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March 31, 2007

Ruth Robarts: Cole is just what the School Board needs

Dear Editor: My ten years on the Madison School Board have convinced me that the board's highest priorities must be new ideas and new community partnerships. Maya Cole gets my vote for Seat 5 because innovation is her top priority and she has the energy to bring the community together to plan for the future.

As a community and school activist, Maya has learned to listen and build consensus. She is an independent and original thinker at a time when the board needs exactly that.

Inadequate state and federal funding for public schools and overreliance on residential property tax revenues are very significant problems. However, we cannot postpone innovation until those problems are solved.

We must start today by encouraging innovative programs, including charter schools, and enlisting business and community allies in new funding partnerships. We must evaluate curriculum in ways that are understandable and be willing to change when the student results are not as promising as we had hoped.

Together we must envision a high-achieving, stable school system in 2020. A shared vision of the future of our schools will help us agree on the changes necessary at the state and federal level as well as the changes necessary here and now.

Maya Cole understands innovation and can provide critical leadership during these difficult times. Please join me in voting for her.

Ruth Robarts, Member, Board of Education, Madison

A letter to the editor

Posted by James Zellmer at 8:43 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Hasty Vote Wisely Avoided

"If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right," board member Lucy Mathiak argued for the majority of the board in rejecting longtime board member Carol Carstensen's push for the referendum.

School Board Member Mathiak has also detailed a number of options other than closing near eastside schools, which she does not support.

WI State Journal Editorial

Posted by barb s at 6:27 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

An open letter to the Superintendent of Madison Metropolitan Schools

Dear Mr. Rainwater:

I just found out from the principal at my school that you cut the allocations for SAGE teachers and Strings teachers, but the budget hasn't even been approved. Will you please stop playing politics with our children education? It?s time to think about your legacy.

As you step up to the chopping block for your last whack at the budget, please think carefully about how your tenure as our superintendent will be viewed a little more than a year from now when your position is filled by a forward-thinking problem-solver. (Our district will settle for no less.)

Do you want to be remembered as the Superintendent who increased class size as a first step when the budget got tight? Small class size repeatedly rises to the top as the best way to enhance student achievement at the elementary level. Why would you take away one of best protections against federal funding cuts mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act? Rather than increase pupil to teacher ratios, have you checked to see if the pupil to administrative staff ratio has been brought closer to the state-wide average? (In 2002, Madison Metropolitan schools were at 195 children per administrator; the rest of the state averaged 242 children per administrator.) Have the few administrative openings you?ve left unfilled over the past few years actually brought us into line with the rest of the state?

While Oprah Winfrey is handing out free violins, do you really want to be remembered as the guy who saved less than 1/10 of 1% from the budget ($300,000) by cutting Elementary Strings and effectively locking out low and middle-income students from any real chance to master a musical instrument before being relegated to a lifetime of working to pay the bills? (This program served over 1600 children last year, more than 40% of whom were minority or low-income.) Couldn't your administration come up with even one creative funding idea for this much loved program? How about REACH funds? That union-negotiated teacher allocation can be used for anything. What about procuring foundation grants for Fine Arts and Sports? You nodded in agreement to this idea 4 years ago, but have since blocked every attempt by saying the district can't "earmark" funds.

Do you really want to be remembered as the Superintendent who closed the minority achievement gap by bringing down the achievement level of our highest performing students? We have a history of providing great opportunities for students at all levels of academic involvement and achievement. Heterogeneous grouping at the freshman and sophomore level doesn't save any money, but does reduce achievement scores. (In 2003, 70% of West High's students scored "advanced" on the 10th-grade state reading test; that dropped to 61% in 2005 after homogenizing freshman English.) Do you really want a legacy of lean and mean urban schools with nothing more to offer than a strict expulsion policy?

Do you really want to be remembered as the Superintendent who shook hands with John Matthews enough to cancel out the checks and balances between the Administration and MTI?
Why do our teachers get WPS insurance at less than market rates when every other University employee, firefighter, police officer and City employee in this town has to pay what it really costs to have premium health insurance? It doesn't have anything to do with John Matthews sitting on the board of WPS, does it? Wouldn't our city be better served by having real cost-saving options to negotiate with MTI?

And lastly, why don't you act up a little bit? Since you can't lose your job for it, why don't you shake up the system? Public schools will never be able to compete with the private sector because we are legally mandated to provide education to all children, regardless of their special needs. Morally and ethically, our society can do no less. Why don't you spend the last few months of your tenure lobbying the State and Federal Government to provide funding for these kids? Send them a bill for just one special needs child who needs a full-time aide. Ask them to use school vouchers to cover that cost. Now that would be a legacy.

Posted by Maureen Rickman at 5:27 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Some interesting insight into another district's budgeting process, knowledge, and challenges.

Shane Samuels:

There are those who like to work with numbers, and then there are those who figure school budgets. They're not necessarily the same person.

School finance consists of a labyrinth of property values, student enrollment totals, federal aid, and state aid. Only two people in Chetek claim to understand the funding formula from top to bottom: Superintendent Al Brown and business manager Tammy Lenbom.

A couple times of year their budgetary work catches the public's eye - once in September when it comes time to pass the budget at the annual meeting, and once about this time of year when Brown and Lenbom propose that budget for next fall.

The budget proposal period is more visible, because that is when we find out how those financial decisions will affect people's lives - teachers who may be forced to look for new jobs, or students who might have their favorite class offering taken away from them.

While it takes a professional to explain a school budget line item by line item, this article is an attempt to at least summarize how school administrators and the school board reach their budgetary decisions, as well as detailing some of the struggles they face.

The timetable

The budget process begins in earnest in November. After the current year's budget is passed by the school board at the annual meeting near the end of September, Brown and Lenbom have a few weeks in October when they don't have to focus on planning a budget, though it's always in the back of their minds.

"Tammy and I are never out of a budget cycle," Brown says.

Under board policy, Brown must present a balanced budget to the school board each spring. Brown and Lenbom begin that process by projecting enrollments and revenue in November of each year. The duo uses a forecast model driven solely on assumptions which are reflective of current school conditions and state and federal legislation.

In December Brown and Lenbom review budget estimates with the board's finance committee, factoring in inflation costs and establishing educational goals at the same time. They also receive facility maintenance needs from each building principal, who turn in any program or class changes they may want to suggest.

By January, the process is in full swing.

"January is the busiest month," Brown said. "That's when we throw everything out on the table."

Building budget allocations are set, and principals need to determine where they can make reductions, or additions for that matter.

"We actually talk more about improving what we have than what we have to cut," Brown claims.

Teacher contracts are reviewed. Brown and Lenbom estimate the number of retirements they'll have and how the staff will be affected. The student registration process also begins in January. The major maintenance budget is allocated.

The open enrollment deadline passes in February, so the administration has more concrete numbers on what enrollment will be for the following year. Registration is completed, and principals can further determine their staffing needs.

By March, Brown and Lenbom can project a budget, and teacher contracts are distributed. That gives staff who may not be returning a head start on finding new employment.

Retirement notifications must be turned in to the administrative office in April, and final decisions on staff are made at the end of the month.

In May, the finance committee reviews the preliminary budget, and final staffing levels are officially announced for the following year.

Over the summer, Lenbom applies the finishing touches and prepares a budget booklet for the annual meeting in September. The district must wait for the third Friday in September to determine its student enrollment for that school year, which is then cemented into the budget.

The board then approves the property tax levy at the annual meeting in September, which determines how much financial support taxpayers will be providing the district.

Throughout the school year, Lenbom provides the school board with quarterly monitoring reports, insuring the board is well-informed about the district's financial status.

Revenue sources

Perhaps creating the most consternation for Brown and Lenbom is trying to determine how much state funding the district will receive, particularly in a year such as 2007 when the governor and legislature are settling on the next biennial budget.

Their negotiations can carry on late into the summer and even early fall, meaning school administrators all over the state are guessing how much money they'll be receiving from the state.

In 1993, the state legislature imposed limits on how much revenue school districts can take in as a way to ease the burden on property taxpayers. Amid frequent criticism from school administrators, Gov. Jim Doyle has kept revenue caps in place during his tenure.

One of the great misconceptions involving school finance concerns the state's pledge to two-thirds funding for public schools. Not every district receives two-thirds state funding. The state as a whole receives that amount - some districts receive much less, some districts receive much more.

That amount is determined by a complicated state formula figuring the district's prior year's expenditures and the district's property value per student. The lower the property value per student, the more state aid that district will receive.

That formula works against a district like Chetek, which has high property values. In 2006-07, Chetek received only 49 percent funding from the state, not even half of its overall revenues.

"Is property value a true indicator of the wealth of your community?" asks Brown. "In our case, no. Around here we have people who are property-rich but income-poor. "

Brown has seen that trend gradually reverse in his 13 years with the district.
"When I first started here in 1994, we were 76-percent funded by the state," Brown points out.

Property values in the Chetek district have ballooned in the last decade. In the 1996-97 school year, the equalized property valuation was $221,251,132 in the district. In 2006-07 that figure climbed to $670,762,641.

Comparing school revenues using the latest information (2005-06) from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX), Barron received 59 percent of its revenues from the state, Cameron 62 percent, Colfax 72 percent, Rice Lake 54 percent, Weyerhaeuser 24 percent, and New Auburn 23 percent.

The majority of the remaining revenue comes from property taxes paid by residents in the school district. In 2006-07, taxpayers contributed 45 percent of the revenue to the district. Federal aid consisted of 5 percent of Chetek's revenue.

Brown says that revenue caps may not be the ideal funding structure for public education, but they may be as good as schools can hope for.

"Any time your dollars are connected to a political process, this is about as good as it's going to get," Brown acknowledges.


Most of any school district's expenses are made up of salary and benefits packages for staff members. Seventy-eight percent of Chetek's expenses in 2006-07 went to salaries and benefits. Brown says the state average expended in salaries and benefits is approximately 83 percent.

The remaining expenditures consist of instructional materials, operating costs, and maintenance costs.

The base salary for Chetek teachers in 2006-07 was $30,356. That tells only part of the story, as far as expenditures are concerned. Health insurance costs are killing school districts, just as they are killing businesses in the private sector.

Last year alone Chetek saw an increase of 20 percent in the cost of insurance premiums. In 2002-03, the district saw a leap of 34 percent in premium costs.

In 2000-01, the School District of Chetek was paying $7,802.64 in premiums for each teacher. In 2006-07 that figure reached $17,258.88.

Just as the administration estimates what the state's budget may be, school officials sometimes have to guess what their teachers' contract figures will be. Budgets are often approved before teachers' unions have settled with districts regarding their salaries and benefits. Unions and districts may not settle on a contract until that contract has nearly expired, putting them behind schedule on negotiations for the upcoming budget cycle. For example, the Chetek district has been in arbitration with its custodial staff and their union for almost two years.

Gov. Doyle has proposed eliminating the qualified economic offer from his state budget. The QEO insures that teachers will not receive below a 3.8 percent increase in their salaries and benefits packages. Without the QEO, districts could offer more of a raise, or none at all.

Chetek has a history of offering slightly more than the established QEO. In 2006-07, the Chetek district and teachers negotiated a raise of 4.66 percent. In 2005-06, that increase was 4.09.

Where Chetek sits in 06-07

The Chetek administration has proposed a budget reduction of $363,750 in 2006-07. Reductions in staffing will occur in elementary instrumental music; high school math, technical education, business education, and English; and aide positions at both Roselawn Elementary and the high school/middle school IMC.

Breaking it down by building, Roselawn will reduce $16,096, the middle school $30,411, and the high school $128,331.

District operating costs will be reduced by $131,533, and special education costs will be reduced by $46,986.

The high school often sees many of the reductions in costs because of the amount of instructional materials needed. The high school offers elective courses, which are usually the first to be reduced in a budget crunch.

"We have more equipment intensive areas - such as tech ed, business ed, band, music - and more perishables in classes like art and science," high school principal Ed Harris explains. "Our operating budgets are fairly predictable from year to year."

Chetek continues to grapple with an open enrollment problem in the district. In 2006-07, 64 students open-enrolled out of the district, with seven coming in. Those numbers appear to be leveling out, as 65 open enrolled out in 2005-06, while eight came into the district.

Brown maintains this is the result of families moving into the district, but choosing to let their children attend their former, more familiar district, and not the result of Chetek's district chasing students away.

Brown says Chetek combats this issue with unique offerings such as its virtual school and the fledgling Learning Options Program, which Brown adds is designed to prevent high school dropouts.

Chetek couldn't absorb such reductions without the dedication of its staff, Brown says. That's no consolation to a laid-off teacher who's looking for a new job to help support a baby at home, or a student who just saw his favorite teacher reduced to part-time. But such is the price paid in the ever-changing realm of public education.

"The reason we can continue is because of the people we have working here," Brown says. "They allowed us to have some of the things we have that other districts don't have. Everyone in our district is working harder now than ever before."

Posted by Peter Gascoyne at 4:53 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Linda Martin Files Suit Against the MMSD


Linda Martin, Plaintiff v. Madison Metropolitan School District and District officials Roger Price, Renee Bremer, Mary Teppo and Donna Williams, Defendants.

The District was Ms. Martin’s employer. Ms. Martin received a right to sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Allegations include “bid rigging;” discrimination during a hiring process; denial of free speech rights; harassment; wrongful discharge; and intentional violation of federal law.

Susan Troller: School District Sued for Harrassment.

Count I: Madison Metropolitan School District: Discrimination and violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended. This count alleges unlawful discrimination in hiring practices.

Count II: Price, Teppo and Williams: First Amendment Violation. This count alleges discrimination of protected speech when the Plaintiff spoke out regarding bid-rigging activities, budgeting improprieties, and improper distribution of benefits to a co-employee.

The Plaintiff requests recovery of compensatory damages; attorney’s fees, costs and disbursements; award of punitive damages; prejudgment interest and post-judgment interest; and such further relief the Court deems equitable, just and proper.

The Plaintiff demands a trial by jury.

Posted by Don Severson at 4:43 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Cole endorsement was right on money

The Cap Times carried the following letter to the editor:

Dear Editor: I am supporting Maya Cole for Seat 5 of the Madison School Board.

The Capital Times was right in endorsing her candidacy. Her work ethic, thoroughness and openness to new ideas make her an ideal candidate. The school district is facing many tough issues, the most pressing being whether the elected School Board actually sets policy for the district or whether it merely acts as a rubber stamp for the administration and the teachers union.

Maya has shown a willingness to consider all points of view before making a decision and will be a thoughtful addition to the board.

While Maya and I probably do not agree on much regarding partisan politics, I feel confortable with her being on the School Board. Decisions regarding our children cannot be made based on political considerations and I believe that Maya Cole will leave politics at the door when making decisions about our schools.

Maya is giving us an opportunity to take back our schools and I urge everyone to vote for her on Tuesday.

John S. Pinto

Posted by Ed Blume at 3:54 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MMSD, MTI and Health Insurance - A Clarification

There seems to be some confusion about the negotiations between MTI and the school district. The Board WILL be negotiating health insurance with MTI; the Board has NOT taken health insurance off the table. The Voluntary Impasse Agreement (VIA) does NOT eliminate this as a subject of negotiation. The VIA DOES set up a structure for negotiations: a schedule, agreement by MTI that teachers will not engage in job actions, dates for the start of mediation if a settlement hasn’t been reached, name of the mediator, a date for binding arbitration if mediation is not successful and name of the arbitrator. IF no voluntary settlement is reached and we go to binding arbitration, MTI agrees that it will not propose a change to the salary schedule and the Board agrees not to change health insurance. Those agreements are meant to make binding arbitration less attractive to both sides – and to put the emphasis on reaching a voluntary agreement.

Because the Board has not yet provided MTI with our proposals I cannot discuss them in public. I can however talk about the settlement we have reached with our custodians who are represented by AFSCME. The custodians agreed to change their health insurance to a choice of 3 HMO’s (Group Health, Physicians Plus and DeanCare). The savings from this change allowed a greater salary increase (2.5%). A small amount of the savings ($15,000) went back to the budget. These savings are realized only in the first year – thereafter, the base for figuring future costs uses the lower health insurance costs.

One of the most dramatic changes of the last 5 years (and one that has been little noted) is the movement of teachers from WPS to Group Health. This year more than 50% of the teacher’s unit take Group Health Insurance – the lowest priced HMO in the community.

A more complete discussion of this issue can be found at:,com_jd-wp/Itemid,31/p,51/
Carol Carstensen

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

Board needs Cole and Thomas

Our schools need a new School Board majority, one committed to open government, including transparent budgeting and decision-making, and accountability to the community.

The next board will also hire the new superintendent and handle his or her performance evaluation, something Superintendent Art Rainwater has had little of from the current majority.

We stand at a crossroads with this election. Will it be more of the same top-down, teachers union-directed governance, or independent, open-minded, responsive representation?

There are many good issues-based reasons to vote for Maya Cole and Rick Thomas, but concerns for fair process and superintendent selection stand out for me.

It will take electing them both to gain that new majority.

- Joan Knoebel, Madison

Posted by Joan Knoebel at 8:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 30, 2007

Unions pump funds to Passman

According to the last campaign finance report available on this blog, these teachers' unions contributed to Marj Passman's campaign:

$1,560 - MTI Voters

$250 - United Northeast Educators, Green Bay

$250 - Green Bay PAC (Green Bay Education Association)

$500 - Wi Ed. Assoc. Council Fox Valley PAC

$200 - Children's Great School Fund (WEAC's conduit)

Posted by Ed Blume at 1:48 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 29, 2007

Can Reading Recover?

A consultant to the National Reading Panel blogs about "...the perfect storm in reading."

Posted by barb s at 10:31 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Board of Education Candidate Forum of March 27, 2007

Board of Education Candidate Forum of March 27, 2007 was held in the cafeteria of Leopold School.

QT Video
The video of the meeting is 160MB, and 1 hour and 50 minutes long. Click on the image at left to watch the video.
The video contains chapter headings which allow quick navigation to sections of the meeting. The video will play immediately, while the file continues to download.

Moderator: Laura Croft of the Middleton League of Women Voters
Panelists: (from left to right)
       Rick Thomas and Beth Moss,        vying for Seat 3
       Maya Cole and Marj Passman,      vying for Seat 5
       Johnny Winston and Tom Brew,      vying for Seat 4

The topics and questions covered are

  • Opening statements
  • Given that funding for TAG is again being cut, how would you raise money to support such programs?
  • How would you help coordinate the various PTO's and other community groups to improve school effectiveness?
  • How would you reduce the educational gap between poorer performing kids and more the successful without holding back the more successful kids?
  • The MMSD Administration is proposing to cut SAGE, how would you vote on this proposal and why?
  • Should community service be required of students before graduation?
  • More and more families are leaving the school district because their children are not being academically challenged. How would you deal with this issue?
  • What is your plan to handle the growth in the Leopold-Thoreau area?
  • Shorewood and Fitchburg parent coalitions are being formed to discuss creating their own school districts. Why are these parents so upset?
  • Since the average employee costs the district $50 per hour, shouldn't the budget gap remedy include employee wage and benefit sacrifices?
  • If you do not want to close schools, where else would you cut, and would that include school athletics?
  • Closing statements.

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

"Cole's Fine Qualities Make Her Right Choice" -- The Capital Times, 3/29/07

Dear Editor,

We are longtime education activists who are enthusiastically supporting Maya Cole for Seat #5 on the Madison School Board. We would like your readers to know why.

Maya is an independent progressive candidate and parent of three Madison school children. Because she is unfettered by political obligations, her presence on the board will help counter the troublesome absence of checks and balances that currently exists in the system. Free to speak her mind, she will keep our children as her highest priority and insist on a level of accountability we haven't seen in our school district in a very long time.

Maya is a creative, collaborative problem-solver. She will insist on a thoroughgoing community dialogue about the decisions facing our schools in the next three years (e.g., the choice of a new superintendent and the redesign of our high schools). Maya understands and respects data. She will make sure that budgetary and policy decisions are well supported by evidence. Maya is warm and even-tempered. She works well with others and will keep the board moving in the direction of increased effectiveness.

When both of our daily newspapers endorse the same candidate, that's a clear sign the candidate is the best choice. Vote for Maya Cole for Seat #5 of the Madison School Board!

Laurie Frost and Jeff Henriques

Posted by Laurie Frost at 5:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MMSD School Board Communications Committee Meeeting Tonight - Information and Advocacy Session

I'm passing along the following information I received:

The Governor’s 2007-09 biennial budget provides some assistance for Madison Schools in the areas of SAGE (Student Achievement Guarantee in Education), the 15:1 K-3 class size reduction program, special education/bilingual-bicultura l aid and allowing some expenditures for safety/security to be outside the revenue caps.

We would like to hold an information and advocacy session related to the state budget on Thursday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m. in the McDaniels Auditorium of the Doyle Administration Building . The meeting will provide you with information about the budget and advocacy “talking points” to contact legislators and gain support for some of the budget’s provisions.

At this meeting, we would also like to begin preliminary discussion of ways to link Madison parents to parents in school districts in counties surrounding Dane – a neighbor-to- neighbor outreach effort to talk to legislators about the devastating affect of revenue limits to our communities’ schools.

We share your frustration as we annually watch more programs and services to students slowly dismantled by the state-imposed revenue limits. Together, we can work to educate legislators and bring about school finance reform. We look forward to seeing you on March 29.


Johnny Winston, Jr.
Board President

Arlene Silveira
Communications Committee Chairwoman

Posted by barb s at 4:42 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The difference between Maya and Marj

Isthmus gave the candidates a chance to make one last pitch for votes before next Tuesday's election.

The statements of Maya and Marj say a lot about them as people and potential board members.

Marj repeated her line on all of her experience and said:

I have developed a finely honed instinct for what works and what doesn't.

By contrast Maya said:

The community will be a welcomed partner with our public schools.

In other words, Marj said, "I KNOW what's right and wrong." That's the board majority's persistent response to outside input. "We know what's right and wrong. Thank you very much. You can go away now."

While Maya says, "I welcome a partnership," which reflects an openness to the community.

I'm voting for Maya.

Posted by Ed Blume at 2:10 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Yes to strategic planning, no to last minute referendums and school closings

On March 26, I voted no on Carol Carstensen’s proposed three-year referendum for several reasons.

First, a referendum requires careful planning. Two weeks notice did not allow the Madison School Board to do the necessary analysis or planning. Ms. Carstensen—not the administration—provided the only budget analysis for her proposal. The board has not set priorities because the board it is just beginning the budget process.

Second, the referendum is not part of a strategic long-range plan. The district needs a ten-year strategic plan, and such a plan must address the structural deficit created by state revenue limits. It must also bring businesses, community organizations and the City of Madison into the solution. While referendums for operating dollars will be necessary, without planning they are of limited use.

Third, relief from the state revenue limits is not on the horizon. Governor Doyle has no proposal for eliminating the revenue limits. Madison’s state representatives recommend that we focus our lobbying efforts on small scale, stop-gap funding issues. Only Ms. Carstensen and the teachers union seem to think that change is coming soon.

There are some steps that the school board can take to increase public confidence and pass operating budget referendums in the future.

1. Direct the administration to find the best ways to use the Doyle Building to generate revenue for the district. In 2006, the board defeated this proposal (Kobza and Robarts voting yes, Carstensen, Keys, Lopez, Vang and Winston voting no). Using the building as a revenue-generating asset could also move administrators to school buildings and help keep the schools open.

2. Negotiate changes in health insurance coverage for teachers to minimize future costs. Administrators and other unions have recently made such changes without losing quality of health care. Dane County has a competitive health insurance market that can help use save dollars and protect quality of care.

3. Take the closing/consolidation options presented by the Long Range Planning Committee off the table. Look for more focused approaches to saving money, such as moving the Park Street Work and Learn Center into an under-enrolled elementary school as we did in the past when we housed WLC at Allis School.

4. Invite the community to join in a strategic planning process as soon as possible. As long as the state and federal governments shirk their responsibilities and the state over-relies on residential property taxes to pay for essential local services, there will be a gap between the tax funds available and the cost of the high quality, comprehensive k-12 school system that we want. We need a plan as badly as we need the elimination of the revenue limits and a progressive tax to adequately fund our schools.

I am ready to support operating budget referendums based on a strategic plan and best use of the revenues that we have.

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

School vacations create run on absentee ballots

Anita Clark, Wisconsin State Journal, writes: Thousands more voters than usual are seeking absentee ballots from the Madison city clerk's office as Tuesday's election approaches.

Posted by James Zellmer at 10:48 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Parents make case for keeping schools

"Please don't ruin our east side schools," said parent Sue Arneson at Wednesday night's hearing on closing east side schools.

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

Chad Vader meets Mayor Dave and Maya Cole

Maya Cole met Chad Vader last weekend at Indie Coffee.

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

Madison School District Changes School Closing Plan

Channel 3000 reports on changes to School closing plans. "The Madison Metropolitan School District has changed its plans for school closings and consolidation, and some north side parents said they were caught off guard by the new plan."

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

Nancy Donahue: Cole not "beholden"

Nancy Donahue, one of the organizers of The Studio School, sent this message to SIS:

I have had the opportunity to talk with Maya Cole twice in the past two weeks and I am convinced that she would be an excellent addition to our school board ...someone who can see the big picture and incorporate it into a vision for our schools and our community. A change agent? Moreover, Maya is unfettered by the MTI machinery and political agenda so I can trust that her votes are guided by her own judgment. I am also supporting Rick Thomas for many of the same reasons.

I think that it is imperative that we make every effort to ensure that the people we elect are not "beholden" to any large organization to support their campaigns. MTI's questionnaire flagrantly and publicly advertises that candidates must comply with the MTI agenda if they want MTI political support (which would be difficult to pass up). But the campaigns are just the beginning of an insidious political relationship. Along with MTI support comes the continual threat of repercussions (i.e., public criticism and withdrawal of support) if, once elected, a candidate should muster the personal integrity to cast a vote that runs counter to the MTI position. I prefer that our school board members feel free to cast votes based on information rather than intimidation.

I know that most SIS readers are well aware of this situation but I thought it deserved mentioning again...and again...and again. It probably goes deeper and reaches farther than people realize. Throughout the process of developing our proposal for The Studio School I had opportunities to talk and meet with MMSD teachers. I find it very interesting that early in the process they would come to planning meetings, meet with me in coffee shops, email me, and talk on the phone...but they never seemed to feel comfortable attending school board meetings or speaking out publicly in support of The Studio School. Why was this? Were they intimidated? I think they were. I did have a couple of conversations in which teachers expressed concern about going against MTI and/or the impact it would have with other teachers (i.e., coworkers). Is this really the kind of climate in which we want our teachers and children to spend their days? A climate where people are intimidated into silent complicity? I am also concerned that principals work in a similar climate. I thought that our country was rooted in freedom of thought and speech. Freedom to choose our own ideologies. I thought that Madison valued thoughtful, informed and independent thinking. I want my children to attend a school and to live in a community that supports personal integrity and responsibility. A safe place where they feel free to act and speak out in accordance with their convictions; without fear of intimidation, insult or injury from others...especially school or community leaders. Hmmm...isn't this something we learned about in school?

And speaking of leaders, I still wonder why Johnny Winston, Jr., our school board leader, withdrew his support during the final few weeks before the BOE vote on our proposal. In late December, Mr. Winston assured me that he would "not vote no." Yet, after consistently saying (privately and publicly) that he supported The Studio School, he suddenly had a change of heart and voted "no." (By the way, he remains endorsed by MTI. ) Sparing the details, the net effect of Mr. Winston's support was that it undermined our efforts - it certainly didn't advance them. At best, I now question his leadership, reliability, and effectiveness in supporting an issue. At worst, I question the motives behind any vote he casts - especially if it involves an issue that could require standing up to the MMSD and MTI power structures.

Regarding The Studio School, we are continuing in our efforts to open The Studio School in the fall. So please check our website to follow developments.

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

March 28, 2007

Strange, strange budget process

I've never seen a budget process like that being followed by the MMSD and board.

Without having a budget, the board appears poised to close schools and lay off teachers. Who or why would anyone make these types of decisions out of context, that is, without a budget, with out even looking at options other than those recommended by an administration hell bent on preserving as much power and as many positions as possible in the Doyle Building?

It's just insane, and supposedly rational people on the board think that it makes sense! Do they check their brains at the door when they walk into a board meeting?

Posted by Ed Blume at 5:40 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Maintain and Grow Madison's Art Programs: Support Elementary Strings

Parents and Students distributed to attendees of the recent Spring 2007 Strings Festival the following information in a flier:

Madison Community Asks the MMSD School Board:
Don’t Cut, Work with the Community to Strengthen and Grow
Madison’s Elementary String Program

Superintendent Rainwater has proposed cutting Grade 5 strings, which would eliminate the nearly 40-year old elementary strings program. This does not have to happen and you can help:

1) Email the School Board (, letting the School Board know:

a. You support elementary strings and a vibrant, strong fine arts academic education for all Madison’s school children as important for and fundamental to a student’s personal and academic growth, and

b. You support and want the newly formed School Board Community Fine Arts Task Force to have a chance and time to explore ways to continue and to sustain elementary strings, and all arts education, in Madison’s schools, without further cuts to programs.

Posted by barb s at 11:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Tutor center for reading, math, and more

When parents need a tutor for their children, they can find a wide variety in Madison. Several have been pleased with the progress their children made at the Madison Reading and Learning Center.

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

Out-of-Favor Reading Plan Rated Highly

Education Week

Reading Recovery, a popular one-to-one tutoring program that Bush administration officials sought to shut out of a high-profile federal reading program, has gotten a rare thumbs-up from the federal What Works Clearinghouse.

“I think this is good news for all the school superintendents who kept Reading Recovery alive in their schools,” said Jady Johnson, the executive director of the Reading Recovery Council of North America, a nonprofit group based in Worthington, Ohio. “I’m hoping this report will signal a change in direction for the [U.S. Education] Department.”

In the What Works review, posted online March 20, the clearinghouse said the program had “positive” effects—the highest evidence rating possible—on students’ alphabetic skills and general reading achievement. The reviewers also determined that the program had “potentially positive” effects, its next-highest rating, on reading fluency and comprehension.

That’s high praise from the clearinghouse, which the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences created in 2002 to vet research on “what works” in education. So few education studies meet the clearinghouse’s tough research-quality criteria that some critics have dubbed it the “nothing works” clearinghouse.

On the clearinghouse’s “improvement index,” a measure used to provide a common metric on program effects, researchers found that the average 1st grader who completed Reading Recovery could be expected to score 32 percentile points higher in general reading achievement than similar students not in the program.

Yet some of the program’s early critics said in interviews last week that many of their original concerns remained.

“I never said Reading Recovery is ineffective,” said Jack M. Fletcher, one of 32 researchers who signed a widely circulated 2002 letter critiquing the program. “The real issue with Reading Recovery is the idea that it has to be done individually, when there’s a substantial research base on small-group interventions that shows there’s no drop-off in effectiveness.”

What Works Reading Recovery Report

Posted by Larry Winkler at 4:36 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 27, 2007

2007 Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference

From the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association:

The 7th annual Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference, co-sponsored by the WCSA and DPI, will be attended by educators, parents, students, school officials, university people, community leaders, state officials, and many other charter friends. Conference Flyer (PDF).

Dates: April 15-17, 2007 (Sunday afternoon through Tuesday)
The Sunday afternoon (4/15) Wisconsin Charter Schools FAIR is open and FREE to the public. Conference sessions on Monday and Tuesday (4/16-17) will focus on planning, authorizing, implementing and operating high-performance charter schools.

Posted by Ed Blume at 12:17 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

I have a few comments on separate courses for students of different abilities

I think that it is important to have opportunities for advanced students to obtain seperate instruction is subjects they excel in. It is my belief that by doing this we don't sacrifice diversity, we actually increase it.

My logic is as follows. If gifted students are not given the challenge they need in school, they will not achieve as much as they can. If the public schools are not able to provide for these childern, then parents of gifted kids will pull them out of school. Unfortunately, only involved parents with money will have the ability to give their kids the alternative education like private school. Thus, the public schools will be left with few children at the top end of the education spectrum since it can't provide for them.

My belief that this is true comes from my home town in California. We have one elementary school in a wealthy area that is known to have much better educational opportunities for students. Parents in other districts constantly try to move their children to this school. Due to declining enrollment, other school districts have stopped letting students switch schools. To still provide for the children, the school in the wealthy area became a charter school. Now, parents can move their children there without incident. But, the other public schools are left without their brightest students. If the other public schools could provide for their brightest, the public schools would include all of the students.

The importance of public education providing for gifted students becomes especially apparent when you look at personal examples. I did not attend the wealthy school, but through an individually tailored math eduacation, I was able to enter high school in trig. The other freshmen in this course were ALL from the wealthy school, though this school only has around 1/5 of students in the area. Some of my classmates at the wealthy school were from advantaged backgrounds. But, one student in particular was not. This student, "John", was given the ability to excell at the wealthy school and performed excellently. By the end of high school, he had completed a large portion of a standard undergraduate mathematics major by taking courses at the local college. He recieved a large scholarship to attend a prestigious liberal arts school. He graduated with a math and physics degree after three years.

If the opportunities that were given the students at the wealthy school and the abilitiy to take college classes while in high school were not there, the wealthier students would not be affected much academically. My area has several private and charter schools that many wealthy kids attend when the public schools aren't good enough. My friends that switched to these schools were predominately the children of doctors, lawyers, and local businessmen. Unfortunately for advanced but disadvantaged students, theirs only chance to succeed is the public schools. If the public schools are not providing for the brightest, the ones with resources shall go elsewhere and the ones without resources will lose out.

My parents told me that had my schools not been willing to give me individual instruction, I would have been homeschooled. My parents felt it was important to see the many culures and personalities in the public school system. But, they would not sacrifice my education for it.

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

School Board rejects referendum

From a story by Deborah Ziff in the Wisconsin State Journal:

The Madison School Board voted against asking taxpayers to help stave off budget cuts as Madison public schools face a projected $10.5 million budget shortfall.

The board voted 5-2 against holding a June referendum, a measure proposed by School Board Treasurer Carol Carstensen. Outgoing board member Shwaw Vang joined Carstensen in voting for the proposal that would have asked taxpayers for an additional $34 million over the next three years.

Board members who voted against the referendum said it was too hastily drawn up, without enough time to refine a referendum question or engage in a campaign to drum up support. Board member Lucy Mathiak said the board has known since October that it would need to make tough budget decisions.

Susan Troller's story in The Capital Times is here.

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

Teacher accused of failing to report gun in school

Alan Borsuk:

Police and Milwaukee Public Schools officials on Monday were investigating allegations that a teacher at Pulaski High School, 2500 W. Oklahoma Ave., saw a gun in the possession of a student in school and did not notify authorities in a timely manner.

An unloaded gun was found Thursday in the 18-year-old student's locker after a second teacher notified security aides at the school, sources familiar with the incident said.

Following a second incident on the same day the gun was found, MPS administrators said they were investigating a teacher who appeared to be out of her classroom while a fight occurred between two students, with many others watching. A student videotaped the fight, apparently on a cell phone, and the video was posted on the YouTube site on the Internet.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 26, 2007

Petition to Save Our East and North Side Schools

A District-wide petition drive has been started to keep open all of the east and north side schools that are currently being discussed as possible closures and consolidations. To learn more and to sign the petition go to:

Posted by Laurie Frost at 3:55 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New revenue for schools

Governor Jim Doyle's budget proposal includes language that would allow Wisconsin school districts to:

Construct or acquire, borrow funds to construct or acquire, operate and maintain a wind electricity generation facility, and use or sell the electricity generated by the facility, if the school board's share of the installed capacity of the facility does not exceed 5 megawatts and the school boar incorporates information about the facility in its curriculum. (120.13(18m) WIND ELECTRICITY GENERATORS)
People should contact members of the Joint Committee on Finance to express support for the measure.
Posted by Ed Blume at 10:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

They’ll Do It Themselves, Thanks

Published: March 11, 2007
The New York Times

I LIKE it!” said Yaniv Gorodischer. “What a night!”

It was a big, big night at the group home. The three residents ­ Mr.
Gorodischer, 29, Jason Kingsley, 32, and Raymond Frost Jr., 28 ­ along with an entourage that included their group home supervisor, Ernest Daniels, and their parents, were going to the Town Board meeting to present a petition to get a sidewalk for their busy street, Chatterton Parkway.

All three had put on neckties. “For Town Hall I want to look decent,” Mr.Frost said. “Handsome and decent.” He’d practiced his speech six times. "I’m going to say, ‘My name is Raymond Frost Jr.’ And I’ll say that we got our neighbors to sign the petition, and 28 signed and 2 didn’t want to.”

And Mr. Gorodischer said: “First off, I’ll say, ‘My name is Yaniv
Gorodischer.’ And I can remember, I remember ... shoot, I forgot.”
For that reason, Emily Kingsley, Jason’s mother, had written a speech for them to read. “Just in case,” she said, handing it to her son.
“We won’t need it,” he said. “We know how to say it.”

Several weeks before, Ms. Kingsley had drawn up the petition and
accompanied her son and his two roommates door to door. All three men have Down syndrome and cannot drive, but they are striving to be as independent as possible, and that means walking to their jobs along this street with its steep hill, its blind curve and cars that whiz by.

Ms. Kingsley, 67, had stood in the driveways while the three men knocked on doors, collecting signatures. “Most people were very nice,” she said. “When one man refused, they got confused. They couldn’t understand someone would say no to them. He was an old guy and said if he had a sidewalk he’d have to shovel snow. They said, ‘We’ll shovel it for you.’ And he says, ‘No, you won’t.’ And they say, ‘Yes, we will.’ ”

Since the group home opened in September 2002, the three have worked hard to be good neighbors. “Tell the story how you called me about baking a cake for your new neighbors,” Ms. Kingsley said.

“I don’t know that story,” her son said.

“Yes, you do.”

“It’s coming back,” the son said. “We asked to bake a cake for the new neighbors across the street. That was nice of us, to give them a little treat.” “And you called me for help with the cake,” the mother said. “And I said, "All three of you are on a diet.’ ”

“Not for us,” her son said. “For the neighbors.”

“Chocolate cake,” Mr. Frost said.

“We all helped,” Mr. Gorodischer said.

“Three Musketeers,” Mr. Frost said. “Now four beautiful years living in this house.” “Almost five beautiful years,” Mr. Kingsley said.

“A very big environment,” Mr. Gorodischer said.

“Because we all three guys looked out for each other,” Mr. Frost said.

“And what is the meaning of brotherhood?” Mr. Gorodischer said. “We can stand tall and be united. Meaning we can win over Town Hall!”

Then someone said it was time, and the three piled out the door and down the stairs and squeezed into Ms. Kingsley’s sedan, heading for Town Hall to see if they could get themselves a sidewalk.

WHEN Jason Kingsley was born, on June 27, 1974, the doctors told Ms.
Kingsley and her husband, Charles, to put him in an institution. “They told me he wouldn’t be able to distinguish us from other adults,” she recalled.
"They said, ‘Never see him again, and tell your friends and family that he died in childbirth.’ They were so sure I would institutionalize him, they gave me pills to dry up my milk.’ ”

Ms. Kingsley couldn’t have known it then, but her son was born right at the great divide between the dark years, when the mentally retarded were hidden away in state institutions, and modern times, when most of those institutions have been shuttered and the developmentally disabled live among us, in supervised group homes and apartment programs.

Two years before Jason’s birth, in January 1972,
Geraldo Rivera had sneaked into Willowbrook, a snake pit of an institution on Staten Island that was home to 5,400 mentally retarded people. He filmed a ward of 60 emaciated children, many naked, some in straitjackets, surrounded by walls smeared with feces and supervised by a single attendant. His televised exposé led to a federal class-action lawsuit, which Gov. Hugh L. Carey could have settled by promising to improve Willowbrook. Instead, Mr. Carey set off a social revolution. In a 1975 consent decree, he pledged to move the residents out of Willowbrook and
into state-financed community housing. Decades later, Mr. Carey would say it was the one thing he’d done as governor that he could really hold on to.

At the time, there were 26,000 people living in 20 state institutions for the retarded in New York and just 1,570 in state-financed group homes.

Today there are 32,722 developmentally disabled New Yorkers in community residences, and fewer than a thousand ­ the most severely disabled ­ in a handful of institutions. In 1980, New Jersey had just 471 community beds; Connecticut had 963. Today New Jersey has 7,173, Connecticut 5,313. They are paid for by the states, and most are run by nonprofit agencies.

In 1974, the Kingsleys started on what was then a new parenting approach for children with disabilities called early intervention, which today has become standard practice. The infant is exposed to high levels of stimulus and physical therapy. Ms. Kingsley did Jason’s room in bright colors; she made a quilt for him with every patch a different material. “We surrounded him with motion and music, and we’d talk and talk to him,” she says. To "wake up his senses,” she filled a tub with Jell-O, and plopped him in.

“I had people tell me that he wouldn’t be able to read,” she recalled. “He started reading at age 4. It was so exciting. Everything they said he wouldn’t do, he was doing.”

Jason’s parents would take him to Broadway musicals, and he would memorize all the songs. To this day, if Ms. Kingsley challenges her son to adapt a show tune for his roommates, he’ll burst into a verse of “Singing in the Raymond” or “Some Enchanted Yaniving.”

The Kingsleys lectured at medical schools about the untapped potential of children with Down syndrome. “Doctors needed to see the old stereotypes didn’t apply,” she said. Ms. Kingsley is a veteran writer for “Sesame Street” ­ she has won 17 Emmys ­ and she pushed to have Jason on the air, so the public, too, would see. Jason appeared a dozen times, starting at 15 months (sitting on Buffy Sainte-Marie’s lap as she sang). At age 6 he did skits with Ernie, at 8 with Forgetful Jones.

Being pioneers, Ms. Kingsley and her husband (who died nine years ago) had no sense where the limits were, and it was hard when they learned. “I thought he was so smart, I thought I had fixed it,” she said. “But between 6 and 8 all the typical kids caught up and passed by. Typical kids got sophisticated and streetwise, picked up nuances about relationships that he could not.

“Jason was great at parlor tricks, he could count to 10 in 12 languages,” she said. But when she put him in a youth soccer league, he too often ran the wrong way. He mastered the mechanics of reading but struggled with comprehension. “He learned, but took longer than regular kids.” Regular kids would say, “Do we have to have him on our team?”

“I realized this was in fact a child with D.S.,” she said, “and as hard as I worked, it would not go away.”

Thanks to his mother’s background in television, the son had opportunitiesmost never get. At 10 he appeared on the TV show “The Fall Guy”; at 19, on "touched by an Angel.” With his mother’s help, he and his friend Mitchell Levitz wrote a book about Down syndrome, “Count Us In,” published by Harcourt in 1994.

But when Mr. Kingsley was no longer young and cuddly, things were harder. Having mingled with the stars, he grew impatient with mundane work. He had a job shelving videos at a library, and came up with his own system for reorganizing the collection. “It made perfect sense to him,” his mother says, “but nobody could find anything.” He now delivers mail in an office building, though he still lists his career goal as “directing animated feature films for the Disney corporation.” His roommate Mr. Gorodischer works in the mailroom of a law office. Mr. Frost is a clerk at Petco, specializing in fish and small animals.

The Kingsleys set their son up in his own apartment in the late 1990s, but over time, he became isolated, the apartment grew messy, and he stopped shaving and bathing regularly. “We were too optimistic,” Ms. Kingsley said. “He needed more structure.” The group home, which is run by Westchester Arc, a nonprofit agency, has counselors on duty from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. to provide both oversight and routine. It’s a comfort for the mother, who will not live forever.

AS they walked into Town Hall, Mr. Gorodischer lagged behind, and Mr. Frost yelled, “Yaniv, move up, you’re with us.”

Inside, Channel 12 was waiting. “How long have you been fighting for this?” the reporter asked.

“This is our first time,” Mr. Frost said.

“But you have petitions?” the reporter said.

“We hope to win over Town Hall,” Mr. Frost said.

They launched into a “Three Musketeers” cheer ­ all for one and one for all! ­ that caught Channel 12 off guard. “Hold on, we missed that,” the reporter said. “Let’s do it again. Quiet ... action.”

Before the meeting, Paul J. Feiner, the town supervisor, told the men he supported the sidewalk and credited them with forcing the Town Board to develop a sidewalk policy, but said it could be two years before there was any action.

They were first on the agenda, and it must have been more nerve-racking than they had expected, because, after a few hems and haws, Mr. Kingsley pulled out the speech his mother had written, and each of them read a few sentences.

“You should go home tonight feeling very, very proud,” Mr. Feiner said. "You’ve already accomplished a lot, and I’ll work hard to make your dream of sidewalks a reality.”

The whole thing took about three minutes, and soon the entourage was back at the group home with everyone gathered around the dining room table eating cake. While the guests chatted away, Mr. Frost and Mr. Kingsley slipped upstairs. It was getting late, and they had work in the morning.

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

Milwaukee Public Schools / Milwaukee Symphony Arts Program

Alan Borsuk:

The Progressions program of the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, which gives kids mostly from Milwaukee Public Schools a start on classical instruments, is one of many arts programs in the city that are benefiting from a new $1 million fund created by the Milwaukee School Board.

That amount is being matched by private donations or contributed services from each of the organizations receiving the MPS grants.

Many in the arts community are viewing the new support as a strong boost for efforts to give city kids some of the arts education that has been shrinking in recent years under budget pressures.

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

Fooling the College Board

Scott Jaschik:

In the 1930’s, American businesses were locked in a fierce economic competition with Russian merchants for fear that their communist philosophies would dominate American markets. As a result, American competition drove the country into an economic depression and the only way to pull them out of it was through civil cooperation. American president Franklin Delenor Roosevelt advocated for civil unity despite the communist threat of success by quoting “the only thing we need to fear is itself,” which desdained competition as an alternative to cooperation for success. In the end, the American economy pulled out of the depression and succeeded communism.

Does that paragraph read like an excerpt of an essay with “reasonably consistent mastery” and that “effectively develops a point of view” and “demonstrates strong critical thinking, generally using appropriate examples"? Those are the College Board’s descriptions of the kinds of qualities that earn an essay a score of 5 (the second highest possible) on the essay portion of the SAT, a new and controversial part of the exam. And that is the score an essay with that paragraph (all punctuation, spelling, FDR’s new middle name and other “facts” verbatim) received from two readers when a student submitted it in October, having been coached on how to do so by a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:17 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Longer School Day?

Diana Jean Schemo:

States and school districts nationwide are moving to lengthen the day at struggling schools, spurred by grim test results suggesting that more than 10,000 schools are likely to be declared failing under federal law next year.

In Massachusetts, in the forefront of the movement, Gov. Deval L. Patrick is allocating $6.5 million this year for longer days and can barely keep pace with demand: 84 schools have expressed interest.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York has proposed an extended day as one of five options for his state’s troubled schools, part of a $7 billion increase in spending on education over the next four years — apart from the 37 minutes of extra tutoring that children in some city schools already receive four times a week.

And Gov. M. Jodi Rell of Connecticut is proposing to lengthen the day at persistently failing schools as part of a push to raise state spending on education by $1 billion.

“In 15 years, I’d be very surprised if the old school calendar still dominates in urban settings,” said Mark Roosevelt, superintendent of schools in Pittsburgh, which has added 45 minutes a day at eight of its lowest-performing schools and 10 more days to their academic year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

April 3, 2007 Madison School Board Election Update

Much more on the election here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 25, 2007

2007 West Area Strings Festival Photos, Audio & Video

The Madison Strings Festival was held Saturday. Check out the photos here. A 20 minute video clip: (CTRL click to download) mpeg-4 ipod video | mp3 audio.

Call to action: [PDF] [Petition PDF]

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:25 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

After a Suicide, Privacy on Trial

Elizabeth Bernstein:

As Charles and Debi Mahoney watched six men and six women file into the jury box of a Pennsylvania courtroom one evening last August, they clutched hands and tried to remind themselves why they were in court. "Parents sending their kids off to college need to know that their kids aren't safe when they think they are," Mr. Mahoney recalls thinking at the time.

More than four years earlier, their 20-year-old son, Chuck, had hanged himself with his dog's leash in his fraternity house at Allegheny College, in Meadville, Pa. At their son's funeral, the Mahoneys learned that his friends and ex-girlfriend had repeatedly warned college administrators and counselors during his last days that Chuck was a danger to himself. The officials and his college therapist had discussed his crisis -- but no one had alerted the family.

His parents sued for wrongful death in 2003, alleging that Allegheny should have taken more action at the end -- such as breaking their son's confidentiality to get them involved. One of Chuck's fraternity brothers who tried to alert school officials, Michael Fischer, testified that seeing his friend's last days "was like watching a car accident .... We knew something was going to happen. We had to try to stop it."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:39 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Hobart Shakespeareans


Imagine the sight and sound of American nine- and eleven-year-old children performing Shakespeare's Hamlet or Henry V — and understanding every word they recite. Imagine them performing well enough to elicit praise from such accomplished Shakespearean actors as Ian McKellen and Michael York, and to be invited to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company in England. Such a spectacle would be highly impressive in the toniest of America's private schools. But what if the kids were the children of recent Latino and Asian immigrants attending a large Los Angeles inner-city public school in one of America's toughest neighborhoods?

That is the astonishing story told by the new documentary "The Hobart Shakespeareans," which discovers how one man's uncommon commitment and resourcefulness have opened up worlds of opportunity for his "disadvantaged" students — and perhaps have demonstrated a way forward for America's beleaguered public education system.

The Latino- and Asian-American children crowding Los Angeles' sprawling Hobart Boulevard Elementary face daunting odds. Their neighborhood in the heart of Central Los Angeles is better known for crime than for opportunity. They grow up in low-income households. Their school, typically for public education in poor districts, is under-funded and overcrowded. Most of their parents do not speak English. No one is giving these kids educational perks, like class trips and intensive tutoring. And no one is expecting any but the smartest and luckiest to rise beyond the limitations of their environment. No one, that is, except Rafe Esquith.

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

Safe Blogs Becoming Part of School

Erin Richards:

When sixth-grade teacher Rachel Yurk created a blog for her classroom this year, she began the online learning experiment with a simple, engaging question: "What's your favorite book and why?"

By that night, Yurk's e-mail had exploded with about 200 messages - each one notifying her that another comment had been posted to the online discussion.

Safely nested in Virtual Office, a secure system that New Berlin Public Schools is piloting and plans to take districtwide by next year, Yurk's classroom blog engages students in a common discussion tool without exposing them to uncensored activity in the real-world blogosphere.

"The students are more willing to talk about things, and they can type so fast," Yurk said. "Pencil and paper is boring to them. The first day we opened up Virtual Office, one student's sister - a high school kid - thought it was cool and put up a post about what book she thought the younger students should read."

Blogs, or online discussions that usually host time-stamped entries in order of newest to oldest, have struggled to gain acceptance in mainstream K-12 education.

This is a very useful example of why it's important for us not to continue to be caught up in the Frederick Taylor style education process as the world changes around us.

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

"Cooking the Numbers" - Madison's Reading Program

Joanne Jacobs:

From the Fayetteville, NC Observer:
Superintendent Art Rainwater loves to discuss the Madison Metropolitan School District’s success in eliminating the racial achievement gap.

But he won’t consult with educators from other communities until they are ready to confront the issue head on.

“I’m willing to talk,” Rainwater tells people seeking his advice, “when you are willing to stand up and admit the problem, to say our minority children do not perform as well as our white students.”

Only then will Rainwater reveal the methods Madison used to level the academic playing field for minority students.

This is an odd statement. The racial achievement gap is accepted as an uncomfortable fact everywhere; it is much discussed. No superintendent in the U.S. — except for Rainwater — claims to have eliminated the gap.

Today, Rainwater said, no statistical achievement gap exists between the 25,000 white and minority students in Madison’s schools.

Impressive, but untrue, writes Right Wing Prof, who looked at Madison reading scores across all grades.

I found a graph comparing Madison to five similar districts in Wisconsin, all of which do much better than Madison on fourth-grade reading.
Joanne was in Milwaukee and Madison recently to discuss her book, "Our School".

Related Links:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Tax credits and deductions for parents

Marshall Loeb:

Children can bring you a lot of joy ... and a lot of bills. The good news is that at tax time, they can also save you some money. Mark Steber, vice president of tax resources at Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, reminds parents that children of all ages can bring a range of credits and deductions on parents' 2006 income tax returns:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:49 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 24, 2007

Seattle Superintendent's Mid Year Report

Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Raj Manhas [777K PDF]:

A detailed document on the progress of the priority projects from the 2006‐07 Workplan is attached. Through the project tracking system that is under development as well as additional discussions with project managers, we have captured information on:
  1. What have we accomplished through February 2007?
  2. Are we on‐track to complete the project by August 2007?
The table below reports on the status of our priority projects with respect to completion by August 2007. 16 projects (or almost 60% of the total) are expected to be completed on‐time and another 10 projects are expected to be at least partially completed by August 2007.

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School Board Candidate Forum: Madison United for Academic Excellence

Thanks to Laurie Frost & Jeff Henriques for organizing Thursday's MAUE forum: Video / 30MB MP3 Audio. This event included some interesting questions:

  • 14 minutes: On the Superintendent's proposed reductions in the budget increase and their affect on the MMSD's 6 TAG members. Do you believe TAG services still have a role?
  • 20:40 What strategies do you have to raise academic standards for all students and avoid pitting one group of parents against another?
  • 27:50 What are the most positive and negative traits you would bring to the (school) board?
  • 34:28 Please state your position on the educational approach of offering core courses, delivered in completely heterogeneous groupings, with no opportunity for self selected ability grouping? (see West's English 10)
  • 41:29 How do we do a better job of identifying academically gifted students?
  • 48:42 Would you support a referendum to deal with the (2007/2008) budget shortfall?
  • 54:26 Would you support African centered pedagogy classes for Madison High Schools?
  • 1:00 Where do you see MTI's advocacy for teachers coming into the greatest conflict with the District's students?
  • 1:07 What position or talent most distinguishes you from your opponent?
Download the 105MB video here.

Madison United for Academic Excellence.

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

MMSD Teacher on REACH

Spring Harbor Teacher Nan Yungerman:

At the MUAE forum to discuss education for gifted and talented students, it was disturbing to hear one candidate, Maya Cole for Seat #5, talk about eliminating REACH as a way to trade money to keep Eastside schools open. I was bothered on many levels.

One; REACH was developed to provide one additional and desperately needed hour of planning time for elementary teachers. It is in this hour that teachers might differentiate curriculum or do hundreds of other necessary tasks to keep their classrooms going. This precious hour, one of about a total of five permitted during the work week, is a negotiated term or part of the Teacher Bargaining Agreement. Maya Cole is suggesting it be eliminated. If this were possible, simply by saying it —- is not a friendly gesture to teachers. This will not save money. A different method of providing for children during the negotiated hour of planning time would need to be developed. Claiming to know what would help teachers and then suggesting to take away their planning time is down right nasty. Elementary planning time is beyond necessary for teacher sanity and is is the very basic component of being a thoughtful and reflective teacher!

I've heard some alt views on this from other teachers (and parents).

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March 23, 2007

Important meetings about possible east side school closings

Forward from a friend:

The MMSD administration will hold public meetings on the following dates to detail their plans to close Lindbergh and Blackhawk. PLEASE ATTEND BOTH MEETINGS!

SUNDAY MARCH 25th 4-6pm @Warner Park

TUESDAY MARCH 27th 6:30pm @ Black Hawk

Posted by Laurie Frost at 2:14 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Balance of power could shift with school board election

Jason Shephard:

On April 3, voters will elect three members to the Madison Board of Education. At least two will be newcomers, replacing retiring Ruth Robarts and Shwaw Vang, while board president Johnny Winston Jr. is runing for a second term. Victories by Beth Moss and Marj Passman could give Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers union, greater control of the board’s majority. A victory by Maya Cole, meanwhile, could provide a continued 4-3 split between MTI-endorsed politicians and more reform-minded officials. Here’s a look at the three races.

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Cap Times Editorial: "Give Winston Another Term"

The Capital Times:

Under Johnny Winston Jr.'s leadership, the often contentious Madison School Board has become a model of cooperative, respectful and efficient governance. No, the board's not perfectly harmonious, but with Winston at the helm, it's far more functional than it has been for a long time. Indeed, Winston's proven to be exactly the right president at exactly the right time, ably balancing the concerns of the board's two factions and running meetings with appropriate focus and authority.

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The key to good schools? Housing policy

David Rusk & Marc Eisen:

Jason Shepard’s story this week, "How Can We Help Poor Students Achieve More?," points out the strong correlation between schools with high levels of low-income students and substandard academic performance. As Shepard reports, that same point was made about the Madison schools by urban researcher David Rusk in 2001.

Rusk was a headliner at the "Nolen In The New Century" conference sponsored by Isthmus and several community and media groups. His speech was subsequently adopted for publication in Isthmus and became the first salvo in the campaign for inclusionary zoning. It’s reprinted below.(Readers are welcome to form their own conclusions on whether or not IZ has played out in Madison as Rusk outlined here.)

Rusk is the former mayor of Albuquerque. His Cities Without Suburbs, in the words of the Congressional Quarterly, "has virtually become the Bible of the regionalism movement." Rusk’s study of census data linked failing cities to their political separation from the suburbs and, conversely, successful cities to their ability to annex or be part of a regional government. His more recent book, Inside Game/Outside Game, argues that regional land-use and tax-revenue policies are more critical to turning around failing neighborhoods than anti-poverty programs.

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Cap Times Editorial: "Beth Moss for School Board"

The Capital Times:

Moss is an experienced educator who has taught diverse students in classrooms overseas and in urban districts in the U.S.

Moss is an incredibly active parent, who has been a classroom volunteer at Glenn Stephens Elementary School, a Schools of Hope tutor, a Madison School & Community Recreation program club coordinator, and a Parent Teacher Organization volunteer and fundraising chair. She's worked with the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools to obtain grants for student programs. And she served as co-chair of Community and Schools Together (CAST), the grass-roots group that secured passage of the last school funding referendum.

Beth Moss faces Rick Thomas April 3 for Seat 3, Madison School Board. Much more on the election here.

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How can we help poor students achieve more?

Jason Shephard:

As a teacher-centered lesson ended the other morning at Midvale Elementary School, about 15 first-graders jumped up from their places on the carpeted rug and dashed to their personal bins of books.

Most students quickly settled into two assigned groups. One read a story about a fox in a henhouse with the classroom teacher, and another group, headed by a UW-Madison student teacher, read a more challenging nonfiction book about a grandmother who, as one child excitedly noted, lived to be 101.

In addition to this guided reading lesson, one boy sat at a computer wearing headphones, clicking on the screen that displayed the words as a story was read aloud to him, to build word recognition and reading stamina. Two other boys read silently from more advanced books. Another boy received one-on-one help from a literacy coach conducting a Reading Recovery lesson with him.

“I think what’s so important is that this program truly meets the needs of a variety of students, from those who are struggling to those who are accelerated,” says Principal John Burkholder.

In classroom after classroom at Midvale, where two out of three students come from low-income families, the hallmarks of the Madison school district’s balanced literacy program are on display. The district has invested much in this teaching practice and philosophy, which it views as critical to reducing the racial and socio economic achievement gaps that exist in its schools.

But curriculum changes alone haven’t erased the correlation between achievement and income that persists in Madison schools. Districtwide, only 55% of low-income students scored “proficient” or “advanced” on the state’s 2005 third-grade reading exam, compared to 91% for non-low-income students.

Clearly, a lot more needs to be done in these formative early years to give poor kids a better chance at succeeding in school.

Growing poverty

The socioeconomic achievement gap is high on the list of problems faced by the Madison schools. The district’s low-income population has doubled in the past 16 years. In 1991, one in five students in Madison schools came from low-income families, as defined by eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch. Today, the district’s low-income population stands at 41%.

The trend is troubling because research has long found a negative correlation between academic performance and the size of a school’s low-income student population. Increasingly, policymakers worry that as Madison’s schools become poorer, it will become harder to produce gains in student achievement.

To its credit, the Madison district has for years provided extra resources to schools serving poorer students, but state-imposed revenue caps have cut into these supplemental allocations.

And while smaller class size and a flexible curriculum are important in dealing with the learning needs of poor students, the district has yet to embrace one of the best-researched solutions to compensating for skill deficiencies that many low-income kids face: 4-year-old kindergarten.

In 2003, Superintendent Art Rainwater rejected a plan to partner with Madison’s early-childhood providers — including Bright Horizons, Creative Learning, the YMCAs, Red Caboose, Woodland Montessori and Preschool of the Arts — for a jointly run 4K program. Today, about 50 school districts across the state have similar partnerships, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Madison school officials say start-up costs were prohibitive, but they never brought a proposal to the school board, which could have prioritized funding or sought a referendum to finance citywide 4-year-old kindergarten.

Dorothy Conniff, the longtime supervisor of the city’s community services programs, offers this explanation for the proposal’s demise: Rainwater and John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teachers Inc., didn’t like losing power and authority through a community partnership.

“Madison has a fabulous child-care program, and we could do this together,” Conniff says. “All it would take is for people to put their egos behind them and really think about the needs of young children, and to work hard to make it happen.”

A clear connection

Madison school data shows a clear connection between poverty and achievement rankings in the district’s 31 elementary schools.

Based on third-grade state reading test data, the 10 lowest-performing schools mirror almost exactly the list of the 10 schools with the largest percentage of poor students. Glendale elementary on Tompkins Drive on the southeast side is the district’s poorest school, with 73% low-income students, meaning under federal guidelines they come, for example, from a family of four that earns less than $37,000 a year. Glendale’s test results are the worst in the district, with only 63% of its students scoring proficient or advanced on the state’s third-grade reading test.

At the other end of the spectrum, Van Hise, on the near west side, is the highest-scoring elementary school, with 97% of its students reading at or above grade level; it’s the second-wealthiest school, with a low-income population of 21%. Of the 10 schools with 85% or more of their students reading at or above grade level, seven have a low-income level of less than 30%.

Still, district officials point to sustained progress over the 10 years of its balanced literacy program.

In 1998, for example, 59% of third-graders met or exceeded reading standards as measured by a state test; in 2004 that number rose to 82%. The program has also garnered headlines for closing the achievement gap for the district’s lowest-performing students.

“I really believe our balanced literacy program is critical to closing the achievement gap,” says Sue Abplanalp, the district’s assistant superintendent of elementary schools.

Julie Underwood, dean of UW-Madison’s School of Education, says Madison’s small class sizes and instructional approaches have demonstrated that “staying the course” with strong programs can reduce the achievement gaps.

“They have raised student achievement for all children, and at the same time raised achievement for their low-income children even more...which is so impressive,” Underwood says.

Some have questioned, though, whether Madison’s gains are a chimera — the product of DPI manipulating the Wisconsin Knowledge and Comprehension Examination. Statewide, students have seen equally dramatic increases in achievement. The problem, say critics, is that the national reading test given to Wisconsin fourth-graders (the National Assessment of Educational Progress) shows reading levels of state students remaining relatively flat during a period in which the state test shows huge gains.

Something is out of kilter.

‘Classmates count’

While race is the factor most often associated with the achievement gap in education, experts agree that poverty is another telling indicator.

Decades of educational research show that students from low-income families tend to begin kindergarten lagging behind their wealthier counterparts, often because of limited vocabulary exposure, lack of reading experiences and more.

Writes Richard Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation in a review of decades of research: “High-poverty schools are often marked by students who have less motivation and are often subject to negative peer influences; parents who are generally less active, exert less clout in school affairs, and garner fewer financial resources for the schools; and teachers who tend to be less qualified, to have lower expectations, and to teach a watered-down curriculum.”

A 2002 study of Dane County’s schools by researcher David Rusk found that the “primary factor” related to a school’s academic success, as measured by standardized tests, was its population of low-income students.

Rusk’s study, called “Classmates Count” (see story HERE) concluded that housing patterns in Dane County were also connected to educational success. “The test scores of low-income pupils improved significantly the more they were surrounded by middle-class classmates,” Rusk wrote.

To combat these trends, Madison school officials have long sought to strike racial and economic balances among its schools by reconfiguring school attendance areas. But that’s increasingly difficult. In 2000, none of Madison’s schools enrolled more than 60% low-income students; today 10 of its 31 elementary schools do.

And the spread in income levels has grown more severe, from Glendale’s 73% low-income population to Crestwood’s 19%. Nineteen of the district’s elementary schools have more than 41% low-income students, which is the district average.

No longer can schools count on a critical mass of middle- and upper-class families to anchor the learning environment.

The growth in the low-income population has also increased pressures on the district at a time when 14 years of revenue caps have left officials with little flexibility, let alone money for new programs.

‘Substantial benefits’

Madison school officials say those state spending restrictions have kept them from offering a citywide 4-year-old kindergarten program, but 257 other Wisconsin districts have somehow found a way to make it happen.

Both Johnny Winston Jr., the school board president, and Lawrie Kobza, the vice president, say the program deserves another look because of its proven educational benefits and its ability to put kids on equal footing when they enter the school system. Kobza says the district’s failure to create a 4K program may be “penny wise but pound foolish.”

The state Department of Public Instruction hails 4K programs as providing “substantial benefits to low-income children” and to other children as well.

Dorothy Conniff points out that the achievement gap is already evident in preschoolers. “Starting at age three, children in professional families develop a larger vocabulary,” she says. “If we could shore up the early-childhood education for low-income kids in Madison, we would eliminate a lot of the problems we have.”

That’s why Conniff is deeply distressed by the Madison district’s refusal to create a partnership with community daycare centers to provide 4K. “I think it’s really tragic that the school district decided to blow this off,” she says.

Conniff sees several advantages to child-care providers teaching 4-year-old programs, rather than housing these programs in schools.

For starters, it would bring money into Madison’s chronically underfunded child-care programs. Conniff says that running 4K out of the schools could cripple those programs by taking away a big population of its kids. And Conniff says child-care programs are better equipped to deal with the learning and social development of very young children.

“The accredited programs in this city have well-developed environments and specially designed programs and trained teachers,” she says. “Research after research has shown that the influence of early-childhood education is about half that of parental influence. That’s a huge influence we can have.”

Conniff says politics killed the partnership.

“I think there are two reasons this didn’t work, and both have to do with power,” she says. The first, Conniff says, is that the district’s administration didn’t like the “loss of control” from a decentralized program. The second reason, she says, was opposition from the teachers union, Madison Teachers Inc.

Conniff says Matthews initially agreed to negotiate the issue of using accredited day-care teachers for the program, but then reneged after district officials raised other concerns. “John was seeing this from a very narrow perspective,” she says.

Sue Abplanalp, who coordinated the proposal for the district when she worked as elementary lead principal, says the costs were too prohibitive at a time when the district is making annual cuts to programs. She says district estimates showed the program would create a budget shortfall of $2.2 million in the first year, and about $870,000 in the second year. By the third year, the program would be fully funded under the state’s school funding formulas.

“It failed because of budgetary constraints, period,” Abplanalp says.

But Abplanalp acknowledged other concerns, including whether the accredited centers would have enough space to offer the program to interested students citywide.

Matthews says MTI opposed the partnership because it called for district money to fund programs taught by non-school district employees. “We’ve got no problem with it as long as they’re MMSD employees,” says Matthews, which he says would ensure “quality control” and “high standards.”

Another look?

Some see the 4K rejection as a telling example of how change-resistant both MMSD and MTI are. In February, the school board killed a proposal to open an arts and technology charter school after Rainwater and Matthews opposed the project. Matthews has also been successful in stalling expansion of online courses through the district’s Virtual Campus initiative.

Other Wisconsin school districts, responding to parental requests, have been far more venturesome than Madison in diversifying their offerings.

Winston says that MTI better wise up to the need for change. “The teachers union is going to have to look at different ways of doing things, otherwise we’re all going to inevitably die,” he says.

“I know that’s a harsh statement, but inevitably if things continue as we move forward with yearly budget cuts, Madison schools are going to be in more trouble than just a little bit. We’ve got to look at some different things,” says Winston. “Hopefully, the executive director of MTI will start looking at these things with a different eye.”

Costs, too, aren’t insurmountable, as more than 250 Wisconsin school districts have implemented 4-year-old kindergarten despite revenue caps. The school board could also consider a referendum for financing a 4K partnership — something that could likely be sold to the community as an important investment with measurable results.

Kobza thinks a 4K program is important — especially with the district’s changing demographics. She says if money can’t be found in the district’s budget, a referendum is worth considering. Winston agrees.

“We’ve got to take a strong look again at 4-year-old kindergarten,” he says. “We’ve got to figure out how to make it work.”

Posted by Joan Knoebel at 12:23 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Closing Marquette: A preposterous idea

A letter to the editor that appeared in the Cap Times:

Dear Editor: As leaders in the Marquette neighborhood, we are extremely disappointed with the discussion of possibly closing Marquette Elementary School.

The Marquette neighborhood is an incredible success story. The economic upswing of this neighborhood has been tied directly to the positive programs being presented at Marquette and Lapham schools.

The $3.5 million addition and improvements made to the O'Keeffe/Marquette complex a few years ago brought incredible stability to this neighborhood. The voters and taxpayers citywide realized the importance of the improvements in keeping families in the downtown area and overwhelmingly approved this expenditure. It would be an egregious slight to abandon this elementary school as throngs of young families have moved into the Marquette neighborhood and greatly improved the housing stock and precipitated a building boom.

It is unprecedented that a diverse neighborhood that could walk in close to 300 students to fill their re-modeled school in a kindergarten through fifth grade configuration would be threatened with closing. It would be beyond belief that a School Board would ask a neighborhood to send five busloads of students to a crowded Lapham building at a cost of $36,000 per bus or $180,000 for the upcoming school year. We support the continuing elementary programs at Marquette and Lapham and keeping O'Keeffe Middle School at its current size.

We realize the school funding dilemma that the whole state faces has led to this situation. We are hoping that these inequities will change and that the option to de-stabilize our community is taken off the table.

Judy Olson
6th District alderperson
Anya Firszt
president,Greater Williamson Area Business Association
Gary Kallas
director, Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center

Published: March 22, 2007

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Fight and arrests at LaFollette

According to a report from the Madison Police Department:

On 3/22/07 at 10:02 a.m. there was a large disturbance at LaFollette H.S. A school administrator had noticed a large gathering of students and hostilities between some wanting to fight. It was later learned that the disturbance was caused by three females confronting three other females to fight. The Madison Police Department Education Resource Officer (ERO) noted that upon arriving to the scene several hundred students were watching the disturbance, clogging the hallway, and that 10-15 school officials had to restore order. A total of six Madison Police Officers were present in the school to help calm this disturbance. Eventually some students were detained and separated. In one separation, two students went to an office and began fighting again. Police had to respond to that office as well to break up the secondary fight. The above-listed juveniles were arrested and placed in Juvenile Reception until parents were notified.
Posted by Ed Blume at 9:38 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"No, My Son Doesn't 'Act Black.' There's No Such Thing."

This powerful first-person account by Aleta Payne first appeared in the Washington Post earlier this month. It brought tears to my eyes as I read it in our own Cap Times last night. The piece drives home the multifaceted nature of the achievement gap, underscoring the fact that the search for a single solution is seriously misguided and that we must each do our part.

Sam came home from the overnighter visibly crushed. He curled around his hurt as though he'd been punched in the gut, and he refused to say what had happened. My husband and I fought panic as all the horrible things that might happen to a 14-year-old away from home pounded through our brains. We cajoled and interrogated as he tried to disappear into the living room sofa, until finally, enough of the story emerged to reassure us that our oldest son hadn't been physically injured. But his suffering was still real.

His friends had asked him why he didn't act black.

My husband and I were dumbfounded. We had been challenged ourselves with variations on this same question 30 years ago. But back then, we were being teased by our African American peers, many of whom were growing up in communities where they saw little opportunity for success or achievement and where frustration took root early. Sam's questioners were white suburban teenagers, living college-bound lives of comfort.

Poised to start high school, Sam is at the age where he wants nothing more than the acceptance of his peers. So this question staggered him. And while we learned the basics of the story then, the details have emerged -- syllable by reluctant syllable -- in the months since. That it had not happened that one time but had built over months. That it was always the same small group of boys who generally treated him as one of their buds. That he'd stopped being able to laugh it off as the question wore at him.

"People think I should be able to rap or something," he said. "Like they see in movies and crap." Strong words from our almost silent son. "They want me to act like something I'm not."

Sam is studious and quiet, much as his father and I were at his age. He inherited my light complexion and poor eyesight, his father's analytical mind and love of tennis. Apparently his wire-rimmed glasses and athletic leanings undermined any "street cred."

Though our North Carolina town isn't especially diverse, and our three sons attend mostly white private schools in Raleigh, I don't know that it has ever occurred to Sam that he is sometimes the only child of color in a room. But he certainly felt isolated by the expectation that he should behave like some modern-day minstrel in bling instead of blackface.

I know Sam's friends. He has visited their homes, and we've had them in ours. I doubt that they had any idea how painful their misguided teasing could be. I suspect that if they thought others were treating Sam unfairly, they'd stand up for him. But they have listened to rap and watched music videos that paint a picture of African Americans as loud, rude, undereducated, oversexed. Where guys in grills and girls in short shorts grinding against one another appear to be the norm. The boys whose words hurt Sam are skateboarders and soccer players, not hip-hop wannabes. But they have still been inundated with what it is to be gangsta and they may be dangerously close to believing that that is what it means to be black. Or its inverse, what Sen. Barack Obama has called "the slander that a black youth with a book is acting white."

I thought, or at least hoped, that my children's generation had transcended that, even if their parents aren't there yet. Standing in a boutique hotel outside New York a few years ago, my husband was one of several men in dark suits waiting for a shuttle van when someone asked if he was the driver of the limousine they'd requested. The only thing setting him apart from every other man in that lobby was the color of his skin. Our sons, I hoped, would never deal with such pre-judgments.

I'd had a sense that there was still work to be done when I overheard some young people from our church freely using "ghetto" as their adjective of choice in a conversation. The word was unexpected and discordant, coming from this particular group at that particular time -- we'd just driven down a patch of rural highway in my minivan to a corn maze. "Ghetto" could not have been farther from their reality. Their use of it was as out of place as my mother volunteering her opinion of Snoop Dogg's latest CD.

Combating stereotypes, my husband and I have made certain choices for our three boys. Guns have been particularly unkind to the black community, so the closest they've ever come to one, even as a toy, is a Super Soaker. We strive for proper English, limit what music they download and which movies they watch. The boys know about the accomplishments of their ancestors -- not just historical figures in a textbook, but a grandfather who emerged from poverty in strictly segregated Alabama to become a college president. The work of our ancestors is not finished, but I'd thought there was less to do.

Some parents, white and black, may not recognize the accumulated damage from what is being sold to all our children. Perhaps they want to be the cool mom and dad or perhaps they just don't want another fight with their teenager. They may screen the movies their children leave the house to see, but they allow them to stay home with 50 Cent and his legendary bullet scars or the profanity-laced catfighting on "Flavor of Love."

The mature brain can understand what's intended as exaggerated entertainment. But young minds aren't yet hardwired to decipher what's for real from what's for show. And perception can eventually harden into attitude. Pop culture creeps into our lives through every unguarded crevice. My own sons have surprised me with bits of lyrics or lines from movies that they've never heard or seen themselves but that they've heard repeated by others or seen as a teaser on television. Some of that is fine, or at least benign. But some of it leaves African Americans in danger of being enslaved by imagery as we were once enslaved by law.

And that's something I refuse to allow to happen to my sons.

Aleta Payne is a writer and editor in Cary, N.C.

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

The Co-op Model’s Relevance Today

Nancy L Zimpher:

Cooperative education is now more than 100 years old. The co-op approach, in which students alternate time in the classroom with professionally paid work directly related to their majors, was founded at the University of Cincinnati by Dean Herman Schneider in 1906. There are co-op programs today at 500 institutions in the United States.

The centennial marks a good time to take stock. How effective is co-op? What has been its impact on its three fundamental partners — students, employers, and institutions of higher education? Is co-op still relevant? Still viable? What role should co-op play in 21st century education?

I see empirical evidence of co-op’s value every day at the University of Cincinnati. We have 3,800 students in 44 disciplines participating in co-op opportunities at more than 1,500 employers in 34 states and 9 foreign countries. At graduation, UC co-op students have an enviable head-start in their careers by virtue of their on-the-job work experience (an average of one-and-a-half years for UC students), marketable skills, impressive credentials, and networking connections. Many are hired immediately by the companies where they completed their co-ops.

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

March 22, 2007

On Vouchers

Tyler Cowen:

1. The federal government will pay for vouchers, to some extent, and thus extend its control over schooling. Admittedly this is happening anyway.

2. No politically feasible vouchers program will apply immediate depth charges to current public schools or even reduce their initial budgets ("oh, you aren't letting public schools compete...). That means the new money must come from somewhere. That means our taxes will go up.

Vouchers would create a new middle class entitlement, ostensibly aimed at education but often simply capitalized in the form of cash. In the meantime public schools would require additional subsidies to stay open. How pretty a picture is this?

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

Cole wins Cap Times endorsement

The Capital Times said:

The Madison School Board's makeup will change with the April 3 election. Its chief dissident, Ruth Robarts, is stepping down. So, too, is a quietly thoughtful member, Shwaw Vang, who has more generally sided with the board majority and the district's administrators.

There are those who suggest that the entire direction of the board and the school district is at stake. That's a stretch. Chances are that the next board will have a majority that is generally deferent to the administration and a potent minority that tends to challenge the administration to do better.That's about as it should be.

Madison schools are essentially sound. But they are not improving at the rate that they should. And they are facing increasingly challenging budget shortfalls. Thus, a board that mixes those who want to maintain what is good about the schools and those who will be pushing for more accountability and progressive innovation holds the most promise.

Our endorsements in this year's three contests for school board seats will look to achieve that mix.

We begin today with a strong endorsement of Maya Cole, who is seeking the District 5 seat being vacated by Robarts. Backed by Robarts, Cole is a solid progressive who has shown a willingness to spar with the district establishment. That upsets some defenders of the status quo, but our sense is that she strikes a mature balance between supporting sound schools and understanding the need to try new approaches in order to meet funding, staffing and curriculum challenges.

That maturity is the product of hard work by an active parent who admits to being something of a policy wonk.Cole ran for the board last year as a refreshing if somewhat green candidate and narrowly lost.

She's back this year, with a far greater mastery of the budget, the strengths and weaknesses of individual schools and the potential for achieving dramatic advances in minority student achievement and programming for students of every race, gender, economic status or heritage.

Raised in a rural, low-income family, she recognizes the barriers that exist even in good school districts.

And the active member of the Diversity & Inclusiveness Coordinating Committee for the United Way of Dane County is determined to break them down once and for all.

Cole's able opponent, retired teacher Marj Passman, shares many of Cole's values. Passman's an extremely well-regarded educator who proudly celebrates the greatness of Madison schools and we respect her for that.

Cole is more than willing to join in hailing what's right about the schools, but she is unwilling to accept that this is as good as it gets. She simply does not believe that administrators in Madison have all the answers.

Cole rarely shows up without a stack of studies under her arm, and no one who has spent more than three minutes with the candidate doubts that she has read them. She's also sought the counsel of teachers, education professors, think tanks and school board organizations.

With an eye toward what may be the most fundamental task of the new board that of selecting the next superintendent she has examined best practices for involving the community in the process. And she is committed to maintaining openness and promoting the involvement of parents, teachers and local officials.

In general, Cole comes at the issues facing the board and the district with a faith in the prospect that fresh ideas, an open budgeting process and cooperation with the community can go a long way toward gaining broad support for a district that is constantly struggling to find the resources necessary not just to maintain its strengths but to compete in an increasingly globalized environment.

When Cole takes a tough stand, it is usually based on core values; for instance, at a time when there is much talk among bean counters about closing east side schools, this former president of the Franklin-Randall Elementary PTO says, "The very last thing that we want to do is to close a school."

Cole and Passman are both progressives. They are both deeply committed to public education. They would both bring strengths to a changing school board. But Maya Cole stands out as the candidate who would ask the tough questions of administrators, think outside of the box and, above all, seek to involve the whole community in forging great schools for the 21st century.

Posted by Ed Blume at 9:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 20, 2007 Northside Planning Council Madison School Board Candidate Forum

44MB MP3 Audio / Video. Thanks to Ed Blume for recording this event.

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

Spring 2007 Madison School Board Election Update: Vote April 3!

  • Christine & Trent Sveom kindly forwarded candidate responses to additional questions not contained within the previously posted Video from the March 5, 2007 West High Forum. The questions:
    • Please explain your views on additional charter schools given the success of Nuestro Mundo here in Madison and several offerings in Appleton just to name a few?
    • How can the school district provide for second languages to be taught to all students starting in Kindergarten and continuing through all grades?
    • The board will be hiring a new superintendent. Please discuss what you believe is the top 3 criteria for a superintendent. You are free to ignore my request to address communication between Board and Administration/Superintendent, Boards communication with public, Superintendent and Public.
    • What role should School Board, Parents and Educators play in changing state law, which adversely affect our schools?
    • What accountability mechanisms do you envision? (Directed to Rick & Maya)
    • What is your position on the health insurance issue for teachers, that is the WPS option versus HMO’s?
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:57 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Despite 'Mommy Guilt,' Time With Kids Increasing

Donna St. George:

Cynthie Bush pulled on her coat and started to say goodbye. She and a friend were taking a night out -- three hours in all, for a quick dinner and a PTA event. It was not the kind of thing she did often, with two small children and a full-time job.

But before she could leave her Herndon home, her 4-year-old daughter began to cry for her. For a moment, Bush recalled, she wondered if she should cancel. Her days were already so full. She needed more hours with her children, not fewer.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:58 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 21, 2007

More school closings in next budget

The board might as well start planning for the next budget's $10 million deficit.

Making a decision on closing more schools now will allow for a more orderly transition in the years to come.

Posted by Ed Blume at 9:51 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Winston supports school closings

At last night's candidate forum at the Warner Park neighborhood center, Winston was the only candidate who said he'd vote yes to closing schools.

He proudly listed his connections to the Northside, while missing the irony of being the only one who would close the Northside's Sherman Middle School.

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

$65M for 42 Houston Charter Schools

Jay Matthews:

The charter school movement, begun 16 years ago as an alternative to struggling public schools, will today make its strongest claim on mainstream American education when a national group announces the most successful fundraising campaign in the movement's history -- $65 million to create 42 schools in Houston.

The money, which comes from some of the nation's foremost donors, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, would make the Knowledge Is Power Program the largest charter school organization in the country. KIPP, which runs three schools in Washington, has produced some of the highest test scores among publicly funded schools in the District and has made significant gains in the math and reading achievement of low-income students in most of its 52 schools across the country.

Meanwhile, Madison's proposed Studio School will apparently open this fall as a private organization. I hope we learn more about the Studio School's interactions with the Madison School District and how the process might improve in the future.

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

Pay Schools for Better Results

Jane Galt:

But it is not true that these kids are simply genetic train wrecks who we should be prepared to write off. Disadvantaged kids can be taught to read, write, and perform basic mathematical operations, and they can be taught to behave if their parents have neglected that task. In our system, however, any school that manages to do so achieves this feat only through heroic efforts to overcome the institutional barriers put in the way. For various reasons, this is not happening. I have a novel approach to solving this problem: I propose we . . . pay schools on the basis of their ability to educate these children. I plan to call this system something nifty and new-economy, like . . . a market. That has an edgy, new-millenial kind of feel, doesn't it? I think it's the juxtaposition of the hard-edged k and t sounds with the soft, sensuous labials of the first syllable.

Can the school system overcome all the handicaps that disadvantaged kids are born with? I doubt it. But it could certainly do better . . . and it could hardly do worse than many urban school districts.

Galt has more on schools here.

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

Business Tools for Better Schools

Business Tools for Better Schools:

The "Business Tools for Better Schools" toolkit is designed to engage, energize and focus company and business organization efforts in education reform. The toolkit is geared towards both policy and practical involvement, primarily at the state and local level, in three key K-12 education reform business priorities:

  • Ensuring that graduates are ready for work and college;
  • Strengthening the science, technology, education and math (STEM) pipeline;
  • Maximizing data-driven decisions in education.

The goal is to create a "one-stop" Web site where business can get the background information, facts, research and practical tools they need to effectively engage in education in their communities and states.

The toolkit was created and is maintained by Achieve, Inc. with generous support from the GE Foundation. Additional support was provided by the Business Roundtable. The content of the site was developed in consultation with national, state and local business organizations and companies. In particular, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and their state affiliates were instrumental in the conception and development of the website.

Wisconsin's page & Data. Wisconsin Data Fact Sheet.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison's Fund 80 & Elections

TJ Mertz:

In this morning’s Wisconsin State Journal there is a story that again misrepresents the place of Madison School Community Recreation and Fund 80 in the district and the community.

The chart comparing Fund 80 levies in Madison to those in other districts ignores the fact that most or all of those locales have municipal recreation programs paid for by municipal taxes. Due to a historical quirk, Madison has very little in the way of a municipal recreation department and programs and services that other locales fund via municipal or county taxes are funded and governed by the school district via Fund 80. In order to get a realistic comparison of Madison’s spending on recreational and community education programming one must look at total levies devoted to this. The last time I did this (early 2006) I found that the combined spending on MSCR and the Madison Parks Department was about $20 million. De Moines, IA (about the same size) has a parks and recreation budget of about $20 million. Ann Arbor, MI is about half the size of Madison and has a Parks and Recreation budget of $12 million. Green Bay, also about half the size has a Parks and Recreation Budget of $8 million. In other words, the spending in these areas is very much in line with what others spend.

There's been no shortage of discussion on Fund 80 here. 2006 / 2007 Madison School District $333M+ Citizen's Budget.


  • Amy Hetzner: Community Service Levies Climbed Since Revenue Caps Lifted:
    But once the Legislature removed the caps on the community service levies for the 2000-'01 school year and gave school districts an opportunity to keep their recreational activities from conflicting with educational programs, more took advantage of it.

    "I think - when you look at districts across the state - that's really what caused the jump," said Art Rainwater, superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District, which in 2005-'06 had the largest community service levy in the state.

    Like some of the bigger community service funds, Madison's supports a full recreation department with adult and youth programming. But it also helps pay for television production activities, after-school activities, a gay and lesbian community program coordinator and part of a social worker's time to work with low-income families, Rainwater said.

    The School District's community service levy is expected to grow to $10.5 million in the coming school year. In contrast, the same levy for Milwaukee Public Schools - which serves nearly four times as many children in its educational programs - is expected to reach $9.3 million, said Michelle Nate, the district's director of finance.

    Although the state Department of Public Instruction has issued guidelines to school districts on how they should use their community service levies, it leaves it up to local residents to decide whether their school boards do so wisely and legally.

  • Carol Carstensen: Fund 80 is Worth our Support.
  • Lucy Mathiak: Community Service Fund 80, Can We talk?
  • Ruth Robarts: A Tale of Two Budgets: the Operating Budget for Madison Schools versus its Budget for Community Programs and Services
  • A look at the City of Madison's parcel count growth.
The charts are from Lucy Mathiak's post:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 20, 2007

East Side school plan opposed

East Side school plan opposed

March 19, 2007

Waving bright signs and chanting, dozens of parents, kids, and teachers converged at a School Board meeting Monday night to protest proposed budget cuts that could consolidate elementary and middle schools on the East Side.
Earlier this month, Madison school officials proposed addressing a projected $10.5 million shortfall in next year's budget by moving Marquette Elementary students to Lapham Elementary and splitting Sherman Middle School students between O'Keeffe and Black Hawk middle school. The move would save about $800,000.

School Board members are still wrangling with at least five options to deal with the budget deficit and were presented with an alternative consolidation plan at Monday's meeting.

But many affected students, parents and teachers came to the meeting angry about the administration's recommendation to take students out of Marquette and Sherman, arguing it would eliminate neighborhood schools, force kids who currently walk to school to take buses, and increase class sizes.

"I really don't want to go to Lapham," said Kalley Rittman, a Marquette fourth-grader who was at the rally with her parents. "All the kids are going to be squished in one place."

Currently, Kalley and her sister in third grade, Hannah, walk to Marquette, said their mother, Kit. They would have to be bused to Lapham.

Kalley was also clutching an envelope with letters from other students and teachers at Marquette, and later spoke in front of the board, telling them she created a video on the school for them to watch.

Faye Kubly said her 11-year-old son had trouble in elementary schools before he transferred to Marquette, where teachers developed a system for him to learn successfully. She and other parents called the middle school proposal a "mega middle school" and called on the state to change its funding guidelines.

Several students from the district's alternative high school, Shabazz, expressed concern that a proposal to move the district's other alternative programs to Sherman Middle School could harm the school environment.

School administrators presented an alternative plan Monday night, under which Sherman, Black Hawk and O'Keeffe middle schools would be consolidated into O'Keeffe and Sherman; Lindbergh elementary school would be closed and those students sent to Gompers; and Lapham and Marquette elementary schools would be consolidated to Lapham K-5.

This plan "gets the most cost savings," Superintendent Art Rainwater said, noting it would save about $1 million and adding "I kind of think it's worth looking at."

Many of the meeting attendees said they supported a proposal by School Board member Carol Carstensen to hold a referendum to stave off some of the cuts. They chanted "Reading, writing, referendum" and held up hand-made signs spelling "referendum" during the public hearing.

But some board members expressed reticence at supporting such a referendum. Board Vice President Lawrie Kobza and member Arlene Silveira said this is not the right time and board member Lucy Mathiak said "one referendum is not a permanent solution to what is a structural problem in these schools."

Also at the meeting, dozens more people weighed in on suggested names for the new school at Linden Park. There was a large contingent of Hmong residents speaking in support of naming the school General Vang Pao, after a prominent American-allied Hmong military leader.

"Hmong children will feel a sense of inclusion, importance and acceptance in their community," said Pahua Thoa, a senior at UW-Madison.

Several people also spoke in favor of naming the school after Ilda Thomas, the founder and first director of Centro Hispano in Madison, including her daughter, Sonya Worner, who came from Minnesota to speak about her mother.

Posted by Joan Knoebel at 8:42 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Reality Check: Taxpayers Pay For Lobbying

Colin Benedict on Channel3000:

Wisconsin taxpayers are paying millions to lobby state lawmakers, in many cases, for more money.

Dane County does it too -- it spent nearly $175,000 last session, WISC-TV reported. Part of it was for more money from the state to pay for county nursing home patients, and Dane County argued against the taxpayer bill of rights.

Rock County spent about $6,400 on similar issues, WISC-TV reported.

Schools do this as well. The Madison Metropolitan School District spent $133,000 on lobbying, with some of the tax money spent trying to get more tax money into the classrooms.

The district is on record fighting against revenue limits and against limits to local control, WISC-TV reported.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Fixing Dixie's tricksy schools

The Economist:

The hard lessons of segregation

WAYNE CLOUGH, the president of the Georgia Institute of Technology, has just moved into a new office. The workmen are still in the corridors outside, generating noise and dust. A few years ago the site, in Atlanta, was full of drug addicts and prostitutes. The hotel across the street was boarded up and inhabited by vagrants. Now Georgia Tech is building a “sustainable, energy-efficient campus” with white roofs, recycled building materials and a system for catching and using rainwater. It is a bit more expensive, says Mr Clough, but “if you plan to be around for a while, you'll recapture the costs eventually.”

Georgia Tech has a global reputation. Its 16,000 students will mostly go on to careers in engineering, medicine or some other tough and lucrative field. But Mr Clough does have some worries. Southern universities got into the research game later than their northern rivals, so the region is behind the curve in attracting high-tech industries, he says. From time to time, fundamentalists try to teach creationism as science in southern public schools, which “reinforces the backward image”. But his biggest worry is that not enough young southerners are mastering science and maths.

“Brother Dave” Gardner, a stand-up comic from Tennessee, greeted the 1954 Supreme Court order to end segregated schools with the quip: “Let 'em go to school, beloved. We went, and we didn't learn nothin'.” That was harsh, but partly grounded in fact. The point of school segregation was to keep blacks down and whites separate. When it ended, many white parents moved their children from newly integrated public schools to private schools whose chief selling point was whiteness, not academic rigour.

As in so many areas, the legacy of the past afflicts the present. Today, if you rank states by the proportion of inhabitants over 25 who have at least graduated from high school, seven of the bottom ten are southern, with Texas dead last. Look at the current generation of schoolchildren and Texas is doing much better, but the South still lags. On standardised maths tests, 13-year-olds score below the American average in every southern state except Texas, Virginia and the Carolinas. In Alabama and Mississippi nearly half of them score “below basic” on maths, which means that even simple calculations baffle them.

Nicole Dobbs, now 17, attended public schools in Atlanta until 2004. There were “behaviour issues”, she recalls: “Kids fighting, throwing paper, talking back to the teacher, stuff like that. After a while of being [stopped from learning], you figure, what the heck? It can't be important.” Miss Dobbs's motivation dried up when her drug-addict mother moved the family into a homeless shelter. But it revived when she was accepted at Tech High, a state-funded but independently run “charter” school.

Some of the South's educational problems are cultural. A high proportion of students are poor, black or Hispanic. Black and Hispanic kids who do well academically are sometimes accused by their peers of “acting white” and ostracised. This is not an urban myth. A robust study by Roland Fryer of Harvard University showed that above a certain grade-point average, blacks and Hispanics have fewer friends than other pupils, whereas whites have more. But culture is not destiny. A good school can help to mould it.

Tech High is 97% black or Hispanic and takes kids from the roughest parts of Atlanta without screening for academic aptitude. Alan Gravitt, a science teacher there, says that when he gets new students from the public system, “it's shocking what they don't know.” One 14-year-old girl, he recalls, was surprised to learn that six divided by three was not the same as three divided by six. Tech High spends only two-thirds as much money, per pupil, as the Atlanta public schools. Yet its test scores are better than any in the inner city, and on a par with the average for Georgia. Why? Its teachers are easy to sack and rewarded by merit. Management is lean. Classes are disciplined, not least because teachers can threaten to send troublemakers back to the public schools they escaped from.

Learning to do better
Jay Greene, a professor at the University of Arkansas, says there has been more educational progress in the South than in other regions in recent years. Between 1992 and 2005, for example, the seven states that showed the swiftest improvement in nine-year-olds' maths scores were all southern. Mr Greene singles out Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee for subjecting pupils to rigorous testing, reducing class sizes, making schools more accountable and giving parents the choice to switch from bad schools to better ones.

Such reforms—especially school choice—often meet fierce resistance from teachers' unions and educational bureaucrats. Charter schools such as Tech High typically cannot set up without permission from the educational hierarchy whose flaws they plan to expose. A modest attempt to make it easier to sack incompetent teachers in Georgia was revoked in 2003 after its main sponsor, Governor Roy Barnes, a Democrat, was spurned by the educational establishment and voted out of office. But Mr Greene thinks the general picture is positive. “The South did not have the same tradition of educational achievement as the north, and that held it back,” he says. “But that's not really the case any more. The big advantage that the north had is not infinitely self-perpetuating.”

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:15 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Finding the Best High Schools, Part Two: Low-Income Stigma

Jay Matthews:

Consider this high-minded conclusion in their report: A successful high school should show high levels of student achievement, graduate almost all of its students and not let any demographic subgroup suffer at the expense of others. In a perfect world, I would not dispute that. But in the real world that means C. Leon King High School in Tampa does not belong on the best schools list because of its high dropout rate and low average test scores, even though Newsweek ranked it 73rd in the country in AP and IB test participation last year.

Asked to comment on the notion that her school ought to be taken off the list, Susie L. Johnson, assistant principal for the school's IB magnet curriculum, said: "Honestly, that is ridiculous."

Whoops. Did I say she runs the magnet curriculum? The Education Sector report dismissed magnets, special programs that draw students from outside school boundaries, as a sneaky way for schools like King to look good on the Newsweek list. In fact, it said, a school with a small number of students taking many tests will receive a high Challenge Index score even if it is providing a lousy education to the rest of it students.

More from Sara.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Testimony asks for three commitments

Thank you for your service and thank you for your request to hear from the community.

My name is Shari Entenmann and I’m here as a parent of 3 young children entrusting you with their school experience.

As you move forward with the budget process there are three things I’d like you to commit to:

1. Our downtown schools need to be vital, they are the heart of our city and why many of us moved here – myself included. Let’s not unravel what’s been built and what we can accomplish in the future. We want our schools to be vibrant and attractive so others choose to live here like I did.

2. Consider the details carefully – often it’s the details that matter:

a. What about the TEP program. My understanding from parents directly involved in bringing TEP to Lapham that part of what’s needed to make the program a success is the SAGE class sizes.
• Will Lapham still have TEP
• If TEP then SAGE, if SAGE is there room to consolidate?
• If not TEP, where will it go, back to Emerson – but wasn’t there concern about it being too much for one school?
• When making these decisions you have to consider this vulnerable population in this TEP program.
b. What about the alternatives program. Steve Hartley gave a very inspiring presentation last year at Marquette (when we were going through this exercise) and it was clear to me and others that the keystone to the success of the program is separating the kids from their age-group peers. Are you sure the proposal to move the program to Sherman has considered this, I didn’t see that consideration in the presentation to the board a few weeks ago.

c. Is the proposed larger middle school too big? I hear the comparison to Hamilton as a reference that it’s not. However, I don’t believe that’s an appropriate comparison. This is a very different population and I’ve heard concern from many teachers, and educators that’s it’s too big for this population, particularly with our resource restrictions.

3. An open process that allows all things to be discussed and considered with community involvement. We’ve heard several times that there’s nothing else to cut but things that effect the classroom and so everything must be on the table, even this drastic change that saves less than 700,000. However in all the discussion that’s lead to this point I haven’t heard any discussion on the following:
a. I’ve heard there may be more funds coming in the next few months – is this the time to propose such drastic changes – especially when these changes aren’t part of an overall plan but are part of the annual ad hoc widdling away process.

b. Extra-curriculars

c. Sports

Please consider what I’ve said. I believe it’s necessary to be successful because we live in a passionate community that strongly supports public education. Everyone needs to be involved.

Very sincerely, again, thank you for your service.

Shari Entemann

Posted by Ed Blume at 2:39 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Little Consistency in Bus Safety Standards

Debra Nussbaum:

DR. ALAN ROSS did not develop a passion for school bus safety until 10 years ago, when his son asked why there were no safety belts on the bus he rode to school in Litchfield County, Conn.

“I was your typical parent, and I just assumed we had this covered in a school bus,” said Dr. Ross, who is now the president of the National Coalition for School Bus Safety, a volunteer group. “That started my quest to improve things. The state of school bus transportation is a very sad one.”

School buses remain the safest form of transportation to and from school, according to various federal statistics, but regulation of the buses is uneven. No federal laws govern whether safety belts are required on school buses, how often the buses must be inspected or how many years they can be on the road. On a state level, there are significant differences in such laws — New York and New Jersey require seat belts on buses, for example, but Connecticut does not. Districts can have their own rules, too.

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

For Teachers, Middle School Is Test of Wills

Elissa Gootman:

When a student at Seth Low Intermediate School loudly pronounced Corinne Kaufman a “fat lady” during a fire drill one recent day, Mrs. Kaufman, a 45-year-old math teacher, calmly turned around.

“Voluptuous,” she retorted, then proceeded to define the unfamiliar term, cutting off the laughter and offering a memorable vocabulary lesson in the process.

Such are the survival skills Mrs. Kaufman has acquired over 17 years at Seth Low, a large middle school in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn: How to snuff out brewing fistfights before the first punch is thrown, how to coax adolescents crippled by low self-esteem into raising their hands, how to turn every curveball, even the biting insult, into a teachable moment.

But not all middle school teachers can do it.

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

School Crime Data in Madison

Madison Parent:

How safe are our schools? This question can’t be answered without consistent collection and analysis of information about violent and disruptive incidents in our schools. While the Madison Police Department has just released its Uniform Crime Report for 2006 (the summary of crime statistics that is reported annually to the FBI), there’s no equivalent report for Madison schools. Our state’s Department of Public Instruction collects data for expulsions and suspension, but not for incidents. The Madison Metropolitan School District’s web site simply links to the DPI site. At the individual school level, there may be no system for proactively communicating with parents about incidents affecting safety, or, worse yet, a parent’s school safety questions may languish unanswered.
The post includes a list of recent school crime events. Gangs and School Violence Forum.

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

Milwaukee School Board Candidate Notes

Alan Borsuk:

Dannecker, 45, said people in the district are concerned about behavior in schools. In general, he said, "high school is a big issue to parents," and many are not happy with most MPS high schools, particularly Bay View High School.

Dannecker played a central role in the decision in recent months to place police officers on a full-time basis in Bradley Tech High School and in a cluster of schools centered on Custer High School. He said he favors creating "almost an internal reform school" within MPS for students with major behavior issues.

Another trait: He says he pays attention to the way decisions are made. He often finds the decision-making of the current School Board and MPS administration lacking.

The recent MPS campaign against cell phones in school is an example. Falk said that with the way the ban works now, only some children don't bring cell phones to school and enforcement efforts are weak.

The crackdown was not well thought out, he said, given the way students actually respond.

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

March 19, 2007

What was the MMSD Budget in 2004/05?

Help! I'm getting a major headache. I've been trying to track some changes in the MMSD budget over the last 5-10 years, and I have noticed that the numbers aren't always the same in the different places that I have been looking. At first, I figured it just me and that definitions for budget categories change from year to year. However, I decided to look at something simple and straightforward: What was the total MMSD budget for 2004/2005? I have included the sources of this information for anyone who wants to check my work, but I tell you it's driving me nuts.

  • $370,226,157 - This number comes from an April 2006 Executive Summary
  • $363,366,630 - This is from a 10/24/05 Budget Amendments and Tax Levy document and this budget number includes interfund transfers.
  • $320,039,617 - If we remove interfund transfers from the budget, the above document lists this number as our total budget.
  • $316,822,781 - I found this budget amount listed twice: in a five year budget forecast from 2/14/05 and a preliminary budget forecast dated 3/7/05
  • $317,695,011 - On 5/3/05, the 2005-06 Budget and Financial Summaries document listed this amount for the 2004/05 budget.
  • $317,163,034 - this amount is similar but not identical; it comes from page 233 of the 2005-06 Budget Book released on 5/17/05
  • $318,789,509 - this is the MMSD 2004/05 budget according to DPI's website
  • $334,626,013.5 - this is a final guess at a budget number and it comes from the Five Year Financial Forecast document that the District had prepared by PMA Financial Network. This number is based on FY2004 and FY2005 data for Fund 10 ($265,678,423; $272,015,465) and Fund 27 ($66,148,621; $65,409,518). I just added the amounts for each fund for each FY (2004: $331827044; 2005: $337424983) and then averaged them as I wasn't sure what the relation was of a FY (fiscal year) to a school budget year. I should also state the obvious that I know the MMSD budget includes expenses beyond these two funds, but that was all that was in the document.

I realize that some variability can be the result of numbers computed before the end of the school year, but shouldn't all of the numbers computed after the end of the 2004/05 school year be the same? I have to be honest, this doesn't make me feel very confident about the District's money management abilities.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 12:50 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Rally Opposing Eastside School Closings/Consolidation Today

Via email:

I am helping an Eastside group opposing consolidation /closing of schools and crowding classrooms. We are rallying at 4:30pm this afternoon (3/19/2007) behind the Doyle Bdlg...just before the Board meeting convenes inside at 5pm.

Flyer [PDF version]

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:57 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Spelling Champ Does it Again

Ron Seely:

Forget basketball.

The real action in Madison on Saturday was on a brightly lit stage at Monona Grove High School where 47 gutsy young people stared down the vagaries of the English language and slugged it out verbally in the Badger State Spelling Bee.

The ending matched the thrill of a double-overtime NCAA tournament basketball game. Madison's own Isabel Jacobson, of O'Keeffe Middle School, repeated as champion in a poised and confident performance. She won against a stalwart competitor, Andrew Grose, of Lake Country Academy in Sheboygan, in a nail-biting duel over the word "ineluctable."

With just the two spellers standing on a stage amid empty chairs late in the afternoon, Andrew, who had calmly vanquished such words as "narcissistic" and "glockenspiel" during the afternoon, mistakenly put the letter "i" where the "a" belongs in "ineluctable."

Isabel, with hardly a blink, spelled the word correctly and then awaited the final word that, if spelled correctly, would give her a memorable second straight state championship.

"Tutelary," said pronouncer Brad Williams.

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

Sheboygan Oks 7 Charter Schools --- DPI grants info webcast on Friday

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Hard MMSD Budget Still Has Wiggle Room

Scott Milfred:

It's a contentious fact that has run through so many Madison School Board races and referendums in recent years:

Madison schools spend a lot -- $12,111 per student during the 2005-06 school year.

If the district is spending that much, how can it be in crisis?

The answer is complex and a bit murky. Yet a few things are clear.

Liberal Madison has long spent more than most K-12 districts in Wisconsin. This was true before the state adopted school revenue limits in the 1990s, and the caps only reinforced this today.

"When revenue caps went in, everyone was basically frozen in place," Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater said Friday. "We do spend more than the state average. But that has been the expectation of our community."

So why does Madison spend more? Berry points to Madison's higher number of staff who aren't teachers. Madison hires a lot of social workers, psychologists, nurses and administrators.

Madison spends more per pupil than Racine, Green Bay and Kenosha -- as well as the state average -- on student and staff services, administration and building and grounds. And Madison's non- instructional costs are rising as a percentage of its spending.

"Madison is actually de- emphasizing instruction," Berry contends.

In addition, Berry suspects Madison is over-identifying students for learning disabilities.

Links: Madison spending, student and staffing history. 2006/2007 MMSD Citizen's Budget. Carol Carstensen's thoughts on a 2007 Referendum.

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

March 18, 2007

Budget Impacts at Franklin-Randall--Don't Get Mad, Get Active!!

(This letter is being distributed to parents of Franklin-Randall students, but should concern everyone in the MMSD and Regent Neighborhood)

Don't get mad, get active!!
March 16, 2007

The School Board recently announced sweeping budget cuts for the coming school year that will have a severe impact on Franklin-Randall, as well as other schools in the district. Following Tuesday's PTO meeting, parents in attendance agreed that we must act QUICKLY to address this crisis. Below, we have summarized the funding crisis, and how cuts to our and other schools will affect our children's education and safety. Most importantly, we conclude with specific ideas that we can all implement, to positively address this crisis.

Brief overview of the FUNDING CRISIS: Wisconsin has placed an indefinite "Budget Cap" on all additional funding towards schools. Every year there are increased costs to our schools to cover teacher salaries, increased student numbers, and increased maintenance costs. Without intervention and change, Madison's reputation for excellence in education is going to change significantly, and with that, so will the diversity, appeal, and attraction of our city.
How will current district recommendations directly affect the education and safety of your children in the Franklin-Randall community?
*As a result of the "SAGE" program being cut from our schools, Franklin-Randall class sizes will rise from 15 to 22 for Kindergarten and First grade, and from 15 to 24 for Second and Third grades this Fall.
*Franklin will lose 5.1 teacher allocations; this most likely means that 3 classroom teachers will be laid-off, and there will be reductions throughout Art, Music, PE, and Reach.
*Randall will lose 1.6 teacher allocations.
*Randall will lose the 5th grade strings program (last year 4th grade strings was cut).

How will cuts at OTHER schools affect the education and safety of your children?
All of our city's elementary school children come together in middle and high schools; sub-standard education in any one of these schools will therefore affect all students eventually: a loss for one school will become a loss for all.

What can I do NOW?
1. Talk to people at your bus stop, in your neighborhood, and in the hallways at school when you're there-- work together to come up with at least one idea to present at the Rescue Our Schools brainstorm session. This meeting will follow the monthly PTO meeting (Tuesday, April 10th at 6:30) in the Randall Library.

2. Talk to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors who DON'T have children about how these changes to our schools will affect them. One key point to address is that our city is only as appealing as its future, and our children are the future. Everyone, with or without kids, will be affected. Wisconsin has a history of valuing education and performance; if this changes, we are giving up a source of identity and pride!

3. Attend the Information and Advocacy Session at the Doyle Administration Building, Thursday, March 29th at 6:30pm

4. Form shared child-care groups with friends and neighbors to allow for more parental presence in the schools. Make it a goal to do this in some capacity weekly. These cooperatives will allow you to watch or volunteer at more school functions, participate in school trips, or attend school board meetings. Education research definitively shows, that the more YOU are involved, the more success your child will have in school!

5. As you are able, contribute with time or money to the PTO! $100 can buy a violin that will last 10 years! Commit to a half-hour stint helping on the playground weekly -- this equates to invaluable community-building, camaraderie, injury prevention, as well as much-needed breaks for our teachers.

6. Attend the MMSD School Board Meetings, held on Mondays at the Doyle Administration Bldg at 545 W. Dayton St, next door to the Kohl Center. Beginning at 7:15, any person or group can make a "Public Appearance" (up to three minutes each) to deliver opinions / make arguments about any school-related topic. To find out more, go to : under "District Information" click on "Board of Education", then under "Meetings", click on "Board of Education Calendar".

7. Become active in the you school PTO!!! Sign up to be on the Franklin-Randall List-Serve -- This is a fast, easy and inexpensive way for people to notify each other about F-R events and news. Simply send an email to:, with "subscribe" in the subject line. To find out about all the up-coming meetings and events, go to the F-R PTO website. Site address is

8. Don't forget to VOTE on Tues, April 3rd, during Spring break--And if you're not in town, vote ABSENTEE! To vote absentee, go anytime within one week before the election, to the City-County Building at 210 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Rm. 103. 8-4:30pm. Alternatively, by calling 266-4601, you may ask the city to mail you a ballot (English, Spanish or Hmong), or simply go online: (also downloadable in English, Spanish or Hmong)

What can I do long-term?
Ultimately, we have to address long-term changes to school funding at the State and National level. Through grassroots organizing directed at raising awareness of the issues, we can make a change. We must reach out to like-minded groups (other PTO's, PTA etc.), and legislators around the state. To this end, following April's PTO meeting, we will meet to collect ideas, and organize our strategies --
*PLEASE come to the PTO Meeting, April 10th at 6:30pm (Randall Library)!! *

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for taking action in whatever way you can!
Concerned Franklin-Randall Parents

For further information, please contact any of us:
Sari Judge 233-1754, Megan Brown 250-0552, Kate Zirbel 661-9090,
Mollie Kane 232-1809, Erika Kluetmeier, 238-6209

Posted by Joan Knoebel at 6:08 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Joanne Jacobs Madison Visit 24 March 2007 @ 11:45

Joanne Jacobs will be in Madison Saturday 24 March 2007 @ 11:45a.m. Joanne is the author of Our School and a former Knight Ridder Columnist. We'll meet at Paisans [map].

Drop me an email (zellmer at mailbag dot com) if you'd like to stop by so that we can arrange sufficient space. Paisan's website.

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Spring Election Update - Vote April 3!

Much more on the election here.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:18 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 17, 2007

WSJ Endorses Rick Thomas

WSJ Endorse Thomas for Seat 3

Rick Thomas has run a successful business.
He understands the importance of serving customers. He has made decisions about which employees, equipment and services he can afford and which he can't afford.

He also understands and appreciates schools. He has been a substitute teacher and a volunteer tutor. He is a father with a son in elementary school.

His concern for Madison schools, enlightened by his business sense, would make him a valuable addition to the School Board.

He proposes more cost-benefit analyses to weed out unsuccessful programs.

He also proposes to improve discipline in the classrooms to create an environment more conducive to learning.

In addition, he wants the School Board and administration to be more open to parents' ideas and to more partnerships with parents, businesses and community organizations, as well as more involvement by the schools in the community, particularly through student public service projects.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 9:06 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

State Journal endorses Cole for school board

In an editorial on Saturday, the Wisconsin State Journal endorsed Maya Cole for school board:

Maya Cole likes to say that the Madison School Board needs to look outside the box.

She is right.

To solve budget shortfalls, address the district's shifting demographics and narrow the achievement gap between minority and white students, the board cannot afford a business-as-usual approach. To push the board toward bolder action, voters should elect Cole.

The mother of three boys in the Madison schools, Cole has educated herself on the problems the schools confront. She has also studied the nationwide research covering the best ways to solve those problems.

Her experience as president of the Franklin and Randall Parent Teacher Organization and a member of the diversity and inclusiveness committee for United Way of Dane County have helped give her valuable insights on ways the status quo should be challenged.

She has developed promising ideas about how to push innovation. She wants to capitalize on opportunities for more charter schools and for magnet schools.

She wants to enlist businesses in partnerships that can provide money for school programs and cut costs to taxpayers.

And she wants the board to listen more to the community.

Her goal is to improve education, despite a budget squeeze.

Her opponent, Marj Passman, is a retired teacher with admirable passion for maintaining high quality education for Madison students. But Cole has a far better grasp of the bold change needed to accomplish the task.

Posted by Ed Blume at 7:14 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Mayor Candidates Debate City Schools

Mary Yeater Rathbun:

Mayoral candidate Ray Allen told 250 Rotarians Wednesday that he would pull cops out of the schools, but later told The Capital Times that is not what he meant.

Allen said after the debate that what he meant to say, as he has said numerous times before, is that he would pull the cost of funding the police officers in the schools out of the school budget and transfer it to the city budget. This might, depending on the latest school financing laws, allow the schools to free up roughly $280,000 to apply to educational programs.

That is not, however, what members of Downtown Rotary heard at the Monona Terrace mayoral forum featuring both Allen and Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

As Rotarian Amanda Todd said, "As a mom, I was surprised to learn Allen plans to remove the cops from the schools."

Allen's misstatement came in response to a question from forum moderator Regina Millner about community safety being critical to recruiting and retaining businesses in Madison. In her question, Millner said the other major factor was the quality of the schools and remarked that the mayor had no control over the quality of the schools.

Allen, who served nine years on the Madison School Board, took issue with this assumption. "The mayor can be the champion of the schools," he said.

Gangs and School Violence Forum Audio / Video and notes.

Candidate Websites: Ray Allen | Dave Cieslewicz

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:56 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

MPIE and MUAE Update

As some of you may recall, back in December, I posted a few questions to the members of Madison Partners for Inclusive Education. As a result of that posting, several members of each group have met a couple of times in order to try and make personal connections and identify areas of shared concern and potential joint advocacy. It is too early to say how that effort is going. I, personally, am ever hopeful that we can find the patience and persistence needed to build a foundation of mutual understanding and trust, a foundation upon which we can ultimately work together for all children.

I would like to share a recent exchange from the MUAE list serve (where MPIE members have been welcome since the get-go -- in fact, more than one are longtime MUAE list serve members). In response to a post about one of the BOE candidates, an MPIE member wrote the following:

I would like to clarify something that was misstated in a recent post. Madison Partners for Inclusive Education (MPIE) does NOT promote or endorse COMPLETELY heterogeneous classrooms ALL the time. The group does not think completely heterogeneous classrooms all of the time is in the best interest of children with disabilities. Their website goes on to explain their philosophy: Thank you for understanding this and clarifying in future posts.

I then replied:

Thanks for the clarification, though I really think we are in agreement on this point. Certainly the inclusion decision for students with disabilities should be a flexible one, based on the specific nature of the disabilities, the specific educational needs, and the family's preference for their child. Most of us know, for example, about IDEA and the K-12 IEP process. We know, too, that our high schools offer alternative classes and other learning options for those students with disabilities for whom the "regular" classes are not appropriate.

I am sure we get sloppy with our language, at times; but our language errors are surely inadvertent, mostly because -- like all parents -- we are simply thinking about our own children, whether or not they are thriving, and whether or not their needs are being well met by our schools. We are guilty of being good parents. Nevertheless, we apologize.

The fact is, we do not want much of anything to change for students with disabilities. (We would like to see the state and federal governments pay a larger portion of the tab for special education -- can we encourage your group to take the lead on that issue at the local level?). We support all of the flexibility, all of the options, and all of the tailoring of educational programming that goes on for them during their years in the MMSD. MUAE stands absolutely with MPIE on that, as I see it (though obviously I really can't speak for everyone). We are your partners there.

We ask the same of you.

I wonder, will you be our partners in getting our children's educational needs met in the same way that the needs of students with disabilities are met? Just as you do not think placement in completely heterogeneous classrooms all of the time is in the best interest of children with disabilities, so do we think such placement is inappropriate for our children. Full days spent in "regular" classrooms does not necessarily meet our children's educational needs any better than it does your children's needs. We are told the District is committed to giving each student the appropriate "next level of challenge." And yet too many of us know (or have) "formerly bright" students who have become turned off to school as a result of too many years of insufficient challenge and chronic boredom. They are miserable. They are in pain. They are not growing well at all. Meanwhile, our advocacy efforts on our children's behalf are too often met with disdain, deception and complete stonewalling. We do not yet have the same legal foundation on which to stand as you do.

We at MUAE are simply asking for the same flexibility -- in thinking, in approach, in educational opportunity and in classroom placement -- for the District's highest potential, highest performing students that students with disabilities experience. Nothing more; nothing less.

Can you and the other MPIE members support us in that position as wholeheartedly as MUAE members support you in yours? (That's really the question I was asking of you in my SIS post a while back.)

I hope so.

Posted by Laurie Frost at 12:38 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More on Madison's Reading First Rejection and Reading Recovery

Joanne Jacobs:

Reading War II is still raging as reading experts attack a New York Times story on Madison’s decision to reject federal Reading First funds in order to continue a reading program that the Times claims is effective. Education News prints as-yet unpublished letters to the Times from Reid Lyons, Robert Sweet, Louisa Moats, Linnea Ehri and Joanna Williams, Timothy Shanahan and Mark Seidenberg. Professor Moats, formerly co-investigator of the NICHD Early Interventions Project, a five-year, federally funded study of reading instruction in high-poverty schools, points out that the Office of Management and Budget “recently gave the Reading First program its highest (and unusual) rating of effectiveness.”
Joanne will be speaking in Milwaukee on March 23, 2007. More: Reading First and Reading Recovery.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"A Free and Appropriate Education"

Paula via Paul Soglin:

Federal law states that in the U.S. every child has a right to a free and appropriate education no matter if the child is gifted & talented, average, or below average. Some children will cost more to educate than others.

There is an illusion that kids come with their abilities and needs stamped on their foreheads. As you have stated, we educate students with a huge range of intellectual, emotional, physical, linguistic, and economic needs. In special education, these needs are defined by arbitrary cut-offs and definitions. The premise is that these categories can be used as predictors of education costs to be incurred by specific disability and need.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:37 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 16, 2007

Live Chat: Reaching Gifted Children

Join Education Week on Monday, March 19, from noon to 1 p.m., Eastern time, for a live Web chat with Karen Isaacson and Tamara Fisher, the co-authors of "Intelligent Life in the Classroom—Smart Kids & Their Teachers," a new book from Great Potential Press of Scottsdale, Ariz. This is the second in a regular series of chats on education books.

Isaacson and Fisher make a unique writing pair: Isaacson is the mother of five gifted children, while Fisher is the K-12 gifted education specialist for a school district located on an Indian reservation in northwestern Montana.

In "Intelligent Life in the Classroom," the two authors draw on their own experiences and real-world anecdotes to offer insights into the way gifted children’s minds work and the best ways to reach and engage them in the classroom. With humor and understanding, they write about the imperative to harness gifted children’s potential, to nurture their curiosity, and to channel their intensity. They cite a common saying among teachers—that gifted children are children first and gifted second.

"Isaacson and Fisher have contributed a refreshingly welcome perspective concerning the complexities of smart kids and the teachers who reach them,” Marcia Gentry, the associate director of the Gifted Education Resource Institute at Purdue University, says of the book.

“Karen Isaacson and Tamara Fisher are connoisseurs of young learners, studying and savoring the variety of kids who come their way. They remind readers of a number of non-negotiables of superior teaching,” Carol Ann Tomlinson, a professor of educational leadership at the University of Virginia, writes in the book’s foreword.

Ms. Isaacson and Ms. Fisher will be online to answer your questions about teaching and better understanding gifted children.

Join the discussion:

Submit advance questions:
No special equipment other than Internet access is needed to partipate in this chat. Go to the link provided to enter. A transcript of the chat will be posted after its completion.

Posted by Ed Blume at 2:31 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Music Lessons Affect Brain Development

As the district considers the total elimination of strings education in our elementary schools, a recently published study provides yet more evidence of the benefits of musical training.

Music Training 'Tunes' Human Auditory System
Science Daily — A newly published study by Northwestern University researchers suggests that Mom was right when she insisted that you continue music lessons -- even after it was clear that a professional music career was not in your future.

The study, which will appear in the April issue of Nature Neuroscience, is the first to provide concrete evidence that playing a musical instrument significantly enhances the brainstem's sensitivity to speech sounds. This finding has broad implications because it applies to sound encoding skills involved not only in music but also in language.

The findings indicate that experience with music at a young age in effect can "fine-tune" the brain's auditory system. "Increasing music experience appears to benefit all children -- whether musically exceptional or not -- in a wide range of learning activities," says Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern's Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory and senior author of the study.

"Our findings underscore the pervasive impact of musical training on neurological development. Yet music classes are often among the first to be cut when school budgets get tight. That's a mistake," says Kraus, Hugh Knowles Professor of Neurobiology and Physiology and professor of communication sciences and disorders.

For further information about how music instruction impacts intellectual development, readers are encouraged to explore the work of psychologist Glenn Schellenberg:

Schellenberg, E.G. (2005). Music and cognitive ability, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14, 322-325.

Schellenberg, E.G. (2004). Music lessons enhance IQ. Psychological Science, 15, 511-514.

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

Schools Discover Automated Calling and Go Wild

Ellen Gameran:

All over the country, schools are putting in automated phone systems that can quickly place thousands of recorded calls. Originally intended to notify parents of emergencies, more and more automated messages are about routine matters, ranging from stern warnings about talking in class to how to dress for tomorrow's pep rally.

One automated calling company, TeleParent Educational Systems, of Fullerton, Calif., lets teachers pick from a menu of 600 canned messages -- including one that says a child is a "pleasure to have in class" and another saying he or she has "been late to class five or more times."

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

Reading Recovery: More chipping and shredding in Fargo!

What makes this article from Fargo interesting is how it almost exactly mirrors the findings in my home district, Hortonville, and the recent analysis of Reading Recovery done in Madison. That being, a 50% success rate for RR students. From the article:

"However, West Fargo student data over time, as presented by Director of Knowledge Management Holly Budzinski Monday night, show that while this is happening in the short term, it?s not something the students sustain in the long run. The Administration has been scrutinizing the Reading Recovery program since two days after Budzinski arrived in West Fargo last January, and she has found that the majority of students served by Reading Recovery gradually lose their abilities to meet the class average by the time they reach sixth grade."

This findings support claims by Chapman, et. al., in New Zealand, who discovered RR results wash out over time. More from the news article.

"For example, one of Budzinski?s several studies into elementary school student achievement in West Fargo showed that while 57 percent of students served by Reading Recovery were able to meet the grade level as measured by a Developmental Reading Assessment after the first grade, by the time they had reached sixth grade only 18 percent met the standards, as measured by the MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) Assessment."

The costs are astounding:

"School District officials presented data Monday night showing that a $500,000 first-grade reading program does not serve its targeted student population, the lowest performers....
There are 14 Reading Recovery teachers in the West Fargo School District, providing one-on-one instruction to a total of 105 students for 30-minute increments each day during a time period of between 16 and 20 weeks."
That's $500,000 for 104 kids and a 57% success rate, or $4800 per kid. When you figure in the success rate, the number becomes $8421 per success. most which washes out in a few years.

A 50% success rate in Hortonville could be a fluke. A 50% success rate in Madison should raise an eyebrow. A 50% or so success rate in Fargo, is, a clear trend.


Complete Article:

District officials scrutinize reading program
Forrest Adams
West Fargo Pioneer - 03/13/2007
School District officials presented data Monday night showing that a $500,000 first-grade reading program does not serve its targeted student population, the lowest performers, as well as proponents of the program claim it does. They asked for the help of teachers involved in it, many of whom attended the School Board meeting, to help them find a better way to serve these students.
“What we’re really trying to do is talk about the rate at which every kid in this school system is growing,” District Superintendent Dr. Dana Diesel Wallace said. “It seems to be the program, not the people. We’ve got teachers doing really good jobs.”

She said modifications to the early childhood literacy strategies in the School District do not mean teachers involved with the program in question, Reading Recovery, will lose their jobs, just that the District will possibly implement a more cost-effective solution to address the issue of reading instruction among the lower performin g students.

“We have teachers with wonderful training working in good schools; we have smart people who work really hard; I’d like for us to think more broadly about solutions,” she said. “Can we have a successful literacy program using the skills we have here? Yes we can. If we don’t address how kids read in earlier grades, some of the proficiency marks we’re shooting for in Goal 2011 will not be reached. This is for all of the students. There is room for growth in all students.”

There are 14 Reading Recovery teachers in the West Fargo School District, providing one-on-one instruction to a total of 105 students for 30-minute increments each day during a time period of between 16 and 20 weeks. Reading Recovery was developed in the 1970s by an educator in New Zealand and has been implemented in Australia, Canada, England, as well as the United States.

Advocates claim Reading Recovery is the best tool on the market because it helps the lowest performing c hildren learn to read and builds a foundation for them to attain the average level of their local class by the end of first grade through design and implementation of an individual program to meet each student’s needs.

However, West Fargo student data over time, as presented by Director of Knowledge Management Holly Budzinski Monday night, show that while this is happening in the short term, it’s not something the students sustain in the long run. The Administration has been scrutinizing the Reading Recovery program since two days after Budzinski arrived in West Fargo last January, and she has found that the majority of students served by Reading Recovery gradually lose their abilities to meet the class average by the time they reach sixth grade.

For example, one of Budzinski’s several studies into elementary school student achievement in West Fargo showed that while 57 percent of students served by Reading Recovery were able to meet the grade level as measure d by a Developmental Reading Assessment after the first grade, by the time they had reached sixth grade only 18 percent met the standards, as measured by the MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) Assessment.

“The students are not able to sustain their gains,” Diesel Wallace said after the meeting. “Some [research] says [the program] works. Some says it doesn’t.”

Vickie Bouttiete, the District’s Reading Recovery Teacher Leader for the past eight years, says her data show the program works. She and Eastwood Elementary Reading Recovery teacher for the past eight years Peggy Sola will present it to Administration officials on Wednesday. There will also be a Reading Recovery presentation at the next School Board meeting in two weeks.

In an interview on Tuesday morning, Bouttiete said Reading Recovery is the best program available for intervention to help low-performing children learn to read. In her opinion, one-on-one instruction is vital.

“By getting to know each student one on one, we can figure out what they need. Reading Recovery is very complex. There are many different components in the program,” she said.

Bouttiete suggested the District enter into a research study comparing small-group reading instruction to one-on-one instruction.

“We know that first grade can’t be responsible for what happens in other grades. I think we need to sit down and come up with a reasonable plan. Eight years ago we had small-group teaching. It wasn’t working then,” she said. “When you deal with human beings, you can’t always think about members. There are other variables, like what support are they are receiving at home. You can’t control what happens outside of school. There’s a humanistic side that I think is very important and very significant.”

Since it was first implemented in the School District, costs for Reading Recovery have exceeded $2.5 million, and that’s not including materials and training, reported Bu dzinski. The School Board does not normally get involved in curriculum issues, unless, as President Duane Hanson said, there’s a price tag attached to them.

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

Finding the Best High Schools: Part One

Jay Matthews:

While we are gathering this data, I want to use the next few columns to dig into the meaning of high school quality. This has become a controversial topic. Educators have a wide range of views. Some tell me the Newsweek list, which rates schools on the very narrow basis of participation in college-level tests, is a wonderful way to recognize schools with great staffs who are working hard to prepare average and sometimes below-average students for college. Others say the list distorts the images of many schools, particularly those in wealthier neighborhoods, by giving less emphasis to test scores and by ignoring special school qualities that cannot be reduced to a single number.

It is not just educators and journalists who are concerned about how we measure schools. Probably the most enthusiastic consumers of high school data are real estate agents, and their millions of clients. A recent study on how school statistics affect home prices dramatizes once again how powerful average test scores are in shaping public perceptions, even when many experts think there are better ways to assess schools.

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

WEAC, the EAW & the Waukesha School Board

Waukesha Taxpayer's League:

alaries and benefits are by far the largest portion of the School District budget and the increases dictate what the School Board must do with programs and corresponding reductions in programs. During the '90's, negotiations used to begin with presentation of proposals of both sides, the EAW (Education Association of Waukesha) and the Waukesha School Board (the elected body that should be working on behalf of taxpayers to provide the best education possible). This was done so that negotiations was a give/take process (taxpayers usually gave more than they received in return). Recently, a couple of WTL members had a three way conversation with Bill Baumgart, President of the Waukesha School Board. In that conversation, the WTL verified that the School Board does not vote or have an acceptable QEO done prior to negotiations as a basis to work from. The School District also hasn't filed with the appropriate Schedule D required by law at the close of negotiations for previous years. Following is the 'proposal-less non-protection' contract used by the School District of Waukesha (ie. Waukesha School Board) and the EAW. Is there a difference between the two groups??

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

A Child Left Behind

Terri Cullen:

My husband Gerry and I are at odds over a decision that could have a major impact on our son Gerald's future: Should he repeat the second grade?

By repeating second grade, Gerald may greatly improve his grades -- which, if it keeps up, will affect his ability to get into a good college, potentially leading one day to a higher-paying job. By going on to third grade, Gerald will keep pace with his friends and avoid the social stigma and self-doubt of having been left back -- and a college education isn't always the key to financial security and a happy life.

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

On Math Reform

Barry Garelick:

If one could make a case against the perpetrators of reform math—complete with arrests and jail time—showing that such programs are a form of child abuse, the math wars would cease in a matter of days. As it is, however, reasoned arguments from those who oppose the reform programs haven’t seemed to carry much weight, as the programs seem to proliferate in school after school across the U.S. And in a recent Education Week column, Mr. T.C. O’Brien seems quite content to skewer those who criticize the reform programs, resorting at times to borderline name-calling, and laying blame in large part on mathematicians. It seems that mathematicians’ call for math to be in math textbooks and that such math be is an artifact of purism and backwards thinking.

Ordinarily I would ignore such a diatribe. But I believe there have been too few rebuttals to this type of editorial which Education Week seems only too happy to publish. Take for example this statement: “The National Mathematics Advisory Panel, established by the Bush administration in April of last year, has been meeting to discuss the improvement of achievement in mathematics in the schools. A good portion of its members have no experience in mathematics, no experience teaching children, or both.”

More on Garelick

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March 15, 2007

Phonics is necessary but not sufficient

This post came from a listserve on reading:

This is in response to the NY Times article about Madison's reading program. Of course a quick response is often inadequate. But here goes.

The simple fact is that correct decoding is necessary but not sufficient to comprehend what one is reading. Necessary but not sufficient appears to be a concept that escapes most of the field of education. What's so hard about it, I wonder? You have to have water to stay alive, but that's not sufficient to keep you alive. You have to have air to stay alive, but that's not sufficient to keep you alive. Look at that dead person there. We gave him water and he still died. That must prove that water kills you!

However good the points made by the DC teacher, e.g., readers need to think about what they are reading, vocabulary development is critical, comprehension is the point of reading it provides NO support for the ridiculous teaching used to open the article about Madison. My gosh, the teacher thinks that the child should know that if a word isn't "pumpkin," because it is too short to be "pumpkin," the child should be able to guess that the word is instead "pea." Decoding or "word calling" must be accurate and facile so that the reader can turn their attention to comprehension. Guessing won't get you there.

The most breathtakingly stupid assertion in the whole NY Times article is: "They also contend that children drilled in phonics end up with poor comprehension skills when they tackle more advanced books."

That is the same as saying "People given water end up dead" when they starved to death. Research shows that learning how to decode via phonics is more efficient, leaving more time, eventually for work on comprehension. Therefore, the opposite is true.

If I were to be really generous I would guess that they are looking at at-risk, low SES children who have very limited word knowledge as well as limited world knowledge. The ONLY way they even learn to decode is via phonics--but then there is an additional job to be done in vocabulary and background knowledge instruction. If this is not done, or done a couple of years behind schedule, then these students taught with phonics methodology (probably only after they have failed to learn by guessing for years!) will indeed show low in comprehension.

People who use that data to conclude the above absurd statement are simply being obtuse. And we can't afford to play stupid when children's lives are at stake.

Posted by Ed Blume at 5:59 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Upcoming BOE Candidate Forums

March 15 Thursday, 7:00-8:30 p.m., Dane County United Candidate Action Assembly, Covenant Presbyterian Church, 326 Segoe Rd. (Mineral Point and Segoe). Plenty of Parking and free child care available. [Source: Candidate websites (Maya Cole, Rick Thomas, Johnny Winston Jr)]

March 20 Tuesday, 7:00-8/9 p.m., Northside Planning Council Forum, Warner Park Building. [Source: Candidate websites (Marj Passman website, Rick Thomas)]

March 21 Wednesday, noon, Rotary Club of Madison, the Concourse Hotel. [Source: Rotary website, Candidate websites (Maya Cole, Rick Thomas, Johnny Winston Jr)]

March 22 Thursday, 7:00 p.m., Madison United for Academic Excellence 2nd Annual Forum, Room 209 Doyle Administration Building, 545 W. Dayton Street. [Source: MUAE website, AMPs website, School Info System website, candidate websites (Maya Cole, Marj Passman, Rick Thomas, Johnny Winston Jr)]

March 27 Tuesday, 6:30-8:30 p.m., PTO candidate forum sponsored by PTO's at Thoreau, Midvale-Lincoln, Cherokee, and Leopold schools, Leopold Elementary School, 2602 Post Road. [Source: Cherokee PTO website, AMPS website, School Info System website, candidate website (Rick Thomas)] [Note: March 20th is listed as the date for this forum on the AMPs website and two candidate websites (Maya Cole, Johnny Winston Jr). This is listed here as the 27th as the Cherokee PTO is a primary source.]

March 28 Wednesday, 7:00-9:00 a.m., Dane County Public Affairs Council Debate/Forum, U.S. Bank building, downtown. [Source: Candidate websites (Maya Cole, Rick Thomas)]

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MTI spending will likely top $10,000 for Moss & Passman

The Madison Teachers Union political action committee spent a little more than $7,500 in “independent expenditures” in support of for Juan Lopez and Arlene Silveira in last year’s school board races. The money paid for production and air time for radio and newspaper ads, but the figure does not include the newspapers' charges for running the ad.

This year, MTI Voters (the official name for the union’s PAC) contributed the legal maximum - $1,560 – to each campaign committee of Marj Passman and Beth Moss.

We can surely expect MTI Voters to make independent expenditures for Passman and Moss equal to what the PAC spent last year.

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:34 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Examining California's School Governance and Finance Systems


"Getting Down to Facts" is a research project of more than 20 studies designed to provide California’s citizens with comprehensive information about the status of the state’s school finance and governance systems. The overall hypothesis underlying this research project is that improvement to California’s school finance and governance structures could enable its schools to be more effective.

Over an 18 months period from September 2005 to March 2007, the Getting Down to Facts Project brought together an extraordinary array of scholars from 32 institutions with diverse expertise and policy orientations. It represents an unprecedented attempt to synthesize what we know as a basis for convening the necessary public conversations about what we should do. “Getting Down to Facts” was specifically requested by the Governor’s Committee on Education Excellence, former Secretary of Education Alan Bersin, the President pre Tem of the California Senate, the Speaker of the California Assembly, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Nanette Asimov:
A yearlong, $3 million evaluation of California public schools by more than 30 education experts reveals a "deeply flawed" system that misdirects school money, emphasizes paperwork over progress, and fails to send the best teachers into the neediest schools.

"Getting Down to Facts" -- a collection of 22 studies -- begins with the sobering reminder that despite years of academic reform, California students of all ethnicities still score among the worst in the nation on tests of basic reading and math.
A year ago, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and a bipartisan group of state educators and lawmakers asked the researchers to find out what was wrong with the public school system. All agreed that once the report came out, they would together try to fix the problems.

Joel Rubin and Howard Blume have more.

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Mark Seidenberg on the Reading First controversy

Via a reader email; Language Log:

Last Friday, the New York Times ran a story about how school administrators in Madison, Wisconsin, turned down $2M in federal Reading First funds rather than change their approach to the teaching of reading (Diana Jean Schemo, "In War Over Teaching Reading, a U.S.-Local Clash"). Considering the importance of the topic, it's remarkable how poorly (or misleadingly) reported this article was. The story's key claim:

Madison officials say that a year after Wisconsin joined Reading First, in 2004, contractors pressured them to drop their approach, which blends some phonics with whole language in a program called Balanced Literacy. Instead, they gave up the money — about $2 million, according to officials here, who say their program raised reading scores.

One set of problems with the article is discussed by Ken DeRosa here. Apparently the Madison program "raised reading scores" only because the test scoring system was changed. Once apples are compared to apples, the test results show that "Madison's Balanced Literacy reading program [...] failed to increase student performance in Madison and actually caused a relative decline in the schools that were supposed to get Reading First funding."

Last night, Mark Seidenberg sent me a note in which he lays out some additional background, and identifies what he calls the "big lie" in Schemo's story:

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NCLB Update: 50+ Republicans Move to Undercut Legislation

Jonathan Weisman and Amit R. Paley:

More than 50 GOP members of the House and Senate -- including the House's second-ranking Republican -- will introduce legislation today that could severely undercut President Bush's signature domestic achievement, the No Child Left Behind Act, by allowing states to opt out of its testing mandates.

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Strangling Wisconsin Education With Underfunded Special Ed

Paul Soglin:

I met with some special education teachers on Tuesday and wish to share my observations about the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD). These are my observations and conclusions, not theirs.

  • For the 1996-97 school year the State of Wisconsin paid 40.223% of the cost of special education. For 2006-2007 the state paid  28%. (Here is a MMSD memo on the subject from 2005)
  • The MMSD cannot lower the expenditures for special education and so the lost state revenues must be made up by cuts in general education.
  • The lost funding amounts to about $8 million dollars this year.
  • In the 2001-2002 school year the MMSD enrolled 197 children with a Primary Disability of Autism. That number rose to 303 for this school year. Twenty five years ago that number was less than five. If one out of every 166 children are autistic, there should be 150 autistic children in the MMSD.
  • A 2003 district study showed that 93 of the autistic children enrolled that year moved into the district from not just Wisconsin and the United States, but all over the world. That number does not include the children of families who moved to Madison prior to their child's fifth birthday.

My conclusions: Special eduction is just one of several factors driving the cost of educating our children. More significant is the cost of educating so many children enrolled in the MMSD who's families are below the poverty line.

There is no question that the original outstanding commitment to special education of the MMSD in the 1980's combined with the high level of services (Waisman Center, etc) attracted a significant number of families to the MMSD.

More on state K-12 finance from Paul here:
he Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) struggles to make budget cuts. Some taxpayers are assuming that if they, as students, could get a quality education twenty or forty years ago, then, with a little fine tuning, it can be today's students.

The world and Wisconsin education has changed. Here are some of the differences from thirty years ago:

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March 14, 2007

Our School Author Joanne Jacobs Milwaukee visit 3/23/2007

via email:

Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds (Palgrave Macmillan) brings readers inside a San Jose charter high school that prepares students who are “failing but not in jail” to succeed at four-year colleges.

The book just came out in paperback. I’ll be in Milwaukee Friday, March 23 to speak at Marquette’s Soup and Substance lunch at noon at Alumni Memorial Union, 1442 W. Wisconsin Ave., in room 163 [Map]. The lunch is open to the public. I’ll also do a reading at Schwartz Bookshop, 2262 S. Kinnickinnic Ave at 7 pm [Map].

Most Downtown College Prep students come from Mexican immigrant families and read at the fifth-grade level when they start ninth grade. DCP promotes the work-your-butt-off style of education. Teachers don’t tell students they’re wonderful. They tell them they’re capable of improving, which is true. The school now has one of the highest pass rates in San Jose on the state graduation exam. All graduates go to four-year colleges.

Our School has received good reviews in the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Washington Post, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Sacramento Bee, Teacher Magazine and elsewhere.

After 19 years as a Knight Ridder columnist, I quit in 2001 to write “Our School,” freelance and start an education blog,, which now draws more than 1,000 visitors a day.

With all the despair about educating "left behind" kids, I think people should hear about a school that's making a difference.

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Concerns Expressed on The Proposed Sherman School Closing


Parents on Madison's east side attended a meeting Tuesday to sound off on a plan that would close Sherman Middle School next year.

Parents and school staff packed a cafeteria Tuesday night to hear from the district and school board members about a plan that would consolidate Sherman with Blackhawk and O'Keefe middle schools.

The plan is estimated to save the district more than $750,000 in a budget that has a $10.5 million shortfall.

But parents said that the plan would not only uproot their children's lives but close a school that has come a long way.

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Waukesha West Wins 6th Wisconsin Academic Decathalon

Amy Hetzner:

For everyone who has lamented when athletic skills overshadow intellectual prowess, Waukesha West High School answered back Tuesday, winning a sixth consecutive state Academic Decathlon crown backed by a cheering section worthy of a hockey game.

The team dominated the two-day championships, beating its nearest competitor - Sun Prairie High School - by more than 7,000 points out of a possible 60,000. Waukesha West scrimmage partner Kettle Moraine High School came in third overall.

"It's just like fine wine - it keeps getting better and better," Waukesha coach Duane Stein said of his sixth state title.

Not only did the Waukesha West team take home the team prize in all 10 of the events in the decathlon - from essay writing to tests in academic subjects - two team members set state records in individual categories. The team also beat the previous state records in essay and social science.

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

Fund education where it's needed

Steve Paske:

However, there was one thing I found alarming.

The column calling for school funding reforms wasn't about MPS or inner-ring suburbs; it was about drastic service reductions in Waukesha.

If you ask me, to complain about Waukesha's school funding while MPS and other area districts struggle to simply put a teacher in every regular classroom is akin to whining about a dripping faucet in your mansion's eighth bathroom while your next-door neighbor is stuck going out back to a squatter's pit.

More on Waukesha.

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Sunshine Week: Open Records in Schools

Several articles on open records issues in schools:

  • Meg Jones: School District loses 2 suits over lack of transparency
    Barry Hoerz was kicked out of a meeting of the Weyauwega-Fremont School Board in July.

    What's unusual is that Hoerz was a member of the School Board, and he was told to leave because he was writing notes during closed session.

    A Waupaca County circuit judge agreed with Hoerz after a four-hour trial in January and ordered the district to pay a $300 fine as well as attorney expenses and other fees totaling $9,133, according to court records.

    While squabbles among school board members and superintendents are not rare, it is unusual for a school board member to sue the board for violating the state's open meetings law.

  • Madison Parents School Safety Site:
    This week is national “Sunshine Week” (Sunshine Week web site; Sunshine Week blog), promoting open government and the public’s right to know. For last year’s Sunshine Week, the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle conducted a freedom of information audit to obtain copies of its school district’s reports of violent and disruptive incidents in school buildings.
  • How to Reforum your local School Board
  • Is it Possible to Have a Good School District with Less Money? Presentation to the Florence School District

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March 13, 2007

Q: Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test Changes

Does anyone have solid information about how and when the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test has been revised over the years?

One obvious question in comparing scores from 1998 to those in 2005 is how the tests were changed. [NYT Article on Madison's Reading Program]

Posted by Mark Seidenberg at 3:17 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Carstensen opposes consolidation, seeks referendum

Carol Carstensen circulated the e-mail below and gave permission to post it here:

I am opposed to the proposal to close/consolidate schools on the east side - I am also opposed to increasing class size (eliminating SAGE classes) in the lower poverty elementary schools (which includes Lapham and Marquette) and I am opposed to increasing the class size for specials (art, music, phy ed and REACH). Those proposals account for about $3.1M of the $7.1M proposed cuts.

I do not think there are other areas to cut that I could support, therefore, I believe it is time to talk about a referendum to maintain schools and programs that enrich our community. I am working on a proposal that for a referendum that would:

1) provide 15:1 class sizes at the 7 schools where SAGE is to be cut and the 3 schools that don't have SAGE;

2) retain the class sizes for specials

3) keep existing schools open

4) restore strings for 4th and 5th graders

5) a number of other items that I am still working on.

This would come to about $6 M - which would cost about $100 in increased taxes on a $250,000 house.

Honesty compels me to say that, as of this moment, I do not have support from other Board members on this.

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Marj still mum - 10 days and counting

It's been 10 days since I e-mailed Marj Passman to get clarification on her inaccurate statement on starting teacher salaries and clarification on what she would do to raise those salaries after she cited them as a problem in recruiting teachers to the MMSD during an interview on WORT. Here's her response:

Thank you Ed for pointing this mistake out to me. I went back to my source and discovered it was dated (another reason not to be depend on internet research). I will post this correction on my web site the first chance I get. Marj

Here's my response to her:

Marj, Correcting the error on your Web site is good. Thank you. But how will you correct your mistake in the interview with Tony on WORT?

And, would you please answer my questions?
1. What would you do to correct low starting salaries for Madison teacher if you're elected to the board?
2. Will you vote against any Temporary Impasse Agreement that cedes to the union's demand to preserve the salary schedule that keeps starting salaries low?
3. In negotiations with the union, will you push for higher salaries for starting teachers? Ed Blume

You'd think that a candidate with years of insider experience would be able to provide some answers.

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Saving Literature from English Departments

Tom Lutz:

I am surprised that I am not a novelist. I am an inveterate liar, so I have at least one of the necessary skills. I love the novel as a form in as deep and devoted a way as any man loved any art, and writing novels is the only thing in the way of a life's work that I've ever really wanted to undertake. Still, I remain novel-less.

I have Jack Kerouac and Hunter Thompson to blame for my early misdirected energies. They encouraged me to believe that the essence of writing was the wild life that preceded it, to believe that I was doing the better part, and the most important part, of novel-writing by imitating them not on the page, but in the bars and on the highways. I realize now this was an error in judgment.

So, too, was my decision to get a Ph.D. in literature as a step toward the nice cushy professorship that would allow me to lay back and watch myself write novel after novel, with perhaps a collection of stories here and there. The graduate work and academic gigs that followed meant that I had to teach and write a bunch of other things, those publish-or-perish scholarly books and the requisite pile of articles full of words like "overdetermination," "supplementarity," "hybridity," "imbrication" and "polyvocality," words that produced the squiggly red underlines of my spell-checker and earned me the enmity of the very novelists and poets I wanted to join.

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Volunteer mentoring program teaches robotics

Maggie Rossiter Peterman:

In an abandoned insurance office, a handful of Madison engineers and scientists logged hundreds of volunteer hours to create a workshop so high school students could put their math and science lessons into practice.

It's a drill two GE Healthcare engineers - Rob Washenko and Bob Schulz - have performed 20 hours a week for six weeks each of the last four years to assist Memorial High School science and aerospace engineering teacher Ben Senson in the development of a high school robotics program.

"We teach students how to think to solve problems," said Washenko, 50, an engineering manager and inventor at GE Healthcare in Madison.

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Reaction to Waukesha School Budget Cutbacks & State Financial Aid

Amy Hetzner:

About 500 parents, students and spectators packed a school auditorium Monday night, pleading for help from local legislators in dealing with a financial situation that some predicted would devastate the School District.

"If we can pay for a stadium for a bunch of overpaid baseball players, we can certainly pay for an education for all of our children," Heyer Elementary School parent Cheryl Gimignani told the six legislators participating in the forum in North High School's auditorium.

The event came just two days before the School Board is set to approve $3.4 million worth of program and service cuts to balance its 2007-'08 budget.

Administrators have recommended eliminating the equivalent of 62 full-time staff positions, which would raise class sizes, delay band and orchestra instruction and nearly eliminate elementary guidance, elementary library and gifted programs in the district.

They blame the school system's financial woes on perennial discrepancies between what the state allows the district to raise under revenue caps and its actual expenses. A separate law, the qualified economic offer, virtually guarantees teachers annual compensation increases of 3.8% while revenue grows by about 2%.

But the legislators offered little hope that much will change, at least in the near future, and said the school system would be better off looking for cost savings than expecting more money from Madison. Any change to the state funding system for schools likely would not benefit residents in Waukesha County, who already pay more in taxes than they receive back in aid from the state, they said.

"I do not want to change the formula," said state Sen. Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin), "because if we tamper and change the formula, the school districts that I represent will lose, not gain."

Lazich's comments illustrate the unlikely nature of significant state K-12 finance changes that would benefit property rich school districts like Madison and Waukesha.

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Elementary School Foreign Languages

Jamaal Abdul-Alim:

That's about all the time she has if you add up all the 15-minute Spanish lessons she gives twice a week to kindergartners at Stormonth Elementary School.

The other day, her instruction involved an animated session using stuffed toys for a lesson about the Spanish words for animals, as well as the movements and sounds they make.

"¿Cómo mueve la rana?" Harris asked the students, posing in Spanish the question: "How does the frog move?"

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Parents Balk at Proposed Cuts

Andy Hall:

The Madison School District's struggle to handle a $10.5 million budget shortfall moved into a new stage Monday night, as 17 people spoke out against proposed cuts and a School Board member urged her colleagues to turn to voters for more money.

The School Board began struggling with the budget cuts following Superintendent Art Rainwater's announcement Friday of his plans for addressing the shortfall, including consolidation of schools on the city's East Side, increases in kindergarten through third-grade class sizes at seven elementary schools and changes in how services are delivered to students with speech and language problems.

The district's budget next year will rise 1.9 percent to $339.1 million. But cuts are needed because that increase, which is limited by state revenue caps, isn't enough to allow the district to continue all current services.

At the School Board meeting, five parents of Crestwood Elementary students protested Rainwater's proposal to remove the school next year from the state's Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) program, which limits class sizes in grades K-3 to 15 students in order to aid low-income students.

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March 12, 2007

Science, math deficit holds back state

Shirley Dang

Amid the whir of an overhead projector, Concord High School biology teacher Ellen Fasman sketched out the long, chubby legs of an X-shaped chromosome with her erasable marker.

"What do you remember from seventh grade about mitosis?" she asked the class.

Her question on cell division met with blank stares. From underneath his baseball cap in the back of the room, sophomore Vincent Thomas muttered in confusion.

"Wait, I don't get this," Thomas said. "We learned this in seventh grade?"

Even in her college prep biology class, students come less and less prepared each year, Fasman said.

"They're every bit as bright as they've ever been," said Fasman, who has taught for 16 years. However, they increasingly come hampered by smaller vocabularies, lacking knowledge of basic cell biology and unable to deal with fractions, she said.

"Their math skills are rather poor," Fasman said. "When we do the metric system at the beginning of the year, it's a killer for them. When we get into genetics, sometimes it's hard for them, understanding ratios."

American students -- particularly those in California -- come up short in math and science.

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An Alt View on Concessions Before Negotiations

Carol Carstensen:

I thought it might be helpful to provide some facts and explanations about the topic of health insurance – hopefully this will clear up some of the misinformation and misconceptions present in the public discussions. It is important to remember that the focus must be on the total package settlement – because that is what has an impact on the budget. For example, Sun Prairie’s agreement to make changes in its health insurance (by using a joint committee to find a way to reduce health insurance costs) has been praised, as it should be. It should be noted, however, that Sun Prairie’s total package settlement was 4.75% - while Madison’s package, without switching health insurance carriers, was 3.98%. (A rough estimate is that a 4.75% settlement would have cost Madison about $1.5 Million more.)

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A Note on Wellness & PE

Via a reader's email message:

our school banned all vending machines 1 1/2 yrs. ago. Did it help? ABSOLUTELY NOT! The kids are now bringing sodas and candy in their back packs and eat it at lunch time. They do not eat in the lunchroom. Elementary students have snack time around 9:30 to 10:30 each day depending on what grade you are in. They have 30 min. What do they eat? They bring candy, chips, sweetened tea, sodas and kool aid bursts. The school lost money and yet the kids are still eating poorly.

What could be done?

Ban the sodas and snacks from home and take away the snack time and replace it with 30 min. of instruction time. or better yet, replace it with 30 more min. of PE time.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:07 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Superintendent's March Message

Smart and successful
March, 2007
By Superintendent Art Rainwater

For children growing up today, becoming a successful adult requires much more than mastering reading, writing and arithmetic. The requirements for success are very different in an era when work on a single project may involve several countries, languages and cultures. Success requires much more than “book learning.” Success means having the “basic skills” to interact productively and have positive relationships with people who come from many different backgrounds.

The ability of today’s students to play a vital role in this changing world requires us to think differently about what constitutes a “basic” education. For many years we lived by the credo that students must primarily have the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. No one disputes the essential nature of these skills. There are people who still believe that these are the only essential skills needed for success. In a world that brings together a truly diverse group of people every day in the workplace and society, being successful means much more than the advanced application of reading, writing and arithmetic.

To have all the skills needed for success, we must understand that each of us is different and that being different is not only okay, but valued, important and interesting. Success requires understanding that interacting with other cultures enriches every one and that communicating in any language is a beautiful human gift. Potential success is enhanced by learning in a diverse environment which provides continuing opportunities for children to create a broad and inclusive view of the world.

School is all about creating that successful adult. Sometimes that very simple mission gets lost in the political rhetoric and ideological debates that have come to characterize the discussions around our education system. For children to be successful we have to move back to the simple premise that our fundamental role is to prepare children for their life as adults.

Being successful means having the ability to hold a family supporting and fulfilling career. It means gaining the knowledge and understanding about our society and government to be an active citizen. It means living in and helping to create a society which provides for the next generation to achieve.

The students of the Madison Metropolitan School District have the best learning environment because of the richness of our diverse learning community. We provide a world class education in preparing for success. Our students work and play everyday with children who are different in many ways. They learn about different families and different beliefs. They experience and work with children with a wide range of abilities. They can hear over 60 different languages and learn that truth can be expressed in every one of them. They learn that the way someone looks and talks does not define his or her character or value.

Our diversity is a gift to be valued and used. Our diversity is not a barrier to be overcome, but a great opportunity to help make all of our children successful world citizens.

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Limits of Law-Based School Reform

Mike Antonucci:

There's an excellent book from 1997 called The Limits of Law-Based School Reform that I think everyone - especially lawmakers and public policy experts - should read. But the title alone should be enough for all of us who think passing a law to address a perceived education problem is sufficient to solve it.

It's only human nature after winning a tough legislative battle to want to declare victory and go home. I'm sure the 186 Republicans and 197 Democrats in the U.S. House who voted for the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 didn't think they would still be debating it five years later. The pattern is repeating itself in Utah.

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Retired Teacher And Mom Compete For School Board Seat


The race for three Madison Metropolitan School District's school board seats is off and running.

One of the spots up for grabs currently belongs to longtime board member Ruth Robarts, who is retiring, WISC-TV reported. Two local women said that they are hoping to fill that spot: retired teacher Marjorie Passman and parent Maya Cole.

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School Board Candidate Take Home Test, Week 8


Isthmus' cover story this week addressed the rise of "disconnected youth" in our community -- kids who aren't in school, who don't have jobs and who don't have supportive families to help them. These kids often get in trouble. Is there more that Madison schools can do to address their needs before they drop out?
Our schools, says former county executive Jonathan Barry, do well with motivated, college-bound students, but are increasingly failing students who don't see college in their future. Do you agree or disagree with his assessment that the Madison schools should be doing more with vocational education, and why?

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Growing Trend Toward Eighth Grade Algebra

Jay Matthews:

Experts say the trend toward early algebra is driven by more rigorous teaching and a commitment to providing greater access to a course that provides a crucial foundation for further study in math and science. Algebra, they say, opens doors. That can be especially important at schools such as Gunston Middle, where about half of the students are economically disadvantaged.

"We work to identify and support students so that they can move ahead as they are successful, and we sometimes make moves mid-year," Allen said. "Many kids move ahead in elementary school, but many of our students make the leap in sixth or seventh grade."

Some skeptics worry that kids are being rushed and the math curriculum is being watered down.

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Wisconsin Charter School News

Appleton’s Odyssey – Magellan Charter School captures state MathCounts championship

Environment-Focused Charter School Meetings at Stevens Point (March 30), Madison (May 2) and Oshkosh (May 10)

Appleton Superintendent & WCSA President TOM SCULLEN Honored

Lake Country Academy Wants Charter School Status

Portage Charter School & Aldo Leopold

Green Lake Charters Course for School

Coulee Montessori Charter School in La Crosse

D.C. Everest Exploring Charter School Options

Learn more about public charter schools at the 2007 WISCONSIN CHARTER SCHOOLS CONFERENCE, co-sponsored by WCSA & DPI, on April 15-17 at Waukesha.

See conference program: WCSA Conference Schedule & Sessions (PDF) Speakers

Learn about planning, authorizing and operating public charter schools. Why Charter Schools?

Conference Registration Info. Join the WCSA now for member registration rate.

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Knowledge is Power Only if You Know How To Use It

Denise Caruso:

In the 17th century, they note that reading know-how was such a known quantity that the colony of Massachusetts had a law requiring it to be taught in the home. But a century later, when Cotton Mather championed a new and effective smallpox inoculation in Boston, most of the physicians in town rejected the treatment because it was not supported by the accepted know-how of the time.

Today the situation is reversed. “While almost every child vaccinated against measles is safe from the disease,” the professors write, “an alarming number of children who are ‘taught’ to read in school never really learn to read at a level necessary to perform well in today’s society.”

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Middle schools giving way to K-8 programs

Sarah Carr:

But in choosing to send her children to a middle school, Allen is part of a declining breed of parents in the city.

Next year, Milwaukee Public Schools officials expect about 8,750 middle school students, down about 10% from this school year and nearly 35% from four years ago.

The School District has long planned to put more children of middle school age in kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools. Over the last few years, the number of K-8 schools has grown from about a dozen to about 60. But recent developments raise the question of whether your run-of-the-mill middle school will survive, particularly in some urban areas.

Milwaukee, Boston, Baltimore, Cleveland and Cincinnati are only a few of the cities that have shifted heavily to K-8s in recent years. In Philadelphia, district leaders have said they plan to phase out middle schools entirely, replacing them with K-8s. Many parents and school officials consider that grade configuration to be safer and more nurturing, particularly in city schools. The trend is more of an urban than a suburban one, and nationally there are still more middle schools than K-8s.

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March 11, 2007

Why Fund Raising Isn't Child's Play

Jeff Opdyke:

A couple of times a year, my son comes home with an assignment that is supposed to warm our hearts: fund raising. But to be honest, it always leaves me cold.

It's always the same old, painful drill. My son carries a clutch of papers that, for all he cares, could be written in Sanskrit. The only thing he sees is the catalog filled with pictures of the prizes he can win if he raises a ton of money for some cause he can't even identify.

And it gets worse.

My son has no interest in peddling products door-to-door. I have no interest in letting him -- in part because we don't know every neighbor, and in part because I'm opposed to letting my son donate free labor to for-profit companies that run many of these nonprofit fund-raising efforts and keep a percentage of the money raised. Ultimately, the only thing my son cares about is winning some overpriced award. Since he hasn't the time to sell this stuff to begin with, he wants me and his mom to find buyers or to pony up our own cash. And when we won't, he wants to spend all of his money to buy ever more boxes of whatever the fund-raiser of the day is pitching.

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Modern-Day 3 R's: Rules, Rules, Rules

Ian Shapira:

A culture of control has Washington area campuses in an ever-tightening grip, many students say, extending beyond the long-standing restrictions on provocative clothing, cellphone use and class-time bathroom visits. Akin to the omnipresent "helicopter parents," these students say, are helicopter administrators who home in on their smallest moves, no matter how guileless or mundane.

Some administrators acknowledge that the list of rules meant to ban, limit or deter potentially inappropriate or dangerous actions is steadily growing.

"Where to start? It's getting huge," said Linda Wanner, a Blair assistant principal. "The word of the day is prevention. We're on high alert all the time." It's a result, experts say, of the many pressures on those who lead a modern campus with anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 teenagers and the potential for violence or a lawsuit around every hallway corner.

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March 10, 2007

"Bitter Medicine for Madison Schools":
07/08 budget grows 3.6% from 333M (06/07) to $345M with Reductions in the Increase

Doug Erickson on the 2007/2008 $345M budget (up from $333M in 2006/2007) for 24,342 students):

As feared by some parents, the recommendations also included a plan to consolidate schools on the city's East Side. Marquette Elementary students would move to Lapham Elementary and Sherman Middle School students would be split between O'Keeffe and Black Hawk middle schools.

No school buildings would actually close - O'Keeffe would expand into the space it currently shares with Marquette, and the district's alternative programs would move to Sherman Middle School from leased space.

District officials sought to convince people Friday that the consolidation plan would have some educational benefits, but those officials saw no silver lining in having to increase class sizes at several elementary schools.

Friday's announcement has become part of an annual ritual in which Madison - and most other state districts - must reduce programs and services because overhead is rising faster than state-allowed revenue increases. A state law caps property-tax income for districts based on enrollment and other factors.

The Madison School District will have more money to spend next year - about $345 million, up from $332 million - but not enough to keep doing everything it does this year.

School Board members ultimately will decide which cuts to make by late May or June, but typically they stick closely to the administration's recommendations. Last year, out of $6.8 million in reductions, board members altered less than $500,000 of Rainwater's proposal.

Board President Johnny Winston Jr. called the cuts "draconian" but said the district has little choice. Asked if the School Board will consider a referendum to head off the cuts, he said members "will discuss everything."

But board Vice President Lawrie Kobza said she thinks it's too early to ask the community for more money. Voters approved a $23 million referendum last November that included money for a new elementary school on the city's Far West Side.

"I don't see a referendum passing," she said.

Links: Wisconsin K-12 spending. The 10.5M reductions in the increase plus the planned budget growth of $12M yields a "desired" increase of 7.5%. In other words, current Administration spending growth requires a 7.5% increase in tax receipts from property, sales, income, fees and other taxes (maybe less - see Susan Troller's article below). The proposed 07/08 budget grows 3.6% from 333M+ (06/07) to $345M (07/08). Madison's per student spending has grown an average of 5.25% since 1987 - details here.

UPDATE: A reader emails:

The spectre of central city school closings was what prompted some of us to resist the far-west side school referendum. Given the looming energy crisis, we should be encouraging folks to live in town, not at the fringes, strengthen our city neighborhoods. Plus, along with the need to overhaul the way we fund schools, we need a law requiring developers to provide a school or at least the land as a condition to development.

UPDATE 2: Susan Troller pegs the reduction in the increase at $7.2M:

Proposed reductions totaled almost $7.2 million and include increases in elementary school class sizes, changes in special education allocations and school consolidations on the near east side.

Other recommendations include increased hockey fees, the elimination of the elementary strings program and increased student-to-staff ratios at the high school and middle school levels.

UPDATE 3: Roger Price kindly emailed the total planned 07/08 budget: $339,139,282

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

$1.74B Tax and Fee Increases in Governor Doyle's Proposed Wisconsin 07-09 Budget

Bob Lang, Director: Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 92K PDF:

A number of legislators have requested information concerning state tax and fee changes included in the 2007-09 budget recommendations of the Governor. This memorandum responds to those inquiries.

The attached table provides a brief description of each state tax and fee modification proposed in the Governor's bill. The table consists of three parts: (1) tax increases and decreases; (2) fee increases and decreases; and (3) measures which would enhance the collection of current taxes or fees. Each entry in the table includes the agency name, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's budget summary document item that describes the change in more detail, a summary of the proposed modification, and an estimate of the revenue change due to the tax or fee modification.

In the table, GPR represents general fund revenue. Revenue to a program revenue account is signified by PR and SEG signifies revenue to a segregated fund. "Unknown" means that no estimate of the revenue impact is available at this time. The fiscal effects shown in the table reflect estimates made by the administration; estimates prepared by this office during budget deliberations may be different.
Steven Walters:
Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle's proposed two-year budget includes $1.74 billion in higher taxes and fees, according to a report by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau released Friday.

To put that number in perspective, it amounts to about $630 for each of the 2.76 million Wisconsin income tax filers for 2005.

The budget Doyle presented two years ago, before he won a second term in November, included $304 million in tax and fee increases, according to the non-partisan Fiscal Bureau.

The report says taxes would go up by a total of $1.37 billion by mid-2009, and listed the largest increases as:

Wisconsin residents paid 33.4% of income in taxes during 2006. More on Doyle's proposed budget here.

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Senator Mike Ellis on Governor Doyle's Proposed Budget

Jo Egelhoff:

While Senator Ellis can turn complex policy into a sentence or two, he claims Governor Doyle has magically turned tax hikes into tax cuts! About that Ellis quips “No wonder the governor is proposing a third year of math and science for high school students. Talk about new math...”

Ellis and his staff have poured over the Fiscal Bureau’s budget analysis “finding one time bomb after another.” The roarin’ and raspy Senator points out that Doyle’s sleight of hand creates new segregated funds out of whole cloth. An example shows up on page 238 of the Fiscal Bureau’s review – the newly created “Health Care Quality Fund” (HCQF). Here’s where all those new taxes (“hospital tax”, “cigarette tax”) show up as Revenues.

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Draft Madison West High School Dance Policies & Procedures

144K PDF File. This draft document was presented at Monday evening's PTSO meeting prior to the school board candidate forum.

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March 9, 2007

Initiative Will Pay Students to Pass AP Tests

Percentage of admissions officials citing criteria as
John Hechinger & Susan Warren:

Jessica Stark, a 17-year-old from Abilene, Texas, earned $600 for some hard work last year. It wasn't flipping burgers or waiting tables. She made the money for passing six of the toughest examinations in high school at $100 apiece.

Ms. Stark is part of a movement that is going national: paying kids to take Advanced Placement tests. Success on these exams, administered by the nonprofit College Board, often gives students college credit and sometimes encourages them to pursue study and careers in the field. Ms. Stark plans to become an engineer and has already been admitted to the Colorado School of Mines. "I do homework all the time," she says. "I don't have too much of a social life. ... Study parties -- we're pretty good at those."

A new initiative, aimed at encouraging careers in math and science, plans to replicate these AP bonuses across the country. Teachers get them, too -- at times, $5,000 annually or more -- for helping their kids pass AP classes in math, science and English. The money is provided by a network of private donors. Along with cash, students in Texas sometimes get gifts, such as iPods, as door prizes for attending weekend prep classes.

The program's proponents say AP incentives have succeeded at getting more students to pass the tests in Texas, and they expect the broader initiative to encourage more students to go on to careers in math and science. But some critics question whether cash bonuses are an appropriate and effective way to engage students in the subjects. Robert Schaeffer, public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a critic of standardized tests, calls the approach "basing education reform on a series of bribes to kids and bounties to teachers" and says the money would be better spent on broader efforts to improve instruction.

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Madison Superintendent's 2007-2008 Proposed Budget Changes

Art Rainwater on the reductions in increases to the proposed 2007-2008 MMSD Budget [1.4MB PDF]:

Dear Board of Education,

The attached is my recommendation for the service reductions required to balance the budget for 2007-2008. They are provided to you for review in advance of my Recommended Balanced Budget for 2007-2008 which will be available on April 12, 2007. You requested that the service reductions be presented to you in advance to provide sufficient time for your study and analysis.

After 14 years of continuous reductions in our services for children there are no good choices. While these service reductions are not good for children or the health of the school district they represent our best professional judgment of the least harmful alternatives.

The process that we used to study, analyze, consider and finally recommend the items presented was done over a period of weeks. We first reviewed each department and division of the district and listed anything that could be reduced or eliminated legally or contractually. We narrowed that list to those items which we believed would do the least harm to:
  • Our academic programs,
  • The health and safety of our schools,
  • The opportunities for student involvement,
  • Our ability to complete our legal and fiscal requirements
The document presented to you today is the result of those discussions. The items are broken into four categories:
  1. Reductions to balance the budget ( Impact Statements provided)
  2. Reductions analyzed, discussed and not included (Impact statements provided)
  3. Reductions reviewed and not advanced
  4. Possible revenues dependent on legislative action
The administration is prepared to provide you further analysis and respond to questions as we continue to work to approve a final working budget in May.
2006/2007 Citizen's Budget ($333M+) for 24,342 students. I did not quickly notice a total proposed 2007/2008 spending number in this document.

UPDATE: Overall spending will grow about 3.4% from $333M to $345M per Doug Erickson's article.

Links: NBC15 | Channel3000

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The Future of Our Schools: The Funding Crisis

The League of Women Voters of Dane County, Dane County PTO's, Principals and School Boards

Panel Presentation featuring:

Questions to follow presentations

Wednesday, April 11, 2007
7:00 ? 9:30 p.m.
Meriter Main Gate Grand Hall
333 W. Main Street, Madison[map]
(free parking across the street)

All Welcome! Come and Bring a friend!
For more information:
The League of Women Voters of Dane County 232-9447

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School District Annual Reductions in Budget Increases

Doug Erickson:

Madison School District administrators are scheduled to announce today their recommendations for millions of dollars in program and staff cuts, a grim step in a budget process that typically consumes the School Board's attention each spring.

Larger class sizes at the elementary level and bigger caseloads for special education teachers likely will be among the proposals.

Consolidating schools on the city's East Side also is a strong possibility - parents there already are mobilizing to beat back the idea - although district officials would not confirm that such a proposal will be part of today's announcement.

The district's most recent budget forecast in January put next year's shortfall at $10.5 million. That number was being refined Thursday but is in the ballpark, district officials said.

Related: The MMSD's budget increases annually. A variety of perspectives on enrollment, spending and staff history can be found here.

Those interested in school finance might check out Monday's brown bag lunch meeting "Financing Quality Education".

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Homeschooling and Socialization

Richard Medlin:

Shyers (1992a, 1992b), in the most thorough study of home-schooled children’s social behavior to date, tested 70 children who had been entirely home-schooled and 70 children who had always attended traditional schools. The two groups were matched in age (all were 8-10 years old), race, gender, family size, socioeconomic status, and number and frequency of extracurricular activities. Shyers measured self-concept and assertiveness and found no significant differences between the two groups.

The observers used the Direct Observation Form of the Child Behavior Checklist . . . , a checklist of 97 problem behaviors such as argues, brags or boasts, doesn’t pay attention long, cries, disturbs other children, isolates self from others, shy or timimd, and shows off. The results were striking — the mean problem behavior score for children attending conventional schools was more than eight times higher than that of the home-schooled group.

via Joanne.

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Why this year is different for state public school funding

Beth Swedeen:

Many people in Madison continue to say that the district and its leadership (including the Board of Education) are helpless in changing the revenue caps and the way public education is funded in Wisconsin. They point out that the revenue caps have been in place for 14 years and at least during in the last three budget cycles (since 2000), districts have been screaming for help. I’m not a political insider, but here’s at least some reasons that this year (and definitely the budget cycle in 2009) is significantly different:
Steven Walters and Stacy Forster along with numerous notes & links:
Despite Gov. Jim Doyle's public - and repeated - promises that his budget proposal would pay for two-thirds of public education costs, an analysis released today showed that it falls short of that goal.

In a 624-page summary of the budget that Doyle gave legislators last month, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau said the state would pay 65.3% of public school costs in the year that begins July 1, and 65.5% of those costs in the following year.

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WORT's Tony Casteneda Interviews Beth Moss

Tony Casteneda interviewed Seat 3 Candidate Beth Moss (vs Rick Thomas) recently. Listen to the interview here [60 minute mp3 audio]. Tony asked Beth if MTI controls the Madison School Board (Beth has been endorsed by MTI) and also discussed this site. The interview begins at about 25 - 30 minutes into the one hour show.

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March 8, 2007

Madison's Reading Battle Makes the NYT: In War Over Teaching Reading, a U.S.-Local Clash

Diana Jean Schemo has been at this article for awhile:

The program, which gives $1 billion a year in grants to states, was supposed to end the so-called reading wars — the battle over the best method of teaching reading — but has instead opened a new and bitter front in the fight.

According to interviews with school officials and a string of federal audits and e-mail messages made public in recent months, federal officials and contractors used the program to pressure schools to adopt approaches that emphasize phonics, focusing on the mechanics of sounding out syllables, and to discard methods drawn from whole language that play down these mechanics and use cues like pictures or context to teach.

Federal officials who ran Reading First maintain that only curriculums including regular, systematic phonics lessons had the backing of “scientifically based reading research” required by the program.

Madison officials say that a year after Wisconsin joined Reading First, in 2004, contractors pressured them to drop their approach, which blends some phonics with whole language in a program called Balanced Literacy. Instead, they gave up the money — about $2 million, according to officials here, who say their program raised reading scores.

“We had data demonstrating that our children were learning at the rate that Reading First was aiming for, and they could not produce a single ounce of data to show the success rates of the program they were proposing,” said Art Rainwater, Madison’s superintendent of schools.

Much more on Reading First and Madison, here.

Notes & Links:

UPDATE: Joanne Jacobs:
In part one of his response, Ken DeRosa of D-Ed Reckoning provides a reading passage altered to force readers to guess the meaning from context. Struggling this way does not inspire love of reading.

In part two, DeRosa analyzes the statistics to argue Madison students aren’t doing better in reading compared to other Wisconsin students; if anything, they’ve slipped a bit. Because the state reading test was made easier and the cut score for proficiency was lowered, all Wisconsin students look better. However, there was no progress in fourth-grade reading on the federal NAEP test.

With help from Rory of Parentalcation, who’s great at finding data, Ken shows that claims of fantastic progress by black students are illusory. Their scores improved on the easier test at a slightly slower rate than white students. It looks like to me as though blacks nearly caught up in basic skills but remain far behind at the proficient and advanced level. Perhaps someone who knows more statistics than I do — lots of you do — can find flaws in Ken’s analysis.

NYT Letters to the editor. Finally, others have raised questions about the MMSD's analysis and publication of test score data.

Andrew Rotherham:

Diana Schemo's NYT story on Reading First is not surprisingly sparking a lot of pushback and outraged emails, especially from the phonicshajeen. But, they have a point. There are problems with Reading First, but this may not be the best example of them at all...but, while you're there, don't miss the buried lede in graf's almost like Schemo got snowed by all sides at once on this one...

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East siders angered by school plan

From a story by Susan Troller in The Capital Times:

Recommended Madison school district changes that involve closing a middle school and joining a pair of elementary schools on the near east side are causing heated reaction in the Lapham-Marquette neighborhood.

"Do we know what we're doing here and does this actually reflect best practices?" Marquette parent and district teacher Kit Rittman asked, reacting to a boundary change scenario that would include closing Sherman Middle School and consolidating students at Black Hawk and O'Keeffe middle schools.

Both schools feed into East High.

Changes would also involve combining students from Lapham, a K-2 school, and Marquette, which houses grades 3, 4 and 5, at the Lapham building on East Dayton Street. Space at Sherman would be filled by moving an existing high school alternative program there.

Posted by Ed Blume at 1:46 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

We Energies offers great scholarships to CA energy conferences

The We Energies Renewable Energy Development Program
“2007 Wind and Solar Scholarship Program”
Request for Applications
March 5, 2007

Program Description
We Energies supports the development of renewable energy technologies as part of a long-term strategy for providing low-cost, environmentally sound energy options to its customers. To help in furthering this objective, the “2007 Wind and Solar Scholarship Program” will provide grant funds to faculty members at secondary schools, colleges, technical colleges, and universities located within the We Energies electric service territory for purposes of attending one of two conferences. The conferences include:

1. Windpower 2007, Los Angeles, June 3 – 6, 2007
The Windpower conference will include over 200 speakers, 150 poster presentations, and 50 sessions on leading wind energy topics organized into tracks with policy, business, and technical focuses. The conference anticipates 6,000 visitors.

2. Solar Power 2007, Long Beach, Sept. 24 – 27, 2007
This annual conference has become America’s largest solar energy event. Solar Power will feature 175 exhibitors, 125 speakers and networking opportunities. The conference anticipates 10,000 visitors.

The “2007 Wind and Solar Scholarship Program” is intended to offer faculty members an opportunity to gain valuable industry information that will in turn enhance their ability to further develop renewable energy curricula and other related learning opportunities.
This is a competitive program with 15 awards being made available for each conference. The award includes:

1. Full conference registration, and
2. A $1,200 cash stipend to be used for travel, lodging and food.

It is the intent of this program that the knowledge gained through conference attendance will have direct applicability to an ongoing education program and/or faculty research endeavor.

Eligibility for funding through this program is limited to full time faculty members in good standing from secondary schools, colleges, technical colleges and universities in the We Energies electric service territory. All applicants will be considered, and all awards will be granted on an equal opportunity basis.

Application Process
Scholarship applications must include the following information:
A. Application Contents
Contents should be presented in the following order:
1. Narrative Essay, 700 words.
2. Curriculum Vitae, one page.
3. Letter of Reference.

The narrative (maximum of 700 words) must contain the following:
• Clear statement describing why you are an ideal candidate for this scholarship program, specifically describe education or research related activities you are currently engaged in and how these activities will be enhanced by attendance at either the Windpower or Solar Power conference.
• Clear statement describing how you will use the knowledge gained and how you will share the knowledge gained with others through your faculty position.

Curriculum Vitae
Application shall include curriculum vitae (one page) for each applicant.

Letter of Reference
A letter of reference must be included from your direct supervisor or administrator, indicating that you are a full time faculty member in good standing, and providing support for your attendance at the conference as well as for sharing the knowledge gained through current or planned educational programs.

B. Submission Instructions
In order to be considered for this scholarship program, applications must be received no later than the following dates and times:
• Windpower 2007 Conference – Applications must be received by 5 p.m. CST on March 30, 2007.
• Solar Power 2007 Conference – Applications must be received by 5 p.m. CST on June 29, 2007.
Applications can be submitted electronically through email to:

Hard copy proposals can be sent to the following address:
We Energies
Renewable Energy Development Program
“2007 Wind and Solar Scholarship Program”
C/o Drew Szabo – P318
231 W. Michigan Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53203

C. Notification and Disbursement of Awards
Successful scholarship candidates will be notified regarding their award approximately two weeks following each respective submission deadline. Conference registration fees will be paid directly to the respective conference organizers by We Energies for each attendee. Upon providing documentation of travel plans and lodging arrangements, the cash stipend will be issued to the awardees no later than two weeks prior to travel.

Posted by Ed Blume at 10:32 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Help Increase Support for Wisconsin Students of Poverty to Take AP Exams

Below you will find a forward from the Wisconsin Gifted Education listserv. A brief communication from each of us to our state legislators could release money to cover AP exam registration fees for Wisconsin students who qualify for free and reduced lunch. A small change is needed in the wording of a specific state statute in order to release federal dollars for that purpose. Thanks for your help. --LAF


As you know, students are beginning to pay registration fees for the Advanced Placement Exams they are planning to take in May.

In Chapter 120 of "School District Government," Wisconsin statute 120.12 -- "School Board Duties", item (22) -- reads as follows:

ADVANCED PLACEMENT EXAMINATIONS. Pay the costs of advanced placement examinations taken by pupils enrolled in the school district who are eligible for free or reduced - price lunches in the federal school lunch program under 42 USC 1758.

While no one objects to these students having the exam fee paid, the district common funds that are used for this purpose are constantly being reduced. As there are no state aids connected to this legislative requirement, districts are following the statute as an "unfunded mandate".

The Department of Public Instruction has written a federal grant which would allow a variety of other funds (not just local common funds) to be used for the payment of AP exam fees. The federal grant is on hold pending some immediate action by our legislature to change the wording of the above quoted statute that would allow federal grant money to be awarded to the Department of Public Instruction for the express purpose of reimbursing districts for the AP exam fees of students qualifying for free or reduced lunches. With the current language in the statute, the federal government will not release grant funds for this purpose because thy see it as "supplanting" other resources.

Action is needed immediately since students are NOW registering for those exams and district are required to cover these fees NOW.

Let your legislators know that their immediate action to change the wording of the statute would result in the release of federal grant money to the State of Wisconsin. If no action is taken, the grant money will be lost. The decision is currently on hold, pending legislative action.

Go to "Who are my Legislators?" to find out who represents you. You will see their email and snail mail addresses. You are advised to send both and always remember to include your home street address so that the legislator realizes that you do live and vote in their district.

Ruth Robinson
Coordinator of Talented & Gifted Education & District Assessment
527 South Franklin Street
Janesville, WI 53548
608-743-5130 fax

Posted by Laurie Frost at 8:50 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Intel Competition Is Where Science Rules and Research Is the Key

Joseph Berger:

The Intel is more than a gimmicky contest that garners publicity for its chipmaker sponsor. It genuinely prompts hundreds of students to plunge into vanguard research. This year, 1,705 students from 487 schools in 44 states entered, said Katherine Silkin, the contest’s program manager. High school seniors in the United States and its territories enter the Intel, though their research often begins years earlier.

Six winners of the Westinghouse, as Intel was known until 1998, have gone on to win Nobel Prizes. Its springboard power is particularly important when Americans fret that colleges are no longer producing as many graduates willing to make the financial sacrifices of lives in science.

“Not only do we have to have equity and close the famous achievement gap,” said Leon M. Lederman, a Nobel-winning physicist who is co-chairman of the Commission on 21st Century Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. “We also have to have innovation if we’re going to survive, so you have to nurture the gifted kids.”

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Collaborate on 4 Year Old Kindergarten

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

Recognizing that the earlier you start teaching a child, the more and better that child will learn, Wisconsin (actually, Margarethe Schurz) brought kindergarten to America in 1856. Today, recognizing the value of that principle and the importance of collaboration, school districts in Wisconsin are starting to work with private day care centers to give 4-year-olds an even bigger boost to their education.

The Menomonee Falls School District is planning to join several other area school districts this fall in offering such a program. It's an idea that more districts should consider.

"The goal to all of this is to provide quality 4-year-old services for each and every child who resides in the school district so when they come to 5-K, they've got the same kindergarten basis," Marlene Gross-Ackeret, director of pupil services for the Menomonee Falls district, told Journal Sentinel reporter Amy Hetzner.

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March 7, 2007

Another gem from Bill Keys and AMPS

Since Advocates for Madison Public Schools doesn't allow access to the archived posts of its listserve, I post the following to illustrate the contempt these people feel toward anyone who isn't in lock-step with their point of view:

To: Subject: [advocatesformadisonpublicschools] Summer Exercise for "Advocates" Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2006 23:51:45 -0000

Here's an interesting post from a local blog:

I wil be moving to the madison area soon and need to find schools that realize "gifted" children do have special needs. I can not waist anymore time trying to get this point accross to educators because meanwhile my cildren suffer. Where is the the best public school for gifted children in the Madison area? I will purchase a home right next door and hopfully I can stop fighting to get my children a proper education
And so "advocates" would you answer if she ran into you at the grocery store?

Bill Keys then responded:

Can't resist the snark of thinking maybe she wants the education she was apparently denied as she wasted time in school. If the King of Typos can catch this one...

AND "cildren."
Tell her to send her kid to the school of hard knocks.
It's right next door to the house for sail.

You could say that this is only Bill Keys ranting, but not one -- NOT ONE -- of the AMPS leaders or listserve subscribers challenges or chides him.

The hostility of AMPS people comes out in the body language and sneers on their faces toward other candidates when AMPS people attend candidate forums and in the disrespect they show toward people who testify before the board and its committees.

It's so sad that they apparently don't want an open organization marked by respect for children, teachers, and parents.

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Why Illinois Test Scores Went Up?: Changing the Test or Academic Improvements?

Via a reader looking at this issue: Stephanie Banchero, Darnell Little and Diane Rado:

Illinois elementary school pupils passed the newly revamped state achievement exams at record rates last year, but critics suggest it was more the result of changes to the tests than real progress by pupils.

State and local educators attribute the improvement to smarter pupils and teachers' laser-like focus on the state learning standards—the detailed list of what pupils should know at each grade level. They also say that the more child-friendly exams, which included color and better graphics, helped pupils.

But testing experts and critics suggest that the unprecedented growth is more likely the result of changes to the exams.

Most notably, the state dramatically lowered the passing bar on the 8th-grade math test. As a result—after hovering at about 50 percent for five years—the pass rate shot up to 78 percent last year.

While the number of test questions remained generally the same, the number that counted on pupil scores dropped significantly.

Kevin Carey criticized Wisconsin's "Statistical Manipulation of No Child Left Behind Standards". The Fordham Foundation and Amy Hetzner have also taken a look at this issue.

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Governor Doyle's Proposed Budget Does Not Save the Madison School District:
Proposed Budget provides 65% of public school costs via redistributed sales, income, corporate taxes and fees, rather than 67%.

I've received some emails on this story. It seems there are two approaches to "fixing" the Madison School District's $333M+ budget for our 24,342 students. Blame the state/federal government, or work locally to build support for our public schools in terms of volunteer hours, partnerships and money.

I believe that latter approach is far more likely to succeed because we have more control all around and we have a vested interest in our community's future. That's also why I support Maya Cole (vs. Marj Passman) and Rick Thomas (vs. Beth Moss) for school board. Ruth Robarts, Lucy Mathiak and Lawrie Kobza have proven that the board and individual members can be effective. An insider friend mentioned that Doyle's budget is "thinly balanced", which likely explains the reality. The Madison School Board's majority decision (4-3) with respect to concessions before negotiations magnifies the governance issue. Watch the candidates discuss this issue, among others recently.

Those interested in this issue should check out Monday's (3/12 from 12 to 1:00p.m.) brown bag lunch on Financing Quality Education. [map]

Steve Walters and Stacy Forster:

Despite Gov. Jim Doyle's public - and repeated - promises that his budget proposal would pay for two-thirds of public education costs, an analysis released today showed that it falls short of that goal.

In a 624-page summary of the budget that Doyle gave legislators last month, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau said the state would pay 65.3% of public school costs in the year that begins July 1, and 65.5% of those costs in the following year.

Because public schools cost about $9 billion every year, each 1% equals about $90 million - money that is tight as legislators begin the process of reviewing Doyle's budget and drafting changes to it. Legislators will act on their version of the budget over the next three or four months.

Legislative Fiscal Bureau Summary. Via WisPolitics. More on Wisconsin's school finance climate here. The Associated Press has also posted an article here:
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said Tuesday in a summary of the budget the governor gave to legislators in January that the state would pay 65.3 percent of public school costs in the year that begins July 1 and 65.5 percent during the next year.
The AP article references some special and school choice funding changes that may help some districts:
David Schmiedicke, the governor's budget director, said the budget proposal is just short of the 66 percent goal next year because it includes more money for specific programs such as aid to students with disabilities, subsidies for small class sizes and free breakfasts, and $21 million more to pay for Milwaukee's school choice program.

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How the Open Source Movement Has Changed Education: 10 Success Stories

Online Education Database:

How would you like to study at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) for free? It has been nearly six years since MIT first announced their MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW) program. More recently, MIT announced that the OCW program, a free and open educational resource (OER) for educators, students, and self-learners around the world, is online and will be completed by 2008. The OCW provides open access to course materials for up to 1,550 MIT courses, representing 34 departments and all five MIT schools. The goal is to include materials from all MIT courses by next year.

MIT provides just one of the 10 open source educational success stories detailed below. Open source and open access resources have changed how colleges, organizations, instructors, and prospective students use software, operating systems and online documents for educational purposes. And, in most cases, each success story also has served as a springboard to create more open source projects.

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Education, Education, Education

Bob Herbert:

It’s an article of faith that the key to success in real estate is location, location, location.

For young black boys looking ahead to a difficult walk in life, the mantra should be education, education, education.

We’ve watched for decades — watched in horror, actually — as the lives of so many young blacks, men and boys especially, have been consumed by drugs, crime, poverty, ignorance, racial prejudice, misguided social pressures, and so on.

At the same time, millions of blacks have thrived, building strong families and successful careers at rates previously unseen. By far, the most important difference between these two very large groups has been educational attainment.

If anything, the role that education plays in the life prospects of black Americans is even more dramatic than in the population as a whole. It’s the closest thing to a magic potion for black people that I can think of. For boys and men, it is very often the antidote to prison or an early grave.

A new report from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston tells us that young adults in general have been struggling in the labor market. Many have been left behind by the modest economic recovery of the past few years, especially those with limited education credentials.

The report, which focuses on black males, emphasizes the importance of education in overcoming this tough employment environment:

“For males in each of the three race-ethnic groups (blacks, Hispanics and whites), employment rates in 2005 increased steadily and strongly with their educational attainment. This was especially true for black males, for whom employment rates rose from a low of 33 percent among high school dropouts to 57 percent among high school graduates, and to a high of 86 percent among four-year college graduates.

“The fact that only one of every three young black male high school dropouts was able to obtain any type of job during an average month in 2005 should be viewed as particularly distressing, since many of these young men will end up being involved in criminal activities during their late teens and early 20s and then bear the severe economic consequences for convictions and incarcerations over the remainder of their working lives.”

There is no way, in my opinion, for blacks to focus too much or too obsessively on education. It’s the fuel that powers not just the race for success but the quest for a happy life. It represents the flip side of failure.

The differences in rates of employment between white men and black men narrow considerably as black men gain additional schooling. After comparing the percentage of the male population that is employed in each race or ethnic group, the Northeastern study found:

“The gap in [employment to population] ratios between young white and black males narrows from 20 percentage points among high school dropouts, to 16 percentage points among high school graduates, to eight percentage points among those men completing 1-3 years of college, and to only two percentage points for four-year college graduates.”

For anyone deluded enough to question whether education is the ticket to a better life for black boys and men, consider that a black male who drops out of high school is 60 times more likely to find himself in prison than one with a bachelor’s degree.

Black males who graduate from a four-year college will make, over the course of a lifetime, more than twice the mean earnings of a black high school graduate, which is a difference of more than a million dollars.

According to the study, “Black males with college degrees and strong literacy/math skills also are far more likely to marry and live with their children and pay substantially more in taxes to state and national government than they receive in cash and in-kind benefits.”

This is not a close-call issue. It is becoming very hard for anyone to succeed in this society without a college education. To leave school without even a high school education, as so many males — and especially black males — are doing, is extremely self-destructive.

The effort to bolster the educational background of black men has to begin very early. It’s extremely difficult to turn a high school dropout into a college graduate. This effort can succeed on a large scale only if there is a cultural change in the black community — a powerful change that acknowledges as the 21st century unfolds that there is no more important life tool for black children than education, education, education.

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March 6, 2007

18 Year Old Madison Resident Wins National Vocabulary Championship

James Barron:

Rich Cronin, the president and chief executive of GSN, said he was not just thrilled to watch the competition, he was euphoric. “One person will be the ‘American Idol’ of vocabulary,” he said. (In the end, after an afternoon with its share of technical difficulties and dashed hopes, the winner was Robert Marsland, 18, of Madison, Wis. He will receive $40,000 toward college tuition. The winners in the finals and in the earlier citywide competitions held nationwide divided more than $80,000 in tuition money. The Princeton Review, a tutoring and test preparation service, came up with the questions. )

Off camera, it took Joel Chiodi, GSN’s vice president for marketing, a moment to remember a word he had learned from listening to contestants around the country.

Susan Troller:
Madison's Robert Marsland, 18, took first place at the inaugural National Vocabulary Championship Monday in New York City, nabbing a trophy and a $40,000 scholarship prize. Last year, he nailed a perfect 36 on his ACT college entrance exam, and in 2003 he represented Wisconsin in the National Spelling Bee.

He is a student at the tiny St. Ambrose Academy on Madison's west side, where he studies both Greek and Latin.

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3/5/2007 Madison School Board Candidate Forum: West High School

The Madison West High School PTSO held a school board candidate forum Monday night. Topics included:

  • Madison High School Comparison
  • A candidate's ability to listen, interact and work successfully with other board members
  • Past and future referenda support
  • Candidate views on the $333M+ budget for our 24,000 students
  • Extensive conversations on the part of Marj and Johnny to lobby the state and federal governments for more money. Maya wondered how successful that strategy might be given that our own State Senator Fred Risser failed to sign on to the Pope-Roberts/Breske resolution and that there are many school districts much poorer than Madison who will likely obtain benefits first, if new state tax funds are available. Maya also mentioned her experience at the state level via the concealed carry battles.
  • The challenge of supporting all students, including those with special needs. Several candidates noted that there is white flight from the MMSD (enrollment has been flat for years, while local population continues to grow)
  • Mandatory classroom grouping (heterogeneous) was also discussed

I applaud the West PTSO for holding this event. I also liked the way that they handled questions: all were moderated, which prevents a candidate supporter from sandbagging the opposition. I attended a forum last year where supporters posed questions before local parents had the opportunity.

Video and mp3 audio clips are available below. Make sure you have the latest version of Quicktime as the video clips use a new, more efficient compression technique.

Opening Statements: Video mp3 audio

Question 1: For Seat 3 Candidate Beth Moss (vs. Rick Thomas) regarding Madison's High Schools: Video mp3 audio

Question 2: What did you do to pass the last referendum and what will you do for the next? Video mp3 audio

Question 3: What values do you bring to the ($333M+ budget) decision making process? Video mp3 audio

Question 4: The MMSD's demographics are changing with more students with special needs while many families feel that they have less resources available for their "normal" students. How would you balance the needs of these various constituencies so that the families without special needs students don't leave the Madison Metropolitan School District? Video mp3 audio

Question 5: for Marj Passman (opposed by Maya Cole); Answering a recent Isthmus question about "How do you play with others", you said that you saw your role as convincing fellow board members as to the correctness of your views. You didn't say anything about listening to others. What role does listening play in your new board member job description? Video mp3 audio

Question 6: Given the statistics in Sunday's paper that only about 30% of Madison households have kids, how does that affect your approach to "selling" another referendum? Video mp3 audio

Question 7 – All Candidates
Please explain your views on additional charter schools given the success of Nuestro Mundo here in Madison and several offerings in Appleton just to name a few?

Question 8 – All Candidates
How can the school district provide for second languages to be taught to all students starting in Kindergarten and continuing through all grades?

Question 9 – All Candidates
The Board will be hiring a new superintendent. Please discuss what you believe is the top 3 criteria for a superintendent. You are free to ignore my request to address communication between Board and Administration/Superintendent, Boards communication with public, Superintendent and Public.

Question 10 – All Candidates
What role should School Board, Parents and Educator play in changing state law which adversely affect our schools?

Question 11 - Rick and Maya
What accountability mechanisms do you envision?

Question 12 – All Candidates
What is your position on the health insurance issue for teachers, that is the WPS option versus HMO’s?

Candidate responses to these questions can be found here.

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Notes from UW-Madison and Madison West High on AP Standards

Danielle Repshas:

“Still, there is not an absolute guarantee that a course [called] one thing someplace has the same rigor somewhere else,” Reason said.

Part of the challenge is judging the standards of one AP class from another at different high schools, and Reason said the level of trust colleges and secondary schools have with one another is one way colleges try to establish relationships with high schools. But Reason said he is concerned about the competition level at high schools in terms of coursework because schools in some areas do not have the same rigor in their coursework with respect to others.

The article includes a comment regarding Madison West High School's limited approach:
In fact, there are only a handful of AP classes at Madison West, and most students aren't interested in them. They'd rather take more stimulating and challenging classes.
Marcia Gevelinger Bastian touched on the issue of West's limited number of AP classes here.

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Home Schoolers and College Applications

Ana Beatriz Cholo:

"For home-schoolers, it was basically a shut door for us because of the restrictions," Sample said.

Last fall, however, UC Riverside joined a growing number of colleges around the country that are revamping application policies to accommodate home-schooled students.

The change came just in time for the 18-year-old Sample to apply and get accepted with a substantial scholarship.

Under UC Riverside's new policy, home-schoolers can apply by submitting a lengthy portfolio detailing their studies and other educational experiences.

Sample's package showed he had studied chemistry, U.S. history and geometry, rewired a house and helped rebuild a medical clinic in Nicaragua.

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Milwaukee School Board Reviews Their Superintendent

Alan Borsuk:

Less than a month before an election that is likely to leave School Superintendent William Andrekopoulos with a board that is not as favorably disposed toward him, the current School Board will hold a session Thursday to consider changing provisions in his contract.

School Board President Joe Dannecker said Monday that he wants the session to focus on how the board will conduct its annual review of Andrekopoulos' job performance. The current contract says the way of conducting those reviews needs to be settled by the end of April. Dannecker also said he hopes the Thursday session will be conducted mostly in public.

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Life-Long Computer Skills Rather Than PowerPoint or Windows

Jakob Nielsen:

Schools should teach deep, strategic computer insights that can't be learned from reading a manual.

I recently saw a textbook used to teach computers in the third grade. One of the chapters ("The Big Calculator") featured detailed instructions on how to format tables of numbers in Excel. All very good, except that the new Excel version features a complete user interface overhaul, in which the traditional command menus are replaced by a ribbon with a results-oriented UI.

Sadly, I had to tell the proud parents that their daughter's education would be obsolete before she graduated from the third grade.

The problem, of course, is in tying education too tightly to specific software applications. Even if Microsoft hadn't turned Excel inside out this year, they would surely have done so eventually. Updating instructional materials to teach Office 2007 isn't the answer, because there will surely be another UI change before today's third graders enter the workforce in 10 or 15 years -- and even more before they retire in 2065.

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March 5, 2007

Kentucky: Teacher and School Grants for Math, Chemistry, Physics and Expanded AP Classes

Tom O'Neill:

SB1 would provide $10,000 grants to help schools start advanced-placement courses. Students scoring highly on the AP exams and who receive free or reduced-price lunches would be eligible for $200 to $300 in state scholarships.

Under SB2, teachers could get salary bumps if they perform well on the teacher-certification tests in math, chemistry and physics.

The two-year cost of the bills is estimated at $4.7 million and $9.2 million, respectively. The savings to students from exam costs and tuition assistance is estimated at $7.9 million for the two years.

By comparison, giving every teacher in Kentucky a 1 percent raise would cost the state $23 million a year, Kelly said.

The Senate has passed both bills, and they are now awaiting assignments to House committees.

Supporters of the measures include University of Kentucky President Lee Todd and the influential Lexington-based Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

The primary opponent is the KEA, which represents 38,000 public school teachers in Kentucky.

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Course-Title Inflation

Amit Paley:

In 2005, Asian/Pacific Islander graduates took a tougher course load than white and black graduates, with 63 percent completing at least a mid-level curriculum. The rate was 44 percent for Hispanic graduates.

The study did not include transcripts of high school dropouts, an important caveat because dropout rates vary widely among racial and ethnic groups.

Experts also point out that the study based its definition of course rigor on titles and descriptions, not necessarily on the delivered content. Known as course-title inflation, that means a class might be called calculus but really teach only algebra. Experts say minority students are often disproportionately affected by such inflation.

"You see all the time that courses are being dumbed down even if they have tough-sounding titles," said Erich Martel, a history teacher at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in the District.

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3/8/2007 Madison Mayor Forum

WisPolitics is hosting a Madison Mayoral Forum Thursday at the Madison Club at 11:45a.m. [map]

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Keys and Casteneda sing same song

After listening to Phony Tony Casteneda's ludicruous charaterizations of those who post on this blog, I remembered a post by Bill Keys on a listserve sponsored by Advocates for Madison Public Schools. Bill and Phony Tony used nearly the same language and divisiveness. Here's Bill's rant:

FACTS? FACTS? FACTS? Do you really believe that those who criticize public education are the least bit interested in INFORMATION????? You shoulda been with us while campaigning for the referenda in 2005. You'd know by now. They are the Neo-cons and fascists who got us into Iraq, who support amendments banning same sex marriage, who are opposed to sick leave for workers and living wages and health benefits as well, and who want to stop Mexican immigration even while eating the food that Mexican-Americans grow and harvest? FACT? They are not at all interested. A FACT never changed any of these folks' minds. 'Course that's assuming they have any. Bill

Not a single one of the Advocates for Madison Public Schools called Bill on this abrasiveness or questioned his assertions.

Remember, these are the people who advise and support Marj Passman. Do the comments of Bill and Phony Tony reflect Marj's feelings? Apparently, we'll never know. She's mum to e-mails and requests for her to explain her positions.

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2006 - 2007 Madison School District $333M+ Citizen's Budget

[JPG | PDF | .xls versions] MMSD Statistics.

Paul Soglin's observations on the MMSD's funding issues, special ed and our politicians.

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Menomonee Falls School District Works with Community on 4 Year Old Kindergarten

Amy Hetzner:

When the Menomonee Falls School District opens its doors to a new 4-year-old kindergarten program this fall, private day cares in the village will open theirs to it, too.

Using an idea that's catching on throughout the state, the district plans to partner with local preschool and child care centers to give 4-year-olds a half-day program that proponents say will give them an educational boost for years to come.

"The goal to all of this is to provide quality 4-year-old services for each and every child who resides in the school district, so when they come to 5-K they've got the same kindergarten basis," said Marlene Gross-Ackeret, Menomonee Falls' director of pupil services, and one of the key players in its 4-K initiative.

Almost every Wisconsin school district looking to add a new 4-year-old kindergarten program is considering such a collaborative approach, said Jill Haglund, an early-childhood education consultant for the state Department of Public Instruction who estimated that the partnerships exist in about 50 school systems. Even Milwaukee Public Schools collaborates with some community partners, placing its teachers at off-campus sites, despite having its own extensive 4-K programs.

Quite a contrast to the general Madison School District approach with respect to After School and classes taken outside our public school district. More here.

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Wisconsin's K-12 Spending Climate

Avrum Lank:

Per capita income will continue to grow in Wisconsin through 2009, but at a slower rate than in the nation as a whole, according to an economic outlook released Friday by the state Department of Revenue.

Employment also will grow, but manufacturing jobs will decline, the report said.

Even so, corporate income tax collections are growing about four times faster than all state tax revenue, reflecting robust business profits.

"The U.S. economy is expected to slow this year," the report said. The state's economy also will slow "before returning to stronger growth in 2008."

Jobs in the state will grow 0.8% this year to 2,892,800 - less than the 1% growth last year. Growth rates of 1.3% in 2008 and 1.2% in 2009 will bring the job total to slightly fewer than 3 million, the report said.

However, manufacturing jobs will fall from 507,300 last year to 502,900 by 2009.

Per capita personal income will rise about 8%, to $33,174 in 2009 from $30,706 last year, using constant 2000 dollars.

That is a decline to 96.2% of the national average in 2009, from 96.7% last year.

Wisconsin Department of Revenue Economic Outlook 292K PDF

Changing state K-12 funding to benefit Madison (perceived as a rich district based on property values and spending growth) will be difficult given our higher than state average per student spending and some of the issues noted above. The politics of this issue can be seen in those who have supported (and those who have not, including our own Senator Fred Risser) the Pope-Roberts/Breske resolution. Senator Risser's bills.

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March 4, 2007

Project Girl Program helps middle schoolers sort through barrage of media messages

Susan Troller:

What if parents could vaccinate their adolescent daughters against the siren song of the mall? Is there any way to get them to just say no to the power of brand name clothing, accessories and cosmetics?

And what should be done about the barrage of marketing messages telling them they can never be too rich, or too thin, and that they must be hot, hot, hot as they shop, shop, shop, even if they're only 10 years old?

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Madison School Board Candidates Address the Achievement Gap

Isthmus continues their excellent candidate take home tests, this week addressing the Madison School District's achievement gap:

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March 3, 2007

Confirmation of MMSD's bargaining give aways

Roger Price provided a copy of the 2007 Voluntary Impasse Resolution Procedure agreement between the MMSD and MTI.

As reported earlier, if the MMSD and MTI go to arbitration, the MMSD agrees not make a final offer that would modify health insurance benefits for teachers or change the salary structure, which offers new teachers a starting salary of $23,000, a salary lamented by Marj Passman in her interview on WORT.

The agreement duplicates the 2005 agreement, as discussed here.

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Statewide Study of Arts Education in California

An Unfinished Canvas, Arts Education in California: Taking Stock of Policies and Practices by Katrina Woodworth, Roneeta Guha, Alix Gallagher, Ashley Campbell, June Park, and Debbie Kim:

Policies recently enacted at both the state and federal levels demonstrate a commitment to arts education. In 2001, the California State Board of Education adopted content standards for the visual and performing arts. In 2002, the federal No Child Left Behind law, with provisions recognizing the arts as a core subject, was signed into law. Beginning in 2005-06, students seeking admission to the University of California and California State University systems are required to take one full year of arts education coursework during high school.

Despite expectations and enthusiasm for instruction in the arts, little information about California students' access to and performance in the arts is available, and statewide information about the delivery of arts education is lacking. Several recent studies suggest that arts education is in jeopardy—and perhaps in decline—and that schools are struggling to incorporate arts in their curriculum. Recent studies also point to disparities in access by school demographic characteristics, as well as differences in offerings by discipline. None of these studies, however, systematically examine the status of arts education in all four arts disciplines across all of California's schools.

Sharon Noguchi has more.
Once derided as non-essential fluff and an expensive luxury, the arts have languished in California schools for nearly three decades.

Now, a Menlo Park think tank has recommended that California students spend more time in school to learn music, drama, theater and visual arts.

In a statewide survey of 1,123 California schools, researchers at SRI International found that 89 percent of schools fail to meet state standards for arts education.

Nearly one-third of the schools surveyed offered no art courses that met the standards, and K-12 enrollment in music courses dropped by 37 percent over the five years ending last June.

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The Kid Spending Spectrum

Eileen Daspin and Ellen Gameran:

With the debate about the country's wealth gap heating up again, pampered kids provide some of the most dramatic examples, from toddlers in $800 strollers to 10-year-olds with cellphones. But for many families, drawing the line between attentive parenting and extravagance is a tough call; even parents who are relatively strapped will go to great lengths for their children. And though millions can't afford the government's child-cost estimate, there is no question that many others are spending far more without viewing it as extreme.

To assess how relatively routine expenses, as well as more excessive ones, can contribute to the total cost of raising a child, The Wall Street Journal deconstructed the government's approach and recalculated it using a different range of costs.

Escalating kid spending is more rampant among wealthier households, so we used the government's top-third income bracket as a starting point. We also added some costs that aren't included in that government calculation, such as college-savings plans, which a growing number of households are setting up for their kids.

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March 2, 2007

March Madison BOE Progress Report

March Madness is approaching! On the board level, madness can be characterized by the large assortments of topics and decisions that have been or will need to be made such as the superintendent search, budget, and other serious issues that require time, analysis and public discussion. I would like to give you a brief report on some of those topics.

First, the board has developed a Request For Proposals for firms interested in assisting the BOE in its national search for the next superintendent. Second, on Friday March 9th the district will announce prospective budget reductions for the next school year. These reductions will be based on current projections and data that the district has to make decisions. While the Governor’s biennial budget provides some assistance for Madison schools it is not enough to make up the difference in the shortfall. Third, the proposed Studio School charter application was voted down. Fourth, a Fine Arts task force has been developed by the board to: 1) Define community vision and goals for K-12 Fine Arts education; 2) Make recommendations for increasing enrollment of under-represented populations and 3) Make recommendations regarding funding. The task force will report to the BOE in March of 2008. Lastly, our school district will benefit greatly from the recent generosity of the CUNA Mutual Foundation’s $218,000 donation to the Children’s Service Society of Wisconsin for the KinderReady program. Research shows that kindergarten readiness is a key indicator of children’s success in school and beyond. The effort is being guided by the MMSD with the support of the United Way, Dane County and the city of Madison.

Board Committees:
The committees of the BOE continue their hard work and analysis. Finance and Operations (Lawrie Kobza, Chair) received a report from the administration regarding interscholastic athletics, extracurricular programs and debt issuance and refinancing for the November referendum. Long Range Planning (Carol Carstensen, Chair) received a report on Northeast area meetings and will bring forward a plan to move the Brentwood neighborhood to Emerson to address overcrowding at Lakeview. Human Resources (Ruth Robarts, Chair) will review the annual report on minority recruitment/retention on March 5th at 6 pm. Communications (Arlene Silveira, Chair) discussed the MMSD legislative agenda and analyzed the Governor's proposed state budget. Community Partnerships (Lucy Mathiak, Chair) received reports and presentations from WCATY, Charles Hamilton Houston Institute, Kajsiab House, Gay-Straight Alliance for Safe Schools. In addition, staff members from MSCR discussed student functions and supervision at events. Performance and Achievement (Shwaw Vang, Chair) received budget recommendations for the 2007 Summer School. Representatives from Nuestro Mundo addressed the committee regarding future plans.

MMSD News:
Read the new edition of MMSD Today at
March 5th is district wide kindergarten registration. MSCR Summer Preview will be held at LaFollette on March 6th and Memorial on March 7th. MSCR and over 50 local activity providers will let you know what they are offering this summer for children and adults. Call 204-3000 for info… Employees of MMSD and citizen volunteers will receive the Distinguished Service Award, the school district’s highest honor for meritorious contributions to students and schools on Monday, March 26th at 7 p.m. in the Memorial High School auditorium… Forty-one names for the new elementary school have been submitted for consideration to the Board. Citizens can make comments about the proposed names by going to until March 21st. A public hearing regarding the names will be held on Monday March 19th at the Doyle Building at 6:30 p.m.

Are You Frustrated With Wisconsin School Financing?:
On Wednesday March 21st at 6:30 p.m. at the Doyle Building the MMSD will hold an information and advocacy session related to the state budget. The meeting will provide advocacy talking points to contact legislators and gain support for some of the budget’s provisions. Together, we can work to educate legislators and bring about school finance reform.

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

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

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Financing Quality Education, March 12

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 at 225.6591.

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No Child Left Behind's Effect on the States

The Economist:

FOR as long as there have been maths tests, there have been cheats. But whereas a schoolboy caught furtively copying his neighbour's answers can expect a zero and an angry letter home, states that rig exam results are showered with federal cash. This is one reason why the No Child Left Behind Act, a noble attempt to impose discipline on American schools, needs revision before it merits an A grade.

The premise behind the law was sensible enough. Before it was passed in 2002, state education bureaucrats were reluctant to collect and publish the kind of data that would have allowed parents to make comparisons between schools, or to tell if a school was improving over time. Good schools received few rewards; bad ones had little incentive to improve. President George Bush sought to change that.

Under No Child Left Behind, students must be tested on maths and reading every year between the ages of eight and 13, and once in high school. Test results must be published and broken down by race. Schools that fail to show “adequate yearly progress” face penalties. Parents of children at consistently failing schools must be allowed to move them to better ones.

All good stuff. But there are catches. Federal subsidies to the states depend on students meeting standards that the states themselves set. States thus have a multi-billion-dollar incentive to game the system. In Arizona, for example, only one-fifth of eighth-graders were rated “proficient” at maths after taking the state test in 2003. Two years later, that proportion had magically tripled. Does this mean that the test got easier to pass? “Yes,” says Janet Napolitano, Arizona's plain-talking governor.

Wisconsin's academic standards have been criticized by the Fordham Foundation:
The report being released today by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington uses harsh terms in critiquing the standards that are intended to guide instruction in Wisconsin schools. "Depth is nowhere to be found," it said of the science standards. "This document has no structure or method," it said of the world history standards. "Skimpy content and vague wording," it said in describing the math standards.

In June, a different group ranked Wisconsin No. 1 in the country in frustrating the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Also in June, a third organization focused on Milwaukee and Wisconsin as examples of places where more inexperienced - and therefore, less proficient - teachers are disproportionately assigned to high-needs schools. And two weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education rejected as inadequate Wisconsin's plans for dealing with federal requirements that every student have a "highly qualified" teacher.

along with Kevin Carey: "Hot Air: How States Inflate Their Educational Progress Under NCLB "
Critics on both the Left and the Right have charged that the No Child Left Behind Act tramples states' rights by imposing a federally mandated, one-size-fits-all accountability system on the nation's diverse states and schools.
In truth, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) gives states wide discretion to define what students must learn, how that knowledge should be tested, and what test scores constitute “proficiency”—the key elements of any educational accountability system. States also set standards for high school graduation rates, teacher qualifications, school safety and many other aspects of school performance. As a result, states are largely free to define the terms of their own educational success.

The Pangloss Index ranks Wisconsin as the most optimistic state in the nation. Wisconsin scores well on some educational measures, like the SAT, but lags behind in others, such as achievement gaps for minority students. But according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the state is a modern-day educational utopia where a large majority of students meet academic standards, high school graduation rates are high, every school is safe and nearly all teachers are highly qualified. School districts around the nation are struggling to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the primary standard of school and district success under NCLB. Yet 99.8 percent of Wisconsin districts—425 out of 426—made AYP in 2004–05.

How is that possible? As Table 2 shows, some states have identified the large majority of districts as not making AYP. The answer lies with the way Wisconsin has chosen to define the AYP standard.

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

The Birth of Stochastic Science

Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

It fosters entrepreneurs and creators, not exam takers, bureaucrats or, worse, deluded economists. So the perceived weakness of the American pupil in conventional and theoretical studies is where it very strength lies — it produces "doers", Black Swan hunting, dream-chasing entrepreneurs, or others with a tolerance for risk-taking which attracts aggressive tinkering foreigners. And globalization allowed the U.S. to specialize in the creative aspect of things, the risk-taking production of concepts and ideas, that is, the scalable and fat-tailed part of the products, and, increasingly, by exporting jobs, separate the less scalable and more linear components and assign them to someone in more mathematical and "cultural" states happy to be paid by the hour and work on other people's ideas. (I hold, against the current Adam Smith-style discourse in economics, that the American undirected free-enterprise works because it aggressively allows to capture the randomness of the environment — "cheap options"— not much because of competition and certainly less because of material incentives. Neither the followers of Adam Smith, nor to some extent, those of Karl Marx, seem to be conscious about the role of wild randomness. They are too bathed in enlightenment-style causation and cannot separate skills and payoffs.)
Taleb's excellent "Fooled By Randomness" is a must read.

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Gifted? Autistic? Or Just Quirky?

Maia Szalavitz:

"Paradoxically liberating" is how Phil Schwarz has described his Asperger's syndrome diagnosis. He was in his late 30s at the time, and he had number of things on his mind: A software developer in Framingham, Mass., Schwarz had been labeled "gifted" as a child and had graduated third in his high school class. For years he had struggled with depression and a feeling that he was not living up to the promise of his past.

What's more, he had begun to worry about his toddler's delayed language development and repetitive play style. But he had no idea how the diagnosis that his son Jeremy would receive might affect his own identity.

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Civics Failure in Public Education

Paul Soglin:

While everyone is weighing in on the best way to teach our kids, I cannot get over the failure to educate youngsters about American institutions.

The more inclusive and more truthful curriculum about our nation's history that is taught today is a vast step forward. However, when I graduated from high school I could discuss the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the the Declaration of Independence and their inherent contradictions. I knew the three branches of government and their powers.

There are some teachers who emphasize civics. A great teacher friend recently mentioned "if we're doing such a good job with the students, why are so few people asking questions of our government?"

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:17 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

March 1, 2007

Marj Passman & Tony Casteneda Discuss The Madison School Board Race

Madison School Board Seat 5 candidate Marj Passman talked with Tony Castañeda recently on WORT-FM. Marj faces Maya Cole in the April 3, 2007 spring election. Marj and Tony discussed health care costs, curriculum, governance, special education, this website, and the Madison School District's $331M+ budget.

Listen via this 5.7MB mp3 audio file. A transcript will be posted when available.

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Presentation on Special Education in the Madison Public Schools

Madison School Board Special Education PresentationThe Madison School Board heard a presentation on the district's special education program, which currently serves 4,314 students, Monday evening. Watch Jack Jorgenson's presentation via this video.


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Education Report Card

US Chamber of Commerce:

The United States in the 21st century faces unprecedented economic and social challenges, ranging from the forces of global competition to the impending retirement of 77 million baby boomers. Succeeding in this new era will require our children to be prepared for the intellectual demands of the modern workplace and a far more complex society. Yet the evidence indicates that our country is not ready. Despite decades of reform efforts and many trillions of dollars in public investment, U.S. schools are not equipping our children with the skills and knowledge they-and the nation-so badly need.

It has been nearly a quarter century since the seminal report A Nation at Risk was issued in 1983. Since that time, a knowledge-based economy has emerged, the Internet has reshaped commerce and communication, exemplars of creative commerce like Microsoft, eBay, and Southwest Airlines have revolutionized the way we live, and the global economy has undergone wrenching change. Throughout that period, education spending has steadily increased and rafts of well-intentioned school reforms have come and gone. But student achievement has remained stagnant, and our K-12 schools have stayed remarkably unchanged-preserving, as if in amber, the routines, culture, and operations of an obsolete 1930s manufacturing plant.

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