyle, Johnson said he did not know whether the Democratic governor will include a complete new school-aid formula in his state budget proposal.

    Related Links:

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

    Milwaukee Pushes Single Sex Schools

    Alan Borsuk:

    In documents made available in advance of a School Board committee meeting Tuesday, MPS administrators said, "MPS strongly believes that parents should be given the opportunity to choose single-sex schools for their children if they believe that these schools will help their children."

    Specific schools are not spelled out in the resolution to be considered Tuesday - in fact, it doesn't pinpoint whether the focus should be on high schools, middle schools or even elementary grades.

    But the MPS administration, led by Superintendent William Andrekopoulos, recommended giving the idea a green light and allowing administrators to seek proposals for two single-sex schools, with the goal of opening them for the coming school year. That plan is expected to be recommended by the board's Innovation and School Reform Committee on Tuesday and be approved by the full board Jan. 25.

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

    Debating the Education of Young Adolescents

    Kate Zernike:

    First, educators created junior high schools, believing preteens needed to be treated like adults. But those students weren’t ready to be treated as high school students, either. So reformers created the concept of middle schools, which were supposed to be a warm bath to ease the transition. Now, an increasing number of schools across the country, including in Baltimore and Philadelphia, are shifting the middle grades back to elementary school.

    But some research suggests that may not be the solution, either. So the age-old issues persist, with some variation from decade to decade: surging hormones make students irritable and sleepy. They struggle to relate to their peers and gain independence from their parents. To hear some parents tell it, one day their babies are innocent elementary schoolers in overalls, the next they’re dressing like Paris Hilton and simulating sex on the middle-school dance floor. How do you solve a problem like adolescence? Is there anything schools can do?

    The move toward middle schools, after the push for junior high that started in the late 19th century, was supposed to create environments that were more serious than the story-hour life of elementary schools, though less impersonal and confidence-zapping than the controlled chaos of high schools.

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

    Education Sector Study: Cutting Provisions In Union Contracts Could Free Funds

    Jay Matthews:

    U.S. public schools could have as much as $77 billion more a year to improve teaching if they reduced spending on seniority pay increases, teacher's aides, class size limits and other measures often found in teacher union contracts, a new study contends.

    he provisions include salary increases based on years of experience or educational credentials; professional development days; sick and personal days; class size limits; use of teacher's aides; and generous health and retirement benefits.

    Teachers union officials sharply disputed the report's findings. School administrators and school board representatives said that although they would like more flexibility in the use of funds, there was little evidence that cutting such provisions would raise achievement.

    250K PDF Report.

    Education Sector Press Release by Marguerite Roza
    State and federal accountability systems are putting immense pressure on public schools to improve the performance of low-achieving students. To respond, schools must be able to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, strengthen curricula, and take other steps to provide struggling students with the help they need.

    But such efforts are expensive and, as the nation faces the cost of caring for an aging population and other challenges in the years ahead, it is unlikely that education will receive a great deal of new funding. Education leaders, as a result, will increasingly have to scrutinize their existing budgets to find ways to fund their reform initiatives. One potentially valuable source of funds for reform are common provisions in teacher contracts that obligate schools to spend large amounts of money on programs that lack a clear link to student achievement.

    Andrew Rotherham has more:
    New ES report by school finance guru Marguerite Roza makes the uncomfortable but important point that there is a lot of money in education now that could be repurposed to greater effect within education. WaPo here. Similar to the point made by the recent Skills Commission report. To some this could appear as picking on teachers, and it will be framed that way, but the simple fact is that education is, by it's nature, pretty labor intensive, and most of the $500 billion spent annually is tied up in labor costs. Consequently, pace our good friend Willie Sutton, that's one place policymakers are going to have to look for funds. In other words, we need to get serious about financing education, but also about refinancing it as well. And, we have to take on what is a four letter word in many education circles, productivity.
    Mike Antonucci:
    Education Sector has released an exceptional report by Marguerite Roza that quantifies the costs of various standard provisions in collective bargaining agreements that have little or no connection to improved student achievement or even efficient distribution of resources. Items like automatic raises for experience, university credits, and paid professional development end up totaling almost 19 percent of all education spending, without any indication that they are giving us what we're after: better schools.

    Roza suggests more flexibility is needed:

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    January 7, 2007

    West High School Small Learning Community Presentation 1/8/2007 @ 7:00p.m.

    Madison West Small Learning Community Coordinator Heather Lott is giving a presentation at Monday evening's PTSO meeting: "SLC Post-Grant Update and Discussion". Location: Madison West High School LMC [Map] West's implementation of Small Learning Communities has been controversial due to the move toward a one size fits all curriculum (English 9 and English 10).

    Background Links:

    Loading Clusty Cloud ...

    Parents with children potentially on their way to West High School should check out this Monday evening event.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:14 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    January 6, 2007

    Fame Junkies

    Jake Halpern

    Recently profiled on ABC's 20/20, the soon-to-be published book Fame Junkies highlights anecdotes and research on the attitudes of American kids (and adults) regarding fame.

    Fame Junkies chronicles journalist Jake Halpern’s journey through the underbelly of Hollywood and into the heart of the question that bedevils us all: Why are Americans so obsessed with fame and celebrities?

    We live in a country where more people watch the ultimate competition for celebrityhood – American Idol – than watch the nightly news on the three major networks combined. So what are the implications of this phenomenon? In his new book, Fame Junkies, Halpern explores the impact that celebrity-obsession is having on three separate niches of Americans: aspiring celebrities, entourage insiders, and diehard fans.

    Halpern begins his journey by moving into a gated community inhabited almost entirely by aspiring child actors. During his stay, he interviews dozens of kids and teenagers, who seem to have an almost religious conviction that fame is a cure-all for life’s problems. What’s truly impressive is that these anecdotes are then supported with hard evidence. As part of the extensive research that he did for this book, Halpern teamed up with several statisticians and orchestrated a survey involving three separate school systems and over 650 teenagers. Many of his findings were deeply troubling. For example – when given the option of “pressing a magic button” and becoming stronger, smarter, famous, or more beautiful – boys in the survey chose fame almost as often as they chose intelligence, and girls chose it more often. Among today’s teenagers, says Halpern, fame appears to be the greatest good.

    In second part of his book, Halpern becomes an honorary member of the Association for Celebrity Personal Assistants (ACPA) where he spends a great deal of time with Annie Brentwell who has slavishly devoted every iota of her personal and professional life to celebrities like Oliver Stone, Sharon Stone, and (most recently) Dennis Hopper. In her spare time, when she is not serving Hopper, Brentwell teaches at a school that the ACPA runs to teach aspiring assistants; and, of course, Halpern tags along. This section of Fame Junkies also investigates a fascinating vein of psychological research on what type of people are most likely to “bask in reflected glory” or BIRG. For example, college students with low self-esteem are far more likely to embrace their school’s football team when it wins and dissociating themselves from that same team when it loses. Halpern goes on to consider how BIRG research applies to Hollywood.

    Posted by Larry Winkler at 11:07 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Why You Should Learn Algebra

    David Eggenschwiler:

    EVERY YEAR, as many California high school seniors struggle with basic algebra, which is required for graduation, Times readers complain, "Who needs it? How many students will ever use it?" Well, I use it every day; I'm using it now, even though I haven't worked an algebraic equation since my son was in the seventh grade several years ago.

    Mathematics and science are unnatural practices. As physics professor Alan Cromer has brutally and elegantly written, "the human mind wasn't designed to study physics," and of course mathematics is the language of physics. "Design" here does not indicate an intelligent designer, which would suggest a creator with a math phobia. Rather it indicates evolutionary processes by which the human brain and mind have come to be what they are.

    During the approximately 2 million years that it took for our Homo forebears to progress from habilis to sapiens, they had little use for mathematical reasoning abilities. Their sapientia seems to have been more suited in a good Darwinian sense to the immediate demands of their survival, such as eating, mating and avoiding premature death. Whether for good or ill, as time may tell, our situations have changed much in the last few thousand years, and so have demands on our poor, lagging minds. I don't mean only the obvious and oft-repeated claim that technical jobs require greater skills. That is clear enough in auto mechanics and computer programming. I mean the need to think abstractly, systematically and rationally in various ways.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


    Web-Based Education for School & Home:

    edu 2.0 is an important concept and the next step in the evolution of education technology. Read more....

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

    January 5, 2007

    Local School Budget Tea Leaves

    The Madison School Board Communication Committee's upcoming meeting includes an interesting 2007-2009 legislative agenda for state education finance changes that would increase District annual spending (current budget is $333,000,000) at a higher than normal rate (typically in the 3.8% range):

    4. 2007-09 Legislative Agenda

    a. Work to create a school finance system that defines that resources are necessary to provide students with a "sound basic education." Using Wisconsin's Academic Standards (which is the standard of achievement set by the Legislature), coupled with proven research that lays out what is necessary to achieve those standards, will more clearly define what programs and services are required for students to attain success.

    b. Support thorough legislative review of Wisconsin's tax system; examining all taxing.

    c. Provide revenue limit relief to school districts for uncontrollable costs (utilities, transportation). [ed: This shifts the risk to local property taxpayers, which has its pros and cons. The definition of "uncontrollable" would be interesting to read.]

    d. Allow a local board of education to exceed the revenue limits by up to 2% of the district's total budget without having to go to referendum. [ed: $6,660,000 above the typical 3.8% annual spending growth: $333,000,000 2006/2007 budget + 3.8% (12,654,000) + 2% (6,660,000) = $19,314,000 increase, or 5.8%]

    e. Allow school districts to exceed the revenue limits for security-related expenses by up to $100 per pupil enrolled in the district. [ed: about $2,400,000]

    f. Modify the school aid formula so negative tertiary school district (Madison) taxpayers aren't penalized when the district borrows. (Madison Schools' taxpayers have to pay $1.61 for every dollar borrowed.) [ed: This will cost other districts money]

    g. Improve Medicaid reimbursement from state to school districts (current law allows the state to "skim" 40% of the federal Medicaid reimbursement dollars for school-based services).

    h. Support state aid reimbursement for 4-year old kindergarten programs, similar to the reimbursement for 4-year old kindergarten in Milwaukee choice and charter schools.

    i. Support increasing state aid for public school transportation costs.

    j. Support allowing a declining enrollment school district to use the highest enrollment in a 5-year period for purposes of calculating its revenue limit. [ed: I wonder if the MMSD perceives itself as a growing or declining district, given the attendance projections used to support new schools over the past several years? Perhaps this item is the answer? The current state funding scheme rewards growing districts. Barb Schrank noted the enrollment changes in surrounding districts last fall.]

    k. Support additional resources for mandated special education and English as a Second Language programs, currently reimbursed at 28% and 12%, respectively (when revenue limits began, the reimbursement was 45% and 33% respectively).

    l. Maintain current law for disbursement of resources from the Common School Fund for public school libraries.

    m. Support increase in per meal reimbursement for school breakfast programs.

    There are some good ideas here, including a thorough review of Wisconsin's tax system. Many of these items, if enabled by the state, would result in higher property taxes (Wisconsin is #1 in property taxes as a percentage of the home's value) for those living in the Madison School District. Any of these changes would likely help address the District's $5.9M structural deficit.

    I trust that there are some additional budget scenarios in play rather than simply hoping the state will change school finance to help the Madison School District (unlikely, given several recent conversations with state political players). Madison already spends 23% more per student than the state average.


    • A 5 Year Approach to the Madison School District's Budget Challenges; or what is the best quality of education that can be purchased for our district for $280 million a year?
    • 2007/2008 Madison School District Budget Outlook: Half Empty or Half Full?
    • Budget notes and links
    • Sarah Kidd's historical charts on District staffing, attendance and spending.
    • Italian Minister of Economy & Finance Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa:
      I now come to the last and conclusive theme of my argument. Controlling expenditure always has to balance technical arguments and constraints, with the legitimate and competing claims (often drawing on very different ideological Weltanschauungen) on the resources managed, directly and indirectly, through the political processes. Balancing the two elements is a difficult exercise, as I experience on a daily basis.

      Political economists have blamed the difficulty on the fact that the time-horizon of a typical political cycle is shorter than the one relevant on average for the society as a whole, in turn leading the legislature to attribute a smaller weight to the long-run implications of public expenditure policies than it would be socially desirable. Empirical evidence shows that discretionary public expenditure tends to rise before the elections irrespective of the political orientation of the incumbent government, and also in spite of the weak evidence of a relation between the size of pre-election spending and the election outcomes. The politicians’ short horizons and the long lag between reforms and their beneficial effects gives rise to a pervasive tension in expenditure control.

      For Faust, the lure of Mephistopheles’ services is greatly enhanced by the fact that the price – albeit a terrible one – is to be paid later. For politicians, the lure of the support obtained through public expenditure is similarly enhanced by the fact that public debt will be paid (o reneged) by next generations, often well after the end of one’s political career. As to myself, having inherited a public debt larger than GDP, and having committed myself and my government to comply with sound fiscal principles, I scarcely can afford even to contemplate the possibility of accepting Mephistopheles’ services.

    Tea Leaves.

    Update: I recently learned that the MMSD's Joe Quick wrote this list, which was not voted on by the Madison School Board.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:20 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    More Notes on Milwaukee's Plans to Re-Centralize School Governance

    Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

    Looking for the path to effective education, leaders of the Milwaukee Public Schools have long slogged through the wilderness of school reform only to end up where they started. All used to be centralized at MPS. Then decentralization became the watchword. Now centralization is again in.

    This lunging between two opposite approaches is in a way understandable. Getting big-city school systems to work is no easy task, to judge from the rarity of the accomplishment. Superintendent William Andrekopoulos is right in being dissatisfied with the slow pace of improvement and in searching for ways to step it up. And recentralization does carry the force of logic for decentralized schools that have failed to improve.

    Still, as onetime MPS chief Howard Fuller reminded us when we reached him in New Orleans, where he is consulting, neither centralization nor decentralization is a magic bullet. The key ingredient for great schools are "people committed to do whatever it takes to educate our children."

    n doing so, MPS must minimize the red tape, which has clogged school operations. Another trick the system must manage is to refrain from hurting the schools that have thrived under decentralization, an example of which is Hamlin Garland Elementary School on Milwaukee's south side. Borsuk highlighted the school in another article this week.

    Madison appears to be rather centralized, with a push for standardized curriculum, generally lead by downtown Teaching and Learning staff. I often wonder how practical this actually is, given 24,000+ students and thousands of teachers and staff. Perhaps, in 2007 and going forward, the best solution is to support easy to access internet based knowledge tools for teachers where they can quickly review a variety of curriculum (including those not blessed by the central administration) with notes and links from others. This could likely be done inexpensively, given the wide variety of knowledge management tools available today.

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

    January 4, 2007

    Spellings Says No Child Left Behind Act on Track

    Amit Paley:

    "We've made more progress in the last five years than the previous 28 years," Spellings said. "Can the law be improved? Should we build on what we've done and all of that sort of thing? You bet. But I don't hear people saying: 'You know what? We really don't need to have education for all students.' "

    Her remarks come as various groups begin to weigh in on the law and what they believe works and what does not. The No Child Left Behind law is scheduled to be reauthorized by Congress, but it is uncertain when lawmakers will act.

    The Forum on Educational Accountability -- a coalition that includes education, religious, civil rights and disability rights groups -- said yesterday that the law overemphasizes standardized tests and arbitrary academic targets. The coalition also criticized penalties the law imposes on schools that fail to meet standards.

    "We don't have to throw out the whole law and make a big political battle," said Reginald M Felton, a senior lobbyist for the National School Boards Association, a member of the coalition. "But we need to change from the punitive, 'gotcha!' kind of approach to actual support for progress."

    Rotherham has more on NCLB.

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

    Teacher Rules, Roles & Rights National Collective Bargaining Searchable Database

    National Council on Teacher Quality:

    the portal is the first of its kind-empowering anyone to analyze and compare the day-to-day operations of teachers and schools in a single district or all fifty. You can choose to download the full text of a teacher contract, just the salary schedule, and even the school calendar. Or perhaps you just have a single question and don't want to wade through lengthy documents. Most likely the answer in our database, easily retrieved in three quick steps using our report generator. The database provides answers to over 300 questions, ranging from salary and benefits to how a teacher gets evaluated--with more getting added all the time.

    The more this site gets used, the more powerful it will become. We invite users to contribute knowledge and ideas to our data collection, helping us keep the site current, accurate and fair. Consider this site the central depository for teacher policies. To ensure the accuracy of this database, we will be vetting all user feedback before posting any changes.

    The 158 page collective bargaining agreement (7/1/2005 to 6/30/2007) between Madison Teachers, Inc. and the Madison Metropolitan School District is available here [540K pdf]. Additional links and documents can be found here.

    Mike Antonuccia has more.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Education for all is just a bad dream

    Jo Egelhoff:

    Wisconsin is failing minority and low-income students. Plain and simple. Of the 10 issue areas featured in the Post-Crescent’s end-of-year “Editorial Agenda Update," at least six are critically reliant on our schools performing – performing much better than they do now – and performing better and better around the state, not just here in our cozy, cuddly Fox Cities backyard.

    Think about it. Success in these six important “Issue” areas – labeled by the Post-Crescent as Economic Development, Fiscal Responsibility, Education (of course), Government Accountability, Working Poor, and Citizenship have at their core a well-performing education system.

    Then think about this. According to The Fordham Report 2006: How Well Are States Educating Our Neediest Children?, Wisconsin is doing a dreadful job in closing the achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots. The difference in achievement scores between Wisconsin white and African-American students is in the dead-last position – tied with Minnesota.

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

    Notes on the Use of Student Digital Id Cards

    Bruce Schneier:

    However, Green MSP Patrick Harvie said the suggestion was troubling.
    "We should be preparing young people for the reality of defending their privacy and civil liberties against ever-more intrusive government systems," he argued.

    "We've heard proposals for airport-style scanners and random drug testing in schools, fingerprinting is already in place in some schools. There's a risk of creating environments which feel more like penal institutions than places of learning.

    "These ID cards will do absolutely nothing to address the causes of bullying. Instead they will teach the next generation that an ID card culture is 'normal', and that they should have to prove their entitlement to services."

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

    January 3, 2007

    A Surprising Secret to a Long Life: Stay in School

    Gina Kolata:

    James Smith, a health economist at the RAND Corporation, has heard a variety of hypotheses about what it takes to live a long life — money, lack of stress, a loving family, lots of friends. But he has been a skeptic.

    Yes, he says, it is clear that on average some groups in every society live longer than others. The rich live longer than the poor, whites live longer than blacks in the United States. Longevity, in general, is not evenly distributed in the population. But what, he asks, is cause and what is effect? And how can they be disentangled?

    He is venturing, of course, into one of the prevailing mysteries of aging, the persistent differences seen in the life spans of large groups. In every country, there is an average life span for the nation as a whole and there are average life spans for different subsets, based on race, geography, education and even churchgoing.

    But the questions for researchers like Dr. Smith are why? And what really matters?

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Trying to Find Solutions in Chaotic Middle Schools

    Elissa Gootman:

    Driven by newly documented slumps in learning, by crime rates and by high dropout rates in high school, educators across New York and the nation are struggling to rethink middle school and how best to teach adolescents at a transitional juncture of self-discovery and hormonal change.

    The difficulty of educating this age group is felt even in many wealthy suburban school districts. But it is particularly intense in cities, where the problems that are compounded in middle school are more acute to begin with and where the search for solutions is most urgent.

    In Los Angeles, the new superintendent, David L. Brewer III, has vowed to transform middle schools as a top priority, and low-performing schools are experimenting with intensive counseling.

    In Philadelphia and Baltimore, school systems are trying to make the middle school problem literally disappear, by folding grades six through eight into K-8 schools. In one Columbia, S.C., school district, all five middle schools have begun offering some form of single-sex classes, on the theory that they promote self-esteem and reduce distractions.

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

    School envy a 2-way street for China, U.S.

    Sarah Carr:

    China's schools have struck fear in the West with their relentless focus on subjects such as physics and math - areas where American students have struggled compared with other nations.

    However, visits to dozens of schools in China and hundreds in the United States reveal that both countries love to hate their own schools, and live in awe of others' strengths. While Americans revere the Chinese mastery of basic subjects such as math and geography, the Chinese extol the American emphasis on creativity and nurturing individual talent.

    In the prosperous seaside region of Zhejiang, the situation's changing, though, as entrepreneurs inject some of the country's relatively new capitalist fervor into the schools. The result is a panoply of schools that comes close to resembling Milwaukee's education scene in its diversity - hardly what one would expect to find in a Communist state.

    Students attend fancy private schools focused on such non-academic subjects as kung fu martial arts. A fledgling school voucher program aims to give families more choices as well as strengthen alternative and private schools. Educators describe a shift toward more local control and creativity in teaching. And parents like Xu are closely examining their new options.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:08 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Schools Seek and Find Gifted Students

    Daniel de Vise:

    Not every student at Bannockburn is above average. But 70 percent of the third-grade class has been identified as gifted, based on tests and other academic indicators. The school serves one of the largest concentrations in the region of students capable of working beyond their assigned grade, sometimes well beyond.

    "We're constantly trying to find things to pique their interest," said Peterson, whose students have lately practiced dividing numbers into 32nds in their heads.

    The bumper crop of gifted children at Bannockburn is a result not of some exclusive magnet program but of Montgomery County's aggressive policy on identifying academic talent. The county screens every second-grader for extraordinary ability. In most other school systems, it's left to parents or teachers to initiate the process. Also, Montgomery's criteria for "giftedness" are unusually broad, covering not just intelligence data but also classroom performance and the impressions of teachers and parents.

    That approach drives up the numbers -- 40 percent of Montgomery's 139,000 students carry the label -- and creates a gifted majority at schools such as Bannockburn, which serves an affluent, highly educated neighborhood.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:52 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Montessori Goes Mainstream

    Jay Matthews:

    The American Montessori Society, based in New York, reported 7 percent membership growth in just the past year, and many of the schools are getting ready to celebrate the centennial of the Montessori beachhead.

    Once considered a maverick experiment that appealed only to middle-class white families in the States, Montessori schools have become popular with some black professionals and are getting results in low-income public schools with the kind of children on which Montessori first tested her ideas.

    The stubborn Italian physician and her contemporary, U.S. philosopher and psychologist John Dewey -- who believed that learning should be active -- are considered perhaps the most influential progressive thinkers in the modern history of education.

    Madison has at least two Montessori schools, here and here.

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

    New Math and Science Repository

    This note comes from a listserve, and I thought that it was worthwhile to pass it on:

    Internet Scout, a 12-year-old UW-Madison online research project, unveiled its new national math and science educational project, the Applied Math and Science Education Repository.

    Read more:

    Posted by Ed Blume at 4:42 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    January 2, 2007

    School Board head faces challenger

    Susan Troller reports in the Cap Times:

    When Tom Brew takes on incumbent School Board President Johnny Winston Jr. in the spring election for Seat 4, he, like Winston, will bring a lifetime of experience with Madison schools to the race.

    Brew's own children attended Huegel and Orchard Ridge schools and graduated in the late '80s to mid-90s. A lifelong Madisonian, he attended the former Longfellow Elementary and Central High schools.

    "I felt I had some different viewpoints to offer from Johnny's," Brew said this morning. "Basically, I think Johnny has had a go-along-to-get-along attitude."

    Brew declared his candidacy on Dec. 22, and said he will complete his paperwork by the filing deadline today at 5 p.m.

    He served on the Dane County Board in the early 1990s. In the past, he has been an opponent of school spending referendums.

    Brew said he is an advocate for more money going to teachers and less to administrators "downtown in the Doyle building."

    Winston said he welcomes the opportunity to debate the issues facing the district and the board.

    The general spring election will be held April 3.

    Two open seats, being vacated this spring by current board members Ruth Robarts and Shwaw Vang, have attracted five candidates. Beth Moss, Rick Thomas and Pam Cross-Leone will vie for Seat 3 in a primary election on Feb. 20. Maya Cole, who narrowly lost a bid for School Board against Arlene Silveira, is running this time against Marj Passman for School Board Seat 5.

    Posted by Ed Blume at 12:19 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Milwaukee Schools Criticized for Decentralized Approach

    Alan Borsuk:

    The picture that the team painted was not pretty. Clearly favoring a strong central administration, the team said decentralization in MPS had "gone too far."

    "Decentralization has rendered the central office instructional unit (in MPS) irrelevant to the process of raising student achievement," the report says. The team said some schools were using a hodgepodge of materials to teach students, and no one was leading these schools to be more effective. From the School Board to the classroom, there was not a clear vision of what it takes to succeed.

    ut the report particularly is critical of the attitude among the 70-plus people the team interviewed, from top MPS leaders to teachers and parents.

    "MPS has seen only small, incremental gains in student achievement over the last several years," it says. "More problematic, however, is that many people in the district see these marginal improvements as acceptable. . . . A sense of urgency to raise student achievement is not apparent throughout the organization. The board, administration and staff appear fairly complacent."

    The report adds, "Interviews with MPS staff indicated that most were proud of the gains that the district had made, even though scores reflected minimal progress."

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    January 1, 2007

    A Direct Challenge

    Direct Instruction is just curriculum that uses direct, systematic, and explicit instruction. Any one of the direct instruction curricula would improve academic performance if it were used in the MMSD.

    This comes from an Education Week article in 1999:

    When an independent research group evaluated the research backing up 24 popular school reform models this year, it found two surprises.

    The first surprise was that only three programs could point to strong evidence that they were effective in improving student achievement. The second surprise was that Direct Instruction, a program long scorned by many educators and academics for its lock-step structure, was one of them.

    Direct Instruction grew out of studies on the teaching of beginning reading that Siegfried Engelmann began at the University of Illinois in the 1960s. Thirty years later, only 150 schools across the country use on a schoolwide basis the program he developed. By comparison, Success for All, another reform model with high marks for its solid research base, is used in more than 1,100 schools.

    Thousands more schools, however, use Direct Instruction's commercially produced materials--usually in remedial classrooms, special education resource rooms, or special programs for disadvantaged students.

    "We were sort of like the plague for regular education," says Mr. Engelmann, now 67 and a professor at the University of Oregon. "Regular education would have nothing to do with us. It wasn't until the last few years that we started to break the mold."

    Posted by Ed Blume at 9:23 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas