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May 31, 2007

Isabel Jacobson Makes the Spelling Bee's Final 15

Round 6 results here. Tonight's event will be broadcast on ABC (WKOW-TV in Madison) from 7 to 9:00p.m. CST. Isabel Jacobson is an eighth grader. Photos.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:28 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Nurturing Student Mothers

Sarah Carr:

This winter, at Northern Star School, Parker found a place where she could finally settle in.

Over the past five years, Northern Star's leaders have created a vibrant school unique to both Milwaukee and the country: a middle school focused on teenage mothers. Milwaukee's Lady Pitts also works with pregnant and parenting teens, but at the high school level.

Locally and nationally, the teen birth rate continues to decline and cities are closing alternative high schools for pregnant teens, mainstreaming the young women instead. Yet in Milwaukee, Northern Star's prominence continues to grow.

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An elite education should be open to all who can benefit, not just those who can pay

The Economist:

NO exam question is as perplexing as how to organise schools to suit the huge variety of pupils they serve: rich and poor, clever and dim, early developers and late starters. Every country does it differently. Some try to spot talent early. Others winnow out the academic-minded only at 18. Some believe in parent-power. Others trust the state. Finland has state-run uniform comprehensives; Sweden, another good performer, has vouchers and lots of private schools.

The British system produces some world-class high-flyers, mainly in its private schools and the 164 selective state “grammar” schools that survived the cull in the 1960s and 1970s when the country moved to a non-selective system. But it serves neither its poor children nor its most troublesome ones well. The best state schools, especially the grammar schools, are colonised by the middle classes, and the whole system is disfigured by a long straggling tail of non-achievers.

Last week David Willetts, the Conservative education spokesman, set out what the Tories would do to rectify these failings. He said a lot of sensible things about freeing up the supply side in education and opening lots more independent state schools in poor areas. But the headlines came from his announcement that if the Tories came to power, they would open no more of their cherished grammar schools: in his view, they are no longer a ladder for the poor but bright.

In political terms, the move seemed an odd mixture of bravery (reacting to statistical evidence, caring about social mobility) and cynicism (despite now thinking that selection is a bad idea, the Tories will keep the existing grammar schools and their middle-class votes). Either way, it was a mistake: selection—and, yes, even elitism—are useful.

This paper has long argued that competition and freedom in education, as elsewhere, are the way to encourage innovation and raise standards for all. Parents should choose schools, and money follow the student, with more cash following the poorest and those who are hardest to teach. As for schools, they should have as much freedom as possible to decide what sort of school they want to be. The government should set some standards, measure exam results and so on; but parents, not bureaucrats, should decide which schools survive.

However, if parents choose schools, then schools must choose pupils, at least when too many apply to the same ones. Selection is not just inevitable in a system that fosters choice; it also has benefits. Grammar-school pupils do better in exams by half a grade on average—and a full grade if they come from poor families. Such a leg-up is good not just for the children enjoying those benefits but also for the country. Britain needs an elite—brilliant linguists, mathematicians, scientists, engineers—to compete with countries that focus more on excellence than egalitarianism. Restricting excellence just to those whose parents can afford to pay for it cannot make sense.

Free up supply, don't limit demand
The old argument against the grammar-school system was that by selecting the brightest it condemned the masses to the scrapheap. But the point of a market is that competition brings innovation. If decisions on how to select pupils were really delegated to schools, some would undoubtedly offer a highly academic education to those with the ability to thrive on it. Others would specialise in music, or fine arts, or technical subjects—or, indeed, children who are hard to teach (especially if the latter came with the most state money). This point helps answer another longstanding concern—that, by creaming off the brightest, grammar schools are short-changing the average child, who loses the benefit of their company. That would be less of a worry if the alternatives to a highly academic education also become more attractive.

The new concern, rightly raised by the Tories, is that grammar schools no longer help enough clever poor children. Mr Willetts worries about meritocracy. Here his diagnosis seems right, but his remedy wrong. With richer parents coaching their children furiously, the few grammar schools that remain are largely middle-class enclaves: only 2% of their students are entitled to free school meals, compared with 12% in their local areas. This is indeed a shocking figure. But it is surely an argument for better early teaching for poor children or building more selective secondary schools, not an argument to abandon even that 2% by banning academic selection.

Social mobility is a good thing, and the Tories are right to want to foster it. But so is an elite. After all, there's not much point in moving upwards if there's nowhere to go.

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Putting His Wealth to Work To Improve Urban Schools

Jay Matthews:

He and his wife, Edythe, have committed more than $250 million to school improvement projects since 1999, and they plan to spend most of the Broad Foundation's $2.25 billion in assets on education. The Los Angeles couple, along with Bill and Melinda Gates, are widely considered the most influential public education philanthropists in the country.

Broad (rhymes with road) has provided much of the money and advice behind efforts to bring business practices -- including freedom from what he considers meddlesome school boards -- to New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Now he has turned his attention to the District. His conversations with D.C. officials, Broad watchers say, are likely to bring more money and expertise to efforts to overhaul the school system.

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May 30, 2007

Standardizing the Standards

Ann Hulbert:

“I know you’re restless today, but I need to see you sitting at your desks. Angel, that means you, too!” In the second-grade classroom at the Washington school where I volunteer, the teacher turned to me and said with a sigh, “It’s testing week.” In fact, her class wasn’t suffering through the standardized ordeal, just tiptoeing around while others did. The “adequate yearly progress” (A.Y.P.) assessments mandated by the No Child Left Behind legislation, which was enacted in 2002 with high hopes of closing the achievement gap for minorities, don’t kick in until third grade. But when it comes to tests, N.C.L.B. is fulfilling its inclusive mission all too well: nobody — not even kids too young to be filling in the bubbles yet — escapes the atmosphere of exam-induced edginess.

The president’s signature domestic initiative, now due for its five-year reauthorization, was supposed to be a model of the hardheaded rigor it aims to instill in America’s schools. “No ‘accountability proposals’ without accountability,” a Bush education adviser declared early on. So one of the most glaring legacies of No Child Left Behind is surprising: it has made a muddle of meaningful assessment. Testing has never been more important; inadequate annual progress toward “proficiency” triggers sanctions on schools. Yet testing has never been more suspect, either. The very zeal for accountability is confusing the quest for consistent academic expectations across the country.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:03 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Detroit Mayor Advocates Charters

Kwame Kilpatrick:

Imagine what would happen if Detroit's auto manufacturers decided to build and sell only mid-size sedans. Despite whatever media campaign they might mount to convince consumers a mid-size sedan was what they should buy, there would clearly still be buyers who would want to purchase SUVs or other types of vehicles. Worse, there would be lots of people whose needs would not be met by a mid-size sedan.

This scenario is no different from thinking that all parents will simply accept whatever school assignment Detroit Public Schools has to offer. Parents will choose what is best for their children.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

On Good Writing

John Leo:

At my local recycling center, the first bin is labeled “commingled containers.” Whoever dreamed up this term could have taken the easy way out and just written “cans and bottles.” But no, the author opted for a term out of the bureaucrat’s style book. He chose the raised pinky elegance of a phrase distant from normal English. He also added poor spelling (“comingled is spelled two different ways), and pointless redundancy (the concept of “co” is already embedded in the word “mingled”). How did they pack so many writing errors into two words of modern environmental prose?

George Orwell, at the beginning of his essay, “Politics and the English Language,” made clear that he thought the language had become disheveled and decadent. That was in 1946. Intending shock, Orwell offered five examples of sub-literate prose by known writers. But these examples don’t look as ghastly to us as they did to Orwell, because language is so much worse today. If you doubt this, I offer a few examples.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 29, 2007

Law lacks direction for gifted students

Amy Hetzner:

What the law doesn't mandate is how students such as Adam will be educated - even though state legislators have identified programming for students with gifts and talents as one of 20 essential components of public education. The result? A mixed bag of approaches for how Wisconsin students identified as gifted are educated. Some are taught in regular classes with alternative activities to help speed them through lessons. Others are pulled out of class for about an hour a week of special instruction. Some may find a spot in a magnet program with other gifted students. And others get no special instruction at all.

These inconsistencies have led parents and others to sound alarms about the state of gifted education, invoking some of the same civil-rights arguments that spurred landmark legislation in the 1970s for students with disabilities.

They say gifted kids need special attention and programs, too.

Racine Jefferson Lighthouse School's Gifted Programs:
Jefferson Lighthouse School has the largest pupil-teacher ratio of any public elementary school in Racine.

Parts of its building are more than 100 years old. Its technology is nearly non-existent. Its librarian works half time.

And every year, parents of about 10 times as many children as the school plans to admit in the fall line up in the hallway, hoping for a chance at enrollment.

"It's like a lottery ticket to get in here," said Principal Soren Gajewski.

What makes Jefferson Lighthouse desirable to so many parents living in Racine, those connected to it say, is its commitment to teaching students with intellectual gifts and the perception that it has few behavioral problems.

The school is able to meet the needs of many of the district's gifted students, as well as siblings and others lucky enough to get in on the lottery, without added expense. In fact, given that the school has the second-lowest per-pupil costs of the Racine Unified School District, parents say such a program is a cost-effective way to ensure that gifted pupils get needed attention while the school remains open to educating non-gifted students as well.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:49 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin DPI: Cracking Down on SAGE Class Size Waivers

Amy Hetzner:

The state Department of Public Instruction gave wide leeway last year to a school district seeking to avoid the strictures of Wisconsin's class-size reduction program, even as the DPI rolled out its plan to clamp down on such exceptions.

The Chippewa Falls School District was allowed to hold classes with one-third more students than the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education program demanded and still receive $100,000.

But such permissiveness is coming to an end, promised state schools Deputy Superintendent Tony Evers.

Already this year, several school systems that previously received funding while exceeding SAGE's 15-to-1 class-size requirements have had their requests denied.

Others have quietly dropped their programs after determining that they would not be able to meet the class-size standards and that DPI staff would become more involved in monitoring their programs, Evers said.

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

Core Classes Not Enough, Report Warns

Jay Matthews:

It's no secret to most high school students that taking the required courses, getting good grades and receiving a diploma don't take much work. The average U.S. high school senior donning a cap and gown this spring will have spent an hour a day on homework and at least three hours a day watching TV, playing video games and pursuing other diversions.

This is sometimes a surprise to adults, particularly state legislators and school board members who thought that by requiring a number of courses in English, math, science and social studies they had ensured that students would dig in and learn what they need to succeed in college.

Guess again, says a new study, "Rigor at Risk: Reaffirming Quality in the High School Core Curriculum [350K PDF Report]," by the Iowa City-based testing company ACT Inc. "Students today do not have a reasonable chance of becoming ready for college unless they take a number of additional higher-level" courses beyond the minimum, the report said. Even those who do, it concluded, "are not always likely to be ready for college either."

More here.

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The Culture of Testing: A look at the Assessment Industry

Jay Matthews:

Blank blue computer screens frustrated thousands of Virginia students this month during online state exams in a series of disruptions that underscored vulnerabilities in the educational testing industry. Such episodes, experts said, could prompt changes in how the nation's schools assess student performance.

Test software malfunctions in several states, coupled with staff shortages and cutthroat competition in the industry, have fueled a growing debate over whether to cut the number of tests taken under the federal No Child Left Behind law or adjust the testing calendar.

"The system has had a lot of pressure put on it," said Adam J. Newman, a managing vice president of the market research group Eduventures Inc. in Boston.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Parent in Prison, a Void at Home

Kari Lydersen:

When 12-year-old Heaven Carr wakes up, her mother is not there to make her breakfast. As the school year ends, Heaven is already sad that her mother will not be around to do the back-to-school shopping come August.

Carr's mother, Elaine, has been behind bars for five years. Her father, Shaun, who was once jailed himself, does his best to pick up the slack, even as he runs a home remodeling business during the day and a cleaning service at night. But Heaven says it's not the same.

"There are no services for men in this position -- none," Shaun said. "You'd think that if a man decides to stay with his kids, people would embrace you and help you pull through. But it's the opposite."

The stakes are high for Heaven and her three siblings. Those who deal regularly with the incarcerated suggest that 50 to 70 percent of children of imprisoned parents will end up behind bars. Such children are also less likely to do well in school, a growing body of research suggests.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 28, 2007

The Case Against Homework

Book: The Case Against Homework: How Homework Is Hurting Our Children and What We Can Do About It:

Does assigning fifty math problems accomplish any more than assigning five? Is memorizing word lists the best way to increase vocabulary—especially when it takes away from reading time? And what is the real purpose behind those devilish dioramas?

The time our children spend doing homework has skyrocketed in recent years. Parents spend countless hours cajoling their kids to complete such assignments—often without considering whether or not they serve any worthwhile purpose. Even many teachers are in the dark: Only one of the hundreds the authors interviewed and surveyed had ever taken a course specifically on homework during training.

The truth, according to Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, is that there is almost no evidence that homework helps elementary school students achieve academic success and little evidence that it helps older students. Yet the nightly burden is taking a serious toll on America’s families. It robs children of the sleep, play, and exercise time they need for proper physical, emotional, and neurological development. And it is a hidden cause of the childhood obesity epidemic, creating a nation of “homework potatoes.”

In The Case Against Homework, Bennett and Kalish draw on academic research, interviews with educators, parents, and kids, and their own experience as parents and successful homework reformers to offer detailed advice to frustrated parents. You’ll find out which assignments advance learning and which are time-wasters, how to set priorities when your child comes home with an overstuffed backpack, how to talk and write to teachers and school administrators in persuasive, nonconfrontational ways, and how to rally other parents to help restore balance in your children’s lives.

Bennetts's website. Via Cory Doctorow.

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US Per Student Spending, By State

US Census Bureau:

The nation’s public school districts spent an average of $8,701 per student on elementary and secondary education in fiscal year 2005, up 5 percent from $8,287 the previous year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today.

Findings from Public Education Finances: 2005, show that New York spent $14,119 per student — the highest amount among states and state equivalents. Just behind was neighboring New Jersey at $13,800, the District of Columbia at $12,979, Vermont ($11,835) and Connecticut ($11,572). Seven of the top 10 with the highest per pupil expenditures were in the Northeast.

Utah spent the least per student ($5,257), followed by Arizona ($6,261), Idaho ($6,283), Mississippi ($6,575) and Oklahoma ($6,613). All 10 of the states with the lowest spending per student were in the West or South.

The report and associated data files contain information for all local public school systems in the country. For example, in New York City, the largest school district in the country, per pupil spending was $13,755.

In all, public school systems spent $497 billion, up from $472.3 billion the previous year. Of these expenditures, the largest portions went to instruction ($258.3 billion) and support services such as pupil transportation and school administration ($146.3 billion).

Madison spends $13,684 per student ($333,101,865 2006/2007 citizen's budget) / 24,342 students

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May 27, 2007

Chinese See Piano as Key to Children's Success

Robert Turnbull:

Shanghai — NO one paying attention to recent musical trends in Asia can have failed to notice it: The Chinese are crazy about piano playing. Among city dwellers, there's been nothing like this enthusiasm since the '80s, when an embrace of the Japanese-originated Suzuki teaching method created a national army of child violinists. According to some estimates, as many as 15 million hopefuls in China — most of them young — are toiling to gain proficiency in this highly competitive skill, and the number is growing. Those unable to make it through the tough entrance exams of the country's nine overflowing conservatories opt for one of hundreds of private piano schools sprouting all over.

The sheer availability of pianos — one company alone, Pearl River, claims to turn out 280 every day — seems also to have focused many middle-class parents' aspirations, especially in a country that still enforces a single-child policy. For these people, the incentive to see their kids seated at a keyboard is less about artistry or copying the West than about producing offspring of demonstrable excellence.

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

Elite Colleges Open New Door to Low-Income Youths

Sara Rimer:

o Mr. Jack, unlike many of his classmates, food stamps are not an abstraction. His family has had to use them in emergencies. His mother raised three children as a single parent and earns $26,000 a year as a school security guard. That is just a little more than half the cost of a year's tuition, room and board, fees and other expenses at Amherst, which for Mr. Jack's class was close to $48,000.

So when Mr. Jack, now 22 and a senior, graduates with honors on May 27, he will not just be the first in his family to earn a college degree, but a success story in the effort by Amherst and a growing number of elite colleges to open their doors to talented low-income students.

Concerned that the barriers to elite institutions are being increasingly drawn along class lines, and wanting to maintain some role as engines of social mobility, about two dozen schools--Amherst, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Virginia, Williams and the University of North Carolina, among them--have pushed in the past few years to diversify economically.

Erin O'Connor has more.

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Prime Time is Goal for Madison Speller

Gena Kittner:

Isabel Jacobson remembers every word she was dealt while on stage at the Scripps National Spelling Bee last year, including the word that ended her run in Round 7 -- symminct.

This week she'll return to the national bee in Washington, D.C., with a well-stocked arsenal of spelling bee words and an improved knowledge of foreign words.

At age 14, this is the Madison teen's last chance to vie in the national bee, where she'll be one of 286 champion spellers. The semifinal rounds, starting with 90 students, will be televised on Thursday afternoon on ESPN and the finals on ABC that night. She will try to better last year's run when she tied for 14th.

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2 LA School Campus Faculty discuss joining a Charter

Joel Rubin:

Signaling deep discontent and a possible spreading revolt among the city's public school teachers, faculty at two more Los Angeles high schools met this week with a leading charter school operator to discuss alliances aimed at breaking away from the school district.

The meetings between Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools, and faculty members at Santee Education Complex in South Los Angeles and Taft High in Woodland Hills come after a majority of teachers at Locke High School took steps to convert the deeply troubled campus into a series of Green Dot schools.

Teachers at Santee and Taft said the surprise move by Locke's teachers tapped into a well of frustration and discontent they also feel over the slow pace of reforms and lack of support from leaders of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

"With what happened at Locke, we've entered into a new chapter. They've instigated reform that all these district hot shots either are unable or unwilling to make happen," said Santee English teacher Jordan Henry, who arranged the meeting with Barr. "When you see something that looks promising … it behooves you to have a conversation about it."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:07 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 26, 2007

Where Education Is a Matter of Prestige

Abdul Kargbo:

In today's debates about how best to improve student performance, little mention is made of how students' personal views on learning may affect their academic achievement. Specifically, commentators seldom discuss students' understanding of the utility of an education and the effects of this perception on how much they value education and how well they perform in school. Perhaps because doing so can be controversial.

Ask talk-show host and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey, who faced criticism earlier this year when, in comparing students in South Africa to those in U.S. inner-city schools, she indicated that the American students valued education less. "I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn't there," Winfrey told Newsweek. "If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers. In South Africa, they don't ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school." Winfrey quickly drew the disapproval of a Washington Post columnist, who countered that in the inner-city schools he's visited, most students "desperately want to learn."

As someone who attended school in both Africa and the United States, I think both Winfrey and her detractors are somewhat off the mark. It's not enough to argue about whether or not inner-city students want to learn. Rather, we should be asking why these students don't value education enough to want to do well at it.

Update: A reader emailed this article. by Fred Reed, author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Finalist for San Francisco Superintendent

Jill Tucker:

The search for a new San Francisco schools superintendent is down to one finalist -- former Las Vegas schools chief Carlos Garcia, The Chronicle has learned.

In interviews Friday, four San Francisco school board members said the selection process is down to final steps such as checking references before making an offer.

The four -- Mark Sanchez, Hydra Mendoza, Norman Yee and Jane Kim -- gave Garcia nothing but rave reviews.

They noted that he was a principal of San Francisco's Horace Mann Middle School from 1988 to 1991, when it had a waiting list of 2,000 children. He was also superintendent of the Fresno Unified School District from 1997 to 2000.

The Madison School Board interviewed four superintendent search consultants this week.

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iRobot Create Challenge


Enter the iRobot Create Challenge and Earn Your Rightful Title as Creator Extroidinaire plus Win a $5,000 Cash Prize! Use the iRobot® Create™ Programmable Robot platform to develop your own innovative, useful, entertaining, fun or simply amazing robot and you could win $5,000. Visit for details about the contest and entry instructions.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:07 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Saving Our Schools

Andy Moore:

The sun came up over the near east side Tuesday morning. It wasn’t supposed to. Forecasters said to expect thunderstorms. But for an hour or so, sunshine painted the upper branches of the sugar maples that line the streets within the heart of the isthmus.

For those of us in the Lapham and Marquette neighborhoods, it was hard to avoid the symbolism. Clear skies rode in on the fair winds of change at the previous night’s school board meeting. The board’s earlier decision to consolidate Lapham and Marquette schools at Lapham — and close Marquette — was reversed.

The original decision was a harsh product of the inexorable pressure of state revenue caps on the school budget. The reversal was a product of many things. Among them, a courageous, open-minded school board willing to, as board member Johnny Winston Jr. put it, “think outside the box.”

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:04 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Vang Pao Elementary School Groundbreaking

Andy Hall:

A windswept field on Madison's Far West Side became a place of reverence Wednesday for 60 Hmong residents who attended the groundbreaking ceremony of Vang Pao Elementary, a $12.9 million school whose funding was embraced by taxpayers but whose name remains controversial.

"I just want to take this as a memory," explained Bee Vang, 47, as he held a softball-sized clod of warm, moist earth. "This will be a really great school."

Vang said he will show his four children the dirt and tell them that school leaders spoke of giving all people, including Hmong, the opportunity to learn.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:04 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How Much More MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools) Administration Do We Have To Pay For?

Ted Kanavas:

Could someone please remind me what purpose the Milwaukee Public School system serves? Educating the children of Milwaukee? Right, right, that’s it. What is the reality of the public education system in Milwaukee? More and more money is being spent by the Milwaukee school system with results that would make a private business close its doors.

The recent elections brought new blood to the MPS Board of School Directors and new hope for families who send their kids to MPS. What was the first order of business for the new Board? Under cover of darkness, the new Board showed how they plan on solving the problems with MPS. Their solution? Increasing their own staff by 25 percent.

As you pick yourself up off the floor after reading that, let me explain what this all means. This change by the Board shows that they feel the need to set up a “shadow” administration to run MPS. More administration is the solution to this problem, according to all but two members of the Board (kudos to Board members Jeff Spence and Bruce Thompson for voting against this waste of money). More importantly, it serves as a vote of no confidence for Superintendent Bill Andrekopoulos.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Level Playing Field Institute

There's widespread disparity between those students that "have" and those that "have-not" in our educational system. We believe we can make a positive change.

We're dedicated to finding ways to smooth the path for motivated and bright students so that they will be able to participate fully in an increasingly competitive global economy, one where a college degree and critical thinking skills are essential for success.

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May 25, 2007

Van Pao will be green school

The Van Pao Elementary School will be certified for Leadership in Energy and Envrionmental Design (LEED), according to a story from Channel3000:

In spite of the controversy over its name, Vang Pao Elementary is officially under construction.

Ground was broken at the new school site on Wednesday. School board members along with Superintendent Art Rainwater and the building designers all turned the first soil where the school will stand.

The new school will cost $12,923,000. The 86,396-square foot school will have 36 classrooms and house 690 students and 90 teachers. It's expected to be completed by September 2008.

The green building will be LEED Silver Certified, and will include geothermal day lighting and solar electric panels. The school will be located on Madison's far West Side off of Valley View Road west of County Highway M on Ancient Oak Lane.

"Green building construction really has taken off in commercial and industrial applications. Recently the U.S. Green Building Council set green standards for K-12 education, and we're the first public elementary school in the state that will get the silver certification for that," said Doug Pierson, director of building services for the Madison Metropolitan School District.

The district will pay more money upfront for the green building, but school officials said it will pay off in energy savings in 10 to 12 years. The new school will also have recycled materials incorporated in furniture, playgrounds, carpeting and sheet rock, WISC-TV reported.

Zimmerman Design Group is the school's architect and it is being built by Miron Construction.

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2006 MMSD WKCE Scores: A Closer Look

Test scores from the November 2006 Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE) and companion Wisconsin Alternate Assessment (WAA) were released by the state Department of Public Instruction this week. The MMSD press release on Madison students' scores ("Despite changes and cuts, Madison students test well") reports the following "notable achievements":

  1. that reading scores have remained steady and math scores have gone up;
  2. that non-low income MMSD students score better than their non-low income peers statewide;
  3. that a higher percentage of MMSD African-American students perform at the highest proficiency level than do other African-American students across the state as a whole; and
  4. that a consistently higher percentage of MMSD students perform at the highest proficiency level than do students across the state as a whole.
Let's take a closer look at the PR and the data:

1: "Reading scores have remained steady and math scores have gone up."

Excerpt1 - Copy.JPG
[boxed text and charts excerpted from MMSD press release]

This chart is misleading. In 2002, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction revamped the scoring scale for the WKCE to lower the cut score (or threshold) for the "proficient" category (which is apparent in the jump between pre-2002 and post-2002 scores, as shown above). The DPI web site clearly states that "Proficiency data for November 2002 and later are not comparable to earlier years."

To provide an accurate basis for comparison, the chart should have looked like this:

Excerpt2 - Copy.JPG

The corrected chart shows that the percentage of MMSD students scoring at the advanced+proficient levels in reading declined from 2003 to 2006, and that the increase in the percentage of MMSD students scoring at the advanced+proficient level in math increased only slightly from 2003 to 2006. Although numeric percentages aren't specified, it's apparent that the percentage decline in reading exceeded the percentage increase in math. (So, if reading proficiency levels are being described as having remained "steady" because the decline wasn't statistically significant, the minimal change in math proficiency levels can't be touted as a noteworthy increase.)

2: "Non-low income MMSD students score better than their non-low income peers statewide."

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There's no question about the data here. But what about the rest of the picture?

In reading and math, a greater percentage of MMSD low-income students scored at the basic+minimal levels (i.e. below grade level) than their peers statewide this year (scores below are for combined grades).

MMSD State
Reading 43.3% 32.7%
Math 49.2% 43.0%
Table 1: 2006 low-income, basic+minimal, combined grades

(This and all data are from the DPI web site, using WKCE+WAA scores.)

Looking at 4th grade scores, the percentages of low-income MMSD students performing below grade level in reading and math grew from 2003 to 2006, and grew at a faster rate than statewide peers.

MMSD State
2003 33.1% 29.6%
2006 43.2% 31.8%
Table 2: 2003 and 2006 reading, low-income, basic+minimal, 4th grade
MMSD State
2003 47.5% 41.4%
2006 48.7% 38.2%
Table 3: 2003 and 2006 math, low-income, basic+minimal, 4th grade

Looking at more 4th grade scores, a greater percentage of non-low income MMSD students score at the advanced level in reading and math than low income MMSD students, and this gap between high-performing non-low income and low income MMSD students grew from 2003 to 2006.

Low income Non-low income Gap
2003 19.1% 56.7% 37.6%
2006 16.8% 64.5% 47.7%
Table 4: 2003 and 2006 reading, advanced, MMSD 4th grade
Low income Non-low income Gap
2003 9.7% 43.4% 33.7%
2006 15.0% 57.8% 42.8%
Table 5: 2003 and 2006 math, advanced, MMSD 4th grade

This gap between low and non-low income performance at the advanced level exists across the state, but MMSD's gap grew at a faster rate.

MMSD State
2003 37.6% 27.8%
2006 47.7% 29.2%
Table 6: 2003 and 2006 reading, advanced, 4th grade, gap between low-income and non-low income
MMSD State
2003 33.7% 21.5%
2006 42.8% 25.3%
Table 7: 2003 and 2006 math, advanced, 4th grade, gap between low-income and non-low income

3: "A higher percentage of MMSD African American students perform at the highest proficiency level than do other African American students across the state as a whole."

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The scale of the percentage range (y-axis) in this chart is magnified in a way that exaggerates this "achievement". (Even so, it's clear that grade by grade, black students don't outperform their state peers in grades 3, 4, or 10.)

MMSD State Difference
Combined grades 17.1% 15.0% 2.1%
4th grade 16.3% 16.3% 0.0%
Table 8: 2006 reading, advanced, African-American

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The scale for math is even more exaggerated, and the achievement somewhat less than "especially significant."

MMSD State Difference
Combined grades 9.7% 7.9% 1.8%
4th grade 9.0% 10.5% -1.5%
Table 9: 2006 math, advanced, African-American

What is especially significant, however, is the achievement gap between black and white students at the advanced level. MMSD's achievement gap exceeds that for the state, and has grown at a significantly faster rate.

MMSD State
2003 38.1% 31.7%
2006 48.9% 31.9%
Table 10: 2003 and 2006 reading, advanced, 4th grade, gap between white and black students
MMSD State
2003 36.5% 24.4%
2006 48.6% 30.3%
Table 11: 2003 and 2006 math, advanced, 4th grade, gap between white and black students

4: "A consistently higher percentage of MMSD students perform at the highest proficiency level than do students across the state as a whole."

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However, MMSD's racial and economic achievement gaps at the advanced level exceed those for the state.

MMSD State
Reading 46.1% 34.8%
Math 41.4% 29.2%
Table 12: 2006, advanced, combined grades, gap between white and black students
MMSD State
Reading 45.0% 29.8%
Math 39.7% 24.5%
Table 13: 2006, advanced, combined grades, gap between non-low income and low income students

5: "A significant change in testing procedures resulted in a significantly increased percentage of students scoring in the lowest proficiency category."

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Without more data (Exactly how much of the percentage increase in this category was attributable to this testing procedure change? How did this increase compare to other districts and the state as a whole, since they were also affected by this same testing procedure change?), this is not sufficient to explain away the increase in the below-grade level category.

Further thoughts:

  1. Curriculum Effectiveness: It's reasonable to assume that students in outperforming categories (white and non-low income) are more likely to have extracurricular educational support and supplementation than other students, and are more likely to be able to overcome curriculum deficiencies they encounter in the MMSD. Any inference that the MMSD deserves all the credit for such students' achievements is misplaced. On the other hand, the success or failure of students at the bottom of the widening racial and economic achievement gaps (and who are likely to lack those extracurricular advantages) is highly dependent on the effectiveness of MMSD's curriculum and instructional choices. For example, we might look at the schools that would have qualified for the Reading First funding that was rejected by the MMSD in 2004, and the percentages of students in 4th grade that are reading below grade level:

    2003 2006 Increase
    Orchard Ridge 18.4% 28.6% 10.2%
    Hawthorne 30.6% 30.6% 0.0%%
    Glendale 20.6% 47.4% 27.4%
    Lincoln 25.0% 50.0% 25.0%
    MMSD 18.4% 22.7% 4.3%
    State 17.4% 18.1% 0.7%

    Table 14: Reading, basic+minimal, 4th grade

  2. Rigor of WKCE: NAEP scores for 2007 (when they're released) should be compared against WKCE scores as a reality check on whether WKCE testing and standards are consistent or are softening.

  3. Hidden achievement gap: The WKCE scores in the "proficient" category should be examined on a disaggregated basis. If historically underperforming groups are clustered at the lower end of the category (yet are still being identified as "proficient" due to the lowering of the cut scores when the category standards were redefined in 2002), this is an achievement gap too, and shouldn't be ignored.

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Local high school students graduate from Information Technology Academy

On Saturday, June 2, 14 area high school students will receive Certificates of Graduation for completing an intensive information technology training program through the University of Wisconsin-Madison called the Information Technology Academy (ITA).

ITA is a four-year precollege program that provides hands-on training and access to technology for talented students of color and economically disadvantaged students attending Madison public schools. During their four-year ITA experience, the students meet biweekly during the academic year to learn Web design, animation, graphic design and other technology skills. They also participate in two-week technology training camps in the summer, hone their technical skills in short-term internships and strengthen their leadership skills through community service projects. Their learning and development is further enhanced through matches with mentors, who help guide and support students during their involvement with the program.

The graduation event will be held from 11:45 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on June 2 in the Alumni Lounge at the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St., Madison. The program will include a keynote address by Carl Grant, a professor with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

One hundred percent of this year's graduating class members are going to attend higher education institutions this fall. To date, 51 students have graduated from ITA, and 49 of them are now enrolled at UW-Madison or other postsecondary educational institutions.

Additional funding has allowed ITA to begin an expansion process this year that will double the size of the program by the 2009-10 school year. A new cohort of 30 students will be selected by mid-May to begin their first year of the program in August.

ITA is made possible by the UW-Madison Division of Information Technology (DoIT), the UW-Madison Office of the Vice Chancellor for Administration, the Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence, Berbee, Dell Computers and many other sponsors.

For more information about ITA or the graduation program, contact Erica Laughlin at (608) 265-2408.

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May 24, 2007

Special BOE Meeting to Discuss HS Redesign and SLC Grant

The MMSD BOE will hold a special meeting and public information session to discuss the High School Redesign initiative and the Small Learning Communities (SLC) grant at the following time and place:

Thursday, June 7
6:30 p.m.
Wright MS gym
1717 Fish Hatchery Road

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Math Task Force & High School Redesign

Can someone post an update on the math task force and high school redesign? Thanks.

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School District Abandons Both Rhyme and Reason in Language Programs

Douglas J. Buege:

As budget cuts extract another ton of flesh from Madison’s public school students, classroom teachers reel from the aftershocks. Keeping a smooth, consistent curriculum takes a lot from an educator, yet as our well-trained teachers meet tough demands, we witness a loss of both rhyme and reason at both the school and the district level. Nowhere do the wounds from budget cuts show more clearly than in foreign language education. If you think Junior should learn a second language, you might consider relocating once you learn the facts.

A child’s chance of learning the language of their choice depends heavily upon where they live within the district. In the fall of 2007, high school students at West, LaFollette, and Memorial will be able to choose from five non-English languages; kids at East get two. The German program, recently axed at East, leaves Spanish and French as the only options, stranding several students like Daniel Schott who’d devoted his time and energy to learning German. Daniel’s choice of German will carry with him through college where his opportunity to earn back credit for high school work diminishes—unless he’s willing to travel to LaFollette daily, an option that will disrupt his daily schedule beyond reason.

Imagine your child taking a novel language, say Italian, as a middle schooler. Students at Spring Harbor and Wright Middle Schools have that option. Unfortunately, the high schools to which Spring Harbor and Wright feed do not offer Italian, creating an academic dead-end for those without the resources to move to the LaFollette area. Even then, the Italian program there may disappear given the recent exodus of the Italian teacher for greener soccer pitches.

Vie the Daily Page.

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Bullied girl alone no more

She finds comfort in letters from hundreds of strangers, a campaign begun by Mill Valley sisters

Ilene Lelchuk:

Sitting in her living room amid stacks of handwritten letters from all over the nation and the world, 14-year-old Olivia Gardner of Novato said she no longer feels alone.

A victim of extreme bullying that spanned two years and three schools, Olivia said she has been pulled from the depths of depression by a letter-writing campaign started by two sisters at Tamalpais High in Marin County after they read in The Chronicle in March about Olivia's ordeal.

At least 1,000 strangers have sent her letters and e-mails of support, and there's talk of a book deal, Web sites and letter campaigns for other children who are bullied, and the three girls have received countless interview requests.

Whether Olivia likes it or not, she helped bring attention to the widespread and tenacious problem of bullying in school hallways, on cell phones and in cyberspace.

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Free speech vs. class disruption

Paul Shukovsky and Nina Akhmeteli:

Once upon a time, a student who wanted to poke fun at a teacher would have left graffiti on the blackboard. These days, it's a video clip on and

It was a sophomoric online video criticizing the hygiene of a teacher that was at issue in U.S. District Court on Monday, when Gregory Requa, a senior at Kentridge High School, asked a judge to order the lifting of his 40-day school suspension for his supposed involvement in producing and posting the video.

Requa's lawyer, Jeannette Cohen, said the teen didn't produce the video -- taken in an English classroom at Kentridge. But even if he did, his suspension is a violation of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech, she argued in court.

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Can the Milwaukee Public Schools Close the Achievement Gap?

Alan Borsuk:

Three years ago, the gap between white and black high school sophomores in Milwaukee Public Schools in reading proficiency was 33 percentage points. This year, it was 35 points.

In math, the gap was 36 points three years ago and 42 this year, according to the data released Tuesday by the state Department of Public Instruction and MPS.

Two years ago, 37% of black sophomores in MPS were rated proficient or advanced in reading, based on their performance on the statewide standardized tests. This year, it was 31%. In math, the figure is 18%, down from 20% in each of the prior two years.

That means the results for 10th grade, the most advanced point in which standardized tests are given in Wisconsin, are important.

That means it matters in the big picture that at Custer High School, only 27% of 10th-graders who had been in the school for a full year were proficient or better in reading. In recent years, that figure has gone up and down a bit. What was it four years ago? 27%.

It matters that at Genesis, a small high school in the building that was formerly North Division High, only 14% of sophomores were proficient in reading and 4% in math.

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

Washington Delays Math, Science Graduation Requirements

Donna Gordon Blankinship:

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday delayed until 2013 a requirement that students pass the math and science portions of a high stakes exam in order to graduate from high school.

She also liberally applied her veto pen to four large sections of the bill overhauling the Washington Assessment of Student Learning exam.

Gregoire said she would have preferred to delay the math and science WASL graduation requirement only until 2012.

She eliminated the sections of the WASL-overhaul bill that would have established end-of-course exams, regional appeals, a special exemption for students learning English as a second language and the clause declaring an emergency.

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Google bans essay writing adverts

Sean Coughlan:

Google is to ban adverts for essay writing services - following claims that plagiarism is threatening the integrity of university degrees.

There have been complaints from universities about students being sold customised essays on the internet.

The advert ban from the Google search engine has been "warmly welcomed" by university authorities.

But it has angered essay writing firms which say this will unfairly punish legitimate businesses.

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Jefferson geography whiz puts state on map

Leah Nylen:

Need to know the capital of Estonia or the highest mountain in Tajikistan?

Just ask Bjorn Ager-Hart, a 14-year-old home-schooled student from Jefferson who represented Wisconsin on Tuesday at the National Geographic Bee. Sponsored by National Geographic, the bee brings together 55 middle school students from all the states and U.S. territories to compete for a $25,000 college scholarship.

For the past three years, Bjorn has spent hours -- about five each week -- poring over geography books to learn enough to make it to the national competition.

"I like geography," Bjorn said. "You get to learn about a lot of different places in the world."

He first learned of the contest in 2004. Since then, he has made the state championships every year, but only this year attained his goal to advance to the national contest. In sixth grade, Bjorn got two questions wrong and last year lost during the tie-breaker round. But on March 30 this year, he got a perfect score during the competition and won a trip to Washington for him and his family.

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May 23, 2007

Call for Study of Access to Arts Education

Dodd, Alexander Call for Study of Access to Arts Education
Introduce Resolution in Recognition of Music Education

May 8, 2007

Today Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) sent a letter to David Walker, the Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), requesting that the GAO conduct a study on access to music and arts education in the American public school system since passage of the No Child Left Behind Act. This week, Senators Dodd and Alexander also introduced a resolution recognizing the benefits and importance of school-based music education. Senators Dodd and Alexander are members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), and are Chairman and Ranking Member of its Subcommittee on Children and Families.

“No child should be deprived of the chance to explore his or her creativity in a nurturing educational environment,” said Dodd. “Picking up a musical instrument, a paint brush, or a script can allow a child to discover a hidden talent and can serve as a much-needed positive influence in the midst of the many difficult decisions that young people face today. I am hopeful that the GAO will act quickly to deliver findings about the current condition of arts education in American public schools so that we can seek to improve it during the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act.”

Added Alexander: “Music Education is important. I had some great teachers, but my piano teacher, Miss Lennis Tedford was the best. From age five until my high school senior recital, I spent thirty minutes with her each week. ‘Don’t play that monkey business,’ she would say, as she could always tell when I’d been playing too much Jerry Lee Lewis. From Miss Tedford I learned more than music. She taught me the discipline of Czerny and the metronome, the logic of Bach, the clean joy of Mozart. She encouraged me to let my emotions run with Chopin and Rachmaninoff. She made sure I was ready for the annual piano competition, and that I performed completely under control. I still thank her for the discipline and love of music she gave me each time I sit at the piano today.”

A companion resolution – introduced by Reps. Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Jon Porter (R-NV) – passed the House of Representatives on April 26 by unanimous consent.

The full text of the letter is below:

The Honorable David M. Walker
Comptroller General
Government Accountability Office
441 G Street N.W.
Washington, DC 20548

Dear Mr. Walker:

We write to request the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on access to music and arts education in our public schools since passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, with a specific focus on any disparities in access between minority and low-income students and their non-minority, more affluent peers. The study should investigate evidence of the possible link between participation in music and arts education and increased student engagement, positive behavior, high school graduation rates and academic achievement for all students, as well as for minority and low-income students and students with disabilities.

As Congress moves toward reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, we continue to examine the goals of educating the whole child and the positive impact of rigorous instruction in all areas of the curriculum. These policy decisions are based on sound research and driven by systematic data collection relating to the condition of education, the practices that improve academic achievement, and the effectiveness of federal education programs. Of particular interest are the effects, since its implementation, of the No Child Left Behind Act on access to music and arts education in our nation's public schools.

Specifically, we request the Government Accountability Office to design and implement a study that determines the following with regard to K-12 academic instruction in our public schools.

Any changes in access to music and arts education since passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Access to music and arts education for minority students relative to non-minority students.
Access to music and arts education for low-income students relative to non-low income students.
Any disparities in access to music and arts education, since passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, between schools with high percentages of minority and low-income students and students with disabilities and those schools with low percentages of such students.
Any link between participation in music and arts education and increased student engagement, positive behavior, high school graduation and academic achievement for all students, as well as any such link for minority and low-income students and students with disabilities.
Descriptions of highly effective music and arts education programs that promote increased student engagement, positive behavior, high school graduation and academic achievement.
Identification of any barriers actively imposed by Federal law, regulations, or guidance that prevent schools from engaging students in a rich curriculum that includes music and arts.

Because consideration of the No Child Left Behind Act reauthorization has already begun, the need for this information is immediate. We request that you meet with representatives of our offices as soon as possible to discuss the proposed scope of this study, an appropriate methodology, and a timetable which would establish an interim reporting schedule and completion date.

We look forward to hearing from you regarding this request and your availability to meet as soon as possible to set forth plans for receipt of this information which will provide relevant insights into the impact of No Child Left Behind on access to music and arts education, especially for those students who have the fewest opportunities and greatest need.

Thank you for your assistance.

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Moving California's English Learner's to English Proficiency

Joanne Jacobs [3.7MB PDF]:

Only 9.6 percent of English Learners (ELs) in California public schools were redesignated to Fluent English Proficient status during the 2005-06 school year. According to one state education department study, only one-third of those who start in kindergarten are reclassified by fifth grade. This prompted state Superintendent Jack O’Connell to instruct school districts to reexamine their reclassification policies and procedures.

Reclassification rates vary significantly from one school district to the next. School districts discussed range from Riverside’s Alvord Unified, where 1 percent of ELs were reclassified as proficient last year, to Glendale Unified, where 19.7 percent of ELs were reclassified.

Some school districts set higher bars for reclassification than others, requiring higher scores on state tests, writing or math proficiency and passing grades. However, some districts with high requirements also have high reclassification rates because of effective instruction, close monitoring of students' progress and a higher percentage of ELs from middle-class and Asian families.

Via the Lexington Institute.

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Why AP and IB Schools Soar

Jay Matthews:

By the late 1990s, California voters and the University of California regents had banned admission preferences for minorities in the UC system, and several members of the faculty at the University of California-San Diego were not happy about it. Scholars like Cecil Lytle, Bud Mehan and Peter Gourevitch thought public universities had been created to break down the old barriers of race, privilege and class and give the state's most disadvantaged students the life-changing advantages of a higher education. What could they do?

It seemed obvious to them. If the university was not allowed to admit low-income students who could not compete academically with advantaged middle class applicants, then the only alternative was to create public schools that would give those low-income and minority students the encouragement, good teaching and extra time they needed to make them just as ready for college as students from the better neighborhoods.

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


David Ammons:

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday created a new education council to crack the whip on reforms in early learning, public kindergarten through 12th grade and the state's higher education system.

Gregoire, who recently headed a two-year reform drive called Washington Learns, said she will serve as chairwoman of the new 11-member council, which will include members from across the education spectrum. She said she will also keep tabs on another study panel that is looking at education financing.

The governor said one of the key goals of the new P-20 Council will be to knock down the "silos" that seem to put preschool, K-12, community colleges and four-year schools in separate worlds. A truly effective system has to be seamless, she said.

P-20, her buzz phrase for the whole system, refers to preschool and other early learning opportunities, followed by K-12, college or trade school and, potentially, graduate school or retraining.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Hosted Lifebits

Jon Udell:

Today my digital assets are spread out all over the place. Some are on various websites that I control, and a lot more that I don’t. Others are on various local hard disks that I control, and a lot more that I don’t. It’s become really clear to me that I’d be willing to pay for the service of consolidating all this stuff, syndicating it to wherever it’s needed, and guaranteeing its availability throughout — and indeed beyond — my lifetime.

The scenario, as I’ve been painting it in conversations with friends and associates, begins at childbirth. In addition to a social security number, everyone gets a handle to a chunk of managed storage. How that’s coordinated by public- and private-sector entities is an open question, but here’s how it plays out from the individual’s point of view.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 22, 2007

Music Event Benefitting Madison's Elementary Strings Program

Wednesday night, May 23, local band Marvin's Gardens, will be playing at the King's Club (114 King Street). There will be jazz from 6-9 p.m. All proceeds will go to benefit Grade 5 Strings! Strings players invited to bring their instruments to play with the band.

$5 at the door.

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Wisconsin State Student Test Scores Released

Andy Hall:

Wisconsin students' performances improved in math and held steady in reading, language arts, science and social studies, according to annual test data released today.

Dane County students generally matched or exceeded state averages and paralleled the state's rising math scores, although test results in Madison slipped slightly on some measures of reading, language arts and science.

Madison educators touted the overall performance of their students, noting that the portion of students scoring proficient or advanced — the two highest of four grading levels — has grown or held steady over the past seven years on reading and math exams even as the district's populations of students with limited English skills and low-income backgrounds have increased.

Limited English proficiency and poverty are two of the strongest predictors of poor academic performance in Madison and schools across the nation.

Alan Borsuk and Amy Hetzner:
Improved scores in math led state and local school officials to put generally positive faces on the picture painted by student test results being made public today by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Higher percentages of students in every grade from third through eighth were rated as "proficient" or "advanced" in math in this year's round of statewide testing than in the previous year. The 10th-grade figure remained the same.

In reading, the statewide percentage of proficient or better students was steady or slightly improved at every grade level.

"We are on the right track," Elizabeth Burmaster, state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement. "Despite increased poverty in Wisconsin, we saw gains at nearly every grade level in mathematics and rising or stable scores for reading."

Overall, better than 4 out of 5 fourth-graders in Wisconsin were proficient or advanced in reading, and about 3 out of 4 met those standards in math. For 10th-graders, 3 out of 4 were proficient in reading, and 7 out of 10 in math.

Susan Troller:

Madison schools' improved math scores might seem to defy some of the laws of logic or probability.

The Madison district, like its counterparts across the state, saw a generally positive trend on math scores, according to data released today regarding scores from the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations that students took last November.

"Our students continue to perform well despite a number of challenges that would normally predict falling scores. We're pleased, of course, but not surprised that has not been the case here," Superintendent Art Rainwater noted in an interview this morning.

Rainwater said that changing demographics that include increasing numbers of children from low-income families and those who have limited proficiency in English generally go hand-in-hand with falling scores, but that has not been true in Madison, where test results in reading generally have been holding steady, or in mathematics, where almost all grade levels have improved.


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Trusting, but verifying, your teenager’s use of the Internet

Jon Udell (an interesting guy who now works for Microsoft):

Parents nowadays face tough questions about whether to monitor or (try to) control their kids’ use of the Internet, and if so, how. Although my personal opinion is that trying to restrict access is a losing battle, I understand why the idea is appealing. You’d like your kids to have some maturity and some perspective under their belts before encountering some of what the Internet so readily brings to their attention. When my kids were younger, the Internet was younger too. I guess if they were still that young I’d be wishing I could create a sandbox for them, even though I don’t think you can. But they’re teenagers now, and they have their own computers. For two reasons, activating the parental controls on those computers isn’t the strategy I want to pursue.
There are indeed some passive ways to keep an eye on things.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Hilary Clinton's Universal Preschool Proposal


Campaigning in Florida today, Senator/Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton put forward an ambitious policy proposal to move the U.S. towards universal preschool education. This is the first major education proposal rolled out by the Clinton campaign, and it's a good one. The plan would provide states with matching grants (starting at $5 billion federal investment and scaling up to $10 billion) to expand publicly-funded preschool programs, with a priority on low-income and English language learners, and requires state preschool programs to meet high quality standards as a condition of funding.
Yin to that Yang: Congress passes a 10.5% increase in pentagon spending (Representative Tammy Baldwin's votes can be found here). Alan Abelson takes a look at the dollar and what it portends for the next few years:
Whatever their provenance, they've crafted a quite interesting analysis of what ails the dollar and why what ails it isn't anything trivial or transient. In fact, they see nothing but mournful things ahead for the buck, including, ultimately, its fall from grace as the world's reserve currency.

Basically, they size up the dilemma confronting our "policymakers" as whether to tighten the monetary and credit screws to bolster the dollar or to open them up even further to support asset prices. They have no doubts as to the resolution: The folks in charge will continue to do what they've always done -- "inflate the money supply and promote more credit, thereby sustaining asset prices at the expense of the purchasing power of the dollar."

That may seem the downward path to financial and eventually economic rack and ruin. But such a trivial consideration has never deterred Washington. You don't have to swallow whole QB Partners' gloomy diagnosis and prognosis for the beleaguered buck to find it valuable as well as provocative. Even though we agree there's plenty of sliding room left for the greenback, we're not convinced the outlook is as apocalyptic as the duo contends.

The report itself is nicely, almost elegantly, crafted, although at times it lapses into a kind of faux erudition, a tendency compounded somewhat by windy footnotes. Nonetheless, unlike so much of the tomes turned out by Wall Street, it's very much worth reading.

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HIV, AIDS Cases Rising In Dane County

The number of HIV-AIDS cases is on the rise in Dane County, according to local health officials.

Dane County public health officials said that gay men and blacks are two segments of the population where they are seeing significant increases in HIV and AIDS cases, WISC-TV reported.

"Some people may think it's not that big of a deal anymore," said Cheryl Robinson, a public health program manager.
Robinson said that this idea is wrong.

In 2006, 64 new cases were reported to public health -- 28 were among gay men and 13 were among blacks. The age group of 25 to 44 year olds made up 51 percent of the cases reported, according to health officials.

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How to Become a Patient Parent

"Zen Habits":

I don’t claim to be the world’s most patient parent — but it’s a goal of mine for this year, and it’s something I’m dedicated to becoming. Every parent loses his or her patience — it’s a fact of life. There are no perfect angels when it comes to moms and dads — we all get frustrated or angry and lose it from time to time.

But patience can be developed over time — it’s a habit, and like any other habit, it just takes some focus.

Here’s a list of 10 great tips and methods I’m trying out and experimenting with to help me become a more patient parent:

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May 21, 2007

Energy efficient amendment failed in Wisconsin budget committee

From a story by Lindsey Huster posted on the Web page of The Daily Reporter:

Sen. Mark Miller’s motion to issue $50 million in energy efficiency revenue bonds to Wisconsin school districts failed to be adopted by the Joint Finance Committee.

The effort was one of four priorities selected by a coalition of more than 50 conservation organizations and citizens around Wisconsin.

“We will continue working with the Legislature to find funding for school districts to increase efficiency and lower energy use, which improves Wisconsin’s environment and saves schools money,” said Jennifer Giegerich, Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters energy advocate.

The motion made by the Democrat from Monona would have allowed revenue bonds to be issued to local school districts to fund energy improvements. Only projects that could pay back the bond through reduced energy costs would be funded, and priority would be given to projects with the shortest payback period. However, funds would not be distributed to projects that have failed to certify the approximate date when energy savings will equal the debt service on the bond. Funds issued from the bond, as well as resulting savings, would be kept outside local districts’ revenue cap.

In school districts, energy costs represent 16 percent of a district’s controllable costs. Some energy efficiency measures have been successful, the most recent example being Green Bay Public School District. There, the district spent $100,000 on a new chiller control strategy that paid for itself within a year.

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Supreme Court Rules in Special Education Lawsuit

David Stout:

The Supreme Court ruled today that parents of children with disabilities need not hire lawyers if they want to sue public school districts over their children’s special-education needs.

In a case of interest to parents and educators across the country, the justices ruled in favor of a couple from the Cleveland suburb of Parma who were unhappy with the school district’s proposal to meet the special needs of their autistic son.

Jeff and Sandee Winkelman were unable to afford a lawyer to sue the Parma City School District over the program designed for the youngest of their five children, Jacob, who was 6 when the lawsuit begin about four years ago.

In general, federal law allows people to represent themselves in court. But most federal courts have barred parents of children with disabilities from appearing without a lawyer in cases filed under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, which guarantees all children a “free appropriate public education.”

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Law Enforcement and Crime Control in Madison -- The Business Forum

Thursday, June 7, 2007
The Madison Club

11:30 a.m. – Networking
12:00 noon – Lunch & Program
Sponsor: Jennifer Krueger, Murphy Desmond, S.C.

The Madison area, we like to believe, offers many of the advantages of a larger city without the worst trials of big-city life – crime and violence among them. Recently, however, the Madison Police Department has dealt with a series of muggings downtown, melees outside local nightclubs, and increased gang activity. Is the crime rate in Madison keeping pace with the city’s development?

Noble Wray, Chief of the Madison Police Department, will join us in June to give us his assessment of the “climate of crime” in Madison.

Nobel Wray became Chief of Police in 2004 after serving in the Madison Police Department for 20 years. From his start as a patrol officer in the State Street neighborhood, Wray distinguished himself as he advanced through the ranks. Wray is also a familiar figure in Madison, serving on committees and boards of various service and community organizations. He also consults with law enforcement organizations around the country on problem solving and community policing.

You will find information about other TBF activities and news at our website at


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Please return this reservation form with your check or credit card information.
*If paying by credit card, please return your reservation by fax or postal mail.

The Business Forum
2810 Crossroads Drive, Suite 3800
Madison, WI 53718-7961

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2007 Challenge Index: Ranking America's High Schools

Memorial is the only Madison High School in the top 1200 (1084), while Verona ranked 738th.

Washington Post:

The Washington Post Challenge Index measures a public high school's effort to challenge its students. The formula is simple: Divide the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge tests a school gave by the number of seniors who graduated in June. Tests taken by all students, not just seniors, are counted. Magnet or charter schools with SAT combined verbal and math averages higher than 1300, or ACT average scores above 27, are not included, since they do not have enough average students who need a challenge.

The rating is not a measurement of the overall quality of the school but illuminates one factor that many educators consider important.

Milwaukee's Rufus King is Ranked 259th. Marshfield High is ranked 348th. Whitefish Bay is ranked 514th, Shorewood 520th. New Berlin West 604th. Brookfield Central is 616th. Hartland Arrowhead is 706th. Nicolet is 723rd. Verona is 738th. Grafton 810th. Nathan Hale (West Allis) is 854th. Brookfield East is 865th. Greendale is 959th. Riverside University School (Milwaukee) is 959th. Madison Memorial is ranked 1084th. Salem's Westosha Central is 1113rd. West Bend West is 1172nd while West Bend East is 1184th.

Jay Matthews:

The Challenge Index list of America's best high schools, this year with a record 1,258 names, began as a tale of just two schools. They were Garfield High School, full of children of Hispanic immigrants in East Los Angeles, and Mamaroneck High School, a much smaller campus serving very affluent families in Westchester County, N.Y. I had written a book about Garfield, and the success of its teachers like Jaime Escalante in giving low-income students the encouragement and extra time they needed to master college-level Advanced Placement courses and tests.

I was finishing a book about Mamaroneck, and was stunned to find it was barring from AP many middle-class students who were much better prepared for those classes than the impoverished students who were welcomed into AP at Garfield. That turns out to be the rule in most U.S. schools -- average students are considered not ready for, or not deserving of, AP, even though many studies show that they need the challenge and that success in AP can lead to success in college.

Nearly everyone I met in New York thought Mamaroneck was a terrific school because its parents were rich and its state scores high, even though its building was in bad shape and its policy of reserving AP only for students with top grades made no sense. Nearly everyone I met in Los Angeles thought Garfield was a terrible school because its parents were poor and its state scores low, even though it was doing much more to prepare average and below-average students for college than any other school I knew. It was like rating restaurants not by the quality of their food, but by the bank accounts of their customers.

I was covering Wall Street for The Washington Post at that time, and not liking the job much. My life was ruled by indexes¿the Dow Jones, the Standard & Poor's. I decided to create my own index to measure something I thought was more important --which schools were giving their students the most value. This would help me show why Garfield, in a neighborhood full of auto-body shops and fast-food joints, was at least as good a school as Mamaroneck, in a town of mansions and country clubs.

Matthews participated in an online chat regarding the Challenge Index. A transcript is available here.

Related: MMSD High School Redesign Committee and West's English 10 and Bruce King's Report on West's SLC (Small Learning Community) Project. Joanne Jacobs on Palo Alto High School's non-participation.

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Milwaukee Schools Add Assistant, Analyst to Board Staff

Alan Borsuk:

While the number of gym teachers and music teachers is set to drop 15% in Milwaukee Public Schools from this year to next, and the number of teachers, education assistants and secretaries is also going down, one group of MPS employees will grow 25%.

It's the staff serving School Board members themselves.

In an action taken about 1:20 a.m. Friday, the board voted 7-2 to add a policy analyst to its staff at a cost of $101,745 for salary and fringe benefits, to be paid by a direct increase in property taxes exempt from the state-imposed lid on MPS spending next year.

Without discussion, it also approved filling a job of staff assistant serving board members that had been vacant for this entire school year. That job is budgeted for $83,000, which, with fringe benefits, will mean a cost of about $133,600. The same position was budgeted for a salary of $63,604 a year ago.

The $101,745 for a policy analyst would be equivalent to a $63,000 salary, plus fringe benefits. MPS generally spends 61.5 cents in fringe benefits for every dollar it spends in salary, an amount well above most other government bodies and far above private-sector employers generally.

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16 Year Old Platteville Student Wins Top Intel Prize

Barry Adams:

Philip Streich's science project may be difficult to comprehend.

But the awards for his work on nanotubes are clear.

Streich, a 16-year-old who is home-schooled in Belmont and takes classes at UW-Platteville, was one of three students out of 1,500 to take home top honors last week at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Albuquerque, N.M.

"This is huge. This is Stanley Cup. This is the Super Bowl of science and Philip has just done an amazing job," said James Hamilton, a chemistry professor at UW-Platteville and Streich's mentor. "Working with him is like working with a Ph.D in the field of chemistry and physics."

Streich's prizes included a $50,000 scholarship, about $20,000 in cash and savings bonds for winning other categories at the competition and a trip to China's Adolescent Science and Technology Innovation Contest in August.

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Art Awards: Young artists can apply for grants up to $10,000

Tanya Schevitz:

The National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts is accepting applicants for cash awards of up to $10,000 and an opportunity for arts enrichment programs.

The early deadline, which provides for a 30 percent discount on the $35 application fee, is June 1. The final deadline is Oct. 1. High school seniors or graduates who will be 17 or 18 years old on Dec. 1 can apply for the money.

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May 20, 2007

Update on Search for New Superintendent

Arlene Silveira, School Board President, provided the following update on the Isthmus Forum:

All - here is the update on the search for the new Superintendent.

On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings the Board will interview 4 search firms/consultants. We had decided that we want to use a consultant to assist wit the search for the new Superintendent. These meetings will be open meetings. Each company will make a presentation which will be followed by questions from the Board.

On May 29 the Board will meet to review the financial proposals from each company and rate them based on our RFP. Our hope is to have a company identified by our June 4 meeting so we can approve the company and move into the selection process.

Next steps after the selection include meeting with the board, staff and community to determine a "profile" for our next Superintendent. I don't yet know how this will be accomplished. The specifics of the process forward will be dependent on the consultant chosen to help with the effort.

Arlene Silveira

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Students' rights versus limited means: Special Needs Children and School Budgets

Susan Brink:

The public school enrollment of autistic children, whether born into privileged or impoverished circumstances, has gone from a trickle to a flood. Their legal rights are crashing up against strapped school budgets.

Under two federal laws — the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and the Rehabilitation Act, both passed in the 1970s and revised over the years — all special-needs children, including those with autism, are entitled to free and appropriate public school educations in the least restrictive environment. And, science shows, the sooner children with autism get treatment, the better their odds of speaking, reading, learning and eventually living independently.

A breakthrough discovery, released Feb. 18 in the online publication of the journal Nature Genetics, could mean that someday medical science might pinpoint the disorder in infancy, or even before birth. Researchers homed in on the genes behind autism, putting an early DNA test within reach.

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Mission Impossible?

Ms Cornelius:

For example, in an effort to prevent drop-outs, we abandon our expectation of educational behavior and lower academic standards until they are functionally meaningless. We divorce the expectation of allegiance to academic achievement and academic behaviors from the expectation for membership in the school community, and therefore undercut the very mission of the school. Although the providing of all of those other services and experiences is no doubt noble, and certainly enjoyable, they also serve as static that destroys the message and mission of the school. Shouldn't the education of our members at least be priority number one in public schools? If not, why not just call schools "community centers" and be done with the hypocrisy?

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School Drug Testing

Shari Roan:

ONCE a year or so, Roy Tialavea is summoned from his classes at Oceanside High School to report to the athletic director's office bathroom. He receives a urine specimen cup and heads for a stall.

The 17-year-old is unruffled. Random drug testing has been going on for two years at the school. He's used to it. "I don't use drugs so I don't have to worry about getting caught," he says.

His mother, Robyn, thinks her son steers clear of drugs and alcohol. But, she says, no parent can know for sure what a teenager is up to.

"If he doesn't like testing, I really don't care," she says. "I think it's a wonderful tool. It creates the fear that they could be tested."

Call it the 2007 version of "just say no."

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Madison School Board Should "Learn from Fiasco"

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

After the Greek King Pyrrhus defeated the Romans in 279 B.C., he cut his celebration short.

Pyrrhus realized that the battle had been more costly to his army than it had been to the Romans. His response went something like this:

"One more such victory, and we are undone."

Those words should be haunting the Madison School Board today.

One more fiasco like last week's flip-flop on consolidating two elementary schools, and this board may be undone.

School Board member Johnny Winston Jr. said the board's reversal could be a win-win.

He was wrong-wrong.

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Milwaukee Approves New Transitional School

Sarah Carr:

A new Milwaukee school set to open as soon as next winter would serve children transitioning back into the public school district from correctional institutions and expulsions.

The school was one of several safety-related efforts put forward by the Milwaukee School Board as budget amendments, at a session that ended at 2:21 a.m. Friday.

The board also agreed to set aside an additional $750,000 next school year for violence prevention, conflict resolution and other safety-related efforts in Milwaukee Public Schools.

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May 19, 2007

South Carolina Ok's Virtual School Classes for Graduation Credit

Yvonne Wenger:

Home-schoolers and students attending public, private or charter schools can take online classes after Gov. Mark Sanford on Thursday signed a new law creating the South Carolina Virtual School Program.

The law, which will be administered by the state Department of Education, will allow students a chance to enroll in online courses that might not otherwise be available to them.

"It's an incredibly important step forward because, among other things, it represents another choice in education," said Sanford, who was joined in the Statehouse via the Internet by students at the Governor's School for Science and Mathematics in Hartsville.

Virtual schools are modeled after regular classroom courses, but students communicate with teachers online and e-mail their homework and other assignments. The law builds on a pilot program first offered last May with summer courses such as geometry and Web design available to students in 11 school districts.

The law will allow students to earn credits in Advanced Placement, remedial and specialty classes online. It will also ease scheduling conflicts, provide individualized instruction and help students meet graduation requirements.

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Wisconsin School District Teacher Settlement Trends

Wisconsin Association of School Boards has posted a summary of teacher settlement annual increases (Salary and total package) since 1984. More here.

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Minnesota's Proposed Mandatory School Employee Health Insurance Pool

Megan Boldt:

A bill that would create a mandatory statewide health insurance pool for Minnesota's 200,000 school employees is one step closer to reality.

After a fiery, eight-hour debate, the House approved the measure on an 81-52 vote Thursday night.

Supporters say the pool will put school districts in a better position when negotiating health plans and help keep premium spikes under control. Opponents argue it would remove control from districts and cause some to experience jumps in insurance costs.

The bill made its way through the Senate in March. Now, the Democratic House and Senate need to come together to iron out differences in the proposed legislation before sending it to Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. It's unclear whether Pawlenty will sign the bill.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said a mandatory pool would help both rural and urban school districts that are dealing with erratic premium increases.

"The status quo is not working," he said. "Insurance is rising and rising. And I think a pool will help with the spikes that school districts are experiencing."

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May 18, 2007

Morehouse President to Retire

Morning Edition:

Morehouse College President Walter Massey is set to speak to graduates for the final time this weekend. He's due to retire this summer after 12 years. The all-male, historically black college has such notable alumni as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Spike Lee. Massey himself attended Morehouse, arriving when he was just 16. Massey tells Steve Inskeep that when he arrived at Morehouse as a student he wasn't certain that he would succeed.

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Helping Overbooked Kids Cut Back

Sue Shellenbarger:

When Debra Cooper's 6-year-old daughter Taylor resisted taking a family vacation day because she was anxious about missing extracurricular activities, Ms. Cooper decided she was overscheduled and started cutting back.

But stepping off the treadmill wasn't easy, Ms. Cooper says. When Taylor started coming home after school, there was no one in the neighborhood to play with; other kids were at practices or lessons. Other parents were skeptical, hinting Ms. Cooper was short-changing her daughter. And Taylor herself soon asked to resume some activities. Frustrated, Ms. Cooper wondered, "How do we stop and get off this mommy marathon?"

Written about and discussed for decades, the problem of overscheduled children still looms large. Many parents keep children busy believing that stimulating activities will aid their development; the pattern is most marked among 9- to 12-year-olds. But the trend has gone too far, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in January in the journal "Pediatrics"; kids need more time for free play and family togetherness. Resolving the issue can require some artful life-balancing skills.

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Finding Ways to Better School African American Boys
Group Proposes Mentors, Single-Sex Classrooms

Lori Aratani:

A new report by a statewide task force that paints a grim picture of how African American male students are faring in Maryland's public schools and universities recommends strengthening mentor programs, encouraging more black men to be teachers and providing more academic support for those who need it.

Two of the more controversial proposals are suggestions to place troubled students at black-majority high schools into single-sex classes and to encourage nonviolent offenders to be mentors to students.

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In Low-Income Schools, Parents Want Teachers Who Teach: In affluent schools, other things matter

Brian Jacob & Lars Lefgren:

Recent government education policies seem to assume that academic achievement as measured by test scores is the primary objective of public education. A prime example is the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires schools to bring all of their students to “proficient” levels on math and reading tests by 2014. Many state accountability plans judge schools on the basis of these tests alone, and some states and school districts are considering tying teachers’ compensation to student test results. Yet education historically has served a variety of functions (e.g., socialization, civic training), and public support for music and art in school suggests that parents value things beyond high test scores.

Are test scores the educational outcomes that parents value most? We tackle this question by examining the types of teachers that parents request for their elementary school children. We find that, on average, parents strongly prefer teachers whom principals describe as best able to promote student satisfaction, though parents also value teacher ability to improve student academics. These aggregate effects, however, mask striking differences across schools. Parents in high-poverty schools strongly value a teacher’s ability to raise student achievement and appear indifferent to student satisfaction. In wealthier schools the results are reversed: parents most value a teacher’s ability to keep students happy.

More here and here.

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Pennsylvania Voters Reject Tax Plan to Finance Schools

Jon Hurdle:

Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly rejected a plan to reduce property taxes in return for higher local income taxes as a way of financing school districts, officials said Wednesday.

The proposal appeared on ballots in all but 3 of the state’s 501 school districts on Tuesday after a campaign by Gov. Edward G. Rendell to cut property taxes.

Mr. Rendell, a Democrat, promoted the plan as a chance for homeowners to increase the size of property tax cuts that they will receive when an anticipated $1 billion in revenue from 14 new casinos that are being built around the state is used for school financing, starting in June 2008.

But only 4 of the 419 districts reporting by midafternoon Wednesday approved the plan, according to a Pennsylvania Department of State Web site.

Under the state’s Taxpayer Relief Act, school boards have the right — with voter approval — to impose or increase taxes on earned income or personal income — which includes items like interest and dividends — to pay for an equal reduction in property taxes.

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A dangerous promise to Wisconsin's little 8th graders

Jo Egelhoff:

The Wisconsin Covenant. Kind of a spiritual sound to it, don’t you think? Come to the mountaintop, do a couple of thou shalt not’s, hit the books, and you’re set.

It’s great stuff. So Governor Doyle travels all over creation, parts the Red Sea and declares education for all.

Normally, I would hardly notice this showmanship and posturing by the governor. But this Covenant business is upsetting. And here’s why.

First of all, this program of post-secondary education for everybody is by NO means a done deal. It’s one piece of a huge budget proposal that would once again end in deficit, despite extraordinary proposed tax and fee increases. It hasn’t hardly been discussed in Joint Finance, except long enough for the Committee to say “your plan is pretty sparse – please come back when you have more details.”

So come back they did. Last Friday, JFC co-chairs Rhoades and Decker received a letter from Secretary of Administration Morgan. Here are just some of the details.

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Students Gain Only Marginally on U.S. History Test

Sam Dillon:

Federal officials reported yesterday that students in 4th, 8th and 12th grades had scored modestly higher on an American history test than five years earlier, although more than half of high school seniors still showed poor command of basic facts like the effect of the cotton gin on the slave economy or the causes of the Korean War.

Federal officials said they considered the results encouraging because at each level tested, student performance had improved since the last time the exam was administered, in 2001.

“In U.S. history there were higher scores in 2006 for all three grades,” said Mark Schneider, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the test, at a Boston news conference that the Education Department carried by Webcast.

The results were less encouraging on a national civics test, on which only fourth graders made any progress.

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Why Is Income Inequality in America So Pronounced? Consider Education

Tyler Cowen:

The most commonly cited culprits for the income inequality in America — outsourcing, immigration and the gains of the super-rich — are diversions from the main issue. Instead, the problem is largely one of (a lack of) education.

The extent of outsourcing, for instance, is not yet high enough to have much effect on American wages. Even if a call center is set up in India, this helps American business expand at home. Most generally, the net flow of investment is into the United States, not away from it. It appears that more American jobs are “in-sourced” than outsourced.

Nor should we be distracted by the gains of the top 1 percent. The goal should be to elevate the poor, not knock down the tall poppies. Microsoft has created cheap software and many jobs, and its co-founder, Bill Gates, is giving away most of his fortune.

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May 17, 2007

2007 - 2008 Madison Board of Education Committee Assignments

Assignments to Standing Committees for 2007-08:
CommunicationsBeth Moss, Chair
Carol Carstensen, Member
Lawrie Kobza, Member
Community PartnershipsMaya Cole, Chair
Lucy Mathiak, Member
Johnny Winston, Jr., Member
Finance & OperationsLucy Mathiak, Chair
Carol Carstensen, Member
Maya Cole, Member
Human ResourcesJohnny Winston, Jr. Chair
Lawrie Kobza, Member
Beth Moss, Member
Long Range PlanningCarol Carstensen, Chair
Lucy Mathiak, Member
Beth Moss, Member
Performance & AchievementLawrie Kobza, Chair
Maya Cole, Member
Johnny Winston, Jr., Member
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Columbus for Pre-K, and the other for maintenance and operations.

Paul Scharf:

The Columbus School Board held its only meeting for the month of May at the Elba Town Hall. It was held on Monday night with a special referendum election forum. The board is gearing up for June 12, when voters will go to the polls to decide on three questions.

The board will be asking voters to give their approval to the following:
n Borrowing $700,000 for maintenance needs - including $421,000 for roofs at the middle and high schools and $100,000 for safety and security. Other uses for the funds would include replacing windows and carpet and fixing up bathrooms. The money would be repaid over 10 years.

n Collecting an extra $200,000 per year for each of three years for the start-up of four-year-old kindergarten.

n Collecting an extra $300,000 per year for each of five years for technology - including equipment used by both students and staff, as well as the hiring of additional staff members.

Columbus has brought the referendums forward in a short period of time, and their district seems to have been successful in securing Pre-K support from area pre-school providers.

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Districts unite for health savings

Amy Hetzner:

A new cooperative aimed at lowering the health insurance costs for non-teachers could decrease payments for participating Waukesha County school districts by up to 20% next school year.

The savings amount to as much as $400 per month for a family plan in the Hartland-Lakeside School District, where the deal already has been approved, and the Mukwonago School District, where the School Board is scheduled to vote next week on whether to join the cooperative.

Savings for five other districts still involved in the effort may not be as high.

But even the lowest expected cost drop of 8% would save the Pewaukee School District $1,600 to $2,000 per year for each family plan, said John Gahan, Pewaukee's director of business services.

Between 200 and 250 employees would be covered by the new health insurance carrier if all seven Waukesha County school districts accept the plan from United Healthcare, Gahan said. With escalating health care costs, many of the districts involved in the new cooperative have been interested in switching insurance carriers for lower-priced alternatives to WEA Trust, the state's dominant player in public educators' health care plans.

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Madison School Board "Kowtows to Complainers"

Susan Lampert Smith:

So kids, what did we learn from the Madison School Board's decision Monday to reverse itself and not consolidate the half-empty Marquette and Lapham elementary schools?

We learned that no doesn't really mean no.

We learned that, oops, maybe there is money after all.

And most importantly, we learned that whoever yells the loudest gets it.

The most telling moment at Monday's board meeting was when the rowdy crowd of Marquette supporters was admonished to "respect the board" after hissing at Lawrie Kobza, who said she was "saddened" by arguments that the schools must stay open to appease residents with "political clout."

"Respect us," one man hollered back.

Respect you?

Honey, with the exception of Kobza and Arlene Silveira, who held their ground, the board rolled over for you like a puppy. Tony Soprano doesn't get this kind of respect.

A Yin to that Yang - Capital Times:
Kindergartner Corey Jacob showed up at this week's Madison School Board meeting with a homemade "Keep Schools Open" sign.

And he got a terrific lesson.

The board, which had voted to close Marquette Elementary School on the city's near east side, reversed its wrongheaded decision in the face of overwhelming opposition from parents, teachers and kids like Corey.

The lesson Corey learned is perhaps the most important one that can be taught in public life: No decision is set in stone. When an official body makes the wrong decision, people can and should organize to oppose that decision. And when that happens, the members of the targeted body are duty-bound to reconsider their mistaken move.

More from Bessie Cherry:
er column was ludicrous. Comparing a school board who actually listened to its constituents' warranted concerns to a parent who gives in to a whiny child?! Lapham Elementary, where my daughter attends kindergarten, is hardly "half empty." In fact, the students there eat lunch in 18 minute shifts, and the school board's own projections predict that it will become overcrowded within the next five years.

Smith failed to mention that the velocity behind the vocal backlash against the original decision to consolidate was fueled by the fact that two of the board members won their seats by proclaiming before their election that they would never vote in favor of consolidation. Instead of accusing the board of "rolling over like a puppy" and proving that "whoever yells the loudest gets it", she should be applauding those parents for exemplifying democracy in action for their children. They organized, yes, the old-fashioned way (a way I much prefer to the prevailing point-and-click passivity of "activism" today), and involved their children by having them sign petitions, hand out flyers-- they even staged an elementary school walkout.

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Communicating School Threats

Brock Bergey:

25% of students at one Madison high school spend the day at home, and it wasn't a planned skip day. The students attend Memorial High School, where an alleged threat was supposed to be carried out Wednesday. Nothing happened, but the incident has the district talking policy.

"If we don't communicate, obviously, it raises the concern of parents," says MMSD Superintendent Art Rainwater.

He says a new system is opening the lines of communication between administrators and parents.

"(It) allows us to call every single parent and give them a message," says Rainwater.

A message like the one Rainwater says went out to every Memorial parent Tuesday night. It included information about a non-specific threat found at the school and indicated classes would continue Wednesday, as scheduled.

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May 16, 2007

Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Finance Committee Approves Growth in State Tax Redistribution for K-12 Schools

Steven Walters:

The committee also kept Doyle's plan to raise state aid for public schools by $235.3 million over the next two years, which would allow per-pupil spending to rise by $264 next year.

The 10-6 vote of the committee killed a move by some Republicans to cap the one-year growth in per-pupil spending at $100 in each of the next two years. Democrats said that limit would further choke class offerings and force massive layoffs.

Rhoades said state aid for schools, a record $5.89 billion this year, has never gone down and would have gone up again under the GOP proposal.

The Joint Finance Committee also recommended removing some public school safety costs from spending controls imposed on school districts, citing recent incidents of violence in Milwaukee and elsewhere.

MPS would be entitled to about $1.3 million in school-safety exemptions from cost controls, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Seth Zlotocha summarizes failed budget amendments:
To provide a brief explanation of how the JFC is handling the budget, those items that were in the governor's budget when JFC talks started require a majority vote (at least nine) to be removed while those items that are not in the governor's budget when JFC talks started require a majority vote (again, at least nine) to be added.
WisPolitics Budget Blog.

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Fair support or unfair subsidy: Private school busing faces legislative review

Jason Stein:

Public schools in Madison and Dane County could save thousands of dollars a year on the costs of transporting private school students under a draft bill in the Legislature.

The Assembly legislation would end the requirement that school districts pay certain parents multiple times for the costs of taking students to the same private school and would save school districts statewide more than $1 million a year, according to estimates.

The proposal's author, Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, D-Milwaukee, said he got interested in the issue after receiving three reimbursement checks from Milwaukee public schools in the past for driving his three children to the same Jewish private school there.

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With Simplified Code, Programming Becomes Child's Play

Carolyn Johnson:

After school lets out on Fridays at the Jonas Clarke Middle School , two dozen boisterous students descend on the computer lab to fiddle with the computer code that powers their projects, from a "Star Wars" lightsaber duel to a flying hippo animation.

The school has been beta-testing Scratch, a new programming language being released today by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. The program, named after the technique hip-hop DJs use to mix music, gives novices the ability to create dynamic programs without wading through a manual, teaching computer programming concepts while encouraging students to play.

The goal: turn a daunting subject usually taught in college and considered the domain of geeks into an integral part of education for the grade-school set. MIT researchers hope the program will promote a broader cultural shift, giving a generation already comfortable using computers to consume content online a set of new, easy-to-use tools to change the online landscape itself.

Check out Scratch here (Mac and Windows versions).

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Best Book Chapter of the Year

Jay Matthews:

I was ready to like Peter Sacks' new book, "Tearing Down the Gates: Confronting the Class Divide in American Education." He is a terrific reporter with a keen sense of weak spots in conventional wisdom about schools. And since the word "class" in the title of this column has always had a double meaning, I was eager to read the work of someone who shared my view that socioeconomic differences are at the root of our failure to help many of our brightest kids get the educations they deserve.

It turns out Sacks has written an exceptional book, with one particular chapter that blew me away. But my first quick read made me grumpy, for reasons that have more to do with my own personal flaws and biases than his good work.

I started with the Washington thing, what all we journalists working in our nation's capital do when checking out a new book -- look for our names in the index. Sadly, I wasn't there. Well, maybe the acknowledgments? No again. The fact that Sacks and I have never met, as far as I can remember, may have something to do with that. Still, it wasn't a good beginning for me.

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Minnesota wins ‘benchmark’ game

Don Huebscher:

The issue: How we stack up against Minnesota.

Our view: The numbers aren’t in our favor, and that requires our attention.

We like to brag to our neighbors to the west that our Green Bay Packers have three Super Bowl trophies and their Minnesota Vikings have none. We also like reminding them that they’ve also lost the big game four times.

Unfortunately, in the real game of life, figures show Minnesota ranks ahead of Wisconsin in many areas much more important than who has the more talented group of hired football players, many of whom don’t live here year-round anyway.

The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance recently published its annual “Measuring Success” pamphlet. The nonpartisan group’s study compares Wisconsin to other Midwest states and the nation to measure our strengths and liabilities in a range of “benchmarks” including health, education and jobs.

Wisconsin’s brightest star is our low crime rate. At 242 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2005, Wisconsin is far below the national average of 469, and better than Minnesota’s 297. But there’s a dark cloud: Violent crime in Wisconsin jumped from 210 per 100,000 people in 2004 after seven straight years of decline.

Related: Patrick McIlheran: "Fixing school funding is more than just "more""

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The Sting of the Bee

Valerie Strauss:

Spelling bees are hot.

Broadway plays host to one nearly every night with an award-winning musical about six overachieving spellers in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee." Hollywood has embraced them too: "Akeelah" would be nothing without her "Bee," not to mention "Bee Season." And the Scripps National Spelling Bee, set for May 30 and 31, is popular enough for the finals to be televised in prime time for a second year.

Still, don't expect to find a spelling bee in Sue Ann Gleason's first-grade classroom at Cedar Grove Elementary School in Loudoun County. She doesn't think much of them.

"They honor the children who already know how to spell, but they do little to support those who need explicit instruction," she said.

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Clearing Up Tax Rank Confusion

Todd Berry:

No question is asked more often of WISTAX researchers by the public and press than: How does Wisconsin’s tax burden compare with other states? And no issue is more debated by partisans and interest group advocates at the State Capitol.

Two reliable tax rankings

Based on the most recent national data available (fiscal year 2004) from the most commonly used source (U.S. Census Bureau), facts show that Wisconsin state and local taxes claimed 12.2% of personal income, the sixth-highest percentage in the nation. The U.S. average was 11.0%.

An equally useful ranking results if population, rather than income, is used. State-local taxes here totalled $3,714 per capita in 2004, or 12th highest. The U.S. average was $3,447. Because Wisconsin per capita income is below the national average, tax rankings based on population are generally lower than those based on income.

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May 15, 2007

40 Students Receive Rotary Club Awards

The Cap Times:

Forty Madison high school students will receive Rotary certificates and cash awards to recognize their scholastic achievements and contributions to the city at a ceremony before parents, school officials and Rotary Club members Wednesday afternoon at the Inn on the Park.

The club's Youth Awards Committee sponsors the annual program and gives awards up to $26,800 from its associated Madison Rotary Foundation.

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Microsoft Unveils Math 3.0 and Latest ACT Report: Rigor at Risk....


According to an independent survey commissioned by Microsoft Corp., 77 percent of teachers and 73 percent of parents claim math and science are the most difficult homework subjects for students, yet only 36 percent of parents feel capable to help their children. While parents and teachers struggle to find the time or knowledge to provide their kids with adequate assistance in math and science, students can grow frustrated by the lack of resources and the amount time it may take to find relevant guidance in these difficult subjects. To address these issues, Microsoft has developed a low-cost, comprehensive resource for middle school, high school and entry-level college students.

Today Microsoft releases Microsoft® Math 3.0, a new software solution designed to help students complete their math and science homework more quickly and easily while teaching important fundamental concepts. Microsoft Math 3.0 features an extensive collection of capabilities to help students tackle complicated problems in pre-algebra, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, physics and chemistry, and puts them all in one convenient place on the home PC. Similar to a hired tutor, Microsoft Math 3.0 is designed to help deepen students' overall understanding of these subjects by invoking a full-featured graphing calculator and step-by-step instructions on how to solve difficult problems.

Related, maybe? Karen Arenson:
Only one-quarter of high school students who take a full set of college-preparatory courses — four years of English and three each of mathematics, science and social studies — are well prepared for college, according to a new study of last year’s high school graduates released today by ACT, the Iowa testing organization.

The report analyzed approximately 1.2 million students who took the ACT college admissions test and graduated from high school last June. The study predicted whether the students had a good chance of scoring C or better in introductory college courses, based on their test scores and the success rates of past test takers.

The study concluded that only 26 percent were ready for college-level work in all four core areas, while 19 percent were not adequately prepared in any of them.

ACT Report: Rigor at Risk: 350K PDF

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An Update

The Studio School Charter School:
In a couple of years I hope to take another try at leading a charter school initiative. I continue to read so much educational research and literature that strongly supports The Studio School concepts. As you know, we spent some time looking into ways to create TSS as a private school but just couldn't see how it could be affordable to everyone and be sustainable. Even as a sliding-scale-tuition cooperative, there would have to be some tuition paid and that leaves out so many children. It still looks as though a charter school is the best alternative. So maybe there will be some changes in our school district and administrators/ board members will become more actively supportive of charter schools, innovation, and the Studio School concept. Am I overly optimistic?

Programs in my home:
Currently, I'm working with some people to piece together a rather eclectic "menu" of educational programs (art, Spanish, yoga, tutoring, early childhood, etc.) in my home that is licensed for child care for ages 4 - 17. The programs being offered are philosophically aligned with the Reggio Approach - experiential, child-centered, multi-modal learning. I don't have a final name for this yet but the concept is that of a "learning studio" that offers a variety of enriching programs that will provide children with a variety of "languages" for learning and expressing their ideas. (This summer I am offering an Art & Architecture program for 5-8 year old children on Wednesday mornings and we will be working with recycled materials.) If the "eclectic" studio concept is successful, the plan is to move the program out of my house into a public space in the next year or so. I recently met with someone involved in the Hilldale Mall redevelopment project and a location there might be a possibility down the road. And/or it could be offered through community centers or other neighborhood organizations. It's also my hope that if I could somehow provide real life examples of the Reggio Approach to teaching and learning, people might be better able to envision the amazing positive impact it could have in an elementary school.

Community Partnerships:
I intend to continue meeting with people who are interested in new educational initiatives and who might want to work together to create programs and schools that include the arts & technology for all Madison children. So I want to keep reaching out to neighborhood groups and community members. Please let me know if you run into any folks who might be interested in talking with me about this and I will be happy to contact them. Thanks

Nancy Donahue

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Milwaukee Chinese School Starting In Fall

The Milwaukee school district is opening a Chinese school this fall.

It will join at least a dozen Chinese programs in Wisconsin.
About 130 students have signed up so far to attend the Milwaukee Academy of Chinese Language, also part of a growing number of schools offering Chinese language classes nationwide.

It will teach four-year-old kindergarten through fifth grade the Mandarin language, symbols and culture for 30 to 45 minutes a day, along with traditional curriculum in English.

James Sayavong, who started the Milwaukee school, said that he expects nearly 200 students to enroll by fall.

So far, the school's students are mostly from the surrounding neighborhood, which is generally black and low income. He said he wants this type of education to be available for everyone.

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Russian-born sisters to become professors in US at age 19, 21


Two Russian-born sisters are due to become assistant professors of finance in New York state later this year, even though they are only 19 and 21, university officials said Wednesday.
Angela Kniazeva and her younger sister Diana were due to take up their new positions in September at the University of Rochester, where half of their students will likely be older than them.

The pair, who already have masters degrees in international policy from Stanford University in California, were picking up their doctorates from New York University's Stern business school on Wednesday after five years of study.

The talented twosome told the New York Post they did not consider themselves geniuses, despite their achievements.

"I don't think this is the right word or right way of putting it," the newspaper quoted Angela as saying. "I think we've been given valuable opportunities, and we found ourselves in very fortunate circumstances."

The duo were home-schooled by their parents and earned the equivalent of their US high-school diploma at the ages of 10 and 11 before graduating college in Russia at the ages of 13 and 14. They graduated from Stanford in 2002.

More at NYU Today. Via Volokh.

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California State K-12 Budget Notes

Nanette Asimov:

The proposal

The governor wants to spend $40.5 billion from the general fund for K-12 education, up slightly from his January proposal and 1.2 percent more than is being spent this fiscal year. For classroom spending, that translates to $8,681 per pupil, up from $8,569. Career-technical education gets a big boost, with $25 million for vocational counselors, $100 million for equipment, and $50 million for nursing programs.

The bottom line

Besides students aiming to study a trade, winners are growing districts. Less lucky are those like San Francisco and Oakland with declining enrollments. San Francisco, for example, would get about $12 million more than last year, up from $11.5 million in January. But it's about $5 million less than last year because 1,000 students will leave.

Wisconsin's per student spending averages about $9,200 - the Madison School District's is $13,684.

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Wisconsin Charter School Update

2007 Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference WEBCAST

Support for Construction Careers-Focused Charter School & Successful Evolution of RENAISSANCE School for the Arts and ODYSSEY-MAGELLAN Charter School

Links to 40+ Green Charter Schools

Green Charter Schools in Wisconsin

New Financing Helps Milwaukee Charter School Expand

HOWARD FULLER, President of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning, Marquette University, has been inducted into the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ Hall of Fame. Howard and TED KOLDERIE, Senior Associate, Education / Evolving, were among an inaugural group of 4 charter school pioneers inducted into the Hall of Fame


Project Change Charter Recovery School

Number of Small High Schools Multiplying in Milwaukee

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School Board chastised for snack 'n chat

Dan Benson:

For at least half a century, Osceola School Board meetings have been followed by a smorgasbord of snacks, desserts and soft drinks where board members can chat about the issues of the day - and, apparently, school business.

It's a tradition that has ended after a local newspaper publisher and editor crashed the after-hours hobnob on April 11, wrote an editorial chastising the School Board and filed a complaint with the Polk County district attorney's office.

" 'Is there something we can help you guys with?' " Kyle Weaver, editor of the weekly Sun, recalls being asked when he and Sun Publisher Carter Johnson walked into the room where five School Board members, the district administrator and four principals were discussing curriculum issues about 20 minutes after the close of the regular meeting.

"I said, 'It appears the meeting is still going on,' and we sat down in our usual chairs," Weaver said. "It went on just a few minutes more. It appeared they were trying to wrap it up pretty quick."

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Milwaukee Schools' New Strategic Plan

Alan Borsuk:

Two men, who often did not work together openly in the past, stood Monday in front of a crowd that, at many times, wouldn't have been receptive to either of them.

"From our standpoint, this is a remarkable day," said Sam Carmen, executive director of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association, as he and schools Superintendent William Andrekopoulos made a presentation to a luncheon of about 100 members of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, a private group of civic leaders that has played a big role in charting Milwaukee's course for decades.

"This is the real deal," Carmen told the audience, describing the impact that a new strategic plan for Milwaukee Public Schools could have. The draft of the plan, created largely by the teachers union and MPS leaders, was released recently and is expected to be presented for action by the Milwaukee School Board in June. The Greater Milwaukee Committee funded the process of creating the plan.

Carmen said the plan presents "a real opportunity to change teaching and learning in Milwaukee Public Schools."

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Madison School Board Votes to Keep Marquette School Open

Andy Hall:

Two weeks after voting to close Marquette Elementary, the Madison School Board bowed to public pressure Monday evening and decided to keep the school open.

The board's 5-2 vote was greeted by cheers and a standing ovation from about 50 parents, children and activists who campaigned to save the school at 1501 Jenifer St. on Madison's Near East Side.

Susan Troller has more.

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Consultants Overbill Racine Schools


The consultants hired to slash costs and boost revenue for the Racine Unified School District overbilled the cash-strapped district by about $125,000, a review of district records shows.

That overpayment alone would have been more than enough to pay the annual salary of a staff budget director who would be charged with finding the same type of savings that the consulting group now wants over $1 million for, according to a Journal Sentinel review of how other school districts in the state operate.

"I would say that every business manager is very cognizant of these areas," said Erik Kass, business manager at the Waukesha School District, when told of the savings claimed at Racine Unified by the Public Business Consulting Group.

Still, it appears the consulting firm will keep its job running the business office of Racine Unified, the fourth-largest school district in the state.

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May 14, 2007

Offered healthy food by servers, school kids take the bait.

Sally Squires:

You know how hard it can be to say no.

But our tendency to accept what we're offered may have positive value when it comes to encouraging children to choose — and eat — healthier food at school. A new report suggests that there's a simple, low-cost approach: Just offer it to them.

That's the conclusion of a pilot program in Guilford, Conn., where school cafeteria servers were trained to ask elementary school students, "Would you like fruit or juice with your lunch?" Ninety percent of the children said yes. What's more, 80% then consumed the fruit or juice that they put on their trays.

Compare those numbers with students at a nearby school who also participated in the study. At lunch, the same fruit and juice was available, but it wasn't personally offered to the kids. The difference? Just 60% of these students reached for fruit or juice on their own.

These findings "have pretty significant implications," says the pilot program's designer, Marlene Schwartz, director of research and school programs at Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. They suggest, she says, that if the National School Lunch Program were to modify its regulations and had servers actually encourage children to eat fruits and vegetables, their consumption might increase.

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Denver's Attempt to Address Their "Enrollment Gap"

Superintendent Michael Bennet and the Denver School Board:

The Rocky Mountain News series, "Leaving to Learn [Denver Public Schools Enrollment Gap]," tells a painful and accurate story about the state of our school district. It is hard to admit, but it is abundantly clear that we will fail the vast majority of children in Denver if we try to run our schools the same old way. The evidence in Denver and from big-city school districts across the country is undeniable. Operating an urban school district in the 21st century based on a century-old configuration will result in failure for too many children. It is long past time to admit this. As a district and a community, we must gather strength and have the courage to make change, knowing that the changes we face are much, much less perilous than the status quo.

Many believe that our system is intractable and impossible to fix. They look at our high dropout rate, our low achievement rate, and decades of failed reform efforts in Denver and around this country, and conclude it cannot be done.

This answer is obviously intolerable for the 72,000 children in our school district, and for the tens of thousands of children who will receive a public education in Denver over the next decade. We must refuse to accept that this is the best we can do for the next generation, or, worse, that this is all we can expect of them.

In view of the current discussions in Denver about whether to close schools after years of declining enrollment and shifting demographics, now is the time to re-examine how our system works. No matter how compelling the arguments for school consolidation, school closures create pain and upset expectations about daily life. In the shadow of this potential dislocation, we are obligated to reconsider the way we do business to ensure that our schools and our students will succeed. In the coming months and years, we must renew and rejuvenate the educational opportunities available to all of Denver's children.

Cities all across the country face dramatic change sooner or later. For a variety of reasons, we think Denver is in a position to create the first 21st century urban school district in the United States. Not the least of these reasons is our tremendous faith in the committed people who work for DPS and in the citizens of Denver. We must not make the easy, but terrible mistake of confusing a lack of confidence in the system with a lack of confidence in ourselves or our children.

Related; Barb Schrank's "Where have all the Students Gone?". Joanne Jacobs has more.

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Radical Math in the NYC Department of Education

Sol Stern:

Late last month, over 400 high school math teachers and education professors gathered in Brooklyn for a three-day conference, titled “Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Math Education and Social Justice.” Prominently displayed on the official program’s first page was a passage from Paulo Freire, the Brazilian Marxist educator and icon of the teaching-for-social-justice movement: “There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to . . . bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of our world.”

The conference’s organizers left nothing to the imagination about their leftist agenda. At many of the conference’s 28 workshops, math teachers proudly demonstrated how they used classroom projects to train students in seeing social problems from a radical anticapitalist perspective. At a plenary session, Professor Marilyn Frankenstein of the University of Massachusetts’ math education department proclaimed that elementary school teachers should not use traditional math lessons, in which students calculate, say, the cost of food. Rather, the teachers should make clear that in a truly “just society,” food would “be as free as breathing the air.”

New York City’s Department of Education insists that the radical math conference was perfectly appropriate. In fact, as I recently learned, the whole affair got rolling with the assistance of the DOE, which gave a financial grant to the conference’s principal organizer, Jonathan Osler. Osler is a math teacher at El Puente Academy, a small “social-justice” high school in Brooklyn. In 2005, he and two math teachers from other schools applied for the DOE’s Zone Teacher Inquiry Grants Program. Their application proposed “the creation of a system to bring together NYC math teachers to share ideas, curriculum, resources, and experiences integrating issues of social justice into math classes.” Some of the social justice issues that math classes could explore: “Check-cashing locations ripping off poor people. H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt ripping off poor people. Foreclosure agencies ripping off poor people. Issues of joblessness, homelessness, incarceration, lack of funding for education, excessive funding for war. . . . The list goes on and on.”

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May 13, 2007

Cheating and California's High Stakes Achievement Test

Nanette Asimov, Todd Wallack:

Teachers have helped students cheat on California's high-stakes achievement tests -- or blundered badly enough to compromise their validity -- in at least 123 public schools since 2004, a Chronicle review of documents shows.

Schools admitted outright cheating in about two-thirds of the cases. And while the number reporting problems represents a small fraction of the state's 9,468 public schools, some experts think the practice of cooking the test results is more widespread.

That's because the California Department of Education relies on schools to come forward voluntarily, and to investigate themselves when a potential problem is flagged.

"The vast majority of educators are ethical and play by the rules. (But) when identification of potential cheating hinges largely on self-reports, it is almost certainly underreported," said Greg Cizek, who teaches testing at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is the author of "Cheating on Tests: How to Do It, Detect It, and Prevent It."

Records show that California teachers who unfairly helped students boost scores usually did so during the test. For example:

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End to school violence must start at home

Eugene Kane:

When considering violence in Milwaukee Public Schools, I find myself recalling a School Board meeting years ago where the discussion centered on rising suspension rates.

One mother demanded that School Board members explain why her 15-year-old African-American son kept getting kicked out of school for misbehaving.

"I can't do anything with him at home," she complained.

After the meeting, I interviewed the mother away from the microphones. That's where she told me why she thought her son kept getting expelled.

"They afraid of him," she said of the teachers. "He's 15, but he's 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 240 pounds."

That hammered home for me the fact some "kids" at MPS aren't really kids at all but are not yet fully developed young people with enough physical strength to intimidate the outnumbered adults.

My latest visit to a Milwaukee public school was just a few weeks ago, during which I observed a mini-meltdown in the hallway by a student who had become enraged at another student.

As he was dragged away, the boy struck a door with his fist, nearly shattering the glass.

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New Graduation Rate Resource


The Editorial Projects in Education Research Center is proud to announce the Beta version of a powerful new online mapping tool to help the public, policymakers, and educational leaders combat the graduation crisis.

The EPE Research Center calculated graduation rates for each district, as well as every state and the nation as a whole, using data from a single federal data set. The Cumulative Promotion Index, developed by Research Center director Christopher Swanson, estimates the probability that a student in the 9th grade will complete high school on time with a regular diploma.

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Parents are failing the education test

Geoff Colvin:

In a world of rapidly rising standards and economic rewards for knowledge, are some American parents actually hostile to education? In my travels I'm seeing evidence that the answer is yes. It's just bits and pieces so far but worth our attention, because in a globalizing economy, with the question of the U.S.'s competitiveness feeling more urgent all the time, such a shift would be puzzling - and very bad news.

I was talking some time ago with a group of school superintendents from Maryland. The dominant mood was frustration - a sense that they weren't making the progress with our kids that they wanted to. A few of the superintendents surprised me by saying they had received complaints from parents who were angry because their kids were being made to learn algebra. Basic objection: "What do they need algebra for? It's hard!" Just a few days ago I was talking to a middle-school vice principal, this time in Nebraska. She reported the same thing: parents angry over kids having to learn algebra.

Maybe that strikes you the way it did me - as simply unbelievable. Perhaps it's the education industry trying to blame others for its own failures. But I don't think so. These school administrators didn't seem eager to report their experiences and didn't do so until we'd been talking about U.S. education for some time. More important, their reports fit with other signs I've noticed suggesting that some folks really don't like schools and education - and are surprisingly willing to let the world know how they feel.

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May 12, 2007

A Model Middle School

Winnie Hu:

Across New York State and the nation, educators are struggling with performance slumps in middle schools and debating how best to teach students at a transitional, volatile age. Just this week New York City put in place a new budget formula that directs extra money to middle schools.

Briarcliff has emerged as a nationally recognized model of a middle school that gets things right, a place that goes beyond textbooks to focus on social and emotional development.

There is no question that the Briarcliff school starts out with many advantages. It is part of a district in Westchester County that spends $24,738 per student, or more than one and a half times the New York State average, and can afford to buy extra sets of classroom textbooks so that students can leave their own copies at home. Its student body is relatively homogenous — 91.8 percent are white — and so well off that less than 1 percent qualify for free or reduced lunches. In contrast, in nearby New York City, 72 percent of the population qualifies.

But even affluent districts generally see a drop in student achievement in grades six through eight. Briarcliff has not; it is at the upper end of about 50 middle schools — out of more than 600 — in New York State where test scores have held steady and in some cases even increased slightly from the elementary level, according to state education data.

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School choice has saved $444 million

Friedman Foundation; Dr. Susan L. Aud:

A landmark new study finds that school choice programs throughout the country generated nearly $444 million in net savings to state and local budgets from 1990 to 2006. Contrary to opponents' predictions, the analysis also finds that instructional spending per student has consistently gone up in all affected public school districts and states.

"School choice saves. It saves children, and now we have empirical evidence that it saves money," said Robert Enlow, executive director and COO of the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation. "In the face of $444 million in savings, another excuse to deny children a quality education has vanished before our eyes."

Released by the Friedman Foundation, "Education by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006" provides the first comprehensive analysis of how the nation's school choice programs have affected state and public school districts. Of the 12 voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs that began operations before 2006, every program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce substantial savings. Seven more programs have been created since 2006.

Full Report: 800K PDF

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Madison and it's Public Schools - 1970's

Paul Soglin:

In the 1970's with the decline of Baby Boomers in the Madison Public Schools (MMSD), the school board proposed closing a number of schools including Marquette and Lapham. The city responded with the following message:

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Educating Eric

Robert Tomsho & Daniel Golden:

Cazenovia, Wis.

When Eric Hainstock didn't get his way in kindergarten, he told other children his father would kill them. In fifth grade, he tried to spray a homemade concoction he called blood into the mouths of classmates. In sixth grade, he threatened others, fought, and talked "about killing himself and others."

Worried about these and other incidents recounted in internal school reports, teachers and a school psychologist recommended that Eric, who was diagnosed in second grade with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, get more one-on-one attention, or be placed in a special private school. Instead, he was one of millions of special-education students mainstreamed in regular classes.

After Eric transferred to Weston Public School here in 2002, his grades plummeted and he was suspended frequently. His only regular help with controlling his outbursts was a weekly, half-hour social-skills class.

On the morning of Sept. 29, 2006, Eric, then 15 years old, walked into Weston Public with two guns and shot dead the school's principal, John Klang, police reports indicate. He told investigators he was tired of taunting by other students and aimed to "confront" Mr. Klang, teachers and students. He has been charged with first-degree murder.

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Schools Reconsider Laptops as Educational Tools

Talk of the Nation:

Educators and politicians have pushed the goal of a laptop for every student. But a number of early adapting schools say the laptops aren't helping, and critics argue that the computers are simply a distraction.

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May 11, 2007

Pre-K in the South

The Southern Education Foundation [2.3MB Report]:

Over the last 140 years, Southern states have made significant progress in catching up with the nation in education and income, but in recent decades the South’s gains have virtually flattened as the world economy continues to elevate the critical role of education in innovation, productivity and income. Today, most Southern states remain where they were in the early 1980s, closer to the national average than they were decades ago, but still at or near the bottom of the nation’s major rankings in education, income and well-being.

There is an all-important exception to this pattern of Southern underperformance: high-quality, early childhood education – pre-kindergarten (Pre-K). Several Southern states have become the nation’s leaders in Pre-K over the last 10 years. As a result, the South in 2007 leads the nation in offering state-funded Pre-K to three- and four-year-old children:

19% of three- and four-year-olds in the South are in state-funded Pre-K, more than double the rate in non-South states.
Jenny Jarvie has more.

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Merit Pay for Teachers: Into the Hornet's Nest

The Economist:

“HORRIBLY divisive” is how Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, describes the recent distribution of $15m in bonuses to teachers in the largest school district in Texas. Most teachers received payments averaging close to $2,000. But an angry minority received none; and everyone learned what everyone else got when the Houston Chronicle's website published a list of teachers and amounts. Raising hackles further, 100 teachers were asked to return part of their bonuses because a computer glitch had inflated them.

This was Houston's first year of doling out such bonuses, and its troubles may have prompted the Texas House of Representatives to vote against a statewide merit-pay programme. The idea of merit pay is a good one: teachers should be paid more for teaching better. At the moment, few teachers in America receive bonuses, and their salaries are based mainly on length of service or their degrees. But the system, put in place early in the 20th century, is not working. Jay Greene of the University of Arkansas says that spending per pupil has doubled in the past three decades, while student-achievement measures such as high-school graduation rates are roughly flat.

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Madison Schools' Special Ed Reductions

Andy Hall:

But when students resume classes in the fall, fewer special education teachers like Bartlett will be available to work with Karega and 228 other of the Madison School District's 3,600 special education students.

That's because the School Board last week voted to save $2.2 million in the 2007-08 school year -- by far the largest single amount cut and one-fourth of the total budget reduction -- by making a major change in the way special education teachers are allocated to the district's schools.

There's been little public outcry about the cut, compared to the howls over the board's decision to close Marquette Elementary and end free busing for private-school students. But some think those affected by the budget maneuver, which is generating a mixture of concern and praise, don't fully realize the effect yet.

2007 - 2008 MMSD $339M+ Citizens Budget [72K PDF] [2006 - 2007 $333M+Citizen's Budget]

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May 10, 2007

Fixing school funding is more than just "more"

Patrick McIlheran:

It's funny that everybody hates the way Wisconsin reckons school aid. The formula's doing what it was supposed to do.

The aim was that if a poor school district and a rich one imposed the same property tax rate, state aid would make their schools equally funded. The system does that, admirably. As Allan Odden, who studied the formula on the state's behalf last fall, found, it's local tax rates, not wealth, that determines revenue. Some places just want to tax themselves less.

He suggests changing it.

Districts say they're squeezed by two numbers: Their revenue shouldn't rise more than an inflation-linked number, about $260 a student this year, while their labor costs can rise by more, 3.8%.

Of course, school spending has risen faster than inflation or Wisconsinites' income over the past decade or so, especially thanks to referendums letting districts blow the caps. Still, the difference is why districts constantly say they're cutting even while Wisconsin taxpayers spend 5% more a year on average on schools.

Wisconsin's not underspending. We're already 12th-highest in per-pupil spending, 11% above the national average.

For which we're getting . . . OK results. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce last winter graded states on schools. Wisconsin got a C on its return on investment: Our high per-pupil spending produces middling achievement. Virginia got results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress similar to ours but for $1,800 less per pupil. Massachusetts spent more and got great scores. Minnesota did both, massively outscoring us for 10% less per child. "Some states are not getting what they're paying for," chamber spokeswoman Karen Elzey put it.

Minnesota's NAEP scores are higher than Wisconsin's, yet they spend over $1000 per student less than we do.

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Keeping Teens Safe on the Job

Sue Shellenbarger:

If your teenager is looking for a job this summer, as mine is, brace yourself: The employment outlook for teens is among the gloomiest in decades.

This summer's teen employment rate will match a 57-year low set in 2004 and 2005, predicts Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, based on an analysis of federal data released last week. Just 36.5% of 16- to 19-year-olds will be working, down from 37.1% in 2006 and 45% in 2000, he says, citing increased competition for part-time and temp jobs from older workers and immigrants.

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Area students win honors, scholarships

The Capital Times:

'Tis the season for student honors.

Two students from Madison West and two students from Mount Horeb High School recently took first prizes at the Distributive Education Clubs of America's 61st conference in Orlando, Fla.

Jacinth Sohi and Payton Larson from Madison West High School were winners in the business law and ethics events at the conference, and Kristen Gower and Jenna Myers of Mount Horeb High School took top honors in the travel and tourism marketing management event.

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Madison School Board to Reconsider Marquette / Lapham Consolidation

Deborah Ziff:

The Madison School Board may reverse its decision to consolidate Lapham and Marquette elementary schools after a neighborhood group mobilized in opposition to the budget cut.

The board is nearing the five votes needed to overturn its decision.

Four of the seven board members -- Carol Carstensen, Beth Moss, Johnny Winston Jr. and Maya Cole -- asked board President Arlene Silveira to reopen a discussion on the consolidation for a meeting on Monday. Four votes are needed to reopen discussion.

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Bill would toughen school crime laws

Sarah Carr:

Violent crimes committed on school grounds would be subjected to stiffer penalties under a bill circulated in the Legislature on Wednesday.

The bill was one of two drafted by a West Allis lawmaker aiming to curb school violence committed by outsiders who cause or aid disruptions in schools.

The other bill calls for jail time or fines for those who trespass on school grounds with the purpose of causing a disturbance.

"Outsiders and non-students can turn a pushing match into a gang brawl," said Rep. Tony Staskunas (D-West Allis), who drafted the bills.

He began drafting the bills after outsiders were called to participate in a fight at Bradley Tech High School this winter. He said a Journal Sentinel investigation on school violence provided perfect timing for him to circulate the bills for co-sponsorship on Wednesday. Among other things, the investigation found that at least 127 school staff members were physically assaulted in the schools in the first half of the school year. It also found that the district's 11 largest high schools called police about twice a day on average over the last six months.

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When is a school dangerous?

Under the No Child Left Behind law, the definition varies from state to state. In Wisconsin, that means some troubled schools escape the law's scrutiny.

Sarah Carr:

At Todd County High School in South Dakota last school year, 16 calls to police helped earn the school an unsavory distinction in the eyes of the state and federal government: The rural school was slapped with the label "persistently dangerous."

Under the 6-year-old No Child Left Behind Act, each state must define a "persistently dangerous" school and allow parents to transfer their children out of them.

But at Milwaukee's Fritsche Middle School, 187 calls to police over a recent six-month period did not make the school persistently dangerous under Wisconsin's definition.

Neither did 263 calls at Bay View High School, or 299 at Custer.

Madison Schools' police call data for Fall, 2006.

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Oklahoma Supreme Court Tosses School Funding Adequacy Suit

Mike Antonucci:

hope the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA) received the public relations boost it desired from filing one of those "adequacy and equity" lawsuits, because the decision was an unmitigated legal and financial defeat.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision to dismiss the suit, dismantling the union's arguments. The court's ruling spends much time examining the whole question of whether OEA had standing to file the suit in the first place, even though this is a low threshold to meet. The justices noted:

"With few exceptions, 'constitutional rights are personal and may not be asserted vicariously.' The plaintiffs assert injury to the rights of Oklahoma's students. The OEA has not established that any of its members are Oklahoma students. Although some of the members of the OEA may be parents of Oklahoma students, this is insufficient to establish the OEA's standing to assert injury to the students' rights. The OEA has failed to meet its burden to show that any of its members have a right of their own to assert injury to the rights of Oklahoma's students. As the OEA's members cannot vicariously assert injury to the constitutional rights of Oklahoma's students, neither can the OEA."

Additionally, the court ruled "the plaintiffs have failed to allege any facts that would support a finding that the plaintiff school districts or OEA's members have an interest which is within a constitutionally protected zone...."

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May 9, 2007

Police calls for Madison schools - September through December 2006

Madison Parents' School Safety Site:

The charts below (click on each thumbnail to enlarge) summarize Madison Police Department calls for service to MMSD schools from September 1 through December 31, 2006. The data is summarized by school below the fold.

Data like this provides a starting point for getting a sense of the type and levels of incidents that affect safety in our children’s schools, and it’ll be useful to compare these numbers from time to time against like categories of data going forward. Context that we need, but don’t have, is information on the number and types of violent or disruptive incidents occurring in the schools as a whole (not just those resulting in police calls), and to what extent policies on summoning law enforcement in response to a violent or disruptive incident vary from school to school (in which case call data alone may be an unreliable index of the school’s relative safety).

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Paying Brave Teachers What They're Worth

Jay Matthews:

Eighteen award-winning teachers have come up with a performance-pay plan for teachers. It is full of good ideas. These people know what success in the classroom means. So why am I having trouble accepting the whole package?

The teachers, backed by the Center for Teaching Quality in Hillsborough, N.C., and calling themselves the TeacherSolutions team, break their plan into 10 parts. I will describe it in a moment and name the 18. There is no better use of the vast resources of the Internet than to give credit to good educators for hard work.

Some parts of their plan are solid. Breaking the base-pay system into three tiers -- novice, professional and expert -- makes sense. Rewarding teachers who help students make significant gains is an obvious step. Giving after-hours leadership assignments to the best teachers, not the oldest, and paying them for that time would also be an improvement. I am even willing to concede that teachers should be judged on improvement of their students on more than just one kind of assessment.

But the teachers trouble me with point number four, "Provide additional pay for additional degrees and professional development, but only if the training is relevant." And they lose me completely with point number nine, "Be brave, be bold."

Mike Antonuccia has more.

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Free to choose, and learn

New research shows that parental choice raises standards—including for those who stay in public schools

The Economist:

FEW ideas in education are more controversial than vouchers—letting parents choose to educate their children wherever they wish at the taxpayer's expense. First suggested by Milton Friedman, an economist, in 1955, the principle is compellingly simple. The state pays; parents choose; schools compete; standards rise; everybody gains.

Simple, perhaps, but it has aroused predictable—and often fatal—opposition from the educational establishment. Letting parents choose where to educate their children is a silly idea; professionals know best. Co-operation, not competition, is the way to improve education for all. Vouchers would increase inequality because children who are hardest to teach would be left behind.

But these arguments are now succumbing to sheer weight of evidence. Voucher schemes are running in several different countries without ill-effects for social cohesion; those that use a lottery to hand out vouchers offer proof that recipients get a better education than those that do not.

Harry Patrinos, an education economist at the World Bank, cites a Colombian programme to broaden access to secondary schooling, known as PACES, a 1990s initiative that provided over 125,000 poor children with vouchers worth around half the cost of private secondary school. Crucially, there were more applicants than vouchers. The programme, which selected children by lottery, provided researchers with an almost perfect experiment, akin to the “pill-placebo” studies used to judge the efficacy of new medicines. The subsequent results show that the children who received vouchers were 15-20% more likely to finish secondary education, five percentage points less likely to repeat a grade, scored a bit better on scholastic tests and were much more likely to take college entrance exams.

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Making Education Safe

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

More and more kids are arriving at school in Milwaukee with a bellyful of anger, which they vent by lashing out at teachers, other staffers and fellow students. Intensifying violence is bedeviling the Milwaukee Public Schools, distracting the system from its main mission: education.


Buy a link here

Journal Sentinel reporter Sarah Carr vividly portrayed this thorny, complex problem in a four-part series of articles that concludes today. The community must not tolerate this trend, which, by hampering education, stunts the future of the children, the city, the metro area and the state. And the community must do whatever it takes - yes, if necessary, spending more money or making schools more regimented - to restore a sense of safety to MPS.

The uptick in violence likely stems from the deteriorating plight of the poor, the causes of which lie largely outside the schools. So the ultimate solutions lie largely in that direction, too. But MPS can't wait until society gets its act together. It must take measures to tamp down the violence.

Society at large must:

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California Accused of Inflating Exit Exam Data

Joel Rubin:

UCLA professor says officials distorted pass rate on test required for high school graduation. Educators counter that analysis was flawed.

California education officials put forth artificially positive results on the number of students who passed the state's controversial high school exit exam last year, according to a recent UCLA study.

The analysis also concluded that about 50,000 fewer students statewide earned diplomas last year compared to previous years, raising the prospect that the exit exam requirement is pressuring students to drop out. The decline in graduation rates was most pronounced in poor, heavily minority areas, the study found.

"We've constructed a system that sets in place incentives for disinformation," said John Rogers, the study's author and co-director of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. "People who are making education decisions in this state need to think about how this policy is really playing out."

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May 8, 2007

Critics pack meeting on unpopular school decisions

Susan Troller:

Although the Madison School Board so far has held its ground on a host of unpopular decisions, it may be approaching a tipping point, at least on the issue of school consolidation.

The School Board's meeting was a multi-ring circus Monday night as a capacity crowd presented a collective howl of anguish about many budget cuts and about the controversial decision to name the community's newest elementary school for a Hmong military leader revered by his adherents.

It will be up to board members in coming days to decide whether to revisit any of the decisions they have made in recent weeks that are stirring passionate, and often angry, public commentary on topics ranging from the elimination of yellow school buses for parochial school students to a school closing on the near east side to the new school's name.

Arlene Silveira, elected unanimously Monday night as the board's new president, said she would return items to the agenda for possible reconsideration if four board members requested them. A supermajority, or five votes, would be necessary to reverse any budget-related decisions. So far, it appears that several board members are willing to revisit the budget item to consolidate Marquette and Lapham elementary schools.

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Other people for new school name

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North

General George Custer

Kenneth Ley

Governor George Wallace

President Richard Nixon

Vice-president Spiro Agnew

Lt. William Calley

Sadam Hussein

Pol Pot

Idi Amin

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Vang Pao Elementary School: Remarks to the Madison School Board on May 7, 2007

The decision to name the new school after General Vang Pao was necessary and proper, although difficult.

The board did its job well. Remember that when you evaluate the reactions of some parts of the community.

The reactions are not about the process. Three months of notice and opportunities to comment was sufficient process.

They are not about “localness”. Many of our schools are named after non-local figures.

They are not about new information. Professor McCoy’s allegations about Vang Pao are old news, 2002 news.

They are not about the persuasiveness of Professor McCoy’s allegations. He spent a short time in Laos. His evidence is thin.

In contrast, Dr. Jane Hamilton Merritt spent many years in Laos and interviewed more than a thousand people. She has concluded that McCoy’s allegations are baseless. She has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Pulitizer Prize for her human rights reporting from Laos. The weight of the evidence is on Dr. Jane’s side.

And you have the testimony of Hmong people from our community and state who contradict Professor McCoy.

Instead, I believe that the reaction is an expression of the deep discomfort that many of us feel when forced to remember the Vietnam War and it is about our denial.

We want to remember the anti-war movement.

We do not want to remember the government lies, assassinations, covert wars, use of napalm and Agent Orange or the loss of so many, many lives. It was a shameful war, one that we’d like to forget.

However, we owe it to our children to learn the lessons of that war and we must tell them how and why Hmong people became part of our community.

Forgetting is not an option for the Hmong. They are here now, living productive lives. They owe much to General Vang Pao for their survival and better fortunes. He gave them the unit and the strength that they needed during the covert war and after our government abandoned them to the repressive Laotian regime after the fall of Saigon.

And we owe the Hmong---just as surely as we owe our own Vietnam War veterans---recognition and inclusion at long last.

Please stay the course on this decision.

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Disruptive students bounced from school to school

Sarah Carr:

Before anyone could stop them, two boys stood on tables during a crowded lunch at Milwaukee's Bradley Tech High School this winter, flashing gang signs and chanting gang slogans.

Many of the students, who had been eating, chatting and milling about in the school's open atrium, cheered them on.

Quickly, the commotion grew.

The boys who caused the disruption were new to Tech. A few days before, they had been expelled from a suburban high school for fighting, said Tech Principal Ed Kovochich.

Shortly thereafter, they would be forced out of Tech, too - bounced to another MPS high school.

"The dance of the lemons," as Kovochich described it.

Teachers, administrators and social workers say the most violent or disruptive children are regularly moved from school to school.

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Teachers Take a Crash Course As County Strives for More AP

Nelson Hernandez:

John E. Deasy, the superintendent of Prince George's County schools, issued a decree soon after taking charge a year ago: Each of the county's 22 high schools will offer at least eight Advanced Placement courses next year.

He got funding for the expansion, which would increase the number of students in the county taking AP courses by 25 percent. Now he just needs the teachers.

The effort to mobilize the teaching corps brought about 80 current and prospective AP teachers to Charles H. Flowers High School on a recent Saturday morning for a series of workshops in AP English, math, social studies and science. The workshops are run by the College Board, which administers the AP exams and recently announced that it will audit courses to ensure that they meet college standards.

"You can't just say to people, 'Get more kids in AP classes,' unless you have the teachers," Deasy said. He'll need as many as 200 certified to teach the advanced courses by the fall. As he walked from classroom to classroom, he added: "I can't hold you accountable for doing something without giving you the skills to do it."

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College program lacking price tag

Megan Twohey:

On Thursday, Wisconsin's 75,000 eighth-graders will get their first opportunity to participate in the Wisconsin Covenant, a program that Gov. Jim Doyle hopes will lead to dramatic progress in college participation in the state.

Students who sign the pledge form are promising to maintain a B average through high school graduation, stay out of trouble, perform community service, meet college entrance requirements and apply for financial aid.

Doyle says students who fulfill the pledge will be guaranteed a spot after graduation in one of the state's colleges or universities, along with a financial aid package based on need. If students from low-income families cannot afford college with existing financial aid, he says, the state will provide more assistance to close the gap.

But with enrollment in the program about to begin, the Democratic governor so far has provided few details to the Legislature, in which Democrats control the Senate and Republicans control the Assembly. Some lawmakers, frustrated by lingering questions and the absence of a price tag, are vowing to kill the Wisconsin Covenant.

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Officials' Silence Puts Parents 'at Arm's Length'

Jay Matthews:

Schools nationwide are calling on parents to get involved. The Maryland State Board of Education endorsed a broad range of family outreach initiatives in a 2005 report that called public education "a shared responsibility."

Yet some parents in Montgomery County and elsewhere have discovered limits on the get-involved policy when they ask questions about individual teachers, whether those queries are about alleged abuse of students or a decision to fire a popular instructor.

Dawn Mosisa said she found an information void when she tried to follow up on her daughter's story about a teacher who allegedly hit another second-grader at Maryvale Elementary School in Rockville. Likewise, scores of parents at Lakewood Elementary School, also in Rockville, said they had a hard time finding out why a teacher they considered top-notch was recommended for dismissal. They also felt their input was ignored.

School officials said they are required to hold back information because of privacy laws, union contracts and potential lawsuits. Some acknowledged that a more open policy would help families handle the repercussions of incidents involving teachers. But the officials said there is little they can do.

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May 7, 2007

Fair Indigo To Donate 100% Of Store Sales On World Fair Trade Day

(Fair Indigo, Middleton, WI) –

To honor World Fair Trade Day on Saturday May 12th and support its theme “Kids Need Fair Trade”, fair trade clothing pioneer Fair Indigo will donate all sales that day in its Madison, Wisconsin flagship store [map]to education: half to local Madison-area Parent-Teacher organizations and half to the Fair Indigo Foundation providing educational opportunities to children in the developing world.

World Fair Trade Day, held each year on the second Saturday of May, is organized by the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT) to promote fair trade practices around the world. This year’s theme “Kids Need Fair Trade” highlights the positive impact fair trade has on children in developing countries which frequently suffer from low pay, poor working conditions and limited educational opportunities that trap them in a cycle of poverty. Fair trade practices break that cycle and rather than tearing people down help to lift them up.

Consumption of fair trade products is rapidly growing and has hit an all-time high. According to Transfair USA, retail sales of Fair Trade Certified coffee grew from $50 million in 2000 to over $500 million in 2005 and show no signs of slowing. Fair Trade Certified tea, cocoa and many tropical fruits are now also available in stores throughout the United States.

Fair Indigo, a new fair trade clothing brand, pioneered fair trade practices in the mainstream apparel industry with the launch of its catalog, website and first retail store last fall. According to a survey conducted by Greenfield Online, Inc., 86% of Americans want their clothing made by workers who were paid fairly and treated with respect, while 65% felt they were at a point in their lives where they wanted their purchases to “give back” to society. People are backing up their talk with their spending: in Fair Indigo’s first month in existence, it had received orders for its fair trade clothing and accessories from customers in all 50 states. Bill Bass, Fair Indigo’s CEO, says “People are becoming more conscious of how their purchases affect the world, both socially and environmentally. Fair Indigo is giving people the ability to help change the world through their clothing purchases by providing stylish clothes that were made fairly by workers who earned a living wage. I spend a lot of time in the factories and co-ops; it makes a big difference in the lives of these workers when customers choose to support fair trade with their purchases.”

To celebrate World Fair Trade Day on Saturday May 12th and support its theme “Kids Need Fair Trade”, Fair Indigo will donate all sales that day in its Madison, Wisconsin flagship store to education. Half of every sale will go to the local Madison-area Parent-Teacher organization of the customer’s choice and half will go to the Fair Indigo Foundation providing educational opportunities to children in the developing world. As Bass noted, “As the nation’s first mainstream fair trade apparel retailer, we felt it important to make a significant commitment to World Fair Trade Day and its theme. So we decided, rather than follow most companies and donate a portion of sales, we would donate every penny that comes in the door to support education and fair trade – both here in our own community as well as the international communities where we make our clothing”.

About the Survey
Fair Indigo partnered with Greenfield, Inc., to explore consumers' opinions about the fair treatment of workers. The survey was conducted online in June 2006 by 624 women ages 25-54. The margin of error for this study is 3%.

About Fair Indigo™
Based in Middleton, Wisconsin, Fair Indigo is a new fair trade clothing and accessories brand for women and men. Started by a small group of industry insiders with the goal of changing the way the apparel industry works, Fair Indigo offers Style with a Conscience™ by paying a fair and meaningful wage to the people who weave every fiber and sew every seam of its collection. The concept is known as fair trade and it means putting people first. Visit and see how good you can look while you help change the world.

Posted by Rosana Ellman at 4:05 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Troller, schools reporter, wins 2007 Allegretti Award

The Capital Times:

Members of The Capital Times nonsupervisory staff have chosen reporter Susan Troller as the winner of the 2007 Allegretti Award.

They judged Troller's work as best carrying on the legacy of former Capital Times reporter and editorial writer Dan Allegretti in exposing injustices in the community.

Troller's colleagues honored her coverage of Madison's K-12 schools. The nomination said Troller "has worked tirelessly to bring the human face, the child's face, to the messy bureaucracy that is our school system."

Since being assigned to the schools beat in 2006, Troller has consistently brought readers into the classroom as well as chronicling the operations of the district administration and the School Board. Not only has she used words to describe children's learning experiences, but she was the first staff member to delve into the multimedia world for the paper, creating an audio slideshow to accompany a portrait of the successes of high-poverty Mendota Elementary School.

Props to Susan!

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:56 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Geography Explores New Terrain

Steven J. Smith:

In 1948, the president of Harvard University James Conant famously called geography "not a university subject" and many colleges stopped teaching it. But Dartmouth wasn't listening. It remains the only college in the Ivy League with a distinct geography department, says Magilligan, and majors in the subject increased from 17 last year to 34 this year. Next year, 38 are signed up.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Behind knockout of principal lies a sad tale

Sarah Carr:

When another student slammed a fruit cup on a cafeteria lunch table last fall, the young girl's rage began to build.

It grew in the cafeteria, as the 15-year-old lashed out at her fellow students, angry that some of the spilled fruit landed on her pants.

It grew in the main office of Ronald Reagan High School on Milwaukee's south side, where school staff had taken her to regroup.

In the office, a steady stream of profanities flowed from her mouth. Sensing a growing threat of violence, the school principal, Julia D'Amato, approached. Again and again, D'Amato told her:

"You have to calm down."

"You have to calm down."

But she was just getting started.

When authorities arrested the student for punching the principal twice, knocking her out, the incident became front-page news, a horrific example of random violence in the schools.

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

Grade School Goes Corporate

Businesses want to build better employees, but will that really mean a better education for your child?
Elizabeth Weiss Green:

It took less than a year for Algene Patrick to learn all she needed to know about William H. Brazier Elementary School: rock-bottom test scores, spoiled milk in the cafeteria, and teachers who logged more absences than their students. These were the lessons her granddaughter, Lawrenesha Williams, brought home from kindergarten. When Patrick, who is Lawrenesha's custodial guardian, asked the principal about the 50 absences Lawrenesha's teacher had logged, he just cited the teacher's personal problems. The grandmother decided enough was enough, and she put Lawrenesha in parochial school.

For Trinity Gardens, a poor neighborhood in Mobile County, Ala., that sends children to Brazier Elementary, the neglect wasn't a huge surprise. In 1965, a nearby Air Force base closed-taking away 10,000 jobs-and a series of paper mills shut down in the 1990s, stealing at least 3,000 more. Most of the Gardens' residents live below the poverty line, holding two jobs to get by. Who had time to care how many fifth graders passed a state writing test? (In 2003, only 7 percent.)

But in 2004, Brazier Elementary suddenly began to change. In just one year, workers cleaned up the halls, new teachers poured in, and test scores shot up. Noting the change, parents like Patrick sent their kids back to Brazier. Patrick thanks Brazier's new principal, Merrier Jackson, for the turnaround, calling her "a godsend." But it was actually a less heavenly group that sent Jackson to Trinity Gardens: CEOs.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More on Vang Pao Elementary School

The decision to name Madison's newest school after Gen. Vang Pao is creating a divide in Madison.

Opponents said that they plan to bring their concerns to the school board on Monday.

For people in the Hmong community, Gen. Vang Pao is a leader comparable to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They said that Pao led masses of Hmong refugees to the U.S., WISC-TV reported.

But opponents said that they still hope to convince the school board to change its mind and not honor a man that some say has a questionable past.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:38 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Science Tests Come as Teaching Time Falls

Daniel de Vise:

Many elementary schools offer half as much science instruction as they did before the law was enacted, teachers and principals said. Science and social studies, once taught separately, share time to make room for more reading and math. Some middle schools that used to offer a full year of science and social studies give a semester of each.

But starting with the 2007-08 academic year, the law requires states to test students in science. A new exam is being field-tested in Maryland this year.

"I think the test will open up some eyes," said Brian Freiss, a fifth-grade teacher at Highland Elementary School in Silver Spring.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:26 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 6, 2007

For schools, status quo is not an option

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

When the Madison School Board approved budget cuts last week, it underscored a message important to every school district in Wisconsin:

Schools can no longer afford to conduct business as usual.

If Wisconsin is to preserve high quality education, its school boards, administrators, teachers, students, parents and taxpayers must recognize the need for bolder action.

Schools must create ways to deliver education more cost-effectively.

That means change — change that disturbs the comfort of the status quo.

Just saying no is not an option.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Milwaukee Public Schools Violence Intensifying

Sarah Carr:

An 18-year-old punches his school's football coach and grabs his genitals. • Two middle-school age sisters jump a police officer called to calm a disturbance. • A grandmother charges a group of students at an elementary school, and then strikes the principal. • A boy tries to sell a gun to his friend in elementary school.

Violence in Milwaukee Public Schools has intensified, and calls to police have become daily occurrences in some of the city's schools.

Teachers and staff trained to bring knowledge to children in a safe setting are instead struggling to keep the hostility of the streets from seeping into classrooms and hallways.

A Journal Sentinel investigation found:

  • Dozens of teachers, administrators and staff are getting attacked. In the first semester of this school year alone, at least 127 MPS employees reported being physically assaulted by students or outsiders coming to campus.
  • Elementary school teachers are falling victim to physical or verbal assaults nearly as much as those in high schools. Close to half the teachers assaulted this year work at elementary or K-8 schools.
  • Far more Milwaukee students were expelled for bringing firearms to school last year than in all of the Chicago Public Schools, a district more than four times the size of MPS. In Chicago, unlike Milwaukee, high school students walk through weapons scanners every day, and handguns have virtually disappeared from the schools.
  • The number of students expelled and suspended for drugs, violence and weaponshas nearly doubled in the past five years, and many are simply transferred to other schools. Total MPS expulsions have tripled in the past 15 years.
  • Police are called routinely to break up fights or deal with other disturbances. Staff at each of the district's 11 large high schools called police about twice a school day on average in the past six months.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:24 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Similar English Learner Students, Different Results: Why Do Some Schools Do Better?


How elementary schools focus their time and energies, and what resources they have for doing it, can make a powerful difference in the academic achievement of English Learner students from low-income backgrounds, according to findings from this new analysis of data.
This new extended analysis was based upon extensive survey data from 4,700 K-5 classroom teachers (80% or more at each school) and all principals in 237 California elementary schools from 137 different school districts across the state. These schools were initially randomly selected from 550 schools in California’s 25-35% School Characteristics Index band. All schools from this band have high levels of student poverty and low parent education levels; for this analysis we further narrowed our original sample to eliminate any school that didn’t have enough English Learner students to have an EL Academic Performance Index score.

The research team analyzed the school practices covered by the teacher and principal surveys to see which most highly correlated with California’s new school level English Learner Academic Performance Index. In addition, the team analyzed the same practices against percent proficient on the California Standards Tests to see if the results were similar. Finally, the team ran an additional analysis to see if the results were similar for only schools in our sample with English Learner student populations that were 80% or more Spanish speakers. The results for all three analyses were essentially the same: there are four interrelated broad school practices – backed up by numerous examples of specific actionable practices – that most strongly differentiate the lower from the higher performing elementary schools with regard to English Learner API. These four practices are the same, although in a slightly different order of significance, as the team had found in October 2005 for the school-wide API.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A public school with a private-school mission

The “Stuyvesant of the East” has become one of the most sought-after public schools in the city. It got that way by leaving much of the public out.

Jeff Coplon:

As light faded on the first arctic day of winter, a band of 40 die-hard parents huddled on Seventh Avenue, outside Region 9 headquarters of the Department of Education. Mostly white and middle-aged, armed with signs and certainty, they stood shivah for a dream foreclosed on the Lower East Side: the notorious NEST+m, a school for the best and brightest in all New York.

Braced against the slicing wind, they chanted against the ousting of their founding principal, the feared and revered Celenia Chévere, and grieved for the motto she once posted outside her office door:

A public school with a private-school mission.

The sign dripped with hubris, but it had wooed the striving classes well. Since the troubled birth of New Explorations Into Science, Technology & Math, in 2001, its parents had tithed body and soul and disposable income—for their children, to be sure, but also for the urban impossibility: a truly great public school. In NEST they’d found a hothouse with record test scores, free of the usual tawdry concessions—sardined classes, peeling paint, creeping illiteracy.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:19 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

May 5, 2007

Prominent Education Reformer to Lead New Orleans Schools

Adam Nossiter:

Louisiana on Friday picked one of the nation’s most prominent education reformers to run the troubled school district of New Orleans, as schools here continue to grapple with physical and administrative damage from Hurricane Katrina.

The new superintendent, Paul G. Vallas, who is credited with changes in school systems in Chicago and, most recently, in Philadelphia, was chosen to take on what is seen as one of the more singular challenges in American education: creating a working school district where many of the buildings are ruined, many of the teachers are missing and thousands of students might return suddenly. When they do, they will be among the neediest — the poorest and lowest-achieving — in the nation.

As a superintendent in Philadelphia and Chicago, Mr. Vallas raised test scores with the help of after-school programs, new schools and revised curricula. He is generally regarded by schools experts as one of the more energetic practitioners in the field. But speaking Friday in a shuttered school in the Lower Ninth Ward, he seemed to recognize the special difficulty of this task.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:06 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Letters Regarding "In Search of the Master Teacher"

NYT Letters to the Editor regarding Kristoff's recent column on teachers:

To the Editor:

I retired to South Carolina in 2004 after 35 years as a teacher, administrator and superintendent in New York. I have permanent New York certification in secondary English, special education and as a school district administrator.

Thinking I might teach in South Carolina, I applied for information on certification. I learned that I would need to do the following: fill out an application; submit original college transcripts; submit teacher examination scores from the Educational Testing Service (to ensure that I was “highly qualified”); submit an F.B.I. fingerprint card; submit recommendations from the college where I completed my teacher preparation (36 years ago). There was more, along with a $75 fee.

I am enjoying my full retirement!

More here:
Several teachers argued that it’s ridiculous for someone who has never actually taught for a day in his life to offer proposals for school reform. That strikes me as a fallacy. Obviously doctors aren’t the only people who should offer views on health care reform. And reporters aren’t the only people entitled to views about the failures in the news media. Indeed, if we are going to see improvements in education, it will be only because a broader segment of society became involved. Obviously, teachers bring a special expertise to the discussion, but they have no exclusive claim to these issues.

Another common objection was that there is no way you can solve the school problems as long as parents are apathetic, or students are raised wrong, or resources are not increased. I don’t buy that either. Look, you could have said a generation ago that we’ll never solve the problem of traffic deaths as long as humans enjoy the sensations of speed and alcohol. But in fact we figured out how to engineer cars better, how to require seat belts and air bags, how to crack down on drunk drivers, how to design roads better and improve signs – and the result has been that we now save tens of thousands of lives a year. In the same way, there will always be troubled kids who fall through the cracks – and there are such kids in Singapore, which probably has the best public schools in the planet. But even if schools can’t be perfect, even if the backdrop is challenging, we can improve high school graduation rates, we can improve quantitative skills and ability to read.

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

Letter to School Board Members & a Meeting with Enis Ragland

Sue Arneson, Jason Delborne, Katie Griffiths, Anita Krasno, Dea Larsen Converse, Diane Milligan, Sich Slone, Grant Sovern, Lara Sutherlin:

Dear School Board Members:

A group of neighbors from the Marquette and Tenney-Lapham communities met this morning with Enis Ragland, Assistant to the Mayor. While we didn't claim to represent any organizations, many of us have been tapped into various discussions and email threads over the last few days. We put forth the following points:

  • The city's vision for downtown development is sorely compromised by the consolidation plan. It goes against all the investments in business development, affordable housing, central park, improved transportation, and the building of a strong community that spans the isthmus.
  • The school board's own projections predict that Lapham (as the sole elementary campus) will become overcrowded in 5 years - perhaps sooner if we reinstate reduced class sizes. Where will the city find a 'new' school to open in the downtown area?
  • The Alternatives programs DO need a permanent home, but their own director stated last year that the worst possible site is next to a junior high. Other options are available, including the possibility of the Atwood Community Center once it is completed.
  • The Lapham/Marquette consolidation passed purely for financial reasons - there is no convincing or consensed-upon programmatic advantages.

    • As we stated in our campaign against consolidation, budget cuts should be reversible, given that we are on the verge of a referendum. We need to be able to restore services next year if the referendum is to have political traction and real impact.
    • There are alternatives to saving the money the consolidation would save. One we put forth was:
      • Maintain the paired schools, with the alternative elementary program at Marquette and the early childhood program/TEP at Lapham
      • With the increase in some 2nd grade classes (and hence 'open' classrooms), move two alternative programs to the third floor of Lapham. The remaining programs could be housed in other district space, such as the Doyle building
      • Maintain only one principal for Lapham/Marquette. This would still keep three principals at two campuses (O'Keefe, Alternatives, and L/M principals). This feels like a sacrifice, but one we are already making if Lapham goes K-5. It saves almost HALF of the projected consolidation savings (minus the savings of rent for the Alternatives Programs).
      • This leaves a deficit of just over $100K. A tangible suggestion was to encourage the city to increase its funding of low-income student transportation because of the likelihood that CAPS funding formulas will change.
    • If the board can re-open the budget to reconsider the consolidation of the high school golf teams (a savings of less than $20K), they can surely reconsider the hasty and irresponsible decision to close a neighborhood school.
    • Mr. Ragland agreed to speak with the mayor and we are all committed to putting pressure on board members to reopen this issue in order to prevent the consolidation. We noted that none of us in our group saw flip-flopping the consolidation back to Marquette as a solution. We were a united and energized team.
    We urge you to reconsider the Board’s vote to close Marquette school. There are fiscally responsible ways to save the same amount of money without destroying one of our treasured community institutions - the Lapham/Marquette pair.
    Map of Lapham and Marquette schools. MMSD school map.
    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:51 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Marquette Teachers will go to Lapham

    Susan Troller:

    Marquette Elementary students may be happy to know that if they must move to Lapham Elementary next year as part of a consolidation plan, the teachers they know from Marquette will most likely go with them.

    The Madison teachers union and the Madison school district have reached an agreement, similar to one used in similar past situations, that will essentially allow current Marquette teachers to move to Lapham and apply for the job openings that will be available at the new consolidated school.

    The School Board voted last Monday to join the two paired schools on the near east side as part of a series of cost-saving moves to keep the district operating in the black.

    Currently Lapham, on East Dayton Street, houses kindergarten through second grade students and an early childhood program. Marquette, at 1501 Jenifer St., is home to third- through fifth-graders.
    Superintendent Art Rainwater said he appreciated the union's effort to work with the district to create the least possible disruption for students and staff.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:07 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    May 4, 2007

    Thoughts on Vote to Reconsider

    As other members have posted, it takes 4 votes to place an item on a board agenda. The big issue is that it takes a minimum of 5 votes to change the budget once it has been passed.

    I have tried to emphasize that issue in conversations that have taken place in recent days. I have done so, not to be mean, but to encourage people to be highly pragmatic as they try to think through "what next" in this extremely painful time.

    I have been asked if I would vote to reconsider. HOWEVER, it seems to me that there are two very different questions at hand:

    1)is there a sustainable (e.g. more than a year or two)source of income that was not available or obvious to the board on Monday night. If not, any request to undo the consolidation is likely to fail. I would have trouble supporting it, for example, because of the strong chance that we will be having the same debate in a year or so. That doesn't seem like a healthy choice for staff or students.

    2) is the implementation plan for consolidation structured in the best way for the schools and neighborhoods? This is a very different question and speaks to a number of legitimate concerns that have been raised and which should be considered and addressed by the board and by district administration.

    I strongly advise advocates for the pair to ask themselves whether there is a plan that would substantially alter the outcome of a vote on the first question - especially because success requires 5 votes in this case.

    I would have a very hard time supporting a reconsideration that rests on reopening other budget decisions that were made on Monday. Similarly, I would have a hard time supporting reconsideration if there is not a viable new scenario to consider.

    In short, it is a lot easier for me to envision reopening the consolidation to look at how to proceed in the best and most sustainable way, and to consider how to best work with neighborhoods and staff to rally around the merged school.

    I realize that this is not as open ended as some of you may hope. However, IF there is going to be a successful move to reconsider, it will need to be firmly rooted in solid proposals that provide viable alternatives to the existing plan.

    Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 4:51 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Board members explain votes to close schools

    Susan Troller:

    When newly elected Madison School Board members Maya Cole and Beth Moss went into Monday night's crucial budget meeting, both intended to vote against closing schools, consistent with their campaign promises.

    But by the time the seven-member board patched together the various cuts, additions and compromises necessary to restore some programs and services while keeping the budget in the black, both Moss and Cole found themselves making a reversal and voting with Lawrie Kobza and Arlene Silveira to consolidate the paired elementary schools Marquette and Lapham at the Lapham site on East Dayton Street.

    Now Moss, along with board members Carol Carstensen and Lucy Mathiak, would not mind reopening the discussion with the possibility of reconsidering that vote.

    But Cole -- who during the campaign was firmer than Moss in her opposition to school closings -- says her decision to consolidate Marquette and Lapham is final.

    Moss said she had received hundreds of e-mails on all budget issues, many specifically about the consolidation of Marquette and Lapham.

    "For many parents, there's a sense of anger and betrayal," she said.

    She said that when she went into Monday's meeting she had several priorities, but foremost was trying to find money somewhere in the budget to keep class sizes small in the early elementary grades. Another priority was not closing schools.

    In an interview Thursday, Cole said she has struggled with the issue but has decided not to reconsider her vote.

    "The cuts are horrid, but overall I think we made some excellent decisions," she said.

    She outlined four things she felt that were particular accomplishments, given the tight budget constraints:

    "We saved Lindbergh, and we did not close Black Hawk. We kept small class sizes in math and literacy for kindergarten and first-graders, and keeping these small class sizes means we can hold onto more of our young teaching staff. And at Marquette, we committed to a home for the alternatives program, which is a group that is least able to advocate for itself," she said.

    As for the consolidation of Marquette and Lapham, she said she did not really view it as closing a school.

    "We merged a pair, and we put something new in one of the schools," she said.

    "I'm willing and eager to work with the neighborhood, but I don't think it's healthy for School

    Board members to be seen as changing their votes," Cole said.

    "There are people I know and respect who are really angry about this, and that makes me feel sick. But my vote on this wasn't because it was PC or because I was pushed into it. If I'm a one-term board member, so be it."

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:21 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Capital Times analyzes school closing votes of Madison Board

    In The Capital Times for May 4, 2007, the editorial board analyzes the recent vote of the Madison School Board to close Marquette Elementary School.
    Doing what nobody wants to do

    Posted by Ruth Robarts at 1:18 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Procedure for reconsidering closure vote

    This is from MMSD board attorney Clarence Sherrod:

    The board uses a form of parliamentary procedures that allow board members to reconsider actions that have been taken by the board. There are a number of rules that relate to such reconsideration such as the person who is on the prevailing side can only make the motion to reconsider. The board's agenda has to include the item that is to be reconsidered. A majority of the board or the president of the board determines whether or not an item is placed on a board agenda and when. Clarence

    Only a member who voted in the majority, i.e., for closing, can make a motion to reconsider, so the pressure needs bear down on Cole, Moss, Silviera, and Kobza. If you can’t get one of them to make the motion, the school closing is done and over with.

    Progessive Dane should lean on Beth Moss, the candidate it endorsed.

    Posted by Ed Blume at 11:19 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    For the record

    I don't want there to be misunderstandings about my vote against consolidation. I have made it clear from the beginning that I would not vote against consolidation unless we took a serious look at ways to achieve cost savings in the Marquette-Lapham pair.

    I was quite clear that I included in that assessment, the reality that one or both schools would need to host one or more alternative programs as an element of any cost savings. In phone calls, e-mails, conversations with Steve Hartley, and other conversations, I have been quite clear that it would be desirable for people to stop trashing the programs and students (talk about caught in the middle) and start thinking about what it would take to make it work.

    In short, I have never supported a plan that would leave the Alternative Programs without a stable home.

    Posted by Lucy Mathiak at 10:45 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    More on the MMSD Golf Team Consolidation

    Bill Cooney:

    In an anticipated move, Big Eight Conference athletic directors unanimously voted to reject the Madison School Board's proposal to consolidate prep boys golf teams beginning next spring.

    With a 9-0 vote, it was agreed that combining athletic teams was strictly a participation issue as opposed to a financial one, Madison Memorial athletic director Tim Ritchie said Thursday.

    "Our numbers are good for golf," Ritchie said.

    The idea of combining teams from Madison Memorial and Madison West, as well as teams from Madison La Follette and Madison East will not be proposed to the WIAA because the conference did not agree to it, Ritchie said.

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

    Tea Leaves, Budgets and Governance

    Maureen Rickman raised some pertinent points in her recent post regarding MMSD budgeting. Observing some of the discussions over the past few months, I found it interesting that when a school board member asked about business services items, teaching and learning (should we really be spending money developing curriculum and "frameworks" in this day and age, never mind the fact that we live in the internet era, the UW and MATC are next door, and that many teachers choose the best tools for their students, regardless of local dogma?) or other items not on the proposed reduction in increased spending list, they never got very far. In one case, the response was (paraphrasing) "if you do that, it will come out of salary savings" which translates to a reduction in the district's equity.

    If that is the answer, what can a board member do, in the absence of 3 more votes? Or, if the votes are there, and the Administration does not execute, what happens? What is the recourse? Navigating these challenges is not a simple task.

    We'll soon have new leadership in some MMSD departments along with an eventual new Superintendent (props to the board member(s) who recognize this reality and route around the outages). The department changes may be the biggest news of all, particularly, given the timing - before a new super is hired - which is very important, in my view. Laurie Frost looks beyond the "fog". It's interesting that in so many facets of life, one has to step back and try to look beyond the immediate rhetoric.

    There are no shortage of challenging K-12 issues at hand. Many on this site have argued (for years) that all budget items should be on the table. I think we're getting closer to that day. I also hope that we'll soon see the last of the "same service" or "cost to continue" or "cost plus" budget approach. After all, spending goes up every year ($333M in 2006 / 2007 to $339.6M+ in 2007 / 2008 - maybe more, we'll see this fall when the "final" budget is adopted).


    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:58 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    At MPS, time to go extreme

    Deborah Chamberlin:

    Ho, hum. Another sunny morning, another cup of coffee, another disgusting story about the Milwaukee Public Schools. How's this for an idea? Shut down MPS because it sure doesn't seem to be working.

    Initiate a 13-year plan (pardon the negative connotation) to eliminate grade levels, beginning next year with kindergarten. That way, students (or are they "combatants"?) are free to find other educational solutions from the beginning. No kindergarten means no first grade the next year and so on as the children pass through (or drop out).

    Parents will be responsible for vying for precious space in private schools, which don't seem to have the level of problems that MPS does, probably because they can remove disruptive thugs. Or try home schooling. Let parents sit home with their unruly kids and see how they like it.

    Good teachers will have time to look for other employment. There surely will be more entrepreneurs opening schools to replace the MPS holding tanks. Just think - no more guns, no more weapons, no more crowd control. Just lessons, homework and appropriate discussions about grades.

    Teachers have been shifted from being educators to baby sitters to interim parole officers. A couple of e-mails I received noted the situation at MPS is much worse than we even know. Worse than a week with two lockdowns, a fight resulting in a staff member being knocked unconscious and a seventh-grader with a gun and ammunition? Those are only the reported incidents.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:13 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Some Schools Drop Laptop Programs

    Winnie Hu:

    The students at Liverpool High have used their school-issued laptops to exchange answers on tests, download pornography and hack into local businesses. When the school tightened its network security, a 10th grader not only found a way around it but also posted step-by-step instructions on the Web for others to follow (which they did).

    Scores of the leased laptops break down each month, and every other morning, when the entire school has study hall, the network inevitably freezes because of the sheer number of students roaming the Internet instead of getting help from teachers.

    So the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty — and worse.

    Many of these districts had sought to prepare their students for a technology-driven world and close the so-called digital divide between students who had computers at home and those who did not.

    “After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    The End of Lapham School

    Marc Eisen:

    What depressing news to read that Lapham School will be merged out of existence.

    I sent two kids through Lapham, and it was single best experience our family has had with the Madison schools.

    Lapham's K-2 format was born out of a political compromise that reopened the Depression-era school in 1989 in return for Marquette serving grades 3-5. This turned out to be an inadvertent stroke of educational genius. Separated from the sometimes baleful influence of older kids, Lapham became its own little cozy world, a safe and encouraging place for the youngest of students.

    As I wrote in a 2003 column, my kids were lucky enough to have Barb Thompson as principal. She ran a tight ship, kept a watchful eye on her charges and wasn't afraid to battle "downtown" -- the school district administration -- for her school.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    May 3, 2007

    Lapham Marquette Statement

    There has been bitterness, surprise and resentment over my vote with respect to the Lapham/Marquette consolidation. I would like to let people know why I voted to move the alternative programs to Marquette. I have a mix of emotions several days after the storm and hope you find it helpful to understand the process from my perspective.

    I made this decision in the most thoughtful and respectful manner possible. Unfortunately, the process of getting to this vote is more complicated than the moment in time when the board makes a single vote. I hope those of you most affected by this can see how this transpired.

    In the past three weeks, Beth Moss and I, as newly elected members of the Board of Education, have met with the staff of MMSD to get up to speed with our current programs. This process takes many, many hours. We have also spoken with teachers, visited schools, gone to public forums, taken calls, studied data, looked at programs with a critical eye and visited with many constituents.

    Many of you went to forums over the past few weeks and spoke passionately about your schools and programs. I took copious notes and asked questions. Our participation and commitment was to be as effective as possible under the circumstances. Not to just listen silently and abdicate our role by letting the rest of the board make difficult choices.

    Our board president urged us to listen to the public and to keep in mind that we had to make a decision soon. He wanted us to stay on task, to move the process forward and to ask the administration as many questions as needed.

    In light of the enormous task at hand, we wondered, was there enough time? How could we possibly get all the information we needed? Could we get answers to questions once more information came back from the community?

    At first, we were told that we would be voting on the budget the day after we were sworn in. This date was delayed by a week, but it still left us with very little time to ask meaningful questions and make meaningful contributions to the process.

    As a board member, I made the motion to slow down the process and give the board two weeks to work together before the final vote. We were given one day to hand in our formal amendments. It is a frustrating process to say the least.

    Much of the work on the budget and long range planning had been done in committee this past year. These were the options that the committee brought to the administration and the board. I chose to respect the time and effort of these committees, my fellow board members and staff over the course of the past few years. I respect the work and dedication of all those on the board.

    Some people have asked what would have happened if I abstained. I’ve been thinking of this from the standpoint of risking further dissention on the board. Do we really want to risk board members actively and publicly working against each other? I feel we have to stand as one governing body with differing opinions. Outright dissent is crossing the line into the divisiveness for the board that our community has wanted to eliminate.

    We can work to change the process. Set a better timeline that gives board members two weeks of orientation; a training session with the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) on school budgeting; a day at the capital learning about state budgeting (perhaps with another seated board member) and two more weeks to study the budget with no other items on our agenda.

    In addition, I would ask for the board to revisit criteria that we could use to provide further review and analysis of specific programs so we can evaluate them. One example is the programs housed in the Teaching and Learning Department. I would like to know exactly how much we want to spend to support quality professional development whether is it effective. Can we measure it?

    I am hoping we can improve on the process, but abstaining from the process would be like giving up. I contend we made the best decisions possible for the kids. We inherited a job that many board members face each year. Is it disjointed? Yes. Can it be improved? Yes, and our board can address what worked and what did not this year at our retreat. I have also contacted the WASB for advice on how we can put a process in place if we ever have to consider consolidating or merging paired schools in the future.

    I would also like us to consider coming up with community-supported criteria for this process beyond square footage, programming and enrollment. That is the job of the administration. I want us to come up with clear criteria on which to base our board decisions. We are quite capable of doing this.

    Lindbergh is a small, charming school in our northside community. It is similar to Leopold, another school that has dealt with overcrowded conditions and is on the edge of our district map. Both are retrofitted from the open classroom concept to divided space.

    It serves as a reminder of what we did right. We visited the school and talked to as many people as we could. We held a public forum at Kennedy Heights Neighborhood Center there. Beth and I went on a tour with neighbour-advocates, parents and teachers.

    And in the end, with much debate, we found that this is a school that works. It has parent participation, teacher buy-in, neighborhood support and happy kids. All the while, our children are learning and improving.

    We made difficult cuts, raised fees and asked more from our community. We committed to being fiscally responsible. We took middle schools off the table until we can have more conversations with community as to what our middle schools should look like.

    We made a commitment to save small class size for all of our elementary schools, a worthwhile investment in our future and our young teachers. I personally want to focus on how we can better serve our younger staff and keep the cuts from affecting them the most. These cuts serve as a reminder of how we desperately need to talk about the cost of health insurance in our district.

    And when you take a look at what we did not cut; a picture appears: we took Shabazz High School off the table; we took Blackhawk Middle School off the table; and we took Lindbergh off the table. All are good schools that have strong community support, school pride and work outside the general paradigm of what makes a successful school (too alternative, too small, etc.).

    In some ways, philosophically, we made a commitment to alternative approaches in education in our district. We chose to not judge a book by its cover.

    And the controversy? The near east side schools of Lapham, Marquette and O’Keefe. My experience with paired schools gave me a unique perspective of the inherent difficulties with pairings: one more transition for kids; different leadership styles which can lead to kids sliding backward in their schooling; no room for kids to expand to more challenging classes if they need to “jump ahead” in a particular subject. There are many benefits to bringing this pair together at Lapham.

    Mr. Winston’s motion to move the alternative programs from rental space to effectively no known space was not acceptable. I made a motion to put alternative programs in Marquette because of my commitment to these kids.

    Conversely, I couldn’t support the rationale provided by those who voted against consolidation – that we would continue to remain silent on where to put alternative programs. It is too late in the process to bring up suggestions for alternative program placement the night of the budget. Our alternative programs needed us to make a decision Monday night; our kids deserve that from us.

    At that moment, I recognized that although I was sworn in less than two weeks ago as an individual board member, my success is “inextricably tied to the success of [our] board.” In addition, I became painfully aware that I do not have the authority as an individual to fix the problems I campaigned to fix once we step up before the public and convene as a board.

    My alternative cuts may have prevented this consolidation but were not supported by enough members of the board. I was ready to raise fees or cut back on sports programs, a move that a majority of the board is against. I had hoped to have a further discussion on the reduction or elimination of REACH. I wanted to open the possibility of creating a new revenue stream in charging parking fees for those at Doyle and perhaps throughout the district.

    I will be looking more closely at these issues in the future.

    I feel very sorry to have alienated many of those in the Marquette attendance area with this controversial decision. I hope after reading this you will at least understand my rationale. I chose to advocate for all kids in the community, not just for the politically affluent. I stand by my vote.

    I will remain committed to forging working relationships with everyone in the community. Our work is far from over. I hope our community, city alders, the mayor and the business community can find a way to keep all of our schools open. We need leaders to support our school communities. The board’s role is to oversee the education of the children in those schools. I trust that the Marquette community can come together and support our most fragile kids. I know I will.

    Posted by Maya Cole at 7:00 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Price leaving MMSD

    Roger Price has been hired by MATC.

    Posted by Ed Blume at 6:38 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Petition seeks reconsideration of General Vang Pao Elementary

    Bill Lueders:

    Heidi Reynolds doesn't deny that, ultimately, she'd like see the Madison school board rescind its decision to name a new school on Madison's southwest side after General Vang Pao, a controversial Hmong leader implicated in drug trafficking and summary executions. But for now, "We just want to reopen the debate."

    Reynolds, the parent of children who will attend the new school when it opens in fall 2008, says the board's April 9 vote to select this name "was done way too quickly, there was not enough debate. It was all done under the radar."

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    An open letter to the School Board of Madison Metropolitan Schools

    It's about time that this community approached the budget process with the honesty and integrity that we homeowners are required to do. For the past several years, the Superintendent and his associates have made a projected budget by increasing all categories of the budget by a certain percentage (about 5%) whether costs in that area are going up or not. (This is a "cost-plus" approach for those econ majors among you.) Each year, the projected budget comes up short of what is available and the games begin. Cuts are made to beloved programs or high profile student services; the community is upset and the board calls for a referendum or reform of the state funding scheme.

    How about budgeting the way I have to? My house, my car, my medical costs and my insurance eat up the majority of the household income. So it is with the district. Teacher's salaries and benefits use up 85% of the budget and go up 4.7% each year. This is essentially a fixed cost that isn?t going to change much. We can complain about rising medical insurance costs or cut a few teachers from beloved "extras" like Strings, but those actions simply raise the ire of the community. I don?'t like that car costs jump up significantly over the several years that pass between purchases. My partner can complain about the mortgage, but we're not moving out of the house.

    The reality is that the remaining 15% of the budget IS where the cuts need to be made. When the pocket money in our household drops down during lean times, the morning latte and pastry are replaced by home-perked coffee and a 30-cent bagel. When the muffler blew at the same time as the back tire, we replaced them both and began setting aside money for a new car. How can it be that during the "lean years" of state-imposed constraints, we have had a computer program for budgeting written by consultants who over-ran their budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars? How did the Doyle building get re-furbished from floor tile to light fixture with nary a cough at the timing of it? Where did the money come from to install a district-wide phone system that will likely be outpaced by cellular technology within two or three years? How do we manage to come up with the funds to pay non-union electricians for work when our own full-time employees sit idle (and therefore on target for the chopping block)?

    How is it that our district has a 20% "better" child to administrator ratio, (195 children/administrator in Madison vs. 242 children/administrator statewide) and yet we've only let a handful of positions go unfilled? How did Roger Price manage to OVERSPEND his consultant budget by a million dollars, but in his next breath recommend cutting $300,000 for Strings for little kids?

    These kinds of budgetary abuses continue despite their being easily defined differences between "student contact" budgetary items (teachers, books, Strings, etc.) and non-student contact items (computer consultants, budgeting programs, etc.). In those years when things like building maintenance costs didn't go up, or the need for consultants is not proven, why can't those non-student contact items be subjected to a freeze?. As a board, I'm sure that your task of managing the "little things" is as difficult for you as it is for me to convince my partner of the virtues of DVD rentals over a night out on the town. But, when the pocket money for the week is frozen at $20, and the credit card is hidden, home-popped corn smells extra good. Perhaps it is time that you send the current budget recommendations back to Mr. Rainwater and Mr. Price with notification that all non-student contact budgetary items will be frozen for the coming year. I'm sure they can work out the details from there.

    Thanks for supporting our children first.

    Posted by Maureen Rickman at 10:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Community Colleges

    John Merrow:

    Community colleges today do far more than offer a ladder to the final years. They train the people who repair your furnace, install your plumbing, take your pulse. They prepare retiring baby boomers for second or third careers, and provide opportunities for a growing number of college-age students turning away from the high cost and competition at universities. And charged with doing the heavy remedial lifting, community colleges are now as much 10th and 11th grade as 13th and 14th.

    It’s a long to-do list on a tightening public purse. Two-year colleges receive less than 30 percent of state and local financing for higher education, according to the American Association of Community Colleges. Yet they are growing much faster than four-year colleges and universities, enrolling nearly half of all undergraduates. That’s 6.6 million students. Add those taking just a course or two, and the total reaches some 12 million.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Maryland School Budget Growth Friction

    William Wan:

    When Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold stepped into the council chamber yesterday to present the first budget of his administration, several key officials were notably absent: the county's school superintendent and the president, vice president and several other members of the school board.

    They were the same school officials who had fought for months with Leopold (R) over how much funding he would give them. So when Leopold finally announced what share of the county's $1.2 billion budget would go to the schools, they made a point not to be there.

    School officials had requested a $101 million increase in direct funding from the county. Leopold said he would give schools significantly less -- about a $27 million increase, to $542 million. He said in his speech that he was balancing "what resources are necessary to achieve excellence within the parameters of fiscal responsibility."

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    May 2, 2007

    Consolidated Madison Golf Team Causes Controversy

    Andy Hall and Rob Hernandez:

    The Madison School District may have "opened a big door" by authorizing the consolidation of golf teams at its four high schools into two programs as a tiny part of its $7.9 million in budget cuts, a Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association official said Tuesday.

    The Madison School Board included that measure as it balanced the district's $339.6 million budget late Monday night because, as in most school districts, costs have grown faster than the state allows the district to raise property taxes.

    If the merger of the golf teams gains Big Eight Conference and WIAA approval before a June 1 deadline, Madison Memorial will combine with Madison West, and Madison La Follette will combine with Madison East, beginning with the boys seasons in 2008.

    The projected $14,895 savings to the district - all in the form of coaching salaries - was the smallest of the last-minute additions to the district's budget cuts.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Waukesha Superintendent May Move to Appleton

    Erin Richards:

    Rick Carlson of SCF Educational Consultants, a company the district engaged at the end of March to help conduct the superintendent search, said seven people applied for the job, and that he had contacted Schmidt this spring to tell him about the opening.

    Before becoming Waukesha's superintendent in 1998, Schmidt worked for 23 years in the Appleton district.

    "I spent 10 years there as a teacher, five years as a principal and eight years as a system superintendent," Schmidt said, adding that his family in the Appleton area, including his wife, made the job attractive to him. "I live here and she lives there and we do weekends," he said of his current family-work balance.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:12 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Why It Is NOT Harder to Get Into Top Colleges

    Jay Matthews:

    "From a student's perspective, the odds of getting into college are a function of two things: the number of qualified students who apply, and the number of slots that colleges make available. It's true that the number of prospective college students is growing, as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal all noted in nearly identical articles published recently. Driven by the baby-boom echo, the number of high school graduates jumped from 2.9 million in 2002 to 3.1 million in 2006, an increase of 8.4 percent.

    "But the number of spaces in elite colleges is increasing too, at a nearly identical rate. According to U.S. Department of Education statistics, the 60-odd colleges and universities rated 'Most Competitive" by Barron's Guide to Colleges sent out 199,821 acceptance letters in 2002. In 2006, the number of 'fat envelopes' had increased to 215,738, an 8.0 percent jump. As the nation has grown, its elite colleges have grown along with it.

    "Why, then, the high anxiety? Because college admissions scare stories aren't based on the overall ratio of admissions to applicants. They're based on the ratio of admissions to applications, as reported by individual colleges. And the number of applications to elite schools is skyrocketing, increasing 18.9 percent from 2002 to 2006."

    Kevin Carey:
    Every spring, the media send a bolt of fear into the heart of the upper middle class. The message is clear: "Your children are never getting into a good college."

    As Ivy League universities report -- once again -- that admissions rates have fallen to record lows, newspapers rush to publish stories documenting the increasingly "frenzied" (variants: "frantic," "brutal") competition among students vying for a coveted slot in an elite school. The stock characters include the tearful student -- dreams crushed under an avalanche of rejection letters -- the angry parent, the frenzied guidance counselor, and the college admissions official or other expert who notes with grateful wonder, "If I had to apply to my alma mater today, I couldn't get in."

    There's just one problem: it's not true. The declining odds of getting into an elite college are mostly a statistical mirage, caused by confusion between college applicants and college applications.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    A Teacher on Student Information Systems


    Our school volunteered to beta test a new feature whereby parents can log in to the school website and see their students' grades daily, in real time. Many teachers oppose this. I do not, for a few reasons. I think it's a great idea for parents and students to be able to access their grades. I feel it places more responsibility on the student to keep up with their grades, and provides teachers another means of "contact" with parents who, perhaps, don't return phone calls or emails - a last resort.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Truth on Teacher Quality

    Kevin Carey:

    Nicholas Kristoff gets everything right in his Times column($) about teacher policy, which basically re-summarizes the findings and conclusions of Gordon, Kane, and Stager's widely-discussed Hamilton Project paper. Long-time Quick and ED readers know all about the report, of course, since we blogged about it on April 14th...of 2006. But better late than never, I say. To quote our post from last year:

    "For decades researchers have been struggling to tease out bits of evidence pointing to the small impact of various traditional methods of categorizing teachers--certified, uncertified, alt-route, has a Master's degree, licensure exam scores, this disposition, that disposition, etc. etc. Some of these things matter a little, or somewhat; some (like having a Masters' degree) appear not to matter at all. The lack of definitive results has left plenty of room for people of different camps to comfortably keep various ideological arguments going ad infinitum, with little danger of actually resolving the issue and thus having to find something else to do.

    But at the same time, research has also consistently found huge variations in teacher effectiveness within any category of teacher you care to name--old or young, certified or not, black or white, short or tall. Some teachers are just much, much better than others, regardless of external labels or credentials.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Teach kids to live within their means

    Michelle Singletary:

    In the book of Proverbs we are told: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it."

    Somehow that lesson gets lost for many families when it comes to teaching children about money -- even though there are a number of government agencies, nonprofit organizations and private companies promoting financial literacy.

    As parents, we know it's imperative to teach our kids to say no to drugs and alcohol. But can we honestly say we're doing enough to help them fend off consumerism and credit dealers? I'm doing my best, but I could do better.

    Most important, are you training your children to live off an average salary as young adults? Or are they now living so large based on your income that they will be incapable of managing their finances on a modest starting salary once they get into the real world?

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    May 1, 2007

    That was ugly


    Last night's budget session can only be described as ugly.

    Ugly on so many different levels:

    - Art Rainwater bullying Lucy Mathiak for asking questions;
    - Moss, Cole, and Winston voting contrary to what they stated on "consolidation" in the campaign;
    - Nickle and diming programs while huge chunks of the budget never get even a casual review;
    - Board members ignoring parents, staff, and taxpayers on issues like coaches in schools and damned near any other issue on the agenda.

    Board members and administrators alike should feel nothing but shame.

    Personally, I'm done. I'm going to do my best never to give the MMSD another serious thought.

    I'm going to tackle easier issues -- global warming, peace between Jews and Arabs, ending the war in Iraq, the end of cheap oil, and other issues where I might actually be able to make a difference.

    As the MMSD heads to decay and dysfunction, I just don't give a damn.

    Posted by Ed Blume at 6:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    2007 / 2008 Budget Approved: School Board keeps Lindbergh open

    Susan Troller:

    Board members tussled over dozens of suggestions to try to find money to return various programs and services to the district that had been cut by the administration in an effort to balance the $339.6 million budget.

    The administration had originally proposed about $8 million in cuts, including $2 million from special education aimed at helping students with speech or language problems, increased class size at the elementary level and closing Lindbergh Elementary and Black Hawk Middle School, and consolidating Marquette and Lapham.

    The board also approved a district proposal to eliminate busing for five Catholic schools in the district, and offer parents a $450 subsidy to transport their children themselves, to save about $230,000. State statutes require that public schools provide transportation for all students in their district. Parents of students at other area private schools take the subsidy in lieu of busing.

    Board member Lucy Mathiak and Superintendent Art Rainwater had several testy exchanges as Mathiak grilled administrators on their programs and expenses.

    "I'm trying to understand why our district requires so many more people in teaching and learning than other districts," Mathiak said.

    "Our priorities since I've been superintendent are highly trained, highly skilled teachers in a small class. After that, we believe in highly trained, highly skilled teachers in front of a large class. We don't believe in poorly trained teachers in small classes," Rainwater said sharply as he defended the Madison district's focus on professional development.

    Board members also disagreed on how aggressively to use projected salary savings, an accounting method that predicts how many teachers will leave the district. Any shortfall would have to come out of the district's equity fund, which some board members feel is dangerously low.

    Andy Hall:
    In a six-plus-hour meeting punctuated by flaring tempers, the board also found ways to stave off most proposed increases in elementary class sizes by raising fees and increasing projected savings in salaries for the 2007-08 school year.

    The board also spared the district's fifth-grade strings program from elimination.

    The moves came as the board balanced the district's $339.6 million budget by cutting $7.9 million from existing services and programs.

    The budget finally was approved just after midnight on a 6-1 vote. Lucy Mathiak was the lone dissenter.

    Board members voted 4-3 to consolidate Marquette and Lapham at Lapham, 1045 E. Dayton St., into a kindergarten through fifth-grade school, while rejecting a proposal from Superintendent Art Rainwater to close Lindbergh, 4500 Kennedy Road. Currently, Lapham hosts K-2 students while Marquette hosts grades three through five.

    Rainwater also had proposed consolidating Black Hawk Middle School into Sherman and O'Keeffe middle schools, but that proposal wasn't adopted.

    Voting for the consolidation of Marquette and Lapham, to save $522,000, were Lawrie Kobza, Arlene Silveira, Beth Moss and Maya Cole. Opposing the measure were Johnny Winston Jr., Carol Carstensen and Mathiak.
    The Madison school board approved the consolidation of Marquette and Lapham elementary schools under next year's budget. The two schools will combine under Lapham's roof, reported WISC-TV.

    Under the budget, Marquette will be used for alternative education programs.

    The school board also approved combining all high school boys golf teams into two and elminated bussing to Wright and Spring Harbor charter schools.

    The moves are all a part of cutting the budget by more than $7 million.

    Many of those linked to affected schools have loudly spoken out in opposition to the closings, and Monday was no exception. Parents and students put their concerns in writing outside the Doyle Administration Building -- children writing in chalk on the ground -- hoping to catch the eye of board members before the meeting inside.

    Brenda Konkel, TJ Mertz and Paul Soglin have more. Paul mentioned:
    "From the debate, the motions and the votes, it seems that all of the rancor over ideological splits in the Madison Metropolitan School Board is irrelevant" given the vote to consolidate Marquette and Lapham schools
    I think the current diversity of viewpoints on the Madison School Board is healthy. Rewind the clock three years and imagine how some of these issues might have played out. Would there have been a public discussion? Would the vote have been 6 - 1, or ? One of the reasons the "spending gap" in the MMSD's $339.6M+ budget was larger this year is due to the Board and Administration's public recognition of the structural deficit. The MMSD's "equity" has declined by half over the past 7 years. More from

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

    Still separate after all these years

    The Economist:

    LARRY BISIG grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, where he went to Catholic school and where he now runs a local marketing firm. He has seen his local school district's history from several angles. In 1975, when a court-ordered desegregation drive began, his public-school friends started waking up at five o'clock to be bussed to new schools across town. His Catholic school made reassuring intercom announcements, saying that the public-school buses had arrived safely—despite the violent protests and threats. And he remembers the sudden influx of new students into his own school, as white Protestant families chose a Catholic education for their children rather than sending them to public school with blacks.

    By the 1990s, however, the Jefferson County school district, which includes Louisville, was far more racially integrated (see chart). Its public schools had also become much more attractive to the white families who had stayed in the district, and Catholic schools had such a hard time keeping students that Mr Bisig's marketing firm began working with some of them to handle the stiffer competition. These days, Jefferson County is eager to keep the racially integrated school system it has created. But that integration—which began with a federal court order driven by Supreme Court precedents—is now under threat from the Supreme Court itself.

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