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June 30, 2007

Schools Banning iPods to Curtail "Widespread" Cheating


Mmm. Seems that before we had iPods, we had tiny sheets of paper that were folded up and hidden in shirt sleeves full of answers. And easily chewable after-the-fact. And we also had kids collecting tests over years and passing them down when teachers were predictable about their tests.

What's really changed? Has iPod really brought the boogey-man into the school? Or are we forgetting simple things? Forgetting the past? The paper version of the past?

Leaves me to wonder something else. Why are the MP3s allowed to be ON and/or the earphones/buds IN the students ears or near their vision?

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


Susan Moore Johnson:

Presidents of 30 local teachers unions in six states speak candidly about their views on a number of education issues, revealing that they are focused on far more than the traditional union priorities of wages, hours, working conditions, and due process for their members.

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Don’t Mourn Brown v. Board of Education

Juan Williams:

LET us now praise the Brown decision. Let us now bury the Brown decision.

With yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling ending the use of voluntary schemes to create racial balance among students, it is time to acknowledge that Brown’s time has passed. It is worthy of a send-off with fanfare for setting off the civil rights movement and inspiring social progress for women, gays and the poor. But the decision in Brown v. Board of Education that focused on outlawing segregated schools as unconstitutional is now out of step with American political and social realities.

Desegregation does not speak to dropout rates that hover near 50 percent for black and Hispanic high school students. It does not equip society to address the so-called achievement gap between black and white students that mocks Brown’s promise of equal educational opportunity.

And the fact is, during the last 20 years, with Brown in full force, America’s public schools have been growing more segregated — even as the nation has become more racially diverse. In 2001, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that the average white student attends a school that is 80 percent white, while 70 percent of black students attend schools where nearly two-thirds of students are black and Hispanic.

Juan Williams, a senior correspondent for NPR and a political analyst for Fox News Channel, is the author of “Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America.”

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College seems out of reach to most Latinos

Tyche Hendricks:

San Leandro High School senior Veronica Santana strode across the stage in a scarlet cap and gown to receive her high school diploma at a graduation ceremony earlier this month on the hillside campus of Cal State East Bay.

Come September, Veronica, 17, will join her older sister Erika at the Hayward campus overlooking San Francisco Bay and become part of the first generation of college students in her family. It's a point of pride for the girls' parents, a retired factory worker and a hair stylist, both Mexican immigrants who studied no further than middle school.

Attending college sets Veronica and her 20-year-old sister apart from most of the state's Latinos, who are expected to become a majority of California's population in another generation, according to state estimates, but who currently have the lowest levels of education of any racial or ethnic group in California.

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

June 29, 2007

Patrons’ Sway Leads to Friction in Charter School

David Herszenhorn:

The Beginning With Children Charter School, housed in a former factory in Brooklyn, landed on the state’s list of high-performing schools this year, thanks to rising English and math test scores among black and Hispanic students.

But its founders and wealthy patrons, Joseph H. and Carol F. Reich, who have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the school, think it could be better. “It’s above average,” said Mr. Reich, 72, “but considering the effort and the capability and the resources, we don’t feel we’re getting the best we can.”

So last month, the couple — threatening to cut ties, including financial support — forced most of the school’s trustees to resign in a push for wide management changes, and better student achievement.

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'Time of healing' needed in Palo Alto school district

Consultants warn of 'escalated hostility' if Board of Education, superintendent don't address dysfunctional management practices

Susan Hong:

New Palo Alto schools' Superintendent Kevin Skelly and the Palo Alto Board of Education ought to spearhead a "time of healing" in the school district, consultants Geoff Ball and Associates advised the school board Tuesday night.

The recommendation -- and numerous others -- were outlined in a report commissioned to assess allegations from the Palo Alto Management Association (PAMA) that outgoing Superintendent Mary Frances Callan and her senior cabinet members treated employees unfairly.

Overall, the report found, the district lacks clarity on decision making, meeting management and purposes and is confused about the relative roles of the school board, superintendent and managers, consultants said.

Palo Alto School District. Interestingly, Palo Alto has a High School Task Force underway. The 17 member task force includes a student, 4 teachers and 4 parents among others. There are no University level Ed school folks present, unlike Madison's.

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MG considers a block schedule: Proposal eyes 4 periods a day

Karyn Saemann:

A decade after dismissing the idea, Monona Grove High School is once again eyeing a block schedule.

The Monona Grove School Board may be asked next month to consider an alternating block schedule beginning in the fall of 2008 in which each day has four 95-minute periods. The school currently has eight 47-minute periods.

Under the proposal, students would still take eight classes per semester because each class would meet every other day. Over two weeks, students would see each teacher five times.

The board will meet July 12 at 7 p.m. at the district office, 5301 Monona Drive.

Such a schedule is a bit different from a straight block used at Madison La Follette. In a straight block, students typically take four classes per term, meeting every day for 90 minutes.

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Cyber-bullying gathers pace in US


One third of US online teenagers have been victims of cyber-bullying according to research by the Pew Internet Project.

The most common complaint from teens was about private information being shared rather than direct threats.

Girls were more likely than boys to be targets and teens who share their identities online are the most vulnerable, the survey found.

But teenagers still think that the majority of bullying happens offline.

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Union to Help Charter Firm Start School in the Bronx

Jennifer Medina:

Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school operator from Los Angeles, is seeking to expand into New York with the cooperation of the teachers’ union.

Under the proposal, Green Dot, which is heavily financed by the billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, would open a high school in the South Bronx. The school, which must be approved by the state, would become one of only a handful of charter schools in the city to use a union contract.

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Special Ed Students in NYC Lag in Entering Mainstream

Jennifer Medina:

New York City lags behind the rest of the state in placing special education students into mainstream classrooms, the state said yesterday.

While other school systems across the state have significantly increased the number of students who attend classes in schools with mainstream students, the number of students in separate schools — spending all their time with other special education students — has been mostly stagnant in the city, according to a report released by the state’s Board of Regents.

The report, issued annually, cited modest gains in test scores and graduation rates for special education students statewide, though officials acknowledged that the results were “disturbing.”

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Supreme Court Limits Use of Race to Achieve Diversity in Schools

Robert Barnes [PDF Opinion]:

A splintered Supreme Court today threw out school desegregation plans from Seattle and Louisville, but without a majority holding that race can never be considered as school districts try to ensure racially diverse populations.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. authored the most important opinion of his two terms leading the court. He held that both plans, which categorize students on the basis of race and use that in making school assignments, violate the constitution's promise of equal protection, even if the goal is integration of the schools.

"The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," Roberts wrote.

He was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. But Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who agreed with the four in striking down the desegregation plans, would not go as far as Roberts in ruling out racial considerations.

"Parts of the opinion by the Chief Justice imply an all-too-unyielding insistence that race cannot be a factor in instances when, in my view, it may be taken into account," Kennedy wrote. "The plurality opinion is too dismissive of the legitimate interest government has in ensuring all people have equal opportunity regardless of their race."

The court's four liberals delivered a scathing dissent -- twice as long as Roberts's opinion. It said the plurality's decision was, in the words of Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who read his opposition from the bench, a "cruel distortion" of the court's landmark decision more than 50 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education, which demanded an end to segregated schools.

Links & Commentary:
  • David Stout:
    n the hours after the ruling, reaction varied greatly, with some groups denouncing it as virtually inviting a return to the days of segregation, and others asserting that it need not be seen that way, in view of Justice Kennedy’s unwillingness to fully embrace Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion.

    The rationale of the chief justice’s opinion relied in part on the historic 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education that outlawed segregation in public schools — a factor that the dissenters on the court found to be a cruel irony, and which they objected to in emotional terms.

    Chief Justice Roberts said the officials in Seattle and in Jefferson County, Ky., which includes Louisville, had failed to show that their plans considered race in the context of a larger educational concept, and therefore did not pass muster.

    “In the present cases,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, recalling words from an earlier Supreme Court ruling, “race is not considered as part of a broader effort to achieve ‘exposure to widely diverse people, cultures, ideas, and viewpoints.’ ”

  • Robert Tomsho: More Schools Likely to Spur
    Diversity via Income.
    By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court struck down voluntary school desegregation efforts in Louisville, Ky., and Seattle. The vote "will encourage districts now using race to shift to income," says Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a New York-based think tank. (See related article.)

    Income-based plans began spreading in the 1990s as race-based policies came under growing pressure in the federal courts. Most seek to limit the percentage of low-income students in any one school by dispersing them beyond their neighborhood schools and assigning higher-income students to schools with a lower-income profile. The programs generally identify low-income students as those qualifying for the federal free- and reduced-price lunch program.

  • Sherrilyn Ifill: Supreme Disappointment
  • TJ Mertz: "Sad Day, the End of an Era"
  • Joanne Jacobs
  • Andy Hall notes some local commentary:
    Art Rainwater, superintendent of Madison's public schools, said none of the district's school-assignment policies would be directly affected by Thursday's decision, because the district relies upon criteria other than race -- particularly poverty -- when drawing school boundaries. And it uses poverty and concentrations of special-education students and students with limited English proficiency when staffing the schools.

    "In general, we don't do anything based on race in our district," Rainwater said.

  • Nina Totenberg:
    In a decision with profound implications for the nation's public schools, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated two voluntary desegregation plans because they used race in some students' school assignments in an effort to end racial isolation or prevent re-segregation.
  • Wall Street Journal Opinion
  • Cato:
    "Racial integration advocates will be frustrated and discouraged by today's Supreme Court ruling striking down the racial assignment programs of Louisville and Seattle. They shouldn't be. These were not only the right rulings constitutionally, they were also right educationally and socially. The belief that involuntary, race-based student assignment promotes socially and educationally valuable interaction among white and minority students finds little empirical support."
Q & A on the decision.

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June 28, 2007

Study: Federal Tutoring Helping Students

Nancy Zuckerbrod:

Taxpayer-funded tutoring for poor children is paying off in some city schools, a federal study has found. Students who received the tutoring under the federal No Child Left Behind law improved on reading and math tests, according to the study conducted by independent researchers for the Department of Education and released Wednesday.

Students in schools that fail to hit academic targets for three years in a row are given free tutoring under the 2002 education law.

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The new school year

Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira:

This is the first in a series of articles focusing on the Madison School Board. The purpose is to familiarize you with who we are, how we do our work, and how we can work together to keep the Madison Metropolitan School District strong.


July 1 marks the start of the 2007-08 fiscal school year. For the Madison School Board, this will be a year filled with many challenges and tremendous opportunities. We are coming off several rocky months.

State-imposed revenue caps forced us to make budget cuts that will affect every school and student in the District. Special interest groups lobbied for specific schools and programs for their children and sometimes found themselves pitted against other groups. Decisions had to be made where there were no good choices. In addition, the public was divided on the naming of a new school. As a community we were fragmented in actions yet united in our belief that quality schools are vital for the future of our children and society.

A new year provides us with an opportunity to look ahead and make plans to move the District forward. As a Board, we are committed to working hard to make this happen. We have set our Board priorities for the year, all integral to the success of our District and our community.

Our single most important priority is to hire a new Superintendent to lead our District. This will be an exciting process, directed by the Board, that will involve staff and the community in developing a leadership profile for the new Superintendent and the future of our District. Ways in which you can participate in this effort will soon be announced.

In other priorities, we will evaluate the need and weigh the options for going to another referendum in order to eliminate painful budget cuts again next year. We will consider revisions to the Board’s equity policy and the development of guidelines to implement this policy. We will develop specific, measurable goals to evaluate student progress and success. We will study and address the issues that affect educational environment and student achievement such as attendance, dropouts, truancy, expulsions and bullying.

The priorities I have listed above are educational issues. I also believe we need to demonstrate consistency in the decision-making process. The community must understand how the Board makes decisions, and at the same time, the Board must listen to what the community values in public education. This year you will see a proactive effort by our Board to collect information from the community and strengthen the school-community partnerships.

As Board President, what are my thoughts? I know there are challenges ahead of us, many of which are caused by inadequate state funding for schools. I know we have a strong foundation, with talented staff committed to the children of our District. I know we have a community who believes our children are our future. I know that a strong public school system is central to a thriving community.

You have my commitment that as a Board we will work hard to focus our discussions and actions on finding creative, collaborative and positive approaches and solutions to the challenges facing us. A School Board working together in partnership with the community can prevail and succeed not only for our nearly 25,000 children but for the entire Madison Metropolitan School District. Happy New School Year. I look forward to working with you.

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Montgomery, MD Superintendent Says NCLB is Lowering Standards: "Shooting Way too Low"

Daniel de Vise:

Thanks, Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said yesterday that the federal No Child Left Behind law has created a culture that has education leaders nationwide "shooting way too low" and that it has spawned a generation of statewide tests that are too easy to pass.

In a meeting with Washington Post editors and reporters, Weast said the federal mandate, with its push for 100 percent proficiency on state tests, has driven states toward lower standards that don't prepare most students for college or careers.

"I think we've got to adjust up," he said. "Or at least give some flexibility for those who would like to adjust up."

Although some states, including Maryland, have been praised for holding children to comparatively high standards, Weast said the state curriculum, the statewide Maryland School Assessment and the High School Assessment all measure a minimal level of academic proficiency. The reason, he said, is that Maryland and most other states have leaders who want their kids "to look good" on such assessments.

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Blacks in Fairfax, Montgomery Outdo U.S. Peers in AP

Daniel de Vise:

Black students in Montgomery and Fairfax high schools are far more successful in Advanced Placement testing than their peers in nine of the 10 school systems in the nation with the largest black populations, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Participation in the AP program has more than doubled in 10 years. But this surge in college-preparatory testing has not reached most African American students, according to a review of 2006 exam results in 30 school systems with about 5,000 or more black high school students.

Still, black students in both Montgomery and Fairfax counties passed AP tests in spring 2006 at the rate of more than eight tests for every 100 black students enrolled in the high school grades, the analysis found.

That is far greater than the success rate of African Americans nationwide, who produced about one passing AP test for every 100 students. None of the other school systems studied produced successful AP tests at even half the rate of Maryland's and Virginia's largest school systems.

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Wisconsin "Languishing" on Policies Affecting Teachers

National Council on Teacher Quality: [864K PDF Report]

Area 1 – Meeting NCLB Teacher Quality Objectives: Grade C
Wisconsin has better data policies than many states, which can help it ameliorate inequities in teacher assignments. The state’s subject matter preparation policies for future elementary teachers need improvement. Its requirements for future high school teachers are adequate, but its expectations for middle school teachers are insufficient. The state also needs to define a subject matter major. Wisconsin is phasing out the use of its HOUSSE route.
Area 2 – Teacher Licensure Grade F
Wisconsin’s teaching standards do not clearly refer to the knowledge and skills that new teachers must have before entering the classroom. State policies do not ensure that teachers are prepared in the science of reading instruction. New teachers are allowed to teach for up to two years before passing state licensure tests. The state needs to reduce its obstacles to licensure for out of state teachers. Wisconsin does not recognize distinct levels of academic caliber at the time of initial certification for new teachers.
Area 3 – Teacher Evaluation and Compensation Grade D
While Wisconsin’s minimal teacher evaluation guidelines require subjective observations, they do not ensure that evaluations are based primarily on a preponderance of evidence of classroom effectiveness that includes objective measures. Teacher accountability is further undermined by only requiring evaluations once every three years, by a lack of value-added data, and by not ensuring districts wait five years prior to granting teachers tenure. The state does not burden districts with a minimum salary schedule.
Area 4 – State Approval of Teacher Preparation Programs Grade D
Wisconsin does not do enough to hold its programs accountable for the quality of their preparation. It has failed to address their tendency to require excessive amounts of professional coursework. Wisconsin does require applicants to pass a basic skills test and has a sensible accreditation policy.
Area 5 – Alternate Routes to Certification Grade F
Wisconsin does not currently provide a genuine alternate route into the teaching profession. The alternate routes the state offers have serious structural flaws combined with low and inflexible admissions standards. Wisconsin does not ensure that programs do not require excessive coursework, and it does not ensure adequate support is provided to new teachers. In addition, the state collects little objective performance data from alternate route programs and does not use the data to hold programs accountable for the quality of their teachers. Wisconsin has a restrictive policy regarding licensure reciprocity for teachers from out of state who were prepared in an alternate route program, making it difficult for some teachers to transfer their licenses.
Area 6 – Preparation of Special Education Teachers Grade D
Wisconsin’s standards for special education teachers do not ensure that teachers will be well prepared to teach students with disabilities. The state places no limit on the amount of professional education coursework that its teacher preparation programs can require of special education candidates, resulting in program excesses. While elementary special education teachers are required to pass a subject matter test, this policy does not sufficiently ensure that candidates will have the knowledge relevant to all of the topics they will have to teach. The state’s secondary special education candidates are likely to finish their preparation program highly qualified in at least one subject area, but the state has not developed a streamlined HOUSSE route to help them meet additional subject matter requirements once they are in the classroom.
Wisconsin DPI's Tony Evers comments via
Deputy state superintendent Tony Evers attributes the state's low marks to a difference in philosophy over teacher education. The state believes in a mixture of subject matter, such as English and science, and courses on how to teach, while the council wants more of an emphasis on content.

Evers also said that the report represented only a superficial view and he took particular issue with a D grade for Wisconsin's preparation of special education teachers.

He said that teachers in that area are so well-trained that there is a problem with other states recruiting them away.

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Reshaping the Portland, Oregon Public Schools Summit

Portland Public Schools:

On May 16 and 17, Portland Public Schools, in partnership with the American Institute of Architects along with our sponsors, Innovation Partnership, Comcast, the City of Portland, the Portland Schools Foundation and PGE, held a community summit to identify ideas, explore possibilities and develop a set of guiding principles regarding the nature of Portland Schools Facilities.

Over 200 Portland citizens attended the two-day summit representing a cross section of the community including creatives, teachers, community activists, students, administrators, parents, business leaders, architects, contractors, developers and governmental leaders. They were engaged by speakers from the United Kingdom, New Orleans, Palo Alto, Cincinnati, and Washington D.C. with cutting edge thinking.
Christian has more:
In my opinion? Probably the most impressive effort of a city trying to re-imagine the entire concept of 'school' across its entire urban complex. And even more impressive that what started as a consideration of building a few new schools has become a re-imagination of 'learning' and communities on a much deeper level.

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June 27, 2007

Students Map Bus Routes with GPS - and Eliminate one Route

John Lyon:

A project by three Harrisburg High School students to map school bus routes using satellite technology drew accolades Tuesday from state lawmakers who said the project could serve as a model for the rest of Arkansas.

In testimony before the legislative Academic Facilities Oversight Committee, students Ryan Murphy, Jon Thompson and Morgan Reddmann described their project to use Global Positioning System, or GPS, satellite images to map the bus routes in the Harrisburg School District.

The maps will help the district maximize efficiency, minimize students' travel time and promote safety, the students said.

The students are enrolled in the Environmental And Spatial Technology, or EAST, program, in which students create projects that combine math, science and technology.

Because of the students' work, the school district expects to eliminate one bus route in the coming school year. The students said they compared bus routes and the locations of students' homes and found ways to shorten and consolidate trips.

Classic "Cathedral and Bazaar" approach. Clusty GPS search.

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East student injured; principal pushed

RELEASE DETAILS FOR CASE# 2007-72110: Arrested Juvenile
Case Date:06/25/07 Case Time:12:19 PM
Release Date:06/26/07 Release Time: 9:55 AM
Released By: PIO Joel DeSpain
Address 2222 E. Washington Ave. (East High School)
Arrested person/suspect Male, Age 14, Madison
Tentative Charges: Batter to a School Official, Battery, and Disorderly Conduct
Male, Age 16, Madison
Tentative Charges: Substantial Battery, Disorderly Conduct
Male, Age 16, Madison
Tentative Charges: Substantial Battery, Disorderly Conduct
Male, Age 15, Madison
Tentative Charges: Violation of a Restraining Order, Disorderly Conduct
Victim/Injuries Male, Age 15, Madison
Taken to a local hospital with multiple cuts/bruises and possible broken arm
Details On June 25th, starting at 12:20 p.m., 7 Madison Police Officers were sent to Madison East High School for a fight. Four teens were arrested. They had teamed up against a 15 year old. One suspect indicated the victim had said something about his mother. He did not like the comment. In the course of the scuffle a Principal was pushed to the ground, and a security guard was jostled. At one point some of the teens rolled down a staircase and the victim's arm was injured.

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One class, many incredible journeys

Erin Einhorn:

The Daily News spent two months tracking down the 23 kindergarteners who enrolled at Harlem's PS 36 in 1994. Their journeys illuminate hardships students face in earning their high school degree.

They were smart children who tested into a gifted kindergarten at Harlem's Public School 36 in 1994, but Lance Patterson and Ronnie Rodriguez would each fall in with the wrong crowd.

Lance would be arrested. Ronnie would join a gang.

Their challenges were similar, but they've ended up in very different places. One has a mother who will watch him don a cap and gown this week. The other has a mom who blames herself.

"I should have kept a closer eye on him," Sandra Lugo said of her son, Ronnie. "I should have been on him maybe a little harder, been a little stricter."

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KIPP's Mysterious Tale of Three Cities

Jay Matthews:

Houston, where KIPP was born in 1994, and New Orleans, the site of a preliminary KIPP program before Katrina hit in September 2005, have been welcoming KIPP's attempts to find more space for families who want a challenging public education for their children. The children who enrolled in KIPP NOW, all of them low-income and 99 percent of them African American, showed what good teaching and longer days could do, even in less than ideal conditions.

I am going to cite scores from nationally standardized tests, many of them given by KIPP teachers to diagnose students' learning problems without oversight from state officials. These results have to be treated cautiously, but they are similar to KIPP results in dozens of other schools around the country and look legitimate to me. In their first year in Houston, KIPP NOW students did very well. For instance, first graders jumped from the 18th to the 43rd percentile in reading, sixth graders from the 19th to the 66th percentile in math and eighth graders from the 21st to the 40th percentile in reading.

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Organizational Life Cycles

Tom Peters:

Extract "lessons learned" or "best practices."
Thicken the Book of Rules.
Become evermore serious.
Enforce the rules to increasingly tight tolerances.
Go on defense.
Install walls.
Protect-at-all-costs today's franchise.
Install taller walls.
Write more rules.
Become irrelevant and-or die.
Peters has a useful quote from Eleanor Roosevelt contained within the above link.

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Florida's "Flawed Special Ed Vouchers"

Sara Mead:

Students with disabilities have long had the right, under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), to attend private schools at public expense if the public schools in their community are unable to provide them with appropriate special educational services. But less than 1 percent of students with disabilities have such private placements, in part because these placements can be costly, complicated, and time-consuming to obtain under the existing law.

Florida's popular McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program seeks to tilt the balance in these students’ favor. The program provides parents with an alternative to expensive legal proceedings and complicated bureaucracy—a voucher that they can use at a public or private school of their choice. Florida's legislature approved the program in 1999 and named it after a then-state senator, John McKay, who is also the father of a special-needs child.

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June 26, 2007

Educators react strongly to study citing Milwaukee in high turnover of young teachers

Alan Borsuk:

Nicole Campeau is heading to Arizona after a year teaching in Milwaukee Public Schools for which, she says, no education program could have prepared her.

Jenni Gavin is staying as an MPS teacher after "the most rewarding and exhausting 2 1/2 years of my life."

The national study listed leadership of a school as a key factor in making or breaking new teachers, and Campeau said her experience fit that.

In an interview, she said that in the classroom, "I was a referee. I was breaking up fights constantly. I was doing little to no teaching."

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Key Special Education Legislation & School Climate

Click for a larger version

The recent Wall Street Journal article "Mainstreaming Trend Tests Classroom Goals" by John Hechinger included some useful charts along with a look at Key US Special Education Legislation:

  • 1966—Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Amendments): Creates Bureau of Education of the Handicapped. Establishes federal grants to help educate special-needs students with disabilities in local schools rather than state institutions. At left, President Lyndon Johnson with the first lady at the signing.
  • 1975—Education for All Handicapped Children Act: Requires school districts receiving federal funds to provide a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment to special-needs children.

    Mandates creation of an individualized education program (IEP) for such students. Establishes procedures for parents to challenge related decisions about their children.

  • 1990—Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Revised and renamed version of 1975 law adds autism and traumatic brain injury to categories of special education. Calls for transition services to help older students prepare for post-secondary education, employment and independent living.
  • 1997—IDEA reauthorization: Expands school administrators authority to discipline special education students in certain situations to include removal to alternative education settings for up to 45 days. Prohibits cutting off educational services to special-education students who are expelled.
  • 2002—No Child Left Behind Act: Requires all students to take annual assessment tests although states can make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities. Special-education teachers must be "highly qualified" in core subjects they teach. At left, President Bush talking up the law at an Arkansas school.
  • 2002—No Child Left Behind Act: Requires all students to take annual assessment tests although states can make reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities. Special-education teachers must be "highly qualified" in core subjects they teach. At left, President Bush talking up the law at an Arkansas school.
  • 2004—IDEA reauthorization: Requires all special education teachers to hold at least a bachelors degree and full state certification. Places a two-year statute of limitations on parents ability file a complaint or request a hearing regarding childs treatment.

    Requires review of relevant records by parents and school officials within 10 days of a childs change of placement for disciplinary reasons.

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Challenging the High School "Challenge Index"

Sara Mead and Andrew Rotherham:

Until a few years ago, America's elementary and secondary schools generally escaped our national obsession with lists. Almost every week another ranking of best communities, most beautiful people or top hospitals is published.

But in 1998 Newsweek, which is owned by The Washington Post, began publishing a list of "The 100 Best High Schools in America." The ranking is based on "The Challenge Index," a measure developed by Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews. The list, published annually the past few years, has become increasingly influential. Other media outlets now cover it like a horserace, and high schools all over the country are reacting to the scrutiny.

Unfortunately, the Challenge Index is a flawed proxy for America's "best" high schools. Using publicly available student performance data, we have found that many schools in Newsweek's ranking have high dropout rates or glaring achievement gaps between racial and ethnic groups. At the same time, many schools that fail to make the Newsweek list may be doing a better job educating all of their students.

The Challenge Index is a simple measure: It's the number of Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), and Cambridge tests a high school's students take, divided by its number of graduating seniors. This simplicity is both its primary virtue and fatal flaw.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:31 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Birth Order and Intelligence

Petter Kristensen and Tor Bjerkedal:

Negative associations between birth order and intelligence level have been found in numerous studies. The explanation for this relation is not clear, and several hypotheses have been suggested. One family of hypotheses suggests that the relation is due to more-favorable family interaction and stimulation of low-birth-order children, whereas others claim that the effect is caused by prenatal gestational factors. We show that intelligence quotient (IQ) score levels among nearly 250,000 military conscripts were dependent on social rank in the family and not on birth order as such, providing support for a family interaction explanation.
Benedict Carey:
The average difference in I.Q. was slight — three points higher in the eldest child than in the closest sibling — but significant, the researchers said. And they said the results made it clear that it was due to family dynamics, not to biological factors like prenatal environment.

Researchers have long had evidence that firstborns tended to be more dutiful and cautious than their siblings, and some previous studies found significant I.Q. differences. But critics said those reports were not conclusive, because they did not take into account the vast differences in upbringing among families.

Three points on an I.Q. test may not sound like much. But experts say it can be a tipping point for some people — the difference between a high B average and a low A, for instance. That, in turn, can have a cumulative effect that could mean the difference between admission to an elite private liberal-arts college and a less exclusive public one.

Carey's followup article:
Dr. Trapnell compared this process to the so-called jigsaw approach used in classrooms, in which complex projects are divided up and each child becomes an expert in a particular task and instructs the others.

Younger siblings often have something more to pass on than the tricks of their favorite hobby, or the philosophy behind their social charm. Evidence suggests that younger siblings are more likely than older ones to take risks based on their knowledge and instincts.

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Mandarin 2.0: How Skype, podcasts and broadband are transforming language teaching

The Economist Technology & Education:

IT IS early evening in Berkeley, California, and Chrissy Schwinn, a sinophile environmentalist, walks ten feet from her kitchen to her home office for her Chinese lesson. She has already listened to that day's dialogue, which arrived as a free podcast, on her iPod. She has also printed out the day's Chinese characters, which arrived along with the podcast. Now her computer's Skype software—which makes possible free phone calls via the internet—rings and “Vera”, sitting in Shanghai where it is late morning, says Ni hao to begin the lesson.

One might call it “language-learning 2.0,” says Ken Carroll, an Irishman who in 2005 co-founded Praxis, the company that provides Ms Schwinn's service, after hearing about these “Web 2.0” technologies from his slightly geekier co-founders, Hank Horkoff, a Canadian, and Steve Williams, a Briton. The penny dropped at once.

Praxis Language www sites and rss feeds: Chinese | Spanish.

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Prepare for the SAT Test, or Play With Your iPod? Have It Both Ways

Maria Aspan:

Three interactive programs from Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions are for sale at iTunes for downloading to iPods with video screens. The programs were released last week, giving vacationing students plenty of time for practice quizzes before the next test date in October.

The three programs, in critical reading, mathematics and writing, correspond to the three graded sections of the exam. The programs cost $4.99 each and are available in the iPod games section of the iTunes store alongside slightly more entertaining, if less educational, options like Tetris, Pac-Man and Lost: The Game.

“Learning styles have changed a lot since Stanley Kaplan founded Kaplan in 1938,” said Kristen Campbell, the national director of SAT and ACT programs for Kaplan. “Students take their iPods with them all the time, whether they’re in a car driving to baseball practice, or at home, or sitting at school waiting for their parents to come and pick them up.”

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June 25, 2007

Mainstreaming" Trend Tests Classroom Goals

John Hechinger:

The strategy backfired. One morning, Andrea swept an arm along the teacher's desk, scattering framed photos of Ms. McDermott's family across the classroom. A glass frame shattered, and another hit a student in the arm. Though no one was hurt, Ms. McDermott says she lost hours of instruction time getting the children to settle down after the disruption.

From the first weeks of school, Ms. McDermott found Andrea's plight heartbreaking. "No! No! No!" she remembers her student screaming at times. "Want Mommy! Want Mommy!"

"She looked at me, like she was saying, 'Help me,' and I couldn't. How could I possibly give Andrea what she needs?"

Years ago, students like Andrea would have been taught in separate classrooms. Today, a national movement to "mainstream" special-education students has integrated many of them into the general student body. As a result, regular teachers are instructing more children with severe disabilities -- often without extra training or support.

This year, Ms. McDermott counted 19 students in her class at Whittier Elementary School. Five had disabilities, including attention deficit disorder and delays in reading and math. The teacher worried that she was failing all her students -- especially Andrea. "It used to be a joy to go to work," she says. "Now all I want to do is run away."

In Scranton and elsewhere, the rush to mainstream disabled students is alienating teachers and driving some of the best from the profession. It has become a little-noticed but key factor behind teacher turnover, which experts say largely accounts for a shortage of qualified teachers in the U.S.

More on mainstreaming.

Background: Special Education Legal history and a few charts/graphs.

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More city children get extra help for kindergarten

Andy Hall:

Record numbers of Madison children -- and their parents -- this summer are enrolled in programs aiming to make sure children are ready when they begin kindergarten.

The significant rise in publicly and privately funded kindergarten-readiness efforts is an investment that will pay off, educators and parents say, in students' higher rates of success in school and as adults.

"My daughter needs to learn lots of things," said Claudia Diaz, who has signed up for a new privately funded program called KinderReady with her daughter, Michelle Villegas-Diaz, 3.

"And if I learn these, in the future Michelle is going to be a better person."

While Diaz and her daughter are receiving help at home and at a day-care center, record numbers of incoming kindergartners are heading off to summer school across Madison.

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School co-founder, teacher wins scholarship

Erica Perez:

Just before Owen started ninth grade in Texas, she testified against her father, sending him to prison after years of sexual abuse.

She took a risk and wrote that story for an assignment in ninth-grade English class. But her teacher gave her an "F," telling her not to talk about it.

"Ironically, I ended up teaching ninth-grade English," Owen said. "I wanted to be different as a teacher. I wanted to be someone that students could talk to."

Owen went on to do just that, co-founding a school in Milwaukee as a haven for bullied and harassed students. And now, she has won a national scholarship for her efforts, paving the way for her to help others form similar schools across the country.

Owen, who helped start The Alliance School on W. Galena St. in 2005, is one of 38 undergraduate and graduate students in the nation to win scholarships this year from the Point Foundation. The Los Angeles-based non-profit has honored outstanding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students for six years.

While the majority of the students who attend The Alliance School are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, the campus serves any student who struggled in the traditional high school environment because of harassment, intimidation or abuse.

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New Jersey has become the new front in the fight for school vouchers

The Economist:

Now some supporters of school vouchers, frustrated with state legislators, are testing a new tactic: going to court. Last July a group of parents in New Jersey filed a lawsuit against the state and 25 poorly performing districts. In Crawford v Davy they are arguing that since public schools deny students their constitutional right to a proper education, the court should refund their money so they can spend it at any school they choose. This is not the first attempt to use courts to permit the use of vouchers: similar efforts failed in Illinois and California, for example. But in New Jersey, such a suit might actually succeed. New Jersey's courts have no qualms about meddling in education—they have been doing so for decades.

In 1973 the New Jersey Supreme Court said the government was failing to provide poor children with the “thorough and efficient” education guaranteed by the state constitution, and that the school-funding formula must change. Since a 1985 case, Abbott v Burke, the court has issued rulings laying out its remedy in detail: the state must send more money to poor school-districts, so that their budgets match those of the state's highest-spending areas.

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Small Companies That Try to Bring New Technology to Teaching

James Flanigan:

Those three companies along with 27 others are members of the Northwest Education Cluster, a four-year-old organization in the Portland area that holds quarterly meetings at which these entrepreneurial companies can share ideas on directing sales efforts to school districts and teachers’ conventions, or on the intricacies of staffing, finances and other routines of managing a company.

Most Cluster members are relatively small. Vernier Software has $30 million in revenue and 75 employees; has under $20 million in revenue and 50 employees; and Saltire has $1 million in revenue and nine employees.

Saltire, which often works on grants from the National Science Foundation, wants to expand use of its geometry program in high schools across the nation. “That’s where the big market for scientific calculators is today,” said Philip Todd, Saltire’s founder.

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June 24, 2007

MMSD student/teacher assaults/injuries 2006-2007

Madison Parent:

Details of the data behind the “School assaults, by the numbers” item (thank you, Bill Lueders) in this week’s Isthmus are posted here (sorted by school name), and here (subtotals of incidents by school type). The reports included incidents through June 4, 2007, so any incidents that occurred during the final fortnight of the school year aren’t included. There are a couple of entries whose dates predate the school year and may be typos, but they are replicated as is.

Student-on-student assault/injury information is not included in these reports, nor do these reports include incidents of verbal threats of violence against staff (even those serious enough to result in the issuance of a restraining order). Police were called in only 13 of the 224 incidents. We don’t know whether there is a district-wide policy that requires that all such incidents be reported, and, if there is, whether the policy is followed consistently from school to school. I concur with the commenters at School Information System that this is only a part of the picture, that we need to know more, and that we need to do more.

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Governor's Graduation Speeches

Pauline Vu:

Most Popular: Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine (D), who — with eight commencement speeches — far out-orated his fellow governors.

Most Unique: Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), who delivered an address to a graduating class of one.

Class Clown: Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R), who drew laughs from Southern Utah University students for his frank talk about the bottom line: “Cost of tuition for a semester at SUU: $1,800. Cost of textbooks for that semester: $400. The looks on your family members’ faces when you’ve finally reached today: priceless.”

This year at least 22 governors — 15 Democrats and seven Republicans — made the commencement rounds to laud graduates.

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Insurance coverage teachers' top priority

John Matthews:

The union is obligated to represent its members interests. The union surveyed its members prior to entering bargaining and the members spoke loudly and clearly: Retain our health insurance options.

MTI members value Wisconsin Physicians Service because it enables freedom of choice in medical providers. And MTI members value the services of Group Health Cooperative. However, both GHC and WPS coverage would be in jeopardy under the district's proposal.

GHC has the option of increasing its premium by 2 percent for each additional HMO offered by the district. Adding other HMOs would undercut the financial base of employees necessary to maintain the foundation of the WPS option.

Insurance is supposed to assure economic stability. Revenue controls undercut this basic principal of employment benefits, as it causes even the best intentioned individuals to think about reducing the quality of insurance to provide wages. MTI members have not been willing to take that risk.

Lawrie Kobza's statement. Madison School Board discussion & vote on the recent MTI Teacher contract. Matthews is Executive Director of Madison Teachers, Inc. and sits on the Board of Wisconsin Physicians Service.

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Schools Pinched in Hiring

Michael Alison Chandler:

"It's not that you don't have some terrifically talented people going into teaching. You do," said Richard J. Murnane, an economist at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. "The issue is that you don't have enough. And many are the most likely to leave teaching, because they have lots of other opportunities."

A study co-written by Murnane and published this year reports that minorities and poor children are most likely to be taught by teachers with weak academic backgrounds or little preparation. Overall, the proportion of women who pursue teaching after college, as well as the caliber of recruits, has declined significantly since the 1960s.

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The High School Kinship of Cristal and Queen

Sara Rimer:

The Dominican boys in the back of the freshman English class at the high school in Washington Heights were making fun of the timid African-American girl, Queen Bond. One of the boys got down on one knee in front of her as if he were Romeo — they had been studying “Romeo and Juliet” — and delivered the final crushing insult.

“He was saying something about that I smelled,” recalled Queen, now 17. “I just put my head down. I started crying.”

Then something remarkable happened, she said: “Cristal stood up.” Cool, streetwise, 4-foot-11-inch Cristal Pimentel.

“This short, like, two-foot-tall person is standing up to these guys who are up to the ceiling,” Queen said. “She’s screaming, getting angry, waving her arms. She stood up, she defended me. No one ever stood up for me in that way.

“I’m, like, ‘Wow, this girl is the most beautiful person.’ ”

For four years now, Queen and Cristal have been a team: two teenage girls who are striving to make something of themselves in the face of tremendous adversity.

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June 23, 2007

Cut Costs for Teacher Health Insurance (Or Not)

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The district proposed to add two more HMO options for teachers. If a teacher chose any of the three HMO options, the district would pay the full premium. But if a teacher chose the high-cost WPS option, the district would pay only up to the cost of the highest-priced HMO plan. The teacher would be responsible for the remainder.

The change would have saved the district enough money to permit salaries to increase 2.8 percent, rather than 1 percent.

Madison Teachers Inc., however, resisted. Although bargaining units for food service workers, custodians and other district employees had accepted similar changes to their health insurance plans, the teachers union preferred to sacrifice higher pay to maintain the WPS health insurance option.

The School Board's mistake was to cave in to the union's position. While the cost to taxpayers was the same whether money was devoted to health insurance or salaries, it was in the district's long-term interest to control health insurance costs and shift more money to salaries.

Audio / Video and links of the Madison School Board's discussion and vote on this matter.

Lawrie Kobza's statement.

MTI's John Matthews offers a different perspective:

he union is obligated to represent its members interests. The union surveyed its members prior to entering bargaining and the members spoke loudly and clearly: Retain our health insurance options.

MTI members value Wisconsin Physicians Service because it enables freedom of choice in medical providers. And MTI members value the services of Group Health Cooperative. However, both GHC and WPS coverage would be in jeopardy under the district's proposal.

GHC has the option of increasing its premium by 2 percent for each additional HMO offered by the district. Adding other HMOs would undercut the financial base of employees necessary to maintain the foundation of the WPS option.

Insurance is supposed to assure economic stability. Revenue controls undercut this basic principal of employment benefits, as it causes even the best intentioned individuals to think about reducing the quality of insurance to provide wages. MTI members have not been willing to take that risk.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:21 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 22, 2007

More on WKCE scores - Missing Students

Chan Stroman posted a valuable and in-depth examination of the District's WKCE scores, and is it in the spirit of that posting that I would like to share my own little examination of our most recent test results. Rather than focusing on the scores of our students, this is an investigation of the numbers of MMSD students who took the WKCE exams. My intention is to simply present the data and let the reader draw their own conclusions.

This journey began with a question: How did students at West High School do on the WKCE exams now that the school has completed their three year Small Learning Communities grant. A relatively straightforward question that can be addressed by a visit to the DPI web site. However, in the process of looking at West High School's test data from the Fall of 2006, it was surprising to see that only 39 African American students had been tested. Certainly there had to be more than 39 African American 10th graders at West this year, and if we want WKCE scores to provide an accurate assessment of the
"success" of a school, it is important that there isn't any bias in which groups of students provide the assessment data.

The District makes available a number of breakdowns of student enrollment data by grade, by school, by ethnicity, by income status, and combinations thereof. However, there is not a breakdown that provides enrollment numbers by school by grade by ethnicity. Thus, if we want to know the number of African American 10th graders at a particular school we have to make an educated guess. We can do that by taking the percentage of African American students enrolled in the school and multiplying that by the number of students in the 10th grade. This gives us a rough estimate of the number of students enrolled. We can then compare that to the number of students who took the WKCE test to estimate the percentage of missing students.

West High School had 517 10th graders enrolled this past year, and 14% of the student body was African American. This suggests that there should be approximately 73 African American 10th graders at West which means that 34 students or 46.6% were not tested. This is very different from the overall proportion of West 10th graders not tested: 14.5% (DPI data show that 442 of the 517 students in the 10th grade were tested this past year). However, this is only one year's data at one of our high schools. We need to put this data in context if we are to draw any conclusions. So here is the data for the four high schools for the past five years.

High School Year MMSD Enrollment Proportion African American Enrolled Predicted AA 10th Graders African American Tested Total 10th Grade Tested % AA Missing % Total Missing Discrepancy (AA% - Total %)
West 2002/03
East 2002/03
La Follette 2002/03
Memorial 2002/03

What about other ways to look at the number of high school students who took the WKCE's?

More than race or ethnicity, research clearly shows that school performance is strongly linked to socio-economic status. Thus we can ask are low income students represented to the same degree on the WKCE as non-economically disadvantaged students. Again because the posted enrollment statistics for the district don't provide a breakdown of economic status by grade within a school we have to estimate the numbers of students from the overall school percentages. Given that we know that the percentage of free and reduced lunch students are increasing in our high schools, the use of a whole school perecentage to estimate the 10th grade population will likely underestimate the numbers of low income students, but these numbers are still a starting point.

Here are those data for our four high schools:

High School Year MMSD Enrollment Proportion Low Income Enrolled Predicted Low Income 10th Graders Low Income Tested Non-Disadvantaged Tested % Low Income Tested % Non-Disadvantaged Tested Testing Gap (Low Income - Non-Disadv.%)
West 2002/03
East 2002/03
La Follette 2002/03
Memorial 2002/03

It is hard to tell if there is any pattern in the data, though it does look like we, as a District, are gradually getting better at getting our low income students tested at similiar rates as our non-economically disadvantaged students. However, when you look at overall percentages of students tested, it does not seem that Madison is doing a very good job of testing students. This is what DPI says about student participation:

All students are expected to take WSAS assessments except students who are excused by their parents. Only a fraction of a percentage of students statewide are excused from WKCE testing by their parents. An extended testing window is provided so that students who are absent on any given day can take make-up tests. Some students are not assessed possibly due to long-term absences or other reasons.

Ninety eight to Ninety-nine percent of students statewide are generally expected to take WKCE during the three-week testing window, but actual participation rates are lower especially among student groups with the lowest achievement levels (e.g. students of color and economically disadvantaged students). One to two percent of students statewide take WAA in lieu of WKCE.

While this suggests that MMSD is not meeting the expectations of DPI regarding student assessment, it is reasonable to ask how other similar districts around the state are doing in their testing of 10th grade students. For this comparison, I examined enrollment data and number of students tested for Green Bay, Appleton, Kenosha, and Milwaukee school districts. All of these numbers come from DPI and reflect students in all high schools and alternative programs. As an aside, I will note that the third Friday enrollment numbers listed by MMSD do not match those posted on the DPI website, and it is for the sake of an honest comparison that I have used DPI numbers for all five districts.

Year MMSD Third Friday 10th Grade Enrollment DPI Reported 10th Grade Enrollment

When we look at these data, we see that MMSD tests fewer of its 10th graders than all four of the chosen districts, even Milwaukee tests a larger percentage!


So there it all is for you, the reader, to chew on. What do you think it means and what do you think it says about our district?

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 11:34 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School assaults, by the numbers

Bill Lueders:

In the 2006-07 school year, there were 224 instances in which staff members in Madison schools were assaulted or injured by students, according to records provided to Isthmus. (This represents a significant increase from 2005-06, when the district tallied 173 such incidents.)

Most occurred in elementary schools, and eight out of nine involved special education students. The incidents are mostly minor — kicks, bites, scratches and such — although 43 required some medical attention. Police were called on nine occasions.

Luis Yudice, the district’s safety coordinator, says the most serious incidents were the two reported recently in Isthmus (Watchdog, 6/8/07), both involving injuries to staff members trying to break up fights.

The most startling revelation is the extent to which a handful of students drive these numbers upward. A single fourth-grader at Chavez Elementary accounted for 41 of this year’s incidents. At the middle school level, a seventh-grader at Sennett and eighth-grader at Cherokee had 19 and 12, respectively. And a ninth-grader at East had 10.

Together, these four students generated 37% of the total assaults for the 24,576-student district. (In 2005-06, a single student at Lowell logged 36 incidents; no one else had more than seven.)

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June 21, 2007

No Child Left Behind setting below-average goals

Mary Wolf-Francis

When Margaret Spellings visited the Southeast Valley this spring, she was asked to respond to the question about the effects of No Child Left Behind on the average and above-average students.

Her response was frightening.

Spellings declared that No Child Left Behind is about the "vast, vast number of young Americans who lack the ability to be successful in our country. That is our prime directive, our highest priority."

The highest public education official in our country essentially stated that public schools should be dedicated to below-average students. This may be seen as a call for all parents of average to above-average students to run, don't walk, to their nearest private school.

Spellings takes it a step further by defining the problem as related to race, saying, "We're only graduating half of our Hispanic and half our African-American students on time."

Did I hear you say public education is dedicated to underachieving students of color? Political correctness aside, these are not the only students who lack the ability to be successful. Would you be surprised if we told you that many of our best and brightest students fit this category?

As many as 40 percent of all gifted students are underachievers, according to the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, and between 10 and 20 percent of all high school dropouts test in the gifted range.

Consider, then, that many other populations of students are being left behind, especially as funds are diverted into meeting the mandates of this narrow legislation.

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Evaluating the 50 States on Students with Disabilities

Christina Samuels:

The U.S. Department of Education released evaluations this week of each state’s efforts to teach children with disabilities, from infants to secondary school students, giving most midding grades.

The evaluation process is based on data submitted by the states as mandated by the 2004 reauthorization of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The law attempts to move states away from monitoring compliance with the complex legislation, and toward a focus on educational outcomes for students with disabilities.

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Allan Odden on Teacher Merit Pay

Joy Cardin talks with UW-Madison Professor of Education Administration Allan Odden about teacher merit pay and why this idea is gaining momentum.

19MB mp3 audio. More on teacher merit pay.

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

LIttle Tolerance for Zero-Tolerance

Joy Cardin interviews Cecil Reynolds, professor of education psychology and neuroscience at Texas A&M University, and chair of the American Psychological Association’s Zero Tolerance Taskforce. 19MB mp3. Support Wisconsin Public Radio.

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New Berlin School Board & The City Discuss Park & Recreation Costs

Erin Richards:

The disagreement raises questions about how communities, in times of tight budgets, find the dollars to provide recreation and enrichment programs for their residents.

School Board President Keith Heun said he expects the ad hoc committee to make some headway on a new agreement before the School Board's next meeting July 9. Members have not yet been chosen, but likely will include representatives from the School Board and Common Council.

The board also voted this week to rework its classification of school facility users. Since 1968, the city's Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department has been classified as a group two user along with other non-profit civil and service organizations that don't have to pay rental fees, Heun said.

Locally, spending growth in the Madison School District's Fund 80 (property taxes outside the state's school revenue growth limits, or "caps") has been controversial.

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Schools Have No Handle on $7 Billion Cost of Teacher Turnover, Study Finds

Vaishali Honawar:

Teacher turnover is “spiraling out of control” and is estimated to have cost the nation more than $7 billion in the 2003-04 school year alone, asserts a report released today.

The study from the Washington-based National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future says that despite the staggering expense, virtually no school district now has systems in place to track or control such turnover.

The last attempt to put a price tag on teacher attrition, long acknowledged as a resource drain, was a 2005 report from the Washington-based Alliance for Excellent Education, which came up with the more modest but still hefty estimate of $4.9 billion.
NCTAF officials say their figure of $7.3 billion is higher because it is based on an increased teacher workforce and a slightly higher attrition rate.

Alan Borsuk looks at Milwaukee's teacher turnover:
Our education system is losing half of all teachers before they reach their peak effectiveness," the report from the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future says. "Students, especially those in at-risk schools, are too often left with a passing parade of inexperienced teachers who leave before they become accomplished educators."

In the Milwaukee Public Schools, the report says, "low-performing schools have double the teacher turnover of high-performing schools."

Teacher turnover rates in MPS went up as the percentage of students in poverty went up, according to the report, which may be the most elaborate analysis of teacher movement in MPS. The same was true as the percentage of students from minority groups increased and the overall achievement of students decreased.

Nelson Hernandez has more.

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A Graduate of Stanford by Way of a Transfer

Samuel Freedman:

The bridge between past and present, the ligament connecting her five years as an undergraduate, was a scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, one specifically intended for students like Ms. Alcazar who make the leap from a community college to an elite university. In its seven years of operation, the foundation has given $10 million to 249 such recipients.

These students are often immigrants or the children of immigrants, and the first in their families to attend college. Most have gone to community college not because they lack the academic talent for a four-year institution, but because they lack the money. And by the time they would enter a college or university, generally as a junior, much of the available financial-aid money would have been spent enticing incoming freshman to enroll.

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Recruited to Rescue Washington’s Schools

Diana Jean Schemo:

Fresh out of college, Michelle A. Rhee joined Teach for America, the fast-track teacher training program, landing at Harlem Park Community School in Baltimore. The public school ranked near the bottom in city reading and math scores, and as a new teacher, Ms. Rhee got a classroom of 35 children achieving the worst and behaving the worst.

“They ran right over me,” Ms. Rhee recalled. She ended that first year “convinced that I was not going to let 8-year-olds ruin my life.”

The next fall she combined classes with another teacher, and together they taught the same children for two years. By the end of the second year, she said, the class that had been testing in the 13th percentile was on grade level, with some children soaring to the 90th percentile.

Now, Ms. Rhee is betting she can replicate that success on a citywide scale as the newly named chancellor of schools in Washington, arguably the nation’s most dysfunctional school system. Though it is one of the country’s highest-spending districts, most of the money goes to central administration, not to classrooms, according to a recent series of articles in The Washington Post. Its 55,000 mostly poor students score far worse than comparable children anywhere else in reading and math, with nearly 74 percent of the district’s low-income eighth graders lacking basic math skills, compared with the national average of 49 percent.

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June 20, 2007

Naming our newest elementary school

In the interest of transparency, I am posting one of the e-mails received in relation to the decision to restart the naming process for the new school on Madison's far West side. I also am posting my response, which shares the reason for my apology to the Hmong community on Monday night, and also for advocating that the board go back to square one on the naming process.

It is my expectation/understanding that the board will establish a time line for the nomination and selection process at our July 9 meeting. People who nominated names the first time can resubmit the materials without revision. People who want to submit new or alternate names must follow the process (e.g., commentary on public forums does not constitute a nomination or formal objection).

Dear Board members:

Thank you for doing the right thing and removing Vang Pao*s name from the new west side elementary school. I know it was a difficult decision for you, although I*m not sure why. I was a bit disconcerted about the *regret* and apologies issued to the Hmong community about your votes. How much controversy does a person need before he is unacceptable as a name for an elementary school? You would have never considered General Westmoorland*But, I digress. I really do appreciate the political situation you felt yourself to be in and appreciate your vote for what is best for the children of Madison. You are to be commended!

On another note, I*d like to encourage you to amend your policy to proceed with naming by using the three names left on the original list. My concerns are that the community is not going to heal properly if we have to go through all this again. Naming a school shouldn*t be this difficult. You have an opportunity here to take the best way out and allow the community to move on and give yourselves the chance to deal with more pressing issues*like budget!

Please*take the high road and go back to the list of three and let*s be done with this.

Thanks again, for removing Vang Pao*s name. Your courage is greatly appreciated.

Heidi Reynolds



Dear Ms. Reynolds,

Thank you for taking the time to write. I am not sure that I understand your response, since you so often said - and have gone to great lengths to present yourself to the media as someone who wants to compromise, have nothing against the Hmong, and want to heal the rift between communities.

I cannot speak for my fellow board members, but state for the record that my apologize comes from compassion for the pain and suffering that the Hmong community have experienced in their lives and have been experiencing again since Vang Pao's arrest. My comments are sincere, just as are my comments that there are no winners in this unfortunate set of events.

As for reopening the process, it seems to me that we have been subjected to repeated allegations that we did not follow board policy the first time around. I cannot speak for my colleagues, but it is my personal hope that by going back to square one we can ensure that the process is followed to the fullest. (There is no policy that mandates going back to the list of finalists in a case such as this, so we are in fact following board policy by starting over.)

Lucy Mathiak

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School Basics: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Real Estate

CJ Hughes:

Not surprisingly, then, towns with blue-ribbon public school systems — like Greenwich, Fairfield and West Hartford — have consistently commanded some of the higher home prices in the state.

But prices within a town can fluctuate, even by neighborhood, based on the strength of the local elementary school, according to a new study by seven professors and students at Trinity College.

The study examined the relationship between grade-school test scores and home prices in West Hartford’s 11 elementary school districts, and found that as one climbed, so did the other, in specific and predictable increments.

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Troubled Schools Getting Their Own Test Tutors


Test scores in low-performing schools rose last year in the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act passed more than five years ago. It requires testing and quantifiable goals to reform the country's schools. Merrill Vargo, consultant and director of Springboard Schools, talks with Steve Inskeep about what she advises schools to do to raise their test scores.

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Building effective partnerships – advice from coalitions


In our new survey, “Business Coalition Leaders Speak Out on Education,” we asked survey respondents to comment on the lessons they’ve learned from working with schools and districts and to offer advice on becoming attractive partners and on building effective partnerships. Due to space considerations, we weren’t able to include all of the responses in the survey report, so I wanted to share them all here on the blog.

This is the third of three posts, and provides responses to the open-ended question:

“What other advice would you give to schools in general on developing stakeholder relationships?”

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June 19, 2007

Audio / Video: Madison School Board Vote on the MTI 2007 - 2009 Agreement

The Madison School Board voted 4-3 (for: Carstensen, Moss, Silveira and Winston; no: Cole, Kobza and Mathiak) Monday evening to approve the proposed MMSD / MTI 2007 - 2009 agreement. The new arrangement, which does not include substantial health care changes, was set in motion by the "Voluntary Impasse Resolution Document" - also approved by a 4-3 vote (Carol Carstensen's alt view). This document, approved before negotiations began, took health care changes off the table if the discussions resulted in arbitration.

  • 30 Minute Video Clip
  • 34MB MP3 audio recording of the entire board meeting (MTI Agreement vote discussion begins at about 6 minutes
  • MTI's useful synopsis of the Agreement: 150K PDF, including the extension of the TERP (Teacher Retirement Extension Program) through 2011
  • Going to the Mat for WPS by Jason Shephard
  • Lawrie Kobza notes that changes in health care would have increased salaries by 2.8%, rather than the current 1%.
  • KJ Jakobson's health care cost/benefit analysis
  • A teacher noted the recent MTI vote.
  • Susan Troller: Board approves teachers contract deal on 4-3 vote.
  • TJ Mertz:
    Three Board of Education members voted against the MTI contract on Monday, June 18, 2007. My initial reaction was that it was a ‘free” vote, a vote without consequences. When elected officials know that there are sufficient votes to pass or defeat a measure they can use their votes to make a statement without taking responsibility for what would happen were they to prevail. This is what happened on Monday, those who voted against the contract knew that it would pass and that they would not be held responsible for the serious consequences that would ensue had they been in the majority. Upon reflection, I realized that in fact the vote has the consequences of exacerbating divisions among our teachers that are hard to justify based on their stated rationales for opposing the contract.

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Statement on MMSD/MTI Tentative Collective Bargaining Agreement Vote

After much consideration, I have decided to vote against the tentative agreement negotiated by the District and the MTI teachers union. I will do so because the agreement fails to include significant health insurance changes, and as a result, unreasonably depresses the salary increases that can be provided to our teachers.

While the total salary and benefit increase to our teachers under the proposed agreement is 4.02%, our teachers will only receive a 1% increase in their salaries in each of the next two years. This is so even though we ask our teachers to do more and more each year given budget cuts and changes in our student demographics. The rest of the increase is eaten up by benefits, the vast majority of which is for health insurance.

I would like to see our teachers’ salaries increase by more than 1% per year. I believe a greater increase is well-deserved, and is needed to continue to keep and retain excellent teachers. I also believe a greater increase is needed so that the District’s starting salary for new teachers is competitive.

While money is obviously very tight, we could provide teachers with higher salaries if the District and the MTI teachers union - working together - would negotiate health insurance changes. The District’s initial proposal regarding health care insurance was to offer teachers the choice of three different HMO options or WPS. If a teacher chose one of the HMO options - Group Health Cooperative, Physicians Plus, or Dean Care- the District would pay the full cost of that HMO. If however a teacher chose coverage under WPS, which would still be available, the District would only pay the cost of the most expensive HMO, and the teacher would pay the rest of the cost of WPS. This proposal would have provided for a 2.81% salary increase for teachers for 2007-2008 - as opposed to a 1% increase.

The District and other employees groups have successfully worked together to revise health insurance coverages during this past year with the result that more money was available for employee wages to these groups. I was hopeful that similar results could be achieved for our teachers.

When I have raised this concern about how teacher salaries have been unreasonably depressed by the increasing cost of WPS, I have been told by some that it is none of the District’s business how MTI decides to split the negotiated salary and benefit package. I just cannot agree with this view.

While it is true that the total dollar impact to the District is the same regardless of how MTI splits the money between salary and benefits, I believe it is very important to the District how the money is spent. It is essential to the District that we have good, competitive teacher salaries and that our health insurance costs not drain money away from those salaries. It is essential that our teachers are paid fairly and equitably. It is not fair that a teacher who takes WPS insurance should receive $7,500 more in salary and benefits than a teacher who takes Group Health Cooperative. It is not fair that a majority of our teachers take Group Health Cooperative, yet they continue to have their compensation reduced to fund the benefits of others.

I am extremely disappointed that the District and MTI, working together, could not reach an agreement that puts more money into teachers salaries and less into health insurance costs. I truly believe that if the interests of the whole had been put first, this could have been done. Because we failed to take advantage of this opportunity, I feel I have no choice but to vote against the tentative agreement.

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Bring Back Geography!

Jerome Dobson:

Quiz after quiz has shown that kids today don't know where any place is. How often have you heard this lament about "geographic ignorance" or "geographic illiteracy," as it is commonly called?

Now, take that complaint and turn it around. What does it say about geography? It says geography means knowing where places are. That's what geographers call "place-name geography." It's vital, but it's the least of what we expect budding geographers to learn.

Geography is more than you think. Geography is to space what history is to time. It is a spatial way of thinking, a science with distinctive methods and tools, a body of knowledge about places, and a set of information technologies that have been around for centuries. Geography is about understanding people and places and how real-world places function in a viscerally organic sense. It's about understanding spatial distributions and interpreting what they mean. It's about using technology to study, in the words of the late professor J. Rowland Illick, "why people do what they do where they do it." Geography is a dimensional science and humanity based on spatial logic in which locations, flows, and spatial associations are considered to be primary evidence of earth processes, both physical and cultural. Its hallmarks are spatial analysis, place-based research (e.g., regional studies, area studies, urban studies), and scientific integration.

More about Jerome Dobson.

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Autism Debate Strains a Family and Its Charity

Jane Gross & Stephanie Strom:

The Wrights’ venture was also an effort to end the internecine warfare in the world of autism — where some are convinced that the disorder is genetic and best treated with intensive therapy, and others blame preservatives in vaccinations and swear by supplements and diet to cleanse the body of heavy metals.

With its high-powered board, world-class scientific advisers and celebrity fund-raisers like Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Simon, the charity was a powerful voice, especially in Washington. It also made strides toward its goal of unity by merging with three existing autism organizations and raising millions of dollars for research into all potential causes and treatments. The Wrights call it the “big tent” approach.

But now the fissures in the autism community have made their way into the Wright family, where father and daughter are not speaking after a public battle over themes familiar to thousands of families with autistic children.

Autism Speaks

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Madison School Board Drops Vang Pao Elementary's Name

Originally named for Hmong Gen. Vang Pao, the board reconsidered the name because of Pao's arrest on charges that he was part of an effort to overthrow the Laotian government.

School Board President Arlene Silviera said before the meeting that she doesn't think the board will make any final decision on a name on Monday night, but would vote on whether to change the current name and how they might select a new one, WISC-TV reported.

SIS links and notes on Vang Pao Elementary.

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June 18, 2007

Madison School Board's "Final Exam"

Susan Troller:

Even smart, hardworking students sometimes blow an exam or forget to do their homework, and the results usually show up on their report cards. The same perhaps could be said for the Madison School Board, which essentially finishes its term tonight.

The board has one more big test as it closes out the school year with a bang. Members will be discussing whether to remove the controversial name of Gen. Vang Pao from the district's newest elementary school now being built on the far west side. In addition, they will be voting on a new two-year contract between the teachers union and the distict. The tentative contract was ratified by the union late last week.

Those two issues represent opposite ends of the broad spectrum of board business. The school naming is primarily symbolic, but it packs a huge emotional wallop; the contract vote gets less general attention, but holds the details critically important to the district's financial health.

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Violin students traveling to Costa Rica

Jacob Stockinger:

Nineteen middle school and high school violin students from the Madison area will tour Costa Rica, where they will perform for a week, starting Monday.

The Sonora Strings, an advanced touring group of a private Suzuki string school in the city, will be led by Maria Rosa Germain, a classically trained violinist who earned a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with Vartan Manoogian and Tyrone Greive, who is also the concertmaster of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

The MSO is a major co-sponsor of the tour and, according to orchestra officials, will continue to collaborate with the National Orchestra in Costa Rica's capital San Juan, perhaps with the goal of one day becoming a "sister" orchestra. Later this summer, MSO maestro John DeMain will conduct the National Orchestra in San Juan and will waive his fee to help the National Institute of Music.

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La Follette grads set off on life's roads

Kristin Czubkowski:

While a packed house at the Kohl Center was a far way off, more than a thousand friends and family were in attendance as 370 seniors graduated from La Follette High School Friday night.

La Follette's ceremony was one of four being held for Madison high schools this weekend, with East High School's preceding it Friday evening, and Memorial and West's graduation ceremonies scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

After Kelly Lynaugh, the principal for La Follette's senior class, gave an introductory speech, two class speakers spoke on the challenges and opportunities their class has been through and will face.

"Today, amidst the celebrations, I am reminded that the world we inherit is a dynamic place, replete with challenges and rewards, and it would be wrong of us to grasp the latter without reflecting on the former," said class speaker Emily Latorraca.

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Long Reviled, Merit Pay Gains Among Teachers

Sam Dillon:

For years, the unionized teaching profession opposed few ideas more vehemently than merit pay, but those objections appear to be eroding as school districts in dozens of states experiment with plans that compensate teachers partly based on classroom performance.

Here in Minneapolis, for instance, the teachers’ union is cooperating with Minnesota’s Republican governor on a plan in which teachers in some schools work with mentors to improve their instruction and get bonuses for raising student achievement. John Roper-Batker, a science teacher here, said his first reaction was dismay when he heard his school was considering participating in the plan in 2004.

“I wanted to get involved just to make sure it wouldn’t happen,” he said.

But after learning more, Mr. Roper-Batker said, “I became a salesman for it.” He and his colleagues have voted in favor of the plan twice by large margins.

The Madison School Board votes on the proposed Madison Teachers, Inc. agreement this evening.

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Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater's Presentation on the Proposed High School Redesign and Small Learning Community Grant



June 11, 2007

35 Minute Video | MP3 Audio

Background Links:
A few general questions about this initiative:
  1. Does it make sense to spend any time on this now, given that the MMSD will have a new Superintendent in 2008?
  2. If the problem is preparation, then should the focus not be on elementary and middle schools?
  3. The committee's composition (this link includes quite a bit of discussion) does not inspire much confidence with respect to community, teacher and student involvement.
Two page MMSD "feedback worksheet" 259K PDF.

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The Power of Teaching

Kathleen Murphy:

I had a history teacher in high school who thought I should be on a different track. He got together with a couple of other teachers and put me in all advanced-placement classes. As a result, I graduated first in my high school class and was able to graduate from college in three years and save a year’s tuition.

A few years ago, he sent a note through the general e-mail of our company’s Web site. He had seen my name and wanted to know if I was the Kathleen Murphy he had taught 20 years ago. He just wanted to say hello and know how I was doing. He had taken such a personal interest in me. Teachers can change the face of a nation.

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Commencement Advice: Read and Travel

Alice Furlaud:

Radio reporter Alice Furlaud recounts her experience giving the commencement address to the graduating class of 2007 at Massachusetts' Chatham High School.

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June 17, 2007

Beware a "Broader Definition of Rigor"

Debra Saunders:

WHEN educrats call for "a broader definition of rigor," beware. What they really want is to broaden the definition of rigor until it includes dumbed-down drivel.

National Education Association President Reg Weaver used those words in March when he spoke to Congress as it sets out to reauthorize President Bush's No Child Left Behind legislation. The NEA's idea of rigor, of course, is to make it harder to tell if schools are failing students. How? By going after standardized tests, because Weaver regurgitated, their scores "reflect little more than a student's ability to regurgitate facts."

As Don Soifer, education analyst for the Lexington Institute noted, such talk harbors "a worse case scenario for the American public -- all of the money for NCLB and none of the accountability."

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Assessment of the Madison School District's TAG Program in 1992

A look at the MMSD's TAG program in 1992.

Dr. Susanne Richert (Consultant) [9.5MB PDF]:

I was requested to conduct an evaluation. However, very little quantitative data on student outcomes were available and, given the time-frame, none could be gathered. I, therefore prefer to call this a qualitative criterion-referenced assessment. However, more than sufficient quantitative formative (as opposed to summative) data and extensive qualitative data were gathered. This qualitative criterion-referenced assessment is based on criteria generated by the literature on the education of the gifted. These are included in the appended list of references; most especially, in this order of priority: Richert, Cox, Van Tassel-Baska, Renzulli, Roeper, Kaplan and Tannenbaurn.
Clusty Search: Dr. Susan Richert.

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The Regrets of a School Dropout: Half of Black Males Fail to Graduate With Their Class

Avis Thomas-Lester:

Just walking into Largo High School left Larue Campbell feeling the most profound loss.

Fliers about the school's upcoming prom reminded him that he never attended his own. Posters announcing commencement ceremonies left him wondering what it would have been like to stroll across the stage in a cap and gown as his loved ones cheered.

But instead of taking part in prom and graduation, Campbell was at Largo for night school classes to prepare for the GED exam. Last spring, he dropped out of high school, one of hundreds of Washington area African American males to do so each year.

"If I hadn't dropped out, I wouldn't have to go through this now," said Campbell of his attempt to earn a high school equivalency diploma. "I thought about going back after I left" school, "but I thought I would be too old. I was kind of embarrassed."

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School Choice Strategy

Howard Rich:

The flattened borders of the 21st century have made networking faster, global trade freer and competition more rigorous -- meaning the premium we place on educating future generations is higher than ever before. Yet the nation's monopolistic approach to education remains a millstone around our children's necks, with America consistently lagging behind its industrialized peers in academic achievement.

The late Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman understood the central role school choice must play in revitalizing American education. "Empowering parents would generate a competitive education market, which would lead to a burst of innovation and improvement, as competition has done in so many other areas," he said in December 2005. "There's nothing that would do so much to ensure a skilled and educated work force."

By any objective measure, Friedman was right. The success of school choice as a method of empowering parents, raising student achievement and improving public education systems in those markets where it has been implemented is indisputable. The question now becomes how to achieve meaningful school choice for the benefit of all parents, not just a select few?

After this year's compelling school-choice victory in Utah, the methodology for successfully advancing parental options against the well-funded phalanxes of institutional opposition is crystallizing. Specifically, Utah's success has proven the efficacy of advocating universal choice initiatives as opposed to limited, means-tested pilot program

Parents in Charge Foundation.

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June 16, 2007

Madison Schools MTI Teacher Contract Roundup

Conversation regarding the recent MMSD / MTI collective bargaining agreement continues:

  • Andy Hall wrote a useful summary, along with some budget numbers (this agreementi s56% of the MMSD's $339.6M budget):
    District negotiators headed by Superintendent Art Rainwater had sought to free up money for starting teachers' salaries by persuading the union to drop Wisconsin Physicians Service, a health-care provider that offers open access to medical treatment with no need for referrals.

    The district wanted MTI members to choose from among three health-maintenance organizations that limit coverage to specific providers in return for lower costs.

    But the union kept the current mix -- WPS plus one HMO, Group Health Cooperative -- after members in a survey indicated support for maintaining those options.

    Matthews is a paid member of the Wisconsin Physicians Service board of directors -- an arrangement he defends as a means of advocating for members and the district. Critics contend it represents a conflict of interest.

    "Our plan is cheaper than almost any in town," said Matthews, referring to a union comparison of Wisconsin Physicians Service coverage, used by half of the members, to coverage offered to employees of state and local governments.

    "The teachers were willing to pay more, they were willing to move money from wages to health insurance, in order to preserve those kinds of rights."

    Among the new costs facing teachers: A $75 co-pay for emergency room visits and a $10 co-pay for office visits.

    Premiums for WPS, which is favored by many members with a serious illness in the family, will cost 10.4 percent more beginning July 1. But the premiums will decrease slightly beginning Jan. 1 as the co-pays take effect. For example, the WPS family premium will cost the district $1,711 per month while the employee's share will be $190, falling to $187 on Jan. 1.

    The GHC premium will increase by 5.7 percent -- to $974 monthly for family coverage, paid entirely by the district -- beginning July 1. That amount will decrease to $955 on Jan. 1.

  • Don Severson & Brian Schimming discuss the agreement and the school board: 5MB mp3 audio file.
  • 2005 / 2007 Agreement 528K PDF.
  • The Madison School Board will vote on the Agreement Monday evening, June 18, 2007.
  • Additional links and notes.
  • Don Severson: 3 Simple Things.
  • MMSD / MTI contract negotations beginCarol Carstensen: An alt view on Concessions Before Negotiations.
  • Going to the Mat for WPS
  • What's the MTI Political Endorsement About?
  • Some MMSD unions have addressed health care costs.

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How to Measure Class Gap in Reading?

Carl Bialik:

The potential benefits to citing the questionable numbers are clear: Raise awareness and rally support. The downsides are more subtle. Boiling down research into misleading soundbites risks credibility of the larger argument advocating early reading, and it obscures other indicators that have equal or greater impact on a child's intellectual development.

Todd Risley, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Alaska and longtime children's development researcher, argues that the amount and quality of parents' talking to their young children is more significant.

"In even the 'best' of families, 'shared reading time' occupies very little of a child's time," he says. And income is a weak predictor of parental-child chatter, he adds, "so any statements about middle class and low income might be a little too glib."

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Local students follow different paths to diploma

Susan Troller:

Two years ago, these were the students who didn't look like they were going to make it.

But Thursday night, 14 graduates of the Madison school district's Work and Learn program at Brearly Street walked down the aisle at little Bolz Auditorium to the strains of "Pomp and Circumstance," and the applause from family, friends and supporters was deafening. The students' smiles could have lit up the evening sky.

Some are married. Some are parents. Some were chronically truant from high school because of family illnesses or crisis, or because they just didn't care. Some had been expelled or suspended from school, or were in trouble with the law.

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June 15, 2007

An Open Letter from Shwaw Vang on the Vang Pao Elementary School

Former Madison School Board Member Shwaw Vang, via Kristian Knutsen:

The Board of Education will discuss reconsidering its decision to name the new elementary school after General Vang Pao because Vang Pao has been charged with a plot to overthrow a foreign country. Since the fall of the Laos monarchy and democracy in 1975, the government of Laos, one of the most oppressive communist regimes in the world, killed the King of Laos and has murdered and continues to murder thousands of Hmong people and use chemical weapons on them.

Yet the United States government and the United Nations have ignored these murders of former American allies 32 years. While not condoning the charges as stated in the indictment, I want this community to know and to understand the horrors those thousands of Hmong people trapped in Laos face even while we debate this name issue. Hmong Americans cannot leave those who were left behind in Laos to be hunted, murdered, and killed by chemical warfare.

Although Vang Pao has not been convicted, those who opposed the Vang Pao name because of dubious allegations claim they have been vindicated. But the indictment has nothing to do with their original objections. However, now that the Board has been convinced that it needs to reconsider the name, I believe this is a good time to invite the broader community to also consider other MMSD schools named after people who have tainted history.

Shwaw makes some excellent points. Much more on the Vang Pao Elementary School here. Clusty search on Vang Pao. Andrew Burke on Laos "eco-tourism" and a recent abduction. Monica Davey takes a look at Vang Pao's arrest:
Cy Thao, 35, a Minnesota state representative, one of the few Hmong-Americans serving in a state legislature, said many of the older generation felt confused, even betrayed.

“For them, too, his arrest signals the end of an opportunity for them to ever go home to a free Laos,” Mr. Thao said. “He was their best hope of ever going back so this is sort of the closing of a book.”

Yuepheng Xiong, who owns Hmong ABC, a bookstore on University Avenue in the heart of this city’s Hmong community, which is one of the largest in the country, fought tears as he described the turmoil Gen. Vang Pao’s arrest had stirred.

“He was arrested by the very people that he trusted and who he had been so loyal to — the Americans,” Mr. Xiong said.

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What is the price of a good education?

The Economist:

AMONG the most commercial of cities, Hong Kong follows many markets; but none more intently than the trade in debentures tied to admissions to the city's international primary and secondary schools. These non-interest-bearing bonds are typically issued to pay for construction or other costs. Bought by parents anxious to do the best by their children, or by employers anxious to attract the best staff, they are then traded at prices set by the city's volatile economic fluctuations.

Recently, slots in international schools have become precious. The economy is booming in China's tailwind, attracting well-paid expatriates. Prosperous local residents, meanwhile, are deserting local schools because of what is seen as deterioration in English-language teaching since the reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. It is not just the very rich who are worried: early this month a small group of not very well-off South Asian residents marched through central Hong Kong, demanding more schooling in English, arguing their children were suffering from having to attend classes conducted in Chinese.

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June 14, 2007

Accelerated Biology Update: "Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics"?

When last I wrote about the status of Accelerated Biology at West HS, I was waiting to hear back from Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash. I had written to Pam on June 8 about how the promised second section of the course never had a chance, given the statistical procedure they used to admit students for next year.

On June 11, I wrote to Pam again, this time including Superintendent Rainwater. I said to them "I do hope one of you intends to respond to [my previous email]. I hope you appreciate what it looks like out in the community. Either the selection system was deliberately designed to preclude the need for two sections (in which case the promise of two sections was completely disingenuous) or someone's lack of facility with statistical procedures is showing." I heard back from Art right away. He said that one of them would respond by the end of the week.

On 6/13, he did, indeed, write:


I finally have time to reply to your concerns. In our meeting I agreed that selecting an arbitrary number of 20 students for accelerated biology was not fair. I agreed to examine this and develop a process that would allow all students who meet a set criteria to be provided the accelerated biology class. I used two sections as an example. Obviously it would be just as wrong to set an arbitrary 2 sections as it would be to set 20 as an arbitrary number. Our intent was to set a cut score on the placement test and allow everyone who met the cut score to be enrolled in the class. After reviewing the previous years test data we selected the mean score of the last student admitted over the past several years. I understand that you believe that is not the way to select. However, I am very comfortable with this approach and approved it as the means of selecting who can be enrolled. Thank you for your continued concern about these issues. Please feel free to bring to my attention any other inequities that you see in our curriculum.


I quickly replied, twice. Here is my first reply (6/13):

Quickly, I have one question, Art (and will likely write more later). Each year, four slots are reserved for additional students to get into the Accel Bio class in the fall. These might be students who are new to the District, who didn't know about the screening test in the spring, or who want to try again.

Were the screening test scores of students admitted into the class in the fall included in the selection system used on this year's 8th graders?


(SIS readers, the reason why it is important to know if the fall scores were included is that it is highly likely that the scores of the students who enter the class in the fall are lower than the cut score used for selection purposes in the spring. It is simply too hard to believe that four students scoring higher than the cut score would magically appear each fall.)

Art wrote back simply (6/13):

There are two slots remaining.
I wrote back again (6/13):
My question is about the set of scores that were used to determine the cut score for this year. Were the scores of students admitted into the class in the fall over the past several years included in the set of scores used to determine this year's cut score? Art, parents would like to see all of the test scores from recent years -- that is, we would like to see the frequency distribution of all scores for each year, with the cut score indicated and the scores of the fall entires into the class included.


Meanwhile, my second initial email (6/13) consisted of a forward to Art of the email he wrote to me on February 12, with a cover line:

Art, see below. FWIW, there is no ambiguity or equivocation in your email here. --L

Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2007 08:04:40 -0600
From: "Art Rainwater"
To: "Laurie A. Frost"
Subject: Re: West HS follow-up: Accelerated Biology


We have followed up with Ed and there will be an additional Advanced Biology class.


After seeing a copy of his own email, Art replied (6/13):


Creating two accelerated biology classes solely for the sake of having 40 students taking the class is no different than having a class for 20 students arbitrarily selected. If you feel that I broke some promise to you based on this email I am sorry. The responsibility for these decisions is mine and I am going to make the one that I feel is in the best interest of the district. I believe this decision is fair and removed the arbitrary nature of the previous class selection.
My decision is final.


I have not yet written back, but here is what I will say: "Art, I do feel you broke your promise to me. I also feel you broke your promise to future West HS students. Selection based on high scores is not "arbitrary." And 40 is no more or less "arbitrary" a number than 20. "Arbitrary" means "for no particular reason." But you had a reason. For whatever reason, you (or someone) wanted to make sure there was only one section of the class after all. If you (or that same someone) had wanted there to be two sections of the class, then you (or they) would have come up with selection criteria designed to insure that outcome."

Meanwhile, I forwarded Art's emails to the three other West parents who attended the meeting with him in January. To a one, we recall the same thing very clearly, that Art agreed there should be a second section of Accelerated Biology at West due to consistently high interest and demand at the school and in order to create greater access to a particular learning opportunity, the same expanded access there is at the other high schools. My best guess is that Art ran into unanticipated and powerful opposition to a second section in some key places at West and so is now changing his story.

In my mind, I keep going back to how poorly the Accelerated Biology screening test was publicized at Hamilton; how the Hamilton staff were told by the West counselors to "downplay" the opportunity to the students; and how that West staff person responded so carefully, "IF there is need for a second section, then the current teacher has been asked to teacher it." All that, combined with a selection procedure that so clearly guaranteed only one section's worth of eligible students (a point that no teacher or administrator seems to understand).

Now I'm hearing that at least some parents of students who did not get into the class are reluctant to say anything because they fear repercussions from the West staff.

Mission accomplished? I guess so, though it depends on what your mission is.

Interestingly, today's SLC grant focus group at West included a long discussion of the fact that we have no PTSO officers for next year and what sort of parental frustration and dissatisfaction with the school might account for that.

Posted by Laurie Frost at 2:50 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Learning from Milwaukee: MPS Leads the Way on High School Innovation

Marc Eisen:

The much-reviled Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) could be a surprising role model for the Madison school district as it begins formulating a plan to refashion its high schools for the demands of the 21st century.

MPS, which educates a student body that is overwhelming minority and deeply ensnared in the tentacles of poverty, has a horrid record of academic performance.

But MPS’s very desperation has prompted the state’s largest school district to begin experimenting with small specialty high schools that range from 100 to 400 students. This is an intriguing venture.

The schools’ individualized programs, which promise a shared focus and personalized relationships with staff and families, are startlingly diverse.

How about a high school that uses Montessori instructional methods for an international baccalaureate program? Or one that mixes social justice projects with bilingual instruction? Or how about a four-year heaping of Great Books and Advanced Placement courses? Or a school that stresses visual and performing arts? Or one that couples Maasai-inspired African education with community-service projects? Or another that stresses teaching Chinese and Spanish in the context of international business?

Marc raises many excellent points. Absent changes in the generally monolithic (some might say Frederick Taylor, assembly line) approach taken locally, Milwaukee will certainly have a far richer K-12 environment over the next 20 years than Madison.

Much more on the proposed high school redesign here.

A paradox to the proposed high school redesign scheme is it's failure to address the preparation issues (pre-k, elementary and middle school).

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MMSD and MTI reach tentative contract agreement

Madison Metropolitan School District:

The Madison Metropolitan School District and Madison Teachers Incorporated reached a tentative agreement yesterday on the terms and conditions of a new two-year collective bargaining agreement for MTI's 2,400 member teacher bargaining unit.

The contract, for the period from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2009, needs ratification from both the Board of Education and MTI. MTI will hold a ratification meeting on Thursday, June 14 at 7:00 p.m. at the Alliant Energy Center, Dane County Forum. The Board of Education will take up the proposal in a special meeting on Monday, June 18 at 5:00 p.m. The MTI meeting is closed to the public, while the Board's meeting is open.

Terms of the contract include:

Base Salary Raise: 1.00%
Total Raise incl. Benefits: 4.00%

Base Salary Raise: 1.00%
Total Raise incl. Benefits: 4.00%

Related Links:
  • Concessions before negotiations.
  • TJ Mertz comments on the agreement.
  • Channel3000
    Taxpayers will continue to pay 100% of the health care premiums for half of the teachers who choose Group Health, and 90% of the premiums for the other half of teachers who join WPS. WPS teachers pay $190 a month for a family and $72 a month for an individual.

    The union says those costs are too high.

    The district said it tried to introduce two new HMO plans to lower costs, but the union rejected them.

Key contract provisions include:

- Creation of a Joint Committee on Wellness and Preventive Health Care
which will study and make recommendations to the district and MTI in hopes
of providing the means to halt the rapid escalation of healthcare costs.

- Creation of a Joint Committee to study and make recommendations to MTI
and the district about the workload of elementary teachers.

- Initiate an emergency room co-pay of $75 and an office visit co-pay of

- Two additional school year calendars. For 2008-09, classes begin
September 2 and end June 12, and for 2009-10 the start and end dates are
September 1 and June 11. Both will have a two-week winter break and a
six-day spring break. (In 2007-08, classes begin September 4 and end June

"I am very pleased that we are able to reach a negotiated settlement that I
believe is fair to our employees and to the Madison community, given the
financial limitations created by the state-imposed revenue cap," said
Superintendent Art Rainwater.

MTI Executive Director John Matthews said that he was glad that the
contract was reached in time for the union to hold its ratification meeting
prior to school being released for the summer, and that the parties were
able to successfully resolve several matters which were raised in

"But the economic provisions do not adequately reward those who have made
the Madison schools the best in the country. With the State usurping local
control as regards to school funding, this is a matter that the State must
fix; there is nothing local school boards can do. The State must realize
that their funding formula for education is inadequate, and that it is
causing the dissolution of the great education once made available to
Wisconsin children. That must be fixed and it is up to the Governor and
the Legislators to do it," Matthews said.

Contracts are still outstanding for MTI's clerical/technical, educational
assistant and school security bargaining units.

For more information, contact:
MMSD: Ken Syke, 663-1903, or Joe Quick, 663-1902, or
MTI: John Matthews, 257-0491

Madison Metropolitan School District
Public Information Office
545 W. Dayton St.
Madison, WI 53703

TJ Mertz comments on the agreement. Concessions before negotiations.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:35 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Public Ed 101

Jonah Goldberg:

Here’s a good question for you: Why have public schools at all?

O.K., cue the marching music. We need public schools because blah blah blah and yada yada yada. We could say blah is common culture and yada is the government’s interest in promoting the general welfare. Or that children are the future. And a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Because we can’t leave any child behind.

The problem with all these bromides is that they leave out the simple fact that one of the surest ways to leave a kid “behind” is to hand him over to the government. Americans want universal education, just as they want universally safe food. But nobody believes that the government should run 90 percent of the restaurants, farms, and supermarkets. Why should it run 90 percent of the schools — particularly when it gets terrible results?

Posted by Don Severson at 8:34 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Worn Down by Waves of Change: Bureaucracy, Politics Beat Back Succession of Superintendents and Plans

April Witt:

When a board appointed by Congress seized control of the D.C. public schools in 1996, its members were eager to give the school system a clean break from its troubled past. They fired Superintendent Franklin L. Smith, replaced him with a war hero, retired Army Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr., and urged Becton not to bother debriefing Smith.

"I finally decided, 'This is crazy,' " said Becton, who arranged a quiet meeting with his predecessor at a downtown office building. The advice Smith gave was ominous.

"I know you are accustomed to giving orders, turning around and saying, 'Forward march!' " Smith recalled telling Becton. "My only advice is that in this job, you turn around and look to see who is following you. Because every time you think people are following you, they are not. And that includes the inside staff."

A year and a half later, it was the general's turn to leave town in frustration, blamed for failing to transform the schools.

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Supporting Madison West High School's Implementation of Small Learning Communities

Beth Swedeen:

"As a member of the West High community, I want to applaud its success in implementing small learning communities and a rigorous core of courses for freshmen/sophs"
Much more on West high school, English 9 and English 10. Bruce King's report on Madison West High School's Small Learning Community Project.

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Are YOU interested in fostering the creation of environment-focused public schools?


You’re invited to connect with educators, environmentalists, parents, school leaders and others who are creating and operating environmental charter schools throughout the country. Here are examples of more than 40 “green” charter schools.

Wisconsin’s former U.S. Senator and Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson often stressed the importance of education for sustainable living and young people learning about their environment. We must pass on the conservation legacy to the next generation, he said. See “Green Charter Schools in Wisconsin”.

Led by a group of Upper Midwest public school friends, a GREEN CHARTER SCHOOLS NETWORK has emerged to foster the creation and sustainability of high performance public schools with environment-focused programs. We intend to facilitate sharing and networking among educators, students, environmentalists, policymakers and others through electronic communications, a national conference, regional workshops, state-based green school groups, and online connections.

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English Language Instruction Classes

Miriam Jordan:

Yet, already, providers can't keep up with demand because of a dearth of publicly funded classes. Across the U.S., "the problem is not the unwillingness of immigrants to learn English," says Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New Immigration Coalition, an advocacy group. "The problem is we don't provide enough classes." The cost of attending private language centers is out of reach for most new immigrants.

Since the 1960s, programs that teach English-as-a-second-language (ESL) have been funded through the federal government's adult-education program, as well as money from states and municipalities. Typically, immigrants attend classes at community centers, libraries and nonprofit organizations that compete for public funds each year.

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June 13, 2007

"Nothing has served me better in my long life than continuous learning"

Charlie Munger's commencement speech at the USC Law School:

Wisdom acquisition is a moral duty. It’s not something you do just to advance in life. As a corollary to that proposition which is very important, it means that you are hooked for lifetime learning. And without lifetime learning, you people are not going to do very well. You are not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you learn after you leave here.

I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.

…so if civilization can progress only with an advanced method of invention, you can progress only when you learn the method of learning.

Munger is Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. Clusty search on Charlie.

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Fight with injuries at LaFollette

RELEASE DETAILS FOR CASE# 2007-65974: Disturbance
Case Date: 06/12/07 Case Time:12:18 PM
Release Date: 06/12/07 Release Time: 9:33 PM
Released By: Lt. Dave Jugovich
Address: 702 Pflaum Road (LaFollette H.S.)
Arrested person/suspect
Victim/Injuries: Two (2) students
Details: Several officers reponded to a report of a fight at LaFollette High School. Two (2) students were transported to an area hospital as a result of injuries sustained in the disturbance. One student was stuck in the hand with a pen, the other sustained an injury to his nose. The injuries were not life-threatening and the investigation remains under investigation.

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Open Letter to BOE Re. High School Redesign

Dear BOE,

Hi, everyone. We are writing to share a few thoughts about Monday night's Special Meeting on the High School Redesign and SLC grant. We are writing to you and copying the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent -- rather than writing to them and copying you -- in order to underscore our belief that you, the School Board, are in charge of this process.

It seems clear to us that the SLC grant requirements and application process will be driving the District's high school re-evaluation and redesign. (So much for the "blank slate" we were promised by the Superintendent last fall. With the SLC grant determining many of the important features of the redesign, obviously some redesign possibilities are already off the table -- whether or not we are awarded the grant, we might add.)

Given that cold, hard fact, it seems to us essential -- ESSENTIAL -- that we understand how our local SLC initiatives have fared before we move forward. That is why Laurie asked on Monday night how the community can access the before-and-after SLC data for Memorial and West.

Memorial and West are, in effect, our "pilot projects." It seems to us that we need to be thoroughly familiar with the results of our pilot projects in order to write the strongest follow-up grant proposal possible. It further seems to us that we need to know if the SLC restructuring programs we have implemented in two of our high schools are achieving their objectives (or not) before we expand the approach to our other high schools (and before we commit to continuing the approach, unchanged, at the first two schools). Let's not forget that our highest priority is to educate and support our students (not to get grant money). In order to do that as well as we possibly can, we need to know what's working for us and what's not working for us. (We imagine the Department of Education will also want to know how our pilot programs have fared before deciding whether or not to give us additional funding.)

The Superintendent said on Monday night that the High School Redesign Committee had "gathered all of the relevant data from each of the four high schools" as part of their early work. And yet, it did not sound like before-and-after SLC restructuring data was part of that effort. We found that very confusing because what data from Memorial and West could possibly be more relevant to the present moment than whether and how their SLC restructuring programs have worked?

With all that as background, we'd like to ask you, the BOE, to:

  1. compile the before-and-after SLC data for both Memorial and West, as well as all progress and final reports that Memorial and West have been required to submit to their granting agency (presumably the DOE);
  2. make those data and reports widely available to the community;
  3. convene two study sessions -- a private one for yourselves and a public one for the community -- where the background and empirical results for the Memorial and West SLC initiatives are thoroughly reviewed and discussed.

    Based on our reading of the SLC literature, as well as our direct knowledge of the West grant proposal and daily life at West, we think there are a couple of other things we need to know.

  4. We need to know and understand the extent to which the Memorial and West initiatives are consistent with the recommended "best practices" in the SLC literature. Example: the literature recommends a maximum SLC size of 400 students and that students select into their (ideally, content or theme-based) SLC. In contrast to those recommendations, West students are assigned to their (generic, unthemed) SLC based on the first letter of their last name ... and there are 500 or more students in each SLC.
  5. We need to know and understand the extent to which Memorial and West are actually doing what they told the DOE they would do in their grants. In general, there is a lot that is promised in the West grant that has never happened. (We are in the process of compiling a detailed list.) Example: a huge and important piece of any successful SLC initiative is communication with and outreach to parents, with the clear goal of increasing parental involvement with the school. At West, responsive communication from the school is so far from the norm, the PTSO leadership had to talk with the principal about the complaints they were receiving. In addition, there has been very little targeted outreach to parents aimed at enhancing involvement. What little there has been (PTSO meetings and other events held off-site, in West attendance area neighborhoods) have had dismal attendance, with no follow-up from the school. Interestingly, we don't even have PTSO officers for next year!
A final word about Monday night's meeting --

We found the meeting to be way too structured, to the extent that it prevented open and free-flowing dialogue. Most of what community members were allowed to say had to be in response to things the administration asked, which means the administration controlled the evening's conversation. There was neither time nor support for audience members to ask what they wanted to ask, or to share their full reactions, concerns and recommendations. Ultimately, it felt like a somewhat shallow gesture of interest in community input, not a genuine desire for real, substantive, collaborative dialogue.

We hope you will make sure that we all have the opportunity to educate ourselves about the details of the Memorial and West SLC initiatives, as well as a chance to have real conversation about the future of our high schools.

As always, thank you.

In partnership,

Laurie Frost and Jeff Henriques
West High School Parents

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State / Local Milwaukee Voucher Funding Changes Sought

Alan Borsuk:

Cheaper program, more cost.

Odd as that sounds, it summarizes the situation of Milwaukee taxpayers when it comes to paying for the school voucher program, which is expected to involve more than 18,000 students, at least 120 schools and almost $120 million next year.

It seems counterintuitive that, per student, the voucher program costs city taxpayers more than Milwaukee Public Schools - but it does.

Next year, each voucher will be worth up to $6,610, while the tab for each child in MPS will run to well over $10,000. But under current funding formulas, the state pays a much larger share of the cost of educating an MPS child than a voucher child. As things are projected now, the state will pay $7,500 or more per MPS student next year. Under the current voucher funding law, the state will pay $3,635 for each low-income student using a publicly funded voucher to attend a private school.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Columbus Voters Approve 1 of 3 Referenda


Columbus voters decided three school district proposals at a special referendum election Tuesday.

Voters approved only one of the three proposals on Tuesday, WISC-TV reported.
Voters approved the first question to set aside $700,000 over 10 years for maintenance costs.

However, voters soundly defeated a proposal to put $200,000 into a 4-year-old kindergarten program for the next three years. That proposal lost by more than 400 votes, WISC-TV reported.

Voters also rejected spending $300,000 over the next five years for technology improvements, including updating district computers.

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NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress & Wisconsin Schools

Andy Hall:

The number of Wisconsin schools failing to meet federal No Child Left Behind standards this year grew from 87 to 95 and includes all four Madison high schools and three middle schools in the Madison, Middleton-Cross Plains and Mount Horeb school districts.

None of the Madison high schools attained the goal for reading proficiency, according to annual data released Tuesday by the state Department of Public Instruction.

Thirty-two Wisconsin schools -- all in Milwaukee -- receive Title I funds to assist low-income students and are subject to sanctions imposed by the No Child Left Behind law because they've missed the same goal for two or more consecutive years.

Jamaal Abdul-Alim has more as does WEAC President Stan Johnson.

Susan Troller:

"I don't see this as a reflection on the effectiveness of our high schools," Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira said this morning. La Follette, East and Memorial have been rapped in past years, as well as this year, for not reaching proficiency standards in some categories.

"There are problems with the inflexibility of the testing methods applied to every student. It uses just one way to measure everyone and doesn't actually measure what they are learning," Silveira said.

For example, she said, testing students who are just learning English with an English-only test or requiring students with disabilities who don't perform well on standardized tests to be part of the testing process affects the results, especially in big, diverse schools.

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Higher starting salaries, more rigorous teacher training for Math & Science

Michael Alison Chandler:

Higher starting salaries, more rigorous teacher training programs and additional support for first year teachers are just a few of the incentives needed to deal with a projected shortfall of more than 280,000 math and science teachers across the country by 2015, according to a group of business, foundation and higher education leaders.

The recommendations were included in a report released yesterday by the Business-Higher Education Forum, a Washington-based group organized to increase U.S. competitiveness. Its release was timed to coincide with the national debate on teacher quality and pay as Congress prepares to reauthorize No Child Left Behind, the Higher Education Act and the budget for the National Science Foundation.

The complete report can be found here.

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Wisconsin State Structural Deficit: What Would Our Forebears Say?

Todd Berry:
As the proposed 2007-09 state budget has worked its way through the legislature, it is readily apparent that our elected officials, regardless of title or party, have said little or nothing about the fundamental condition of state finances. By contrast there have been countless press releases focusing on detail—specific tax increases, individual program changes, and so on. Nevertheless, the people have a right to know. According to Wisconsin’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, or CAFR, the state ended the most recent fiscal year with a $2.15 billion deficit. Unlike state budgets that do not account for all future commitments, thus masking our true financial condition, the CAFR prepared by the state controller’s office must follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) from the nation’s Governmental Accounting Standards Board and recognize these obligations. This explains why state budget officials said the 2006 general fund balance was $49.6 million, while the controller put the deficit at $2.15 billion. Last year, Wisconsin was one of only three states with a GAAP deficit and, relative to population, it had the largest deficit in the nation.
Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:30 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison's Adoption of the Kronenberg "Positive Behavior Support" Principles

Doug Erickson:

A couple of years ago, the students likely would have been suspended. But under a new approach to discipline being tried in the district, the students instead were given the option of coming up with a fix-it plan -- something more than just saying, "I'm sorry."

The students chose to spend all of their recesses over the next two days playing catch with a football, just the two of them.

"They came back and reported that they did much better playing together, and that was the end of it," said school social worker Mike Behlke.

District employees hope the approach will reduce out-of-school suspensions, which have been slowly rising at some schools and often have little effect other than causing the students to miss class.

Madison Parent has more:
The MMSD has high expectations for Kronenberg (”As a result of this training student behavior will improve leading to greater success in school. Both student behavioral referrals to staff and suspensions will decrease.” [from the 07-08 Aristos Grant description]). The WSJ piece does its part to create the impression that those expectations are well on the way to being achieved. But, as the scientific adage goes, anecdotes do not equal data. Since we’re in the final few days of a school year in which at least a dozen of the district’s elementary schools and at least two of the middle schools have had a year of working and living with this system, data should be available at this point on the actual incidence of classroom disruption, threats and violence as experienced by students and teachers in schools that have implemented Kronenberg, in those that have not, how they compare to each other, and how they compare over time; and that data ought to be made available to the public.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:09 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Finding a Good Preschool

Jay Matthews:

And then we come to preschools. They have always struck me as beyond any sensible rating system, which is why I was stunned to find a new Web site,, trying to prove me wrong.

I know how my wife and I, and our friends, found preschools when we had children that age. We asked each other if we knew of any good ones. That was not, obviously, a very intelligent approach to the problem. But what else could we do? There wasn't, and there still isn't, much information out there, other than the yellow pages. And who has time to call or visit a long list of preschools until you find one you like?

The Savvy Source founder, Stacey Boyd, and her team of mostly young mothers like herself think the Internet could be the solution if they plug into it enough worthwhile information -- particularly the views of parents who have had children in the preschools being rated. They are supplying parents and school directors with their survey forms and rating schools on philosophy, teaching quality, discipline, safety, tuition and several other factors.

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

Secret negotiations with teachers union not in taxpayers' best interest

Don Huebscher:

One of the principles of our republic - as I understand it, anyway - is that those in government derive their power from the consent of the governed.

For that reason, and because I'm in the business of informing the public about matters important to them (not counting Paris Hilton, et al), I'm bothered by the fact that the most important decisions about the size of our property tax bills are negotiated in secret.

I was reminded of this frustrating reality last week when negotiators from the Eau Claire school district and the local teachers union met to set the "ground rules" for their upcoming negotiations on a two-year teachers contract. Initial proposals weren't released because the school board needed more time to prepare.

It's unclear whether the eventual exchange of initial proposals will be done in public, because the ground rules agreed to by both sides say only the first negotiating session is open; "all subsequent sessions will be closed to the public."

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Philadelphia's School System

Dion Haynes:

The school systems making the largest gains are united by some common threads: Government and school leaders have set aside differences and harnessed their power behind reforms, superintendents have brought an intense, persuasive leadership style to the process, and efforts have concentrated on raising the test scores of the lowest-performing students.

But Philadelphia also illustrates how hard it can be to sustain improvements. The superintendent credited with much of the gain, Paul Vallas, is leaving the city this month as budget projections show a large deficit threatening his reform program.

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June 12, 2007

The Capital City HUES Second Annual Row of Excellence

The Capital City HUES is proud to present the second annual Row of Excellence. This honor is bestowed on seniors of color graduating with a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or above. Most of our Row members far exceed that minimum threshold. The vast majority of the members of the Row share a measure of their free time working with and helping other students, non-profits, or people who are not able to provide for themselves. The current of community service runs deep in this class. The current of scholarly excellence also runs deep with them. A fair number are members of the National Honor Society. Some are graduating with a 4.0 GPA or are hovering close to that mark. Many excel in athletics and/or the performing arts. All of these students use their time wisely as they prepare for the next stage in their lives.

The Capital City HUES congratulates the members of this Row of Excellence. We wish them the best as they make their way to their future careers. They make us -- and this community -- proud.

I'd like to offer my personal congratulations to each and every one of these impressive young people. They are an inspiration to us all!

Posted by Laurie Frost at 9:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison Math Task Force Meetings Today and Wednesday

Week of June 11, 2007
Tuesday, June 12
9:00 a.m. Math Task Force

1. Introduction of Task Force Members
2. Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) Math Instructional System
3. Next steps on How to Proceed and Timeline
4. Adjournment

Wisconsin Center for Education Research
1025 West Johnson St.
Madison, WI 53706 [map]
13th Floor Conference Room

Wednesday, June 13+
9:00 a.m. Math Task Force

1. Approval of Minutes dated June 12, 2007
2. Next Steps for How to Proceed and Timeline
3. Background Information from the Madison School Board to Address the Charge to the Task Force
4. Assignment of Tasks
5. Schedule of Future Meetings
6. Adjournment

Wisconsin Center for Education Research
1025 West Johnson St.
Madison, WI 53706 [map]
13th Floor Conference Room

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

Giving Proper Credit To Home-Schooled

Michael Alison Chandler:

In the pursuit of a homemade high school education, Jay Voris played drums in Guinea, Colin Roof restored a 134-year-old sailboat in Ireland, and Rebecca Goldstein wrote a 600-page fantasy novel and took calculus at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

The independent-minded Maryland students and two dozen others gathered at a Unitarian Universalist Church in Annapolis one afternoon this month for an alternative graduation ceremony that is becoming more common across the country as home schooling expands. Now the movement is gaining ground in a crucial arena: college admissions.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:05 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Rating Education Gains

Jay Matthews:

Achievement Gaps, Advanced Placement Exams, Demographic Shifts and Charter Schools: What Do They Add Up To for Students?

We seem to be doing a bit better educating our most disadvantaged students. But many educators think that is not enough.

The numbers displayed in the graphic smorgasbord known as "The Condition of Education 2007," from the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics, reveal the struggles of a generation to make schools work for all children.

Enrollment in publicly funded day care increased significantly from 1991 to 2005. The portion of black children using such services rose from 58 percent to 66 percent. For Hispanic children, the figure rose from 39 percent to 43 percent; for non-Hispanic whites, from 54 percent to 59 percent.

More public day care does not necessarily mean more learning is going on, although the quality of such centers appears to be improving as more states increase support for pre-kindergarten classes and in some cases make them available to all who want them. The relatively low number of Hispanic children in such programs might be a problem, as improving their grasp of English is crucial to the educational success of the largest minority group.

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June 11, 2007

Ed Hughes to run for Madison school board

Marc Eisen:

The next Madison School Board election is ten long months away, but the first candidate to replace retiring board member Carol Carstensen has already emerged.

Attorney Ed Hughes, 54, an east-side parent activist, says he will seek Carstensen's seat in the spring 2008 election.

"My interest in the school board started with my frustration over its budgeting process," he says. "Several years ago, I remember attending a strings concert and wondering why cutting strings kept coming up year after year as a budget option."

Hughes shares the common perception that the Madison schools are hurt by the state’s current formula for funding education. But be also thinks the school board undercuts public understanding of the district's plight by not being fully transparent in its budget-making. Hughes feels the board can do a better job of explaining its spending decisions to the public.

"The budgetary issues are paramount," he says. "The quality of the schools won't be maintained if we have to cut from $5-to$7 million dollars every year. We'll have to go referendum, but referendums aren't easy to pass."

Ed Blume was correct when he said that "it's never too early to run for the school board".

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Will Marquette & Lapham students be safe?

This is a report from the Madison police department on calls to the alternative programs that will be relocated to Lapham and Marquette. [The report had individuals' names in a few instances, but I deleted them.]

06/07/07 14:48:28 M A D I S O N P O L I C E D E P A R T M E N T
* * * * * * ALTERNATIVE LEARNING ACADEMY 15 S BREARLY ST * * * * * * * *
10/05/2006 09:49 JUV COMPLT 06-120707 CK STUDENT - [Name deleted] 9/27/89 LISTED AS A Y FAVOU
11/20/2006 08:44 JUV COMPLT 06-140009 NO DATA Y FAVOU
11/21/2006 10:36 DRUG INCID 06-140448 NO DATA Y FAVOU
01/19/2007 08:56 THREATS 07-006335 SEE [Name deleted] HERE, NEEDS TO REPORT A THREAT, ANOTHER 0856,002 Y VALEN
02/07/2007 09:45 911 DISCNT 07-013478 MISDIAL 0946,004 N HENNE
04/16/2007 09:07 JUV COMPLT 07-039735 [Name deleted] IS HERE. THINK THAT SHE MAY BE A RUNAWAY. Y MCCON
05/18/2007 09:09 ASST FR/PO 07-054161 SMOKE IN THE BUILDING 0909,001 N SLAWE
* * * E N D O F R E P O R T * * *

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

No answer on Reading First from Dept. of Ed

The MMSD ballyhooed its effort to be reinstated for eligibilty to apply for Reading First funds, even after the superintendent returned more than $2 million in Reading First funds in 2004.

In reponse to my question about the status of being reinstated, MMSD employee Joe Quick last week said that the MMSD has recieved no substantive response from the Department of Education.

Posted by Ed Blume at 9:38 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Public-Private Effort to Fill Teacher Vacancies in Math and Science

Howard Blume:

Sherry Lansing retired as head of Paramount Pictures two years ago to head a foundation devoted to education and other causes. What if, she wondered recently, other retirees like her wanted to do the same.

Well, not exactly like her and not precisely the same way. She had in mind a lower-budget, in-the-trenches contribution: namely, becoming a teacher.

That plan blossomed into a media event led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Friday heralding a public-private partnership to lure retirees into teaching math and science.

The effort was unveiled at Roosevelt High, where Lansing worked as a long-term substitute teacher in math shortly after graduating from college some 40 years ago.

Math, science and special education teachers are at a premium, and state officials estimate that 100,000 teachers will retire over the next decade, about one-third of the teacher workforce. Over that same period, California's schools will need more than 33,000 new science and math instructors.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:08 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Milwaukee School Violence Data

Madison Parents School Safety Site:

The heading of this post from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s “School Zone” blog reads “MPS data shows spike in violence-related suspensions; 45% of high school students suspended at least once this school year.” But there’s a buried (or at least competing) lede of good news here: first, that the Milwaukee Public Schools’ school board has a dedicated Safety Committee (MMSD does not); second, that the committee has made it a priority to compile, present to the board, and make available to the public current information on suspension statistics and trends; and third, that the district acknowledges publicly that it is “aware we need to do a better job summarizing district incidents and actions.”

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OECD: Improving US Primary and Secondary Education


Improving primary and secondary education. US school students are outperformed in international tests by their peers in many other countries. Although the causes of this are unclear, a partial explanation is that decentralised standards, curriculum and examinations are undemanding. Federal legislation that aims at addressing such system weaknesses is in general well conceived. However, it could be strengthened, for instance by extending the legislated framework of standards, assessment and accountability through high school. Responsibility for education lies primarily with the states and local authorities, which have to adopt and implement more challenging standards.

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Can D.C. Schools Be Fixed?

After decades of reforms, three out of four students fall below math standards. More money is spent running the schools than on teaching. And urgent repair jobs take more than a year . . .
Dan Keating and V. Dion Haynes:

Yet a detailed assessment of the state of the school system, based on extensive public records, suggests that the challenge is enormous: The system is among the highest-spending and worst-performing in the nation. Kelly Miller is one small example of a breakdown in most of the basic functions that are meant to support classroom learning.

Tests show that in reading and math, the District's public school students score at the bottom among 11 major city school systems, even when poor children are compared only with other poor children. Thirty-three percent of poor fourth-graders across the nation lacked basic skills in math, but in the District, the figure was 62 percent. It was 74 percent for D.C. eighth-graders, compared with 49 percent nationally.

The District spends $12,979 per pupil each year, ranking it third-highest among the 100 largest districts in the nation. But most of that money does not get to the classroom. D.C. schools rank first in the share of the budget spent on administration, last in spending on teachers and instruction.

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Virtual High Schools and Innovation in Public Education

Bill Tucker:

There has been no shortage of solutions for improving the nation's public schools. School leadership, teacher quality, standards, testing, funding, and a host of other issues have crowded reform agendas. But an important trend in public education has gone largely unnoticed in the cacophony of policy proposals: the rise of a completely new class of public schools—"virtual" schools using the Internet to create online classrooms—that is bringing about reforms that have long eluded traditional public schools.

Virtual schools served 700,000 students in the 2005–06 school year, mostly at the high school level. Although that is only a fraction of the nation's 48 million elementary and secondary students, it is almost double the estimate of students taking online learning courses just three years earlier, and it's a number that is likely to continue to rise rapidly. In 2006–07, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, and South Dakota became the latest of the two dozen states to establish state-run virtual high school programs. And in Michigan, the legislature went a step further with a mandate requiring students to complete an online learning experience to graduate from high school.

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

June 10, 2007

Season of Gratitude

As we begin the last week of the school year, I'd like to encourage everyone to make a point of saying "thank you" to at least one teacher, administrator or other school staff person in the coming few days. Teaching is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. We have some really fine ones in our schools. Take a moment to write a note or an email, make a phone call, or stop by a classroom.

Posted by Laurie Frost at 11:00 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Class-Consciousness Raiser

Paul Tough:

For the Glynn County Board of Education, Payne’s visit was a big deal. It was back in 2005 that Marjorie Varnadoe, the board’s director of professional development, called to request a presentation from Payne, and this particular Thursday, two years later, was the earliest available date. Principals had ordered Payne’s books and DVDs by the boxload, mostly her ur-text, “A Framework for Understanding Poverty,” and they made the books required reading for their staffs. All over the county, which is on the coast, down near the Florida border, schools held small workshops on class and education, using Payne’s “Framework” as a guide, and teachers sat down together for informal discussions and lunchroom chats about poverty and wealth. When the big day came, the entire school system was given the day off, and by 8 a.m. almost every single teacher and administrator in the county was packed into the Jekyll Island Conference Center, along with the school board, the Chamber of Commerce and various local dignitaries.
Clusty Search: Ruby Payne.

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Federal Grant to Support Gradual Charter Rollout

Nelson Hernandez:

Maryland will receive an $18.2 million federal grant to fund the expansion of the state's nascent charter school program, state education officials announced yesterday.

The grant may allow the state to launch as many as 30 additional charter schools during the next three years, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education said. This would more than double the number of charter schools in Maryland, which began its charter program in 2003 as a way of providing alternative methods of public school instruction.

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Teachers union out of touch with average worker

Milwaukee Teacher Steve Paske:

Regardless, I took the time to analyze the union proposal and came away with the same opinion I had before. As a rule, the MTEA uses its membership resources with gross inefficiency when it comes to garnering public support for the teaching profession.

Case in point: Several years ago, the union clashed with the School Board over suggested changes to the medical plan that would require teachers to pay a deductible and co-payment for services. As part of its strategy, it came up with the slogan "Attract and Retain" as the mantra for suggesting that these benefits cuts would not attract or retain quality teachers within the Milwaukee Public Schools.

Never mind that the board's benefits proposal was still better than 90% of the public's - those who pay our salary. The union engaged in a public relations disaster by sending members to the picket lines, thus alienating Joe Factory Worker who himself had a $1,000 deductible with 80% coverage despite belonging to a union.

Fast-forward to some of today's issues: providing a quality teacher in every classroom, eliminating the residency requirement and creating safety in schools. Let's look at how the union is approaching the issue of school safety.

More on Steve Paske. Joe Williams has more. Michael Rosen offers a different take.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:06 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

June 9, 2007

Accelerated Biology at West HS Stands Still

I have a friend who is fond of saying "never ascribe to maliciousness that which can be accounted for by incompetence." These words have become a touchstone for me in my dealings with the Madison schools. I work harder than some people might ever believe to remember that every teacher, administrator and staff person I interact with is a human being, with real feelings, probably very stressed out and over-worked. I also do my best to remember to express gratitude and give kudos where they are due and encourage my sons to do the same. But recent events regarding Accelerated Biology at West HS -- and how that compares to things I have heard are happening at one of the other high schools in town -- have stretched my patience and good will to the limit.

I first became aware of Accelerated Biology just over three years ago, when my oldest son was a second-semester 8th grader at Hamilton MS. Somehow, I learned that then-West HS Principal Loren Rathert was going to be eliminating the single section of the course that had existed for some number of years. I contacted Mr. Rathert and put the word out to 8th grade parents (and others) whom I thought would care. We wrote to Mr. Rathert and the School Board and the single section of Accelerated Biology was saved, at least for the time being. My son got into the class and had -- in a word -- a phenomenal learning experience.

For two years, the status of Accelerated Biology did not affect my family directly. And yet, by maintaining contact with the teacher and with families I know in the grade levels between my two sons, I stayed abreast of any threats to the course and I continued to lead advocacy efforts to keep Accelerated Biology intact (if not expanded). Along the way, I learned that East HS and LaFollette HS offer two or three sections of TAG/Advanced Biology (the roughly analogous course goes by different names at the different high schools), depending on yearly demand and need. (Memorial has structured its science curriculum differently, such that all 9th graders take an integrated science course; however, beginning in 10th grade, Memorial students have access to TAG and even AP science classes.) In stark contrast, the selection method at West has always been that interested 8th graders take a screening test for admission into Accelerated Biology and the top 20 scorers get in. (Four spaces have historically been reserved for a variety of "late entries" into the class.) My understanding is that the science faculty at West are as intensely divided over the very existence of Accelerated Biology as the West English faculty were over the creation of English 10. Arguments from the community that student interest and demand (and, most likely, ability) are very high (well over 100 8th graders typically take the screening test each year) and that the selection process makes the course unnecessarily selective have fallen on deaf ears. Ditto the cross-school comparison and educational equity argument.

Nevertheless, this year seemed like the right time to advocate again for a second section of Accelerated Biology at West. On a personal level, my second son was an 8th grader at Hamilton. On a broader level, there has been much talk about our high schools this year, including the needs of the District's highest ability students and important gaps in cross-school equity. Thus in December, my husband and I met with Superintendent Rainwater to talk very specifically about our younger son, his educational needs, and how West was going to meet them. Then in January, several current and future West parents met again with Art to discuss the situation at West for "high end" learners and how the SLC restructuring and concomitant curriculum changes (specifically, the 9th and 10th grade core courses) were not serving these students well. As a result of this meeting (and other behind-the-scenes advocacy efforts), West expanded and improved its system for allowing students who are advanced and talented in language arts to skip over either English 9 [rss] or English 10 [rss] (their choice). As well, in an email dated February 12, 2007, Superintendent Rainwater told me that he had followed up with West Principal Ed Holmes and that there would be an additional section of Accelerated Biology at West next year. Needless to say, this was all very good news. (Unfortunately, the dissemination of information about both of these learning opportunities was handled very, very, very poorly. I hope things go better on that front next year.)

Seventy-seven incoming West 9th graders took the Accelerated Biology screening test at the very beginning of May. This is significantly fewer test-takers than in any previous year since I have been keeping track. It is unclear if the very poor publicity and communication with parents contributed to the lower turnout.

Fast forward to this past week. After the June 4 PTSO meeting, my husband (the West PTSO Treasurer) had reason to email the Accelerated Biology teacher about PTSO funding for an incredible Earth Watch trip she is taking eight students on to Brazil this summer. As a postscript, he asked her about Accelerated Biology. She told him to contact Assistant Superintendent Pam Nash about it.

Jeff and I both wrote to Ms. Nash for an update (especially since we had heard through the grapevine that there was only going to be one section of the class after all and that the West administration didn't want the notification letters to go out until after the school year was over.) Here is my email of June 5:

Hi, Pam. We have been told by the folks at West to direct our questions about Accelerated Biology to you.

As you well know, Art and Ed have promised us two sections of Accelerated Biology at West next fall. Interested 8th graders took the screening test at the very beginning of May, over a month ago. Presumably, the tests have been scored. And yet, we have been told that the West Guidance Department does not want the letters to go out until after the school year is over. As the saying goes, "what's up with that?"

An update from you would be much appreciated.


And here is Pam's reply:
Acceptance letters went out today, June 6.

Pamela J. Nash
Assistant Superintendent
for Secondary Schools
Madison Metropolitan School District

I wrote back and thanked her for getting back to me. But the next day, June 7, I wrote to her again:
BTW, I assume there will be two sections of the class?
On June 8, I received this reply:

As you know, West High School has always had only one section of accelerated biology and used a floating score on the screener to keep it to one section. We were prepared to have two sections if scores warranted such a move. We took the median score used over time and made that the cut off. In order to have two classes we would have had to dip 20 points below that median.

That was not reasonable given the rigor of the course.


In addition to posting this email correspondence and thoughts about it on the Madison United for Academic Excellence list serve (where -- needless to say -- others shared their reactions), I wrote again to Pam Nash:
  1. What is the range of scores on the screening test? I ask this question because the range provides context for understanding what 20 points really means on the screener.

  2. What are the numbers/scores that have identified the top 20 scorers in the past several years? (Can you simply list them out for me?)
  3. What was the score used this year?
Pam, I think the selection method may have guaranteed that only one class worth of students would make the cut.

Think about it. If you use a measure of central tendency (in this case, the median -- though I wonder if you actually meant the mean) on the distribution of numbers that has cut off the top 20 scorers over the years, assuming that the same test instrument was used and that the distribution of test scores over the years has been fairly similar, then wouldn't that number -- the median cut-score -- tend to identify the same number of students for admission this year as have been identified in previous years?

Or think of it this way --

Say each year the 85th percentile score (approximately) is used to identify those top 20 students who will be allowed into the Accelerated Biology class. If you create a distribution of the 85th percentile scores over the course of several years, compute a measure of central tendency for that distribution, and then use the resulting number as the cut score for a new distribution of scores (that is, this year's scores), you will cut off approximately the top 15% of the new distribution.

I think the only way that this would not happen -- that is, the only way that more students would have been identified this year (enough for two sections) -- is if the distribution of this year's scores was very negatively skewed (i.e., included a lot more high-scoring students than previous years' distributions).

If my reasoning is correct, then the second section Art assured us would happen back in February never had a chance. As well, "rigor" is being defined as "that which is done by the top 20 students over the years," and not by the course or the screener.

It seems to me that the priority was not to create a second section of Accelerated Biology; the priority was to maintain the status quo and to not allow more students access to greater intellectual challenge.

I hope you will reconsider this decision.


And that, folks, is where it currently stands, though I have remembered that -- at the time of the screening test -- a parent I know was told by someone on the West staff, when she asked about who would teach the second section of Accelerated Biology, "if there is a need for a second section," the teacher of the first section had been asked to do it. "If there is a need for a second section ... ?" Hmmmmm.

I promised a cross-school comparison, aimed at putting my frustration with these recent events at West into sharper relief. Here it is. About a month ago, an East HS friend wrote this to me:

Laurie -- It has been a wearing year in a number of respects, so I want to pass along a couple of positive things I learned at last night's East High United meeting. First, despite the allocation cuts, Alan Harris cobbled together the funds for a position that is half-time literacy coordinator and half-time TAG coordinator. Since I gather it's been awhile since schools have been putting new resources into TAG, this seems notable. Also, Alan also said that East would be instituting an AVID program next year. I hadn't heard of this but it sounds great -- it identifies about 25 kids from each freshmen class with some academic promise but who have been underachieving, and who typically would be the first from their families to go to college. It works with the kids to improve their study skills and other habits with the goal the by their junior and senior year they'll be taking TAG and AP classes and will then go on to college. It's the best way to attack the achievement gap -- help kids in the middle or lower pull themselves up to the top. Here's a link I found to a website the described the program. So a few rays of sunshine cutting through the clouds.
Doesn't the AVID program (not to mention a school-based half time TAG coordinator) sound incredible? Wouldn't it be a welcome addition at any of our high schools?

In that vein, I'd like to say that practically every substantive letter I have written to the Superintendent, School Board and West HS administration about "TAG" issues over the past several years has included a plea to expand access and diversity of participation. I know that many other West area parents have made similar arguments, pointing out time and time again that when these learning opportunities are taken away, it is the high ability and high potential students of color and poverty who suffer the most (a point that research confirms). I would also like to remind readers that Jeff and I are the ones who first brought Donna Ford to Madison in early 2005 and that we are the ones who brought and have kept the District dropout data from the late 1990's into public view. I also recently thanked Jim Z for reminding us of the words of the West math teachers in their April, 2004, letter to the editor of Isthmus:

Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority ... talent earlier and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum. It seems the administration and our school board have re-defined "success" as merely "producing fewer failures." Astonishingly, excellence in student achievement is visited by some school district administrators with apathy at best, and with contempt at worst. But, while raising low achievers is a laudable goal, it is woefully short-sighted and, ironically, racist in the most insidious way. Somehow, limiting opportunities for excellence has become the definition of providing equity! Could there be a greater insult to the minority community?
I guess my bottom line here is that I do not understand first, how West can get away with what it is getting away with and second, why there are these fundamental and frustrating differences between the attitude and programming at our high schools? Parents and teachers at East have made it clear that they do not want to become like West. West parents and teachers have been sounding an alarm over the 9th and 10th grade core curriculum and arguing for an expansion of West's most rigorous learning opportunities, combined with substantive efforts (starting well before high school) to identify and support high potential learners from all backgrounds. And yet the differences between the schools persist. It's probably paranoid to wonder if maybe the Administration is working to maintain the East-West differences (and the East-West stereotypes) for its own "divide-and-conquer" purposes. Right?

In October, 2005, MUAE guest speaker Jan Davidson encouraged us to be "pleasantly persistent" in our advocacy work. I have tried hard to do just that. But I must say, it's feeling pretty difficult to maintain that attitude right now.

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

June 8, 2007

Madison School Board selects a firm for superintendent search

For immediate release: Friday, June 8, 2007 (sent late Friday afternoon)

The Madison Board of Education has selected the firm of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates of Glenview, ILto conduct the search for the hiring of a new superintendent. HYA was selected from among four businesses which applied for the search contract.

Board President Arlene Silveira said, "We are delighted to reach an agreement with Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates because they are nationally known and very highly respected in the field of superintendent searches. They specialize in working with districts of more than 20,000 students." The MadisonSchool District's enrollment is 24,755 students.

Superintendent Art Rainwater has announced that he will retire in June 2008.

Among the early steps in the search process, interviews will be conducted with school district and community representatives in order to develop for the Board a leadership profile of a new superintendent.

The flat fee for the search services to be provided by HYA will be $24,000.

Madison Metropolitan School District
Public Information Office
545 W. Dayton St.
Madison, WI 53703


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"The Public Needs to Know What's Going On"

Madison Parent's School Safety Site:

Today’s “Watchdog” section of Isthmus has a quick report (at the link, scroll down to the third item, titled “Dangerous work, take 2″) on recent incidents of violence in Madison schools against school staffers. In two of the incidents where staffers were injured, police declined to file criminal charges, citing the lack of criminal intent on the part of the student offenders. According to the item, one of these incidents occurred in early May at LaFollette High School. I was disappointed to find no mention of this (or other school-based incidents) in the latest newsletter from the Madison Police Department East District (whose boundaries includes LaFollette).
Related: Milwaukee Teachers are "Shell Shocked".

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"End the Vang Pao Debacle"

Marc Eisen:

Finally, the Madison school board is showing signs it may back away from its wrongheaded decision to name a new elementary school for Hmong warlord Vang Pao.

To a remarkable degree, the board has stubbornly ignored all evidence of Vang Pao's bloody past. That's because Madison's emergent Hmong community has rallied behind the proposal, and the board, wishing to celebrate Madison’s multicultural makeup, has decided that the Hmong's time is now, no matter what the objections.

Carol Carstensen has been the lone exception in her willingness to reconsider the naming decision.

Not surprisingly, Bill Keys, the former school board member and perhaps the city's most arrogant and self-righteous liberal, has been in the frontlines of Vang Pao’s supporters. Disappointingly, several past and present board members who should know better also threw their credibility behind the school naming, despite serious accusations of Vang Pao's war crimes, drug dealing and suspect fundraising activities.

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June 7, 2007

Tonight;'s BOE Special Meeting Canceled

Tonight's BOE meeting and information session (high school redesign, District-wide SLC grant) at Wright MS has been canceled due to impending bad weather (and concerns about poor attendance, as a result). The meeting has been re-scheduled for Monday night, June 11.

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State School Standards Vary Widely in Study

Tamar Lewin:

What students must learn to be deemed academically proficient varies drastically from state to state, the United States Department of Education said today in a report that, for the first time, showed the specific extent of the differences.

The report supports critics who say the political compromise of the federal No Child Left Behind law, President Bush’s signature education initiative, has led to a patchwork of educational inequities around the country, with no common yardstick to determine whether schoolchildren are learning enough.

The law requires that all students be brought to proficiency by 2014, but lets each state set its own proficiency standards and choose its own tests to measure achievement.

Mapping 2005 State Proficiency Standards Onto the NAEP Scales: 433K PDF File:
Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), states are required to report the percentages of students achieving proficiency in reading and mathematics for grades 3 through 8. For each subject and grade combination, the percentages vary widely across states. For grades 4 and 8, these percentages can be compared to the estimated percentages of students achieving proficiency with respect to the standard established by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Again, large discrepancies are observed. This variation could derive from differences in both content standards and student academic achievement from state to state, as well as from differences in the stringency of the standards adopted by the states. Unfortunately, there is no way to directly compare state proficiency standards because states are free to select the tests they employ and to establish their own performance standards.
More here.

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Democrats for Education Reform

Elizabeth Green:

A money manager recently sent an e-mail to some partners, congratulating them on an investment of $1 million that yielded an estimated $400 million. The reasoning was that $1 million spent on trying to lift a cap on the number of charter schools in New York State yielded a change in the law that will bring $400 million a year in funding to new charter schools.

The money managers who were among the main investors in this law — three Harvard MBAs and a Wharton graduate named Whitney Tilson, Ravenel Boykin Curry IV, Charles Ledley, and John Petry — are moving education-oriented volunteerism beyond championing a single school. They want to shift the political debate by getting the Democratic Party to back innovations such as merit pay for teachers, a longer school day, and charter schools.

Democrats for Education Reform website.

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Memorial High Junior Scores Perfect on the ACT

Kristin Czubkowski:

Alex Trevino had a good feeling when he walked out of the ACT testing room on a cold, winter morning this past February.

"I felt good," he said. "I didn't know how good at the time, but I knew I did well."

That confidence, however, did not prevent the jolt that went through the Madison Memorial junior when he opened a letter from CEO Richard Ferguson of the ACT Board eight weeks ago congratulating him on being one of 30 students in the country -- and the only one in the state -- to have earned a perfect composite score on the test.

"He has a look on his face when he's really, really excited, and he could not wipe that grin off his face," Alex's mother Jackie D'Aoust-Trevino said. "He just said, I got a 36.'"

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Troops to Teachers

Jamaal Abdul-Alim:

The military features prominently in Room 412 of the Milwaukee Education Center - a special education classroom that contains some of the school's most challenging students.

A U.S. Marine flag hangs just beneath the American flag. War books are propped up on a blackboard tray.

The teacher at the front of the class is Stan Loper, 44, a beefy, clean-shaven former U.S. Marine who is built like a tank. He begins the school day in a manner not much different from what you might expect from a drill sergeant, telling his students to use "nice and loud outside voices" as they recite their daily affirmation as members of "Club FAITH" - an acronym for Friendly, Able, Intelligent, Talented and Helpful.

"Who are we?" Loper yells.

"Club FAITH!" the students yell back.

Loper found his way into the classroom through Troops to Teachers, a U.S. Department of Defense-sponsored program that, among other things, offers up to $10,000 to get service members, both active and retired, to serve as teachers in the nation's neediest schools. About 80 teachers around Wisconsin got their start in the program, which began in 1994.

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Scores Up Since 'No Child' Was Signed

Amit Paley:

The nation's students have performed significantly better on state reading and math tests since President Bush signed his landmark education initiative into law five years ago, according to a major independent study released yesterday.

The study's authors warned that it is difficult to say whether or how much the No Child Left Behind law is driving the achievement gains. But Republican and Democratic supporters of the law said the findings indicate that it has been a success. Some said the findings bolster the odds that Congress will renew the controversial law this year.

There has been some controversy over the quality and rigor of state standards, including Wisconsin's. Sam Dillon has more. Joanne Jacobs adds a few comments and links to this article.

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The Next School Name

A Capital Times Editorial:

The new elementary school on Madison's far west side will not be named for Hmong Gen. Vang Pao, who has been arrested by federal authorities on charges of masterminding a plot to use money collected from Hmong refugees in the United States to massacre Laotians in a violent coup.

Whether the Madison School Board recognizes that fact immediately or in a few weeks -- after what board President Arlene Silveira describes as an investigation into the "nature of the charges" against Vang -- there is no way that Madison, or any other city, is going to build a "Vang Pao Elementary School."

That's the first reality of the moment.

It is not a judgment regarding the guilt or innocence of Vang. The charges against the general, who for many years during the Vietnam War era did the dirty work of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, are serious. But just as there must always be an assumption of innocence, there should also be a measure of skepticism when it comes to federal claims regarding conspiracies.

Much more on the Vang Pao Elementary School here.

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June 6, 2007

Omaha-Area Districts to Share Revenue, Programs

Christina Samuels:

The new law retains the previous measure’s concept of creating a “learning community” of the 11 districts, located in Douglas and Salpy counties, which educate about 100,000 children.

The goal is for each school to have 35 percent students who are of low socioeconomic status. Students would be able to transfer freely between schools that have space for them, regardless of the district where they live. A paid, 18-member board will oversee specific issues that do not relate to the operations of the individual districts for the learning community.

The state will levy a common tax on the two counties that will be distributed to districts based on enrollment and other needs. Districts will be able to levy their own tax, and another, smaller tax levy will pay for an areawide school construction program.
The plan calls for the creation of “focus schools,” with programs intended to attract students from more than one district. The construction of those boundaryless schools will be part of the duties of the new learning-community board.

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Live Chat: Teachers and Performance Pay

via a reader involved in these issues:

WHEN: Wednesday, June 6, 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., Eastern time


Submit questions in advance here.

Earlier this spring, a panel of 18 highly accomplished teachers assembled by the Center for Teaching Quality—and known as the TeacherSolutions group— released a report that strongly advocates performance-pay systems for teachers.

Under TeacherSolutions' recommendations, teachers would be paid more over time as they advance along a career ladder that extends from "novice" to "expert," but they could also receive extra pay for taking on leadership roles, improving students academic performance, acquiring new knowledge and skills, and working in low-performing schools. According to the report, in Wake County, N.C., for example, novice teachers could make as little at $30,000, while experts could make up to $130,000 per year depending on their performance.

"We have to provide more for those teachers who continually go above and beyond to ensure high academic gains," Betsy Rogers, a member of TeacherSolutions, wrote in an article for "[TeacherSolutions'] goal is to encourage—even provoke—a deep conversation about quality teaching and how a variegated pay system could support the development of teaching as a profession."

In this chat, two members of the TeacherSolutions group, Nancy Flanagan and Lori Nazareno, will be online to take your questions about their recomendations, current issues in teacher compensation and career advancement, and the challenges of evaluating teacher performance.

Please join us for the discussion.

Submit questions in advance here.

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Thomas back on his mission to bring music to kids

Zoe Mezin:

Elegantly ensconced in an elaborately embroidered armchair at the British ambassador's residence, Michael Tilson Thomas reveals his recipe for drawing young people to classical music.

"Rosebud," says the San Francisco Symphony music director, who was in Paris until Monday filming a future installment of the "Keeping Score" documentary series.
"When Charles Foster Kane dies (in the movie "Citizen Kane"), a paperweight falls and he says the word 'Rosebud.' 'Keeping Score' is like that. It tries to go behind the scenes, into the unconscious of the composers and their world. It builds up from small, seemingly inconsequential things to see what drives them."
Storytelling is central to the "Keeping Score" series that aired on PBS to 3.5 million viewers in November 2006. In forthcoming episodes, Thomas follows the same formula.

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Multiplying Benefits of College for Everyone

Jay Matthews:

Many intelligent people don't think going to college is so important. They send me emails whenever I vent about the need to prepare more low-income students for higher education. They ask a simple, excellent question: Why should college be for everybody?

They say some kids are not capable of succeeding in college. They say some kids don't want to go to college. They say if everyone went to college, who would do the important non-college jobs, like plumbing and carpentry and auto repair? They say if everyone went to college, we would have a lot of unemployed college graduates--as has happened in some underdeveloped countries--with neither the skills nor the desire to work with their hands.

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West Bend School Board considers seeking $119 million in referendum

Don Behm:

The West Bend School Board will decide Monday whether to ask voters to spend $119 million in a referendum proposal that would, if approved in November, be the largest to pass in state history.

West Bend has not built a new school since the 1969 construction of its twin high schools at the same site, and the growing district needs to replace a few schools and provide more space for students and educational programs, said School Board President Charlie Hillman. The district serves about 7,000 students and is the 19th largest in the state.

The original piece of the district's oldest school, Jackson Elementary, was built in 1894, and there is no room on the site for further expansion, school officials have said.

"It is time to take care of our problems," Hillman said. "We will ask the voters if this is worthwhile."

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June 5, 2007

3 Simple Things: Conduct Board Business Differently

  1. Good Health Care at an Affordable Price: Reduce Costs by $12 Million
  2. Put a Lid on the Cookie Jar: Cut Taxes Over $9 Million
  3. Eliminate Chaos: Board Decisions; Priceless: Improve Student Achievement.


The bargained contract between the Madison Metropolitan School District and Madison Teachers, Inc. (representing teachers) stipulates health coverage from a ‘preferred provider’ (WPS) and a ‘health maintenance organization’ (GHC).

Bids have not been solicited from health care providers in many years. Comparative monthly premium costs for the employer and the employee in the Madison market:
Plan Single Coverage Family Coverage
Employer Employee Employer Employee
MMSD (WPS) $673.00 $75.00 $1,765.00 $196.00
MMSD (GHC) $365.00 $00.00 $974.00 $00.00
City (Dean) $406.00 $13.09 $1,010.00 $33.00
County (Phys Plus) $385.00 $00.00 $905.00 $33.00
State (Dean) $438.00 $22.00 $1.091.00 $55.00
VIDEO: watch the press conference here. Download the 823K PDF presentation materials.
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An Interesting Report on the Financial Condition and Position of the Milwaukee Public Schools

Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce [330K PDF]:

As will be seen, MPS already has many challenges:
  • Declining student numbers and a host of viable options for K12 students and their families;
  • Rising and, in some cases, difficult to control costs. Though MPS’s finances are similar to other large, diverse districts, its salaries relative to staff experience and its benefit expenditures are relatively high. The size of middle management within schools is also atypical.
  • Highly aided by both the state and federal governments, the Milwaukee district is unusually vulnerable to political decisions and policy made elsewhere. An anticipated decline in federal monies will directly impact MPS’s bottom line. And, any slowdown or reduction in state aid, has a direct property-tax impact in a high-tax city.
WISTAX projections show the future to be even more difficult. All these factors combine to suggest a future where revenue growth will be modest, at best, while costs will grow inexorably. If no further budget adjustments are made—and some have already been implemented—the Milwaukee school district faces a recurring and growing gap between slowing revenues and growing expenditures.

Needless to say, MPS has difficult years in its immediate future. From our work, we know that district, MMAC, and community leaders are passionate about improving education for all Milwaukee’s children. We wish them only the very best.

Alan Borsuk:
A study from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance includes figures from 2005 placing Milwaukee Public Schools in perspective with statewide figures and with seven districts judged to be closest to comparable to MPS (Beloit, Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Racine, Superior, Wausau).
  • Teacher salaries
    $35,439 average in MPS
    $43,038 median statewide
  • Fringe benefits
    $21,439 average in MPS
    $20,324 median statewide
  • Assistant principals per student
    1:541 in MPS
    1:1,177 average for comparable districts listed above
In the report, Berry writes, "The combined effect of lost market share, district spending choices (particularly in the fringe benefit area), tightening state revenue controls and uncertain federal funding means that the expenditure demands MPS faces will grow faster than available revenues. Annual rounds of budget retrenchment are inevitable."

Even as spending per student has increased significantly in MPS, the impact of financial belt-tightening has increased, the report says. Rising health care costs and costs for retirees are major reasons.

Education spending has increased annually at the federal, state and local level. Clearly, something different than the usual "same service" or "cost to continue" approach is warranted.

Jay Bullock's notes and links.

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Mission Creep: How Large School Districts Lose Sight of the Objective -- Student Learning

Mike Antonucci:

The growth of education bureaucracy constitutes what former Education Secretary William Bennett once called "the education ‘blob.’"

A 1998 study by the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution defines "the blob" as nearly 40 Washington-based organizations, with more than 3,000 employees and combined budgets of more than $700 million. They have inter-locking directors, share staffs that move between groups and in and out of the revolving door of government, and generally stand united on every major education issue.

But while this national education establishment is often the subject of critical commentary, left undiscussed is the growth of smaller "mini-blobs" at the local, district level. With class size reduction and school size reduction on the public’s mind, educators are coming to the realization that bigger is not always better – but school district size has not yet made it onto the education policy agenda.

In 1937, there were 119,001 school districts. By 1970, that number had dropped to 17,995. In 1996, there were only 14,841. For decades, Americans have accepted the premise that a large city requires one mammoth school district. But evidence suggests that the larger a school district gets, the more resources it devotes to secondary or even non-essential activities. Schools provide transportation, counseling, meals, child care, health services, security, and soon these "support" functions require support of their own.

In sum, large school districts engage in "mission creep," building support activities which rapidly lose any connection to the original goal of educating children.

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Cramming May Not Be the Best Practice

Washington Post:

Take it from Isabela Guimaraes, a top D.C. high school student who said she has been there and done that: Cramming for an exam is better than not studying at all, but it's hardly a best practice.

Once, faced with a test in a troublesome trigonometry class, the Georgetown Day School student tried to fill her head with formulas for hours beforehand, only to find that her brain went blank at the critical moment. On her test, she wrote to her teacher:

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Who's Cheating the Most?

The Washington Post:

Donald McCabe says he has the research to prove it: Business students probably cheat the most.

"Students in business already have a bottom-line mentality," said McCabe, founder of the Center for Academy Integrity and a professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. " 'I have to get the job done, and how I get it done is less important.' That kind of thinking."

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In Finals, Pressure Seems Unending

Valerie Strauss:

In libraries, classrooms and coffee shops, with books, computers and calculators, students are trying to squeeze in the last bit of studying for final exams that can spell the difference between a good grade and summer school.

Some schools keep buildings open for late-night, middle-of-the-night and early-morning cramming sessions, while others have official "study days," when the entire campus is focused on that one task.

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Our schools are like family and budget cuts are hurting important family values

LaFollette Teacher Sean Storch:

hen the Madison School Board eliminated two high school athletic director positions to meet state-imposed budget restrictions, the La Follette High School family lost a critically valuable teacher, coach, adviser and school leader. Jim Pliner was modest when he said the surplus move "stings a little bit."

In another sense, Pliner is quite right to be humble. He is not the only excessively dedicated school leader who works 16-hour days and long weekends trying to hold the school community together.

At La Follette High School alone, add the entire administration, teachers who come in two hours early and leave at least two hours late, and all coaches and extracurricular advisers who volunteer countless hours because they thrive on strengthening their community by nurturing future leaders.

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Pao Vowed to Lead the Hmong Home

Tony Barboza and Ashley Powers:

Vang Pao, a key figure among those arrested Monday on suspicion of plotting the overthrow of the communist Laotian government, is so well-known in the local Hmong community that his family always keeps fruit, soda and water on the living room coffee table to greet the constant stream of visitors who drop by his Westminster home.

An aging Pao would often regale them with war stories while seated under portraits of the former Laotian king and other royalty — and one of himself in military dress from his younger days.

But in addition to the nationwide image of patriarch and benefactor, Pao also has another reputation — that of a tough leader who worked for the CIA in its "secret war" in Laos during the Vietnam War more than 30 years ago.

Brittany Schoepp and Andy Hall have more, as does Susan Troller.

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DC Begins School Audit

David Nakamura:

D.C. government officials will launch an extensive audit of the city's public schools today designed to pinpoint how the system is spending its $1 billion budget and identify areas of waste and mismanagement.

The audit, scheduled for announcement at a midday news conference, comes as Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) prepares to take control of the 55,000-student school system and is patterned after similar studies in other jurisdictions, including New York, St. Louis and New Orleans. But those studies have not always provided clear answers and, in some cases, resulted in new problems created by the auditors.

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June 4, 2007

Some High Schools Avoid Valedictorians

NPR's Steve Inskeep:

Some high schools are getting rid of a senior class tradition — naming a valedictorian. They say that lowering competition among students is better for their overall success. Eden Prairie High School in Minnesota will graduate its last valedictorians this year. Next year, exceptional students will receive just an honors diploma.

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Hmong here speak reverently of Gen. Vang Pao

Susan Troller:

Like countless thousands of other Hmong who had been American allies during the Vietnam War and who became hunted enemies in their own country when the United States withdrew from southeast Asia, Chue Thao lived as a refugee, eventually finding his way to the United States in 1987.

And like many in Madison's Hmong community, he credits Hmong military and civilian leader Gen. Vang Pao with first establishing a proud Hmong ethnic identity and then opening the door for his people to build a new life in America, based on education and hard work.

Harrowing experiences of discrimination, war and violent dislocation are the rule for local Hmong families who escaped to America, and they help explain the fervent passion many feel towards naming a new west-side elementary school honoring Vang Pao.

Much more on Vang Pao Elementary School here.

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On Parochial School Busing

Arlene Silveira:

I want to clarify the facts about the Madison School Board's decision on private school busing.

This is a financial budget change with no hidden agenda. This is not about "us versus them." This is not about Madison schools being "afraid of diversity." We embrace diversity. Visit any of our schools and see for yourself. This is not about the board wanting the private school children to bring in $13,000 of additional funds per child (an inaccurate number, by the way). In our deliberations, the School Board never discussed any of these topics.

This is, sadly, a matter of a state budget system that does not allow school districts in Wisconsin to provide adequately for their students ... across the board.

Due to state-imposed revenue caps, the Madison Metropolitan School District has made substantial budget cuts each year since 1993. We are at a point when no cut is good.

This year the board's Finance and Operations Committee closely examined areas of our budget that have high dollar expenditures. Transportation was one of these areas. The cut to the private school transportation was recommended as were cuts to busing for some of our middle schools.

State law permits the district to offer Parent Contracts to the private schools (payments to parents) when the cost of busing is more than 1.5 times the district's average cost of busing. The private school families will be reimbursed about $453 per child for driving their children to school. The public school families do not receive such reimbursement.

People state that we are unfairly targeting the private schools in our budget cuts. This is simply not true. This year we have cut special education services, student support services, and programs. We have increased class sizes at all levels. The list of cuts is quite lengthy. At a recent board meeting we had the horrible task of approving the layoff of teachers due to budgets cuts.

People state that we "owe them" because they pay property taxes. The public schools in Madison benefit the entire community. Good schools are the cornerstone of a thriving community. Providing options for children, developing a well educated work force and bringing new businesses to Madison are some of the benefits schools bring to all of us. In addition, good schools = good home values = good investment. Our schools benefit the MMSD community irrespective of whether or not your child attends one of our schools. It's the big picture.

The MMSD administration has told the diocese of our willingness to work with them to lessen the impact of these changes. We have offered to manage bus routes and provide information necessary to make alternative plans. It would require the diocese to pay part of the costs. I hope they will consider this seriously.

There is not one of us who feels comfortable with the level of cuts we now have to make each year. As a community, we have to work together to convince our legislators that we need a new system to fund our schools.

Our children, irrespective of where they attend school, deserve adequate funding.

Arlene Silveira, president, Madison School Board

Much more on the Madison School District's $333M+ budget here.

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When Should a Kid Start Kindergarten?

Elizabeth Weil:

According to the apple-or-coin test, used in the Middle Ages, children should start school when they are mature enough for the delayed gratification and abstract reasoning involved in choosing money over fruit. In 15th- and 16th-century Germany, parents were told to send their children to school when the children started to act “rational.” And in contemporary America, children are deemed eligible to enter kindergarten according to an arbitrary date on the calendar known as the birthday cutoff — that is, when the state, or in some instances the school district, determines they are old enough. The birthday cutoffs span six months, from Indiana, where a child must turn 5 by July 1 of the year he enters kindergarten, to Connecticut, where he must turn 5 by Jan. 1 of his kindergarten year. Children can start school a year late, but in general they cannot start a year early. As a result, when the 22 kindergartners entered Jane Andersen’s class at the Glen Arden Elementary School near Asheville, N.C., one warm April morning, each brought with her or him a snack and a unique set of gifts and challenges, which included for some what’s referred to in education circles as “the gift of time.”

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:08 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Harvard, Stanford on an iPod near you

Evelyn Shih:

ver want to attend a world-class university like Stanford or Harvard but don't have the time, opportunity or grades? Now, thanks to the magic of podcasts, all you need is a portable audio player and an Internet connection to enjoy the growing body of online lecture courses provided for free by top colleges.

As the podcast snowball continues rolling - podcast users accounted for 12 percent of the Net's population in 2006 - universities are beginning to jump on the bandwagon. Now, everyday folks around the world can listen to lectures like "Geography of World Cultures," "The Historical Jesus" or "European Civilization From the Renaissance to the Present" during a jog or a long commute.

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Linguistics: Words in Code

The Economist:

The speakers of tonal and non-tonal languages have genetic differences

FIVE years ago three well-known academics, including Noam Chomsky, wrote that the half-century old “interdisciplinary marriage” between biology and linguistics “has not yet been fully consummated.” That same year other scientists described the molecular evolution of a gene called FOXP2 which, when mutated, seems to cause people severe difficulty with grammar and articulation.

Another genetic condition that could shed light on the biology of linguistics is microcephaly (sometimes rudely called “pin-headedness”). It is linked to six genes, a spanner in the works of any of which leads the human brain to grow to only two-thirds of a pint in adults. That is less than a third of its normal volume. Those genes are alluring objects for studying the evolution of language because brain size has ballooned in people since their line split with that of their closest relatives. Even though birds sing and bees dance, nothing in nature matches a human's richly complicated system of vocal communication. In short, language makes humans unique and genes active in the developing brain make language possible.

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No more romp and circumstance

Amy Hetzner:

Students and their families should enjoy the pomp and circumstance that come with the upcoming graduation season, Milwaukee-area high school officials said.

They just would prefer a little more pomp and a little less circumstance.

So in the interest of preserving the decorum of their graduation proceedings, a number of school districts have drafted agreements with graduating seniors and their guests outlining behavioral expectations.

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June 3, 2007

Schools streamline how math is taught: Same textbooks, same lessons, at the same time

Via a reader, interested in this issue:

Jessica Blanchard:

When Seattle elementary-schoolers open their math textbooks this fall, they'll all be on the same page -- literally.

In an attempt to boost stagnant test scores, elementary teachers will start using the same math textbooks and materials and covering lessons at the same time as their colleagues at other Seattle elementary schools, the School Board decided Wednesday.

"It's clear to me that the math adoption is long overdue, and Seattle desperately needs a consistent and balanced approach," board member Brita Butler-Wall said.

Lessons will now be taught using the conceptual "Everyday Math" books, which help students discover algorithms on their own and explore multiple ways to solve problems, and the more traditional "Singapore Math" books, which help hone students' basic computation skills through repetition and problem solving. Teachers will follow the district's guidelines for the order the lessons would be taught.

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West HS English 10: Time to Show Us the Data

According to the November, 2005, report by SLC Evaluator Bruce King, the overriding motivation for the implementation of West's English 10 core curriculum (indeed, the overriding motivation for the implementation of the entire 9th and 10th grade core curriculum) was to reduce the achievement gap. As described in the report, some groups of West students were performing more poorly in English than were other groups of West students. Poor performance was defined as:

  1. not electing to take the more rigorous English electives offered at West during 11th and 12th grade and
  2. failing one or more English classes.
The current West 10th graders -- the first class to take English 10 -- has almost finished two semesters of the new course. As well, they registered for their 11th grade courses several weeks ago. Seems to me it's about time to take a look at the early data.

I would like to know what English courses the current 500 or so West sophomores signed up for for next year and if the distribution of their course selections -- broken down by student groups -- looks significantly different from that of previous 10th grade classes? When final grades come out later this month, I would also like to know what the impact of the first two semesters of English 10 has been on the achievement gap as defined by the "grade earned" criterion.

Thinking about the need to evaluate the impact of English 10 brings to mind the absence of data on English 9 that became so glaringly apparent last year. [English 9 -- like English 10, a core curriculum delivered in completely heterogeneous classes -- has been in place at West for several years. And yet, according to Mr. King's report, it is not clear if English 9 has done anything to reduce the achievement gap in English among West students. (More precisely, according to email with Mr. King and others after the SLC report was made public, it is not clear that the impact of English 9 on the achievement gap at West has even been empirically evaluated. Readers may recall that some of us tried valiantly to get the English 10 initiative put off, so that the effect of English 9 could be thoroughly evaluated. Unfortunately, we failed.)] I would like to know what has been done this year to evaluate the impact of English 9 on the gap in achievement between different groups of West HS students.

Bruce (King), Heather (Lott), Ed (Holmes) and Art (Rainwater), I do hope you will soon "show us the data," as they say, for West's English 9 and English 10. And BOE, I do hope you will insist on seeing these data asap.

While we're at it, what do the before-and-after data look like for Memorial's 9th grade core curriculum? (In contrast to West, Memorial implemented only a 9th grade core curriculum. TAG and Honors classes still begin in 10th grade, as does access to Memorial's 17 AP classes.)

With the District in the process of applying for a federal grant that may well result in the spread of the West model to the other three comprehensive high schools, we should all be interested in these data.

So should officials in the Department of Education.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 4:24 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Economic Snapshot: The $363,000 High School Diploma

June is when many Wisconsin families celebrate high school graduations. As usual, Wisconsin ranks near the top nationally, with nearly a 90 percent high school graduation rate. Data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction indicates that in the 2005-2006 school year, many schools in the Capital Region graduated over 95 percent of their students. However, 260 students (14.4%) in the Madison School District dropped out of high school in that school year.

What is the cost of high school dropouts? The U.S. Census estimates that in 2005, high school graduates in Dane County earned $9,083 more than high school dropouts. The 263 Madison students who did not complete high school in 2006 will earn $94.5 million less ($363,320 less each) over a 40-year career. At the state level, estimated lost earnings over a lifetime are nearly $1.4 billion.

According to the U.S. Census, 31.6 percent of families in Wisconsin headed by a person without a high school diploma live in poverty. According to reports filed with the Department of Health and Human Services for the 2004-2005 fiscal year, 48 percent of the adults requiring Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in Wisconsin did not have a high school degree.

In addition to the $94.5 million in lost earnings, studies show that adults who lack high school degrees are at an elevated risk of incarceration and needing publicly financed medical care.

2005-2006 high school dropouts total lifetime earnings loss:

Madison Metropolitan School District -- $95,553,160
Milwaukee School District -- $590,775,360
Wisconsin total -- $1,390,584,360

Source: WINSS, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2005 American Community Survey, U.S. Census Table: B2004, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, TANF, TAble 25, FY 04-05.

For more information, contact Professor Andy Lewis, Center for Community and Economic Development, U.W. Extension, at

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Madison Students Participate in an International Origami Exhibit

Gayle Worland:

There are plenty of pages to turn in a library, though usually it's between book covers. At the Pinney Branch Library, carefully arranged and locked behind glass, stand adventures in paper of a much different sort: "Origami By Children," a traveling exhibit of tiny, ingeniously folded works selected in an international competition by the group OrigamiUSA.

Two Madison students have works in the exhibit, which was first assembled in 2005 but only now has arrived in Madison. Each creation is deceptively simple: many are made from a single sheet of paper, yet turned into a fanciful creature or sharp-edged geometric shape by the skilled, young hands of their creators.

"Origami is a very different art than arts that are based on expression, like painting," says Natalya Thompson, a Madison West High School sophomore whose interlocking paper "Bow-Tie Motif," made from 48 squares of three-inch-by-three-inch paper, is featured in the exhibit. Most pieces in the small show are based on designs created by published origami masters.

Origami USA website

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MMSD Paid Math Consultant on Math Task Force

Click to view MMSD Accounting Details.
A number of questions have been raised over the past few years regarding the Madison School District's math curriculum:
  • West High Math Teachers:
    Moreover, parents of future West High students should take notice: As you read this, our department is under pressure from the administration and the math coordinator's office to phase out our "accelerated" course offerings beginning next year. Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.
  • Dick Askey:
    Madison and Wisconsin 8th Grade Math Data
  • Math Forum Video, Notes and Links.
The Madison School Board's most recent Superintendent evaluation process included the requirement (board minutes) that a math task force be formed to review the District's curriculum. Details. The Board discussed this requirement on April 16, 2007 (Video and links) (Minutes)

The Task force includes David Griffeath, who, according to this document, provided by a reader, has been a paid math consultant for the Madison School District.

35 members of the UW-Madison Math Department sent an open letter to Madison School Board and Superintendent regarding the District's math coordinator position.

Related: Take the Math Homework Survey - via Joanne

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June 2, 2007


In reference to current talk about a referenda proposal by the Madison Metropolitan School Board (MMSD), Active Citizens for Education (ACE) will hold a news conference this coming Tuesday, June 5th at 12:15 p.m. at The Coliseum Bar, 232 East Olin Ave, Madison [map].

The group will advance three proposals that the School Board should adopt and initiate in the process of deciding whether or not to place any additional requests before the voters for taxpayer funds or exemptions from the state-imposed revenue caps. The proposal topics are:

Speakers will include Don Severson, president of ACE, and former Madison Alder Dorothy Borchardt, an activist in school and community issues.

In addition to comments by Severson and Borchardt, there will be five display boards briefly outlining the proposals as well as duplicated handouts. The presentation part of the news conference will last 15 minutes, followed by questions.

Posted by Don Severson at 9:50 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Milwaukee Schools finding way around budget cap

Alan Borsuk:

A path for getting around a state-imposed cap on how much a school district can spend is allowing Milwaukee Public Schools to add driver's education programs, fund more arts programs, maintain after-school centers that are losing federal aid and even add a position to the staff of the School Board.

The path means there will be fewer invasive plant species to be seen at two nature preserves owned by MPS.

But it also means property taxes will be going up more than they otherwise would.

In two years, the School Board has raised the amount being collected through what is called its extension fund by almost 60%, which comes to an increase of about $8 for each resident of the city.

The growing interest in using the extension fund to support initiatives in MPS was evident Thursday night and Friday morning as the board approved amendments to the proposed budget for 2007-'08 that added more than $500,000 in spending to the fund.

The Madison School District's growing use of Fund 80 (expenditures outside the state revenue caps) has been the subject of some controversy.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:56 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

No Group Discount For Autism Care

Susan DeFord:

Randy and Lynn Gaston received the distressing diagnosis not once but three times.

Their sons, Zachary, Hunter and Nicholas, are triplets, and as the brown-haired boys grew into toddlers, Lynn noticed how oddly they played, how little they babbled, how they cried inconsolably at doctor's offices and family gatherings.

Two years ago, when the boys were 4, specialists confirmed the Gastons' suspicions: The boys have varying degrees of autism, a neurological disorder that hampers communication and social interactions and can include obsessive-compulsive behavior.

"It was shocking," Lynn said, "but in my heart, I knew, yes, somebody finally sees it."

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June 1, 2007

Agenda for June 7, 2007 BOE Meeting on High School Redesign Update & Possible Grant

6:30pm - Special BOE Meeting - Workshop, Wright Middle, 1717 Fish Hatchery Rd [map], Gym

  • Progress on MMSD High School Redesign
  • Smaller Learning Communities Grant Opportunity

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Community invited to give input on grant opportunity

(It seems that the public information session on the work of the High School Redesign Committee -- including how it relates to the SLC grant described below -- has been turned into something else quite entirely.)

On Thursday, June 7, 2007, Superintendent Art Rainwater will be leading a discussion to solicit the Board of Education's and community's input on a $5.5 million dollar grant application to the U.S. Department of Education.

The grant recipients would be the four comprehensive MMSD high schools. The focus of the grant will be the expansion or creation of personalized learning environments so that all students in these high schools will be able to access programs and classes that will make the most of each student's intellectual potential and provide a clear pathway to post secondary education or careers.

The grant is titled "Smaller Learning Communities" and focuses on the well-researched idea that schools with populations approaching two thousand need a variety of ways for students to meaningfully connect with adults, to form strong, productive peer relationships, and to be successfully challenged by a rigorous academic program.

This discussion will take place at a Special Board of Education meeting that will be held at Wright Middle School, 1717 Fish Hatchery Road [map], starting at 6:30 PM.

Madison Metropolitan School District
Public Information Office
545 W. Dayton St.
Madison, WI 53703

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Isabel Jacobson National Spelling Bee Roundup

  • Audrey Hoffer:
    The silence crackled in a downtown hotel Thursday as Isabel A. Jacobson, an eighth-grader from Madison and the sole Wisconsin entrant to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, enunciated "c-y-a-n-o-p-h-y-t-i-o-n."

    Ping, the telltale final bell. Shoulders shrugging helplessly. Applause.

    Misspelling the word cyanophycean, Isabel, the last girl in the group of five finalists, dropped out in Round 9, tying for third place. Cyanophycean is a blue-green alga.

    "I feel great but kind of sad because it was my last spelling bee, and I'll never be up on the stage again," said Isabel, 14.

    "I'm not shocked that she's done this well," said Jeff Kirsch, her tutor. "Luck is a factor, as is skill. But she studied and she's smart - the last surviving girl."

  • Gena Kittner:
    he nation now knows what Madison has long understood — Isabel Jacobson can kick some spelling derri?re.

    Isabel, 14, made her prime-time television spelling debut Thursday night at the Scripps National Spelling Bee, correctly spelling the French word epaulement, but later slipping up on cyanophycean and ultimately tying for third.

    Isabel, an eighth-grader at O'Keeffe Middle School, was the only female speller by the end of Round 8 in a competition that went 13 rounds.

  • Elissa Silverman:
    One was only 11 and the oldest topped out at 14, but many of these kids had been here before. They knew the white-hot intensity of the competition, the absurdity of some of the words they were being asked to spell on national television and the warm applause that inevitably burst from the crowd when they got them right.

    Most of the 15 finalists in this year's Scripps National Spelling Bee were a seasoned crew. And that, in the end, might have helped propel Evan M. O'Dorney, 13, who has taken to eating tuna sandwiches from Subway for good luck each of the three times he has been in the finals, to victory last night.

    Evan, an eighth-grader from Walnut Creek, Calif., exuded confidence as he faced the only other contestant still standing, Nate Gartke, 13, of Edmonton, Alberta. First, Evan spelled "Zoilus." Nate, a musician who is a member of a curling team, countered by correctly spelling "vituline." The Canadian gave a thumbs-up as a half-dozen of his nation's flags waved from the audien

  • Google News roundup.
  • Isabel's words.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:14 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2007 National Condition of Education Report Released

US Department of Education:

This website is an integrated collection of the indicators and analyses published in The Condition of Education 2000–2007. Some indicators may have been updated since they appeared in print.
Chad Aldeman:
CES released their annual report this morning on the condition of education in the U.S. They took the opportunity to highlight high school coursetaking trends. More states are requiring more coursework for graduation, and overall, the average number of course credits completed by graduates increased from 21.7 in 1982 to 25.8 in 2004. More students are taking more math, science, and English courses with no declines in art or social studies, but to the detriment of study halls, vocational education, and career training. They’re taking more advanced courses as well. The number of students taking at least one AP exam doubled between 1997 and 2005.

Great news. Bust open the bubbly. Surely additional credit hours in the basics translates to higher test scores, right? That is the assumption behind the drive for the basics, no? Actually, the data suggests there was minor, incremental, or even no change. On NAEP in 1971 in reading, 17 year olds averaged a scale score of 285. On NAEP in 2004 in reading, 17 year olds averaged a scale score of 285. That’s not a typo. During the same time frame, math scores increased from 300 to 307, a 2.3% increase over 33 years. For some comparability, the coursetaking trend discussed above is a 19% increase since 1982. The numbers don’t quite compute.

When asked about this conundrum, Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst, Director of the Institute of Education Sciences, admitted there was a “legitimate concern” that courses had been watered down. He labeled it a top priority to analyze what exactly these courses are teaching, and said data including course syllabi and the textbooks used in the classes exists, but has yet to be fully analyzed. That’s why I left “the condition of education 2007” feeling like I had been bombarded with statistics without much context.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:47 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Grade-School Girls, Grown-Up Gossip

Stephanie Rosenbloom:

WHEN Britney Spears shaved off her signature blond locks, Alexis Gursky, 9, found herself wondering not why Ms. Spears picked up a razor in the first place, but why she did not do more with the hair she shaved off.

“I just thought it was a little weird to just do it and not to give it to people who have cancer,” said Alexis, a third grader in Manhattan.

And while scores of people were petitioning Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California to keep Paris Hilton from having to report to jail on June 5, Jessie Urvater, 8, could not muster any sympathy.

“I don’t like Paris,” said Jessie, of Manhattan, who was quick to point out that hotel heiresses are not above the law. “I think she should go to jail.”

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

NYC Expands School Test Program

Julie Bosman:

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced yesterday that the city school system would spend $80 million over five years on a battery of new standardized tests to begin this fall for most of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students.

The contract awarded to the testing giant CTB/McGraw-Hill will involve a significant expansion of exams, known as periodic tests, which monitor students’ progress and are supposed to help predict how students will perform in the annual state exams. Mr. Klein’s announcement immediately rekindled the debate over whether such testing is emphasized too much or is even a useful tool for teachers.

Pupils in Grades 3 through 8 will be tested five times a year in both reading and math, instead of three times as they are now. High school students, for the first time, will be tested four times a year in each subject. In the next few years, the tests will expand to include science and social studies.

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Dayton Charter School Faces Budget Cuts

Bob Driehaus:

The 32 students who graduated from the Dayton Early College Academy on Wednesday evening were mostly from low-income families. Few of their parents went to college.

But every member of the graduating class, the school’s first, will attend college in the fall on the strength of their academic achievements and $2 million in scholarship offers, a remarkable success story in a school district plagued by budget shortfalls and challenges endemic to urban schools.

That success, however, may not be enough to save the experimental public high school. Voters rejected a school tax levy on May 8, forcing the school district to cut $30 million from its budget. That could result in the academy’s reverting to a more traditional model.

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