School Information System
Newsletter Sign Up | Send Ideas | Directory | | Sponsorships

April 30, 2008

Counting High School Graduates

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

A proposal to standardize the way states calculate high school graduation rates makes sense.

A report earlier this month examining America's 50 largest school districts found that Milwaukee Public Schools had a graduation rate of only 46.1%. The report by America's Promise Alliance, an advocacy group, reported that Detroit was at the bottom of that list with a graduation rate of 24.9%.

Wait a minute, MPS officials countered. Our graduation rate is 66%.

Who's right?

Both probably are. That's the problem U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings hopes to solve by changing some of the rules under the No Child Left Behind Act, which Congress is considering reauthorizing.

Under the proposal, states would be required to use a uniform method of calculating high school graduation rates by the 2012-'13 school year. As it stands now, comparing graduation rates is difficult. Under the proposal, only students who complete school on time with a regular degree can be counted as graduates. Students who take longer than four years or who earn an alternative diploma, such as a GED certificate, would not be counted.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Standardized Formula For Graduation Rates May Soon Pair With Tests

Maria Glod:

A Bush administration proposal to require that all states use the same formula to calculate high school graduation rates is winning applause from education experts who say it will shed light on the nation's dropout problem.

The proposed regulation is among several the administration introduced last week. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said she is using regulatory power to tweak the No Child Left Behind law because efforts in Congress to overhaul it have stalled.

The 2002 law requires schools and states to report graduation rates, but states have been criticized for understating the number of students who don't receive a diploma. Under the administration's plan, most students would be expected to graduate on time after four years of high school.

Former West Virginia governor Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a group seeking to improve high schools, said a uniform formula would give parents, educators and policymakers a better picture of student performance.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:03 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Dane County Boasts 18 National Merit Scholars

National Merit Scholarship Corporation:

The National Merit® Scholarship Program is an academic competition for recognition and scholarships that began in 1955. High school students enter the National Merit Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®)–a test which serves as an initial screen of approximately 1.4 million entrants each year–and by meeting published program entry/participation requirements.

Student Entry Requirements

To participate in the National Merit® Scholarship Program, a student must:

  1. take the PSAT/NMSQT® in the specified year of the high school program and no later than the third year in grades 9 through 12, regardless of grade classification or educational pattern;
  2. be enrolled full time as a high school student, progressing normally toward graduation or completion of high school, and planning to enroll full time in college no later than the fall following completion of high school; and
  3. be a citizen of the United States; or be a U.S. lawful permanent resident (or have applied for permanent residence, the application for which has not been denied) and intend to become a U.S. citizen at the earliest opportunity allowed by law.
Press Release PDF:
This year’s competition for National Merit Scholarships began in October 2006 when more than 1.4 million juniors in over 21,000 high schools took the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT®), which served as an initial screen of program entrants. Last fall, the highest-scoring participants in each state, representing less than one percent of the state’s seniors, were named Semifinalists on a state representational basis.

Only the 16,000 Semifinalists had an opportunity to continue in the competition. Approximately 15,000 Semifinalists met the very high academic standards and other requirements to advance to the Finalist level of the competition. By the conclusion of the 2008 program, about 8,200 Finalists will earn the "Merit Scholar" title and receive a total of more than $36 million in college scholarships. NMSC, a not-for-profit corporation that operates without government assistance, was founded in 1955 specifically to conduct the annual National Merit Scholarship Program. The majority of scholarships offered each year are underwritten by approximately 500 independent corporate and college sponsors that share NMSC’s goals of honoring scholastically talented youth and enhancing their educational opportunities.

CAUTION: Any attempt to compare high schools on the basis of numbers of Merit Scholarship winners will lead to erroneous and unsound conclusions. The National Merit Scholarship Program honors individual students who show exceptional academic ability and potential for success in rigorous college studies. The program does not measure the quality or effectiveness of education within a school, system, or state.

The Capital Times:
Local scholarship winners are:
Seth B. Mulhall, Deerfield High School, Deerfield; Meredith L. Kremer, DeForest Area High School, DeForest; Aaron L. Owen, DeForest Area High School, DeForest.

Joseph K. Carlsmith, West High School, Madison; Sara C. Crocker, West High School, Madison; Erika A. Egner, James Madison Memorial High School, Madison; Reuben F. Henriques, West High School, Madison; Kelsey E. Johnson, Memorial High School, Madison.

Lucas Manuelli, West High School, Madison; Daniel T. Neuser, East High School, Madison; Richard K. Pang, West High School, Madison; Eleanor Shoshany Anderson, La Follette High School, Madison; Alexandro E. Trevino, Memorial High School, Madison.

Benjamin H. Witkovsky, West High School, Madison; Eleanor M. Wroblewski, West High School, Madison; Mary Q. Zhang, West High School, Madison.

Aubrey E. Lauersdorf, Monona Grove High School, Monona; Michael Bethencourt, home school, Mount Horeb.

Congratulations to the students and their families.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:26 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Seattle's Special Education Reform

Emily Heffter:

As a task force begins this spring to revamp Seattle Public Schools' approach to special education, it's likely many classrooms around the district will begin to look more like Eckstein's. The details haven't been worked out, but in general, the district will try to deliver services to the students instead of bringing the students to the services.

A consultant recommended Seattle try to include more students in general-education classes and educate more special-education students at their neighborhood schools.

As the diagnosis of disabilities becomes more refined, school districts nationwide are faced with students whose needs are more complicated. At the same time, districts face federal requirements to meet individual students' educational needs in the least restrictive environment possible.

Balancing those two realities can be difficult, said Doug Gill, the director of special education for the Washington state Office of the Superintendent for Public Instruction.

"What I see is districts serving kids, sometimes with more complex needs, and as you see kids served with more complex needs, you need, really, a more specialized environment," he said.

Seattle Special Education Review - Full Document (PDF). Seattle Special Education PTSA.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:45 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Single Sex Education

Alan Borsuk & Amy Hetzner:

Reduce it to a yes or no answer - was it a good idea for you to be in a class that was all girls this year? Who says yes?

Twenty-six hands shoot into the air. A 27th joins with hesitation.

And that is every student present in this eighth-grade classroom at the Milwaukee Education Center, known as MEC, a Milwaukee Public Schools middle school in an old Schlitz Brewery building north of downtown.

Note the word public in the previous sentence.

Single-sex education has long been part of the private school scene in Milwaukee and nationwide. But single-sex classes in public schools are relatively new.

Still few in number, they are on the rise in much of the country, spurred by parent interest and rulings from the U.S. Department of Education in 2006 that, with limitations, gave the practice a green light. As of November, 366 public schools in the United States offered some or all of their classes separated by gender, according to the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.

The idea is controversial. Research is nowhere near a consensus on the results, and many people, including experts, have strong opinions on issues such as whether boys and girls learn in different ways and to what degree children behave differently without members of the other gender present.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:29 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Vacuum Called High School

Re “Clueless in America,” by Bob Herbert (column, April 22):

I don’t dispute Mr. Herbert’s claim that American high school students are not getting a good education, but I question the evidence he is using to prove it. His examples are factual (knowing who Hitler was or when the Civil War was fought).

Students today can Google that kind of information in seconds. What is more important is that they can’t do what I’m doing right now: they can’t identify claims and evidence and evaluate them. Those skills are what constitute “critical thinking” and what our students need to learn in order to succeed in college and beyond.

High schools need to focus on critical-thinking skills, not facts. Nancy Rehm

Biglerville, Pa., April 22, 2008

The writer is a teacher of gifted high school students.

To the Editor:

Bob Herbert correctly points to the dismal state of education in this country today. However, the irony of Bill Gates’s complaining that American students don’t measure up to the rest of the world is too rich to pass up.

It is precisely because of Bill Gates and his ilk that students are told by the educational reformers that they don’t have to “know” anything — they can just look it up on the Web. Instead, they say, let students focus on feel-good exercises that foster “deep learning” and other chimerical and trendy educational goals.

Is it any wonder that our students don’t know the history of their own country, much less that of the rest of the world? A global society, indeed.

Gary Kappel

Bethany, W. Va., April 22, 2008

The writer is a history professor at Bethany College.

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

Survey of South LA Students

Mitchell Landsberg:

A survey of 6,008 South Los Angeles high school students shows that many are frightened by violence in school, deeply dissatisfied with their choices of college preparatory classes, and -- perhaps most striking -- exhibit symptoms of clinical depression.

"A lot of students are depressed because of the conditions in their school," said Anna Exiga, a junior at Jordan High School who was one of the organizers of the survey. "They see that their school is failing them, their teachers are failing them, there's racial tension and gang violence, and also many feel that their schools are not schools -- their schools look more like prisons."

The survey, released late Thursday, was conducted in seven South L.A. public schools by a community youth organization, South Central Youth Empowered Thru Action (SCYEA), with technical guidance from the psychology department at Loyola Marymount University. It suggested that many students in some of the city's poorest, most violent neighborhoods believe their schools set the bar for success too low -- and then shove students beneath it.

In fact, the student organizers said they don't like to use the word "dropout" to describe their many peers who leave school. They prefer "pushout," because they believe the school system is pushing students to fail.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Coalition Releases State Of Black Madison Report


New group the State of Black Madison Coalition said it is out to "change the plight of African Americans in the community," and members warned if that doesn't happen, Madison could see the major problems that plague Beloit and Milwaukee.

The new coalition of African American focused groups, armed with a new report called "The State of Black Madison 2008: Before the Tipping Point," issued a call to action Tuesday to the entire Madison community.
It said Madison is on the precipice of change and if problems of disparity between whites and blacks are not addressed, the city might, as the one coalition member put it, "plunge into intractable problems that plague most major urban cities."

The reports details the state of African Americans in Madison, saying if trends from 1990-2005 continue, it will take 265 years for the income gap between blacks and the rest of the Dane County community to disappear.

"A city should be measured by how close the weakest link is to the strongest link. My friends, in Madison we are football fields apart," said Scott Gray, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison

African-American city leaders say the black community is in trouble and hope a new report called the State of Black Madison will be a catalyst for change.

The summary report, Before the Tipping Point, was released today by the State of Black Madison Coalition. They based their findings on information from the Center on Wisconsin Strategy and other recent research. Among the discoveries: racial disparity is most prevalent in the areas of criminal justice, education, health care and housing. 37-percent of African Americans in Dane County live in poverty today, as compared to just 11-percent of the community as a whole. And if trends that turned up between 1990-2005 continue, it will take 265 years for the income gap between blacks and the rest of the county to disappear.

Complete report (pdf).

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

Nearness Learning: The Death of Distance

The Economist:

“Nearness learning” is a more appropriate term for what the Open University's business school offers, according to its dean in an interview for Which MBA, published by the Economist Intelligence Unit

When the Open University (OU) was founded in 1969, it represented one of the most important educational innovations of the 20th century, not just in Britain, but across the world.

Established by Britain's then prime minister, Harold Wilson, it is considered by many to be the first university to offer genuinely high-quality degrees through distance learning. It was originally to be called the “University of Air”, because most of its lectures took the form of late-night broadcasts on the BBC. Indeed, for many Britons of a certain age the Open University will be a formative memory. Long before Britain had transformed itself into a 24-hour society, most will remember the sinking feeling of finding out that, come midnight, the only thing on their television was a hirsute OU professor, dryly working his way through the laws of thermodynamics.

Something to consider with respect to the clash between District and Student interests.

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

April 29, 2008

Rainwater (Nerad) Adds 2 to Madison Staff

The Capital Times:

Superintendent Art Rainwater will add a longtime Madison-area educator and a staff member new to the district to his Madison Metropolitan School District staff, pending approval at next week's School Board meeting.

Ann Yehle will assume the post of executive director of educational services and Erik Kass will take over as assistant superintendent for business services. If these major positions are approved by the Board, Yehle and Kass are expected to be named to the jobs May 5 and will begin their jobs July 1.

Yehle, who currently works as an administrator in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's Division of Reading and Student Achievement, was the principal at Sherman Middle School for six years.

Clusty Search: Ann Yehle / Erik Kass

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:12 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

$60,000,000 to Raise US Education Awareness, 1 Year Later

edin08.jpgCreative to run google ads..... not.

To this point, it has certainly not raised education issues effectively in the Presidential campaign. (Romer launched this initiative in April, 2007).

Former Colorado Governor and LA Superintendent Roy Romer has pulled together some heavy foundation funds. Much more on Roy Romer here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Sociologist Says Students Aren't So Web-Wise After All

Catherine Rampell:

Eszter Hargittai, an assistant professor in Northwestern University’s sociology department, has discovered that students aren’t nearly as Web-savvy as they, or their elders, assume.

Ms. Hargittai studies the technological fluency of college freshmen. She found that they lack a basic understanding of such terms as BCC (blind copy on e-mail), podcasting, and phishing. This spring she will start a national poster-and-video contest to promote Web-related skills.

Q. Why do people think young people are so Web-wise?

A. I think the assumption is that if it was available from a young age for them, then they can use it better. Also, the people who tend to comment about technology use tend to be either academics or journalists or techies, and these three groups tend to understand some of these new developments better than the average person. Ask your average 18-year-old: Does he know what RSS means? And he won’t.

Q. What demographic groups are less Web-savvy?

A. Women, students of Hispanic origin, African-American students, and students whose parents have lower levels of education, which is a proxy for socioeconomic status.

Posted by Lauren Rosen Yeazel at 11:43 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

National Academic Decathlon Finals 4/30/2008 to 5/3/2008

US Academic Decathlon:

2008 Nationals will be held April 30 – May 3, 2008 in Garden Grove, California.
The essay competition will take place online on April 17th, 2008
Wisconsin 2008-2009 Academic Decathlon Schedule.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Edweek Chat: The Use of International Data to Improve US Schools

4/30/2008 @ 2:30p.m. CST:

Join us for a live Web chat about the impact of A Nation at Risk and the potential for using international comparison data to improve academic standards and student achievement in U.S. schools.

Twenty-five years ago, a federal commission issued the landmark report that declared a "rising tide of mediocrity" in U.S. education posed a threat to America's prosperity and status in the world. Today, many policymakers and members of the business and education communities are sounding the same alarm bells.

Some experts are recommending that the United States put more stock in measuring itself against other countries, including having individual states benchmark their progress against those countries to get a clear and true picture of the status of American education. Would that help improve education in America? What can the United States do to improve education and continue to compete globally? Are the problems with the U.S. education system, compared with those of other industrialized countries', overblown? Join us for this discussion.

About the guests:

• Dane Linn, is the director of the education division of the National Governors Association, a Washington-based research and advocacy organization that has taken an active role in examining how states might align their academic standards and practices to those of top-performing nations

• Iris C. Rotberg, is the co-director of the Center for Curriculum, Standards, and Technology at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.

Submit questions in advance.

Related: Fordham Foundation - Wisconsin DPI's Academic Standards = D-. The Madison School District is implementing "value added assessment" based on the DPI standards.

Watch the Madison School Board's most recent discussion of "Value Added Assessment".

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:43 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Milwaukee's High School Violence Free Zones

Dani McClain:

he first step is for youth advisers assigned to any school - there are 53 district-wide charged with being mentors and disciplinarians - to seek out and build relationships with the 10% of the student body that's most consistently causing trouble.

"The number one thing is follow-through," Robinson said. "These students feel like, 'Everybody has let me down.' "

Being accessible is important, as is giving that student time to trust the youth adviser with whatever might be going on at home - no money for food, the weight of responsibility for younger siblings, abuse or any number of problems related to or augmented by poverty.

According to 2005 U.S. Census data, a third of school-age children in Milwaukee lived with a family in poverty.

More on Milwaukee's suspension rates here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:27 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

One boy proves power of language

Dan Rodricks:

Three years ago, when he and his mother arrived in Baltimore, Giovanni Ramirez-Cruz did not speak a word of English. On Friday, he received a trophy at his school, the Mother Seton Academy in Fells Point, for giving the best speech among the eighth-grade boys there - and he had plenty of competition for the top honor.

There was Avery Burrell, for instance, who gave an impassioned performance as a middle-school weightlifter determined to achieve greatness without the use of steroids. The theme of the eighth-grade speeches, a spring tradition at the school, was "The power of one word," and Avery's word was "strength."

He portrayed a young man tempted to take a performance-enhancing drug, and he mentioned famous athletes - Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens - who've been accused of doing that. Ultimately, the boy Avery portrayed decides not to take the pill. Real strength, Avery said, means you are a person of character. "Real strength comes from within," he said, and the students, parents and staff in the cramped third-floor assembly room broke into excited applause for Avery's admirable declarations.

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

Critics Cost Muslim Educator Her Dream School

Andrea Elliott:

Debbie Almontaser dreamed of starting a public school like no other in New York City. Children of Arab descent would join students of other ethnicities, learning Arabic together. By graduation, they would be fluent in the language and groomed for the country’s elite colleges. They would be ready, in Ms. Almontaser’s words, to become “ambassadors of peace and hope.”

Things have not gone according to plan. Only one-fifth of the 60 students at the Khalil Gibran International Academy are Arab-American. Since the school opened in Brooklyn last fall, children have been suspended for carrying weapons, repeatedly gotten into fights and taunted an Arabic teacher by calling her a “terrorist,” staff members and students said in interviews.

The academy’s troubles reach well beyond its cramped corridors in Boerum Hill. The school’s creation provoked a controversy so incendiary that Ms. Almontaser stepped down as the founding principal just weeks before classes began last September. Ms. Almontaser, a teacher by training and an activist who had carefully built ties with Christians and Jews, said she was forced to resign by the mayor’s office following a campaign that pitted her against a chorus of critics who claimed she had a militant Islamic agenda.

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

A Nation at a Loss

Edward Fiske:

TOMORROW is the 25th anniversary of “A Nation at Risk,” a remarkable document that became a milestone in the history of American education — albeit in ways that its creators neither planned, anticipated or even wanted.

In August 1981, Education Secretary T. H. Bell created a National Commission on Excellence in Education to examine, in the report’s words, “the widespread public perception that something is seriously remiss in our educational system.” Secretary Bell’s expectation, he later said, was that the report would paint a rosy picture of American education and correct all those widespread negative perceptions.

Instead, on April 26, 1983, the commission released a sweeping 65-page indictment of the quality of teaching and learning in American primary and secondary schools couched in a style of apocalyptic rhetoric rarely found in blue-ribbon commission reports.

“The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and as a people,” it warned. “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

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

April 28, 2008

Madison School Board Discusses Discipline, Safety, Cell Phones and Code of Conduct

Watch the discussion via this video


The Madison School Board met on Monday night to discuss a new positive behavior support plan as well as a new code of conduct for students who attend Madison public schools.

The code of conduct has been under review for months by a committee who made recommendations to the board in a special meeting on Monday.

The meeting is especially timely after the highly publicized recordings of students fighting at Toki Middle School came to light last week.

Committee members will recommend making a few major revisions or additions to the code, including specifically banning voice or image recording.

Board members discussed safety, discipline and cell phones, which were all topics of importance that applied to the Toki situation, reported WISC-TV.

Madison's new student code of conduct targets cell phones. Secret or hidden recordings are a serious offense that could get a student suspended or expelled.

"Cell phones and video cameras are being used in very wrong ways, to take pictures of tests, to film fighting, to record kids in the locker room, that's just not acceptable," said school board president Arlene Silviera. "I think we have to be very specific in the use of these types of devices -- what can and what cannot be done."

Tamira Madsen:
In an effort to give principals and administrators a chance to exercise discretion to expel a student who brings a weapon besides a gun to school, Madison school district officials are considering alterations to the language in the student codes of conduct.

Recommended revisions were discussed at Monday night's School Board meeting.

The current rule for a first offense states that a student who has a weapon on school grounds besides a firearm, pellet gun or BB gun and isn't carrying the weapon with an "intent to cause harm to another" will receive a five-day suspension. After a second offense, a student could face an expulsion recommendation.

The rule revision would give principals and administrators the option to expel the student for a first-time offense.

Dan Mallin, who works in legal services with the Madison Metropolitan School District and is a member of the committee drafting changes to the codes of conduct, said the rule change is meant to take into account a variety of circumstances.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:16 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Teen journalist wins award

Jason Dean:

For the first time in the 35-year history of the School Bell Award, a student journalist will accept an award in the Public Media Category.

The award is given to one Wisconsin reporter, broadcaster or school journalism teacher for excellent coverage of critical education issues. The Wisconsin Education Association Council presents the School Bell Award in two categories: public media and school media.

La Follette High School junior Deidre Green's "Bridging the Achievement Gap" column was nominated by her teacher, Sarah Schnuelle. Green has reported for the Simpson Street Free Press for four years, focusing on health and education stories.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Mayor & Madison Schools

Jason Joyce publishes a useful summary of Madison Mayor Dave's weekly schedule. Tomorrow, Cieslewicz meets with retiring Superintendent Art Rainwater, after recently meeting with incoming super Dan Nerad.

I don't recall such frequent meetings (if any) in my years observing Joyce's weekly posts.

Related: Madison Mayor Proposes Expansion of Low Income Housing Throughout Dane County in an Effort to Reduce the MMSD's Low Income Population.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:32 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison's Two New School Board Members

Andy Hall:

Marj Passman is so excited she 's having trouble sleeping.

Ed Hughes is sleeping just fine -- so far, he adds with a chuckle.

Monday evening, Passman and Hughes will be sworn in as members of the Madison School Board. It will mark the first time either has held public office.

Their path to the board was easier than expected -- both ran unopposed -- and their arrival comes at an unusually quiet moment in Madison 's public school system. Thanks to a one-time windfall from special city of Madison taxing districts, the schools are averting budget cuts for the first time in 14 years.

But Passman, 66, a retired teacher, and Hughes, 55, a lawyer, know that by summer 's end the board will be deep into discussions about asking voters to approve millions of dollars in extra taxes to avoid budget cuts for coming years.

They 've been doing their homework to join the board -- an act that will become official with a ceremony at the board 's 5 p.m. meeting at the district 's headquarters, 545 W. Dayton St.

Passman and Hughes fill the seats held by retiring board members Carol Carstensen, the board 's senior member who gained detailed knowledge of issues while serving since 1990, and Lawrie Kobza, who developed a reputation for carefully scrutinizing the district 's operations during her single three-year term.

Related Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:
Few jobs are as difficult and thankless as serving on a local school board.

Just ask Lawrie Kobza and Carol Carstensen.

The two Madison School Board members chose not to seek re-election this spring after years of honorable and energetic service.

Their replacements -- Ed Hughes and Marj Passman -- were sworn in Monday evening.

The fact that no one in Madison, a city steeped in political activism, chose to challenge Hughes or Passman for the two open board seats suggests increasing wariness toward the rigors of the task.

The job comes with token pay, a slew of long meetings, frequent controversy and angry calls at home. On top of that, the state has put public schools into a vise of mandates and caps that virtually require unpopular board decisions.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:16 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2008 Graduate Guide

Washington Post grad guide.

Related: Business Manga.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:01 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2008 MMSD Joe Thomas Community Service Awards

On April 14, the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education honored eight students with the Joe Thomas Community Service Award. The award was initiated in 1995 to honor the memory of a highly respected minority services coordinator at West High School.

The award recognizes high school seniors who have made a measurable impact through community service, demonstrate commitment to high academic standards and go above and beyond expectations.

The 2008 Joe Thomas Community Service Award winners are: Marcus Thomas Chavous, Tony Freiberg, Allison Freid, Amadou Fofana, Tiffany Jones, Dorothea McDonald, Namratta Sehgal and Darnell Small.

Read more at at The Capital City Hues.

Congratulations to each of these outstanding young people!

Posted by Laurie Frost at 11:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

L.A. Unified may rethink offers to charter schools

Howard Blume:

Seeking to calm a backlash at traditional Los Angeles schools, a top district official promised this week to reconsider offers of classroom space on those campuses to charter schools.

The idea of privately operated charter schools sharing space with regular schools was met with fury at many affected campuses, including Taft High in Woodland Hills and Crenshaw High in South Los Angeles. Teachers and parents have complained that their own reforms and programs would be harmed.

Charter operators aren't too happy either: Many still await offers, while others are considering whether proposed deals are affordable or adequate.

Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines stepped into the fray with unscheduled remarks at a "town hall" this week before a standing-room-only audience of more than 800 in Taft's auditorium.

"I want to review each issue," Cortines said. "We had to pause, take a breath and look at . . . what we must do for charter schools but also how it affects . . . the regular school."

Under state law as well as a recent settlement of litigation, the Los Angeles Unified School District must share facilities "fairly" with charter schools. Charters are independently run public schools that operate with less state regulation in exchange for boosting student achievement.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Revival at Milwaukee's Thomas More High School

Kathleen Gallagher:

Enrollment is up 40% this year, the $360,000 budget deficit has been erased, and St. Thomas More High School has for the first time passed the $1 million annual fund-raising mark.

Some say the devil's in the details, but these figures were inspired by quite the opposite - the school's longtime campus minister, Robert Pauly.

Since becoming St. Thomas More's president two years ago, Pauly says he's turning the Catholic school around by focusing on God and technology.

Pauly added the "Saint" to what was previously just "Thomas More" high school, continued adding engineering classes and in September launched a wireless laptop program that has students jettisoning books and backpacks for laptops.

The school's new tagline: "Inspired by Christ, driven by innovation."

"We're preparing their hearts and souls and minds and bodies for what the world needs," Pauly said.

St. Thomas More's enrollment is up to 430 this year from 392 last year, and Pauly is projecting 455 students for next year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

What to Do With Gifted Students?

Jay Matthews:

I received a letter a few weeks ago from a mother in Prince William County, home to one of the Washington area's big suburban school systems. It starkly captured the parental frustration at the heart of the national debate over what to do with very gifted students. I ran her letter, with a short response, in my weekly Post column, "Extra Credit," in which I answer reader mail. That column produced so many letters that I decided to lay out the debate in this column, using the limitless space of the Internet. I have not been very sympathetic with parents of gifted kids. Some of the reaction below echoes things I have said. But I find it difficult to justify forcing Nancy Klimavicz's son to spend valuable time on busywork. If anyone has any good way out of this impasse, e-mail me at

Dear Extra Credit:

I've started this letter many times over the past several months. After my gifted son received rejections from Virginia Tech, James Madison University and William and Mary, I figured it's time to warn other parents. If you have a very bright student, home-school him.

My son was reading a college-level book in third grade when the gifted education specialist recommended just that. Academically, we figured he'd learn and grow regardless of the environment, but his weakness was social interaction with his peers. We believed childhood should include high school sports teams and clubs, and we remembered being influenced by one or two teachers who were passionate about their subjects. We decided to leave him in public school.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:47 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Oakland Police Probe First Grader's Skull Fracture

Nanette Asimov:

Oakland police have opened an investigation into the case of a first-grade boy whose skull was fractured Monday when, he said, an older student slammed him against a tree as he waited for a ride from his daycare provider.

Police investigators will visit Piedmont Avenue Elementary School today to question school officials and any students who might have seen what happened.

Seven-year-old Zachary Cataldo spent two nights in the intensive care unit at Children's Hospital before returning home on Wednesday.

"After our investigation, the district attorney could very well decide to prosecute and file charges," said Officer Roland Holmgren, spokesman for the Oakland police.

Vince Matthews, state administrator for the Oakland Unified School District, and other district officials did not return calls from The Chronicle on Thursday. Nor did Principal Angela Haick of Piedmont Avenue Elementary, where the incident took place.

But expressions of concern for Zachary - and outrage at what his father said was the school's lax response to repeated bullying incidents - poured in from across the country after the story appeared in The Chronicle on Thursday.

Much more here and here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More on Saying Goodbye to Madison West High School's Writing Lab

Susan Troller:

A venerable and valued West High School academic institution has been cut from next year's schedule, and this time the immediate blame lies with dwindling enrollment projections for Madison high schools and middle schools, not the perennial budget cuts caused by state-imposed revenue caps.

The Writing Lab, a 30-year tradition at West which provides students with one-on-one help for writing papers and college essays, will be cut next year, Principal Ed Holmes confirmed.

John Howe, chair of West's English department, said the Writing Lab gets about 900 visits a year from students seeking help for everything from developing early ideas or themes to preparing final drafts.

Students get help, he said, with English papers, but also with writing assignments from virtually every other class that has a written component.

"Every year, we have students who have graduated that come back to West, telling us how well they were prepared for college writing assignments because of the Writing Lab," Howe said.

Much more on the demise of West's writing lab here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin Heights among districts looking at consolidation

Andy Hall:

Wisconsin Heights, a cash-hungry school district on the western edge of Dane County, is among a growing number of area school systems considering consolidation to deal with financial pressures.

Kay Butcher, a Wisconsin Heights School Board member who backed two referendums rejected by voters this year and last year, said it's important to start discussions with other districts.

"I brought up the issue of consolidation because I feel if we can't pass a referendum, we have to find an alternative," said Butcher, who raised the issue at an April 14 board meeting.

"I wouldn't say that there's anybody out there that's gung-ho about the idea, but we have to talk about what are we going to do."

The board is scheduled to continue that discussion tonight as part of a wide-ranging look at options for the district, which faces a budget shortfall estimated at $500,000 to more than $700,000 in the 2008-09 school year and larger deficits in later years.

An interesting "District" oriented perspective. The real question: what's best for the students?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools reclassify students, pass test under federal law

Laurel Rosenhall & Phillip Reese:

Will C. Wood Middle School faced a vexing situation when last year's test results came out in August. Most students had met the mark set by No Child Left Behind. But African American students' math scores fell far short of it, bringing the school into failing status in the eyes of the federal law.

One hundred students were categorized as black when they took the test last spring. But if the school had fewer than 100 students in that group, their low scores wouldn't count. So Principal Jim Wong reviewed the files of all the students classified as African American on the test, he said, and found that four of them had indicated no race or mixed race on their enrollment paperwork. Wong sent his staff to talk to the four families to ask permission to put the kids in a different racial group.

"You get a kid that's half black, half white. What are you going to put him down as?" Wong said. "If one kid makes the difference and I can go white, that gets me out of trouble."

Over the past two years, 80 California schools got "out of trouble" with No Child Left Behind after changing the way they classify their students, a Bee analysis has found. The changes nudged their status from failing to passing under the federal law.

The state allows school officials to comb through test results every August, changing students' demographic information to correct mistakes that can happen, for example, when clerks register new students or when districts swap student files.

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

April 27, 2008

Meet Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University

I had the great pleasure of spending a couple of days on the Brown University campus last week. Among other things, I learned about the enormous respect and affection Brown students have for their President, Ruth Simmons. Then yesterday, someone sent me this link with the memo "Another Reason to Go to Brown." (Current high school seniors have until May 1 to decide where they will go next year.) Another reason to go to Brown? Perhaps. But I'd rather call this inspiring video snippet "another reason to dream big and believe in yourself."

Ruth Simmons -- America's Best Leaders 2007

Posted by Laurie Frost at 3:02 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Obama on Teacher Merit Pay

Mike Antonucci:

I think that on issues of education, I have been very clear about the fact, and sometimes I have gotten in trouble with the teachers union on this, that we should be experimenting with charter schools. We should be experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers. That –

WALLACE: You mean merit pay?

OBAMA: Well, merit pay, the way it has been designed I think that is based on just single standardized test I think is a big mistake, because the way we measure performance may be skewed by whether or not the kids are coming in the school already three years or four years behind.

But I think that having assessment tools and then saying, you know what, teachers who are on career paths to become better teachers, developing themselves professionally, that we should pay excellence more. I think that’s a good idea. So –

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:59 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Elite Korean Schools, Forging Ivy League Skills

Sam Dillon:

It is 10:30 p.m. and students at the elite Daewon prep school here are cramming in a study hall that ends a 15-hour school day. A window is propped open so the evening chill can keep them awake. One teenager studies standing upright at his desk to keep from dozing.

Kim Hyun-kyung, who has accumulated nearly perfect scores on her SATs, is multitasking to prepare for physics, chemistry and history exams.

“I can’t let myself waste even a second,” said Ms. Kim, who dreams of attending Harvard, Yale or another brand-name American college. And she has a good shot. This spring, as in previous years, all but a few of the 133 graduates from Daewon Foreign Language High School who applied to selective American universities won admission.

It is a success rate that American parents may well envy, especially now, as many students are swallowing rejection from favorite universities at the close of an insanely selective college application season.

“Going to U.S. universities has become like a huge fad in Korean society, and the Ivy League names — Harvard, Yale, Princeton — have really struck a nerve,” said Victoria Kim, who attended Daewon and graduated from Harvard last June.

Daewon has one major Korean rival, the Minjok Leadership Academy, three hours’ drive east of Seoul, which also has a spectacular record of admission to Ivy League colleges.

How do they do it? Their formula is relatively simple. They take South Korea’s top-scoring middle school students, put those who aspire to an American university in English-language classes, taught by Korean and highly paid American and other foreign teachers, emphasize composition and other skills key to success on the SATs and college admissions essays, and — especially this — urge them on to unceasing study.

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

"In Education, Parents Deserve to Have a Choice"

Jim Wooten:

The nagging question since Republicans took full control under the Gold Dome is this: What difference does it make?

In many areas, the difference is hard to see. Not so with education. Bit by bit, Georgia is catching up with other states in giving parents control over the education our children receive.

That is one of the major differences that surfaces repeatedly in legislative debate about education, about health care and, in general, about the role of government in our lives. It’s become especially noticeable in the past year. Democrats and Republicans are beginning to divide philosophically here, as they do nationally.

The debate generally breaks down as to whether we as citizens are responsible enough to choose what’s best for us — or whether wiser, better-informed and more compassionate bureaucrats should exercise that authority.

It’s the transcendent conflict of our time, made all the more urgent by the fact that the national tax base is shrinking while lifestyle choices grow dependence. In 2004, according to the Washington-based Tax Foundation, 42.5 million Americans filed returns and had zero tax liability, up from 32 million four years earlier. Non-payers have increased 160 percent since 1985, the foundation reports. Meanwhile, out-of-wedlock births make government a second parent.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Fairfax County Schools to Review Grading Practices

Michael Alison Chandler:

Fairfax County school officials have agreed to review their grading policies in response to parents' concerns that relatively stringent standards mean their children are losing out on scholarships and college admissions.

More than 2,800 parents and students signed an online petition urging the school system to adopt a 10-point grading scale and give extra weight for honors, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes. The current system requires a score of 94 or higher for an A, and gives no extra credit to honors courses. AP courses are given half a point.

Many competing school systems, including Montgomery County, give A's for lower scores and graduate students with similar backgrounds but higher GPA's, the parents contend. Their concerns come as competition for admission to big-name colleges is at a high and tuition more expensive than ever.

Louise Epstein, president of the Fairfax County Association for the Gifted, said the current policies are unfair. "They cost families money and reduce good opportunities for students just because they go to Fairfax schools," she said.

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

April 26, 2008

Dane County Transition School Fights for Survival

Andy Hall:

To try to save his high school, student John Kiefler took an unusual approach this month that revealed both his commitment to the school and his level of desperation.

He contacted Oprah.

"Now I know that because I am a student that had problems in a normal school that if this place closes down that I will have problems getting a diploma," wrote John, a junior who rides a van 45 minutes north from Milton to Dane County Transition School in Madison.

"I hope you can help us."

After 15 years of educating students with fragile futures, Transition School itself faces a test of survival.

The publicly funded alternative school is in danger of closing as early as this summer.

"Our school system was set up for a factory model that has not changed in 100 years and it's growing more and more distant from what we need," said Deedra Atkinson, United Way of Dane County senior vice president of community building and an Oregon School Board member. Her daughter, Audra, is a graduate of Transition School.

Alternative education programs are part of United Way's countywide strategy to curb dropout rates, which according to the state Department of Public Instruction ranged from 1 percent in Belleville to 15 percent in Madison during the 2006-07 school year.

"The Factory Model" of Education via Frederick Taylor's "Scientific Management". A teacher friend lamented some time ago that we're still stuck in this model, making sure that our students are in and out of school around the milking and field work schedule....

Dane County Transition School Website.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:55 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Acting Black" -- A Factor in Achievement Gap?

From The Madison Times

by Nisa Islam Muhammad - Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

(NNPA) — For too many Black students going to high school means fitting a stereotype of what it means to be “Black” developed by images in music, movies and media. It means “acting Black” to fit in a peer group or in response to social pressures.

According to researchers, “acting Black” is contributing to the education and achievement gap between Black and White students. They also believe it is one reason why Black students are underrepresented in gifted programs.

“If you are a Black student and are doing well in school you are accused of “acting White.” Black students performance then begins to suffer,” study author Donna Ford, professor of special education and Betts chair of education and human development at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, told The Final Call.

“Part of the achievement gap, particularly for gifted Black students, is due to the poor images these students have of themselves as learners. 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 2008 issue of Urban Education.

“A quarter of a million Black students are missing out on the opportunity of being in gifted programs. They just don’t see themselves in the class. Being successful is seen as being White,” said Dr. Ford.

The study found that 40 percent of Black girls and 60 percent of Black boys were underrepresented in gifted and talented programs.

When Nina Washington was in the 10th grade teachers recommended her for Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

“I didn’t want to do it,” she told The Final Call. “I thought those classes would be too hard. None of my friends were in them and I would rather be with them.”

That was before she told her mother, Sandra Washington.

“I was shocked. I couldn’t understand why she would want to diminish her skill and talent to be with friends. I told her she was definitely taking the AP classes and if they were hard we would get a tutor or whatever she needed to be successful. She could be with her friends between classes, during lunch and after school,” Sandra Washington told The Final Call.

Several AP classes later, Nina will graduate with honors this June.

There is also double standard for Black and White students who act out or demonstrate youthful exuberance.

“White students can be hippies, have long hair, dress differently and still go on to become president, while Black students who wear baggy pants and have long hair will find their social security numbers in a database,” explained report co-author Gilman Whiting, assistant professor of African American and Diaspora studies at Vanderbilt, to The Final Call.

“Acting Black is not about acquiescing to Whites, but rebelling. It’s more indicative of their thought pattern. It’s their way of rebelling to the White power struggle by their dress, music and language. However, it’s looked at as negative aspects of Black life by Whites. It’s an outlaw culture.”

According to a 2004 document by the National Education Association, 90 percent of public school teachers are White and 40 percent of public schools have no teachers of color.

The new report encourages teachers to be as quick to recommend Black students to gifted and talented programs as they are to recommend them special education program.
The researchers surveyed 166 Black 5th-through 12th-graders identified as gifted in two Ohio school districts.

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 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.
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.”

Without saying the words these students see the dual reality of Black life in America: More educated Blacks than ever, more unemployed than and under employed Blacks than Whites, more educational opportunities and more Black men going to jail.

“Our children are taught every day that they can’t do the work in school. Public schools are warehouses for our children,” said Lateefah Muhammad, an education consultant in Fredericksburg, Va.

“Acting Black is a mind-set today. The AP classes and gifted programs are the public school systems last attempt to keep their children preserved to rule this global society. We are assessing programs that are not designed for us to achieve. There is a systems gap in America. If we just focus on the Black gap we miss the American education gap with the rest of the world which is greater,” she said.

What can educators and parents do to help Black children?

“There must be aggressive and proactive leadership by educators in diversifying the teaching force. We have to hold teachers responsible for where they refer Black students,” said Dr. Ford. “Peer pressure is real for all students. They are called nerds, sissies and more. The difference is that Black students take it to heart … 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.”

Donna Ford, Ph.D.

Gilman Whiting, Ph.D.
The Vanderbilt Achievement Gap Project
"Acting White" at East High School
Summer Scholar Identity Institute

Posted by Laurie Frost at 6:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Facebook Taunts"

Daniel de Vise:

Twice this month, students at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda have used their fists to settle disputes that arose on Facebook.

So Alan Goodwin, the principal, took the unusual step of asking parents to monitor their children's postings on the social networking site. He did this in a posting to the school's e-mail list, which is a forum as addictive to some Whitman parents as Facebook has become to their children.

"I am becoming increasingly frustrated by negative incidents at school that arise from students harassing other students on Facebook," Goodwin wrote April 18.

Teens are conducting an increasing share of their social lives electronically, via text-messaging, e-mail and social networking sites such as Facebook. Threats, harassment and bullying all have followed them online. Although such behavior is not new, research suggests that it is expanding rapidly, and educators and lawmakers seem resolved to pay closer attention to the words students exchange online while off campus

I find it remarkable that many are so cavalier about exposing their social networks, detailed activities and ...... anything else on sites that mine all of this data for economic purposes. The recent discussion on "Technology & Madison Schools" is worth considering with respect to the issues our children need to understand today, and tomorrow.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Free Internet Book Search Tool


The Internet is full of free books. But who has time to search for them? Let Voluminous bring the books to you. It finds, downloads and organises a vast library. Buy now, and access hundreds of years of classic literature. Take the free trial and see what's on offer.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

AP Drops Four Courses, Three over Demographics

Scott Cech:

Officials overseeing the Advanced Placement program have announced that they intend to drop AP classes and exams in four subject areas, in a pullback expected to affect about 12,500 students and 2,500 teachers worldwide.

Following the end of the 2008-09 academic year, there will be no AP courses or exams in Italian, Latin literature, French literature, and computer science AB, said officials at the College Board, the New York City-based nonprofit organization that owns the AP brand.

The College Board has in past years withdrawn one undersubscribed AP course at a time, but has never taken so many courses off its table of offerings in the half-century since the program started as a way for students to take college-level courses and potentially earn college credit while still in high school.

Trevor Packer, the College Board vice president who oversees the AP program, said the decision was made at a trustee meeting on March 27, and that AP teachers in the affected subjects were notified by e-mail April 3. “Of course, it’s sad for them,” he said of the teachers.

Mr. Packer said the decision was made principally because of demographic considerations.

Only a tiny fraction of the members of underrepresented minority groups who take AP exams take the tests in one of those four affected subject areas, he said.

The College Board has made it a priority to reach such students, including those who are African- American and Hispanic.

“For us, [the question is], are we able to achieve our mission of reaching a broader range of students?” Mr. Packer said.

He added that no additional AP courses would be cut for at least the next five years.

He said the decision was not connected to results from the recently released national audit of AP course syllabuses. ("Number of Schools Offering AP Falls After First Audit of Courses," March 14, 2007.)

Mr. Packer noted that the Italian program was 400 percent over budget, owing to the small number of students taking the exams.

The Italian program is the only one among the subjects that would not be represented in some other way in the AP program.

The College Board will continue to offer AP French Language, for example, and introductory-level computer science.

Mr. Packer also held out the possibility that the Italian program might be saved if outside money were forthcoming.

“This wasn’t a situation of us going to the trustees and saying we need to cut costs,” he said, but a question of deploying resources “less diffusely.”

Posted by Celeste Roberts at 11:20 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Studies: SAT Writing Portion a Good Predictor of Freshman Grades

Janet Kornblum:

The controversial new writing portion of the SAT is actually a better predictor of grades for freshmen college students than the older, more-established, critical reading and mathematics portions, according to preliminary results of two new studies.

The College Board, which administers the SAT, studied test scores from 150,000 freshmen entering 110 colleges in 2006 and then looked at their GPAs at the end of their freshmen year, says Wayne Camara, vice president of research.

"Our study suggests that the writing test is the best single predictor" of freshman grades, he says. The study won't be finalized until summer, he says.

The University of California drew a similar conclusion from an analysis of its incoming 2006 freshmen and their GPAs, says Sam Agronow, coordinator of admissions research and evaluation at the University of California's office of the president.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Report: More Governors Prioritizing Pre-K


Pre-K Now today released Leadership Matters: Governors' Pre-K Proposals Fiscal Year 2007, a comprehensive analysis of governors' leadership and budgetary commitments to expanding access to pre-kindergarten. If legislatures across the country approve these proposals, for the third straight year more children than ever before will have access to pre-k. Every governor who proposed pre-k increases last year received state legislative approval for increased funds. "Two years ago just 11of the nation's governors had pre-k on their policy and budgetary agendas," said Libby Doggett, Ph.D., executive director of Pre-K Now. "Our report shows that number has more than doubled with proposals by 24 governors to increase funding for pre-k. We expect these commitments to guide state legislatures and improve our schools. High-quality pre-k is critical to helping states meet the standards and mandates of No Child Left Behind and is the first step to improving K-12 education."

Gubernatorial increases to pre-k were bolstered for 2007 by favorable state revenue forecasts. Twenty-two states are likely to enjoy increased income in fiscal year 2007 while 26 others anticipate fiscal stability. Governors who once felt hamstrung by budget shortfalls are emerging with plans to improve educational opportunities in their states by advancing pre-k.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Now It's Colleges' Turn to Say 'Pick Me!'

Valerie Strauss:

The University of Maryland at College Park is making sure that nearly every single student admitted this fall -- more than 10,000 of them -- gets a personal telephone call from a current student extolling the virtues of becoming a Terrapin.

The student government president at Marymount University in Arlington County is sending a T-shirt to every admitted student.

At Binghamton University in New York, current international students are writing letters to every admitted international student -- in their native language -- to make sure they know where to get food that suits their diets or how to solve other problems they may encounter.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"School Pressures Push Families into Country Houses"

Deborah Kolben:

When Alexa Kent and her husband had their fourth child, the Upper West Siders sat down and calculated that they were on their way to spending $1.5 million on schools before their children even got to college.

"Enough already," Ms. Kent said. They decided to pull their children out of private school and take up residence full-time at their six-bedroom country house in Connecticut, 90 minutes outside of Manhattan. By enrolling their children in the local public school, they saved an estimated $150,000 a year in pre-tax dollars. At a time when the private grade school admission process is more difficult than ever in the city — there is a one in 18 chance of getting in, according to some estimates — and the tuition for grade school often tops that of a college, more families are opting to sell their New York City apartments and move into their country houses.

"I see this happening all the time," the founder of Manhattan Private School Advisors, Amanda Uhry, said.

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

April 25, 2008

Study Suggests Math Teachers Scrap Balls and Slices; "The Researchers Did Something Rare in Education Research"

Kenneth Chang:

One train leaves Station A at 6 p.m. traveling at 40 miles per hour toward Station B. A second train leaves Station B at 7 p.m. traveling on parallel tracks at 50 m.p.h. toward Station A. The stations are 400 miles apart. When do the trains pass each other?

Entranced, perhaps, by those infamous hypothetical trains, many educators in recent years have incorporated more and more examples from the real world to teach abstract concepts. The idea is that making math more relevant makes it easier to learn.

That idea may be wrong, if researchers at Ohio State University are correct. An experiment by the researchers suggests that it might be better to let the apples, oranges and locomotives stay in the real world and, in the classroom, to focus on abstract equations, in this case 40 (t + 1) = 400 - 50t, where t is the travel time in hours of the second train. (The answer is below.)

“The motivation behind this research was to examine a very widespread belief about the teaching of mathematics, namely that teaching students multiple concrete examples will benefit learning,” said Jennifer A. Kaminski, a research scientist at the Center for Cognitive Science at Ohio State. “It was really just that, a belief.”

Dr. Kaminski and her colleagues Vladimir M. Sloutsky and Andrew F. Heckler did something relatively rare in education research: they performed a randomized, controlled experiment. Their results appear in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

The Advantage of Abstract Examples in Learning Math by Jennifer A. Kaminski, Vladimir M. Sloutsky, Andrew F. Heckler.

I wonder what has become of the Madison School District's Math Task Force?

Math Forum audio, video, notes and links.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Writing, Technology & Teens

Amanda Lenhart:

Teens write a lot, but they do not think of their emails, instant and text messages as writing. This disconnect matters because teens believe good writing is an essential skill for success and that more writing instruction at school would help them.
Related links: AP and Tamar Lewin.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

California Considers New Free Speech Protections in Schools

Daniel Wood:

Eleven-year teaching veteran Teri Hu was adviser to The Voice, the student newspaper of Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif., when school administrators told her not to let it publish a story critical of school policies on teaching assistants. Two months after she refused, Ms. Hu became "former" adviser to The Voice.

Janet Ewell, a tenured teacher in Garden Grove, was enjoying the praise in her 2002 school evaluation until she came to the part about her performance as advisor to journalism students. "[The principal] let me know he didn't like three student editorials, one about school bathrooms, one about the cafeteria and one about teachers who are not available to help students," recalls Ms. Ewell. "Then he told me I wouldn't be advising them the next fall."

Scenarios like those above occurring in schools across California have prompted the state to take the national lead again in protecting free speech rights on campuses. Two years ago, the state was the first to pass a bill preventing college administrators from censoring student newspapers.

Now, legislation is moving forward to protect both high school and college faculty advisers from being punished by administrators for students' articles or editorials.

Posted by jez at 8:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2008 AP Annual Conference

July 16-20, 2008; Seattle:

The two days of the main conference will be filled with sessions for every AP course and every Pre-AP® area.

These sessions will provide curriculum information, helpful resources, and best practices for AP teachers, both new and experienced middle school teachers, as well as for AP Coordinators, school counselors, and administrators.

Each session will last 75 minutes, and participants will be eligible for Continuing Education Units (CEUs) from the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET). To learn how these units will be awarded, see IACET CEUs.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Milwaukee School Board Approves Large Busing Cut, Shift Funds to Classroom

Alan Borsuk:

A unanimous Milwaukee School Board agreed Thursday night "to reduce massive busing" in Milwaukee Public Schools, but to soften a proposed timetable for achieving ambitious cuts.

But while all nine members generally agreed on the goal of getting more kids off buses and into improved neighborhood schools, what will actually result will not be clear for perhaps several years.

The board action, in effect, fired the starting gun on a process that will require balancing the desire of thousands of parents to send their children to schools somewhere other than their neighborhood with the desire to see more money spent in classrooms and less on buses.

Board member Michael Bonds, who proposed the resolution, said, "This is an opportunity for us to put millions of dollars back into the classroom, to provide our students with a quality, comprehensive education."

A bold, green move. More here.

MPS Parentnet:

Last night MPS board members moved to reduce voluntary busing, for a potential savings of millions of dollars. In our recent meeting with Directors Spence and Thompson, busing has been identified as a source of tremendous savings. Despite the Neighborhood Schools Initiative, students are still being bused all over city to schools that are not citywide.

All members seem to support the idea of reducing busing, but several are concerned about options for parents who use the bus as child care. It's important for the district to keep in mind that its main mission is to educate children, first and foremost. It can't be in the position of sacrificing the academic goals of the district in order to provide services for parents that it can no longer afford.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Verona students suspended for drinking, drugs on school trip

Heather LaRoi:

Nineteen Verona High School students are facing the music after partying on a school-sponsored trip to Costa Rica.

School officials have suspended the students after learning the students drank alcohol and some smoked marijuana during the trip earlier this month.

"It was a bit of a sordid affair," Principal Kelly Meyers said. "The preponderance of the trip was an outstanding and valuable learning experience, but it was tainted severely by a few nights of really, really poor choices. Now we're embarrassed, all of us."

Thirty-three students were on the 10-day trip that included hikes in rainforests and meeting villagers. The group belonged to a school club called the Land Rovers, which goes on regular outings. They paid for the trip out of their own pockets.

Most of the offenses took place in the students' hotel rooms on the final night of the trip, Meyers said. After word got out about the misdeeds, the school launched an investigation into what Meyers called "a very unfortunate occurrence."

The group had six adult chaperones, including five employees of the high school, which should be "quite ample," Meyers said. That the chaperones apparently didn't know what was going on means some changes in how trips are overseen in the future may be made, she said.

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

School garden programs hope to change kids' relationship with food

Dina Maccabee:

One warm winter day at Ruus Elementary in south Hayward, Chef Tiffany sweeps a roomful of second-graders into their only cooking class of the year. Before long, they're shouting out the names of body parts that benefit from fresh veggies: "Eyes!" "Teeth!" "Heart!" And even if Swiss chard elicits a wary silence, the kids already know spinach from bok choy, and Chef Tiffany, known to adults as Tiffany Chenoweth, smoothly transitions from her talking points about leafy greens into the hands-on section of the class (after delivering a squirt of antibacterial gel onto the palms of each child). Meanwhile, out past the bustling blacktop, garden instructor Rachel Harris walks an ethnically diverse group of third graders through the concept of soil enrichment.

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

Waukesha Superintendent Search Survey

School District of Waukesha:

As you are aware, the Waukesha Board of Education has initiated its search for a new superintendent. To provide counsel to us in this important process, we have retained the services of Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, Ltd. (HYA), a search firm that specializes in assisting boards with the identification and selection of superintendents. Click here to connect to HYA's website.

A very important early step in this process is to identify the characteristics we will be seeking in our new superintendent. We would appreciate your assistance with this task and invite you to attend a community forum meeting with a representative from Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, Ltd. on Monday, May 5, 2008 at 6:30 p.m. This meeting will be held in the Media Center at Central Middle School, 400 N. Grand Avenue, Waukesha 53186.

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

April 24, 2008

Madison's Sennett Middle School Discipline Climate & Security Cameras


But her enthusiasm for the cameras pales in comparison to a new district-wide middle school program started this year called Positive Behavior Intervention Support, or PBIS.

"This is very good for kids -- very, very good," Lodholz said.

The PBIS program uses positive behavior support coaches like Sennett's Jennifer Tomlinson. She works with students, teachers and staff to teach positive behavior skills to students.

Often the behavior is rewarded and promoted by the students themselves, through handmade posters or activities aimed at showcasing such behaviors, WISC-TV reported.

Officials said the key is to actually instruct kids how to behave correctly, be it through mediation sessions, classroom instruction or other innovative approaches.

"We need to teach kids how to be accountable for their actions and that's what we're doing through this system," Tomlinson said.

Lodholz said the program helps offer instruction to students on how they should be behave. She said the PBIS program builds upon other Sennett school strategies and that it all seems to be working.

Last year incidents of misconduct at Sennett totaled 1,706, and 1,169 suspensions were handed out.

But in the 2007-08 school year to date, with the cameras and new program, Sennett's seen more than 730 fewer misconduct incidents -- at 973 -- and only 94 suspensions.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:09 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

A Look at Sacramento's High School "Redesign" Initiative

Linking Education and Economic Development and the Sacramento City Unified School District [488K PDF]:

Over the past five years, the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) in partnership with LEED—Linking Education and Economic Development, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has implemented a system-wide redesign of the District’s high schools. With the assistance of community members, teachers principals, and especially parents and students, we have worked to create new models for high school learning in the 21st Century. To share the results of this effort, including accomplishments, lessons learned, and ongoing challenges, partners came together to create the "Report to the Community on the Education for the 21st Century (e21) High School Redesign Initiative: 2002-2007 and Beyond". This Executive Summary captures some of the key elements of this Report
Complete report [1.9MB]

LEED Website.

Bruce King's evaluation of Madison West High School's Small Learning Community (SLC) implementation.

Examining the data from Madison's SLC grants.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Toki Middle School Security/Safety Update


This school year some parents, teachers and staff have complained about increasing safety and violence issues at Toki, including bad behavior at the school.

Last March, after a packed PTO meeting, school district officials added another security guard and a "dean of students" to help keep the peace. A positive behavior curriculum program was initiated as well.

"We certainly have a greater comfort level with where the school is headed at this point," Yudice said.

However, some said that a couple of recent fights at the school posted on show the problems haven't gotten any better.

PTO President Betsy Reck said teachers have told her things have not improved, despite the extra efforts the last month or so. She said many believe more needs to be done.

"It's a typical, almost daily, occurrence, the fights at Toki," Reck said. "It's a very sad sort of affairs over there right now that they cannot get that under control."

Last week, police were called to the school for two fights, which apparently were caught on video by students and posted recently on They have since been removed from the site.

More here and here.

Andy Hall & Karen Rivedal review local school policies on video capture and internet access.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:34 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Florida Revamps State Test Standards

Linda Kleindienst:

student angst, the Legislature is about to approve a major revamp of Florida's public-school testing program -- from what students are expected to know to when they take the exam.

Rallies and motivational speakers meant to boost FCAT scores would be banned during class time. For the first time, middle-school students would be tested on their social-science knowledge. And schools could not buy new textbooks that mention the FCAT.

While the House and Senate differ on some details, it appears almost sure that the testing, now done each February, will be pushed later in the school year. That will give teachers more time to cover material that could be on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, given in grades 3 through 11.

Pending House and Senate bills would schedule the writing exam on March 1, with testing on other subjects delayed until April 15 at the earliest. On Friday, the House approved its bill 110-0.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Test Scores Rise as More Low Scoring Students Drop Out

Margaret Downing:

A few years ago, I signed on as a volunteer tutor at my local elementary. I was matched with a student — I'll call him Eddie — who was failing miserably at both the math and English portions of the TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills), a statewide minimal skills test that was the precursor to today's TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills).

I took him on in math, it being the worst of all his subjects, and began a series of one-on-one weekly meetings. It soon became apparent that while Eddie's multiplication and division skills were very shaky, his ability to subtract once we got into double digits was no better. Asked to compute 25 minus 17, Eddie's eyes darted around the room looking for an escape hatch. There were too many numbers to count on his fingers.

Word problems only ramped up the agony.

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

April 23, 2008

Adolescence & Purpose

Jane Clayson:

William Damon is one of the world's leading scholars on adolescence and human development. And when he looks around the world, he sees a growing problem.

It's not just that young adults don't know what they want to be when they grow up. It's not simply that they won't leave home. No, it's that and more: A growing trend of rudderlessness or purposeselessness.

But don't just throw your hands up and despair for America's youth, Damon says. Answer the wake-up call.

This hour, On Point: It's time to give the children a purpose.


Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

25 Years After a Nation At Risk: Annual US Education Spending has Grown from $16B to 72B

Greg Toppo:

Twenty-five years ago this week, Americans awoke to a forceful little report that, depending on your point of view, either ruined public education or saved it.
On April 26, 1983, in a White House ceremony, Ronald Reagan took possession of "A Nation at Risk." The product of nearly two years' work by a blue-ribbon commission, it found poor academic performance at nearly every level and warned that the education system was "being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity."

It kick-started decades of tough talk about public schools and reforms that culminated in 2002's No Child Left Behind, the Bush administration law that pushes schools to improve students' basic skills or face ever-tougher sanctions.

Twenty-five years later, the sole teacher on the 1983 panel says the tough talk was just what the doctor ordered.

"In order to move a nation to make changes, you have to find some very incisive language," Jay Sommer says. Now 81 and teaching Hebrew at a suburban synagogue, Sommer was a high school language teacher in New Rochelle, N.Y., when tapped to help produce the report.

Paul Orfalea offers some related thoughts here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:59 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools & Property Values

Richard Green:

ne of my good GW friends, knowing that my daughters had just finished navigating the college admissions process, lent me her copy of Acceptance, a novel about crazed parents and their slightly less crazed children going through the college application process in a fictitious Maryland county that just happens to contain the National Institutes for Health. The novel is quite funny, and one passage stood out:
Her public school might as well have been a private school, and in a way, it was. There was no tuition, per se, but irrational real estate prices served to filter out most of the rabble and ;end it a somewhat exclusive air, or so she'd heard her mother say.
This paragraph summarizes why I support school choice. Affluent people have school choice--they can pay for private school, or they can move to places with excellent public schools (whose excellence is capitalized into land prices). Meanwhile, kids of poor families are stuck in dysfunctional school districts with no place to go. Just spending money on these schools doesn't seem to solve the problem--

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Some HOPE Scholarship recipients need remedial help in college

Jennifer Burk:

Despite earning B averages in high school, at least one in 10 HOPE Scholarship recipients receives some type of remedial help during the first year of college.

Put simply, some college freshmen who seemed to excel in high school still need help in basic math and English.

Twelve percent of college freshmen who have the HOPE Scholarship, awarded to Georgia students who graduate from high school with at least a B average, received learning support in fall 2006, according to the University System of Georgia.

The reasons why run the gamut, with blame placed at the state level all the way down to the student.

"It's hard for me to say the causes of that," said Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Education.

But part of the reason for the state's continuing overhaul of the public schools' kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum is to get students out of remediation and make them more prepared for college work, he said.

"The curriculum">curriculum before was way too broad and way too vague," Tofig said.

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

"The Schools Aren't Teaching Our Kids What They Need to Know"

Bob Herbert:

Ignorance in the United States is not just bliss, it’s widespread. A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900.

"We have one of the highest dropout rates in the industrialized world," said Allan Golston, the president of U.S. programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In a discussion over lunch recently he described the situation as "actually pretty scary, alarming."

Roughly a third of all American high school students drop out. Another third graduate but are not prepared for the next stage of life — either productive work or some form of post-secondary education.

When two-thirds of all teenagers old enough to graduate from high school are incapable of mastering college-level work, the nation is doing something awfully wrong.

Mr. Golston noted that the performance of American students, when compared with their peers in other countries, tends to grow increasingly dismal as they move through the higher grades:

Common Core of Data.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:45 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Proposal to Cut Milwaukee School Busing by 70%!

Alan Borsuk:

A Milwaukee School Board committee voted unanimously Tuesday night "to reduce massive busing" within Milwaukee Public Schools, a step that could lead to major changes in the way the system functions and the options parents and students are given in selecting schools.

The board's finance committee said it wanted $20 million cut from the amount spent on busing by the 2009-'10 school year, more than two-thirds of the amount spent to bus students who do not fit into special categories or have special needs.

If implemented as envisioned by the main sponsor, board member Michael Bonds, the $20 million savings would be spent on a list of efforts to improve and build up faltering schools, primarily on the north side.

More broadly, it would be the strongest step toward cutting busing in Milwaukee since court ordered school desegregation began in 1976. At one time, more than 70% of all students in the city were bused to school; currently, more than 50% of students are bused, and MPS spends more than $55 million on busing.

The African American Education Council, an organization founded by state Rep. Polly Williams (D-Milwaukee), has been pushing for a year for a large cut in busing in the city and was behind its inclusion as a goal in a strategic plan MPS adopted last year. Members of the organization were key advocates for Bonds'

A bold, fascinating and energy friendly move.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:40 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Student Fights At Toki Middle School Posted Online

Disturbing video showing girls engaged in vicious fights on the Toki Middle School grounds popped up on the popular Web site YouTube.

The video, which was posted on April 19, featured a fight between girls outside the school and one from inside the building.

Madison police confirmed that they responded to fights at Toki on Thursday, April 17 and one on Friday, April 18, but can't say whether the fights were the same ones posted online.

"School staff are very aware not only of the videos, but of the things that happened," said Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater. "The students have been identified and are being dealt with through the discipline system in the ways that are appropriate for what the incident was."

That discipline could include suspension. Rainwater said the incidents are so new the discipline process is still ongoing.

The incidents come one month after extra security was added to the school in the form of an additional security guard and a dean of students to deal specifically with problematic students.

The additional safety measure came at the request of Toki parents who felt the school was unsafe with escalating violence all year.

More from Kathleen Masterson.

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

April 22, 2008

National Conference on Value Added Modeling

Wisconsin Center for Education Research: 4/22 to 4/24/2008 Madison.

Related: Value added assessment and the Madison School District.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 11:44 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Gifted or not, challenge students to reach higher

Des Moines Register

Nicholas Colangelo is director of the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, Iowa City, established in 1988 at the University of Iowa. His hands-on experience includes teaching middle-school social studies in New York and serving as an elementary-school counselor in Vermont in the 1970s. Four years ago, he co-authored with colleagues the report "A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students."

Q. The alarm has been sounded that U.S. students are not prepared for the growing global competition they face. But is that true of this country's brightest students? Are our most gifted students being challenged with sufficient rigor?

A. When it comes to matching top students to top students, we are probably pretty close. But what concerns me is that the top students in the United States do not necessarily get the challenge they need across the board. It really is about ZIP code. We have taken for granted that our top students are getting what they need. If we gave our top students more opportunities to take Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate and other [accelerated opportunities], they would reveal they are capable of doing much more than we think.

Q. Has the federal No Child Left Behind law affected the ability of schools to challenge all students to excel?

A. As far as I'm concerned, the No Child Left Behind law has done nothing on behalf of high-ability students. Essentially, No Child Left Behind has focused on kids below a standard, ignoring kids above that standard. You should have no law that makes a portion of the students invisible. They are all our kids, and they all deserve our attention and energy.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 6:59 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Adult Workers Have a Lot to Learn Online

Michael Schrage:

Children are fantastic little learning machines. They are hardwired to play with ideas and absorb knowledge. Adults, alas, are not. That is why the challenge of adult education and lifelong learning is more difficult – and ultimately more important – than childhood education. Societies that are serious about raising their standard of living should focus on enhancing the productivity of parents rather than boosting teenage test scores.

The economic rationale is clear. Ageing populations of Europe, China and North America increasingly enjoy long and healthy lives. Yet as they grow older, wealth creation depends on the ability to acquire and convert information, skills and technologies into new value. In this environment, hard-won expertise, rather like expensive capital equipment, often depreciates with astonishing speed. The cruel “human capital” jibe, that many workers do not have 20 years’ experience but one year’s experience 20 times over, has assumed new poignancy.

The premise that quality education during life’s first two decades matters more than for decades four and five has become literally counterproductive. Demographic realities and dynamic economies have made “ageing adults” today’s most underappreciated – and underappreciating – capital asset class.

Improving returns on that asset requires neither great sums of money nor greater flights of imagination. The key is to rethink and reorganise how busy but anxious adults can benefit from education and training opportunities. Technology makes meeting that challenge far more affordable, entrepreneurial and compelling. Adult education is a market ripe for rapid global transformation.

Continuing our technology & education discussions. Related posts: on technology spending in Milwaukee and Lauren Rosen Yaezel on Technology in the Madison Schools.

Brittanica on Adult Education.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:35 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New Report From KIPP Charters

Jay Matthews:

Educators argue often whether their work should be judged by test scores. There are thoughtful people on both sides of the debate. We journalists tend to focus on exam results because so many of our readers say that is what they want, and such information is relatively easy to get from regular public schools.

Private schools, unfortunately, rarely provide such information, and data from public charter schools have also been difficult to obtain. Charters are public schools; their students, unlike private school students, take the same state tests regular public school students do. But they are not part of the public school systems that have staffs assigned to gather and release test score results, so their data sometimes emerge in a haphazard way, or not at all.

Thank goodness, then, for those few charter school groups that focus intently on test data and make that data readily available to the public. Those school networks include Achievement First, Aspire, Green Dot, Edison, IDEA, Noble Street, Uncommon Schools, YES and a few others designed to give children from low-income families the extra time, encouragement and great teaching they need.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:22 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Columbus, Stoughton Granted Startup Funds for 4-Year-Old Kindergarten; Background on Madison's inaction

Quinn Craugh:

School districts in Stoughton, Columbus, Deerfield, Sauk Prairie and Janesville were among 32 statewide named Monday to receive Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction grants to start kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds.

But it may not be enough for at least one area district.

Getting 4-year-olds enrolled in kindergarten is a key step to raising student achievement levels and graduation rates, particularly among children from low-income families, national research has shown, DPI spokesman Patrick Gasper said.

School districts' efforts to launch 4K programs have been hampered because it takes three years to get full funding for the program under the state's school-finance system, according to DPI.

That's what these grants are supposed to address with $3 million announced for 4K programs to start this fall.

Columbus, one of the school districts that qualified for the grant, would get an estimated $62,814 to enroll 87 children this fall.

Related: Marc Eisen on Missed Opportunity for 4K and High School Redesign.
The good news is that the feds refused to fund the school district's proposal to revamp the high schools. The plan was wrongheaded in many respects, including its seeming intent to eliminate advanced classes that are overwhelmingly white and mix kids of distressingly varied achievement levels in the same classrooms.

This is a recipe for encouraging more middle-class flight to the suburbs. And, more to the point, addressing the achievement gap in high school is way too late. Turning around a hormone-surging teenager after eight years of educational frustration and failure is painfully hard.

We need to save these kids when they're still kids. We need to pull them up to grade level well before they hit the wasteland of middle school. That's why kindergarten for 4-year-olds is a community imperative.

As it happens, state school Supt. Elizabeth Burmaster issued a report last week announcing that 283 of Wisconsin's 426 school districts now offer 4K. Enrollment has doubled since 2001, to almost 28,000 4-year-olds statewide.

Burmaster nailed it when she cited research showing that quality early-childhood programs prepare children "to successfully transition into school by bridging the effects of poverty, allowing children from economically disadvantaged families to gain an equal footing with their peers."

Madison Teachers Inc.'s John Matthews on 4 Year Old Kindergarten:
For many years, recognizing the value to both children and the community, Madison Teachers Inc. has endorsed 4-year-old kindergarten being universally accessible to all.

This forward-thinking educational opportunity will provide all children with an opportunity to develop the skills they need to be better prepared to proceed with their education, with the benefit of 4- year-old kindergarten. They will be more successful, not only in school, but in life.

Four-year-old kindergarten is just one more way in which Madison schools will be on the cutting edge, offering the best educational opportunities to children. In a city that values education as we do, there is no question that people understand the value it provides.

Because of the increasing financial pressures placed upon the Madison School District, resulting from state- imposed revenue limits, many educational services and programs have been cut to the bone.

During the 2001-02 budget cycle, the axe unfortunately fell on the district's 4-year-old kindergarten program. The School Board was forced to eliminate the remaining $380,000 funding then available to those families opting to enroll their children in the program.

Jason Shephard on John Matthews:
This includes its opposition to collaborative 4-year-old kindergarten, virtual classes and charter schools, all of which might improve the chances of low achievers and help retain a crucial cadre of students from higher-income families. Virtual classes would allow the district to expand its offerings beyond its traditional curriculum, helping everyone from teen parents to those seeking high-level math and science courses. But the union has fought the district's attempts to offer classes that are not led by MTI teachers.

As for charter schools, MTI has long opposed them and lobbied behind the scenes last year to kill the Studio School, an arts and technology charter that the school board rejected by a 4-3 vote. (Many have also speculated that Winston's last minute flip-flop was partly to appease the union.)

"There have become these huge blind spots in a system where the superintendent doesn't raise certain issues because it will upset the union," Robarts says. "Everyone ends up being subject to the one big political player in the system, and that's the teachers union."

MTI's opposition was a major factor in Rainwater's decision to kill a 4-year-old kindergarten proposal in 2003, a city official told Isthmus last year (See "How can we help poor students achieve more?" 3/22/07).

Matthews' major problem with a collaborative proposal is that district money would support daycare workers who are not MTI members. "The basic union concept gets shot," he says. "And if you shoot it there, where else are you going to shoot it?"

At times, Matthews can appear downright callous. He says he has no problem with the district opening up its own 4K program, which would cost more and require significant physical space that the district doesn't have. It would also devastate the city's accredited non-profit daycare providers by siphoning off older kids whose enrollment offsets costs associated with infants and toddlers.

"Not my problem," Matthews retorts.

It will be interesting to see where incoming Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad takes this issue.


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

Dan Nerad on Green Bay's Hispanic Population Growth

Elizabeth Ries:

By the year 2017, the institute projects, 17 percent of Brown County's population will be Hispanic. In Green Bay public schools, that projection is already a reality.

"We are just about there right now," Superintendent Dan Nerad said.

The data show immigrants consume more in state and local services than they pay into the system through state and local taxes, but the report adds that immigrants contribute to economic growth by opening businesses and spending money here, and says it's unlikely the influx of immigrants had any negative impact on job opportunities for long-time residents.

The most expensive public service is K through 12 education, but school officials see that service as an investment.

"It's all part of the changing demographic in our country," Nerad said.

Nerad said it's his responsibility to educate all children in Green Bay, although he acknowledges a changing demographic isn't always easy to handle.

The Economic Impact of Immigration on Green Bay by David Dodenhoff.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Indiana Governor Proposes Paying for Part of College Costs

Vic Ryckaert:

Gov. Mitch Daniels wants the state to help bankroll the first two years of college for Hoosier families struggling to pay tuition.

The governor doesn't know how the state will pay for the plan, which he said would provide $6,000, the equivalent of two years of tuition at Ivy Tech Community College.

Families earning up to the state's median income of $54,000 a year would be eligible.
"The careers of tomorrow will require training beyond that which is available in high schools today," Daniels said, noting college tuition has risen 21/2 times faster than Hoosier incomes.
"We must elevate quickly the number of our young people who pursue education beyond high school.

Posted by jez at 5:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Things Can't Go Back"

Peg Tyre:

It can't be easy for U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings. She's passionate about all things to do with school. "This is my life's work, my calling," she says. Yet, here she is, in the final year of the Bush administration, and instead of continuing the grand work of remaking America's schools, she's stamping out brush fires in college-lending caused by the credit crunch and rattling the cages of fat cats in higher education. She doesn't like to say it out loud, but despite her very best efforts, things haven't worked out like she (or her boss) had planned.

At lunch this week with NEWSWEEK, she was determined to look forward, not back. She's had a great ride. She came to Washington, first as senior domestic policy adviser in 2001, with a popular Republican president who promptly wrested education away from the Democrats, the ones who had traditionally dominated the issue. Back then, President Bush spoke loud and often about the raw deal poor and minority kids were getting in public school. Instead of a bleeding heart, he showed a kind of flinty compassion for the poor by condemning what he famously called the "soft bigotry of low expectations" that plagued our inner cities. He coupled that with an inspired can-do attitude about making real, lasting change that disarmed even his fiercest opponents.

Posted by jez at 1:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

April 21, 2008

The New Math of College Financing

Anne Marie Chaker:

For a lot of students and parents, college costs are about to get much more confusing.

In recent months, some of the wealthiest and most prestigious schools in the country have made their financial aid more generous. Many have replaced loans with grants -- money that doesn't have to be repaid. Some are waiving tuition entirely for families below a certain income threshold. Others are capping costs at a certain percentage of family income.

So far, only a relative handful of colleges are taking these steps -- about 50 out of the nation's more than 2,500 four-year colleges. But some experts think at least some of these programs will spread further as schools compete for top students.

It's easy to be baffled about what this all means, for now and for the future. Do these offers come with hidden catches? Will you still need to borrow some money to cover tuition? Are there even better deals coming down the road?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:23 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Seminar tries to clear up confusion about inclusion

Paul Sloth:

Julie Maurer hopes to see a day when parents of children with special needs, parents like her, don’t have to advocate for their children in public school

Maurer hopes the system changes and schools accept children, like her daughter, Jenny, as easily as children who will never carry a label like “learning disabled” or “emotionally disabled.”

Maurer’s daughter, now 20, attends the University of Wisconsin-Parkside after graduating from Racine Unified.

A small group of parents, educators and disability advocates spent a few hours Saturday at the United Way of Racine County, 2000 Domanik Drive, with University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee education professor Elise Frattura, clearing up the confusion of including special education students in regular education classrooms.

Those years, from elementary school through high school, were marked by Maurer’s struggles to get her daughter into regular classrooms instead of being isolated from the rest of the children her age.

A preschool teacher encouraged Maurer to read the federal special education law, so as to understand what she should expect her daughter to receive in school.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

In Favor of Classroom White Boards

Terri Pederson:

Technology has grown by leaps and bounds everywhere — including in the classroom. Interactive white boards and other parts of a 21st century classroom have been added to three classrooms in Beaver Dam Unified School District.

"It's pretty crazy," BDHS student Mitch Drunasky said. "I've never seen anything like it. It's the biggest talk in the classrooms."

"I love the board," Beaver Dam High School student Lauren Bailey said. "It is really convenient. You don't even have to erase things."

BDUSD technology coordinator Aaron Vanden Heuvel said the district has been working with Heartland Business Systems in Appleton to receive a grant to use the 21st century package classrooms in the district.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:01 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More on Technology Education

Brian Back:

"If we don't teach this to them," Joan Fecteau, an MPS instructional technology leader, told me, "then we are doing as much of a disservice as not teaching them to read or write."

But you can't teach driving by sitting at a desk. You have to get behind the wheel. Let's give kids hands-on experience under teacher supervision.

Fecteau not only teaches students but teachers as well. "Some teachers don't know enough about the Internet to understand how to avoid viruses and tracking devices. For example, clicking on a pop-up window can lead to malicious spyware or unintended Web pages being displayed."

It is apparent to parents that most kids are far beyond their teachers' and parents' understanding. The one institution that has the mission to teach is not keeping up. We need to give schools the nod and the resources to do it - which is code for funding. Oh, no, did I say that?

Lauren Rosen Yeazel's recent words generated some interesting discussion on technology and schools.

In my view, technology, per se, is not the core issue. Critical thinking and knowledge come first, then tools. Tools we purchase today will be long obsolete by the time our children graduate (maybe this argues for some technology presence in high school). Ideally, our schools should have fast fiber and wireless (open) networks, and as Momanonymous noted, perhaps teacher compensation might include a laptop/mobile device allowance.

I am generally against teaching kids powerpoint, particularly before they've mastered the art of writing a paper.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

On Toronto's Homework Reform

Frank Bruni:

On April 16th 2008, Toronto Canada became one of the first jurisdictions in North America to pass a substantive homework reform policy.

The policy reduces the homework burden on middle school and high school students and all but eliminates homework in the elementary grades. In addition, homework will no longer be allowed during vacations.

The new policy mandates that teacher’s co-ordinate their efforts and that the homework that is sent home is “clearly articulated and carefully planned” and “require no additional teaching outside the classroom”.

This policy is a major breakthrough for those of us who have been advocating for homework reform.

When I started to write this it was intended to be a “how to” guide for anyone who wanted to replicate what we have achieved in Toronto. But when I read it it seemed preachy.

I guess what I really want to communicate is, just start. Every situation is different, every school board is different, and every community is different, but just start somewhere.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:45 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Best & Worst College Savings Plans

Kathleen Pender on Morningstar's list:

Morningstar released its annual list of the five best and five worst 529 college savings plans on Wednesday. Past favorites Utah Educational Savings and Nebraska College Savings dropped out of the top five, not because they got worse, but because other plans got better.

As usual, California's ScholarShare 529 plan made neither list.

"It's in the middle. It's neither here nor there," says Morningstar analyst Marta Norton. "It has some of the weaknesses we are bothered by in 529 land, along with some of the things you want to see."
Named after a section of the Internal Revenue Code, 529 plans are state-sponsored programs that provide federal tax benefits for college savings. You can set them up for your kids, grandkids, other loved ones or yourself. There are no income limits, and most plans let you contribute large six-figure sums.
You get no federal tax deduction for money you put into the plan, but the money grows tax-free and remains tax-free when you take it out, as long as it's used for qualified higher education expenses at almost any public or private college in the country. States also exempt earnings and qualified withdrawals from state income taxes.

Morningstar's report.

Posted by jez at 8:58 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Trapped in the Middle - Income Stagnates

Justin Lahart & Kelley Evans:

Are you better off than you were eight years ago? For a growing number of middle-class Americans, the answer is "No."

Here and elsewhere, middle-class earnings aren't keeping up with the cost of living. Rising gasoline and food prices, health bills, child-care and education costs are leaving less to set aside for retirement. With the housing market in turmoil, even the asset many had come to count on -- the value of their homes -- is threatened.It isn't just a reflection of the current economic slowdown and rise in commodity prices: Middle-class incomes have been stagnant for several years. The well-heeled keep doing better, with the wealthiest 1% of U.S. families garnering the largest share of income since 1929.

"This is a squeezing-down cycle, and people are trying to hang on," says Randy Riggs, pastor at First Presbyterian Church in this city in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country. "Five years ago, I had these visions of what the church could do and hoped to raise funds to do so. I can't be a dreamer at the moment." Mr. Riggs says he recently tabled a project to renovate the church's chapel because he sensed he couldn't raise enough money.

More food for thought with respect to taxes and school spending.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:45 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Green Bay School Board Assesses Superintendent Wish List

Kelly McBride:

The next superintendent of the Green Bay School District should be an experienced, community-minded leader focused on student achievement and knowledgeable of changing district demographics, according to the search firm charged with finding him or her.

Those were just a few of the key themes that emerged as the result of two full days of interviews and written feedback submitted by about 275 district stakeholders earlier this month.

The School Board on Saturday assessed the results of that feedback in the form of a leadership profile submitted by search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, the group charged with finding current superintendent Daniel Nerad's replacement.

Nerad, who started as superintendent in 2001, will become the next leader of the Madison School District July 1. The search firm will use the profile to narrow a pool of perhaps 25 applicants to a field of five semifinalists.

Notes, links and video on incoming Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:52 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Divorce Generation Grows Up

David Jefferson:

Ignorant of the picket fences around our tract homes, divorce was a constant intruder in the San Fernando Valley of my youth. Although I grew up a few blocks from the "Brady Bunch" house, the similarity between that TV family's tract-rancher and the ones where my friends and I lived pretty much ended at the front door. In the real Valley of the 1970s, families weren't coming together. They were coming apart. We were the "Divorce Generation," latchkey kids raised with after-school specials about broken families and "Kramer vs. Kramer," the 1979 best-picture winner that left kids worrying that their parents would be the next to divorce. Our parents couldn't seem to make marriage stick, and neither could our pop icons: Sonny and Cher, Farrah Fawcett and Lee Majors, the saccharine Swedes from Abba, all splitsville.

The change had begun in the '60s as the myth of the nuclear family exploded, and my generation was caught in the fallout. The women's rights movement had opened workplace doors to our mothers—more than half of all American women were employed in the late '70s, compared with just 38 percent in 1960—and that, in turn, made divorce a viable option for many wives who would have stayed in lousy marriages for economic reasons. Then in 1969, the year I entered kindergarten, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed California's "no fault" divorce law, allowing couples to unilaterally end a marriage by simply declaring "irreconcilable differences."

Encyclopedia Britannica on divorce.

Posted by jez at 3:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

On California's School Budget

Seema Mehta:

South Orange County families are being urged to donate $400 per student to save the jobs of 266 teachers in the Capistrano Unified School District.

Parents at Long Beach's Longfellow Elementary are among countless statewide who are launching fundraising foundations.

Bay Area parents launched a campaign featuring children standing in trash cans; the theme is "Public Education Is Too Valuable to Waste."

A free public school education is guaranteed by the state Constitution to every California child. But as districts grapple with proposed state funding cuts that could cause the layoffs of thousands of teachers and inflate class sizes, parents are being asked to dig deeper into their pocketbooks to help.

"Public education is free, but an excellent public education is not free at this point," said Janet Berry, president of the Davis Schools Foundation, which recently launched the Dollar-a-Day campaign, urging citizens of the city near Sacramento to donate $365 per child, grandchild or student acquaintance.

But "we never really imagined the magnitude of the problem, the budget cuts, would be this great."

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

April 20, 2008

Teachers Argue Fixation on Tests Hurts Kids

Dani McClain:

There's more to Milwaukee Public Schools than state test scores and dropout rates, but the realities of life in the classroom rarely bubble up to top district officials.

This was the message of about 100 MPS educators who met last week to discuss what they called the deteriorating conditions of teaching and learning and to brainstorm solutions.

The meeting was sponsored by the Educators' Network for Social Justice, a local advocacy group, and the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association.

Teachers face daily pressures to teach for various tests and accommodate cuts in arts and library budgets, many participants said.

"Stop talking about this being a data-driven district, and start talking about it being a child-centered district," said Amy Gutowski, a third-grade teacher at Thoreau Elementary School.

Posted by jez at 8:54 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Popping the Prom Question

Daniel de Vise:

efore Tim Shaeffer dared ask Corinne Welker to the prom, he first inquired delicately as to how she was likely to respond. She told him, "It kind of depends on how you ask me."

So Shaeffer, 17, and a classmate took a roll of red duct tape to the Bay Ridge community marina and taped his question -- "Prom?" -- to the sail of the family's 30-foot boat. Then, in a triumph of coordination and timing, he arranged to have his parents motor past the sea wall and unfurl the sail as he and Welker sat in a parked car, admiring the Bay Ridge view.

He got the answer he wanted.

"I took it seriously and went all-out," said Shaeffer, a senior at Annapolis High School. "For one thing, I really like her. And . . . I wanted it to be so none of her girlfriends could one-up her. It's getting to where pretty much everybody is going to big lengths to ask people to prom."

Posted by jez at 5:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

An Elementary Lesson in Classical Music

Nelson Hernandez:

If music hath charms to soothe the savage breast, as the English dramatist William Congreve wrote about three centuries ago, yesterday it did something even more remarkable: It quieted a concert hall packed with 2,500 fourth-graders.

The young students, vibrating with energy, were from Prince George's County. For the first time, the county has sent all of its fourth-graders to a series of concerts at the Kennedy Center this week in a partnership with the National Symphony Orchestra.

All meaning 8,000.

Before the concert began, the students were making music of their own. After leaving scores of school buses waiting outside in the parking lot, the students marveled at the center's flag-draped Hall of Nations. One group of seven singing girls from Port Towns Elementary School in Bladensburg, holding hands in a circle, played a clapping game in time with a ditty about "The Simpsons."

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

California Parents Await Ruling on Homeschooling

Ashley Surdin:

Parents of an estimated 166,000 children in California are eagerly awaiting a state appellate court ruling on whether they have a constitutional right to home-school their children without a teaching credential.

That question sprouted unexpectedly on Feb. 28, when a panel of three judges ruled that parents or tutors of children who are home-schooled must be certified by the state, basing their ruling on a rarely enforced state education law. Few parents knew the law existed.

The court's ruling -- since suspended pending a June rehearing -- threatens to send back to the classroom those children who now spend their days studying math, Spanish or the Bible in the comfort of their living rooms.

Reaction to the ruling quickly spread through the state, home to the nation's largest number of home-schoolers, and across the country.

Encyclopedia Brittannica on Home Schooling.

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

April 19, 2008

Suburban DC Schools Reject Metal Detectors

Daniel de Vise:

In spring 1991, after a teenage girl stabbed a classmate in the cafeteria of an Anacostia school, the D.C. Board of Education voted to install metal detectors at the front entrances of 10 middle and high schools.

No other school system in the region has embraced the technology, even as metal detectors have multiplied in courthouses, museums and other public buildings across the region over the past two decades.

Many school officials view metal detectors as costly, impractical and fallible. To suburban parents, they conjure up images of armed camps. Even at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington, where three loaded guns were found in a locker last week, consensus is building against them.

"I don't want my son to come to school through metal detectors. That's prison," said Alex Colina, speaking to several hundred other parents at a community meeting Monday night.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:05 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Paying for College Without the Home Equity Option

M.P. Dunleavey:

The colleges have given their answers. They have sent acceptance letters to high school seniors and their parents along with notifications of how much, if any, financial aid they are offering.

Now, those parents and students have until May 1 to address what may be the toughest questions: Should they choose the most affordable school? Or should they pick the one with more prestige, even if it’s a financial stretch, even if it means going deep into debt?

While the questions are not new, they are particularly difficult to answer in this economically tumultuous year. Traditional and even nontraditional sources of college financing are suddenly in question. Dozens of companies that once provided billions of dollars in student loans have left the market. Other banks are tightening their standards, making student loans harder to get.

On top of which, the continued turmoil in real estate has meant that home equity — a source of security for many families and a fallback for college funds for some of them — is not as easy, or in some cases impossible, to tap.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

For high school students, it's the ultimate field trip -- real-life lessons learned by volunteering abroad.

Cindy Loose:

When Bethesda high school student Jenna Kusek first saw where she'd be living for three weeks in Tanzania, she thought, "You've got to be kidding."

This hole in the ground is the toilet? A trickle of cold water from an elevated hose is the shower?

But Kusek soon gained a new perspective. The white stucco house she shared with other teen volunteers last summer was a mansion by local standards, and better than the concrete-block house they would spend their days building for a local teacher. A cold shower, she realized, was a luxury unavailable to the village kids. A year after the trip, tears come to her eyes when she talks about how guilty she began feeling about having access to any kind of shower.

"Compared to how people lived in the village, our housing was too good to be true," says Kusek, 18, a senior at Walt Whitman High School. "I knew before I went to Africa that I was blessed, but I had no idea how lucky I was. I can't believe now the things we once took for granted."

Putney Student Travel.

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

Single-Sex Ed Takes Hold in South Carolina

All Things Considered:

Single-sex education has long been the norm at many private schools, but interest in the concept is growing in public school systems nationwide. South Carolina, which has 97 schools with single-gender classrooms, is at the front of the trend.

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

April 18, 2008

"Children Should be Treated Like Refugees"

John Moritz:

A child protection expert says the children -- and the children of those children -- who are now in state custody should be cared for in the same way as refugees from Southeast Asia who migrated to the United States after the fall of Saigon.

Families from South Vietnam and Cambodia were kept intact, a social safety net was set up around them and they gradually assimilated into mainstream culture, said Richard Wexler, who leads the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

"One thing that we as a society know how to do is provide for refugees, and that's exactly what we are dealing with here," Wexler said Wednesday from his office in Alexandria, Va. "These children live in a very isolated world of their own and they have no idea of the world they suddenly find themselves in."

Wexler, who has criticized Texas' policies regarding the placement of children in foster homes in recent years, urged state officials to do their best to keep families together as long as they are out of reach of anyone who might abuse them.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

April 17, 2008

Sadly, kids' struggle with writing goes on

In light of West High School Principal Ed Holmes's budgetary decision to shut down the Writing Lab after almost 40 years in existence, I share this recent column from Barbara Wallraff, who writes the column Word Court.

America's eighth-graders and high school seniors got their writing "report cards" the other day -- the results for the writing part of the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress were announced. Just a third of eighth-grade students and a quarter of high school seniors are "proficient" in writing. Oh, dear! And yet federal authorities consider this encouraging news -- that's how bad the situation is.

Granted, the average scores are a few points higher than they were when the test was given in 2002. And the improvement is almost across the board, at least among the eighth-graders. Students in every ethnic group except American Indians are doing better, and the gap white and black eighth-graders is narrowing. Also granted, better is better -- and mountains of behavior modification research demonstrate that praising successes is a more effective way to bring about change than criticizing failures.

But still, isn't cheering because a third of the kids are doing well like congratulating ourselves that we made it a third of the way to the finish line in a race? Or that we managed to pay a third of our bills? Speaking of thirds, a 2003 survey by the College Board concluded that a third of employees at America's blue-chip corporations are pretty bad at writing and need remedial training. And speaking of writing, can everybody see the handwriting on the wall? The message is terribly disheartening. Writing isn't just a skill that people tend to need to earn a good living -- it's one of our basic means of communication.

The question is what to do about the two-thirds or three-quarters of our young people who are less than proficient. Keeping on doing whatever we've been doing isn't suddenly going to start yielding different results. Admittedly, the sorry state of America's writing skills is a vast, long-term problem to which experts have devoted whole careers. So who am I to propose a solution?

Writing is different from other skills. In math, you either get the concept or you don't. In history, you either know who did what when or you don't. But writing isn't right or wrong, just better or worse. Learning to write is something each of us does individually, in our own way -- which makes me suspect that sweeping initiatives, no matter how brilliant and well-funded (hah!), aren't what's needed.

May I suggest, instead, that anybody who has the time , energy and interest in young people encourage them, one at a time, to write -- and read? (Reading skills and writing skills go hand in hand.) Ask kids to write you emails. Lend them a favorite book , and tell them what the book has meant to you. Ask them about what they've been reading.

If you're a parent, you're probably doing this for your own kids, and you probably know the statistics about what a huge advantage it gives kids if their parents take an interest in their education. If you're only, or also, a concerned citizen -- well, there are plenty of kids who aren't lucky enough to be growing up in your family. Wouldn't it make you proud to help a few of them?

For more:

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 5:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Black-White Gap Widens for High Achievers

Debra Viadero:

New research into what is commonly called the black-white “achievement gap” suggests that the students who lose the most ground academically in U.S. public schools may be the brightest African-American children.

As black students move through elementary and middle school, these studies show, the test-score gaps that separate them from their better-performing white counterparts grow fastest among the most able students and the most slowly for those who start out with below-average academic skills.

“We care about achievement gaps because of their implications for labor-market and socioeconomic-status issues down the line,” said Lindsay C. Page, a Harvard University researcher, commenting on the studies. “It’s disconcerting if the gap is growing particularly high among high-achieving black and white students.”
Disconcerting, but not surprising, said researchers who have studied achievement gaps. Studies have long shown, for instance, that African-American students are underrepresented among the top scorers on standardized tests, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Fewer studies, though, have traced the growth of those gaps among high and low achievers.

The reasons why achievement gaps are wider at the upper end of the achievement scale are still unclear. But some experts believe the patterns have something to do with the fact that African-American children tend to be taught in predominantly black schools, where test scores are lower on average, teachers are less experienced, and high-achieving peers are harder to find.

Thanks to Jenny Root for emailing this article.

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

Grading Racine's Three Superintendent Finalists

Pete Selkowe:

Grading Racine Unified's three superintendent finalists began Monday, after a busy day of meetings with school stakeholders: students, teachers, principals, administrators and business leaders among them. The day concluded with a public forum at the Golden Rondelle, at which about 200 citizens got to hear brief statements from the candidates and their answers to submitted questions.

Everyone was well-behaved (although Bill Krummel, picketing outside, carried a sign charging the "pillars" of Unified with complicity to a murder), and all the candidates received polite applause, but when it was over there was a clear consensus.

Here's how I'd grade the three, based mostly on their appearance Monday night:

Dr. Craig Bangtson: F (because that's the lowest grade I'm allowed to give)
Dr. Barbara Moore Pulliam: B
Dr. Carlinda Purcell: A

One school board member put them in the same order after the presentation, with Purcell clearly the front-runner. When I teased a Unified principal that Bangtson would be her new boss, she said, "Don't even joke about it."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:00 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Venezuala's Orchestra for At Risk Students

Bob Simon @ 60 Minutes:

Through a system of early training and local orchestras, Venezuela has not only provided an uplifting musical experience for its at-risk youth, but also developed an orchestra that is world famous.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:39 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Unready in MA

Many Mass. graduates unprepared in college
Thousands need remedial classes, are dropout risks
By Peter Schworm
Boston Globe Staff / April 16, 2008

Thousands of Massachusetts public high school graduates arrive at college unprepared for even the most basic math and English classes, forcing them to take remedial courses that discourage many from staying in school, according to a statewide study released yesterday.

The problem is particularly acute in urban districts and vocational schools, according to the first-of-its kind study. At three high schools in Boston and two in Worcester, at least 70 percent of students were forced to take at least one remedial class because they scored poorly on a college placement test.

The study raises concern that the state’s public schools are not doing enough to prepare all of their students for college, despite years of overhauls and large infusions of money.

The findings are also worrisome because students who take remedial courses, which do not count toward a degree, are far more likely to drop out of college, often without the skills needed to land a good job. That has broad implications for the state’s workforce, economy, and social mobility.

The report, conducted jointly by the state Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education, found that the problem crossed socioeconomic lines. One third of high school graduates in suburban Hanover took remedial classes, as did 27 percent of graduates in Lynnfield and Needham.

“This is a statewide problem,” said Linda M. Noonan, managing director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, a nonprofit group that supports tougher educational standards to create a better workforce. "There's something systemic that we're not doing to get these kids ready to do college-level work."

High school administrators said they welcomed the new information, and pledged to use it to make the high school diploma a true sign of readiness for college.

"If you're a good district, this is information you want," said Paul Schlichtman, who coordinates research, testing, and assessment for the Lowell schools, where about half of graduates who went on to a state college or university in Massachusetts took remedial classes. "Your high school diploma needs to be a credential for a two- and four-year school, and it's something that we take very seriously."

The study tracked more than 19,000 students who graduated from public high schools in 2005 and attended an institution within the state's higher education system. Overall, it found that 37 percent of the graduates enrolled in at least one remedial course in their first semester in college. In many urban districts, a majority of the graduates studied took at least one remedial class their first year.

Among the roughly 8,500 students in the study who attended community colleges, nearly two-thirds took a remedial course. Many college administrators blame remedial courses for the high dropout rate at the state's two-year schools.

The results also cast doubt on the MCAS exams as a predictor of college readiness at a time when state education leaders are urging high schools to require a more rigorous course load to boost MCAS scores, as required under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

High school students who received special education instruction in high school, low-income and limited-English speaking students, and Hispanic and African-American students, were more likely to enroll in remedial classes, the study found.

The report marks the first time education researchers have detailed how public high school graduates from individual school districts perform in Massachusetts public colleges. State education officials distributed the reports last week to nearly 300 high schools across the state, and hope the information will spur improvements.

"We're hopeful high schools will regard this very seriously," said Paul Reville, chairman of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, who will take over as the state's education secretary in July. "This tells us that higher standards are necessary. We're not fully preparing students for non-remediated college work."

The report showed that students who barely pass the MCAS tests are far more likely to take college remedial classes. For example, half of students who scored a "needs improvement" on the 10th-grade MCAS math test were forced to take developmental math classes, as opposed to 20 percent who received the score "proficient."

In November, state education officials unanimously approved a recommended core high school curriculum in response to growing concerns about the number of students taking remedial classes. The recommended program includes four years of English, four years of math, three years of science, and three years of history.

Beginning this fall, students who do not reach the proficiency level on the English and math MCAS exams will be required to take more core classes and periodic tests to gauge their progress. Reville also said administrators have discussed giving high school seniors college placement tests.

Patricia F. Plummer, commissioner of the Department of Higher Education, said research has shown that students who take math and English in all four years of high school are far more likely to succeed in college.

"It's tremendously discouraging for them to be in college and not taking college-level work," she said. "And in terms of economic development, we can't afford to lose them."

More than ever, students need college education and training to compete for entry-level positions and launch a good career, Plummer said.

Education officials said they were encouraged by one finding: 80 percent of first-time, full-time students enrolled for a second year of college in 2006.

At Bunker Hill Community College, educators said the MCAS had not improved performance on college placement tests, and that some high school graduates show up woefully unprepared for basic college work.

"I haven't seen any significant change," said Deborah Barrett, the college's coordinator of student assessment. "It's very frustrating for students. They think that they've graduated from high school, they passed the MCAS, so they're ready for college."

Almost 90 percent of Bunker Hill students end up taking remedial math, and 63 percent take remedial English. Some graduates are writing at such a poor level that they must take the most introductory remedial class, she said. Only 20 percent of students complete their remedial work within two years, she said.

Educators and researchers said the study suggested that students who merely pass are not necessarily ready for college.

"The dirty little secret is that MCAS doesn't test 10th grade skills, much less college skills," said Robert Gaudet, an education researcher at the University of Massachusetts' Donahue Institute. "Passing is not that hard, it's getting to proficient that's tougher."

Peter Schworm can be reached at
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 7:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Kids with dyslexia are left behind

Ruben Navarrette:

How's this for a brainteaser?

President Bush's top domestic policy achievement is an education reform law that demands no child be left behind by emphasizing early reading. Yet public school students with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia — disabilities that make it difficult to learn to read — are still being left behind.

I first came to the subject about seven years ago, when I met my future wife — a language therapist who helps children with dyslexia. My first lesson was humility. Reading had come easily for me, and so I was impatient with classmates who struggled to read.

Yet over the years, I've had the chance to interact with elementary school students who have dyslexia, and I've always come away impressed. It takes courage to get up in the morning and go to school even though you know you're going to struggle. Yet you go. And tomorrow, you'll go again.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

It's Time to Study the Value of College


College education costs continue to soar at the same time studies show college graduates getting paid less. Commentator David Frum says Americans should re-examine the real value of a college degree in today's economy.

TESS VIGELAND: Today, yet another student loan provider announced it will suspend lending at several schools. The credit crunch, and a drop in federal subsidies, are prompting more and more student lenders to put out "Not Open for Business" signs, and all this comes right at the time when high school seniors are making decisions about which acceptance letters to say yes to.

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

Detroit Schools Coping with a Surge of Homeless Children

Karen Bouffard:

Cherish Brisbane loved Gompers Elementary School, where she was friends with girls named Tyler, Casey and Amanda. Now she's trying to find friends at Owen Academy, her new school near the homeless shelter in Highland Park that she now calls home.

"I miss my school, and that was a good house. Plus I miss my dog, Precious. We had to give her away to somebody," said Cherish, a pretty girl with her hair pulled into a puff on top of her head. "The hardest part was I lost all my best friends."

The 8-year-old is one of a growing number of homeless children attending schools throughout Metro Detroit, where the number of children known to have no fixed address has shot up by more than 70 percent in the last three years. Cherish has lived in two shelters since her family was evicted from their Detroit home in November.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Parents turn to etiquette pros to counter habits of a casual era

Sarah Schweitzer:

The candles were lighted, rows of silverware arrayed. Linen napkins sat in pert triangles on china plates. A four-course dinner was to be served for 20 at an elegant restaurant in Duxbury.

But first, a few talking points for the guests: No slurping the clam chowder. Avoid "yuck" when referring to disdained courses. And, please, cut chicken fingers into bite-size pieces that can be transferred from fork to mouth - a directive that one 7-year-old paraphrased for his tablemates as "Stab the chicken! Stab the chicken!"

"Etiquette is a forgotten form," Colin O'Keeffe of Duxbury, a 45-year-old real estate developer, said as he huddled with other parents in a corner and watched his daughters, ages 7 and 9, as they fought the urge to lick ketchup from their fingers. "This is nice to see."

Across the region, parents are flocking to sign up younger and younger children for etiquette classes that they say are needed to reinforce the finer points of dining and courtesy that they may struggle to instill at home.

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

April 16, 2008

Arts Education Gravely Ignored

Suchita Shah:

Imagine a program that produced a fourfold increase in the number of students recognized for academic achievement. What if that initiative also resulted in three times as many students elected to leadership positions at their schools? And imagine that these children would be four times as likely to be in math or science fairs, and also to perform community service. On top of all that, they would also be three times as likely to win an award for exceptional school attendance.

If public school administrators and government officials knew of such a program, I would demand that it be implemented in our schools and that we invest in it immediately. Guess what? We already know of such a program that does achieve all those benefits: It’s called the arts.

According to Americans for the Arts, children deeply involved in arts programs receive the aforementioned benefits, and then some. Yet, paradoxically, schools are cutting arts programs — ranging from band to theater to painting — because of funding limitations.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:30 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


Back in the day [1980], Articulation was the name given to the process to ensure that elementary students were not surprised by the demands of seventh grade, and middle school students were not surprised by the demands of ninth grade (or tenth grade).

Educators had meetings in which they discussed articulation - not better diction for all, but a better fit between different levels of schooling - and it was always a problem. Each level wanted control over what it taught and when, and what academic standards would be enforced, and there was a lamentable inclination by high school educators to look down a bit on middle school educators and for middle school educators to look down a bit on elementary school educators.

While I am sure that this never happens now, in the new Millennium, there is another articulation problem which I believe gets far less attention than students deserve. It has been reported recently that nationally about 30% of our high school students in general drop out of high school and that the percentage rises to a shocking 50% for black and Hispanic students.

But what about the 70% (or 50%) who do graduate and get the diploma certifying that they have met the requirements of an American high school education? In Massachusetts, of those who pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System [MCAS] tests and get their diplomas, 37% are now found to be "not ready for college work," according to a report last month in The Boston Globe.

In an article on on student writing in Texas, Donna Garner quoted a parent who said about the writing her daughter is doing for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills [TAKS] tests: "She basically just writes about her feelings on anything of her choice and often is encouraged to just make things up as long as it is flowery and emotional. This is apparently what they look for on TAKS.” And Donna Garner observed: “It is no wonder that college professors think our Texas high-school graduates are not ready for college. The brutal fact is that they are not ready."

In California, Sherry Saavedra of The San Diego Union-Tribune, on April 12, 2008 reported that of the students entering the California State University system (i.e. those who have received their California high school diplomas saying they are high school graduates), 46% were unprepared for college-level English. She quotes Ethan Singer, associate vice president for academic affairs at San Diego State University, that: “They have one year to catch up through remedial classes if they want to remain...About 45% don’t make it to their sophomore year....Their academic preparation is questionable.”

One of these California high school graduates said: “I took a lot of AP classes in high school, so I thought I was more prepared.” She graduated from Serra High School in Tierrasanta, but she was told she needed to take a remedial writing course at SDSU. She reported: “I was, like, mad. It’s frustrating because you think you’re doing well and find out you’re not up to the standard.”

Once again, Articulation rears its head, but for some reason the high school people who hand out diplomas, based on whatever the HS academic criteria are, and the college people who administer the college readiness tests, based on their academic criteria, seem not to talk to each other, and each almost acts as if the other didn’t exist.

Why should students, who jump all the required hurdles, in Massachusetts, Texas and California (and elsewhere) to be awarded a high school diploma in a graduation ceremony, find, when they enter the college to which they have been accepted and for which they believe themselves to have been academically prepared, that 37% or 46% or more of them, are judged not capable of college-level work and must enroll in remedial courses in order to (again) earn a place in college?

How terribly difficult could it be, I wonder, for the people who write the high school graduation exams (MCAS, TAKS, etc.) and the people who write the college-readiness exams, which find so many high school graduates unprepared, to sit down and look at each other’s tests and perhaps try to reconcile their expectations, so that high school students could find out sooner what they need to do to get ready for college work.

It is truly inexcusable for college educators to admit high school graduates and then find them incompetent to do college work, and at the same time to ignore the HS assessments being conducted to determine whether students should receive a high school diploma or not.

Some people have made a few efforts at articulation between colleges and high schools, but clearly the high percentage of our diploma-bearing high school graduates who are still being surprised by the results of college assessment tests shows that college educators don’t care enough to fix an articulation problem the consequences of which should not fall so heavily on so many of our unsuspecting and unprepared students.


"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®

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 10:38 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Green Charter School News

Environmental Charter High School (CA)

Michael Frome Academy (MN)

"Hands On, Feet Wet" at River Crossing Charter School (WI)

Yuba Environmental Science Charter Academy (CA)

Prairie Crossing Charter School (IL)

Laura Jeffrey Academy (MN)

Keyes to Learning Charter School (CA)

Rhinelander Environmental Stewardship Academy (WI)

River’s Edge Academy (MN)

Unity Charter School (NJ)

Earth Day is every day at green charter schools.

Former Wisconsin Governor, U.S. Senator, and Earth Day Founder Gaylord Nelson spoke often about the importance of educating young people about the environment and protection of natural resources.

Environment-focused charter schools offer choices in public education and empower young people to help make the world a better place for everyone and everything.

Green Charter Schools Network

Environmental Educaton Week

April 16 (Wednesday) at Madison -- GCSNet exhibit at Nelson Institute’s Earth Day Conference

April 21 (Monday) at Madison -- GCSNet session and exhibit at 2008 Wisconsin Charter Schools Conference in Madison

April 26 (Saturday) at Madison -- GCSNet exhibit at Isthmus Green Day Expo

May 13 (Tuesday) at Oshkosh - Environment-Focused Charter Schools Workshop. Morning session at EAA Lodge – Essential design components of charter schools with environment-focused educational programs and practices (Oakwood Environmental Education Charter School and River Crossing Charter School). Afternoon session at Oakwood Environmental Education Charter School and Sheldon Nature Area. Registration per person is only $25, which includes continental breakfast, lunch, program, and materials. For info, contact Senn Brown at

June 22-25 at New Orleans -- GCSNet sessions at the 2008 National Charter Schools Conference

Mid-August at Oshkosh -- Oakwood Environment-Focused Teachers Academy -- Elementary school teachers are invited to attend (free) a two-day academy in mid-August at the Oakwood Environmental Education Charter School in Oshkosh, WI. See program and registration info.

What’s NEXT? Linda Keane, new GCSNet member, is interested in strengthening the ability of schools to address environmental issues and design thinking across traditional curricula. She invites you to explore , an art + design + environmental eco-web community that connects the wealth of learning resources on the Internet with the wonders of the natural world.

Join GCSNet in fostering the growth of schools with environment-focused educational programs and practices

See "About GCSNet" (ATTACHED) for names of founding directors, GCSNet’s vision / mission, an "Ed Week" story and a MEMBER APPLICATION.

Learning comes naturally in green charter schools.

Senn Brown, * Executive Director
Green Charter Schools Network
5426 Greening Lane
Madison, WI 53705
Tel: 608-238-7491
* Founding Executive Secretary (2000-2007), Wisconsin Charter Schools Association

Posted by Senn Brown at 9:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Mayor's Failure to Consult Schools is a Bad Sign"

Lucy Mathiak:

I read with interest the Thursday editorial on "The mayor and the schools." As a member of the School Board, I agree that a closer working relationship and collaboration between the city and the Madison Metropolitan School District would be a positive thing. Certainly there are critical issues in planning, housing development patterns, transportation, zoning, and other matters that have a critical impact on our district in both the short and the long term.

For example, the "best planning practices" of infill have had a great deal to do with enrollment declines in isthmus schools by replacing family housing with condos. Decisions by the traffic engineering officials -- such as roundabouts at $1.2 million each -- have an impact on our budget. When the city annexes land on the periphery, it affects how and where we must provide schools; we do not have a right to refuse to also annex the students that go with the land.

Without a voice in decisions and processes, we are effectively at the mercy of the city on key issues that affect how we use the scarce resources that we have under state finance.

More on the Mayor's proposal here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:04 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Private Education: Is it Worth It?

The Economist:

FEE-PAYING schools have long played a giant part in public life in Britain, though they teach only 7% of its children. The few state-educated prime ministers (such as the current one) went to academically selective schools, now rare; a third of all MPs, more than half the appointed peers in the House of Lords, a similar proportion of the country's best-known journalists and 70% of its leading barristers were educated privately. There is no sign that the elevator from independent schools to professional prominence is slowing: nearly half of the undergraduates at Oxford and Cambridge were privately schooled too.

Many ambitious parents would like to set their children off on this gilded path. But there is a problem: the soaring cost. Fees at private day schools have more than doubled in the past 20 years, in real terms; those at boarding schools have risen even faster (see chart). Since 2000 fees have risen by at least 6% every year, according to Horwath Clark Whitehill, a consultancy—double retail-price inflation and half as much again as the growth in wages. If this continues, a four-year-old embarking on a career in private day schools this autumn will have cost his parents around £170,000 ($335,000) in today's money by the time he completes secondary school. So even though more Britons than ever before describe themselves as comfortably off, the share of children being educated privately is barely higher than it was two decades ago.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

More Cal State Students Need Remedial Classes

Sherry Saavedra:

Cal State schools are a long way from their goal of seeing 90 percent of entering freshmen ready for college-level work.

Instead, 37 percent of freshmen entered a California State University campus last fall needing remedial math, while 46 percent were unprepared for college-level English, according to new data.

Locally, a quarter of freshmen at San Diego State University started school needing remedial math; 48 percent at Cal State San Marcos needed it. About one-third of SDSU freshmen were not proficient in English, compared with more than half at Cal State San Marcos.

The CSU system pours millions of dollars into outreach efforts aimed at making high schoolers more prepared for college, and it often bails them out with remedial classes when they're not. But the past seven years have produced only modest improvements in math among Cal State's 23 campuses, and there have been no changes in English.

Since last year, the math proficiency rate improved by less than half a percentage point, but the English rate slid by triple that amount.

Students are often sent to remedial courses when they don't demonstrate proficiency on a CSU place

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

'Parenting Inc.' Explores High Price of Parenting

Talk of the Nation:

From ergonomic strollers, to sleep consultants, to professional potty training, child rearing has become a very big business. Author Pamela Paul discusses her new book, Parenting, Inc. and the aggressive marketing aimed at new moms and dads.

"Sometimes, spending a lot on children isn't just unnecessary; it's counterproductive," Paul writes. "Every parent I know is struggling to figure out how to afford a family without succumbing to the spiral of consumption that characterizes modern parenthood."

Paul says she was determined not to fill her house with baby junk. Then she had her baby.

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

It's harder to get into some of Rhode Island's charter schools than it is to get into the Ivy League.

Jennifer Jordan:

This spring marks the fourth in a row that Sara and Christopher Nerone will cross their fingers and apply to the Compass School, hoping that their daughter Sophie, 9, will finally be accepted to the free, public charter school in South Kingstown.

The Nerones will also try — for the third year — to get their younger daughter, Phoebe, 6, into the small, environmentally focused school, which emphasizes student projects rather than traditional textbook learning.

Chances are slim. It’s tougher to get into the Compass School than Harvard, which has a 9-percent acceptance rate. For the last couple of years, Compass has received about 200 applicants for 10 available spots, after giving 10 spaces to siblings of current students. The majority are kindergarten spots, plus a few last-minute openings each year in grades 1 through 8.

This year, 234 families have applied. That means more than 200 families will be disappointed when the Compass School holds its annual lottery this Wednesday.

Competition for Rhode Island’s charter schools is fierce. Nine of the state’s 11 charter schools are so popular, they conduct lotteries each spring to fill the few dozen places each has available. Hundreds of students languish on wait lists with little hope of ever getting in.

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

Concessions Program Helps Put Young People Back in the Game

Sopan Joshi:

Working the Mayorga Coffee stall 129 at Nationals Park, Charnika Burts has energy and a plan.

"I want to train to be a computer technician," she said. "I love computers."

Two years ago, Burts dropped out of Anacostia High School in her senior year, quit playing basketball and stopped thinking about a future. Soon she was drifting from one minimum-wage job to another.

"Every day I ask myself why I dropped out, and I still can't figure it out," she said. "Don't nobody get a decent job without a school diploma."

The ballpark coffee stall might be her ticket to getting back on track.

She is one of 25 D.C. teenagers recruited for a youth development program run by Juma Ventures, a San Francisco-based nonprofit group that helps people from ages 16 to 20 work stadium concession stands, most of them on the West Coast. The idea is to help them work their way toward higher education

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

April 15, 2008

High-schoolers find new interest in FFA

Ruben Navarrette:

Most of the high-school teens selling at today's livestock auction at the Maricopa County Fair are members of the National FFA Organization. But it doesn't mean they're all future farmers.

Sarah Carter, a senior at Dobson High School in Mesa and president of her school's FFA club, hopes to use profits from selling a goat she raised to help pay for college. She plans to be a veterinarian.

Students who take part in FFA are a holdover from an era when Future Farmers of America clubs were a bigger part of life in schools around the nation. However, fewer clubs today raise livestock. Instead, the group has evolved to focus more on biotechnology and other areas of science.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How to Lay Off a Teacher of the Year

Scott Lewis:

When the new grandiose Lincoln High opened to students this year, it attracted too many students. It also attracted a young teacher from Chula Vista, Guillermo Gomez.

I met Gomez at the teacher's lounge during lunch at Lincoln High recently. Gomez and his colleagues were planning marches and various ways to get their students to express their displeasure with proposed school budget cuts around the state -- cuts that, if fully implemented as proposed, would mean 913 school teachers would be laid off districtwide.

Gomez would be one of them. A year and a half ago, dressed in black formal wear and smiling, the young teacher accepted one of the four awards given each year to the "teachers of the year" in the county. He had been a teacher for 10 years at Vista Square Elementary School in Chula Vista.

Despite his success, the opportunity to teach at Lincoln High School's new School of Social Justice intrigued him, and Gomez moved not only into a classroom with older kids but into a new school district -- San Diego Unified. He says he took a $10,000 pay cut for the chance to teach at Lincoln.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Creative Nonfiction

There is a new genre of teenage writing in town: Creative Nonfiction. It allows high school students (mostly girls) to complete writing assignments and participate in "essay contests" by writing about their hopes, experiences, doubts, relationships, worries, victimization (if any), and parents, as well as more existential questions such as “How do I look?" and "What should I wear to school?"

This kind of writing is celebrated by Teen Voices, where teen girls can publish their thoughts about their hopes, experiences, doubts, relationships, worries, victimization (if any), and parents, etc. and by contests such as the one sponsored by Imagine, the magazine of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.

College admissions officers also ask applicants to write about themselves, rather than, for example, asking to see their best extended research paper from high school. The outcome is that many of our public high school graduates encounter college term paper assignments which ask them to learn and write about something other than themselves, and thanks to the kudzu of Creative Nonfiction, this they are unprepared to do.

How teen autobiography came to be a substitute for nonfiction reading and academic writing is a long story, but clearly many now feel that a pumped-up diary entry is worthy of prizes in high school “essay contests,” and may be required in college application materials.

Of course teen girls should write about anything they want in their diaries, that is what diaries are for, after all, but it is a crime and a shame to try to confine their academic writing experiences in such a small, and poorly-gilded, cage of expectations.

Since 1987, The Concord Review has published long serious history research papers by high school girls on such subjects as the trial of Anne Hutchinson, the Great Awakening, the reform efforts of Peter the Great, the Seneca Falls Convention, the administrative and doctrinal confusions after the merger between the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church in the fourth century, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah in 1857, among many hundreds of other academic topics.

Now that the President of Harvard, the Secretary of State, the CEO of Pepsi Cola and one of the principal presidential candidates are female, perhaps it is not too soon to revisit the notion that all high school girls must be asked to write about is themselves.

Of course high school girls like to think and write about themselves and their friends, just as many boys still like to play Grand Theft Auto–San Andreas, but why should that lead to the practice of limiting their academic writing to personal matters, whether that writing has been re-branded as “Creative Nonfiction” or not.

Shakespeare is still generally credited with good creative writing, even if it was not nonfiction, but at his elementary school in Stratford, according to a recent article in Academic Questions, he “would have studied Latin and Greek over the course of eight years, in a curriculum that exposed students to essential masters, including: Lucian, Demosthenes, Herodotus, Aristophanes, Homer, Euripides, Terence, Virgil, Horace, Cicero, Caesar, Salust, Origen, Basil, Jerome et al.” One can only speculate about how much more creative he would have been if he had been allowed to do some real Creative Nonfiction in school about his own daily personal life in Stratford!?

International competitions have shown us how poorly our high school students perform in math and science, but there is no international comparison of academic writing standards and performance that I know of. Perhaps that is lucky, as it seems likely that having our secondary students write about themselves most of the time has guaranteed that their writing would seem silly, superficial and solipsistic when compared with, for example, the International Baccalaureate Extended Essays, which are generally not about high school student hopes, experiences, doubts, relationships, worries, victimization (if any), parents, and those perennial dilemmas: “How do I look?” and “What should I wear to school?”

Of course we can do better. We have high school students tackling calculus, Chinese, chemistry, European history and many more challenging academic subjects. Why can’t we free them as well from the anti-knowledge, anti-intellectual and anti-academic Creative Nonfiction writing assignments which so many students are now being given on which to waste their precious time?

“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®

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 8:30 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Changing Look of the Milwaukee Public Schools

David Arbanas posts a useful graphic:

The Milwaukee public schools released their $1.2billion budget proposal yesterday. Alan Borsuk has more on the budget.:

Enrollment in the schools you first think of when you think of Milwaukee Public Schools is expected to shrink another 4.7% by September, Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said Monday as he released a $1.2 billion budget proposal for the coming school year.

That means the number of students in the main roster of MPS schools - elementary, middle and high schools staffed by teachers employed by MPS - will be 20% smaller than it was 10 years earlier and will be below 80,000 for the first time in decades. Half of that decline of more than 19,000 students will have come between fall 2005 and fall 2008, if the forecast is correct.

At the same time, participation in the private school voucher program may exceed 20,000 next year, MPS officials projected. That compares to about 6,000 students 10 years ago.

But the voucher growth is not the only aspect of the changing face of Milwaukee education. MPS officials forecast that the number of students living in the city who will use the state's open enrollment law to attend suburban public schools will be 4,196 in the coming school year. A decade ago it was zero.

Milwaukee's budget includes a school by school breakdown, which is rather useful.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:28 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Iowa Lawsuit: State is Failing to Educate Students

Megan Hawkins & Jennifer Jacobs:

The families allege that state officials have allowed the quality of Iowa's education system to significantly slip, so much so that high school graduates are inadequately prepared for college or the workplace.

"The quiet, ugly truth is that Iowa's educational system is but a shadow of its glorious past, and our leaders are whistling by its graveyard," the lawsuit says.

Pomerantz said that over the past 30 years he has lobbied for Iowa's education system to change. It hasn't, so Pomerantz said he had no choice but to back the lawsuit that asks the state to adopt measures such as creating a statewide, mandatory curriculum to ensure equal opportunities for all students.

A national expert said similar court cases have taken up to 10 years to resolve, and in most cases the courts are broad in their directives and reluctant to dictate to legislatures or schools specific steps to take. Other states have faced education equity lawsuits that mostly challenge whether schools have adequate resources. The Iowa lawsuit appears to be unique because it challenges programming available to students.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Apprenticeship, Illumination in a Modern-Day Atelier

Margot Adler:

“It is not teaching through critique ... it is teaching through saying, 'Yes,' and 'Why not try this,' and 'Yes, can you push this further?'”

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

April 14, 2008

Schools Ease Transition to High School

Dani McClain:

The transition to high school made Kayla Owens nervous.

Entering high school, I was getting ready for another step in my life: harder work, a different mind-set, different people.

She had been one of the older students at Hartford University School, a kindergarten through eighth-grade program on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, and didn't know what to expect at the all-girls Catholic school where she was headed.

"I was getting ready for another step in my life: harder work, a different mind-set, different people," said Owens, now a junior at St. Joan Antida High School.

This fall, the high school will launch a new program aimed at helping its first-year students - who come from dozens of feeder schools around the city - identify with their new school and get on the college prep path. The yearlong program will assign a team of teachers to work with ninth-graders on study skills and will try to get their parents involved from day one.

Many of the school's first-year students need early academic intervention, said Elizabeth Stengel, St. Joan Antida's admissions officer.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Choice: The Bad Good News

David Kirkpatrick:

In the ongoing debate over school choice in its various dimensions such as vouchers, tuition tax credits, charter schools, a stepping back to obtain a broader overview seems to be virtually nonexistent, or at least it is rare to find such an observation. The fact of the matter is that school choice is already a reality for the overwhelming majority of students and their parents.

The largest such category consists of those choosing the public school they attend. A few years ago a survey of public school parents as to why they live where they do found a majority, about 53%, said it was so the children could attend school in the district, or even to live in the attendance area of the specific school being used. Fifty-three percent of about 50,000,000 public school students is twenty-six million.

As an aside this leads to a few pertinent considerations as well. Opponents of school choice, especially of the use of vouchers, regularly base that opposition on the view that this would permit wholesale flight from the public schools. This, of course, is actually not just a weak defense of their position but strengthens the pro-voucher view because it is saying that students, or at least huge numbers of them, are being forced to attend public schools against their will and, in the words of former National Education Association (NEA) President Keith Geiger, they can't be allowed to "escape."

Moreover it shows a lack of awareness of the public opinion poll and its implication that 26 million students are not going to go anywhere, vouchers or no, since they are already where they and/or their parents want to be. And there are perhaps at least a few million more who are happy where they are but didn't show up in the poll because they aren't where they are because they specifically moved there for that purpose but coincidentally already lived where they find the schools to be satisfactory. However, that number, whatever it may be, will not be included here because its actual size is unknown.

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

Racine's 3 Superintendent Finalists Were all Bought Out of their Contracts

Pete Selkowe:

Let's put this in perspective:

When Tom Hicks, Racine Unified School District superintendent, was eased out last fall, he took with him about $200,000 in salary and benefits just for going away. The district paid the final year of his contract without Hicks having to work for it.

That's chicken feed compared to the payout received in 2006 by one of RUSD's three superintendent finalists when she was forced to resign. She got $279,000 -- a year's salary of more than $155,000, another $56,000 for benefits earned but not taken, and an extra $68,000. Plus, the board agreed to buy her $327,000 home.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Competition Improves Results in Many Areas, What About Schools?

Letters to the Wall Street Journal Editor regarding School Choice: Now More Than Ever:

We, of course, have school choice in America as long as those who choose a non-public school pay their own way.

The failure of some public schools to achieve academic excellence should not be used as an argument in favor of vouchers. The real issue is whether or not our present system of financing education affords all students freedom of choice in selecting a school -- public or private. Truly, the present system does not provide this freedom of choice.

Bob Meldrum
Harper Woods, Mich.

Mr. Riley presents a good argument illustrating the benefits of school choice replete with the results of studies on charter schools and the like. He doesn't need to limit the illustration to schools and school choice programs. The simple facts are that public schools in the U.S. are a state-run monopoly and that a free market will outperform a monopoly every time.

Do you really need a study to see freedom's superior ability to deliver goods and services that are actually needed and wanted? If so, there was a big study in the last century. It was called the Soviet Union. This century continues with several smaller studies -- Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea and Argentina, to name a few.

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

German Tots Learn to Answer Call of Nature

Mike Esterl:

Each weekday, come rain or shine, a group of children, ages 3 to 6, walk into a forest outside Frankfurt to sing songs, build fires and roll in the mud. To relax, they kick back in a giant "sofa" made of tree stumps and twigs.

The birthplace of kindergarten is returning to its roots. While schools and parents elsewhere push young children to read, write and surf the Internet earlier in order to prepare for an increasingly cutthroat global economy, some little Germans are taking a less traveled path -- deep into the woods.

Germany has about 700 Waldkindergärten, or "forest kindergartens," in which children spend their days outdoors year-round. Blackboards surrender to the Black Forest. Erasers give way to pine cones. Hall passes aren't required, but bug repellent is a good idea.

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

Texas Student Writing

She basically just writes about her feelings on anything of her choice and often is encouraged to just make things up as long as it is flowery and emotional. This is apparently what they look for on TAKS."
"It is no wonder that college professors think our Texas high-school graduates are not ready for college. The brutal fact is that they are not ready."

"An Expose of the TAKS Tests" (excerpts)
[TAKS: Texas Assessment of Knowledge/Skills
ELA: English/Language Arts]
by Donna Garner
Education Policy Commentator
10 April 2008

....Please note that each scorer spends approximately three minutes to read, decipher, and score each student's handwritten essay. (Having been an English teacher for over 33 years, I have often spent over three minutes just trying to decipher a student's poor handwriting.) Imagine spending three minutes to score an entire two-page essay that counts for 22 % of the total score and determines whether a student is allowed to take dual-credit courses. A student cannot take dual-credit classes unless he/she makes a "3" or a "4" on the ELA TAKS essay...

...The scorers spend only about three minutes scanning the essays and do not grade students down for incorrect grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization unless the errors interfere significantly with the communication of ideas. Students are allowed to use an English language dictionary and a thesaurus throughout the composition portion of the test, and they can spend as much time on the essay as they so choose...

On April 5, 2008, a worried parent sent me the following e-mail:

Hi Donna,

“Our 3rd graders are taking a district wide 4th grade writing benchmark this week...Because (name of her daughter) was sick, I got to see her initial work because the teacher sent it home to be redone. What do you know... the comments on it were ‘not catchy enough’; ‘how did this make you feel’; and ‘needs more adjectives.’ The only thought organization was a ‘word web’ (looks like a wheel w/different paragraphs relating to the main topic on the spokes...At this point (3rd grade) the kids should be learning how to do research for papers, how to organize their thoughts for the papers, and how to draft the papers. My kids know none of this. But they sure are learning about flowery, descriptive writing (with little organization behind the writing)! I will be tutoring them over the summer on how to put together and write both research and persuasive essays in order to get them ready for private school in the fall since this is what they are learning in the private schools.”


Several years ago I had a unique dialogue with an experienced ELA TAKS scorer (grader). In the course of our e-mails, she revealed that she had never been a teacher. In fact, she said that most of the scorers were not teachers because the ELA TAKS is given in February. She stated that 200+ scorers were usually required per grade level (4th, 7th, 9th, 10th, and exit level). She said that she had a degree in English, but her e-mails to me were filled with grammatical/usage errors. She told me that she worked for Pearson Educational Measurement which had a contract with the TEA to score both the multiple-choice and short-answer portions and that the graders were hired and trained based upon TEA requirements.


More important than any other problem with the ELA TAKS is that the test drives classroom instruction. “Whatever is tested is what teachers are going to teach.” Because the TAKS essay is overly weighted (i.e., “2 Rule” and conjunctive policy), students and their teachers do not see a real reason to spend much time on correct grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. Therefore, in their compositions and in their speaking, students are not being expected to follow standard English. Playing the “TAKS game” has become more important than paying attention to basic writing skills.

Texas public-school English teachers used to teach their students the four different modes of paragraph writing—expository, persuasive, descriptive, and narrative. Students could easily understand these terms: expository exposes facts; persuasive persuades; descriptive describes; and narrative tells a story.Students learned how to weave smoothly all four modes of writing into their compositions as needed.

Along came the ELA TAKS, and personal victimization narratives became the norm. Instead of students’ writing solid fact-based persuasive essays with good argumentative content and a substantial amount of expository information based upon actual knowledge, students are now taught to emote.

“Voice” has become the big factor toward a student’s receiving a “4.” Voice is a literary term that basically means “personality.” Students have learned the way to “play the TAKS game” is to reveal something personal about themselves, give their opinions and feelings, and tap into an emotion usually through explaining how they have been a victim of society. Students’ compositions have to demonstrate uniqueness in order to catch the grader’s eye, and many students have learned to fabricate persona. This informal style welcomes dialect, poor grammar, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. I have received e-mails from experienced teachers who have told me they had minority students with serious syntax problems who made passing grades on the TAKS essay yet had other students with good writing skills who failed.

This is an example of an essay prompt from the TAKS Released Version, Exit Level, July 2006: “Write an essay explaining the value of the small, everyday events of life.” The more students can spin their tales of adversity, the higher their TAKS essay grades will be—even if students have to make up examples. In essence, Texas schools are teaching students to lie.

Then when Texas students get to college and have to write their first formal expository or persuasive compositions, they simply saturate them with “voice,” personal opinions, experiences, and emotions—no real fact-based substance or deep content. It is no wonder that college professors think our Texas high-school graduates are not ready for college. The brutal fact is that they are not ready.

One concerned parent of a college student told me recently that she is very worried about the dumbing down of her daughter’s college course. The daughter is a student in a major Texas university. So many of the students in her class have not written formal research papers that the professor has been forced to lower his expectations. Now the students present their research in a poster format. The student puts together his/her poster, displays it, and answers questions orally.

Just a few weeks ago, an assistant superintendent in a Central Texas school district sent me the following e-mail:


“Our students had to score a ‘3’ on the ELA Exit Level essays in order to be eligible for English 1301/dual credit at MCC (Community College). Last Monday the professor came to school to sit down with each individual and explain why he had scored their papers so low. They were covered in red marks, and our students were crushed by the grades. He wanted no flowery and fluffy language but wanted substantive persuasive and expository content!”

These students take the ELA TAKS in February, school ends in May, and in August they have to be ready to write to a new style under much more rigorous expectations. This school year, the teachers will have less time to prepare these dual-credit students because the TAKS ELA has been moved to March...

On October 23, 2007, the Houston Chronicle ran a story telling about a writing program between the University of Texas and college-bound seniors at Houston Jack Yates High School. Jim Warren, a University of Texas postdoctoral fellow, is coordinating the program. “Jim Warren...noted even accomplished writers can be in for an unpleasant surprise when they hit a mandatory freshman writing course at UT. ‘We were getting a lot of students who were under-prepared to read and write as we asked them to do...Warren said most high school students have little experience with analytical writing because they’re coached to master narrative skills needed to score well on TAKS tests. But narrative sentences...won’t cut the mustard in college rhetoric courses.’”

This is a comment posted by “A Parent” on on April 3, 2008:

Comment #15 (Posted by A Parent) Rating:

“...My daughter is a public school student, and we plan to pull her out of school at the end of this year. We will enroll her in a highly respected and rigorous private school. While her English class is very “fun” and she likes her teacher, we feel she is learning almost nothing about writing and the class reads very little. Nearly all of the writing she does is something called an “OP”. She basically just writes about her feelings on anything of her choice and often is encouraged to just make things up as long as it is flowery and emotional. This is apparently what they look for on TAKS. We’re not experts, but this doesn’t seem to teach her how to think logically (but then again she is a teenager). We have not seen a single essay that is persuasive or expository, and we are worried that she will not learn how to write papers correctly for college someday. We have not seen any instruction that teaches her to organize her thoughts or support a thesis coherently. I wish I could say that this is an off year, but most of her English classes have been like this. When we see that so many college students need remediation in English, reading and math it is a little scary...”


"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®

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at 8:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Milwaukee City Leaders See Role in Schools

Larry Sandler:

A new term could bring a new emphasis on education to City Hall, as elected officials push for a stronger voice on an issue they say is vital to Milwaukee's future.

Otherwise, many of the issues will be familiar when a new term starts Tuesday for Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council.

Such perennial themes as economic development, public safety, transportation, taxes and state aid will continue to dominate the agenda over the next four years, Barrett and leading aldermen said in separate interviews.

On April 1, voters re-elected Barrett and 13 of 15 aldermen by comfortable margins. New to the council will be Aldermen-elect Milele Coggs, who defeated the jailed Ald. Michael McGee, and Nik Kovac, replacing Ald. Mike D'Amato, who did not seek re-election. Both the new and returning officials will be sworn in Tuesday.

Madison's Mayor appears to be paying more attention to our public schools, as well.

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

Dumbing Down, Then and Now

John Leo:

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina , Kansas , USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina , KS , and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

8th Grade Final Exam:

Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie', 'play', and 'run.'
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 65 minutes)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:15 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Character Counts, But Not by Race

Mona Charen:

The public schools, perhaps more than any other institution in American life, are afflicted with "sounds good" syndrome. Let's teach kids about the dangers of smoking. Sounds good. Let's improve math scores with a new curriculum called "whole math." Sounds good. Let's reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases by teaching sex ed. Sounds good. Let's have cooperative learning where kids help one another. And so on.

The Fairfax County, Va., schools (where my children attend) recently joined a nationwide "sounds good" trend by introducing a character education curriculum. Students were exhorted to demonstrate a number of ethical traits like (I quote from my son's elementary school's website) "compassion, respect, responsibility, honesty." It would be easy to mock the program -- each trait, for example, is linked to a shape (respect is a triangle, honesty is a star). The intention to help mold character is a laudable one. But this program, like so much else about the public schools in the "sounds good" era, has foundered.

The curriculum made news recently when a report ordered by the school board evaluated student conduct for "sound moral character and ethical judgment" and then grouped the results by race. Oh, dear. It seems that among third graders, 95 percent of white students received a grade of "good" or better, whereas only 86 percent of Hispanic kids did that well and only 80 percent of black and special education students were so rated.

Martina A. "Tina" Hone, an African-American member of the school board, told the Washington Post that the decision to aggregate the evaluations by race was "potentially damaging and hurtful."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Indianapolis Schools: 1 Licensed Teacher Not Teaching per 53 Students

Andy Gammill:

When the superintendent brought in auditors to look at the Indianapolis Public Schools bus operation in December, the department couldn't say how many routes it runs each day. Auditors had to guess.

When the school district tried to dismiss 14 administrators this year, it missed a deadline to notify the employees and now must pay their full salaries for another year.

Although the district struggles to hire teachers and is chronically short-staffed, it has 10,000 job applications that have never been reviewed.

That confusion and lack of oversight represent what may be the biggest challenge to the state's largest school district as it continues efforts to reform.

Over the past three years, Superintendent Eugene White has tackled classroom shortcomings such as weak teaching and poor discipline. Now he has started to remake the crippling bureaucracy behind practices that are often inefficient, sometimes illegal and occasionally dangerous to children.

Others before him have tried, only to be defeated by a culture steeped in an attitude of "this, too, shall pass."
"I've heard it ever since 1971 that I've been in IPS: 'Just wait it out,' " said Jane Ajabu, the district's personnel director. "Unfortunately, the people in the district have adopted the attitude of: 'It's mediocre, it's ineffective, that's just how it is.' "

Large urban school districts are notoriously inefficient, and at least one measure suggests IPS may be worse than other Indiana districts. Its bureaucracy has an unusually high proportion of licensed educators working outside classrooms.

For every 53 students, IPS has one licensed educator working in a nonteaching job. Across the state, only Gary Public Schools has as high a ratio of administrators to students. Other Marion County districts have 86 to 156 students per licensed educator in a job outside the classroom.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:15 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Inside the Middle Class: Bad Times Hit the Good Life

Pew Research Center:

This report on the attitudes and lives of the American middle class combines results of a new Pew Research Center national public opinion survey with the center's analysis of relevant economic and demographic trend data from the Census Bureau. Among its key findings:

Fewer Americans now than at any time in the past half century believe they're moving forward in life.

Americans feel stuck in their tracks. A majority of survey respondents say that in the past five years, they either haven't moved forward in life (25%) or have fallen backwards (31%). This is the most downbeat short-term assessment of personal progress in nearly half a century of polling by the Pew Research Center and the Gallup organization.

When asked to measure their progress over a longer time frame, Americans are more upbeat. Nearly two-thirds say they have a higher standard of living than their parents had when their parents were their age.

Related: Latest local school budget and referendum discussion.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Running L8 But CU Soon. Luv, Mom

Cecilia Kang:

OMG. Dat u mom?

Yes, it is. Parents are horning in on their teenagers' lives through text messaging. Sending shorthand cellphone messages used to be the province of the younger set -- under the dinner table, in the car, at all hours of the night.

Now, parents are responding with their own quick dispatches -- "RU there," "Running L8" -- and becoming the fastest-growing demographic in text messaging, which is one of the biggest areas of the mobile-phone industry

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

April 13, 2008

10 Facts About US K-12 Education

US Department of Education:

The U.S. Constitution leaves the responsibility for public K-12 education with the states.

The responsibility for K-12 education rests with the states under the Constitution. There is also a compelling national interest in the quality of the nation's public schools. Therefore, the federal government, through the legislative process, provides assistance to the states and schools in an effort to supplement, not supplant, state support. The primary source of federal K-12 support began in 1965 with the enactment of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Math report recommends teachers focus on basic skills

Lisa Schencker:

The report's key recommendations include, for grades PreK-8, spending more time teaching fewer concepts and focusing more on basic skills critical to learning algebra such as whole numbers, fractions and aspects of geometry and measurement. "It has a lot of implications for math instruction not just in Utah but throughout the country," said Brenda Hales, Utah state associate superintendent.

This week, a month after the national panel released its findings, 10,000 math teachers from across the country and several panel members gathered in Salt Lake City and discussed the panel's recommendations as part of the annual math teachers' conference.

Some educators said they might not be able slow down and teach fewer topics more in-depth as the report recommends because states and the federal government require them to teach and test on a certain number of topics each year under No Child Left Behind.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:30 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Looking Back, Looking Forward: A Chat with Melania Alvarez

While working on another project, I came across the transcript of an interview I did with Melania Alvarez in early 2004. Melania was an MMSD parent and an assessment analyst at the UW-Madison prior to leaving the area shortly after the election (Melania lost to Johnny Winston, Jr in April, 2004 - Winston's transcript).

I found the transcript interesting. The topics discussed in 2004 certainly apply today, from curriculum to school discipline/violence and the budget.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Free Range Kids"

Lenore Skenazy:

I left my 9-year-old at Bloomingdale’s (the original one) a couple weeks ago. Last seen, he was in first floor handbags as I sashayed out the door.

Bye-bye! Have fun!

And he did. He came home on the subway and bus by himself.

RELATED: Listen to Ms. Skenazy on WNYC.

Was I worried? Yes, a tinge. But it didn’t strike me as that daring, either. Isn’t New York as safe now as it was in 1963? It’s not like we’re living in downtown Baghdad.

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

April 12, 2008

Monona Grove Hires a New Superintendent

Karyn Saeman:

Craig Gerlach will be the next superintendent of the Monona Grove School District.

Gerlach's selection was announced Wednesday night at a School Board meeting in Cottage Grove.

Speaking briefly after sitting through more than an hour of contentious debate over the proposed sharing of a principal at two elementary schools, Gerlach joked, "this has been a learning experience. If I want to make an exit, I should do it right now."

The father of two said he was attracted to Monona Grove because of its reputation.

"You have a lot of great things going for your school district," Gerlach said. "You've got a rich history of educational success."

"I know you have issues," he continued, but "they're not issues that are uncommon to other school districts in the state."

"I don't have all the answers," Gerlach admitted, but said he looked forward to moving the district ahead. "It's exciting to be here," he said.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Lacking Credits, Some Students Learn a Shortcut

Elissa Gootman:

Dennis Bunyan showed up for his first-semester senior English class at Wadleigh Secondary School in Harlem so rarely that, as he put it, “I basically didn’t attend.”

But despite his sustained absence, Mr. Bunyan got the credit he needed to graduate last June by completing just three essay assignments, which he said took about 10 hours.

“I’m grateful for it, but it also just seems kind of, you know, outrageous,” Mr. Bunyan said. “There’s no way three essays can possibly cover a semester of work.”

Mr. Bunyan was able to graduate through what is known as credit recovery — letting those who lack credits make them up by means other than retaking a class or attending traditional summer school. Although his principal said the makeup assignments were as rigorous as regular course work, Mr. Bunyan’s English teacher, Charan Morris, was so troubled that she boycotted the graduation ceremony, writing in an e-mail message to students that she believed some were “being pushed through the system regardless of whether they have done the work to earn their diploma.”

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:44 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Project GRAD

Currently, only 70 percent of all students in public high schools graduate and this number drops to just 53 percent of students from low income families. By the end of fourth grade, low income students, by various measures, are already two years behind other students. By the time these students reach 8th grade, they are three grade levels behind in reading and math. If they reach 12th grade, low-income and minority student achievement levels are about four years behind those of other young people. Low graduation rates are evidence that, in the earlier grades, schools are not meeting the fundamental achievement needs of low-income students.

The bottom line should be alarming for all Americans. A very high proportion of our students are leaving public schools unprepared to gain access to our country’s economic, social and political opportunities. As we strive to become a nation in which no child is left behind, all U.S. public school students deserve the opportunity to graduate from high school and college.

Getting into UCLA.

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

April 11, 2008

Poole council spies on family over school claim

Telegraph UK

A council has used powers intended for anti-terrorism surveillance to spy on a family who were wrongly accused of lying on a school application form.

For two weeks the middle-class family was followed by council officials who wanted to establish whether they had given a false address within the catchment area of an oversubscribed school to secure a place for their three-year-old.

The "spies" made copious notes on the movements of the mother and her three children, who they referred to as "targets" as they were trailed on school runs. The snoopers even watched the family home at night to establish where they were sleeping.

In fact, the 39-year-old mother - who described the snooping as "a grotesque invasion of privacy" - had held lengthy discussions with the council, which assured her that her school application was totally in order.

Poole borough council disclosed that it had legitimately used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to spy on the family.

This has led to fears that parents all over the country could be monitored by councils cracking down on those who bend the rules to get their children into a good school.

The Act was pushed through by the Government in 2000 to allow police and other security agencies to carry out surveillance on serious organised crime and terrorists. It has since been taken up by councils to catch those carrying out any "criminal activity".

The mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: "I'm incensed that legislation designed to combat terrorism can be turned on a three-year-old. It was very creepy when we found out that people had been watching us and making notes.

Posted by Larry Winkler at 12:36 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"The time for school change is now: We should get serious about minority achievement"

Steve Braunginn:

Now that Madison School Supt. Art Rainwater is on his way to retirement, it's time to reexamine programs, staffing and curricula throughout the district.

Let's face it, again. African American and Latino academic achievement pales in comparison to that of white and Asian American students, though some segments of the Southeast Asian community struggle as well.

Daniel Nerad, the new superintendent, should dust off all the research that the district has gathered over the past 40 years, look at the recent studies pointing to excellence in education and put together a new approach to ending the achievement gap.

Things are already cooking at the Ruth Doyle Administration Building. Restructuring the high schools is in the works. Pam Nash, former Memorial High School principal and now assistant superintendent for secondary schools, is taking on this enormous task. Based on her work at Memorial, she's the right person for the task.

Nash acknowledges the concerns and complaints of African American parents, educators and community leaders. It's time to raise those achievement scores and graduation rates. She's fully aware of a solid approach that didn't fare well with Rainwater, so she's left to figure out what else can be done.

First, let's acknowledge the good news.

Clusty Search: Steve Braunginn.

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

Milwaukee Schools Join National Testing (NAEP)

Alan Borsuk:

"The Nation's Report Card" is going to start giving grades for Milwaukee Public Schools.

Milwaukee was named Thursday as one of seven urban school districts that will join the testing program of the National Assessment of Education Progress. NAEP is the closest thing to a nationwide testing program at levels below college admission tests. The government-funded organization that runs NAEP has trade-marked the "Nation's Report Card" label for the program.

NAEP results released last week showed that Wisconsin eighth-graders were doing a bit better than the nation in writing skills, but that among African-Americans students, Wisconsin had the lowest scores in the United States and the second-widest gap between white and black kids in the nation.

There were no results for Milwaukee specifically in that round of testing, or in earlier tests that showed huge gaps in Wisconsin between white and black students in reading and math.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:57 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wall of silence broken at state's Muslim public school

Katherine Kersten:

Recently, I wrote about Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), a K-8 charter school in Inver Grove Heights. Charter schools are public schools and by law must not endorse or promote religion.

Evidence suggests, however, that TIZA is an Islamic school, funded by Minnesota taxpayers.

TIZA has many characteristics that suggest a religious school. It shares the headquarters building of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, whose mission is "establishing Islam in Minnesota." The building also houses a mosque. TIZA's executive director, Asad Zaman, is a Muslim imam, or religious leader, and its sponsor is an organization called Islamic Relief.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Ill Prepared Students Flood Iowa Community Colleges"

Lisa Rossi:

Nearly one-third of freshmen at Iowa's community colleges took at least one remedial course last fall, but an even larger percentage of the freshmen needed additional high-school-level instruction in one or more subject areas, a Des Moines Register survey has found.

The trend has educators frustrated and concerned.

While community colleges have long accepted that part of their role is to be a bridge between high schools and four-year colleges and universities, some community college advocates are becoming exasperated with the number of ill-prepared students arriving from high schools.

"I just think it's unfortunate that such a large percentage of students who arrive at our door are in need of additional remediation to come up to the college level," said M.J. Dolan, executive director of the Iowa Association of Community College Trustees.

The Register's survey of the community colleges found that 31.5 percent of incoming freshmen last fall took one or more remedial courses to improve their understanding of certain academic subjects.

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

April 10, 2008

My Daughters Are Fine, but I’ll Never Be the Same

Harriet Brown:

For a parent, there is no sorrow deeper or more encompassing than the loss of a child. But there is another that approaches it, and that, paradoxically, is grief averted — the grief of the narrow escape when a child comes close to death but survives.

No matter what the cause — illness or accident, cataclysm or slow decline — a child’s close call reverberates through the rest of a parent’s life. Those of us who have experienced it are marked forever by our child’s brush with the unimaginable.

Within the span of 18 months, both my daughters contracted illnesses that might have killed them. My younger daughter, then 8, developed Kawasaki disease, a childhood illness that could fatally damage the heart. She spent five days in the hospital and months convalescing at home.

Four years later, she still gets every virus that comes around; a rough patch in the middle of one cheek flares up when she is tired or upset. But her heart is fine and so, as far as we know, is her prognosis.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:22 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Pride in public schools fuels positive involvement

Joe Fitzgerald:

According to her job description, West Roxbury’s Kathleen Colby is the YMCA’s liaison to the classrooms of this city, charged with assuring parents that Boston public schools offer “good and valid options” for their children.

That, of course, challenges a widely held assumption that public education in this city is a wasteland.

“I’ve heard that, too,” she said. “Absolutely. And the people who make that assumption are absolutely wrong. There are fabulous things happening in this city that no one knows about because no one writes about them.”

When the Y created the job five years ago, Colby was such an obvious candidate that she began receiving calls and e-mails from friends and teachers, urging her to apply.

“It’s not a job as much as it’s a passion,” she explained. “I’ve been talking about our schools for years because of what my own kids have experienced. We’ve received so much that I just can’t help wanting to give something back.”

Colby's son is a student at Boston's Latin School. BLS is part of the Boston public schools but "admits students on a competitive basis".

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Technology in the Madison Schools

I am the parent of 2 children, one in first grade and the other soon to enter Kindergarten. I recently registered my child for Kindergarten where I was handed a very helpful folder with lots of great information in it. It had pictures of children learning in various contexts and text touting the wonderful education Madison children receive. The curious thing is that in the center of the folder is a picture of children using computers that are most likely more than 10 years old. Across the picture in large print it says "Welcome to Madison's Award Winning Schools!" Opposite the picture is a paragraph stating that there is a 4 to 1 computer ratio and that computers are integral to the K-12 instructional program. While I don't doubt all this to be true, just how old is that computer that is "integral" to my child's instructional program? Is my child getting the experiences that meet today's standards for knowledge in this area? While this is just a picture, it caused me to look around my daughter's school and to talk to a few teachers. What I learned was appalling.

Many teachers do their grades at home, not because of time, but because their classroom computer is so old and slow that it freezes on them or times out during an upload and they lose all of their data. I was stunned and confused. We as parents have been hearing about this new system that will allow us better access to seeing how our kids are doing in school and yet the teachers can't even enter data from their classrooms. Should we not be embarrassed as a district? Can we really claim truth in the text filled folds of the aforementioned folder?

I know there are many academic standards which drive curriculum. These standards also include technology standards. In fact the federal government through Title II Part D Enhancing Education Through Technology Program allocates funds to the DPI for which school districts can then apply for grants with the specific goal to:

"improve student academic achievement through the use of technology in elementary and secondary schools. It is also designed to assist every student – regardless of race, ethnicity, income, geographical location, or disability – in becoming technologically literate by the end of eighth grade, and to encourage the effective integration of technology resources and systems with professional development and curriculum development to promote research-based instructional methods that can be widely replicated."

Perhaps MMSD does apply for funds, but if so, where are they? Do they not make it to our elementary schools? Are they being used for something else? How are our students to become technologically literate by the end of 8th grade when the equipment they have to work on is so slow and out dated that rather than being productive it becomes an exercise in frustration? If it isn't an exercise in frustration my suspicion is the programs that are being used and taught to our kids are yesterday's technology rather than today's, as that is the only technology that could perhaps run on their current machines. I'm sure students are learning some keyboarding skills and drawing tools which are important. But, are they getting access to working with digital photos, video, creating their own publications, Internet search skills for researching topics they are studying, learning about authors whose books they are reading, participating in Project Lemonade ( and many other educational ventures appropriate for elementary students? I'd be surprised if any of this could be done successfully on the equipment currently in the classroom and in many of the elementary computer lab classrooms throughout the district.

Madison won awards for educational excellence but that was long ago. It is now 2008, what are we doing to keep up? We can't keep riding on our old fame. I'm glad to see so many new faces in the school board and perhaps with a new superintendent at the helm we will be in a better position to start "catching up" to where we should be if we are living up to the spirit of the language on our "welcome to MMSD" folders.

Thoughts of a concerned parent...

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

NY Legislators Balk at Tying Teacher Tenure to Student Tests

Danny Hakim & Jeremy Peters:

In the latest rebuke to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s agenda, state lawmakers have decided to bar student test scores from being considered when teacher tenure determinations are made.

Legislators said the move was the final detail negotiated as part of the budget, which they expect to complete on Wednesday. It was a setback to efforts by the mayor and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer to hold teachers accountable by using student performance data, and a boon for the teachers’ unions, which hold enormous influence over the political process in the capital.

The new language being prepared for the state law says that for the next two years student scores will not be considered in decisions on teachers’ tenure; in the meantime, a commission is to be created to study the issue.

The move was denounced Tuesday night by the Bloomberg administration.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools ignored abuse warnings for 2 decades

John Iwasaki:

Seattle Public Schools will pay $3 million for failing to act on dozens of warnings that a popular teacher was molesting some of his fifth-grade students, a pattern that lasted two decades.

The most abused girl will receive $2.5 million, which her attorney said will be the largest reported settlement paid by a school district in Washington to a single victim in a sex-abuse case.

Under the settlement, approved Monday in King County Superior Court, the district acknowledged negligence in failing to protect two girls from Laurence "Shayne" Hill, 58, who has admitted to molesting at least seven girls while teaching at Broadview-Thomson Elementary in North Seattle.

The girls' lawyers said the district protected Hill even though at least 15 teachers and staff members made at least 30 reports to administrators that he was grabbing girls' buttocks and having them sit on his lap, sometimes in darkened classrooms, since the mid-1980s.

Related by Doug Erickson & Andy Hall: Former Waunakee educational assistant wasn't reported by the Madison Schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

University opens up with more free course options

The Standard:

ARTS AND HISTORY, business and management, education, social sciences, languages and information technology will be covered in 10 more units of courseware that have been added to the Open University of Hong Kongs suite of free courseware on the web.
New units include The Development of the Chinese Communist Party (1927-1937), which introduces the establishment of the party and explains Mao Zedongs rise to power.

Apart from the learning materials such as text, maps and charts, an audio clip of a lecture is also included to help people better understand the course and the influence of the Long March. References and recommended book lists are also given as supplements.

Those seeking additional business knowledge can choose Management and Developments in Management Thinking and The Mathematics of Finance.

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

April 9, 2008

Wisconsin Virtual school bill a bright spot

Patrick Marley & Steven Walters:

The new law guarantees the online schools can open this fall. Their future was in doubt after an appeals court ruled in December that one school - the Wisconsin Virtual Academy run by the Northern Ozaukee School District - did not qualify for state aid of $5,845 per student.

The measure was a workable compromise that allows the schools to continue while the effect of the virtual school system on students and taxpayers is studied, Doyle spokeswoman Jessica Erickson said in a statement.

Rose Fernandez, president of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families, said in a statement her group would fight to remove the cap but hailed the new law for keeping the schools open.

"This was grassroots democracy at its finest; a blow to powerful special interests; and, most important, a win for Wisconsin's children," she said in her statement.

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

One bright spot as the Legislature adjourned its regular business for the year was a compromise allowing virtual schools to stay open.

Gov. Jim Doyle signed Senate Bill 396 into law Monday, capping an unfortunate roller-coaster ride for the parents and their 3,400 children who attend about a dozen online schools across Wisconsin.

The bill modernizes out-of-date state laws that failed to anticipate the advent of certain students learning from home over the Internet.

The bill also improves accountability and instruction for online schools.

Only certified teachers will be allowed to develop lesson plans and grade assignments. Teachers must be trained to effectively teach online and respond quickly to student and parent inquiries.

Much more on virtual schools here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:59 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Toronto School Board Considers Scaling Back Homework

Sara Bennett:

After three months of reviewing research on homework and meeting with parents, principals, and teachers, the Toronto, Canada, School District Board is now taking a very close look at a new proposed homework policy. The proposal focuses on quality, not quantity, suggests that homework in the early grades be limited to reading, talks at length about the value of family time, and recommends that all homework assignments be differentiated.

The draft proposal, although not perfect, is one of the very best I’ve seen short of those recommending abolition of homework and is definitely worth reading. If you’re trying to change homework policy in your community, there is very good language that you might want to adopt. Read it here [PDF].

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

Today's college students have tuned out the world, and it's partly our fault

Ted Gup:

I teach a seminar called "Secrecy: Forbidden Knowledge." I recently asked my class of 16 freshmen and sophomores, many of whom had graduated in the top 10 percent of their high-school classes and had dazzling SAT scores, how many had heard the word "rendition."

Not one hand went up.

This is after four years of the word appearing on the front pages of the nation's newspapers, on network and cable news, and online. This is after years of highly publicized lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and international controversy and condemnation. This is after the release of a Hollywood film of that title, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, and Reese Witherspoon.

I was dumbstruck. Finally one hand went up, and the student sheepishly asked if rendition had anything to do with a version of a movie or a play.

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

April 8, 2008

Madison Busing to Continue for Most Madison Catholic Schools


he MMSD finance and operations committee of the school board on Tuesday voted to approve a plan to continue bus services for Madison's Catholic schools. MMSD provides bus transportation under state law.

Under the plan, two schools, Queen of Peace and St. Maria Goretti, will adjust their schedules so they can share a bus. The kindergarten noon bus at St. Dennis will be discontinued, as will bus service to Edgewood. The eliminations would affect a handful of families and they will receive vouchers from MMSD to cover the cost of private transportation.

The school schedule adjustments and two route cancellations will save the public schools about $140,000 a year, according to MMSD officials.

The Madison School District eliminated private school busing last spring - a decision that was undone via an adminstrative snafu.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:17 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

In India, Dreams Unfold in English

Rama Lakshmi:

Life has never been better for Pankaj Srivastava, a tall, soft-voiced insurance manager. He surpassed his business targets and has been promoted twice. His company sends him to conferences all over India and is rewarding him with a three-day vacation in Dubai.

But the faster he rises, the more anxious he gets.

"I am in the big league now. But everybody at this level speaks English, and I don't," Srivastava said in a mix of Hindi and broken English. "I stay in hotels where even the waiters speak English. At the conferences, I stay quiet because I don't want them to laugh at my English."

So for the past week, he has been attending a conversational English class at an establishment here called Uma's English Academy.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Nebraska's Legislature Approves Statewide Testing

Jeffrey Robb:

Giving up Nebraska's unique way of measuring academic accountability for uniform statewide tests would have a different impact depending on which school district your child attends.

Take the neighboring Millard and Papillion-La Vista school districts, for example.

In Millard, the district's system includes tests taken at the end of a grade level, similar to the type of tests that the Legislature gave final approval Monday. If new statewide reading, math and science tests are added, the district would consider dropping one of its current tests for every new statewide test put in place, Superintendent Keith Lutz said.

"It shouldn't be overly burdensome," he said.

But Jef Johnston, Papillion-La Vista's assistant superintendent for curriculum, said the statewide tests would mean an additional layer of testing for his district.

Papillion-La Vista's current tests are given throughout a course, similar to unit tests. Johnston said that type of testing would continue because it matches up best with the district's curriculum and better measures what students are learning.

"We'll have to continue testing what we teach," he said.

Johnston said time will be taken away from instruction for the statewide tests.

Both sides of Nebraska's testing debate have tried to portray their opponents as burdening the state's classrooms with tests.

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

"Worst Rank" Doesn't belong to Kids Alone

Eugene Kane:

It was a bold headline, befitting the seriousness of the problem: "State black 8th-graders rank worst In nation in writing."

And it was pretty damning stuff when you consider we're talking about 14-year-old kids here.

The Journal Sentinel's front-page headline last Friday pointed an accusing finger squarely at young African-American students in Wisconsin who apparently can't keep up with their contemporaries. The worst writing students in the nation, that's what national data found when it came to Wisconsin's black students, including the distinction of having the lowest average scores and worst gap between black and white students anywhere.

These depressing results were taken from a national study often referred to as "The Nation's Report Card," which means this is one test we flunked badly. There's always plenty of blame to go around when things get this dismal. I'm talking teachers, principals, politicians, business leaders, and of course, the parents of all those low-achieving students. But don't worry about blaming the kids.

They already got theirs in that screaming headline.

2007 NAEP Writing Report. Alan Borsuk's article.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:26 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School’s New Rule for Pupils in Trouble: No Fun

Winnie Hu:

Like a bouncer at a nightclub, Melissa Gladwell was parked at the main entrance of Cheektowaga Central Middle School on Friday night, with a list of 150 names highlighted in yellow marker, the names of students barred from the after-hours games, crafts and ice cream because of poor grades or bad attitudes.

“You’re ineligible,” Ms. Gladwell, a sixth-grade teacher, told one boy, who turned around without protest. “That happens. I think they think we’re going to forget.”

In a far-reaching experiment with disciplinary measures reminiscent of old-style Catholic schools or military academies, the Cheektowaga district this year began essentially grounding middle school students whose grade in any class falls below 65, or who show what educators describe as a lack of effort.

Such students — more than a quarter of the 580 at the school as of last week — are excluded from all aspects of extracurricular life, including athletic contests, academic clubs, dances and plays, unless they demonstrate improvement on weekly progress reports filled out by their teachers.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Milwaukee Special Education Lawsuit Settled

Dani McClain:

According to that statement, the settlement includes the appointment of an outside authority, paid by DPI, to monitor MPS’s compliance with state and federal special education law and establish standards for MPS.

The agreement will also create a parent trainer position that will be based at Wisconsin Family Assistance Center for Education, Training & Support. This person will support MPS parents and DPI will pay his or her salary.

MPS did not enter into the agreement, and issued a statment today calling DPI's decision "a disappointment" because of the tax increase district officials say will result for local taxpayers.

According to the district's statement, the MPS School Board sent a letter to the state Attorney General last month asking that negotiations continue.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Do Your Homework, Then Visit the Principal

Mary Ellen Slayter:

For families with children, the quality of local schools is often a key factor in deciding which house to buy.

Buyers trying to determine if the schools in a neighborhood will meet their needs can find plenty of data on the Internet about standardized tests, but they shouldn't neglect the value of visits to the schools and old-fashioned word of mouth, real estate agents and education experts say.

If you're working with an agent, don't expect him to judge the schools for you.

"When my clients begin to ask questions about the quality of the school system, I try to be careful with labeling schools as 'good' or 'bad' that could be construed as code words to discourage certain groups of people from buying a home in a particular neighborhood, which is a violation of the Fair Housing Act," said Thomas Minetree, a real estate agent in Weichert's Gainesville office.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

April 7, 2008

Madison Mayor Proposes Expansion of Low Income Housing Throughout Dane County in an Effort to Reduce the MMSD's Low Income Population

Dean Mosiman:

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz is proposing a regional approach to affordable housing to help ease high concentrations of poor students in Madison schools.

Cieslewicz is proposing to merge the city and Dane County public housing authorities into a single entity that would take a more regional view.

The authorities handle federal vouchers that offset rent payments, public housing and support first-time buyers.

Cieslewicz also wants to make communities outside Madison eligible for money from the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which now stands at $4 million.

Over time, the proposals might spread low-income housing more evenly through the region, which would help all schools, Cieslewicz said.

Madison Demographics: 82.2% white (Dane County = 87.5%) with 15% of the population living below poverty (2000 census; Dane County = 9.4%). 43% of the Madison School District's students were classified as "low income" for the 2007-2008 school year.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:27 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Florida's Virtual School

Curtis Krueger:

At one of Florida's largest public schools, students take classes in English literature, Spanish and calculus. They join clubs, enter science fairs and talk one on one with their teachers.

But no one complains about mystery meat from the school cafeteria, no one ever gets asked to — or snubbed at — a school dance, and there is no football team to cheer for.

A decade after its founding, the Florida Virtual School has become a quiet force in the state's education system. It's an Internet-based school that offers free, accredited classes for middle school and high school students in Florida. More than 54,000 students took courses last year, and it's growing.

"They are the largest state-led virtual school program based in the United States,'' said Susan Patrick, president of the North American Council for Online Learning. "I think that they have one of the most innovative education solutions for how we can better serve students."

Janice Barnard, whose 17-year-old daughter is taking Virtual School classes in a program affiliated with Tampa's Blake High School, says, "It's not for everyone. You must have a self-motivated child, somebody who wants to learn, who wants to achieve."

Related: Moore's Law, Culture, School Change and Madison's "Virtual Campus". Much more on virtual schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:44 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

5 districts may need taxpayers' help to avoid default if investment schemes sour

Amy Hetzner & Avrum Lank:

Five Wisconsin public school districts have made an investment gamble that could force taxpayers to finance multimillion-dollar bailouts.

The districts - Kenosha, Kimberly Area, Waukesha, West Allis-West Milwaukee and Whitefish Bay - have piled up debt in deals to help fund health insurance and other non-pension benefits for retirees. But as global financial markets have seized up, the districts have been told the value of their investments has fallen so much that they might need to come up with a combined $53 million to avoid default.


Kenosha might need almost $8 million in additional collateral or risk default on $28.7 million.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Mequon-Thiensville School District's Declining Enrollment & Budget

Lawrence Sussman:

By this September, the number of teachers who work for the Mequon-Thiensville School District is expected to have shrunk 17% since January 2001, Superintendent Robert Slotterback said last week.

The district, like many others in Wisconsin, is functioning with fewer teachers and dealing with smaller student enrollments, rising costs and an electorate that in referendums in 2006 and 2002 told the district that it could not spend significantly more money.

Slotterback maintains, though, the district has not reduced its course offerings or lowered its standards.

"We have not really had to eliminate student options," he said. "Your class size may have gotten bigger, but I am not aware of any class option that we have eliminated. We have not purposely shrunk the options for kids up to this point."

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

Favorite Education Blogs of 2008

Jay Matthews:

Early last year, as an experiment, I published a list of what I and commentator Walt Gardner considered our favorite education blogs. Neither Gardner nor I had much experience with this most modern form of expression. We are WAY older than the Web surfing generation. But the list proved popular with readers, and I promised in that column to make this an annual event.

My promise was actually more specific: "Next year, through bribery or trickery, I hope to persuade Ken Bernstein, teacher and blogger par excellence, to select his favorite blogs and then let me dump on his choices, or something like that." As I learned long ago, begging works even better than bribery or trickery, and Bernstein succumbed. Below are his choices, with some comments from me, and a few of my favorites.

They are in no particular order of quality or interest. Choosing blogs is a personal matter. Tastes differ widely and often are not in sync with personal views on how schools should be improved. I agree with all of Bernstein's choices, even though we disagree on many of the big issues.

Bernstein is a splendid classroom teacher and a fine writer, with a gift for making astute connections between ill-considered policies and what actually happens to kids in school. He is a social studies teacher at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Prince George's County and has been certified by the prestigious National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. He is also a book reviewer and peer reviewer for professional publications and ran panels on education at YearlyKos conventions. He blogs on education, among other topics, at too many sites to list. He describes his choices here as a few blogs he thinks "are worthwhile to visit."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison School Board Says No to City Infrastructure Costs for a Potential New East Side School Development

There was an interesting discussion that unfortunately received no publicity during the March 24, 2008 school board meeting regarding proposed Sprecher Road [map] seven figure infrastructure costs (this spending would, perhaps have begun the process of constructing a new east side school). The Board voted 3-3 (Yes: Carstensen, Moss and Silveira; No: Cole, Kobza and Mathiak with Winston absent), which resulted in a no on these costs. Watch the video here. It would seem ill advised to begin borrowing money for a new school given the ongoing budget challenges. Last spring's downtown school closing unpleasantness is another factor to consider with respect to potential new edge schools.

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

Madison School District Administration's Proposed 2008-2009 Budget Published

The observation of school district budgeting is fascinating. Numbers are big (9 or more digits) and the politics significant. Many factors affect such expenditures including local property taxes, state and federal redistributed tax dollars, enrollment, grants, referendums, new programs, politics and periodically local priorities. The Madison School District Administration released it's proposed 2008-2009 $367,806,712 budget Friday, April 4, 2008 (Allocations were sent to the schools on March 5, 2008 prior to the budget's public release Friday).

There will be a number of versions between this proposal and a final budget later this year (MMSD 2008-2009 Budget timeline).

I've summarized budget and enrollment information from 1995 through 2008-2009 below:

While enrollment has been flat, the student composition has significantly changed over the past decade. The District's documents discuss a projected 0.75% increase in spending from 2007-2008 to the 2008-2009 budget. However, the 07-08 numbers reference $17.7M for the new far west side elementary school, an amount not included in the most recent 2007-2008 Citizen's Budget.

Related links:Madison School District 4/4/2008 08/09 proposed budget documents:Finally, Susan Troller's April 5, article on the 2008-2009 budget included information on a potential November, 2008 operating referendum:
The referendum, which would ask taxpayers to override state-imposed revenue caps so services and programs would not have to be cut from the Madison Metropolitan School District, could take place as early as November, School Board President Arlene Silveira said Friday afternoon following a press briefing on the district's 2008-09 budget.

"The discussion between the Board of Education and the new superintendent about whether to go to referendum will surely be one of the first things on our agenda in July," Silveira said.

While the forecast for the district's budget in 2009-2010 looks gloomy, the news on the 2008-2009 budget is far more upbeat, thanks to a one-time $5.7 million windfall from the city.

This is an interesting dilemma for the Board and new Superintendent. On the one hand, the timing may be favorable given Dan Nerad's honeymoon period and a presidential vote generates far higher turnout than spring elections. The potential date presents an interesting contrast to just a few years ago, when the MMSD preferred to call (expensive) special elections, thinking that low turnout would benefit a yes vote. The most recent referendum, held on November 7, 2006 was a "high turnout" event - and the referendum passed handily.

Alternatively, there are no shortage of issues that will be on voter's minds in November: Wisconsin (and Madison's) per student spending ranks above much of the nation, yet our per capita income lags the national average and any number of local issues such as the scheme to replace middle and high school report cards and unresolved curriculum controversies in reading (more, including this) and math, one size fits all high school curriculum, high school "redesign" among many other topics.

Perhaps the new Superintendent might use his honeymoon capital for something more than the "same service" or cost to continue approach we've seen over the past decade.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

April 6, 2008

Eighth Grade Vocabulary List: 1978

Well worth reading [1.2MB PDF]:

rivulet: A small stream or brook. The ancient rivulet was conducted according to customs that were centuries old. The children enjoyed wading in the rivulet. The manuscript needed only minor rivulets before publication. A pleasant rivulet trickled through the fields.

firth: A narrow inlet or arm of the sea. (A firth may refer to any narrow arm of the sea or more particular to the opening of a river into the sea. Because the coast of Scotland is dotted with so many firths, the word has come to be associated with that country.) The soldier explored the firths that cut into the coastline. The young child was severely reprimanded for having committed the firth. After swimming across the firth, he was completely exhausted. The coast was cut with many narrow firths, which were ideal hideouts for smugglers.

Related: Dick Askey: Content Knowledge Examinations for Teachers Past and Present and NAEP writing scores - 2007 along with an article by Alan Borsuk. A Touch of Greatness:
You won’t find ten-year old children reciting Shakespeare soliloquies, acting out the Cuban Missile Crisis or performing Sophocles plays in most American classrooms today. But Albert Cullum’s elementary school students did all this and more. Combining interviews with Cullum and his former students with stunning archival footage filmed by director Robert Downey, Sr., A TOUCH OF GREATNESS documents the extraordinary work of this maverick public school teacher who embraced creativity, motivation and self-esteem in the classroom through the use of poetry, drama and imaginative play.

Regarded by academics as one of the most influential educators of the 1960s and ‘70s, Cullum championed what is, by today's standards, an unorthodox educational philosophy: the belief that the only way teachers can be successful with children is to speak directly to their hearts and to their instinctive and largely ignored capacity to quickly understand and identify with the great personalities, ideas and emotions found in classical literature. To that end, Cullum regularly taught his elementary school children literary masterpieces, exposed them to great works of art and engaged them in the events of world history. Without leaving the classroom, his students visited King Tut's tomb, attended joint sessions of the U.S. Congress, operated on “bleeding” nouns in his "grammar hospital," and clamored to play the timeless roles of Julius Caesar, Lady Macbeth and Hamlet.

When Cullum was an elementary school teacher in the New York City suburbs during the 1960s, his friend Robert Downey helped film several student plays and classroom events. In A TOUCH OF GREATNESS, these lush black and white films, with original music created by Tom O'Horgan, capture the work of this radical teacher and his students’ love of learning.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Choice, Now More Than Ever

Jason Riley:

This week's revelation that 17 of the nation's 50 largest cities have high school graduation rates below 50% surely saddened many. But it surprised few people attuned to the state of U.S. public education. Proponents of education choice have long believed that dropout rates fall when families can pick the schools best suited for their children.

So news that Sol Stern, a veteran advocate of school choice, is having second thoughts about the ability of market forces to improve education outcomes is noteworthy. Mr. Stern explains his change of heart in the current issue of the indispensable City Journal, a quarterly magazine published by the Manhattan Institute. And his revised views on the school choice movement warrant a response.

Inside of two decades, charter school enrollment in the U.S. has climbed to 1.1 million from zero. Two tiny voucher programs in Maine and Vermont blossomed into 21 programs in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Tuition tax credits, once puny and rare, are now sizeable and commonplace. The idea that teacher pay should be based on performance, not just seniority, is gaining ground. Not bad for a small band of education reformers facing skepticism from the liberal media and outright hostility from well-funded, politically connected heavies like the National Education Association.

Related: Alan Borsuk: Wisconsin Black 8th-Graders Rank Worst in Nation in Writing and 2007 Nation's Report Card: Writing.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

NAEP Writing Scores & Texas Reading/Writing Curriculum

Donna Garner:

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released its 2007 eighth-grade writing scores today. These scores have particular significance to Texas because we are engaged in an intense battle over the rewrite of the English / Language Arts / Reading standards.

One side, the Coalition made up of eleven organizations with ties to NCTE and other national organizations, has joined up with the bilingual organizations to impede progress toward changing the way our state teaches students how to read, write, and speak English.

By looking at the NAEP writing results below, it is obvious that Texas needs to change the status quo. Anyone can see that the way English is being taught right now is simply not working.

Those of us who want change are strongly advocating that students need to be taught explicit grammar, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization so that they will have a strong foundation upon which to build good writing skills.

In the new ELAR standards, our side wants to have a separate strand for oral and written conventions so that these skills will be emphasized among our Texas students.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

April 5, 2008


Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

That's how much a bold initiative aims to cut births to teen mothers in Milwaukee — necessary to break the cycle of poverty to which teen pregnancy contributes.

It is no small thing to set a goal - if you're committed to meet it.

That's why Milwaukee should be impressed with one particularly significant goal set this week - decreasing births to teen mothers here by 46% by 2015.

This is setting the bar high. More important, it's clear from both the people involved and the approach that the intent is genuine.

Milwaukee Health Commissioner Bevan Baker, co-chair of a United Way committee that will oversee the effort, announced the "metric" on Wednesday at the Women's Initiative Luncheon at the Italian Community Center. Betsy Brenner, president and publisher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, is the other co-chair.

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

CTM: Esperanza Rising

Children's Theatre of Madison:

Middle school students are a notoriously tough audience.

But at a recent theater arts workshop at Wright Middle School in Madison, students shed their inhibitions as they stomped their feet, practiced the breathing exercises of actors and helped make mariachi music.
In the process, they began to appreciate the effort, energy and excitement of producing a play like "Esperanza Rising," a Children's Theatre of Madison production that will begin on April 4 and continue weekend performances through April 20.

Members of the Esperanza cast, the director, musicians and others associated with the production ran theater arts workshops at Hawthorne Elementary and Cherokee Middle School in Madison last week as well as at Wright Middle School.

When Jane Schroeder, outreach educator for CTM, asked students in Erika Meyer's music class whether they had read the book "Esperanza Rising" by Pam Munoz Ryan, Jennifer Neblett, a sixth-grader at Wright, eagerly raised her hand.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 7:38 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2008 Bolz Young Artist Competition

Madison Symphony Orchestra:

Congratulations to the 2008 Winners! Pianist Hong-En Chen and violinist Leah Latorraca took top honors in the competition held Wed night in Overture Hall. Each received a $1,000 scholarship. Violinist Chauntee Ross and pianist Naomi Latorraca were awarded Honorable Mentions and each received a $500 scholarship. All four finalists performed with John DeMain and the MSO at the Spring Young People's Concert.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin Black 8th-Graders Rank Worst in Nation in Writing

Alan Borsuk:

The classic three R's of education - reading, writing and arithmetic - became the three R's of educational alarm for Wisconsin with the release Thursday of nationwide data on eighth-graders' writing ability.

While Wisconsin students on the whole did better than the national average and better than in 1998, the last time the same tests were given here, Wisconsin's African-American students had the lowest average score in the nation, and the gap between black and white scores in Wisconsin was the second worst in the United States.

The writing scores lined up with results released in September from national testing that showed the average reading scores of fourth- and eighth-grade black students in Wisconsin were the lowest in the U.S. The gaps between black students and white students in Wisconsin in reading were the largest in the nation, and the situation for math scores was nearly as grim.

The overall message appears clearly to be that something is seriously off course in the education of African-American children in the state, decidedly more so than in other states. Gaps between whites and Hispanics and between kids from lower-income homes and those from higher-income homes are serious but not nearly the size of the racial gaps.

More here:
"Once again, we see Wisconsin at the bottom of the pack when it comes to the performance of African American students. In fact, Wisconsin was one of just three states that lost ground for its African American students between 1998 and 2007. When you compare Wiscosnin to a state like Arkansas, in 1998, Wisconsin was doing much better for its black students than Arkansas. But Wisconsin has since lost a lot of ground, whereas Arkansas gained a lot of ground, and now you see African American students in Arkansas are doing better than African American students in Wisconsin. We know that Arkansas, for example, has been working diligently for the last 10 years to raise expectations for both teachers and students in terms of the kind of content they are supposed to master, and they've also had an explicit focus on insuring that there is coordination across the curriculum so that students are writing not just in a prescribed writing block, but they're writring in their science courses and in their mathematics couses and in their history courses. You're seeing the pay off here. Wisconsin would be very well advised to look at the practices of states that have frankly passed it by.

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

"The Future of Education Probably Lies with Digital Games"


It's easy for old farts like me to assume everybody will learn the way we did, but that's unlikely simply because the underlying assumptions are changing. When I was a kid human labor was cheap and technology was expensive. Today technology is cheap and getting cheaper, while human labor is expensive and becoming more so. Yet our model of education technology is still so defined by that remembered Apple IIe in the corner of the classroom that is it difficult for many to imagine truly pervasive educational technology.

This is in large part because there is no way that Apple IIe or any PC is going to somehow expand to replace books and teachers and classrooms. For education, the personal computer is probably a dead end. It's not that we won't continue to have and use PCs in schools, but the market and intellectual momentum clearly lie elsewhere.

So forget about personal computers: the future of education probably lies with digital games.

I say "digital games" rather than "video games" or "PC games," or "handheld games," because the platform doesn't matter as much as the application. Whether it is a PC or Mac, xBox or PS3, PSP or Nintendo DS, gaming has done an excellent job of proving that the application is more important than the platform on which it runs.

Stories came out this week from the NPD Group announcing that 72 percent of Americans play PC or video games with 58 percent of those played online. Those numbers -- which apparently don't include kids, by the way -- are HUGE and explain all by themselves much of what is happening to traditional mass media like TV, magazines and newspapers.

We're spending so much time playing games that we don't have as much time for those older pursuits. Only drive-time radio thrives and that's just because we don't have a practical model for playing games while driving.

Digital games are a bigger business than Hollywood movies, than book publishing, than television, than music.

My vision for future digital education has a key difference from traditional 20th century education. A fundamental aspect of education has always been that it comes to abrupt and quite specific endpoints associated with various cultural rites of passage. We graduate. There is a first day of school and a last day of school. At some highly specific and anticipated moment we disconnect from the education mother ship and go off on our own, often never to return.


Well to make room in school for someone else, of course.


In my future model the "school" is only a PC/game machine/mobile phone/headset thingee that clues me in about everything around me and helps me learn what I need to know. Why would I ever give that up?

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

Fixing Education Policy

Via a kind reader's email: Jim Ryan:

Identifying what needs to be fixed in the field of education is easy: the No Child Left Behind Act, currently up for reauthorization but stalled in Congress pending the next election. The elaborate law requires schools to test the bejeezus out of elementary- and middle-school students in reading and math, to test them again in high school, and to sprinkle in a few science tests along the way. Schools posting consistently poor test scores are supposed to be punished so that they'll clean up their acts and allow NCLB's ultimate goal to be achieved in 2014. The act imagines that essentially all students across the country will be "proficient" in that year, meaning that they'll all pass the battery of standardized tests required by the NCLB. Hence the act's catchy title.

NCLB was enacted in 2001 with huge bipartisan support, though many Democrats in Congress have since disclaimed if not denounced it, presumably having had some time to read it. The act is at once the Bush administration's signature piece of education legislation, its most significant domestic policy initiative, and the most intrusive federal education law in our nation's history. The federal government provides less than 10 percent of all education funding, yet NCLB drives education policy in every school district in the country. In short, it's a big deal. It's also in need of repair. No one—conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican—doubts that.

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

April 4, 2008

For Little Children, Grown-Up Labels As Sexual Harassers

Brigid Schulte:

In his seven years, Randy Castro has been an aspiring soccer player, an accomplished Lego architect and a Royal Ranger at his Pentecostal church. He also, according to his elementary school record, sexually harassed a first-grade classmate.

During recess at his Woodbridge school one day in November, when he was 6, he said, he smacked the classmate's bottom. The girl told the teacher. The teacher took Randy to the principal, who told him such behavior was inappropriate. School officials wrote an incident report calling it "Sexual Touching Against Student, Offensive," which will remain on his student record permanently.

Then, as Randy sat in the principal's office, they called the police.

"I thought they were going to take me to prison," Randy said recently. "I was scared."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:09 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Long Beach school district is a finalist for Broad Prize

Seema Mehta:

The Long Beach Unified School District was again named a finalist Wednesday for the prestigious Broad Prize, which honors academic excellence and strong performance by minority and poor students in urban districts across the nation.

"It's a huge honor," said Christopher J. Steinhauser, superintendent of the nearly 91,000-student district. "We pride ourselves on a path of continual improvement, and to be recognized by the [Eli and Edythe Broad] foundation as one of the top five school systems in America every time we've been eligible is a huge honor for teachers, students and parents."

In 2003, Long Beach Unified won the prize, which includes $500,000 in college scholarships. The district -- the third-largest in California -- has been a top-five finalist every year it has been eligible since the inception of the prize, an honor that comes with $125,000 in scholarships. Districts that win the prize are then ineligible for three years.

The four other finalists this year are districts in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Miami, as well as the Aldine Independent School District near Houston and the Brownsville Independent School District on the Texas-Mexico border. The winner will be announced Oct. 14 in New York City.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:08 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Statistics refute rhetoric on school spending

Dan Walters:

California's perennial debate over how much it is and should be spending on its largest-in-the-nation public school system has escalated sharply this year as the state faces a whopping budget deficit and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposes – whether seriously or not is uncertain – to take a big bite out of the schools' money to close it.

The educational establishment and its allies in the Democratic leadership of the Legislature are howling about the governor's proposal that school spending be whacked by $4.8 billion from what the constitution otherwise would require it to be through the 2008-09 fiscal year.

The Democrats have vowed to block any budget that makes a substantial reduction in state school aid and the California Teachers Association and other school groups have resumed their high-decibel complaint that California's per-pupil spending is already near the bottom of the states.

Republicans and other critics, meanwhile, complain that California is wasting much of its school money on bloated administration and ineffective, faddish educational nostrums. They cite the state's near-bottom rankings in national educational achievement test scores.

In the midst of this Sturm und Drang, the Census Bureau on Tuesday issued an extremely detailed accounting of what states (and the District of Columbia) are spending on their schools. It undercuts the mantras being chanted by both of the Capitol's warring political factions.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Down the Tube: the Sad Stats on Happiness, Money & TV

Jonathan Clements:

Put down the remote and back slowly away from the television.

Despite the sharp rise in our standard of living in recent decades, Americans today are little or no happier than earlier generations. Why not?

A new study suggests one possibility: Maybe we need to be smarter about how we spend our time. And, no, that doesn't mean watching more TV.

Feeling unpleasant. You can think of your happiness as having three components. First, there's your basic disposition -- whether you are, by nature, a happy person or not. Clearly, there isn't a whole lot you can do about this.

Second, there are your life's circumstances, such as your age, health, marital status and income. Often, this stuff isn't nearly as important as folks imagine. If your income doubled, you would initially be delighted. But research suggests you would quickly get used to all that extra money

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

Class Size Reduction "Not a Silver Bullet," New Research Review Finds; Poor and Minority Students Benefit Most Quality Teaching, Political Climate, Are Key Determinants of Success

Teachers College @ Columbia University:

Ask the average parent or teacher what change they'd most like to see in their school, and there's a good chance the answer will be "smaller classes."
Now a new review of major research on the subject finds that reduced class size is far from a universal panacea, and may have no bearing at all on student achievement unless enacted under the right political, economic and academic conditions. Those include quality teaching, targeting of schools and children likeliest to benefit, and avoidance of perverse incentives that can spawn unintended negative consequences.

"Class size reduction is not a silver bullet," writes Douglas Ready, Assistant Professor of Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, in his paper, Policy, Politics and Implications for Equity. "Establishing appropriate class size is a balancing act between children's development needs and contemporary fiscal realities. The matter assumes even greater complexity when we consider the relationship between class size and educational equity."

Ready's review of the literature does show that poor and minority students are likelier to benefit from class size reduction efforts than white students and students from wealthier families.

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

April 3, 2008

Bad News U: Colleges Reject Record Numbers

Anjali Athavaley:

The college-admissions season set records this year -- both in the number of students who applied, as well as the number of students who were rejected.

Harvard University has a record applicant pool of 27,462 and an admissions rate of 7.1%, meaning that 1,948 students were accepted -- the lowest number in the school's history and a drop from last year's 8.9%. Yale University received 22,813 applications and accepted only 8.2%, down from 9.6% last year. And at Princeton University, of the 21,369 applications, 9.3% were accepted, down from 9.5% last year.

State schools, too, are reporting a tough admissions season, with acceptance rates down at the University of Texas and the University of North Carolina, among others.

On the positive side for some students this season, schools are having a hard time predicting their all-important "yields" -- the percentage of students admitted who will actually attend. And high-school counselors are hoping that ambiguity will result in more acceptances for students who are on waiting lists -- a strategy schools use to reach enrollment targets.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:22 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Introduction to a standards-based educational system #3

Madison School District Teaching & Learning Department:

The Madison School District is making the full transition to a standards-based educational system. Here is the third in a series of articles about a standards-based system, with this one focusing on instruction.

Introduction to a standards-based system... instruction

The Wisconsin Model Academic Standards (WMAS) articulate what students should know and be able to do in each curricular area. Madison Metropolitan School District staff elaborated upon these state standards to frame district curriculum and instruction.

Curriculum is the planned educational experiences taught in each subject area at each grade level. This issue focuses on instruction, which is the action or practice of teaching the curriculum.

Instruction is standards-based when the knowledge and skills that are the primary focus of the lesson support students' continual progress toward meeting the standards.

This article shares an example from language arts to show how instruction in the MMSD is standards-based.

Much more on the proposed report card changes here.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:59 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Does Computing Add Up in the Classroom? On The "Mediocre Level of American Students' Math Achievement

Steve Lohr:

Computing is essentially math on steroids. So, at first glance, it would seem no surprise that the recent report by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel would include computer-based instruction among its recommendations to address the “mediocre level” of math achievement by American students.

But the champions of computing in the classroom have hailed the math panel report as an encouraging win for their side. It suggests, they say, that computing should be seen as a valuable tool in mainstream education, like math and science, in kindergarten through high school curriculums.

“There is a real battle going on to determine the role that computing is going to play in K-12 education,” observed Robert B. Schnabel, a computer scientist at Indiana University, who is chairman of the Association for Computing Machinery’s education policy committee. “Is it going to be integrated into math and science curriculums or is it going to be more like shop?”

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:45 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Reality Check

James Fallows, writing from China:

This is the kind of scene I wish I could convey to people who worry about China as the all-conquering juggernaut that has coped with every internal challenge and is sitting around thinking about how to take over the world.

My wife and I spent the afternoon at a public "High Tech Middle School" in Ningxia autonomous region, in western China bordering Inner Mongolia. The students could not have been more charming or open-spirited. Here's how a few of the girls looked:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:22 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

New Madison School Chief Meets & Greets

Susan Troller:

Dan Nerad is already beginning to reach out to the community, three months before he formally steps into his new role as Madison's next superintendent of schools.

In The Capital Times' offices on Wednesday, School Board President Arlene Silveira introduced Nerad to staff members, noting that last week was spring break in Green Bay, where he is currently the superintendent of schools.

"Dan spent his vacation in the Doyle Building," Silveira said, referring to the site of the Madison school district's central administration.

Nerad was in Madison Wednesday, speaking to media editorial boards and joining current Superintendent Art Rainwater to address a lunch meeting of the Madison Downtown Rotary club.

"My role will be to add value to what is already an excellent school district," Nerad told the Rotarians. He added that he is committed to the goal of continuous improvement.

"You have to focus on the next steps," he said.

During his visit to The Capital Times, Nerad described innovations in Green Bay during his tenure. They include specialty focus areas in each of the district's four high schools and a plan for 4-year-old kindergarten slated to begin during the 2008-2009 school year.

Watch a brief video of Dan Nerad's remarks at Saturday's Memorial / West Strings Festival.

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

An Unlikely Obsession: School Auctions

Winnue Hu:

PATTY FURNER circled the chandelier-lit catering hall, trolling for bargains as she passed by row after row of gorgeously wrapped gift baskets at an auction this month to benefit the Hillside Elementary School in Livingston, N.J.

Ms. Furner, in her worn white sneakers, walked by cliques of well-heeled Livingston parents without bothering with small talk. She glanced right over a sketch of a new playground to be financed with auction proceeds, since her two daughters do not go to school there.

Instead, Ms. Furner, 44, a stay-at-home mother from nearby Union Township, had only one thing in mind: sizing up the 230-plus gift baskets to decide how to spread around her baby-sitting earnings. “It’s an addiction,” she said. “It’s the excitement of trying to win that prize you want.”

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

2007 "Nation's Report Card - Writing" Now Available

National Center for Education Statistics:

This report presents the results of the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) writing assessment. It was administered to a nationally representative sample of more than 165,000 eighth- and twelfth-graders from public and private schools. In addition to national results, the report includes state and urban district results for grade 8 public school students. Forty-five states, the Department of Defense schools, and 10 urban districts voluntarily participated. To measure their writing skills, the assessment engaged students in narrative, informative, and persuasive writing tasks. NAEP presents the writing results as scale scores and achievement-level percentages. Results are also reported for student performance by various demographic characteristics such as race/ethnicity, gender, and eligibility for the National School Lunch Program. The 2007 national results are compared with results from the 2002 and 1998 assessments. At grades 8 and 12, average writing scores and the percentages of students performing at or above Basic were higher than in both previous assessments. The White -- Black score gap narrowed at grade 8 compared to 1998 and 2002 but showed no significant change at grade 12. The gender score gap showed no significant change at grade 8 compared with previous assessments but narrowed at grade 12 since 2002. Eighth-graders eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch scored lower on average than students who were not eligible. Compared with 2002, average writing scores for eighth-graders increased in 19 states and the Department of Defense schools, and scores decreased in one state. Compared with 1998, scores increased in 28 states and the Department of Defense Schools, and no states showed a decrease. Scores for most urban districts at grade 8 were comparable to or higher than scores for large central cities but were below the national average. Trend results are available for 4 of the 10 urban districts.
36% of Wisconsin 8th grade students scored proficient and advanced, tied for 9th best. Complete Report: 3.9MB PDF File.

Sam Dillon:

About one-third of America’s eighth-grade students, and about one in four high school seniors, are proficient writers, according to results of a nationwide test released on Thursday.

The test, administered last year, showed that there were modest increases in the writing skills of low-performing students since the last time a similar exam was given, in 2002. But the skills of high-performing eighth and 12th graders remained flat or declined.

Girls far outperformed boys in the test, with 41 percent of eighth-grade girls scoring at or above the proficient level, compared with 20 percent of eighth-grade boys.

New Jersey and Connecticut were the two top-performing states, with more than half their students scoring at or above the proficient level (56 percent in New Jersey, 53 percent in Connecticut). Those two and seventeen other states ranked above New York, where 31 percent of students wrote at the proficient level.

Joanne offers notes and links.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Elmbrook passes state's largest school referendum

Andy Szal:

The largest school district referendum on the ballot was approved but most other large school spending measures failed when submitted to voters in the spring election.

A total of 30 referendums totaling more than $165 million were approved Tuesday. Thirty-one failed, representing nearly $285 million.

The Elmbrook school district gained $62.2 million to renovate and expand Brookfield Central and East high schools. A referendum last year for $108.8 million failed in the suburban Milwaukee district.

Of the 12 districts with referendums exceeding $10 million, only measures in Racine and La Crosse passed. Racine passed a $16.5 million referendum, while La Crosse passed a $20.9 million referendum. Voters in La Crosse also rejected a second referendum for $35 million to construct a new elementary school.

Wisconsin DPI Referenda site. More from George Hesselberg.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:17 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

If You Text in Class, This Prof Will Leave

Scott Jaschik:

Some professors threaten to confiscate students’ cell phones if they go off during class. Laurence Thomas has his own approach to classroom distractions. If the philosopher at Syracuse University catches a student sending text messages or reading a newspaper in class, he’ll end the class on the spot and walk out. It doesn’t matter if there is but one texter in a large lecture of hundreds of students. If you text, he will leave.

Last week, when a student in a large lecture — in the front row no less — sent a text message, Thomas followed through on his threat (as he had done just a few days earlier). And he then sent the university’s chancellor, his dean, and all of the students an e-mail message explaining his actions and his frustration at the “brazen” disrespect he had received in class. In the e-mail, he noted that the student who sent the text message is Cuban, and that last year, two Latino students had started to play tic-tac-toe during his class.

While Thomas noted that white students are also rude, he expressed frustration that — especially as a minority scholar himself — he would be treated in this way. “One might have thought that for all the talk about racism and the good of social equality, non-white students would be particularly committed to respecting a black professor,” Thomas wrote.

Thomas followed up with a second e-mail, noting that at least one parent of a student had complained about two classes being called off. “Everyone has to understand that respect is a two-way street. I respect you, as I endeavor to do and you respect me. My experience has been that confronting students directly and asking them to stop has virtually no effect. I walk out to underscore the importance of what this means to me,” he wrote.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Texas School Borrows Honor Code from BYU

Steve Inskeep:

Students at the University of Texas at San Antonio were determined to uphold standards at their school. They wrote an honor code that discouraged both cheating and plagiarizing. But they weren't going to waste a lot of time writing the darn thing themselves. The wording of a draft of the honor code appears to match the honor code at Brigham Young University. The student in charge of the project says the lack of a proper citation was just an oversight.

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

Head teachers want to drop National Curriculum in UK schools

Julie Henry:

The attack on the National Curriculum, which has dictated school timetables for 20 years, could spell the end of separate classes in history, geography, literature, languages, art and music.

Instead, schools would be allowed to decide how they teach big themes such as global warming, conflict and healthy living.

The present list of subjects would be reduced to little more than English, mathematics and computing. The National Association of Head Teachers, responding to a select committee inquiry into whether the National Curriculum is "fit for purpose", said its structure of 14 compulsory subjects should be replaced by a "minimum framework" that would be "skills and competence-based, rather than prescriptive and knowledge-based".

Growing calls for flexibility, coupled with a series of curriculum reviews ordered by ministers, represent a serious threat to the future of the traditional timetable.

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

Computer Erases Students Grades


A computer malfunction wiped out a month's worth of grades at three high schools and one middle school, giving struggling students a second chance but dismaying others.

The Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corp. announced on its Web site that the malfunction occurred during spring break.

Students at Harrison High had mixed reactions, depending on how the second semester was going for them, senior Ibrahim Dughaish said Monday.

"Some are really upset because they worked hard for five weeks," but others saw it as a reprieve, he said.

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

April 2, 2008

Spellings: Graduation Rates Should Be Uniform, Disaggregated

David Hoff:

Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings says she will soon propose rules that would require all states to use the same formula to calculate high schools' graduation rates. She said she would require schools to disaggregate data by socioeconomic status, race, and other categories—just as schools are required to do for test scores under NCLB.

She announced the plan in a speech she delivered at an event kicking off a series of summits on drop outs sponsored by America's Promise Alliance. But she left many questions unanswered.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 3:33 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin Heights Plots Cost Cutting Strategy After Failed Referendum


t said that he believes Tuesday's school referendum failed because it had "no light at the end of the tunnel".

Terry Zander was one of three school board members opposed to holding the referendum and said that he voted against it. He doesn't, however, rule out the possibility of another referendum being held later, perhaps next spring, WISC-TV reported.

District voters saw their total property tax bills rise 16 percent last year when adding together school and all other property taxes. They narrowly defeated Tuesday's plan, which sought to exceed state revenue caps and increase spending by a total $800,000 to cover budget deficits during the next two years.

The measure was defeated by a mere 53 votes, but Zander said that the "people have spoken" and the amount of votes shouldn't matter.

He said that he doesn't believe people change a budget deficit situation overnight. He said that past cuts are still being implemented and that voters want the board to work together to find a long-term solution to the situation. When that is done, Zander said that if a deficit remains, he could see holding another referendum.

This is the second referendum in two years that has failed to get approved, WISC-TV reported.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

The Grinding Battle with Circumstance: Charter Schools and the Potential of School-Based Collective Bargaining

Jonathan Gyurko [196K PDF]:

Despite its teacher union origins as a vehicle for teacher-led, bottom-up innovation and early bi-partisan support, the charter movement was adopted by political conservatives as a vehicle for market-oriented education reforms. In the process, teacher unions largely repudiated an idea they helped launch. Yet recently, a flurry of discussion has emerged regarding an evolving and potentially productive relationship between charter schools and teacher unions. These discussions were precipitated by the recent actions of a few notable policy entrepreneurs whose work may suggest political and policy alternatives that could advance and sustain the policies embedded in the charter model.

This paper chronicles the political history of the charter school movement in the United States, starting with ideas promulgated by the late American Federation of Teachers President Albert Shanker and continuing through the embrace of charter schools by political conservatives. Through a review of available research, the paper assesses the current state of the charter school movement, including an assessment of charter school achievement data and a critique of the charter school policy framework, with particular emphasis on charter school financing, philanthropic support, and access to human capital. The paper also describes the recent and politically counter-intuitive work by the United Federation of Teachers, New York City’s teachers union, in founding two charter schools.

With the broad history and state of the charter school movement established, this paper analyzes recent events through the agenda setting frameworks developed by Baumgartner and Jones (1993) and Kingdon (1984). Specifically, the paper argues that the charter school movement may be approaching an instance of “punctuated equilibrium” due to the charter school movement’s changing “policy image” and the loss of “monopolistic control” over the charter school agenda by a small interest group. The paper concludes that school-based collective bargaining may be a “new institutional structure” that could have transformative and productive consequences for the charter school movement.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 9:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Wisconsin Per Student Spending Drops in National Rankings from 11th to 17th, Remains Above Average

Alan Borsuk:

For better or worse - and you could get heated arguments about it - Wisconsin appears to be well on its way to becoming a middle-of-the-pack state when it comes to the amount of money put into grade school and high school education.

Wisconsin collected the 17th highest amount per student in taxes to pay for education in 2005-'06, the U.S. Census Bureau said in a report released Tuesday. And the gap between Wisconsin and the national average was less than $400.

A decade earlier, the state ranked 11th, and education revenue per student was almost $800 more than the average.

Those indicators mesh with other data, such as reports on teacher salaries nationwide, that indicate spending on education in Wisconsin remains above national averages but is moving down.

The heated debate about what that all means would come from people such as Republicans in the state Legislature who have argued for years that taxes are too high and education spending should be brought into line with other states, and school district officials and teachers organizations that claim services and staff are being cut because of spending caps that have been in place for almost 15 years.

Related by Pete Selkowe:
This gloomy Monday brings another of those reports about Wisconsin's economy guaranteed to add to your malaise. (Like last week's report on the county's slow real estate value growth, Property values, the have's and the have not's.)

Today's report -- Measuring Success: Benchmarks for a Competitive Wisconsin -- grades the state (alas, no curve, no Gentleman's C) by comparing us to other states. Sit down before you read further, because the news isn't good.

-- For example: Wisconsin's per capita income is $34,476, compared to the national average of $36,629, a difference of 5.9% (and the largest gap since 1991). The comparison is worse when our incomes are matched against folks in Illinois ($38,297) and Minnesota ($38,751).

-- Not only do our jobs not pay as much, but we're not growing very many more of them. In 2006, the number of Wisconsin jobs increased 0.7%, down from a growth rte of 1.1% in 2004 and 1.2% in 2005. Wisconsin trails the national average of 1.8% job growth.

-- How about the growth in private businesses? The number of new private businesses in Wisconsin dropped 0.4% in 2006, while the number of businesses nationally grew 2.5%. All of Wisconsin’s neighbors had increases in 2006.

The study is released annually by Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. (CWI), a nonpartisan consortium of state agriculture, business, education and labor leaders. Measuring Success grades Wisconsin on 33 areas of interstate competitiveness; compared to our performance in past years, 17 benchmarks changed this year: eight improvements and nine declines.

K-12 Tax & Spending climate summary. Channel3000 has more.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Admission Impossible

Keith Gessen:

At the end of our freshman year at Harvard, my roommates and I, having done so well so far in the lottery of life, did badly in the housing lottery. We were sent to live in the Quad, a group of dorms half a mile northwest of the main campus. This was in the mid-’90s, before global warming, so on cold winter days, while our classmates rolled out of bed and into lecture with a steaming hot coffee and a warm apple fritter, we trudged through snow and wind to sit there for an hour in our wet socks. On the other hand, cut off from civilization, we had a lot of time to think. We thought about modernity, the Renaissance, etc.; we played a lot of Ping-Pong; and we considered our lives, thus far, and what Harvard meant to them. One of my friends formulated an idea. “We’ve done the hardest thing,” he said, meaning getting into Harvard. He came to be fond of this statement, and in lulls in dining hall conversation he’d return to it. “We’re 19 years old and we’ve done the hardest thing there is to do,” he’d say, and then we’d sit there, looking stupidly at one another.

In the years since, as I learned from Joie Jager-Hyman’s FAT ENVELOPE FRENZY: One Year, Five Promising Students, and the Pursuit of the Ivy League Prize (Harper, paper, $14.95), it’s only gotten harder. A former Dartmouth admissions officer, Jager-Hyman follows five high school high-achievers trying to get into Harvard.

And it is scary.

Before reading “Fat Envelope Frenzy,” I was convinced that our nation’s youth spent all their time uploading party photos to the Internet. I still think that. Yet it appears that a division of labor has been effected. Reading about Felix, who at 14 spent the summer assisting doctors at a rural orphanage in his parents’ native China; and Nabil, a top “mathlete” already familiar with the work of his potential future professors; and Lisa, a national champion rhythmic gymnast who tells Jager-Hyman that gymnastics “is like my anti-drug — not that I’d be doing drugs,” I kept thinking of poor John Stuart Mill, the original early applicant, whose father home-schooled him from the age of 3, teaching him Greek and Latin and the theories of Jeremy Bentham, but not how to feel. At the age of 20, Mill suffered a breakdown; already one of the most brilliant polemicists in England, he couldn’t say anymore what the point of it was. As he later wrote, “The whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down.”

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

Informative, Not Scripted

American Educator 350K PDF:

To some readers, “clear, specific content” may sound like a euphemism for “script.” But Core Knowledge demonstrates that standards could—and should—be heavy on content and light on pedagogy. By clarifying what to teach, but letting teachers decide how to teach, Core Knowledge supports good instruction.

Instead of writing a typical standards document, Core Knowledge developed a bare-bones “sequence” of content for grades K-8. It then developed a detailed teacher handbook for each grade that provides key information—like vocabulary, background knowledge, and connections to other subjects. Teachers can use the sequence to quickly see what is taught in the grades above and below theirs, and the handbook to guide their lesson planning and teaching. Here, we show the full fourth-grade language arts sequence, which includes speeches by Patrick Henry and Sojourner Truth, and the speeches section of the fourth-grade teacher handbook (p. 34-37).

The handbooks have some teaching suggestions, but they do not mandate any particular way of teaching, and they don’t offer anything that even resembles a script. But don’t just take it from us, read what two teachers have to say about it. We asked Kethkeo Vichaiyarath and Xia Lee to discuss how they have used the handbook as they developed lessons on the speeches. Both have nine years’ experience and currently teach fourth grade at Phalen Lake Elementary in St. Paul, Minn. Nearly 70 percent of the students are English language learners and roughly 90 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Core Knowledge provides Kethkeo and Xia the rich content their students need. —Editors

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 4:01 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Stein Scholars Get Help with College Costs

Felicia Thomas-Lynn:

f all goes well, Deja Daniel's dream of earning a degree won't be obscured by the nightmare of mounting college-loan debt that often dogs new graduates for many years.

At age 17, the high school senior is getting in on the ground level of a multifaceted program that allows her to earn money for college, and apply for scholarships and financial aid, while academically preparing her for the rigors of college-level work.

"I was already looking at college, but the program has made it easier for me," said Daniel, one of the first Stein Scholars, named in honor of late philanthropist Marty Stein.

Stein left a portion of his estate to be used for the scholarship program, administered through the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.

"We aren't just interested in getting kids to college, but we want to see them graduate from college," said Naryan Leazer, director of the program for juniors and seniors.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:11 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Best Grad Schools 2009

US News:

U.S. News has collected data from more than 12,000 graduate programs to bring you this year's rankings. Start by selecting a discipline for access to our top program rankings.

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

April 1, 2008

New Microphones Are Bringing Crystal-Clear Changes

Jay Mathews

The little black devices, the shape and size of small cellphones, have begun to appear in hundreds of Washington area classrooms. Hanging from the necks of elementary school teachers in Alexandria and kindergarten and first-grade teachers in Prince George's County, they might herald the most significant change in classroom technology since the computer, some predict.

They are infrared microphones, designed to raise the volume and clarity of teachers' voices above the distracting buzz of competing noises -- the hum of fluorescent lights, the rattle of air conditioning, the whispers of children and the reverberations of those sounds bouncing off concrete walls and uncarpeted floors.

"It makes it so much easier for the children but also for the teachers," said Lucretia Jackson, principal of Alexandria's Maury Elementary School, one of the first in the area to use the audio enhancement systems for all classrooms. All Alexandria elementary school teachers now have them. "They are no longer suffering from laryngitis," Jackson said. "They don't have to project their voices as much as they needed to do in the past."

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 3:03 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Mom Called and Said, "Slow Down"

Christopher Lawton:

Stephanie Wade, a Peck, Kan., mother of six, didn't make her children wear seat belts in the car when they were younger. So years later, it was difficult to persuade her 16-year-old daughter Kelsie to wear one when she got her driver's license in November.

To police her child, Ms. Wade in January had a video camera installed in plain view in Kelsie's car. The camera, made by DriveCam Inc., records both the inside of a car and the view outside through the windshield. Whenever the vehicle makes a sudden move, the camera wirelessly transmits a digital recording to DriveCam's central-monitoring station, where it's analyzed and emailed to her parents within 24 hours. DriveCam also sends a weekly report rating the teen's driving and safety skills.

Using DriveCam's service, Ms. Wade saw that her daughter wasn't wearing her seat belt. "We started saying, 'Kelsie, you have to be buckled and anybody in the car has to be buckled,' " says Ms. Wade, 43. Kelsie complied -- a move that later may have saved her life.

DriveCam's $900-a-year camera and one-year monitoring contract were paid for by the Wades' car-insurance company -- an incentive increasingly offered by insurers to attract younger drivers. But it's also one of several new tools that help parents keep track of teenage drivers.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

How to Disagree: An Attempt at a "Disagreement Hierarchy"

Paul Graham:

The web is turning writing into a conversation. Twenty years ago, writers wrote and readers read. The web lets readers respond, and increasingly they do—in comment threads, on forums, and in their own blog posts.

Many who respond to something disagree with it. That's to be expected. Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing. And when you agree there's less to say. You could expand on something the author said, but he has probably already explored the most interesting implications. When you disagree you're entering territory he may not have explored.

The result is there's a lot more disagreeing going on, especially measured by the word. That doesn't mean people are getting angrier. The structural change in the way we communicate is enough to account for it. But though it's not anger that's driving the increase in disagreement, there's a danger that the increase in disagreement will make people angrier. Particularly online, where it's easy to say things you'd never say face to face.

If we're all going to be disagreeing more, we should be careful to do it well. What does it mean to disagree well? Most readers can tell the difference between mere name-calling and a carefully reasoned refutation, but I think it would help to put names on the intermediate stages. So here's an attempt at a disagreement hierarchy:

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:11 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Uncontested election gives new board members opportunities

Susan Troller:

Without opponents in their races for Madison School Board seats, candidates Ed Hughes and Marjorie Passman have spent more time identifying issues that unite rather than divide them.

Although both candidates said they were concerned by the lack of interest in this spring's school board race, they admitted that it had offered some unique opportunities.

"In a contested election, there's a tendency to pigeonhole the candidates," Hughes, a Madison attorney who is running for his first elected office, said in a recent interview.

Hughes said that in a more normal election, Passman's extensive classroom experience and passionate enthusiasm for teaching and teachers would have labeled her as the teachers' union candidate.

"She would have been pushed towards MTI. It's likely I would have been pushed in the other direction. It's far more subtle than that and it's not fair to either one of us," he observed.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:09 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

School Board? Who.... me?

Erin Richards:

According to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, candidates for local office should have these qualifications:
  1. A belief that all kids are entitled to a good education
  2. An open mind
  3. A willingness to attend seminars to help them make intelligent decisions about school affairs
  4. An ability to work with other school board members
  5. Time
There are a few others, but you get the idea; it's not like you need a graduate degree in economics for this gig. So why, according to a recent Journal Sentinel analysis, are almost 70% of local school board races in the five-county metro area going uncontested?

Seems like with all the concern over achievement rates, No Child Left Behind testing and cuts to school programs that more people, rather than fewer, would be interested in having a vote on what happens to their local district. One person has told us that part of it may be because so many schools have cut civics courses that illuminate how local government works.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Salute to D.C.'s College Tuition Champion

Mary Beth Sheridan:

He is a seven-term U.S. representative and a prominent Republican, but Tom Davis hasn't forgotten what it was like to grow up as one of five children in a struggling family, with a father serving time in prison.

"We had no money," Davis (R-Va.) said recently at a reception, recounting how he went to Amherst College thanks to a scholarship. "I understand what it means to be a young kid, when you talk about college, and make that a reality."

Davis is a champion of a federally funded initiative that has sent thousands of D.C. residents to college. He and other supporters of the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program were honored at the reception this month in the Senate.

The program, launched in 2000 and recently renewed, provides tuition subsidies of up to $10,000 per year to D.C. residents to attend public colleges elsewhere in the country. It offers smaller amounts to those choosing private colleges in the D.C. metropolitan area or historically black colleges around the nation. It aims to compensate for the District's lack of a full public university system.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:30 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas


Patrick Jonsson:

No Child Left Behind has created a demand for school administrators who can take the pressure, and some 20 percent of school districts are now seeking superintendents because of a shortage.

The list reads more like demands from a Hollywood agent than from a candidate to lead the schools for an antebellum-tinged suburb of Atlanta.

To come to work here in Clayton County, a failing school district in Georgia, former Pittsburgh superintendent John Thompson wants $275,000 in salary, a $2 million consulting budget, a Lincoln Town Car with a driver, and money to pay a personal bodyguard.

Sound a bit hefty for someone likely to pull a power lunch in a junior high cafeteria? Maybe not.

Fewer qualified candidates, rising expectations, and a near-impossible job description are creating a new breed of superintendents: Call them central office rock stars. These candidates say that, for the right price, they're willing to do an unpopular job that can take a heavy personal and professional toll to whip underperforming districts into shape.

The trend is exacerbated in struggling minority districts – many in the South – the very ones feeling the greatest pinch from new federal and state accountability laws.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 5:22 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Restructuring at Pasadena's Muir High School

Seema Mehta:

Pasadena 'school in crisis' requires all teachers to reapply for their jobs as part of arduous restructuring.

The statistics at John Muir High School are alarming: five principals in six years and test scores so dismal that the state has been monitoring the Pasadena school for four years. To turn around the troubled school, administrators, teachers and community members are undertaking an ambitious -- and unusual -- effort that includes requiring all teachers and staff to reapply for their jobs.

The rehiring process, the most emotionally difficult piece of the school's reconstitution so far, was completed Friday, but educators predict a tumultuous road ahead.

"It is a school in crises," said Renatta Cooper, a member of the Pasadena Board of Education. "Turning a school around is always very difficult. People are so protective of Muir that the amount of change that is going to have to take place to really change the academic climate at the school is going to make people uncomfortable."

Muir High School, a mission-style complex nestled at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, serves nearly 1,300 students from northwest Pasadena and Altadena. Open as a high school for more than half a century, Muir occupies a sentimental spot in the community, most visible in the large alumni turnout at the annual Turkey Tussle football game between the Muir Mustangs and arch-rival Pasadena High School's Bulldogs.

Clusty search: Pasadena Muir High School.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

What's Missing from Math Standards? Focus, Rigor and Coherence

William H. Schmidt:

Why do some countries, like Singapore, Korea, and the Czech Republic, do so much better than the United States in math? I've heard all sorts of reasons; diversity and poverty top the list. But after some 15 years conducting international research, I am convinced that it's the diversity and poverty of U.S. math standards—not the diversity and poverty of U.S. students—that are to blame.

The single most important result of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is that we now know that student performance is directly related to the nature of the curricular expectations. I do not mean the instructional practices. I mean the nature of what it is that children are to learn within schools. (In the U.S., the curricular expectations are usually referred to as standards; in other countries they are known by various names.) After all, what is more central to schooling than those things we, as a society, have chosen to pass on to our children?

The TIMSS research has revealed that there are three aspects of math expectations, or standards, that are really important: focus, rigor, and coherence. Let's take a brief look at each.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Washington's Math Evolution Takes Another Detour


The people revising the way students learn math in Washington would like the adults in the state to do them a favor.

Please stop saying: "Math is hard. I've never been good at it."

But if math is so easy, why is the process to revise the state's math standards taking so long?

The journey that began in the summer of 2006 with a consultant-led review of the old learning requirements is nearing its second anniversary. The new completion goal — a third extension granted by the Legislature earlier this month — is the end of summer.

Lawmakers and education officials say the process is taking so long because they want to make sure they get it right. They have a lofty goal: to finish the process with the best math system in the country.

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