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August 31, 2008

Boycott backlash
Parents say Meeks' plan for Chicago Public Schools' kids to skip 1st day of classes isn't answer to funding woes

Erica Green & Mary Wisniewski:

Parents at a Humboldt Park back-to-school festival Saturday said "no thanks" to the Rev. James Meeks' planned student boycott of the Chicago Public Schools' opening day of class Tuesday.

"The boycott is not good," said Maybeline Juarez, who makes sure her 13-year-old daughter always attends school. "My daughter is in special education classes, and she needs all the help she can get. Colleges look at that."

Angelo Valentin, who has five children in Chicago Public Schools, agreed that a boycott isn't the answer to the schools' money problems.

"The schools should get their money, but it shouldn't be in the lap of the children," said Valentin. "You can't use them as pawns."

Meeks, a state senator and pastor of the South Side Salem Baptist megachurch, wants to bus 2,000 students to wealthy Winnetka to protest school-funding inequities in Illinois. The children will try to register at New Trier High School's Northfield Campus.

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Better Education Through Innovation
Today, the shame of our cities isn't bubonic plague; it's ignorance

Cory Booker, John Doerr and Ted Mitchell:

In the summer of 1918, as tuberculosis, bubonic plague and a flu pandemic threatened America's newly crowded cities, the chemist Charles Holmes Herty took a walk through New York City with his colleague J.R. Bailey. Herty posed a question: Suppose Bailey discovered an exceptionally powerful medicine. What institution would allow him to take his breakthrough from lab experiment to widespread cure?

Bailey replied, "I don't know."

That alarming answer moved Herty to propose a visionary solution -- an institution that would encourage research and development throughout the country. It would find its value, Herty said, "in the stimulus which it gives" to research, thought and discovery by practitioners in the field.

Nearly a century later, that vision stands as the National Institutes of Health. Its record, from deciphering and mapping the human genome to finding the source of AIDS, leaves no doubt about the NIH's ability to stimulate innovation.

Today, the shame of our cities isn't bubonic plague; it's ignorance. In our urban areas, only one child in five is proficient in reading. On international tests, we rank behind the Czech Republic and Latvia; our high school graduation rate barely makes the top 20 worldwide. As columnist David Brooks has noted, educational progress has been so slow that "America's lead over its economic rivals has been entirely forfeited." Under-education may not end lives the way infectious diseases do, but it just as surely wastes them. For all the hard work of our good teachers, our system is failing to keep pace with the demands of a new century.

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Safety Climate: A look at Police Calls to Madison High Schools

Doug Erickson:

Total police calls to Madison's four main high schools declined 38 percent from the fall semester of 2006 to last spring. But those figures tell only a partial story, and not a very meaningful one.

That's because the numbers include all police calls, including ones for 911 disconnects, parking lot crashes and stranded baby ducks. (It happened at La Follette last May.)

The State Journal then looked at police calls in eight categories closely related to safety -- aggravated batteries, batteries, weapons offenses, fights, bomb threats, disturbances, robberies and sexual assaults. Those calls are down 46 percent from fall 2006 to spring 2008.

The schools varied little last spring in the eight categories. Memorial and West each had 13 such calls, La Follette 14 and East 16.

School officials are relieved by the downward trend but careful not to read too much into the figures.

"We know there's almost a cyclical nature to crime statistics and even to individual behavior," said Luis Yudice, who is beginning his third year as district security coordinator.

Art Camosy, a veteran science teacher at Memorial, said he thinks the climate is improving at his school. Yet he views the police figures skeptically, in part because the numbers are "blips in time" but also because he wonders if the district's central office is behind the drop.

"Are our building administrators being pressured not to call police as often?" he asks.

John Matthews, the longtime executive director of Madison Teachers Inc. (MTI), the district's teachers union, contends that the district's leadership has indeed done this from time to time, directing building administrators to hold off on calling police so often.

Yudice, a former Madison police captain, said there was a time years ago when the district was extremely sensitive about appearing to have a large police presence at its schools. He rejects that notion now.

"It's just the opposite," he said. "We are more openly acknowledging that we have issues that need to be dealt with by the police. Since I've been working here, there has never been a directive to me or the school principals to minimize the involvement of police."

All four Madison high schools feature an open campus. It appears that Erickson only reviewed calls to the High Schools, not those nearby. 1996-2006 police calls near Madison High Schools is worth a look along with the Gangs & School violence forum.

Finally, I hope that the Madison Police Department will begin publishing all police calls online, daily, so that the public can review and evaluate the information.

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A time for heat - and light - on Milwaukee schools

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

Mayor Tom Barrett and the Milwaukee School Board agree on this much: The community needs an accurate reading on the district's finances.

Unfortunately, that may be the only thing they agree on.

Both are moving separately on plans to get the numbers. The School Board wants to spend $50,000 of taxpayers' money to perform an audit to see where the Milwaukee Public Schools can be more efficient. Barrett is seeking funding from local foundations for an assessment of the struggling district's financial and operational situation -- a study that also could take the next step and recommend restructuring and how to best direct resources to the classroom where they can most help educate Milwaukee's kids.

On paper, we believe Barrett's plan goes beyond that of the School Board, because it will home in on a half-dozen or so top priorities that, when funded adequately, will improve MPS performance and increase the district's credibility among parents, taxpayers and decision-makers in Madison.

For Barrett's plan to have bite, he needs the support of foundations to retain a firm expert in urban school system finance and operations. Then the mayor needs to pressure the board and administration to get to work.

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Another Milwaukee view: Voucher schools are part of the problem

Barbara Miner:

You want truly radical education reform in Milwaukee?

Form a countywide system so that Milwaukee children can, without restrictions, attend schools in Whitefish Bay and Greendale. Or launch a regional onslaught against the economic, housing and transportation disparities that, in the absence of locally owned breweries, now make Milwaukee famous.

Unfortunately, it's not likely to happen. If you even mention the region's divides, you are labeled as anti-suburban.

Luckily, the U.S. Census Bureau isn't afraid of Milwaukee's culture of silence about such realities. Once again (I've lost count of the many similar reports) Milwaukee made the news last week, for having the seventh-worst poverty rate of any major city. Waukesha County, in contrast, had the fifth-lowest poverty rate of any major county.

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Milwaukee Schools to Reduce Busing

Dani McClain:

The Milwaukee School Board has voted to reduce busing at the high school level, which means a phasing out of district-funded busing for students living north of Capitol Drive who want to attend south side high schools.

The full board on Thursday unanimously supported the measure, which had stalled several times in the finance committee.

"The intent is to ensure that quality programs are available all over the city," said finance committee chair Michael Bonds, who has proposed extensive transportation cuts that would reduce busing by $20 million.

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August 30, 2008

A Watershed Teacher Labor Negotiation in Washington, DC

Steven Pearlstein:

As we head into the Labor Day weekend, it is only fitting that we consider what may be the country's most significant contract negotiation, which happens to be going on right here in Washington between the teachers union and the District's dynamic and determined new schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee.

Negotiations are stalled over Rhee's proposal to give teachers the option of earning up to $131,000 during the 10-month school year in exchange for giving up absolute job security and a personnel-and-pay system based almost exclusively on years served.

If Rhee succeeds in ending tenure and seniority as we know them while introducing merit pay into one of the country's most expensive and underperforming school systems, it would be a watershed event in U.S. labor history, on a par with President Ronald Reagan's firing of striking air traffic controllers in 1981. It would trigger a national debate on why public employees continue to enjoy what amounts to ironclad job security without accountability while the taxpayers who fund their salaries have long since been forced to accept the realities of a performance-based global economy.

Union leaders from around the country, concerned about the attention the Rhee proposal has received and the precedent it could set, have been pressing the Washington local to resist. But Rhee clearly has the upper hand. The chancellor has the solid support of the mayor and city council, and should it come to a showdown, there is little doubt that the voters would stand behind her in a battle with a union already badly tarnished by an embezzlement scandal and deeply implicated in the school system's chronic failure.

There are signs that things may be a bit different in Madison today, compared to past practices.

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A Georgia School System Loses Its Accreditation

Robbie Brown:

A county school system in metropolitan Atlanta on Thursday became the nation's first in nearly 40 years to lose its accreditation, and the governor removed four of its school board members for ethics violations.

The school system in Clayton County, just south of the Atlanta city limits, was ruled unfit for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, one of the nation's six major private accrediting agencies, after school board members failed to meet the group's standards for leading a school system.

An investigation by the agency found that county officials had not made sufficient progress toward establishing an effective school board, removing the influence of outside individuals on board decisions, enforcing an ethics policy or meeting other requirements for accreditation, Mark A. Elgart, the chief executive of the association, announced Thursday at a news conference.

County officials said they were planning to appeal the decision.

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New York City Class Action Strips Teacher Parking Permits

David Seifman:

More than 50,000 teachers returning to school next month will get a tough lesson about parking in congested urban areas when the Bloomberg administration yanks their long-cherished parking permits, officials announced yesterday.

Deputy Mayor Ed Skyler, assigned by the mayor to whittle down the school system's permits by at least 20 percent as part of a citywide crackdown, discovered there were 63,390 school permits in circulation but only 10,007 reserved spaces around the schools.
As a result, Skyler reduced the number of parking permits by an astonishing 82 percent, to 11,150, which includes those for teachers and other school personnel.

Some 10,000 of them are good only in spots specifically reserved for school personnel; the others are universal, meaning they can be used wherever a vehicle on "official business" can park. That includes at expired meters and in no-parking zones.

"We found the amount of parking placards outweighed the number of parking spots for the agency as a whole by about 6, or so, to 1," Skyler said.

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School District Consolidation feasibility study grants

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:

The Department of Public Instruction has awarded consolidation feasibility study grants for six consortiums (a total of 14 school districts). The grants, $10,000 to each consortium, are intended to provide funding for the identification of issues, data analysis, and the development of reports to inform the communities on the possibility of consolidation.

The grants went to consortiums consisting of: Chetek and Weyerhaeuser, Glidden and Park Falls, Bruce and Ladysmith-Hawkins; Benton, Cuba City, Southwestern, and Shullsburg; Montello and Westfield; and Prairie Du Chien and Wauzeka-Steuben.

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Dane County schools outline policies for new academic year

Gena Kittner:

Stash the heelies in the closet, guzzle the energy drinks outside of school, and leave the toy weapons at home.

Those are a few of the new policies Dane County school districts will be enforcing this fall, as outlined in changes to student handbooks.

While most of the changes relate to mundane topics like student fees and attendance, rules about what students wear and can bring to school are getting more specific.

The new policies reflect how schools are trying to adapt to societal changes, said Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators.

"It's a delicate balance that districts walk in trying to ensure safety of students and the integrity of academic environment and students' rights," he said.

Some changes, especially in what clothing is acceptable, tend to be cyclical, with each generation looking for ways to push the limit.

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August 29, 2008

Madison School District Goes to Court Over Athletic Directors

Andy Hall:

On June 19, Rainwater told the Wisconsin State Journal that the district wouldn't appeal Flaten's decision, saying, "The standard to overturn an arbitrator's ruling is just really, really high."

"It is," Bob Nadler, the district's executive director of human resources, agreed in an interview Friday.

The district, Nadler said, filed the suit because Friday was the deadline for filing a challenge to Flaten's decision, and the district needed to preserve that option in case ongoing talks break down.

The district and union will continue to negotiate, outside of court and the WERC, to seek a settlement, Nadler said. The next session is Tuesday.

Nadler said the suit shouldn't be viewed as a signal that Daniel Nerad, who succeeded Rainwater as superintendent on July 1, is taking a harder line with the union.

"I think this is just a very specific case that we feel we may have to challenge in the future," Nadler said.

But John Matthews, executive director of the teachers union, called the filing of the suit "a stupid waste of money because there's absolutely no way that they can succeed.

Certainly a change from past practices.

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West Adams High, A Model For The Future?

Karen Grigsby Gates @ NPR:

Many seniors at L.A.'s West Adams Preparatory High School are actually looking forward to returning to school. The brand new institution is based on a mission to help students realize their dreams in a multicultural world. This is far from common in Southern California.

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Raising the Bar: How Parents Can Fix Education

Daniel Akst:

Everyone, it seems, has a complaint about the schools. Indifferent bureaucracy, change-averse unions, faddish curricula, soaring school taxes matched with mediocre student performance -- the list is long and seemingly unchanging.

At the start of yet another school year, it's time for some radical change in your local schools -- a specific change that only parents can bring about. It's a thing already being done in some far-off countries but that remains strangely rare here in America. It's something I've tried -- and, despite the skepticism of friends and neighbors, it seems to work.

What is this miracle that lies within the reach of nearly every family? It's simple. All you have to do is to start insisting that your children fully apply themselves to their studies -- and commit yourself to doing your part. That means making sure they do all the work expected of them as well as their abilities allow. It also means making sure everything at home stands behind these principles and supports the idea of learning.

These will sound like obvious ideas. In fact, given all the distractions of modern life, it is a radical departure from the normal order of things. Let's face it: More than budgets or bureaucrats, more than textbooks or teachers, parents are the reason that kids perform as they do in school.

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A Well-Rounded Education Doesn't Have to Start with College

Charles Wheelan:

I'm going to step back from economics for a moment and write about teaching economics to both undergraduates and graduate students. Based on that experience, I have some advice for talented high school students: Don't go to college.

And advice for talented college graduates: Don't get a job.

A Complete Education

Of course there is a caveat. You should do both of them eventually, just not right away. Take a year off, either after high school or after college.

Use that year to do something interesting that you'll likely never be able to do again: write a book, hike the Appalachian Trail, live with your grandparents, trek in Katmandu, volunteer at a health clinic in India, or serve your country in the military.

Just do something that will make you a more complete person. I suspect that it'll also make you appreciate your education more (and, ironically, make you more attractive when you do apply for college or enter the job market).

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Time for Low Income Affirmative Action

Robert Reich @ Marketplace:

Commentator Robert Reich says Democrats have acknowledged the obstacles racial minorities face in hiring and education for a long time. Now, he says, they ought to look at the economically disadvantaged, too.

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The "War of Milwaukee Public Schools"

Bruce Murphy:

ast week all hell broke loose regarding the fate of Milwaukee Public Schools. Mayor Tom Barrett proposed an outside audit of the system. As a candidate for mayor, Barrett floated the idea of a mayoral takeover of the schools, so this looks like a first step toward establishing control - and a clear message the MPS ship is sinking.

Meanwhile, a new group called Milwaukee Quality Education was formed, led by Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy and former MPS Superintendent Howard Fuller. Reforms tried in other cities were supposed to be discussed, with the obvious aim of dramatically changing MPS. "We have urgency coming out of our ears," Sheehy declared.

Add to this the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's three-part series suggesting MPS wasted most of a $100 million effort to cut back busing, and the takeaway message is that a dysfunctional school system needs rescue.

Meanwhile, the Greater Milwaukee Committee has been engaged in an ongoing effort to improve MPS, creating a plan of "corrective action." One insider tells me Sister Joel Read, former Alverno College president, was very influential in formulating the plan.

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Why Doesn't Plagiarism Matter?

Jonathan Beecher Field:

As David Horowitz would be quick to remind you, academics tend to skew to the left in their political outlook relative to the general population. I am no exception. Like so many of my colleagues, I have followed Barack Obama's presidential campaign with interest and excitement. South Carolina had an early primary this year, and nearly all of the major candidates came to speak at Clemson University, where I teach. Obama spoke outdoors, on a chilly and gray afternoon, but the energy he shared with that crowd of teachers, staff, and students made the event the most compelling political spectacle I've witnessed personally. The sight of an integrated crowd cheering a black presidential candidate not far from a campus building named in honor of Benjamin Tillman, an ardent segregationist, made politics seem exciting again.

Remembering this sense of exhilaration I sensed in seeing a new field of political possibilities makes the sense of betrayal I feel today even more powerful. By choosing Joe Biden as his running mate, Barack Obama has insulted academics -- students and teachers alike -- a constituency that was significant in bringing him the nomination of his party. Especially in a year that has seen two prominent political careers hamstrung by sex scandals, and in an era where choosing vice presidential candidates seems to be foremost an exercise in avoiding skeletons in the closet, it's surprising that Biden's record of plagiarism did not disqualify him from Obama's consideration.

Joe Biden, you will remember, ran for president in 1988. He delivered a speech that presented the thoughts of British Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock is if they were his own, and was slow to explain or apologize for this transgression. The ensuing scrutiny of Biden's record revealed that he had also plagiarized in law school, failing a course for doing so. Shortly after these revelations, he dropped out of the race.

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August 28, 2008

Madison Police Chief Noble Wray Sees "Serious Gang Connection" in Crime Hike

Kristin Czubkowski:

Making connections among various types of crimes and ways to remedy them was the theme of the night as Police Chief Noble Wray gave a talk on public safety in Madison to the City Council Wednesday night.

Statistically, crime in Madison was a mixed bag in 2007, Wray said. While overall crime was up 5.5 percent from 2006, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, that increase stemmed primarily from an 8.3 percent increase in property crimes such as burglary, theft and arson. By contrast, violent crime, which includes acts such as homicide, rape and aggravated assault, decreased 14.2 percent in 2007.

Wray explained that the rising rates of property crimes came from the increased theft of precious metals, in particular copper, as well as thefts of big-ticket items such as televisions from businesses, which were directly related to gang activity and the drug trade, he said.

"This is the first time that I've noticed this, and I've worked for the Madison department for 24 years, that there is a serious gang connection with these (burglaries)," he said. "We haven't had that in the past."


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There is an old story about a worker, at one of the South African diamond mines, who would leave work once a week or so pushing a wheelbarrow full of sand. The guard would stop him and search the sand thoroughly, looking for any smuggled diamonds. When he found none, he would wave the worker through. This happened month after month, and finally the guard said, "Look, I know you are smuggling something, and I know it isn't diamonds. If you tell me what it is, I won't say anything, but I really want to know. The worker smiled, and said, "wheelbarrows."

I think of this story when teachers find excuses for not letting their students see the exemplary history essays written by their high school peers for The Concord Review. Often they feel they cannot give their students copies unless they can "teach" the contents. Or they already teach the topic of one of the essays they see in the issue. Or they don't know anything about one of the topics. Or they don't have time to teach one of the topics they see, or they don't think students have time to read one or more of the essays, or they worry about plagiarism, or something else. There are many reasons to keep this unique journal away from secondary students.

They are, to my mind, "searching the sand." The most important reason to show their high school students the journal is to let them see the wheelbarrow itself, that is, to show them that there exists in the world a professional journal that takes the history research papers of high school students seriously enough to have published them on a quarterly basis for the last 21 years. Whether the students read all the essays, or one of them, or none of them, they will see that for some of their peers academic work is treated with respect. And that is a message worth letting through the guard post, whatever anyone may think about, or want to do something with, the diamonds inside.

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

And of course some teachers are eager to show their students the work of their peers....

The Concord Review -- Varsity Academics®

I am happy to send along this letter describing both "logistical" and pedagogical dimensions of how I have used The Concord Review in class since employing the first class sets in the 1988-1989 academic year. You know from the fact that we have expanded our class subscription "coverage" from all U.S. History classes to all U.S. History and World History since 1500 classes that we have been very satisfied with the Review. In fact, I am glad to say that, due to an expanding school enrollment, our class set for this year will number about 80 subscriptions.

In terms of "logistics," the system we have employed here has been simple and consistent with the way we deal with texts in all disciplines. Our students purchase their texts, so as students move through our bookstore before school opens, they mark the texts they need on a list, and the above-noted classes simply have The Concord Review listed as a text.

Pedagogically, I (or other appropriate instructor) view each issue with an eye toward an article or articles which are appropriate for any part of the material under current or imminent study. Because of the wide range of subjects and chronological eras covered in each issue, it is pretty easy to discern immediately one or more articles which will be applicable and useful. I do not feel compelled to put the Review in student hands the day the issues arrive, but rather plan ahead. For example, I might be covering mid-19th century reform in U.S. History when new issues arrive, but will hold off until we are doing the Civil War to distribute the Reviews and assign an article on some phase of the Civil War. The girls are told to treat each issue of the Review as an extension of their texts, meaning that they must hold on to each issue, for additional articles may be assigned from a given issue later in the year. Again, given the wide range of topics and eras covered in the typical issue, it is not unusual for me to be able (again, as an example) to assign an article from one issue on the Civil War in December, then go back to the same issue in April for an article on some portion of mid-20th century history. Students have been great about this, and are thus prepared throughout the year.

As to the articles themselves, I have found several uses for them. An obvious advantage of the articles in the Review is that they are scholarly and informative, and, as my students have noted, a refreshing break from the text (this is a comment I frequently hear). Secondly, the articles, in addition to being scholarly, are readable, and the "right size," and thus readily accessible to high school students. Even "popular" history, such as found in American Heritage and the like, can be "too much" for high schoolers, as the articles can be too long or presume too much a priori knowledge. The articles in The Concord Review are substantial and appropriately challenging, yet "intellectually digestible" for all students, not just the gifted few in an AP section, for example.

In addition to providing excellent reading, allowing for deeper exploration and discussion of some aspect of history, the Review provides an excellent methodological model. All students in History at Santa Catalina must write research papers based on both primary and secondary sources, with the length and quality expectations of the papers escalating appropriately from freshman to senior year. Sometimes, as you well know from your own teaching experience, explaining "arcane" items like where to put footnotes, etc. to students can be like trying to explain what "pink" looks like to a person who has never been able to see. The Review puts in students' hands excellent history, not only in terms of content, but in terms of methodology as well: footnotes, bibliography, placement, and all the other details. I have found it helpful not only to have students read an article for its content, but then to dissect it methodologically, asking my students (as appropriate to their level) to identify primary as opposed to secondary sources, to suggest what other sources might have been helpful, which sources might have the most credibility, and so on. We can thus effectively and efficiently combine quality reading with critical thinking/analysis and a methodology "practicum." The fact that teenagers are always highly interested in what other teenagers are doing is helpful, for the articles hold something of a natural attraction to the students. In addition, they are always impressed that students like themselves can produce such high-quality work. Many teens are used to hearing how poorly their age group is doing academically, but the Review is refreshing proof that such is not universally the case!

I could go on anecdotally for quite a while, but I think that would result in an excessively long epistle! Suffice it to say that my students (yes, even those who don't "like History") find the Review informative, accessible, and instructive, not only in terms of material they are learning, but also in terms of critical thinking and mastery of historical methodology. In a time when those of us who teach History frequently find ourselves hard-pressed for classroom time in meeting our goals, the Review is truly "triply rewarding" for students and instructors. I cannot imagine a junior high or high school history course which could not benefit immediately and tangibly from having its students use the Review.

December 2002, Broeck N. Oder,
Chair, Department of History, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, California 93940

The Concord Review (800) 331-5007 730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, MA 01776;

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SAT Comparison: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan and Iowa

The average SAT scores for Wisconsin and the neighboring states are summarized below. The higher the percentage of students who take the test, the lower
the average score is likely to be.

State% Taking TestCritical ReadingMathWriting
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Press Release [255K PDF] only compared Wisconsin to the National Average, below.
National Average45502516494
College Board 2008 SAT information.

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New Orleans superintendent Paul Vallas occupies spotlight

Greg Toppo:

In a makeshift waiting room of the warehouse that serves as the headquarters for public schools, three young prospective teachers sit.
As superintendent, Paul Vallas could someday be their boss. As he passes through the room, he stops to shake hands. Then he tries to persuade them to teach someplace else.

He has more than enough teachers for the new school year, which began last week, he explains. Have they considered Baton Rouge?

"I know Baton Rouge doesn't have the French Quarter," he says. "That's OK. It's OK to be far from the French Quarter -- keep you out of trouble."

As Vallas begins his second and probably final year trying to rebuild the ailing public school system, he not only has more teachers than he needs. He has eye-popping funding, nearly unchecked administrative power and "a sea of goodwill" that stretches across the USA.

The biggest question isn't whether he'll be able to turn around the system, at least in the short term. It's whether there's anything standing in his way.

If Vallas succeeds, observers say, he'll show that with a clean slate, extra cash and a few big ideas, a hard-charging reformer can fix an ailing system and create a template for other districts. If he doesn't succeed, they worry, Americans' faith in urban public schools could burn out for good.

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Referendum Climate: "State Budget Keeps Getting Worse"

Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

The house of cards known as the state budget is predictably collapsing.

A Dane County judge heard arguments this week on the legality of a $200 million raid state leaders made on a special fund that's supposed to cover large medical malpractice awards.

Doctors pay into the fund to hold down their insurance rates. So the Wisconsin Medical Society, which represents about 60 percent of doctors, sued the state last year after the governor and Legislature raiding the fund to patch a state budget hole.

The state raid was just the latest in a series of poor financial moves that voters should remember when voting for legislative candidates this fall.

Voters should favor those candidates willing to scrutinize spending and resist expensive new programs. The accounting tricks and money raids need to stop. And the longer Wisconsin waits to get its financial house in order, the harder and more painful it will be to fix.

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School Britannia: Familiar Worries, But With Classier Accents

John Kelly:

My Lovely Wife and I are great believers in public schools in the American sense of the word. Hey, we reason, if it was good enough for us. . . . And yet when we lived in Oxford we sent our daughters to public schools in the English sense of the word: that is, private, or as they say these days over in Blighty, "independent." The state school in our neighborhood came highly recommended but was so oversubscribed that we couldn't be sure there'd be room.

And so our then-14-year-old went to a private girls' school, and our then-16-year-old was a day student at a boarding school. Both girls were at the tops of their classes, which at first worried all of us, so deeply entrenched is that anti-American prejudice.

Beatrice, our younger daughter, decided that the English are even more obsessed with teaching to the test than we are in the No Child Left Behind USA. Her classmates were gearing up for a standardized test called the GCSE, which they wouldn't take till the following year. She spent much of her time bored by the slow rate they moved at, as teachers spent months on a single Shakespeare play and studied glaciers at a pace that can only be described as glacial.

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The Road to Education Reform

Wisconsin State Representative Brett Davis (R-Oregon):

As families across Wisconsin get ready to send their kids back to school, it is important to focus on how we are going to continue to improve student achievement for all our children. As chairman of the state Assembly Education Committee and having my son Will entering the ranks of pre-school, I understand the need to constantly look to improve our education system in Wisconsin so our kids and grandkids can compete in a competitive global economy and be productive citizens.

To increase student achievement in Wisconsin, I recently announced a comprehensive K-12 education improvement plan that I believe will reduce property taxes, make our school finance system more sensible, modernize student assessments, and direct more resources to classroom instruction. First, however, it is necessary to point out the current financial commitment to K-12 education in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin has 426 school districts educating approximately 868,000 students. The current state budget will spend more than $12.3 billion during the next two years on K-12 education, the most amount of money ever spent on education in our state's history. This amount represents 44 percent of our state's general purpose revenue (our tax dollars) and appropriately is our number one state financial commitment. In 2008-09 it is estimated local school districts, primarily through property taxes, will spend another $5 billion. When all funding is combined, including the $600 million we receive from the federal government, we spend about $12,600 per student. In 2005-2006, our state spending level ranked Wisconsin 14th nationwide, according the US Census Bureau.

Related: Local, state, federal and global education spending charts.

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Making new school year resolutions

Mary Bell, President of WEAC:

When I began my teaching career at Rhinelander High School 31 years ago, I started the school year by making resolutions the same way many of us do in early January. When you work in public education, you don't just resolve to exercise more often or cut down on your caffeine, you resolve to monitor the cleanliness of your students' desks (before it is too late), to not let your lesson plans cut into recess and lunch periods, to assign less (or more) homework, or to finish your master's degree.

I made these resolutions at the start of every school year, long after I had gone from a first-year English teacher in Rhinelander to a veteran library media specialist in Wisconsin Rapids. Most educators I know make new school year resolutions, because every school year starts with a clean slate and a sense of unlimited possibility.

Great schools benefit everyone, and throughout Wisconsin it is not just educators but whole communities taking pride in the public schools they have created and sustained. This sense of ownership and investment has paid big dividends, as Wisconsin's schools are the envy of the nation. We have one of the highest high school graduation rates. On the ACT college entrance exam, our high school seniors have ranked in the nation's top three for 19 years in a row.

Related: Local, state, federal and global education spending charts.

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August 27, 2008

Prosecutors begin looking into Milwaukee School Board Member's Philadelphia trip

Daniel Bice:

County prosecutors have launched a probe to determine if School Board member Charlene Hardin broke the law when she took a taxpayer-funded junket to Philadelphia but then failed to attend a national conference on school safety.

"I would consider this to be at the fact-finding stage," said Milwaukee County Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern on Tuesday. "We'll have to see where it leads."

Lovern said the white-collar unit in his office is working with Milwaukee Public Schools auditors to find out what exactly happened -- and didn't happen -- on Hardin's trip to Philadelphia to attend the annual conference of the National Association of School Safety & Law Enforcement Officers on July 14-16.

Two officials with the organization told No Quarter this week that Hardin and Lolita Pearson, a data-processing secretary at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts, spent no more than five minutes at the three-day event. They said the two attended no seminars or meetings.

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Alexandria's New Superintendent Urges Educators to Stop, Reflect, Act

Theresa Vargas:

"Part of what we're going to be doing is writing the next chapter of the story of this school district," Sherman, the school system's new superintendent, said he told them.

Educators often spend their days running from decision to decision. Sherman said he thinks it is important for them to sometimes stop, find a quiet moment and reflect on what they are trying to achieve for the students.

Sherman, 58, is the Washington region's newest superintendent, on contract for $250,000 a year through June 2012. A former superintendent in Tenafly, N.J., he replaces Rebecca L. Perry in heading the 10,600-student system.

Sherman said his first task involves being a "good anthropologist."

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'New' Voice Speaks About Teachers at Convention

Michele McNeil:

The teachers' unions weren't the only voices representing teachers on the first night of the Democratic National Convention.

Enter Jon Schnur.

The CEO of the reform group New Leaders for New Schools, also an adviser to Barack Obama's campaign, got a prime seat on the stage of the Democratic National Convention Monday night during the first of three American town halls.

The 15-minute town hall meeting managed to cram in issues including health care, tax reform, and education

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More Minnesota Students Taking Advanced Placement (AP) Exams

Emily Johns:

The number of students taking Advanced Placement tests in Minnesota has increased, as well as the number of students getting scores worthy of college credit.

There was a 6 percent increase in the number of students taking the tests, which are taken near the end of an Advanced Placement course to earn college credit, according to information released Tuesday by the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, .

Data show 27,605 students took 44,281 exams during the 2007-08 school year.

Almost 8 percent more tests also had a score of at least three out of five, meaning that 28,138 of the tests could be used by colleges to award credit to entering students.

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Radical idea: Open the doors of affluent suburban schools to Chicago students

Richard Kahlenberg via a kind reader's email:

Sen. James Meeks' (D-Chicago) proposed student boycott of Chicago public schools next month has sparked furious controversy. Should students miss their first day of class for the worthy goal of promoting equity in public school spending? Leaders such as Mayor Richard Daley and Chicago Public Schools Chief Arne Duncan are worried about the disruption involved as Meeks seeks to enroll Chicago students at New Trier High School in Winnetka.

Missing from the discussion is a bigger point: The main reason New Trier's students achieve and graduate at much higher levels isn't per-pupil expenditure; it's differences in the socioeconomic status of the student bodies in Chicago and New Trier.

Decades of research have found that the biggest determinant of academic achievement is the socioeconomic status of the family a child comes from and the second biggest determinant is the socioeconomic status of the school she attends. The main problem with Chicago schools isn't that too little is spent on students but that the school district has overwhelming concentrations of poverty.

In the 2005-06 school year, Chicago public schools spent $10,409 per pupil, much less than New Trier ($16,856), but slightly more than several high-performing suburban school districts, including ones in Naperville ($9,881) and Geneva ($9,807). The key difference is that while 84.9 percent of Chicago students come from low-income homes, New Trier has a low-income population of 1.9 percent, Naperville has 5 percent and Geneva 2.4percent.

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Texas truant students to be tracked by GPS anklets

Elizabeth White:

Court authorities here will be able to track students with a history of skipping school under a new program requiring them to wear ankle bracelets with Global Positioning System monitoring.

But at least one group is worried the ankle bracelets will infringe on students' privacy.

Linda Penn, a Bexar County justice of the peace, said she anticipates that about 50 students from four San Antonio-area school districts _ likely to be mostly high schoolers _ will wear the anklets during the six-month pilot program announced Friday. She said the time the students wear the anklets will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

"We are at a critical point in our time where we can either educate or incarcerate," Penn said, linking truancy with juvenile delinquency and later criminal activity. "We can teach them now or run the risk of possible incarceration later on in life. I don't want to see the latter."

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Groups: End physical discipline in school

Greg Toppo:

Saying corporal punishment disproportionately targets minority students and creates a "violent and degrading school environment," two groups want federal and state lawmakers to ban it.

In a report being issued today, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union cite U.S. Education Department statistics that find school personnel in the 2006-07 school year reported disciplining 223,190 students by hitting, spanking or similar means. In interviews, Alice Farmer, the report's author, found that children in Texas and Mississippi are routinely paddled for "minor infractions" such as chewing gum or violating school dress codes.

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Maryland Charter School Growth

Liz Bowie:

When 850,000 Maryland students head back to classrooms this week, a tiny but growing percentage will be in public schools that had only been imagined a decade ago. There's a primary school that lets children work at their own pace, an elementary school where 7-year-olds speak French a good portion of the day and a middle school where a sixth-grader can experience the outdoors.

In the first few years of Maryland's experiment with charter schools, Baltimore led the way with an explosion of new schools of all varieties. More slowly and cautiously, county districts are following the city's lead, allowing more of these publicly funded and privately operated schools to open as alternatives to the traditional public-school education.

Baltimore County's first charter school expects to open Tuesday in the Woodlawn area, and charters already operate in Harford, Frederick, St. Mary's and Anne Arundel counties. The newest additions this week will bring the statewide total to 34 schools and nearly 8,000 students.

Yet charters still face hurdles in getting started - from the local school officials who view them as competition to the pressure of construction costs. Of the 20 charter applications received statewide last school year, 16 were denied.

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A Teacher on the Front Line as Faith and Science Clash

Amy Harmon:

David Campbell switched on the overhead projector and wrote "Evolution" in the rectangle of light on the screen.

He scanned the faces of the sophomores in his Biology I class. Many of them, he knew from years of teaching high school in this Jacksonville suburb, had been raised to take the biblical creation story as fact. His gaze rested for a moment on Bryce Haas, a football player who attended the 6 a.m. prayer meetings of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in the school gymnasium.

"If I do this wrong," Mr. Campbell remembers thinking on that humid spring morning, "I'll lose him."

In February, the Florida Department of Education modified its standards to explicitly require, for the first time, the state's public schools to teach evolution, calling it "the organizing principle of life science." Spurred in part by legal rulings against school districts seeking to favor religious versions of natural history, over a dozen other states have also given more emphasis in recent years to what has long been the scientific consensus: that all of the diverse life forms on Earth descended from a common ancestor, through a process of mutation and natural selection, over billions of years.

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August 26, 2008

November 2008 Referendum Chatter

Mitch Henck discusses Monday evening's Madison School Board 7-0 vote to proceed with a recurring referendum this November. 19 minutes into this 15mb mp3. Topics include: property taxes, uncontested elections, health care costs, concessions before negotiations and local control. Via a kind reader's email.

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When Education is Unequal

Cheryl Jackson via a kind reader's email:

his week, in a lawsuit brought against the State of Illinois and the State Board of Education, the Chicago Urban League and Quad County Urban League called on the courts to end the discriminatory and unconstitutional way public school education is funded in Illinois. This is not just an educational issue, but a civil rights issue, too, for thousands of African-American and Latino students whose social and economic future is being shortchanged by a flawed state policy.

After more than a decade of legislative gridlock on education funding reform, set against a bleak backdrop of crumbling schoolhouses, moldy books and shamefully low graduation rates--the time has come to dismantle the current property-based system of school financing.

That system is discriminatory in its impact, sustaining huge funding gaps between black and white schools.

It makes quality education nearly impossible for thousands of students of color. It confounds the best efforts of well-meaning parents, teachers and administrators. And it puts children on a pathway to lifelong poverty and social pathologies that squander their potential and exact enormous social costs.

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Future of education is online, Web-school pioneer says

The Arizona Republic:

Damian Creamer, founder of Primavera Online High School, was the guest last week on Live Talk Wednesday, talking about secondary education via the computer.

Creamer formerly was an enrollment counselor at the University of Phoenix.

"Their (online) program was in its infancy and it was a unique opportunity to be involved with such a dynamic organization as they pioneered online education at the post-secondary level," he said.

Afterward, he helped a small charter school in the West Valley found two additional charter schools.

Creamer opened Primavera Technical Learning Center (the predecessor to Primavera Online High School) in 2001.

" In its first year, Primavera had a few hundred students. Last year, I believe that we carried an average daily membership of 2,700 students," Creamer said.

Last year, Primavera graduated 469 students, according to Creamer.


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In Support of the November, 2008 Madison School District Referendum

Community and Schools Together:

We have a referendum!

Community and Schools Together (CAST) has been working to educate the public on the need to change the state finance system and support referendums that preserve and expand the good our schools do. We are eager to continue this work and help pass the referendum the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education approved on Monday, August 25, 2008.

"The support and interest from everyone has been great," said Franklin and Wright parent and CAST member Thomas J. Mertz. "We've got a strong organization, lots of enthusiasm, and we're ready to do everything we can to pass this referendum and move our schools beyond the painful annual cuts. Our community values education. It's a good referendum and we are confident the community will support it."

Community and Schools Together (CAST) strongly supports the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education's decision to place a three-year recurring referendum on the November 4, 2008 ballot. This is the best way for the district to address the legislated structural deficit we will face over the next few years.
Much more on the November, 2008 Referendum here.

This responsible approach provides time for the MMSD and the community to engage in the strategic planning that will take our already excellent schools to the next echelon. It will also establish a solid foundation for setting future budgets, justifying future referendums, and working for state finance reform. Such a process could be easily derailed if the community and district become distracted by discussion of major reductions in programs and services. At little cost to taxpayers, the Board's action has given our community an opportunity to enter the Superintendent Nerad era in a way that will allow us to make good use of his talents and contributions.

"If we want to look at the big picture and plan for the future, we need the certainty that a recurring referendum provides," stressed Hamilton Middle School parent and CAST activist Jerry Eykholt.

Since 1993 the district has reduced programs and services by over $60 million, even as other costs have continued to rise. The proposed referendum will provide basic operating funds to maintain the existing programs and services in Madison's schools. Over the last fifteen years more than $60 million of programs and services have been cut. Without a referendum the cuts will continue at ever higher levels.

"Without the referendum, the preliminary areas identified by Superintendent Nerad and his staff for further cuts would create unwarranted stresses on our students, making it much harder to provide the education they deserve," said Deb Gilbert, a CAST member and parent of two children at Leopold.

CAST is confident that the board and administration understand this referendum simply provides the authority to exceed revenue limits and, with the community, will continue to seek additional efficiencies and limit levy amounts to that needed to ensure a sound education for Madison's children.

"I like the partnership aspects," said CAST Treasurer and Falk parent Jackie Woodruff. "They clearly understand that we all need to work together to make the best use of the resources the community provides."

A three-year referendum is a responsible way to allow the community and district to engage in a strong partnership to ensure the future success of Madison schools and students while minimizing the impact on children and tax payers.

CAST is proud of the quality of Madison's schools and what they have achieved, even as resources have been cut and the needs of our population have grown through rapidly changing demographics--evidence of the dedication and creativity of the MMSD staff and the Madison community. Quality public education is essential to maintaining the economic health and quality of life of our community.

"We need to keep our schools strong--they are at the heart of our neighborhoods and what makes Madison such a great place to raise children" said Jill Jacklitz an activist with CAST and parent at Marquette and Lapham.

CAST is a grassroots organization of parents, educators, and community members that is dedicated to educating the citizens of Madison about school funding referenda in the Madison Metropolitan School District.

If you believe quality public schools for all is an integral part of our democracy, join us in working to assure our schools have adequate resources. We look forward to sharing a positive message about the future of the MMSD. Visit for more information or contact:

Community and Schools Together,
Jill Jacklitz 608-249-4377,
Thomas J. Mertz 608-255-4550, 608-215-1942,
Deb Gilbert, 608-212-1237,

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2008 SAT Scores Released


For the second consecutive year, SAT scores for the most recent high school graduating class remained at the lowest level in nearly a decade, according to results released Tuesday.

But the College Board, which owns the exam, attributes the lower averages of late to a more positive development: a broader array of students are taking the test, from more first-generation college students to a record number of students -- nearly one in seven -- whose family income qualifies them to take the test for free.

"More than ever, the SAT reflects the face of education in this country," said Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, which owns the test and released the results.

The class of 2008 scored an average of 515 out of a possible 800 points on the math section of the college entrance exam, a performance identical to graduating seniors in the previous year. (See SAT stats.)

Scores in the critical reading component among last spring's high-school seniors also held steady at 502, but the decline over time has been more dramatic: The past two years represent the lowest reading average since 1994, when graduating seniors scored 499.

The College Board:
The SAT's writing section has proven to be the most predictive section of the test for determining first-year college performance, as evidenced by recent studies by the College Board and independent studies by the University of California and the University of Georgia. The College Board analysis, which evaluated data from about 150,000 students at 110 four-year colleges and universities, also found the writing section to be the most predictive for all students and therefore across all racial/ethnic minority groups.

Of all three sections of the SAT, the writing section is the most predictive of students' freshman year college performance for all students, demonstrating that writing is a critical skill and an excellent indicator of academic success in college.

The writing section is also the most predictive section for all racial/ethnic minority groups, which demonstrates that the SAT is a fair and valid test for all students.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction:
Wisconsin's 2008 graduates posted an average score of 604 points in mathematics on the SAT college admissions test, an increase of six points from last year and 89 points above the national mean score of 515. Along with solid SAT results, preliminary data on the College Board's Advanced Placement program showed continued growth of the program in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin had 3,522 public and private school graduates who took the SAT during high school. They represent about 5 percent of the state's graduates. Their critical reading score averaged 587, the same as last year; mathematics was 604, up six points from last year; and writing was 577, up two points. Nationally, 1.5 million graduates, about 45 percent of all graduates, took the SAT. The national overall mean scores were the same as in 2007: critical reading, 502; mathematics, 515; and writing, 494. On the ACT college admissions tests, more popular in Midwestern states, 67 percent of Wisconsin's 2008 graduates took the exams. Their scores also were well above national averages.

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For Better Schools, Raise Expectations

Steve Barr & Kai Ryssdal @ Marketplace:

KAI RYSSDAL: The Democrats have gathered in Denver. They'll be partying and schmoozing and, yes, talking policy for the rest of the week. While the convention's in session, we've asked some prominent Democratic policy types to complain. That is, tell us where they think the party has gone astray on key issues. Today, commentator and education reformer Steve Barr says Democrats are behind the curve on education.

STEVE BARR: Check out any national poll on issues important to Americans, and they'll tell you the same thing: On education, voters trust Democrats more than they do Republicans. And it's been that way for decades.

But my fellow Democrats haven't done much in recent years to earn that trust. Party leaders aren't addressing education in a real way. And when they do, it's usually to condemn No Child Left Behind or to make a vague appeal for better schools. Rarely do Democratic party leaders offer a clear vision for what a 21st century education should look like.

Now, the Dems don't have it easy. There are two warring tribes in their ranks -- teachers unions and school-reform advocates who are wary of teachers unions.

So, let me offer a new progressive vision to my beloved party, so it can challenge these tribes to come together: Community-based, decentralized school districts composed of small schools.

Study after study shows that a smaller school gives a kid the best chance to succeed. A decentralized district would streamline money to school sites, where each school would control its own budget. School leaders, including teachers, would make the hires.

Clusty Search: Steve Barr. Green Dot Public Schools

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The Impact of Educational Quality on the Community: A Literature Review

Stephen Carroll & Ethan Scherer [328K PDF]:

This briefing synthesizes the empirical research on the effects of educational quality on the community. First, please note the word "empirical." RAND reviewed empirical studies -- studies in which some evidence was offered in support of the arguments. In the course of the literature review, we ran across books and articles in which the authors put forth logical arguments about the relationship between educational quality and the community, but did not offer any empirical evidence in support of those arguments. We do not suggest that these arguments are wrong, but we did not include them in this review because no evidence was offered in support of them.

This briefing focuses on results reported in the literature that apply to K-12 education, public and private. In our review, we generally did not consider studies that examined the effects of educational quality in either post-secondary education or early childhood education on the community.

We excluded studies that we considered of low quality, either because the methodology or the data were inadequate and which, therefore, reported findings that we thought were not well supported by empirical evidence. We also excluded studies that reported findings not adequately supported by the analysis, even if the study used accepted methodologies and substantial data.

Also, our review did not include research on how to improve quality or the cost of doing so. We looked at how educational quality affected the community, but not at what might be done to improve quality, or what that might cost.


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It's not a tax. It's a fee -- for school sports and a whole lot more

David Dahl:

Schools throughout greater Boston are raising fees for sports and other activities. While it's not a property tax increase, the school fees are yet another way local governments are reaching into the pockets of parents to raise money.

North of Boston, for example, Hamilton-Wenham football games will cost close to $100 a pop this fall. That's not for seats on the 50-yard line, but what players who suit up for the Generals pay to play: a $969 user fee, the highest for football in communities north of Boston.

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August 25, 2008

Madison School Board OKs Nov. referendum

Tamira Madsen:

Members of the Madison School Board will ask city taxpayers to help finance the Madison Metropolitan School District budget, voting Monday night to move forward with a school referendum.

The referendum will be on the ballot on Election Day, Nov. 4.

Superintendent Dan Nerad outlined a recommendation last week for the board to approve a recurring referendum asking to exceed revenue limits by $5 million during the 2009-10 school year, $4 million for 2010-11 and $4 million for 2011-12. With a recurring referendum, the authority afforded by the community continues permanently, as opposed to other referendums that conclude after a period of time.

Accounting initiatives that would soften the impact on taxpayers were also approved Monday.

One part of the initiative would return $2 million to taxpayers from the Community Services Fund, which is used for afterschool programs. The second part of the initiative would spread the costs of facility maintenance projects over a longer period.

Andy Hall:

Madison School District voters on Nov. 4 will be asked to approve permanent tax increases in the district to head off projected multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls.

In a pair of 7-0 votes, the Madison School Board on Monday night approved a proposal from Superintendent Daniel Nerad to hold a referendum and to adopt a series of accounting measures to reduce their effect on taxpayers.

Nerad said the district would work "day and night" to meet with residents and make information available about the need for the additional money to avert what school officials say would be devastating cuts in programs and services beginning in 2009-10, when the projected budget shortfall is $8.1 million.

"I understand this goes to the community to see if this is something they support. We're going to do our best to provide good information," said Nerad.

Some citizens who spoke at Monday's meeting echoed the sentiments of board members and school officials.

"Our schools are already underfunded," said one man.

However, others spoke against the plan. "This is virtually a blank check from taxpayers.

Superintendent Dan Nerad had to act quickly to put the plan together, facing the $8 million shortfall in his first few days on the job.

"I will never hesitate to look for where we can become more efficient and where we can make reductions," said Nerad. "But I think we can say $8 million in program cuts, if it were only done that way, would have a significant impact on our kids."

The plan was highly praised by most board members, but not by everyone who attended the meeting.

"This virtually gives the board a blank check from all of Madison's taxpayers' checkbooks," said Madison resident David Glomp. "It may very well allow the school board members to never have to do the heavy lifting of developing a real long-term cost saving."

NBC 15:
"We need to respect the views of those who disagree with us and that doesn't mean they're anti-school or anti-kids," says board member Ed Hughes.

Board members stressed, the additional money would not be used to create new programs, like 4-year-old kindergarten.

"What's a miracle is that our schools are continuing to function and I think that's the conversation happening around Wisconsin, now, says board vice president Lucy Mathiak. "How much longer can we do this?"

The referendum question will appear on the November 4th general election ballot.

The board will discuss its educational campaign at its September 8th meeting.

Much more on the planned November, 2008 referendum here.

TJ Mertz on the "blank check".

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DC Teachers Torn as Rhee Tries to Allay Fears About Pay Plan

Bill Turque:

The morning began with the buoyant spirit of a pep rally -- all cheers, prizes and inspirational words from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and other officials to launch the District's teachers into the fall term that starts Monday.

Before it ended, however, the "welcome back" assembly at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center yesterday took a more anxious turn. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and Washington Teachers' Union President George Parker each seized the opportunity to speak to the audience of 4,000 teachers about Rhee's pay package proposal, which has roiled and divided them.

Rhee was there to win hearts and minds. Parker was there to count them.

Rhee is offering teachers a "green tier" plan that would boost many of them over the $100,000 mark in salary and performance bonuses. In exchange, they must surrender tenure protections for a year and risk dismissal by going on probation. Teachers who want to retain tenure can opt for the "red tier," which would offer lower, but still significant, raises and bonuses.

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On Nevada State K-12 Funding

Clark County Superintendent Walt Ruffles:

As a former chief financial officer in both public and private organizations, I recognize the gravity of Nevada's current financial condition and the need to cut costs where possible. But, as your current superintendent, I also recognize the disservice being done to Nevada's next generation of adults.

Make no mistake about it, education in Nevada is hurting. Clark County receives the lowest per-pupil funding in the state, and the state funds its students at one of the lowest rates in the nation. That puts the Clark County School District near the bottom of the nation in per-pupil funding. Cuts of the magnitude we are experiencing are making a bad situation worse.


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Education Officials Predict More Iowa School District Consolidation


State and school leaders say there is a new wave of school district consolidation that could alter the landscape of education in Iowa.

The consolidation is happening in school districts that are facing budget crunches because of shrinking enrollment, skyrocketing expenses and troubles cutting back. And the cash-strapped schools aren't getting the same type of help they used to from the state.

"They're in a real balancing act," said Judy Jeffrey, director of the Iowa Department of Education. "I think there's going to be another wave of consolidation."

Just how many Iowa school districts will consolidate depends on whether some can dig themselves out of a financial hole.

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Give students the choice to attend charter schools where kids perform well

Collin Hitt via a kind reader's email:

In protest of Chicago's failing school system, Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) is staging a field trip of sorts. He's urging kids from his legislative district to skip the first day of school, board buses, travel to Winnetka, and attempt to enroll in New Trier High School.

One can understand why Meeks would want better educational options for Chicago kids. But on his way to Winnetka, the senator might want to take a look out the window where there are already many Chicago public schools--charter schools--that are performing on par with top-notch suburban and downstate schools. One such school, Chicago International Charter School, graduates its students 86 percent of the time--comparing quite favorably with public schools Downstate and suburban Chicago, which have an average graduation rate of 84 percent. Overall, charter public schools in Chicago graduate 77 percent of their students, compared with a citywide average of 51 percent.

Why aren't there more charter schools in Chicago? Because state law caps the number of charters in the city at 30. Today, approximately 13,000 Chicago public school children are on a waiting list to get into charters--schools that have offered a proven formula for success. To give inner-city kids the opportunities they deserve, the charter-school cap should be lifted.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 12:37 PM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Education Reformers call for Longer School Days, Performance-Driven Teacher Pay & Expanded School Choice


America's leading voices on education reform joined in Denver to call on Democratic leaders to steer public education in a new direction. On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, more than two dozen progressive elected officials, education reform advocates, school leaders and civil rights groups from across the country gathered at the Denver Art Museum to release the Ed Challenge for Change, which highlights new ideas for closing America's devastating achievement gap.

"An entrepreneurial explosion has occurred over the last few years in public education," said Joe Williams, Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform, the organization responsible for conceiving the Ed Challenge for Change. "The creativity exhibited by this new group of educators is helping raise student achievement, empower teachers, close the minority learning gap, and bring hope to places where it's been in very short supply. It's a movement that we believe Sen. Obama and other Democrats have taken to heart, and we hope to see these reforms increase in schools across America during the Obama Administration."

Nancy Mitchell:
An eclectic mix of Democratic wunderkinds, tough-talking education reformers and one elder statesman - former Gov. Roy Romer - are challenging their party to step away from teachers unions and return to fighting for the educational rights of poor and minority children.

"It is a battle for the heart of the Democratic Party," said Corey Booker, the 39-year-old rising star mayor of Newark, N.J.

"We have been wrong in education," Booker said of his party and its alliances with teachers unions that put adults before children. "It's time to get right."

Booker was among those who appeared Sunday at the Denver Art Museum to challenge the Democratic Party to reconsider its course on education.

In references sometimes veiled and sometimes blunt, they tackled the party's often- cozy relationship with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, which typically support - financially and otherwise - Democratic candidates.

Mickey Kaus:
One panelist--I think it was Peter Groff, president of the Colorado State Senate, got the ball rolling by complaining that when the children's agenda meets the adult agenda, the "adult agenda wins too often." Then Cory Booker of Newark attacked teachers unions specifically--and there was applause. In a room of 500 people at the Democratic convention! "The politics are so vicious," Booker complained, remembering how he'd been told his political career would be over if he kept pushing school choice, how early on he'd gotten help from Republicans rather than from Democrats.

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Madison's City Budget & Education

TJ Mertz:

I've been so tied up with life and the referendum stuff that I haven't been much paying attention to the city budget process. A story in today's Wisconsin State Journal got my attention, this graphic in particular. Two items on the possible cut list will directly impact the school district budget and at least three more will make things harder for our schools to do their job.

These possible cuts have been identified early in the budget process. Mayor Cieslewicz asked all departments to list what they would propose in the way of a 5% budget cut. If things go as the Mayor envisions, about 37% of these cuts will need to be enacted. Nothing is set in stone at this point. The Mayor will propose his budget in October and the Common Council will act in November.

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Referendum Climate: Charts - Enrollment; Local, State, Federal and Global Education Spending

Variations of this question are often asked: "Are we spending too much, too little or just the right amount on education?" I thought it might be useful to have a look at some local, state, federal and global information. Click to view the charts in detail:

Madison School District Enrollment: 1994-2007 (the demographics have changed during this time)

Madison School District Budgets: 1995-2009

Percentage of Wisconsin General Purpose State Tax Revenue Spent on K-12 School Districts: 1972-2007

Wisconsin State Tax Dollars Spent on K-12 School Districts: 1972-2007

US Government Tax Revenue, by Source: 1965-2005

Composition of US Government Spending: 1965-2005

Total US Governement Debt, as a percentage of GDP

Wisconsin General Purpose Revenue Tax Receipts by Category: 1971-2007

Global Distribution of public expenditure on Education: ages 5 to 25
Data via the Madison School District (various budget documents and statistics), The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, I.O.U.S.A: One Nation, Under Stress, in Debt and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics Database.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics: Consumer Price Index. $1000 in 1995 requires $1443.33 according to their inflation calculator, while $1000 in 1972 requires $5,262.30 in 2008.

November Madison School District Planned November, 2008 Referendum notes & links. Tax climate notes & links: When is a Tax Cut Really a Tax Hike by Gene Epstein, 20 Reasons to Kill Corporate Taxes by James Pethokoukis, I.O.U.S.A the Movie, the Economist: Inflation's Last Hurrah and Dave Blaska on the proposed referendum.

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Value-added evaluation being tried in Ohio schools

Scott Stephens

Tests measure what students know. Like a Polaroid, they give a snapshot of knowledge frozen at one moment in time. But what if you could measure how much a child learns over the course of a school year? What if you could gauge what a school actually adds to a child's learning experience?

In Ohio, you can. This year's district and school report cards, which will be released Tuesday by the Ohio Department of Education, for the first time will include a measurement known as value-added. The revolutionary formula, designed more than two decades ago by a homespun statistical guru from the rolling hills of eastern Tennessee, has rocked the education world. Put simply, value-added tracks whether a year's worth of learning is actually happening in the course of a school year -- regardless of whether a child passes a test at the end of that year.

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Another view: MPS analysis must address all the issues

Karen Royster:

Milwaukee's children are the city's future, and their education is a profound concern to all of us. Milwaukee Public Schools is responsible for ensuring students have the knowledge and skills to be capable workers and good citizens.

Like other urban school districts in the country, MPS struggles against mighty odds to fulfill this mission. There are major successes and many problems. Trying to overcome these problems is crucial, and there is room for all sectors of the city and region to share in the work.

A new initiative to audit or otherwise examine MPS could be very helpful if the analysis addresses all the fundamental issues at play, including the following:

• The households MPS students come from are in increasing economic distress, and almost one in five students come to the classroom with special needs -- emotional, physical and cognitive -- that require additional personnel and resources.

Karen Royster is executive director of the Institute for Wisconsin's Future; Jack Norman is the institute's research director. The institute is funded by national foundations and does not receive money from state or local teachers unions.

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Verona High School's new AP moves in

Lisa Nunez:

New Verona Area High School (VAHS) Associate Principal Otistine Tracey Williams approaches her students with a strong attitude. "I will listen to you," she says. "I have high expectations, and I want you to reach them. I will be your biggest cheerleader. But, I will hold you accountable."

As one of three associate principals at VAHS, Williams supports approximately 450 students, their families, and their teachers through grades 10, 11, and 12. "The associate principals manage the day-to-day ins and outs of the school -- primarily discipline, attendance, and staff issues," says Williams. "We also work with the parents."
Williams envisions her new position as a conduit, "working with students who may not connect with the school and finding ways to get them connected," she says. "I love that. Now [at VAHS] I can do it on a larger scale."

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 2:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

For many Milwaukee parents, the nearby school never entered their reckoning

Alan Borsuk:

Auer Avenue Elementary School was "the poster child," as one school official put it, for why Milwaukee Public Schools needed a Neighborhood Schools Initiative.

The reason was obvious: In the fall of 1999, kids from the attendance area for the school at N. 24th St. and W. Auer Ave. were enrolled in more than 90 schools all over Milwaukee, many of them no better than Auer Avenue.

So MPS spent $2 million to improve facilities for the school's students, added sixth-, seventh- and eight-grade classes and added before- and after-school services, all to encourage neighborhood enrollment.

The result? Today, students in the area attend more than 90 schools elsewhere in Milwaukee. The percentage of students in Auer Avenue who are from the neighborhood has actually gone down, as has total enrollment in the school.

Those facts tells you an awful lot about how little impact the $102 million neighborhood school plan has had.

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100 Black Men of Madison give away backpacks, supplies

Dean Mosiman:

After getting her free, new backback stuffed with notebooks, markers and other supplies, Yisela Gonzales said she's ready to start the sixth grade in the Madison School District.

Gonzales was among more than 1,500 children from across Dane County to get a free backpack and supplies at 100 Black Men of Madison's annual back-to-school picnic Saturday at Demetral Park on the North Side.

"It's nice," said Yisela's mother, Maria. "Everything is so expensive nowadays. It helps."

More than 2,500 children, parents and other family members were also treated to free hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, cookies and beverages and got a chance to socialize. Madison Police gave out baseball cards.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 1:15 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

August 24, 2008

UW Diversity Plan at age 10

Deborah Ziff:

It's been 10 years since the UW System launched its major diversity initiative -- Plan 2008 -- and in that time administrators have successfully recruited hundreds of students of color and faculty to come to UW-Madison.

In that same 10 years, UW-Madison has made news for photoshopping a photo of a black student into a crowd of white students on a brochure and for a law school professor's remarks about the Hmong that some considered racist.

Now in the plan's final year, the numbers of minorities at the state's flagship have been stubbornly budging upward, but students and administrators say there is still more work to be done, especially when it comes to creating a welcoming campus environment for people of color.

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Student Control

Thomas Crocker:

In a world of increased occasions for forms of social control, the university is extending its reach. In an AP story today we learn that universities are broadening the scope of their campus behavior codes to apply to student conduct off campus, in an effort to cultivate humanity, to borrow from Martha Nussbaum. One purpose is to make students better citizens within the community. From the article:
We have a responsibility to educate our students about being responsible citizens,'' said Elizabeth A. Higgins, Washington's director of community standards and student conduct, whose office has 'educated' 19 students since the extended code of conduct took effect in January.

The scope of these codes can be quite broad, as the article reports that the University of Colorado code "regulates any conduct that ''affects the health, safety or security of any member of the university community or the mission of the university." The article further reports that Seattle University "has put its students on notice that cyber-patrolling will continue this year."

Tangentially, this is one of the issues worth looking into around local high schools: given the open campus, how much undesirable activity occurs near those facilities, and who has jurisdiction? This data: Madison police calls near local high schools: 1996-2006.

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Dissolve the Milwaukee Public Schools?

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial:

Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett must act to bring radical change to the city school district. Everything must be on the table this time -- even dissolution.

For years, the Journal Sentinel has chided, prodded and coaxed the administrators and the School Board of Milwaukee Public Schools. We've backed plan after plan to "fix" MPS. Time after time, we've been disappointed.

Now Journal Sentinel reporters have laid bare the mind-numbing incompetence of those who implemented the Neighborhood Schools Initiative. This $102 million building plan was forced on the city's parents and taxpayers, and then many of those millions were thrown to the gentle wind, even after it was clear that the plan was failing.

For the sake of the thousands of kids MPS is leaving behind, fundamental change is a necessity. It might even be time to dissolve MPS and start over.

Large organizations (public or private) rarely make significant changes.

Related: Starting from scratch in the New Orleans public schools.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:20 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Schools As Social Service Centers?

Greg Forster:

Believe it or not, that more or less sums up the big new marketing campaign the teachers' unions are using to try to lure you into giving them more money. It's actually called "Broader, Bolder." If you've ever seen a title that sounded more like a gimmick to sucker people out of their money, you've seen more marketing gimmicks than I have.

The argument runs like this: kids do better in school when they're well fed, healthy, and so forth. Therefore schools should be transformed into social-service centers that will not only teach students, but also provide health care and lots of other services. Schools would be open all day and provide a wide variety of community programs.

This will, of course, cost a ton of money and entail a huge expansion of the government educational bureaucracy. Which has nothing to do with why the unions want it.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:02 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Madison's superintendent seeking balance, gaining fans

Andy Hall:

One of the biggest differences between Nerad and Rainwater, according to School Board members, is that Nerad provides the board with more information about what's happening in the district. Silveira said Nerad's weekly memos help board members feel engaged, and she's hopeful that after the current financial questions are settled, the board can turn its focus to improving student achievement.

Mathiak said she was thrilled last week after hearing Nerad's plan. "I think there is a honeymoon period and I think we're still in it."

Winston said after watching Nerad at work, "I'm convinced we made the right choice. I think he's here for the long haul, too."

Notes and links on Dan Nerad, the planned November, 2008 referendum and Active Citizens for Education Memo: Taxpayers should NOT be asked to give the Madison School Board a blank check!.

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L.A. teacher goes to Washington to the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship

Steven Hicks:

hat would you say if you were given the opportunity to tell the Department of Education how the policies and programs that the federal government supported were affecting the students and teachers in our schools? Well, that is exactly what I will be doing for the next year along with 24 colleagues from around the country.

I am a kindergarten/first grade teacher in Los Angeles, but have a one-year appointment to work with the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. This is the first time that the department has formally involved teacher input into the policies and programs that affect our children. The program is called the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship Program. There are five Washington ambassadors that work in the department offices and 20 classroom ambassadors who work from their classrooms for the year.

We want to get the word out about how policies are made and how teachers can have an impact as leaders. Another teacher, Jocelyn Pickford, brought the idea to Secretary Margaret Spellings, who loved it. The teacher ambassadors represent urban, rural and suburban communities and K-12 levels. These are teachers who have dedicated themselves to make a real difference in public education. We want to share our stories and be part of the solution.

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

In China, Jocks Don't Rule School; But the Smart Kids, They're Cool

Gordon Fairclough:

An enormous red-and-gold banner stretches down the gray masonry front of the No. 19 High School in this northern Chinese city, proclaiming its proudest achievement: Ninety-two percent of this year's graduates won admission to universities.

Like most Chinese high schools, No. 19 has no sports teams and no gymnasium. On the pavement outside, there are a handful of basketball hoops and a set of rusty metal parallel bars. The playground was completely empty on a recent summer afternoon.

"The cool kids are the ones who do best at their studies," says Niu Shibin, 18. Mr. Niu, who will be a junior in September, says he likes to play basketball, but his nearly 12 hours a day of school work leave him little time.

China's elite young athletes may be winning a lot of medals at the Olympics. But in China, organized sports still aren't really something for regular kids.

Less than 3% of Chinese secondary-school students attend schools with sports teams. Children with exceptional athletic prowess or physical attributes are pulled out of ordinary schools early on and sent to the special academies that train the country's sporting elite.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Unwrapping the Gifted

Tamara Fisher:

Varsity Academics
Hello from the Ice Cream Capital of the World!

On the morning of July 7, I had my TV on in the other room while I was getting ready for the day. I overheard an interview on the Today Show that Matt Lauer did with swimmer Dara Torres. The day before, she had managed to qualify for her fifth Olympics at the age of 41, even breaking an American record (for the ninth time in that event!) in the qualifying process.

Near the end of the interview, Matt asked Dara how she did it, noting his age and noting hers. (They know each other off-camera, it might be important to mention.) "When I turned 40," he said, "I had trouble going up stairs. I was winded more easily."

After describing her workout regimen and then outlining how she was proactively being regularly blood-tested to prove that she was doing all this cleanly, she said to Matt, good-naturedly and with a twinkle in her eye,

"And besides, you know, maybe I'm a little more athletically gifted than you are."

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August 23, 2008

Taxpayers should NOT be asked to give the Madison School Board a blank check!

Active Citizens for Education (ACE) calls for the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education to delay making specific decisions for the presentation of a recurring referendum to the taxpayers for a vote on the November election ballot.

Passage of a recurring referendum on the November 2008 ballot would allow the board and school administration to permanently exceed the state mandated revenue spending caps. Such a move to fix a so-called current "budget gap" would allow the board and administration to exceed annual spending caps permanently, every year into the future. This would virtually give the board a "blank check" from district taxpayers to plug future budget gaps or shortfalls. It could prevent the board and administration from having to carefully and thoughtfully budget, like every taxpayer must do when their household budget faces tough economic times and shortfalls.

The plans and communications presented in recent weeks by the board and administration provide greater hope for more effective decision-making now and in the future. The recommendations for changes in policy and accountability options in community services, transportation, lease contracts, fund balances and capital expansion (maintenance) will have positive impacts on reducing the so-called "budget gap."

The Board must earn the trust of the taxpayers by clearly showing that they can be "good stewards" of taxpayer dollars. Past experience has not earned that trust! If a referendum is ultimately required to fix upcoming budgets, it should be a non-recurring referendum, thereby preventing 'mortgaging' the future with year-after-year, permanent increases in spending authority.

The Board and administration must correct the absence of specific processes and strategies for analysis and evaluation of business and educational services, programs, practices and policies. Urgent and substantial investments of time and work are critical for these processes to evolve into hard evidence. This evidence is absolutely necessary to show the public that serious steps are under way to provide clear, concrete data and options for identifying the most effective and efficient results-oriented management of the financial resources of the district. It must be shown that the resources will be directly applied to improvements in student learning and achievement.

In order for the public to support any change in spending habits or spending authority the district must meet the following conditions: a) full disclosure and accountability in the reporting of methodologies, data measurements, analyses and results in spending and the effective use of existing funding levels; b) assure that the shifting of funds is done on the basis of evaluations and assessments; c) changes are put in place to affect improvements in curriculum and instruction which directly increase student achievement and development at all levels; d) make the schools and the educational climate safe and secure for all students and staff; and e) engage in collaborative and cost-sharing initiatives with other government entities, as well as private and non-profit organizations.

Don Severson, President of ACE, said in a statement "When realistic evidence of progress toward these conditions is shown, then Active Citizens for Education and the general public will actively and willingly support the district with appropriate financial means. Anything short of meeting these conditions will not be in the best interests of our children and the community."

The school board and administration must continue to work to improve their communications and evaluation processes to gain the trust and confidence of the public for both short-and long-term successes. The district board is urged to proceed carefully and firmly in a strategic and progressive manner. A decision, at this time, by the board to request taxpayer support for a recurring referendum on the November 2008 ballot would be significantly premature and disastrous.

Referendum Questions

Questions raised at the Madison School District's Financial Forums

Please send your own comments, concerns and/or convictions to all board members and superintenent at or to selected ones of your choice.

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A Promise of Pre-K for All Is Still Far Off in New York

Winnie Hu:

More than 10 years after New York's political and education leaders promised to work toward providing access to pre-kindergarten classes to every 4-year-old across the state, more than a third of the 677 local school districts have no such programs. Last year, fewer than 91,000 children attended state-financed pre-kindergarten classes -- 38 percent of the state's 4-year-olds.

The early promise of universal pre-kindergarten programs was undermined by state budget problems, especially after 9/11, and local districts were never required to offer them. But even as funding dedicated to pre-kindergarten has more than doubled over the last three years, hundreds of mainly suburban and rural districts have rejected the state money, with many saying they would have to cut other things or raise taxes to establish the programs.

Last year, local districts passed up $67.5 million of the $438 million the state set aside for pre-K.

"Universal pre-K is an idea that looks good on paper, but it doesn't work for a district of this size," said Superintendent Edward Ehmann of the Smithtown school district on Long Island, which turned down $459,000 in state aid because, he said, it would cover only a quarter of the cost of providing pre-kindergarten to 750 children.

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Five school districts consider lawsuit in investment downturn

Amy Hetzner:

Five Wisconsin school districts could face combined losses of tens of millions of dollars in a complex investment scheme to help fund employee retirement benefits, according to investigators hired by the districts.

The value of district investments has declined by $120 million - or 60% - since the transactions were undertaken within the last two years, according to a news release from a public relations firm for the attorneys who examined the deals.

School district officials released statements accompanying the news release Wednesday, saying they were misled by a financial adviser, and that the investments were much riskier than they had been told.

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GE volunteers spruce up Bay View High School for new year

Dani McClain:

First, the 16-year-old could expect a new principal when he returned to Bay View High School in the fall. Second, hundreds of volunteers from GE Healthcare would be there in August for a massive, daylong cleanup, and he was invited to join them.

Jones jumped at the chance to be part of a fresh start.

"The school needed the help," he said Wednesday. He added that he liked being able to support Bay View's staff.

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

Connecticut Faces a School Tax Revolt: Distinguishing Between Needs and Wants

Lewis Andrews:

On June 30, the board of education and the town council in Enfield, Conn., convened to hear the results of a citizen cost-cutting committee. Among its other recommendations, the 17 residents recommended replacing some public school teachers with low-cost college interns, restricting the use of school vehicles, and increasing employee contributions to benefit plans.

These may seem modest steps toward fiscal responsibility -- but they are emblematic of a significant change in this very blue state: growing disenchantment with the price of government, especially of public education.

Over the past two and a half decades, the student population in Connecticut has increased only 10%. Yet the cost of schooling more than doubled -- to $8.8 billion in 2006, up from $3.4 billion in 1981. Seventeen years ago, the state enacted an income tax with promises to cut other taxes. Instead, real-estate assessments soared, creating a massive income transfer from the private to the public sector, fueled in part by a state cost-sharing formula that uses taxes on residents in the suburbs to subsidize urban schools. Helping to soak up all that money were binding arbitration laws, skewed to give teacher unions an advantage in collective bargaining negotiations.

Non-Partisan Action for a Better Redding:
Redding is a fabulous place. And Connecticut is a great state. Our goal is to help make Redding even better!

Since about three-quarters of our budget supports our schools, we explored ways to get a bigger bang for the education buck while simultaneously improving the quality of education. So we developed The School Choice Plan. Not only does it save money for all taxpayers, it also empowers parents with choice and improves education. The Plan is summarized in our School Choice Plan brochure as is the School Grants Calculator we developed. Take a look at the brochure.

Yankee Institute.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 10:23 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

"Protect Our Kids from Preschool"

Shikha Dalmia & Lisa Snell:

Barack Obama says he believes in universal preschool and if he's elected president he'll pump "billions of dollars into early childhood education." Universal preschool is now second only to universal health care on the liberal policy wish list. Democratic governors across the country -- including in Illinois, Arizona, Massachusetts and Virginia -- have made a major push to fund universal preschool in their states.

But is strapping a backpack on all 4-year-olds and sending them to preschool good for them? Not according to available evidence.

"Advocates and supporters of universal preschool often use existing research for purely political purposes," says James Heckman, a University of Chicago Noble laureate in economics whose work Mr. Obama and preschool activists routinely cite. "But the solid evidence for the effectiveness of early interventions is limited to those conducted on disadvantaged populations."

Mr. Obama asserted in the Las Vegas debate on Jan. 15 that every dollar spent on preschool will produce a 10-fold return by improving academic performance, which will supposedly lower juvenile delinquency and welfare use -- and raise wages and tax contributions. Such claims are wildly exaggerated at best.

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

A Tax Revolt Is Quietly Brewing In Some States

Tom Herman:

And to think they used to call it "Taxachusetts."

On Election Day, Massachusetts will vote on whether to eliminate its state income tax. Advocates hope victory in a place long thought of as a free-spending liberal bastion will pave the way for similar initiatives in other states over the next few years. Critics insist a yes vote would lead to fiscal disaster.

While Americans are focusing on the presidential and congressional races, voters in Massachusetts and other states will decide the fate of dozens of state and local tax and spending issues.

It's still unclear precisely how many of these issues will be on ballots on Nov. 4. Some still haven't received final approval from state officials or may face challenges in court. But Kristina Rasmussen, director of government affairs at the National Taxpayers Union, a nonprofit group based in Alexandria, Va., estimates there are more than 60 ballot measures that would have "some significant impact" on taxpayers.

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Independent Group Seeks Change in the Milwaukee Public Schools

Dani McClain:

A new group calling itself the Milwaukee Quality Education Initiative has joined the accelerating, behind-the-scenes conversations about the future of the city's schools, and is hosting a retreat this weekend at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine.

The group's goal is to brainstorm ways to improve K-12 education in the city, including public, voucher and charter schools, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy said Friday.

"We didn't come down here to blow up MPS," he said Friday when reached at Wingspread. "We came down here to figure out what action steps we might take to reach a starting point to a broader conversation in the city."

Sheehy, voucher school advocate and former MPS superintendent Howard Fuller and former state Secretary of Commerce Cory Nettles launched the group several months ago but hadn't made their efforts known to the larger public, Fuller said. He added that their work hasn't been particularly influenced by events this week such as Mayor Tom Barrett's call for an independent audit of MPS or a Journal Sentinel investigation of the district's Neighborhood Schools Initiative.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:42 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

August 22, 2008

Cash Incentives and Achievement in School

Zubin Jelveh:

In the second half of the 1990's, student grades in Ecuador started to fall. In response, the government set up a conditional cash transfer program for poor families which would pay parents for making sure their children attended school for a predefined number of days.

While most research has shown that the cash payment program has indeed increased attendance levels, there's little known about how students performed.

Now, Ecuadorian economist Juan Ponce and Arjun Bedi of the Institute for the Study of Labor have run the numbers and conclude that there was no positive (or negative) impact on grades from the incentive pay program.

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

Outsourcing Refugee Education

Nurit Wurgaft:

The children of the Sudanese refugees living in Eilat were astonished to learn last week that this year, too, they will be studying outside the city, in separate classes for Sudanese children only. Their classrooms were built last year in the Ayalot vacation village near Eilat, located within the jurisdiction of the Ayalot regional council. When the parents, most of whom work in Eilat hotels, complained, they were told that this was a temporary arrangement, for one year only, which would allow the children to study Hebrew ahead of enrolling in the Israeli school system. Whereas those children who live in Ayalot will be studying in the regional school, the refugee kids from Eilat will continue to study in classes for Sudanese only.

"I don't believe that what you're saying is true," said A., a 12-year-old boy who lives in Eilat. "How can it be that my friends will go to a real school and I won't? I've already learned Hebrew and I know a little English. I want to study in a school and take exams, like the Israelis."

For several refugee children this is a situation of ongoing discrimination, since they did not study in an orderly fashion during the years when they wandered with their families from one refugee camp to another in Sudan. In Egypt they also had trouble being accepted into regular schools. Some of them studied in United Nations frameworks for Sudanese only, held during the summer months, while some did not study at all. Some of the kids aged between 12 to 15 only last year learned how to read and write in their own language (Arabic).

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Millionaire Patriot Offers to Train Every Teacher in Texas School District at Front Sight Firearms Training Institute

Market Wire:

Dr. Ignatius Piazza -- founder and director of Front Sight Firearms Training Institute near Las Vegas, NV is referred to as the Millionaire Patriot by the hundreds of thousands of students who have attended Front Sight Firearms Training courses because he has given away tens of millions of dollars in training so law abiding Americans can enjoy what he refers to as the "Comfort of Skill at Arms."

Dr. Piazza has offered to provide a $2,000 Four Day Defensive Handgun course to every school teacher in the entire Harrold Independent School District to thank Harrold School District administrators for their progressive and rational decision to allow school teachers to carry concealed handguns to protect students against violent attack.

With more than 50 teachers and administrators within the Harrold, Texas School District, Dr. Piazza's commitment represents over $100,000 in training to the Harrold Independent School District.

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Chicago Urban League Lawsuit makes school funding a civil rights matter

via a kind reader's email. Matt Arado:

Illinois courts refused twice in the 1990s to enter the school-funding debate, saying the matter belonged with state lawmakers, not the judiciary.

The Chicago Urban League, which filed a new school-funding lawsuit against the state this week, believes it can make the courts rethink that position.

The lawsuit characterizes the school-funding question as a civil rights matter, alleging that the current system, which uses property taxes to fund schools, discriminates against low-income minority students, especially blacks and Hispanics.

Using civil rights law should ensure that the courts will hear the case this time around, Urban League Executive Vice President Sharon Jones said.

"Courts have been deciding racial discrimination cases for years," she said, adding that the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003 didn't exist during earlier school-funding cases.

Maudlyne Ihejirika:
A day after a civil rights lawsuit called the state's school funding system discriminatory, those who have been battling inequities in the Chicago Public Schools were optimistic, pointing to a historic win in New York.

"The New York suit was successful, and very similar, so we're hoping that case will set precedent," said Julie Woestehoff of Parents United for Responsible Education.

As in Illinois, previous suits challenging New York State's school funding system had failed. But in 1993, a coalition there filed suit alleging for the first time that the system had a "disparate racial impact" based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After 10 years and several appeals, New York's highest court ruled in 2003 in favor of the plaintiffs. Further appeals by New York's governor ended with the Court of Appeals upholding the ruling in 2006 and ordering the state to meet a minimum funding figure. That new funding level was finally enacted in April 2007.

Those involved in two previous lawsuits in Illinois said that without the new "disparate impact" claim, the Chicago Urban League's suit would face bleak prospects.

Links: Notes and links on funding and education from Kansas City (where a judge ordered a massive spending increase during the early 1990's and Texas.

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A remarkable legacy as education champion

Des Moines Register:

Marvin Pomerantz will be remembered for many accomplishments: successful self-made businessman, powerhouse in Iowa politics, generous philanthropist. But his greatest public achievement is his longstanding commitment to improving the quality of education for all Iowa youngsters.

Pomerantz, a Des Moines resident who died Thursday at age 78, was one of nine children of Polish Jewish immigrants. He graduated from Roosevelt High School in Des Moines and the University of Iowa, and wanted others to benefit from getting an outstanding education, just as he had.

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Jump in US measles cases linked to vaccine fears

Mike Stobbe:

Measles cases in the U.S. are at the highest level in more than a decade, with nearly half of those involving children whose parents rejected vaccination, health officials reported Thursday.

Worried doctors are troubled by the trend fueled by unfounded fears that vaccines may cause autism. The number of cases is still small, just 131, but that's only for the first seven months of the year. There were only 42 cases for all of last year.

"We're seeing a lot more spread. That is concerning to us," said Dr. Jane Seward, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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D.C. Tries Cash as a Motivator In School

V. Dion Haynes & Michael Birnbaum:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced plans yesterday to boost dismal achievement at half the city's middle schools by offering students an unusual incentive: cash.

For years, school officials have used detention, remedial classes, summer school and suspensions to turn around poorly behaved, underachieving middle school students, with little results. Now they are introducing a program that will pay students up to $100 per month for displaying good behavior.

Beginning in October, 3,000 students at 14 middle schools will be eligible to earn up to 50 points per month and be paid $2 per point for attending class regularly and on time, turning in homework, displaying manners and earning high marks. A maximum of $2.7 million has been set aside for the program, and the money students earn will be deposited every two weeks into bank accounts the system plans to open for them.

The system has 28 middle-grade schools. Rhee will select the schools to participate in the pilot program.

"We believe this is the time for radical intervention," Rhee said at a news conference outside Hardy Middle School in Northwest Washington. "We're very excited about this particular program."

Not a promising trend.

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When Learning Has a Limit

Ben Wildavsky:

Since the release of "A Nation at Risk" 25 years ago, we have seen the introduction of top-down standards (including the No Child Behind Act), the spread of a bottom-up school-choice movement (including vouchers and charter schools), and the advent of entrepreneurial programs, like Teach for America, that combine a market-oriented approach with a focus on academic results.

Meanwhile, record numbers of students aspire to higher education, not least because the economic returns to a college degree are, despite a recent leveling off, indisputable. Thus all sorts of people are busy trying to make sure that more high-school grads get a shot not only at enrolling in college but at finishing it.

None of this much impresses Charles Murray. In "Real Education," he suggests that teachers, students and reformers are all suffering from a case of false consciousness. "The education system," he says, "is living a lie."

The problem with American education, according to Mr. Murray, is not what President Bush termed the "soft bigotry of low expectations" but rather the opposite: Far too many young people with inherent intellectual limitations are being pushed to advance academically when, Mr. Murray says, they are "just not smart enough" to improve much at all. It is "a triumph of hope over experience," he says, to believe that school reform can make meaningful improvements in the academic performance of below-average students. (He might have noted, but doesn't, that such students are disproportionately black and Hispanic.)

Real Education by Charles Murray.

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Milwaukee Mayor Seeks Private Funds for Public School Financial Audit

Dave Umhoefer & Dani McClain:

He downplayed his previously stated interest in mayoral control of the district, but said all options for control of the district should be explored.

"I'm not interested in a power grab," Barrett said. "I'm interested in MPS performance. But confidence is not high right now."

Barrett made his comments after a Journal Sentinel investigation this week of the district's neighborhood schools plan. Despite spending $102 million to expand schools, MPS failed to reduce busing as hoped or attract more students to local schools, leaving a trail of empty or severely underused building additions. Many of the schools that got new classrooms and other improvements also have seen a decline in student test scores.

Two School Board leaders, reacting to the mayor Thursday night, said a study would merely duplicate one soon to get under way.

The mayor said that in recent months, he has stepped up his behind-the-scenes efforts regarding the "very stressed" district. He said he has been talking with a firm that specializes in financial and operational reviews of urban school systems

Related Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel editorial:
And now, thanks to the in-depth reporting this week by the Journal Sentinel's Alan J. Borsuk and Dave Umhoefer, we know that the district has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on the failed Neighborhood Schools Initiative.

What isn't known precisely is how bad things are.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said Thursday he wants to hire a consultant to do an audit of the district. The audit would be paid for, he hopes, by local foundations. Previously, the School Board had ordered a "long-term stability" audit to be performed by Robert W. Baird & Co., the district told reporters.

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Fort Wayne wants schools reorganized into magnets


School officials hope to reorganize the city's six public high schools into specialty magnet schools designed to connect students with real-world experiences and increase their chances for success after graduation.

The proposal presented to the community on Friday calls for partnering with businesses, increasing the number of rigorous classes and strengthening existing programs.

"Our high schools aren't broken," said Fort Wayne Community Schools Superintendent Wendy Robinson. "They're just not as good as they need to be."

Officials plan to have public meetings to solicit input from the community and to meet with business leaders about possibly funding portions of the plan. Each high school will offer a different program of study, and students can take courses based around the subject to give them a taste of the career path.

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August 21, 2008

Math scores at Metro schools jump

Natalia Mielczarek:

Metro high school students did something last year that most school districts only dream of -- 80 percent reached math proficiency, or better, as compared with 69 percent the year before.

Definitions of proficiency aside, some testing experts call the 11-percentage-point jump unprecedented.

"If the numbers are accurate and represent the change in learning, that's a tremendous gain," said David Silver, a statistician at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at UCLA.

"For comparison, over the past five years in California, we saw a total increase of eight points in mathematics in grades 2 to 7," he said. "The biggest gain we ever saw in that time from year-to-year was four percentage points."

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Welcome to the Nerad era
Madison's new school chief seems ready for a tough job

Marc Eisen:

Nerad is earnest, diplomatic and clear spoken. It's a good bet that most anybody who hears him talk will find something they like in his message. Whether that adds up to support for a coherent educational program remains to be seen.

He faces huge challenges: not just closing the achievement gap while maintaining programs that attract middle-class families, but doing it while state fiscal controls continually squeeze his budget.

Equally hard will be overcoming the district's own organizational stasis -- it's tendency to stick with the status quo. For all of Madison's reputation as a progressive community, Madison schools are conservatively run and seriously resistant to change.

Authoritarian, top-down management grew under Nerad's predecessor, Art Rainwater. Innovations like charter schools are still viewed skeptically, including by Nerad. Four-year-old kindergarten, which could be key to narrowing the achievement gap, is still seen as a problem. The middle school redesign project of a few years ago has been judged by insiders as pretty much a non-event. The high school redesign effort that Nerad inherited seems intent on embracing a program that is still unproven at West and Memorial.

Much more on Dan Nerad here, including his January, 2008 public appearance video.

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When Schools Offer Money As a Motivator
More Districts Use Incentives To Reward Top Test Scores; So Far, Results Are Mixed

Jeremy Singer-Vine:

In the latest study of student-incentive programs, researchers examining a 12-year-old program in Texas found that rewarding pupils for achieving high scores on tough tests can work. A handful of earlier studies of programs in Ohio, Israel and Canada have had mixed conclusions; results of a New York City initiative are expected in October. Comparing results is further complicated by the fact that districts across the country have implemented the programs differently.

Still, school administrators and philanthropists have pushed to launch pay-for-performance programs at hundreds of schools in the past two years. Advocates say incentives are an effective way to motivate learning -- especially among poor and minority students -- and reward teaching skills. Critics argue that the programs don't fix underlying problems, such as crowded classrooms or subpar schools.

In Texas, high-school students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes who got top scores on math, science and English tests were paid up to $500. (AP classes are considered more difficult than traditional high school curricula, and some colleges award credit for AP coursework.) The research, by C. Kirabo Jackson, an economics professor at Cornell University, found that over time, more students took Advanced Placement courses and tests, and that more graduating seniors attended college. Most of the gains came from minority students in the 40 high schools studied, accounting for about 70,000 students in all. The study, set for release on Thursday, will appear in the fall issue of Education Next, a journal published by Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

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Seeking Greater High School Rigor:
Wisconsin ACT Scores Show College Readiness Gap

Wisconsin Taxpayer's Alliance [156K PDF Report]:

Wisconsin high school seniors have the second-highest average ACT scores in the U.S. However, ACT finds that only 29% of those tested have a 50% chance of earning a B or a 75% chance of earning a C in each of four college freshman courses: English composition, algebra, social sciences, and biology. Among African-American students, that chance is 4%.

In studying 2007 high school graduates, ACT found that only 29% (boxed in table below) of 46,430 Wisconsin students tested met college-readiness benchmarks in four core subject areas; the national percentage was even lower (23%). In its report "College Readiness: Rigor at Risk," the ACT testing service concluded that "our high school graduates are in danger of entering college or the workforce without sufficient academic preparation."

The ACT testing service has urged high schools to offer--and students to pursue--core curricula of sufficient depth and rigor to ensure college success. The minimum core (detailed in the table above, col. 1) includes four years of English and three years each of social studies, math, and science. Unfortunately, ACT has found that the current "quality and intensity--inother words rigor--of the high school curriculum" is not adequate to prepare students for college unless they take courses beyond the core. Calling that "neither realistic nor justifiable," ACT says it is "essential" that we "improve the quality of core courses that really matter in preparing students for college and work."

The testing firm goes onto observe that much of the loss in momentum toward college readiness "appears to be occurring during the last two years of high school." Data in the table support ACT's concern. The first four columns show the "core" curriculum, as well as a maximal course load ("core plus") that includes math through calculus. The final two show the percentages of Wisconsin-tested students who met the readiness benchmarks, having pursued one of the two curricula. The need for rigor in all high school courses is reflected in the "collegeready" percentages of Wisconsin students taking four or more years of classes in all areas ("core +").

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Madison Property Tax History: 2001-2007

via the City of Madison Assessor's office: "The 2008 Property Tax Base of the City of Madison (52K PDF)". The City's tax base continues to expand. There are 71,939 parcels in Madison, up from 40,069 in 1990. The Total 2008 assessed value is 21,496,000,000, up from $13,791,000,000 in 2002. Such growth provides great latidude in easing mill rates. Of course, as valuations flatten or decline, the mill rate may dramatically increase, depending on the magnitude of government/school spending increases.

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How to Write With Style

Kurt Vonnegut:

Newspaper reporters and technical writers are trained to reveal almost nothing about themselves in their writings. This makes them freaks in the world of writers, since almost all of the other ink-stained wretches in that world reveal a lot about themselves to readers. We call these revelations, accidental and intentional, elements of style.

These revelations tell us as readers what sort of person it is with whom we are spending time. Does the writer sound ignorant or informed, stupid or bright, crooked or honest, humorless or playful-- ? And on and on.

Why should you examine your writing style with the idea of improving it? Do so as a mark of respect for your readers, whatever you're writing. If you scribble your thoughts any which way, your readers will surely feel that you care nothing about them. They will mark you down as an egomaniac or a chowderhead --- or, worse, they will stop reading you.

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August 20, 2008

The 2008 Education Next-PEPG Survey of Public Opinion

William G. Howell, Martin R. West and Paul E. Peterson:

Americans clearly have had their fill of a sluggish economy and an unpopular war. Their frustration now may also extend to public education. In this, the second annual national survey of U.S. adults conducted under the auspices of Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance (PEPG) at Harvard University, we observe a public that takes an increasingly critical view both of public schools as they exist today and, perhaps ironically, of many prominent reforms designed to improve them.

Local public schools receive lower marks than they did a year ago. More significantly, perhaps, survey respondents claim that their local post offices and police forces outperform their local schools. Meanwhile, support for the most far-reaching federal effort to reform public schools--the No Child Left Behind Act--has slipped. A considerable portion of the public remains undecided about charter schools. And the poll found no enthusiasm for the use of income rather than race as a basis for assigning students to schools.

This does not mean that Americans are unwilling to explore alternate ways of educating young people. A large majority of Americans would let their child take some high school courses for credit over the Internet. An equally large majority favor the education of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities in separate classrooms rather than "mainstreaming" them, as is common practice. A plurality support giving parents the option of sending their child to an all-boys or all-girls public school. And a rising number of Americans know someone who is home schooling a child.

These and other findings appear in the 2008 Education Next -PEPG survey, which once again examines the views of U.S. adults taken as a whole, as well as those of white, African American, and Hispanic subgroups. In addition to the opinions of respondents from different ethnic backgrounds, we

take a special look at those of public school teachers. Responses for the public as a whole and for the subgroups are reported at the bottom of each of the pages that follow. We have also posted responses to additional questions not discussed in this essay.

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How Well Are They Really Doing? Criticism for State's "Weak Student Tests"

NY Times Editorial:

Congress has several concerns as it moves toward reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. Whatever else they do, lawmakers need to strengthen the requirement that states document student performance in yearly tests in exchange for federal aid.

The states have made a mockery of that provision, using weak tests, setting passing scores low or rewriting tests from year to year, making it impossible to compare progress -- or its absence -- over time.

The country will have difficulty moving ahead educationally until that changes.

Most states that report strong performances on their own tests do poorly on the more rigorous and respected National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is often referred to as NAEP and is also known as the nation's report card. That test is periodically given to a sample of students in designated grades in both public and private schools. States are resisting the idea of replacing their own tests with the NAEP, arguing that the national test is not aligned to state standards. But the problem is that state standards are generally weak, especially in math and science.

Letters, in response to this editorial:
In discussing how some states game their student test results, you state, "The federal government could actually embarrass the laggard states by naming the ones that cling to weak tests." The evidence on these states has been available for some time.

In 2005, Tennessee tested its eighth-grade students in math and found 87 percent of students performed at or above the proficiency level, while the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, test indicated only 21 percent of Tennessee's eighth graders proficient in math.

In Mississippi, 89 percent of fourth graders performed at or above proficiency on the state reading test, while only 18 percent demonstrated proficiency on the federal test. In Alabama, 83 percent of fourth-grade students scored at or above proficient on the state's reading test, while only 22 percent were proficient on the NAEP test.

Other states were also found guilty in their determinations of proficient when compared with the federal NAEP test.

The No Child Left Behind Act will never be able to realize its potential as long as entire states are left behind because of the duplicitous efforts of their state officials. If Congress adopted national standards with a corresponding set of national exams in its reauthorization of the law, it could effectively minimize or eliminate these individual state shenanigans.

Paul Hoss
Marshfield, Mass., Aug.

Locally, the Madison School District's Value Added Assessment Program is based on the State Department of Instruction's Standards.

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Dalles Eases Grading Policies in an Effort to Limit Dropouts

Jeffrey Ball:

As students prepare to return to school here Monday, teachers and parents criticized the relaxation of the district's grading policies in a state that helped trigger national testing requirements.

The Dallas Independent School District's new policies give students who do poorly more chances to improve their grades. Among the changes: High-school students who fail major tests can retake them within five school days, and only the higher scores count.

School officials say the changes are designed to reduce one of the highest dropout rates in the state. According to the Texas Education Agency, 25.8% of students in the Dallas district who enrolled as ninth-graders in 2003 dropped out before their class's scheduled 2007 graduation.

But the policies have sparked criticism since the Dallas Morning News reported them last week, with angry parents and teachers contending that the district is watering down educational standards for its more than 160,000 students.

Locally, the ongoing implementation of a one size fits all curriculum has been rather controversial.

Links: Center on Reinventing Public Education.

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Buildings rise, test scores fall
Spate of school expansions is no tonic for student proficiency

Alan Borsuk & Dave Umhoefer:

The $102 million spent on reviving the concept of the neighborhood school in Milwaukee hasn't improved academic success at most of the schools where the money was used, a Journal Sentinel investigation found.

With a few exceptions, student achievement has shown little improvement - and in some cases it has fallen dramatically - at 22 schools that were among the largest beneficiaries of the district's school construction program.

The district's Neighborhood Schools Initiative was conceived as a way to get children off buses and into their local schools - which MPS officials hoped to improve with new classrooms, before-school and after-school services, and such things as state-of-the-art science labs and libraries.

But bricks and mortar have not raised student performance, testing data shows.

In 16 of the 22 schools, the percentage of fourth-graders rated as proficient or better in reading was lower last year than it was in 2002 - the year the school building initiative hit high gear. Nine schools saw their math scores drop.

Overall, combined fourth-grade reading and math scores have declined sharply at a half dozen of the22 schools where more than $1 million was spent on improvements. Only five schools have had major increases in their combined reading and math performance.

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Beth Moss, Arlene Silveira & Lucy Mathiak on the Fall, 2008 Madison Schools' Referendum

Tamira Madsen:

But Silveira also said the 2005 referendum campaign suffered because the School Board itself was divided on it, "and it was a pretty split community speaking out on both sides in favor and being opposed.

"We are on the same page now. We're really changing our focus to one of really spending more time on student achievement."

For board member Lucy Mathiak, a key difference between Nerad's proposal and past ones are the measures he has taken to cut costs already.

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Free digital texts begin to challenge costly college textbooks in California

Gale Holland:

Would-be reformers are trying to beat the high cost -- and, they say, the dumbing down -- of college materials by writing or promoting open-source, no-cost online texts.

The annual college textbook rush starts this month, a time of reckoning for many students who will struggle to cover eye-popping costs of $128, $156, even $198 a volume.

Caltech economics professor R. Preston McAfee finds it annoying that students and faculty haven't looked harder for alternatives to the exorbitant prices. McAfee wrote a well-regarded open-source economics textbook and gave it away -- online. But although the text, released in 2007, has been adopted at several prestigious colleges, including Harvard and Claremont-McKenna, it has yet to make a dent in the wider textbook market.

"I was disappointed in the uptake," McAfee said recently at an outdoor campus cafe. "But I couldn't continue assigning idiotic books that are starting to break $200."

McAfee is one of a band of would-be reformers who are trying to beat the high cost -- and, they say, the dumbing down -- of college textbooks by writing or promoting open-source, no-cost digital texts.

Yian Mui & Susan Kinzie:
The rising cost of college textbooks has driven Congress and nearly three dozen states -- including Maryland and Virginia -- to attempt to curtail prices and controversial publishing practices through legislation. But as the fall semester begins, students are unlikely to see much relief.

Estimates of how much students spend on textbooks range from $700 to $1,100 annually, and the market for new books is estimated at $3.6 billion this year. Between 1986 and 2004, the price of textbooks nearly tripled, rising an average of 6 percent a year while inflation rose 3 percent, according to a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office. In California, the state auditor reported last week that prices have skyrocketed 30 percent in four years.

"It's really hard just paying for tuition alone," said Annaiis Wilkinson, 19 and a student at Trinity Washington University who spends about $500 a semester on books. "It really sets people back.

Well worth looking into, including in the K-12 world.

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(Madison) School Referendum News

I have appreciated having the opportunity to talk about our schools with you and value your insights, so I wanted to let you know where matters stand on the possibility of a school spending referendum on the November ballot.

As you probably know, Superintendent Dan Nerad submitted his recommendations to the Board at a School Board meeting Monday night (1MB PDF, 3 year financial forecast PDF). In summary, the structural deficit the school funding law imposes on districts as well as increased fixed costs result in a projected budget deficit of $8.1 million for the 2009-2010 school year, $4.4 million for the 2010-2011 school year, and $4.3 million for the 2011-2012 school year, calculated on a same-service basis.

To meet these gaps, the superintendent recommends that the Board approve a referendum asking the voters to authorize the district to exceed our spending limits by $5 million next year, and $4 million in each of the following two years. This would be a recurring referendum, meaning that the authorization for the increased spending in the specified amounts would continue indefinitely.

The amount of extra spending authority we would seek is less than the projected budget gaps. The idea is that this a shared-sacrifice sort of proposal - we would be asking the community to permit us to erase some of the gap through additional taxes while we pledge to address the remainder through seeking out savings and efficiencies that will not have a detrimental impact on classroom learning. As is probably apparent, the referendum is not designed to allow us to restore in a significant way any of the painful cuts we have made in previous years.

Budget information for the district has historically been confusing. We're working on greater clarity and transparency in our budget information. I have some questions about our numbers that I'm in the process of trying to get clarified. Part of the confusion derives from the fact that the budget is arranged in a number of separate funds that are defined by DPI. The principal category of spending for our purposes is Fund 10. For the upcoming school year, we are projecting Fund 10 expenditures of about $306 million. For the following year, the one that shows the $8.1 million shortfall, we foresee expenditures of about $318 million, or a 3.78% increase.

With the Qualified Economic Offer, salaries and benefits for teachers are, as a practical matter, required to go up at least 3.8% per year. Our total projected increase for next year for salary and benefits is 3.88%. The rest of the Fund 10 budget, a little under $100 million, increases 3.55% from this year. (By comparison, the consumer price index has increased 5.6% since July of 2007.) This budget does not include any significant new initiatives.

Turning to the revenues side of the ledger, the category of interest here is the tax levy. This is what our community has to cough up to pay for our schools, and it represents the difference between our expenditures and our other sources of revenue, including state and federal aid and grant money. The portion of the tax levy that is attributable to Fund 10 expense is governed by the spending cap that state law imposes.

The total tax levy for the current year is about $226 million. Under the superintendent's plan, if the referendum passes, the total levy for next year would be $237 million, an increase of 5.07%.

If total expenditures are increasing less than 4%, why is the tax levy projected to increase 5.07%? There are a couple of reasons. First, we are unable to project that increases in other sources of funding will keep pace with our increasing level of expenditures. Indeed, we do not project any increase in state or federal aid. Second, the tax levy increase was moderated this year by the one-time injection of about $4.1 million in TIF funds. Had these funds not been received, then the tax levy would have had to increase this year (presumably through a referendum) in order to support this year's level of spending. The 5.07% increase in the tax levy for next year is thus partially the result of starting from an artificially low base.

A final consideration is the mill rate. This is the amount applied against the assessed value of a taxpayer's property to arrive at the amount in taxes that is levied. As the total value of property in our community increases, the mill rate goes down, all things equal. Under the superintendent's plan, the mill rate increases from this year's $9.92 to next year's $10.03 (an increase of about 1%) and then is projected to decrease the next two years, to $9.59 and $9.29. So if one owns a house with an assessed value of $300,000, and the assessment remains the same next year, the amount that taxpayer would pay for schools would rise from $2,976 this year to $3,009 next year, and would decrease in the following two years if one is willing to entertain the unlikely assumption that the assessed value of the house would remain the same over the relevant years.

This analysis assumes that the referendum passes. If the referendum fails, then we will be obligated once more to hack away at the budget and attempt to find cuts that do the least amount of damage to classroom learning.

There are many reasons to want to avoid this. As past experience has shown, it is a divisive and painful exercise for the community. It requires that the Board devote much time and attention to the budget-cutting process - time that could be better used by the Board to work on strategies for improving student learning. Some of the decisions that have resulted from this typically-rushed process have later appeared to be short-sighted or misguided. And, most importantly, the cuts diminish the quality of the education we are able to provide to our students. There are no easy cuts left. If we are compelled to continue to slash away year after year, we will soon be at a point where we will be unable to provide the quality of education that our community wants and expects.

If the referendum passes, we will have breathing room. We should have three years when the specter of budget cuts is not hanging over our heads. This will enable the Board and the new administration to put into place the process we currently contemplate for reviewing our strategic priorities, establishing strategies and benchmarks, and aligning our resources.

Superintendent Nerad has described a proposal that contemplates a broad-based strategic planning process that will kick off during the second semester of the upcoming school year. This process will be designed to identify the community's priorities for our schools, priorities that I expect will reflect a concentrated focus on enhancing student achievement. Once we have identified our priorities and promising strategies for achieving them, we'll likely turn to examining how well our organization is aligned toward pursuing our goals. This will likely be the point at which we take a long, hard look at our administrative structure and see if we can arrange our resources more efficiently.

It will take a while - certainly more than a year - for us to undertake this sweeping kind of review of our programs and spending in a careful, collaborative and deliberative way. If we do go to referendum, and the voters authorize the increased spending authority we seek, then the obligation will pass to the Board and administration to demonstrate that the community's vote of confidence was well placed. There will be much for us to do and it will be fair to judge our performance on how well we take advantage of the opportunity the community will have given us.

These are my initial thoughts. As you can probably tell, I am sympathetic to the approach the superintendent proposes and I am inclined to support his recommendation. However, we did just receive the recommendations Monday night, and I may well be confused about a few of these points. But since we will vote on a referendum next Monday, I wanted to get this summary to you as soon as possible. If you have thoughts or questions, I'd appreciate it if you could share them with me.


Ed Hughes
2226 Lakeland Avenue
Madison WI 53704
(608) 241-4854

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Dan Nerad gets it!
Madison's new superintendent is serious about listening to students

Natalia Thompson:

Last month, I wrote about the potential for the Madison school district's new superintendent, Dr. Daniel Nerad, to make Madison schools more receptive to students' voices ("Daniel Nerad, Stop Shutting Out Student Input," 7/24/08).

When the piece was published in Isthmus, I was traveling in central Mexico. The day after it appeared, I sat down in front of a computer at an Internet cafe in Mexico City, half expecting a barrage of messages criticizing my naiveté and idealism.

After all, how many people would take seriously a high school student who suggests not only "holding a series of listening sessions [for students] at several of the district's middle and high schools," but also "advancing students [on school advisory boards and task forces] from the confines of tokenism to a position of shared power"?

When I opened an email from my mom relating that Dr. Nerad had called our home shortly after my column was printed, I almost thought she was joking. He wants to meet with you, she wrote, to hear more about your ideas on student engagement.

She wasn't kidding -- and neither is Nerad, whom I met with recently at the Doyle Building, the school district's administrative headquarters. As he told me, "When I read your article, this first thing I wanted to know was, 'What's her phone number?"

It appears that Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad has taken a much different approach to community engagement than previous administrations. As always, the proof is in the pudding (or was it "Trust but Verify"); we'll see how these interactions play out in terms of rigorous curriculum, discipline policy, budget transparency, program effectiveness, expanded educational options and ultimately, growing enrollment after decades of stagnant numbers.

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State High School Exit Exams: Moving Toward End-of-Course Exams

Dalia Zabala, Dr. Angela Minnici, Jennifer McMurrer, Liza Briggs:

This report examines the new developments in the implementation of state high school exit exams in the 26 states that currently implement or plan to implement these tests. The report specifically focuses on the states' move away from minimum-competency and comprehensive exams toward end-of-course exams.
Via Howard Blume.

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Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Guy Billout:

Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?" So the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implacable astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial »

brain. "Dave, my mind is going," HAL says, forlornly. "I can feel it. I can feel it."

I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I've had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn't going--so far as I can tell--but it's changing. I'm not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I'm reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I'd spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That's rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I'm always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

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August 19, 2008

Referendum Discussion: Vicki McKenna & Don Severson

Download or listen to this 15MB mp3 audio file.


  • $367M+ Budget notes and links
  • Don Severson's memo to the Madison School Board on the current financial situation.
  • Marj Passman and Don Severson discuss school finance with Mitch Henck.
  • Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad's budget and recommendations memorandum to the School board (1MB PDF):
    In 1993, three pieces of legislation were enacted by the State of Wisconsin directly affecting school districts throughout the state. These pieces of legislation created revenue limits, created the state's commitment to two·thirds funding, and created the qualified economic offer (QEO) in Wisconsin. Since 1993 revenue limits in Wisconsin have allowed the Madison Metropolitan School District to increase revenues annually by 2.2% on average. Conversely the QEO requires school boards to offer a comprehensive salary and benefit package to certified teaching staff of not less than 3.8% annually to avoid binding arbitration. Recognizing that the Madison Metropolitan School District's budget is comprised of 84% salary and benefits, it must be recognized that while our revenues increase annually by 2.2%, the largest portion of our budget is mandated to minimally increase by 3.8%. Due to these competing pieces of legislation, the Board of Education since 1993 has reduced program and services by over $60 million to comply with state mandated revenue limits, of which $35 million has occurred within the past five years.

    Since the 1992·93 School Year the Madison Metropolitan School District has increased the total tax levy by $74,944,431 through the projected 2008·09 property tax levy. This amounts to an average annual increase of 2.56% since the 1992·93 School Year (see Attachment A). During that same time frame from 1992·93 through the projections for the 2008·09 property tax rate, the Madison Metropolitan School District has decreased the total tax rate from $20.69 to a projected rate of $9.92 for the 2008·09 School Year (see Attachment B).

    Nerad also posted a 3 year financial forecast (250K PDF)
  • City of Madison Assessor: 2008 Madison Property Tax base (PDF)
  • A look at the growth in Madison's tax base: In 1990, the City of Madison included 40,069 parcels, a number that grew to 64,976 in 2005. Assessment and parcel growth mitigates tax levy increases, or allows it to decline (though this of course, depends on the real estate market along with tax policies).

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Don Severson & Marj Passman on School Spending & The Proposed November Madison School Referendum

Chart via Global Education Spending data via UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Mitch Henck @ WIBA: 15MB mp3 audio file. Marj discussed her views on US taxes vis a vis education spending versus other countries.

Much more on the Madison School District's $367M 2008-2009 budget along with the referendum.

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Factory for Unhappy People

The Economist:

MORMONS, military and McKinsey are the three Ms said to characterise the student body at Harvard Business School (HBS). Philip Delves Broughton, a British journalist, was none of the above, yet he was prepared to spend $175,000 for a chance to attend this "factory for unhappy people". He never completely fitted in, perhaps because he largely shunned the prodigious alcohol-driven networking for which MBAs are famous, or perhaps because he did not really want to devote his life to getting rich. Yet his engaging memoir suggests he found it a positive experience.

Mr Delves Broughton did not set out to write a book about the course. Nor is this probably the book that HBS would choose to mark its 100th birthday, which it is celebrating extensively this year. Yet anyone considering enrolling will find this an insightful portrait of HBS life, with detailed accounts of case studies and slightly forced classroom fun, such as the students on the back row--the "skydecks"--who rate the performance of their peers. ("HBS had two modes, deadly serious and frat boy.")

What They Teach You At Harvard Business School

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English Spelling: You write potato, I write ghoughpteighbteau

The Economist:

The rules need updating, not scrapping

GHOTI and tchoghs may not immediately strike readers as staples of the British diet; and even those most enamoured of written English's idiosyncrasies may wince at this tendentious rendering of "fish and chips". Yet the spelling, easily derived from other words*, highlights the shortcomings of English orthography. This has long bamboozled foreigners and natives alike, and may underlie the national test results released on August 12th which revealed that almost a third of English 14-year-olds cannot read properly.

One solution, suggested recently by Ken Smith of the Buckinghamshire New University, is to accept the most common misspellings as variants rather than correct them. Mr Smith is too tolerant, but he is right that something needs to change. Due partly to its mixed Germanic and Latin origins, English spelling is strikingly inconsistent.

Three things have exacerbated this confusion. The Great Vowel Shift in the 15th and 16th centuries altered the pronunciation of many words but left their spelling unchanged; and as Masha Bell, an independent literacy researcher, notes, the 15th-century advent of printing presses initially staffed by non-English speakers helped to magnify the muddle. Second, misguided attempts to align English spelling with (often imagined) Latin roots (debt and debitum; island and insula) led to the introduction of superfluous "silent" letters. Third, despite interest in spelling among figures as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, Prince Philip and the Mormons, English has never, unlike Spanish, Italian and French, had a central regulatory authority capable of overseeing standardisation.

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Who Will Pay for College?

Jeff Opdyke:

Who pays for college?

With our son in sixth grade and our little girl only 5 years old, Amy and I certainly have many years to contemplate that question. But if I've demonstrated any trait in this column through the years, it's that I'm constantly peering ahead, at future costs, so that Amy and I can prepare for what we know is coming.

Yet, while we're saving for that day, we're probably not saving enough. But that's by design. I think that instead of a free ride through college, a better gift to my kids is a mom and dad financially self-sufficient in their dotage.

But is that a fair approach? Should parents put their future needs above their kids'? Or, should we strive to save every possible dime we can for our kids' education on the theory that we're supposed to give them a head start to a better life than we have?

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Five Reasons to Warn Your Daughter about Alcohol

Barbara Kantrowitz & Pat Wingert:

In the next few weeks, parents of college freshmen will be helping their kids pack up all those seemingly indispensable items for dorm life. Sending a child off for what is probably his or her first extended period of independence is scary, and many parents try to cram in last-minute bits of advice. Here's one more: talk about drinking. This is a critical conversation whether you have a son or a daughter, but it's especially important for young women to understand the ways in which they risk both short-term and lifelong health problems if they abuse alcohol during these years.

First, a reality check. Laws against underage drinking don't stop kids who really want to drink. Colleges around the country have made efforts to crack down at on-campus functions, but it isn't easy when fake IDs are just a scanner away. So don't count on fear of the law to do your work for you.

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Early School Start Might Have Academic Advantage

Angela Bettis:

For many students in the area, summer isn't winding down it's already over.

Lakeside Lutheran Schools in Lake Mills and Edgewood High School in Madison welcomed students back to campus for the first day of the new school year on Monday.

"There comes a point in time in the summer when, for kids, they say, 'I've gone through my summer camps. I've gone through the Little League season, swimming, vacations,' and they're ready to see their friends. They're ready to be around adults that they trust and that they know and start another school year," said Edgewood High School President Judd Schemmel.

Schemmel said Edgewood High School moved up its start date by one week this year and moved up the time to 7:50 a.m.

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Madison Superintendent Recommends Three Year Recurring Spending Increase via a November, 2008 Referendum


Nerad told school board members on Monday night that he's recommending a three-year recurring referendum.
It's part of what he called a partnership plan to address the budget shortfall.

The plan would put a referendum on the November ballot for $5 million and would ask voters for $4 million in the two following years.

Nerad said to make up the remaining $3 million gap the district would move $2 million from the district's fund balance, eliminate $600,000 in unallocated staff, which are positions set aside in case of additional enrollment, and make up the remaining $400,000 through other reductions, which he has not yet named.

"We're working both sides of this and in the end our kids need things from us, our taxpayers need us to be sensitive and all I can say is we tried every step of putting these recommendations together to be responsive on both fronts," said Nerad.

Andy Hall:
The measure, a "recurring referendum," would give the district permission to build on the previous year's spending limit increase by additional amounts of $4 million in 2010-11 and another $4 million in 2011-12. The measure would permit a total increase of $13 million -- a change that would be permanent, unlike the impact of some other referendums that end after a specified period.

Approval of the referendum would cost the owner of a home with an assessed value of $250,000 an estimated $27.50 in additional taxes in the 2009-10 school year. That represents an increase of 1.1 percent of the School District's portion of the tax bill.

But for at least the next two years, the schools' portion of that homeowner's tax bill would decline even if the referendum is approved, under the plan developed by Nerad and Erik Kass, assistant superintendent for business services.

They estimate the tax bill for 2010-11 would be $27.50 lower than it is now, and the bill the following year would be about $100 below its current level if voters back the referendum and the School Board implements proposed changes in accounting measures.

Tamira Madsen:
In the first year, the referendum would add an additional $27.50 onto the tax bill of a $250,000 home. Another initiative in Nerad's recommendation, drawn up along with Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Erik Kass, is to enact changes to help mitigate the tax impact of the referendum. Nerad and Kass said these changes would decrease taxes for homeowners in the second and third year of the referendum.

One aspect of the proposal would return $2 million of an equity to the taxpayers in the form of a reduced levy in the Community Services Fund (Fund 80) for the 2009-10 school year. The second part of the tax impact referendum would be implementation of a Capital Expansion Fund, called Fund 41, in an effort to levy a property tax under revenue limits to spread the costs of facility maintenance projects over a longer period.

Nerad said the referendum process has been a deliberative process, and he's been cognizant of weighing board members and community questions.

Links: Links:

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A Mother on Fire storms into public education

Mary MacVean:

The writer and performer Sandra Tsing Loh chronicles her adventure, as she travels from being a mother who turned the job of finding a school for their daughters over to her husband to being a Mother on Fire, the title of her new book.

Like so many parents who live in large, urban school districts, Loh at first sees maneuvering through Los Angeles Unified as impossible, with options that seem to be restricted to "frightening unknown elementaries no one had ever heard of."

At one point during the search for a kindergarten, she writes, "Everything I assumed about my life is wrong." But maneuver through the system -- and her midlife crisis -- she does, encountering API scores ("1 API point = $1,000 worth of real estate," she concludes), magnet applications, high-stakes educational activities for children, private school testing. In the end, Loh has become a vocal public school advocate.

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Poor planning, complacency, politics sapped campaign to fill neighborhood schools

Dave Umhoefer & Alan Borsuk:

There couldn't have been a better situation for Milwaukee's Neighborhood Schools Initiative than Clarke Street School.

It was a superstar - high test scores, a nationally recognized program and a top-notch principal and staff in the heart of the central city.

The elementary school was at capacity, and hundreds more Milwaukee Public Schools students lived nearby.

If the school were expanded, what could go wrong?

A lot of things. And they did.

Despite a $4.1 million middle-school addition to Clarke Street, enrollment has fallen 33%. Programs have been sharply reduced. Test scores have fallen.

Even the addition has problems: A spacious new gym has acoustics so poor, the school sometimes uses its old gym on the third floor so teachers and students can be heard. Several classrooms are unused.

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August 18, 2008

From Crayons to Condoms: The Ugly Truth About America's Public Schools



The American public school system, once the envy of the world, is now a cesspool of political correctness, ineptitude and violence, yet its administrators demand - and receive - far more funding per child than do higher-performing private and religious schools.

From "teachers" who can barely comprehend English to the elevation of foreign cultures and ideals above our own, from the mainstreaming of violent juvenile felons to demands that "queer studies" be considered as vital as math, our classrooms have become havens for indoctrination, sexual license and failed educational fads.

In From Crayons to Condoms, you'll experience today's public schools as never before, through the voices of parents and children left stranded in the system, the same voices that teachers unions and school administrators are determined to stifle. Here's a "must-read" for every parent concerned about their child's future, and for every taxpayer sick of being dunned endlessly to prop up a failed system.

via Barnes & Noble. Clusty Search: Steve Baldwin & Karen Holgate.

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Denver Teacher Contract Negotiations: Controversey over Incentive Pay and Increased Compensation for Younger Teachers

Stephanie Simon:

National education experts are dismayed. If merit pay can't work in Denver, "future initiatives are destined to fail," said Matthew Springer, director of the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee.

The breakdown stems from a philosophical disagreement between the school district and the union.

The district is offering large increases in incentive pay. But the biggest rewards will go to early- and midcareer teachers -- and to those willing to take risks by working in impoverished schools or taking jobs few others want, such as teaching middle-school math. Yearly bonuses for such work would nearly triple, to about $3,000.

The union is all for boosting bonuses but also wants an across-the-board pay increase. Most crucially, union leadership objects to proposed changes that would hold down the salaries of veteran teachers to free more money for novices.

Mediation is scheduled to begin Wednesday. If it fails, the union could begin job actions just as the Democratic National Convention comes to town.

Much more on Denver incentive pay here.

It will be interesting if similar issues arise in Madison's next teacher contract.

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Great Little Schools Without a Name

Jay Matthews:

For awhile I figured that didn't matter. These schools are raising student achievement to new heights without a cool, overarching label. Maybe they don't need one. But I changed my mind about that after reading David Whitman's splendid new book about these schools, "Sweating the Small Stuff."

Whitman is a terrific reporter whose 365-page paperback, published by The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, provides a lively, readable and exhaustive account of this fast-growing phenomenon. Whitman focuses on six schools that represent different forms of this approach--the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, the Amistad Academy in New Haven, the Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, the KIPP Academy in the South Bronx, the SEED public charter school in Washington, D.C. and the University Park Campus School in Worcester, Mass. The profiles of the schools and their founders are well-written. Whitman's analysis of what has made them work is thoughtful and clear.

My problem is this: I hate his subtitle, "Inner-City Schools and the New Paternalism." And I like his decision to refer to this group as "the paternalistic schools" even less.

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Preschool programs feel kindergarten squeeze
More parents opt for 'free' classes for 4-year-olds

Patti Zarling @ Green Bay Press-Gazette:

Kindergarten classes for 4-year-olds through a few area public school systems haven't started yet, but some local private preschools already are losing students.

Two local programs are ending or on the verge of it, saying they can't afford to maintain preschools, partly because of the launch of public 4-year-old kindergarten.

A few area school districts, including Ashwaubenon, Green Bay and West De Pere, are starting 4-year-old kindergarten programs this fall.

Advocates say the programs provide education and school-preparation to students regardless of family income. But critics liken the programs to free babysitting and worry that districts will dumb down curriculum.

Green Bay has more than 800 children enrolled so far in its 4-year-old kindergarten program for 2008-2009; Ashwaubenon has more than 100 and West De Pere has 178. State rules require districts to partner with private day cares to receive state grants for the programs.

Recently arrived Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad spent most of his career in the Green Bay Schools.

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Advocating a November 4, 2008 Madison School District Referendum

Capital Times Editorial:

But even those who might oppose a referendum should be in favor of board action at this point.

If the board moves now, the referendum question can be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Because the presidential race between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain is expected to draw a record voter turnout on that day, there could be no better point at which to assess the level of support for the school district in general and the current board's strategies in particular.

Wisconsin has a great tradition of involving all taxpayers in the process of setting and supporting education priorities. We keep the decision-making process at the grass roots level. We elect school boards. We put major spending and building questions to the voters in the form of referendums. The system has worked well -- even as state meddling in the structures of school financing has made things difficult. And it works best when referendums attract maximum participation.

Transcript & mp3 audio file: 7/28/2008 Madison School Refererendum Discussion.

Referendum climate.

Don Severson: Madison School District's Financial Situation: Memo to the School Board & Administration.

Given the critical values briefly outlined above, it is premature at this time to make recommendations or decisions on a course or courses of action to seek more spending authority as a solution regarding the financial needs of the district. The groundwork for decision-making and the development of improved levels of public confidence in the Board and administration have to continue to be proactively matured for both short- and long-term successes in the district. We urge you to proceed carefully, firmly and in a strategic and progressive manner.

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Why Resist a Successful School Strategy?

Boston Business Journal:

Imagine this scenario: You are the head of a declining business. Without much fanfare, you have developed a new product that is highly effective and wildly popular when test-marketed on a limited basis. What would you do? Most likely, expand the new product as rapidly as possible while you reach out to potential new customers.

This first part of this situation exists in our own city in a key enterprise with great significance for the region: the Boston public school system. The product is the pilot school, which gives autonomy to individual schools, enabling them to control their budgets, staffing, schedule and curriculum. Research has established that Boston school students thrive in pilot schools, outperforming their peers in traditional schools. They test better, accrue fewer suspensions, are less likely to drop out and more likely to further their schooling.

Clusty search: Boston Pilot Schools.

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London City academies spell good news for education

Julie Henry:

First it was the Sats fiasco. Then results for 14-year-olds revealed that more than 30 per cent of boys were three years behind in reading. Finally, last week's A-level data exposed a north/south divide in achievement that shattered Labour's claims that huge investment was changing the fortunes of children in the poorest communities.

And with GCSE results out this week, which are expected to show a similar disparity, the exam season is making life distinctly uncomfortable for the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

But while Ed Balls, the Education Secretary, and Jim Knight, the schools minister, scramble round trying to distance themselves from the mess, one minister has gone about his business seemingly untouched by the fallout.

Lord Adonis, the architect behind city academies, has - at least for the moment - the plum education job. Late last month, at the height of the general condemnation over the Sats debacle, he emerged heckle-free from a speech he gave at a teachers' conference. While national newspapers slam the mind-boggling inefficiency of Sats administration, the culpability of the department, and A-level grade inflation, local papers carry positive pieces about schools bidding to become academies.

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Homeschool Victory

Wall Street Journal Editorial:

Hold on to your hats. Common sense and constitutionalism have prevailed in the California judiciary. Last week, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles declared that parents who homeschool don't need teaching credentials in order to educate their own children.

Amazingly, the three judges were overturning their own February decision. We quote from their recent revelation: "It is important to recognize that it is not for us to consider, as a matter of policy, whether homeschooling should be permitted in California. That job is for the Legislature. It is not the duty of the courts to make the law; we endeavor to interpret it."

What prompted this fit of judicial restraint?

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August 17, 2008

Milwaukee Public Schools spent $102 million on a building spree meant to reduce busing by convincing parents to enroll students in bigger, better neighborhood schools. Today, many of those new classrooms go unused.

Dave Umhoefer & Alan Borsuk:

A massive building expansion by Milwaukee Public Schools has saddled the district with tens of millions of dollars worth of vacant or severely underused school additions, a Journal Sentinel investigation found.

he $102 million Neighborhood Schools Initiative was supposed to get students off buses and into revamped schools near their homes. Instead, darkened classrooms and half-empty buildings serve as monuments to the program's failures.

The district spent $30 million on major additions to schools where enrollment has actually declined. An additional $19.5 million went toward construction at schools where enrollment gains have fallen far short of expectations. Construction began in 2001, and almost all additions were completed by 2005.

In the most expensive misfire, MPS spent $7 million upfront to lease new classroom space from an affiliate of Holy Redeemer, a prominent Milwaukee church.

That MPS addition is one of the nicest facilities in a district that still uses century-old buildings. And it's vacant.

A rare piece of school finance related investigative journalism.

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Transcript: Madison School Board 7/28/2008 Referendum Discussion

Meeting Transcript:

We begin the presentation by focusing on why is there a problem. And we wanna first and foremost point out that the issues affecting this school district are issues that are also occurring in other school districts in the state. While there may be some circumstances, and there are circumstances that are unique to one place or another, we know that this funding dilemma and the gap that exists between what the current state funding formula provides and how expenses are being dealt with in school district is not unique to this school district. Although we have our story here that is certainly unique. And again I want to emphasize that it really lies at the heart of it is the constraint between the current formula that was put into place in 1993 which basically asserted that the state provide more resources to schools through the two thirds funding if, in turn, school districts would control their costs in two ways. One was through the revenue cap and the second was through the qualified economic offer. And so that was the kind of exchange or the quid pro quo that was made at that time in public policy; to be able to provide more state funding for schools at the same time to place limitations on how much a school district could spend.

In the document we point out examples of this dilemma as it is affecting some of the top ten school districts in the state. Ranging in, for example Waukesha school district of 2.6 million dollar program and service reduction for the 08/09 school year. The district that I am most recently familiar with, Greenbay with a 6.5 million program and service reduction. And just to point out the difference we mentioned we seen there, we use a wording increase revenue authority that represents their gap but that's also, its described that way because of having more authority through a successfully passed referendum to exceed the revenue cap within that community. So that is what's meant by an increase revenue of authority.

Now the funding formula is one that school districts across the state are wrestling with. You know the history that this school district has had in terms of the types of decisions that have been made which we are going to underscore in just a minute to accommodate that funding formula but as I turn this over to Eric for the bulk of the rest of the presentation, I'll conclude its all with the idea yes there is a need to have school funded but its around the assertion that our kids have to have a high quality education to be successful in the world that they are growing into. And yes we do have a fiscal responsibility to use community resources in the most cost effective manner and the reality of it is there are constraints in meeting that proposition. So with that, and I will return for the conclusion, I'll turn it to Eric who will provide us with more detail of the nature of the problem.


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At School, Technology Starts to Turn a Corner

Steve Lohr:

COUNT me a technological optimist, but I have always thought that the people who advocate putting computers in classrooms as a way to transform education were well intentioned but wide of the mark. It's not the problem, and it's not the answer.

Yet as a new school year begins, the time may have come to reconsider how large a role technology can play in changing education. There are promising examples, both in the United States and abroad, and they share some characteristics. The ratio of computers to pupils is one to one. Technology isn't off in a computer lab. Computing is an integral tool in all disciplines, always at the ready.

Web-based education software has matured in the last few years, so that students, teachers and families can be linked through networks. Until recently, computing in the classroom amounted to students doing Internet searches, sending e-mail and mastering word processing, presentation programs and spreadsheets. That's useful stuff, to be sure, but not something that alters how schools work.

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California's Algebra Problem

Los Angeles Times Editorial:

Even if there were money to pay for it, the state's new algebra mandate would still be a bad idea.

ow that the State Board of Education is foolishly requiring every eighth-grader to take algebra, starting in three years, all that remains to be figured out is, how on Earth is this going to happen when so few kids are on track to get there?

The solution, according to state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, is to spend $3.1 billion on a "California Algebra I Success Initiative" that would recruit and train math teachers, lengthen the middle-school day, reduce class sizes in math and so forth.

The ideas are good enough. Essentially, though, they're a political ball tossed to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who pushed for the eighth-grade requirement. (O'Connell opposed it.) The governor took on the easy part of school reform, in which he got to call for an unrealistic standard and proclaim that California was the first in the land with such high expectations. Will he now refuse to pay for the math requirement that he said was so necessary? That's a possibility. The algebra funding would add about 5% to the state's total allocation for public education, money that is not readily available even in a good budget year.

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August 16, 2008

A Teachable Moment: On Changes in Governance and Curriculum in New Orleans Schools

Paul Tough:

But it wasn't only sympathy for the survivors of Katrina that drew them to New Orleans. The city's disastrously low-performing school system was almost entirely washed away in the flood -- many of the buildings were destroyed, the school board was taken over and all the teachers were fired. What is being built in its place is an educational landscape unlike any other, a radical experiment in reform. More than half of the city's public-school students are now being educated in charter schools, publicly financed but privately run, and most of the rest are enrolled in schools run by an unusually decentralized and rapidly changing school district. From across the country, and in increasing numbers, hundreds of ambitious, idealistic young educators like Hardrick and Sanders have descended on New Orleans, determined to take advantage of the opportunity not just to innovate and reinvent but also to prove to the rest of the country that an entire city of children in the demographic generally considered the hardest to educate -- poor African-American kids -- can achieve high levels of academic success.

Katrina struck at a critical moment in the evolution of the contemporary education-reform movement. President Bush's education initiative, No Child Left Behind, had shined a light on the underperformance of poor minority students across the country by requiring, for the first time, that a school successfully educate not just its best students but its poor and minority students too in order to be counted as successful. Scattered across the country were a growing number of schools, often intensive charter schools, that seemed to be succeeding with disadvantaged students in a consistent and measurable way. But these schools were isolated examples. No one had figured out how to "scale up" those successes to transform an entire urban school district. There were ambitious new superintendents in Philadelphia, New York City, Denver and Chicago, all determined to reform their school systems to better serve poor children, but even those who seemed to be succeeding were doing so in incremental ways, lifting the percentage of students passing statewide or citywide tests to, say, 40 from 30 or to 50 from 40.

Related:Clusty Search:Fascinating. Innovation occurs at the edges and is more likely to flourish in the absence of traditional monolithic governance, or a "one size fits all" approach to education.

More from Kevin Carey.

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Madison School District's Financial Situation: Memo to the School Board & Administration

Thank you for engaging the community in such a meaningful way with the forums this week. I believe the forums were successful in that the participating citizens had the opportunity to openly ask questions, seek information and give suggestions for consideration. The information provided by Dan and Erik was clear and helpful. We believe, that with the actions of the board and administration in recent weeks, there is a new openness, a willingness for exercising greater due-diligence, and an openness to examine more fully the opportunities and challenges with fresh insights and strategies.

There is a challenging road ahead with very heavy lifting to be done to continue to more fully communicate with and engage the public in the decision-making process regarding the future of the district in the educational, business and financial elements. These processes are absolutely critical to charting the course toward more effectivenss in student achievement results and business management. At this point in time, the plans and communications provide greater hope for more effective decision-making. However, time is critical for these processes to evolve with hard evidence to show the public that serious steps are actually underway and are producing information and results in order to provide for clearer future options and enlightened decision-making.

Given the critical values briefly outlined above, it is premature at this time to make recommendations or decisions on a course or courses of action to seek more spending authority as a solution regarding the financial needs of the district. The groundwork for decision-making and the development of improved levels of public confidence in the Board and administration have to continue to be proactively matured for both short- and long-term successes in the district. We urge you to proceed carefully, firmly and in a strategic and progressive manner.

I am available and willing at any time to engage in discussion regarding these statements and recommendations.

Don Severson
Active Citizens for Education

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Colorado Lt. Gov. O'Brien talks education reform

Charlotte Burrous:

Many educators and visitors had an opportunity to learn how Colorado is addressing education reform during the back-to-school kick-off workshop Wednesday at Cañon City High School.

"Gov. Ritter and I are doing (this) all over the state" to kick off the beginning of the school year, Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien said prior to her speech. "We want to talk about changes that we're implementing through the P-20 Education Coordinating Council. P is for preschool and the 20 is to get us all ready for graduate school."

During her presentation, she explained how several recommendations were passed through the Legislature that took affect July 1.

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August 15, 2008

Texas School District to Let Teachers Carry Guns


A Texas school district will let teachers bring guns to class this fall, the district's superintendent said on Friday, in what experts said appeared to be a first in the United States.

The board of the small rural Harrold Independent School District unanimously approved the plan and parents have not objected, said the district's superintendent, David Thweatt.

School experts backed Thweatt's claim that Harrold, a system of about 110 students 150 miles northwest of Fort Worth, may be the first to let teachers bring guns to the classroom.

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Pay to ride the school bus or walk? That's what Mount Horeb students must decide

Gena Kittner:

About 800 Mount Horeb students should lace up their walking shoes or get ready to pay to take the bus to school this fall.

High diesel costs have prompted the Mount Horeb School District to start charging students $25 per year to ride the bus if they live within two miles of their school. A family would be charged a maximum of $50.

Previously, only students living within a half-mile of school had to find their own way to school, except for kindergartners, who were bused no matter where they lived. Other students who qualified for busing -- based on age or whether they lived in a hazardous area -- were bused for free.

I can hear my father's words: "I used to bike 6 miles to my school, in each direction".

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Doyle hires director for Wisconsin Covenant program

Tamira Madsen:

Amy Bechtum has been named the first-ever director of the Wisconsin Covenant, a new program designed by Gov. Jim Doyle to offer eighth-grade students financial incentives for college if they meet certain objectives throughout their high school careers.

Approximately 17,000 students in 72 counties across the state in 2007 signed the covenant, promising to earn a B average in high school, take college preparatory courses, stay out of trouble and perform community service work. If students meet these objectives, they are guaranteed a spot in the University of Wisconsin System, the Wisconsin Technical College System or one of the state's 20 private, nonprofit and independent colleges. The first group of Wisconsin Covenant scholars will begin college in 2011.

Bechtum, a La Crosse native who currently works as assistant director at Morgridge College of Education at the University of Denver, will begin her job with the Wisconsin Covenant in mid-September with a salary of $89,000.

Much more on the Wisconsin Covenant here.

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Creating classroom rosters for Wisconsin schools "an art form"

Andy Hall:

An annual matchmaking ritual is nearly complete in hundreds of elementary schools around Wisconsin.

Next week, elementary students in Madison and most Wisconsin school districts will learn the names of their classroom teachers -- a culmination of one of the most important and least-understood processes in education.

Richard Halverson, a UW-Madison education researcher and an expert in school leadership, said his research has found that coming up with those classroom rosters "turns out to be quite an art form."

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Transforming the way to learn through dialogue and participation

Global University Network for Innovation:

Why should issues such as citizenship, sustainable development or multiculturalism be included in higher education curricula?

Because they are really pressing issues, which the world is facing today. If we think about the traditional role of higher education, when it first began, it was very socially engaged. In fact, the early universities really grew from the need from the church to actually engage in society and the role of the universities reflected that. Overtime, I think universities have become more removed from society and gradually have been involved in a production of knowledge, which tends to objectify reality. In fact, the multiple realities of the world are very complex. So it is very hard to see how that kind of learning, based on a belief in an objective truth, really can be maintained within many higher education systems at the moment when we see so many challenges facing people: of living in multicultural contexts or in contexts where there is violence and conflict; where they are trying to understand much better their relationship with wider society and with the state, and are thinking how they can engage in acting on the problems and the challenges that they face on a daily basis, either individually or collectively.

My reason for wanting to see an integration of those ideas in the curricula of universities is to enable people to learn in a way that is different from simply being passive recipients of preformed ideas. For me, education is about learning and learning is about change. So where we see the need for social change, for human and social development, which really is rooted in issues of rights, power and voice of people, then I think it is absolutely necessary for higher education to actually build the curricula upon these issues, not just to add them but actually to integrate them and use them as foundations for learning and teaching.

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August 14, 2008

Wisconsin GED completion lags behind other states

Amy Hetzner:

Pregnant at 18, Telisa Haynes said she cried when she saw her classmates in caps and gowns, knowing she would not be joining them for graduation.

Now, 23 years later, Haynes is on the verge of fulfilling her goal of earning her General Educational Development certificate, commonly called the GED.

It hasn't been easy.

"What makes it hard is your life," she said. "When you get ready to do this, you have to be focused. . . . You have to want it. You have to want it badly."

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Judge says UC can deny class credit to Christian school students

Bob Egelko:

A federal judge says the University of California can deny course credit to applicants from Christian high schools whose textbooks declare the Bible infallible and reject evolution.

Rejecting claims of religious discrimination and stifling of free expression, U.S. District Judge James Otero of Los Angeles said UC's review committees cited legitimate reasons for rejecting the texts - not because they contained religious viewpoints, but because they omitted important topics in science and history and failed to teach critical thinking.

Otero's ruling Friday, which focused on specific courses and texts, followed his decision in March that found no anti-religious bias in the university's system of reviewing high school classes. Now that the lawsuit has been dismissed, a group of Christian schools has appealed Otero's rulings to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

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For Most People, College is a Waste of Time

Charles Murray:

Imagine that America had no system of post-secondary education, and you were a member of a task force assigned to create one from scratch. One of your colleagues submits this proposal:

First, we will set up a single goal to represent educational success, which will take four years to achieve no matter what is being taught. We will attach an economic reward to it that seldom has anything to do with what has been learned. We will urge large numbers of people who do not possess adequate ability to try to achieve the goal, wait until they have spent a lot of time and money, and then deny it to them. We will stigmatize everyone who doesn't meet the goal. We will call the goal a "BA."

You would conclude that your colleague was cruel, not to say insane. But that's the system we have in place.

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A Taste of Failure Fuels an Appetite for Success at South Korea’s Cram Schools

Choe Sang-Hun:

As the sun was dipping behind the pine hills surrounding this rural campus one recent Monday, Chung Il-wook and his wife drove up with Min-ju, their 18-year-old daughter. They gave her a quick hug and she hurried into the school building, dragging a suitcase behind her.

Inside, a raucous crowd of 300 teenage boys and girls had returned from a two-night leave and were lining up to have their teachers search their bags.

The students here were forsaking all the pleasures of teenage life. No cellphones allowed, no fashion magazines, no television, no Internet. No dating, no concerts, no earrings, no manicures — no acting their age.

All these are mere distractions from an overriding goal. On this regimented campus, miles from the nearest public transportation, Min-ju and her classmates cram from 6:30 a.m. to past midnight, seven days a week, to clear the fearsome hurdle that can decide their future — the national college entrance examination.

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Decoding the five stages of the college application process

Risa Nye:

I am a short-term crisis counselor. For more than 15 years, I've guided high school seniors through applications, personal statements, deadlines and all the pressure that goes along with the process. As a college counselor in both public and private schools, I have worked with many kids, held a lot of hands and pulled out the tissue box on several occasions. And, I have survived this journey three times with my own children. The first time around, my daughter did all the work, and my husband and I "just" paid the application fees. My older son had a different approach to the process and involved me a bit more, even allowing me to drag him off to look at the college he eventually fell in love with. My younger son danced dangerously close to every deadline and finally pulled the rabbit out of the hat at the last moment. Happily, all three landed where they wanted to be, and we were still speaking to one another when the dust settled.

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August 13, 2008

College Students Behaving Badly

Tara Parker-Pope:

Many people associate property crime and other delinquent behaviors with low social status and a lack of education. But new research has identified a surprising risk factor for bad behavior — college.

Men who attend college are more likely to commit property crimes during their college years than their non-college-attending peers, according to research to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Boston this weekend.

Sociologists at Bowling Green State University in Ohio examined data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which tracks education, crime levels, substance abuse and socializing among adolescents and young adults. Beginning with 9,246 students who were seventh through twelfth graders in the 1994-1995 academic year, the survey followed the students again in 1996 and 2001. The study defined “college students” or “college-bound youth” as those who were enrolled full-time in a four-year college for at least 12 months by the third wave of the survey. “Non-college students” were defined as those respondents who either did not attend college through the course of the study or were not enrolled full-time at a four-year university.

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2008 ACT State Profile Reports

ACT News:

The ACT High School Profile Report for each state provides information about the performance of 2008 graduating seniors who took the ACT as sophomores, juniors, or seniors. The reports focus on performance, access, course selection, course rigor, college readiness, awareness, and articulation.
Wisconsin's report can be found here.

Related: Minnesota ranks #1. Jeff Shelman has more:

Minnesota high school students have top scores, but only a third reach the benchmark for college preparedness, and minority students' scores lag.

Is being the best good enough? When it comes to how Minnesota's high school graduates fared on the ACT college entrance exam, that's a question educators are facing.

For the fourth consecutive year, Minnesota's seniors recorded higher scores than seniors in other states where at least half of the students took the test. But there are significant concerns as well.

Fewer than a third of the 2008 Minnesota high school graduates who took the ACT reached the benchmark for college readiness in all four of the subject areas of English, math, reading and science. Minority students continue to score much lower than white students in the state.

Mike Glover:
Iowa students have ranked second in the nation in the ACT college entrance exam, according to a new report from state education officials.

The average ACT score for Iowa students rose by 0.1 percentage point to an average composite of 22.4 out of a possible total of 36. That ranks Iowa second highest among states testing a majority of graduating high school seniors, the report said.

Minnesota is again first in the nation, with an average score of 22.6. The national average for the college entrance examination is 21.1.

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Parents must have choices on their children's education

Lydia Glaize:

Although it is the first week of school, my husband and I refused to send our twins, Aaron and Abigail, to our local Fulton County high school.

With its low test scores and dangerous incidents on campus, we have been hoping and praying for a miracle to find the money to return them to private school. Over the years, we have depleted our savings, our retirement funds, used our home equity, taken extra jobs and received gifts to send our four older children to private school to escape failing public schools.

But as our two youngest enter ninth grade, we have hit the end of our financial road.

To read the resistance to school vouchers editorialized at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution makes us want to ask opponents if they would like to spend a day in our family's shoes.

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Wisconsin Web Academy Now Open

Wisconsin Department of Public of Instruction:

State Superintendent Elizabeth Burmaster and Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) 9 Administrator Jerome Fiene announced the launch of the Wisconsin Web Academy (WWA), a partnership of the two agencies which makes online courses available to students throughout Wisconsin.

The WWA operates as a supplemental online course provider, which means that students taking courses through the academy remain enrolled in their home districts. They also receive credit for their WWA courses through their home district.

"Virtual education is an innovative reality in the 21st century and an effective educational strategy for some students," said Burmaster. "The Wisconsin Web Academy will ensure that all children in our state, regardless of where they live, will have access to quality online courses taught by appropriately licensed educators."

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Referendum or no referendum? First school forum draws dozens

Tamira Madsen:

On Aug. 18 Nerad will present his recommendations to the board on whether a referendum is the way to trim an $8.2 million hole in the budget, and the board likely will vote Aug. 25 to formulate referendum questions for the Nov. 4 election. In addition, the gap is expected to be $6 million in the 2010-11 school year and $5.1 million in 2011-12.

Since a state-imposed revenue formula was implemented in 1993 to control property taxes, the district has cut $60 million in programs, staffing and services. The district did not have to make budget reductions during the 2008-09 school year after it benefited from a one-time, $5.7 million tax incremental financing district windfall from the city. The district will spend approximately $367.6 million during the 2008-09 school year, an increase of about 0.75 percent over the 2007-08 school year budget.

Andy Hall:
In addition to exploring reductions, Madison officials are researching how much it would cost to begin offering kindergarten to 4-year-olds in the district — a program offered by two-thirds of the school districts in Wisconsin.

Resident William Rowe, a retired educator, urged school officials to generate excitement by offering 4K, which research has shown can help improve academic achievement.

"I believe this is the time to go for it," said Rowe, who proposed that a 4K referendum be offered separately from a referendum that would help avert budget cuts.

Don Severson, president of Active Citizens for Education, a district watchdog group, praised district officials for making the process so open to the public. However, he urged officials to provide more information about the costs and benefits of specific programs to help the public understand what's working and what's not. He predicted a referendum is "going to be very difficult to pass" but said he still hasn't decided whether one is needed.

Much more on the budget here.

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LA's $7,000,000,000 School Bond

LA Times:

The Los Angeles Unified School District's Board of Education voted on Aug. 1 to put a $7 billion school bond on the Nov. 4 ballot. That's more than twice the amount the school board was mulling just two weeks earlier. The size of the bond may have jumped because polling showed voters would approve it, and because the Community College District trustees voted the previous week to put a $3.2 billion bond on the same ballot.

But the board may have overreached. About $2 billion of the bond is not yet allocated to any particular project. That lack of specificity may run afoul of the California constitutional amendment that allows school bonds to pass with just a 55% vote, rather than the two-thirds needed for other local bonds. The larger number may also be more of a reflection of bargaining with charter schools over funding and backing for the bond, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's desire to demonstrate progress on improving schools, than actual need.

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The demographic inversion of the American city

Alan Ehrenhalt:

Thirty years ago, the mayor of Chicago was unseated by a snowstorm. A blizzard in January of 1979 dumped some 20 inches on the ground, causing, among other problems, a curtailment of transit service. The few available trains coming downtown from the northwest side filled up with middle-class white riders near the far end of the line, leaving no room for poorer people trying to board on inner-city platforms. African Americans and Hispanics blamed this on Mayor Michael Bilandic, and he lost the Democratic primary to Jane Byrne a few weeks later.

Today, this could never happen. Not because of climate change, or because the Chicago Transit Authority now runs flawlessly. It couldn't happen because the trains would fill up with minorities and immigrants on the outskirts of the city, and the passengers left stranded at the inner-city stations would be members of the affluent professional class.

In the past three decades, Chicago has undergone changes that are routinely described as gentrification, but are in fact more complicated and more profound than the process that term suggests. A better description would be "demographic inversion." Chicago is gradually coming to resemble a traditional European city--Vienna or Paris in the nineteenth century, or, for that matter, Paris today. The poor and the newcomers are living on the outskirts. The people who live near the center--some of them black or Hispanic but most of them white--are those who can afford to do so.

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America's Fastest-Dying Cities

Joshua Zumbrun:

The turmoil of the mortgage market granted a temporary reprieve from hearing about the woes of America's Rust Belt. That doesn't mean things are better. Despite a decade of national prosperity, the former manufacturing backbone of the U.S. is in rougher shape than ever, still searching for some way to replace its long-stilled smokestacks.

Where's it worst? Ohio, according to our analysis, which racked up four of the 10 cities on our list: Youngstown, Canton, Dayton and Cleveland. The runner-up is Michigan, with two cities--Detroit and Flint--making the ranking.

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August 12, 2008

Give Education a Sporting Chance

Frederic J. Fransen
Center for Excellence in Higher Education

Perhaps it's time for college fundraisers to come clean about the differences between giving to colleges and universities and giving to their athletic programs.

When donors give to athletics their gifts may produce visible results (a winning season, perhaps, or an NCAA tournament spot), but such gifts do not help colleges achieve their primary mission: the education of tomorrow's leaders.

Not that there is anything wrong with giving to athletic programs, but a spade needs to be called a spade.

We've all heard the rationalizations. College athletic programs -- especially big-time football and basketball -- boost school spirit and spur alumni giving.

College athletic programs give some students a shot at a college education they wouldn't get otherwise. And sports competition helps us become well-rounded individuals. None of these points is inherently untrue. They're just irrelevant.

Americans, through tax dollars, tuition, and philanthropy, support some 2,500 public and private four-year colleges and universities for a reason: to educate those who will lead and sustain us in the future.

As much as I might enjoy the Indiana Pacers and Indianapolis Colts, their services are fundamentally unnecessary for the survival, prosperity, well-being and enlightenment of the country.

Yet, 26 percent of all dollars donated to Division I-A colleges and universities now go to athletics, according to an analysis published in the April 2007 issue of the Journal of Sport Management. In 1998, the comparable figure was 14.7 percent.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported late last year that overall spending on sports has been growing "at a rate three times faster than that for spending on the rest of the campus." And for most schools, according to recently released NCAA research, sports program costs exceed revenues. Only the top athletic powerhouses make money -- and, frequently, only when they win.

Where's the money going? Mostly, the money goes to build new stadiums, arenas and practice facilities to showcase the schools' gladiators.

Schools in the six top college athletic conferences received more than $3.9 billion in donations for athletic facilities from 2002 to 2007 alone, the Chronicle of Higher Education says.

The question that needs to be asked is why are schools spending big bucks on athletic facilities for a relative handful of semi-pro athletes when academics should be their focus?

One reason many philanthropists choose to give to college athletics is because they know what they are getting. Who can blame them?

When you donate a large sum of money to support University of Wisconsin athletic programs, you do so because the Badgers have a winning tradition and you hope your gift will help produce additional championships.

When you write the same check to the English or history department, you may never know where the money went.

If education is to be the primary focus of our colleges and universities, officials involved in the "rainmaking" process need to do a better job of demonstrating to donors what their educational gifts accomplish in an equally transparent and powerful way.

They do higher education a disservice when they spend money excessively on the game, while shortchanging the end game: a highly educated workforce to face the competitive challenges of the 21st century -- and a tolerant and enlightened public capable of making intelligent personal and political choices.

That's what we need. And that's what a new field house doesn't buy.

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Learn to Earn

The NewsHour:

The newest, hottest idea in school reform seems to be paying students to learn. New York City and Baltimore made national headlines when both launched pilot programs this year, and other cities and towns are considering the notion.

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Meeks Solicits Support for Chicago School Boycott Plan

Fran Spielman:

State Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) met privately with the City Council's Black Caucus last week to explain his plan to have hundreds of Chicago Public School students boycott the first four days of classes.

Implied, but not stated, was the fact that Meeks would like aldermanic support for his controversial tactics. Apparently, he's not going to get it.

On Tuesday, the Black Caucus will hold a news conference to turn up the heat on Gov. Blagojevich and the General Assembly to address the school funding disparity between rich and poor districts.

But, the aldermen will not take a stand on Meeks’ boycott threat.

“We can’t take an official position. We didn’t have a consensus. All of us want our children in school. That's really the bottom line," said Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th).

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Winners Never Quit? Well, Yes, They Do

Alina Tugend:

I'VE been thinking about quitting lately. No, not my job, nor my marriage nor the incredibly long Russian novel I need to read by September for my book group (check back with me on that later).

Rather, I've been thinking about the concept in general. Watching the superhuman feats of the Olympic athletes this week, I've admired the dedication and single-minded focus they exhibit. I think about how maybe if I had just worked harder -- much harder -- at gymnastics when I was young, I could have reached that lofty goal (conveniently forgetting how ill-suited I was to the sport because of my great fear of falling on my head).

Olympians embody one of the great clichés about quitting: "Quitters never win and winners never quit." My athletic career, on the other hand, is summed up by the other platitude about quitting: "You've gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em."

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Madison High School "Redesign": $5.5M Small Learning Community Grant for Teacher Training and Literacy Coordinators

Andy Hall:

A $5.5 million federal grant will boost efforts to shrink the racial achievement gap, raise graduation rates and expand the courses available in the Madison School District's four major high schools, officials announced Monday.

The five-year U.S. Department of Education grant will help the district build stronger connections to students by creating so-called "small learning communities" that divide each high school population into smaller populations.

Many of those structural changes already have been implemented at two high schools -- Memorial and West -- and similar redesigns are planned for East and La Follette high schools.

Under that plan, East's student body will be randomly assigned to four learning communities. La Follette will launch "freshman academies" -- smaller class sizes for freshmen in core academic areas, plus advisers and mentors to help them feel connected to the school.

Tamira Madsen:
"The grant centers on things that already are important to the school district: the goals of increasing academic success for all students, strengthening student-student and student-adult relationships and improving post-secondary outlooks," Nerad said.

Expected plans at Madison East include randomly placing students in one of four learning neighborhoods, while faculty and administrators at La Follette will create "academies" with smaller classes to improve learning for freshmen in core courses. Additional advisors will also be assigned to aid students in academies at La Follette.

Related: The interesting question in all of this is: does the money drive strategy or is it the other way around? In addition, what is the budget impact after 5 years? A friend mentioned several years ago, during the proposed East High School curriculum change controversy, that these initiatives fail to address the real issue: lack of elementary and middle school preparation.

Finally, will this additional $1.1m in annual funds for 5 years reduce the projected budget "gap" that may drive a fall referendum?

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Future 'Top 10' Hot Careers in 2012: Space Tourism to Genetic Counseling

Rebecca Sato:

In our information-rich society there is an ever increasing demand for workers in the fields of computers, health care, science and space technology—much of it driven by the demands of the retiring baby boomers. If you like to plan ahead, here is sampling of some of the jobs that will be hot in the next several years and beyond.

1) Organic food Industry

By 2010, organic food and beverage will represent about 10 percent of the total market — a tenfold increase from 1998. Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation says the industry will soon need more organic food producers, certification experts, retailers and scientists as organic becomes mainstream.

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School Program Puts Focus On Graduation, Not Grades

Ian Shapira:

Bria Heard, 14, a rising sophomore in Prince William County, had a couple of options after she failed world history last year. She could retake the course over six weeks in summer school or during the next school year and try to improve her grade.

Or, she could choose a fairly novel program available in the school system. She could do the course work using a new computer-based program that would not improve her grade, but would allow her to earn the credits needed to stay on track to graduate in four years. To her, the benefits outweighed the cost of not getting a better grade. The program is free and can be completed in days.

"You can go at your own pace and it's quicker," Bria said recently while stumbling through questions on Russian history. "I didn't know if I should do it, but then I realized it was easier than taking the full course."

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Illinois High School Basketball Star Leaves for Prep School

Michael O'Brien & Scott Powers:

It has happened again.

For the second consecutive year, the best basketball player in the state's senior class is packing up and heading to prep school.

Peoria Central guard and Illinois recruit DJ Richardson announced on Monday that he will spend his senior season at Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev.

That's the same school that Washington's DeAndre Liggins spent his senior year at last season.

"It was my family's idea," Richardson said. "It's because of the ACT. I had a good GPA, just not the ACT. I'm not far off. I just took it two times. I think I could do better. There is no reason to take chances so I'm just going to prep school."

According to Richardson, the Illinois coaching staff gave him a list of prep schools to choose from.

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Businesses Partner in Education with Calcasieu Schools

Amanda Ward:

As we get ready to send our students back to school, two separate businesses are doing their parts to partner in education.

Hundreds of students and their parents packed the Pryce-Miller recreation center in Lake Charles for the Back to School Bash with free school supplies and backpacks from PPG as well as information about healthcare and education support services and loads of fun. The children are excited about going back to school for several different reasons.

Kayman St. Junious said, He loves "going to P.E."

Austin Delafosse said, Science is his favorite subject, because "you get to make objects."

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August 11, 2008

Teen Texting Expert Insists on Being Letter-Perfect

Jenna Johnson:

Even though Glass shuns shorthand, he embraces speed. At a pace that veteran secretaries might envy, Glass sends as many as 800 texts a month, his thumbs quickly flying across his phone's Qwerty, or mini-keyboard.

That speed and respect for the English language landed the St. Mary's County teenager in the LG National Texting Championship in New York last month.

In June, Glass logged on to the LG Electronics Web site for an online qualifying round. Phrases popped up on the screen, and Glass quickly typed them into his phone and messaged them to the cellphone company.

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Winston's Streetball brings hoops to south side

Dennis Semrau:

Johnny Winston Jr. was wearing a powder blue T-shirt, just like the rest of his numerous volunteers at Penn Park early Saturday afternoon.

The founder and organizer of the eighth annual Streetball and Block Party that bears his name, Winston said most of his work is done in the months leading up to the event, which was held at Penn Park on Madison's south side.

"The thing pretty much runs itself," Winston said, "but there is tons of prep work that has to be done to pull it off. That's what takes the most time."

However, Winston, who is a city of Madison firefighter, a member of the Madison Metropolitan School District School Board and resident jack-of-all-trades in his community, was ready to make a quick change if necessary.

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The 25 Best Boarding School Books

Sarah Ebner:

Books about boarding school have always been popular, but they've often been seen - like the schools themselves - as old fashioned and well past their sell-by date. This may no longer be the case - for the school, and their fictional equivalents.

The Boarding Schools Association say that both independent and the 35 state boarding establishments, are in robust health. The numbers of boarders is up for the first time in three years.

Meanwhile Wild Child, a film about an 16-year-old American sent to a British boarding school to be "tamed" is released next week, while School Friends, a new boarding school series aimed at girls of eight and up, is published at the end of August. Its publishers are claiming that it's "Malory Towers for the new Millennium." My daughter is already a fan, proclaiming concisely that she "really, really likes them."

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Education spending spree has "failed pupils"

Jack Grimston:

THE literacy and numeracy of new employees have tumbled over the past decade despite Labour's £28 billion increase in annual education spending, according to research by a leading employers' organisation.

The Institute of Directors (IoD) found that 71% of its members believe the writing abilities of new employees had worsened, while 60% believed numeracy had also declined; 52% reported a worsening of the basic ability to communicate.

With the exam results season under way, more than 60% of company directors now think GCSEs and A-levels are less demanding than a decade ago. Overall, only 27% believe schools have got better under Labour.

A-level results to be released this Thursday are expected to show the number of passes going above 97% and the proportion of A grades rising slightly from last year's 25.3%, the 11th successive annual rise.

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Keeping Up With Korea
Move over, Andover and Exeter. Two South Korean high schools score high on Ivy League acceptances.

BJ Lee & Adam Kushner:

Even as Visa restrictions have tightened in the United States since September 11, foreign students are still banging down the doors at American universities. They now regularly represent more than 10 percent of students at elite schools, many of which have taken up campaigns to broaden their global appeal. And the overwhelming source of these new students? Not the established European and American boarding schools that have always placed a respectable bloc of graduates into the best colleges. Instead, a new crop of prep schools is rising in other parts of the world, particularly South Korea. In a Wall Street Journal survey last December, only two foreign schools ranked in the top 40 for best admission rates to eight leading American universities, including Harvard, Princeton and MIT. Both are in South Korea.

Minjok Leadership Academy, a 12-year-old high school located in a remote mountain village in South Korea, has a track record comparable to the best American prep schools. Of its 77 graduates who applied to American universities for this year, 25 were accepted into the Ivy League, 19 by UC Berkeley and 10 by New York University. The remainder will attend Stanford and other leading institutions. Daewon Foreign Language High School in Seoul has a similar success rate. In 2000 it began to focus on foreign universities, and by the end of last year had sent 263 graduates to the top 50 U.S. universities. Last year alone, 36 got into Ivy League schools.

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The Thinking Behind Critical Thinking Courses

Jay Matthews:

Looking for a way to improve your mind and make some money? Check out the latest "critical thinking" courses. Many come up on a Google search. Many promise better grades and higher test scores. Without much effort, you can create your own course and tap into this hot topic.

The only thing is, it turns out such programs don't work very well, except as a measure of the gullibility of even smart educators. A remarkable article by Daniel T. Willingham, the University of Virginia cognitive scientist outlines the reasons. Critical thinking, he explains in a summer 2007 American Educator article, overlooked until now by me, is not a skill like riding a bike or diagramming a sentence that, once learned, can be applied in many situations.

Instead, as your most-hated high school teacher often told you, you have to buckle down and learn the content of a subject--facts, concepts and trends--before the maxims of critical thinking taught in these feverishly-marketed courses will do you much good.

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School's Health Reviewed

Jessica Blanchard:

It wasn't until he hand-delivered bottles of the discolored water to School Board members at a public meeting that the district took action.

That was five years ago, and Seattle Public Schools has addressed those problems and adopted tough water-quality standards since then. But Cooper warns of similar environmental health and safety problems in schools statewide – and that Washington's code is woefully outdated.

With the state Board of Health on the cusp of revising its rule governing environmental health and safety in schools – the first major changes in nearly four decades – it's time for the public to take note, Cooper said.

"If you don't pay attention, and don't get involved, it will be your own backyard, your own child being affected," he said.

The proposal under consideration would modernize the rule, adding standards for indoor air and water quality and playground safety.

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Education Reform: Still Reaching

Letters to the Denver Post on Still Reaching, 25 years after A Nation at Risk:

Re: “Still reaching’ 25 years after ‘A Nation at Risk,’ education struggling,” Aug. 3 Perspective article.

The ideas expressed by Dick Hilker about the problems with public education are echoed throughout our society. Parents, legislators and school administrators bemoan the fact that many students do not measure up to the proficient level in reading.

Mr. Hilker and the rest of the people who blame schools need to face reality. Scoring “proficient” on the CSAP test in reading, math or any other subject is the equivalent of getting a B on a report cards in years past. Not every kid in class when I was in school scored all B’s and A’s.

Yes, every kid can learn, and it is the school’s job to take every student to their limit. But to expect teachers to get everyone in their class to the proficient level in all classes ignores the fact that not all kids are average or above.

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2007 Michigan Merit Exam Results Released

Lori Higgins, Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki & Chastity Pratt Dawsey:

As a whole, the results of the exam — released Thursday by the Michigan Department of Education -- illustrate how ill-prepared many Michigan teens are for college. The new exam, which the state debuted in spring 2007, includes the ACT, a college entrance test. The exam is rounded out with a workplace skills test, and tests aligned with the state’s standards in math, science and social studies.

“We have not made any significant improvement,” Sharif Shakrani, codirector of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, said of this year’s scores.

The exam, given this spring, was taken by nearly 124,000 students.

The percentage of students scoring at the top two levels on the math exam was 46%, unchanged from last year. In reading, it was 62%, up from 60%. In writing it was 41%, up from 40%. In science it was 57%, up from 56%; and in social studies it was 80%, down from 83%.

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Getting Involved With Your Childrens' Education


Kids all across KELOLAND will be heading back to school in the next few weeks and that means adding a few more things to their calendar. But how about adding a few school-related things to yours? Research shows that when parents are involved in their children's education, kids do better in school. This week's Inside KELOLAND shows you how your involvement can help your student achieve and succeed. You'll find out why it's important to your child's development to have you involved in their education. And we show you what rewards there are for those parents who do get involved. Finally, we tell you where to go to find out how you can be more involved in your child's schooling, whether it's through volunteering in the classroom, or taking a more active role in their lessons.

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August 10, 2008

If We Lose Our Children We Lose America

Karl Priest:

John Stossel (of television's "20-20") produced an outstanding report entitled "Stupid in America" which reported that a South Carolina governor would not send his own children to public schools because---it would "sacrifice their education". The governor wanted to allow the free market to deliver an alternative to public schools. Teacher unions and politicians (who are controlled by teacher unions) complained. They asked, "How can we spend state money on something that hasn't been proven?" In other words, it's better to spend state money on something that is proven NOT to work.

Stossel described how the national School Board's Association (NSBA) claimed, "America's Public Schools out perform Private Schools when variables are controlled." Actually, the Private School students scored higher on the tests, but there were adjustments for race, ethnicity, income, and parent's education backgrounds. That may be a valid statistical tool, but it's prone to bias and leads to statistical hocus-pocus.

Many public school teachers are nice people trying to make a living, but the number of good teachers and administrators, whether Christian or not, has been decreasing from retirement. The good teachers that remain are entangled victims of the agenda that controls what they can do. Textbook publishers are puppets of the education establishment thereby making it nearly impossible for well-meaning teachers to avoid participating in the indoctrination.

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A Second-Rate Secondary Education
High schools need to start treating their students with the same respect colleges do.

Leon Botstein:

The weakest and most vulnerable element in education, particularly in the developed world, is the education of adolescents in our secondary-school systems. Relative economic prosperity and the extension of leisure time have spawned an inconsistent but prevalent postponement of adulthood. On the one hand, as consumers and future citizens, young people between the ages of 13 and 18 are afforded considerable status and independence. Yet they remain infantilized in terms of their education, despite the earlier onset of maturation. Standards and expectations are too low. Modern democracies are increasingly inclined to ensure rates of close to 100 percent completion of a secondary school that can lead to university education. This has intensified an unresolved struggle between the demands of equity and the requirements of excellence. If we do not address these problems, the quality of university education will be at risk.

To make secondary education meaningful, more intellectual demands of an adult nature should be placed on adolescents. They should be required to use primary materials of learning, not standardized textbooks; original work should be emphasized, not imitative, uniform assignments; and above all, students should undergo inspired teaching by experts. Curricula should be based on current problems and issues, not disciplines defined a century ago. Statistics and probability need to be brought to the forefront, given our need to assess risk and handle data, replacing calculus as the entry-level college requirement. Secondary schools and their programs of study are not only intellectually out of date, but socially obsolete. They were designed decades ago for large children, not today's young adults.

Raise, not lower standards. Quite a concept. Clusty Search: Leon Botstein.

High School Redesign.

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Students turn to co-op for competitive edge

Lisa Cornwell:

Ren Brown is banking on the work experience she gains while at college to give her a competitive edge over other young job seekers -- an advantage increasingly sought by students and employers amid a weak economy and a changing workplace.

Schools and education groups are seeing growth in established programs that link students with employers, who also are showing increased interest. Many point to student concerns over job competition in a tight labor market and employer needs to replace retiring baby boomers.

"Historically, interest in cooperative education increases when the economy slumps, especially since it does seem to give people a leg up in the job market," said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education.

Employers are looking to cooperative education as a way to observe potential employees over several months to better determine if they fit the company, said Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University.

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Teacher's Group "Way off Mark in Attack on No Child Left Behind Law"

DeWayne Wickham:

But this time, the group has an unlikely adversary in its long-shot effort to gut NCLB. It's being opposed by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights -- a coalition of 192 organizations, including the NEA -- that supports "the enactment and enforcement of effective civil rights legislation and policy."

The Leadership Conference says NCLB is civil rights legislation. Given the yawning achievement gap in public schools between whites, blacks and Hispanics, the umbrella group argues that improving public education is a civil rights issue.

"While NCLB is a flawed law -- and we have repeatedly called on Congress to make improvements through the reauthorization process -- NCLB has been crucial in exposing the extent of the opportunity and achievement gaps plaguing chronically underperforming schools and creating an atmosphere conducive for fundamental education reform," Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said last month.

The bill pending in the House would temporarily exempt states from enforcing some NCLB accountability requirements until fixes are made to the 2002 law. But in an editorial earlier this month, The New York Times called the House bill "a stealth attempt to gut the national school accountability effort."

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Family move reveals differences in early education

Nancy Zuckerbrod:

That's my girl, I thought, as Olivia tore away from us to join the other 5-year-olds for circle time — legs crossed, hand stick-straight in the air in response to the teacher's question about how the kids spent Father's Day.

My husband and I exchanged knowing glances, convinced that she was a shoo-in for admission, and left Olivia with her uniform-clad peers so we could tour the British prep school in the quaint red-brick Victorian building.

The e-mail came a week later. It asked us to please call the head teacher, the equivalent of a school principal in the United States.

We were back at home in Washington D.C., thinking about what to store, ship and toss as we prepared for our family move to London. The change is a big one for all of us, but I didn't realize quite how different things would be for Olivia until that phone call.

The head teacher and I exchanged pleasantries, and then she laid it out. My daughter, who commonly invokes the Mandarin word for little brother and usually wins at the game hangman, has a significant "learning gap" when compared with her British peers — especially in literacy.

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Dreams for school's accessible playground prove boundless

The Capital Times:

Members of the Elvehjem Elementary School community, including students, teachers, parents and other supporters of a unique idea, watched Friday as groundbreaking occurred for a playground designed to be inclusionary to all.

The new playground is designed for use by all kids, including those with disabilities who could not participate in play with their peers on older models of playgrounds.

Last year members of the Elvehjem community decided to enter a national contest for a Boundless Playground and submitted an essay they hoped would win the day for the east side school. But they fell just short, finishing third out of 900 entries.

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August 9, 2008

Referendum Climate: Stupid Budget Tricks

Michael Granof:

STATE governments across the country are reeling from the effects of the current economic downturn. New York, facing a $26.2 billion deficit over the next three years, is particularly hard hit. Like most other states, it is looking to balance its budget mainly by cutting spending.

But if history is a guide, governors and legislators across the country will seek to avoid the difficult choices that are required. Instead, they will likely pass the costs of the services that we enjoy today on to our children and grandchildren, through creatively deceptive budgeting.

This is a time-honored practice. In 1991, the State of New York sold Attica prison to none other than itself. The buyer was a state agency that financed the $200 million purchase price by issuing bonds. The agency then leased the prison back to the state, with the lease payments being equal to the debt service on the bonds.

In substance, of course, the transaction was nothing more than a borrowing arrangement — the equivalent of borrowing $200 million from the buyers of the bonds. Nevertheless, the state booked the entire sale price as revenue for the year. The previous year, the state sold the Cross Westchester Expressway to the New York Thruway Authority — in other words, to itself.

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As Program Moves Poor to Suburbs, Tensions Follow

Solomon Moore:

rom the tough streets of Oakland, where so many of Alice Payne’s relatives and friends had been shot to death, the newspaper advertisement for a federally assisted rental property in this Northern California suburb was like a bridge across the River Jordan.

Ms. Payne, a 42-year-old African-American mother of five, moved to Antioch in 2006. With the local real estate market slowing and a housing voucher covering two-thirds of the rent, she found she could afford a large, new home, with a pool, for $2,200 a month.

But old problems persisted. When her estranged husband was arrested, the local housing authority tried to cut off her subsidy, citing disturbances at her house. Then the police threatened to prosecute her landlord for any criminal activity or public nuisances caused by the family. The landlord forced the Paynes to leave when their lease was up.

Under the Section 8 federal housing voucher program, thousands of poor, urban and often African-American residents have left hardscrabble neighborhoods in the nation’s largest cities and resettled in the suburbs.

Law enforcement experts and housing researchers argue that rising crime rates follow Section 8 recipients to their new homes, while other experts discount any direct link. But there is little doubt that cultural shock waves have followed the migration. Social and racial tensions between newcomers and their neighbors have increased, forcing suburban communities like Antioch to re-evaluate their civic identities along with their methods of dealing with the new residents.

Why is crime rising in so many American cities? The answer implicates one of the most celebrated antipoverty programs of recent decades by Hanna Rosin @ the Atlantic Monthly:
Lately, though, a new and unexpected pattern has emerged, taking criminologists by surprise. While crime rates in large cities stayed flat, homicide rates in many midsize cities (with populations of between 500,000 and 1 million) began increasing, sometimes by as much as 20percent a year. In 2006, the Police Executive Research Forum, a national police group surveying cities from coast to coast, concluded in a report called “A Gathering Storm” that this might represent “the front end … of an epidemic of violence not seen for years.” The leaders of the group, which is made up of police chiefs and sheriffs, theorized about what might be spurring the latest crime wave: the spread of gangs, the masses of offenders coming out of prison, methamphetamines. But mostly they puzzled over the bleak new landscape. According to FBI data, America’s most dangerous spots are now places where Martin Scorsese would never think of staging a shoot-out--Florence, South Carolina; Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina; Kansas City, Missouri; Reading, Pennsylvania; Orlando, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee.

Memphis has always been associated with some amount of violence. But why has Elvis’s hometown turned into America’s new South Bronx? Barnes thinks he knows one big part of the answer, as does the city’s chief of police. A handful of local criminologists and social scientists think they can explain it, too. But it’s a dismal answer, one that city leaders have made clear they don’t want to hear. It’s an answer that offers up racial stereotypes to fearful whites in a city trying to move beyond racial tensions. Ultimately, it reaches beyond crime and implicates one of the most ambitious antipoverty programs of recent decades.


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School Program Puts Focus On Graduation, Not Grades

Ian Shapira:

Bria Heard, 14, a rising sophomore in Prince William County, had a couple of options after she failed world history last year. She could retake the course over six weeks in summer school or during the next school year and try to improve her grade.

Or, she could choose a fairly novel program available in the school system. She could do the course work using a new computer-based program that would not improve her grade, but would allow her to earn the credits needed to stay on track to graduate in four years. To her, the benefits outweighed the cost of not getting a better grade. The program is free and can be completed in days.

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Virginia Weighs Wider Index to Certify Schools

Chris Jenkins:

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) is reviewing a plan that would require all Virginia high schools to meet certain graduation-rate requirements by 2014 to receive accreditation under a new assessment system.

Under the proposal, state officials would use a computer system to track students throughout their academic careers to determine the number of diplomas, GEDs and other certificates that schools award during any given year. Schools would receive accreditation based on those results. Current accreditation standards are based on pass rates on the annual Standards of Learning exams.

As part of the accreditation process, schools would be rated on a points system. For instance, schools would be awarded 100 points for each student who received a diploma; the school would earn 75 points if a student received a general equivalency diploma. If a student earned a certificate of completion, given to those who don't earn high-school diplomas or their equivalent, the school would receive 60 points.

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August 8, 2008

Referendum Climate: Wisconsin 9th in State / Local Tax "Burden"

Gerald Prante @ Tax Foundation [340K PDF]:

For 18 consecutive years the Tax Foundation has published an estimate of the combined state-local tax burden shouldered by the residents of each of the 50 states. For each state, we calculate the total amount paid by the residents in taxes, and we divide those taxes by the total income in each state to compute a “tax burden” measure.

We make this calculation not only for the most recent year but also for earlier years because tax and income data are revised periodically by government agencies, and in our own methodology to take advantage of new datasets.

The goal is to focus not on the tax collectors but on the taxpayers. That is, we answer the question: What percentage of their income are the residents of this state paying in state and local taxes? We are not trying to answer the question: How much money have state and local governments collected?

Related: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Editorial on McCain & Obama's deficit spending plans.

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Where's the Data on Smaller Class Sizes?

Kevin Carey:

You see it all the time, in the brochures and advertisements from liberal arts colleges and other non-gargantuan institutions. “Small class sizes,” they promise, and for good reason, because everyone knows that small classes are better than large. No cavernous lecture halls where the professor is little more than a distant stick figure, they say — raise your hand here, and someone will stop and listen. Plus, he or she will be a real professor, the genuine tenure-track article, not a part-timer or grad student but someone who really knows his or her stuff. Because everyone knows that real professors are better than the other kind.

Except, they don’t.

Nobody actually knows whether small classes are better than large. Pascarella and Terenzini’s How College Affects Students, the bible of such matters, says “We uncovered 10 studies that focus on the effects of class size on course learning. All of the investigations are quasi-experimental or correlational in design …. Unfortunately, five of the studies used course grade as the measure of learning … the conflicting evidence and continuing methodological problems surrounding this small body of research make it difficult to form a firm conclusion.”

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Shakespeare for Gifted Students

Carol Fertig:

Shakespeare never grows old. He was an outstanding observer of life and created many immortal characters that profess human nature. His characters often capture traits that are universal. He used rich literary devices, compelling plots, and had an enduring wisdom and wit. He also wrote many unforgettable lines that are imbedded in our culture. He continues to be the most-quoted author in the English language.

There are many resources available to help teach about Shakespeare. Here are just a few.

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Longer Year for Fairfax Teachers, Incentive Programs

Michael Alison Chandler:

Schools nationwide are looking for ways to pay striving or successful teachers more so they can attract and keep talent. The District and Prince George's County are offering financial incentives for exceptional teachers in challenging schools. Arlington County is enabling qualified teachers to skip a step on the salary schedule.

Fairfax's move toward a year-round teacher schedule is unusual, said Allan Odden, a University of Wisconsin professor who studies alternative teacher pay and who has advised Dale. But Odden said the notion of giving teachers more responsibilities in exchange for more pay is gaining momentum in public education. He said a "cadre of teacher leaders" in a school has proven to be critical for student achievement.

Fairfax's "teacher leadership" program began in summer 2006 with extended contracts for about 600 teachers at 24 schools, issued through competitive grants. The contracts add nine, 14 or 24 days to the traditional 194-day schedule. They can increase salaries as much as 12 percent.

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August 7, 2008

Milwaukee-area school districts grapple with sex-ed policies

Erin Richards:

For parents like the Timmermons in Milwaukee, who diligently pre-screen G-rated movies and forbid their daughter from playing with the made-up and mini-skirted Bratz dolls, when and how to start talking about the human body and sex can be a bit of a mystery.

Schools face a similar dilemma. Many districts teach what's broadly known as human growth and development, but the thoroughness of the information varies widely among districts, schools and classrooms, based on an informal survey of schools by the Journal Sentinel.

Over the summer, Milwaukee Public Schools is addressing the unevenness in its human growth and development curriculum by revamping the entire program from kindergarten through high school, and making a plan to train teachers on how to deliver the information.

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The Wisconsin Center for Education Research was founded 44 years ago this month.

via email:

Part of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Wisconsin Center for Education Research receives $29 million in current funding from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and private foundations.

One of WCER’s strengths is the interdisciplinary nature of its work. While most of its researchers make their academic home in the School of Education, one-third come from other fields, including astronomy, business, chemistry, economics, engineering, human ecology, law, mathematics, sociology, and social work. Each discipline brings its own way of learning and thinking. Together these researchers focus on problems of learning, teaching, assessment, and policy in today’s education systems.

In August 1964 then-University president Fred Harvey Harrington signed an agreement with the U.S. Office of Education to establish what was then called the Wisconsin Research and Development Center for Learning and Re-education. “It was an adventure of opportunity that was in line with the University’s traditional commitment to innovation and experimentation in teaching, to the union of basic and applied research, and to outreach tying the Madison campus to progress in the state and beyond,” he writes in the introduction to the book, The Wisconsin Center for Education Research: 25 Years of Knowledge Generation and Educational Improvement” (WCER, 1990).

WCER’s funding sources represent a broad mix of federal, private, state, and district level agencies. Of $29 million in current funding, fees for service account for 44%, while private foundations account for 21%. The U.S. Education Department accounts for 19% of current funding and the National Science Foundation 7%. The State of Wisconsin and school districts including Milwaukee and Chicago account for 9%. This array of sources attests to WCER’s breadth of research across disciplines, and its depth of reach from the federal level to local school districts.

The establishment of the Center, Harrington wrote, was “a part of a major movement of our time—the conscious attempt to enlist higher education in research-and-action efforts to help solve pressing problems and improve the quality of life in the U.S. and abroad.”

A list of 48 education experts and topics of research interest is available. Contact Paul Baker,

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Given Half A Chance: Black Males in Public Schools are Driven to Drop Out

The Schott Foundation for Public Education:

50+ Years Post Brown v. Board of Education, Schott Foundation Report Reveals that States and Districts Fail to Educate the Majority of Male Black Students

The release of the 2008 Schott Foundation Report entitled "Given Half a Chance: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education for Black Males," details the disturbing reality of America's national racial achievement gap. State-by-state data demonstrate that districts with large Black enrollments educate their White, non-Hispanic peers, but fail to educate the majority of their Black male students.

Individual state reports (Wisconsin):
This section includes United States Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics state and district data for Black and White male students for states in which there are districts listed in the preceding section and for those districts themselves. Data are also included from the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights 2004 Elementary and Secondary School Survey concerning Special Education, Gifted and Talented and Discipline reports; National Assessment of Educational Progress; and Advanced Placement.
Tammerlin Drummond has more.

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Milwaukee's Rufus King Out of 2009 Boys Basketball Tournament

Art Kabelowsky:

Altered test scores, illegal recruiting force decision

After a five-month internal investigation by Milwaukee Public Schools officials produced evidence of recruiting and test-score tampering, the Rufus King boys basketball team has been barred from competing in the 2009 state tournament.

Though the tournament ban was an internal sanction, King's basketball program has also been placed on probation for the next two school years by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.

Also, a King assistant boys basketball coach has been fired from his coaching position, although MPS Communications Director Roseann St. Aubin said Wednesday that the former coach was allowed to retain his full-time job at a different MPS facility.

The Journal Sentinel has received a copy of a letter from King principal Marie Newby-Randle that was mailed Wednesday to every family with a student enrolled at King for 2008-'09.

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Teacher Lobbying Raises Union's Ire

Bill Turque:

A community group that supports D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's proposed salary and bonus package for teachers has hired a small group of instructors at $1,000 a week to lobby colleagues for the plan, drawing accusations from union leaders of interference with the collective bargaining process.

A spokesman for Strong Schools DC, founded in May by half a dozen local philanthropists with a history of involvement in education issues, said five public school teachers were employed "to spread the word" about Rhee's plan. A recruiting e-mail, sent by one of the teachers, said the group was prepared to hire as many as 20 "teacher contract outreach coordinators."

But Todd Lamb, the spokesman, said the group has decided to pull back for the moment, principally because contract talks between Rhee and the Washington Teachers' Union have not concluded.

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Primary schools: the shocking truth

Deborah Orr:

This year's Sats results suggest, for the third year in a row, that only 67 per cent of pupils are achieving the writing standard required of them. For boys, the figure is worse, with just 60 per cent able to put pencil to paper with any proficiency. I use the word "any" advisedly. I think that many people would be pretty shocked to see the unimpressive level of literacy that is needed for pupils to manage a pass. Yet the numbers achieving even this modest benchmark, teachers themselves say, offer an exaggerated picture of the writing ability of schoolchildren.

Nearly all secondary schools now feel obliged to re-test their intake when they start this new phase of their education. They cannot trust what Sats tell them, and feel obliged to find out for themselves what sort of remedial input a child really needs. Such measures attest that the problem is not marginal. It is not without the bounds of probability to infer that as many as half of all boys are going into secondary education without having mastered the basic skills needed to express their thoughts on paper. How dismal.

This miserable state of affairs gives the lie to the fantasy that has been long promulgated by the Government, which insists that primary education is fine, and all the trouble begins at secondary school. Of course pupils will run into difficulties at secondary school, if the groundwork laid down in their previous six years of education has not been thorough. This has been happening for years.

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August 6, 2008

Two Forums Set on a Potential Madison School Referendum

Tamira Madsen:

At this juncture, several board members won't say if they favor a referendum, instead choosing to wait to hear what the public has to say and to discover what Nerad's recommendations are. But it is widely expected that a referendum will be the path they will take in order to close a gaping hole in the budget.

One other topic of discussion that was brought up at Monday's meeting was Nerad's stance on implementing 4-year-old kindergarten. Nerad and Eric Kass, the district's assistant superintendent of business services, are working on a cost analysis of bringing 4K to the district. Fully exploring the options of how the program can be funded until it generates revenue is Nerad's main concern, and though Kass is gathering the data, the district won't be ready to present the data in time for a possible fall referendum.

"My preference would be to see if there are any other options short of a referendum to address the first two years of the funding," Nerad said. "I will also say that I haven't closed my mind at all because if those other options don't work, then we need to have the discussion about addressing this in any other way."

  • Much more on the local referendum climate here.
  • Andy Hall:

    The property tax effect of a potential referendum will be unveiled in two weeks, Madison schools Superintendent Daniel Nerad said Monday.

    At the Madison School Board's meeting on Aug. 18, Nerad plans to recommend whether the School Board should ask voters for additional money to avoid deep budget cuts.

    The district's budget shortfall is projected to be $8.2 million in the 2009-10 school year and about $5 million each of the following three years.

    The referendum could appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

  • TJ Mertz
  • Madison School District: Current Financial Condition.

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Exploring the perils of taking grandparental school funding

Carol Lloyd:

There's a common, often unacknowledged reason private schools host Grandparents Day, at least in the Bay Area: The gray hairs are footing the bills. With yearly tuition ranging from about $6,000 to more than $29,000, and many families mortgaged to the gills, "going private" is often an option only in the most hypothetical sense. The Bank of Grandparents has been doing swift business with Bay Area families for decades. "Historically, grandparents or other relatives often paid tuition," says Denise McCarthy, who directed Presidio Hill School during the 1970s and is now running for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in District 3. "In the '70s ... private school tuition was expensive, relatively speaking," she recalled. Even then, she says, her school celebrated a Grandparents Day and hit up the silvering community members for donations.

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It's Never to Late to Educate

Sam Whiting:

We all have the recurring nightmare of sitting in a college exam with two empty blue books and a sheet of essay questions. You are given the option of answering three out of five, but you go down the sheet and can't answer one. You have nothing to write and three hours to not write it.

Then you wake up in a panic. If in possession of a college diploma, you will look for it in the dead of night. If found, it will provide about 10 minutes of reassurance. There are only two ways to stop the panic, and psychotherapy is more expensive and less fun than going back to school. At the very least, being a student again will supply new fodder for anxiety dreams to replace the ones that are 30 or 40 or 50 years old.

No matter how "too old for school" you think you are, you are not as "too old" as Hazel Soares of San Leandro. At age 93, Soares is entering her junior year (or years) at Mills College in Oakland. An art history major, she's taking it nice and slow - slow enough to walk across the stage and accept her diploma at age 100.

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Texas Teachers group sues to stop plan to help dropouts

Gary Scharrer:

A teachers group asked the courts Tuesday to stop Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott from giving tax dollars to private groups to educate school dropouts.

The Texas Education Agency proposal resembles a school voucher program, which state lawmakers expressly prohibited last year, the Texas State Teachers Association said in its motion for an injunction.

Scott has approved a preliminary plan that would award up to $6 million to 22 school districts, community colleges and private organizations chosen to participate in an experiment to help 1,000 school dropouts achieve a high school diploma.

The Harris County Department of Education and school districts in Pasadena and San Antonio were among 19 school systems, charter schools and community colleges selected to participate.

The inclusion, however, of Community Action Inc. of Hays, Caldwell and Blanco Counties, the Christian Fellowship of San Antonio and the San Antonio-based Healy-Murphy Center triggered the lawsuit.

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School needs bold blueprint, not formula fiddling

Jim Wooten:

Governors one after another have tinkered with public education inputs and funding formulas, promising all the while to succeed where their predecessors had failed. Had those approaches worked —- more inputs and revised formulas recommended by blue ribbon commissions —- schools would be fixed by now.

They aren’t.

It’s the model that’s broken, not the funding formulas.

Across the country industries beset by new marketplace dynamics —- industries that include newspapers, health care providers and all others, automobiles among them, that compete globally —- are frantically at work reinventing their business models.

Education’s marketplace changed decades ago. The best hope now is to stop fighting the marketplace and, instead, let competition work. Give parents choice —- and the means to exercise it. Improve public schools, yes. But don’t keep children prisoners until the system is perfected.

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5 Ways to Motivate Students

Jay Matthews:

My Post colleague Marc Fisher had a terrific rant on his Raw Fisher blog last week about a story I did on the strange case of Matthew Nuti. Matthew is a bright if somewhat disorganized 16-year-old, recently expelled from the very selective Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology because his grade point average slipped below 3.0.

Marc objected to this new and extraordinary school policy. "Grades are a means of communication and motivation," he said. They won't work in that way, Marc said, if you turn "mediocre grades into a death sentence." You can't motivate a corpse, just as you can't urge greater effort out of a student who has been kicked out of your school.

Marc's reminder of the importance of motivation in education inspired me to resurrect one of the best books I have read on the topic, and add it to the Better Late Than Never Book Club, my official list of works I should have read when they actually arrived in the mail. This latest entry is a particularly hideous example of my slothful tendencies. "Engaging Minds: Motivation and Learning in America's Schools" by David A. Goslin was published in 2003.

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August 5, 2008

Many tweens watching 'R' films despite restriction

Greg Toppo:

Researchers know what your tween saw last summer: savage beatings, severed heads, murder, rape and torture.

In a study released Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers from Dartmouth Medical School estimate more than 2.5 million children ages 10 to 14 watch the typical violent, R-rated movie.

A few movies, such as Blade, Hollow Man and Bride of Chucky, claim what researchers say are huge child audiences — as many as 7.8 million, including an estimated 1 million 10-year-olds.

"Ten isn't far away from believing in Santa Claus," says researcher Keilah Worth.

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Success in education

Arthur Rothkopf:

Jan Morrison of the Gates Foundation recently posed a rhetorical question that perfectly sums up the state of K-12 education: “Do our schools still look like they did in the 1950s – now ask yourself, do our companies still look like they did in the 1950s?"

The answer is quite clear – the world economy has changed dramatically since the 1950s, and any company that refuses to keep up is soon out of business. The same cannot be said of American schools, where the curricula are largely unchanged since the 1950s and classroom technology isn’t much better. Even our school calendar is still based on an agrarian society. How many bushels of corn has your child harvested this summer?

Although our schools are not going out of business, their results are akin to a company ready to file for Chapter 11. While 90 percent of the fastest-growing jobs in America require some postsecondary education, about a third of our nation's students do not even finish high school in four years. Our highest-performing state, Massachusetts, can only boast that 51 percent of its eighth grade students are proficient in math. There is a growing consensus that education reform is critical to our nation’s competitiveness, and there should be when confronted by statistics like these.

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District Wants to Stay on 4 Day Week

Lisa Schencker:

One of Utah's smallest school districts wants to move to a four-day week permanently, saying the schedule has helped increase instructional time for many students.

Tiny Rich School District in northern Utah asked state education leaders Friday to consider allowing it to continue holding school four days a week in the future. The schedule saves the district about $1,500 a week in transportation costs, said Ralph Johnson, Rich school board president.

Beginning Monday, many state government offices will also be open only four days a week in a move meant to lower energy costs for the state and employees.

But saving energy is not the main reason the district wants to continue the four-day schedule, which started two years ago and is due to continue next year under an agreement approved by the Utah State Board of Education. Rich, which last school year had 436 students attending four schools, conceived the arrangement to deal with sports and activities.

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Marking Sats Has Always Been A Total Fiasco

Liz Brocklehurst:

The Sats disaster is depressing, but I’m afraid that as someone who’s marked them for ten years, it’s not altogether surprising. In the early days of the National Curriculum tests — the Sats — I was a Key Stage 2 Science marker, sworn to Masonic-like secrecy about this mysterious testing process. In my innocence I had expected it to be a straightforward procedure, but I hadn’t allowed for the serial incompetence, the human error, the vagaries of postal deliveries, and most important: the political pressure.

Several times my expected parcels of scripts were initially sent to another marker by mistake, and I received scripts for the wrong subject; scripts of pupils would routinely be missing without explanation, requiring query letters and a wait for a response — all of which delayed the process. We markers came to accept such things as the norm, including the frequent change of the official organisation charged with overall responsibility for the marking process (each time with the empty promise that things would be so much more efficient under the new body).

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Keeping The Concord Review Afloat

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo:

A year ago, Will Fitzhugh was wondering if the next issue of The Concord Review, the renowned history journal he founded in 1987 to recognize high school students’ outstanding history research papers, would be the last. On a tattered shoestring budget, Fitzhugh has just published the Summer 2008 edition [18/4], and with some support from schools and other fans in the private sector, he has hopes for four more issues over the next year.

But the former high school history teacher is proceeding mostly on a wing and a prayer, and a driving passion for promoting rigorous academic work for teenagers. Last year, the salary for the curmudgeonly 71-year-old was a measly $8,600. This for a scholar who has won widespread praise among education thinkers in the country for demanding, and rewarding, excellence and earnestness in the study of history. Thousands of high school students—mostly from private schools, but many from public schools, including diverse and challenged ones—have responded with work that has impressed some prominent historians and many college-admissions officers.

So how is it that such an undertaking is only scraping by, while other worthy programs, such as the National Writing Project and the Teaching American History Grants, manage to garner millions of dollars each year in federal and foundation support?

Right now, the Review is staying afloat on the commitment of Fitzhugh and some 20 secondary institutions that have ponied up $5,000 each to join a consortium that was created a year ago to cover the costs of publishing the journal. The National Writing Board, also founded by Fitzhugh, brings in some money from students who pay for an evaluation of their research papers that can be sent in with their college applications.

Why is it that some extraordinary efforts in education, which seem to have vision and the right end goal, struggle so?

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August 4, 2008

100 Black Men Back to School Picnic on Saturday August 23rd at Demetral Park at 10:30 a.m.

2008 Back to School Picnic

100 Black Men of Madison 12th Annual Back to School Picnic will be held on Saturday August 23rd, rain or shine at Demetral Park located on Commercial and Packers Avenue at 10:30 am.

Over 1,500 free backpacks filled with school supplies will be distributed to students in kindergarten thru eighth grade.

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

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

For more information please contact, Wayne Canty at 285-6753 or

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On Washington's Next State Superintendent

Seattle Times Editorial:

In the race for the Superintendent of Public Instruction, two deserve to move beyond the primary: incumbent Terry Bergeson and Randy Dorn, a former lawmaker and union leader.

Both candidates must spend the time between the primary and the general election engaging the public far more than they have. Both are guilty of too many sound bites and political salvos and few compelling ideas on education funding, graduation requirements and the role of standardized testing.

That's for starters. The next state schools chief should be able to articulate the complexities of the persistent challenges of the day — a growing special-education population, dropout rates and racial disparities in academic achievement — and then offer cogent solutions to them.

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Milwaukee Schools Urged to Revise Discipline Policy

Alan Borsuk:

A team of national experts has urged a major overhaul in the way Milwaukee Public Schools handles behavior issues in schools, saying MPS does not do enough to deal with problems short of suspending students and may have the highest suspension rate of any urban school system in America.

"District staff members need to mobilize to meet this challenge" of dealing with behavior issues in ways that don't involve suspensions but are more effective in improving both a student's behavior and academic work, the team said in a report to MPS officials.

Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said in an interview that changes in line with the report's recommendations are under way, including a new policy in which every parent will be given a written statement this fall on the disciplinary practices that will be used in a child's classroom.

The report, submitted several months ago, is the second in two years by a team from the Council of Great City Schools that was critical of major aspects of what goes on in MPS classrooms. In both cases, the reports were not made public until a Journal Sentinel reporter asked for them. In 2006, a report from the council criticized academic practices and low achievement by students, called for more direction from the central administration of what was being done in schools, and said people involved in MPS, from the School Board to the classroom, "appear fairly complacent."

Madison police calls near local high schools 1996-2006.

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On Priority Number 1: Educate our Kids

Letters to the Editor regarding David Brooks: "The Biggest Issue"

A big thank you to David Brooks. We need to focus on education and, in particular, how to close the educational gap between children who begin life with large human capital resources and those who don’t.

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On Math Curriculum Reduction

Emily Messner:

The students swapped stories of little sisters, brothers and cousins who were taking above-grade-level math and getting good grades, yet did not seem to have a firm grasp of the material. The curriculum is being "narrowed and shallowed," Walstein said. "The philosophy is that they squeeze you out the top like a tube of toothpaste. That's what Montgomery County math is."

Several students nodded their heads. This thesis has become Walstein's obsession: In its drive to be the best, please affluent parents and close the achievement gap on standardized tests, the county is accelerating too many students in math, at the expense of the curriculum -- and the students. The average accelerated math student "thinks he's fine. His parents think he's fine. The school system says he's fine. But he's not fine!" Walstein declares on one occasion. On another, Walstein is even less diplomatic. " 'We have the best courses and there's no achievement gap and everything is wonderful,' " he says, parroting the message he believes county administrators are trying to project.

"The problem is, they're lying!"

Math Forum audio / video links.

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Racine's Superintendent Candidate Meets the Community

Pete Selkowe:

In Shaw's educational universe, "It's the teachers who are important." His goal -- doubling the number of kids in the "advanced:" category in five years -- focuses on teachers. "Most of the variable is teachers so you focus on teaching. You try to use techniques that are effective with different kinds of kids." And he also would use a pay-for-performance plan to reward the best teachers.

Although he's been a professor at UW-Madison for five years, he had a key criticism: "At the University of Wisconsin, the best teachers get the best kids. That system is not working. We need to share the best teachers with the kids who are struggling." And he wants to improve teaching at Unified first by speeding up the hiring process, cutting through the delays that let the best new grads commit early to other districts, and by developing our existing teachers through active coaching. "Teachers working with other teachers, not just lectures. Professional development must be embedded in the schedule," he said.

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Madison police calls near local high schools: 1996-2006

Madison School District Safety Coordinator Luis Yudice (Luis is a retired Police Officer and a East High Grad) at a recent West High School neighborhood crime discussion (10/18/2007):
"Big picture perspective: Our community really has changed a lot within the past five years. I sense a great deal of stress within the police department. Citywide issues Increasing violence involving girls. He has looked at a lot of data with the District Attorney's office. Girls are extremely angry. Angry parents are coming into the schools. Increasing issues in the neighborhood that end up in the schools. Mentioned South Transfer Point beating and that Principal Ed Holmes mediated the situation at an early stage. Growing gang violence issue particularly in the east side schools. We do have gang activity at Memorial and West but most of the issues are at Lafollete and East. Dealing with this via training and building relationships What the school are experiencing is a reflection of what is going on in the community."
Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, via Bill Lueders @ Isthmus (7/30/2008):
He (Wray) began by talking about perceptions of crime, and especially the notion that it's getting worse in Madison. He stressed that it wasn't just the media and public who felt this way: "If I would ask the average beat cop, I think they would say it's gotten worse." But, he added, "Worse compared to what?"
The absence of local safety data spurred several SIS contributors to obtain and publish the police call data displayed below. Attorney and parent Chan Stroman provided pro bono public records assistance. Chan's work on this matter extended to the Wisconsin Attorney General's office. A few important notes on this data:
  • 13% of the records could not be geocoded and therefore are not included in the summary information. The downloadable 1996-2006 police call data .zip file is comprehensive, however.
  • Clicking on the numbers below takes the reader to a detail page. This page includes all matching police calls and a downloadable .csv file of same. The csv file can be opened in Excel, Numbers and many data management tools.
  • This summary is rather brief, I hope others download the data and have a look.
Police Calls within .25 miles of:
Madison East Area Edgewood Area LaFollette Area Memorial Area West Area
1996 1285 392 324 869 728
1997 1351 455 403 896 750
1998 1340 343 488 875 703
1999 1281 352 477 969 772
2000 1391 300 528 888 933
2001 1476 305 480 769 1034
2002 1470 363 491 886 1019
2003 1362 349 403 865 921
2004 1455 346 449 989 1012
2005 1311 325 465 994 917
2006 1221 330 389 1105 838
Weapons Incident / Offense
Madison East Area Edgewood Area LaFollette Area Memorial Area West Area
1996 5 0 3 4 6
1997 5 0 3 4 0
1998 10 0 5 2 1
1999 10 0 5 4 0
2000 4 0 6 2 5
2001 3 0 3 0 0
2002 11 0 3 5 5
2003 4 1 1 4 5
2004 4 0 9 7 4
2005 9 0 6 6 2
2006 10 1 5 7 3
Drug Incident
Madison East Area Edgewood Area LaFollette Area Memorial Area West Area
1996 10 0 10 9 7
1997 16 0 7 6 4
1998 12 1 8 10 6
1999 18 0 7 18 4
2000 16 2 13 17 12
2001 18 0 10 20 12
2002 22 0 14 16 12
2003 23 2 18 15 8
2004 26 0 20 17 7
2005 19 0 17 20 12
2006 24 2 11 15 8
Arrested Juvenile
Madison East Area Edgewood Area LaFollette Area Memorial Area West Area
1996 59 1 35 28 38
1997 72 0 83 52 29
1998 21 0 34 17 14
1999 16 0 29 24 7
2000 42 0 76 14 15
2001 52 0 66 19 15
2002 51 0 69 13 12
2003 9 0 9 9 3
2004 8 0 8 9 4
2005 11 0 10 7 3
2006 6 0 21 11 4
Bomb Threat
Madison East Area Edgewood Area LaFollette Area Memorial Area West Area
1996 1 0 0 0 1
1997 1 0 1 0 0
1998 4 2 0 0 1
1999 7 0 15 0 1
2000 4 0 17 2 1
2001 1 0 8 10 11
2002 2 0 9 0 4
2003 1 0 2 1 11
2004 6 0 4 0 6
2005 1 0 4 0 0
2006 3 0 0 0 4
Related links:
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August 3, 2008

Assimilation, Integration and Education

The Economist, from Berlin:

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School Board to Focus on Money

Andy Hall:

In the first major test for newly hired Superintendent Daniel Nerad, Madison school officials this week will begin public discussions of whether to ask voters for additional money to head off a potentially "catastrophic" $8.2 million budget gap for the 2009-10 school year.

The Madison School Board's meetings in August will be dominated by talk of the possible referendum, which could appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The public will be invited to speak out at forums on Aug. 12 and 14.

Related:Props to the District for finding a reduced spending increase of $1,000,000 and looking for more (The same service budget growth, given teacher contract and other increases vs budget growth limits results in the "gap" referred to in Hall's article above). Happily, Monday evening's referendum discussion included a brief mention of revisiting the now many years old "same service" budget approach (28mb mp3, about 30 minutes). A question was also raised about attracting students (MMSD enrollment has been flat for years). Student growth means additional tax and spending authority for the school district.

The Madison school board has been far more actively involved in financial issues recently. Matters such as the MMSD's declining equity (and related structural deficit) have been publicly discussed. A very useful "citizen's budget" document was created for the 2006-2007 ($333M) and 2007-2008 ($339M) (though the final 2007-2008 number was apparently $365M) budgets. Keeping track of changes year to year is not a small challenge.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:55 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

McCain on Education at the Urban League

Jazz Shaw:

Nowhere are the limitations of conventional thinking any more apparent than in education policy. After decades of hearing the same big promises from the public education establishment, and seeing the same poor results, it is surely time to shake off old ways and to demand new reforms. That isn’t just my opinion; it is the conviction of parents in poor neighborhoods across this nation who want better lives for their children.

Just ask the families in New Orleans who will soon have the chance to remove their sons and daughters from failing schools, and enroll them instead in a school-choice scholarship program. That program in Louisiana was proposed by Democratic state legislators and signed into law by Governor Bobby Jindal. Just three years after Katrina, they are bringing real hope to poor neighborhoods, and showing how much can be achieved when both parties work together for real reform. Or ask parents in the disadvantaged neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. whether they want more choices in education. The District’s Opportunity Scholarship program serves more than 1,900 boys and girls from families with an average income of 23,000 dollars a year. And more than 7,000 more families have applied for that program. What they all have in common is the desire to get their kids into a better school.

Democrats in Congress, including my opponent, oppose the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. In remarks to the American Federation of Teachers last month, Senator Obama dismissed public support for private school vouchers for low-income Americans as, “tired rhetoric about vouchers and school choice.” All of that went over well with the teachers union, but where does it leave families and their children who are stuck in failing schools?

Beth Fouhy:
John McCain, the father of private school students, criticized Democratic rival Barack Obama on Friday for choosing private over public school for his kids.

The difference, according to the Arizona Republican, is that he — not Obama — favors vouchers that give parents more school choices.

"Everybody should have the same choice Cindy and I and Sen. Obama did," McCain told the National Urban League, an influential black organization that Obama will address on Saturday.

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

Exceptions Boost Local & Statewide School Ratings (Texas)

Laurie Fox, Holly Hacker & Terrence Stutz:

More schools from North Texas and across the state improved their annual performance ratings this year helped by higher student test scores and, in many cases, special exceptions from the state.

A Texas Education Agency report Friday showed a slight decline in the number of school districts and campuses that were rated academically unacceptable, the state equivalent of an F.

Most of those were tripped up by poor showings in science and math on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, state officials said.

The number of schools getting the highest marks jumped from a year ago. Statewide, 996 out of more than 7,500 campuses – a record number – were rated exemplary, which is equal to an A. In North Texas, 260 schools hit that mark, up from 184 last year.

Three area districts – Highland Park, Carroll and Lovejoy – were named exemplary overall.

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

2008 Streetball & Block Party next Saturday August 9th at Penn Park; 12 noon to 7 pm

Via a Johnny Winston, Jr. email:

The Johnny Winston, Jr. 2008 Streetball and Block Party will be held on Saturday August 9th from 12 noon to 7:00 p.m. at Penn Park (South Madison – Corner of Fisher and Buick Street). “Streetball” is a full court, “5 on 5” Adult Men’s Basketball tournament featuring some of the best basketball players in the City of Madison, Milwaukee, Beloit, Rockford and other cities. The rain date for basketball games only is Sunday August 10th.

The “block party” activities for youth and families include: old and new school music by D.J. Double D and Speakerboxx DJ’s; funk and soul music by the Rick Flowers Band, youth drill and dance team competition, free bingo sponsored by DeJope Gaming; face painting and youth activities sponsored by Madison School and Community Recreation, YMCA of Dane County, Dane County Neighborhood Intervention Program; The Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, the Madison Children’s Museum, pony rides by “Big Bill and Little Joe” and more. This event includes information booths and vendors selling a variety of foods and other items.

This is a safe, family event that has taken the place of the “South Madison Block Party.” The Madison Police Department and other neighborhood groups are supporting this as a positive activity for the South Madison community. Over the past seven years, $10,000 has been donated to charitable programs that benefit South Madison and support education such as the Boys & Girls Club and the Southside Raiders Youth Football and Cheerleading Teams.

In all, this event will provide a wonderful organized activity for neighborhood residents to enjoy this summer. If you have any questions, would like to volunteer or discuss any further details, please feel free to call (608) 347-9715; e-mail at: or Hope to see you there!

Please feel free to forward this information to other interested persons or organizations.

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

August 2, 2008

Eric Hainstock: Free at Last
Prison may be the best thing that ever happened to Eric Hainstock

Bill Lueders:

Eric Hainstock's first letter to Isthmus, dated April 15, 2008, got right to the point: "When I was 15 years old I shot my high school principal. I never meant for this to happen. He grabbed me from behind and I got scared. I was already pretty stressed, so that freaked me out even more. Please don't get me wrong, I am not blaming Mr. Klang for grabbing me. But I am blaming him, the teachers, social services and the school as a whole for never listening to me.... No one ever listened."

Like other communications to follow, the letter is a plaintive appeal for understanding, with a heavy dollop of self-pity. "No one ever listened"? Perhaps it felt that way to Hainstock.

"I want my story told," wrote Hainstock, now 17, who picked Isthmus on the recommendation of his "celly," a former Madison resident. "I want all the social service agencies to listen, the schools, parents all over the state." He pegged his purpose as altruistic — to make sure no one else would ever have to "live in the hell that I did." (Quotations from Hainstock's letters have been edited for spelling and style.)

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

Externalities in the Classroom: How Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Affect Everyone’s Kids

Justin Wolfers

Many teachers believe that a “few bad apples” can spoil a whole classroom, reducing the learning of everyone in the room. While this is part of the folk wisdom of teaching, it has been surprisingly difficult to find these effects in the data.

But a very convincing new paper, by Scott Carrell of U.C. Davis and Mark Hoekstra of U.Pitt, “Externalities in the Classroom: How Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Affect Everyone’s Kids” (available here), suggests that these effects can be pretty big.

The real difficulty in this style of research is to find a useful proxy for whether or not a classroom is affected by a disruptive student. Previously researchers have used indicators like whether a student has low standardized test scores, but as any teacher knows, the under-performing kids may not be the disruptive ones. And if you analyze only a weak statistical proxy for classroom disruption, you get weak estimates, even when the true effects are large.

The truly innovative part of the Carrell and Hoekstra study begins with their search for potentially disruptive kids: they looked for those coming from particularly difficult family situations. In particular, they combed through court records and linked every domestic violence charge in Alachua County, Florida to the county schooling records of kids living in those households.

It’s a sad story: nearly 5 percent of the kids in their sample could be linked to a household with a reported domestic violence incident. (And given under-reporting, the true number may be much larger.)

The costs of this dysfunction are even more profound. Kids exposed to domestic violence definitely do have lower reading and math scores and greater disciplinary problems. But the effects of this dysfunction are not limited to the direct victims of this violence: kids exposed to kids exposed to domestic violence also have lower test scores and more disciplinary infractions.

Around 70 percent of the classes in their sample have at least one kid exposed to domestic violence. The authors compare the outcomes of that kid’s classmates with their counterparts in the same school and the same grade in a previous or subsequent year — when there were no kids exposed to family violence — finding large negative effects.

Adding even more credibility to their estimates, they show that when a kid shares a classroom with a victim of family violence, she or he will tend to under-perform relative to a sibling who attended the same school but whose classroom had fewer kids exposed to violence. These comparisons underline the fact that the authors are isolating the causal effects of being in a classroom with a potentially disruptive kid, and not some broader socio-economic pattern linking test scores and the amount of family violence in the community.

You likely already believe there is an equity rationale for trying to help those kids subject to difficult family situations. This research also suggests a compelling efficiency rationale, as the effects radiate well beyond the dysfunctional household.

Posted by Jeff Henriques at 9:46 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

31 Travel Scholarships, Fellowships, and Grants to Fund Your Next Trip Abroad

Emma Jacobs:

Do your have a worthwhile project or field of study that involves traveling? If so, consider having your travels funded through a grant, fellowship, or travel scholarship.

Begin by contemplating where you want to go and potential projects you could build around those destinations. (Or vice versa.) Always wondered how sustainable agriculture works in Guam? How about local conservation practices in Central America? Once you have a clear vision of a travel / research project, begin looking for funding possibilities that give you the most freedom to pursue your goals.

When applying, take advantage of the resources and support systems you have. Your school, present or past, will have an adviser who can help you navigate the application process.

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

Older Cars LA Teens Like

LA Times:

The 1980s versions of Mercedes sedans create a maintenance challenge for teens (and/or their parents), but the brand clout this marque carries may justify a part-time job. Money is sure to be spent, because these 30-year-old vehicles usually have well over 250,000 miles on their odometers.

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

What Happens from Elementary to Middle School?

Ray Cox:

As we have read, the Accountability Ratings have been published and Kent mentioned something that troubles me as a middle school teacher. We have a ton of elementary schools with Recognized and Exemplary ratings but the number of middle schools with similar ratings is almost nil.

I'm not placing the blame or accusing anyone of anything in this post but I'm just befuddled as to why these kids move from an elementary school with such high marks and the middle school they go to can only scrounge up an "acceptable" rating.

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

August 1, 2008

On Ted Widerski

Jordan Ellenberg:

I didn’t know Ted very well. I met him last year, when I spoke at the Middle School Math Fest he organized in Madison. I expected to lecture to a dozen or so overachieving and dutiful students — instead, I found the CUNA cafeteria packed with close to a hundred pre-teens, still fizzy and enthusiastic after a full morning of math activities led by an equally energetic cadre of teachers and high school students from Madison East. And Ted, fizzier if possible than the pre-teens themselves, at the center of it all. Very few people have the drive and know-how even to put together an event like this, let alone to make it such a success. Madison was lucky to have somebody like Ted helping young students find joy in math; from the Cap Times article linked above, it sounds like the students who learned from Ted in the classroom were pretty lucky too.
Via Isthmus.

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

To Speak Out Against the City’s School System, One Man Turns to the Power of Parody

Jennifer Medina:

Nearly 50 New York City school principals were fired immediately in what Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein declared a “warning shot across the bow.” Blackwater USA was awarded a no-bid contract to take over school security. And a national education foundation offered a $100 million endowment to any university that established a degree in “high-stakes test-taking.”

Those satirical news items, which appear on an education blog, are always slightly off-kilter, but several have seemed believable enough to prompt inquiries to the Education Department’s headquarters from parents and journalism students asking to follow up on a story they saw elsewhere.

“The best part is when people can’t distinguish their reality from the reality that is made up,” said Gary Babad, the writer of dozens of mock news items dealing with the Education Department. “I think of it as a kind of therapy and my form of quiet dissent. And it’s a stress reliever.”

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

Camp Codependence

A response to last week's NYT story on summer camps by Judy Warner.

I’m sure we all read, with equal parts disgust and delectation, The Times’ story last week on affluent parents who just can’t let go when their children abandon them for sleep-away camp.

In case you missed it, the article presented fathers and mothers so used to instant service that they call camp directors at all hours of the day and night to sound the alarm if they suspect Junior isn’t using sunscreen. It showcased “high-end” sleep-away camps that employ full-time “parent liaisons” just to handle such phone calls and e-mail traffic, “almost like a hotel concierge listening to a client’s needs,” as a camp consultant put it.

One parent liaison explained that all her careful hand-holding can, when successful, make camp a learning experience for parents, too. The hope, she said, is that by the end, “They’ve learned how to separate a little bit better.”

The most enlightening part of the article for me was the most prominently featured camp’s reported cost: $10,000. Reading the price, I finally understood why, whenever I make mention of the fact that my elder daughter attends sleep-away camp, a few responders always comment upon how wealthy I must be.

For the record: my daughter’s sleep-away camp costs $550 a week.

Which, I now realize, is a good thing for reasons far beyond the family budget.

The $10,000-camp universe appears to be rife with what mental health professionals are now calling “affluenza,” a social pathology that, they say, is rampant at a time when getting and spending — a lot — have become our nation’s most cherished activities, and when purchasing power has become, to an unprecedented extent, almost the sole source of many people’s status and identity.

In our society, you don’t have to be wealthy to suffer from affluenza. Its symptoms — “debt, overwork, waste, and harm to the environment, leading to psychological disorders, alienation, and distress,” in adults; “lack of motivation … apathy, laziness, or failure to commit to and achieve goals … overindulgence and attitudes of entitlement” in children, according to the New York University Child Study Center, are pervasive — and no one is immune.

For affluenza is not just a constellation of symptoms. It is an ethic, a play-the-system, lie-and-cheat-your-way-to-what-you-want, don’t-let-the-peons-stand-in-your-way ethic of amorality. You rock, kid, parents teach. And you — alone — rule.

This ethic drives behavior — like the behavior of the wealthy parents profiled in The Times who, flouting camp bans on cellphone use, sent their kids off with two phones, so that, if one was confiscated, there’d still be a spare for secret calls home. And it also permeates social attitudes and policy.

Yet if affluenza, in greater or lesser form, has infected wide swaths of the population at large, one group — the children of the rich — appears to be particularly susceptible to its ravages.

Many studies have shown positive trends among American teenagers in recent decades regarding problems like teen suicide, pregnancy, substance use and violence. Yet upper middle class kids appear to be floundering, outpacing their peers in rates of cigarette smoking, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, anxiety, rule-breaking, and psychosomatic disorders like headaches and stomach problems, writes Madeline Levine, a clinical psychologist in California’s wealthy Marin County, in her 2006 book, “The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids.”

Sociologist Annette Lareau, who studied the childrearing habits of middle-, upper-middle- and working-class families in depth for her 2003 book, “Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race and Family Life,” has found that working class children, who have fewer scheduled activities, more unstructured time and less fussing-over generally by adults, are more spontaneous and creative in their play than are middle- and upper-middle-class kids, enjoy their leisure activities more, and show greater autonomy and self-reliance.

“Indulged children are often less able to cope with stress,” writes Harvard psychologist Dan Kindlon in his book, “Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age,” “because their parents have created an atmosphere where their whims are indulged, where they were always assured … that they’re entitled and that life should be a bed of roses.”

In the case of the rich children at the sorts of fancy camps featured in the paper last weekend, it’s easy to point fingers at signs of incipient pathology. All that parental micromanaging is sure to suppress problem-solving, one could say. Unconstrained parental meddling is bound to kill off kids’ resilience.

“If your child doesn’t get the bunk they want or you’re worried that he didn’t get the right camp counselor, if you convey that kind of response — ‘Oh my God, that’s awful, let me call them, it’s so unfair’ — that’s the worst possible response a parent could have,” Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist who consults with camps, told The Times’ Tina Kelley.

I wonder what that psychologist would make of a camp I heard tell of this summer, which permits campers to regularly make phone calls home and scripts parents on what to say, and which requests that parents ship their children’s belongings weeks in advance, so that staffers can unpack them, make the campers’ beds, and have things sufficiently home-like before the children arrive.

It’s easy to imagine that all this pampering will lead to irreversible mental damage. But, the problem is: I don’t quite buy it. The vast majority of these wealthy and pampered kids, so long as they’re bolstered by hardy genes and have parents whose foibles don’t run to extremes, will ultimately be just fine. They’ll thrive, in fact, in the society of their parents’ making.

(In Lareau’s research, middle- and upper-middle-class kids — however dependent, demanding, lacking in initiative and quick to get bored — were much more successful in school than were the working-class children in part because their privileged upbringings gave them a sense of entitlement that allowed them to navigate adult institutions with ease and aplomb.)

My worry is for the rest of us. For the parents who try to teach our children to play by the rules (obey your counselors; make your bed). And for our children, who are likely to come out the losers in a society dominated by sharks.

I actually have some sympathy for the parents whose strivings and fears have built the culture I find so dangerous and distasteful. I know that their actions, at root, spring from love and that their behaviors — however obnoxious — often arise from ill-considered attempts to save their children from pain.

I feel much greater resentment toward the institutions — like the camps that permit way too much parental presence and schools that encourage way too much parental involvement — which enable the worst parent behaviors, comfort their worst tendencies and cater to their basest fears, all, very often, in the interest of making an extra buck.

The buck has to stop somewhere. It’s clearly not going to be stopped by this generation of befuddled parents. It’s time that the professionals we entrust with our children stopped catering to their “clients” and started treating them like grown-ups.

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

Bypassing School Boundary Maps

Michael Alison Chandler:

Despite a court ruling this week that upheld the School Board's decision to reshuffle high schools for hundreds of western Fairfax County students, many parents have found a way to bypass the new boundary map and send their children to campuses of their choice.

More than a third of the 226 rising freshmen who were to be added to the roster of South Lakes High School for the coming year have transferred to nearby high schools for curricular reasons, school system records showed. Most of the 85 students who left the Reston school applied to pursue Advanced Placement classes not offered at South Lakes High. By contrast, nine incoming freshmen transferred from the school last year for similar reasons.

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

Why teens drop out from Santa Clara County schools

Sharon Noguchi:

Gavin Neves needed a job. A Broadway High School student felt threatened in class. Margarita Craig got pregnant.

California high school students who drop out believe there's a good reason to leave school. Even in complicated circumstances, the trigger point can often be summed up in one word. Fear. Poverty. Boredom. Failure. Addiction.

Though schools offer myriad programs to catch troubled teens, the dropout rate is higher than educators ever suspected. Data released last week suggests that 24 percent of teens drop out of high school, nearly double the previous estimate of 13 percent.

In Santa Clara County, the rate of students who drop out over a four-year period is 20.2 percent, less than the statewide figure, but still "ghastly," according to Dan Moser, associate superintendent of the East Side Union High School District.

Struggling students cite a variety of pressures pushing them out of the school doors for good. Their stories suggest there will be no easy solution to solving the dropout crisis.

Posted by Jim Zellmer at 6:33 AM Subscribe to this site via RSS/Atom: Newsletter signup | Send us your ideas

Future looking bleak for state education?

Victoria Camron:

The vast majority of low-achieving students in Colorado are not making enough progress to reach grade level in three years, according to growth model date the Colorado Department of Education released Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien is optimistic the new information — which compares individual students’ academic growth to their academic peers over time — will help educators determine which strategies work and which don’t, she said.

“It’s about helping students get the education they need,” O’Brien said Tuesday when the Colorado Student Assessment Program test results were released at the Department of Education in Denver.

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