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March 31, 2008

Raised on a Farm, She Found her Calling in the Milwaukee Public Schools

Lawrence Sussman:

In her 11 years as a special education and second-grade teacher for the Milwaukee Public Schools, Pam Young started a Cub Scout pack at Clarke Street Elementary School and later formed Cub Scout Pack 22 at Starms Discovery Learning Center.

The Boy Scouts of America recently gave her its distinguished merit award.

"It's a predominantly female profession, and they already had a Girl Scout troop and a Brownie pack at the schools," her husband, James Young II, said Sunday. "But there was nobody to do the Cub Scouts, and she volunteered because the boys needed it."

"She was one of the few people in my life who actually put all others ahead of herself," Young said.

Pam Young died of brain cancer Thursday at Columbia St. Mary's hospice unit. She was 37.

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Ways to Measure Schools Without High-Stakes Testing

Jay Matthews:

Who is going to be our next education president? I know, but I'm not telling. Most of The Washington Post's political reporters these days are young, strong and potentially dangerous. They have warned me about previous attempts to tread on their turf. So I am going to confine myself to helpful advice for our future chief executive, without revealing that person's name.

I have gotten some astute assistance in this effort from Sharon L. Nichols, an educational psychologist who is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and David C. Berliner, Regents' Professor of education at Arizona State University. Their 2007 book "Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools" is the latest selection to our Better Late Than Never Book Club, this column's way of spotlighting good work that I really should have read when it appeared months, sometimes years, before.

Nichols and Berliner attack from all sides the state testing that we use to assess schools under the No Child Left Behind law. Their analysis is clear, their arguments strong. What particularly impressed me was their willingness to suggest viable alternatives to testing as a way for us voters, parents and taxpayers to know which of our schools are doing well and which are not, a service to which some critics of testing seem to think we are not entitled.

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Western colleges find school mates in India

Indrajit Basu:

Last month, St Xavier's College of Kolkata, one of the most orthodox educational institutions in India, announced collaboration with the University of Manitoba, Canada.

For St Xavier's, one of the country's oldest and most prestigious educational institutions that has steadfastly stuck to its independent values, this collaboration is significant - it is its first partnership with any external institution in its 150-year history. Despite being affiliated with a local university, St Xavier's resisted all types of external intervention and insisted on autonomy, which it finally gained two years back.

"It is significant because for one, St Xavier's has become sufficiently flexible to make educational collaboration workable," said Professor Michael Trevan, dean of the University of Manitoba, Canada. "[And also because] this bilateral agreement may be used in future to create multi-lateral pacts globally where St Xavier's could be a part of such pacts."

St Xavier's is not alone. Over the past two years, India has seen an influx of many marquee names, including Harvard, Kellogg, Michigan University, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Institute of Technology (all in the US), Grenoble Ecole de Management (France), and Aston Business School (United Kingdom), while research-oriented institutions like the London Business School, Stanford University and University of California Los Angeles Anderson School of Management, and many others from the world over are working towards setting up bases in India.

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'A truly great man': Milt McPike dies at 68

McPike Battled Rare Adenocystic Cancer. After battling cancer, popular former Madison East High School principal Milton McPike died on Saturday night.

The Madison Metropolitan School District said that McPike passed away overnight at a hospice care facility, WISC-TV reported.

Family, friends, former staff and students said that they're remembering McPike as a man many called an educational hero.

For 40 years, McPike made his life educating youth. He spent 28 of those years in the Madison school district. For five years, he was an assistant principal at West High School, then as principal at East High School for 23 years.

"I've seen so much success through kids who everybody else has given up on," McPike said in a 1992 interview.

He shared his secrets on building relationships with his students.

Samara Kalk Derby:
Milton McPike, a giant in the Madison educational community, died Saturday night at HospiceCare Center in Fitchburg, surrounded by his family. He was 68.

At 6-foot-4, the former San Francisco 49er cut an imposing figure at East High School, where he served as principal for 23 years.

McPike was diagnosed with adenocystic carcinoma, a rare cancer that attacked his sinus area.

Superintendent Art Rainwater called McPike "a truly great man" and "an icon in our community."

"Milt was first of all a tremendous person. He was obviously extremely well respected and a talented educator," Rainwater said. "He led East for 23 years and really and truly was not only important to East High School, but was also important to our community."

Even after he retired from East in 2002, McPike continued to contribute to the community by being a member of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents and recently heading a gang task force in Dane County, Rainwater said. "So his loss will be deeply felt."

Clusty Search: Milt McPike.

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Many Potential Leaders of Tomorrow Reject the Role

Laura Sessions Stepp:

A new nationwide survey of girls and boys found that a majority of children and youths in the United States have little or no interest with achieving leadership roles when they become adults, ranking "being a leader" behind other goals such as "fitting in," "making a lot of money" and "helping animals or the environment."

The study commissioned by the Girl Scouts of the USA and released today determined that three-quarters of African American girls and boys and Hispanic girls surveyed already identify themselves as leaders, a much larger group than white youths, about half of whom think of themselves this way.

The youths defined leaders as people who prize collaboration, stand up for their beliefs and values, and try to improve society. Girls in particular endorsed these approaches, although a majority of boys did, as well. Yet when asked in focus groups about leadership styles among adults, what they described was traditional top-down management.

Girls Scouts USA:
irl Scouts has always been about leadership. Even at the youngest ages, Girl Scouts gain leadership skills that they can carry with them throughout their lives. The organizational focus on leadership shows girls that they are leaders in their everyday lives, and they will continue to be leaders as they get older.

In 2000, Girls Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) formed the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI), which serves as a center for research and public policy information on the healthy development of girls. GSRI is a vital extension of GSUSA's commitment to addressing the complex and ever-changing needs of girls.

The latest study from GSRI is Change It Up! What Girls Say About Redefining Leadership. You may download the study, the press release, and a fact sheet about Girl Scouts of the USA below.

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Madison program helps teens improve driving

Marv Balousek:

hen a car in front of him stopped suddenly, J.R. Acker, 17, of Madison slammed on the brakes of his GMC Envoy.

He stopped in time, but the red light on a camera mounted on his rearview mirror began flashing. He knew he'd have to explain the sudden stop to his mother, Sara, when she received an e-mail about the incident the following day.

A junior at Edgewood High School, J.R. is among about 3,000 young drivers participating in the Teen Safe Driver Program offered by Madison-based American Family Insurance.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

It's time to deal with students who cheat

Regan McMahon:

In late March and early April, anxious high school seniors wait for little white envelopes or big fat mailing packets indicating whether they gained admission to the college of their choice. They did everything they could to make the grade. And for 75 percent of them or more, according to a national study conducted by Duke University, that included some form of cheating.

Yet despite the prevalence of academic cheating - ranging from copying homework to plagiarizing off the Internet to purloining test answers - and the concern that without ethics you get Enron, there are no statewide or school-district wide academic integrity standards. Perhaps it's time to make curbing cheating part of the public policy agenda.

Among the consequences of letting it go unchecked is student and teacher alienation. As I reported in the Chronicle Magazine last September, many students, under intense pressure to get good grades for college admission, believe they're chumps if they don't cheat. And many teachers report that when they catch cheaters red-handed, the administration doesn't back them up.

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California's Content-Rich History "Framework"

American Educator:

Excerpt from the Framework for Grade Ten—World History, Culture, and Geography: The Modern World

World War I and Its Consequences

The growth of nationalism, imperialism, and militarism provides the backdrop for consideration of World War I, which permanently changed the map of Europe and deeply affected the rest of the world. Students should understand the political conditions that led to the outbreak of the war in Europe. Caused in large measure by nationalism, the war stimulated even greater nationalist impulses by dissolving old empires, unleashing irredentist movements, and promoting the spirit of selfdetermination. Within the context of human rights and genocide, students should learn of the Ottoman government's planned mass deportation and systematic annihilation of the Armenian population in 1915. Students should also examine the reactions of other governments, including that of the United States, and world opinion during and after the Armenian genocide. They should examine the effects of the genocide on the remaining Armenian people, who were deprived of their historic homeland, and the ways in which it became a prototype of subsequent genocides.

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

March 30, 2008

2008 Madison Memorial / West Area Strings Festival Photos / Video

Watch a 15 minute video excerpt here and check out the event photos.

Incoming Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad made a few remarks [video], as did Madison Symphony Orchestra Conductor John DeMain [video].

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John DeMain's Remarks at the 2008 Memorial / West Strings Festival

Madison Symphony Orchestra Conductor John DeMain made a few remarks at Saturday's Memorial / West area Strings Festival. Watch the video. Much more about John DeMain.

Incoming Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad's remarks. Event photos and video.

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Dan Nerad's Remarks at the 2008 Madison Memorial/West Area Strings Festival

Incoming Madison Schools' Superintendent Dan Nerad made a few remarks at Saturday's Memorial / West area Strings Festival. Watch the video. Much more on Dan Nerad here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:45 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Asperger's: My life as an Earthbound alien


Recently, at 48 years of age, I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome. For most of my life, I knew that I was "other," not quite like everyone else. I searched for years for answers and found none, until an assignment at work required me to research autism. During that research, I found in the lives of other people with Asperger's threads of similarity that led to the diagnosis. Although having the diagnosis has been cathartic, it does not change the "otherness." It only confirms it.

When I talk to people about this aspect of myself, they always want to know what it means to be an "Aspie," as opposed to a "Neurotypical" (NT). Oh, dear, where to start . ...

The one thing people seem to know about Asperger's, if they know anything at all, is the geek factor. Bill Gates is rumored to be an Aspie. We tend to have specialized interests, and we will talk about them, ad infinitum, whether you are interested or not. Recognizing my tendency to soliloquize, I often choose silence, although perhaps not often enough. Due to our extensive vocabularies and uninflected manner of speaking, we are called "little professors," or arrogant.

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"Wisconsin School financing deserves an F"

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

For more evidence of why Wisconsin residents should demand reform of the state 's school financing system, consider this:

On Tuesday, 41 school districts -- nearly one of every 10 in the state -- will be responding to a financial squeeze by asking voters for permission to spend more money.

That 's in addition to the 14 districts that did the same in last month 's primary election.

A few districts are requesting to borrow money to build or renovate or to buy land. But the majority are districts with leaky roofs to fix, outdated textbooks to replace, heating systems to repair and parking lots and athletic fields to maintain.

And they have no money to do it with because the state has boxed school boards, and the public they serve, into a no-win situation.

Whether these referendums deserve approval -- or, even if they do, whether taxpayers can afford the cost -- will be up to the voters.

Related: K-12 Tax & Spending Climate notes that Wisconsin K-12 spending has increased by an average of 5.10% annually (Madison is 5.25%).

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Texas English Teachers Fight Board Mandated Reading Lists

Terrence Stutz:

cores of English teachers urged the State Board of Education on Wednesday to reject proposed curriculum standards that would spell out what literary works their students should read, insisting they are best suited to make those decisions.

Educators from North Texas and across the state said board members should listen to teachers before they adopt curriculum standards for English that will remain in place for the next decade, influencing not only what is taught in the classroom but also providing the basis for state tests and textbooks used in public schools.

Carrollton-Farmers Branch English teacher Elsa Anderson said a board proposal to establish reading lists for English and reading classes is a mistake and would “tie teachers’ hands and deprive them of making decisions about books that are best for their students.”

Ms. Anderson, representing the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts, said the book titles included in the board proposal — most of them classics — are “extremely limited in diversity” and would have a negative impact on the reading achievement of minority students.

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Calling for Clear, Specific Content

American Educator:

Nearly 20 years ago, the nation coalesced around a sound idea for improving schools: standards-based reform. The standards were supposed to establish what students ought to know and be able to do and, as a result, offer clear guidance to teachers, curriculum writers, textbook and assessment developers, and professional development providers. They were supposed to result in a well-aligned system that provides teachers all the resources and supports they need—at least, that's what we were promised.

Teachers know all too well just how broken that promise is. The typical state's standards are nowhere near strong enough to serve as the foundation for a well-aligned, coherent educational system. The AFT has been reviewing state standards for more than a decade, and our findings—that state standards are, for the most part, either much too vague or much too long (and sometimes, oddly, both)—have been confirmed by many other reviewers.

We should be outraged. As readers of American Educator know, cognitive science has established that knowledge builds on knowledge-the more you know, the faster you learn.* And so it's imperative that standards offer carefully sequenced content from the beginning of kindergarten through the end of high school. But they don't. And as a result, we have some serious problems:

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Creativity Step by Step: A Conversation with Choreographer Twyla Tharp

Diane Coutu:

The notion that some people are simply born artistic - and that there is a profile that can help organizations identify them - is quite firmly entrenched. All the talk of genetic determination nowadays undoubtedly has a lot to do with that. But the idea that creativity is a predetermined personality trait probably appeals at a psychological level because it gives people an excuse for not innovating or initiating change themselves, reducing the problem of creativity to a recruitment challenge.

Significantly, the people least likely to buy into the idea that creativity is preordained are the creative geniuses themselves. Choreographer Twyla Tharp, for one, doesn’t subscribe to any notion of effortless artistry. As someone who has changed the face of dance, she’s certainly qualified to have an opinion. The winner of a MacArthur fellowship (popularly called "the genius grant"), two Emmy awards, and a Tony award, she has written and directed television programs, created Broadway productions, and choreographed dances for the movies Hair, Ragtime, and Amadeus. Tharp, now 66, did all this while creating more than 130 dances—many of which have become classics—for her own company, the Joffrey Ballet, the New York City Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, London’s Royal Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre. The author of two books, she is now in the process of simultaneously developing new ballets for the Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Pacific Northwest Ballet.

At her Manhattan home, Tharp met with HBR senior editor Diane Coutu to discuss what it takes to be a choreographer. In these pages, she shares what she has learned about fostering creativity, initiating change, and firing even top-notch performers when push comes to shove. In her suffer-no-fools way, she talks about her "monomaniacal absorption" with her work and the need to be tough, even ruthless, when that work is at stake. What follows is an edited version of their conversation.

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Mississippi's School Board Trainning Law

Shelia Byrd:

Gov. Haley Barbour has signed several bills into law, including one that would require additional training for school board members in low-performing districts.

The bill becomes law July 1. It would affect local school boards that serve in districts with one or more underperforming schools or in districts with serious financial problems.

The members would undergo training geared toward improving learning and promoting effective financial management. The training would be provided annually by the Mississippi School Boards Association.

Sen. Alice Harden, D-Jackson, a former teacher and a member of the Senate Education Committee, said the bill doesn't go far enough. She said the additional training should be required for school board members in all districts.

She said many of the state's school board members are elected, and while they're committed to supporting the district, "they don't exactly understand their responsibilities."

"What they do is set the philosophy of what a district should be doing," Harden said Wednesday. "The teachers are teaching, the environment is conducive to learning and the school is up to par."

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Annual review rates state-funded preschool programs

Karen Uhlenhuth:

Although many states, including Kansas, are subsidizing public preschool for growing numbers of children, Missouri is serving fewer than it did five years ago.

The National Institute for Early Education Research on Wednesday released its yearly review of state-funded preschool. It found that more states are spending more money to enroll more children in higher-quality preschools. That’s important because children who attend good preschools on average do better on social and learning yardsticks.

Nationally, spending bumped to $3,642 per child, reversing four years of falling support. And for the first time, more than 1 million children nationwide were enrolled in state-funded preschool during the 2006-2007 school year.

Locally, the picture differs quite a bit between Kansas and Missouri.

Support for preschool is reflected in Kansas’ At-Risk Four-Year-Old Children Preschool Program. From the 2001-2002 school year, enrollment grew 168 percent to 5,971 in 2006-2007.

In Missouri, enrollment for 3- and 4-year-olds in 2006-2007 was 4,972, a 12-percent increase over the year before, but a 12-percent drop from 2001-2002. One factor has been stagnant funding, said Jo Anne Ralston, director of Early Childhood Education for the state education department.

“Legislators have crafted bills to get more funding for preschool, but there has not been a lot of support,” she said. On the contrary, Ralston said, Missouri’s preschool program competes with veterans and other constituencies for fees from casinos.

8.4MB complete 2007 report.

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March 29, 2008

Up Close, Typical State Biology Standards Don't Have the Content or Coherence of the International Baccalaureate

Paul Gross:

Since the beginning of the standards movement, national and state science standards have been padded with politically correct matter having little to do with the substance of scientific knowledge. According to philosopher of science Noretta Koertge, this invasion can be traced to the 1996 National Science Education Standards. They were developed by the National Research Council and have served as a model for the states. Koertge doesn't blame the national standards; she merely notes that they created the opportunity:
[The National Science Education Standards] note that learning about science as process is not enough. Understanding of content is also required.... But one of their goals opens wide a door [for] ... political correctness [to] ... intrude. This is the requirement to present Science in Personal and Social Perspectives. "An important purpose of science education is to give students a means to understand and act on personal and social issues." What might this mean in practice?1
In practice, it could mean almost anything except the actual content of science. As she notes, the national science education standards do recognize content as important. But they don't resist the politicized formulas and prescriptions for science, nor the sociological turn, that came into prominence during the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, many 18-wheelers, loaded with cargo other than science content, have barreled through the wide-open door.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teachers Face Large & Growing Professional Pay Gap


Compared with workers in occupations that have similar education and skill requirements, public school teachers face a large and growing pay gap, according to a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Over the last decade, the report shows, the teacher pay gap increased from 10.8 percent to 15.1 percent. That translates into weekly earnings that are about $154 lower than comparable workers'. (The report compares teachers to accountants, reporters, registered nurses, computer programmers, clergy and personnel officers.)

AFT executive vice president Antonia Cortese notes that this is just the latest study to confirm the same discouraging trend. "Teachers continue to be vastly underpaid compared with similar workers," she says in a prepared statement. "This makes recruitment and retention of the best and brightest increasingly difficult, even as the nation recognizes the growing need for high-quality teaching."

For female teachers and for those with more seniority, the gap is especially striking. In 1960, women teachers were better paid than other similarly educated workers-by about 14.7 percent. By 2000, the situation had reversed to the point where female teachers faced a 13.2 percent annual wage deficit. The pay gap for teachers who are early in their careers has grown only slightly in the past 10 years, the EPI says. For senior female teachers (in the 45-54 age group), the deficit grew 18 percent during that same period.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:50 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Program Teaches the Power of the Pen

Jessica Blanchard:

The difference between the two stories is striking.

The first is two nearly bare pages, with two garbled sentences, illustrated by a single pencil drawing. The second, a tale about a little girl's morning routine, has much more detail, the words and pictures filling three full pages. The cheery sketches are carefully labeled: house, flowers, fence, sun.

The author is a second-grader who is learning English as a second language -- and the two stories were written just over two months apart.

"It's so incredible to see the growth," said Dan Coles, the literacy program manager for Seattle Public Schools.

Thanks to the Writer's Workshop program, such rapid progress is becoming more common for Seattle students, he said.

The curriculum, developed by Columbia University Teachers College, has been in place in Seattle middle schools and in various grades at K-8 schools since fall 2006. Four elementary schools are testing out the Writer's Workshop program this year: Coe, Olympic Hills, Madrona and Loyal Heights. District officials hope to eventually expand the program to all the elementary schools.

The basic format is the same at each school: A daily mini-lesson to introduce a new writing technique, followed by about 40 minutes of writing to help students hone their skills.

Young Authors Conference & Wisconsin Writes @ the Milwaukee Art Museum.

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March 28, 2008

More on Generational Change, Education & Moore's Law


Let's consider for a moment what many readers will find to be a politically incorrect position: because of cheap computers and the Internet, the ability to solve problems ad hoc has become more efficient than teaching kids about problems and issues that will never face them. As a result, the United States has let itself become less competitive by putting so much money into a product (a kid) making both its cost and its ability globally uncompetitive. So, instead of putting more effort into making globally competitive products, we put more effort into blaming those who are smarter at using technology that was mostly invented here.

If the idea is to give everyone a nice comfortable pension, if the same money invested each year in a typical kid's education was instead invested in an IRA, it would give that kid a very comfortable living upon reaching age 65.

Well this is a terrible position to take, don't you think? It treats our children like capital goods and denies them any ability to excel, dooming them to mediocrity.


My Mom (Mrs. Cringely to you) once said, "I may not have been the best mother, but at least I got all my kids through school."

"No you didn't," I replied (this is a true story, by the way). "We would have made it through school with or without you." And we would have.

Not wanting to put too much of a Libertarian spin on it, because I am certainly not a Libertarian, this is a fact that is missed by so many people. There will always be achievers, whether they go to public schools, private schools, home schools, magnet schools, charter schools, or no schools at all. While it is fine for society to create opportunities for advancement, what's more important is removing BARRIERS to advancement. And for the most part that's not what we are about.

What we tend to be about as a society is building power structures and most of those power structures, including schools and governments, are decidedly reactive. This is not all bad. After all, the poster child for educational and government proactivity in the 20th century may have been the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Related: Moore's Law, Culture & School Change.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:39 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Children, Technology, Risk Taking and the "Nanny State"

Dr. Tanya Byron [2.5MB PDF]:

When I was asked by the Prime Minister to carry out an independent review of the risks children face from the internet and video games, I realised two things.

First, how integral these new technologies have become to the lives of young people and second, how important it is that we educate ourselves about the benefits and dangers they bring.

As a clinical pyschologist specialising in child and adolescent mental health – and as the mother of two children – I wanted to understand how and why young people use the internet and video games.

Hardly a day goes by without a news report about children being brutalised and abused in the real world or its virtual counterpart. Some make links between what happens online or in a game, and what happens on the streets or at home.

These headlines have contributed to the climate of anxiety that surrounds new technology and created a fiercely polarised debate in which panic and fear often drown out evidence. The resultant clamour distracts from the real issue and leads to children being cast as victims rather than participants in these new, interactive technologies.

It quickly became apparent that there was a big difference between what concerned parents understand and what their technologically savvy children know. The rapid pace at which new media are evolving has left adults and children stranded either side of a generational digital divide. Put bluntly, the world of video games has come a long way since the early days of Pac Man. And while change and innovation are undoubtedly exciting, they can also be challenging or just plain scary.

But panic or no panic, the virtual world and the real world do contain risks, and children left to navigate a solo path through either, face many dangers.

The trouble is that although as adults we instinctively know how to protect our children offline, we often assume that their greater technological expertise will ensure they can look after themselves online. But knowledge is not the same as wisdom.

This review is about the needs of children and young people. It is about preserving their right to take the risks that form an inherent part of their development by enabling them to play video games and surf the net in a safe and informed way.

By listening to children and young people and putting them at the heart of this review – and by replacing emotion with evidence – I hope I have provided some very necessary focus to what is a very necessary debate.

Slashdot discussion.

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John Matthews has run Madison's teachers union for 40 years. Is it time for a change?

Jason Shephard:

But while Matthews laments the failures of government to improve teaching and learning, he glosses over his own pivotal role in local educational leadership. That role includes standing in the way of programs like 4-year-old kindergarten that could help the district meet its educational objectives.

Beginning in the next few weeks, a school board made up mostly of rookies will begin to address the challenges ahead. A new superintendent starting July 1 — Daniel Nerad, formerly top dog in Green Bay — inspires hope of new solutions to nagging problems. But the third pillar of power is John Matthews. He's been around the longest and arguably knows the most.

Already, Matthews has cemented his legacy from building a strong, tough union. But now, some are wondering if Matthews will also leave behind a legacy of obstructing key educational change.

Clusty Search: John Matthews.

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Coverage of the Madison School Board Elections: 2008

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

Just because they’re uncontested, you shouldn’t overlook the two races for the Madison school board on the April 1 ballot.

There isn’t a tougher job or a more important one in local politics than maintaining the high quality of the Madison schools and dealing with the serious problems that confront them.

Over the past five weeks, we’ve queried retired teacher Marj Passman, the lone candidate for Seat 6, and attorney Ed Hughes, the lone candidate for Seat 7, on the important issues.

Here’s the week-by-week breakdown of our questions:

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Numbers Don't Tell Whole Story at Madison's Glendale Elementary

Susan Troller:

Glendale Elementary may be failing by test-based standards, but it's succeeding by human ones.

The question of how we recognize good schools and bad ones has become a pressing issue.

In Washington, Congress is debating the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind legislation. Locally, Madison and Sun Prairie parents have recently been upset over boundary changes that some see as sending their children to less desirable schools.

At the same time, the movement toward inclusivity in special education, a growing minority population and increasing poverty rates throughout Dane County, particularly in Madison, have put a sharp point on some important questions:

  • Do advanced students suffer when they share a classroom with struggling students?
  • How should schools address the stresses of poverty?
  • Are test scores a reliable measure of a school's effectiveness?
This story doesn't attempt to answer those questions; educational researchers have been struggling with them for decades. Instead, it puts one Madison elementary school under the microscope where all those currents come together -- a school that by No Child Left Behind's test-based standards is clearing failing. Yet, by the assessment of a number of parents, volunteers and other fans, the school is succeeding beyond all expectations.

A closer look at Glendale Elementary, a 50-year-old Madison school within the noisy shadow of U.S. 51, shows a school where success is occurring in ways that test scores can't measure and poverty rates don't reveal.

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For Marj Passman & Ed Hughes: Madison School Board Candidates

Capital Times Editorial:

For the first time in years, Madison has no contested School Board races this year.

On April 1, voters will elect two new members of the board. Traditionally, open seat contests have been intense, highlighting ideological, practical, geographic and stylistic divides not just between the candidates but within the community.

This year, there is no such competition.

Retired teacher Marj Passman is running without opposition for Seat 6.

Attorney and veteran community leader Ed Hughes is the sole contender for Seat 7.

They will be elected Tuesday and quickly join a board that faces serious budgeting, curriculum and structural challenges at a time when funding has been squeezed and the district superintendent, Art Rainwater, is retiring.

That does not mean that voters should take a pass on these races, however.

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Ohio Governor's Education Reform Outline

Scott Elliott:

“Summary of Education Reform Process” sketches out four phases designed to result in a plan to be implemented in March 2009 although it appears many of the ideas would require approval from the Republican-controlled legislature.

Strickland’s spokesman, Keith Dailey, cautioned that the document did not constitute a plan or proposal.

“The collection of ideas merged over the past year,” he said. “This isn’t the governor’s plan. This is a process that is geared toward ongoing discussion and through the conversation the governor believes consensus for reform will emerge.”

Among the ideas on the discussion list are:

—Junking the Ohio Graduation Test in favor of “portfolio” approach that would require students to complete a senior project, a community service project and both the ACT college entrance exam and end-of-course exams when the complete core high school subjects.

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Tax credits for private-school grants a win-win

Erich Cochling:

Education spending has increased at a breakneck pace in Georgia over the past decade, outpacing inflation substantially. Since 1994 per-student spending has more than doubled, representing an increase in spending each year of nearly 10 percent. In 2007 per-student spending exceeded $10,000 for the first time in Georgia's history.

But despite the high level of spending, Georgia was ranked 48th among the states in high school graduation rates in 2007. That is exactly where the state ranked in 2000. In some of the intervening years, Georgia dropped to 50th, managing to beat out only the District of Columbia and avoid the dishonorable title of "worst in the nation." State SAT scores have remained stagnant for years in Georgia, with rankings hovering painfully close to 50th. While that trend seems to have changed in 2007, a positive thing no doubt, time will tell whether the improvement is based in real academic achievement or a redesigned exam.

These facts point to a sobering reality that demands our attention: Every four years a generation of students in failing schools graduates unprepared for higher education or the work force, if they graduate at all. To these students, the lack of a quality education can and likely will have devastating results. And requiring students to be subjects in a protracted experiment in education reform seems inhumane at the very least.

Fortunately, Gov. Sonny Perdue and the General Assembly have recognized the plight of these students and have championed legislation to give them hope through education choice.

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States’ Data Obscure How Few Finish High School

Sam Dillon:

When it comes to high school graduation rates, Mississippi keeps two sets of books.

One team of statisticians working at the state education headquarters here recently calculated the official graduation rate at a respectable 87 percent, which Mississippi reported to Washington. But in another office piled with computer printouts, a second team of number crunchers came up with a different rate: a more sobering 63 percent.

The state schools superintendent, Hank Bounds, says the lower rate is more accurate and uses it in a campaign to combat a dropout crisis.

“We were losing about 13,000 dropouts a year, but publishing reports that said we had graduation rate percentages in the mid-80s,” Mr. Bounds said. “Mathematically, that just doesn’t work out.”

Like Mississippi, many states use an inflated graduation rate for federal reporting requirements under the No Child Left Behind law and a different one at home. As a result, researchers say, federal figures obscure a dropout epidemic so severe that only about 70 percent of the one million American students who start ninth grade each year graduate four years later.

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South Dakota School Funding Increase Tied to Teacher Salary, Benefit Boosts


last week, with Gov. Michael Rounds’ March 17 signing of a $337 million school spending package—part of a state budget totaling $3.6 billion.

The Republican governor had argued for a 2.5 percent increase, well below a 4.25 percent hike that the Republican leader of the Senate, Dave Knudson, had pushed through that body.
Under the measure approved in the last minutes of the 2008 session, school districts must use the full increase for teacher salaries and benefits or see it trimmed by half a percentage point.

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Multiculturalism is a sedative

Salim Mansur:

Perhaps the most apt manner to describe multiculturalism as an ideology and government policy in western liberal democracies would be what the incomparable English writer, journalist and non-conformist, Malcolm Muggeridge, wrote in his 1970 essay, The Great Liberal Death Wish.

Perhaps also no contemporary of Muggeridge (1903-90), nor anyone after him, made as incisive a dissection of the deepening liberal malaise in the 20th century as he provided. He also exposed apologists of liberalism and their untiring efforts to discredit and dissolve the West as a uniquely gifted civilization.

In every culture there are to be found some dissidents or skeptics questioning its legitimacy and moral authority as those in the former Soviet Union -- Andrei Sakharov, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and others not as well known -- did. They exposed the lies of a system that rationalized the organized effort of tyranny to extinguish freedom, and their sacrifice eventually contributed to its demise.

But the oddity about skeptics in the West, as Muggeridge wrote about them and their liberalism, is the death wish to undo a culture where freedom, having sunk deep roots, thrives. They would replace this culture with a pale shadow of one negating all that is noble, life affirming, uplifting and founded on the values celebrated by the Christian church.

This is the great liberal death wish, a twisted psychology of that intellectual class which willingly goes out to buy the lies of a culture that entombs freedom, as was done in the Soviet Union -- and continues in places such as China and Saudi Arabia -- and fashion these lies as a cure for manufactured ills in the West, with the purpose of undermining it.

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Offering Teachers Incentives; and a Chance to Live Their Faith

Samuel Freedman:

Nearly every morning last September, his first month teaching at St. Patrick’s School here, Raymond Encarnacion arrived to find the same girl waiting outside his closed and darkened classroom. She stood with her backpack and coat, and sometimes she gave a joking groan when he showed up, because his presence meant there wouldn’t be some pushover of a substitute.

All Mr. Encarnacion initially knew about her from the roster of his sixth graders was that her name was Ashley. So he asked in perfect innocence why she was always at school so early. The answers trickled out. Her father had died, her mother worked a daybreak shift, and Ashley herself was responsible for waking, feeding, dressing and checking the homework of several younger cousins. She usually got up at 4 a.m.

Hearing her disclosures, so unpitying and matter-of-fact, Mr. Encarnacion thought back to his own year as a sixth grader. His family lived in Westfield, N.J., a prosperous suburb with renowned public schools. His mother, a nurse, was his alarm clock, his breakfast chef, his chauffeur to school. “Everything,” he put it recently, recalling the childhood comforts, “was right there for me.”

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March 27, 2008

"Professor Strengthens Math, Science Education"

Madeline Fisher:

Talk with Terry Millar long enough and it’s bound to happen: The mathematics professor will begin drilling you in math. He’ll slip in a question such as “What is pi?” and before you know it you’re being coached to a whole new level of mathematical understanding.

Linda McQuillen refers to it as having Millar “attend to her mathematics” and as his long-time collaborator she’s well acquainted with the experience.

“Traveling with him [to meetings] and when we’d do presentations for various audiences, on the cab rides to and from the airport, we were always doing mathematics,” laughs McQuillen, a retired math teacher and a former leader of the Madison school district’s math goals. “The problem is, Terry can do it verbally and I can’t. He’s just amazing.”

If Millar’s enthusiasm for teaching math can be overwhelming, it’s also true he has put the energy to good use. For well over a decade, Millar has worked to improve math and science instruction for students at all levels by bringing together the knowledge of university mathematicians and scientists with the teaching and curricular expertise of educators.

Terry Millar and Linda McQuillen participated in the Math Forum. Check out the notes, audio and video here.

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Delaware Gubernatorial Candidates Discuss Education

Beth Miller:

No barbs were tossed, no snide remarks made, no mud slung.

Instead, the two men locked in what may be Delaware's fiercest Democratic gubernatorial primary ever spent a full hour talking about public education to about 500 people at The Grand in Wilmington.

It was the first major debate of the 2008 election season for Lt. Gov. John Carney Jr. and State Treasurer Jack Markell and it drew teachers, businessmen, parents, policymakers, young and old, undecided voters and plenty of campaign workers.

The men talked about how to pay for schools, find good teachers, scrap the state's testing program and make sure kids get the best shot they can at a good future, no matter what their present circumstances.

On many issues, their views were similar. Both support most recommendations of the Vision 2015 panel of experts, who have developed plans and pilot programs to give Delaware "world-class" schools by 2015. Both want more money to address Delaware's high dropout rates, especially among Hispanic and black students.

Both were cautious about endorsing widespread expansion of Delaware's charter school programs, urging an evaluation of that 10-year-old effort to bring innovation to the school system. Neither would commit to adding state money for charter school capital projects.

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Common Ground: Clear, Specific Content Holds Teaching, Texts and Tests Together

Heidi Glidden 352K PDF:

Imagine for a moment that you are a new fourth-grade teacher with 25 children squirming in front of you. There’s a test at the end of the year, though you really aren’t sure what’s on it, and there are stacks of enormous textbooks— too enormous to tackle cover-to-cover—on the shelf. The one thing that is abundantly clear is that you are supposed to teach to the standards.
So, when you open up that standards document, do you hope to see something like this?
Analyze the style or structure of a text.

or something like this?

Describe the differences of various imaginative forms of literature, including fantasies, fables, myths, legends, and other tales.

Example: After reading some of the Greek or Norse myths found in such books as Book of Greek Myths or Book of Norse Myths, both by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire, discuss how myths were sometimes used to explain physical phenomena like movement of the sun across the sky or the sound of thunder.
Both are from current state standards, but one, obviously, offers much more guidance as to what your fourth-graders need to learn. If your instruction is guided by the first standard, you may or may not adequately prepare students for the test—or for fifth grade. But if your instruction is guided by the second standard, your students have a much better chance of being on grade level. And we can imagine an even clearer, more specific standard that would give you greater confidence that your instruction was on target.

For example, instead of merely suggesting books to draw from, the latter standard could specify exactly which myths, fables, legends, etc. students should read and ensure that none of those selections is repeated in other grades.

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The Changing of the Madison School Board

Jason Shephard:

A lawyer and former teacher will replace a lawyer and former teacher in the uncontested Madison school board elections on April 1. The result will be the most inexperienced board in years at a particularly important time for the city's public schools.

The school board is perhaps the hardest-working body of local elected officials and, judging by the throngs that flock to public meetings on issues big and small, also the most democratic. While the board's past effectiveness has been marred by infighting and grandstanding, the last two years have been much more congenial, under the presidencies of Johnny Winston Jr. and Arlene Silveira.

After the elections, the seven-member board will lose the inquisitive eye of Lawrie Kobza and the institutional memory of Carol Carstensen. Replacing them are Ed Hughes, a reserved but intriguing lawyer, and Marj Passman, a provocative and passionate retired teacher.

They will join rookies Beth Moss and Maya Cole, who are still struggling to master the issues. Silveira is likely to remain president, and Winston will be the most senior member. Rounding out the board is Lucy Mathiak, whose temper, colleagues say, has muted her effectiveness.

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Kenya: No Equity in Learning, Says Former VC

Watoro Kamau:

Access to public secondary schools and universities by the poor has remained elusive despite government efforts to ensure equity in provision of education, a former university don has said.

Prof Ezra Maritim, a former Egerton University Vice-Chancellor, said the apparent stratification of secondary schools promotes inequality and inequity in access to higher education.

Prof Maritim said that despite tuition fee waiver in secondary schools, children from poor backgrounds had continued to be marginalised as some national schools charges are in excess of Sh60,000 annually.

Many children from poor families perform well in KCPE and are admitted to national schools but are locked out due to their inability to pay the high fees. The former vice-chancellor argued that while the government was committed in theory to equity in education in general, the achievement of that commitment at the university level remains elusive.

He said the categorisation of secondary schools into four classes; district, provincial, national and private has only helped in widening the gap and denying the poor access to higher education.

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Spoilt Children Disrupt Schools

Hannah Goff:

Primary schoolchildren spoilt by their parents can cause disruption in the classroom by repeating manipulative behaviour used at home, a report says.
Research for the National Union of Teachers (NUT) suggested a minority of children threw tantrums, swore and were physically aggressive.

NUT boss Steve Sinnott is calling for more advice for parents who struggle to say "no" to their children.

The government says it recognises parents want more support.

Cambridge University held 60 interviews with staff and pupils in 10 schools.

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There's a Hole in State Standards And New Teachers Like Me Are Falling Through

A Second Year Teacher:

All states should have clear, specific, grade-by-grade, content-rich standards. When they don't, it's the students who miss out on a top-notch education and the teachers—especially the new teachers—who find more frustration than fulfillment. Below, we hear from a new teacher who laments the lack of direction she received in her first year on the job. We have withheld her name and school district to allow her to speak frankly and to emphasize that new teachers across the country are facing similar challenges.


First days are always nerve-racking—first days attending a new school, first days in a new neighborhood, and especially first days at a new job. My first day as a high school English teacher in a large, urban public school was no exception. It was my first "real" job after graduating college just three months earlier, and to add to my anxiety, I was hired just one day, precisely 24 hours, before my students would arrive. But my family and friends, mentors, and former professors all assured me that, like all other first days I had conquered, this day would be a successful start to a successful career. Unfortunately, this time they were wrong.

My first day on the job, I entered the building expecting to be greeted by the principal or chairperson, guided to my classrooms, and provided with what I considered to be the essentials: a schedule, a curriculum, rosters, and keys. Instead, the only things I received were a piece of paper on which two numerical codes were written, and a warning not to use the women's bathroom on the second floor. After some frantic inquiring, I learned that the codes signified that I would be teaching ninthand tenth-grade regular English. As various colleagues pulled at my paper to get a glance, some nodded approvingly, while others sighed sympathetically. Eager to make a judgment of my own, I asked a question that, two years later, has yet to be answered: "What is taught in ninth- and tenth-grade regular English?" In response, I was given book lists containing over 20 books per grade, ranging from Robert Lipsyte's The Contender to William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew on the freshman list alone, and even greater disparities on the other three lists. I was told to select six books from the appropriate list for each grade I taught, and "teach a book for every six weeks of the school year." Unsatisfied with this answer, yet slowly beginning to feel foolish for asking (Should I know the answers to these questions? Am I unqualified to be a teacher if I don't know what ninth- and tenth-grade English means?), I gathered the courage to inquire further. "What concepts are we supposed to teach the students through these books?" Now growing visibly agitated, several colleagues responded, "Teach literary elements and techniques. They need to re-learn those every year, and prepare them for the state test, and teach them some grammar and vocabulary as well as whatever concepts each book calls for."

Much more on Wisconsin's standards here.

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Plugging the Hole in State Standards

E.D. Hirsch, Jr. [300K pdf]:

Like other forward-looking organizations, the American Federation of Teachers believes that we need to have better state standards if we are truly going to improve K-12 education. I’ve earnestly stated that same view. That’s no doubt why I’ve been invited to write on this subject.

I’m genuinely flattered. But after living with this question for more than two decades, my views have become so definite (some might say extreme) that I decided to conceive of this piece as a guest editorial where no one should think I am speaking for anyone but myself. That will allow me to speak my mind, which will I hope be more useful to readers than an attempt to find and express a consensus view on behalf of American Educator and the AFT on this controversial subject.

E. D. Hirsch, Jr., is professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and author of many articles and books, including the bestselling Cultural Literacy and The Schools We Need. He is a fellow of the Academy of Arts and Sciences and founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation. His most recent book is The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children.

The subject is controversial in part because some teachers do not like explicit subject-matter standards. In my own state of Virginia, some teachers are quite annoyed with me personally because many years back my writings influenced the Virginia Board of Education when they introduced the “Virginia Standards of Learning”—the much debated, often dreaded SoLs. But let me say to those teachers, and to other teachers, that the state did not pay attention to what my colleagues and I said back in 1988. We said that subject-matter standards and tests of them should be just two prongs of a four-pronged policy. Standards and tests needed to be accompanied by good teacher training in the subject matter specified in the standards and by good classroom materials that clearly indicate what to teach, but not how to teach it. The last two prongs have never come properly into existence in Virginia, nor to my knowledge in any other state. Moreover, the Virginia standards (not to mention the tests) are not nearly as good as they should be. other state standards are even worse. No wonder there is such dissatisfaction!

But many teachers I have talked to have agreed that they would very much prefer to work in a more coherent system, one that ensured that students who entered their classrooms were adequately prepared.

Thanks to a reader for mentioning this article.

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Madison Shuffles Elementary Principals

Susan Troller:

Three Madison elementary school principals have been reassigned to new schools for the 2008/2009 school year.

They will begin their new duties on July 1.

John Burkholder, who is currently the principal at Midvale Elementary, will become principal at Leopold. He will be replaced at Midvale by Pam Wilson, who is currently the principal of Lindbergh.

Lindbergh's new principal will be Mary Hyde, who is currently the principal at Leopold. Mary Manthey, the current assistant principal at Leopold, will be reassigned as assistant principal at Kennedy. This is a new position at Kennedy, the result of an increased student population at that school.

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Demographic Boom & Bust

Elizabeth Redden:

A new national report projecting the size of high school graduating classes through 2022 finds that the rapid, sustained growth of graduates that began in the early 1990s ends this year, in 2007-8. A long-anticipated period of moderate declines in the number of graduates — and traditional-aged college applicants — is soon set to begin, which could increase competition among colleges and intensify financial pressures on tuition-dependent institutions.

“The second baby boom, if you will, it has come to an end this year,” said David A. Longanecker, president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), which on Wednesday released its seventh edition of Knocking at the College Door.

But the report also projects enrollment patterns that are distinctly regional and, in some cases, state-specific (individual state profiles are available online). Generally speaking, the report projects expansion in the numbers of high school graduates in the South and West, drops in the Northeast and Midwest, and, nationally, explosive growth among non-white graduates, especially Hispanics, as the number of white youth falls.

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'OPERATION SAFE PASSAGE' | Parents keep kids home, fearing retaliation -- so cops will escort them

Maudlyne Ihejirika:

"You got one of ours. We're gonna get one of yours."

That reality of gang life has kept nearly 200 Crane High School students from the ABLA Homes out of school since March 7, when a reputed gang member from ABLA gunned down another student who lived in rival gang territory. Their parents refuse to send them.

"You know they're coming for somebody from ABLA, and it doesn't have to be a gang member," said a 16-year-old girl, a junior who was afraid to be identified.

So officials have come up with "Operation Safe Passage," an unprecedented plan to protect students who fear they may be the next target.

Police to watch over buses
When spring break ends next week, Crane students from ABLA -- also known as "the Village" -- will gather at one central location each morning. CTA buses will pick them up after they've walked en masse to the bus stop.

Then a Chicago Police escort will follow the buses to a transfer point, where under the watchful eyes of even more officers, they will board second buses to Crane at 2245 W. Jackson. They will enter the school under police watch.

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On Teen Driving Restrictions

USA Today Debate:

Graduated licensing saves lives. Why are some states slow to act?

Last month, a Minnesota teen drove through a stop sign and broadsided a tractor trailer, killing himself and leaving his passenger, also a teen, in critical condition.

The most remarkable thing about this accident, about 130 miles north of Minneapolis, is how unremarkable it was. Such tragedies happen all too often in Minnesota, which had the nation's highest teen crash death rate from 2004 to 2006, and throughout the USA.

Why does Minnesota, a state with a reputation for good government, carry this unfortunate distinction? One key reason appears to be its weak licensing laws for teen drivers.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives only 28 states a "good" rating for enacting graduated licensing laws, which allow young drivers to take on more responsibilities one step at a time. Ten states, including Minnesota, get "marginal" ratings.

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Allergies Alter Kids' Sleep, Play and Concentration, Study Says

Nicole Ostrow:

The sneezing, wheezing and sinus congestion of allergies can affect children's sleep, as well as their ability to compete in sports and concentrate in school, according to a survey involving more than 1,000 families.

Twice as many parents of children with allergies as those without the condition said it limited their child's activities in research to be reported tomorrow at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology meeting in Philadelphia. Almost half of parents surveyed said their children use prescription medicine to treat their allergies.

Allergic rhinitis affects about 40 million people in the U.S., including up to 40 percent of children, according to the researchers. The condition is most severe in the spring when plant and tree flowers fill the air with pollens that trigger immune responses. Severe allergies can lead to asthma, chronic sinus problems or ear infections, researchers said.

``Allergies are more than just a sneezing nose, running nose or itching. They have a major effect on children,'' said study author Michael Blaiss, a Memphis, Tennessee, allergist who is a past president of the allergy group, in a March 14 phone interview. ``One has to realize that allergic rhinitis is not a trivial condition. We see marked impairment in children.''

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Glimmers of Progress at a Failing School

Winnie Hu:

THIRD grade has always been a hard year for Rahmana Muhammad’s children, and therefore for her. All of a sudden, it seems to this mother of four, their textbooks have fewer pictures, their homework lasts for hours, and their test scores plummet.

So Ms. Muhammad, 39, was not sure what to expect last month when she arrived at the Newton Street School in Newark to pick up a report card for her youngest child, Dyshirah, 9, who is in third grade. After climbing the concrete stairs to Dyshirah’s classroom, Ms. Muhammad greeted the teacher, Kevin Kilgore, and hunkered down at a low table with the report card. Opening it, she found a C in reading, and a D in math.

Ms. Muhammad looked over at Dyshirah, a slight girl with a head full of braids, who was tracing sentences in a book with her finger. Mr. Kilgore, 22, assured Ms. Muhammad that Dyshirah had made a lot of progress, earning an average of 51 percent on her class math tests compared with 17 percent at the beginning of the marking period.

“I’m not happy but I’m optimistic,” said Ms. Muhammad, a supermarket customer service representative who graduated from Newton in 1982. “I see the changes. Before, I couldn’t pay her to read anything, and now she’ll come in and say, ‘Can I read this to you?’ ”

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March 26, 2008

Teachers Tap Video-Sharing in the Classroom

Joseph De Avila:

When Richard Colosi wanted to teach his first-grade class about insects, he turned to the Web for help. Mr. Colosi, who works at Canandaigua Primary School in upstate New York, went to his laptop and put on a video parody of "The Dating Game" that featured different types of insects. The video was produced by a teacher in another school district and posted on TeacherTube, a video-sharing site for students and educators.

Video in the classroom has evolved since the days when teachers wheeled in film projectors on carts. More teachers are using online video-sharing sites modeled after Google Inc.'s YouTube to engage with students. And video is no longer a one-way channel of communication; students are participating in the creation of videos, too.

On TeacherTube, educators share material, such as instructional math videos, with classrooms around the world. Another site, SchoolTube, mainly hosts videos produced by students in class with the help of their teachers.

Teachers who use the sites say they value the opportunity to see what other educators are doing in their classrooms, and students say they enjoy having an outlet to showcase their work. Also, "kids are becoming more technologically inclined," says Mr. Colosi, and such video helps to hold their interest.

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Many Muslims Turn to Home Schooling

Neil MacFarquhar:

Like dozens of other Pakistani-American girls here, Hajra Bibi stopped attending the local public school when she reached puberty, and began studying at home.

Her family wanted her to clean and cook for her male relatives, and had also worried that other American children would mock both her Muslim religion and her traditional clothes.

“Some men don’t like it when you wear American clothes — they don’t think it is a good thing for girls,” said Miss Bibi, 17, now studying at the 12th-grade level in this agricultural center some 70 miles east of San Francisco. “You have to be respectable.”

Across the United States, Muslims who find that a public school education clashes with their religious or cultural traditions have turned to home schooling. That choice is intended partly as a way to build a solid Muslim identity away from the prejudices that their children, boys and girls alike, can face in schoolyards. But in some cases, as in Ms. Bibi’s, the intent is also to isolate their adolescent and teenage daughters from the corrupting influences that they see in much of American life.

About 40 percent of the Pakistani and other Southeast Asian girls of high school age who are enrolled in the district here are home-schooled, though broader statistics on the number of Muslim children being home-schooled, and how well they do academically, are elusive. Even estimates on the number of all American children being taught at home swing broadly, from one million to two million.

No matter what the faith, parents who make the choice are often inspired by a belief that public schools are havens for social ills like drugs and that they can do better with their children at home.

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Stop Treating Parents Like ATM's

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore:

I've heard a lot lately about my generation clinging financially to our parents. There are books, there are studies, there is a general groan from the sandwich generation – baby boomers caring for both their parents and their grown-up kids. What I don't understand is how so many of my peers have failed to grasp the basics of a tight belt.

I was one of those teens who left the house at 18 – literally. The day after that birthday a decade ago, I loaded up my parents' car with my precious few earthly belongings and we took off on an eight-hour drive to Evanston, Ill., for freshman orientation at Northwestern University.

Standing in the confines of my tiny dorm room that afternoon, shortly after meeting my roommate, my mom and I exchanged a long, quiet embrace. When we pulled apart, we both wiped away tears.

Then I turned to my dad. He gave me his signature bear hug, took me by the shoulders, and said: "You're on your own now. We did what we could. The mistakes you make are your own; just do your best to learn from as many of them as you can."

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"Public Schools Expand Online Curriculum"

Larry Abramson @ NPR:

When senior Zack Jackson wanted to take a class in mythology, he wasn't out of luck just because his small high school in rural Virginia didn't offer it. Instead, he headed online.

The course comes courtesy of Virtual Virginia, a state program that offers dozens of online classes to middle and high school students. The program allows children to take classes that aren't offered at their schools. Nationwide, programs like Virtual Virginia help hundreds of thousands of students take the kinds of unusual courses that make colleges sit up and take notice.

Most of the 3,000 students in the Virtual Virginia program enroll in online advanced placement courses. And thanks to the program, Zack's school, Rappahannock County High, can offer more AP classes, allowing it to compete with local private schools, which often use AP courses as a selling point.

Principal Robyn Puryear says students have to be self-directed to succeed in an online class. Since online courses are self-paced, there's a temptation to procrastinate — and that leads to trouble.

Related Links:Abramson's article includes a chat with online Mandarin teacher Susan Cox. Virtual courses would seem to be ideal for a number of subjects that are often sparsely offered. Mandarin for example, is only available at Madison's Memorial High School.

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Pennsylvania Plans to Boost Gifted Programs

Joe Smydo:

The state Board of Education today will consider a new process for identifying "gifted" children and beefing up the monitoring of gifted programs, steps advocates say would help provide a mind-stretching education for the state's top students.

Under the current law, students are classified as gifted if they score at least 130 on an IQ test and meet other criteria, such as performing one or more years above grade level and excelling in one or more subject areas.

The proposed change would classify students as gifted if they meet the IQ threshold or meet multiple other criteria. Advocates said the change is needed because IQ tests don't always flag gifted students, particularly those from disadvantaged homes, children with disabilities and deep-thinkers who don't do well on timed tests.

"There are many school districts that will look at that and say, 'If you do not have the magic number, you are not in,' " said David Mason, president of Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education and a retired York County school administrator.

Advocates said they didn't consider the potential change a watering down of eligibility criteria or something that would swell the ranks of gifted students. About 70,000 of the state's 1.8 million school-age children receive gifted services, according to the state board.

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Schools embrace fingerprint scanning

Pauline Vu:

The lunch lines in West Virginia’s Wood County schools move much faster than they used to. After students fill their trays with food, they approach a small machine, push their thumbs against a touch pad — and with that small movement, they’ve paid for their meal.

For half the state’s school districts, as well as hundreds more across the country, the days of dealing with lost lunch cards or forgotten identification numbers are over.

“A student cannot forget their finger,” said Beverly Blough, the director of food service in Wood County School District, which in 2003 became the first district in West Virginia to use finger scanners.

But the emergence of finger scanning has also sparked a backlash from parents and civil libertarians worried about identity theft and violation of children’s privacy rights. In several cases when parents have objected, school districts have backed down, and some states have outlawed or limited the technology.

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Student Robot Competition

Wall Street Journal Video.

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Saving the Children

Adam Taylor:

Killing himself was the only way the 11-year-old boy could think of to be with his mom, who died of cancer three years ago.

So he tried -- twice. The first time was around two years ago, near the first anniversary of her death. He tried to strangle himself at home with rosary beads, even though his dad told him it was a mortal sin to take his own life.

The second attempt was near the second anniversary of his mom's death, when he wrapped the straps of his bookbag around his neck in the coat room at his school.

In addition to the two suicide attempts, the boy had been soiling himself. His hygiene was poor. His grades were down. He was written up at school 40 times for various infractions.

After the coat room incident, Wilmington police got involved. When an officer responded and saw the marks on the boy's neck, his training with the department's Special Victims Unit of social workers kicked in.

He referred the boy's father to a social worker and a grief counselor.

Now, a year later, the boy has made a complete turnaround. No more of the old problems. He has not been written up at all this year.

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Unready Soon Quit College

Matt Krupnick:

It's the second week of school, and Phil Farmer's pre-algebra class at Diablo Valley College already has empty seats.
His roll call brings silence after several names. Call it a result of the January rain, or even of the agonizing early semester parking space hunt, but definitely call it a problem.
Statistically, it's safe to say that only 30 percent to 40 percent of Farmer's students will advance to basic algebra.
Community colleges nationwide labor under the weight of ill-prepared students. Some colleges estimate that nearly every student is unprepared in math, reading or writing -- or all three.
Consider the sheer magnitude of California's problem:
  • Nearly 670,000 California college students were enrolled in basic English and math courses last year, with additional students in remedial reading courses and English-as-a-second-language classes. It's estimated that far more students need remedial work but don't enroll, and half the remedial and second-language students leave school after their first year.
  • One in 10 students at the lowest remedial levels -- community colleges sometimes have up to five courses below the lowest college-level course -- reaches a college-level course in that subject. The numbers are worse for black and Latino students.
  • Nearly three-quarters of the students who take placement tests are directed to remedial math courses, compared with 9 percent being placed in college-level courses.

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Texas panel nixes talk of school vouchers for dropouts

Terrence Stutz:

A special state committee on high school dropouts on Tuesday appeared to nix the idea of a private school voucher program for those students, but left open the possibility of the state contracting with private firms to help dropouts complete their education.

Before adopting its long-range plan to reduce the dropout rate and improve the college and workforce readiness of high school graduates in Texas, the nine-member state panel reacted to widespread criticism from education groups that it was opening the door to a limited voucher program.

Key members of the High School Completion and Success Initiative Council said they don't believe a traditional school voucher program could be launched without approval of the Legislature. Under a voucher program, students can attend any school their parents choose – private or public – at state expense.

"I do not read this language in any way supporting a voucher program," said Don McAdams, a member of the council and former president of the Houston school board.

His reference was to language in the council's plan that states, "All students should have the opportunity to select from multiple pathways, including alternative delivery systems, to achieve postsecondary success."

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March 25, 2008

Fired Madison Teacher Fights Back


A fired Madison teacher cried foul about how district officials treated her and claimed there's a double standard in evaluating the conduct of men and women staff members.

Hawthorne Elementary School fourth and fifth grade teacher Lynette Hansen was fired last month for crossing the boundaries of what's appropriate in teacher-student interactions. Hansen was also fired six years ago from a middle school job because school board members determined her physical affection for students crossed a line into inappropriate contact. But an arbitrator reinstated Hansen, with conditions she refrain from displaying physical affection for students.

"(I was)Vindicated because even though I'd taken a hit, I prevailed," Hansen told 27 News. "I'm a very good teacher." Before Hansen's 2002 dismisal, several school parents praised her teaching and doubted her affectionate-style with children amounted to a problem.

Hansen's reinstatement at Hawthorne was interrupted in Feburary 2007 when district officials recommended she be dismissed again. In school district documents, officials cited Hansen's inappropriate conduct with students at Hawthorne, including having a student sit on her lap, telling a student he had "luscious lips," and getting a requested hug from a student. School Board members agreed with district officials and fired Hansen last month. Hansen said Superintendent Art Rainwater argued leniency for Hansen's hug of a nine year old boy would represent a "double standard."

"Rainwater said if he hugged a nine year old girl, it would be viewed seriously," Hansen told 27 News.

Hansen told 27 News her actions were out in the open, brief and prompted by school situations.

District spokesperson Joe Quick has yet to return a call from 27 News seeking comment on Hansen's firing. School Board President Arlene Silveira told 27 News she could not comment on a personnel matter.

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Madison school board candidates Hughes and Passman discuss the achievement gap

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

In one key way, the Madison school district is no different than any other urban school system in the country -- poor kids and kids of color just aren’t learning as much as other students.

We asked the two Madison school board candidates on the April 1 ballot -- Marj Passman is the lone candidate for Seat 6, while Ed Hughes is running unopposed for Seat 7 -- how they would address the achievement gap.

Interestingly, both see early education as part of the solution, but both also stopped short of endorsing the introduction of 4-year-old kindergarten in Madison.

We ended our five-week series of questions for the candidates with an open-ended query on what they felt were an overlooked issue in the schools.

Both gave thoughtful responses.

Passman suggested the schools needed to do more about the pervasiveness of substance abuse among teenagers, while Hughes said the district needs to pay more attention to why parents pull their children out of the Madison schools.

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AP Course Audits

Danie de Vise:

When the College Board announced last year that every high school Advanced Placement teacher would have to prove he or she was actually teaching a college-level course, there was widespread fear the process would purge worthy teachers from the program, weeding out good courses along with the bad.

They needn't have worried. In the first quality-control audit of the AP program, no AP teacher or course was rejected in the Fairfax, Montgomery, Prince George's or District school systems, according to area education officials. Of the 146,671 AP courses submitted for review nationwide, 136,853, or 93 percent, were approved.

The year-long audit, which ended in January, addressed mounting concern that rapid expansion of the college-preparatory program over the past decade had brought about a decline in the rigor for which it is known and that some students were not learning material worthy of an introductory college course.

But the ease with which many teachers passed the audit has prompted some to question its value. Thousands of teachers submitted exact copies of course outlines from colleagues who had been previously audited and approved. The College Board condoned the practice, as long as everyone submitting the same syllabus vowed to teach more or less the same course.

Related: Dane County AP course offering comparison.

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Author Works To Prevent Reading's 'Death Spiral'

Valerie Strauss:

He's got a serious new title: the very first officially declared U.S. National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. But author Jon Scieszka is on a mission to get schools and parents to lighten up when it comes to selecting books for children.

It's time, he said, for reading to be fun again.

Scieszka was picked recently by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington to fill the newly created role, designed to raise the profiles of reading and good books for young people. He is traveling the country, talking to adults about how to get children to read more, especially those who find reading a chore.

Legions of children know him from his award-winning books, including "The Stinky Cheese Man," and his Web site, which promotes books for boys. He also has Trucktown, a new series for preschool and kindergarten students, who wouldn't be at all surprised by his unorthodox views about reading, although some adults might.

The way he sees it, parents and teachers should:

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What Books When?

Valerie Strauss:

Parents at Green Acres, a private school in Montgomery County, complained this month when a teacher read to a group of third-graders from a book containing gruesome descriptions of violence against enslaved Africans and the conditions on the ships that brought them to the United States. They said the children were too young for the difficult theme and graphic language.

At Deal Junior High School in the District, some parents wondered why their children were reading books this year that they considered too easy for advanced seventh-grade students ("Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson) or books without much literary merit ("The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens" by Sean Covey.)

The episodes illustrate how difficult it is for librarians, teachers and parents to match children with the right book at the right age in an effort to turn young people into lovers of reading. And experts say that process is becoming increasingly complicated.

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Madison's New Superintendent Meets the Mayor

Jason Joyce's weekly look at Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's schedule reveals a meeting with Madison's new Superintendent, Dan Nerad this Thursday morning, along with Joel Plant. [clusty / google]

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No-test option gives Lawrence a different look

Erica Perez:

Elizabeth Byers didn't really worry about having the academic chops to get in to college.

She was a valedictorian at Reedsburg Area High School, had a 4.0 GPA and had a nice set of scores: a 29 on the ACT and a 1980 on the SAT.

Still, when Lawrence University in Appleton asked if she wanted her test scores to be considered, she checked the "no" box - and breathed a sigh of relief.

"I was just sort of, like, 'Oh! That's nice!' " Byers said. "So many kids are really great students and don't have great test scores. I have good test scores, but if they were going to recognize me for what I did in school, I wanted to take advantage of that."

Lawrence is among a growing list of more than 750 colleges and universities that have some kind of test-optional admissions, according to FairTest, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that opposes heavy reliance on the tests. The trend comes as standardized tests have faced increased scrutiny for possible bias against students who are the first in their family to go to college, minorities or non-native English speakers.

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Madison's Paul J. Olson Elementary School

Susan Troller:

Madison's new elementary school on the far west side will bear the name of Paul J. Olson, a beloved Madison teacher, principal and ardent conservationist, following a vote at Monday night's School Board meeting.

Olson, who was born in Mount Horeb and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spent most of his life on crutches following a childhood bout with polio. He died in 1993 at age 84.

Three of Olson's four children were at Monday's meeting.

"The thing that always struck me most about my dad was his optimism. He believed in the art of the possible," Tom Olson said following the meeting. He said his father's focus on overcoming any obstacle was what he taught his students.

The younger Olson and his brother Jim attended the meeting with their sister, Karen Sullivan of Janesville. They noted their father loved the natural world and was a committed environmentalist, fisherman and outdoorsman. He enjoyed canoeing and navigated the Boundary Waters on crutches.

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Michigan's School Finance Plans

David Eggert:

Gov. Jennifer Granholm's educational ideas are hitting roadblocks as lawmakers start working on how to spend the state's money in the next budget year.

The Democratic governor's proposals for making daylong kindergarten mandatory, offering two years of free community college tuition to laid-off workers and setting up smaller high schools all could face trouble in the Republican-led Senate, and some face changes in the Democratic-led House.

The reasons for the disagreements range from the practical to the ideological.

Some lawmakers are leery of spending as much as Gran-holm has proposed because of the economic uncertainty the state faces.

Granholm's budget plan would raise spending by 2.9 percent, to $44.8 billion, in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

But the Senate now says the increase should be smaller because revenues may be less than expected.

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Colorado School District Drops Grade System


One Colorado school district is going to shake things up by getting rid of grades.

The move includes traditional letter grades and grade levels.

The Adams County School District 50 school board approved a new system that lets students progress at their own pace.

Students will need to master 10 skill levels to graduate. They could end up graduating earlier, or later than fellow classmates. It just depends upon how long they need in order to master the skills.

District administrators says the new system will focus on students' competence, rather than achievement for grades.

There are other school districts across the country that have adopted this type of system.

The district says it will put an explainer on transcripts for students applying to college, since the students will not have grade point averages or class rankings.

Related: Proposed Madison School District Report Card/Homework Changes.

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California Resists Home School Ruling

Kristin Kloberdanz:

The parents of some 200,000 home-schooled kids in California were stunned last week when they learned that a judge had declared home schooling illegal unless conducted by a licensed teacher. For the moment, though, those parents can breathe a sigh of relief. Yesterday, Jack O'Connell, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, released a statement saying that the California Department of Education will not go after parents who do not have teaching credentials: "I have reviewed this case, and I want to assure parents that chose to home school that California Department of Education policy will not change in any way as a result of this ruling," O'Connell said in his statement. "Parents still have the right to home school in our state."

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Is a Vocab Battle the New Spelling Bee?


High school junior Aliya Deri, from Pleasanton, Calif., has been crowned the National Vocabulary Champion in the second year of a contest that's already attracting more than 100,000 kids for a spot at the title and $40,000 in scholarship money.

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March 24, 2008

Are Hard-Working Chinese Kids A Model for American Students?

Li Yuan:

In November 2006, Jack Li's father, a longtime Caterpillar employee in Beijing, was transferred to Peoria, Ill. Jack enrolled in high school as a ninth-grader. His parents, good friends of mine for almost a decade, weren't particularly worried about their son adapting to a new school in a foreign country -- at least not academically. They believed that China has better K-12 education than the U.S.

Jack didn't disappoint them: Three months later, he scored high enough on the SATs to put him in the top 3% in math and well above-average in writing and reading. Last fall, he transferred to Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, a college-prep program for Illinois students. He took advanced chemistry last semester and will study basic calculus next semester.

Chinese students like Jack are examples of why Microsoft's Bill Gates asked Congress today to spend more to improve American education in math and science. Unless more students can be attracted to those subjects, Mr. Gates warned, the U.S.'s competitive advantage will erode and its ability to create high-paying jobs will suffer.

I know many Americans don't believe him. They argue that American kids may not be as good at math and science as Chinese and Indian kids, but they're more well-rounded. But that's increasingly untrue. For example, Jack isn't your stereotypical Chinese nerd. He's the captain of IMSA's sophomore basketball team and tried out for the tennis team today.

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A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up, Repeatedly

Dan Barry:

All lank and bone, the boy stands at the corner with his younger sister, waiting for the yellow bus that takes them to their respective schools. He is Billy Wolfe, high school sophomore, struggling.

Moments earlier he left the sanctuary that is his home, passing those framed photographs of himself as a carefree child, back when he was 5. And now he is at the bus stop, wearing a baseball cap, vulnerable at 15.

A car the color of a school bus pulls up with a boy who tells his brother beside him that he’s going to beat up Billy Wolfe. While one records the assault with a cellphone camera, the other walks up to the oblivious Billy and punches him hard enough to leave a fist-size welt on his forehead.

The video shows Billy staggering, then dropping his book bag to fight back, lanky arms flailing. But the screams of his sister stop things cold.

The aggressor heads to school, to show friends the video of his Billy moment, while Billy heads home, again. It’s not yet 8 in the morning.

Norman Fried has more.

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Are our children all above average? New study says no

Jeff Shelman:

Low graduation rates, high tuition and a disconcerting achievement gap at Minnesota colleges and universities, especially among minorities, are revealed in a new study.

Minnesotans pay twice as much as the national average to get a public college education, but they're not getting double the results.

Fewer than 40 percent of students at Minnesota's colleges and universities graduate in four years, according to a report released this week by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. In addition, students of color have less than a 50-50 chance of graduating at all.

For a state where high school students traditionally fare well on college entrance exams, that's disconcerting to those in charge of assessing the quality of higher education in Minnesota.

"Part of our concern is that we start out so high, and then once the students get into school, our results tend to be really national average," said Susan Heegaard, director of the Office of Higher Education. "The question for Minnesota as a state is, 'Is this where we want to be?' If we want to compete nationally and internationally, our argument is that we need to do better than average."

Slow to graduate: For high school students who entered a four-year school in the fall of 2000, only 36.7 percent of them graduated in four years and 57.5 percent graduated in six years. Only five of the state's 36 four-year schools -- public or private -- had a four year graduation rate of better than 70 percent.

Rates are particularly low at schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. According to the report, only 20.6 percent of MnSCU students graduated in four years, and fewer than half had graduated after six years.

Minnesota Higher Education Accountability Report.

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School Cell Phone Policy

Samara Kalk Derby:

As it stands, Madison school district policy strictly forbids students from having cell phones in school. The Student Senate will recommend to the School Board next month that phones be allowed to be used before and after school and during lunch.

"I don't know many teenagers who would like to be separated from their cell phone," said Laura Checovich, 17, president of the Student Senate and a student at West High School.

"Right now, the current policy is that you could be expelled just for having one in your backpack or in your pocket. We thought that was pretty drastic and thought it needed to be looked at again," she said.

Some students leave their cell phones in their lockers, but Checovich estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of students keep their phones in their pockets or backpacks, which is prohibited under current school policy.

The School Board directed the Student Senate in December to research and recommend potential changes to district policy on cell phone use in schools. The Senate's recommendations will be confined to policy in the high schools. The Senate will present its findings to the board at a 5 p.m. meeting April 14 at La Follette High School.

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Madison to Finalized Elementary School Name Tonight

Susan Troller:

The long saga of naming Madison's newest elementary school will end tonight as the School Board makes its selection from four final choices.

The names are Jeffrey Erlanger, an advocate for people with disabilities; Paul J. Olson, a conservationist and well-known Madison educator; Howard Temin, a Nobel Prize-winning UW cancer researcher; and Ilda Thomas, a community activist who helped found Centro Hispano.

The Erlanger and Olson names have received the most community support to date.

"We have the school, the principal, the boundaries. We are looking forward to having a name," School Board President Arlene Silveira said this morning.

The four final names were recommended to the board by a citizen committee which met extensively in January and early February, winnowing a pool of 87 names submitted by the public down to four.

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Charter advocates rethink school reform

Amber Arellano:

Die-hard charter school advocates are rethinking their approach to school reform and the ability of competition and charter schools alone to transform American urban schools and their awful student achievement rates.

It's a surprising change and it's hardly common, particularly at the grassroots level.

Still, in recent weeks a number of the country's leading pro-charter think-tanks and leaders have published pieces, announced policies or made statements indicating their reconsideration -- and it likely will have an enormous impact on policymaking and Republican politics.

From New York City to Detroit to Atlanta, charter advocates have echoed writer Sol Stern, an important conservative voice on education reform, when he wrote in a recent edition of the City Journal: "education reformers ought to resist unreflective support for elegant-sounding theories, derived from the study of economic activity, that don't produce verifiable results in the classroom."

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A Home-Grown Solution to Bad Schools

Gregory Millman:

"It's hard to generalize about home-schoolers, but if there's one thing we know, it's that we are changing the world, or at least the world of education choices. Others, though, see us as either misguided or a threat -- and probably cheered last month's California appeals court ruling that all children in the state must be taught by credentialed teachers. ... Nonetheless, home-schooling is booming. In 2003 the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that the home-schooled population nationwide was 1.1 million. The National Home Education Research Institute estimates that it may be growing at double-digit rates. ... The results? Studies have shown that home-schooled children outperform the conventionally schooled not only on standardized academic tests but also on tests of social skills."

Gregory J. Millman, co-author of the forthcoming "Homeschooling: A Family's Journey," will be online Monday, March 24 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss his Outlook article about home-schooling and the ways it improves upon conventional public education.

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A Decade of the Challenge Index: Send Me Your School and Your Opinion

Jay Matthews:

The Challenge Index, my device for assessing high schools on college-level course participation, was born 10 years ago this month in The Post and Newsweek. At the beginning it was mostly a way to draw attention to a book I had written, "Class Struggle: What's Wrong (and Right) with America's Best Public High Schools." I feared that my prose was far too stuck in the minutiae of classroom life to win much of an audience but hoped that a list of schools ranked in a new way might tweak some curiosity.

In May, Newsweek will again publish its annual Top High Schools list, using the Challenge Index rating method, just as The Post published its annual Challenge Index list of D.C. area schools in December. These lists have taken on a life of their own. Newsweek's Top High Schools was the most visited feature on the Web site last year. The Post's local list is also popular, and both are targets of controversy, producing by far the most questions and comments coming to my e-mail boxes.

Is this good? I would like you to tell me. These past 10 years I have been quoting regularly from the lists' most acidic critics, as well as their warmest friends. But the arguments on both sides have grown stale and predictable. I have a new idea for advancing the debate.

First, I would like to ask all high schools that have strong Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge programs and have NOT gotten the Newsweek list entry form to e-mail right away and request one. If you gave at least as many AP, IB or Cambridge exams last May as you had graduating seniors last year, you should qualify for the Newsweek list. We gather all of our information for the list directly from the qualifying high schools. We have sent out thousands of forms, but we don't want to miss anybody. If you know of a high school that you think has been overlooked, please forward this column to the principal. I figure the more schools on the list, the more varied and interesting the opinions of the list.

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"Why Our Children Isn't Learning"

Radley Balko:

Because their educators waste time on crap like this:
To soothe the bruised egos of educators and children in lackluster schools, Massachusetts officials are now pushing for kinder, gentler euphemisms for failure.

Instead of calling these schools "underperforming," the Board of Education is considering labeling them as "Commonwealth priority," to avoid poisoning teacher and student morale.

Schools in the direst straits, now known as "chronically underperforming," would get the more urgent but still vague label of "priority one."

The board has spent parts of more than three meetings in recent months debating the linguistic merits and tone set by the terms after a handful of superintendents from across the state complained that the label underperforming unfairly casts blame on educators, hinders the recruitment of talented teachers, and erodes students' self-esteem.

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Quality Time Seems Stacked In Favor of Firstborns

Donna St. George:

When her oldest child was in kindergarten, Laura Haggerty-Lacalle sat down with her every day to review reading or math, intent on providing that most precious commodity of all: parent time. "Oh my God, it's the most important thing you can do," she said.

But when her second child hit the same age, life was more hectic. Now, with a third child, Haggerty-Lacalle, 37, feels good when she gets five minutes to stack blocks or build Legos in her Oak Hill home. "When you have three kids," she says, "you're just trying to survive."

Within this familiar progression of family life, new research has confirmed what some parents recognize and others quietly fear: Their firstborn children get more of their time than others in the family -- on average, 3,000 extra "quality" hours from ages 4 to 13, when sisters and brothers are in the picture.

That's 25 extra minutes a day with mothers on average and 20 extra minutes a day with fathers across a nine-year span of childhood, according to a study by economist Joseph Price of Brigham Young University.

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Senate Backs Bill to Keep Students in School Until 17

Lisa Rein:

Maryland high school students would have to stay in school until they turn 17, a year later than current law requires, under a bill that won preliminary approval yesterday in the state Senate.

Lawmakers representing struggling school districts in Prince George's County and the city of Baltimore have pushed the General Assembly for five years to raise the compulsory attendance age to reduce rising dropout rates. The effort has been stymied by estimates that keeping more students in school would cost millions of dollars.

Under the legislation, which passed a preliminary test on a 28 to 16 vote yesterday, the attendance age would rise in the 2010-2011 school year. An amendment would allow it to go up only if the governor set aside at least $45 million a year in the state budget to compensate school districts.

Students who are home-schooled, ill, in the military or considered by school officials to be disruptive or violent would be exempt from the bill.

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March 23, 2008

Carstensen Poised to Move on From Madison School Board

Doug Erickson:

Madison School Board member Carol Carstensen has handed out enough high school diplomas to know that, eventually, everyone must move on.

It is her turn now. After six terms and 18 years on the board, she will step down following the April 1 elections.

Some say it's too soon; others say it's about time.

A steadfast liberal, Carstensen, 65, can exasperate conservatives. Perhaps no one is more responsible for higher school property taxes in Madison in recent years — she supported all 14 referendum questions during her tenure and instigated several of them.

Yet she never lost a board election, even after enraging some constituents by supposedly disrespecting the Pledge of Allegiance. As she leaves, there is apt symbolism in the years she has served.

"At 18, you get to graduate," she says.

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Madison School Board Candidate Take Home test: Taxes & Military Recruitment

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

The Madison Metropolitan School District’s policy on military recruitment in schools, along with advertisements for the armed forces, is one issue that has generated significant comment to the school board recently.

Marj Passman and Ed Hughes, who are running unopposed for Seats 6 and 7 on the board, respectively, differ on this policy. Both also discuss the perennially contentious topic of school financing.

Here’s what we asked the two candidates this week.

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Invitation to HOPE/SIS Forum on Educational Equity - April 3

You are all enthusiastically invited to attend a public forum on Educational Equity on April 3, 2008 at 6:30pm at Centro Hispano of Dane County [Map] organized by HOPE (Having Options in Public Education) and SIS (School Info System). Rafael Gomez will be leading a panel discussion on the topic of Equity in Public Education followed by an audience Q & A that will focus on the following questions:

  1. Are equal programs the same as equitable programs?
  2. How do recent Board decisions (e.g., attendance boundaries and high school design) ensure equity and/or address the achievement gap?
  3. Have other recent decisions/changes been made that will positively impact closing the achievement gaps?
  4. How are we addressing the issue of ensuring equity in education in a diverse urban population?
Other panelists will include a member of the MMSD Board of Education, a representative from the Urban League, a representative from Centro Hispano, and a former member of the MMSD Equity Task Force. (The Equity Task Force's final report from March 2007 is attached.)

Thank you for your commitment to quality in our public schools and we sincerely hope you will be able to join us for this interesting and informative conversation.

Nancy Donahue, HOPE Organizer

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2008 Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference

Ingrid Beamsley:

April 21-22 at the Madison Concourse Hotel [map].

Wisconsin State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster will open the conference with her keynote presentation on Monday morning.

Dean Kern, Director of the Charter Schools Program at the U.S. Department of Education will also be speaking on Monday.

Speakers and Schedule.
Howard Fuller, Founder & Director at the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University will provide a keynote presentation Monday during lunch. See an on-line video interview with Howard Fuller by Alan Borsuk of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Be sure not to miss these presentations.

Remember to Register!

Wisconsin Charter Schools Association
PO Box 1704
Madison, WI 53701-1704
Phone: 608-661-6946

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Moore's Law, Culture & School Change


Here, buried in my sixth paragraph, is the most important nugget: we've reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.

I came to this conclusion recently while attending Brainstorm 2008, a delightful conference for computer people in K-12 schools throughout Wisconsin. They didn't hold breakout sessions on technology battles or tactics, but the idea was in the air. These people were under siege.

I started writing educational software in 1978. The role of instructional technology has changed since then from a gimmick to a novelty to an effort to an essential component of any curriculum. Kids can't go to school today without working on computers. But having said that, in the last five years more and more technical resources have been turned to how to keep technology OUT of our schools. Keeping kids from instant messaging, then text messaging or using their phones in class is a big issue as is how to minimize plagiarism from the Internet. These defensive measures are based on the idea that unbound use of these communication and information technologies is bad, that it keeps students from learning what they must, and hurts their ability to later succeed as adults.

But does it?

These are kids who have never known life without personal computers and cell phones. But far more important, there is emerging a class of students whose PARENTS have never known life without personal computers and cell phones. The Big Kahuna in educational discipline isn't the school, it is the parent. Ward Cleaver rules. But what if Ward puts down his pipe and starts texting? Well he has.

Andy Hertzfeld said Google is the best tool for an aging programmer because it remembers when we cannot. Dave Winer, back in 1996, came to the conclusion that it was better to bookmark information than to cut and paste it. I'm sure today Dave wouldn't bother with the bookmark and would simply search from scratch to get the most relevant result. Both men point to the idea that we're moving from a knowledge economy to a search economy, from a kingdom of static values to those that are dynamic. Education still seems to define knowing as more important than being able to find, yet which do you do more of in your work? And what's wrong with crimping a paragraph here or there from Cringely if it shows you understand the topic?

This is, of course, a huge threat to the education establishment, which tends to have a very deterministic view of how knowledge and accomplishment are obtained - a view that doesn't work well in the search economy. At the same time K-12 educators are being pulled back by No Child Left Behind, they are being pulled forward (they probably see it as pulled askew) by kids abetted by their high-tech Generation Y (yes, we're getting well into Y) parents who are using their Ward Cleaver power not to maintain the status quo but to challenge it.

There's no question that revolution is in the air. The education process is ripe for change for a number of reasons, including those mentioned by Cringely. We've seen substantial education spending increases over the past decade, which are unlikely to continue growing at the same pace, given other spending priorities such as health care and infrastructure. The ongoing flap over the proposed Madison report card changes is another example of change in the air. Links:Cringely has posted a followup article here.

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DC School Budget Transfers Some High Cost Programs to the City

V. Dion Haynes:

The D.C. schools' proposed $773 million fiscal 2009 budget is garnering attention not only for the millions added for art and music classes, but for what it doesn't have -- money for special education tuition, transportation and attorney's fees, which annually created huge shortfalls.

Under Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's takeover of the 49,600-student school system, city officials have shifted to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education a total of $231.5 million in costs associated with educating about 2,000 disabled students in private schools. For years, severe overspending on tuition, transportation and attorney's fees has contributed to budget gaps, forcing the system to lay off teachers and shift as much as $54 million from classroom instruction.

Previously, the system assumed the duties of a state and a local district, essentially overseeing itself. That structure led to the mismanagement of millions of dollars in federal funds, according to the Department of Education, which designated the system a "high risk" grantee.

In the new structure, all oversight responsibilities and other duties associated with a state were transferred to the state superintendent. Another problem area -- school construction and maintenance -- was shifted to the new Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization.

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Governance & Change

Wall Street Journal:

The modern academy is notoriously immune from accountability, as Larry Summers so painfully learned at Harvard. So it is worth noting, and applauding, the achievements of Hank Brown, the best college president you've never heard of, who retired this month from the University of Colorado.

Mr. Brown took over as interim president in April 2005 when the school of 50,000 was in turmoil. This was a couple of months after CU professor Ward Churchill had become infamous, and a year after the school's athletic department was accused of offering alcohol and sex to recruit football players. A former U.S. Senator, Mr. Brown was reappointed in 2006 in a permanent capacity.

Mr. Brown proceeded to oversee a complete examination of Mr. Churchill's work, and the ethnic studies professor was eventually fired because of fraudulent scholarship, not his politics. Mr. Brown then initiated a complete review of CU's tenure policies, making it easier for his successors to get rid of deadwood. He also took on the equally sensitive subject of grade inflation, insisting that the university disclose student class rank on transcripts. If a B average puts a student at the bottom of his class, future employers will know it.

Frederick Hess, who researches higher education at the American Enterprise Institute, says there may be plenty of other people who know how to fix a university. But the reason there are so few Hank Browns goes back to Machiavelli. "When a leader tries to wrestle with these things," Mr. Hess notes, "there are influential constituencies that he upsets. It's much easier to manage the status quo than to enforce change."

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March 22, 2008

Schools give extra as top leaders leave: Retirement packages go beyond contracts

Tom Kertscher:

Some Milwaukee-area school boards have given cash and insurance benefits worth tens of thousands of dollars to departing superintendents that are above and beyond what
Buy a link here

In Germantown, where a $16.5 million school referendum is on the April 1 ballot, Superintendent Victor Rossetti's contract was set to expire at the end of this school year. But the School Board decided to give him early retirement benefits for which he had not qualified.

Rossetti, who has worked for the district for seven years, will retire June 30 with an additional $54,000 in cash and insurance benefits, including $15,000 for severance pay and two weeks of unused vacation.

Germantown School Board President Michael Erdmann could not be reached for comment on why the board in January approved the retirement package. Vice President Michael Schultz referred questions to Erdmann. were called for in the superintendents' contracts.

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Interview for College, Be Accepted to College: Programs Give Immediate Offers

Julie Rasicot:

Rockville High School senior Saba Gongbay was ready for her college admission interview with Morgan State University -- she had copies of her high school transcript, SAT scores and even a letter of recommendation.

When it was her turn, she sat down opposite college admissions officer Lee Ann Lewis. After a few questions about Gongbay's interest in the university and a quick glance at her records, Lewis gave the 18-year-old the good news.

"Welcome to Morgan," Lewis said after handing Gongbay a letter of acceptance.

As she walked out of the guidance center at Springbrook High School, Gongbay had a lightness in her step. "I'm happy, relieved," she said. "At least I'm going to college."

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Teaching Economics


Resources for teaching economics to students is not something we hear a lot about and yet knowledge in this area is something that is vital for one’s entire life. Strategies for teaching this are available for all ages. As a teacher, parent, or student, here are some you might want to investigate.

There’s an article in The Duke Gifted Letter that reviews two board games for parents who are interested in teaching their children the complexities of the stock market: Bull Market, by the Great Canadian Game Company Inc. for ages 8 to adult, and Stock Market Tycoon, by Vida Games LLC for ages 12 to adult.

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The State of Mediocrity: A Look at Wisconsin's State Budget

Bruce Murphy:

Wisconsin is not one of the nation’s best-managed states. Such is the conclusion of Governing Magazine in its March cover story. The magazine’s annual report card, done in conjunction with the Pew Center on the States, gives Wisconsin a B-minus, ranking it above just 19 states, including big loser New Hampshire (D-plus).

But 30 states ranked above Wisconsin, including such paragons as Utah and Virginia, which both got an A-minus.

The report ranked states on money (including budget and finances), people (hiring, training, retaining employees), infrastructure (maintenance, capital planning) and information (auditing and evaluation, etc.).

Wisconsin got a black eye for how it is handling state employees. “Hiring freezes, ongoing budget disputes and lagging pay scale help explain why Wisconsin has the second-highest turnover rate in the country for veteran employees,” the story noted.

Readers of this column will recall my questioning whether Gov. Jim Doyle has been cutting state employees at all costs to live up to his campaign promise to slash the total payroll by 10,000 employees. The approach seems to be creating problems. “The state is contracting out for all sorts of things without monitoring them sufficiently,” one high-level state employee told the magazine. Had this sort of thing happened under a Republican governor, Democrats would be crying foul.

The magazine also notes the saga of civil-service employee Georgia Thompson, whose life was made a hell because of an unnecessary prosecution by U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic. True enough, but I question whether this anomaly of a case, which was thrown out on appeal, has led to any turnover.

The story also notes the state’s continuing structural deficit, which has been around forever, probably since Jim Doyle had hair, and was estimated at $2.4 billion at the end of fiscal 2007.

It is difficult to see state school spending materially changing in the near term.

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Harvard Law, Hoping Students Will Consider Public Service, Offers Tuition Break

Jonathan Glater:

Concerned by the low numbers of law students choosing careers in public service, Harvard Law School plans to waive tuition for third-year students who pledge to spend five years working either for nonprofit organizations or the government.

The program, to be announced Tuesday, would save students more than $40,000 in tuition and follows by scant months the announcement of a sharp increase in financial aid to Harvard’s undergraduates. The law school, which already has a loan forgiveness program for students choosing public service, said it knew of no other law school offering such a tuition incentive.

“We know that debt is a big issue,” said Elena Kagan, dean of the law school. “We have tried to address that over the years with a very generous loan forgiveness program, but we started to think that we could do better.”

For years, prosecutors, public defenders and lawyers in traditionally low-paying areas of the law have argued that financial pressures were pushing graduates toward corporate law and away from the kind of careers that they would pursue in the absence of tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.

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March 21, 2008

Notes from a College Tour

Richard Edelmen:

This is not the business plan for a new retail chain; it is the story of my college tour with my 17 year old daughter who is now a junior in high school. We visited Rice University in Houston, Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont over the past five days. Here is what I can report:

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Mathematics: Let's Talk About Figures

The Economist:

The eternal language of numbers is reborn as a form of communication that people all over the world can use—and, increasingly, must use

BRILLIANCE with numbers is a curious thing. Paul Erdos, a Hungarian who died in 1996, used to travel the world and stop briefly at the offices and homes of fellow mathematicians. “My brain is open,” he would announce as, with uncanny intuition, he suggested a problem that, without realising it, his host was already half-way to solving. Together they would find the solution.

In a discipline-wide joke, grateful mathematicians still use “Erdos numbers” to indicate how close they were to contact with the great man: “Erdos 1” describes his co-authors, “Erdos 2” indicates their co-authors, and so on. And in all seriousness, the fruits of Erdos's 83-year life include more than 1,500 jointly authored publications, and a network that extends via his collaborators not only into most areas of mathematics but into many other fields—physics, biology, linguistics and more.

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Making Physics Fun

Jay Rath:

When I was little, I wanted to be an inventor. Not the next Edison, perhaps, but at least Caractacus Potts, who built "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," or Bernie in the "Sugar and Spike" comic books.

Alas, unlike those fictional whizzes, I have never been able to fashion a teleportation device from an eggbeater and flashlight, or create a flying car. It's the 21st century and I really want a flying car. Maybe if I had visited the UW-Madison's physics museum as a child, I could have one by now.

As public school break draws to a close, a trip to the museum might encourage your own budding inventors, and demonstrate that science can be as much fun as vacation — at least when presented the right way.

The L.R. Ingersoll Physics Museum occupies room 2130 of Chamberlin Hall. It's a long, gold-colored chamber of hands-on exhibits overlooking University Avenue. The physics department's original pendulum clock ticks ponderously as busts of Newton, Tesla and Einstein glower over candy-colored amusements whose names sound as if they were drawn straight from a magic show.

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In Sisters, Love and an Urge to Wring Her Neck

Tara Parker-Pope:

The publishing world was shocked to learn that the gang-life memoir “Love and Consequences” was a fake. But even more startling was how that came to light.

The author, Margaret Seltzer, was exposed by her own sister.

While it isn’t clear why Ms. Seltzer’s older sister, Cyndi Hoffman, took on the role of whistleblower (neither sister returned phone calls), the incident throws a spotlight on society’s conflicted expectations of sisterhood. Even while criticizing Ms. Seltzer for her fabrication, some blog writers turned their ire on Ms. Hoffman, calling her a “tattletale” and speculating that she must have been jealous of her sister’s success.

“People were almost as fascinated by the fact that it was her sister as they were with the whole story,” said Marcia Millman, a sociology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of “The Perfect Sister: What Draws Us Together, What Drives Us Apart.”

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March 20, 2008

Home Unschooling: Practice

David Friedman:

One point I should have made at the beginning of the previous post is the distinction between unschooling and homeschooling. Most home schooling is not unschooling--the parents have a curriculum and are following something closer to the conventional model than we are. And one can do unschooling in a school. Our kids were in a very small private school modeled on Sudbury Valley School for some years. Eventually problems arose, we switched from school unschooling to home unschooling, and on the whole found it more satisfactory. Hence the titles of these posts.

When our daughter was five, she was going to a local Montessori school. Her mother thought she was ready to learn to read; they didn't. So Betty taught her to read, using Doctor Seuss books. Our son, three years younger, observed the process and taught himself. We heard about the local Sudbury school, new that year, brought our daughter over to visit. She decided she preferred it to the Montessori school, so we shifted her. A few years later we added her brother, a few years after that shifted to home schooling.

The Sudbury model includes classes if students want them. When our daughter was about ten there was a class, lasting somewhat over a year, in math. It started assuming the students knew nothing, ended with the early stages of algebra. That is pretty much all of the formal instruction either of them had. In addition, we required them to learn the multiplication tables, which are useful to know but boring to learn. That, I think, was the closest thing to compulsory learning in their education.

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Living in a Post-National Math Panel World

Barry Garelick:

The British mathematician J. E. Littlewood once began a math class for freshmen with the following statement: "I've been giving this lecture to first-year classes for over twenty-five years. You'd think they would begin to understand it by now."

People involved in the debate about how math is best taught in grades K-12, must feel a bit like Littlewood in front of yet another first year class. Every year as objectionable math programs are introduced into schools, parents are alarmed at what isn't being taught. The new "first-year class" of parents is then indoctrinated into what has come to be known as the math wars as the veterans - mathematicians, frustrated teachers, experienced parents, and pundits - start the laborious process of explanation once more.

It was therefore a watershed event when the President's National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMP) held its final meeting on March 13, 2008 and voted unanimously to approve its report: Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel.

National Math Panel.

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Teachers Union Gives Backing to Slot Machine Initiative

Philip Rucker:

Bolstering the campaign to expand legal gambling in Maryland, the state's powerful teachers union announced its endorsement yesterday of the November referendum to legalize slot machine gambling.

After fierce lobbying from proponents and opponents, the Maryland State Teachers Association board of directors voted to support legalizing slots, taking a stance for the first time on an issue that has long divided politicians in Annapolis. The 70,000-member union said it would soon launch an independent campaign to convince voters that expanded gambling revenue is critical to funding education priorities.

The blessing from teachers is no small victory for slots supporters, who are planning to link the referendum to the needs of public schools. The union's 14 board members deliberated more than five hours into the night Friday, debating whether to take a position or follow the pleas of some local affiliates, including the Montgomery County teachers union, to remain neutral.

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How Can the Achievement Gap Be Closed? A Freakonomics Quorum

Stephen Dubner:

The black-white gap in U.S. education is an issue that continues to occupy the efforts of a great many scholars. Roland Fryer and Steve Levitt have poked at the issue repeatedly; a recent study by Spyros Konstantopoulos looked at class size as a possible culprit, to little avail.

We gathered a group of people with wisdom and experience in this area — Caroline Hoxby, Daniel Hurley, Richard J. Murnane, and Andrew Rotherham — and asked them the following question:

How can the U.S. black-white achievement gap be closed?

Here are their responses:

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Middle school sports proposal really a tax hike

Don Huebscher:

The issue: A proposal to allow non-public school students to play on sports teams at Eau Claire's public middle schools.

Our view: The purpose is to skirt state-imposed levy limits, which doesn't get at the heart of the problems that cause ongoing government deficits.

At first blush, an Eau Claire school district proposal to invite non-public school middle-schoolers to participate in seventh- and eighth-grade athletics seems like a nice gesture to offer team sports opportunities to young people who otherwise might not have them.

But no doubt the key reason for the proposal, which the board hasn't approved, is that it allows the school district to move $705,000 from the general fund, which is subject to levy limits, to something called the "community service fund," which operates outside of those state-imposed constraints.

School board member Mike Bollinger leveled with the taxpayers at last week's board meeting. "I want to be very, very clear to our public - this is a ($705,000) tax increase ... in a non-referendum format. If there is input to be had out there, we want to hear it."

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March 19, 2008

Educational Equity

George Wood:

Do we have an “achievement gap” in schools in the United States or an “educational debt” that we owe many of our children and communities? This is the question that Forum Convener Gloria-Ladson Billings puts before us in her featured piece in this edition of The Forum’s newsletter. It is a question that challenges us to revisit our nation’s oft-repeated but yet-to-be realized commitment to equal educational opportunity - a commitment fundamental to our future as a democracy.

Repaying the Educational Debt is the third in a series we have sent out asking for your comments. (See earlier essays from Convener’s Carl Glickman and Deborah Meier.) These essays are being developed in conjunction with The Forum’s white paper on the appropriate federal role in supporting public schooling, which will be released on April 23rd of this year. We intend to follow this framework document with recommendations on equity, teaching and learning, and community accountability in calling for a renewal of our commitment to the public, democratic purpose of our public schools. Your comments on each of these essays are helping us frame these recommendations.

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Passing Eighth Grade Gets a Little Harder

Elissa Gootman:

The Bloomberg administration won approval for a new eighth-grade promotion policy last night at a meeting repeatedly interrupted by the chanting and heckling of parents who contend that the policy amounts to blaming students for the failings of the city’s middle schools.

The policy requires next year’s eighth graders to pass classes in core subject areas and to score at a basic level on standardized English and math exams to be promoted. The Panel for Educational Policy, which oversees the city schools, approved the policy by a vote of 11 to 1 in its meeting at Tweed Courthouse, the Education Department’s headquarters. Eight of the 13 members on the panel — there is one vacancy — are appointed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and the five borough presidents appoint one each.

From the moment the meeting began, it was punctuated by parents chanting, “Postpone the vote” and “No plan, no vote,” a reference to what they said was the department’s lack of a comprehensive plan for fixing the city’s middle schools.

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3 more districts expect to offer 4-year-old kindergarten

Karyn Saemann:

Two area school districts will begin offering kindergarten for 4-year-olds in the fall.

A third will do it, but only if it gets state help.

The Stoughton and Deerfield school boards voted Monday night to provide half-day 4K.

The Cambridge School Board approved it, but made its approval contingent on receiving state money.

Cambridge Board Vice President Marcia Staubli said today, "If we don't get the grant, we're going to revisit the issue" on April 28, the next regular board meeting.

Stoughton and Deerfield officials said they also plan to apply for state start-up grants, for up to $3,000 per student.

They join Marshall and Wisconsin Heights, which now offer 4K, and Monona Grove, which will begin in the fall. About two-thirds of districts statewide now have 4K. To enroll, children must be 4 years old by Sept. 1, 2008. Conventional kindergarten starts at age 5.

Related: Marc Eisen on 4 year old kindergarden. More here

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Milwaukee Parent Site Digs into the School Budget

Dani McClain:

How can Milwaukee Public Schools support its high-achieving programs while meeting its mandate to improve struggling schools?

That's the central question at a web site parents at Milwaukee German Immersion School have launched to weigh in on the district's budget process for the 2008- '09 school year.

District officials have asked the specialty elementary school, which has just over 580 students and consitently gets more than three-fourths of them scoring in the proficient or advanced range on state test scores, to cut around $180,000 from next year's budget.

Last month, principal Albert Brugger and the school's Governance Council responded by submitting a proposal that cuts music and physical eduation from the school's offerings. The school has lost its assistant principal and art teacher in recent years due to budget constraints.

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Principal Recruitment Another Move in Reform

Theola Labb:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee likes to tell a story about one of her principals who pledged to improve student achievement scores by 43 percentage points by the end of the school year.

How? Rhee asked.

" 'I'm going to pray,' " the principal said, according to Rhee.

"It showed me," Rhee recently told the Washington-based Institute for Education, "that there's a very significant disconnect with some of our school leaders in really understanding what challenges they're up against."

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Driving Miss Chloe

Caitlin Flanagan:

YOU know her — that nice teenager across the street? Chloe. There she is, sitting in one of the two captain’s seats in the midsection of her mom’s Toyota Sienna, bopping along to the music on her iPod. Now and then she pulls out one of the ear buds so that she can tell her mom some forgotten bit of news or gossip; Chloe’s mom is up to speed on the dramas that are always unfolding in her daughter’s circle of friends, just as she can tell you the date of her next French test, the topic of her coming history paper and the location and scope of her next community service project. They have a great night planned out: they’re going to pick up Chloe’s best friend and then drive back home for a night of DVDs and popcorn in the family room. Her mom will putter around close by, and her dad will probably sit down and watch one of the movies with the girls.

When I was in high school in the 1970s, we had a name for teenagers like Chloe: losers. If an otherwise normal girl thought that the best way to spend a Saturday night was home with her parents — not just co-existing with them, but actually hanging out with them — we would have been looking for a bucket of pig’s blood.

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In the Mainstream but Isolated

Daniel de Vise:

Victoria Miresso cannot button a shirt, match a sock or tell one school bus from another. Yet at Roberto Clemente Middle School in Germantown, she is expected to function much like any other sixth-grader, coping with class changes, algebra quizzes and lunchroom bullies.

Victoria's parents say she is a victim of inclusion: a trend, in Montgomery County and across the nation, toward shutting down traditional special education classes and placing special-needs students in regular classrooms at neighborhood schools.

"At this point, we're about halfway through the school year, and she hasn't learned anything," said Laura Johnson, her mother. "It's not fair for her to go to school and sit there and be teased because she doesn't understand what they're teaching her."

Montgomery school officials say Victoria is no victim. She is, however, one of the first generation of students who cannot attend secondary learning centers, a network of self-contained classrooms open to special education students at eight middle and high schools in the county since the 1970s. Montgomery school leaders decided in 2006 to phase out the centers, part of an ongoing shift of special-ed students and teachers out of separate classrooms and into the general school population.

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March 18, 2008

US Eases No Child Sanctions

Maria Glod:

Sanctions would be eased for some schools that narrowly miss academic targets in a pilot program the Education Department announced yesterday, marking a significant shift for enforcement of the No Child Left Behind law.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, using her administrative authority, said she will allow 10 states to move away from the 2002 law's "pass-fail" system, which makes no distinction between a school in which many students fail reading and math tests and one that misses targets because a few students fall short. She said the pilot will allow states to focus on schools with students that need the most help.

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Put young children on DNA list, urge police

Mark Townsend & Anushka Asthana:

Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain's most senior police forensics expert.

Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said a debate was needed on how far Britain should go in identifying potential offenders, given that some experts believe it is possible to identify future offending traits in children as young as five.

'If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large,' said Pugh. 'You could argue the younger the better. Criminologists say some people will grow out of crime; others won't. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.'

Pugh admitted that the deeply controversial suggestion raised issues of parental consent, potential stigmatisation and the role of teachers in identifying future offenders, but said society needed an open, mature discussion on how best to tackle crime before it took place. There are currently 4.5 million genetic samples on the UK database - the largest in Europe - but police believe more are required to reduce crime further. 'The number of unsolved crimes says we are not sampling enough of the right people,' Pugh told The Observer. However, he said the notion of universal sampling - everyone being forced to give their genetic samples to the database - is currently prohibited by cost and logistics.

Via Bruce Schneier.

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Some missed gist of school choice report

Patrick Wolf & John Witte:

We released a set of five baseline reports on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program last month, the first new studies of the voucher program using individual student data since 1995. Since then, many stories and commentaries have been published. Some of those contained inaccurate, incomplete or misleading information.

First, our research project is supported by a large consortium of philanthropies with diverse positions regarding school choice but a uniform commitment to non-interference in the research. We would not conduct this research under any other conditions. Our funders include the Annie E. Casey, Joyce, Kern, Lynde and Harry Bradley, Robertson and Walton Family foundations.

We listed this complete set of funding organizations at the start of each of our five reports. Unfortunately, Alan J. Borsuk's Feb. 26 Journal Sentinel story about the studies ("Voucher study finds parity,") reported the names of only three of the six philanthropies. The omission created a false impression - subsequently repeated by Mary Bell ("Voucher school achievements are still not measurable," March 8) - that the evaluation is primarily backed by "pro-voucher" foundations.

That is simply not true.

Second, no reliable conclusions about the effectiveness of the choice program can or should be drawn from these initial descriptive data. We provided that important guidance throughout our reports. Nevertheless, many commentators chose to ignore it.

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My Stroke of Insight

Jill Bolte Taylor:

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened -- as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding -- she studied and remembered every moment. This is a powerful story about how our brains define us and connect us to the world and to one another.

One of the most remarkable presentations I've seen.

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At Harvard University, the Harvard Graduate School of Law is called Harvard Law School, the Harvard Graduate School of Medicine is called Harvard Medical School, but Harvard Education School is called the Harvard Graduate School of Education—surely that indicates something...

In any case, Harvard Education School is kind enough to offer, on its website, an insight into the research interests of its faculty. Their centers for research include: “The Center on the Developing Child; Change Leadership Group; Chartering Practice Project; Civil Rights Project; Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education; Dynamic Development Laboratory; Everyday Antiracism Working Group; GoodWork Project; Harvard Family Research Project; Language Diversity & Literacy Development Research Group; National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL); NICHD Study of Early Child Care & Youth Development; Project IF; Project on the Next Generation of Teachers; Project Zero; Projects in Language Development; Project for Policy Innovation in Education; Public Education Leadership Project (PELP); and Understanding the Roots of Tolerance and Prejudice.”

The mission of some may be less clear. The “GoodWork®” Project explains that: “The GoodWork® Project is a large scale effort to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work—work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners—and to determine how best to increase the incidence of good work in our society.” There is no indication that they are interested in good academic homework. Project IF is about “Inventing the Future.” Project Zero is home to work on multiple intelligences, among other things.

If you dig down further into the research interests of individual faculty, also kindly provided on the site, you may have the same difficulty I do in finding anyone interested in the work of the schools in teaching math, science, history, literature and foreign languages. There may be exceptions, but the overall impression is that academic work, of the sort we are asking students to do in our schools, gets little attention.

There is concern for finding and retaining teachers, but not too much for seeing that they have the academic preparation to be successful in promoting the study of math, science, history, literature, and foreign languages among their students.

It would not be too much of an exaggeration to suggest that the focus of Harvard Education School is not on academics, but rather on a variety of social change, school management, “dynamic development,” and race, gender and ethnicity issues.

Education has many important and significant aspects, and surely Harvard Education School devotes its attention to some of them, but it seems equally clear that student academic work, and the preparation of teachers to help students in doing it, should be fairly prominent among the concerns of faculty there.

As far as I can see, they are not. In addition, it has been observed, from time to time, that other institutions may follow what Harvard does in organizing their own approaches to education. If this is the case in Education Schools, then there may be widespread national neglect of academic work in many of them.

It has been noted elsewhere that those who pursue degrees in Education have much lower Graduate Record Examination scores, in general, than those who pursue graduate degrees in medicine, law, engineering, the sciences and even the liberal arts.

Which gives rise to the question, for me, of whether lack of success in academic pursuits may incline those who seek degrees at Harvard Education School actually to have less interest in academic subjects than other graduate students have. I believe that those who are considering work with children in our schools, if they are academically weak, sometimes decide that if they do not know much about math, science, history, literature, foreign languages and the like, at least they “know about people.” By some quirk of logic, they may think that “being good with people” is a fine substitute for knowing and caring about academic work in our schools.

Perhaps academic schoolwork has comes to seem mundane, banal—really beneath them—so they decide to give their attention to “higher” concerns like multiple intelligences, child care, everyday antiracism, inventing the future, and "dynamic development." To some, it may appear that many of these topics might better be studied in a school of social work or in a graduate department of psychology, but if Harvard Education School feels that academics are not that important for teachers and students in the schools, they have to do research on something, I suppose, and to me it seems that what has occurred as a result might be called the psychologyzation of an education school.

Now, if our public school students were already doing splendidly in academic work, perhaps there would be a need to look beyond plain academics as a subject of study, but my impression is that this is not yet the case in the United States.

I think it would be great if Harvard Education School, and others, would, until our students are more proficient academically, spend more time working on ways to teach academics and to encourage our students to do academic work in the schools. Then, when our students are doing a lot better in academics, the Ed Schools can go back to roaming around in social justice, everyday antiracism, child development, inventing the future, and all the other subjects to which they are now devoting themselves.

Will Fitzhugh has an A.B. from Harvard College and an Ed.M. from Harvard Education School

"Teach by Example"
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The Undercover Parent

Harlan Coben:

NOT long ago, friends of mine confessed over dinner that they had put spyware on their 15-year-old son’s computer so they could monitor all he did online. At first I was repelled at this invasion of privacy. Now, after doing a fair amount of research, I get it.

Make no mistake: If you put spyware on your computer, you have the ability to log every keystroke your child makes and thus a good portion of his or her private world. That’s what spyware is — at least the parental monitoring kind. You don’t have to be an expert to put it on your computer. You just download the software from a vendor and you will receive reports — weekly, daily, whatever — showing you everything your child is doing on the machine.

Scary. But a good idea. Most parents won’t even consider it.

Maybe it’s the word: spyware. It brings up associations of Dick Cheney sitting in a dark room, rubbing his hands together and reading your most private thoughts. But this isn’t the government we are talking about — this is your family. It’s a mistake to confuse the two. Loving parents are doing the surveillance here, not faceless bureaucrats. And most parents already monitor their children, watching over their home environment, their school.

Today’s overprotective parents fight their kids’ battles on the playground, berate coaches about playing time and fill out college applications — yet when it comes to chatting with pedophiles or watching beheadings or gambling away their entire life savings, then...then their children deserve independence?

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Length of Suspension for Gun Threat Bewilders Pr. William Boy, Parents

Ian Shapira:

On Wednesday morning, instead of heading to Rosa Parks Elementary School in Prince William County, James Falletta clambered downstairs to his basement bedroom. He plopped onto his blue New York Giants bedspread and stared at his pet mouse, Ratatouille, clawing inside a cage.

James, an honor-roll fifth-grader, was not sick. He was starting the 10th day of a seemingly indefinite school suspension for a threat he said was made in self-defense. Late last month, James said, a bully stalked him and his younger brother on their way home from school. To ward him off, James said he was going to go home and get a gun.

That apparently ended the incident but began a 12-year-old's hands-on lesson on zero-tolerance policies in today's schools. Administrators, mindful of fatal shootings that have occurred on or near campuses across the country, say they must intervene swiftly and forcefully any time gun threats emerge.

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March 17, 2008

Wait for Autism Care Outlasts Bill

Patrick Marley:

Cindy Brimacombe has known for almost two years that her son has autism, but she won't be able to get him the full treatment he needs until next year because of a long waiting list.

Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature both had plans that would have helped Brimacombe and her 3 1/2 -year-old son, Max. But they ended their session last week without a compromise, guaranteeing that nothing will change until next year.

"It's so sad," the Oconomowoc mother said of the stalemate. "It's so sad because these children have so many special gifts. . . . How can you deny these little ones help?"

Such is the nature of a Capitol under split control, where little gets done but lawmakers build up records they can tout on the campaign trail.

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10 Signs of What Is Not a Crummy Poor-Kid School

Jay Matthews:

Two engaging books came out a year ago, each so compelling I planned a major column with guest commentators and debates and confetti and dancers and rock music. Then life intruded. I never got it together. Now my only face-saving option is to make these books the latest selections to our Better Late Than Never Book Club, this column's way of heralding works that I never get around to reading when I should.

The books are " 'It's Being Done': Academic Success in Unexpected Schools" by Karin Chenoweth, and "Collateral Damage: How High Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools," by Sharon L. Nichols and David C. Berliner. My mistake was to see the two volumes as yin and yang, left and right, liberal and conservative, a distillation of the education wars, when they are in some ways complementary. So I will do Chenoweth's book today and Nichols-Berliner in two weeks.

I need to issue a bias alert for " 'It's Being Done.' " Chenoweth is a former Washington Post columnist whose work I have admired for many years. She said she was hired by the Achievement Alliance--a coalition of five educational organizations--to find and describe "schools where poor children and children of color do better than their peers in others schools." She profiles several regular public schools that meet her criteria. But the most interesting part of the book is her description of a school she removed from her list, even though its test scores looked good.

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Madison Parents Want Bilingual Education Through 8th Grade


A group of Madison parents want their children's intensive Spanish lessons to continue past 5th grade.

Currently, Nuestro Mundo's Dual Immersion Program is only available for K-5.

Last Saturday, parents presented a proposal to create Wisconsin's first dual immersion middle school.

Classrooms would be split between native English and Spanish speakers.

Parents worry without a middle school, bilingual students will lose their language skills.

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Teacher's high standards help kids tackle math

Marty Roney:

Failure is not an option in Linda Jarzyniecki's math classes. If Jarzyniecki needs to give a pep talk or threaten to call parents to get the job done, then so be it.

"Students come into my class hesitantly," says Jarzyniecki (Jar-za-NEEKY), or "Mrs. J.," who teaches advanced algebra, trigonometry and calculus at Greenville High. "I want to challenge my students, but I want them to experience some success so they don't become discouraged and they remain in mathematics."

Mrs. J. faces challenging demographics. Greenville High is a school with about 750 students in a rural central Alabama town of about 8,000. The median income for a family of four is about $25,000 a year, according to Census figures, and 69% of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

"Despite the high poverty rate our children live with, many students are diligent, industrious young people who have a goal to complete a two- or four-year college or technical school," she says. But they often feel pressure to work to help support the family.

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Why Bother Having a Resume?

Seth Godin:

This is controversial, but here goes: I think if you're remarkable, amazing or just plain spectacular, you probably shouldn't have a resume at all.

Not just for my little internship, but in general. Great people shouldn't have a resume.

Here's why: A resume is an excuse to reject you. Once you send me your resume, I can say, "oh, they're missing this or they're missing that," and boom, you're out.

Having a resume begs for you to go into that big machine that looks for relevant keywords, and begs for you to get a job as a cog in a giant machine. Just more fodder for the corporate behemoth. That might be fine for average folks looking for an average job, but is that what you deserve?

If you don't have a resume, what do you have?

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Growing Cheers for the Home-Schooled Team

Joe Drape:

Taber Spani, one of the best high school girls basketball players in the nation, holds hands with two opponents as a coach reads a Bible verse. It is the way each game in the National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championships begins.

This is more than a postseason tournament for the 300 boys and girls teams from 19 states that have competed here over the past six days. As the stands packed with parents and the baselines overrun by small children attest, this is also a jamboree to celebrate faith and family.

“You build friendships here with other girls who know what it’s like to be self-motivated and disciplined and share your values,” said Spani, a junior who plays for the Metro Academy Mavericks of Olathe, Kan. “I wouldn’t trade this tournament for anything.”

Only a decade ago, home-school athletics was considered little more than organized recess for children without traditional classrooms. Now, home-school players are tracked by scouts, and dozens of them have accepted scholarships to colleges as small as Blue Mountain in Mississippi and as well known as Iowa State.

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State science fair serves as showcase for young talent

Mark Johnson:

Toni Cattani had never been to a science fair. On Saturday morning, the 16-year-old junior from Kettle Moraine High School felt "completely terrified."

Since eighth grade she'd been thinking about her project, the development of eyedrops that could replace contact lenses. She wears glasses but finds plastic contacts too uncomfortable. Some nights she would lie awake imagining possibilities for her research, things she could try. She would fall asleep at 3 a.m., wake at 5:30 and get ready for school.

Now she was sitting in a room with some of state's finest young scientists. From across Wisconsin, 100 students had brought months and even years of research to Marquette University for the seventh annual Badger State Science and Engineering Fair.

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School Budget Math Hard to Calculate as Property Values Fall

Jonathan Mummolo:

Loudoun Supervisor Susan Klimek Buckley understood how parents felt at a recent meeting, imploring county officials to fund the school board's full budget request.

She got her start in county politics by doing the same thing.

"My whole citizen activism started with going to a public hearing in March of 2004 where I spoke in support of full funding of the school operating budget," she said, recalling her three-minute address to a packed board room that earned her a modest ovation.

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A Summary of April 1 School District Referendums

George Hesselberg:

In what has become a semi-annual exercise in public solicitation — some might call it survival — scores of the state's 426 school districts will ask voters for more money April 1.

Forty-one districts will be holding referendums to issue bonds or exceed state-mandated revenue limits. The requests are in addition to the 14 school referendums in last month's primary. (Of those, six passed and eight failed.)

The districts are not just asking for money to build schools. They need it to fix roofs, update textbooks, upgrade computers and, in some cases, just keep up the upkeep.

Administrators have led citizens, some querulous, others just curious, on tours of buildings to point out the leaks, the rust, the crumbling concrete.

In southwestern Wisconsin, six school districts have the unfortunate coincidence of asking for extra cash at the same time as the area technical college.

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March 16, 2008

New report card for Madison middle schoolers draws praise, criticism

Andy Hall:

Congratulations, dear seventh grader, for nailing science class.

Your science grade this quarter is A, 4, 3, 3, M, S, R.

Now, let's take a look at your English grade...

That's a preview of how, beginning in the fall, parents of middle school students might read a new type of report card coming to the Madison School District.

The change will make Madison one of the first districts in Dane County to adopt middle school report cards based directly upon how well students are mastering the state's standards that list what they're supposed to learn in every subject.

In some ways, Madison's change isn't radical. The district is retaining traditional report card letter grades. And the district's elementary students, like many around the state, already receive report cards based upon the state's academic standards.

The shift is being met, however with a mixture of criticism and hope.

Related: Madison Middle School Report Card/Homework Assessment Proposed Changes.

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Dual Enrollment Grows: Pennsylvania High School Students Take College Classes via State Program

Any Sostek:

Sitting in the back row of her South Fayette High School economics class, Emily Cord waved off her teacher as he passed out voter-registration cards.

"I'm not 18 till June," she said.

An hour later, however, she was sitting in ECO102, Principles of Macroeconomics, at Community College of Allegheny County, with classmates beyond not just the voting age but the drinking age.

Emily is one of thousands of Pennsylvania students enrolled in both high school and college classes through the state's dual enrollment program, which pays part of the college tuition.

A state report released last month notes "extraordinary demand and interest on the part of students" in the program. Since the dual enrollment program started in the 2005-06 school year, state funding has doubled, to $10 million for the current school year.

In the 2006-07 school year, the number of participants increased 69 percent from the previous year, from 7,270 students to 12,267 students statewide.


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Can You Read as Well as a Fifth Grader? Check the Formula

Carl Bialik:

If you've checked the grammar of a Microsoft Word document, you may have encountered a baffling number. The readability formula purports to represent the text's appropriate grade level. But it has its roots in research from 60 years ago.

Before computers, reading researchers attempted to quantify the ease of a work of writing using short excerpts and simple formulas. Despite computing advances, Word still follows the same model: It multiplies 0.39 by the average number of words per sentence, adds that to 11.8 times the average number of syllables per word, and subtracts 15.59 from the total. The result is the supposed minimum grade level of readers who can handle the text in question.

Similar formulas are used by textbook publishers and in dozens of states' guidelines for insurance policies.

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College Admissions: How Involved Should Parents Get?

Sue Shellenbarger:

After bending her work schedule to help her older daughter apply to college a few years ago, Suzanne Ducharme knew the admissions competition looming for her younger daughter would be tougher. So as her second daughter neared college, Ms. Ducharme, a New York human-resources manager, did what seemed the only sensible thing: She quit her job, she says, "to be here full time" with her daughter as she applied.

You've heard of parents quitting work to care for babies or wayward teens. Now they're quitting -- or considering doing so -- to help their kids get into college.

As the biggest high-school graduating class in history -- the class of 2009 -- begins the college-search process, parents are abuzz over how to help. One mother of a high schooler, a manager for a New York financial-information concern, says friends are pressuring her to devote full time to the college search. With other parents on the case 24/7, she says, "they argue that by working, I'm putting my daughter at a disadvantage in today's hypercompetitive college-admissions game."

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Virtual schools measure passes

Stacy Forster & Patrick Marley:

The Assembly overwhelmingly voted for a bill protecting virtual schools Tuesday - a compromise measure Gov. Jim Doyle and other key Democrats support.

The bill was passed in a flurry of activity as the Legislature winds down the regular session that ends Thursday. The Assembly also approved a bill to remove teacher residency requirements in Milwaukee, and the Senate passed a bill requiring new police officers to undergo psychological exams.

Democrats in the Assembly were unsuccessful in attempting to force a vote on the Great Lakes compact.

Tuesday also marked the all-but-certain death of a bill requiring the state to provide information about involuntary mental health commitments to a federal database checked for gun purchases. Supporters of the measure, including Doyle, said the bill was necessary to help avoid shootings like the one last year at Virginia Tech.

The virtual schools bill passed 96-1 Tuesday; Rep. Dave Travis (D-Waunakee) voted against it. The agreement was reached after Doyle said he would sign a bill on virtual schools only if it capped enrollment.

Related editorial.

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Celebrity Culture Harms Pupils


Children's educational aspirations risk being damaged by the cult of celebrity, teachers leaders have warned.
Teachers fear their pupils' obsessions with footballers, pop stars and actors are affecting their progress in school, and limiting their career aspirations.

Some 60% of teachers said their pupils most aspired to be David Beckham, in a survey of teachers for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

More than a third said pupils wanted to be famous for the sake of being famous.

Some 32% of the 304 teachers quizzed said their pupils modelled themselves on heiress Paris Hilton.

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Milwaukee's School Choice: Preliminary Analysis Gives Average Grades

Anneliese Dickman:

Back in 2001, then-Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist summarized his case for school choice by stating: "Vouchers work. They don't hurt taxpayers, and they encourage public schools to do better."

Norquist's conviction was strongly supported by school choice proponents and vociferously refuted by opponents. All the while, the Public Policy Forum cautioned that very little data existed to either support or refute him.

Now, for the first time in over a decade, data are available to shed light on the efficacy and effectiveness of Milwaukee's private school voucher program. An ambitious five-year longitudinal study is under way to evaluate the school choice program and compare its performance to Milwaukee Public Schools. Last month's research reports, the study's first, provide us with the long-elusive data.

As expected, school choice proponents and opponents each have come away with their own distinct interpretations of this data. However, certain conclusions are inescapable.

First, the new findings have reframed the policy debate over school choice, pulling it away from the original goals of school choice proponents. There was a time when school choice was touted as a panacea, as the competitive leverage the public schools needed to improve, as a means to empower parents and save low-income students from bad schools. With the latest data, however, the Milwaukee voucher program is now simply portrayed as a popular program that pleases parents and performs at least as well as MPS.

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March 15, 2008

A Short Video on the Decline of US Math Skills

Mark Perry:

Q: What does a major state university do when test scores on a precalculus math exam for incoming freshmen continue to decline year after year, while at the same time high school GPAs of incoming freshmen are going up?

A: If your answer is "make the test easier," go to the head of the class!

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Wisconsin High School Graduation Data Comparison

Amy Hetzner:

According to an independent research group, Wisconsin has the nation’s 11th highest graduation rate. However, the rate reported by the group is lower than estimates by the state Department of Public Instruction and the U.S. Department of Education.

That and other facts about the state’s schools are included in a new report card released today by the Alliance for Excellent Education, an advocacy organization that has pushed hard in recent years to increase the rigor of the nation’s secondary schools. (One of the members of the organization’s governing board, by the way, is Clinton-era U.S. Education Secretary Richard Riley.)

Although apparently updated, the report includes mostly recycled data, including a reference to the controversial notion that some of Wisconsin’s schools are “dropout factories” where 60% of students fail to reach 12th grade after four years.

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Waukesha West makes it 7 straight

Amy Hetzner:

Waukesha West High School's Academic Decathlon team marched to a seventh straight state championship Tuesday, aided by veteran and new teammates as well as a seasoned coach.

The team won in a dominating fashion. Its overall score of 52,111 out of a possible 60,000 points set a state record. Nearly 10,000 points separated West from the second-place team from Sun Prairie High School.

"All our hard work has finally paid off," said West student David Haughney. "It's just an exhilarating feeling. It's awesome. It's mind-blowing."

The latest win sends the team to California for the national championships at the end of next month. Waiting for them is a team from Moorpark High School, a California school that West beat at the national event in 2002 and placed second behind the following year.

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March 14, 2008

Madison West High Bids Adieu to Their Writing Lab

Reuben Henriques:

Today, my English teacher shared with our class the quite saddening news that the West High Writing Lab [Ask | clusty | google | Live | Yahoo], a venerable institution of many years, is slated to be cut next year as part of the annual round of budgeting. For those on this listserv who don't know, the Writing Lab provides a place for students of all grades and abilities to conference one-on-one with an English teacher about their work. Everyone -- from the freshman completely lost on how to write his first literary analysis to the AWW alum who wants to run her college application essay by someone -- is welcome to stop by during three or four hours of the day as well as before school, during lunch, and after school. I know that in my four years at West, I've found this an immeasurably useful resource, not only to help me polish papers for my classes, but also as a way to get editing help on college essays and other extracurricular writing. And judging by the reaction in my English class, I'm far from alone.

Which is why I am so distressed by this development. I've always considered the English department, by and large, as one of West's finest. The array of classes at every ability level is wonderful, and the fact that I've been able to take IWW and AWW -- two classes designed solely to improve my writing itself -- has been great. These classes do a fabulous job of teaching students to write -- but an important part of writing well is being able to receive feedback on that writing, being able to dialogue with someone about it, and then being able to "have another swing at things." But of course, it's simply impossible for a teacher in any English class to meet, one-on-one, with every student. The Writing Lab has provided a great way for students to ensure that they will have this valuable opportunity.

It would be interesting to find out what's happening with the high school budget allocations. The only information I've found on the 2008-2009 MMSD Budget is this timeline, which mentions that "Allocations & Formula $ to Buildings" occurred on March 5, 2008. The School Board is not scheduled to see the balanced budget until April 3, 2008.


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District critical of costs to settle special education litigation

Alan Borsuk:

Private negotiations to settle a lawsuit over how Milwaukee Public Schools handles special education students broke into the open Thursday when MPS rejected a proposal that could extend such services to thousands of students who are suspended from school frequently or held back a grade.

With harsh words particularly for the state Department of Public Instruction, MPS leaders said the proposed settlement could cost tens of millions of dollars, harm the education of students who don't need special education services and interfere with the pursuit of broader goals for improving MPS.

But Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, an attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin, which brought the suit in 2001, said the agreement was a "fantastic" opportunity for MPS and that MPS had not negotiated in good faith. He said it was frustration with MPS negotiators that led his organization and DPI to reach a separate settlement and to demand MPS take it or leave it.

The terms of the settlement would put special education in MPS under the control of an outside authority; require MPS to make major improvements in identifying students who need special education services; and potentially extend services to thousands of students.

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High school students to test their ingenuity in hard-charging robotic competition

Stanley Miller II:

A few of the robots charged out of their starting positions as if fired from cannons, blazing across the track, extending wiry metal arms and slapping huge, brightly colored balls off a catwalk hovering above.

Some robots limped a few feet before sputtering to a stop. Others collided with their mechanical teammates, spinning out of control.

It's a good thing Thursday was just practice.

The idea of battling robots might conjure up images of smashing and bashing, but at the FIRST Wisconsin Regional Robotics Competition today and Saturday at the U.S. Cellular Arena, it's all about technology and teamwork.

Sixty high school squads from nine states are competing, including 27 from Wisconsin. The event is free and open to everyone, and the players promise to put on a show.

Learn more here.

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Contraband candy = Skittles suspension


Contraband candy has led to big trouble for an eighth-grade honors student in Connecticut.

Michael Sheridan was stripped of his title as class vice president, barred from attending an honors student dinner and suspended for a day after buying a bag of Skittles from a classmate.

School spokeswoman Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo says the New Haven school system banned candy sales in 2003 as part of a district wide school wellness policy.

Michael's suspension has been reduced from three days to one, but he has not been reinstated as class vice president.

Joanne has more.

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"Why Yes, it is My Job"

Ms. Cornelius:

Darling PreTeenDaughter:

Since you asked, yes, I AM the "meanest" mother of all your friends' mothers. As you can see, this doesn't bother me. Not because I am mean. Because I love you. That doesn't mean that you have to be thrilled about every decision I make.

Yes, that embarrasses you. But not as much as if I walked around in public with my finger up my nose to the first knuckle, or wearing a muumuu with sandals and hairy legs, or with dirty hair and a cigarette hanging from my lip.

You will NOT wear the word "Juicy" across your behind-- temporarily or permanently.
You WILL ingest protein of some kind each day.
You will NOT raise your voice to your parents in public-- and even when you do it in private, there will be consequences.
You WILL read before you get to watch TV.

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Janesville School Board, Teachers Union Release Contract Details


Late Monday night, negotiators for the Janesville School Board and teachers union reached a tentative contract agreement.

Today, they made the details of that contract public.

It took them a year to get to this point.

"This long and stressful process has a positive and a big sigh of relief," School Board member Amy Rashkin said.

"Everyone made sacrifices and I think it was well worth it," Janesville Education Association President Sam Loizzo said.

Big points reached in the agreement were health care and in-service hours for teachers.

Instead of 2 days per month of in-service, they now have one.

"We agreed to make premium share payments ranging from $17 to $115 a month," JEA negotiator Dr. David Parr said.

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Teen STD Rates Cause for Concern, Not Panic

Jacob Goldstein:

One in four American women between the ages of 14 and 19 has a sexually transmitted disease, according to the first national study to look at their combined prevalence, the CDC said.

That figure — alarming on its face — is worth a closer look.

The majority of those cases are infections with strains of a virus, human papillomavirus, that are associated with genital warts and cancer. But most people who get infected with HPV never know it, because the virus goes away without causing any health problems. “It is important to realize that most HPV infections clear on their own,” noted a summary of the study that the CDC emailed to us.

Indeed, several common infections lumped into the big bin labeled “STD” can have mild or no effects on many patients — an issue that has prompted some leaders in the field to call for a dialing back of the nomenclature. The home page of the American Social Health Association says:

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The Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch Program


The Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch program helps Madison school kids understand where food really comes from.

Joe LaBarbera takes us on a journey that follows some of the students to the farm where some of it grows.

Doug Wubben is a project coordinator for Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch -- working to give kids their first real taste of life on the farm -- and a lesson in the first link of the food chain that eventually leads to their plate.

While this is about bringing the kids to the farm - sometimes they'll actually bring farmers into the classroom.

"This year, and also last year, we had a couple farmer educators come out and they did some workshops in the classroom," Teacher Marissa Carr-Flowers says.

These kids are learning how to plant seeds, grow food and spend a day away from their classroom. make no mistake -- they are still learning.

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Top 10 Amazing Chemistry Videos

Aaron Rowe:

Fiery explosions, beautiful reactions, and hilarious music videos are great reasons to be excited about chemistry. Here are some of our favorites.

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March 13, 2008

Madison school board candidates discus the Anthony Hirsch case and school boundaries

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

Hmm. This is interesting. To varying degrees, both Madison school board candidates express unease with the school district's failure to report a suspected sex offender to state authorities.

Ed Hughes, who is running unopposed for Seat 7, raises the most questions, but Marj Passman, the lone candidate for Seat 6, also is critical.

On the other hand, both support the Madison school board's recent decision on school boundaries, and both Passman and Hughes praise a committee's recent report on school names.

Here's what we asked the two candidates this week.





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Gifted Kids Blog: Unwrapping the Gifted

Tamara Fisher:

I have a pet peeve. Well, my sister would tell you that I have more than one pet peeve … but when it comes to the education of gifted children, there’s something that really irritates me. I have a few examples that will help me to explain and illustrate…

A month or two ago, a tiny article appeared deep in an area newspaper with the headline, “Chancellor wants math, science program for elite high schoolers.” The article stated that the chancellor at Montana Tech (an excellent engineering, math, science, and mining school) is considering creating a residential program for about 40 of Montana’s top math and science students. They would be dual enrolled in high school and college for the two year program. The students would be selected based on test scores, interviews, and recommendations, and would have to be Montana residents at least 15 years old. An anonymous donor is willing to help significantly with the program’s costs.

While many, if not most, of you live in states where Governor’s Schools and other such similar options are available for some of your gifted students, nothing of the sort exists here in Montana. To my knowledge, this would be the first option of its kind in my state.

I excitedly read the little article until I came upon the last paragraph. And that’s when my ears started steaming: “Concerns include the effect on local school districts if their top students transferred to the program at Tech. Districts’ financial support is based partly on the size of enrollment, and outstanding students often help to boost schools’ composite scores on standardized tests.”

RSS feed

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"America's Math Education System is Broken"

Maria Glod:

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel was convened by President Bush in April 2006 to address concerns that many of today's students lack the math know-how needed to become tomorrow's engineers and scientists. The 24-member panel of mathematicians and education experts announced recommendations to improve instruction and make better textbooks and even called on researchers to find ways to combat "mathematics anxiety."

Larry R. Faulkner, panel chairman and former president of the University of Texas at Austin, said the country needs to make changes to stay competitive in an increasingly global economy. He noted that many U.S. companies draw skilled workers from overseas, a pool he said is drying out as opportunities in other countries improve.

"The question is, are we going to be able to get the talent?" Faulkner said in a briefing before the report's release. "And it's not just a question of economic competitiveness. In the end, it's a question of whether, as a nation, we have enough technical prowess to assure our own security."

Google News. Math Forum audio / video.

Joanne rounds up a few more links.

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At L.A. school, Singapore math has added value

Mitchell Landsberg:

In 2005, just 45% of the fifth-graders at Ramona Elementary School in Hollywood scored at grade level on a standardized state test. In 2006, that figure rose to 76%. What was the difference?

If you answered 31 percentage points, you are correct. You could also express it as a 69% increase.

But there is another, more intriguing answer: The difference between the two years may have been Singapore math.

At the start of the 2005-06 school year, Ramona began using textbooks developed for use in Singapore, a Southeast Asian city-state whose pupils consistently rank No. 1 in international math comparisons. Ramona's math scores soared.

"It's wonderful," said Principal Susan Arcaris. "Seven out of 10 of the students in our school are proficient or better in math, and that's pretty startling when you consider that this is an inner-city, Title 1 school."

Ramona easily qualifies for federal Title 1 funds, which are intended to alleviate the effects of poverty. Nine of every 10 students at the school are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. For the most part, these are the children of immigrants, the majority from Central America, some from Armenia. Nearly six in 10 students speak English as a second language.

Joanne has more.

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Life Expectancy Tied to Education

Steven Reinberg:

In U.S., college-educated live longer than those who only finish high school, study finds

Life expectancy in the United States is on the increase, but only among people with more than 12 years of education, a new study finds.

In fact, those with more than 12 years of education -- more than a high school diploma -- can expect to live to 82; for those with 12 or fewer years of education, life expectancy is 75.

"If you look in recent decades, you will find that life expectancy has been increasing, which is good, but when you split this out by better-educated groups, the life expectancy gained is really occurring much more so in the better-educated groups," said lead researcher Ellen R. Meara, an assistant professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School.

"The puzzle is why we have been successful in extending life span for some groups. Why haven't we been successful in getting that for less advantaged groups?" Meara said.

The answer may lie with tobacco, the study found.

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Waukesha Restores Gifted Program Chairperson

Amy Hetzner:

Taking advantage of a $700,000 saving from its newly settled teachers contract, the School Board on Wednesday reinstated the School District's chairperson in charge of gifted education for the 2008-'09 school year, a position it voted in January to cut.

Retention of the leadership post was done at the urging of parents of gifted and talented students, who argued that the district might otherwise violate state law requiring school systems to designate someone to oversee such programming for students.

The chairperson is the district's last employee solely devoted to gifted education in the district, following the board's elimination of its gifted teaching staff for the current school year. Keeping the position is expected to cost the district about $100,000.

In addition to reinstating the post for next school year, School Board members urged administrators to advance a proposal to distribute $2,000 to each district school as stipends for advocates who could work with parents and teachers on issues related to gifted education.

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College Admissions: How Involved Should Parents Get?

Sue Shellenbarger:

After bending her work schedule to help her older daughter apply to college a few years ago, Suzanne Ducharme knew the admissions competition looming for her younger daughter would be tougher. So as her second daughter neared college, Ms. Ducharme, a New York human-resources manager, did what seemed the only sensible thing: She quit her job, she says, "to be here full time" with her daughter as she applied.

You've heard of parents quitting work to care for babies or wayward teens. Now they're quitting -- or considering doing so -- to help their kids get into college.

As the biggest high-school graduating class in history -- the class of 2009 -- begins the college-search process, parents are abuzz over how to help. One mother of a high schooler, a manager for a New York financial-information concern, says friends are pressuring her to devote full time to the college search. With other parents on the case 24/7, she says, "they argue that by working, I'm putting my daughter at a disadvantage in today's hypercompetitive college-admissions game."

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March 12, 2008

Officials increase security at Toki Middle School

Andy Hall:

Madison school officials on Tuesday said they 're strengthening security at Toki Middle School to calm concerns from staff members and parents that the building is becoming too chaotic.

Beginning today, Toki will get a second security guard and also will get a dean of students to assist with discipline problems. The guard is being transferred from Memorial High School, while the dean of students is an administrative intern who has served at La Follette High School.

"I think very shortly Toki will get back on its feet, " said Pam Nash, the Madison School District 's assistant superintendent overseeing middle and high schools.

The moves come a week after about 100 parents, school staff members and top district officials attended an emotional, three-hour Parent Teacher Organization meeting at which speakers expressed fears about safety and discipline at the West Side school.

via Madison Parents' School Safety Site.


Police were called to Toki 107 times last school year for incidents that included 17 disturbances, 11 batteries, five weapons offenses and one arson, WISC-TV reported.

So far this year, police have been called to 26 incidents. The district security chief said the school is safe, though, and he warned the numbers can be misleading.

There was no way to compare those numbers to police calls at other Madison middle schools because the district doesn't keep that data itself. But the district security chief said they are working on that.

Toki PTO President Betsy Reck said "it's a start," but she said she believe there needs to be a clearly defined "behavior plan" posted immediately that shows appropriate behaviors and the consequences if they are not followed.

Reck said she wants consistent consequences applied to negative behavior.

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Madison Metro West Transfer Point Incident

Madison Police Department:

5602 Tokay Blvd. (West Transfer Point)
Suspect(s) Suspect #1: Male, age 16, Madison; Suspect #2: Male, age 16, Madison

Suspect #1 was arrested and tentatively charged with Robbery (Party to a Crime).

Suspect #2 was arrested and tentatively charged with Robbery (Party to a Crime), and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.

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California Home Schoolers Get the Heave-Ho


An appellate court in California recently ruled that parents who home school their kids may be breaking the law. The decision requires parents to have filed paperwork to run their own private school, or to have enrolled their kids in a satellite school or to have credentialed tutors to do the teaching.

Luis Huerta, an assistant professor of education and public policy at Columbia University, says the decision could have massive implications not just for the nation's home schoolers, but for privacy advocates and future Supreme Court decision-making.

It's difficult to give a snapshot of the people who home school in the United States, Huerta says. "It's an elusive number, and it's very difficult to track them down," he says. "If they chose to home school, they've chosen not to report to the state." He says there are probably 1.2 million children taught at home in the United States, up from 600,000 in 1996, a doubling in a little more than 10 years.

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School is the "Last Moral Force"

Sean Coughlan:

Poor parenting and the erosion of family life are leaving schools as the only moral framework in many children's lives, says a head teachers' leader.

Schools were increasingly expected to "fill the vacuum", John Dunford told the Association of School and College Leaders annual conference, in Brighton.

They now sometimes had to teach social skills such as eating a meal together.

"Schools have a much stronger role in bringing up children than in previous years," Dr Dunford said.

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Madison School District Presentation on Standards Based Report Cards

Watch the District's presentation to the Madison Board of Education. Much more on the proposed "Standards Based" report cards, here.
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March 11, 2008

Monona Grove considers artificial turf

Gena Kittner:

The Monona Grove School District is considering artificial turf to resolve long-standing problems with its high school field.

The field, which hosts girls and boys soccer and pee wee, youth and high school football, is overused, often resulting in a muddy, damaged mess before the end of the season.

"It 's not so much the pressure we put on it, (but) we have no time for maintenance, " said Jeff Schreiner, activities director for the Monona Grove School District.

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How to Fix K-12 Education

David Bessoud:

This month, I want to use this forum to publicize a report that came out last fall with solid advice for how to improve our schools. As we think about K-12 mathematics education, as we engage in the debate of what should succeed No Child Left Behind, I believe that this report provides a useful, research-based framework in which to situate that debate. And I believe that this report has implications for how we think about mathematics teaching in our colleges and universities, a topic to which I shall return in later columns.

The report in question was issued by McKinsey & Company in September, 2007, How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top [1]. Their procedure was straight-forward. They took the ten top-performing countries according to the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA): Australia, Belgium, Canada, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Singapore, and South Korea, and asked what practices are common among them. They tested their conclusions by comparing these practices with those in the US school systems that have seen the most dramatic increase in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) or TIMSS scores or have been consistent finalists for the Broad Prize for Urban Education. These school systems are Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New York, and Ohio.
None of their conclusions should be surprising. The three practices that they identified are on most people’s lists of what they would like to see. What is eye-opening is how effective these practices can be and how important it is to focus on them. In my own paraphrase, they are

  1. Recruit teachers from among the most highly literate and numerate college students.
  2. Support teachers with continual coaching, peer-mentoring, and professional development.
  3. Have clear standards for system performance, intervene quickly and effectively when problems arise, and allocate resources so that those with the greatest need get the most support.

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Expectations Lose to Reality of Sports Scholarships

Bill Pennington

At youth sporting events, the sidelines have become the ritual community meeting place, where families sit in rows of folding chairs aligned like church pews. These congregations are diverse in spirit but unified by one gospel: heaven is your child receiving a college athletic scholarship.

Parents sacrifice weekends and vacations to tournaments and specialty camps, spending thousands each year in this quest for the holy grail.

But the expectations of parents and athletes can differ sharply from the financial and cultural realities of college athletics, according to an analysis by The New York Times of previously undisclosed data from the National Collegiate Athletic Association and interviews with dozens of college officials.

Excluding the glamour sports of football and basketball, the average N.C.A.A. athletic scholarship is nowhere near a full ride, amounting to $8,707. In sports like baseball or track and field, the number is routinely as low as $2,000. Even when football and basketball are included, the average is $10,409. Tuition and room and board for N.C.A.A. institutions often cost between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.

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Doyle announces plan to prevent deficit

Patrick Marley and Stacy Forster:

Gov. Jim Doyle today offered a $527 million package to repair the state budget with cuts and delays to new programs, as well as a new tax on hospitals and a transfer of $243 million from the state's transportation fund.

The budget that runs through mid-2009 is $650 million short, though Doyle already whittled that down through austerity measures, including delaying paying off some debt.

The budget is short because the slumping economy has led the state to collect fewer taxes than projected.
"Just like any real solution to a budget gap, this plan cuts spending and looks for good sources of revenue," Doyle said, adding that it protects such priorities as health care, education and job creation.

Although Doyle said he wanted to avoid some of last year's budget fights, he reopened one by introducing the tax on hospital revenue.

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Should We Put the Brakes on Advanced Placement Growth?

Jay Matthews:

Patrick Mattimore -- lawyer, teacher and freelance journalist -- is one of the most insightful writers about schools I know. So when he published a piece in Education Week criticizing the rapid growth in Advanced Placement courses in the country, I read it carefully and asked him to discuss it with me in this column. Mattimore is not only an astute judge of AP policy, but until recently, he was an AP Psychology teacher in San Francisco. He knows the territory like few others, and unlike many people in the debate over how to use AP, he has accomplished the rare feat of changing his mind after discovering facts at odds with his views.

His March 5 Ed Week commentary points out that if you look at all high school graduates, the percentage taking and passing AP exams is increasing. But if you look at the percentage of exams with passing grades -- 3 or above on the 5-point tests -- that is declining in many subjects. To Mattimore, this means the program is growing too fast -- a 10 percent jump every year in the number of exams taken. He says the rapid expansion ought to be reined in until school systems improve instruction in lower grades so students are better prepared for the rigors of AP.

"The College Board would like to continue the expansion of the AP program, and suggests that equity demands all students have access to the most advanced instruction high schools can provide," he writes. "The back story of AP expansion, however, is not that it is a means of benefiting minorities, but that it has become an out-of-control shootout for top students vying for spots at selective colleges. Before we invest more dollars in expanding the Advanced Placement program, we must provide the pre-AP infrastructure in our middle schools to ensure that students are prepared to meet the challenges of the program. Otherwise, we can expect that our AP failure rates will continue to climb."

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March 10, 2008

On Teacher Unions: Teaching Change

Andrew Rotherham:

WHEN teachers at two Denver public schools demanded more control over their work days, they ran into opposition from a seemingly odd place: their union. The teachers wanted to be able to make decisions about how time was used, hiring and even pay. But this ran afoul of the teachers’ contract. After a fight, last month the union backed down — but not before the episode put a spotlight on the biggest challenge and opportunity facing teachers’ unions today.

While laws like No Child Left Behind take the rhetorical punches for being a straitjacket on schools, it is actually union contracts that have the greatest effect over what teachers can and cannot do. These contracts can cover everything from big-ticket items like pay and health care coverage to the amount of time that teachers can spend on various activities.

Reformers have long argued that this is an impediment to effective schools. Now, increasingly, they are joined by a powerful ally: frustrated teachers. In addition to Denver, in the past year teachers in Los Angeles also sought more control at the school level, and found themselves at odds with their union.

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MUAE "Conversation With the Candidates"

Madison United for Academic Excellence (MUAE) will be hosting a "Conversation With the Madison School Board Candidates" on Tuesday, March 11, at 7:00 p.m. in the Wright Middle School LMC, 1313 Fish Hatchery Road. Marjorie Passman and Ed Hughes are running for Seats 6 and 7, respectively. Both are running unopposed. Please join us for a relaxed and productive dialogue, sans political sparring. Bring your questions, comments, concerns and ideas. The candidates are as eager to listen as they are to speak.

As an introduction to the candidates --

Isthmus Take-Home Test, Week One:

Isthmus Take-Home Test, Week Two:

Marjorie Passman's website:

Ed Hughes's website:

All are welcome!

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On Teacher Unions: Educators or Kingmakers?

David White:

IF the Democratic race is settled at the party’s convention this summer — not unlikely, given Hillary Clinton’s victories over Barack Obama in Ohio and Texas — certain delegate constituencies are going to be the object of much affection from the candidates. Most prominent among these is the delegate and superdelegate bloc affiliated with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions. In 2004, more than 400 regular delegates to the convention were members of the two unions, making up a group bigger than every state delegation except California’s.

Good news for the unions, however, might not be good news for education. The union agenda has often run counter to the interests of students and teachers alike.

Take those collective bargaining agreements that the unions have negotiated in school districts across the nation. As Terry Moe, a professor of political science at Stanford, demonstrated, these agreements have hampered student performance in California. Why? Because they protect ineffective teachers — at the expense of everyone else.

Or consider performance-based pay. Forty percent of teachers leave the classroom within their first five years on the job — in some measure because they don’t stand to gain the same performance-based pay raises available to their private-sector counterparts. Merit pay would help public schools retain good teachers by paying them more. But the unions have fought against such measures.

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Maryland District Plans Teacher Incentive Pay Pilot Program

Nelson Hernandez:

Prince George's County education and labor leaders unveiled a much-anticipated pilot program yesterday that will offer teachers and administrators at 12 schools incentive pay for good performance.

The voluntary program, called Financial Incentive Rewards for Supervisors and Teachers, or FIRST, will allow teachers to make as much as $10,000 above base salary for improving the performance of their students, teaching in hard-to-staff schools and subjects, and participating in evaluations and professional development. Principals and assistant principals will be able to make up to $12,500 and $11,000, respectively.

County education leaders hope the offer of extra pay will help Prince George's recruit talented teachers and attract the best teachers and administrators to academically struggling schools. The extra pay would represent a sizable bump for a starting teacher salary of about $41,000.

Although labor organizations across the country have often opposed pay-for-performance programs, saying they can be imposed unfairly by management, union leaders at yesterday's news conference said that they like the voluntary nature of the county's program and that they had been invited to help design it from the beginning.

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Math Suggests College Frenzy Will Soon Ease

Alan Finder:

High school seniors nationwide are anxiously awaiting the verdicts from the colleges of their choice later this month. But though it may not be of much solace to them, in just a few years the admissions frenzy is likely to ease. It’s simply a matter of demographics.

Projections show that by next year or the year after, the annual number of high school graduates in the United States will peak at about 2.9 million after a 15-year climb. The number is then expected to decline until about 2015. Most universities expect this to translate into fewer applications and less selectivity, with most students probably finding it easier to get into college.

“For the high school graduate, this becomes a buyers’ market,” said Daniel M. Fogel, president of the University of Vermont.

That won’t help Charlie Cotton, a senior at Madison High School in New Jersey. He has the grades and scores to aim for the nation’s elite universities, yet in the hyper-competitive world of college admissions, his chances of winning a spot at his top picks — like Middlebury, Dartmouth and Oberlin — are highly uncertain. When his sister, Emma, who is in eighth grade, applies to college, she is expected to face a less frantic landscape with fewer rivals.

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Second Thoughts on Zero Tolerance Policies

Susan Lampert Smith:

The biggest problem with "zero tolerance " policies is that they require zero thought.

A kid smokes pot or drinks on school property? Bam! They 're out for a year.

Simple, right? Even a kid could understand it. Except, sometimes, teenagers aren 't so great about thinking through the consequences.

A few weeks ago I wrote about a group of Marshall Middle School girls expelled for a year for alleged marijuana use. The district offers no services to expelled students, and one family couldn 't find another public school that would take their daughter.

Since then, I 've heard similar stories. In one district, the parents didn 't see the expulsion file until the hearing. It was full of errors, even calling their daughter by a wrong first name, but still the School Board used the "investigation " to kick her out for a year.

In another district, a middle schooler was expelled for a year for letting her friend try a prescription pill. Now, her mother writes, the girl is a "pariah " who must apply for permission to be on school grounds for special events.

In still another, the parents couldn 't afford private school, and their young teen has been without any formal education for a year.

A teacher also wrote, questioning why I think the schools should be lenient to students who break clear rules.

Actually, I don 't. I 'm all in favor of punishment. But do we as a society really want teens out of school for a year? Some may never come back. And then there are fairness issues. Many times, these kids come from poor families that don 't hire lawyers like wealthier ones would. And often, when kids are doing bad things at school, it 's because bad things are happening at home.

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Badger Spelling Bee Champ

Pat Simms:

Fourteen-year-old Kara Walla of Hales Corners gave God a lot of credit for her victory Saturday in the 2008 Badger State Spelling Bee.

God and good genes.

Home-schooled by her parents with her four siblings, the teenager comes from a family of spellers -- her father, Wade, placed ninth in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in 1982 representing Montana, and her aunt, Theresa Walla, came in 27th in the national contest in 1976.

After 16 rounds of spelling against 48 other contenders at Monona Grove High School, Kara carved her own place in the family legacy by spelling ampicillin (an antibiotic).

Before that, she correctly spelled the Greek word echinoderm (a category of marine animal), which 12-year-old Sam Maki of Owen had missed. Third was Natalie LaPointe of Bayfield, who missed the word disciform (of round or oval shape).

Madison city champion Erich Wegenke went out in the fourth round on the word sassafras.

Channel3000 has more.

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March 9, 2008

SAGE Thoughts

TJ Mertz:

The Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) contracts for MMSD schools will be on the agenda at Monday’s (3-10-2008) Special Board of Education Workshop meeting. I have mixed feelings about the SAGE program because of the choices it forces school district to make.

A serious overhaul of the school funding system is needed and one of the things that should be addressed are the problems with SAGE. Most of the proposals I’ve seen (Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools, School Finance Network, Alan Odden…) would minimize or eliminate some of the issues discussed below.

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Education Expenditure of Government, total, as Percent of Gross National Income

UNdata has published some interesting data sets, including those that compare US education spending with other countries. Here's a few data points:

United States: 2003 = 5.8%
United Kingdom 2003 = 5.4%
Switzerland 2003 = 5.1%
Singapore 2001 = 3.7%
New Zealand 2003 = 7.1%
Mexico 2003 = 5.9%
Korea 2003 = 4.6%
Japan 2003 = 3.6%
France 2003 = 6%
Germany 2002 = 4.8%
India 2003 = 3.3%
Denmark 2003 = 8.5%

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2008 African American History Challenge


Many thanks to the 100 Black Men of Madison for organizing the 14th annual African American History Challenge. More photos here. Five Madison middle schools participated this year: Cherokee, Sennett, Spring Harbor, Toki and Edgewood.

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Freedom Means Responsibility

George McGovern:

Nearly 16 years ago in these very pages, I wrote that "'one-size-fits all' rules for business ignore the reality of the market place." Today I'm watching some broad rules evolve on individual decisions that are even worse.

Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics, including calls to regulate subprime mortgages.

With liberalized credit rules, many people with limited income could access a mortgage and choose, for the first time, if they wanted to own a home. And most of those who chose to do so are hanging on to their mortgages. According to the national delinquency survey released yesterday, the vast majority of subprime, adjustable-rate mortgages are in good condition,their holders neither delinquent nor in default.

There's no question, however, that delinquency and default rates are far too high. But some of this is due to bad investment decisions by real-estate speculators. These losses are not unlike the risks taken every day in the stock market.

About George McGovern.

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NYT: We Need National Teen Licensing Laws

Robert Farago:

I'm a little confused about The New York Times' position regarding states' rights. On one hand, it's down with California's desire to enact CO2 emissions regulations that trump national standards. On the other hand, when it comes to teen licensing, it asserts "What the country needs is a uniform set of rules, based on the soundest research. That is the best way to keep teenage drivers, and everyone who shares the roads with them, safer." The Old Gray Lady argues that "Congress flexed its muscle in the mid-1980s and pressed states to adopt a minimum drinking age of 21. More recently, it did so to pass tougher drunken driving laws. The country’s highways are safer for those efforts. Congress now needs to do the same for teenage driving." To that end, the paper supports Senator Chris Dodd's proposal to withhold federal highway funds from states that refuse to set the minimum driving age at 16 and adopt graduated licensing for 16- and 17-year-olds (including nighttime and passenger restrictions).

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March 8, 2008

What you usually don't hear about WEAC

Thomas Zachek:

It's amazing how much some people dislike WEAC.

One e-mailer called it a "collective" (like the Borg?). Another said teachers love unionization "because you can't think for yourselves!"

The Wisconsin Education Association Council has never told me how to think or what to teach. WEAC may take positions on issues, but its members can think what they want - and do. I have attended at least five WEAC Representative Assemblies, and I assure you that the debate is vigorous and disagreement is extensive.

I wonder which organizations those e-mailers belong to that might encourage free thinking and not allegiance to dogma from on high. The Republican Party perhaps? The National Rifle Association? The Catholic Church?

News media repeatedly refer to the "powerful teachers union" as if it's somehow emptying our pockets and preventing life from being beautiful. Rep. Don Pridemore (R-Hartford), whose newsletters used to cite a "WEAC Atrocity of the Month," wrote that the union influences every education decision in the state.

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Snow - seen "through my eyes as a first year principal at Marquette"

Andrea Kreft:

welcome you to see through my eyes as a first year principal at Marquette Elementary.

Right now I see snow: a record amount of snow!

It covers our staff's cars in the parking lot, our playground and our students. It is the time of year when the shine on the floors turns to a dull, salty dust and a scattering of wet boots lay "close to" lockers in the halls. No wonder the Lost and Found bin overflows so quickly.

We've rounded the corner into the second semester and I've learned a lot about snow and how our attention clings to what the weather brings. It begins with a continuing debate in determining where snow boots and pants need to be worn on the playground.

With every new layer of snow, I am thankful for the staff that fashion the blaze orange vests and assist in addressing these questions to keep our students safe and as dry as possible outside.

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Wisconsin teenagers compete for academic honors

Anita Clark:

After months of practice and grueling drills, 180 Wisconsin teenagers will converge on Madison next week to face tough competition.

For these young people, the contests are academic, not athletic. They'll be competing in the finals of the Wisconsin Academic Decathlon, which this year includes Dane County teams from McFarland and Sun Prairie high schools.

It's among a growing number of academic extracurricular activities that help students flex their brains, polish their skills and pump up pride in their schools and communities.

Amy Hetzner has more:
After six straight state championship years, with nearly half of last year's winning team returning, what worries could face Waukesha West High School's Academic Decathlon team going into next week's state competition?

"We talk about the New England Patriots," West's veteran decathlon coach Duane Stein said. "We think anybody can fall on any day."

So the nine members of West's team have been staying late at school and studying in their spare time to try to avoid repeating at Wisconsin's academic Super Bowl the performance of a certain undefeated football team that lost its final game of the season.

They're not the only ones hard at work, however.

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These Benefactors Do Homework as Charities Fawn

Amy Merrick:

Amy Herzog took some curious steps as she prepared to interview with a big donor, one that could write a huge check for medical research on her son's rare digestive disorder. She fretted over choosing the sweater and pants she wore, not wanting to look like "some old mom." She made her husband, Brian, go with her. "I did not want to walk in there alone," she says.

The Herzogs found the meeting room and sat down. Before them, with pens poised over questionnaires, was a committee of students at Highland Park High School.

The 1,888-student school in an affluent Chicago suburb is one of a number of schools across the country that have emerged as highly sought scientific benefactors. Last year, the students raised $180,000, and an anonymous donor matched that. Students gave the $360,000 in one lump to a research organization started by a local family whose son has Huntington's disease and whose daughter will develop the fatal genetic disorder.

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March 7, 2008

At Charter School: Higher Teacher Pay

Elissa Gootman:

A New York City charter school set to open in 2009 in Washington Heights will test one of the most fundamental questions in education: Whether significantly higher pay for teachers is the key to improving schools.

The school, which will run from fifth to eighth grades, is promising to pay teachers $125,000, plus a potential bonus based on schoolwide performance. That is nearly twice as much as the average New York City public school teacher earns, roughly two and a half times the national average teacher salary and higher than the base salary of all but the most senior teachers in the most generous districts nationwide.

The school’s creator and first principal, Zeke M. Vanderhoek, contends that high salaries will lure the best teachers. He says he wants to put into practice the conclusion reached by a growing body of research: that teacher quality — not star principals, laptop computers or abundant electives — is the crucial ingredient for success.

“I would much rather put a phenomenal, great teacher in a field with 30 kids and nothing else than take the mediocre teacher and give them half the number of students and give them all the technology in the world,” said Mr. Vanderhoek, 31, a Yale graduate and former middle school teacher who built a test preparation company that pays its tutors far more than the competition.

Related: The Teacher Free Agent Market in Denver.

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California Court: Credential Needed to Home School


California parents without teaching credentials cannot legally home school their children, according to a recent state appellate court ruling.

The immediate impact of the ruling was not clear. Attorneys for the state Department of Education were reviewing the ruling, and home schooling organizations were lining up against it.

"Parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children," Justice H. Walter Croskey wrote in a Feb. 28 opinion for the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Noncompliance could lead to criminal complaints against the parents, Croskey said.

An earlier post on this item can be found here.

Bob Egelko & Jill Tucker:

A California appeals court ruling clamping down on homeschooling by parents without teaching credentials sent shock waves across the state this week, leaving an estimated 166,000 children as possible truants and their parents at risk of prosecution.
The homeschooling movement never saw the case coming.

"At first, there was a sense of, 'No way,' " said homeschool parent Loren Mavromati, a resident of Redondo Beach (Los Angeles County) who is active with a homeschool association. "Then there was a little bit of fear. I think it has moved now into indignation."

The ruling arose from a child welfare dispute between the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services and Philip and Mary Long of Lynwood, who have been homeschooling their eight children. Mary Long is their teacher, but holds no teaching credential.

The parents said they also enrolled their children in Sunland Christian School, a private religious academy in Sylmar (Los Angeles County), which considers the Long children part of its independent study program and visits the home about four times a year.

Parents who home-school their children need a teaching credential, according to a recent appellate court ruling in California. What does the ruling mean for those who home-school more than 1 million American children?

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Making Kids Money Savvy: Try These Four Financial Tricks

Jonathan Clements:

Give them a few dollars -- and some financial common sense.

Want to make sure your children grow up to be money-smart adults? Check out the four experiments below.

My advice: Try these tricks on your kids, talk to them about the lessons to be learned -- and then quietly muse about whether you, too, fall prey to these financial traps.

Favoring today. If children are to save diligently once they're adults, they need to learn to delay gratification. Yet this skill doesn't come easily.

Want proof? Let's say you give your kids $5 a week in pocket money. When it's next time to fork over their allowance, offer them a choice: They can have the usual $5 right away -- or they can have $7, equal to a whopping 40% more, if they're willing to wait a week.

"It's about immediate gratification," says Shlomo Benartzi, an economics professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. "Getting nothing right now doesn't sound good, so they'd probably go for the $5."

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'Acting Black' Hinders Gifted Black Student Achievement

NASHVILLE, Tenn., March 6 (AScribe Newswire) -- Gifted black students often underachieve in school because of efforts to "act black," new research has found, offering insights into the achievement gap between black and white students in the United States and why black students are under-represented in gifted programs.

"Part of the achievement gap, particularly for gifted black students, is due to the poor image these students have of themselves as learners," study author Donna Ford, professor of special education and Betts Chair of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University's Peabody College, said. "Our research shows that prevention and intervention programs that focus on improving students' achievement ethic and self-image are essential to closing the achievement gap."

The research, one of the first to examine the concept of "acting black," was published in the March issue of Urban Education. Ford and co-authors Gilman Whiting and Tarek Grantham set out to determine how gifted black students achieve compared to their white counterparts, what can be learned about the achievement gap by studying these students, and how gifted students view "acting black" and "acting white." They surveyed 166 black 5th- through 12th-graders identified as gifted in two Ohio school districts.

"Many studies have been conducted about students, with little information collected from them," the authors wrote. "It is with students themselves that many of the answers and solutions to underachievement, low achievement, and the achievement gap may be found."

Most of the students were familiar with the terms "acting white" and "acting black." They described "acting white" as speaking properly, being smart or too smart, doing well in school, taking advanced courses, being stuck up, and not acting your race. Terms they used to describe "acting black" were having a "don't care" attitude, being laid back, being dumb or uneducated and pretending not to be smart.

"Tragically, only one student (surveyed) indicated acting black was positive. Instead, the gifted black students? believe that acting black means lacking in intelligence, placing a low priority on academics, speaking poorly, behaving poorly, and dressing in ill-fitting clothes," they wrote. "The gifted black students clearly hold negative stereotypes about blacks, namely their attitudes, behaviors and intelligence."

Sixty-six percent of the students surveyed reported knowing someone who had been teased or ridiculed for doing well in school, while 42 percent reported being teased for this reason themselves. The authors found discrepancies between students' attitudes and their behaviors-students expressed belief that school is important and a key to success, but may not behave that way in the classroom.

"This is because they don't want to be associated with the stigma attached with achieving and doing well; plus they try to keep up with friends and don't want to be singled out or 'played,'" one of the students wrote. The authors also found that while black students agree that hard work in school leads to success, they do not necessarily believe that this holds true for black people.

"This doubt and second-guessing may result in the child believing that an education benefits or pays off for some groups but not others, namely, blacks," the authors wrote. "Some of these students, specifically if discouraged, believe that hard work is a waste of time and energy given the reality of social injustices."

To address these issues, the authors argue for counseling to help battle peer pressure, stereotypes and poor self-esteem, and suggest promoting an achievement ethic in schools through posters, speakers, symposiums and mentoring programs. "Because these students are black, these posters, speakers and mentors should include black people," they wrote. "A multicultural curriculum must hold promise for improving students' image of themselves and people of color as scholars."

This work cannot end at the school doors, the authors argued, but also must extend into the home. "Families are urged to connect their children with mentors and role models who are academically oriented and who have a positive racial identity," they wrote. "Adults of the family must also see themselves as role models and personify a strong work ethic-an image of school being important and an image of resilience."

"The achievement gap is real, the achievement gap is complex, the achievement gap is stubborn; we - educators and families - must be just as stubborn and diligent in our efforts to eliminate the gap."

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After School Programs in the 21st Century: Their Potential and What It Takes to Achieve It

Priscilla M. D. Little, Christopher Wimer, and Heather B. Weiss, Harvard Family Research Project:

Harvard Family Research Project’s (HFRP) Issues and Opportunities in Out-of-School Time Evaluation briefs highlight current research and evaluation work in the out-of-school time field. These documents draw on HFRP’s research work in out-of-school time to provide practitioners, funders, evaluators, and policymakers with information to help them in their work. This brief looks at 10 years of research on after school programs and finds implications for the future of the after school field.

This research brief draws on seminal research and evaluation studies to address two primary questions: (a) Does participation in after school programs make a difference, and, if so (b) what conditions appear to be necessary to achieve positive results? The brief concludes with a set of questions to spur conversation about the evolving role of after school in efforts to expand time and opportunities for children and youth in the 21st century.

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Iowa State University journalism director challenges cyber trend

Lisa Rossi:

When Iowa State University journalism school Director Michael Bugeja asked a group of Simpson College students what inspires awe in them, he was greeted with deafening silence.

After a second attempt to get a reaction generated only a feeble response, Bugeja pondered his own question and concluded: Technology creates simulated lives for too many of today's college students. In some cases, he said, they get so wrapped up in their online lives that they lose touch with reality.

Bugeja blames technology. He warns anyone who will listen about the blind embrace of avatars, cyber lives and Web surfing during class.

"What we're seeing is these consumer technologies are blurring the line between entertainment and learning," he said.

His views have landed him at the center of a debate among education leaders over how to simultaneously capture the attention of tech-savvy students and still maintain the depth of instruction they will need to survive in the modern wired world.

Not everyone agrees with Bugeja. That's why there's a spam e-mail named for him. And it's why the editor of the campus newspaper characterized his comments as "iPhobic" in 2006. Some, however, give Bugeja credit for putting the issue on the front burner.

"He makes us stop and think about the impact of that technology and why do we think that it works, how could we improve on it," said Jim Davis, ISU's chief information officer.

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Teen Aggression May Really Be a State of Mind

Alan Mozes:

For parents of emotionally combative teens, new research offers a powerful biological reason for all the family feuding -- adolescent brain size.

A team of Australian scientists has found that when key regions of the brain known for controlling emotions are bigger, boys and girls tend to be more aggressive and more persistent during their fights with Mom and Dad.

"This is a bit of a unique study," said study author Nicholas Allen, an associate professor with the Orygen Research Centre at the University of Melbourne. "Because we've shown for the first time that in terms of aggression -- not physical, but being argumentative and unfriendly -- some of the differences in the way teen kids interact with parents are biologically based. The adolescent is developing, their brain is developing, and there's a link between the two."

The finding was published in this week's online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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March 6, 2008

A Discussion of Madison's Virtual Campus

Joan Peebles:

In the past weeks, judges, legislators, parents and school district staff throughout Wisconsin have created a lot of buzz around virtual charter schools. Meanwhile, the Madison Metropolitan School District quietly, but proudly, launched a long-awaited and much-needed program named Madison Virtual Campus (MVC) that has avoided the virtual school controversy through careful and thoughtful planning.

MVC is not an online school, but rather is a group of online educational options that serve students and staff across the district. The district recognizes that high school students sometimes have learning needs that may not fit the typical school attendance model.

For example, high school students are now able to register for up to two online high school courses at any time during a school year. To assure success, online students are guided and supported by online teachers at each of the district's high schools.

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Homeowners Petition to Leave the Waukesha School District

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

The fact that 66 out of 99 residents in the Meadowbrook Farms single-family home development in Pewaukee are willing to spend an average of $700 more in property taxes to leave the Waukesha School District says something about the disturbing trend in what the district is offering its families.

If the district and taxpaying voters in the district want to become more attractive to families moving into Waukesha County, they're going to have to find ways to reverse that trend and be willing to pay the price.

As the Journal Sentinel's Amy Hetzner detailed in a Tuesday article, two sets of property owners plan to ask a state panel to overrule the Waukesha School Board's denial of their requests to detach from Waukesha and join Pewaukee's school system

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High Schools Add Classes Scripted by Corporations
Lockheed, Intel Fund Engineering Courses

Anne Marie Chaker:

In a recent class at Abraham Clark High School in Roselle, N.J., business teacher Barbara Govahn distributed glossy classroom materials that invited students to think about what they want to be when they grow up. Eighteen career paths were profiled, including a writer, a magician, a town mayor -- and five employees from accounting giant Deloitte LLP.

"Consider a career you may never have imagined," the book suggests. "Working as a professional auditor."

The curriculum, provided free to the public school by a nonprofit arm of Deloitte, aims to persuade students to join the company's ranks. One 18-year-old senior in Ms. Govahn's class, Hipolito Rivera, says the company-sponsored lesson drove home how professionals in all fields need accountants. "They make it sound pretty good," he says.

Deloitte and other corporations are reaching out to classrooms -- drafting curricula while also conveying the benefits of working for the sponsor companies. Hoping to create a pipeline of workers far into the future, these corporations furnish free lesson plans and may also underwrite classroom materials, computers or training seminars for teachers.

The programs represent a new dimension of the business world's influence in public schools. Companies such as McDonald's Corp. and Yum Brands Inc.'s Pizza Hut have long attempted to use school promotions to turn students into customers. The latest initiatives would turn them into employees.

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A Look at California's Dropouts

Nanette Asimov:

If California hopes to stop hemorrhaging the billions of dollars it spends by producing so many high school dropouts, the state needs to give schools better incentives to hold on to troubled students, change its graduation requirements and do more to plug the problem, researchers warn.

Each year, about 120,000 students fail to get a diploma by age 20, according to the California Dropout Research Project, which on Wednesday released detailed recommendations for state lawmakers and educators.

Each annual wave of dropouts costs the state $46.4 billion over their lifetimes because people without a high school diploma are the most likely to be unemployed, turn to crime, need state-funded medical care, get welfare and pay no taxes, according to the report.

"California uses a number of strategies to reduce dropout rates ... but together they are insufficient to address the problem," say the researchers, led by education Professor Russell Rumberger of UC Santa Barbara.

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March 5, 2008

Racine's Maintenance Referendum Tour

Dani McClain:

Racine Unified's school board has a new plan to convince taxpayers to support its April 1 facilities referendum:

District officials are loading residents onto school buses Saturday morning and taking them on a tour.

"A picture says a thousand words," board member Don Nielsen says. "The real thing says even more."

District finance director David Hazen will lead the "tourists" from Case High School (where Nielsen says doors are in bad shape), to Janes Elementary school (where the fire alarm system is too old, Nielsen says), to Walden III Middle and High School (where Nielsen says the boiler has just about had it).

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The Teacher Free Agent Market in Denver

Mike Antonucci:

The autonomy movement in Denver is leading to a strange phenomenon: a boom market for quality teachers:
Diane Kenealy interviewed for a teaching job at West Denver Preparatory Charter School on Jan. 9, received a job offer within 24 hours and accepted the position three days later.

Compare that rapid hiring to this spring's staffing calendar in traditional Denver Public Schools, which dictates principals can't schedule interviews with teaching candidates until the middle of March.

Even then, they can only talk to candidates already working in a city school.

A DPS principal who wants to talk to a college senior such as Kenealy, who spends her summers teaching poor children in Denver, has to wait another full month, until mid-April.

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Next Question: Can Students Be Paid to Excel?

Jennifer Medina:

The fourth graders squirmed in their seats, waiting for their prizes. In a few minutes, they would learn how much money they had earned for their scores on recent reading and math exams. Some would receive nearly $50 for acing the standardized tests, a small fortune for many at this school, P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

When the rewards were handed out, Jazmin Roman was eager to celebrate her $39.72. She whispered to her friend Abigail Ortega, “How much did you get?” Abigail mouthed a barely audible answer: $36.87. Edgar Berlanga pumped his fist in the air to celebrate his $34.50.

The children were unaware that their teacher, Ruth Lopez, also stood to gain financially from their achievement. If students show marked improvement on state tests during the school year, each teacher at Public School 188 could receive a bonus of as much as $3,000.

School districts nationwide have seized on the idea that a key to improving schools is to pay for performance, whether through bonuses for teachers and principals, or rewards like cash prizes for students. New York City, with the largest public school system in the country, is in the forefront of this movement, with more than 200 schools experimenting with one incentive or another. In more than a dozen schools, students, teachers and principals are all eligible for extra money, based on students’ performance on standardized tests.

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Madison Schools' "Above the Line Behavior" Staff Training

Ron Lott:

Imagine being a student in a school where:
  • All the adults (teachers, bus drivers, administrators, after-school staff) work hard to develop relationships.
  • Behavioral expectations are consistent and taught in a way that makes sense.
  • Misbehaviors are viewed as teachable moments and responses help build responsibility.
Such an experience was the goal of the summer professional development series provided last August 20-24. Through the combined funding of an Evjue mini-grant ($4730), an Aristos grant ($2500), and a grant through The Foundation for Madison Public Schools ($10,000), a six-session series with noted presenter Corwin Kronenberg (pictured) was planned for an array of different target audiences. Kronenberg, the author of the Above the Line model for supporting student behavior, had provided smaller-scale trainings during the two previous summers.

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School Lunch at Risk for Years

Elizabeth Williamson:

The U.S. Agriculture Department has for years had problems ensuring that beef supplied to the national school-lunch program meets food-safety standards, federal auditors' reports show, suggesting more widespread problems than those that triggered the biggest food recall in U.S. history.

In reports dating back to 2003, the USDA Office of Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office cited the USDA's lunch-program administrators and inspectors for weak food-safety standards, poor safeguards against bacterial contamination, and choosing lunch-program vendors with known food-safety violations. Auditors singled out problems with controls over E. coli and salmonella contamination.

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Balancing Academic Tradition and Skills Employers Demand
Some Colleges Push for Focus on Writing

Valerie Strauss:

While designing a new core curriculum at Virginia Commonwealth University to help graduates thrive in the 21st century, Vice Provost Joseph Marolla seized on an old standard to ensure its success: teaching students to write better.

This school year, all freshmen at Virginia's largest university began taking a two-semester course called Focused Inquiry that replaces English 101 and targets specific skills, writing chief among them.

The same thinking was behind a shake-up at the 50,000-student University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where an initiative was launched this school year, and a new department created, to make writing an essential element of every student's education.

The push to improve writing is taking hold at many colleges and universities amid a national debate about what higher education in 21st century should look like in the face of government projections that nearly two-thirds of all high-growth, high-wage jobs created in the next decade will require a college degree -- a degree only one-third of adults have.

The curriculum debate started at least 200 years ago when Thomas Jefferson grew tired of trying to change the curriculum of the College of William and Mary and founded the University of Virginia to launch the "liberal arts." It is being played out at schools that are revamping curriculum to meet the demands of business leaders who want workers better trained in problem solving and collaboration and academics dedicated to a broad, intellectually rich education.

"We don't want college to be a trade school," Marolla said. "Everybody understands that. But as we've moved into the 21st century, we know that college kids have to have certain skills to be able to be successful over their lifetime."

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Giving Families the Preschool Choice

Kenneth Blackwell:

Across the country, governors are rushing to pour more and more tax dollars into state-run preschool programs. Today, all but ten states offer some sort of taxpayer-funded preschool for some three and four year olds — primarily based on need.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, more than $3.3 billion is spent on the nearly 950,000 children who used these programs each year. And last year, 28 states increased government funding by a combined 13%.

Reaching our youngest and most vulnerable children early with the basics of a good education is a good idea. The problem is many states are locking these students into dysfunctional and underperforming public education systems just a few years early.

If governors and legislatures want to expand public preschool, they should be mindful of the mistakes of the past. Instead of ceding more authority and tax dollars to entrenched educational bureaucracies and teachers' unions, parent empowerment and education choice programs should be considered. And, if parents choose parochial or faith-based schools, so be it.

The real strength of America's education system is in the diversity of educational opportunities. This diversity has allowed competition, preserved choice, and increased educational experimentation. Any valid proposal to improve educational opportunity for our youngest children will build on both of these strengths.

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March 4, 2008

Take Home Test: Madison school board (unopposed) candidates take on charter schools

Marc Eisen @ Isthmus:

More and more Wisconsin school districts are experimenting with charter schools. Some 231 are in operation. Most have a specialty focus and are exempted from certain state regulations to facilitate new approaches to learning.

Appleton, for example, has 14 charter schools for its 15,000 students. These schools focus on Montessori learning, environmentalism, gifted education, the construction industry, arts immersion and alternative programs, among others.

Madison with its almost 25,000 students has held back, authorizing just two charters, the bilingual Nuestro Mundo on the east side, and the south side’s Wright Middle School, which despite its charter designation offers a program similar to Madison's other middle schools.

The two Madison school board candidates -- Marj Passman is the lone candidate for Seat 6, while Ed Hughes is running unopposed for Seat 7 -- were relatively vague when we asked them about charter schools this week. Perhaps an inquiring voter will pin them down at an upcoming forum.

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The Whole Child

Here in Massachusetts these days, we are hearing more and more from the Governor and educators about “The Whole Child.” They say we should be sure, in our schools, not to get distracted from a focus, in a holistic way, on the whole child.

I have heard about this “whole child,” but I have yet to have anyone explain what that could mean. I know that it has been said, of boys, for instance, that they are made of “snakes and snails and puppy dogs’ tails,” and of girls, that they are mostly “sugar and spice and everything nice,” but I can’t believe that completes the inventory.

Each student may be considered from a neuro-psychological, socio-economic, philosophical, dental, muscular-skeletal, ethnic, spiritual, academic, motivational, personality configuration, family, allergic, drug-resistant, blood-type, intellectual, gastrointestinal and athletic point of view, among a large group of other perspectives.

This raises the question of what parts of the whole child the school might be best qualified and equipped to work with? Surely no imaginable set of teachers, nurses, hall monitors, principals, bus drivers, coaches, and so on can deal with all the various characteristics of each human being who comes as a student to their school.

It would appear that a school and its staff might have to choose which aspects of the whole child should be their focus. In recent decades, self-esteem, tolerance, social consciousness, respect for differences, and environmental awareness have taken up a good deal of time in the schools. Perhaps as a consequence, our students tend to be in-numerate and a-literate. The Boston Globe reports today that: “37 percent of public high school graduates who enter public higher education may not be ready.”

In addition, our students, when compared with students taught abroad, often perform below average on international examinations of their academic fitness.

Some educators, who may not have been all that academically inclined themselves in school, and who have experienced a focus in their graduate education programs on social justice, self-esteem, diversity training, environmental awareness and so on, find that they really do not know enough history, mathematics, science, literature, foreign languages and so on to teach them very well, and they may want to fall back on the sort of thing they studied at their schools of education and offer that to their students instead.

When confronted with those, such as parents, who would like them to teach students history, mathematics, science, literature, foreign languages, academic expository writing and the like, many educators defend themselves by claiming that they cannot focus so much on academics because they have a holistic interest in the whole child.

As it turns out, our society has people who can help them with this unwieldy burden. There are priests, rabbis, ministers, rishis and others who can help with young people's spiritual needs. There are medical professionals who can help students with their physical and mental health problems. There are activist organizations of many kinds to help them with social justice and environmental concerns. And there are many other social organizations, not excluding families, who can relieve our educators of the need they feel to “address” the whole child.

Happily this allows educators to return to their original and traditional mission of teaching our students knowledge and academic skills, such as reading, writing and calculating. With the extra time available to them, now that they no longer have to worry about improving every aspect of their students’ lives, they can do much more to see that their students may enter college with the academic readiness they will need to survive there, and to enter the workforce with the literacy and numeracy skills so many employers have been begging for.

It may be a wrench to give up the ambitious project of holistically taking on the whole child, with their multiple intelligences and so many other characteristics, but a new focus on academic work may, by itself, help to reduce the contempt in which so many of our schools and educators are now held by the nation whose young people they could be serving so much better.

"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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Much more on Finland's Education System

A reader emailed these links regarding the recent article on Finland's education system:

  • The PISA survey tells only a partial truth of Finnish children's mathematical skills:
    The results of the PISA survey ( have brought about satisfaction and pride in Finland. Newspapers and media have advertised that Finnish compulsory school leavers are top experts in mathematics.

    However, mathematics teachers in universities and polytechnics are worried, as in fact the mathematical knowledge of new students has declined dramatically. As an example of this one could take the extensive TIMSS 1999 survey, in which Finnish students were below the average in geometry and algebra. As another example, in order not to fail an unreasonably large amount of students in the matriculation exams, recently the board has been forced to lower the cut-off point alarmingly. Some years, 6 points out of 60 have been enough for passing.

    This conflict can be explained by pointing out that the PISA survey measured only everyday mathematical knowledge, something which could be - and in the English version of the survey report explicitly is - called "mathematical literacy"; the kind of mathematics which is needed in high-school or vocational studies was not part of the survey. No doubt, everyday mathematical skills are valuable, but by no means enough.

  • Severe shortcomings in Finnish mathematics skills:
    Basic school teacher Antero Lahti expressed (HS 28.2.) the opinion that the concern of over 200 university teachers for the mathematics teaching (HS 17.2.) were merely academic criticism.

    In fact, about one half of those signing are teachers at polytechnics (universities of applied sciences) and technical universities. They do not teach "academic" mathematics but mathematics needed in technical practice and engineering sciences. Over 12 000 students start engineering studies yearly.

    The mathematics skills of new engineering students have been systematically tested during years 1999-2004 at Turku polytechnic using 20 mathematical problems. One example of poor knowledge of mathematics is the fact that only 35 percent of the 2400 tested students have been able to do an elementary problem where a fraction is subtracted from another fraction and the difference is divided by an integer.

    If one does not know how to handle fractions, one is not able to know algebra, which uses the same mathematical rules. Algebra is a very important field of mathematics in engineering studies. It was not properly tested in the PISA study. Finnish basic school pupils have not done well in many comparative tests in algebra (IEA 1981, Kassel 1994-96, TIMSS 1999).

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A Cautionary Case for Schools

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The words of Madison School Superintendent Art Rainwater should stand as a warning to school administrators statewide:

"In the context of what we know now, we would take a whole different approach. "

Rainwater was referring to the district 's experience with a former male employee, allowed to quietly resign after a complaint of inappropriate behavior toward a female student.

The man later got a job with a different school district, which was unaware of the accusation at La Follette High School.

The man is now charged with repeated sexual assault of a child and with possession of child pornography.

The Madison district 's handling of the 2006 resignation of the employee, Anthony Hirsch, now of DeForest, should prompt all school districts to take a skeptical view of signing resignation agreements that require the district to keep quiet about any suspicions of inappropriate behavior on the job.

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Madison School Board Approves West Side Boundary Change


ome disappointed Madison parents said they will try to find the words to tell their children that they'll be moving to another school next year.

In a unanimous decision, the Madison Metropolitan School District's Board of Education voted to approve Plan F, which will move dozens of students from Chavez Elementary School to Falk Elementary next year. The affected area is referred to by the district officials as the "Channel 3 area," which is the neighborhood that basically surrounds WISC-TV studios on the West Side of the city.

The district's Long Range Planning Committee recommended Plan F, which will move 65 children in those neighborhoods to another elementary school for the fourth time in the last 15 years.

Andy Hall:

After hearing from about 30 speakers, a few of whom were moved to tears, the Madison School Board on Monday night approved controversial plans to redraw elementary and middle school attendance boundaries on the West Side.

Two hours of public testimony and 90 minutes of discussion by board members resulted in six unanimous decisions to approve changes in the Memorial High School attendance area to accommodate population changes and an elementary school that will open in the fall on the Far West Side.

Several speakers said the changes, which also affected Jefferson and Toki middle schools, will cause them to consider enrolling their children in private school.

Susan Troller also covered Monday's meeting.

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Is Reform Math a Big Mistake?

Via a Linda Thomas email:

Flash cards are out. Math triangles are in.

Mrs. Potter grabbed a chunky stack of flashcards, stood in front of the classroom and flipped through them every day when I was in second grade: 6 + 6 = blank, 7 + 3 = blank, 5 + 6 = blank. In unison, we responded 12, 10, 11. Our robotic pace slowed a bit when she held up subtraction cards.

That’s so old school.

The triangles my second-grade son brought home from school this year have plus and minus signs in the middle, with one number on each point. Students learn number families. For example, on a triangle of 6, 8 and 14 students see that 6 + 8, 8 + 6, 14 – 6 and 14 – 8 are all related.

Math triangles are part of the reform math curricula taught in more than one quarter of the nation’s schools. (See article “Math Wars” for a history of U.S. math education.) Seattle’s public elementary and middle schools teach reform math. This month the Seattle School Board will hear a recommendation for a new high school math curriculum that will be reform based. A key feature of this type of instruction is an emphasis on concepts, as opposed to computations.

In a traditional classroom, solving 89 + 21 involves lining the numbers up, carrying the one and arriving at 110 as the answer. Students learning reform math would think about the problem and reorganize it in several ways: 80 + 20 + 10, or 80 + 30, or 90 + 20. Same answer, different method.

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Oconomowoc Must Pay for Disabled Student

Amy Hetzner:

The Oconomowoc Area School District must pay the educational costs of a disabled man placed by Winnebago County court order in a residential treatment center within district boundaries, an appeals court has decided.

Officials involved in the case say it could affect other school districts that host residential care and education centers, which often serve the most drastically disabled and costly students.

"Special education tuitions can run thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars," Oconomowoc Superintendent Patricia Neudecker said.

The ruling affirms a decision by the state Department of Public Instruction that transferred the financial burden of the man's education at the Oconomowoc Developmental Training Center to the Oconomowoc district once he reached 18 and moved to an adult residential facility located in the district.

The DPI had argued that while state law exempts local school districts from paying the costs of students placed by court order in residential care centers such as the one in Oconomowoc, that exemption does not apply to adult students living in community facilities.

Neudecker said her district challenged the state's decision to assign to it the educational costs of a person who had never been enrolled in the school system or lived there before his court-ordered placement, not only because of the financial burden but also because of the larger implications.

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Northwestern News:

A Northwestern University study investigating the effects of class size on the achievement gap between high and low academic achievers suggests that high achievers benefit more from small classes than low achievers, especially at the kindergarten and first grade levels.

"While decreasing class size may increase achievement on average for all types of students, it does not appear to reduce the achievement gap within a class," said Spyros Konstantopoulos, assistant professor at Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy.

Konstantopoulos' study, which appears in the March issue of Elementary School Journal, questions commonly held assumptions about class size and the academic achievement gap -- one of the most debated and perplexing issues in education today.

The Northwestern professor worked with data from Project STAR, a landmark longitudinal study launched in 1985 by the State of Tennessee to determine whether small classes positively impacted the academic achievement of students.

Considered one of the most important investigations in education, STAR made it abundantly clear that on average small classes had a positive impact on the academic performance of all students.

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Autism Breakthrough: Girl's Writings Explain Her Behavior and Feelings

John McKenzie:

Autism Breakthrough: Girl's Writings Explain Her Behavior and Feelings

Two years ago, working with pictures and symbols on a computer keyboard, she started typing and spelling out words. The computer became her voice.

"All of a sudden these words started to pour out of her, and it was an exciting moment because we didn't realize she had all these words," said speech pathologist Barbara Nash. "It was one of those moments in my career that I'll never forget."

Then Carly began opening up, describing what it was like to have autism and why she makes odd noises or why she hits herself.

"It feels like my legs are on first and a million ants are crawling up my arms," Carly said through the computer.

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Do little ones need formal lessons?

Hilary Wilce:

War has broken out over the under-fives. As the Government moves to bring in a compulsory "nappy curriculum" for pre-schoolers, thousands of protesters are lobbying to keep children's early years out of the hands of Whitehall bureaucrats. Their case is being brought before Parliament, and early-childhood experts from around the world are backing their cause.

The latest of these is educational psychologist Aric Sigman, who, in a research paper commissioned by the campaigners, sets out the evidence that early computer-based learning, which the new curriculum explicitly encourages, has a negative effect on language, maths, reading and brain development.

"Parents and the educational establishment should, in effect, 'cordon-off' the early years of education," he concludes, "providing a buffer zone where a child's cognitive and social skills can develop without the distortion that may occur through the premature use of ICT."

The cause of the furore is the Government's early years foundation stage, which sets out a detailed learning framework for the under-fives. Everyone who works with young children, be they childminders, play assistants or nursery teachers, will be required to use it from this September. The framework stresses that although children develop at different rates and young children learn by play and exploration, it lists 69 goals that most children should attain by the age of five, and outlines how children must be assessed against them.

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March 3, 2008

Let Them Drop Out, Then Get Them Back

Jay Matthews:

Every time I hear from a teacher, I learn something. It may be a new reading report, a promising homework technique, a story of a student's success. And sometimes it is a taboo-busting, eye-widening, troublemaking idea. Consider the e-mail that Michael Goldstein, founder of the MATCH Charter Public High School in Boston, sent, saying that if a kid wants to drop out, let him.

I would usually hit the delete button on something that impolitic. But Goldstein has created one of the most successful inner-city high schools in the country. He has proven to me time and again that he knows what he is talking about.

I think our awful dropout rate -- only half of urban low-income students complete high school -- is the most difficult educational problem in the country. It may require much more than our usual buzzword solutions such as "engaging lessons," "personal contact" or "individualized instruction." What Goldstein wants to do is sort of educational jujitsu: Let the force of the kid's rush out of school bring him back, somewhat later, with enough money to get the learning he finally realizes he needs.

I am going to quote Goldstein's e-mail in full, because anyone who is willing to risk his splendid reputation to this degree should have a chance to explain all the details. He wrote in response to my request for solutions to the hopelessness found in many of our urban high schools, exemplified by Washington Post Staff Writer Lonnae O'Neal Parker's two-part series in November on Calvin Coolidge Senior High School senior Jonathan Lewis, a potential dropout if there ever was one.

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Special ed's costs endanger other programs

Kathleen Carroll:

The Demarest school district eliminated health insurance for teacher's aides.

Becton Regional High School canceled the school play.

Ramsey postponed repairs to an athletic field so dangerous that the track team hosted meets in nearby towns.

The reason: skyrocketing special-education bills.

"It's uncomfortable," said Ramsey Superintendent Roy Montesano. "You don't ever want to have it appear that we're taking away, because we don't want it to be a fight between general education and special education."

Districts are under intense financial pressure after five years of flat state funding, rising health-care costs, public despair over sky-high tax bills and a law capping tax increases. At the same time, costs for New Jersey's neediest special-education students have tripled to $595 million.

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Madison School Board Candidate Marj Passman's Q & A Responses

Marj Passman has posted her Q & A responses from:

Marj, like Ed Hughes is running unopposed.

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Parents "Ready for Monday's Boundary Battle"


A ciritical meeting on Monday night could decide the fate of where some Madison students will go to school.

VIDEO: Watch The Report

On Sunday, some West Side parents prepared for battle, concerned that they are becoming a swing neighborhood, WISC-TV reported.

The area at issue is located near the WISC-TV studios and is referred to as the "Channel 3 Area" by the Madison Metropolitan School District. If the current recommended plan is passed, their neighborhood children would be moved to the fourth elementary school in 15 years.

"It was Huegel, Orchard Ridge, Chavez, Mold, then new school," said one concerned parent.
Parents in the neighborhood gathered together on Sunday night to share their talking points and prepare to fight for their neighborhood school.

Susan Troller has more here.

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The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know

David Wolman:

The YouTube clip opens with a woman facing away from the camera, rocking back and forth, flapping her hands awkwardly, and emitting an eerie hum. She then performs strange repetitive behaviors: slapping a piece of paper against a window, running a hand lengthwise over a computer keyboard, twisting the knob of a drawer. She bats a necklace with her hand and nuzzles her face against the pages of a book. And you find yourself thinking: Who's shooting this footage of the handicapped lady, and why do I always get sucked into watching the latest viral video?

But then the words "A Translation" appear on a black screen, and for the next five minutes, 27-year-old Amanda Baggs — who is autistic and doesn't speak — describes in vivid and articulate terms what's going on inside her head as she carries out these seemingly bizarre actions. In a synthesized voice generated by a software application, she explains that touching, tasting, and smelling allow her to have a "constant conversation" with her surroundings. These forms of nonverbal stimuli constitute her "native language," Baggs explains, and are no better or worse than spoken language. Yet her failure to speak is seen as a deficit, she says, while other people's failure to learn her language is seen as natural and acceptable.
And you find yourself thinking: She might have a point.

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Cheating Scandals Rock Three Top-Tier High Schools

Susan Donaldson James:

Sam is a top student in a high-pressure high school just outside New York City who openly admits he "cheats along the way" to academic success.

The 16-year-old sees nothing wrong with looking at another student's paper during a quiz or borrowing a classmate's ideas.

He insists "90 percent or higher" of the students at his school engage in cheating — from tucking vocabulary crib sheets under their hats to stealing math exams.

But Sam insists he has a moral conscience — he won't use his last name for this article — and he swears he will never cheat in college. But he justifies his cheating.

"My parents would consider this cheating, but I don't have any major problems with it," Sam told "It's school, and you're cheating your way through the system."

Sam is typical of most American students. An estimated two-thirds of all high school students admit to "serious" academic cheating, according to a national survey by Rutgers' Management Education Center in New Jersey.

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Many college students found to be unprepared

Rodrique Ngowi:

Massachusetts may have one of the highest rates of students going to college, but the first statewide school-to-college report shows that 37 percent of public high school graduates who enter public higher education may not be ready.

The joint report released Thursday by the Massachusetts Department of Education and the Board of Higher Education analyzed the performance of the class of 2005 and indicated that students lagging behind needed remedial courses in college.

State education officials say about 80 percent of Massachusetts high school students go to college. The report found that more students from low-income families, some racial and ethnic minorities, those who do not speak English as their first language, and those who receive special education services in high school go to community colleges, where most of them need remedial academic help.

Higher education officials were not surprised by the finding, saying they hope the report leads to new efforts to help students.

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Final Meeting of the National Math Panel


March 13, 2008
Longfellow Middle School
Fairfax, VA

Registration (first-come, first-served basis)
We are now taking registrations for guests who would like to attend the final meeting of the National Math Panel.

Please note: There will be no public comments session at this meeting as the Panel will be adopting and releasing its Final Report.

Longfellow Middle School, 2000 Westmoreland Street, Falls Church, Virginia 22043

OnThursday, March 13 the Panel will complete its work by adopting and releasing the Final Report.

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Education Revolt in Watts

Drew Carey video:

Vikki Reyes has had it with Locke High, the school her daughters attend in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. She walked in on class one day and recalls “the place was just like a zoo!” Students had taken control, while the teacher sat quietly with a book.

Frank Wells has also had it with Locke High. When he became principal he says gangs ruled the campus. He tried to turn things around but ran into a “brick wall” of resistance from the school district and teachers union.

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March 2, 2008

Obama cracks a ruler, and the crowd goes wild

Mark Barabak:

They came to cheer. They got a lecture. The crowd went wild.

During a Barack Obama town-hall meeting on the economy, the topic turned to education, which, the Illinois senator said, could not be remedied by spending alone. "It doesn't matter how much money we put in if parents don't parent," he scolded.

The line is one the Democrat delivers often, but on Thursday in Beaumont, Texas, he struck a remarkable chord with his mostly African American audience.

"It's not good enough for you to say to your child, 'Do good in school,' and then when that child comes home, you've got the TV set on," Obama lectured. "You've got the radio on. You don't check their homework. There's not a book in the house. You've got the video game playing."

Each line was punctuated by a roar, and Obama began to shout, falling into a preacher's rhythm. "Am I right?"

"So turn off the TV set. Put the video game away. Buy a little desk. Or put that child at the kitchen table. Watch them do their homework. If they don't know how to do it, give 'em help. If you don't know how to do it, call the teacher."

By now, the crowd of nearly 2,000 was lifted from the red velveteen seats of the Julie Rogers Theatre, hands raised to the gilded ceiling. "Make 'em go to bed at a reasonable time! Keep 'em off the streets! Give 'em some breakfast! Come on! Can I get an amen here?"

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Madison School Board Detailed Agenda Posted Online - Including a Proposed Wisconsin Center for Education Research Contract

A reader's email mentioned that the Madison School Board has begun posting more detailed agenda items on their meeting web page. Monday, March 3's full agenda includes Superintedent Art Rainwater's discussion of the proposed Middle School report card changes along with a recommendation to approve an agreement with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (1.5MB PDF):

The focus of this project is to develop a value-added system for the Madison Metropolitan School District and produce value-added reports using assessment data from November 2005 to November 2007. Since the data from the November 2007 assessment will not be available until March 2008, WCER will first develop a value-added system based on two years of state assessment data (November 2005 and November 2006). After the 2007 data becomes available (about Ma r c h 1 2008), WCER will extend the value-added system so that it incorporates all three years of data. Below, we list the tasks for this project and a project timeline.

Task 1. Specify features o f MMSD value-added model
Task 2. Develop value-added model using 2005 and 2006 assessment dat a
Task 3. Produce value-added reports using 2005 and 2006 assessment data
Task 4. Develop value-added model using 2005, 2006, and 2007 assessment
Task 5. Produce value-added reports using 2005-2007 assessment data

August, 2007 presentation to the Madison School Board's Performance & Achievement Committee on "Value Added Assessment".

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Immersion Presents: Monterey Bay Live Broadcasts

Location: Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Dates: Sunday, March 2 – Friday, March 7
Times (EST): 11 am, 12 am, 1 pm, 2 pm, 3 pm
Program Length: 30 minutes

Immersion Presents:

How do you get kids to say “I want to be a scientist when I grow up?” Dr. Robert Ballard, known for discovering the Titanic among other scientific breakthroughs, may have the answer. The renowned oceanographer’s latest quest is not to discover underwater secrets, but to inspire the next generation of ocean explorers by introducing kids to the thrill of discovery and encouraging them to pursue the science and environmental careers so critical for the health of the planet.

From March 2–7, 2008, Immersion Presents Monterey Bay, a cutting-edge, interactive educational program led by Dr. Ballard and a team of scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other institutions, will use telepresence technology – a combination of satellite and Internet connections – to transport young people live to a scientific expedition in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

Students will explore in real-time one of the planet’s most spectacular and most important biodiversity hotspots where they will experience majestic 100-foot-tall kelp forests, take a day trip out to the deep sea in NOAA’s research vessel R/V Fulmar, and study endangered marine mammals like the grey or blue whale and the threatened California sea otter.

“When kids see scientists in action, whether diving a kelp forest, exploring with an ROV, or getting up close to a whale, they immediately discover that being a scientist means much more than wearing a white coat in a lab," said Dr. Ballard, founder of Immersion Presents. "With everyone talking about ‘going green,’ now more than ever we need kids to get excited about the environmentally focused careers that will help protect the planet. Immersion expeditions show kids that science is not only far from boring or nerdy, it is absolutely essential to preserve one of our most threatened resources, the oceans.”

“Many of our kids only know what a jellyfish is from watching Sponge Bob on television,” said Hector Perez, club director of the Chicago’s Union League Boys & Girls Club, which participates in the program. “It’s hard for kids to imagine being part of something that they’ve never seen before. Immersion Presents’ virtual science expeditions open their minds, transporting them to a whole new world of ocean discoveries, new technology, and exciting career opportunities.”

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Judge orders homeschoolers into government education

Bob Unruh:

A California court has ruled that several children in one homeschool family must be enrolled in a public school or "legally qualified" private school, and must attend, sending ripples of shock into the nation's homeschooling advocates as the family reviews its options for appeal.

The ruling came in a case brought against Phillip and Mary Long over the education being provided to two of their eight children. They are considering an appeal to the state Supreme Court, because they have homeschooled all of their children, the oldest now 29, because of various anti-Christian influences in California's public schools.

The decision from the 2nd Appellate Court in Los Angeles granted a special petition brought by lawyers appointed to represent the two youngest children after the family's homeschooling was brought to the attention of child advocates.

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Wisconsin Legislature Still Split on Virtual Schools, Autism

Patrick Marley:

As the Legislature heads into the last days of its session, Democrats and Republicans remain far apart on bills that would protect virtual schools and expand health coverage for children with autism.

With the clock running out, nothing may happen this year on those issues. Then again, in the final frantic moments of legislative sessions, surprise compromises can arise, just as one did Thursday on ending the pay of fired Milwaukee police officers charged with serious crimes. Now, those officers continue to receive pay until they exhaust their appeals, which can take years.

The legislative session ends March 13, but lawmakers have not announced any meetings past next week.

The Assembly's latest meeting - which adjourned just before 5 a.m. Friday - bogged down over the autism bill. Democrats delayed a vote on the bill until Wednesday after Republicans who control the house rewrote it.

The version Senate Democrats passed Tuesday would require insurance companies to cover treatment for autism. Assembly Republicans changed the bill Friday to drop the insurance mandate and instead plow $6 million in state taxpayer money into a state autism program.

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Another kind of teaching

Andy Hall:

In the Lone Rock classroom of elementary teacher Lisa Bowen, hand puppets were all the rage last week. Study them. Borrow six from a library. Write a play. Perform.

The scene was quite different in another elementary classroom in the River Valley School District, where teacher Mike McDermott placed homemade yellow Post-it checklists on students ' assignments to help them assess the fluency of their writing. Oh, and the room in Plain Elementary contained a lean-to of 12-foot trees -- a representation of a scene in a novel being read by students.

In River Valley High School in Spring Green, echoes of the Holocaust and warnings that it could happen again filled a line of display cases -- a project that brought together regular and special education students from several classes throughout the school.

"Overall, we 're just really lucky, " sophomore Rakelle Noble said as she and five classmates reflected upon recent examinations of the Holocaust and teenage health issues such as eating disorders and self-cutting.

"We have a lot of things other kids don 't get to experience. "

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Suggested Characteristics of a New Waukesha Superintendent

Waukesha Taxpayer's League:

The WTL was asked by the Waukesha School District what three criteria we would be looking for in a new superintendent. Here is our response.

1. Strong fiscally conservative background with a desire to be creative in finding solutions to budget woes other than referendums and new fees. Stability is a must to protect the children and deliver a high quality of education.

2. Knowledge and belief in charter and virtual schools including but not limited to "IQ academies". These are great tools to address different learning styles, abilities and interests of children so they can succeed.

3. Belief in high academic standards in the core subjects to be competitive not only locally but worldwide. We have a worldwide economy and thus must deliver an education that will allow our children to compete worldwide.

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Virginia considers leaving federal education act (NCLB) behind

Richard Quinn:

The General Assembly is flirting with abandoning a landmark federal law that governs schools in the United States.

The decision could make Virginia the first state to set a deadline – summer 2009 – for planning a pullout from the No Child Left Behind Act, which ties billions of dollars to federally mandated testing standards in public schools.

State politicians have balked at some of those standards in the past few years. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine has signed bills asking the U.S. Department of Education to waive parts of the federal law.

Most of those exemptions were granted, but the notable ones that have not been approved frustrate educators and annoy legislators.

This year, some politicians want to up the ante.

Both the Senate and the House of Delegates are working with bills that say that if the state’s waiver requests aren’t granted, Virginia’s Board of Education would develop a plan to withdraw from NCLB by July 2009. Delegates have approved the bills, even adding language to one seeking to recoup federal tax money if the state withdraws.

Clusty Search: No Child Left Behind.

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March 1, 2008

LVM Dreams Big

Susan Troller:

First it was the doors to the classroom that swung open for kids in wheelchairs. Now it's access to the playground, especially at Elvehjem Elementary School, where there's boundless enthusiasm for the Boundless Playground project.

The project aims to get students with disabilities playing side by side with the rest of the kids, Shelly Trowbridge, one of the parent organizers of LVM Dreams Big said in a recent interview.

On Friday, local supporters of the project held a chili dinner at the school. It included ceramic bowls made by students and a silent auction with artwork by students and community members. It was the latest in an ambitious series of family-oriented fundraisers that are aimed at building a community as well as a playground.

The nonprofit group ( has raised over $81,000 in cash and in-kind contributions toward a goal of $200,000 to build the state's first barrier-free Boundless Playground next summer on the Elvehjem School grounds. There are about 100 such play structures nationwide, but none in Wisconsin.

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Does Curriculum Constrain Teachers?

Diane Ravitch:

Words are slippery things.

Take the idea of “constructivism.” Yes, I agree with you that we all “construct” knowledge as we encounter new ideas. We try to make sense of new ideas by fitting them to what we already know, using the vocabulary and experiences that we have already accumulated. If we have a meager vocabulary—or none at all, as when we visit a foreign country and are unfamiliar with the language—and if we have no experiences that are connected to the new ideas, then we will not be able to do much constructing of knowledge.

So the job of the school becomes one of conscientiously, purposefully building the vocabulary and background knowledge of students so that they can use them dynamically to understand new ideas and enlarge their knowledge.

There is another sort of constructivism in which students are busily discovering whatever they want to discover or trying to figure out through inquiry what the teacher knows but refuses to teach them or sitting around idly because they don’t know what they feel like discovering today. This is not the sort of classroom I admire. I have never much cottoned to the idea of the teacher as a “guide on the side, rather than a sage on the stage.” I tend to like the happy medium: the teacher who has clear aims, who knows what knowledge he or she is trying to convey, and who figures out imaginative, creative, innovative ways to teach it.

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

Teachers strike back at students' online pranks

Patrik Jonsson:

Tech-savvy teenagers are increasingly paying a heavy price – including criminal arrest – for parodying their teachers on the Internet.

Tired of fat jokes and false accusations of teacher-lounge partying or worse, teachers and principals are fighting back against digital ridicule and slander by their students – often with civil lawsuits and long-term suspensions or permanent expulsions.

A National School Boards Association (NSBA) study says that as many as one-third of American teens regularly post inappropriate language or manipulated images on the Web. Most online pranks deride other students. But a NSBA November 2006 survey reported 26 percent of teachers and principals being targeted.

"Kids have been pulling pranks on teachers and principals since there have been schools in the US, but now there's an edge to it – the tone and tenor of some of these attacks cross the line," says Nora Carr, a spokeswoman for Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in North Carolina.

In the growing backlash against these cybergoofs, however, real-world norms of propriety are being pitted against the uncertain jurisdictions of the Digital Age. A new test may be emerging on how far online lampooning can go, say First Amendment experts – and to what extent schools can control off-campus pranks.

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