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May 31, 2008

Rod Carew Leads Education Workshop

Michael Schwartz:

Hall of Famer Rod Carew felt right at home Wednesday morning speaking to a group of Temple City High School teachers as part of a traveling education workshop put on by the Hall of Fame, right down to receiving a school hat with a "TC" logo much like his old Minnesota Twins cap as a gift.

Carew told the enthralled group of Southern California educators the story of his life and career, from growing up in Panama, to not making his high school team, to being discovered by a Twins scout on a sandlot field in New York, to becoming an 18-time All-Star elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

Because of his life journey, he often tells kids not to let anybody tell them they can't do something, because anything can happen in life.

"It's OK to dream, because dreams do come true," said Carew, whose career proves that point. "No matter what walk of life you take."

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Little interest again in Richmond superintendent

Richmond's School Board yesterday held the last of four meetings asking city residents what they want to see in a superintendent -- and again drew only a small group.

About two dozen people showed up at Linwood Holton Elementary School for the session.

"We need someone who is very top notch," Tammy Williams, a parent from South Richmond, told the board. "We need someone who can concentrate on the entire system."

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One district is finding that simple measures are helping kids read.

Maria Elena Baca:

If administrators in the Centennial School District are right, all it takes is a few minutes a day to get many of their struggling readers on track.

The district's five elementary schools are finishing the first year of the Centennial Early Reading Foundations program (CERF), a K-3 literacy initiative created to reduce the number of special education referrals, to lift more students to grade level, and to improve children's social development, through increased small-group instruction and assessment, tailored to each child's needs. Much of the extra work occurs right in the classroom.

"We recognize that literacy is a cornerstone to the success of our children," said Dan Bittman, the district's director of elementary and secondary schools. "Literacy affects achievement in all areas and prepares them for the global world."

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May 30, 2008

Incoming Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad Receives UW-Green Bay Chancellor's Award

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay:

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Chancellor Bruce Shepard will present Chancellor's Awards to longtime UW-Green Bay friends Daniel Nerad and Leonard A. Seidl during commencement ceremonies Saturday, May 17, on campus.

The Chancellor's Award is UW-Green Bay's highest community honor. It recognizes distinguished service to the University and community.

Daniel Nerad, Ph.D., is recognized for his service to the community and success in promoting partnerships with its public university.

Nerad has been superintendent of schools and learning in the Green Bay Area Public School District since 2001. Prior to his appointment as superintendent, he served the Green Bay district in a variety of roles including assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction and executive director of curriculum. He earned Wisconsin Superintendent of the Year honors in 2006.

UW-Green Bay Chancellor Bruce Shepard notes that Dr. Nerad's "commitment and dedication to education have had a major impact on students and people of all ages in our community." In particular, the superintendent's support of Phuture Phoenix at UW-Green Bay has helped the precollege program expand its reach to thousands of local students as early as fifth grade. The program matches volunteer mentors with students from low-income neighborhoods and counsels children to value education and plan for college. Nerad has also been a partner with the Institute for Learning Partnership at UW-Green Bay.

Much more on Dan Nerad here.

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School of the future in the Philippines

Rina Jimenez-David:

The opening of the new school year in this country coincides with the onset of the rainy season, highlighting twin problems that confront us year after year.

The first is the seemingly perennial lack of classrooms and school buildings, with the Department of Education hard-pressed each time school opening season comes round to build enough classrooms for the ever-increasing population of students. Add to this the need to repair, if not rebuild entirely, school buildings damaged in typhoons and other natural disasters or simply falling apart due to time and substandard construction.

Around this time of the year, too, the Philippines comes in for its share of rains, typhoons, floods, landslides and other disasters. And for many communities, especially in the rural areas, the nearest and most convenient evacuation center is the local school, which many consider to be built of stronger, sturdier materials than their own flimsy houses. But what if this isn’t the case? What if the school house itself is vulnerable to the elements?

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Do We Really Need School Boards?

Marilla Stephenson:

A school board expert from Iowa who spoke at a conference in Dartmouth earlier this month noted that elected school boards in both Canada and the United States are increasingly being replaced by appointed bureaucrats.

Mary L. Delagardelle, who is in favour of elected boards, warned that "giving up elected school boards . . . is also giving up a little piece of democracy."

True enough. But we have surely reached the point in Nova Scotia, after a decade of troubles with school boards, where a little less democracy would be welcome change.

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A GAAP Toothed (Wisconsin) Budget

Mike McCabe:

There are at least two negative consequences for taxpayers. First, failing to pay today's bills until tomorrow makes paying tomorrow's bills even harder. The state's problem keeps getting bigger. A report issued in January had the GAAP deficit at over $2.4 billion. The previous year, it was $2.15 billion, which was more than the year before. And that year's GAAP gap was bigger than the year before that. You get the picture.

The second consequence of the GAAP deficit is it hurts the state's bond rating. That means the state has to pay higher interest rates when it borrows money. And, of course, it's the taxpayers who pay the penalty for our lawmakers' fiscal irresponsibility.

This problem has been 20 years in the making. GAAP deficits have been happening under Democratic governors and Republican governors, and they've been happening when Republicans control the Legislature as well as when Democrats are in charge. But while the problem isn't new and both parties are to blame, it's important to remember that it hasn't always been this way.

Something to consider with respect to the potential for growth in redistributed state education tax dollars.

Related: Michigan recently raised taxes significantly, only to see a smaller increase than expected.

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Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Releases Latest State Test Results, Madison Trails State Averages

380K PDF Press Release [AP's posting of DPI's press release]:

Results for statewide testing show an overall upward trend for mathematics, stable scores in reading, and a slight narrowing of several achievement gaps. This three-year trend comes at a time when poverty is continuing to increase among Wisconsin students.

The 434,507 students who took the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations (WKCE) and the Wisconsin Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities (WAA-SwD) this school year showed gains over the past three years in mathematics in six out of seven grades tested. Reading achievement at the elementary, middle, and high school levels was stable over three years. An analysis of all combined grades indicates a narrowing of some achievement gaps by racial/ethnic group.

"These three years of assessment data show some positive trends. While some results point to achievement gains, we must continue our focus on closing achievement gaps and raising achievement for all students," said State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster.

Andy Hall notes that Madison Trails State Averages [Dane County Test Result Comparison prepared by Andy Hall & Phil Brinkman - pdf]:
But in the Madison School District, just two of the 23 proficiency scores improved, while five were unchanged and 16 declined, according to a Wisconsin State Journal review of the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school year data from the state Department of Public Instruction.

Madison's scores trail the state average in 22 of the 23 scores. Typically the percentage of Madison students attaining proficient or advanced ratings trails the state average by several percentage points.

"The fact that we're able to stay close to the state average as our demographics have made dramatic changes, I think is a positive," said Madison schools Superintendent Art Rainwater, who added that the district's "strong instructional program" is meeting many of the challenges of immigrant and low-income students while ensuring that "high fliers are still flying high."

A district analysis shows that when the district's students are compared with their peers across the state, a higher percentage of Madison students continue to attain "advanced" proficiency scores — the highest category.

Madison students who aren't from low-income families "continue to outperform their state counterparts," with higher percentages with advanced scores in reading and math at all seven tested grade levels, the district reported.

Rainwater said he's long feared that the district's increasingly needy student population, coupled with the state's revenue limits that regularly force the district to cut programs and services, someday will cause test scores to drop sharply. But so far, he said, the district's scores are higher than would be expected, based on research examining the effects of poverty and limited English abilities on achievement.

This school year, 43 percent of Madison students are from low-income families eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, while 16 percent of students are classified as English language learners — numbers that are far above those of any other Dane County school district.

Rainwater noted that students with limited English abilities receive little help while taking the reading and language arts tests in English.

Tamira Madsen:

Reading test scores for Madison students changed little compared to 2006-07, but math results decreased in six of the seven grades tested. Of 23 scores in five topics tested statewide, Madison lagged behind state peers in 22 of 23 of those scores.

Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater attributes the district's performance and trends to the growing population of English language learners in the district.

Officials now are able to draw upon three years of results since Wisconsin began administering testing to students in grades three through eight and grade 10 in reading and mathematics. Based on state regulations, students in fourth, eighth and 10th grade were also tested in language arts, science and social studies.

Alan Borsuk on Milwaukee's results:

But there is little room for debate about what the scores say about the need for improvement in the outcomes for Milwaukee Public Schools students: The gaps between Milwaukee students and the rest of the state remain large, and school improvement efforts of many kinds over the years have not made much of a dent.

The problem is especially vivid when it comes to 10th-graders, the highest grade that is part of Wisconsin's testing system. The gap between sophomores in Milwaukee and those statewide has grown larger over the last two years, and, once again, no more than 40% of 10th-graders in MPS were rated as proficient or better in any of the five areas tested by the state. For math and science, the figure is under 30%.

Amy Hetzner notes that Waukesha County's test scores also slipped.

Notes and links regarding the rigor of Wisconsin DPI standards. DPI academic standards home page. Search individual school and district results here. The 2006 Math Forum discussed changes to the DPI math test and local results.

TJ Mertz reviews Wright Middle School's results.

Chan Stroman's June, 2007 summary of Madison WKCE PR, data and an interesting discussion. Notes on spin from Jason Spencer.

Jeff Henriques dove into the 2007 WKCE results and found that Madison tested fewer 10th graders than Green Bay, Appleton, Milwaukee and Kenosha. There's also a useful discussion on Jeff's post.

Advocating a Standard Grad Rate & Madison's "2004 Elimination of the Racial Achievement Gap in 3rd Grade Reading Scores".

Madison School District's Press Release and analysis: Slight decline on WKCE; non-low income students shine

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Advocating a Standard Graduation Rate & Madison's "2004 Elimination of the Racial Achievement Gap in 3rd Grade Reading Scores"

Leslie Ann Howard:

Back in 1995, when the Wisconsin State Journal and WISC-TV began a civic journalism project to study the racial achievement gaps in our schools, the statistical measures of student achievement and reading in third grade put the issue in sharp focus.

United Way and our community partners' efforts, through a variety of strategies including the Schools of Hope tutoring program, relied on those strong, focused statistics to measure the success of our 1-on-1 and 1-on-2 tutoring.

By 2004, Superintendent Art Rainwater was able to announce the elimination of the racial achievement gap in third grade reading scores, because our community had focused on stable statistical measure for over 10 years.

A standard graduation rate formula would create the same public focus for our nation's efforts to increase high school graduation rates.


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U.S. Schools Tap Growing Ranks of Chinese Students

Larry Abramson @ NPR:

As more and more Chinese go to college, U.S. universities are trying to grab a piece of this growing market. Even smaller schools feel they must have some sort of exchange program with Chinese schools. Exchange students were once motivated by a desire to spread international understanding, but now many feel that global education is important to their success in the job market.

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National Spelling Bee Brings Out Protesters Who R Thru With Through

Rebecca Dana:

A fyoo duhzen ambishuhss intelectchooals, a handful ov British skool teechers and wuhn rokit siuhntist ar triing to chang the way we spel.

They are the leaders of the spelling-reform movement, a passionate but sporadic 800-year-old campaign to simplify English orthography. In its long and failure-ridden history, the movement has tried to convince an indifferent public of the need for a spelling system based on pronunciation.

Reformers, including Mark Twain, Charles Darwin and Theodore Roosevelt, argued that phonetic spellings would make it easier for children, foreigners and adults with learning disabilities to read and write. For centuries, few listened, and the movement, exhausted by its own rhetoric and disputes within its ranks, sputtered out. It's back.

Spelling reform is currently enjoying a renaissance in the U.S. and Britain. At a time when young people are inventing their own shorthand for email and text messages, the reformers see a fresh opportunity 2 convert people 2 the cause.

In recent years, the ranks of Britain's Spelling Society and the American Literacy Council have swelled from a few stalwart members to more than 500, which in this effort is a lot. Reformers are energized: Some are writing to dictionary editors urging them to include simplified spellings in new editions. Others are organizing academic conferences, including one on June 7 in Coventry, England, on "The Cost of Spelling." The American Literacy Council just allocated $45,000 of its $250,000 private endowment to develop a series of DVDs using simplified spelling to teach English to international students. The Spelling Society has hired its first publicist.

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US Schools: Not that Bad
America's educational system is easier than those in China and India -- but it's still teaching valuable life lessons

Vivek Wadhwa:

Students have 2 million minutes—the time from the beginning of eighth grade to high school graduation—to build the intellectual foundation they'll need for professional success. That's the premise of a new documentary, Two Million Minutes, that's making waves in education and political circles.

The film tracks six students—two each in the U.S., India, and China—during their senior year of high school. The Indian and Chinese students work diligently on math and science, while the American students work hard but appear less focused and leave plenty of time for video games and social lives. The message is that because of our education system, we're getting left behind.

Two Million Minutes provides a provocative glimpse of the global competition now facing U.S. students. And the conclusion many are drawing is that to keep our edge, our children need to study more math and science and work harder. It is true that the U.S. education system should be improved; that's essential for economic success.

But the solution isn't for us to become just like our new competitors. We need to do what we do better.

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May 29, 2008

Retiring Madison Superintendent Art Rainwater's Reign, A Look Back


On June 30th, Art Rainwater is stepping down as superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District.

It's a position the 65-year-old never expected to fill, in Madison or anywhere else.

"My only career goal was to be a high school football coach," says Rainwater.

He was in 1965. Rainwater's career kicked off in Arkansas. The teacher-coach then moved to Texas. Next, Rainwater took a principal job in Alabama. His path eventually led to administrative work in Missouri. Then, in 1994, Rainwater became deputy superintendent in Wisconsin's Capitol City.

"I've served at almost every level of the K-12 education system that you can serve," he says.

In 1998, he added interim superintendent to his resume, replacing Cheryl Wilhoyte. During her tenure the district hit plenty of road bumps. Tensions were high.

"I think there was a lot of dissatisfaction, across the community, with the school district, at that time," says Rainwater. "So, the damage control was pretty obvious, (it) was going to happen."

Rainwater came in with three immediate goals. Smooth things over with the teachers union. Repair the district's relationship with the UW. And, gain the support of the business community.

"I thought by doing those three things, it would put the new superintendent, in place, to come in and hit the ground running," he adds.

Many notes and links on Art Rainwater can be found here.

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Waukesha's Superintendent Search

Amy Hetzner:

The board is in the midst of interviews with six semifinalists for the superintendent's job, chosen from a pool "just shy of 20" applicants screened by search consulting firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates. The interviews are scheduled to wrap up tonight, with the board naming one or several finalists afterward, Warren said.

That puts the district on track to bring in its finalists next week for meetings with administrators, community leaders, labor groups and board members, with the possibility that the board could know whether it has a final candidate by week's end, he said.

The names of the semifinalists have not been released.

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Summer no holiday for college coaches, high school football prospects

Bill Conley:

Memorial Day marks the time high school and college students are anxious for the school year to end and the summer to begin; graduation ceremonies take place and families plan their vacations.

Not so fast!

College football coaches and athletes who are going into their senior season of high school football have other plans. For both college staffs and high school athletes, the time period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is extremely important for recruiting.

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Childhood Obesity Rates Stop Rising

Rob Stein:

The obesity epidemic may have peaked among U.S. children, halting a decades-long trend of inexorably expanding waistlines among the nation's youngest and most vulnerable, federal health officials reported yesterday.

A new analysis of the most recent data collected by an ongoing government survey, considered the most authoritative on the subject, detected the first sign since the 1980s that the proportion of 2-to-19-year-olds who are overweight may have stopped rising, the National Center for Health Statistics reported.

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Girls are becoming as good as boys at mathematics, and are still better at reading

The Economist:

Luigi Guiso of the European University Institute in Florence and his colleagues have just published the results of a study which suggests that culture explains most of the difference in maths, at least. In this week's Science, they show that the gap in mathematics scores between boys and girls virtually disappears in countries with high levels of sexual equality, though the reading gap remains.

Dr Guiso took data from the 2003 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment. Some 276,000 15-year-olds from 40 countries sat the same maths and reading tests. The researchers compared the results, by country, with each other and with a number of different measures of social sexual equality. One measure was the World Economic Forum's gender-gap index, which reflects economic and political opportunities, education and well-being for women. Another was based on an index of cultural attitudes towards women. A third was the rate of female economic activity in a country, and the fourth measure looked at women's political participation.

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Expeditionary Learning Schools Outward Bound

Expeditionary Learning Schools Outward Bound:

Expeditionary Learning Schools Outward Bound (ELS) is a comprehensive K-12 educational design. Our approach combines rigorous academic content and real world projects -- learning expeditions -- with active teaching and community service. The ELS design focuses on teaching in an engaging way. Faculty members receive intensive professional development in curriculum, teaching practices, and building a strong school culture. Expeditionary Learning is now being implemented in over 140 urban, rural, and suburban schools.

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Toughest Summer Job This Year Is Finding One

Peter Goodman:

School is out, and Aaron Stallings, his junior year of high school behind him, wanders the air-conditioned cocoon of the Woodland Hills Mall in search of a job.

Mr. Stallings, 18, says he has been looking for three months, burning gasoline to get to the mall, then filling out applications at stores selling skateboard T-shirts, beach sandals and baseball caps. He likes the idea of working amid the goods he covets. But so far, no offers.

“I’m going to go to Iraq and get a job,” he says acidly. “I hear they’ve got cheap gas.” He grins. “I’m just playing. But I’ve been all over, and nobody’s hiring. They just say, ‘We’ll call you tomorrow.’ And no one ever calls back.”

As the forces of economic downturn ripple widely across the United States, the job market of 2008 is shaping up as the weakest in more than half a century for teenagers looking for summer work, according to labor economists, government data and companies that hire young people.

This deterioration is jeopardizing what many experts consider a crucial beginning stage of working life, one that gives young people experience and confidence along with pocket money.

Related: Milwaukee Sisters Sell Root Beer To Raise Money For College.

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Colorado's Innovation Schools Act of 2008

Colorado State Senate President Peter Groff (D-Denver) submitted a bill that:

  • Allows hiring decisions outside Union Labor Contracts
  • Gives schools control over:budgets, hiring decisions, and length of school days
  • Allows schools to dictate teacher qualifications and how much time to spend in class
  • Allows public schools to sidestep restrictions for the purpose of creating wide-ranging innovation in Colorado schools.
More from Jeremy Meyer and Democrats for Education Reform. Download Colorado SB08-130 here. Governor Bill Ritter signed the "Innovation Zones" bill into law on May 28, 2008.

Todd Engdahl summarizes the changes during the bill's "sausage making" process:

First big change

The original bill required only "a statement of the level of support" for the plan by school employees, students and parents, and the community. The amended bill requires a four-part test of support among various constituencies: "a majority of administrators," "a majority of teachers" and a "majority of the school advisory council," plus "a statement of the level of support" among other school employees, students and parents, and the surrounding community.

The amendments add a requirement to the application process - a description of the elements of any collective bargaining agreement that would need to be waived for an innovation plan to work.

Second (really) big change

The original bill gave innovation schools blanket exemption from laws and rules on: performance evaluations, authority of principals, employment of teachers, transfer of teachers, dismissal of teachers, salary schedules, teacher licensing and teacher salary payment.

All of that was struck by the amendments and replaced with language allowing a school board to waive any requirements deemed necessary to an innovation plan, except provisions of the school finance law, the exceptional children's educational act, data requirements necessary for School Accountability Reports, laws requiring criminal background checks of employees and the children's Internet protection act. (The original language barred any waivers of CSAP and No Child Left Behind requirements, and those remain in the bill.)

Third (really) big change

The original bill allowed innovation schools to be removed from a district's entire collective bargaining agreement by a vote of a majority of the personnel at the affected school or schools.

The amendments require "waiver of one or more of the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement" (italics added) to be approved by vote of "at least sixty percent of the members of the collective bargain unit who are employed at the innovation school."

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Live Video Language Learning


We have a simple (but not easy) mission: Revolution education.

Our goal is to create a platform to allow live learning to take place over the Internet anytime from anywhere.

Most importantly...for anyone. We’re the first people (we know) to create something that’s totally open and community-driven (rather than closed and transaction-driven).

We’re excited to create tools for people to teach and learn what they love in ways they never imagined possible.

If changing the world is your thing and you’re as passionate about education and learning as we are, please get in touch.

There is certainly a revolution underway in education - largely occurring outside the traditional school models. Innovation always starts at the edges, in this case homeschooling, and non-traditional school leaders and teachers. Much more on technology & education here.

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Japan Urges Limiting Kids Cell Phones


Japanese youngsters are getting so addicted to Internet-linking cell phones that the government is starting a program warning parents and schools to limit their use among children.

The government is worried about how elementary and junior high school students are getting sucked into cyberspace crimes, spending long hours exchanging mobile e-mail and suffering other negative effects of cell phone overuse, Masaharu Kuba, a government official overseeing the initiative, said Tuesday.

"Japanese parents are giving cell phones to their children without giving it enough thought," he said. "In Japan, cell phones have become an expensive toy."

The recommendations have been submitted from an education reform panel to Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's administration, and were approved this week.

The panel is also asking Japanese makers to develop cell phones with only the talking function, and GPS, or global positioning system, a satellite-navigation feature that can help ensure a child's safety.

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Working Relationship: Patrick Spottiswoode, director of education at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and his PA, Adrienne Gillam

Rosalind Renshaw:

"We get 100,000 students a year, aged from 3 to postgraduates," says Patrick Spottiswoode, the Globe's education director, "and at our busiest, we have 800 in a day. Children often arrive bored and cynical, but once they’ve been introduced to Shakespeare, they become animated and positive." His PA, Adrienne Gillam, sees it for herself: "It’s wonderful to watch an audience of kids come alive," she says.

The education programme is run by 23 members of staff with the help of 60 freelancers, usually actors who have been specially trained in each year group’s syllabus and can help students of all ages to create a production in less than a day.

The events have come a long way since 1984 when Patrick arrived — by coincidence, on Shakespeare’s birthday. He recalls: "I was working on a PhD and decided to take a year off, but 24 years later, I'm still here. There were only two members of staff, and the job advertisement was for someone to run an arts centre, museum and cafe. In reality, I started the arts centre with L200 of my own books, the museum was in a leaking warehouse and the cafe consisted of a kettle."

Shakespeare's Globe Education.

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Checking Up: States' Reports On Child-Care Centers Hit Web

Sue Shellenbarger:

Some important government child-care safety records are entering the Internet age at last.

In the past, state regulators' inspections of child-care centers and homes for safety, quality and cleanliness typically were cloaked in bureaucratic obscurity. To see the records, parents often had to drive to a state office during the workday or file cumbersome written requests under state freedom-of-information laws.

Now, 20 of the 50 states have begun posting the records online, and at least 13 more plan to do so soon. Searches usually can be done by Zip Code, city or facility name, bringing up state inspection reports, safety or health citations, complaint investigations or all three. (See a list of state links.)

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Obama's Education Speech

Karl Vick:

Obama backed into his answer, praising charter schools and suggesting the federal government encourage innovation both by the president's "bully pulpit" and by advertising "best practices" for schools to observe and emulate.

But, he went on, "this has always been a problem when it comes to education reform policies. There are always good schools in every state, in every school district and at every income level. You can go into every state and you can point to one school or five schools or ten schools that are doing a great job of educating their kids. The question we have to figure out is how do we scale up? How do we take the lessons of a great school like MESA, and have a hundred good schools like MESA?

"And there are a lot of ingredients to that, but probably the biggest challenge is making sure that we've got great educational leaders, both teachers and principals, in those schools and we've got to produce more and more of those.

Allison O'Keefe:
During the question and answer period, Obama was asked about bilingual education, especially given current climate of immigration. Obama believes that everyone should be bilingual or even “trilingual.” “When we as a society do a really bad job teaching foreign languages – it is costing us when it comes to being competitive in a global marketplace,” he said.

He was also asked about the federal government’s role in a world of charter schools and the success of private foundations on small school public education, such as the school where he was appearing. Obama immediately expressed his support for charter schools, citing the importance of “innovation at the local level.” But Obama treaded lightly, saying that there are always good schools in every state. Earlier in his speech, Obama referred to the ongoing teacher talks in Denver. Dozens of teachers in two different public schools called in sick in opposition to their ongoing contract negotiations.

Alexander Russo has more:
At the Wednesday event, Obama regurgitated the (inaccurate) slam that NCLB relies on a "a single, high-stakes test," according to this report (Obama tours Colorado school, touts education plans EdWeek) and did the whole curriculum narrowing thing, too, about which I have my doubts.

He's also proposing a national service-type thing that to my eye looks an awful lot like a federal version of TFA. Just what schools (and school reform) doesn't need -- more FNG short-timers making everyone feel good about high-need schools (Full text of Obama's education speech). Yeah, I'm against that.

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Friend or Foe: The scoop on Toki lunches

Monika Hetzler & Erika Rodriguez:

Ask Toki Middle School students how they feel about school lunches, and you’ll get varied responses. Some say they never eat it, while others claim “it’s the best lunch I’ve had!” Whether people like the food or not isn’t necessarily indicative of the healthfulness of school lunches.

University of Wisconsin nutritionist Marcy Braun said the nutritional value of school lunches could be “greatly improved” and described her ideal school lunch.

“Well, first, I would make the lunch period longer,” said Braun, adding that if schools provided more space and played music during lunch, it would “make the room more alive,” which could be a “key factor” in creating a better environment.

Via Isthmus.

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How to Solve Toddler Tantrums: Think Like a Neanderthal

Meredith Small:

You're in a store, little kid in hand, and then suddenly she tries to pull away. You bend down and whisper quietly in her ear, "Stay with Mommy, honey," knowing full well that this reasonable request is a foolish attempt to dampen the temper tantrum that is rising like a tsunami inside your kid. With a pounding heart, you scoop her up and run from the store before someone shouts, "Bad parent. Dreadful child. Get out!"

No one knows why 2-year-olds have temper tantrums, but most of them do. It starts with mild anger over something simple but then quickly escalates into full blown fury dramatized by screaming, fist pounding, foot-stomping, and screaming. The child also descends psychologically into a place where they can't be reached by words or physical comfort, and parents stand by helpless and confused.

Clearly, the child is distressed, but to the parent, the distress seems way out of proportion to the situation. And it is physically stressful for the child, which suggests that there must be some evolutionary reason why temper tantrums are so universal for little kids.

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Keeping Science In Children's Orbit
As Schools Focus on Reading and Math, Educator Has Students' Eyes on the Skies

Theresa Vargas:

Bob Nicholson can make the sun rise in the west, the stars come out at noon and the moon wax and wane with his whims.

"I will show you what the sky will look like on your last day of fifth grade," the 56-year-old educator told students gathered one afternoon this month in the domed planetarium at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria.

"This is not only a space machine," he continued, "it's a time machine."

Open-mouthed, the Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy fifth-graders stared up as the sun suddenly took Nicholson's cue, rising and setting on the course it would take June 19, the last day of school.

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May 28, 2008

Middleton High School Students Collect Donations to Aid Individuals in War-Torn Nation
Project Liberia inspires students to give

With the school year winding down and summer almost here, it would be easy for any area high school student to spend his or her time simply counting down the days to the start of summer fun. But for one group of students at Middleton High School, there is no time like the present to start a new project, aimed at helping those in need halfway around the world.

For the past three weeks, this group of students have been collecting used sports equipment for children in the country of Liberia, all in the name of helping the youth of this nation, which is recovering from a 15-year civil war, learn how to see each other as teammates rather than enemies.

The inspiration for the project — titled Sports For Africa and part of a burgeoning non-profit organization called Project Liberia -- came from 16-year-old Laytee Norkeh, whose mother and father are Liberian nationals. As Norkeh and her friends listened to heartbreaking stories of the great need that exists across the small West African country, they couldn't help but see an opportunity to get involved.

"We felt a strong need to take matters into our own hands and help those who are so helpless," Norkeh says. "It takes so little to make such a big difference in the lives of these people. We want to help them and give them hope of a better future."

Norkeh, along with Eli Rosen, Carli Kopatz, Lexie Jordee, Sam Delabarre, Ashley Guse, Campbell White, David Ripp, Alex Koritzinsky, and John Zimmerman have been working to collect used sports equipment at their school and other local businesses. The collection runs from May 28 - June 6th. Laytee has created a video which will be shown to the student body beginning May 28th.

About Project Liberia:

Project Liberia is a collection of individual programs designed to meet some of the most pressing needs for a nation recovering from a devastating civil war. Each venture — from building a community center, developing a micro-loan system and bringing sports equipment to children in villages and orphanages — has been developed to enhance the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual fiber of the people of Liberia. 501(c)(3) status pending.
For more information, please contact Bulleh Bablitch at (608) 577-6711 or

Liberia via the CIA's World Factbook.

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Gwinnett County, GA Schools asked math teachers to stay for summer school

D. Aileen Dodd:

Gwinnett County Schools began to prepare teachers for higher than normal failure rates on the standardized math exam for middle-schoolers long before the state announced the troubled scores.

Tougher standards made the new middle school math section of the Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Test more challenging for students. New curriculum changes also proved to be more difficult for some educators to teach and students to grasp.

When you have a new assessment on a new curriculum you usually anticipate that you will have a dip in performance," said Sloan Roach, spokesperson for Gwinnett Schools.

Planning ahead for problems, Gwinnett administrators asked more middle school teachers than usual to stick around for summer school, so the district wouldn't be overwhelmed by eighth-graders seeking help in math. Eighth-graders are required to pass the CRCT for promotion to high school.

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Three women rise to the top of AFT union

Greg Toppo:

Hillary Clinton's bid to become the first female U.S. president could falter, but another milestone for women probably will fall into place this summer with little fanfare: Three women are slated to become the first to run a major labor union.
Delegates to the American Federation of Teachers' biennial meeting here in July are expected to elect Randi Weingarten their new president, along with two other longtime AFT officials: Antonia Cortese and Lorretta Johnson as secretary-treasurer and executive vice president, respectively.

The three announced their candidacy last week at a small, private event for top union officials.

"It's powerful because these are three knowledgeable women," says Marietta English, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union. "This is the year for women. I'm excited."

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Wisconsin Host schools and families needed for Japanese teachers

SEAchange online:

A father from Thailand recently observed the power of international exchange programs in an e-mail to Wisconsin staff about his daughter's visit to the state: "She has learned many things and felt very connected to her host, friends and you. I think this is the best part of this program: to get people to know each other, understand each other and feel that they belong to the same family. It is very amazing that only few weeks can make this strong relationship."

Another opportunity to build international relationships is now here. Schools and districts have until June 6 to apply to host visiting teachers from Japan this fall.

The Japan-Wisconsin Education Connection, now in its 12th year, gives a select number of K-12 Wisconsin school districts the opportunity to host a talented elementary, junior or senior high school teacher from Japan.

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Rhee Changes DC's School Budget Formula: Seeks to Bring Art & Music to Schools

Bill Turque:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has scrapped a funding formula introduced in the late 1990s to bring more transparency and public participation to budget deliberations, replacing it with a system that critics say diminishes the autonomy of individual schools.

Rhee says that the funding method, known as the "weighted student formula," has not served many schools well, placing too much power in the hands of principals. Her alternative, she said, will increase transparency and help her make good on a core promise: to provide every D.C. school with art, music and physical education teachers.

Dismay over changes in the formula is part of a broader unhappiness with the development of the 2008-09 budget, the first on Rhee's watch. Information about the proposed allocation of money, usually available to the public in February, was posted only a week ago on the D.C. Public Schools Web site.

The Washington DC District posts individual school budgets online.

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Kettle Moraine School Plans Weekly Short Day for Teacher Development

Amy Hetzner:

Some parents in the Elmbrook School District have complained about their district's move away from weekly, one-hour early releases to a schedule that dismisses students two hours and 15 minutes earlier than usual less frequently.

Kettle Moraine's plan has yet to be shared with all of the school's parents, said Kotlowski, although she said it has the near unanimous support of teachers.

The school should look into whether it could offer activities to occupy the student body while teachers are meeting as an alternative to sending them home early, Kettle Moraine board member Colin Butler suggested. He said students in Vermont, where he previously served on the school board, were allowed to ski free on the days when they went home early from school.

"Time given away will be very difficult to retrieve later on," Butler said.

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Science Students Need To Get Out Of The Classroom

Joann Klimkiewwicz:

It's a late Wednesday morning and these three high school students from Meriden should be hunkered down in the classroom. But here they are, jammed around a digital monitor at the Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, fingers hovering over the touchscreen display that morphs scorpions and other critters through evolutionary time.

"Oh, wow," says Alexis Rivera, 16, neck craning and eyes fixed to the screen. "This is crazy."

Rivera was among 40 biology students from Orville H. Platt High School who fanned across the museum last week for a field trip on biodiversity, peering at ecological dioramas and touching interactive displays. To education experts, this is "informal" or "free-choice" science learning, which means it's happening outside of school.

"When we're in class, we can say, 'Do you know that bird, the so-and-so?'" says Walt Zientek, the school's special-education teacher for science. He is standing in the dimmed exhibit hall on Connecticut birds as his students weave their way through the museum's three floors.

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Parents question proposed changes to Pennsylvania's gifted-student regulations

Susan Snyder:

Pennsylvania is taking steps to make gifted education available to more students, but that has done little to quell long-standing tension between parents and school districts over how the state's brightest are educated.

The proposed changes on course to become final this summer make clear that districts must use more than an IQ score to identify gifted students - as most other states do.

The state sets a 130 IQ as the trigger for gifted education and allows districts to choose the other criteria, such as teacher recommendations and classroom work.

Just how much impact the clarification will have is uncertain. State officials had no estimate of how many more students would be identified or the potential cost to districts.

While most area school administrators interviewed said they already use more than an IQ score to evaluate students, education advocates disagree.

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Education activist led school board
After 10-year hiatus, she joined efforts to remove controversial superintendent

Liam Ford::

Margaret V. Soucek and a small group of friends set out in the mid-1960s to help reform the Morton High School District 201 Board.

Their group, The Organization for Better Education, met with so much stonewalling and hostility from local political forces in Berwyn and Cicero that one of their candidates, Mary Karasek, considered dropping out of the race, Karasek recalled Monday. But when Mrs. Soucek heard about her friend's wish, she wouldn't have it.

"I thought, 'It isn't worth it,'" Karasek said. "But Margaret got so worked up about the fact that I withdrew, that I decided I had to [run]."

Mrs. Soucek, 86, a longtime Berwyn resident, would go on to serve as president of the District 201 Board, frequently squaring off against forces loyal to west suburban figures such as former Cicero Town President Betty Loren-Maltese. Mrs. Soucek died Wednesday, May 21, in Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital after a heart attack.

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Few Solutions in Book on Charters

Jay Matthews:

Journalists, particularly me, tend to get excited about charter schools, the independently run public schools that have produced -- at least in some cases -- major improvements in achievement for children from low-income families. The charter educators I write about are often young, energetic, witty, noble and pretty much irresistible. But their charter schools, which use tax dollars with little oversight, are relatively new and untried. Like all experiments, they could easily fizzle.

That is the point of a short, readable and fact-filled new book, "Keeping the Promise? The Debate over Charter Schools," available for $16.95 at The seven chapters make the best case I have ever read for a skeptical attitude toward the nation's 4,000 charter schools. For reasons I will explain, it did not change my view of charters, but it should spark, as the subtitle says, a thought-provoking debate.

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May 27, 2008

Local Politics: Madison Mayor Dave Meets with MTI's John Matthews & Former WEAC Director Mo Andrews

Jason Joyce's useful look at Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz's weekly schedule often reveals a few nuggets of local political trivia. Today, the Mayor met with Madison Teachers, Inc. Executive Director John Matthews and former WEAC Executive Director Morris (Mo) Andrews.

Related links:

Might parents and taxpayers have a meeting?

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Study echoes MPS, voucher findings
Graduation rates higher among voucher students

Alan Borsuk:

A second round of results comparing high school graduation figures for Milwaukee Public Schools and a group of private schools in the city's publicly funded voucher program has reached the same conclusion as a report issued in January: Students who attend voucher schools are more likely to graduate than those who attend MPS.

The second report, issued today, adds data for the class of 2007 to its figures. The earlier report had figures for the classes of 2003 through 2006.

The report was funded by and released by School Choice Wisconsin, the main organization for advocacy for Milwaukee's voucher program, which is the oldest and largest of its kind in the United States. About 19,000 students attended about 120 private schools in the city this year, with public funds of up to $6,501 per student going to the schools.

Press release and complete report - PDF

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Grand Rapids School Board to stop collecting union dues

Tony Tagliavia:

The Grand Rapids Board of Education voted to suspend collecting union dues out of teachers' paychecks.

The move comes after a mediation session was held Thursday. School officials say that session was unproductive. The board also took a no-confidence vote in Grand Rapids Education Association president Paul Helder.

The dues are now taken out of teachers' paychecks by the district and forwarded to the union. It amounts to $57,000 every pay period, once every two weeks.

The district continued the practice voluntarily after the old contract expired, but that will end May 30.

Board leadership said they are trying to send a message that union leadership is dysfunctional, in part because the board president said Thursday's mediation session wasted time repeating the same arguments about the district's financial condition.

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On the Sadness of Higher Education

Alan Charles Kors:

The academic world that I first encountered was one of both intellectual beauty and profound flaws. I was taught at Princeton, in the early 1960s—in history and literature, above all—before the congeries that we term "the '60s" began. Most of my professors were probably men of the left—that's what the surveys tell me—but that fact was never apparent to me, because, except in rare cases, their politics or even their ideological leanings were not inferable from their teaching or syllabi. Reasoned and informed dissent from professorial devil's advocacy or interpretation was encouraged and rewarded, including challenges to the very terms of an examination question.

In retrospect, professors who must have disagreed fundamentally with works such as David Donald's "Lincoln Reconsidered" (with its celebrated explanation of the abolitionists' contempt for Lincoln in terms of the loss of status of their fathers' once-privileged social group) assigned them for our open-minded academic consideration. My professor of Tudor-Stuart history, emerging from the bitter Oxbridge debates over explanations of the English Civil War in terms of class conflict, assigned Jack Hexter's stunning "Reappraisals in Social History" to us. When I opined to him somewhat apprehensively that Hexter appeared to have exposed the tendentious use of statistics in my professor's own prior work, he replied, "You're absolutely correct." These were not uncommon experiences in Princeton's classrooms, and I knew, then and there, that I wanted both to do history and to teach.

Clusty Search: Alan Charles Kors.

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Algebra I stumping high school freshmen

Lori Higgins:

Thousands of high school freshmen across Michigan are failing Algebra I, the first of four math courses this class of students must take and pass to fulfill what are among the toughest graduation requirements in the nation.

The failure rate -- estimated at 20% to 30% of about 113,000 freshmen -- has some predicting a crisis by the time these students are juniors and must take Algebra II.

In Macomb County after the first semester of this school year, the failure rate was around 28%.

"We have enough data to think this is going to continue to be a problem," said Gayle Green, assistant superintendent with the Macomb Intermediate School District. Failure rates for Oakland and Wayne counties haven't been compiled but officials there are concerned, too.

Related: April, 2004 West High School Math Teacher Letter to Isthmus.

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May 21, 2008 Congressional Hearing on Math Curriculum

Via a kind reader email: House Committee on Education & Labor:

The House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing to examine a recent report released by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel on the state of math education and instruction in the United States. Among other things, the report found that the nation's system for teaching math is "broken and must be fixed" if the U.S. wants to maintain its competitive edge.
Skip Fennel's wide ranging testimony can be read here [66K PDF]:
However, I would add that at a time of teacher surplus at the elementary school level, it is perhaps time to scrap the model of elementary teacher as generalist. Why not have specifically trained elementary mathematics specialists starting from day one of their career? Our country can’t wait until such specialists are graduate students.
Francis "Skip" Fennell is Professor of Education, McDaniel College and Past President, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Notes and links on the recent NCTM report.

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Hope in the Unseen: Maryland's SEED Public Boarding School

Thomas Friedman:

SEED Maryland was admitting boys and girls beginning in sixth grade. They will live in a dormitory — insulated from the turmoil of their neighborhoods. In Washington, nearly all SEED graduates have gone on to four-year colleges, including Princeton and Georgetown.

Because its schools are financed by both private and public funds, SEED can offer this once-in-a-lifetime, small-class-size, prep-school education for free, but it can’t cherry-pick its students. It has to be open to anyone who applies. The problem is that too many people apply, so it has to choose them by public lottery. SEED Maryland got more than 300 applications for 80 places.

The families all crowded into the Notre Dame auditorium, clutching their lottery numbers like rosaries. On stage, there were two of those cages they use in church-sponsored bingo games. Each ping-pong ball bore the lottery number of a student applicant. One by one, a lottery volunteer would crank the bingo cage, a ping-pong ball would roll out, the number would be read and someone in the audience would shriek with joy, while everyone else slumped just a little bit lower. One fewer place left ...

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Sounds of hope from Paraguay dump

Alfonso Daniels via a kind reader's email:

Suddenly the sound of violins playing Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks breaks the sound of stray dogs' barking and rubbish trucks, taking the visitor to the streets of any European city like Prague or Vienna.

This is Cateura, the main rubbish dump of Paraguay's capital, Asuncion, where the conductor of the country's symphony orchestra, Luis Szaran, has established a music school.

"I came here once and saw a woman holding a newborn child with one hand and picking up rubbish with the other, and told myself this could not go on, this is how everything started," recalls Mr Szaran, who is of Hungarian and Polish origin.

He launched the Sonidos de la Tierra (Sounds of the Land) initiative six years ago to bring classical and folkloric music to the poorest children with the help of the Swiss non-governmental organisation,

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Students with learning disabilities get extra attention at Walbridge, a private Madison school

Pamela Cotant:

One morning, students at Walbridge School used their fingers to trace letters representing sounds in a mix of sand and sparkling glitter on a paper plate.

When a student was squeamish about the task, he asked if he could trace with a pen instead of his finger.

This lesson is an example of the multisensory approach taken by Walbridge School, which was founded in 1986. The private, nonprofit school enrolls children in grades 1 through 8 at 7035 Old Sauk Road on the Far West Side.

"We teach children who learn differently, who cannot succeed with traditional ways of learning," said Gary Lewis, head of the school.

The primary concerns for students at Walbridge are learning issues rather than behavioral, he said. Some have specific disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and attention deficit disorder.

Some students have other concerns such as confusion over space and time.

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May 26, 2008

$60M Blown on PR: Why Education isn't a Hot Topic in the 2008 Presidential Election

Ari Shapiro @ NPR:

The "Ed in '08" campaign got $60 million to try to make education a prominent issue in the race for the White House. Former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, the chairman of the nonprofit in charge of the project, talks with Ari Shapiro about why the topic hasn't been high on the candidates' radar.
Links:Money is not always the answer, nor is a top down approach. Edin08 is funded by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, the Gates and Broad Foundations.

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The Hidden Costs of Education Reform

Anneliese Dickman:

Here at the Forum we have long bemoaned the lack of data with which to measure the success of Milwaukee's various education reform efforts. From the 32-year-old Chapter 220 integration program to the 10-year-old open enrollment program (not to mention the 18-year-old private school choice program), our policymakers have become expert at funding reform programs long-term without measuring their effectiveness at improving student achievement.

It turns out we're not alone. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district's pre-K Bright Beginnings program, which later became a model for a similar statewide program, was passed with the promise of better middle and high school outcomes. However, the inaugural class of Bright Beginnings preschoolers is now part of the high school freshman class and the district cannot say whether they are doing better than their peers who did not attend preschool.

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An Interview with Terry Grier, San Diego's New Superintendent

Maureen Magee:

What kind of reforms are you planning for the district?

The budget crisis is not over. We've got to look at closing small schools. There are 40 with enrollments under 400.

How would you help the district's poorest-performing schools?

I'd like to look at lowering class size to an average of 15 (students) in grades kindergarten, one and two at 10 to 15 of our most impacted schools. Some of these schools have a tremendous mobility factor; I'd to treat them like magnets and provide busing if (students) move, as many of them often do for various reasons, so they can continue at the same school.

What about the rest of the district?

I want schools to have flexibility. But one thing I think – and research says – all schools could benefit from is creating a sense of community by keeping cohorts of children together in kindergarten, first and second grades.

What about high schools?

I'd like every high school to offer at least 10 Advanced Placement courses. It's not ethical to deny some students access to this curriculum.


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"That's Why it is Called a Grade Point Average"

Ms. Cornelius:

Like my new haircut?

I got it from the whirling blades of the latest helicopter parents to hover over my head now that the semester is inexorably subsiding like a California mudslide into the onslaught of finality which is known as "end of semester" time.

The question before us, ladies and gentlemen, is if it possible for Sugarplum to increase his semester average 8 percentage points in the next six school days. Never mind that Sugarplum has never come within sniffing distance of the grade that this parent has suddenly just plucked out of the ether as their "dream grade."

Sugarplum has come to after school help sessions 4 times over the entire year. I speak to Sugarplum every single day after class for at least five minutes-- or for as long as I can take his whining about how something is "not fair!" or his wheedling for me to increase his grade on the latest assignment because he "tried really hard"-- as I have my planning period and Sugarplum has lunch. Never mind that I have to repeat every single thing I say to Sugarplum, and yet he still tells his mom that I never told him about deadlines. I actually like Sugarplum, since if you haven't gotten to the point that you can tolerate this behavior, you would go batty as a teacher. But liking Sugarplum and buying the crock he's selling are two different things.

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May 25, 2008

Photographer Annie Leibovitz Tells Graduates To Have a Viewpoint -- and to Stick by it

Susan Kinzie:

Leibovitz told the graduates of Corcoran to keep their eyes open.

"The artistic process is still about seeing. Things don't stop unfolding in front of you. As you go out in the world, keep in mind the possibilities," she said.

The photography majors, in particular, leave school with a new sense of perspective.

"Everything starts to look different through the lens," Anthony said.

The best thing about her education, she said, was the exposure -- to new ideas, new techniques, new artists.

The work of Leibovitz, Richard Avedon and other commercial photographers is usually the first thing photography students see, Anthony said, the first thing that gets them excited about the field. At school, Anthony learned about edgier, lesser-known artists, and she experimented with color and interactive pieces.

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Violence & Drugs in Middle School?

Kamela Harris:

Last week, a 6-year-old boy brought a gun to Cleveland Elementary School in San Francisco. And that was only three weeks after an Oakland first-grader had his skull fractured by another student and a few days after a 17-year-old brought a semiautomatic pistol to Lowell High School.
It's terrible when even one child has a gun, has drugs or gets violent in school, but apparently nearly half the students in some Bay Area elementary and middle schools are being suspended for this kind of conduct. On Monday, The Chronicle reported that some Bay Area elementary and middle schools suspend up to 40 percent of their students a year for drugs or violence.
This is an outrage. But school suspensions aren't the problem; they're a symptom of a much more serious problem. In some schools, guns, drugs and violence are becoming the norm. The students getting suspended are typically the same students who are chronically truant, end up dropping out and wind up in the criminal justice system. But they're not the only ones at risk here. Every student in these schools is being robbed of the chance to learn. Students can't learn when they're worried that someone might bring a gun to class. Students can't learn when fights are breaking out around them. Even bright, eager students can become truants or dropouts when they fall behind or get too scared to go to school.

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Much Ado about Germantown School Referendum Do-Over

Mike Nichols:

The board wants to nullify the ballots of all the Germantown citizens who, just last month, voted 55% to 45% against a $16.5 million school referendum.

Unhappy with the results, the board is now considering a "do-over."

It wants to schedule the exact same referendum in November it just staged in April - sort of a déjà screw.

Not everyone sees it that way, of course, as I found out when I opened my e-mail.

Today, I give a little space to the other side.

Mike Nichols previous article on Germantown's referendum.

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Texas English Standards Go Back to the Basics

Gary Sharrer:

For some board members, though, it came down to process and a different educational approach. The prevailing side wants grammar taught separately instead of incorporating it in the context of writing.

We believe you need to know those skills first, and then you can incorporate them into your writing," said member Terri Leo, R-Spring. "We feel the other side thinks that you are going to learn things by osmosis, by just writing."

The existing approach is not adequately preparing students for college, Leo said, noting the significant need for remedial work necessary before college students acquire basic writing skills.

Board Chairman Don McLeroy, R-Bryan, said neither approach is particularly wrong nor right. "But you are going to vote for the one you believe in," he said.

Leo said she and other board members represent more than teacher groups.

"My district, for the most part, supports going back to those basic skills," she said.

The board voted unanimously in March on a tentative plan, calling for teachers and others to improve a document published in the Texas Register, which serves as the official bulletin of state agency rule-making.

Texas Education Agency.

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School Budget Climate: City of Madison

Via Brenda Konkel:

Currently, there are two significant revenue categories of note:

1) Building Permit Revenues: These are way down, with revenues of just over $800K posted through the first quarter. Total posted receipts comprise only 17% of the total anticipated for the year. At a minimum, we'd like to see this at 20%, or 25%. The number of residential construction permits issued in the first quarter of '08 is 51, versus 89 issued during the same period of 2007.

So, the softening continues, and our projections suggest revenues ranging from $2.8M to $3.5M for the year, as compared with $4.69M budgeted. If we use a mid-point of $3.2M, this suggests a revenue shortfall for the year of $1.5M for this category.

65% of the Madison School District's Budget ($367M in 2008/2009) is generated from local property taxes.

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Waukesha Considers Closing an Elementary School

Amy Hetzner

Now, School Board members say, it could be time to close one of the district's 17 elementary schools.

"I hate to close schools," board member Ellen Langill said. "But on the other hand, our enrollment's been shrinking, too, with the demographics of people having fewer children and our schools having fewer students. In some ways, I think it's overdue. It's never an easy thing to do."

Classroom space has opened up throughout the district with enrollment declines in recent years. According to the state Department of Public Instruction, between 1996-'97 and 2006-'07, the district lost 405 students in the elementary grades.

But much of that loss occurred early in the decade.

Waukesha's Executive Director of Business Services will soon move to a similar position in Madison.

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Mitch Henck Interviews Madison School Board Member Marj Passman

55MB mp3 audio file: April, 2008

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High School's Worst Year?

Jonathan Kaufman:

Jennifer Glickman, a 17-year-old high school junior, gets so stressed some days from overwork and lack of sleep that she feels sick to her stomach and gets painful headaches.

A straight-A student, she recently announced at a college preparatory meeting with her mother and guidance counselor that she doesn't want to apply to Princeton and the other Ivy League schools that her counselor thinks she could get into.

"My mom wants me to look at Ivy League schools, but my high school years have been so stressful that I don't want to deal with that in college," says Ms. Glickman. "I don't want it to be such a competitive atmosphere. I don't want to put myself in this situation again."

High school has long been enshrined in popular culture -- from the musical "Grease" to television shows like "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Friday Night Lights" -- as a time of classes, sports and overwrought adolescent drama. But these days, junior year is the worst year in high school for many ambitious students aiming for elite and increasingly selective colleges -- a crucible of academic pressure.

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May 24, 2008

ACLU Lawsuit Against Kentucky Single Sex Classrooms

WORT's 8 o'clock Buzz: Emily Marton of the ACLU on Sex Segregation in the Classroom Kentucky Public School. 30MB mp3 audio file. Interesting interview. Discussion topics include the lack of data to support the success of sex segregation in the classroom, curriculum reduction, and that "a lot of people would be shocked if they knew what their local school systems were doing". Much more on the ACLU's lawsuit here.

On behalf of five families, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Kentucky filed an amended complaint in federal court today charging that segregating classes by sex Breckinridge County Middle School is illegal and discriminatory. The ACLU’s lawsuit expands a previous lawsuit filed by a private attorney against the Breckinridge County School District and other county entities to include the U.S. Department of Education.

“The Breckinridge County sex-segregated classrooms are not only unlawful because they deny boys and girls equal opportunities in education these kinds of experimental programs are also misguided in that they distract from efforts that we know can improve all students' education like improved funding, smaller classes, more parental involvement and better trained teachers," said Emily Martin, Deputy Director of the ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

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Shaved Heads and Fund Raising for Becky Buchman at Madison's Cherokee Middle School


The school year started with tragedy for Cherokee Middle School when their librarian was killed in an accident right in front of the school.

Friday, students and staff remembered Becky Buchman with a fundraiser in her honor.

Three students and nine staff members shaved their heads to raise funds for a memorial in honor of the beloved librarian.

Donations can be sent to

Cherokee Middle School
4301 Cherokee Dr.
Madison, WI 53711

Download (CTRL-Click) this mpeg4 video clip for your iPod, iPhone or other portable device.

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Bold Etonians

Harry Eyres:

When I left Eton College, aged 17 in 1975, the headmaster Michael McCrum, a remote figure who had had very little impact on our lives over the past five years, presented each of us with a signed copy of the poems of Thomas Gray. At the time it seemed one of the most meaningless of the many arcane rituals and traditions that gave the school its peculiar flavour (the wearing of Victorian undertakers’ dress, the playing of bizarre games involving walls and mud, the private language).

Gray, author of “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”, wasn’t even the best old Etonian poet. But unfortunately Percy Bysshe Shelley was a rebel, an atheist and a proto-socialist advocate of free love – not the sort of man whose poems you hand out to teenagers.

But Gray did write “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College”, the poem that distils nostalgia for a carefree adolescence spent rowing and playing cricket near those “distant spires” and “antique towers which crown the watery glade”. The ode ends with the famous lines, “Where ignorance is bliss/ ’Tis folly to be wise,” which seem an unlikely advertising slogan for an expensive and exclusive seat of learning.

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A Technological Fix For Education

Sramana Mitra:

Venture capitalists are chasing hot areas with planet-scale problems: energy, water, global warming. Industry legends, including John Doerr and Vinod Khosla, have become prominent spokesman for the issues and have pumped huge sums of capital into these markets.

In our enthusiasm for green, however, there's a forgotten society and industry segment that remains woefully unaddressed--namely, education.

With the advent of social media, and with the revival of entrepreneurship and investments in consumer Internet services, technology-enabled education looks like a huge opportunity for wealth creation.

Why have entrepreneurs and investors ignored education? "The market is relatively tough to crack due to its seasonal nature and the dysfunctional sales cycle which results in wary investors," says Edward Fields, chief executive of HotChalk, a free online community application that aims to connect teachers, students and parents from kindergarten through grade 12. Unlike many other efforts, HotChalk seems to be getting real traction.

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My Divorce from the College Board

Nick Giulioni:

For two-plus years, the monopoly known as College Board has plagued my life. Whether it was the PSAT, AP tests, or the SAT, I have found myself preparing for, resting for or stressing over the tests this company convinces students they need to take. But last Thursday, I faced my last examination administered by College Board.

I was not sure exactly what to expect when I walked out of the AP literature exam. I didn’t know how I would feel when I finished that test, and my relationship with College Board. I didn’t know what I would do with my spare time, if not constantly checking the site for my scores.

But when I woke from my boredom-induced sleep (largely because of the three essays I was forced to write) and it was time to head out to an early lunch, I felt little of the relief that I expected.

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May 23, 2008

Nonstop campus construction eats up education dollars

Andrea Neal:

Despite the economic downturn affecting the housing market, construction continues apace on Indiana's college campuses. It's little wonder. Public universities have little incentive to stop building.

That's because most projects are paid for through debt financing: a buy-now, pay-later approach that spreads out costs over time and thus minimizes the impact on taxpayers and students.

It also masks long-term effects and contributes to the rising costs of higher education in Indiana. Since 2001, state appropriations for debt service have increased 66 percent while funding for university operating expenses has increased 22 percent.

"I think one of the hidden costs -- multimillion-dollar costs people aren't aware of at all -- is debt servicing," said Murray Sperber, professor emeritus at Indiana University. Sperber has written extensively about college sports and how they've diverted funds away from the core academic mission of big colleges.

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Garden City New York School Board Seeks to Expand AP & International Baccalaureate Opportunities

Stephanie Mariel Petrellese:

The AB/IB Committee, co-chaired by Drs. Prendergast and Bacotti, and comprised of administrators, teachers and three parents, conducted a comprehensive study of the current AP program and researched the possibility of implementing the IB program. They then compared the two and presented their recommendations to the Board.

"It is clear that some of the issues that we realize are out there with AP programs may in fact be addressed by a rigorous IB program," said School Board President Kenneth Monaghan. He gave the example of the study of world language. Many students do not pursue foreign language study at the AP level because the course and exam are recognized to be extremely difficult and students are concerned with how it might affect their overall grade point average.

"It's not that the AP program is irrelevant. It's not," he continued. "Nor is it a matter of whether or not the IB program is more relevant. The question is whether or not the two together, or in combination, may balance out each other's shortcomings and help us devise a program which has greater relevance for our students going forward, in particular for the vast majority of our students who are going on to collegiate work. We want to make sure that they are as prepared as possible."

The committee will take their research to the next level by establishing contacts with other high-performing districts that are offering the IB program and expanding the number of parents on the committee. Committee members plan to attend a Guild of IB Schools of the Northeast orientation seminar in Commack on June 7th and file an official "Intent to Apply" interest form with the International Baccalaureate Organization. After they file the interest form, teachers and administrators will be allowed to attend professional development Level 1 workshops. The committee will report back to the Board in the fall.

Related:I'm glad Garden City included three parents and some teachers on their AP/IB committee.

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Raising African American Student Achievement: California Goals, Local Outcomes


alifornia's nearly half-million African American students often get lost in the state's policy debates about improving student achievement, in part because they represent less than 8% of the K-12 student population. This 24-page report asks:
  • How are African American students in California's public school system doing?
  • What do we know about how and where these students are succeeding academically?
The report finds that although the academic achievement of the state's African American students is improving, California educators and policymakers still have much to do to ensure that these students are served more effectively and consistently within the K-12 system. But the report also finds good reason to hope that this is possible. Behind the state-level numbers, African American student achievement varies widely across California districts and schools, with these students doing well academically in many places.

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State curriculum on legalities of parenting coming to Texas high schools this fall

Karen Ayres Smith:

Do you know the difference between an "alleged father" and a "presumed father?" Your child soon will.

The Texas attorney general's office has created a new parenting curriculum that will be required in every public high school this fall. It will cover everything from the legalese of paternity to dealing with relationship violence.

State officials say the goal is twofold: They want to teach teenage parents their legal rights and they want to show other students the difficulties of being a parent in hopes that they'll wait to have children.

The program, which has already drawn some skepticism, promises to bring personal and family values out of the home and into the classroom.

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May 22, 2008

Reports on Schools Cite Student Discontent

Bill Turque:

The question to a focus group of Dunbar High students was: What did they like best about going to school there?

"Freedom," said one who takes Advanced Placement classes at the school in Northwest Washington. "We can do whatever we want at this school. That's the only good thing about this place."

At Green Elementary School in Southeast, one child urged: "Give us harder work, not the busywork that we already know."

"They let us struggle," a student at Lincoln Middle School in Northwest said of the teachers. "They let you know you are failing, but then let you go on struggling and then send you to summer school."

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Madison schools need to get real on equity, New value-added approach is needed for improving schools

Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes, writing in this week's Isthmus:

A couple of weeks ago in these pages, Marc Eisen had some harsh words for the work of the Madison school district's Equity Task Force ("When Policy Trumps Results," 5/2/09). As a new school board member, I too have some doubts about the utility of the task force's report. Perhaps it's to be expected that while Eisen's concerns touch on theory and rhetoric, mine are focused more on the nitty-gritty of decision making.

The smart and dedicated members of the Equity Task Force were assigned an impossible task: detailing an equity policy for me and other board members to follow. Equity is such a critical and nuanced consideration in school board decisions that, to be blunt, I'm not going to let any individual or group tell me what to do.

I am unwilling to delegate my responsibility to exercise my judgment on equity issues to a task force, no matter how impressive the group. Just as one school board cannot bind a future school board's policymaking, I don't think that the deliberations of a task force can restrict my exercise of independent judgment.

Admittedly, the task force faced a difficult challenge. It was obligated by the nature of its assignment to discuss equity issues in the abstract and offer up broad statements of principle.

Not surprisingly, most of the recommendations fall into the "of course" category. These include "Distribute resources based on student needs" and "Foster high academic expectations for all students." I agree.


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Texas English Curriculum Controversy

Gary Scharrer:

Berlanga faults McLeroy for the way he has engineered the rewriting of the state's English language arts and reading curriculum, which will go to the board for a final vote on Thursday.

She said McLeroy has ignored board instructions to Texas Education Agency staff by issuing separate dictates and deceived public school teachers, ignoring their recommendations in favor of out-of-state teachers in the development of new English language arts and reading standards.

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"Legendary Madison West Girls Soccer Coach Retiring"

Dennis Semrau:

While the administrative headaches he has endured this year have played a huge factor in his decision to retire from coaching, Kaehler preferred to talk about why he enjoyed coaching a sport with which he didn't become involved until he was an adult.

"I was a four-sport athlete. I played football, basketball and baseball and I ran track at Delavan-Darien High School. I've been involved in sports all my life and I played semi-pro basketball in Europe, in Grenoble, France," he said. "I picked up the game of soccer in France. I was there six years and it took me about two years to appreciate the game. What I've always said is that soccer is a player's sport. It's not a coach's sport.

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Sun Prairie's Classroom 2010 "Technology Standard"

Sun Prairie School District:

Classroom 2010 is our technology standard model for classrooms at the new Sun Prairie High School, and for our remodeled upper middle school, which will both open in the year 2010.

To inspire 21st Century learning in these schools, we are providing the following equipment:

Interactive White Board

Teacher Computer

Video Projector

Integrated amplification system

Wireless Infrared Microphone

Computer with DVD Player

5-12 student computers

VOIP telephone

ceiling mounted electrical outlets

Upgraded networking

Wireless network access

Some of these items will be obsolete the moment they are purchased. This article generated some discussion on the topic of technology & schools. Much more on schools & technology here. Related: Online education cast as "distruptive innovation".

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DC Teacher Contract Would End Seniority

V. Dion Haynes:

The Washington Teachers' Union is discussing a proposed three-year contract from the school system that would eliminate seniority, giving Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee more control in filling vacancies, a union member familiar with the talks said yesterday.

Without seniority, Rhee could place teachers based on qualifications or performance rather than years of service, said the union member, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are confidential. The union member said Rhee sought the provision as a recruiting tool so she could offer talented candidates the position of their choice. She would be able to fill positions with less experienced teachers.

Under the proposed contract, teachers would give up seniority in exchange for annual raises of about 6 percent, more personal-leave days and more money for supplies, the union member said. In the last contract, which expired in the fall, teachers received a 10 percent raise over two years.

Rhee "does want to infuse some new blood [into the schools]. She wants to make it attractive for young people coming in to advance," said the union member, adding that the union's negotiating team will meet with her tomorrow or Friday. "We've come to realize we're going to have to give in to her."

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The International Baccalaureate, Another Approach to Education

Patrick Hilbert:

The nearest alternative to the Higher School Certificate is the International Baccalaureate. Though it is expensive and considered exclusive, it proposes a wider programme.

LBIS is committed to offer its students an environment and a pedagogy that promotes interaction between pupils. They are not judged on comparison with others but on their own capacities.

Our secondary education system has been under continuous criticism as being too bookish, and not training young people to think out of the box and not preparing them both for university or working life. Out of the 189 secondary schools in Mauritius, only two - Northfields International High School and Le Bocage International School (LBIS) - offer an alternative programme for the last two years of secondary, which leads to the International Baccalaureate (IB). The only hitch is that it is very expensive and out of reach for many parents. The entry fee to LBIS is Rs 40 000 and the monthly school fees amount to Rs 10 000 while at Northfields, the fees are quite similar

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Wisconsin Structural Deficit: $1,682,000,000

Bob Lang, Director: Legislative Fiscal Bureau [83K PDF], via WisPolitics. Wisconsin State tax receipts are expected to grow by about 2%, according to this article by Steven Walters. Madison's 2008/2009 $367M budget notes and links. Perhaps somewhat related: Mary Williams Walsh takes a look at State's pension accounting.

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May 21, 2008

Madison's Cherokee Middle School 6th Grade Concert



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Arizona School District Consolidation

Meghan Moravcik:

School districts that unify this fall will have an extra year to combine their governing boards, administration and finances under a bill signed by Gov. Janet Napolitano.

New unification provisions would also phase out money that small school districts receive over four years, rather than taking it away all at once.

On Nov. 4, voters will decide whether to unify 76 elementary and high-school districts across the state into 27 new K-12 districts.

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Rio School District Voters Approve a $1,270,000 Referendum


Voters in the Rio School District approved a referendum on Tuesday that some called a last-ditch effort to save the school district.

The referendum was to exceed the levy limits over the next three years for a total of $1,270,000.
The final vote was 627 to 340 in favor of the referendum.

Village leaders and business owners said the existence of the school ensures the small town's survival.

"I've seen towns in other states that have lost schools and they've become ghost towns," said resident Jennifer Wearne.

Wearne has two children in Rio schools.

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Put School Curricula over Buildings

John Torinus:

The West Bend School Board, chastened by a two-to-one defeat of its $119 million referendum for improved facilities, is seeking input from the community on how to go forward.
To their credit, district leaders have done that all along. But they still missed the mark on gauging what the community wanted.

One thing is clear: just coming back at a slightly reduced total will probably not work. The margin of defeat was too large. So, some creative thinking is needed.

My own guess is that the referendum failed on two counts: its sheer size in dollars was too much for taxpayers to swallow and it lacked vision.

It’s hard to get excited about bricks, mortar and maintenance, necessary as they are.

It would be exciting, though, to come up with a program of study that would allow our young people to compete better in the globalizing world.

A stunning new book, "The Post-American World," by Fareed Zakaria, a Newsweek columnist and perhaps the most insightful journalist in the country, outlines the challenges facing the United States and its next generations.

He calls it "The Rise of the Rest" and generally says the rise into prosperity of other countries can be a positive for America if we react in the right way.

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Wineke: Teachers often inspiration for the successful

Bill Wineke:

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to interview hundreds, perhaps thousands, of successful men and women.

I almost always ask the same question: What is it in your life that made the difference? What caused you to end up where you are now, rather than someplace else.

My favorite answer came from a very successful Madison businessman, who spent a few minutes extolling the virtues of hard work and can-do attitude and, then, asked "you do know that I married the owner's daughter, don't you?"

Most often, however, the answer I get is some variation of this: "Well, there was this teacher. . ."

There was this teacher who convinced me that mathematics could be fun. There was this teacher who took the time to help me repair my car. There was this teacher who dug into her own pocket when she observed that I couldn't see the blackboard and bought me a pair of glasses.

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Leaving Too Many Boys Behind & The Facts About Gender Equity in Education

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

When the State Journal this week published the list of the top 4 percent of this year 's graduating seniors from Dane County high schools, girls outnumbered boys by nearly two to one.

That academic gender gap highlights a national problem with costly consequences: Boys are falling behind in the American educational system.

The dominance of girls among high school honors students is only the tip of the problem. The most alarming aspect is the scarcity of men earning college degrees.

Since 1970, the number of women enrolling in college has risen three times faster than the number of men.

Women now receive 60 percent of all associate, bachelor 's and master 's degrees.

American Association of University Women:
Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education presents a comprehensive look at girls’ educational achievement during the past 35 years, paying special attention to the relationship between girls’ and boys’ progress. Analyses of results from national standardized tests, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the SAT and ACT college entrance examinations, as well as other measures of educational achievement, provide an overall picture of trends in gender equity from elementary school to college and beyond.
Valeria Strauss has more.

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Promoting Science Education - in India

Sakshi Khattar:

Students these days are keen to pursue engineering rather than medicine. A few dream of becoming scientists at an early age, but by the time they grow up, they want to become engineers. "Interest in medicine is falling and students don't want to pursue medicine and rather go for engineering, mainly due to socio-economic reasons," observes Dilip Kumar Bedi, principal, Apeejay School, Pitampura.

Most educators feel that an interest in science education is gradually declining among students. To this end, the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) has recently proposed setting up of a mission, headed by the Prime Minister to transform the entire scenario of science education and research in the country. The commission has suggested that a science and mathematics mission be constituted with a team of 40-50 'brightest of the bright' Indian scientists and mathematicians below the age of 45 years. Furthermore, the NKC said that such an initiative would be effective only if it is launched across the country covering every school, college, university and institution.

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More on Madison's Leopold Elementary School Overcrowding

Tamira Madsen:

Over the last six weeks, Assistant Superintendent Sue Abplanalp and Chief Information Officer Kurt Kiefer have created an array of options based on research and surveys of faculty and parents. The options include remodeling classrooms, increasing the size of fourth-grade classes, relocating the computer lab to the library, or incorporating music and art in one classroom, since each room currently is scheduled for use only 50 percent of the school day. The project to remodel and reconfigure the classrooms would cost $20,000.

The administration will decide on one of several available options, and Abplanalp anticipates that decision will be made in the next few weeks.

But teachers and parents have hopes for a much broader solution for the school, which serves a large number of students in nearby apartments.

Many notes and links on proposed Leopold changes.

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Aiming to Coach Students to Excellence in Exams

Winnie Hu:

LIKE a football coach before a big game, James Carlo, a vice principal at the Newton Street School, ticked off last-minute pointers to a group of 32 middle-school students hunkered silently around folding metal tables in the cafeteria.

Do not waste time. Do not get distracted. Do not get nervous.

“Please, please, please pull up what strength you have and what concentration you have and just attack that test,” Mr. Carlo told the students on a recent Wednesday morning. “It shouldn’t just be all the schools and districts around us that are scoring high on this test.”

As public schools everywhere gear up for the annual state assessments, few others have as much to prove — or as much at stake. Newton, with 500 students in prekindergarten through eighth grade, has come under escalating sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law because many of its students have scored below proficiency on the standardized test known as NJ ASK, which covers language arts, math and science. It is one of only 4 schools in this city — and among 38 schools in New Jersey, 57 in New York and 6 in Connecticut — that have missed testing benchmarks for seven consecutive years and now risk being shut down or overhauled if there is no sign of improvement.

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'Hands-on' science teaching gains momentum in Wisconsin

Karyn Saemann:

In an approach based in Green Bay that has spread down the Lake Michigan shoreline, about 40 Wisconsin districts (though not Madison) belong to a consortium called the Einstein Project, a nonprofit group that buys the kits from publishers, leases them for a nominal fee to schools and arranges teacher training on their use.

Hailed as a national model by the National Science Teachers Association, the Einstein Project began on a shoestring and now has 10 employees, two kit warehouses and a $1 million annual budget supported by the rental fees, year-round fundraising and private and corporate backing.

But critics of the hands-on movement charge that without textbooks and the structured reading, teacher-driven learning and broad memorization of facts that traditionally define classroom science, kids are being short-changed on core knowledge.

A major fight over science curriculum in California got national attention in 2004, as the state weighed a proposal to allow no more than 25 percent of science classroom time for hands-on activities. But in an abrupt reversal after intense debate, the adopted standard reads that at least 25 percent of science classroom time has to be hands-on.

Stanley Metzenberg, an assistant biology professor from California State University-Northridge, said in congressional testimony that reading is critical for scientists and that children are best served through traditional textbooks and teacher-directed instruction.

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Words on pages can be powerful tools -- if used correctly.

Jessa Crispin:

It starts when you’re in the first grade. All of a sudden, reading is no longer this exciting thing you just figured out how to do, it has become “good for you.” You’re given free books through a program that says Reading Is Fun-damental, way before any of your teachers will tell you what “fundamental” means. Soon after you’re bribed with a free pizza from Pizza Hut if you can finish five whole books. The message is clear: reading is not something you’re supposed to enjoy, it’s something that will make you a better person.

It continues on into adulthood. We’re given continuous updates on the state of reading in our country as if it were the unemployment rate. Orlando Bloom shows up on posters in libraries, holding a book that you’re slightly surprised to see is right side up. “Read!” he tells us. Read, and you can be as effeminate as he is. If you’re the type of person who enjoys reading — and not just enjoys it, but takes four books on a five-hour flight just in case you finish one and then your back up book isn’t as compelling as you thought it would be and the thought of not having reading material fills you with dread — all of this can be confusing. I would get a lot more reading done if you would stop yelling in my ear about how important reading is, thank you very much.

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School votes come amid economic woes, investigations

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher:

On Tuesday, voters will decide the fates of school budgets across Long Island. Most will be asked to support or reject spending increases that would inflate taxes during trying economic times of soaring gas and food prices.

"I think we are in a recession. In general, it's impacting all of us," said Donna Jones, superintendent of the Brentwood district, whose $295 million budget proposal is the largest on Long Island. "We know that these are challenging times."

But she is hopeful voters will see the worth of new initiatives such as the implementation of a nine-period day for middle schools and the freshman center, and the creation of an online system where parents can track student records, such as report cards and attendance.

Compounding economic worries is the state attorney general's subpoenas of all 124 Long Island districts over the issue of "double-dipping" - previously-retired administrators receiving salaries on top of hefty pensions after returning to work.

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Vietnam School Reform

Vietnamnet Bridge:

Vietnam is developing the UNICEF 'friendlier school' model to boost primary education

Vietnam will expand UNICEF’s "Friendlier School" model across the nation. The concept, which has already been applied experimentally, has been found to improve educational quality and help students enjoy studying, said Nguyen Thien Nhan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Training.

The minister was speaking at a ceremony yesterday to launch a campaign to extend the model developed at Van Phuc secondary school in Ha Dong City in the northern province of Ha Tay.

The model’s purpose is to create a safer, fairer educational environment, attract students to study, ensure their rights and improve teaching quality. Creating an interesting educational environment is focused on keeping students from being bored so that they can enjoy their studies.

"Being friendlier is also a good way of preventing students from leaving schools," said Associate Professor Tran Kieu, former director of the Institute of Educational Sciences.

Recently, the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET) released a report showing that by March, 2008, about 147,000 students had quit school.

One of the 10 reasons given was the rigid and uninspiring teaching environment that had limited students’ interest in studying.

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May 20, 2008

NJ Assembly OKs ending school budget votes, moving elections

Tom Hester, Jr.:

Public votes on school budgets would be eliminated and April school board elections moved to November under a bill approved Monday by the state Assembly.

The bill, hailed as a vital election reform by backers and antidemocratic by critics, was pushed by Assembly Speaker Joseph Roberts Jr. was approved 45-31.

It comes after this year's school election drew just 14 percent of voters. No school election in the past 25 years has topped 20 percent turnout.

"I know one thing for sure, and that is that our current system that elects school board members is a system that's broken and needs to be fixed," said Roberts, D-Camden.
New Jersey is the only state where voters in most districts can give direct approval to their entire school property tax bill. The average homeowner in the state pays about $6,800 per year in property taxes _ the highest in the nation _ and schools get the largest share.

The bill would eliminate budget votes, except on spending that exceeds a 4 percent cap on tax levy increases.

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What's in an education? It's about how to think, not about how to do.

Rodger Lewis:

Esther Jantzen's article, "Literacy begins at home" provides an excellent explanation of what parents can't or won't do by themselves.

However, I greatly fear that, unlike Alexander Pope's warning that "a little learning is a dangerous thing," our leadership prefers a little learning, but not too much. American consumerism supports the oligarchic wealth that rules this country. And a truly well-educated majority, well-versed in history, might threaten the "greed is good" axiom that has enslaved so many by seductive credit options.

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California's STaR Test

Jason Song:

The high-stakes state exams measure campus' achievement each year. Getting students to show up is a major concern; dull pencils and the wrong type of scratch paper can create havoc as well.

Five-foot-two Erica O'Brien pushes a tall stack of gray cartons across the floor, straining as if they were full of coal, not tests. The office on the top floor of Banning High School is stuffy, even though it's only 6 a.m. But when the phone rings, O'Brien answers affably.

"Penthouse," she says.

That's what life is like these days for testing coordinators such as O'Brien. After weeks of preparing in the background, they suddenly become the most important person on campus. Students across the state last week took high-stakes standardized tests, which can bring a school glory through improved test scores, or, in the worst-case scenario, state sanctions. To make sure the tests go smoothly, O'Brien distributes tests, sharpens pencils and deals with the unexpected.

There's a note next to her computer screen that reads "Vomit."

"A kid threw up on his test, so we had to find him a new one. Poor guy," O'Brien explained.

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Democrats for School Choice

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

When Florida passed a law in 2001 creating the Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program for underprivileged students, all but one Democrat in the state legislature voted against it. Earlier this month, lawmakers extended the program – this time with the help of a full third of Democrats in the Legislature, including 13 of 25 members of the state's black caucus and every member of the Hispanic caucus. What changed?

Our guess is that low-income parents in Florida have gotten a taste of the same school choice privileges that middle- and upper-income families have always enjoyed. And they've found they like this new educational freedom. Under the scholarship program, which is means-tested, companies get a 100% tax credit for donations to state-approved nonprofits that provide private-school vouchers for low-income families

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He Gets His Old Room but Not for Free, Not Forever

Michelle Singletary:

They're coming home.

Many parents already know this, but after four, perhaps five or even six years of school, many college graduates -- faced with a tight job market, higher gas and food costs, and mountainous debt -- have no choice but to move home to get their financial bearings.

And you know what?

Despite assurances that they will stay for only a little while, this time next year many of those graduates will still be living at home. That's what MonsterTrak found in its annual nationwide survey of college students, recent graduates and entry-level employers.

Continuing a three-year trend, just under half of prospective graduates, 48 percent, plan to boomerang -- or move home -- after graduation, according to the online career resource company.

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Obesity Threatens a Generation

Susan Levine & Rob Stein:

In ways only beginning to be understood, being overweight at a young age appears to be far more destructive to well-being than adding excess pounds later in life. Virtually every major organ is at risk. The greater damage is probably irreversible.

Doctors are seeing confirmation of this daily: boys and girls in elementary school suffering from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and painful joint conditions; a soaring incidence of type 2 diabetes, once a rarity in pediatricians' offices; even a spike in child gallstones, also once a singularly adult affliction. Minority youth are most severely affected, because so many are pushing the scales into the most dangerous territory.

With one in three children in this country overweight or worse, the future health and productivity of an entire generation -- and a nation -- could be in jeopardy.

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Words of Advice for the Class of '08 and Beyond

Dan Zak:

We give them at the start of things and at the end of things. Toasts at weddings. Eulogies at funerals. A college graduation, both the end of one era and the start of another, gets the mother of all speeches: the commencement address. This is where a graduate summons his best prose to motivate peers, where a famous person drops in to provide last-minute dispatches from the real world, all in an effort to pack inspirational gunpowder into a cannon about to hurtle an entire class into its future.

Speech: You'll do fine! Here's your diploma. Boom.

This is happening all over the country this month, and we're in the thick of commencement season here. Washington area colleges are catapulting armies of graduates into a tightening job market and a wintry economic climate. It's a hostile world, and maybe it always has been. But it's the commencement speakers' duty to herald the light at the end of the tunnel, even if Social Security is gone by the time the audience gets there.

Chins up, though. For those of us already out in the real world, and for collegians hungry to soak up some more inspiration, we picked the brains of seven people who spoke or were scheduled to speak at area schools. Read on to hear from them.

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Teacher questions Muslim practices at charter 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.

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The Netherlands - A Proper Emphasis on Vocational Education

Open Education:

Today we wrap up our four-part series on education in the Netherlands with a final look at the vocational training track available to students. Whereas in America we continue to try and force feed students of all abilities and interests through a high school program that is almost entirely academic-based, the Dutch school system has created an extremely viable option for students who prefer hands on learning and a career in the skilled trades.

Though we have used the term track to refer to this option, particularly since students are assigned to one of the secondary school options based on test results and performance at the primary level, it should be noted that the model does not mirror American school tracking. Instead of students essentially taking the same classes as they progress through school but being placed in those classes based on ability (the American tracking system), the Dutch offer both different programming and outcome expectations for the various tracks.

There is an understanding that students may not be able to (or for that matter, want to) pursue academics at a university. More importantly, there is an understanding that students who do not attend such a post-secondary option must develop specific labor skills to have some form of work option available to them. Yet, even within that component of studies there is additional delineation between those who will become laborers and those who will become designers, administrators and even company owners.

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Fuel costs sting Dallas-area school districts

Matthew Haag:

Area school districts are finding ways to cut costs as fuel prices soar. Some are taking shorter field trips. Others prohibit bus drivers from idling. And some are raising prices in the lunch line.

"Fuel costs trickle on through everything," said Tony Harkleroad, a Richardson ISD administrator. "We either have to cut other things within our budget to cover cost increases like this, or we have to find other ways to raise revenue."

Perhaps increasing fuel costs are a benefit for expanded virtual learning opportunities.

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Latin, prayers, chilly dorms at school in France

Lisa Essex:

Learning Latin, attending Catechism and hurrying along draughty corridors to prayer, two dozen boys are experiencing old-fashioned British boarding school life -- deep in the French countryside.

Boxing, folk-dancing and Gregorian chant also figure on the curriculum at Chavagnes International College, a traditional Catholic English boys' boarding school in the Vendee wine-growing region on France's Atlantic coast.

Housed in a 200-year-old former seminary in a region marked by France's wars of religion in the mid-16th century, it says it attracts parents who are disillusioned by the British state school system or the values of modern life.

The fees are also significantly cheaper than in Britain, at 15,000 euros (11,800 pounds) for boarders per year compared with an average of about 22,000 sterling in Britain, according to figures from the Independent Schools Council.

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The art of improving education

Jack Khoury:

"It is forbidden to dance"; "it is forbidden to paint"; "it is forbidden to sing"; "it is forbidden to play an instrument." These statements were printed on signs displayed in mainly Arab neighborhoods in Haifa. The signs were hung as armor in the battle mounted by the Non-profit Organization for the Advancement of Arab Public Education in Haifa, to open a school for the arts to serve the city's Arab sector. The organization also collected parents' signatures in a petition that urges the Haifa Municipality and Education Ministry to reverse their positions and support the school, which would be the first of its type in the Israeli-Arab sector.

In August last year, the organization filed an appeal to the High Court against the ministry and the municipality, demanding that the school be opened. Months later, while still waiting for the court's ruling, the organization decided to launch the campaign. According to the organization, the school could staunch the flow of students to Haifa's private schools and even boost the public education system in the city's Arab sector. Organization members stress that a swift ruling by the court is vital, because the placement committee for the city's special schools will soon complete its activities for the coming school year and the future of the school would rest in the hands of that committee.

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Sex education and public edification

Catharine Lumby:

My six- and eight-year-old sons have discovered "sexing". A typical exchange involves a sighting of someone "sexing" in public: "Did you see those people sexing at the bus stop? Gross." Cue general hilarity and snorts of disgust. Once I caught them typing "sexing" into a search engine. Thank Google for filters.

I've even been accused of "sexing" myself. "You sexed big time twice," my eight-year-old announced smugly. So much for their fantasies of a virgin birth - although they seem pretty sure I only "sexed" for the sole purpose of bringing them into the world.

Children love the idea that they harbour secret knowledge of the strange world of adults. They enjoy making us squirm. It is understandable when you spend most of your time being told what to do by people bigger than you, whose priorities have little to do with your own.

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May 19, 2008

Architecture opens eyes of Sun Prairie students

Pamela Cotant:

Some Horizon Elementary School students may be eyeing their surroundings differently now.

That's the hope of architect Arlan Kay, who recently presented a program called an Afternoon of Architecture for some third and fifth graders in the Sun Prairie School District. He brought boxes of miniature bricks, blocks, bridge parts and other materials to teach the students about building design and city planning.

Kay told the students they were "architectives" because they were considering architecture as detectives — unlocking the mystery to why buildings are constructed a certain way and look the way they do.

"It's a discovery. They're investigating," he said later. "It's to try and make them look and discover the built world around them."

In an interview afterward, it was clear that Kay succeeded with fifth-grader Annie Benzine.

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Northside Elementary Wins Governor's Health Award

Jason Dean:

Middleton's Northside Elementary School was one of 27 schools in the state to earn the Silver Award in the 2008 Governor's School Health Awards program.

First lady Jessica Doyle and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elizabeth Burmaster announced the winners on Thursday.

"These awards recognize schools for developing and maintaining quality school health programs, and for involving parents and the community to improve the long-term health of the students," Burmaster said.

"Healthier students support healthier communities, which in turn support a healthier Wisconsin," Doyle said.

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San Diego Superintendent Goals

Helen Gao:

Superintendent Terry Grier's contract with the San Diego Unified School District calls for him to receive up to $10,500 in annual performance bonuses if he meets three goals set by the school board.

But months after Grier was hired, trustees have yet to agree on what goals the superintendent and the district should meet.

The board went through goal-setting exercises in November before Grier was hired; it undertook similar exercises before and after hiring Grier's predecessor, Carl Cohn.

On Monday, the school board talked about setting goals for two hours without reaching a consensus. Grier is pushing the board to lay down specific goals that can be used to evaluate the district's progress and by extension, his performance.

Throughout the meeting, Grier relentlessly nudged trustees to develop a list of overarching goals for elementary, middle and high schools.

Notes and links on Madison's Superintendent goals.

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Graffiti, bomb threat found at Janesville school

Janesville Gazette:

A bomb threat found written on doors at Kennedy Elementary School this morning prompted a search inside the school and police combing the neighborhood, but school went on as normal, said Principal Niel Bender.

The threat included “racial inferences” in addition to a threat of an explosion today at the school, Deputy Police Chief Dave Moore said.

The graffiti was done in what appeared to be white crayon on the front doors and one other door, and it was removed, Bender said.

The school is located at 3901 Randolph Road on the city’s east side.

( Map )

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Parents, kids pin their hopes on one white orb in boarding school lottery

Tanika White:

The lucky ones heard their numbers called early.

Not only could those first-announced winners beam with pride about being one of the first 80 students who will attend the SEED School of Maryland, but they also did not have to agonize in their chairs any longer, watching the white lottery balls tumble in gilded cages - the numbered balls representing dreams for all and disappointment for many.

Yesterday morning, the founders of the nation's first public boarding school, which opened 10 years ago in Washington, D.C., held the inaugural lottery to fill the slots for the Baltimore-based second location, which will open its doors in August to disadvantaged youths from all over the state.

More than 300 students applied from the city, the suburbs of Baltimore and Washington, the Eastern Shore, and Western and Southern Maryland. Families traveled to the College of Notre Dame of Maryland to see if their child's number would be called.

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High School Challenge Index, 2008

Newsweek & Washington Post:

The Newsweek and Washington Post Challenge Index measures a public high school's effort to challenge its students. The formula is simple: Divide the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge tests a school gave by the number of seniors who graduated in May or June. Tests taken by all students, not just seniors, are counted. Magnet or charter schools with SAT combined verbal and math averages higher than 1300, or ACT average scores above 29, are not included, since they do not have enough average students who need a challenge.

The rating is not a measurement of the overall quality of the school but illuminates one factor that many educators consider important.

The list below includes all public schools with a rating of 1.000. There are nearly 1,400 -- the top 5 percent of all 27,000 U.S. high schools in encouraging students to take AP, IB or Cambridge tests. Also listed are the name of the city or school district and the percentage of a school's students whose family incomes are low enough to qualify for federally subsidized lunches and who also apply for that program. The portion of subsidized-lunch applicants is a rough indicator of a school’s poverty level. High-poverty schools are at a disadvantage in persuading students to take college-level courses, but some on this list have succeeded in doing so anyway.

The Equity and Excellence rate is the percentage of all seniors who have had at least one score on an AP, IB or Cambridge test that would qualify them for college credit. The average AP Equity and Excellence rate for all U.S. schools is about 15 percent.

Milwaukee Rufus King ranked highest among the 21 Wisconsin High Schools at #209. The only Madison area high school to make the list is Verona at #808.

Related: Dane County, WI AP High School Course offerings.

Jay Matthews has more:

This week, Newsweek magazine and its Web site unveil this year's Top High Schools list, based on a rating system I invented a decade ago called the Challenge Index. The index ranks schools based on college-level course participation, adding up the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and other college-level tests in a given year for a given school, and dividing that total by its number of graduating seniors.

Several weeks ago I asked students, teachers and parents to tell me how this annual ranking affected their schools. Here is a sampling of several points of view, both critical and complimentary.

* * *

So, with regard to your Challenge Index -- it really is a quick and dirty way of assessing schools. Very ambitious and probably very imperfect. However, there isn't anything else out there like it. I think the reason our school systems are not very good compared to other countries is that we underestimate the abilities of our children. I think too the education field is fuzzy -- not very good data or evidence to support the programs that are out there. . . . More and better research is needed. And of course there are the socioeconomic/family issues of some schools/districts that cannot/will not be fixed with just higher expectations.

-- Terry Adirim Montgomery County

Previous SIS Challenge Index links and notes. Clusty search on the Challenge Index.

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Great education debate: Reforming the grade system

Steve Friess:

When principal Debbie Brockett announced a policy last fall of not allowing teachers to issue any score less than 50 to failing students, she thought she was adopting a means of leveling out an unfair grading curve.

To many outraged teachers at Las Vegas High, however, Brockett's plan amounted to fuzzy new math designed to offer unfair assistance to low-achieving students.

They protested, and she backed down. But in the process, both sides stepped into one of the hottest grading debates within academic circles today. Across the USA, education experts and school administrators are trying to determine how and whether to reform grading systems to give failing students a better chance to catch up.

"I made a bad call at the time, going with past experience, and I didn't expect it to become controversial," says Brockett, who had just been promoted from a middle school where her minimum-F policy was in place. "Now it's an ongoing conversation we're having."

Proposed report cards changes have generated some controversy in Madison.

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Urban-education scholar Charles Payne sets out to measure the University’s efforts at school improvement.

University of Chicago Magazine, via a kind reader's email:

Charles M. Payne has been a scholar of urban education long enough to see many fashions of public-school reform come and go. The School of Social Service Administration’s Frank P. Hixon professor, Payne first developed an interest in education in 1969, while a Syracuse University undergraduate. Administrators there, Payne recalls, had brought an inner-city school to campus with a bold, if naive and unfocused, purpose: “to change this.” The program failed to establish a model for effective school reform, Payne says, because “none of us understood how hard this was going to be.”

With a sociology PhD from Northwestern University and 40 years of research and advocacy under his belt, Payne believes that the same core problem—a misunderstanding of the difficulties involved—continues to hinder school-reform efforts. His years as founding director of an education nonprofit in Orange, New Jersey, and studying schools in Chicago and around the world have taught him that the solution to school failure is deep and fundamental. Initiatives that focus on particular grade levels or types of students don’t work, Payne says. In a book out this May, So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failure in Urban Schools (Harvard Education Press, 2008), he argues that rather than searching for the silver-bullet program that will turn a school around, would-be reformers must strike at the “culture of failure” that perpetuates dismal school performance.

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High School Ranks Have Been Infiltrated by Agents

Pete Thamel:

The only real surprise, coaches and others said, was that Mayo had been accused of taking money from a person described as a “runner” for an agent. Mayo has denied the accusations.

“This has been happening over the past few years that agents and runners have been able to get into the high school ranks,” Illinois Coach Bruce Weber said.

In the report, ESPN described how Rodney Guillory, an event promoter with a history of breaking N.C.A.A. rules, started giving gifts to Mayo when he played for Huntington High School in West Virginia. The report said that Guillory did so with money from Bill Duffy Associates, the agency Mayo ultimately signed with in declaring for next month’s N.B.A. draft. Duffy has denied giving money to Guillory for Mayo.

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Give Straight Answers on Wisconsin Drop Out Rate

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Question: What is Wisconsin's high school graduation rate?

Answer: About 91 percent, ranking among the top five states in the nation.

Or 86 percent, in the top 10.

Or 77 percent, ranking 11th.

It all depends on who is counting — the state government, the federal government or independent analysts.

Shouldn't there be one straight answer?


That's why Congress ought to approve the Bush administration's plan to require all states to calculate graduation rates by the same formula — one endorsed by the National Governors Association in 2005.

A standard graduation rate formula is central to evaluating and solving one of the nation's biggest social problems — the high school dropout rate.

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Germantown Referendum Climate Notes

Mike Nichols:

The people who live in Germantown said on April 1 that they do not think they need a new elementary school, at least not one that costs as much as the Germantown School Board says.

By a margin of 55% to 45%, the residents of Germantown voted no, and probably thought it meant something.

It doesn't. The school board now says that shouldn't count.

The board has now directed staff to prepare another, identical referendum and put it on the ballot again this coming November.

Prodoehl, who is the president of the Germantown Citizens Action Coalition, a group that really wasn't very active the first time around but just might be now, calls this a "slap in the face."

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Leopold seeks long-term solutions

Kurt Gutknecht:

Leopold Elementary School is getting a new principal this summer but for many teachers and parents, it seems like déjà vu all over again.

For years, Leopold has dealt with a series of temporary remedies to deal with overcrowding, including sending students to different schools, a new addition and remodeling space to accommodate more classrooms.

The Leopold Parent Faculty Organization is asking the Madison Metropolitan School Board to find a long-term solution to the problem, although it might accept some temporary measures en route to a "real" solution.

Some worry that some of temporary solutions, such as carving out more classroom space, may turn out to be the status quo, as has happened when "temporary" classrooms came to be considered in determining the school's capacity.

A 2005 Leopold expansion referendum which would have created an 1100 student facility failed.

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Finding Health Coverage for Young Adults

James Granelli:

For the last few years, underwriters have been targeting young invincibles with more health plans. Some plans have been criticized for benefit caps of $10,000 or less and for not including prescription, dental or vision coverage. But with the general insurance market becoming saturated, young adults may be seeing more and better plans coming.

"It's the last untapped, financially viable market," said analyst William Georges at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Still, insurers don't necessarily make coverage easy to obtain. Here are a few things to consider:

  • An individual plan is tougher to get than an employer's group plan because carriers underwrite each policy and exclude people who pose too much of a risk. But the individual plan is cheaper because group plans have to accept everyone, increasing the risks for insurers.
  • Many college alumni associations also offer health insurance, usually through two insurance brokers, American Insurance Administrators Inc. and Marsh Affinity Group Services. Marsh offers graduates of about 30 universities in California only a key group feature on their individual plans -- guaranteed acceptance if they apply within 90 days of graduation

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May 18, 2008

High school graduate stands alone at the head of his class

The Standard:

Jeff Greenwood is in a class by himself: the Opheim High School senior was the only student to graduate. Greenwood said the school is the "hub of activity" in Opheim, a rural town in the US state of Montana.

He had a few classmates before high school, but his last remaining classmate moved to Utah during freshman year. He took some classes alone and enrolled in several with the juniors during his senior year. The school said six students graduated last year and 12 are on track for next year.

Opheim High School.

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Public school, church plant seeds of learning

Tom Heinen:

As part of nearby Trinity Presbyterian Church's adopt-a-school partnership with Townsend Street School, about 50 fifth-grade students from the public school are growing flowers and vegetables in eight raised planting beds and learning about science and nature from church volunteers in the garden and in their classrooms. Last fall, the class "put the garden to bed" by pulling vegetation and laying straw.

"A lot of these kids don't have experience in tending anything, in watching something grow," said Trudy Holyst, a church member and research chemist at the Blood Center of Wisconsin who goes into the two fifth-grade classrooms about twice a month to teach basic botany and scientific observation. "They've done a really good job. Almost all the seeds we started in the classroom have germinated."

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Assessing our children can only improve their education

Chris Woodhead:

Last week MPs on the education select committee jumped on what might well now be an unstoppable bandwagon and demanded an urgent rethink of the national curriculum tests in primary schools. Terrified by the prospect of a poor league table position, too many schools were, its members argued, force-feeding their pupils. Joy, spontaneity and creativity have been driven from the classroom. Something must be done, and now.

The fact that the problem might lie not with the tests, but with teachers who cannot accept the principle of accountability does not seem to have occurred to the committee. Neither did its members explain how problems in failing schools can be solved if we do not know which schools are failing.

At the moment, children are assessed by teachers in English and maths at seven and sit more formal tests in English, maths and science at 11. Two periods of testing in four years of primary education. What’s wrong, moreover, with some preparation for tests if the tests assess worthwhile skill and knowledge?

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Despite Funding Issues, Public Schools Row On

Matt McFarland:

This afternoon, at the oldest and largest high school regatta in the country, a Fairfax County public school boys' rowing team, in its 19th year, will attempt to win the Stotesbury Cup for the fourth time in five years. It will duel with private schools such as St. Joseph's Prep of Philadelphia, a perennial national power that recently built a $3 million boathouse.

Jefferson doesn't have its own million-dollar boathouse. The Fairfax team will row down Philadelphia's Schuylkill River in a boat in which the naming rights of each seat had to be sold to raise $6,100 for the team.

The Jefferson boys' team, one of the most successful high school sports teams in the Washington area, receives no financial funding from Fairfax County. Jefferson's recent success exceeds other area teams, but like all their area public competition, the Colonials must hold fundraisers.

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Cleveland Clinic's Medical School To Offer Tuition-Free Education

Shirley Wang:

The medical school run by the Cleveland Clinic will offer a tuition-free education, in the hope that a substantial reduction of post-graduation debt will encourage top students to enter academic medicine.

The medical profession has worried for years about how the high cost of a medical education -- newly minted doctors owe nearly $140,000 on average -- influences students' career choices. One-third of medical students surveyed by the nonprofit Association of American Medical Colleges say debt influences their choice of specialization.

The Cleveland Clinic:
Cleveland Clinic announced that the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University is providing all its students with full tuition scholarships, beginning with this July’s incoming class. The college, established nearly five years ago, is dedicated to the training of physician scientists so that they, in turn, can further medical research and bring the most advanced medical treatment to the patient bedside.

"The average debt for students graduating from private U.S. medical students, such as the Lerner College of Medicine, is more than $150,000, making many graduates less likely to pursue careers in academic medicine," said Delos M. "Toby" Cosgrove, MD, CEO and President of Cleveland Clinic. "By providing full tuition support, we want to ensure that debt does not hinder the ability of our graduates to pursue academic careers as physician scientists."

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My Virtual Summer Job

Alexandra Alter:

While his friends scramble for jobs flipping burgers or bagging groceries this summer, 18-year-old Mike Everest will be working as a trader in the fantasy Web world of Entropia Universe, buying and selling virtual animal skins and weapons. His goods exist only online, but his earnings are real. In the past four years, he's made $35,000.

Mr. Everest, of Durango, Colo., is among a new breed of young entrepreneurs seeking their fortune online in imaginary worlds. As the pool of traditional summer jobs shrinks, tech-savvy young gamers are honing their computer skills to capitalize on growing demand for virtual goods and services. Some work as fashion designers, architects and real-estate developers in Second Life, a fantasy world populated by digital representations of real people. These so-called avatars shop in malls, buy property, hang out with friends or sit "home" watching TV, all manipulated by their real-life counterparts with computer key strokes and a mouse.

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May 17, 2008

America's High School

Bob Herbert:

At a time when the nation is faced with tough economic challenges at home and ever-increasing competition from abroad, it’s incredible that more is not being done about the poor performance of so many American high schools.

We can’t even keep the kids in school. A third of them drop out. Half of those who remain go on to graduate without the skills for college or a decent job. Someone please tell me how this is a good thing.

Mr. Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a policy and advocacy group committed to improving the high schools. The following lamentable passage is from his book, "Raising the Grade: How High School Reform Can Save Our Youth and Our Nation":

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DC Chancellor Dismisses 24 Principals

Bill Turque:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has fired 24 principals, including 13 who headed schools deemed to be failing under the federal "No Child Left Behind Act," officials confirmed yesterday.

Principals work on year-to-year agreements. About 15 to 20 principals are let go annually, according to the Council of School Officers, the principal's union.

This year's reshuffling has drawn heightened interest because it provides another window into Rhee's still-new leadership of the school system. The personnel changes also have added urgency because of the federal mandate to make major changes in 26 schools that have failed to show adequate progress under "No Child Left Behind."

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We’ve tipped over, fellas

Gail Perry-Daniels:

Like many in Madison’s Black community, I waited anxiously last week to get my hands on the report titled, The State of Black Madison 2008: Before the Tipping Point. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical even before reading the report, because I believe we’ve tipped over and are now fighting to get back on our feet.

The report, which had been kept secret until its release last week, documents a number of issues which have for decades contributed to the economic and social digression of Madison’s Black community. The major issues examined in the report were criminal justice, economic well-being, education, health care, housing, and political influence.

I had hoped that the report, produced by six noted Black male leaders in Madison, would offer some solutions to this crisis or trumpet a call to action. But all I found were recommendations. For me, recommendations are like ideas: If they are never acted on, they just fade away or are brought up in conversations beginning with, “Remember when?”

Well, I’ve got a great starting point, and it’s spelled JOBS. One of the major problems facing ex-offenders is the inability to find a JOB. The road to economic well-being begins with a JOB. Affordable housing requires a well-paying JOB just to enter the housing market. Having a JOB lessens or corrects many of the issues cited in the report.

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A Surgeon's Path From Migrant Fields to Operating Room

Claudia Dreifus:

At the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa has four positions. He is a neurosurgeon who teaches oncology and neurosurgery, directs a neurosurgery clinic and heads a laboratory studying brain tumors. He also performs nearly 250 brain operations a year. Twenty years ago, Dr. Quiñones-Hinojosa, now 40, was an illegal immigrant working in the vegetable fields of the Central Valley in California. He became a citizen in 1997 while at Harvard.

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Waukesha Schools May End Junior Kindergarden

Amy Hetzner:

Gov. Jim Doyle on Friday let stand a provision in the state budget-repair bill that would force school systems by 2013 to expand their limited 4-year-old kindergarten programs to all eligible students or - as could be the case in Waukesha - end the programs.

The budget amendment is seen as a reprieve from state school Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster's stricter interpretation this year.

Burmaster had told school systems in January that junior-kindergarten programs that were not offered to all 4-year-olds in a district would not be funded in 2008-'09.

Spokesman Patrick Gasper said the Department of Public Instruction knew of five districts other than Waukesha with programs that the change would affect, including large systems such as Kenosha Unified and Beloit.

The other districts are Monona Grove, Beaver Dam and Two Rivers.

Kenosha has been thinking of expanding its 4-K program, which was started about seven years ago in a fourth of its elementary schools through a special state-financed program, said Kathleen Barca, the district's executive director of school leadership.

But Waukesha Superintendent David Schmidt said that even with the five-year phase-in, the new requirement made it unlikely that his district would be able to maintain a decades-old kindergarten-readiness offering for students identified as needing extra help.

The district educates about 100 students a year in its 4-K program.

Waukesha's Executive Director of Business Services, Erik Kass, will assume a similar position in Madison this summer.

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The science teacher: Memorial's Ben Senson goes the extra mile to challenge and engage his students

Maggie Rossiter Peterman:

With a meter stick in his hand, Ben Senson instructs his ninth-grade science students on how to calculate formulas for force using levers and fulcrums.

He sketches out an equation on the whiteboard, turns around, adjusts the meter stick on a spring scale and calls for a reading.

"Where do I put the weight for a third-class lever?" the Memorial High school [Map] teacher quizzes.

No one answers.

"Come on, man," Senson cajoles. "We have to pre-read our labs so we know what we're going to do. If you're running short of time, make sure you get the spring scale reading. Do the math later."

Grabbing their lab sheets and purple pens, the freshmen split into groups to complete the assignment for an Integrated Science Program.

"The equations are hard to remember," Shannon Behling, 14, tells a classroom visitor. "It gets confusing." But she sees the value of the assignment: "We may not use this stuff, but it gets your brain to think in a different way."

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Brown vs. Board of Education


A Law case in which, on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation in public schools violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which declares that no state may deny equal protection of the laws to any person within its jurisdiction. The decision declared that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal. Based on a series of Supreme Court cases argued between 1938 and 1950, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka completed the reversal of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which had permitted “separate but equal” public facilities. Strictly speaking, the 1954 decision was limited to the public schools, but it implied that segregation was not permissible in other public facilities.
May 17, 1954.

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District Puts All the World in Classrooms

Winnie Hu:

For nearly a decade, the lesson that the world is interconnected — call it Globalization 101 — has been bandied about as much in education as in economics, spurring a cottage industry of internationally themed schools, feel-good cultural exchanges, model United Nations clubs and heritage festivals.

But the high-performing Herricks school district here in Nassau County, whose student body is more than half Asian, is taking globalization to the graduate level, integrating international studies into every aspect of its curriculum.

A partnership with the Foreign Policy Association has transformed a high-school basement into a place where students produce research papers on North Korea’s nuclear energy program or the Taliban’s role in the opium trade. English teachers have culled reading lists of what they call “dead white men” (think Hawthorne and Hemingway) to make space for Jhumpa Lahiri, Chang-rae Lee and Khaled Hosseini. Gifted fifth graders learn comparative economics by charting the multinational production of a pencil and representing countries in a mock G8 summit.

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May 16, 2008

Cyber Bully Charges

Scott Glover & PJ Huffstutter:

Invoking a criminal statute more commonly used to go after computer hackers or crooked government employees, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles on Thursday charged a Missouri mother with fraudulently creating a MySpace account and using it to "cyber-bully" a 13-year-old girl who later committed suicide.

The girl, Megan Meier, hanged herself in her upstairs bedroom two years ago, shortly after being jilted by an Internet suitor she thought was a 16-year-old boy. The case caused a national furor when it was alleged that the "boy" was actually Lori Drew, the mother of one of Megan's former friends.

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Odyssey Project Celebrates its Latest Graduates

Maria Bibbs:

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Odyssey Project held its fifth annual graduation ceremony for its 2007-2008 graduates on May 7. Family, friends, and loved ones gathered at the UW Memorial Union to celebrate the students’ accomplishments and the exciting journey that lies ahead of them.

"This is the beginning of a journey: for some, a journey to college, while others are returning to college," said Odyssey Project Director Professor Emily Auerbach.

The Odyssey Project offers members of the Madison community an opportunity to begin a college education through an intensive, two-semester course. The program’s goal is to provide wider access to college for nontraditional and low-income students by offering a challenging classroom experience, individual support in writing, and assistance in applying for admission to college and for financial aid.

Auerbach said that the Langston Hughes poem "Still Here" embodies this remarkable class’s collective sentiment, after they had spent a year engaged in rigorous study while handling financial and family responsibilities that had previously made a college education seem little more than a dream deferred. "Sometimes you can make a way out of no way. If you open the door to education, you can change lives," Auerbach said.

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An End to Classroom Surfing

University of Chicago Law School:

The University of Chicago Law School has removed Internet access in most classrooms in order to ensure the value of the classroom experience.

With the implementation of wireless Internet access in Law School classrooms came better opportunities for students, who typically carry laptop computers, to be online during class—a common practice at institutions across the country, said Saul Levmore, Dean of the Law School.

“As soon as we discovered that we had the capacity turn off Internet access during class time, we felt that we ought to move in that direction. Our goal is to provide the best legal educational experience in the country, with students and faculty focused on the exchange of ideas in a thorough, engaging manner,” said Levmore, who noted that many students have expressed support of the decision to remove wireless access in classrooms, including second-year Law School student Peter Rock Ternes.

“What makes our Law School is our faculty,” Ternes said. “I think it makes sense to encourage focusing on them and on the classroom discussions.”

More at Freakonomics.

Locally, the Madison School Board will discuss "Modifications to Board Policy and Procedure 4403 concerning Student Possession and Use of Cell Phones and Other Electronic Devices" Monday evening, May 19, 2008.

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Caught in a Swirl of Drug Violence, Mexico Vows to Fight Back

James McKinley:

President Felipe Calderón and dozens of federal agents attended the funeral of the chief of the federal police on Friday morning, a day after his assassination, even as investigators focused on the possibility that someone inside the police force had tipped off the killers to his location.

The services for the federal police chief, Commander Edgar Millán Gómez, and two other agents killed in the line of duty this week started just a half-hour after four armed men shot and killed a commander in Mexico City’s police force outside his home.

Newspapers here, moreover, were full of reports of battles between drug gangs in Sinaloa State, including one involving a bazooka. A sense that violence by organized crime had spun out of control seemed to hang over the country.

After the service, Mr. Calderón, escorted by heavier security than usual, traveled to Tamaulipas State on the border with Texas, where drug dealers have clashed repeatedly with troops and the federal police, to send the message that his administration would not be intimidated by Mr. Millán’s assassination.

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Letters on: Improvements to New Orleans Schools

Letters regarding "Changes at New Orleans Schools Bring Gains in Test Scores":

Re “Changes at New Orleans Schools Bring Gains in Test Scores” (news article, May 7):

We’re pleased to see that New Orleans schoolchildren are making academic gains, such as improving their scores on the latest Louisiana Educational Assessment Program.

As your article points out, post-Katrina schools have invested in reforms like intensifying tutorial and after-school programs. These reforms have long been promoted by the United Teachers of New Orleans.

But one should not get the impression that the higher scores are a direct result of importing new teachers to the city. We applaud the efforts of every teacher who has come to work in New Orleans schools. But some of our most successful schools, like Bethune Elementary and Sophie B. Wright, are those that employ the highest percentages of veteran teachers who are familiar with their students’ communities

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Dot McDonald - A Rising Star

A. David Dahmer:

The sky is the limit for the Madison area senior who will be graduating from Madison West in June. Dot has been involved in just about everything possible at her school, and people have noticed. She was recently recognized by the Madison Metropolitan Links Inc. at the annual Student Recognition Program as a 2008 Links Scholarship recipient. She won the Project Excel Award at West High and the Jewel of the Community Award from the Ladies of Distinction for making a difference in the community. She’s involved with the Wisconsin Center for Academically Talented Youth where she received a leadership award and also recently won the Joe Thomas Community Service Award for her extensive community involvement. "I do like to stay active," Dot laughs.

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Girls Who Play Too Much

Ruth Conniff:

Everyone knows an athlete who has been sidelined by injury. I can think of two off the top of my head: star football players I knew in high school and college, both of whom suffered career-ending knee injuries and struggled with almost existential crises as they adjusted to life as regular humans instead of campus gods.

But in a provocative cover story this week in The New York Times Sunday magazine, "Hurt Girls" (adapted from the forthcoming book Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women's Sports), author Michael Sokolove posits that female athletes suffer far greater rates of injury than males. The injury crisis is so severe, relates Sokolove, it casts the whole Title IX revolution in women's sports in a grim light.

"I'm afraid for her and for all these girls," Sokolove quotes the mother of an injured soccer player saying. "What's it going to be like for them at 40 years old? They're in so much pain now. Knees and backs and hips, and they just keep on going.... Are they going to look back and regret it?"

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Educational Romanticism: On Requiring Every Child to Be Above Average

Charles Murray:

This is the story of educational romanticism in elementary and secondary schools -- its rise, its etiology, and, we have reason to hope, its approaching demise.

Educational romanticism consists of the belief that just about all children who are not doing well in school have the potential to do much better. Correlatively, educational romantics believe that the academic achievement of children is determined mainly by the opportunities they receive; that innate intellectual limits (if they exist at all) play a minor role; and that the current K-12 schools have huge room for improvement. Educational romanticism characterizes reformers of both Left and Right, though in different ways.

Educational romantics of the Left focus on race, class, and gender. It is children of color, children of poor parents, and girls whose performance is artificially depressed, and their academic achievement will blossom as soon as they are liberated from the racism, classism, and sexism embedded in American education. Those of the Right see public education as an ineffectual monopoly, and think that educational achievement will blossom when school choice liberates children from politically correct curricula and obdurate teachers’ unions.

Clusty Search on Charles Murray.

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School Funding's Tragic Flaw

Kevin Carey:

Public education costs a lot of money -- over $500 billion per year. Over the last century, there have been huge changes in where that money comes from and how it's spent. In 1930, only 17 percent of school funding came from state sources, and virtually none came from the federal government. Today, the state / local / federal split is roughly 50/40/10 (individual states vary). People still say all the time that "most" school funding comes from local property taxes, but that hasn't actually been true since the mid-1970s.

On the whole, this change has been of tremendous benefit to disadvantaged students. As states have assumed the primary role in funding education, they've tended to distribute money in ways that are, on the whole, more equitable. The same is true for federal funding, most of which is spent on behalf of poor students and students with disabilities. (This works because taxpayers have a weird psychological relationship with their tax dollars. Rationally, people should view every dollar they pay in taxes and receive in services as equal, regardless of the basis of taxation or the source of the services. But they don't. People feel very strongly that locally-generated property taxes should be spent locally, while they feel less ownership over state taxes and even less over federal dollars. As a result, they'll tear their hair out if you propose transferring 10 percent of their local property tax dollars to a low-income district across the state, but they're far more sanguine if you propose a state school funding formula with precisely the same net result in terms of the taxes they pay and the dollars their local school district receives. It doesn't make sense, but that's okay, because this irrational jurisdiction-dependent selflessness is what allows for the redistributionist school funding policies that poor students depend on to get a decent education.)

Madison's revenue sources are a bit different than Carey's example: 65.1% from local property taxes, 17.2% redistributed state taxes and the rest from grants, contributions and other sources.

Related links:

Finally, Patrick McIlheran notes that Wisconsin's tax burden continues to rise:

Wisconsin's entwined state and local governments taxed a sum equal to 12.3% of Wisconsinites' income last year. That was up from 12.2% the year before and 12.1% the year before that. This biennium, the state is spending 10.5% more than last. Ever, the numbers rise.

They rise because the state's costs do. But taxpayers, too, pay more for gasoline, food, power and practically everything else. Times are tough. You'd think the least government could do would be to avoid piling on.

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Prince William Schools Join to Design Regional Science/Technology Magnet

Ian Shapira:

Prince William County, after years of longing, may finally get a selective magnet school to serve as a mini-rival to Fairfax County's prestigious Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.

The Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park school systems recently won a $100,000 state grant to design a regional "governor's school" that would open by fall 2010 and specialize in math, science and technology.

The yet-unnamed school, which would have rigorous admissions requirements, would differ in key respects from Thomas Jefferson, a full-day governor's school in the Alexandria section of Fairfax that draws students from across Northern Virginia. Students would still attend neighborhood schools, traveling to the new magnet campus only for high-level classes.

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Pennsylvania Charter Schools Growth

Eleanor Chute:

More than a decade after charter schools became legal in Pennsylvania, it is safe to say the schools, once considered experimental and still sometimes controversial, are here to stay.

About 64,000 students are enrolled in 126 charter schools statewide, and about 20,000 are on charter school waiting lists, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition of Charter Schools.

Nearly half of the schools are in Philadelphia. But parents of Western Pennsylvania students -- including 2,355 children living in Pittsburgh -- also have chosen charter schools, which can be bricks-and-mortar buildings or cyber schools.

Their staying power will be in evident this week as the Pennsylvania Coalition of Charter Schools, a statewide advocacy and support organization, conducts its state convention at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center, Uptown. The meeting, which began yesterday, runs through tomorrow and is expected to attract more than 1,000 people.

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May 15, 2008

Madison West Rocketry Club Travels to the Team America Rocketry Challenge

TARC website:

The scores are in, and all the hard work has paid off for the 100 finalists for the Team America Rocketry Challenge. Those teams will face one another during the exciting final fly-off on Saturday, May 17 in The Plains, Va. for the title of national TARC champion. After a full day of launches, held at the Great Meadows facility, the winners will be crowned and $60,000 in scholarships will be divided up among the top finishers.
West Rocketry website.

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11 Madison-area students win at National History Day

Wisconsin Historical Society:

We are proud to announce the national finalists and alternates for the 2008 Wisconsin History Day State Event held on May 3, 2008. The national finalists represented Wisconsin at the national contest June 15-19, 2008 at the University of Maryland - College Park.

The first and second alternate in each category are offered the opportunity to attend the national contest in the event that the finalist entry is unable to attend.

Each finalist designs their entry to reflect the annual theme. The entries below reflect the annual theme for 2008: Conflict and Compromise in History.

This year's local winners: Amanda Snodgrass (Mount Horeb High School), Joanna Weng (Velma Hamilton Middle School), and Alexandra Cohn and David Aeschlimann (Madison West High School). The following students from Eagle School were also winners: Hannah O'Dea, Carolyn Raihala, Sophie Gerdes, Sonia Urquidi, Nate Smith, Jeffrey Zhao and Eli Fessler.

Via the Capital Times.

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Some Rich Students 'Merit' Financial Aid

Kim Clark:

Although college tuition prices are at an all-time high, colleges are, on average, issuing stingier financial aid packages this year, say counselors who've been helping families with their college finances.

Counselors who have examined awards from many colleges say that only a few dozen extremely generous schools are making sure that every student who needs financial help gets enough scholarships to attend. Meanwhile, a growing number of schools and states are awarding scholarships to students from wealthy families. Some of the wealthy students are receiving "merit" awards because of their top grades or test scores, but counselors say they are increasingly seeing run-of-the-mill but wealthy students receive "merit" awards, too. Meanwhile, the vast majority of low- and middle-income students are receiving far less aid than they need.

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The Haskins Literacy Initiative

Michael F. Shaughnessy:

First of all, what exactly is this Haskins Literacy Initiative?

Haskins Literacy Initiative promotes the science of teaching reading in three main ways.First, we provide comprehensive professional development, coaching and classroom support to make teachers masters of effective literacy practices. Teachers, not programs, teach children to read.By becoming informed consumers about the myths and realities of teaching reading, teachers can become "method-proof," knowing what to teach which child when.

Second, we conduct field research about how knowledge and practice impacts student reading achievement.

Our parent, Haskins Laboratories, has conducted more basic reading research for over 40 years.Finally, we engage in advocacy to inform public policy to improve reading achievement for every child.

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Waukesha begins looking at an operating referendum

Amy Hetzner:

District officials blame the financial troubles on the discrepancy between what they can raise under revenue caps, which increase roughly 2% a year, and expenditures that grow about 4% a year.

A $4.9 million annual addition to the district's operating revenue that was approved by voters in an April 2001 referendum gave the district only a few years free from cutting programs and services. Another referendum attempt in April 2005 that would have raised taxes to help avoid further staff reductions failed by a substantial margin.

Board member Patrick McCaffery warned that the board risked another referendum setback if it proceeds without searching for additional efficiencies, including closing a school and realigning attendance boundaries

Waukesha's Executive Director of Business Services, Erik Kass will soon join the Madison School District in a similar capacity. K-12 Tax & Spending Climate.

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YES, A New Approach for the Inner City

Nidya Baez, Douglas Cruickshank:

Reinventing our schools with a greater emphasis on student needs and community engagement is, I believe, one of the most broadly beneficial ways to apply the "think globally, act locally" philosophy. Indeed, many students, parents, teachers, administrators and education experts would probably agree that our education system must be radically retooled to increase its relevance and effectiveness in ways that enable all individuals to prosper in what's already shaping up to be an extremely challenging century.

That was what I and some of my fellow high school students were thinking in 2002, even if we didn't express it in quite those words. Nonetheless, by 2003 we'd helped develop an Oakland high school called YES (Youth Empowerment School), part of the city's Small Schools Initiative. Last year, I graduated from UC Berkeley. I'm now working as a substitute teacher and language tutor, and I've recently interviewed for a fall 2008 faculty position at YES.

In 2002, and today, Oakland's students and its schools were coping with problems endemic to education in big cities across the United States.

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Psychiatric Help 5c

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
15 May 2008

In Peanuts, when we see Lucy offering Psychiatric Help for a nickel, we know it is a joke: ("The Psychiatrist is IN"), but when English teachers in the schools insist that students write about the most intimate details of their private lives for school assignments, that is not a joke, it is an unwarranted intrusion.

There are a couple of major problems with the "personal writing" that has taken over so many of the writing assignments for the English classes in our schools.

First, the teachers are asking students to share information about their personal lives that is none of the teachers' business. The vast majority of English teachers are not qualified as psychologists, much less as psychiatrists, and they should not pretend that they are.

Second, the time spent by students writing assignments for their teachers in their personal diaries is subtracted from time they need to spend learning how to do the academic expository writing they will need to be able to do when they leave school, for college and for work.

I will leave it to others to explain why English teachers have gone down this road in so many of our schools. I have written a number of articles about Creative Nonfiction and Contentless Writing, and the like, to try to encourage some attention to the retreat (or flight) from academic writing in our schools.

But I urge parents and others concerned about the preparation their children are receiving in reading and writing to find out why so many students are being assigned this personal writing which does not belong in the school, and the information in which is, or should be, of no concern of their English teachers, who need instead to focus on reading, grammar, literature and academic writing, instead of setting themselves up as nickel psychiatrists without either the training or the permission to practice on our children.

Our students are doing poorly in NAEP examinations of reading and writing, and having their teachers spend time as untrained therapists is no help with that at all.

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

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Foundation for Madison Public Schools Celebrates Carol Carstensen's School Board Tenure

Samara Kalk Derby:

More than 100 friends, colleagues, family members and parents showed up at a farewell party Wednesday at Olbrich Gardens to say goodbye and thank you to Carol Carstensen, who served six terms on the Madison School Board and stepped down after the spring elections.

"There will never be another Carol Carstensen. I will predict that," said School Board member Johnny Winston Jr. "There will never be another School Board member in this community that will serve 18 years. I miss her already."

Winston called it a wonderful experience to work with Carstensen.

"She really not only knew the material and had a grasp of the issues going on, but she also had her pulse on the community as well," he said.

Former board member Nan Brien, who served with Carstensen in the early 1990s, said that for 18 years Carstensen was the spokesperson on the board for all the kids in the district.

"She was particularly adamant that all kids, no matter their background, have an opportunity for the best education. That is the heart and soul of who Carol Carstensen is," Brien said.

Carol reflects on her tenure, including three accomplishments she takes personal pride in: Wright Middle School, renaming 5 middle schools to reflect the diversity of our community and establishment of the Joe Thomas award.

Much more on Carol Carstensen here. Watch a brief video interview with Carol during her most recent campaign.

More on the Foundation for Madison Public Schools here. John Taylor's 2003 challenge grants energized the formation of FMPS.

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A One Page Reaction to "Check the Facts: Few States Set World-Class Standards"

In their scheme of things, Peterson and Hess1 used the NAEP scale to designate three states – Massachusetts, South Carolina and Missouri – as having "world class standards." In the process, they classified my state – Idaho – among a group of 12 states that have pitched their expectation far below the other states. So what?

There is no reason to expect that setting a “world-class standard” will cause “world-class achievement.” Indeed, a recently released research study using the NAEP scale and state standards and achievement scores found little relationship between the rigor of a state’s standard and the overall achievement of its students.2

What happens when the overall reading and mathematics achievement in grades 4 and 8 on NAEP 2007 in the three Peterson and Hess “world-class standards” states is compared to the overall achievement in one of their “low expectation” states such as Idaho? Zero correlation! This is clearly illustrated in the following table:

“Proficient” has several meanings. It is important to understand clearly that the [NAEP] Proficient achievement level does not refer to “at grade” performance. Nor is performance at the Proficient level synonymous with “proficiency” in the subject. That is, students who may be considered proficient in a subject, given the common usage of the term, might not satisfy the requirements for performance at the NAEP achievement level.3

1 Peterson, P.E., and Hess, F.M. (2008, Summer). Check the facts: Few states set world-class standards. Education Next, 8(3). Retrieved May 13, 2008, from

2 McLaughlin, D.H., Bandeira de Mello, V., Blankenship, C., Chaney, K., Esra, P., Hikawa, H., Rojas, D., William, P., and Wolman, M. (2008). Comparison Between NAEP and State Reading Assessment Results: 2003 (NCES 2008-474). National for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from

3 Loomis, S.C., and Bourque, M.L. (Eds.) (2001). National Assessment of Educational Progress achievement levels 1992-1998 for reading. National Assessment Governing Board, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, D.C. Retrieved May 13, 2008, from


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Teach For America's Growth

Sam Dillon:

Teach for America, the program that recruits top college graduates to teach for two years in public schools that are difficult to staff, has experienced a year of prodigious growth and will place 3,700 new teachers this fall, up from 2,900 last year, a 28 percent increase.

That growth was outpaced, however, by a surge in applications from college seniors. About 24,700 applied this spring to be teachers, up from 18,000 last year, a 37 percent increase, according to figures released by the organization on Wednesday.

The nonprofit program sent its first 500 recruits into American public school classrooms in 1990. It has a large recruiting staff that visits campuses, contacting top prospects and recruiting aggressively. Founded by a Princeton graduate, it has always carefully sifted through applicants’ grade-point averages and other data in recruiting. But with the numbers of applicants increasing faster than the number of teachers placed, it was even more selective this year than before, the organization said.

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Wisconsin's Structural Deficit: $1,700,000,000

Steven Walters:

State government faces a long-term imbalance between spending commitments and tax collections of almost $1.7 billion - even if the budget-repair bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday becomes law.

That figure is $800 million more than last fall, when the budget was adopted.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau blamed the higher long-term deficit on the sluggish economy, because tax collections are expected to grow by only 2% - less than half the 5.5% annual growth in the past. Every 1% lag in tax collections means state government collects $130 million less in taxes.

Fiscal Bureau Director Bob Lang gave legislators the $1.7 billion estimate of the so-called "structural deficit," which is the projected shortfall Gov. Jim Doyle and legislators face next year when they must pass the 2009-'11 budget.

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Parents are Less Strict on Their Younger Children

Raina Kelley:

It's considered a "fact" of sibling relations: the baby of the family always gets away with murder. If the oldest brother had a curfew of 11 p.m. on weekends, his baby sister just has to call if she's staying out all night. But can it be proven that parents are always stricter with their first born?

Researchers from the University of Maryland, Duke University and The Johns Hopkins University say yes, if there are younger siblings in the family, out of concern for the example that is being set for them. Using economic game theory, which is the use of mathematical analysis to determine what kinds of choices people make, the research team looked at more than 11,000 subjects in the National Longitudinal Study of Youth to predict levels of parental discipline. They also discovered that having one additional younger brother or sister can lower the chance that an adolescent will drop out of high school by 3 percentage points. Researchers also found that though parents are much less likely to financially support or put up with a rebellious teen if there are still younger children at home, their resolve weakens as older siblings move out and younger siblings grow up. "As a result, the theory predicts that last-born and only children, knowing that they can get away with much more than their older brothers and sisters, are, on average, more likely to engage in risky behaviors," says University of Maryland economist Ginger Jin, one of three coauthors of the study. NEWSWEEK's Raina Kelley spoke to Gin about the study and the games teens play. Excerpts

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May 14, 2008

Assistant LA Superintendent Sounds Off

Mitchell Landsberg interviews Ramon Cortines:

"I’ve tackled some of the sacred cows in my recommendations, such as the issues of contracts, how much money we could receive from that. Such as the issue of health benefits, and how much money we could receive by capping that. And increasing the co-pay."

Cortines was at times unsparing of LAUSD's failures, saying that the district is organized for the benefit of the adults who work there, not the children they are hired to serve. He said the school board passes too many resolutions that "aren't worth the paper [they're] printed on." And he said the district had "abdicated our responsibility" for Locke High School, which is about to be turned over to Green Dot Public Schools, the big charter operator. Students didn't get a pass, though: He said the district needs to enforce "a code of behavior" based on the idea that they don't just have rights -- they also have responsibilities.

Clusty Search: Ramon Cortines.

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Hawaii lawmakers push keiki education

Loren Moreno:

With milestone legislation poised for passage, Hawai'i is expected to join a growing list of states that have established some form of an early childhood education system.

State lawmakers said last week they are likely to pass the "Keiki First Steps" legislation — Senate Bill 2878 — which would set aside at least $250,000 to establish a state council on early learning. The council is intended to be the governing body of what is likely to become Hawai'i's public-private early education system.

The system would be a private-public partnership, with services offered by existing and new childcare or preschool facilities.

The state eventually would make money available to the private schools to use for kids age 3 to 4. As a condition of taking the money, a school would have to agree to meet state standards.

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Legal Advocacy and Education Reform: Litigating School Exclusion

Deann Hill Rivkin:

School exclusion has existed as a dark side of public education since the creation of America's public schools. Several cases in the United States Supreme Court memorably invalidated State and school system efforts to deny equal educational opportunities to marginalized school children and youth. In these cases, the over-riding multiple values of education were poignantly articulated in the majority decisions.

School exclusion has stubbornly persisted. It takes many forms. This article surveys the most prominent pathways to school exclusion, highlighting what has been called the "School-To-Prison-Pipeline." Various legal challenges are also evaluated. The pros and cons of litigating school exclusion cases are also assessed.

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Commentary on: Should Student Results Count in Grading Teachers?

Followup on Student Test and Teacher Grades:

I am a retired elementary school principal from Long Island, N.Y. I was also a teacher, counselor and school psychologist during my 39 years in public education.

It was, to say the least, appalling to learn in John Merrow's "Student Tests -- and Teacher Grades" (op-ed, May 9) that teachers' unions prevailed, at least in New York state, in eliminating the quality of student performance in determining a teacher's tenure. Besides violating common sense, it is counter to most other evaluations. For instance, aren't coaches in any sport evaluated by the performance of their respective charges, be they teams or individuals?

In my estimation, the evaluation of a teacher's performance for tenure consideration at K-12 level should be based primarily on that teacher's students performance, i.e., results, just as we judge the quality of performance in many other activities, be it sports, sales, etc.

Leon W. Zelby
Norman, Okla.

Blame the teachers and the unions -- how often do we have to hear the same old tired arguments as to why the American educational system is failing?

I taught music for 20 years in both public and private schools, and there have always been good students and bad students.

Sorry, parents -- when your kids don't do well in school, it is usually due to lack of discipline at home. Parents who acquiesce to the whims of a child, refuse to impose rules, and blame the teacher are begging for their child to fail. Through the years, I watched as good teachers left the profession in disgust. For all their hard work, the pay is still low, administrators and parents still lack respect, and when something goes wrong, well, we still blame the teacher.

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Matching Newcomer to College, While Both Pay

Tamar Lewin:

When Xiaoxi Li, a 20-year-old from Beijing, decided she should go to college in the United States, she applied only to Ohio University — not that she knew much about it.

"I heard of Ohio, of course," Ms. Li said. "I knew it was in the middle, and has agriculture.”"

What brought her here was the recommendation of a Chinese recruiting agent, JJL Overseas Education Consulting and Service Company. For about $3,000, JJL helped Ms. Li choose a college, complete the application and prepare for the all-important visa interview.

"Everyone I know used an agent,”" she said. "They are professionals. They suggested Ohio University might be the best for me. They have a good relationship with Ohio University."

Actually, JJL has more than a good relationship with Ohio University. Unknown to Ms. Li, it has a contract, under which the agent gets a $1,000 commission for each undergraduate it sends.

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Who will teach our children?

Daniel Meier:

I teach people who want to become public school teachers. Although the needs of our children and schools have never been greater, the number of people going into teaching has dropped by 23 percent between fiscal 2001-02 and 2004-05, according to the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. California has about 300,000 teachers, half of whom are over 45 years of age. We need approximately 10,000 new teachers each year. But as our teachers age and get closer to retirement, and younger teachers enter the profession in increasingly smaller numbers, who will teach our children?

I have been a teacher educator for 11 years, and I teach in a high-quality program, but there are at least four critical reasons why we are not attracting enough teachers to California's public schools.

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Football, Dartmouth and a Third Grade Teacher

George Vecsey:

Williams, 53, is not just any retired player. He has been a shining light of the N.F.L., his name even floated around when the commissionership was open a couple of years ago. And he won awards for citizenship and sportsmanship while playing in two Super Bowls.

Before the 1982 Super Bowl near Detroit, not far from his childhood home in Flint, Mich., he told reporters how he had been underachieving in the third grade until his teacher, Geraldine Chapel, sent him off for tests that proved he was quite smart but hard of hearing. The hearing improved, and so did his self-image and his schoolwork.

Williams majored in psychology at Dartmouth and was all-Ivy linebacker for three years as well as an Ivy heavyweight wrestling champion. Undersized at 6 feet and 228 pounds, Williams merged his intelligence and his outsider’s drive to make the Bengals.

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Leapold Elementary's Population Again Rises to the Top


Dozens of parents and staff members attended Monday night's Madison Metropolitan School District's Board of Education meeting to shed new light on an old problem: overcrowding at a local elementary school.

The issue of overcrowding at Aldo Leopold Elementary School is prompting some parents and teachers to tell the board solutions they'd like to see to relieve the problem.

Some said that the obvious solution would be to build a new Leopold Elementary or perhaps to adjust the school's boundaries. The group presenting the board with the findings of a parent-teacher survey about the challenges at the school, WISC-TV reported.

The school is at 99 percent attendance with 718 students and can only handle eight more students, officials said.

Monday evening's Board meeting included a brief discussion of a much larger Leapold School - perhaps similar to the failed 2005 referendum that would have created a building suitable for 1100+students.

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American man jailed after daughter fails exam

Tom Leonard:

A father who was ordered by a judge to keep a close eye on his daughter's education has been jailed for six months after she failed a maths exam.

Brian Gegner, of Fairfield, Ohio, was sentenced to 180 days in prison for "contributing to the delinquency of a minor".

His daughter, Brittany, now 18, had a history of school truancy and a judge warned her father to make sure she passed her General Educational Development tests.

Her family said that she passed four of the five parts, except for maths which she has failed several times

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Immunization Rates Falling, CDC Says

Audrey Grayson:

Fewer children in the United States are getting the immunizations they need, putting themselves and others at much greater risk of contracting and spreading vaccine-preventable diseases, new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests.

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May 13, 2008

Moms team up to battle influence of gangs: 'We didn't raise our kids this way'

Annie Sweeney:

It's what everyone wants to know after a gang member terrorizes a neighborhood: Where are the parents?

For the last several months, at least some of them have been meeting in a South Side church basement to pray and cry and face a deep shame: They are mothers of the gang-bangers on the corners. Or they fear their child is about to join a gang.

Many are also single parents, struggling to pay bills. They work 16 hours a day, and every time they hear a gunshot, they worry their child has been shot or has shot someone else's child. Some chase after their kids at 2 a.m.; others have stood in defiance when they won't leave a corner.

And yes, they wonder what they did wrong.

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Push Continues for the Wisconsin Covenant

John Burton:

Wisconsin's Lieutenant Governor is traveling the state, urging eighth graders to sign up for the Wisconsin Covenant. The program seeks to get kids into higher education.

In Rhinelander, Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton told students education is necessary to have good job prospects. She says every student should have some form of post-high school education if they want to have a family supporting job.

Wisconsin Covenant Website:

Enrollment for current 8th graders is now open!

Students who want to sign the Wisconsin Covenant Pledge must do so by September 30th of their freshman year.

To join online, click here.

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Pair Break Barriers for Charter Schools

Jay Matthews:

They won a legal battle to force Maryland to increase public funding for charter schools more than 60 percent. They opened two charter schools in Prince George's County and befriended the superintendent there even though the county had a reputation as hostile to the charter movement. They run one of the largest charter school networks in the country.

Yet Dennis and Eileen Bakke remain relatively unknown in local education circles.

Dennis, 62, and Eileen, 55, live in Arlington County. He knows business; she is into education. Few people guess, and the Bakkes never volunteer, what an impact they have had on education in the region and beyond. Their Imagine Schools organization, based in Arlington, oversees 51 schools (four in the Washington area) with 25,000 students. By fall, it plans to have 75 schools with 38,000 students.

Jason Botel, who directs KIPP charter schools in Baltimore, is one educator who knows what the Bakkes have accomplished. "Their funding of advocacy efforts has helped make sure that . . . charter schools like ours can provide a great education for children in Maryland," he said.

Imagine Schools' report card.

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Start school early and we can help poor kids

Andy Fleckenstein:

In Milwaukee, one out of three school-aged children lives in poverty. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Milwaukee ranks sixth highest in the nation. Many of these children do not have access to quality education at an early age, which gives them a disadvantage when entering school. It also affects their academic achievement, odds of graduating and potential for earning a family-sustaining wage as adults.

In other words, early childhood literacy is crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty.

Research shows that successful programs don't teach just children. Academic performance improves when parents are involved. This might seem obvious, or even easy. But, for the single mother of three working two jobs, it's anything but easy. It's much harder to help with homework when you're focused on getting food on the table.

For the past four years, the Fleck Foundation has supported United Way's early childhood education initiative because the programs it funds require parents to be involved. We know that this key component leads to success. As a result, each year we challenge the community to support the initiative by matching donations dollar-for-dollar that are designated to address early childhood literacy. Our hope is to stimulate growth in donations and increase attention to this important issue.

One program in particular, Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters or HIPPY, conducted by COA Youth and Family Centers, sends "coaches" to the homes of low-income families. The coaches show parents how to teach their children through reading.

The results speak for themselves.

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Gang Activity in Suburbs Acknowledged

Christina Sanchez:

Two weeks before the fatal shooting of a Franklin teenager in what appears to be a gang-related fight, Nashville police gave gang awareness training to Williamson County school faculty.

The school officials' request in March for the training suggests a willingness to acknowledge, although not yet publicly, what they and local law enforcement had long been reluctant to admit:

Gangs exist in suburbia.

"Gangs have always been here, probably much longer than the Police Department was aware or recognized," said Sgt. Charles Warner, a detective with the Franklin Police Department. "We've started to see a slow increase. By no means is there an epidemic."

Several smaller communities outside of Nashville have seen an increase over the past few years in gang presence and gang-related crime. Local police departments attribute gangs' migration to growth — and to Metro's aggressive police crackdown on street gangs in Nashville, which pushes criminal activity to outlying cities.

Educating the Community on Gangs in Madison.

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Check the Facts: Few States Set World-Class Standards
Summer 2008 (vol. 8, no. 3) Table of Contents CHECK THE FACTS: Few States Set World-Class Standards
In fact, most render the notion of proficiency meaningless

Paul E. Peterson and Frederick M. Hess:

As the debate over the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) makes its murky way through the political swamp, one thing has become crystal clear: Though NCLB requires that virtually all children become proficient by the year 2014, states disagree on the level of accomplishment in math and reading a proficient child should possess. A few states have been setting world-class standards, but most are well off that mark—in some cases to a laughable degree.

In this report, we use 2007 test-score information to evaluate the rigor of each state’s proficiency standards against the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an achievement measure that is recognized nationally and has international credibility as well. The analysis extends previous work (see "Johnny Can Some States," features, Summer 2005, and "Keeping an Eye on State Standards," features, Summer 2006) that used 2003 and 2005 test-score data and finds in the new data a noticeable decline, especially at the 8th-grade level. In Figure 1, we rank the rigor of state proficiency standards using the same A to F scale teachers use to grade students. Those that receive an A have the toughest definitions of student proficiency, while those with an F have the least rigorous.

Measuring Standards

That states vary widely in their definitions of student proficiency seems little short of bizarre. Agreement on what constitutes "proficiency" would seem the essential starting point: if students are to know what is expected of them, teachers are to know what to teach, and parents are to have a measuring stick for their schools. In the absence of such agreement, it is impossible to determine how student achievement stacks up across states and countries.

One national metric for performance does exist, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The NAEP is a series of tests administered under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Known as the Nation’s Report Card, the NAEP tests measure proficiency in reading and math among 4th and 8th graders nationwide as well as in every state. The NAEP sets its proficiency standard through a well-established, if complex, technical process. Basically, it asks informed experts to judge the difficulty of each of the items in its test bank. The experts’ handiwork received a pat on the back recently when the American Institutes for Research (AIR) showed that NAEP’s definition of "proficiency" was very similar to the standard used by designers of international tests of student achievement. Proficiency has acquired roughly the same meaning in Europe and Asia, and in the United States—as long as the NAEP standard is employed.

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No Child Left Behind Lacks Bite: Worst-Performing Schools Rarely Adopt Radical Remedies

Robert Tomsho:

Critics of the federal No Child Left Behind law, including Democratic presidential candidates vowing to overhaul or end it, have often accused it of being too harsh. It punishes weak schools instead of supporting them, as Sen. Barack Obama puts it.

But when it comes to the worst-performing schools, the 2001 law hasn't shown much bite. The more-radical restructuring remedies put forth by the law have rarely been adopted by these schools, many of which aren't doing much to address their problems, according to a federal study last year.

The troubles in the restructuring arena reflect broader questions about whether NCLB is a strong enough tool to bring about the overhaul of American education. In many ways, the law was an outgrowth of "A Nation at Risk," a pivotal 1983 federal report that warned that a "rising tide of mediocrity" in education could undermine the nation's competitiveness. That report ushered in the era of accountability and testing, which eventually spawned NCLB.

Supporters maintain the law is helping to fuel learning gains. In the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, reading and math scores for fourth and eighth graders rose compared to 2005, albeit only by a few points.

But NCLB gave states -- not the federal government -- authority to set the academic standards for local schools. And so, while NCLB requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, states determine what proficiency is and how they will test for it. A 2007 federal study found states don't exactly agree on proficiency.

Related: Commentary on Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction Standards. DPI Website.

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New BadgerLink training videos

Wisconsin DPI:

Four new programs on the BadgerLink website make it easy to learn how to make the most of the BadgerLink databases. BadgerLink is a free service for Wisconsin residents which provides access to articles from thousands of newspaper and periodical titles, image files, and other specialized reference materials and websites. BadgerLink is a project of the Department of Public Instruction, in cooperation with the state's public, school, academic, and special libraries and Internet service providers.

The new videos cover how to use databases such as EBSCO, Kids Search, Searchasaurus, TeachingBooks, ProQuest, Newspaper ARCHIVE, the African American Biographical Database, and LitFinder

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Folks, We've Reached an Awkward Age

Monica Hesse:

Things that are " awk-ward," according to a group of University of Maryland students hanging out on the campus quad:

1. Elevators.

2. That guy in the dorm who is so tall that he sees over shower stalls without even trying.

3. Having dinner with your new girlfriend when your ex-girlfriend and her new girlfriend show up at the same restaurant (you, in this instance, are a he).

4. Vegetarian chopped liver, which looks like the most "feces-like food ever," and which what's-his-name was eating in public for Passover.

5. Curry.

When any of these are encountered, the appropriate reaction is to say, loudly and in falsetto, awk-ward

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'College material' label doesn't stick for all – and that's OK

Steve Blow:

I've got an assignment for you.

As you're out and about over the next couple of days, I want you to notice all the jobs that don't require a college degree.

I'll get you started with a few – bus driver, cashier, plumber, cop, construction worker, waiter, sales clerk, janitor, child care worker, mechanic, appliance technician, cable installer, postal carrier, carpenter, barber, truck driver ...

OK, you get the idea.

Now, let's think about a pervasive philosophy in public education. It's summed up in a bumper sticker I saw last week: "Our Students Are COLLEGE BOUND."

That particular sticker was from the Garland Independent School District, but it's the same mantra expressed in every district these days.

Our schools have turned into Lake Woebegone ISD, where every student is above average and on the way to a Ph.D.

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May 12, 2008

Are gifted students getting left out?

Carla Rivera

Highly intelligent, talented students need special programs to keep them engaged and challenged. But experts say too often they aren't even identified -- especially in low-income and minority schools.

If you reviewed Dalton Sargent's report cards, you'd know only half his story. The 15-year-old Altadena junior has lousy grades in many subjects. He has blown off assignments and been dissatisfied with many of his teachers. It would be accurate to call him a problematic student. But he is also gifted.

Dalton is among the sizable number of highly intelligent or talented children in the nation's classrooms who find little in the standard curriculum to rouse their interest and who often fall by the wayside.

With schools under intense pressure from state and federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind to raise test scores of low-achieving pupils, the educational needs of gifted students -- who usually perform well on standardized tests -- too often are ignored, advocates say.

Nationally, about 3 million kindergarten through 12th-grade students are identified as gifted, but 80% of them do not receive specialized instruction, experts say. Studies have found that 5% to 20% of students who drop out are gifted.

There is no federal law mandating special programs for gifted children, though many educators argue that these students -- whose curiosity and creativity often coexist with emotional and social problems -- deserve the same status as those with special needs. Services for gifted students vary from state to state. In California, about 512,000 students are enrolled in the Gifted and Talented Education program, which aims to provide specialized and accelerated instruction.

But many gifted students who might benefit from the program are never identified, particularly those in economically disadvantaged communities, advocates say. Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Louis Correa (D-Santa Ana) aimed at training teachers to identify gifted students from low-income, minority and non-English speaking families stalled last year after estimates found that it could cost up to $1.1 million.

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Young Workers Flee Midwestern States

Celeste Headlee:

Upper Midwestern states are in danger of losing a precious economic commodity: young people. Many are leaving for other parts of the country after finishing school. Without young, educated workers, there's little incentive for businesses to locate in economically hard-hit states.

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No Small Plan: Public Boarding Schools for Chicago

Carlos Sadovi and Stephanie Banchero, via a kind reader's email:

Public boarding schools where homeless children and those from troubled homes could find the safety and stability to learn are being pursued by Chicago Public Schools officials.

Under the plan, still in the nascent stages, the first pilot residential program could open as soon as fall 2009. District officials hope to launch as many as six such schools in the following years, including at least one that would operate as a year-round school.

The proposal puts Chicago at the forefront of urban school reform, as cities struggle to raise the academic achievement of students hampered by dysfunctional homes and other obstacles outside school.

Some districts, including Chicago, have looked for solutions from small schools to single-sex campuses. But residential schools are a bolder -- and far more expensive -- proposition. Long an option for the affluent, boarding schools are virtually unheard of for the disadvantaged.

Chicago Public Schools chief Arne Duncan said he does not want to be in the "parenting" business, but he worries that some homes and some neighborhoods are unsafe, making education an afterthought.

"Some children should not go home at night; some of them we need 24-7," he told the Tribune. "We want to serve children who are really not getting enough structure at home. There's a certain point where dad is in jail or has disappeared and mom is on crack ... where there isn't a stable grandmother, that child is being raised by the streets."

Chicago school officials are still working through details of the plan, and it's not clear whether the schools would be run by the district, outside agencies or some combination of the two.

It's also not certain how the schools would be funded, who would shoulder the liability of keeping students overnight or how students would be selected.

In April, as part of its Renaissance 2010 new schools program, the district will put out a formal request for boarding school proposals. Officials have already met with interested groups in Chicago.

Officials have also visited several public and private boarding schools across the country and asked some to submit proposals.

Duncan said he has dreamed for years about opening boarding schools, but only last year, when he hired Josh Edelman, son of Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, did the idea take off.

The younger Edelman served for four years as the principal of The SEED School, the nation's oldest and most successful urban boarding school. Located in Washington, D.C., the public, college preparatory campus serves 300 students from 7th through 12th grades.

Nearly 72 percent of SEED students, who hail from low-income and sometimes troubled backgrounds, go on to four-year colleges.

Edelman said Chicago Public Schools officials are interested in several models, including SEED, in which students live and attend school in the same building. Other options would include an arrangement in which students live in one building and ride the bus to a nearby school or a large central dormitory in which students live in one building but attend several schools.

All of these settings could allow students to go home on weekends, or stay at the facility 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Officials said they would look at both options or a combination.

Edelman said his experience at The SEED School proved to him that family and community involvement are paramount to making a boarding school successful.

In Chicago, children would attend the school only after the parents or guardian choose the option. Schools would then work with parents to ensure that the students' academic and social needs are being met.

"This is not about doing something to parents because parents are bad," Edelman said. "This is about doing something in conjunction with parents and the community."

Chicago flirted briefly with the idea of public school residential facilities in the mid-1990s, when a private group proposed transforming a 16-story unit at the Robert Taylor Homes into a dormitory for 800 students. The proposal died when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development took over the CHA.

A few years later, then-schools chief Paul Vallas floated the idea of opening a boarding school for neglected and homeless children. Students would live at the school until the Department of Children and Family Services was able to place them in foster care or with relatives. The plan collapsed because of the high price tag.

Now the district is hoping to launch a pilot program in September 2009, operated by North Lawndale College Prep. The charter group, which runs two Chicago high schools, is working on a proposal to create an off-site dormitory, initially for about 15 to 20 of its homeless students.

The teenagers would live in the building 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Teen Living Program, which works with federal, state and city government to provide shelter and support for homeless teens, would run the residential units.

John Horan, director of expansion for the charter group, said officials are looking for a building that could house the students and are working through funding and liability issues that go along with operating a residential facility.

The charter group and Teen Living plan to present the proposal to their respective boards of directors in the summer. The proposal then would have to go before the Chicago Board of Education for final approval.

Horan said between 6 and 8 percent of North Lawndale's 400 students are homeless, either because their parents are in prison or have disappeared. Some teachers have stepped in as parents, allowing students to bunk at their homes or, in some cases, taking temporary guardianship of the students.

"It's not sustainable; you can't really depend on your staff to do that," Horan said. "Our notion now is if you are going to be serious about providing college prep for kids who are from [poor] communities you have to deal with the housing."

But housing is an expensive proposition.

Illinois already has one residential school, the Illinois Math and Science Academy, a state-funded 10th through 12th-grade college prep high school that enrolls about 650 gifted students. The price tag: about $23,000 per student each year.

Providing the same services for low-income urban students who face more significant life problems is certain to be most costly. The SEED School is opening a second school in Baltimore. The cost per student: $34,000.

Chicago spends about $7,000 per pupil in operating costs.

"This is a big idea that has residual effect beyond the kids," said Cheye Calvo, director of expansion for The SEED School. "In the long term, this is better for society because the economic impact of failure affects us all. But opening a boarding school requires political leadership to step forward and provide the resources."


SEED success


of students at The SEED School go on to four-year colleges. The school, the nation's oldest urban boarding school, serves students from 7th through 12th grades in Washington, D.C.

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Take That AP Test or Flunk

Jay Matthews:

J. David Goodman's story in the New York Times last week about the new Advanced Placement policy at two high schools in New Jersey at first made me cringe.

His lead paragraph read: "Students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes at two schools in the Northern Valley Regional High School District in Bergen County are now required to take the AP exams this month -- or receive a failing grade in the courses under a new school policy being questioned by some parents and students."

Take the AP exam or you flunk the course? It seemed un-American. U.S. high schools are famously forgiving of students who don't want to subject themselves to the three-hour college level exams at the end of AP courses. Most leave it up to the student. Some remove the AP designation on their transcript if they don't take the exam. In a few areas, such as Northern Virginia, the schools require that all AP students take the AP exams in May, but if they decide at the last minute to spend those lovely days at the beach, the only penalty is they don't get the extra grade-point credit for taking an advanced course. To a senior who has already been admitted to college by May, that has no more sting than a disappointed look from his mother.

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A Look at LA's Small Learning Communities

Jason Song:

Like many large districts throughout the nation, L.A. Unified has been trying to increase the number of smaller learning communities, hoping that personalized instruction would boost student achievement and offer an alternative to charter schools, including the five Green Dot campuses near Jefferson.

The academy, one of four Los Angeles Unified campuses that opened almost two years ago, is partially funded through the New Tech Foundation, a Napa, Calif.-based nonprofit that supports 35 schools throughout the country. Two of the others, Arleta High School of Science, Math and Related Technologies and the Los Angeles High School for Global Studies, have increased their test scores dramatically. However, at Jordan New Tech High School, the API score was 25 points lower than that on the regular Jordan High campus.

Unlike charters, which are publicly funded but are not regulated by L.A. Unified, New Tech schools are run by district administrators. "We're under a lot of pressure: pressure from parents, pressure from the public, to find results that work," said Monica Garcia, president of the Los Angeles Board of Education, adding that New Tech "clearly works."

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Raikes to Take the Gates Foundation's Reigns


The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation says Microsoft Corp. executive Jeff Raikes will be its next CEO.

The world's largest charitable foundation has been looking for a new leader since chief executive Patty Stonesifer announced in February that she would be stepping down.

Raikes has been the top executive in Microsoft's business software division, responsible for such things as the Office software suite, Microsoft's server software and applications that help businesses track customers and business processes.

Clusty Search: Jeff Raikes.

The Gates Foundation initially supported the Small Learning Community High School approach. Clusty on Small Learning Communities.

The Economist:

CONGRATULATIONS, Jeff Raikes, on your great new job as chief executive of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And good luck: you will certainly need it.

Unlike most other foundation CEO jobs, this is unlikely to be a comfortable pre-retirement sinecure. The Gates Foundation is by far the biggest charitable organisation in the world, and growing quickly. Next year, it is expected give away at least $3 billion, up from barely $1 billion a couple of years ago. Some insiders expect that number to rise as high as $6 billion in the near future.

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Philadelphia safe-schools advocate say the lack of discipline violates the law

Kristen Graham:

Philadelphia public schools are unsafe places where students who commit violent crimes are rarely punished and rehabilitated and with a disciplinary system that is "dysfunctional and unjust," according to a report by the district's safe-schools advocate.

In a blistering 72-page document obtained by The Inquirer, Jack Stollsteimer describes a district where students who assault teachers or come to school with guns are not removed from classrooms, a violation of federal and state law.

School crime, he says, has been historically underreported, victims do not receive proper rights, and the increasing violence against teachers and employees is not taken seriously.

Prompted by questions from The Inquirer and two months after receiving Stollsteimer's report - which he is required by law to complete - the state blasted the safe-schools advocate's document and said it would release its own version next week.

"The draft report has serious problems - some of the data analysis is inaccurate, the legal analysis is flawed. We are releasing the official report on Monday," said Sheila Ballen, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

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Some of California's most gifted students are being ignored, advocates say

Carla Rivera:

If you reviewed Dalton Sargent's report cards, you'd know only half his story. The 15-year-old Altadena junior has lousy grades in many subjects. He has blown off assignments and been dissatisfied with many of his teachers. It would be accurate to call him a problematic student. But he is also gifted.

Dalton is among the sizable number of highly intelligent or talented children in the nation's classrooms who find little in the standard curriculum to rouse their interest and who often fall by the wayside.

With schools under intense pressure from state and federal mandates such as No Child Left Behind to raise test scores of low-achieving pupils, the educational needs of gifted students -- who usually perform well on standardized tests -- too often are ignored, advocates say.

Nationally, about 3 million kindergarten through 12th-grade students are identified as gifted, but 80% of them do not receive specialized instruction, experts say. Studies have found that 5% to 20% of students who drop out are gifted.

There is no federal law mandating special programs for gifted children, though many educators argue that these students -- whose curiosity and creativity often coexist with emotional and social problems -- deserve the same status as those with special needs. Services for gifted students vary from state to state. In California, about 512,000 students are enrolled in the Gifted and Talented Education program, which aims to provide specialized and accelerated instruction.

Linda Scholl @ Wisconsin Center for Education Research: SCALE Case Study: Evolution of K-8 Science Instructional Guidance in Madison Metropolitan School District [PDF report]
In addition, by instituting a standards-based report card system K-8, the department has increased accountability for teaching to the standards.

The Department is struggling, however, to sharpen its efforts to reduce the achievement gap. While progress has been made in third grade reading, significant gaps are still evident in other subject areas, including math and science. Educational equity issues within the school district are the source of much public controversy, with a relatively small but vocal parent community that is advocating for directing greater resources toward meeting the needs of high achieving students. This has slowed efforts to implement strong academic equity initiatives, particularly at the middle and early high school levels. Nonetheless, T&L content areas specialists continue working with teachers to provide a rigorous curriculum and to differentiate instruction for all students. In that context, the new high school biology initiative represents a significant effort to raise the achievement of students of color and economic disadvantage.

WCER's tight relationship with the Madison School District has been the source of some controversy.


Scholl's error, in my view, is viewing the controversy as an issue of "advocating for directing greater resources toward meeting the needs of high achieving students". The real issue is raising standards for all, rathing than reducing the curriculum quality (see West High School Math teachers letter to the Isthmus:
Moreover, parents of future West High students should take notice: As you read this, our department is under pressure from the administration and the math coordinator's office to phase out our "accelerated" course offerings beginning next year. Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

It seems the administration and our school board have re-defined "success" as merely producing "fewer failures." Astonishingly, excellence in student achievement is visited by some school district administrators with apathy at best, and with contempt at worst. But, while raising low achievers is a laudable goal, it is woefully short-sighted and, ironically, racist in the most insidious way. Somehow, limiting opportunities for excellence has become the definition of providing equity! Could there be a greater insult to the minority community?


A friend mentioned a few years ago that the problems are in elementary and middle school. Rather than addressing those, the administration is trying to make high school changes.

Thanks to a reader for sending along these links.

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Proximity & Power
Why do the headquarters of state teachers' unions tend to be so close to state capitol buildings?

Jay Greene & Jonathan Butcher:

If you stand on the steps of a state capitol building and throw a rock (with a really strong arm), the first building you can hit has a good chance of being the headquarters of the state teachers’ union. For interest groups, proximity to the capitol is a way of displaying power and influence. The teachers’ union strives to be the closest. It wants to remind everyone that it is the most powerful interest group of all.

To see who has the most powerful digs, we actually bothered to measure just how close interest group offices are to state capitol buildings. We started with a list of the 25 most influential interest groups, as compiled by Fortune magazine. We then used Google Maps to plot the location of the state offices of those 25 interest groups and measured the distance to the capitol building.

The results are illuminating. Of the 25 most influential interest groups, the teachers’ union is the closest in 14 of the 50 states. By comparison, the AFL-CIO is the closest in seven states. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the National Federation of Independent Business are the closest in five states, each. The American Association for Justice (AAJ)—the leading organization of U.S. trial lawyers, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, or ATLA—is the closest in four states.

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Middle schools pitch college to low-income students early


Most students at Mildred Avenue Middle School come from low-income, minority families and have parents who didn't go to college. Many don't speak English at home and have no plans to attend college.
Which is exactly why officials decided to make it the only middle school in Boston with a full-time college counseling office. They want to convince the school's 560 students that college is attainable.

Middle school offices specifically dedicated to college guidance are part of a growing trend at schools across the country as officials try to make sure students don't begin planning too late.

"Middle school is when students are still open to all the opportunities and options they have, because by the time they get to high school they are often at the point where they say 'Oh, I can't do that,"' said Jill Cook, assistant director of the American School Counselor Association.

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General Vang Pao's Last War

Early in 2007, the Madison School Board decided to name a new far west side elementary school after Vang Pao. This decision became ingreasingly controversial after Pao was arrested as part of a plot to overthrow the Laos Government (the school has since been named Olson Elementary). Tim Weiner Interviews Vang Pao Tim Weiner, author of Legacy of Ashes digs into this latest chapter in the Hmong / US Government relationship:

The case against Vang Pao grew out of a sting operation, a crime created in part by the government itself. What evidence there is rests largely on secretly recorded conversations led by an undercover federal agent, and while the transcripts implicating some of the co-defendants in the case seem damning, the agent barely met Vang Pao. The talk between them was brief; though Vang Pao may have dreamed aloud of a glorious revolution in Laos in years gone by, his role in the conspiracy charged by the government may be hard to prove. The government presents the case as a clear-cut gunrunning conspiracy in violation of the Neutrality Act, which outlaws military expeditions against nations with which the United States is at peace. But the old general’s defenders contend that the case against him is the consequence of a misguided post-9/11 zeal. If convicted in a trial, the former American ally could face the rest of his life in prison. And already his indictment has apparently emboldened Laotian and Thai authorities to crack down on the beleaguered Hmong who remain in refugee camps or in hiding in the jungles of Laos.

The government has a checkered record of late in its sting operations against people subsequently charged with planning acts of political terror. In 2006, to take one example, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced that a joint terrorism task force had broken up a plot to “levy war” and to blow up the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago. In that case, as two trials have shown, an F.B.I. informant known to the defendants as Brother Mohammed created some of the key evidence — leading the group in an oath of loyalty to Al Qaeda, for instance. He provided them with plans and plots and gave them military gear like combat boots. The defendants never had contact with actual terrorists, never obtained weapons or explosives. Two juries have failed to see the logic of the case; a federal judge has had to declare two mistrials. (The government plans to try the case a third time.)

The sting operation against Vang Pao exhibits some similar traits. It has also dismayed a number of American intelligence officers who worked with the Hmong against the army of North Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. “We taught him how to do these things — to fight political warfare, to try to defeat the enemy,” I was told by Larry Devlin, a former C.I.A. station chief who worked with the general in Laos. “We helped Vang Pao learn to do some of the things that he and his troops are now charged with.”

Britannica on the Hmong.

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School turnaround projects are enormously difficult propositions. They must be guided by four basic realities.

Frederick M. Hess:

Across the nation, educators are struggling to turn around troubled schools. In the District of Columbia, Chancellor Michelle Rhee has teams seeking to overhaul 27 schools targeted for “restructuring” by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

This is hardly uncharted territory. Reformers have spent decades proposing new remedies for low-performing schools. Magnet programs, schools without walls, block scheduling, site-based management, and a litany of other popular ideas have emerged, only to disappoint.

Today, NCLB’s mandated restructuring of schools that fail to make “adequate yearly progress” for five consecutive years has fueled extensive new efforts. NCLB spells out five options for such schools: reopening as a public charter school; replacing most staff; contracting out operations to a new organization; turning the keys over to the state; or adopting “any other major restructuring of the school’s governance.” Modest variations of the amorphous fifth option have proven the most popular, by far.

More than 2,000 schools across the United States are currently in the process of restructuring, which has given rise to a nascent “turnaround” industry. The Louisiana School Turnaround Specialist Program is recruiting and grooming a cadre of school leaders. In New York, the Rensselaerville Institute runs a school turnaround program. At the University of Virginia, the graduate schools of education and business have partnered to train “turnaround specialists.” In Chicago, the Chicago International Charter School has launched ChicagoRise to provide management expertise and support for turnaround projects.

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Transition School Wins Reprieve

Andy Hall:

A Dane County alternative high school that faced possible shutdown over finances has won a reprieve that will keep the school open for at least one more year.

"The good news is we got it to stay open. And we got some time to recommit ourselves to how we might keep it open, " said Belleville School District Superintendent Randy Freese, who worked with the superintendents of the Mount Horeb and Oregon school districts to recommend measures approved Friday at a meeting of Dane County superintendents.

Under the plan to save Dane County Transition School, 10 school districts in and around Dane County will purchase at least 24 slots at $13,690 apiece for high school students who struggle academically or socially in traditional schools.

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May 11, 2008

A Parenting Moment

via a useful Doonesbury strip.

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Charter Schools are Great, but Not Why You Think

Kevin Carey:

Charter schools allowed Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin to create the burgeoning and phenomenally successful KIPP network of middle schools serving almost exclusively poor, minority, and previously low-achieving children. Charter schools allowed veteran labor organizer Steve Barr to create Green Dot Public Schools as an alternative to the terrible high schools in Los Angeles. Charter schools gave a couple of young management consultants the ability to create the nation's first, and very successful, urban public boarding school in impoverished Southeast DC. And so on.

Given the opportunity, the best charter schools (and to be clear, there are certainly bad ones) haven't tried to reinvent the wheel. They've just balanced the wheel, fine-tuned it, reinforced the parts that were weak, and made sure it was in maximum working order. Charter school laws opened a conduit for talent, energy, and philanthropic money directed toward public education, resources that previously had no way to break into a bureaucratized monopoly state school system. Even if that's all they did, that's way more than enough.

Carey is spot on. Cracking the legacy public school governance monolith is essential to progress. "Progress requires conflict".

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Minnesota's Teacher of the Year


Carleen Gulstad, who teaches 8th and 9th grade language arts at Hopkins North Junior High School, was named Minnesota's Teacher of the Year on Sunday.

Gulstad said in an interview that she tries to see each student as an individual.

"Every kid counts. Every kid has a story. And every kid has value," she said.

The Teacher of the Year honor is awarded annually by the teachers union Education Minnesota, which cited her commitment to teaching students good communication skills as well as how to interact positively in a diverse and changing world.

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Bad Rap on the Schools

Jay Matthews:

Oh, look. There’s a new film that portrays American teenagers as distracted slackers who don’t stand a chance against the zealous young strivers in China and India. It must be an election year, when American politicians, egged on by corporate leaders, suddenly become indignant about the state of America’s public schools. If we don’t do something, they thunder, our children will wind up working as bellhops in resorts owned by those Asian go- getters.

The one-hour documentary, conceived and financed by Robert A. Compton, a high-tech entrepreneur, follows two teenagers in Carmel, Indiana, as they sporadically apply themselves to their studies in their spare time between after school jobs and sports. The film, called Two Million Minutes, cuts to similar pairs of high schoolers in India and China who do little but attend classes, labor over homework, and work with their tutors. Two Million Minutes has become a key part of the ED in ’08 campaign, a $60 million effort by Bill Gates and other wealthy worriers to convince the presidential candidates to get serious about fixing our schools.

Most of the time, I cheer such well-intentioned and powerful promoters of academic achievement. I have been writing about the lack of challenge in American high schools for 25 years. It astonishes me that we treat many high schoolers as if they were intellectual infants, actively discouraging them from taking the college-level Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses that would prepare them for higher education and add some challenge to their bland high school curricula. I share what I imagine is Bill Gates’s distress at seeing Carmel High’s Brittany Brechbuhl watching Grey’s Anatomy on television with her friends while they make half hearted stabs at their math homework.

Via Flypaper.

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UK Reading Recovery Study

Institute of Education:

New research into the progress of 500 children published today shows that young children who were the poorest readers - and the very lowest-achieving in their class - can go on to outperform the national average within two years. They must be given four to five months of one-to-one tuition by specially trained Reading Recovery teachers for about 30 minutes a day while the children are aged six.

The research by the Institute of Education into the Every Child a Reader project shows that boys benefit to the same extent as girls and that one-to-one tuition helps to reduce the gender gap. The presence of Reading Recovery teachers also helps the other children in the school who do not attend the Reading Recovery lessons.

The two-year research project looked at the reading and writing progress of the lowest achieving children in 42 schools in ten inner London boroughs with the biggest social problems. The eight poorest readers in each class, then aged six, were selected. Eighty-seven of these children had the benefit of the Reading Recovery special tuition programme and their progress was compared to a group of children of similar ability and backgrounds, who did not receive the same tuition.

After one year children who had received the tuition had reading ages that matched their chronological age, and were 14 months ahead of the children in the comparison group.

Complete report here.

Much more on Reading Recovery here.

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May 10, 2008

"No Surprises in School Budget, but Referendum Looms"

Tamira Madsen:

Facing a possible referendum and $9.2 million hole for the 2009-10 school year, no major alterations are anticipated to the school 2008-09 budget that will be finalized Monday by Madison School Board members.

When new superintendent Dan Nerad starts in July, referendum discussion will come to the forefront for the Madison Metropolitan School District. If Board members decide to propose a referendum, which could occur as early as November, they will request taxpayers consider overriding state-imposed revenue gaps so that services and programs won't have to be severely slashed from the district's budget.

In the meantime, only one administrative amendment and two Board amendments are on the agenda and approval is expected at the School Board meeting as superintendent Art Rainwater presents plans for the final budget of his tenure. Rainwater, who has worked with the district for 14 years -- including the last 10 as superintendent -- will retire this summer. Nerad will take over on July 1.

School Board members are well aware of the multi-million budget cuts looming for the 2009-10 school year, and Rainwater said he wasn't surprised with short list of amendments.

"I think the overall intention for the Board from day one was really and truly to work to preserve exactly what we have," Rainwater said during a telephone interview Friday.

Notes and links on the proposed $367,806,712 2008/2009 budget.

Three proposed budget amendments:

  • Limit Fund 80 spending to a 4% increase [19K PDF]
  • Limit Fund 80 spending to a 4% increase [19K PDF]
  • Increase technology purchases by $100,000 and reduced the reserve for contingency
  • Limit Fund 80 spending to a 4% increase [9K PDF]
  • Increase the Fund 80 tax levy by $60,000 for the Madison Family Literacy / Even Start Literacy Program [9K PDF]
Much more on Fund 80 here.

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On Madison's Lack of a 4K Program

Andy Hall:

In Madison, where schools Superintendent Art Rainwater in a 2004 memo described 4K as potentially "the next best tool" for raising students' performance and narrowing the racial achievement gap, years of study and talks with leaders of early childhood education centers have failed to produce results.

"It's one of the things that I regret the most, that I think would have made a big impact, that I was not able to do," said Rainwater, who is retiring next month after leading the district for a decade.

"We've never been able to get around the money," said Rainwater, whose tenure was marked by annual multimillion-dollar budget cuts to conform to the state's limits on how much money districts can raise from local property taxpayers.

A complicating factor was the opposition of Madison Teachers Inc., the teachers union, to the idea that the 4K program would include preschool teachers not employed by the School District. However, Rainwater said he's "always believed that those things could have been resolved" if money had been available.

Starting a 4K program for an estimated 1,700 students would cost Madison $5 million the first year and $2.5 million the second year before it would get full state funding in the third year under the state's school-funding system.

In comparison, the entire state grant available to defray Wisconsin districts' startup costs next year is $3 million — and that amount is being shared by 32 eligible districts.

One of those districts, Green Bay, is headed by Daniel Nerad, who has been hired to succeed Rainwater in Madison.

"I am excited about it," said Madison School Board President Arlene Silveira, who is envious of the 4K sign-up information that appears on the Green Bay district's Web site. "He's gone out and he's made it work in Green Bay. That will certainly help us here as we start taking the message forward again.

Madison's inability to start 4K has gained the attention of national advocates of 4K programs, who hail Wisconsin's approach as a model during the current national economic downturn. Milwaukee, the state's largest district, long has offered 4K.

"It's been disappointing that Madison has been very slow to step up to provide for its children," said Libby Doggett, executive director of Pre-K Now, a national nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that campaigns for kindergarten programs for children ages 3 and 4.

"The way 4K is being done in your state is the right way."

  • Marc Eisen: Missed Opportunity for 4K and High School Redesign
  • MMSD Budget History: Madison's spending has grown about 50% from 1998 ($245,131,022) to 2008 ($367,806,712) while enrollment has declined slightly from 25,132 to 24,268 ($13,997/student).

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District to review whether other child abuse cases went unreported

Tami Abdollah:

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District officials are trying to make sure no other child abuse allegations went unreported to the district, in the wake of allegations that a middle-school teacher charged with molesting five students had been investigated but not charged two years earlier.

"We need to do a districtwide assessment on all our windows and all our doors, and find out if our classrooms are safe as they can be," Assistant Supt. Mike Matthews told more than 100 parents at a meeting Thursday night at Lincoln Middle School. "We have begun that process."

Thomas Arthur Beltran, 60, who is married and worked at Lincoln for two decades, was arrested Saturday after a 12-year-old student told her parents he had abused her, and they notified police. He pleaded not guilty Tuesday to 14 felony counts of sexual molestation: eight counts of a lewd act on a child, three counts of continuous sexual abuse and three counts of sexual penetration with a foreign object on a child under 14. All the alleged incidents occurred in Beltran's classroom, police said.

The charges include an incident in 2006 that was reported to the principal; at the time, police investigated, but prosecutors said there was insufficient evidence to file charges.

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Seattle Drops Office of Equity, Race and Learning Support; Downsizes Teaching & Learning

Jessica Blanchard:

After four years and a number of embarrassing public-relations gaffes, Seattle Public Schools plans to cut its controversial Office of Equity, Race and Learning Support as part of a central office shake-up.

The move is part of the first phase of a staff reorganization aimed at saving money, helping departments collaborate more and better aligning resources with the goals in Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's upcoming strategic plan.

The reorganization will go into effect in July and will merge some departments in the district's "learning and teaching" division, elevate some positions and combine others.

About 15 managers and other staff members in the district's "learning and teaching" division will lose jobs, but can apply for other district work, including nine new positions.

Though the Office of Equity, Race and Learning Support will be eliminated, its responsibilities will be transferred to other departments, district spokeswoman Patti Spencer said Thursday. "The district's dedication to this work remains as strong as ever," she said.

Related: "When Policy Trumps Results".

Diversity on Affirmative Action for Law Schools by Bryan Atwater.

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Stanford students try writing a graphic novel

Justin Berton:

Tom Kealey has taught a lot of writing classes at Stanford University, but never one that asked students to consider the dramatic pause provided by the "page flip."

Or how wide to draw "the gutter."

Kealey and co-instructor Adam Johnson taught a winter course titled The Graphic Novel, and assigned their students to write, edit and illustrate a collaborative final project. The result is a 224-page graphic novel titled "Shake Girl," based on the true story of a Cambodian karaoke performer named Tat Marina who was the target of an "acid attack" after she had an affair with a married man.

"In a normal writing class, you'd write a poem or finish a chapter and you'd own it," Kealey said. "In this class, we had to collaborate every step of the way, every idea, and make compromises. It was the most difficult and rewarding class I ever taught."

While the study of comics and graphic novels has steadily become an acceptable part of college curricula - "Maus" creator Art Spiegelman taught a course at Columbia University last year - the project-based graphic novel class offered at Stanford appears to be the first of its kind.

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Shakespeare reduced for pupils to pass exams

Graeme Paton:

Shakespeare productions are being cut into bite-sized chunks to make them easier for children to understand.

Theatres are staging productions of individual scenes, rather than the entire play, to meet the requirements of secondary school examinations.

Plays such as Richard III, The Tempest and Much Ado About Nothing are being performed for just a few minutes each.

The move has been criticised by traditionalists, who claim students are being denied the chance to properly appreciate the playwright. The comments come amid claims that the league table culture is narrowing the curriculum as schools are forced to "teach to the test" to inflate their position on national rankings.

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Art Project at Winnequah

Peter Sobol:

Kristin is spearheading an effort to bring artists Jeanne and David Aurelius to the district next fall for an artist-in-residence program with the goal of rendering a large tile mural in the Winnequah cafeteria. The project is meant to enhance the environment at Winnequah and mark the transition to an elementary school.

The project involves the artists working with the elementary students to select a theme, create the artistic elements and merge them into the overall design, manufacture the individual tiles (one per student) and then install them as a mural. The result is a unique and permanent creation that is an expression of the students and the school community.

More details of the process can be found on the Clay Bay Pottery website.

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A Look at the Chicago Teachers Union

Alexander Russo:

CTU one of the most conflicted, colorful organizations out there – having their dirty laundry aired on District 299.

Drama and infighting is better than anything on reality TV – “Real World, CTU” – but about a serious issue.

Happy May Day – appropriate and timely for this discussion


Scads of comments this winter and spring about what’s going on inside the teachers union.

Makes sense – there are tens of thousands of Chicago teachers, as well as teachers in training and parents with kids in CPS schools – directly affected by what happens in CPS and within the CTU.

Most recently: Letter sent to me in which Stewart complains about being treated rudely by her own Secretary (Linda Porter), elected on a slate with MS last spring.

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May 9, 2008

Student Tests and Teacher Grades

John Merrow:

Suppose a swimming instructor told his 10-year-old students to swim the length of the pool to demonstrate what he'd taught them, and half of them nearly drowned? Would it be reasonable to make a judgment about his teaching ability?

Or suppose nearly all the 10-year-old students in a particular clarinet class learned to play five or six pieces well in a semester? Would it be reasonable to consider their achievement when deciding whether to rehire the music teacher?

These questions answer themselves. Only an idiot would overlook student performance, be it dismal or outstanding.

However, suppose test results indicated that most students in a particular class don't have a clue about how to multiply with fractions, or master other material in the curriculum? Should that be considered when the math teacher comes up for tenure?

Whoops, the obvious answer is wrong. That's because public education lives in an upside-down universe where student outcomes are not allowed to be connected to teaching.

Clusty search: John Merrow.

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The Uneven Playing Field

Michael Sokolove:

BY THE TIME JANELLE PIERSON SPRINTED ONTO THE FIELD for the start of the Florida high-school soccer playoffs in January, she had competed in hundreds of games since joining her first team at 5. She played soccer year-round — often for two teams at a time when the seasons of her school and club teams overlapped. Like many American children deeply involved in sports, Janelle, a high-school senior, had traveled like a professional athlete since her early teens, routinely flying to out-of-state tournaments. She had given up other sports long ago, quitting basketball and tennis by age 10. There was no time for any of that, and as she put it: “Even if you wanted to keep playing other sports, people would question you. They’d be, like, ‘Why do you want to do that?’ ”

Janelle was one of the best players on a very good high-school team, the Lady Raiders of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. A midfielder and a 2007 first-team, all-Broward-County selection, she had both a sophistication and a fury to her game — she could adroitly put a pass right on the foot of a teammate to set up a goal, and a moment later risk a bone-jarring collision by leaping into the air to head a contested ball.

That she was playing at all on this day, though, was a testament not to her talent but rather to her high threshold for pain, fierce independence and formidable powers of persuasion. Janelle returned to action a little more than five months after having an operation to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament, or A.C.L., in her right knee. And just 20 months before that, she suffered the same injury to her other knee.

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Sacramento Area Superintendent Search

Kim Minugh:

Wanted: A good manager, effective communicator and academic visionary to take over a school district reeling from millions of dollars in budget cuts, declining enrollment and the ongoing pressure of raising student achievement.

Make that two.

Two of the region's largest school districts are looking for new leaders to navigate them through these tough times. On Wednesday, San Juan Unified Superintendent Steven Enoch confirmed that he will leave at the end of June for a position in the East Bay.

Two months ago, Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Maggie Mejia said she will leave the district when her five-year contract expires, also at the end of June.

Officials in both districts – and outside observers – say finding replacements in the current climate could be a tall order.

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Media Education Coverage: An Oxymoron?

Lucy Mathiak's recent comments regarding the lack of substantive local media education coverage inspired a Mitch Henck discussion (actually rant) [15MB mp3 audio file]. Henck notes that the fault lies with us, the (mostly non) voting public. Apathy certainly reigns. A useful example is Monday's School Board's 56 minute $367,806,712 2008/2009 budget discussion. The brief chat included these topics:

  • Retiring Superintendent Art Rainwater's view on the District's structural deficit and the decline in it's equity (Assets - Liabilities = Equity; Britannica on the The Balance Sheet) from $48,000,000 in the year 2000 to $24,000,000 in 2006 (it is now about 8% of the budget or $20M). (See Lawrie Kobza's discussion of this issue in November, 2006. Lawrie spent a great deal of time digging into and disclosing the structural deficits.) Art also mentioned the resulting downgrade in the District's bond rating (results in somewhat higher interest rates).
  • Marj asked an interesting question about the K-1 combination and staff scheduling vis a vis the present Teacher Union Contract.
  • Lucy asked about specials scheduling (about 17 minutes).
  • Maya asked about the combined K-1 Art classes ("Class and a half" art and music) and whether we are losing instructional minutes. She advocated for being "open and honest with the public" about this change. Art responded (23 minutes) vociferously about the reduction in services, the necessity for the community to vote yes on operating referendums, ACT scores and National Merit Scholars.
  • Beth mentioned (about 30 minutes) that "the district has done amazing things with less resources". She also discussed teacher tools, curriculum and information sharing.
  • Ed Hughes (about 37 minutes) asked about the Madison Family Literacy initiative at Leopold and Northport. Lucy inquired about Fund 80 support for this project.
  • Maya later inquired (45 minutes) about a possible increase in Wisconsin DPI's common school fund for libraries and left over Title 1 funds supporting future staff costs rather than professional development.
  • Beth (about 48 minutes) advocated accelerated computer deployments to the schools. Lucy followed up and asked about the District's installation schedule. Johnny followed up on this matter with a question regarding the most recent maintenance referendum which included $500,000 annually for technology.
  • Lucy discussed (52 minutes) contingency funds for energy costs as well as providing some discretion for incoming superintendent Dan Nerad.
Rick Berg notes that some homes are selling below assessed value, which will affect the local tax base (property taxes for schools) and potential referendums:
But the marketplace will ultimately expose any gaps between assessment and true market value. And that could force local governments to choose between reducing spending (not likely) and hiking the mill rate (more likely) to make up for the decreasing value of real estate.

Pity the poor homeowners who see the value of their home fall 10%, 20% or even 30% with no corresponding savings in their property tax bill, or, worse yet, their tax bill goes up! Therein lie the seeds of a genuine taxpayer revolt. Brace yourselves. It's gonna be a rough ride.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue noted recently that Wisconsin state tax collections are up 2.3% year to date [136K PDF]. Redistributed state tax dollars represented 17.2% of the District's revenues in 2005 (via the Citizen's Budget).

Daniel de Vise dives into Montgomery County, Maryland's school budget:

The budget for Montgomery County's public schools has doubled in 10 years, a massive investment in smaller classes, better-paid teachers and specialized programs to serve growing ranks of low-income and immigrant children.

That era might be coming to an end. The County Council will adopt an education budget this month that provides the smallest year-to-year increase in a decade for public schools. County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) has recommended trimming $51 million from the $2.11 billion spending plan submitted by the Board of Education.

County leaders say the budget can no longer keep up with the spending pace of Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, who has overseen a billion-dollar expansion since his arrival in 1999. Weast has reduced elementary class sizes, expanded preschool and kindergarten programs and invested heavily in the high-poverty area of the county known around his office as the Red Zone.

"Laudable goals, objectives, nobody's going to argue with that," Leggett said in a recent interview at his Rockville office. "But is it affordable?"

It's a question being asked of every department in a county whose overall budget has swelled from $2.1 billion in fiscal 1998 to $4.3 billion this year, a growth rate Leggett terms "unacceptable."

Montgomery County enrolls 137,745 students and spent $2,100,000,000 this year ($15,245/student). Madison's spending has grown about 50% from 1998 ($245,131,022) to 2008 ($367,806,712) while enrollment has declined slightly from 25,132 to 24,268 ($13,997/student).

I've not seen any local media coverage of the District's budget this week.

Thanks to a reader for sending this in.


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Teacher Content Knowledge Exams: Connecticut's Reading Requirement

Arielle Levin Becker:

Aspiring early childhood and elementary school teachers will have to prove they know how to teach reading on a test the State Board of Education has added to Connecticut's teacher certification requirements. The change, which was made Wednesday, comes amid worries about stagnating or declining student reading scores statewide and concerns that not all state teachers know the mechanics of teaching reading.

"This sends a message to teacher preparation institutions that they need to make sure they have a focus on the art and science of teaching reading," state Department of Education spokesman Tom Murphy said.

Introducing a test on teaching reading was among the recommendations offered by educators at a reading summit the state education department held last fall. Legislators also have pushed for adding a test on reading instruction to certification requirements.

Related by Jason Kottke regarding Malcolm Gladwell's forthcoming book:
A more material example is teachers. Gladwell says that while we evaluate teachers on the basis of high standardized test scores and whether they have degrees and credentialed training, that makes little difference in how well people actually teach.

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Red ties and boys' pride: Sowing the seeds of good schools in the Midwest

The Economist:

EVERY weekday, 300 boys gather in a gym on Chicago's South Side. They are all black. More than 80% are poor. Over the past few weeks Chicago has seen a surge in gang violence. But here boys stand in straight lines. Each wears a blazer and a red tie. And in unison they begin to shout their creed: “We believe. We are the young men of Urban Prep. We are college-bound.”

Urban Prep Charter Academy opened in 2006, part of an effort to bring 100 new schools to Chicago's bleakest areas by 2010. Richard Daley, the city's mayor, announced Renaissance 2010 (“Ren 10”) in 2004; Chicago's business leaders created the Renaissance Schools Fund (RSF) to help support it. Backers of this ambitious scheme hope it will spur competition across the school district. On May 6th RSF held a conference to discuss the “new market of public education”.

At the core of Ren 10 is the desire to welcome “education entrepreneurs”, as RSF calls them. Ren 10 lets them start schools and run them mostly as they choose (for example, with longer days and, in some cases, their own salary structure); it also sets the standards they must meet. Schools receive money on a per pupil basis, and may raise private funds as well.

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Schools of Hope teachers recognized for narrowing racial achievement gap among Madison students

Sandy Cullen:

Madison teachers who participate in the Schools of Hope tutoring program were recognized Tuesday for their role in narrowing the racial achievement gap among students over the last 10 years.

"That's what school districts around the country are trying to do, and Madison is accomplishing it," First Lady Jessica Doyle told more than 50 elementary school teachers treated to the first outdoor reception of the season at the governor's residence overlooking Lake Mendota on National Teacher Appreciation Day.

"Because of you and that extra energy you put in," Doyle said, "more students can succeed and this whole community can be living with hope."

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Student Representatives on the Madison School Board

MMSD: The Student Liaison to the Madison Board of Education next year will be Sarah Maslin, while the Alternate Student Liaison and the Student Senate President will be Chelli Riddiough.

Both were elected last week by high school students in the Madison School District and will take their one year positions in July.

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May 8, 2008

Bill allowing Rockford schools to share data gets 1st OK

Aaron Chambers:

Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey has said for months that state law should be changed to require the Rockford School District to share names and personal information about students suspected of being truants.

The latest plan spearheaded by the mayor and introduced in the General Assembly on Tuesday does not compel the School District to disclose students’ information. Instead, the proposed law says the School District “may” do so.

Even if the proposal becomes law, the School District still must decide whether to provide the information in the format and within the time frame Morrissey prefers.

“I don’t think any board members would have supported legislation that compels us to share that, no matter what the situation is,” said Nancy Kalchbrenner, president of the Rockford School Board. “The collaboration and our constant communication and working together is what’s important. And this is a tool to allow us to share information.”

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Accelerated Math in Maryland Middle Schools

Daniel de Vise:

The most noticeable change is a dramatic increase in students taking accelerated math classes in the middle years, an initiative that seems to have spread to every school system in the region. Educators view math acceleration as a gateway to advanced study in high school and, in turn, to college. Higher-level math classes have helped middle schools cultivate a community of students similar to those in honors and Advanced Placement high school classes.

At Samuel Ogle Middle School in Bowie, the number of students taking Algebra I, a high-school-level course, has doubled from 60 to 120 in the past two years.

Barry Garelick references Montgomery County's experiment with Singapore Math. About Singapore Math. More here.

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Failings of One Brooklyn High School May Threaten a Neighbor’s Success

Samuel Freedman:

Set just a few subway stops apart in blue-collar Brooklyn, drawing from a similar pool of new immigrants and American-born blacks, two high schools spent the past decade careering toward opposite destinies. The question now is whether the failure of one will destroy the success of the other.

Since the late 1990s, Lafayette High School in the Bath Beach neighborhood graduated fewer than half its students, posted dismal scores on standardized tests and, in the view of federal civil rights officials, “deliberately ignored” a series of bias attacks against Chinese-American students, including a valedictorian.

The principal appointed in 2005 to improve the school shut down its program for gifted students and, in front of the assembled faculty, likened Lafayette to a Nazi death camp. Finally, at the end of 2006, the Department of Education announced that it would close Lafayette and transform it into five mini-schools.

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National Science Bowl for High School Students

US Department of Energy:

The National Science Bowl® is a highly visible educational event and academic competition among teams of high school students who attend science seminars and compete in a verbal forum to solve technical problems and answer questions in all branches of science and math. The regional and national events encourage student involvement in math and science activities, improve awareness of career options in science and technology, and provide an avenue of enrichment and reward for academic science achievement.

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Teacher Opposed to Standardized Tests Reconsiders

Weekend Edition:

As part of Weekend Edition Sunday's monthlong education series, we hear from teacher Chela Delgado. She once hated standardized tests and didn't want to make her students take them, but then she started listening to some of the children's parents. Her commentary reveals how families in under-resourced schools are pursuing what they see as best for their kids.

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Six Books a Week: Harlem parents are voting for charter schools with their feet

The Economist:

THOSE who had won whooped with joy and punched their fists. The disappointed shed tears. Some 5,000 people attended April 17th's Harlem Success Academy Charter School lottery, the largest ever held for charter schools in the history of New York state. About 3,600 applied for 600 available places, and 900 applied for the 11 open slots in the second grade.

The desperation of these parents is hardly surprising. In one Harlem school district, not one public elementary school has more than 55% of its pupils reading at the level expected for their grade. And 75% of 14-year-olds are unable to read at their grade level. So Harlem parents are beginning to leave the public school system in crowds.

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The Future of Reading

Ezra Klein:

The title of a 2004 report by the National Endowment for the Arts was “Reading at Risk.” The follow-up, released in November 2007, upped the ante. “To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence,” placed the consumption of Moby Dick up there with questions of poverty and health care. Weighty stuff. Around the same time, Newsweek published a cover story entitled “The Future of Reading”—I assumed the gist was along the lines of, “Nobody will be doing any, and the Russians will win.” I was wrong. In an almost uniquely American take on the subject, Newsweek decided to peer past the decline in reading and instead enthuse about the creation of new, expensive technologies that would help us read—namely, Amazon’s Kindle. The newsmag’s decision made a sort of perverse sense. After all, books may be in sharp decline, but compared to, say, 1992, reading on computer screens is way, way up. If you could put books on a computer screen, and maybe connect that to the Internet, you might really have something.

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Bucky's Little Helper

Todd Finkelmeyer:

With final exams coming up, Renee figures she could fetch about $20 per capsule for Adderall, a prescription amphetamine widely known across campus as a "study drug." But she sells her surplus only to close friends, generally charging $5 per pill, which helps her cover her monthly refill costs of $25.

The UW-Madison senior first tried Adderall, which is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), during finals week of her freshman spring semester three years ago.

"I hadn't slept in about two days and I had back-to-back finals coming up and, you know, you procrastinate a little and all of a sudden you're like, 'How am I going to get through this?'" says Renee, one of three Adderall users interviewed for this story who asked that her last name not be used due to fear of prosecution. "And a friend was like, 'Here, take this, it's just Adderall.'"

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Priya Venkatesan Interview


Review correspondent Tyler Brace conducted the following two interviews with Prof. Priya Venkatesan after news broke here on Saturday afternoon that she was threatening to sue seven students from her Writing 5 classes. Prof. Venkatesan—now of Northwestern University—is currently still planning to sue the College. —A.S.


DR: Thanks for that. Why do you think a pretty significant amount of your students did complain about you? Why do you think that is?

PV: I think that sometimes when you have some students and some instructors they mix like oil and water. That could just be the explanation. It happens all the time, Tyler. Sometimes when a person goes into a corporation, they mix like oil and water. Sometimes when a person goes into a fellowship at a research institution like the one that I’m at now, the supervisor and the fellow mix like oil and water. It just happens a lot.

Joseph Rago:
Often it seems as though American higher education exists only to provide gag material for the outside world. The latest spectacle is an Ivy League professor threatening to sue her students because, she claims, their "anti-intellectualism" violated her civil rights.

Priya Venkatesan taught English at Dartmouth College. She maintains that some of her students were so unreceptive of "French narrative theory" that it amounted to a hostile working environment. She is also readying lawsuits against her superiors, who she says papered over the harassment, as well as a confessional exposé, which she promises will "name names."

The trauma was so intense that in March Ms. Venkatesan quit Dartmouth and decamped for Northwestern. She declined to comment for this piece, pointing instead to the multiple interviews she conducted with the campus press.

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Writer of the Week: I Would Go Out of my Way to Step on That Crunchy-Looking Leaf

"Featured Writer of Week:

Yael's defining quality as a writer is her rich imaginary aesthetic. She received a 2008 gold regional key from the Scholastic's Art & Writing Awards for her latest piece. Please celebrate Yael's accomplishment by reading:
Yael Weisenfeld:
When I first heard the question I thought it was rather ridiculous. “Would you go out of your way to step on a crunchy-looking leaf?” It seemed so… strange. Really, who but a child would? Of course I replied in the negative and received a look from the man in return that was somewhere midway between pity and disappointment. I don’t see what made me deserve that response; how does he know that I’m just not a leaf-crunching kind of person? Maybe the sound of leaf-crunching is my pet peeve. It isn’t, but that’s not the point. Apparently I can’t possibly enjoy life without stepping on crunchy leaves. I suppose I wouldn’t know, but that man doesn’t seem too experienced in life-enjoyment either, as he always acts as though he’s got a stick up his a*#.

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Changes at New Orleans Schools Bring Gains in Test Scores

Adam Nossiter:

A broad education overhaul under way here has produced improvement in test scores, results released Tuesday showed, though many students are still struggling.

The number of fourth graders who passed a state promotional exam increased by 12 percentage points over the previous year, and eighth graders improved by four percentage points.

School officials also noted significant increases in the numbers of students with passing scores in the test’s various components — English, math, science, social studies and reading.

Nonetheless, more than half the students who took the test in those grades did not pass, and 60 percent of high school students got an unsatisfactory ranking in standardized English and math tests, a figure three to four times higher than the percentage throughout Louisiana.

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Why Milwaukee's Busing Won't End

Bruce Murphy:

As I’ve noted in the past, the headlines and placement of stories can heavily influence how readers perceive the news. A classic case was a story that ran in the Journal Sentinel two weeks ago, headlined “MPS board slashes busing.”

The Milwaukee Public Schools board did no such thing. The board simply set a goal to cut busing without spelling out how it would be accomplished – sort of like announcing a budget cut without specifying any spending to be reduced. As reporter Alan Borsuk noted in his second graph, “what will actually result will not be clear for perhaps several years.” Borsuk, never shy about caveats, also noted that most busing is required by state law (for special education students, students attending private schools, minority students traveling to suburban schools under Chapter 220, etc.) and cannot be changed by the school board.

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Tutor faces exam leak probe

Carol Chung & Jeffrey Tam:

The Independent Commission Against Corruption is investigating tutorial center Popular Modern Education and top tutor K Oten over alleged buying of Hong Kong Certificate of Education examination papers.
The Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority said yesterday the case has been "forwarded to the law enforcement agency."

The center and the tutor were accused of texting messages on the HKCEE English-language examination during a 45-minute break.

The messages allegedly contained an "immediate analysis" helpful to answering questions.

Oten, 32, yesterday denied cheating and bribing invigilators to acquire the papers, saying it is a "deliberate defamation."

The tutorial center also denied providing the service to students. It said it will look into the matter and that it has terminated Oten's services.

The matter came to light when some students claimed the tutor had unlawfully obtained the papers and used them for commercial gain.

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May 7, 2008

Exploring KIPP

Roy Romer:

Part of the reason KIPP charters have seen success is because of their rigorous standards and extended learning day. These are both concepts that the campaign has been advocating since its beginning -- we believe that charter schools, when coupled with high standards, effective teachers, and time and support for learning, hold bold promise for academic excellence.

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Be Quiet and Rejoin the Herd

Ed Wallace:

The easiest way to demonstrate that our education system is designed to create order instead of embracing creative chaos is the morning traffic jam. Let’s take the people traveling on Interstate 35 E into Dallas: Every morning they’ll find that starting somewhere in Oak Cliff the traffic will come to a virtual standstill, until the last 3 or 4 miles into Dallas often turns into a 20- to 30-minute drive. And every morning you will find thousands upon thousands of drivers wasting gas, fuming in their cars that something needs to be done about congestion. Yet there is an easy answer: All they have to do to zip into Dallas quickly is take the South Marseilles exit, go 1.5 blocks north and turn right on E. Jefferson Boulevard. It’s that simple.

Crossing the Jefferson Street Viaduct with the 30 other drivers who have made that same quick critical decision to improve their morning commute, you can look south and see, extending for miles, a traffic jam that avoiding took you only two quick turns and cut 15 minutes off your commute. So why do thousands of intelligent people each and every day go through the same frustrating and wasteful ritual, when an easy and satisfying answer to the problem has always been there? That’s how we were taught.

Stuck in your car, waiting impatiently in traffic is exactly like being in sixth grade when your class filed into the cafeteria; you were told to stand there quietly without complaining, no matter how hungry you were. It’s this ingrained habit of non-critical thinking and unquestioning acceptance that makes morning traffic jams worse than they need to be. It makes ideology — obedience to a concept, as opposed to reasoning through a solvable problem — the basis for our daily decisions.

Related: Frederick Taylor. Britannica on Taylor.

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Educating the Community on Gangs in Madison

Rose Johnson-Brown:

Many times people hide their heads in the sand when there is an accusation of behavior in Madison that might put the community at risk. “Not in my neighborhood” seems to be the response from many citizens in denial when the community is tainted with the reality of the growth of gang activity in Madison.

On this note, a group of University of Wisconsin-Madison social work students wanted to raise awareness in Madison of the prevalent increase in gang activity in Dane County communities. As a group project, they have researched the existence of gangs, their history, their trends and movement that could put children at risk.

On April 23 at Leopold Elementary School, Erin Wearing, Corrina Flannery, Amanda Galaviz, Teresa Rhiel, and Yer Lee, students of Professor Sandy Magana’s Advanced Macro Practice Social Work class, coordinated a community outreach event and informational session. It was presented for parents and educators in the Madison and surrounding communities by the Dane County Youth Gang Prevention Task Force.

Madison Police Detective George Chavez and Officer Lester Moore, along with Frank Rodriquez of the DARK Progam shed some light on the growing activity surrounding gang involvement in this area.

Gangs & School Violence Forum audio and video.

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The Growing Wave of Teenage Self-Injury

Jane Brody:

"I feel relieved and less anxious after I cut. The emotional pain slowly slips away into the physical pain."

"It’s a way to have control over my body because I can’t control anything else in my life."

"It expresses emotional pain or feelings that I’m unable to put into words."

"I usually feel like I have a black hole in the pit of my stomach. At least if I feel pain it’s better than nothing."

These are some of the reasons young people have given for why they deliberately and repeatedly injure their own bodies, a disturbing and hard-to-treat phenomenon that experts say is increasing among adolescents, college students and young adults.

Experts urge parents, teachers, friends and doctors to be more alert to signs of this behavior and not accept without question often spurious explanations for injuries, like “I cut myself on the countertop,” “I fell down the stairs” or "My cat scratched me."

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Muggles in America

Fired, Accused of Wizardry
PASCO COUNTY, Fla. -- A Florida substitute teacher says his job disappeared after doing a magic trick in front of his students.

Substitute teacher Jim Piculas made a toothpick disappear, then reappear in front of a classroom at Rushe Middle School in Land O' Lakes, Florida. The Pasco County School District says there were several other performance issues, but none compared to his "wizardry."

"I get a call the middle of the day from head of supervisor of substitute teachers. He says, 'Jim, we have a huge issue. You can't take any more assignments. You need to come in right away.' I said, 'Well, Pat, can you explain this to me?' 'You've been accused of wizardry,'" Piculas explained.

The assistant superintendent with the district said Piculas had other issues, like not following lesson plans and allowing students to play on unapproved computers.

Piculas said he's concerned the incident may prevent him from getting future jobs.My take? Muggles -- got to love'm! J.K. Rowlands has said the term "muggles" is derived from the English word "mug" which means a person easily fooled.

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Madison La Follette Principal Joe Gothard helped turn around his alma mater

Tamira Madsen:

John Broome lasted just four months as principal of La Follette High School.

Under pressure due to escalating fighting at the 1,710-student east side school and hearing far-reaching complaints from parents and staff over his management style, Broome resigned in December 2006. Veteran district administrator Loren Rathert came out of retirement to finish the school year as interim principal.

So when Joe Gothard took over as principal last September, it was no secret that he was entering a difficult situation.

"Actually it was really bad," says Jamison Vacek, a member of a Lancer senior class that has had four principals in four years. "There were fights almost every day at the school when we had those other principals."

But ask students, staff and observers about La Follette now, and there seems a consensus that Gothard has helped put the school on the right path.

Much more on La Follette here.

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Turkish Schools Offer Pakistan a Gentler Vision of Islam

Sabrina Tavernise:

Praying in Pakistan has not been easy for Mesut Kacmaz, a Muslim teacher from Turkey.

He tried the mosque near his house, but it had Israeli and Danish flags painted on the floor for people to step on. The mosque near where he works warned him never to return wearing a tie. Pakistanis everywhere assume he is not Muslim because he has no beard.

“Kill, fight, shoot,” Mr. Kacmaz said. “This is a misinterpretation of Islam.”

But that view is common in Pakistan, a frontier land for the future of Islam, where schools, nourished by Saudi and American money dating back to the 1980s, have spread Islamic radicalism through the poorest parts of society. With a literacy rate of just 50 percent and a public school system near collapse, the country is particularly vulnerable.

Mr. Kacmaz (pronounced KATCH-maz) is part of a group of Turkish educators who have come to this battleground with an entirely different vision of Islam. Theirs is moderate and flexible, comfortably coexisting with the West while remaining distinct from it. Like Muslim Peace Corps volunteers, they promote this approach in schools, which are now established in more than 80 countries, Muslim and Christian.

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May 6, 2008

Video: Madison School Board Discusses the Proposed $367,806,712 2008/2009 Budget

Watch the 56 minute video. Budget links and notes.
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Fatal Accidents Erode Perk of Off-Campus Lunches

Winnie Hu:

The students used to overflow the wooden booths and green tables at Don Jono’s Pizzeria, racing through pepperoni slices and large sodas before driving the quarter-mile back to Smithtown High School West in time for their next class.

But now the pizzas pile up behind the counter. Pete Crescimanno, a compact man with a neat black mustache who co-owns the place, estimates that he has lost more than $500 a week in sales since the school district ended its longstanding policy of allowing seniors to go off-campus for lunch. One recent morning, Mr. Crescimanno and an assistant pounded and tossed dough in a nearly empty storefront, with only the radio to break the silence.

"It’s not the same, and you miss that because you used to prepare for the kids and now you don’t see them," he said. “Of course, you miss the business, but you also miss the fact that they’re not here anymore.”

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Vouchers & Achievement

Jeb Bush:

Unfortunately, in a recent editorial regarding the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, the St. Petersburg Times employs worn-out diversionary tactics to obfuscate the issues and conceal its true position — the paper's editorial board despises the concept of providing school choice options to low-income students. Let's end the theatrics and address the real questions going before the Florida people on November's ballot. This debate is on keeping the promise of a quality education for all of Florida's students.

Florida students are no longer just competing with students in Georgia, California, New York and Texas for coveted high-wage jobs. They are competing with their peers around the world. Countries like China, Sweden and Singapore are focusing on tomorrow's economy and placing a premium on education and innovation to ensure they can keep pace with their rivals. For decades, America set that pace, and now we are falling behind.

We need all schools — here and in the 49 other states — to get better for our country's future. The only way to improve student performance is through continual and perpetual reform of education. Florida needs a 21st century education system for a 21st century world, and school choice can be an important catalyst to make this vision a reality.

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DC Chancellor Rhee Moves to Dismiss up to 30 Principals

Bill Turque & V. Dion Haynes:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, continuing a series of aggressive personnel moves, has started notifying principals -- possibly as many as 30 -- that they will not be reappointed for the 2008-09 academic year, officials said yesterday.

Turnover among principals, who work under one-year appointments, typically occurs near the end of the school term. About 15 to 20 are usually dismissed, according to the Council of School Officers, which represents principals.

This year's changes are the subject of heightened interest, however, because Rhee is required to overhaul 27 city schools that have failed to make adequate progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Ten high schools, including Anacostia, Eastern and Wilson, 11 middle schools and six elementary schools are subject to sweeping changes in management and curriculum under the measure.

A form letter over Rhee's signature went out to the principals identified for firing yesterday afternoon. It was to be followed by a series of one-on-one meetings between the principals and instructional superintendents, their immediate supervisors, said Rhee's spokeswoman, Mafara Hobson.

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"Commencement Advice You're Unlikely to Hear Elsewhere"

PJ O'Rourke:

Well, here you are at your college graduation. And I know what you're thinking: "Gimme the sheepskin and get me outta here!" But not so fast. First you have to listen to a commencement speech.

Don't moan. I'm not going to "pass the wisdom of one generation down to the next." I'm a member of the 1960s generation. We didn't have any wisdom.

We were the moron generation. We were the generation that believed we could stop the Vietnam War by growing our hair long and dressing like circus clowns. We believed drugs would change everything -- which they did, for John Belushi. We believed in free love. Yes, the love was free, but we paid a high price for the sex.

My generation spoiled everything for you. It has always been the special prerogative of young people to look and act weird and shock grown-ups. But my generation exhausted the Earth's resources of the weird. Weird clothes -- we wore them. Weird beards -- we grew them. Weird words and phrases -- we said them. So, when it came your turn to be original and look and act weird, all you had left was to tattoo your faces and pierce your tongues. Ouch. That must have hurt. I apologize.

So now, it's my job to give you advice. But I'm thinking: You're finishing 16 years of education, and you've heard all the conventional good advice you can stand. So, let me offer some relief:

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50 State Charter School Law Comparison (Wisconsin Ranks "B")

The Center for Education Reform (1.1MB PDF):

In their recent report analyzing the politics of charter school laws, Christiana Stoddard and Sean P. Corcoran of Education Nextrelied upon The Center for Education Reform’s (CER) Charter School Law Rankings and Profiles to study the success of the charter school movement.

As they recognized, the strength of a law could impact the way in which healthy charter schools grow and how they serve students. Having laws with certain components is critical.

CER welcomes this scrutiny and the dozens of other research reports, which utilize its rankings as a guide for assessing policy. We also recognize that not all researchers find the work we have done for ten years on law strength compelling. Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder find our data and conclusions a bit hard to swallow. They argue that what CER considers strong components of a law – flexibility, autonomy, equitable funding – are actually weaknesses. Despite their claims that the weakest are actually the strongest, the data do not lie. States with strong laws by our standards (and those shared almost universally by the research community whether friend or foe) create strong schools.

Put another way, strong laws matter.

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I Know What You Did Last Math Class

Jan Hoffman:

ON school days at 2 p.m., Nicole Dobbins walks into her home office in Alpharetta, Ga., logs on to ParentConnect, and reads updated reports on her three children. Then she rushes up the block to meet the fourth and sixth graders’ buses.

But in the thump and tumble of backpacks and the gobbling of snacks, Mrs. Dobbins refrains from the traditional after-school interrogation: Did you cut math class? What did you get on your language arts test?

Thanks to ParentConnect, she already knows the answers. And her children know she knows. So she cuts to the chase: “Tell me about this grade,” she will say.

When her ninth grader gets home at 6 p.m., there may well be ParentConnect printouts on his bedroom desk with poor grades highlighted in yellow by his mother. She will expect an explanation. He will be braced for a punishment.

“He knows I’m going to look at ParentConnect every day and we will address it,” Mrs. Dobbins said.

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What Do Children Read? Harry Potter's Not No. 1

Jay Matthews:

Children have welcomed the Harry Potter books in recent years like free ice cream in the cafeteria, but the largest survey ever of youthful reading in the United States will reveal today that none of J.K. Rowling's phenomenally popular books has been able to dislodge the works of longtime favorites Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton and Harper Lee as the most read.

Books by the five well-known U.S. authors, plus lesser-known Laura Numeroff, Katherine Paterson and Gary Paulsen, drew the most readers at every grade level in a study of 78.5 million books read by more than 3 million children who logged on to the Renaissance Learning Web site to take quizzes on books they read last year. Many works from Rowling's Potter series turned up in the top 20, but other authors also ranked high and are likely to get more attention as a result.

"I find it reassuring . . . that students are still reading the classics I read as a child," said Roy Truby, a senior vice president for Wisconsin-based Renaissance Learning. But Truby said he would have preferred to see more meaty and varied fare, such as "historical novels and biographical works so integral to understanding our past and contemporary books that help us understand our world."

Michelle F. Bayuk, marketing director for the New York-based Children's Book Council, agreed. "What's missing from the list are all the wonderful nonfiction, informational, humorous and novelty books as well as graphic novels that kids read and enjoy both inside and outside the classroom."

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Toki Middle School's Justice Club Asks for Community Help


Some Toki Middle School students are shining a positive light on the school, despite recent negative incidents.

On Monday night, several Toki students spoke before the Madison School Board.

"We're there, we care and want positive things to be noticed about Toki too," explained one student.

"Toki Middle School is a unique learning environment with a lot of vibrant successful students that are a reflection of the teachers," said another student.

The students were part of the school's Social Justice Club.

"People at Toki make mistakes and learn from their mistakes just like everyone else in the world," said one student.

Those mistakes were the two separate school fights that were videotaped with a camera phone and posted on

District officials said the students involved were disciplined.

"Toki is a wonderful school," said Superintendent Art Rainwater. "It's filled with wonderful kids and wonderful teachers and somehow in the rush to the press and the rush to complain we lose sight of that.

Tamira Madsen has more.

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Exploravision Competition: For Four Waldorf Fourth-Graders, The Future Is Now

Jenna Johnson:

The four Malcolm Elementary School fourth-graders have their sales pitch polished, just in case the Federal Emergency Management Agency is interested.

Forget trailers and temporary shelters in sporting arenas. The next time a natural disaster strikes, these video-game-playing, Harry-Potter-reading preteens want the government to hand out backpacks that expand into four-room houses.

"It's called THE Shelter," said C.J. Atkinson, 9. "The T stands for temporary. H is housing. E is emergency."

The team designed the shelter-providing gadget for the national ExploraVision competition, which challenges students to dream up technology that will help humanity in the future. The Charles County team's idea was one of 24 chosen as regional winners, beating more than 4,500 other entries. The program is sponsored by the National Science Teachers Association and Toshiba.

"They want us to take technology from the future and make it real," said Timothy "Timmy" Olsen, 9.

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May 5, 2008

18 Area Students Receive Meriter Scholarships

The Capital Times:

The winners, eight of whom have a parent who works at Meriter, will be recognized at an awards luncheon on Friday.

They are Kylie Severson, Columbus; Kristen VanderMolen, DeForest; Amadou Fofana, Junfeng Hou and Dolma Namgyal, Madison East; Marissa Wacker and Sabena Khan, Madison Edgewood; Carolyn Sleeth, Madison Memorial; Jamie Klump and Jennifer Werner, Middleton; Mathew Becker, Aubrey Lauersdorf, Brittany Sellers and Chie Yang, Monona Grove; Leah Smith, Portage; Emily Welch, Verona; Laura Purdy, Waunakee; and Megan Wood, Madison West.

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Making Teacher Hiring Less Comfortable

Jay Matthews:

For those who still think helping children learn is everybody's top priority in our schools, let me cite a disturbing dispute over where to send several hundred teachers at 23 D.C. schools that are about to be closed for inadequate enrollment.

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee wants the principals of her remaining schools to decide which of those excess teachers they will hire, within the limits of a contract that guarantees them jobs somewhere in the system. Urban schools don't work if all adults in each building don't agree on what must be done to make them work. There is no chance of that shared vision if each principal is not allowed to pick the players on his or her team.

Unfortunately, many kind and well-intentioned teachers and parents in the District and other cities have a different view. Their first priority is not so much that children learn, but that they feel secure and comfortable. They want those excess teachers to accompany the students they know at their current school to whichever school the children are transferred to. That way, they say, the kids will have an easier and more comfortable transition.

Some members of the Washington Teachers' Union, which is in the midst of a leadership fight, also say they fear Rhee is resisting this more genial approach because she wants to get rid of any teachers who can't find principals who want them.

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Online Education Cast as "Disruptive Innovation"

Andrew Trotter:

Technology-based forces of "disruptive innovation" are gathering around public education and will overhaul the way K-12 students learn—with potentially dramatic consequences for established public schools, according to an upcoming book that draws parallels to disruptions in other industries.

Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns predicts that the growth in computer-based delivery of education will accelerate swiftly until, by 2019, half of all high school classes will be taught over the Internet.

Clayton M. Christensen, the book's lead author and a business professor at Harvard University, is well respected in the business world for his best-sellers The Innovator’s Dilemma, published in 1997, and The Innovator’s Solution, published in 2003.

Those books analyze why leading companies in various industries—computers, electronics, retail, and others—were knocked off by upstarts that were better able to take advantage of innovations based on new technology and changing conditions.

School organizations are similarly vulnerable, Mr. Christensen contends.

"The schools as they are now structured cannot do it," he said in an interview, referring to adapting successfully to coming computer-based innovations. "Even the best managers in the world, if they were heads of departments in schools and the administrators of schools, could not do it."
Under Mr. Christensen’s analytical model, the tables typically turn in an industry even when the dominant companies are well aware of a disruptive innovation and try to use it to transform themselves

There's no doubt that a revolution is underway in education. LIke other industries, it is doubtful that many of the current players will make the turn, which is likely why issues such as credit for non MMSD courses is evidently such a problem. Two related articles by Cringely provide useful background.


Like the leaders in other industries, the education establishment has crammed down technology onto its existing architecture, which is dominated by the "monolithic" processes of textbook creation and adoption, teaching practices and training, and standardized assessment—which, despite some efforts at individualization, by and large treat students the same, the book says.

But new providers are stepping forward to serve students that mainline education does not serve, or serve well, the authors write. Those students, which the book describes as K-12 education’s version of "nonconsumers," include those lacking access to Advanced Placement courses, needing alternatives to standard classroom instruction, homebound or home-schooled students, those needing to make up course credits to graduate—and even prekindergarten children.

By addressing those groups, providers such as charter schools, companies catering to home schoolers, private tutoring companies, and online-curriculum companies have developed their methods and tapped networks of students, parents, and teachers for ideas.

Those providers will gradually improve their tools to offer instruction that is more student-centered, in part by breaking courses into modules that can be recombined specifically for each student, the authors predict.
Such providers’ approaches, the authors argue, will also become more affordable, and they will start attracting more and more students from regular schools.

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Empty Nest Cure: Texas Mother Finds Meaning as a Mentor

Sue Shellenbarger:

After children leave home, many parents with empty nests must search hard for new pursuits to give their lives meaning. After Pat Rosenberg's two daughters left for college, Ms. Rosenberg, 61, a longtime volunteer in the Houston public schools, found new purpose in mentoring a student -- a poor teenager who, by his own account, was drifting toward a life of crime in his tough inner-city neighborhood.

In his unusual relationship with Ms. Rosenberg and other adult mentors, Tristan Love, now 18, says he found the strength to turn his life around, becoming a sought-after public speaker committed to attending college and pursuing a career in law. Ms. Rosenberg tells the story:

The Challenge: "We moved to Houston in 1986 for my husband David's career, before our two daughters entered school. I got deeply involved in the schools right away and stayed involved as our daughters' grew up. I was a room mother and headed the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) in both middle school and high school. When they were at school, I was often at school, too.

"After our second daughter left for college 2-1/2 years ago, our house became incredibly quiet. It was a real period of adjustment. All of a sudden, this person who has been sitting at your dinner table with you, and going out and coming home late, and keeping you worried all the time, is gone.

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Milwaukee Lawyer Created School as a Pathway to College

Dani McClain:

At 27, Deanna Singh is determined to change the dismal statistic that only 5% of African-American adults in Milwaukee have a four-year college degree.

So determined that she has launched her own charter school, where her inaugural sixth-grade students already identify their class by the year they will graduate from college.

She aims to build a culture that refuses to accept what she witnessed years ago as a volunteer in Washington, D.C., schools - 11th- and 12th-graders who could barely read or write.

Both students and staff at her Milwaukee Renaissance Academy, 2212 N. 12th St., follow the succinct dictum of a mural in the school's stairwell: "No excuses!"

High expectations propelled Singh from her father's north side gas station - where she spent much of the first five years of her life - through Elmbrook Schools and on to the top-notch East Coast universities where she received her college and law degrees.

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Firing Back on "When Policy Trumps Results"

TJ Mertz:

Marc Eisen of the Isthmus has checked in again on the Madison Schools with a column titled "When Policy Trumps Results." This time the target of his ill informed scribblings is the equity work of the district, particularly the Equity Task Force, of which I was a member. It is a hatchet job.

Mr. Eisen gets his facts wrong, misreads or misrepresents task force documents and at no point engages with the content of the task force’s work. We offered the Board ideas for policies and practices that we thought would help produce and assess results. You would never know that reading Mr. Eisen's column. Despite the title, all he seems to care about is style.

In return, I’m going to wield the axe. I'm going to go paragraph by paragraph to highlight the low level of knowledge and effort Eisen displays and the ultimate emptiness of his critique, hitting some other things along the way (quotes from Mr. Eisen in italics). Mr. Eisen's column probably does not deserve this much attention. However the power of the press is such that often when uncorrected, "the legend becomes fact." I believe equity work in our school district is too important to allow that to happen. Let’s get started.

Comments on "When Policy Trumps Results".

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Making the Grade:
International testing that is used to predict the grim future of US science and technology is being vastly misinterpreted

Obviously, the US population 301,139,947 is much, much larger than the countries included on this graph. Japan: 127,433,494, United Kingdom: 60,776,238 and Germany: 82,400,996.
Via a kind reader's email: Hal Salzman & Lindsay Lowell:

The future educational path for the United States should come from looking within the country rather than lionizing faraway test-score champions. Our analysis3 of the data suggests two fundamental problems that require different approaches. First, pedagogies must address science literacy for the large numbers of low-performing students. Second, education policy for our highest-performing students needs to meet actual labour-market demand.

In the United States, a decade's worth of international test rankings based on slender measures of academic achievement in science and maths have been stretched far beyond their usefulness. Perhaps policy-makers feel it is better to motivate policy by pointing to high-scoring Czechs with fear, instead of noting our high-scoring Minnesotans as examples to emulate. But looking within the United States may be the best way to learn about effective education. As the PISA authors emphasize in their report, 90% of the variance in the scores is within countries rather than between countries. Therefore, most of what one can learn about high performance is due to the variation in factors within the nation's borders. It would seem far more effective to transfer best practices across city and state lines than over oceans.

PISA website.

Clusty search: Hal Salzman and Lindsay Lowell.

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Pearson in talks to Acquire Chinese schools

Roger Blitz:

Pearson, publisher of the Financial Times, is in advanced talks about acquiring a chain of private schools in Shanghai, the first time it would own an education institution anywhere in the world.

Although the size of the deal for LEC is low – its 15 schools made revenues of less than $10m – it offers a way of entering the heavily regulated Chinese education market.

LEC schools provides after-school education for children aged five to 12 whose parents pay for them to learn English. Pearson has made forays into China through and Penguin. At its annual meeting last month, it announced board appointments aimed at growing its education business outside the US.

The LEC deal, which has been in the works for at least a year, would run counter to competitors in the education market who have been abandoning or selling up their international operations to private equity and focusing on the US.

Pearson insiders say the shift in education is moving towards technology platforms and software in education rather than printed textbooks, and the LEC schools offer among other benefits a way of showcasing products such as interactive boards.


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Same-sex classes tried in Janesville

Melanie Conklin:

At Marshall Middle School in Janesville, Mike Tollefsrud 's sixth-grade science class sits in straight rows reviewing for an upcoming test. "Do electrons have a positive charge? " he asks. Hands quickly shoot up. Tollefsrud then tells them to do the first 10 questions on the review paper in front of them. Another student asks, "Can we do all of them tonight if we want to? "

"Of course," he replies as students quietly begin scribbling.

In a classroom next door, Mike Morgan 's students are reviewing for the same test on atoms. They are divided into two teams, desks facing their opponents. Some kids spin the white erase boards they use to write answers to Morgan 's barrage of questions. A student from each team comes up front, squaring off to see who gets the answer right first, so they can roll dice to earn points for their team. Correct answers are greeted with whopping cheers and high-fives. "In your face! " hollers a kid at the other side of the room after a teammate scores big points.

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May 4, 2008

2008 Presidential Scholar Semi-Finalists

Presidential Scholars Program:

WI - Appleton - Theresa S. Ryckman, Appleton West High School
WI - Germantown - Travis J. Serebin, Germantown High School
WI - Madison - Reuben F. Henriques, West High School
WI - Madison - Brian W. Ji, James Madison Memorial High School
WI - Madison - Laurel A. Ohm, West High School
WI - Menomonee Falls - Evan E. Mast, Menomonee Falls High School
WI - Menomonee Falls - Angela M. Zeng, Hamilton High School
WI - Racine - Adam J. Barron, Jerome I. Case Sr High School
WI - River Falls - [ * ] Kacey R. Hauk, St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists
WI - River Hills - Lisa R. Koenig, University School of Milwaukee
WI - Saukville - Spencer D. Stroebel, Cedarburg Senior High School
WI - Waukesha - [ * ] Adam G. Blodgett, Interlochen Arts Academy
National list.

National list2008 Scholars.

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2008-2009 Madison School Board Budget Discussion

Monday evening's (5/5/2008) meeting agenda (PDF) includes a discussion of the proposed $367,806,712 budget. It will be interesting to see what type of changes to retiring Superintendent Art Rainwater's last budget are discussed. Perhaps, a place to start would be the report card initiative from the District's curriculum creation department (Teaching & Learning). Watch a presentation on the proposed "Standards Based" report cards. Contact the Madison School Board here

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Milwaukee Schools Examine Cincinnati's Graduation Rate

Dani McClain:

Seeking strategies to lower suspensions and raise the graduation rate, Milwaukee Public Schools officials will travel to Cincinnati this week to check out a district that's drawn national attention as a model of urban school reform.

Cincinnati Public Schools has reported that between 2000 and 2007, it raised its graduation rate from 51% to 79% and eliminated the gap in graduation rates between African-American and white students.

Along the way, the district in southwest Ohio, which has about half the students of MPS, changed the way schools handle student discipline problems, referring misbehaving students to in-school suspensions rather than sending them home.

This specific change caught MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos' eye.

"We suspend a lot of kids," Andrekopoulos said. "What we need to do now is to leverage more time on-task for children in the classroom."

Last school year, nearly half of MPS ninth-graders were suspended at least once, and a quarter of MPS students were suspended. African-American boys in special education faced the sanction at the highest rate.

Cincinnati Schools Graduation Rate: Clusty / Google / Yahoo

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Is Urban Violence a Virus?

Alex Kotlowitz:

THE STUBBORN CORE of violence in American cities is troubling and perplexing. Even as homicide rates have declined across the country — in some places, like New York, by a remarkable amount — gunplay continues to plague economically struggling minority communities. For 25 years, murder has been the leading cause of death among African-American men between the ages of 15 and 34, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has analyzed data up to 2005. And the past few years have seen an uptick in homicides in many cities. Since 2004, for instance, they are up 19 percent in Philadelphia and Milwaukee, 29 percent in Houston and 54 percent in Oakland. Just two weekends ago in Chicago, with the first warm weather, 36 people were shot, 7 of them fatally. The Chicago Sun-Times called it the “weekend of rage.” Many killings are attributed to gang conflicts and are confined to particular neighborhoods. In Chicago, where on average five people were shot each day last year, 83 percent of the assaults were concentrated in half the police districts. So for people living outside those neighborhoods, the frequent outbursts of unrestrained anger have been easy to ignore. But each shooting, each murder, leaves a devastating legacy, and a growing school of thought suggests that there’s little we can do about the entrenched urban poverty if the relentless pattern of street violence isn’t somehow broken.

The traditional response has been more focused policing and longer prison sentences, but law enforcement does little to disrupt a street code that allows, if not encourages, the settling of squabbles with deadly force. Zale Hoddenbach, who works for an organization called CeaseFire, is part of an unusual effort to apply the principles of public health to the brutality of the streets. CeaseFire tries to deal with these quarrels on the front end. Hoddenbach’s job is to suss out smoldering disputes and to intervene before matters get out of hand. His job title is violence interrupter, a term that while not artful seems bluntly self-explanatory. Newspaper accounts usually refer to the organization as a gang-intervention program, and Hoddenbach and most of his colleagues are indeed former gang leaders. But CeaseFire doesn’t necessarily aim to get people out of gangs — nor interrupt the drug trade. It’s almost blindly focused on one thing: preventing shootings.

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Waukesha West loses national title by hairbreadth

Scott Williams:

By the narrowest of margins, Waukesha West High School [Clusty Search] missed out Saturday on its second national championship in the United States Academic Decathlon.

The Waukesha school finished behind a California competitor by just 23 points, which amounted to one question out of hundreds asked during the academic competition.

"That's just the way it goes," said Randy Brown, a member of the Waukesha team.

Out of a possible 60,000 points, Waukesha West students scored 53,096, which is higher than the score that won the school its first championship in 2002.

But this time, Moorpark High School [Clusty Search] of Moorpark, Calif., was a little better, winning the title with a score of 53,119.

The razor-thin margin made the second-place finish all the more disheartening for Waukesha students.

Duane Stein, coach of the squad, said several competitors became emotional when they realized how narrowly they had missed the championship.

"My kids are kind of stunned right now," Stein said.

"I'm just so proud of these kids," he added. "They worked very, very hard."

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From High School to the Future

Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab:

With loads of financial support from both CPS (Arnie Duncan) and the Gates Foundation (among others) CCSR and the school system built a tracking system that allows them to follow kids out of high school and into college & work, to see how they do-- and even more importantly, to figure out how to help them do better.

It's so unusual for a school district, especially one as large as Chicago's (130+ high schools!) to have the data capacity to do this. The vast majority of high schools in the U.S. rely on a student exit questionnaire administered in the spring of senior year, which asks kids "What are your plans for the fall" (choices include 4 yr college, 2yr college, work, etc) and their responses are used as a proxy for the real destination. In other words, the college-going rate for a high school or district is based on a student's self-report in May of senior year. This is a highly inaccurate measure, as several different data sources have proven-- plenty of kids who say they are going to college do not (or do not go to the kind of school they said they were going to, even if they were admitted and accepted) because they realize they cannot afford it, or get side-tracked during the summer, and many who say they aren't going, do decide to show up at a community college. Clearly districts need a much more reliable source of information if they are to learn about their high school graduates, and use that information to inform and change their educational practices.


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Americans Vastly Underestimate Spending on Schools and Teacher Salaries, Survey Finds

William G. Howell & Martin R. West:

Do Americans have an accurate grasp of how much is currently being spent on public education? Not according to a recent analysis of national survey results by University of Chicago’s William Howell and Brown University’s Martin R. West published in the summer issue of Education Next. The average respondent surveyed in 2007 thought per pupil spending in their district was just $4,231 dollars, even though the actual average spending per pupil among districts was $10,377 in 2005 (the most recent year for which data are available).

Howell and West also found Americans think that teachers earn far less than is actually the case. On average, the public underestimated average teacher salaries in their own state by $14,370. The average estimate among survey respondents was $33,054, while average teacher salary nationally in 2005 was actually $47,602.

Almost 96 percent of the public underestimate either per-pupil spending in their districts or teacher salaries in their states.

Howell and West also looked at whether some citizens are better informed about education spending than others. In general, they found that the responses of men were closer to the truth than those of women, and that parents of school-aged children gave more accurate responses about teacher salaries. Homeowners also appeared to be much more responsive than other Americans to higher spending levels in their districts. In districts spending more than $10,000 per pupil, for example, the responses of homeowners were closer to actual spending levels than those of individuals who rented or lived with other families. Homeowners appeared better informed about teacher salaries too, offering responses that were $7,502 higher than non-homeowners’ responses.

Complete Report - PDF.

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L.A.'s Cathedral Chapel is a power in the Catholic Academic Decathlon

Carla Rivera:

When the state Catholic Schools Junior High Academic Decathlon begins today in Chula Vista, a small mid-city school will be representing the Los Angeles Archdiocese for the third time, having beaten more than 100 other parochial schools to get there.

Cathedral Chapel School represented the archdiocese in the state competition in 2002 and 2005, winning the state title in 2002 and earning a reputation as the tough little school that nobody had heard of.

Though the Catholic competition may not have the name recognition of its public high school counterpart, the members of Cathedral's Academic Decathlon team are about the biggest guns on campus and the pride of the neighborhood.

At a pep rally this week, the elementary school's 285 students whooped and hollered for two hours in a frenzied buildup to the team's departure.

The Cathedral decathletes, mostly the sons and daughters of working-class immigrants, are more than just academic heroes. Scores of families are attracted to the school because they view the decathlon team's success as a reflection of the campus' overall academic excellence.

As other parochial schools face severe financial strains and even closure because of declining enrollment, Cathedral is financially stable and its enrollment has increased.

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May 3, 2008

In Praise of Milwaukee's High School Anti-Violence Program

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

An anti-violence program at six Milwaukee high schools continues to show progress, and that is good news for Milwaukee Public Schools and especially for students in those schools.

Suspensions and both violent and nonviolent incidents continue to decline since Violence-Free Zones were implemented at South Division, Marshall, Bay View, Custer, North Division and Washington high schools, according to organizers for the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, a Washington, D.C.-based group that is working with MPS. If the program continues to show progress, MPS should consider expanding it beyond those schools.

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5 Milwaukee Schools Envision Arts Campus

Alan Borsuk:

In a sign that the climate around arts offerings in Milwaukee Public Schools has taken a definite turn for the better, leaders of five arts specialty schools said Thursday that they are banding together to create a kindergarten through 12th grade "arts campus" aimed at strengthening their programs.

For now, the campus is a matter of the schools cooperating and coordinating actively, but the goal is to create a physical campus that could include moving the Milwaukee High School of the Arts from 2300 W. Highland Ave. to the area around N. 8th and W. Walnut streets, near where Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts and Elm Creative Arts School are located.

That would mean students could go to arts specialty programs from start to finish of their K-12 years in the same area, which is within walking distance of the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, a nonprofit organization offering programs and facilities to students from throughout the metropolitan area.

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"Madison Schools Committed to Equity and Excellence"

Madison School District:

is the title of a three page feature in the current edition of Teachers of Color magazine. The lead article, written by Lisa Black - Special Asst. to the Supt. for Race & Equity, profiles the multi-faceted MMSD Race and Equity initiative that began six years ago.

Black writes, "Beginning with the development of an educational framework, innovative and progressive professional development, and local and national partnerships, the MMSD has experienced significant gains in closing the achievement gap."

Sidebar articles are written by Supt. Art Rainwater, La Follette HS Principal Joe Gothard, Sennett MS Asst. Principal Deborah Ptak and Media Production Manager Marcia Standiford.

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May 2, 2008

Personal Education Plan (PEP) at West High supports students in their schoolwork and goals for their future

Len Mormino:

As guidance counselors it's a struggle when we hear our students say, "I came to see you about planning for next year, but you were booked up for the entire week. So I put my name down for next week, but can you remind me about it when you see me?"

Solid theories about how to work with a disengaged student or a high achieving student do not take into account that we have very little time to devote to students in this regard. Research suggests different ways to help high school students navigate traditional academic coursework but none of the research accounts for the distorted ratios we have of student to staff.

Thanks to a grant from the Aristos Program and the Foundation for Madison's Public Schools, at West we've developed the online Personal Education Plan (PEP). The heart of PEP is it collects and stores information students enter into it on the subjects we discuss with them throughout their four years in high school. Even more valuable, the information is accessible to the student, parent, teacher, counselor, or principal, to help support that student in their schoolwork and goals for their future.

For example, an 11th grade male student expresses boredom with classes and is not engaging in school activities. With PEP, I access his profile and note that in 10th grade he expressed interest in an "artistic/humanities path."

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Latest Author Letter......

Mr. William Fitzhugh The Concord Review 730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24 Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

I am happy to tell you that I was admitted early action to Yale and will be going there this fall. I also want to thank you again for including my [10,453-word] paper on the Philippine War in the Winter 2007 issue of The Concord Review. I was honored to have my work included among so many impressive pieces.

Writing my essay gave me a chance to learn something not only about a specific historical event, but also about the nature of scholarship. Throughout high school I have been an inquisitive and capable history student, but my papers did little more than synthesize the views of other historians. When I decided to submit a paper to you for consideration, I started from one I had written for my tenth-grade American history class. As I edited the essay, I became motivated to steep myself in primary materials—from soldiers’ accounts to congressional testimony to newspaper articles, many of them conflicting—in an attempt to piece together some sort of orderly narrative from these fragmented and contradictory stories. I then turned to secondary sources, considering the views of different historians, assessing their sources, and always trying to draw my own conclusions.

This process of revision was challenging and exciting. I enjoyed reading the stories and first-person narratives. But I also learned to think more critically, and to draw parallels between past events and the present. In the words of H.G. Wells, “History is a race between education and catastrophe.” Perhaps through careful study of the past, we can glean insight as to how to approach the future.

Even if the Review had not accepted my paper for publication, doing this research and writing would still remain one of the most intellectually rewarding experiences of my high school years. I am deeply honored that you chose to publish it and I thank you again.


Benjamin Loffredo
Fieldston School
Bronx, New York

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Art Without Craft

On the website, I learn that:

"When Michelangelo turned 13-years-old he shocked and enraged his father when told that he had agreed to apprentice in the workshop of the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. After about one year of learning the art of fresco, Michelangelo went on to study at the sculpture school in the Medici gardens and shortly thereafter was invited into the household of Lorenzo de' Medici, the Magnificent...During the years he spent in the Garden of San Marco, Michelangelo began to study human anatomy. In exchange for permission to study corpses (which was strictly forbidden by The Church), the prior of the church of Santo Spirito, Niccolò Bichiellini, received a wooden Crucifix from Michelangelo (detail of Christ's face). But his contact with the dead bodies caused problems with his health, obliging him to interrupt his activities periodically.

"Michelangelo produced at least two relief sculptures by the time he was 16 years old, the Battle of the Centaurs and the Madonna of the Stairs (both 1489-1492), which show that he had achieved a personal style at a precocious age..."...(and later) “Michelangelo also did the marble Pietà (1498-1500), still in its original place in Saint Peter's Basilica. One of the most famous works of art, the Pietà was probably finished before Michelangelo was 25 years old.”

My apologies for quoting at such length from a biography, but I have seen his Pietà in Rome on several occasions, and it seems clear to me that it took a gifted young man, with great acquired skill in the craft of shaping marble with hammer and chisel, perhaps two years to achieve this masterwork.

Fast forward to the modern period, when we learn from The Boston Globe, in an article in February 2002 by Dave Barry, that:

“...Another important British artist is Damien Hirst. He won the Turner Prize in 1995, for an entry that consisted of (I am not making any of this up) a cow and a calf cut in half and preserved in formaldehyde. Last October, a London gallery threw a party to launch an exhibition by Hirst. When it was over, there was a bunch of party trash—beer bottles, ashtrays, coffee cups, etc.—lying around. Hirst, artist that he is, arranged this trash into an ‘installation,’ which is an artistic term meaning ‘trash that the gallery can now price at 5,000 pounds (sterling) and try to sell to a wealthy moron.’ The next morning, in came the janitor, who, tragically, was not an art professional. When he saw the trash, he assumed it was trash and threw it away. ‘I didn’t think for a second that it was a work of art,’ he later told the press. When members of the gallery staff arrived, they went out and retrieved the artistic trash from the regular trash, then reassembled the original installation, guided by photographs taken the night before.”
A similar astounding contrast may be discovered between artists whose works depend on carefully developed skill and great diligence, such as Albrecht Dürer, Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling, and Johannes Vermeer, among hundreds of others, and the newer artists whose work requires no craft at all, as, for example, quoting again from Dave Barry’s Globe article:
“The 2001 Turner Prize went to an artist named Martin Creed, whose entry was titled The Lights Going On and Off. It consists, as the title suggests, of lights going on and off in a vacant room. They go on for five seconds, then off for five seconds. That’s it. In other words, this guy got 20,000 pounds (sterling) for demonstrating the same artistic talent as a defective circuit breaker. Here’s the scary part. He deserved to win. I say this because, according to the BBC, his strongest competition was an artist whose entry consisted of a dusty room ‘filled with an array of disparate objects, including a plastic cactus, mirrors, doors, and old tabloid newspapers.’ Some gallery visitors mistook this for an actual storeroom before realizing that it was art. So Martin Creed’s blinking lights probably looked pretty darned artistic to the Turner Prize jurors. The prize was formally presented by Madonna, who said: ‘Art is always at its best when there is no money, because it has nothing to do with money and everything to do with love.’ That Madonna! Always joking! You should know that the artistry of Martin Creed is not limited to blinking lights. Another of his works is titled A Sheet of A4 Paper Crumpled Into a Ball. It’s a piece of paper crumpled into a ball.”
So now, instead of hard-earned craft and artistic masterworks, we have junk that shows us that “Art is...everything to do with love.” I am appalled by all this, as one who loves the art of Vermeer, Michelangelo and others, but I am also concerned because some of the same debased and mindless standards are working their way into the expectations for and evaluation of academic writing in our schools. Students are encouraged and rewarded for personal and “creative” writings which seem to be judged by the same standards which gave the Turner Prize for lights going on and off. Students are praised and given prizes for writing brief diary entries which involve as much craft as making breakfast with cereal from a box. Students are “protected” from engaging in the difficult craft of writing just as modern artists seem to have been released from any expectation that art should be the result of a long apprenticeship in a craft, such as sculpture or painting. It is true as was said about learning to play the cello, that “There are no shortcuts” in academic expository writing or in art. Artists and writers who try to take a shortcut and skip learning their craft turn out junk. Perhaps we should consider expecting our students, if not our modern artists, to try for a little higher level of achievement than craft-free junk?

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

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When Policy Trumps Results

Marc Eisen makes sense:

Much to its credit, the Madison school board has mostly ignored the March 2007 recommendations of the district's Equity Task Force. This earnest but unhelpful committee delved into the abstractions of what distinguishes "equity" from "equality," how the board might commit to equity and what esoteric guidelines could measure that commitment.


This point needs to be emphasized. Madisonians aren't afraid to tax themselves. They just want good services in return and know that their money isn't being wasted.

But I can't for the life of me see them rallying around a pompous and abstruse equity policy, especially one that reads like it was formulated by the UW Department of Leftwing Social Engineering. (Example: "Equity will come about when we raise a generation of children tolerant of differences and engaged in their democracy to stop the processes leading to inequity.")

The school board, after a suitable 14-month delay, should politely shelve the task force's recommendations when it finally gets around to voting on them in May.

Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron provides a timely read after Marc's article.

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Introduction to a standards-based system . . . assessment

Madison School District Department of Teaching & Learning:

The Wisconsin Model Academic Standards (WMAS) articulate what students should know and be able to do in each curricular area. Community leaders and staff in the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) elaborated upon these state standards to frame district curriculum and instruction.

Curriculum can be thought of as the planned educational experiences taught in each subject area at each grade level. Standards-based instruction focuses on teaching the knowledge and skills which support students' continual progress toward meeting the standards.

This article focuses on assessment, the process of using multiple strategies to measure student learning.

The remainder of this article will use mathematics as an example of a content area to demonstrate the use of standards-based assessment. MMSD teachers assess the content standards (i.e., number and algebra) as well as the process standards (i.e., communication, problem solving, and reasoning).

Research indicates that in addition to quizzes and tests, a variety of daily assessment tools (i.e., questioning, observations, discussions, and presentations) are needed to create a more thorough picture of what a student understands.

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Parents turn to states for autism help

Jeff Sell:

Jeff Sell, a Texas trial lawyer with four children, recently became a lobbyist for the Maryland-based Autism Society of America, a job that has him crisscrossing the country to persuade state lawmakers to make life easier for people who have the little-understood developmental disability.

He shut down his law firm, which had pursued legal cases linking autism with vaccines. But rather than move to Maryland, Sell is staying in Texas, so his twin 13-year-old sons can continue to receive state-financed treatment for their autism. If he moves, Sell said, his sons would be on a years-long waiting list for therapy that costs as much as $60,000 a year.

“I live in Texas, basically, because it’s economically feasible for me to survive in Texas,” Sell said.

One of the toughest problems facing autism patients, their families and policymakers is paying for treatment. Families are increasingly relying on states to help them cope with the financial, medical and educational needs.

Governors and lawmakers have tried to ease those costs with two different approaches: by requiring private insurers to pick up the tab for more services or by creating new or expanding existing public health programs, such as Medicaid, to cover autism treatment.

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America's Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor's Degree

Marty Nemko:

Among my saddest moments as a career counselor is when I hear a story like this: "I wasn't a good student in high school, but I wanted to prove that I can get a college diploma. I'd be the first one in my family to do it. But it's been five years and $80,000, and I still have 45 credits to go."

I have a hard time telling such people the killer statistic: Among high-school students who graduated in the bottom 40 percent of their classes, and whose first institutions were four-year colleges, two-thirds had not earned diplomas eight and a half years later. That figure is from a study cited by Clifford Adelman, a former research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education and now a senior research associate at the Institute for Higher Education Policy. Yet four-year colleges admit and take money from hundreds of thousands of such students each year!

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it's not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you're likely to meet workers who spent years and their family's life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout.

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May 1, 2008

Obama Urges Parents to Be More Responsible

Nick Timiraos:

At a stop in Hickory, N.C., after promising to spend $18 billion on education, Sen. Obama said: "This money is not going to make a difference if parents don't parent."

He has folded the line into his stump speech across North Carolina and a TV advertisement in the state, where one-third of the Democratic electorate is African-American, ahead of Tuesday's primary.

The ad, called "Turn It Off," shows Sen. Obama in a classroom promising to improve education. "But the truth is, government can't do it all," he says. "As parents, we need to turn off the TV, read to our kids."

The personal-responsibility line typically brings the loudest applause from African-American audiences. Sen. Obama first delivered it in an unscripted moment before a mostly black audience in Beaumont, Texas, in February.

Indeed, money is not the key issue, Obama is right about parent's key role.

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Rebuilding New Orleans Schools

Adam Nossiter:

Citizen-run boards have suddenly been thrust into managing individual schools all over the city. Neophyte teachers barely out of college instruct students sometimes older than they are. A wide range of teaching styles has been employed, from the rotelike call-and-response methods of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Foundation school to more traditional textbook-based approaches. For the first time, parents are being asked to choose schools for their children (though in many cases the parents are absent, and the student is being raised by relatives).

Success will be a tall order in a school district where 85 percent of some 32,000 students are a year and a half to two years below their grade level. In a typical district, the figure would be around 15 percent, said Paul G. Vallas, the new superintendent here.

Worse, a third of the students here are some four years below grade level, a challenge that Mr. Vallas, a veteran of the Chicago and Philadelphia schools, calls “extreme.”

Yet nearly a year into the job, Mr. Vallas professes to be unfazed. With no politics in his way — he answers neither to the neutered parish school board nor to the mayor, but to the state — he is far freer to plan grand schemes than in the much larger cities where he made his mark.

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Study: Reading First Fails to Boost Reading Skills

Maria Glod:

Children who participate in the $1-billion-a-year reading initiative at the heart of the No Child Left Behind law have not become better readers than their peers, according to a study released today by the Education Department's research arm.

The report from the Institute of Education Sciences found that students in schools that use Reading First, which provides grants to improve grade-school reading instruction, scored no better on reading comprehension tests than peers in schools that don't participate. The conclusion is likely to reignite the longstanding "reading wars," because critics argue the program places too much emphasis on explicit phonics instruction and doesn't do enough to foster understanding.

Reading First, aimed at improving reading skills among students from low-income families, has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and financial conflicts of interest. But the Bush administration has strenuously backed the effort, saying it helps disadvantaged children learn to read. About 1.5 million children in about 5,200 schools nationwide, including more than 140 schools in Maryland, Virginia and the District, participate in Reading First.

The congressionally mandated study, completed by an independent contractor, focused on tens of thousands of first-, second- and third-grade students in 248 schools in 13 states. The children were tested, and researchers observed teachers in 1,400 classrooms.

Many links, notes and a bit of (local) history on Reading First here.

The complete report can be found here:

Created under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, the Reading First program provides assistance to states and districts in using research-based reading programs and instructional materials for students in kindergarten through third grade and in introducing related professional development and assessments. The program's purpose is to ensure that increased proportions of students read at or above grade level, have mastery of the essential components of early reading, and that all students can read at or above grade level by the end of grade 3. The law requires that an independent, rigorous evaluation of the program be conducted to determine if the program influences teaching practices, mastery of early reading components, and student reading comprehension. This interim report presents the impacts of Reading First on classroom reading instruction and student reading comprehension during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years.

The evaluation found that Reading First did have positive, statistically significant impacts on the total class time spent on the five essential components of reading instruction promoted by the program. The study also found that, on average across the 18 study sites, Reading First did not have statistically significant impacts on student reading comprehension test scores in grades 1-3. A final report on the impacts from 2004-2007 (three school years with Reading First funding) and on the relationships between changes in instructional practice and student reading comprehension is expected in late 2008.

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Three New Madison Principals

The Capital Times:

Deborah Ptak, an assistant principal for the past five years at Sennett Middle School, has been selected to take over as principal at Whitehorse Middle School. She replaces Anne Nolan, who is retiring after a nine-year tenure.

Ptak is one of three people expected to receive a new position as principal within the Madison Metropolitan School District when the School Board holds its meeting Monday.

In addition, Javier Bolivar was named principal at Nuestro Mundo Community School, and Sarah Galanter will shed her interim principal title at Stephens Elementary School and assume the principal position

This announcement, along with a number of other recent items have not appeared on the MMSD's press release page.

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The Spending Side of the Higher Education Equation

Scott Jaschik:

Across sectors of higher education, only a minority of spending by colleges supports direct instructional costs, according to a report being released today as part of an effort to reframe the debate over college costs.

“The Growing Imbalance: Recent Trends in U.S. Postsecondary Education Finance,” is the result of an unusual attempt to change the way colleges and policy makers analyze higher education. The report — issued for the first time today and now to be an annual project — examines not only revenues, but how colleges actually spend their money.

After years in which people have read about tuition going up, and about state support covering smaller shares of public higher education budgets, the idea is to focus on what results from these and other trends. Some of the findings challenge conventional wisdom — such as the widely quoted belief that the top expense for higher education is the personnel costs associated with professors and other employees.

The report was produced by the Delta Cost Project, part of the Lumina Foundation for Education’s Making Opportunity Affordable program. The overarching thesis of the work is that higher education will do a better job of serving students if everyone is aware of where the money goes — not just how much college costs. By examining the different spending patterns at different types of institutions, the report notes growing gaps among sectors and among items receiving financial support. For example, spending per student at private research universities is almost twice that of public research universities.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 8:41 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Financial Literacy

The Economist:

"EVERYBODY wants it. Nobody understands it. Money is the great taboo. People just won't talk about it. And that is what leads you to subprime. Take the greed and the financial misrepresentation out of it, and the root of this crisis is massive levels of financial illiteracy."

For years John Bryant has been telling anyone who will listen about the problems caused by widespread ignorance of finance. In 1992, in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots, he founded Operation HOPE, a non-profit organisation, to give poor people in the worst-hit parts of the city “a hand-up, not a handout” through a mixture of financial education, advice and basic banking. Among other things, Operation HOPE offers mortgage advice to homebuyers and runs “Banking on Our Future”, a national personal-finance course of five hour-long sessions that has already been taken by hundreds of thousands of young people, most of them high-school students.

The council is not short of expertise. It is chaired by Charles Schwab, eponymous boss of a broking firm. Its other members include the head of Junior Achievement, which has been teaching children about money since 1919, and a co-author of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, a self-help bestseller. Already, it has approved a new curriculum for middle-school students, "MoneyMath: Lessons for Life". (Lesson one: the secret to becoming a millionaire. Answer: save, save, save.) It is starting a pilot programme to work out how to connect the “unbanked” to financial institutions. And it is supporting what, echoing the Peace Corps, is called the Financial Literacy Corps: a group of people with knowledge of finance who will volunteer to advise those in financial difficulties.

Yet another math curriculum. One of the things I noticed when paging through the large Connected Math (CMP) textbooks a few years ago was the consumer oriented nature of the content (as opposed to a creative approach).

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

Black Kids on Milwaukee Buses May Slip into School Lore

Eugene Kane:

It could be the end of an era.

Black children and yellow school buses long have been inextricably linked in the history of education in America. It started with the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that allowed for school desegregation in cities like Milwaukee. That led to widespread busing movements that allowed black students to attend classes outside their neighborhoods at predominantly white schools.

A decision by the Milwaukee School Board last week to drastically reduce the amount of busing in the district will alter a fundamental relationship that has existed in this city for generations of students.

But what the Milwaukee School Board did was not a statement about the racial makeup of the city's public schools, many of which are predominantly African-American. School Board member Michael Bonds, the architect of the plan, says busing isn't about desegregation anymore.

"When the district is 88% minority, it's not about race," Bonds told me. "It's about the fact we've spent $57 million on a failed policy."

Related by Alan Borsuk: Busing Change Won't Be Easy. Madison Mayor Dave's proposed low income housing expansion throughout Dane County may require more busing.

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Why Generation Y is broke

Emma Johnson:

What makes Sophia Wallace a typical member of her generation?

The 28-year-old New York resident has a master's degree from a prestigious university, a successful career in photography, stamps in her passport from around the globe and, until recently, personal finances that were out of control. "Oh my God, I overspent!"

When Wallace graduated with a student-loan debt of $60,000, she found herself overwhelmed to the point of financial paralysis. She tore through a $5,000 loan from her dad as bills stacked up. She had no idea where her money was going -- despite making what she defines as a good salary. The sense of powerlessness crippled her.

When friends recommended she hire an accountant, Wallace packed a FedEx box with bills, receipts and mail and sent it off.

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Some Parents Put Off Kindergarten Another Year

Angela Bettis:

"Redshirting" is a common term in sports. It's the practice of having the youngest players on a team sit out their first year in order to gain another year of eligibility when they're older and most likely stronger.

The University of Wisconsin Badgers count basketball star Mike Wilkinson and football standouts Tyler Donovan and P.J. Hill among their recent redshirts.

Now, the term is being applied to children whose parents hold them out and enter them into kindergarten at age 6, rather than age 5.

Studies have found the practice happens more often for boys with birthdays in June, July and August. The practice means the youngest children in a class will then become the oldest in the class the following year, WISC-TV reported.

"They'll look at the kindergarten entrance age and say, 'My child is not ready yet. I'll wait a year and then have them go to kindergarten the following year,'" said UW professor Beth Graue.

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