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November 30, 2007

Best High Schools 2008

US News & World Report:

We analyzed data from thousands of schools to produce our list of the nation's best. The top schools are a diverse bunch, and each one has found its unique way to best teach our future leaders.
Wisconsin high schools can be found here. Andrew Rotherham has more, along with Maria Glod.

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Certain high schools have a remarkable record of sending their students to elite colleges

Ellen Gamerman:

As college-application season enters its most stressful final stretch, parents want to know if their children's schools are delivering the goods -- consistently getting students into top universities.

It's a tricky question to answer, but for a snapshot, The Wall Street Journal examined this year's freshman classes at eight highly selective colleges to find out where they went to high school. New York City private schools and New England prep schools continue to hold sway -- Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., is a virtual factory, sending 19 kids to Harvard this fall -- but these institutions are seeing some new competition from schools overseas and public schools that focus on math and science.

The 10 schools that performed best in our survey are all private schools. Two top performers overall are located in South Korea. Daewon Foreign Language High School in Seoul sent 14% of its graduating class to the eight colleges we examined -- that's more than four times the acceptance rate of the prestigious Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, N.Y.

No ranking of high schools is perfect, and this one offers a cross-section, rather than an exhaustive appraisal, of college admissions. For our survey, we chose eight colleges with an average admissions selectivity of 18% and whose accepted applicants had reading and math SAT scores in the 1350-1450 range, according to the College Board: Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Williams, Pomona, Swarthmore, the University of Chicago and Johns Hopkins. Some colleges that would otherwise have met our criteria were excluded from our study because information on their students' high-school alma maters was unavailable. All the colleges in our survey received a record number of applications last year.

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Seat belts for all school buses, or just some?


The Bush administration on Monday proposed a new rule to improve the safety of school bus seats and expand the use of shoulder belts, but stopped short of ordering that all new buses include seat belts.

Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters rode a packed school bus to Morrisville Elementary School — among the first schools in the country to equip some of its new buses with shoulder straps — then announced a proposed rule that would:

  • Increase the height of seat backs on all school buses from 20 inches to 24 inches to help protect older children and adults from being thrown over the seats during accidents.
  • Require all new short school buses — the style more prone to rollover accidents than longer buses — to begin using shoulder straps.

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UW MS in Biotechnology Alumni Spotlight

University of Wisconsin:

Our students' careers are as diverse as their backgrounds. Here are some student success stories reported since graduating with our program's biotechnology degree.

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November 29, 2007

The Secret to Raising Smart Kids

Carol Dweck:

Hint: Don't tell your kids that they are. More than three decades of research shows that a focus on effort—not on intelligence or ability—is key to success in school and in life.

Growing Pains

  • Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn.
  • Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on effort rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life.
  • Parents and teachers can engender a growth mind-set in children by praising them for their effort or persistence (rather than for their intelligence), by telling success stories that emphasize hard work and love of learning, and by teaching them about the brain as a learning machine.

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Update on Credit for non-MMSD Courses, including Youth Options Program:

Madison School Board Performance & Achievement Committee Meeting 11/26/2007At the November 26, 2007 meeting of the MMSD BOE's Performance and Achievement Committee [18MB mp3 audio], the District's Attorney handed out a draft of a policy for the District's Youth Options Program dated November 20, 2007. It is a fine working draft. However, it has been written with rules making it as difficult as possible for students to actually take advantage of this State-mandated program. Thus, I urge all families with children who may be affected by this policy now or in the future to request a copy of this document, read it over carefully, and then write within the next couple of weeks to all BOE members, the District's Attorney, Pam Nash, and Art Rainwater with suggestions for modifications to the draft text. For example, the current draft states that students are not eligible to take a course under the YOP if a comparable course is offered ANYWHERE in the MMSD (i.e., regardless of whether the student has a reasonable method to physically access the District's comparable course). It also restricts students to taking courses at institutions "located in this State" (i.e., precluding online courses such as ones offered for academically advanced students via Stanford's EPGY and Northwestern's CTD).

The Attorney's memorandum dated November 21, 2007 to this Committee, the BOE, and the Superintendent outlined a BOE policy chapter entitled "Educational Options" that would include, as well, a policy regarding "Credit for Courses Taken Outside the MMSD". Unfortunately, this memo stated that this latter policy as one "to be developed". It has now been almost 6 years (!) since Art Rainwater promised us that the District would develop an official policy regarding credit for courses taken outside the MMSD. A working draft available for public comment and BOE approval has yet to appear. In the interim, the "freeze" the BOE unanimously approved, yet again, last winter has been ignored by administrators, some students are leaving the MMSD because of its absence, and chaos continues to rein because there exists no clearly written policy defining the rules by which non-MMSD courses can be taken for high school credit. Can anyone give us a timetable by which an official BOE-approved policy on this topic will finally be in place?


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US Students Post Flat Scores in Global Literacy Study

Nancy Zuckerbrod:

U.S. fourth-graders have lost ground in reading ability compared with kids around the world, according to results of a global reading test.

Test results released Wednesday showed U.S. students, who took the test last year, scored about the same as they did in 2001, the last time the test was given — despite an increased emphasis on reading under the No Child Left Behind law.

Still, the U.S. average score on the Progress in International Reading Literacy test remained above the international average. Ten countries or jurisdictions, including Hong Kong and three Canadian provinces, were ahead of the United States this time. In 2001, only three countries were ahead of the United States.

The 2002 No Child Left Behind law requires schools to test students annually in reading and math, and imposes sanctions on schools that miss testing goals.

The U.S. performance on the international test of 45 nations or jurisdictions differed somewhat from results of a U.S. national reading test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation's report card. Fourth-grade reading scores rose modestly on the most recent version of that test, taken earlier this year and measuring growth since 2005. During the previous two-year period, scores were flat.

On the latest international exam, U.S. students posted a lower average score than students in Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Luxembourg, Hungary, Italy and Sweden, along with the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.

TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center Website.

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November 28, 2007

National Math Panel Unveils Draft Report

Sean Cavanagh:

Students’ success in mathematics, and algebra specifically, hinges largely on their mastering a focused, clearly defined set of topics in that subject in early grades, the draft report of a federal panel concludes.

The long-awaited report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel is still very much in flux. Members of the White House-commissioned group staged their 10th, and what was supposed to be their final, meeting in a hotel here Nov. 28, though they indicated that numerous revisions to the document are yet to come.

The panel spent most of a day debating and rewriting a 68-page draft of the report. The draft makes recommendations and findings on curricular content, learning processes, training and evaluation of teachers, instructional practices, assessment, and research as those topics apply to math in grades pre-K through 8.

“International and domestic comparisons show that American students have not been succeeding in the mathematical part of their education at anything like a leadership level,” the report says. “Particularly disturbing is the consistent finding that American students achieve in mathematics progressively more poorly at higher grades.”

The 19-member panel has reviewed an estimated 18,000 research documents and reports as part of its work, which began in 2006. But its draft document also bemoans the paucity of available research in several areas of math—including instruction and teacher training. Government needs to do more, it says, to support research with “large enough samples of students, classrooms, teachers, and schools to identify reliable effects.”

The draft attempts to define the core features of a legitimate school algebra course as opposed to one, the panelists said, that presents watered-down math under that course title. Topics in an algebra course should include concepts such as symbols and expressions, functions, quadratic relations, and others, it notes.

The working report also spells out specific concepts in math that are too often neglected in pre-K through grade 8 math instruction generally, such as fractions, whole numbers, and particular elements of geometry and measurement.

“We don’t spend enough time on them and we don’t assess them,” panel member Camilla Persson Benbow, an educational psychologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said of fractions. “[They’re] really not well mastered by schoolchildren.”

In arguing in behalf of a more focused curriculum in elementary and middle schools, the panel lists several “benchmarks for critical foundations” in prekindergarten through 8th grade math, leading to algebra. The goal is to develop fluency with fractions, whole numbers, and other topics. The panel drew from a diverse assortment of documents, including the 2006 “Curriculum Focal Points,” published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, as well as Singapore’s national standards and a number of U.S. state math standards.

National Mathematics Advisory Panel Website

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In Praise of "Thought Competition" (Writing, Math and other Academic Competitions)

Rebecca Wallace-Segall:

Monday: After a long day at his New York City private school, Ben, 16, heads to my creative writing lab to work on his heartfelt memoir about his parents' bitter divorce. Tuesday: Alison, 15, rushes from her elite private school in the Bronx to work on her short screenplay about a gifted, mean and eccentric boy. Lily, 13, pops in whenever she can to polish her hilarious short story narrated by an insomniac owl.

Ben, Alison and Lily, along with another few dozen who attend my afterschool writing program, also attend top-notch New York private schools that cost upwards of $25,000 a year. So why, one might wonder, do these kids need an extracurricular creative writing coach? The answer is simple, though twisted: Their schools -- while touting well-known athletic teams -- are offshoots of the "progressive education" movement and uphold a categorical belief that "thought competition" is treacherous.

Administrators of these schools will not support their students in literary, science or math competitions, including the most prestigious creative writing event in the country: the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. So we at Writopia Lab help these kids to join the 10,000 young literati from across the country who are hurrying to meet the event's January deadline, as well as deadlines for other competitions.

For decades now, psychology and pedagogy researchers have been debating the impact of competition on young people's self-esteem, with those wary of thought competition taking the lead. Most New York parents of public or private school students have felt the awkward reverberations of this trend -- which avoids naming winners -- when Johnny takes home a certificate for "participation" in the school's science fair. (Do you hang that one up on the wall?)

But some, and ironically those who attend some of the most desirable schools in the region, feel the reverberations in deeper, more painful ways. "Two years after my son left a school that prohibited him from entering a national math competition," says one mother, "he still writes angry essays about why the jocks in his former school were allowed to compete throughout the city while he wasn't allowed to win the same honors for his gifts." Sam, her son, felt uncool in the eyes of his peers, and undervalued (and sometimes even resented) by the administration.

Mel Levine, a professor at the University of North Carolina and one of the foremost authorities in the country on how children learn, believes the impact of the collaborative education movement has been devastating to an entire generation. When students are rewarded for participation rather than achievement, Dr. Levine suggests, they don't have a strong sense of what they are good at and what they're not. Thus older members of Generation Y might be in for quite a shock when they show up for work at their first jobs. "They expect to be immediate heroes and heroines. They expect a lot of feedback on a daily basis. They expect grade inflation, they expect to be told what a wonderful job they're doing," says Dr. Levine.


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Wisconsin K-12 Tax & Spending Outlook

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

Another year and deeper in debt.

No, that's not some sad-eyed, old country ballad. It's the state of Wisconsin's long-term finances.

To pay for highways, buildings and environmental programs over the past decade, the state has increased long-term debt by 87%, a trend that if left unchecked will surely mean increasingly difficult budget decisions down the road.

The Journal Sentinel's Steven Walters noted in a recent report that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau says the state had $8.28 billion in such debt in 2006, up from $4.41 billion in 1996 ( The period studied covered the leadership of Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, and Republicans Scott McCallum and Tommy G. Thompson.

In effect, the governors, with legislative acquiescence, have made politically advantageous decisions to have their favorite programs and pay for them later. It's basically credit card budgeting.

But the bill always comes due.

As Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, told Walters, the growing debt is a risk. Principal and interest payments on general-obligation bonds will exceed $700 million for the first time this year. Payments on transportation bonds will cost $174 million.

While state officials say the debt load is manageable, a major bond agency, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, last week changed its rating outlook from "positive" to "stable."

Other long-term trends make such budget moves all the more troublesome. Per-capita income in Wisconsin is about $4,000 a year less than in Minnesota, for example, a gap that has widened. And the number of elderly is expected to jump 90% from 702,000 in 2000 to near 1.34 million by 2030 while the percentage of working age people is expected to decline from 61% to 57%, meaning fewer taxpayers supporting more people in need of services. Add to that the need to replace aging roads, bridges and sewers.

Clearly, we are unlikely to see significant increases in redistributed state tax dollars to "rich" school districts like Madison [2007-2008 Citizen's Budget].

Related: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate:

According to the Wisconsin DPI, per student spending in Wisconsin has increased by 5.1% annually, since 1987. The Madison School District increased at a 5.25% rate during that time. Clearly, our public schools are attempting to address more issues than ever, from academics to breakfast, special education and health care.

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In school reform, billions of dollars -- but not much bang

Sol Stern:

When Mayor Bloomberg took control of the city's schools, he made a solemn promise to raise student achievement and rein in a notoriously inefficient and money-wasting school system. In fact, in his January 2003 speech unveiling his administration's Children First reforms, the mayor suggested that the $12 billion then going to the schools was sufficient to bring about academic improvement. That's because he and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein were now going to "make sure we get the most value for the school system's dollar."

Five years later, we have new, unimpeachable data on the schools that allows us to assess whether the mayor's promise to deliver a much bigger education bang for the taxpayers' buck has been fulfilled.

The short answer: not by a longshot. First, let's examine the dollar side of the equation. The 2003 budget for the schools, Bloomberg's first, was $12.5 billion, including pension costs and debt service. About $1.2 billion of this total came from federal education funds, another $5.6 billion from the state, and $5.6 billion from direct city contributions. The current budget, including pension and debt service, stands at $19.7 billion. This represents an increase of $7 billion - more than 50% - in total education spending in five years.

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Wave of the Future: Why charter schools should replace failing urban schools

Andy Smarick:

In a decade and a half, the charter school movement has gone from a glimmer in the eyes of a few Minnesota reformers to a maturing sector of America’s public education system. Now, like all 15-year-olds, chartering must find its own place in the world.

First, advocates must answer a fundamental question: What type of relationship should the nascent charter sector have with the long-dominant district sector? The tension between the two is at the heart of every political, policy, and philosophical tangle faced by the charter movement.

But charter supporters lack a consistent vision. This motley crew includes civil rights activists, free market economists, career public-school educators, and voucher proponents. They have varied aspirations for the movement and feelings toward the traditional system. Such differences are part of the movement’s DNA: a National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS) study found that the nation’s charter laws cite at least 18 different goals, including spurring competition, increasing professional opportunities for teachers, and encouraging greater use of technology.

Because of its uniqueness, chartering is unable to look to previous reform efforts for guidance. No K–12 reform has so fundamentally questioned the basic assumptions—school assignments based on residence, centralized administrative control, schools lasting in perpetuity—underlying the district model of public education. Even the sweeping standards and assessments movement of the last 20 years, culminating in No Child Left Behind, takes for granted and makes use of the district sector.

Rotherham has more.

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November 27, 2007

Using Data to Improve Student Achievement

The Data Quality Campaign and the National Center for Educational Accountability (NCEA):

conducted a survey in September 2007, with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, about state data systems to determine the number of states that have built the infrastructure to tap into the power of longitudinal data. Similar surveys were conducted by NCEA in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. This website provides an overview of the findings of the survey in addition to a state-by-state analysis of the policy implications of each state's data system.

The Power of Longitudinal Data
Longitudinal data matches individual student records over time, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and into post secondary education. States are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve student achievement. But without quality data, they are essentially flying blind. Policymakers need to act now to put in place the policies and resources to ensure that each state has a longitudinal data system and the culture and capacity to translate the information into specific action steps to improve student achievement. When states collect the most relevant data and are able to match individual student records over time, they can answer the questions that are at the core of educational effectiveness. Longitudinal data (data gathered on the same student from year to year) makes it possible to:

State specific results.

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The Secret Gripes of Professor Klein: An AP-IB Drama

Jay Matthews:

David Klein, a mathematics professor at California State University at Northridge, says he was pleased to review Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate math courses for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He respects institute President Chester E. "Checker" Finn Jr., a longtime leader in the movement to improve U.S. schools. Among the views Klein shares with Finn is that overuse of calculators can interfere with students' mastery of analytical skills.

But their collaboration on Fordham's analysis of AP and IB did not turn out the way either of them hoped.

On June 4, Klein submitted his report on two courses, AP Calculus AB and IB Mathematics SL. Klein's analysis of AP and IB math was more negative and his grades lower than what the experts on AP and IB English, history and biology courses submitted to Fordham. He would have given the AP math course a C-plus and the IB math course a C-minus. The other reviewers thought none of the courses they looked at deserved anything less than a B-minus.

Still, Klein says, he got no indication from the Fordham staff of any problems until the edited version of his material came back to him for review on Sept. 28, a week before the deadline for completing the report. Many of what he considered his strongest points, he discovered, had been deleted. He had Fordham remove his name as a co-author of the report, "Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate: Do They Deserve Gold Star Status?" which was released Nov. 14.

After agreeing to the name removal, Finn told Klein in an e-mail: "I imagine we'll also reduce your overemphasis on calculator use and probably change the grades (upward). Thanks, tho, for your help." Klein's grade of C-plus for AP was not changed, but his grade of C-minus for IB got a big jump to a B-minus, meaning the report was saying that IB math was better than AP math, the opposite of what Klein had said.


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New York Grades Set Off Debate on Judging Schools

Elissa Gootman & Jennifer Medina:

Not long after Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced plans last year to give grades of A through F to schools, principals at some of New York City’s coveted specialized high schools grew concerned. With the city looking to reward gains among the lowest-achieving students, how would the elite schools be judged?

The principals peppered the administration with ideas for extra credits for their schools: perhaps counting how many Advanced Placement tests students pass or the college credits they accumulate. In the end, the city decided to tie bonus points for these schools to high scores on state Regents exams.

That served the gold-standard Stuyvesant High School well, propelling it from a high B to a comfortable A. But the principal of Brooklyn Technical High School, Randy J. Asher, called the decision “ridiculous,” saying it contradicted a core principle of the report cards: the need to gauge how far students have come, rather than simply how they perform.

“I think we all really came to the table saying, let’s find something fair for schools like ours,” Mr. Asher, whose school earned a B, said in a recent interview. “And I don’t think we succeeded.”

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Parents of Disabled Students Push for Separate Classes

Robert Tomsho:

Last fall, groups who favor placing disabled students in regular classrooms faced opposition from an unlikely quarter: parents like Norette Travis, whose daughter Valerie has autism.

Valerie had already tried the mainstreaming approach that the disability-advocacy groups were supporting. After attending a preschool program for special-needs students, she was assigned to a regular kindergarten class. But there, her mother says, she disrupted class, ran through the hallways and lashed out at others -- at one point giving a teacher a black eye.

"She did not learn anything that year," Ms. Travis recalls. "She regressed."

As policy makers push to include more special-education students into general classrooms, factions are increasingly divided. Advocates for the disabled say special-education students benefit both academically and socially by being taught alongside typical students. Legislators often side with them, arguing that mainstreaming is productive for students and cost-effective for taxpayers.

Some teachers and administrators have been less supportive of the practice, saying that they lack the training and resources to handle significantly disabled children. And more parents are joining the dissenters. People like Ms. Travis believe that mainstreaming can actually hinder the students it is intended to help. Waging a battle to preserve older policies, these parents are demanding segregated teaching environments -- including separate schools.

More on from the Wall Street Journal on Mainstreaming.

Joanne has more.

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Voters support casino tax for schools

Guy Clifton:

A statewide poll shows Nevada voters overwhelmingly favor an initiative to raise the state's gaming tax in order to fund education.

The Research 2000 poll, conducted for the Reno Gazette-Journal, found 68 percent of voters were in favor of the initiative filed by the Nevada State Education Association, which would raise the gaming tax from 6.75 percent to 9.75 percent at casinos with a total revenue of more than $1 million a month.

"That's pretty consistent with our findings as well," said Lynn Warne, president of the 28,000-member NSEA. "The (Las Vegas Review-Journal) did a poll that came in with over three-fourths in favor."

The Gazette-Journal poll of 600 Nevadans who vote regularly in state elections was conducted Nov. 16-19 and has a margin of error of 4 percent.

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Pennsylvania to revamp gifted education

Melania Hughes:

They're not mentioned under No Child Left Behind. They're not assisted by federal funding or programs.

Gifted students in Pennsylvania must rely on the state Department of Education to make sure public schools challenge them intellectually.

So with changes proposed to the state's gifted education regulations, known as Chapter 16, a network of parents and advocates are weighing in.

As they see it, the changes being reviewed in Harrisburg don't go far enough.

''The state board missed an opportunity so far in making any meaningful difference to help parents and schools avoid conflicts,'' said Jay Clark of Lancaster, a parent of two gifted children who has testified before legislative committees about the proposals.

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November 26, 2007

Memory’s Forgotten Daughter

The National Endowment for the Arts has released a new study of studies of the decline of reading in the United States. Some kinds of reading were apparently not considered.

Zeus and Mnemosyne [Memory] were the parents of the nine Muses. Calliope was the muse of epic poetry, Clio was the muse of history, Erato was the muse of love poetry, Euterpe was the muse of music, Melpomene was the muse of tragedy, Polyhymnia was the muse of sacred poetry, Terpsichore was the muse of dance, Thalia was the muse of comedy, and Urania was the muse of astronomy.

Of these nine, two are now off the reservation. Urania has clearly taken Astronomy over to the Science side of the Arts, and Clio has had the misfortune of presiding over history and nonfiction, and so, at least for the National Endowment for the Arts, has evidently lost her status among the Arts.

In 2004, the National Endowment of the Arts conducted a $300,000 study of the reading habits of Americans. It found a significant decline in literary reading for pleasure among just about every group. In The Washington Post, on Friday, July 9, 2004, Jacqueline Trescott wrote that the NEA study found that an industry group “predicts that annual sales for all types of books will top $44 billion by 2008, up 59 percent from last year. Nevertheless, only 46.7 percent of adults say they are reading literature, compared with 56.9 percent two decades ago.”

Their new study of studies continues this limited focus on literary reading for pleasure.

It is part of Ancient Survey Lore that if you don’t ask about something, you may not find out about it. In this case, apparently the survey didn’t ask the fairly obvious question whether, if annual sales of books are booming, and fewer people are reading literature, what are they reading instead? Could it be nonfiction? Could it be history? They never asked.

Here the banishment of Clio comes in. Although she is one of the original Daughters of Memory, apparently the National Endowment for the Arts has decided that she is no longer one of the Muses of the Arts, so History is off the radar. If anyone enjoys reading history books, for example, the NEA might still not count them as literature.

The NEA makes clear that they are very interested in music, art, drama, poetry, literature, and dance, and they have awarded, they say, more than $4 Billion for 126,000 grants to support those activities since 1965, but they seem to have no interest in history, and no understanding that it is one of the Arts, and that Clio is still one of the Muses. Her mother, Memory, would find that odd, no doubt.

Although no one seems to want to fund a small study to find out, there appears fairly general agreement that in our high schools, because the English Department controls reading and writing, complete history books are not assigned, so if adults are reading more history, they must have discovered it either in college or on their own.

To be fair to the NEA, their focus on entertainment is understandable, given the huge dollar value of American entertainment exports, not to mention the gigantic domestic sales of Guitar Hero II, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, etc. Entertainment in the United States is a very important business.

That may be why the NEA, in its surveys, for example of college student reading, asks what they read for pleasure. It doesn’t show any interest in what they may be reading for history classes, or for political science or philosophy or any of their other courses. If you only ask about reading for pleasure, then reading for pleasure is all you will find out about. And if you only ask people what literary reading they are doing, you will learn nothing about what history books or other nonfiction books they may be reading as well.

In its new study of studies, the NEA found pretty much what the 2004 one did, that people are not reading much literature for pleasure. It also didn’t inquire into the reading of history or other nonfiction books, in school or college or after.

One sad outcome of these large but hobbled NEA studies of reading is that they do not shed any light on the absence of complete nonfiction books for American high school students. If our students do not read a single nonfiction book before they go to college, they will be less well-prepared for college reading lists. Some college courses have shortened and dumbed down their reading lists, partly because the students can’t read, and for all students, unless they read more on their own, this lack of preparation makes them less able to take advantage of college-level work as soon as they start paying tuition. We and they pay a price for having forgotten Clio, the Daughter of Memory...

“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

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Milwaukee Public School options gain share in education marketplace

Alan Borsuk:

If your definition of "public school" is the regular public school system, you are talking about a slice of Milwaukee's educational infrastructure in which the student population is getting smaller each year.

But if your definition means any school where public dollars pay for children's educations, you're talking about a bigger pie, with more ingredients - a pie unlike anything served elsewhere in the United States.

Voucher schools, charter schools, alternative schools, ways of sending kids to schools in other communities - parents, especially those with low income, continue to have a wide array of choices in Milwaukee, all of them funded by public dollars.

Thousands of parents are taking advantage of that. Enrollment statistics for this year show more than 30% of all Milwaukee kids whose educations are paid for with tax dollars attend schools outside the main roster of Milwaukee Public Schools. That appears to be the highest percentage on record.

While enrollment in MPS elementary, middle and high schools fell almost 4% to 81,681, the number of students using publicly funded vouchers to attend 122 private schools in the city rose 8% to 19,233.

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Disability advocates sue to keep kids in school


A plan to educate a handful of developmentally disabled students at the state-run center where they live, rather than in public school classrooms, has drawn a lawsuit from an advocacy group.

Disability Rights Washington contends that the planned change, due to take effect at the end of the month, violates state and federal laws against discrimination.

This year the Bremerton School District apparently decided it no longer had the classroom space to accommodate the students, who range in age from 13 to 20. The district reached agreement with the state Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the Frances Haddon Morgan Center, to open a classroom on the center's grounds.

"These children are being denied access to school purely because they have disabilities and live at an institution," said David Carlson, a lawyer for the advocacy group.

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Failing Michigan School Hopes in Young Principal

All Things Considered:

At a struggling school in Benton Harbor, Mich., all eyes are on a young, new principal who has brought discipline and excitement about learning. Michigan is one of several states with schools that have failed to meet its No Child Left Behind goals for at least five consecutive years.

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November 25, 2007

America's Most Obese Cities

Rebecca Ruiz:

To better understand the local and state implications of the obesity epidemic, we ranked the nation's heaviest cities. In doing so, we discovered states with multiple offenders, metropolitan areas with expanding waistlines and a high representation of Southern cities. Worse yet, after claiming the title of the most sedentary city, Memphis, Tenn., has also ranked first as the country's most obese.

Behind the Numbers
To determine which cities were the most obese, we looked at 2006 data on body mass index, or BMI, collected by the Centers for Disease Control's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which conducts phone interviews with residents of metropolitan areas about health issues, including obesity, diabetes and exercise.

In this case, participants report their height and weight, which survey analysts use to calculate a BMI. Those with a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 are considered at a healthy weight, those with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 are considered overweight, and those with a BMI of 30 or higher are considered obese. About 32% of the nation is obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control; Memphis ranked above the national average at 34%.

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'No Child' Law May Slight The Gifted, Experts Say

Daniel de Vise:

Some scholars are joining parent advocates in questioning whether the education law No Child Left Behind, with its goal of universal academic proficiency, has had the unintended consequence of diverting resources and attention from the gifted.

Proponents of gifted education have forever complained of institutional neglect. Public schools, they say, pitch lessons to the broad middle group of students at the expense of those working beyond their assigned grade. Now, under the federal mandate, schools are trained on an even narrower group: students on the "bubble" between success and failure on statewide tests.

Teachers struggling to meet the law's annual proficiency goals have little incentive, critics say, to teach students who will meet those goals however they are taught.

"Because it's all about bringing people up to that minimum level of performance, we've ignored those high-ability learners," said Nancy Green, executive director of the District-based National Association for Gifted Children. "We don't even have a test that measures their abilities."

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Falling enrollment, higher poverty rates show up in suburban schools

Dani McClain:

The low test scores and high dropout rates typically associated with southeastern Wisconsin's largest districts also plague some Milwaukee-area suburban schools and smaller urban districts in Waukesha and Walworth counties, the Public Policy Forum reports in its annual assessment of education in the seven-county area.

Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha continue to skew comparisons between the region and the rest of the state, but the report shows that the achievement gap is increasingly tied to changing student populations in places such as Cudahy, West Allis, Whitewater and Delavan.

"Some of these smaller districts are getting a critical mass of minority or low-income students, and they're starting to feel some of the same stressors," said Anneliese Dickman, research director at the Public Policy Forum, a nonpartisan think tank in Milwaukee.

Smaller cities and older suburbs have started seeing a set of trends that have long challenged Kenosha and Racine, the state's third- and fourth-largest districts, and Milwaukee: declining enrollment, higher concentrations of poverty and less student engagement, according to the report, released this fall.

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John Kao has a plan to help U.S. compete, regain foothold in science and technology

Heidi Benson:

As important, is the state of science and math education, particularly in the early grades, where young students' abilities have been in a steady decline. The slip results as much from failings in government priorities as from income and class inequities, Kao believes.

"We are allowing the vagaries of income disparity to waste generations of potential innovators," he says. "In U.S. schools serving low-income students, 30 percent of junior high mathematics teachers majored in math in college." In China, the majority of math and science teachers at all levels have advanced degrees in their subjects.

Related: Math Forum | Math Task Force.

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Thinking About Mistakes

Alina Tugend:

On one hand, as children we’re taught that everyone makes mistakes and that the great thinkers and inventors embraced them. Thomas Edison’s famous quote is often inscribed in schools and children’s museums: “I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”

On the other hand, good grades are usually a reward for doing things right, not making errors. Compliments are given for having the correct answer and, in fact, the wrong one may elicit scorn from classmates.

We grow up with a mixed message: making mistakes is a necessary learning tool, but we should avoid them.

Carol S. Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, has studied this and related issues for decades.

“Studies with children and adults show that a large percentage cannot tolerate mistakes or setbacks,” she said. In particular, those who believe that intelligence is fixed and cannot change tend to avoid taking chances that may lead to errors.

Often parents and teachers unwittingly encourage this mind-set by praising children for being smart rather than for trying hard or struggling with the process.

For example, in a study that Professor Dweck and her researchers did with 400 fifth graders, half were randomly praised as being “really smart” for doing well on a test; the others were praised for their effort.

Then they were given two tasks to choose from: an easy one that they would learn little from but do well, or a more challenging one that might be more interesting but induce more mistakes.

The majority of those praised for being smart chose the simple task, while 90 percent of those commended for trying hard selected the more difficult one.

The difference was surprising, Professor Dweck said, especially because it came from one sentence of praise.

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November 24, 2007

Facing Down the Skeptics in Education

Karin Chenoweth:

Whenever I speak about my book, It’s Being Done: Academic Success in Unexpected Schools, I know I will face at least a few skeptics—and sometimes more than a few. They can easily be identified by their questions and comments. For example, they ask whether the schools I profile in the book are magnet schools or in some way select their students. I patiently explain that they don’t. Or, they will say, “I have unions in my school,” as though that would explain why they can’t make any improvements. Since some of the most impressive schools I profile in the book are in New York, Philadelphia, and St. Paul—all places with very powerful and serious teacher unions—I tell them that unions by themselves don’t seem to be an obstacle. Or, they say, “I have a lot of low-income kids in my district,” allowing that fact to speak for itself as an explanation for why their schools are low-performing.

I always answer as fully as I can, but I know that I probably haven’t convinced them that the schools are as I report them to be—high achieving or rapidly improving with student populations that are mostly either students of poverty or students of color or both. I know many people in my audience simply cannot envision schools that are as good as I say they are or educators who are as uncompromising and frank as I portray them.

Chenoweth recently appeared in Madison.

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More students turn to consultants for help applying to college

Any Rolph:

Just leave it to the experts.

The haircut, the brake job and the 1040 were long ago ceded to the pros by most people. And now families are turning to experts to help their teenagers score an acceptance letter from the right college at a time when institutions of higher education are getting choosier about whom they let in.

Private college consultants have been around for decades -- most notably in the eastern U.S. -- but their numbers and visibility have been growing locally as more families seek a steady hand to guide them through the labyrinth of college admissions.

Most consultants won't promise they can get a high school student into an Ivy League school, but they will help students keep track of deadlines, groom their extracurricular lineup and devise a list of schools that could be a good fit.

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On Plagiarism

Scott Jaschik:

In 2003, the American Historical Association got out of the business of adjudicating complaints of plagiarism, saying that the association could best promote good scholarship by issuing standards and promoting education about them. Journals, other publishers and colleges and universities are better suited than an association to consider plagiarism complaints, the AHA said, and they all have various sanctions they can impose.

The move was controversial within the association, in part because it came at a time of several well publicized incidents of alleged plagiarism in the profession.

The association has just released an analysis on how plagiarism is handled by journals in the discipline and the answer appears to be that editors favor ad hoc approaches over policy.

“Very few journals have written plagiarism policies, and many journals are reluctant to develop them,” said the study, which was published in the AHA’s magazine, Perspectives. At the same time, the study found that 9 of the 35 history journals participating in the survey reported dealing with plagiarism accusations at least once.

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November 23, 2007

Visual Dictionary Online

Merriam Webster:

From the image to the word and its definition, the Visual Dictionary Online is an all-in-one reference. Search the themes to quickly locate words, or find the meaning of a word by viewing the image it represents. What’s more, the Visual Dictionary Online helps you learn English in a visual and accessible way. The Visual Dictionary Online is ideal for teachers, parents, translators and students of all skill levels. Explore the Visual Dictionary Online and enrich your mind. Perfect for home, school or work. Discover a visual world of information!

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Scientists Help Teachers With Their Math and Science

Sean Cavanagh:

Imagine a classroom filled with thousands of feet of cable and a pair of microscopes four stories high. Students work alongside top-tier scientists, who use the surrounding instruments to probe nuclear matter in the hope of one day producing breakthroughs in science and technology.

The classroom in this case is known as Hall A, located within the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. And the students are science teachers, who come to the federal laboratory in Newport News, Va., as part of an unusual professional-development opportunity.

The Academies Creating Teacher Scientists program pairs top federal scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy with middle and high school teachers from around the country who want to improve their classroom skills.

Teachers spend four to eight weeks for three consecutive summers under the tutelage of scientists at federal labs of their choice, crafting activities and lessons they can use in their classrooms.

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November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

French President Nicholas Sarkozy recently spoke to a joint session of Congress. Sarokozy's excellent speech can be heard here [8.5mb mp3 audio file]:

From the very beginning, the American dream meant proving to all mankind that freedom, justice, human rights and democracy were no utopia but were rather the most realistic policy there is and the most likely to improve the fate of each and every person.

America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who--with their hands, their intelligence and their heart--built the greatest nation in the world: "Come, and everything will be given to you." She said: "Come, and the only limits to what you'll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent." America embodies this extraordinary ability to grant each and every person a second chance.

Here, both the humblest and most illustrious citizens alike know that nothing is owed to them and that everything has to be earned. That's what constitutes the moral value of America. America did not teach men the idea of freedom; she taught them how to practice it. And she fought for this freedom whenever she felt it to be threatened somewhere in the world. It was by watching America grow that men and women understood that freedom was possible.

What made America great was her ability to transform her own dream into hope for all mankind.

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A High School Struggles With Surprise Students

Samuel Freedman:

Several weeks ago, Cristal Urena proposed what should have been the most prosaic of activities. As the student government president at Beach Channel High School in Rockaway Park, Queens, she asked the administration to allow an after-school dance in December to celebrate the coming holidays.

The answer was no. And this no, it appears from Cristal’s account, was not the autocratic no of unreason. It was the reluctant no of a principal, David Morris, whose school has been destabilized this fall by an unannounced influx of students from outside its attendance boundaries.

Some arrived with histories of disciplinary problems or even criminal activity, school records show, while others had been in full-day special education programs. Others brought volatile gang allegiances from their home neighborhoods, according to school personnel. And in no case did Beach Channel receive advance warning.

While Mr. Morris declined to be interviewed for this column, a detailed memo written by two of his assistant principals paints a vivid picture of an improving school rattled by the violent or criminal behavior of several dozen students that the memo says were foisted on Beach Channel.

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A building boom at L.A.'s private schools

Carla Rivera:

From Chatsworth to El Segundo, private schools are spending an estimated $600 million in a building boom that reflects the strong demand for their services and the intense competition among their ranks.

Brentwood School is building an aquatics center that looks like a modern equivalent of the Greco-Roman baths of ancient Alexandria. Windward School, also on the Westside, is completing a new library with digital media studios and an indoor-outdoor reading area with a fireplace. Loyola High School near downtown recently opened a new science hall equipped with the most advanced instruments, and, across the new commons, it is restoring its historic brick Jesuit residence hall.

The building frenzy is being driven by aging facilities, new teaching models that call for informal classroom settings, space for group projects and hands-on activities, and the need for new technology. It also is aimed, of course, at keeping these schools competitive.

There is an assumption that private schools -- where tuition can top $26,000 annually -- can provide the best of everything. School leaders say they increasingly are expected to meet students' diverse needs, with more specialized staff, multiple counselors, psychologists, deans of students, and parent, alumni and community advisors who all need offices and meeting space.

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November 21, 2007

How to Fix Struggling High Schools

Jay Matthews:

I think the people running our high schools, as well we parents, need to stop making compromises that sustain the cycle of failure. Kind and thoughtful educators and parents, such as the ones in Parker's articles, are trying to get through each day without hurting too many feelings or forcing too many confrontations. When the choice is between letting standards continue to slip or making a scene, few people want to be drama queens, which is too bad.

The best inner-city educators begin each day knowing they are going to have to confront apathy again and again. They shove it away as if it were a kidnapper trying to steal their children. To succeed, a high school like Coolidge needs a unified team of such people, who follow the same standards of regular attendance, daily preparation for school, high achievement and attention and decorum in the classroom.

It sounds impossible, but it's not. There are inner-city schools right now, including some charter, religious and private schools that operate that way. It takes strength and intelligence and humor and love for young people, and an abhorrence for the limp compromises that have created such sickly schools as Coolidge.

I asked several expert educators how they would fix schools like that. Michael A. Durso, principal of Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, said: "These problems did not occur overnight and will not be resolved easily or in a short time." Michael Riley, superintendent of the Bellevue, Wash., schools, said: "Anyone who thinks there is a quick fix, that taking a couple of dramatic steps will make this situation better overnight, is kidding himself."

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Time to think global in testing U.S. students

Raymond Scheppach:

Today, it’s less important how students in Iowa or Oregon compare to those in Alabama or Virginia on a national test. What matters most is how students in North Carolina or Texas compare to those in Denmark or Russia, and so on.

In short, educational protectionism is outdated and ignores the realities of the 21st century global economy.

In the Global Competitiveness Report 2007–2008 released last month by the World Economic Forum, the United States again ranked as the world’s most competitive economy. Yet the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) study, administered in 46 countries, found that U.S. eighth-graders ranked 14th in mathematics achievement. And on the 2003 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey, U.S. students placed below average in math, science and problem-solving among countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. This is a major concern because the most important factor in competitiveness is education and training of the labor force. Thus, U.S. education performance today is the best indicator of America’s competitiveness tomorrow.

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The rewriting of history

The Economist:

Earlier this year it organised a conference for history teachers at which Mr Putin plugged a new history manual to help sort out what he called “the muddle” in teachers' heads. “Russian history did contain some problematic pages,” Mr Putin told the teachers. “But so did other states' histories. We have fewer of them than other countries. And they were less terrible than in some other countries.” His message was that “we can't allow anyone to impose a sense of guilt on us.”

This is the thrust of the manual, entitled “A Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006: A Manual for History Teachers”. Were it not for the Kremlin's backing, it would probably be gathering dust on bookshelves. But Mr Putin's endorsement has made it one of the most discussed books of the year. New textbooks based on it will come into circulation next year. Russian schools are still free to choose which textbook to teach. But the version of history now proposed by the Kremlin suggests that freedom may not last.

The manual's choice of period is suggestive: from Stalin's victory in the “great patriotic war” to the victory of Mr Putin's regime. It celebrates all contributors to Russia's greatness, and denounces those responsible for the loss of empire, regardless of their politics. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 is not seen as a watershed from which a new history begins, but as an unfortunate and tragic mistake that hindered Russia's progress. “The Soviet Union was not a democracy, but it was an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society.”

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November 20, 2007

Near West Side Madison City Bus (Metro) Incident

Via a reader's email - Madison Police Department:

On November 19th at 2:44 p.m. Madison police responded to 1300 Seminole Highway after a Metro bus driver noticed someone pointing a gun out of a window on the back of his bus. This was a bus with about 50 Cherokee Middle School students on board. They were going home from school. The driver also indicated he had been shot in the back of the head with a BB. This caused no injury. Officers were able to find a Smith & Wesson black plastic BB/pellet gun & a container of BBs in a backpack. The 13 year old listed above admitted the backpack was his and he had fired the weapon. A friend of his was arrested for disorderly conduct after he threatened to harm other students. He believed one of those students had "snitched."

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Madison School District Administration Presentation on High School Redesign

The Madison School viewed a presentation from the Administration Monday evening on their proposed High School redesign. Listen via this mp3 audio file (or watch the MMSDTV Video Archive).

Susan Troller:

"Sometimes institutional history can be a weight around your neck," Rainwater noted. "This can be an opportunity to bring in new ideas, and new blood," he added.

Rainwater has said change is necessary because high schools today look and feel much like they have for generations but that students will live and work in a world that has changed dramatically, and which demands new skills and abilities.

He acknowledged that the path was likely to be bumpy, and noted that the plan -- which has been developed thus far without public input -- recognizes that there are major concerns in the community regarding changes to Madison's school system.

Some of those concerns include worries about trying to balance resources among students of widely varying abilities, about "dumbing down" the curriculum with inclusive classrooms, the potential for the high schools to lose their unique personalities and concerns that addressing the broad ranges of culture in the district will not serve students well.


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Curriculum Acceleration/Middle School Charter Meeting: November 26 at 11:30 a.m.

A group of parents will be gathering to discuss developing a public school charter (or other educational alternatives) for middle schoolers who need an advanced level and faster pace of instruction (curriculum acceleration). Our first meeting will be Monday, November 26 at 11:30 am for lunch at the Sun Print Cafe, 1 South Pinckney Street [Map], in the US Bank building. If interested, please email Bonnie at

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Freaked Out: Teens' Dance Moves Split a Texas Town

Susan Warren:

Karen Miller, 53 years old, saw her first "freak dance" four years ago when she was chaperoning a high-school dance attended by her freshman daughter.

One boy was up close to a girl's back, bumping and grinding to the pounding beat of the music.

"I thought, 'That's just dadgum nasty,'" Ms. Miller recalls. "It really had me sick to my stomach."

Ms. Miller took the initiative and broke it up. School employees at the dance seemed oblivious, she says.

They're oblivious no longer. A new resolve by school officials in this booming Dallas suburb to crack down on sexually suggestive dancing -- and skimpy clothing -- has sparked a rancorous debate over what boundaries should be set for teenagers' self-expression. Argyle joins a long list of other schools around the country that have banned the hip-hop inspired dancing known as "grinding" or "freak dancing."

But in Argyle, a once-sleepy farming community strained by explosive growth from an influx of well-to-do suburbanites, the controversy has gotten vicious. Some parents blame the newly installed school superintendent, Jason Ceyanes, 35, for ruining their children's October homecoming dance by enforcing a strict dress code and making provocative dancing off-limits. Disgusted, a lot of kids left, and the dance ended early.

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English, Algebra, Phys Ed ... and Biotech

G. Pascal Zachary:

MORE than a decade ago, after George Cachianes, a former researcher at Genentech, decided to become a teacher, he started a biotechnology course at Lincoln High School in San Francisco. He saw the class as way of marrying basic biotechnology principles with modern lab practices — and insights into how business harvests biotech innovations for profit.

If you’re interested in seeing the future of biotechnology education, you might want to visit one of George Cachianes’s classrooms. “Students are motivated by understanding the relationships between research, creativity and making money,” he says.

Lincoln has five biotech classes, each with about 30 students. Four other public high schools in San Francisco offer the course, drawing on Mr. Cachianes’s syllabus. Mr. Cachianes, who still teaches at Lincoln, divides his classes into teams of five students; each team “adopts” an actual biotech company.

The students write annual reports, correspond with company officials and learn about products in the pipeline. Students also learn the latest lab techniques. They cut DNA. And recombine it. They transfer jellyfish genes into bacteria. They purify proteins. They even sequence their own cheek-cell DNA.

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New United Way Program Aims To Level The Playing Field In The Classroom

Doug Erickson:

Some children arrive at kindergarten knowing the whole alphabet. Others have rarely seen a book.

Some can follow a series of instructions. Others can't concentrate long enough to stand still in a line.

Those differences in school readiness can mean some children have a huge advantage - while others are relegated to a lifetime of playing catch-up, educators say.

United Way of Dane County on Thursday announced a multi-year initiative to improve kindergarten readiness, with the ultimate goal of improving high school graduation rates and job skills.

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November 19, 2007

Seeking a 'Gold Standard' in D.C. Charter Education

Jay Matthews:

In the charter school movement's endless quest to recruit students, some of the best independent public schools support each other by word of mouth. The KIPP DC: KEY Academy, a high-performing middle school, has sent 15 graduates to Washington Mathematics Science Technology, one of the better charter high schools. But KIPP teachers steer their graduates away from some charter schools.

"If I said which they were, the principals would kill me," said Susan Schaeffler, KIPP DC's executive director.

Now, some charter leaders in the city that is a national epicenter for their movement are planning to take the next step in this sifting process. They say they want to create a "gold standard designation," to publicly identify for the first time which charters are doing the most to raise teaching quality and academic achievement for low-income students.

Ramona Edelin, executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, likened the initiative to a certification system to show "what high quality really means in terms of children of color from impoverished backgrounds, which is the vast majority of the students charter schools educate here."

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Different Notions of Honesty?

Friends from Hanover came into town this weekend and mentioned this story: "A small town in New Hampshire is coming to grips with a scandal at the public high school where nine students face criminal charges for allegedly breaking into a classroom and stealing advance copies of final exams.

The incident at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., is sparking debate between those who believe the students are being treated fairly and those who think the charges go too far."

But what I found most interesting about this story was this:"Teachers also may be sending kids the wrong message about cheating.

Students say they know they won't get in trouble for things like sharing homework or finding out what's on a test from kids who've already taken it. "That is cheating, and some teachers don't classify it as cheating," said Junior Cory Burns. "Or some don't see it as such a serious issue, " added Dillon Gregory.

The millennial generation (born between 1980 and 2000) seems to have a different notion about honesty than previous generations.

Aine Donovan, executive director of the Dartmouth College Ethics Institute, said kids today are more apt to rationalize their behavior as a means to an end; and they seem to have invented their own particular code of right and wrong.

"When I ask my students: 'Is there anything unethical about downloading music?'" Donovan said. "(They answer) 'Absolutely not.' They don't have a problem with it. And yet, those same kids would never in a million years, walk into a K-mart and steal a CD. They just have a different kind of orientation of morality."

"Other students, who spoke on condition of anonymity, admit that they would cheat because of all of the pressure to do well.

Jim Kenyon, a columnist for The Valley News in West Lebanon, N.H. — whose son is accused of acting as a lookout and now attends private school — said Hanover is a place where the college you go to is more of a status symbol than the car you drive, and parents put big-time pressure on their kids.

"We've created a monster, and I'm as guilty as anyone as a parent," said Kenyon. "Because we want the best for our children, and so we should be surprised when we have these kind of things happen."

But Kenyon adds that treating kids like criminals does nothing to address the broader and rampant problem of cheating."

Update: Kenyon's son was found guilty of acting as a lookout and given a reduced fine and community service as punishment. The judge suggested he look up the definition of "lemming." The trials of other students are still pending.

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AP virtual labs questioned: Online science courses lack crucial experience, College Board says

Amy Hetzner:

Would poison alter the amount of carbon dioxide in yeast? To answer that question, high school junior Evelyn Libal developed a hypothesis, designed an experiment and studied results from scientists who had conducted such tests.

The only thing missing from the 16-year-old's work, done for an Advanced Placement biology course offered through one of the state's virtual schools, was actually conducting the experiment.

And that's where the College Board, which administers the AP program, could have a problem.

Differences in the kind of lab work done by students enrolled in virtual schools vs. traditional classrooms have become an issue in an ongoing audit of AP courses.

So far, thousands of teachers worldwide have successfully completed audits of their syllabuses to ensure that they are teaching what is expected for the AP label.

But the majority of science courses offered by virtual schools with computerized simulations have been given only provisional permission to continue calling themselves AP classes as they align their lab work with AP standards over the next year.

For many, that means more hands-on experiments.

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Madison Teacher Safety: Going to Court

WKOWTVWKOW-TV [Watch Video | mp3 Audio]:

February 13 became a tense day in two, separate Madison schools.

Police reports show a fifteen year old student at Memorial High School became angry with special education teacher Tim Droster. Another staff member told officers the student made motions to mimic the act of shooting Droster. The student was arrested.

At Cherokee Heights Middle School, police reports show a thirteen year old student reacted to being denied laptop computer priveleges by posing this question to special education assistant Becky Buchmann: "Did you want me to gun you down?" Juvenile court records show the student had previously shot an acquaintance with a BB gun, and Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI) information stated the student had also brought a BB gun to school and had gang affiliation.

Buchmann went to court and obtained a restraining order against the student.

Droster worked through school officials and his threatening student was given a different school schedule and new conduct rules.

Attorney Jordan Loeb has represented teachers seeking restraining orders to protect themselves in the classroom. "It's controversial," Loeb told 27 News.

But Loeb said teachers are no different than someone from any other walk of life when it comes to needing the authority of a judge to insure a threatening person does not cause harm.

"When it's your safety on the line, you have to do everything you believe is necessary to keep yourself safe."

Loeb estimated an average of ten teachers and other school staff members per year over the past decade have obtained restraining orders against threatening students and adults in Dane County courts.

But school district statistics show a more than five fold increase in teacher and staff injuries caused by students in the past three years.

In 2003, of 532 injury reports submitted by teachers and staff members, 29 were the result of student assaults.

In 2006, 540 teacher and staff injury reports involved 153 student assaults.

School district spokesperson Ken Syke said the most recent student assault numbers may be inflated by the inclusion of teacher injuries incidental to fights between students.


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High school biowizards break new ground in winning competition

Bernadette Tansey:

When Robert Ovadia got his invitation, he couldn't believe it.

He and four other students from his biotechnology class at Abraham Lincoln High School not only had an offer of paid summer lab jobs, they also would have a chance to square off against the world's powerhouse science universities.

In their Sunset District classroom, biotech teacher George Cachianes told the seniors they could be part of a team that would compete at iGEM, the international Genetically Engineered Machine competition. The contest founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology focuses on synthetic biology, one of the most far-out of new scientific fields. It treats the building blocks of life - proteins and other molecules created by cells under instructions from DNA - as engineering parts that can be cobbled together to make anything from a new microorganism to a computer component. With luck, the Lincoln kids might help break new ground in science.

"I'm like, 'It's too good to be true,' " Ovadia remembers thinking.

The invitation came from UCSF Professor Wendell Lim, whose lab explores how cells process information and send signals. Lim knew his teenage proteges would face fierce competition from college teams at Harvard, Princeton and dozens of other elite universities around the globe.

iGEM website.

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UK Fuzzy Math Discussion

John Crace:

Soon after the first sudoku puzzles began to appear in newspapers a couple of years ago, there came hurried reassurances from worried editors. Sudoku might be a number grid, they soothed, but don't let all those nasty ones, twos and threes frighten you, because you don't need to be any good at maths to do it.
It was a message that summed up the national attitude to maths. Numbers are something inherently difficult, to be feared and mistrusted. The subject carries a lasting memory of childhood shame and frustration from which we never recover. Maths is for geeks, nerds and misfits; the rest of us get by on a wing, a prayer and a calculator.

Andrew Hodges, maths lecturer at Wadham College, Oxford, takes a different view of the addictive puzzle. "Sudoku may not require long multiplication or division," he says, "but it is a very good puzzle that replicates the pattern of thinking required to solve quite complex logical problems in maths. But no one dares mention the association, for fear of putting off all those who like doing it."

Joanne has more.

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November 18, 2007

'No Child' Data on Violence Skewed: Each State Defines "Dangerous School"

Nelson Hernandez:

A little-publicized provision of the No Child Left Behind Act requiring states to identify "persistently dangerous schools" is hampered by widespread underreporting of violent incidents and by major differences among the states in defining unsafe campuses, several audits say. Out of about 94,000 schools in the United States, only 46 were designated as persistently dangerous in the past school year.

Maryland had six, all in Baltimore; the District and Virginia had none.

At Anacostia Senior High School last school year, private security guards working under D.C. police recorded 61 violent offenses, including three sexual assaults and one assault with a deadly weapon. There were 21 other nonviolent cases in which students were caught bringing knives and guns to school. Anacostia is not considered a persistently dangerous school.

One high school in Los Angeles had 289 cases of battery, two assaults with a deadly weapon, a robbery and two sex offenses in one school year, according to an audit by the U.S. Department of Education's inspector general. It did not meet the state's definition of a persistently dangerous school, or PDS. None of California's roughly 9,000 schools has.

The reason, according to an audit issued by the Department of Education in August: "States fear the political, social, and economic consequences of having schools designated as PDS, and school administrators view the label as detrimental to their careers. Consequently, states set unreasonable definitions for PDS and schools have underreported violent incidents."

Critics of the law, including lawmakers who hope the policy can be changed as part of the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, say the low number is a sign the legislation is not working.

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Book: Amy's Game: The Concealed Structure of Education

Amy's Game: The Concealed Structure of Education :

Amy's Game is a field manual for parents, teachers, and leaders who want to give our children the education they deserve. The author draws on over 30 years experience and hundreds of studies to expose education's hidden structure responsible for our schools' decline. Tactics for reversing that slide are given along with inexpensive, well-researched instructional methods that anyone-parent to professor-can use to improve our children's education.
Amazon Link. Thanks to Larry Winkler for the link.

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Madison School District School Security Discussion

Madison School Board: Monday evening, November 12, 2007: 40MB mp3 audio file. Participants include: Superintendent Art Rainwater, East High Principal Al Harris, Cherokee Middle School Principal Karen Seno, Sennett Middle School Principal Colleen Lodholz and Pam Nash, assistant Superintendent for Secondary Schools.

A few notes:

  • First 30 minutes: The City of Madison has agreed to fund police overtime in the schools. Johnny Winston, Jr. asked about supporting temporary "shows of force" to respond to issues that arise. Maya Cole asked what they (Administrators) do when staff choose not to get involved. East High Principal Al Harris mentioned that his staff conducts hall sweeps hourly. Sennett Principal Colleen Lodholz mentioned that they keep only one entrance open during recess.
  • 52 minutes: Al Harris discussed the importance of consistency for staff, students and parents. He has named an assistant principal to be responsible for security. East now has data for the past year for comparison purposes. Additional assistant principals are responsible for classrooms, transitions and athletics.
  • 55 minutes: Art Rainwater discussed District-wide procedures, a checklist for major incidents and that today parents are often informed before anyone else due to cell phones and text messaging.
  • Recommendations (at 60 minutes):
    • Pam Nash mentioned a strong need for increased communication. She discussed the recent West High School community forums and their new personal safety handbook. This handbook includes an outline of how West is supervised.
    • 68 to 74 minutes: A discussion of the District's equity policy vis a vis resource allocations for special needs students.
    • 77 minutes - Steve Hartley discusses his experiences with community resources.
    • 81+ minutes: Steve Hartley mentioned the need for improved tracking and Art Rainwater discussed perceptions vs what is actually happening. He also mentioned that the District is looking at alternative programs for some of these children. Student Board Representative Joe Carlsmith mentioned that these issues are not a big part of student life. He had not yet seen the new West High safety handbook. Carol Carstensen discussed (95 minutes) that these issues are not the common day to day experiences of our students and that contacts from the public are sometimes based more on rumor and gossip than actual reality.
I'm glad the Board and Administration had this discussion.


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November 17, 2007

African-American dads and others here size up Bill Cosby's tough love talk

Pat Schneider:

There's a crisis among young African-American males in Madison, says Kenneth Black, president of 100 Black Men of Madison.

High school drop-out rates, low employment, a high incidence of jail and prison time -- and beneath it all, a growing number of black children growing up without a father.

"It definitely needs to be dealt with," said Black, a division administrator in the state Department of Veteran Affairs. "There's a huge void in most of these kids' lives. They need to see positive African-American role models who are successful in the community. They need to see us," he said.

100 Black Men of Madison may be best known for its back-to-school backpack giveaway that draws hundreds of children each year, but its bedrock program is mentoring. "Our intent is to get these young men and expose them to the more positive things in life: the Overture, sporting events, UW and places outside our community," Black said.

Black was among several local African-Americans interviewed for this article who had praise, and some criticism, for the rallying cry to social responsibility raised by comedian Bill Cosby.

"Some people are not happy with Bill Cosby for airing dirty laundry," said Johnny Winston Jr., a member of the Madison School Board. "But it's not like he's saying something we don't know."

Barbara Golden, an advocate for children and families in Dane County, said it was good that the discussion opened by Cosby was taking place outside just African-American circles. "We are very much a part of America. What happens to us should be the concern of everybody," Golden said.

The African-American culture also has a strong influence on mainstream U.S. culture, she noted, noting how white kids' performances at a recent Madison middle-school talent show borrowed heavily from hip-hop.

"No one can sit and say, 'This doesn't affect me,'" she said.

Cosby's book published last month, "Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors" is just the latest round in a years-long confrontation with his fellow African-Americans.

Additional links and notes on Bill Cosby [RSS]

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Minnesota's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Forums

John Katsantonis:

In the process of researching where the U.S. ranks internationally in science and math education, I discovered that one of the Democratic presidential candidates (the one who’s governor of a Southwestern state) keeps citing our nation’s current rank as No. 29 (or, on a good day, No. 28) after our having been No. 1 throughout the world.

Apparently neither statistic is true, however, which suggest that it may be Bill Richardson himself who needs a bit of remedial math.

This is not the first time our national educational system has been politicized. Fifty years ago, a global scientific effort called the International Geophysical Year (IGY) encompassed 11 Earth sciences: aurora and airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, gravity, ionospheric physics, longitude and latitude determinations (precision mapping), meteorology, oceanography, seismology and solar activity.

The Soviet Union celebrated IGY by launching the first artificial satellite (Sputnik) one month into the event on Oct. 1, 1957. We countered with the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts and the discovery of mid-ocean submarine ridges, which was an important confirmation of plate tectonics.

Immediately following the successful orbiting of Sputnik, attendant paranoia regarding U.S. loss of the space race converted our collaboration with the country into a major retooling of the nation’s school curricula. The focus would now be on science and mathematics.

It’s impossible to deny a general decline in these areas nationally versus India and a handful of other countries that emphasize science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education on a cultural level. In recent years, Minnesota has been adamant and resolute about creating and maintaining collaboration between the private and public sectors to improve these areas of learning among K-12 students statewide.

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November 16, 2007

School Math textbooks rife with errors, tentatively approved

Terrence Stutz:

Proposed math books for elementary school children and their teachers have resulted in one computation that publishers would just as soon erase – 109,263.

That's the number of errors that were uncovered in proposed math textbooks that are under review by the State Board of Education for distribution to schools in the fall of 2008.

The total number of errors was nearly five times the total for last year, thanks to one publisher whose books contained more than 86,000 errors – 79 percent of the total.

Publishers will have until the spring to clean their books up. After that, they can be fined up to $5,000 for every error that makes it into the final editions of books shipped to Texas schools.

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Where Should we Get Money for Education

James Wigderson:

The state Senate Education Committee is meeting today to again discuss Senate Joint Resolution 27, a bill that would require the state of Wisconsin to change its school funding formula by July 1, 2009. The bill does not indicate how the school funding formula should be changed, or which communities should benefit from the change.

The bill is the brainchild of state Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts. When Pope-Roberts last spoke in Waukesha, she told the audience she had a secret plan, like Nixon’s plan to end the Vietnam War, to "fix" the state’s school funding formula, hidden in her desk. The plan has yet to be revealed.

We may get a clue from Democratic activist Ruth Page Jones who is planning on testifying at the hearing. Jones is known to most people in Waukesha as the head of the increasingly irrelevant Project ABC. Project ABC spent much of last spring campaigning to change the state’s funding formula with the promise it would help Waukesha’s schools. Even Pope-Roberts disagreed that any change in the funding formula was likely to be to Waukesha’s benefit.

Jones is now president of Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, newly independent from the liberal Institute for Wisconsin’s Future. The WAES is committed to the "Wisconsin Adequacy Plan." Adequacy, as in they define adequacy by their wish list, and then the taxpayers get the bill.

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The Power of Birth Order

Jeffrey Kluger:

In 1883, the year Elliott began battling melancholy, Teddy had already published his first book and been elected to the New York State assembly. By 1891—about the time Elliott, still unable to establish a career, had to be institutionalized to deal with his addictions—Teddy was U.S. Civil Service Commissioner and the author of eight books. Three years later, Elliott, 34, died of alcoholism. Seven years after that, Teddy, 42, became President.

Elliott Roosevelt was not the only younger sibling of an eventual President to cause his family heartaches—or at least headaches. There was Donald Nixon and the loans he wangled from billionaire Howard Hughes. There was Billy Carter and his advocacy on behalf of the pariah state Libya. There was Roger Clinton and his year in jail on a cocaine conviction. And there is Neil Bush, younger sib of both a President and a Governor, implicated in the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s and recently gossiped about after the release of a 2002 letter in which he lamented to his estranged wife, "I've lost patience for being compared to my brothers."

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Breaking the Grass Ceiling
Susan Myers quit her job as an investment banker and became one of the nation's few female high school football coaches.

Russell Adams:

On a Friday night in late October, the Prince of Peace Eagles are about to lose to Rockwall Christian 49-6. As she paces the sidelines, Susan Myers isn't thinking about gender roles. She's a coach for an 0-8 team whose players seem to be losing faith in themselves.

As quarterback Austin Smith shuffles off the field, Ms. Myers grabs his jersey and pulls him close until her nose is just a couple of inches from his facemask. Before the season, the Eagles had pointed to their next opponent, a small Catholic school in Irving, Texas, called The Highlands, as one they should beat. She wanted Mr. Smith to send a message to the team. "That's the game we've got to win," she shouted. "They've got to know that's the game."

As the wide receivers coach for Prince of Peace, a private Christian School near Dallas, Ms. Myers, 55 years old, is one of only a few women in the nation coaching high school football. So far as the American Football Coaches Association knows, she's the only one plying her trade in Texas -- a state where the boys who play the game and the men who lead them form a current that powers the egos of entire towns. Women operate on the fringes of the football world, mostly to support and validate. They rarely step on the field without a set of pompons.

Morgan Schwab, a wide receiver, had never heard of a female football coach before Prince of Peace hired Ms. Myers. He says he got over the novelty on the second day of spring practice when, during agility and footwork drills, she took a plastic bat to the legs of any players with poor form.

An excerpt from "The Complete Handbook of Coaching Wide Receivers" PDF.

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Report Compares Racine to 9 Other Wisconsin School Districts, Including Madison

Pete Selkowe crunches the findings:

After ten years of exhaustive diagnostics, poking and prodding, the patient -- Racine Unified School District -- still is quite sick.

The Public Policy Forum's just released 10th annual comparative analysis of RUSD (paid for by Education Racine, the not-for-profit foundation of RAMAC) -- comparing the district to nine peer* districts with similar enrollments -- is measured in many places, objectively reporting such things as student achievement, graduation rates, truancy and more.

But the bottom line, stated with ultimate tact -- "Our data do not fit with the customer satisfaction objective." -- gives clear warning of what's to come.

The report's major findings, released at a Wingspread briefing tonight, conclude:

Diversity: The minority population in RUSD, the state's fourth largest district with 21,696 students, continues to grow. Racine's classrooms now are 48.1% minority, up from 36.9% ten years ago, thanks to an influx of Asian and Hispanic students. African-American enrollment has increased "modestly" in recent years and white enrollment has "declined somewhat."

White students now make up 51.9% of RUSD's enrollment; African-Americans 26.7% and Hispanics 19.6%. Statewide, 22.1% of students are minority.

Operational Efficiency: State aid to RUSD has increased 40.2% in 10 years, yet we're now 8th out of 10. (State aid to Kenosha has risen 70.8% in the same period.) Property tax revenue is up 21.4%; Kenosha's has gone up 41.7%. RUSD falls to 9th in the growth of federal aid: up 87.5% in 10 years, while Kenosha has gone up 146.9% and Appleton 346.9%.

The district ranked 8th out of 10 in property taxes collected per pupil. Racine was third in instructional spending per pupil, sixth in operational spending. RUSD spent $10,169 per pupil, just $119 below the state average, but well below Madison's $12,163.

Dani McClain:
These findings are part of the Public Policy Forum's 10th annual report on how Racine Unified stacks up among Wisconsin's 10 largest districts - excluding Milwaukee - in student achievement, engagement and finances.

"I think you have here the largest, most comprehensive study of any district in the state of Wisconsin, and possibly the country," Jeff Browne, president of the Milwaukee think tank, said to a gathering of advocates, school officials and business leaders Wednesday.

Racine Unified, the state's fourth-largest district, faces serious challenges, the report shows.

Its students ranked near the bottom at all grade levels when compared with peer districts on state reading and math tests in the 2006-'07 school year. This is in keeping with recent years' rankings, though there is some improvement at the elementary level.

Charts comparing the 10 Districts.

Complete Report: 240K PDF

Public Policy Forum Website

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Getting schooled

John Smart:

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) held a very informative Legislative Issues Conference in Stevens Point on November 3, attended by more than 200 school board members from around the state. The program was focused on the issues of school funding reform and taxation.

An overview of UW-Madison Professor Alan Odden's two-year study of school funding and achievement, supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, was presented by two researchers who work with Odden.

The UW's Consortium for Policy Research in Education also includes participation by the Universities of Michigan and Pennsylvania, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and Northwestern. Their current printed report is titled "Moving From Good to Great in Wisconsin: Funding Schools Adequately And Doubling Student Performance," and opens with a telling quotation from Michelangelo: "The greatest danger for most of us is not that we aim too high and fall short, but that we aim too low and achieve our mark."

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"Wisconsin Way" Meeting Notes

The "Wisconsin Way" recently held a forum in Waukesha. The local Taxpayer's League posted some notes [website].

A schedule of forums appears on their website (Madison is 12/6/2007). More:

Welcome to the Wisconsin Way! You’ve made the first step to helping lower Wisconsin’s property taxes, while protecting our services and maintaining Wisconsin’s quality of life.

A groundswell of public concern about the affordability of property taxes on the one hand and the need to maintain Wisconsin’s critical infrastructure on the other has prompted several statewide leadership groups to join forces in a historic search for solutions called The Wisconsin Way.

In the coming months, the original conveners of the Wisconsin Way—the Wisconsin Counties Association, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, Wisconsin Realtors Association, Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association and Wood Communications Group—will host a series of public gatherings around the state in an effort to engage Wisconsin citizens in a constructive, solution-oriented conversation about what we can do to make Wisconsin taxes fairer and reduce the property tax burden without sacrificing the quality of public services that have made Wisconsin a special place to live and work.

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November 15, 2007

Excuses are not an option

Alan Borsuk:

There are casual days at Milwaukee College Preparatory School when it comes to what students can wear. Polo shirts (red for almost all the students and yellow for standouts who have earned privileges) are the uniform for those days. Other days, students have to wear blazers and ties.

But there are no casual days at the school when it comes to academics, even down to the kindergartners.

"Let's go, let's go, let's go, let's go," eighth-grade math teacher Edward Richerson exhorts his students as a half dozen head toward the blackboard to solve some equations. They're not moving fast enough for him.

A couple of them falter in their explanations. "What I've told you not to do is get lazy on these equations, which is what you've done," Richerson says. If you're not getting them, it's not because you're not smart enough, he says. "Since we are overachievers," he begins as he tells them why they have to be as picky about the details of the answers as he is.

In a 5-year-old kindergarten class, children do an exercise in counting and understanding sequences of shapes. Four-year-olds are expected to be on the verge of reading by Christmas.

In national education circles, phrases such as "no excuses" and names such as "KIPP" have come to stand for a hard-driving approach to educating low-income urban children, and that includes longer days, strict codes of conduct, an emphasis on mastering basics and a dedication among staff members approaching zeal. The Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, operates 57 schools in cities around the country and has a record that is not perfect but is noteworthy for its success.

Milwaukee College Prep, 2449 N. 36th St., is the prime example in Milwaukee of a no-excuses school. The charter school, which is publicly funded and was chartered through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is not formally a KIPP school, although it is affiliated with the KIPP movement.

Milwaukee College Preparatory School's website.

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UW-Madison Odyssey Project Video

Watch or download (ctrl-click here for the mp4 file) a 20 minute video on the UW-Madison's Odyssey Program.
Thanks to Laurie Frost for obtaining this video.
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Madison parents can track kids' grades, records online

Andy Hall:

By Friday, the system, known as Infinite Campus, will be available to all parents of Madison School District middle and high school students. Those students, and parents of elementary students, will be able to tap in sometime after the first of the year.

Parents and students receive individual passwords. Parents can e-mail teachers and see whether their children owe any fees. They also can view, on a single calendar, a summary of important upcoming assignment deadlines and school events for all of their children.

With the arrival of Infinite Campus, Madison becomes the 13th of Dane County's 16 school districts to offer around-the-clock electronic access to student information.

Officials at the three remaining districts — Marshall, Deerfield and Stoughton — plan to install similar systems soon and Stoughton already permits parents to receive frequent e-mail summaries of their children's grades. More than 80 percent of Stoughton parents have signed up for the e-mail updates.

The Madison School District should be quite pleased with this effort. Initiatives on this scale are never easy. Certainly, much remains to be done, but lifting off, getting a great deal of staff buy in and opening it up to parents is a significant win.

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November 14, 2007

A Discussion of the Madison School District's Expulsion Process

Madison School Board: Monday evening, November 12, 2007: 45MB mp3 audio file.

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Middleton environmental studies teacher wins award

Susan Troller:

Add another name to the legendary voices from Wisconsin that have made the world a better place by speaking up for the environment.

On Thursday, local teacher Deb Weitzel will receive the nation's first Bartlett Award to honor leadership in environmental education at a ceremony in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Like Aldo Leopold, Gaylord Nelson and John Muir, Weitzel has been an inspiration whose lasting influence goes far beyond her own passionate commitment to the natural world.

A long-time environmental studies and chemistry teacher at Middleton High School, Weitzel has a legion of former students and other fans who say she has thought globally, acted locally and taught countless hundreds of others to do the same.

Janet Kane, a former Middleton school board member and long-term supporter and board member of the Friends of Pheasant Branch nature conservancy, nominated Weitzel for the prestigious national award.

"It's wonderful news that Deb has won the award and it really is a huge honor," Kane said. "It's also amazing that Deb is the first winner. She will set the standard for all those who follow."

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U.S. students 'middle of the pack' compared with world

Click for a larger version of this image.

Greg Toppo:

Educators and politicians these days make a point of saying that U.S. schoolchildren aren't just competing locally for good, high-paying jobs — they're competing globally.

A detailed study lets them know just how well kids may do if they really compete globally someday — and it's not exactly pretty.

Crunching the most recent data from a pair of U.S. and international math and science exams for middle-schoolers, Gary Phillips, a researcher at the non-profit American Institutes for Research (AIR), a non-partisan Washington think tank, finds a decidedly mixed picture: Students in most states perform as well as — or better than — peers in most foreign countries.

But he also finds that even those in the highest-scoring states, such as Massachusetts and Minnesota, are significantly below a handful of top-scoring nations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan.

1.9MB PDF Report:
In mathematics, students in 49 states and the District of Columbia are behind their counterparts in Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. Students in Massachusetts are on a par with Japanese students, but trail the other four nations. In science, students in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin trail only students in Singapore and Taiwan, while performing equal or better than students in the other 45 countries surveyed.

“More than a century ago Louis Pasteur revealed the secret to invention and innovation when he said ‘chance favors the prepared mind’. The take away message from this report is that the United States is loosing the race to prepare the minds of the future generation,” said Dr. Phillips.

Students in the District of Columbia had the lowest U.S. performance in mathematics (they did not participate in the science test). In math, the average D.C. student is at the Below Basic level, putting them behind students in 29 countries and ahead of those in 14 countries. In science, nine states are at the Below Basic level: Florida, Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Alabama, Hawaii, California and Mississippi.

Clusty Search: National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) | Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS)

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Waukesha Schools go to Mediation over teacher contracts: Trading Jobs for Compensation?

Pete Kennedy:

The word "mediation" usually isn’t all that menacing. But these days, and in this district, "mediation" packs plenty of punch.
A few weeks ago the Waukesha School Board announced it had taken its teachers to mediation. That means a neutral party will try to negotiate a settlement between the teachers union (the Education Association of Waukesha) and the board.

What’s most significant about the board’s action is the mediator can declare an impasse and send the proposals to an arbitrator. And that, my friend, is a big deal.

Why? First, because arbitration is the labor-relations version of high-stakes poker. It’s a winner-take-all proposition. Both sides present their proposal to a (supposedly) neutral third party, who picks the plan he or she believes fairest. There is no in-between - you win or you lose.

Arbitration also is a big deal because it’s hardly ever done, at least when state public schools are involved.

"Yes, it’s significant," said David Schmidt, superintendent of the School District of Waukesha for the past 10 years. "It’s the first time we’ve done it since I’ve been here."

Schmidt says he is fine with the teachers union, that the real trouble is in Madison. (The EAW is very much in agreement.) But right now, the problem has to be fixed closer to home. "What we can control locally are our expenditures," Schmidt says.

Links and notes on Madison's recent teacher's contract.

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Ohio Education Board Proposes New Teacher Discipline System


The State Board of Education voted Tuesday to require the education department to publicly release the reason any teacher is disciplined and to create a policy for the automatic revocation of teacher licenses for convictions of serious crimes.

The policies were among nine recommendations that would tighten a teacher-discipline system that was often shrouded in secrecy.

The Ohio Department of Education will now take the recommendations to the Legislature, where they must be accepted before becoming law.

The board also voted to run the names of those on arrest lists against a database of licensed educators. The matching system is already set up for school bus drivers.

Districts would be required to remove teachers from the classroom if they are arrested for offenses such as murder, kidnapping or rape. Teachers who are arrested or convicted would be required to notify their employer or face penalties.

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Comparing Sports, Arts is Dangerous Business

“I'm afraid the game is over. In our American academia, the arts must be satisfied with the leftovers.”

Frank Deford
Morning Edition, NPR

A few weeks ago, I offered up the thoughts of Gary Walters, the distinguished athletic director at Princeton, that sport should be held in the same high regard as art.

I thought it was a rather interesting and cogent opinion for someone to posit, but in the fabled words of the longtime football announcer, Keith Jackson: "Whoa, Nellie!" Never have I suffered such a battering. I think the nicest thing I was called in the responses that poured in, dripping with blood, was "apologist dingbat."

But then, after I withdrew the slings and arrows from my person and assessed the reaction, I realized how almost all the responses didn't really bother to address the question posed: Whether, in fact, sport might be an art. No, they were just mad, full of rage and fury. But it did serve to inform me all the more how much antipathy there does exist toward the American system of school sports.

Here are just a few of the more restrained comments:

"Spare me please! Primary and secondary art and music programs are going the way of the passenger pigeon while college coaching staffs ... are compensated like CEOs."

"When was the last time we heard a news report about the band or orchestra at some ... powerhouse involved in a scandal where students did not take the tests themselves?"

"High school building and renovation plans always include gymnasiums and weight rooms, but auditoriums are more viewed as unnecessary expenditures."

And on and on. I think what exasperates so many people is that the situation only grows more lopsided, that sports in our schools and colleges are not only ascendant, but greedier and more invulnerable than ever.

For prime example, The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported that donations to athletic departments have increased dramatically. College stadiums only become more opulent, so-called student-athletes more outrageous.

I'm afraid the game is over. In our American academia, the arts must be satisfied with the leftovers. Just consider the frank words of surrender spoken recently by John V. Lombardi, the president of the Louisiana State University System: "Mega college athletics ... prospers because for the most part we (our faculty, our staff, our alumni, our trustees) want it. We could easily change it, if most of us wanted to change it. All protestations to the contrary, we ... do not want to change it."

But Mr. Lombardi is only echoing what a certain Groucho Marx said in the movie Horse Feathers, when as President Quincy Adams Wagstaff, he asked the faculty: "Have we got a stadium? ... Have we got a college? ... Well, we can't support both. Tomorrow, we start tearing down the college."

That was 75 years ago. It hasn't changed, and, I'm sorry, but good people of the arts: it won't.

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Sun Prairie Schools Dealing With Bad Bus Behavior

Bus aides will soon be riding on some Sun Prairie school bus routes to keep the peace.

One of those routes is an elementary route from Horizon Elementary, reported WISC-TV.
Horizon principal Kathy Klaas said a letter was sent home to parents of the students who ride that route, to alert them to the fact that an aide would soon begin riding along.
"We've had some issues of horsing around," said deputy district administrator Phil Frei.

"Sometimes that horsing around gets more serious where kids are bringing a paper clip and threatening kids with a paper clip. So, mostly it's horsing around, but we wouldn't allow that behavior in a classroom, and we don't allow that on a bus."

Frei said most of the 28 bus routes have 70 students on board, which can get loud, noisy, and sometimes out of hand.

If a problem or conflict arises, most drivers write up a report at the end of their shift. After that the school district must investigate the report and take the appropriate action.

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Van Zandt rolls out plan for rock in schools

Mary Beth Marklein:

WASHINGTON — Steven Van Zandt says rock 'n' roll saved his life. Now he wants to return the favor.
The E Street Band guitarist and Sopranos star began sowing the seeds five years ago with the launch of Little Steven's Underground Garage, an internationally broadcast weekly radio show that celebrates his favorite genre — garage rock, a sound that evokes images of teens practicing in somebody's parents' suburban garage.

Last year, he created the non-profit Rock and Roll Forever Foundation as a vehicle to preserve the music that so shaped his life.

Monday, he will unveil the foundation's first project: a middle- and high-school curriculum designed to introduce a new generation of teens to the music. He planned to make the announcement in the nation's capital, where he is playing two concerts with Bruce Springsteen and the other E Streeters.

Anyone attending the sold-out Springsteen shows might question the notion that rock 'n' roll is endangered. And never mind that The Sopranos skillfully wove rock music into its story line, right down to the last moments of the final episode.

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The Pangloss Index: How States Game the No Child Left Behind Act: Wisconsin Tied for #1

Kevin Carey:

This report includes an updated Pangloss Index, based on a new round of state reports submitted in 2007. As Table 1 shows, many states look about the same Wisconsin and Iowa are tied for first, distinguishing themselves by insisting that their states house a pair of educational utopias along the upper Mississippi River. In contrast, Massachusetts—which is the highest-performing state in the country according to the NAEP—continues to hold itself to far tougher standards than most, showing up at 46th, near the bottom of the list.
Alan Borsuk:
Wisconsin - especially the state Department of Public Instruction - continues to avoid taking steps to increase the success of low-performing children in the state, a national non-profit organization says in a report released today.

For the second year in a row, Education Sector put Wisconsin at the top of its Pangloss Index, a ranking of states based on how much they are overly cheery about how their students are doing. Much of the ranking is based on the author's assessment of data related to what a state is doing to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

"Wisconsin policy-makers are fooling parents by pretending that everything is perfect," said Kevin Carey, research and policy manager for the organization. "As a result, the most vulnerable students aren't getting the attention they need."

DPI officials declined to comment on the new report because they had not seen it yet. In 2006, Tony Evers, the deputy state superintendent of public instruction, objected strongly to a nearly identical ranking from Education Sector and said state officials and schools were focused on improving student achievement, especially of low-income and minority students on the short end of achievement gaps in education.

The report is the latest of several over the last two years from several national groups that have said Wisconsin is generally not doing enough to challenge its schools and students to do better. The groups can be described politically as centrist to conservative and broadly supportive of No Child Left Behind. Education Sector's founders include Andrew Rotherham, a former education adviser to President Bill Clinton, and the group describes itself as non-partisan.

Several of the reports have contrasted Wisconsin and Massachusetts as states with similar histories of offering high-quality education but different approaches toward setting statewide standards now. Massachusetts has drawn praise for action it has taken in areas such as testing the proficiency of teachers, setting the bar high on standardized tests and developing rigorous education standards.

The Education Sector report and Carey did the same. The report rated Massachusetts as 46th in the nation, meaning it is one of the most demanding states when it comes to giving schools high ratings.

Carey said that in 1992, Wisconsin outscored Massachusetts in the nationwide testing program known as NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But Wisconsin is now behind that state in every area of NAEP testing, he said.

"Unlike Wisconsin, Massachusetts has really challenged its schools," Carey said.

Additional commentary from TJ Mertz and Joanne Jacobs. All about Pangloss.

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AP vs. IB vs. Neither: A Plea for Peace and Love

Jay Matthews:

Watch out. Tumultuous days are ahead in the war of advocates for college-level high school courses such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, particularly with the rise of some schools that say their teachers can do a better job without AP or IB.

Insults are flying. Good people could get hurt. I have a peace plan, but first let's inspect the battlefield.

The AP vs. IB topic on my Admissions 101 discussion group at the Web site has 1,233 posts and more are pouring in. At the same time, educators who want to banish AP from their schools just launched a new Web site, ExcellenceWithoutAP. On Wednesday, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute at edexcellence will release one of the most detailed AP vs. IB comparisons ever: "Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate: Do They Deserve Gold Star Status?"

The Fordham report looks like a peace-making gesture, since it concludes that both programs "set high academic standards and goals for learning" and provide exams that allow students to "apply their knowledge in creative and productive ways." But the AP vs. IB combatants will likely squabble over slight differences in the grades Fordham gave AP and IB courses in biology and math. And the ExcellenceWithoutAP people are going to hate the parts of the Fordham report that warn against attempts, like theirs, to make college-level courses in high school more thematic and deny students -- at least in Fordham's view -- the solid facts, such as "the names, dates, events, documents and movements important to our history."

The College Board still dominates the battlefield, with more than 14,000 high schools using its AP program. IB has only about 500. ExcellenceWithoutAP lists about 50 schools that have dropped or never had AP. This is a big jump from the 12 schools identified in this column two years ago. But even this group is made up of schools so small that they produce less that one-fifth of 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors graduating each year.

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Teacher certification is no guarantee

Jennifer Fink:

A piece of paper does not a teacher make.

So while the Milwaukee School Board considers whether teachers in charter schools should be certified in each academic subject they teach, an inconvenient truth remains: A teaching certificate is not a guarantee of teaching competence.

Yes, a teaching certificate proves that certain standards have been met, that the bearer has studied education theory and teaching techniques and demonstrates basic mastery of an area of academic study. But does this translate directly into the ability to help individual students? A roomful of students?

If a teacher is certified to teach English but not science, does that mean science is hopelessly out of his league? Or does it merely mean that the teacher in question has jumped through the hoops required to gain an English certificate?

The teachers union would have you believe that a teaching certificate is akin to a sacred talisman, as if only those who possess the talisman are qualified to share their unique knowledge. Actually, it would be preferable if the union phrased it that way - it would be easier to recognize the union's specious argument. Instead, the union tries to frame it as a quality-control problem.

"Professional is professional," said Dennis Oulahan, president of the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association at an October School Board committee meeting, according to an Oct. 12 Journal Sentinel article. "If we're willing to play with that, how serious are we about moving student achievement forward in this district?"

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November 13, 2007

Midvale School Pancake Breakfast

Madison's Midvale School is hosting a pancake breakfast this Saturday, 11/17/2007 from 8:30 to 11:00a.m. 502 Caromar Dr Madison, WI 53711 [Map] $4.00 per person / $12.00 per family.

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Report Gives Good Grades to Precollege Courses

Peter Schmidt in The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that "(t)he Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a nonprofit research organization, favorably reviews several Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs in a report scheduled to be released this week.

The study evaluated course materials, teacher’s guides, and examinations used in connection with Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs in biology, English, history, and mathematics. Based on reviews of the materials conducted by experts in the fields covered, the report concludes that the courses generally merit praise. The biology offerings in particular deserve high marks, it says.

The researchers did not examine how well the courses are actually being taught, and its report warns that “successful implementation of these programs depends on the availability of talented, motivated, and well-educated teachers.”

The institute plans to make the report available online as of Tuesday, although it is not scheduled for release to the public until the following day."

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"Educrats (WEAC, DPI) to parents: Bug off"

Patrick McIlheran:

My daughter asked the other day about why the sky is blue. It turned into a talk about light waves. Sure, it was a teachable moment but my bad; I'm not a licensed teacher.

I now know how wrong I was. I heard it from a state lawyer arguing before an appeals court about the Wisconsin Virtual Academy. Parents are incompetent to recognize such moments - that's what he actually said - so the public charter school needs to be shut down now.

The lawyer, who represents the Department of Public Instruction, was siding with the big teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council. The union four years ago sued the department to shut down the academy, a public school that offers classes to 850 students statewide. Now, the state has switched sides and says the school is breaking the law, a claim already rejected in court. All the school is breaking is paradigms.

Here's how it works: Children log on with software made for virtual schooling. They go to a virtual class with a live teacher, or they have lessons assigned by a teacher, or they do one-on-one work with a teacher, or they get their homework evaluated by a teacher, or they talk on a phone or meet face to face with a teacher. Notice who's involved.

Why, it's the child's parent, claim the educrats and the union. The nub of the case is that because parents help when children are stuck or act as an on-hand coach, it means they're really the teachers. They're unlicensed; ergo, the school's illegal. Let this be a warning when your tot asks for homework help.

The state's lawyer, Paul Barnett, said that when teachable moments come to academy kids, parents can't recognize them. "This school depends on unlicensed, untrained, unqualified and, um, adults who are not required to prove competence," he told the court.

He later says that the state wants parents involved in schools. Just wipe your boots first, you peasants.

Aside from what insults the state hurls at the academy's parents, "it really is almost demeaning to the work our teachers do," says Principal Kurt Bergland.

"I home-schooled before," says parent Julie Thompson of Cross Plains. "This is different."

The academy does mean that Thompson's seventh-grade daughter learns at home, except when she joins other academy kids for hands-on science. But Thompson doesn't plan the curriculum, teach the lessons or evaluate progress. The school's 20 teachers do. Children move on only when those teachers say they're ready.

The parents' role adds to this. Some describe it as being a teachers aide, and Bergland, for years a teacher and administrator in a brick-and-mortar public school, says they get training similar to what aides get. "But the thing that they have way beyond most aides I've worked with is an understanding of their learner," he says.

Naturally, the results are good. Even the state's lawyer said so, only he claims they're irrelevant.

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New Studies on Children with Behavior Challenges

Benedict Carey:

Educators and psychologists have long feared that children entering school with behavior problems were doomed to fall behind in the upper grades. But two new studies suggest that those fears are exaggerated.

One concluded that kindergartners who are identified as troubled do as well academically as their peers in elementary school. The other found that children with attention deficit disorders suffer primarily from a delay in brain development, not from a deficit or flaw.

Experts say the findings of the two studies, being published Tuesday in separate journals, could change the way scientists, teachers and parents understand and manage children who are disruptive or emotionally withdrawn in the early years of school. The studies might even prompt a reassessment of the possible causes of disruptive behavior in some children.

“I think these may become landmark findings, forcing us to ask whether these acting-out kinds of problems are secondary to the inappropriate maturity expectations that some educators place on young children as soon as they enter classrooms,” said Sharon Landesman Ramey, director of the Georgetown University Center on Health and Education, who was not connected with either study.

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Experts debate Arizona student testing model

Jonathan Cooper:

Arizona's student testing model is flawed, and the state's top education official is exaggerating student success on standardized tests, a conservative researcher charged Thursday.

"It's a bit like watching Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa beating these baseball records," said Matthew Ladner, vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute. "It could be that they're just better baseball players. Or it could be that the ball is juiced or the players are taking steroids."

Ladner debated Tom Horne, Arizona's superintendent of public instruction, at an annual meeting of education researchers held at Arizona State University's Downtown Phoenix Campus.

Horne called Ladner a "demagogue" and said the Goldwater Institute is selective with facts and spreads false information as a scare tactic.

"They can't stand the idea that there could be anything good in public education," Horne said.

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November 12, 2007

When a new super arrives #1

Will the board continue to be weak -- letting the super set the agenda and following along? Or, will the board exert some leadership?

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Math Task Force Working Group Meeting Notice

Notice of Madison School Board Meetings
Week of November 12, 2007

Thursday, November 15
1025 West Johnson Street
Madison, WI 53706
Room 247

Math Task Force – Student Achievement and Data Working Group

9:00 a.m.

1. Introductions and Review of Agenda
2. Main Questions to be Answered by Data for the Mathematics Task Force and the Priority of the Questions
3. Data Sources and Availability
4. Necessary Resources to Produce the Needed Analyses
5. Adjournment Education Sciences Bldg.

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Montgomery School's New Take On Ability Grouping Yields Results

Via a reader email - Daniel de Vise:

In a notebook on her desk at Rock View Elementary School, Principal Patsy Roberson keeps tabs on every student: red for those who have failed to attain proficiency on Maryland's statewide exam, an asterisk for students learning English and squares for black or Hispanic children whose scores place them "in the gap."

Roberson and the Rock View faculty are having remarkable success lifting children out of that gap, the achievement gap that separates poor and minority children from other students and represents one of public education's most intractable problems.

They have done it with an unusual approach. The Kensington school's 497 students are grouped into classrooms according to reading and math ability for more than half of the instructional day.

The technique, called performance-based grouping, is uncommon in the region. Some educators believe it too closely resembles tracking, the outmoded practice of assigning students to inflexible academic tracks by ability.

Educators say Rock View, however, is using the same basic concept to opposite effect, and the results have been positive. While some other Montgomery County schools serving low-income populations have posted higher test scores, few have shown such improvement or consistency across socioeconomic and racial lines.

Joanne has more.

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Summit called to address racial disparities in academic performance

Nanette Asimov:

Every time state schools chief Jack O'Connell thought he was doing something to close the achievement gap, a new round of test scores showed that black and Latino students had gained no ground on their white and Asian American peers.

Like many educators, O'Connell assumed the culprit was poverty. Then he noticed an even wider ethnic disparity among students who were not poor.

The realization was a jolt: Being black or Latino - not poor - was what the low-scorers had in common. And it changed everything.

O'Connell now believes that widespread cultural ignorance within the California school system is responsible for the poor academic performance of many black and Latino students in school.

He offered the example of black children who learn at church that it's good to clap, speak loudly and be a bit raucous. But doing the same thing at school, where 72 percent of teachers are white and may be unfamiliar with such customs, will get them in trouble, he said.

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The No Child Left Behind law is scheduled for reauthorization by the end of this year, but Congress has been slow to make that happen

Eddy Ramirez:

It was expected to be one of the most contentious debates of the political year. President Bush's landmark No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is due for reauthorization by the end of 2007. But as the calendar ticks into November, little has been heard since early summer, when U.S. House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller began circulating his proposed changes to the education law designed to combat the "soft bigotry of low expectations." The Democrat's proposal—which included allowing schools to measure how much students learn using methods other than the policy's signature standardized tests—was simultaneously criticized for potentially weakening the law and potentially making it more stringent. By both Democrats and Republicans.

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On Technology & Student Attention Spans


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November 11, 2007

St. Louis Mayor Invites Charter Schools

David Hunn:

Mayor Francis Slay has laid the groundwork for a new system of hand-picked public charter schools, meant to rival the city's sinking school district and draw families back to the city.

Today, Slay's office will send roughly 70 letters to local educators, Midwest nonprofit education groups, and big charter school companies across the country.

Those letters will invite each of them to start a school here.

His goal is to open quality schools. How many? Realistically, he thinks two or three a year, adding as many as 30 in the next 10 years.

The schools would steer thousands of kids away from the St. Louis Public Schools.

"Our city is cleaner, safer and more beautiful than it has been in a long time," Slay wrote in the letter. "In short, St. Louis has it all — except enough quality public schools."

But some say the plan would create a cycle disastrous to the city school district.

"It sounds like a plan, then, to abandon half the children in St. Louis," said Peter Downs, president of the elected St. Louis School Board. "It's like setting up two fire departments, two police departments. If you try to do it at the same cost, you have a lot more impoverished schools."

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Imperfect though it is, New York's attempt to improve its schools deserves applause

The Economist:

IN THE 1990s New York City's success in cutting crime became a model for America and the world. Innovative policing methods, guided by the “broken windows” philosophy of cracking down on minor offences to encourage a culture of lawfulness, showed that a seemingly hopeless situation could be turned around. It made the name of the mayor, Rudy Giuliani, now a presidential aspirant.

Hopeless is how many people feel about America's government-funded public schools, particularly in the dodgier parts of big cities, where graduation rates are shockingly low and many fail to achieve basic levels of literacy and numeracy. As with urban crime, failing urban schools are preoccupying countries the world over. And just as New York pointed the way on fighting crime, under another mayor, Michael Bloomberg, it is now emerging as a model for school reform.

On November 5th Mr Bloomberg announced a new “report card” for the city's schools, designed to make them accountable for their performance. The highest-graded schools will get an increased budget and perhaps a bonus for the principal (head teacher). Schools that fail will not be tolerated: unless their performance improves, their principals will be fired, and if that does not do the trick, they will be closed. This is the culmination of a series of reforms that began when Mr Bloomberg campaigned for, and won, direct control of the school system after becoming mayor in 2002. Even before the “report cards”, there have been impressive signs of improvement, including higher test scores and better graduation rates.

NYC School Progress Reports:
Progress Reports grade each school with an A, B, C, D, or F. These reports help parents, teachers, principals, and others understand how well schools are doing—and compare them to other, similar schools. Most schools received pilot Progress Reports for the 2005-06 school year in spring 2007. Progress Reports for Early Childhood and Special Education schools will be piloted during the 2007-08 academic year.

To find the Progress Report for your school, go to Find a School and enter the school’s name or number. This will bring you to the school’s Web page. Click on “Statistics,” which is a link on the left side of the page, where various accountability information can be found for each school. You can also ask your parent coordinator for a copy of your school’s Progress Report or e-mail with questions. Click here to view the Progress Report results for all schools Citywide.

Schools that get As and Bs on their Progress Reports will be eligible for rewards. The Department of Education will work with schools that get low grades to help them improve. Schools that get low grades will also face consequences, such as leadership changes or closure. This is an important part of our work to hold children’s schools accountable for living up to the high standards we all expect them to achieve.

The Great Experiment:
Bringing accountability and competition to New York City's struggling schools.

THE 220 children are called scholars, not students, at the Excellence charter school in Brooklyn's impoverished Bedford-Stuyvesant district. To promote the highest expectations, the scholars—who are all boys, mostly black and more than half of whom get free or subsidised school lunches—are encouraged to think beyond school, to university. Outside each classroom is a plaque, with the name of a teacher's alma mater, and then the year (2024 in the case of the kindergarten), in which the boys will graduate from college.

Like the other charter schools that are fast multiplying across America, Excellence is an independently run public school that has been allowed greater flexibility in its operations in return for greater accountability, though it cannot select its pupils, instead choosing them by lottery. If it fails, the principal (head teacher) will be held accountable, and the school could be closed. Three years old, Excellence is living up to its name: 92% of its third-grade scholars (eight-year-olds, the oldest boys it has, so far) scored “advanced” or “proficient” in New York state English language exams this year, compared to an average (for fourth-graders) across the state of 68% and only 62% in the Big Apple. They did even better in mathematics.

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Madison East Women's Swim Team Wins State (Division 1)


Team Results

1 Madison East MAEA 233
2 Madison Memorial MAME 229.5
3 Middleton MIDD 203.5
4 Waukesha South/Mukwonago WSMU 191
5 Arrowhead ARRO 176
6 Oshkosh West OWES 130
7 Madison West MAWE 129
8 Bay Port BAYP 107
9 Badger/Big Foot/Williams Bay BBWB 86
10 Brookfield East BREA 82

Individual Results
Congratulations to all participants.

Madison East High's website.

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Students in Boston's Pilot School Outpacing Others

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo:

When Lindsey Jones was deciding which high school to attend in a district that offers nearly three dozen options for secondary education, she was swayed by the Boston Community Leadership Academy’s claims that it would prepare her well for college. She didn’t realize how well until she started classes at the 400-student academy, part of a network of small schools the Boston district established more than a decade ago to provide alternatives outside its traditional system of large, comprehensive high schools and selective exam schools.

A four-year study of that network, released this week, shows that the academy and the nine other “pilot” high schools in the 56,000-student district are seeing more students through to graduation than regular high schools here. They also have significantly higher promotion and graduation rates, fewer dropouts, and fewer disciplinary issues.
Conceived in 1994 as the district’s response to charter schools, pilot schools have won praise from educators, business leaders, and community groups for providing school choice and innovation within the city’s public school system.

Still, some observers say their results are due more to the schools’ ability to choose or remove teachers, lower proportions of high-needs students, and the control they have in selecting students or weeding out those who are not likely to succeed in them.

Strong Results, High Demand, a Four Year Study of Boston's Pilot High Schools 4.3MB PDF.

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Spellings Pushes for Standardized Graduation Data

Nancy Zuckerbrod:

If Congress doesn't get the job done, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings says she'll consider using her authority to require states to report high school graduation rates in a more uniform and accurate way.

"I think we need some truth in advertising," Spellings said in an interview, referring to the hodgepodge of ways states now report graduation data.

States calculate their graduation rates using all sorts of methods, many of which critics say are based on unreliable information about school dropouts.

Republicans and Democrats in Congress have drafted proposals to better gauge how well high schools are doing at getting students diplomas, and doing it on time. The changes are part of a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind education law, but that bill's progress has stalled amid disputes over unrelated testing and teacher pay issues.

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On American School Reform: the pressure for change is coming from parents, which bodes well

The Economist (Los Angeles & New Orleans):

OUTSIDE New York, as usual, it is a different story. Most American mayors look longingly at Michael Bloomberg's accomplishments and wish they were equally mighty. West of the Mississippi, none has succeeded in seizing control of a school system. Nor are they likely to be able to do so: the early 20th century progressive movement, strongest in the West, severely blunted their powers. “We haven't had reform from the top here,” says Eli Broad, a Los Angeles philanthropist. “So instead we're seeing change from the bottom up.”

In the vanguard are charter schools like the Academy of Opportunity [Ask Google Live Yahoo] in south-central Los Angeles. Here 13- and 14-year-olds, almost all of them black or Hispanic, firmly shake your hand and outline their plans to go to Yale and Stanford. They work long hours—from 7.30am to 5pm five days a week, plus four hours every other Saturday. The grind pays off. At the end of their first year in the school just 28% of pupils are proficient or advanced in maths, compared to 48% of pupils elsewhere in California. By the time they leave, three years later, they far outperform their peers.

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November 10, 2007

"Coke, Pepsi agree to new school snack law"


The American Beverage Association is supporting proposed U.S. Farm Bill legislation that would curb the sale of soft drinks in schools.

The proposed legislation would limit the sale of sports drinks to athletic areas in high schools. Only bottled water, milk, juice or other drinks containing no more than 25 calories for every eight ounces would be allowed, the Wall Street Journal said Friday.

Interesting perspective, that perhaps speaks to their market power.

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Madison Schools' Expulsion Data Update

Susan Troller:

A total of 92 students were recommended for expulsion in 2006-07, compared with 105 similar recommendations the previous year. Students are recommended for expulsion for a serious violation of the district's student conduct and discipline plan.

Following the recommendation, the student may be expelled, or may be diverted or dismissed from the process for special education reasons, or because there is not sufficient proof of the violation.

According to the report, 12 students were expelled for use of force against a staff member, eight were expelled for possession of a weapon with intent to use, and seven were expelled for possessing an illegal drug with intent to deliver.

Other offenses included engaging in physical acts of violence as part of a gang (four students), possession of a bomb or explosive device or making a bomb threat (three students), possession of a pellet or BB gun (three students), and physical attacks, arson, serious threats to students and something called "volatile acts."

School Board President Arlene Silveira noted that the board will be considering expulsion policies at its meeting on Monday.

"The board has had a series of meetings to ensure that we have a fair, consistent and unbiased process for considering expulsions," Silveira said. "This is an ongoing process, and we will be taking a look at how we fairly handle the student code of conduct in coming meetings."

Related:Much more on gangs and school violence.

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Adult Supervision

Charles Sykes:

One of the classic books on college pranks is memorably titled, "If At All Possible, Involve a Cow." These days we probably need to add, "And Bring a Lawyer."

The Christian Science Monitor reports that colleges across the country now require permits or permission slips for undergraduate pranks. This was perhaps inevitable: First they came for dodgeball. Then tag. How long could something as spontaneous and fun as the prank escape?

Educational administrators justify the new prank rules by invoking 9/11, though most college pranks have as much to do with terrorism as a greased pig in the hallway has to do with the invasion of Poland. But the war on spontaneity continues.

In Cincinnati, the nannies who run the Little League have decided to ban chatter on the diamond. The league president explained: "If you're saying, 'Swing, batter,' and this poor little kid is swinging at everything, he feels bad and maybe he turns to the catcher and gets mad. Honest to gosh, I didn't have any trouble doing this."

A Colorado Springs elementary school is one of the latest to ban tag on its playground. Running will still be allowed as long as there is no chasing. The ban wasn't the idea of overprotective educrats -- it was the result rather of children and their parents who "complained that they'd been chased or harassed against their will." Other schools have already banned swings, merry-go-rounds, teeter-totters, crawl tubes, sandboxes and even hugs.

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Waukesha County School Patrols Discussed

Scott Williams:

Some county supervisors are trying to cut the Sheriff's Department budget next year in hopes of forcing the department to demand more funding from the schools.

Sheriff's officials contend the school assignments are routine patrol decisions that should be left to law enforcement.

But critics of the program say the schools are getting special treatment and county taxpayers should not have to pay for it.

"There's something wrong here," said Supervisor Rodell Singert of Vernon, who is proposing a $200,000 cut in the sheriff's budget next year.

Some supervisors say they are willing to see no sheriff's deputies inside Arrowhead High School and others, if the school districts are unwilling to pay the bill.

Singert said having deputies patrol school grounds is "a substitute" for having school administrators capable of maintaining order in the facilities.

"I'd rather put teachers in the classrooms for that kind of money," he added.

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November 9, 2007

Drama at East and West

Need a Little Drama in Your Life?

Come support the drama communities at East and West!

At West HS [Map] -- "I Hate Hamlet"
Friday, November 9, 7:30
Saturday, November 10, 7:30
Tickets $5.00

At East HS [Map] -- "The Crucible"
Thursday, November 15, 7:30
Friday, November 16, 7:30
Saturday, November 17, 2:30 and 7:30
Tickets $5.00

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Wright Middle School Celebrates 10 years with Give Us 10! Campaign


Students and staff at James C. Wright Middle School will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the charter school through a Give Us 10! campaign. Wright students will read 10 books outside of the classroom curriculum and then create a mural showcasing their hand prints and the book titles they’ve read. This colorful symbol of student achievement will be showcased in the LMC at Wright.

Community members are welcome to join in the celebration by honoring students who reach the ten book goal. They can show their support by contributing $10 to the Wright Middle School Endowment at the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools, so they too can Give Us 10!

Contributions to the Wright Endowment can be made online through the Foundation's web site at then choose “Give a Gift Today,” select Wright Middle School, and designate for Give Us 10!. The campaign will be held throughout the 2007-08 school year.

Wright Middle School is a 6-8th grade charter school in the Madison Metropolitan School District. Social Action is the central theme for the school's curriculum. The school is one of the most diverse in the district with over 90% of the students being children of color. More than 85% of Wright families qualify for free and reduced lunch.

For more information, contact: Jill Cohan, Instructional Technology teacher, or Nancy Evans, Wright Middle School Principal. Both can be reached at 204-1340.

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Malcolm Gladwell talks about our working future

Rebecca Dube:

If you feel like work is getting harder, it's not just your imagination, says Malcolm Gladwell.

The bestselling author of Blink and The Tipping Point says the mental demands of the workplace are steadily growing — and we're all going to have to smarten up if we want to succeed.

"I'm quite prepared for the possibility that the next revolution is not going to come from a machine," says Mr. Gladwell, 44, a staff writer for New Yorker magazine, who has carved out his own niche as a business guru. "It's going to come from creating a more thoughtful work force and giving people the opportunity to be thoughtful."

Among his recommendations: Business leaders should get more involved in education policy debates, Canada should consider other countries' models for teaching advanced mathematics, and hiring managers should stop looking for a perfect fit when scouting for employees.

When you say that the cognitive demands of the workplace will be growing, what do you mean?

We will require, from a larger and larger percentage of our work force, the ability to engage in relatively complicated analytical and cognitive tasks. So it's not that we're going to need more geniuses, but the 50th percentile is going to have to be better educated than they are now. We're going to have to graduate more people from high school who've done advanced math, is a very simple way of putting it.

Math Forum Audio / Video.

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The ongoing debate over going it alone

Lorraine Ali:

Sloan found herself single at 41, though she'd always considered herself "definitely the marrying kind." Determined to become a mother, the Brooklyn-based writer inseminated herself with sperm from an unknown donor she refers to as No. 2, "a tall, handsome green-eyed actor (Favorite color: blue. Favorite pet: dogs)" in the attic of her conservative family's Kennebunkport, Maine, summer house. Sloan now has a 16-month-old son, and uses her experience—as well as those of almost 50 more unpartnered, educated and financially independent straight and gay females over 30—to propel her humorous "how to" book for aspiring single moms. She offers practical advice on choosing the right donor and informing prospective grandparents in chapters titled "Oops, I Forgot to Have a Baby" and "Trysts With the Turkey Baster."

Sloan's amusing take on this provocative subject is already spurring caustic feedback online, though it's the lightest offering among several recent books that include Rosanna Hertz's academic account, "Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice," and Mikki Morrissette's firsthand account/guide, "Choosing Single Motherhood." "We're in a transition period—people are not just getting married because that's what you do if you want to have kids," says Sloan. "Women now have careers, are financially independent and waiting until they find the right guy. Most of us want to meet the perfect person and live happily ever after, but sometimes we don't."

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November 8, 2007

Seeking Parents' Help in Saving a Great Elementary School Program

The program is a small, mixed-age classroom for first through third graders at the Montessori Children's House on Madison's west side, where my eldest child currently attends preschool. It is in danger of being eliminated because of diminishing enrollment. I think that this would be a horrible loss to many academically talented children who would do so well there. They do so many things right there, such as:

  • Nurturing, home-like environment in which intense curiosity is normal
  • Mixed-age classroom, which encourages children to work at their own pace
  • Elegant learning materials
  • Freedom of movement and plenty of outside time
  • Freedom to follow their own intellectual curiosity
  • No busy work
  • No homework (unless the child chooses to keep working on something after school)
  • Emphasis on peace and global citizenship
  • Healthy snacks provided, healthy lunch to be brought from home
  • Parental involvement welcomed (the school is a parent run co-op)
As a small community, it would only take a few more children to keep the program viable. If you are the parent of a child who would benefit from such an environment, would you please look at the school's website
and maybe take some time to observe the classroom?

Our family is committed to public schools, and we know that a school district needs talented kids and engaged families to thrive. This program would allow kids to integrate back into the public schools at a fairly young age, while protecting and nurturing them through a critical period of development.

Upon re-reading this message, it sounds like I'm making a blatant marketing pitch (which, frankly, I am). Please forgive me and understand that my only interest in the program is that it survive so that it is an option for my two children, ages 4 and 1, when they are old enough to need it. I hope that there are a few families here who might find a home there. Sincerely, Dawn M. Rappold []

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Latest MMSD Today is Online


A few articles:

  • Susie Hobart: "Sa—Wa—Dee—Ka": Fulbright Hayes Scholar, Summer 2007"
  • Anxiety. Excitement. Anticipation. As I stuffed my sweatshirt into my carry-on, I worked up a smile for the immigration camera and customs officer. It was midnight, and he graciously greeted me with my first SA WA DEE KA ("Hello and how are you, ma'am,") and asked me my business in Thailand.

    I told him I was on an educational exchange. Satisfied, he stamped the king's logo on my passport.

    I moved past security, sweating in the steamy 98 degree heat, scanning the crowded area. I was finally one of those people met by someone with a sign in the airport! There it was — FULBRIGHT!

    Over the next month and a half, that word would become comfortably familiar as it was flown from every door, meeting hall and school as I traveled with 14 teachers in Thailand and Viet Nam.

  • Principals for a Day
  • What is it like being a Principal?

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WestFest 2007: 11/17/2007 1 to 5p.m.

Introducing WestFest - an assortment of vendors with a variety of products all in one place, designed to make shopping easier for you! The best part of all is that your purchases will directly benefit West High clubs, sports, PTSO & MWABA.
200K PDF Flyer. Map

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Free online materials could save schools billions

Greg Toppo:

Since March, Dixon Deutsch and his students have been quietly experimenting with a little website that could one day rock the foundation of how schools do business.
A K-2 teacher at Achievement First Bushwick Elementary Charter School in Brooklyn, N.Y., Deutsch, 28, has been using, a reading instruction program that allows him to download, copy and share lessons with colleagues.

He can visit the website and comment on what works and what doesn't. He can modify lessons to suit his students' needs and post the modifications online: Think of a cross between a first-grade reading workbook and Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia written and edited by users.

If Deutsch wants to see a lesson taught by someone who already has mastered it, he clicks on a YouTube video linked to the site and sees a short demo. "I find it's more teacher-friendly than a textbook," he says.

Related: Open Source Reading Instruction.

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Nicholas Meier:

At a party of a friend recently I got into a discussion with someone about education and the use of computer technology. The person I was conversing with suggested that educational software could and should be developed to relieve teachers of the technical aspects of teaching. Why should each teacher have to figure out how to teach reading or arithmetic when the best minds could solve that problem and create a computer program to teach the children these basic skills? Having software relieve teachers of this technical aspect of teaching, he argued, would free teachers to do the work that needed human interaction teaching critical and creative thinking. This suggestion makes me uncomfortable.

We agree that helping students to learn to use their minds well, in critical and creative ways, is given far too little attention in the large majority of classrooms. This is especially true in classrooms serving low-income and minority students. Because these students generally do less well on standardized tests, the schools that serve them are pressured to focus on raising those test scores.

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Learning Goes Beyond School Hours at Mimosa Elementary

Bill Sanders:

"I didn't have any of my own children at the time when I started doing this," Guy said. "The program started through our church and I thought investing time instead of just writing a check would be a great way to give back."

At many schools, Guy would stand out as a hero for his volunteerism.

Here, he's a star, but stars don't stand out. There's just too many of them.

Mimosa Elementary, a public kindergarten through fifth-grade Fulton County elementary school, bills itself as The Little School That Could.

The school is a throwback of sorts — or maybe it's a look ahead. Despite its 808 students, it is a place where everyone knows your name. It is the community-gathering place, catering to children and adults, where people look after each other. That's mostly by design, said Principal Cheryl Williams, who has worked 17 years at the school, the past three as principal. As the community around Mimosa changed, so did the needs of the students and the parents.

The more Mimosa got involved in the community, the more at ease parents became. And with time, the easier it got for Mimosa to apply for, and receive, grant money to offset the costs of some of the before-school and after-school programs.

"Mimosa's success is because of how the staff here and the teachers support the kids," Williams said. "There are nights when I have to make teachers leave the building at 8:30 or 9 at because they were still here doing some kind of volunteer work."

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Too Much TV Can Raise Kids' Blood Pressure

HealthDay News:

Obese kids who develop hypertension may be watching far too much television, a new study suggests.

The finding "illustrates the need for considerable physician and family involvement to decrease TV time among obese children," study author Dr. Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, associate professor of pediatrics at University of California, San Diego, said in a prepared statement.

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November 7, 2007

"Blowing the Lid Off Reading Achievement": Putting All the Pieces Together Audio/Video

Karin Chenoweth

mp3 audio file

Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz

mp3 audio file
October 12/13 Conference Information:
Extraordinary progress in understanding the nature of reading and dyslexia, including their neural underpinnings, have direct implications for the earlier and more accurate identification and more effective treatment of dyslexia. This presentation focuses on these discoveries and their translation into clinical practices for overcoming dyslexia and for appreciating the sea of strengths associated with dyslexia.

Click on the photos to watch the video, or download the mp3 audio files.
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Video/Audio: Madison United for Academic Excellence Meeting on Charter Schools 10/29/2007

mp3 audio file
Paula Sween and Dory Witzeling from the Odyssey-Magellan charter school for gifted students in grades 3-8 in Appleton and Senn Brown of the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association participated in a recent Madison United for Academic Excellence event. Ms. Sween was one of the founders of the Odyssey-Magellan program. She is currently the TAG Curriculum Coordinator for the Appleton school district. Ms. Witzeling is a teacher and parent at the school.

Click on the photo to view the video.

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Dane County, WI AP High School Course Comparison

A quick summary of Dane County, WI High School 2007-2008 AP Course Offerings (source - AP Course Audit):

  • Abundant Life Christian School (3 Courses)
  • Cambridge (1)
  • DeForest (7)
  • Madison Country Day (International Baccalaureate - IB. However, Madison Country Day is not listed on the approved IB World website.)
  • Madison East (11)
  • Madison Edgewood (11)
  • Madison LaFollette (10)
  • Madison Memorial (17)
  • Madison West (5+1 2nd Year Calculus which "prepares students for the AP BC exam")
  • Marshall (5)
  • McFarland (6)
  • Middleton - Cross Plains (7)
  • Monona Grove (7)
  • Mount Horeb (5)
  • Oregon (9)
  • Sauk Prairie (10)
  • Stoughton (6)
  • Sun Prairie (13)
  • Verona (10)
  • Waunakee (6)
  • Wisconsin Heights (6)
Links and course details are available here.

Related: Dual Enrollment, Small Learning Communities and Part and Full Time Wisconsin Open Enrollment.

Via a kind reader's email.

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Parents & School District Clash in Galveston

Rhiannon Meyers:

The public school district has officially demanded that parent Sandra Tetley remove what it says is libelous material from her Web site or face a lawsuit for defamation.

Tetley received a letter Monday from the district’s law firm demanding she remove what it termed libelous statements and other “legally offensive” statements posted by her or anonymous users, and refrain from allowing such postings in the future. If she refuses, the district plans to sue her, the demand letter states.

Tetley said she’ll review the postings cited by David Feldman of the district’s firm Feldman and Rogers. She’ll consider the context of the postings and consult attorneys before deciding what to delete.

“If it’s not worth keeping in there, I’ll take it out,” she said. “If in fact it is libelous, I have no problem taking it down.”

Libel Or Opinion?

Feldman said Tetley’s Web site — — contained the most “personal, libelous invective directed toward a school administrator” he’s seen in his 31-year career.

More here.

Galveston Alliance for Neighborhood Schools website.

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Open Source Reading Instruction

Free-Reading is an “open source” instructional program that helps teachers teach early reading. Because it's open source, it represents the collective wisdom of a wide community of teachers and researchers. It's designed to contain a scope and sequence of activities that can support and supplement a typical “core” or “basal” program.
Via a reader's email.

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Educational Rewards

Paul Peterson & Matthew Chingos:

For-profit management of public schools is still in its infancy, and many wonder whether it can have a positive effect on student learning. In Philadelphia, that idea has been put to the test. The results, as we report in a paper issued last Friday by the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance, would not surprise Adam Smith.

The 18th-century economist explained that those who need to make a profit have strong incentives to do well by their customers. But can Smith's theory actually work when one is talking about educating students in the most challenging of urban schools -- at the very heart of a major metropolis? The answer appears to be yes.

When for-profit management of public schools was first proposed in Philadelphia six years ago, many in that city were extremely skeptical, if not aggressively hostile. So the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, the entity responsible for the innovation, gave only the 30 lowest performing schools to for-profit companies, while another 16 were given to nonprofit organizations, including two of the city's major universities (Temple and the University of Pennsylvania). Others were reorganized by the school district itself.

Impact of For-Profit and Non-Profit Management on Student Achievement: The Philadelphia Experiment 200K PDF.

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Is iTunes U for You?

Jeffrey Selingo:

In an empty classroom on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Walter H.G Lewin, a physics professor, is practicing one of his lectures on the science of everyday phenomena.

Lewin has been teaching at MIT since the 1960s, and his courses are legendary among generations of students there. But he wants to get this lecture -- where he dives into the science of rainbows, musical instruments and pacemakers -- exactly right. The audience is not just his students at MIT. It could be anyone around the world with access to a computer and Apple's iTunes store.

MIT is one of 28 colleges that have posted courses, campus speeches and other events on a section of iTunes known as iTunes U. Since the site was launched last spring with 16 institutions, material from it has been downloaded more than 4 million times.

Unlike other offerings from Apple's music store, where songs cost 99 cents, everything on iTunes U is free. Penn State University offers instruction on information management. Users can download a general chemistry class from Seattle Pacific University, a lecture on the psychosocial aspects of health care from Northeastern University or a class on Ben Franklin from Stanford University. (No universities in the Washington area participate.)

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School boundary initiative likely would boost test scores in seven affected buildings

Mike Sherry:

If a school boundary initiative in western Independence and Sugar Creek succeeds, test scores in the seven contested buildings may indeed increase right off the bat.

But that won’t necessarily demonstrate that the Independence School District is superior to the Kansas City School District.

A Kansas City Star analysis of test-score data suggests that Independence would generally inherit more of the higher-performing students from the seven buildings, leaving more of the tougher educational challenges to the Kansas

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How Integration Has Increased

Bruce Murphy:

Last week, the Journal Sentinel did a story on the increase in integration in the Brown Deer school system. The story was a classic example of how a newspaper goes from day to day reporting without connecting the dots between different stories. Indeed, in this case, even the dots within that one story weren’t quite connected.

For years, the media has reported gloom-and-doom reports by academics about the “resegregation” of school systems. Gary Orfield, now at UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, has for two decades been telling America – and Milwaukee – how rotten we’re doing.

But here’s a simple question: How could the nation – and Milwaukee – be undergoing a process of becoming more segregated when the percentage of minorities in the country keeps going up? Sheer math tells you more integration would likely be occurring.

And, in many ways, that is exactly what’s happening. From 1994 to 2006, the percent of white students nationally attending schools that were at least 95 percent white dropped from 34 percent to 21 percent. In general, schools are getting more integrated, and Wisconsin had the fifth-largest decline in whites going to nearly all-white schools – a pretty positive trend.

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Police Will Be At Barneveld Schools Wednesday

The Barneveld School District said it will continue to have a police presence Wednesday.

Schools officials said they have identified the student they said is responsible for making a threat about a shooting set to occur later this week. District officials said that the graffiti was found on a bathroom wall.

District Superintendent Joe Bertone said that the student has been suspended pending an expulsion hearing from the school board.

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Wendy Warren

Katy Vine:

Warren was born and raised in New York but has lived in Houston for more than twenty years. She is an eleventh-grade U.S. history teacher at Hastings High School, in the Alief Independent School District, which serves one of the state’s most ethnically diverse student populations. More than sixty languages and dialects are spoken by the area’s children.

I was in the corporate world for fifteen years before I made the switch to teaching. I worked in the Texas Medical Center doing professional billing and consulting. My career was going really well; I made good money and all that. But at about year ten, I was feeling that there had to be something more rewarding. So I went back to school, and after getting my teaching certification, I completed a master’s in education. Some people thought I was crazy to work longer hours—and with teenagers!

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Wanted: Parents

Ellen Guettler and Catherine Winter:

Advocates for kids are trying to persuade more families to adopt teenagers. If teenagers in foster care don't find permanent families, they face a grim future. They "age out" of foster care, usually when they turn 18 years old, and many wind up on the streets. Every year, more than 24,000 American young people age out of foster care.

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Bridging Gaps in Colleges Is Goal: Florida’s State University System is part of a plan to help minority and low-income students

Luis Zaragoza:

Florida and 18 other public university systems are pledging to increase the number of minority and low-income students who graduate from college. The initiative responds to a wide gap between the graduation rates for minority and low-income students and those for more affluent white students. Regardless of income, black and Hispanic students obtain bachelor’s degrees at lower rates: 41 percent for both minority groups, compared with 64 percent for white students, 2006 U.S. Department of Education statistics show. Schools across the country plan to beef up remedial education and financial-aid programs to cut that difference in half by 2015, participants said during a Wednesday news conference.

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November 6, 2007

Sun Prairie Will Get A New High School


un Prairie School District has spent the past few years warning residents that the schools there are becoming too crowded as the city expands.

This referendum wasn't the first, but it was the first to pass. The District will get a new High School that will house 10th, 11th and 12th graders. The current High School will be used for 8th and 9th grade.

It's a $96 million dollar cost for the new school.

Meanwhile, West Bend's $119M referendum was defeated 62.6% to 37.4%.

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If only the good news about Wisconsin education was true

Roger Frank Bass:

Finally, there was some really good news about education. According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the percentage of proficient readers in the third grade had increased from 64.8% in 1998 to 87.4% in 2005. And this improvement was broad-based - every minority group advanced substantially.

If only it were true

Deception No. 1: Test questions, their scoring and definitions of "proficiency" changed constantly. The number of test items, the kinds of items (multiple choice vs. short answer) and their content varied every year the test was given. The score needed for proficiency dropped more than 40%, from 50 in 1998 to 29 in 2005.

That sleight of hand entailed complex statistics to estimate how hard the revised test might be for the next crop of third-graders. That estimate, rather than criteria for effective reading, became the cutoff for proficiency. Obviously, even if mathematics could prove that two tests are equally hard, changing the questions every year meant that subsequent tests weren't assessing the same thing. The tests were apples and oranges, and the mathematics a red herring.

Deception No. 2: Reading skills were less important than student guessing, and the test's margin of error. Fifty-three of the test's 58 items were multiple choice with four possible answers. So on average, students guessed 13 answers correctly. In addition, the test's margin of error was six points.

Now remember, only 29 correct were needed for "proficiency" in 2005. So with 13 for guessing and six for test error, we have 19 of those 29 (65%). And that's only the beginning. The statistical estimates of proficiency contributed additional error margins that were never added to the students' scores.

Besides that, schools teaching to the test add even more points. Then there's this: To move up from being a "minimal" reader to a "basic" reader required only 14 points - one more than random guessing and far less than guessing plus the error margins just described. The assessment data say more about the test than student reading.

Deception No. 3: Data on ethnic groups. The third-grade data reported by the DPI indicated that, from 1998 to 2005, every minority improved between 20% and 44%. But yearly average increases ranged from only 2.5% to 5.5%, less than the test's margin of error.

That means each year's improved scores could have resulted from testing error and how well students were prepared to take the test - not improved reading. And even if we concede the reality of those 2.5% to 5.5% improvements, they are still minuscule compared with what's obtained with well-researched reading programs. There was no reason to celebrate those data in the first place.

So what do the data tell us?

One, nobody knows how well those third-graders read and, according to the state, third-grade test data don't predict student reading levels even a year later. That makes sense: Without an accurate measure of current reading skills, how could we predict future performance?

Two, parents need an independent, deception-free appraisal of student learning.

Three, decades of research on education's fads amply demonstrate how those boom-to-bust cycles last about five to seven years. The third-grade test was used seven years - it was junked right on schedule following its retirement party, where the state school superintendent declared, "When people come together, we can see results," according to a July 13, 2005, article in the Journal Sentinel.

Why should we assume that the agency responsible for that third-grade test turned in a better performance the next time it evaluated our children and schools?

Roger Frank Bass of Port Washington is a professor of education at Carthage College. His e-mail address is


Much more on testing, here.

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A Long Weekend? How About a Whole Year?

Caren Osten Gerszberg:

WHEN Peter and Jill Feuerstein sit around the dinner table with their teenage children, Betsy and Ben, it’s not unusual for them to have an animated discussion about a remote village in China, India or Zimbabwe. But unlike many people in their hometown of Larchmont, N.Y., the Feuersteins have a personal connection with these places. In June 2002, they embarked on a yearlong journey around the world with their two kids, then ages 14 and 11, in tow.

“The result is that all of these places matter to us now,” Mr. Feuerstein said. “The trip was a watershed experience for all of us.”

They are not alone. A growing number of American families with school-age children are turning their wanderlust into reality, say travel experts. Missions to expose children to cultural diversity and spend quality time together are among the reasons some parents are willing to exchange violin lessons and after-school sports for, say, a chance to dig for sapphires in New Zealand or to learn about land mines in Laos.

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Seven Warnings and One Mistake in High School Reform

Jay Matthews:

I receive many reports on how to improve our schools. This is an occupational hazard. Reading them is often confusing, depressing, disorienting and maddening. But there is no help for it. The academic papers, commission recommendations and task force action plans are usually written by some of the smartest experts in the country. They have stuff I need to know, so I plow through them.

It is best that I be vague, however, about what the margins of these reports look like after I have finished with them. I have just gone through, for instance, a paper by two leading experts, W. Norton Grubb of the University of California, Berkeley, and Jeannie Oakes of the University of California, Los Angeles. I looked forward to reading their report, "'Restoring Value' to the High School Diploma: The Rhetoric and Practice of Higher Standards. 432K PDF" It was published by the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University. They focus on the push for rigor in high schools and argue that the discussion spends too much time on narrow definitions of rigor, based on test scores and demanding courses, and ignores other conceptions, such as more sophisticated levels of understanding and the ability to apply learning in unfamiliar settings.

The authors write well and know their stuff. Nonetheless, here are some of the words I wrote on the margins: "stupid," "so what?" "no! no!" "recipe for disaster," "booo!" "who cares?" and a few others I may not quote on a family Web site.

Ordinarily, I would use this column to flay Grubb and Oakes for disagreeing with me on how to fix high schools, my favorite topic. But I am writing this on a lovely Saturday, with the leaves turning and the birds happily washing themselves in the little puddles left by my garden-watering wife. Why don't I, just this once, write about this report's good points? They include at least seven astute warnings about sloppy thinking in the high school reform debate. Here they are, plus one mistake in their thinking that I could not resist trashing.


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New Study Gives Hovering College Parents Extra Credit

Jay Matthews:

Despite the negative reputation of "helicopter parents," those moms and dads who hover over children in college and swoop into their academic affairs appear to be doing plenty of good.

That's the conclusion of one of the nation's most respected college surveys in a report, to be released today, that experts call the first to examine the effects of helicopter parenting.

Data from 24 colleges and universities gathered for the National Survey of Student Engagement show that students whose parents were very often in contact with them and frequently intervened on their behalf "reported higher levels of engagement and more frequent use of deep learning activities," such as after-class discussions with professors, intensive writing exercises and independent research, than students with less-involved parents.

The 2007 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE)

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Learning and inequality

The Economist:

Good news: the education gap between men and women is narrowing

FEW things have been more true, and more universally believed, than that women get the rough end of life in poor countries. They bear the burden of child-rearing and a disproportionate share of the work of running the household, and rarely have real equality before the law. Social preferences for boys over girls are deep-seated: in China and north-western India, around 120 baby boys survive to age four for every 100 baby girls.

Yet the sexual balance of power in the world is changing, slowly but surely. New evidence can be found in the 2007 World Development Indicators from the World Bank. It is something to celebrate.

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The making of a UPS driver
When big brown found that its twentysomething drivers were flunking out in droves, it had a serious problem on its hands: how to train generation y for a hard blue-collar job.

Nadira Hira:

It's 9:45 A.M., and at 93 degrees and 1,000% humidity, Saddle Brook, N.J., feels more like the Serengeti than suburbia. I'm in a doorless truck, wearing high-waisted shorts, facing a day full of handcarts and heavy boxes. When I arose at 5:45 this morning - an hour I haven't seen the daytime side of since ... ever - the day had something of the adventurous about it. Like more of my Generation Y peers than one might expect, I'd never worn a uniform, or even properly nine-to-fived it for that matter, and here at last was my chance.

UPS would soon fix me, though. At 8:15, after touring the huge open warehouse of concrete and conveyor belts that is UPS's Saddle Brook center, I met Vincent "Vinny" Plateroti, a UPS "driver service provider," or DSP - that's UPS for driver - of 21 years and my escort for the day. At 8:45, we attended the "pre-work communications meeting," or PCM - UPS for morning meeting - which included reports from the previous day and a short but detailed lecture on hydration.

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Fear and Allergies in the Lunchroom

Claudia Kalb:

About 11 million Americans suffer from food allergies, and their numbers are climbing. Allergists also say they’re seeing more children with multiple allergies. Why do allergies appear to be on the rise? One of the most intriguing theories, dubbed the “hygiene hypothesis,” is that we’ve all become too clean. The immune system is designed to battle dangerous foreign invaders like parasites and viruses and infections. But clean water, antibiotics and vaccines have eliminated some of our most toxic challenges. Research even posits that kids born by Caesarean section, which have risen 40 percent in the last decade, could be at higher risk for allergies, perhaps because they were never exposed to healthy bacteria in their mothers’ birth canals.

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Report: Parents Taking a More Active Role in Raising Children


Teachers and politicians have been clamoring for years for parents to get more involved with their children. The message appears to be getting through - at least to some.

Parents are setting greater restrictions on TV watching and are reading more to youngsters than they did a decade ago, the government reported Wednesday.

They are also encouraging more participation in extracurricular activities that focus on education, according to the report.

The findings suggest adults are reacting to a more dangerous world, while parents and students are dealing with increased competition to get into good colleges, experts said.

"Whether it's a realistic panic or not, things like school shootings or child abductions or pedophile predators, that has a certain group of American parents pretty worried," said Angela Hattery, a sociology professor at Wake Forest University.

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Double Jeopardy: Repeat Births to Teens; One in Five Teens Giving Birth are Already Mothers

David Carrier:

What is worse than having a baby as a teenager? For one in five teens giving birth, it is having another baby as a teen. A new Child Trends research brief reveals that 20 percent of births to female teens between the ages of 15 and 19 in 2004 were to teens who were already mothers.

The brief, Repeat Teen Childbearing: Differences Across States and by Race and Ethnicity, highlights state-level data on second and higher order births. The proportion of teen births that are repeat births in each state tends to mirror overall teen birth rates:

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November 5, 2007

Academic Achievement

By Michael Strand

Critics with a bent for sarcasm, for years, have derided the No Child Left Behind law by giving it what they think is a more descriptive title.

No Child Allowed Ahead, they call it.

And it's not hard to see why. Newspapers and news magazines across the country have documented state after state and district after district gutting or eliminating millions of dollars in funding for programs for their highest-achieving students, diverting that money into programs for low-achieving students in order to meet the mandates of the law.

"I don't think we've seen a tremendous change in our district, for which I'm grateful," said Salina School Board president Carol Brandert, who later described the situation as "fortunate."

If Brandert -- a former English teacher well-known for being a stickler for using the right word -- is using words that sound oddly passive, there's a reason.

The question of cutting programs for top students has never come up, she said.

When Kay Scheibler first started heading the gifted program at Salina Central High School, 13 states mandated programs for top students. Today, Kansas is the only state with such a mandate.

"It's mandated, so we're not going to see any major changes without some legislative action," she said.

"We're unique, one out of 50," confirmed Kansas Commissioner of Education Alexa Posny.

State law regarding those formally identified by their school as gifted closely parallels that for special education students, even using the same terminology -- gifted students have an "Individual Education Plan."

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Challenges welcome at school

Patrick McILheran:

I wrote on Friday that St. Anthony's, largest elementary school in Milwaukee's choice program, shows that parents will opt for rigor. It shows, as well, that choice schools can handle difficult cases.

Virtually all of St. Anthony's students are from low-income families. About 98% come from homes where Spanish is the language, says Principal Ramon Cruz. Many come, he says, because of St. Anthony's approach to language.

You wouldn't think that. Classes are not bilingual. The school is an immersion in English from the first day. Parents want this, says Cruz. They can get the alternative, having their children taught for at least a while in Spanish, at the nearby public school.

"The parents come to me and say, 'We want the kids to learn the English language,' " says Cruz, an ex-MPS principal for whom English is a second language.

So tots in 4-year-old kindergarten are working on their English vocabulary. Nearby, another group works with a Spanish-fluent aide, in English, on letter names. They'll start to read by January, says school president Terry Brown.

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Rethinking How to Teach the New Teachers

Denise Caruso:

SCHOOL enrollments are increasing year by year, but qualified teachers are leaving the classroom in droves. More than a million veteran teachers are nearing retirement, and more will follow.

More than two million new teachers will be needed in the next decade alone, according to the National Education Association, and we should hope that they start lining up soon.

Economic research shows that an educated work force is the foundation of a stable economy. A good education does more than just increase a person’s earning potential. Studies find that regions that produce well-educated high school graduates have a higher rate of business start-ups and more economic activity. Graduates also provide communities with a continuing pool of taxpaying labor.

As teacher rosters shrink, the question is this: How long will such regions be able to hold onto those benefits?

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MIT's Open Courseware Updates

Updated this fall with the publication of nearly all MIT courses.

Courses by Department. What a fabulous resource.

Madison's approach to this issue.

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Utah: At $8.4M, school voucher fight costlier than last governor's race

Robert Gehrke:

The campaign clash over education vouchers has run up a tab that easily would fund Utah's voucher program well into its second year.

The more than $8 million in campaign expenditures, reported to the Lieutenant Governor's Office on Tuesday, included $2.6 million alone from Utah-based's Chief Executive Officer Patrick Byrne and family.

The contributions from Byrne and his parents, John and Dorothy, made up three-quarters of the $3.5 million pro-voucher forces raised since September. Earlier in the campaign, Byrne gave $290,000.

"I have been lucky to be the recipient of the American dream," Byrne said. "Whether you want to become a teacher or artist, an entrepreneur or doctor, having a great education is one of the keys to reaching dreams."

The voucher program, which narrowly passed in the Legislature, must survive a referendum on Tuesday to be enacted.

Fundraising and spending between Oct. 27 and the election won't be disclosed until January, under requirements of Utah law.

Most of the spending on both sides went to pay for the relentless campaigns that have targeted residents through TV, radio, newspapers, billboards and direct-mail ads.

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Wingra School proves that progressive education works. Could it be a model for a public charter school?

Jason Shephard:

Inside Wingra School, the day is just beginning, and already Lisa Kass is commandeering a discussion about violence sparked by storyboards written by her fourth- and fifth-grade students.

"Why do you play violent videogames?" she asks. "Do you think the violence affects you?" This leads to a 45-minute discussion that temporarily pushes back a math lesson.

"It's cartoon violence, it's not real violence," says one boy. "Well, really the goal is to kill people," admits another. That, says a third student, is why he plays mostly strategy videogames.

The students at Wingra are articulate, reflective and eager to share their opinions. They refine their thoughts as Kass prods them to be more specific or clearer.

Kass, a 19-year veteran Wingra teacher, says later: "I don't want to censor them, but I want them to think about what's appropriate and what effects violence might have on them and others."


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Columbia (Missouri) Parents for Real Math

Math Excellence in Columbia Missouri Public Schools:

To: Columbia Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Phyllis Chase

An increasing number of parents and community leaders have expressed concern about the various math curricula currently used in the Columbia Public Schools (CPS). These experimental math programs go by the names of Investigations (TERC), Connected Math (CMP) and Integrated Math (Core Plus) and they emphasize "self-discovery" over mathematical competency. We are concerned because these curricula have been discredited and abandoned in other regions of the country after they failed to deliver demonstrable results. The failed curricula are currently the only method of instruction in the elementary grades and middle schools. At higher grade levels, CPS has actively discouraged students from enrolling in math courses that place more emphasis on widely accepted standard methods. And, while implementing and evaluating these programs, the Columbia School District did not provide open access to meetings or adequately consider the concerns of professional mathematicians, parents and community leaders.

Therefore, we, the undersigned, would like to express our deep concern with the following issues and to propose that the Columbia School District adopt the following goals:

1. Protect the right of students to become computationally fluent in mathematics. We expect students to receive direct instruction in standard algorithms of all mathematical operations and laws of arithmetic so that they can master the skills that allow fast, accurate calculation of basic problems. This goal cannot be met with the current Investigations/TERC math curriculum for lower grade levels.

2. Ensure that math instruction is flexible enough to allow for various learning styles and is age and grade-level appropriate. The elementary level should focus on math standards that will build a solid base of mathematical skills for ALL students. Middle school curricula should build a bridge between the fundamental arithmetic learned in elementary school and the more abstract concepts taught in high school. At both the elementary and middle school levels the curricula should allow teachers the flexibility to meet the needs of all types of learners. This goal cannot be met with the Connected Math program currently used in middle and junior high schools.

Related: Columbia Parents' blog site, which offers a number of useful posts. [RSS]

Math Forum Audio / Video.

Via a reader.

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Running Start gives high-schoolers jump-start on college credit

Amy Rolph:

If those college-prep classes feel a little emptier in high school these days, it's because they are. About 10 percent of the students aren't there.

Those 17,000 juniors and seniors aren't truant. They're enrolled at the local community college, getting a jump-start on earning college credit before high school graduation even rolls around.

That's about how many high school students the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges estimates are enrolled in Running Start, the early entrance program that lets qualifying juniors and seniors earn college and high school credit at the same time and without paying anything. Enrollment has grown steadily since the program's launch in 1990 -- so much so that community college officials say it's costing them almost $35 million a year to educate those extra high school students.

Success has its price, and the community colleges will ask the Legislature for $35 million more over five years -- specifically $7 million each year.

"Over time, the Running Start program has grown successfully and the reimbursement the colleges get has stayed the same, while inflation has steadily grown," said Suzy Ames, spokeswoman for the state community college board.

Community colleges are entitled to 70 percent of the money earmarked for each Running Start student, Ames said. But with more students wanting to start college early, the colleges have to add classes, faculty and staff to accommodate them.

Related: Madison's Dual Enrollment Climate.

Running Start.

Celeste Flint:

I don’t think Seattle’s coffee addiction is making our students smarter. High schools have lowered the bar too far, and everybody knows it.

At age 10, American students score well above the international average, but by age 15, when American students are tested against those in 40 other countries, they drop to 25th place, according to an ABC report.

Youth literally get dumber the longer they stay in American schools.

With high school teachers so sensitive to self-esteem issues that they make it impossible to fail, it’s only natural that motivated young people want to get out.

Running Start is the fire escape out of the collapsing American education system. But as a result, the 17,000 Washington Running Start students, many who aren’t quite ready for higher education, are taking a toll on college courses.

Many high school students just don’t have the maturity to handle a real workload, and as a result the dumbing-down continues into college.

Being a transfer student from a community college, I witnessed countless high school students regularly skip classes, not do the homework and then complain until the teacher slowed down the course. Inevitably half the material was re-taught.

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Milwaukee School's 9% Property Tax Increase & School Funding Notes

Alan Borsuk:

In his statement, (Milwaukee Mayor Tom) Barrett says, "School Board members must come to grips with the costs of outstanding obligations and annual operations. Tough, fundamental decisions must be made, and must be made soon."

That is something that was widely acknowledged at the board meeting, even as board members used a way of cutting the levy proposal that did not involve having to decide on cutting any current services in MPS.

The approved budget calls for spending $17.1 million less than Andrekopoulos proposed, but that amount will come from not making some pension and debt service payments that were in the budget for this year. MPS financial chief Michelle Nate said the decision, in itself, will not put pension or debt service funds into difficulty, but it is basically a one-time-only solution. And the overall decisions on the budget and the general forecast for MPS mean major changes will have to be made, she said.

This will be the first time in nine years that MPS will not spend the maximum amount allowed by state law, and board members worried about long-term effects. The less a school district spends, the less it gets in state aid in following years. The $17.1 million cut will mean $6.6 million less in state aid a year from now, Nate said.

That means MPS will start its budget process in spring that much further in trouble. Several board members said painful decisions might have to be made on things such as what level of busing the district can continue to offer.

The board did not debate new spending ideas proposed by Andrekopoulos, including $8 million to reduce high school class sizes and improve programs in areas such as foreign language, music and art; $5 million to improve math achievement; and $300,000 to restore ninth-grade basketball teams at some schools. Those ideas effectively were approved.

Related: "The school district must be more efficient, but political and business leaders must work to fix a flawed state aid formula."

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Autism 'Epidemic' Largely Fueled by Special Ed. Funding, Shift in Diagnosing


A few decades ago, people probably would have said kids like Ryan Massey and Eddie Scheuplein were just odd. Or difficult.

Both boys are bright. Ryan, 11, is hyper and prone to angry outbursts, sometimes trying to strangle another kid in his class who annoys him. Eddie, 7, has a strange habit of sticking his shirt in his mouth and sucking on it.

Both were diagnosed with a form of autism. And it's partly because of children like them that autism appears to be skyrocketing: In the latest estimate, as many as one in 150 children have some form of this disorder. Groups advocating more research money call autism "the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States."

Doctors are concerned there are even more cases out there, unrecognized: The American Academy of Pediatrics last week stressed the importance of screening every kid for autism by age 2.

More here.

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Revisiting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Outcomes At and After Birth

Sai Ma:

Intergroup differences in health can reflect on and result in unequal life opportunities. In particular, racial and ethnic disparities in birth outcomes have long been a concern for both researchers and policy makers. Differences in health at birth are especially critical because they may lead to disparities in health as well as socioeconomic conditions throughout one’s whole life. This dissertation contributes to three aspects of the existing literature regarding race/ethnicity and birth outcomes: First, it uses a propensity scoring estimation method to reassess the differences in birth outcomes across racial/ethnic groups. The result suggests the use of OLS may not be a practical concern, although propensity score estimation shows its own advantages and thus should be used as sensitivity analysis to complement OLS. Second, an examination of biracial infants shows that father’s race and ethnicity are relatively unimportant, but the presence of unreported fathers has a strong association with birth outcomes, which might be a source of bias in existing data, and a significant signal of potential post-birth health problems. Finally, this research investigates the competing power of different birth outcome measures as predictors of infant mortality. The results show that the importance of risk factors and birth outcome measures varies by race/ethnicity, gender, and time, which suggests a need to tailor prevention and education efforts, especially during the postneonatal period. These results, taken in combination, lead to the conclusion that policy makers need to not only continue focusing on closing the recognized gap between black and other racial/ethnic groups in birth outcomes, but also pay more attention to subpopulations that are traditionally not considered as at risk and certain time periods that are previously regarded as less risky.

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November 4, 2007

Parents prove charter schools work

Scott Milfred:

The magic of charter schools isn't so much the innovation they strive to achieve. The magic is the effect these schools have on parents.

At the Nuestro Mundo charter school on Madison's East Side, you have to win a lottery to get your child into the program. This is true even for parents like me who live just a few blocks from Allis Elementary School, where Nuestro Mundo (which means "Our World " in Spanish) is housed.

Imagine that -- parents flooding a city school with enrollment applications for their kids. This is the opposite trend that Madison fears and must avoid.

Though rarely discussed in a frank way, Madison is increasingly nervous about middle- to upper-income parents losing faith in city schools and moving to the suburbs. As so many Madison leaders love to say: "As the schools go, so goes the city. " Madison doesn 't want to become Milwaukee.

Related: Where have all the students gone?

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Girls outpace boys on Illinois tests

Stephanie Banchero and Darnell Little:

irls in Illinois grade schools outperformed boys on every state achievement exam last school year, according to a Tribune analysis, a twist in performance that has perplexed state officials and educators across the state.

Historically, girls have scored higher than boys in reading and writing, while boys did better on the science and some of the math exams.

But while Illinois' boys showed modest increases in most subjects and grades in recent years, girls have progressed much more rapidly, according to the 2007 Illinois State Report Card data made public Wednesday.

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Motorcycles and Kids


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A new International Baccalaureate program is raising the game in middle school

Jay Matthews:

The letter published in the Reston Connection four years ago said the program at Langston Hughes Middle School promoted "socialism, disarmament, radical environmentalism, and moral relativism, while attempting to undermine Christian religious values and national sovereignty."

The Middle Years Program, part of the International Baccalaureate system, was just getting started at Langston Hughes, and it wasn't the first time an IB program had been slapped around in Fairfax County. W.T. Woodson High School had thrown out its IB courses in 1999, in part because some parents and teachers thought they were too global and played down American history. Syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell reported in 2004 that Fairfax parents were in revolt against IB. It was an exaggeration, but there was enough of a fight to raise concern about the program's future in the Washington area's biggest school district.

Some parents and teachers at Langston Hughes, and next door at South Lakes High School, where the MYP continued for ninth- and 10th-graders, distrusted a program invented in Switzerland and alien to what they remembered of their own more traditional middle school days. Other parents and teachers thought the MYP was wonderfully rigorous, with its commitment to global awareness, foreign languages and writing. The differences of opinion appeared to reflect tension between Americans who thought the country was too soft and those who thought the country was too dumb.

Who won? A visit to Langston Hughes this fall reveals that the people favoring smarter students have beaten those fearing foreign influence to an apparently invisible pulp. It is hard to find anyone who even remembers when the school's unusual curriculum was considered a threat to American values. Instead, past and present Langston Hughes parents are greeting an unexpected jump in SAT scores at South Lakes -- the biggest this year in Fairfax County -- as proof that they were right to go with the MYP, perhaps the most challenging middle school program in America for non-magnet schools.

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Kids & Parenting Series: Tutors


Parents face challenges every day. Thats why 27 News created the Parenting Project. Its a resource of information for parents of children of all ages. Each week, the Parenting Project provides useful information from experts, professionals, and other parents. Learn about everything from teething... to teenagers... to recall how to find more time in your busy day.
Watch the report: video or listen via this mp3 audio file.

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High school dropouts' price is high

T. Keung Hui:

High school dropouts are costing North Carolina taxpayers millions of dollars each year, according to a new report, but there's sharp disagreement on what is the best way to solve the problem.

The report released Wednesday by the Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation says a single year's group of dropouts costs the state's taxpayers $169 million annually in lost sales tax revenue and higher Medicaid and prison costs. It's the first time a specific dollar figure has been given for the cost of dropouts in this state.

"In additional to the personal consequences it has on dropouts, this has a very real cost for taxpayers," said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. The group instigated the report as part of its efforts to get public money vouchers for students to attend private schools.

The report's recommended solution of using taxpayer-funded vouchers to help students pay for private schools has drawn a sharp dividing line between supporters and critics of public schools.

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November 3, 2007

A Taste of College Work Provides Just the Spark

Anita Weier

A class started by a UW-Madison professor four years ago to give disadvantaged people a university experience has blossomed, resulting in about 40 of 100 "graduates" going on to college at the University of Wisconsin and elsewhere.

It's also inspiring the current Odyssey class of 31, who gather every Wednesday night in a classroom at the Harambee Center in south Madison to stimulate their minds and learn literature and writing techniques, as well as history and philosophy.

"These are people who don't have money but have extraordinary potential. We give them a chance and it's amazing what can happen," literature professor Emily Auerbach said before a recent class began. "This gives them a sense of the riches they can find."

Read more about The Odyssey Project ... and consider making an end-of-year contribution.

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"Identical Strangers’ Explore Nature vs. Nurture"

Joe Richman:

What is it that makes us who we really are? Our life experiences or our DNA? Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein were born and raised in New York City. Both women were adopted as infants and raised by loving families. They met for the first time when they were 35 years old and found they were “identical strangers”: they had been separated as infants as part of a secret research study of identical twins designed to examine the question of nature verses nurture. “When the families adopted these children, they were told that their child was already part of an ongoing child study. But of course, they neglected to tell them the key element of the study, which is that it was child development among twins raised in different homes,” Bernstein said. The results of the study, that ended in 1980, have been sealed until 2066 and given to an archive at Yale University. Of the 13 children involved in the study, three sets of twins and one set of triplets have discovered one another. The other four subjects of the study still do not know they have identical twins.

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Bullying costs school $4M

Colleen Jenkins:

After a bully attacked Danny Heidenberg at Hillel School of Tampa, his parents complained to the principal of the Jewish community day school.

When the bully broke 12-year-old Danny's arm in January 2004, they sued.

On Monday, a Hillsborough jury ordered the school to pay $4-million for failing to keep Danny safe.

Now 16, he has permanent nerve damage in his left hand and likely won't be able to follow in his surgeon parents' footsteps. The verdict sends a strong message to schools, the family's attorney said.

"Schools have to wake up to the point that bullying is serious and supervision is serious," said David Tirella, an attorney with Cohen, Jayson & Foster. "They allowed a bully to escalate."

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Special ed is drawn into exam debate

Liz Bowie:

With thousands of special-education students in Maryland high schools failing the state's graduation exams, parents and advocates are deeply divided about whether these students should have to pass the tests.

The discussion is taking place as part of a larger debate by the state school board over whether all students, beginning with the Class of 2009, must pass High School Assessments in English, algebra, biology and American government before they can receive a diploma.

While about two-thirds or more of students are passing the tests, only about one-third of those in special education are doing so. There are about 30,000 special-education students in Maryland high schools.

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November 2, 2007

Board of Education Progress Report -- October, 2007

I hope your school year is going well. Below is the October BOE update.
If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact myself at or the entire board at

Arlene Silveira

Superintendent Search: Our consultants presented a summary of the
community input sessions on the desired characteristics for a new
superintendent. Read the entire report at
The desired superintendent characteristics approved by the BOE are
also available at this site. The consultant firm is recruiting and
screening candidates and will bring a slate of candidates back to the
BOE in January.

Fine Arts Task Force (FATF): The FATF is seeking community input on
their goals for Fine Arts education. The survey is available at

Referendum: The District will receive an approximate $5.5M windfall
from the city as a result of closing 2 tax incremental districts (TID).
The BOE voted to use this money to close our projected budget gap for
the '08/09 school year. Because we will use the money to close the
projected gap, we also made the decision that we will not go to
referendum in the Spring '08. In the summer of '08, the BOE will begin
discussions of a possible operating referendum to cover the gap for the
'09/10 school year and beyond.

Performance and Achievement Committee: (Lawrie Kobza, Johnny Winston
Jr., Maya Cole). The committee started discussions on different school
models (charter, magnet, neighborhood, etc.). Discussions will continue
in committee. The committee reviewed a plan/proposal to expand our Play
and Learn program by making the program "mobile". Further discussion
will continue at full BOE. The committee began the discussion of
updating district performance goals to make them more measurable and
relevant. The first goal being evaluated is focused on improving
student achievement.

Human Resources Committee: (Johnny Winston Jr., Lawrie Kobza, Beth
Moss). The committee reviewed the results of a study that had been
requested by the BOE to determine how the MMSD Administrator pay and
benefits structure and related policies compare to other selected school
districts in Wisconsin. Discussion will continue in committee.

Communications Committee: (Beth Moss, Lawrie Kobza, Carol Carstensen).
WAES (Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools) made a presentation on
state funding. A legislative update on the state budget was also

Finance and Operations Committee: (Lucy Mathiak, Carol Carstensen, Maya
Cole). The committee took the lead at analyzing the TID and referendum
options and making recommendations to the full BOE for vote (above).

Long Range Planning: (Carol Carstensen, Lucy Mathiak, Beth Moss).
There was a presentation on all of the initiatives in the District's
Energy Management Program. There are many exciting programs in place
across the District. Since our program was put into effect, we have
decreased consumption rates and expenditures. Had we continued to
consume at 1997 consumption rates, our utility expenditures would have
been $4,400,000 more.

Community Partnerships: (Maya Cole, Johnny Winston Jr., Lucy Mathiak).
The committee is in the process of defining "Partnerships". They are
also reviewing the policy on parent involvement in the schools.

Posted by Laurie Frost at 5:28 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School Board Discussion of School Models, Including Basic and Alternative Approaches

The Madison School Board's Performance and Achievement Committee recently discussed alternative education models. Watch the video here (or download the mp4 file via a CTRL Click. mp4 files can be played back on many portable media players such as iPods). Listen via this mp3 audio file.


Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Advertising & Schools

Pat Schneider:

t's just a logo and a phone number, says Arlene Silveira, president of the Madison School Board.

But to members of TAME, Truth and Alternatives to Militarism in Education, the "Army Strong" ad that has cropped up on scoreboards at stadiums and gymnasiums this fall looks a lot like an endorsement of an Army future for Madison high school students.

"Students are at an age to figure out what to do with their lives," parent and TAME member Vicki Berenson said Thursday. "When they see 'Army' on the field every day, it starts to seem normal."

TAME is urging parents and others concerned over military recruitment in the high schools to come to the School Board meeting Monday to protest outside school district headquarters at 545 W. Dayton St., then head inside to sign up at 6:50 p.m. to speak out against the ads.

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Finding Online Homework Help

Wall Street Journal:

With school in full swing, many kids are shouldering hours of nightly homework. When students are stumped, they can turn to their (sometimes clueless) parents or head to a flurry of online homework help sites.

We looked around for sites appropriate for our sixth-grade tester. And we wanted help solving this geometry problem: what is a better buy? A square pizza measuring 8 inches by 8 inches that costs $10 or a round pizza with a 9-inch diameter that also costs $10?

Our first site was Created by the not-for-profit One Economy Corp. as a tool to help low-income families, the site offers easy access to information on a wide range of topics. By clicking on "school" on the home page (none of the other topics looked at all relevant), we got right to homework help. The section is divided into elementary-, middle- and high-school help.

Our answer was just a few clicks away. "Math" in the high-school section took us to, which offered a coherent explanation of how to do the problem along with a "circle calculator" on which to do the arithmetic. We went to "geometry problem solver," then to "geometry-circles," and there was the formula; we plugged in the information we had, the diameter, to get the answer: the square pizza is bigger.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Japanese Lesson: How Do You Say Taken for a Ride?

Yukari Iwatani Kane & Yuka Hayashi:

Fresh out of college, Sam Gordon bought a one-way ticket to Tokyo for a chance to explore Japan's exotic culture while teaching English at the nation's largest language school. All it took to get the job was one simple interview.

The adventure, which began five years ago, has abruptly come to an end. His employer, Nova Corp., hasn't paid him since September. The company closed its operations last week and filed for court protection, following a government crackdown on its business strategy. With $20 left in his bank account, the 28-year-old Mr. Gordon says he is living on his credit card.

"At least I have a big fridge and still have some food in it," says Mr. Gordon. He doesn't want to go home to Milford, Del., just yet, he says, because he'd have to borrow money for the plane ticket.

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


Will Okun:

“C’mon, Nick, it’s nothing bad. I just want to tell your parent what a great job you are doing thus far,” I confided.

“Well, you are going to have to tell me,” Nick asserted. “There is no one here but me. I am my own parent.”

Nicholas Bounds is one of the top students in my Senior English class. He attends school every day, and often arrives to our first period class early. He works dutifully in class and faithfully completes his homework every night. He writes with honesty, intelligence and intensity. He scored a 23 in Math on the ACT. Nicholas is a shining star in the otherwise stormy night of black male education in the West Side of Chicago.

Nicholas Bounds also lives in a homeless shelter for teenagers. Every day, he leaves the shelter at 7 a.m. for school and arrives back at 11 p.m. after his part-time job at U.P.S. He was telling me the truth; he has been his own parent since he was 15 and in the eighth grade.

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

November 1, 2007

"Math Power: How to Help Your Child Love Math Even If You Dont'

"Math Power: How to Help Your Child Love Math Even If You Dont'," the only
book by a mathematician written for parents of children aged 1-10, is
about to go out of print for the second time. Both times the publisher
sold its trade books to another publisher just as it was published, so
none of the four publishers made any effort to publicize it. This time,
however, I have a good offer to buy the remaining copies. I really want
it to get into as many libraries as possible -- and many hands. There
are many copies left.

If you can get a library to offer me a thank you note and give me the
address, I will send that library an autographed copy free for the tax
deduction. If you want an autographed copy, I will be glad to send you a
copy for $10. The price on the cover is $19.95, and it's fine to resell
them at this time. If you can find an outlet or use them yourself, I can
send a box of 18 books for $140. (No autographs on those books because
they will be inside the box.) There are MANY boxes available.

"Math Power" had excellent reviews from both sides of the "Math Wars" when
it first appeared in 1997, and another from "The Library Journal," but
without some publisher publicity, books don't sell. It may be that math
is not a popular subject in this culture; there is other evidence.

Anyway, I would appreciate any help you can give me in disseminating the
remaining copies. The publisher wants a reply as to how many I will buy

Otherwise, I am well and busily campaigning for NJ to
require at least some appropriate math education for its preservice
elementary ed teachers. I taught a first such course last year at
Bloomfield College, having given up on Montclair State, with the Singapore
texts and loved it; so did the students. We have a long way to go before
the United States provides decent elementary math ed to all our children,
and I hope you can help me do my little bit. I was hoping it would be
more, but we do what we can.

I hope this finds you well.

Pat Kenschaft, Math Medley host 1998-2004 [Clusty Search]

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Fashion Bullies Attack -- In Middle School

Vanessa O'Connell:

Aryana McPike, a sixth-grader from Springfield, Ill., has a closet full of designer clothes from Dolce & Gabbana, Juicy Couture, True Religion and Seven For All Mankind. But her wardrobe, carefully selected by a fashion-conscious mother, hasn't won her friends at school.

Kids in her class recently instructed her that she was wearing the wrong brands. She should wear Apple Bottoms jeans by the rapper Nelly, they told her, and designer sneakers, such as Air Force 1 by Nike. She came home complaining to her mother that "all the girls want to know if I will ever come to school without being so dressed up."

Teen and adolescent girls have long used fashion as a social weapon. In 1944, Eleanor Estes wrote "">The Hundred Dresses," a book about a Polish girl who is made fun of for wearing the same shabby dress to school each day. The film "Mean Girls" in 2004 focused on fashion-conscious cliques among high-school teens. But today, guidance counselors and psychologists say, fashion bullying is reaching a new level of intensity as more designers launch collections targeted at kids.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:30 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Some Date: How Homecoming is Losing out to Hanging Out

Jeff Zaslow:

Last month, a boy asked my 16-year-old daughter to his school's homecoming dance. She agreed to go, bought a new dress and made a hairdresser appointment.

The boy never bought tickets to the dance. Neither did his friends. They decided that attending homecoming wouldn't be cool, and instead planned to just dress up that night, go out for dinner and then hang out with their dates at someone's house.

My daughter was disappointed, as were her girlfriends. They would have loved to have been taken to the dance, to show off their dresses, to see and be seen.

At 6 p.m. on the night of the boycotted dance, about a dozen of these girls and their dates gathered in one boy's backyard so a mob of parents could photograph them. I found it dispiriting. My heart went out to those girls -- all dressed up with no place to go. Couldn't we, as parents, have demanded that the boys take our daughters to the dance? Why did we stand there, clicking our digital cameras, saying nothing?

I live in suburban Detroit, but this phenomenon is playing out elsewhere in the country, too -- a telling example of the indifference with which young people today view dating, chivalry and romance.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:15 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Sham Standards

Joanne Jacobs:

Kate Riley’s 10-year-old son received a letter of congratulations signed by Washington’s governor and state superintendent.
"Congratulations!' it started. "... We are very proud of you, and you should be very proud of yourself."

Apparently, my son "achieved the state reading, writing and mathematics learning standards.”

But her autistic son, who spends most of his time in a special-education classroom, is years behind. He “can read some words, can add a little and can barely draw a straight line.”

An editorial writer, Riley has backed high standards since she tutored a 30-year-old high school graduate with a third-grade reading level. But she agreed that students with special needs should have alternative ways to show mastery of the standards, such as providing a portfolio of work.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:35 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

High rate of violence seen in teens' lives

Peter Schworm:

More than 40 percent of male high school students in Boston say they have carried a knife and more than 40 percent of all students believe it would be easy to get a gun, according to a new public health survey.

One in five students has witnessed a shooting and does not feel safe in his or her neighborhood, the survey found.

The report, which surveyed more than 1,200 students in 18 Boston public high schools in the spring of 2006, found that two-thirds of students said they had witnessed violence in the year before the survey, and one-third had been involved in a fight themselves. Nearly 40 percent of male students had been assaulted, and 28 percent said they did not feel safe on the bus or train.

The report, which city officials are releasing today to launch a series of community meetings on teenage health, highlights the pervasive exposure to violence among city teenagers and the fear it can generate.

The survey's finding of widespread fistfights - more than one-third of male and female students reported having hit, punched, kicked, or choked someone in the past month - was also disturbing, Ferrer said. Such violence can easily intensify to weapon use, she said.

"We're missing the precursor to more serious violence, which is a lot of aggressive behavior," she said. "We need to give our students some skills on how to resolve conflict before it escalates."

Marcus Peterson, a member of a youth antiviolence group called Operation Greensboro said public apathy contributes to the persistent violence.

"It's not really an issue anymore," he said. "It's just accepted."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:10 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Education & Regrets

Scott McLemee:

Its topic, in brief, is the relationship between education and regret – how each one creates the conditions for the other. The books you read at a certain age can put you on the wrong path, even though you don’t recognize it at the time. You are too naively ambitious to get much out of them — or too naive, perhaps, not that it makes much difference either way. And by the time you realize what you should have read, it’s too late. You would understand things differently, and probably better, had you made different choices. You would be a different person. Instead, you wasted a lot of time. (I know I did. There are nights when I recall all the time spent on the literary criticism of J. Hillis Miller and weep softly to myself.)

The booklet consists of transcripts of two meetings of N+1 contributors (a mixture of writers and academics, most in their 20’s and 30’s) as they discuss what they regret about their educations. Each contributor also submits a list of eight “Books That Changed My Life.”

The structure here seem to involve a rather intricate bit of irony. There is an explicit address to smart people in their teens, or barely out of them, offering suggestions on what to read, and how. It can be taken as a guide to how to avoid regret. The reflections and checklists are all well-considered. You could do a lot worse for an advice manual.

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

Leap Of Faith

Chico Harlan, Hector Emanuel, Peter McBride:

NINE TEENAGERS STUFF THE LAST FIVE ROWS OF A BOEING 737, listening to the plane's mechanical orchestra -- the whistle of its warming engines, the hum of its slow taxi -- scanning for alerts of doom. Eight of them have never flown before. All of them spend their days behind the barbed-wire fences of Oak Hill, the decaying youth detention center in Laurel reserved for the District's worst male juvenile offenders.

Yet at 4:30 on this August morning, a white-painted Oak Hill bus with grated windows deposited the teens at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport. For the next eight days, freedom will supplant regimen in their lives. No 7 a.m. wake-up calls. No sudden lockdown searches for contraband. No mandatory lights out. The teens will land in Phoenix and begin an adventure both ambitious and risky: In the wilderness of Arizona and Utah, they will pitch tents, hike canyons, leap from cliffs and paddle through rapids. The teens, some of whom can't swim or have never seen mountains, will enter a different world. And then they'll return to their own.

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

How to Educate Yourself Online

John Wesley:

The web is an amazing educational resource. The quantity of information available on any given topic is more than most people will ever need, and probably more than they can handle. This vast amount of information is the web’s greatest strength, but also creates major usability problems. If you try to educate yourself online without a clear strategy, you’ll quickly find yourself frustrated and misinformed.
Effective online education goes beyond finding answers. It requires you to process numerous information sources, evaluate them based on credibility and relevance, and piece together a mosaic-like picture of the truth.

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