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August 31, 2007

West HS English 10: More from Pam Nash

As many of you know, I have been in touch with the District and West HS administration -- as well as with our BOE -- with a request for "before-and-after" data on the English elective choices of West's juniors and seniors. The reason for my request is that one of the primary reasons why English 10 was implemented was the concern that some groups of West students were not choosing to take challenging electives in their upper class years. Here are links to my earlier posts:

On August 29, I received the following email from Pam Nash:


Our Research and Evaluation staff reported today that the district does not keep course requests and course assignments beyond one year. Therefore, we cannot retrieve information that shows, historically, what English courses were chosen by whom over time.

We will be able to give you this year's information by the end of next week.


That same day, I wrote to Pam:

Are you saying you do not know what this year's seniors took last year, as
juniors? Or is their data still available (along with this year's juniors)?

Pam wrote back:

R&E says that they do not save an archive base of course requests. They do still have the Spring 2007 requests.

To which I replied today:

Hi, Pam. Thanks for the update on the data situation. It's somewhat good news. I think. Assuming that I understand what you're saying.

I think you're saying that we still have the senior English elective choices made by the current senior class, the last class to not have English 10, the last class to take English electives as sophomores.

I assume it also means that we still have the junior English elective choices made by the current 11th grade class.

By all means, don't let anyone destroy that data! It may be the only thing we have for a "before and after" comparison.

Or is it? My son pointed out to me that surely West must have complete transcripts for all current seniors. Right? (Maybe even the complete transcripts for several recently graduated classes, it occurs to me.) Doesn't that mean we have a listing of any and all courses that the current seniors have taken while at West? If so, that must mean we still have information about which junior year English electives the current seniors took. And that would obviously be the better comparison to the choices of the current junior class.

Something I really don't understand, Pam, is that if there was such concern about the English electives being taken by different groups of West students, where are the data that justify that concern?

I also do not understand why -- if English 10 was instituted largely to rectify that specific problem -- no effort was made to collect, save, organize and analyze the data that would tell us if the new core curriculum is having the desired effect?

In any event, I look forward to receiving any and all relevant data. At the very least, I hope there is a way to retrieve the current seniors' junior year elective choices, so that a comparison can be made with this year's juniors' elective choices.


It would be nice if one of our school board members would request these data analyses.

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Do culture-themed public schools cross a legal line?

Nathanial Popper:

When the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy opened four years ago in suburban Minneapolis, the school was a bold experiment and its survival was in question. There was the scramble to attract students that any charter school faces, but Tarek ibn Ziyad had the additional worry of a constitutional challenge, given the school's sponsorship by a nonprofit called Islamic Relief and the curriculum's emphasis on Muslim culture and the Arabic language.

The school has not only survived but thrived, and there are plans for local expansion. Perhaps the surest sign that the experiment worked came last week, when a new charter school opened up thousands of miles away in Hollywood, Fla.--founded by Jewish parents, Ben Gamla Charter School has kosher food in the cafeteria and Hebrew posters in the classrooms. In the planning of the Florida school, Tarek ibn Ziyad's experience was taken into account.

The success of Tarek ibn Ziyad's model, and its adoption outside of Minnesota, heralds a potentially explosive new trend in America's charter schools: publicly funded schools tied to a particular religion. The founders of Ben Gamla are already promising more branches in other states, and parents from other religions are sure to venture into similar territory, pushing the constitutional limits even further. As Peter Deutsch, the Orthodox Jewish congressman who started Ben Gamla, has said, it "could be a huge paradigm shift in education in America

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August 30, 2007

Superintendent by Feb. eyed: School Board wants hire by then

Susan Troller:

The Madison School Board intends to hire its new superintendent of schools by early February 2008, so he or she can learn the ropes before veteran Superintendent Art Rainwater retires at the end of June.

Board President Arlene Silveira announced a working schedule for the superintendent search this week. The board has been meeting throughout the summer with a consulting firm and now has mapped out dates and action items for naming the new administrator.

"We're very comfortable with our consultants and with the process. Even so, I'm a little nervous about it," she said this morning. "This is likely to be the most important thing we do as a board, and we're taking it very seriously. Change is good, though, and it's an exciting process."

She said the process in Madison will include more public input than is typical in most communities looking for a new school superintendent.

"We'll have two general community forums on September 19 and 20, and there will probably be 20 focus groups with everyone from advocacy groups, to our philanthropic partners, to the business community and staff members. If we made it any broader, we'd just be inviting names out of the phone book," she laughed.

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Washington State's Math Standards Review

Donna Gordon Blankinship:

The board's executive director, Edie Harding, said public comment required some changes to a draft report the committee circulated last month, but the basic message is the same: The state needs tougher math standards and clearer guidance for teachers, parents and students.

The draft report called for putting more emphasis on learning the mechanics of math, but Harding said the math committee learned during public hearings around the state that people thought the report came on too strong concerning memorizing basic math facts.

Washington does need to re-emphasize the mechanics of math, but not give up on teaching students how to apply what they learn and to understand how math ideas fit together, Harding said.

The report, written by Linda Plattner of the Maryland-based educational research firm Strategic Teaching, which was hired by the state to assess its math expectations, also emphasizes the need to simplify grade level expectations and to set priorities for the state's math standards.

"That should help teachers as well as kids," Harding said.

The focus groups also taught the math committee that they need to include a math educator in their review committee so they can hear from a teacher if the standards will work in the classroom.

Strategic Teaching Draft Report: 650K PDF:
The bottom line is that Washington’s math standards need to be strengthened. If mathematics is the gateway to student success in higher education and the workplace, Washington is getting too few of its students to and through the door.

Compared to other higher-achieving states and countries, Washington is not expecting enough of its students. There is insufficient emphasis on key mathematical content. Some key math should be taught earlier in a student’s schooling, and some key math is simply missing. Washington does not provide sufficient clarity in its math expectations and does not ensure that Washington students learn the critical algorithms — math rules — that they need to succeed.

And the standards do not provide sufficient clarity of how well students are expected to learn math. For example, the standards often call for student “understanding” rather than a demonstration that a student can actually use the math to calculate, estimate, or solve a problem.

This is a harsh assessment. To be sure, there are good qualities in Washington’s mathematics standards including well-defined and developed mathematical processes and some well-developed strands, such as Algebra in the elementary years.

The Madison School Board instructed Superintendent Art Rainwater to conduct an "Independent Math Review" as part of his annual review process. Proposed Math Review Task Force [outline] (which did not obtain the required NSF funding).

I found it interesting and useful that Strategic Teaching included a discussion "on higher achieving states and countries" acknowledging the fact that our next generation is not competing with students from only from Racine or Green Bay, but those from Helsinki, Bangalore, Moscow and many other communities around the world.

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Make science easier, examiners are told

Adam Kula & Alexandra Frean:

Examiners will have to set easier questions in some GCSE science papers, under new rules seen by The Times. A document prepared by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents awarding bodies across Britain, says that, from next year, exam papers should consist of 70 per cent “low-demand questions”, requiring simpler or multiple-choice answers. These currently make up just 55 per cent of the paper.

The move follows growing concern about the “dumbing down” of science teaching at GCSE and grade inflation of exam results, which critics claim is the result of a government drive to reverse the long-term decline in the number of pupils studying science.

In the past five years, the proportion of students gaining a grade D or better in one of the combined science papers has leapt from 39.6 to 46.7 per cent.

The latest move has been condemned by an education expert. Last night Professor Alan Smithers, head of the Education and Employment Research Centre at the University of Buckingham, said: “Deliberately increasing the proportion of easier questions is a clear example of lowering the bar.”

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Teachers in Trouble, Parents Ignored, Part III

Jay Matthews:

Dawn Henderson's daughter Kaitlin was crying hysterically when she came home from Hardy Middle School one day in early October 2003. The D.C. sixth grader had a learning disability. She had not understood her social studies homework and was among six students who had not completed it.

Henderson said she knew the teacher to be a young woman new to the profession. During visits to Hardy, Henderson said she heard the teacher yell at some students about failing to do homework.

Kaitlin told her mother that day the teacher had tried something new: She made the six students stand in front of the class and hold all of their textbooks in their outstretched arms for about 15 minutes, until their muscles ached. Kaitlin did not have many books, but they were heavy for an 11-year-old.

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August 29, 2007

Views on Wisconsin's K-12 School Spending

Frank Lassee:

The third Friday of September is an important date for schools. On that day the final enrollment count is made, then each school district will move to finalize their annual budget. Having the school budgets final by mid October is important for all of us, especially property taxpayers.

Under current law, schools will be allowed to spend $264 more for each student than last year. That is what the Governor and Democratic Senators proposed, as well. The Assembly has shaved it back to $200 per kid each year of the budget (with an incentive of $264 if the teachers agree to negotiate for a less expensive health plan). Last year in Wisconsin, we spent almost $10 billion on our public schools, approximately $5 Billion of state taxes, $4 Billion of local property taxes and $1 Billion from the federal government.

Paul Soglin:
Wisconsin State Representative Frank Lasee (R-2nd) needs to go back to school. I suppose it is an intended public service that he tells us that, "Education is by far the single biggest expense of our state budget."

O.K. Interesting information, but he never tells us what is the proper level of spending, or for that matter, why home owners should pay more so that businesses can pay less for education.

He makes additional observations such as the fact that, "Total spending divided by the number of teachers works out to nearly $150,000 for each teacher."

Huh? What does that mean? Lasee thinks that the cost of busing kids to school or the cost of school books is to be measured by the cost per teacher. A figure as useful as knowing the cost of postage to mail a letter to the moon. Most of his comments continue with measures and data that are meaningless, either with no context or a useless context.

Much more on K-12 spending here.

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Emphasizing Middle School Academics

Daniel de Vise:

Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast marched down a hallway on the first day of classes in the newly modernized Parkland Magnet Middle School in the Rockville area, trailed by a retinue of students. Then he stopped and asked, "Who's taking algebra?" Three hands went up.

A few years ago, the question would have seemed more fitting in a high school. But today, half of Montgomery students take high school algebra before they leave the eighth grade, part of a regionwide trend toward more rigorous instruction in middle school.

Middle schools are the center of attention as Washington area school systems enter the 2007-08 academic year, which began yesterday in Montgomery, Howard, Anne Arundel and Charles counties and in the District. Four of eight middle schools in Charles, eight of 19 in Anne Arundel and 11 of 38 in Montgomery missed their achievement targets this year under the No Child Left Behind law.

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2007 SAT Scores Released

The College Board:

The College Board announced SAT® scores today for the class of 2007, the largest and most diverse class of SAT takers on record. Nearly 1.5 million students (1,494,531) in the class of 2007 took the SAT, and minority students comprised nearly four out of 10 test-takers.

"The record number of students, coupled with the diversity of SAT takers in the class of 2007, means that an increasing number of students in this country are recognizing the importance of a college education and are taking the steps necessary to get there," said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board. "I am encouraged by the greater numbers of students from all walks of life who are taking on the challenge of the SAT and college.

This year's average score in critical reading is 502, a 1-point decline compared to last year, or a change of 0.20 percent. The average scores in mathematics and writing declined 3 points each compared to a year ago, bringing the scores to 515 and 494, or a change of 0.58 percent and 0.60 percent, respectively.

Wisconsin Results [250K PDF]. 50 State results are available here.

Daniel de Vise:

The Class of 2007 posted the lowest SAT averages in several years, according to scores released this morning. Scores from the second year of an expanded, three-section college-entrance test declined by double digits in Maryland and the District, by five points in Virginia and by seven points nationwide, compared with the previous graduating class.

Education leaders said the modest decline reflected an ever larger and more diverse population of students taking the test. More blacks, Asians and Hispanics took the SAT in this year's graduating class than in any previous class; two-fifths of test takers are now minorities.

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Study finds emotional trauma can alter size of a child's brain

Jill Tucker:

Hoping to unlock some of the mysteries of post-traumatic stress disorder in children, a Stanford University researcher looked inside their heads.

What Dr. Victor Carrion found was startling: Children with PTSD and exposure to severe trauma had smaller brains.

Carrion found a nearly 9 percent reduction in the size of the hippocampus, a horseshoe-shaped sheet of neurons that deals with memory and emotions.

The study, released earlier this year, was just a first step toward understanding the physical effects of trauma and why some children have a greater ability to ward off physical and mental reactions.

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August 28, 2007

Families Weigh Drugs for Attention Deficit

Benjamin Brewer, MD:

With school about to start, kids are coming in for their physicals -- and for medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

I'm seeing more kids each year with symptoms of ADHD. Some just have the attention problems and others are hyperactive, too.

New treatments can be given once a day. They are relatively easy for kids to take at home and don't require the involvement of the school nurse during the day, as shorter-acting older medicines do.

The medicines are even easier for doctors to prescribe. A trial of medication is the quickest and easiest thing to try for kids with symptoms, given the limited impact a doctor can have on complex family dynamics.

It may be too easy an option considering the rising sales of these heavily marketed medications. Ads for attention-deficit medications are everywhere in the popular press where a parent might see them, including People, Good Housekeeping and Family Circle magazines at our house.

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America Risks the Fate of the Roman Republic

David Walker (Comptroller General of the United States):

T he US is a great nation, possibly the greatest of all time. Yet to keep America great, policymakers must learn certain lessons from history, notably the downfall of the Roman republic.

The world has changed dramatically in recent years. The US is currently the sole superpower on earth but that exclusive status is likely to be short-lived. While the US is number one in many things, from the size of its economy to military might, it faces several big sustainability challenges.

America's fiscal, healthcare, education, energy, environment, immigration and Iraq policies are in need of review and revision. Timely action is needed because Washington's historical crisis-management approach to dealing with hard public policy choices is no longer prudent.

Jeremy Grant has more along with David Potter and Martin Walker.

Comptroller of the Currency

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Is Wisconsin's ACT Rank Inflated?

Bruce Murphy:

Last week, we got the annual good news that Wisconsin “scores near top on ACT once again,” as a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headline declared. Aping her predecessors, state Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster hailed the results as proof of how dandy we’re doing in Badgerland. The “composite score speaks well of our students’ academic achievement and the support they receive from their parents and teachers,” she declared.

But are we really doing that well? A close look at the ACT test data offers some reason for caution. Yes, Wisconsin’s average score of 22.3 was high compared to the national average of 21.2 (with scores ranging from 18.9 for Mississippi to 23.5 for Massachusetts), but the percentage of students taking the test here is lower than in 15 states. While 70 percent of Wisconsin students take the test, the percentage is 100 in Illinois and Colorado, 96 in Tennessee and Mississippi, and ranges from 71 to 82 percent for another 11 states.

Why does this matter? As the percentage of students taking the test increases, you are likely to include more low-attendance and low-performance students in the mix, pushing the average score lower.

Burmaster brags that Wisconsin has maintained its high ACT score even as the percentage of students taking the test rose. But the increase was minimal, rising from 68 percent in 2002 to 70 percent last year. That includes a steady rise in the number of African-American and Hispanic students taking the test, but they still remain underrepresented.

“We allow people in this state to pound their chest while ignoring the fact that Milwaukee has significantly fewer kids taking (the ACT),” Milwaukee School Board member Terry Falk declared in the JS story. (Falk, a former contributor to Milwaukee Magazine, sure knows how to give good quotes.)

As a reality check, I looked at state scores combined with the percentage of students taking the test to estimate which states we might actually trail. A state like Mississippi, for instance, can be quickly rejected: Yes, 96 percent of students took the test, but the average score of 18.9 was abysmally low, worst among all 50 states. Even if Wisconsin tested 96 percent of students, its average score would never drop that low.

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August 27, 2007

Teens exposed to world of biotech careers through partnership

Bernadette Tansey:

The family culture of Berkeley's Hernandez clan is a cool blend of Mexican roots and Bay area savvy - jumpy banda music, quinceanera parties, spicy pico de gallo and genetic engineering experiments.

That last part, the biotechnology, has been grafted onto the traditions Roberto and Irma Hernandez brought with them when the family immigrated to California in the late 1980s. Their arrival was timely - a new school program was about to welcome minority and disadvantaged kids to the biotech industry.

Their oldest child, Roberto, was the pioneer at 15 when he took a chance on the unfamiliar subject at Berkeley High School in 1992. Over the years, he has persuaded his brother and two of his three sisters to sign up for the biotechnology classes.

These four children of immigrants are now part of a young generation of biotech initiates whose prospects include some of the best-paying jobs in the Bay Area.

Roberto Hernandez, 30, was one of the first students to join the school program designed to convince disadvantaged kids that biotechnology jobs are a real option for them. The program, Biotech Partners, removes the barriers that often stand between low-income students and the well-compensated positions abounding in their own neighborhoods.

Hernandez and his sister Griselda, 28, work at the sprawling Bayer Healthcare campus in West Berkeley. Their younger brother Jesus just spent the eve of his 17th birthday tossing around terms such as "cell transformation" and "diafiltration" at a celebration for Biotech Partners students like himself who were finishing summer internships.

Biotech Partners Website:
Biotech Partners provides an entry-level biotechnology education and training program dedicated to supporting the San Francisco Bay Area’s robust bioscience industry while providing valuable working skills for local young people.

Biotech Partners has long been recognized as a model for connecting youth who are under-represented in the sciences to the world of biotechnology. A non-profit organization, Biotech Partners owes its success to strong collaboration among local biotechnology companies, secondary school and community college districts, a dedicated core staff and most importantly, the students and their families.

Related: Madison West High School's Accelerated Biology Program [RSS].

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Beloit College's Mindset List® for the Class of 2011

Beloit College:

Most of the students entering College this fall, members of the Class of 2011, were born in 1989. For them, Alvin Ailey, Andrei Sakharov, Huey Newton, Emperor Hirohito, Ted Bundy, Abbie Hoffman, and Don the Beachcomber have always been dead.

# What Berlin wall?

# Humvees, minus the artillery, have always been available to the public.

Cathy Lynn Grossman has more:
For this fall's incoming college class, "off the hook" could mean "excellent" or escaping blame, but for sure it has nothing to do with telephones.

"Here's Johnny!" That's Jack Nicholson in The Shining, not the intro for Johnny Carson's monologue, according to today's 18-year-olds.

Professors had best update their lingo if they want to communicate with the Class of 2011 (on the assumption that anyone actually finishes in four years anymore).

Here to help is the 10th annual Beloit College Mindset List, released today by the small Wisconsin liberal arts college.

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August 26, 2007

Checking the Kids Homework Over the Internet
Growing Web-Based Software

Christopher Lawton:

After his divorce, Gregg La Montagne found it hard to help his 15-year-old daughter with her schoolwork since she lives in another state. So for her Spanish class recently, Mr. La Montagne told her to write her assignment in an online word-processing application made by Google Inc.

Mr. La Montagne, a sales manager in Austin, Texas, then accessed his daughter's homework online, using the same software through his Web browser at home. A native Spanish speaker, Mr. La Montagne was then able to suggest grammar changes, which he typed in at the bottom of the paper. His daughter, who was online at the same time, was able to see her father's notes almost instantaneously as her screen refreshed, and then in turn correct the document for him to see.

"It makes it easier to participate," says Mr. La Montagne, 50 years old. "It's not the same as being with her, but it's at least a step in that direction."

Mr. La Montagne is one of a growing number of parents now using Web-based applications to review and aid their children's educational work. Google Docs & Spreadsheets, which Mr. La Montagne used, provides word processing and spreadsheets that a consumer can access using just a Web browser.

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New LA Superintendent "Blasts Culture of Low Expectations"

Howard Blume & Joel Rubin:

The L.A. schools chief tells administrators 'we're going to teach you how to change.' They'll get leadership training and will be held accountable for student achievement, he says.

In his first formal speech to administrators, Los Angeles Schools Supt. David L. Brewer told principals and managers Friday that they must change both themselves and a pervasive culture of "low expectations for brown and black children," adding that they would receive mandatory leadership training and support but also would be held accountable for student achievement.

Brewer, a devotee of management books, set out eight principles -- including creating "a sense of urgency," "building a team" and "communicating a vision" -- that he expects principals and others to follow.

In a later interview, Brewer said the Los Angeles Unified School District would launch a pilot management-training program, with courses shaped by input from universities, outside consultant firms and corporations.

"We're going to teach you how to change," Brewer told his audience, promising "world-class leadership and management training" as well as real support from higher-ups. "You're going to need it," he said.

Many of the roughly 1,500 administrators in attendance took notes on stationery provided free by a credit union that was trying to drum up business. After Brewer's morning speech at a hall in the Los Angeles Convention Center, "inspirational" was the adjective of choice for many.

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August 25, 2007

French Gains Foothold in NYC's Dual Language Schools

Julie Bosman:

Nearly all the 65 dual-language programs in the New York City public schools are conducted in Spanish and Chinese, languages that are considered practical tools for future success.

So far, French has not fit into that equation.

But next month, the first French-English dual-language programs will begin at three schools in the city: Public School 125 on the Upper West Side, P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and Intermediate School 22 in Harlem. They are the result of two years of lobbying from the French Embassy and a group of parents determined to promote the language in the public schools.

Dual-language programs have operated for more than 15 years, officials at the city’s Department of Education said. The inclusion of French brings the total number of languages in the program to five, including Spanish, Chinese, and last year’s addition of Haitian-Creole and Russian.

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West HS English 10: Request for Data -- Reply from Pam Nash

I received the following reply to my request for English 10 data from Assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools Pam Nash:

Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2007 14:27:48 -0500


Mr. Holmes and his staff will do this. Pam

Pamela J. Nash
Assistant Superintendent
for Secondary Schools
Madison Metropolitan School District
(608) 663-1635
(608) 442-2149 (fax)

And here's what I wrote back:

Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2007 15:21:06 -0500
From: "Laurie A. Frost"
Subject: Re: English 10 early results request

Thank you, Pam. I will look forward to receiving the data.

I know you all probably see me as a thorn in your side. Please try to understand, I am simply trying to keep you honest with the public ... and empirically based.

If the results are positive -- if English 10 is associated with a significant change in the target variable of concern (rigor of elective choices in 11th and 12th grade) -- wouldn't you want to know?

And if the results are not positive, wouldn't you want to know?


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Back to School Picnic

100 Black Men of Madison:

100 Black Men of Madison 11th Annual Back to School Picnic will be held this Saturday August 25th, rain or shine at Demetral Park located on Commercial and Packers Avenue at 11 am.

Over 2,000 free backpacks filled with school supplies will be distributed to students in kindergarten thru eighth grade.

In addition, hamburgers, hot dogs and beverages will be served. This event is first come, first served and students must be in attendance to receive a backpack.

The purpose of this event is to assist students at the beginning the school year with the supplies needed for academic success and to reduce the achievement gap.

For more information please contact, Chris Canty at 244-1259 or

Via a Johnny Winston, Jr. email.

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August 24, 2007

West HS English 10: Request for Data

Here is an email I sent to the BOE, asking them to request important outcome data for West HS's English 10 initiative. Embedded in the email is my own request for such data. As both a content and a process issue, I should think this would be of interest to all SIS readers. By all means, feel free to write to these people with your own request. --LAF

August 22, 2007

Dear BOE (especially Performance and Achievement Committee members Kobza, Winston and Cole):

Please see my email below to various people involved with the West HS English 10 initiative. Thank you for taking the appropriate and expected responsibility to obtain these data and make them public. We need to know if the things we are doing to our high school students are actually having the desired impact, in part, to guard against our doing things for our own misguided adult reasons (things like politics and stubborn pride).

I should think that the gap-closing effectiveness (or lack thereof) of a core course in 10th grade English at one of our four high schools would be of significant interest to community members throughout the District, including parents, teachers and students at the other three high schools ... and especially members of our School Board.

Many thanks,

Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2007 08:42:39 -0500
From: "Laurie A. Frost"
Subject: English 10 early results request

Dear All:

One of the primary reasons for the implementation of English 10 at West High School was concern about the failure of some groups of West students to take rigorous English electives in their upper class years.

Can you please send me the data regarding the English electives chosen by this year's 11th graders when they registered for classes six months ago? (Needless to say, I would also like to see the English elective data for the past few years, so that a meaningful comparison can be made between the choices of English 10-era versus pre-English 10-era students.)

This is the first group of West students to take English 10, so a look at the early results of the curricular initiative seems appropriate, as does sharing that information with the West community. I assume that the data are appropriately disaggregated by race and SES, given your concerns and your hypotheses about the impact of the new core course.

Many thanks.

Laurie Frost
West HS parent

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Attempts to make schools healthier are faltering

The Economist:

THE proportion of children in America who are overweight has tripled over the past 20 years and now exceeds 17%, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The health problems that this causes include hypertension and type-2 diabetes, formerly known only among the nation's overweight adult population. A group sponsored by the National Institute on Ageing has warned that this may be the first generation ever to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

All the while, the proportion of children who take part in daily exercise at high school has dropped from 42% in 1991 to only 28% in 2004, according to the CDC. Snacking has greatly increased; the Government Accountability Office found in 2003 that 99% of America's high schools now sell snacks and other food as well as providing lunches.

In an attempt to get the problem tackled at local level, Congress in 2004 passed an act directing school districts that get money from the national school-lunch programme to create “wellness” policies by the start of the 2006-07 school year. The districts were told to set standards for nutrition, physical activity and education about good food, then make sure that schools actually implement them.

One year after the deadline, the results are haphazard. School districts' plans range from a few paragraphs long to more than 25 pages. Some states, like Texas and Arkansas, have pre-emptively set standards for school districts under their jurisdiction, forcing schools to ban fizzy drinks and junk food while increasing the amount of exercise the pupils take. Others offer guidelines rather than mandates, with no repercussions for schools that don't comply. And in some areas, schools are being eased into change very slowly. Oregon's legislature passed a bill in June that gives its schools ten years to meet its new physical-education requirements.

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August 23, 2007

Kewaunee High School goes solar

From WFRV:

KEWAUNEE (WFRV) - Tuesday morning, solar-electric panels were installed on the roof of Kewaunee High School.

The panels are part of a system that will produce about 2,800 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year - that's enough electricity to power three classrooms, which amounts to approximately $200 in energy savings per year to the school.

In addition to the solar panels, the school was awarded a three-week renewable energy curriculum to be integrated into the science curriculum. Students and teachers can access data from the solar-electric system via the Internet and use the information in classroom projects throughout the year.

The system was donated to the school by WPS Community Foundation as part of the SolarWise® for Schools program. Every year three or four new high schools are selected. Since 1996, 41 high schools in the Wisconsin Public Service area have participated in the program.

This program is funded by donations from 3,800 Wisconsin Public Service customers, as well as state grants.

For more information on solar energy, go to Focus on Energy.

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NY State Names 17 More ‘Persistently Dangerous’ Schools

Jennifer Medina:

New York State education officials yesterday added 17 schools to the list of those considered “persistently dangerous,” substantially expanding the list for the second year in a row. All but 2 of the 27 schools on the new list are in New York City, including a dozen schools designed for students with severe disabilities.

The schools ranged from the behemoth Jamaica High School in Queens to smaller schools like Powell Middle School in Harlem and Public School 14 in Staten Island. The list also includes a school in Rochester and Berkshire Junior-Senior High School in Canaan, N.Y.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires states to compile annual lists of “persistently dangerous” schools but leaves it to each state to define the term. Many states, including New York, have been criticized for issuing extremely short lists in past years.

“We are utterly determined to make all schools safe,” said Richard P. Mills, the state education commissioner, in announcing the list yesterday at a news conference in Albany.

Mr. Mills said New York’s list had grown because the state had vastly improved its reporting efforts. He noted that the 49 other states had listed a total of only 30 schools as “persistently dangerous” last year, just a hairsbreadth more than the schools now listed by New York.

Madison Parent's School Safety Site posted 2006/2007 student teacher assaults/injury data here.

Wisconsin DPI "Discipline Data Collection and Reporting" webpage.

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Teachers in Trouble - Parents Ignored, Part II

Jay Matthews:

For a long time, Dawn Mosisa had trouble forgiving herself for the way she shrugged off her daughter's story about the teacher who hit one of her second grade classmates in the spring of 2003. Her daughter said the man ordered the class to count to 10 in French while he hit the boy 10 times with a ruler.

The girl was not in the habit of making up such stories, the mother said, but like most parents, Mosisa did not want to think that any educator would be so cruel, so she chose not to believe it. When the teacher left the school the next year, Mosisa grew more concerned. But she said she could not get anyone at Maryvale Elementary School in Rockville to explain to her or her child exactly what had occurred and how they should respond.

Abuse of a student at school is a parent's nightmare. Not only do such incidents harm the victims and their parents, but they also trouble the children who may have witnessed the event and their parents. Such cases usually remain undisclosed because parents do not want their children embarrassed or disturbed by public knowledge of what happened. But Mosisa, 44, a student financial services official for a public university, has given an unusually detailed account that sheds light on a rarely examined side of public education.

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August 22, 2007

Flushing Out Life's Hard Calls

Roger Blitz:

Harvard law school thinks it has found the solution to many of society's problems, from teenage delinquency to world diplomatic crises: a hand of poker.

The card game that is a game of skill to its advocates, and a potentially ruinous bet on chance to its detractors, is to be taught to disadvantaged US schoolchildren and college students to teach respect, business acumen and even war strategy.

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Madison and State ACT Scores Rise

Susan Troller:

Madison public school students' average scores on the ACT college admissions exam outpace those of their counterparts statewide, even as Wisconsin performs well compared to other states.

The average composite score of Madison public high school students on the national test was 24.6 over the 2006-07 school year, the best showing the district has had since it began keeping ACT records 22 years ago. Nearly 70 percent of high school students in Madison took the test last year.

Up from 24.2 in 2005-06, the average score for Madison students compares to 22.3 among students statewide. The average national composite score is 21.2.

Although an achievement gap remains among minority students and their white counterparts in Madison, students from all ethnic groups here perform substantially better than their peers statewide, and nationally. For the second year in a row, all Madison minority sub-groups improved their performance on the ACT.

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School Employees Serving on School Boards

Chris Moran:

School employees commonly serve on the governing boards of school districts that don't employ them. What makes a case in South County different is three administrators' dual roles at Southwestern College and the Sweetwater Union High School District, because they're in positions to vote on each other's budgets and salaries.

Greg Sandoval is interim president of Southwestern and a member of the Sweetwater board. Arlie Ricasa is director of student activities at Southwestern and is on the Sweetwater board. Jorge Dominguez is director of the Educational Technology Department at Sweetwater and a member of the Southwestern board.

The arrangement is legal. Governance ethicists raise questions about appearances, though, especially when the crossover votes occur as close together as they have recently.
How close?

In May, Sandoval joined the majority in a 3-2 vote rejecting $500,000 for Dominguez's department.

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August 21, 2007

Open records request re: private school busing

I want to know who knew what when about missing the August 4 deadline to notify parents of the MMSD decision on busing private school students, so I sent the following to Steve Hartley:

I am sending this message to you because I was told that you are now the legal custodian of district records.

This is an open records request under sec. 19.35 of the Wisconsin Statutes for all records, prepared between August 22, 2006 and August 22, 2007, that relate to or mention in any way the busing of private school students by the Madison Metropolitan School District.

As I hope that you know, Wisconsin statues define records rather broadly. It is my understanding that the definition would include any e-mail between staff on their personal computers or MMSD computers and all e-mail that might have a format such as and

I look forward to your prompt response to this request.

Ed Blume

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K-12 Spending More Reliant on Federal Government Since No Child Left Behind Act

Gerald Prante:

New data from the National Center for Education Statistics show that the federal government has been commandeering a continually larger role in K-12 education in recent years, especially since 1999 and the January 2002 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act.

The new statistics include detailed financial data about school districts across the nation for the 2004-05 school year. Five years earlier, during the 1999-2000 school year, public school districts received an average of $578 per pupil from the federal government. By 2004-05, that number had risen to $919. That's a 60-percent increase, and even after adjusting for inflation, it's a 39 percent boost in federal aid. In this study we rank the states on how much more reliant they have become on Uncle Sam for this traditionally local government function.

There are several ways to quantify this increasing reliance on the federal government. The two we present in Table 1 are the absolute dollar amounts per pupil that the federal government sent to each state's school system, and the percentage of each state's education spending that comes from the federal government. The rightmost column shows how every state's share of revenue from the federal government has changed since 1999-00.

Related: K-12 Spending Climate.

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When Special Education Goes Too Easy on Students

John Hechinger and Daniel Golden:

On June 25, 2006, Michael Bredemeyer threw his tasseled cap in the air and cheered after getting his high school diploma. Two days later, his parents mailed the diploma back.

Michael, now 19 years old, has learning disabilities and finished high school at a seventh-grade reading level, despite scoring above average on IQ tests. The Bredemeyers say he passed some classes because teachers inflated his grades and accepted poor work. By awarding him a meaningless diploma, they say, school officials avoided paying for ongoing instruction.

"I felt proud because he had worked so hard," says Michael's mother, Beverly, her voice breaking. "You don't want to take that away from him. But you knew it wasn't real. What's he going to do in the future? Will he be able to go to college and get a job?"

The Bredemeyers represent a new voice in special education: parents disappointed not because their children are failing, but because they're passing without learning. These families complain that schools give their children an easy academic ride through regular-education classes, undermining a new era of higher expectations for the 14% of U.S. students who are in special education.

Years ago, schools assumed that students with disabilities would lag behind their non-disabled peers. They often were taught in separate buildings and left out of standardized testing. But a combination of two federal laws, adopted a quarter-century apart, have made it national policy to hold almost all children with disabilities to the same academic standards as other students.

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Moving Students Out of Poor Inner Cities Yields Little, Studies of HUD Vouchers Say

Jay Matthews:

Many social reformers have long said that low academic achievement among inner-city children cannot be improved significantly without moving their families to better neighborhoods, but new reports released today that draw on a unique set of data throw cold water on that theory.

Researchers examining what happened to 4,248 families that were randomly given or denied federal housing vouchers to move out of their high-poverty neighborhoods found no significant difference about seven years later between the achievement of children who moved to more middle-class neighborhoods and those who didn't.

Although some children had more stable lives and better academic results after the moves, the researchers said, on average there was no improvement. Boys and brighter students appeared to have more behavioral problems in their new schools, the studies found.

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August 20, 2007

Where does MMSD get its numbers from?

One of the reasons that I have devoted more time than I should to analyzing the outcomes from the District's SLC grants (way too much time, given that I don't get paid for this and given that the District is going to continue on its merry way with restructuring our high schools into Small Learning Communities no matter what the data indicates) has to do with the frustration I experience when I try and find consistency in the District's data. Frankly, there isn't any. MMSD is consistently inconsistent with their numbers, see for example my earlier post trying to identify what the District spent in 2004/05. The District's latest press release trumpeting the success of our high school students on the ACT is just the latest example of this problem. According to MMSD, the percentage of Madison students who took the ACT is significantly higher than the percentages that are reported by DPI. The District reports that "Sixty-nine percent of all MMSD 12th grade students participated in the ACT during 2006-07, compared to 70% last year. Over the last 13 years, MMSD participation has ranged from 67-74% (see pg. 2 table)."

ACT Score Comparison by Year
Average Composite:

                                    %MMSD 12th
 Year     Madison   WI     US     Graders Tested 
2006-07    24.6     22.3    21.2        69%
2005-06    24.2     22.2    21.1        70%
2004-05    24.3     22.2    20.9        74%
2003-04    24.2     22.2    20.9        70%
2002-03    23.9     22.2    20.8        68%
2001-02    24.4     22.2    20.8        67%
2000-01    24.1     22.2    21.0        70%
1999-00    24.2     22.2    21.0        72%
1998-99    24.4     22.3    21.0        67%
1997-98    24.5     22.3    21.0        67%
1996-97    24.5     22.3    21.0        70%
1995-96    23.8     22.1    20.9        71%
1994-95    23.5     22.0    20.8        70%
According to DPI, a much smaller percentage of the District's 12th graders have taken the ACT in their junior or senior years. (The table below is taken from DPI)

ACT Results - Composite - All Students
Madison Metropolitan
Grade 12
Number Tested % Tested Average Score - Composite
1996-97 1,552 982 63.3 24.5
1997-98 1,650 1,016 61.6 24.5
1998-99 1,639 1,014 61.9 24.4
1999-00 1,697 1,127 66.4 24.2
2000-01 1,728 1,091 63.1 24.1
2001-02 1,785 1,113 62.4 24.4
2002-03 1,873 1,126 60.1 23.9
2003-04 1,920 1,198 62.4 24.2
2004-05 2,055 1,247 60.7 24.3
2005-06 2,035 1,244 61.1 24.2
2006-07 1,983 1,151 58.0 24.6

An examination of minority student participation in the ACT reveals that the percentage of African American and Hispanic students taking the test has declined over the last three years. Only 20.1% of African American students in the District took the ACT as compared to 34.6% of African American students across the state. I am more than willing to believe that DPI's numbers are inaccurate, but don't they get this data from the District? Several months ago I was attempting to clarify discrepancies between MMSD and DPI in the cost per student data, and that experience is perhaps informative here. I wrote to clarify this issue:

I am writing to ask about the data that the district lists on its web site regarding cost per pupil. The excel spreadsheet t1.xls on the page ( lists numbers that do not match those listed on DPI's web site ( Specifically, the numbers that MMSD lists as the state average cost per student are greater than the numbers that DPI lists on its site, while at the same time the MMSD cost per student listed is less than what DPI states that our District spends per student. I am attaching the spreadsheet I downloaded from the District web site, along with the numbers that I got from DPI. If you could help me understand the discrepancy in these numbers it would be most appreciated.
The response that I got back from Roger Price was:
Jeff, Both data sources are from the DPI. They calculate both tables. I am not sure what the differences are between the two. We utilize the "Basic Facts" data as published by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. Roger
Why the District with its extensive Data Warehouse has to rely on the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance to tell it what they spend per student is beyond me, but it doesn't fill me with any confidence about the accuracy of their data.
Posted by Jeff Henriques at 12:15 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Don't fund Small Learning Community grant sought by MMSD

August 20, 2007

Gregory Dennis
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW., room 3W243 FB6
Washington, DC 20202-6200

Dear Mr. Dennis,

As a long-time advocate for academic excellence in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD, Madison, Wisconsin), I urge the Department of Education to reject the MMSD’s recent application for a Small Learning Centers grant, Smaller Learning Communities Program CFDA #84.215L.

Please visit a popular Madison blog,, where you will find long threads with comments, questions, and concerns about the grant application, as well as the MMSD’s pilot efforts in small learning centers.

Blog commentators, some of whom as statistics instructors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, clinical psychologists, and other professionals with advanced degrees, express little support for the MMSD’s implementation of small learning communities.

When people try to get evaluation data from the MMSD on the current small learning communities, the district cannot or will not produce the information. The little available information about the MMSD’s small learning communities does not point to success, but rather to no impact on academic achievement. (See the evaluation on the MMSD Web site by Bruce King, whose services the MMSD wrote into its grant proposal.)

As the MMSD implements small learning schools, it simply amounts to closing the achievement gap by limiting opportunities for academic success of advanced students without raising the academic performance of low-performing ones.

Finally, the MMSD would be better off not to launch a major program change, especially when the current superintendent, the champion for the changes, will leave the district in the summer of 2008.

Ed Blume

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Hours of teaching differ for schools

Amy Hetzner & Alan Borsuk:

Where a student attends public school in the five-county metropolitan Milwaukee area can make a difference of as much as four weeks' time in the classroom per year, according to data reported to the state.

For the last two school years, the school districts of Burlington, Cudahy, Kettle Moraine, Mukwonago, Slinger, South Milwaukee and Wauwatosa reported that most - if not all - of their schools held classes at least 65 hours longer than the minimum hours set by state law.

Meanwhile, the Oak Creek-Franklin and Waukesha school districts met for the minimum amount of hours, and a large number of schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools system fell below the standard in 2006-'07.

"There's nothing more important than time with the classroom teacher," said Tony Evers, deputy superintendent of the state Department of Public Instruction. "And, if that's continually taken away, the state of Wisconsin would have an obligation that doesn't happen."

By and large, most public schools in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha counties reported similar annual total instructional hours for their students for the past two years, the only years for which data was available from the DPI.

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Teachers in Trouble, Parents Ignored -- Part I

Jay Matthews:

I have written several columns about clashes between educators and parents, a subject that rarely gets much attention because it is so personal. Those involved are often reluctant to give details. Over the last few years I have been saving material on some particularly interesting cases in which parents feel school officials froze them out of the process of dealing with their children's teachers. A few months ago, less-detailed versions of these episodes were reported in The Post. Today, and in the next two columns, I will describe four cases at more length, and follow with a column of reader reactions, and one on how experts in parental issues think these cases should have been handled.

What do you think explains these communication meltdowns? What can be done about them? Two of the cases I will examine are about teachers who allegedly abused students and were eventually fired, with parents unable to get the full story. I will start however with a different situation: a teacher who was fired for reasons that made no sense to the many parents who loved her work. They tried to influence the decision, but found their views rebuffed.

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New Study Reveals School Finance Lawsuits Increase Funding Temporarily, Hike Taxes Permanently

Christ Atkins:

But few studies have attempted a comprehensive, state-by-state measure of the long-term fiscal impact of court education mandates4 and none have presented a state-by-state estimate of the cost of legislation approved to comply with court education mandates.

How much more are states spending on education as a result of these mandates? Have lawmakers increased taxes to comply with the mandates, and if so, how much? Has compliance with court mandates led to long-term increases in per-pupil spending? This study—the first in a new series called Appropriation by Litigation—will answer these questions.

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August 19, 2007

Elmbrook considers allowing bonus for college-level work

Lisa Sink:

The Elmbrook School Board is considering plowing new ground by extending weighted-grade options to courses taken by students preparing for technical colleges rather than only four-year universities.

Elmbrook would be "blazing new territory" because no other area school district that Elmbrook considers high-achieving has this weighted-grade policy, said Elyce Moschella, Brookfield Central High School's coordinator of gifted and talented students.

The move would touch sensitive issues such as grade point averages and class rank. The policy change would extend weighted grades to Elmbrook classes that provide dual credit at both technical colleges and universities.

Those classes are college accounting, principles of interior design, mechanical drafting and computer-aided design, engineering computer-aided design seminar and auto systems and tuneup. Students taking those courses would earn an extra 0.025 on their grade point per semester, the same added quarter-point that students earn for taking advanced placement and fifth-year foreign language classes.

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Education in Mexico: La Maestra

The Economist:

A YEAR ago Felipe Calderón won a desperately close election for Mexico's presidency by a margin of barely 200,000 votes. While there were many factors behind his victory, one that may have tipped the balance was the support of Elba Esther Gordillo, the head of the National Educational Workers' Union, as the country's teachers' union is called. Ms Gordillo is reckoned by many to be the most powerful woman in Mexico. Indeed, after Mr Calderón, she may be the second most powerful politician in the country.

Ms Gordillo's political power comes mainly from the union's sheer size: with 1.4m members teaching in primary and secondary schools, it is the largest labour union in Latin America. From that political base, Ms Gordillo controls a significant block of deputies in the lower house of the federal Congress, as well as two senators. And while no state governor will say so openly, “none of them will go against her will,” says Carlos Ornelas, an education specialist at Mexico City's Metropolitan Autonomous University.

"La maestra” (“the teacher”), as Ms Gordillo is known, is widely reckoned to have reached an unwritten—and maybe even implicit—agreement with Mr Calderón, under which she has swapped her support in other matters for his acquiescence in her grip over the country's schools.

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August 18, 2007

Dane County High School Rankings and ACT results

While the rankings of high schools in Madison Magazine (MM) have been out for awhile, they’ve continued to stick in my craw. That may have something to do with my involvement with the school that’s ranked 21st of 21. Top-ranked Edgewood, I’m sure, has a different take on the rankings, which it highlights on its website.

The magazine says it used average ACT scores as one of the two signifiers of academic achievement, which comprise 60% of its ranking formula. This week DPI released 2007 ACT scores for all the state’s public high schools. How do this year’s performances on the ACT by Dane County high schools compare with the MM rankings?

Here’s a listing of the 19 Dane County public schools, ranked in order by 2007 average composite score on the ACT. The number in parenthesis after the school’s name is its MM ranking. Edgewood and Abundant Life, numbers 1 and 4 in the MM rankings, are not included because, as private schools, their scores are not available on DPI’s website.

2007 Average Composite ACT Score
1. West (5) 25.7
2. Memorial (10) 25.2
3. Middleton (3) 24.5
4. McFarland (9) 24.3
5. East (21) 23.8
6. Shabazz (17) 23.6
7. Verona (8) 23.5
8. Waunakee (2) 23.3
8. Mt. Horeb (13) 23.3
10. WI Heights (11) 23.2
10. Sun Prairie (12) 23.2
12. Monona Grove (15) 23.1
13. Oregon (7) 22.8
14. DeForest (14) 22.6
15. LaFollette (20) 22.4
15. Belleville (16) 22.4
17. Stoughton (19) 22.1
18. Deerfield (6) 21.8
19. Marshall (18) 20.8

Relative performance of high schools can be skewed by demographics. High School A could have higher average ACT scores for every racial/ethnic group than high school B, but High School B could have a higher overall average as a result of a different demographic mix. There are significant demographic differences between Madison’s high schools and suburban schools. What happens when we try to control for demographic differences when comparing ACT scores?

Given the way DPI reports the data and the demographics of Dane County schools, the only way to do this is to compare the test scores of white students. So I have done so. To state what I hope is obvious, comparing the test scores of just white students is not meant to imply that the scores of white kids are any more important than the scores of kids of color. It’s just that this is the only way to make use of the available demographic data. DPI does not report ACT scores broken down by economic categories, and for some Dane County high schools, white students are effectively the only ethnic category.

Here, ranked in order, are the 2007 average composite ACT scores for white students at the listed high schools, as reported by DPI:

2007 Average Composite ATC Score
(white students only)
1. West (5) 26.6
2. Memorial (10) 25.4
3. East (21) 25.0
4. Middleton (3) 24.6
5. McFarland (9) 24.4
6. Verona (8) 23.7
7. Shabazz (17) 23.5
8. Monona Grove (15) 23.4
8. Sun Prairie (12) 23.4
10. LaFollette (20) 23.3
10. Mt. Horeb (13) 23.3
10. WI Heights (11) 23.3
13. Waunakee (2) 23.1
14. Oregon (7) 22.9
15. DeForest (14) 22.6
16. Belleville (16) 22.4
17. Stoughton (19) 22.3
18. Deerfield (6) 21.8
19. Marshall (18) 20.5

Not surprisingly, West is again at the top of the heap, followed by Memorial. But how many would have guessed that East’s average ACT score for white students is higher than the comparable average of every suburban high school in Dane County?

One can draw one’s own conclusions from this. To me, this suggests what I have thought for awhile: The popular perceptions of our area high schools, fed by purveyors of conventional wisdom like Madison Magazine, tend to sorely undervalue the educational opportunities available to college-bound students in Madison’s public high schools as compared to what’s available in other public high schools in Dane County.

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Life in the Carpool Lane

Annie Groer:

Four mothers armed with calendars and schedules huddled around a kitchen table in Vienna plotting how to get their children to and from Trinity School at Meadow View when classes start in two weeks.

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Watts Riot (Green Dot Charter School)

Peter Beller:

On a sunny Los Angeles afternoon in early May, Steve Barr gathered with parents, teachers and other supporters across the street from Alain Locke Senior High School in the Watts neighborhood. He proudly declared to the news media that the 2,800-student school, one of the state's worst, was seceding from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Green Dot, Barr's charter school operation, was ready to take over the school and pump up its abysmal graduation rate. A majority of Locke's tenured teachers had voted in secret to shuck their cozy union contracts and side with Barr. Standing next to him was Frank Wells, Locke's popular principal, fired two days earlier when district officials got wind of the takeover plan.

"So here the revolution starts, in Watts," Barr declared.

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August 17, 2007

UW-Madison: Arts on Campus

K-12 Resources at the UW-Madison.

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Teaching to the Test in Maryland

Joanne Jacobs:

But in pre-NCLB (No Child Left Behind) days, Tyler Heights students weren’t critical thinkers and creative writers: Only 17 percent passed the MSA in 2000. Many went on to fail in middle school and drop out of high school.

Principal Tina McKnight, a fanatically hard-working woman, started the turnaround in 2000. Superintendent Eric Smith brought in Saxon Math and Open Court, a phonics-first reading curriculum that tells teachers — often inexperienced — exactly what to say.

Because it has so many poor students, Tyler Heights gets extra funding to pay for very small classes and a variety of pullout programs for students who aren't doing well. Half the third-grade class receives some kind of special help.

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August 16, 2007

District SLC Grant - Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 3

Because the recent MMSD Small Learning Communities (SLC) grant submission failed to include any discussion of the success or failure of the SLC initiatives already undertaken at Memorial and West High Schools, I have been examining the data that was (or in some cases should have been) provided to the Department of Education in the final reports of those previous grants. Earlier postings have examined the data from Memorial and the academic achievement data at West. It is now time to turn our attention to the data on Community and Connection, the other major goal of the West SLC grant.

West's SLC grant, which ran from 2003/04 to 2005/06 (and highlighted in the tables below), targeted 6 goals in the area of increasing community and connection amongst their students.

  • 2.a. Suspension and Expulsion data
  • 2.b. Safe and Supportive Climate
  • 2.c. Stakeholder Perceptions
  • 2.d. Extracurricular Participation
  • 2.e. Student Leadership
  • 2.f. Parent Participation

The available data suggest that West's restructuring has not had the anticipated effect on these measures. While I have been more than skeptical about the impact of the SLC restructuring on academic performance, I did expect that there would be positive changes in school climate, so I am surprised and disappointed at the data.

2.a. Suspension and Expulsion data -The final report claims that "Progress has been made overall for both suspensions and expulsions at West High." We reach a very different conclusion when we examine the data available from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). I don't know what to make of the large discrepancies in the numbers reported by West in their final report and those on the DPI website (West reports a much higher number of suspensions), but I am inclined to believe that the data DPI collected from the District is the data we should rely on. That data shows that number of students suspended and more importantly the percentage of students suspended has actually increased over the time course of the SLC grant. Note that percentages are the more appropriate statistic to examine because they take into account the number of students enrolled which has declined over this period of time.


Total Suspensions

West Final Report

Total Suspensions


Suspensions (% of Students)


African Am. Suspensions

West Final Report

African Am. Suspensions


African Am. Suspensions

(% of Students)


2000/01 280 189 9.0% 100 71 23.1%
2001/02 265 154 7.3% 145 82 26.0%
2002/03 230 142 6.6% 115 71 24.0%
2003/04 255 142 6.7% 147 79 27.6%
2004/05 160 159 7.5% 90 89 28.1%
2005/06 not reported 181 8.9% not reported 98 34.6%

Examining the suspension data on the DPI website revealed that the increases in the suspension rates amongst West High students were particularly pronounced for 9th and 10th grade students - the students specifically targeted by the SLC restructuring and implementation of a core curriculum.

Suspension Data for 9th & 10th Graders
  9th Grade Suspensions 10th Grade Suspensions
2000/01 13.1% 8.5%
2001/02 9.9% 9.3%
2002/03 10.2% 6.4%
2003/04 11.0% 9.3%
2004/05 11.3% 9.9%
2005/06 14.8% 10.1%

2.b. Safe and Supportive Climate - This goal was supposed to be assessed by examining changes in ratings of physical and emotional safety and school connected-ness on the District climate survey. Although climate data is supposedly collected from students each year, this data is not presented in West's Final Report. However, information presented in the recent MMSD proposal suggests that there haven't been any changes at West. In that proposal, it is noted that 53% of West students agreed with the statement "I am an important part of my school community." This percentage is essentially unchanged from the 52% of students in 2001/02 whom West said reported feeling attached to their school, when the school applied for their initial SLC grant.

2.c. Stakeholder Perceptions - Two types of data were to be examined: There were supposed to be student, staff, and parent surveys developed during Year 1 of the grant. The only survey data presented in the Final Report is an examination of staff survey data (as a parent, I never saw any parent survey). While the report notes the majority of survey items that had increases in positive responses from 2004 to 2006, there was also a significant decline in the number of staff responding to the survey, and this subject attrition leads one to wonder if there has been a change in staff perception over time or if those staff who did not support the grant simply decided not to respond. The report notes that 90 staff members responded in 2004 and only 60 responded in 2006. This 1/3 reduction in the number of respondents is even more striking when you consider that West had 238 staff members listed in its directory for 2006/07, so we have gone from a response rate of less than 50% to a rate of just above 25%.

The second type of data used to examine this goal was the number of police calls to West High, and the Final Report notes that "trends are positive" I don't have access to Madison Police Department data for the entire period of the grant. However, police department data available on the Madison Parents' School Safety Site indicates that there were 80 police calls to West during the Fall 2006 semester alone, much higher than the 60 reported in the Final Report for the entire 2005/06 school year.

2.d. Extracurricular Participation - While the Final Report notes that "Overall, student leadership and participation in extra or non-academic activities, two goals of the SLC initiative at West and both important for affiliation with the school, seem to have been enhanced by the One Lunch, Advisory, and Resource Hall restructuring.," no actual numbers are reported.

2.e. Student Leadership - Evidence of student leadership was supposed to be the number of student leadership opportunities at West. As noted above, no data is presented to support the claim that the number of these opportunities have changed.

2.f. Parent Participation - This was supposed to be examined by analyzing the percentage of parents of color who attended school functions. There is no mention of this data, in fact, there is no mention of this goal, in the Final Report. Anecdotally, I can report that over the last 3 years of PTSO meetings there have not been any noticible increases in the number of parents of color in attendance.

As a statistician and as a social scientist, I want to say that I am appalled by the quality of the data that has been assembled to support the contention that the restructuring at Memorial and West has produced the desired changes in student achievement or in school "connected-ness." I don't see any evidence that leads me to believe that the current SLC grant proposal will be any more successful.

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After School Activities Declining

Sarah Carr:

During Rick Xiong's first two years at Milwaukee's Madison High School, his habit was to "go to school and get back home as fast as possible."

Sometimes Xiong, now a 19-year-old student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, would hear about after-school activities advertised during the morning announcements. But they never enticed him to stay.

As another school year approaches, many of the extracurricular activities that have long interested Milwaukee students are relics of the past. Although there are notable exceptions, gone are the days when city high schools had an array of sports, a drama club, a school musical, a band, an orchestra, a choir, an active yearbook and an assortment of other organizations.

The gap in test scores and graduation rates between the city and suburban high schools has attracted the most attention from policy-makers and the media in recent years. But others worry that there's another gap that's just as meaningful: the difference in the richness and breadth of the high school experience available to children in cities and suburbs as urban districts slice after-school activities and clubs.

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US Drops Out of International Math & Science Study (TIMMS)

Peg Tyre:

Americans took note when Bill Gates said last spring that American schools needed to beef up science and math standards if the country was going to maintain a competitive edge in the new century. So did Congress, which last week approved legislation called the America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science) Act, which carves out a whopping $43.6 billion for science education and research.

So why did the federal government quietly decide last year to drop out of an international study that would compare U.S. high-school students who take advanced science and math courses with their international counterparts?

The study, called TIMSS (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) Advanced 2008, measures how high-school seniors are doing in algebra, geometry, calculus and physics with students taking similar subjects around the globe. In the past, the American results have been shockingly poor. In the last survey, taken in 1995, students from only two countries—Cyprus and South Africa—scored lower than U.S. school kids.

Joanne has more.

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The Case for Pre-K

Sara Mead:

A new book explains why other progressive causes should take some cues from the preschool movement.

In 1961, 13 three- and four-year-olds from poor black families began attending a preschool class at Perry Elementary School in Ypsilanti, Michigan. They were there as much to learn as to teach. A team of researchers followed not only their time at the preschool, but their trajectory over the next four decades, and the findings were startling:

Compared to a control group of similar children who didn't attend preschool, this class from Perry Elementary School would be less likely to skip class, be placed in special education, or wind up in jail. They'd be more likely to graduate high school and college and have a job, and would earn more money than their non-preschool peers. And, 40 years later, their successes would launch a national movement to ensure all children the opportunity to attend and benefit from the same type of high-quality preschool they had.

The movement to expand publicly funded preschool education is perhaps the most ambitious, promising, and fundamentally progressive campaign in public education today. Its members want, first, to make an additional year or two of publicly funded education available to all four- and three-year-olds whose parents want it -- an enormous step, representing a potential 15 percent expansion in the time children spend in public education. And at this, they're succeeding: 950,000 children currently attend state-funded preschool programs, and the number of four-year-olds attending such programs has risen 40 percent in the past five years alone.

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Finding the equation for math education

Minnesota Public Radio:

While the math scores in the recently released Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments-Series II are slightly higher than last year's scores, they're still not very encouraging. Midday explores what these scores mean for math education, how students learn math and the state of our math curriculum?

Ken Vos: professor of education at the College of St. Catherine

Karen Teff: Deer River math teacher

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August 15, 2007

In Hong Kong, Flashy Tutors Gain Icon Status

Jonathan Cheng:

When Richard Eng isn't teaching English grammar to high-school students, he might be cruising around Hong Kong in his Lamborghini Murciélago. Or in Paris, on one of his seasonal shopping sprees. Or relaxing in his private, custom-installed karaoke room festooned with giant Louis Vuitton logos.

Mr. Eng, 43 years old, is one of Hong Kong's best-known celebrity "tutor gods."

Hong Kong parents are often desperate to help their children succeed in this city's pressure-cooker public-examination system, which determines students' college-worthiness. That explains why many are willing to pay handsomely for extracurricular help. Mr. Eng and others like him have made a lucrative business out of tapping that demand. They use flashy, aggressive marketing tactics that have transformed them into scholastic pop stars -- "tutor gods," as they're known in Cantonese.

Private tutoring is big business around the world. Programs that help people prepare for standardized tests -- such as SAT-prep courses in the U.S. -- have become a multibillion-dollar industry. Tutoring agencies are also booming in places like mainland China and Japan. Several years ago, Hong Kong's government estimated that the city's families spent nearly half a billion dollars a year on tutoring.

Hong Kong stands out, though, for instructors who boldly tout their success rate -- and their own images. They pay to have their faces plastered throughout the city on 40-foot-high billboards and the sides of double-decker buses. They're also known for buying ads that take up the entire front page of newspapers -- space more commonly filled by banks and property developers. One local television station is even preparing to launch a fictional drama series based on the lives of the tutor gods.


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MMSD Misses Notification Date, Will Again Provide Private School Bus Rides

Anita Clark:

The Madison School District said Tuesday it will provide bus rides for children attending private schools this year because it missed a legal deadline to notify families that the service was ending.

Hoping to save about $229,000, the School Board voted last spring to abolish bus routes that carried 208 children to six Catholic schools.

Instead, the district would pay their parents a transportation subsidy of about $450 per student.

The district has been working this summer with the Catholic Diocese of Madison to help it set up an alternative transportation system, but it did not realize there was an Aug. 4 deadline for notifying parents affected by the change, Superintendent Art Rainwater said Tuesday.

"We were so engrossed, it just went by us, " he said. "The statute is very clear and we did not meet it. "

Michael Lancaster, superintendent of schools for the diocese, said he 's happy that children will be receiving safe rides to school.

"Safety was a huge parental concern and ours as well, ' ' he said.

The financial effect on the district will be evaluated in October when it deals with "hundreds of pluses and minuses ' ' in making final budget adjustments after receiving data on enrollment, state aid and other factors, Rainwater said.

"We really don 't know until October how this fits in," he said.

Much more on last spring's private school busing budget change and commentary.

Perhaps this matter is related to gaining voter support for a 2008 referendum, which was discussed at Monday's Madison School Board meeting:

Approval of Minutes dated April 30, May 7, May 14, May 22, May 29, June 27, July 16 (two sets), 2007
There are no announcements.
Initial Discussion of Potential 2007-08 Referendum.
Susan Troller:
An oversight by the Madison school district's administration means that the prayers of some Catholic school parents have been answered.

The school district announced Tuesday that it must continue to provide yellow school bus service for students at six local Catholic schools through the 2007-08 school year because it missed a deadline for notifying parents that there would be a change in transportation policy.

The Madison School Board voted last spring to eliminate busing for parochial school students and instead provide a stipend of $450 per child so parents can pay the cost of transportation themselves. State statutes mandate that public schools must provide transportation to all students in their districts, even those attending private schools.

According to Superintendent Art Rainwater, the district has been working over the summer with the Catholic Diocese of Madison to establish alternative means of getting parochial students to school, and it inadvertently missed the 30-day legal deadline for notifying individual parents that there would be a change in transportation policy.

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'Tested' examines difficult choices

Gregg Toppo:

Since 2002, when No Child Left Behind became law, states have spent millions of dollars giving standardized reading and math tests; one estimate puts the total cost above $5 billion through 2008.
The law requires that about half of all students take the tests and that schools improve each spring so they can stay off federal "needs improvement" lists. Many educators say that's turning schools into test-prep factories where history, science and even recess get shortchanged.

Linda Perlstein, a former Washington Post reporter, wanted to see the effects firsthand, so she spent an academic year inside a high-poverty elementary school in Annapolis, Md.

The result is Tested: One American School Struggles to Make the Grade. USA TODAY's Greg Toppo talks with her about testing:

Q: You spent a year getting to know kids at Tyler Heights Elementary School. How did this change your outlook on their education and tests?

A: I don't have a problem with testing children. I have a problem with thinking test results tell you most of what you need to know. They simply don't — these tests are often very narrow instruments. Where reforms have forced educators to notice children who might otherwise have been neglected, I give credit. But I wrote this book because school reforms intended to abolish a two-class system were in some ways exacerbating it. There's one world where students pass the test as a matter of course and get to write poems, and another where children write paragraphs about poems.

Meanwhile, there's supposed to be a movement in American schools to educate each child as an individual. The teachers at Tyler Heights work mightily to do that, but they have to get everybody to the same place in the same amount of time, and follow daily curriculum agendas handed down from above.

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An Interview with the Gates Foundation's New Education Director

Rob Manning:

Portland schools superintendent Vicki Phillips starts her job as education director at the Bill and Melinda Gates' Foundation on Wednesday.

With more than $3 billion in grant money to give away, Phillips is arguably in one of the most powerful K-12 jobs in the country.


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August 14, 2007

Bringing Diversity to New York Elite High Schools

by Christine Kiernan

Luis Rosario just completed fifth grade but he already thinks about attending an Ivy League college. And he would seem to be on his way. He won first prize in his district’s fifth grade science fair, scored high on the state math test, gets straight A’s and is fascinated by robotic sciences.

His mother, Judith Pena, wanted to get him into a program to prepare him for one of the city’s specialized high schools. Then she learned about the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering. ”This is even better,” she said. And so, next month Luis Rosario will join the first sixth grade class of Columbia Secondary, a new select school in upper Manhattan.

Columbia Secondary is aimed at top students like Luis, students who one would expect to attend an elite public high school. But over the years the so-called specialized schools have not attracted a large number of gifted black and Hispanic students. In fact, over the past decade, the percentage of students from the city’s large black and Hispanic population who attend these select schools has decreased significantly.

Under the banner “strength in diversity,” Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering will try to change that. The school, a partnership of the Department of Education and Columbia University, is aggressively recruiting black and Hispanic students and plans to try out new methods to achieve a more equitable racial balance.

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18 Milwaukee "Year Round" Schools

Alan Borsuk:

"Welcome back! Today is Monday, August 6, 2007."

That was the message on a chalkboard in Debra Alpert's classroom at Wheatley Elementary School, 2442 N. 20th St.

It was humid and warm outside and inside the building - no question about it, an August day.

And school was in session?

Indeed, as it was on Monday at 17 other schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools system, all of them using a "year-round" schedule, which does not mean kids go to school year-round, or even that they go to school more days than the 175 to 180 of students on traditional schedules. But they do have a school calendar that gives them a shorter summer break (six weeks or so) and three breaks of three to four weeks throughout the year.

Some educators - as well as many teachers, parents and even kids - think that schedule is preferable when it comes to the impact on a child's learning and, in some cases, a child's safety or social development.

Research overall is mixed on the impact of reducing that three-month break. But there are arguments for saying maybe that long summer vacation isn't such a hot idea after all.

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Teaching the trades: High school apprenticeship program gives students on-the-job training

Joe Dresang:

"It's hard to find opportunities like this, where a company will give you that start," Rewolinski says, loud enough to be heard over the fan that cools him. "A lot of companies now, they want you to have the experience right away. And with a program like this, I can get that start, and then I can move on and maybe move to something better or stay here and just get better at it."

Rewolinski is talking about Wisconsin's Youth Apprenticeship program.

He's demonstrating his skills to Roberta Gassman, secretary of the state Department of Workforce Development.

For months, Gassman has been visiting youth apprentices at schools, factories, fabricators, machine shops and nursing homes.

She's stumping for Gov. Jim Doyle's plan to double the budget for youth apprenticeships to $2.2 million a year.

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An Experienced Teacher:The Oakland A's and Public Education

Jim V:

Moneyball didn’t lead to a paradigm shift for my students, but it did for me. I have not thought about my own work in the same way since reading it. How do we determine what counts as excellence in teaching? I wish I could be evaluated according to the nice things students write about me in my yearbook, but something tells me that isn’t a sound approach. In financial terms, my employer considers my work a little more valuable every year I choose to stick around. And when I earned an additional graduate degree a few years back I got a substantial raise. But I can assure you that my graduate work did not translate into student performance that was worth several thousand more dollars per year to my school system.

The direction we’re moving in, of course, is evaluating teacher performance according to student test scores. Now I’ve never been a knee-jerk opponent of standardized tests. When I’m charged with proctoring them and examine their contents, I rarely see anything that I would not want my own children to know or be able to do at that age. That said, a good standardized test score should be a side effect of a rich education, not the point of the education. Almost anyone who is in a public school classroom today would agree that tests are becoming the point. If our teaching performance were to be evaluated according to our students’ test scores, tests would become the point once and for all.

And yet my inner Billy Beane asks, "Given that the tests are far from perfect and given that you have limited control over student performance, aren’t students supposed to learn knowledge and skills in your classroom? Is there a better statistic to evaluate your performance by than your students’ test scores?" Not really.

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August 13, 2007

Proposals won't close book on gifted kids

Some see little change in picking top students
Amy Hetzner

Frustrated in her efforts over the years to have her son's academic abilities recognized, Gina Villa-Grimsby finally asked the Oconto Falls School District to provide her with its criteria for identifying gifted students.
What she got was its policy on how to appeal decisions in such cases.

Soon after, she began home-schooling her 12-year-old son, Rodrigo. And, through networking with parents of other gifted children throughout the state, she learned that her situation was not unique.

"There are amazing gifted programs in some school districts and none in others," Villa-Grimsby said. "There are amazing identification procedures and tests and programming in some school districts and not in others."

Some proponents of gifted education in the state were hoping a change in state rules regarding how gifted students are identified would help address such complaints.

The change was ordered by a Dane County judge earlier this year, and public hearings on the state Department of Public Instruction's proposed rule for the identification of gifted children are set for the week of Aug. 20.

But some parents and educators who have studied the DPI's proposal wonder if the new rule, which instructs public schools to use "multiple measures" validated for identifying students in five areas of giftedness, is that different from the one found inadequate by the court.

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Today's Geography: Classroom to Boardroom

Claudine Bianchi:

Educators have always insisted they not leave out the "three Rs": reading, writing and arithmetic. That paradigm may be shifting to "three Rs and a G" - and world enterprise is most appreciative.

The "G" is for geography - the science that links a range of interests and information from a variety of cultures based on a visual map. This subject is moving to the forefront of the minds of educators as its utility, later in life, in developing business strategy within public and private sectors around the world becomes more and more evident.

As a nation, the United States has received a clear signal from studies like the 2006 National Geographic/Roper survey, which followed an earlier survey in 2002. In the latest survey, young adults aged 18 to 24 in nine countries were surveyed and the results showed that Americans were outperformed in geographic literacy by young adults in seven countries - Sweden, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Great Britain and Canada. Only 13% of the Americans surveyed correctly identified Iraq on a map of Asia and the Middle East. Only about half of young Americans were able to locate landmasses such as Japan and India on a global map. And 20% of those surveyed could not find the Pacific Ocean.

But set aside our less-than-satisfactory performance at a Geography Bee, and jump ahead to the terrain of public and private firms where geography has become one of the most powerful weapons in the arsenal. Maybe our educational system does not play out well in a Geography Bee, but you need to look at the extra edge firms are getting when they embrace not just geography, but the story that it tells. With the coming of age of GIS, the geography story becomes one where decisions can be made like never before. Almost anything can be plotted on a map.

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Grading Mayoral Control of Schools

Sol Stern:

Mayoral control, the hot new trend in urban school reform, began in Boston and Chicago in the 1990s. Now it’s the New York City school system, under the authority of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, that’s become the beacon for education-mayor wannabes like Adrian Fenty of Washington, D.C., and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles. Influential philanthropic foundations, such as the Los Angeles–based Broad Foundation (headed by Bloomberg friend and fellow billionaire Eli Broad) and the Gates Foundation, are investing in Bloomberg as the model big-city mayor who uses his new executive powers over the schools to advance a daring reform agenda. Meanwhile, the national media’s positive coverage of mayoral control in Gotham is adding to the luster of a possible Bloomberg presidential run.

For New Yorkers, though, the original appeal of mayoral control was entirely parochial. The old Board of Education—with seven members, appointed by six elected city officials—offered a case study of the paralysis that sets in when fragmented political authority tries to direct a dysfunctional bureaucracy. New Yorkers arrived at a consensus that there was not much hope of lifting student achievement substantially under such a regime. The newly elected Bloomberg made an offer that they couldn’t refuse: Give me the authority to improve the schools, and then hold me accountable for the results.

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The Tough Road to Better Science Teaching

Jeffrey Brainard:

The principal effort is led by the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In 2003 the NSF gave the university a five-year, $10-million grant to establish the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning. The center has worked with more than 1,000 new faculty members and graduate students at Madison and other universities to try the new teaching methods and conduct research on the process of putting them into practice.

The project also works on ways to attract science professors to join in the innovation. Trying the new teaching methods, the center's leaders say, should be viewed as conducting an experiment with measurable results — an approach that appeals to the instincts of researchers. Organizers also argue that the new methods are more professionally satisfying than delivering conventional lectures.

Observers hope that the Wisconsin project will show results different from those of a similar NSF-financed effort that ran from 1993 to 2002. An evaluation of that program found that participants, who were graduate students, rated it highly but felt pressure to "conceal" the work from their professors, who viewed it as distracting them from research. What's more, the new teaching methods often did not take root in the students' departments, which was a goal of the project.

If young researchers delay trying the new teaching methods until their careers are established, though, they may put the attempt off for good, advocates say. And if American science is to stay competitive, that is a problem. "We don't really have the time to wait around for another 20 years," says Madison's Ms. Millar, "for this kind of sea change to occur."

Via Kevin Carey.

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August 12, 2007

Top Online Learning Resources

Jose Fermoso:

Want an education? Open up a browser. With the information available online, you could probably get a complete education without ever leaving your house.

But for more traditional students, as well as their parents and teachers, it can be tricky to find online information that is safe, relevant and age-appropriate. You don't want your kids to jump knee-deep into DNA sequences if they haven't even reached their third grade Mesozoic-era workshop.

Here is Wired News' selection of the best educational resources on the net. Sure, the sites on this list aren't going to replace Wikipedia or Google, or even a trip to the local public library. But if it's education you want, and you're at a computer, these sites are great places to start.

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More on Communities Withdrawing from Milwaukee's MATC

Tom Kertscher & Erica Perez:

A movement that began in Germantown is spreading in Ozaukee County, where the county itself and the Cedarburg Common Council, School Board and Town Board are all exploring the possibility of leaving the Milwaukee Area Technical College District.

In addition, an alderman in Mequon says he plans to ask city staff to look into whether a secession by Mequon is feasible.

The movement began with a Germantown Village Board trustee who is upset about MATC's property tax levy, which has risen nearly 25% in the past four years.

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At Odds Over Immigrant Assimilation

Karin Brulliard:

But he knows that not everyone sees people such as him -- an immigrant who prefers to speak his mother tongue -- that way. To this, he responds that the U.S. government should demand that newcomers know English -- and help them learn it.

"This country was founded by immigrants. There should be a lot of cultures," Ruiz, 48, said. "But at the base is the government."

Ruiz's idea lies at the heart of a question that has recently entered the national immigration debate, one some researchers say is important as new trends challenge old integration patterns: Should the government encourage assimilation?

The Bush administration is taking steps to do that. The Task Force on New Americans, created by executive order last year, recently presented initiatives that supporters say will help immigrants "become fully American."

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Steve Barr Mission to Fix LA's Schools

OnPoint with Tom Ashbrook:

Entrepreneur Steve Barr is on a mission to replace the worst public school in Los Angeles with charter schools. Barr has got an army of supporters behind him, from union organizers to teachers unions, from LA's mayor to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Barr has got brass knuckles, and with ten schools up and running he is getting results.

On Point speak with Steve Barr about fixing America's troubled schools.


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August 11, 2007

Just The Facts

f a college basketball coach is interested in a hot high school prospect this is a checklist of the kind of information that is made available to him about the student:

# of points for season yes (made available)
% of goals per game yes
# of three-pointers yes
% of three-pointers yes
# of free throws yes
% of free throws yes
# of blocked shots yes
# of rebounds yes
# of takeaways/steals yes
Average points per game yes
# of minutes per game yes
# of assists yes
# of fouls per game yes
# of suspensions yes
Height/Weight yes
Coach's rec. yes
etc. yes
If a college history professor were interested in a hot high school prospect for the history department (there is no such interest), he could not find out:
# of history books read (no)
# of book reports written (no)
# of 2,000-word history research papers written (no)
# of 3,000-word history research papers written (no)
# of 5,000-word history research papers written (no)

This information would not be available to the history professor because he/she doesn’t ask for it and doesn't care about it, it is not “tracked” as the basketball (and hockey and football and baseball and soccer and swimming and tennis, etc., etc.) information is, and it is not regarded as important enough to know about.

In addition, college admissions officers do not have information on the actual academic work done by students, so they rely on course grades (simple “grades” in basketball are far too little information for a college coach), and test scores, after school activities, teacher recommendations, and so on.

From this it should be clear that we take the actual work of our high school athletes far more seriously than we do the work of our high school scholars. We keep track of it in some detail and that information is shared with college coaches who need it to make good decisions on whom to admit.

College coaches deliver lists to the Admissions Office with the names and schools of those students (athletes) they need to have admitted. College professors do nothing of the sort.

As far as I know, there are no college history professors observing high school history classes which have hot prospects in them, as college coaches will often visit high school games to see the actual performances of hot prospects for college teams.

We keep track of what is important, and in our approach to high school sports and high school academics we send a clear message to teachers and students that sports matter and academics do not.

Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

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August 10, 2007

District SLC Grant - Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 2

An earlier posting examined the results of the small school initiative at Memorial high school. This post aims to examine West's SLC grant. Similar to the Memorial grant, the goal of West's SLC grant was to reduce the achievement gap and to increase students' sense of community.

The final report is a major source of frustration for anyone who values data analysis and statistics. Essentially, there are no statistics reported. The data is presented in figures that are cluttered and too small, which makes them difficult to interpret. Changes over time are discussed as trends without any sort of statistical tests being reported. Most of the data presented are no more detailed than what anyone can pull off the DPI web site.

Before examining the impact of West's restructuring on student achievement and on students' connection to the school, it is necessary to identify just a few of the components of the West proposal that were never enacted:

  • "C.2.c Advocate Mentor. Each student will have an adult advocate from their learning community (LC) who stays with them through their years at West. Students will meet weekly with their advocate to review academic progress and attendance, preview the upcoming week, discuss school or personal issues, etc." A rather ambitious aspect of the proposal, and considering District finances a totally unrealistic proposal. It was not implemented.
  • "C.2.d. Academic/Career Pathways. Beginning early in freshman year, each student will work with their LC guidance counselor and parent(s) to develop an Individualized Graduation Plan (IGP) that includes (1) personal, academic, and career/avocation exploration goals, and (2) academic coursework and learning experiences beyond the classroom that help students achieve these goals. Updated periodically, the IGP will be based on the student's academic record and a current assessment of their skills and competencies, intellectual interests, and personality." As far as I know, this never happened, at the very least parents were never involved.
  • "C.5.e. Strategies for securing/maintaining staff, community, and parent buy-in. ... We will provide frequent formal (e.g., surveys, focus groups) and informal chances for staff and other stakeholders to raise concerns with the project leadership (Principal and hired project staff)." Parents were never surveyed and the only focus groups that I am aware of were two meetings conducted following parents' uproar over English 10 ...
    "The SLC Coordinator will also provide frequent progress reports through a variety of school and community-based media (e.g., special staff newsletter and memos from the principal; school newsletter sent home; media coverage of positive developments, etc.). Also our community partners will serve as ambassadors for the project via communications to their respective constituencies." There were two presentations to the PTSO summarizing the results of the grant. I am not aware of anything in the school newsletter or in the "media" that reported on the results of the restructuring.
  • "E.1 Overall Evaluation Strategy
    Third-Party Evaluator. ... He will develop survey instruments and analyze the formative and summative data described below, and prepare annual reports of his findings for all stakeholder groups. Parents (one of the stakeholders) never received annual reports from the evaluator, and I have no idea about what surveys were or were not developed ...
    Also the outcome data for West will be compared to the same data elements for a school with similar demographic characteristics that is not restructuring into learning communities." Rather than comparing West's outcome data to a comparable school, the final report compares West's data to the District's data.
  • Finally, one of the goals of the grant (2.f. Parent Participation) was to increase the % of parents of color who attend school functions. This data was to come from attendance logs collected by the LC Assistant Principals. This objective is not even listed as one of the goals on the Final Report, and if attendance at PTSO meetings is any indicator, the SLC grant had no impact on the participation of parents of color. It is interesting to note that the recently submitted high school redesign grant does not include any efforts at increasing parental participation. Given the extensive literature on the importance of parental involvement, especially for low income students (see the recent meta analysis by Jeynes (2007) in Urban Education, Vol. 42, pp. 82-110), it is disappointing to see that the District has given up on this goal.

On to the data...

Academic Achievement

  • Goal 1.a. Attendance - "Attendance rates for many sub-groups of students have declined since the 2000-01 school year, and a number of them remain below the district target of 94%." (p. 19) In fact, the only groups that have shown an increase in attendance over this period of time are white and non-low income students.
  • Goal 1.b. Access to challenging coursework - The data on page 21 of the final report show that enrollment in Advanced Placement courses has declined for ELL and Other Asian students, remained unchanged for African American students and had a slight increase for Hispanic students, "... and the gap among groups persists."
  • Goal 1.c. College Entrance Exams - "Participation in the ACT is up slightly, but down for the SAT over the last few years. Disaggregated data for the ACT show the persisting gap across racial/ethnic groups." (p.21) While more than 60% of white students take the ACT, the percentage of minority students taking this test has essentially not changed, and is still below 10%.
  • Goal 1.d. Grade Point Average - "Trends in overall GPA’s are flat or increasing for some groups, but decreases for ELL students, Hispanic students, and students who are not low income (after steadily rising) are troublesome. GPA’s for students of color, low income students, and students with disabilities remain well below those for White, Asian, and economically advantaged." (p.19) Only White and Other Asian students show increases in gpa over the last five years. For an indication of the extent of the achievement gap, the average gpa of African American and low income students was less than 2.0 for the last year data was available, while White students had gpa's of over 3.0. The difference between groups has only gotten larger in the last five years.
  • Goal 1.e. Content Area Proficiency - There is some indication from WKCE scores that the restructuring has benefitted some students: "In comparison to the MMSD as a whole (shown below), the increase in percent of students at the advanced and proficient levels was greater for West for 6 of 9 student sub-groups in reading and 7 of 9 in math." The increases for West's White and limited English proficiency (LEP) students, however, were smaller than their counterparts across the District.

    A major goal of West's SLC grant was to reduce the achievement gap. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the school is making progress in this area. Recall that the first year of the grant was 2003/04, and in that year the only impact of the restructuring was that students were assigned to SLC's. It was not until the next year that students began to be assigned to their core courses within their SLC, i.e., changes in curriculum began in 2004/05. Looking at the table below, we can see that the achievement gap, as reflected in WKCE scores, is unchanged since 2003/04.

    WKCE 2002/03 2003/04 2004/05 2005/06 2006/07
    African American 34.0 53.7 51.5 50.7 53.5*
    Hispanic 35.0* 52.3 40.7* 60.5 40.0
    White 91.0 92.1 93.9 94.2 90.4
    Low Income 34.0 48.6 44.0 48.2 34.7
    Not Low Income 88.0 88.5 88.1 92 92.7
    African American 31.0 48.1 39.7 38.7 51.2*
    Hispanic 45.0* 50.0 40.7* 55.8 42.2
    White 91.0 91.5 90.3 93.5 92.1
    Low Income 35.0 48.6 38.5 43.0 46.5
    Not Low Income 88.0 88.0 83.1 91.2 92.7
    * note. includes 4 Native American students 02/03 and 06/07, 1 Native American student 03/04

  • Goal 1.f. Graduation - "With some fluctuation, trends are in the right direction for all groups except student with disabilities. The gaps in graduation rates among the different groups merit ongoing attention." (p.20) However, when we look at this figure, we see that it only presents data through 2004/05, and there is no change in the graduation rates for the two years of the grant for Hispanic or African American students.

    Given the data that West presents in their final report, one would be hard pressed to say that the restructuring has had a positive impact on student performance, and it appears that it failing in several major areas such as decreasing the achievement gap, increasing parental participation, and increasing attendance. I'll examine the issue of School Community and Connectedness in another post, but I'll leave you with this tidbit: the Final Report does not include any data from the student climate surveys.

    Posted by Jeff Henriques at 12:24 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas
  • The Organized Student

    Donna Goldberg:

    Denville, N.J.: How to start a preschooler with good organization skills?

    Donna Goldberg: That's a wonderful question. There are ways you can start a preschooler. Actually, organization starts with preschool, and even with toddlers. As parents, we give toddlers a routine of the day. If it's time to clean up, you say to your child, "now it's clean up time." And make your child be a part of that process. While you'll be doing 99-percent of the cleanup, and the child 1 percent, you've set the tone that it's part of play. After that, it's usually time for dinner, and after that, it's usually bath time. After bath time, it's story book time and then bed. And these are the precursors, children begin to predict and anticipate. They start to understand time.

    So to start to repeat routines they will go through the day is the beginning of teaching your children to be organized, because they can anticipate what happens next, and the steps that happen. And that really is what organization is, it's a step-by-step procedure.

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

    Status of Education in Rural America

    Stephen Provasnik, Angelina KewalRamani, Mary McLaughlin Coleman, Lauren Gilbertson, Will Herring, and Qingshu Xie:

    This report presents a series of indicators on the status of education in rural America, using the new NCES locale classification system. The new system classifies the locale of school districts and schools based on their actual geographic coordinates into one of 12 locale categories and distinguishes between rural areas that are on the fringe of an urban area, rural areas that are at some distance, and rural areas that are remote. The findings of this report indicate that in 2003-04 over half of all operating school districts and one-third of all public schools in the United States were in rural areas; yet only one-fifth of all public school students were enrolled in rural areas. A larger percentage of public school students in rural areas than those in any other locale attended very small schools. A larger percentage of rural public school students in the 4th- and 8th-grades scored at or above the Proficient level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading, mathematics, and science assessments in 2005 than did public school students in cities at these grade levels. However, smaller percentages of rural public school students than suburban public school students scored at or above the Proficient level in reading and mathematics. In 2004, the high school status dropout rate (i.e., the percentage of persons not enrolled in school and not having completed high school) among 16- to 24-year-olds in rural areas was higher than in suburban areas, but lower than in cities.

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

    August 9, 2007

    "Formal Education Slows Down the Process of Growing Up"

    Bruce G. Charlton:

    In a recent Medical Hypotheses editorial, I suggested the name psychological neoteny (PN) to refer to the widely-observed phenomenon that adults in modernizing liberal democracies increasingly retain many of the attitudes and behaviors traditionally associated with youth. I further suggested that PN is a useful trait for both individuals and the culture in modernizing societies; because people need to be somewhat child-like in their psychology order to keep learning, developing and adapting to the rapid and accelerating pace of change. Thirdly, I put forward the hypothesis that the major cause of PN in modernizing societies is the prolonged duration of formal education. Here I present a preliminary empirical investigation of this hypothesis of psychological neoteny. Marriage and parenthood are indicative of making a choice to ‘settle down’ and thereby move on from the more flexible lifestyle of youth; and furthermore these are usually commitments which themselves induce a settling down and maturation of attitudes and behaviors. A sevenfold expansion of participation in UK higher education up to 2001 was reflected in delay in marriage and parenthood. Increasing number of years of education is quantitatively the most important predictor of increasing age of the mother at the time of her first birth: among women college graduates about half are aged 30 or older at the time of their first birth – a rise of 400% in 25 years.
    Via Tyler Cowen. Clusty search on Bruce Charlton.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:21 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    As States Tackle Poverty, Preschool Gets High Marks

    Deborah Solomon:

    In Washington and statehouses across the country, preschool is moving to the head of the class.

    Florida and Oklahoma are among the states that have started providing free preschool for any 4-year-old whose parents want it. Illinois and New York plan to do the same. Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to spend $15 billion over five years on universal preschool funding. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke calls preschool one cure for inequality.

    The movement represents one of the most significant expansions in public education in the 90 years since World War I, when kindergarten first became standard in American schools. It has taken off as politicians look for relatively inexpensive ways to tackle the growing rich-poor gap in the U.S. They have found spending on children is usually an easy sell.

    It took a well-orchestrated campaign to put pre-K on the top of political agendas -- and new tactics that didn't rely on do-gooder rhetoric. Among those working on the issue are the research director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, a billionaire Oklahoma oil man and a foundation executive in Philadelphia.

    Their winning pitch: Making pre-K as prevalent as kindergarten is a prudent investment. Early schooling, they say, makes kids more likely to stay in school and turn into productive taxpayers.

    Related: The Economics of Preschool.

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

    Madison Police Chief Hears About West Side Crime

    Brittany Schoepp:

    Children seeing people run from police through their backyard, waking up to the sound of a gunshots, watching drug deals.

    These were some of the scenes described by West and Southwest Side residents as hundreds of them turned out Wednesday to voice their concerns about crime in their neighborhoods at a meeting with Madison Police Chief Noble Wray.

    "Allied Drive is not the only problem on Madison 's West Side, " said Suzanne Sarhan, who owns property there, prompting hundreds to rise to their feet in applause.

    Ald. Thuy Pham-Remmele, 20th District, who set up the neighborhood listening session for Wray, said the safety problems need both short- and long-term solutions.

    "I don 't ask for any quick fix, " she said.

    Lisa Subeck has more.

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

    Some Wonder if Cash for Good Test Scores Is the Wrong Kind of Lesson

    Joseph Berger:

    Should cash be used to spur children to do better on reading and math tests?

    Suzanne Windland, a homeowner raising three children in a placid enclave of eastern Queens, doesn’t think so. Her seventh grader, Alexandra, she said, had perfect scores last year. But she doesn’t want New York City’s Department of Education to hand her $500 in spending cash for that achievement. That’s what Alexandra would earn if her school was part of a pilot program that will reward fourth and seventh graders with $100 to $500, depending on how well they perform on 10 tests in the next year.

    Mrs. Windland wants Alexandra to do well for all the timeless reasons — to cultivate a love of learning, advance to more competitive schools and the like. She has on occasion bought her children toys or taken them out for dinner when they brought home pleasurable report cards, but she does not believe in dangling rewards beforehand.

    “It’s like giving kids an allowance because they wake up every morning and brush their teeth and go off to school,” she said. “That’s their job. That’s what they’re supposed to be doing.”

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

    Summer Reading Programs Gain Momentum for Students About to Enter College

    Tamar Lewin:

    For students starting college, August is the time to quit the summer job, dump the high school sweetheart and, finally, open the book their college has asked them to finish before classes start.

    Nationwide, hundreds of colleges and universities, large and small, public and private, assign first-year students a book to read over the summer, hoping to create a sense of community and engage students intellectually.

    While there are no reliable statistics on summer reading programs, a recent survey of more than 100 programs by a student researcher at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., found that most had started in the last four years, although a few go back decades.

    The range of books colleges use is enormous, covering fiction and nonfiction. Classics are largely absent, with most of the works chosen falling closer to Oprah than academic.

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

    August 8, 2007

    Inside the KIPP School Summit

    Jay Matthews:

    The first thing I noticed about the KIPP School Summit, the annual meeting of the country's most intriguing public school network, was the food. It was cheap, simple and abundant -- potato chips, popcorn, corn chips, juice bars, hamburgers and fajitas available outside the many meeting rooms last week. This was fuel for teachers half my age, about 1,200 of them, nearly all in their 20s and early 30s.

    The second thing I noticed were the principals. Each time I met a school leader, as they are called at KIPP, my generational surprise alarm sounded. Forgive me, but my 62-year-old brain still thinks of principals as men in the middle to later years of their lives. About half of the KIPP school leaders were women. Nearly all of them were, like the teachers, also in their 20s or early 30s, and much more representative of inner-city ethnicities than any other school organization I have seen.

    KIPP is short for Knowledge Is Power Program. Each school is an independent public school, typically a charter or contract school that does not have to follow the usual rules in its district. Most are fifth-through-eighth grade middle schools, but some KIPP high schools and elementary schools have been established. The schools are small, usually about 300 students. The school leaders are carefully selected from the best available teachers and given a year of special training. They have power to hire and fire their staffs and use any curriculum they like as long as it produces significant gains in the achievement of their students, more than 80 percent of whom are from low-income families.

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

    A Look at Houston's $805M Referendum in light of Enrollment Declines

    Ericka Mellon:

    First, the Houston school board, which is expected to approve that $805 million bond proposal Thursday, signed a $3.8 million contract with Magellan Consulting, a Conroe-based firm that specializes in analyzing school buildings. Magellan consultants - with the help of HISD's former in-house demographer, who now works for the company - also estimated student enrollment for each of the district's schools over the next decade. Magellan projects the district's overall enrollment will continue dropping - about 4 percent over the next decade. With that decline, several people have asked why the district needs taxpayers to dip into their pockets to fund new campuses.

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

    Waukesha Virtual School Generates a Cash Surplus

    Amy Hetzner:

    The School District's virtual high school has delivered its first financial surplus to the school system more than a year after it faced an uncertain future amid budgetary losses.

    The district received about $65,000 more than it spent on the 3-year-old school, called iQ Academies at Wisconsin, for 2006-'07 in the first year of a renegotiated contract with KC Distance Learning, the private company that manages the virtual high school.

    The school raised about $4 million through the state's open enrollment system; special-education and tuition payments; and student fees, said Erik Kass, Waukesha's executive director of business services. A little more than $1.5 million of that revenue went to the School District, which pays employee salaries and benefits as well as some supply costs for iQ.

    In a report Monday to members of the School Board's Finance and Facilities Committee, district officials attributed the financial turnaround to a change in the revenue-sharing arrangement with the company as well as better cost controls in the recently ended school year.

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

    August 7, 2007

    Fresh from the frontlines, New York Teaching Fellows tell all

    Stacy Cowley and Neil deMause:

    The subway ads promise inspiration, fulfillment, and the kind of career satisfaction rarely found in an office cube. "Your spreadsheets won't grow up to be doctors and lawyers," one gently chides. "You remember your first-grade teacher's name. Who will remember yours?" asks another.
    The posters are an effective lure for enticing dissatisfied corporate professionals and idealistic college grads to apply for the New York City Teaching Fellows program. Set up in 2000 as a collaboration between the city and the nonprofit New Teacher Project, the program aims to address the city's chronic teacher shortage, epecially in hard-to-fill areas like math, science, and special education. It offers a subsidized master's degree in education and a quick on-ramp to a new career. This year, nearly 20,000 would-be educators from across the country applied.

    But recent fellows warn aspirants not to fall for the gauzy sales pitch. Recounting their initiation into leading a classroom, the novice teachers describe a scene that's more Full Metal Jacket than Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Seven weeks of crash-course training and summer school student teaching, they say, is no preparation for the realities of city classrooms.

    "The year before I came, the kids set three or four fires in the school," recalls one fellow about to enter her fifth year of teaching first and second graders. "You're prepared that some of the kids aren't going to listen, but not for the things they're going to do—like throwing desks across the room. I had a kid taken away in an ambulance my first year because he just flipped out and was ramming into the door."

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    People Gives Students A Leg Up

    Anita Weier:

    The UW-Madison PEOPLE program helped Nana Asante struggle against a feeling of non-acceptance at the mostly white Verona Area High School.

    Asante, who will be a senior at the high school this fall, said that being able to interact with other academically achieving minorities from other schools through the program helped her confidence grow.

    "I had experience with people like myself," Asante said.

    The Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE), administered by the School of Education at UW-Madison, encourages racial and ethnic minorities and low-income students to work hard and achieve the grades that can help them attend UW-Madison. Tuition scholarships are offered to those who make the grade.

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

    Dual Income Families & Tax Burden

    Todd Zywicki:

    EVALUATING THE TWO-INCOME TRAP HYPOTHESIS: As I've been working on my book on bankruptcy this summer, I've been going back through the various hypotheses that have been advanced for the rise in American bankruptcy filings in the 1980s and 1990s. One hypothesis was that advanced in The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle Class Mothers and Fathers are Going Broke by Professor Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi.

    Warren & Tyagi's argument can be easily summarized. They focus on the rise in the number of households with two parents working as an indication of economic distress. Conventional economic theory would indicate that one benefit of having a second wage-earner is that it will make the family more resilient to a financial setback or loss of job than a traditional family with only one wage-earner. Families today, unlike those a generation ago, can save the second earner's income as precautionary savings, thereby making it easier to withstand a setback.

    So I got out my handy calculator and calculated what the indicated percentage of taxes translates into in terms of actual dollars paid in taxes. In turns out that for the 1970s family, paying 24% of its income in taxes works out to be $9,288. And for the 2000s family, paying 33% of its income (a higher rate presumably because of progressivity hitting the second wage-earners income) in taxes works out to be $22,374.

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

    A bit of Tangential, International News

    Both articles below are at best, thinly related to this site's purpose. However, I think they each merit a link and a read:

    • Thailand to keep on repatriating Hmong to Laos by Pracha Hariraksapitak:
      Thailand has no plans to halt its repatriation of ethnic Hmong to communist Laos despite appeals by U.S. Congressmen and the United Nations, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said on Monday.

      Thailand had not sent any Hmong, many of whom fought alongside the United States during the Vietnam War, back forcibly, he told reporters.

      We did not deport them. There have been repatriations as they hold the nationality of our neighbour. The process is under the care of third countries to ensure no human rights are violated after their return,' Surayud said.

      Thailand's policy was influenced partly by the burden of caring for Hmong who continued to cross over from Laos three decades after the end of the war, he said.

      Madison has a large Hmong community which was recently in the news over the naming of a new elementary school.
    • Former Wisconsin DPI Employee Madeline Uranek:
      In November 2006, I left my home in Madison, trading a wonderful, decently paid job with the state Department of Public Instruction for the opportunity to volunteer two years with the Peace Corps. I am posted in Lesotho, in southern Africa.

      Lesotho is a tiny country, about the size of Maryland, with a population of about two million. It is surrounded on all sides by South Africa, the continent's richest country. The wealth of South Africa is a magnet for the men of Lesotho, who travel there to work in diamond and copper mines, and for Lesotho's handful of professionals, who go to be teachers, lawyers, nurses and electrical engineers. But most women venture no further than the nearest grimy camp town, and most children have never left their village.

      I sense desolation in the tired red soil, the wispy corn plants, marching in bedraggled rows like defeated soldiers. Yet the beauty of this country is breathtaking, and it comes in 360-degree vistas. I can stand in any high place and see ranges upon ranges of mountains in all directions, vast open valleys through which a river trickles.

      In Madison, it is summer, lush and green. In Lesotho, it is winter, brown and windy. Before the missionaries and Boer settlers came, the Basotho people wore animal skins to keep warm. Now they wear beautiful blankets, whose designs are based on English mill weavings of the mid-1800s, evolved over the decades since to be uniquely Basotho. The blankets come in patterns dominated by a single color, and have intriguing names meaning, for example, blanket of royalty, heart of the chief, or thigh of a woman in labor.

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

    The Violence-Free Zone initiative seems to be tamping down violence at two Milwaukee high schools

    Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

    There isn't just one right answer to preventing school violence - you try what works. But a program that will expand this fall to five Milwaukee high schools shows promise.

    The Violence-Free Zone initiative places young people from the community into schools as youth advisers. These advisers form relationships within the school and nearby community, and they work to identify students labeled as the most disruptive. They may help a kid find a safe place to go after school or better living arrangements for families. At South Division High School, they have even helped families with tax forms.

    In the hallways, advisers defuse arguments before they boil over, and they confront unruly students with a stern message: Violent behavior is not acceptable. But along with that message, healthy alternatives are offered.

    The program is all about making stronger connections with troubled kids and offering them hope.

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

    Building ‘Smart Education Systems’

    Robert Rothman:

    As the unprecedented push to improve American education enters the midpoint of its third decade, reformers can claim some success. Yet no one would argue that the job is done, particularly in the nation’s cities. Even the most successful urban school districts, the winners of the Broad Prize for Urban Education, would acknowledge that they have a long way to go toward ensuring that every child receives an excellent education and develops the knowledge and skills needed for a fulfilling and productive future.

    There is no shortage of ideas for improving urban education, and there are efforts under way in nearly every city to improve schooling for urban youths: New schools are proliferating, high schools are being redesigned, new curricula are being developed and implemented, accountability systems are being strengthened, and much more. But there is also a growing recognition that improving schools and school systems, while essential, is not enough. Ensuring that every child becomes proficient and beyond will require the support and active engagement of organizations and agencies outside of schools as well.

    The role of out-of-school factors in educational success has sparked heated debate. But the debate over whether in-school or out-of-school factors are more salient in children’s learning—a debate that has raged at least since the 1966 publication of James S. Coleman’s Equality of Educational Opportunity—is in many respects a false one. Both factors are important, and both must be addressed if the nation is to fulfill its 60-year-old promise of equal educational opportunity, and its more recent pledge to ensure that all children learn to high levels.

    The experiences of middle-class and affluent children make this proposition clear. To be sure, relatively affluent students tend to have schooling advantages that support higher levels of learning. Numerous studies have documented the disparities in school facilities, teacher quality, and curriculum offerings that favor more-advantaged students.

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

    August 6, 2007

    Mary Gulbrandsen Reflects

    Retiring Madison School District Chief of Staff Mary Gulbrandsen:

    I can use the words privileged and honored when I think of all of the people with whom I have been lucky enough to work, but it is much more than that. I have learned so much from the occupational and physical therapy staff, the psychology and social work staff, the R&E staff, the SAPAR staff, the principals, the teachers, all of the central office staff, the management team with whom I have closely worked the last nine years and last, but not least, the group with whom I started, the health services staff.

    For me, the most difficult part of leaving the district is realizing that I won't see the same people that I'm accustomed to seeing, worrying with, planning with, caring about, arguing with, and celebrating with on a daily basis. I will miss you all.

    Much more on Mary, here.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:56 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Schools Bypass Budget Caps

    Amy Hetzner:

    A little-publicized exemption to a state law that caps school district revenue has kept a nurse in the Greenfield School District and cops in South Milwaukee's middle and high schools in recent years.

    It could also help pay the Waukesha School District's share of a new traffic light, and for a part-time aide to record student immunization data for the Oak Creek-Franklin School District.

    And there is a possibility such cases, in which school systems are allowed to raise extra money if they have to replace a service that had been provided by another governmental entity, could grow.

    "I think there is a potential but it varies from school district to school district, community to community," said Woody Wiedenhoeft, executive director for the Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials. "But, in tight times, to try to make budget fits, I can see people discuss 'Well, should we move it from one budget to another?' "

    In recent years, the exemption has led school districts to raise their revenue caps so they can pay for everything from police liaison officers and nurses to grass cutting and snow plowing. Since 2003, school districts have been allowed to collect more than $1.8 million under the exemption, according to records from the state Department of Public Instruction, which has to approve all requests under the law.

    Non revenue limited spending growth in the Madison School District's Fund 80 has drawn local attention. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel applauds this loophole.

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

    Gestures Convey Message: Learning in Progress

    Rick Weiss:

    Susan Wagner Cook stands at the front of a third-grade classroom, an unfinished equation printed neatly on the whiteboard.

    4 + 3 + 6 = __ + 6

    "I want to make one side," she says, as her left hand sweeps under the left side of the equation, "equal to the other side," she continues, now sweeping her right hand under the right side of the equation.

    It's a concept that third-graders are just ready to learn: The total value on one side of an equal sign should equal that on the other.

    Some kids get it quickly as Cook goes through her carefully choreographed tutorial. Others take longer. But what none of them know is that they are subjects in an experiment that is helping scientists understand one of the most familiar and yet mysterious components of human behavior: the hand gesture.

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

    Professor pans 'learning style' teaching method

    Julie Henry:

    A leading scientist has dismissed the latest approach to teaching that has been endorsed by the Government and embraced by teachers.

    Under the new system children are considered to have different "learning styles" and instead of being taught by the conventional method of listening to a teacher, they should be allowed to wander around, listen to music and even play with balls in the classroom.

    But now Baroness Greenfield, the director of the Royal Institute and a professor of pharmacology at Oxford University, has dismissed as "nonsense" the view that pupils prefer to receive information either by sight, sound or touch.

    She said that the method of classifying pupils on the basis of "learning styles" is a waste of valuable time and resources.

    The approach, first introduced in the United States following research on brain development, is being adopted by an increasing number of schools, colleges and local authorities and forms a key part of the Government's drive for "personalised learning". In effect, it dismisses so-called "chalk and talk" teaching as inadequate.

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

    More on MATC - Milwaukee Property Tax Blowback

    Mike Nichols:

    The folks running Milwaukee Area Technical College want your money, deserve your money, have a right to your money, and it matters not a bit what they do with it.

    In fact, the technical college district doesn't just want your money for technical education. It deserves your money because, I guess, that's just the way things are around here - so quit whining.

    Quit being, as one Milwaukee state representative put it recently, I noted in my blog, so "political."

    Or, better yet, consider - seriously - quitting MATC itself.

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

    Apollo Image Archive

    Arizona State University:

    To record their historic voyages and collect scientific observations many thousands of photographs were acquired with handheld and automated cameras during all the Apollo missions. After returning to Earth, the film was developed and stored at Johnson Space Center (JSC), where they still reside. Due to the historical significance of the original flight films, typically only duplicate (2nd or 3rd generation) film products are currently available for study and used to make prints.

    To allow full access to the original flight films for both researchers and the general public, Johnson Space Center and Arizona State University's Space Exploration Resources are scanning and creating an online digital archive of all the original Apollo flight films. Through this online interface, users may browse through the archive and download any of the images. This web site also provides a suite of resources regarding the images and the cameras that were used during the Apollo program. Finally, the scanning process is estimated to take three years with the first production scans recorded in late June 2007.

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

    August 5, 2007

    What Autistic Girls Are Made Of

    Emily Bazelon:

    Caitlyn & Marguerite sat knee to knee in a sunny room at the Hawks Camp in Park City, Utah. On one wall was a white board with these questions: What’s your favorite vacation and why? What’s your favorite thing about yourself? If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

    Caitlyn, who is 13, and Marguerite, who is 16 (I’ve used only their first names to protect their privacy), held yellow sheets of paper on which they had written their answers. It was the third day of the weeklong camp, late for icebreakers. But the Hawks are kids with autistic disorders accompanied by a normal or high I.Q. And so the main goal of the camp, run on a 26-acre ranch by a Utah nonprofit organization called the National Ability Center, is to nudge them toward the sort of back and forth — “What’s your favorite video game?” — that comes easily to most kids.

    Along with Caitlyn and Marguerite, there were nine boys in the camp between the ages of 10 and 18. They also sat across from one another in pairs, with the exception of one 18-year-old who was arguing with a counselor. “All I require is a purple marker,” the boy said over and over again, refusing to write with the black marker he had been given. A few feet away, an 11-year-old was yipping and grunting while his partner read his answers in a monotone, eyes trained on his yellow paper. Another counselor hurried over to them.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:08 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    Innovating School & Schooling

    Center for Policy Studies and Hamline University:

    1. Traditional schooling is 'torqued out'. We need to create radically different models of school/ing.
    2. Existing organizations don't innovate well. Most different schools will have to be created new.
    3. The states' charter laws make it possible now to create new and different schools.
    4. In redesigning schools we should focus on motivating the workers: both students and teachers.
    5. We can now customize student learning using today's digital electronics.
    6. Without new models of school K-12 might not be sustainable economically

    Posted by Senn Brown at 7:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    August 4, 2007

    High School Small Communities

    I noticed the district is applying for a grant to the BOE in relation to the High School Small Communities. I have a couple of thoughts relating to this issue.

    First of all, I applaud your effort in making our large high school more intimate. It seem in an emotional way logical that the high school would be divided into smaller communities to allow for connectiveness.

    The funny thing is, as I celebrate my 25th year since I was in high school this year, I look back and see this same thing occurred back in my day. It was called clubs, athletics, and band.

    High schools have been a breeding ground for fun, involvement, participation and community building. MMSD has been cutting this very foundation you are asking for a grant to "Create through artificial means" since I moved here in 2000. The non-academic athletics, the non-essential music, the unnecessary theater and arts have been cut, cut and cut some more. I understand the need for cutting and you can't cut curriculum, but now we are going to create the "connectivity" artificially.

    My son loves sports. He matriculates to others like him. He has met kids from Toki, Hamilton, Spring Harbor and even private school from sports. If you ask him where he wants to go to High School next year he will tell you Memorial to play BB or some other sport. He has a strong since of community based on his interest.

    My daughter loves the arts. Drawing, acting, and especially singing. If you ask her where she wants to go to high school she will tell you Memorial because she has seen several plays there and want to participate in the drama club. She is also a pretty good swimmer and has senior role models on Memorial Swim Team.

    Neither will say Memorial because the Math is great! They already have established a type of community through their interest, as we did as kids. It is so sad that NONE of the MMSD schools have a marching band, as that club can involve hundreds of students and attach them to a community of students of all ages and interest through music. Instead we are trying to create the communities randomly, via what a computer, that does not account for interest.

    It is also sad we are cutting our athletics slowly but surely. This year it is the AD at the High School Level. I heard the BOE at MMSD was unwilling to raise the fees to allow these actives that provide a community for low, middle and high income students. Since many of you do not have children participating in sports let me clue you in on a few things.

    Dane County Youth Football League: $160 per student, includes cost to cover scholarships. Run, coached and executed by parent volunteers. West Madison Little League: $150 per player, includes cost to cover scholarship, parents provide transportation, pictures, snack for needy, and executed and run by parents. Magic Soccer: $150 per player. Covers all fees and scholarships, coaching and organization provided by parents. 56er Soccer: $700 plus. Also parent run with paid coaches. No scholarships I know of because it is an Elite Club. Tri County Basketball: $150, scholarships provided and coaches provide transportation for needy. Parents coach, volunteer, organize and run. Summer swim leagues: I pay $600 plus $35 per 3 kids to have them swim in the summer. No scholarships provided. Parent run and organized. Badger Aquatics: I pay an outrageous amount close to $500 for one session for one child. If there are scholarships available I would be amazed. Swing Basketball: UAA basketball, $700, plus, travel competitive basketball for 4 - 12 grade. No scholarship provided as this is an Elite club.
    I spend my summer/fall/winter/spring coaching, volunteering, driving and donating an enormous amount of time, money and energy to all of the above for not only my children but several that live in the Wexford and Allied Drive area. These kids LIVE for these activities and there are Black, Asian, and White children that participate on the non-elite clubs. These activities cost money to run but are run very effectively and efficiently by so many parents. The district clearly wants the community to take over these activities and they are. You will see more 56'er teams for the elite, swim team for the elite, UAA teams for the elite, Private swim teams for the elite and WEALTHY. As you are concerned for the poor and borderline families and you eliminate High School Sports, you are pushing parents that volunteer and families and students that are interested to private clubs and such. Those families you are concerned about will be excluded and the activities left at the high school level will be a joke. (At the Jr. High level it is already a huge joke and none of the students find it remotely interesting to participate when there is no coach, team, practice, etc for the so called basketball and volleyball teams) I already see this with swimming and UAA basketball.

    Fee based, coaches paid, activities will take over this community. A few sports will survive but the others will become elite clubs and the HIGH SCHOOL COMMUNITY building will be lost to these private clubs.

    I remember my high school years of pep club, tennis, basketball, going to watch my friends play sports and the half time band. I did One Act Plays, debate club and even took part in a community volunteer club. All supported by my high school. I learned a LOT through those activities and I built a since of community. Our town would participate and watch, and the whole community supported us. I have never been to a 56ers game but I have seen Memorial Football, Basketball, Soccer and Cross Country. I would never go see a UAA basketball game but I will go see the Spartans.

    Too bad. We have an easy way to build a community through sports, bands, arts, but we just keep cutting and cutting. Instead we will build the community through an artificial raffle of names. The data is obviously out on the effectiveness of the small learning communities at Memorial because no data is available to clarify if it's reached it's established goals. I on the other hand have the e-mail address of all my basketball buddies from high school! That's a community. I wonder if the Memorial small learning communities have each others email address's after they graduate?

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

    2007 Design Achievement Awards

    Adobe Education:

    The Adobe® Design Achievement Awards celebrate student achievement that reflects the powerful convergence of technology and creative arts. Winners represent work by some of the most talented and promising student graphic designers, photographers, illustrators, animators, digital filmmakers, and computer artists from the world’s top institutions of higher education.
    The student finalists and winners were honored by Adobe and the community during an awards gala and gallery on August 2, 2007 in the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

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

    August 3, 2007

    Let's get real about Indiana school data

    Indianapolis Star-Tribune Editorial:

    At the beginning of the 2005-06 school year, there were 969 seniors left in Indianapolis Public Schools' graduating class.

    By the end of the school year, nearly 1,300 seniors collected diplomas from the district.
    Yes, you read that correctly. IPS had 33 percent more graduates than seniors who began the year, the second consecutive school year it has done so.

    There's no way that IPS, which promoted a mere 31 percent of the eighth-graders who made up the original graduating class, experienced a sudden influx of transfers. The fact that just 52 of them would have graduated the previous year shows that holdovers don't account for this.

    As the nonprofit Education Trust notes in a report released today, parents and state officials "cannot allow such dubious figures to go unexplained -- or unchallenged."
    That admonition must also extend to the Indiana Department of Education and its boss, Superintendent Suellen Reed. After all, IPS' graduation numbers reflect the agency's longstanding difficulty in accurately reporting the condition of education in our state.

    Education Trust:
    GRADUATION MATTERS: How NCLB allows states to set the bar too low for improving high school grad rates.
    "The first ingredient in education reform is to tell parents the truth."

    Lawrie Kobza's Performance & Achievement Committee discussed "A Model to Measure Student Performance" Monday evening.

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

    Remarks on the Future of No Child Left Behind

    Congressman George Miller:

    Second, the legislation will encourage a rich and challenging learning environment, and it will promote best practices and innovation taking place in schools throughout the country.

    In so many meetings I have had in my district and elsewhere, employers say that our high school graduates are not ready for the workplace. Colleges say that our high school graduates are not ready for the college classroom. This is unacceptable.

    In my bill, we will ask employers and colleges to come together as stakeholders with the states to jointly develop more rigorous standards that meet the demands of both. Many states have already started this process. We seek to build on and complement the leadership of our nation’s governors and provide them incentives to continue.

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

    "Madison School Board Progress Report - July 2007"

    Arlene Silveira:

    I hope everyone is enjoying their summer. Below is the July progress report for the Board of Education. As you will see, it has been a busy summer. We have started committee meetings and have also been working
    in preparation for the search for a new Superintendent.

    As always, if you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact me( or the full Board

    Arlene Silveira

    Board Priorities
    Listed below are the MMSD Board of Education priorities for the 2007-08 school year. In addition to these priorities the Board and committees will also be working on many other issues throughout the year.

    1. Hire a new Superintendent to lead the school district by April 2008.

    2. Develop specific, measurable goals to evaluate student progress and success.

    3. Evaluate the need and weigh options for going to the community for an Operating referendum. If a decision is made to go to referendum, plan strategy and define referendum question(s).

    4. Consider revisions to the BOE's equity policy and the development of guidelines to implement the policy to support the BOE goals of reading, math and attendance.

    5. Study and address issues that affect the educational environment and student achievement such as attendance, dropouts, truancy, expulsions and bullying.

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

    August 2, 2007

    School Bus Safety Discussion

    Robert Farago:

    Passenger vehicles' passive safety has improved dramatically over the last four decades. Yet millions of children continue to ride to and from school in buses little changed from those used when the Who wrote "Magic Bus." The family of a boy injured in a Kentucky bus crash may finally change that. Lawyers representing Cody Shively, a 12-year old boy who suffered brain and eye injuries in a bus accident, are suing the vehicles' manufacturers (Navistar International Corporation, Navistar International Transportation Corporation, International Truck and Engine Corporation and IC Corporation) and the Grant County School Board. Lawyer Stanley Chesley has a not-so-secret weapon: on-board video of the children during the crash, and he's not afraid to use it.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:19 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    To Teach or Not to Teach?
    Teaching Experience and Preparation Among 1992-93 Bachelor's Degree Recipients 10 Years After College

    Martha Naomi Alt, Robin Henke and Kristin Perry [1MB PDF]:

    Nearly all graduates (93 percent) who were teaching in 2003 expressed overall satisfaction with that job (figure C). Teachers were more likely to be satisfied with the learning environment at their 2003 school (77 percent) than with such aspects as pay, parent support, and students’ motivation to learn (48 percent of
    teachers were satisfied with each of these aspects).

    On other measures reflecting job satisfaction, 90 percent of 2003 teachers reported that they would choose teaching again, and 2 in 3 (67 percent) said they would remain a teacher for the rest of their working life (text table 4). Male and female teachers did not differ measurably in how long they planned to remain in the profession. However, more male than female teachers (94 vs. 88 percent) said they would choose teaching if they had a chance to make the decision again (figure 9). White teachers were more likely than Black teachers to plan to teach until retirement (70 vs. 37 percent; figure D).

    About 11 percent of the 1992−93 cohort were teaching in 2003, and 9 percent had taught but were not currently teaching (text table 2). Roughly as many graduates had thus left teaching as had stayed in the field by 2003, whether leaving was on a temporary or permanent basis.

    via Mike Antonucci.

    Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:48 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    August 1, 2007

    Cartoonist among role models for high school boys.

    Oh, that every one of our high schools had a "AAA" ("African American Achievement") Team. ---LAF

    Susan Troller
    The Capital Times

    The only guy who can truly hold you back is the guy in the mirror," cartoonist Robb Armstrong told a group of mostly male, mostly African-American students at La Follette High School on Tuesday.

    He is the creator of the nationally syndicated comic strip JumpStart, which focuses on an African-American family and until recently ran in the Wisconsin State Journal. He was in Madison, speaking to members of the African-American Achievement Team, based at La Follette.

    Armstrong grew up in a tough West Philadelphia neighborhood with his fiercely ambitious mother and four siblings.

    An advocate for education who talks to over 5,000 students a year, Armstrong held his audience spellbound for about an hour as he talked about his family, his friends and the hard choices he had to make to pursue his passion as a cartoonist.

    "Whatever you're going to do, I suggest you get started," he advised.

    "I began to see life as short at a young age," Armstrong said as he described the loss of his 13-year-old brother, who was dragged to death, caught in the doors of a subway train.

    As Armstrong talked about the accusations he faced from his old neighborhood friends when he began taking school seriously, several in the audience nodded quietly in agreement.

    Armstrong also told students that, for better or worse, Americans live in a youth-oriented corporate culture, and there are plenty of opportunities for young people with their heads screwed on straight.

    "He's real inspiring," Markevius Burnett, 16, said after Armstrong finished. "No matter how many obstacles come in your life, you can overcome them by staying on track."

    Virgil Ward II asked Armstrong to draw his portrait.

    "No, I'm not going to sell it. I'm going to keep it," he laughed as he showed his friends the giant sheet of paper with his comic sketch.

    Like Burnett and most of the other students in the audience, Ward is a member of the African-American Achievement Team, or the AAA Team.

    "You have to be focused, and you have to know what you want," Ward said. Since joining the group of about 30 core members of the AAA Team last semester, Ward said he was improving his attendance at school and focusing more on his grades.

    "That's cool. I want to help the younger guys coming up, try to help kids stand up, be successful and go for it, help them achieve," he added.

    The AAA Team is the result of a question Chad Wiese, dean of 11th-grade students at La Follette, posed last winter to Eric Summers, a local business leader involved with the 100 Black Men organization.

    "He asked me, 'Why are kids of color -- especially African-American male students -- doing so poorly in school?'" recalled Summers, a businessman and former professional basketball player from Greensboro, N.C., who moved to Madison in 2000.

    The challenge of engaging African-American students, who are more likely to be truant, have a disproportionate number of disciplinary actions, lower achievement scores and higher drop-out rates than their white, Hispanic and Asian counterparts, captured Summers' attention.

    He contacted other participants in the 100 Black Men organization who could be inspiring role models and they invited all freshman and sophomore African-American boys at La Follette to attend a meeting to see if they would be interested in joining a group that focused on improving their commitment to school.

    "The question is, 'How can we make a difference in some of these children's lives?'" he said.

    Sean Storch, an English and alternative education teacher at La Follette, said he was impressed with the AAA Team's results in just a semester.

    "Some of these kids are very capable, and really, really bright, but they become bored and disengaged for any number of reasons. They didn't see positive role models they could identify with," Storch said. "It's a great opportunity for those who are leaders to step out in front of the pack."

    When the AAA Team began meeting early in the spring semester, the discussions were frank and direct, and the adults asked some very pointed questions, Summers said.

    "We asked them why they aren't successful in school, and what obstacles they face. We also asked them how that made them feel. There were no right or wrong answers," he said.

    The students meet once a week, and have talked with community leaders including Police Chief Noble Wray, Robert Steele of Kraft Foods, Dr. Perry Henderson and Enis Ragland. Leaders from 100 Black Men mentor groups of about 10 boys.

    With grades and attendance soaring among the participating students, Summers said teachers and administrators have been enormously supportive. In fact, planning is under way for the program to be expanded to other Madison high schools, beginning this fall.

    Abdou Seye is 15 and a sophomore at La Follette whose actions and aptitude speak louder than words. In a semester, he went from a 2.0 grade point to a 4.0. He enjoys sports and will be running cross country this year.

    Posted by Laurie Frost at 6:16 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    District SLC Grant - Examining the Data From Earlier Grants, pt. 1

    The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) recently submitted a five year, $5 million grant proposal to the US Department of Education (DOE) to support the creation of Small Learning Communities (SLCs) in all four high schools (See here for post re. grant application). While the grant proposal makes mention of the two smaller SLC grants the district received earlier, there is no examination of the data from those two projects. One would think that DOE would be curious to know if MMSD's earlier efforts at creating SLCs had produced the desired results before agreeing to provide further funding. Furthermore, one would think it important to examine if the schools implemented the changes that they proposed in their applications. It is my intention to provide some of that analysis over the course of several posts, and I want to encourage other community members to examine the Memorial grant proposal and final report and the West grant and final report themselves.

    We begin by examining Memorial High School's SLC grant which was funded from 2000-2003. Memorial's SLC grant is a good place to start, not only because it was the first MMSD SLC grant, but because they lay out clearly the outcome measures that they intend to evaluate and their final report provides hard numbers (as opposed to graphics) over a number of years before and after the implementation of the SLC grant. Memorial had two goals for their SLC grant: 1) to reduce the achievement gap and 2) to increase students' connectedness to the school.

    Examining student achievement suggests mixed results for Memorial's restructuring. Student GPA's indicate a slight narrowing of the achievement gap for African American students and essentially no change for Hispanic students when compared to their fellow white students over the period of the grant.

    Difference Between
    White & African American
    White & Hispanic

    Student WKCE performance can be considered an external indicator of student success, and these data indicate no change in the proportion of students scoring at the Proficient and/or Advanced levels, an especially noteworthy result given that the criteria for the WKCEs were lowered in 2002/03 which was the last year of the grant. I've included data up through this past school year since that is available on the DPI website, and I've only presented data from math and reading in the interests of not overloading SIS readers.

    WKCE 99/2000 2000/01 2001/02 2002/03 2003/04 2004/05 2005/06 2006/07
    African American
    Low Income
    Not Low Income      
    African American
    Low Income
    Not Low Income      
    * note. data for Hispanic students includes 4 Native American students in 03/04 and 2 in the following two years
    ** note. DPI actually reports higher percentages of students scoring proficient/advanced: 34% and 37% respectively for these two cells

    The data from DPI looking at ACT test performance and percentage of students tested does not suggest any change has occurred in the last 10 years, so the data presented here would suggest that Memorial's SLC restructuring hasn't had any effect on the achievement gap, but what about the other goal, student connectedness?

    Memorial's final report presents data on student suspensions and expulsions as their quantitative indicators of student connectedness. It should be noted that in their grant proposal, Memorial was going to examine student responses to the annual climate survey as a way to track students' sense of belonging and relationship with the school, but, regretfully, that information isn't presented. When we look at the information we are provided with, there appears to be no change, but DPI data suggest that things have declined in recent years: suspension rate the year prior to the grant (99/00) - 4.3%, suspension rate last year of grant (02/03) - 6.1%, suspension rate for most current year's data (05/06) - 10.2%. The picture is the same for student expulsions: 99/00 - 0.20%, 02/03 - 0.23%, 05/06 - 0.6%. Data from DPI also suggest that there has been no change in attendance rates or in the percentage of students habitually truant.

    The goals of the District's SLC proposal are admirable. However, this data does not suggest that the Memorial model will produce the desired results. Next time we look at West.

    Posted by Jeff Henriques at 4:46 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

    "Value Added Assessment" Madison School Board's Performance & Achievement Committee Looks at "A Model to Measure Student Performance"

    Video / 20MB Mp3 Audio
    Superintendent Art Rainwater gave a presentation on "Value Added Assessment" to the Madison School Board's Performance & Achievement committee Monday evening. Art described VAA "as a method to track student growth longitudinally over time and to utilize that data to look at how successful we are at all levels of our organization". MMSD CIO Kurt Kiefer, Ernie Morgan, Mike Christian and Rob Meyer, a senior scientist at WCER presented this information to the committee (there were two others whose names I could not decipher from the audio).
    Related Links: The fact that the School Board is actually discussing this topic is a positive change from the recent past. One paradox of this initiative is that while the MMSD is apparently collecting more student performance data, some parents (there are some teachers who provide full report cards) are actually receiving less via the report card reduction activities (more here and here). Perhaps the school district's new parent portal will provide more up to date student data.

    A few interesting quotes from the discussion:

    45 minutes: Kurt has built a very rich student database over the years (goes back to 1990).

    46 Superintendent Art Rainwater: We used to always have the opinion here that if we didn't invent it, it couldn't possibly be any good because we're so smart that we've have thought of it before anybody else if it was any good. Hopefully, we've begun to understand that there are 15,000 school districts in America and that all of them are doing some things that we can learn from.

    47 Art, continued: It's a shame Ruth (Robarts) isn't sitting here because a lot of things that Ruth used to ask us to do that we said we just don't have the tools to do that with I think, over time, this will give us the tools that we need. More from Ruth here and here.
    55 Arlene Silveira asked about staff reaction in Milwaukee and Chicago to this type of analysis.

    69 Maya asked about how the School Board will use this to determine if this program or that program is working. Maya also asked earlier about the data source for this analysis, whether it is WKCE or NAEP. Kurt responded that they would use WKCE (which, unfortunately seems to change every few years).

    71 Lawrie Kobza: This has been one of the most interesting discussions I've been at since I've been on the school board.

    Lawrie, Arlene and Maya look like they will be rather active over the next 8 months.

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

    A Teacher Grows Disillusioned After a ‘Fail’ Becomes a ‘Pass’

    Samuel G. Freedman:

    Several weeks into his first year of teaching math at the High School of Arts and Technology in Manhattan, Austin Lampros received a copy of the school’s grading policy. He took particular note of the stipulation that a student who attended class even once during a semester, who did absolutely nothing else, was to be given 45 points on the 100-point scale, just 20 short of a passing mark.

    Mr. Lampros’s introduction to the high school’s academic standards proved a fitting preamble to a disastrous year. It reached its low point in late June, when Arts and Technology’s principal, Anne Geiger, overruled Mr. Lampros and passed a senior whom he had failed in a required math course.

    That student, Indira Fernandez, had missed dozens of class sessions and failed to turn in numerous homework assignments, according to Mr. Lampros’s meticulous records, which he provided to The New York Times. She had not even shown up to take the final exam. She did, however, attend the senior prom.

    Through the intercession of Ms. Geiger, Miss Fernandez was permitted to retake the final after receiving two days of personal tutoring from another math teacher. Even though her score of 66 still left her with a failing grade for the course as a whole by Mr. Lampros’s calculations, Ms. Geiger gave the student a passing mark, which allowed her to graduate.

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

    No Standards Left Behind

    Neal McCluskey:

    NCLB's biggest problem is that it's designed to help Washington politicians appear all things to all people. To look tough on bad schools, it requires states to establish standards and tests in reading, math and science, and it requires all schools to make annual progress toward 100% reading and math proficiency by 2014. To preserve local control, however, it allows states to set their own standards, "adequate yearly progress" goals, and definitions of proficiency. As a result, states have set low standards, enabling politicians to declare victory amid rising test scores without taking any truly substantive action.

    NCLB's perverse effects are illustrated by Michigan, which dropped its relatively demanding standards when it had over 1,500 schools on NCLB's first "needs improvement" list. The July 2002 transformation of then-state superintendent Tom Watkins captures NCLB's power. Early that month, when discussing the effects of state budget cuts on Michigan schools, Mr. Watkins declared that cuts or no cuts, "We don't lower standards in this state!" A few weeks later, thanks to NCLB, Michigan cut drastically the percentage of students who needed to hit proficiency on state tests for a school to make adequate yearly progress. "Michigan stretches to do what's right with our children," Mr. Watkins said, "but we're not going to shoot ourselves in the foot."

    Today, evasion syndrome is epidemic. According to a report last month from the Institute of Education Sciences, a research branch of the U.S. Department of Education, while states are declaring success on their tests, almost none have standards even close to those of the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress — the so-called "Nation's Report Card." Almost all states have set their standards below NAEP's "proficiency" level.

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