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February 28, 2007

A Bad Report Card

NY Times Editorial:

Congress, which is preparing to reauthorize both the No Child Left Behind Act and the Higher Education Act, needs to take a hard look at these scores and move forcefully to demand far-reaching structural changes.

It should start by getting the board that oversees the National Assessment of Educational Progress testing to create rigorous national standards for crucial subjects. It should also require the states to raise the bar for teacher qualifications and end the odious practice of supplying the neediest students with the least qualified teachers. This process would also include requiring teachers colleges, which get federal aid, to turn out higher quality graduates and to supply many more teachers in vital areas like math and science. If there’s any doubt about why these reforms are needed, all Congress has to do is read the latest national report card.

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

Two Educators Discuss "My Life & Times with the Madison Public Schools"

Audrey Soglin & Char Gearing respond to Marc Eisen's recent words:

I think we have learned and the research supports that kids need a balanced literacy approach. The "whole language vs. phonics" wars should really be put to rest. It is an old fight. Kids don't learn the same way so a variety of instructional methods should be available. It is not unusual for districts to offer both direct instruction to identified students and reading recovery to others. The problems that kids have are different so the instructional interventions should be different as well. In terms of kids in heterogeneous classrooms receiving instruction - all kids need to be taught at their level. The challenge for teachers in diverse reading and math classrooms is to figure out how to meet those very different needs. It is difficult but not impossible.
The author seems to be saying that we should be segregating our classrooms and our schools. If you look at the scores of low-income students in low income schools-where the demographics are 90% low income, 90% African American or Hispanic - the scores are generally low. It is not like segregating the kids will automatically raise the scores.

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Advocates for Madison Public Schools Website and Blog

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February 27, 2007

Sparks Fly as the Madison Studio Charter School is Voted Down

The Madison School Board voted down the proposed Studio Charter School Monday night in a 4-2 vote (Against: Carstensen, Kobza, Silveira and Winston; For Mathiak and Robarts with Vang away).

Sparks flew when Lucy Mathiak asked Nancy Donahue about their interaction with the attempts to talk with principals and teachers about the proposed charter school [12 minute video.] Watch the complete discussion here.

Susan Troller has more:

There is disagreement among Madison School Board members over what put the nails in the coffin of a proposal to create a new fine arts and technology-focused charter school.

The Studio School suffered from being the wrong proposal at the wrong time, said board President Johnny Winston Jr., who joined board members Carol Carstensen, Arlene Silveira and Lawrie Kobza in voting against the plan at Monday night's School Board meeting.

But board member Lucy Mathiak says that the vote was wrapped up in School Board and labor politics, and that the Studio School suffered from disapproval from Madison Teachers Inc., the district's union.

But Mathiak, who along with board member Ruth Robarts voted in favor of what would have been Madison's third charter school, said she felt the proposal was primarily doomed by disapproval from MTI.

She noted that the MTI's School Board candidate questionnaire asks whether candidates support charter schools, and added that there was a MTI representative at Monday night's meeting.

"There is definitely the feeling that the union does not look favorably on charter schools, although they are public schools, staffed by district teachers," Mathiak said.

"I find it ironic that the same people who voted for a voluntary impasse resolution agreement regarding teachers' contract negotiations are now saying that developing a charter school is something we can't afford. We should keep all of our options open in the bargaining process ... the potential for cost savings are very significant," she said.

Mathiak is referring to a vote taken by School Board members in preparation for negotiations with the teachers' union next month that included concessions from the district on bargaining over health care insurance.

Much more on the Studio School here along with some discussion at The Daily Page.

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More than a Horse Race: A Guide to International Tests of Student Achievement

The Center for Public Education:

Few education stories get as much attention as the periodic ranking of U.S. students on international tests. The headlines are by now familiar: "U.S. Kids Mediocre in Math and Science"1; "4th and 8th Graders in U.S. Still Lag Many Peers"2. Surely, the media fascination with these stories is partly driven by our national desire to be number one. But according to many policymakers, business leaders, and analysts, more is at stake than American boasting rights. These individuals argue that the nation's economic future depends directly on our ability to raise our present academic standing, particularly in math and science (Business Roundtable 2005; National Research Council 2005; White House 2006).

Others aren't so sure. These observers assert that the reported failure of American students is exaggerated, claiming that the differences among countries aren't so large. Besides, they say, our top students do just fine compared with their top-scoring peers in other countries (Bracey 1998).

Still others point to inherent difficulties in trying to make apples-to-apples comparisons across countries and argue that international rankings are not meaningful (Rotberg 1995).

Jay Matthews:
The report, "More Than a Horse Race," was written by Jim Hull, policy analyst at the center, which is affiliated with the National School Boards Association. I sent a copy to a top U.S. expert on international educational comparisons, author and columnist Gerald W. Bracey. There were parts of the report Bracey did not like.

But I have found several points on which Hull and Bracey seem to agree. The Hull report at, released on Jan. 17, should be read in its entirety because it is the best summary yet of the four major studies that compare our achievement rates to those abroad. (You can also get Bracey's response if you e-mail him at

5. Those who say our economy is doomed unless our schools get better appear to be ignoring recent history.

Hull introduced this topic in his report by noting that none of the international comparative studies include data from China or India. "Given the rapidly rising position these nations are taking in the global economy," he said, he hoped they would be included in the future. Bracey interpreted this as a reflection of "the common, but perhaps erroneous assumption that how well 13-year-olds bubble in answer sheets has something to do with the economic health of a nation."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:08 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Making Safety a Piece of the Pie

Teacher Voices:

In Philadelphia last week a teacher named Frank Burd, wound up in the hospital after two students assaulted him, apparently because he had confiscated an iPod during class. After class, according to a report on NBC news, the two students were waiting for Burd. One punched him and the other pushed him. As of Friday night (February 23), he was still in intensive care with two broken bones in his neck.

Mr. Burd’s experience may seem like an aberration, but actually, it is only a slightly more extreme example of the kind of violence, crime, and general incivility that teachers and students confront in schools all over the nation. Here in NY, for example, Mayor Bloomberg’s Preliminary Management Report showed a 21-percent increase in felony crimes committed in the city's schools between July and October 2006 compared with the same period the previous year. And according a February 23 article in The Chief, “Major crimes rose from 287 to 348, other criminal reports increased from 820 to 983, and additional safety incidents climbed from 1,614 to 1,926, according to the Mayor's report.

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Latest MMSD Today

is online here.

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Wisconsin's School Finance Climate

Andy Hall on local referendums:

Layoffs and pay cuts are looming in a western Dane County school district, and officials in the Adams-Friendship area are contemplating closing two elementary schools after voters rejected two school referendums last week.

Voters also approved referendums Tuesday for a $14.68 million elementary school in Sun Prairie and $2.48 million to avert school cuts in Pardeeville 30 miles north of Madison.

But ballot measures were narrowly defeated in the Wisconsin Heights School District, which includes Mazomanie and Black Earth, and Adams-Friendship, 75 miles north of Madison.

Student population, expense and tax revenue growth all affect local school district budgets.

Andy also posted an article on a survey conducted by the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators:

Twenty-seven percent of superintendents said their school boards have held discussions during the past few years about the possibility of dissolving or consolidating their school districts. Among those districts, more than 90 percent said the talks were prompted by financial problems.

Increasing portions of districts report changes that could reduce the quality of educational services. Since the 1998-99 school year, for example, the percentage of districts increasing class sizes grew from 48 to 74 percent. The percentage laying off teachers during that period rose from 36 to 62 percent.

Wistax reported recently that Wisconsin residents paid 33.4% of income in taxes, up from 30.7% in 2003. Decisions like this do not help pass referendums, much less build confidence in our $331M+ local school district.

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

More on Homework

Jay Matthews:

But more important, let's say that for the sake of argument that only 10 percent of America's children suffer from homework overload (although we believe it's much more). Isn't it still a problem for that 10 percent, for all the reasons listed by the many psychologists, educators and health experts whom we interviewed? If "only" 10 percent of America's children suffered from depression or diabetes, wouldn't it still be worth addressing? We found many such children and they are definitely suffering and losing their love of school and learning. Just because homework overload might not affect every child doesn't make it any less serious.

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February 26, 2007

The MMSD five years from now

Financing Quality Education: A Five-Year Look
March 12, 12:00 noon to 1:00 p.m.
Lower Conference Room
222 South Hamilton Street, Madison

Bring your brown-bag lunch and join others concerned about Madison schools to discuss long-range plans to help the district meet the financial challenges created by the state-imposed revenue limits.

The meeting and discussion will help identify the stakeholders and possible steps needed to begin and shape long-term view of the MMSD and its budget.

Some ideas were laid out on

"[Ask] what is the best quality of education that can be purchased for our district for $280 million a year. Start with a completely clean slate. Identify your primary goals and values and priorities. Determine how best to achieve those goals to the highest possible level, given a budget that happens to be $40 million smaller than today’s. Consider everything – school-based budgeting, class sizes, after-school sports, everything."

Everyone and all ideas are welcome at this brown-bag discussion in the lower level conference room at 222 S. Hamilton Street.

For more information, contact Ed Blume at or by phone after March 1 at 225.6591.

Posted by Ed Blume at 8:54 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Board Vote on the Studio School Tonight

In the context of the Madison School District's financial challenges, it's easy to understand why creating a new program may seem unthinkable. Yet creativity can prove a strong ally in times of adversity. Take the prospect of the latest charter school idea to come before the Madison School Board, and consider these points:

As a charter school, the Studio School can bring in $550,000 in federal grants over its first four years. These grants, earmarked for charter schools, are designed to help districts cover start-up costs. The Studio School can be implemented in a way that keeps operating costs in line with other elementary schools district-wide; yet as a charter with an arts and technology emphasis, it would have the ability to seek additional grants and sources of financial support.

The Studio School would be in an existing public school, just as the district's bilingual charter school operates. This school-within-a- school model is a cost- efficient way to foster innovation. As a taxpayer and a parent, I see the Studio School as an excellent use of underused space. While its location has yet to be determined by the district and School Board, the idea poses interesting possibilities. Could a charter school draw some students from a nearby overcrowded school? Over the long term, might an innovative option help attract new families to a neighborhood where parents had once worried about the future of an under-enrolled school? And how might such an effort dovetail with our city's development plans?

Other districts in Wisconsin have encouraged the development of charters and realized significant financial benefits. For example, the Appleton School District has strategically embraced charter schools. Its 13 charters have garnered more than $3 million in outside funding. The Appleton district encourages parents and educators to propose charters that bring new approaches into the public school system and address families' desires for options. Charter schools have attracted many students from outside the Appleton district, and through open enrollment, this has meant millions of dollars in additional revenue.

Not all students have the same learning style. Maintaining that a uniform approach can equitably serve all students overlooks important differences among children. Charter schools can offer distinct learning environments that suit students who have difficulty thriving in other classroom settings.

Charter schools can offer wonderful opportunities for parents of limited financial means. At the same time, they can keep parents who have the resources to look elsewhere engaged in our public education system. If parents in Madison had more choices within the school district, might some who would move to surrounding districts or opt for private education choose otherwise? Opponents may argue that the district can't afford to be concerned with such families. I contend that having a mix of students from across the socioeconomic spectrum benefits public schools. When site selection, recruitment efforts and enrollment policies are done in ways that attract a diverse student population, charters can serve students from all walks of life.

For these reasons and others, the Studio School deserves careful consideration even in challenging financial times. The Madison School District cannot afford not to consider charter schools. Also published in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Posted by Kristina Navarro-Haffner at 12:01 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Online Mathematics Textbooks

George Cain:

The writing of textbooks and making them freely available on the web is an idea whose time has arrived. Most college mathematics textbooks attempt to be all things to all people and, as a result, are much too big and expensive. This perhaps made some sense when these books were rather expensive to produce and distribute--but this time has passed.

A few years ago when I first posted a list of mathematics textbooks freely available on line, there existed only a handful of such books. Now there are many. The list here has grown and grown and is perhaps in serious need of some kind of organization into topics. There are also now many other sites at which there are links to on-line mathematics books and lecture notes. This site is far from comprehensive and I have considered abandoning it. Many people, however, still seem to find it useful, and so I shall continue to maintain it for a while.

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

Recent Madison School Board Discussions, Including Teaching & Learning Effectiveness, Superintendent Search Consultant and Extracurricular Activities

Teaching & Learning Department Effectiveness

Video | mp3 audio
Superintendant Search Consultant

Video | mp3 audio
Extracurricular Activities

Video | mp3 audio
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AP Classes Face Audit

Amy Hetzner:

What's bad, according to Roby Blust, Marquette's dean of undergraduate admissions, is that some of those courses labeled as AP aren't really Advanced Placement courses, as trademarked by the College Board.

"They're not going through what we know is the AP curriculum for English, but they're listing it as an AP course," Blust said. "So they're mislabeling, I guess."

That could be about to change.

Pressured by colleges and universities with similar stories, the College Board is launching its first major oversight effort of the popular courses this year. By fall, the organization responsible for the AP program and its associated tests expects to have reviewed detailed descriptions of what's being taught in about 120,000 courses throughout the world bearing the AP label.

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February 25, 2007

Better Serving Gifted Students of Poverty

The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) has just published the proceedings of their recent conference on high potential learners of poverty. The book is called "Overlooked Gems: A National Perspective on Low-Income Promising Learners" and includes chapters by Donna Ford, Alexinia Baldwin and Paula Olszewski-Kibilius.

To download or order a free copy of "Overlooked Gems," go to and click on "New at NAGC: Conference Proceedings."

Also on the NAGC website, a brief article by Paul Slocumb and Ruby Payne entitled "Identifying and Nurturing the Gifted Poor". Slocumb and Payne are the authors of "Removing the Mask: Giftedness in Poverty."

Previous post on academically talented MMSD students of color and poverty:

Article on the negative effects of detracking, especially for high achieving students of color and poverty (cited by U.W. Professor of Sociology and Educational Policy Studies Adam Gamoran, Ph.D., in his chapter "Classroom Organization and Instructional Quality"): "If Tracking is Bad, Is Detracking Better?" by J. E. Rosenbaum (American Educator, 1999).

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Kids, the Internet and the End of Privacy: The Greatest Generation Gap since the Rock & Roll

Emily Nussbaum:

As younger people reveal their private lives on the Internet, the older generation looks on with alarm and misapprehension not seen since the early days of rock and roll. The future belongs to the uninhibited.

After a few minutes of this, I turn to Gasaway and ask if he has a Web page. He seems baffled by the question. “I don’t know why I would,” he says, speaking slowly. “I like my privacy.” He’s never seen Hannah’s Facebook profile. “I haven’t gone on it. I don’t know how to get into it!” I ask him if he takes pictures when he attends parties, and he looks at me like I have three heads. “There are a lot of weirdos out there,” he emphasizes. “There are a lot of strangers out there.”

There is plenty of variation among this younger cohort, including a set of Luddite dissenters: “If I want to contact someone, I’ll write them a letter!” grouses Katherine Gillespie, a student at Hunter College. (Although when I look her up online, I find that she too has a profile.) But these variations blur when you widen your view. One 2006 government study—framed, as such studies are, around the stranger-danger issue—showed that 61 percent of 13-to-17-year-olds have a profile online, half with photos. A recent pew Internet Project study put it at 55 percent of 12-to-17-year-olds. These numbers are rising rapidly.

Virginia Postrel has more, including Greg Lukianoff and Will Creeley's "Facing off over Facebook":
tudents, be warned: the college of your choice may be watching you, and will more than likely be keeping an eye on you once you enter the hallowed campus gates. America’s institutions of higher education are increasingly monitoring students’ activity online and scrutinizing profiles, not only for illegal behavior, but also for what they deem to be inappropriate speech.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, the speech codes, censorship, and double standards of the culture-wars heyday of the ’80s and ’90s are alive and kicking, and they are now colliding with the latest explosion of communication technology. Sites like Facebook and MySpace are becoming the largest battleground yet for student free speech. Whatever campus administrators’ intentions (and they are often mixed), students need to know that online jokes, photos, and comments can get them in hot water, no matter how effusively their schools claim to respect free speech. The long arm of campus officialdom is reaching far beyond the bounds of its buildings and grounds and into the shadowy realm of cyberspace.

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February 24, 2007

Notes from a New Teacher


I feel perfectly fine being a teacher. I don't get angry, I just document, and etc. (Learned that from the airline job, actually.)

What I don't feel good about is kids coming to me that have somehow slipped through the system without the most rudimentary skills. Minimum skills tests be damned - we're talking about kids who don't know how language influences the decisions they make every day, from politics to credit cards. Students who do not know how to question "information" they're receiving, who don't know how to express themselves intelligibly verbally or in writing. I'll have to go on record as saying I do not believe it's as simple as apathy or disinterest, and here's why: I think I know what they're going through.

As in many professions, there are some truly extraordinary teachers, those who go out of their way to grow student achievement (staying after school to provide students with extra math instruction), buck the system and constantly improve their craft. Deming often mentioned "delighting your customers". I have two recent examples to pass along: A teacher organized an overnight trip to Upham Woods for the entire class. Another calls students at home with test results when they perform well.

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"The School Did Nothing and They Gave Me "A's"

Joanne Jacobs:

. . . last year i reported some of my teachers who didn’t teach me to the state, all we did was watch “R”movies and my other teacher fight and drew chairs, but the school did nothing and they gave me “A’s.

(The principal) is doing nothing about it he tells my mom that the SCHOOL has more rights and power than me and the parent.

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February 23, 2007

PTA's Go Way Beyond Cookies

Winnie Hu:

With many members who stepped out of high-profile careers to become stay-at-home parents, traditional parent-teacher associations (and the similar parent-teacher organizations, or PTOs) have evolved into sophisticated multitiered organizations bearing little resemblance to the mom-and-pop groups that ran bake sales a generation ago.

Last month, the Scarsdale Middle School PTA in Westchester County began posting podcasts of meetings on the Internet as a way to reach more parents, while the PTO at Squadron Line Elementary School in Simsbury, Conn., now has its own reserved parking space at the school. (To raise money for the school playground, parents bid each month for the right to use it.)

And in the Washington suburbs, the Arlington Traditional School PTA developed training manuals with past meeting minutes, treasurer reports, and program evaluations for its six vice presidents last year.

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February 22, 2007

Going to the Mat for WPS

Jason Shephard:

Suzanne Fatupaito, a nurse’s assistant in Madison schools, is fed up with Wisconsin Physicians Service, the preferred health insurance provider of Madison Teachers Inc.

“MTI uses scare tactics” to maintain teacher support for WPS, Fatupaito recently wrote to the school board. “If members knew that another insurance [plan] would offer similar services to WPS and was less expensive — it would be a no-brainer.”

WPS, with a monthly price tag of $1,720 for family coverage, is one of two health coverage options available to the district’s teachers. The other is Group Health Cooperative, costing $920 monthly for a family plan.

During the past year, the Madison school board has reached agreements with other employee groups to switch from WPS to HMO plans, with most of the savings going to boost pay.

In December, the board held a secret vote in closed session to give up its right to seek health insurance changes should negotiations on the 2007-09 teachers contract go into binding arbitration. (The board can seek voluntary insurance changes during negotations.)

“What we’ve done is taken away a huge bargaining chip,” says board member Lucy Mathiak. “Every other major industry and public sector has had to deal with health-insurance changes, and we’ve got a very real $10 million deficit.”

MTI Executive Director John Matthews says other employee unions “made a big mistake” in switching to HMO plans. Matthews has long maintained that WPS provides superior coverage, despite its higher costs and disproportionate number of complaints. And he defends the paycheck he collects from WPS as a member of its board, saying he’s better able to lobby for his teachers.

Much more on this issue, including links, audio and a transcript, here.

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2005 NAEP Grade 12 Reading and Math Scores Released

The Nation's Report Card via Ed Week:

The proportion of high school students completing a solid core curriculum has nearly doubled since 1990, and students are doing better in their classes than their predecessors did.

But that good news is tempered by other findings in two federal reports released here today. The performance of the nation’s high school seniors on national tests has declined in reading over the past decade, and students are lackluster in mathematics. A third of high school graduates in 2005 did not complete a standard curriculum, which includes four credits of English and three credits each of social studies, math, and science.

The 12th grade reading and math results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are based on a nationally representative sample of 21,000 seniors at 900 public and private schools who took the tests between January and March of 2005. The report on their performance was accompanied by the latest NAEP transcript study, which analyzes the coursetaking patterns and achievement of high school graduates.
Two-thirds of the 26,000 graduates who were followed for the transcript study also participated in the 2005 NAEP math and science assessments.

No Improvement in Reading

On the reading test, 12th graders’ average score has declined significantly since the first time the test was given in 1992. The test-takers averaged 286 points on a 500-point scale, a 6-point decline over 13 years, but statistically the same score as in 2002. Achievement levels in reading have also declined since 1992; 80 percent of the students tested that year scored at the “basic” level or better, but only 73 percent did so on the 2005 test, the same proportion as in 2002. In addition, the gap in scores between members of minority groups and higher-scoring white students has not narrowed significantly.

In math, the scores are not comparable with those from previous tests since the 2005 test was based on a new framework. Students scored, on average, 150 points on a 300-point scale. Just 61 percent of the 12th graders demonstrated at least basic command of the subject, with 23 percent considered “proficient” and 2 percent “advanced.”

Among 2005 high school graduates, 68 percent completed at least a standard curriculum, while 41 percent took a more challenging course load, and 10 percent took more-rigorous classes. In 1990, just 40 percent of graduates completed at least a standard curriculum, and 36 percent took additional courses, while 5 percent took what was deemed a rigorous course load.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:25 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Cutbacks in Class, Upgrades on the Field

Amy Hetzner:

If successful, Kettle Moraine High School would be the latest school in the state to perform a pricey upgrade to its athletic facilities at a time when many school districts complain they have to reduce services or are holding referendums to raise tax dollars to keep existing programs.

"I don't think the two efforts are directly in conflict," said Larry Laux, a member of the field project committee and parent of a football player. "It is a little bit awkward, I'll grant you that."

Already, Arrowhead and Brookfield Central high schools have replaced grass football fields with the synthetic stuff. Both were funded by donations from private groups, although the Elmbrook School District has pledged to match half of the $830,000 upgrade of Brookfield Central's stadium.

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

Moving For Schools

Suein Hwang:

"No place is perfect, but I wanted the place that was the most perfect for us and them," says Ms. O'Gorman, 44. "To me, it's better than leaving them a house or my 401k."

Across the country, a small but growing number of parents like the O'Gormans are dramatically altering their families' lives to pursue the perfect private school for their children. While past generations of parents might have shifted addresses within a town to be near a particular school, or shipped junior off to boarding school, these parents are choosing school first, location second. "I hear about it all the time," says Patrick Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, or NAIS, in Washington, D.C.

Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia says four families have moved to the area in the past two years so their children can attend the school. Hathaway Brown School, an all-girls school in Shaker Heights, Ohio, reports five such families, four of which moved in the past few years. "It's been a little more frequent in the last two or three years," says Sally Jeanne McKenna, admissions director at Polytechnic School of Pasadena, Calif.

Locally, the well known Waisman Center has brought families to the Madison area.

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

Closing the Math Gap

Milwakee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

Too many grads of the Milwaukee Public Schools wind up in remedial classes in math when they pursue college. Key educational leaders in the city have come up with a proven plan to reverse this alarming trend - a plan Gov. Jim Doyle has proposed to finance with $15 million in state money as part of his $80 million financial package to help Milwaukee over two years.

Raising math achievement in the state's sole big city is all the more reason to support that package. Math proficiency among workers can attract good jobs to Milwaukee. And the better the city does economically, the better the state does.

The "Math Coach" model mentioned by the J-S is also under discussion in Madison.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:19 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 21, 2007

Taking Back a School

Joanne Jacobs:

In Indianapolis, a new principal tries to take back the city’s worst middle school, a place of disorder, violence and rock-bottom expectations. He transfers 17-year-old seventh- and eighth-graders to alternative schools, suspended students for fighting and tries to enforce a dress code.

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Wed March 7th Town Hall Meeting about Underage Drinking

Dane County Human Services [PDF]: via a West High Freshman parent who mentions that while West is a good school, it is important that parents are ready for an eye opening year of "scary challenges" in terms of alcohol, sex, drugs and violent crime. (Not to mention schoolwork!). Alliant Energy Center 6:45 to 8:45p.m.

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Goodbye to Girlhood

Stacy Weiner:

Ten-year-old girls can slide their low-cut jeans over "eye-candy" panties. French maid costumes, garter belt included, are available in preteen sizes. Barbie now comes in a "bling-bling" style, replete with halter top and go-go boots. And it's not unusual for girls under 12 to sing, "Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?"

American girls, say experts, are increasingly being fed a cultural catnip of products and images that promote looking and acting sexy.

"Throughout U.S. culture, and particularly in mainstream media, women and girls are depicted in a sexualizing manner," declares the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, in a report issued Monday. The report authors, who reviewed dozens of studies, say such images are found in virtually every medium, from TV shows to magazines and from music videos to the Internet.

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

Had Enough Top Down Reform?

Jay Matthews:

But the more I read these well-intended documents, the more I wonder. Haven't we had enough of this stuff? Are we really going to get significant improvement in our lowest-performing schools through more reports telling us how to fix the federal rules?

I share the view of the majority of Congress, and the leaders of both major parties, that No Child Left Behind was a good idea. It forced the states to pay attention to the poor teaching in our low-income neighborhood schools. That was something many of those states failed to do under an earlier law that asked them nicely but had no serious penalties if they told Washington to mind its own business. Nearly everybody in education applauds No Child Left Behind's insistence on measuring the progress each school and district is making in helping low-income students, learning-disabled students, students from immigrant families and students from the most neglected minority groups.

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

Beth Moss and Rick Thomas Advance in Tuesday's Madison School Board Primary Election

Sandy Cullen:

Beth Moss and Rick Thomas will face off in the April 3 election for one of three open seats on the Madison School Board.

They came in first and second in Tuesday's primary for the seat being vacated by Shwaw Vang.

Pam Cross-Leone came in third.

Results here.

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

February 20, 2007

Getting Kids Off of Google

Diana Day:

Teachers, take back the online research process! (If you are asking the question: "Did we ever have control of the online research process in the first place?" then you get a gold star for your healthy skepticism).

Before Google and other search engines got so good, I think we did have some control. I remember the days, not so long ago, when kids couldn't always find material for their research topics using Google, especially if their topics were just a little unusual or offbeat. They would then be forced to ask for help, and I took advantage of some great teachable moments to help students refine their keywords and search techniques.

Being with students as they refine search skills leads naturally to the next opportunity: helping students evaluate the reliability and credibility of the sites we'd find together.

These teachable moments worked well.

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

February 19, 2007

Sports and Fine Arts - Planning for the Future

I pulled my blog from yesterday, because I think my main point got lost in too much unnecessary rhetoric. Basically, I would like to see the School Board support efforts to develop multi-year education funding plans for Fine Arts Education and extracurricular competitive sports. I would like to see the School Board be equitable in their cuts and help transition to a mix of public/private financing if that is needed in the future. I don't see any reason to whack at or eliminate one program vs. another - it's disruptive and unnecessary and plans cannot be made.

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February 18, 2007

Concessions Made in Advance of MTI Negotiations by a Majority of the Madison School Board

It will be interesting to see how voters on February 20 and April 3 view this decision by a majority of the Madison School Board: Should the Board and Administration continue to give away their ability to negotiate health care benefits ($43.5M of the 2006/2007 budge) before MTI union bargaining begins? Read the 2005 MMSD/MTI Voluntary Impasse Agreement [1.1MB PDF; see paragraph's 2, 10 and 11]. The 2007 version, alluded to in Andy Hall's article below, will be posted when it sees the light of day.

This is an important issue for all of us, given the MMSD's challenge of balancing their growing $331M+ budget, while expenses - mostly salaries and benefits - continue to increase at a faster rate. Mix in the recent public disclosure of the district's $5.9M 7 year structural deficit and I doubt that this is the best approach for our children.

Recently, the Sun Prairie School District and its teachers' union successfully bargained with DeanCare to bring down future costs for employee health insurance.

Andy Hall, writing in the Wisconsin State Journal asks some useful questions:

But with the Madison School Board facing a $10.5 million budget shortfall, is the board giving away too much with its promises to retain teachers' increasingly pricey health insurance and to discard its legal mechanism for limiting teachers' total compensation increase to 3.8 percent?

Yes, School Board Vice President Lawrie Kobza said Saturday, "I feel very strongly that this was a mistake," said Kobza, who acknowledged that most board members endorse the agreement with Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers union.

State law allows districts to avoid arbitration by making a so-called qualified economic offer, or QEO, by boosting salaries and benefits a combined 3.8 percenter a year.

"To agree before a negotiation starts that we're not going to impose the QEO and negotiate health care weakens the district's position," Kobza said. She contended the district's rising health-care costs are harming its ability to raise starting teachers' salaries enough to remain competitive.

The "voluntary impasse resolution" agreements, which are public records, are used in only a handful of Wisconsin's 425 school districts, according to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.
Four of the 7 current Madison School Board Members were backed by MTI during their campaigns (Arlene Silveira, Carol Carstensen, Shwaw Vang and Johnny Winston, Jr.). Those four votes can continue this practice. Independent School Board members Lawrie Kobza and Ruth Robarts have spoken publicly against the concessions made in advance of negotiations. If you support or oppose this approach, let the board know via email (, or phone.

Related links, media and transcripts:
  • 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 MMSD Custodians recently agreed to a new health care plan where 85% of the cost savings went to salaries and 15% to the MMSD.
  • Ruth Robarts discussed concessions in advance of negotiations, health care costs and the upcoming elections with Vicki McKenna recently. [6.5MB MP3 Audio | Transcript]
  • What a Sham(e) by Jason Shephard:
    Last week, Madison Teachers Inc. announced it would not reopen contract negotiations following a hollow attempt to study health insurance alternatives.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but anyone who suggests the Joint Committee on Health Insurance Issues conducted a fair or comprehensive review needs to get checked out by a doctor.

    The task force’s inaction is a victory for John Matthews, MTI’s executive director and board member Wisconsin Physicians Service.

    Losers include open government, school officials, taxpayers and young teachers in need of a raise.

    From its start, the task force, comprised of three members each from MTI and the district, seemed to dodge not only its mission but scrutiny.

Tuesday's school board seat 3 primary election candidates commented on concessions in advance of negotiations (one of whom, Beth Moss is supported by Madison Teachers, Inc):
  • Pam Cross-Leone:
    "I really think that ...taking the health care off the table and not even exploring ways of bringing some of those costs down is irresponsible," said candidate Pam Cross-Leone, an employee in Madison Gas & Electric's customer-service unit who said she handled similar issues in her former role as a union steward.
  • Beth Moss:
    The third candidate, Beth Moss, who has been endorsed by Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers union, said she wasn't ready to form an opinion until she has had a chance to read the agreement.
  • Rick Thomas:
    Candidate Rick Thomas, a business consultant and former small-business owner, said he only learned of the agreement on Friday so he would need more details before forming a final opinion. But at first glance, he said, the pact appears to be a mistake because "obviously health care is a huge expense so it's going to be something you have to negotiate."
These decisions directly affect the viability of upcoming, necessary referendums.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:23 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teachers Reclaiming Assessment Through Rethinking Accountability

Chris Gallagher

THE EDUCATION report card for my home state of Nebraska in the spring of 1999 was mixed, according to Education Week. While children in the state ranked among the top 10 nationally in most academic categories, Nebraska nonetheless garnered only a C. Why? Largely because it does not administer statewide, standardized assessments and so is "lagging behind" in accountability. Both those reporting this verdict and most of the state and local officials receiving it seem to be resigned to it as a sure but unsurprising sign that we have more work to do to "catch up" with the rest of the country. It does not seem to strike most observers as odd that, although students' performance is high, the state's marks are only average. Until Nebraska develops statewide tests, it will continue to receive low grades, irrespective of what our students are doing. This kind of press may well propel the state to abandon its long-held commitment to local assessment and fall in line with the national movement toward state standardized tests.

This report and its handling demonstrate the extent to which educational tests have become "common sense." To use a term proposed by Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, educational testing is "hegemonic" -- that is, it manufactures consent by presenting itself (or being represented as) "obvious." Although standardized tests came under intense fire for a short time in the 1970s, we have returned to this practice with a fervor perhaps greater than at any other time since schools in the United States began making extensive use of standardized tests in the 1930s. Even many educators who have long understood the limitations and outright injustices of standardized testing and the testing industry claim that the time has passed when resistance to testing is useful.

I think it is dangerous to be too sanguine about the prospects for reforming the assessment community and disrupting the commonsense script for education reform, in which schools are cast as damsels in distress, remote experts are cast as heroic saviors, and teachers are written out of the production altogether. We need to confront the fact that, finally, the persistence of the "crisis in education" is attributable in large part to two factors: the profit margins of the testing industry that maintains the crisis and the cultural distrust of teachers that the testing industry, along with the political and education establishments, endorses.

But the testing industry has been able to secure a spot in our cultural imagination and our stock exchanges not only because of the business acumen of its leaders (though that is part of it), but also because it plays to and plays up our cultural distrust of teachers. The corporate establishment, led by the political Right, works hard to create a "public" of concerned taxpayers: those who want to be sure that their "investments" in children pay off. Neoconservative columnists play to this audience constantly, stoking the fires of educational crisis and inspiring suspicions about the competence of our public school teachers.... This distrust is carefully nurtured to keep the present educational power structure intact: remote "experts" (the capitalists) develop educational tests and prepackaged curricula and send them off to school administrators (the managers), who then ensure that teachers (the workers) faithfully execute those plans. Students (the products) are thus shaped to the specifications of experts whom they will never meet and who may never have set foot in a classroom.

In other words, whatever the gains of movements like the one for authentic assessment, the prevailing wisdom about education reform has it that reform must be top down, not inside out. Underlying our embrace of the assessment industry and our cultural distrust of teachers is a fundamental belief that what's missing in education today is "efficiency" and that the best way to ensure efficiency is to set up a corporate structure in which teachers are held accountable to corporate CEOs. What's good for General Motors . . .

Posted by Larry Winkler at 12:13 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Campaign funnies

If nothing else, politics provides a never-ending source of entertainment.

Take Marj Passman’s Web site.

The site greets visitors with the headline “Marj answers 38 school issue questions received from Madison Teachers Inc. and the Madison Board of Education." Finally! Proof that MTI and the Madison Board of Education are one in the same.

Then, a visitor gets the opportunity to click on the highlighted link to the Madison Board of Education. Only it goes the Madison Board of Education in Madison, Connecticut ( - screen shot.)

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:16 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Where is Sport Steering Youth?

Lance Pugmire:

For generations it has been one of the great American axioms, accepted truth on diamonds, courts and gridirons everywhere: Sports builds character, instilling the values of teamwork and good sportsmanship.

But amid fresh headlines of alleged cheating in auto racing, continuing controversies over steroid use in baseball, track and cycling and ugly brawls among basketball players comes a nationwide survey suggesting a decidedly darker vision of sports.

"There is reason to worry that the sports fields of America are becoming the training grounds for the next generation of corporate and political villains and thieves," says Los Angeles ethicist Michael Josephson.

The latest two-year study of high school athletes by the Josephson Institute found a higher rate of cheating in school among student-athletes than among their classmates. It also found a growing acceptance of cheating to gain advantages in competition.

Josephson's report, based on interviews across the country with 5,275 high school athletes, concluded that too many coaches are "teaching our kids to cheat and cut corners."

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

America's Perfect Storm

Educational Testing Service:

A report from ETS's Policy Information Center, America's Perfect Storm: Three Forces Changing Our Nation's Future, looks at the convergence of three powerful sociological and economical forces that are changing our nation's future:
  • substantial disparities in skill levels (reading and math)
  • seismic economic changes (widening wage gaps)
  • sweeping demographic shifts (less education, lower skills)
There is little chance that economic opportunities will improve among key segments of our population if we follow our current path. To date, educational reform has not been sufficient to solve the problem. National test results show no evidence of improvement over the last 20 years. Scores are flat and achievement gaps persist. Hope for a better life — with decent jobs and livable wages — will vanish unless we act now.
2.4MB PDF Report.

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

Madison's Kindergarten Climate & Student Support

Andy Hall:

A drop in Hispanic children's scores is largely responsible for fewer students beginning kindergarten with the skills needed to succeed in Madison schools.

Just 26 percent of Hispanic children in this year's kindergarten class passed a screening test designed to show whether they were ready to start school, down from 29 percent four years ago, according to Madison School District data.

That drop led to a decline in the overall percentage of Madison students ready for kindergarten - from 62 percent to 58 percent.

While educators across the country focus on helping such children catch up with their classmates, two emerging efforts in Dane County will aim to get at the root of the problem by helping children be ready to enter kindergarten:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:20 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Parenting vs. Poverty

Steven Malanga:

In football, a quarterback’s blind side is the side of the field opposite his throwing arm—the left side of the field for a right-handed quarterback, for instance. One shouldn’t confuse the blind side with a blind spot, which is what our policy-makers and media often have when discussing American poverty: it is a product of our unjust economic system, they say, and we should fight it with redistributive government programs. These experts would do well to read Michael Lewis’s wonderful new football book, The Blind Side. Though the book’s publisher pitches it as a sports story, it’s more notable as a portrait of the social dysfunction that shapes much of America’s inner-city poverty and, by extension, of the reasons that so many government efforts to alleviate that poverty have come to naught.

At the heart of The Blind Side—in fact, occupying more pages than its ostensible subject, the evolution of college and professional football—is the astonishing life story of National Football League–bound Michael Oher. Oher is born into horrific circumstances that give him little chance at succeeding in our society: his mother is a drug addict who, though unable to care for children, has 13 kids by various men, none her husband. Each of these children fends for himself on the mean streets of West Memphis. Oher’s mother collects her welfare check on the first of the month and disappears for ten days or so, stranding the kids without provisions or supervision. Oher recalls going days with nothing to eat or drink except water, begging food from neighbors, and sleeping outdoors.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Implied Threat in Homework Paper

Gena Kittner:

The Oregon Police Department has reopened an investigation into an alleged threat in a writing assignment against an Oregon Middle School teacher after the teacher provided police with additional information about the incident.

The teacher went to police early Thursday with more information, said Oregon Police Chief Doug Pettit.

"We are now in the process of further investigating the perceived threat," he said.

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

School Climate Words from Steve Jobs & Michael Dell

April Castro:

In a rare joint appearance, Jobs shared the stage with competitor Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Inc. Both spoke to the gathering about the potential for bringing technological advances to classrooms.

"I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way," Jobs said.

"This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy."

At various pauses, the audience applauded enthusiastically. Dell sat quietly with his hands folded in his lap.

"Apple just lost some business in this state, I'm sure," Jobs said.

Dell responded that unions were created because "the employer was treating his employees unfairly and that was not good.

"So now you have these enterprises where they take good care of their people. The employees won, they do really well and succeed."

Former computer science teacher Alfred Thompson:
Today's rash of quick fix answers started with Steve Jobs telling us the teacher unions are broken in the worst possible way. Principals can't get rid of poorly performing teachers. Plus Jobs says we need online books that are updated like Wikipedia. Brilliant job of stating the obvious and repeating things everyone in education knows. Yes, teacher unions help protect the jobs of poor teachers and yes textbooks are not being updated fast enough. I have yet to meet a teacher, a principal or a school board member who doesn't agree with those statements.

Don Dodge jumps in to support Jobs and to add that the other part of the problem is that principals have no way to reward top performers. Is there someone in education who doesn't know that this is a problem? It is a problem hardly anyone wants to fix though because it depends on people being fair and no one respects principals enough to give them a job like that. Robert Scoble agrees with both Jobs and Dodge and suggests that teachers need to be paid more. And he should know because he used to be married to someone who used to be a teacher. They all mean well but the problem is bigger than they think it is. In fact it is much too large to cover in a blog post. One of these days I'll write a book.

Heaven save us from experts. They all seem to have one thing in common - they think that teachers are, if not the only problem, the largest problem with American education. By my reckoning there are several groups that are a much larger problem. They are:

  • Government officials and the rules they lay down
  • Parents and the lack of support they give education
  • Students and their lack of willingness to do their part
  • Voters for not supporting the needs of good education.

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

February 17, 2007

My Life and Times With the Madison Public Schools

Up close, the author finds that politics obscure key educational issues

Marc Eisen:

Where’s the challenge?

I’m no different. I want my kids pushed, prodded, inspired, and challenged in school. Too often—in the name of equity, or progressive education, or union protectionism, or just plain cheapness—that isn’t happening in the Madison schools.

Advanced classes are being choked off, while one-size-fits-all classes (“heterogeneous groupings”) are created for more and more students. The TAG staff has been slashed nearly in half (one staffer is now assigned to six elementary schools), and even outside groups promoting educational excellence are treated coolly if not with hostility (this is the fate of the most excellent Wisconsin Center For Academically Talented Youth [WCATY]). And arts programs are demeaned and orphaned.

This is not Tom Friedman’s recipe for student success in the 21st century. Sure, many factors can be blamed for this declining state of affairs, notably the howlingly bad way in which K-12 education is financed and structured in Wisconsin. But much of the problem also derives from the district’s own efforts to deal with “the achievement gap.”

That gap is the euphemism used for the uncomfortable fact that, as a group, white students perform better academically than do black and Hispanic students. For example, 46% of Madison’s black students score below grade level on the state’s 3rd grade reading test compared to 9% of white students.

At East, the state’s 10th grade knowledge-and-concepts test show widely disparate results by race. With reading, 81% of white kids are proficient or advanced versus 43% for black students. The achievement gap is even larger in math, science, social studies, and language arts. No wonder TAG classes are disproportionately white.

Reality is that the push for heterogeneous class grouping becomes, among other things, a convenient cover for reducing the number of advanced classes that are too white and unrepresentative of the district’s minority demographics.

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

February 16, 2007

How do Madison School Board Candidates Work With Others?

Kristian Knutsen continues Isthmus' excellent Take Home Tests with two interesting questions this week:

Only a few days remain until the Madison school board primary on Feb. 20. Just one of the three spring races --for Seat 3 -- will be on the ballot as voters narrow the three-person field of Beth Moss, Pam Cross-Leone and Rick Thomas to two finalists on the April 3 ballot. In his final pre-primary query, we ask the school board candidates how they work with others, when it's appropriate to compromise and when it's best to dissent.
There's some discussion of this issue (working with others) at the Daily Page Forum. Jason Shephard touched on this issue in "Spring Elections Could Bring New Directions".

Much more on the election here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:24 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School Board Seat 3 Primary Overview

Susan Troller:

Watch the candidates' video presentations here.

At first glance, the three primary candidates seeking the seat that Shwaw Vang is leaving open on the Madison School Board appear far more similar than different.

Beth Moss, Rick Thomas and Pam Cross-Leone are all married, white, middle class parents of students who attend Madison public schools. Their ages range from 37 to 47, and all bring impressive records of school volunteer work and community involvement to the table.

Major props to Susan Troller and Lee Sensenbrenner for these online interviews:
The Capital Times recently asked the three Madison School Board candidates running in next week's primary election for Seat 3 to come to our office to discuss their priorities for the Madison district and to participate in a couple of exercises that might offer an unusual glimpse into how they view city schools.

We marked 10 cards with issues that the district has dealt with over the last year and asked the candidates to place them in order, based on what they would most like to protect from cuts. We also gave them a couple of wild cards they could use for items we had not included on the list. Then we asked them to take paper and a packet of crayons and use them to present their ideal classroom. Finally, we asked them to talk about each of these exercises, for which they were given 10 minutes to complete.

Both Pam Cross-Leone and Beth Moss listed class size and competitive salaries as among their top three priorities. Rick Thomas listed his top priority as school safety, and he placed competitive salaries last. Cross-Leone used multiple colors to write about her ideal classroom, while Moss drew a diagram using only a green crayon. Thomas drew a simple picture, with stick figures.

To hear what the candidates had to say, how they ordered their priorities and how they put their crayons to use, click on each of their names listed above.

Links, video interviews and more election information here.

Vote February 20 and April 3, 2007.

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UW-Madison hosts summer youth activities fair

Jonathan Zarov:

The University of Wisconsin-Madison's Summer Youth Activities Fair will be held from noon-2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 17, at the Villager Mall, 2300 S. Park St. [map]

Parents and students will find exhibitors from many of the skill-building programs — academic, recreational and athletic — offered by postsecondary educational institutions in Dane County this summer.

This program is open to all youth and families of Madison and Dane County. Many of the programs have a special focus on the recruitment and retention of families of color and low-income families for summer and academic precollege programs.

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Editorial on Milwaukee School Board Candidates

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

The trick for voters is to elect a School Board that is most likely not only to keep up the momentum but to accelerate it. To that end, in Tuesday's primary, we recommend Bruce Thompson for the citywide seat, Michael Bonds in the 3rd District and incumbent Joe Dannecker in the 8th District.

Reformers now run the School Board, but barely. Almost with each election, control of the board has long switched back and forth between the reform side and union side, which is beholden to the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association. We prefer the reform agenda, which is laying the foundation for success.

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A K-12 View from 35,000 Feet

I happened to sit next to the Curriculum Coordinator (20+ years in that District) for a large, growing US School District recently ( north of 100,000 students). I found some of the comments interesting:

  • They cycle through superintendents every 2 to 3 years. The Supers are paid $300K+ with "lots of benefits".
  • The new super is decentralizing all over the place, pushing control down.
  • They use trailers as enrollment moves around the community.
  • The new super wants to require any children in grades K-3 not reading at grade level to have only one task per day (beyond lunch, recess and PE) - read. This involves tracking.
  • I asked what sort of curriculum they used for reading: Whole language with "lots of phonics". I asked if they used Reading Recovery. The person said that they evaluated RR but felt it was "far too expensive".
  • Offer a great deal of IB and AP courses. They also have magnet schools, though the person said that they are less popular now that the district has gone back to neighborhood schools (evidently there was a successful reverse discrimination lawsuit). They have evidently received "a great deal of federal funds" to support IB and AP.
  • 8th graders who cannot read at grade level will go to a different set of curriculum or school than those who are at or above.
This district spends about $7,900 per student annually (Madison is in the $12,500 range).

Interestingly, this is the 2nd time during the past 12 months that I've sat next to an educator on their way to a conference sponsored by curriculum publishers.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:53 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 15, 2007

How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise

Po Bronson:

But as Thomas has progressed through school, this self-awareness that he’s smart hasn’t always translated into fearless confidence when attacking his schoolwork. In fact, Thomas’s father noticed just the opposite. “Thomas didn’t want to try things he wouldn’t be successful at,” his father says. “Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this.’ ” With no more than a glance, Thomas was dividing the world into two—things he was naturally good at and things he wasn’t.

For instance, in the early grades, Thomas wasn’t very good at spelling, so he simply demurred from spelling out loud. When Thomas took his first look at fractions, he balked. The biggest hurdle came in third grade. He was supposed to learn cursive penmanship, but he wouldn’t even try for weeks. By then, his teacher was demanding homework be completed in cursive. Rather than play catch-up on his penmanship, Thomas refused outright. Thomas’s father tried to reason with him. “Look, just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you don’t have to put out some effort.” (Eventually, he mastered cursive, but not without a lot of cajoling from his father.)

Why does this child, who is measurably at the very top of the charts, lack confidence about his ability to tackle routine school challenges?

Thomas is not alone. For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.

Tom Ashbrook talked with Bronson, Carol Dweck and Bob Younglove. Listen here.

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

Mayors and Schools

John Nichols noted that Madison's Mayoral challengers have not raised substantive questions of the incumbent Mayor's (Dave Cieslewicz) record, including schools:

No. 2, he has failed to offer much in the way of a vision for how this rapidly changing city should approach the future. How green should it be? Where does mass transit fit in? How do we diversify the economy? How do we make sure that the schools remain strong and popular with all the city's residents? The mayor thinks about all these issues. He works on them in incremental ways and, frankly, he's done so ably. Unfortunately, he has not communicated in a particularly bold or effective manner with regard to them. Once again, the vulnerability remains.

In politics, an incumbent's vulnerabilities are meaningless if they are not exploited by his or her challengers. Ray Allen and Peter Munoz have failed, so far, to put a dent in Cieslewicz. One of them will survive the primary, and that candidate will have a chance to mount a more serious challenge. With the first critical test just days away, however, Allen and Munoz give every sign of having boarded the wrong trolley.

I've been surprised at the lack of Mayoral involvement in our K-12 climate. The Madison school district's enrollment has been flat for years, while surrounding schools have grown significantly. Continued growth of our edge cities, business migration (Epic systems move to Verona), a growing budget, safety concerns and curriculum questions provide plenty of issues relevant to the health of our community. Around the country, as Jill Tucker notes in San Francisco, many mayors are active for obvious reasons on K-12 issues.

Why have the Mayor (and challengers) been quiet on substantive school issues?

Perhaps in Madison, where a local elected official recently remarked to me that "we don't have a democracy" (think about that), the endorsement merry go round (maybe the deal with schools is that a candidate gets ground and monetary support, or help with a holiday party, if they stay out of K-12), the "remain silent" requirements of some and the fact that political upside in K-12 is difficult leads to the present situation. Or just indifference?

What do we, as a community, give up when candidates who have cut deals and agree to remain silent on certain issues are elected? What sort of example does this leave for future generations?

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

February 14, 2007

Pam Cross-Leone Seat 3 Madison Board of Education

Since 1992, Pam Cross-Leone has quietly, effectively and tirelessly worked as a parent volunteer in the Madison schools. Pam welcomed the homeless children at Emerson Elementary, working to make them part of the school in every way. When Sherman Middle School and East High School experienced the problems that come with rapid changes in students and too frequent changes in principals, Pam did her part to help steady the schools and keep expectations high for all children. She should have a life-time service award from East High for unending service to its Booster Club for athletics.

Problem-solving and concern for workable, inclusive decisions are the hallmarks of Pam’s years of service to her union at MGE. The same is true of her work with United Way of Dane County as a “loaned executive.” Always on task, always open to better ideas, always focused on ways to increase support for the group’s decision.

The representatives elected to the Madison School Board in 2007 will make decisions that will affect the future of our schools in critical ways. The next board will choose a new superintendent. It will determine whether parents and public should have a greater role in evaluating the curriculum for our children. It must develop new financial partnerships between the schools and local businesses. It must address the legitimate desire of employees for high quality health insurance by making competition among insurance providers work to reduce future costs.

I support Pam Cross-Leone because I know that I can trust her judgment. I can expect openness to all ideas. I can expect concern for every child. I can expect her to work toward solutions that merit wide community support. Pam has done the work that makes her the best choice in her race since 1992.

Posted by Ruth Robarts at 12:39 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 20, 2007 Madison School Board Primary Election Summary

Andy Hall:

Three Hopefuls Say Close Examination Of School Budget Is Needed Before Any Cuts Are Made.

In the lone primary race for Madison School Board, three candidates are competing for a chance to confront the district's chronic budget shortfalls and help pick a successor to Superintendent Art Rainwater when he retires next year.

The two top vote-getters in the Feb. 20 primary election will face off in the April 3 general election. The seat is being vacated by Shwaw Vang.

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2005-2006 Milwaukee Public Schools Report Card

Milwaukee Public Schools:

School by school reports are presented along with a district overview.
Alan Borsuk has more:
"We have to do much better," School Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said, summarizing it all.

But he pointed to improved graduation and dropout rates as encouraging and said he remains convinced reforms will bear fruit, even though it may take years to see that. "We need to stay the course," he said.

The course itself has had plenty of bumps, as the high school redesign report showed. There are now 33 small high schools in MPS, with a wide range of success. An administrative report concluded, "New, small high schools continue to be difficult to develop and implement but show promise with some significant gains."

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'No Child' Commission Presents Ambitious Plan

Amit R. Paley:

A commission proposed a wide-reaching expansion of the No Child Left Behind law yesterday that would for the first time require schools to ensure that all seniors are proficient in reading and math and hold schools accountable for raising test scores in science by 2014.

The 230-page bipartisan report [2.5MB PDF], perhaps the most detailed blueprint sent to Congress thus far as it considers renewal of the federal education law, also proposes sanctions for teachers with poorly performing students and the creation of new national standards and tests.

The recommendations from the Commission on No Child Left Behind underscore that the emerging debate over the law is not over whether it will continue, but rather over how much it will be expanded and modified. Even the panel's leaders acknowledged that their proposal is more sweeping than many politicians had expected or wanted.

"You're never going to hit a home run unless you swing for the fences, and this is swinging for the fences" said Tommy G. Thompson, a former secretary of health and human services in the Bush administration and a former governor of Wisconsin. Thompson, a Republican who is weighing a run for president, co-chaired the commission with former Georgia governor Roy E. Barnes, a Democrat.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:25 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Testing My IQ and Yours

Jay Matthews:

Why am I wandering into this ethereal topic? I can't stop thinking about the three op-ed pieces on education and intelligence that Charles Murray had in the Wall Street Journal last month.

Murray is one of the most interesting bad boys of the American intelligentsia. He regularly tweaks conventional views of social and educational progress. His three "On Education" pieces in the Journal are worth discussing not only because parts of them are infuriating, a Murray trademark, but also because they point toward new ways of thinking about schools that even Murray's many adversaries might embrace.

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

Differentiate This!

Jason Shephard:

Friday afternoon is not an optimal time for academic focus, but when Keesia Hyzer peers over her glasses and commands three minutes of “think time,” the 21 students in English 10 at West High School get busy.

“The only thing you’re thinking about right now is what you can get passionate about!” she proclaims as she snakes her way around aisles of desks.

Hyzer is teaching a new “core curriculum” class that puts the most-struggling students together with the highest-performing. It’s part of the Madison school district’s effort to reduce the achievement gap between racial minorities and whites.

The students are being asked to brainstorm topics for a semester-long research project. One by one, they stand and share their ideas, which Hyzer scribbles on the blackboard. Among the topics: Greek mythology, genocide in Sudan, prejudice against gays and lesbians. The students quiz each other on these ideas before breaking up into topic-based groups, listing on posters what they already know and what they want to learn.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 13, 2007

Wisconsin Governor's 2007 Budget Address

Jim Doyle:

First and foremost, this budget maintains the state's commitment to fund two-thirds of the cost of our kids' education.

Especially when you consider how much more it costs just to fuel the busses and heat the schools, the funding I'm providing is hardly extravagant. Schools will have a modest, 3 percent increase to keep up with inflation - so that our kids continue to get a great education.

Second, we should make a major new investment in school breakfast, four-year-old kindergarten, and smaller class sizes from kindergarten through third grade ... because getting the right start is so critical to our kids' education.

Third, we must reform the school financing formula to make it fairer, more flexible, and more focused on the needs of our kids.

We can start by helping rural districts with transportation costs, providing relief to schools with declining enrollment, and continuing to address the disparity faced by our lowest spending districts.

WisPolitics budget blog.

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Denise Jackson & the Madison Schools

Former Madison Mayor Paul Soglin:

Denise Jackson may be on the road to fame, but there is another important story about this potential American Idol. She represents thousands of youngsters who entered the Madison Public Schools in the past twenty years after a less that promising future in another city.

Denise's story is not finished, but we hope the best for her and her contemporaries. Here are the salient points form the Wisconsin State Journal story on Sunday. Denise's road to 'Idol'

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Madison Schools Superintendent Art Rainwater on Budget Season

Art Rainwater:

Budget season is not as much fun as the other seasons. We approach budget season with anxiety because each new budget season means that we will again reduce the services that our students need. Under the current revenue cap law, yearly service reductions are a fact of life for most school districts in Wisconsin. The demands for students to gain more knowledge and skills increase every year while resources to meet their needs decrease every year.

Budget season creates intense concern among staff and parents and makes adversaries among friends. Priorities must be set, and when all of the input has been gathered and discussion completed, it is the responsibility of the elected Board of Education to make those final priority decisions.

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

The School Referendum Season Commences

Bonnie Jenko:

What's needed now in terms of facilities wasn't even an illusion 50 years ago. How many of us would like to have heart surgery in a hospital built in 1950 but never upgraded? How about taking the car to a repair shop that looks just like it did in 1955? Comparatively, schools built in the 1950s cannot provide the educational facilities needed for a 21st-century education.

Yes, property taxes will increase. Until there is reform on that front, that's how we provide for education in Wisconsin.

A significant motivation for today's families moving to the suburbs is the potential of better schools. The taxpayers of yesterday built and paid for the schools that today's students attend. Now it's our turn to continue the strong academic tradition of quality schools in our communities.

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

Henok Mehari's High School Graduation Speech

Henok Mehari's high school graduation speech at the Notre Dame Education Center:

I was just fourteen years old and a teenager in Ethiopia, when the civil war broke out. I found myself all alone without my mother and father in a hot and dusty refugee camp stuck in the middle of Kenya, struggling to survive. Do you have any idea what life in a refugee camp is like? Let me tell you, it's hell. Eighty thousand refugees crowded together and doing their best to stay alive survived on just one meal a day suffering in the heat and the dust. No matter how dusty the road, no matter how empty my stomach, I did what I thought was important for me at the time. And I had a crazy dream, but I never gave up hope.

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

February 2007 Madison West High School Memo to Freshman Honors Parents


From a reader and parent. Full size. West High's website.

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February 12, 2007

Dozens of resource teachers work out of Doyle

According to the MMSD staff directory, 29 resource teachers in Educational Services, seven instructional resource teachers in Language Art/Reading and eight in Math work out of the Doyle building.

Why are those teachers located at Doyle? They work in schools, so they could be relocated in any number of buildings, freeing space at Doyle to house the Brearly Street programs.

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

Long Range Planning Meetings on possible school closing

I received this notice from a listserve:

Please Attend

Monday February 12th
Doyle Admin. Building
545 W. Dayton

Long Range Planning Commission

MMSD administrative staff will be discussing possible closing of Lapham


TUESDAY-February 13th


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Students Voice Flaws in DC

Yolanda Woodlee:

Students from D.C. public and charter schools crammed into the chambers of the city's John A. Wilson Building yesterday, clutching sheets of paper with stories of crumbling buildings, a textbook shortage and absent athletic and arts programs.

And they expressed fear that little will change, even if Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) succeeds in taking control of schools.

Donnell Kie, a sophomore at Ballou Senior High School, said it should not be too much for students to want safe buildings, up-to-date libraries, books when school opens in the fall and music, arts and foreign language programs.

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

Seat 3 and Seat 5 Madison School Board Candidate Video Conversations

Seat 3: Primary Election February 20, 2007
Pam Cross-Leone

Video | mp3 audio
Beth Moss

Video | mp3 audio
Rick Thomas

Video | mp3 audio

Seat 5: General Election, April 3, 2007
Maya Cole

Video | mp3 audio
Marj Passman

Video | mp3 audio
More on the election, here.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Parent's Worst Nightmare

Elizabeth Fernandez:

The phone rang. Linda O'Connor let it ring. And ring and ring and ring. She knew.

She was sitting in the family room on her blue sofa, as she always did, waiting for Kyle to return to their Pleasanton home. Kyle, 16, had never given her cause to worry, but over the last few weeks, since the start of her son's Christmas vacation, she had felt a disquiet she could neither define nor shake.

She went upstairs and woke her husband, Steve.

"There is something wrong,'' she whispered. "You better get dressed.''

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

February 11, 2007

Mentors needed

Would you be willing to serve as an academic mentor for a highly able student who needs the expertise of a trained adult? Mentorships may provide a student with an opportunity to independently research a topic in depth, or to explore and experiment within an academic area of passionate interest. Mentors are needed in math, the visual and performing arts, science, social studies, technology, and writing. We would work with the student's classroom teachers to find a time each week for you and the student to meet.

If you are interested in serving as a mentor, please email Kerry Berns, MMSD TAG resource teacher, at

Posted by Laurie Frost at 9:23 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Spring 2007 Madison School Board Election Update

I've updated the election page with the following information:

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

Wisconsin Governor Doyle Proposes a 4% Increase in Property Taxes

Steven Walters:

Gov. Jim Doyle will ask the Legislature to let local governments raise their fall property tax levies by 4% - double the limit of the past two years, but a rate the governor said would still control local taxes.

He also said his plan would impose tight limits to protect homeowners, who now pay about 71% of all property taxes. In 1990, homeowners paid 60% of the property tax burden.

Last year, property taxes in the state hit a record $8.7 billion. Two state credits lowered the total that property owners had to pay to $7.9 billion.

Levy controls that expired on Jan. 1 limited local governments to increases of 2% a year or the growth in new construction in their communities, whichever was greater. That allowed Milwaukee, where new construction grew by 3.3%, and other local governments with similar growth to raise their levies by more than 2% last year.

Public school spending is controlled by separate formulas. Partly because of the passage of so many local referendums, the average statewide levy for public schools rose 5.4% last year, according to the non-partisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Wisconsin Resident's Total 2006 Tax Rate: 33.4% of Income according to WISTAX:

For the third consecutive year, total taxes paid by Wisconsin individuals and firms relative to personal income increased in 2006. They now claim 33.4% of income, up from a 2003 low of 30.7%. Both the federal and state tax burdens increased in 2006, while the local government burden dipped slightly.

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

Wisconsin Governor Doyle Proposes an Expanded 4 Year Old Kindergarden

Jason Stein:

s part of his two-year budget proposal to be unveiled Tuesday, the Democratic governor said he will pay for prenatal visits for poor expectant mothers, expand 4-year-old kindergarten classes and help provide in-home care for the elderly. The plans will help students succeed and frail seniors stay in their homes while saving the state money over the long run, Doyle said.

"I believe really strongly in good early childhood development and I think everybody who is involved in education understands how important it is for kids to get off to a good start," Doyle said in an interview. "To me, this is one of the best investments that you can make and the payoff comes in very many ways."

But unlike his previous two budgets, Doyle has an ally in the state Senate, now controlled by Democrats. Political observers said at least some of Doyle's ideas could pass, including proposals to expand 4- year-old kindergarten and send more money to struggling rural school districts, often represented by Republican lawmakers.

"We need to set our priorities, and one of the priorities is our children, and we've just got to find the funding for them," Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson, D-Beloit.

Doyle has not said how he would pay for the programs.

Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, said it was unclear whether Doyle's proposals actually increase spending or redistribute existing money for schools or other items.

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

New Jersey Math Teacher Leon Varjian Discusses his Madison Roots

Dee Hall:

Now that the lakes have finally frozen over, longtime Madison residents may gaze (if their eyes don't tear up too badly) over the bleak landscape of Lake Mendota and reminisce about that fateful February 28 years ago when the Statue of Liberty came to town.

Of course it wasn't the real statue (which is still firmly planted in Upper New York Bay) but an elaborate prank that came at a time when the city was still feeling the effects of anti-war riots and a fatal bombing nearly a decade earlier.

Leading the march toward levity - literally - was a scruffy UW-Madison student named Leon Varjian. The New Jersey native organized boom- box parades and toga parties on State Street and was one of the architects of the Statue of Liberty ruse, which has been named one of the top college pranks of all time.

Varjian, who already held bachelor's and master's degrees from other universities in mathematics, came to the city in the fall of 1977 with the goal of studying in "the graduate school of fun."

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

February 10, 2007

Wisconsin Economic Outlook

Wisconsin Department of Revenue [300K PDF]:

Based on the current economic forecast and recent collection experience, General Purpose Revenue (GPR) tax collections in fiscal year (FY) 2007 will increase 3.8% relative to FY 2006 to $12.491 billion. This Department of Revenue (DOR) estimate is $69 million (0.6%) below the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) estimate for FY 2007 collections issued in January 2006.

GPR tax collections are estimated to increase 3.6% in FY 2008 to $12.941 billion and 4.0% in FY 2009 to $13.462 billion.

GPR tax collections by DOR during the first four months of FY 2007 increased 3.6% over the comparable period of FY 2006 from $3.322 billion to $3.443 billion. During this period, individual income tax receipts increased 4.3% to $1.888 billion; sales tax revenue increased 2.8% to $1.111 billion, and corporate collections increased 12.5% to $261 million.

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

Wisconsin State K-12 Budget Notes

Jason Stein:

Gov. Jim Doyle will maintain in his upcoming budget proposal the state's commitment to funding two-thirds of the cost of public schools - the state's single biggest expenditure and the largest source of revenue for most schools, a Doyle spokesman confirmed Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson, D-Beloit, said that the state's funding level for schools was important to property taxpayers.

"It's good to keep that commitment because then we can keep the property taxes even or lower the property taxes," Robson said.

Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, agreed but noted that more money from the state doesn't necessarily mean more money for schools overall. That's because their revenues are kept under state limits and they could have to lower property taxes if their state aids rise, he said.

Though Doyle and other past Republican governors have referred to the state's funding commitment as a full two- thirds, it technically has fallen short of that in the past because calculations don't include other fees and federal money that schools might receive, Berry said.

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

Notes on School Violence

India McCanse:

Violence in our schools is preventable, but we don't seem to understand how to do that. Our first response is to blame the Milwaukee Public Schools: If something goes wrong, it's the fault of the school system.

I wonder how many of us who hold MPS responsible have visited a school and seen for ourselves how difficult life there can be.

What we don't see from the outside are talented and devoted teachers and staff who make it their duty every day to educate and support our kids. What we don't know is how many disadvantaged youth have no hope for the future, give up and become part of the problem. And what we don't feel is the anxiety of thousands of parents for the safety and well-being of their children in a public school.

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

February 9, 2007

School Closings & the Long-Term Outlook

School closings need to be considered in light of the long-term (5-10 years or more) outlook - a 3-5 year outlook, yet alone 1-2 years, is not nearly long enough when considering a measure whose impact lasts for many years, at a student/family level, as well as financial.

What muddies this school closing picture is the outlook for continued enrollment increases on the east side of town, not just the far west and southwest sides. I've heard the district is considering purchase of land not far from the interstate with an eye to building an elementary school there one day. It's hard to imagine building a new school for $10+ million, when other schools less than five miles away have recently been closed. I believe the combination of continued growth on the east side, combined with the continuing increasing birth rate (births have been up every year here for the past ten years, which is a significant explanatory factor for why there is increasing enrollment pressures on almost all our city schools) will render school closures quite unnecessary.

However, the picture gets further complicated when we recognize that the MMSD budget will be $40 million smaller (in real terms) over the next five years (give or take). The only way to find that kind of money is to increase class sizes. The only questions are how, where, when, and by how much. (Which again is why I think a 5-year plan is needed, to ensure these painful adjustments are done in a way that least harms the quality of education.)

Ultimately, the appropriateness and wisdom of closing any school, from a strictly financial perspective, rests on what the long-term picture looks like. This picture needs to combine long-term enrollment projections (at a neighborhood/school level) with a variety of realistic scenarios as to how class sizes may change as the long-term budget situation continues to deteriorate. Without such projections, the district runs a serious risk of doing the wrong thing: by either closing schools when it later proves unnecessary, or by leaving them open when it later proves we would have done better to close them.

Peter Gascoyne

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

My Thoughts on Lapham-Marquette

Over the past week, I have had several heartfelt e-mails from residents of the Lapham-Marquette neighborhood, urging me and other board members to oppose closing Lapham School. To put the e-mails in context, let us all remember that there are MANY proposals out there because EVERYTHING is on the table thanks to the $10 million structural deficit that the district faces.

For those of you who are unaware of my background, let me share with you that I have lived in the Marquette neighborhood since 1978, first as a renter and now as a home owner. My membership # at Willy St. is 10. Yes, ten. My roots go deep, as does my memory of community history. After all, I chose to live there when we had to step over drunks to get to the laundromat, and anyone could get a good dose of grease and indigestion at Dolly's. I moved in when there were crack houses around the corner, and stayed because it was a values choice.

So where do I stand on "don't close Lapham?" This is the gist of what I am replying to the e-mails:

I have lived in the Marquette neighborhood since 1978 and was engaged in the vigorous and divisive neighborhood debate over whether to reopen Lapham. Having opposed reopening Lapham at the time because the optimistic demographic projections seemed unsupportable, and having predicted that we would end up at exactly this point, I am now disinterested in closing it so that we can debate the issue once more in ten years. I would note that the majority of children in Lapham are still being bused from the Marquette side of the isthmus; after all these years, the school as family magnet argument has not lived up to predictions.

That said, there is a brutal bugetary reality before the district. $10 million in structural - ongoing - deficit is going to mean change for all of our schools. For that reason, I will be supporting a review of staffing levels for the current population and demographics. (I urge everyone considering the debate to look at the demographics for ALL of our elementary schools and understand that as a progressive I must be concerned for the schools that are functioning with high levels of poverty and inadequate staffing.)

I urge the people who are so passionate about not closing Lapham or combining the pair to be proactive about proposals that can make keeping the school open easier to support. This means finding ways to use the space for some segment of district administration or renting space to community groups or finding some other use that goes beyond the current structure. E.g., the district used to rent space to the Tenney Lapham nursery school.

This time around, it is going to take a lot more than rhetoric or advocacy for referenda to address the very real shortage of resources that we face.

Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 8:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

February 8, 2007

School board candidates: What do you think of closing schools?

David Cohen suggested that I ask candidates their positions on closing a school on the isthmus or east side.

So, candidates, if you're elected to the board, will you vote to support closing a school? A simple yes or no will suffice; however, if you'd like to elaborate, feel free.

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

Isthmus school targetted for closing

From all appearances, the MMSD administration desperately wants to close Lapham Elementary without giving serious consideration to other cost-saving options.

The 2006 East Area Task Force concluded that closing a school would be harmful.

Weigh in on whether to close a school by contacting board members and administators with this e-mail address:

Posted by Ed Blume at 11:38 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Connecticut Governor Proposes Income Tax Increase to Raise $3B for K-12

Jennifer Medina:

Using a decisive election victory to take a political risk, Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Wednesday proposed raising Connecticut’s income tax to 5.5 percent from 5 percent to pay for a $3.4 billion increase in education spending over the next five years.

Ms. Rell also proposed increasing the state’s cigarette tax by 49 cents, to $2 a pack, which her assistants said would bring in an additional $169.2 million during the next two years.

In delivering her budget message to the Democratic-controlled State Legislature, Ms. Rell, a Republican, characterized the income tax increase as a “wrenching decision,” but said it was the best way to pay for the record-breaking increase in financing the state’s public schools. But even as she called for increased taxes as part of her $35.8 billion, two-year budget plan, Ms. Rell also proposed eliminating the estate tax and the often-criticized car tax, which local governments assess on automobiles at widely varying rates.

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

February 7, 2007

Minnesota Governor Proposes $75M for Additional College Prep

Megan Boldt:

In his State of the State speech last month, Pawlenty argued that too many Minnesota students coast through high school with no plan for what they are going to do after graduation.

To combat that, the Republican governor wants lawmakers to give $75 million over the next two years to high schools so they can teach tough courses that clearly relate to future careers or majors and to require every student to earn one year of college credit before they graduate.

He also wants all high school students to take four years of a foreign language and to get workplace training and internships so they can be qualified for jobs at companies that will have to compete in a global economy.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The College Board's AP Report to the Nation

Wisconsin ranked 13th in the percentage of public school students scoring 3 or higher on an AP exam during their high school years.

The College Board:

Almost 15 percent (Wisconsin = 15.8%) of public school graduates from the class of 2006 achieved during their high school years an AP® Exam grade of 3 or better (the score predictive of college success 1). This achievement represents a significant improvement since the class of 2000, when just 10 percent of public school graduates were achieving this result. The College Board, the not-for-profit membership association that administers the AP Program, released the third annual Advanced Placement Report to the Nation, which also showed that since 2000, all 50 states and the District of Columbia achieved an increase in the percentage of high school graduates that had earned an exam grade of 3 or higher on the college-level AP Exams.

The Report also highlights new independent research, which bolsters previous research findings that students who participate in AP have significantly better college grades and college graduation rates than academically and economically similar students who did not take the demanding courses and exams.

Media and others occasionally rank states, districts, and schools on the basis of AP Exam results, despite repeated warnings that such rankings may be problematic. AP Exams are valid measures of students' content mastery of college-level studies in academic disciplines, but should never be used as a sole measure for gauging educational excellence and equity.

92K Wisconsin Summary pdf.

Sam Dillon:

More high schools across the nation are offering Advanced Placement courses to help students get into college and get ready for its academic rigors. In the process, however, many minority students who often need help most urgently are missing out.

“Taking rigorous courses is good for high school students, and there’s a lot of evidence that kids who have taken A.P. courses — even if they don’t do well on the tests — do better in college,” said Mike Cohen, president of Achieve Inc., a nonprofit organization created by state governors and business leaders that works to raise academic standards.

As increasing numbers of high schools offer the courses, minority enrollment in them has become a focus of study. Although African-American students were underrepresented last year, Asian students were the opposite; 11 percent of students who took the tests were Asian, while only 6 percent of the student population was Asian. About 62 percent of students who took the exams were white, while 65 percent of the nation’s student population was white, the report said.

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

Doyle wants state to pay for added school choice

Steven Walters & Stacy Forster:

Making good on a promise, Gov. Jim Doyle today will announce that he wants the state to pay all costs associated with last year's expansion of the school choice program - a change he said could save Milwaukee residents about $21 million in property taxes over the next two years.

It will be one component of what is expected to be a wide-ranging package that the governor is to unveil at Elm Creative Arts Elementary School to help revitalize Milwaukee. Last week, Doyle promised that the package would also include anti-crime and job-creation elements.

It will also include a "substantial commitment" to Milwaukee Public Schools, Doyle said Tuesday. He declined to give details of how his plan would help the troubled district, however.

Seth Zlotocha has more, as does Mark Belling.

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

Too Many AP Courses?

Jay Matthews:

How many Advanced Placement courses are enough? Here in the Washington area, a hotbed of AP mania, the College Board provided an answer for the first time yesterday: Five is plenty in a high school career. Any more, the official response suggested, might be just showing off.

Trevor Packer, executive director of the AP program, said he had spoken to a number of college officials about how many of the college-level courses were needed to impress admissions officers and prepare for the rigors of higher education. They told him that "three, four or five AP courses are sufficient" in a high school career, he said. Under that scenario, a student could max out with one AP course as a sophomore and two each in junior and senior years. "Beyond that, they are interested in seeing students participate in other activities."

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

Local School Climate Tea Leaves?

A Capital Times Editorial:

At a time when Madison should be discussing the very real challenge of retooling our schools so that they can educate our young to be the leaders of the 21st century, when we should be getting serious about how to ensure that all citizens have access to affordable housing, and when we should be strategizing about how to diversify our economy in order to provide the jobs that will be required by our burgeoning population - and to protect the dwindling number of unionized industrial jobs that remain - the City Council will tonight discuss whether to put an advisory referendum about trolleys on the spring ballot.


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February 6, 2007

School Board Candidate Meet and Greet: Wednesday, 2.7.2007 @ 7:00p.m.

Madison Public Library (Central) [map]

Democracy for Wisconsin:

Our February meeting will be an opportunity for you to meet many of the candidates running for election this spring in Madison. It can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff in nonpartisan races, so I encourage you to come on out and judge the candidates for yourself. We will be voting on endorsements in at least some of these races.

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This Bush Education Reform Really Works

A story by Sol Stern posted on City Journal highlights the success of Reading First and includes striking parallels to our superintendent's response to the program:

Reading First, though much maligned, succeeds in teaching kids to read. . . .

A comprehensive study by an outside evaluator will appear in 2007, measuring Reading First’s influence on student achievement nationally. But some states and districts are already seeing significant improvement. When the relevant congressional committees hold hearings on NCLB reauthorization, they might start by looking to neighboring Virginia, where they’ll discover a dramatic example of Reading First’s power. With apologies to Dickens, we might call it a tale of two school districts—one welcoming Reading First, the other disdaining it.

The first, Richmond, offers a classic profile of an inner-city school district. Of its 25,000 students, 95 percent are black, more than 70 percent are poor enough to be in the free-lunch program, and 44 percent change schools during the year. Until 2001, Richmond’s student test scores were among Virginia’s worst. Only five of the district’s 51 schools achieved the status of full state accreditation.

But 2001 is also when Richmond school officials embarked on an ambitious reform, whose centerpiece was a standardized reading program based on evidence from the NICHD studies. By the time Reading First funds were available in 2002, Richmond was already up and running with a phonics-based reading program called Voyager Universal Literacy. The district channeled the modest $450,000 Reading First grant into a handful of its lowest-performing schools. But the principles of scientific reading instruction took hold throughout the district.

Since then, Richmond’s test scores have skyrocketed. By 2003, the number of the district’s schools achieving full state accreditation had climbed to 22. The next year, it rose to 39 and has now reached 44.

Because NCLB requires disaggregation of student performance data by race, we can further appreciate the extent of Richmond’s turnaround by comparing the district with the Fairfax district, just across the Potomac from the congressional committees due to review Reading First.

Fairfax, one of the richest suburban areas in the U.S., consistently draws in new residents because of the perceived quality of its public schools. SAT scores for Fairfax’s high school graduates stand well above the national average, and 90 percent of those grads go on to some form of higher education. But 17,000 of Fairfax’s 164,000 students are African-American, and they’re not doing so well; in fact, they’re performing far worse than Richmond’s black students. In 2004, only 52 percent of black Fairfax kids passed the state’s third-grade reading test, compared with 62 percent for Richmond’s black students. In 2005, the gap widened to 15 percentage points, with 59 percent of the Fairfax black students passing compared with 74 percent of their Richmond counterparts.

Even more remarkable, Richmond’s third-grade reading scores are closing in on wealthy Fairfax’s scores for all its students, 79 percent of whom passed the third-grade reading test in 2005. Since enacting its reforms, Richmond has moved from 114th in the state in reading (out of 132 districts) to 50th, compared with Fairfax’s 36th.

Fairfax officials have said publicly that they’re mystified by the low performance of the district’s black students. It certainly has nothing to do with money. Millions of extra dollars for remediation programs have poured into the district’s schools with higher proportions of blacks. One thing the district proudly refused to do, though, was take money from Reading First. The then-superintendent said that he didn’t want the federal government dictating how his district taught reading and that he preferred the reading programs he already was using. One of these, costing the district $10 million per year, is Reading Recovery, the same whole-language program that the inspector general accused Chris Doherty of trying to keep from getting Reading First grants—which suggests that Doherty did something right after all.

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Outline of math task force

I believe that the school board voted to move forward on the superintendent's recommendation to form a math task force. The board asked the administration to:

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

· The review and assessment shall be undertaken by a task force whose members are appointed by the Superintendent and approved by the BOE. Members of the task force shall have math and math education expertise and represent a variety of perspectives regarding math education.

· The task force shall prepare and present to the BOE a preliminary outline of the review and assessment to be undertaken by the task force. The outline shall, at a minimum, include: (1) analysis of math achievement data for MMSD K-12 students, including analysis of all math sub-tests scores disaggregated by student characteristics and schools; (2) analysis of performance expectations for MMSD K-12 students; (3) an overview of math curricula, including MMSD's math curriculum; (4) a discussion of how to improve MMSD student achievement; and (5) recommendations on measures to evaluate the effectiveness of MMSD's math curriculum. The task force is to present the preliminary outline and a timeline to the BOE for comment and approval.

· The task force is to prepare a written draft of the review and assessment, consistent with the approved preliminary outline. The draft is to be presented to the BOE for review and comment.

· The task force is to prepare the final report on the review and assessment.

More details of the superintendent's plans are here.

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Virtual Schools Are Right for Some Families

Nichole Schweitzer:

As principal of Wisconsin Connections Academy (WCA), the state’s first virtual K-8 school, I see on a daily basis the benefits a standards-based virtual education provides for students from around the state.

Every student has unique learning needs. Some students learn best by reading, others by listening and still others by doing. In the same manner, a traditional school is best for some students and a virtual school is best for others. Wisconsin has been an educational leader for many years, and virtual schools are just one of the ways in which Wisconsin is staying at the forefront of education.

Virtual school teachers work with each student to modify lessons, and generally meet the student’s unique needs and learning style. This personalized approach to education is a good option for students who may be far ahead of or behind their peers, for students who need a more flexible schedule, or for students who learn best outside the walls of a traditional school, such as Jacob Martin.

Jacob is an 8th grade student at WCA. Because of his autism, Jacob benefits from learning in a more personalized setting: his home. Jacob recently wrote an essay about why he likes attending a virtual school, and he explained in his own words why a virtual school works best for him.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:20 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Harlem program forms a circle of success for kids

Leonard Pitts, Jr.:

Canada's other key innovation: Think big. What good is it to save one child and send him into a neighborhood where every other child is failing? ``Well, after a while, it has an impact on your child. That kid either never goes outside again or they learn to adjust in that environment.''

He calls that a ''negative contagion.'' And, he asked, ''What if we could create a positive contagious effect?'' Meaning, what if we could send that child out into a peer group of other children who were also doing well? As he sees it, it's not enough to save a child here and there. We have to save the children.

So overall, the zone serves more than 9,000 kids. They have smaller classes, a longer school day and a longer school year than their peers. Their teachers are paid more and given more classroom freedom, but are also held more accountable. After school, the kids take karate and yoga classes, get tutored, paint murals, practice plays, dance, write.

From a good friend.

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Arbitrator Rules in Favor of MTI vs WEAC

Mike Antonucci:

Arbitrator Peter Feuille ruled the 1978 agreement between the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) and Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI) is an enforceable contract and its provisions remain in effect. The decision is seen as a victory for MTI in a long-festering dispute with its parent union.

WEAC had long chafed under the Madison agreement, reached at a time when the state union was in danger of being splintered into many independent locals. The document committed WEAC to reimbursing MTI for its legal expenses, and acknowledged a large degree of autonomy for the local. During a conflict in 2001, WEAC sought to unilaterally dissolve the agreement. After years of court battles, the two unions finally agreed on binding arbitration last year.

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February 5, 2007

How Not to Pick a School

Brigid Schulte, via a reader:

We are a white, middle-class family. Our children attend our neighborhood public school, Mount Vernon Community School, two blocks from our house in Alexandria. The student body is 55 percent Hispanic, 22 percent black and 19 percent white. More than 60 percent of the children are poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. More than 40 percent speak a language other than English at home. And the test scores, while passable, aren't among the school district's best.

It's a school with the kind of statistics that can so unnerve some white, middle-class parents that they move to mostly white areas -- or spend tens of thousands of dollars on private schools.

Last week, I held the PTA open house for parents of prospective students. I posted the announcement on our neighborhood e-mail group list. I received some enthusiastic responses from people who know parents with children already at the school. And I also got this one: "We are in the process of starting the research. I am plowing through the state website with the test results now so I will see how this school compares." The writer mentioned two other schools she was considering, schools with more white kids and higher test scores.

The Civil Rights Project.

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Madison Schools' "Restorative Justice"

"Madison Parent":

The superintendent, school board president and other school board candidates are already talking as if this were a done deal. But what is “restorative justice,” and what will it mean to have student misconduct addressed with a “restorative justice” approach? A layperson’s online search leads to academic papers in the criminal and juvenile justice area from fields ranging from sociology, social work, philosophy and theology, but not much specific research or data on whether or how “restorative justice” has been found to work as an approach to addressing misconduct in schools. The decision to move away from a discipline-based approach to a “restorative justice” approach will have an immediate, on-the-ground, daily impact on the school climate and educational experience encountered by the students and teachers in our schools, and parents of children in the public schools here may very well have the following questions:

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New Orleans' Schools: Reading, Writing, Resurrection

Amy Waldman:

The storm ravaged the city’s architecture and infrastructure, took hundreds of lives, exiled hundreds of thousands of residents. But it also destroyed, or enabled the destruction of, the city’s public-school system—an outcome many New Orleanians saw as deliverance. That system had begun with great promise, in 1841, as one of the first in the Deep South. It had effectively ended, in 2005, in disaster—and not just the natural kind. Its defining characteristics were financial high jinks and low academic performance. On the last state achievement test before Katrina hit, 74 percent of eighth-graders had failed to demonstrate “basic” skills in English/Language Arts, and 70 percent scored below “basic” in math. The Orleans Parish School Board, which ran the city’s schools, was $450 million in debt. Yet these numbers did not begin to capture the day-to-day texture of the schools: when students held a press conference to express their post-Katrina wishes, they asked for textbooks, toilet paper, and teachers who liked them.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Dayton School Practice Test Controversy

Scott Elliott:

And seventh graders knew that the square Coral drew was a rhombus because it had four sides.

The question is, how did they know?

In each case the students had seen these questions — or questions that were nearly identical — on practice tests they took the week before the school administered the Ohio Achievement Tests.

In all, a Dayton Daily News investigation found 44 questions on practice tests taken by City Day students that were identical or substantially the same as questions that appeared on the actual state exam they took just days later.

And when state report cards came out last year, huge gains in the percentage of students who passed the test helped propel the chronically underperforming school out of the state’s lowest rating category of “academic emergency.”

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February 4, 2007

School Board Candidate Video Chat: Seat 3 Candidate Rick Thomas

Rick Thomas Rick Thomas Watch a video conversation with Madison School Board Seat 3 Candidate Rick Thomas [8MB]. Pam Cross Leone, Beth Moss and Thomas face off in the February 20, 2007 primary election.

Much more on the election, here. Rick's literature has a handy Sudoku puzzle on the back.

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Whole-language Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

Louisa Moats 324K PDF:

How to Tell When “Scientifically-Based Reading Instruction” Isn’t.
In this practitioners’ guide, renowned reading expert Louisa Moats (author of the American Federation of Teachers’ Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science and an earlier Thomas B. Fordham Foundation report, Whole Language Lives On: The Illusion of “Balanced” Reading Instruction) explains how educators, parents, and concerned citizens can spot ineffective reading programs that surreptitiously hide under the “scientifically-based” banner.

While the field of reading has made enormous strides in recent years—especially with the publication of the National Reading Panel’s landmark report and enactment of the federal Reading First program discredited and ineffectual practices continue in many schools. Although the term “whole language” is rarely used today, programs based on its premises, such as Reading Recovery, Four Blocks, Guided Reading, and especially “balanced literacy,” are as popular as ever. These approaches may pay lip service to reading science, but they fail to incorporate the content and instructional methods proven to work best with students learning to read. Some districts, such as Denver, openly shun research-based practices, while others, such as Chicago, fail to provide clear, consistent leadership for principals and teachers, who are left to reinvent reading instruction, school by school.

Press Release.

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Book: The Outrage of Project Follow Through: 5 Million Failed Kids Later

Zig Engelmann:

The book is not designed for educators but for the general public. The events start in 1964, when I got my first job in education (at the Institute for Research on Exceptional Children at the University of Illinois) and proceed from there to the present through a series of first-person vignettes and episodes that present the human side of what we did and why we did it. I think it delivers a powerful message.

Many episodes are dramatic—at least they were when we experienced them. I believe they show that we knew what we were talking about because we'd done more than theorize or observe through the sterile literature. We were completely involved in working with teachers, kids, and schools for more than 20 years in different manifestations of Follow Through. The book also provides short tours of work we've done with various types of learners, from the autistic, those with traumatic brain damage, and the deaf, to preschoolers, at-risk high school students, and the gifted.

The theme of the book is that urban school districts, as they are currently configured, can't possibly work because their structure, logic, and philosophy are anti-scientific. Overall, the book will probably sadden you, but hopefully, it will provide an interesting journey and won't discourage you.

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Online Classes Go Mainstream

Seema Mehta:

Hathaway, who hopes to be a novelist, is among 1 million kindergarten through high school student enrollments in virtual schooling across the nation, according to the North American Council for Online Learning, a nonprofit organization for administrators, teachers and others involved in online schooling.

Enrollment, counted as the total number of seats in all online classes, not the number of students, has grown more than 20 times in seven years, and the group expects the numbers to continue to jump 30% annually.

To deal with the growth, the University of California is launching an extensive effort to make sure applicants' online high school courses are on par with traditional classroom instruction.

Nearly half the states offer public school classes online, and last year Michigan became the first in the nation to require students to take an online course to graduate from high school. In California, a state senator introduced a bill last week to allow public high school students to take online classes without depriving schools of the state funding they receive for attendance.

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February 3, 2007

Comments on the 2006 Madison Edge School Referendum & Possible Closure of a "Downtown School"

Dan Sebald:

I'm somewhat incredulous about the comments from the Madison School Board President Johnny Winston Jr. in Susan Troller's article about Monday's meeting. Do I understand correctly? The School Board packaged the new west side elementary school with two other spending items to ensure its passage as a referendum on last November's ballot, and now the School Board is reluctant to put forth a referendum to fully fund downtown schools? And they give no reassurance about seeking to keep the downtown school curriculums and class size intact?

And what of these comments about no public outcry? If the public is to do the political footwork to get rid of draconian state-imposed caps, we wouldn't need a School Board.

From someone who has no vested interest in one's own children's education yet recognizes the importance of a solid education for everyone, I say Madison's school system is in obvious decline.

My opinion is that if the modus operandi is school funding by referendums and we get a referendum for a new school on the edge of the city, then we get a referendum to fund downtown schools.

If that referendum fails, then it fails, which would be a good indication of where priorities in the community lie and also a sad disappointment.

Dan Sebald Madison

This is a fascinating issue, particularly given the folks that lined up to support last fall's referendum.

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'Virtual' courses rile teachers union

Non-union teachers could be used online
By Susan Troller

The prospect of a virtual school program in Madison is causing a confrontation in the real world between the Madison school district and John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers' union.

At issue is whether the Madison district will be violating its collective bargaining contract with local teachers if it develops a virtual school learning program that includes courses taught online by instructors who are not members of MTI.

A virtual learning proposal, under development by the district for over a year, will be presented to the school board for consideration within the next month or so.

"Our position is that only MTI teachers can instruct kids," Matthews said in an interview. "If someone providing the online instruction is not a licensed teacher in our district, I can't tell you what the quality of the education will be."

Matthews wrote a letter this week chastising Board President Johnny Winston Jr. for his advocacy of the online school proposal.

Winston had written in a letter dated Dec. 14 that "the main purpose of the MMSD Virtual School Program is to meet the educational needs of students who are not having their needs met by the online course is just another tool."

Matthews maintains that online instruction is a form of subcontracting prohibited by the MTI contract.

But Superintendent Art Rainwater said in an interview Friday that the district had been meeting with MTI in its efforts to develop the online program, and that he felt that when all was said and done, it would meet the needs of students, staff and would comply with MTI requirements.

"It's my belief that what we haven't worked out yet we will be able to resolve," Rainwater said. He added that students taking online courses would be supervised and graded by MTI teachers.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:14 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Spring 2007 Madison School Board Candidate Updates

Isthmus's latest very useful school board candidate take home tests are now available. This week's topics include volunteerism and the contents of an 8th grade graduation speech:

Much more on the election here.

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More Federal Money for Pell Grants, Special Education, Title I and Head Start

The Doyle Report:

This week, House and Senate Democrat Appropriators agreed on a long overdue funding resolution for fiscal year (FY) 06 that provides $2.3 billion in additional funding over FY06 and includes an additional $1.17 billion for education over FY 06 levels.

Highlights from the House appropriations resolution include:

  • Pell Grants: $13.6 billion, an increase of $615.4 million to increase the maximum Pell grant by $260 to $4,310.
  • Special Education: $10.7 billion for IDEA Part B state grants, an increase of $200 million to help school districts serve 6.9 million children with disabilities.
  • Title I K-12 Grants: $12.8 billion, an increase of $125 million to provide approximately 38,000 additional low-income children performing below grade level with intensive reading and math instruction.
  • Title I School Improvement Fund: $125 million for this new program to target assistance to the 6,700 schools that failed to meet No Child Left Behind requirements in the 2005-2006 school year.
  • Head Start: $6.9 billion, an increase of $103.7 million.
See also the Committee for Education Funding.

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

"MIDDLE SCHOOLS ARE the great disaster of the education system"

Michael Jonas:

With so many middle schools performing poorly, the movement for K-8 schools is gaining momentum in Boston and nationwide. But some education reformers think combining the middle grades with high school, rather than elementary school, is a better formula.

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Seattle School Board creates 'profile' of the next superintendent

Jessica Blanchard:

The next leader of Seattle Public Schools should be inspirational, able to work well with others, committed to reducing the academic achievement gap and ideally will have experience as an educator, the Seattle School Board agreed.

During a marathon work session Wednesday, the board fine-tuned a list of 10 qualifications to create a "profile" of the person who will take over for departing Superintendent Raj Manhas later this year.

Seattle School Board Superintendent Search Page.

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Zogby on Philadelphia School Governance Reforms

Andrew Rotherham:

Guest Post from Charles Zogby, he’s currently Senior Vice President for Education Policy with K-12* and the former Secretary of Education Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He was active in the reform efforts in Philly while he was secretary. Responding to this post he writes: I wanted to respond to your recent post regarding RAND's analysis of the various school management options deployed in Philadelphia. You note in your post that for profit and non-profit managers received more resources but did no better in producing academic performance. This is not an entirely accurate picture of either the conditions of the schools or the challenge that the private mangers were handed.

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Seat 3 Madison School Board Candidate Pam Cross-Leone Nominated for the Athena Award

Debra Carr-Elsing:

The red carpet season is under way in Hollywood, and Madison has its own recognition programs this time of year. Among them is The Business Forum's annual ATHENA Awards.

Ten nominees will be honored this year, and one will be named the 2007 ATHENA Award recipient when the business group presents its 10th annual fundraiser March 6 at the Monona Terrace Convention Center.

This year's nominees are:

Pam Cross-Leone, team trainer, Madison Gas & Electric Co.

Beth Moss and Rick Thomas are also running for Seat 3. The primary is February 20, 2007.

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February 2, 2007

Toffler on the Future School

Alvin Toffler tells us what's wrong -- and right -- with public education, by James Daly:

Forty years after he and his wife Heidi set the world alight with Future Shock, Alvin Toffler remains a tough assessor of our nation's social and technological prospects. Though he's best known for his work discussing the myriad ramifications of the digital revolution, he also loves to speak about the education system that is shaping the hearts and minds of America's future. We met with him near his office in Los Angeles, where the celebrated septuagenarian remains a clear and radical thinker.

You've been writing about our educational system for decades. What's the most pressing need in public education right now?

Shut down the public education system.

That's pretty radical.

I'm roughly quoting (Microsoft chairman) Bill Gates, who said, "We don't need to reform the system; we need to replace the system."

Why not just readjust what we have in place now? Do we really need to start from the ground up?

We should be thinking from the ground up. That's different from changing everything. However, we first have to understand how we got the education system that we now have. Teachers are wonderful, and there are hundreds of thousands of them who are creative and terrific, but they are operating in a system that is completely out of time. It is a system designed to produce industrial workers.

Let's look back at the history of public education in the United States. You have to go back a little over a century. For many years, there was a debate about whether we should even have public education. Some parents wanted kids to go to school and get an education; others said, "We can't afford that. We need them to work. They have to work in the field, because otherwise we starve." There was a big debate. Late in the 1800s, during the Industrial Revolution, business leaders began complaining about all these rural kids who were pouring into the cities and going to work in our factories. Business leaders said that these kids were no good, and that what they needed was an educational system that would produce "industrial discipline."

Let's have a little exercise. Walk me through this school you'd create. What do the classrooms look like? What are the class sizes? What are the hours?

It's open twenty-four hours a day. Different kids arrive at different times. They don't all come at the same time, like an army. They don't just ring the bells at the same time. They're different kids. They have different potentials. Now, in practice, we're not going to be able to get down to the micro level with all of this, I grant you, but in fact, I would be running a twentyfour- hour school, I would have nonteachers working with teachers in that school, I would have the kids coming and going at different times that make sense for them.
The schools of today are essentially custodial: They're taking care of kids in work hours that are essentially nine to five -- when the whole society was assumed to work. Clearly, that's changing in our society. So should the timing. We're individualizing time; we're personalizing time. We're not having everyone arrive at the same time, leave at the same time. Why should kids arrive at the same time and leave at the same time?

Well, well worth reading. We do need to re-think and re-implement a system that is, as Toffler points out, largely based around Frederick Taylor's early 20th century thinking.

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How Should We Fund Education?

Chris Lufter:

We are sure that this statement will shock this community: The Waukesha Taxpayers League agrees that we have an educational funding problem in Wisconsin.

While there may be widespread agreement with that statement, how we got into this predicament and, more importantly, how we resolve the funding issue is where disagreement exists. As the saying goes, “one must know history well or history is bound to repeat itself.” A brief review of school funding history is in order.

During the late ’80s and early ’90s, education spending was out of control. Double-digit property tax increases were common. The only way to control school taxes and spending was to oust local school board members – always a difficult feat. Fiscally responsible school boards were rendered helpless by state mediation/arbitration law which sent contract disputes to an arbitrator for resolution. The problem was, the arbitrator’s decision was heavily influenced by settlements in surrounding districts. If one district settled at a high level of salary and benefit increases, soon all districts were mandated to provide such settlements. Large settlements combined with increased hiring led to escalating school spending and taxes. Property taxes in particular rose at unbearable rates, angering taxpayers across Wisconsin.

In the early ’90s, responding to an angry electorate, the Legislature passed a “revenue cap” law limiting the amount of revenue a district could collect from property and state taxes, effectively limiting spending. This cap was formulated to allow for inflation and student enrollment changes. Some contend that districts are only allowed to increase spending by 2 percent annually, but Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance figures show that school spending increases have averaged 4 percent yearly since 2001.

To make revenue caps workable, salary and benefits (80 percent of school budgets) also needed to be reined in. The Legislature passed what is commonly called the QEO: qualified economic offer. This law prohibits mediation/arbitration if a district offers the teachers union at least a 3.8 percent salary and benefit increase. However, huge loopholes developed in QEO law, resulting in average salary increases of more than 5 percent annually, not including the increasing cost of health and retirement benefits.

This legislation intentionally created a shortfall between the money generated by revenue caps and the QEO to force districts to prioritize spending within their budgets that had become padded with new programs and staff for years. To provide for some local control of spending, the Legislature included the referendum process for any spending over the revenue caps.

Also passed was “two-thirds funding.” This means that the state provides two-thirds of the cost of education in Wisconsin. This was a huge shift in taxes from the local to the state level. This two-thirds funding is actually a very complex formula that distributes this money unevenly. Property rich districts and big spending districts get less state money than property poor districts and lesser spending districts. Waukesha is considered a property rich district, so we receive less than twothirds funding.

The state of Wisconsin currently spends $5.89 billion on kindergarten through 12thgrade education. This represents 39.3 percent of the state’s general fund. Local property taxes (after all credits) increased 5.4 percent to $3.79 billion. These figures demonstrate how generous Wisconsin taxpayers are to our schools.

Christ Lufter is President of the Waukesha Taxpayers League.

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Palo Alto School Board Rejects Classes in Mandarin

Jesse McKinley:

It would have seemed to be a perfect fit: an academically ambitious plan for an ambitiously academic city.

But after weeks of debate occasionally tinged with racial overtones, the Palo Alto Unified School District decided early Wednesday against a plan for Mandarin language immersion, citing practical concerns as well as whether the classes would give the small group of students in them an unfair advantage.

The proposal, which was voted down 3 to 2 after a marathon six-hour meeting of the district school board, would have established two classes taught mostly in Mandarin — the world’s most spoken language, used by nearly one billion Chinese — to 40 kindergarten and first-grade students at a local elementary school.

Grace Mah, a second-generation Chinese-American and the founder of Palo Alto Chinese Education, which lobbied for the program, said the vote was a major disappointment.

“I think there’s a number of people who are afraid of change,” said Ms. Mah, a 46-year-old computer engineer and a mother of two, including a third-grader in Palo Alto schools. “I think here’s a number of people who don’t believe in alternative education. And I think there’s a number of people who insist on equity, when in life, it just isn’t.”

Mandarin is offered at one Madison High School - Memorial.

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A Tide for School Choice

George Will:

Fifty-seven years later, Sumner Elementary School in Topeka is back in the news. That city's board of education is still wrongly preventing the right people from getting into that building. Two educators wanted to use Sumner for a charter school, a public school entitled to operate outside the confinements of dictated curricula and free from many work rules written by teachers unions. Their school would have been a back-to-basics academy from kindergarten through fifth grade, designed to attack Topeka's 23-point gap between the reading proficiency of black and Hispanic third-graders and that of whites.

When the school board rejected the application of the two educators -- African American women -- but praised their dedication to children, one of the women was not mollified: "A bleeding heart does nothing but ruin the carpet."

Sumner is a National Historic Landmark because in 1950 Oliver Brown walked with his 7-year-old daughter Linda the seven blocks from their home to Sumner, where he unsuccessfully tried to enroll her. But Topeka's schools were segregated, so Linda went to the school for blacks 21 blocks from her home, and her father went to court. Four years later came Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

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Notes on Washington DC's School Climate

Marc Fisher:

Somehow, when good, bright people get serious about the fact that thousands of children emerge from this city's schools year after year without knowing how to read well enough to get a decent job, those good people end up busying themselves with little boxes on a piece of paper.

Both say the schools alone can't make the fix; the city must intercede in the lives of dysfunctional families before children are born. Both agree the District has to knock down the walls that separate the agencies that deal with family pathologies -- agencies focused on prenatal care, child abuse, substance problems, street crime, absentee parents, unemployment, adult illiteracy, and on and on must finally coordinate how myriad arms of the city deal with a single child.

Both Reinoso and Bobb can and do catalogue the failures of the school board, the impossibility of getting stuff done in the labyrinth of the school bureaucracy and the fact that there is precious little reason for parents to send their kids to D.C. schools if they have any choice.

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February 1, 2007

Milwaukee Schools to "Cull Troublemakers"

Alan Borsuk:

Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said Thursday that his budget proposal for next year will call for more students to be placed in alternative schools, with the goal of reducing the number of students who are doing poorly - and who frequently are the source of problems - in the main body of high schools and middle schools.
Related Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial.

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How Much Are Public School Teachers Paid?

Jay Greene and Marcus Winters:

Education policy discussions often assume that public school teachers are poorly paid. Typically absent in these discussions about teacher pay, however, is any reference to systematic data on how much public school teachers are actually paid, especially relative to other occupations. Because discussions about teacher pay rarely reference these data, the policy debate on education reform has proceeded without a clear understanding of these issues.

This report compiles information on the hourly pay of public school teachers nationally and in 66 metropolitan areas, as collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in its annual National Compensation Survey. We also compare the reported hourly income of public school teachers with that of workers in similar professions, as defined by the BLS. This report goes on to use the BLS data to analyze whether there is a relationship between higher relative pay for public school teachers and higher student achievement as measured by high school graduation rates.

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"No Need to Worry About Math Education"

From a reader involved in these issues, by Kerry Hill: Demystifying math: UW-Madison scholars maintain focus on effective teaching, learning

Tuesday, January 30, 2007 - By Kerry Hill

New generation of Math Ed

Many people still see mathematics as a difficult subject that only a select group of students with special abilities can master. Learning math, they believe, consists of memorizing facts and mastering the application of complicated concepts and procedures.

“That’s simply not true,” says Thomas Carpenter, who has plenty of research to justify his succinct rebuttal.

A pioneering cohort of education researchers at UW-Madison – led by Carpenter, Thomas Romberg, and Elizabeth Fennema, all emeriti professors in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction – have shown, for instance, that children of all abilities enter school with an informal base of mathematical knowledge that enables them to learn more substantive material than traditionally taught.

For more than 30 years, these researchers have put the learning of mathematics under the microscope in search of ways to improve teaching and student understanding. They’ve found, for instance, that math instruction can be strengthened by tapping into children’s informal knowledge, by teaching them to use the same practices as mathematicians, and by engaging them in real-world problem-solving instead of rote drills on abstract skills.

By making math more accessible to students of all ages and abilities, they hope that more people will recognize mathematics as they do – as a language for thought.

Having established a solid foundation, the trail-blazing cohort led by Carpenter, Romberg, and Fennema in recent years has been passing the torch at UW-Madison to a new generation of scholars.

“The Mathematics Education area is in good hands,” says Eric Knuth, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, who leads a group that includes three assistant professors – Amy Ellis, Victoria Hand, and Edd Taylor. Adapting a phrase used by Sir Isaac Newton, Knuth adds, “We are continuing on the shoulders of giants.”

Like those giants, all four are engaged in research aimed at adding to the body of knowledge of how diverse populations of students learn and understand mathematics. Likewise, they are dedicated to equipping current and future teachers with the best practices, based on the latest knowledge, for supporting all students in their development of mathematical understanding and reasoning.

The path of giants

Tom Romberg describes mathematics as “a human activity involving the ability to represent quantitative and spatial relationships in a broad range of situations, express those relations using the language of mathematics, and use various techniques to carry out numerical procedures.” While humans have used mathematics for centuries to help make sense of the world, he explains, research on the teaching and learning of math is a relatively young discipline.

Romberg is widely recognized for playing an instrumental role in creating the mathematics education research community. Since the late 1960s, he has held numerous leadership posts, including the chairmanships of the Research Committee for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the Special Interest Group in Mathematics Education for the American Educational Research Association, and the North American branch of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education.

In the 1990s, he chaired the NCTM committee that produced the mathematics curriculum and assessment standards, marking the start of the standards movement in education. He notes, “These documents have had considerable impact throughout the world.”

While the accomplishments to date have been substantial, Romberg and his colleagues acknowledge that plenty of work remains. “While all instructional programs have a goal of teaching mathematics so that students ‘understand,’ there has been little evidence that the goal has been reached,” he says.

With evident pride, Romberg and Tom Carpenter describe the contributions of mathematics education research at UW-Madison.

“As a consequence of our program of research for over 30 years, we have developed a workable conception of how to characterize ‘student understanding’ and some ‘powerful practices’ that lead to such understanding,” Romberg explains. “The impact of these conceptions is reflected in our most recent work on teaching early algebra, the development of a middle-school curriculum (Mathematics in Context), and the creation of a classroom assessment system.”

“We have been instrumental in bringing together research on the development of students’ mathematical thinking and the research on classroom interactions and classroom processes,” adds Carpenter, whose credits include serving as editor of NCTM’s Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, the leading journal in the field. He also has been honored for his research publications by the NCTM and the American Educational Research Association.

“This has been a major development in research during the last 15 years,” he says, “and our faculty members have played major roles both in articulating the need and conceptual framework for the integration and in the specific research that was at the forefront of the changes.”

Carpenter also points to his collaboration with Fennema – who is especially known for her research on gender differences in learning mathematics – and others in the development of Cognitively Guided Instruction, a highly regarded professional development program. CGI prepares elementary school teachers to recognize and build on their students’ informal mathematical knowledge by providing a framework that teachers can use in making their own instructional decisions.

“I would consider the remarkable accomplishments of teachers I have worked with in CGI as one of the most significant and satisfying aspects of my career,” says Carpenter. “Elizabeth and I clearly cannot take credit for all they have accomplished, but my relations with them and whatever I contributed to them has been exceptionally rewarding.”

In her CGI research of children in grades 1-3, Fennema noted gender differences in the strategies boys and girls used to solve problems, although not in the results. Girls tended to use more concrete strategies like modeling and counting, while boys used more abstract strategies. Fennema says this study revealed that gender differences emerged earlier and were more complex than previously recognized.

Both Romberg and Carpenter have directed the National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science (NCISLA), a decade-long (1995-2004), federally funded initiative based at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER). NCISLA involved researchers at six institutions collaborating with K-12 teachers to advance effective reform of mathematics and science.

The researchers found, for example, that children are capable of learning more complex ideas at earlier ages than traditionally thought, that teachers need more substantive professional development about student thinking and subject matter, and that standardized tests do not adequately assess students’ long-term growth of knowledge nor depth of understanding.

Carpenter, Romberg, and other NCISLA staff summarized the center’s work in Understanding Mathematics and Science Matters (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005), and created a multimedia product, Powerful Practices in Mathematics and Science (Madison, Wis.: NCISLA, 2004) for use by practitioners.

Beyond the research findings and publications, the Mathematics Education program can measure its enduring influence in terms of people. “One of our most significant contributions has been the outstanding graduates of our program who have made important contributions to mathematics education,” Carpenter notes.

Since 1980, UW-Madison has conferred 84 Ph.D.’s in mathematics education and has graduates on the faculties of many universities, including major state universities in California, Georgia, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, Arizona, Missouri, Delaware, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.

New faces, same focus

Effective mathematics instruction, explains Eric Knuth, involves three key components: understanding how children learn, preparing teachers who can tap into and build upon that knowledge, and having a curriculum that supports these efforts. Like the pioneers who preceded them, Knuth and his mathematics education colleagues are engaged in all three parts.

Like Carpenter and others, Knuth and Amy Ellis – who joined the faculty in 1999 and 2004, respectively – are interested in promoting the development of algebraic reasoning. Math researchers describe algebra – which introduces students to the use of symbolic representations – as the gatekeeper between the concrete calculations of arithmetic and higher levels of mathematics.

“A lack of success in algebra means losing opportunities for advanced studies,” Knuth explains. Ellis notes that algebra – which involves “the study of structures and systems generalized beyond specific computations and relations” – plays a vital role in access to college and careers in the sciences and engineering, which are associated with higher earning power.

They regard the development of algebraic reasoning as far too important to wait until eighth or ninth grade, when many students first encounter algebra. The seeds of algebraic reasoning need to be planted and nurtured in the elementary and middle school grades, they say.

“We want students to move beyond solving one problem,” Ellis says.

In studies funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), Knuth and Ellis are looking at the development of key practices used by mathematicians and scientists –generalization, modeling, and proof/justification – that are often not emphasized by traditional instruction.

Algebra marks the first time that students are encouraged to generalize patterns, relations, and functions, says Ellis, adding “it’s fairly common for them to struggle with this.”

Ellis, whose work on generalization is funded by a three-year NSF Research on Learning and Education (RoLE) grant, describes generalization as “a sophisticated mathematical activity that involves extending the range of reasoning beyond one specific problem.”

She has found that the development of the abilities to make generalizations and to construct arguments to justify mathematical claims seem to go hand in hand. She also has seen that grounding abstract lessons in measurable situations enhances students’ abilities to generalize.

In a five-year, longitudinal study funded by an NSF Career grant, Knuth has been examining how middle school students acquire and develop their understanding of what constitutes evidence and justification and how such understandings can be refined and extended. Traditionally, students first encounter – and struggle with – justification and proofs in high school geometry.

Knuth and Ellis also have been working with Charles Kalish, professor of educational psychology, to study relationships between student reasoning inside and outside of math. Understanding how children develop their reasoning abilities, especially those related to mathematics, can lead to instructional practices that support and foster their development.

Knuth and other UW-Madison researchers have looked at such essential concepts as how elementary and middle school students understand the equal sign (=). They’ve found that, instead of recognizing that this symbol indicates a relationship – that one side is equivalent to the other – many children interpret it as something like “find the total,” “the answer comes next,” or “do something.”

NCISLA’s Powerful Practices video provides an example: Asked to fill in the blank on 8 + 4 = __ + 5, a fourth-grade class reaches a quick consensus that the correct answer is 12 (the sum of 8 and 4, ignoring the 5). Instead of correcting them, the teacher poses a series of number sentences that prompt the students to re-evaluate their understanding of the equal sign and, ultimately, recognize that the correct answer to the original question is 7.

“We need to provide these kinds of experiences for kids much earlier,” Knuth says.

Edd Taylor and Vicki Hand – who joined the faculty in 2004 and 2005, respectively – address how issues of diversity and equity affect the teaching and learning of mathematics – an area where Elizabeth Fennema and other UW-Madison faculty have made significant contributions. Both Taylor and Hand are involved with Diversity in Mathematics Education (DiME), the National Science Foundation Center for Learning and Teaching based at UW-Madison and led by Tom Carpenter.

DiME – a consortium consisting of UW-Madison, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of California at Berkeley, and school districts in Madison, Los Angeles, and Berkeley – is engaged in preparing a new generation of mathematics education scholars, creating professional development programs for teachers, and facilitating research on equity issues in mathematics education. More information about this project is available online at

To the casual observer, the teaching and learning of mathematics might not seem like something that’s affected by ethnic and cultural diversity. Yet, Hand notes, “The notion that mathematics education is culture-free is problematic.”

The broader cultural and social context in which mathematics education takes place influences teachers’ perceptions of what productive and unproductive learning look like – for instance, what “counts” as a justification for students’ mathematical ideas. Hand says misalignments can occur when these cultural differences aren’t taken into account.

Hand has examined structural issues, such as the impact of tracking on opportunities for learning and students’ trajectories for higher education. She has noted that, for a variety of reasons, students of color more often end up in low-tracked classes. Often, these classrooms are less rigorous and put students on a trajectory that doesn’t prepare them for college, she explains. This perpetuates the achievement gap, and feeds the stereotypical view that students of color cannot do math. DiME researchers have found that tracking, even when eliminated as policy, might continue in practice.

Hand also considers broader issues – for example, how the inequitable distribution of high-quality teachers across urban and suburban schools affects students’ opportunities to learn – as she investigates the interplay of structure and student backgrounds.

In his research, Taylor looks beyond the conventional methods used by the mathematics education community at the informal ways children think about math and solve problems outside of school. For instance, he has studied the mathematical development of children who spend money at corner stores in low-income neighborhoods.

Taylor explains that students might solve problems more easily if linked to their everyday practices. For example, a traditional problem – e.g., 160 – 100 = __ – can be presented in a way that draws upon their understanding of money: “If you have $160 and I take away $100, how much do you have left?”

Making teachers more aware of cultural understanding and experiences outside of the classroom can help them create classroom environments that tap into how their students reason through mathematics, he explains. He plans to extend his investigation of math reasoning outside of school to religious organizations and such practices as tithing.

“We want teachers to honor more ways of doing math,” he says. “That’s just good mathematics.”

Influencing practice

“The research has to impact more than just the academic community,” says Knuth.

He and his colleagues underscored the importance of working directly with classroom teachers and connecting their research to the preparation of new teachers. The bridge between research and classroom instruction includes curriculum development and effective teacher education and professional development.

“The kind of research we do has us engaged in the local schools,” explains Ellis. In addition to advancing the research, this benefits the school community and helps teachers address current needs.

Knuth and Ellis design and run the preparation program for secondary mathematics teachers. As the program director, Knuth arranges field placements for pre-service teachers, oversees the teaching assistants who teach methods courses and/or provide field placement supervision, and communicates with cooperating teachers. Taylor directs the preparation program for elementary mathematics teachers.

All four teach also undergraduate courses. Knuth has a class on teaching mathematics with technology. Hand, Taylor, and Ellis have taught various methods courses. Ellis helps run a seminar for pre-service teachers in their final year, and Hand has co-taught a geometry content course within the Mathematics Department for pre-service teachers.

“We all work with graduate students, as well,” Ellis adds. “There is a core sequence of four graduate courses that our math-ed students take, and we all four teach these courses.”

And, all four work with in-service teachers.

Knuth has directed several professional development programs for secondary school mathematics teachers, ranging from a three-year program designed to help high school teachers learn to teach with technology to multi-year programs designed to help middle-school teachers foster students’ mathematical reasoning.

He and Ellis ran a professional development program for pre-service teachers and their cooperating teachers that was geared toward promoting the mentoring relationship. The program was funded by a small grant from the Calculus Consortium for Higher Education.

Through DiME, Hand and Taylor have been involved in creating professional development programs for local school districts to make teachers aware of the learning opportunities that they create. Hand conducts professional development for Madison teachers on equity in mathematics instruction.

Hand and UW-Madison graduate students work with math teachers in the Madison Metropolitan School District in a group designed as a venue for sharing knowledge. She says that efforts by teachers to improve mathematics education for all students in the district have made significant progress over the last three years in narrowing the achievement gap.

The Mathematics Education group also has collaborated with the Mathematics Department to improve the preparation of middle school teachers in both content and teaching diverse populations.

“Teachers need to be given more respect for work they do in their field,” Hand says. “It’s not just about knowing mathematics, but about knowing how to teach mathematics to diverse learners.”

“The research influences how we teach the teachers,” Ellis says. “The teacher’s role is critical in shaping student reasoning.”

“In the end,” Knuth says, “we want all students to learn to meaningfully engage in mathematical practices and to develop increasingly more sophisticated ways of engaging in those practices.”

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Why Johnny can't read very well and what to do about it

Teacher Thomas Biel:

Juan/Sean/John doesn't read too well because we don't teach him how very well. Results from the 2005-'06 Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations show that 55% of Milwaukee Public Schools 10th-graders do not read at a proficient level. The majority of our kids have reading problems.

Leaders in the school district, in the Legislature and at the federal level need to take a stand and do something practical, like earmarking funds for literacy wherever literacy is a problem.

We need to go way beyond literacy coaches and in-content-area reading programs to try to solve this problem.

Reading should be made a department in every high school just as math, science and English are, and reading classes should become a part of every high school curriculum.

I'm not saying that we don't teach reading in the high schools. But, primarily, we teach reading to students who already can read. Those who can't, or who can't read well, struggle, and many fail. If they aren't designated special education or a special needs learner, these students disappear into the cracks of the system.

Typically, the struggling reader who has fallen behind somewhere in his education gets to high school and is expected to take the same English, history, science and math classes as the proficient reader.

The student in junior-year English who reads at a third-grade level but is studying the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson or "The Fall of the House of Usher" will drown in language he doesn't understand. The textbooks he has to read for history, science and math will be eight grades beyond his reading level.

hat student is primed for failure. While the content-area teacher can provide reading instruction, it is impossible to meet the needs of all the struggling readers and non-readers (reading at a second-grade level or lower) when one teacher teaches 30 students at a time.

If a 9th- or 10th-grade student hasn't passed a proficiency test in reading, shouldn't learning to read be the core of his whole curriculum? What other subjects could this student do well in if he or she can't comprehend the course material? What does one do if one can't read? Without basic reading skills, a whole life can spin out of control.

The reason reading does not lie at the center of our schools is the same reason fighting poverty is not at the top of our government's list. Our priorities are out of whack: We are interested in profit; we invest in success, not in those on the brink of failure; and we want a measurable return on our dollar.

Federally, the billions of dollars spent for war and massive violence is mind-boggling at a time when there is not enough money for improving education.

The point is: Make reading and literacy the primary educational goal at the high school level. Then hire and train more people to do it, to study it, to carry it into the community through colleges and into the schools. Push teaching as a great career and attract talented young people.

Too many teenagers stand at the brink, where not much seems possible in life. We can make the possible a stronger likelihood.

We can push the study of literacy and reading at the high school level.

Refocus legislation from conceal and carry to reveal and carry books. At the federal level, spend money on tools of mass instruction. Inject reading into brains so we can help prevent drugs injected into veins.

The payoff will be innumerable, immeasurable dividends.

Thomas Biel of Milwaukee is a high school English teacher for the Milwaukee Public Schools. His e-mail address is

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Bill Cosby talks about what teachers need to do better.

Teacher Magazine:

Published: January 1, 2007

Tough Love

Bill Cosby talks about what teachers need to do better.
By Denise Kersten Wills

Bill Cosby made headlines in October when he urged teachers to do a better job of explaining to students the importance of the subjects they teach.

The comedian, best known as the beloved Dr. Huxtable from TV’s long-running hit The Cosby Show, has been outspoken in recent years about what the black community needs to do to close the racial achievement gap.

The Cos isn’t a classroom veteran, but neither is he a stranger to education—he holds master’s and doctorate degrees in the field.

We followed up with Cosby and asked him to explain his remarks.

Recent newspaper accounts said you had attacked teachers for not doing enough to help kids.

They heard me, but they didn’t print what I did. What came out was, ‘Well, he’s at it again, and now he’s after the teachers.’

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Arkansas Town Offers Students Free College Education

Associated Press:

Prospects for the future changed significantly for many students at El Dorado High School on Monday with the announcement by an oil company that it is putting up $50 million for college scholarships in its working-class hometown over the next 20 years. Murphy Oil Co. said it wants to increase the number of students who attend college and perhaps attract new businesses to El Dorado, with the scholarships a selling point. It said it also hopes the program will help create better jobs here for students to come back to after graduating from college."This is a huge day. As of today, El Dorado High School graduates will have an unprecedented opportunity to continue their education," Superintendent Bob Watson told students."For some students, this is life-changing. Students who have worked hard, but would not have been able to attend college because of financial limitations, now have the means to do so."The program begins with this spring's graduating class. El Dorado High School has about 250 graduates each year, about 65 percent of whom go to college.Students gathered at an assembly screamed and applauded when the program was unveiled.

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